Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And Here We Are

Now what? I've spent the last 30 days slicing...what's next? Is 31 days enough to start a new habit? It's been a challenge, some days more challenging than others, but on the whole I've enjoyed the experience.

I think the hardest thing has been publishing writing that I wasn't totally happy with- allowing unfinished work to enter cyberspace where who knows what might happen.
Then there were the days when I just couldn't get my thoughts together, when I knew what I wanted to write about but didn't know how to write it.

Of course there were good parts as well. Working as a writer on a daily basis was gratifying. There were days that my thoughts came together without much trouble. On those days I experienced a warmth inside that came from my own feeling of personal success.

I do know that I haven't been able to untangle that knotty string of thoughts I carry around in my head, but it's been fun trying. At this point I can't say for sure if I'll continue trying on a daily basis, but check back sometime, I'll be around.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Slow and Steady Wins Out

My energy level has been quite low today and I'm okay with that. Some days you just have to go with the flow of things and today, for me, that meant taking on the day in a slow, yet steady way.

I slept until 9:30 this morning. My cat was slightly worried about this change of schedule. In fact, he tried his best to wake me up at 5:00; surely he was thinking I needed to get up to go to work. He tried gently at first, taking his paw and placing it softly on my nose. When success did not come he added just a little bit of claw and slowly slid his paw down my cheek.

Over the years I've learned that it's best to ignore cats when they're trying to awaken you. It's kind of like playing a game of chicken; as long as I don't flinch I win. And so it was this morning. With a toss and a turn I drew the sheet tightly around my head and returned to a state of slumber. By the time I woke up at 9:30 the cat was well into his early morning catnap.

My morning coffee lasted until about 11:00. I was happy to sip and read, not only the paper but also a book I started just last week. I ate breakfast just in time to call it lunch and didn't get a shower until somewhere around 1:00 pm.

I had only one appointment on the calendar today; a meeting with my accountant to go over my tax forms. I'm glad it was scheduled for 3:00pm; I hate rushing around in the morning.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Guest Teaching

Before I headed home from my weekend this afternoon, I spent about 90 minutes in a friend's 3rd grade classroom. I hung out in the back while Robin finished up a spelling lesson with a small group of students. After a morning snack it was my turn to do a writing activity.

Guest teacher has got to be the best gig ever. I started by showing 30 photographs that I had brought along with me. The shots ranged from landscape pictures of Maine, Colorado, and the Carolina seashore to macro shots of flowers, snails and water droplets. The students were full of compliments for the pictures and excited to try a little writing. We developed the lesson together. It was decided that we would each choose a picture to write about but not let anyone else know our choice. After five minutes of writing without interruption we'd share our thoughts and try to figure out which picture the writer used as inspiration.

For those five minutes there wasn't a sound, just pencils moving along the page. Once the pencils came to rest everyone was anxious to share their work. My favorite? It had to be the young girl who described a picture of fresh strawberries as fruit wearing a gnome hat.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fog Ahead

I took a short drive over Afton Mountain today as I traveled from Crozet--where I'm staying this weekend--to Staunton, a small town on the other side of the mountain. With a slight mist in the air I didn't expect to have much of a scenic drive. What I got was pretty much no visibility at all.

There was a blinking road sign on the highway warning of fog on the mountain. "Drive with care," it said. I didn't think too much of the notice, but made sure my headlights were on just because I'm usually a pretty obedient driver. Do speed limits count?

The first light wisps of fog didn't bother me too much, but as the road continued its incline up the mountain the fog got thicker...and thicker...and even thicker. The car that was just two or three car lengths ahead of me disappeared into the white cloud like an object in a Stephen King movie. It was 12:30 in the afternoon, but it felt more like the set of a late night horror show.

I knew Waynesboro, the town on the other side of the mountain, was a mere five miles away; so if I could get through the worst of it there was sure to be clarity in six or seven minutes. I made out a road sign that announced my arrival in Augusta County. As my car left Nelson County the fog began to disperse, almost as quickly as it had thickened. The cars ahead of me came back into view and I let out a sigh of relief.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Sunset Kind of Day

The day started with two gallons of Sunset Orange. Throughout the day there was rolling, taping and some cutting in. By 4:30 the painting project was done and we walked along the path next to the railroad tracks that leads to the small town of Crozet. A celebratory margarita was in order. We toasted to a job well done and sang along with the 70s music playing on the radio as we watched the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

...a good day with a good friend.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Afternoon Escape

I left work at 2:45 this afternoon in hopes of beating the traffic out of DC. I was trying to get to Charlottesville and wanted to take the more scenic route that runs passed James Madison's former home and through the gently sloping hills of Orange, VA. I scooted over to the HOV lanes, which would not be designated as HOV until 3:30, to avoid a slow down on the non-HOV side of 95 south. With the radio blaring I was feeling pretty smug as my eyes took note of the stopped traffic on my right.

But of course, the smugness didn't last long. Traffic in my lanes came to a standstill. It was 3:25; I was 20 miles from the Fredericksburg exit and the sign on the right was flashing, "We ticket non-HOV cars at 3:30." Knowing I wasn't going to make it another 20 miles in five minutes I looked for the next exit to get back on the right side of the highway. I considered risking the HOV ticket, but decided the probable $100 fine wasn't worth the risk.
Getting over to where I should be wasn't that easy. It seems the stopped line of traffic was really just 50 other cars trying to get off the same place as me. My luck returned when a gentleman in the car next to me rolled down his window and yelled over, "Hey are you trying to get over? I'll let you in."
Wow! "Thanks," I yelled, "have a great weekend!"

Thanks to my knight in shining armor I made it to the non-HOV side of the highway and sped along at 5 miles per hour. At that rate it was going to take me another hour to get to Fredericksburg. I should have known one gets out of DC on a Friday without suffering through stopped traffic, angry horns blaring and a little bit of road rage.
I rooted around in the back seat for my Road Atlas in hopes of finding an alternative route. No luck. I decided to bail out at the next exit anyway. The GPS was in the car so maybe it was time to see just what it could do on the fly.

Thank you, GPS. You saved me from traffic torture. Within 15 minutes I was sailing along a country other cars in sight. Ahead I could see a farm, with a pasture full of cows grazing in the sunlight. I smiled. I had taken the road less traveled, and was damn glad I did.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Clean House

The maid came today. I have to admit that I love coming home every other Thursday to a clean stovetop, a shiny microwave and a bathroom that smells of bleach.

I used to work as a maid. I was home from college for the summer and unable to find a job so I got creative and put a few signs up in grocery stores around my small town. I think I ended up with one or two weekly clients and an elderly lady that I helped out on an as needed basis. It was a pretty easy job, mostly because it seemed like people actually cleaned their house before I got there.

My family never had a maid. My mother didn't work outside of the house, but boy oh boy did she like to clean. The vacuuming started early every morning. There was dusting, window cleaning and floor scrubbing taking place on what seemed like a daily basis. Even today, at the age of 74, she's still cleaning and she notices when other things aren't clean. I won a trip to the Bahamas many years ago, and as a new teacher I couldn't take off for the trip so I gave it to my mom and sister. When asked about the trip my mother could only comment on the piece of trash that stayed under the bed for the entire weekend. Sure, she could have picked it up but it was way more entertaining to see if the maids ever cleaned to her satisfaction.

I didn't get the cleaning gene. I like a clean house, but I'm not one to spend a great deal of time on scrubbing and the like. At times, my house can get to be quite an unruly mess of mail, shoes, glassware, newspapers and clothes. That's where the maid comes in.

No, she doesn't pick up all that stuff for me. But, knowing that she's coming, armed to scrub and vacuum, I make sure to clean everything out of her way. It's the secret I discovered so many years ago. The maid cleans, yes. But what she really does is make me clean.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting Through With a Smile and a Little Divine Intervention

I was two blocks from work this morning when I realized I was in a way big, over the top, bad mood. I was tired, my head hurt and the only place I wanted to be was back in bed. I had one and a half blocks to figure out what to do about my predicament.

I decided to fake it. My goal was to make sure that no one knew how I was feeling. I was going to put on the big smile and walk confidently and happily through my day. The first step was to take a mental inventory of the day's activities with the hopes of identifying any problem areas ahead of time. If I knew when to expect the mood triggers, I might have an easier time getting through with my smile intact.

Problem #1: The Wednesday Team Meeting. It's a weekly meeting we have with the students to disseminate information and celebrate the successes of the group members. Or at least, I think that's what it's supposed to be. The meeting often takes on a negative tone, and feels more like a guilt-trip provided in the hopes that a bunch of 12 year-olds will through some miracle behave like angels, do all their work and be 100% engaged in the learning experience every moment of the school day.

I know I don't appreciate starting the day with a guilt trip, I'm sure the students don't either. (And yes, I know I should do my part to change that situation.) I didn't quite have a plan for the meeting; my only plan was to make it through with my smile.

And then, just as the meeting was about to begin came some sort of divine intervention. It came in the form of an unexpected fire drill.

I walked outside with my 13 homeroom students behind me and searched for a sunny spot away from the crowd. It was a little chilly this morning but with the early morning sun shining on us we didn't have too much to complain about. I watched a lone geese fly overhead and spotted a bright red cardinal in a distant treetop. I listened as the fire truck sirens got closer and watched the minutes tick by on my watch.

There was no fire. We have some renovation going on in the building and a tripped fire alarm is one of the many inconveniences we've come to expect. The whole event lasted about 15 minutes, just long enough to force the cancellation of the dreaded team meeting.

From then on it was smooth sailing!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

news not so good

The news is not good. And it goes on and on for a really long time. The local news starts at 4:00 pm around here. At 5:00 there's another hour of local news, followed by a third hour of local news at 6:00pm. The national news comes on at 7:00 and lasts for 30 minutes.

Last night the headlines ranged from the sentencing of a woman recently found guilty of abusing and murdering her adopted children, to the beating of a middle school student in response to a text message she sent. Not really a cheery way to end the day.

When I was younger the local news was 15 minutes long and the national news took up the other 15 minutes to total 30 minutes of program time. After sitting through a pretty depressing few hours of news that seems just about right to me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Don't Like Tuesdays

Rainy days and Mondays don't really get me down. Tuesdays... those are the days that get to me. Mondays aren't as bad as everyone professes them to be. Sure, maybe you're a little tired from the weekend, but usually it's a good tired, the kind of tired that says, "Wow! I had a lot of fun this weekend." I often spend Mondays in a sort of haze, the kind of haze that has me thinking more about what I did than what I need to do.

It's the haze that makes Tuesdays so hard. Tuesday is when reality slaps my hand as I try to hit the snooze button. It's when reality reminds me that I have a 7:15 am meeting and copies to make before that. It's the day that seems too far from Friday, so far that no one even bothers to ask, "what are you doing this weekend?" It's not quite hump day and the post-weekend smile I had on Monday has faded as I begin to wonder why I didn't get more work done on those two days I had off.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Sunday Ride

With yet another beautiful day on tap I decided to take a long bike ride. It's one I refer to as the Arlington Loop. With a few stops along the way it takes about two hours to wind my way along the connecting bike trails for a perimeter tour of Arlington. The ride begins at my house in Alexandria, VA with the trail that runs along Four Mile Run. Not only do I get a water view for this section, I also pass by the community gardens so I can check up on what's growing.

My first stop along the way is usually a small marsh; a home to turtles, frogs and cattails. The turtles were out in force today, so much so that a passerby proclaimed it to be a "turtle convention." The frogs were there as well. However, unlike the turtles that climb upon fallen logs and proudly crane their necks toward the sun for all to see, the frogs like to lay low, hidden in the mud with only their sporadic croaking to signal their presence.

After a stop at the marsh I continued on my way. The middle part of the ride includes a few inclines, but thankfully, what goes up, must come down and eventually I was treated to a nice, long downhill stretch that led me to my second stop; a small pond. Today I was treated to the sight of a large blue heron sitting quietly on a fallen tree limb and a mallard's beautiful water landing. There were a few more turtles as well but I scared them away as soon as I took out my camera.

I pedaled on to the Arlington neighborhood known as Rosslyn. From there I could look across the Potomac and see Georgetown University towering above. From Rosslyn the bike path curves down to Roosevelt Island and follows the Potomac to National Airport. The usual crowds gathered at the end of the runway to watch the planes make their final descent. By the time I passed the airport my legs were tired and I was concentrating on making it through the last 20 minutes or so of my ride.

My last stop was a quick one. I paused to check out some tulip-like flowers in bloom and then took the path that would lead me back to Four Mile Run and where I started two hours before.

A great ride.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Driving With Granny

One of the things I treasure the most is an audio file stored on my iPod. It is a recorded conversation that my father had with my grandmother ten years before she died. My dad's intent was to get a bit of family history. My grandmother, known as Granny to pretty much everyone, was in her mid 80s at the time and certainly had a great deal of family history to share. She had some good side stories to tell as well.

She was more than happy to tell about my mother's athletic career in high school; how she was a star on the basketball team and how even the star can get benched for three games after being caught smoking by the coach.

Sometimes, when my iPod is set to shuffle I'm surprised to hear Granny's voice come through the speakers. I find it pretty much impossible to power off before Granny's done talking, so I often have to do a little driving around to give her time to tell her stories. The time spent is always worth it. There's nothin' better than driving with Granny.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Parallel Challenges

My old computer is clogged with pictures. Well, not really clogged, because it runs and processes just fine, but I've got thousands of digital pictures that I don't know what to do with.

Before the digital age, when I took pictures with my little 110 camera, I'd send the pictures off to get developed and then place them in a photo album. Digital is different. I take hundreds of pictures each month. Some are okay, some pretty good and some are really no good at all, but no matter what they look like they're all sitting on my hard drive.

I've been taking pictures on a pretty much daily basis since I created a photo blog back in October of 2007. I started it on a whim, after a trip to California resulted in some half-decent photos. I'd been tinkering with the idea of a writing blog back then, but really didn't know what I wanted to write about. Then while looking around on the internet I came across a photo challenge. The challenge was pretty simple; take ten pictures a day. Ten seemed like a large number so I started off with two or three and have faithfully posted each day. In the beginning I was adamant that the pictures posted should be taken the same day. In time I gave myself some slack and would often stock up on the weekends and spread the shots out over the following week.

It's been a great experience. My camera has led me out into nature on a more regular basis. It's made me remember how much I love getting out on my bike and allowed me to rediscover the C & O canal towpath that runs from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD. I go through my day looking for pictures I want to take and on a real good day I find them and even have my camera in hand.

The Slice of Life Challenge is pretty similar. It's been a great experience. It's made me think about the events of my day on a regular basis. I go through my day looking for a "slice" to write about. On a good day I find that slice waiting for me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Change of Plans

I had a sinus headache all day today, no doubt my payback for taunting the pollen gods on Monday, so by about 2:00 pm I was making mental plans to get out of work quickly and head home for a nap. At 2:40 I heard a student get kicked out of homework club across the hall from my room. I have no idea what he did but the adult in charge of the group didn't seem like he was offering another chance. Unfortunately, I saw the same kid crying this afternoon as he talked with two teachers about the work he was missing and the work he still needed to do before the end of the week and the end of the quarter in six days. One of the teachers that was in on the discussion reported that he was feeling unsuccessful and completely overwhelmed. I'm sure I'm not the only one who knows the feeling.

The homework proctor wasn't aware of all that had transpired earlier that afternoon; maybe if he had been the student would have stayed. The young man slowly collected his things and walked out the door. I realized if I didn't stop him he'd be off to the wrestling match and no closer to catching up on his work. I started to try and find out what had happened, to find out what he could have done to get him kicked out of homework club after only 7 minutes. As he started to explain how he'd done nothing more than take out a pencil I realized it didn't matter and invited him to come into my room and get to work. And work he did. By the end of the hour he had made a dent in the historical fiction story he had to write for English and started on his math homework. When he noticed the other kids starting to leave homework club he started packing up as well. He was anxious to get to the wrestling match and cheer on his teammates. I suggested he just finish up the math and then go. He agreed and spent another 30 minutes quietly working. We rounded out our time together with a math problem that he was unsure of.

I finally left work at about 4:15, much later than originally planned. I never did get that nap, because when I got home I couldn't resist the temptation to take the first bike ride of the year along the Potomac River. It was a short ride, but boy the daffodils in bloom near Memorial Bridge certainly were pretty, and getting a glimpse of the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial across the river never grows old.

My head still hurts but that's okay. It was a great afternoon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dreams of Days Gone By

I went out for a jog in the neighborhood this afternoon. My legs, heart and lungs were working well together, the temperature was about 68 degrees, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was the kind of weather that would have required a "change in schedule" if I were back in college.

I went to a small, liberal arts school on the banks of the St. Marys River in southern Maryland. One thing you could always count on was that the first warm day in spring, or late winter in this case, meant forgetting about those afternoon classes and heading down to the waterfront to enjoy the gifts of the day.

Yeah, I'm sure there were many kids who went to class on those picture perfect days, but I wasn't one of them. Really, it never took much of an arm twist for me to bow out of two hours of British Literature.

The waterfront offered a variety of activities that included, sun bathing, canoeing, windsurfing and sailing. No matter the activity, the background was the same; the calm bluish-green waters of the St. Marys River and the view of stately homes on the surrounding river banks. Students would gather on those first warm days and laugh with each other. Of course, we were a bunch of liberal arts majors so I'm sure the conversations held a certain philosophical bend to them.

Today's weather took me back to those waterfront days. My jog was a nice visit with nature but I do wish I could have spent my afternoon down south on the water.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hair Day

I'm not really fond of my hair. It's ultra fine, very thin and does not know what to do with itself. It's the kind of hair that attracts oil each night, meaning I wake up each morning feeling a little like Medusa without the snakes.

My hair feels best after a trip to see my hair stylist. I sat leafing through a variety of magazines this afternoon as my stylist did some big work on my hair. First came the foils for a few highlights. Twenty minutes later came the color to wash away those ever increasing grays. Then came the wash, my favorite part. I can't say that it's all that comfortable hanging my head back in the washbowl, but it's worth the inconvenience to have someone else lather up my head and massage my scalp.

I watch Ray, my stylist, snip away at my hair. With a comb in his right hand he pulls the hair above my scalp. The scissors snip away in no apparent order. His comb and scissors move as he talks with me about his plans for St. Patrick's Day, which will be alcohol free this year since he recently decided to make some changes in lifestyle.

With the cutting done he starts with the blow dryer. It is this part I watch most intently, because try as I might I can never get my hair to look the way it does when I leave the salon. Today, I'm okay with that since I don't really like the way it was dried and styled. As I climb in the car I take a look in the mirror and wonder if it's a little too light this time. I push the hair behind my ears and fluff the top with my fingers. Not too bad, I think. I just need to remember to blow dry the back first tomorrow morning.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Afternoon Ritual

Monday usually means a trip to the allergist's office for a double dose of serum. I'm somewhat new to the allergy shot subgroup. I started with my immunotherapy about a year ago after suffering from seasonal allergies for most of my life. Unlike many things my allergies did not get better with age, they got much, much worse.

When I was a kid back in the 70s I suffered through most summers without the benefit of air conditioning. I would lay in bed each night rubbing my itchy eyes until I wanted to just yank those irritated eyeballs right out of their sockets. A wet washcloth provided just enough relief to get me to sleep. Back then there weren't a host of fancy allergy medicines, just a few over the counter things that usually just knocked me out.

It took a good year and a half of seasonal sinus infections and bouts of dizziness for me to finally find out what exactly I'm allergic to. Allergy testing is not for aichmophobics. The testing itself consists of an initial 48 pinpricks to the skin. Once the pinpricks are finished a small portion of 48 different allergens are dropped onto the skin, the idea being that if one is allergic to that specific thing the skin will swell a bit with a hive of some sort. The initial pinpricks showed I was allergic to 4 or 5 different things. It was interesting to watch my skin as hives showed themselves. I was excited to finally find out what exactly was causing all that sneezing and itchy in the spring and fall.

Once the pinprick test was finished, just to be thorough, the allergens that did not show negative responses the first time were injected into my skin. I think I counted somewhere around 64 shots that made their way into my forearms.

The information from the tests made sense. Ragweed was the culprit behind my yearly fall sinus infections and laryngitis. Grass pollen was the reason for a springtime of itchy eyes and sneezing fits. And then there's the dust mite thing. They're with me all year round, but I do what I can to keep them at bay.

It's been just about a year since the shots started. I'm starting to see some improvement, although during the fall I still had problems with sinus headaches and dizziness. At this point I'm hopeful the plan will work. Bring on the grass pollen. I might even open the windows a bit this spring!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Gray Day

It is a gray Sunday afternoon. With weather like this and one less hour in my day it's tempting to follow my cat's lead and curl up on the couch.

An old friend came over last night to introduce her 8 month-old baby girl to myself and a few other friends. What was to have been a pleasant evening with friends took a downward turn when the new mother filled us in on the struggles she's been having with her marriage. Her husband, a former housemate of mine, has been unfaithful. She is hurt and angry. I am surprised that my former housemate is not the guy I thought he was. Is it possible to ever really know someone else? After listening to the specifics of the situation I'm leaning towards no.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Safeway Psychology 101

I wasn't paying much attention to what was happening at the beginning of the grocery store line. With two people ahead of me I figured I had a bit of a wait so I checked out the magazine headlines. Poor Katie Holmes, she's being controlled by that darn husband of hers, something about Scientology but I can't really remember the specifics because I was quickly distracted by the special edition of Beach Homes. While checking out the white furniture and blue sky on the magazine's cover I heard the women ahead of me grumble that the bags that separated the orders had been moved, "that's why there's a problem."

My attention switched to the candy racks as I considered throwing a bag of Peanut M&Ms on the belt. The small bag was a dollar and the larger one was $1.29. I recalled the last time I spent the $1.29 and my disappointment with the number of M&Ms in the bag and decided against the added cost.

By the time I made it to the front of line the grumbler ahead of me was slowly collecting her bags. I smiled at Gayle, the cashier, and waited for the aisle to clear.
Gayle shook her head slightly and began, "You know people should just realize that it takes a lot more energy to be cranky."

I've witnessed a good deal of open hostility toward cashiers in my travels and I have to say I agree with Gayle. Yes, there have certainly been times when I've been cranky with cashiers and the like, but my actions were a result of my own impatience. The ability to remain patient is something I've made a conscience decision to work on over the last five years or so.

In our five minute checkout conversation Gayle and I came to a few conclusions regarding people's reasons for being cranky. They're just not happy people, we decided.

Another Saturday, with a little bit of grocery store psychology thrown in.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Game On

I'm a child of "Arcadian" times, meaning I spent quite a few Friday nights at the Air Hockey table in the local arcade. Air Hockey was definitely my favorite of all the arcade games. Sure, I liked the simulated driving but nothing was better than the cool air as it arose from the pinprick holes and the click of the plastic puck as it found it's way into the goal. Friday nights were always fun when they included a few games of Air Hockey.

My adolescent years paralleled the very beginning of the video game era. There was Asteroids and Space Invaders, but before all that there was Pong. Need I say more? That newfangled video game of the 70s consisted of a little black box that plugged into the TV so we could guide an over-sized cursor up and down the screen in the hopes of connecting with a square object. I loved it... until I met Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde.

Ms. Pacman brought a whole new dimension to my video game experience. It brought color and music. Even today, I have a hard time passing by a Ms. Pacman machine without giving it a go.

My dream house would have a game room. In the center would stand a regulation, arcade-sized air hockey game. A Ms. Pacman game, the tabletop model, would be there too. For old times sake I'd be sure to get the Pong hooked up to the TV, which would of course be a standing console model housed in a big cherry cabinet.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mouse Memo

To the Mouse or Mice Partying Under My Kitchen Sink:

I know you're there. You, and I suspect you have a friend with you, have not done a very good job of concealing your presence. First there was the crashing sound last night, and then tonight when I went to retrieve a trash bag there were all the droppings. Droppings everywhere, along with a partially chewed package of bird suet.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't fair of me to tempt you with the suet. Believe me, I didn't leave it there as some sort of trap. I realize now that storing it under the sink was a poor choice on my part. I should have had it closed up in some sort of plastic container far away from your twitchy little pink nose. But c'mon, where's your discipline? Do you really think every little scrap you zero in on is yours for the taking? And another thing, do you even know how dangerous some of the items stored under the sink can be? Detergents, cleaning sprays, ant spray; all of these things can be pretty toxic. You really should be more careful.

I know it's cold outside and I'm sure that 30 inches of snow a few weeks back didn't help much, but spring is coming. So why don't you just find some other place to party? This time, just this time, I'm going to cut you a break. I'm going to clean up the droppings and get rid of the suet and no, I won't put out the traps. However, the next time I see even ONE little drop of evidence the traps are coming out and the cat will be put on alert.

You have been warned.

The homeowner

P.S. I hear the neighbor keeps cookies in her lower cabinets and also that she's allergic to cats.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Pedicure with Eudora Welty

In an attempt to slam the door shut on winter I met a friend for a pedicure today. Well, it was a pedicure for me, a manicure for her. Apparently her feet are just too ticklish to stand the luffa sponging and razor scraping of a pedicure. I was happy to have the last of the sparking red nail polish left from my pre-Christmas pedicure removed. I just love having someone else wash, massage and moisturize my feet. Better yet, it all happens while I sit in a chair that massages my back while I read and watch the Lifetime channel out of the corner of my eye.

I usually spend my time reading the latest gossip magazine so I can keep up with all the Hollywood celebrity shenanigans. Today I was reading Eudora Welty's, One Writer's Beginnings, not really nail salon literature, but something I've been trying to get to for some time.

The first chapter was titled, "Listening." She began with a description of the clocks in her house and led the reader on a tour of her childhood home that included an inventory of the books in her house and the treasures her father kept in the drawer of his 'library table.' The description was delightful(of course) and had me picturing the cuckoo clock in my grandmother's house.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cat Walk

My cat is in the midst of his evening ritual. From the time I walk in the front door he is intent on going out the back one. As soon as I walk in he moves to the back door, turns his head in my direction and lets out a soft squeaky meow.

If it’s still light out he stands at the open door tentatively, looking outside to get the lay of the land and what’s out there. He’s large in size and somewhat intimidating with his “I’m the bad-ass cat growl,” but underneath all that fat and chatter he’s really a big old scaredy-cat. He’s afraid of children, he’s afraid of adults, he’s pretty much afraid of everything…but me. His fears make him much more of a night prowler. Either that or he’s self-conscience about his weight and would rather prowl around under the cover of darkness.

A short time later he returns to the back door and stares inside through the lowest glass pane. It’s been five minutes since he went out and he’s ready to come back in. Sometimes he strolls to his food bowl for a snack, sometimes he tries to confiscate parts of my dinner, other times he just takes a quick stroll through the living room and wanders back to the door, ready to go out again.

When I don’t respond quickly he uses his left paw to start scratching at the door as if to say, “hey, I’m over here, by the door, can you really NOT see me?” I arise slowly to grant his wish. Within five or ten minutes the ritual begins again.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Running with the Mind

Blue skies, bright sun and a gentle breeze with just a splash of chilly; it seemed like the perfect recipe for a run. Too bad my body didn’t feel the same way.

I wouldn’t really call myself a runner. Jogger is probably a more accurate description but since runner sounds a little more athletic I guess that’s the term I’ll go with. I’ve been running off and on for 30 years now and I love it when my body is with me. Those are the days when my legs glide across the pavement and my heart and lungs work together effortlessly. I felt that way just last week. It was a damp and dreary day. I laced up my shoes and threw on my favorite sweatshirt. Step one felt great, step two felt better and off I went down the street with a smile on my face.

Today was a little different. The weather was perfect, so it seemed to me the run would be the same. Step one felt awkward. Step two felt like I should stop and go back home. Today wasn’t about the legs and the heart and the lungs. Today was all about mind over matter; getting my mind to convince my legs to keep pumping no matter how much they didn’t want to.

The mind won out in the end. As I walked toward the front door I took in the blue sky and raised my head toward the sun. I smiled, happy to have stuck it out.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Dance of the Geese

I stood in the shadows of the Pentagon this afternoon studying a gaggle of Canada geese on a creek that leads to the Potomac River. The group that had gathered was large and loud. Every few minutes five or six would take off and fly above the others. Takeoff was preceded by a few honks and the splashes of webbed feet as wings beat feverishly to help their large bodies gain altitude. Four geese floated at the head of the flock and honked in appreciation as each small subset took off above them. I stood entranced with the movement and communication I witnessed. If there was any sort of order to the exodus I certainly didn’t know about it. Within ten minutes the last of the gaggle was gone and I walked back to my car smiling as I thought of the impressively choreographed show that I had witnessed.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Mother's Magnolia Tree

When I was younger, about 13 or 14, my mother came home with a small magnolia tree to plant in the backyard. After planting it she stepped back proudly and said, “that tree will grow up to 60 feet high one day.”

“Wow, where do you think you’ll be when it gets that tall?” I asked.

She smiled and replied, “Probably six feet under.”

My parents and I moved out of that house way before the tree reached maturity. I left at the age of 25 to begin my own life in the DC area. My parents sold the house and moved a few years later.

I drove by the old house today. At first I couldn’t even remember the address. Was the house number 2015? No, it was 2053. That’s right, 2053 Rainier Ave.

The outside looked pretty good, the paint was lighter than what it used to be and I noticed a 10-foot privacy fence around the side. I drove around the block in hopes of getting a look at the backyard. The tiny stream that ran along the back edge of the property was still there and I spied a new deck off the family room.

There was also a new shed at the lower end of the yard and there to it’s left stood the tree. It towered above most of the other trees nearby and reminded me of the magnolia tree that sits in front of my own house today. I can’t say for sure if it was up to 60 feet tall yet, but it had to be close.

My mother? She’s still six feet above ground, and I’m quite happy about that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Middle School Moment

I glanced up to check on my students who were finishing up some research and noticed something was wrong. The computer monitor in my direct line of sight had a tiled image of a very naked woman on it.

My head couldn’t compute what I was seeing. I was at work, in the school library, with my 6th grade class. How did the naked woman get there? And then she was gone, replaced by some sort of Word document. So maybe I didn’t see it. But I did see it. I knew I did.

“Who is that? Hey, come here!” I yelled.

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s my science article,” he replied.

“No,” I demanded, “ what’s behind the science article?”

“I didn’t do that,” he replied, “someone else made that my desktop background."

“You gotta log out and get out of here!”

He smirked.

I restated, “Get out!”

He logged out and of course She reappeared, in all her glory, on the computer monitor. I covered what I could with a piece of paper before gathering my wits and turning off the monitor. Another teacher escorted him to the vice principal’s office.

I don’t really know what my class was doing during our 6o second exchange, but I’m pretty sure they were well aware of what was going on.

I turned around.

“Anyone else need some help?”

What a middle school moment it was. So glad it’s Friday.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I read the obituaries every day. I’m fascinated not by death, but by the kinds of lives that complete strangers have lived. A few people think my fascination with obituaries is downright morbid, but I contend that I am inspired to live a better life thanks to the strangers I’ve read about over the years.

One of the first things to catch my eye in an obituary is the name of the deceased and the descriptive phrase that follows it. Of all the obituaries I’ve read over the years one of my favorites has to be, Anna S. Berrien, 78; Howard Nurse Made a Mean Poundcake. The write up that followed told the story of a wonderful woman who worked the midnight shift to be able to spend more time with her children. She also chose to spend her work hours with patients suffering from tuberculosis. The part I liked the best, the golden line of the obituary that really made me smile, was that “she was known in her off-duty life for her stunningly moist pound-cake.” This was not the only pound cake obituary I’ve read, there was also the lovely lady who took it upon herself to bake Pound cakes and deliver them to people she deemed in need of a bit of cheering up. A recipe was included so readers could pass on the tradition.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Extra Credit

The best advice I ever got was from my mom. It was simple. "Mary," she said, "when it comes to bringing stuff for a party, I mean if ever there's a sign-up sheet at school for anything, just sign up for the napkins, or plates, or something that doesn't take much time."

My mother had imparted that advice years before I was a high school Senior trying to survive Trig. In the angst of a failing moment I forgot my mother's advice when Sister Rita Dolerine offered extra credit to anyone who would bake a cake for the cake booth she was running at the annual Spring Fair. I also forgot that cooking doesn't come naturally to me.

"I can sister!" I called out in desperation. I was willing to do just about anything to raise my C to a B and saw this as my chance.

I came home with the news that I was going to bake a cake for math. It wasn't gonna be any box cake either. I was gonna bake this cake from scratch.
I don't bake. I don't follow directions well but that's mostly because I'm not much into precision.

At the Spring Fair my cake sat apart from all the others. It was lopsided, it was ugly and in the end it went unsold.
I should have asked if I could bring napkins.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Slow Walk to the Car

I left my house at 6:45 this morning and walked to the car. I moved slowly, as I usually do, allowing myself time to survey the morning. I like to take a few seconds as I walk out into the day to scan the sky and see what's what.

During the long winter months I use the short walk to the car to spot the moon and its location in the sky. With the approach of spring I check out the splashes of pale yellow, orange and gold in the east as the sun makes its way above the horizon. For the most part, the walk to the car is concerned more with the sights than the sounds of the morning.

This morning was way different. I don’t recall much about the colors of the sunrise because the only thing seared in my brain is the frenetic chirping sounds of the birds welcoming the morning. The symphony of sound was noticeable, to the point that I wondered what all the fuss was about. After a winter that gave the area more than the usual amount of snow I can only believe those chirping birds were celebrating the subtle signs of spring; green buds on the branches of the hydrangea bushes and the green stalks of daffodils and crocuses bursting through the cold, damp soil that was buried under 30 inches of snow only three weeks ago.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Away We Go!

Minute to minute, day to day, scattered thoughts ricochet around my brain. So it's with an uneasy smile on my face that I begin the Slice of Life Challenge. Why the smile? I guess it's because I like thinking of myself as a writer. It makes me happy to consider that all the thoughts that rattle around my head may actually connect somehow, that in the end they might just add up to something of substance. Then comes the anxiety; because in the same moment that I think those scattered thoughts may be important or inspiring to someone else, I worry that they're nothing more than a knotty string of random thought, meaningless to everyone...but me.

I'll never know for sure...unless I start writing. Away we go.