Category Archives: School

wednesday musings

image of a late winter sky with heavy and light cloud streaks over pittsburgh, february 2017

Still with me? I know, I know … it has been a few weeks since I wrote an actual blog post here–besides posting links to several published book reviews, that is. Actually, those are a big part of the reason for my absenteeism in this space. Most of you know I do some freelance workwriting, editing and the like. This in addition to my full-time, pays-most-of-the-bills-and-provides-health-insurance (for now) job, which also involves quite a bit of wordsmithing.

Anyway, to my delight, the freelancing assignments have picked up speed in recent weeks. Definitely a nice problem to have. One consequence (if you can call it that) is I’ve needed to spend more time reading–and since most of those books are for reviews post-publication, I feel I can’t say much about them beforehand.

Which, you know, doesn’t lend itself to having much material for one’s book blog.

Good thing there’s nothing else going on in the world to discuss.

(We won’t talk politics tonight because the whole state of the world has me feeling overwhelmed, angry, sad, hopeless and downright frightened. Often all at the same time.)

Tonight offers a slight reprieve from reading and writing (plus The Girl, who has been using my laptop for homework is finished early) so I thought I’d give you a few updates.


Two weeks ago I made an impromptu, whirlwind trip back to my hometown of Northeast Philadelphia for what was a sad visit. My best friend’s mother died and as I said in my eulogy at the funeral, she was like a second mom to me. I expected it to be an emotional trip–and it was. I’m working on a post or an essay about this because it was a jarring experience to return to my hometown after many years away. I’m really, really glad I went even if it took me a good week to feel back to what passes for my regular self.


On my trip, I listened to the audio of Wishful Drinking by the late Carrie Fisher. Albeit bittersweet, it was the perfect choice for what is a boring five hour plus drive across the red state of T**mpsylvania. (The audiobook is shorter than the drive.) It’s incredibly conversational, as if Carrie herself was riding in the passenger seat. An excellent audiobook. I loved it.


Mrs. Douglas, our cat, had a bout of pancreatitis last week. She’s on the mend now, thank God.


Kids are fine. I’m in summer activity mode. I think The Girl is going to be doing some volunteer work along with at least one or two week-long camps (writing and music).  The Boy is going to camp for four weeks. Thanks to the freelancing, there will likely be a family vacation after not being able to take one last year.


Speaking of The Girl, she has been working really hard to improve in math. At Christmastime, she mentioned she really wanted to see Bon Jovi in concert when they came to Pittsburgh so we struck a deal: if her math grades improved and she sought extra help after school through the tutoring service if necessary (something she has vehemently resisted), I would think about getting tickets. She hasn’t stopped talking about this. She’s been consistently hovering above or close to a B for a few months now so we’ll be seeing Jon in a few weeks.


Can I say how much I love that my girl is a huge fan of Bon Jovi and how grateful I am that she inherited my taste in music? (Because, yeah, twist my arm to take her to see Bon Jovi and pretend I’m back in 1986.)


I haven’t been running. Like, at all. Even though this has been a mild winter by Pittsburgh standards, I’m not a cold weather girl.  I haven’t managed to get myself to a yoga class or anything else I’d intended on doing. Hell, I’ve stopped taking the stairs at work. When the weather gets warmer–maybe as soon as this weekend!–I’m going to start over with Couch to 5K. That means I won’t be ready to do the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K this year, but maybe I’ll aim for the Great Race this fall instead or another 5K.


If you need a good book to read, here are two of my recent Shelf Awareness reviews.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff  (she’s a Philly writer, whooo!)

The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

 

currently … sunday randomness

My computer time is somewhat limited this weekend, thanks to a faulty laptop power cord. Yesterday I went to the local big box electronics store in search of a replacement; despite the 12 year old salesman’s assurances, the cord didn’t fit and back to the store I went. Another didn’t work, and after calling an incompetent individual at some affiliate of the big box store, we had an unpleasant conversation about why said person needed every iota of data I own before even checking to see if they had the right cord. I finally resorted to ordering one from Amazon which, thanks to a free trial of Amazon Prime, should be here tomorrow and let’s all pray it works.

First world problems in a country that’s on a fast-track to becoming part of the third world, I know. No doubt my curtailed computer access (and a migraine today that had me in bed for part of the afternoon) is the universe’s way of giving me a much-needed commercial break from the 24/7 reality show hosted by President Shit-gibbon. I do think I need to incorporate shit-gibbon into my vocabulary more frequently, don’t you? Perhaps I can work it in next time I tweet the newly-secretary of education Cruella DeVos, which I did in response to her dumb-ass comment the other day about not being able to find any pencils.

Don’t even get me started on that incompetent bitch’s bought cabinet position. This week I let my spineless piece of shit Senator know how I felt in my latest voice mail message, one that probably landed me on some watch list, assuming anyone in his office actually listened to it, which is doubtful.

Ironically, we had an IEP meeting the day after Cruella DeVos was confirmed, during which I asked one of our team members (The Boy’s autistic support teacher) if he anticipated staying in that capacity for next school year. He said he would and I replied, “If not, we can bribe you. We’ve heard that works well in some educational circles,” which brought down the house.

It was a really good IEP meeting. Really good. This is a wonderful team, and the outcome of that meeting was a major highlight of the past week and a much-needed pick me up.

Like almost everyone else I’m still on speaking terms with, it has been difficult during the past three weeks (Jesus God, how the hell has this only been three fucking weeks?!) to stay sane while speaking out against the danger this regime represents. At times, it’s difficult to focus and I’m more distracted than usual because so much is happening so quickly and as someone who finds it really hard to tune out from the news (not so much in a fear of missing out (FOMO) regard but in an oh-fuck-some-serious-shit-just-happened regard), it’s not a healthy way to be.

I’m trying to find some balance, though. I like the suggestion of focusing on a few key areas. (As you may have guessed, mine are disability rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ issues.) Everyone’s spouting the mantra of self-care these days, suddenly discovering the benefits of eating healthy and getting more sleep and exercise. As if these became new concepts on November 9. The irony is all this yoga-ing and social media fasting will make us the healthiest doomed society ever.

(That’s not to say I’m not doing or don’t support any of those sorts of things. I am and I do.)

What I haven’t been doing is much reading.  So far this year I’ve read three books. Three. All were review books, as is the one I’m reading now, so I can’t really say much about them until the reviews are published.

How about you? What are you reading, watching, doing?

 

thursday randomness (88/99)

Sky - 8-25-2016

evening sky tonight, 8/25/2016

– Driving to work this morning, there were two cars ahead of me — one in the left lane and the other directly in front of me.  Left Lane Car’s license plate said INSANE2.  The other car had a Trump bumper sticker.  I found this rather amusing.

– We tend to listen to music (via The Husband’s Spotify playlist) while having breakfast, preparing last minute lunches, etc.  Yesterday was the first day of school and surprisingly, both kids didn’t give me too much of a hard time about taking their picture.  They refuse to pose together, of course, so we do individual shots.  As I’m doing this, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” comes on, which was sort of ironic. And cool.

– I don’t want to jinx anything but so far, so good with the beginning of high school. Thank you God. I really couldn’t have handled a repeat of last year.

– I tried Iranian food today from Conflict Kitchen in Oakland and discovered that I like salad-e shirazi.

– A new school year means it’s time for me to sign up for new MOOCs that I likely won’t finish.  (I’m not alone; did you know only 9% of people who sign up for a free online course actually complete the whole thing?)  Anyway, I’ll be giving Modern and Contemporary Poetry a try again this fall along with Greek and Roman Mythology. Both offered online, free, through the University of Pennsylvania. (I certainly hope my deceased Mom-Mom has taken notice of this so she can tell all of her friends in heaven that her granddaughter is a student at Penn). I’m also doing a Latin course via a language program because The Girl is taking Latin this year and I always wanted to but probably wasn’t considered smart enough for, back in my high school.

– Out of nowhere, The Boy just initiated a discussion with me about feminism (“are you a feminist, Mom?” to which I answered with my oft-used sarcastic line that has gotten much use this week, “I’m sorry, are you new here?”). What followed was one of the longest, all-encompassing conversations we have ever had — about history, women’s rights, racism, literacy rates among men and women, how one’s feminist beliefs are formed and more. (I don’t know what the hell they’re teaching at that high school, but if this is any indication, my tax dollars are being well-spent.)

– Ten more of these 99 Days of Summer Blogging posts to go. I’m feeling like I’m just coasting at this point and it probably shows, but whatever. Just sayin’, don’t be surprised to see more of these types of posts.

 

sunday salon/currently …moment in time

Sunday Salon 4

Sitting out here on the deck, with the sunny and 75 degrees and no humidity weather as perfect as it gets here in Pittsburgh, this feels like a moment in time. Summer is definitely winding down. Only two days remain before school starts, and it’s a milestone one: this is the year we turn a corner and become the parents of high schoolers.

“I remember thinking, back when we were in the NICU, that their high school graduation year of 2020 seemed so far away,”  The Husband commented on Wednesday, as the four of us sat in the school’s auditorium for high school orientation.  This is where it all starts, the principal said, the plans and decisions and classes that shape the next four years.

Of course, he was careful to say that there’s still time to decide on a post-graduation pathway; nothing needs to be determined this week.  But the message was clear: time’s a-tickin’. Time keeps on tickin’, tickin’ tickin’ into the future …. 

It’s all a bit unsettling. Even without a new building to navigate and new school personnel to get used to, the beginning of school historically tends to be a difficult, stressful, anxiety-levels-through-the-stratosphere transition for our family. Much of this past week has been spent trying to mitigate as much of that as possible. To put it mildly,  it’s been exhausting on every level.

Bright Precious DayOne of my go-to coping strategies has been to seek out a mindless read, and Jay McInerney’s latest, Bright, Precious Days is fitting that bill perfectly. It’s another incarnation of the insufferable lives of Corrine and Russell Calloway, the protagonists in two of McInerney’s Brightness Falls and The Good Life. Just like his earlier works, Bright, Precious Days is yet another one of McInerney’s name-dropping romps through the New York City playgrounds of the glitterati.

If you’ve read any of McInerney’s earlier novels, you know what you’ll be getting with any of his subsequent books. Bright, Precious Days does not veer from the formula that has made him successful. It’s a navel-gazing, salad-eating, charity-gala-going, Chanel-wearing, hedge-fund managing narrative set in New York (of course) between 2006-2008.  Hillary is running for president against a guy named Barack whose only major political experience is a short stint as a Senator;  the subprime mortgage crisis and the recession hasn’t yet happened, and people still carry flip phones.

It all seems like an ancient time, as much of a relic from the past as the cocaine-laced ’80s that define McInerney’s characters own bright, precious days. Those they lost in the era of drugs and AIDS, as well as the horror of 9/11, are still very much part of their present.

Like I said, sometimes you just need a book where you don’t have to think much and if I was in a different state of mind, this might not be holding my interest. But it’s doing its job right now by being an effective diversion, so that’s something. And even though The Husband and I never were nor will ever be in the same social and economic class as the Calloways, there’s a part of me that can relate to them.  At 47, we don’t feel old enough to have kids in high school, despite my insistence to The Husband at the school orientation that we are, in fact older than the typical parents.  At nearly 50 (the age of the Calloways), it seems we should have our act together by now, have done more, know what we’re doing with our lives.  Instead, the decisions we’ve put into place and the assumptions we’ve made about our future feel shaky, at best.

It’s twilight.  The clouds are aflame, there’s a slight autumnal chill in the air. All any of us really have in this moment in time are these bright, precious days.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #84 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

sunday salon/currently … 6/5/2016 (7/99)

Sunday Salon banner

A quick stop in the Salon this morning, as I’m headed out to work for a few hours. It’s raining, which certainly will put a damper on the outdoor festival that we have planned, but it could be worse: my job at today’s work event is simply to promote reading. This I can do in any kind of weather. The Girl is coming to volunteer with me and then we’ll hopefully have a chance to grab lunch from one of the food trucks scheduled to be at the reading celebration.

Reading

LaRoseSin in the Second CityShades of Blue

Still working my way through LaRose by Louise Erdrich, listening to Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott, and on my Kindle I’ve downloaded the anthology (edited by the brilliant Amy Ferris) Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide and Feeling Blue.  Also reading the May 16 edition of The New Yorker.

Watching
Almost finished with the second season of Parks & Recreation.  Everyone in our family enjoys this one — a rarity!

Celebrating
Friday was the kids’ last day of 8th grade.  I can’t believe middle school is over and that they’ll be high school students next year.  Well, technically “intermediate high school,” which is how our district defines 9th and 10th grade (and I am in full support with the separation from the upperclassmen) but still. High school.

Anticipating
Some downtime this week, thanks to a few vacation days from work. I have a new book to review for the Post-Gazette and I’m hoping to clear the decks of the others I’m in progress with so I can focus on this one.

99 Days of Summer BloggingBlogging
99 Days of Summer Blogging is going strong. This is Post #7.  A few bloggers are playing along, which is great.

’till tomorrow!

 

 

Weekend Cooking: The Joy of Culinary Arts (6/99)

Like most parents, I dread homework. The nagging, the whining, the procrastination — the whole thing.

A few weeks ago, however, The Girl brought home one particular assignment that delighted me to no end.

Cook dinner for the entire family.

From planning and preparation to cleaning up. Parents were only allowed to supervise (and, presumably, purchase the food).

Now that’s a homework project I wouldn’t mind being assigned every night.

(Well, technically I am, but you get the point.)

As I’ve written previously, dinnertime tends to be a challenge for our family. And now each one of my offspring would get to experience the joy of creating a meal appealing to a gluten-free vegetarian (me); a vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables (The Husband); a carnivore (The Boy); and The Girl herself, who won’t eat red meat but who will consume chicken.

Mix these ingredients with the teacher’s instructions, which stated that the meal needed to have a grain, protein, vegetable, and fruit. Plus, they were allowed only ONE convenience item (something already prepared, like sauce).

She chose to make her favorite dinner: Chicken Alfredo, using gluten free pasta and vegetarian chicken. Tomatoes stood in for peas, which were being recalled during the week that this was happening.  Grapes were the fruit, offered as a side.

Culinary Arts

It turned out great, in my opinion.  (Her teacher disagreed somewhat, taking off five points for having TWO convenience items. When I asked about this, apparently pasta and sauce was one convenience item too many. My bad: I must have missed the instructions about growing and harvesting the rice and quinoa that was used in the gluten-free pasta.)

I’m certainly not complaining. Besides my delight that Culinary Arts is a required class in our school district’s middle school curriculum — along with shop class, in which the kids made functional wooden clocks — there was a bonus to this.

With twins taking Culinary Arts — albeit at separate times — this meant TWO SEPARATE DINNERS that I didn’t have to plan, prepare, cook, or clean up.

Extra credit bonus points for me!

Weekend Cooking - New

 

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #6 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

finish line

Clouds - Pittsburgh 12-2-2015One of my college friends died suddenly last night.

Amidst the maelstrom of emotions still swirling since The Husband’s medical situation on Thanksgiving, this loss has me shaken. There are too many similarities. The timing of this. It’s too close.

We hadn’t been in touch for years but that’s the thing with our college — it doesn’t matter if you last spoke to someone yesterday or 25 years ago.  We were there at a time when our school was small enough to know everyone. You became family.

I kept up with him through his twin brother.  After all, if you knew one twin, you knew the other. They were inseparable, always together. They were legendary on a campus where we were so close-knit, connected like family. We all felt like they were our brothers. They just had that way about them.

And now? Well, now it’s impossible to think of a world where they’re not together, confusing the hell out of everyone because they looked and acted so much alike. Jokesters.  Always ready with a smile, a laugh.

They were cross-country runners and in a way, that’s what makes this such a shock. Because it doesn’t seem possible that someone with that kind of endurance, who was a champion competitor, could be taken so quickly and unexpectedly.

Somewhere, there’s a picture of both of them in my high school yearbook, in the background during an invitational meet that my school hosted every autumn.  We would discover this coincidence a few years later. There we are, my friend said, pointing out himself and his brother in grainy black and white. A snapshot in time.

My memories of that time can sometimes seem like that.  An image, a moment, a visage of what we were and hoped to be. A random capture, like the photo I snapped today of the changing clouds that greeted me upon leaving work at the end of this heavy day. A burst of yellow light, a streak of pink. A feathery wisp.

More and more often, that’s what this life seems to be like sometimes.  Fleeting. A flash and a blur. Our finish line around the corner, always just out of sight.