Category Archives: School

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. 

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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!

 

 

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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. 

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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.

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a few things i’m doing

This thing called Life is kickin’ our collective asses around here lately. Maybe I’ll be able to write about it sometime, but for right now, in the midst of the muck, there are a few things I need to keep off the blog.  In between the hits, though, I’m finding myself in need of a few distractions … which, as we know, is the reason why we have The Internet.

Fortunately, all kinds of cool things are happening in the online world this fall.  Here’s what I’m doing to try and forget about Life for awhile.

Autumn-2015-Pin-it-and-Do-it-Challenge

My blogging friend Trish of Love, Laughter and (a touch of) Insanity is bringing back her fun Pin It and Do It Challenge for September and October. For whatever reason, I’ve recently re-discovered Pinterest, and this challenge will be a little kick in the pants for me to do some projects, try some new recipes, make some blog improvements and who knows what else.  Go to Trish’s blog for the official sign up, follow me on Pinterest, and have fun pinning and doing.

Bloggiesta-F15

Speaking of blog improvements and whatnot, look what starts today – besides the first day of the planet Mercury losing its collective shit AGAIN and spinning the hell out of control in retrograde, that is. (Because, you know, I really need THAT nonsense right now.)  Bloggiesta is back, baby, and the Fall 2015 edition is happening now.

I really like this multi-day Bloggiesta format. I’m hoping to use this go-around to take care of a few housekeeping duties here on the blog. Not quite sure what, exactly, as a lot depends on how the week goes. I’m supposed to write an official Bloggiesta to do list as part of my participation post (which I guess this is), so we’ll keep it the same as all the other Bloggiestas I’ve done:

1) catch up on book reviews (and other posts) and
2) update the Book Reviews page here on the blog.

RIP X - 2015

image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

It’s September, and that means the return of the book blogging community’s beloved R.I.P. Reading Challenge. Short for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, this annual challenge created by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is being hosted this year – the 10th! – by the wonderful Andi and Heather of The Estella Society. You can find all the R.I.P. details here.  I’m planning to participate in Peril the Second which means I’ll be reading two books of any length that fit within the R.I.P. categories (that includes mystery, suspense, horror, thriller, gothic, dark fantasy, supernatural types of reads and the like).

ripnineperilsecond

ripnineperilshort

I’m not sure what books I’ll be reading for this year’s R.I.P. This might be one of those years where I make it up as we go.  Right now, I’m in the midst of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which seems to qualify. It definitely has the suspenseful, creepy factor. And I haven’t ruled out doing Peril the Short Story either because I am all about the short stories, yo.

Finally, thanks to the magic of Coursera and FutureLearn, I’m enrolled in four MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) right now:

Plagues, Witches and War: The World of Historical Fiction through the University of Virginia;
William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place through Lancaster University, in the UK;
Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (known as ModPo, for short), with the University of Pennsylvania.
Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance (with Monash University and which started on Monday but I haven’t shown up for class yet).

Like everything else, I’ll find my way there, albeit with a few side trips en route.

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sunday salon: summer’s end

The Sunday Salon

To say we (as in, our family) are dealing with a difficult transition brought on by the unofficial end of summer to the forced beginning of fall is …well, a bit of an understatement. Anxiety is always heightened as August segues into September, what with a new school year and all the adjustments that brings, but the past 10 days have brought something entirely different.

It’s the autism and yet it isn’t the autism. There are limits to what I can say in this space, which is in direct contrast to what I want to say. Most of this is not entirely my story to tell. This is new, unknown, and scary territory.

I’m finding myself in need of a step back from the outside world and have prescribed a modified Facebook break for myself for this holiday weekend and possibly beyond. I tend to check Facebook somewhat obsessively, and I’m trying to limit myself to twice a day.

Reading
I noticed that quite a few books in my immediate to-be-read queue were rather dark, which is not unusual for me but also not what I can handle right now. (Yes, I’m looking at you, A Little Life.) Back to the library they went.

Rising StrongWhile at the library yesterday with The Girl, Brene Brown’s new book Rising Strong was prominent on the Nonfiction Bestsellers table. I hadn’t noticed it earlier in the week, so I took that as a sign of sorts that I should probably grab it despite having never read Brene Brown and being only slightly familiar with her work. Enough people are devotees of hers that I figured she might be helpful for me to read right now.

(UPDATE: Rising Strong is going to be a DNF, as I’m finding this too jargonish and … well, lacking anything I didn’t already kind of know. Perhaps Brene Brown isn’t for me or maybe this wasn’t the right book to start with.) 

Go Set a Watchman – the Harper Lee novel that is either much-celebrated or a representative of elder abuse, depending on your viewpoint – was among my planned reads for this blessedly long weekend. Alas, I made it through only two chapters last night before declaring this a DNF. I’ll probably do a longer post with my thoughts on this, which I approached with some skepticism and an open mind (at least I’d like to think so).  Suffice it to say that 43 pages was enough to put me solidly in the “this should never have been published” camp.

The UnspeakableThis week I finished The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum. Several of these essays in this collection resonated with me, particularly “The Best Possible Experience,” “Not What It Used to Be,” and “Difference Maker” – all of which best fit the theme of “the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor…and the unspeakable acts that teach no easy lessons and therefore are elbowed out of sight.” (pg. 5-6)

Listening
Wonderful TownMy attention span for audio books is similarly limited; I’m listening almost entirely to podcasts these days. That said, I’m also listening to Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker, which has been on my TBR forever. I’m finding this to be a fantastic collection for filling in the gaps with authors and stories that I probably should have read by now.  The order of the stories presented on audio doesn’t match up with the print edition, though. So far I’ve listened to “Poor Visitor” by Jamaica Kincaid; “The Five-Forty-Eight” by John Cheever (another author on my list I need to read more of); and “The Whore of Mensa” by Woody Allen, which gave me a much-needed laugh.

Learning
Aside from the life lessons these dark days are teaching me, I finished my first MOOC, “Literature of the Country House” through the University of Sheffield and am now immersed in “Plagues, Witches, and War: The World of Historical Fiction” from the University of Virginia. One of the readings is The Physick of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, which fits perfectly with the 10th annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge being hosted this year by The Estella Society. I’m planning to sign up again, as I do every year.

Hope you’re having a good Sunday – and if you’re in the States, hopefully it is part of a three-day weekend.

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sunday salon: so, today we’re gonna party like it’s blog post #1,999

The Sunday Salon

Indulge me, my friends, if I seem more nostalgic than usual today, which I am.  Undoubtedly, this is the result of seeing too many Facebook photos of high school and college friends schlepping the equivalent of several Bed, Bath and Beyond stores into dorms that only merely resemble the SINGLE room that I moved into WITH TWO OTHER ROOMMATES nearly three million decades ago.

For whatever reason, there seems to be more than the usual number of these photos – of which I am not complaining, except for the fact that they are making me feel So. Fucking. Old.

Learning
Coincidentally (or not so much) I’ve discovered the world of MOOCs (massive online open courses) – which, yes, I know have been around for quite some time now. As I tend to do with every new shiny toy I come across, I’ve been going a little overboard signing myself up for free online courses. I’m currently enrolled in four such classes and a few others starting later this fall.

This weekend, I’m trying to finish up Literature of the English Country House which was offered through the University of Sheffield in the UK (and which ended earlier this month) and Childhood in the Digital Age through The Open University, which ends this week. I’m enjoying the former more; we’re dipping into excerpts from Jane Austen, Dickens and Oscar Wilde and looking at the houses that inspired their work.

My newest course is Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction, taught by Bruce Holsinger of the University of Virginia. This just started but already seems intense in a way that I love; at 8 weeks long and with a lot of readings, it feels like a literature course I would have taken in college.

Reflecting
I don’t need a therapist to tell me that these indulgences are no coincidence, given my mental rewinding of the videotape of my own glory days. Without getting into details that I’m not allowed to write about publicly, suffice it to say that there has been a great deal of reflection in our house lately about choices we’ve made or didn’t make, paths we pursued and those left untrodden.

It could also be the new start that is the school year itself; my kids start 8th grade this week. I am extremely conscious that their own “real world” paths of college or what have you are only five years away. It is the most infinitesimal sliver of time, I know this, but sometimes it seems as if there is a chasm between here and there.

Celebrating
A week ago, this blog celebrated its 7th anniversary. Today’s post happens to be a milestone, too: it’s blog post #1,999. Two thousand posts seems like something to celebrate and I feel like I should be commemorating this. I’ve been kicking around an idea in my mind and the 2,000th post might be a good time to announce it. Stay tuned.

Reading and Reviewing
Not too much to report on the reading front this week. I breezed through The Little Spark: 30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity by Carrie Bloomston. (I’m thisclose to reaching my goal for the library’s adult summer reading program, so I needed something relatively short.) It’s part motivation, part how-to/workbook, and part inspiration for jump-starting your “little spark” of creativity. I also finished True Stories, Well Told which I mentioned in last week’s Salon post.

The Picture of Dorian GrayStill listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I have less than 100 pages left, so this will likely be finished up this week. I’m reading a new YA novel for a review I’m doing for Cleaver Magazine, and another review was just accepted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is scheduled to appear next Sunday.

Creating
Speaking of creating, we’re looking into ways of re-configuring our basement family room/game room area. This is a ridiculously underutilized space in our house.  My overflowing bookshelves live there, my even messier scrapbooking table is there, and aside from the kids going downstairs to watch TV every once in awhile, the entire space is really a glorified storage unit. It would be an interior designer’s dream, seriously. We’re looking into how best to expand the home office space by adding a desk and bookshelves for The Husband.

It seems as if there is a lot going on … and I guess there is. Right now, though, I’m savoring this quiet, late summer day on the deck with one of the most picture-perfect days that Pittsburgh has to offer, while trying not to live too much in the distant past or the uncertain future, but right here, in these small but monumental moments.

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