I know that someday you'll find better things.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Please, Don't Eat the Monkeys

It was a banana-shaped tin.
It rattled around when I shook it.

Holiday and End-of-Year gifts, which always coincide timing-wise with grades being submitted for report cards, really put the squeeze on teachers who try to write personal, thoughtful thank-you notes.

Time was of the essence.

Thank you for the banana candies, I wrote, I'm sure they will be delicious. Best wishes for a safe and wonderful summer.

Sometime later, when I had an opportunity to investigate further, I opened the tin and discovered that they were not candies at all. They were magnets shaped like monkeys.

Can you imagine what that student must have thought? That his teacher ATE the magnets?

PS-- Although the magnets were cute, I had a difficult time bringing myself to use them to hold up papers on the board. No matter how I tried to arrange them, I couldn't find harmony. When arranged facing each other, it seemed like they were about to fight. When I tried to correct for this, it seemed like they were checking out each other's rear ends. Eventually, I just put them away to avoid the conflict.
image from http://www.ingeniu.com/images/catalog/product.BANANA054.large.jpg

image from http://stoysnetcdn.com/hogw/hogw20270.jpg

Look! Russ received a mysterious gift this year that turned out to also be a magnet, but this one was much more deceptive, don't you think?

I didn't believe him when he told me it was a magnet.

Then, he stuck it to my filing cabinet and removed all doubt.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day. All the cereal boxes say so--even the generic, healthy, low-sugar varieties found in our pantry. According to them, it's practically the only way to start your day out right. 

Each year, when "free breakfast month" is advertised at the kids' school--during state-standardized testing, not coincidentally-- we hope they won't notice, but they always do.

Caleb was the first to give it a try. He reported a veritable feast of pastries, sugared cereals, and chocolate milk.

A dentist's nightmare, basically.
Or dream-come-true, if the dentist needed more clientele.

Later, we noticed his meal account had been charged for these "free" indulgences, so we put the kibosh on the whole thing.

When Mia started school a few years later, she wanted to try it, too. After all, she'd never even been allowed to buy school lunch, so this was an especially desirable opportunity.

Because she didn't have an established meal account for them to 'accidentally' bill, and because Michelle Obama had been on a quest to make school food more nutritious, we allowed them to try the breakfast. 

Just this once, and only because it was the last day of 'free' month.

"Take care of her," I instructed Caleb. "She hasn't ever done this before. She won't know what to do or where to go. And don't let her get too sugared up or she'll be a basketcase all day."

All day long, I waited for a behavior-related phone call or email from Mia's teacher, but nothing came of it. Naturally, it was my first question at pickup time.

"Well? How was it?"
"Fine," said Caleb.
"Fantastic!" said Mia. "I had a cupcake--"

I turned to Caleb, horrified.

"She means English muffin," he said.
"--with sausage and egg and maybe cheese. And a little container of fruit that was covered in honey. And milk that was brown because it had chocolate in it--"

Again I glared at Caleb, who shrugged, feigning innocence, and made himself scarce.

I didn't want to hear the rest of the breakfast bonanza. "So, after you made your choices, you got to choose a spot to sit at, right? So you did you finally get to sit with Caleb?" Their regular lunches overlapped so that third graders and kindergartners were in the cafeteria at the same time, but the school was pretty strict about assigned seating.

Mia's eyes filled. Big, round, sugar-induced tears began to roll down her cheeks.

"Caleb sat with his friends. He said it was the last seat and that I had to go somewhere else."
"Did you find any kindergarten friends to sit with?"
"There weren't any there," she said, sniffling.

I pictured my little girl wandering around the elementary cafeteria and had to keep my own eyes from getting teary.

"So what did you do?"
"I had to sit with some strangers. Fifth graders, mostly. A few fourth graders, too."

My heart was breaking, but a teeny, tiny part of me was relieved that it hadn't worked out. Besides, maybe it wasn't too late to spin out a positive outcome.

"Wow," I said, "that sounds like a very stressful way to start your day. I am so sorry that you had to go through that. Let's just go back to having normal, healthy breakfast here at home."

"Actually, Mom," she said, brightening up a bit, "I was thinking just the opposite. I think I should start having breakfast at school more often. That way, those big kids won't be strangers anymore. If I could just spend a little more time getting to know them, they'll become my friends!" 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Thorne VS Nancy

"I don't get it," said Russ. "You've been wanting to read Letters From a Nut by Ted Nancy for ages. You said it was supposed to be hilarious. You checked out both copies from the library for us. Now you're saying it's too mean?"


"But you love reading that David Thorne blog, and that guy is seriously rude. Crass, even. Worse, possibly."

They're completely different, though. Ted Nancy makes stuff up. Contacting Kinko's and pretending to be Siamese twins seeking employment (and engaging in a correspondence with the company about said situation) is disrespectful to the use of time for the poor employee assigned to cordially responding to such nonsense.

David Thorne, on the other hand, does not seem to seek out opportunities to be a jerk (too often) but is quick to retaliate when others attempt to waste his time.

I can get behind that.

Case in point: Missing Missy


Jerk? Totally. 
But he was clearly provoked.

Friday, December 27, 2013


How many middle-of-the-night bottles of Delsym have we emptied? More than a dozen, probably. Yet I still have to check the dosage every time I take the bottle down from the medicine cabinet, as if the routine 5ml might have suddenly changed.

Same thing with the unsweetened applesauce, but on a much grander scale. Four six-packs every week, and on each and every ingredient list I have to read the words: apples, water, absorbic acid.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mystery of The Ages

I don't know why I did this. I should have left well enough alone, but one night, when I couldn't sleep, I tried to calculate the current age of the students I had during my first year of teaching.

If most of them were 15 in 2003, that would mean they'd be 25 now. Twenty-five. Wow! That's older than I was at the time that I'd taught them.

Plenty of people have done things that are noteworthy (or nefarious!) by the time they've reached their twenty-fifth birthdays.

I wondered if any of those former students would pop up in a google search.

Most teachers cannot remember every name, of course, but two main factors contribute to lasting memorability-- unforgettable characters (both positive and negative, usually negative) and unusual names (which is why Russ will remember his former student Rakshit until he is eighty years old, at least.)

Markeith Smith--as the only Markeith I've ever known-- fell into the unusual name category. This is not to say he wasn't a character. He definitely was one of the jolliest, goofiest smiley rascals I'd encountered, which was such a contrast to his remarkable height and exquisite afro. He'd arrived midway through the year from Waxahachie, and he made it very clear that none of us should call him by his birth name/report card name of Taylor.

Of all the names (ten, total, I'd imagine) I searched for that night, his was the only one that turned up newsworthy info.

When I last saw Markeith, he was heading off to a bright future in high school. It turns out he had been very busy in the ten years since eighth grade in Dallas.

And most of that time had been spent in high school.

Markeith is now something of a local legend, but unfortunately it is for all the wrong reasons. It is amazing--and heartbreaking--to see just how far desperation can lead.

Check out these headlines: (You can click on them to read the actual articles)

22-year-old spent years trying to play Texas freshman football (Yahoo News, December 8, 2011. This is the most intriguingly and compassionately written of all the articles.)

The real impostor: An interview with Taylor Markeith Smith, the grown man who tried to play high school football (SportsDayHS, a division of DMN, April 5, 2012. This is the most current of all the articles and includes some bizarre quotes.)

Coaches puzzled by man who tried to play football for at least 14 Dallas-area high schools under 3 different names (Dallas Morning News, December 8, 2011)

Texas con man, 22, tried to play high school football at more than a dozen schools, coaches say (NY Daily News, December 9, 2011) 

Man Poses as Teen Football Player at 13 Schools (NBC-DFW, December 8, 2011)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Too Short to Clean

There goes my life.

Someone was probably praised for this little mass-mail marketing gem, but it hit me like a lump of coal.

My whole life IS cleaning my house. Mostly. Okay, a good portion of time is spent thinking about cleaning my house and procrastinating cleaning my house, but that counts, right?

Did they even consider how this advertising campaign might impact the local OCD population?

Of course they didn't, and the reason is obvious.

What kind of self-respecting OCD person would ever invite someone else to clean her home?

Imagine the hours of pre-cleaning and organizing that would have to happen weekly, just to prepare the home for the hired cleaning crew. 

There's no way I'd ever patronize their services.

The only lasting damage from receiving this mailer has proven to be the compulsive worrying-- if life is too short to clean my own home, what else should I be doing? What things worth living for have been sacrificed at the expense of a self-cleaned home?

Thanks, Cleaning Authority, for giving me one more thing to obsess about.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Nicest Bathroom Ever

Notice I didn't say "cleanest" bathroom ever.
In fact, the first trip to the restroom was almost traumatizing.

This was not the floor. It was the wall.
Let's try not to think about the logistics.

I tried to tell myself it was installation art.
This was Denton, after all.

Later in the evening, the second trip was a pleasant surprise. The stall I'd been avoiding (for obvious reasons) proved to be the kinder of the two.

A bathroom door surrounded by glass bricks!
You'd avoid it too, right?

I'm glad I took the chance and went in. (Desperation may have played a role in this decision!) 

I have never seen such supportive and encouraging graffiti in all my born days.

Consider the forethought of this one-- someone planned ahead and brought a sharpie AND found a smooth surface.
So wise.

In addition to the affirmations, the walls offered universal truths.

Even the toilet paper was covered in love!

Admittedly, I was in there for an excessive amount of time trying to photograph all this beauty. 

I reasoned that anyone waiting in line didn't have to wonder what I up to, though. If they were that curious, all they had to do was peek through the glass wall!

Friday, December 20, 2013


"Write about what you would do if you could be invisible for a day," I read aloud from Mia's homework packet.

"I already did, Mom. See?"

She cleared her throat dramatically and began reading out loud, which was good because quite a few of the words had very... unusual... spellings.

"I would sneak candy. I would hide under a sheet and pretend to be a ghost. When Caleb is in his room on time out, I would tiptoe in and say," she changed her tone of voice to low and spooky, "'There is a god speaking to you-o-o-o-!' And while I was in there, I would change the time on the clock, just to confuse him. The end."

"Well, you have a lot of interesting thoughts here... I wasn't expecting quite so many naughty tricks. Good thing you aren't invisible."

I turned the page, expecting the math portion of the packet, but instead, we discovered a second lined sheet.

"Looks like your story was supposed to be longer," I told her.

"I have nothing else to say about the subject," she said, oh-so-matter-of-factly.

"Too bad for you, my dear. The expectation is for you to write more, so you'll need to think of something. Might I suggest something kind and helpful? Maybe you could use your power of invisibility to do something nice to surprise the family."

"Fine," she said, begrudgingly. 

Sighing, she began to write, saying each word as she wrote it. 

"And I would be helpful and surprise the family by getting the mail," she hunkered down over the paper, tightened her grip on the pencil, and in a barely audible voice added, "naked."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wu Wei

Wait until you see what Mia brought home from her dad's house the other day. 

"I won it at a Christmas party!" she announced joyfully. "Isn't it awesome?"

I could barely mask my disdain for the hideous, huge creature being shoved toward me.

"You know, I think I remember you saying just the other day that you already had too many stuffed animals. Why," I asked, "aren't you going to have that...um.... that..."

"Lizard," she interrupted.

"Lizard," I repeated, "live at your dad's house?"

"Because, Mom. It just doesn't go with the flow over there. So we're going to keep it here!"

Do you have a mouse in your pocket?
More importantly, have you seen my flow?

Here is my flow:

My spice rack is alphabetized. Don't hate.

Everyone categorizes their medicine cabinet, right?

I could go on, but you get the idea, don't you?

In Benjamin Hoff's book The Tao of Pooh, an entire chapter is devoted to the idea of wu wei, also known as 'going with the flow'.

I spent most of the day trying, but I just don't think I can find the wu wei in this situation.

Use the soup can for size reference. This thing is freakin' huge.
Go with the flow? I think... NO.

No wu wei here, either.
Sorry, buddy, but you've got to go.

I'm sending this thing back with her next weekend, and if this... lizard...returns, I will have to deliver shock-and-awe caliber retaliation. Yup. Stickers and temporary tattoos by the dozen.

Don't think for one second that I'm joking.
I've done it before.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Track Suit

It was Saturday morning, and Russ was having a wardrobe conflict. He asked if he'd be more likely to spend the day up on the roof cleaning out the gutters or going out shopping.

How should I know?

"You have more clothes than anyone I've ever met. More clothes than the whole family combined. Don't you have anything between suit-and-tie and paint-splattered-and-torn?" (That maybe-- just maybe --doesn't feature superhero graphics?!)

He emerged from the closet. "How about this? How do I look?"

I had to be honest."Like you just stepped out of an episode of The Sopranos."

Because he did. He really did. Just like Paulie Walnuts, but younger and without hair.

Woke up this morning
Put your tracksuit on...

He was not amused by my parody, and it wasn't [only] because of my singing and beatboxing.

I found this image of Paulie Walnuts here.
(Goodness knows where that guy found it, though!)

Friday, December 13, 2013


Would you like to know what happens when a fossilized ammonite (phylum: mollusca; class: cephalopoda; subclass: ammonoidea) from the cretaceous period (somewhere between 144 million and 65 million years ago) takes a voyage through the washing machine (2013) in the pocket of someone's pants?

I will give you this hint: it will start with a very long lecture to a certain someone...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Paper Soldiers

It's a tree aficionado's nightmare around here.
(Although I am always eager to dazzle readers with snazzy words, I did not use the word "arborphiliac" just now because it turns out that is a real thing with a very different--and disturbing--meaning! Trust me, you don't want to look it up.)

One little ice storm has devastated the landscape.
Okay, landscaping.
Death and destruction everywhere you turn.

Many of the trees and bushes that have dutifully guarded our front walkways and protected our backyard privacy succumbed to the recent weather crisis.

It's very dramatic and heartbreaking.

I lived in New England for 18 years, and I don't remember seeing things like this each winter. 

Maybe those northern sentinels have an age advantage-- sentries for centuries, they've an internal strength that our newbie trees do not.

Are the trees more resilient to the cold up north, or are the people more resilient to the sight of broken trees?

Now, it could just be that my memory is inaccurate. Or it could just be that there are just so many trees around that area that it skews the proportion and perception.

But I like to think that the trees up there--because they are more plentiful, and because they are usually clumped together in those things called groves and forests-- are able to withstand all the cold temperatures and ice because they are sticking together.

Supporting each other.
Holding each other up through the hard times.

Those are the kind of trees Robert Frost and Joyce Kilmer used to write about. 

Nobody ever writes about our trees. 
Except me, I guess.


The following photos show the damage in my immediate neighborhood. This is only a part of what fell within a 50-foot radius of my house.

I had to take this picture from the upstairs window because I duct-taped the back door closed, and the fence gate is still iced over.

This sidewalk leads directly to the middle school. How many kids thought about turning around and calling it quits at this "roadblock"?

Their lawn crew comes twice a week. I'm sure this will be gone by morning.

I feel especially bad for this family-- under all that debris is an impressive Christmas display. I wonder if the manger offered any protection.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Close Call

Yesterday at the post office, I nearly mailed my phone and took a picture of the event with Mia's Christmas wish list to Santa.

It was at the drive-by mailbox, too. (Don't you remember what happened the last time I went in that building? Oy!)

Even if I hadn't stopped myself in time, the mistake wouldn't have been particularly disastrous. My phone hardly works at this point, anyway. The power button is jammed in such a way that it only turns on every 8th attempt or so.

I read an article about my phone the other day that called it a dinosaur. A dinosaur!

This was an insult not just to my phone but to my heritage.

My family has a tradition of being "early adopters". (I believe that is actually an industry term.) I had dial-up internet in its infancy, when it took so long to connect that you had time to run a load of laundry while you waited, and you could actually go empty the dishwasher in the time it took for pages to load. 

Not that there were many pages, mind you. 

And forget about online chatting. There were only ten other people in the country who even had Prodigy at the time, and most of them were probably weirdos, anyway.

I still had to rely on Grolier Multi-media Encyclopedia for most of my research.
But we had the internet.
(Thanks, Dad!)

Throughout the years, I had a series of excellent phones, ending with the LG Voyager. That thing was the Cadillac of phones. Huge and luxurious, it had all the bells and whistles. (Some features were better than others-- one time I accidentally set it so that it was announcing all my text messages aloud. "New message from Mom," the computerized voice called out from my purse on the other side of the classroom, "Love you, honey-bunny. Call me soon!")

That phone was pretty sweet.
But it was still just a phone.

I waited eagerly for the first Android smartphone to be released. Man, did I love that thing. Even though it was buggy in the way first generation things often are, it was still so cool. And useful. But mostly cool.

Its death was especially unfortunate because of the simplicity of the situation. One day while I was supervising the kids in the pool, it just slipped right off my lap, falling a whopping 24 inches to its fate.

I had no choice but to replace it with the very best option at the time.

The HTC Dinosaur.

With the new problems (like the power button issue) popping up each day, it is easy to see why it's on its way to extinction.

Our situation is different now. I'm 34. I have 4 kids. We're a single-income family. I shouldn't need to have the newest and coolest phone (I'm trying to convince myself of this even as I try to convince you!) so I've been looking at other options. Let me clarify-- less expensive options.

They are all

I suppose I can live with bland.

The thing that will sting the most, though, is losing that 8 megapixel phone camera. Most of the things in my price range offer 5 megapixels. I'm not even sure if megapixels matter, but it feels like a loss, doesn't it?

I know I'll find something.
I know it will be outdated almost immediately.
I'm sure it will get the job done.

But will I ever be able to take photos with this level of clarity again?

Sunday, December 8, 2013


“Did everyone really say that back then? Instead of hi?” Hannah asked, as we watched a horrible sitcom called The Goldbergs the other night.

“Did everyone say what?” we both said, since we were somewhat confused (but mostly because we are big promoters of using antecedents in this house.)

“Yo!” Hannah replied, outwardly unperturbed. I did sense a mental eyeroll, though. I’m almost sure of it.

“No,” said Russ, at the exact time that I said, “Of course they did!”

“Well, it was kind of an eighties thing, but I think it was especially a Philadelphia thing,” explained Russ.

“Not true,” I said. “It was an everywhere thing. Even the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air said ‘Yo!’”

We all turned our attention back to the show, but I couldn’t concentrate. That infectious Fresh Prince theme song was now playing inside my head.

This is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there
I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air…

Suddenly Hannah gasped. “In West Philadelphia, born and raised!” she practically shouted.

Well, I guess we all had the dumb song stuck in our heads.

And even worse, it appeared that Russ was right again.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Public Enemy Number One

Secret service was swarming at Hannah’s school today. Well, not secret service, she clarified. 

Bodyguards. More than usual.

More than seemed necessary for one fellow in a wheelchair.

“Which reminds me,” she said, “today I gave an impromptu tour to somebody who’s running for governor. I don’t remember his name, but he’s The Something General.”

Now typically I don’t do politics. That’s my dad’s thing.
And I don’t do loud—that’s Russ’s forte.

But this news, oh, this was too much. I couldn’t contain my opinion OR my volume.

“NO WAY. NO FREAKING WAY. I’ll tell you his name. Then I’ll tell you TEN reasons why he will NEVER EVER have my vote. EVER!”

The special guest was none other than the attorney general. The one whose office so badly botched our child support case that after three years and tens of thousands of dollars, it still has not been resolved.

This totally explains all the bodyguards, though, because in a state where 913,551* custodial parents are counting on him and his team of 2,775* people to uphold the legal system and enforce the responsibilities of non-custodial parents so that we CPs can clothe and feed our children… well, that’s a tremendous amount of animosity pointed directly at him.

In fact, I’m sort of surprised he chose to tour a school at all.

***** UPDATE:

"Did you receive the pictures I emailed to you of you with the Attorney General?" asked Hannah's art teacher.
"I did, thank you," she replied.
"Were your parents shocked?"
"I can honestly say they were."
"Were they amazed?"
"That doesn't even begin to describe it."

Ah, that Hannah. Truthful yet tactful, always.

*Russ found these statistics for me, but they are from 2005. Since eight years have passed, I think we should double these numbers, don't you?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Split Personality

Part dumpster-diver, part Howard Hughes. That's me.

Today is trash day. The neighbors have put out this bookshelf, and it is taking ALL of my self-discipline not to swipe it. It’s a maneuver I’ve done before for a lesser reward—a very nice glass door that The Jazzy One had set curbside. He has the same floorplan that we do, so it should have fit.

It did not.

It sat in a most inconvenient (and inconspicuous) place in our garage for at least six months before we covertly sneaked it into our car under the cover of darkness and delivered to the Habitat for Humanity people. 

They were so grateful and thanked us with such sincerity that I felt like a schmuck for days.

Possibly weeks.

This bookshelf looks to be in good shape. Why would anybody put a perfectly good bookshelf out on trash day?

I wonder if I’m strong enough to carry it to our garage. Probably. Or I could always use the Little Tikes plastic wagon. I’ve done that move before, too. (One must be exceptionally nonchalant when wheeling away neighbors' castoffs in a Little Tikes wagon.)

What if they are getting rid of it because a dog or cat sprayed it?


What if it has termites?


What if it has bedbugs?


Could I continue to live in a house in a neighborhood with an alley-mate with bedbugs? It’s almost too terrible to consider.

Okay. I could take it, and if there is anything even remotely suspicious about it, I could sell it on Craigslist.

But then they’d think we were the ones with bedbugs.

I can’t take it!

I just can’t take it.

My cover story for taking this photo involves their lovely new fence. Totally photoworthy, don't you think?