Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dear Substitute Teaching 101

Dear Substitute Teaching 101,

You were never a course on my official transcripts.  Having become a teacher first, you'd think that I'd know how to be a substitute teacher.  Well, it turns out that substitute teaching--although similar to a regular teaching position--has its own special quirks.

In my few months of substitute teaching, I've been in classrooms all over our district in several different grade levels and positions.  Although I prefer primary grades, I am gearing myself to step into the classrooms of older children.  I must say that I have had very positive experiences thus far; there have been no disasters or mishaps to scar deter me from this freshman period of the re-entrance into my professional life.  But I have seen some commonalities about this job in the children that I teach.  Here is my list of #TopTen Field Notes from a Substitute. 

10.  A substitute has no leverage.  Being in charge for those few hours or a day hardly makes a sub have any real sort of authority.  Sure, most kids will listen to your requests and oblige to your commands, but if a child does not want to listen, there is very little that can be done since there will be no follow-up the next day.  One could leave a note for the teacher, but one is fully aware that oftentimes it could reflect unfavorably upon oneself as "a weak sub."  #DoAsISayOrElse?

9.  A substitute will be asked--no fewer times than the number of children in the classroom--the question, "may I get a drink of water?" as if the world's supply of potable water will cease the very next day.  Furthermore, imagine this as the most volatile chain reaction that chemists have ever seen: think nuclear fissions brought about by one unassuming initiating neutron.  Or, alternatively, think #WhackAMole

8.  Subsequently, if those children did in fact drink all that precious water they claimed they needed, the next obvious question to attack the sub like a swarm of bees--literally and figuratively--would surely be: "may I use the washroom?"  #YouWentFiveMinutesAgo

7.  There exists a staff member in the school more popular than Santa Claus himself: the nurse.  "May I go see the nurse?" is such a popular phrase for subs that you'd think the nurse's job is to pass out candy to children who go visit her during school hours.  #NoYouDon'tNeedABandaidForThatMicroscopicCut

6.  Some children excel in slow motion and big smiles.  When a substitute teacher is given a schedule by which to follow for the day, one minds that schedule.  Except when one child holds the class back because he takes forever and a day to change into gym shoes.  And when you're just about to "chop-chop" the kid, he gives you the biggest smile to forcefully make you swallow whatever was coming out of your mouth right back down where it came from.  #WorkItSmiley

5.  A substitute will be able to spot The Angel of the class within 30 minutes of being in the classroom (if the teacher has not already written the child's name in the sub plans).  The Angel will be the sub's Right Hand Man for the entirety of the day.  These children are Life Savers; they know everything and anything there is to know about the school day and do all the right things.  #MyBFFForTheDay

4.  By the same token, for every Angel, there exists a demon challenging child that knows just exactly how to push your buttons.  This is the child that will throw everything from inside her desk onto the floor and claim she is cleaning it out--just before a test.  Or the one who takes twenty minutes to copy down one sentence from the board because that speck on the floor reminds him of the food particle stuck between his dog's teeth.  Or the child who has ignored everything you've said in the last ten minutes because the hidden-from-your-view book he's not supposed to be reading is far more exciting than the instructions you are giving for the assignment.  #DoYouWannaGoSeeTheNurse?

3. Then there's always the "But our teachers says..."  To which I want to reply, "Well, I've got a working brain inside my head that sits upon a strong pair of shoulders from which good judgement originates."  But instead, I work my own ginormous Smiley and simply say #IAmYourTeacherToday.

2.  And don't forget I come with tricks up my sleeves prepared.  My quid pro quo skills match any antics thrown my way, and I, too, can charm my way around the class with a twinkle in my eye.  At least until the end of the day.  #DaylightComeAndMeWannaGoHome

1.  Children do remember.  These short term interactions with children are not nearly as emotionally rewarding as a regular teacher's gains.  But even then, when I pass by a class of kids whom I taught over a month ago for one day, and the children say hello to me as if they've seen me every day since that one day, it's a return that keeps the flame lit and burning.  #TheyLikeMeTheyReallyReallyLikeMe

So, Dear Substitute Teaching 101, these are the notes that I took, not for your course, but in-the-field and on-the-job.  I'm thankful that I haven't lost any children to the washroom, made anyone become dehydrated from extreme thirst, or caused any child's significant blood lost from being denied of bandage access.  It always helps to have an extra radar on for eccentric children who may have special needs in certain areas.  And, usually, an extra dose of Patience and wearing a Big Smile usually make a day easier and more worthwhile.  Substitute teaching is certainly anything but ordinary or mundane.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Dear Shades of Gray

Dear Shades of Gray,

As much as trial lawyers want to paint a clear, black-and-white picture of an incident and its surrounding circumstances, you inevitably exist, and are particularly important for the jury who only sees what gets put on the table.

Earlier this week I mentioned my unsettling experience during my jury duty last week.  I've now had almost a week to churn it over and over in my head.  As with things over which I no longer have control, the only thing I can do now is let it go.  Sorting out my thoughts and putting them down in words will help with that.  And so I share my experience here.

There were several factors to why I came away from the case feeling so icky.  First and foremost, the judge's reaction after she read our verdict was unexpected.  She was someone whom we have come to respect and admire over the course of several days.  And she was clearly upset over our decision.  We walked out of the courtroom feeling like we had done something terribly wrong.

The case was a first degree murder trial involving gang violence.  Prior to the trial, the judge had told us that our state does not have a death penalty, and that we were to only decide on the charges and not worry about the sentencing (which is her responsibility).  She further explained that The State carries the burden of proof; the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the crime he was charged with.  They will call witnesses to provide testimony and evidence to support the charge.  The defense team, however, has no burden of proof.  It does not even have to call anyone to testify. 

After the trial and during deliberation, the jurors were to first consider whether or not the defendant was guilty of first degree murder.  If we were to find him guilty, then we consider a mitigating factor that could lessen the charge to second degree murder.  At the end of the trial--after opening remarks, testimonies, and closing arguments--we the jurors unanimously agreed that The State had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had indeed committed first degree murder.  The "not guilty" verdict went out the window, and we began looking at the mitigating factor to see whether or not the charge of second degree murder applied.

Well, here is where all the water was murky and gray.  The defendant was fifteen years of age when he committed the crime, nearly five years ago.  Many jurors wondered why he was being tried as an adult, as well as why this case took so long to go to trial.  We just thought that perhaps that had to do with the grand jury indictment process and we were not a part of that decision.  So we read and reread the mitigating factor to understand what it means.

Back during the trial, much to our surprise, the defense counselors put the defendant on the stand.  Remember: he doesn't have to prove that he didn't commit the crime.  Nevertheless, his story unfolded the way his counselors posed the questions.  He gave us a "self-defense" story, and I say that with quotes because it contradicted the testimony of The State's witnesses and seemed like an excuse.  Truthfully, none of the jurors believed his "excuse."

Again, the defense does not have a burden of proof.  It only has to make the jurors believe the defendant's justification of actions, based on a preponderance of evidence.  We were told to apply this preponderance to the mitigating factor in consideration of second degree murder.  So the gist of the "mitigating factor" verbiage was: was it probable that the defendant believed that his use of deadly force was justified at the time it occurred, even if it was unreasonable?  I have no recollection of it mentioning--the foreman had read it out loud four or five times, and I personally got up to read with my own eyes countless times--the words, "self-defense."  As such, this discussion went toward a broad consideration of the defendant's age, his upbringing, his environment, and the gang culture that he was living in.  We looked at a bigger picture, if you will.

At the beginning of the discussion, I felt that the jurors were split, about 50-50, on first and second degree murder charges.  After the first round of discussion, we took a vote, and 9 out of 12 hands went up in favor of second degree murder.  Those that didn't agree were concerned that lessening the charge would be telling the world what he did--which was in fact, kill a man--is okay.  But the others quickly argued that it wouldn't be condoning his actions because we did have to first charge him with first degree murder in order to get to this point anyway.  He is still guilty of murder.  But this group of jurors--some more than others--believed that his age was a big factor in his immature actions that lead to a deadly consequence (and there were details that could support this line of thinking).

It didn't take too much longer for the jurors to unanimously agree on the charge of second degree murder.  The deliberation took two hours and forty minutes.

As you might be able to imagine, none of us wanted to go back into the courtroom.  We had to go and face the family members of the victim and the defendant.  We had to come face-to-face with the defense counselors, who gave an over-the-top, theatrical, and almost sickeningly untruthful closing argument.  We had to be in the presence of the prosecuting team, who presented an incredibly strong case with multiple eyewitnesses and looked us in the eyes and asked for justice. 

It doesn't take an intellectual to read someone's body language.  When the judge read the verdict aloud, she was obviously upset.  I took an accidental glance at the defense table and saw a big smile on one counselor, and I wish I hadn't seen that.  Aside from being blocked by another juror to see any reactions of The State's attorneys, I did not dare even look that way.

In that moment, I felt that our decision made the defense team feel like it won the case, even though the defendant was still charged with murder.  I felt that our decision failed The State because we did not bring justice to The People.  My heart sank.  Either way, we did wrong.

I can only hope that we did right by one person.  And it's up to that one person how to live the rest of his life.

We were then shipped back into the jury room, and many of us were stunned by what just took place.  The judge then came into the room to give us our jury duty service certificates.  There were a few question and answers exchanged, and this is what I mean by Shades of Gray that the jury does not see.  The judge revealed the following to us moments after the verdict had been made:
  • That the "mitigating factor" specifically referred to the "self-defense" story; without the defendant going on the stand, there would have been no possibility of a second degree murder charge.
  • That there is usually never "this many witnesses" in cases like these.
  • That because the defendant received a second degree charge, he will now be sentenced as a juvenile and "will be out very soon."

I'm sure the counselors fought over the verbiage of that "mitigating factor."  Perhaps the ambiguity played a big part of the decision.  Perhaps not.  I followed the judge's order not to talk to anyone about the case during the trial, so immediately after the case closed, I came home and talked for hours to Dear Husband, who tried to help me make sense of it (he's an attorney, though not in criminal law).  Interestingly, these are some facts that he found out after the case was closed:
  • In our state, the law is that anyone 15 years or older who commits a serious crime (from a list of particulars) is tried as an adult.
  • Once a juvenile serves his time, the crime is expunged from his records.  (That the defendant has already served a number of years means he will be out soon with no prior records.) 
  • The judge came to her position from the way of the District Attorney's office.  

So, it is easy to walk away from being jurors on this trial wondering if we had done the "right thing."  And I am afraid that we will never know that.  As one juror said, "we can only pray--and for those of us who don't believe in God, hope--that he will learn from this lesson" and do something to show for it.  Another juror walked away believing that this is fair, "because he committed the crime as a juvenile and will now be sentenced as a juvenile." 

As for me, even though it was so hard to walk back into the courtroom and face everyone, I know I am going to be able to live with our decision.  I know for a fact that the brain of a 15-year-old is not the same as an adult, and had this defendant been a 35-year-old man, the deliberation process would have been much different. 

I understand that people all have different views on the severity of charges on such serious crimes, but please understand that it is impossible to fairly deliberate on a case unless one has been through the entire process--listened to all the witnesses and observed their demeanor on the stand, and seen all the testimony and evidence presented.  I hope that you can take this just as my sharing of what happened as well as my own struggles with the case and being an integral part of the verdict.

This has certainly not been easy--being plucked out of my home, away from my family, and into a courtroom to help decide the fate of a person's life, who, in turn, took that of another's.  This was a completely unexpected event that put me in the face of gang violence, a culture that I cannot pretend to understand and thus am unqualified to judge.  But I had to--we jurors all had to.

And we did the best we could. 

So, Dear Shades of Gray, we the jurors served our civic duty by trying this serious and difficult case.  I think we arrived at our decision because our life experience and common sense made us aware of your presence.  The world is rarely as black-and-white as we want it to be, and you are the proof of that false depiction. 


Monday, January 21, 2013

Dear Storm

Dear Storm,

You were in the forecast back in December, when I received that plain, white envelope from the Circuit Court of our state.  Dear Husband knew immediately what it was; I was a little slow.  You see, I'm a jury duty virgin.

The first and only time I had ever received a jury summon was about four years ago, when Dear Son was only one-year-old.  I had quickly sent in my reasons for not being able to serve my duty: I was the sole caretaker of my son who was still nursing at the time.  Valid reason; I was excused.  This time, no valid reason.  I was a standby juror, so I had to call at 4:30 PM or thereafter the day before the summon day to find out if I have to go.  Calendar entry--check.  Alarm at time of event--check.

Let's back up a bit.  My previous post had indicated that we had all gotten sick within days of one another.  DS stayed home one day from a moderate fever.  The next day he woke up with a fever of 104.  A quick doctor's office visit determined that he had the flu.  The next day, Dear Daughter began a fever.  The next day was my turn, and sure enough, DH got his the following day.  But since DS had been fever-free for 24 hours by then, he went back to school.

Then everything fell apart.

DS came home telling me that he slipped on ice and fell on his head and bottom.  I got super worried because of his previous case of severe concussion back in preschool.  He seemed to be okay, so I stopped the Mommy Freak Out with the ninety thousand questions.  After lunch, he told me he was tired and voluntarily took a nap, which never happens, since to him a nap would mean missing out on Life itself.  Two hours later, he woke up with a 102 fever.  Which meant only one thing: he'd caught a secondary infection and needed antibiotics right away.  The clock read 4:00 PM.  The doctor's office was closing in an hour.  CALL and drive him in ASAP.

In the waiting room, DS was burning hot, complaining about his tummy, hacking out a lung, and just looked terrible.  My Mommy Freak Out kicked up into high gear.  I had visions of DS upchucking right there in the waiting room.  I worried about the fall being the reason for his passing out and that the very tender bump on his head is bleeding on the inside.  Still quite ill myself, I felt like the day could not have gone more wrong.

Until my phone alarm went off to tell me to call that number on the jury summon.  If you are a standby juror, you must report to your appointed courthouse tomorrow. <Shoulder slump #1>.

Sure enough, DS had a sinus infection.  And I had a long day ahead.  The criminal court I was summoned to is on the south side of downtown, a good hour and a half drive in rush hour.  Fortunately, DH's work project was winding down and he was able to work from home that week.  So, much against my likings, I had to leave my sick child at home with Daddy while I take my own sick self to the courthouse the next day. 

I got to my destination despite my driving anxieties.  It took exactly 1.5 hours door-to-door.  By the time I got there, it felt like the day was already more than half over.  I sat in the waiting room for about 1.5 hours.  Thank goodness for smartphones these days.  By the time I was called in, I had already exhausted scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, and was taking pictures of myself to document how incredibly bored I was under the unflattering fluorescent lights.  And then they call my panel number.  <Shoulder slump #2>.

Sixty of us where escorted down the elevators and to an open area to line up.  Then we were asked to walk in an orderly fashion to the opposite side of the building.  Teachers across America would have been so proud to see how well we learned and put to good use our lining-up and walking skills.  Everyone was quiet, cooperative, and alert.  We were then filed into a hallway to stand and wait while the judge prepared her courtroom for us.  I almost felt like bleating like a sheep.

Next, we entered the courtroom.  The judge greeted us and began to explain procedures for selecting jurors.  First, she asked the counselors to introduce themselves.  Seated at the defense table was a good looking young African American male dressed in a white button down shirt and tie.  While I am still trying to decipher the ins and outs of this jury selection process, the judge read us the case's charge: first degree murder.  <Shoulder slump #3>.

The judge then gave us a nice pep talk about the significance of jury duty and what it means for the democracy of our country, including a few relevant anecdotes to support her points.  I found her to be very professional, charismatic, and had a great presence as a judge of her courtroom.  After about half an hour, she dismissed us for lunch and had us return for the jury selection process. 

From the moment I walked into the courtroom, I knew that I was going to be selected.  For whatever reason, I felt like I was kind of a no-brainer when it came to jury selection.  I was the third out of 34 called to be interviewed.  Having never gone through this process before, I had no idea what to expect.  The judge read off my juror questionnaire to verify my general area of residence, my profession (part-time substitute teacher), and that I or no one in my family had ever been a victim of a crime or committed a crime (no).  Then she asked: which grade level I teach (I am certified to teach K to 9), which year did I like to teach the most (um, first grade?), and what I like to do in my spare time (I like to knit, I like to read, and I like to bake).  As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I seriously rolled my eyes inside my head because I knew my fate as a first-time juror had been sealed.  And yes, I was selected.  <Shoulder slump #4>.

But, after having been selected, I accepted my fate and actually looked forward to learning from this experience since I knew DS would be taken care of at home.  There was a reason why I didn't raise my hand when the judge asked if anyone would not be able to try this case "without prejudice or sympathy"--as did some people, who were eventually dismissed.  Some had very valid reasons for saying so; others clearly just wanted to be dismissed from jury duty.

The judge had indicated a timeline for this case: that it would begin on Wednesday and jurors would deliberate on Friday.  For a first degree murder case.  Which meant to me that the judge felt confident this would be a slam dunk case.  Which really chilled me to my bones.  This was a gang violence case involving a deadly shooting.  And I wasn't to talk about any of it until the case was dismissed on Friday. 

This "slam dunk" case involved testimony, courtroom theatrics, and jury deliberation.  Even though the prosecutor had painted a clear, black-and-white case for us, some jurors found shades of gray.  It was one of the most draining three days of my life.  I came away from this duty so unsettled that I know our verdict will probably haunt me for a very long time.  I will write about my internal struggles on this case in the next post.  I need to write, as a part of my own therapy to--as DH called it--Post Jury Duty Syndrome.  And I think I have almost digested it all enough to get it clearly down in words.  I have lost sleep and appetite over this, so you can imagine how difficult it has been for me.

To further show how distraught I had been, I hadn't even had the inclination to post anything on Facebook for over a week <gasp!>.

Interestingly, on the home front, DH and I completely switched roles.  I drove the 1.5 hour commute to work (that earned me $17.20 a day) jury duty.  I logged >320 miles over the course of 4 days to miss my children during the day and come home completely wiped with only a few hours of the day left.  Poor DH called himself Mr. Mom and took care of sick DS while he was deathly ill himself.  He became the medicine administrator, the snack provider, the homework tutor, the violin lessons chauffeur, and the play date coordinator.  We each had a somewhat prolonged and solid experience of what each other usually goes through in a week.  Now that it's over, I am so grateful to have my normal life back.

So grateful.  

So, Dear Storm, as fiercely as you come, you do eventually leave.  You've left a big mess, though, and looking at the state of my home gives me only one action: <shoulder slump #5>.  It's time for some serious storm relief this afternoon.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dear Calm-Before-the-Storm

Dear Calm-Before-the-Storm,

You are the unsuspecting peace that sometimes seems too-good-to-be-true.  We oftentimes don't even notice you, and other times you are so eerily overwhelming that there warrants cause for alarm for what's about to come.

A few weeks ago, New Year came and went.  The house went from post-holiday messy to impeccably spotless; the kiddos went back to school for academic and daily routine; and I pulled on my winter skin to get ready to brave our cold, blustery January.  I felt like we stepped into 2013 on the right foot.

One nice weekday afternoon after school while Dear Son quietly read his books, I had the opportunity to sneak up on him to snap a picture.  I adore such moments of calm, when he is completely engrossed in his own little world.  The air is quiet, his mind is engaged, and my heart is content.

So what is it about this sort of peace that made me suddenly think, "Hmmm, we've all had a relatively healthy winter so far"?  I'm not sure, because you know what happens immediately when that thought leaves your mind as nonchalantly as it came to it?

Someone gets sick.  

That very night, DS had a temperature.  He stayed home the next day, and Dear Husband and I began taking vitamin C.  DH swears by vitamin C to counter colds.  I don't exactly know why, because he always gets sick as soon as one of the kiddos get sick.  I, on the other hand, had always been graced by Mommy Immunity all these years since Dear Daughter and DS came to be.  Well, someone had to hold the fort while the kiddos and the hubby were sick, and that brave, against-all-odds person was none other than yours truly.

Well, up until this year.  

For whatever reason, DH and I switched roles this year.  Twice have I been sick with the kiddos since they started this school year, while DH went about his days happily taking his vitamin C.  So down goes DS on day one, and DD descends on day three, while I follow suit on day four.  But all this is just the precursor to the storm.  The eye has yet to come.

Let's just say that I am currently engaged in something that I am not at liberty to talk about until it is completely over (and of course, by saying just that, I've totally just told you what exactly it is).  After which I will have plenty to write say.  So for the time being, I'd like for you to enjoy my calm-before-the-storm, and then go storm-chasing with me when I come back.  (If you think I've been quiet here and on my regular social media outlets, this is my lame attempt at letting you know all's well but I cannot talk about it.  Yet.)

Other than the fact that by now, DS is as good as new, DD and I are almost recovered, and poor DH is sick as a dog.

Could it be that the gigantic bottle of vitamin C that DH and I have been popping has long been expired months ago?  Hmmm. 

But more on that and what I've been up to after I've picked up all the pieces in the aftermath of my big storm.  Please stay tuned.

So, Dear Calm-Before-the-Storm, whether you are the period during which particles of matter come to a standstill to prepare for the impending chaos, or you are just a normal part of the ebb and flow of Life's Ripples, I shall learn to enjoy your presence while you're around.  Cuz goodness knows you are the Potential Energy to counter that Kinetic Energy of a massive storm.

<Insert some quiet, ominous cloud formation here>.

See you at the end of the rainbow.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dear 'Bored'

Dear 'Bored',

I have not had the indulgence to utter you (to describe my state of being) in, oh, at least ten years.  Or since the birth of my firstborn, to be exact.  Gone are the days where once obligations have been attended to, there were actual chunks of time that could be filled with pondering about what to do, or just doing nothing. 

In the first few years after becoming a parent, my life became All About Baby.  It was See-Baby, Hear-Baby, Smell-Baby, Touch-Baby, Taste-Baby Toes, Feed-Baby, Change-Baby, Rock-Baby, Nap-Baby, Sing-Baby, Dance-Baby, Smooch-Baby, and Snuggle-Baby.  A few years after that, we followed the directions on our shampoo bottle flawlessly: lather, rinse, and repeat.  Cuz we were lucky enough to have a second-born. 

I skipped putting on makeup as a part of my daily grooming routine during the entire first year of Dear Daughter's life.  It was for good reasons: 1) so I could plant face-smooches over her body all day long, 2) because who had time to stare at oneself in the mirror when she had to clean up her daily quota of Baby's projectile vomit? and 3) I simply did not care how I looked, because looking at DD was my gift after having wanted to be a mom for so long.

As it goes with subsequent children--where anything halfway is good enough--it took me less than six months to get back to wearing makeup again after having Dear Son.  One is more apt to "looking decent" after having lost four years of youth and about twelve hundred hours of sleep. 

Well, the kiddos got older, things got easier, and I started to gain little bits of time back for myself.  A few minutes here and there turned into a few hours.  Small projects became bigger ones.  I finally started to feel like I can have hobbies again.

Wrist warmers
One of my favorite things to do is knitting.  Rows upon rows of perfectly intertwined knit and purl stitches make an OCD person's heart--like mine--skip a beat.  To be able to craft an entire piece of garment from some yarn and two sticks is like pulling a rabbit out of a magician's hat, only better.  Because I created it.  To feel the yarn fiber between my fingers as I rhythmically move my hands to make loops and designs make me feel like a magician.  I have knitted countless things over the years, beginning before my babies were born.  I recently stopped because I started writing, and having dived head-on into that, the knitting came to a screeching halt.

Cable hat
But a few months ago, I picked up some yarn from my stash and completed a quick knit.  It was like meeting up with an old chum and chatting up all our favorite topics.  It was like we were never apart.  Soon thereafter, I was back online searching for patterns to use up my old stashes of yarn.  I picked another easy pattern to make myself a hat, but because I had been away from my knitting tools for too long, I had grabbed the wrong sized needles and my hat came out about three sizes too small.  DS was very happy about that.

And because of this reconnection with knitting, my new favorite thing to do--writing (and its blogging partner, cameraphone photography)--has had to share its "favorite" status.  You may have read about my zero sum theory of life.  However, with time, zero sum is not a theory, but an actual truth.  There are only so many hours in a day, so take away some and you're left with fewer.  There is no way around it.  And in order to right my own wrong and ensure that I get meself a hat, too, this blog has been quite impatient with me as of late.

Fear not.  Matching hat with DS, done.  Wrote a post this week, check.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
But the hobby list does not end there.  I've been an avid reader most of my life, minus the Babies Years.  So back in 2011, I decided to follow suit with Dear Husband and read a book a month.  I successfully read 12 books in one year and one week.  Not bad.  But in 2012?  It was a total fail.  I read The Hunger Games trilogy within the first three months of the year.  No big whoop.  Then I started 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  It is only 849 pages long.  I'm still nowhere near done.  (I am going for a Guinness World Record of Longest Time to Read a Book.)  I like the book.  I like the story, the characters, and the writing.  I just can't seem to finish it.  But I also don't want to stop.  Obviously, this is not the recommended way to read a book, as I've already forgotten many minute details that are important to the plot.  But, damn it, I am going to finish this book if takes me another year month.  I'll keep you updated.

Gettin' ready
And this brings us to one last favorite hobby--baking.  This one is the actually accomplished the least often.  It happens in spurts and according to my level of stress, availability of ingredients, and the cleanliness of my kitchen.  Except when it's the holiday season and I just go all out.

The other day, I came across a recipe inside a William Sonoma catalog that caught my eyes like truffles to pigs' noses.  I knew in that moment that I was going to make this Triple-Citrus Ginger Quick Bread as soon as I got my hands on the ingredients.  The combination of citrus, ginger, and sugar in cake form sounded just heavenly.  And I bet, if you got to this screen close enough, you, too, can experience the smell of these citrus peels and this candied ginger:

Freshly grated orange, lemon, and lime peels
Finely diced candied ginger

Because this is what you would have done, too, when it was all said and done:

Could. Not. Wait.

Well, today, DS was sick and stayed home from school.  And because we stayed in all day, I accomplished an incredible feat: I finished knitting my hat, read about 3% of 11/22/63, baked my Triple-Citrus Ginger Quick Bread, and wrote this post.  All, today.

It was a good day.

And, no, I don't usually have the luxury to do all these things.  Normally, we're talking a few minutes of knitting a few rounds between dinner and violin practice; a few minutes of reading on nights my eyelids are not struggling to stay apart; baking sweets between clearing old, dirty dishes in the sink and preparing for dinner; and tapping away on my keyboard into the wee hours of the night because sleep is overrated.  (Um, not really.)

So, Dear 'Bored', it's easy to blame the kiddos for my lack of time to do what I want.  But, looking back two decades ago, those chunks of empty time were reflections of my inexperience.  I was still dropping too many stitches left and right to attempt knitting a garment; my kitchen was too small and too barren to bake up a storm; my bookshelves were still filled with textbooks to read for school; and I was busy writing for my professors in exchange for a letter grade.  And in the past decade, I gained all sorts of knowledge, experience, and wisdom and learned how to be good at things I liked to do.  It took ten years--and two kids--to be where I am today, enriched with enough loves in life that I don't have time for them all.  And I am grateful.  Grateful to have the snippets of time I do now to accomplish anything for myself.  Because they mean so much more to me now than when I had all the time in the world for them.

And now, every time I hear the kiddos mention you as they complain, "I'm bored," I think to myself, how little they know now, and how much they will learn and accumulate in the next decades to truly enjoy what they find fulfilling to them!

And I would probably be perfectly happy if I never mutter you ever again.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dear New Year

Dear New Year,

You are a blank slate, a fresh start, and a new journey.  Excitement and anticipation mark your arrival.  We celebrate you with parties and champagne.

What a difference a few weeks--or a few days, for that matter--makes!  The end of a year usually denotes a marathon of holiday festivities that turn into a whirlwind of traditions and obligations.  No doubt we look forward to family gatherings and lots of delectable food, but once the wrapping paper is ripped, crumbled, and tossed on the floor, and home cooked dinners are but platefuls of leftover grease and crumbs, we are left with that inevitable let-down just after the celebrations end.  The last few days of the last month of the year drag, and we can't wait for the year to be just over. 

Fear not.  The faint light at the end of the tunnel is named New Year, and she is full of promises.  We welcome her with glittery necklaces, noisy party blowers, shiny paper hats, all sorts of Mardi-Gras-esque costumes and masks, fireworks, balloon drops, and colorful confetti.  We watch the countdown on TV; we wish each other Happy New Year on social media; and we genuinely look forward to Peace, Love, and Happiness inside the squares and sheets of a brand new calendar. 

I didn't do Bubbly on New Year's Eve.  I watched the second hand tick into midnight with a glass of red and a small bowl of smoked almonds.  At the end of the countdown, I stole my Celebratory New Year Smooch from across the bed, which was followed shortly thereafter by the pitter-patter sound of little feet sleep-walking running into my room.  2013 is here, and the most important Peeps in my life are all under our roof, sleeping and snoring, safe and sound.  Lights out soon--it will be a brand new year in the morning.

As superstition would have it, it is bad luck to clean the house on New Year's Day.  So instead of my regularly scheduled cleaning, we went out for a relaxing day of brunch and shopping.  I almost bought a pair of skinny jeans on New Year's Day, but good thing my Regular Day sense talked me out of it.  New Year does not mean this Old Body can do New Fashion.  I came home with a pair of good ol' all purpose boot cut black jeans.

New pants for the new year.  Old style for my old rear. 

On the second day of the new year, I cleaned the heck out of half of my house.  Normally, I detest cleaning.  With a passion.  But yesterday, I went after every corner of every surface.  I suctioned an enormous amount of dust from under all the beds and in between bundles of electronic cords smashed up against the walls.  I got every growth of mold in the tiny crack between the edges of the condensation-pooled windows.  I obliterated all life of mildew and soap scum in the bathrooms.  I was on a rampage.  And it felt good.

I wanted a clean slate.  I wanted to eradicate all traces of grime as if they were the bitter aftertaste of 2012's sorrows.  I wanted to exorcise all past demons the way I expelled the contents of my vacuum cleaner.  I wanted to bleach away the fungus that invaded the human spirit in the form of unspeakable crimes throughout the world.  I wanted to start over.  And it all begins with a blank canvas.

Just last week the hours were dragging.  I looked at my messy home and could not bring myself to touch a Swiffer duster.  This week, I actually felt good about being sore from cleaning my house.  You see what a difference a few weeks or even a few days can make?  Now all I need to do is bottle this New Energy for later this year. 

Or next week.  When I have to clean the other half of my house.  

But I'll be ahead of the game in the cleaning department for Chinese New Year--yay!

In all seriousness, the new year gives me an exuberant feeling.  It shouts freshness, vigor, and a new dawn.  I have a good feeling about this year, since I'm partial to odd numbers (yes, you can think me odd for that), and I'm turning the Big-Four-Zero.  Lots to look forward to.  And lots to accomplish. 

So, Dear New Year, because you come to us like a babe at birth in all its pure nakedness, it is up to us what we do with you.  We can cherish you, nourish you, and treat you the way we would want the world to be for our children: full of life, love, and laughter.  You are our blank canvas, and we hold the paintbrushes.

Happy New Year, friends!