Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Slowest Mile

I looked out the window at 1:00, and the sun was out. I peeked at the thermometer. It was over 20 degrees outside. OK, no excuses, I had to run. I figured that the sidewalks would be icy, but maybe the park board had cleared the lake trails, and so I drove myself to Nokomis, where I began my run on the north side of the lake. North side, as in sunless side. The trails were coated with ice. I barely moved my feet as I "ran", struggling to making my upper body look like that of a runner, while my feet moved barely faster than a walker's.

Whenever I found a patch of dry pavement, I flew because I was finally able to let go of a little bit of my steam. Then the dry part would end, and I would throttle back so that I wouldn't find myself sprawling on the ground.

To avert the almost certain disaster of a spill, I almost turned around, but there was another runner up ahead. If he could do it, so could I. We met up at the stoplight. "At least we're still standing," he said. "Well, it's the slowest run of my life," said I (exaggerating, since surely the slowest run of my life was the Mother's Day run I lost to my mother).

His daughter goes to Carleton, and so we ran together around the slightly less icy south side of the lake, chatting about education and money and Jonathan Kozol, and allowing each other to use the dry patches on the sidewalk for traction.

And then, Christmas miracle, neither of us wiped out. We finished our runs and we didn't add to our injuries, and now I get to have that clear-headed just-exercised feeling for the rest of the day. I'm going to use it to buy some paint for the basement floor.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Saturdays are my day to volunteer at the library. I get myself downtown to the big public library. Usually I plan to take the bus, but I wind up being late and driving and having to pay to park. Today, I drove and found a spot that was far from the library but free on Saturday. Today was a good day.

I settle myself down at the table on the fourth floor, get out my computer, or whatever papers I have to grade, and then I wait until the students come. I have some regulars.

"Betty" is an elderly black lady who is teaching herself algebra. She travels from library to library in search of math help. I've seen her at least once a month for over a year at two different libraries. We've sat down together for hours at a time, and I've walked her through problem after problem. After a year, her math skills are about where they were when I first met her. I think she has a little memory loss to overcome while she learns. Betty always has her "homework" and she comes prepared with questions. Secretly, though I think that Betty is using algebra as a prop to get tutors to sit down with her for an hour, interrupting her math problems with tidbits about our real lives. "What kind of math do you have today, Betty?" doesn't take long to detour to "How was your Christmas, Betty?".

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Betty loves doing the math. I'm sure she gets off on it, in a truly nerdy way, and perhaps if she had been born in a different generation or if she had been born white or male, she might have found her way to a continued study of mathematics. She says that she wakes up in the morning sometimes, having dreamed about math, and then she has to get up to finish a problem before she even gets dressed. She once said to me that a system of equations reminded her of a marriage, and that solving for x and then using it to solve for y was like peeling away the layers of your relationship to discover who you each are as individuals. Only true math nerds can make relationship analogies to algebra.

"Leroy" is a middle-aged black man who fears math but knows that he needs to go back to school in order to work his way out of a dead-end job. The first time I met Leroy, he brought a blond husky-voiced woman with him. She also had math homework, but she refused to ask any questions, and I soon realized that she was the crutch he needed to get through the door to ask for help. Once he found out how the whole tutoring thing worked, she never returned, but the amazing thing is that Leroy does return, again and again, even though after an hour or two of math, he looks like someone who needs a cigarette - at which point he excuses himself for a smoke break.

Leroy has been coming to the library on and off for at least nine months. He even took the test he needed to get into school, failed it, and battled his way back to the library to get over that defeat. He says he has a calendar at home to keep track of the days I work at the library. Now that I'm only at the library every other week, it stresses me out on days like today, when Leroy doesn't make it. He might not learn enough math before his next test if he only works on it once a month. I'm a little worried that he only has one more test in him, and if he doesn't pass the next time, he won't be back. Unlike Betty, Leroy has improved a lot on his math. Mostly, he has gotten over the deer-in-the-headlights fear he feels when he first looks at a problem, which allows him to relax enough to remember what we've done for the past nine months.

And then today there was a dirty white guy at our table, and I had a bad feeling. I have never had a bad feeling at tutoring before. I didn't want to tutor him, because I felt leered at when he looked at me. I also felt like a dick for not wanting to be friendly. So, when he asked me when I'm available for tutoring, I told him my actual real hours, because I didn't want to be a dick. When he said he'd come in two weeks and bring some calculus homework, I said OK, but, I said it unenthusiastically, because I had a Bad Feeling, and I was pretty sure the calculus was a ruse to get me to talk to him. Then I started to wonder whether I was having a real honest-to-goodness Bad Feeling or whether I had some sort of homelessness prejudice that was keeping me from being helpful. The good news is that all of my homelessness stereotypes indicate that he will not be able to keep the appointment and I will probably never see him again, so I might not have to play the game of pretending to tutor him in math, when all he really wants is to sit next to a friendly woman for an hour.

Besides, isn't that all Betty wants, too?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Baby Whispers

One of the things I believe is that as long as parents are not harming their children, then the way that they choose to raise them is the way it should be done. I don't offer advice or criticism, mostly because what the hell do I know? But also because the world already gives new parents more advice than they need.

"Oh," says the world, "your baby doesn't sleep? Have you tried letting her cry herself to sleep?"
"Have you tried the family bed?"
"Maybe it's something you're eating."
"He needs to be kept on a strict schedule."
"She needs more stimulation. Take her outside."

These things might all be good advice, but when you're sleep deprived, and your own individual baby, the one you know best in the world isn't sleeping, what business is it of the world to intrude with its sage advice? No. I figure I am a better friend by believing with all of my heart that the parents know best.

And, so, when I worked as a nanny/research assistant in Portland, OR, for a woman who followed a book called "The Baby Whisperer" to the letter, I did as she instructed. I didn't rock her son to sleep, and allow his drowsy baby head to droop against my shoulder. I didn't hold his sleeping body against mine and smell his head while he dreamed. No, I followed her routine. He woke up. He had some food (breast milk with her), he got a clean diaper, he played on his stomach as long as he was happy, and then he played alone on his back. When he got tired of alone time, I picked him up and talked to him and sang with him. And, then, as soon as he started to rub his eyes or droop, we played three songs on the stereo while I danced with him in my arms. When he zoned out and his eyes glazed over, I carried him to his crib, and placed him gently on his back. He was still awake, but he was as limp as an overdone noodle. Before long, he fell asleep on his own. I walked away, and helped Liz with her research until he woke up again, at which point we would start the routine from the beginning.

She was strict about following the routine (which she never called a schedule, because it was shaped by the baby and never by the time on the clock). Once she returned from vacation, nearly in tears. Her son wasn't sleeping well. Her husband had walked him to sleep the whole time they were on vacation. He had ruined her carefully constructed patterns. How was the boy ever going to learn the rhythm again?

Sometimes, I thought maybe she should lighten up. I was pretty sure she was missing the greatest joy of feeling her small baby sleep against her chest. It definitely seemed like bad policy to over-monitor how her husband parented. However, I have to admit that the job was one of the easiest I ever had. Her son took to the routine. He ate well and played happily alone and then he enjoyed singing and talking until it was time to dance and to sleep. It was her kid, and she seemed to know how to parent him. I did as I was told.

I didn't realize that the Baby Whisperer's patterns had become so ingrained in me, until last week when I babysat for an infant about the same age as that boy had been when we met. I thought they were just Liz's thing that I did because she told me to. But then there I was with a small infant, and I had forgotten how boring they are. For a while, alone with this blob of an (albeit very cute and cuddly) baby, I felt at a loss for what to do. I was in someone else's house, holding someone else's baby, and there was nothing to do.

And so I fell back on the routine. I put the baby down, arranged some toys to be swatted by her undirected hand flailing, so she could learn some cause and effect. When she got bored I picked her up and sang with her and talked to her. When she started to yawn and looked glazed over, I set her down, and watched her fall asleep. She woke up. I gave her the bottle. We changed diapers. She played a little more Cause-and-Effect. I sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and asked her how big the baby was. She stared the yawning again, and I put her down, and just as I was getting bored again, she fell asleep. And, so I knitted, baby-whispering complete for the afternoon. She slept straight through until her mom arrived.

It's a pretty good trick, actually, especially for that little monkey-baby stage. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work on my own kid, though. I'd be too busy smelling hair, and trying to get some cuddles in.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Well, You Missed It

I saw a great show yesterday afternoon, called "Fool For Love", by Sam Shepard. The story is grim (and dumb when you think about it), but the performances by four actors were all outstanding. One guy played an awkward moment without speaking so well that it made me squirm. The leads were both coiled like springs for the entire show. There were times during the show when I couldn't take my eyes off of each of the four of them, not even to see what the other three were doing.

I hate to tell you how engrossing the play was, since yesterday's show was the last performance, but I will tell you that after this I'd see anything at the Gremlin Theater. It's small and intimate like the Penumbra, too, which makes you feel like you're right there in the room with the actors (who came out to the lobby in street clothes after the show and chatted with the audience). So, I'm sorry you missed this one, but check out their next show if you get the chance. OK, carry on.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


So, I was thinking about my blind date today, and I was thinking that I didn't have high hopes for it. He seems introverted and numerically inclined, which is fine, but I'm starting to think that two such people in a relationship is one too many. Still, he contacted me, and I didn't say no, because I'm trying to be open and yes-y.

And then I was thinking about all of these people who keep telling me that I shouldn't try so hard, that I will meet my someone when I least expect it. And for a brief moment I thought maybe this was when I would least expect it, which, of course, ruined the moment, and brought me back to where I started.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Three Little Words

You can describe the state of my apartment at the moment in just three words. Sarah did so just this evening. She walked in the door, wrinkled her nose, and said, "What's that smell?" Yep, it's time to clean. For once, the rankness of the air was not caused by Buddy's intestinal problems. It's just the stale smell of girl and not-too-clean dog living together in squalor.

I'm counting the minutes until break, and then I'm cleaning it from top to bottom. It's going to be squeak by Sunday. The smell of this place by Sunday will be the smell of clean.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Over It

Jimmy invited me to dinner. This is the perfect response to the kind of mood I was in when I wrote yesterday's post. I was probably hungry and tired. Hungry and tired equals vague existential weariness for me, and I can never seem to remember at the time that the reason I find myself questioning the meaning of life and my place in it, is mostly because I'm hungry.

I mean, sure, sometimes I feel like the Loneliest Girl in the World who has to eat dinner alone in restaurants, but it could be a lot worse. I could be too poor to afford dinner. I could actually, for real, not have friends, and I could actually be lonely, not just temporarily without company. I could have no family to pick me up when I stagger, no Jimmy to offer to cook me dinner. I could have no Buddy to curl up beside me when I crawl into bed. I could have no sister-in-law who saves me crossword puzzles when I visit. I could have no book club friends to meet me for bad movies downtown.

I could have no courage to date and no confidence that the Right One is out there for me. I could be married to the Wrong One or trying to figure out custody of my children. I could be mourning the loss of the Right One, or forcing myself into a closet so that I'd guarantee myself years of dating Wrong Ones.

None of these things is true. I'm just single. I'm just hungry after long days of work, and I have to figure out how to feed myself after working a full day. I'm just working too hard because I'm a new teacher and I'm learning as I go. I'm just a procrastinator who would be happier if she did her damn work instead of playing computer games and wishing she didn't have to do all of that work. I'm just light-sensitive and I work without windows, so I need to get light some other way. I'm just ready for winter break, and I just have four more days to go until I'm free.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


We've reached December, everyone, which for those of us who are seasonal, is never a particularly good thing. This year, the effect of lack of daylight on me seems to be an increase in fear. Don't worry. I'm not panicky. I'm just angsty. Lovely.

I'm afraid I'll spend the day playing Eight Letters in Search of a Word, and I won't get my work done, and I'll have to go to school with ungraded tests no plan. I'm afraid my dog is mad at me for not wanting to walk him these days. I'm afraid I'll never run again. I'm afraid I'm out of food. I'm afraid that my heart is frozen. I'm afraid my mom will read this, convince herself that I'm depressed and worry about me. I'm afraid I can't make new friends. I'm afraid I'll have to look for a new job this summer. I'm afraid that Facebook is stealing all of my personal information in order to target ads at me and it still shows me diet ads. I'm afraid that I'll never get my master's degree. I'm afraid that my married friends will outgrow me. I'm afraid that I missed the deadline to invest in my 403(b). I'm afraid that my students are cheating. I'm afraid that I'm too easy a grader. I'm afraid that the rain will freeze to my car and I'll have to spend the morning hacking it out of the ice. I'm afraid that once I get my car out of the ice, the roads will be so slippery I'll go in the ditch. I'm afraid of the economy and the war and the crazy white supremicists who want to kill the president.

See? You don't want to be in this head. I'm telling you. It's loud in here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Fifth Hour

"I have a question, but it's not math related."

Uh oh.

"Have you seen that guy from the hockey game lately?"

"Was that your mom who just knocked on the door?"

"Well, will you bring your mom to school one day so we can meet her?"

"Can she bring your dog?"

"What kind of dog do you have?"

"What's his name?"

"What does your mom do?"

"What does perinatalogy mean?"

"Does she deliver twins? I'm a twin. Did she deliver me? What's her name?"

"Like the Science Guy?"

"Mrs. B says you and her go way back? Are you friends with Mrs. B?"

"You were in AmeriCorps? What's AmeriCorps?"

"Um, can I ask you a math question?"


Monday, December 01, 2008

Day of Rest

The best thing about the half-marathon training program that I'm running, even though I'm not running in a half-marathon? The off-days.

Don't get me wrong. I always go a lot of days without running. In fact, I've been down to running once a week recently, but my days off from running have never been off-days. They have always been days when I didn't get to it. They were days when I couldn't make myself get up before school or saddle up after school for a run. On those days, I still thought about running, thought that I should run, thought that maybe, even though I didn't get to it before school, I still might run after school.

There seems to be a secret to life in there somewhere. I take days off from grading homework, for example, but I never take days off from homework. It's always there, hanging over my head, making me feel guilty. Maybe I should do a six mile run of homework tonight, be done with it, and then allow myself a day off to heal and rest for the next burst of homework energy another day.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fever Cured

I gave the sweater away today, and then, mere hours later, I drew my dad's name in the gift draw. If only I could have waited it could have passed as a Christmas present.

In case you were worried, it fit. The sleeves were long enough. The neck was only a little bit weird, and I only had to reknit it three times to make it work. I learned a new cast-off.

In other news, I ran for about six miles today to Lake Nokomis, around it, and back home. I'm starting a new thing where I'm following a half-marathon training program. Not, mind you, that I plan on running in a half-marathon. You'd have to be half-nuts to run in one of those.

That is all. Oh, yeah. I don't want to go to work tomorrow, mostly because I didn't grade homework this weekend. Blech.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Obsession for Knitters

I go through these phases with my knitting. I've been working on a sweater for my dad for at least a year, and most of that time "working on" has looked a lot like "ignoring that thing shoved in my drawer," but yesterday I pulled it out of the drawer, read the stitches left on my needle like some secret coded message from my past, and managed to resurrect the sweater from that place where well-intentioned knitting projects go to die.

I began slowly enough, before Thanksgiving dinner, knitting a couple of rows, while chatting with my family in the kitchen as they made stuffing and dressing and mashed potatoes. I even allowed myself to be interrupted so I could set the table.

Had I stopped there, I would be able to say that I still have a healthy relationship with my knitting, but I didn't stop there.

No, I got home from Thanksgiving, plopped myself down on the couch, and didn't even remove my coat. While TV droned on in the background, I finished the sleeves and then sewed up the seams so that what I had finally looked like a sweater. This process took three hours. Three hours of me hunched over my knitting, barely moving except to change the channel so that I could watch the Office instead of whatever was on after Moonstruck. At some point, I removed my jacket. Buddy gave me that look that means, "This means you aren't going to walk me again tonight, doesn't it?" and then sneaked off to sleep on my pillows (which is not allowed). Still I knit on.

Finally, I could look at the tiny stitches through my sleep-deprived eyes no longer, and so I stood in front of the mirror and tried on the nearly finished garment. It needs a neck. One of the seams is only partially sewn. The end of the knitting and sewing marked the beginning of the worrying stage of my obsessive evening.

It's big on me, but is it big enough? Will the sleeves be long enough. Will it be too tight for my dad's belly? Will the neck be weird? Will I be able to figure out how to attach the neck? How will it look after it's washed and blocked?

No wonder I didn't fall immediately into a deep sleep when I finally moved the dog's smelly body off of my pillows, swept aside the sand, and pulled the covers over my head. I have knitting fever now, and the only cure is a completed project.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The One in the Style of Facebook

So, now that I belong to that social networking thing, a new writing style has crept into my head, somewhat against my will. In this style everything is in the present tense, and you always refer to yourself in the third person. Sentences are short in Facebook world. Here, then, is my yesterday, told Facebook style.

Alex is making herself go back to sleep. It's too early.

Alex is finally getting up.

Alex is glad she's running with Buddy in the dog park this morning.

Alex is peeling apples and sprinkling them with sugar.

Alex has a secret for apple pie. Rum.

Alex's recipe for pie crust calls for sour cream. Sour cream? She has to go to the store on the day before Thanksgiving. Wish her luck.

Alex is cutting butter into flour.

Alex is cutting butter into flour.

Alex is cutting butter into flour.

Alex is glad that's over.

Alex is rolling out her crust just so. She is already dreading cutting the butter for the next crust.

Alex is sure she had almond extract, but she can't find it. She's on her way to the store again.

Alex is wondering why her family never followed the trend of using the food processor for this.

Alex would marry the next man she met, just so she could register for a food processor and stop cutting the butter into the flour.

Alex is enjoying the smell of apple pie in the apartment.

Alex is trying to break up the monotony of cutting butter into flour with daytime television. It's not working.

Alex is convinced that her butter is now pea sized.

Alex is weaving her cherry pie crust. It looks goooood.

Alex is trying not to think about how messy her kitchen is.

Alex has to make appetizers for tonight's party. Alex will have to clean the kitchen.

Alex is making guacamole. She enjoys mincing garlic into tiny little cubes.

Alex is not at all sure she can wear that sweater with that skirt, but she's doing it anyway.

Alex is laughing at the one-year-old's shenanigans with her shirt. Alex likes the word shenanigans.

Alex is eating water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and dates stuffed with goat cheese and lots of fresh mozzarella basil and tomatoes.

Alex is telling stories again about her cat getting stuck in her face.

Alex enjoys a party this size, and she likes laughing with old friends (and one-year-olds).

Alex is sad that the party is over, but she's ready for bed. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I dated a guy with a handlebar mustache. My friends called him Colonel Mustard to distinguish him from all other dates of mine (which at that time weren't many, since we dated for more than a year). Anyway, Colonel Mustard's mom traditionally cooked a Christmas goose. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten. She and I are both blessed with skinny-genes and healthy body images, and so we sat at the table together after everyone else had finished eating and picked at the carcass. We both liked the crispy bits of skin, which on a goose, are even more intensely fatty than turkey skin.

She also used to work on jigsaw puzzles with me in the basement. She had a triumphant way of tapping her piece whenever she got one. She liked to be acknowledged. She asked me to teach her how to do Sudoku puzzles, but I suspect she was just trying to make me feel welcome in her family. It worked. I used to be able to imagine myself as part of her family. I couldn't imagine the Colonel in my family, but I could imagine myself in the long run in that basement working on jigsaws and laughing with his mom as we picked at fatty meat together.

Jimmy recently asked me to contact her to get the goose recipe. Never mind that the entire Mustard family is off limits to me since the Colonel and I had our falling out. Jimmy wants to know how to recreate that crispy goose skin experience. Of course, it's impossible, but it made me realize that after almost three years, one of the things I miss most about Colonel Mustard is his mom, the woman who baked Christmas sugar cookies and orchestrated intense cookie-decorating contests among her children and their mates, the woman who bought me the π plate I will use today for a Thanksgiving apple pie. The woman who in addition to having all of these domestic talents also spoke with fierce intelligence about the news of the day.

I love my own mom best of all, but really there are so many good moms out there, I appreciate it when anyone I know is willing to share his with me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Not Dwelling

I had a goal. It was arbitrary, but it was a goal, and I didn't make it. Even though it's silly, I am fully capable of making myself miserable over something like this.

I want to run, but I've been so tired that I can't make myself get up early to run, and I'm so tired when I get home that I can't make myself do more than take a short jaunt with Buddy.

I'm happy enough right now, but it could only take a couple more days of not-running, or a couple of more days of dwelling on missing my arbitrary goal that I'll sink down again into not-happy. So it's a good thing that I don't have school tomorrow. It's a good thing I'm going to write this post and then go to bed, so that I can get up and run tomorrow. I'm aware that if I can write about maybe being sad without crying, then that's a good thing, too, because it means I'm not there yet, and I still have time to run it off.

Somehow, I'm getting better at being myself, but the view from this side of the brain always looks dicier than the one from where you're sitting. Trust me.

Scarier than a Stock Market Crash

They're reporting it as a touchy-feely human-interest story. A farmer decides to open up his fields to the public after he's harvested, so that regular people can pick through for anything left behind by the harvesting machines. He grows potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, pumpkins and leeks. And guess how many people came to pick through his fields for these non-glamorous vegetables? 40,000.

Unless he also served free popcorn and beer, it makes me a little bit worried about the state of our economy that 40,000 people were willing to do farm labor for root vegetables. Free or not, Americans don't even like beets.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hammer Time

Also, I had to tell you that I played a little MC Hammer in my calculus class.

I have a disability which allows me to not-hear music. Usually this disability boosts my immunity to ear-worms. However, hearing the song four times in one day was too much even for me. It's in my head now, but good.

Anyway, I was teaching about asymptotes. I played the song, and then I blew their minds with a little bit of this action:

MC Hammer was wrong. You can touch an asymptote. Repeatedly. Cool!

The Internet Made Another Mistake

There's a website that will tell you what Meyers-Briggs type of person the author of a blog is. Guess what I am. Go ahead. It'll be fun.

If you guessed "The Performer," you're as wrong as the website. ESFP? Never in all my days! An extrovert? Feeling over thinking? Sensing over Intuiting? Come on, Internet, have you met me?

Don't worry. It's in beta. Maybe future releases will implement an algorithm that will be able to cull personality traits like introversion and logical and symbolic thinking from such post titles as "The Introvert at Sea" and "Polynomials".

Or maybe I'm more extroverted than I think I am. But after spending the past 2 hours meeting parents, I'm feeling like a puddle of mush. Shouldn't an extrovert be ready to party right about now?

P.S. As long as I'm pointing you to websites, you might as well go vote on which ballots should go to Franken and which should go to Coleman. Come on. Be honest. Stop saying "Franken" just because you want your veto-proof majority.

P.P.S. It's neck and neck between "Hot Dish" and "Under Construction", but I think Rachael logs on to a new computer and over-votes for "Under Construction" every time "Hot Dish" pulls ahead.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

And Now for Something Positive

Here are two games that were mostly invented by a good friend of mine whose name rhymes with Hair-a.

1. The Name Game. You're driving down the street, and you notice something about someone walking on the sidewalk. You point the person out to your friend, and say, "OK. One, two, three," then each of you shouts out what you think the name of the innocent bystander (bywalker) is. Sometimes the names you yell at each other almost sort of match. This is very exciting. Other times the names don't match, but one is clearly much better than the other. The winner earns a small smile of satisfaction at her triumph.

2. The "I can't believe you..." game. For this game you need a straight man. By default I usually play this role. You pull a story from the day's headlines. Page 6 stories are better for this game than leading news stories. Approach your straight man and retell the news story as if your straight man had played the starring role in the story. As in, "Alex, I can't believe you finally decided to support a woman's right to choose, but only when it comes to her light bulb." If you're lucky, the straight-man hasn't read the story and doesn't even realize you're playing a game. Confusion and hilarity ensue.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Woke up to the sound of the phone ringing. 'Twas the mother. She wanted to go to the dog park before work. It was 6:00. Somehow this has become my version of normal. She and I laughed throughout the walk. Words were said that shall not be published here. Actions were taken that shall not be repeated on this page.

After the walk, ran off to the library for tutoring. Met Fred who wants to be a chef and needs some math to get into school. We did fractions. He said he learned something. I said, "Well, that's why you came, right?" He promised to return. I will not hold my breath.

Booked it across town to meet a colleague for lunch before the high school musical. Late because of traffic. Fucking 62. Raced off to the school. Watched high school students enacting racial stereotypes on stage for old folks and children. OK, because they're Asian. The model minority. Is that the logic???

Off again, this time to NE for a birthday party at the Bulldog. Stopped at Target for chocolate and a card. No gas left in the old car, but parking is only 25 cents an hour. Heck, I can afford to stay for three. Appetizers, cupcakes, and a BLT surrounded by beautiful people. I don't fit in. I pay and go. Home again, at last. It's 9:20 and I'm exhausted. Can I go to bed now?

Friday, November 14, 2008


The last guy I sort-of dated was not kind. I don't mean that he was cruel, because he wasn't, at least not until the end, which is understandable, but, still, "kind" was still not a word that I would use to describe him. Distant, yes. Aloof, sure. Kind, no.

Here I am wandering the vast wasteland of dating, and you can wander here for a long, long time, and sometimes I wonder if maybe I should have just found a spot in the wasteland, and set up shelter, and settled in, and made myself at home. What am I looking for, after all? And would I recognize it if I found it? And have I already missed it? And am I too picky?

So, I decided to make a list of the non-negotiables, the things I need from a guy to have in order to set up my tent. Here it is:

1. Kindness.
2. Brains.
3. Happiness.

Oh, it's not a long list, but it's triple the length of the list I had at the beginning of this journey. I used to think I could be happy with a man who was as smart as I am. Isn't that shallow? All I wanted was a giant walking, talking brain. I wanted him to understand me when I said crap like: "This is the winter of my discontent," so that I wouldn't have to explain myself to him all the time, because funny is so much less funny when you have to use the glossary to get to the punchline.

Somewhere along the rocky path of dating, kindness slipped onto my list ahead of brains. The thing about dating really smart people is that sometimes they come with a little bit of scorn. Sometimes they are too busy intellectualizing to remember to be decent. Sometimes, they think that because they carry the enormous burden of having too much going on in their heads, they are excused from the task of remembering to be good to the people around them.

Finally, after stumbling one too many times over the paralyzing rock of depression, I also added happiness to the list. It's a tall order, being smart enough to know about all of the shit that happens in the world, being kind enough to care about it, and being stubborn enough to maintain a core of happiness anyway. I didn't realize that I wanted so much until I wrote it down. No wonder I wander.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to Feel Old

First, go to your college alumni happy hour, even though you graduated thirteen years ago. Second, try not to make eye contact with the waitress, so you don't get any food or drink for at least half an hour. This will leave you with nothing to do with your hands. Third, arrive late, so there is no more space at the table, and you have to stand awkwardly at the elbows of some young perky alums who are complaining about nearing thirty, and who won't turn around and introduce themselves to you. Finally, be so introverted that you can't find a way to interrupt them to introduce yourself to them.

It wouldn't have been worth paying for parking, but I "accidentally" ate one of the youngster's kobe beef sandwiches. Oops. Except for being tender and delicious, it sure looked like my burger...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Suck at Naming Things

The first thing I got to name all by myself was the cat my dad gave me for my ninth birthday. Now, when I was nine, I went to a hippie school, where we called our teachers by their first names. A teacher at my hippie school was named Florence, but she always went by Fluffy, and, so in honor of a favorite teacher, I named my cat Fluffy. I still cringe when I write those those words. I named my cat Fluffy. Might as well name a dog Buddy. Which I didn't, by the way. He came with a name.

I did a little better with my second cat, which is a good thing because I had to live with her name for 20 years. I named her Stevie, which I think is a cool name for a girl. Every single vet she ever had used male pronouns with her, but otherwise, it was an OK name. She was named after an obscure British poet however, which wouldn't have been bad, except that even I hadn't read her poems. I always had to explain that she was named after some poet that I didn't know anything about. She was played by Glenda Jackson in the movie. I should have just named the cat Glenda. At least I know who she is.

Anyway, five years ago when I started this blog, I named it "Under Construction" which I thought was clever, because I was writing about going on a Habitat trip where I would be doing construction work. Get it? Yeah. I know. It turns out not to be very clever.

So, here's where you come in. Please, give me a better name to write at the top of this page. I'm getting annoyed with the old one. Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Character Study

I'll call him Zack Brown, which is not his name, because every time I think of him, I think of him by first and last name.

Zack Brown's mother had two older kids, nine and thirteen, both boys. She got divorced and she remarried, and her second husband also wanted a biological child and so she agreed to have a kid with him, too. When she told us this story, there was very little doubt that, while she loved Zack Brown he was not Her Idea and if he had been Her Idea, he would have been a girl. By "us", I mean the three of us who worked in the toddler room with 2-year-old Zack Brown, the three people, who despite a relatively humane four-to-one toddler-teacher ratio in Oregon, often lost track of her child in the chaos of the room.

We would find him in the kindergarten room down the hall, playing with the big kids. Or, worse, we wouldn't find him, but one of the kindergarten teachers would walk him back to us before we had even noticed his absence. We would find him hidden behind bookcases, climbing on forbidden structures, or crawling behind barricades to find a favorite toy that we had put off limits. One day, our toddler room floor drain backed up, and water seeped into a puddle on the floor. We corralled the kids away from the water, but caring for toddlers is always a little like herding cats, and I remember hearing a slurping sound while I was changing a diaper. I looked up and there was Zack Brown squatting face-down next to the puddle, helping himself to a refreshing drink of sewage. Hands full of diaper, I couldn't even stop him.

His mother took these lapses in oversight with grace. She knew how quickly he could move. "With my older kids, I always liked that stage when they knew how to sit, but they couldn't crawl yet, and you could put them on the floor with some toys and walk away," she said wistfully. "Zack learned how to crawl before he could sit."

We used to take the kids for a morning walk in one of those big, red multiple-seat strollers. There were six kids in the stroller, which required one teacher, and then the other two teachers would hold the hands of whoever needed to walk. We protected the communal nap like lions protecting our young. Without the communal nap, we wouldn't get our breaks. If a kid started to doze in the stroller, we'd pull her out and make her stumble over her own sleepy feet until she woke up again. Zack Brown never slept in the stroller, but we never let him ride, either. We didn't know what we'd do with ourselves if we didn't tire him out enough for him to nap, so we held his hand. Zack Brown was going to sleep, even if one of us had to run with him for the entire walk.

"Please, don't let him sleep too long," begged his mother. "Wake him up after an hour or an hour and a half. I need him to sleep at home." We always agreed to her demands to her face, and we always let him sleep for at least two hours when she wasn't there. We were too worn out to pass up the chance to know where he was for a full two hours.

Zack didn't have to speak. He used pointing and grunts to let his needs be known, or he'd move towards what he wanted and have it in his hands more quickly than we could get it for him. At two, he had so few words, his mother started to worry. "He's smart," we said. "We can tell. Don't worry."

Still, one day, she came in to school excited. "Zack has a word! Watch!" she said, pulling out a piece of drawing paper and a marker. Most of our markers had no ink, because when we weren't looking Zack Brown would stick the tips in his mouth and suck them ferociously until the tip was ghostly white. She found one that worked and began sketching. She drew two circles.

"Ball," said Zack.

We looked at each other. We knew he knew "ball". It was exactly the kind of monosyllabic utilitarian word he had mastered. "Not that," she said, continuing her drawing, connecting her circles, adding a seat, and a set of handlebars.

"Bicycle," said Zack Brown, as clearly as if he had been speaking all of his life, and then he ran off to join the kindergartners.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Good Day for a Dog

Owning a dog has divided my time in a whole new way. I give you the four times of my life:

1. Times when it is a Bad Time to own a dog.

These are the times when, without question, my life would be happier if I didn't own a dog. (Don't worry. It's OK for me to write these words. Buddy can't read.) The number one time when I'd be happier without a dog is when Buddy has what we call "intestinal problems." I know that writing is enhanced with vivid details, but I just rejected about eight such details as too gross for a family blog. Suffice it to say, that most of these times involve me cleaning and trying not to inhale through my nose.

It is also a Bad Time to own a dog when I want to travel or have a sleep-over. So those two weeks in the summer when I try to get away, and that once-in-a-blue-moon time when I have a sleep-over, it sucks to have a dog.

2. Times when it is a Good Time to own a dog.

Most of these times are in the dog park. On a bright crisp morning in the fall, when he is a black streak against the golden leaves, and everyone else in the dog park is smiling, that's a good time to own a dog.

It's a Good Time to own a dog when your feet are cold in bed, and you are able to push him aside so you can stick your feet in the spot he warmed up for you. It's a Good Time to have a dog when you feel lonely, and you wonder if anyone loves you, and then you glance down at the floor two feet away from you, and he notices your head movement and looks up at you to see what you're thinking.

It's Good to have a dog when you're visiting two-year-olds, and they follow him adoringly, saying "Buddy! Hi, Buddy! Hi!" or "Buddy licks you!" It's especially Good to have a gentle, old lab at these times, because he is trustworthy around kids and realizes that they are his boss, even when they are small and try to climb on top of him.

3. Times when it seems Good to have a dog, but it's really Not

So, I'll admit it. I've tried to use Buddy as a litmus test for dates. I thought he would be able to suss out their true character with his doggy sense. The truth is, Buddy is not picky. He likes anyone who pays attention to him. He is indifferent to anyone who doesn't. So, um, my litmus test is really more of a test to see who likes Buddy than it is a test to see who has a good character.

Similarly, you might think that Buddy would make me safer living alone in the city. Sure Buddy seems like he should be a watchdog/protector with his dark good looks and his rapidly swishing tail, but I don't even want to think about what would happen if someone wanted to kill or maim me and thought to bring a nice juicy steak for Buddy. I'm pretty sure I'd be maimed or killed and Buddy would get a nice little treat. Good for Buddy. Bad for me.

4. Times when it seems like a Bad Time to own a dog, but it's really Good.

Today was one of these times. The dark and the weather were conspiring to make me feel a good hibernation coming on. I got home from work and all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed with a book or a video and not get out again until someone else had scraped off my car in the morning. I dread the next five months, because I don't want to be cold all the time. Still, I had to walk the damn dog, so I pulled my parka out of the closet. I found a hat and wrapped a scarf around my head. Yes, I know. It's not that cold, but I was crabby and I shouldn't have to wear a flimsy fall coat or breathe cold air when I'm crabby. I putzed around as long as I could, and then finally, Buddy would let me put it off no longer, so I hooked on the leash and we walked through the crisp, dark neighborhood. My muscles clenched against the cold, and we walked.

We walked.

It's Good for me to walk, especially when I don't want to. By the end of the walk, my hands were warm, I had lowered my shoulders from around my ears, and I had poked my nose out from the safety of my scarf cocoon. It's not that Bad. We will make it through this winter, too.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I Blame the Recession

Because of tough economic times, NPR did a story about a woman who had drastically reduced her shopping bill by clipping and downloading coupons. I only half-listened, because I'm far too busy and disorganized to remember to use coupons, but at one point I heard her say, "No one should ever pay full price for toothpaste," and as she spoke I remembered that I had once heard that toothpaste brand-loyalty was among the highest of all products. It may have even been second to cigarettes. Anyway, as a consumer, I must be some sort of anomaly because have absolutely no brand-loyalty to toothpaste. I grew up on Tom's all natural chalk-flavored toothpaste, and anyone who can survive Tom's really can use just about anything. If nothing else is around, I'll even use Tom's black licorice-flavored chalk, which is just about the worst thing on Earth.

Or so I thought.

It just so happened that shortly after I heard the story, I ran out of toothpaste. I stood in the aisle at Walgreen's, and as I reached for a box of something (anything) I cursed the fact that I hadn't clipped coupons beforehand, since "no one should ever pay full price for toothpaste," and then I noticed that on the bottom shelf, way below Crest and Colgate and Aquafresh, there was a box of Aim toothpaste for a third of the price of everything else. Aha! I thought. I win! I get cheap toothpaste, and I don't have to carry a coupon to the register. In my excitement at scoring such a good deal, I only briefly wondered why Aim is so much cheaper than any other toothpaste.

I paid my 99 cents, and brought home a shiny new tube of Aim. Remember Aim from your childhood? I didn't, but it turns out that it tastes so bad it makes you want to fill your mouth with the refreshing smell of garlic after brushing. It puckers up the insides of your mouth and dries up your saliva, and leaves you feeling decidedly unclean.

In short, it makes me miss Tom's. And now I have to use it all up, because it doesn't count as saving money if you just toss it in the garbage when you get it home. The final blow was that my 99 cent toothpaste came with a free travel-sized tube of the same crappy stuff. It'll be a year before I can like the taste of my mouth again.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My Pen Pal

I joined Facebook yesterday. This is an experiment. I'm too old for such things, but many of my equally old friends belong, and so I thought I'd give it a try. So far it's a little bit intimidating, because I don't really know what I'm supposed to do there. Anyway, I was examining pictures of my new Facebook-friends (who are all old friends of mine in real life) at the computer in my parents' kitchen, and my mom, who is about as tech savvy as one of our presidential candidates (and not the one she voted for), saw a picture of Barack Obama on my page standing next to one of my actual friends, and she was finally impressed with my social networking prowess, "Oh! Are you Facebook-friends with Barack Obama?!" I said no, but I pointed out that it probably wasn't all that hard to befriend our president-elect on Facebook. However, since he already drove me away from my old yahoo email address by emailing me every day, and since he already turned me, a die-hard phone answerer, into a dedicated call-screener for a full week before the election, I wasn't about to allow him to become my Facebook buddy.

Still, Sarah pointed me to his new transition website and I read through it, and there was a link to make a comment, and suddenly I found myself writing him a letter.

"Dear Mr. President," I wrote, thrilling at the sound of it, "I am writing to thank you for the press conference you participated in this week. I would like to urge you to continue to be open and available to the press. As an American, I have longed for the old days when the president held regular press conferences, and faced the tough questions from the media as a regular course of events. You will make mistakes," (because I'm experienced in making mistakes and I want Obama to benefit from my wisdom), "but don't hide from them. Stand in front of the press and face their questions, because you owe it to the people who voted for you and worked for you and campaigned for you, to meet honestly and often with the media whose job it is to monitor your work."

Or something like that. Anyway, I await his response. This could be the beginning of a beautiful non-Facebook friendship.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Mouths of Babes

When I admitted that I wouldn't grade their tests because I'd be at a hockey game, the kids asked me who I was going with. I don't usually share my intimate details with students, but I'm a bad liar, and so it slipped out that I was going with a guy before I could think of anything else to say.

"Ooooh," they gasped, shocked that a teacher had allowed that tidbit to escape. "What are you going to wear? Where did you meet? What's his name? What's his name?" It was a spontaneous gossip session and it was sweeter than I thought it would be. Sure, I blushed, and I regretted my inability to hide my life, but their earnest interest was touching.

"Why won't you tell us his name? Just tell us. We don't know him. What does he do? Have you been together long? Does he work here?"

I tried to maintain a little bit of privacy, and I attempted to cut off the questions by answering them as briefly as I could, but I'm still not sure they learned any math that day. One of them said, "Oh, we should stop asking, because what if it doesn't work out?" The innocence of the question caught me off guard, and I said, "Well, I'm thirty-five, and it hasn't worked out yet, so it probably won't," and I laughed, because a date to a hockey game means so much more to a 17-year-old than it does to a woman twice her age, but apparently it still brings out all of the same insecurities.

After class, a quiet, hard-working girl who is so much cooler than I ever was in high school, changed her exit path from the room so that she would walk by me and said, low, so no one else would hear, "You know, my mom was thirty-five when she got married for the first time." She smiled at me, encouragingly.

When I was a kid, there was a teacher in my middle school who was famous for crying. Making Mr. Peterson cry was a badge of honor for a certain population of student. And here I was, accidentally flapping my jaw and allowing an entire classroom full of students to see my soft underbelly, and instead of kicking it they tucked me in with care, protecting my fledgling relationship the way they would protect one of a friend.

The hockey date didn't survive, but he still played a role in making my fifth hour a more fun place to be.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Blog Cheater II

I'm schlipping in this little post. Don't tell anyone.

I got a call from the Red Cross the other day. Note that they called me.

RC: Hello, is this Alex?
AL: Yes, it is.
RC: I was calling to see if you could schedule a time to come in and donate blood.
AL: Well, I'm a teacher, so I'm pretty busy during the week. Do you have any weekend times?
RC: Let me check. What's your phone number?
I paused. Remembered automatic dialing machines. Gave my number.
RC: And what's your zip code?
Hmm? Didn't the phone number allow you to look me up on your computer? Guess not. I gave them the zip code, too.
RC: And what's your name?
You mean the name you called me when you called me on my phone with my number?
RC: And when did you want to donate?
AL: On the weekend?
RC: Oh. We don't have any weekend times.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


"Oh, yes," said a woman at the party, when I told her where I work. "I used to know someone who worked at that school. She taught there for one year, and then she quit teaching." She caught my look. "Oh, but I don't think it was the school," she said too quickly. "I think she was just done with teaching."

I nodded. Sure. It probably had nothing to do with the lack of windows or collegiality. She was probably just done teaching. Who makes big decisions like quitting your career just because you're isolated in a concrete box for ten hours a day?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Best Day Ever

I woke up, and hopped out of bed without pushing snooze, just like I did when I was a kid on mornings when I knew that there would be a stocking hung by the chimney with care. I walked Buddy down to the polling station. Too early to vote, but I wanted to see if there was a line. It was 6:10. Usually, the park is abandoned except for us and a skittish greyhound named Hooch with his owner. Today there was a line beginning to form. It was nearly an hour early, and it was ridiculously early in the morning, but there was a line. Hooch's owner met us on the other side of the park. He said he was on his way to vote. He's an under 40 city-dweller with tattoos who adopts retired greyhounds. I felt pretty good about his vote.

I stopped by the Baker's Wife for a little sustenance on the way to work and was disappointed to see that they were out of my favorite croissants. I was about to settle for a donut when Gary walked out with a tray full of croissants, still warm from the oven. I nearly cried when that first warm, flaky bite melted in my mouth. This was really and truly going to be the Best Day Ever.

My lesson was dull and my students were all keyed up (or absent), but they just weren't part of the Best Day Ever, so I ignored them. I also ignored the fact that my classroom is a windowless, stiffling box. Not part of the Best Day Ever.

I had time to make cookies after voting (which was a breeze at my precinct), and so I loaded them fresh from the oven into Tupperware to be consumed by election partiers. After a slow and tedious process of watching CNN's ridiculous coverage with too many strangers, I finally got too tired, and drove home. In the car, the calm and thorough voices of NPR soothed me through the reporting of California, Oregon and Washington. They were the ones who finally called the election for me, confirming that I was right this morning when I took my first bite of croissant. This really was the Best Day Ever.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Absolute Value: The Shower for Numbers

If you're clean when you go into the shower, you're clean when you get out:
|6| = 6

If you're dirty when you go into the shower, you're clean when you get out:
|-6| = 6

If you take a shower, and then you get dirty right away, well, then, you're dirty:
-|-6| = -6

Three of my 12 algebra kids failed first quarter. This wretched rate of success brought to you by absenteeism and a history of low expectations and failure. One of the three has decided to change schools. I'm putting on paper (er...pixels) right now that the other two will pass this quarter, if I have to drag their sorry butts to class myself. I mean, seriously, if you can't pass algebra when I hand you the number shower, when are you going to pass?

Oh, and PS, stop calling me. I'm not going to answer. I promise to vote. I would even if I didn't get free ice cream or coffee for it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

(shh...i'm dancing in the streets.)

A friend wrote to invite me to watch the election returns at her house. She said that when it was over we could dance in the streets. Or something else she didn't want to think about.

I read an article in the New York Times about Democrats who were so worried that the polls keep saying that Obama is ahead, they are afraid to even look at them any more.

On Saturday Night Live, Ben Affleck talked about working for Jimmy Carter's reelection when he was a kid. He said that he worked for Mondale and campaigned for Dukakis. Then he supported Tsongas against Clinton. Of course he endorsed Gore and then Kerry. I'm not one of those Ben Affleck lovers, but he connected with me last night. He and I are about the same age. We've lived through the same painful defeats. We've survived the Clinton age of compromise. We've been afraid to hope because our losses have been so epic.

I keep reading and rereading the polls, and I feel for those angsty New York liberals. I can't take another four years of hell. My heart isn't strong enough for another heartbreak. This one would be the worst of all, too, because my votes for Kerry and Gore were really just votes against Bush. Obama was the one that I wanted from the very beginning. Please, please, just let me dance in the streets this one time.

There Goes my Productivity

My iPod has games on it.

(Half of you just wondered what I need with an iPod. The correct answer is podcasts. Mine may be the only one in the country with an empty music folder. If you want free podcast recommendations, however, I can help you out. It took me a while to warm up to them, but lately, I've been feeling pretty close to the folks over at the Slate Political Gabfest. Oh, and The Moth makes me laugh and cry and gasp at the sounds coming out of my earbuds. Radio Lab is the best thing on public radio and it's way easier to get it as a podcast than it is to try to figure out how to listen to the radio at 2:00 in the afternoon during the week. Now I just have to wait for the new season to start.

Anyway, podcasts don't interfere with the rest of my life, because I take them with me when I walk Buddy. I do that thing where I meet people on the street and barely nod because I'm all caught up in my iPod. Yes, I do the very thing that always used to make me fear for our civil society.)

Remember having Tetris on your brain? Remember packing your moving van, and feeling like you really could use one of those T-shaped blocks to wedge on the side next to your couch? Remember imagining artwork and books sliding together on your wall, so it would disappear?

Well, Vortex is my new Tetris. Last night my closed eyes covered up imaginary balls dropping into a tunnel and blocks twisting below them. Oh, dear. This does not bode well for accurate end-of-quarter grades for my students tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wordle Never Lies

You know, it turns out this blog is about the other guy. This whole time I thought it was so obvious that Barack Obama was my candidate that I haven't gone around shouting "Barack Obama" to the rooftops of the world, but it turns out that without even meaning to I mention that other, more spiteful, one a lot. In fact, he comes up nearly as often as my two favorite words: thinking and busy. Here's the proof.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm Really a Giant Nerd

How excited was I that I was finally able to get this to work for my calculus discussion board about homework help questions? Don't ask. It's too embarrassing. It's quite possible that I high-fived myself...but at least it wasn't a high-π, which is just about the nerdiest thing I've ever done in public.

Too Busy to Blog

So, I've been busy with teaching. Not bad busy, just busy. Too busy for important things like blogging.

I will not, however, be too busy to vote on November 4, despite what you may think after watching this video, which amused me, even though it was yelling at me to vote. Yelling at the woman who even voted for school board members and shoe-ins in the primary. Funny. And is that how you spell "shoe-in"? Probably not.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What Else Not to Do

If your kid bombs a test, don't call the teacher and complain that the test was too hard. Don't try to sit down with the teacher so she can explain to you why she only does easy examples in class and only puts hard questions on the test. What are you trying to accomplish? Anyway?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Other People

I was walking through the dog park today and I realized with some surprise that for once in my life, my thoughts were with other people. Don't worry. I'm not giving up my self-absorbtion for good, but today, for one day, I'm thinking about somebody else for a change.

I'm thinking about how I hope the weather is good in Washington DC today, because Lisa is getting married to Nick there today, and I don't know Lisa or Nick, but I've grown to care about them from reading Lemon Gloria regularly, so I hope their ceremony is beautiful because it matters to Lisa, who is so happy to have found Nick she can't stop crying.

On my morning walk with Buddy, my thoughts also turned to T, who accidentally participated in a home-birth this week, successfully delivering a baby girl, despite unsuccessfully making it out of the house and to the hospital. Who knew she'd follow in our hippie-mothers' footsteps and deliver in her own bedroom?

And finally, I've been thinking of John McCain, only not in any sort of a deep way. Thinking of John McCain deeply hurts my feelings. No. I've just been thinking about how he said that he looked into Putin's eyes and he just saw three letters - K, G, and B. Now, if you know me in real life, and you haven't seen the letters under my eyes, then ask me to show them to you some day. This week I've been showing them off to my students because we're all sharing our stupid human tricks lately. So anyway, l've been imagining Putin with veins under his eyes spelling out KGB, and it's been making me giggle a little bit.

That last paragraph was sort of about me, wasn't it? OK, back to me me me. Carry on.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Not to Do

If your kid says to you, "The reason I don't get math is because my teacher never goes over our homework, and I don't even know whether my homework is right, because my teacher never corrects it," then you will probably feel a slow burn of outrage. How can any teacher be so lazy?

But, if the same kid has been issued, in addition to a text book, a solution manual to the text book, you might want to ask her (or him) why she isn't correcting her own homework. You might want to stop for a minute, and imagine 120 kids just like yours diligently practicing factoring limit problems (just as yours does). Even if they only have about 25 problems a night, you will soon see that the result is 3000 problems. No one can correct 3000 problems. A day. No one can circle in red pen just where each child went wrong on each of those 3000 problems. Every day. No one can write enough happy faces or stars on the ones that made no mistakes. On 3000 problems. Each of the days of the week.

Still, even if you don't know this basic fact of math teacher-hood, even if the quantity of homework problems doesn't occur to you, and you decide to take your outrage out on the teacher, and you decide to email her (or him) with your anger and your frustration, then, please, for the sake of your child, whatever you do, don't cc the principal.

Don't do it. Really. Your relationship with the teacher will be better. Your relationship with the principal will be better. Your child's relationship with the teacher will be better. The teaching will be better. The world will be a better place. There will be rainbows and flowers where before there was only sewage and toxic waste.

Just believe me, OK? I know what I'm talking about.

My Claim to Fame

So, at this moment, if you're feeling sad and lonely, and you're sitting in the dark somewhere with just the Internet to keep you company, and you go to google at your wits' end, wondering just how you're going to make it another day, and you type "How to Live Alone" into the search engine, hoping against hope that someone, anyone, out there in cyberspace will help you muddle though your loneliness, down there at number four on the list of results is this blog. It's me, reaching out to you, one solitary figure in the dark to another, saying, "It's OK. We can do this."

Of course, this cracks me up, because it seems to me most days that I'm only about half a step away from typing just those words into google myself, and who's going to help me? Myself?

For some context, I've been stood up by the same guy two nights in a row. Well, not really "stood up", but canceled on at the last minute. The reasons sound valid. One of them was a double-booking problem, which I, of all people, should understand. The other was illness. And I don't really care that much, because I don't know the guy well enough to care, but here's the deal: I don't have time to get to know him, especially if, when I make the time, he cancels. I am working an incredible number of hours at school, and I'm still behind. I'm robbing my sleep bank in order to pay my lesson planning creditors. It's nearly 8:00, I haven't had dinner, I don't know what I'm teaching tomorrow in either of my two classes, and I have to get up and go to work in nine hours.

How to Live Alone? How about How to Eat, Sleep, and Make Time for Friends and Romantic Interests (Even Flaky Ones) All While Getting Your Lessons Done Before School Starts?

Excuse me, I have some googling to do. I just hope I'm not on the first page this time, because I happen to know that I'm not much help.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shopping at this Time of Month

Oh my god, nutty bars are on sale! They're only a dollar. Should I buy two boxes? I don't need two boxes. Man, I can practically taste the fake peanut butter and chocolate flavor right now. OK, I'll just get one. I definitely need some nutty bars for my lunches.

Now, where is the chocolate milk? I need chocolate milk. Right now. Ooo. I remember this All-Star chocolate milk. I didn't know it had double the calcium. I'll get the big -- hey! is that string cheese? I love string cheese. It's a lot of packaging, but I can take it to school for lunches. It'll remind me of my childhood, so it's totally worth destroying the earth.

I wonder if they have a case of individual ice cream treats, because I could really use some ice cream right now. I can even eat it in the car - oh, yeah, Drumsticks. Just what I need. Chocolately, peanutty, icecream-coney goodness.

OK, this is getting ridiculous, I have to get out of the dairy aisle and find the cashier. Wait! Slim Jims. Perfect. I'll have a Slim Jim and a Drumstick for dinner. The cashier is totally going to think I'm pregnant. Who cares? Damn, if only I could figure out how to gracefully chug my half-gallon of chocolate milk while I'm driving, I'd have the perfect meal. Maybe I should go back for another box of nutty bars. They're only a dollar...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Don't I Know You From Somewhere?

So, I was on a second sort-of date this morning. I know. I know. A second one. Shocking.

Anyway, get over it. So we were on this sort-of date, and we were having breakfast.

Yeah, OK, get your mind out of the gutter. I don't even know why I talk to you.

We met for breakfast for our second date because both of us had other evening plans this weekend.

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, we were having breakfast. My family occasionally eats breakfast, as you may know, which is why he let me pick the restaurant, and so I picked a family favorite, because it's reasonably priced and the food is local and good. Big mistake. Halfway through the sort-of date, who should walk in?

Go ahead guess.

Right. My mom and Jimmy. Big as life. She's a pretty good spy, and so naturally she tried to choose a table within earshot, but Jimmy's a better friend, and he firmly escorted her to the farthest corner of the restaurant. Still, I was left to explain to my sort-of date why even though he let me pick any restaurant in the city, I just happened upon the one place where my parents were dining this morning.

Unless he noticed that my parents are pretty hot for their age, he probably thought I was a big old dork. Of course, when he asked me about my other plans for the day and I said I was going to study Calculus, I'm sure that didn't help convince him otherwise. Damn.

Next time I go out for a secret sort-of date for breakfast, it will be at the Copper Dome. I'm going to have to eat first, though, because the food totally sucks, but it's a small price to pay for not running into any family members. Also next time I'm going to pretend that I teach something sexy, like, um, ceramics.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


The hip-hop team at my new school is all white. I tried to judge them by the content of their characters, but they were dancing so self-consciously, like a bunch of white folks, and hip-hop looked like something they are just trying on, like joining the math team or playing intramural basketball.

The hip-hop team at my old school was more colorful and they danced together with all of their hearts as if they were dancing out a place for themselves within the mostly white school. And where do the black hip-hoppers go at this new school? How do they dance themselves into acceptance? I'll tell you one thing: I'm pretty sure it won't be with the crew I saw today, unless I'm very wrong.

And so begins a year of Al comparing where she is with where she has been.

Also, phew! I'm beat after six twenty-five-minute-periods today.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Al for VP

So, I was thinking about this birthday I just had, and how now that I'm 35, I might as well be 40, and how I'm not where I thought I would be by the time I was 40, and I was feeling all down on myself and the world, and then I remembered how exciting it was to turn 16, 18, and 21. When I turned 16, it gave me the right to get into a car accident every year until I really learned how to drive. And of course, nerd that I am I counted the days until November after my 18th birthday. And although it wasn't until years later that I felt comfortable doing it, turning 21 gave me the right to buy liquor (which, granted, seemed more exciting at the time).

And I remembered that actually 35 is a good birthday, because it gives you the right to run for vice president. I used to think that I wasn't really qualified to be vice president (and up until August 17, I wasn't), but I certainly feel capable of being mayor of some podunk town of 8500, and from there it would be a small leap for me to govern a state with a population only double that of Minneapolis.

I'm also the possessor of two fully functioning (we think) ovaries, and while I do not bring together the conservative base, I also never used my authority to try to get my brother-in-law fired. And, so, in conclusion, I have decided that I would be as good a candidate for VP as what's-her-face. Thank goodness I had that birthday before the election. I'll leave my phone on, just in case McCain rethinks his choice.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Introvert at Sea

They say their names, and I smile. I shake hands. I forget to use all of those mnemonic devices that you're supposed to use when you meet new people, and I find instead that my brain is completely blank and terrified. It's been five seconds since I heard your name, and I not only can't repeat it, I can't even remember my own name.

Lots of pats on the back for getting the job at my new school. Lots of "heard great things about you". Lots of offers to help. Help with what? I haven't had time alone in my room to think about what I need. The few things I have asked about (money for math team, scope and sequence of my courses, attendance policy) seem to be decisions I get to make all by myself. I'm lost. I'm used to standing rigid against a wall in a building too dependent upon structure to see the students, and now I find myself with no wall and no structure, and I'm not even sure I know how to stand without it.

Excuse me. I can't remember your name, but I kind of sort of want you to give me some structure so I can rebel against it, especially since I suspect the structure will become apparent only when I violate it. Why don't you just save us some time and tell me what it is, so I can decide how to violate it?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dating that Feels Like Homework

At new teacher training this week, I found myself surrounded by that usual crew of early-married teachers. They look like people I'll be asking for hall passes in a couple of weeks, shiny-faced, bright-eyed, unwrinkled kids, but they're all sporting diamonds on their left hands. More power to them, I say, but when one of them told me that she didn't even know you could administer the Heimlich to yourself on the back of a chair, I suffered through a brief flash of envy. I've eaten a great many meals all by myself in my little apartment. Granted, I've never choked or needed to save myself, but I know exactly what to do if I ever do.

I've also had a birthday recently.

My birthday was the deadline for the end of the dating hiatus, and I was feeling like it would be nice to forget the Heimlich-on-the-back-of-the-chair trick. Furthermore, I ran into my first true love at the coffee shop on Tuesday. Now there's a scab I can still pick when I feel like watching myself bleed.

It's all driven me back to the dating world.

This time, I've landed on a website that promises me dates with potential. It's not that one with the right-wing Christian gay-bashing dates, but it's a little bit like that one, in that you don't get to search for dates until the website's algorithm determines that your personalities and dating wants and needs match in some way.

So the website sends you some matches, and then you can move a little slider bar right or left to indicate your interest in each person. Only I can't possibly tell how interested I am from a picture and a paragraph - unless they have some sort of obscenely hideous facial hair growing out of their upper lip, or they make horrendous grammatical errors in their essays. I feel like I should be able to tell, but I can't. Or, actually, to be brutally honest, I feel like moving all of the little slider bars all of the way left (to the "no spark" end), but I keep telling myself that I have to be more open in order to actually ever meet anyone, and so I procrastinate on moving any of my slider bars, because it's too hard to make a decision.

Meanwhile, every man who sees my profile and moves the slider bar even the slightest bit to the right generates an email of "interest". Seriously, I've gotten about one auto-generated email an hour from this thing. The emails bring up more profiles with more pictures and more cursed slider bars. I've stopped even opening them. I can't face it.

And what do you get if you both move the slider bar to the right? You get to move on to the free-response portion of the test. You choose some questions. He chooses some questions. And you both write essays.

I keep thinking that there must be a more fun way to do this. It'd be great, for example, if instead of slider bars and multiple-choice tests and short-answer questions, I could get flirtatious banter and dinner and flowers. Why can't dating be more like that?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Thing She Noticed

I was sitting in the back of the van one day in Kyrgyzstan, next to Daniya, the local volunteer coordinator. Daniya is kind and green and new to her job, and I sensed that she was having a rough time, but she's also very girly, so while I felt like it was important to talk to her, I also struggled to come up with things to talk about.

I had noticed that there were a lot of Korean restaurants in the neighborhood where we were working on the house.

Ask me how I could tell.

Go ahead, ask.

OK, I'll just tell you. It was because I could read the signs in front of the restaurants. The Russian signs.

So anyway, I decided to ask her if there a lot of Korean people in Kyrgyzstan or if they were just concentrated in that one neighborhood. It turns out, in fact, that Daniya's own family is Korean. Originally her family (and a lot of Korean people) settled in the part of the Soviet Union that was near, well, Korea. So, they were living just across some water from their home country, when World War II started, and because Korean people look Japanese (but don't say so to the Koreans or the Japanese), the Russians decided to forcibly relocate them to an interior part of the country so they wouldn't collude with the enemy. Both sides of Daniya's family were left in what must have felt like the middle of nowhere, and they had to figure out how to make a living in the high desert deep in the center of Asia.

I was still trying to wrap my mind around the massive relocation of Daniya's entire family just two generations ago, and also trying to figure out how to get me an invitation to her grandma's house for some dolsot bibimbap, when I realized that the conversation was lagging. OK, next question. I knew she'd been in the US in college, so I asked her what she noticed most about living in my home country.

After a lifetime of living in Kyrgyzstan, I thought she might have noticed that you could walk across the street in a well-marked crosswalk without fearing for your life. I thought maybe she would have remarked upon the good-tasting potable water that comes from the tap. I figured she'd be impressed with how safe the drivers on the highway are, mostly sticking to their own lanes, and only rarely creating new ones in order to pass other cars. I thought she might notice the green, since she lived in St Louis, and K-stan was feeling pretty dry and brown to me in late July.

So, imagine my surprise when she pondered for less than 30 seconds before answering, in that quiet, halting English, "I think I noticed the segregation first," she said. She lived in a dorm in St Louis. The first two floors were filled with white people, she said. The floor she lived on with her Russian roommate was nearly all African American. She noticed the neighborhoods in St Louis. The places where white people didn't live. The places where black people did.

She got quiet. I felt like apologizing for the arrogance of the question (or at least of what I expected in her answer) and for the inequity revealed by her honest answer. She wasn't at all accusatory, didn't blame me for having white skin, or suspect me of creating an unfair system. She just reported on the facts as she noticed them as an outsider suddenly living inside our country.

And I say unto you, friends and countrymen-and-women, do we really want to live in a country where people from the outside notice first our racism and our segregation? Aren't we all equally hurt by that perception? Isn't it finally time to be done with it?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Pity, Party of One

I've spent the day painting my back steps, and it's the third day I have been so occupied, and all I have to show for it is back steps fully covered in primer. Primer is to paint what knitting the fist sock is to knitting a pair of socks. You get yourself all worked up, you work for days, and when you finally finish, and you look at the thing, all you can think is, "Great. Now I have to do it all over again." Stupid primer.

The other reason to feel sorry for me is that I had to take the car to the shop today. No, it was nothing serious, but as a former owner of a Swedish car, all of my trips to the shop are accompanied by post traumatic stress disorder.

Also, no matter how fast I watch my Netflix, I can't seem to get more than one a week.

And finally, the real reason to feel sorry for me is that my summer vacation ends today. And see above about how I spent that last day of freedom. Priming. Ugh. Too bad I have to wait for tomorrow for Battlestar Galactica to arrive in the mail.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Some Other Things I Like Better Than You'd Expect

So, in addition to Battlestar Galactica, here are a couple of other things I secretly adore, but don't usually advertise, because of my fear of mockery. Now that I'm almost 35, I've decided it's time to let go of the fear and embrace whoever I am. If I don't love myself, who will?
  1. Whole milk and whole milk yogurt. Especially organic milk. I know, I know, I'm supposed to say, "Yuck, it tastes so thick and creamy," but I can't make my lips form those words, because my heart is so filled with love for high-fat dairy products.
  2. Other people's kids. You know the Christmas letter with pictures of your friends' kids, and how you're supposed to be a little bit annoyed, since you don't have kids and so you don't torture your friends with stories of their accomplishments? Yeah, except my wall is still plastered (in August) with those kids' pictures. I like being the fun adult friend. It's amusing to chase little kids until they scream and invent stupid little games that are just repetitive enough that the kids can play along. It's a blast to introduce kids to Choose-Your-Own Adventure stories, and study how they handle the risk of making plot choices as they grow up. Some of these kids I've known since they were little monkey-babies, and so I especially enjoy them now that they seem so human.
  3. The Little Giant. Before I got the Little Giant, I dropped whatever I was doing in order to watch the Little Giant commercials. The Little Giant remains one of the most thoughtful Christmas presents I've ever received. I mean what other ladder can safely rest with two legs on the stairs? I used this feature just today. And I'm not 250 pounds, yet, despite all of the whole milk, but it would be totally safe for me to be on the Little Giant if I were.
  4. Veronica Mars. Joss Wedon told me to watch Veronica Mars, and so I did, because he's an artistic genius. I found myself with a series of DVDs not a single person in my peer group had ever seen - or was willing to ever see. OK, fine, it is a high school drama but it's still good TV. Same goes for Buffy, but I always had friends who recognized Buffy's quality.
  5. Driving stick. Driving at all is passe for environmentalists, but I only just learned how to shift, and it's such a pleasure, please, don't make me hate it. It even turns out that parallel parking with a manual transmission is one of my Special Talents. If I can ever afford a hybrid, I'll have to go back to just steering the thing, which would rob the Earth of my talent. Sigh.
And you? What's your secret delight?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Darkest Recesses of my Heart

My brother came home early while I was taking care of the nephew yesterday. The kid was napping (Finally, after an hour of sqirking around in the big boy bed, he passed out after a block in the stroller), and I was watching my Netflix DVD in the living room. Well, I jumped right up, turned it off, pulled out the DVD, and stuffed it in my purse as soon as I heard the doorknob turn, but it was too late. He caught me.

"What are you watching? What is that?" Ever the big brother, always able to catch the slightest hint of shame.

"It's, um, it's Battlestar Galactica." Ever the less-than-cool little sister, always apologizing for my nerdiness.

"The TV show?" Disbelief.

"Yeah, well, it's from Netflix. I kind of love it."

And, so, as long as I've already been outed by my favorite older brother, I might as well tell you, faithful readers, Jenn and Jen alike. I love Battlestar Galactica. And no, I am not secretly a man. Women can like Sci Fi, too, you know. Really, really nerdy women, for example.

But, if you want to judge, then at least watch some of it before you do, because if you do you'll see a show in which the humans are driven to participate in suicide bombings, and you'll see main characters argue about the use of the tactic. You'll see secret wartime tribunals meet to condemn accused traitors, and you'll see the danger of the secret tribunal as they almost execute an innocent man. You'll see post-traumatic stress turn Starbuck into a not-so-sympathetic heroine. You'll watch intelligent arguments about genocide and biological warfare. And you'll get to see gratuitous shots of Lee Adama with his shirt off, which just about proves that I'm not the only straight woman watching the show.

So, anyway, I'm not trying to deny my nerdiness. Indeed, I am thankful that it allowed me to watch such an intelligent and pertinent show (gratuitous male torsos aside). I will just say that my name is Alex, and I am a Battlestar Galactica viewer, and I'm proud. Join me. Together we can conquer the final frontier and make Sci Fi safe for women at long last.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mary Johnson

Our first experience with the previous owner of our house's do-it-yourself tendencies came within two weeks of moving in. At the closing, she said that as a single woman, she always felt safer coming home and parking in her garage if she didn't have to get out of her car to lift the garage door. She bragged that she had installed a garage door opener as a safety measure in her new home. So, one fateful day, coming home late at night, I pushed the button on the much-lauded garage door opener and watched as the garage door was pulled apart by the mechanism that was supposed to lift it. You see, in the old days garage doors were heavy, and they were designed to be lifted from below by the driver of the car. They were not designed to be pulled from above by an automatic opener. It was predictable that the door would fail. Predictable, that is, to everyone except for Mary Johnson.

"Mary Johnson" quickly became a cuss word around our house. When we operated a hole-saw on the door frame of the downstairs apartment door in order to install a deadbolt, and found that it spun helplessly when it hit the folded pages of a magazine that had been used to shim the door in place, we shook our heads and muttered, "Mary Johnson". Then the kitchen sink clogged - because it had been installed to drain uphill - which cost us hundreds of dollars to fix. My sun room painting project turned into an ordeal when I discovered that not only had the wallpaper been painted over, but the bottom 2 feet of the wall had also been plastered on top of the wallpaper. Good one, Mary Johnson. Thanks to you, I had to install wainscoting.

To be fair, the house is nearly 100 years old, so Mary Johnson may not have been the owner for all of the gimcrack do-it-yourself fix-it jobs that have ever been done to it. Life isn't fair, though, so in our minds she always gets the blame. When an outlet sent off sparks in the attic, and I opened it up to find an octopus of wires behind the faceplate, I could only curse poor "Mary Johnson", especially when I discovered that trying to simplify the wiring in that overloaded outlet affected the lights in the living room.

And so this morning, when I had a roofer over to give me an estimate for some leaks, I was quick to point out that the previous owner didn't know jack about flashing. His inspection revealed that not only did poor Mary Johnson know nothing about flashing techniques, her shingling skills were poor, too. I'm shocked. How could a woman who shims with a magazine not know how to shingle a roof? And with all her fix-it skillz didn't she ever hire anyone to do anything around the house?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Home Sweet Divot

I've had my bed for enough years, and enough of those years have featured me sleeping alone in it, that I've managed to wear away a me-shaped divot on one side of the mattress. There's something comforting about that indentation in my bed. It gives me a thrill similar to the one I feel because my space bar and home keys are shiny with wear. I made this. I did it all by myself, and not because I was trying to, but just because I used these things enough times that eventually they yielded to the weight of my body or to the gentle tapping of my right thumb enough times in just that one spot on earth.

How many nights did it take for me to curve the mattress to exactly fit just the way I sleep? How many words did I type so that my soft skin finally wore away the plastic beneath it?

At any rate, it's nice to be home to the one mattress in the world that is shaped this way. It's freeing to have instant access to the Internet any time I want it (although I'm trying not to want it quite so often, since I should be doing dishes or learning Calculus), and, even though I have had to spend the past two days at a conference for math team coaches, it's wonderful to have some measure of control over my own time again. This morning I ran for 40 minutes in the dog park, catching again that sense of rhythm I get from the sound of my feet on the ground and the feeling of air entering my lungs. I was molding the muscles in my legs not by trying to but by using them over and over again, wearing away a path in the dog park with my running shoes at the same time as the dirt whittled away at the tread on their bottoms.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Safe in London, Folks

I just reserved a hotel at Heathrow (so expensive Buddy may have to switch to generic kibbles) and I'm off to explore these Tubes they have here, as soon as I drop off my bags, rinse my pits, and change for the theatre. See you soon in the MN!

After I wrote these words, I took the tube to Leicester Square, bought a half-price ticket and saw "The Thirty-Nine Steps" at the Criterion. Didn't know that you would be able to hear the tube every time it rumbled underneath during the show. Didn't realize it was a comedy. Didn't think it was all that funny, but I might have liked it better if I had just seen the movie. I also thought one of the actors was an annoying ham, but the rest of the audience loved him, so who am I to judge? (Well, most of you know that I secretly think I am a better judge of acting ability than that loud tourist next to me who didn't even change out of his dirty t-shirt and shorts to watch the theater. OK, OK, it's not a secret.)

Even if it wasn't funny, the theater was a great way to keep myself awake until London bedtime. I was alone on the Tube ride home, so I took a picture. After taking over two hundred pictures in two weeks in Kyrgyzstan, suddenly I think I'm too cool to let anyone see me snap photos in London.

I realized as I returned to my hotel room that my definition of having enough space is being able to pee with the door open and walk around after my shower without a towel. No wonder I felt overcrowded for two weeks. And, yes, some parking lot in London got to see me naked if it was looking, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Do You Have the Time?

I don't have a watch. Tom does and it has local and East Coast time, so I have been using his East Coast time and changing it by two hours to figure out what you-all are doing in Minnesota (usually when I'm up you're sleeping). I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until yesterday that I figured out a pretty good trick for figuring out the time back home. When I had Tom's watch, I figured out I could take the current time, add two hours and change the AM to PM to get East Coast time. Then, I had to subtract two hours to get Minnesota time. Some of you math-people might already be there. Here's the trick to get Minnesota time: We're twelve hours off. I just change the AM to PM. Duh.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not-So-Very-Hot Lake

I dreamed last night that while I was babysitting for Cat and Finn, I lost Finn. The worst part was that the Alex in my dream had all of the panic of the real Alex, but none of the competence, and so there was a lot of aimless running around and moments when I would reach for my cell phone and find that instead of packing my phone I had accidentally stolen the TV remote from my apartment in Bishkek. Anyway, I wouldn't allow myself to wake up until Finn was relocated, which happened not due to the incompetent-Al, but due to a call from an anonymous person who wanted to deliver him safely home under cover of darkness without being identified. Dum dum dum.

My first R and R event of the day was a solitary walk to the beach of Issyk-Kyl at 6:00 AM. I planned to go earlier, but I awoke to find that I was locked inside the guest house compound until the cooks woke up to make breakfast. Issyk-Kyl means "hot lake". It got its name not because it's actually hot, but because it never freezes. There is a big difference between hot water and not-frozen water as you know, but I guess "Pretty Damn Cold Lake that Somehow Still Never Freezes" doesn't sound inviting to Russian tourists, so "Hot Lake" it is. At 6 AM, the Russian tourists are sparse but friendly. The greet each other loudly, laugh at the people psyching themselves up for a morning swim, flirt with the little kids toddling on the shore, and stand chatting on the beach while they take in the beauty of the lake surrounded by ice-capped mountains.

I talked a while with a paunchy Russian and a middle-aged Kyrgyz man. We quickly used up all of their English words - and my Russian was exhausted at "good morning" - and so the conversation ended with "American women, beautiful. I love you." Then I jumped in the lake.

I swam again after breakfast, but at that time of day the beach has too many Russians with too much junk in their trunks (and a spare tire up front). Still there is something appealing about a culture in which it's OK to wear a skimpy swimsuit no matter your body type - not visually appealing, mind you, but appealing nonetheless. The Russians all had terrible sunburns. During the hour I sat on the beach, I saw no one apply a drop of sunscreen. I guess their skin cancer can heal during the nine months of winter.

A little before lunchtime, we piled into the van again for a trip to the Kyrgyz version of the Katy Daly - only with a more powerful diesel engine and a deck large enough fpr a table that seats twelve. It was the first relaxing part of the R and R, and we took advantage of it by lounging on the deck and stuffing piles of grilled meat, bread, and salads into our guts. At one point, the capatain stopped the boat, and some of us jumped in the lake again. The water at this depth was startlingly blue and crystal clear. It was a lovely - if cold - third swim of the day.

Now we are all back in Bishkek and I have moved into my new apartment. Dean and Suze left this morning. The trip is winding down. We just have one more day to stroll the city, one more day to work, andthen we fly home. I spend a night in London on the way home, which will be an adventure, but I miss my Buddy and my bed - although not necessarily the smell of Buddy in my bed.