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.