Radical

At school, we share our success just as freely as we share our failures. About a month ago my dear friend and colleague, Jane, popped into my room at the end of the day to tell me about her moment. And friends, it was a good one.

Like my lockdown story, it was born of necessity. She had a student who finished his work and desperately needed something to do. She decided to try something new.

“I decided to do something totally new,” she said,  “I had him give compliments. I asked him to give everyone in the room a personal, genuine compliment. Happily, he’s the type of extrovert who would accept such a challenge. He walked through the rows of desks and stopped to compliment each classmate. If he knew them well, he mentioned their sense of humor, a time they were helpful, etc. If he didn’t know the person, he complimented their appearance, drawings, handwriting, or something else visible to him. Students looked surprised, then quickly pleased. Because how often does that happen in English class? 🙂 Everyone had a smile by the end of class. How simple, yet how powerful.”

Now, props here, because one has to KNOW their class for something like this to work. It also is a precise example of the transitory nature of the classroom. This cannot be planned out and placed in a syllabus, it does not need to be aligned to the Common Core Standards for Students Will Not Act Like Assholes. It is organic, and fluid, and entirely context dependent.

This, friends, is what builds the culture of a program, a school, a community.

After Jane told me about her moment, I started thinking about the risks it takes to be kind. For teachers, students, and those all around, there are significant risks to putting oneself ‘out there’ into the range of others. It is so much easier to stay within the boxes on our syllabi, the lines on our lesson plans. Students are more comfortable filling in worksheets or playing the perennial favorite, laptop solitaire, than they are interacting with each other.

Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager behind a screen, from what I observe, is even harder. Jane’s on-the-fly assignment created an authentic interaction involving every single student in that classroom. The giving and receiving of a compliment seems so very simple, and is anything but.

So I kept thinking and kept thinking and kept thinking about how this was a radical kind of kindness, something vastly different from pay-it-forward coffee (which is awesome, not knocking that at all).

And then I was invited to speak at our National Honor Society induction, and it turns out that I have quite a lot to say about radical kindness. So I will say these things tomorrow.

I am honored and nervous and earnest and fiercely proud of these students.

xoxo

Heather

 

The Lockdown Story

 

Lockdown drills are an unfortunate necessity in modern America. Every school has their own protocol, and I’m finally seasoned enough to only question whether I leave the blinds up or down.

I know where my “Grab and Go” bag is, and I no longer need to consult the cheat sheets and maps for directions.

My students always gather in the same spot. As soon as the announcement booms over the intercom, they look at me, and all I have to do is point; they follow. Even when I know the announcement is coming, my stomach still drops when I hear it.

The students are every teenaged archetype all at once. A couple of boys flick each other and gesture to communicate. I suspect they have Pokemon cards in their pockets. One girl scowls at the chalkboard, her eyes betraying her invulnerable appearance. All of them look without moving, and I know that they, too, wonder: Is this really a drill? 

I think about the moment in yoga class when the teacher inevitably instructs us to open our hearts, to let our hearts raaadiate out to the corners of the room. I visualize this, and hope that the kids don’t know what I’m thinking because they’ll NEVER let me live it down, but also that they feel it. It’s okay, I breathe, I’ve got you.

I grab a clipboard, a piece of scrap paper, and a pen. I write “Once Upon a Time . . .”, and the kids take it from there.

Once Upon a Time . . .

Our class wrote about Student X.

The story was about him getting hurt.

But he ended up being okay.

Which was very fortunate for he had plans that afternoon.

While they write, I breathe. I scan the students, do a quick count from my perch on the floor, take the temperature of the classroom. The two fuzzy faced boys are still playing silent games with each other. Others have settled in, criss cross applesauce, and are waiting for their turn to work on the story.

He had plans to create an army and overthrow Donald Trump.

And Donald Trump yelled at him to go away

Donald Trump decided to build a wall in between him

and Student X. Donald was leaning on the weird wall

one day and Student X shaved his hair off his head.

One couple looks a little too cozy. We’re sitting directly under Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and this makes me smile. But I’m still watching them. Another teacher is nearly hidden amongst the students – the poor guy just wanted to show me a funny quiz, and now he’s stuck here, silent, on the floor, dwarfed by freshmen.

He accidentally cut his head open with the razor.

I watch the clipboard snake its way through the huddle of hormones and hair. The intercom clicks and I know what’s coming: ‘Good job’ the assistant principal announces, the lockdown is over.

Students groan and I grin. “Read it!” they yell. I hold up the clipboard “As soon as you’re back in your seats!”

Once upon a time . . . 

My Shitty Husband

I didn’t realize it was my (former?) anniversary until I saw it on Facebook. “Three years ago today . . .” it said. And there was a picture of so many of us, my people, huddled together in and around and on top of the outhouse that my then fiancé carefully crafted so that it would be useful at camp after we used it as a photo booth.

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I couldn’t find him in the picture.

I thought the hard part of divorce was the decision. I remember a nearly full year of agonizing and crying and mourning. Of walking through every possible scenario to save whatever was left. Then one day, I wasn’t mourning anymore. I was done crying and done hypothesizing; the unraveling of our union proceeded with remarkable ease.

But here I am, five months later, and I realize that the hard part is NOW.

The hard part is when you miss your really shitty husband.

The hard part is when you have cramps like Vesuvius and your kid is surly and you think you’ve failed at raising him AND the fucking dishes never end, man. Never end. You just want to read your book, walk the dog, go to fucking yoga, man. You realize that there is no one else to make the coffee, and no matter how shitty a person is, if they bring you coffee in the morning? You remember what that feels like. You still wake up some days and roll over, thinking that a hot cup of coffee will be right beside you.

Even when your shitty spouse seems to do nothing more than make life difficult, there is someone there to yell at. Someone who, for better or worse, knows the only way to stop the tears, catch your breath.

Our life together was not healthy or fun, and the rare good times were too far apart to even create the illusion of happiness. But he was . . . there. Even if the burden of home fell on me, there was another human around. In Case of Emergency.

As a teacher, I spend the end of August and beginning of September coiling, coiling, coiling so tightly that I actively fear the release. I know that something is next, but I’m never quite sure what. It could be a weekend of sleeping, a thrown coffee mug, or a midnight drive. But usually, it’s just a couple of hours of uncontrollable sobbing. (I blame society, not nature, for the record.)

Maladaptive, yes, but there are few people in the universe, who can both push you over the edge and soften your fall. My shitty husband could do both.

 

And I miss him this week.

No one told me about divorce diarrhea.

Warning: Anyone with significant bowel issues or weak stomachs – walk away now.

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I’ve had enough friends get divorced to know what to dread and what to look forward to. Or, I thought I did. I fully expected to begin crying at any time for any reason, to drop some of the 20 lbs I gained over the last few years (thank you Divorce Diet), and to vacillate between benevolent understanding and the red hot fury of Mount Vesuvius. I’m comfortable with utterly unpredictable urges for loud music, general violence, or watching Disney movies and sobbing. It happens.

But no one told me about Divorce Diarrhea.

I may not be eating much these days, but when I do? Let’s just say that once I signed my name on that very important line, everything just kind of, loosened up. Is it instead because I am forcing myself to eat a bowl of oatmeal every morning? Maybe.

And I know. I KNOW that this is not what you want to hear right now. But if someone had warned me? I would have prepared.

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All I know, is that I wish I had known I would, after paying the requisite $120 for a divorce in Maine, become intimately familiar with every public bathroom in the greater Bangor area. That I would be in the middle of a lesson on critical theory when I feel like Taco just unleashed the brown note. That I would be writing a blog post about poop.

Consider yourself warned, friends. If there is anything else you forgot to tell me? Please. Tell me now. In the meantime, I’m going to go make some chicken and rice.

xoxo

Heather

Aftershocks

A post in which I use a tired metaphor because my brain is tired and I can’t really think of anything else.

If I were a geologist, I would have seen the earthquake coming. Unless it’s one of those disaster movies (why do I love them so much?!) where the fancy ass scientists don’t recognize the warning signs and only the nerdy crazies know what’s coming but nobody listens to them. In that case, someone would have noticed, but I digress.

I didn’t.

I should have. (Shit. Does that make me the obtuse and narcissistic scientist? Let’s pretend no.)

I barely got out in time. I am, if we’re sticking with this metaphor, still driving as the ground crumbles behind my back tires. But we all know that I will make it. You all know that that dusty truck ALWAYS drives toward the rainbow.

But now I recognize pieces of my life are beginning to settle into old and new places.

I am consumed with hope simply because it has been so long.

It’s itching at my clavicles and my heels. It was there all along.

This is new. Before, I drove and sobbed and contemplated and reckoned carefully. I am sure I am not finished driving and sobbing and contemplating, but it is no longer ALL.

And the aftershocks are coming, I know. I am going to do just what I always want my characters to do: keep my running shoes on, pack water, look up.

xoxoxo

Heather

 

 

Miso Soup for One

I just gave the kids what they wanted and fixed myself my very own meal.

Neither of the boys (one mine, one borrowed) are picky eaters, but 1. I didn’t feel like the production of cleaning my kitchen so I could make them a meal and 2. I wanted to let them pick as a treat. They ended up choosing a local burger joint and, when we called in the order, I ordered just for them.

As soon as we arrived home, I sent them upstairs with a bag of burgers and fries; I opened the refrigerator and took inventory. Asparagus. Miso. Mushrooms. Avocado. Cheddar. Making a careful choice between the standard avocado, cheese, and cracker board and miso soup, I chose the soup.

See, it’s rainy and also that weird time between meals where you need something, but not too much something. In my rummaging I remembered a few lines from Phyllis Grant’s Food 52 piece recollecting the joy of making a solo lunch. While far from Phyllis, I felt like taking time to actually make something for myself would be a good choice.

It took 5 minutes, tops.

After picking out my prettiest bowl, I pulled two stalks of asparagus, two baby bella mushrooms, and the container of miso from the refrigerator. I kicked the kettle on to boil. I washed and diced the asparagus and mushrooms so they were teeny, teeny, tiny.

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I scooped about 1/2 of a big tablespoon of miso from the container and placed it in the bowl.

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By this time the water was boiling. I added just a tablespoon or two of water at first to make a slurry. Don’t skip this step – you’ll be stirring forever. Just smoosh up the veg and water and miso paste until it’s evenly distributed. Then, add water to your desired strength.

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Please forgive my weirdly lit and placed phone pictures. My house is a mess and I am eh, a little lazy.

Once your soup is prepared, place a cloth napkin or kitchen towel under your bowl and walk into whatever room you want to be in. I chose my living room. And in the time it takes you to turn on Hulu and select the latest episode of your favorite show, your soup will be cool enough to eat.

I often hear the standard “take care of yourself” line, which is always vague and often offensive. It’s the nicer little sister to “I don’t know how you do it.” I always want to tell the deliverer of this message to give me $100 and drive my kid to hockey practice.  This five minute miso is my way to say “I do. I do take care of myself.”

Room of Requirement Potato Pancakes

 We ate these suckers hot out of the pan, burning our fingertips as we shoved them toward our faces.

A mere twenty minutes earlier we were on our way home from school and crankily listing all the shit we needed to pack for our next stop. Colby was going to attend my evening classes with me to get homework done, and I was trying to recollect my lesson plan for the night as I drove. Neither of us had eaten lunch.

We rushed toward the house as soon as I threw the Subaru into park. We had one mission: food.

And I swear, my refrigerator turned into the Room of Requirement. Like, Ron Weasley was in there holding up a bin of fresh eggs. Hermione was (rather condescendingly) pointing toward a pot with last night’s mashed potatoes in it. A bag of cheese actually FELL out of the door. It was eerie and exciting and all of my long, wiry white hairs stood up on my head.

“POTATO PANCAKES!” I yelled up to Colby. He grumbled or stomped or gave some other form of assent.

And then it was over. In mere minutes I preheated a cast iron fry pan, took the pot of cold potatoes out of the fridge, cracked a few (?) eggs into it, added a handful of cheese and some garlic powder, and stirred like crazy. The pan was sizzling and I plopped four, pancake sized blobs into it and watched the magic happen. The edges fizzled and crusted just like a flour pancake and the middles got all glossy and melty. I called Colby downstairs.We did not even dirty any dishes – just stood over the stove eating hot potato pancakes with our hands.

It was glorious and delicious and we were soon out the door, exactly on time, sated and happy and ready for our second shift to begin.

File this recipe away for the end of this month  when you have a dump truck sized pot of leftover mashed potatoes in the back of your refrigerator.


Room of Requirement Mashed Potato Pancakes

  • butter or olive oil to fry with
  • cold mashed potatoes (I’ve since tried this with hot ones – edible but def not the same)
  • eggs
  • garlic or garlic powder
  • cheese

Preheat fry pan – preferably cast iron – with butter and/or olive oil. While this is heating mix all ingredients together and stir well. Like really, really well. The mix will be runny, so if yours looks a little too thick add another egg. Plop in the pan and loosen the edges with a metal spatula as they cook. Once the edges are nice and crispy brown and the cakes seem to be set up, very carefully flip and squish. Loosen the edges and watch. Sprinkle with some good sea salt (we love crunchy Maldon) as they finish cooking. Pile up on a (paper) plate while you cook the rest and, while I guess you could wait and eat them like civilized people, eat them while they are punishingly warm. You’ll be glad you did.

 Do you have any accidental weirdly fast and

satisfying and low prep meals? Is your refrigerator, too, magical?

Let me know. I need all the help I can get.

xoxo,

Heather

The Equation of Happiness

It’s no secret that my life is BIG. Not ‘just got back from Paris’ big, but ‘I fill every cranny of my life with amazing things that I could not stand to NOT be a part of but the sum of which utterly DOES ME IN’ big.

During the summer this is fine. I’m a teacher, and while I do spend an incredible amount of time planning and taking classes and reading during the summer, the most important thing that happens is that I have time to think and process. This cannot happen during the school year for reasons that parents and teachers can understand, so it happens during the summer. When there is time and space and five QUIET minutes. I drive, wearing running shorts and dirty t-shirts, to and from Colby’s various events, and think. I visit my friends, watch hockey games, read a bajillion books, swim every possible afternoon, play in the garden, and it all seems to work.

I can manage during the summer. Wearing Old yoga pants! Running shorts! Anything with an elastic waistband! We eat dinner at 10 p.m. and often that dinner consists of any variation of toast and whatever came in from the garden. Can you sense what’s coming here?

We’re going back to school.

Freshmen orientation is tomorrow and my very own special-flower-man-child-superstar-genius is In. My. Class.

Send prayers and wine.

Some people transition. They plan and pack bento box lunches and iron their work clothes. They have checklists and a plan. I, as you know, do not.

I have been grocery shopping in the garden for WEEKS.

My work clothes will never be pressed.

All of my child’s school supplies are in a warped cardboard box on the porch.

Yet, we ARE ready.

I mean, I just put lasagna in the oven and it is sure to boil over and ruin the oven any minute, but shit, I put LASAGNA in the OVEN. Let’s focus on accomplishments, people.

My syllabi are done, orientations completed, and posters hung. I have shiny classroom floors, an activity for tomorrow, and a really good feeling about where this year will take us. These kids are my PEOPLE. They love the same books and shows as I do and they are interested in EVERYTHING. We never lack a topic for conversation. At the end of every August I leave my own world, but in a way, I am going HOME.

I’ve also picked a fight with my husband about tomatoes and utterly neglected a towering stack of laundry that is now living in my green chair. It is judging me and I am maybe a little vindictive and refuse to cave into its snarky demands. Sheets. If you want to get in the closet than maybe you should slink your cotton ass up the stairs and put yourself away.

I’m busy.

Like the rest of you, I am still that carnival act spinning a million plates. Off my feet, head, hands, that pouch of baby weight that I meant to lose fourteen years ago . . . We’re spinning meals and spouses and soccer practice and new books – pets and car repairs and laundry – meetings and community and the best friends in the world. And while everyone around us says: “I don’t know how you do it!” we KNOW that we could not have it any other way. Each plate balances the other, and the loss of one would throw us irrevocably off kilter.

I explain this to my husband, friend, colleagues, etc. by telling them that all of these areas of my life contribute to my happiness. I like a lot of people and a lot of activities and a whole lotta Netflix; my dogs, good books, and music; taking classes and teaching classes and playing in the garden and reading about livestock.

After 34 years, I think this is just the way it is going to be. Not ‘crazy busy’, but dear God, so lucky.

How blessed we are.

A Week in Pictures

I’m sitting in my car, parked outside the music studio where Colby takes drum lessons.

Mother Nature decided I was tired, so she’s watering my garden for me.

It seemed like a good day to spend a paycheck. At Target, on school supplies. The irony.

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I had allergy testing done earlier this week.

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Now I will know what is like to live in Maine and not eat any seafood.

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Matt and I got our marriage license. I kept thinking they were gonna say no, but it turns out as long as we’re not first cousins we’re all set!

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I have painted my kitchen twice in the past two weeks. *facepalm*

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The sea foam green was good in theory. I like the present khaki MUCH better.

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I got a college ID much different from those I’ve had in the past. I think I look better in this one too.

We’ve been canning and freezing in the middle of all of this wedding planning kid carting new (extra) job ruckus. I think I can I think I can . . .

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