Monthly Archives: September 2013

Argle Bargle

Sitting down to write my Monday blog post, I first wanted to import pictures from my camera to my laptop.  This is a fairly straightforward task, involving running the cord from the camera into the USB port, turning on the camera, and waiting for the two pieces of “smart” machinery to speak to each other.  Oy.

My laptop is a 2007 Apple MacBook, running version 10.6.8 which is Snow Leopard.  I can’t upgrade any further so I’m stuck with all the incarnations of software.  Now, I absolutely love iPhoto, and am willing to pay the $14.99 for the upgrade to iLife11.  I AM NOT ALLOWED.  I’M BANISHED FROM THE KINGDOM.  MY LAPTOP ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY WITH THE BIG KIDS.

Normally this wouldn’t bother me, as I don’t rush out to get the latest and the greatest.  (I got my iPhone 4 for free in an upgrade.  Before that, my phone resembled the phasers in Star Trek.  The TV show, not the movie.)  But in order to crop and edit my photos in iPhoto (which, remember, I absolutely love) I have to endure many cycles of the mini-rotating-beach-ball-of-doom.  During and after each picture.  For five minutes at a time.  For each command.  Crop?  I like the size, I hit “apply” and then I wait.  (Thank goodness I have a magazine nearby.)  Up the sharpness a bit?  Scroll along the bar…..ooops, the system can’t handle that tricky maneuver so it’s giving me a time out.  I pull out my knitting and have completed two socks and a scarf by the time it’s done.  Maybe cut down the overexposure a wee bit?  Leave home and do a month’s worth of grocery shopping, put it all away, and it’s still spinning.  *sigh*  Me?  Exaggerate?  Surely not.

Which is a long way of saying, I hope you enjoy these photos of our apple-picking extravaganza this weekend.  And if you don’t, please don’t tell me.  It just might send me over the edge.

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the view just as we pulled up. I want to live in that house way up on top.

 

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They had boy toys! Or, more apt, toys FOR boys.

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Golden Delicious, love the color.

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Empires…

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An arch of apples. A gateway, if you will, to yumminess.

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Smack dab inside the tree to get an artsy shot.

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No idea what this is, so we christened it the appleberry.

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Very long path to the end to find the Macouns.

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All the noms! (And somebody around here desperately needs a nail file.)

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In case anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas, this’ll do nicely.

Hmmmm….. did anyone else notice that I started this post explaining the peculiarities of my laptop and then segued so charmingly into apple-picking?  See what I did?  APPLE-picking?  Yikes.  

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Misfit Maestra

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Oh, the power!

As a music student learning to be a conductor, I envisioned myself leading my ensemble with grand, sweeping gestures, sincere and clearly communicated emotions, warmth, knowledge, and a lot of sweat.

What I often experienced as a middle-school band director was the inevitable pounding on the podium with my baton because apparently middle school students don’t know how to count to four, frustrated emotions, exasperation, sinking feelings, and a lot of sweat.

The joys of introducing young people to play beautiful music are truly never-ending.  (The situations introducing this old person to drink quantities of alcohol were also never-ending.)  If you enjoy listening to yourself utter your greatest hits ad nauseam, you can’t go wrong with a career as an instrumental music teacher.  You won’t even go on auto-pilot because every student is different and even though the problems are the same (and believe me, they ARE the same.  Every. Stinking. Year.) the many ways of correcting them spring up like weeds.

Let’s take a typical morning band rehearsal which, since it’s such an important subject, has been relegated to forty-five minutes before school actually starts and ends ten minutes before school actually starts because it is vital that students are not late for homeroom.  Do they learn anything in homeroom?  No.  Do they learn in band?  Yes.  That is why you are a before-school program and homeroom is the Holy Grail.  You have drummed into their charming little brains that rehearsal begins at one particular time.  Therefore, in order to begin rehearsal on time students should arrive five minutes before in order to assemble instruments and warm up.   No, Kelly, warming up does not mean parking your butt on the only radiator in the classroom, it means blowing warm air into your instrument and playing some long tones, now get down and let the rest of us have some warmth please.  One or two students are there even before I get there, but I don’t fool myself into thinking it’s because they’re so dedicated.  Dylan’s mom likes to get to work early to get the good parking spot and have a decent cup of coffee before her co-workers screw it up, so Dylan gets dropped off over an hour before school starts.  Dylan’s mom is reminded that there is no supervision before school and if there is a fire or an intruder the school is not responsible.  Dylan’s mom cracks her gum and blandly looks at the crumbling school before sniffing that he’ll be fine.  Monica’s dad needs to get to the gym so he’s sure his little girl will be AOK, and hey, Dylan’s here so what could happen?  I’m surprised these kids aren’t in their pajamas.

The majority of students enter right as the stick is supposed to be coming down (translation for non-music teachers: my conductor’s baton, held in my hand, should begin conducting right at the beginning of rehearsal.  This rarely happens.) and most are yawning or grumpy.  After all, they had to get up sooooo early.  I remind those special snowflaykes that I’ve been awake since 5:30 and I’m ready to go so let’s get those instruments out and let’s play!  We finally get a quorum and I yell at the percussion kids to stop playing the theme from The Simpsons and take out their music.  Among the assorted squeaks and trumpet blares and scales and booms of low brass, I invariably have a student with a hand raised.  This never fails to amuse me.  First of all, how does this student think I can hear over the sound of 45 instruments playing (did I say playing, I mean noise-making) and second, student isn’t making eye contact and doesn’t know I’m ready to answer a question.  I quiet the crowd down by holding up two hands and staring at the percussion section.  Everybody thinks the percussion section is going to get in trouble again so they quiet down to listen.

“Good morning, everyone, it’s a beautiful day in the band room.”  Grunts and groans about what’s so beautiful about it which I religiously ignore.  “We have to work on Super Spectacular Show-Stopping Piece today, especially the trumpet entrances.”  This causes the trumpet section to look at each other and point fingers and tilt back in their chairs.  Why is it only trumpet players who tilt back in their chairs?  I’ve never seen a sax player or a French horn player do that.  “We also have a question.” Student whose hand has been raised suddenly snaps to life and says “Can I leave early?”  I raise my eyebrows.  This is the universal signal that I can’t believe this request is being made and anybody else I would dismiss but because it’s you, I’ll give you half a minute to explain yourself.  “It’s just — I have a — I mean — I need to decorate a locker.”

This is the bane of my existence.  Students are allowed to come in early (with a pass) to decorate a fellow student’s locker for their birthday.  I guess this is just as important as homeroom.  I don’t know why they don’t do this after school on the previous day, but hey, I’m just a music teacher who can’t appreciate the nuances of middle school locker-decorating.  And you would think after all these years that somebody would have figured out to measure the locker first and cut the wrapping paper at home instead of the students bringing in giant rolls of paper that they don’t know how to cut straight and wondering how much is enough and invariable taping two sagging pieces together that don’t quite meet.  But I digress.

I nod curtly at the Locker Decorating Queen who audibly lets out the breath she’s been holding and I signify it’s time for warm-up scales.  This is where I channel my inner demon and bring on some demanding work and release some pretty good remarks.  Students think scales are straightforward up-and-down exercises, but they’re really a platform for watching and listening.  I don’t ever do the same thing twice, and I drastically change dynamic levels, tempo, style, and balance (translation: volume level, speed, flowing versus military style, and more clarinets and less tuba).  I’ll give a starting tempo (not counting, just conducting) and change it without warning.  If they move on while I’m holding a note, my eyes grow huge and I look at my hand as if to say “What in the world are you doing?” and they realize their mistake and hurry to get with the rest of the band except what note of the scale are we on now?  Then I’ll bring my hands in close to signify a quiet passage and they’re still blaring so I catch a few eyes that have followed me and make a face like “this is too unbelievable and when do you think they’ll notice?” and I start walking around the room (still conducting) until I’m right in front of the most guilty perp and conduct right in his face until he catches up and then I cut everyone off.  I congratulate said student for his stunning grasp of nuance and his skill in effortlessly following my direction and what took him so long?  (Mind you, this is always said with a reassuring hand on the head or shoulder and a genuine smile.  I have a motto that my students know very well: I only tease the people I love.)  This takes up five minutes of my dwindling practice time, during which the late students breathlessly arrive and try to unobtrusively slip into their seat which is not easy to do when you’re wielding a trombone.  After warm-ups, we take out the Super Spectacular Show-Stopping Piece and there’s a palpable change in the room.  

See, students really do enjoy learning.  They especially enjoy something that is a challenge, achieving that challenge, then being challenged to make it better.  So it is with our rehearsals.  At first it’s all struggling to get the right notes and the right rhythms and the right entrances, and then it’s learning that you absolutely may NOT ask in my rehearsal “Tell me how this goes again?” because you need to figure it out and imprint it on your brain otherwise you’re just a karaoke machine and that’s not what we do.  Then it’s experimenting with different approaches and at first they were flabbergasted when I asked them their opinions on how we should approach such-and-so section.  “Don’t you know?” they asked, looking at each other like what kind of teacher is this? and realizing over time that they had power over this piece of music, and together they created something that nobody else had done.  That’s of course, once we get past what should have been the basics, and let me tell you, my sarcasm juices were flowing in those morning rehearsals:

“Key signatures: they really do matter!”

“What do you mean, what’s a key signature? How many times have we gone over this?  Tell me what a key signature is.  You know it, come on.  Okay, phone a friend,” which is the cue for fifty hands to go up and person on the spot now gets to pick someone to rescue them.

“What do you mean, you never learned that? You’ve been my student for three years!  Somebody call the nurse, I think Sally Jo has an undiagnosed case of deafness and it must be cured!” Most kids chuckle and right on cue, Sally Jo says “What?”

“Did everybody see that we shifted time signatures?”

“Do you not know what three beats in a measure means?”

“HELLOOOO!!!  Those railroad tracks mean stop!”

?????

“Railroad tracks!  Those two parallel lines tilted at an angle right after the hold!”

“Okay, fine, two keyboard slashes.  Whatever!  It still means stop.”

“What do you mean, what hold?”  

“No, I can’t give you a reed right now.  You’re supposed to have one in your case.”

“Everybody take out your pencils and mark this.  Now everybody stop miming with fake pencils and go get a real one.  Even you, Steven.”

“For the love of Mozart, how many times are we going to rehearse this section before you come in at the correct time!”

“I love you guys.”

Ninety-eight percent of rehearsals end with a sincere statement of how much I think of these kids.  (There is the two percent which usually happens two weeks before the concert where they have no interest in anything music-related and they’ll even confess that wow, they sucked today and I’ll end the rehearsal very quietly, my disappointment palpable.) Not only are they decoding a foreign language (music notes) with part of the story missing (the other instrumental parts), they are remembering how to produce pleasing sounds from a piece of metal or wood jammed into their mouths and using their fine-motor skills to manipulate the correct fingerings, all while responding to non-verbal cues from a stick-waving woman who makes the most unbelievable facial expressions.  And they do this voluntarily, before school, for no credit or grade.  At the end of every rehearsal, each one would get a small pouch of fruit snacks from me, and they acted like it was first prize in a contest.  Especially the ones who confessed they hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning to get to band on time.

Now THAT’S what I miss most about teaching music.  

 

*Man, it’s getting dusty in here.  Why else are my eyes smarting?* 

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Ten on Tuesday

1. The potato-leek soup was DELICIOUS.

2. The to-do list is still somewhat in the mental planning stages.

3. Seven of the eight drawers in the dresser are emptied and are well on the way to being re-organized with a pared-down wardrobe.

4. Why does anyone need as many camisoles as I have?

5. See previous blog entry re: “stuff.”

6. I received new beads in the mail and can now finish my shawl project.  Thank you, Jimmy Beans Wool, for such speedy delivery.  Had I been wearing any of the 27 pairs of socks I own, you would have blown them off.

7. #6 is why the butternut squash soup didn’t get made.

8. I actually may get to Rhinebeck this year, even in the face of the no-yarn-for-a-year diet I’m on.  Buttons!  That’s what I’ll get!

9. I’m also on the no-magazines-for-a-year diet, and the new Jane Austen Knits just came out.  ::weeps quietly::

10. Oatmeal with butter, sugar-in-the-raw, and pecans is the absolute best thing on a crisp September morning.

 

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Sing it, sister.

 

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Slow Motion Whirlwind

Honestly, that’s what the last few weeks have felt like.  It’s such a period of adjustment here at Tea & Sarcasm, but there’s really not a lot of stress involved.  I guess when you go through stuff with the people you love best, there really isn’t a residual feeling of being stressed out.  

Today will be a regrouping day, I think.  After dismantling the huge cherrywood California-king-sized captain’s bed we’ve used for over 25 years, we have the remaining “stuff” to go through.  Anybody who is in a relationship knows what “stuff” means: my treasures and his junk.  I kid, I kid, I think Hubby has some cool “stuff” but why on earth do we have so much of it?  And what in the world makes us think we should ever get more?  (Which has something to do with me swearing off buying yarn and magazines for an entire year.  But it didn’t stop me from buying a new cookbook last night.  Baby steps.)  There were eight drawers and three closets in this captain’s bed, and now we have to figure out how to live with a bed without drawers.  We could put stuff underneath, and we’re going to buy those long plastic bins for off-season storage, but for now we have “stuff” leaking out of every room in the house.  Couple that with Older Daughter’s moving-back “stuff” that still needs to find a home because she’s in the middle of repainting her room and we’re trying to combine two kitchens worth of “stuff” and you can imagine what home is like for us right now.

But today I will make potato-leek soup and butternut squash soup to freeze, and make some pretty strict to-do lists that should whittle down the “stuff” at a reasonable pace and still leave me time to enjoy the fabulous early fall we seem to be having; to do some Christmas stealth knitting (with stash, of course, because of that no-yarn-buying-promise, and I hope my dear friend Lisa who owns a yarn shop forgives me) and plan out upcoming events in a calm and enjoyable way instead of the last-minute frenzy that so often happened in the past; to come to grips with what’s happened, and to realize that when I run into my former students it’s okay to be happy to see them and then cry because I’m human and what happened to me affected me so very deeply that it’s not going to heal overnight; to have the blessed gift of time and the freedom to reflect and apparently the desire to construct very long and awkward run-on sentences.

Tea is ready now, sorry about the lack of sarcasm today.

Okay, I’ll throw in a picture:

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How I feel when math is in the room. Science, too.

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Wild Kingdom

I have a backyard bird feeder.  Over the years it has provided us much entertainment and occasionally exasperation.  When I was a newbie to this whole “hang up a bird feeder and see what happens” process I would buy bags of birdseed at the supermarket that looked like the food a friend used to give her parakeet: tiny round balls of beige with a couple of orange sticks and a green square or two mixed in with some sunflower seeds.  When the birds hit the feeder, it would look like a parade with tons of confetti flying as they dug through the beige balls and neon-colored shapes to get at the sunflower seeds.  It was amusing.

Then the squirrels would take over, shimmying up the wrought iron pole (sometimes with one paw, just to taunt those of us watching behind closed windows) and systematically turn the feeder upside down emptying the contents all over the grass.  They would stuff their bad little faces and twitch their tails at us as if to say “oh, please!  This is almost too easy!”  I hated those squirrels.  I would wait until they were almost reaching out for the feeder, precariously balanced, then I would suddenly pound on the window frames and scare the crap out of them so they would go flying in a gymnastic maneuver worthy of the Olympics.  Now, that was fun.  

Oh, but they’d be back.  One time I got a long, slender bird feeder that was encased in a decorative iron cover with just enough of an opening at each perch for dainty bird beaks to poke their way through to the food, and it worked.  There were no squirrels on that feeder and the birds were happy.  Until the morning I came outside to fill the feeder and found it on the ground with the plastic part smashed and the top ripped open.  Apparently squirrels travel in gangs wearing leather jackets and swinging chains and decided to leave their mark as a warning to me.  I was furious.  That was an expensive(ish) bird feeder plus it was really pretty and who the hell did these squirrels think they were?

I got a new feeder and reinforced it with clear packing tape so that the top wouldn’t come off.  Then I decided to fill it with black sunflower seeds only, avoiding the mixtures that had nuts and corn (even though the package read “attractive to songbirds!” on the label) in hopes that the gang would move on to greener or more palate-pleasing pastures.  It turns out squirrels are the goats of the tiny critter world in that they’ll eat just about anything, and they planned their assault.  Two of them were posted as lookouts on the perimeter of the yard, pretending to chase each other and look charming so as to distract my attention from the crime taking place.  One stayed at the bottom of the pole to chase the mourning doves away because anything that fell on the ground during this operation was their property and who did those mourning doves think they were swooping in to their territory?  (It’s West Side Story in my backyard.)  One shimmied up the pole, looking around and sniffing like crazy, then proceeded to shake the feeder until it was half empty.  Dude, this squirrel was thinking!  He was plotting!  He was executing a plan!  I felt like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as I wondered “Who ARE those guys?”

I thought about BB guns.  (I hate guns.)  I thought about water pistols.  (I hate dripping.)  I thought about cayenne pepper to burn their nasty squirrel lips.  I thought about greasing the pole.  Then I had a brilliant idea.

I decided to fill the feeder with the seed, but strategically place some nuts and corn on the ground away from the feeder to show the squirrels I understood their plight, that they had to eat as well to protect them from the cruel winter, that they were the Squirrel Mafia and I had to make a regular payment in order for them to leave me alone and not shut down my operation.  They responded immediately, and as a sign of respect brought me their don, a rat.  

Well, now it was all-out war.  I would do everything in my power to feed the birds and kick the squirrels out of my yard.  I became vigilant, standing at the windows.  I would buy more squirrel-proof traps, only to see them laughing at me as they filled their cheeks with their ill-gotten gains.  I threw small rocks at them and they responded by sitting up on their hind legs and scolding me.  I set out a somewhat large pumpkin at Halloween for their buffet and they responded by ignoring it and letting it rot untouched while they made a feast out of the carved one on the front porch.  I bought a fake plastic snake and they picked it up and threw it back at me.  Okay, maybe not that last one.

This year, I gave up.  I simply hung up the bird feeder, filled it with black sunflower seeds, put it outside a window I could see clearly, and waited.  I have seen tons of sparrows, juncos, blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, mourning doves, yellow-bellied sapsuckers (which I call woodpeckers but Hubby always corrects me), a chipmunk, two bunnies, and the adorable groundhog now known as Fred (not Gary).  Not a single squirrel.  I don’t get it.

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Patient bear is patient

Maybe they’ve found a place with a less psychotic waitress.

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Facing the Monster

It was a very bad time for me last Spring.  It is now almost Fall, and I am so much better and in a strange way, grateful.  Today I took a final step and revisited the scene of the crime.  Granted, I only went to the parking lot and only saw three of my former colleagues, but I went to the physical location without having an emotional upheaval.  As I sat in the parking lot waiting for my friend to meet me, I was watching the students come out of the building.  (Oh my gosh, creeper much?)  I was wearing sunglasses and my hair has gotten really long, and nobody really bothered to look into my car so I was pretty much anonymous.  And instead of seeing former students and missing them and crying, I was seeing the students that were the trouble-makers and the difficult ones and actually being glad that I wasn’t doing this any more.

I realized that I cared for my students way more than they cared for me, which is exactly how it should be, but it was the final “whew” that let me realize I’m in the right place right now, and it is all going to be okay.  

Which means it took me only one hundred and fourteen days to lose it all and slowly climb back.

And I’m back.

 

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I’m a Trashy Gal

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I’m also purring…

Okay, there’s another good thing about not working right now.  It’s Monday, it’s raining, and I am in my cozy kitchen with my cup of tea and I just consumed two homemade blueberry muffins (burp).  I feel perfectly justified.

We busted our butts this weekend preparing for our town’s annual bulk pick-up day.  That means we had to haul out of the house all the things that we put aside during the last 364 days saying “trash day” like it was a mantra.  Looking for something in the attic and deciding we didn’t need that crib any longer because our youngest is about to turn 21?  Trash day!  Backyard bench is broken in three places and shouldn’t be available to visitors? Put it behind the shed for trash day!  Need to clean out the basement?  Trash day!

Well, trash day is today, which means we spent the last two months piling up things to bring daughter #2 back to college, welcome daughter #1 back home with all her “stuff,” finding a place for all my “stuff” from my job (good lord we teachers accumulate a lot of crap necessary items for the classroom) and stockpiling all the stuff for trash day.  If you’ve ever seen “Gilmore Girls” with Mrs. Kim’s Antique Shop and all the furniture piled everywhere with a tiny path to get through it all, then you’ve seen a much neater version of my living room and dining room.  Dressers!  Boxes!  Bags!  Hats!  Frames!  Stuffed Animals!  And books.  Oh my word, the amount of books we have in this house is unreal.  We all love to read and I think more truthfully we all love to buy books.

Now, before trash day, most people hold a garage sale.  That’s when we haul all of our trash outdoors, arrange it attractively on the driveway, and hope somebody comes by.  Since we live on a main street, we have pretty good drive-by traffic, as evidenced by the sudden jerking-to-a-stop of a normally traveling car and the resulting blare of a horn from the person behind them as said jerky car goggles at our offerings before deciding to park or peel off.  We were offering for sale two dressers, two antique (meaning old and gross and dirty and in desperate need of repair) studded-leather wooden chairs, numerous shelves, tools, baskets, kitchen gadgets, jewelry, cookbooks, kid’s books, young adult books (known as YA in the library which always makes me snort). craft books, craft magazines, cooking magazines, board games, puzzles, scarves, a car polisher, a 1960’s record cabinet, a box of hideous plastic/acrylic/squeaky yarn, a coffee maker, a tea maker, several baseball mitts, water pistols, badminton racquets, and a never-been opened faucet set.  You can probably surmise that this barely made a dent in our lived-in-for-twenty-four-years home.  I am thrilled at the amount we sold, not because we made money but because those things had been in my living room for two months.

Once the garage sale is over, the real fun begins.  We haul everything that didn’t sell to the curb, go inside to rest our aching muscles, and watch the savvy scavengers move in.  Folks from the more citified areas who have this day marked on their calendars just as surely as we do come driving slowly by in their beat-up vans, their seen-better-days station wagons, or their brand-spankin-new SUVs that get about eight miles to the gallon to shop among the piles of unsold merchandise.  The first year we lived here we were astonished at this ritual, then realized this symbiotic relationship is probably genius.  The folks in the vans usually go for anything that’s made of metal, and they pull out tools to pry everything apart just to get to the metal.  They’ll clip the plug on an appliance just to get the copper inside the cord.  One year I found somebody trying to smash the shower doors we had put out so he could get the metal surrounding it and I came outside to talk to him.  He was halfway back in his van before he understood I didn’t care if he wanted the shower door metal but not to smash the glass because children use this sidewalk as a path to school and couldn’t he just take the whole door?  He was flabbergasted that I was encouraging him to take it instead of yell at him, which made me ponder the whole socio-economic theory behind the “I have it easy and you’re struggling but I’d like to help but don’t make a mess.”  Not really.  I don’t ponder the socio-economic theory of anything.  I don’t even like the phrase socio-economic.  The SUV-drivers usually take knick-knacks, games, toys, puzzles, scarves, wall art, anything plastic, but never books.  This always blows my mind.  How do you turn down free books?

The next day, we haul out the real trash, like mattresses, rugs, boxes of papers that for some reason were important at some time and are now just mouse nests.  I hope you realize I’m referring to things that are in our attic.  We don’t leave boxes of papers scattered willy-nilly about our home inviting mice to make a nest among our regular furniture.  I’m nice but I’m not that nice.  We argue over what’s a keepsake and what’s just ridiculous to hang onto for our children to clean up when we’re gone; we are adept at reading each other’s signals and know when to stop pushing for a particular item and when to agree that it really is trash.  We go up and down the attic stairs (which is the third floor of our house) and up and down the front steps and out to the curb and back like a very small army (two) of ants and by the end of the afternoon (when I’ve told Hubby enough is enough and I don’t want him having a heart attack in the attic because the mice would make a nest in him before I could get him down) the curb is piled high with “stuff” and my knees and hips and feet are screaming at me in agony.  We sit for a little while to rest, then when it’s time to get up and clean up and make dinner, our legs have locked and refused to move.  We shuffle along like Tim Conway calling to Mrs. HuhWiggins and smile sympathetically at each other and revel in a job well done.

That’s why I’m fully justified in being lazy today.  And I realized I forgot to put out the waffle iron and now the garbage truck has already come and gone and I’ll have to store that thing for the next trash day.  Only 365 more days!

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September 16, 2013 · 10:07 am

Take a Hike!

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Very old house. I think the chicken-wire fence is fairly young, though.

See that old house?  You know what that means?  It means I took a hike.

I’ll wait while you pick yourselves up off the floor.

It started out very innocently and, I thought, very nice of me.  Over Sunday brunch I asked Hubby “would you like to go for a walk today or something?”  My fault.  Never should have included the “or something.”  I thought a nice local park, with a flat paved path showcasing charming native flowers and grasses.  He thought Mount Olympus.

We decided a trip up to Jockey Hollow, site of Washington’s encampment during the Revolutionary War (not to be confused with the Valley Forge encampment of Washington’s during the Revolutionary War which I have also hiked), would make for a pleasant walk.  From the information we gleaned at the visitor’s center (meaning we listened in as the uninterested Center Guide (complete with uniform!) explained the different trails to a foreign couple)  about all the trails and how long they were, we chose the two and a half mile walk instead of the four mile.  This probably saved my life.

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sweet little path

Something like this, I could walk all day.  It’s flat, it’s prepared, it’s cool in parts, it’s just lovely.  But first, we visited the charming little Wick House.

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Charming

I love houses.  I love driving around neighborhoods and looking at houses and taking pictures.  That’s not at all creepy, is it?

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I like windows, too.

From my scant recall of these things, Mr. Wick who owned this house would have been wealthy because he could afford glass for his windows.  If I’m not right, please don’t tell me.  I like to feel superior to myself sometimes.  It’s very little I ask in life, I don’t need you to take away my one guilty pleasure.

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Tiny bed, big shoes

This was the major’s general’s officer’s room, with another small bedroom nearby.  That is one tiny bed.

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Secret plans are secret

Adjacent to the bed was this desk, covered with plans and maps and such.  I looked for a knitting basket but no such luck.

 

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Wow my camera sucks

The other side of the house was where the owner, Mr. Wick, stayed while the troops were encamped.  This is his messy desk.  Again, no knitting.  What kind of people were they?

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Awww, love on the trail

This was a cool stump.  This was also the last point of the afternoon where I was happy.  We set off on the yellow trail.  There are no pictures of the trail while hiking because I was doing my best to not fall and to keep breathing.  The trail was not exactly well-worn; there were boulders, and when I say boulders you probably would call them rocks but good heavens they were everywhere on the path, and I had to make sure I didn’t wrench an ankle or fall because these boulders would throw themselves into my path so I had to be vigilant!  After about 40 minutes, we came to a somewhat flat area:

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So pretty and no boulders

There’s a little creek running under that bridge, and I wanted to stay there for a while and enjoy the heft of the mercifully straight flat boards under my feet, but there was a family behind us with three young children who enjoyed screaming as a hobby and I felt obligated to keep going.  It’s like being on a miniature golf course, where if you want to line up your putt and get a good score you can feel the impatient breath of the group behind you muttering about how slow some people are so you just forget about enjoying yourself and keep it moving.

There are no pictures of the next forty-five minutes because it was a freakin’ mountain we were scaling with tall grass and I could only think about the ticks that must be gleefully hitching a ride with me and the snakes that could slither out at any time and good heavens that is one impressive pile of bear poop which means there are bears and for gawd’s sake what the hell are we doing out here?  My heart was pounding so hard I thought I would die right here on this mountain that was impossible to scale and who were these irresponsible people who let us go wandering around this area with no homing signals or Life Alert bracelets?  Hubby was gazing back occasionally and asking if I was okay, but I needed all my waning strength to continue breathing so I didn’t answer which he took to mean I was just fine and he kept going.  We got to the top of the mountain (okay, you might call it a hill but I swear it was a mountain) and my heart said STOP.  So I leaned against a tree praying that a snake wouldn’t fall down onto my head and panted “how ….. far….. walk?”  Hubby answered cheerfully “probably about half a mile” and if my muscles hadn’t been burning I would have brained him with a boulder.  Surely we’ve come four miles at least and that stupid Visitor’s Center Guide had lied to us about which path to take.  

Deciding to put on my big-girl pants and deal with it, I determined to get through this thing alive.  The only good thing was the Happy Screaming Family didn’t want to scale the mountain so they were no longer behind us.  We were alone.  

I have no idea how long it took, but we finally emerged into a clearing and saw this beautiful sight:

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Four-person hut

Look!  A threshold!  Someplace to park my weary bum and gaze at nature and glare at Hubby.  These huts were fascinating, completely built with local trees and no nails, only pegs.  Of course, the modern cement foundation is probably not authentic, nor is the mesh holding the fireplace in place, but it’s still authentic enough for me.  And a threshold!  Inside of each half were two wooden shelves serving as bunks and a fireplace.  That’s where the winter was spent.  Yikes.

Looking down from the hut (yes, down! No more uphill battles, yuk yuk) we saw more huts:

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One lost a roof to fire

Again, really fascinated with the construction:

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Authentic yellow police tape

And the view looking down some more:

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I think I see Julie Andrews waving her arms

And the view from below looking up at the huts.  Can you tell I was trying to buy time by taking all these pictures?  The more photos we took, the more I delayed the rest of the hike:

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Just a tidy little fixer-upper

We resumed the torture walk and plunged back into the woods.  We passed a few people coming from the other direction, and I marveled at the ability of some folks to wear flip-flops when getting ready to scale a mountain and do battle with boulders.  We saw very little wildlife, including birds, and I have to think it was because my breathing was so heavy and my tread so heavy that all the critters must have thought a bear was rampaging and so they wisely hid.

Every time we topped a rise or rounded a bend, I anticipated a clearing where I would see the roofline of the Wick House which signaled everything Good and Wonderful and the Visitor Center nearby (where I was planning to smack the Guide for misleading us so horribly) but I only saw more trees, more boulders, more long grasses, and more walking.  We finally saw a little map guide that told us Heaven was straight ahead, about ten more minutes.  I began to think I would make it, that I had triumphed over anything Nature had thrown at me, that all was good again in the world.  I thought maybe we should do this on a regular basis, it would be good for us and keep us healthy and in touch with nature.  I thought maybe I had lost my marbles on that ridiculous mountain back there and if so, the mountain was welcome to them because I was NEVER GOING BACK THERE EVER AGAIN.

I love nature.  Especially looking at it through a window in my house or my car.

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New Jersey Woolgathering

Cute and woolly four-legged things in 3….2…..1…..

Cue the sheep!

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ood sheep is happy to serve you

Saturday was a glorious day weather-wise, so what better time to visit barns full of sheep and goats and alpacas than the New Jersey Sheep and Fiber Festival?  This is a very low-key, unhurried, and friendly festival, vastly different from the Big Momma that is Rhinebeck where you take your life into your hands trying to get near the yarn, much less trying to buy it.  This was perfect for people who love to see their Sheep and Wool up close and personal.

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Look at my beauty. LOOK AT IT.

One of the nicest things about it was the presence of 4-H.  Now, I grew up first in a city and then suburbia, and I know less about 4-H than probably most people, but there’s just something so hopeful to me about a group of younger people invested in the future of farming, home life, agriculture, and animal breeding, with a clear sense of purpose.  

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hee hee, that tickles

See, this kid is young enough to be my son….my late-in-life bonus-baby son…. and he’s accomplishing something I wouldn’t have the first clue about doing.  Those are some serious shearing scissors (oh HEY there alliteration!) and I don’t know that I could be so calm in the face (or, in this case, the rear) of all that bleating and jerking.  He just kept on keeping on, soothing the little fella and making him so beautiful for the judges.  I was fascinated and not a little impressed.

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hippy lambs!

I loved these little guys!  Just chillin’ in their cool outfits, stylin’ their best, too cool for the festival.

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Look at that face!

There was so much bleating going on, seemed they all had something to say.  As a music teacher who has had ninety-seven third-graders simultaneously playing recorder, THIS was actually music to my ears.

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oooooh, whatcha got?

And, like ninety-seven third graders, they enjoyed clustering together to share the latest gossip, even if it means stepping on each other or being pushed by someone’s big head.

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Those are some mighty impressive horns, sir.

Other animals clearly had their own agenda.  This one’s was “I am mighty though I may be small, so stay away because I am grumpy today.”

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“If you’re not from the press, I have no interest. Good day.”

These alpacas were just into giving me attitude.

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“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

And this one just wanted to strut her stuff.  And her poop, apparently.

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Oh! Hello there!

While this one had some special “pay attention to me!” needs…

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derp

… this one was just special.

 

Speaking of special…

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Lisa and Jesh

Perhaps they’ve never seen a camera before?  Are they befuddled? Bemused? Angry? Hungry?  Whatever the emotion, they are my very special and very favorite yarn shop peeps, and I lub them.  

 

Don’t tell the sheepies, but I tried some lamb sausage.  It….was interesting.  Very spicy, which I’m not a fan of, but a flavor that I’ve not had in other lamb dishes.  I also brought home the obligatory bag of kettle corn.  It’s against the law in America to not eat kettle corn when attending a festival, so for all you potential American citizens who read this blog, get used to that and be sure to answer that question correctly on your naturalization exam.

I also…..did not buy any wool.

(I know.  I just fainted myself.)  I am trying VERY hard to not buy yarn for a year because a) the no job situation and b) I really do have an impressive amount of yarn already so why not do something with it?  I looked at purchasing a beeswax candle of the 6″ pillar type, but I decided not to.  I picked up three different candles to find the price, I looked for signs for the price, I looked for a person to tell me the price, and apparently she was in the next booth trying to calm a wayward alpaca who had gotten his dopey head stuck through some bars.  When she came back I asked if the alpaca was okay and she said “He’s not mine, so I really don’t care.”  Whoops.  Wrong attitude.  “Well, can you tell me how much these candles are?”  “All the prices are on the bottom, hon, it’s not hard to figure out!” she boomed.  Whoops.  Starting to annoy me.  “Ummm….no, they’re not.  That’s why I asked,” I answered, wondering why she refused to make eye contact.  “Thirty-two fifty, hon, that’s the price!”   For a candle?  A candle that costs more than a huge pork shoulder roast better clean the house for that price!  So that’s why I didn’t buy the candle.  

Ah well, I have the kettle corn.

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It’s the Latest, it’s the Greatest, it’s the Li-berr-y!

 

 

I loved going to the library when I was younger, about nine or ten.  I was a reading fanatic, but I didn’t read just anything I could get my hands on.  I didn’t really care for science fiction all that much, although I did get into Ray Bradbury.  I had a touch of the macabre in me so I’d scare myself silly with Alfred Hitchcock.  I even had a little bit of interest in scripts of radio plays though really, I have no idea why.  But give me a good story and I’m yours, baby.

 

Loved, loved, LOVED every single Mary Poppins book.  I remember wondering if she would have approved of me as one of her charges or would she have given me that disapproving sniff that meant you were judged and found wanting.  I also visited the Hundred Acre Wood frequently and wished it was as easy to make friends in my vast suburban neighborhood as it was there with Christopher Robin.  I devoured all the Oz books, even those not written by L. Frank Baum, because the imagination and fantasy captivated me so completely that I didn’t want to leave those magical lands.  Charlotte’s Web.  Doctor Doolittle.  Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.  Then I got more sophisticated, adding Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the works of Michael Crichton and Fred Mustard Stewart.

 

As I got older, I returned to the library for homework.  It was a wonderful feeling to have my mom or dad drop me off at the library for the day and know that I was surrounded by the vast array of books, the lovely smell of paper and ink and rubber stamps, and the acres of smooth wooden tables that allowed me to spread out all my materials without bothering anyone.  I had spiral notebooks for taking down my notes on whatever I was researching, a clipboard of looseleaf paper in case I needed to take notes on the fly while perusing the stacks, freshly sharpened pencils, a pink pearl eraser, medium-point blue Bic pens with the crystal barrels, not the white ones, a navy blue flair pen because you never know when a case of the doodles would strike, and a sandwich and cookies for my break.  I was going to research the hell out of that library, and I was going to rock while doing it. 

 

But as I spread my materials out and scoped out the other inhabitants of the library those Saturday mornings, I could actually hear the novels calling me, tempting me away from my important work.  I would raise a shoulder up, symbolically turning away from their siren call, and find my gaze fixed out the giant windows, watching the breeze make shifting patterns in the leaves of the trees and placing myself on the ship in Pirates of Oz.   I dropped my pencil on the floor, and while retrieving it I see a small button near the table leg and wonder if Arietty dropped it while doing the work of  The Borrowers.  Mentally shaking myself I hunched over my encyclopedia and other reference sources and tried concentrating again, only to picture myself bound by invisible chains of servitude and becoming Sara Crewe in A Little Princess.  This would not do!  I had to get to work and I had to stop traveling along the fantastical reaches of my mind.  

 

A visit to the card catalog is definitely in order, sure to help snap my mind back to the realities of my task at hand.  Approaching the massive oak drawer unit, with neatly labeled cards and wee curved handles, I am smitten with the sense of order and confidence contained within.  Every single piece of information in this vast building of knowledge is contained in these imposing furniture structures and I can access them all!  Grabbing my clipboard and Bic with the crystal barrel, I am poised to ascertain with pinpoint accuracy all the locations of every volume of information aiding my research quest.  The selected drawer (always at the bottom, why is that?) glides smoothly along its well-worn tracks, and the ivory-colored cards with their typed information wait patiently to be discovered.  I flip through them, feeling very professional, reading the brief summary on each card to determine if it’s going to be helpful.  I make notes of authors, titles, and locations in the stacks, moving on to other drawers (always on the top, why is that?) until I’ve filled a page.  

 

Now it’s time for the hunt.  Silently, I creep into the deep jungle of shelves, sometimes seeing fellow hunters but mostly on a solitary journey as I am camouflaged among the varying heights of the books.  I quickly scan the numbers on the backs of the books, matching them with the codes on my clipboard, slipping one slim volume after another into my arms.  I have determined that this is a fine beginning, this should take me hours to delve into, when I suddenly find myself in the biography section.  A book about Grace Kelly, the princess?

 

Hmmm…..maybe it’s time for a little break.

 

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