Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wednesday's Word: Nectar

Main Entry: nec·tar
Pronunciation: \ˈnek-tər\
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin, from Greek nektar
Date: 1555

1 a: the drink of the Greek and Roman gods b: something delicious to drink c: a beverage of fruit juice and pulp 2: a sweet liquid that is secreted by the nectaries of a plant and is the chief raw material of honey
— nec·tar·ous

"nectar." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008.
Merriam-Webster Online. 31 December 2008

Last night when my husband was finished making me my current favorite nightcap, a cosmopolitan, he held it up to the light above the bar to gaze at its ruby pink, to check for it's characteristic crystals floating elegantly on the top; he referred to it as the nectar of the gods. That led us into a 10 minute diatribe on the word nectar...we even had to look it up in the dictionary to find its true meaning and origin. I knew, of course, that it would immediately have to be added to my word wall and would, additionally, be the most obvious choice for a word focus.

Nectar. Today is New Year's Eve. We have reservations at our favorite Italian restaurant, Bella Italia. We love them for their food, their service, their wine, their ambiance. Each year, they change minimally, as do we. That's probably why we love them. They are constant, but little nuances make it different each time - specials, desserts, waiters and waitresses.

And we will indeed be sampling the true nectar of the gods: wine. We often try their featured wines, just to experience something new. But, if nothing strikes our pallet's fancy, we will probably fall back on a tried and true standard...something like Zinfandel Seghesio, Waterbrook Melange, or Camaraderie Cellars Cabernet Franc. Something big, juicy, and decadent but not overly expensive.

And then we will very carefully find our footing between snow and ice patches to Wine on the Waterfront where some of our favorite Bella employees have found a new home doing more of the wonderful same: serving that sweet and sultry beverage to locals and Canadian tourists en route to and from the Victoria Express.

Tonight...a bit of the old and a bit of the new...a perfect compliment to a life in progress, a journey of immersion.

It is a night for red nail polish, a new skirt, patent leather heels, brand new nylons, and just one too many glasses of champagne.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding Time

"All my possessions for a moment of time." Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603)

It is hard to find time to write. It is even harder when you have children. As I write this, I am still in my pajamas, my hair is all cattywampus, and my son is destroying my house (and I'm fairly certain he has reprogrammed the VCR in a way I may never undo). This is the price I pay for a moment to write. Time is expensive and precious. It can only be spent once and is not something one can earn more of. There is no time lottery. No bank of time. There is just time...

And now, there is quiet...and with a child in the house who is awake, quiet is never a good sign.


I watch him slowly dissect my office,
sitting on the floor,
a pile of my books around him,
the bottom two shelves now empty--
Virginia Woolf and A Guide To Composition Pedagogy,
reference manuals and ironically
The Discipline Book.

He looks at the picture of the author in the back and
cheerfully calls out “Daddy”.

Every man is daddy today,
as they were yesterday
and the days before.

He wears pajamas and it is almost noon;
cartoons play quietly in the background,
and peaches are warming in their own juice on the counter.

I used to stop him
but this is precious time for us both,
nothing broken that matters,
nothing ruined that can’t be acceptably reconstructed.

He babbles incoherently to himself,
a contented architect
building and destroying
what I will rearrange while he dreams.

The rythym of our day is marked in messes
abstract art on the living room floor;

and somehow, we create in harmony
his small words spoken
seep into mine written.

A simple dance.

There is a poem hiding in the drier,
a word or two in the dishwasher.

Maybe I will find them

as I have been interrupted
by silence.

Monday, December 29, 2008


"Silence is more musical than any song." -- Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894)

It is quiet. Company has slowly fled into the snowy onslaught. I can hear the ticking of the clock above the door, the tapping of my fingers on the keys, one dog's sighs and the other's snores, the patter of rain against slush and newly exposed mud beneath.

Today is a day for cleaning, putting away the holiday fare, laundering sheets, throwing away leftovers.

The norm. Back to the every day.

It is quiet. And quiet is good.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Show and Tell

"all things flow one into the other/like lines of poems that take me/to the far reaches/of myself/where I meet you." Richard Jones from "Comment on this: in the real scheme of things, poetry is marginal."

Deadline: December 20th

In his book The Blessing: New and Selected Poems, Richard Jones does something beautifully "expected" yet amazingly original...he answers 48 interview questions with 48 poems. Brilliant. Try one on for size and then give his book a glance (or just go ahead and devour it...its yummy!)

What is the most foolish question you have been asked?
How would you like to be remembered?
What have you bought lately?
What is your favorite body part?
What are you not telling us?

If you'd like to share...cut and paste your piece into a "comment".

If you live on the Peninsula...keep in mind that Tidepools (Peninsula College's literary magazine) is running it's annual contest. Entries are due mid-January. More information can be found at their website and entry forms can be obtained there or at Odyssey Books and Port Book and News.

Here are mine...

Poems inspired by Richard Jones’ “48 Questions” poems in his book The Blessing: New and Selected Poems

What are you not telling us?

I’m not telling you how I feel when he touches me.
Language is too basic, raw, and slippery.
And it’s no one’s business.
I’m not telling you what I day dream about at work,
or where I go when I don’t want to be found,
rocky beaches and pine trees in summer.
I’m not telling you about the hidden place
behind my childhood home
where I played house with the boy next door.
My first kiss, uninvited.
And I’m not telling you about that night in a hotel room,
teenagers drinking, fumbling over each other
like puppies in heat, mangled attempts to be accepted,
to grow up too fast, ending in tears and ruined reputations.
And---because I have no words for it—
what it felt like to see my father in a hospital bed
throwing up apple juice,
or my mother without hair.

What has writing in common with dance?

My pencil scoots across the page in fits and starts,
tapping and sliding to its own stilted beat;
it stops to reflect, to regain balance,
jumps out of my hand and makes marks outside the line.

The lead smudges easily, the eraser is worn.

As the point dulls, the energy quickens.
It is less precise, eager. Softness subdues fear of
perception, and the angles of the script become
round and heavy, childish and messy.

When I have to pause for sharpening,
I breathe in and out several times,
stretch, and listen to the quiet creaks and pops
as my back falls into place.

Why do you read?

For comfort, for travel, for love, for death.
For inspiration, for mystery, for constancy and breadth.
For intrigue, for beauty, for truth and regard.
For angle, a viewpoint, a walk in the stars.
For childish laughter, for times all alone.
For knowledge, for strength, for mood, and for tone.
For springtime in winter, for snowfall in heat.
For being somewhere that I cannot now be.
For anger, release, vindication, and scorn.
For pity, cliche, and the tender heart torn.
For simple old lines, and to coax forth new eyes.
For trivial facts, and sumptuous lies.
For unexpected ideas, for mother’s advice,
For faultless penmanship, for salt and for spice.
For journaling fodder, for escape, and for home.
For peace, and for sanity, for reasons unknown.

Has teaching affected your love of poetry?

Poetry is like a dog.

For some, it represents fear,
the unknown,
something that cannot be trusted,
that might hurt, or maim.

For others, life finds its rhythm
because of its presence.
With loyal eyes, it sits at the bedside,
constant and peaceful.

It plays.

Sometimes it follows commands.
Sometimes it frolics with abandon
and will not listen to reason.

When it snows,
its joy is so impressive,
even the sternest spectator
must smile.

Monday, I took my dog to school.
Ice and snow had consumed her kennel,
and I didn’t want her to freeze.
I locked her in my classroom
so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by all the commotion.
She sat at the window and gazed at me adoringly
as I stood guard in the hall.

I heard a girl exclaim,
“There’s a dog in that room!
I hate dogs.”

I have never met a child who hated dogs.

What effect has your new son had on your writing?

Procrastination has never been so sweet
as when he smiles up and says “no”
even though he doesn’t know what that means.

There are so many more poems to write
and so much less time
because he is here.

I cannot just write when I feel the inspiration come.
It used to be that romantic--
my excuse.

Now, time is too precious.
I write between sneezes and lullabyes.
Briefly, when the house has stopped its noise.

There is a sleeping cat at my side,
a restless dog,
and a dreaming toddler in the other room.

I have written five poems
because I have to.
He is the sweetest
most profound


"There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval."
George Santayana (1863 - 1952), Soliloquies in England, 1922, "War Shrines"

So it's my birthday in 4 days; but since we have company coming, I probably will not have time write, or even think about writing. So, I've gone overboard today. It's just after two, I'm still in my p.j.'s, I haven't eaten lunch, and Shrek is playing for the second time in the background...yes, I'm horrible, I'm letting the t.v. babysit my son. I don't feel bad. He's fed, he's clean, and we've been out to play in the snow 3 times today. And he's had a nap.

So, I spent the mid-morning, while he was asleep, frantically dulling my virtual pencil. But, I had no idea it would pour forth from me in such droves. I guess we're having more than one kind of storm front here. Piles of snow brought piles of poems, as well.

While I was writing my yearly birthday poem (it's a wierd tradition, I know...but it's a way to evaluate where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going), I was listening to Feist, one of my favorite musical finds this year. This particular song struck me, not only because I love it and because it keeps my son occupied (he likes to dance to it), but because it speaks so specifically to my life, which I never noticed before.

I've come to the goal. Now I just get to revel in all of its beautiful simplicity.

Mushaboom - Feist

Helping the kids out of their coats
But wait the babies haven't been born oh
Unpacking the bags and setting up
And planting lilacs and buttercups oh

But in the meantime we've got it hard
Second floor living without a yard
It may be years until the day
My dreams will match up with my pay

Old dirt road,
(mushaboom, mushaboom)
knee deep snow
(mushaboom, mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow
(mushaboom, mushaboom)

I got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house oh
And we'll collect the moments one by one
I guess that's how the future's done oh

How many acres, how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map

Old dirt road,
mushaboom, mushaboom)
knee deep snow
mushaboom, mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow,
mushaboom, mushaboom)
(mushaboom, mushaboom)
Old dirt road rambling rose
(mushaboom, mushaboom)
Watching the fire as we grow
(mushaboom, mushaboom)
Well I'm Sold...

Birthday poem, 2008

I have had a cold on my birthday every year since I was born.

I’ve never had a party on the actual day, because it’s bad timing.

I’m 32.

I’m married.

I have a son.

I have a cough, and a bit of a sniffle; but for the most part, I can breathe.

Tomorrow, my husband is taking me shopping for clothes

that don’t make me look like a mom,

or a teacher.

I’m 32.

I’m in debt, but I’m getting out, slowly.

I’m sitting on a comfortable, gray couch.

There’s a striped cat who sheds too much sleeping beside me.

She’s made my left thigh warm and furry.

It’s hypnotizing to watch her belly rise and fall.

I’m 32.

I teach middle school.

I hate to cook.

It’s one o’clock, and I’m considering a drink.

Part of me feels guilty about that, but another part says I’m on vacation so it doesn’t count.

Maybe a glass of red wine, or a hot toddy. I don’t even know how to make one of those.

I’m 32.

I don’t like to wear socks, unless it's really cold.

I keep chapstick in every drawer, in my car, in my purse.

The heater in my house is loud. It works better on the west side of the house.

The baby sleeps on the east side of the house, so we turn it up high enough to make us sweat at night,

to keep him warm.

I’m 32.

I don’t have cable.

I hate to exercise.

Tonight, we will probably stay in, since the roads are icy. We have family coming to stay for the holidays. There is laundry. And I should probably mop the floor so the dog prints aren’t so visible. My mother will notice that I haven’t dusted and that the cats leave prints on the stove top.

I’m 32.

I’m cautious.

I don’t like to drive.

I was born two days after solstice, two days before christmas.

I’m writing this on the 19th.

Always too early or too late to be on time.

I’m 32.

I live a simple life. I love my husband passionately. My son gives me new eyes.

I’m 32, and all I ask is one more day of the same.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


"[S]he refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring." Zelda Fitzgerald, 1922
I was momentarily vexed by what I was about to accept as oncoming ennui...however, I remembered an old and very annoying saying of my mother's: "If you are bored, you must be boring...interesting people are never bored." Usually it worked to stop my whining about having nothing to do. Ultimately, it was a challenge, of which I am a big fan. In fact, without one, I fall into just the state I am currently trying to avoid.
"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." Dorothy Parker (1893 - 1967), (attributed)

Boredom is a sickness...a nasty little virus that can be passed from one unsuspecting individual to another as quickly as a good thought can be lost when you're nowhere near paper. And so that's where I've virtual paper with my virtual pen to engage my brain and stave off the infection.

Today was a snow day. In our little town at the northwestern corner of Washington, snow is somewhat of an anomaly. It doesn't happen often, which is why our city has no way of coping with it when it does. To make things worse, I live off the highway, on a private road that is not maintained by the city or the county. It's a dirt road with lots of pot holes; one of the residents of our back-road haven occasionally uses a tractor to put gravel in the holes and smooth out the worst spots. For the most part, it keeps the road reasonably usable. But, when the snow hits, it all goes to hell, which, by the way HAS frozen over (so I'm thinking I'll be getting the pony I wanted when I was a little girl any day now).

This morning, shortly after the joy of finding out it was a snow day had settled to contentment with a cup of coffee, my husband called me from a block away to tell me he was stuck at the bottom of the hill and that he'd need me to bring the shovel and the broom. He couldn't leave the truck because it was stuck in the middle of a turn, so anyone coming down it would ram right into his truck. Not an unreasonable request, really. But, it was 7 in the morning, the baby was running all over the house, I was still in my pajamas and my car was buried in half a foot of snow. The only way I was going to get to him was to drive (even though it was a measly block). So, I pulled on my boots, trudged out to the car, and put my key into the lock...the doors were frozen shut. By the time I managed to get in the car, get the snow off of it, and get the baby buckled up in the back, he called to tell me he was on his way back. Well, of course he did.

He spent the next half hour putting chains on my car, so I'd be able to get out in case of emergency, and then hiked up to the highway to take the bus to work.

Which leads me to this...why is it when the snow come down in buckets and the roads are slick as snot, people all over feel this sudden urge to run out, get in their cars, and go somewhere they don't need to go? My husband could've stayed home today, off the roads and out of vehicular danger...but when he called in, the news was that customers were coming in steadily. Now, he does work at an auto shop, so you might think people were coming to get snow tires put on or to have their cars winterized. No. Just plain old customers. My guess is, the Walmart parking lot is packed and Safeway is doing a brisk business. Other retailers are probably doing just as well.

And I'm at home going stir-crazy. I've polished the copper bottoms on my pans, cleaned the top of the refrigerator, learned how to upload videos to youtube, read a few magazine articles, taken pictures of my son playing in the snow, done a few loads of laundry...

Why is it that when I'm at work, I want to be home, but when I'm home, I don't know how to relax? Ugh. It's another ailment of mine. It takes at least 3 to 4 days for me to accept being on vacation.

And I just got a call that it has officially begun. School is cancelled tomorrow, too.
"The secret of being a bore is to tell everything."Voltaire (1694 - 1778), Discours en vers sur l'homme, 1737
So, I'll spare you the details of the rest of my day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Evil empire or necessary evil?

"When you compete with Wal-Mart, even if you think you've found a niche don't ever become complacent.
Michael Bergdahl

I try to be a good community member. I buy local when I can. I try to keep my money in my own town or state and support local interests. Even if it costs me more. However, I'm finding it harder and harder to support these endeavors. We are in a recession. Prices are rising on everything, and our paychecks can only stretch so far. But like many small towns across America, our city council seems to be doing little to address the changing world around us. Mills continue to close, fishing boats sit and decay in the harbor, and shop windows darken one by one; industries that used to support hundreds are now the struggling business concern of a few. Student numbers are decreasing, houses sit vacant and don't sell, tourism is stagnant.

This leads me to the notorious merchandising giant. In a time when jobs are scarce, money is tight, and employment worry is constant, Walmart shines like a beacon (or the evil eye of Sauron) above our little "ghost-town-in-the-making". It provides jobs for local families when everyone else seems to be handing out pink slips. It provides inexpensive goods to an increasingly frugal public. And it seems to be one of the few businesses in town still raking in the cash.

Yes, it concerns me that their merchandise is quite possibly made by children in underdeveloped countries for pennies a day. Yes, it concerns me that they sell cheap, plastic, Chinese-made crap that may contain materials unsafe for human use. Yes, it bothers me greatly that they won't let their employees form a union or provide them benefits. And yes, I'm willing to admit that I'm part of the problem.

BUT...and it's a big but...I find that my needs sometimes outweigh my wants and that my checkbook has begun to make less than "righteous" decisions for me. Buying local costs a lot. And though my needs are small, so is my balance. Walmart very smartly takes advantage of that.

They also don't seem to have any shortage of job applicants. So, honestly, the people who choose to work there must find something appealing about it. It is so very American to ask for something one has no birth-right to. Why is it that we feel we deserve something "just because"? A company doesn't "owe" me a large paycheck, benefits, and a timeshare in the Bahamas. If I want those things, I get a degree in a field where I know I will find jobs that will fulfill my criteria for building wealth. If I apply at Walmart, my expectations are going to have to be agressively toned down.

It's a time of great worry for many. And I hate to see local businesses priced out of survival. But, to achieve success, one must remain or become competitive. When I can buy a set of measuring spoons for $15 at a local merchant or go to Walmart or the dollar store and get them for 50 cents, I'm going to take the low road. It might make me a weak person, but it also gives me $14.50 to buy a new book for my son or pay a bill. It's about priorities, and survival is my first one. If I have to stoop to the level of shopping at "discount hell", so be it.

It's easy to say, "I won't support such deliberately immoral business practices." It's easy to say, "I can do without." And for the most part, I don't NEED what Walmart has to sell. But, I teach a lot of kids from a lot of families who have parents in great need of the jobs they provide and the products that they offer. And there is something to be said about cheap products. They may be less than quality. In some instances, they may even be dangerous. And yes, the company probably should be better than that. But if people are willing to buy it, who is really responsible for their success? The only reason Walmart is as successful as it is rests with the consumer. People get what they want, and the corporation prospers. Local business is not suffering because Walmart stepped in. Local business is suffering because it isn't competitive and people are either able to support them but have chosen to do otherwise, or they are not able to support them because they are struggling themselves. Local business needs to stop blaming chain discount stores, as do community members. If we don't want them to survive, we need to stop buying their products and stop working there.

What is more telling than anything is that these chain stores are thriving, even in the face of a recession. This is evidence of something big. We are hurting. So much so that we will buy what we need to buy from a place we do not want to buy from because we cannot afford to do otherwise. Or, we just plain aren't stupid enough to pay $15 for something we could get for 50 cents. It isn't rocket science or economic strategy. It's common sense.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The yelling mark!!!

"Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes." (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

I love my job. There is something refreshing about being in charge of my day and never knowing what to expect. And I get continual proof that kids do, indeed, say the damndest things. There was the ever inspiring philosophical line, blurted out during the middle of a test, "Wouldn't it be cool if we all had expiration dates stamped on our butts? You know...kind of like how Cabbage Patch Kids have a signature? We'd have a date, and then we'd know when we were going to die. We might live differently then." Then she went right back to taking her test, which, incidentally, had nothing to do with dying, dolls, or dates.

And there are always the questions, constant and comical: "Did we do anything while I was gone?" "Do I have to do this?" and every English teacher's favorite..."Can I go to the bathroom?" So, contrary to popular belief, there ARE stupid fact, in middle school they oversexed little rabbits, they multiply.

But, today, it was a new kind of stupidity...and it made me laugh out loud (my only other option was to get all persnickety about how important punctuation is, become completely indignant, and sigh in exasperation at the rampant ignorance of the child in front of me). But, I took the high road...mostly because it was just too funny to not laugh. After all, he isn't MY kid, and I don't have to worry about his future.

So a little background. We do daily warm-ups to practice punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. In order to keep it from getting dry and boring, I occasionally use captioned pictures from The pic for today was:

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So, I was calling on students to explain how they fixed the sentence. That's when it happened. A student who never raises his hand (and when he does, it's never to say anything intelligent, so I should have seen it coming) begins waving his hand and wiggling like a pre-schooler whining, "Pick me! Pick me!" Against my better judgment, caught in the excitement over the fact that he was finally offering to answer a question after sleeping for 3 days in class, I say, "Yes, John? Do you think you have it?" "Yeah! Capitalize the H but leave the rest of the letters in the word little." "Is that it?" "Yeah." He looks at me, sort of deflated, as if he's disappointed that I'm not having a party because he said more than three words today. He's obviously proud of himself. "John, don't you need some sort of punctuation here?" I's a gimme...he'll get it now. "Oh, yeah!" He lights up like Main Street at night during the Christmas season. "You need one of those....those...yelling marks." Pause for reaction.

I couldn't help it. I just bent over and started to laugh and shake my head. After I'd composed myself, I looked up at him, "A yelling mark?" "Well, yeah...I forget what they're really called."

Mind you, these kids are 12. It's not like they haven't had punctuation lessons for oh, say, 5 years now. Yes, kids do say the damndest things. And every day, when I COULD cry...I laugh. It's the only way I stay sane.

P.S. Another kid in class wondered, quite vocally, why the kitty in the picture was so skinny.

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