Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Yes, the CDC has confirmed that a patient in Dallas has the Ebola virus.

Am I worried? Not so much. 
  • Dallas is a four hour drive from here.
  • The patient is in isolation.
  • We have some of the best medical care in the world, advanced hygenic systems, and safer burial practices than those find in the communities where ebola has been spreading.
  • I'm generally a pretty big fan of "blood stays on the inside", and avoid messing with other people's fluids whenever I can.

From what I understand, there's a far higher likelihood of me dying of the flu, so I'll be getting that shot this week.

Monday, September 29, 2014


A couple of hours ago, a kaleidoscope started in my eyes.

it was beautiful and fascinating but also terrifying because ...my eyes.

And then I remembered that it was likely a migraine coming on. I took my medicine, told my partner, and put away my work.

My eyes are back to normal and the pills help with the pain, as does the quiet evening mostly in the dark.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Comfort, Habits, and Change

Ever negotiate mealtime with a young child? Toddlers often have a few favorite foods, and have to be encouraged repeatedly to try new things. Especially vegetables and things not just sweet. 

Over time, we might be able to develop a fondness for spinach and broccoli and such. Or, we could just subsist on goldfish crackers and mild cheese and grapes cut into quarters. Forever.

Tastes on so many things tend to stay in the comfortable. We listen with nostalgia to the music of our teen years. We might find an author we like, and read that person's entire catalog.

Any of our interests or hobbies, especially any way we choose to spend our time and money... we get established and invested. Not necessarily a bad thing, unless we feel stuck.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Staring at Blank Screens

To me, there is nothing more paralyzing than a blank screen.

That anxiety of HOW will I start? WHAT will it be? Am I ready? Isn't there another book I should read first?

Sometimes you just have to write something. It will likely be awful, but it's something.

And it's a start.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Doing What Comes Naturally

My partner's a Red Sox fan and I don't much follow baseball, so it's no wonder that I've paid little attention to the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of headlines around Derek Jeter's retirement.

But this sweet story and video caught my attention.

Jeter fouled a ball and the fielder tossed it up into the stands.  Dad grabbed it and his daughter wanted him to toss it to her... and as soon as she got it, she whipped it back on the field.


When you get thrown a ball, of course you're going to keep throwing it. It's only natural. It's the carefully saving it and never using it again that is crazy. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

If I Dream of Marshmallows Tonight...

After 11 PM and I'm ravenous. I ate an early supper and then stayed up late.

I'm not craving cucumbers or even those lovely apples I got at co-op yesterday. No, I want ice cream. Or melty cheese.

Rational mind tsks and suggests a glass of water. I grudgingly drink some water, sigh heavily, and try to find peace in the promise of ice cream tomorrow.

Maybe sudoku would help...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Midweek Holidays

I had high aspirations for a homemade Rosh Hashanah dinner.  On a Wednesday.

Aspirational, but not especially rational. I'm just not HOME on Wednesdays.

Oh, no problem, I told myself.  Roast the chicken the night before, prep what you can, and find that 'working woman' challah recipe... totally doable.

So Tuesday after I work I went grocery shopping, roasted the chicken, started chicken stock in  the slow cooker... and realized that we had no yeast for challah.

I did not weep, but I might have moaned. In the end, I bought a challah from the store. Came home as soon as I could, calling the kids from the road to get them started on the prep list. 

The matzoh balls fell apart some, and store challah isn't the same. But my sons will eat nearly anything... and more importantly, I remembered to take a picture of them to send to my mother-in-law.

We had soup and bread and meat and two veggies and dessert came with the first bite of the meal--apple slices dipped in honey. 5775 is off to a sweet start.

Shana Tova, y'all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stepping Back, Looking Hard, and Letting Go

Before I write even the first sentence--NO, this is not a personal post. I'm not quitting, nor am I looking to gut any projects. Just another way to look at systems.

HUGE news from the gaming industry today.  Blizzard Entertainment announced that they've abandoned the Titan game they've had in development for seven years.

Yes, I'm talking about a game.  AND it's something to take seriously. This company created World of Warcraft, an online gaming experience that folks spend hours on every day.

And this company and this project involves lots of people's jobs. For some of them, years and years of their careers. Poof.

Why did this happen? Because after a time of discernment, they realized that they couldn't find the fun.

Senior vice president of story and franchise development* Chris Metzen is quoted as saying "The discipline of knowing when to quit is important. We were losing perspective and getting lost in the weeds a little. We had to allow ourselves to take that step back and reassess why the hell we were doing that thing in the first place."

When, in our lives and our organizations, do we take that step back? And how do we come to the decision to set things aside?

How are things different when we let fun be part of the criteria?

*Yes, I totally want to be a Senior VP of Story Development when I grow up.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Observations from Open House

Tonight was open house at the high school. I can now report that:

*According to my Fitbit, secondborn's schedule requires at least 5000 steps just to get from class to class. PE class is definitely more, as is the walk to and from the bus stop.

*There are mounted TVs in each classroom, eternally playing a slide show of important messages. Distraction, much?

*One of the teachers graduated from the same school eight years ago. That  means he's about the same age I was during my own time in public education.

*The fundamentals of engineering classroom has a 3-D printer.

*One teacher was a college football player. Another was a college tennis player, ranked in her home country.

*"Interactive notebooks" are a big thing right now. By which I mean paper notebooks where everyone has the same things on the same pages.

*The kids' school obviously does not have a 'natural hair color' policy. We saw examples from all over the visible spectrum.

*Firstborn's English classroom library includes a 'parent approval required' section. 

And of course, this leads back to the eternal wondering every time I drive up to that building--HOW is it possible that I'm already the parent of high school students? Running into acquaintances who are parenting seniors doesn't help.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

As I Sit Here Weeping...

watching Steel Magnolias for the umpteenth time, I wonder--

is there some horrendous life experience Sally Field hasn't acted out yet?  

Thank you, Clairee, for breaking the tension.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Best Stuff On Earth?

Snapple claims that it's "Made from the best stuff on Earth"

For the teas, that's filtered water, sugar (@35-46 grams), citric acid, tea, and natural flavors. The juice drinks are water, sugar, juice, and assorted other flavors and colors.

From an addictive standpoint, sugar is some of the best stuff on Earth. So I guess there's a certain truth in the advertising.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Old Jeans And Congregations

There's a certain alchemy to blue jeans. They start out rugged and unyielding, and slowly break in to the ultimate in practical comfort. 

I had a pair of jeans I just loved. The fit was great, the denim had a bit of a pattern, and oh, the texture was just perfect. After years and years, though, the jeans were nigh threadbare.  And while some holes can be mended, well, at a certain point there is no structural integrity--no way to anchor a stitch into a morass of what's basically blue wisps of nostalgia.

I dragged things out too long, but eventually I took a deep breath and tossed those pants in the trash, and got that trash bag out of the house before I could reconsider.

In our congregations we have our comfortable blue jeans, too. They might be programs or positions or events or even physical objects, no longer attractive or even practical, but things we just can't bring ourselves to cull.

Warning signs that there's a need for culling:
*Nobody wants to plan an event, but people can't imagine the year without it

*When describing the program, people say, "Well, it used to be..."
*There's a particular person associated with the thing, and we wouldn't want that person to feel bad. Or get angry. Or act out in any way.

*The main reason the thing still exists is that we don't know how to get rid of it.

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  What would you add?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Places/Times To Read A Few Pages

So many books to read, so little time, right?

Here are my sneaky places.moments to read a few more pages--what are your favorite tricks?

*In the car. Mostly while waiting for my kids to be done with clubs or whatever, but sometimes in really bad traffic.  I think I read most of Tom Sawyer driving home last year--there's a bad backup two miles from my office.  And whenever someone else is driving, of course.

*At breakfast meetings with myself- after I figure out to-do lists and hit a writing deadline, I'll read while I have another cup of coffee.

*Outside in a camp chair, as weather allows. It's good to remember that there's an out of doors. The chair can help me believe I'm on an adventure.

*Inside in a camp chair, when weather does not allow

*In the three minutes waiting for a meeting/webinar/whatever to start

*Airplanes. Note to self- the new Percy Jackson book comes out soon...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sleep And Other Overdoses

I love sleeping in. Oh, to sleep until noon would be so delicious. And yet...

Like many people, I do best when I stick to a fairly regular sleep schedule. Messing with the timing or the total time much makes for a rough day, and can trigger a migraine. (And a migraine makes me need more sleep, which messes further with total time and timing...)

Yes, it is possible for me to overdose on sleep. I'm hoping to avoid discovering the fatal dose.

Most anything, from the banal to the life-sustaining, can be addictive and even damaging. Sometimes the thing has risks of its own, and sometimes it's just a matter of what else it is distracting us from. 

Oh, to set aside those delicious dreams and awaken, habits freeing up room to take on the world-changing whatever we might be capable of doing.

(Maybe after I sleep.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


After a long long day, I pulled through the McDonald's drive-thru for a small order of fries.

I am not sure when I last had McDonald's fries. But I was looking forward to these suckers.

And they were Way Too Salty.

Honestly, I am not sure if it was an overly-aggressive hand at the fryer, or if I just have had better and less salted fries in the interim. 

Or maybe I had an overly romanticized memory of something. It happens. If distance can make the heart grow fonder, time gives us opportunity to write and rewrite our memories of a sensation, whether it's a food or a kiss or even a hard time.

In this case, maybe I'll just go with the piece where I didn't really like these fries, and do away with that craving for some time to come.

Monday, September 15, 2014

So Much Chart Paper...

We do a fair amount of brainstorming and sharing of ideas around here, and while we have white boards in most classrooms, we still go through rather a lot of those sticky easel pad sheets. 

Yes, I purchase the recycled content ones, but still--that's a lot of paper to fit into the recycle bin when I'm done.  So what can we do with all those leftover papers?

  • Some of the especially interesting/funny/astute sheets end up on my office walls for some time. It does my heart good to glance at them.
  • Slice off the sticky part and you've got giant origami paper. (The grid stuff is especially useful in this regard.)
  • It's a bit unwieldy for paper airplanes, says the voice of experience.
  • Preschoolers will happily color on the backs of the sheets. Heck, stick two sheets together and you can trace their bodies.

No, please no, this post in no way indicates that I want you to drop a stack of used easel sheets at my door or in my office!

What's your favorite secondary use for these?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What Are Your Tricks?

I am, ostensibly, a grown up. I've lived more of my life in the years since turning eighteen than in the years before. I have a family and assets and stuff.

I used to think that grown ups just gain a certain grace--a mixture of competence and patience.

Really, though, I hear from so many peers that we all feel like we're faking it. 

Well, with those conversations, I share some of the items from my bag of tricks, strategies to get me through all the things on that grown up checklist.

Meetings are among my challenges--it's hard to just sit and it's so easy for my mind to wander.

  • I take copious notes, sometimes verbatim. 
  • I figure out the prime factorization of the day's date. Sometimes both 91414 and 9142014.
  • I look around the table, coming up with at least three facts I know about each person at the table.
  • I am careful about where I sit in the room, trying to find a spot where the view isn't too distracting. Bookshelves and skyline views are especially distracting.
  • I count the vowels on the meeting agenda or whatever other handout is available.

Grace? Well, at least I mostly behave myself.

What are the strategies you've come up with over the years?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Considering NaNoWriMo 2014

For the past eight years, I have taken the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. Each November I have written at least fifty thousand words in some work-- not always fiction, per se, but a free standing work of interest to me, that I likely would not do outside of that month.

I have never had any real interest in editing my works, and indeed, I don't even read them when I'm done. I am not entirely sure that I even have all the manuscripts, and probably do not have them all digitally.

To me, the project is sort of like taking a daily walk. I am not necessarily GETTING anywhere or mapping out any new ground. I am just exercising a muscle or twenty-seven, and stretching myself in different ways.

From time to time I think of using the energy for a more useful product- something I could use in my work, or failing that, some trashy novel I could sell on kindle for $0.99, making me enough money to retire on a diet of ramen and whatever's on the dented can rack.

We've less than fifty days to November 1st. I guess I'd better come up with an idea at some point. The month rarely goes well when I decide to go by the seat of my pants.

Will you be company on my long long walk?

Friday, September 12, 2014

You Will Never Be Finished...

but there is definitely such a thing as good enough.

I say that as someone with strong perfectionist tendencies, who also likes some measure of time off and sleeping in.

Figuring out the boundaries or the slope of the curve (or however you visualize it) of "enough", well, there's the tricky part.

It would be easy enough to quantify a to-do list, and claim that 75% or maybe even 80% would define success.  I will be the first to admit that some days I look for three easy things to cross off the list, so I can have the rush of progress. And then there are days when a 'simple' task expands, or something comes up, and you are grasping to get anything DONE. A certain prioritizing needs to happen--if one of the undone items is "feed the dog", you're going to have someone snapping at your heels. 

This Sunday is our first day of a new year of Sunday School. Weeks and months of work are all coming together, and yet I know that more than a couple of things will remain undone. Hopefully, though, enough has been done that all may feel safe enough to be stretched, loved enough to risk engaging with someone new, and inspired enough to reach joyfully towards transformation.

And please, may no one vomit, bleed, or bring glitter.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Making Peace With The Copier

Sometimes the copier at work gets persnickety.  It curls and flips papers, and sometimes the result is best described as hellish sculpture.

In my experience, its mischief is directly proportional to the operator's distance from the machine. Have I mentioned that my office is downstairs and the copier is upstairs? 

Even if I sprint, once the misbehavior has started, at least a couple of the packets will be wacky.

I should probably explain that my copier jobs tend to be the copier equivalent of a barrista's nightmare.

Today it was fourteen sets of a nine-page (double-sided) corner-stapled document.

I think it got half of the sets OK, and the rest were set straight with a bit of hand sorting and stapling.

Still, I am grateful for this complicated machine that saves me tons of time when it is behaving--especially since I don't have to drive to Kinko's or go through a printer cartridge every four days. 

And it gives me a reason to sprint when I might otherwise sit complacently at my desk.

And let's not forget the creative outlet as I consider non-cursing ways of expressing my frustration.  

Best of all, any amount of printer craziness on a Thursday beats even the smallest paper jam on a Sunday morning.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Interdependent Web And Sugary Snacks

One morning this week I got a message on Facebook from someone 1400 miles away, "Hey, do you know anybody at X church?"

X church is four hours from here, but yes, I know a few people there. Part of me worried where this was going, but I affirmed.

"Well, do you think one of them would deliver a donut to someone there?"

After I stopped laughing, we discussed such complicated logistics as TYPE of donut.

I sent an email to my colleague there, letting her know that it was an odd request. But she was up for the challenge. Awesome!

Today the delivery happened and was well received.

The blessings of a single donut have rippled through the week.
Favors and laughter and networking and sugary sweetness--it's all good.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Writing in Spare Moments

I am writing this entire entry in the time it takes me to sear a pot roast for the crock pot.

Because I did not get to either thing sooner, and the alarm clock goes off in less than seven hours.

I really love sleep. Probably more than pot roast, though these leftovers will become shepherd's pie...

Shepherd's pie just might beat sleep.

I mean, pie is pretty darned awesome. I really like pie.
But mashed potatoes atop a pie? That's marriageable.

On some week that I am feeling less rushed, I will post my delicious vegan gluten-free recipe for a curried shepherd's pie.

But the cover's about to go on the crock pot, so such endeavors must wait.

Sleep tight, y'all.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Productivity Takes Many Forms

Today my son came home from school and asked if I saw the spouting (broken) sprinkler head down the road.  I looked at him incredulously--I hadn't left the yard.

Mondays are my day off. Also known as

  • Laundry Day
  • No-Alarm-Clock Day
  • Cooking/Baking Day
  • Reading Day
  • Napping Day
  • No-Shoes Day
  • Shower-When-I-Want-To Day
These are all productive ways to spend the day--even those Mondays I have slept past noon and then read a couple of novels, those days when I consider moving the toaster next to the sofa. It's replenishing, of body, mind, and spirit.

And those cookies will totally sustain me through tomorrow's rigorous to-do list.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

You Can't Micromanage The Snow Cone Guy

Today was Homecoming Sunday, the official start to a new church year. It's a big deal and among my program responsibilities is renting a snow cone machine for the picnic after the worship service.

Lessons I've learned-
  • Rental comes with 100 pounds of loose ice in a big cooler. No, you cannot rent the machine without the ice, and they want to give you all that ice, even if you only need thirty or forty pounds of it. (Maybe there's a critical mass to keeping things cold enough in this semi-tropical Houston weather?)  We scatter the extra on the grounds, hoping the water trickles to our trees.
  • Rental comes with four syrups of the company's choosing. Some years there are two syrups of the same flavor. Today one of the flavors was "Turtle"...thankfully it tasted more like green apple than anything involving my pet turtle.
  • There's a delivery window, but chances are the machine will come a little before or after the window. Schedule it early enough that fifteen minutes after that window isn't too late. And have plenty of busy work to occupy yourself at 7 AM. Muttering darkly about 7 AM is not especially productive.
  • Eighth graders love to operate the machine, and ninth graders love to teach the eighth graders how it is done. 
  • You can sort of make snowballs out of snow cone ice.  They hurt more, though.
  • Eat enough snow cone and your mouth will freeze and you won't care quite so much that it's still too hot outside.
  • Filling a mug with snow cone ice and covering it with cold brew coffee?  Awww yeah.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Chair, Night One

The Chair is a new cable show (Starz) in which two directors are given the opportunity to make a film, starting with the same script and location and production company.

First episode observations in no particular order:

*Being a director does not mean that you know how to frame yourself in a webcam/video camera. Holy nauseating camera work.

*If you're supposed to direct, you might not have all the time for every single detail. Like, you know, endlessly rewriting the provided script.

*Think carefully on whether or not you really need to star in the first full-length movie you direct.

*Superbad was SEVEN YEARS ago. You might not be as cutting edge as you think you are.

*Pittsburgh has snow in the winter. Like forty inches a year. Plan for it.

*Sticky notes are relentlessly useful.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How Old?

Thirty-some years ago I would go to the roller rink run by this sweet little old man. He truly was sweet, and he truly was little--everyone knew him as Shorty. And old? I assure you, my eight-year old self saw him as the very picture of decrepitude.

Shorty died this week, and my sister sent me his obituary.  I was surprised he had lived so long, ancient as he...wait--he died at only 87?

So when we knew him, he was in his mid-50s. Huh.

These days that hardly seems old at all.

And yet I was seventeen just a few days ago, right?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ah well...

The football season started this evening, when my beloved Green Bay Packers lost to Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

The good news is, there are fifteen more games--hopefully things will come together.

And even if they don't, it's just football. Given the bigger tragedies around us every day, a lose on the football field doesn't even show up on the radar.

I might still be a little whiny tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lessons From A Start-Up

It's hard to be cheerful about most anything at 6:30 AM.
As I prepare for the new church year my sons have been starting their first year of high school.

Here are a few lessons from their first seven days:

1) Change can be exhausting-take naps when you can.
2) Try to stay on top of the paperwork, even when it seems painfully repetitive.
3) Trust your instincts--if things seem wrong, investigate.
4) Ask for the help you need. Know that sometimes it takes a few false starts to figure out where the help might come from.

5) Take comfort in the familiar.
6) Break in your new shoes on an off day.
7) Last year's pencil bag may not be shiny and new, but it still works and a sweet girl doodled on it.
8) You can't control the schedule. Be flexible, and take a book.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Getting The Medicine Down

The start of the month means it is time to give our dog her heartworm pill. 

Apparently these pills don't taste great, or perhaps she's fussy, but tossing it in her food bowl or wrapping it in a piece of lunchmeat or cheese? Nope.  She leaves the pill to the side. So we have to resort to drastic measures...
Peanut butter.

Oh, yes, peanut butter is the glorious yum of all goodness--she inhales it, never considering what might be hidden in that dollop of heaven.

Of course, there are things enough in this world that distract me entirely--only some of them food. What about you? Does a cheeseburger or a cupcake help the medicine go down? Does a fluffy novel or a video game help you forget the bitter of the day?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mmmmmmacaroni and Cheese

Left to their own devices, my sons might eat macaroni and cheese every meal of their lives.  An admonition to "Make it from scratch" does not slow them down much, and one even follows all the steps in the Cook's Illustrated version.

Me, I just whomp things together and change it up depending on what we've got in the house. It's Hatch green chile time here, when cases of green chilies are brought in from Hatch, New Mexico. Roasted, peeled and seeded, these suckers are awesome, available in a fruity mild variety and a spicier variety. Obviously, I'm going to toss these in my mac and cheese when I can.

This makes a large batch--you could divide by two or three if you're not heading to a potluck...

Start a big pot of water to boiling. Add a tablespoon or more of salt.
Today's batch used 1.5 pounds of elbow macaroni, but other tubey/fun pasta works, too.

While the water is coming to a boil, prep and saute your veg:

1 small onion, diced
1 T. oil
1 large hatch pepper, peeled and seeded (if you have to, you could substitute half a can of green chilies)
1-2 cloves garlic
Adobo seasoning to taste 
After five minutes or so, add:
1/2 t. turmeric (for color and rich flavor. Also supposed to be good for your liver and colon.)

Around now the water will come to a boil--get the pasta in the pot.  You only want it to go to the toothy side of al dente, so keep an eye on it...

Also, start your oven preheating to 400 degrees Farenheit.

Meanwhile...When the veggies are softened, you'll build a roux:
1 stick butter (allow to melt with the veggies)
then add 1/2 c. flour

Give the roux a few minutes to cook as you stir it periodically.
Then gradually add 4 cups of milk (I use skim)--I heat the milk in the microwave if I want things to come together faster.

When the milk mixture is somewhat thick, start adding CHEEEEESE. I use a mix of what's in the house, making sure there's some sort of melty Colby or not-too-sharp Cheddar somewhere in the mix. Today there was also a Hatch chile Monterey jack. Yum.  I have a kitchen helper shred about three cups of cheese total-- half gets added to the cheese sauce, and half will be used in assembly.

When the pasta is toothy but not crunchy, drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water.

I mix together the pasta and cheese sauce in a large mixing bowl, or you can return it to the cooking pot (if you pour the reserved cooking water elsewhere.) You want a mix that is a little gooey, but not soupy--it should make something of a shlorpy noise as you stir it. If you need a little more liquid, pour in some of the cooking water--which also has pasta starch to help pull things together.

Hit a baking dish with cooking spray so you do not spend forty minutes with a chisel*.

Then begin layering the casserole--cover the bottom of the dish with pasta, then sprinkle in some cheese, then more pasta, then cheese, then pasta, then cheese.

If you like, you can add a crust-- tonight was a mix of melted butter and panko with a little salt and some chipotle chili powder. You can sub cornflakes or potato chips for the panko, and sometimes I add crumbled bacon to the mix.  

Slide that casserole into the oven and let bake until bubbly and let the crust brown. (If you're in a hurry or want better color on the crust, the broiler can be used thoughtfully. Stay in the room eh?)


*We found this out the hard way when I forgot to spray the inside of the crock pot before setting out this stuff for a party.  After three hours on low, there was something of mac-n-cheese jerky welded around the edges.