Productive weekend

The weather was gorgeous this weekend, so we spent some time in the yard, catching up on a few projects. Here are a few of the things we did:

1. Built a pair of raised beds for the garden.

2. Filled them with barn litter. (Thanks, Zaphod!)

3. Emptied finished compost out of one of our dog waste bins and put it around the rose bushes to give them a head start on spring. (Because dogs are carnivores, you aren’t supposed to use their manure on food crops — the potential for pathogens is too great — but it’s fine for ornamentals.)

4. Installed some new tiki torches in the backyard.

5. Admired the crocus blossoms in the front yard.

6. Checked the progress of our other perennials. Chives are up …

… and so is the garlic.

7. Split and stacked about a rick and a half of wood. (Ron did the splitting; I did the stacking.)

We also ran some errands, and I got my lesson plans ready for next week.

Hope your weekend was as pretty and productive as mine.


Escaping reality

I know this probably constitutes shameless self-promotion, but nearly two weeks into my Greetings from Coldwater project, I could not be happier with the way things are going.

Stephen King, in his novel Misery, referred to a phenomenon he calls “falling through the hole in the paper.” The idea is that there is a point, when you are writing fiction, at which your characters and settings become so real to you that the paper on which you are writing becomes a portal to their world — a “hole” leading to an alternate reality — and as you mentally fall through this hole, writing ceases to be work and becomes, in essence, a matter of simply recording things as you observe them.

For an hour or so every evening since February 15th, I’ve used the hole in the paper to leave my life as an urban English teacher in a working-class neighborhood in Tulsa and become the owner of a tiny, shopworn motel in a tiny, shopworn town somewhere on Route 66 in rural New Mexico.

In that capacity, I’ve met a kind-hearted, grandmotherly motel owner battling the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease; the developmentally disabled handyman she looks after, and over whose future she worries; an affable feed-and-hardware store owner; a bartender named Jesus; a Japanese photographer; and, most recently, a good-natured mechanic with a fondness for classic cars. I’ve eaten menudo and cheese grits and boiled peanuts; listened to the songs of coyotes; refurbished a room; had a run-in with a creepy drifter at a laundromat; learned to operate an old-fashioned wringer washer; cleaned up a neon transformer and gotten an old sign working again; painted a picture of the view out my front window in the snow; and pulled several yards of blue shag carpet out of a motel room.

I cannot begin to explain what it’s like to wind down a day full of meetings and lesson plans and papers and discipline issues and notes to parents and countless other demands by walking into my office, logging onto WordPress, and going to New Mexico for an hour or so.

I can’t explain it, but Stephen King certainly can: It’s like falling through a hole in the paper.

The hole in Sierra’s paper is big enough for two people to squeeze through. If you want to come through it, just click here.


Folk Thursday: Darkness

Johnny Cash sings Will Oldham. My kids listened to this the other day before reading the “to be or not to be” speech from Hamlet. I think it helped them understand Hamlet’s frame of mind.

I’m grateful to my department chair for letting us read Hamlet instead of Julius Caesar. I personally think Caesar is one of the worst things Shakespeare ever wrote. Hamlet is a much better choice for teenagers, because the title character is this angsty drama king (my kids describe him as “emo”) who hates his parents, tells a lot of dirty jokes, and can’t get along with his girlfriend’s dad. Most sophomores can identify with Hamlet a lot better than they identify with Caesar.



I have at least six or seven crocus buds in the front yard. I’ll try to get a picture of them when they open.

On an unrelated note, Riggy is doing very well with his obedience lessons. I took him for a walk this afternoon while dinner was in the oven. We went about six blocks. A miniature dachshund came running out to bark at us when we were a block from home. I made Riggy sit and stay while the doxie sniffed him over and yapped at him. He was pretty good about holding still. He still breaks his stay when I try to walk behind him, but I think he’ll get the hang of it soon.

He certainly attracts a lot of attention. Those Doberman-style markings and that saucy, self-assured gait draw all kinds of looks and comments from the people we pass. He’s a good-looking dog. I need to teach him some Stupid Pet Tricks so he can put on a show for the people he meets.


Little sign of spring

The chives are coming back in my herb planter on the back porch, two violas are blooming in the front flowerbed, and I had to cram on the brakes to keep from  hitting a confused robin in the middle of the street this morning. Spring is creeping back into Red Fork.

On an unrelated note, I had a lot of fun this afternoon. I have a TU student observing a couple of my classes twice a week. I let her teach today. She did OK with the first class but was a little unsure of herself and frequently deferred to me, which of course cost her a lot of credibility with the kids. The second group she taught is a notoriously unruly bunch, and I knew they’d chew her up if they sensed any lack of confidence, so I followed my instincts and did something completely counterintuitive: I got up and left. I was just outside the door, ready to burst back in and knock some heads together at the first sign of trouble, but I stayed out of sight so neither the kids nor their temporary instructor would be tempted to look to me for direction, discipline, or answers to questions.

As I’d anticipated, my young protege stopped being a student and turned into a teacher the instant I left.

I love those rare moments when I remember to stop and listen for Mind to tell me the next step. They always turn out so much better than anything I could have come up with on my own….


Monday, Monday

As Mondays go, this one was pretty smooth.

When I got home from work, I made a quick dinner and then took a nap for a couple of hours. I had some good intentions about going out to get snacks for homework night, which is Thursday, but I wound up getting out the watercolors and playing with an idea for my Greetings from Coldwater blog instead. I think it turned out pretty well — not perfect, but decent. The picture is here, along with today’s installation of the story. This is the eighth entry in the blog/novel/whatever it is. I’m really happy with the way it’s flowing thus far. I’m still not entirely sure where the story is going, but I’m having a ball working up the characters and setting.

Joey is becoming much more important than I’d anticipated. I’d originally envisioned him as a peripheral character, but he’s rapidly becoming Sierra’s raison d’etre … which is good, I guess. She was a self-centered little wench for years, so it’s about time she put somebody else’s interests ahead of her own.

I could say the same thing for myself, I suppose.



I finally got caught up on some of my projects this weekend. New ones are already starting to collect on my to-do list. It’s maddening.

When I worked at the paper, I used to take a couple of minutes out of deadline day to watch this little cartoon. It always helped. I’d nearly forgotten about it until this evening, when I was looking over the list of things I’d accomplished today and thinking about what I had on my plate for tomorrow. I stuck it on my bookmarks bar so I won’t forget it again. As we head into March, every day is starting to feel like 5 p.m. on a Thursday at 81st and Harvard, circa 2006.

Take a peek at the cartoon. Turn up your speakers a little bit so you can hear the ominous Psycho-inspired violins in the middle and the little people singing near the end. (Their little voices are so ridiculous that they crack Ron up every time he hears them.) It’s a good way to start your Monday.


I weep for the gene pool.

So Ron and I went to school tonight to see the girls’ playoff game. We didn’t stay for the boys’ game, partly because Ron needed to get home and work on a project, but mostly because the woman next to me — who was sitting on the home side of the gym and cheering for the visitors — had brought the Most Obnoxious Child in the Universe to the game and was allowing said child to lean across her and scream largely incoherent insults in my ear.

At one point, the kid, who was probably 11 or 12 years old, spewed forth some barrage of nonsense and then stuck her face right up next to mine and said, “What do you have to say about that? Haven’t you got anything to say about that?”

I gave her the indulgent smile I usually reserve for sophomores who are trying to shock me and said, “No, honey, I really don’t have anything to say. I teach here.” I naively assumed that the woman, upon hearing this, would — like any normal human being with a lick of sense — be profoundly embarrassed and tell the kid to knock it off.

Instead, she laughed and then praised the child for coming up with a new line of trash-talk involving the teaching profession in general and my skills in particular.

I wonder whether this woman will still think her little girl’s behavior is cute when she tries it on a police officer in a few years and ends up arrested for disorderly conduct — or worse? It’s one thing to get confrontational with an off-duty English teacher who is known for her patience with obnoxious teenagers. It’s something else entirely to pull that on a guy who went into law enforcement because he wanted an excuse to carry a gun and boss people around. They’re relatively rare, but those kinds of cops do exist, and I sincerely hope this little girl never bumps into one of them, because her mother is setting her up for tragedy.