We’re pencil nubs. Burned-out candles. Overdrawn bank accounts.
We’re teachers… with nigh-on nothing left to give. Out of ideas, resources, energy… everything.
Without those, we can no longer engage or awaken — and without engagement, without awakenings, we can no longer educate and inspire.
Our effectiveness is gone. And we don’t know why… although we have our suspicions.
Is the pandemic to blame — with its ensuing lethargy? Or the parents and their increasing laxity? Or the powers-that-be and their never-ending lists of demands and all-consuming blame?
So many obstacles are stacked against us and our backs are against the wall.
And we’re tired.
Tired of juggling classes and assignments and grading and meetings and all the rest of all the things. Tired of doing our jobs and then our colleagues jobs, too, because there aren’t enough subs. Because teachers are sick — or their kids are sick. Or they’re sick to exhaustion and need more than a single night’s sleep to recover.
We aren’t recovering.
We’re doing too much and carrying too much and caring too much.
Because that’s what we do. We care. We’re empaths. It’s the nature of our job.
We feel for our students. We ache for our students, who also are suffering under the weight of all the things. Pandemic and parental struggles. Poverty and violence and loss. So much more than ever before.
And so our students aren’t keeping up — not with assignments or attendance or… anything. And it falls on us to keep up with it all. And it’s impossible.
But we try. We keep smiling. And doing. Carving out kindnesses from our very souls because all the other cupboards are bare… scraping our hearts and sharing the scraps with our depleted, dejected students.
We fake it, trying to make it. But at some point — and soon — nothing will be made… no progress; no achievement; no benchmark of understanding. No eye contact, even.
We already aren’t seen by anyone. Not the students. Not the parents. Not by the public or the politicians. We’re heaped under the avalanche of everyone else’s agendas and told to stay strong.
Stay? That ship sailed a long, long time ago.
So I guess we stay… what? Weak? Exhausted? Underwater. Under-seen. Undervalued. Under pressure.
The pressures of trickledown education.
Where we’re crumbling beneath the weight of doing it all, but are we accomplishing anything?
It doesn’t feel like it.
And something’s gotta give.
And it can’t just keep being us. We’re “give” out.
The boys are growing up (fast!) and for the first time, we’re including a chapter book on our list of snuggle-up, read-aloud Christmas books. It’s only been recently published, but it’s already a family favorite.
But first, the annual tried and trues:
If you love Christmas trees and love stories — especially the larger-than-life trees and love stories that come with Rockefeller Center during Yuletide, you’ll love Red and Lulu. It’s the picture book equivalent of a Hallmark movie, but with birds. And not just any birds — Cardinals, the most festive and Christmas-y birds of all.
The illustrations are as beautiful as the storyline. Red and Lulu live their best lives in a big, beautiful evergreen… until one day, when the tree is loaded up and transported to NYC, with Lulu still inside its branches. And so begins Red’s quest to find and reunite with his one true love.
The first time we read this book, I thought it was all sentimental fluff and stuff. The second time, though, it won me over. This story matters. When you have twin boys, accidents happen (hopefully not to cherished ornaments, but still).
In this cautionary tale, young Jack wants more and more and more festive decorations to attract Santa’s attention. But when he breaks an ornament he’s not supposed to touch — an ornament passed down from his mother’s grandmother — he learns that Christmas magic can’t mend everything, but it can definitely point you in the right direction.
Like I mentioned before, we’ve added our first chapter book to our family’s Christmas book tradition. We’ve been reading quite a few since January: three Harry Potters and the first four Chronicles of Narnia. (Side note, those Chronicles are getting a bit — dare I say it? — weak and boring. Not quite sure why they’re so highly recommended…)
But we are LOVING The Christmas Pig!! We bought a physical copy as well as an Audible download, so we’re listening AND reading along. (By the way, the Audible version comes with sound effects — a BIG PLUS in Parker’s opinion.)
The Christmas Pig features yet another Christmas quest — this one to find and rescue (yet another) Jack’s most-loved stuffed pig from the Land of the Lost and the soul-crushing monster known as Loser. Jack’s new “replacement pig” plays the part of his guide through this dark underworld.
Part Velveteen Rabbit, part Dante’s Inferno, this book is both simple and complex, and the young and old alike will enjoy it. Do yourself a favor and buy it AND the Audible version and enjoy some quality snuggles with your little ones every night between now and Christmas.
My dad died one year ago tonight. Every morning this month I’ve said things like…In two weeks, he wouldn’t be here anymore…. In 9 days, he would be gone….In one week exactly, he would leave this earth.
And now… In the next few minutes, he would fall to the floor in his basement, all alone, and wait for us to find him.
It’s surreal. And awful.
And my heart is broken. Everyday, it splinters more. Pieces spill like flint — hard, dry, bitter pieces that skitter and scrape across the hard ground. Everything’s harder now.
I miss him so much.
I miss his mineral blue eyes, clear as heaven at high noon. Eyes that twinkled when he told a story — and he was always telling a story. So I guess they were always twinkling. They twinkled extra hard when he laughed.
I miss that laugh— a unique, slow, sort-of-horsey “hyuh, hyuh, hyuh” found at the tail end of a joke. Usually his own. Jokes only some of us ever got. Not a lot of us. Mainly just the physics fellas in our family. (Although honestly, we have three physics fellas in our family, which probably constitutes a lot in the grand scheme of things.)
But now there’s one less. And he was the youngest of the bunch. The end of an era.
And now, at the end of this full year of him being gone, I’m missing him more than ever. And my body is physically sick from the grief. It’s rebelling. No way it’s already been a year. I haven’t had enough time to wrap my brain around this loss yet.
Time should’ve stopped. The world should’ve paid more attention. Stopped spinning. Quaked or something. Been picked up as far south as his namesake geophysics observatory down in Australia
When Randall Douglas Peters fell, the seismograph in his basement should’ve noted the magnitude of loss. Registered it on his data like it registered in my body.
Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite of all the holidays. I know the kids like Halloween and Christmas best. When you’re a kid nothing competes with candy and presents… but once we’ve outgrown our greedy seasons of childhood, we come to favor the holidays that focus on blessings and family. And for me, the one that takes the cake (or pie, I should say because… oh, the PIES that come with this one) is Thanksgiving.
But the cupboards are pretty bare when it comes to the family reading fodder.
It’s hard to find picture books devoted to Thanksgiving. So I had to include books that deal with fall weather, too. Which is okay, I guess, because fall weather is football weather, and that underscores yet another reason why this is my favorite holiday. If our blessings are abundant, each year our family is week-three deep in the playoffs. (Here’s hoping we’ll be counting that blessing this year!)
So this list begins with a book called Football with Dad. We received a copy as a gift a few years back by my dear friend and fellow coach’s wife, Kim.
It’s a Little Golden Book — so it wafts nostalgia the minute you crack the gilded cover. The storyline is exactly what you’d expect — a game of pickup football with a dad and his son, along with a few neighborhood kids (girls included — YAY). It celebrates family and tradition and football fundamentals, and we love it in our house. (Of course we do.)
Next up, is the childhood classic, Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day. This is a great one to read the day before Thanksgiving, as it is set on a “Windsday.” Piglet and Pooh and all our Hundred-Acre friends are here — including the first appearance of everybody’s favorite bouncy, trouncy, spring-filled character, Tigger. The story involves coming together to celebrate — and even sacrifice for –our friends. What better story to read the day before Thanksgiving? You can find it in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (which is what we have) or in a smaller book all its own.
There are two more books that focus on blustery days included in this list. The next up is also a Disney-sponsored picture book — one my mom gave the boys a couple years back. It’s Bruce’s Big Storm, and once again, there’s a bear and a storm, plus more gathering and celebrating and sacrifice. But this time the bear is an introvert surrounded by neighbors bound and determined to adopt him as their “den leader” (much to his [dis]pleasure.) As a fellow introvert, Bruce and I are kindred spirits. Sometimes in big get-togethers, I sit off in a corner and just absorb. It doesn’t mean I’m not having a great time; it just means I have to experience the shenanigans on my own terms. Just like Bruce.
Speaking of feeling overwhelmed (which we were, in case that wasn’t clear), Sweep, by Louise Greig, is a great book to read when you have kiddos struggling to learn to control BIG emotions inside little bodies. The entire book revolves around an onslaught of leaves, collecting and swallowing everything in its path. This becomes a clear metaphor (even for little kids to pick up on) about how a bad mood can seize control of us until we become buried alive under our dark, moldy thoughts. But this book reminds us to look up. To rise above our collection of negative thoughts and remember the beauty and love around us. It’s powerful for both Greig’s message and for the stunning illustrations provided by Julia Sarda.
Now if you love poetry like I love poetry, In November, by Cynthia Rylant, is the book for you to read out loud every single night to your littles. While not technically a book of poetry, the language is chockful of lyrical imagery that lights up your soul with all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels of all the types of gathering, from harvests, to winter coats, to hibernation hovels, to logs for the fire, to spices for the pies, to generations of families. It’s all packed tight-to-bursting with beauty. Do yourself and your kiddos a favor and get this one.
And finally comes the Thanksgiving addition that we discovered just last year. Thanksgiving in the Woods, by Phyllis Alsdurf is also full of sensory details, traditions, and multi-generational gatherings. Only this time the scene is an outdoor gathering. It’s as if Emerson and Thoreau begat a little children’s book full of the magic and wonder of the woods. It even includes lines from a song the boys and I would sing and sway to at bedtime when they were babies — a Shaker hymn called “Simple Gifts.”
And honestly, isn’t that what Thanksgiving should be all about? Celebrating the simple blessings we so often take for granted?
And for us, a simple gift that holds a special place in our hearts is reading as a family every night. We’ve done it since the boys were first-hatched and we’ll carry on as long as we possibly can — till they fly the nest if they let us.
Our family loves Halloween. We love the costumes, the decorations, and the candy, of course. But we also – thanks to this nerdy, bookish, English-teacher mom — love the picture books.
This morning, as we put out jack-o-lanterns and skeletons and gravestones in the yard, an Amazon delivery brought us the newest installment to our Halloween library: Gilbert the Ghost.
He joins The Scariest Book Ever, our “Ginny Goblin” collection, The Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear duo, a nonfiction book called Skulls, and our perennial favorite, The Pomegranate Witch.
The Scariest Book Ever is anything but. It’s all about the scared-y-est ghost ever… so terrified to venture out that he spills orange juice on his sheet just so he can stay home and eat donuts.
The pair of Ginny Goblin books are full of shenanigans and hoodwinks as the impish green girl quests to foil surprises and house rules.
The “Creepy” books are full of cavorting carrots and greenish, glowing underpants.
Skulls is about — you guessed it — skulls in all their beautiful, bony perfection.
And then, there’s The Pomegranate Witch. If you haven’t seen it yet, read it yet, bought it yet… well, I can’t tell you how much you need it in your child’s life. In YOUR life. It is beautiful, lyrical, mystical, and even a tad bit hysterical.
“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” — Edgar Allan Poe
Last night was a beautiful win — but oh, the strangeness.
Come-from-behind wins in the final minutes of a game are the stuff legends are made of. The stuff that makes victory taste even sweeter.
But they are also some of the strangest game-scenarios of a coach’s wife’s life.
They are not my favorite. But they are. They are a paradox. (And as an English teacher, I love a good paradox.)
Last night was a hard-fought defensive battle. (As a defensive coach’s wife, you love it AND you hate it. Again, with the paradox.) And what you really love when your husband coaches defense is a shut out. And our defense DID shut out their team’s offense, but THEIR defense… well, that’s where their 14 points came from.
And you have to hand it to that defense. They played hard. They hit hard and charged hard and sacked hard.And our offense will feel the effects of that HARD for awhile.
But our defense, they played hard too. They hit hard and charged hard and stole that ball hard when it mattered most.
And our offense scored when it mattered most — and scored just enough when it mattered most.
And while we might have liked a few more points on that final scoreboard, and a few less battle scars at the end of the fight, it was still beautiful.
Yes, there was some definite strangeness in the proportions — but oh, what an exquisitely beautiful win. #CANES
So there was this one hiccup in our Dream House – a diaphragmatic spasm worthy of killing the whole deal. The bathroom in the owner’s suite was a nightmare. A nightmare of Freddy Kreuger proportions.
It was a sliced up, diced up disaster. A dumpster fire.
Could it be saved? Could we cut away the thickness, the clumsiness, revitalize it to something functional and aesthetically pleasing?
It was our biggest challenge.
When we first saw the bathroom, it consisted of two maimed spaces – one housing a massive vanity with a single, way-off-center sink and the other, the bathroom proper.
How should we proceed? Even without the wall separating the two areas, there wasn’t a lot of space to work with.
We knew we wanted a shower and a tub, but not a combo. My dream was a soaker tub. And Mike’s desire was a large shower. But how? There was very little functional space to work with.
So we borrowed from Peter to pay for a Potty. We took a game room closet that backed up to the master bath from the great room and converted it to a toilet closet. It’s a snug fit, but still functional.
This rearrangment of assets freed up some space for a tub and shower, but not a lot. My sister, however, had supplied a solution: a wet room. Putting a free-standing tub INSIDE the shower area.
She pulled up pictures. She showed me pictures. She had me at pictures.
Even so, it would be tight. The soaker tub would have to nestle into into the space where the original combo had been. It would have to be short. Fifty-four inches short. I am tall. Seventy inches tall. Would I have to cramp and crimp my legs?
And Mike’s shower. He has shoulders. Wide shoulders. Wide, lineman’s shoulders. Would he have to dip and curl his shoulders?
Stress segued to satisfaction when we stepped in for a dry run. There was plenty of room for the both of us. The tub rests on a slightly slanted ledge for run off into the plenty-wide-enough shower.
We used the same warm, white subway tiles and dark grout from the kitchen for the wet room walls and traditional hexagon tiles for floor, veined slightly to match the faux marble tile on the floor in the dry areas. The faucets throughout the bath are long-necked and matte black and remind me of old-fashioned water pumps. We surrounded it all with seamless glass, for the illusion of even more space.
The vanity is one of my favorite parts of our entire remodel.
It’s a pickled teak piece I found at Signature Hardware. (The only purchase not made at a discount or overstock site). I wanted it. I needed it. I designed the rest of the bathroom surfaces around it. We topped it with the same creamy risotto-flecked granite as the kitchen and twin vessel sinks in white ovals to replicate the lines of the tub.
The cabinet’s pale, Scandinavian lines allowed us to continue the black and white color scheme from our kitchen. It also lent itself well to the industrial finishes I was seeing and loving so much. We placed two simple, black-framed mirrors and two strips of exposed-metal vanity lighting on the wall behind it.
After all was said and done, we turned our worst nightmare into a wide-open, light, bright, absolutely dreamy space.
In the last few weeks, I’ve pilgrimaged back to my book. Sitting down and showing up, morning after morning. Forcing my fingers along the familiar keys, like beads on a rosary, like a prayer, making my meditations, tapping out my thoughts — meager though they are — and willing the deeper ones to surface. They’ve been buried since November. Buried with my father.
It’s slow going. My mind aches from the labor of it all. Still, I’m keeping at it. Which is progress in and of itself.
I wrote 300 pages in the six months of quarantine. It was the one clear blessing that came out of Covid for me.
But then, quick as a heart attack — all was lost. Mourning after mourning. I would stare at the screen. I would falter. I would fail. And I couldn’t really say I even cared.
I wanted to. To care. To fight for the writing. To wrestle with the words. But they’d withered all when my father died.
To be a writer, Stephen King says, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot. And since my words died with my dad, I’ve really only done the first. I’ve read. I wouldn’t say voraciously because with twin boys and a teaching schedule and a coaching husband and the settling of the will and the buying and remodeling of a new house and the selling of the old one… well, voracious was not on the menu.
But I could read in small handfuls. Snack size sittings. So I picked the heartiest fair I could find, and I assembled a charcuterie board of books and nibbled at them whenever I found a smidgeon of a second. The Goldfinch. The Year of Magical Thinking. Priest Daddy.
And I grazed. And I gained sustenance. Slowly. Steadily. And in the last few weeks, I’ve found the strength to go to the altar again and search for a sliver… a finger or toe hold of the book that was buried six feet under six months ago.
And this week, the hard work began to produce. Words, gummed up and clay-clogged though they may be, have emerged. They are far from hardy. They are sluggish, sallow sorts, most decidedly disinterred, blinking and dazed in the hot summer sun. But they are words. And I am feeling hopeful again.
And so I am back at it again this morning. Back on my back porch till my battery fades, then into my library, backed by those who’ve come before, cheering me on from my shelves of inspiration. Among them, those who helped me find the strength to mine for the gold in a year where all the magic died and so did my preacher dad: The Goldfinch, The Year of Magical Thinking, Priest Daddy.
So much has happened in the last five days. The flooring was laid. The countertops installed. The light fixtures hung.
Y’all… the harmony, the rhythm, the texture of it all.
It’s like a symphony. It’s like some poetic promise was poured through my dreams into a reality beyond beautiful. The perfect notes curled into the perfect chords to create the perfect composition.
So much depth. So much light. So much energy.
I can’t even.
So just look…
So now come all the finishing touches. The rest of the paint, too. (No, that Great Room in the distance of the first picture is not staying yellow.)
And the kitchen backsplash is being laid. And the shower fixtures are being installed. The tub is in place, but not anchored in. The same with the console sink in the powder bath. And the mirrors will be hung and the appliances slid into place.
Well, except for the ovens. The double ovens, scheduled for pickup and install yesterday, are now not coming in until July.
Cue the scratching hiss of a needle on spinning vinyl… The one major hitch in our harmony.
No ovens for at least six weeks.
Thankfully, I’ll have a cooktop on the island. We’ll be doing lots of saucepan suppers. But hey, who bakes in the heat of the summertime in the south anyways?
And as long as I have them in time for a gazillion batches of cookies for the football players come fall, I can take this in stride.
Still, the fact that we move in next Friday — one week from today — with the help of a slew of football players who will be richly rewarded this fall when those double ovens finally do come in — is music to my ears.