Thursday, September 29, 2011

416 Thursday Nights in the Making

It's been eight years since we started full-fledged KICK'N. Flash started helping with dinner much earlier in life, but around seven he started putting dinners together. They started simply enough, just mac n' cheese out of the box or simple pasta, but as he became more capable he ...well, he slacked off and he grumped about it and it became one more point of contention most weeks. He forgot until the last minute most nights, or he complained that there wasn't anything in the house to cook. There was always a battle and I have wondered more times than not if it was even worth my while to try to get my child be competent and confident in the kitchen.

Until now.

For the past two weeks, Flash has actually planned ahead. There have been mysterious items on the grocery list. Last week there was a request for dijon mustard. This week he wanted sundried tomatoes. Last week, without complaint or fanfare, Flash grilled up some pretty decent chicken and had two side dishes to finish off the meal.

On my way home tonight, however, believing last week to be a fluke of nature and surely not something that would ever be repeated, I actually stopped at the grocery store and picked up Plan B. Flash has been cranky this week (marching in the rain every afternoon will do that to a teen) and I figured he would forget about dinner as per the usual and I'd be left to starve or conjure up my own plan. I decided to pick up something simple, and if he was still his cranky self (as his text messages had suggested) I would just make something simple for us both and let it go knowing the battle over band might be a bigger hurdle tonight than dinner needed to be.

I walked into a kitchen where fresh basil from the herb garden was picked and on the counter. I set my grocery bag down next to marinating chicken. I looked around to make sure I was in the right house. Flash helped me put the groceries away and asked how long until I would be hungry for dinner.

Huh wuh? Wow. Um, I mean....

I changed my clothes, put in a load of laundry and saw Flash out lighting up the grill. Before long, he came in and said it would be two minutes until dinner, a missive that usually means it'll be two minutes until he realizes he's a) ruined dinner, b) forgotten dinner or c) completely messed dinner up. I was wrong again. Within two minutes, if not before, he was setting before me a dinner plate with steamed corn and stuffed, grilled chicken breasts that smelled divine. I mean, d-i-v-i-n-e. We both laughed at the bowls of applesauce. I used to joke that he wasn't allowed to count that as a side dish anymore.

In any case, for dinner tonight, I enjoyed an amazing dish of chicken stuffed with cheese, basil and sundried tomatoes, roasted in a balsamic vinegrette that was to.die.for. good.

Ya'll should have been here.

Or not. There's more left over for me!!

Oh my! I just sneaked a peek at the grocery list. He's added, "steak, bacon, spinach and lemon pepper". I can't wait for next week!!

Stop and Listen

I've often said it's clear that God is trying to teach me patience. I find myself in more and more situations that require the virtue that I am most lacking. Teaching first grade is certainly no exception to that rule. I have a couple students in particular who seem sent directly from the Big Man with a mission that is unconcerned with learning to read or add, but is bent on teaching me how to chill and stay calm and breathe.

One such boy is of particular note. He's my wanderer - can't be sent to the office on an errand, can't come to class from the bus or leave to the bus without holding the hand of an adult. We always check to make sure he's in line after recess and along for the walk when we head down the hall to music or art. He's also my talker. He's a bright child, but with challenges. If an idea is in his head, it's out his mouth and he just cannot stop himself until the whole speech has been rendered. An entire line of first graders might be silent and ready to go to lunch, but if he needs to tell me that later today his brother is going to get a new dirt bike, well, we'll all have to wait.

I'm learning how to manage and deal and encourage and differ my needy little students. It's a whole different ballgame from just two grades up, let me tell ya, but I'll get there. Each day I learn more than they do, and each day I'll get better. Today, in particular, I learned quite a lot from my little wanderer.

We were headed to art, in a mostly quiet line - something we've worked really hard at (and something I always wonder why we're so insistent on - why do we remove so much of the socializing from these kids' days?) anywhoodle...on our way to art. Throughout our hallways, we have stop signs hanging from the ceiling. They are good places for our lines to halt for a moment, let the caboose catch up and we can realign, re-silence, whatever is necessary as we head on down the hallway. At one particular corner, it is tempting for some students to jump up and try to hit the stop sign, as it was today. I happened to be further down the hallway, but caught the action out of the corner of my eye and turned my head just in time to see a blue-shirted child come landing down and another one of my challenges to go jumping up. I stopped my line and went back to the guilty boys. I asked them if when their parents were driving on the road, were they allowed to hit the stop signs? No was the unanimous concensus. I reminded them that the same rule applies here in school and we aren't to hit our stop signs either. I then quietly told two boys in particular, my blue shirted one and the other, that when we returned to the classroom, they were to move their bees to yellow on our behavior chart. The one blue-shirted boy was silent. I had been surprised that he had done it to begin with, but he didn't utter a word. The other, as is typical denied everything, even though I had seen him clearly commit the error.

As the line continued on down the hallway to art, my little wanderer spoke up. "Miss Wilson, you know that stop sign back there?" He carried on for several steps down the hallway, despite my signal for him to stay at zero voice in the hallway. Reminding myself that I need to just let him talk it out as deterring him is rarely a viable option, I slowed my steps until I was next to him and we walked on down the hall together, side by side.

"What is it, about that stop sign back there that you want to tell me?" I asked.

"Well, you know how you said they were jumping up and hitting it? I just want to tell you who started hitting it."

I was about to remind him that it wasn't his business, although, from experience, I've come to realize that my little wanderer believes most everything to be his business indeed, when he continued, "I started it. C didn't jump up and hit it like you said, I did. I was the one who started the jumping up and hitting the sign."

I was speechless. My little wanderer stood there, behind the other silent accused boy, in a similar blue shirt. The corner of my eye had deceived me, and I had jumped to the wrong conclusion. I stopped right there and I hugged him and I told him that he was such a responsible, honest boy and how wonderful that was. He apologized to me, saying he wouldn't do that again, and then looked right at me and said, "I just didn't want my friend to have to move his bee to yellow."

I could have cried right there. My little wanderer hates to move his bee. I leave it as a near last resort with him, but have to use it from time to time when he needs to reel it in. It takes him a couple minutes to get up usually and go move it and even then he will be quite sullen and sad about having to do so. I often give him a chance to move it back within a few minutes as I know it's painful for him to leave it off of green. Today he said, "when I get back to class, will I have to move my bee to red and spend five minutes of recess with you?" He asked it in full submission. He wasn't trying to negotiate, he just wanted to know before I left him at art class.

"No," I said softly, guiltily. "You can leave your bee on yellow. You told me the truth and took responsibility and that means a lot to me. You don't have to stay in at recess."

I am glad they went off to art and I could go sit in my dark classroom for awhile. I told God I was listening and not just to Him, but to my kids. I got the message. I just hope I remember it for a long, long time.

In the meantime, I hope my little wanderer keeps teaching me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

90 pounds of Honeycrisp apples + Red Sox vs. Yankees game = great Saturday afternoon of making applesauce and watching the Sox beat up on the Yanks, right?

So far, very very wrong. It's bottom of the 2nd inning and the Yankees are up 6-0.

At least the applesauce is delish!

Flash + Curbie = ???

Flash has been driving quite nearly every day, most times to school in the morning. Our morning route begins in the dark and involves four-lane, one-way roads and over the past month has included some rainy and foggy mornings. As his experience behind the wheel increases, my confidence has been similarly rising, allowing me to actually take in a bit of the scenery from the passenger seat from time to time.

This morning, heading out to the orchard, I put Flash behind the wheel for additional experience. Aware that I would not get to relish the drive as I often did, needing to keep my attention on Flash and the nuances of this lengthier drive, I was getting situated in the passenger seat as he performed the all-too familiar maneuver of getting us out of the driveway.

Or not-familiar-enough, as it would seem.

Having reminded the boy on many a dark morning that Flash needed to steer clear of the mailbox, on a bright, sunshine-filled Saturday morning, he took the opposite approach and backed the car into the telephone pole on the other side of the drive.

Flash + Curbie = Crashie as it turns out.

The damage is minimal, the plastic covering over the taillight will need to be replaced, but the taillight itself is intact and the bumper is only scuffed, not dented. The boy was deeply apologetic. We switched seats and I drove to the orchard. He drove the return trip, making as many cracks about the incident as I did.

At one point, he commented on the fact that winter is fast approaching and he wondered what it will be like to drive in the snow. I reminded him I was already losing sleep and gaining grey hair over sunny Saturdays in the driveway! Lord help us over the next several months. I thought it was only curbs we needed to look out for. Now we have to keep away from telephone poles to boot!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The New Hershey Scam

WG cooked dinner for us tonight. It was a wonderful treat to go to his house and enjoy a nice meal together. While Flash and I were there, we noticed this bag of Hershey's kisses on the counter. The packaging was a little different than other's I've seen, so I took a closer look.

"Aerated chocolate" the bag read.

Aerated chocolate?!?! What?!?! I had to ask. WG explained that it's a regular milk chocolate kiss with holes in it. "For air" he said, as if that was perfectly normal.

"For air." I said. "Air? Because air makes chocolate taste better?"

"Actually, I think it does," he said. He talked about some candy bar from "back in the day" that used to have similar holes in it that was one of his faves.

Air. I just didn't get it. So I sampled one. I kept thinking it would be like a crunch bar with rice krispies in it or something, but no, it was actually just little air holes.

We were discussing this on the ride home later and I told Flash that I think this is the new Hershey scam. "They are getting away with putting less product in each bag by putting holes in the chocolate!! This is a rip-off!!"

Flash assured me that the bags are packaged by weight, but I'm sure there's some loop-hole. It's like buying a quarter-pound burger, it's all pre-cooked weight. This chocolate is pre-drilled weight!

Aerated chocolate. Ha!! I think they are just blowing smoke up our...well...aerated arses!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The New Twenty

I realized today that not much has changed in the past twenty years of my life. It used to be I'd be out all night on the weekends, come home, take some aspirin with a big glass of water, put my smoke-infested clothes in the wash and I might even have headed back out at the call of a friend. I'd spend Sunday recooperating from a night out.

Now? I've been out all day, which means I've come inside, taken aspirin to help the joint pain in my hand (from digging up potatoes), allergy medicine with a big glass of water (weeding the strawberry patch), put my dirt and spray paint-covered clothes (shutters) in the wash and I will head back out in an hour to pick up my teenager from band competition. I'll sleep late tomorrow recooperating from a day of outdoor chores today.

Forty? Bah. Same ol' same ol'.

Paybacks

George has a new hobby. Scaring people. He likes to dress in camo (including branches sticking out of his pockets) and jump out at you from behind a bush when you visit his house. He likes to hide in pantry closet and scare his grandparents into early graves. Great new hobby of his, this George.

Last night I stayed at school with a teacher friend, both of us preferring to face the dark, empty parking lot together at the end of the evening. I organized and cleaned and asked her a million questions. She commented at one point that there were kids outside in the parking lot, in the pitch dark. "I think they are on bikes or something," she said. "That's why I hate being here alone. It's creepy that they can see in the windows but I can't see out."

I agreed whole-heartedly, sharing about a time last year when I stayed late and completely freaked myself out walking out to my lone vehicle later that night.

I returned to my classroom and was sorting through papers on the counter in front of the wall of windows when all of a sudden George's face appeared right up against the outside glass. "Hey Aunt Fred!" he laughed.

He.scared.the.crap.out.of.me.

Birdy was out there, too, although just trying to get my attention, not trying to make me pee my pants and die of a heart-attack. I went around to the front of the building and let in Jules and Bear and the kids. They had been out for dinner and knew I was at school so they swung by to say hello and wreak havoc on my now-clean and organized classroom. George couldn't stop giggling about scaring me. I made him apologize to my friend for creeping her out as well. He still giggled.

Even when he left, after Birdy had hugged me several times promising her love for me (I assured her I didn't doubt her concern for me, but that George...) George hollered back down the hall just before exiting the building to giggle and say he loved me.

I immediately began to plot revenge. I've had a few ideas, but I'm going to wait for that lightbulb moment that says I've got the most epic plan ever.

All I can say is, George, paybacks are h-e-double hockey sticks. Look out.

On The "What Not To Do" List

When navigating your way through the teenage years as a single mom with a son, do NOT read the book, Columbine. Flash picked it up out of curiosity at the dollar store (what better way to spend a buck?) and after he finished, I gave it a read.

Yeah. Bad idea.

As if I wasn't terrified enough about not getting this push-pull, be-involved-but-not-overly-involved, how many questions are enough but not too many, do I really know my kid relationship just right already. Then you pick up a book about two boys who plotted to blow up their high school and successfully killed 13 before killing themselves, and you find out how many similarities your own child has with the lead killer.

As I would read before bed each night, I would holler down to Flash, "Hey, you're not making pipe bombs in the basement, are you?" to try to laugh off how disturbing this book was.

"Nah. I've been making them in my closet." He'd reply.

"And the napalm?"

"I'm having the same problems that Eric had, but I think I have it mostly figured out now."

Ah, yes. The comforting banter of a teenager.

It's all funny until you realize the killer had similar conversations, dropping hints and flat out telling details of his plan but no one took him seriously.

Pardon me, but I think I'm going to go search Flash's closet. Anyone know what napalm looks like?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why We Left The Tip All In Singles

I should have known how the evening would go even before we arrived. When asked what he wanted to do for his birthday dinner, WG replied, "Are there other Italian restaurants around other than Olive Garden? I could really go for chicken parmesan, but I'd like to go someplace other than Olive Garden. There must be other choices other than Olive Garden." I started to assure him that there were many other options when he interrupted me to say, "Oh, but I really do like the salads at Olive Garden. Let's go to Olive Garden."

To clarify, I said, "So you want to go to an Italian restaurant in town that is not Olive Garden but is Olive Garden?!" I should have known he wouldn't even order chicken parm once he got there either.

Jules and Fam surprised WG by joining us for dinner at the Olive Garden that wasn't but was actually Olive Garden. I'm still not sure if the look on WG's face was excitement or dread. If nothing else, maybe he'll learn from this experience and bring his own family for the next celebration. For your entertainment, I've included some excerpts from the conversation.

Discussing a factory job Jules and I both had in college, Bear reminded her that she at least worked in air conditioning. I reminded everyone that she was a table top stripper. "Mom was a stripper?!" George asked. His mother tried to explain that it was a printing term, but Birdy and Flash were laughing too hard to hear the legitimate explanation.

We learned from Birdy that girls can actually just call "dibs" on a boy. I didn't realize. This might have changed my dating life dramatically. (WG said I could dib him if I wanted to. Whew.)

George, reading off the kids' menu, "What is the Indian name for Naples?" (His fifth grade teacher would be so proud.)


Despite getting Indian confused with Italian, several of us at the table scored decently on George's menu quiz. Except for Jules (and WG who believed that Mt. Vesuvius is a city) but we all know that strippers just aren't that smart.




We helped George fill in the mad-lib on the menu as well. He went around the table asking us each for a different part of speech for the story. Flash needed to come up with an activity. He was futzing around with his straw and bits of napkin while he pondered the question, so when he finally declared that he just didn't have any ideas, George filled in the blank with "pee shooter". We tried to correct his spelling to make the activity a bit more pleasant, but George was too delighted with the idea of a urine shooter.

When the bill arrived, George asked why his dad was paying it and not his mom. Bear explained that strippers just don't make that much money solidifying the odds that George will in fact explain to his teacher and class in the very near future that his mom, an active member of her small town community, is actually a stripper.


The fact that WG was so delighted to have my family join us for dinner further worries me. Who would endure conversations such as these, in public no less, and feel grateful for the opportunity?!





A crazy 40 year old man, I suppose. Happy Birthday, Part I, WG!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

What?!?

You wanted to know about MY first day? Oh fine.

Let's see, first grade = color, cut, glue.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Yeah, many hours were spent after school was out today developing plans that do not involve crayons, scissors or glue. I'd be happy if they were just abolished.

And for the record,

SHOES ARE AN ABOMINATION TO SOCIETY. They are, perhaps, the worst part of all about going back to school.

177 school days to go.

I can do this.




I think.

First Day

Sophomore. Wow. Where does the time go?

Every year Flash makes a sign for his year (much to his chagrin). Each year they show more and more of his personality.
I thought this one was pretty darn cool.

Speaking of Michigan...

Did I mention we went to the BIG HOUSE?! OMG!!!

We even got WG to trade in his trashy State shirt for an awesome Michigan one.

As I mentioned, we saw an epic band.


Some great plays on the field....



We saw Flash's future as a part of the 2015 University of Michigan Solar Car Team...


Unless the snipers catch him first.

Uh oh.


The ex-State fan and I.


We had to get a pic of the boy and I, as I'm trusting that the next time I'm at the Big House, he'll be blasting a trumpet on the field. Ahem. Nudge Nudge.


There may have been some inclement weather. There may have been an evacuation. Or two. But that didn't stop any of us from having a terrific time at the game!


GO BLUE!!


Band

Ahhh, marching band. Flash (and I) have spent two and a half weeks of August and now a couple nights a week devoted to marching band. Most weekends this fall will be spent at either a football game or a competition for band. The routine and music this year doesn't really impress either of us, although we're hoping the judges don't agree. We shall see.

In the meantime, we saw the University of Michigan's marching band perform on Saturday. I kept nudging Flash to make sure he was paying attention and as impressed as I was. I think he was. Although I don't know if it will translate into a desire to keep playing past high school. Again, we shall see.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

My First Grade Classroom

I stuck with the B.U.G.S. (Bright, Unique, Generous Students) theme again this year. I think it will work as well for first graders as it did for third. I currently have 26 students. That's been brought down from 29 by the hiring of an additional first grade teacher (actually a recall of a pink-slipped teacher). I expect to still add a couple and lose a couple as the year goes along.

I'm really going to miss my Elmo projector and Smart Board from last year. I'm back to an overhead projector, which will take some getting used to again.



I met most of my class at the Open House this week. They are so remarkably little to me, but I'm hoping it's a quick adjustment. They were all so excited to see their classroom and to meet me, it was hard not to get a little excited myself.


I spent a lot of time this summer creating things for my classroom. I finally finished all the vowel representations for the cabinet doors. I had most of them done last year, but finished the last few up last week. Our curriculum (and the new Common Core Standards) teaches the vowel sounds (19) and we then work on teaching kids all the ways to write those sounds (there are 61 ways to write all the vowel sounds). First graders won't learn them all, but they will get the idea that we can spell the /ee/ sound in many different ways, which will help them read and spell words like, 'please', 'piece', 'ski', 'agree', 'happy', etc. There's a place for students to practice parts of speech during station time as well. They might not master modals and adverbial phrases like my third graders, but we'll get many mastered before the year is through!


We start the year with the "Crazy Color Creatures". Birdy was a fantastic help in getting them all colored for me! George spent several days with me at school as well. He's great at getting velcro on things, sorting books, putting library pockets in books and sticking names on desks, cubbies and the wall!


I'll have to get used to doing the calendar and all that goes with it each day. Practicing counting, graphing lost teeth, recognizing money and its values, reviewing days of the week, months of the year, seasons and weather. We'll also work on pattern recognition, our vowel sounds and days of the school year.


My homework book check-out system was helped tremendously by Dad's clever title. I have to re-do the names as they are smearing (lesson learned: overhead markers will smear on laminate, dry erase will not.)


We hope to catch a few compliments this year. We'll add a butterfly each time we receive one and celebrate after 30 or so.


I painted up two of these on poster board and posted them under the front board so students can practice the vowel sounds (and a few of the ways to write them) during station time.


I was too cheap to buy the $20 poster I saw like this, so I created my own on poster board. George put all the velcro on the bees and hives for me. Let's hope the students stay on green most of the time!



We start off with a half day next Tuesday. I'm mostly ready, although I'm sure I'll be back a couple times yet before then just to be sure. Flash is already keeping tallies of how many times I proclaim, "They are so little!" I miss my third graders already, but I'm hoping to have another amazing year like last year!

It's That Time Again

My tomato plants look dreadful but we've gotten three batches of canning done thus far. Probably one more and that will be the last of it. The garden just wasn't quite right this year, but we're enjoying what we can of it! Come winter time, we're going to sure love having our own tomatoes to enjoy in pasta sauce, chili and soups!

Maybe He Should Have Warned Him

As you know, WG and I have been more off-again than on-again this past week or so. In addition, he's been heavily involved in the Great Battle of the Chipmunks at his house. The little critters are getting into his attic through his eave troughs. He's tried blocking the downspouts, smoking them out of their underground holes and poisoning them with bait. Alvin and his brothers seem to be invincible. With additional time on his hands since we've been apart, he finally set up a stake-out from his bedroom window to spy on the little guys. Eventually, the 22-guage was brought in and he set up a sniper's pose out of his bedroom window. (Apparently this is what boys do. I had no idea.)

Filled with bird shot, WG aimed the 22 and shot Alvin in the neck. The poor chipmunk did a dying back flip and died on the back lawn. Feeling remarkably satisfied and vindicated, WG patted himself on the back and made plans to provide a similar fate to Simon and Theodore. His thoughts were interrrupted by the worried voice of his roommate in the room next door. "WG.....?" came the fretful inquiry.

His roommate, knowing WG and I haven't been talking much this week, had heard a gunshot from behind WG's closed bedroom door and thought the worst.

Apologies were made, new chipmunk-sniper rules have been established at WG's house and I suspect a drink or two may be owed. So while there may not be a new Chipmunk Christmas album produced this year, WG will still be around to sing it for us, should we so desire.