retraction, expansion

I don’t know if it is the hot, Southern California January weather or exhaustion from the last four years of constant havoc, or anticipation of a new, hopeful president and Vice President, or the fact that I submitted my retirement paperwork a few days ago, but now seems like a pretty awesome time to re-focus: To minimize.

Do I need that? No. Does it bring me joy? No. Does it make my world crowded? Yes. Is it taking up space that I could otherwise use to place, say a dog bed? Yes. Do I need to eat that? No. Could I have just a little bite? Yes. Do I really need Apple Music? Yes, until I stop teaching full-time. The newspaper? Aww, giving it up would be painful. Do I really need to buy that new sofa that is 70% off on Wayfair? Absolutely not.

I don’t need to panic. I don’t need to keep watching TV news. I don’t need to scan Facebook or shop for sales or eat unhealthy food or stress over all the things my Distant Learning students aren’t doing because class is remote. I don’t need to shop as a hobby. I don’t need more stuff.

Period. End of story.

I am going to retire. Made the decision when our school district announced an early retirement incentive. It’s time to take a new road, discover new things. Yes, I will miss teaching. Terribly. But I have a feeling teaching will take on a new shape. I’ll get to go back and re-visit some of the things I always wanted to do, like write more out of love rather than economic need, like cooking and crafting and visiting and creating.

Life IZ short. We gotta drink more Boisset wine, go barefoot, and dance and sing just for the heck of it.

Big changes this year.

A few hours ago I did something I should have done ten years ago: Budget. I need to figure out how I can be happy and frugal. I definitely don’t want to give up things like wine and going on adventures. So I have figured out a way to go on an economic and food diet. Budget. Instead of not looking at the receipt, like I have embarrassingly done, and pressing “buy” rather than reflect, “Do I need it versus want it?” like I used to do when I was younger, I now have to ask the question: “How will this purchase best help me reach my goal?” If it won’t, DENIED!

Amazon seduced me. I admit it: once again, I am embarrassed. I spend way too much on things I want, but don’t need. And now, from this point on, it has to stop.

In my family, I am the Amazon account owner. I pay the yearly fee and other members tap into the benefits of my “membership”. But this year, when my renewal comes due, I’m cancelling it. Frankly, it’s too tempting, too easy to press “but”. Like having chocolate in the cupboard. I know it’s there and I’m gonna consume it. Because I am a consumer. Not out of control. But sort of.

I’ll be reporting back how it’s going. But if I follow the budget I have established, I should be able to set up a pretty healthy saving mindset prior to my actual retirement. I have a few other factors that should help out: My Affordable Dwelling Unit, otherwise known as Moonstone Cottage, is almost ready to rent. I hope in two weeks to get it on the market, which is a whole other set of questions/concerns. But I am gonna trust this next step. I’m counting on the income to help me retire. So many things to consider: The renter his/herself, taxes, the responsibilities of being a landlord–especially now. For sure, I’ll be doing a lot of praying and investigating.

Meantime, I’m going to be figuring out new more affordable and healthy foods to eat. I happen to love veggies, beans, rice and tofu, so that should help with the budget. Again, I don’t want to feel deprived and poor. I’m thinking my new choices will help me feel rich and plentiful. At least that’s what I’m hoping. That’s what I’ve heard.

As my horizons expand, I sure hope this Covid-belly, double-double chin and on-my-butt-too-long ass retracts to a healthier version of me. Stay tuned.

MARITAL DISSOLUTION: NOT AN OPTION

What do I know? What can I possibly say that other people haven’t? Why do I need to say anything? I’m just a person with a blog, writing in a vacuum, next to a space heater, with the TV off, with the newspaper read, with a heavy, yet hopeful heart, with a, “Shit, we have to do something–now!” overwhelming need to respond to last week’s acts of terror.

Love. Once again. It comes down to love.

They love America. You love America. I love America.

When we got married, what, something like more than 200 years ago, we were in love. New country.New life. New possibilities. But the red flags were there. Be honest; we chose to ignore them. We believed what we wanted to believe. Hope–cross our fingers, wink, wink–that it would turn out OK, once we had kids, once we had the house, once we paid off college debt, had careers, credit cards, leased cars, shopped organic ...

We kept piling it on. Pushing the debris under the rug. Never addressing the real problem. The source of the tension. The tip of the iceberg. We distracted ourselves: Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, booze, bars, Flaming Cheetos, too much screen time, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, Yahoo News, Apple News, “reality” TV, “reality” POTUS. You know. It became, like, a hobby, a sick waste of time: What will happen next? we wondered. It’s like we were living in the middle of a Martin Scorsese Netflix movie.

Martial difficulties, when it’s someone else’s, is voyeuristically compelling.

But here’s the deal: We can’t divorce. We’re married for life.

Yes, you might be Republican and I might be a Democrat. You may love Trump and all he stands for and I may loathe him. And we are passionate, as we should be about things that matter to us. But hating doesn’t solve anything. Demonizing digs us further into the hole: Go to your corner–The Midwest and South: Go to your corner–The West Coast and big cities. Puff up your chests. Duke it out and pummel your opponent ’till there’s nothing left.

Yeh, that’s one way to end a marriage. Tough guy. Blind yourself with rage. Make everyone else the enemy. Take no responsibility, accountability. Just be right. You’re always right. You win. But everyone else–your spouse, your kids, your extended family and neighbors–lose. That’s OK. Because winning, taking back what’s “yours”, is what ultimately matters, right? Being tough. Not backing down.

That’s one way to go. Yelling. Screaming. Putting down. Feeling righteously vitriolic. But at what cost?

Love.

We can’t get divorced. We aren’t the North and the South. It might feel like it right now, but we aren’t going to split. We can’t go to our corners. We are married. We are Americans. All of us. Amer-i-CAN.

We need some counseling. Serious marital counseling. Led by respected spiritual healers, teachers. So we can get to the source. And stop burying it. Once and for all, let’s pick up the rock, and see what’s underneath it.

This is a profound, real moment for all Americans to calmly share our thoughts and desires without hyperbole and put-downs. Make “I” statements. No pointing fingers, no blaming your partner. Remember, you love him or her. Or at least one time you did. Remember what you loved. And don’t bring other people, other sources, into the room. It’s just you, your counselor, and your partner, you know, that spouse you have been married to for more than two centuries, the one you fought alongside during the Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement. We’ve been married far too long. Think of the kids, my students. We gotta get it together! Divorce is not an option.

New year blessings

Turns out blogging is like my weak attempt at nurturing friendships. I basically suck. I get distracted with all the To-Dos of life, then neglect those and that which sustains and nurtures me. It’s like dieting. I try. I do. I will again. But I fall ALWAYS off the wagon. At some point, like with blogging (it may be months from now until I return to self-care) I’ll get back on track. Because writing. Because exercising. Because eating well. Because taking care of my physical and mental health—feels good. Prioritizing. I just have to find a way to once and for all prioritize myself. 2021 is the year! Promise.

First, let me backtrack a bit to catch you up on what I I’ve neglected to share with you over the last few months: School. Teaching. Remote learning. Re-thinking. Re-designing. Re-conjuring. Grading and grading and grading. The Election. Grandmothering. Remodeling. Trips to NYC to help with childcare. Covid. Camping the entire Thanksgiving Week. Christmas. The tragic death of a former student.: Heart-breaking. News of new life to come. Puppy terrorist. What to do about family gatherings during the holidays? Worry. Preparing. Over-thinking. Major dental $$$ work. Baby arrives for Christmas Week. Daughter too. Grandsons Nerfing and soldiering in the backyard. Say goodbye to daughter. (Who’s on the plane headed home as I type.) Son in eastern Sierras headed home post New Year’s. Daughter 1 Yucca, valleying.

My first quiet moment in, what, three months! Sigh!

Me, next to Monet the Cattle Dog to my right, and funky, furry Huck Finn stretched out behind me on the overly slouched couch. Nine-year-old Jack is in the front room sleeping a few feet away from snoring Gpa. The Christmas tree is lit, just for me, soon to be packed back into the box from which she came–all the way from China.

It’s going to be a beautiful, sunny day in Southern California. I miss my Katie and my Millie. But know they will be overjoyed to be back home with Jason, who took advantage of the week alone to study for an important medical exam. One day they will look back at this crazy time with a dog, a cat, a baby, one income and a tiny NYC apartment and remember how they lived with so little, but had so much.

And so will I. I don’t have much money, but boy if I did, I would buy a big house where we all–the entire, giant Barker and extended family tribe–could live. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwBEqupVOdc This is my dream: To never say goodbye. To have a compound where the tribe could hang out with each other every single day. Have our own structures for privacy and ownership, but gather communally every day.

Because that’s what matters the most: Being together. Connecting. Extending love. Enjoying great meals together. Helping one another. Giving each other space, but being there when we need someone who truly loves us.

I wonder if we all want the same thing? Togetherness and space?

Dad died 12 years ago on New Years Eve. He was 92. He died in a hospital from complications caused by an infection resulting from a bed sore. One of his last words to my brother and sister-in-law, were, “What finally got me?” The old soldier, you see, cared for wounded warriors while serving in the British Army. Bed sores, he knew, could be deadly for the weak. Dad wasn’t afraid of death. He just didn’t want to die. He had too much to live for. Which is how I feel, sitting here listening to the pitter-patter of Jack’s socked feet as he climbs out of bed and shuffles into the quiet living room. American society may consider a 64-year-old woman expendable, but I bet to differ.

As Katie and Millie fly somewhere over Arizona, it’s time for Gma to prepare Gboy’s morning hot cocoa. I MISS–big time! I LOVE–massively! I am BLESSED beyond the parameter of words. Filled to the brim with gratitude this second day of January.

Fall, i will not

It’s happening. Whether or not we like it or not: The seasons are changing.

It’s Week 7 Distant Teaching. It’s the reason I haven’t had a life, a spare minute, to write, to think, to do anything beyond plan, check-in with students, email parents, grade and re-grade and re-grade. It took me four hours to grade the most recent assignment–and it wasn’t even challenging to grade. What with the comment-posting and the inputting and the emails, “I noticed you didn’t turn in…,” it took me almost the entire flight from LAX to JFK to finish. And there’s always more where that came from. Fun times.

Even more thrilling are the emails. My colleagues and I reckon we are getting on average about 40 emails a day which takes us about two hours to respond to. Every time the little computer bell rings, an angel definitely doesn’t get her wings–she erodes her precious minutes remaining on Planet Earth. What we figure is that the emails are students raising their hands. Minimum, easy, typically 40 times a day if they’re in class my 170 middle school students raise their hand. Now, instead of answering the questions within 10 seconds, “The essay is due Friday. Notice what it says on the whiteboard?” now it can take 10 minutes. Not that I’m complaining. I am grateful our district was wise enough to continue remote teaching until we can wrangle the crafty Covid and trap it in a petri dish somewhere in a desert security lab. Being real, distant teaching is getting heebee jeebee Hunchback of Notre Dame frenzifying. I crave Real Time interaction with students. It’s getting better, in that some students are metaphorically jumping out of the computer screen and letting me know who they are, you know, their personalities. But for the most part if feels so stiff and unnatural.

We have to track. And track and track the students who aren’t engaged then notify their parents. Other than that, we can’t drop by their houses and tell them, “Sit up straight. Get out of your pjs. Stop looking at your phone.” And thus, 2020 is the year everyone ended up with ADHD. Parents. Teachers. Kids. All of us looking for the quick fix, the instant savings, the other thing that counts more than the current.

Back to the seasons. We can’t stop them. Nor should we want to. Here in Queens where I flew out to help my daughter and son-in-law watch my six-month-young granddaughter, Millie, due to child care challenges, the leaves are turning crimson and ripe banana gold. I was here six months ago when I was quarantined, thanks to Covid. The trees were bare, then blossomed into Spring bursts of lime green. I witnessed the giddy gardens arc from pastures of dandelions to glistening patches of wild green onions and sprouting tomato seeds. Now, at the end of September, the tomatoes are wilted as the Earth once again prepares for change.

Then and now. Now and then. Reminders everywhere like my daughter’s gardener neighbor who is now tending the last of his crop of squash or the one-track-mind cattle dog owner who refuses to strike up a conversation. (“Stop Mom, we don’t do that here,” my daughter reminds.) Familiarities. Yet, everything is different. The people who walk past the four-story brick apartment as I spy from my daughter’s balcony have on their furrowed-brow game faces as they trudge to work in masks and earbuds. Triple the number of pedestrians since Spring. They don’t look up, even with the cutest cooing baby on the planet in my arms! They don’t notice. Everyone just doing their job without glory or fanfare.

Like Millie. She rolls over like a sizzling sausage and is almost an expert saliva bubble-maker. She’s fascinated by what she can do with her beautiful baby hands, how they spread into fans and parrot claws. She’s become quite the expert at scratching Gma’s rosy cheeks. But Gma doesn’t mind. What’s a few more scars if it delights this little one so?

She’s changing every day. And maybe I am too. A softening. A noticing that seems to happen when I step away and change courses, get away from the grind, take the day off work to pay attention to the things that really matter. Family.

See, what happens when you are a teacher is you can’t help but put others first. Before yourself. Before your family. The job is consuming, especially now. But despite our inclinations, we can’t do everything for everyone all the time. Sometimes, we have to notice the autumn leaves as they fall like confetti onto the damp pavement, feel New York’s fairy kiss rain or sit under the gazebo back home in California and admire the nesting doves and the dancing monarchs as the sun gives way to tomorrow.

So much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend

I never wear no-sleeve dresses, but I have one on. I never drink Italian sparkling water (I save them for guests), but I’m sipping a green bottle of Whole Foods’ finest as I sit under the shady gazebo protected from the 90+ Sunday afternoon temps. It’s rarely quiet at Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. But it is this Labor Day weekend. No breeze. No instigating of my wee g-boy lads or vocalizing of Baby Millie. I’m here by myself and my two lovely pups, Monet and Finn, without much of a plan other than to write, create art, perhaps take a nap and re-connect with God and myself, which has been lost and frenzied of late.

One of our union reps reminded her Facebook friends to be sure to take time for ourselves, that many individuals worked hard for this much-needed day to step back and re-coup. I admit, I was going to work, dream up more innovative lesson plans, think about how I’m going to teach remotely the last two weeks of September. But her good advice made me stop. Doctor, heal thyself. Passenger, remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. That’s this weekend for me. Time to breathe-in gratitude. And take a much-needed brain break. I don’t have to solve or fix anything. I just need to be OK, not turn on the news, and say thanks for life’s blessings, create a stay-at-home spa weekend, sans the pool and pink Cadillac umbrella drinks.

* * *

It wasn’t a quiet day in Lake Wobegon last week. It was weird. The pinhole-through-a-computer-screen classroom is weird. Not enjoyable. But doable. Easy. Hard. Puzzling. One step at a time. 172 days left of this unusual school year.

But here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I can Zoom. I am nearly an expert. Me, the person who was in tears because I was so incredibly nervous, is almost like an old pro. “Look at me! I can screen share and put students in Breakout Rooms!”
  2. Zoom Gloom is real. The technology is great for about 30 minutes a day, then it’s a brain-duller. Just a fact. Turns out, to keep students’ online attention you have to be some sort of Youtube sensation. To help liven things up, I just ordered a piglet puppet to help me jazz-up my on-screen personna. A teacher’s gotta do what a teacher’s gotta do.
  3. This week I learned that my students are terribly fearful: In a snazzy, Padlet exercise, 99% of 13-year-olds reported that they are afraid they will die. Think about that. My eighth-graders are worried that they–and/or their loved ones–will die.
  4. In that same activity, students wrote about what they are passionate about: Climate change, racial inequality, the economy, Covid-19, police brutality, the negative political energy–the same things that concern many adults.
  5. This week it became clear to me that no matter the venue or format–in person or remote–their teacher, me, is going to harness my students’ fear and keen interest in current events and channel those emotions into action. As such, I decided to postpone a groovy, hip Nearpod lesson on Story Elements/Plot and replace it with “Dear President Trump/VP Pence, presidential candidates Biden/Harris” letters. My students need to know that their voices count and Republican and Democratic leaders need to know how profoundly America’s youth is being impacted by their action and inaction.
  6. And finally I realized, now is The Best Time to be a public school teacher. Our kids need us.

My former principal, Sallie T., is smiling right now. She knew I’d find a way to do what I do. Be me. And in doing so, my very scared students will get a chance to share their truth, their reality–that they didn’t cause or ask for–and realize that in learning how to effectively participate in democracy, that they have The Power to positively change the world. I hope. I pray. That Biden, Harris, Pence AND Trump will take my students’ concerns as seriously as I do, and my fellow teachers, parents and grandparents. Adult decisions are breaking their hearts.

We CAN’T LET THIS HAPPEN!

In a few minutes I will be composing a letter to our political leaders on behalf my students, and myself as their teacher. I’m sending it via snailmail (USPS needs the $$$) and email. It will be the same letter, the same request. Apolitical. A plea. Stop the rhetoric. Stop the magician coin tricks. A whole generation of kids are counting on the nonsense to stop. Time out! Go to your dunce cap corner, take off the headphones, and listen for a change. Listen–for a change.

Can you imagine if we all set aside an hour this weekend and flooded all four candidates’ offices with respectful, yet direct, letters and phone calls? Seize control of the remote? Said, “Listen, cut the nonsense. We’re your boss, not the other way around”? Not like that. Much more polite. But you get the point.

Heck, so much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend. Shoulders shrug. It’s just what us teachers do.

When last we spoke …

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I would have quit/retired. I would have said, “Too much.” But I got through the first day of distant learning because you were there for me, relating honestly, not playing Mary Poppins.

You get it. We’re part of this thing we don’t want to be part of. Said it. Didn’t pretend. No sugar-coating. Then, you reached out and helped me step up to a higher platform where I could see my situation in a new way, from a new perspective. You gifted me your binoculars and told me to use the wide angle, then dial down to a close-up view.

And I did. And I survived what I thought, a week ago, I couldn’t.

I didn’t give up.

Because of you.

You reminded me of my worth. You reminded me of who I am and that nothing can take that away, not Covid-19, not technological gizmos, but especially, not fear.

One day at a time. I figured out Zoom and Screenshare. Friday we’ll do breakout rooms. Next week I’ll do Padlet. Maybe the week after, that I’ll do Nearpod. I’m not gonna rush it. I’ll master one technological communication tool at a time. Because what matters most is making human connections. What got me all stressed out and consumed with anxiety was the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates techno hoopla. I thought I had to exhibit mastery and would get slapped on my paycheck for not jumping in and embracing All That Jazz. I got intimidated and forgot who I was: I am a former journalist who teaches kids how to be the best writers, readers, speakers and thinkers that they can possibly be. I help kids become powerful and effective storytellers and compassionate, responsible citizens. I help students value hard work and going back and making it better. I help students learn how to evaluate sources and be objective. I help students step up and take action.

I can still do that even if I’m not in the classroom with them. I can still be inspiring. In many ways, I can be even more empowering. I can set up conferences via the breakout rooms. I can differentiate in ways so that no one stands out or knows that accommodations are being made. I can communicate–through my eyes, my voice, my gestures–that I care. Even through a screen, I can be human.

I didn’t know this when I was trapped in the hurricane, but the raspberry macaroons, the encouraging texts, and private messages, the purchase of a bottle of estate DeLoach Pinot Noir Boisset Wine https://my.boissetcollection.com/janet.barker/products/catalog/sale-1005 for a “friend” so that you could have a masked, eye-to-eye conversation about why Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year me HAS to stay in the classroom, “because those kids need you,” changed EVERYTHING. Everything. My fear, while real, was blocking out my purpose: To be of service. To be an Agent of Change. Like we all are.

Like we all are.

I’m not saying that there weren’t glitches today. There were. Plenty. All my fault. Operator error. I am not gonna be nominated for any teaching award any time soon, that’s for sure. I was a klutz. But somewhere around fourth period, I hit my stride. Those kids needed me because they were having problems too.

I’m no longer standing in front of the classroom packed with 35 13-year-olds. I’m at a desk, in a row-with them. Learning. Failing. Succeeding. Passing on a lesson you taught me 18 years into teaching: Phone a friend. Don’t give up.

And ‘cuz we’re adults, I learned another lesson: Don’t wait for the stars to line up: pop open a bottle of your best wine. ‘Cuz we survived Day 1.

FYI: The image posted in this blog relates to my Day 2 Lesson: Illustrate an image of you: Two Likes and a Wish. Two things you like about yourself and one thing you wish could be different. I recommend trying this activity. Turns out, beneath all the imperfections, there’s a bunch of good stuff too.

On the eve of everything

Not sleeping. Feeling intense anxiety. It’s hot. It’s smoky. Katie and Millie are leaving for NYC tomorrow. Distant Learning starts next week. Technology training last week. I’m crying in the mornings. I feel such a profound sense of loss and fear. I want to curl up in a ball. I want to say, “Stop!” But I can’t stop anything. Not the frickin Corona Virus. Not Katie leaving. Not instructing students from behind a computer screen. Not the wild fires destroying our beautiful California. Not the in-progress re-model that’s costing me savings security. It’s all happening so fast and so slow and I am powerless. I force myself to put one foot in front of the other.

I. Have. To. Stop.

I am wrapped up in yarn and it’s pinching my legs, my arms, my chest–my heart.

Stop.

Loss. Aware of an impending profound sense of loss.

I am naked.

Vulnerability (incompetence as the teacher who prefers pencil and paper over Google this and Google that, and a lack of financial resources so I can make different decisions) has exposed pent-up fear. I know, I am incompetent as a digital teacher. A fake. I like to plan. I like to know. I like to be in charge.

And I know, I know all the cliches about the only thing you can be in charge of is your attitude platitudes. But I’m just trying to be real. Tony Robbins can’t help me right now. THE WORLD IS BULLSHIT! Enough of the positive attitude. I need to vent. Shout. IT ALL SUCKS!!! Forget the silver lining.

“Oh, Ms. Barker, are you OK?”

No. I am NOT.

I want to be in my classroom with my students. I don’t want Millie to leave. I don’t want to carry the financial burden of managing a household expenses by myself any more. I want to be rich.

I know I have it better than many. I am grateful. But I am upset. I am sad. I am worried. I’m not my best self. I’m lost beneath a smoky, hazing cloud that I’ve been pretending for a long time isn’t all that bad. But it is. IT IS!

I write, but I don’t shout. I don’t share, at least not this directly, with others. It’s this silent, gnawing, aggressively throat-gripping ominous presence that grabs the keyboard and demands to be heard. Writing. My lifelong, best friend. She’s always there for me. She doesn’t judge. She allows. She agrees. She holds my hand and guides me to the place I need to be. The Journey. The Lesson.

I know that a lot of people reading this will relate. I know it sounds like I’m depressed or need anxiety pills or maybe you don’t like me for being so “negative” when my blog is about Life IZ Good. You’re looking here, perhaps, for hope. And there is. And I am, hopeful that is. But not right now.

Things will get better. Problem is, I don’t know when. In the meantime, this anxiety that I have never felt before at this level, is rumbling. I want to quit, but I know it would be foolish. Economically stupid. Yet, if I sold my house I could be free of the financial responsibilities and live where I’ve always want to live. I wouldn’t have to worry about money or teaching virtually. I could be still, at peace, near the sea. No responsibilities. Just me and the dogs. I could cry and not be judged. I could sleep in or stay up late and play with art and breathe without heart palpitations.

Or I could just grit through it, see what’s on the other side of this. Accept my emotions. Ride the roller coaster. Take walks. Find a groove amidst the pandemic.

I’m not going to end this post with a Hallmark card. Because I don’t know what I am going to do. Is this my heart speaking? Should I listen? Because I know, as poet Mary Oliver said, “Though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” others will want to “guide me”. And I am appreciative. But on the eve of everything I wonder, “Is it time?”

just had to break free

I need to be wild.

I used to be B- wild. Now I’m D- wild. I am cautious and predictable. I like order. Not a fan of environmental chaos. I need coffee-specked kitchen counters wiped down and shiny. I like to sip mad-hot French pressed dark coffee in my favorite Santa Cruz-purchased ceramic mug as I read “The Los Angeles Times”. I like my hair brushed before noon (a COVID-19-pleasant concession). I like bare feet. Is this pseudo wild? I feel decadent if I have a glass of bubbly at 11:30 a.m. with avocado sesame seed-sprinkled toast. I haven’t romantically kissed a guy for, aw shucks, 1,000 million years .

Sometimes I feel like I need to surf or skateboard or cartwheel down the hallway at my school (when it was, and will eventually, be safe) then realize my body is too big or creaky for such potentially life-threatening nonsense.

Potential.

To do good or to do harm?

I’m trapped in the, “This could be dangerous” chapter right now. Go to Trader Joe’s and I might die. Go wine tasting in Paso Robles with my daughter and 5-month-young granddaughter and we might come home with The Virus.

Mask-less people in public without 6-feet apart distancing pisses me off. You know, I have never written the word “pissed” before. My mother would be so disappointed. I wasn’t allowed to utter, “bitchin” either. Once I wrote “Davy (of The Monkees) is bitchin'” on a handmade poster taped to my bedroom wall and was demeaned for using “foul” language.

Last night I had a dream that I threw a farewell party for my daughter/g-girl who will be leaving for New York City soon. People showed up to PART–AY hard. Guzzling my $$$ wine. Smoking joints in my bedroom. It was absolute havoc until I said: ENOUGH! “Those of you who aren’t wearing a mask have to leave NOW!” I ordered. Most stubbled off the property. A few grumbled about their civil rights being violated to which I remarked, “That is your choice, but this is my house.” Angel Cove Cottage was in shambles and I was left feeling regretful that I had allowed myself–once again–to trust people to be considerate.

Wild. I want to be. Everyone else wants to be. Break out. Go nuts. Be 18 again. Recoup. Save up. Get a new job. “To hell with The Man!” But I am of the age that if I do make a mistake it could be financially or health wise, fatal. I have to be cautious, thoughtful.

Thoughtful.

Thoughtful is a positive word. Thinking things through before you—snap—and make a decision, react, in a way that could be harmful to you or others. Some people call it being mature.

Being impulsive is good when mixed with wisdom. Following one’s instincts, paying attention to “the market”, be it legit news reports about the economy, the pandemic–whatever–is just plan smart. Not wild, but savvy.

So, given my longing to just wanna break free and escape the dishes and the pooper scooping of my day-to-day life, I booked a hotel room at one of my favorite places on the Planet—Cambria, CA. I checked and double-checked rates and COVID-19 protocol and felt safe enough to pounce on a great mid-week deal. My daughter and baby g-girl were game and we had ourselves Our First Road Trip as a Trio! (Not usually a big fan of exclamation marks, but time it truly warrants one!)

Baby was a great traveler and had her first swim in a pool. (Nowadays you have to schedule time in the pool and carry-in your own room coffee maker–a sensible corporate response to the pandemic, along with no mid-stay housekeeping and new clean towels.) We wine-tasted under the clouds of an unpredicted summer rainstorm, had picnic breakfasts in the room and watched HGTV to our heart’s content. Was it the same trip I’m used to? No. It was quieter. More crowded. We paced ourselves and sanitized anytime we brushed against potential germs. Honestly, it was one of the best trips ever because we unfurled from the crisis for two whole days, didn’t obsess about the trials of teaching, getting sick, the future, the election, lack of money or the “Affordable” Dwelling Unit remodeling project back at the homestead. We were in the moment cooing with Baby Millie B, visiting with my dear friend of 50 decades, and in all ways enjoying The Great Escape.

My version of wild: I organized a spontaneous trip, charged it to my once-empty credit card. No regrets. Just happy memories.

Thursday night, walking along the boardwalk after a day of rain showers, Millie asleep in the hotel room, daughter watching “reality” TV escapism, I found my way to an ocean-facing bench I’d sat at many times before: The bench is dedicated to the life of a loving storyteller, former teacher, journalist and beloved father, husband and friend. Shrouded beneath the girth of a sprawling cypress tree, the bench is surrounded by a chain garlanded with several hundred rusty locks of all shapes, sizes and colors. Apparently padlocks attached to public spaces metaphorically represents eternal–secure–love and gratitude: Despite the wrenching pain of loss, the symbolic locks symbolize a shift of thought and focus–from the squall of despair to the brilliance of a butterscotch sky. Wild. Unexpected. And just what I needed.

Every day in august is like A sunday night for teachers

It’s the 4th of August. In thirteen days, summer is over and the pesky drone that keeps circling over teacher’s backyard will be docked and the widely debated Distant Learning will officially begin. Student eyes are ever-present at Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea, my safe harbor graced by Huck Finn Gboys and a nesting wispy-haired four-month-old chick and her Mama Bear. I step outside and sit in the front garden’s sun and once again: The Buzzing Drone overhead. No doubt, a former student. Damn that Gotcha Privacy Invader. I’m moving under the jacaranda. Shade when I crave sun. Damn. I’m still pasty, tan-less white.

A couple of weeks ago an eighth-grader from our school and his family moved out of the apartment that shares our southernmost fence. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. We throw ourselves some pretty vivacious backyard parties. Like last night, a mysterious pink-boxed gift was revealed to the hip, but elderly auntie–deemed the “mini massager”–which actually isn’t really a sore neck vibrator, if you get my drift. My naivety caused quite the roar. It’s always like this: We’re always hooting and hollering over something. Anyway, the former neighbor/student knew a little too much about me and my private life, especially my really bad pajamas. But that’s the nature of living so close to school.

Seriously, I had no idea when we moved here 25+ years ago that one day I’d be living around the corner from the school I’d eventually teach at.

My daughter, who’s also a teacher, and I have been talking a lot about our jobs until I was ordered, “No more!” We have to give it a break before there is no break, at least not until Thanksgiving when who knows what the world will look like.

This coming year is gonna be a doozy, that’s for sure.

I’m not sleeping. I’m worried about lesson planning, the new delivery of content, the pressure to ramp up and motivate while at the same time still enjoying teaching and getting to virtually know my new students. So many unknowns. Yet, so many concrete answers, like WE WILL be instructing from behind a computer screen for a bunch of weeks. At this point we have to report to campus five days a week while our students are instructed to stay home. None of us are fans–not the teachers–for sure–or the students, parents and the district administration. But we will, once again, step up to the challenge and do the very best job we are capable of doing under the unwanted circumstances. I’m grateful, honestly, that I’m not going to be exposed to the virus in the same intense way I would be if I were in a warm classroom with 35 students times six classes a day. Under normal conditions, classrooms are Petri dishes. At least now we can be somewhat safe. For that I am proud to live in a state where the governor is a true leader. He does the right thing even when it’s not especially popular.

If you aren’t a teacher, be assured that every day in August leading to and beyond the opening of school, I and every other teacher I know will be thinking about, and preparing, how to best teach students. I am way out of my comfort zone and, if I’m being honest, if I could afford to retire early, I would–in a heartbeat! But I know I am learning skills that I guess I need to know to be relevant. As a pencil and paper person, I keep telling myself, “It’s just a different way of communicating.” I’m sure my administrators are worried about me: “Can the old gal handle it?” One thing I am is stubborn. I not gonna lose my shot, to quote a pretty famous musical, at making this the best teaching year of my career.

This year, my 8th grade English Language Arts colleagues and I decided our theme would be The Power of Story. We’re going to make connections with current events and learn to listen, reflect and respond in powerful ways. It’s an open canvas. We’re gonna take out what we don’t need, what we don’t like, what isn’t effective using the distant learning format, and concentrate on making the content extremely relevant. This is right up my alley. As a former journalist, I fell in love with writing when I discovered my words could make a difference in the lives of readers and those I reported about. Teaching students to be powerful writers, thinkers, listeners and speakers is exhilarating. And daunting. While confident with the content since this is my 18th year teaching 8th graders, the HOW I teach it is profoundly unnerving. Thus, the lack of sleep.

It’s going to be different for all of us, but I am hopeful we’ll emerge wiser.

In the meantime, be kind to us dear public. I can promise you, with love, courage and technological assistance from our IT Department, we’re going to to rock it. Somehow.

Just know that every night in August is like a Sunday night for teachers.

the fog has lifted

After weeks of foggy days here at the beach, the fog has finally lifted. No need for my dog-hairy fleece Fall jacket. I can sit outside in a dress and not freeze my fanny off.

There’s something about clear skies, temps in the low 70s, that make you feel like anything is possible.

For example, I just read an “Los Angeles Times” article that reported some students are actually thriving thanks to distant learning. They are in control of their time–the when and where, the how, they learn, the lack of peer distractions and waste of time classroom disruptions. Score one for a positive side effect of the pandemic.

Instead of being huddled inside the house watching TV, my family’s social distance gatherings are now outside in the fresh, freezing air. Score two.

The grandkids now wash their hands more (something grandma has been urging them to do, like, forever). Three points!

I’m spending way less money on gas, lipstick (what’s the point now that I wear masks?), foundation (same point), walking my dogs more, hanging out with family more, re-connecting with neighbors more, thinking about, and preparing, meals with more zeal, not complaining as much about having to do household chores and having the time to think about not only what drives my present, but my future.

Trees and shadows, cooing doves, the running water of my backyard river and the bubbling clawfoot bathtub fountain. A second cup of strong coffee. My daughter upstairs with Millie. She opens the balcony door and my mother-hen instincts coochy-coochy nestles into my twig-framed nest–my home–Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. This place where I have lived and worried, loved, changed, explored and accepted life as it is, imperfect perfection.

My ex-husband, we’re friends. My happy, rude Finn steals food from the table. Monet, the compliant cattle dog, copes and instructs her younger nemesis to be more like her. The visiting cast of adult kids, parents to my very different personality-wise and delightful grandsons, my sister, cousin, nieces and nephews, all keep me on my toes. All have their opinions, anxieties and big, giant hearts.

I was born in the middle. I teach middle school. My house is in the middle of a street that arrows toward the ocean. My middle name, Lee, is short (what was my mother thinking?). I am not tall, nor am I tiny. I am no longer considered middle-aged, but I am definitely not mid-weight. I am wedged between here and there. Sometimes annoying. I want to break out and be extraordinary. But I am average. I am middle. No one’s going to know I was here when I’m gone. So I might as well be here, luxuriate in the middle. Take a bath. Sip a second glass of wine. Order groceries online. Put up the foldable fort for my grandson and blow up the inflatable dinosaurs. The chores can wait. It’s time to hug.