Saturday, March 31, 2012

Strange Spring Continues

This week we've gone back to winter, sort of, around here. I've gotten some great shots of the juxtaposed seasons, like tiny green lilac leaves with a hint of snow on them, and that beautiful lacy pattern that snow makes as it melts and turns to ice as the same time.

Last weekend, we went to a ski race with no snow in Craftsbury, Vermont. Well, the skiers skied on a mile long course where some folks had gone to an awful lot of trouble to make snow, truck it in, and spread around, making a kind of snow path several feet thick. The kids could not warm up on it, and they had to have someone brush the mud off the bottoms of their boots before they were allowed to even step up onto it, it was so fragile. Instead of racing through the woods on trails for their multi-kilometre race, they went around and around the one course, which made the race easier to see than usual, though it was surprisingly cold after I got soaked in the forty degree rain that was falling. It took me until Thursday to warm up. But it was fun to watch two kids I care a lot about flying around, going uphill faster than I've ever skied downhill.

This has truly been a year of first experiences for me, ballet mom of probably seventeen years. I knew that not every kid danced, but it never really sunk in that there were other things that parents got so passionate about their kids about doing, like playing football, basketball, and now ski racing.

I know that ballet is a discipline that takes years to master and can involve some very scary injuries, and I have nothing but respect for those flying kids, but I kind of wanted to say to those parents standing around in the brutally cold, rainy mud, "Hey, you know, you could be sitting in a warm, comfy theatre listening to music and watching your daughters in beautiful costumes, you know."

I kept my mouth shut. Most of those moms were armed with pointy poles.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March 22

Some days are like magnets. Big events just stick to them. Today is one of those days for me.

March 22 is my mother's birthday. Ever since I can remember, I've been making birthday cakes for her and trying to figure out what to get her. Earrings (lavender) are a safe bet. Or music -- a soothing piano CD with bird songs in the background. This year's cake is going to be chocolate frosting on chocolate cake -- it's been a busy week and everybody knows that chocolate will ease most anything. The celebration will be this weekend.

March 22 was the day I started my first real job. Twelve years ago today, I was the most petrified new member of the CHS staff that was ever hired. I am forever grateful to the poor teachers who had to train me to work with kids who frightened and shocked me. Now I daily stride through situations that would have floored me once, but I am still learning every moment that I am there, and I hope that I never stop.

March 22 is the day my brother-in-law Jim Wescott died in a car accident. I think it must be eight or nine years ago now, maybe more, but it seems like it happened much more recently. The world lost a good man that day. Like me, he was a CHS graduate and a Laker, and that alone makes him okay. His big heart touched many people, and he is much missed.

These are my daffodils, and I can't believe they're blossoming this early!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I've Been to Another World!

Well, that's nothing new, except this time I really did, in reality, and man, am I glad to be home!

The Mount Mansfield Union High School's dance team was recently and unexpectedly invited to compete in an all New England dance competition in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which meant that our family dropped everything and headed south on Friday. The school reserved a block of room for the dancers and families in a very posh hotel in Andover so that the kids would be rested for their 10:00 Saturday morning dance slot.

We arrived Friday night in time for a swim in the indoor pool, while the team's coach gathered the girls together in the spa and gave them an inspirational talk about what strong young women they are and how they need to take on leadership roles among their friends to encourage the same. I thought it was quite inspiring, actually.

The pool was literally a few steps down the hall from our room, so at six o'clock in the morning, mermaid that I am, I left my sleeping family and had a lovely and solitary dip and soak in the spa.

After we met the rest of the team for a delicious and free breakfast in the cafeteria, we headed down the road to the Lawrence High School. Suffice it to say, I'd heard of schools of 5,000 kids before, but I'd never been in one, and I hope I never teach in one.

We drove through a tall, black, chain link fence into a compound the size of a small college. The first thing I saw was a football stadium with two sets of enormous bleachers. The only bleachers that I've ever seen to compare them to is the Grand Stand at the Champlain Valley Exposition, which is part of the largest fairground in Vermont. Only these bleachers made our Grand Stand look, well, old and wooden and rickety, which it is. These would have survived a nuclear attack. The flight of stairs leading out of the school down to the stadium was as big as all of the bleachers at the CHS football field.

There were police and police cars with flashing lights everywhere. We got directed down under an ariel ramp connecting vast hunks of the building:

We parked in a little Vermont wedge of similarly mud-spattered cars, thinking, "I don't think they've ever heard of mud season here."

Then we walked about a mile past buildings that looked like this:

I had to laugh at the hundreds of reddish, round, bricklike things they lined the sidewalk with to keep cars from diving on it. At my school, we just put big rocks along the edge of the road to remind kids where to drive and where not to. There really were hundreds of these things!

Finally we were directed into a door. The first thing we saw was a security desk that was the hub of more people in uniform than probably show up at a crime scene in Vermont:

There, the dancers were processed and sent in one direction, and the parents were processed and sent in another. The lobby was the size of our gym and two stories tall:

We went upstairs to the gym (whoever heard of gym being upstairs?) and it was so big that it had full bleachers on both sides, and huge wings to either side of the standard sized floor. We tiptoed in and sat down in our Vermont wedge of parents. The dancers had the other side. We watched a girl get sick and be taken out by EMTs, and we watched another girl change into her dance uniform right across from us. Three photographers sat on the floor with lenses that made me drool and shot continuously throughout the whole performance, and their photos were beamed directly over to a bank of monitors where they could be viewed and selected for purchase. (Yes, we left with a great shot of Crystal. How could we not? We also left with a T-shirt commemorating the event. The costs of both could have been a nice meal.)

The competition, we realized, was really all about cheer leading, and it went on all day. They'd just decided at the last minute to tack on some dance teams from all over New England at the beginning for the first time this year to see how it went. It was an honor to be chosen, along with teams from Middlebury and Burr and Burton Academy. None of the Vermont schools placed. It was a little hard to compare to teams from schools that had a base of literally thousands of students to chose from. The big schools won, and frankly, their Hip Hop teams were real Hip Hop teams who certainly looked to me like they'd leaned to dance on the streets. Their costumes were in the "grunge" style, I think it's called, multi-layered, and baggy. The teams actually had boys on them, and were very ethnically diverse. Compared to that, the MMU team, all lily white girls in white shirts with nice little blue hooded sweatshirts, well, kind of looked like actors. But they got out there and commanded the floor for their five minutes of fame:

But it was really an honor for them to be good enough to be there, and as the coach said afterwards, "Now we know what this looks like. Wait 'til next year!"

Once the competition was over, we were ready to get the heck out of there and head to the beach.

The rest of the day was full of things that made sense, like birdwatching (saw a gorgeous snowy owl, but my photos of it were less than spectacular) and beachwalking (the temp was in the upper sixties, the sun came out, and I took this shot of some insane woman I saw who actually went wading on St. Patrick's Day!

Then we had an amazing seafood dinner and I ate an enormous quantity of fried clams, and we finally headed back home to nice and normal mud season and a world where schools feel like schools.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My First TV

Now you're all thinking I'm one of those purists who have never contaminated their homes with a television set until now. No, I have always owned a television, though I can honestly say I could live without it pretty easily, especially now that writing has become almost a second job.

I mean a Turkey Vulture! I saw the first one on my way to school this morning, riding north on gusty south winds, its wings in the typical V angle as it teetered slightly in the air. Not five minutes later, I saw another V in the sky -- my first flight of geese heading up the lake. And about a minute after that, another TV!

It was an auspicious start to the day, which was good, because I was searching for some positive lights after learning that a former student has just passed away and that a friend's cancer has moved to stage four. Time to grab my camera and the dog and go for a walk in the wind.

Today, the brook broke free of its ice for the first time all winter. When I left the house this morning, the only bare ground was around the bases of the apple trees. This afternoon, I can see the lawn again. These are good things. Take pictures, look into the wind, and pretend that's why I'm crying.

Monday, March 5, 2012

I've Been Tagged!

MOCK! has tagged me, which means I get to answer 10 questions. Here goes:

1.      What is your dream vacation?

Well, that's both a tough and an easy question. For a long time, my family and I didn't take vacations. That's because we had two REALLY bad vacations in a row. We used to love to travel, but then we had a close encounter with two Coke trucks on Interstate 89 in New Hampshire at night. The trucks decided to pass us at the same time, doing over 90 mph. We were towing a 24 foot RV trailer. Their wind wake hit us so hard that our trailer rolled and pulled us over with it, and suffice it to say that we shut down the interstate for forty-five minutes, racked up a $500 towing bill, totaled our rig, and I ended up with a broken collar bone. My husband, two daughters, and golden retriever were all right, save for bruises and cuts, but that ended our towing days and stopped that vacation before it even started. (The Coke trucks? They didn't stop, the police couldn't find them, and our lawyer gave up trying to nail them. We have boycotted Coke products ever since.)

The next summer, we drove up into Canada for a biking vacation in a national park on the coast of New Brunswick. The day we got there, we either got food poisoning or picked up the worst stomach virus in history, and we spend two days locked in a motel room throwing up. Then we dragged our sorry selves home, only to find out that our area had been hit by terrible flooding. Our driveway had washed out, and our culvert had completely split into two pieces, one ending up across the road and the other down in our neighbor's garden. It took us two weeks and much arguing with our town and with FEMA before we could drive to our house again.

It was years before we even said the V word aloud.

So, having gotten to my answer to the question by the long way around, I would say that my favorite vacation would be to anywhere safe.

2. Are you spontaneous or do you like to plan ahead?

Oh, I'm a planner. Just a few days ago, I spent a "spontaneous" day with a friend, and she kept replying to my emails, saying, "No, no! Spontaneous means nothing planned! No time frames, no meals planned out, no commitments as to when to be home!" It just about killed me, and I could not face the day without a few planned stops in my head at least. I was proud that I kept the lunch places open to three possibilities, depending on where we ended up. That worked fine, since we managed to hit two of them! That's as spontaneous as I can get.

Though if a rare bird showed on the Vermont rare bird alert website right now, I would be out of here faster than I could log off.

3. Tell us one thing you want to do but don't dare do it.

I always wanted to be in a musical, but I'm terrified to sing in public. That might be because I really can't sing a note on key, and I know it. I mean, I'm so bad I'd be embarrassed to take voice lessons. So my Broadway career is never going to happen. But I would love to stand in a spotlight and sing. Even though I'm pretty shy. I guess public readings are as close as I'll ever get. Sigh.

4. What's your biggest phobia?

Now you're all going to totally think I've lost my mind. I'm desperately afraid of anchors. As in anchors on the bottom of the lake, with rusty chains leading up from them to the bottom of a boat -- shudder. I just can't bear the thought of them. I love the water and I'm a strong swimmer, so I'm not afraid of being trapped and drowning. The only logic I can find in my phobia is that anchors are not natural items and don't belong under water. I'm not big on shipwrecks, either, and I've been known to freak out when my canoe went over a sneaker on the bottom once.

The anchor thing has been a big problem for me a few times, since I grew up on Lake Champlain and used to spend a lot of time boating. Once it was my turn to swim out to a small sailboat, unclip it from its mooring, and pull it into shore. I told my friends that I would get into the boat from the stern, unclip it from the mooring from inside the boat, and paddle it to shore. They told me there was no way I could climb into the boat from the water. Well, believe me, when I got out there, staying well away from the anchor chain, I swarmed aboard like I was an octopus. I knew there was an anchor down there under me, somewhere in the dark depths. Shiver.

5. If you were stranded on a desert island-what three things would you want with you? (Not including your laptop or family)

My binoculars, of course. Never pass up a chance to find a new bird for my life list.

My camera -- I never go anywhere without one.

A notebook, because I'd go insane in very short order without being able to write. And if a pen doesn't come with it, I would use a gull feather and mush up some seaweed to make ink.

Hey, a desert island sounds kind of good, actually, compared to Vermont in March. Warm and sunny. And why would I want my family, anyway? They'd just want me to feed them and stuff. And I don't have a laptop, so that would be okay. Where do you go to sign up to be stranded?

6. Name three blessings in your life.

Well, having just threatened to ditch them, I'd better say my family. Honestly, they're the best -- I'm married to an amazing guy who doesn't know the meaning of the word disability even though he has one, and two daughters who make me proud all the time. (Okay, most of the time.)

Definitely the fact that we're all healthy.

And I've got to say writing. Nothing else is so much fun, and it's wonderful to know that my novel has touched people I don't even know.

7. What was your nickname in High School?

Kari Jo (really -- few people actually know my real name)

8. If you could meet the President of the United States, what would you say to him?

Thank you for doing what you do. (I have a policy of never talking religion or politics with people. Since people rarely change their minds on either one, such conversations can go bad in a hurry.)

9. If you could be any literary character, who would you be?

That's a hard one for any writer, because we ususally read a lot. Probably Tolkien's Aragorn. He's cool, he's a king in disguise... Yeah?

10. What is your favorite quote?

I'll stick with Tolkien. "All that is gold does not glitter." I think that's pretty apt. People don't have to be glittery to be made of solid gold, in my opinion.

Okay, that was fun! I hope I haven't bored people too much. And I can't think of anybody to tag, because most of the people I know aren't bloggers, though they should be! ;)

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guest on the Birds of Vermont Museum Blog

In one of my other guises, aside from writer and educator, I'm very active with the Birds of Vermont Museum, which is an amazing place containing the lifework of my father, Bob Spear. I recently wrote an article for the newsletter, which was then posted as a guest entry on the museum blog. It's kind of funny.

Here's a link to the first article in the series:

Here's a link to the article I just wrote:

And here's a link to the museum website, which is a pretty cool place to hang out:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Silent One Edits Done!

Whew! This afternoon I finished the most major part of getting a book ready to be published. I got it back from my editor several weeks ago with red lines and things highlighted and rows of comments in bubbles down the side indicating what needed attention. These comments were of varying degrees of severity, from "You must change this to meet publisher standards," to "Are you sure you want to say this?" to, "What are your thoughts on..." Overall, the comments were astute, helpful, and easy to fix.

Then the hard part -- I read through the book myself, and was far tougher on me than my editor was. I tweaked and fussed and played with commas and word choice and tightened things up and fluffed things out, making sure big points were coming across clearly, until I reached a point where I couldn't remember what I was trying to say any longer. I know when I reach that point, it's time to dump the whole mess back on the shoulders of the editor to find out if I've made things worse, better, or should put everyone out of their misery and delete the whole thing, break contract, and never write another word again.

So do you think I went out and celebrated the worst phase being over? Kicked back and relaxed the rest of the day? At least went out for a walk to get some exercise? Heck, no. I cleaned my refrigerator. I had this overwhelming desire to do something completely normal, that normal people do, that had nothing to do with being a writer, and that when I was done, I could look at the sparkling shelves and see that I'd accomplished something other than moving squiggles around on a screen.

Yeah, about that refrigerator. I generally go into a cleaning frenzy right before the school year starts, because I know, correctly, that once my school year schedule begins, housework deteriorates to a weekly pass through with the vac, a wipe here and there in the bathroom, and keeping on top of laundry. Tackling a project just doesn't happen. So as I began my archaeological dig through the fridge, I wasn't surprised to find an unopened package of cream cheese marked to expire on last day August. That made sense. It would have been August that I last saw the back of that drawer. I tossed the cheese.

Then I found two cans of cranberry sauce. Huh. Left over from Thanksgiving? I always make my own from scratch. What were these doing? I checked the dates. "Expires 9/09."  Three years ago? I began to get a horrible feeling. It hadn't really been three years since I'd cleaned the fridge, had it?

I dug deeper, and found something in a Ziploc back that might once, in a previous incarnation, been a green pepper. Scary. It joined the cream cheese, along with bottles of relish with just a dribble left at the bottom, a ketchup bottle that didn't look promising, and a bottle of ranch dressing that might have one squeeze left in it, but which nobody was going to be bothering with. I found a bottle of spiced rum that I'm sure I'd never seen before (oldest daughter is over 21 now, and so is her boyfriend, so things like that appear occasionally. Still gives me an odd feeling like I ought to explode and be all over it, then remember it's okay now. But what happened to the days of opening the freezer to a Popsicle explosion?)

That line of thought brought me to tackle the freezer. I'm known for freezing bread, and sure enough, I hoed out about six loaves with just the crusts left. I found some packages of hamburg that had freezer burn written all over them, a box of frozen crab rangoon that I'd been saving for a special occasion, a few tubs of ice cream that had gone all icky, lots of juice cans that had fallen into the far back. And six (six?) ice packs -- the kind you put on your head when it aches, or your knee when you twist it -- that were the same brand that the nurse at my high school provides.

Okay, so I kind of remembered bringing one home a while ago, holding it to my head as I drove with one of those pounding headaches that only a day in a high school can give you. And there might have been a couple that I stuck in my bag intending to return to the nurse that I'd borrowed when my knee was hurting, or the time I bent  my wrist over backward. But six? Really? No, wait. My daughter's boyfriend is an EMT. These must be some he'd bought. Okay. No guilt. Nor were they a reflection of how long it had been since I'd cleaned the freezer.

Those cans of cranberry sauce must have been stuck in there by somebody else as well. Relief!

Nice clear fridge, edits away, life is good.

Oh, my editor just emailed me back saying that all looks good. And could I get working on the marketing form next, please?

Of course I could. (Grumble, grumble.)

I dare you to leave me a comment on what's lurking in the depths of your refridgerator! ;)