Blogging 101 introductory post

I wanted to begin a public blog to share some writing samples and some aspects of the changes in my life as I transition from one career path to another.   I have been calling it my well-organized midlife crisis.  I have spent over 20 years as the principal or director of education for 4 temples. I have loved the work but really began to burn out in the past few years. When contract negotiations time came up again, I discovered that I was simply done.

I did not accept a new contract at my workplace nor did I search out another one.  My husband and I packed up and moved out of New Jersey and back to New England, our home and that of most of our remaining family and lots of dear friends.  I accepted a dear friend’s invitation to stay with her for 3 months of a much-needed sabbatical that intersected my 50th birthday.  I am coming to the final third of my sabbatical time of reading, napping, hiking, learning new skills and trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Freelance writing seems very intriguing. I have always had reasonably good writing skills and have enjoyed writing for fun as well as work and academia.  So learning to blog in an organized fashion as opposed to the hit-and-miss grumbly style I have used on other more private fora.

I enjoy teaching religious school, so I am delighted to have gotten a gig teaching 5th grade boys.  The sheer relief to be one of the monkeys and not the ringleader of the circus is astonishing.   All of a sudden, the creative energy and passionate interest which I felt had been missing for so long is back.

(Singing) Procrastination…

You can always tell when I am procrastinating. I do the dishes. Or I make myself a cup of coffee and decide that, despite never once misbehaving, the kettle and the french press must be watched over during the entire brewing process.  I play with the cats.  When I am in training for Olympic-class procrastination, I brush the fuzzy cat and clip his nails.

Some people just get by with Trivia Crack or online Kendo.  Old school might go for Spider Solitaire or Minesweeper, but they’re not really trying.  Those are only good as short-term solutions for small projects, such as paying the cable bill or repotting a fern.  For large avoidance, you need something robust, like Farmville or Klondike to suck up your time and attention.  Words with Friends might work but only if your opponent is online and as determined to avoid a task as you.

What are your methods for avoiding the unpleasant realities awaiting you at your desk or in your inbox?

It’s not the heat… yes, it is.

I had forgotten the kind of New England summer day where you bake for a sunny, hot, dry morning but slowly, surely the humidity begins to rise.  There is an increasing feeling of being under pressure, as if you were trapped inside a balloon with someone pressing down from the outside.  The light has taken on that greenish pinkish tint that makes me instinctively want to scurry under something non-conductive and stay there.  There is barely any breeze; the leaves on the maples and oaks are all jittering but the wind hasn’t arrived yet.  The juncos and goldfinches know something is up; there is a flurry around the freshly-filled bird feeder.

The storm is coming.

Frost Farm Field Trip

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The Big Field, Frost Farm, Derry, NH

Most New England schoolchildren have an ambivalent relationship with the poetry of Robert Frost.  Too many of us were forced to commit to memory and recite “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”.  The exhaustive dissection of the poet’s implied metaphor and meaning and the meta-meaning of the poem managed to suck most of the juice out of the poem and most of the poetry out of us. We didn’t need someone to tell us what Frost meant, it was right there on the page.

Fortunately, I gave Frost another try. “North of Boston” spoke to this girl from the North Shore who loved the woods and the enormous familiarity of the places, experiences and things Frost wrote about.

 hidden red flowers
By the brook

Earlier this week, the Husband and I packed a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and our hiking boots and went up to Derry, NH to Frost’s farm. He worked it around the turn of the last century and some of his best work (OK, my favorites of his work) was written there.

The farm was nearly deserted.  We were enthusiastically greeted by the two Park Service docents on duty who were positively burning to share their knowledge and love of the poet with us. Their zeal was a little daunting, especially once they told us that the paid tour of the farmhouse actually took nearly an hour and a quarter because of all the stories they had to share.  Given that it looked to be a six room farmhouse, that calculated to be roughly 15 minutes per room. We simply couldn’t, not on a glorious blue and white and sweet-scented summer day. So we thanked them courteously, declined firmly, dropped a couple of bucks in the donation box and went off down the Hyla Brook Nature/Poetry Trail, stopping to taste a few noon-hot blueberries from the bushes beside the barn.

I surprised myself by not wanting to use the interpretive guide after a few stops. I love Frost’s poetry and I was familiar with many of the lines they highlighted.  But that felt a little too much like being back in that English class with someone else telling me what the poet might have thought and felt.  Walking the paths Frost cut, looking at the shape of the fields and forest and brook that he loved, smelling the ancient timber of his barn and watching a turkey vulture slip off the wind above his hay field seemed a better way to appreciate the poet and his words that day.

Big Hay Field
Big Hay Field

Now, when I read “The Voice of Trees”, I will hear the branches, scent the ripening apples and half-rotting peaches, the warm pine and the cool mud in the nearly dry brook. It will be these clouds I see, that breeze I feel and I will share that longing better than I ever have before.

Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

The Snout

It’s not that I don’t like dogs – I do. I like well-behaved, respectful dogs who understand the concept of personal space. My roommate’s dog is not one of those dogs. She’s a Doberman and apparently, they don’t have horrible habits, they have breed characteristics.

The one I hate just now is the one I’m calling the “Dobie Snout” maneuver. This involves the body part in question being forcibly shoved into my crotch. Did I mention that the snout is often wet, so it leaves me looking like I just pissed myself? There is also a rearward variation of “Snout” which happens when I carelessly bend over to pick up a dropped item or tie my shoes. Then I get a hard, bony snout shoved into my ass, knocking me over. If I’m especially lucky that day, the dog has been grubbing in the garden and this leave me with a muddy smear across my butt that looks like, well…

Just this morning, the dog came running up to greet me as I got out of my car. She bared her teeth and shoved her snout way to close to my private bits. The teeth-baring thing looks creepy as hell on an animal that looks like it should have a Nazi guard on the other end of the leash and has those teeth in my crotch.

Monkey Snot Jam

It’s been a long day working in the garden.  It is one of those perfect New England summer days, sunny and warm without being too hot or humid. A gorgeous deep blue sky above, rampantly flourishing herbs and vegetables below. That this scene also includes rampantly flourishing weeds is a given, hence the long day in the garden.

On the advice of a gardening neighbor, the overgrown and half-shriveled rhubarb plant was hacked down.  There we were with a stack of rhubarb spikes like celery on steroids.

The problem started, I think, with the intersection of the mutated rhubarb, a copy of the Cook’s Country Refrigerator Jam recipe and my dear friend, J, who had been working all day in the hot sun.  Of course we would not wish to waste food, despite NO ONE in this household liking rhubarb.

I believe the first idea was to blanch it quickly, then to either freeze it or pickle it. (Don’t even ask me about pickled rhubarb.)  There was apparently a timer issue and the rhubarb was boiled six times longer than anticipated, resulting in an incredibly repellant mass of khaki-colored vegetable matter.

Reason, nay prudent self-interest should have dictated that we toss the revolting mush at that point.  But J is nothing if not resourceful (spelled i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y-s-t-u-b-b-o-r-n) and remembered her mother’s rhubarb jam from her childhood.

After an hour of clankings, hissings and splashing, J called me into the kitchen and presented this

Monkey Snot Jam 8-9-2015 2-09-07 AM… with the disclaimer, “It tastes better than it looks.”

Admittedly, a true statement, but it wouldn’t take much.  This has been christened Monkey Snot Jam.  I promise you that the color is even more virulent in reality and the pixels simply cannot do it justice.

Maybe I should try it on the squirrel.