So Many Losers

It’s time to announce the winners of the book giveaway!

The winner of Girl Through Glass is: Linda Solstrand
The winner of Queen of the Night is: Jessica Rapisarda

I’ll be contacting each of you to get mailing information. Read in good health. Smear the pages as  you will. I recommend melted chocolate from cookie dough pops, but that’s personal preference.

As for the rest of y’all who threw your names into the ring but weren’t chosen, sorry you’re losers.

If it helps assuage your feelings of hurt at all, let me assure you: I am the original loser. Compared to my history of loserdom, you’re a g-damn winner.

See, my senior year of high school, a few months before I dropped out (you can read the story of that here: “Jesu, Joy of Jocelyn’s Retiring”), I was nominated to the royalty court for the Sweetheart Dance.

It wasn’t a nomination that resulted from a groundswell of support within the student body.

Rather, a few weeks before Valentine’s Day, the students in the National Honor Society met in the Latin teacher’s room. Our club had been tasked with selecting the nominees for Sweetheart Princess and Sweetheart Prince. Our votes would determine which of our classmates would get their names read over the PA system; which of our classmates would dress up fancy-like and walk around the gym at a special assembly; which of our classmates would be recognized the night of the Sweetheart Dance; which of our classmates might potentially be crowned and dance together in a spotlight, decked in velvety raiment; which of our classmates would be featured in the yearbook.

We’d been tasked with a mighty responsibility, indeed, we of the high GPAs and thick textbooks.

For all our smarts, it hadn’t occurred to any of us that we might nominate from within our ranks. Royalty was for the cheerleaders, majorettes, flags, and jocks. Royalty wasn’t for equation-solvers.

Yet our leader, the Latin teacher — a man who inspires me to this day, and not only because everything I understand about English grammar came from his class — looked around the room at the assembled nerds that morning and said, “Write three girls’ names and three boys’ names on the ballots in front of you. You may only write down names of members of the National Honor Society.”


For a full minute, I sat, absorbing the challenge. I’d been ready to fill in my ballot with the names of “popular” kids who had yet to be nominated for any other royalty court. Whaddya mean, nominate eggheads?

It was a radical notion, this idea that we — readers of Kafka! — could be royalty. It was exciting. It was scary. It was baffling.

Who to nominate? My gaze scanned the room. A few cheerleaders, majorettes, and flags dotted my vision, multi-talented types able to twirl, flip, and annotate. But a couple of them had been nominated for previous royalty courts already. Hmmmm.

What if I…what if I…what if I nominated my friends? Carefully, I considered my crew. Yea. Why not? Grinning, dazzled that the world had just become a place ripe with possibilities I hadn’t known how to imagine, I filled out the ballot with the names of my girls.

A few days later, the nominees were announced over the loudspeaker. Whoa, there was Char!! Oh gravy, and Amy, too! And, woo-hoo, Leigh! Hey, and Kim–such a nice girl!

Wait. WHUUT.

And me?


A wave of prickles, a full-body flush, started in my scalp and moved down to my toes. Had my life suddenly become one of those 1950s books, like the ones my mom kept on a shelf in the basement, about popular girls?

I was quickly disabused of that idea. Looking around the classroom as the names were announced, I saw annoyance, even disgust, on the faces of my classmates. I detected grumbles and heard one of the Honor Society cheerleaders apologizing to those around her, saying she hadn’t been given a choice, that she had to nominate losers.

Yea, that felt about right: to enjoy a nanosecond of elation before having it ground into a powder of embarrassment.

Fortunately, my friends and I went ahead and flowed with the feeling that being nominated was amazing. Already, at 17, I’d had years of fine tuning selective deafness. This time, I plugged my ears with the powder of elation-cum-embarrassment.

So we squealed. We made phone calls. We talked dresses. Our parents showed up in the gym to snap photos as we linked arms with the prince nominees and circled the gym to half-hearted applause. When the night of the dance arrived, we did hair and make-up together; we sipped from cans and glass bottles; we giggled crazily when we got to the high school.

And then the time came: the announcement of the Sweetheart Prince and Princess.

I knew it wouldn’t be me — not out of some false modesty. With all realism, I knew.

We nominees were corralled up the stairs of the gym, lined up along a balcony where a searchlight moved over our faces. When they announced the winners, Char and Jeff, the light froze on them, the winners.

In darkness, the rest of us gasped, yelled for Char, and made our way down the stairs to the floor of the gym, where we stood, watching Char and Jeff take their spotlight dance.

A few weeks later, the nominees reassembled at the studio of a photographer who would document for the yearbook our momentary rise out of the ranks.

We were told to wear sweaters. Always sassy, perhaps hoping it would camouflage how unforgiving a fitted crew neck can be on those who are hearty of torso, I accessorized with a necklace borrowed from the jewelry bag my mom kept in her top dresser drawer. Another accessory I could have used was a smile that reached my eyes.


Posing with the prince nominees was uncomfortable. “Squeeze closer,” the photographer urged, shoving our shoulders into the guys’ chests. Why, I wonder, didn’t the photographer note, “Hey, your collared shirt is bunching underneath your sweater. Also, don’t wear that sweater. You’re always going to benefit from flowy. And can we talk bangs for just a quick sec?”

The winners got their own page in the yearbook. We losers were cast as Everyone Not Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares. I’ll take Sandy Duncan for the win, Peter.


It’s one thing to be a loser princess. For me to have pretended for a solid week that “princess” could possibly suit was laughable. However, “loser princess” was a title I could sport with a hoot.

Then, a few months later, the yearbooks came out.

At that point, I learned a whole new facet of loserdom: being a loser who gets the wrong name plastered on top of her ignominy. Through human error or having some wisenheimer in charge of design, the yearbook tagged me as Kim Burris, my partner Tim as Cal Kunkel.

I still feel like I owe Kim an apology.


I lucked out with my partner, a light-hearted guy with whom I was used to goofing around. Tim and I made light of it, calling each other Kim and Cal as the school year reached its close. Faintly, it occurred to me that humor neutralizes loser.

But then I’d look at that photo again, and I’d see that soft-faced, Aqua-netted baby wistfully playing princess, and it also occurred to me that eye-liner didn’t make me petite or cute or desirable.


Getting a smile into those loser eyes was going to take some time. I’d need a change of venue — a trip to Oz. I’d need new peers — people who led with irony. I’d need road trips — in the car alone, finding my own way. I’d need to dance ’til 4 a.m. —  limping home, shoes in hand. I’d need to have my heart held tightly enough that it could be broken. I’d need to walk outside the circle of the gym floor before I could see how restrictive four walls could be. I’d need a few decades of casting about. Flailing. Landing. Unfolding. Navigating the extended arc of life and realizing “winning” is in the end game.


I look at that loser princess now, and I want to send a whispered message back through time.

“It’s going to be all right. Aww, honey, it’s going to be more than all right. For now, you have to stand in the dark, gasping with excitement for all the winners who aren’t you, but eventually you’ll find your spotlight.”


I would like to assure those eyes, their flatness telegraphing “Help me,” that one day they will sparkle with droplets from gorgeous snowstorms, that one day they will laugh at kids and loves, that one day they will widen at the realization that the high school definition of “winner” is false, that one day they will fill with tears of astonishment at the compassion of others, that one day they will beam a smile at the cheerleaders, majorettes, flags, jocks, nerds, stoners, geeks, dorks, and princesses

because they are just so happy to see people doing their best.

Not my mother’s necklace

So, yea, all you losers who didn’t score a book during the giveaway, just remember: it could be worse. At least you aren’t someone who was mandatorily nominated. At least you look good in your sweaters. At least your shoulder isn’t shoved into the chest of the guy who sits next to you in English class. At least people call you by your actual name. At least you’re winners in the ways that truly matter.

Hugs and love to all you losers,

Kim Burris


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Book Giveaway

Book Giveaway

I have a thing about bananas.

Because they are my preferred breakfast food, I need to have them in the house at all times.

If we are out of bananas, or even if we are running low, I can’t relax. If need be, I will zip down to the grocery store after dark, just to grab a bunch.

Sometimes, the next morning, I don’t even eat one of those highly important after-dark bananas.

It’s just that I needed to know they were there.

In case.

I am this way about coffee, too.

Oh, NOW you’re nodding at the screen? You thought I was a little bananas when it came to the bananas, but somehow when I substitute the word coffee, then crazy becomes normal?

To be honest, I have a fair number of things — beyond bananas and coffee — that are integral to my innards feeling peaceful. if the stash of wine is getting low, I need to make sure more wine comes into the house. If the sweets are looking sparse, I won’t rest easy until supplies have been replenished becauseTwizzlersarefundamentaltohappiness. This is true even if I’m going away for the weekend: I feel low-level anxiety if I don’t have snacks along.

Just in case.

This need for security extends beyond just food, of course. If I am packing for a trip, I want to be sure I am bringing along all the possible pairs of shoes I might want. Or if I notice my container of body lotion is running low, I feel better if the replacement is in the house even a week before I need it.

What’s bizarre is that I’m terrible at looking ahead when it comes to predictable, daily life tasks. We are so fortunate that my husband handles our meals because I am absolutely someone who at 6 PM every day, if I were in charge of getting the kids fed, would look around the kitchen and ask, “What you mean dinner?”

The impellent “I will need it; do I have it?” thrum that demands I stockpile, at all times, a full inventory of unnecessary items might indicate I have a tendency towards hoarding. Or maybe I have it in me to become a Doomsday prepper. Or maybe I have too much leisure time. Or maybe I’m just a mother and a woman who’s getting older.

Perhaps we can just accept that this condition exists within me, and leave it there.

I have to say, though, that the impulse towards readiness did help occupy the weeks of anticipation before my recent surgery. Because I wanted to do the surgery during my Spring Break, I scheduled it several months out. Doing this gave me entirely too much time to get worried and anxious — and to watch videos on YouTube at 1 AM in which wild-eyed people who had undergone rotator cuff repair detailed their recoveries. I also had too many weeks to read blogs written by those who had undergone the surgery and to talk to people around town about their experiences with it.

Fortunately, anxiety can be channeled into constructive action. As I counted down to surgery day, I made sure I had in place everything I could reasonably predict I might want or need during the tough days and weeks post surgery.

I had learned that I would not be interested in underwear or bras for some time — because even the simple act of pulling up my pants and getting a shirt on would cause me to break a sweat, and my shoulder would not be able to tolerate the pressure of a bra strap — but when I did feel I could wear a bra again, I would do best with a soft, stretchy one that I could place onto the floor, step into, and pull up my torso with one hand. So I bought a few of those. People had advised me that shirts buttoning up the front would be easier than over-the-head tops; so I invested in a few and also poached a stack from my husband’s closet. I had been told that consistent icing would be essential to my recovery, so I found a system that I could strap onto my shoulder (not that I have used it in the month since surgery: my shoulder has yet to welcome the idea of something being strapped onto it), and then we made some additional ice packs using Ziploc bags, water, and rubbing alcohol. I even had time to remember winter break when I was young and how I would return to school after a week or two off and not remember my locker combination; thus, I entered a note into my phone with my locker number and combination at the gym. As well, in the days before the surgery, I was compelled to vacuum the entire house, scrub the toilets, and make a last ditch effort to get the house relatively clean. Here is evidence of how deep my fear about the surgery ran: I dusted knickknacks.

Then, of course, I thought about all the passive time I would have in bed or in a chair — so many free hours that normally would be devoted to exercise or dickin’ around in the yard or interacting in the world in ways that require the hands. As I considered these hours, it became important that I amass a stack of books, always my best companions during sitting time. I didn’t want books that would make my brain work too hard — hello, Percocet! — but I didn’t want books that were stupid, either. So I read a bunch of reviews online and chatted with friends whom I respect as readers, and I found some titles that would suit. A few of them I got at the library, but a couple of them were not part of the library’s catalog, so I ordered them.

And now, guess what? I have finished one of them and am halfway through the second, and the sun is shining outside, and finally the wind sometimes has an undertone of mildness instead of frigidity, and, well, I’m in a mood for some spring cleaning.

I’m in the mood not to keep these books on the shelf but, rather, to give them away to readers of this blog. I won’t tell you my reactions to either book; the reading experience should belong to you alone. I can tell you, though, that I am at a stage of life where, if I do not enjoy a book, I do not finish it. Both of these books are “finishers” for me.

Here are the two books up for grabs:


The summary on Amazon describes Sari Wilson’s Girl Through Glass this way:

An enthralling literary debut that tells the story of a young girl’s coming of age in the cutthroat world of New York City ballet—a story of obsession and the quest for perfection, trust and betrayal, beauty and lost innocence.

In the roiling summer of 1977, eleven-year-old Mira is an aspiring ballerina in the romantic, highly competitive world of New York City ballet. Enduring the mess of her parent’s divorce, she finds escape in dance—the rigorous hours of practice, the exquisite beauty, the precision of movement, the obsessive perfectionism. Ballet offers her control, power, and the promise of glory. It also introduces her to forty-seven-year-old Maurice DuPont, a reclusive, charismatic balletomane who becomes her mentor.

Over the course of three years, Mira is accepted into the prestigious School of American Ballet run by the legendary George Balanchine, and eventually becomes one of “Mr. B’s girls”—a dancer of rare talent chosen for greatness. As she ascends higher in the ballet world, her relationship with Maurice intensifies, touching dark places within herself and sparking unexpected desires that will upend both their lives.

In the present day, Kate, a professor of dance at a Midwestern college, embarks on a risky affair with a student that threatens to obliterate her career and capsizes the new life she has painstakingly created for her reinvented self. When she receives a letter from a man she’s long thought dead, Kate is hurled back into the dramas of a past she thought she had left behind.

Told in interweaving narratives that move between past and present, Girl Through Glass illuminates the costs of ambition, secrets, and the desire for beauty, and reveals how the sacrifices we make for an ideal can destroy—or save—us.


The Amazon summary for Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night describes it this way:

Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.

As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.

Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation — or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.


So it’s spring, and the surgery is behind me, and I’m too busy healing to find the energy to dust books. Help a sister out, and take these babies off my hands.

It pains me to say that I cannot ship these books outside of the United States without the cost becoming prohibitive. Thus, my apologies to readers outside of the United States — but I checked the rates at the post office the other day, and it would cost as much as the books themselves to send them even to Canada.

However, if you are in the United States, and either of these books interests you, please leave a comment below. If you are interested in both books, please leave two comments so that you can be entered into the lottery for both. While it’s enough for you simply to indicate which book you are interested in, I personally would find the comments much more interesting if you also told me about something that you have won before. For example, my husband once entered a corn-on-the-cob eating contest, and after he managed to scarf down five cobs in two minutes, he won a luxe hooded sweatshirt — which he promptly gave away because it was not his style. In truth, very few looks properly complement a chest splattered with yellow niblets.

This giveaway will remain open until 5 PM CST on Tuesday, April 19, at which point I will count up the comments left for each book. If there are 20 comments for one of the books, I will go to Paco or Allegra and say “Pick a number between one and 20.” If the kid chooses the number three, and you are the person who left the third comment for that book (based on the time of posting) you will win it. You get the gist.

I’ll announce the winners next week and mail out the books shortly thereafter.

Okay, it’s time for me to go for a walk. I’m still not driving, but we’re getting low on bananas, so I need to shuffle to the store.


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The Shoehog’s Fluevblog

When I was in my early twenties, I lived in a cabin outside of Boulder, Colorado, with some friends. One of my roommates loved animals and was the owner of a wolf — technically 15/16 wolf — and a ferret. Also noteworthy was the personality of the animal owner, a woman who was eternally willing to run Lady Macbeth’s lines in the shadowed corners of her poorly lit personal drama. That was a memorable stage of my life.

It was also when I decided to learn to bake bread. There I was, at 8000 feet of elevation, trying to befriend yeast. A few inedible, brick-hard loaves resulted from hours of labor, and I allowed that I was not cut out to be a bread baker.

Other people had figured it out. It was not that the task was impossible. It was just that I needed someone’s example and expertise if I ever hoped to pull anything out of the oven besides a steel-toed boot covered with a dusting of flour.


Earlier in life, in my tween or early teen years, our church arranged to have a bus transport people interested in cross-country skiing to some trails an hour distant. United by love for Jesus, respect for the liturgy, a sense of Christian community, and a belief that strapping sticks to the feet qualified as a good time, a busload of parishioners made the trip.

My sister and I were on the bus that day, hoping to learn about this thing called skiing. When the bus arrived at the trailhead, the outdoor enthusiasts hopped off, clipped into their equipment, and skied towards the tree line. My sister and I, having never experienced cross-country skis before, were left gaping at their retreating forms, leaning wobbily on our poles, with no idea what to do or how to move our bodies. For 20 minutes, we attempted to slide, glide, hoist, propel, and grapple our way up the small berm at the edge of the parking lot so that we could get to the system of trails.

Eventually, young, frustrated, and having learned an important lesson about being part of a Christian community, we gave up. It took us 10 minutes to figure out how to remove the skis from our feet, but once we did, we skulked back to the bus and sat there, moping, for the rest of the afternoon until everyone returned — glowing and exhilarated from their time under God’s Big Sky.

With the assistance and direction of someone who understood cross-country skiing, that afternoon would have played out very differently for us — which, in turn, could have changed a lot of significant things for me, a big girl who didn’t think sports were for her.


When I was 24, I was driving the 10 hours from Billings, Montana, to Moscow, Idaho — something people in the West call “a quick jaunt” — when, just as I was cresting Lookout Pass, a red light came to life on my dashboard. A red light on the dashboard has the ability to change the rhythm of my heartbeat. It can make me whisper, my voice both a challenge and a comfort, “Hey, Car, don’t you understand that you are supposed to give and give and give and never ask anything in return?”

By myself, with little money, needing to be in Moscow the next morning for the start of assistantship training for graduate school, I felt panicky. It was 4 PM on a Sunday. In addition to the red light on the dashboard, which I would blithely ignore as long as possible, I also was noticing a lessening of power in the engine. I would push on the gas, and it wouldn’t respond with oomph. That, I could not ignore.

If ever there was a moment for me to turn down “Steady On” by Shawn Colvin and replace her dulcet tones with a string of forcefully gnashed expletives, this was it.

Mentally gaming out the options, I decided to pull off at the next exit and see if any service stations happened to be open. I pulled into the first gas station I spotted; inside was the poster version of an Idaho woman who worked behind a gas station counter, from her appliquéd sweatshirt to the crispness of her bangs. Quickly, I filled her in on my situation.

“Oh, honey,” she commiserated, “this is a fine kettle of fish. Everything’s closed around here on Sundays, so you might need to grab a motel for the night and see if you can’t get it fixed tomorrow.”

No tears actually hit my cheeks. However, my woebegone puppy dog eyes penetrated the teddy bear appliqué, and her heart was moved. “Garsh, let me just see if we can’t do something for you,” she said, looking over her shoulder towards a back room. Surprising me, she called out “Jango! Come out here and see if you can help this woman. She’s in a pinch.”

Emerging from the back room was a 110-pound man, at least 4 pounds of which was facial hair. His entire vibe communicated: I ate the mushrooms at a Creedence Clearwater Revival concert. This was definitely someone who had set a burning cigarette or two onto the edge of the open hood of a car while he fiddled around with the engine. This was definitely someone for whom a red light on the dashboard was whoa, dude, nothing to get riled about.

After the sweatshirt woman explained my circumstances to Jango, he said he’d be happy to take a look and see if there was anything he could do to restore some pep to my Honda. Popping the hood, lighting a cigarette, setting it on the edge of the car, he dove in.

A few minutes later, he stood in front of me, dragging deeply on his Marlboro. “Your alternator’s gone out. Once that light came on your dashboard, your battery stopped charging, so in not too long, your car won’t drive anymore at all until the alternator is running again.”

I stood silently, my mouth moving like a beta fish nibbling crumbs from the surface of the aquarium water.

Continuing, Jango offered, “I could probably jerry-rig something for you today that might get you over to Moscow, but you’ll want to get a real fix as soon as possible.”

Then he dove back under the hood, cigarette dangling from two fingers this time, an empty Mountain Dew can serving as ashtray. While he tinkered with the engine, appliqué lady and I chatted — our talk ranging from car repairs to gas station customers to the concept of graduate school — and in no time at all, Jango popped up, stretched his back, and jumped into the driver’s seat. Turning the key, he started the car; leaving it idling, he looked under the hood and then at me. “We’ll just let this run for a bit,” he said, “and get your battery charged up. It’ll keep charging as you’re driving, too. But definitely, once you’re settled in Moscow, you need to take this into a real garage. See, the thing I did to your car? It’s not something that any licensed place could ever do. It’s just a temporary patch that I fashioned out of supplies at hand.”

What was Jango’s fix? He had taken the tab from the top of the Mountain Dew can and attached it to the alternator by way of grease magic and a sprinkling of dandruff, thus creating some sort of essential connection that was beyond my Jane Austen-reading ken. Suddenly, Mr. Darcy didn’t seem like such a hero after all — because hell if that cravat-wearing fop had it in him to cement the doohickey onto the whatserfuzzit and make a thing go.

As I drove away from the gas station, I considered Jango’s skill versus my ineptitude. Before I would be able to do any sort of car repair, much less an ad hoc one I jimmied on the spot, I would need years of training, classes, and shots of Everclear. For me to ever learn what he knew, I would require extended guidance.


At this point, if your eyes are rolling around in your head, your palms are itching to slap me, and you’re barking at your screen, “Jocelyn, I thought this was a post about shoes,” then good.

Here’s the thing: this is a story about shoe shopping, but it is a story about so much more. That’s why I had to relate those other vignettes first; that’s why you had to submit to an extended preamble.

Sure, I recently gamboled through a supremely wonderful afternoon of shopping at a store where the shoes are whimsical, funky, exquisitely made, and expensive. I recently pirouetted through a couple hours of giddy joy in a Fluevog storefront, hours during which my stomach jumped with excitement, and my hands petted all the leather in a fifteen-foot radius.

Fluevog blurb


During those shopping hours, there was a much bigger story at play — the next installment in a lifetime of comprehending how much I don’t know and how much I would like to know — of understanding that I can either sulk on the bus nibbling on a loaf of Wonder Bread, or I can tune into the aspirational examples that surround me and try to figure some things out.

As I tried on a pair after pair of delicious shoes in the Fluevog store, I wasn’t mastering yeast, and I wasn’t learning how to ski, and I wasn’t tinkering with an alternator.

Rather, as the recipient of thoughtful gifts, I was absorbing the nuances of generosity.

I was in that store because I have a best friend, a confederate since age 18, who, knowing I had both a surgery and a birthday coming up, did some considering. She thought about who I am, what makes me happy, what she had seen me squeal about, and how she might apply her observations to gently play a role in bringing me joy.

I was in that store because I have a husband, my boon companion for 17 years, who, to celebrate my birthday, did some considering. He thought about what spills out of my closet, what makes me dance for no reason, what gets me talking so that I have to wipe spittle off my lips when I’m done, and how he might apply his observations to gently play a role in bringing me joy.

Without those examples of thoughtful gift giving, I would never have been in that store having the time of my life. I would never have stood surrounded by chic displays of shoes, feeling understood and embraced and loved. Without those examples, I would never have learned an essential lesson of gifting: a good present is not simply about getting something for someone (“It was on sale!” “I hope she’ll like it!” “I didn’t need it anymore!” “Who doesn’t need curtains?” “It’s a noble cause!” “Well, I know he likes games, so…”).

Nope. An excellent gift is an affirmation, a connection, a heart-moving message that assures, “I see you.”

Currently, I am okay as a gift giver, but I’m not great. I have a lot of room to improve, to learn how to think through who the recipient really is, to challenge myself to explore what would bring someone else pleasure and not just what would “do the job.”

For sure, as I tried on multiple pairs, I was straight up loving the shoes. However, underneath all the lacing and prancing and admiring, I was storing away a memory: this is what it feels like to be given the perfect gift.

For me, the perfect gift was tactile, active, and spread out over stages. I had to get in there, try some things on, weigh some choices.

IMG_7806 IMG_7809 IMG_7814 IMG_7815 IMG_7819IMG_7847IMG_7861 IMG_7821 IMG_7824 IMG_7829 IMG_7831
IMG_7834 IMG_7838 IMG_7841 IMG_7844 IMG_7854 IMG_7857

For me, the perfect gift required mulling and culling and ahhhing.

Eventually, I narrowed it down to three pairs.


At that point, I needed an assist. My friend Kirsten had driven me to the store, served as photographer, and been my metaphorical hand holder as we spun around in circles, giggling and getting dizzy.

She was sitting on the floor, grinning at me, wholly enjoying the afternoon. Torn, I said to her, “I think the two-tone ones with the steampunk heel feel like ‘me,’ and I did send you a picture of them during the faculty meeting yesterday when I was bored. So they feel right. But I really love the aqua ones and the paisley ones with the cool ‘hoof’ heel.”

Kirsten wisely pointed out that I wear a lot of black and grey, so the paisley shoes would work into that nicely.

“Okay, then,” I told her, “it’s either the two-tone ones or the paisley ones…”

Her face breaking in half with a smile, Kirsten said, “Oh, no, pal. You’re getting them both.”

I stared at her, silently, my mouth moving like a beta fish nibbling crumbs from the surface of the aquarium water.

“Yea, you’re getting two pairs. I’m buying you a pair, too. Consider it a down payment on editing Virginia’s next translated novel,” she joked.

As is my way, I burst into tears.


This day, which had already been the perfect gift from two people who consistently demonstrate how to live generously, had just become bigger. The lesson I was learning widened. In her willingness to run with a moment, make dreams possible, and turn great into glorious, Kirsten was teaching me, too.

In a state of shock, vaguely in need of a nap or a shot of Everclear, I headed to the counter to check out. I handed over my gift certificates. Kirsten handed over her credit card.

When we walked out of the store, my heart was full of joy.


No doubt, the shoes had me over the moon.

But more than the shoes. It was the people. The gifts that they are in my life. The example they set for me.


At the end of it all, what I really hope is this:

if I am fortunate enough to keep learning lessons for decades to come, maybe one day I’ll bake some bread or fix an alternator wearing these:


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A Day in the Life: The Director of Social Services


I am the Director of Social Services at a not-for-profit continuing care community in Tucson, Arizona. The facility, Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging, offers a multitude of living options, all on one campus. We provide independent living (where residents come to the dining room for meals, but receive no other assistance), assisted living, advanced assisted living, secure dementia/memory care, long term care, and my specialty, short-term rehab services (sometimes referred to as “sub-acute care”). I work very closely with rehab patients, their families, and our interdisciplinary team to ensure that each patient has a successful rehabilitative with us. Patients come to us following hospitalization for planned procedures (hip or knee replacements, for example), traumatic events (falls, fractures, accidents in the home), or illnesses. Our job is to help them in regaining as much function, mobility, and independence as possible before discharging them either back to their previous setting, or helping them explore alternative discharge options as needed. On average, I am overseeing 40-45 rehab patients at a time, with 13-18 admissions per week. That means there are also 13-18 discharges each week. No two days are exactly the same.

This was today:

0700 Arrive all shining and happy to my office, check my email, and print the daily update from our admissions office, letting us know what’s happened over the past 24 hours. Who was admitted? Who was discharged? Who changed units or rooms? Was anyone sent out to the hospital? Today’s tally from yesterday’s rally: 5 admissions, 4 discharges, 1 to the hospital. Print out face sheets (demographics) for each of the new admissions, put them in my tracking book, make a set for my officemate, who is still basking in the glow of a 5-day weekend.

0715 Check voice messages, answer emails

0730 Son of a rehab patient and his wife are at my door, distraught because patient is not doing well, and they need guidance. Dad is 91, has experienced multiple emotional and physical traumas over past 3 months. Wife of 72 years passed away 4 weeks ago, 16 year-old dog died 2 weeks after that. Patient himself has multiple chronic conditions — is legally blind, hard of hearing, experiencing increased confusion and presenting with “failure to thrive.” He also suffers from poor appetite, poor intake, lack of progress in therapies, repeated requests to “just let me beeeeeeee.” Forty-five minutes of counseling, presenting options, encouraging them to work together as a family and help patient achieve HIS goals, which may be completely different from the kids’ goals. Discussion included hospice option if their goal turns out to be just getting dad home to his own environment and not putting him through more therapy and aggressive medical treatment.

0830 Daily morning meeting with department heads to review admissions, discharges, potential admits, incoming respite stays, upcoming discharges. Update followed by clinical reviews…who’s developed an infection? Who’s out of isolation, has abnormal labs, or is on IV antibiotics? Who’s had a change in condition, needs a psych consult, or has follow-up ortho appointments today?

0930 Review list of rehab patients who are due for a team review/care conference on Thursday. Contact a family member for each patient and invite them to join us for a 30-minute review of therapy progress, nutritional status, clinical status, and to discuss discharge planning. Family members may attend in person along with the patient, or they may join us by speakerphone. By the end of the day, had successfully made contact with 8 family members from 8 different families and explained 8 different times what to expect at the meeting. I also wrote out 8 reminder cards for patients, letting them know the day and time of their conference. Along the way, I addressed concerns such as Medicare coverage, lost pajamas, need of assistance completing power of attorney paperwork, guidance on advanced directives and living wills, “too much Kosher food,” adult sons who haven’t seemed to have mastered the weaning stage (!!), and anxiety over one patient’s upcoming PET scan (new cancer diagnosis). One of the patients with whom I met is finally ready to admit that perhaps returning to home on her own is REALLY not an option and needed much support and guidance about what a “Plan B” might look like. Referral made to placement agency for assistance.

1030 Assessments!! Assessments! I administer cognitive, mood, behavior and discharge planning assessments for rehab patients on Day 5, Day 14, and Day 30. Cognition assessment looks at orientation, attention, organizational thinking, and short term memory and comes in the form of a one-to-one, standardized interview. The mood assessment is also a standardized interview which asks specific questions about signs and symptoms of sad mood or depression over the past 14 days. The behavior assessment information can be found in electronic, daily charting by the nursing assistants or via progress notes from licensed nursing staff. And, finally, the discharge planning assessment. What’s the goal? What are the barriers? Is patient on track to meet his/her goals? Is an outside resource needed to assist with planning? What supports are in place already? What additional supports might be utilized to make patient’s discharge the most successful? After all assessment information has been gathered, it’s time to analyze the results and modify care plans accordingly. Has the patient had a change in mood or behavior? Are they showing signs and symptoms of increasing depression? Does their post-anesthesia confusion and disorientation appear to be clearing? Are they having increased behavior symptoms — refusing care, being verbally or physically aggressive, or being socially inappropriate? If so, what might be the cause? Dementia diagnosis? Cognitive impairment? Language barriers? Hearing or vision deficits?

1215 Phone calls to follow up with patients who have recently discharged. I call and touch base with each patient 5-7 days after they leave the facility and usually start the conversation with this open-ended question: “How are things going since you discharged?” I find out whether or not their home health services have started, whether they’ve gotten their prescriptions filled and meds set up for administration. I find out if they’ve made a follow-up appointment with their PCP (primary care physician, not hallucinogenic drug), and if they haven’t yet, I strongly encourage them to set this is up as an important piece of the continuity of care and prevention of re-hospitalization. During these phone calls, I often field questions about additional resources such as meal programs, additional custodial care services, or hear how their bowels have responded to being home.

1330 Meeting with a Pima Community College social work student who needs to visit with a real, live social worker and ask some fine, cookie-cutter questions about the organization, the academic and licensure requirements, the services provided, the clients who receive said services, etc., etc. I accepted this request because I, too, was a student not so long ago, and I had a similar assignment early on. I had a little less facial hair, and I hope my hands shook less from nerves than this young man’s.

1400 Update progress notes from assessments, conversations, discharge planning conversations, referrals. Complete or update appropriate care plans.

1530 Difficult conversations with 2 families about prognosis and needs for alternative discharge plans, referrals to placement agencies. More importantly, support for making decisions that would be most in line with patient’s beliefs and goals. Meeting again with son from earlier this morning. Family has decided to get Dad home with 24/7 care and the additional support of hospice services. “He just wants to be done,” they tell me. I already knew that. They were not planning on losing Dad so quickly after saying “good bye” to Mom. Orders obtained from physician, referral made to TMC Hospice, family updated.

1610 Notices of non-coverage received from Caremore (HMO) regarding the upcoming discharge of two of its members. Notice lets patients know that their insurance coverage will end 2 days from now, March 31, and that they are expected to discharge from the facility (or become self-pay) the following day. (Note: Caremore was not dropping their members because it’s the end of the month! These two particular patients had met their therapy/rehab goals, and were ready to return home. The rounding nurse practitioner had seen the patients that morning and determined they were ready for discharge, from an insurance/payer prospective. Fortunately for me, on this day, the patients also felt like they were ready for discharge and were expecting the news. This is not always the case, but that’s a whole other story.) I met with each patient, explained the notice, discussed discharge plans, equipment needed, services that will be ordered by Caremore, obtained patient’s signature acknowledging having received and understood the notice, provided them with a copy, and notified a family member of planned DC for April 1st. Advised patient and family of optimal discharge window, discharge process, answered questions regarding services, etc., etc. Wrote progress notes reflecting same.

1700 Notified that patient scheduled for discharge tomorrow has critical lab values, is starting on IV fluids, and will remain on a skilled stay until clinically stable. Called and put home health agency services on hold, notified new adult care home that patient would be delayed in her admission there, and cancelled transportation.

1720 Shut off the lights, closed the door to my office.


And that was Tuesday.

So, now, you may say to yourself, “Wow! That’s a whole lot of people time for an introvert, isn’t it?!?” The answer is “YES! Yes, it is!” So, now, you may say to yourself, “I wonder how she balances intense people time with home life?” The answer is so simple. My wife works in the wild, wild, muy intensivo world of cardiology at a teaching hospital here in Tucson and is at work each morning by 0345. That’s correct — 3:45am. By the time I slink home from my day in the trenches, she has been home for several hours and is, in fact, in bed already, in order to rise and shine at 1:30am for a pre-work run or boxing work-out. When my alarm goes off at 0430, she’s already well into her work day. We are like two ships passing in the night, which is actually really good for us both. We both get quiet time at the home we share with our four dogs and one cool cat. We communicate by texts and notes on the counter and can usually laugh across the distance together at least once a day. To prep for my day ahead, I usually get a 3-mile run in each morning at 5:30. It helps me center myself and run 2 or 3 of the dogs to prep THEM for several hours of waiting for their “other mother” to come home.


Sometimes, on the way home from work, if it’s been a particularly tough day, I may shed a tear or two for my people. I often meditate while driving home and breathe out all that I have breathed in throughout the day. I go to yoga class 2 nights a week and catch up with friends and family through the wonder that is social media. On the weekends, my wife and I hike together, do yard work together, take in a movie, work on a creative art project, or just hang out together. We each love our jobs, thrive on the intensity of our days, and because we each have space during the workweek to recharge, we can fully enjoy one another’s company on the weekends. Plus, she’s really cute. And funny. I like that.

back yard

I think, too, that we because we see daily how quickly life can change — a misstep, an accident, a catastrophic medical event — we have a deeper appreciation for our physical health, freedom, and independence, and are less apt to sweat the small stuff in our daily lives.


Linda and her wife, Keri
Linda and her wife, Keri

Linda Solstrand returned to college as a non-traditional student at the age of 35. Her first go-around at higher education did not end Super Well. The administration at North Dakota State University actually encouraged her NOT to return the following quarter, which was fine with her, because she had a whole lot more partying to do. Eventually, however, the call to “knock it off and get back to learning” came, and she started back at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, with one little class that first semester, then 3 little classes, and then “What the heck, let’s just DO this,” until she had completed her BA in Sociology with a double minor in Psychology and Women’s Studies in 2005. But she wasn’t done yet! She was accepted to the Master of Social Work program at UMD, and after 2 years of full-time study, 2 internships, and roughly 4,385 papers, she completed her master’s degree! (She notes: the morning after commencement, she was walking around her home, feeling a slight discomfort…what could it be? Oh, yes! Her pants were on backwards. Her BFF since second grade, who had come from New York for the festivities, shook her head in sad disbelief and uttered, “And YOU have a master’s degree.” And then they laughed until they almost peed a little bit.)

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Books for 13-Year-Olds


Recently, I did some crowd sourcing on Facebook, asking folks for help in coming up with a book that Paco and a couple of his friends — a group of seventh graders — could read for school as a sort of book club. Now, Paco is a persnickety reader. He wanted a book that was either sci-fi or fantasy, but nothing post-apocalyptic, and when it comes to romance, he says, “I find that very boring.”

Two of the three boys are very into playing Dungeons and Dragons, but the third boy is lukewarm about that type of imagination-based gaming. In a certain way, this further restricted the book options — because one of the kids is very literal as a reader while the other two enjoy the fantastical. Anyhow, we were feeling desperate that the three of them could ever arrive at a point of agreement.

Facebook Nation did not disappoint. Within a few hours, there were more than 44 comments and suggestions. Readers do love to talk about books!

After the thread of comments died down, I was approached by a handful of participants, asking if I would ever compile a master list of the suggestions. Quite happily, I started copying and pasting all the ideas into a document. Just as I was finishing the initial copying and pasting, I received a message from a longtime blog reader and now good friend, Jan Indermill.

Pointing out that she had two capable typing hands and a willing heart, she offered to compile the list, along the way adding in further information about the series a book might be from, what kind of appeal the book might have, testimonials from readers — and she even alphabetize the entire thing!

After putting in many hours, Jan sent me the list below. I, personally, have never gravitated towards sci-fi or fantasy, but when so many of my friends and family and former students are enthusiastic about these genres, I feel like I should expand my range. Thus, we will not only be using this list for Paco in the future, we will be using it for all of us.

So, for any of you looking for new ideas of what you or your teens might enjoy reading, here is a wonderfully inspired and comprehensive list. I’ll let you look it over before telling you which book Paco and his friends agreed upon.

Also, I do have this list saved both in Excel and Word, so if you would like me to email you the list as a document, just give me a shout, and I can do that.

Here we go:

Title Series Name Author Other Books in Series Possible Appeal
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy Adams, Douglas The Restaurant at The End of the Universe; Life, The Universe and Everything; So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish; Mostly Harmless; And Another Thing Romance free!
Short Stories Asimov, Isaac  
Entanglement: The Greatest Mysteries in Physics Axel, Amir D.  
Short Stories Bradbury, Ray  
Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury, Ray  
Sundiver The Uplift Novels Brin, Glen David Startide Rising; The Uplift War
The Sword of Shannara The Original Shannara Series Brooks, Terry The Elfstones of Shannara; The Wishsong of Shannara – and more. There are at least 12 books in the series. Detailed fantasy world inhabited by elves, humans, warlocks. Set in the future, the plot (1st book?) involves a search for a magical sword needed to defeat an evil warlock.
Red Rising Red Rising trilogy Brown, Pierce Golden Son; Morning Star Set on Mars
Storm Front The Dresden Files Butcher, Jim 15 novels Private investigator and wizard Harry Dresden investigates supernatural disturbances in modern-day Chicago.
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass The Cinder Spires Butcher, Jim 9 books are planned “Absolutely awesomesauce steampunk book that I couldn’t put down.”
Ender’s Game Ender saga Card, Orson Scott 14 novels, 13 short stories, a gazillion comic books “The author has some crap political/social opinions but his books about that universe are great reads.” “He’s very weird and Mormon-y but has some good books.” “Bad politics; good sci-fi.”
Graceling Graceling Realm series Cashore, Kristen Fire; Bitterblue Parental warning: subject matter could be advanced for some younger readers.
The Sword The Sword, The Ring, and The Chalice Chester, Deborah The Ring; The Chalice
City of Bones The Moral Instruments Clare, Cassandra City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels; City of Lost Souls; City of Heavenly Fire Paranormal romance/urban fantasy
The Children of Amarid LonTobyn series Coe, David B The Outlanders; Eagle-Sage
Half Moon Investigations Not a series, but the author has told people he plans a sequel Colfer, Eoin No additional books have been published yet “My son laughed out loud while reading” From Wiki plot synopsis: Fletcher Moon (often called “Half-Moon” due to his short stature) is a natural born investigator. Knowing this, April, a girl from his school, comes to him for help in finding a lock of hair that she believes to have been stolen.
Over Sea, Under Stone Dark Is Rising sequence Cooper, Susan The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch, The Grey King; Silver On the Tree
The Spook’s Apprentice The Wardstone Chronicles Delaney, Joseph 14 books in series Romance free! Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son, is apprenticed to John Gregory to become a Spook – a master fighter of supernatural evil.
Pawn of Prophecy The Belgaraid series Eddings, David Queen of Sorcery; Magician’s Gambit; Castle of Wizardry; Enchanters’ End Game
The Guardians of the West The Mallorean series Eddings, David King of the Murgos; Demon Lord of Karanda; Sorceress of Darshiva; The Seeress of Kell
Welcome to Night Vale Not a series — but there’s a podcast!! Fink, Joseph and Cranor, Jeffrey Romance free!
Time and Again Time Series Finney, Jack From Time to Time Stephen King says: “THE great time travel novel.”
The Ruins of Gorlan Ranger’s Apprentice Flanagan, John The Burning Bridge; The Icebound Land and more.  There are at least 12 books in the series, and at least one prequel. Old school sword & sorcery “Imagine if the Rangers from Lord of the Rings took apprentices — what kind of life would that be?” Amazon customer review by EA Solinas
The Outcasts The Brotherband Chronicles Flanagan, John The Invaders; The Hunters; Slaves of Socorro; Scorpion Mountain; The Ghostfaces (publ date June 2016) Humorous writing style – “Snarling bad guys and stout hearted good guys, what more could you ask for?” Amazon customer review by Bill
Flashman The Flashman Papers Fraser, George MacDonald ??18 books?? Flashman is an antihero who often runs from danger in the novels. Nevertheless, through a combination of luck and cunning, he usually ends each volume acclaimed as a hero.
Inkheart Inkheart trilogy Funke, Cornelia Inkspell; Inkdeath Romance free!
The Graveyard Book Not a series Gaiman, Neil Romance free!
Stardust Not a series Gaiman, Neil Romance free!
Good Omens Gaiman, Neil and Pratchett, Terry Parental warning: double check that this is age-appropriate.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: A Tale of Alderley Not a series, but there is a sequel Garner, Alan The Moon of Gomrath (sequel)
My Side of the Mountain George, Jean Craighead
Myths of the Norsemen Not a series, but author has written many works based in other myths. Green, Roger Lancelyn
The Magicians Grossman, Lev The Magician King; The Magician’s Land “13 may be a bit young for this series” High school student Quentin Coldwater attends a college of magic in NYC.
Dune Dune series Herbert, Frank There are five sequels
Stormbreaker Alex Rider Horowitz, Anthony Point Blanc; Skeleton Key and more. There are at least 10 books in the series. 007 style spy stories with a 13-year-old protagonist
Into The Wild Warrior Series Hunter, Erin Into The Wild; Fire and Ice; Forest of Secrets; and more.  There are a gazillion books! 4 clans of wild cats
Rise of the Wolf Wereworld series Jobling, Curtis Rage of Lions; Shadow of the Hawk; Nest of Serpents; Storm of Sharks; War of the Werelords “Imagine a world ruled by Werelords–men and women who can shift at will into bears, lions, and serpents. When Drew suddenly discovers he’s not only a werewolf but the long-lost heir to the murdered Wolf King’s throne, he must use his wits and newfound powers to survive.” Amazon blurb
The Eye of the World Wheel of Time Jordan, Robert The Great Hunt; The Dragon Reborn. There are 14 books, including a prequel.
The Phantom Tollbooth Juster, Norton (illus by Jules Feiffer)
The Stonekeeper Amulet Kibuishi, Kabo There are seven books in the series Graphic novels
Helmet for My Pillow Leckie, Robert
Earthsea Cycle LeGuin, Ursala
The Word of Unbinding (short story) and A Wizard of Earthsea Earthsea LeGuin, Ursala The series comprises 8 short stories and 5 novels
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia Lewis, C.S
Legend Legend series Lu, Marie Prodigy; Champion dystopian?
The Merchant of Death  The Pendragon series MacHale, DJ There are 10 books in the series Bobby Pendragon, an American teenager, discovers that he must prevent the destruction of the ten “territories”: distinct but interrelated space-time realities.
Dragonflight Dragonriders of Pern McCaffery, Anne and/or Todd Dragonquest; The White Dragon and more. There are at least 22 books in the series. People have empathic abilities with their dragons. And space travel!
Riddle Master trilogy McKillip, Patricia
McKinley, Robin anything by this author “Kick ass female characters”
Wildwood The Wildwood Chronicles Meloy, Colin (of the Decembrists) ? It looks like all the Chronicles are published in one volume? gorgeous illustrations
Elric of Melniboné Elric of Melniboné stories Moorcock, Michael ?17 novels??
The Night Circus Not a series Morgenstern, Erin Romance free! A phantasmagorical fairy tale set near an historical Victorian London in a wandering magical circus that is open only from sunset to sunrise.
Beyonders: A World Without Heroes Beyonders Trilogy Mull, Brandon
Fablehaven Fablehaven Mull, Brandon Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star; Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague; Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary; Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison Secret nature preserve for magical creatures
Midnight for Charlie Bone Children of the Red King (sometimes called Charlie Bone series) Nimmo, Jenny The Time Twister; The Blue Boa; Castle of Mirrors; Charlie Bone and The Hidden King; Charlie Bone and The Wilderness Wolf; Charlie Bone and The Shadow of Badlock; Charlie Bone and The Red Knight Romance free!
His Majesty’s Dragon Temeraire Novik, Naomi There are 8 books in the series; a 9th book will be published in 2016 Dragons!
Master & Commander Aubrey-Maturin O’Brian, Patrick 21 novels in series; the 21st novel was unfinished when O’Brian died in 2000
Eragon The Inheritance Cycle Paolini, Christoper Eldest; Brisingr; Inheritance A teenage boy and his dragon struggle to overthrow an evil king.
Trickster series especially recommended, but anything by this author is recommended Pierce, Tamara
Pratchett, Terry anything by Pratchett
The Golden Compass His Dark Materials Pullman, Phillip The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Riggs, Ransom Not a series
The Lightning Thief Percy Jackson series Riordan, Rick The Sea of Monsters; The Titan’s Curse; The Battle of the Labyrinth; The Last Olympian
The Name of the Wind The Kingkiller Chronicle Rothfuss, Patrick The Wise Man’s Fear; a 3rd book is promised?
Homeland The Legend of Drizzt Salvatore, R.A. Exile; Sojourn – and more. There are at least 28 books in the series. Appealing to D&D fans?  Follows the boy-child Drizzt, a Dark Elf, to maturity as he seeks harmony in an evil (?) matriarchal society.
The Final Empire Mistborn Trilogy Sanderson, Brandon The series includes two trilogies, a transitional novel between the trilogies, and, apparently, at least one book still to be published. Anything & everything by this author… but Mistborn Trilogy is a good place to start.
Cirque du Freak Cirque du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan Shan, Darren 12-part book series The struggles of a boy who has become involved in the world of vampires
Land Loss Demonata series Shan, Darren There are 10 books in the series. Romance free!
With the Old Breed: At Peleliue and Okinawa Sledge, Eugene
The Mysterious Benedict Society The Mysterious Benedict Society Stewart, Trenton Lee The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey; The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma; The Extraodinary Education of Nicholas Benedict Romance free! Four gifted children. Reynie Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire, are formed into the “Mysterious Benedict Society” and are sent to investigate a facility called L.I.V.E. (the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened), run by the brilliant but evil Ledroptha Curtain.
TenNepal, Doug anything by this author Graphic novels
Middleworld The Jaguar Stones series Voelkel, J&P End of the World Club; The River of No Return; The Lost City; 14-year-old Max must rescue his parents from Mayan underworld.
The 5th Wave The 5th Wave Series Yancy, Rick The Infinite Sea; The Last Star (to be published May 2016) Cassie finds herself in a world devastated by alien attack, desperate to save herself and find her lost brother. Cassie’s mission is to stay alone and stay alive. But then she meets Evan Walker, who may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death.

So which book did the boys and up selecting?

They chose the book Storm Front from the Dresden Files series written by author Jim Butcher. It was recommended by one of my former students, a man who is very much into the world of Dungeons and Dragons, weapons, good books, and living life with gusto.

From start to finish: the entire process of finding a book that would satisfy Paco and his friends was fun, energetic, and a great example of a flash community popping up around a common interest. It made me happy.

You know what else made me happy? When I told Paco I needed a feature image for this blog post — something related to books and reading — and he offered to create it. It’s a damn piece of sunshine, that picture. He may be reading adult books these days, but his picture reminded me he’s still a kid inside.

So, in closing, I’d just like to shout: READING RULES!


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Baby, You’re a Star


At the end of each quarter at the high school, many students’ schedules undergo shifts. Maybe they switch to taking the required Health course, or maybe external pushes and pulls result in the order of their classes getting switched around. Sometimes, those pushes and pulls cause a student to be moved into the class of a different teacher.

This is what happened to Allegra’s schedule earlier this year, at the end of a quarter. With some consternation, she realized her new schedule had her moving from the tutelage of one Spanish teacher and into the classroom of another. When she reported this to me — and naturally it burbled out when she was upstairs, and I was halfway down the staircase, heading to the main floor — I didn’t understand what the problem was. “But I thought you don’t exactly love the teacher you’ve had? I thought the glacial pace, the lack of interesting content, and the feeling of being taught a warm, romantic language in a very Germanic manner — those things weren’t exactly making you thrilled about Spanish this year? So wouldn’t a move to a new teacher be a good thing?”

Standing at the banister on the second floor talking down to me while I craned my neck to look up at her, the girl clarified: “Yea, but in that class, at least I stand a chance of learning something. With the other teacher, the one they put me with for the new quarter, I won’t learn anything. It’s a move for the worse.”

Well, damn.

Fortunately, as we stood there, still staged for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, Allegra continued, “So when I saw my new schedule, I decided, ‘No, I don’t want this.’ The guidance counselors always say we can come see them with problems, so I went to the office, talked to a counselor, and now my schedule is fine. All my classes are staying the same next quarter, and I’ll have the same Spanish teacher.”

I hoped my face didn’t reveal my surprise. As a rule, our kids are so mild-tempered, so shoulder-shruggingly fine with almost everything, so averse to direct interactions — to the point that we can hardly get them to say hello to a person standing three feet from them — that I have trouble imagining scenarios where they have an issue and then deal with it. For the most part, they have made sure their lives don’t have problems because then they can glide.

I can’t imagine where they get it.

A day after Allegra got her schedule settled to her satisfaction, she was in Spanish class. At some point, she wandered up front to ask her Germanic romance-language teacher a question about the homework.

“Allegra!” the teacher started. “You aren’t going to be in my class next quarter. I was looking at the rosters and noticed that you’ll be switching into a different class.”

Well, actually, Allegra told her, I will be in your class next quarter.

“Oh, I didn’t know you’d gotten it switched back,” the teacher continued. “The other day, when I looked at my class list, your name wasn’t on it, and I noticed. I have to keep an eye on my stars, you know!”

Wait. What?

As Allegra, my Juliet, stood above me, recounting this moment, her face was a mix of raised eyebrows, happy smiles, and wonder. “I mean, she’d never even talked to me before, really, and I don’t actually speak up a lot in her class, so I had no idea. She thinks I’m a star? I almost left her class without ever knowing that. How come I didn’t know I’m a star?”

There, her words drifting down from the balcony, came one of life’s important questions.

How come I didn’t know I’m a star?

As the 15-year-old and I considered that bit of life, the part where we don’t realize we’re valued, I trotted out an old chestnut: the story about when I telephoned my dance teacher, from whom I’d taken ballet and modern dance lessons for nine years, to tell her I would be quitting classes. Although her instruction had been a significant part of my life from the ages of seven through 16, I’d hit high school, joined the speech team, found new interests. If something had to give, it would be dance — because it wasn’t like I was built for a career as a ballerina or was going anywhere except around and around in tightly pirouetted circles with those dance classes. So I called Miss June to inform her of my decision.

Even now, I am still processing her reaction. “Oh, that’s too bad! You really have promise as a modern dancer. I would have loved to see you pursue that!”

Much like my daughter thirty years later, my reaction was a confounded Wait. What?

From Miss June, I knew I needed to pull my tummy in. I knew I needed to tuck my derrière under. I knew I needed to pull my shoulders back.

But it was only when I quit that I found out what Miss June really thought. It was only once I was done that I learned the words that had been barrel rolling inside Miss June’s head.

It was only when Allegra’s teacher thought she was losing an excellent student that Allegra learned her teacher thinks she is an excellent student.

It’s human nature, the business of having a thought flit through the brain and then neglecting to voice it. Sometimes, we just forget. Other times, we don’t want to be overbearing or come off as false. Perhaps we are consciously holding back praise; we don’t want to give someone a big head, or we feel awkward, assigning formality to the casual, creating the weight of “a moment.” Bizarrely, to extend praise to someone can feel like admitting a vulnerability in ourselves, like a rook-takes-knight power shift. In some cases, sitting with a compliment rather than expressing it is a deliberate teaching tool — since confidence must grow from within. Most frequently of all, we just don’t realize how very much someone might benefit from hearing the words.

Ah, but if we flip that awkward moment of formality, cast ourselves in the recipient role, hand ourselves the telephone receiver and whisper, “It’s Miss June. She has something to tell you!”…if we remember what it was like to be 15 and to self-motivate and to aim high in a class driven by ho-hum instruction…if we remember what it was like to be 15, even in the best of circumstances…if we remember what it is like to be a person of any age at all, walking through life with only a thin layer of skin sheltering a vulnerable heart…if we remember the times when we were 19 and a grandpa at the bus stop sauntered by and called out “How’d you get so beautiful, anyway?” or when our fathers told us “People are drawn to you because you have an effervescence” or when our crying friends snuffled “Thank you. I didn’t know what I was thinking until you helped me see it” or our husbands noted, mouths full, “You bake the best cookies; you make them so that they taste generous”…if we remember those holy, transformative moments that embrace our vulnerabilities and hold them to the sun…

how can we ever forget, neglect, hold back when it comes others? How can we allow the stars among us to feel that they are shining only for themselves?

I cannot.

Thus, I want to announce loudly and for all to hear:

Allegra is turning 16 today, and she is multi-talented, quietly confident, astutely observant, admirably self-possessed, firecracker smart. The world is lucky to have her.

May there never be a question about my feelings for you, my beloved girl, mi amada estrella.

Allegra Collage

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A Day in the Life: I Am a Hat Rack

Four years ago, a new semester started in my online classes, and I got scared.

In one of my sections of research writing, a section that was very lively from the first day and never ceased to have excellent energy, there was this one student, and she made me nervous. You see, during the first week of class, students were asked to post personal introductions of themselves and then reply to two classmates’ messages. This activity is a nice way to break the ice and to get at least a few connections going.

This one particular student, however, didn’t reply to just two classmates.

She replied to every single person’s introduction. And there were 50 people in that class.

Whoa, I thought to myself. I’m going to have to keep my eye on this one. She could be a real handful. 

As the semester progressed, though, my fears were allayed; this student, a woman named Deanna, was not crazy or too much or out of control. Nope. Rather, Deanna was a steady, positive influence for the entire class. She never missed an assignment. She never turned in work late. She never made a single excuse — even when her father died, and she had to make a through-the-night drive across several states right when an important assignment was due. She was a damn delight.

After that semester ended, it occurred to me that Deanna would make an excellent student mentor. Our college has a program that allows online instructors to draft stand-out students as mentors who are then embedded within online sections. Flattered, Deanna accepted my offer, and for the next few years, she and I became a team within the online classroom. In addition to the instructional materials that I would provide to students, Deanna would post a weekly tip for the class, answer questions if she saw them before I had logged in, participate in discussions when they were lagging, and complete a critique of every student’s rough draft of the research paper. She did all this in addition to taking her own classes and working full time.

During these years as a team, we became friends more than anything. Eventually, Deanna approached me to ask if I would be willing to serve as the faculty advisor for Phi Theta Kappa. If anyone else had asked me, I might have said no. But since Deanna was the president of our campus’ chapter of PTK, I was willing.

For the next two years, Deanna and I worked together to bolster the health and presence of the PTK chapter. Not only did we hold monthly meetings, we started having chapter officers do presentations during Student Success Day, and one semester we ran an ESL group on campus, in an effort to forge connections with our international students. Even more, we traveled to various PTK conferences, both regional and national. There is a very specific intimacy that comes from hanging out in airports and staying in hotels with a student/friend. Put another way: I could walk up to a Starbucks counter and know what kind of drink to order for Deanna.

Just last week, on the day before my birthday, Deanna came over with a four-pack of my favorite beer in one hand and a screamingly fine chocolate cake in the other hand. After days of pain and isolation, I felt myself emerge from behind my sling a little bit that afternoon as three of us shared beers, gossip, and cake.

Over these past four years of getting to know Deanna, I have learned a great deal about her. I have learned about her years with her emotionally abusive ex-husband: one of his weekly demands of her was that they go into the bedroom and spread a towel onto the floor near the bed; then she would stand on the towel while he sprayed tan lines onto her body. I have learned that this ex-husband also constantly told his wife, who has battled anorexia since her teen years, that she was “fat” at 5 feet 4 ½ inches and 120 pounds. I have learned that she has the softest of hearts: her house, which she bought from her parents when they wanted to move, has often served in recent years as a halfway house for young people dealing with issues of finances, sexuality, and homelessness. I have learned that even though she became a nurse several decades ago, she is willing to push beyond the easy comfort of a known career and retrain herself, now that she is in her 50s, for a new life as an English teacher.

And I have learned that during the first week of our research writing class, the reason Deanna responded to every single classmate’s introduction was this: she couldn’t bear the idea that her classmates had devoted time and effort to creating descriptions of themselves, yet their introductions might go unacknowledged. As she explained to me, “I know how terrible it feels to try at something — but not be seen.”

It came as no surprise, then, that when I put out the call asking if anyone would be willing to share the details of “a day in the life,” Deanna willingly agreed to give me an assist. Here, then, is Deanna.


I have decided that sometimes I wear too-many-damn-hats! It wasn’t always this way. There was a time in my life where I possessed just enough that I could either juggle them quickly – or sometimes wear two at a time. I possessed the hats of trophy wife, mother, and nurse. Though I had children, life was simple then. However, over time, the hat of motherhood wasn’t needed as much. Additionally, one of those hats just didn’t seem to fit quite right. It was too constricting, restricting, controlling, and confining — plus I was required to wear it 24/7. So, after 23-years, I decided I’d had enough, and I held a small bonfire of hats and walked away. Ran actually.

I discovered that once I was rid of the “constricting and confining” hat of trophy wife, I could take on bigger, better, and even MORE hats!

With my day beginning from the time I walk out the door at 5:30 am (sometimes at 5:15 am) and going until 10:30 pm at night, many of these hats are in a continual rotating basis.

Monday through Friday typically looks like this, with some slight time variations depending on what classes I have:

5:45 am-10:00 am – nurse hat

10:30 am-3:20 pm – student hat

3:45 pm-6:45 pm – nurse hat

7:15 pm-10:30 pm – student, girlfriend, and Phi Theta Kappa advisor hats

The open times in between are spent driving to and from campus. When I have volunteering, work time shuffles as I can be flexible just as long as I get those 40-hours in. Most of my phone calls are made during drive time <gasp> yes I wear a headset! It really is the only time I have figured out where I can make phone calls to family or PTK members.

On weekends, while there is no time constraint, I’m girlfriend, student, PTK advisor, writer, and archer or hunter (depending on the time of the year). Happily, I don’t have to get up until 8:30 am on the weekends – yet I’m typically not in bed until 1:00 am.

Am I insane? Perhaps. Yet I believe if there is something that interests me then damn it – I’m going to buy that hat and see if I can wear it.

My current hats:

Girlfriend: this is the easiest, most carefree, and most fun hat that I wear – non-stop. Of course it is a younger hat, but one that I love wearing. It fits me very well and never goes out of style. At the age of 45, I found the love of my life: a man 13-years younger whom I had been good friends with for two years before my divorce. I was surprised as heck when he told me he wanted to date me. I can honestly say that I am no longer who I was because I have blossomed without the restriction I had been placed in during my marriage. It is this relationship (of more than 7-years) that has afforded me the freedom to pursue new hats. In this hat I have traveled to France, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This hat will eventually see me (with Shawn) living and teaching in Thailand six months out of the year.

Full-time Student: taking 14 credits at a time – in the classroom five days per week — with too many outside of class hours to think about. It would scare me if I did the calculations. Happily – this hat does not resemble a cone-shaped dunce hat. This could also be called my “planning and preparatory hat” as it is this hat that is needed for the dream of living in Thailand. Admittedly, it was difficult getting used to wearing the hat of student after being out of the classroom for 27 years. Starting with an Associate’s Degree, now working on my Bachelor’s Degree, and then heading into Master’s in English is a time commitment but necessary for the life we envision for tomorrow.

Nurse: though I initially burned this one, I did get a new one in a slightly different model. I wear this hat 40-hours per week typically. However, sometimes I have to put the traditional nurse’s hat back on for family and friends — you know, when they have questions that they don’t want to bother their doctor with. After graduating from practical nursing in 1983, I spent the next 27 years as a pediatric nurse, an OB/GYN nurse, and a medical surgical nurse in a hospital. Now I use my nursing skills in Quality Review. This is a job (and hat) that is flexible enough that I can don my student hat over it.

Phi Theta Kappa Advisor (PTK): the honor society for 2-year colleges. This hat has undergone some style changes since I first put on a PTK hat in 2011. It initially started as a chapter officer and then regional officer and morphed into the eventual advisor hat. Sometimes this involves giving workshops, just listening, or helping with scholarship applications. The transition in style has definitely been a learning process, and there are times when this hat gets a bit uncomfortable to wear.

Volunteer: while I was wearing the trophy wife hat, I was not allowed to volunteer because, after all, what would I get out of it? Since my divorce, I have found that I enjoy wearing the hat of volunteer. Wearing the hat of the fryer queen at the VFW burger nights (this hat looks more like the tall paper chef hats we see on TV) along with keeping their wireless internet up and running has been a great way to give back to those who have served.  Donating blood and working with elementary kids as a Rolling Readers classroom reader looks like a baseball cap with the words – “Just Ask Me & I’ll Do It” written on it. If I can fit it into my schedule, I will happily accept any volunteer hat that is offered.

Writer: this invisible hat allows me to blog under a pseudonym so I can be deep, snarky, give advice, or be serious; my “Avie Layne” hat is a fun one to wear. I’ve honestly tried this hat on from time to time since I was a teenager. Undeniably, as a teenager, what I wrote was truly horrible – but it was a learning process. During the later years of my marriage, I dabbled in writing, but it wasn’t a hat I could bring out very often.

Archer/Hunter: YES – this hat is camouflage (or bright orange) and is typically worn from August through January. A full camo ensemble accompanies the wearing of this particular hat. This is the newest hat in the bunch. I’ve never been athletic, but trying archery at a fellowship event showed me this was something I could do. I discovered, in this past year, that I’m actually quite good at it. Later, I decided it would be a fun hat to wear with my dad during deer hunting season. This year the hunting hat was in practice as I think my quarry knew that my hat was very new and stayed away. Next year, however – my hat will be quite broken in.


Future Hats: While I will always have the hat of girlfriend, there is the possibility of changing the style slightly to that of wife. Of course, this time it won’t be the trophy style – rather it will continue to be comfortable, carefree, and easy. While we are living in Thailand, my hat will be teacher of English language, lover and chef of Thai cuisine, all while keeping my writer’s hat close at hand. In the months each year that we will be back in the States, at the property we lovingly call “The Lake House,” I will don the hat of gardener and make a slight variation to the teacher hat while teaching community classes on cooking. This little tree of hats could happily sustain me for the rest of my life.


Deanna 3 (1)

Growing up under the hot Kansas sun, Deanna Keller spent many hours sitting under the apricot tree with her nose either in a book or writing in her scruffy notebooks, carefully composing stereotypically bad teenage poetry with a Number Two pencil. Exploring writing as an adult, she found her voice by blogging about her observations and musings surrounding life using a ghost name, which she has done for the past five years. Creative Writing classes at college opened her eyes to the idea of short stories for young adults and ignited new writing passion. Many are based on the stories of her parents’ poor childhoods growing up in the Ozarks of Arkansas in the late 1940s early 50s. Currently, as student at The College of St. Scholastica pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English, she will continue on to a Master’s in teaching and a certification in online education in order to teach at the high school or community college level. She plans to pass along the love of writing to future students and assist young writers in finding their own writing voice. Deanna’s motto is, “Never let anyone prevent you from reaching for your dreams. The only failure is in not trying.” Deanna blogs at: Avie Layne.


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I Didn’t Eat the Booger

It’s my birthday. I’m 49 today.

I’m also in the midst of recovering from shoulder surgery, in a semi-diminished state that has left me feeling grateful for many things on this day of taking stock.

Example #1:

Last week, Byron and I were standing in the bathroom, with him waiting to assist me in some small act, perhaps applying deodorant. He was waiting because I needed a minute to blow my nose. With my right arm in a sling system, I was blowing my nose using one hand. I am as good at this task as I am at running a six-minute mile. Just as I was starting to feel proud of myself for getting the Kleenex around both nostrils and for managing to emit some snot into the tissue, a bad thing happened.

A Kix-sized booger flew out of my nostril, dodged the tissue, jettisoned upwards, and landed with an audible splat upon my glasses lens.

It was a marvel, that thing. Bright neon yellow. Perfectly gunky. A rogue with great character.

Because Byron and I have been through childbirth together, a lively, glowing booger is hardly worth an eyebrow twitch between the two of us.

“Sorry about that,” I said. “I’ll just…”

“Yeah,” Byron agreed. “You’re going to need to deal with the actual booger, but once you get it off, I’ll be happy to clean your glasses for you.”

And he did.

Example #2:

Paco is usually very tired by the time he gets home from his school day. He needs a snack, something to drink, and a few gentle touches to remind him that he’s with us now — that the tiring world is locked away outside our doors. Often, this means I play with his hair or scratch his back for a little while.

A few days ago, he leaned in for a forehead-to-forehead hug. Although I have not been engaging in many hugs since the surgery, I enjoyed the feel of his arms around my shoulders. Quickly, though, he retracted one arm and apologized, saying, “Oh, no, that must have hurt you! I’m sorry, Mom.” Telling him I appreciated his solicitousness, I assured him that no one’s touch is more gentle than his.

“I’m just really glad it didn’t hurt you,” he almost whispered, looking relieved.

Example #3:

By the end of each day, my shoulder is aching, and I’m forced to admit that my energy is still on the rebound. At that point, there is nothing more welcome and comforting than sliding into the castle of pillows on my bed.

Last night, as I lay there, messing around with my phone and reading a few pages from a new book, Allegra got up from her chair at the computer where she had been plugging away at her homework and came over for a good night kiss. Before I pecked her cheek, however, she settled onto the edge of the bed to tell me about some of the career presentations her classmates have been giving in English class.

For the past several weeks, all the sophomores have been working on research projects focusing on potential future professions; this research culminates in a video that is then shown to the class. For Allegra, choosing a possible future career required a lot of thought and discussion — because the beauty of being a sophomore in high school is that everything is still possible. After talking through her interests and passions, she narrowed it down: she is genuinely excited when it comes to travel, cultures, and various countries around the world. Thus, I suggested she consider researching the profession of a Foreign Service Officer, someone who works and lives abroad, helping with visas, finances, tourists, expatriates, all the associated issues of an embassy. This suggestion and her decision were bolstered by the fact that she was required to do an interview with someone who currently works in the chosen job, and I have a high school friend who is a Foreign Service Officer.

Once I knew what my own girl was doing, I started asking what her friends were researching and what careers they were contemplating. Also, I warned her I would be eagerly anticipating updates about all the presentations given in her class.

So there she sat last night, telling me about the first couple days of presentations. A few of her classmates wanted to be teachers, and there were also presentations about being a meteorologist, and animator, a veterinarian, a physician’s assistant, a pilot, and all sorts of other options that made me want to go back and be young again.

As I leaned against the pillows, feeling the ache in my back relax, I watched her lovely face in the dim light, that lovely face that came into my life out of my own body 16 years ago, and I forgot about the phone in my hand, the book by my elbow, the painkillers on my side table, the plate of chocolate cake awaiting me as soon as midnight struck. All I thought about was how much life there was in her big, blue eyes, and how she was sitting next to me when I was aching, telling me about her day — because she knew it mattered to me.

Example #4:

A few days before my surgery, I received an email gift certificate from my best friend, Colleen. To help distract me from my anticipatory worry about the surgery, she had sent me an early birthday present: a hefty amount towards a pair of Fluevogs— shoes that are quirky, whimsical, well-made, and expensive. After tearing around the house to find Byron — to tell him of my excitement — I was surprised when his face only looked semi-happy at the news.

“At the risk of blowing my birthday present to you,” he said, “I’m just going to tell you now that I was planning to give you the exact same thing, right down to the same dollar amount.”

His disclosure in no way ruined my birthday present. Rather, it provided a delicious delight: to have both a best friend and husband who are so attuned to even my smallest desires, who are so thoughtful about who I am, is the very definition of a perfect gift.

Just as good: when I buy a pair of those shoes, I will smile with every step, thinking about how Colleen sponsored the left foot while Byron sponsored the right.


On this special day of taking stock and feeling gratitude, then, I am thinking many things.

I’m thinking about how my glasses are clean.

Because I am loved and supported.

I’m thinking about how good a hug can feel.

Because the people in my life are gentle and respectful.

I’m thinking about how I am not lonely, and I have company in the dark hours when pain creeps in.

Because someone lovely takes a minute to sit on the edge of my bed.

I’m thinking about feeling seen and acknowledged and beloved.

Because those who have known me over the years show me that they understand exactly who I am.

When I was young, I would not have known how to ask for this life.

But here it is.

And it is so good, so full, that I can’t even have candles on my cake.

Because I wouldn’t know what to wish for.


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In a Funk

“How can it smell so bad? We just showered you yesterday!”

As I stand in the kitchen sniffing my fingertips, Byron is incredulous.

Bruno Mars is still backstage polishing his loafers, yet there is some serious funk going on. I press my fingertips to my nose, and it is a testament to my steel stomach that I do not vomit.

A minute before, I had been slowly, gently tucking fabric from my shirt into my armpit. Having recently undergone a rotator cuff repair, my right shoulder and arm are immobilized in a sling for the next month, and I had been trying to push cloth into the armpit to minimize chafing and maximize moisture mopping. When I removed my fingers from the armpit, a festering funk hit the world of oxygen and light and unfurled its wings.

The smell was like a shiitake mushroom had been rolled in a clay bowl of goat cheese, dragged through a ramekin of beaver feces, and dipped into a fondue pot of sulfur-rich water collected from a geyser in Yellowstone Park. In other words, it was fungus meets mold meets poop meets rotten eggs.

“But we just showered you yesterday!” Byron reiterates his disbelief, certain that our careful spraying, soaping, and dabbing of my muffled pit should have kept it tamed for more than a measly 24 hours.

For all the work that it had taken to clean that pit — I had leaned gingerly to the side so that gravity and body mechanics could passively arc my arm away from my body, allowing Byron to softly run a bar of soap up into the pit’ s folds before using the shower head to blast the suds away, after which he had tentatively eased an edge of the towel into the crevices to soak up the moisture — we had expected a more lasting payoff.

But no. The funk dominated. Wrinkling my nose distastefully, I accepted that dangling my fingertips into a bottle of rubbing alcohol would provide the most efficacious countermeasure to the stink. Ever my partner, even in the most gorge-raising situations, Byron snapped a chip clip onto his nose and helped me remove my shirt. “Holy crap,” he commented before pitching the offending fabric down the stairs to the laundry, “that is rank.”

I am only a week into my recovery, but already it’s been quite a journey.


Outside of the astonishing funk, I’ve had a few other eye openers:

  • being a post-surgical patient is a whole lot like being a celebrity. For both me and Jennifer Aniston, we are most constructive when we are passive. We have people do our hair, we have people dress us, we have people bring us food; the way we show up most actively in our lives is predicated upon being docile recipients of other people’s attentions
  • when the anesthesia wears off, and the three-day pain pump running into the neck through a catheter runs out, BE SURE TO HAVE SOME OTHER PAIN MEDICATIONS ALREADY GOING, OR DEATH WILL SEEM A REASONABLE OPTION
  • I am almost ashamed to admit that the cliché “laughter is the best medicine” has proven true; nothing has been more effective in recent days that a good, hard belly laugh. In my absolute worst hour, Byron was sitting near me, keeping me company, when he started chuckling at an article he was reading on his phone. I asked him what was so funny, so he read it aloud. By the end of the piece, I had the best kind of tears running down my cheeks. (Here is the article he read: “Hummingbird Back at Feeder Again, Grandmother Reports”). I also continue to snortle every time I remember my best friend advising me before the surgery to take a Sharpie to my feet and write upon them “Do Not Amputate.” The morning of the surgery, when the doctor came out and asked if he could write his initials on my shoulder, I was possessed by a private, unexplainable giggle
  • there are few things more satisfying than a bowel that remembers how to move
  • it is tear-droppingly gratifying when a physical therapist looks you in the eyes while you are hurting and whimpering and and secretly believing you’re a sad, weak thing, and he tells you that you’ve had one of the most painful surgeries there is, harder even than a full shoulder or knee replacement
  • it is really hard to put toothpaste on a toothbrush when you have only one hand
  • it is really hard to open a container of yogurt and stir the fruit from the bottom with only one hand
  • it is really hard to reach toilet paper located on the right when only your left hand is functional
  • it is really hard to squeeze a zit with only one hand
  • it is really hard to open the Percocet when the container is childproof and you yourself are on Percocet and therefore essentially a toddler who just sucked down a juice pouch of gin
  • it is really hard to do buttons; this is a lifelong problem for me and has nothing to do with surgery, but I thought I would mention it
  • it is really hard to do a whole lot of fundamental tasks when you are limited to one arm and or one hand, and I never before had the opportunity before now to appreciate the nuance and minutiae of the challenges
  • I am having an opportunity to learn new kinds of empathy, and that feels like a deep, unanticipated, most-welcome, sideways gift. Having never broken a bone, or suffered profound physical trauma, or had to maneuver through my days with any sort of disability, I have been fortunate to trip along life’s path singing tra-la-la, occasionally stopping to look at someone who is dealing with a trial and think, superficially, “Oh, that poor person. What a difficult way to live.” After clucking sadly for a nanosecond, I begin to skip again. In this past week, however, I have been registering all the things that are taxing when the body is not at full capability, and I have been witnessing how much grace lives in the hearts of the caretakers, and I have been appreciating the systems that evolve for coping, and I am, in the quivery cinema of my mind, sifting through all the images I have seen over the course of my life of the hurt, the wounded, the crippled, the maimed, the war torn — right down to replaying mental scenes with the extras who roamed the grounds of Downton Abbey during Season Two when the manor house was used as a convalescent hospital — and I am humbled by how many people in the history of the world have suffered a physical blow or been born with a congenital problem and who, nevertheless, figured out how to get their teeth clean or stir the fruit into their porridge or wipe their private parts, every day for their Always. I am astonished by the millions and millions of people who have been able to smile, to laugh, to plan, to create, to live full and rich lives even though they sometimes cry with pain in the darkness of the night
  • thanks to this passing elective surgery of mine, I am being permanently improved. I am figuring some things out that will help me live more compassionately, and that is an incalculable lesson for which a shoulder dotted by sutures is a beggarly down payment
  • despite all the goodness that is resulting from this procedure, there is one eye-opener that is not necessarily positive: I am willing to put my own needs over the future of the planet — because after Byron threw my funky shirt down the stairs to the laundry, I totally added the words “aerosol deodorant” to the shopping list. Hole in the ozone be damned. No fingertip, no matter where it’s been digging, should ever smell that bad


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I Want to Hold Their Hands, Part 2: A Day in the Life of a Stay-at-Home Father and English Teacher

Day in the Life

Below is Part 2 of my friend Andy’s “Day in the Life” essay, detailing his hours as a stay-at-home father and English teacher. This one focuses on the teaching. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.


When we finally get home, I see that it is almost 2 pm. This means by the time we walk The Boy to school, he’ll probably have less than 90 minutes until dismissal. I make his day by granting him a reprieve. As I put Baby down for a nap, the other two settle down for their afternoon screen time, and I try to sneak in some more grading of memos and finalizing the night’s lesson plan. Before I can start grading, though, I see a few students have emailed me.

Just like the memos I’m trying to grade, the emails vary from insightful questions about the assignment to the completely mundane, almost child-like need for help. “The website won’t let me hit the submit button right now. What should I do?” (Evidently calling IT never occurs to them.) This afternoon’s emails, though, all seem to be about a problem with their latest VoiceThread assignment, a third-party app that allows them to make video or audio comments on slide presentations. It is notorious for being finicky. The rest of my grading time is spent solving the problem, which is how I discover that I clicked the wrong buttons when I set up the assignment. What I took to be my students’ struggles really stems from my mistake.

Parker Palmer famously wrote (at least famously to teachers) that “You teach who you are.” I am disorganized at best. Forgetful too. You know, just like I am as a father. I forget diapers, even the diaper bags. I’ve lost coats and hats, even shoes: I once had a baby kick off a shoe at a thrift store, not noticing it until I was buckling her into the car. By the time I got back inside, the shoe was gone. Evidently the thief must have a peg-legged pirate baby that really needed a new shoe badly enough that taking one single shoe off the thrift store floor made sense. I’m not terribly different as a teacher. I lost papers regularly. Or spilled coffee on them while grading, or had kids spill milk on them while grading–me grading, not my babies who tend to be frustratingly illiterate. So I don’t collect papers anymore. I just use the online portal instead. But even that doesn’t keep me from making mistakes.  I try my best to be fair in each situation, so when it is my fault, I admit it and try to fix it.

After I fix the problem, I get the kids a snack before 4:30, when my wife usually arrives home on my teaching days. Some days, we literally play tag-team parenting, with me throwing a baby at her as she walks in the door. Lucky days are where we change together (unfortunately not in a sexy way), her out of work clothes, me into them–mine, not hers. We give each other quick status updates: Baby didn’t nap well, Preschooler needs a bath from crawling on the waiting room floor. I peck her on the cheek, then I am out the door, my patch-less elbows pumping towards the car and work.

The hour before class is spent in mandatory office hours. This is the only time that I really remember my adjunct status. Let me be clear that the director of my program and the administrators in the English Department have been nothing but good people. The pay is pretty good for adjuncts, and we get healthcare benefits and retirement, all things that a lot of adjuncts don’t get at many universities. I’m treated as well as a part-time worker can be treated in a workplace still so codified and stratified by the academic hierarchy and new business models.  But that hour before teaching is full of reminders that I’m not a professor, despite what my students call me. One of those is the pens.

When I get to work, I first check my mailbox and pick up some new office supplies from the cabinet in the mailroom. For some reason, we aren’t trusted with the more expensive white board markers: those are kept in a locked cabinet in the main program office, which is closed by the time I arrive in the evenings. If I need one, I know where I can get one. But that is at least understandable: the department doesn’t want people stealing dry erase pens for their own ubiquitous white boards. The pens, though, are worse than that. The pens are all Papermates, the ones that cost a nickel each; if you used one on a two-hour exam, it’d run out of ink after one hour, 50 minutes. Upstairs where the professors’ offices are, supposedly there are boxes of Pilot G2s in all the colors of the spectrum. Even purple for those rebel graders. But down here, nothing reminds me more of my disposable status at the university than the pens: adjuncts are the Papermates of academia.

I make my way down the hall to the office I share with five other adjuncts. We share four desks and two computers. Tonight, I have the office to myself, meaning I won’t get distracted gabbing with my colleagues instead of working.  Most office hours I have between 0 and 1 student come to talk to me. I think it is because I am such a brilliant teacher, everything I say makes sense in the classroom. It was the same way when I taught junior high and we had 45 minutes of “extended study” at the end of the day. While I don’t have to do much classroom discipline in college aside from talking and policing smartphone usage, the rest is the same as teaching junior high: the kids might be bigger and be able to buy beer, but they still need reassurance and help and questions answered.

The first thing I do when I open my computer classroom is login to the computer which takes at least ten minutes to get fully operational, then I check for those valuable whiteboard markers. As usual, the woman who teaches before me took all the markers with her, evidently to sell on the writing weapon black market, so I am stuck going to the IT desk to borrow one. The IT desk is staffed by undergraduate employees, all glued to laptops and scarfing fast food. The one at the window barely looks up when asking for my university ID to prove I’m not some random whiteboard marker thief wandering in off the street. I hand it over the row of hot sauce bottles that inexplicably line the customer service window. (I make a mental note to ask my hot sauce student if he works at the IT desk.) I then have to sign for the marker, evidently so they can dock my pay if I don’t return it after class. Just like buying beer, tobacco, or any opioid painkiller, whiteboard markers are a controlled substance here.

In class, I teach with a blend of humor and purpose. I have a class planned out, but I don’t mind answering questions ad infinitum and going on digressions. My teaching super power is the ability to digress on long tangents but then find a way to bring them back in a relevant way. Hence discussions of “What Does the Fox Say?” and why “Call Me Maybe” drives me crazy because of both dangling adverbs and direct address.

While teaching, I try to remember how I felt when I was one of those seated in the classroom. That’s why I try to make class fun whenever possible. I also try to support my students through each of my responses to their comments, no matter how off-base or wrong they are. I’ve never been able to just say “no, you’re wrong” like one of my favorite teachers, Professor Alan Williamson, could do. That “No” is something I aspire to.

Despite his inability to have sustained conversations in office hours, his tendency to address his lectures to the overhead projector in the front corner of the classroom, and his preternatural ability to recite long chunks of memorized poetry without reading from the book (He was especially fond of “This Be the Verse” by Larkin, reciting “They fuck you up/ Your mum and dad/ They don’t mean to, but they do. . .”), Williamson could teach.

Professor Williamson not only gave us the basic building blocks of poetic analysis and exegesis, but he helped us understand how the poems we were reading fit into the larger issues of literature and art too. This occasionally came across in a well-placed “No, you are completely wrong,” from Williamson during discussions, which earned my respect: I don’t think I’d ever had an English teacher in high school tell a student clearly grasping for some deep–yet unsupported–insight that they were full of shit, like Williamson did in not so many words. All this flashes through my head like a nugget-induced flashback while I think of how to respond to my own students’ responses. I don’t yet have the courage to tell students they are completely wrong. I chalk it up to having a lot left to learn as a teacher.

Tonight being my tough class doesn’t help matters. They sit there, stonily, resisting my charm and not laughing at my jokes, even the brilliant ones. They don’t raise their hands to answer my questions, only to ask their own. Exercises don’t take long to discuss and no digressions are to be had. No super powers are flexed this night. Even discussing good and bad examples of student writing doesn’t inspire discussion like it usually does: students love to shred apart these anonymous examples. I let them go a few minutes early, both them and me glad to be free of the awkward silences. They probably head out to the bars being a Thursday. I, though, drive home.

Even though it is close to 10 pm, I know I’m too wired to go to sleep. I’ll eat dinner finally, then perhaps read for a few minutes. I’ll talk to my wife and find out how dinner and bedtime went with the kids for a bit before she heads to bed. I try not to grade because to paraphrase Jack White, my brain feels like pancake batter. Plus, I’m sure it will put me to sleep.

I’ve done marathon grading sessions at night before, but I end up making too many tired mistakes, writing down the wrong student name or wrong subject of the paper. If I grade past 2am, I’ll often find myself falling asleep briefly to short, intense dreams: once I dreamed about stealing a truck and, when I awoke, found that I had typed the word “truck” in a comment. Another time I dozed briefly while typing, only to find that I’d written, “These audience analyses could help you tailor your argument moreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”  Even for a mistake-prone teacher like me, nothing loses your credibility faster than one simple mistake in a comment. The student could turn in Jack Torrance’s stacks of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” from The Shining, but if you write “stupid” instead of “dull” in the comment, they’ll think there is nothing wrong with the paper because that mistakes proves this wasn’t their paper. Inevitably, the reply will come. “Professor Delfino [sic], I don’t understand your comment. Was this for someone else? I expect my grade to be fixed to the A++-+-++ I deserve.” Now I avoid grading late at night, and instead get up early.

The house is finally quiet again, and I sit in the dark living room before heading to bed, enjoying the silence. I know that these days of adjunct-ness are temporary. Eventually kids will continue to grow as I feed them and hold their hand in parking lots. They’ll all be in school one day, and I may even find a non-teaching job for the first time in my adult life. But for now I work 1.5 jobs to keep my resume from becoming a black hole. The stresses won’t be gone, just different. But still there will be coffee, and quiet, and crepuscular light. And, I know, enough hands to hold.



Andrew S. Delfino is a stay-at-home dad of four and a teacher. With a wonderful for a wife and three daughters, he’s not afraid to be called a feminist, but does hate being called the babysitter, though. He blogs occasionally at and Tweets at @almostcoherentp.


Also: if, after reading this, you’d be interested in writing and letting me post an essay about your own “Day in the Life,” please let me know in the comments or through I am endlessly fascinated by the minutiae that make up our days!


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