Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's plans

There is still snow on the ground, and they tell me we may get more but I don't believe them. You never know, though. In all things, there is always hope. I hope we get some more while I'm sitting around eating endlessly with my many families and that we get none on our drive home in a few days.

I've been whining about driving here and there with a cloud of guilt over my head all Christmas leave, not having a moment to contemplate the season, the snow, the impending deployment, not having a moment to read, not having a moment but instead being in a constant state of planning the next move. Well, I know that's all my own fault and peace comes within and all that stuff that people say. Anyway, I'm sorry it's almost time to leave our families and to take Joseph away from Oklahoma, the place he loves, but I look forward to New Year's Eve, at least.

Knowing, of course, that anything you look forward to can end up not coming to pass. Don't speak to me of that just now. I'm well aware of it and don't need to be reminded.

On New Year's Eve we go to my father's house, lay around, eat something good, and, at midnight, blow the bullhorn into the Adair County night. Then we listen to the first gun shots of the New Year echo around the valley. It's always good, and no matter how manic Christmas is, New Year's Eve is always peaceful.

Tomorrow, amazingly, we don't have plans. We're going to try to sneak out on a date, me and this man I'm traveling around with, who in another life in New York is my husband. In all the running around, it's hard to catch up, and I miss him.

This blog is disorganized. I'm disorganized. I have things to say but no energy left.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nine fathoms deep it had followed us from the land of mist and snow...

I've been in Oklahoma since Dec. 19th, on Christmas leave with my husband. We've mostly been at his parents' house because he will be deploying soon, but, as usual, there has been a fair amount of traveling here and there, trying to see everyone at least somewhat equally. It's tiring, and I don't have the proper good attitude about it. I should think how lucky I am that so many people love us and that we have places to be. I never regret the big, close families, but sometimes I wish for a few guiltless days of hanging out with him somewhere beautiful and silent, and a more sacred, peaceful Christmas. Oh well...merry chaos is good too, I suppose.

My best Christmas memory happened when I was about nine years old. I was standing in the back of Bunch Baptist Church in a white gown and wire halo wrapped with tinsel. I was one of the heavenly host. We were behind the Holy Family, about to approach Bethlehem, which was played by a really realistic and beautiful cut-out of the city's skyline made of grocery sacks by my artist mother. It was hung on the wall behind the baptistry, with the one light shining on it. We were all singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem," walking slowly with our candles toward the front of the church. I've been trying to feel like that every Christmas since, but haven't succeeded in my adult life.

I don't like for Christmas to be a logistics task, but I don't know how to fix it. The answer is not, "Do what you need to do for your own happiness." We do that the whole rest of the year, going where the Army wants us to go. We chose it over our families, so we have to do what we can to alleviate the pain that causes them.

But who cares about all this, really? Because the real news is that it snowed just before Christmas Eve -- a record blizzard for Oklahoma. So now, I've come from the land of mist and snow to the land of mist and snow. My niece and I built a snow dog in the yard. We would have built a man, but the snow was too powdery to stick together. The dog could be made with ice and shovels.

I haven't gotten to enjoy the snow other than that. I didn't bring boots for the snow (my feet were frozen after the dog-making!), and it's too icy underneath it to go walking safely. That's the problem with Oklahoma snow; it usually starts with sleet, which makes it dangerous. Still, there's SNOW, and that's always the best part of Christmas when it happens. It's always magic.

We have to keep driving from place to place, and now it's dangerous. I don't regret the snow, though. It's always my favorite. I love that it's come with me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Five-Minute Gross Blog

The other day, the heating oil guy came to check our tank before filling it up. He couldn't get to the tank because our house was built in three stages around it, but while he was looking for it, he discovered something terrible in our crawl space: Standing water! He said we must call a plumber immediately before it got up to the furnace.

My department chair gave me the number of her plumber, and he came over yesterday to check it out. But he couldn't see anything because in that short amount of time the water had risen over everything he needed to look at. Also, he didn't want to walk into it crouched down, and I don't blame him.

He called his friends the septic tank guys, and they came out with their truck, stuck a hose into the water, and started sucking it out. It filled their tank, and they had to come back today. They were going to come this morning, but it was too cold for their equipment! So they came this afternoon, and they are here now, grossing out even though they are used to this job. That's a bad sign, isn't it?

They are almost finished, and when they leave, the plumber is coming again to see what the problem is and fix it. Fortunately, he doesn't think it is a bad one -- just one that we didn't know about until it reached a crisis point. I hope that's the case!

All of this should stress me out the day before we leave for Christmas, when I haven't done most of my shopping and have final papers coming into my office that I should be grading. But it all seems funny for some reason. Probably because I have the money to deal with it (thank goodness!) and because it's so cold that all you can do is laugh!

It's sunny and 9 degrees. I'm home watching gross water pump out of my house. My dog is tied to the sewing machine so she doesn't try to help. For some reason, it's all funny.

Possibly, I am ready for Christmas break!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Hurricane Dream

As most of you know (since most of you are kin to me or Army-kin to me), I spent Hurricane Katrina in south Mississippi. Since then, periodically, I have hurricane dreams. Some involve walking through rotten water and sludge, but most of them actually are not bad dreams. Most are just part of "Hey! I'm back in Mississippi! Woo-hoo!" dreams.

Anyway, last night I had the weirdest hurricane dream yet!

I dreamed a big hurricane came to Sackets Harbor. It was over Lake Ontario (which is about four blocks from our house). I was in the bank building, and when the hurricane hit, I went into a kind of closet in the basement, and I wasn't even scared because I knew it wouldn't get me there. Sure enough, it didn't. When it was over, eye and all, I came out of the bank, and everyone was walking through debris toward the lake. I went with them.

When we got to the boat dock, however, instead of the lake we found a sand beach and the St. Lawrence River! Also, the hurricane had wiped out winter, so it was now warm. Everyone was so happy and said the St. Lawrence would be much better for business than Lake Ontario had been. People were putting out lawn chairs and turning on radios on the beach, and the ice cream shack opened up and put its benches back out. Everyone started putting out awnings (downtown wasn't debris; just the houses) and generally setting up to have a good time.

The gazebo on the shore was wrecked by the hurricane, but I set my beach towel up right by it (like everyone else, I was suddenly in a swimsuit and had a beach towel). I was waiting for Joe to come with my ice cream (suddenly, I knew that's where he was), watching the St. Lawrence go by. He brought my ice cream, and I was eating it, realizing I was no longer lactose intolerant (another effect of the hurricane), and we were talking to our neighbors about how great it was that the river had been re-routed by the hurricane.

The river wasn't huge like it is in real life, so we could see across it. We watched about eight deer come by along the shore. One was a huge buck with giant antlers, and there were some babies and some does. But one doe was weird. She had deformed legs that were too close together and a hump like a camel on her back. But weirdest of all, she had a gigantic head that was facing us, like a child would draw a deer. Her eyes were huge black circles, again like a child's drawing. I was telling Joe that I thought deer wouldn't raise a deformed baby, and wasn't it nice that this one had survived and was part of her group...

Then I woke up.

It was a nice dream, but in reality, I love Lake Ontario and wouldn't trade it for the St. Lawrence River, even though I love that too. This morning the lake has a thin, cracked layer of ice on it. There is snow in Watertown, but not here. Maybe we will get some tonight. Anyway, we most likely won't get a hurricane, but if we do, I hope we also get the weird deer.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Five-Minute Hungry Blog

Today would have been the last day of school if we didn't have to make up Thursday's snow day tomorrow. That's okay, though. It gave my students a little bit more time to come up with drafts for the revision workshop. We'll see if that's what they used the extra time for!

I can't believe we are leaving for Oklahoma in just a few days. I'm so busy that I haven't even had a chance to get excited. Without a tree or decorations or presents or stockings, it doesn't feel like Christmas -- even with snow, even with our neighbor's beautiful decorations. But I think it will feel like Christmas once we're on our way. I'm kind of excited for the long drive, as long as it doesn't entail battling through white-outs and sliding around on ice.

We are supposed to get snow again on Wednesday. My student who lives in Carthage said it was snowing at her house when she left this morning. I love that my students from the outlying areas of Jefferson County always give me hopeful weather updates about the snow they had or that their parents called and told them about. They know I love snow, and they always say, "Maybe it will come all the way out here!" I hope they enjoy me as much as I enjoy them. Even when they are whiny, disgruntled, or otherwise creatively maddening, I feel proprietorial about them, and protective of their uncertain voices in the saturated world of words.

Still, I'm very glad today was the last day of class for three of my classes. I have two more tomorrow, and then it's on to grading final essays, figuring final grades, and making plans for spring.

I got my student evaluations today, and while some of them fairly complained about some classroom management issues and a poorly-designed textbook, I got mostly good reviews. For the first time in my life, I have been assessed as a fair grader! That is quite an accomplishment; I've often been told that I am too hard. I don't think it's due to my goodness, though; I think it is the result of a good grading rubric developed by my incredible department.

I can't say enough good things about my college, my department, my students, this place...I could never have imagined it would be so easy to love. I thought maybe I would be cold, that people would be unfriendly, that I wouldn't be smart enough, that I'd be behind. But the cold is not only bearable but exciting, the people are easy to get along with, my Hog training serves me well in my job, and nobody cares if you're behind here -- Everyone is too concerned with staying warm to be overly fashionable of clothing or intellect. I know when I go home I will bore people with tales of how nice it is here...because it's that: Nice. That sounds boring, but it's not. In a million little ways, this is a fascinating place, and I'm so glad I'm here!

Saturday, December 12, 2009


It isn't snowing anymore, and I am so sorry for that! It may snow again this weekend, though. Now, the snow melted a little and turned into ice on the sidewalks. That is no fun. But at least everything is still mostly white. Alas, our snow never got above the tips of our grass. They stick out the top of it and ruin the yard. Maybe we should mow if we ever get a chance so the snow can cover it up next time.

But I had a good time yesterday. Our elegant and clever department chair is retiring, so we had a lunch for her at work. We all piled into her warm office and ate beef stew and lemon cake and talked about what we're going to read this winter. I am so lucky to be part of this department. Your department makes all the difference. Good co-workers can make anything bearable, even five classes of freshman composition writing five papers each.

My classes were small. Some of my students were still snowed in. But we did our lesson plan anyway, and it went pretty well. Then they did class evaluations, and I hope that went well too! There is a lot to criticize this first semester. I hope to iron out some of the wrinkles by spring.

The campus closed at 4, and that's when the Christmas party started in the Commons. I sang back-up with the faculty band, and our fearless dean (actually, he was really nervous in this case) played drums in public for the first time. I was standing there singing Marshall Tucker Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival songs thinking, "There on the drums is my dean. There on the lead guitar is our head librarian. There on the bass and keyboards and rhythm guitar are my fellow professors. And here singing beside me is our all-knowing secretary. And there, dancing in front of us, is our college president. Outside is snow. I am the luckiest person in the world."

Unfortunately, Joe didn't get to join in any of these festivities. He had staff duty yesterday, which means he was up for 24 hours. Normally when you have staff duty, you are off work the next day so you can sleep. But instead of that, he was informed that he would be participating -- sans sleep -- in humvee rollover simulation! That's right -- They took my poor, sleep-deprived husband, put him in a fake humvee with a bunch of other soldiers, then rolled it over. By the time he got home, he was sore and positively hallucinatory.

I was sad to be without him, but I still had a good time. I kept thinking that this is how it is going to be again, once he's gone -- going out with couples, on my own. But at least these couples invited me even without him. Lots of couples feel weird having you there when your husband is deployed, I think. I wish he would have been able to get to know my co-workers/friends because it makes it easier when he's gone for there to be people who know him, so they can remember things about him, so when they ask about him, they really know who they are asking about. But this unit has kept him really busy, so he's only met them once. And I barely know the wives from the unit, either. Post feels like another country, and I never go there. Everyone has children, and they have a different kind of life. But I know I'll get to know them once the guys are gone, and I know we'll get along since we'll have that big thing in common.

But all that sounds sad...It's not. It's how the Army works, and it's fine. I've lucked out in deployments so far: I waited out two in Mississippi, by the ocean. Now, I'll wait this one out in New York, by Lake Ontario and in the snow. I guess I'm the luckiest person I know, really. I'm not being sarcastic, either. I wake up most days and can't believe it's turned out this good.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And now there came both mist and snow for REAL

Last time we got snow, it was light and fluffy and no more than Oklahoma gets. Also, it only lasted for a day. Once it turned into water, it didn't even freeze! I felt cheated.

But today we got more snow -- so much snow that my college closed for the day! Unfortunately, we don't live where all the snow piles up. I chose to live in Sackets Harbor, a beautiful village right on the shore of Lake Ontario. That means we get big gusts of wind that whip the trees around and make big crashing waves on the lake. The gusts of wind blow most of our snow over to Watertown and Syracuse, and then the wind drops it. They get feet of snow; we get piddly little ankle-deep inches. At least so far. And they tell me we don't get much more than that. The most we might get is three feet. I can see over a three-foot wall, so that is not enough.

Still, I do not mean to complain. I have snow! The morning started out with the big wind and little pellets of ice. That is no fun. That is Oklahoma weather. And Joe had to drive to staff duty in it at 5 in the morning. I got up at 6:30 to see if snow had come, and it had, but not much. There was more wind, and it picked up the snow and blew it around, but we weren't getting acumulation. I took Tula on a very windy walk to the end of the block but came home because I was afraid a limb would fall on us.

By the afternoon, we'd had more gusts of snow and sometimes actual falling snow. We also had no internet or television, so I don't know how much snow everyone else got. Sackets Harbor had nice clean streets and small limbs everywhere, but still just the ankle-deep snow. I took Tula on a walk one direction, and then I walked by myself to the bank to deposit a check. I didn't see any other people out, so I thought maybe there was some safety or etiquette reason not to walk around in the snow. I asked the teller, and she said, "No, you can play in it. We just don't go out in it because we hate it."

I guess you can get tired of anything.

But I'm not tired! I took Tula out a third time, and we walked to the dock to see the waves. They were dramatic! But I couldn't stand watching them for long. The wind picked up again, then it started to actually snow, and this snow was like pellets. I could stand it...it's funny what I can stand here...but I thought maybe the wind actually was getting dangerous, so we went on home.

Now it's windy still. In Oklahoma, wind means tornadoes, and I am so afraid of them! Here, I love the wind because I know what it's doing to the lake. (I'm sorry for the people whose roofs are getting torn off, etc., of course.) But also, our wind is different, at least so far. Oklahoma winter wind is a personal affront. It goes straight through the strongest clothes. It takes your breath away. It feels like it's doing it on purpose. These big gusts of wind sweep me off my feet, but they don't feel colder than the other air. Maybe they are just coming from the wrong direction for that. Or maybe New York wind is just nicer.

The snow, as I said, is pellets today. It is so easy to make a snowball! I just saw a gang of young men go by my window with their arms loaded, so I imagine there is quite a war going on in town. I mean to make a snowman in the morning, if school is cancelled again, so it can greet Joe when he comes home from staff duty (if he can drive home, that is...).

We got deployment news today -- a date that is earlier by far than we'd expected -- but it will not ruin my snow. Deployments happen, unfortunately. We knew this one would come some time. It's war; of course I'm horrified. But he's not there yet, and right now, there is snow and more snow expected, and, they tell me, that this is not even the BEGINNING of the snow. So, I have something to dread, yes, but I also have something to look forward to. This place is known for its snow, and I'm lucky to be here for it!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Trip to Canton

I needed to start my Christmas shopping, but I didn't want to go to Canada without Joe. I didn't want to go to usual stores. I wanted something special and unique to northern New York. So I went to Canton, which is north of us, by the St. Lawrence River. In Canton is Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY), which is a center for workshops, exhibit space, and store where tradtional crafts are sold. I figured it would be a good place to start, and I thought Canton might have some other little shops too (it didn't...or at least I didn't find any).

The drive was nice even though all the trees are skeletal and everything is dead and the sky was hazy gray and the sun a smudge. I saw Herefords. I know that doesn't sound exciting, but I grew up with them, and most of the cows I see here are dairy cows. I LOVE the wide variety of dairy cows, but it was good to see the familiar white faces.

At TAUNY I watched a man make an Adirondack pack. That is a kind of backpack made of reeds, like a basket. The Mohawks are responsible for them, according to the exhibit that was up. I want one before I leave here, but I wasn't shopping for myself today. I saw several nice things there, but nothing that suited my gift purposes.

But I did find some good things for stockings. I can't tell you what they are because someone reaing this might be also getting things in his or her stocking from me. But I can tell you about the other things I bought because they are for Boxing Day.

As the child of divorce, I have had at least two Christmases since I was 13 -- my mother's house, my father's house, and my mother's big, huge extended family. Now I am married, thank goodness to someone whose parents are still together, so that adds another Christmas. And if we go to HIS big, huge extended family, that adds another. (We usually just drop by that gathering...and mmmm, can his family ever make dessert!!) Christmas, therefore, is a stressful mess of running here and there, trying to see everyone with equal time and energy -- and my father always seemed to get the shortest, most stressed-out part of the holiday.

So we started a grand new tradition: Boxing Day. Thanks to our father, my sisters and I grew up reading English literature, so we'd always heard about Boxing Day, but we never celebrated it, of course. I read up on it, and asked some British people about it, and everyone said that today, Boxing Day is a day of big lunch and laying around. That sounded good to us, so we adapted it. We import Christmas crackers from England (thank you, Maya!), make a big roast, open one present each, and lay around in our most comfortable clothes. It's great.

At TAUNY, I found some things from a company by Saranac Lake that makes Victorian Christmas candy: Barley candy and sugarplums! I've always read about barley candy but never encountered it, and after a lifetime of reading "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," have never even thought about what sugarplums might be. But we will be trying these things on Boxing Day this year. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

On the way home from Canton, I stopped at an antique store, where an Amish man was looking for a wind-up pocket watch. I know you are not supposed to hope to meet certain kinds of people. You are supposed to see everyone as the same, and want to meet everyone equally, and find everyone fascinating. I promise I do, but I also always hope I'll get to talk to an Amish person, and at last I did! And it was as I hoped it would be. We didn't talk about anything exciting...the weather, whether it would snow, how many nooks and crannies were in the shop...like any strangers would. But Amish people are new to me, so I liked it. Anyway, I like how nice everyone always is up here, Amish or not.

On the way home from there, I had to stop in a border patrol roadblock. And here I didn't even go to Canada! I LOVE living by the border, though! It's exciting. I don't know what they were looking for...Canadians trying to sneak into New York? Why would they do that? Anyway, they were curious about my Oklahoma tag and license until they saw the military sticker on my car. So, in one day I got to talk to both an Amish person AND a border patrol agent. That makes an interesting day for me.

I'm home now, and so is Joe. He brought Tula an early Christmas present: A dog bed, which she loves already. He also brought tacos. We are going to eat them and watch "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" on television. They're playing bluegrass at, of all places, the ice rink in Watertown until 8, so we may go see that if we have the energy. Because that's the kind of thing you get to do here in the land of mist and snow...ice skate to bluegrass. What a place!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Short and Boring

I just thought I'd write something here...but as the title says, it will be short and boring.

I've had a busy week full of grading essays, dealing with disgruntled students, and getting the heating oil set up for our house. The good news is that I only have late papers to grade now. Tomorrow, I should be finished with all the grading until the final papers come in.

See? Boring. I'm tired of words.

I sure need to go Christmas shopping, but it's supposed to snow this weekend. I wanted to shop somewhere interesting, like Canada, or at least Syracuse. But it looks like I'll have to stay around Sackets Harbor/Watertown. Oh well...

One more day of teaching, and it's a short day...then it will be the weekend, and I won't have any papers to grade! At least for another week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Short, cold blog

I'm too lazy to build a fire and we're out of heating oil. I just took Tula on a walk in the cold -- the snow is gone! -- and my fingers are freezing. Also, I have an incredibly busy day of work ahead of me thanks to meetings that took up all my free time yesterday.

I was hoping President Obama would surprise everybody by saying, "On my way over here, I decided we should just bring all the soldiers home tomorrow and not ever return to Afghanistan or Iraq." Of course, he can't do that. It's no good to see Fort Drum in the list of places the new soldiers will come from, but we're not surprised, obviously. Still no word on when, but at least it will be after Christmas.

It's not that Christmas is a particularly sad time not to have him home, or a poignant time to send him to war. Selfishly, I just can't stand the thought of thinking of an appropriate answer for people who come up to me and say, "How terrible that he's gone at Christmas. You must be so sad." I'm never sad he's gone; he likes to be at war. I'm worried that he may be getting killed or maimed, but that's not the same, and you can't say that to people because they say, "You have to keep positive." Ugh.

It'll be bad enough to go home and have a whole bunch of sad people around saying, "I just don't feel like celebrating Christmas, knowing he's going" or looking at me sadly like I don't realize this may be our last Christmas together on this earth. Ugh, again.

Afghanistan is dangerous. Going there in a TRUCK is really dangerous. But so is driving on ice, and we'll be doing lots of that.

I kind of hope they don't tell us when he's going until after Christmas. Then I hope President Obama really does change his mind and decide to just call the whole thing off. Not likely, I know, but you never can tell.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And now there came both mist and snow...

At last, at last, at LAST it snowed!

Yesterday I was sitting in my office making lesson plans. I glanced over at the window, and there were big fat snowflakes going by! I forgot myself and exclaimed, "It's SNOWING!" and jumped up and did a little dance. As I was saying that, I heard from the secretary and the people in the office next door, "Noooo! It's snowing!" They keep telling me I'll get tired of the snow, but I won't believe that until it happens. I understand, though, that you get tired of whatever you are used to. The people in Mississippi got tired of humidity, for example. In Oklahoma, I get tired of storms.

But back to the snow. This morning, I was awakened to some of the best words ever: "It's snowing, and I built a fire." It is the greatest thing in the world to have a good husband. The only thing that could have made that better would have been the addition of, "And school is closed." But New York schools don't close for an inch of snow, of course.

I took Tula on a walk, and she loved the snow. She buried her head in it and never acted cold. I'm so glad we decided to let her hair grow long for the winter even though it means she is now totally caked with snow and flinging it all over the house.

This isn't much snow. It's just enough to make everything pretty, and they said it may be gone tomorrow. But we are going to get more this weekend. I hope that's true! I'm used to Oklahoma snow. It doesn't last very long, and we only get it a few times a year. So even as I love the snow, I'm already mourning that it won't stay. I feel like I want to stay outside all day today in this snow, as if it will be the last, but the great thing about upstate New York is that this is NOT the last! This is only the beginning! They tell me we will have snow right up until April!

It's like when we got assigned to Fort Sill and suddenly I had two years of Joseph home and not deploying stretching out in front of me: It was an unbelievable feast after years of famine. I'm pretty sure President Obama is going to tell me that particular feast is over in his speech tonight. But the snow feast has just started, and that's something.

I wish all I had to do was walk around in it, but I have to go to school and listen to all these poor upstate New York people sigh with pain and say woefully, "And so it starts." I'll try not to celebrate in front of them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Really Short Blog

I'm in no mood to blog this morning, but I'm going to anyway. In my favorite way -- by list.

1. I am glad the Hogs scared LSU last night, but I sure wish we would have won. Still, this morning, we are still Hogs, and they are not. That makes us the real winners. Oink.

2. I would like to put up a tree and decorate my Wheeble house for Christmas, but Joe is kind of a Scrooge about Christmas decorations. They remind him of all the driving around we have to do when we come home for Christmas and all the people who wish they could see more of us. I don't know if we will ever have a peaceful, midnight-Mass type Christmas. I'm not sure how to accomplish that under current circumstances. I think I will decorate the Wheebles and give them a tiny little tree but not us. I think that seems fair. And funny.

3. I was told we were going to get snow this weekend. There is no snow. That means it will probably start pouring down the minute we try to leave for Oklahoma next month.

4. I'm always told it's bad when you look up and notice that every paragraph you've written starts with "I." I'm told this is selfish. It probably is. I don't care.

5. The Army makes you get a pass to go to Canada. I didn't know that. So we didn't go this weekend. I am trying to have a good attitude, but I don't. As you can see.

6. But at least I live in New York.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Case of the Mysterious Dog

The Case of the Mysterious Dog

That is the working title of my NaNoWriMo novel which, friends and neighbors (more like "cousins and Daddy"), is FINISHED as of last night! As you might remember, 50,000 words are required to "win" NaNoWriMo. My novel is 50,546 words! So I EXTRA won! And won a few days early, too! You have until Nov. 30 to finish.

It was so exciting when I downloaded my file and instead of a new number, a big orange "YOU WON!" sign with fireworks all around it came up. (I looked my number up later.) After last year's crash and burn plus a lifetime's worth of not thinking I was a "fiction person," being a NaNoWriMo winner is bit of a life-changing experience. I had such a good time writing the novel, even when I had to force myself to do it (which was often in the last week or so).

My father, who is always supportive of everything I do and the reason I write poetry in the first place, has always ended our writing conversations with "When are you going to write your novel?" And I always get mad and say snide, sarcastic things like, "I guess you didn't mean it when you taught me to love poetry" or "Well, you could have a novel or a dissertation, and you got a dissertation. You must be so disappointed." Honestly, I can never have children because I can never be as patient or genuinely radiate unconditional love like my father. He laughs at these statements. Mostly likely because, maddeningly, I'm sure he has realized since before I learned to read that I could write a novel if I wanted to and that I'd like it. Isn't it annoying to grow up and find out your parents still know what's best for you?

Anyway, I'm putting it here on the internet, in front of everyone, and as you know, everything you read on the internet is true: My father was right. I was wrong. He knew best. I knew nothing.

Now, if I can only remember that for next time...

Anyway, I have a lot to say about what it was like writing even a month-long, comparatively short, pop fiction-style, contest novel, but I'm running out of words for the day. I want to take a shower and go out to where you can see the big part of Lake Ontario. (We live on Black River Bay, which is big, but not huge.) Or go shopping for an Advent wreath. Or eat leftovers and read Dick Francis. When Joseph wakes up, it will be time to do house-fixing stuff, so I have to make the morning good!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yet Another Short Blog about Snow

The weather forecast says we'll get mixed rain and snow on Friday or Saturday. That's not the same as just snow. A mixture doesn't stick. Still, I shouldn't complain because at least it's snow, and that's what I've been waiting for. I shouldn't even be waiting for snow at all because I know we'll get some and get it big when we do. I feel bad for being impatient.

Usually, I'm a pretty patient person. I can explain that the period goes outside the parenthetical citation fourteen times to the same student during the same essay and remain cheerful. I can wait for my husband to come home from the field and not have a moment's lack of sleep or loneliness. (Deployments don't employ patience; they employ hope.) I patiently wait through my first class and office hour before eating lunch instead of starting early. (That doesn't sound like a big deal, but for me it is. But if I start early, a student always comes in. I think it's unseemly to be found eating.) As a Catholic, I am constantly waiting "in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior," as the priest says in the Mass.

I don't know why I'm impatient for the snow, but I am. In Oklahoma, I'd be reading books about snow around this time of year, getting ready to hope desperately that we get some. So you'd think I wouldn't even notice that we don't have snow here. But when I moved here, everyone warned me about snow in October (which we get in OK too, but not much and not often), so now it's the end of November, and I'm READY.

Actually, I'm not. I don't have warm clothes, snow tires, extra food, a working chimney...so I better quit wishing for what I'm not ready to get. Does that stop me? No. I guess not being ready for what you want never stops anyone from wanting it. Except, historically, me. My selfish priority is usually to want only what is good for me because I fear and detest inconvenience. (True I sometimes only think I know what's going to be good for me, but you know...I do the best I can to judge.)

Snow would not be good for me at this time. But I want it! I'm like Violet in Charlie and the Choclate Factory. I want it all and now and more!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: A List

I didn't realize it had been so long since I wrote! But I haven't worked on my novel today at all yet, so I can't stay here long. Anyway...here's my story, these days:

1. I've been sick since Tuesday, but I only have a little cold -- no fever, not the flu, not quite bad enough to actually stay home from school. Still, I've felt like laying around. Consequently, the house is awful, Tula is bored, and I haven't played music since Tuesday.

2. We are having soldiers over for Thanksgiving. See #1 about the house. Joe is in the field. So I better quit writing novels and blogs and laying around because I can't let his soldiers, whose rooms he inspects, see his house like this.

3. My village is getting an outdoor ice skating rink! Hurray! Isn't it neat that it stays cold enough for long enough to have something like that?

4. Daddy said it is supposed to snow here on Wednesday. On the one hand, YAY!! On the other hand, that's too bad because I wanted to go to Canada on Friday. We'll see...either way, I win.

5. I got a letter from Aunt Adeline today! She said she is doing well and going to Larry's house for Thanksgiving. She said she reads all the time these days, but she didn't say what. I'll ask her when I write back tomorrow.

6. I am at 40,000 words on my novel! But I'll stay there unless I stop writing this list and go work on it. You know how you read a book and it turns stupid about 3/4 of the way through and you feel mad because you invested all that time in it and you wonder what the author was thinking? Now I know: The author didn't know what to do next, and things just got out of hand. So if you read my novel when it's finished, realize that I realize the part toward the end is just ridiculous. Still, I hope to finish. In NaNoWriMo, finishing is winning. The motto is "quantity not quality," and I am living up to that. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Mandolins

I decided to play the mandolin suddenly. I woke up one day in the death throes of my dissertation, right before I graduated, and I knew that the cure for all the weariness and pressure was to learn something new so I'd be the beginner again and not expected to be good...and I knew, that moment and for no apparent reason, that what I needed to learn was the mandolin.

I asked Joe's Uncle Ronald, who is a fiddler and guitarist, if he knew where I could get one, and he produced from his back room not one but TWO mandolins, one a very nice Epiphone, which he sent me home with to learn on. (As a testament to what a musician and instrument guy he is, he said, "Do you want to learn the sitar while you're at it? I have one back there. Got it at an estate sale in Stidham." Who else in Eufaula would have a SITAR?! Not to mention find one at an estate sale anywhere around there! But I digress.)

So I started trying to play using chord charts from the front of a tablature-writing book from my metal days. I printed some Scottish songs from the internet. But I can't learn instruments from books. I learned to play guitar sitting out under pine trees with my father, and later, hanging out with metal guys in music stores. So I looked around for a person to teach me. I was in western Oklahoma, but I couldn't find one. And now I'm in upstate New York, and I still can't find one. Every mandolin player I see says, "Oh, you don't want to learn from me. I don't know what I'm doing." As they stand there, Bill Monroe like, whipping out breaks and solos.

I sure still sound like a beginner. But I love the mandolin in a way I never even loved the guitar. I want to actually learn to play it...theory and all, maybe. At least more theory than what I know on the guitar, which is little. (Okay, none. I just know the names of chords. That's all.) I am joyous when I pick up the mandolin, even though I know the badness that is coming. I can sit there playing a new Scottish song, counting the notes out loud like we did in drumline as I play. And, weirdest of all, I want a thousand mandolins...even though I'm not good at playing them yet.

I never was one of those guitar players who wanted lots of guitars, even though I've managed to inherit and marry into plenty. I just need enough instruments to play what I need to play, and then I'm loyal to them and wear holes in them because I have bad picking technique. But the mandolin...I want an F-style, an A-style, a possum belly, a dark one, a pumpkin-colored one, a lighter one, a deep-sounding one, a tinny-sounding one, one with inlays, an old one, a new one, a Kentucky, a Gibson, a Lore, a handmade one with no name on it...I want a whole wall of them, and I don't understand this compulsion at all. The little beauties are more expensive than guitars would ever think about being, so I'll never have the wall 'o mandolins...but I'll keep wanting it. Weird.

I have one mandolin. My Uncle Bob, the trucker/biker, bought it for me as a graduation present because he is an incredibly perceptive and thoughtful man. It is a red-colored Kona. That's a brand from Texas, and the people here in New York ask about it when they see that. They like that it was made there, and so do I. It's not a great mandolin, far as quality goes, but it is beautiful, and it works, which is the key. I'll probably buy it a friend one of these days...a Kentucky with one of those necks that make me instantly sound better.

But for now, I just play the one I have. I take it to bluegrass gatherings here and hope for the best, and rarely get it, as I am one bad mandolin player...and I don't mean that in the 1980s way in which "bad" means "good." I have a friend here, Patty, and we are both learning. She's better than I am. But I like sitting by her and trying what I know, and learning what she knows. I like being the little spark of sound amid the guitars.

Someday, I won't even have to bring a guitar if I don't want to. I can just bring the mandolin, the tiny little, easy-to-carry mandolin, and play that all night. People will be glad to see me because there are usually plenty of guitar players, but a mandolin is special. But for now, I play at home, stick to two-finger chords in public, and hope for the best.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Less-than-Five-Minute Blog: Things

I'm so tired! Here's a list, though, of things going on today:

1. Joe went to the field this morning. He'll be there for the week, then come home for a day, then be there for another week. So it's good that it's not snowing.

2. But I can't believe Oklahoma is about to get snow and I have no snow! I live in upstate New York! I'm ready for SNOW. But I know I'll get plenty, and patience is a virtue. And all the people here are so relieved to be warm...I am happy for them, I suppose.

3. Did I tell you we bought a snowblower on Sunday? It's too big to fit through the door of our shed, but it's not huge. It used to belong to our neighbor. He bought a bigger one. He's going to show us how to use it when the first snow comes. Whenever that is.

4. I am still going on my novel...at 28,685 words this evening, and tired! Have no idea how the crime is going to be solved, but have my students doing extra credit writing on the subject and an e-mail from my father that promises to be helpful. (I just now saw it, Daddy...will check it for the morning writing session!) Perhaps it takes a village to write a book?

5. I made Rachael Ray soup -- minestra with sweet sausage. It's really good. Escarole in soup is REALLY good. I've been missing out!

6. I have been invited to give a short presentation on the Creek Removal in a history class. I am not exactly nervous about it, but I'm a little worried because I know more cultural stuff than political stuff. And say things like "stuff" when I'm supposed to be a smart person. To be fair, I am very tired at the moment. The presentation is on Wednesday morning.

7. I am so sleepy that I keep sitting here because I'm too sleepy to walk to bed. Makes no sense, I know. Going to bed the minute I finish this sentence!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: The Novel

As you might remember, I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), trying to write a 50,000-word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. I'm writing a crime novel...well, a novel in which a "crime" takes place and then lots of people spend an entire book trying to cover it up. :) I don't read this kind of novel, so I'm not sure how I ended up writing one.

Normally, I start out with a character I want to write about (too often a thinly-veiled version of my ideal self), start writing, and fail about 10-15 pages in. It turns out that starting with a plot, or at least an incident, works out better for me...at least this time.

I've never been much of a fiction writer. I write autobiographical essays, scholarly essays (that are AWFUL, but that's another story) and poetry. I used to write songs. Writing fiction is not easy for me at all. That's why I'm writing this blog right now...putting off going over to the novel file because I don't know what my people are going to do next and fear that I'll get over there and freeze. But you can't fear that, I know. Especially with NaNoWriMo, the goal is words, not literature..."quantity, not quality" as the motto goes.

It's really fun writing this thing, though...writing badly with no consequences, seeing the words pile up, the characters start to be recognizable, the story to move along. And it's not easy. I have new respect for novel writers...not that I didn't respect them before. But sometimes I read a book and think, "How in the world did this get published? This is SO bad! Why did you end it like THAT?!" or things along those lines. Now I know: That the writer finished at all and tied up loose ends at ALL is a miracle.

Now, let's see if I can create one myself...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Five-Minute Blog With Cold Fingers: Thanksgiving Poll

We are not going to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, and so far we have several options:

1. Go to the city to visit my grad school friend, see the huge tree and store windows, etc. The problem with this plan is Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Joe has all but entirely vetoed this option because of all the people.

2. Go to the English department orphans Thanksgiving here in Sackets Harbor. Those of us from elsewhere who are not going home are invited to the home of California Professor (I'm not using names on this blog, so everyone gets nicknames) to eat and talk about literature, not freshman composition. It would be really fun.

3. Go to Thanksgiving at the home of our new, wonderful Catholic friends, the Malaysian Adjunct and her husband, St. Francis. (His nickname comes from his Halloween costume.) They live about 45 minutes from us, so it would be fun to travel, like we would at home. And I love these new friends!

4. Stay home and host orphan soldiers for Thanksgiving. I love this option too because I love feeding young soldiers, perhaps the most enthusiastic eaters you can find. In no way would I cook a turkey, though. I'd mess it up. I'd send out for it and just make the sides and desserts.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Cold

I am just like Sam McGee from Tennessee, who could never get warm enough in Robert Service's poem.

When I was little, we lived in a house warmed by wood stove, so the back rooms where we slept were never as warm as the front ones. My father would take our heavy quilts or the Pendleton blanket, hold them over the stove until they were warm, fold the heat inside them, and walk down the frozen tundra of our hallway to unfold them on his cold daughters. That burst of warmth (literal and figurative) would just make us boneless with peace. And then he'd sit there at the edge of the bed and recite poetry in the dark until we were all the way asleep. It's why I know who Sam McGee is now. We are very lucky.

Perhaps because I am so spoiled, I can't stand being cold. It makes me whiny and irritable. I can't think of anything else when I'm cold. I feel like the wind is blowing just to offend me. I feel like everything is unfair in the deep way that things are unfair when one is seven years old. At least, that's how I felt in at home in Oklahoma when I was cold, or especially, on the few cold days we had in Mississippi when I was in graduate school. In Italy, I was mad with the cold, and watched the tiny Italian women go by on their way to market wearing short skirts and big scarves and thought they must be inhuman because they were tough enough to wear nothing between themselves and the cold but microfiber tights. I went to the market in a huge brown coat, and froze, and felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I was born in what they call a "blizzard" in Oklahoma. Here in upstate New York, they would probably call it "fifteen minutes of light snow." But it stopped everyone in Oklahoma in their tracks at the time. I always think it is the reason I love snow. Snow is not the same as cold. I can stand cold when there is snow. It's the dead leaves, wind blowing, cold without reason that makes me irate and obnoxious.

But here, for some reason, I can stand the cold. This morning, we had frost, and the wind coming off the Black River Bay was so cold my fingernails hurt. But I took Tula walking downtown anyway, and stood around in the cold while she smelled of everything and tried to eat poison berries. I was cold. I wished she'd hurry. But I wasn't mad about it.

Cold here seems natural. I know cold is natural everywhere. Weather is itself, and we put the judgement on it. Maybe it's just because I expect to be cold here that I don't mind it as much. In Oklahoma and Mississippi, I felt like I ought to be warm, because both of those states do warm REALLY well, and for most of the year, too. In Italy, I was mad when it was cold because my house was so drafty and full of cracks that let it in, and the marble tiles were like ice.

I say this now, of course, when it's normal cold. I may be Sam McGee again when it's 20 below. Except I think there will be snow then, and it covers all ills for me. (And here, it may also cover my car for me...I find that very exciting!)

We'll see. It just feels easy to have a good attitude up here. I don't know why. I even love the dead leaves.

And now my five minutes are up, and I must work on my novel then get ready for school.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Things I've Done Today

1. Today I had my first teaching evaluation since I was a teaching assistant at the University of Arkansas. It was horrifying! I do not get stage fright when I'm singing or teaching. I get a little nervous at the beginning of a conference presentation if it's a scholarly paper instead of creative, but it's over the minute I start talking. I get a little nervous when I'm a lector because I'm always afraid I'll forget it's my turn to get up and just sit there, holding up Mass, but when I start reading, I'm fine again. But this evaluation was like an out-of-body experience! I felt like I was watching myself teach from above. Like my lips didn't work. Like I didn't speak English. But my department chair (who was doing the evaluating) said I didn't seem nervous, and I think I'll get an okay review. I get evaluated again on Tuesday in the other class I teach. I'm not as nervous about that one even though I don't have as good of a lesson plan.

2. I am still going on my National Novel Writing Month novel. I have to not think or talk too much about it. I think that will break the spell. But so far, I'm keeping up my daily word count goals, and it's moving along...ugly in places (most places), but THERE. It's neat.

3. Everyone around us got snow this morning, but Sackets Harbor was snowless! Everyone keeps telling me I'll hate the snow, but I don't believe them. I'm a bad snow driver, and I'm sure I'll hate shoveling, scraping off my car, and waiting for the cold car to warm up...but I can't imagine being tired of the sight of snow. It looks like a huge sheet of blank paper. Hope. Opportunity. Possibility.

4. I love my president. Not for any particular reason of the moment. Just in general. Every once in awhile, I just have to say it again.

5. After work, I played music with our dean, head librarian, and another English professor. Tomorrow, the rest of the faculty/staff musicians will be there to play some more. It is possible that I have the best job in the world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Dog Friend

Dog Friend lives at the end of our street. She is peachy-blond with bangs and feathery legs. She looks a little like Tula, but she's taller. Her face is long, but not like an English Cocker Spaniel. It's skinnier. She's an elegant dog.

She is well-kept, healthy, cheerful. Some mornings she is tied up in her yard by a long leash, and that is how we got to know her. I know some people think it is cruel to tie dogs up, and maybe it is, but Dog Friend is older, and she doesn't seem traumatized by it. They don't do it very often. I'm sorry for her when she's tied up, but I'm happy for us. When she sees us come out our door, she begins to dance for Tula.

Tula is not a well-socialized dog. I think she came from a puppy mill and was taken away too young, based on the way she acts. (She doesn't seem to know how to relate to other dogs.) The people (two sets of them) who had her before we got her didn't take her out much. We take her out, but we don't know anyone with dogs. Not everyone you meet walking wants to volunteer his/her dog to socialize yours, of course.

So Tula is weird around most dogs. But Dog Friend has won her over. So we go visit, and the two of them dance around each other, smell each other, Tula always goes to the bathroom in Dog Friend's yard, and then Dog Friend smells that, which apparently is a nice thing to dogs. I have never wanted to steal a dog, but I desperately wish I could steal Dog Friend.

We don't know her name, obviously, or her owners. If I get brave, I might knock on their door and ask if we can take their dog on walks when we see her outside, just leave them a note that she's with us. Maybe she can come over when we have the fence up. Or maybe that's a strange, not a neighborly, thing to ask. I'm hoping I'll catch the owners outside one day because striking up this conversation would be much easier.

Anyway, we didn't see Dog Friend this morning, but I wish we had. And now my five minutes are up.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Of Halloween, Politics and Novel-Writing

I haven't written for awhile because things have been barreling downhill on me, but I do have things to say...excuses, mostly.

We are fully moved into the new house now, which means we live in a maze of boxes and bags. The library has become a staging area for our "keep," "give away," and "throw away" piles. Every morning, Joe takes the trash out with him, and I'm in charge of the "give away" boxes. I wish the "keep" pile was smaller, but we'll go through it again when we separate all the things in it into boxes for the rooms into which they will actually belong. I'm not enjoying this process...particularly the part involving going through boxes of papers. But the last time we did this, we came out lighter than before, and I hope that will be the same this time. Then, we have to keep from letting things pile up again!

But that's boring. We had a Halloween worth writing about but now I'm having to hurry through everything, so you'll get the short version. All day long, we moved from the apartment, finishing up just in time for the 4 p.m. deadline. Then, we dressed as Crusaders and stood in our mudroom/sunroom/foyer and watched trick-or-treaters get scared or delighted by our neighbor, who was dressed as a very scary skeleton with a scythe. Every group had the same conversation: "Is he real?" "I think he's a statue." "I think he's real. You go." "No, you go." "No, you go." Finally, someone would venture up toward the candy and our neighbor would come alive with a really fantastic mad-scientist "BWAA-HA-HAAAA!" laugh, and the kids would run screaming off the porch. To little ones, he'd say, "Boo." Sometimes they too ran screaming, but one memorable little skeleton went after him with his plastic ax, and a fairy princess said "Boo" back to him! We were the boring house after all that, but they were glad to get our candy anyway.

As we were leaving for the English department party, we saw the boys of the town gathering for the egg fight. In Sackets Harbor, after the little trick-or-treaters are finished, when it's just the lat few and it has gotten dark, the young people, beginning around age 12, it seems, gather to throw eggs at each other. As long as nobody throws one at a house, car or person who isn't playing, the village looks the other way. We left before the festivities began, but in the morning, Tula tried to eat every broken egg on the sidewalk! By now, they have all been cleaned up. What a place!

The party was great...We hung out with the other nerdy Catholics, who were dressed as Mother Teresa and St. Francis (complete with stigmata). The theme was "heroes and villains," and one couple came dressed in black with the words "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships" (the woman) and "and burned the topless towers of Illium?" (the man). They were a heroic couplet, of course! I LOVE my people!

That night at midnight, I began my novel, as per the rules of National Novel Writing Month. In this month, people from all over the world try to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. If you get to the end, you "win." I lost big-time last year! This year I'm writing a crime novel...of all things. I don't read them. But I'm enjoying the challenge thus far. However, I have to use all precious writing time on the novel, so I may not blog as regularly for the next few weeks.

Now, about the politics, I guess everyone knows what's going on up here with Owens, Hoffman and Scozzafava. This morning at 7, me and Tula walked by some Owens supporters with "Honk" signs. They asked if I was voting, and I told them I vote in Oklahoma. I may vote here next year, though. We'll see. Anyway, it was nice and warm at the time, but a big cloud just burst over Lake Ontario and now it's raining. I hope they have ponchos!

And now I must get ready for school. We are talking about evaluating internet sources today. Must try to make that interesting.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Here are the things I feel like whining about:

1. The flu. All my students seem to have it. Or their children have it. So they miss class. Then I have to deal with late essays, missed information, extra office appointments, sick, miserable, pitiful students...but at least I don't have the flu myself!

2. My Halloween costume, and Joseph's. I wanted to be Andrew Jackson because we are going to a Heroes and Villains party, but I couldn't get my costume together that quickly. He's not an easy one to do. And Joe loves Halloween, but he hasn't gotten his costume together either, so I'm afraid he'll be disappointed by Halloween, and it's one of his favorite holidays. He's grown. It's not my fault. But it seems like I should fix things like that for him.

3. Moving. I just want to be in this house all the way and not worry about the other one anymore. But I don't want to pack, unpack, clean, organize or decorate.

4. Laziness. My own. It is the reason I probably won't get to go to the Psychic Fair or Cat Show in the morning. :(

But I do have one thing NOT to whine about: NaNoWriMo! I don't have a plot, a main character, an idea...but I look forward to trying to write a terrible novel. :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reading List (A Lazy Blog)

I went to work this morning and mostly did work all day...minus a long conversation about advising with my department chair and another long conversation about writing with my officemate (but these conversations are what make the frustrating moments of teaching bearable, so I don't think they're quite a sin). I came home just long enough to walk Tula and eat chili too quickly, then I had to rush back to campus for the North Country Writers Festival contest winners reception (I was a judge of that contest). It was fun, but I'm just now back home, and it's time for bed!

So, instead of a regular blog I'll just list the books I'm reading at the moment, which I think is usually a good indication of what's going on in a person's life:

1. Fairies Faith in Celtic Religion (I think that is the wrong title, and I can't remember the author because I left the book in my office. It is what began as the author's 1911 dissertation on the subject. I read it while I eat lunch if I don't have to grade essays.)

2. Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich (I read this one in the mornings...except at the moment, it is lost! At least I own it, though.)

3. The Palace of the Snow Queen: Winter Travels in Lapland by Barbara Sjoholm (library book I haven't started yet but will start soon. I love books about the cold!)

4. Just After Sunset by Stephen King (a book of short stories; it's in the bathroom)

5. Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes (another library book I haven't started yet, but I'm so glad our library has more Keyes books now!)

6. Samuel (in the Old Testament. We have been reading a chapter each out loud before bed, and Samuel is where we've gotten to. So glad to be out of Leviticus!)

I am participating in National Novel Writing Month for the second time. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a novel (it can be a laughably bad one) during the month of November. It has to be at least 50,000 words to "win." (Everyone who completes a novel wins!) I didn't win last year. This year, I don't even have a plot, main character...anything! I hope some of you will join me!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Morning Walk

Every morning around seven o'clock, I walk with Tula. We usually walk downtown, but sometimes we walk to the breakwall or, if Dog Friend is out, we visit her (I'll tell you more about her another time; she's a dog Tula likes but whose name we don't know). Every morning I wish I could leave my nightgown on, read one more chapter, eat a little more breakfast...but every morning, there is Tula, pitiful and furry, with her long, lonely day ahead of her. So we go walking.

Sackets Harbor is especially cozy in the morning. In the summer, I used to meet the guy who comes to water the flowers in hanging baskets along main street. Sometimes I still meet the trashman, but a terrible thing has happened: One by one, our trashcans are being removed! I'm not sure if they are gone for good or if they take some of them away once the summer people have gone. All I know is that I used to be able to dispose of Tula's bag of...morning routine...at my end of town, but now I have to carry it halfway down Main Street before I can get rid of it.

Anyway, back to the beauty: We have nice streetlights here. In the morning, their orange glow in the mist makes me feel like I might wander into Narnia at any moment. The Fairy Store has fairy houses -- dollhouse-sized cottages and castles -- with windows lit up the same color in its storefront. Their courtyard has a little village of them, and we visit it every day.

The flowers are dying here, but they held on longer than I expected. Now, the leaves are almost all on the ground, but most of them are still yellow, red, orange, red with bright green splotches, yellow with red edges, all over the sidewalks, the grass and the flower beds. It keeps raining, so they aren't drying up. They stick to everything like Color-forms.

Although I'd love a morning all to myself, to eat and eat and eat and read the book of the moment, I'm glad I have to take Tula out. I like being so familiar with the weather and seeing the lake so soon after I wake up. I like checking the headlines of the newspapers when I walk by the newstands at the post office and seeing the same people drinking coffee in Chrissy Bean's. (I wish I could join them, but I always have a dog!)

There is nothing special in what I enjoy about walking in the morning. Anyone who does it must feel the same. Some people would be sorry for me that my morning walk has people in it, but I like that. I like feeling safe, and saying "Good morning," and admiring other people's scarves and dogs. I like walking in a town, looking at the historic houses, the beautiful stained glass windows of the Presbyterian Church, and our little white library. I like that it's my town, even at 7 a.m. I don't have to drive to get to it: It's just up the block. Every day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cultural Analysis of Lunch and Gripey Students

Today I brought leftover chili for lunch. As I was crumbling crackers into it, I suddenly realized that I was standing there in New York, a Creek girl from Oklahoma, crumbling matzo crackers into "steakhouse chili," the recipe for which I got from an Italian-American food writer. America's diversity is the result of all kinds of violence, cruelty and pain. The "melting pot" burns and destroys. And I can't figure out how to say this next thing without sounding trite and sentimental. We have so many opportunities to try new things, and seemingly endless patterns into which we can arrange them. It doesn't make up for the violence, the cruelty, the cultural erasure, and everything...but it's something good, at least.

Obviously, I'm sorry settlers came here, but we can't change that. I'm just glad there are some good parts...not just food, but the other things strangers bring. Perhaps it's not the best part of my character, but I really like strangers. Visitors. People from afar. People I don't understand who don't understand me. I don't think we'll ever lack for them. I want to be a welcoming country, and I hope we are to most people, at least. At least I can leave my door open.

In other news, my students wore me out today. I'd written three paragraphs detailing how they did so, but I've thought better of it. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining. I love my job, and I love all the people whose academic writing is in my care. It is an honor to be in charge of them. Still, teaching writing to the unwilling can be exhausting.

Tonight I made another Rachael Ray recipe for dinner, but I was missing a key ingredient, which I couldn't find at my grocery store: saffron. It was a zucchini pasta recipe. I just used garlic instead of saffron to flavor my broth. It wasn't the same, but it sure was good. While I was making it, Joe was fixing the dishwasher. He's so full of surprises.

Oh! One more thing! This morning I went to the village office to get the forms for our backyard fence, and the women there recognized me from television! Apparently, I was on the local news last night in a story about yesterday's poetry reading. So I will now start saying, "My poetry was featured on international television." (For, as my officemate who was also on television informs me, our news is also shown in Canada.) The village office women were so nice. They told me to bring Tula in to meet them some time. Never, ever in Oklahoma has my dog been invited into a public building.

Joe was not impressed. He said, "Never in Oklahoma would someone ask you to fill out a form, have it approved, and pay $35 to fence your own yard!"

He has a point.

But I love Sackets Harbor more, not less.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Of Chili and Long Days

Last night I dreamed I found a monastery by our college. It had been there all along, but I'd never noticed it. On one end of the monastery was a door with a "JCC Students Welcome" sign. Inside the door was a little room with two twin beds, a table, a small refrigerator with water bottles in it...The monks had created the room for students who needed to rest between classes. That was such a nice gesture. I laid down on one of the twin beds and the monastery cat, who was an orange tabby tomcat, came and laid by me with his paws kneading my shoulder and his face in my face. I went to sleep like I don't sleep in real life...fully gone, sinking into the earth sleep, so glad to have the cat...

Then, suddenly, in the dream I woke up and it was 3 p.m., and I'd missed teaching my 1:25 class! Then, just as suddenly, I woke up in real life...and it was half an hour before I needed to be awake, but I couldn't go back to sleep after that. So I took Tula on an early walk to the pier, which is strangely bare of boats now that the season is over.

I taught like the dickens, then had a student in my office who had missed a week of class for the flu, then read poetry with two other faculty members as part of the North Country Writers Festival (we had a good turnout, and my colleagues' work was excellent, naturally), rushed from it to teach my 1:25 class, made schedules and lesson plans for an hour, taught my 3:35 class, finished the schedules and dealt with more flu students by e-mail, and finally got home around 6:30...without having eaten lunch!

If you know me, you know I am not at my best when hungry. I become forgetful, snide, sarcastic, monstrous, if it goes on too long. I always eat breakfast, but it's only cereal. So, for the rest of today I survived on Lady Grey tea, oatmeal cookies (I always have cookies in my office), almonds and those waxy orange pumpkin candies (which our secretary had on her desk). It's not like I starved, but it wasn't like having real food and thirty minutes in which to eat it.

But, happily, tonight was chili night. I made a Rachael Ray recipe called "Steakhouse Chili." This chili has BACON in it. The recipe is in this month's magazine, and it is excellent. It made me forget I'd ever been hungry.

I'm trying to be like my mother-in-law and cook dinner before I've sat down so I don't get too tired to face it, and like her and my mother, both of whom do the dishes as they are cooking so they aren't faced with a big pile. It's working out so far, but it's only been two weeks.

After all that, I talked to my ever-witty and brilliant father. And now, it is time for bed. It has been time for half an hour, as Tula's accusing eye informs me. So, that's it for this day. This must be a boring blog for those of you not kin to me...but that's none of you, so I guess it's okay.

Tomorrow we are taking the chili with us for lunch, and I'm going to read something totally useless while I eat mine.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

List of Laziness

Some days I'm going to feel like I do right now: Tired, and still with things to do (and with a husband, in this case, who keeps talking to me about our ailing dryer), so I'm going to give a list of ten things about today so those of my family who read this blog to see what we're doing will at least know something. I'll try not to do this too often, though...

1. I kept almost laughing in Mass this morning. First, Joe leaned over and whispered, "I just accidentally styled my hair with holy water!"

2. Then, I was not paying attention to the homily (sometimes I just can't, even when it's good). When you can't pay attention, you are supposed to look at the stained glass windows or candles or statues and contemplate holy things, so I looked up at our stained glass window of Jesus knocking on the door, and I immediately thought of him doing that at our house and Tula barking her head off, as she does when the Schwan man comes.

3. Then, as we were kneeling with our heads bowed for communion, my earring fell off and landed in the hood of the coat of the woman in front of me! So I silently fished it out and put it in my pocket, and I guess nobody saw me.

4. After Mass, Father O'Brien came to talk to us during coffee/cookie/chocolate pie/lemonade hour. It turns out he is ALSO a lawyer, in addition to being a priest. AND he teaches a law class at Syracuse University. I think he may be able to bilocate. He is the priest of two parishes besides all that! We talked about New York's new (and controversial) lieutenant governor-appointing law.

5. After Mass, we ate lunch at Goodfello's, the Sackets Harbor pizza place. I always get the same kind of pizza, called carciofi, which means "artichoke" in Italian. It has artichokes (of course), sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, garlic...seems like something else too. Anyway, I've been craving it all week, and it was very satisfying.

6. After that, we moved another load from the old apartment to the new house, the living room of which now looks like a storage shed. We have GOT to simplfy further.

7. Then, I made a meal plan for the week using Rachael Ray recipes. That worked out really well last week, so I may keep it up.

8. Now, we must deal with some of this stuff...I hate stuff!

9. Then, we must go to the grocery store.

10. Then, I must cook dinner and decide which poems I'm reading at the faculty reading tomorrow. The reading kicks off the North Country Writers' Festival. Suddenly all of my poems seem boring. But it is always thus.

And that's been my day. Not a bad one, but a lot of time spent hanging out this morning when, perhaps, I should have been getting things accomplished. I'm tired of accomplishing!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Story of Two People Who Stopped Being Cool

When I met my husband Joseph, we were 18. He was the drummer and I was the singer in a band that never quite got off the ground because we kept changing guitarists. We were friends for years, and to make a long and complicated story short, we eventually got married in New Orleans, and today is the sixth (?) anniversary of that event.

When we were 18, we played P.J. Harvey songs. We drove back and forth between Tahlequah and Muskogee talking about Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas. We went to see The Chainsaw Kittens at Rome in Norman. He wore oxblood Doc Martens. I wore Slayer shirts. We talked about getting out of Oklahoma the minute we were able, moving to New York, having the kind of life that involved Jewish deli counters and loft apartments and late night poetry readings in dark converted churches.

Well, here we are, 34, in New York...although quite north of where we expected to be. And tonight we celebrated our anniversary in the most uncool way possible: We spent the day looking at antique snowshoes and dog Halloween costumes in Watertown. I bought a snowmobile for my Fisher Price Little People community. He bought an obscure science fiction book called The Forever War.

Then we had dinner at the Sackets Harbor American Legion. Here's the difference between Oklahoma and New York: In Oklahoma, we have hog frys. In New York, they have pig roasts. This one was in support of the Sackets Harbor Patriots Booster Club. (They raise money for the local high school sports team.) But I guess we've been heading this uncool way since last year, when we ate Frito chili pies for our anniversary at my cousin Colton's high school football game in Washington, OK.

After dinner, we joined the rest of the people dressed as witches (Did I mention that I attended the pig roast dressed as a witch?) in parading down main street. Sackets Harbor has a shopping event called Witches Night Out in which people can dress like witches and warlocks (the Disney kind; not the actualy kind) and get special discounts at the stores and restaurants. I bought a book about fairies in Celtic religion at The Fairy Store and won a bar of pumpkin pie scented soap at the soap store for eating a jellybean whose flavor was called "Baby Wipes." (It was SO GROSS!!)

It's not so late, and they will now be dancing at the pig roast (they have a band), but Joseph doesn't like being out of the house for long, and Tula misses us. (She spent the day at dog day care playing with the other small dogs.) So, here we are, married, with a dog and a house, not in New York City watching performance art.

I'd take the performance art, but this is good too. He's given me a better life than I could have ever imagined for myself. I'm lucky every day to be his family and have him as mine.

Friday, October 23, 2009


What I notice most about my part of upstate New York is that it seems clean. Literally, it is clean: The farms are wide and green with fresh red barns. The little towns along the lakes have non-matching houses with tidy yards. Even Watertown, which is disheveled in places, isn't actually dirty. And Fort Drum belongs to the Army, so of course their standards are the rule there.

But beyond the literal, this place feels clean. It could be the cold air, Lake Ontario right beside me wherever I go, the million and one rules and regulations and taxes imposed on every action and decision...It could be that I just live in a small place where the churches don't have room for more than a hundred people, or that I'm not a poor person and so have no inconveniences in my life.

I still think it's more than that. It's the manners of people I meet, maybe: They don't tease all the time like people in the South or Southwest. They are pleasant and friendly, in the precise manner of etiquette books. Their accents are clear, as if they are the sound embodiment of Times New Roman. They don't seem to litter or let their dogs run free all over town or break any rules of any kind. (This is not to say they aren't passionate, but that's for another blog.) They rake their yards, and then they plant flowers. In the winter, they will shovel snow. They keep themselves and all the expanding circles of themselves in order...at least to my newcomer eye.

They don't say "mornin'"; they say, "Good morning." They don't say, "Cold enough for ya?"; they say, with a concerned tilt of their heads, "How are you taking the weather here? Is it much colder than Oklahoma already?" (It's not, so far.)

They are the descendants of people who built houses with right angles out of permanent materials. (They are the descendants of people who broke the hearts of Native people, but not the heart of this one.) They sweep their sidewalks. They install poles with tear-off bags for dog walkers. They let you bring your dog into stores and restaurants. They think of little things like that to make everyone have an easier time. I'm speaking of Sackets Harbor people now; the farm people are clean in a different way, and I don't know them well yet. I just see them fixing their fences and driving their Amish carts (they always nod at me when I creep slowly past them...I'm not gawking; everyone drives by them slowly because it's the polite, and clean, thing to do). I play bluegrass in their towns, sometimes with them, and they sing the same hymns we sing in Oklahoma and Mississippi, except in their clean accents.

I'm not explaining myself well, and I've gotten off track. This is a quiet place, and not everyone would love to live here or even visit. But I love it. I feel like I could eat off the ground here. In Mississippi, I had the persistent vision of digging myself into the ground and growing like a root vegetable. In Oklahoma, I expect to smell of rivers and dust. Here, I will never belong, and I don't want to. I want it to always feel this pristine and unreal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"It is an ancient mariner..."

And so it begins. Impulsively.

Putting out of my mind all the reasons I have read/heard/been told that a writer/professor/grown-up shouldn't have a blog, I begin this one. It may be a chronicle of my first winter in upstate New York, or a serious blog about literature or writing or something I've gone to school to write about, or the story of our new house...but really, I think it will end up being whatever I want to write at the time and largely unedited. Which is precisely why I shouldn't be writing it out here in public.

We bought our first house and moved into it a week ago...except that we are still moving in, really, carting things a few boxes at a time from the old apartment (whose lease expires at the end of the month). Our house is in the orderly, clean, War of 1812 town, Sackets Harbor, NY. We are the harbor of Black River Bay, which is part of Lake Ontario. When you hear about huge piles of lake effect snow up here, we are the lake. They tell me it jumps over us and lands on Syracuse, which I not-so-secretly think is too bad because I wanted to see snow higher than my head. They tell me I'll see plenty, though, even here.

Our house is small overall, but it has a big, green living room with a skylight and a door leading to a wall. (We call that The Door of Perception.) The bedroom is tan, and we are going to decorate it to look like the Wichita Mountains area of southwestern Oklahoma because my husband is homesick not for our home in Eastern OK but for the plains and the prairies. The other bedroom is now the gun room, and it is gray and weird...in accordance with the entire weird house. You have to step up into it because half of our house was built in the late 1800s and the other half in the 1970s or so.

The kitchen is small but extremely efficient, with brand-new cherry cabinets and drawers that shut themselves quietly if you but tap them. And a refrigerator that makes ice and water. (On purpose, I mean.) The dining room is not one anymore. It is red, and we have made it into a library since we seldom actually eat in the dining room anyway. (I know, I know...but at least we don't have worse habits.) The bathroom is small and beige, and very well-caulked. It used to be badly caulked and navy blue, but my mother-in-law came for a week and civilized the whole house like a renovating whirlwind. Where she goes, I shall go. Her people shall be my people and her god, my god.

The outside of the house has gray siding, a red door (that goes to a mudroom/sunroom that is going to be mine to decorate) and red around the windows. That is the part that is by the road. The back part of the house (the new part) has brown wood siding and a large deck that is just waiting for bluegrass musicians to play on it next summer. (In another blog I'll tell you about the surprisingly large number of bluegrass music in upstate New York!) We are going to fence the backyard for Tula (our black and white shelter cocker spaniel), but first we have to go to the Municipal Building to get forms to fill out telling the Village Planning Committee what we mean to do. They have to invite us to a town meeting to have our fence approved. People sure get in your business in Sackets Harbor...but I think that is why the town is so pretty and safe, so I don't mind. (My husband minds very much. He misses the lawlessness of the plains.)

In work news, I was responsible for the English department meeting lunch today, and I took white chili (my Aunt Sharon's recipe) and a Rachel Ray chicken, rice, spinach and black-eyed-pea soup (much better than it sounds). It was a success, thank goodness. English department lunches get competitively good up here, so I'm glad everyone liked my offering. I love my co-workers here already, and I was glad to feed them.

Putting it all in the car this morning made me think of church, and how much work it is for the women in the generation above me to cook all that food then get it into the car. I should be back home, doing my part. Instead, I am here, having this adventure. As usual. I always wanted to be the older cousin who came in from New York every few months with cool clothes and good books in her bag. I guess this is as close as I'll get. I'm sure not complaining, though. I can't believe my good fortune. I've been lucky to live several places when I thought I'd always stay in Oklahoma. I know I'll go back there, not to jinx my life on the icy roads...you know I mean I'll go back there if I go back anywhere. I'm Creek; I have to go back. I'm glad I'll go back with stories of other places, though...stories of this place, where snow piles up over the windows and a man comes out every morning in the summer to water hanging plants on main street and wipe off the streetlights and everything looks like a children's book illustration and nothing, nothing seems to ever be dirty.