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 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 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 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 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.