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.