We have a pickle tray in my family. I’m not sure if this is a normal thing or just a wacky my-family thing, but we do. It’s glass or crystal, I’m not sure which because I’ve never examined it too closely. My mother had learned the hard way to keep me away from breakables. While she scurried about cooking and cleaning for holiday parties, the task of filling this tray inevitably fell to five-year-old me. Possibly because the task took me an absurdly long time and kept me from being underfoot or in backyard mud puddles.
The pickle tray has sections: one for black olives, one for green olives, one for gherkins – which I believed were the shrunken warty fingers of witches, and the last section for dill pickle spears.
I would fill it using a method I mastered in the pick-your-own strawberry patch: one olive in the tray, one dill pickle in my tummy. One nasty gherkin in the tray, one dill pickle in my tummy. This method may take a little longer and may require two jars of dill pickles, but I never complained.
Until a half-hour later — usually right around the time the first guests showed up — I would get sick.
My mother would frantically shepherd me to the upstairs bathroom while gathering coats, accepting appetizer trays, and dispensing hugs. I’d boot, rally, and run downstairs to be admired by aunts and uncles and scamper off with my cousins.
Then came THE DAY. The day when my mom informed me that I couldn’t do the pickle tray. “I don’t want you touching it.”
“But why?” I asked.
“Because you’re allergic to pickles,” she answered. “Go set the table – fold the napkins into animals if you want.”
So the Thanksgiving table featured an assortment of origami napkins and the pickle tray was filled by my sister and kept out of my reach.
Thus began a saga of pickle-avoidance: Is there relish in that tuna? I can’t eat it. I need my hamburger without pickles, please. At restaurants I’d push the pickle spear off my plate with my sister’s fork and tear off any part of a sandwich role that’d been touched by the juices.
I was allergic. That’s what allergic people do, right?
This continued for years: No relish on my hotdog, please. I’ll pass on the deviled eggs…
Until one day I was at a deli with my family. By this point I was in high school and had the drill down: “No pickles on my plate, please.”
Yet when my cucumber sandwich was delivered, there was an electric green spear right beside it. “Man! They messed up my order, does anyone want my pickle?” I began my ritual of tearing off the pickle-juiced portions of the bread.
“You really do hate pickles, don’t you?” My mother said with a shake of her head. “That’s so funny, you used to love them.”
I put the roll down, “What are you talking about? I’m allergic to pickles.”
My mom’s mouth twitched in the way it does when she’s trying not to laugh because even though she thinks she’s about to be funny, she knows her audience won’t feel the same way. “Um, Tiff….”
“You’re not actually allergic to pickles.”
“You’re not actually allergic to pickles. That was just something I told you when you were little because you’d eat them until you got sick.” She shrugged. “So go ahead and enjoy.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” I was flabbergasted – all those pickle-free years and burgers.
“I guess I forgot. Oops.”
Oops? Oops? Was there any other part of my medical history she’d forgotten to tell me? I scowled like only a teenager can, ate my pickle, her pickle, and both my little brothers’ pickles. There was more than a ten-year pickle deficit in my diet, and I wanted to start fixing that immediately.
It is possible that I got sick afterward.
I still get like this. No, I don’t still gorge myself on pickles until I ralph. (Occasionally I overindulge in Swedish Fish and coffee, but that’s another story). I do, however, fixate on one task, item, whatever, until I’ve overdone it. With running this can result in over-training injuries. With reading I earn raccoon-like circles from too many late nights with books under the covers. With Twitter it becomes St. Matt threatening to hide Petunia. While writing I spend so much time IMH, that the line with reality becomes blurred.
And this April, it was BEDA. This post completes it; I’ve officially blogged each day this month. BEDA could not have come at a more chaotic time: there were roadtrips, crisis’s, parent-teacher conferences, and TBALMCSAP revisions, but not even the Easter bunny prevented me from posting.
I’m glad that April doesn’t have 31 days, and I’m glad BEDA’s over. It was fun and I’ve loved daily comments, but I’m starting to feel that ut-oh-I’ve-over-done-it feeling. It’s time to slowly back away from my blog and leave it be for a few days.
Except, back when I was a tiny-Tiffany, right after I booted, rallied, ran downstairs, and greeted the grown-ups, before I headed to the backyard to rumpus with my cousins– I’d make a stop at the pickle table to grab another spear or two.
In other words: I’ll see you soon.
Sixth graders are not stealthy. This isn’t news to me, but it was brought to my attention today –yet again – in a quite adorable way.
April is National Poetry Month. April is National Poetry Month and my kiddos have been writing poems. April is National Poetry Month, my kiddos have been writing poems, and one of this year’s dads was Poet Laureate of our town. I invited him in to talk to the class. Today.
This is where the not-so-stealthy part comes in.
Mr. Kiddo is in front of the class doing an excellent job of speaking about his writing process. He’s sharing some truly beautiful poems. I’m trying not to tear-up as he reads a poem about when his 12-year-old Buckaroo was just a baby. I glance around the classroom and notice something…
Most of the kiddos are entranced, chins in hands, leaning forward with rapt attention. But two… no, make that three. No, actually it’s four. Wait! FIVE! Five kiddos are futzing in their desks, or have put their head down, or are scribbling something in notebooks on their laps. WHAT? This is unacceptable. We are respectful in room 202!
I attempt some stealth of my own, trying to walk quietly across the room while my heels clack on the tile. One looks up with a sheepish grin as I approach. A second startles and slides what he’s writing into his desk. A third stays face down; her forehead pressed against the edge of the desk. I tap her shoulder, she jumps. I crouch and whisper: “Sweetpea, what are you doing? That’s not very polite.”
And then – I get it. I see the notebook in her lap and I get it. I peer across the table and spy another kiddo doing the same thing. I get it.
They’ve been inspired by Mr. Kiddo, his talk, and his poems: they’re writing.
“Sorry, Mrs. Schmidt,” whispers the pink-cheeked Sweetpea.
I wink. “Promise I’ll give you writing time after,” I whisper before patting her shoulder, standing, and not-so-stealthily clacking back across the room with a proud smile stretched ear to ear.
The high temp for Doylestown today was 86°. The lowest temperature my classroom managed today was 86° – and that was at 7:30 in the morning before 26 preteens arrived to add their body heat to the mix.
The classroom worked its way above 90°, so we did most of our work outside, chasing shade around the school as it shifted with the hours. I mother-duckling’d the kiddos: “Bud, you need to get under that tree,” “Sweetpea, scoot back a few inches, your shoulders are in the sun.” They were sent home sweaty and flushed, but without sun damage.
Did I take similar care of my own precious skin? Not so much – although I didn’t realize this right away. I noticed my coworkers giving my sidelong glances after school. A couple made comments: “Spend some time outside today, Tiffany?” Being an idiot, I worried my class had been too loud and disturbed others – but no, they were unusually quiet, subdued by the child-melting heat of our classroom. It wasn’t until I arrived home and looked in the mirror that I figured out how my colleagues knew I’d had a courtyard-classroom today.
Do I match my powder pink polo shirt? No. I am burned darker, more like the color of a Macintosh apple. I’ve got reverse racoon eyes, white in the places my sunglasses covered. Guess I might have to add sunblock to my morning routine.
I’m too cranky and pink to do much more of a blog, so I’ll just leave you with this:
10) You can pick up a piece paper by pressing your warm palm to it. Sweat makes an excellent adhesive.
9) Each time you shift in your seat, it makes an embarrassing ~squeeelph~ noise. Each time it makes this noise, you feel the need to say: “It’s just the chair.” And everyone gives you a sure-sure look, even though they know it’s really just the seat.
8) The room starts to take on a funny odor that reminds you of childhood summers – you hunt for the source and realize that it’s the crayons melting in their bins.
7) The room starts to take on another odor – this one isn’t funny at all – the smell of 26 pre-teen bodies post recess-basketball.
6) Pens and pencils slip from sweaty hands while writing. This may occur spontaneously and accidentally once or twice. Then it becomes accidentally-on-purpose.
5) Snack time string cheese becomes snack time soup cheese.
4) Math class features problems like: If it’s 90° in Doylestown, snowing in Denver and 26° in Montana, where would we like to live right now?
3) Your projector overheats before morning announcements, rendering all of your PowerPoint, SmartNotebook files, and lessons unusable.
2) The kiddos ask you to play ♫Frosty the Snowman♫ and ♫The Nutcracker Suite♫so they can “visualize snow”
1) Despite being alarmingly under-caffeinated, you wait until your coffee is room temperature before drinking it.
Tomorrow’s supposed to be in the 50’s again – so we won’t have a repeat of today. What we may have, however, is students who come to school dressed for a repeat of today – and spend the hours between morning announcements and dismissal with chattering teeth and goosebumpy arms.
At least I won’t have to worry about sunburns.
I am NOT a ballerina – and not just because of a mid-recital-altercation that may have taken place when I was six (more on that below). I’m not a dancer. Not even a square dancer. I have mastered the bop-in-place. I can do the sluggishly-shifting-feet-in-a-circle slow dance too. That’s it. Oh, and the hokey pokey.
There are many reasons for my lack of dance expertise. Here are some:
I do not know my left from my right. I realize this makes me pathetic and lame, but it’s true. I’ve tried to learn them. I wore a watch on my left wrist; I’ve tried bracelets on my right. It doesn’t help. I’ve tried marking shoes, and I did the left-hand-makes-an-L trick on the steering wheel so often while learning to drive, my dad threatened to take away my permit. So when my dance teacher told me to move left, I often bumbled right.
I also have no rhythm. Again this is pathetic and lame and also still true. I also tried to work on this, but I’ve accepted it’s never going to happen. Clap to a beat? I can do this for about eight claps, then I’m lost. Since I’d hate for the other clappers to think I’m trying to mess up their rhythm, whenever group clapping is required, I fake it. Yes, I’ll own up to being a fake-clapper.
Despite these two all-important facts, I wanted to be a ballerina and when I was four my parents enrolled me in a class. I was adorable. All smiles and curls in my little slippers and tutus. And a disaster. I careened into the row behind me; I caused domino falls when I spun left instead of right. I did the moves for the second chorus of ♫the kitty cat song♫ during the first refrain. And I executed all of these moves without even a sliver of grace or coordination. Worst of all, I was oblivious to my disaster-dancing. I performed for every willing audience – often for less-than-willing-but-unable-to-escape audiences too, like the cashier in every store or the other mothers at the bus stop.
Somehow I survived for two years at the dance studio, but during my six year old recital, my collision course with catastrophe came to a sudden, dramatic, and public conclusion.
It should be mentioned these recitals were not small affairs. The dance studio rented out the auditorium of the largest local high school and sold out the tickets for all the shows. There were a few thousand people in attendance – including my parents, grandparents and a few aunts I’d begged to come see my “most-special-performance-ever.”
My costume was a light blue leotard trimmed with white sequins my mother had stayed up late sewing. The tutu had white polka dots and more sparkly sequins. Unlike the previous year’s costume — which featured a cat face I’d decorated with eye shadow and blush – this year I looked rather pristine as I stood in line with the rest of my class. We were waiting for the musical cue that indicated the curtains were opening and we should perform our swish step entrance as we skittered across the stage to the tape X’s designating our spots. We’d practiced this for a week. I had it down.
And then someone — we’ll call her “Meggy” — swished and skittered her way over to my tape X. What was I supposed to do? The music was about to start!
My tutu’d, six-year-old self knew how to handle this: I asked her, politely, to move to her own X.
I asked again.
She STUCK OUT HER TONGUE.
It was on! The music was starting and I could barely handle the steps from my own X, a different location was out of the question. My relatives were in the audience waiting to watch ME and here was stupid Meggy standing on MY X and making me look silly. We couldn’t both stand there – clearly something had to be done.
So I pushed her. gently
She pushed back. Hard!
What’s a wannabe ballerina to do? I slugged her. HARD!
She shrieked as she slid across the stage on her tutu’d butt. I claimed my X and smiled brightly at the horrified audience.
I could hear my teacher saying ut-oh words as the curtains were hastily closed. An agitated and flustered and trying-to-keep-her-voice-down-so-audience-wouldn’t-hear-her-holler instructor came out and told us how disappointed she was.
We were each individually positioned on our X’s and the curtained opened again. Forget the swishy-skittering steps, they were not taking any chances.
After the recital, my mother was asked with taunt politeness not to re-enroll me for the following year.
Thus ended my career as a ballerina.
But I walked away with two things:
1) The knowledge I was right. When the adults positioned us on the tape X’s for the second attempt, it was Meggy who was moved.
2) A home video of 6-year-old indignation and the ability to watch Meggy’s tutu’d butt slide across the stage whenever I want. It’s the most interesting part of the recital.
Was it worth it? I think so!
What was the headstone company thinking when they posted a sign reading: “Drive Safe. We Can Wait”? I obsess over this each time we drive past.
This would be an example of a FIERCE WONDERING. Something that puzzles you and sticks with you long after it should linger. It’s a Ralph Fletcher term and one I use in my classroom while encouraging the kiddos to record their own Fierce Wonderings in their writers’ notebooks.
I have Fierce Wonderings all the time. The book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is a gigantic fierce wondering for me. I read to my class each year hoping that one of them will know the stories behind the illustrations – or that I finally find closure. Nope, but the kiddos do write great more stories that lead to more Fierce Wonderings.
Other Wonderings of the Fierce variety I’m plucking from my notebook:
Graffiti on a local building (I changed the names): Melanie Smith, I will love you forever. No matter what happens. Love, C. I find it odd that good old ‘C’ had no qualms about using his love’s first AND last name, but stuck with his own initial. So she can get in trouble for his vandalism, but he’s off the hook? Also, what does he expect to happen? Does ‘what happens’ matter to Melanie? Curious…
When I was in the local bookstore about a month ago, a 3-4 year old was wondering from his father to his older sister, to random customers repeating over and over, “I just want to find something to make mommy happy. I just want to get something that will make mommy happy. Can we find something to make mommy happy?” His dad was ignoring him, his sister brushed him off, and I wanted to scoop him up and hug him. What had happened to make him feel, at 4 years old, that his mother’s happiness was his responsibility? His words and desperate tone have echoed in my ears for weeks.
There’s an author I’m not quite sure actually exists. I like her first book a lot, so I googled her to find out if there’d be more. The only place I could find her online was listings on Amazon – where I discovered there’d be a sequel. Even the publisher’s website doesn’t have any more details than were listed in the bookflap bio. When the sequel came out I read it, didn’t like it as much, and went to the web address listed in the bookflap bio (this was the only change from the first bio). The website doesn’t exist. It’s now been six months since I read the book and the website still doesn’t exist. How is it possible for this author to have next to no presence online? I find this fascinating and the conspiracy theory part of me believes she’s not real.
I heard part of a tsunami-story during the media glut in December of 2004 where an American tourist mother was talking about being stuck in a hotel stairwell with her two children. The water was rising rapidly and she couldn’t hold on to both her infant and toddler and keep herself afloat. She chose to let go of the toddler because he had a chance of being able to swim, whereas the baby did not. Something interrupted the news and I never heard the end of the story. In my cupcakes-&-unicorns mind they all survived, but…
This is me – I’m a Fierce Wonderer. I’ll ask St.Matt’s opinion on something (like the tsunami story above) hours, days, weeks, years after it occurs. His response: “Tiffany, you’ve to let things go.”
Let things go? Has he MET me? I can no more let things go than I can stop eating jellybeans, reading, drinking coffee, or writing.
And I don’t really want to. I like fiercely wondering. It’s part of what makes me a writer – I wonder what happened to that mother, both in the stairwell and since then. There’s a story in that. I wonder what motivates a toddler to obsess over buying something to ‘fix’ this mother – and how his father could ignore him. There’s a story in that. The graffiti & missing author? Each could be a story.
And it’s not just sad things that keep me wondering. We just got home from ice cream and the muddy kneed pigtailed nine-year old in front of me in line was squealing, “Today’s the best day ever!” Normally I’d attribute this to winning a soccer game or just the beautiful weather, but her mother had a slightly dazed expression as she leaned down to her daughter and whispered, “Shhh, I know, but don’t tell anyone. Not yet- soon!”
I volunteered at an Autism Awareness 5K this morning. I probably could’ve run it, but – since the tan lines from last summer’s ankle brace still haven’t faded –I’m babying my ankle this year.
St.Matt and my SIL were running, they had maps of the course in their race bag, along with sneaker chips, safety pins, number and Powerbars.
I had a bright yellow VOLUNTEER shirt that clashed with the khaki capris I’d tugged on at 6:45.
“I’ve got just the spot in mind for you,” said one of the directors, a very nice man I’d never met before.
“Not at the water station?” That’s where I’d been told I’d be situated during volunteer check-in.
“Nope, I need you somewhere else.” He smiled at me in a confident way that made me wonder if rumors of my cheering-prowess had made their way all the way from Boston to Buckingham, PA. Or perhaps he was just wowed by my post-massive-coffee confidence and energy.
Either way, I ended up mid-hill at an intersection were runners would pass me three times. As runners headed down the hill towards me, I pointed them down a side street. They would run a loop and come back towards me and I would point them behind me, down to the bottom of the hill, where they would run around a cone. Finally they’d run up the whole hill and disappear around the corner they’d come from. This was not a little hill.
For 30 minutes before the race I was alone on it. The 24 oz coffee I’d so quickly finished suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea. I had to go and I was bored. I practiced my hand signals – 1st the cul de sac on the left, then down behind me, then up the hill – this was interesting for about 24 seconds.
I tweeted a bit, played some music on my phone, and bopped around in the middle of the street to entertain myself – looking up when I heard giggles and finding two kiddos watching me from a neighboring yard. Apparently I was entertaining them too.
About 20 minutes prior to the race, a runner on a warm-up loop approached me: “So when I reach the first time, how far into the race am I? How far is that loop? When I pass you coming up the hill, how far to the finish?”
I realized I didn’t know. I’d gotten in the truck with the director, been deposited in the middle of the course and I knew nothing but my own immediate intersection.
It’s all a matter of perspective and until I flagged down a bike cop doing a pre-race lap of the route, I didn’t have any. The cop rattled off the stats quickly: “They’re about two miles in when they reach you. It’s about point-4 miles down that loop,” he pointed left. “Then point-4 for them to come back out, and about two-tenths to the bottom of the hill, from there it’s about a half mile back up the hill and to the finish line.”
I nodded and absorbed his facts: 2 miles, 4/10ths, 2/10ths, one-half. “Thanks. And is the rest of the course flat?”
He grinned as he positioned his feet back on his pedals, “Nope, this course was designed by someone with a sense of humor. But you’re smack dab in the middle of the biggest hill.”
While I didn’t move throughout the race course — I pranced around my intersection and cheered, pointed, encouraged, clapped, and pointed some more — I needed the officer’s knowledge to give me perspective. It helped me to know where the runners had been, where I was sending them, and where they were going after they passed by. I was asked for these facts by more than a few ready-to-be-done runners, especially when I pointed them up the hill.
Writing’s like this too. It’s not enough to concentrate on a single scene. No matter how critical a plot juncture, the writer needs perspective. I can’t – for a moment, paragraph or page – forget where the characters are coming from, or where the plot is headed. Each scene and chapter should be crafted with a purpose: to propel the characters towards the end. When I lose sight of this – lose my perspective – I may craft scenes that are fun or witty or tell interesting background, but it’d be like asking the runners to do the hokey pokey around the traffic cone at the bottom of the hill. It interrupts the stride and slows down the pacing. More than that, it’s distracting.
I don’t always draft in order – sometimes I drop myself off at a plot intersection where things are happening from many different angles – but as long as I keep my attention focused on where characters and plot lines have been and where they’re headed to, I can keep cheering, pointing, encouraging clapping, and pointing some more.
Luckily, while writing I don’t need to wear day-glo yellow, I can usually dance without inspiring giggles, and I have bathroom access.
Whatever temperature today was, it’s my favorite. I needed to apply sunblock before post-school lounging in the backyard with a book. There was more than spring in the air, there was a touch of summer as well.
There’s only 37 days of school left as well – less than Lent.
Clearly it’s time to start making my summer list.
Last June-July I participated in the National Writing Project. Between that and four months of thrice-weekly 2-hour long physical therapy sessions, my summer wasn’t my own.
2009 hasn’t been gentle with me so far, but I’m claiming this summer as my own. No classes, no commitments. Time to read, write, recharge, relax, and re-learn how to sleep.
But apart from those lofty goals and the typical kayaking, tennis, ice-cream making, badminton playing, I need some other things to fill my day.
In no particular order, here’s my work-in-progress list:
Watch Dr. Who (and figure out what all the fuss is about)
Go to P.E.I. with the family (& re-read all of the Anne books before/during)
Vacation with J-bean and Drew (Albuquerque? Vancouver? Denver? … tbd)
Jack’s Mannequin & the Fray concert
Throw the Austen party I’ve been promising for years
Complete a 5-mile race (check out my self-restraint, it says 5-mile, not marathon)
Catch up on the entire season of Gossip Girl
Take a pottery class
Re-read House of Leaves and book club it with Dad
Host a Harry Potter movie-marathon before HP6 comes out
Quality puggle-hammock snuggle time
Go to the drive-in (oooo, possibly for Harry Potter 6!)
It’s not a very long list so far. Luckily we have 37 more school days to add to it. Suggestions?
“And they all lived happily ever after.” My dad would close the book cover and lean down to give me goodnight kiss.
“And then what?”
This was a common conversation when I was a teensy-Tiffany. Happily Ever After wasn’t enough – I wasn’t trying to get a stay of execution from bedtime – I wanted to know what happened next.
“Well, Tiffers, they lived happily ever after. So they were, er, happy.”
“But then what happened?”
I wanted to know if Prince Stephan woke up every morning and told Aurora how beautiful she was. Did he get mad when she kept pricking her fingers on spinning wheels and calling out: BAND AID! I need a Band Aid! (In my version of Sleeping Beauty Aurora passes out from seeing the blood – there’s no need for any enchantment on the spindle). Does Prince Charming ever get annoyed that Cinderella allows so many mice in the house? Were there kids: princesses and princelings? I wanted proof of these happy endings – I didn’t want to relinquish characters I loved.
I always thought I’d be happy to read a whole book full of the happy part of the happily ever after. Who needs the conflict and tension? I’d be thrilled to see the other Prince Charming pick wildflowers for Snow White, or hear Darcy speak sweet, proud, nothings to Lizzie.
Or would I? Jo’s Boys and Little Men aren’t as interesting as Little Women (this could be because I’ve never forgiven rotten Jo for breaking Laurie’s heart). The kiss exchanged by Clary and Jace at the end of City of Glass doesn’t have a tenth of the passion of the forbidden one they share in fairy court in City of Ashes. And Breaking Dawn? Everything I wanted for Edward and Bella happened in the first hundred pages, the next 600+ pages weren’t all happy, but the seemed to go on forever and continue long after the plot had dissolved.
Would I want to hear Darcy complain to Lizzie about drainage and tenants at Pemberley or know the details of Rochester’s lifelong struggles to cope with the loss of a hand and vision in one eye? Not so much.
If I want to hear a Prince Charming talk about laundry, dishes, or other day-to-day aspects of what’s next? , I’ll just turn to my St. Matt.
As much as I hate when characters I love are hurting, as much as I agonize over adding tension and terror to the lives of my own characters, a story isn’t a story without suspense and conflict. The happily ever after isn’t special if the characters didn’t struggle or overcome an obstacle to achieve it.
Maybe I don’t need to know what happens, after the Happily Ever After, after all.
There’s a scene in Alice in Wonderland where the White Rabbit oversees the playing cards as they frantically paint tulips. Yes, paint them. Because they’re supposed to be RED, not white, and the Queen of Hearts will holler: “off with their heads” if any white flowers besmirch her garden.
It’s possible the White Rabbit has visited my garden lately.
My other theory is that I’ve been Evermore’d, because when I arrived home from my weekend in Boston, this is what I saw:
113 = Yesterday – April 20th, 2009 – was the 113th Boston Marathon.
25,000 + = the number of marathoners in yesterday’s race.
500,000 = approximate number of cheerers along the course route.
8 = cheerers in my group
389 = sweaty high-fives exchanged with runners (estimated)
5 = cough drops consumed post-cheering to soothe my throat
3:45 = the time he needed to qualify for next year’s race
3:36:25 = his finish time
8:16 = his pace per mile
2:37 = his Boston Marathon P.R. (in 1984)
$1,000,000 = how I felt watching my dad! (pride-splosion!)