IKEA boxes and the packaging. What fun for a three-year-old. There was a telescope and a roof on a pot. Then there was a bed and blanket. I thought to help out a little, recruiting another box, and made a house. Much fun was had taking off shoes, putting the telescope in the new box, taking a nap, getting up.

Every once and awhile, the wind would push on the box, ripple the flag, and E would ask “Will it fall down?” or something like that. Each time I reassured him that his house was sturdy and, if it did fall, we’d fix it together.

Putting things away.

Then, when there was little wind, he’d gathered his shoes and water bottled, crawled out of his house and told me in a very commanding tone of voice, “My house, it’s exploding, we have to go to Ms. V’s house!” And he began running across the lawn. I followed, of course. We turned to look at his house. “Oh, no, my house is on fire.”

Thank heavens for Mr. Rogers. As I kneeled in the wet lawn, looking back at his house (which hadn’t even fallen over), I said, “Look at all the helpers helping your house.”

“Oh, yeah, the helpers. Look at all the helpers!” [long pause] “Oh, the helpers, they fixed it. My house is all fixed.” And he gathers up his shoes and water bottle and heads back in, makes himself cozy, and says, “My house is all fixed.”

I think we’re going to be okay.

It’s my telescope, mama!

A Modern, Suburban Tale of Job

First, our house burns down. We’re safe, but our stuff needs to be decontaminated, we have to rebuild, and we’re living in a lovely home in our neighborhood that looks almost identical to what it did when it was build in 1950s.

Second, and I haven’t published this widely yet, we all came down with a version of the norovirus three days after our house burned down. Everyone in my family and our lovely hosts. We recovered, some faster than others, and while it was deeply unpleasant, it did eventually go on its way after time, a lot of bleach, and laundry.

Third, and the newest plague, is lice. Yep, those lovely little, six-legged parasites. Thank God for an attentive, experienced nanny and Mater’s Tales. The little one put up with a lot of pulling on his poor little head, but we’ve cleared him up. Sean and I are bonding over nitpicking. And my blessed in-laws are shampooing the older two with nitpicking to follow when they get home tomorrow. What an end to spring break.

A friend joked that boils are next, so I’m keeping an eye out for hand-foot-and-mouth.

So, we’re find our grace as we move ever onward.

Writing too…

And, so, while my house has burned down and I’m dealing with the stuff of that–literal stuff, lack thereof, and theoretical/metaphorical/psychological stuff–work continues too.  It isn’t so much that I devalued writing, but not having a house has actually freed up a fair amount of time and I’m trying to use that time, as much as possible, to do some writing.

Three projects running up to submission deadlines are:

  1. An article for English in Texas.  This piece is based on the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts Annual Conference presentation that Katrina Jansky and I did titled “Getting off the Hamster Wheel: Teaching reading and writing in a time of change.”  The article is focusing on how teachers can dig into teaching literature in ways that value time, choice, relevance, talk, and rituals and routines, no matter the mandates, policies, standards, or tests that roll on through.
  2. An article for the English Journal that grows out of work with Anna Consalvo on material tools in the writing classroom.  This work has been going on for the better part of nine years, essentially growing up with my children.  The most recent work was a book chapter that questioned the power we (teachers, parents, writers) cede to educational technologies, especially when it comes to literacy.  The newest take on the work will focus on how sticky notes are a key tool for empowering student writers throughout the writing process.
  3. A keynote and workshops for the 38th Annual Old Dominion University Spring Conference.  I had a hand in crafting the title and after a lively email back-and-forth we came up with: High School, College, and Beyond: Teaching Writing Where We Are and for Where We Hope Our Students Will Go.  The focus goes back to some of the writing for college, career, and life work that I did a few years ago, but come back to often in the conversations I have with high school English teachers and preservice English teachers.  It’s good to chew on these ideas, refresh them, and interesting to try a new genre.

Given that 1 and 2 are subject to peer review, watch this space for publication updates.   And I’ll post the keynote here after I’ve given it, and include the workshop materials as well.

Food, planning, and life going on

The other night I made dinner. Though it was made up of mostly great sausages, Kiolbassa, and Russian rye from Central Market. I can claim credit for steaming the cauliflower. And finding the last 4-pack of Midas Touch, too. Regardless, it felt more like I cooked. This was the kind of meal I would have made at our home. We had the right kind of mustard. We didn’t have steak knives, and I couldn’t grill the sausages, but that didn’t matter. We ate a meal together like we always used to.

I also made a meal plan yesterday and prepped food for the week. I plan breakfast and dinner for the week on Saturday or Sunday. By planning the week it reduces the thinking I have to do during the week. That stuff you read about decision fatigue is real, so the last thing I want to do at 5pm is figure out what’s for dinner. This planning stuff has been going on for at least 5 years now, so it’s pretty second nature, and I sometimes do get bored and try new things, or change my mind, but not often. Anyway…

Last night I sauteed the veggies for Taco Tuesday and the onions for mujaddara (basically this but I don’t cook the onions as much and sometimes use just cumin, other times balti seasoning) on Wednesday. This kind of prep work felt normal and all I needed was a cutting board, knife, cast iron skillet, and wooden spoon.

So the list of things I will save from a burning house includes the cast iron. Not the first or second run (with the children and after the kids were safe but before the big fire), but after the fire, the cast iron came out. The skillet I used to saute veggies was was my great grandmother’s. I also had Sean pull out the crepe pan and 5-quart Le Creuset. Crepes, pancakes, and fritters, and soup will feed a family for a long time. Though in the crazy of the afterwards, I’m afraid that another skillet–that I stored in the oven–may have been tossed in the dumpster with the stove. That one was a different great grandmother’s. Here’s to hoping that the salvage people knew to check the oven for stuff because lots of people store stuff in the oven.

Lastly, I quick pickled veggies. Because every parent wants their kids to eat more veggies, right? Mine have loved a bread and butter pickle that I’ve done in the past, and a cookbook I got at the library reminded me that you can pickle anything. So I made pickles. In second round of kitchen purchases, a dozen 16 oz, wide mouth canning jars and lids were procured. They store food, serve as mugs, are dishwasher safe, and cheap. They also serve as measuring cups, which I was reminded of when I realized after my decision to pickle carrots, zucchini, and peppers that I didn’t have any measuring cups. Hey, those markings on the side are good for something! And, I’m happy to report, David decided he’d eat pickled red pepper and zucchini in his lunch any time.

So despite the missing things, and with the things we have, we eat and generally eat well.


Have you ever thought about everything in your house? Like all of it? At once? In one list?

When your house burns down, you get a list of what was in it and what it was made of. This list includes everything from the hooks on the walls to the light switches to the couch. Each bit–ceiling insulation in the living room and a pillow–gets a replacement value, a percentage of depreciation, and an actual cash value. These numbers then dictate what your house and all the stuff in it is worth. Many of these numbers are created in a massive database that the insurance company keeps–at least this is my guess–that includes various averages and assumptions. These numbers are useful in that I can’t remember what I paid for a lot of stuff, or what it would necessarily cost to replace.

This accounting presents some odd moments. First, I get a lot of stuff on sale or used. So a lot of what we have was pretty nice, but we certainly didn’t pay full price. Some of our stuff looked nicer or newer than it was because we took good care of it (Aside: I’m having a hell of a time with verb tenses.) But we’re getting the replacement value so that we can, as the insurance guarantees, replace it.

My favorite entry, by far, is this one.Had no idea this was the official name of that chair.

We refused reimbursement for the broken printer that was sitting by the front door waiting to go to Goodwill. We also refused reimbursement the many alter candles we had squirreled away that we would bring out for Halloween or Christmas. And, yes, we end up with alter candle leftovers because there are just enough church ladies who can’t throw away the end of a candle even when their pastor wants to switch them out for taller ones.

All told, we’ll likely end up using about half of what we’re insured for.  Some of that is a function of getting a lot of stuff back: the high-quality wooden furniture, most clothes, the good stuff (ceramics, glassware, and metal) from the kitchen.  I always felt like we had enough stuff, maybe a bit too much, but not too too much.  But we’re insured for twice what we have.  Crazy.

And, thankfully, others’ extra stuff has become some of our in-between stuff.  Friends have donated dishes, pots, sheets, towels, etc.  My folks have sent quite a bit of stuff they were saving to use down here at some point.  And the house we’re renting has a lot of the furniture.  So we aren’t necessarily in need of a lot of stuff, both because we’re getting it from others and we’re getting our stuff back (at some point).  But we’re certainly learning how much less stuff we do need, not that we had much.  We’ll see how we use our insurance check, what we find we need to replace and what we find we don’t.