Saturday, March 28, 2009

Still raining.

It's still raining. Not with the thunder or lightning I love, just rain--drumming and drumming outside my windows, splashing against the central air conditioning unit in the yard. The rain is loud, dropping straight down from the high second story. (The landlord never cleans the gutters.) That's why grass doesn't grow properly back there: hard rain running off the roof and too much shade.

It's quiet today. Rakel and Todd are both out of town. Rakel's in D.C. for her niece's birthday, and a university in Florida has flown Todd down there. Their PhD program wants him so much that they've offered him $20k per year, flown him down there and even provided a hotel room. In this economy? Yowza. Good for Todd! It's sad to think about what it will be like without him next year. Not only does he drive me around, he's also my best friend here.

At least my parents are arranging a car for me. Mom and Dad are so generous. When J.B. and I graduated from college, we each got to take one of the cars our parents had on the farm. When I moved to NYC, I left mine with Mom and Dad, and the tornado got it. Oops. Now my parents might have a vehicle to spare again. (YAY! Have I written about this already? If so, sorry.) Dad thought he might send the parade car, the awesome '70s car with a working 8-track, to Virginia with me. The thing is, he loves that car, and I'm a little afraid it might attract too much attention (aka CRIME) in my neighborhood. As such, I have requested the slightly-tornado-damaged Buick...assuming it runs well. I have terrible luck with vehicles, so a car with a tempermental engine wouldn't be a good call.

Last week I mentioned my students' recent lethargy . Wednesday I joked, "What do I have to do, bring cookies?" They laughed, and one member of the armed forces perked up so much at the mere mention of cookies that I had to laugh, too. Friday before class, I whipped up some chocolate chip cookies. As I handed out napkins, one student asked with disbelief, "Wait a minute. You didn't actually bring cookies, did you?"

"Would I do that? Would I get up this morning and bake you chocolate chip cookies from scratch?"

The soldier could barely contain himself. "You really brought us cookies?"

"Still warm from the oven," I assured him as I passed out the treats. His reaction made me want to ship cookies to the front line. Hopefully tasty pastries bought me some goodwill, and my students will associate writing and composition class with happiness.

Meanwhile, I'm still home alone, listening to the rain. A train's whistle blows in the distance. Maybe it's headed to where you are.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Portsmouth Reading

I've been back in Norfolk for a week and a half. I guess it's nice to be back to my grown-up autonomous life. I like what I'm learning in my classes, and I like teaching.

My class has been in a weird funk, though, lately. Their attendance has been dropping, and their quiz grades are tanking. Is it me? I've tried using fun videos in class and asking for their suggestions, but nothing seems to fix it. When I asked for suggestions, most students said I was doing fine. (One said we should do all the reading in class. Heh. Good luck with that, kid.) Oh, well. I'll keep at it.

Yesterday, there was an ekphrastic poetry and nonfiction reading at the Courthouse Gallery in Portsmouth. Ekphrastic means (roughly) art inspired by/relating to other art. We were supposed to visit the gallery, pick a piece and write in response to that piece. I couldn't get a ride, so I had to use their web site. They had a few quilts posted, each entitled "Biography," so I wrote a poem called "Quilting Memoir."

I'd never been to Portsmouth before this weekend. It was a glorious, sunny day, and Mary was nice enough to give me a ride. About a dozen people read, and there were even a few people in the audience who didn't take part in the reading. Heh. The gallery accidentally listed the date wrong on their web site, but I'm not sure listing in correctly would have helped much.

We poets joke that we mainly write for each other, because the people who buy poetry are poets. I read recently that only 5 percent of poetry books bought in bookstores are written by living poets. Living poets tend to make the majority of their sales when they give poetry readings...which, like I said, are mostly attended by other poets.

Anyway, it was so Springy out. Recently, it's been COLD. Not Iowa cold or anything, but 20 or 30 degrees below the average temp here. The crocuses and hyacinths have bloomed, and I was afraid they would freeze, but they seem to be doing alright. Trees are blooming all over town. My professor, Luisa, says her daughter calls them dandruff trees, though they look more like snowballs to me. Portsmouth was pretty, and I'd love to check it out sometime.

I enjoyed listening to my colleages and other area poets. Their work is so inspiring. I had to keep my pen in my hand the entire time to jot down ideas for new poems. I was a little nervous as I read for some reason. I try to get in character like I used to in theater, and it didn't work too well, but I don't think anyone could tell.

Afterwords, a handful of us went over to a local German restaurant for beer and snacks. The pretzels, lunchmeat, liverwurst, pumpernickel bread and spicy mustard were surprisingly satisfying. Mushy meat...yum!

All-in-all, it was one of those days that remind me why I'm here. I'm here to interact with other writers, become a better writer, and better connect with my audience. Just sitting at a table full of women, all of us laughing, was worth a lot.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Great grandparents, and a return to Virginia

Sunday, I'd planned to go visit my wonderful grandparents. My dad was even going to come with me. The weather was not on our side, though. The temperature had been dropping steadily since I arrived in Iowa. Northern Iowa was icy. In Woodward (where our farm is), it started out rainy. The rain turned to sleet, then hail, then snow. Days ago, I was sitting in the 70-degree sun. Then, in a few hours the ground was white. Iowa's weird like that.

Since we couldn't travel, I spent half of the day filling Mom's new mp3 player (a generic iPod) with music and half the day helping Dad on the farm, mainly just filling buckets with water. It was actually fun to spend time with him and see the lambs bounce around. Then we went to Unkie's house to take care of our sheep there. (Some have been living there ever since the tornado.) I quickly popped into the house to say hello and get a last round of hugs.

I had rescheduled my visit with my grandparents for Tuesday, but Monday I woke up to weather predictions of an ice storm on Tuesday. I decided to head up there while the going was good. Grandma Carol and Grandpa Kenny met me halfway by coming to Algona, where we had lunch at the Pizza Ranch. Grandpa even cancelled a doctor's appointment because he wanted to see me. Aw!

We sat and talked for hours until we were the last ones in the place. The woman who ran the place didn't mind. I also gave them their Christmas presents, as our gathering was canceled for weather at Christmas, too. It would have been nice to spend more time together, but it was a short trip to Iowa. I didn't even get to see my friends, which was the biggest bummer of the whole trip. (I should have gotten the Pizza Ranch lady to take our picture. I forgot to, so I had to dig out the pictures at left from the summer of 2006!)

After leaving my Gilbaugh grandparents, I got together with my Kiley grandparents (their picture is from summer 2007). Grandpa Russell had been in the hospital for heart trouble. It was very stressful for Grandma Lenora, who collapsed and broke her leg. It's been hard on her, maybe it's kind of a blessing.

You see, Grandma is supposed to stay off her feet and rest. Grandpa is supposed to move around and get exercise. This way, he has to move around to help her. When I arrived, he made me a cup of tea. We chatted while they opened their Christmas presents. At supper time, I volunteered to cook, and made egg sandwhiches for us all. Then I hit the road again, trying to get home before the weather turned.

Tuesday, I tried to catch up on my reading while my parents were at work. Then, I helped Dad with farm work again, filling buckets, moving sheep, and helping Dad to build a new pen. It was cold that day, the temperature plummeting fast. At one point, Mac (the border collie) dropped a ball at my feet, and I stepped on it, sloshing cold water down my leg. I tell you, that is not fun when it's below freezing. I eventually went in to change and get warmer gloves. Nonetheless, by the time Dad and I were done, I was ready to go in and have hot chocolate (though I did linger in the garage for a bit to play fetch with Mac). Mom brought home Chinese take-out, which really hit the spot. Then it was time to pack.

Wednesday morning, I was up before 6 a.m., gathering up my stuff and getting ready to fly home. I even had time to mix up replacer and feed the lambs. I gave my dad hugs and kisses before he went to work. Then Mom and I hit the road. It was 8 degrees F when we said our goodbyes at the airport. My flight was delayed by hours, and I was told I'd have to get a 5 p.m. flight from Detroit to Norfolk. When we got to Detriot at 2, I decided to give it a shot, and ran for my original 1:50 flight to Virginia...which I managed to catch. Boo-yah! I was cozy in my apartment before 5 p.m., and because I'd only used carryon luggage, all my stuff made it, too. It was gorgeous out, 70 degrees and sunny.

Of course, by the next morning the temperature had fallen 25 degrees. Today it is cool and rainy. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm a bad-weather magnet. Oh, well. Maybe that will help me focus on my studies.

P.S. I've done pretty well with my Lenten goals, but I slipped today and posted a new Facebook profile pic. Because I usually wear glasses, I've been wanting a profile picture of me in glasses. The thing is, I usually don't wear my glasses in pictures because there's alway a glare. Well, on my trip home, someone snapped a good one, so I decided to post it. It took less than a minute, but my friends were quick to call me on it. Todd even chastized me from London. Isn't Facebooking while on a trip to London as bad as cheating on a Lenten fast? Okay, maybe not. Sigh. What can I say? I'm weak. Well, their teasing scorn has strengthened my resolve. I can do better, and I will!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Family time!

When I got home from Unkie's house (it's hard to say or even type "Unkie's house" instead of "Unkie and Helen's house"), Mom took me to L'James beauty school. There, Mom got a facial and she got me a massage. It was AWESOME! Well, mine was. Mom's? Not so much. I mean, she looked fresh and young, but they got something in her eye. She has the worst luck with that (a student, for example, once shattered a sheet of glass, and got glass in Mom's eye). People need to stop getting stuff in my mom's eyes. It makes her sad and me nervous.

That afternoon, J.B. and Erika brought my nieces, Courtney and Brooke, over. We gave Erika her birthday presents, had some supper, and played. The favorite game is still Peter Pan, and I alternated between being Peter and Captain hook, while the girls were both Wendy. I think it's been a year of Peter Pan, so I'm amazed at Brooke's focus. Mixed in, however, was some Little Mermaid 2. My dad even joined in, being King Triton for a while. Well, done, Dad!

Mom served a scrumptious roast. Then we went to feed the baby lambs. Brooke was a bit shy about it, sitting on Dad's lap and helping him hold the bottle. Courtney was a bit bolder. She was willing to get down on the floor with the lamb. Her lamb was younger and needed a little more help, so Erika helped to hold the bottle, and I helped the lamb to latch onto the rubber nipple.

Courtney even pet the lamb. I think she really liked it, and Brooke, though shy, thought the lambs were cute. It was so wonderful to spend time with them. Each time I see them, they're bigger and more mature. They are such wonderful girls. It was good to see my brother and sister-in-law, too. They've got a nice home, J.B. is great at his job, and Erika is a great stay-at-home mom. I hope that I'm lucky enough to have all that someday.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Iowa, hooray! Sleepover at Unkie's house.

I was swamped with a big midterm due the night before I left for Iowa. I got home and started packing. The next morning, I rushed around, doing my last-minute preparations. Todd had arranged a free ride to the airport...who turned out to be the teaching assistant for the class I was skipping that night. Oops. Anyhoo, before we knew it, we were at the airport. My roommate and I were catching the same flight to Detroit, though I was coming to Iowa and he was going to London. He was a bit mystified at going west to go east, but there's the modern airline system for you. As I was going through security, I got the full treatment, pat-down and all. My security agent (a woman) was so funny: "Just think of it as a free massage, provided by Homeland Security."

Before I knew it, I was in Detroit, running to catch my flight to Des Moines. I made it with a few minutes to spare. It was cold when I left Virginia, but in Iowa, it was nearly 70 degrees! I basked in the sunny breeze while waiting for my mom to get off work and come to get me. It was so relaxing to see my family and pets, and just to be on the farm. As a bonus, it's lambing season, and there were adorable bottle babies in a big box in the garage. Baby lambs were always my favorite thing about the sheep. In fact, as a girl on the farm, they were my main job. My brother was stronger and better at understanding what Dad wanted him to do, but I could mix up bottles and feed the babies.

I hated the grainy powder of the milk replacer (formula) under my nails, but I loved the rest of the process. I would combine the hot water and the replacer in the blender and mix it up to get rid of any lumps. (To this day, the ozone smell of a blender running makes me happy.) I would let the froth and excess bubbles settle out. Then I'd measure it into bottles and test it on my wrist. Then I would feed the babies, tilting the bottle just right to keep them from getting to much air. I was good at getting even the weak, tiny ones to take to the nipple and drink the whole bottle.

Friday, I went over to Unkie's house. He called to see when I wanted to visit, and my cousin Hannah called to turn the visit into a sleepover. When I got there, Unkie was off doing some farm stuff, so I snapped some pictures of my cousin Connor's 4-H pigs and a barn cat, Shaggy --who I call Nuisance. He earned his nickname because he's attention-starved, and always underfoot. He's rather shaggy, though, so his real name suits, too. He is increasingly scrawny and recently seems to be licking his fur off. Poor little guy. I always pet him, and he got so excited by my presence that he attempted to jump onto my body from the fence. Heh. I think I'll just pet you from here, little guy.

I found Unkie on his 4-wheeler and tapped his shoulder. He gave a little shout and accused me of trying to scare him. He always says that when he's not wearing his hearing aid. Heh. He took me on a little ride on the ATV because it was so nice out. Then we went inside. It was my first time in the house since Helen passed away, which was a little bit weird.

Once the kids were home from school, we all went to dinner together, Unkie, Karen (my honorary sister), Lynn (honorary brother-in-law), Connor and Hannah. They took me out to The Machine Shed where I got some delicious ribs and we got to chat. Unkie admitted that my posts about my neighborhood make him nervous. Well, me, too, but it's not like Iowa is immune from crime. Unkie's had stuff stolen from his farm. So have Karen and Lynn. Dinner was delicious, and the conversation was entertaining. On the ride home, Hannah asked to be told the story of The Frosting Fight (which I will tell another time). I only got so far as, "I was just trying to be a good little sister..." when Unkie burst out laughing. Why is that funny? I'm innocent, I tell ya, innocent! Karen said she hadn't heard Unkie laugh that hard in a long time.

We went back to the house and Unkie pulled me into his lap. He teased me about my awesome new lovehandles. (He teases me about being skin-and-bones when I don't have lovehandles, though, so it's more about finding a random excuse to tease than my actual weight.) Unkie is one of the few men on Earth who could ever pray to get away with that combination of actions. Then Hannah joined us in the cuddling. Karen snapped a pic, then had Connor joined us for a group picture.

Hannah reminded me of how to play War, and as we were playing, Connor and Unkie took to throwing something at each other. It was a plastic peach, of all things, and they were throwing it at each other OVER me. I told them not to hit me, so of course Unkie did. I approached him, shaking my fist. When he grabbed my arm, I got nervous, because Unkie's horseplay can get out of hand. Well, I pulled away too hard and...fell backwards. EEP! I tried to fall in a way that would do the least injury. The safest choices are generally to go limp or use momentum. I picked momentum and hit the floor rolling backwards, then rolled forward again to a sitting position.

"Wow," Karen exclaimed, shocked. "Your eyes were like dinner plates...but all your cheerleading and acting payed off, apparently, because that was remarkably graceful." We all laughed for a good long while. Eventually, we all went off to bed, and Hannah bustled about turning on the electric blankets, a core element of any sleepover at Unkie's house. The next morning, Unkie and Connor made us waffles with blueberry syrup. YUM! He's turning out to be a great cook, and jokes about starting his own waffle house. Well, if he does, I know where I'll be having breakfast in Iowa.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Norfolk Snow

There's a "snow storm" in Norfolk. Heh.

School is on a two-hour delay for a dusting of snow--though I suppose that's better than the time they canceled school on the mere threat of snow.

I'm too swamped with homework and grading to write now, but here are some photos I snapped in my backyard before 7 a.m. this morning. I'll add words at a later date.

P.S. Who's going home to Iowa on Thursday? ME! I'll be home for less than a week, but it'll be great to see my family and, hopefully, some friends.

P.P.S. At 9:45, I checked to make sure school was still on. It was, so I showered, dressed, did my hair and makeup, went over my lesson plans and went to work. There was a strong, chilly headwind I had to fight the whole was there. When I got to my students! Sometime between 9:45 and 10:45 ODU canceled school for the day. Grr.