‘Tis the Season

I finished shopping more than a week ago and the last gift arrived by mail. (Hooray for used book stores!)

My youngest sibling, our parents, and I exchange gifts. They’re usually practical or, as my mother says, “Consumable.” They give us the pleasure of taking turns opening wrapped packages in the company of the giver.

Baby Bro and I got in the habit of buying each other a childlike gift in addition to a regular one. Tree ornaments have been my go-to choice; e.g. Curious George ornaments in memory of his beloved childhood pal. He buys me the oddest things, from a frosted souvenir glass of the sort that were popular when we were tots to a children’s book of verse containing “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

It occurred to me many years ago – even before I settled into La Casa de Tontería that I really didn’t want anything for my birthday or Christmas. I mostly want people to be with me or, if that’s imposdible, to think of me.

The Covid-19 pandemic – which closed my school yet again – has intensified that sentiment. Presents aren’t as important as people.

Imagine my confusion when I received an unordered package. In it were two funnels and a silicone mold. Then my friend M’e the Fashionista texted “Happy Marmalade Day!” That fictitious holiday is her excuse to spontaneously buy something and send it to a friend. What she sent was an icecube tray that makes huge diamond-shaped iceballs. It’s ridiculous and unpractical, but it’s in the freezer now.


It’s the Thought that Counts

People who know me, know I can’t stand raw language.* It’s not a Midwestern quirk. Growing up, vulgarities and raised voices indicated violence was coming. Even now, a certain word said in a certain tone of voice curls my fists and makes me brace for a fight. And in my hometown, it was generally known that the more a person sprinkled foul words, the faster he lost an argument.**

In a professional setting, whether a nail salon or a dollar store, the norm is to be polite.

Therefore, I was surprised this week. I had taken my car in (leaky stemvalve) and was sitting alone in the waiting room. A male voice started lighting the air on fire with f-bombs. I could tell that the Neanderthal was on the phone because it was a one-sided conversation. I guessed it was a customer talking in the customer service area, on the other side of the billing/receptionist area.

Evidently, a parts guy somewhere in the US had dropped the ball and a customer’s work vehicle was stuck in the shop. The customer was losing money every day it was out of commission. Very, very heated.

After my own business was done, a service guy came to me and apologized for his foul language. I was rather shocked, but he explained that he couldn’t stand seeing his customer, already suffering because of the shutdown, unable to get his business running.

I accepted his apology and said I understood.

Then he said if I ever had a problem with my car and some f*** dragged his feet, he’d do the same thing for me.

Oh, dear.

*And as a certain English immigrant to Canada knows, that includes flipping the middle finger at me. I. Will. Break. Your. Finger. Off. And. Mail. It. To. Your. Mother.

**In college, I witnessed my upperclass roomie trying to “sound more authentic” (authentic what? moron?) by practicing vulgarity. I pointed out that, since she hesitated each time she said the f-word, it undermined her credibility. Ha ha.


A visit from the Middle School Mafia

Thursdays are usually my “screen day” of work, which means hours preparing lessons, answering emails and commenting on students’ submissions. Every 25 minutes, I must look into the distance to give my eyes a break. 

The week before last, I looked up and saw two boys warily approaching La Casa de Tontería; a third waited on the road. They were heading back home after an afternoon in the State Park, an unaltered section of which lies beyond the dead-end of my street. They saw my house and wondered…

Yes, I welcomed them! It was good to see them “in the wild,” so to speak. One admitted to staying up all night – and it showed in the darkness around his eyes. Another was sent outdoors to give the rest of the family a break. The last is the quiet type with brains, which could go either way.

But they aren’t thieves or druggies. And they weren’t on the prowl for victims, just checking up on a neighbor-teacher. 

It reminded me why I like kids.

Spring Unfurls


The maple buds began unfurling Saturday morning and reached this stage by midday.

On Saturday, for the first time since the shutdown, I had visitors. A former student and her husband bought a house that has a “blank canvas” landscape. Having daffodils to spare, I dug some up (plus chives, the incongruous grape hyacinth* and yellow crocuses).

I was expecting her in the afternoon. I was NOT expecting her mother nor her sister, both of whom became my dear friends during a school trip to Madrid and Paris.

It was a delightful ambush!

For their part, the youngest girl was surprised to find I lived in that house. She said, “My friends and I used to drive past here on the way to their house, and I always thought it was the cutest little house.”  Sometime post-shutdown, she wants a tour.

Because they are a family of green thumbs, the talk was lively and bounced from topic to topic.** The garden is a work very much in progress, so it was fun to have other eyes notice things both good (radish sprouts) and bad (glass and cement patches left by the shed construction crew).

*aka muscari – thank you, Brenda, for the information.

** At one point, there was a disagreement over how to handle snakes one finds in the garden. One of the girls pulled out her phone to show me a photographic proof that, yes, she knew the correct way to hold a garter snake.

Out, but not About

Yesterday I cleaned fallen limbs from the front yard. Last weekend’s windstorm broke dead sections from the treetops; they exploded on impact. It took quite a while to gather all the finger-length pieces (the perfect size for jamming the mower’s belt).

Eight people passed by during that time, including a family on a motley assortment of bikes and foot-operated scooters. Continue reading

Love Languages: Middle-skooleze

Last year I had a funny, snot-nosed brat who loved wisecracks and flipping plastic bottles (a real obsession with middleschoolers last year).  Last week, a giant eighth-grader came loping down the hall toward me.

I was wearing one of my “new” sweaters, a green one with a white deer leaping in the center. I don’t know what he was wearing because I didn’t have binoculars to see above the first mile of legs.

“Hey, Missus,” he called down with a grin, “it’s not Ugly Sweater Day!” (Translation: It’s good to see you, Miss B!)

“It’s not Ugly Kid Day, either,” I replied, “but here we are.” (Translation: Nice to see you, [name redacted])

He burst into laughter and yelled, “You roasted me!” (Translation: You still love me!)

“You roasted me first.” (Translation: You love me more, you monster.)


Old Fogey Gamers are the best

This is what happens when I – a gamer so casual that it took TWO YEARS to finish a game my nephew finished in three weeks – chat with a group of old gamers.*

First, I tell them that yes, I finally finished the main storyline of Witcher 3 but not all the side quests. How did I like it? I liked that I could wander around for an hour at a time, enjoying the scenery and random monsters. The male playable character is kind of skanky, though, and I was unprepared for the gore.

Continue reading

All Points Bulletin: Lost Cat

This morning came a knock on the door. (The neighbors don’t know how a doorbell works.) I answered it and found a little blond boy, aged seven or eight.

”You know over there?”  He pointed to the neighbor’s overgrown brush. “Have you seen…? If you see my neighbor’s black and brown cat, it is lost.”

We discuss how much of the cat is black and how much is brown. We also discuss the monsterous brown tiger that sits on my deck and pretends he owns my garden and the fluffy black cat that hides under the front azalea near my front door.

”What’s the cat’s name?” I ask.

”I don’t know. It has two letters.”

”If I see it, should I call someone?”

“I don’t know the number.”


Addendum: The cat’s name is LT and the second house on the left at the end of street has lost him. Also, his dog – a husky which struggled mightily to get past my legs and into the house – is 18 months old.

A Veterans Day Reminder


At the clinic that drew my blood, there was a basket of toy soldiers near the check-in. A sign said to take one and put it a place where seeing it would remind me to pray for the men and women who served us.

I asked the receptionist who came up with that clever idea. She didn’t know but agreed it was lovely.


Greatest Rummage Sale Ever

Today was the drop-off day for our church rummage sale. Greatest rummage sale ever! Nothing is tagged; people just bring items to the cashiers and make an offer.

Can someone lowball and sell an item later online for a much higher price? Sure, but who cares?

The needy get what they need, the Ladies Guild raises funds for the parish, and no one can tell the difference between the poor and the thrifty.

During my second drop-off (don’t judge me!), I told one of the ladies how great it was that there are no tags. She got a gleeful smile and told me that many years ago, another group ran the sale and would spend hours tagging everything. But when the Ladies Guild took it over and let the buyers set the prices, the sale doubled in earnings.

That’s including the final hours, when it’s two dollars a bag. She told me a very funny  story – complete with pantomime – about fitting an electric typewriter into a plastic grocery bag for an astonished customer.

If you’re wondering where I’ve been for months, I’ve been luxuriating in an exhilarating bath of stress. No, the Young Human Factory hasn’t laid me off or closed.  Yes, the Old Man and His Better Half (aka my parents) are alive and kicking. The brothers are fine and the sobrinos aren’t suffering from anything they didn’t bring on themselves.

It’s just a little slice of change here, a smidgeon of inconvenient timing there, a trio of groundpiggies under my shed, and voila! le stress. (Seriously, “stress” in French is “le stress”.  In Spanish we know that it needs another syllable and some emphasis because it’s just that bad: el estrés.)