New Friend, New Changes

I hope you don’t mind I made a few changes to the blog. Instead of the evocative title, “Callie’s Blog,” we’re going to be known around here as “Notes.” It’s a nod to this little place I set up camp at in 2007 when I tried to keep track of a few  memories during naptime. The idea now is that I’m sharing a few snippets: about teaching, about Hadley and Harper, about whatever memory that needs tending; whatever it is I need to write to understand what I think.

My new friend Becky made my logo.  She is an artist, graphic designer, and teacher. You can find her work here, and check out her shop (I want the t-shirt with the typewriter on it, please) here.

Becky and I are collaborating on the Summer Reading Journals I sold a couple of summers ago.  I can’t wait to show you what we’ve done with them.  We’re working on a few finishing touches and then sending them off to the printer. I think you’ll love them. If you’re considering encouraging your children to do some reading over the summer, these will pair nicely (with flip flops and something cool to drink, off course).

Thank you for visiting and for reading my stories.

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Try This! Make a List

My friend and editor at Makes You Mom, Laura Brown, wrote a list of Twenty Things She Loves and I thought I’d do the same because a making a list is a great way to find a story. If you are interested in writing but don’t know where or how to start, try a “things I love” list and the item (or items) you find you don’t want to stop explaining are probably what you need to write about.**

Here are my “Ten Things I Love” list:

1. Coffee with our without friends at Le Pain Quotidian

2. This space (for writing and lesson planning and staring out of the window). IMG_0935

3. Brunch at Volt in Frederick, Maryland (actually, doing anything in Frederick makes me happy. I love that town.)

4. The small lakes next to the girls’ school.

5. 2 Amy’s at Happy Hour to celebrate getting tickets for the Easter Egg Roll at the White House.

6. This space, too (for reading and staring at the yarn and thinking, “Today will be the day I teach myself how to knit”).

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7. The St. Joseph River. When we first moved to DC, Jesse and I had a conversation about whether or not the water in the Potomac River and the water in the St. Joseph River might meet and maybe mingle in the Atlantic Ocean. After wearing him down some time, he said that perhaps that might be the case and I felt a lot less homesick.

8. Turning on the coffee grinder in the morning and not having to worry whether it will wake the girls. Call me materialistic. Call me high maintenance, but I love being able to walk downstairs to the kitchen and turn on lights, maybe even turn some music, and not have to worry I’ll wake anyone up.

9. Teaching Romeo and Juliet. I was terrified to teach it this year. What if I don’t understand it? Isn’t it too dramatic for middle schoolers (for all of us?) But I love it.

10. Six of us walking around the Capitol towards a pub one Saturday night nine years ago. One couple was engaged, one was in their first year of marriage, one couple had just read a positive pregnancy test and were anticipating a baby in October. Nine years and seven kids between us later, I’m still happy to know all of them and call them friends.

**If you try this activity, and you found a story, Makes You Mom is open for submissions. Maybe consider sharing your work with the world?

{While you’re exploring Makes You Mom, make sure to check out the selection of mom books and mom stories.}

 

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Old Lady on the First Day of Spring

My best friend Celena and I made up code names for boys we wanted to talk about without others knowing. There was “The Algebra Problem,” that, thinking back on it probably wasn’t the best name choice because since when would I ever choose to talk about Algebra? “Purple Hat Boy” was the name we chose for a boy who – shocker – always wore a purple baseball cap. (No one would ever know who Celena and I were talking about.)

One day Purple Hat Boy came into Pan’s, the grocery store I worked in one summer. He was hanging out by the produce and if this anecdote were happening today I would pull out my phone and text Celena: “PURPLE HAT BOY’S HERE!!!!!”

She’d text back: “OMG! WHAT’S HE DOING? WHAT’S HE WEARING? DID HE SEE YOU!?!?!”

But it was 1991 and in those days when something happened that you felt compelled to tell your BFF about you did two things: 1) begin to write a note to be folded in a triangle and given to her later. 2) Nothing. You would sit there (or stand if you were, say, manning a cash register) and let the story unfold while you punched in codes for bananas and swiped Nilla Wafers. When your shift ended, you’d walk home along Harrison in the summer’s evening heat and you’d think even the “el” seemed to move slower in this humidity. You’d call Celena and see what she was up to. You’d meet up later – at the movies you’d never go into, at the pool, at the Hole in the Wall. Maybe you’d tell her about Purple Hat Boy or maybe you’d decide the event wasn’t much of a story.

I was thinking about Purple Hat Boy and Celena the other day while I was standing in line at the grocery store while the girl in front of me was taking a ridiculous amount of time purchasing Trident, a case of Diet Coke, and a pair of flip flops.

The cashier boy, who was running her items through at a snail’s pace says (and I kid you not), “Do you come in here a lot?”

I almost cracked my eggs on the conveyer belt when I heard that. Are you kidding me with that question? You can’t come up with a better line than that?

“Yeah,” she tells him in that supremely affected tone girls of a certain age are allowed to have. She goes on to tell him all the times she’s been here: to buy water balloons and ice-cream for the kid she babysits, once to return a bag of shredded cheese for her mom. “Because, it was like, the wrong kind,” she tells the boy. “Or maybe it was moldy.” They roll their eyes at a mom’s ridiculousness while I roll my eyes at the obvious truth: she’d probably just gotten her license and was dying to drive the car and her mother  gave her an errand to run. You know the girl jumped at the chance to roll down the windows, blast the radio and return the moldy cheese. I bet she was hoping this boy was working, but I bet she took the long route because driving by yourself with the windows rolled down and the music blaring trumps any chance you might run into a boy.

“I know I’ve seen you before,” the boy says and he has completely stopped checking out her groceries. The two of them are just standing there, smiling at each other.

For crying out loud, I think as I look at the headlines on the magazines. They’re all the same: something to do with trimming your belly, something about the butt of one of the Kardashians, something about a movie star having two minutes to live, something about a casserole, something about 250 easy Valentine’s/Christmas/Easter/Halloween crafts you can do with your kids.

“Dude!” another boy, who’s bagging says. He points to the case of Diet Coke. “That’s hers, too.”

“Right,” the boy says and the girl giggles.

And because there’s nothing left to do, the boy says, “See ya ’round,” and hands the girl a receipt.

“Yeah. See ya,” she says and walks away. Both boys, the bagger and the cashier, watch her go. They watch and they watch and I wonder if either of them remember they’ve been hired to do a job when a third boy, this one with a flannel shirt and headphones on, comes running up.

“Dude! I did it! I got her number!” He’s shaking his phone triumphantly.

“Just now? You got her number just now?” the cashier asks, in shock.

“Yeah, dude. Just,” he jumps and criss-crosses his legs then turns, “now.”

For Pete’s sake.

I should say something but it’s the first day of Spring and it’s sunny and almost sixty degrees out and I’m thinking of that John Updike story about the high school girls who walk into the grocery store on a summer day. Nobody can do anything but look at them.

“Dude,” the bagger says, nodding towards me.  “Check her out.”

The cashier boy looks at me hopefully, and then with shock, and my cheeks could fry the eggs I’m trying to buy. The bagger realizes how what he said sounded. “I didn’t mean,” he stammers, “I just meant…I’m sorry, m’am.”

M’am. It can’t get any worse.

“These carrots have no color,” the cashier tells me. “You want a different bag?”

“They’re parsnips,” I say.

“Huh?”

“They’re parsnips.”

“What are parsnips?” the cashier asks turning the bag over.

“I guess they’re like carrots,” I say.

“Carrots with no color.”

I laugh. “Yeah.”

“What do you do with them?” he asks.

“I’ll toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Maybe a shallot. Maybe some fresh thyme.” Stop talking, I think. Stop talking now.

The cashier nods and rolls my parsnips down to the bagger. “What’s wrong with these carrots?” the bagger asks.

“Dude. They’re not carrots,” the cashier tells him. “They’re parsnips.”

The cashier scans my eggs then puts a rubber band around them. “Do you think he’ll call her?” he asks.

“Yup,” the bagger says. “I would.”

“That’s cold,” the cashier says rolling my Garnier Fructis Disorder Wax towards the bagger. It was an impulse purchase. I always go down the beauty aisle when I’m grocery shopping by myself. When we were in high school, Celena and I frequently met each other at Walgreens on a Sunday afternoon, the store’s ad from the Chicago Tribune in hand.

“I love this place,” she’d say as we scanned the many colors of nail polish, picked up bottles of Sun-In, and ran our fingers through glittery hair elastics.

“Me too,” I’d say standing with her in our flip flops in front of Cover Girl or Revlon sipping Diet Cokes.

“Look what I did!” the bagger is talking to me now, smiling. “I bagged your groceries using five bags even though I could’ve done it in three!”

“Good job,” I say.

“I saved you money!” He’s so proud of himself because for every re-used bag a patron uses, she gets a nickel. I earned ten cents today.

“Thank you,” I say and roll my groceries out to the parking lot.

I can’t remember where I parked. This always happens when I’m by myself. When I’m with Hadley and Harper I remember, but today I’m standing in the middle of the lot twisting my head from one side to the other, completely at a loss.

An old, creepy looking man is watching me. “You need help, young lady?”

Ew. “No, thanks,” I say and make like I know where I’m going.

He is wearing a purple hat.

This time, I think to pull out my phone and text Celena. “Remember Purple Hat Boy?” I begin composing in my head. “I saw him today. He hasn’t aged well.”

A few weeks ago Celena and I discussed good books to read. I told her flip flops were on sale at Target, and that I was thinking about writing a book. She told me she bought a turtle for her kids and a how things were going for her at work.

I decide against texting Celena as I place my groceries in the car, and laugh because one of my bags has a bunch of bananas in it and that’s it.

She probably doesn’t remember Purple Hat Boy, I think as I drive home. It really wasn’t that much of a story.

 

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Coffee + Crumbs Post

It is eight in the morning on a Wednesday and I’m placing Harper’s Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal, we call him Bear, into the washing machine. I put him in there with some small throw blankets and turn the dial to delicate and then, with a tremendous amount of anxiety, I shut the lid and start the cycle.

I don’t know how much longer Bear can hold up in the wash. He is eight years old, nine really if you count the months he sat in our bedroom waiting – first for the baby that didn’t come, then for Hadley who was fond of him, but was partial to her stuffed animal Goofy doll. It wasn’t long after Harper was born that it became clear Bear arrived for her.

Harper clung to Bear. The two went everywhere together. They had their own language. And every night she sleeps with him in the same way; his belly under her head. Bear is tattered and ragged and quite weak from being so loved.

I keep my hands on the washing machine as it fills, soaking Bear and the blankets. It probably looks as though I’m praying over the laundry, and realizing this, I take my hands off the machine. I do hope that Bear makes it out OK, though. I have no idea how to sew.

I’m over at Coffee + Crumbs today talking about Bear and other attachments.  Stop on over.  Maybe bring some Kleenex (or maybe it’s just me).

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Rock Me, Mama – Makes You Mom Post

I listen to country music and it’s all Darius Rucker’s fault. You know, I met him once. We were both in Calvin College’s Fieldhouse on a Saturday in the spring of 1995, my freshman year. I was there for a concert, and he was there to give the concert. His band, Hootie and the Blowfish, was opening for Toad the Wet Sprocket. I came for Hootie and after they sang their two (three?) songs, I left. That’s when I ran into him.

            “Hootie! Hootie!” a bunch of undergrads were chanting as they swarmed him shaking ticket stubs for him to sign.

            I can’t blame the crowd for rushing him. It was an opportunity that wasn’t supposed to happen – I bet Hootie snuck out to catch his breath, or maybe have a cigarette when the crowd of six or seven spotted him. I admit I was intrigued, and that’s how I ended up standing as close to him as you are to your screen. I mean, I could see the thread in his flannel shirt, the rips in the bill of his baseball cap that guys back then worked so hard to obtain. One of his shoelaces on his tan work boots was loose.

I’m over at Makes You Mom today talking about how Darius Rucker (of all people) helped make me into a better mama.  Come visit?

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Awake My Soul – on Relief

When I sit down to write, I pretend I am speaking at an event. I’m the plenary at the Festival of Faith and Writing, for example. Or I’m giving my acceptance speech for this year’s Newbery Award. Once, I pretended I was giving the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame. I was never a student there, but I did teach step aerobics and my inspiring, motivational, and encouraging personality led the university to request my presence at graduation. In my fantasy, they would be giving me an honorary doctorate. For teaching aerobics.

Yesterday, my piece about Dale Brown and his teaching was up on Relief Journal.  Hop over to read the rest.

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My Week In Words

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This was said by a southern journalist (well, he sounded southern) on NPR who was reporting on high school kids’ first time dissecting frogs. Never in my life have I wanted to take part in dissection but hearing clips of the kids screeching with disgust followed by, “Wait, this is interesting. This is cool!” made me wish I was in that classroom. There’s something addicting about standing alongside students experiment with something new for the first time. These last couple weeks my students and I have been discussing the Nurse and Mercutio in ol’ Romeo and Juliet. These two give rather long, and at times rather vulgar speeches and they’ve brought quite a texture of hilarity into my classroom. It turns out though, that nothing they say really advances the plot.  Their words reveal their character, and this was a deliberate decision on Shakespeare’s part.

“You guys, I think I might be a lot like the Nurse,” I tell my students, “I can never just say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ I’m always telling a story.”

“WE KNOW!” they exclaim and giggle.

“And don’t you think everybody needs a friend like Mercutio? I have to admit, I think he’s pretty great.”

“Yeah,” they all agree with wolfish grins, some of them fully aware they are Mercutios.

I think it’s fun and a little risky to try on those bold characters. To experiment with a little crazy. To dissect your own personality and see where you fit in with what’s been studied for years. You take that stuff with you in the real world, don’t you think?

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I know that’s right.  Erin is a great writer and a teacher friend of mine.  You can read the entire piece here. (Make sure you stick around her website and read more of her work.)

IMG_0899 In a live concert of his that I was listening to this week, Dave Matthews riffed for about ten minutes. What he played was distinctive of his sound but he never brought the melody to anything familiar so that the crowd bubbled with excitement when they heard the beginning chords of “#41″ or “Stay or Leave.”  After awhile he stopped playing and said, “Because I just think that’s pretty,” and the crowd seemed to let out a collective laugh and then a cheer.

Amen to working on something, to paying attention to something simply because it’s pretty.

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Try This! Book Buddies

This past summer Hadley and I were book buddies, an easy, no fuss activity that allows you and your child to discuss (via writing, of course) a book together.  Here’s what you need:

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- A book that you agree to read together (Hadley and I agreed to alternate the book choices. So I’ll see her Captain Underpants and raise her some Kate DiCamillo).

- A journal (I’m pretty sure the one we are using was purchased in the dollar section of Target a couple of years ago)

- Pens or pencils.

I taped some reading prompts from our school’s newsletter inside the journal so we had some direction to our notes back and forth, but I don’t think it’s necessary.  The point is to model good writing, and connect with your kiddo over a story.

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For my first letter, I asked Hadley if she would like to be book buddies and she wrote back and said, “YES! I think being book buddies would be a GREAT idea! Do you have any other ideas?”

Oh yes, Miss Hadley.  I am full of good ideas.

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The only rule Hadley and I made for ourselves was to write about the pages we read. I would try, now and then, to encourage Hadley to write a little more, but I paid attention not to sound “too like a teacher” because I wanted to keep the project fun.

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For the most part, Hadley and I continued our book buddy project throughout the summer, but stopped once school started.  Last week though, we went to the library to look for more Nancy Drew books (Hadley’s latest series endeavor).  She is on the eleventh book and the library didn’t have that one, so she wandered around a bit looking for something else (she likes to read them in order). When she found Captain Underpants, I said, “C’mon, Hadley. Not that one.” But you know that’s just going to make her want to read it more, so my second attempt was this: “You can get that one if you get one I pick out.” So she picked out the book about a guy with underpants on and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Forever.

On the way home, Hadley started reading parts of Captain Underpants out loud and much to my surprise (and I’ll admit, delight) I was laughing so hard I had to stop walking and catch my breath. Hadley was thrilled and kept reading while Harper and I giggled away.

Right before bed that evening, Hadley handed me the Captain Underpants books and said, “I’m done with these but you laughed so hard while I was reading that I thought you’d like to read them. Maybe we can do book buddies again.”

So we will.

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(Hadley’s trying her hand at cursive.)

I’m trying it with Harper, too.

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**New on the blog!** I’ve compiled all the reading and writing activities in a nice, neat list for you. Check them out here.

 

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Around Here

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Around here we’re hanging out at Busboys and Poets on Langston Hughes’ birthday. May I suggest the sweet potato pancakes with a side of “April Rain Song?”

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Around here I don’t know how, but I convinced Jesse to dye my hair back to brown. Almost blond was fun.  Almost blond was real fun. But it was time for something else. (New readers, if you are wondering why I started with “I convinced Jesse,” read this post and you’ll understand.)

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Around here this guy will be featured over at Coffee + Crumbs this month.  Sweet Bear. I love you, little guy.

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Around here we’re taking trips to the library on snow days and seeing what there is to see.  Last week there was a “Guess How Many Chocolate Kisses Are In the Jar” contest. One girl guessed 999. Another guessed, “thousand.”

IMG_0879Around here I’m reading and re-reading “Hard Candy,” Candace Bergen’s reflection on being Murphy Brown.  She describes perfectly how great it is to play the part of somebody you desperately want to be and that, if given enough practice, you might be someday.  There are so many interesting parts to this essay, but what I love the most is the anecdote about Murphy Brown being 40, and stepping into the office after having been at Betty Ford.  This made the executives uncomfortable and they suggested Murphy be 30, coming back from a month at the spa, and perhaps be played by Heather Locklear. Diane English, who came up with Murphy Brown’s character, said no way.  “The whole point of Murphy was that she had crossed 40 and was at the top of her profession but [was] decidedly flawed, an alcoholic.”  Decidedly flawed. I adore that phrase.

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Speaking of decidedly flawed, around here we are eating donuts. I love you, donuts. Come over any time.

IMG_0876IMG_0877Around here I walked around Old Town Alexandria one afternoon. I love me some uneven brick sidewalks, row houses, and towns by the water. I also love my blue suede shoes and I know I was pushing spring wearing them but the sun was shining and they match my coat. I’m ashamed that I like the bold, sort of trashy, sort of ridiculous stuff of life, but I think I’m finding out that the grace in my life is God saying, “Go on and get it, girl. You wear those shoes with your too blond highlights and your gel manicures. You’re teaching Shakespeare to 8th graders. See? You can play the part of somebody you want to be someday and I’m saying you’re doing fine with your decidedly flawed self. Walk those uneven brick roads with those high heels.”

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Sometimes

My senior year of college, I lived in a grey house on the corner of Sherman and Gladstone in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It had a great big yard we used once for a graduation party, a kitchen with enough room to prepare ramen and brew coffee, plus sit around a wooden kitchen table, our books open for studying but it was talking my roommates and I would do instead.

Upstairs were three bedrooms, one of which was probably more of a nook, but my one roommate turned into the cutest bedroom with cement block bookshelves, cinnamon smelling candles, and DIY picture frames.

She had a window in her room that faced the street and a tree whose leaves turned the most brilliant yellow I can ever remember seeing. Almost every day in the fall of 1997, I would walk upstairs to my bedroom and think the lights were on in her room as I observed the literal glow beaming into our hallway. I’d peek my head in and she’d look up from a book she was reading and say, “It’s the tree!”

“Goodness,” I’d say because there was nothing else to say about leaves that could show off like that.

Just one fall I got to witness the glittery light those leaves sent through my friend’s window.  Soon, it was 1998 and we were in the burly, wear-all-the-layers Michigan cold. Mornings were dark, afternoons were murky and they turned into dark evenings, and all the leaves on our tree were gone, sunk into the ground.

My friend liked to play Sarah McLaughlin’s “Full of Grace” during this time of year: “The winter here’s cold, and bitter. It chills us to the bone. We haven’t seen the sun in weeks, too long, too far from home.” She’d play it over and over while she applied to med schools, filled her journal with her neat penmanship, scratch the wax of her candles towards their wicks so they’d continue to burn. I think the song named something for my friend so she could keep working. Even if the thing that was named was homesickness, the dreariness of winter, the mounds of work we all had to do.  Something about knowing someone else knew about these things soothed her.

Me, I ran away. I remember the day well. I was in a counselor’s office going over my Meyers-Briggs (that damn test). The counselor felt concerned about my pursuing a career in teaching given my “extreme introvert and planning” tendencies.

It was a Thursday afternoon when he tried to define who I was and who I might become. I thanked him, threw the test in the trash, got in the car and drove to South Bend to see Jesse. The entire ride I sang along to “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. “The less I seek my source for some definitive,” I bellowed as I crossed the St Joseph River, “closer I am to fine.”

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I was thinking about that tree outside my friend’s window recently as I sat in the carpool line waiting for Hadley and Harper. Normally I get to school about ten minutes after school is over due to the time it takes for me to travel from my school and get to theirs. But on this day, I got out early and all I wanted to do was drink Starbucks, sit in the car, and read a book while I waited for the girls to come bustling out of school.

What I should’ve been doing is grading papers, answering emails, using those extra minutes to maybe prep dinner, clean the house, do something productive. But I wasn’t in a “Full of Grace” mood. I was in  “Closer to Fine” mood.  It happens every winter: I get sick of the work. I get sick of all the things to do. I get sick of all the have to dos.

Sometimes, even though I just treated myself to coffee, I want some ice-cream.

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And while I never want to go to the pet store next to 5 Below, sometimes Hadley and Harper do, so why not?

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No searching for definitives right now. Just a little mindlessness, thank you very much. Even though I probably won’t see them, those leaves will shed their light again. I’ll look for that kind of light elsewhere. There’s a tree outside my window where I write. A cardinal visits it now, and in the fall it’s a pretty outstanding red. I think that’ll do.

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