End of Summer Blues: Things I Failed to Accomplish

Teachers–ever feel that you need a vacation to recover from summer? That’s how I feel today.

I had a list, “Things to Accomplish This Summer.” Nothing is done.

First, I promised my friend Claudia I’d finish “The Book I Wonder if Anyone Will Read.” It’s not done. I removed spelling mistakes, inserted paragraphs and line breaks so my other friend won’t cry, and added a ton more sarcasm. Progress.

I planned to clean out the cellar. Also not done. In the spirit of good intent, I rummaged through a couple of boxes, consolidating and repacking them. I see a small dent in the pile. The size of dent that’d require the “f” word if a carriage dinged your car, but wouldn’t cause you to fix it.  There’s a path to the holiday decorations. Progress.

I failed to do my canning and preserving. To be fair, some of this was Mother Nature. The B-grade (irregular shaped, end of season, cheap) produce conspires to be ripe when I’m back in school. Something about harvest season which cannot be changed, even with the addition of global warming. School starts Monday. I’ll be moonlighting making your jams and salsas. I’ve contacted my farmer at least. Progress.

Some other things I didn’t do this summer: I didn’t see my sister’s new house in DC or visit my brother in Virginia. I wanted to, but I was tired. Not running around the universe seemed like the better deal. Teachers never listen to the urge to rest–there’s always 26 hours of work that must be done by tomorrow. When the calendar appears to give us a break, we insert something else. This summer, at the risk of being a bad family member, I didn’t travel much. Cutting down the schedule…progress.

Declan rides a stegosaurus.

Declan rides a stegosaurus.

We did fun, local things like Dinosaur Park in Connecticut. It has dinosaur statues, a water sprinkler park, maze, and a playground, and gem mining if you mortgage your house. Grandpa paid because he lost a bet to Declan, something about “You won’t eat a string bean.”  Never bet against six-year old in a high-stakes bet. This was a classic “house always wins” for Declan. Not that he’s eaten a string bean since. Eating veggies, having fun…progress.

We came back, driving under the biggest full moon I’ve ever seen. Turns out, it was a blue moon, a rare occasion–a concession from Mother Nature apologizing for the fruit delay. I unloaded the car, blue sky fading into black outlining the silhouettes of the trees, bats circling overhead. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a bat, other than the ones that live in my own belfry. Stopping to enjoy nature…progress.

Bats were always a favorite of mine. For four years, we lived in an old Victorian with a cracked attic window, where bats slept out the day. I enjoyed watching them hang upside down an inch from my nose. I love watching them fly more. Flying bats remind me of…me. Never flying in a straight line, they always look like they’re going to crash into something. They flit from place to place, in a zig-zags, and circles, avoiding trees. I wonder how they can survive. They look so scattered.

Yet, like me, they seem to get everything done–they eat, they fly, they sleep. Nice to see them flapping around at the full moon preparing for Halloween like a stock clerk setting out pumpkins and witches for the American consumer long before Labor Day.

Kripalu Center, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. You should go there.

Kripalu Center, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. You should go there.

I accomplished one thing on my list–another Kripalu yoga retreat. The retreat helped reconcile my failure to accomplish everything else with the true meaning of life.  Just as not accomplishing my summer list is an annual event, a yoga retreat to forgive myself will become one. Cyndi Lee presented “Strength, Stability and Clarity,” three things I can use in life.

I have three days to finish everything on my list and contemplate the beginning of the school year. I’m filing this under “Not gonna happen.” What will happen–I’ll take a minute to contemplate balance, so I can better understand the blessings my family, friends, and students bring to me, and save the extra time for them. Progress.

Where’s My Snow? How to enjoy holiday blessings without it.

Thomas Kincaid's "Christmas"

This is something I can now ascertain with metaphysical certitude. There will be no snow. It was fifty degrees when I closed up shop for Christmas vacation, walking out of the school in a flurry of high-fives after what seemed to be the longest semester of my life.

I drove home.  I looked for snow along the way.  It’s impossible to see the snow on the ground when it’s nearly fifty degrees, so I contemplated the options. I could wish for snow, which will probably get me nowhere because it seems my friends in Chicago, Wisconsin, and my beloved Great Lakes region have hijacked my share. I could wait for snow, which means I’d have to reschedule Christmas for sometime in February. I could hallucinate about snow, which would also be unproductive, because it is still nearly fifty degrees, and that will not bring the white stuff at all. It would only bring the men in white coats who will bring me to a very white room which will still not have snow.  I decided the only thing I could do was imagine the scenes of the “New England Christmas,” and sing some Bing as I stopped at the grocery store on the way home.

Since the Big Move Out of the City, I now shop at the local IGA–that means Independent Grocers Association. Each one has its real name. In this case it’s Brigido’s.  It’s a family market. In this first Christmas in my new town, it’s really nice to have a family market to go to when I forget the sweet potatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, and stuffing for Christmas Eve dinner. I’m trying to plan a traditional meal despite the lack of snow, because I don’t think I can get away with no-snow food like hotdogs and potato salad with the calendar turned to December.

In the old house, I used to shop in the Big City. I’d go from bodega to bodega–all the little ethnic stores–for spices, herbs, produce. I would dance in the aisle to the salsa and bachata blasted over the store’s loudspeakers.  They don’t blast salsa and bachata in the forest-town IGA at all. But they do have friendly strangers-soon-to-know-my-name who smile at me and sell me herbs and produce.  And once in a while I travel to say hello to the shopkeepers at the Indian, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish stores because they’ve always been good to me, and I restock the “obscure food wrapped in foreign languages” section of my pantry. I catch up on what’s been freshly baked, share a story, get a recipe. They usually remember me because I’ve been doing this for so long–and–let’s be honest–there aren’t many non-Chinese-non-Cambodians non-Indian-non-Spanish anglos shopping at those stores.  Let alone ones who can hold their own in Spanish, try hard in Chinese, greet you and thank you in Hindi and, well, smile politely in Cambodian.

I can drive to those place and take a tour of the world. But for this Christmas, I’ll stay nestled in my new corner of the forest waiting for snow.

I’ll look at the beautiful pink miniature roses on the bush in the front of my house that should have crumbled months ago. They are stunning. When I finish making the first batch of egg nog, filling the house with the smell of the Christmas cranberry bread, and going back to the IGA for the stuffing I forgot despite the fact I only had four items on my list, I will sit down in the forty-to-fifty degree weather, wish Santa a safe journey and say a prayer to thank God for all the blessings I have enjoyed this year.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a stressful year.  But one full of blessings–I fully appreciate our ability to move to this little stone ranch in the middle of the worst market in history.  I’m convinced this town was designed by Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kincaid as a mockup for their art. A town where the postmaster smiles and talks, and when she sees a box headed for San Francisco or Virginia, she doesn’t scowl like they do in the Big City, knowing she’ll have to wait for me to fill out forms.  She reports the weather en route to my box’s destination as if I were traveling there myself and says she can get it there faster with a few forms, which she fills out and sticks to the box for me.  A town where everyone in the school knows my name and they care about my little monster. Where I get to drive by a two farms and a giant golden Buddha, which, catching the sun just perfectly, brings a little snapshot of heaven to my morning and evening commute. Blessings.

My family has been blessed with health, jobs, safety. We’ve finally–after years of working alternate schedules, been able to sit down at the dinner table together and remember we are a family, not people working 24 hours a day to coordinate daycare and get somewhere in the universe.  Life seems to be settling down into a pattern of peace blanketed with happiness. Not happiness every day but the kind you get when your blessings and optimism are focal points in your life, and your gratitude for them is never far away.

I may wait patiently for the snow. But most probably, I will sit and enjoy the seed catalogues that are arriving, look out at the soft squishy earth outside, circle pictures of heirloom carrots, beans, corn, and tomatoes, and wait for the chirp of the birds to announce the first leaf buds of spring.

Meanwhile, I am blessed and grateful as this year comes to an end–for you who are reading this, for my family, friends, old friends, new friends, students, home, and the gifts that come to me each day through God and the magic of the universe. Whether this year has been kind or cruel to you, I wish you blessings and solace as well, and the happiest of new years.

[Edit: Not twenty minutes after I published this, I heard, “LOOK, MOM! SNOW!!” Sure enough, flurries are falling. Even if it doesn’t stick, it’s a nice reminder never to doubt the magic in the universe.]