Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who are YOU today?

     This morning, two pictures danced around hazily in my awakening consciousness. As they came in focus I smiled, and figured I’d share them with fellow slicers.

Picture this:

     Scene One : Gasp, pant, gasp.  You crawl on your hands and knees, chaffing them on the asphalt. Your hair hangs in damp tendrils, clinging to the side of your face. The finish line is but inches ahead.  Sweaty clothes stick to your underarms. You breathe heavily, your heart pounding forcefully.

     “I can do it,” you tell yourself. “I’m almost there. Just a little further and I can rest a bit! (At least until Tuesday rolls around) With your last ounce of willpower you slowly drag your battered self past the line. Your body, still here, is your trophy of success. Your experience along the way is your legacy.

     Scene Two:  “ Whoo hooo! This is it. I did it! I knew I could do it. I knew it!” Running the last few steps, you feel the ticker tape break across your body and watch it flail in the breeze. You raise your arms up in exaltation and throw your head back.  Your heart beats ecstatically and you suck in the smell of success through your nose. As you do, your chest swells, your body is light, and you, at least until next Tuesday, are done.

     If you are like me, you may have experienced bit of both these scenarios along this 31-day slicer journey. Especially if it was your first time. Especially today! Each of us was in a race with ourselves. Committing to this challenge, none of us knew what lay ahead in our murky future. Birthdays, sickness, school concerts, trips to the hospital, some events were planned; some were inevitable.

     Everyday the devil and my conscience had a shoulder conversation that went something like this. Sometimes the devil seemed to be winning and sometimes my conscience.

Devil:  (Always first- Slyly) You know, no one’s going to give two hoots if you finish this. Why don’t you just rest this morning? You worked really hard and should be able to sleep in.

Conscience: (Huffily) Yes, well other people have worked really hard, too, and they didn’t give up. Give it one more day.


Devil:  (Shrewdly) There’s too much on your plate. Think of all the things you’re going through right now. You shouldn’t feel obligated to do this.

Conscience: (Standing firm) Stuff! If you just hang in there you can do this. Go for it.

Devil:  (Insidiously) You only got one comment last night. No one cares. Why are you doing this?

Conscience: (Hanging Tough) It doesn’t matter. I am doing this as much for myself as anyone else.


Devil: (Cunningly) Come on, what are you trying to prove? You’ve never been a writer. Why start now?

Conscience: (Ideally) You are setting an example. Keep it up. How can you expect your students to slice every day if you don’t?

     So here we are at the end of our 31-day journey. If you were like me, your conscience triumphed, and you have a great sense of well-being. You might want, like me, to edit and revise some of your slices, maybe changing them all together. Think of the lessons you might model for your students through your own writing! Like me, you probably learned a TON about yourself, others, and your writing.

You may not be like me, and have finished anyway. If that’s the case, more power to you, because diversity is what make the world a beautiful place.

All in all, slicing everyday was a great experience. However, I have to admit I am glad Tuesday is still seven days away!

Monday, March 30, 2015

When Nature Comes Inside

     A resounding SNAP! marked the end of the squirrel's trials and tribulations.  Mine too. Inside, the squirrel inside rattled and roamed in the confined quarters of its cage like the angry wild creature it was.

    "That's it," the animal rescue operator said, "I stapled wire over the hole in your roof, and as long as it holds, your squirrel problems should be over. I'll be releasing the squirrel far, far away from here."

     I sighed with relief. That darned squirrel had done more damage in the 72 hours it had roamed the walls and rooms of our house than our two toddlers had done since they'd been born. It tore around our finished basement, and ripped up our things.

      "Thank you so much," I smiled gratefully keeping my distance. While amiable, he also smelled like the animal control rescue operator he was. The odor of skunk clung to his clothes, and I privately wondered how anyone could tolerate standing next to him. I am sure he must have had a good story to tell about his "residual perfume."

    The last few days had been quite interesting. Alone, and winter break just starting, we'd been forced to seek shelter in my parent's house. A blizzard had knocked out the power, and it had gotten steadily colder, until none of us could stand the frigid temperatures. So I packed up my children and drove the 30 miles to my parents house. We enjoyed their hospitality staying toasty warm until news came that power had been restored.

     Upon our return, I sensed something was off the instant I opened the front door. It wasn't any thing I could see or put my finger on. Motioning my kids to stay outside, I entered cautiously. Nothing seemed wrong. That is, not until I opened the door to the basement. Peering into the murky darkness I jumped, startled, when I saw something streaking around the basement.

     My son snuck a peek. "Skurrl! Mom!" And it was.

     The poor thing had found its way inside through a small opening in the roof line, eaten through our new ceiling, and found itself dumped into the basement. It tore around like a crazed thing. Bits of Kleenex littered the room, and a lamp had tipped over. Attracted to the window, it clawed away at the wood, creating enough chip debris to carpet a playground.

     Calling animal pest control for help, I was told to try and confine it as much as possible. It kept clawing at the window because it was trying to get outside, and didn't quite understand why it couldn't! Managing to trap it in the laundry room, it was up to animal control to cage and remove it.  
    Surveying the mayhem in the basement while waiting for their arrival, I lost all sympathy for the squirrel. All I could think of was how much work it would take to get the basement back to normal. And I prayed that the squirrel would be taken away.

    And it was. Far, far, away.



Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Kingdom

    As I stared blindly out our picture window this morning it hit me. "Three more days," I thought. "Surely I can some up with three more days of writing." Some days, I pondered, were easy, while during others the tension built exponentially as the day progressed. Nothing popped into my head. Zero. However, faith has a way of leading to a nugget of an idea here and there which may magically turn out to be a precious gift from on High. God himself.

     Today, my gift stared me in the face; all I had to do was acknowledge. Sipping my coffee, I idly watched a squirrel chasing its tail around as it raced up the same oak tree that very well could smash our house to smithereens if it ever came down! While our neighbors have picture windows that look out on the sometimes questionable peace of our neighborhood, ours faces the back.  It's a decision the homeowners made when they built that I have always applauded. I love the view.

     Our back yard offers a vista like no other. While we sit on a little shy of 1/2 an acre, the back is wild. About 15 -20 feet beyond our house, the ground falls precipitously, and a stream marks the edge of our property. An enormous oak tree dominates the landscape. Its looming branches offer cooling shade to our house and shelter for wild things. A multitude of tree species competes for space on the steep hillside, while at the bottom the ground gives way to a wet sogginess that can morph into a small pond, if we have an angry enough rainstorm. During spring the stream flows furiously, eventually calming down in late summer as it shrinks into a muddy meandering trickle.

     Through our picture window we have witnessed countless animals and their antics. We have seen some of the more familiar, like rabbits, deer, chipmunks and squirrels. We have also seen skunks, snakes, raccoons, groundhogs, flying squirrels, owls, hawks, ducks, turkeys, fox, a bee colony on the lookout for a new home, and numerous other kinds of birds, butterflies and moths. We have been jolted awake by a fox's scream that would make your blood curdle.

     We are so lucky to have this animal kingdom in our backyard! Over the years, the drama of life has played out before our very eyes and has led to many an animated discussion. And while growing up our children have stood in awe at our window, soaking in very scene of spectacular wonder comprised of life competing with life; death chasing life, blood being spilled in the name of survival. Immediately outside, almost touchable. They would crawl quietly, so as not to startle the critters outside, moving slowly, flattening their noses against the window, fogging it with their breath, eyes gaping wide with wonder.

     Countless times my husband has called to me,  "Colleen, come quickly!" Followed by, " Don't move too fast. You'll startle them!"

     "What's out there?" (whispered)

     "Over there, 10 o'clock, right on the tree branch." With his experienced hunter eyes he discerns the slightest movement, first to notice something interesting taking place.

     I'd slowly move up to the window following the angle of his outstretched arm, eyes searching to see another wonder. Maybe a stalking fox, or maybe a hawk about to clutch a victim. Standing still in companionable silence, we watched nature's story unfold.

     I finished my morning coffee. I stood wrapped in the warmth and comfort of my home, the drama of nature unfolding outside my picture window. Treasured memories continue to hold our family together. My vision cleared. I knew exactly what I was going to write about; the endless kingdom of our backyard.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

What is REALLY Important?

Taking time for the important things.Oswego Sunset, March 28, 2015

     Do you ever get overwhelmed by all the diddly, piddling little things we have to do to maintain organization in our lives? I do, I admit it. 

Today I took the time to dust the cobwebs from the ceilings and walls. I vacuumed everywhere.

Today I also hugged my daughter.  Again and again.

Today I took the time to clean off and redecorate the mantle.

Today I had a heart to heart conversation with my good friend.

Today I made sure to clean my kitchen windows, the mirrors in the entryway and the glass on the coffee table.

Today while taking the garbage cans in I spoke with my newly widowed neighbor, assuring him we were right across the street if he needed anything.

Today I cleaned the the shelves in my refrigerator.

Today I sat with my beautiful mother, coaxing her to eat so she can build up her strength to return home.

Today I did not get everything done on my to do list. I didn't make my bed or do enough laundry. I only graded half my papers. I felt a little frustrated and unproductive.

However, today as I was driving home I looked at the sunset and realized something. In the twilight of the evening while the sun was setting, I could say to myself: "Today I did the really important things. I expressed love, fostered friendship, and showed caring."

If you did one of these things today, consider yourself a success. 

Friday, March 27, 2015



The scourge and salvation of my refrigerator

The scourge and salvation of my busy life.

They beckon

They repel

They disappear when you want them

They get lost in remote corners of the fridge

You didn’t know you have.

They bring smiles of remembrance

Of memorable dinners.

They wrinkle your nose

With rank odors and cheesy smells.

Friday’s family smorgasbord

Tomorrow’s lunch

Last month’s epic failure

Of a dinner best forgotten.


Who can live with them?

Who can live without them?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Concert Calamity Diverted!

     Yesterday, seated at a concert my daughter was performing in, I worried that disaster was going to strike…again.  I have not had the best of luck with my seating choices at these school events.

       I have sat in a crowded concert hall, in front of a poor dear child who, without warning, threw up all over the floor behind me! My hair was down that day, and if you knew me, you would understand how worried I was that some "chunks" had landed in my hair.

     I have sat in front of a “bag rustler” lady who, after I politely asked her to stop, started rustling it more and angrily began mocking me. To the point where I had to move to avoid conflict. I have sat behind a child who did not turn his tablet off, creating an annoying glare the entire concert.

     So perhaps my trepidation yesterday can be understood, in light of my experiences.  The concert was well underway, with a full audience, and I was relaxed when I noticed the young boy in front of me holding a purple PowerAde drink. He’d finished about a third so far. I didn’t really think anything of it until the Vivaldi came on.

     I love the classical beauty of Vivaldi’s music in general. And The Four Seasons, by Vivaldi is one of my all time favorite pieces. My daughter’s orchestra was playing the “Winter” movement. As a first violinist, she was seated on the outside, so I had the added pleasure of being able to view her as the orchestra played.

     Everytime I listen to these young players making beautiful music, tears are a given for me.  Last night was not different. Our music program has suffered, as have many in other districts, but the kids persevere, and our valiant conductors do their best to deliver quality education.

    In the midst of my tears, however, I sat up and took notice.  The whole “Winter” movement is highly rhythmic, and the strings were in the middle of playing 16th notes. I was enjoying the music, and the precision of all the bows moving in unison, when I noticed the young boys hands doing the same thing. He was jiggling his hand back and forth to the time to the 16th notes! The one holding the PowerAde!  I held my breath thinking this could be another disaster, and hoped the top was secured tightly. I didn’t relish being sprayed with sugar water!

     The repetitive 16th notes occur several times throughout this movement, and I continued to hold my breath each time until they were done playing. Phew! The purple drink had stayed in the container, and disaster was diverted.

      Perhaps, just perhaps, my run of bad luck at concerts is at an end. In the grand scheme of things, this honestly would have been rather comical – getting sprayed with Purple PowerAde. And in my book, that’s better than disgusting or malicious!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lights Out!

     Today at school we were just minding our own business when -  lo and behold - the lights went out! It was a defining moment for our 5th grade classroom. Busy using their study hall time to complete their work, everyone stopped in their tracks.

     It wasn't so much about the lights going out as it was the screaming coming from next door. With a sub in charge and a rambunctious group of kids, their response was quite different than ours. What I found interesting was the thinking I could almost see, percolating in my students' heads. Imitate or ignore. That was the question of the minute.

     Capitalizing on their less than instantaneous response, I quickly laid on the praise.

     "Wow, I am so impressed by how mature and responsible you are all behaving right now! You are setting such a good example! You will be great leaders in our school when you get to 6th grade."

     With chaos diverted for the moment, we adjusted the already open blinds for maximum light. The internet seemed to be responding just fine, so I suggested everyone continue on with their work. With minimum fuss, we returned to what we were doing.

     So focused were we that when someone popped her head in a couple of minutes later to remind me to turn on the walkie-talkie, I was difficult to locate. She put her hand to her head, searching for an adult. "Where's your teacher?" she inquired as she peered around the room.

     I raised my hand. "Here I am!"

     We all had a good laugh. I was sitting next to a student helping him with his slice, blending right in!

     After a couple more minutes, someone said, "Mrs. Kires, it's so quiet. Can it be like this all the time?"

     Another student remarked, "Mrs. Kires, why are we all whispering?"

     Along with the lights, the blowers for our heating system were also not working. At that exact moment we all realized how much background noise we dealt with during the normal school day. The constant drone of the heating system is something we have all learned to live with. (I have grown harder of hearing over the years, but now I know what to blame it on!)

     We worked together in peace and harmony until the lights (and heater) came on again. At which point we all agreed to turn OFF the lights!

     I think I will suggest we do the same tomorrow, unless one of my students beats me to it.

     To which I will reply, "O.K., lights out!"