Why I Didn’t Have Time to Write This Post

I wish I had been more organized this week, so I could have written a post.

This week just kind of slipped away from me, and every night I would remind myself that I needed to at least start on this week’s blog post. But something always came up…a Zoom meeting, a frantic trip to get Valentines (No! It can’t be February 10 already!!!), a phone call…Each night I would say, Well, TOMORROW then.

Then last night—which was Thursday night—I did have a Zoom meeting at 7:00, but I said to myself I would take the hour before and just sit down and write, already. I was thinking of writing about the snowfall and the kitchen project…somehow trying to connect how the covering of snow transformed the world outside (in good and bad ways) and how the layering of paint Jim the painter applied transformed the kitchen (in all good ways, as far as I can see.)

I was playing with those metaphoric analogies in my mind when Mark came and found me.

“If we leave RIGHT NOW,” he said, excited, “we can get the leftover vaccines from today’s clinic.”

I’ll write later, I thought. I ran upstairs and threw on a short-sleeved shirt for easy shot access, and when I got downstairs, Mark had the car warmed and ready. I hopped in, and we drove to the Health Department, about seven minutes away, and those blessed heroes were waiting for us. Kathy and Tara gave us our shots, and then they kept us company for the 15 minutes we had to wait. I felt awful that we were keeping them late. (“No worries,” said Tara. “I’m just going to sleep in tomorrow!” I think that meant she’d stroll into work at the ripe old hour of 8:30 a.m. What a sluggard she is not!)

But I was so happy we’d signed up for the ‘call us at the last minute if there’s leftover vaccine that day’ list; so happy there WAS leftover vaccine that Thursday; and so happy to be vaccinated—at least to have gotten the first dose. I have never been so delighted to have a needle stuck in my shoulder, and believe me, I know how lucky we are to have the opportunity.

Kathy told us our arms would be sore today and we might have mild, flu-like symptoms.

“Take Tylenol,” she advised, because the other painkillers, anti-inflammatories, can mess with the whole immune process. We gathered all their good advice, learned when we’d be called for the booster shot, and hurried off home, where I was ten minutes late logging in to my meeting.

So it was too late then to write, and the meeting ran a bit later than usual and I said to myself that I would get up early and write in the morning.

I had forgotten, though, that Jim the painter was coming in the morning to finish up. The painting process had gotten delayed on Tuesday; we had a Level Two snow emergency, and our street wasn’t plowed until mid-afternoon. The driveway was pretty much a mess, too. We called Jim early to tell him it might not be a good idea to try painting that day, and he had already come to that conclusion himself. (Nice guy that he is, he spent the unexpected day off blowing the snow out of his neighbors’ driveways. We are surrounded by energetic, unselfish people.)

So Jim came in early this morning and we talked. By the time he got all set up and I quit bothering him, it was time for me to head upstairs. I had a work call coming in at 9, and then a meeting via Microsoft Teams at 9:30. Normally, I don’t work on Fridays, but the people who host this meeting were nice enough to include me, and the information was rich and necessary. And I figured since I was going to be in the meeting, I might just as well take the call, too, and not have to wait till next week, when Monday is, after all, a United States national holiday; the earliest we could talk was Tuesday. I hate to make people wait all weekend and then some, when issues are uppermost.

So, anyway, with the call and the meeting, I didn’t write in the morning. And then, when I went downstairs, Jim the painter was finishing up, and I saw the kitchen with the upper cupboards painted creamy white for the very first time, and oh my goodness, what a transformation.

There were a few tiny things for us to take care of on our end—a magnet, some tape to pull, a potential knob,—and while Jim and I were talking about those, Mark came home for lunch, and we all admired the kitchen. Then Jim the painter packed up all his stuff, offered to sweep the floor one more time (No, no, no, we said), and came back in for his jacket.

We had a little kerfuffle when I tried to give Jim a little gift card so he and his wife could go out for, or get a take-out, lunch, and he insisted he didn’t want anything, and we went round and round. But finally I won by pulling my very, very sad face, and Jim took the envelope and left us to admire the changes he’d wrought.

Jim the son came down from studying upstairs, and we all three put some lunch together and talked about how much we like the newly painted kitchen.

So there was no time then to write, either.

After lunch, we had to take a package and Jim’s Valentines for some very special people to the post office, and, as long as we were out, we figured we might as well go to Riesbecks Supermarket and get some of the end of the week specials. Since we hadn’t gotten out for a walk, we parked as far away as we could at both places, and then we took the longest way possible around the supermarket, and we zigged and zagged among the aisles, trying to add as many steps as we could. So that took a little while.

When we got home, we lugged the bags into the house and put all the groceries away. Jim headed upstairs to do some writing, and I wielded our biggest, sharpest knife and whacked the whole pork loin we just bought into meal-sized chucks, and then debated the best ways of freezer-packing them. When I got that all squared away and the meat in the freezer and the counters wiped down, I finally decided it was time to sit down and write.

So that’s what I did. I typed in a title. “Snowfall and Cabinets,” I wrote, and then I realized that I had left a load of clothes in the dryer before we left, and if I didn’t get them on hangers, they would be crumpled little clothes-balls…little pips to iron, they would be, and I would rue the day. So I ran downstairs and hung those shirts and tops and pants and such on hangers—luckily, they were still warm and fell neatly into unwrinkled simplicity. I switched the sheets and towels from the washer to the dryer and ran a load of casual pants and shirts through the washer.

Then I went back upstairs to write. But, as I walked through the dining room, I thought I would just arrange the red pots and the red and cream and green plaid ceramics on top of the pristine new cabinets. I simply needed to see how they looked.

I realized the pots needed a little lift, so I experimented with making some cookbook bases for them, and it took about half an hour to get everything situated so it looked warm but uncluttered, but eventually I was happy with the result.

So then it was after 4:00, but I thought, “I’ll just drill down and get this written!”

And I would have been fine except that the upper part of the kitchen looked so good and the floor looked so awful. We had decided, early in the week, we’d sweep the floor once a day but not worry about it otherwise during the painting process. So all week we had tracked in salty snow slush, kicking our shoes off as close to the door as possible, but somehow the gray pasty residue spread itself over all the tiles.

It really looked truly terrible, and I figured I could attack it with scrubbing bubbles first and then use my trusty Bona cleaner, and I’d just about have time to get the floor done before Mark came home.

That turned out to be just exactly true.

When Mark arrived, Jim was excited to begin cooking dinner: fresh burgers and fries. And he asked my advice, and I started to help…and you know. One thing and another, and the next thing I realize, we’re clearing up the after dinner dishes, and I never did get a chance to sit down and write.

And on Friday nights, we watch the latest episode of Wandavision, which is something Jim really, really looks forward to us doing as a family. There was no time left to thoughtfully ponder, to try to put words together, to sit down at the computer and write out a post.

So I apologize. Next week, I’ll write something. But I just wanted to let you know why I didn’t write a post this week.

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Have a wonderful week. I wish you health and vaccine-access and that the next few days, till we connect again, bring you unexpected joys.

Peeling Away the Layers

“This is a surprise!?!”

I blurt out the acknowledgement. It is the last night of class—the night of the final essay exam—and I haven’t seen Elgin* since snow was on the ground.

I tell him, as gently but as directly as I can, that there’s no point in his taking the final exam.

He hangs his head. “Well,” he says, and he looks up at me, testing, from under a sheath of hair, “I just thought I’d check…”

I know he is waiting for me to come up with a miracle plan. Here, Elgin! Just do this, this, and this in the next two days, and you, too can pass this class.

Instead, I wish him sincere good luck, tell him how much he’ll benefit from repeating the course, and usher the other students into the computer lab next door so they can complete their final.

A little voice nags. If only you’d been clearer! If you’d created a more welcoming learning environment! If you’d reached out to Elgin more insistently! If you’d been a better instructor, that student wouldn’t be failing the class…

I pass out the final exam, and I quietly and individually remind each of the students who did NOT submit their final papers by the deadline that I cannot take them after noon tomorrow. And the voice blathers on. Why are so many people handing in late papers? That must be your fault. You should be tougher. You should be more compassionate. You must have done something wrong…

I sit down and pull up my online class’s page, and I open their final paper portal and I begin grading as my face to face students work quietly. The room settles into concentration, with sighs and shuffles and the clicking of computer keys.

“Can you tell us what ‘ABC’ stands for?” asks Daisy sweetly, referring to a research acronym, and, “No, I can’t,” I tell her, and my sunny smile matches hers. She reaches for her notebook, and I look at her in complete surprise.

“This,” I say, “is a no resource test. The only resources you need are the knowledge and skills you’ve garnered this term.”

She grunts something unintelligible which might or might not be quite rude, and which I do not ask her to repeat. She settles into taking the test.

If only you’d—Oh, SHUT UP, I tell the little voice. And it subsides, my students sink into their writing, and I settle into getting some grading done.

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Twenty-four hours later, I am done with the grading—all the final papers, all the position papers, all the PowerPoints: graded. I have checked back among the assignments and made sure every submitted assignment has a graded response.

I pull up the grade submission site; I check my math again, and then I fill in all the blank fields. Many of the students, but not all, have done very well. I re-check the columns, and then I hit submit.

And hallelujah, the semester is over, and the door swings open into a non-teaching summer.

Things have been piling up. But now, one layer has been peeled away.

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I check my watch and wake my son so I can drive him to work early and keep my haircut appointment. He grumbles but lurches out of bed, and in 15 minutes, he is eating his crunchberries and waking up, his thoughts coalescing, his conversation rising and weaving around the crackling of his cereal and the clinking of the spoon. He gathers up his work things cheerfully; we drive off to the college and he exits the car with a wave and a “See ya, Mom!” as I do a U-turn and head off to see Don, who cuts my hair.

Don is a brand-new grandpa, and we admire pics between the shampoo and the clipping. He tells me all his hopes and dreams for the sweet new baby, whom he’ll babysit every Wednesday.

He wishes every day was Wednesday.

We compare notes on the joys of grandparenting and the wonder of seeing that kid turn into a loving, careful, dedicated PARENT…that instantaneous, amazing change.

“No spray today!” I implore, and he acquiesces, reluctantly. I write my check, and Don hands me an appointment card, and I run to the car to head home and get ready for a presentation at the high school.

Hair cut: check. Another layer peeled away.

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At home, I discover, after I shower away the tiny, itchy hairs on my neck and dress for the presentation, that I have almost an hour of flex time. I’ll do my Title IX training, I think, and I pull it up on the college website, click on the link and begin. It is not a bad presentation, even though, my mind grumbles, I helped design the training at another job, and of course I know all this.

The online presentation is engaging and interactive. At the end, I hit the Finish button, and the friendly narrator voice assures me I have completed my obligation to the college. I have to reluctantly admit I learned a few things and clarified some hazy areas.

And I even have time for a cup of coffee before I head off.

Title IX training: done.

I hear the Velcro rip of another layer of obligation tearing away.

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At the high school, Misti, a wonderfully caring and effective community leader in the mental health and addiction field, meets me at the office. I am talking with the pleasant, professional, and thoroughly charming high school principal; she heads the team that surveyed student opinions and interests; that survey led to setting up this mental health awareness week.

Misti and I will talk about mental health first aid, and we head up to the library with Willa Marie, the guidance counselor who has arranged these talks.

We walk up just as classes are shifting, and there is a subdued roar in the hallways. Students dart glances at us from under disguising bangs and hurry by. I have taught high school students in college classes; there, they desperately wanted to appear to be college kids.

Here, in these bustling walls, there’s a whole different culture. My belly churns. Will they listen? Will they care?

But I needn’t have worried. The group of students we meet with are polite and knowledgeable and agreeable; they complete the activity we set before them, and they freely discuss their drawings, and the bell rings and they are off: the session melted away. One bright young student lingers, talking talking talking on his reluctant way out the door to his after-lunch class.

Misti and I wait a few moments to see if anyone else will arrive with questions. When no one does, we pack up and head downstairs. The hallways are quiet now, with classes in full swing. We sign out and part ways. (I, of course, have parked as far away as possible to give ol’ Connie some extra steps to chew on.)

And just like that, the high school presentation, which has been tumbling around that bony Worry Box all week, is completed.

Another layer just evaporated.

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In the afternoon, I take Jim to the next town over for his physical therapy session; I read about Venice while a kind, burly young man leads Jim through series of back-strengthening exercises. When my eyelids get a little heavy, I put the book aside and take a short walk around the waiting area (I am the only wait-er there) and then I just sit and let my mind wander.

And here is where my mind goes: I feel so much LIGHTER! it tells me. And I sink into that, with grades submitted and obligations completed, my shoulders are not quite so buckled under what I kept telling myself was a heavy load. Then I remember that, this morning, I took a container of boneless chicken from the chest freezer; I carried it to the kitchen counter and put it on thick plate to defrost.

And I thought, “Oh, Lordie, I’ll have to do SOMETHING with that for dinner.”

Stir-fry, Jim suggested, but we’ve been having stir fry once a week; I am tired of it, but uninspired.

When we arrive home from the physical therapist’s office, I declare an hour of quiet time. And this time, snugged in my chair, when my eyes grow heavy reading that Venetian tale, I let them close. When I open them again, Mark is pulling into the driveway; it is 5:00, and I know for a fact that stir fry is not where we’re going tonight.

I pull out the chicken cookbook and page through it; Jim wanders behind me, peering over my shoulder, grunting when I stop at pictures of beautiful dishes showing colorful veggies nestling with their chicken anchors. But then I flip to a page that showcases Parmesan crusted chicken cutlets.

“Oh, YEAH,” says Jim.

And Mark cuts the chicken into thin slices and Jim puts the pasta water on so we can have a little Alfredo on the side, and I whisk egg wash and pulse bread crumbs and mix together Parmesan and Asiago cheeses. And the pasta water boils, and the olive oil spits and sizzles in the big skillet; we slide cutlets into that hot pan and stir noodles and heat corn on the cob. Jim gets plates out, and Mark pours ice water, and we eat a meal based on a new recipe, and it is GOOD. And there are leftovers, so we can follow the cookbook’s suggestion and make sandwiches tomorrow.

It is a dinner that wouldn’t have happened with too many layers in the way.

I am energized after eating, and I decide to do a little shopping—to replenish the olive oil stash with a big metal gallon container, and to stock up on evaporated milk, having just used the last can. “Shopping!” say the boyos; they run to find their sneakers, and we gather up bags and head off.

And I think that the peeling of the layers unleashed some energy, some creativity, and some enthusiasm.

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There is, of course, more to do. There’s an Event tomorrow, a fun and social kind of thing with catered food and shared interests, and I need to shop it out, pick up a few essentials, and do the lunch with as little plastic as possible. And on Tuesday, there’s a day-long class to teach, and bases to touch beforehand and things to do to get ready.

These are obligations, yes; they are also things I enjoy, and things I have committed myself to do. They are layers I have placed willingly, but layers nonetheless.

And soon they, too, will be lovingly peeled away, and Wednesday will dawn, and the work will be done, and I can start planning the next thing.

And I am sure I will do that. Because what happens when I peel ALL the layers away? If they are ALL gone, I have to look and see what remains. Stripped of all obligations, relieved of all the must-do busyness, what remains?

What will I see?

Maybe decisions to be made are waiting there to be uncovered, and I will have to stop avoiding and make them.

Maybe I will root around in that bottom-basin basket and confront flaws and issues I really need to address.

Maybe I will find emotions waiting for me in the open, uncovered space. Maybe, for instance, I’ll have to deal with the sadness and grief I have so carefully buried out of sight.

And maybe I’ll find some wisdom.

I’ll hope I’ll tap into wisdom—the wisdom to remember that piling on the layers doesn’t make the real, pulsing things below go away. The layers just flatten and toughen and preserve those things. They are waiting there; if I ignore them too long, they will bubble up. They will seep upward, staining the fabric of my layers. They will head relentlessly to the air at the top and emerge, changed by the journey; they may come to me in a format and a flavor I don’t exactly like.

This summer, I hope, I will find the wisdom to find the balance: to tackle the things that bring me joy, and to deal with the pulsers that lay beneath. I will take this non-teaching time, and I will relax into it, and I will pray for the time and the grace to be mindful.

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I will do that, I know, as long as I don’t cover my intent with too many layers of obligation.

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*Names and situations have, of course, been changed.