Sunday, December 27, 2020

Moments of 2020

 Each year, I'm fond of sharing the moments that made a year special, or at least, memorable. Then 2020 happened. 

Still, I want to share some of the moments of this year--it was, generally, quite stressful and a bit of a shitshow, but there were good moments in there. And kittens. There were kittens.


A Moment Before the Chaos

The park across the street from my condo complex is small, but lovely. There are a lot of grand old oak trees, and I often wonder what they would say if they could talk. 

In January, I took this picture while out for a walk. The words "COVID-19" and "coronavirus" were not on our collective radars yet, and I had some good adventures to look forward to in 2020. 





A Moment of Team Spirit
 
I've been a fan of the San Francisco 49ers since childhood; I have many fond memories of watching games with Mom and Aaron. The 2019 season found the team that was projected to go 3-13 for the season flipping that to 13-3, and a trip to the Super Bowl.

I nearly drove my poor students bananas sharing my joy about the Niners in our morning Good Things. But damn, what a team! Mom would have loved cheering with me, and I can just see the looks we would have thrown each other every time the TV crews closed in on Jimmy Garrapolo's very handsome face. 

It is still fun to watch the 49ers, but I'm not gonna lie, I always miss Mom a little. 

The One Travel Moment of the Year

If I had known what I learned a mere few days later about COVID-19, I might have cancelled my March weekend in Seattle. But I took the chance, and thankfully, all was well.

I was there, of course, to see Keane, my favorite band, reunited after a six- or seven-year hiatus. Hiatus? Heh, they basically broke up. To see them come back together, record a new album, and tour again, was a joy for so many fans. To get a chance to see them live again was incredible.

Also incredible was seeing Seattle again after many years. The removal of the waterfront viaduct is a vast improvement to a beautiful waterfront. Seattle remains a lovely city, with great culture, food, and entertainment. Though it was a bit rainy and cold, I enjoyed a long wander before the show.

A Few Keane Moments

When Tom, Tim, Richard, and Jesse took the stage in Seattle, my heart was nearly bursting with joy. Surrounded on both sides by Keane friends, right up front at the barrier near Tim's keyboards, I was ready to sing along with every damn word. And sing I did. 

Live music is a joyful experience, and so much of what makes us human. And when you have followed a group for so long, it's extra-special. Before the show, I had a message from Richard (drummer) on Twitter. "My drum tech has something for you after the show." 

I figured it would be drum sticks. Richard is known for giving them out sometimes, and just the fact that he thought to give me anything was special. So imagine my surprise when the gift was an enormous bass drum head signed by the whole band, personalized to me. 

For all that, the best moment was simply seeing all four Keane guys together, having fun doing this for the first time in a long time. As they waved to the crowd after the encore, Richard happened to look over to my general area. I grinned and gave a huge wave. He saw me and waved back. 



A Moment of Confusion...and Then A Lot More of Those

When I came back from Seattle, I had a pretty gnarly sinus infection. It had started before I left, with an allergy attack thanks to some early-blooming pear trees near the room where we had parent-teacher conferences. 

I took a couple of sick days to recover, and came back to the very real possibility that we would have to close our campus and go to distance learning. Then, on Friday the 13th, it happened. In an afternoon teacher's meeting, our boss got a phone call from the district office. She stepped out of the room to take it. When she returned, she gave us the news. 

It was supposed to be temporary. We had to come in for a couple of days the following week to help pass out Chromebooks to any students who came to get them, and to get our own materials to take home. I hastily shoved a bunch of papers and art supplies in one of my sturdy grocery bags, and took my work laptop home to set up in my office here. 

On Tuesday (St. Patrick's Day), I took a picture of my desk, figuring I'd be back to it in a few weeks' time. We had three weeks of distance learning, then a week of Spring Break. We'd come back, good as new, safe from the virus.

It didn't work that way. What followed was one of the strangest and most challenging years of my teaching career. How do you teach music online? Art is surprisingly easy, but music--my specialty--is damn difficult to teach via Zoom.

Factor in the fear and confusion of my young charges, and their sadness at being away from their friends, and it made everything harder. Hearing 8th graders admit they're just depressed by the whole situation and finding it hard to find joy in anything is heartbreaking. 

A Moment of Laughter

Early in our 2020-21 school year, my 8th graders, after admitting they were having a hard time feeling happy about anything, needed a reason to laugh. I decided to do something a bit silly, which would also teach them some theater skills.

So Ms. Cooper took a break for a day, and her Theater classes on Zoom were taught, instead, by Margaret Deane...the most famous actress you've never heard of. Wearing bright red lipstick and the most awesomely ridiculous sunglasses you've ever seen, she had a propensity for dramatic hand gestures and an accent a lot like Moira Rose from Schitt's Creek.

There were giggles. They tried to get me to break character. Ms. Cooper, I informed them, was relaxing on the couch in the other room, reading a book and drinking tea. "I think she has a cat on her lap, too." Meanwhile, Margaret Deane had acting tips for the 8th graders. 

I felt like I turned a corner with my 8th graders that day. My willingness to act like a complete dork to teach them something, but also to cheer them a bit, seemed to resonate. I had a decent enough relationship with these kids anyway--I've known them since they were in 3rd grade--but after that, I felt like there was even more trust. 

A Moment of Disappointment...Followed By Kittens

By May, it was apparent that my plans for June--a return to England, complete with a Keane gig, two West End plays (Hamilton, Sunday in the Park With George)--were not going to happen. Needless to say, I was really sad to have to cancel that one, but I do have vouchers on Expedia to take the trip again when it's safe to do so. 

What's a lady to do? Faced with two months of summer vacation and no way to travel anywhere, I did the next-best thing.

I brought home three kittens.

One day after filling out an online application to foster, Animal Outreach of the Mother Lode called me. They were desperate for fosters. "Can you come today and pick up some babies?" They didn't need to ask twice.

I arrived to find a cat carrier with three itty-bitty ginger babies--all girls. Oh, my God. 

On the drive home, I decided that I would honor my cancelled England trip by giving the babies names of famous English Ladies. And so, Lizzie (for the Queen), Aggie (for Agatha Christie), and Jane (Jane Austen) came to stay for two months. Two months of absolute chaos in my 2nd bedroom, and two months of adorableness. 

From the start, they were sweet. Jane had a habit of climbing my shirt to nuzzle in my neck. Aggie was a wild woman. Lizzie, a big eater and sassy-pants. They all had soft poos to start, and needed baths, which didn't exactly make them happy, but it did make them smell a lot better. The picture of Aggie wrapped in a clean rag, looking at me like she's ready to murder me, will forever be a favorite. She was less than one pound, but she had attitude for days, that one.

So my second bedroom/office became Kitten Central. I bought a big enclosure (the kind you can use for a dog in a yard to keep them in one place) and used that until they--well, Aggie--learned how to climb out of it. 

I spent a lot of time sweeping and mopping that one bedroom, and also just sitting there laughing at the antics of my English Ladies. They had two modes: TurboDrive, and Fast Asleep. They learned how to get into the window sill from the guest bed, they chased the Swiffer every time I used it (which was often). They ate like cats twice their size, wrestled with gusto, and purred like little Harley Davidsons. 

Of course, I fell in love, but I always knew I cannot be a foster fail. My boys are enough for me, and fostering is a temporary situation, one I can only do when I'm not working. And the boys' reaction? Utter curiosity. They never seemed upset, only extremely curious about the new smells coming from behind a closed door that had always previously been open to them. 

I kept everyone separate for a couple of weeks, to ensure the girls wouldn't give the boys anything, or that my enormous 13-pound dudes wouldn't hurt the babies. 

Finally, I was able to let everyone integrate, but I always supervised. The babies had a few play times each day where they had run of my living room, and Archie and Popcorn proved to be the sweetest and gentlest of uncles. They played with the girls so carefully, and groomed them...when the girls sat still long enough. There was no hissing or posturing, only curiosity and good-natured playing. 

I had two months of adorable, hilarious moments with my English Ladies. In late July, I tearfully returned them to the AO shelter. I don't know who adopted them, but I know they were all adopted quickly. Of course it was hard to say goodbye, but I'm so proud of what I was able to do for them in their time in my home. We overcame soft poos, a couple of eye infections, and they learned how to Cat. After starting life on a farm, in a situation with a lot of cats that needed help, these babies got their best possible outcome. 


There is nothing like kittens.

Aggie, the day after being spayed, didn't let that
slow her down from getting halfway up my screen
when I had my back turned. 

Lizzie and the most adorable little BLEP.

Technically, you're supposed to keep kittens quiet
the day after they've had spay surgery. Like Aggie
on the screen, Jane laughed at that. 


My last look at my girls, each about tripled in size
from the day I brought them home. I was already 
crying, but also so proud...and ready to deep clean
their room.



The Moments In Between

I take a lot of pictures of my life; I always have. So, as I went through the pictures of this year, I realized that I document so many of the moments, big and small. Like the first frog of the year. I was starting to think my "phrogs" (as Dad calls them) wouldn't be visiting my garden this year, until one evening, I went out to water, and found one watching me. My neighbors likely heard me half-shouting, "Oh, hello!! I'm so happy to see you!!" Well, what can I say. My frogs make me happy.



In July, Dad and I visited Mom on her birthday. Dad had told me, "I'll bring flowers," and indeed, he bought a dozen red roses, Mom's favorite. I still cry when I visit the cemetery; there's something so strange--still--about her being gone. As I type this, I'm realizing today is two-and-a-half years. Time flies.

I miss her, and think about her all the time, but the memories are good. I wear her rings and when I get anxious or stressed, I find myself playing with them to comfort myself. She is always with me.

This year, I learned the joys of kayaking, going out on Lake Natoma with Sarah, her daughter Julia, and her father, Mike. It didn't take long for me to figure out how to steer, and though I was sore for a few days after, I happily spent four hours out there, paddling along. I can't wait to do more come spring time, when the weather warms up--we were supposed to go again, but Sarah had to quarantine after being exposed to COVID at work. We made plans one last time, and then...you guessed it. I got exposed to COVID at work and had to quarantine. By then the weather was turning.

In August, I turned 42 in my most solitary birthday celebration ever. I was at school that afternoon, handing out materials for my classes, but otherwise, I spent much of my birthday on my own, with a tiny cake. I even bought candles. I also completed a bloody ridiculous workout assigned to me by Kay, my British trainer who is all at once one of the sweetest people ever, and the worst. Forty-two Burpees? Unhappy Meg. Oh, and yeah, I'm training again. I met Kay on the Regal Princess, when I took one of his fitness classes and we bonded over fitness-nerd talk and my love of his home country. ("Where in England are you from? I once lived in Essex for a year...") We kept in touch via Instagram, and this summer, I figured, what the hell. I need to train again. 

I counted the days 'til Election Day, and voted early-but-not-fraudulently by mail, for, well, of course for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Voting this year was bigger than ever for me, and it's always been something I've been proud of. Turning in my ballot at my local grocery store was a moment of pride for me. Election Day was fairly calm, because I knew it would be a few days before we knew. The following Saturday, when Biden/Harris came out on top, was euphoric. I was on my spin bike when I saw the news, and the texting and rapid-fire posts on social media commenced. 

I'll end this post with a few pictures that don't need whole paragraphs. I'm surprisingly calm, considering the stress of this year. I pay attention to the news cycle, and the news cycle this year was depressing as hell. 

Here's hoping that next year, my 2021 Moments post is full of more adventures, less chaos. I wish you all a Happy New Year.


I bought a new Christmas tree this year, a foot 
taller than my old one. I'm going to have to replace
my smaller "travel tree" with something larger soon.
It's running out of space.





I got one trip to the coast in this crazy year. I did
some walking, wore a bandana over my face around
other people, and avoided the beaches. It was just
good to see the Pacific.





You have no idea how awful it is to see a child
running at you, arms wide, so happy to see you, 
and you have to say, "Don't hug me!!!" I felt like
an asshole.

'Nuff said.




Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Liberation of Mr. Ducky

 Yesterday, I left the house to run some errands, swinging first by the dumpster area to dispose of some garbage. I was greeted there by a large stuffed ducky, looking quite woebegone.


Sometimes people leave items they don't need/want anymore by the dumpsters, in the hopes someone will want them. While I love ducks, I hardly need a very large stuffed ducky and 'tis the season to be wary of all germs everywhere. 

But I snapped this picture, because there was something rather moving and poetic about this abandoned duck. I captioned it "Poor little trash duck," uploaded it to Instagram and Facebook, and was off to run some errands.

When I arrived home, I did my usual early-evening routine of showering and putting on a fresh nightie, before relaxing on the sofa with some dinner. I checked in on Facebook and found a few reactions to the trash duck--mostly dismay that he was left behind.

And one, from my friend Dani: "OMG"

"It's Mr. Ducky!!!"

When I asked her what she was talking about, she posted a picture of an identical stuffed duck, only this one much more well-loved and covered in years and years of dirt from the child it belonged to--her now 17-year-old son, Jace.

"I've been looking all over for another one!"

Suddenly, I realized a trip to the dumpster in my nightie was probably in my immediate future.

Our mutual friend Shae stepped in, telling me I really ought to save this poor, woebegone trash duck (my words, not hers). Dani demurred, "Oh, it's okay, really..."

I knew what must be done. I threw on my ratty old sneakers and sauntered past my next door neighbor in my Hawaiian-print nightie, down the stairs, to the dumpster. As luck would have it, Mr. Ducky was still there. Someone had adjusted him to look a little less depressed.


I grabbed him by his little head feathers and schlepped him back upstairs, once again passing my bemused next-door neighbor as she brought her groceries up the stairs. 

"This is what I do for my friends," was all I said.



I posted the second two pictures to Instagram, tagging Dani in them and sending them off to Facebook, where she reacted with hearts and admitted to having some tears in her eyes. 

What followed, however, is what truly amazed me. While I was feeling a bit sarcastic about "liberating" the "trash duck," it turns out a lot of people I'm friends with on Facebook were reacting to that first picture with the sad reaction button. And once I posted that Mr. Ducky was currently sitting on my washing machine in a plastic bag, waiting to be shipped to his new home in Georgia, these same people started commenting how happy they were to see me rescue him. 

(Note: Dani plans to thoroughly wash him.)

Shae remarked that the person who left him there was likely hoping he'd find the perfect home...and it seems he has, or will, as soon as I procure a box and send him Dani's way.

All of this has served to remind me that this year, this wacky, wild, what-the-hell-next year of 2020, has left all of us feeling a bit like Mr. Ducky in that first picture. Alone, and perhaps a bit woebegone. Last week, I got to attend a real, in-person (socially distanced) meeting at school and when asked if I had a Good Thing to share, I half-shouted, "It's just so NICE to be around REAL PEOPLE!!!" The isolation and fear I have lived with since March is a lot...and I know it's a lot for all of us.

So Mr. Ducky gets a second shot at love, and my good deed made a lot of people smile and even shed a few happy tears. Not too shabby for a trash duck.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

42

 Well, then. What about 42?

42 was the jersey number for Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in American Major League Baseball. The number is now retired, and only worn on Jackie Robinson Day.

It is, apparently, the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything" in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I have not read.

It is the atomic number of molybdenum. 

It is the angle rounded to whole degrees of the arc of a rainbow.

And it is my age, as of today.

This is my second birthday without my mom, and the first birthday I've ever been unable to receive a hug, even from my dad. I will have no party or special dinners out with friends because of the pandemic. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, but it is quite strange. 

There you have it--forty-two trips around the ole Sun, and here I am, wiser...ish, and still acting about my shoe size. I'll celebrate tonight with a small treat for myself and a cuddle with my cats, and get up before dawn tomorrow to work out on Zoom with K the Brit, my latest trainer, before suiting up for an online meeting with my students. 

Here's to another year, Wild and Absolutely True!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

A Walk in the Park

I'm a few weeks in with my new trainer, Kay the Brit, and he's got me working very hard. I have five workouts a week assigned by him (two with him via Skype), and two active recovery days, Wednesday and Sunday.

Last weekend, I decided to take my Sunday morning walk at a park near me that I had driven by many times, along Dry Creek. It ended up being lovely walking a dirt trail by a winding creek. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to explore another nearby park this weekend.

Gibson Ranch County Park is only a few miles down the road from my neighborhood, and it promised more of Dry Creek, as well as horses to look at. So this morning, I set off early.

The park is lovely--open and well-maintained, with a large pond and all kinds of animals, wild and domestic. After visiting all of this, I set off on one of the dirt trails along Dry Creek, and thoroughly enjoyed myself wandering along with little company except the occasional fellow walker, a couple of people on horseback, and people fishing in the creek below me. Mostly, I just heard birds.

I unplugged from my music andenjoyed the early day sun, the movement of my body, and most of all, the peace.

Of course I had to take some pictures.


I didn't see any turtles around the pond this time.

The one on the left is a donkey. 

Paid me no mind.


The cutest pony.




Canada geese

Ducks and squirrels. 


I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
--Keane, "Somewhere Only We Know"

You can just make out a quite large bird of prey (some type
of raptor) on a rock in the middle of the creek.


A couple of miles out, I found a small path that wound down to an actual beach--sand and everything. The beach itself was tiny, and situated in the most beautiful little place. I stayed there for several minutes, listening to birds, watching minnows dart around in the creek. A couple of butterflies searched the bushes near me. I snapped the picture above and thought, as I always do, just how much I love California.

After this, I turned to trek back to my car, and then back into the busy streets of my community. I'll definitely go back to Gibson Ranch again.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

What Options?

Yesterday, Sacramento County announced that all schools would go to 100% distance learning as we start the 2020-21 school year. I fully support this.

You have to understand that I do not want to teach online. If I could wave my magic wand and fix this whole Covid-19 mess (and while we're at it, replace Donald Trump with a grown-up who believes the WHO and the CDC more than he cares about his public image), it would be done. The curve would be flattened. People would stay home, wear masks when they do have to go out, and not be belligerent assholes about it.

Teachers would be anticipating the coming school year (we start August 10 in my district), and starting to go into classrooms to decorate and set things up just so. We do this because we bloody love the first day of school. It's a great day for us--all those faces, so eager to see us, all the new outfits and new school supplies. Kids greeting friends they haven't seen in a while, getting to know a new teacher (or, in middle school, same ole teachers, new grade level). We want this. We don't want to do this online.

But our options, if you can call them that, were all rotten.

We could:


  1. Return to school at 100% capacity, with anywhere from 20-30 kids in a classroom, some ventilation, kids who might resist wearing a mask or just treat the mask like a toy. No tying shoelaces for a first grader, no hugging a child who is having a rough day. No cooperative groups, no leaning over a child's desk to point out where in the work they took a wrong turn. Constant reminders that you can't play basketball at recess, to stay apart. In other words, take away every piece of emotional and social connection that our kids need, but in over-crowded conditions (you can't space 30 desks 6 feet apart from each other in a standard classroom). In this situation, there's a constant threat of the spread of illness.
  2. Hybrid Model--okay, so we have more room to move around, because we can fit 15 kids in the room with distancing, and with fewer kids, you can answer questions with more detail, even if you can't go to that kid's desk physically to help. This is what we were anticipating, at my school, and readying for. It meant having work online for kids to do when they were at home, so of course, it meant a lot more work for teachers. But it also meant seeing our kids in person, even if only a couple days a week. 
  3. Go online...and frankly, with California now setting records for new cases, and the inability of so many people to practice social distancing and mask-wearing, I was getting very anxious about being in school with the kids. It only takes one person with the virus to be a spreader. And I teach approximately 150 middle school kids. The risks are high right now, and I don't want to get sick. I don't want to expose my dad to this when I do see him. 
Here we are. I don't want to teach online, I don't want to add to the difficulty of families regarding childcare and at-home learning. What I want is leadership that takes Covid seriously, and unfortunately, that's not going to happen as long as Donald Trump is in charge.

So, I'll teach online until it is deemed safe enough for me to go back to the classroom. I will work my ass off to make lessons for my kids that are engaging, understandable, and meet my standards. All of us will rise to the challenge, because we're teachers. This is what we do all the time. 

Fortunately, I work in a school that is hugely supportive. My colleagues and I are already sharing ideas, talking each other down from the anxiety, and focusing on our number one priority: the well-being and learning of our kids. I'll add here that we're in the middle of our summer vacation doing this, so don't come bawling to me that we get summers off. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Reminder

I've been thinking about it all week.

But when Dad's text came in tonight, telling me that his friend Geri had texted saying she'd pray for us tomorrow, it took me a moment to remember why. My phone jingled just as I was closing the door to the kittens' room after feeding them. Foster kittens are a great distraction.

It was only as I dialed his number to ask him that I remembered what I've been thinking of all week: tomorrow is the second anniversary of losing Mom.

Time flies, doesn't it?

I don't cry as often as I used to, and that's a good thing, because crying over your dead mom only leaves people wondering how to comfort you, and uncomfortably aware that they can't comfort you. But I think of her every day, and sometimes, in the privacy of my home, I still find myself overwhelmed by the loss. The child version of Meg that still resides in there is wholly lost without her mommy.

But Grown-Up Meg carries on. I know she is proud of me, wherever she is. I know she didn't want me to be miserable--and I truly am not miserable. I love my job, I am surrounded by people who love me, and having three tiny foster kittens taking over my home hardly leaves me any time to do anything but laugh. But I miss her constantly. I am always aware of the loss of her.

That Geri remembered the date without any sort of prompting meant something to Dad and I. Mom was special to a lot of people, and we all miss her. I'm not alone in this. Dad and I spent a few minutes just now reminiscing; how lucky we were to have her. She was ours, and we were hers.

Even after two years, that rogue wave can sweep me into the sea. Right now it's tossing me around and in a few minutes, I'll no doubt be thrown back on the shore, a bit bruised and fragile, but still alive.

I will never stop missing her.