Sledding On The Slough

Our neighbors have been shoveling sledding paths into the frozen slough. I have done my yearly pep talk to myself that it’s perfectly safe by now. It rained on us last night and created slick icy conditions which are a nuisance in every way but sledding.

Rolo is out taking advantage of these events as we speak.

This One Has No Direction Whatsoever

Hey, Arkansas friends and family, I hear you are colder than us today. With windchill, you guys are experiencing negative temperatures. Having fun yet?

Sorry if I’m taking a sick pleasure in this development. It’s only because I know it will be fairly short-lived for you. My friends will be having beers on sunny patios come mid-February while I am still looking outside mid-morning wondering where the sun is and whether my car will freeze into an ice cube if the outlet trips. So just let me have this moment.

Meanwhile, we’re having an unusual warm snap for January. I took Eliot out yesterday morning and he basked in the low twenty degree weather. He is old enough now that when he steps outside on the really frigid days, he can’t stop sneezing. If he starts sneezing right away, he’ll just plop himself down right in front of the door and clearly state with his body language, “F#*! you guys. This is stupid” So I’m not joking when I say he basked in the warmth. He wandered around, took a little jog, and just generally sniffed around to his heart’s content. No sneezies.

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Eliot is “Sleeps On A Heating Pad” Years Old.

We spent one part of our long weekend checking out the rock climbing gym as a family. Rosalind has taken a keen interest in obstacle courses and general athleticism lately because she LOVES the Netflix show Ultimate Beastmaster. She recognized quickly that the best competitors were rock climbers. So off we went to the climbing gym.

I realized while we were there that though Sergio and I used to do this sort of thing multiple times a week, it has been at least ten years since we have done so with regularity and probably four since we have set foot in a climbing gym at all. Having kids can really warp your sense of time. If I hadn’t added it up, I would have told you I used to climb just a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I’m weak and sore in the forearm and hand area. We all had fun, but Rosalind really ate it up. Maybe we’ll find ourselves incorporating that back into our lives soon. There are lovely big bean bags in which I can rest my old, weak body while watching her. Also they have a ping pong table, and Sergio and I have always been suckers for ping pong.

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Easing In Slowly

Well, darn it. The break is over.

I am not feeling that reality.

As I am kind of grumpy because of some schedule shifts and unnecessary upheaval at work, I’ll stick with a few quick pictures from the end of break.

Eliot and I rested a lot.

Rolo was entertained a variety of ways, including her first sleepover at a friend’s house which resulted in an epic three hour nap upon returning home that only ended because I made her wake up.

I decided that this is my favorite way to wear my very comfortable, but not very flattering, overalls – except minus Sergio’s flip flops which I was wearing because I broke this bottle. Everything that falls in our house shatters so forcefully on the tile that we’ll somehow find glass in our bedroom closet downstairs in six months. It goes everywhere is what I’m saying. Ceramic tile in every room of a house should be reserved for only those that suffer from severe allergies.

Oh, I totally wore that outfit with different shoes to the Teacher Work Day yesterday, so I’m already completing some New Year’s Resolutions. I’m winning at 2018.

Book Talk

These are my top five books of 2017 based on the very scientific criteria of “I have recommended them to people in person at least once since reading them.” As these are all very popular books already, you probably don’t need my commentary on them. But comment I will.

Between the World and Me by Ta’nehisi Coates – I had set this up in my head as being a very difficult read because of the sources telling me to read it, and while facing certain realities might be difficult, this is a fast and engaging book.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond – I want everyone to read this book. I know telling you that you need to read a book about grinding, cyclical, systematic poverty might not make you run out and grab this book, but you should. I legitimately couldn’t put it down, to the point that I questioned whether I had reached the level of gawking.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I read this book along with some of my 8th grade lit circles. It’s a great story, and it’s not afraid to be just brutal to the audience, but the originality of the narration is what really sets it apart. Actual conversation with one of my students about 40 pages into the book: Her: “It’s so depressing. Is it ever going to be happier?” Me: “Well, I haven’t read any more than you, but it is set during the Holocaust and narrated by Death…so…no?”

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters – This book reimagines the present if slavery had never completely ended. I was fascinated by the way the author picked parts of our actual history and shifted them so slightly and so plausibly, and in turn, the skill with which he then reimagined the present.

March 1 – 3 by John Lewis (Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell) – Even if you think you know Civil Rights history, this book set is great. If I were still teaching high school government, I would totally use this in class. My middle schoolers frequently tell me that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln were both from the same point in history, so I think I would scaffold it a little before just sticking it into the hands of your average 12 year old.

Here are some other “Worth It” reads . . .

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris – I love Sedaris. Diary entries make for easy picking up and putting down and coming back again later.

The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez – Read on the recommendation of Sergio. I found parts felt extremely familiar (being a bored teen in the South that yearned for rainy Seattle) while others felt entirely foreign (everything else).

Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Gay Talese – Fair warning: this book is x-rated; however, it is the history that stuck with me. I honestly had no idea how recently people were fighting first amendment battles over this stuff. I have a better understanding of the generation gap of the mid-twentieth century than I ever had before.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – I finally remembered to read this! I bought it for my classroom ages ago and then promptly forgot. It’s very sweet and a good book to put into the hands of your older elementary kiddos.

American War by Omar El Akkad – Of all the bummers I read this year, this was the bummeriest. You don’t get to feel even a shred of hope or positivity in this book. It will lodge like a particularly irksome earworm in your brain, though, because it deals in realities that will make you want to just throw your hands up and relocate to just about anywhere else. Somewhere without people.

A Gentlemen in Moscow by Amor Towles – The antithesis to the previous book! No shoe ever drops! You are allowed soothing contentedness throughout this book. If only I had read them in this order. Anyway, we all know that soothing historical fiction is right in my wheelhouse.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan – If you are into the nostalgia and sci-fi world of Stranger Things, pick up this ongoing graphic novel. Sergio and I are big fans of other Brian K. Vaughan stuff. This one is more PG than those.

Everything else I read from this year can be categorized as “Thoughtless Plane Reads” or “Maybe not Really a Book?” or “The Book Was Good but the Author has Since Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct, So I Won’t Promote His Book” or “I Read This Book Multiple Times Every Year for School” or “Ongoing Comic Books That I Don’t Really Know How to Promote.”

I hope these few are enough to give you some ideas for your next book purchase! Happy reading!

 

 

New Year Stuff

Happy New Year!

We were among the last of anyone we knew to celebrate the coming of 2018. Now that one of my friends is living in Australia, she keeps wishing me well for holidays on what I perceive to be the day before. “Celebrate” is a kind of relative term as both Sergio and I fell asleep around 10:45. Rosalind opted to stay up until midnight for the first time ever. This task was made easier for her because it turns out that North Pole is pretty hardcore about fireworks on New Year’s. There was a steady popopopopopopopopopopopopop all around us in every direction from about 5:30 pm until about 1:30 am.

We participated by stopping at one the little fireworks stands and buying more fireworks than we intended. It was enough for us to go out early in the evening (remember, it’s almost always dark here) and shoot off about 1/3 of them. Our neighbor that is Rolo’s age came out and joined us which only added to Rolo’s new excitement for this holiday. We finished off the other 2/3 by about 9:30.

It became clear as the evening wore on and she continued to play with Nate that his family fully intended to wait and blow their fireworks at midnight. There was pretty much no getting out of staying awake once he invited her to come out and join his family for their show. But Sergio was really tired from a trip to Anchorage the day before, and I just…don’t care that much? So she stayed up watching tv until they knocked on our door, at which point I got out of bed to keep an eye on her from the living room window. Their show was pretty epic but mercifully short. Rolo was in bed asleep by 12:30.

Anyway, we ended up pulling together a kind of fun little family holiday in spite of ourselves. We made some appetizer-y sort of foods for dinner, we decided Groundhog Day was an appropriate New Year’s movie to pass the time between Fireworks Time One and Fireworks Time Two. We shot a lot of fireworks while our toes and hands froze. Rolo had an impromptu playdate with Nate from 9:45 to 10:30 at night. And we set off and saw a ton of fireworks. Not bad at all. I preferred it to many other ways that New Year’s could be celebrated.

I guess that brings me to resolutions. I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions, but Sergio almost always asks. Last year, I was feeling pretty…adrift…at this time. I had a lot of despair and rage and aimless energy coming off the November election. I wanted something to do, something I could focus on and control, and hopefully something that would make me feel like I was improving myself or my surroundings? I don’t know. So I set two tangible goals that came straight out of behaviors I had picked up in the direct aftermath of the election. I decided that I would read more mindfully in 2017. I wasn’t allowed to read only for escape anymore. If I read one escape sort of book, then I had to read one book that opened my eyes to something important. The other goal is that I would continue to make monthly donations to causes I found important.

I felt really good about these very tangible, measurable goals. So, how did I do?

Well, I failed of course!

Don’t we always fail at our New Year’s Resolutions? Of course we do. I’ll be back soon with what I read. I read a lot of good things. Things that made me face difficult realities or even non-realities that feel too plausible. I didn’t read enough of those things though.

I donated to quite a few causes. However, I never set a clear monthly minimum in my mind. Sometimes I wanted to donate time instead of money but never found an ongoing method of doing so. Some months I did enough, and some months I did less than I intended, and some months I did nothing at all.

So that brings me to this year! I’m keeping the exact same resolutions with some added tweaks. We learn from our mistakes and we improve in the New Year! The reason I plan to keep these is because it’s the first time I have legitimately felt like I consistently checked in with myself throughout the year about my goals. These check-ins caused me to alter my behaviors from time to time. Buy that book, not that book. Throw a couple of those food bank grocery bags into your cart because you haven’t done anything else useful lately. You get the idea.

My tweaks this year will be that I simply need to read MORE. I don’t like my book total for the year. I’ll stick with the baseline of one useful book to one escape book, but I want to read at least one more book per month. Of either sort. I basically just have to look at my phone less.

I also plan to set up some sort of automatic draft situation for the donating to a cause thing. I want the food bank groceries and school fundraisers and rage donations to the ACLU to be the “on top of” sort of donations, not the baseline. I bet you thought I was going to say I planned to find a way to donate my time, right? Ha. Sometimes it’s best to know your own limitations. Right now, this is mine. I’m actually finding a way to be even less mindful about this one, which isn’t great, but I think the outcome is still to the good.

So that’s it for me. How about you guys? Anybody else trying to gain a sense of control over a chaotic world through their New Year’s Resolutions? Oh, right! I’m also resolving to wear these very unflattering overalls I bought online out in public because they are C.O.M.F.O.R.T.A.B.L.E.

Christmas In North Pole

Belated Happy Holidays!

I don’t have an excuse for not posting. Normally, I would be able to say it’s traveling or something, but this year we had Christmas right here in North Pole. It certainly looked like Christmas! I think. I didn’t actually leave the house once on Christmas other than to briefly walk the dog.

Those walks proved to me that even though my onesie plaid pajamas may look straight out of the 1800’s, and function a lot like long johns, they are far too thin to actually just throw a coat over and walk outside. Brr.

While we missed our normal Christmas traditions, and seeing our family and friends, we had a nice day. Santa found his way here and spoiled Rosalind. Eliot was oblivious but, I like to believe way down deep inside, pleased that we were home with him for the holiday for once. We Facetimed home a few times, made way too much food for three people, and read 50 bazillion instruction manuals. Hatchimals are very fun and easy to make hatch. After that, they require a cheat sheet and internet searches to decipher what the hell they are trying to tell you. They cough and sneeze! When you suck at caring for them! It makes me anxious!

The only other momentous thing to happen this Christmas was the emergence of some deep Santa skepticism on the part of Rolo. She never came right out and asked, and she certainly still participated in all the fun Santa lead up to Christmas, but I can tell that this was the last year of complete childhood fantasy Christmas for Rosalind. She was watching and evaluating everything, sometimes bravely pointing out things that seemed suspicious about our behavior or knowledge or handwriting. They grow up so obnoxiously fast.

I was thinking about why most kids seem to hang onto the idea for a year or so after they actually quit believing, and then I considered that it’s probably a toss up for them. We ask them to believe either that magic exists and a nice guy gives presents to everyone, OR that every adult they know, and every source of media, is universally participating in the same mega lie. I would think both seem equally possible/impossible to kids.

Here are some random Christmas pics! And while we didn’t manage to perfectly match our PJ’s, we were able to coordinate a little. We failed entirely to get a normal picture of this though, and so you get to enjoy another Barron Family Leg Portrait. We have a concerning amount of those.

 

Happy Solstice

What an exciting day! It’s my first time being in Alaska for any kind of Solstice! I usually bail in both the dead of winter and summer.

Honestly, it feels pretty much like yesterday which was 6 seconds longer. I have it on good authority that we gain backĀ SIXTEEN whole seconds tomorrow.

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I’ll take what I can get.

Rambling

We’re having an impromptu Spirit Week at my school. Everything is holiday themed which is very appropriate considering the location. Today was holiday colors. I’m not going to lie and say that we have a very diverse community up here in Interior Alaska. It’s not even diverse by Alaskan standards. Still though, holiday colors can encompass a lot of things! And yet, I still didn’t manage to hit any of those colors! I am wearing a sweater that can best be described as “Autumnal.” It’s mostly beige. I pulled it together last minute, though, when I went to change out of my snow boots and into my regular shoes. So yes, I am just wearing my red and green plaid Bogs all day long. And yes, my legs and feet below the knee are a sweaty mess right now. I have spirit, yes I do.

Speaking of red and green plaid, Rolo decided we should have matching pajamas this year since we are home alone with nobody to see us. No problem! I love excuses for new pajamas. However, as I’m sure more organized humans already know, this should have been accomplished WEEKS ago. A pretty intense search of Old Navy yesterday left us with Rolo having a pair of black and red plaid pants from the boys section, me having a black and red plaid (different pattern though) onesie, and Sergio still in search of literally anything. When there were almost no men’s pajama bottoms left, we attempted shirts, boxers, socks, and slippers all to no avail. Who knew this was so hard? If we get something figured out, I’ll consider posting a picture.

Speaking of not having festive clothing, Rolo went to see Santa on Saturday morning and was displeased that none of her festive adjacent clothing were clean for the event. To compensate for this fact, she asked if she could get a funny hat to wear when meeting Santa. Like a Santa or elf hat or something. This worked out great for me because her hair appointment is (finally, omg she needs a haircut so bad) tonight. I was glad to assist in hiding her crazy hair. So that explains why my child is dressed as a Reindeer/Moose this year for Santa. She very timidly asked for “herowncomputerorifthatistoomuchthenamanbarbie” to which Santa replied with an understandable desperately confused look to us. She repeated it almost exactly the same way at which point he at least deciphered the computer. I guess Santa can’t luck out and get simple Slinky requests every year.

And not speaking of anything this time, we carved out some time to see The Last Jedi on Sunday. We felt we had to before anything was spoiled. Articles were popping up everywhere already! We all enjoyed it very much. If you can avoid spoilers until then, this is probably your best bet for extended family Christmas day viewing. Except it’s kind of long. Fair warning for those that are only kind of half interested in movies or Star Wars or whatever. Mom, I’m talking to you.

T-Minus three days until the Solstice and the gradual return of sunlight. Here is a blurry picture of the slow sunset that I took from the car at about 2:10 pm on Sunday.

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It’s That Time Again

My struggle with the phenomenon known as Ice Parks is fairly well-documented here. I still don’t get the compulsion to go out into the freezing weather only to plop yourself on top of ice structures in the name of fun.

HOWEVER!

It has been hovering just above freezing here. There are a lot of strange downsides to it being above freezing in the winter here, but going to the ice park is not one of them! At least, not for me. The ice park itself was kind of small this year, and it turns out that due to the warmth, the ice they pull from lakes isn’t thick enough to create the normal stuff.

But I was thrilled! With only leggings, flannel lined jeans, wool socks, boots, a fleece shirt, a wool vest, a wool jacket, a cashmere scarf, and heavy duty gloves, I was pretty much not that cold! I feel I should point out here that it was 22 degrees last night. I would have left at least the wool vest at home if it had remained above freezing. Rosalind played outside for an hour straight without experiencing any danger of frostbite! Amazing!

Here are some pictures and videos I was able to get because my phone didn’t freeze to death for once.

Hello Darkness, My Old Nemesis

Hi! Hello there!

I kind of disappeared for a while! I really thought I would turn around and just keep right on blogging and novel-ing and trying to pass the dark days with constant activity, but it turns out that I just sort of fell face first into the Dark Days Despair that I had managed to put off all of November.

Winter in Alaska is so strange because you can simultaneously find the darkness and snow to be cozy and beautiful (I live in a snow globe!) while slowly being eaten away by it mentally. I spent the weekend eating lots of carbs, making cookies with my kid, doing Christmas shopping, watching Christmas movies, and just generally marveling at the winter wonderland. I also literally squirted tears out of my face with explosive force this morning on the way to work when a story about Sandy Hook caught me in just the perfectly wrong way. At least Sandy Hook deserves tears. I have had far shallower moments that have nearly driven me to tears in the last week. That’s….not….normal for me. The actual crying right out loud part. That’s what the darkness can do to you. I’m fine! This is totally great! What an interesting and unique and lovely place I live! SOB!

I’m fine! Like 96% totally normal and fully aware of and dealing with the other 4%. Just don’t underestimate what darkness can do to a person, you know?

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This is how dark it is when Rosalind gets off the bus at 4:10 pm.

We have kept pretty busy since I last checked in. I have somehow left myself 260 papers to grade all at once. Like really real papers that require edits and worthwhile feedback on their writing skills. Not just worksheets. This could be a big part of my mood.

Rosalind had a swim meet this weekend in which we had to run the swim shop. Swim is pretty intensive on the whole parental involvement thing. If we don’t volunteer enough hours throughout the season, we have to pay a substantial “volunteer” fee. We got 12 hours this weekend for working the swim shop and bringing multiple items for the concession stand. We are not quite halfway to our goal. Yeah. It’s intense.

Rosalind swam the 50 Back and Free. She shaved about three seconds off of each of her times. Her coaches also saw fit to put her in her first 100. If I had been the one to choose, I would have done the backstroke first. They put her in the Free. She finished! Without being disqualified! That’s about all that can be said for this first attempt. She was genuinely startled by how exhausted she was by the end of the third stretch. Sergio and I sold a startling amount of swim gear. I had no idea how lucrative the little folding table swim shop really is. More than a few kiddos got all the way out to North Pole only to realize they hadn’t brought a towel. Or goggles. Or a swim cap. Or a suit.

The end of a real conversation I overhead of this one poor kid as he revealed to his dad all the gear he had forgotten:

Dad: So what’s all that stuff in your swim bag?!

Kid: Snacks.

If I dug through one box of swimsuits looking for the right size jammers (only jammers! They would prefer to forfeit than wear the brief style! Don’t even think of holding those up in public!) then I must have dug through a hundred boxes until I just knew the inventory by memory. It was a pretty exhausting day for all of us.

Not going home for Christmas this year clearly leaves us with almost no Christmas engagements at all. I have decided to extend this to everything. I’m calling this No Party December! There have been at least four Christmas Party invitations through one avenue or another, and I am going to exactly zero of them. It’s so freeing! I highly recommend that if you are a socially anxious person that tortures yourself every year about whether it’s more fun or more stress to attend work parties, just give yourself this gift. Don’t go! On Friday night, I made carbs and watched tv with my family while my coworkers had a lovely time at the work party. I didn’t stress ahead of time, during, or afterward. Perfect. *Disclaimer: I don’t worry about parties when it is my family or close friends, so if you’re in one of those categories and are now thinking that I’m glad not to be hanging with you around the holidays this year, I’m not.

Rosalind mentions at least one thing a day that she’s bummed about missing by not going home for Christmas this year. Making cookies with Mamie and Emma was the first. We’ve made an alternate cookie plan for this year. We’re making cookies we’ve never made. We began with her request for real gingerbread men. Rosalind was mortified to learn that gingerbread cookies are made with ginger and molasses, both of which she found to smell awful before cooking (smelled amazing afterward though).

They turned out so cute. They are like biting through bricks though. I guess that’s what you get when you make a recipe that specifically says “won’t spread or swell!” Oh well.

Countdown to the Winter Solstice (and therefore the gradual return of mood stabilizing sunlight): 10 days.