Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Estate Sale Moments

Some estate sale moments I won't soon forget:

*The mother and daughter in their short summer dresses contemplating walking the leather loveseat to their home 3 blocks away.
*That same daughter, now in shorts and a tank, sitting on said loveseat in the front yard, guarding the leather furniture while Mom went to rent a UHaul.
*The look on a woman's face when I suggested she was going to have to leave her dog outside.
*The line down to the sidewalk Friday morning, 30 minutes before we started.
*The complete absence of shoppers when we started Saturday morning.
*The brusk, abrasive man who came Saturday and ended up buying every magnet I had on the fridge (which I hadn't planned to put in the sale).
*Sharing stories of loss with a woman who came to the sale both days who had lost her husband last summer.
*That same woman's mother, who lamented her inability to get her walker up to the second floor so she could check out the coffee table that matched the end tables she wanted. Apparently she went on and on about those tables Friday and Saturday so her daughter brought her back and I made her a deal.
*Talking to a woman who worked with my mother when I was a kid.
*The number of people who asked what a Blu-Ray player was.
*The number of people asking if it was my job to run sales like that. (Thankfully, no)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Skip Ahead to Sunday

As I mentioned last week, I went home this summer to conduct an estate sale. I was dreading it. I don't do yard sales in the first place, preferring to avoid the hassle by just giving away things we no longer need. I was anxious about setting prices, wondering if things would sell, and unsure if I was emotionally capable of letting go of anything more.
In my head, I kept saying, "I just have to get to Sunday. By this time next week, this will all be done. I just have to get to Sunday." I had already made plans for some fun things we could do Sunday when the work was essentially finished.

It was like a mantra.

Storms came through Thursday night before the sale. As tired as I was, there was no drifting off with the bright flashes of lightening and deep rumbles of thunder.

I started thinking about Sunday again. How nice it would be to have the experience - and the anxiety - behind me. Wouldn't it be great if I could just skip ahead to Sunday? Jump through time to the other side. Avoid the potential pain and just have the satisfaction of completion.

Immediately I was reminded of another Sunday. Easter Sunday. I'd be happy to skip through the pain of Good Friday and the empty silence of Saturday and get to the good stuff. Resurrection. Redemption. Joy instead of sorrow.
But deep down I know that Easter Sunday only has those good things because we have endured Friday and Saturday. 
So, while I still clung to the idea of Sunday, to the knowledge that this trial was temporary, I gave up the wish of skipping ahead. I said a prayer, grabbed a tissue, took a deep breath, and plunged in.

And Sunday came.
I survived.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Your Kitchen Cupboards

Think about your kitchen cupboards.

Do you use every item in those cupboards? Or do you have a few go-to pieces that you use all the time?

Do you clean out your pantry, moving older items up to the front? Or do you put new things on the front of the shelf and use whatever you grab first?

What's in your basement? Or your closets? Do you know? Are there things that are broken? Things you don't use?

I never used to think much about these things until I had to clean out my dad's house this summer. He had four TVs in his house. Only two were plugged in and he only used one of those. Of the other two, one was the HUGE TV we had had in our family room 30 years ago when I was a kid - the sort with buttons and knobs and no remote. Why he still had it, I don't know.

In the basement, he also still had the hideous couch my parents owned in the early seventies (I think of it as the "straw couch" in that my coloring on it with a red crayon when I was around three was the "straw that broke the camel's back," sending me to day care and my mom back to work.)

While Dad's health declined, he stopped cooking, so there were many pots and pans that were in pretty sad shape when I found them. Half the food in the cabinets had expired. He had boxes of crystal wine glasses stashed in a hall closet. I'm guessing they were my mothers, so he saved them, but had replaced them long ago. After this summer, I no longer wondered where my pack rat tendencies came from!

In the weeks of cleaning things out, throwing away damaged and broken items, and stacking multiples of things, a sense of desperation grew. I started thinking about my own home - the things I don't use, the broken things that get set aside to fix later, the unfinished projects, the old toys and clothes stashed in a closet because no one wants to part with them, even though no one uses them.... Every time I called home, I told my husband we HAVE to clean out our house. We have to simplify to the essentials so someone doesn't have to go through our house this way, wondering why we have kept the things we have.

With the start of my new job, that cleaning project hasn't happened, yet. But I have my eye on Christmas vacation....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


As a teacher and a blogger, I feel a lot of responsibility when I recommend books, especially to kids and parents. Lately I have been looking at books I'd like to add to my son's elementary school library. It's a big responsibility.
Ultimately I believe it is the parents' responsibility to know what their child is reading. But no one can read everything, so parents count on resources like librarians, Amazon review, friends, etc. to help them.
Recently I read a new middle grade novel by a favorite and popular author. The sort of author whose books many parents - and schools - would buy without reading first. The book had a swear word in it several times. Because of that, I have found myself wrestling with questions of censorship.
*Can I recommend the book to family, friends and, more importantly, students in elementary school with that language?
I think I can recommend it to adults, but with the caveat that there is one swearword in the book a few times - let the parents decide if they are okay with that or not.
*While our small school library can't possibly house every book, is it okay to exclude a book because the language doesn't fit the school's Christian foundation?
Yes, because the language does not honor the school's mission. 
*If the book comes with our materials for book fair this fall, will I put it out on display?
This is a much trickier question. If I didn't know about the language, I would definitely have put it out. But I do know. I will yield to the wisdom of my building principal, but my instinct is to hold the book out, but sell it to families who request it and acknowledge that they are aware of the language and are choosing to buy it.

The bigger question I wrestle with, as a professional, is where my line of responsibility falls when it comes to making age-appropriate material available to students in a Christian school context, realizing that the parents are ultimately responsible for setting the boundaries for their own household about what is appropriate reading material?

Any thoughts? How do you define "censorship?"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Strong enough

I made several trips to Wisconsin this summer, but only twice was I the one driving.

My first drive was on a Saturday morning in mid-May. My father was in the hospital and I was going home to move him back to his house with hospice. On the drive, I was aware of my alone-ness. I was alone in the car. I was going to be alone in the house for a few days. Then I was going to be alone, providing his care. I was terrified. How would I handle the logistics of his care? How would I handle losing the only parent I had had for over 20 years?

My second drive was on a Sunday morning in late July. This time my son was with me. I had been away for a glorious month of semi-normal, and I hadn't wanted to leave home. I was going to Wisconsin this time to hold an estate sale. I was going to be selling the last of my father's possessions and emptying my childhood home so someone else could eventually live there. I was dreading it. If I could have left the task to someone else, I would have.

The only thing that kept me on the road heading north that Sunday morning was the thought that no matter how hard this estate sale was going to be, it would be easier than what I had already done. If I was strong enough to survive that first trip, and all the things that followed it, I was probably strong enough to survive what was ahead of me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Learned and Affirmed on Vacation

As you probably know already, our summer included a significant illness, a death, a funeral and a whole lot of time away from home for my son and I as we dealt with the business of death.
While I was thankful for the freedom of summer to deal with these things (I find it interesting that my father, a 35+ year high school teacher, died at the end of the school year), as the start of school approached, I hated that we had no vacation to show for our summer. So, we disappeared for a long weekend before school started.

Here are some things I learned - or had affirmed - on our trip:
  • Some people are just rude - like the woman who took two phone calls during our planetarium program or the people who ate in the bustling and overcrowded hotel dining room but left their trash on the table for other guests to clean up. Here's a tip - if you carried the food to the table yourself, you also get to carry your own trash.
  • I am not a museum person. I don't like to read every sign and absorb every bit of information. I like what I like and then I am ready to move on.
  • My son is the same way.
  • My husband, on the other hand, wants to look at every display and read every word.
  • I like art that is straightforward - where pictures are what they are and the story/meaning is readily apparent.
  • Some art, though, is even more straightforward than I'm looking for, which made me very happy that my son is still young enough to be fairly oblivious.
  • If your vacation is in August, and most of your activities are outside, and you are in a mid- to southern area of the country, pack two outfits for every day. Yeash, we were a hot and sweaty group!
  • I should not be trusted with a map. If I had been working the maps, we would have been lost too many times to count. Thankfully, my husband is brilliant with directions!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Boys. Girls. Reading.

Last week, I did some shopping.

See, I got a new job (elementary librarian - yippee!) and in my excitement, I wanted to get some new materials for my students. First I stopped at the American Library Association online store and picked out some posters and some bookmarks (very cute, book-related, super fun).

Then I went to an online poster site to get some more general posters that weren't based on any particular book. I found a couple cute ones - an illustration of a woman on a park bench reading, a photo of an African American girl smiling and reading, a Marvel super heroes poster.

Know what I could NOT find? A poster of a boy or a man reading.

Now, the ALA has a great line of posters of famous people with books they love. My problem, though, is that those are either people my students have likely never heard of (and who therefore won't inspire them to read), people in controversial material (I teach at a Christian school, so the Harry Potter actors - while completely welcome in MY home - are not worth the trouble they would cause), or people the kids don't think are cool any more. What I need are some generic there's-a-kid-like-me-enjoying-a-book kind of posters.

When I run into a problem where I need something I just can't find "out there," I tend to just make it myself.

I like the ALA's READ campaign so much that I bought the software to make my own posters. I have visions of our superintendent with his favorite book (in addition to the Bible) on a poster. Our principal. Our teachers. And maybe some of our own students can earn a spot on a poster.

That will solve my immediate problem of gender-balance in my bulletin board materials. But it doesn't really get at the larger issue. 

Why aren't there posters of guys reading?!

Saturday, August 13, 2011


The last few months have felt like one long series of tests.

First was the care of my father who had decided it was time for hospice. He was often frustrated, feeling like medical professionals were making decisions and pronouncements about his needs without including him. The test? Would I take control or would I be his advocate for managing his own care?

There was no hospice bed available for him when the hospital was ready to discharge him. This meant I was going to be his 24/7 caregiver. Another test. What sort of caregiver would I be? How would I negotiate the more personal of his care needs? What would things be like when "the end" finally came?

Dad was unhappy at times. He called the move home from the hospital "the snatch and grab." He was sassy with the hospice case manager the first day about my qualifications (or lack thereof) for providing his care. If he thought I was pestering him with too many questions, he got a nasty look on his face and snapped at me. One evening, he poked me, accusing me of "pushing" pills at him. The test: How would I deal with his anger, frustration or hatefulness when I was already emotionally fragile?

Once he was gone, the tests piled up.  
Notifying the family.
Making decisions about the funeral.
Dealing with my emotions and those of the people around me.
I wanted to be the "strong one," but how long could I keep that up without collapse or resentment?

As the weeks have gone on, I have felt more and more like these tests now come with an audience. In my head, Mom and Dad are watching, judging.

Did I give in too quickly on the sale of the bed? Should I have insisted on a higher price?
Is Mom cringing at the amounts I'm taking for her Precious Moments?
Did I throw away things they would have wanted me to keep?
If I sell this, will I regret it later?
Am I making the right choices about the house?

Honestly, I know my parents have better things to do in Heaven than pass judgement on my efforts over the last few months, but I feel that scrutiny nonetheless. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I don't remember how it all began

I wish I could remember how it started.

I haven't always had an overloaded shelf of kids books waiting to be read.
I haven't always known who Peter H. Reynolds, Dan Gutman and Andrew Clements are.
I haven't always spent more time in the kids section of book stores and my local library than any other section.

For whatever reason, at whatever time, I read the book that started it all for me. Frindle

Frindle by Andrew Clements was my first exposure to middle grade fiction and to school stories and I fell in love. I like stories where the teacher sees something - a spark, a hint of the student's potential - and gives the student space to learn and explore and fail and grow. I like stories where the kids do something unconventional and it works. I love stories where kids triumph and discover their strength.

I don't remember how it started, but I am so glad it did.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Harry Would Miss Most

My son and I were recently listening to the audio version (fantastic!) of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was reminded of one part of the story that has always bothered me.

In the second task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, each champion dives into the lake to rescue something taken from him/her - what each would miss the most.

For Fleur, it's her little sister. This makes sense. Family ties, little girl = no brainer.

For Harry, it's Ron. His best friend for four years. We've already seen how much Harry misses Ron when they are fighting at the beginning of the tournament. Harry has no family he actually likes and his godfather is on the run from the authorities. Again, Ron is not a surprise.

Then you have Krum and Cedric. The "things" they'd miss the most are girls they barely know and went to a dance with two months earlier.

Does that strike anyone else as a bit... unusual or unhealthy? These girls are two to four years younger than these boys. And already, they are what the boys would miss most?

Yes, I know Harry's attachment to Cho and his friendship with Hermoine are essential to the plot and how things play out in the tournament, but it has always bothered me that the task was for the champion to lose something *precious* - the one thing he or she would miss the most. And the choice for these 18-ish year old boys are these girls they hardly know, over family or long-term friends.

It weirds me out every time I read it. Anyone have insights to normalize this choice for me a little?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The end is near

The end of my blogging break, that is.

It has been a long summer. I have probably spent as many days in my childhood home, dealing with my father's failing health, eventual death and the settling of some of his affairs as I have in my own home. That seems to be slowing down now and I hope to be back to regular blogging next week!

See you next week for a Harry Potter post and some things about our summer.