out of Wikipedia, thus credit: Wikimedia Commons

In chess the endgame is supposed to be the quick back-and-forth of rapidly reasoned moves and countermoves each side desperately has calculated to persevere in combat piece by piece to the bitter end. Or else the game has been so well crafted by one of the opponents that the endgame becomes the inexorable closing of the potential victor’s pieces on the losing side until the weaker player ultimately yields, often many moves before the unavoidable checkmate.*

In my case, the “endgame” indicates the conclusion of my near-month of substitute teaching today, on March 28. Actually, the real teacher has returned to duty. However, Monday was also the All-State Festival to honor the 2011 Outstanding Speakers from the Iowa High School Speech Association’s state individual events contest (as I had noted back toward the beginning of my extended sub service, Andrew did quite well at state, perfectly as a matter of fact, and six of the fourteen entries earned All-State — a remarkable and perhaps unique percentage**). Naturally, the real coach went along to the all-day celebration, so my last day turned out to be today, as I have hurried home to note for semi-publication here.

During the month, in addition to classroom and evaluative duties, I had helped keep the speech team on focus and practicing over their last week before state, organized and supervised the local Speech Night of state performances, and directed rehearsals for the final Andrew play (Shoestring Theatre, with strange appropriateness). I also tried to help the senior, who has been supervising and producing the weekly radio program, get his staff to record. The regular classroom part wasn’t too challenging, as that is what subs are hired to do — keep class going on, as directed by the missing instructor’s plans, in the actual teacher’s absence. With the real English, speech and drama teacherʼs extended leave, I had to do a bit more, including actual grading of papers.

I hadn’t had to grade anything since retiring (except a couple of things here and there, like fourth grade spelling quizzes) and definitely not anything that would go directly into the official grade program for each child. However, after some initial hesitation, I did review and score perhaps a hundred different papers for various assignments, trying to get third quarter officially closed (we didn’t quite succeed at that, lacking all the assignments) and fourth quarter records begun. Whether the real teacher chooses to use my several assignments is, of course, her choice. But they’re accomplished and also recorded to keep or delete.

Speech practice went pretty well (although not all the performers elected to schedule a practice during that week), and my old friend Clayton Pederson from across the hall, who served as the official speech coach my final year teaching and who has driven to the contests and helped coach previously for decades, served as assistant coach and bus driver for the contest day.*** Several of the days that first full week were long (up to nearly fifteen hours on the day of Speech Night), but I survived, and the kids seemed to remain flourishing. After all, I had coached speech for three decades and more (even the final four years as a mere unpaid assistant).

Play rehearsals were more of a challenge, simply because I sought to block both acts to help out the real teacher (blocking can be a difficult issue for novice directors) and even thrust the actors toward memorizing their first act lines during my brief substitute tenure. But I fell back in the rhythm of the thing**** (including even 6:30 AM rehearsals and practice on days without school), and I hope the cast has made some strides toward full preparation for their April 29 performance.

Click for source — excellent article

The Andrew Comment effort was even simpler, as the student producer really had everything in line. The reporters procrastinated even more extensively than when I had the responsibility, but there was a broadcast all three weekends. It’s rather sad to think that the radio program is reaching its end along with the high school. I guess that both climaxes indicate a different sort of endgame with which I was, finally, pleased to be involved in the early moves thereof.

On the other hand, I start a whole new game, a novel challenge altogether, as I set out to undertake my new job in just a few weeks. I hope this underexercised and aging body can stand up to the effort of placing those many, many traps for emerald ash borers repeatedly this summer…

* Other alternatives do exist, as you can verify by reading the linked Wikipedia article.

** 42+%, as a matter of actually calculated fact. I bet even the big-city big school with 14 Outstanding Performers at All-State canʼt touch that percentage. Way to go, Hawks! Go, Coach Kocer!!

*** And the “speechers” certainly rose to the mark and beyond at state! (The Lovely One and I had several preceding obligations that weekend, some pleasant.)

**** And my experience directing is a good reminder of what’s ahead when Janet and I undertake a show for the Grand Opera House from August into October. That’s another new undertaking that lies ahead now that this little game as temporary teacher ends.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Digitally Naive

I spent the weekend more or less offline and with the neglected iMac mostly switched off in continued lonely isolation. This state of affairs would perfectly suit The Lovely One, who feels I spend altogether too much time and too much attention at the computer and online. (In fact, the brief time I was active electronically on Saturday involved reconciling my checking account, a procedure that, thanks to my recent upgrade to Office 2011, involved some loud and repetitive cursing when the program did not respond as expected/formerly usual — behavior which did not decrease her disenchantment with my digital alter-life.)

Ironically, however, my lack of presence in this cyberspace on Sunday was entirely due to my (false) computer expertise. Janet and I spent the day (a good part of it, anyway) assisting her parents in their first computer purchase.

I haven’t been particularly present online in recent weeks otherwise, continuing my (subjective) month of substitute teaching in the current version of my former job. Although I have started using the teacher’s computer to check e-mail (on one account), the blog and even Facebook newsfeed, I have attempted not to get digitally mesmerized into neglecting my temporarily academic responsibilities and classroom supervision duties (and I found that I somehow, even with what I know is the correct password, can’t at school get onto my WordPress dashboard).* So in several ways it seemed multiplicitly ironic that my electronic lack of savvy was called into play to help the parents-in-law.

Fortunately, I had few alternatives among which to choose in making what few (if important) recommendations I did propose.

My beloved appears to have an unhealthy love of Best Buy. It is where we purchased her laptop half a decade back and our “new” flatscreen TV much more recently. Admittedly, she does at present possess a mostly unused Best Buy gift card that she won in some campaign at her job (but she doesn’t ever use it, regardless how many cute hints I drop about a new iPad being the best use of her unexpended magic stash of miracle cash), and I presume some recent visits to the excessively busy atmosphere of the electronic big box store might have something to do with her unexpended freebie. It was to the big blue (-black)-and-yellow that we took her folks on Sunday.

Although I would have plumped for the greater expense of a Macintosh of some variety, I realized that The Lovely One would prefer her folks to become Windozed like the rest of the cybernet majority, so we headed straight to the displays of Hewlett-Packard desktops (of which there were but three, although with as many more unexhibited models featured on sale tags). Janet’s workplace is fully HP**-ed, as is her laptop, and her sister (or someone) had an (evidently not uncommon) dismal experience with Dell, which apparently poisoned the wifely mind against all manufacturers other than the failed Senatorial candidate in California’s former company.

After just some brief examination, we started to consider two models, settling pretty quickly on the middle-range device closely equivalent to my iMac (dual-core, 4-gig RAM, terabyte of hard drive). The packaged printer didn’t offer scanning/copier features, so I knew they unwittingly wanted an upgrade from that. We attracted the attention of a lovely staffer, Rachel, who desultorily but effectively helped steer us toward a definite decision (postponed by The Lovely One, who thought we might want to to discuss the choice in a quieter, more low-key environment, the nearby Barnes & Noble cafe). We sipped lattes while estimating costs and those extra expenses you never anticipate (always an issue at Best Buy, at least in my experience), like cables and powerstrips, modem and router. We even discussed possible ISPs.

I hadn’t realized that the parents were innocent of as much as they were, even believing they would require a whole extra phone line just for the computer (not these days, people, even in the remote wilds of nearly rural Iowa). And I am glad that even our half-baked and mostly inept support and advice made the elders feel more comfortable about this big purchase. Yep, we trundled back to the big blue box and (they) bought.

Now we’re just left with the dilemma of deciding whether we actually recommend Qwest*** as their Internet Service Provider. In light of my history there, a disturbing dilemma indeed.

Of course, once they do get online (postponing the Geek Squad’s rather expensive visit, $130, to set up the entire home network and desktop package, until after my substituting is over, permitting me to be present while the installation occurs) I will have to be careful what I choose to write about them…

* And keeping a wayward, aged sub off inappropriate connections is only good policy, however accidentally.

** Or considering the company logo, should it be: “hP-ed”?

*** And inconveniently Qwest just cut off my internet connection as I tried to proofread this post, a mere twenty minutes after booting up.

Qwest, the corporation that brought “snafu” to fully acronymic fruition.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Benefits of Being Back at Work (Temporarily)

I had wanted to get a suitably Gaelic green post up for Thursday, but events and work prevented. (Instead this one appears quite late the next day.) My ongoing spate of substitute teaching sadly continues,* meaning that I now have assignments to evaluate and grades to record (in addition to merely being present in a classroom from 8:00 AM until 3:15 PM — a sub’s normal routine). That effort adds some time at the beginnings and ends of my days, but not academic activity alone.

Intriguing how things change and yet remain unaltered. The old classroom at Andrew Community School — so different and yet… (with one of the sophomore boys, Friday, March 18).

Although the speech practices ended with the glorious state contest results I mentioned already,** play rehearsals continue (and finding times that the entire cast is available has become apparently impossible). I even succumbed to student persistence and scheduled a morning practice (which we used to require every week for the fall productions and which I dreaded, perhaps nonsensically as I otherwise might arise at the nearly same time to run, but the prospect of which dismayed me nonetheless). We, ah, “enjoyed” that practice this morning.

I arose at my usual get-up-and-go-running time (roughly 4:40 AM), but no run today (nor has there been for two weeks now, my daily exhaustion from the once-again regular work schedule has been telling on my vivacity and dedication to exercise). Instead I quickly showered and dressed, gobbled down my half a grapefruit, skipping even the coffee which I had neglected to start brewing earlier than usual. Even with the quarter-hour drive to school,*** I arrived in time to welcome even the early arising among the cast and start the runthrough of Act Two promptly at 6:20 (although it turned out that we could have started twenty minutes later than we did, as that act runs more quickly than I had realized). So even leaving school at a pretty reasonable and early time in the afternoon, I still put in an almost ten-hour day.

One benefit, I suppose, from sort of teaching again, for what may become three weeks solidly, is an income. I discovered last week that when a sub at Andrew goes ten days in a row, the pay scale increases from the standard $85 a day to 1/180th of the contractual base salary, nearly doubling one’s earnings. I kicked over ten days Thursday, and today was payday, so we add a touch of green to my life after St. Patrick’s Day.

I celebrated that good news (a tad in advance, yesterday — my sole celebratory act for the Celtic holiday) by purchasing myself a little iPod Nano (the eight-gig model was the only one available at our local Walmart, where I had for Christmas bought The Lovely One a Shuffle). Yes, I had realized that my old Classic had died**** and it was time to find a replacement, even one that could only hold a measly 4000 “songs.” But one that with flash memory instead of a fragile hard drive could withstand the rigors of my running (okay, barely jogging) regimen (although the old Classic did endure three good years before it failed). And the new device wasn’t hideously expensive (yeah, okay, it’s an Apple product, true, so it cost noticeably more than it might).

I didn’t get it set up and formatted, nor any music loaded as a playlist, yesterday (and I will explain why not tomorrow) because I knew that the tiny new player would have no function even if I did get that preliminary job done: I had play practice to direct rather than a moonlit morning run. But once I do, I hope tomorrow, perhaps the utility of the new device will lure me from bed with renewed regularity to resume my currently interrupted fat-man-jogging tours of the town.

The mental stress of being called to substitute at my former endeavors in education may have combined with the untimely but coincident demise of the old iPod to break my resolve at running. But one benefit of working (let’s hope it’s not the only one) is the financial reward, however skimpy, and that may have permitted me to acquire what I hope I need to get back on track.

* (not so unhappily for me, actually readjusting to fulltime work, at least somewhat, periodically, but with melancholy for the teacher in whose shoes I have temped with such unerring mediocrity)

** …and the ex-speech coach in me wishes I could claim some of that credit… But that would be a lie. The success all belongs to the wonderful teacher I have but briefly usurped. (At least they didn’t quite break all the records kids and teams I had coached had set!)

*** During which drive I got to enjoy the waxing gibbous, nearly full mega-moon in all its immense glory (resembling, strangely, the logo for my second full-length play, Magick).

**** (or perhaps not… That’s tomorrow’s tale.)

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Shooting for Lighthearted…

A long gap without a post comes to an end with this undramatic and probably unperceptive bit of fluff. However, for the first time in a week, I am able to take some moments to compose a brief paragraph or two, however little I feel available to my weak mind to say.

I have been working solidly at school, substituting, as I noted earlier. My total today reaches eight days in a row, and I have felt some stress returning to what amounts to fulltime teaching again, but the students have remained accepting and pleasant for the most part, and I have been able to partake in the pleasure of the speech team earning all One ratings at the state contest (a school record) and furthermore, racking up six All-State Outstanding Speaker nominations (not quite a record and a tie for second place, I believe, but so close as not to matter really)! I have also been able to contribute to the final Andrew High School play by blocking both acts for the absent director. And I get paid a pittance, but the administration is trying to make it “worth my while.” Good news all around, however inadequate I now feel myself as an instructor.

If being back in the saddle again educationally rubs me a little raw, weʼll have to put that down to a flabbier old man taking up those no-longer familiar reins once more. (Yeah, I actually thought about that convoluted bit of metaphorical cowpoke gas…)

Additionally, my summer job with USDA APHIS seems to be a lock, so thatʼs good news. I have some paperwork I expect to arrive in the mail today for me to fill out as quickly as possible and return so that I can get on the payroll and be ready for training in mid-April. More on that to report as I know something and discover whether reporting on all that is really appropriate and acceptable…

We spent the weekend away from home (and so I was not along with the speech kids when they had their amazing and record-setting day at contest on Saturday). But among other events for those two days, we celebrated friend Dawnʼs birthday (a big one, the number of which I will prudently not reveal). I had a great time (and from my Elysian heights of party enthusiasm, it appeared everyone else had fun, too), and if time permits, I may write on that for the big day itself (tomorrow). Nothing like choice good times with friends old and new to raise the spirits.

All is good.

Spring is even within reach. I looked out the window in the basement just a few moments ago, when I went below to switch the modem off for a few minutes and back on (no, Qwest has not improved that particular situation whatsoever, although I have a phone number to call…), and I spotted the first robin of this new year. He had flown by the time I grabbed the camera and got repositioned, but the cardinal who periodically feeds among the juncos and sparrows still lingered to be photographed. (His contemporary image contrasts amusingly with the snowy one I snapped a few weeks back.)

Today I will have to visit Theisenʼs or Walmart for more bird feed. The greedy avians have gorged themselves on nearly seventy pounds of seed since we bought that no-longer-new feeder. If so much of it (probably hulls of seeds for the most part) werenʼt littering the ground, Iʼd feel proud of us.

I havenʼt written anything in two weeks (too busy working), but I did just reread Kafkaʼs “The Metamorphosis” for the firs time in at least a decade. That was intriguing (I donʼt know why I like that story so well, but maybe discussing it with the Advanced English class will reveal something to me).

Anyway, thatʼs a quick little update on life around here.

My deepest and proudest (however tiny my contribution) congratulations to all Ms. Kocerʼs “Speechers” for 2011! They truly did save the best for last!

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

…for the best

Well, just as Qwest kicked me off the Internet again, I decided to get started on a blog post. I guess Iʼll be walking downstairs to restart the modem fairly soon — assuming I intend to get something up for early this Wednesday morning. And assuming that the godawful ISP (ha, Qwest a “provider,” thatʼs a laugh indeed) grants me any time connected for several consecutive minutes to the Internet at all here.*

I did not intend to leave the most recent post, my dark realization about Teaganʼs accident, the first thing you see for two whole days, but early Monday morning, even as I was going to proofread that post, having worked for an hour as editor/proofreader for Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A., I received a call to come in and substitute at Andrew in fifth grade (me in elementary is perhaps an even better laugh than trying to imagine Qwest being a “provider”). That job filled my afternoon on Monday, and while I was there I got the chance to work again yesterday/Tuesday, this time upstairs in science. I will admit the elementary students challenged me, but with a recess (even if  half a dozen excited girls chose to remain in the room for those fifteen precious minutes) and more assertive discipline than I generally prefer, the kids and I survived adequately until the guidance counselor came in to end the day with a presentation. The junior high and high school students on Tuesday made the day go quickly. So I never really got a chance to sit down at the computer again until now/Tuesday evening.

In the meantime, I did hear from Carrie kindly taking her precious time to provide more information about the accident and Teaganʼs condition. Although the accident was serious, I know she is strong, as is Teagan, and perhaps if we all believe powerfully enough, things will turn out fairly well. Only time will tell, and itʼs always hard to wait. Itʼs not my place to splat other peopleʼs information all over the Internet, so thatʼs all I have to say for now. Keep him in your thoughts, as I am unwaveringly (so unlike a Qwest internet connection), so Carrie will handle bravely what challenges may lie ahead. Hope is what she has for now.

Except that Iʼve been back at school for a day and a half, I donʼt really have anything much to say. During one prep period yesterday I looked back at some old posts here on the blog, which gave me the idea of re-examining each day this year the post from last year for that same date. It was interesting to read what was preoccupying me a year ago, and if I re-examine one (or maybe two or three) year-old posts at a time, perhaps I can correct the mistakes I did not see before the posts went up and fix/change all those pull quotes I used for indentations into genuine indentations (the thought of trying to do so very, very many of them in only a few days has boggled my will to make the attempt).

I also realize that I truly have stalled on resubmitting rejected work to find a publisher. “Underground” (which returned from its second rejection on about this date last year) and “Details, Details” (which I was just about to finish writing not quite a year ago now) have both sat idle nearly all year. I know I dislike rejection, but in this business I havenʼt really entered yet, rejectionʼs what itʼs all about.

The time is now to open myself wide for more rejection to slap me upside the head. Or not. Sometimes that thing with feathers is all weʼve got. Letʼs hope thatʼs a good thing.

* Hey! On the hope that Qwest might, however, briefly, however temporarily, provide me a link with the ʼNet, I finished this post. And if you are reading this, then that tiny hope worked out. Now for another…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Stuff, some serious

I begin more than a little distracted and preoccupied today. One of our good friends (and one of my favorite former students) has had life take a bad turn when accidentally her husband suffered a long fall at work on Friday. I only know about the incident from Facebook, but my heart is torn with worry and concern, and we wish her and him all our very best. Sometimes life is simply not fair. Many times.

Mark Twain, as students in American Literature/Advanced Composition and English III (including Carrie) got to hear in a biographical video for many years, once remarked in the wake of his daughter Susyʼs unfortunate death, “We were robbed of our greatest treasure, our lovely Susy in the midst of her blooming talents and personal graces. You want me to believe it is a judicious, a charitable God that runs this world. Why, I could run it better myself.” In the face of far too many events, I find myself chiming agreement with Clemensʼs dire judgment. (And I am absolutely uncertain just how much I feel apologetic whatsoever to my conservative and evangelical or otherwise convinced and devout readers for this expression of my exasperated and powerful doubts.) At least, Teagan and his fellow worker live. We must hope for the best, and I do.

I got online, not expecting to learn bad news, about two oʼclock Sunday afternoon. Janet had left to take a two-hour burlesque workshop, about which she was very excited (as were a good number of other people in her Zumba class). Perhaps Iʼll feel like writing about that once I know more about it. Right now, as I write, she is still gone learning to shake her tassels. And my heart is still stone.

Earlier in the day, we were just having an ordinary Sunday at home — doing laundry, reading a newspaper, conversing, vaguely planning possible meals for the week, drinking coffee… About noon, she suggested perhaps we head outside and go to Theisenʼs for some rubber boots. I have talked for at least three winters about wanting some rubber galoshes, and I suppose she figured it was finally time to shut me up. After all I could have gone on my own any day, but I never had. So we drove the mile to the store and looked around. I tried on size tens and then size nines, wondering if I wanted boots or the ten-dollar-cheaper shoe-sized galoshes. I went for the more expensive boots, size nine.

See colored text

As we were heading toward the checkout lanes, she brought up another long-mentioned idea — a bird feeder. In this case the idea is one sheʼs talked about for a long time. So we headed across the store to the aisle where she could see wooden combination birdhouses/feeders (for far more money than we intended to spend). They also had a selection of tubular plastic feeders with multiple perches, which we examined and from which we selected a model. Then we had to determine which bird feed to buy, not easy as none of the bags explained very much for utter, complete novices like ourselves, but we eventually made a choice about what to feed the birds we hoped to see and headed to finally check out.

Since the boots were still the most expensive item by a long ways, I got to buy everything. And once we got home, the boots came in handy for the very first time as I stomped through the snow to hang our new feeder from the fruit tree in the back. I remembered reading that birds like some sense of shelter or cover when feeding, so I decided to hang it from the tree rather than from the convenient hooks on the otherwise unused clothesline poles at either end of our decrepit rear patio. The job wasnʼt even hard, the little piece of cotton rope — dyed green many years ago for the Andrew spring play, “Jack and the Beanstalk” — having been cut, pretty much uncalculated, to exactly the length I needed (although I don’t know how I did that; I just grabbed the full length of rope and cut off a few inches to use).

So now the feeder hangs in the tree waiting for birds we havenʼt seen yet this winter to arrive and eat. I hope they enjoy it. Something might as well get some pleasure from this sunny day.

Not much of a post, I admit, but I write distractedly, most of my thoughts having been driven far away from such lighthearted and simple matters. Please send whatever positive energy in which you may believe to the benefit of Teagan Rouse. And best wishes, Teagan and Carrie. You are both in my heart.

Attempting to take a photo for this post, I discover The Lovely One seems to have carried the camera along to her workshop. Our new bird feeder looks much like this image I found googling. Ours has a metal wire rectangular hanger at the top rather than the plastic loop shown.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

“Keep on Working”

Ironically, as I created and posted two pieces on my “big job” from early last summer, I received an emergency phone call (well not emergency, just last-minute and out of the blue) to ask if I could get myself up to Andrew and do a bit of substituting on Wednesday. Half the day is not too bad a stint to serve, regardless what the class; and per my usual behavior, I had pretty well been wasting the morning up to that point; and as always we could use the money, however little. So of course I accepted.

The “bag of books and notebooks.” You can see I have my research reading for Sepharad and the hopefully now famous “big red notebook.” What you canʼt see are two paperbacks within — Fritz Leiberʼs Fafhrd-and-Gray-Mouser novel “Swords of Lankhmar” (canʼt italicize in these captions, dagnabbit, so weʼll just endure the incorrect use of quotation marks) and Frank Yerbyʼs “Odor of Sanctity,” a wonderful book that I was gratified to be able to reread on the excuse of background and research for Søren and Judah.

A teacher was ill, and they needed a sub just about instantly. (I myself have been in that pitiable teacherʼs shoes memorably more than thrice before, so I was more than merely sympathetic.) I dressed myself as quickly as humanly possible, grabbed a bottle of water and my preloaded bag of books and notebooks that I always take “just in case” (and that case is usually the one Iʼm in, which is why “Mistakes by Moonlight” ever got written), hopped in the truck, and headed on up to school, arriving only about twenty to twenty-five minutes after the call (I felt pretty pleased with myself; I hope in actuality I had moved along quickly enough).

This particular teacher writes excellent plans, and she followed that pattern even handwritten while feeling noticeably poorly that day. The only downside there: I couldnʼt do anything I wanted — I had to teach, so my bag of books and notebooks was superfluous. Oh well, the whole point of working is to do that job while you are doing it. I could always read and write another day (and I thought that unprofiting* day would be yesterday).

The Andrew students are always generously kind and pretend to be moderately excited (or at least not disappointed) to have me as a substitute. So the somewhat more than four hours that I spent at school Wednesday went pretty easily as I finished out her day. When I left the building, stopping by the office to sign my substitute sheet (getting paid is the whole point, and that sheetʼs the only record created that one has done any work, so filling it out ranks somewhere above “vitally important”), the new superintendent/principal chatted me up as he often does, politely, and asked about my availability for the next day, which would be yesterday. Until I get my act in gear and either undertake some new career or get some writing finished, submitted, accepted and published or sign myself on to sub at other schools, as I should, my availability is pretty much a given. Which is exactly what I told him. The call to continue that sub assignment, as the teacher was not feeling better, came about 7:30 Wednesday evening. So I served as temporary replacement teacher again on Thursday.

Itʼs always nice to make a little money, even though those full days remind me invariably of why I enjoy no longer teaching full-time. Once again, however, the kids were generous and well behaved, the lesson plans excellent, and the day more rewarding with time I could spend at a book or notebook while all the students were reading their assignments. Fortunately or un-, my choice when those times arose was to read, so not much progress got made on anything I am writing. I did, however, read through the “Mistakes by Moonlight” page here on the blog,** just to verify information and wordings and to proofread/edit/check what I had written. I was dismayed to discover I have a lot of changes to make — particularly with the most recently dictated material (boy, did Dictate a few months back not understand my mumbling!),*** where whole paragraphs make little to no sense, some of which Iʼm going to have to check back against the handwriting, hard enough to interpret itself, because even I donʼt know what I meant. With luck Iʼll get all that done and that page corrected today. I also realized I never added the “new” material I had been revising and adding earlier this past autumn, which will be easy enough to do by simply locating the post and copying the information to paste in the proper place.

With that, I believe I have given myself my marching orders…

Have a great weekend!

* Why do I keep forcing myself to invent words. Yes, spellcheckers of all varieties (as these posts now pass through three separate spellchecking programs), I meant “a day with no money made” rather than “a day that was not worthwhile, fiscally or otherwise” (unprofiting rather than profitless or unprofitable.)

** I am glad that technologically Ian access my blog from the school now (some of the students even told me they had been reading it during a computer class previously).

*** Now that is a magnificently long and jumbled (if absolutely correct) sequence of punctuation, particularly when you include the asterisk(s) indicating this footnoteʼs here.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

What a Weekend!

Except for the heavily falling snow (which was only too true on Saturday), a good idea of the drive to Anamosa on Saturday.

Well, it was a good thing I actually had a post ready to go for yesterday morning. Having gone to Anamosa to visit Janetʼs folks and see the local community theatreʼs production of Scrooge, braving icy roads from our weekend “blizzard” (it didnʼt quite come together here in eastern Iowa the way it did so many other places, like Minneapolis, but everything around here is coated in ice, especially our driveway), we returned on significantly better roads (good work, Jackson County highway department) just in time to catch the weather forecast (well, Janet did; I was unloading clothes from the dryer and transferring the load we had left in the washer over to dry) for this week (The Lovely One says that itʼs now supposed to snow on Wednesday/tomorrow as well, of all the blooming bad news I didnʼt want to hear — I still have a beloved wifeʼs Christmas presents to purchase), and for me to learn that Andrew Community School was already slated for a two-hour delay Monday (gotta love kids getting excited on Facebook). Then the phone rang, within a half hour of getting home, and I got a job substituting yesterday as well (one of the teachers was snowed in to our north, where the blizzard really materialized in something other than ice, sleet and wind). Even with the two-hour delay, there was no way I was going to get a post up and out there Sunday night or during those early hours before I had to brave icy roads in my skittish pick-up en route to Andrew.

I am, however, typing on Sunday evening after the phone call. Janetʼs wrapped some more presents (several for me — there must have been some kind of secret exchange going on in Anamosa as well), I have made her Monday lunch and our breakfast. Itʼs not hard on either — rip up lettuce; add nuts, berries, cheese [feta], and chicken; pour a container of raspberry vinaigrette dressing, matched with a little container of fat-free black cherry yogurt; wrap a spoon and fork in a napkin; and get our her lunch bag. Breakfastʼs even easier — halve a grapefruit and cut out the little sections in each half; wrap in Aldi-generic saran wrap around the little bowls we eat them in; store in the refrigerator. Now weʼre baking the remnants of a box of year-old frozen fish sticks (which we donʼt eat very often, maybe once a year, obviously) to consume with rigatoni-and-cheese (home-made with shredded cheddar cheese, the only cheese in the house; and itʼs not macaroni because the rig is also all we had in the cupboard). So I have a few minutes to churn out a few words, so that I donʼt have to work or think very hard Monday evening once I get home from school.

(And having topped 500 words, I feel pretty darned pleased with myself. I could just quit here — you wish — and only have to search out some kind of photograph to illustrate this abominable post. Weʼll see. Tomorrow, after all, is another day — which would actually be yesterday once this posts, but weʼve been all over that before. Once I have actualy been through my second day in a row at school — I also subbed on Friday — I might have more to say. Or not.)

My thumbs are making this typing job somewhat clearly difficult. The shoveling I have completed and completed seems to have done a number on my joints, particularly those of my right thumb. However, having started this non-essay typing, I suppose I will finish it the same way. We may not have gotten much snow (about two and a half inches officially, I hear), but the stuff I shoveled out Saturday afternoon was heavy, brother!

Update Added 12/13/2010 (which would be, ah, yesterday)

And my thumbs continue to ache, especially when doing whatever thumbs have to do when I touch type (or whatever you might call my elderly modification of the basic skills of touch typing — that I slowly learned way back in the tail end of the Sixties as a sophomore in high school and have modified and abused and personalized ever since).

Another “borrowed” image (as always click the pic for the source), but pretty accurate for E17 Monday morning.

The teaching job was pretty simple. The current English teacher is a wonderfully engaged, diligent and competent young woman, and she had excellent lesson plans for me, even severed by hundreds of miles from her books and references (and with lots on her mind other than school — I think I can recall myself calling in sick and never having plan one for the sub back in the Ft. Madison days). Besides, the day started two hours late, so classes were only about a half hour each, and she fought her way back to these sickly southerly climes before seventh period even got underway. Astonishing fortitude and endurance! The biggest challenge was the 17-member speech class, of which at least five were absent, who had to go to the library to begin research for their final project, a persuasive speech. With a single exception (after some actual discussion among the group for perhaps five minutes), no one did anything for the class — frustrating.

Furthermore, before departing the allowed halls, I got my third chance since retiring to volunteer my expertise to get the lights working for a show (this time the upcoming elementary winter concert). I wonder if Iʼll be timed out as of the end of sixth period or if I might get some more dollars for the quarter-hour or twenty minutes spent onstage. Either, way, even with a stop to buy some stamps, I was home before the school day ended in Andrew.

Anyway, the drive up was a little tense, the roads being as bad or worse than Janet braved on Sunday to Anamosa. Even 61 had only one lane on each side relatively clear, and the drive eastward on E17 was nothing but ice in the morning (I was grateful it was so darned cold that the ice wasnʼt even slippery, as I had discovered walking some mail to the box before I left for school). Homeward-bound was much improved, and here I am, adding nothing much to finish this up before I get to real work — pasting stamps on all our Christmas cards, which we wrote and prepared while cabin (-fever) -bound on Saturday. There are only sixty of them to mail out… And then I have to repeat the breakfast/lunch activity for tomorrow/today.

And thereʼs another two to four inches of white stuff heading our way for Wednesday into Thursday, too. “Writing, Life and Times in Iowa” indeed! Not much “Life” in the wintertime, it seems.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Winter Wonders, 1

Janetʼs household decorating is interesting and pleasurable. And not just for her. I do enjoy all her curious and intriguing creations although too often taking the stuff about the house merely for granted. Our Christmas frenzy has always seemed to me the most desperately futile, however, since it lasts so brief a time — Thanksgiving through New Yearʼs, and itʼs all gone. Well, not all. The Lovely One has always said she prefers seasonal, meaning winter, decorations to holiday, meaning “Christmas,” ornamentation*, so many elements of the Friday/Saturday/Sunday-after-Thanksgiving hooplah of domestic reorganization are meant to linger until the eventual eruption of spring. So todayʼs post gets us started on the hibernal house-trimming.

looking up at our attic in the garage, which I now realize I still have to recover — so there is one benefit from this otherwise pretty vacuous post

Well, actually, today I would like to discuss getting started with winter decorations. Usually, during the days before Thanksgiving, particularly on Wednesday evening, Janet likes to start removing all the fall décor, gathering the bits and pieces of prettification for storage until next year (or disposal if sheʼs had enough of some particular item). Often on that Wednesday, or like this year, at the latest, on Friday morning after the feast of thankfulness, I get to clamber a stepladder to the ceiling of the garage and bring down the empty containers for autumn frills and accessories along with the full ones of winter ornaments and the big heavy coffin-sized carton containing our (fake) Christmas tree (which resides alongside two elder trees no longer used).

This is what The Lovely One creates to later distribute about the December domicile

Not all the Christmas stuff spends its off-season time in the attic, as The Lovely One has also taken possession of the large storage cabinets in the tiny room off the unfinished side of the basement which is supposedly my closet-cum-dumping area for my stuff she wants out of sight, so by the time I get the rest of the ornaments and such from above, she has already begun the process of scattering the winter decorations for distribution around the house (see the picture). Once Black Friday dawns, she gets hard at the work of redecorating for Christmas/winter.

(I do think that an extra click on the picture to the right is worth your time to see and I hope understand the, uh, situation created in the brief interim before the decorations find their perfect and beautiful ultimate, if temporary, wintertime locations. The antique — i.e. vintage 1982 — kitchen table is the one I had to clear of almost equally outmoded computer components in order to permit this particular, transitory state of undecoration to occur.)

Our tall and narrow Christmas tree — those branches, although all permanently attached to the “trunk,” take a lot of care to spread out into pseudo-lush gloriosity. The presents seem a bit scanty as of yet…

When she used to labor as a travel agent, and during the first half-decade or a little more of her current job, Janet never had the day after Thanksgiving off work (apparently like everyone in contemporary retail). However, one year it dawned on her boss that at least two-thirds of his work force was finding annual excuses not to appear in the offices on Black Friday, so the company at last made it a regular holiday, providing my spouse with a three-day period to perform the hibernal enhancement of our home. Days which she now uses to their utmost. Days which I treasure, as I now donʼt have to do all of my parts of the job in one exhaustive Saturday (plus thereʼs currently no stringing lights through the Christmas “tree,” it being, as I already revealed once, “prelit”) — so the holiday preparations are more low-key, de-stressed and pleasant than in some earlier years). Days which will yield the wonders, eye candy and spectacle I have reserved for tomorrow… and tomorrow… and tomorrow…

Well, not entirely. She begins with the basement, hiding (although not fully disguising) my multitudes of books behind various wintry/Christmasy items, including my large-format copies of A Christmas Carol (a favorite of mine since early childhood when I memorized a Ronald Coleman rendition of the story from nearly inch-thick — Iʼm exaggerating, twenty-first century children — 78-rpm vinyl platters; perhaps a true highlight of retirement so far was receiving my chance to play Scrooge onstage with PPP last fall**). I donʼt think she appreciates it when I choose during some years to read the informative (not just decorative) AnnotatedTM edition. Every shelf and most nooks and crannies of our family room receive appropriate winter treatment, as you will see in tomorrowʼs photos.

Once I have assembled the tree, carefully shaping the unfolded branches (a time-consuming and ultimately tedious task), we work together, usually with beverage in hand, to distribute the numerous unique and unusual commemorative ornaments on the tree. This year the tree-trimming consumed Saturday evening, following her regular phone visit with her sister (when I got the artificial fir assembled and ready to go), so it was really a relaxing experience. Now I just have to remember to plug in the tree every evening for us to ignore nightly as we eat and watch TV (and prepare myself mentally to reduce it all to boxed bric-a-brac for storage come January 1, or maybe even sooner this year).

Well, I appear to have a full post here, so the photos of the family room — aside from the tree — will have to wait until tomorrow…

And of course, there are plenty of rooms to go, so I have reserved to the future at least two, perhaps more, posts on winter decorations ahead.


* …just as she decorates for fall, decidedly not for Halloween.

** I even began teaching the brief book with Advanced English as a way to quickly shoehorn in a taste of Dickens (later along with Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes — much to my pleasure, regardless how many idle AHS adolescents shoddily chose not to read the stave-a-night assignments). Why do kids enroll in an elective literature class if they donʼt want to read?

Do click the photos for larger visions!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A



The long week is done. The Lovely One and I celebrated by attending the gallery opening of photographs by friend Mary Nevans-Pederson last evening (thanks for that invitation, by  the way). Much fun and nice art. Food more than good to boot.

Friday was an unusual day, besides being my last in a row. First, the school was crawling with subs, at least five of us (and that school doesnʼt have a very large faculty, as many faithful readers may know). I wasnʼt particularly conscious of the issue, but the students certainly were aware. And talked about it almost every period. Second, students were wired for the weekend, but every class actually accomplished things, and some were even able to work quietly enough for me to recite and memorize lines to myself. Now that the work week is done, I think I will miss some of those students, but I also am ready to welcome the time to actually write and even idle some time playfully away. Maybe I could even… read something≥

Picasso — the look I am after…

Unfortunately (or not), of course, responsibilities remain. I do have obligations to fulfill and activities to perform already next week.

Now my Picasso practice, our health assessments and then the Picasso performance loom for next week, followed by more time away from a keyboard (or book) to get a flu shot. Health stuff and acting…

I am delighted to say that I did finish memorizing the Picasso lines yesterday (I will need work on the final pages yet, but I do know them… just not quite as sharply as the earlier ones). But I should have time to practice (assuming I donʼt get a call to sub on Monday). My intention is to practice with Janet this weekend several times, and also listen to the audio I created, then to spend about half the day Monday working on the words and determining the proper delivery for each line. I may even get the costume finalized. That way I should be pretty solid for the rehearsal on Tuesday and better able to make use of whatever criticisms and suggestions come out of that session. I would still like to find more video of the man in motion and perhaps hear more than the twelve seconds of his voice that I have from my boss/playwright. I donʼt feel comfortable about being him physically at all yet. But I will, I will. Although this activitiy is fun and interesting, it will be a relief, as with any play or performance to make the challenges part of my personal history soon.

Writing just has to hang on hold (more or less) until the acting gig is up. I want to do my best for the the Dubuque Museum of Art. However, buckling down to prepare for the performance hasnʼt stopped my mind from whirling. I reread the material I have posted so far for “Mantorville,” uncovering about a dozen mistakes I hope to correct soon, and inspiring my plot-mind to see at last what went on that night in the woods when Howie Phillips met his doom (I do know now, too). Itʼs also time to write the rest of the current dayʼs session and then, either to end that or in another session, introduce an important new character. So I hope fans of that piece may get a little more to read sometime soon (certainly not tomorrow, however).

I also had ideas while sitting at a teacherʼs desk for details on the finishing of “Mistakes by Moonlight.” And since I had already written (just not typed/dictated and revised) a new ending for the scene at the Golden Bull, fans of that fantasy may see further updates like I posted this past Sunday, along with more of chapter two someday. I am not as confident I have new material for Stars in Heaven soon, but at least I hope to have time in the next few weeks to perhaps write something on that yet. Ah, the plans, the dreams, the things I may or may not accomplish…

Anyway, the big substitute teaching job is over. Now I just want to see the pay arrive magically in my account. Maybe I can finally find something less tedious (and in the case of todayʼs post, repetitious) to put up.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.