Friday, May 28, 2021
Thursday, May 27, 2021
- Little bits of grit and grime carried in the wind settle onto the wet fibers and, once dried, hold on for dear life.
- Prolonged damp leads to moldy, mildewy muck, even on the best water-resistant fabrics.
- Worst of all, horror of horrors, soggy cushions and pillows invite creepy crawly critters to burrow into their moist nooks and crannies, and settle in.
Slide into your seat, and buckle up.
Examine the instrument panel and imagine how it's going to feel to get this baby on the road.
No, technically she doesn't belong to you, but this is your golden moment to
give her a whirl,
see how she performs,
try her around some tight curves, and
get a feel for how she handles.
Now you're ready.
Hit the ignition, put her in drive, pick up a pencil, and let's get this test drive started.
* * * * *
When it's time to serve up a midterm or final exam to my math students, I write my own.
Well, I'm not insane, so I don't make up my own problems. But I do sort through the textbook to find just the right combination of deliciously difficult but not unreasonable problems to test the concepts that I deem most important.
Then I write them out in my own hand, make lots of lovely copies, and then collate them together into a test packet ready for my wonderful students to work.
But before I deliver the tests, I give them a careful run-through to make sure I haven't made any mistakes. Dropping a critical word, transposing a number, even dashing off a sloppy 5 that looks like an innocent S might be enough to derail an eager test taker, and the last thing I want to do is create needless confusion for these kids.
So, as the final stage in my preparation process, I take my tests for a test drive.
I clear away the flurry of books and papers required to compose the tests as well as several hours' worth of empty La Croix cans, take a deep, calming breath, and shift gears to a peaceful environment and headspace. Just as I remind my students to do.
Then I fold back the instruction page on the first test - I start with pre-algebra and work up from there - take one more deep breath, and begin to work the problems.
I work carefully and deliberately,
showing each step as I expect my students to show them,
working out some multiplication and division calculations on the side margins (no calculators allowed in my classes),
and indicating my solution with a neat box.
I double check my result against the Solutions Manual, just to be sure I got it right.
And when I've finished all ten problems on the test, I flip back to the first page and in the upper right corner I write "Answer Key."
That always feels good.
But as I continue working my way through the higher level tests, with the problems becoming more difficult as we proceed from negative exponents to completing the square to exponential functions, I find that my task has shifted from fact-checking to pure joy.
I love to work math problems.
And taking this year's final exams for a test drive last night was the most fun I've had in quite some time.
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Monday, May 17, 2021
Thursday, May 13, 2021
Monday, May 10, 2021
"Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time or the last time.
Then your time on earth will be filled with glory". -Betty Smith
That's what I've been thinking about all day today, this Mother's Day.
Luna Pub serves up pizza, pasta, and other authentic Italian cuisine on the hot streets of Danang, Vietnam. Nestled into the old center of the city, this lovely oasis just a few blocks from my third-born's then-home was a frequent stop on our excursions whenever my other daughters and I were in town to visit.
The name of the street outside Luna Pub is Tran Phu, which sounds like music to my ears.
Pull up your motorbike right onto the sidewalk, as one does, and park it any old where. The bantam weight gentlemen who keep tabs on the customers' bikes will rearrange it as it suits them, but also present your exact bike (which looks like a dozen other bikes under their management) with a flourish when you are ready to leave.
Sit down at a sleek wooden cafe table in the soaring indoor/outdoor space, preferably within range of one of the giant fans that crank out the gale force wind required to cool patrons during the summertime tropical heat.
Anticipate a delicious meal. We leaned heavily into the pizza and dessert sections of the menu, and once on her birthday, my daughter-in-residence ordered a chocolate lava cake that was to die for. While you wait, feast upon the tiny slices of homemade bread meant for dipping in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Why not make an entire meal out of that?
I'm not always the biggest chocolate person, but this little morsel of chocolate lava cake was insanely delicious. And so rich that there was more than enough to share.
But oh, better than the food, the high point of the entire trip to Luna was always the same for me: chilled white washcloths scented with lemongrass, presented promptly as you arrive at the table, and perfect for wiping away the heat and grime of the city, and preparing one for a lovely repose.
Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and of course, fish sauce.
This may be Italian cuisine but we are in Vietnam after all.
I have so many memories of evenings spent at Luna Pub: sharing a small table and dishes of Bailey's gelato with my daughters, or gathering with a dozen of my third-born's local friends and getting to know the names and faces of these people who kept her company in this exotic place.
But the sharpest, clearest, most poignant moments I spent at Luna Pub came one night in May 2016, while sitting at a mash-up of three or four tables with one of those big groups of friends, when my phone rang.
My mom was calling me.
Can we please have a table near one of the fans?
Sorry, my Northern European body cannot handle this heat.
These were the darkening days of my mother's battle with Lewy Body Dementia. Dutifully, and with a surprising ability to manage this level of detail, she checked in with me on a twice-daily schedule. Even as the disease had worsened and her cognitive skills slipped, my mom took this task very seriously, and rarely missed a call.
Knowing that there was no way she could navigate international calls to me while I was on my trip, I'd arranged through my carrier for direct forwarding of my U.S. calls, so that for my mom, placing the call to me was exactly the same as usual. She had no idea I was sitting in Danang, Vietnam, at Luna Pub.
So when I saw her call light up my phone, I quickly slipped away from the table and stepped outside, hoping to find a quiet spot to talk with her. Locust trees lined the street near the broad steps leading up to the restaurant, and I settled for the sidewalk underneath them in the still-steamy evening breeze.
I clicked into the call.
Here, on the left side of this photo, near Tree Number 55, I took my mom's call.
"Hi, Mom. How are you?"
I don't recall the details but she was upset. I listened to her describe the problem, pressing the phone to my right ear and covering my left ear with my hand as I desperately tried to block out the music streaming out of Luna and the unrelenting beepbeepbeep-ing horns of the motorbikes flowing past me on the busy street. I couldn't understand her well enough to offer any substantial conversation on the topic, but I murmured small words of acknowledgement and understanding as best I could.
"Well, that's all I have to say," she abruptly changed course.
"Alright," I said. "We can talk more about this next time you call, okay?"
I listened as my mom ended the call.
Now, by all accounts, it was not a particularly memorable phone call.
But that was the last time my mom ever called me.
During the remaining sixteen months of her life, we talked on the phone but only when someone else - my sister-in-law - was on hand to help Mom negotiate the call. And thankfully, my mom and I did have one last visit together in person.
But that phone call at Luna Pub, as I stood in the sweltering heat on the steps along Tran Phu, was the last of the hundreds - thousands - of times that my mom called me.
The very last time.
And while this is in many ways a very sad story, and a heartbreaking chapter in the tragedy that is Lewy Body Dementia, the memory is very precious to me.
We often know our firsts in life.
First day of school.
But our lasts often slip by, unaware, unannounced, and we may have no way of knowing in the moment that something we've done hundreds - thousands - of times will never happen again.
And while I didn't know in that exact moment that this phone call would be the last - I fully expected my mom to call me in another twelve hours, right on schedule - on this Mother's Day and every day, I am thankful with all my heart that this last call from my mother came in at such a special and memorable place.
* * * * *
All photos courtesy of Luna Pub Danang on Facebook.
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Monday, May 3, 2021
An hour after she ran wild in the streets of Mukilteo, my dog served as a flower girl in a wedding.
Last Friday afternoon, my dog and I went for a walk.
Strolling along in the sunshine, I admired Gracie's lovely off-leash behavior. It's been about a month now that I've been letting her stroll along on her own recognizance, snapping the leash on to cross busy streets or when we encounter other walkers along the way, but otherwise letting her roam free, and I'm shocked and delighted to say that she's been a model of good behavior. She comes rushing back to me whenever I call her, or obediently stands in place when I command her to "wait," and always, always stays on the sidewalk. This exercise in me learning to trust her - and her earning that trust with perfect manners - has been a huge success.
So as we strolled along a sidewalk back behind the high school, I felt comfortable allowing my pup to run along the opposite side of the small lane, sniffing through the shrubbery tucked here and there between the lane and the big parking lot on the far side of the plantings. Little birds often hop around under those bushes, and Gracie often directs her hunting instincts to carefully investigating those areas. And on this particular day, she found one that interested her quite a bit.
Here's what that looks like:
Dog freezes in place.
Tail up at a slight angle, feathery fur waving in the soft breeze.
Eyes riveted on an invisible (to me) target.
Slowly, ever so carefully, Gracie begins to inch deeper into the bushes, her posture indicating a growing passion for whatever she has spied inside.
Just kidding. There was no wedding.
Now, as soon as I deduced that my dog was on to something big. I considered calling her back to the sidewalk. But I do love to see her in full-on hunting mode, so I decided to play this adventure out. I crossed the lane myself, and stood a few feet behind her, as a good hunter should, taking care to stay downwind of whatever it was she had found.
Long seconds ticked by.
Gracie's body quietly quivered as she continued to set her prey.
And then, in an instant, all hell broke loose.
I heard a flutter.
At the same instant, Gracie crashed to the deepest part of the bushes
Out squawked a mother mallard who, once clear of the bushes, took to her wings and fluttered off.
To my horror, Gracie followed in hot pursuit.
Under no circumstances is a proper setter supposed to run after its prey. But apparently Gracie has not read that chapter of the manual just yet.
I hollered to her, "Gracie! C'mon girl!"
My darling obedient dog didn't even blink at the sound of her name. Like a laser-focused lunatic, she continued her full-speed assault on the duck.
And I can't exactly blame her, because that lady duck knew just what she was doing. At first, I thought she must be injured because she wasn't gaining much altitude, and seemed to be limping along at a rather slow pace. But as I watched her flap down the lane toward the busy street, with Gracie in blind pursuit, I understood.
That clever mama was drifting along, intentionally positioning herself right in front of my dog's adrenaline-crazed eyeballs, staying close enough to keep teasing the big red beast along in the chase, and leading said intruder directly away from her nest and the fragile eggs undoubtedly laid inside.
In the same instant that I understood the power play that was unfolding before me, I recoiled in horror. Momma Mallard's master plan was lacking just one important ingredient: traffic safety. In her determined effort to keep my dog away from her nest, she was leading them both - bird and dog - directly into the busy street ahead.
I watched in disbelief as the two crossed the last bit of lawn and launched out into four lanes of traffic, turned left up the center of the street, and disappeared from my sight.
Good lord. What a nightmare.
What could I do? Certainly not catch them. I hustled up the sidewalk, craning my neck to see around the bulk of the high school building, keeping an ear turned toward any sounds of slamming brakes or screeching horns that would signal disaster. I was prepared for anything.
As I was almost clear of the building, calling my dog's name now and again, I noticed a pair of women and the most adorable St. Bernard puppy walking along the busy street, coming from the direction in which my dog had run. They looked back behind them, and then up at me, and I could see them putting two and two together in their brains.
"She's coming!" one of them called to me, and in the next second, I stepped out from behind the building and was finally afforded a sweeping view up the street.
Easily a hundred meters away, I spied a red blur.
Closer and closer she came, on a direct bee line to me, skimming across the high school lawn.
Her red coat gleamed in the late afternoon sun, her pink tongue lolled joyfully, and as she came closer, I saw her eyes riveted on me, never glancing away.
Gracie ran right up to me and slammed on the brakes. Precisely, she sat down in front of me, and accepted my praise.
Good girl, Gracie. You came back!
And then, with my faithful pup trotting safely at my side, I comforted myself. Maybe Gracie chased that duck along the sidewalk of the busy street, or even along the wide sweep of school lawn, rather than actually running in the street. I would never know for sure, but I decided to give my dog the benefit of the doubt and believe that she found at least that measure of self-control, even in the thrill of the chase.
Just a ton of pink petals on the ground and a good girl who is willing to let us pile them on her head and sprinkle them elegantly down her back, and then take eighty-five photos of the finished effect.
Since that adventure, I've kept a close eye on my girl. Yes, I do still let her walk off leash, but I'm highly tuned in to any intense hunting vibes and ready to snap the leash on at a moment's notice. Until the spring nesting season has wrapped up and the next generation of baby ducks have safely taken to the air, I will be extra careful.
Today, for example, as we approached the aforementioned duck's lair, I noted that my dog was placidly strolling along the sidewalk on her very best behavior. But just as she pulled up even with the shrubbery of interest, she dashed across the lane and waded deep into the bushes. I was ready for this tricky maneuver: right on my dog's heels, I dashed across the lane, promptly hauled my darling out of the greenery, and snapped the leash on. Satisfied that she'd done her best, Gracie graciously heeled and happily marched alongside of me back to the sidewalk and down to the busy street.
And there, in a wild instance of synchronicity and mind-blowing coincidence, in the exact place I'd seen them on Friday were once again the two women and the St. Bernard puppy.
"No ducks today?" one of them playfully called to me.
"Well, no. But not for lack of trying," I countered.
We all laughed.
And then I thought to ask, "Say, the other day, was she running in the street or along the sidewalk and grass?"
"Oh, she ran across the street at least twice, with that duck right in front of her."
Shoot. My heart sank to hear this confirmation of my dog's out-of-control behavior.
"But wow," my newfound friend continued, "she was so beautiful. She was running so fast, so smooth, and her long hair was rippling like water. She was quite a sight to see."
I smiled. I could just imagine that glorious sight.
My beautiful flower child.
That vision led me back to the very conundrum I've faced for thirty-five years of living with setters in the suburbs. I do my very best to leash them and train them and pray that they obey, but there will always be moments when my Irish Setters' hunting instincts overwhelm their good senses and they simply run wild.
And while that is dangerous in a hundred different ways, there's also a deep and powerful beauty unleashed when my darling dog runs wild.