Monday, October 10, 2005


In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America, thus paving the way for a long weekend and a million end of year car sales.

This morning, I discovered Sweden, land of wooden simplicity, high-functionality, and slightly curved design concepts. And oh, it is good.

And forget about the furniture. From the moment you land on its yellow-shirted shores, IKEA's concept takes over on a more organic, environmental level, complete and comprehensive from micro to macro. From the family-friendly parking up agaist the building sidewalk to the conveniently-placed lunch-counter -- featuring 99 cent breakfasts and a thin but clearly gourmet assorment of gravlax, shrimp salads, and swedish meatball platters -- IKEA is a miracle of modern consumerist design.

There is only one way in, one single staircase upwards; from there, following the huge arrows on each of the two floors (you can't walk through walls, so what else are you going to do?) eventually puts you within arms reach of every single item in the store.

When the children get tired, sign them in to the kid's playspace for an hour, where they will presumably be indoctrinated into some weird swedish cult and forever worship at the altar of uncomplicated but elegant hardwood furniture. I swear, the usually loquatious three-year-old was in there for the fully alloted shift, but when she emerged all we could get out of her was a prim confirmation that she "didn't want to go home, just go somewhere else."

And they will get tired. It takes five hours to go through the place at a relatively rapid pace, maybe a little less if, like us, you begin to accelerate your journey as you realize you have been shopping for hours and there's no end in sight.

We ate two meals, both involving a breed of french fries suprisingly akin in look and feel to much of IKEA's furniture, and bought a few tidbits -- a crawling tube and a nifty coocoon-chair for the wee one, a freestanding shirtrack for the laundry room, random knick-knacks for kitchen, bed and bath.

But since this week's trip was for ideas, not objects, we got what we needed. Proof positive: the kids have been in bed for ages, and I'm up in seven hours for another long stretch with the preteens, but for hours and hours, now, the wife and I have been walking through the house, blueprints in hand, envisioning shelving here, couch and loveseat here, a new bed, better chandelier, a TV cabinet.

Which means we'll be heading back the the land of plenty in a week or two. With a truck, no doubt. Maybe next time we'll make it for breakfast. Ask Queen Isabella if she wants anything, will you?

posted by boyhowdy | 9:35 PM | 7 comments

Sunday, October 09, 2005

When It Rains... 

Voluminious rain in the past two days. The run-off from the roof filled the flowerbeds until they overflowed against the concrete foundation, but the levee held: the basemenet remains bone dry, and the wellwater runs clean and pure. Down the street the waterfall roars and foams like the dam's burst behind it. For the first time since we moved in, the sound of water in the runoff stream at the base of our hill drowns out the distant traffic and train.

Wet conditions kept us mostly inside, save for a short excursion to the mall yesterday -- mostly just to get the kids out of the house before we all lost it -- and a first trip to our local UU meetinghouse this morning. The congregation is small and welcoming, and about as diverse as twenty people could possibly be; young and old, liberal and more formal, though the dressing-down trend I've noticed at other meeting houses with the spouse seemed to hold true, what with shorts and sweatshirts the dress of the day. It was St. Francis's birthday or something, so the focal point of the hour-long service was mostly the blessings of the beasts. Some woman even brought her tiny dogs.

Each day the abundant world brings forth more evidence of a centered existence. Darcie spotted a red fox in the trees behind the house today, and we watched it from the bay window as it skulked towards the meadow. This afternoon's walk to the roaring dam overspill brought kingfishers and jays, though the heron we spotted Wednesday seems to have been washed out of his bog. Toads chase shadows in the woods when I step outside. Beasts, indeed, and we have evermore to be thankful for.

Technology, too, seems to be falling from the sky. Thursday we had Internet service but no computer; Friday I arrived home bursting with news of a serendipitous encounter with the district Business Manager-slash-technology director which netted me a brand laptop to be delivered Tuesday and a new projector for the school, all in the midst of an otherwise-drought of up-to-date hardware...and found a stunning almost-new desktop, complete with flat screen and burners, waiting for me in the garage. I've been cranking pix and tunes into the new iPod (thanks, Mom and Dad) non-stop since I set it up.

Of course, I'm typing this on a milk crate, my butt going numb from another, half-hidden from the otherwise bare room behind a leaning tower of bookboxes. And supper was served once again on the tinytable my parents bought the wee one for her birthday last year. We'll head south to Ikea tomorrow for a first crack at resolving the whole "bereft of furniture" thing, a heady hour-away adventure with the possibility of a Connecticut beach luncheon.

In the meantime the feeling of renewal continues to grow within me. I suppose if it weren't, I'd be working harder at it, what with Rosh Hashanah upon us. But I seem to be living the spirit of the holiday this year with little effort, putting my whole self in, shaking it all about, you know, the whole hokey thing. And what a surprise to discover that really is what it's all about.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:51 PM | 8 comments

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Feels Like Starting Over 

Too much time and the near history of our newly minted life becomes so much background noise, like the rain outside, our first since we moved into our new house a week ago Wednesday.

From the change in season to the minutia of a fulltilt existence, from work to family to play, the tidbits and fragments of an almost-stettled life fade a little farther into the pile, become unrecoverable. After ten days, the sheer volume of unblogged life far overwhelms the possibilty of backtrack.

Ten days of half-written poems, workplace triumphs and childmoments, town exploration and household quirk discovery -- all faded like the stars fade into each brightening morning as I rise, and sit on the porch with the day's first cigarette and coffee, and emerge from sleep with the day.

The bedraggled, blueheaded wild turkeys that just now walked through our yard, scant inches from our feet, on their way up through the woods to the meadow, seem no more or less recent than our first night here, camped out on camping mattresses on our own bedroom floor.

It's hard to begin again.

Not so odd, I suppose, to realize that I needed the blog both more and differently during the long months of homelessness, nomads on the road, no job or haven to come home to. But hard to recover the trope, and the tendency, and the time. In this brand new day, after a hundred years of uncertainty, it will be a while, surely, before blogging and I can once again find our place in each other.

But still I rise, and so will the blogpart of me, the tiny voice that needs this space to be whole. The outside world only paves the way for the settlement of this one, the world of the mind.

And in that glorious outside world of rain and sunrises, we're finally wanderers in control of our own destiny, able to make our own choice of path, pace, and progress once again. Unfurnished and still packed, but we're home at last.

Thank you, God, for this life is good. The world still spins, but we've got money for our tickets this time 'round, found our seats together for the long ride.

Hold on, hold on as we crest the top of the roller coaster, clutching our purses and shiny bright things, these tiny hands in our hands.

It's all downhill from here, and the carnival never ends.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:57 AM | 7 comments

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Middle School Moments 

So I'm out for a day attending a surprisingly useful conference for newbie yearbook advisors (Why, yes, I am insane). When I return, there's a detailed report from the sub in my mailbox, telling me that the kids have gone so far ahead in their projects -- despite instructions to keep them doing the research -- that it's going to be hell to get them to think about the rhetoric of a good oral presentation with powerpoint now.

In addition, the report notes that "the kids in the back" of my last class were a disaster. No names were taken.

So I ask them, in all innocence: how was the sub? And do they tell me about her pedagogy? Her leadership? Her kind and gentle nature? Her effectiveness (or obvious lack thereof) in guiding them through an activity which I both wrote out clearly for her and went over for twenty minutes with them the day before?

Of course not. Instead, they say: Oh, Mr. F, that sub was hot!

In other news, someone stole all the mouse balls in both my labs while I was gone. Imagine standing up in front of a class of middle school kids and announcing that a) your balls are missing, and b) whoever stole your balls better give them back right now, and you've got a good sense of how my day is going.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:32 AM | 26 comments

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In The Meantime... 

Discovered Terry Pratchett; am slowly recovering the book-a-night habit. Hoorah for libraries, the best bastion of the broke and nomadic, though why is it that most public booklenders all carry the same two-of-twenty from the Discworld series? Also good: Nick Hornby’s new book A Long Way Down.

See my comment on previous message for why backing up data is a luxury. Comment was in response to oldfriend Shaw suggesting that the loss of my iPod contents was due entirely to my own lack of backup; my case is that backing up can’t be done without serious stability and dough (and time, and space), which we haven’t had for a long, long time. I’d be interested in counterarguments, if you’ve got any, but not if you’re merely going to point me to free storage spaces, because access TO those spaces isn’t possible with no computer. Try plugging your iPod into a public library computer, see what happens, eh?

Speaking of poverty, an oddness in Jonathan Alter’s otherwise excellent analysis of Katrina social factors in this week’s Newsweek seems to suggest that, in addition to multiple televisions and an old car with over 100k miles on it, poverty “luxuries” which contribute to keeping people poor include a refrigerator and a washer/dryer. Excuse me? Having lived at various times without car, washer/dryer, and fridge, I’d suggest that not having these contributes significantly to the eternal loop of poverty; for example, doing laundry “out” means not being able to multitask at home at the same time, thus leaving less time for work, and not having a fridge means having to spend more cash on pre-cooked meals, thus keeping one from being able to accrue the cash that makes for savings, etc. I’d provide the direct link, but I’m on dial-up again.

And speaking of dial-up speed, the everperfect spouse mentions that she has already ordered DSL for the newhouse (even before we have an actual computer). It’s cheap for a reason: reported speed is 150 bps under low-traffic conditions, and do we want them to upgrade our house when they eventually get around to the neighborhood? According to the phone rep, they have to ask, but everyone says yes.

Three days to homeownership. The past ten days have become an exercise in math for the three year old, and anticipation for the rest of us. You mean this many fingers, daddy? Indeed.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:53 AM | 6 comments

Saturday, September 24, 2005


But Now I'm Found

20 gigs of music carefully culled from entirely legal sources, from artist download sites to iTunes to a voluminious CD collection.

Rarities now unrecoverable, from Sebadoh's cover of Cold as Ice to hand-recorded live versions of Manic Depression from Gillian Welch at last year's Green River Festival.

As yet unposted audioblogs and podcast drafts.

Digital product -- word documents, powerpoint presentations, photoshopped images, code and more -- representing the entirety of seven years of professional work.

The older child singing Happy Birthday to me on my thirty third.

My smallest daughter's first cry, recorded less than a half hour after her birth.

Gone like the wind.

Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning my iPod was stolen from our car behind the borrowed condo, and with it sundry other car contents: glovebox candy supplies, scattered CDs, an ancient Palm Pilot.

The week before, the thief took a folder containing the only copy of our newhome inspection report, and our last remaining checkbook.

The loss of stuff sucks, surely. But it’s the loss of content -- every file, every single-copy casualty to our no-back-up, no-computer nomadic lifestyle – that really hurt.

But not for long.

Last year at this time such a loss would have been a personal disaster. I'd have stormed off, tucked it inside, seethed for days, anger seeping out the seams.

But if seven months on the road with two kids and little else to show for it have taught me anything, it's that the best things in life aren't things. The bank can stop checks. My head contains all the music I've ever wanted. The thoughts will continue unabated, blogged or unblogged. I will have another birthday, another song sung. The baby will cry again. We lost her first voice, but we'll have her forever.

So while Darcie hung up hopeful signage round the neighborhood -- $100 and no questions asked for the return of the contents only -- I walked it off with baby Cassia. The gleeful looks we get in town cheered me up to no end. And the nuzzled fuzzyhead under my nose, redhaired and sweetsmelling, cleared my brain.

And as we walked back homeward, away from the chattering crowds and the headturning roar of motorcycles, for the first time in ages, she fell asleep in my arms, on my watch, as if she really trusted me.

I'll miss those nightly walks through town, the baby snug against my chest facing outward, passersby cooing and smiling like the world is a wonder. I'll miss the gasless access to supplies and cheap windowshopping entertainment, and the possibility, however unrealized, of hitting bars and musichalls afterhours.

But I no longer wish to live in Northampton.

You can have your smalltown. I'll take the woods, and gladly, as long as my family feels safe. And that's what counts, innit?

And so this Wednesday, we'll close on the house. The movers come Saturday. We’ll have bedrooms set up anon; our event horizon grows near.

My wife, my life, my daughters, my newly minted soul. My sense of priorities, my newfound center. For all these things, God, we give thanks. Especially the reminder that for all our strife and striving, all our desperation and distraught hours, I'm better than I used to be. Yes, thank you, O Lord, for even this loss, just in time. No matter how the world howls at us, this will always be the year I grew up.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:20 AM | 52 comments

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Five 

What I've Been Up To...
  1. getting out of chaperoning the middle school dance this afternoon (yes, I said afternoon. You'd avoid that, too, eh?).

  2. Caring for three sick family members in turn, including a half-day home to cover for a spouse suddenly turned into a human barometer (see, when the weather changes and hits the inner ear...)

  3. making this blog for work (please don't leave comments yet, it will only confuse the masses).

  4. My ears in work...

  5. 72 ounces of coffee before noon each day and counting!

Oy. Happily, we close on the newhouse Wednesday...keep yer fingers crossed for us, folks!

posted by boyhowdy | 12:49 PM | 1 comments

Monday, September 19, 2005

TalkTeach Like A Pirate Day 

Parents night went swimmingly (the trick: talk enough to ensure that parents get a good sense of your teaching style but have no time to ask how little Mary is doing). This afternoon's teacher-wide GradeQuick training is ready to go. I've fallen behind a bit on grading, but the kids are rarin' at the bit for content, so ahead we go with reserach projects for 7th and 8th, which will get us through everything from Inspiration to Access, Publisher and PowerPoint.

Good: found a sneakaround to access gmail at work, so no more once-a-week. Especially useful, since the in-law dial-up was dead over the weekend (hence the bloglessness).

Better: T'was our penultimate weekend at the in-laws, as we've ten days to houseclosing! Woohoo!

Better still: the newschool practices Talk (and Dress) Like A Pirate Day, charging kids two bucks a head for circumventing the dress code; cash goes to Katrina victims, specifically the family of a kid in my homeroom. Arrrrr! This damn eyepatch makes me walk into walls!

Oh, and I've decided to take on yearbook advising. It'll pay for just under half of our heating oil this winter. Yarrr!

posted by boyhowdy | 8:40 AM | 6 comments

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Small Morning Poem 

I grow accustomed to the dawn,
fond of the sunrise, the way the fog
lifts slowly, whirls around the light
traffic on the turnpike, the sun
like an orange low on the hills
larger than life above the truckbeds.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:35 AM | 5 comments

Monday, September 12, 2005

On The Fly 

Parent visiting night coming up Thursday, my own parents coming up tomorrow, plenty of grading to do in the intervening evening, and our temporarily local library is open 'til 9:00 tonight, so everclever I chose procrastination over the two-hour screaming fiasco that has become our children's bedtime ritual. To be fair, it was my wonderwife's sggestion that we each take a night off this week. Pity I left the iPod at home.

Surely the girls are glad to get me out of their hair. Monday it may be, and the scholday short, but I've been coming home drained, still struggling to ration the adrenaline as the job comes together. Where other teachers teach four classes, broken up by a full-period prep and a full lunch, I teach thre of my own, two of someone else's, and in the tween hours flit throughout the building, planing for more to come, laying board in front, building the bridge as I cross it.

It's my kind of work, to be sure: a wide mandate, free reign to fulfil it as I see fit, supportive and trusting supervisors on each of the myriad weblines that radiate out from my frenetic center. I've made a name for myself as a solver of long-standing cultural stagnation, a creator of situations, a pitter of problems against problems where'er possible. The Math teacher I partnered with today and tomorrow asked for my instructional support in part because "the kids think you're so much fun" -- not a bad commendation for a metateacher and co-conspirator less than ten days into the job.

They care, too. The principal asks me to please keep myself from burning out, though I'm just geting started, and love the hot flame, the tapdance on the edge of sanity. My assigned mentor suggests that I keep my ear open for mention of "tacos," this institution's cultural code (every business has one) for drinks after work, perhaps at the Ground Round, where our hardworking faculty are known for closing the bar. The administrators offer me coffe, though I haven't joined the club.

And as go the supervisors, so go the served. Teachers wait patiently, ask questions, adapt to my new rules about library lab sign-ups with little resistance. The kids bug me about the nicotene gum (but really, I remind them, would you want me to be the kind of teacher who follows the rules to the letter, and in doing so keep them on my side for one more hilarious rendition of "FAQ is not an obscenity."). The janitors board up the broken shelves without a work request just because "you looked like you deserved it."

It's my kind of work, to be sure: my throat burns at the end of the day and I love it.

Walking into a mass of ready-to-drop blood-of-my-blood, undismissable and often cranky, can be a tough end, especially when I walk in the door squeezed dry, a full day's energy expended before the shadows stretch even past the classroom perimeter.

But it's great, too, to come back at day's end to a grinning infant sprouting new red hair like her daddy; a thre-year-old in her underwear runing to the door for a hug; a calm and centered wonderwife reading furniture catalogs at the center of the whirlwind.

Though the tiny nest we've borrowed chafes at our psyche, the cool wooded end is near. Soon, my family, the whirlwind will cease, the balance will be struck, the home will be a haven. Peace is on the tip of our tongues, our horizons, or Christmas stockings. I can feel it in the air, as sure as Indian Summer.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:23 PM | 13 comments
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