Just an ordinary day

So my day went completely differently than I’d expected: no classes! The buses were cancelled due to the weather conditions — in our case, the extreme cold. I was fortunate that my car started on the second try. This isn’t unusual for the time of year, but it’s a pain in the neck.

I have decided to keep the heat in our little house at 67 F at night at this point, because if I turn it down to 65 it just takes way too long to warm up the main rooms. When it’s -30 or lower, it’s a real struggle to keep that cold at bay. I’m really hoping that we can retrofit with good insulation and siding this summer. Anyway, when I woke up at 6 am, first I heard the news about the cold day and then I wondered whether our Beard was all right. I went to check on her and the thermometer in her vivarium was barely registering. I got her out right away and held her in my pyjamas while I put her heaters on full blast, and ended up taking her back to my bed for a bit to cuddle. The good news is that she’s fine and her tank warmed up nicely with her basking light and the extra space heater we have available. The bad news is that the front wall of the tank sustained a low-sitting chip when it was moved to our house, and now a fresh crack has grown vertically and horizontally across the main glass wall of her home.

(What I really want to do — shifty-eyed look at hubby — is up-cycle our big vintage glass-front cabinet. With the addition of lighting (drill holes for basking light and UV), it would be easy to convert even one of the shelf spaces into a new vivarium for her. It would be even more epic to convert the whole thing into a three-level Beardie paradise! The struggle is figuring out what to do with his collection of knick knacks and pictures and whatnot that’s currently in there . . . )

So with Elizabeth warmed and provided with food, I continued my morning with my own breakfast and making sure the kids were fed also. Lucky brats didn’t have to go out into the cold at all! Gave the car a good half-hour to warm up before I attempted to drive it, picked up my coffee, and got to work on time. It was a productive day, for the most part. Dare I say that it would have been more productive without the addition of meetings? Hmmm . . . At the end of the day, I had a few more exams marked, two posters made and put up in my room (updated Classroom Procedures and Restorative Questions), and notices posted on my class website about late penalties and rules about tardiness to class. It was tempting to stay longer and try to get more done, but I was wilting even after a second coffee. Got home and crashed for two hours. Since rousing myself from my comfy bed, I’ve given my nearly-14-year-old a heat start on his room by stacking his bed with the stuff that was on his floor so he can have a clear path to putting his clothes away, and given Elizabeth a bath, and given Skittles some lovings (she did NOT like having to pee in -50 C windchill this morning!). Now I’m enjoying lizard snuggles while encouraging the teenager to keep going in his room; the 9-year-old is singing to herself while she plays with her dollhouse upstairs, having brought down her own laundry after much nagging, and I’m writing this blog.

I honestly wish that I didn’t have to sleep or eat, sometimes. As much as I enjoy dreaming about stuff like space zombies chasing me from planet to planet, I could get so much more done if I didn’t have to stop to rest. And it seems as though life revolves around food: the obtaining, preparing, consuming, and cleaning up of food. I feel like our house — or, at least, our family room — should have the kitchen at the centre because it would be easier to keep it tidy and clean without having to leave the presence of the kids, who seem to want attention the moment I leave their sides or have to answer the phone. There is nothing more irritating than doing dishes with a child hovering by one’s legs or elbows, especially if they refuse to help with cleaning while they’re standing there . . .

On the other hand, sometimes (when I’m not tired), working alone in the kitchen can be a bit relaxing or therapeutic. I put my music on (and then child or spouse appears and I have to turn it down so I can hear what they want to tell me), light some candles or scented melting wax (child or spouse reappears and comments on the smell — usually negatively), make progress on clearing counters and laundry space (it’s amazing how tired one’s arms and upper back becomes when folding laundry) . . . If I could be let alone to putter, I think I could get a lot done. But that’s a big “if”. And I can’t stand the hurt in a loved one’s eyes if I have to tell them, even nicely, to back off and leave me in peace for a bit.

But, still, it’s progress from the days when my daughter used to stand at my knees and wail at me to pick her up while I washed dishes. She still likes to jump onto a pile of freshly folded and sorted laundry. Every little step is a victory, right?

So tomorrow will be the start of Second Semester, Take II. Should be good.

Wanted: Mary Poppins and a House Elf

Preparation for second semester continued today. I’m not done my exam marking, so I brought the remainder of the exams home with me in the hopes of getting them done. I did manage to get ahead on a few things for Monday, though:

  • Revised and copied course outlines for my three classes
  • Rearranged my classroom, organizing the desks into groupings of 5 (with one grouping of 3), borrowing an idea from Ally, a friend and colleague who tried it last semester
  • Adopting old couches and easy chairs from my department head, who no longer needs/wants them, creating a comfy reading lounge / writer’s den in my classroom — something I wanted to do a decade ago but lacked the necessary resources (a truck) or energy to make happen on my own
  • Cleaned off my desk
  • Marked one set of exams
  • Copied readings for Professional Learning Team’s in-class project on literacy
  • Took down old posters of student work from last semester

Here’s my to-do list, for work anyway:

  • Lesson materials and handouts on active listening, mindfulness, note-taking, annotations (content for first few weeks)
  • Revise my poster on classroom expectations
  • Make a poster with Restorative Questions
  • Construct prompt cards for desk groupings — I want to have reminders on MLA, brainstorming techniques, the writing process, and note-taking on each set of desks
  • Bring up novels for grade 9s (Cue for Treason) — we’re waiting on the shipment of the novels for grade 11 (Yes Man)
  • Sketch a loose outline of lessons for the first two weeks. I have learned through bitter experience that it’s better to overplan but also to be prepared for the students’ needs to be vastly different than expected.

As my friend and fellow teacher Kim pointed out, it’s like this every year. We always think or hope we’ll have enough time for the turnaround but it’s never sufficient. I try to power through but without frequent breaks I lose focus. And yet with frequent breaks I feel like I’m churning my wheels in a rut of loose, chewed-up snow, getting inches forward and then having to slide back in order to find momentum to get moving. Among the pressures and anxieties of having things ready to go on Monday morning, starting off the new classes with an effective tone and set of expectations, I know I’ll be deluged by grade 12 students who want to know how they did overall, whether they passed or failed, and in either case, what their final marks are.

Meanwhile, life continues at home, too. My daughter’s skating lesson is cancelled tomorrow due to competitions, so there’s a bit of a break at least, and then there’s skiing lesson in the afternoon. It’s going to be cold tomorrow, too. Well, as cold as it was today, which was substantially colder than yesterday — positively balmy, it was, at only -8 C. I want to step up the family’s cleaning efforts by adding a visible allowance to motivate the 9 year old. I calculated today that if I give her $0.25 per chore — daily and weekly — she could earn up to $10 a week. I am thinking of getting it in quarters and putting it in a clear jar so she can see it. Then, every time she is scheduled to do a chore but doesn’t do it, she loses a quarter. I take it away while she watches. At the end of the week, she gets to keep — and spend — whatever is left over. I got the idea from a Berenstein Bears story, in which Sister Bear is given a handful of dimes as incentive to avoid chewing her nails: every time Sister chews, she loses a dime for that week.

So there’s that. In addition to trying to jumpstart collaborative cleaning and going skiing, marking exams and setting up my lessons for the first week, I’ve got a board meeting for the local theatre’s revitalization project on Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth needs to be bathed, the dog needs walking, laundry (no, wait, those last two things are chores I need to delegate to the kids), and we need to start prepping for the teenager’s birthday party and sleepover next weekend.

And then sleeping. I would like a nice, long, uninterrupted sleep without weird dreams, if possible. Last night I dreamed I was performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream but I was Falstaff, and I had taken the role very last minute so I was struggling with the lines and I was worried about making a bad impression and never being cast again, but having a good time nonetheless. We were onstage in the old theatre, and suddenly there was a flood of people walking through, carrying chairs and tables and filing boxes and things — as though their work day had ended and they had no other choice but to interrupt the performance to get all of their stuff put away. They seemed apologetic about it. I was torn between trying to sneak peeks at the script on my smart phone and looking at the book in my hand. There was a difference, too, in the interpretation of the character: on the one hand, he was supposed to be a clown, the comic relief, and he (I) was using a sock puppet as a foil. On the other, the stage directions in the book I’d found indicated a much more painful back story — each line he spoke was layered in subtext about loss, heartbreak, frustration, and misunderstanding. I wanted to perform the part with the second interpretation, but how to change up the direction in the middle of the show?

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to deal with all of this if we had relatives closer than an hour and a half away. But then again my mum and dad managed with my brother and I, and we never lived in the same town or city as our relations — I think the closest we ever lived to an aunt and uncle or grandparent was 45 minutes. But then again, it is much, much easier than when the kids were younger. And I’m grateful that they’re healthy and intelligent, that we have easy access to clean water and food in our cupboards, heat and light, that we can walk about without fear of landmines or being questioned about our papers. In the big picture, I have nothing to complain about, really, so I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

But I feel what I feel. I do good work at school, but I’m constantly aggrieved by the state of my house and my inability to get my kids to participate in the housecleaning. It’s at the point where if I start to clean, my daughter asks, “Who’s coming over?”, and that’s not right. We’re back to that question of how to get a stubborn 9 year old to do what you need her to do, particularly when one’s own energy levels are low after a day of getting stubborn teenagers to do what they need to do.

New Game: Furniture Tetris!

My family and I don’t live in a tiny house (although I think they’re super-cute and I’d love to do that), but the space in our little three bedroom, one-and-a-half storey is at a premium. Part of that has to do with the eccentric layout — I think the original dwelling has been added onto and altered at least three times since the original construction in some time in the 1920s — and with the fact that we have too much stuff. Decluttering is still a losing battle. But this post is not going to focus on the little things that cover surfaces and fill boxes and baskets — I’m able to deal with those. Sort of. No, this is about the big things that we need to arrange to make optimum use of the space available to us.

My friends, I give you Furniture Tetris.

The rules are simple:

1) You can’t get rid of any piece of furniture that you cannot replace. the_floor_is_lava__by_finnishfox-d4psdnt

2) You have to be able to move easily from one area of the house to the next, particularly the living space, without starting a side-game of Lava Floor.

3) You have to be able to move the furniture alone, without assistance from children or partner, who will just occupy the precious space needed to adjust the hulking pieces on the board: couch, love-seat, coffee table, bench, cupboard, side table, TV stand . . .

4) The game can only be played at night or on a weekend, and must be completed within a 24 hour period, or you run the risk of the pieces freezing like the screen on an overburdened computer, and possibly NEVER MOVING AGAIN.

5) The new configuration of furniture must be significantly different from what you had before — just moving ONE piece of furniture doesn’t count. The default number of moving pieces is three. Maximum points are awarded for moving everything.

6) Washing the floors and vacuuming at any time before, during, or after Furniture Tetris constitutes levelling up, with the reward being the ability to invite friends over for coffee in the brief 24-48 hour period during which the new arrangement feels workable and the house is still acceptably clean.

I like playing this game at least twice a year, but I don’t always get my fix. It all depends on my personal energy levels, the degree to which clutter is covering the working surfaces, whether visitors from out of town have been scheduled, a holiday requiring space for a large fake tree and the requisite spread of gift-wrapped boxes underneath it, or the approach of a child’s birthday. It’s tricky, too, trying to make sure that the rest of the family is amenable to the proposed changes. After all, what works in winter (put a couch right next to or just over a heating vent and we will fight over who gets the “warm seat”) doesn’t necessarily work in summer (couch + window = HOT seat). And heaven forbid the new arrangement of furniture make it difficult for the watching of TV . . .

For example: I would love to move my dining area, making it adjacent to the front window to encourage us to actually eat at the table instead of the couch. Then I could make that nice cosy corner into a separate office space, move the couches by flipping them in the opposite directions they currently face, and putting the television in the spot where the filing cabinets are. Trust me, it all makes sense. But certain family members are resistant to my Master Plan. They might have a point about the location of the internet connection cords, but still . . .

I’ve also envisioned moving the dining area to where the computer desk and filing cabinets are — I know, I know, same problem. Damned plugs!

Honestly, I think that computer desk has been in every other corner of the room than that dining area!

I find myself envious of those who can afford or obtain those awesome pieces of fold-away furnishings. Like this stuff:

And this stuff . . .

And these things!

http://www.amazinginteriordesign.com/5-incredible-folding-furniture-designs-saving-space/

But something interesting to note: we’re looking at magazine-photo-op-ready spaces. I do know of people who are able to live and function in spaces like that, but I’m not one of them. My world is not built that way, as much as I’d like it to be. I just think that if I had some fold-away pieces, maybe my Furniture Tetris skills would improve exponentially. I’ve often fantasized about doing away with the couch and love-seat altogether, going to big fluffy floor pillows and hammocks instead, but when you live in this climate, floor-oriented furnishings simply aren’t practical. (Unless you have heated floors — heated floors are Da Bomb. I covet heated flooring.) And I doubt my lower back would appreciate the journey up and down, although I am the first to admit that I get more done before I am comfortably ensconced in my couch groove.

I am hoping to complete a successful round of my game soon, although I haven’t yet worked out all of the details. Tonight would be perfect as it’s garbage day tomorrow, making it a perfect time to declutter as well as shifting large objects. It’s also necessary, as we are looking at adopting a bearded dragon in a few days and we’ll need room for the tank. But it requires following the rules as laid out above, so at the moment, it’s a waiting game. I must wait for the room to be cleared of children and spouse. I must be able to find my steam-mop to attack a certain sticky spot left by the dog and her find of a chewy candy or drink box or whatever it was. I have to find new homes for a massive pile of random books that I’ve moved out of a cupboard I shifted in order to store my record collection under my record player (I could probably put the books into the trunk currently housing the record collection but then they’d sit unused and unseen and that’s not the point of having books!), and I’m thinking of putting a row or two of books on the top of the TV cabinet but that will require moving the framed photos and lamp and assorted thingies on display up there and where on earth will they go?

Sometimes, just sitting with things as they are seems like the simpler option.

But then I would not have the victory that awaits me — winner of another round of Furniture Tetris . . .

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