Fruit

Standard

Every other Wednesday, I drive with a few friends 20 minutes north to Clark Park near ASU, where we pick up our $20 cash fruit and veggie boxes.  The box consists of whatever was considered not “grocery quality,” but to me seems like a smokin’ deal.  I fill two large cloth bags with fruits and veggies that we honestly have a hard time consuming in two weeks.  I take the squash to school and give it away–I like zucchini and crookneck, but all the rest of it is not my jam.  When I was six years old, my mom made me eat pureed butternut squash even though I told her it smelled disgusting . . . I had one bite and immediately threw it back up on my plate.  (As an adult, I love Trader Joe’s butternut squash soup that tastes more like a dessert.)

The last two boxes I picked up were mostly fruit, and I felt so bad throwing away a whole package of grapes and two mangoes.  I was raised not to waste. My grandma and my mom would re-repurpose Sunday’s roast into a casserole to use up the veggies that were going bad. It’s like a game; what new recipe can be created from what’s in the crisper?  I love being busy in the kitchen and am happiest working in the kitchen and creating something delicious to be enjoyed by my family (music blaring and kitchen dancing always).

Whenever I have to throw away produce that’s gone bad, I feel really bad. It feels like poor planning . . . and I do consider people in the World who are starving.  Recently, I think about the powerful exhibit at our Phoenix Art Museum in 2014 by Don Coen about migrant workers.  Because I was working as a docent at the museum at that time (“docent” means giving educational tours—I gave student tours),  I was fortunate to not only meet the artist but also attend the tour training given by the artist himself.  The huge portraits of migrant workers (whom he followed across the U.S.) are  painted with brushes and then airbrushed to overlay the images in veils of color.  He paints the young and the old, and while he was creating his art works, he formed relationships with these people who work for terrible wages and for long hours to bring us our fresh fruit and vegetables.  It is a labor of love for him, which you can see in these large-scale portraits.  This exhibit took over our third floor and was only there a few months; each time I visited the museum I spent a great deal of time studying the art and reading the biographies of these workers.

This may seem like a complete segue, but it’s not:  I was feeling so stressed at school today (man, our students at this point are just so incredibly LOUD and they aren’t listening and it will get better but OMG it’s been really hard) that during my 25-minute lunch time instead of chatting and lunching with Andrew in our classroom, I grabbed my purse, walked down the hallway, and yelled over my shoulder, “I’m going for a drive!”  He asked where I was going.  “Not sure.  I just need to drive and sing so loud with the radio.”

So I did that.  And not far from our school is a very special place called The Farm at South Mountain. The first time I went there for lunch in the 1990s, there were no buildings around it; just miles of the Chinese flower farms. It was magical.  When I first got my driver’s license, I would drive down Baseline Road, windows down, and just inhale the sights and scents. The Farm has been a special, favorite place for me 30 years.  Today with no intention at all, I ended up at The Farm.  It was far too hot to park and walk the acres of pecan grove, but I drove the length of the drive all the way back to the swank restaurant, Quiessence, and paused to admire their huge, organic garden, which provides the fruit and veg for their restaurants.  Connecting with nature always helps me center.  My serenity was restored, and I drove back to school and was able to finish my day with composure and patience.  I’m sending out good karma to ALL the teachers during these first difficult weeks of school.  Find peace wherever you can.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

Advertisements

The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

Standard

Today was our first day of school.  Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you the same:  you never sleep well the night before the first day of school.  I tossed and turned all night then around 6am (an hour before my alarm was to go off) I heard Ruby the Wonder Spaniel scratching at the back door to go out.  I sighed and trudged downstairs muttering under my breath, “That’s just fine, I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and out we went into the muggy morning.  It’s then I noticed the red and pink clouds of the sunrise, so I walked over to where I could get a better view to take a photo.  It was only seconds later that I noticed I was standing in a pile of angry ants.  I shrieked and tried to brush off the 30 or so little buggers that had so quickly attacked my feet.  Ruby and I tried to go back to bed, but the itch from the ant bites was so intense we got up for the day.

I was eager to get to school early so I could make sure our classroom was in perfect order for the first day.  I got ready quickly:  I put on my new white staff t-shirt which reads, “The Seed:  inspiring innovation since 1977” with a colorful skirt.  I swept my hair into a sloppy bun (takes two minutes) and quickly applied some cosmetics.  I wisely did NOT choose hoop earrings since I remembered the first day of last year when a child decided to grab my hoop earring and wouldn’t let go, and Andrew (the teacher whom I assist) had to gently pry his fingers off so my ear didn’t rip!

It was then I felt it . . . the beginnings of a sneeze.  NOOOOOOOO!  I do not sneeze often, but when I do it’s a ten-minute affair.  I stuffed tissues into both nostrils and had a big slug of coffee.  In an attempt to distract my nose, I ate the half banana someone had left on the counter.  Still had the nose tickle.  I breathed carefully in and out, drank a big glass of cold water, and decided the sneezes had left.  I gathered up my lunch box and purse and coffee mug and water bottle and then . . . . AAAAACCCHHHOOOO!!!!  I sneezed a good 15 sneezes, which made my nose red and drippy and caused my mascara and eye liner to spread in a two-inch area around each eye.  I sighed and trudged back upstairs to fix the mess (which was my face) and shook my head at how this day was beginning.

Things didn’t get any better at school.  My playground duty is at 8:30, and man, it was humid. The staff t-shirts are quite thin, and on all of us you could see the sweat spots. Ah well, that’s desert life for you. After recess, we went to our classroom and we pretty much had a child in meltdown mode most of the first three hours.  I spent way too much time in the bathrooms with students who preferred to go by themselves other than with the group.  Andrew and I forgot to attend the 10am all-school meeting (I LOVE OUR ALL SCHOOL MEETINGS SO MUCH).  At 10:30 I looked down at my new white t-shirt and saw big smudges of snot and tears, not to mention drips of coffee.  I posted on Facebook, “My new staff t-shirt is stained with the sweat and tears of sad three year olds.”  By the time I left at 3:30, I also had a bit of urine on me after comforting a child who had (unbeknownst to me) wet the bed during nap time.

So what does an angsty teacher do after a bad day?  She buys a bottle of wine and rents a bad movie.  I’m getting ready now to settle in with my glass of Butter chardonnay and Bad Moms on dvd.  Tomorrow will be better . . .

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

Giant Squid

Standard

Tomorrow morning I will board a plane and travel to northern Illinois to visit the town of my birth and be with my people.  I make this journey every summer because it’s important to me to keep those relationships fresh—and my aunts, uncles, and cousins always spoil me and make me feel so loved.  We will spend a day in the city (Chicago) visiting the Art Institute (the special exhibit is John Singer Sargent-–squeeeee!) and have lunch at some posh cafe and do a little window shopping.  Other days we’ll lay around by the pool at Aunt Linda’s house and talk about everything and nothing and laugh too much.  I will close my eyes and breathe in the old familiar smells from my childhood and admire the Kishwaukee River flowing by down at the edge of their property.

Vivid memories of my childhood rush back to me when I smell certain things on the Illinois breeze.  I’ve read that scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the brain’s smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which might explain why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.  I’m sorry to have missed my favorite, the liacs, whose scent takes me right back to Grandma’s yard in 1973, me and my brother climbing her apple tree while she shelled peas into a pot in an old metal lawn chair.

I always insist on getting the tour:  we drive by Grandma Summer’s house, then Grandma and Grandpa Koppen’s house.  A drive through the park is a must, and by my family’s house on Grover Street.  I had a love/hate relationship with that house.  I loved the view from my second story window and still recall waking up to the first snow and how magical it looked and how joyful I felt.  But at night, I would hear strange noises and things on my dresser would be moved.  I’ve always had an active imagination but this was something more.  I had so many nightmares and have dark circles under my eyes in my fourth grade school photo.  It didn’t help that my mother confirmed what I suspected and claims to have seen ghosts there on several occasions!

Fast forward to last July.  We were at the cemetery visiting the family graves (Grandma and Grandpa, I still miss you so much!) and couldn’t locate some of the older ones belonging to my great uncles and aunts. So we walked over to the office, where a very helpful woman gave us a map and also printed out their obituaries which had run in the Belvidere Daily Republican back in the early 1900’s.  Fascinating!  Even more fascinating is that this woman who worked at the cemetery had lived in our Grover Street house.  I couldn’t believe it!  I asked her, “Ummm, this is going to sound a little crazy, but did you ever think the house was haunted?”  She spent the next 15 minutes detailing all of the strange supernatural occurrences she and her family had witnessed in the ten years they lived there!  It felt great to have my experiences validated and gave me a lot to think about.  I do not believe in an afterlife, yet I do believe in ghosts.  I do believe that things happen for a reason, and that the Universe sends me what I need (good and bad) when I need them.  I’m iffy on a higher power, but that doesn’t stop me from praying when I need comfort. I don’t believe in reincarnation, yet lately I often find myself thinking, “in my next life I’m gonna do this a whole lot better!”

Enough amateur philosophy and anyway, it’s time to head over to Hop Central to see friends before I head out of town for a week.  We get quite philosophical at the bar after sipping a few.  On a recent occasion, the assignment was to choose what animal you would be and for some reason I said Giant Squid and oh my it will be quite a while before I stop getting teased about that one.  I was thinking purely about FOOD CHAIN.  But then I thought about how they probably live most of their lives in solitary, and I’m so social that would certainly not be a good life for me.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Wild & Crazy

Standard

I’m about to do something extremely WILD and CRAZY.  You can’t talk me out of it; I’ve made up my mind.  I know it’s irresponsible and rash—and you’re going to think I’ve totally cracked.  But I’m gonna to do it . . .  . . . (is the suspense killing you?) . . . . . . I’m going to bake banana bread . . . even though it’s 115 degrees outside!!!!!!  There—I’ve turned on the oven!  There’s no stopping me now!

In all seriousness, it’s a terrible idea to take an already warm house and make it warmer, but everyone here loves banana bread and I love to bake and soon I’ll be back at school and won’t have the energy to bake and my children will have flown the coop back to college and there won’t be anyone here to eat it.  Besides that, I found four bananas in the freezer, which are out on the patio thawing as we speak.  I only have a few days of freedom at home before school begins, so I’m being extremely lazy and bored.  I found a red lipstick in the drawer and put it on and went to Changing Hands book store to see if I could find a few gifts, and I felt very fancy browsing through the children’s books with my glam lips.  I’ve been listening to The 1975 and doing a little kitchen dancing and paying the bills that just came in the mail and texting friends to try to find a date for a Wilderness beer event at Yucca Tap Room tonight.

And I’ve started writing my birthday thank you notes.  I’m in a bit of a quandary *frowns with embarrassment* because I cannot remember who gifted me several of my birthday presents.  Of course I remember the ones that were so kindly dropped at my door!  But for my birthday party at the nearby tap room, Hop Central, I was sitting at a high top table drinking beer and friends kept arriving in a steady stream, everyone handing me a pretty bag with a card.  I opened the cards but there really wasn’t space to open presents, so anyway, cards were separated from gifts and I feel terrible, but also am feeling so blessed to have such wonderful smart funny loving friends who drink beer with me and bring me gifts on my birthday.  So if you are one of said friends and you get a thank you note thanking you for the beer glass that says “I’m outdoorsy in that I like getting drunk on patios,” but what you really gave me was a pretty glass bird feeder, please accept my humble apology.

The bananas are thawed, so off I go.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Catastrophe

Standard

Okay, that’s it.  I’ve had it.  Whoever is barfing all over the house while I’m asleep, would you please step forward?  I promise to keep your identity confidential, but seriously, a little chicken flavored Catlax will cure you quicker than you can say catnip. I’m so tired of stepping in little puddles of goo!  Good on you for spitting up on the hard floor, but really this has to stop.  (With four cats and a dog, most days I feel like I’m living in a zoo.)  I know it’s not Ruby the Wonder Spaniel, though she has her own issues from eating too many cicadas every night.  Her stomach gets growling so loudly that it wakes me up.  The first time she had the tummy growls, the kids and I turned off the tv and were looking all around, trying to figure out what that strange noise was.  It sounded like people yelling at each other outside, or like cats fighting.  We’ve treated her with tummy meds and still she manages to eat more bugs every night and anyway, we’ve decided she’s broken and we need a new dog. PM me if you’re interested in owning a gassy, elderly spaniel with bad hips. Free to a good home, lol.

I used to think it was fun to have so many pets, but I’m over it.  Three cats and one dog were fine, but when Eve moved back home with her little terrorist, Maisie, (a small gray cat with white mittens) it disrupted the hierarchy and the whole situation has been quite a catastrophe (pun intended).  The cats are pissed off all the time.  On top of that, Maisie’s a destroyer.  She jumps on the kitchen island and throws plates to the ground, smashing them into a million pieces.  She’s clawed the fabric on the back of two of the living room chairs, and destroyed two custom-sized Levolor blinds in our bedroom.  She found my yoga mat and scratched it all to hell, and she actually burrowed into the fabric underneath my favorite purple ottoman and takes naps in there!  I’ve made an IOU detailing the cost of the damages for Eve to pay when she’s graduated and has a good job.  You know I love them all, but lately it’s felt like too much . . .

I have some news:  Last Wednesday I got my first tattoo!  It’s a large Swallowtail butterfly on my left thigh.  I’ve always hated the spider veins I’d earned while pregnant with Patrick way back when I was 26 years old.  I have a heart murmur which caused some circulatory problems, resulting in the patch of veins.  Anyway, I was sooooooo nervous when I arrived at the tattoo shop and tried to look cool, but my hands were shaking and I probably didn’t fool anyone.  Eve went with me for a little while, but quickly became bored.   All in all, I was there over three hours.  IT REALLY HURT, but it’s beautiful. I’m excited to go back in a few weeks and have more color put on the wings.  It was a strange experience; I’d have to say tattoo artists are not the type of people I usually converse with, but you know me: I can talk to anyone.  I love my tattoo and feel really happy about taking an ugly part of me and making it beautiful.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

It’s My Birthday, so . . .

Standard

Today is my birthday, and as I do every year, I update my obituary. It’s a good reminder to make every day count!  I hope I won’t need one for awhile, but it’s best to be prepared . . . and I certainly wouldn’t leave writing my obit up to to these yahoos, er, um, loved ones, I live with.  I’ll let them choose the photo.

This writing exercise was given to me by my very wise life-coach friend, Mary Ellen, and what it has shown me is not have much I’ve accomplished, but how much I still need to do. My life at 54 is still so incomplete.  I hope to think WAY outside the box this year!  So here it is:

Mary Elizabeth Koppen Vaughan was born on July 20, 1964 near Belvidere, Illinois where she lived surrounded by loving extended family.   When she was ten years old, her parents moved her and her two younger siblings to the barren deserts of Tempe, Arizona. After several years of missing not only her family but the beauty of the Midwest, she embraced her new town, though she never lost her sense of melancholy over the absence of lilacs, peonies, and green fields stretching to the horizon.

She attended Marcos de Niza high school, where she thrived in gifted classes and the marching band playing flute. It was there she met Clifford R. Vaughan III, whom she would eventually marry in 1988, after she graduated with a BA degree from ASU in English Literature with an Art History minor. Cliff was her best friend and confidant. Their three children (Patrick, Eve, and William) were the joys of her life.  She felt fortunate to stay home with them during their formative years, giving them a creative, fun-filled, old-fashioned childhood like she’d had.

Mary was always looking for adventure, whether it was between the pages of a favorite book, over lunch or beers with her many girlfriends, at her favorite beach in Mexico, or on one of the many family vacations to beautiful places around the world.  Mary loved to cook and entertain, and hosted a large Christmas party each year.  She loved movies and music and attended many concerts each year.

She loved to volunteer; she was happiest when being useful and surrounded by friends. She volunteered at her children’s schools helping in classrooms, serving on the PTO, and later on the high school marching band booster board.  She helped with every school fair, festival, and fundraiser.  She was a Girl Scout leader, served as secretary on the Boy Scout troop’s adult committee, and even though she hated it, was on the HOA board.  She was a Phoenix Art Museum docent, delivered Meals on Wheels, and generally liked to pitch in when help was needed.

Mary had many jobs over the years including newspaper deliverer, ice cream server at Baskin Robbins, pizza deliverer, telemarketer, sales clerk, receptionist, secretary, editor, writer, and after her children were mostly grown, preschool teacher and teacher’s assistant. She thrived in the classroom, charming everyone with her humor and cheery smile.  Her last teaching job was at the Awakening Seed School which she loved so much. She was proud of her self-published travel book on Amazon called Beach Dreams, and her “Cheers Darling” blog, but would always tell people the best things she ever created were her children.

Cheers,

Mary

Home from the UK

Standard

There really ought to be safeguards in place when logging in to write my blog, for example, how long have you been awake?  Because I have been awake for (counts on fingers) 24 hours, with a one-hour nap on the plane home.  I woke up at 6am London time (the sun was so bright in our hotel room) and was so squished in the middle seat on the plane, it was uncomfortable to nap.  I’m trying to get back on Tempe time; my goal is to stay awake until 11.

My advice to you is this:  VISIT WALES!!!  There are miles and miles of verdant countryside, and from the coast road, the sea views were breathtaking.  The people were so friendly and polite and all seem gifted at the exchange of light banter, happy to ask where we were from and what we’d seen.  We saw ten castles, each different and exciting in its own way.  My favorites were the hill-top ruins with nobody around except for us, where I could close my eyes and imagine myself there 1000 years ago when the castle was inhabited . . . and I’d listen into the wind for the whispers of ghosts.

We began our trip in London, staying at my all-time favorite hotel, CitizenM Tower of London.  It’s always a thrill to be in vibrant London, my favorite big city.  We spent three days exploring the city and revisiting favorite museums, on foot and by Tube.  We are lucky enough to have visited the National Gallery the past four summers . . . and it never gets old.  I always get goosebumps seeing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and they had a special exhibit of 75 Monets!  He’s always been my favorite, and we spent hours looking at pieces we’d never seen before. THRILLING.  The British museum was full of school children and large, rude Japanese tour groups, but we were able to push through them and say hi to the mummies, the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and of course, the Rosetta Stone.  We did NOT yell, “Godzilla” to distract the Japanese tourists as suggested by a friend (haha) so as to get closer to the exhibits, but seriously, the groups we came upon were impolite and did not share space well.

It was so great to get home and give BIG HUGS to our son William and his girlfriend Katherine.  Ruby the Wonder Spaniel and the cats (Cosmo, Tilly, Olive, and Maisy) were very happy to see us as well.  Shortly after we arrived home, the kids left for the movies and Hubby checked stuff on his computer in the office, so ever since I’ve been singing loudly which is something I couldn’t do for two weeks  living in hotel rooms.  We were road tripping through Wales, but any time I tried to play music, we would quickly become lost. The navigation was very demanding and I had to stay sharp:  “In .5 miles take the second exit from the roundabout to B4047.”  Seriously, any time I daydreamed and we missed a cue from bossy British navigation lady, we ended up on one-lane roads with huge-ass tractors coming at us at 40 mph.  (What you do in that situation is run your car into the hedges and exchange happy waves with the other driver.)  If I had a dollar for every time I said, “Oh shit,” our bar bill would have been covered in full!

I’m finally feeling sleepy.  Jet lag sucks, but it’s a small price to pay for my two weeks of adventures in the beautiful UK.

Cheers,

Mary