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1. Every school day includes a race (a half marathon may be an appropriate analogy, considering my previous reference to the daily scrubber routine). The last thing I do each day is clean up after the final round of student lunchtimes. Dependent on them remaining on schedule, this means that my cleanup is some days more rushed than others. Picture day, for instance…the final group of students in for lunch that day also happened to have their photo time scheduled not-quite-right-after-lunch. The logical solution for their teachers was to simply extend their lunchtime. My clock was ticking … and the daily pain in my foot was increasing its intensity with each moment. I was anxious for my own clock out hour, & had to repeat my daily comment to my coworker that, “I can’t finish on time today!” I have begun to say it every day, so that he can roll his eyes and remind me that I said the same thing yesterday, and somehow managed … But this time I was serious! The kids finally filed out and I gritted my teeth and clenched my jaw for a super-speed scrubbing. I somehow managed. Rolling the scrubber towards the closet where we would empty out the dirty water and refill it with the next day’s cleaning solution, I saw that my coworker had already opened the door. Instead of leaving it parked outside as I often do, at which point he takes over, I backed it in and brought it right up to the sink. My coworker was now nearby, so I stepped out and, to make sure he knew that I hadn’t already finished with the machine, I said, “I haven’t unfilled it.” He looked at me quizzically for a moment, then asked “You mean you didn’t empty it?” “Uh …yeah. I guess that would be the actual word for it.” I shook my head at my inadvertent creativity and sighed. “I have lost the ability to speak English, & my foot is about to fall off. I think I’m done now.” Perhaps expecting some sort of sympathy, I waited a moment for a response. He simply shrugged. “Welcome to our world,” he commented, putting his head down and returning to the task at hand.
2. In the world of school custodians and food service workers, one’s ideas of appropriate times of day to be done can shift according to one’s, er, shift. Today I went into the food prep area to get the cleaning solution I use for final table and bench scrubbing. Seeing me, the food service worker apologized that she had gotten distracted and had forgotten, “this evening,” to mix it the solution ahead of time. “No problem,” I assured her. Then I added, “And I love the fact that you also think of this final stretch of the day as ‘evening’ … by 8 I’m pretty much in bed already: 5 o’clock comes early!” She shook her head in a silent, smiling agreement.
3. Ever tried hunting for a diamond in a mop head stack? A teacher list hers yesterday and, as her room houses the washer and dryer we use for mop heads, the newly washed ones are one of the possible searching spots. Describing its shape to me, she admitted that “it would be a miracle” to find it but, well, you never know. She told me the story of a “fairy cross” she lost for 8 years and then found again, laying on the ground by the fence she had walked in and out of, countless times, over the course of those years. “If I find it, I find it. If I don’t, I don’t,” she shrugged, and smiled, thanking me for helping.
4. In between table cleanup, I was standing by the cafeteria wall, watching the activity while waiting for the next group to finish. One 1st grader caught my eye as he pounded on the top of his milk carton. His face reddening with frustration, I began to wonder why the carton was so hard to crush. He increased his focus, putting it next to him in the bench, and using his knee for more force. Still, the carton held strong. I began to silently root for him, Wilkins the stubborn carton to crack. At this point I was distracted by something else happening and turned away from the show. A few minutes later, he struts past me and tosses the carton into the garbage. On his way back to his seat he paused next to me, looked up, and, hands raised with exasperation, announced that, “my milk carton just exploded!” Up until now, I had assumed the carton was empty all along. This new bit of information had me stunned for a moment, as I wondered why, if he had been unsuccessful in his goal (the carton was still intact), he was so intent on making a mess that he had to go out of his way to claim that he had. I decided to call his bluff. “No, it didn’t,” I matter if factly responded. “You tried to smash it.” Clearly not expecting this turn of events, he started to speak, changed his mind, and instead scurried back to his seat. For the rest of his lunchtime, I tried to maintain a stern face as I saw him periodically look over to see where I was and then quickly revert his gaze with a sobered and studious expression.
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5. Told ya I’d get up there

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1.The dumpster is not my friend. This metal latch + my head, in lunch-rush-high-speed = 🤕
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2.A tennis ball on a stick is magic. Apply pressure to black scuff marks on tile floors and, poof, offending spot disappears! When shown this trick, I blurted “that makes my day!” And then, when I promptly erased my first spot, I hollered “I did it!” with a gleeful giggle.
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3.Gone fishin’?…cause you never know when you might be summoned to rescue a spoon from a toilet. *presumably, no visual necessary

4. Sometimes I feel like Amelia bedelia. My boss said he needed 4 each of 20 by 20 & 20 by 25. He was pointing at a large box labeled as such at the time. I roamed the storage closets until I located 4 boxes and begin carrying them, 1 by 1. When I arrived at the ladder by the roof with one of the boxes in my arms, reporting to him that I was unable to find 4 of each, he proceeded to take 4 of the filters out of the large box. No, he did not mean 8 boxes; he meant 8 single filters.
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5. The roof is my friend. I have not yet climbed the ladder … but was promised that there is no “sexism” in work roles around here (not quite sure how that actually applies in this case but, ah well-I’ll take it). I will get to work on the roof. High places + me = 😆

861CA596-8FCD-4DCC-BD73-15A4A38C4DE3Part 2, to go along with week 2 on the job …

1. “Why can a girl janitor go into the boy’s bathroom ?”
Perplexed for a brief moment, I then had the wits to gesture to the empty room and ask him, “well do you see anyone in there?” He shook his head, no. I shrugged back at him.
2. Children are remarkably inventive when it comes to bathroom messes. Managing to get an industrial size roll of toilet paper wet…while it’s in a covered and locked holder? Check. Smearing the soap from the soap dispenser into an even layer over the floor (envision the complication of mopping this up, if you will)? Check. Sights better left unsaid? Check …
3. One’s personal hierarchy of food items changes significantly when one is the cleanup crew for said food items. Some particularly undesirable items I have encountered thus far? Cheese—any kind. Chocolate cupcakes with rainbow frosting and sprinkles—or any sort of celebratory treat, for that matter. Blueberries—yes, even this delectable fruit has its, er, dark side ;)
4. If night shift does not show up, it is possible-if not preferable-to clean 20 bathrooms before 7:00am.
5. When attempting to hoist industrial size garbage bags into dumpsters, keep in mind that they are not impervious to large quantities of unfinished milk boxes. Depending on how many said boxes are in the bag, it is possible to end up lodged in between the bag and the ground, without managing to get it actually inside the dumpster. If this happens, you will likely end up with a decent amount of milk spilled on you (remember the “not impervious “ part?)

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Today marks one week as a full-time school custodian. As much as I would like to just melt into my current exhaustion, in the precious home hours remaining (it is currently 8:00 pm. I start work at 6:00 am), I feel compelled to make real this bizarre reality I have entered—to make it real by putting words to it. So here goes: a rapid-fire shortlist of some of the things I have learned this past week.
1.Children are remarkably observant when a new adult appears in their daily frame of reference. On my 2nd day of the job, one 3rd grader stopped while his class filed out of the cafeteria. I was on my way back in, after responding to a poop call (no, not the official term, but one that is aptly descriptive). He nodded towards the mop bucket I was pulling behind me and asked, “Why do I always see you with that thing?” My reflexive reply? “‘Cause you guys are always making a lot of messes!” He of course shot back with, “Nuh’uh-not me!” Of course not . . .
Today a little one asked me if I was the new janitor. Not sure if I should try to correct her terminology, or explain that I was technically a sub, I simply told her that yes, I was. She triumphantly told me then that she knew it . . . because she had seen me wiping the lunch tables. Yes indeed. That I was. 8 long tables, each comprised of 3 pushed together. Approximately 9 times a day, after each class files in and out, over the course of 2 and 1/2 hours.
2.Industrial backpack-style vacuum cleaners give one the appearance of stepping out of a Ghostbusters movie. Or at least I must assume as much, inspiring ““who ya gonna call?” comments as I walked past classrooms wearing the body-armor-looking gadget.
3.A/C units installed in the ceiling may require occasional mouth-siphoning from a tube if the drainage function is not operating correctly. You may then have a mouthful of water that you do not necessarily want to ingest. You may then need to holler to the nearest teacher, as she stands with her kindergarteners, to fetch you a wad of paper towels into which you may need to spit the offending water. This may or may not have actually happened. I may or may not have been involved in the process.
4.Some people go into a weight room armed with workout gloves, prepared to perform tasks designed to increase their muscle strength. Others go in armed with latex gloves, a leaf blower (to evict a summer’s worth of dust and fossilized critters), and a faithful, ever-present mop bucket.
5.If you spend an hour each day behind an industrial strength mop/scrubbing machine, scouring each spot on a large cafeteria floor, you will feel as if you have just run a half marathon. I can assure you that this is literally true. I have not felt the slightest twinge of physical lack of my formerly daily runs.

sticky connections

July 27, 2019

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We are currently in the throes—about halfway through—the long and somewhat tedious process involved in becoming certified as Foster Parents. It is with a significant amount of fear and trembling that we do this; we question ourselves in our ability and/or readiness, and we also question whether or not we will actually be considered qualified (i.e. our present “income” and housing). But what we ended up with, after some emotional conversations about this process, is that, questions still hanging, we’re not ready to close the door on this. It’s not yet a green light; but it’s also not red. And until we get a clear “Stop!” we will keep moving forward. The past few months have had us all over the map, so far as future prospects go, and I think that is ok—not just ok: at this pivotal point in our mid-lives, it feels necessary to test out all our ideas and thoughts, no matter how random, different, or surprising (to ourselves and others) they may be.
It occurred to me today that, even if we do not end up having foster children placed with us, the process itself is good for us. Doing this training together is prompting good, and necessary discussions. Every once in a while, we also get breaks from the legal and logistic talk, and get to do activities like the one that this prompted me to call out (obnoxiously!) to the instructor, “That was fabulous!” [To my credit, she did ask what we thought of it :-)]
So this activity involved a series of sticky notes. We were asked to write down, one word per note, the 6 things that came to mind as our most important life “connections.” We then took our notes with us and walked in a circle while the instructor called out from the center. The idea was that we were traveling, but bus, no less, to Hawaii. But along the way, a series of travel complications required us to give up, one at a time, our connections. At the end, we were left with a single item left. With Peter and I walking together in this circle, some amusing interactions occurred over the course of the activity (i.e. “Watch it honey—you’re on a sticky note right now . . .).
The photo is of my 6 words. Your task, reader, if you choose to accept it, is to guess what order I gave them up in. I’m also curious what other people would choose as your 6 connections, and in what order you might give them up? Comments welcome!

business

July 7, 2019

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It’s not hard because you’re failing. It’s hard because it’s hard.*

When I heard this quote today, I almost cried; it struck me as highly applicable to this season in my family’s life. We may not have young children, but we do have “kids.” I may not be a “stay-at-home mom.” But my daily “work” these days does, more often than not, consist of the sorts of jobs that have no resolution. No solution. The business of life, and of aging, is so very much harder than any official employment I have ever had. Activities such as shuffling children into a real bomb shelter is a [real] part of my [real] past. But somehow, these days, it feels like a distant, “was that really my life?” dream. These days consist of such business as coordinating schedules and planning meals, feeding goats and robbing chickens, calling doctors and dispensing medications, repeating conversations and relaying messages, fumbling for the “right” way of saying things and stumbling over words said—and mis-said— . . . the business of family.
And I cannot help but suspect that this business is just as real as the “real world.” Real-er, perhaps.
More often than not, these days I feel like I am failing. The words that come out of my mouth come out wrong. I find myself nitpicking when, moments before, I wanted to express the depth of my gratitude. I waste time instead of using it productively (and then I resent requests for that time I just wasted!). I feel aimless in the search for a job, and embarrassed by how hard it is to imagine making the time for one! And I wonder why I’m weary when nothing seems to have come from the day; it just felt inexplicably exhausting.
During this afternoon’s milking, I relayed the quote to my husband. I wanted to tell him that he was doing so well. That I’m so very proud of him. That I trust, and admire, him with all my heart. But when it came down to it, all I did was briefly explain how applicable to us I thought the words were. He held Lady’s legs firm for me while I squeezed out our daily milk. He nodded his agreement. Then I fed her a treat, and I kissed my goat. Peter fetched their “salad,” and took them for a walk. I kissed him goodbye and came to make dinner for my grandma. I overcooked the fish and I undercooked the okra. I am failing.
But she let it go. I washed her hair, and kissed her cheek. And we sat for a bit in front of the TV together.
This is hard. And it is good.

*I wish I knew who to properly attribute this quote to. It was not referenced on the podcast I was listening to at the time. But searching for it led me to this blog, so I hope this is the original author :-)

good enough

June 26, 2019

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Scrabble did the trick. It was just a game. We weren’t doing anything of consequence. We didn’t even finish the game, for that matter. Before too long, she started getting droopy. Knowing it was past our usual 9:00 hour of turning-into-pumpkins, I knew it was time to suggest that we didn’t finish the game. “Oh, you don’t mind?” she asked. “Not at all . . .” I picked up the board and, as she poured tiles into the bag, I heard one drop onto the floor. Crawling under her feet to pick it up, I heard her quietly berate herself. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I lifted my head back up, smiling while I tossed the tile in with the others. Before I could tell her it didn’t matter, another one slid to the ground. I could tell she was embarrassed—the lifetime of constant motion gave her a well-deserved nickname of “Busy Bea” (which, in fact, is also her online Scrabble handle). But now, slippery fingers replace rapid motion. I tried to make it as small a matter as possible by waving off her apologies. But it’s hard to tell, these days, what really gets to her and what is easily forgotten. Judging from how quickly her breathing slowed and snoring began, I think this annoyance at her slippery fingers was a small one. I hope so.
Though she slept soundly that night, and I eventually slept well on my improvised bed (a small stack of folded hospital blankets that [almost] worked as a cushion), it took me a while to wind down. I tried to read but was distracted by my own train of thoughts. I looked at the peaceful expression on her face, and I wished that such peace was there during daytime hours. Moments occur, but they are rare.
That game of Scrabble was one of those rare moments. She forgot the worries about bills, long-term care, and meals. She forgot her new normal of without-him. She forgot her aches and pains and pills. And, blessedly for me, she forgot that a moment ago she’d been looking at me as she would any acquaintance who couldn’t make sure the sandwich arrived on time and was to her liking. Everything is either a disappointment or a frustration to her these days . . . even those of us closest to her.
Just moments before that game, a well-intentioned nurse had poked her head in the door while passing. “Good evening, Ms. Bea!” she said, “You enjoying your sandwich?” Her question was so normal and her demeanor so casual that it caught both of us off guard to hear the abrupt, “No!” that my grandmother shot back. “It was not good at all,” she continued. Clearly flustered, the young nurse tried to apologize, though it was evident that she had no reason to do so. In that instant, I was embarrassed. My Southern upbringing came back to me full-force, and I wished my grandmother had her old sensibilities again. Thinking through this reaction, I wished I was more comfortable with honesty. Why shouldn’t we all feel free to speak our minds like this? But I suppose the other part of me is simply weary of the constant string of “not good enoughs” that the world has become.
For all that is not good enough, however . . .for all that is not right, there has to be something that is good enough, that is right. And in this hospital room, on this night, that good and right was a game of Scrabble. For that brief period of time, we were transported back to our old selves. She was just my word-pro GramBea. And I was her eldest, do-gooder grandchild. We focused on our tiles, agonized over our moves, and then, as she does, she let me win.

on the [back]lines

June 16, 2019

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This is the weekend of Peter’s annual IT conference. In the past we have always traveled together; but this year, the realities of setting up our homestead meant he needed to travel solo …and, consequently, I am needing to “farm” solo. It’s easy for me to say that I understand that farm life is a challenge. It’s another thing to live it!
The garden is easy enough, in one way (i.e. my black thumb will likely not give itself away until after the master gardener’s return 😉).
The animals are another story. Each milking session since he left has been increasingly difficult, and I cannot help but suspect that goats are more like children than most other animals: one aspect of this being behavior when daddy is away. By yesterday evening Lady was kicking so much that I lost a portion of the milk and had to give up before milking her out. This morning I dreaded an expected repeat and, as I was looking for the hobble (a strip of Velcro that can be used to help prevent kicking), my neighbor happened to come over for a visit. When I apologized for having to cut short the conversation, gesturing to my goat and explaining that she was expecting her food, I mentioned my issue with the kicking. Virginia offered to help: “Why don’t I hold her legs for you?,” she suggested. This being exactly what Peter does when the kicking begins, I instantly accepted. “Oh, would you?!?” So between the two of us, I managed to get most of the milk successfully in my jar. Should I admit to you that Virginia is well into her 80’s? I guess I just did 😉 But before you think less of me, I should also add that she lives on her own (with children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren coming by from time to time), she keeps up her own garden, mows her own lawn … and grew up milking her own cow. Virginia is probably more capable of handling Lady than I am! After we finished she patted Lady and, as lady nosed in on her, said, “do I smell good? Probably do, to you: it’s past time for my shower!” I smiled, thanked her for being my “milking angel,” and waved back at her.
This evening the dreaded hour returned again, as it does. This time I decided to try the hobble. The last time we experimented with it, Peter thought it was secure, but she managed to wiggle out of it. In my attempt to not repeat the error, I overcompensated and discovered, in the middle of milking, that she could hop around but not keep herself stable. She hopped herself sideways, careened over my head, and ended up pinning me to the stanchion while she flailed in the air. It was, frankly, a bit terrifying; I didn’t know if I was strong enough to lift her back up. Once I managed to do so, and got the hobble off her legs, I hugged her tightly. “I’m so sorry, Lady,” I repeated, trying to catch my breath. I feared I had just scarred her for life, and begged her to forgive me. Her response was to nose around in the bin for remnants of food, and sniff my hands for more. She was, in short, remarkably un-phased.
That said, I am not looking forward to the next day (one more solo day for me), and I still worry about after effects. I also worry that the peaceful, easy milking days are a thing of the past. But of course it does no good to worry about what has not yet come.
For now, all is well. All in a day’s homesteading?

Naming & Serenading

May 24, 2019

F13FFB14-3680-46BB-9E5A-09FF7CE6C6F0Yesterday I named our goats. The inspiration came from the memory of one song that always seemed to effectively soothe colicky infants when I was nannying. It was just one of an embarrassingly many number of film songs that I can, and do, launch into (without appropriate embarrassment) and sing, all the way through, word for word, with no concern over the attention (um, irritation?) of any within earshot.
So this morning I began to sing this song and then smiled at the realization of the apt title: “The lonely goatherd.” Our goats are now named Lady and Yodel. If you sing carefully through the song you may be able to figure out the exact reason for these two names 😉
Oh, and yes, I did try out the soothing nature of it while milking. Lady did not seem impressed. And I have to admit that the act of milking had a very poor effect on the audio quality of my serenade.

sitting bear

May 4, 2019

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Sitting shiva. During a text correspondence this morning, my aunt and I agreed that this is the what the current season is for our family. In a very real and tangible way, in that we are sitting with my grandmother during her season of immediate grief over my grandfather’s death. But there is another level to this “sitting” that makes it feel somehow even more unfair (dare I use such a boldly self-centered declaration, considering that death is quite possibly the most universal of sufferings?). In this situation, my grandmother has come down with a miserable cough that has stolen her usual “busy Bea” tendency, confining her much of the day to a living room chair. It feels harsh, and wrong, for her to have both lost her partner of 70 years and to be feeling so miserable she complains frequently that she just doesn’t feel like living. There. I said it. Harsh. Wrong.
Father, forgive me.
This morning a situation occurred that made me feel as if someone was trying to take advantage of my hurting grandmother. I was alone at the time—the designated “shiva-sitter” for several days now—and so I called my husband to relay the events to him. My emotional response was to feel like a bit of an ass: at times I’m no good at being a good Southerner; and when it comes to putting on a smiling face of hospitality, I simply have no poker face. If I’m hurt, my face blanches visibly. If I’m angry, I glare. If I’m excited, my smile gets bigger than my face (at least that’s what my father-in-law has said, ever since we first “met” over Skype). And if, as happens today, I don’t trust someone, I show it. My mother bear came out in full force as I verbally rushed in to, as best I could in an immediate, reactive manner, protect my “cub,” in this scenario.
Sometimes I have an unhealthy response to trauma that basically entails shoving it deep within me and silently brooding. Of course, humanity being frail as it is, this leads to a very bad bubbling, troubling inner self. So today I was grateful for the impulse to call my calming Rock of a husband. Not only did he ease my anxiety by his virtual presence; he also affirmed my reaction to the situation, added his own take, and led me to realize that I was not overreacting; I had, in fact, “done well.”
Father, help us.
Let us survive this season, as a family that works together. The work is currently a great and overwhelming mountain of logistics and labor. And we are weary. But I believe that the same God who designed family as the greatest of human goods is with us here, and now, on the path winding upward to the peak. We will get there.
Ann Lamott writes that there are three essential human prayers: Help, Thanks, Wow.
Father, wow us.