Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From the Files of...

It's another diary entry from my childhood, so you can see what a goon I was. This entry reveals that as a child, I was a compulsive liar and felt I had to make up false things in order to write an interesting paragraph. Let's digest this. It's really a model for writing.
mar. 14, 1994
Sana had green pupie's. Start your intro off with a bang. Something totally outrageous works well. Be sure to include excessive apostrophes to distract the reader from your outright lie.
Stacy and Cory are coming over tomorrow. Squeeze in a true, yet boring fact next.
I like our new children church techer. Mention how you go to church, and therefore you must be a good person who never tells lies. This increases your reliability and will make your readers trust you.
easter is coming up. In case your readers are still apprehensive about the truthfulness of your statements, mention something else God related, like the resurrection of his son.
I saw a purple rabbit.
Finish off with a zing. It doesn't have to be true, but your readers will think it is, because you've been building up their trust this whole time.

And that's how you write a good paragraph. Wait. Now that I read it over, maybe I was trying to say something else in the first sentence. Senna (not Sana) was our dog, and maybe I was trying to convey that she had green poopies, which would make a lot more sense, even if it is more disgusting.

Happy Tuesday.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mateo's Story

He didn't start out my favorite. I remember I even tried to keep him out of my classroom. But he knew he was supposed to be there. It was the first day of school, and I was greeting kids at my door. He came in, I asked him his name, and he said Mateo*. I said "I don't think I have that name on my list." But he knew. He came in and sat down down at the desk that was labeled something else. Mateo was his nickname.

He became my favorite after three weeks. He was an adorable brown-skinned boy with curly brown hair who always followed directions. He lined up quietly, worked as a team, and helped the boy next to him who was on an IEP. Mateo was brilliant. He wrote great stories, already knew his multiplication facts, and was in the highest reading group. When we started watching for TAG kids in October, I kept my eye on him.

One of my favorite things that he would do is whisper answers or revelations to me, like it should be kept a secret. I remember reading Matilda out loud to my class. Like the academically interested kid that he was, he checked out a copy from the library and would follow along with me while I read. One day he whispered to me "Ms. Grossen, I think Matilda is magic." He never got to hear the end of the story.

In January last year the school that I work at was put into Code 3 lock down, which is the most extreme case. Prior to this, Mateo was taken out of my classroom two different times by the office. The principal buzzed into my class to ask me if I had an emergency closure form for him. I didn't. I kept teaching, and then later that morning we were put into lock down. My kids were freaking out, but I told them we would be okay. We shut the doors and wouldn't let anybody out. By one o'clock we were cleared to move around inside the school, so kids could finally get lunch. All of the outside portable classes had been moved inside the building, so the library was a mad house with all the extra students eating on the floor. We had indoor recess.

All of this and no one told us what was happening. By 2:30 everything was clear, though Mateo was still in and out of my classroom, talking to people I had never seen before. At three I said good bye to my students, but Mateo was still at the office with his younger sister. His mom and baby brother had shown up. I stayed at school until 5, and the family left shortly before I did.

He didn't come to school the next day. I quizzed everybody I knew, and after some searching found out what had happened. Mateo and his siblings had been removed from their home because it was the location of drug and homicidal crimes. He, his siblings, and his mother had all been put into a protective shelter while his father was under investigation for murder.

According to the news articles I read, his father had murdered him at Mateo's home, and then had done gruesome things to try to get rid of the body. The police asked the school what the children's attendance was like, to determine if they had been home at the time of the murder. They hadn't missed any days for a week, but that does not mean all was well. My uncle does drug investigations in the area, and so I called him to see if he knew anything the news wasn't releasing. He was working directly with the case.

My heart started to break. Even though the children had not been home at the time of the murder, my uncle said there was no way they didn't see things. The body was there for at least one night, with blood on the floor of the house and terrible noises occurring at night.

This is the part where a teacher asks herself “how could I?” How could I not know that this child was living at a drug house? How could I not see any clues? How could I assume that just because he was brilliant, that meant he was living in a safe home? How could I think that just because he was polite and calm, that meant he had a good upbringing? I am a mandatory reporter and I had failed to see any clues. The fact that he was so protective over his little sister should have been a clue. The fact that he was trying so hard to please his teacher should have been a clue. I thought to myself, “how different would it have been for him if I had known? If I had done something to remove him from this before tragedy occurred?” But I had no idea. I had met his mother at fall conferences and she was super nice and interested in what he was doing at school. I had never met his father, and Mateo never really mentioned him, but I didn’t think that much of it. I hadn’t met a lot of my kids’ fathers.

And now he was gone. I prayed every day that he would come to school, though I couldn’t fathom how he could. How could you go to school when your house has been taped off as a crime scene? How could you show your face in school when your father has just been accused of murder? In fact, the morning after the incident, I went to the principal and the counselor and asked them “What am I supposed to tell my students when they ask about Mateo?” Because granted, kids don’t really watch the news that much, but some of their parents do, and parents talk. Their response? “It probably won’t come up. Students don’t usually know other kids’ last names or their parents’ names.” Awesome. So helpful.

I had really bad cold that week, and the next Monday I wanted to call in a sub. I couldn’t though, because I thought “What if Mateo comes to school today and I’m not there? I haven’t been absent all year, so how would it be for him to come to school after all this has happened to him, and his teacher who cares about him is not there?” So I went. Mateo wasn’t there. The kids asked me where he was, and I told them that he was moving to California, because that’s what the office had told me. The kids asked me if we should clean out his desk. I said no. I wouldn’t let them. They wanted to peel his name sticker off the check-in board, as we had done with previous students who had moved. I left it there. I didn’t want him to be gone.

Finally, about a week and a half later, the office e-mailed me to tell me that Mateo and his sister were coming after school the next day to say goodbye to their teachers and get their stuff. I put Mateo’s things in a plastic bag, and went to Border’s to go buy a book for him. Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli. His reading group had started it without him, and it was one of my favorite books. The main character was brave. I put together a package for him with the book, a letter I wrote, and three addressed and stamped envelopes. I told him that if he could, I wanted him to write to me in a few months and let me know how things were going in California at his new school.

Mateo came the next day after school. I smiled so big when I saw him. There wasn’t much I could say. I gave him a hug and his stuff and explained that I had a present for him. He didn’t say much, and I could tell he was about to cry like I was. After he left, I did. I slumped down under my desk and bawled my eyes out, because there was nothing more I could do. I would have taken his mother and all his siblings home with me if I could have. I would have kept him forever.

I kept on teaching through the weeks, and never once did the principal or any one at school ask me how I was doing. I guess they didn’t think I could be affected. Kids move in and out of classrooms all the time. Nobody seemed to get that the suspected murderer on the news was the father of my student. My kid. He was partly my responsibility, and now he was gone. I missed the clues. I had assumed false things about his home life.

I kept on teaching. I had to remember what I had heard once. Teachers can’t give kids everything they need. But teachers give everything that they have to give. I might not have spared Mateo from tragedy, but I at least provided him with a safe place at school. He knew I cared about him. He knew he could trust me. I gave him everything I had to give.

I never received a letter from Mateo. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still coming. I haven’t given up hope on him. I pray nobody does.

*name has been changed.

For a related blog, read The Hardest Letter I Ever Had to Write

Friday, September 25, 2009

Home Ec

I hate grocery shopping almost more than I hate shopping for pants. I always manage to get the cart with the one wheel that always wants to turn left and ram the woman in front of me. A worker is always stocking bananas whenever I go to the produce section. Always. Their timing is impeccable. I have to wiggle my way through to snatch a few, like a chimp swiping a snack from his elders. They are constantly out of mozzarella cheese. But the thing I hate most is the lines. You only have one check-stand open out of the 16 you have available? Really? Whenever I am stuck in these lines I am forced to look at the trashy magazines. I learn that yes, Jon really did have an affair with his kids' nanny, and that Kate had a secret plastic surgery. Madonna's adoption finally went through and a woman in Texas gave birth to a baby with a cone head.

Last week I plotted my grocery excursion. My sister recommended I go at the dead of night, because the grocery store nearest my house is open 24 hours a day. I was planning on being dead asleep at the dead of night, so instead I plotted my attack for 10 pm. I made my list and sketched out the aisles, labeling the Xs and Os like the head coach of a football team. Then I assembled my crew. Both of my roommates came. We got one cart and perused the aisles.

An absolute miracle occurred. There was no one stocking the bananas. I was free to move about and choose whatever delectable fruits I desired. We went up and down just about every aisle. I had to majorly stock up because I didn't want to go back for at least two weeks. We kept building the pile in our cart higher, like ancient Mayans building pyramids out of stone high enough to reach the sun. Only, you know, with single serve yogurts, pre-grated cheese, boxes of granola bars, and hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Our Grocery Extraction Team encountered just one opposing group: Cheerleaders. From Amity. The were all giggly and wearing their uniforms with their shorty short shorts and their glittery hair ribbons. We are talking straight up hysterical laughter in front of the cream cheese aisle. They couldn't hold it together. I thought maybe they were drunk, but someone's mom was with them. They were getting all the necessities that a high school cheerleader needs on a late Friday night: Cheetos, Capri Sun, hair spray, apples, and Mydol. These cheerleaders seemed to go every where we went in the store. They ended up being in front of us in line, at the one and only line that was open. The adolescent girls were still being giggly, pointing out Taylor Swift's hair on the cover of Seventeen, and Brad and Angelina's slew of children on US Weekly.

I'm loading 80 pounds of groceries onto the conveyor belt (which is ironically about how much most of them weighed), when Britt, Natalie, and I hear a highly intellectual comment. One of the cheerleaders points to a magazine and says "I'm so pissed. I haven't got this magazine yet, and I'm totally prescribed to it."

Yes, I am sure. Your doctor totally wrote a prescription for you to receive Cosmo. It's for your mental health. I am pretty sure if you are prescribed to a magazine, you need to pick it up in the pharmacy section of Rite Aid. Along with your Ritalin.

My grocery bill totaled $79.52 (which is coincidentally how much one of the cheerleaders wanted to weigh) and I took my bags home. Britt didn't get that much stuff, but Natalie did a fair amount of shopping as well. Stacking everything in our fridge was a challenge, and now it's like a Jenga puzzle every time you pull something out. Only, you know, with peaches and milk and salad dressing, instead of with blocks of wood. Because we're not beavers. Brittany's a duck.

And that is how my late night grocery experience went.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fake interview with a reality celebrity: Brett from Survivor

Back story for you: One of my roommates and many of my mutual friends went to high school with one of the contestants from this season's Survivor. Maybe you've seen him. He rocks a purple shirt that matches his tribe, Galu, and his name is Brett. Last Thursday I went to a Survivor viewing party with all these people who went to high school with him. I was one of two people who didn't share sophomore algebra class with him. Everyone was pointing "Hey look! It's Brett! I know him!" Mean while, I was like "Hey look! A woman with a giant mullet! I know her!" (kidding. Shambo and I only briefly passed each other once while we were in the Marines in '89).

I've never met the kid, but seeing as he is basically a hometown celebrity, I figured I should (fake) interview him. A phone interview was arranged.

TRP: Hi. Is this Brett from Survivor?
Brett: Yeah. Who is this?
TRP: Nobody you know. A form of the paparazzi. If my blog were a salsa, it would be mild. We're real low key. But you know, still spicy.
Brett: How'd you get this number?
TRP: I looked up your parent's number in the local phone directory and told your mom I was a friend from church. Mind if I ask you a few questions?
Brett: Uh, sure. Just don't tell CBS I agreed to this.
TRP: Considering the circumstances of this interview, you haven't agreed to anything. Now, obviously only one episode of Survivor has aired thus far. We haven't really seen you much, but we have learned about some other contestants, mainly, Shambo the mullet woman and the evil leprechaun man who likes to burn his fellow team mate's socks. What can you tell us about these people?
Brett: Oh man, Shambo is awesome. We were paddling over the ocean together and I felt the wind in my hair, salt water in my mouth, and Shambo's mullet flying back and hitting me in the face. I was a bit annoyed at first, but that woman can row like none other. She's a natural born leader. You have to be with that kind of hair.
TRP: So thumbs up for Shambo?
Brett: Definitely.
TRP: What about evil leprechaun man? I mean, I know he's not on your tribe, but surely you know something about him?
Brett: Reminds me of a nightmare I'd rather forget.
TRP:: Now, Brett, I know you can't reveal who the final two is, or say how long you stayed on the show, but I have a hypothesis that I am basing off of two things I heard while at the Survivor viewing party I attended last week.
Brett: What did you hear? They didn't show you my year book picture from freshman year, did they?
TRP: Um, no. I heard you lost 26 pounds while on the show. If that were true, I did some math and I have an estimate on how long you lasted.
Brett: Oh yeah? Are you good at math?
TRP: Not really....Seeing as how I have never met you, I don't know how much you normally weigh, but I am going to guess 165.
Brett: Whoa, there. I'm not sure if I should be offended or flattered.
TRP: That makes two of us. If you weighed 165 pounds and did a lot of physical activity while on the island, you would burn about 3,660 calories a day. My guess might not be accurate because I used some calculator on the internet and you know how reliable that can be.
Brett: Probably as reliable as a fake interview.
TRP: A pound is 3500 calories, so in order to lose 26 pounds you would have to burn 91,000 calories. Say that you ate crap the whole time and only got beans and rice and a mango or something. You probably only got to eat about 900 calories a day, if you were lucky. I think. But what do I know.
Brett: I have no idea. I'm thinking not a lot.
TRP: I'll pretend like I didn't hear that. Anyway, 3660-900 = 2760 that you burn each day. 91000 divided by 2760 is 33, so I estimate that you stayed on the show for 33 days. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I misjudged you and you were really lazy on the show and bathed in the sun all day instead of burning 3660 calories like I thought you would.
Brett: It's possible. I did craft a hammock out of a giant leaf.
TRP: But maybe you ate more than beans and rice and a mango all day, and you consumed more calories, which means you would need to stay on the show more days to burn 91,000 calories. I mean, maybe you pulled an evil leprechaun move and drank everyone's jungle juice at night and devoured their socks for extra fiber.
Brett: Doubtful. What was the other information you learned? You said I lost 26 pounds and something else?
TRP: Sanity, perhaps? Just kidding. No. I heard that the jeans you wore on the show were dark gray and they turned light purple from washing them in the ocean so much.
Brett: Oh.
TRP: So if that were true, it seems like you would have to be on the show a while in order to do laundry that often. Unless you have OCD and wash your pants 3 times a day or something.
Brett: I don't. But I use Snuggle fabric softener. It makes your clothes cuddly soft.
TRP: Good to know. So then I am still going with my estimate that you lasted 33 days.
Brett: If that's what you want to think.
TRP: I do. Brett, I just have one more question for you.
Brett: Shoot.
TRP: If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?
Brett: I'd probably pay off my student loans, buy a house and a sweet ride, take my family on a vacation, and invest the rest.
TRP: Now, about that vacation. Were you thinking about taking your family to some place tropical? An island perhaps?
Brett: No. Europe. Five star hotels. Room service with lots of food.
TRP: Okay. Brett, is there anything else you want to tell fans of Survivor and The Real Pretend?
Brett: Keep watching the show because this interview yielded some very inconclusive non-evidence. And this reporter shouldn't quit her day job.
TRP: I'll keep that in mind. Thank you, Brett, for taking some imaginary time to fake talk to us in this fictional phone interview.

Watch Brett this Thursday on Survivor on CBS at 8pm.

Also, send in your questions for me to ask Brett in case he let's me do another (fake) interview with him. But chances are you are the person who sat in front of him in algebra class.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dialogue that never happened but should have

I am probably not stable due to the markers I'm exposed to all day at work, but sometimes I write fake dialogue to myself, or for other people. Like I plan out how something could go if someone ever asked me a certain question, or how a scenario could play out if the other person would say what I wanted them to say. This is helpful in the craft of writing fiction, because I can always think of dialogue for my main characters.

Here are some examples of fairly ridiculous things:

"Hi. My name is ____and you left your card at (name of some restaurant) with my tip. I've been reading your blog and I want to meet you."

"Thanks for reading my blog and e-mailing me. Lucky for you, I make real life appearances all the time."

This would never happen because I don't have business cards for my blog and I don't leave them at restaurants with cute servers. And they wouldn't e-mail me anyway. But I definitely have a three page dialogue written based off of this prompt.


When I leave the gym at night, but I've changed into something cute for some unknown reason, instead of wearing sweats home.

"Do you have a hot date tonight or something?"
"That depends. Did you ask me out and I didn't realize it?"

OR via Facebook message, after you've seen someone you used to have a crush on

"Hey, it was good to run into you the other day. Maybe we should accidentally-on-purpose plan a joint lunch at the park sometime."

This one would be good if you were the on-line dating type, which I'm not.

"I want to keep our first meeting public, for your safety. You wouldn't want me kidnapping you, after all."

Or maybe you've been e-mailing someone like Meg Ryan on You've Got Mail, but you've never seen them before and plan on meeting up.
"You don't need to send me a picture."
"Then how will you know who to look for?"
"Sometimes you just know. I'll know."

I totally have pages and pages of stupid scenarios written out, but people never say anything to me that requires a pre-written and thought out response. Which is why I never say anything clever when you are talking to me in real time, and why I have to stick to writing fiction, where I can be the puppet master and make people do and say and respond any way I want.

Or you know, maybe that's why I like writing Fake Interviews with Real Celebrities, because I can make them say funny things. So check back tomorrow for the ultimate artificial dialogue. Tomorrow I will post the interview I did(n't do) with Brett, who is a contestant on Survivor: Samoa.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I stapled my finger to the wall on accident

I know I've been inconsistent on posting for oh, the past two months or so. I apologize. But I've come up with a plan.

Like a soccer mom planning the week's menu on Saturday, or those super lazy/much too dedicated people who cook everything for a month and then stick it in the freezer, I've prepared all my blogs for this week in advance. I've got six ready to go, and I vow to post one each day.

For now, let's talk about how clever I am at crafting bulletin boards. I never did a single decorative bulletin board all last year. I know. You're saying "but Joelle, I thought using die cuts and butcher paper and putting it together neatly with a border was what teaching is all about."

Like a kid trimming the crust off his PB and J, I cut the frills off in my class. I don't frame student artwork, I don't use a ruler, and I definitely don't measure out the space between letters on posters. Thus, the below display will probably never be recreated by me ever again, because it took 2.5 hours on a Sunday to do. Who has that kind of time to waste on cutesy stuff? I confess, I only did it because I didn't want to be the one teacher who had nothing outside her door for Open House, which is tomorrow. Impressions are everything.

Behold, my first non-educational display.
If you don't think it's that amazing then don't tell me. I prefer to live in denial about my cleverness.

Coming up this week:
Tomorrow--How sometimes I write fake dialogue to myself
Wed--Fake Interview with a Real(ity) Celebrity: Survivor version
Thurs--Home Ec
Sat--Fake Interview with a Real Celebrity: Corbin Bleu
Sun--Mateo's Story

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I know I suck

I apologize that I am being the worst blogger ever for oh, the past month or so. I know. This is totally what keeps you going everyday. You've been grumpy because I've stopped writing regularly. I'm sorry.

I have all these great things to tell you, but no time to do so. So I will update you very quickly about what's been happening. And then maybe later this week I will actually devote ten or more minutes to this blog. Or something.

Super quick things to know:
1) How perfect/what are the odds that my next door neighbor would be a vegetarian? So when she invites me over for dinner I don't have to worry about it.

2) My students are actually good kids this year. And they already know some of their times tables.

3) The principal doesn't think I suck at teaching. Because I don't. I totally rock it. He observed my class for a quick 15 minutes.

4) I ordered my sofa so I will actually have furniture sometime soon. Like you know, Halloween or something.

5) The OKTOBERFEST IS THIS WEEKEND! I am so there. All the time. It's a family tradition.

6) I feel guilty that I did not go to Zumba dance class. But I will go on Sunday. Maybe. Probably. I was just too tired when I got home.

7) The Office is coming back soon! Jim, Pam, beets, paper, what more could you want?

I'll stop there.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My aunt has overstayed her welcome

For the last week, our house has been under attack. It was basically like a 3rd grade kid's ant farm broke in our kitchen. Those little buggers were everywhere. Are still everywhere.

Naturally, I was quite pissed to learn of our pest infestation, considering I had definitely coughed up a large lump sum for a home inspection prior to purchasing the house.

We used two different ant killers and the thumb squashing method until I finally got a can of Raid. I sprayed the counter tops and sink and it's been a lot better since. Today I decided to spray the bottom of the doors, inside and outside. It was almost like Exodus: The Passover. You know, spray a can over your doorway and death, er, insects will pass over your household.

Friday, September 4, 2009

When I had maid service

I bought a toilet scrubber today. Exciting, I know. This is the kind of life I lead on Friday nights. I was at Target for the 5th time in the past 7 days, picking up things like shower rods, toilet wands, batteries, and rugs. Picking up the toilet scrubber reminded me of the short time in my life when I had maid service.

You see, there was this one time in New York where I was doing an internship for Teen Vogue and my friend/roommate and I got maid service once a week. Okay, so not exactly. But my sophomore year of college I lived in an on-campus apartment with three other girls. We had two bathrooms and one cleaning lady who would come scrub the loo. It was fabulous. I never had to worry that the porcelain throne would look less than royal. All I had to worry about was my psychotic roommate who stole my toilet paper because she would never take a turn buying it. Picture Olivia from MTV's The City with black hair and that's what she was like. Only weird. Because for a short time she kept flushable baby wipes in the bathroom and I think she wiped with them. Like maybe she had baby-type poo or something. She also jabbed peaches and beans down the sink with a knife, but that's a different story for a different time. Actually, I think I already wrote about that one time.

Right now I'm doing stupid things like checking out the web page of "It's on with Alexa Chung" and thinking Lenay Olsen should have gotten the job, but Alexa is fun I guess. I'm also uploading dumb videos from last weekend's family camp-out. Here's a preview. It gets more exciting in the following videos, I swear. Or maybe not. You'll see things like my sister being really bossy, me crafting costumes out of car trash, and me waving to passing cars. And then there is my favorite segment, the one that I replay four times because it makes me laugh so hard. But you'll have to wait for that one.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Digg It!

And you should digg it, too!

What I am digging this week:

1) Morning Star Farms Grillers Chik'n Veggie Patties Oh my gosh these are so good. The box says that they are new, but actually they're not. I fell in love with them last year when they were new, but then they were discontinued for an unknown reason. I searched every grocery establishment and nobody had them. But they're back. On my trip to Florence last weekend, I stopped at the local Safeway. I saw them in the freezer section and went gaga. Four patties come in a box and I ate them all within two days. Yum! And only 80 calories. What I like most about them is their barbecue charcoal taste. Try them.

2) Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate Promises These are to die for. I am a total chocolate person. I used to eat straight Hershey's chocolate bars , but Dove is so much better. It's rich and smooth and melts effortlessly in your mouth. If you are trying to win my heart, buy me a bag.

3) Walgreen's Photo Center Upload a few photos from your computer and order them. You don't have to pay up until you pick them up. The close proximity of a Walgreen's to my house may be why I like it so much.

4) Productivity 501 This website/blog gives tips on how to be productive. Not that I ever am.

5) Sleeping Since the school year is starting, I'm already starting to lack on Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. My sleep schedule needs readjusting, and today marks the first day of the school year where I put off things like eating lunch and going to the bathroom until they become absolutely necessary. Apart from breathing, I am missing everything on the lowest bar of the pyramid. Which could be a great segway into #6

6) Fmylife.com I like to read this because it makes me a) feel better about my own life and b) laugh. Really though, I think this school year is going to be great. This week was very positive. Lots left to do, but I feel good about it. Kids come on Wednesday!
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