Posted in Teaching, Writing

Happy Spring!

Hello, World! What have you been up to? Me? Oh, the usual… reading, writing, accumulating pet hair on my clothes, and trying to get seventh graders to understand time management and the consequences of their actions. The time management thing would be easier if any of them could actually read an analog clock. [Here’s an idea: Let’s start putting analog clocks side-by-side with digital clocks in the hallways at schools to see if the visual comparison will help kids learn to tell time the old-fashioned way. It couldn’t hurt, right?]

As far as how the whole “actions have consequences” thing is going…

I used to have a cat who was addicted to curly ribbon. A package wrapped with curly ribbon couldn’t be in my house for five minutes before the cat would sniff it out, find it, and devour as much as possible, gagging all the while. I took to hiding my bag of gift-wrapping supplies in the top of my closet to keep the stuff away from him. One day, I couldn’t find Gink. I was looking all around my apartment, calling for him, when I realized… I’d left the closet door open. As I approached the space, I heard rustling sounds. Yep. High up on the shelf in my closet, there was a black tail sticking out of the bag of wrapping paper and ribbons. Having found the mother load, Gink gorged on it until he choked and began throwing up in that horrible unique way of cats. (Cat owners, you know it well. Front legs stiff, chin tucked, eyes bulging, tongue sticking out, sides convulsing, and the tell-tale “huck huck huck” sound.) But this was no ordinary hairball. Gink had swallowed, without chewing, an entire ball of curly ribbon. So when it started coming out, it didn’t stop. Like a terrible magic trick, lengths and lengths of blue plastic ribbon emerged from my cat’s throat, still connected, gagging him more with each heave of his little kitty belly. After a few agonizing minutes, it was all out. My poor, traumatized cat sat panting next to a pile of shiny blue vomit. I stroked his black fur and spoke soothing words into his fuzzy ears. “Poor Ginky. That looked awful. Why would you do such a thing? Do you see now? Do you see what happens when you eat curly ribbon? This is why I keep it away from you.” And as I comforted the poor dumb beast, he knelt down, stretched his neck forward, and tried to eat the pile of blue vomit.

Gink lived to 19 despite his addiction to curly ribbon.

Let’s just say that sometimes my students remind me of that cat. No forethought. No planning. Very little self control. For some of them, the curly ribbon is procrastination. For others, it’s online games on their school computers. For a few, it is the deep, unending NEED to reach across and poke the person in the desk next to them, over and over and over, for absolutely no reason.

Anyway, we’ll continue to work on it.

That’s not even what I came here to blog about today.

Spring has sprung, bringing all the usual delights: longer days, warmer weather, evil flowers, ghosts, and, of course, mummies.

Beware of Flowers

Today, I decided to celebrate the warm spring weather by going on a hike. Along the trail, I spotted these beautiful blooms and wanted to take pictures of them. Little did I know, I was falling right into their trap. When I knelt down to snap a photo of these pretty pink flowers, the dying cactus next to them stabbed me. Either that, or I was attacked by the world’s tiniest porcupine. Either way, I stood up with a finger full of thorns that I had to pluck out. Ouch! Beware of beauty. It bites.

Ghosts

If you think spirits only haunt in October, you’re wrong. I’m proud to announce that I’m writing my third book in the Spooky America series. The Ghostly Tales of Burlington will hit the shelves this fall. Since I have a day job and my own moderate case of curly-ribbon-esque procrastination on the weekends, I tend to do most of my writing late at night and, let me tell you, some of the stories in this Burlington book gave me the shivers, even though it’s nowhere near Halloween. The tales in this collection are so creepy, I may have to head to Vermont to check out some of these haunted places firsthand. Who wants to come with me?

In the meantime, you can still buy my first two Spooky America books. The Ghostly Tales of New England and The Ghostly Tales of Austin are available on Amazon, but if you order from me, I’ll send you a signed copy. $12 for one copy, or $20 for two. You can pay me via PayPal (@ cariejuettner) or Venmo (@Carie-Juettner). Just fill out this form to send me your address and the names of the person/people/pets you want the books signed to.

March Mummies

And last, but not least, springtime really wouldn’t be complete without a mention of mummies, right? On March 16th, Daily Science Fiction published my punny piece titled “20 Signs Your Neighbor Might Be a Mummy.” Check it out, and be sure to click the “Display Entire Story” button at the bottom to see the whole thing.

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That’s it. That’s what I’ve been up to. Reading, writing, teaching, getting stabbed by plants, and determining whether or not my neighbors are mummies. Oh, and I also celebrated my dog’s 11th birthday. How cute is this good boy?

Posted in Life, Writing

Finding the Plot

As a writer whose work is regularly interrupted by piddly things like my job, I leave a lot of books and stories unfinished, sometimes for months or even years at a time. When I come back to a piece to start working on it again, it’s often hard to remember where I left off. But it’s not just the cobwebs that have grown over the words that obscure my vision. Sometimes even brushing away the dust and rereading the beginning aren’t enough to remind me where I was headed. I’ve simply lost the plot. Other times, I do remember where I was going, but the destination no longer makes sense.

When this happens, I have to sit back and ask myself, “Well, where do I want to go from here?”

The question is both freeing and terrifying. Is it really up to me? I can decide?  Well, of course! It was up to me all along. I’m the writer. The story is mine to tell. But that doesn’t change the fact that deviating from a set path—even if I’m the one who mapped it in the first place—feels wrong.

Living in the spring of 2021 feels a little like coming back to an unfinished story long after putting it in a drawer. After more than a year of staying home and distancing from others, of not traveling and not eating in restaurants, my loved ones and I are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and ready to resume a somewhat normal life. But that’s proving to be harder than I anticipated.

I think of the things we used to do: tasting each other’s drinks at happy hour, blowing the candles out on birthday cakes, letting 130 teenagers flow in and out of my classroom every day without once sanitizing hands or wiping off desks. Can I really go back to doing these things? Do I want to? I’m having trouble finding the plot, and when I do, I’m not sure I want to keep going in the direction I was headed before.

The coronavirus has already been a horror story and a love story, a story of sacrifice and of survival. The tale is not over yet, and I worry there may yet be unexpected twists on the way. As we venture back into our lives—safely, carefully—let us rewrite the future and create a new, happier ending.

There is merit in the willingness to revise.

Posted in Life

The Gift of Spring

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My first iris of 2020

The older I get, the more I hate summer.

That probably surprises you, since I’m a teacher. I do love the freedom and relaxation of summer, and I definitely look forward to the break from work. But the temperature? I am completely over Texas summer heat.

In Austin, the high temps start averaging in the 90s in June. The rain tapers off and the highs steadily climb until, by mid-July, we’re regularly hitting 100 degrees. We average about 20-30 triple digit days a year, unless we have a bad year like 2011 when we hit 100 a total of 90 times. That is not a typo. We had 90 days of sweltering heat, and many of those were well over 100. That was the year we got our puppy, Uno. We had him three months before he saw rain. That was also the year we got a new fence installed in the backyard. It took twice as long as expected because the workers kept having to leave around 3pm for their own safety. The thermometer was reaching 110, 111, 112 degrees every afternoon. It was brutal.

Of course, Texas doesn’t have a monopoly on hot weather. Even in places like New York and Montana, they’ll see temperatures in the nineties during the summer. Also, when I complain about the Texas heat, people like to point out that at least people here have air conditioning everywhere. That’s true, and I’m eternally grateful for it.

Here’s the first problem: I like to be outside. Sitting inside in the AC is not the same thing as sitting outside in a fresh breeze. During the most stifling weeks of the year, even sitting in the shade is too much for me. My body just doesn’t handle the heat like it used to, and I sometimes feel physically ill from being out on Austin afternoons, regardless of shade and hydration. If I could escape it at all, ever, things would be different. But the other (and much larger) problem is this: THERE IS NO ESCAPE.

I’m a natural night owl. Before I was married, I’d often revert to vampire hours for a couple of weeks at the start of summer, but even that isn’t enough of a relief because in Austin, from about mid-July to mid-September, it NEVER COOLS DOWN. In the summer, Hubby and I walk the dog around 10pm because the pup doesn’t like the heat either, and that’s when the temperature will have finally dropped below 95. I could deal with the 110-degree heat during the day if I knew it would be in the 70’s by dawn. But it won’t. It’s the LOWS that kill my soul in the summer. 82, 84, 86… these are temperatures that will greet you if you go outside at 3am in August. That’s just ridiculous.

[Right now, you’re probably thinking, Did I read the title wrong? I thought this post was supposed to be about spring? It is. Sorry. Bear with me. I’m getting there. I didn’t plan on harping on hellish Texas summers for quite this long, but I obviously have a lot of feelings about them. Moving on.]

As much as I love having a couple of months off from teaching every year, I’ve wished for a long time that those months didn’t occur during the summer. If all I’m going to do is stay in the air conditioning anyway, I might as well do it in my classroom. Instead, why not let us out when it’s nice outside?

As bad as Austin summers are, our springs are amazing. We’ve got blue skies and butterflies and birds singing and sun shining, but the weather is never boring. There are plenty of good spring thunderstorms and cool fronts to mix things up. Plus, spring in Texas is bluebonnet season. I never tire of seeing that sea of blue along trails and highways. Every April, I stare out the windows of my classroom, wishing I could spend the day outside. Weekends of walks and hammocks and campfires just aren’t enough.

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Texas bluebonnets

Well, this year, in a very weird way, I finally got my wish. I’ve been given the gift of spring.

Ever since March 13th, when schools were closed due to COVID-19, I’ve been spending so much time outside. I walk myself in the mornings, walk my dog in the afternoons, read in a lawn chair on my driveway in the evenings, and have campfires whenever I want. I’ve even been sleeping on my screened in porch a lot and sometimes participate in my online meetings while sitting on the grass in the front yard. Even when I’m stuck inside, I keep one eye on the squirrels at the window and take brain breaks by watching the birds.

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I would never wish this pandemic on the world. If I could get the coronavirus to go away with a snap of my fingers, I’d do it in an instant. But, among the stresses and sadness and uncertainty of this situation, it’s nice to find something positive. This is my happy thing right now. I’ve been given the gift of springtime, and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.

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My coworker taking a much-needed break

What about you? What is your happy thing right now? What unexpected gifts have you been given by this experience?