Middle School Blues

how I like my classroom” by william a kay is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

[See Original Post here]

For the last several years, I’ve volunteered with a financial literacy organization in a variety of capacities, including as a fifth-grade teacher. This month, I reentered the classroom for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic to teach sixth grade. All the volunteer teachers for that day met in the morning for coffee and pastries. We were then escorted to our respective classrooms by a lucky student from each class.

The representative summoned me to the front of the room, where I met my student.

“Hi, I’m Sarah. What’s your name?”

The tall, thin student glared at me.

“Amara,” she spat, then turned and sped off down the hallway.

I jogged after her, and into the classroom, where I was greeted by a harassed looking teacher.

I shook her hand, and –

“So, this is a rowdy bunch,” she babbled. “So, like, don’t take it personally.”

The staff had already prepped us for possible behavior issues post-pandemic. We were cleared to pause, or even stop, lessons anytime we wanted. The teachers also could choose to wrap the day early if they wished.

“Oh, that’s okay, we will see how it goes, and whether we need to take a break,” I answered brightly, and sashayed importantly to the front of the room.

“Good morning, everyone,” I called. “My name is Sarah.”

The kids at the front two tables greeted me warmly. Everyone else continued coloring or playing cards.

The first lesson was about identifying the students’ skill sets and seeing what type of jobs they could do with those talents. I passed around the worksheet, hung up a poster of jobs, and asked the students to brainstorm a list of things they were good at.

The front two tables all agreed they were good at drawing and hairstyling and were not good at math.

I walked beyond the first two tables and approached a boy in the back who was still coloring.

“Hey, do you want to fill out your worksheet?”

His head gave a tremendous shake.

Recognizing a lost cause, I approached another boy who was playing cards.

“Hey, so what are you good at?”

I pointed to his entirely blank worksheet.

“Oh, I know what I’m going to be,” he announced confidently, as he mashed his cards together in a pile. “I’m going to join the Air Force and be a pilot.”

“Nice. What skills will you need to be a pilot?” I gestured again at the paper.

“Listening, communication, probably a degree.” He finished mashing his face down cards. “Point to one.”

I pointed.

“What kind of card is it? Like what number?”

“Ace?” I guessed.

He picked it up and flipped it over.

It was the Ace of Hearts.

I was completely enthralled.

“Wait, how did you do that?”

He smiled slyly and shrugged.

I went back to my teaching guide and surveyed the instructions. I was supposed to pass out Post-it notes to the students, who were to initial them, and place the notes on the poster next to their desired career.

I began passing out the Post-it notes.

“Okay class,” I raised my voice to be heard over the low-level rumble. “Now it’s time to initial these Post-it notes and place them on the job you’re interested in pursuing.”

The five students who were interested in what I had to say all asked for two or three post-it notes. The fifteen who were not interested all asked individually what they were supposed to do with the Post-it notes.

When all the Post-its had finally been initialed and placed on the poster (roughly 87% of students wanted to be graphic designers), I turned to the next activity. Students had to write down the job they wanted, the skills they needed to obtain that job, how they would get those skills, and where they could go for more information.

I passed out the materials and instructions to create the flyers.

Five students began reviewing the materials, and the rest chattered happily.

“Hey, how do we do this?”

One of the five handed me his flyer.

I looked at the instructions.

There was a complex mix of dotted lines, straight black lines, and scissors cutting along bold black lines.

“You cut along the dotted lines,” one girl announced, and began cutting.

“No…”

I squinted at the drawing.

“I think you’re supposed to cut along the line in the middle here.”

“Oh yeah,” the original boy agreed.

“Here, let me get you a new paper,” I offered to the girl who was now holding a cut up unusable mess.

It soon transpired that the flyers were significantly less absorbing than the Post-it notes. The noise volume in the classroom grew steadily louder, and Cheerios and fruit cups began to fly across the room. One girl took a banana to the eye, and a boy was pulled under a table by two other students in retaliation. I watched, fascinated as the two students began to try to pull him apart under the table.

I walked over to the teacher.

“So, do they, like, get recess or anything?”

“No, we usually work right through to 11:45.”

I looked at the clock.

10:30.

“Let’s have recess today. Like, right now. Run them around the building or something.”

“Okay,” she nodded vigorously, and shouted for a few moments to make herself heard over the din.

“Class, we are going outside. Please line up.”

“So, how long have you been their teacher?” I asked, watching the students slowly line up, pushing each other out of the way.

“Oh, since Monday. Their original teacher broke his neck in January. They’ve had rotating subs ever since.”

“Oh.” I was quiet at this grim news. It explained a lot.

After 20 minutes outside, the class came back.

“Now, remember what we talked about,” the teacher called from the back of the room. “You are supposed to be polite and listen to Miss Sarah.”

The class listened respectfully to the assignment for about seven minutes, then the hubbub began to rise again.

“Do we have to?” one student whined and put his head in his arms as I passed out the new worksheet. “This is so much paper!”

“You’re not dying, you’ll be fine.”

It’s never too early to try to instill a sense of perspective.

We were guessing the differences between credit cards and debit cards. The team who guessed right most often won the game, but I neglected to bring prizes. What an oversight.

With no stakes, the class devolved, feeling like they’d been had.

I looked at the clock. It was 11:20. I pulled out the materials for the final game (insurance bingo) and examined them. If we could just get through this last lesson, we could call it a successful day (provided no more food products were suddenly turned into weapons of mass destruction).

Insurance bingo required many pieces of paper. There were the bingo boards, cards with different types of insurance, and pop out dollar bills.

I frowned at all the pieces.

We weren’t finishing before lunch.

“Okay class, we are going to take a break. After lunch, we are going to play a game.”

“Ooh, what kind of game,” a back table student raised his head for the first time. “Monopoly?”

“Well, sort of like Monopoly. Except less good,” I answered honestly.

I met with the other volunteers for lunch. Cries of delight were exchanged, as they all talked about how sweet their kids were, and how attentive, and how the younger students just wanted to give them hugs.

I sank into my elementary student sized chair, and ate my sandwich with my knees in my chin.

“How is your class going?” the banker teaching fourth grade turned to me.

“Pandemonium. Pandemonium,” I muttered, shaking my head.

After lunch, I resolved to finish the game as soon as possible.

“What do we win?” one student called as I passed out the bingo boards and sundry materials.

“Bragging rights!” I shouted back.

Apparently I underestimated the power of bragging rights for sixth graders. The whole class was instantly motivated to participate. Elbows flying, and brows furrowed, the students studied their bingo boards, and prevented their fellow students from crossing off squares unfairly.

“Bingo!” grinned one girl wickedly, and I went over to check her board.

Her whole table instantly turned on her.

“She’s cheating, she swapped squares!”

“Honesty in Insurance Bingo is paramount,” I lectured, and continued.

When Bingo was finally declared after a few more false starts, I helped the teacher clean up all the worksheets that had been summarily dumped on the floor.

“You did such a good job holding their attention,” she grinned. “I’m impressed!”

I bowed my head humbly and scuttled from the classroom.

Sarah Brown is a real charmer. Be dazzled by her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or by emailing her at sarah@browns-close.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. All names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Backpacking, and Other Burdens: Part 2

[See original post here]

Previously, on “Brown’s Close…”

The pain in my ankle was sharp. The only sounds I could make were a shriek, and a pitiful, “Oh no.”

This was it. My worst fear. I’d have to be taken off the trail by helicopter like the poor woman we were previously warned about. My name would go down in trail history as an inexperienced nuisance.

My friend, who had been consistently moving at a quick pace and was far ahead, heard me fall and doubled back with the lightning speed of a jaguar. 

Reaching my side – 

“Drop the pack,” she ordered.

I struggled out of the large backpack, clutching my ankle.

I rolled around on the ground, taking the kind of deep breaths women are always practicing when they give birth on television.

“I heard a crack,” I mumbled.

My friend didn’t say anything, and instead turned grey.

I rolled around some more, and then tentatively rolled my ankle. Then, with the horrific image of having to lie on the ground for hours waiting for a helicopter to find me and take me home, I rolled onto my knees, and stood up.

Confirming I could walk, I told myself that my ankle wasn’t broken. 

My friend helped me on with my pack, and she bounded on, with me trudging behind her.

With her periodically running ahead and then doubling back, she glowingly confirmed we were not as far from Eagle River as she’d initially expected. My heart leapt for joy; Eagle River was the overnight camping site. We would cross the river first thing in the morning.

Eagle River, like many of Alaska’s natural elements, is mighty. The current is quick, the water high, and hikers get caught and drown.

Until my ankle injury, which was now my chief concern, fjording the river had been the part of the trip about which I had been quietly fretting. 

Reaching the riverbank, I plopped down, took off my left boot, and examined my ankle. It was significantly swollen; all prior definition was gone, and the vascularity had disappeared from my foot. The ankle was unstable.

My friend was marching up and down the river, examining the conditions. There was a couple across the way on the other side, happily changing clothes in full view. They had clearly just crossed through the glacial melt, and were putting on dry clothes as advised to prevent hypothermia.

“Uh, Sarah?” she spoke softly, as if approaching someone on her deathbed. “I think we should cross.”

“Wait, what now?” I squawked, alarmed. 

I was supposed to have eight hours to prepare myself for this feat.

“Well, yeah. There are people around. I’d rather do it then.”

My safety track record on this trip so far was not great; tripping and drowning were definitely possible. If I did that when people were watching, at least they could report where to look for my body.

“Well, let me change my shoes and see how my ankle feels.”

We’d each brought separate water shoes solely for the purpose of crossing Eagle River. I pulled the sandals gingerly over my ankle. It was so swollen the straps almost didn’t make it around the blobby grapefruit that, an hour ago, had been a working joint. I didn’t have any way of treating the injury other than making it worse by walking on it for another fourteen miles. Oddly enough, submerging it in icy water might be the best thing at the moment.

“Let’s do it.”

Prior to the trip, I watched a safety video on crossing Eagle River. According to the video, we were supposed to line up with everyone in our group, holding the hips of the hiker in front of us, and move sideways in a line facing the current. The theory was each person would help stabilize the hiker in front of him.

I hobbled over to the water’s edge, and my friend graciously agreed to be the leader, taking the brunt of the current.

My friend leaned into her poles, and I leaned into her. The water, which came up to mid-thigh, was icy and, as advertised, fast. The rocks under foot were smooth and slippery, and would have been difficult to negotiate with two good ankles.

My friend took a shuffling side step to the left, and I followed. We took another, and I felt myself lurch forward.

“Wait, stop you’re going too fast, you’re going too fast!” I shrieked hysterically, all in one breath.

“You okay you okay you okay?” 

“I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay,” I answered in our new call and response. We took another step to the left.

And another.

And another.

I was torn between skipping as quickly as we could to the shore, and with keeping my ankle from getting stuck between one of the rolling, slippery rocks.

We lurched to the left again, and I compulsively squeezed her hips in a death grip. 

“You’re going too fast, you’re going too fast!”

Then, realizing we really were quite close to the shore by then —  

“I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay,” I shrieked before she could ascertain if I was ready to move forward.

In a weird sideways charge, we galloped the last 10 feet, and onto the rocky beach.

I collapsed, tears streaming down my face from pain, and total relief.

“I’m so glad that’s over,” I kept muttering.

“You know Sarah? Every time you told me I was going too fast? I was just, like, moving.”

I laid down on my back, lifting my ankle into the air, moaning, muttering, and periodically asking my friend if she needed help erecting the tent. She assured me she did not, and then came to sit next to me on the rocky beach.

“I’m so glad that’s over and we don’t have to do that tomorrow,” I muttered one last time with finality.

In advance of this trip, I had excitedly, and optimistically, purchased a “backpacking sleeping bag” on Amazon, rated down to 47 degrees Fahrenheit. All day trudging through the snow covered mountains, I’d worried about whether the bag would be warm enough. 

While I did not freeze to death, I did roll around all night shivering, and wondering what shape my ankle would be in by morning.

At six, I crawled out of my friend’s tent shivering, and examined my ankle. It still resembled a grapefruit, but did not hurt as much as I had feared. Chalking it up to adrenaline, I hoped this protective panic would last until I could collapse at home later that night.

My friend scuttled out of the tent soon after me, and we made breakfast. Of my remaining freeze dried meals, I determined chili mac was the most breakfast-like, and I stirred the contents around in the boiling water, marveling at the sheer volumes of sodium inherent therein. We then packed up, and hit the trail.

Everything hurt. My ankle, my shoulders, my back, my feet, my new blisters. The residual pain of Day 1 exacerbated the pain of Day 2. 

I spent the better part of the first two hours hobbling along, holding my breath. We were wading through creepy tall grass again, and a bear could stick his face out in front of me without warning. Eventually we made our way into woods which, while still eerie, offered more visibility.

Bursting over a bridge and crossing Eagle River from a different vantage point, two young men came bounding towards us, hailing us down. 

My friend grabbed her bear spray.

I, on the other hand, was glad to see them. Maybe they’d give my old bones a lift home after they murdered me.

They announced they were taking surveys for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

I leaned heavily on my poles, relieved that we had stopped walking.

“How did you hear about this trail?”

I gestured mutely to my friend.

“How is the difficulty level?”

“Easy!” she rattled off.

I, on the edge of collapse – 

“Really hard,” I muttered, in a voice barely louder than a whisper.

“A lot of beginners like it for the variety. You’re exposed to so many different types of terrain. Snow patches, river crossings, eh?”

“I fell down the hill in the snow yesterday,” I answered flatly. “Do one of you have an ace bandage?”

One of the surveyors obligingly looked through his pack, and then confirmed not only did he not have an ace bandage, they had stopped carrying first aid kits.

“Last question,” the other resolutely continued. “What did you do with human waste?”

My friend and I glanced at each other for a moment.

“Uh, I haven’t had that problem.”

“Me neither,” she answered coyly.

“Are you familiar with the concept of, ‘Leave No Trace?’” he stubbornly continued with his intrusive line of questioning.

My friend, experienced backpacker that she was, assured him she knew how to bury her poop in the woods, sans tutorial, thank you.

While this little vignette broke up the monotony of the hike, we were just postponing the inevitable pain to come.

We shuffled forward.

“The fun part about the last day is you can plan where you are going to eat a celebratory dinner!” my friend sang out. “I always like to think about where I am going to go for dinner in Eagle River when we finish…”

She glanced at her watch as she trailed off. Then –

“Though we would really need to pick up the pace if we are going to have time to go to a restaurant before driving back to Girdwood.”

I grunted in response and continued to shuffle.

“Let’s play a trail game!” my friend called in desperation.

“Oh gosh, yes please.” 

Anything to distract me from my total abject misery.

The game was simple. She decided on a category (“Items I will serve in the new restaurant I am opening”). We then traded naming items in that category, in alphabetical order, while reciting all previously named items. If one player failed to name a new item, or failed to remember an old item, that player lost.

The restaurant to be opened by my friend quickly turned into a boozy bakery, serving solely sugary cocktails and decadent desserts. Menu items included Dutch Apple Pie, Eclairs, Fudge, Mango Margaritas, Sorbet, and Wine. 

Exhausting the alphabet, we switched to Items We Can’t Forget for Our Vacation (“Jungle Safari Hats,” “X-ray Goggles,” and “Yellow Rubber Ducky Raincoats”).

We were happily listing all of the qualities of Our Dream Guys (“Bulging Biceps,” “Cute Calves,” “Helps Me When Needed,” and, above all, “Quiet”) when I threw out my arm and grabbed her shoulder.

“Hang on, there’s something moving up there.”

Our current trail was meandering along the side of a steep cliff that descended into the river. Forrest covered our right side.

We squinted through the forest. The trail bent to the right, and I couldn’t tell if the movement was coming from a fellow hiker, or something more sinister.

Then its profile emerged from behind a tree one hundred feet in front of us.

The most horrible profile imaginable.

“Bear! Bear! Bear!” I whispered hysterically. 

We each seized our bear spray, and retreated down the hill as far as we could before we hit the cliff.

The bear sensed he had company, and crashed up the hill ahead of us.

We watched the trees up the hill, frozen.

The bear sashayed up over our heads, and then emerged from the trees, looking at us curiously.

He started walking towards us.

Hoisting our weapons high, we sidestepped to the left, as the bear continued his approach. Then, distracted for a moment, he looked off to his left, and we scrambled on through the trees, breaking into a run at the first opportunity.

“Is he following us, is he following us, is he following us?”

“No,” she said, putting the safety clip back on the cannister, and holstering her spray. “I think we are safe.”

Knees and ankle wobbling, I put my weapon away, and the two of us abandoned the remaining qualities of our dream guys, and began shouting frantically.

“Hey bear! Hey bear! Heeeeeeyyyyyy beeeeeaaaaaarrrrrr!”

We were now within the Eagle River Nature Center, and all of my attention was single mindedly focused on getting out of here. Ankle sore and rickety, I began using my walking poles as crutches.

More and more people were on the trail, and my friend cheerily reminded me that the more children we saw, the closer to the end we were; small people can’t hike too far.  

By the time I saw toddlers, I escalated my walking pole crutch speed to as close to a run I could manage.

A group of young mothers and babies were up ahead, and spotted our backpacks.

“Where did you camp?” one mother asked curiously. 

My friend stopped to chat. 

I blew past them. 

No time for moms.

I was rocketing forwards by now, drawing heart from the sight of power lines in the distance.

My friend, breathless, hurried to catch me.

“Lesson learned, Sarah does not brake for moms! Admittedly, they were very chatty.”

We burst out of the forest and into the parking lot. I began to cry quietly with relief, as my pace slowed to a shuffle, and I hobbled pitifully back to her car.

It was four in the afternoon, and too late for dinner in a restaurant before driving back to Girdwood to get my car. Instead, we went to Arby’s and wolfed down large sandwiches, curly fries, and chocolate milkshakes. We then trekked back to Girdwood, back to Anchorage and back to home. Upon arrival, I got into bed, and did not get out for two days.

Sarah Brown periodically whimpers. Whisper soothingly to her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or email her at sarah@browns-close.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Backpacking, and Other Burdens Part 1

[See original post here]

My friend took me on my first overnight backpacking trip last month. Via the Crow Pass trail, we were due to leave Girdwood early in the morning on Saturday and arrive at the Eagle River Nature Center parking lot late Sunday afternoon.

I looked forward to this trip for months. I created a curated playlist of songs about walking. I perused Fred Meyer’s selection of freeze-dried instant foods, all set to expire in 2067. I bought a bladder.

On the morning of the trip, she left her car in Eagle River, and I drove us to Girdwood. We snapped a fresh face “beginning of the trail selfie” (a tradition according to my friend) and began tottering along with our walking poles.

Upon reflection, this would become the “before” shot, to be compared later with the “after” shot, of what shape my body would be in after finishing the trip.

The trail began with a 3,500-foot elevation gain. My friend sprang along the trail like a jackrabbit, and I soon lost sight of her. The backpack, taller than my entire torso, made it difficult to balance, and I hobbled along waiting to twist my ankle. The shoulder and chest straps were so tight my breathing was restricted.

I’d brought a small portable speaker, currently and fittingly tuned to “Dead Man Walking.” The music broadcasted my presence to my intended audience (bears), and all other collateral damage (any living being).

I rounded a corner and found a small group of fellow hikers looking at me bemusedly.

“We heard you coming!” they called. “We wondered who was bringing the party!”

In the far distance, I saw my friend waiting patiently at the summit.

I trudged slowly towards her. After an eternity of crawling uphill –

“My backpack….” I sputtered between gasps. “It really…hurts…. Is it supposed…to hurt…like this?”

“Well, that’s backpacking!” she sang delightedly.

For the first time, I considered the possibility that my friend might be a lunatic. She voluntarily put herself through this pain, multiple times per summer… for fun?

She suggested we sit down and have lunch, and I ate three large pieces of cold pizza in quick succession. They were the last pieces of food I could eat that would have had to know the insides of a refrigerator.

My friend announced she hates cold pizza.

Confirmed, she was a lunatic.

I struggled back into my pack, requiring her help because I couldn’t get one arm through the strap; instead, I was hopping around like a chicken.

Seeing me struggle, she stared at me quizzically. Then, without warning, she grabbed the shoulder straps, pulled two cords, and they loosened.

Relief shot through my chest and shoulders. I took my first real breaths of the day.

And then we were off again. I felt lighter than air for about seven minutes before the pack began pulling into my shoulders again as the weight of gravity took hold. I would spend the next day and a half periodically loosening and tightening straps, depending which part of my back was seizing up in that particular moment.

Crow Pass covers dramatically different terrain throughout its full twenty-one miles. Starting with the stark elevation gain, hikers pass through snow, down shale coated mountains, through grass so tall and thick you can’t see bears coming, over boulders, through forests, and, of course, crossing Eagle River.

Trudging through snow, I started to worry that my newly acquired “backpacking sleeping bag,” rated down to 47 degrees Fahrenheit, was going to be warm enough.

Contemplating this chilly prospect, my foot slipped, and with an “Ummm…” by way of announcement to my friend, I tipped over and rolled down the hill.

What with the weight of the backpack, I began to roll faster and faster. Ever gaining speed, I hurtled towards the bottom of the mountain, and the large rock wall waiting for me there.

Growing up in Fairbanks, I knew the best way to slow down after bailing out on sledding hills was to increase your surface area as much as possible. I spread out my arms and legs and hoped I would slow down.

As I passively pondered what life would be like with a spinal injury, I felt my momentum stall, and I stopped sliding about 15 feet from the wall.

I sat up, took off the backpack, and looked at my friend, far up the top of the mountain. I’d lost a walking pole and my hat somewhere along my slide.

At a loss for anything else to say, I called up to her, “Um, can you get my hat? And I think I lost one of your poles.”

She shook her head.

“No, let’s keep going. You don’t need them.”

This was a moment of ratification on my status as a material girl. I hate losing things.

Loath to leave any belonging behind, I stood up, and started climbing back up the hill, justifying my actions to my friend.

“I need the pole for balance!”

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and my friend was definitely fidgeting because we still had not made it to Eagle River. She wanted to camp at the river that night, and cross first thing Sunday morning when the water was at its lowest.

Pole collected, hat on head, and backpack grudgingly placed on, I continued down the mountain, away from the snow.

I was thrilled the temperature was warming, and we were seemingly once more in summertime.

That’s when my friend cheerily reminded me to crank up the tunes again; we were back in bear country.

We entered some tall grass, positively obliterating any potential bears from view.

Knowing we were trying to make it to the river, I did my best to pick up the pace, though the ground was covered with giant boulders. If you took your eyes off of your feet for even a second to study the bear infested tall grass, for example, you’d trip and hit your head.

Feet burning with new blisters, and my pack once again feeling like the weight of the entire universe on my shoulders, I pouted silently, wondering how I was ever going to make it back to my car by this time tomorrow.

Amongst these gloomy thoughts, there was a rustling in the tall grass ahead of us, and we both stopped and seized our bear spray.

Two young men emerged, looking mildly amused as they took in the site of us brandishing our weapons.

As we lowered our arms, they happily announced that a woman on this side of Eagle River had just been removed from the trail by ambulance helicopter; she’d broken her ankle.

Realizing it would take more time to finish the journey with a broken ankle, I decided to just go ahead and continue at my poky pace. My friend must have decided the same thing, because both of us began walking at a noticeably more leisurely rate thereafter.

We sat down in the forest to have dinner around five. My friend had a nifty propane heater and a pot, in which we boiled water. We dumped the water into our freeze-dried food bags, and stirred the contents. My dinner was, ostensibly, spaghetti and meatballs; her’s beef stroganoff.

I eyed both gloopy messes suspiciously. When she told me about the food, I ventured that I would just bring some protein bars, or something. Having largely lived off of Lean Cuisine in college, I’d long since sworn off instant food of any kind. I’d eaten my entire lifetime’s worth over a four-year period, and my allotment was completely used up.

My friend, however, insisted I would want hot food and that I really should buy these unique items, guaranteed fresh for 46 years!

I stirred my spaghetti with a grimace and took a salty bite.

The spaghetti tasted exactly like Lean Cuisine.

It did, however, put some pep back into my very tired steps.

We cleaned up from our meal, leaving no trace as good backpackers should. Naturally, and just my luck, I was beginning to regret bringing the cold pizza, as the leavings in the bag were beginning to stink.

We hopped along, revived from the sodium ladened slop, avoiding tree roots precariously popping up throughout the forest. My friend confirmed we were almost to Eagle River, so we hurried along, trying to finish the day’s journey.

With a crack, my left ankle twisted out, and I went down with a yelp.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Sarah Brown suffers in silence. Feel free to pester her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or email her at sarah@browns-close.com; she rarely fights back. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Unmasking Halloween

[See original post here]

As with every other extracurricular activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween will assuredly be dampened this year. I am not the first person to note the irony; Halloween is a holiday based entirely on the idea that everyone should wear a mask.

Will Anchorage’s new mayor issue a municipal wide ban on live Halloween, as the old mayor did with live music?

Will anyone host Halloween parties?

Will anyone else attend?

Will families go trick-or-treating?

Is trick-or-treating a socially distanced activity?

Should I just leave a basket of candy out on the porch and call it quits when one small marauder takes it all?

Is bobbing for apples illegal?

Should it be?

Should we wear masks in the water while bobbing for apples?

Will people dress up in costume?

What will be the top costume of choice?

If we assume Halloween will not be stricken from the calendar, and that there will be costumes, and that people will dress up in them, below are the clear favorites for the Most Desirable Halloween Costume of 2020:

For those who remained single before, during, and after quarantine – 

Top Singles Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The Karen – Karen with bobbed hair, crow’s feet, and a bitter expression, has already been dubbed “the scariest Halloween costume of 2020,” by Good Morning America;
  2. Hunter Biden – all you need is a crack pipe and a wire transfer. No shirt required;
  3. Mask-ed Vigilantes – no obligation to separate along party lines here. This costume can be applied to both pro, and anti, mask vigilantes.

For those who managed to find love, despite quarantine –

Top Couples Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. Pilots and flight attendants;
  2. A pair of Sheeple;
  3. Donald Trump and Joe Biden;
  4. Amy Coney Barrett and Ruth Bader Ginsburg;
  5. Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir.

And for the rarest life form of all, those who managed to maintain friendships despite quarantine, and subsequent highly charged political events–

Top Group Costumes for Halloween 2020:

  1. The cast of Tiger King:
    • Joe Exotic;
    • Carole Baskin;
    • Fraudster Jeff Lowe;
    • Pony-tailed polygamist Bhagavan Antle;
    • Stool pigeon Howard Baskin;
    • Victim and tiger feed, Don Lewis.
  2. The cast of General Hospital:
    • Doctors;
    • Nurses;
    • COVID virus;
    • COVID vaccinations;
    • Ventilators;
    • N-95 Masks.
  3. The cast of former Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s sex scandal:
    • Ethan Berkowitz dressed in a backless suit and carrying a selfie stick;
    • Maria Athens;
    • Molly Blakey, intermittently dispensing booze and cookies;
    • The escort known as Rae – She’s mysterious, so costumes are open to interpretation.
  4. The cast of Current Events, not to exclude:
    • Plague;
    • Pestilence;
    • Exodus (sometimes known as Brexit);
    • The Apocalypse – This can be subdivided into the Four Horsemen, and One Woman, of the Apocalypse:
      1. Scott Atlas;
      2. Alex Azar;
      3. Deborah Birx;
      4. Anthony Fauci;
      5. Mike Pence.
  5. The cast of a Zoom meeting:
    • A baby;
    • A pet;
    • A bra;
    • A toilet;
    • A thermos of vodka;
    • The Mute Button.
  6. The cast of Cancel Culture:
    • Woodrow Wilson;
    • Teddy Roosevelt;
    • J.K. Rowling;
    • The New York Times;
    • Mount Rushmore;
    • Broadway show, Hamilton;
    • And, of course, The Founders.

I myself choose not to rank costumes, but shall instead dress up as everything. On Halloween, you will find me isolated indoors eating cookies and drinking vodka out of my favorite tiger mug. Photos of Mount Rushmore will cycle repeatedly on the television, and I will don my beloved pair of fluffy sheep slippers. I will then promptly miss the mute button as I talk on the phone while doing a highly personal activity.

Every year, Sarah Brown celebrates Halloween with maximum enthusiasm. This year, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

The Young and the Redemption

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

[See Original Post here]

While I was hoping the next report would be from the other side, alas, I’ve enjoyed eight full weeks of quarantine here in West Anchorage. This is largely due to my own sense of caution; the Municipality of Anchorage is well into Phase 2 of reopening.

On the first day that restaurants were open, I stepped out onto my front porch and into the brilliant sunshine. I took a tentative step forward, breathing in the fresh air. As detailed in Episode 1, my main source of entertainment over the last eight weeks has been my daily hour-long walk through my neighborhood; my cardio stints come from the quick weaves and dodges to avoid my neighbors.

But the day restaurants opened, well that porch stepping had the added significance of being the possible first move into the world beyond my neighborhood. I could actually go to some destination, should I so choose.

The man in the next driveway was climbing into his car, and I cheerily waved at him. While not one to normally greet anyone, least of all my neighbors, I was overflowing with the spirit of goodwill for my fellow man.

He waved back, and promptly coughed.

I dropped my hand, scandalized, and scuttled back into the dim recesses behind me.

Every day now, I peer eagerly out of my windows, awaiting news of either devastation or recovery.

Nevertheless, this is the third installment of series sponsored by COVID-19, preceded by “The Young and the Restless” and “2 Young 2 Restless: Covid Drift.”

Updates to key dramatic subplots are included below for your convenience:

  1. Workouts – I’ve joined three fitness challenges through work. I’ve got seven blisters and two biceps to show for it.
  2. Karate – Someone circulated a rumor that my karate sensei trained the Karate Kid. This story soon evolved into he trained the guy who trained the Karate Kid. Latest version is that he may have seen the Karate Kid once. Bottom line, the sensei’s life continues to remain shrouded in mystery.
  3. Speaking of karate – I am due to test for my “yellow-orange” belt at the end of the month. Logistics remain uncertain and I am not sure whether a virtual test will be easier or harder than an in-person test. Most students advance to black belt (i.e. master ten belts) in three years. At my rate, I can expect to become a black belt in twice that time. I advance through life at half the speed of a nine-year old.
  4. Television – I determined it was time to tackle a movie with slightly more gravitas than Alice and Wonderland (the last feature film I watched in quarantine). Netflix had The Shawshank Redemption on rotation. I’d never seen it, had no idea what the plot was, and sat down to watch it with no advance research. Upon viewing, I became unduly morose, and spent 48 hours worried about whether there was any reasonable likelihood I would one day have to stage a prison break through a hole in the sewage piping.
  5. After a few comforting episodes of Parks and Recreation, I started Hollywood on Netflix, thinking it would be a cheerful cartoonish reimagining of post-war California. It is not; I’d say the early tone of the show is cynical at best. I watched the central character’s employment struggles for about fifteen minutes, became unduly morose, and went back to Parks and Recreation.
  6. I thought a third venture was warranted, and went back to that tried and true genre of British period soap operas. Julian Fellows of Downtown Abbey fame debuted a new show over the Easter weekend and I tuned in. Sure enough, the first episode had a surprisingly affecting death scene, after which I became unduly morose and swore off new content for the foreseeable future.

Reports from the front lines both locally and nationally are promising, but with an added dose of whimsy. Women can return to beauty parlors, but cannot have their hair blown dry. Nail salons may take customers, but manicurists must wear the equivalent of a moon suit to protect themselves and their customers. Gyms can hold classes, but only outside.

In a nutshell: businesses may take customers, but customers should stay home.

Drawing courage from the relatively tame scene locally, I stepped onto my front porch for the second time a few weeks following my neighbor’s assault.

Again, I blinked my eyes against all that new bright May light, and glanced down at my phone.

Per the news, giant murder hornets have arrived in the United States.

I retreated again.

The Egyptians understood plagues, and darned if I wasn’t going to follow their hunker down example.

Sarah Brown delights in the outdoors. When she is not frolicking in nature, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift

Courtesy Netflix

[See Original Post here]

Today we view “2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift,” the sequel to “The Young and the Restless.” In case you missed Episode One, you can catch up here, and view updates to key plot points below:

  1. As described in our first installment, I am unable to consume any television shows with even a modicum more plot than a typical twenty-minute sitcom. The one exception to this rule is Tiger KingTiger King has every possible plot mashed together into one show. So far, I count polygamy, cults, murder, animal rights, arson, blood feuds, a woman with a mysterious past, magic, illicit drug smuggling, and illicit animal smuggling. Granted there may be more; after all, I’m only on Episode Four.
  2. I stopped watching The Office towards the end of Season Five. It is at this point that layoffs become an all too real plot point. I was watching The Office for the express purpose that nothing bad happens, and no character’s actions have any material consequences. Layoffs, however, are bad and are real consequences.
  3. I started watching Parks and Recreation in place of The Office. I’ve never watched it before and am halfway through Season Two. The show is about local government. This guarantees there are no layoffs, and no consequences.

And now, we continue with “2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift”

  1. I’ve consumed more chips and salsa in the last three weeks than I have in the last five years combined. Sodium intake is reaching medically concerning levels.
  2. For about two hours, I contemplated doing my first ever juice cleanse. Before this pandemic, a juice cleanse never sounded remotely appealing. These days, however, a juice cleanse would just be another new activity. 
  3. I began researching any steps and needed materials to embark on a juice cleanse. It turns out, juice cleanses are either very expensive, very labor intensive, or both. I went back to eating chips and salsa. 
  4. I find myself fantasizing about the other forms of self-improvement I will be able to do post-quarantine. Waxing my legs suddenly seems like an excellent use of time. Much like a juice cleanse, waxing my legs has never held any pull before now. It always appeared time consuming, costly, and painful. Also, much like a juice cleanse, now it’s an activity.
  5. I’m grateful for my foresight in obtaining a quarantine haircut prior to the Municipality of Anchorage shutting down. Else, I would be mightily tempted to experiment with giving myself a haircut.
  6. My brother got a puppy. Now I want a puppy. This is new as I am allergic to dogs.
  7. I’ve added thirty minutes of daily internet puppy video viewing to my schedule. 
  8. When I am feeling otherwise bored, I take my temperature.

Clearly, in my nearly four weeks of isolation I’ve formed many bad habits. I have, however, also made a few notable improvements. For the first time in my life, I am cooking every day. My weekly menu consists of a rotating schedule of scrambled eggs, tuna salad, oatmeal, fruit and cheese, and frozen salmon. Much like my sodium intake, my mercury, cholesterol, and omega fatty acid levels are unsurpassed.Advertisement

In addition to cooking, I’m now exercising. My usual fitness classes are broadcast via Zoom, and all have added daily sessions. I am now not only working out every day, I’m working out every day, twice a day.

My Pure Barre classes with other Millennial women via Zoom are significantly more orderly than my beginners’ karate classes with children. None of the children know how to mute the microphones on their parents’ computers, so the classes are conducted amid loud shrieks of delight, making it difficult to hear the instructor. Periodically, a noisy family squabble breaks out in the background. During the last session, one girl tripped over her dog. The instructor more or less gave up on teaching us new material and instead had us kick at the wall for a few minutes.

While we Alaskans share much anxiety about the future, we also share a stalwart commitment to an isolated misanthropic lifestyle. Stay safe fellow cabin people. 

Sarah Brown is still a shut-in, but not a hoarder. If you must, she can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

The Young and the Restless

Courtesy Hughes Entertainment

[See Original Post here]

Like many of my fellow residents of the Municipality of Anchorage, I am currently living under a state of quarantine, social distancing, and general loneliness. It’s been difficult, mostly resulting in me chewing on my leg out of sheer boredom.

All, however, is not lost. Thus far, I have accomplished the following tasks:

  1. I’ve made it to Season 5 of The Office. Any show with even a mite more plot is proving too overwhelming in this chaotic time.
  2. I’ve compared quarantine snack choices with anyone who will entertain the question. We’ve concluded peanut M&M’s and popcorn are the most popular snacks. Curiously, one survey participant said oatmeal was his favorite snack; he was mildly crushed to hear that Quaker Oats is selling for $30 per unit online.
  3. I’ve disinfected my television remote three times.
  4. I obtained a quarantine haircut. Prior to complete isolation, I had my hairdresser cut my hair into a nineties style bob. I’m good on haircuts for the next four months. My brother’s hair, on the other hand, is now long enough to be tied back with a rubber band.
  5. I’ve purchased canned vegetables and baked beans for the first time in my adult life. When this is over, canned food drives will be more bountiful than in any prior decade.

Aside from my little triumphs, my community and its residents are fighting back, overflowing with self-improvement. For example, everyone I know has turned into a public health expert. I am pleased how much my Facebook friends have improved their scientific knowledge, seemingly overnight.

No one, however, beats out newly minted epidemiologists, and my beloved parents, Fred and Ann Brown, for coronavirus pandemic preparedness. Fred and Ann Brown are currently quarantining their mail.

It is encouraging to see how seriously businesses are taking this crisis. Businesses of all sizes have a coronavirus task force, regardless of the applicability of said task force to any particular business’ industry. Thus far, I have received coronavirus protocols from the credit union where I opened my first bank account at age eight, Groupon, Ollin Tea & Café, Nordstrom, and the Whistler Film Festival (which is not currently scheduled to take place before December).

While I find it comforting that Spirit of Alaska Federal Credit Union has a coronavirus task force, I’m really much more curious what United Healthcare intends to do about all of this.

Small business owners are finding ingenious ways to keep their customer base intact. For example, prior to the Mayor’s order closing all bars, restaurants, and sites of recreation, my gym sent out sweet, optimistic, daily emails describing how the floor was antimicrobial, how management was capping class sizes, how staff were increasing cleaning regimens, and how instructors would no longer touch the students. Pure Barre on 36th and Old Seward was determined to remain a sanctuary for the women who faithfully frequented it.

Post mayoral mandate, this happy little community disbanded for all of three days. Not to be gainsaid, they surged back, offering online streaming classes.

Come what may, they will lift, tone, and burn.

My daily online workouts require some adjustments as I do not have a complete supply of gym equipment at my house. For example, my hand weights for these online classes consist of two giant jars of baby dill pickles from Costco. Magically, the weights are getting lighter as time goes on. I must be getting very strong indeed.

I attempted to get Fred and Ann Brown to take these online classes with me. I did one class with each parent. Afterwards, they opted for the workout regimen prescribed by The Wall Street Journal for “The Aging Athletes.” Exercises consist of pushups against countertops and rising up and down on your tippy toes.

The highlight of my day is usually an hour long walk around my neighborhood. Since schools closed and most businesses sent employees home, the streets of my neighborhood are more crowded these days than they used to be on a typical weekday afternoon. My neighbors, to their credit, are very respectful of my space; they regularly run to the other side of the street whenever they see me approaching.

Apart from my neighbors, however, everyone else I know has gotten abundantly chatty. Before the pandemic, the only person who would call me on FaceTime was my brother. Now, FaceTime requests have increased 5,000% and I am very rarely camera ready.

Anchorage’s Mayor is pleading with citizens to cease hording behavior. Until this time when the mania ends, may there be a paper towel in every kitchen, and a roll of toilet paper in every bathroom.

Sarah Brown is a shut in. She can be reached any time, day or night, at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

%d bloggers like this: