Friday, December 31, 2010

For Auld Lang Syne

It's become a tradition for us to end the year by snuffing a couple of crustaceans, throwing some potatoes in the oven, tossing a salad, popping the cork on some decent champagne, and then eating dinner in our pajamas.

Why should this year be any different?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thanks to Mr. Time Magazine Man of the Year

Almost 20 years ago I did my student teaching in two parts, six weeks in a first grade class and another six in a fourth grade class. I started the school year with that first grade teacher and her students: I helped set the room up, I was there on the first day, back to school night, and conferences. My sense of ownership was strong, and I was sad to leave for the second half of my assignment.

As luck would have it, my real teaching job was in the middle school that many of those students would eventually attend, and my toe was tapping for the five years it took for them to reach me. Their parents were super impressed that I remembered their children, but I could never have forgotten them, never mind that to this day, I have their school pictures from that year in the top drawer of my desk at school.

And here the story takes a facebook turn: a couple of those kids are friends of friends and so occasionally I am smacked in the face by evidence of how much time has actually passed. Today it was a photo of one of their children opening Christmas gifts. To me, he's still a six-year-old missing his front teeth, but to somebody else, he's Dad.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dinner and a Movie

Back in Buffalo, we went out with Heidi's mom for a movie and then dinner. The movie was terrible-- we all agreed it was one of the worst in recent memory, despite a likable cast and a familiar setting. Dinner, too, was disappointing, but the evening itself was way greater than the sum of its parts, and we all had a really good time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fleeting

Bill and Emily and the boys headed for home this morning; Mom flew out this afternoon; Heidi and I leave tomorrow, and the head melted off the snow dog a few minutes ago. Farewell Christmas 2010! You were gone all too soon.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Child

A chunk of our holiday time together as a family has been devoted to getting Richard to watch the Star Wars saga; at the age of five, we figure he's ready to be initiated into this family favorite. Trouble is, he's a sensible kid, and he doesn't like scary stuff, so he's very resistant to the movies, refusing to watch them. His cousins, Victor and Treat, have loved all things Star Wars since The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, when they were seven and four. They in particular were eager to share a beloved part of their childhoods with their young cousin.


Truth be told, he never really had a chance with such a persistent campaign waged by so many, and finally, this morning, they lured him in with the cantina scene, after which he was hooked. That jazzy music, those crazy aliens, they'll do it every time. We watched the rest of Episode IV, and then watched it again from the beginning so that he could see what he had missed. After that, how could we not watch The Empire Strikes Back?

It's safe to say that the Star Wars boycott is over. Richard thought the movies were pretty cool, and he paid close attention, asking questions whenever he needed to; though perhaps his admiration is not quite so naked as ours, yet. At one point, he turned to his mom with curiosity. "Why is this called The Emperor's New Revenge?" he asked.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

White Christmas

It snowed enough in Atlanta to coat the grass thoroughly and treat everyone to the first white Christmas here since 1882. This morning, Richard said he wanted to build a snowman, and at first we thought it was our duty as rational adults to inform him that there simply wasn't enough snow for success. But then frostier minds prevailed, and we realized that if we scaled the project down, anything was possible.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Ending

I write from 20,000 feet or there abouts, taking advantage of free holiday WiFi. The cloud cover is dense and cottony, offering no visibility. What could have been a disaster has taken a comfortable turn. We heard at about 6:30 last night that due to impending snow, Delta had canceled 500 flights in and out of Atlanta for today. Sure enough, ours was one of them, and they were offering no travel alternatives for at least two days.

We were on our way out for Christmas Eve dinner with Heidi's family, but I called my family with the bad news, because I knew my brother and brother-in-law were the guys who could fix this, if anyone could. By the time we finished our meal, they had investigated thoroughly, putting off their own dinner, and the word was that Delta was having equipment trouble with so many planes stranded in Europe, and that they were using an iffy weather forecast as an excuse to shuffle things around on a relatively slow travel day. Happy holidays to the corporate scrooge who dreamed up that spiritless plan.

As we had counted on, though, Bill and Jordan had found a few alternatives. One was a 99 dollar ticket on AirTran leaving just an hour later than our original flight. When I logged on to book the flight, it turned out that the only seats left were 20 dollars more for premium leg room. Okay, I shrugged. We had two bags. Another twenty dollars each, but free with a business class ticket which was only 49 dollars more than the base fare. So for an additional 9 bucks each, we ended up in business class and we should land in Atlanta, where there is no snow yet (I'm verrry disappointed in you, Delta), in about half an hour.

Friday, December 24, 2010

No Place Like Home for the Holidays

On Thanksgiving I wrote about last minute grocery shopping I was able to do that morning; here it is Christmas Eve and by 6 PM, everything in Buffalo was shut up tighter than ten drummers' drums. In fact, we went to a 3:55 movie at the mall, and when we came out, the place was deserted and all the shops were shuttered and locked. Our car was on the other side of the complex, though, and so our footsteps echoed as eerily as a Dickens' shade as we crossed the vast emptiness. The bare parking lot proclaimed louder than anything else could that it was past time for all shoppers to rush home with their treasures, which is just what we did.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Can Flying Cars Be Far Behind?

Among the promises for the future when I was young was that real time video communication would take the place of the telephone. Every futuristic TV show and movie had just such a device, and some even had it in a handheld version. Back then I remember adults wondering if it was such a good idea. "What if I don't want people to see me when I'm talking to them on the phone?" they asked.

Flash forward 40 years and courtesy of Apple FaceTime is a reality. I remembered being underwhelmed when I first heard about this new functionality on the latest iPhone, in fact, I didn't even use it for the first few months I had my phone, but then my brother got one, too, and I am hooked. It's better than the plain old phone for sure, but it's also better than being tethered to your computer as you are for other forms of video chat. Somehow, they have managed to make it feel like you are really there.

Tonight my family called from Atlanta, and I got to see and talk to everyone. My brother and nephew took turns directing the phone call, walking around the room, showing me the Christmas Tree, some wrapped packages, various family members as they went about their business. It was really cool-- definitely the next best thing to being there. And I didn't care at all how I looked.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Present, Christmas Past

Every Christmas for as long as I've known Heidi I've heard about these disgusting cookies her mother used to make at the holidays. Masquerading as a traditional cut-out, these were flavored heavily with anise, and neither Heidi nor her two brothers could stand them. To hear them tell it, they all had their own strategy to scope out the cookie plate to be sure that the one they selected was not of the dreaded licorice variety.

Last night at dinner the subject came up again, but this time her mother, Louise, told us how those were the only cookies they had when she was a little girl. The recipe was her mother's and it was based on a traditional Polish cookie similar to those her grandmother baked. "To me," she said, "they're the only cookies that really taste like Christmas." Then she shrugged and added, " I haven't made them in years because nobody else likes 'em, and they're too much work for just me."

"Oh, you should have them!" I said, ignoring Heidi and her brother shaking their heads and slashing their hands across their throats. "I'll make them for you tomorrow." Which is exactly what I did, with help from both of Louise's children, to their credit. It was an old-fashioned recipe-- all shortening and sour milk, and the dough was super-soft and a bit hard to roll, but it was totally worth it, and the whole experience only got better for me the minute they pulled out the old cookie cutters.

They were the exact same pressed aluminum and copper shapes that we had when I was a child. That hump-backed Santa and camel were unmistakable, as was the reindeer caught mid-flight, and the star with the fluted edges. "Is there a heart, diamond, spade, and club with this set?" I asked, recalling the bridge shapes that were present but rarely used in our collection. And they were there, along with the snowman and the bell and the Christmas Tree.

The cookies? Not terrible, even Heidi and Mark said so, but it wouldn't have mattered at all even if they were.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You'd Be Home By Now

We took the less traveled road on our trip to Buffalo today. Our route took us through the heart of Pennsylvania, right along the Susquehanna River for much of the way and then through the Endless Mountains and into Upstate New York. Unlike driving on the interstate, we passed a lot of houses, and as is my habit, I wondered what it would be like to live there: there in that Civil War era clapboard rowhouse, or there in that 19th century farm house, or there in that stately stone home with the wide porch festooned with two criss-crossing clotheslines of drying underwear and overlooking both the road and the river, or up there in that chalet with floor-to-ceiling windows. There were plenty of holiday decorations and as this shortest day of the year drained to darkness and the full moon rose over stubbled fields frozen with snow, the light displays, whether impressive or comical, were all earnest and bright.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thank You, Laura

Today at lunch I was helping several kids put the finishing touches on their gifts of writing, and truth be told, I was completing my fifth one as well. In the midst of this mad effort to meet the deadline, my friend who teaches next door knocked on my window. "Are you eating lunch today?" she asked through the glass.

It is our practice to eat together in the team room almost every day. We enjoy each others' company, but there's more to it than that, because while it's true that no one else on the team always eats with us, it is also so that everyone else on the team eats with us sometimes, and we have an unspoken pact to keep that little welcome light of camaraderie burning. Today, however, was one of those rare times when I was not going to make it in for lunch.

I waved my hands desperately, gesturing at the computer and the kids. "I can't!" I replied. My friend nodded and turned toward the team room. A few minutes later she returned with my lunch all warmed up and ready to eat at my desk.

The day tumbled on headlong from there-- teaching, meetings, sub-plans and Tolerance Club after school. I ran several errands on my way home and have spent the evening packing and preparing for our road trip to Buffalo in the morning, but through it all the warm glow of my friend's small kindness has sustained me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Time

After the couple of inches of snow we had on Thursday, many citizens of our little county awoke on Friday anxiously wondering about the day's schedule. Would we go? Would there be a delay? Other surrounding jurisdictions had already made the determination the night before, but here it turned out that any who were hoping for a couple of extra hours of sleep were disappointed, and some folks were confused as to why. The roads were treacherous in places (there had been several school buses involved in fender benders the day before), and a two hour delay does not count against the system as a make up day.

Some people wondered if this was all part of our new focus on accountability: don't all kids and teachers-- especially those without irreproachable test scores-- belong in school? About mid-day another explanation emerged. President Obama had made a surprise visit to one of our elementary schools to read to a group of second graders. The video of it is charming; both the kids and the commander in chief clearly had a wonderful time. And it wouldn't have happened if there was a delay.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sure, Go Ahead and Ask

For the first time in a long time, I'm impressed by what the Senate's accomplished in the last little while. To be fair, I know how they feel-- it takes a deadline to get me to move my ass, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Choose Your Poison

With the bustle of the holiday season, I'm a little behind on my commitments, and particularly my own gifts of writing. Every year I participate in this activity with my students, and since I have five sections of English that means I get five writing pieces dedicated to and/or inspired by moi, but I also have to write five of my own. The students' were due today, so that we may exchange them on Monday, but mine are not quite finished.

Perhaps mirroring the inevitable escalation that seems to accompany gift-giving at this time of year, or simply because the standards set by the examples I showed them are higher, this time more is more, and my students expect not the pretty poems of the past, but rather some solid stories, preferably choose your own adventure or five minute mysteries, featuring themselves and their interests. Oy vey. I've spent the last few hours at my computer spinning such tales and creating wordles to accompany them just so I won't disappoint anybody on Monday.

If you have sympathy for me, click here, if not, click here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Look! It's Snowing!

A colleague described the scene at sixth grade lunch this way: They were holding each other and screaming! All because of a little snow. Screaming! Yes, the students were very excited about the weather today, and thanks to all of the new windows we got during the renovation, there was plenty of opportunity to watch the flakes fall to the frozen earth. It was sometime after lunch (and that conversation) that I realized how accustomed I am to children of this age-- who would expect them to do anything else? I kept the blinds wide open and enjoyed their enthusiasm before redirecting their attention to the work at hand.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lost Analogy

I have a student who is a super-resistant writer. He's also a very proficient passive-aggressive excelling at blaming everyone else for his shortcomings. I also know from reading the little writing he does and talking to him that he loves playing football. Today, as the students were working on their gifts of writing which is usually a very high-interest assignment, I could see he was struggling, so I asked him to sit near me.

It seemed to me that he had everything he needed to produce a workable first draft-- plenty of models and information about the person he was writing for-- and yet he professed to be stuck. I gave him some advice on how to start and he composed a few lines and then turned to me, stymied again. "Alfonso," I said, "what would you do if you were on the line in football and some guy was blocking you? Would you give up?"

"No," he answered.

I shrugged. "Would you keep on pushing forward?"

"No," he said.

I looked expectantly at him. "Then what?" I asked.

"I'd find a way around him," he told me.

"Exactly," I said. "That's how it is with almost everything. If you can't do it one way, you have to look for another way, no matter how hard it is. You've got to get it done, man."

He nodded seriously. "Do you know what I mean?" I asked.

"Not really," he said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Northern Lights

I've been following with interest the reactions to the release of the 2009 PISA scores last week. Secretary Duncan called them a wake-up call, a challenge to the US to improve. Others have pointed out that those 15-year-old students who were tested are really our first group of kids who have been exposed to the high-stakes testing curriculum for their entire academic experience, and suggest that such an approach may very well be flawed.

Two of the most successful groups were students from Shanghai, China and students from Finland. According to many sources, these two countries have diametrically opposite methods of educating their students. Chinese students have 10-12 hours of formal education, 6 days a week, in addition to homework. Their curriculum is focused on test preparation, and most schools have removed the arts and physical education from their schedules in order to devote more time to tested disciplines.

In Finland, teachers are recruited from the top 10% of college graduates and paid commensurately. One Finnish official is quoted as saying that in their language their is no word for accountability. "We put well-prepared teachers in the classroom, give them maximum autonomy, and we trust them to be responsible" He added: "We don't believe in competition among students, teachers, or schools. We believe in collaboration, trust, responsibility, and autonomy."

I want to move to Finland.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Good Question

"The day before winter break is early release, right?" one of my students asked me today.

I told her it was.

"Are we going to do anything that day?" she asked.

I looked at her a moment before answering, trying to gauge where she was coming from. She's a good student who seems to enjoy school, so I asked her a question in response. "Do you mean anything important or do you mean anything special?"

She told me that her family was thinking of taking a day trip to Princeton, NJ, but her parents asked her and her seventh grade sister to check at school before they finalized their plans.

How to answer? The truth is that I'll be out on a personal day myself and the other teachers on the team are considering showing a movie which will have some curriculum connection, but more of the enriching kind. Still, it's not good PR to tell anyone that it's fine to miss a day of school.

When I was a kid there was never any instruction the day before winter break; it was filled with a party and other fun stuff. That's far from the case today when it seems like every bit of focus is supposed to be on accountability to standards and preparing our students for the inevitable tests at the end of the term. Of course, there are valid arguments to be made on both sides of this issue, which is one of the reasons that education is such a complex enterprise.

As for my student? I told her that she wouldn't miss anything she couldn't make up, one way or another.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Night

There's a poem by Georgia Heard that I've always loved, and it's on my mind tonight.

What We Hoped For

Sometimes I hear the wind in the trees
and I think it’s him come back
ready to ask the earth for forgiveness.

The smoke rises from the chimney.
It is late fall. All life has stopped
waiting for him to arrive.

I see him walking down the snowy driveway
to a house he never saw,

so much like the man I feared
when I was a girl.

Somewhere up there among the stars
is the way life could have been.

My father circles with Ursa Major.
He has become part of the great spectacle.

We had a chance here on earth, and what we hoped for
rises and sets with the sun.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Not So Small Talk

I don't usually like to make small talk with the cashier at a store (or anyone else for that matter), but today the young man ringing up my groceries seemed determined to chat me up. "Did you have a good Thanksgiving?" he asked, which was weird because that holiday was two weeks ago, and everyone is pretty much focused on the next one.

Still, I like to please people, and so I smiled and told him that I had. Then I used that trick I learned from a four year old a few years ago. "How about you?" I looked at his name tag and added, "Mohamed?"

He told me that it was very nice. His family is not in the area, but he has a group of friends that are like family, and they all celebrated together.

"Did someone cook a turkey?" I asked.

Yes, they had, but he doesn't like turkey so he only ate the sides. Silence fell then, made a little uncomfortable for me by my perception that he wanted to talk. "Where is your family?" I asked him.

"Morocco," he told me, and I nodded with interest. "You know, this country is not like any other country in the world," he said.

"This country? America?" I asked him to clarify.

"Yes," he affirmed. "There are people from everywhere here. Africa, Asia, South America, Europe-- they all live in America, together. It's very good."

"That's true," I agreed. "But this area of the country is different than some other places."

"I've heard that," he said, but his admiration did not seem diminished. I thought about his limited experience of America and compared it to that of my students, who have grown up and are living and learning in such a multinational environment. I had to agree with him; it was pretty extraordinary.

He put the last of my items into the bag and thanked me. "Nice talking to you," I said and I meant it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ghost Post

Today I posted the answer to the five-minute mystery from last Friday. I did so in the form of a confession from the culprit in which she described her motives and the consequences she faced when she was caught. I also wrote it in what the kids four years ago called "ghost posting". You change the font color to white so that the reader has to highlight the text to see what it says. Discovering how to read the solution was the last part of solving the mystery. Fun day!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Call it What it Is

Part of a school's job is making sure that all children are receiving an appropriate education. In our district this conversation usually begins at the school level at one of the daily team meetings where all the teachers on a team discuss student concerns, usually with the counselor present. From there we have a series of standard interventions-- a parent conference, after school study hall, meeting with the counselor, or daily point sheet are a few examples of these.

If a student continues to be unsuccessful, we may formalize our concerns at either an Intervention Assistance Team meeting or even a Special Education Student Study to see if educational, psychological, and/or medical testing might be in order. If it is, an Eligibility meeting is held to consider all the results and to determine if the student is eligible for special education services and an individualized education plan. The committee who makes that recommendation consists of the student's parents, a special education coordinator, the director of guidance, the student's guidance counselor, the school psychologist, the school social worker, a general education teacher, and a special education teacher. A majority of the committee must agree that the student qualifies for special ed, and the parents must agree to opt in for services.

Students are found eligible for different reasons-- a learning disability, "OHI" or Other Health Impaired (which usually means Attention Deficit Disorder, but could be another physical issue as well), a cognitive disability, or an emotional disability. It is this last one, an ED label, which sometimes presents a challenge to some committee members. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive a stigma attached to such a designation, even though it has well-defined criteria, one of which is that the student's lack of control over his or her emotions is negatively impacting his or her academic progress. Still some people hesitate to apply that category of disability to a student on the grounds that it's a negative label.

I would argue that their attitude is contributing to the misconception that there is something wrong with kids who might be ED. They are perpetuating the stigma by their hesitancy to consider that label as nothing more than an objective condition that a student is struggling with and should be supported through. If you need help, you should get it, and no one should try to protect you from that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thieves and Liars

It's not really good teaching practice to call the students negative names, even when you catch them red-handed with something they don't own or in a bald-faced fib. In the heat of the moment it may be hard to be tactful, but later on such indelicacy can be trouble. No matter how accurate they might be, many parents and administrators object to such harsh words.

I've found the best strategy is to have the kids say it themselves, like so:

Teacher: "Does that belong to you?"

Student: "No."

Teacher: "What do we call that when people take something that isn't theirs?"

Student (usually reluctantly): "Stealing."

Teacher: "And what do we call people who steal?"

Student: "Thieves?"

Exactly.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Acting Out

Yesterday in Tolerance Club we had the kids write skits that showed examples of bullying incidents that they had witnessed at our school. To help get them started two other adults and I performed a quick sketch of something that had really happened in my classroom. In our dramatic presentation, I played the clueless teacher-- the one too busy taking attendance and giving directions to notice one student harassing and threatening the kid sitting next to her.

I'm afraid the role came quite easily to me, and afterward I was in demand by all the other groups to play the adult who does what an adult might do when coming upon a questionable interaction in the hallway or cafeteria: I asked kids to rat on other kids who were present, sent the wrong student to the office, and dismissed a situation as a waste of time. (Character note-- despite the unhelpfulness of my interventions, my heart was always in the right place.)

On a certain level it was discouraging, but in truth, this is why we started the Tolerance Club. Adults policing the school is not a solution; to lessen bullying, the climate has to change and the change has to come from the kids.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Kernal

My students took a look at figurative language in their independent reading books today (although they really still wanted to talk about who stole the school mascot in that five minute mystery we worked on last Friday). Simile, metaphor, and personification should be a review for them-- they're on the state standards for earlier grades-- so my assignment was for them to pull an example from their books and then come up with a theory about why the author chose to use that particular comparison, taking into account the context and their knowledge of the plot and characters.

Yeah. That was a stretch. Despite the examples I gave them in my introduction to this task, their critical thinking skills were put to the test. Many wrote that the author chose that particular image "to describe what was going on better." A broth that tasted like springtime itself had no greater meaning to them, despite the recent reawakening of the character's desire to fight for life.

It's okay. I know this is higher level stuff, and we'll talk about how authors deliberately choose images again. For now I'm content to plant the seed.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Days of Our Lives

We saw The Social Network today. I would recommend it: it's a good movie, and how can the story of a 26-year-old billionaire not be automatically compelling?  For people of my age, not quite 50, it's also kind of a glimpse into our future-- a reminder that the most successful segments of our weak economy and popular culture are being driven by people twenty years our juniors. Hey, even the president is our age.

Oh, I know, there are still plenty of old dudes "in charge," and not only is forty the new thirty, but fifty is also the new forty, and so on, but the sands are running, friends.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fire and Ice

Over the summer my woodpile became infested with box elder beetles and stink bugs. I was not aware of this situation until last week when I built a fire and set a couple of extra logs on the hearth. Within moments there was a mass migration of insects across the carpet. The air temperature outside was very cold, but as soon as those guys warmed up they had twenty-five different directions to crawl in.

Even though I have no fear of bugs, I confess that it was a little disturbing: there were a lot of beetles in the living room. I ran around sweeping them onto folded-up sections of newspaper, but then I hesitated. I don't like to kill bugs unless it's unavoidable; I have a strict capture and release program, but releasing these unfortunates would probably mean their deaths. The mercury was due to drop below freezing that night, and I had already unknowingly burned scores of them, and the wood pile was undoubtedly full of hundreds more. It would be so easy for me to flick my squirming collection into the fire where their demise would be sure but swift, but I could also let them loose to try their luck in the frigid night.

Either way, those bugs were goners, and I would be the instrument of their demise.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Examining the Clues

The week after vacation can often seem kind of long, but this one wasn't too bad. My students are finishing up their Letters about Literature, revising science fair intros, and preparing entries for the four writing contests that are going on this month in our school, district, and local area. My class has seemed very workshop-like as students work through the writing process at various paces on different pieces, and I've enjoyed it.

Twice this week they have shown me again how, collectively, they are very different than the classes of the last couple of years by the way they have responded to lessons I've used in the past. For one, there seem fewer children in this group who are able to cognitively make the connections necessary to write any really successful letters to authors explaining how their books changed these kids' perspectives in some way. Then today, I gave them a quick activity where they read a mini-mystery and try to work out who the culprit might be, and oh my golly, they loved it! There was 100% completion. "You should make all of our assignments like this," one student told me.

I can't really blame them-- I like a good mystery, too. I've been teaching long enough to realize that the same activities don't always go the same way from year to year, or even class to class, but these swings this year seem wider than usual, and I've also been teaching long enough to know that understanding why will help me better meet the learning needs of my students, and so I'm on the case.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Misinformed

As one of their choices of writing pieces in our workshop, some students are working on their science fair project introductions. As usual, my role is to confer with them and make editorial suggestions. The style required for this type of writing is new to them, and some of them are finding it a challenge to compose in third person, passive voice, without contractions.

Tougher still for some is synthesizing the information that they have gathered in their research. For one thing, as eleven-year-olds, they don't have the level of general knowledge they need for an accurate internal fact checker, and so in the past few days I have read some outrageous scientific claims, for example that chewing gum is made of rubber and petroleum and pills are made from the crushed leaves and bark of trees.

I understand the kids will make mistakes like this on their first attempts at such a complex task, but here's what I don't get: when I tell them that they are wrong, they are incredulous and even belligerent. "How do you know?" one student asked me indignantly. "You're an English teacher."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

High Point

A friend shared a real estate listing for a house in Stonington, Maine today. It was a bargain, and I was sorely tempted to become someone with a second home. Stonington is a small lobster and fishing town on the Penobscot Bay. It's also where you catch the ferry to get out to Isle au Haut, which is part of Acadia National Park.

I count the day I spent on that island as one of the best of my life. We drove from Bar Harbor in time to catch the 10 AM ferry. I had made reservations at a motel in town, so we left the car there and walked over to the waterfront. Isabel had never been on a boat before, but once she got over the metal grate that was the gangway, she was fine. Our transportation was really no more than a mail boat, and it was pretty crowded until we made our first stop at the tiny town at the north end. There might have been ten of us who ventured on to the primitive camp ground and trail heads six miles away at the southern tip of the island.

Heidi and Isabel and I disembarked on a beautiful July day-- blue skies, 80 degrees, no humidity. I had a map of the trails that criss-crossed the park. "When is the boat back?" Heidi asked me as we watched our ride chug out to sea.

I thought she had understood the plan for this day. "Mmm... six?" I shrugged.

She was a little perturbed. "What are we supposed to do for the next seven hours?! Hike?"

I had a picnic lunch and plenty of snacks and water in my pack. "Well... yeah," I told her, "We'll just explore the island. We practically have it to ourselves."

Isabel was on board from the start-- she had a grand time on the cobble beaches, granite ledges, and balsam trails, in fact the picture on this blog was taken there, and honestly, it didn't take long for Heidi to come around, either. The time passed at a perfect pace and at 5:45 we were rounding the last curve in the trail that led to the dock. Harbor porpoises and seals accompanied our boat back to Stonington, where we had a delicious dinner of fried seafood in our charming efficiency motel room. I was sorry to leave the next day.

I gave my friend an abbreviated version of this tale when she told me about the property for sale. "It was one of the best days of my life!" I said.

"What does Heidi say about it?" she asked me.

"Well," I answered, "she says that it was one of the best days of my life, not hers, but she's glad she was there."

Me, too.