Tuesday, May 31, 2011

4 is for 40 Minutes on the Treadmill

I try to go to the gym regularly; in fact I was there today. Whenever I go, my routine is to spend about 40 or 45 minutes doing cardio, and then I lift weights. It can get boring, even with music or movies to distract me. One of the things I do in the first part of my workout is walk on the treadmill. It's not very strenuous, so I have two options if I want to kick it up a notch: go faster or go higher. In "real life" I love to hike, so my choice in that situation is to raise the incline, or to climb as I walk. One of the handy things about working out on a machine is the stat screen: it will tell you your speed, your distance, your calories, and also your elevation. When I walk, I like to imagine that I am climbing one of the mountains in Acadia National Park in Maine. I go there every summer to hike, and the rest of the year I read the trail maps like favorite poems or post cards from the old me to the now me. So on the treadmill I watch for every foot I climb: 284? Flying Mountain. 520? That's the Beehive. 681 is Acadia, and 839 is Beech. 1373 is Sargent, the second highest mountain on the island.

Well, OK,  I can't climb Sargent in 40 minutes... yet!

Life Lesson: Everything prepares you for something. Find out what!

Monday, May 30, 2011

7 is for Heads Up 7 Up

Did you ever play this game in school? The teacher chooses seven kids to begin, and the rest of the class puts their heads down (they are supposed to close their eyes, too) and one of their thumbs up. In fact, the teacher says, "Heads down, thumbs up!" to begin each round. The chosen seven roam the room; they must surreptitiously tap someone on the head and return to the front. Once tapped, your thumb goes down. When all seven kids are back in front, the teacher asks the seven who were tapped to stand. Now they must guess who tapped them, and if they are correct, they take the tapper's place in the next round.



I ask both as a teacher and a former kid.

Here are my kid questions first: Doesn't it seem like the teacher always picks her favorites to begin? Then, those kids usually just pick their friends, right? Seriously, some kids never get to play.  Next, people cheat and peek at the shoes going by to try and figure out who tapped them, don't they? Finally, even if someone guesses right, the tapper can always lie-- nobody's keeping track. What's up with that?

Here is my teacher question about this game: What is the objective here? (It can be very loose, I don't care, just give me a hint what you were thinking.) Why do we play this game?

Life Lesson: Question authority.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

5 is for 5th Grade

My fifth grade teacher's name was Mrs. Nallin. I liked her well enough, mostly because she liked me, I think. She was pretty old then, older than I am now, with teased-up bleached-blond hair and reading glasses that made her eyes look huge. You could see her mouth wrinkles clearly when she frowned. She was old school, very stern and very strict, and she definitely had her favorites. Not surprisingly, she seemed to favor the kids who did their homework and followed her directions. Let me tell you, friends, that was definitely me.

Life was pretty easy in her class if she liked you; there was a lot of praise and positivity. The same could not be said for the other kids. Oh, I'm sure there was a middle ground between her pets and her peeves somewhere, but I have no idea who was in it. I do know the person who was her least favorite that year, though. It was Eddie Bubble-head. Well, that's what she called him. His real name was Eddie something else with a B.  He was always in trouble for something, but as far as I can remember his number one crime was not knowing his multiplication tables.

Mrs. Nallin had a wheel posted on the closet door. It was divided into twelve segments, with the numbers 1-12 written in each. In the center was a circle, and next to the wheel was an envelope with twelve numbered disks. There was also a pointer. The activity varied. At times Mrs. Nallin would place a number in the center of the wheel and as a class we would stand and recite the multiplication fact as she wielded the pointer like a sword. Faster and faster we would go, sometimes in numerical order and other times at random, spewing products in unison, beautiful in our precision.

Other times it was an individual trial, and alone you stood, pointer in hand, delivering the multiplication facts to the class. One was a joke; two? A breeze. Three was a bit harder, and four could be tricky. Five was an oasis-- who didn't know those? Six, seven, eight, and nine were respectably tough. Ten was ridiculously easy, and eleven and twelve were for the pros.

I was good at it. Eddie was not.

Could that have been the difference between being the golden girl and being the bad boy?

Yep. Pretty sure it was.

Last I heard, Eddie was a very successful businessman.

Life Lesson: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It's what you do with them that counts.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

3 is for 3 Day Weekend and 3 More Weeks

Traditionally Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, but around here, not so much. Because of our opening date in September (Labor Day really does mark the end of summer for us), we'll still have more than three weeks left when we return to school on Tuesday. I'm not complaining-- I'm not in any rush to say good-bye to my students. Even though I'll see most of them next year, it won't ever be the same again. How could it be? Spending 180 days working so closely is an intense experience and when it's over, it's over. I'll be their "old teacher" and they'll be my "former students."

Sure, we've had some ups and downs, and some days have been way better than others, but in general, it's been a great year. So, while I'm enjoying my three days off, I'm thinking about school, too, and I'm looking forward to three more weeks with some really amazing people.

Life Lesson: Enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, May 27, 2011

J is for Jersey Girl

From the time I was 4 until I was 13 my family lived in New Jersey. Personally, I was very happy there, and I had a lot of pride in my state. In middle school I joined a history club called the Jerseymen, and we even went to a convention in Atlantic City where I was elected Lieutenant Governor for Burlington County. A few months later, my family moved to Saudi Arabia, and I had to resign my office.

In Saudi, my brother and sister and I went to an international school with kids from all over the world. There were kids from all over the United States, too, and it was there that I met my first Texan. We were actually pretty good friends, best friends, really, so you can imagine my surprise the first time we ever talked about how great our homes in the States were. "New Jersey?" she sniffed. "What could possibly be good about New Jersey?" And then she laughed before she continued. "Now, Texas..." and blah, blah, blah, she was off on how much bigger and better everything was in Texas.

"New Jersey is just as good as Texas!" I insisted, "If not better!"

"Ha!" she answered. "Let's see. We have Houston." She looked at me like, top that.

"Well, we have... um, we have... well Philadelphia and New York are close by."

"They don't count. We have the Alamo."

"We have Atlantic City?"

""OK," she shrugged. "We have blue bonnets."

"We have blueberries. New Jersey is the Garden State."

"Who cares? We have Dallas."

"We have the Pine Barrens," I said, "AND the Jersey Devil!" It was my turn to look triumphant.

"What are those?" she said. "Wait, it doesn't even matter, because nobody outside of New Jersey even cares." She laughed at her own joke and then looked at me, her best friend. Her expression became kinder. "Oh cheer up!" she said and threw her arm around my shoulders. "Nobody here even cares if you're from New Jersey!"

But I cared.

Life Lesson: Pride doesn't have to come at the expense of someone else.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

K is for Kansas

The Wizard of Oz has long been one of my favorite movies. When I was little it was only on TV once a year, and for my brother and sister and me that night was a very special occasion. It was almost like a holiday. All day long we waited in anticipation; we drew pictures of our favorite characters and acted out our favorite scenes. That night, we were allowed to stay up late and have popcorn and soda when it was on.

I liked the Scarecrow best; the lion and the Wizard really annoyed me. I thought Toto was the bravest, and the flying monkeys were super creepy. Of course the witch was... terrifying!  I had nightmares about that scene where Dorothy sees Auntie Em in the crystal ball and right as she's trying to talk to her the image changes to the Wicked Witch of the West. Eeeeeeeeee!!!

Most of all, I loved the part where the movie turns from black and white to color, and I remember when I "got it" and understood that by doing that the film makers were communicating something important about the difference between Oz and Kansas. Even so, I was never sad when it turned back. There was always something comforting about those warm shades of grey.

Life Lesson: (What else?) There's no place like home.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I is for In the Weeds

The end of the school year seems hectic to everyone. Students feel pressured to prepare and do well on standardized tests, teachers feel that deadline, too, and the change in everybody's schedules makes things feel a little off balance. In the food business, there's an expression for being waaaaay behind in your work. When that happens, you're in the weeds.

Every other job I've ever had besides teaching has been food-related: Before I was a teacher, I worked as a professional cook, and before that I waited tables, and before that I was a student manager in my college cafeteria, and before that I had kitchen duty in high school. So you could say that I know what it's like to be in the weeds.

In addition to my regular planning, teaching, and grading, I have a lot to do in the next 29 days-- meetings, unit plans, observations, field trips, team activities, and lit mags all need to be checked off my lengthy list. Wait! What's that I see all around me? Yep... it's definitely the weeds.

Life Lesson: The view is worth the climb.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

O is for One Way Trip

In the science section of The Washington Post this morning, there was an article about journeying to Mars. It seems that some scientists believe that people will be ready to go and explore the red planet a lot sooner if we don't have to worry about getting them back... Yes, you read correctly. The mission to Mars would be one way. Explorers would have everything they needed to survive and start a colony, except a way back to Earth.

Nobody thinks that life on Mars would be easy, or even last very long, but it would undeniably be one of the greatest exploratory expeditions ever. In fact, over a thousand people have already informally volunteered to be a part of the project.

Think about it though: how different would the experience of going to Mars be than that of most people who immigrated to America a hundred and fifty years ago? Not much-- leaving your family then was almost always a last good-bye, and yet millions of people made that choice. In fact, most of us wouldn't be here if they hadn't.

Life Lesson: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Monday, May 23, 2011

W is for a Wild Animal in My Garden

It's funny how kids become famous in a family for certain things they said or did when they were little. My sister used to say "Mo," when she meant "No," and my brother was well-known for his fish face-- the extreme pout he put on when he was verrrry displeased.

Our next generation have all had their memorable moments and quotes as well. When he was two, my nephew Riley fell flat on his bottom after trying and failing to give our cat a good kick in the butt. We scolded him soundly, of course. "What were you thinking!?" we asked.

"I just wanted to kick him over," he answered honestly.

His brother, Treat, is remembered for many things he said when he was a wee beastie, and one of them was, "I'm just going to skip time out... yeah, that's an option." It really wasn't.

Our godson Josh desperately wanted a pet hamster, unfortunately, the one he got was not a very friendly fellow-- he would bite anybody who even tried to pick him up. "He's not a ho'din hamster," Josh would tell us sadly.

Kyle, our nephew, used to call our dog Isabel, "Lisabel," and Lizzy is still one of her nicknames.

When he was very little, my youngest nephew, Richard, loved diggers and trucks. One day, as a dump truck rattled noisily past the house, he ran to see what it was, then turned to us with two thumbs up. "That guy was movin!" he reported.

His sister Annabelle, once saw a possum in the back yard. To this day she'll tell you about it, breathlessly: "I saw a wild animal in my garden!"

Life Lesson: Kids say and do the darnedest things, and even if they usually don't remember them, no worries-- that's what the older people are for.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

L is for Lee's Woods

Arlington National Cemetery might be one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. More than 300,000 people have been buried there in the last 147 years, but few people know that it was designated as a cemetery in part to punish Robert E. Lee. Until the Civil War, the land that ANC lies on today belonged to Lee and his family. Their mansion still stands on the hill overlooking Washington, DC and surrounded by thousands of graves. When Lee made the decision to fight for Virginia and the Confederacy, his land was confiscated by the Union. Montgomery Meigs, a former friend of Robert E. Lee, and the Quartermaster General of the Union Army ordered the first soldiers buried in what had been the Lee's garden, because he knew that once that was done, the Lees would never return to live in their family home again. Meig's son had been killed in the war, and Meigs was so angry with Lee's betrayal that he wanted to make sure he lost his home.

It's amazing to think about all the history of that location-- both human and natural: because the grounds used to be private property, there is a stand of woods that is one of the last old growth forests left on the east coast. (Most woods in the United States have been cleared and farmed or settled at one point, and have now returned to forest, but an old growth forest is one that has never been cut down.) Right across the street from the mansion, are some woods, and some of the trees growing there today were standing when Robert E. Lee was alive, 150 years ago and longer. There is also a huge wild raspberry patch-- don't ask me how I know-- but around the fourth of July, you can pick ten pounds of berries if you know where to go. Watch out for the poison ivy, though.

Life Lesson: The life of humanity is so long, and that of the individual so brief... it is history that teaches us to hope. ~Robert E. Lee

Saturday, May 21, 2011

D is for Doomsday

The beginning of the end of the world did not happen today. Despite the predictions of a small but vocal group of religious fundamentalists, half of the people on earth did not disappear leaving the others to face five months of turmoil before the ultimate apocalypse.

There was no catastrophe back on January 1, 2000, either, even though many people told us there would be a huge problem when lots of computers thought it was 1900 instead of 2000. New Years Day was as quiet and uneventful as usual.

Our next date with doom is on December 21, 2012. That's when the Mayan calendar supposedly ends, and with it, some people think, the world as we know it. Whenever someone asks me what I think of such predictions, my usual reply is something like, "I don't think so, but what do I know?"

Life Lesson:

Fire and Ice
By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Friday, May 20, 2011

R is for Remains

We were fascinated in my third period class this week when one of the students came in with the tale of confiscating a relatively fresh skull from her dog. According to her, there was still some hair and tissue, but otherwise the thing was not very recognizable (although her dad thought it might be a cat!). All those police and detective novels I've read kicked right in, and after questioning her for a few more relevant details, I started googling images of small mammal skulls, but without any luck. It wasn't a cat, a squirrel, a possum, a raccoon, or a puppy (thank goodness...). It was always the eye size that was wrong-- whatever it was, it had pretty tiny eyes. When the bell rang for lunch, I sighed and gave up.

Fortunately, she brought a cell phone photo in today, and before I ever got to see the picture, one of the other kids recognized it as a skunk. We searched again for an image to confirm his hypothesis, but it was never 100%. There was too much gore on the one in her picture to make a positive identification. LAter, though, I did some more research and found that skunks do indeed have very small eyes. They rely on their hearing and smelling more than sight.

Coincidentally,  I heard a story on the radio this morning about why mammals have such big brains, especially compared to reptiles. Millions of years ago, dinosaurs were hunting in the day, so anything that could hunt at night had an advantage, because it wasn't prey or competition to the dinosaurs. The theory goes that mammals developed a strong sense of smell to help them hunt in the dark, and that the sense of smell takes up more brain space, so their brains grew to be larger and larger. Later, some mammals evolved into daytime predators, and they have larger eyes, but not the skunk. Good job, Skunk!

Life Lesson: Do what you're good at.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

2 is for the 24 Game

The premise of the game is simple-- each card has four digits and players must use each number once and add, subtract, multiply, and/or divide to get 24. The cards often have more than one solution, but there are no answer keys, so the only way to figure it out is to figure it out.

Our sixth grade team has an annual Challenge 24 tournament and as that time of year approaches, we dig out the brightly colored blue, yellow and red cards and start playing with our homerooms to get them in practice for the competition. To be successful, good mental math skills are helpful, but not required. Over the years I've become convinced that the best way to win is to look for the patterns, especially 8 x 3 and 6 x 4, although this year I have a student who is all about 16 + 8-- that combination seems to work for him pretty often.

I found out today that there is actually an app for the game and of course I downloaded it right away. At first, playing electronically seemed harder, somehow, and I was really slow. It took me a while to notice that all the numbers are right side up on the iVersion of the game. I think that difference was disorienting enough to slow my brain down until I became accustomed to it. The longer I played, though, the better I did.

Life Lesson: Sometimes our brains work in strange ways, but that's okay as long as they work!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

X is for X Marks the Spot

Do you think it would be fun to follow clues leading to a hidden treasure? If your answer is yes, then Geocaching is for you! Geocaching is an international game where people hide "caches" all over the world, then they post the GPS coordinates of these hidden stashes on a website called geocaching.com along with clues to help other geocachers find them.

Once you find a cache, you sign the log book and post your discovery. Some caches have trading items-- you take a fun trinket from the collection inside and replace it with one of your own. Some of them have "travel bugs." These are things that travel from cache to cache-- your job is to help them on their way by taking them from one site and placing them in another. For example, once I found a Red Sox keychain that was trying to travel from Florida back to Boston in time for the world series. Fortunately, I was going that way on vacation, and so I dropped it off about 10 miles west of Fenway Park.

You would be amazed how many caches there are-- it's over 1.3 million worldwide. You can find them almost anywhere you go-- in my small town alone, there are over 500, and one of them is even on the grounds of our school. When I first started geocaching, you needed a special device to play, but these days, many smart phones have GPS capability, and some of them even have an app to help you play, so it's easier than ever to get started with this fun hobby, so what are you waiting for?

Life Lesson: There's treasure everywhere!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Q is for Quite Quarrelsome

Dear Students,

Can we just agree that if you were not doing something that should be corrected then I wouldn't be redirecting you? That alone would save so much time.

You wouldn't have to act like you were completely mystified that I spoke to you in a bit of a sharp tone: What did I do? I wasn't doing anything! Who me? 

I wouldn't have to point out the obvious in exasperation. Really? You're surprised that I object to you wandering around the room when you should be writing? 

We wouldn't have to debate over the tiny details: I wasn't "wandering!" I was looking for paper, going to sharpen my pencil, getting a tissue, etc.

Honest, I did not become a teacher to arbitrarily control your life. There's a method to my madness, but I'm pretty sure you know that already. Right?

Life Lesson: An error doesn't become a mistake until we refuse to correct it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

N is for Netflix

Today at the gym I watched a movie on my iPhone. Usually I listen to music, but for a change I decided to just pick something from my Instant Queue on Netflix and that was that-- I was entertained as I plodded along on the treadmill. When I was a kid, if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the theater, and if you wanted to watch a particular TV show, you had to be in front of the television when it was on. There were no recordings of either of those. It's obvious that over the years, technology has really changed the way we view things, but I have to confess to a moment of amazement this afternoon when I looked down at the tiny screen in my hand and saw those credits roll.

Life Lesson: Today is the tomorrow we only dreamed of yesterday.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

V is for Vegan

Vegans are people who only eat plant-based food. Unlike vegetarians, vegans do not eat eggs or any kind of dairy products like milk or cheese. Today I went to a movie called Forks Over Knives. Its premise was that eating animal products is the cause of almost all of the heart disease and cancer in the world. They also claimed that switching your diet to a completely vegan one can reverse those diseases, even in people who are deathly ill.

Like most documentaries, this film made a convincing case, but even as I was sitting there, I started to wonder about what a vegan diet would include, but more importantly, what it would exclude, too.

Never mind the obvious loss of chicken, steak, burgers, chops, and seafood-- start with breakfast: besides the usual scrambled or fried eggs, there would be no muffins, pancakes, or waffles, and no milk for your cereal. At lunch, no cheese means no pizza or lasagna, and almost every kind of baked dessert has eggs, too, so no more cookies or cakes, and of course there would be no ice cream, either.

That would be a tough adjustment, even if someone was convinced it was the right thing to do. Most of the people they spoke to in the movie were in a life or death situation, where changing their diet meant a chance at saving their lives, so to them it was worth it. Even so, they all said that they felt much better once they made the change, AND... they were still alive.

As for me? I'm still thinking.

Life Lesson: What's easy is not always what's right, and what's right is not always what's easy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

U is for Ultraviolet

Ultraviolet lights have many uses.  Forensic teams use them to test for blood or other body fluids that may be invisible to the human eye, and there is is also a security strip in US paper money that will glow; the treasury puts it there to prevent counterfeiting. Doctors use them to diagnose certain skin conditions, too. Sometimes they are found at clubs and concerts, and they are also used in some plays and other performances, just because they are cool-looking.

UV lights are better known as "black lights." If you've ever been to the planetarium over by the high school, then you know what I'm talking about. Black lights are those purpley lights they have when you exit that make light colors glow. Personally I love being in ultraviolet light-- it's bright and soothing at the same time, and the way it makes white shine gives you the illusion of seeing in the dark.

Life Lesson: There is more to most things than meets the eye.

Friday, May 13, 2011

T is for Trusting Technology

I was a little crabby this morning when I got to school and discovered that our network was experiencing outages because of a website upgrade. My lesson plans relied upon being able to access our web-based course, and that was not happening. Today was also the last day for three-and-a-half weeks that students will be able to use computers in class-- since all of our mandated testing is online, the labs and lap tops are reserved for that use until June 8.

Of course I adjusted (paper and pencil will not become obsolete any time soon in my classroom, despite what all the pencil-less students might believe), but it was a hectic way to start the day and end the week. This inconvenience also came on the heels of Blogger being down indefinitely. I haven't missed a day of posting in just over 800, and I was feeling some anxiety last night as I checked every fifteen minutes or so to see if it was back. In the end, I realized I could just post to our class discussion board, and that is what I did.

Choose your own Life Lesson:

Adapt or perish. ~HG Wells


Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people. ~George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, May 12, 2011

E is for Everything I Want to Write About is Taken!

Today is my sister Courtney’s birthday, but I can’t write about that, because the S, the C, and the B are already taken in my alphabiography. Nor can I write about my brother, Bill, or book reviews, or corn on the cob, or SOLs, or Survivor, or scolding students for being sassy when they should be silent. I can’t write about my magnificent mother, either, because the M is gone, or people without pencils, or getting good grades, or zipping zippers, or having headaches, or yackety yacking. I might have been forever fooling with fruitless fantasies, except for the existence of the ever-excellent E!

Life Lesson: A little alliteration is always a last alternative.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

P is for PostHunt

The fourth annual Washington Post PostHunt commences on Sunday, June 5, at 11:30 AM. What is that? you ask? Well, the PostHunt is kind of a puzzle-solving scavenger hunt that anyone can participate in. If you want to play, you just have to show up at Freedom Plaza on that day.

The premise of the whole crazy thing is to "challenge participants to solve five ridiculously complex puzzles plus a final End Game in less than four hours. Finding the answers to those puzzles requires following a clue, possibly scrambling to another location, pausing to scratch your head and consider what it all means, then repeating."

My nephew, Treat, and I have joined the competition each year since it started back in 2008. We have had varying success, never solving fewer than 4 of the 5 puzzles, but never solving the end game, either. On the Saturday before, we pore over the Washington Post Magazine for the first clues, familiarizing ourselves with the official map, and making note of anything that may play a role in one of the puzzles. Then on Sunday morning, we hop the metro and join the throngs that are gathering for the challenge. The weather does not always cooperate-- we have been drenched, frozen, and fried, but it doesn't really matter, because it's really a lot of fun.

Maybe we'll see you there this year?

Life Lesson: It's the journey, not the destination, that counts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

G is for A Gift from the Sea

On the first day of our vacation in South Carolina, my mom called us down to the beach to see all the sea stars. There were hundreds, and since this was our first time there, we had no idea if it was a normal thing in those parts. In any case, it was exceptional to us. Over the course of the week, the starfish became much rarer, and we turned our attention to finding sand dollars and shells. I did pull a live whelk from its hiding place in a tidal pool, but as tempting as it was to keep it for its shell, after a few photos I reburied it with a wish and a prayer.

I recognized the whelk from a day trip I took to the Outer Banks one February a long time ago. On that day, it was sunny but freezing, and the beach was deserted. Huge, unbroken whelk shells, the kind and size you never find just lying on the beach, were everywhere-- so many that we couldn't carry them all to the car.  I wasn't worried though, because I was coming back in a few weeks, and I planned to fill a bucket with them then. I would have, too, except they were all gone.

Life Lesson: The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach - waiting for a gift from the sea. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Monday, May 9, 2011

B is for Bike

My first bike was a purple Huffy with high handle bars, a banana seat, and coaster brakes. It never had any training wheels-- my parents taught me to ride it by running along beside me holding on to the back of the seat and then giving me a push. After that, I got my momentum by starting on the downhill of the driveway, but it wasn't long before I could ride by myself. I loved that bike.

A few years later, my brother and I got bright yellow ten speeds for our birthdays, and they were nice, too, but never as comfy as my Huffy. We raced the ten speeds around the block, but it was always too close to call, so we decided to race in opposite directions. That was an epic crash.

In high school, I didn't own a bike-- it was a boarding school in Switzerland, after all-- but the school did offer bike trips, and two of the best weeks of my life were spent on a bike, first riding through Tuscany in the fall, and the next spring touring the south of France.

After college I lived at the beach for a few years, and I had a sweet beach cruiser in those days. It was black with hot pink detail, padded handle bars, a wide comfortable seat, and again with the coaster brakes. I rode it up and down the boardwalk and all over town, but when I moved up here, it was just no good on the hills and I had to get rid of it.

Now I have a nice little hybrid. It's the prettiest pale shade of robin's egg blue, and with eighteen speeds it can comfortably take me as far as I'm inclined to go. It has a loud bell for passing folks on the trail, a water bottle cage, and a rack on the back. It even has a bracket for my iPhone on the handlebars. I can't say I ride it as much as I'd like, but I enjoy it every time I take it out, and just like all of the others, I LOVE my bike.

Life Lesson: Keep on rolling!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

F is for Finders Keepers

I found a five dollar bill on the ground today; it was just lying there all alone, and there was not another person in sight. Now I consider that pretty lucky, although I do feel a little bad for whoever lost it. When I was little, finding a penny was a pretty big deal, but back then a penny would buy a piece of candy or at least a gumball from the machine at the grocery store. A dime was a small fortune, a quarter untold wealth, and a dollar? Forget about it!

I pocketed the five, but these days when I walk past pennies in the parking lot or on the pavement, they are hardly worth bending over for, and I usually leave them there. I confess that I feel a little guilty every time, though. In the back of my mind I wonder if there will come a day when that one single cent would have made all the difference.

One time when we were kids my sister found two hundred bucks on the tarmac as she was walking out to board a plane. She reported it to the crew, and they said that if no one claimed it during the fourteen hour flight, then it was hers. Guess what? She got to keep the money and spend it with a clear conscience. Now that was a fun vacation for her!

Life Lesson: Whatever is found has also been lost.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

C is for Cooking

I don't know why people think cooking is hard. I love to cook--you just get your ingredients and slice, chop, dice, toss, saute, grill, bake, season, marinate, dress, flambe, and/or sauce them, put them on the plate or in the bowl, grab a fork, spoon, knife and then enjoy. What could be hard about that?

Now writing on the other hand... that's hard!

Life lesson: When the going gets tough, the tough sit down and have a nice meal.

Friday, May 6, 2011

M is for Milkweed

When I was a kid we used to call the silky puff balls that would occasionally float by on the wind "wish bugs." We believed that if you caught one, you could make a wish on it and then blow it gently back into the sky. Your wish would come true as long as it didn't land on the ground.

Later I found out that those silky little parachutes are part of the milkweed plant and worked just as the puffs on a dandelion do to carry the seeds. But even now I still feel a strong impulse to chase after any wish bugs I might see, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure most of them end up on the ground, especially since that's what they are meant to do.

There's a poem called The Milkweed by Richard Wilbur that I really like:

Anonymous as cherubs
over the crib of God
white seeds are floating
out of my burst pod.

What power had I
before I learned to yield?
Shatter me, great wind:
I shall possess the field.

I love this poem because of the second stanza. The idea that sometimes you have to yield or bend to be successful is something that I find easy to forget. I also like the image of all the milkweed seeds floating over the field: it makes me think of teaching. The seeds are our students going off into the world in all different directions, and even though we might not know where they land, they "shall possess the field."

Life Lesson: Sometimes you have to yield to be successful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Y is for Yeah, I've Got That

"The table is squeaking!" three girls in my first period class complained this morning.

"Keep writing," I told them, "I'll fix it when the timer goes off." To be honest, after seventeen years in my classroom with these ancient tables, I rarely notice the annoying ee-ee ee-ee ee-ee anymore. Soon, the beep beep beep beep of the timer broke the quiet. Everyone shared the title of the Alphabiography chapter they were working on, and then I told them it was time to go back to writing. I brandished the timer. "Ready?"

"Um? The table?" one of the girls reminded me.

See? I don't even hear it, but I opened a metal cabinet and got out my can of WD40 and affixed the red plastic straw. I gave the metal plates where the legs are screwed into the wooden table top a couple of quick squirts, and the irritating squeak was gone. "And now back to your writing!"

The time that I've been in my classroom is longer than I've lived in any house, and to say that I'm settled in would be an understatement. Over the years, I've collected almost anything I might need in most imaginable situations, this in addition to the usual trove of school supplies. The WD40 is a good example, but last year when I had to pack up everything and move out of my room for two months because they were renovating the building, I had the chance to inventory what I have:

spare socks
a screw driver
an electric tea kettle
hand sanitizer
several rolls of duct tape
static guard
a lint roller
thank you notes
plastic knives, forks, and spoons
band aids
air freshener
a can opener
nail clippers
a flashlight
a new toothbrush
dental floss
eye glass repair kit
glasses cleaners
latex gloves
needle and thread
saline solution
spare contact case
paper cups
paper plates
plastic table cloth
cough drops
tic tacs
pencil lead (three sizes)
a large supply of chocolate
a bag of dum dum pops
allen wrench set
dream catcher
corn husk doll
and a magnetic felt figure of myself

This is only a partial list, and my co-workers know it. They all come to me sometime and ask the same question: "Tracey do you have...?"

Life Lesson: There's no such thing as being too prepared.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Z is for Zoo

On a warm sunny afternoon the laughter of children fills the air as they excitedly run from one exhibit to the next. I want to see the lions! I love the gorillas! Let's go to the elephants next! But there is an unseen cloud overshadowing this seemingly perfect day-- in my opinion, the zoo is nothing more than a prison for animals.

"But I love the zoo!" you might say, and sure, some people also say that zoos conduct valuable research and protect endangered animals, but that doesn't necessarily benefit the animals that are actually stuck in the zoo. How would you like to be the individual forced to suffer for the good of your species?

The gorilla house is a perfect example. Anyone with a shred of empathy can see that those great apes are miserable. And why shouldn't they be? Think of how they live-- trapped in a small, glass-enclosed space where not only is there very little to do, but hundreds of people gawk at them every day.

And what about the elephants? In the wild an adult elephant might walk up to 40 miles a day, but at the zoo they spend their time in a space smaller than a soccer field. This unnatural confinement causes foot problems and arthritis in many older elephants, as well as other health problems that can lead to their early deaths.

While there may be some animals whose needs can be more appropriately met by the zoo, I would still argue that these individuals would be better off if allowed to live their natural lives in their native habitats.

Life Lesson: It's wrong to sacrifice an animal's quality of life for our entertainment.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

9 is for 9 Lives

One of our cats is almost 18 years old. His name is Bingo, and he has had quite a life. Besides the hundreds of mice and birds he's stalked and killed, he's been hit by a car, overcome diabetes, coughed up a two foot piece of grass, nearly died twice, and caught a bird right through the second story window screen. (Yes, through the screen!)

In his glory days he weighed sixteen pounds, but now, at 17 and 3/4, he's super skinny and feels as hollow as a little bird when you pick him up. His long hair sticks out all crazy, too, like the old dude he is, but he hasn't lost any of his spirit. Long ago, Heidi told him he wasn't allowed to die, and it seems like he took those words verrrrry seriously. Every day, he eats like a horse and he can still jump up on the counter to find more food. His favorites are waffles and green beans. In fact, he was pestering me tonight (actually climbing up my leg in the kitchen!) as I cooked dinner, and why? Because I was fixing beans.

Life Lesson: Go for it every single day!

Monday, May 2, 2011

S is for Substitute

Why is that kids always misbehave for a substitute? I remember when I was in school and our teacher was out-- the kids in my class turned into people I barely knew. The day was always full of chaos and I soon came to dread the sight of some strange adult sitting at our teacher's desk on any given morning.

Once when I was in fourth grade, we had a substitute. As usual, my classmates were like the rabid zombie versions of themselves, but I just kept my head down and tried to get through the day. Right before the bell was going to ring, the sub asked me and the girl who sat next to me to come over to the teacher's desk. She seemed frazzled and annoyed, and I was sympathetic-- the kids had been awful to her. She frowned and held up our spelling tests: both were 100%. "I do not believe that these were written by two people!" she accused us. "Look at that handwriting! It is exactly the same. You obviously both cheated!"

We were stunned. First of all, our penmanship was not that similar. Secondly, we got A's on spelling all the time. We tried to tell her that, but she didn't believe us. She scolded us in front of the class until the bell rang and we could go. I felt humiliated and angry.

When our teacher came back, she knew we hadn't cheated. She recognized our writing and she knew us well enough to know that cheating wasn't our thing. She shrugged it off as no big deal,  but that didn't really make it any better.

For a long time, I was mad at the substitute, but now I don't think it was really her fault. She didn't trust us because most of the students she tried to teach did not behave in such a way to earn her respect. If I wanted to hold a grudge,  I should have blamed the other kids.

Life Lesson: Hey! Students! Leave that sub alone!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

H is for Hoe

After one year, I would not say that I am an experienced gardener, and lately, when I have driven by our community plot and seen how the weeds have done their best to take it back, I almost want to give up. Enter the hoe. A little internet research convinced me that this tool should be my best friend, and today it was. I found the sharpest one in the shed, and just as I had read, I let the hoe do the work, swinging it lightly at the tangle of weeds aiming just a fraction of an inch below the surface. Soon I had piles of weeds strategically located all throughout the garden. We scooped them into those big brown paper gardening bags, taking care not to overfill them. After three and a half hours of chopping weeds, though, my forearms were shot, and carrying the bags to the curbside was out of the question. Enter the wheelbarrow...

Life Lesson: There's a tool for that... use it!