Monday, April 30, 2012

Glass Half... What?

At this time of the school year, everyone is really busy. Eight weeks out from summer vacation, there is a full slate of assignments and activities as every teacher and club sponsor pours it on for the big finish. With so many other things going on, it was hardly surprising then, that we only had four kids show up for Tolerance Club today.

None of them had been able to attend the showing of Bully that we had arranged yesterday, so we showed a few clips from the movie and talked about it with them. The most explicit footage in the film was shot on a school bus, and as I've written before, the images are appalling but not surprising to anyone who spends a lot of time with adolescent kids. Both times I saw the movie, the way the kids bully and brutalize Alex on the bus made people cry in the theater.

Today, when the clip ended, two of the girls who were there exchanged glances with eyebrows raised. "Do you guys think we have a bullying problem here at our school?" I asked. After a pause, they went on to describe an ongoing episode that sounded just as disturbing as the one on the screen.

"We told him to stop," one girl said, and I believed her.

"And I told his mother, too," she added, "but he still does it."

Oh, we got some names and details, and congratulated the girls for coming forward, and hopefully, our school will deal with this issue effectively.

And yet, ultimately, doesn't this story just demonstrate how insidious the problem really is?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

In the Real World

So often these days in education we justify certain practices by telling ourselves and our students, "Hey, that's how it is in the real world." And indeed, it is our job as educators to prepare them for the challenges that will face them once they are finished with school.

And yet... isn't that particular argument so broad as to be practically meaningless, especially since we can apply it as creatively as we like? For example, in our school, kids are not allowed to chew gum. In the real world, gum chewing is fine, but perhaps not appropriate in every situation. On the other hand, the real world is full of rules that we may not agree with, (leash your dog, follow the speed limit) and there are consequences for not following them (if you get caught).

Maybe that's the lesson? (But will it be on the test?)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Would Worf Order?

I got David Chang's cookbook, Momofuko, for Christmas. Even though I have never had the fortune to eat at one of his restaurants, his reputation as both ingenious chef and tell-it-like-it-is writer intrigued me. And although I have yet to prepare a single dish from his cookbook, his philosophy and technique have brought me back to the book Saturday after Saturday, and I know I'm getting close to making something.

In fact, I planned a stop at my regular Asian market today to purchase some ingredients I'd like to have on hand. How disappointed was I when the inventory that I believed was pretty extensive was missing some crucial items?

Back at home, I researched buying what I wanted by mail order, but then I thought about searching for other, bigger markets near-by instead. There were several options, which was not surprising in the least given the diversity of our area. One in particular caught my eye, and I remembered that I had actually been there years ago.

As I recall, the store itself is supermarket sized, and shopping there was like being transported to a different country. Very few of the products for sale were familiar at all. I was fascinated by all of it, trolling the aisles, trying to figure out what this or that item might be. When I got to the produce section, I'm sure I gasped at the array of alien fruits and vegetables, or was my breath taken away by the cold food bar?

Crock after crock of unfamiliar food was nestled neatly in that twenty foot bed of ice. It hardly seemed real, so disorienting was it to literally not know what any of that stuff was. The friend I was with joined me in silence at the sight of it. Finally I spoke. "Oh my God! It's a Klingon salad bar!"

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Rope of Sand

I had the fortune to spend the day with one of my teaching idols today. Nancie Atwell was giving a workshop a few miles from my home. When I first received the flyer back in January, I asked and received permission from our principal to offer the opportunity to any teacher in our department who was interested. We hoped that it might be a unifying experience for a group of well-intentioned educators with rather disparate approaches to teaching writing.

What makes Atwell so impressive is that she is clear-minded about her underlying principles and yet pragmatic in the application of them. Her writing lessons evolve year by year, as do the details of their delivery and execution, but her framework remains true to the student-centered approach she introduced in 1987 in her seminal work In the Middle. She remains steadfast in the face of education trends that ultimately undermine our objective to foster literate, thoughtful, independent-minded citizens.

This is the third time that I've heard her in person, and each time I feel that my teaching has grown a little closer to the standard she holds up, but each time I am also struck by how some of my core convictions have been eroded by outside pressures. I guess that I was hoping if I could get my colleagues on board, we could work together and support each other to stay as true to our ideals as Atwell does.

I wish I could say that the day was a magical panacea which cured us of all of our departmental dysfunction, but I'm afraid that's not true. I do believe that many minds were opened to the possibilities of the workshop approach, though, and so we'll move [forward?] from there.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Our English Holiday

Today was National Poem in Your Pocket Day, and as in years past, all of my students chose poems to carry with them. A part of our lesson was set aside for them to share if they wanted to.

It was a sweet day. Hearing young voices reciting verses that they have chosen is always uplifting. Every year, some kids select song lyrics, but today was the first time that anybody has ever asked to sing. Her version of You Don't Know You're Beautiful was met with applause and even demands for an encore.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chipping Away

"I saw you carrying a bag into school yesterday," one of my homeroom students said this morning.

He's autistic, and he doesn't usually initiate conversations with me, so I was glad that he did, but like many teachers, I carry several bags every day, so it took me a few seconds to figure out what he was talking about."You mean that bag of chips?" I asked.

"Yeah. What were those for?"

"They were snacks for the Tolerance Club meeting," I told him.

"What's the Tolerance Club?" he asked.

"It's a club for kids that meets after school," I started. "We watch movies and talk about how to make our school a friendlier place. Do you think you would ever want to come to it?"

"No!" he said.

"Why not?" I asked him.

"Because it's for normal people," he answered.

That took me aback a bit. "It's for people who like people who are different," I told him. "Everybody is different in some way, right?"

"Yes," he said.

"So, would you like to come to a meeting sometime?" I asked again.

"Will I get chips?"

"Yep," I assured him.

"Then yes."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Job Description

I have a colleague whose ex-husband used to wonder why she was so tired at night. "All you have to do is sit behind your desk all day and say, You may begin," he told her. I wonder why that marriage didn't work out.

Recently the NY Times published a piece about the software developed by the Educational Testing Service, e-Rater, that can read and score 16,000 essays in 20 seconds. Wow! Never mind the current flaws in the system, like disregarding facts and nonsense in favor of big vocabulary words and long sentences. Seriously! Any English teacher working her customary 50-60 hour week might be justified in indulging in a little wishful thinking.

Who wouldn't want to throw all your grading into a machine? Who cares if we start to teach students to write to a convenient algorithm rather than a human audience? While they're at it, maybe they can write some code so that e-Rater interfaces with the grade book, too!

Yeah, then I can get back to sitting on my butt, collecting my colossal paycheck, and biding my time until I can retire at the expense of the hardworking, private-sector citizens of my state.

Hey, ETS! You may begin.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bully Pulpit

Today I took the opportunity to promote a couple of up-coming Tolerance Club activities in all of my English classes. In addition to the showing of Bully that we arranged, we were sharing the Academy Award Winning short subject documentary, Strangers No More, today after school.

I don't often take class time to do so, because there are always posters and morning announcements about every event, so I assume that if they are interested, students will attend.

Wrong. We had 15 new people show up this afternoon, and yes, they were all my students.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Where Do We Start?

We saw the movie Bully today. It has been on our list since we first heard of it, but in order to encourage as many members of our school community to see it, the Tolerance Club is sponsoring a showing next Sunday afternoon, and I have agreed to help facilitate a brief discussion afterward for whoever is interested in staying. Obviously, I wanted to see the movie in advance.

There are tons of materials about bullying available both in general, and on the official website of the movie. So much stuff is out there in fact, that it can be overwhelming. Watching the movie today, which spans the school year 2009-10 and follows the experiences of five families of kids who have been bullied, my heart of course broke for the victims of such cruelty. As a person who works in a school, I know first hand how widespread bullying is, and also how difficult it is to address effectively, much less eradicate.

In fact, that is why we started the Tolerance Club, as an acknowledgement that we adults have to help the kids change the climate in their school. We, like most schools in the nation, have a zero tolerance for bullying, but most aggression takes place out of sight of authority. Must we be more vigilant? Absolutely, but the key is in changing the culture of the kids.

As I watched, I also considered what I might say next week and how best to focus the conversation in the little time we would have. The statistics say that 13 million kids get bullied each year, which is a staggering number, but common sense says that there are more bullies than victims. Therefore, parents are more likely to have children who are bullies, or at least bystanders, than they are to have kids who have been bullied.

That seems like a good place to start a discussion.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Monster We've Created

Oh how cute it seemed when our cat started playing Game for Cats on the iPad. It was soooo hilarious to watch her track the moving images on the screen. She was pretty good at the game, too, so much so that we threatened to limit her screen time.

Well... now she thinks any screen time is her screen time, especially if something moves on the screen. Seriously, folks, I can not pick up the iPad without my feline friend dashing over to see what we're going to do with her toy.

In fact, she had a lovely conversation with my sister on FaceTime this afternoon.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Let me add my voice to the chorus condemning dumb test questions. (But wait! Why stop at the questions?) I'm referring, of course, to the recently reported uproar over questions taken from a NY State test of reading for 8th graders. See what you think.

Directions: Read the passage carefully and answer the questions that follow.

In olden times, the animals of the forest could speak English just like you and me. One day, a pineapple challenged a hare to a race.

(I forgot to mention, fruits and vegetables were able to speak too.)

A hare is like a rabbit, only skinnier and faster. This particular hare was known to be the fastest animal in the forest.

“You, a pineapple have the nerve to challenge me, a hare, to a race,” the hare asked the pineapple. “This must be some sort of joke.”

“No,” said the pineapple. “I want to race you. Twenty-six miles, and may the best animal win."

"You aren't even an animal!" the hare said. “You're a tropical fruit!"
“Well, you know what I mean,” the pineapple said.

The animals of the forest thought it was very strange that tropical fruit should want to race a very fast animal.

"The pineapple has some trick up its sleeve," a moose said.

Pineapples don't have sleeves, an owl said

"Well, you know what I mean,” the moose said. "If a pineapple challenges a hare to a race, it must be that the pineapple knows some secret trick that will allow it to win.”

“The pineapple probably expects us to root for the hare and then look like fools when it loses,” said a crow. “Then the pineapple will win the race because the hare is overconfident and takes a nap, or gets lost, or something.”

The animals agreed that this made sense. There was no reason a pineapple should challenge a hare unless it had a clever plan of some sort. So the animals, wanting to back a winner, all cheered for the pineapple.

When the race began, the hare sprinted forward and was out of sight in less than a minute. The pineapple just sat there, never moving an inch.

The animals crowded around watching to see how the pineapple was going to cleverly beat the hare. Two hours later when the hare cross the finish line, the pineapple was still sitting still and hadn't moved an inch.
The animals ate the pineapple.

MORAL: Pineapples don't have sleeves


Beginning with paragraph 4, in what order are the events in the story told?

A switching back and forth between places

B In the order in which the events happen

C Switching back and forth between the past and the present

D In the order in which the hare tells the events to another animal

The animals ate the pineapple most likely because they were
A Hungry
B Excited
C Annoyed
D Amused

Which animal spoke the wisest words?
A The hare
B The moose
C The crow
D The owl

Before the race, how did the animals feel toward the pineapple?
A Suspicious
B Kindly
C Sympathetic
D Envious

What would have happened if the animals had decided to cheer for the hare?
A The pineapple would have won the race.
B They would have been mad at the hare for winning.
C The hare would have just sat there and not moved.
D They would have been happy to have cheered for a winner.

When the moose said that the pineapple has some trick up its sleeve, he means that the pineapple

A is wearing a disguise
B wants to show the animals a trick
C has a plan to fool the animals
D is going to put something out of its sleeve

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Dozen Opportunities

"What are those doughnuts for?" a student asked me today during class. He had spotted a see-through grocery bag containing a dozen Krispy Kremes behind my desk.

"They're for Writing Club," I told him.

"What's that?" he wanted to know.

And so I gave him a brief overview of the group. "Um, it's a club where kids who like to write come and write and share their writing."

"Can anyone come?" he asked.

I was pretty sure it was the doughnuts talking, since this particular student is a rather reluctant writer, but I told him that anyone was welcome, and secretly, in my writer's heart of hearts, I hoped he would come and that it would make a difference.

"I'm coming!" he said.

"Then I will see you there!" I answered, and upon returning to the lesson, promptly forgot the entire conversation.

Flash forward to 2:30 when, to my surprise, that guy and his equally non-writing buddy actually showed up for our meeting. I was glad, but the regular attendees looked upon these new recruits with doubt. They were classmates, but they were from very different social groups, and while you can't choose the kids in your class, the regulars liked writing club partially because it was a self-selected group of people with a like interest.

"You have to write, you know," one of the old timers informed the new boys.

They shrugged.

"They're just here for the snack," the first kid said, shaking his head in dismay.

Fortunately, there were notebooks and pens and yes, doughnuts, to distract and unify everyone. Our plan was to go outside and do some writing, and that is what we did. We found a pleasant spot, wrote for five minutes, and then moved to another location. There was plenty of chatter and play along the way, and everyone got some writing done.

At the end of the hour, as we headed back into the building, I found myself walking beside Mr. Skeptical. "That was fun," he said. "Those guys can be annoying in class, but they were all right today. I'm glad they came."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Little Too Far Outside the Box?

My students are in the first stages of writing book reviews, and so I had them prepare some interview questions for each other about the books they were considering reviewing. The beauty of this assignment is that the other student need not have read the book; in fact it's better if he or she hasn't, because those questions help the reviewer figure out what the audience needs to know. The interviews also give the reviewer insight into who may or may not like the book. Plus it's a good way to get kids talking and thinking about books and writing.

Anyhow, my advice when they are writing the questions is for them to be as creative as possible. They will hear a brief summary of the book to begin with, so I encourage them to compose questions that will lead to a lively discussion.

I like it when my students follow the directions, and it pleases me when they are surprising, but I was a little shocked when I heard this question:

Which character would you be most likely to torture for information, how would you do it, and what would you want to know?

Fortunately? I know the student and how he thinks; the guy is just itching for adults to tell him he can't do something, so then he gets to debate the injustice of our authority rather than do the assignment. I don't usually pick that battle with him, but after a little prompting he amended his question to include this disclaimer:

In other words, who is your least favorite character and what would you say if you met them?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Moving Mountains

Our Tolerance Club took a group of 28 kids to the Martin Luther King Memorial this morning. I had been by the site from the Tidal Basin side, but not inside, as we had Isabel with us, and dogs are not allowed. This time, we entered from the Independence Avenue side, and I knew from the research I had done to prepare our group that the thirty-foot stones that flank the entrance are called The Mountain of Despair. Once inside, you see the huge center piece that has been removed to create the opening, and from it the sculpture of Dr. King emerges. This piece is called The Stone of Hope.

Both are a reference to a line in the I Have a Dream speech, but the symbolic power of those stones standing for what everyone wishing for equal civil rights faced, the mountain of despair, and what they were able to achieve through their hope and perseverance was very moving to me.

And it was not lost on our students, either. When, at the end of the trip,  we gathered to talk about our thoughts and observations, all of them were able to express their admiration and appreciation for those who had moved mountains to allow them to have the opportunities they do.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Is Up With That?

Picture this:

A teacher is leading a perfectly respectable class discussion. Most, if not all, students seem to be listening and involved-- in fact, several hands are waving, signaling a willingness, if not a downright enthusiasm to participate. The teacher scans the group, wanting to be sure to include everyone, especially those kids who do not always seem engaged. With a smile and a nod, the teacher calls on just such a student, leaning forward in encouragement, eagerly waiting to hear what the usually reticent scholar has to contribute.

"Can I go to the bathroom?"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kids Today

It was a beautiful day here with blue skies and temps pushing 80 and above, so of course we rolled down the windows and opened the sun roof when we went out to run errands. A little while later, with our mission accomplished and a fresh breeze blowing through the car, we turned up the music and headed home.

As we drove into our complex, we passed a neighbor leaned over to inflate his bike tire. At the sound of our raucous arrival, he straightened, put his hands on his hips, and gave us a disapproving look. His eyes widened a bit; I guess he didn't expect a couple of forty-something ladies in a station wagon to be creating such a disturbance-- especially since he couldn't have been more than 30 himself.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Signs of the Season

I saw my first summer commercial of the year a little while ago, and frankly, two guys sweating on the stoop drinking sweet tea never looked better. It can't be long now.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hero and Villains

The Tolerance Club showed the movie Afghan Star today at school. Made in 2008, this remarkable documentary recounts the experience of four contestants on the Afghan TV version of American Idol, and it is very informative and revealing about life in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban regime.

Most interesting to me was the heightened awareness of and concern about the contestants' ethnicity and gender. Having read The Kite Runner, I was fascinated to see both a Pashtun and a Hazara man featured. The main drama however involved the women, for as controversial as singing in public was to this nation emerging from strict sharia law, allowing women to perform was even more divisive.

Each woman approached the storm of moral ambiguity differently. One tried to be as respectful as possible, honoring tradition as closely as she could, and the other was outspoken about her "open-mindedness," pushing the boundaries of propriety in her performances.

To add perspective, both women dressed quite modestly, and both covered their heads, and so the subtlety of their differences was mostly lost on a predominately western audience such as ours. When the one removed her head scarf and danced on stage for her exit number, though, there were many in the group that clapped.

There was at least one who did not. A sixth grade girl, who is Muslim and wears a head-covering herself, left the movie shortly after that scene. "What she did was really bad," she told her friend on the way out. "She showed her hair."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Low Tech Solution

We have a core group of students who come to our weekly writing club, but sometime before spring break, we threatened to rename it the Hanging Out and Talking Club, because so little actual writing was getting done. The kids spent a lot of time on the laptops collaborating to create websites and blogs, but they spent even more time talking about things completely unrelated to writing.

Still, it was hard to determine if we were being overly critical-- maybe this is just how writing looks in the early 21st century?-- but we decided that, at the risk of being too prescriptive, and perhaps even sacrificing the engagement of these students of the new millennium, we were going to try some more structured activities.

Then, as luck would have it, we couldn't get the laptops, and so we were all forced to write the old fashioned way. Oh, there has been some moaning and groaning for sure, but there has also been a lot more words put to paper, and they are still coming every week.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Five Things I'm Thankful for Today

#5. Quinoa

#4. Nikky Finney's poetry
(Not a girl any longer, she is capable of her own knife-work now.)

#3. The web TV show Anyone But Me

#2. Walking my dog


#1. The auto-release on the mammogram machine

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Name That Book

My students were doing "speed book talks" today. This is an activity where they prepare a brief presentation about a book they have recently enjoyed and would like to recommend to others, and then kind of on the model of speed dating, rotate through the room in three minute increments to give and receive recommendations. In general it's a fun way to get sixth graders to think, write, and talk about books, plus it's good for their attention spans and it has plenty of movement opportunity built in.

As I circulate, I get a lot of insight into how and what they are thinking, too. For example, I overheard one girl begin the summary of her book this way:

It's about this girl, and instead of going out and partying with her friends, she has to stay in hiding and worry about getting caught by the Germans, so she spends a lot of time writing in her journal.

I confess that at first I was appalled, until I considered that at her age, this student is probably a little closer in mindset to Anne Frank than I. Plus? She obviously read the book.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Twitter

I had myself all in a state today returning to work after spring break. The students had the day off; it was a teacher work day to allow us to finish our third quarter grading and then turn our attention to the fourth. For me, though, it was grumpy day. All the rest and relaxation of the prior week did not leave me recharged.

In an attempt at distraction, I took a look at my Twitter feed. Oh the news was terrible about education reform, testing, teacher morale, etc. In addition? I realized I probably missed my shot at trying a couple of food trucks I was interested in, at least until summer vacation. I held my head in minor despair for a moment, until I looked at the next tweet. It was from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Later when I was telling my friend, Mary, about it, she said, "Did he tell you to calm the hell down?"

"Kind of," I answered.

As you develop a more compassionate attitude, you feel less anxiety, while your determination and self-confidence increase.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Run Joey Run

We always try to see all the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar, but this past year was an exception. Heidi refused to see War Horse, no matter how much I cajoled.

"It's by Steven Spielberg..." I started.

"So is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," she countered, and she had me there. I hate that movie.

"I'm sure the horse doesn't die," I told her. "That would never happen."

"I'm sure some horses do die," she answered, and I knew she was right. There was no way a movie with the word "war" in its title would let the other word in its title off the hook. Plus, I had seen Saving Private Ryan, and I knew no one was safe.

So we didn't go, and in the end, as far as awards and such, it wasn't that big a deal, but for a couple of reasons, I still wanted to see it. Number one was that it's based on a book meant for children the age of my students, and a colleague had recommended it to me.

This week we're on spring break, and of the pair of us, I am the earlier riser. In fact, I usually get up a couple of hours before Heidi. Around midweek, I decided to use some of my morning time to download and watch War Horse. Why not? I thought.

Why not, indeed! Just as Heidi predicted, the movie depicts the horrors of poverty and war and the powerlessness of women, children, animals, and of course men, in the face of such brutality. To me it was a picture of great loss with little redemption, and even a full-on Gone with the Wind style sunset ending could not rescue it. There was survival, yes, but I can't imagine how anyone marketed it as a family film.

In some ways? I'd rather see a mad Indian witch doctor pull a beating heart from some poor slave.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On Birdneck Road

Years ago my sister and I went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant where we ate frequently. It was midweek, and the place was not very busy, but every time someone opened the door to enter or exit an orange flash went by our table followed by the black pants and white shirt of an employee chasing after it. A moment later, a waiter would march back the other way with a young orange cat clinging to his neck. The intruder was tossed outside, only to have the whole scene played over the very next time someone opened the door.

We laughed every time it happened and speculated about the cat's owners. Were they relaxing in their easy chairs unaware of the social life their pet was having? It was closing time when we left, and the persistent orange cat was still making his dash for the kitchen as we were on our way out. I can't remember which of us picked him up first, but he was a heck of a hugger. He sat up straight in your arms, put his paws on either side of your neck, no claws, and gave a little squeeze. When the restaurant employees said that he had been there for a few nights, it was impossible not to take him home.

Oh, we put signs up the next day, but no one ever claimed the adventurous orange kitten, and although we tried finding another home for him, eventually he became our pet, Noah. We wanted to keep him safe and inside, but he would have none of it; that guy was in and out the door the second it was open, and eventually we gave up.

Some might say that we should have known better, especially given the way we found him. It wasn't too long before we discovered that Noah did indeed have an active social life. I'm not sure if we were in our easy chairs or not, but he was going in and out of all sorts of people's houses and even hotel rooms, with mixed results: some called us, some called animal control, and some brought him Christmas presents and other treats.

He sure was a heck of a hugger.

Friday, April 6, 2012


I saw a neighbor yesterday when we were both out with our dogs. I had some news about a mutual friend who was expecting; I knew that Laura was at the hospital and the baby would probably be born within the next few hours.

"Do they know what they're having?" my neighbor asked.

"I'm pretty sure they don't," I answered. "It will be a surprise for all of us."

Our dogs played in the bright spring sunshine as we chatted about this and that. She mentioned that her brother and his family were picking up their new puppy that afternoon. "He was born on February 12," she told me, "so I thought they should name him Lincoln."

"That would be a cool name," I nodded.

"Yeah, well my niece didn't like it, so they're naming him Rex," she continued.

"Well, that is a classic," I noted.

"Yep, right up there with Spot," she agreed.

We kept on talking about dog names until it got a little silly (think "missing Link", cleaning up "Lincoln logs" and even Spoticus), and when it was time for me to go I said, "Listen, don't give up on Lincoln-- it's a great name, maybe Laura will pick it for her baby," and we parted ways giggling a little.

Well, I'll be darned. Welcome to the world, Lincoln!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Discipline in middle school can be tricky. By age 11, many kids are good at identifying "the line," and they have also mastered tip-toeing up to it without crossing over. Still, there are those incidents that, as minor as they seem on the surface, feel as if they should be referred to an administrator, for documentation if for nothing else. And then, there you are, sitting at your desk, staring at the form, and wondering how best to phrase your report of "the infraction." After all, you don't want anyone to misunderstand the incident, but you do want both the student and staff to be aware of what transpired, so that hopefully it won't happen again.

The fact is though, that kids do silly things, and sometimes it sounds silly when you write them down. As it happens, The Huffington Post has a collection of 27 examples of just why it is important to take care in this area.

Hmmm... Maybe computer-delivered education is the way to go.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Young and Strong

We saw a young dad out bike riding with his two little girls on our walk around Burke Lake today. The first time we passed them, they were taking a little break. Oldest daughter rested her five-year-old self on a convenient bench, unicorn bike helmet just slightly askew. The little one happily waited in the seat on the back of her dad's bike.

We were giving the dogs some water and checking the identity of a bird when they passed us a little while later. The oldest daughter literally fell off her bike when she saw us, but only because she was going "C'mon," her dad encouraged her, and although she was clearly flagging, they pushed on.

It wasn't too long after we got back on the trail that we passed them again, and this time something big was happening. The unicorn helmet was off and dad was tying the little bike to the back of his own. As usual, the toddler sat placidly while her older sister talked herself through this unfortunate turn of events. "How can this be a loop?" she wondered. "It's too far!" She sat down and held her head as her father worked on.

"I am looking forward to seeing you guys ride past us!" I exclaimed as we walked by. "That is going to be good!"

The young father nodded confidently. "See you then!" he said cheerfully.

It was a good while later as we strode across the dam that had been built to create this man-made lake, swallows swooping all around us in the fresh breeze that seemed to blow just outside the wooded path, that I worried out loud. "I wonder what happened to those guys?"

"Maybe they went the other way?" Heidi suggested, and for a few minutes, I guessed she must have been right until we turned at a sound behind us. It was an amazing site to behold. The little bike was tied to the seat; the unicorn helmet was lashed securely to it; the littlest girl was in that seat, and her sister was perched on the handle bars with the wind in her hair and a huge smile on her face.

"Yay!" I cheered. "I was just worrying about you guys!"

"Thanks!" said Dad. "She is loving this ride!" He shrugged as he pedaled by. "Her mother is not going to be too happy though." And then they were gone.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

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Can anyone out there guess who our mystery guest blogger is? (no blindfolds necessary)

There's nothing like a great walk with two dogs happily trotting along with you. Especially when everyone comments about how cute they are and how well they heel and ignore other dogs and squirrels. Me and my favorite dogs are having a super spring break so far. Lots of 4 mile hikes, a few runs and walks in between, maybe even some swimming tomorrow.

The best is when I wake up in the morning and two dogs are staring at me, just waiting for me to tell them what is in store for them today. They have already had their breakfast and are ready for some morning cuddling as we discuss what to do. There's a lot of groaning, yawning and sleepy Snuffleupagus noises as we get ourselves ramped up for the day. What could be better than that?!?

Tonight we're going to play "spa time" and everyone will get their ears cleaned, their coats and tails  brushed out, and something really good smelling sprayed on. To be followed with many treats and tricks of course. We might even play "dress up" and put different hats and scarves on. I can't wait!!!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Daughter of Adam

Today as we walked along the trail running the ridge of some unnamed stream that flows to the Occoquan, my eye was drawn to each small island of green poking up through the brown leaf-litter. Holly, wild ginger, rattle snake plantain, bluet, those I recognized. I listened for the birds calling in the trees, too: robin, pileated woodpecker, common flicker, chickadee, cardinal, tufted titmouse; I heard them.

There's something about being outside that makes me want to name what I see, but that has not always been the case. It wasn't until I was 18 or so and spending time with my aunt, who in her kitchen had a picture window and a bird feeder outside it, that I even thought about all the different birds there were. On the table by that window, my aunt kept an Audubon guide and a pair of binoculars, and by the end of the week, I was kind of hooked.

I still had no interest in plants, though. When naturalist friends would point them out to me, I usually dismissed the identification with a joke. Interrupted fern? They should have called it, "fernus interruptus." Bwa ha ha, right?

I'm not sure when that changed. Maybe when I started hiking with people who knew less than I had learned by poking fun at my botanist friends. All of a sudden? I was the expert, and I realized that I liked knowing what was what, even if I had to find out for myself.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Ephemeral

"Why do we go to a nature center to learn about energy?" the ranger asked the congregation of sixth grade students. And the answer was that energy is everywhere, and nature both uses it and conserves it well. Case in point? Our guide showed us an example of the Virginia Bluebell. This plant is visible for no more than 4-6 weeks in the early spring. It grows and blooms in the sunshine that is only available because the trees have not yet leafed out, then dies back to its roots to wait for the earth to complete another trip around the sun. It is a spring ephemeral.

Years ago I drove from Houston to Austin at this time of year. Courtesy of the Texas Highway Department and Lady Bird Johnson, the hills were literally covered in Blue Bonnets, the showy lupine native to that part of the country. Fiery orange blooms of Indian Paintbrush were scattered across the blanket of blue blossoms, and it was hard to breathe, much less drive, in the presence of such an exhibition. I have never forgotten it.

Today I witnessed the local equivalent of that grand display. As we walked the trail along Bull Run,Virginia Bluebells carpeted the forest floor, rolling blue and spring green as far as I could see, their dainty lavender bells bowed away from the very sun they sought.  I have to admit that I appreciated the beauty of their presence much more knowing as I did that theirs was a limited engagement.

But then, whose isn't?