Sunday, September 30, 2012

Feeling Left Out

I'm not a big football fan. Don't get me wrong-- I don't hate the game, but my interest is casual at best. I keep up with the local team more to know what my students are talking about than anything else. Still, as I sat here enjoying the final hours of the weekend, my windows open to the cool early-autumn evening, I could hear the cheers and groans of my neighbors drifting through the complex on the night air.  

What on earth IS going on? I wondered, but then I remembered-- the game is on. It must be good, I thought and promptly turned it on. With 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the opposing team had just scored to pull within 2.

And the rest was pretty dramatic: Our team fell behind with a little more than a minute left. They moved the ball down the gridiron to within field goal range, and then their kicker, who had been driven out of our neighboring city when he missed a field goal that would have won the championship and was 0-3 in this game, with 3 seconds left on the clock nailed it for a one point win.

Great stuff! I'll be sure to use it at the proverbial water cooler tomorrow. Even so, I'm kind of sorry that once I turned on my own TV,  I couldn't hear my neighbors' reactions anymore.

I'm sure they were happy.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Exercise Discipline Affection and Inspiration

We went down to the Second Annual National Family Pack Walk this morning. Organized by Cesar Millan's foundation to promote animal rescue and rehabilitation, the Dog Whisperer himself was present along with his co-host Scooby Doo. This event has been on our calendar for months, ever since Heidi saw a commercial for it during her favorite show, yes, The Dog Whisperer.

For those who are unfamiliar, Millan visits the homes of troubled dogs and rehabilitates them and their owners by breaking negative behavior cycles. His argument that dogs need calm assertive leadership from their owners is very compelling and especially convincing when you watch the show and witness the turn-arounds he is able to facilitate in case after case.

We were there bright and early, and Cesar (and his security detail) passed us within feet three times. In person he is an unassuming figure, but his speech was inspiring, and most impressive of all? You should have seen the dogs in the crowd. There was not an aggressive pooch in sight, and as thousands of people and their dogs walked a mile behind the ultimate pack leader, I did not hear a single growl.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Location Location Location

For the last week or so, we have been working on sensory details in my English classes. I have some good mentor texts; the kids looked in their independent reading books for examples; we went outside to gather some, and they did a little sense poem exercise.

That particular assignment asks writers to imagine a specific place and then conjure a descriptive detail for each of the senses. Most kids pick the beach or the woods, the pool or New York City; this year some wrote about Paris and Ethiopia, but there are always a few that think outside the box (the future, Candyland), and one or two who want to test the limits.

Case in point:

Student: Can I write about the bathroom?
Me: Sure.
Student (surprised): I can?
Me, shrugging: If you want to and you think it's a good idea. Try it.

A little while later he was kind of stuck. There was always a chance that he could have pulled it off with humor or irony, but he was taking a pretty literal approach-- he had a lot of farting and stinking in his poem and couldn't think of too much else. My advice is always that in a piece this short, it's a mistake to repeat a word or image because it weakens the impact of it, and that's definitely what was going on.

Still, he was committed to the poem, eventhough any negative attention he might have gotten from his peers was diffused by my matter-of-fact treatment of his topic. I looked over his shoulder to see if I could help. We back-and-forthed out a few possibilities, and then he wondered if he could try another topic.

"Sure," I said, "that's what writers do."

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Mary came to my room today at around 1:45. She was on a mission, as it seems that we all are all the time now, and time was short, as it seems it always is all the time now. She had some questions; I had a few answers, but it wasn't long before the conversation turned to our impending writing group meeting tonight.

The wine I wanted to bring was sold out; Mary hadn't finished her writing; I hadn't started my writing; we had a meeting at 2; I had another one at 2:40; there was a sixth grade mixer after school and a home tennis match, too; tomorrow's lessons were barely planned, to speak nothing of next week.

"We should just reschedule," I sighed.

And without skipping a beat Mary said, "Call Leah right now."

Which I did, and although she didn't answer her mobile, she picked up her classroom phone on the first ring, "This is Leah."

"Leah! It's Tracey. Mary's here and we really want to move writing group to next week."

As fortune would have it, just then Ellen walked in. We were all present, and we were all overwhelmed.

"If Tracey want's to cancel, you know it's bad," Mary said, but I knew that was true for all of us. Our writing group has been meeting almost every month since 2006, and this was the first time we ever had to cancel.

Thank goodness everyone can do it next Thursday! AND I will tell you this-- come what may, I will be there at 6:30 with a couple of bottles of good wine and some writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

And That's Okay

One of the Tolerance Club initiatives at our school has been to teach kids how, when witnessing a bullying situation, they can be "upstanders" rather than bystanders.

A student at one of the high schools in our district actually produced a video on the topic for his senior project. Scored to the recording of Born This Way by Lady Gaga, the 12 minute film shows a number of students and staff holding up a large sign. On the first side they have written a fact about themselves, such as "I am bi-racial" or "I am short" or "I am Muslim" or "I like boys and girls" or "I have ADHD" and then they flip the sign to read, "And That's Okay." It is a powerful presentation that depicts the diversity of their community, and the message that we should accept each other for who we are is clear.

On Monday, we have had members of the Tolerance Club create their own signs, and we have shared them in a circle at the end of our meeting. Once again it was fascinating and wonderful to see what the kids chose to share about themselves and so moving to hear the words and that's okay repeated over and over again.

Like last year, we are going school-wide with this activity. On Friday, all of our students will view the video, and then make signs of their own in their homerooms. Teachers are strongly encouraged to participate, too, and so I've done it twice so far. Last year I struggled to find something revealing (but not too), something that I was a little uncomfortable with, but which really should be "okay." I settled on, "I don't like to wear skirts, " and, to be honest, I was surprised at how many girls were with me. On Monday, I admitted that I don't like it when people sit in "my" seat in the team room. Once again, some kids really got it, but I think my colleagues are still on the fence.

And perhaps that's another blog post altogether, but I do want to say that I am looking forward to doing this with my homeroom on Friday, even if I'm not sure what I'm going to share.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

9:30 in the Bubble

I went to a small high school where everyone was required to play a sport and so if you went out for a team? You pretty much made it. That was me and basketball. I was on the varsity basketball team all three years, but making the team and playing in the games were two very different things.

It turned out that, despite my enthusiasm, I was a bench sitter. At the time, it was a mystery to me. In practice I was nothing if not compliant: I always gave my best in any drill or scrimmage and made all the corrections the coach called out, and yet still I sat cheering for my teammates in every game.

Years later, when I was a teacher and recruited to be a co-coach of the girls team, I understood why. Back then? I was clueless. I had zero body awareness and the concept of plays and strategies flowed past me like an alpine stream over a waterfall. As an educator, in retrospect I could place some responsibility on the coach  (I know what a willing student I was), but on the other hand, as a coach, I know you have a lot to accomplish in a limited time, and sometimes there are children left behind.

Even so, I look back on my high school basketball career very fondly. First, I nailed the lay up-- I totally know how to do that and I have taught countless girls to do one, too. Secondly, there is no feeling like being a part of a team, and I can honestly say that every cheer I made from the bench was genuine-- I loved those girls and their success was glorious.

I am still in touch with one of my best friends from high school despite our fundamental philosophical differences. She is a conservative Midwestern doctor, and I am a liberal East coast teacher, but it was Amy who worked with me to improve my skills. We met every night in the gym after study hall and practiced for 30 minutes. And it was she who flew off the bench in celebration when I scored the only two points of my career.

That's what counts.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Score Board

Back to School Night 20
Me 0

I just cannot make my presentation fit into 10 minutes!


There's always next year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

North Meets South

I dreamed all night of eating spinach-- raw, sauteed, creamed-- and awoke wondering if I had an iron deficiency. Fortunately, I had on hand one of my favorite breakfasts, Colcannon. This traditional Irish dish is a mixture of cabbage, kale, or other greens with potatoes and onions, and sometimes turnip and ham or corned beef. 

A few days ago, I pulled out the last of the frozen greens from last winter's CSA share, and cooked up a big batch. I like it during the school year, because on weekday mornings it's easy to reheat, and a hard-boiled egg makes it into a very satisfying start to the day. This morning, though, I had another topping in mind.

A couple weeks ago, I watched a slide show on the NYTimes website. Spanish chef Jose Andres demonstrates how to cook the perfect fried egg. It involves a lot of olive oil and some unorthodox spooning, so clearly it was worth a go.

In retrospect Spain meets Ireland could have been a Eurozone nightmare, but of course it was delicious and very economical, too.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

By the Book

We went down to the National Book Festival today, mostly just to hear David Levithan speak, and let me tell you, he did not disappoint. I read his latest book, Every Day, a few weeks ago and was blown away.

The main character is a sixteen year old who goes by A. Every morning A wakes up in a different  body and literally spends the day in that person's skin. Age is the only commonality; this has been going on as long as A has lived, and the kids whose lives A has shared grow older as A does. The novel starts when they are all 16. As a result, A has no gender identity, no race, no religion. Levithan said today that he in writing the book he wanted to explore that essential core of anyone who makes us who we are.

David Levithan is a charming, openly-gay guy who is very positive and upbeat. An editor himself, he is also articulate and knowledgeable about writing and literature. He was great in the Q & A, and my only regret is that I didn't dash to the mike to ask if Every Day would have a sequel. To this reader, the possibility seemed open.

The author immediately after Levithan in the YA tent happened to be the legendary RL Stine. Personally, I've never been a big fan, but my students have loved his work for twenty years. In fact, I just read his memoir, It Came From Ohio, last weekend to see if it would fit in to our reading unit. I didn't need to stay for the whole thing, but I did want to see him up close and in person, and so we loitered outside the tent until a green golf cart pulled up. Stine, clad entirely in black, clambered out. He was a little grayer and more stooped than I imagined, but there he was, horn-rimmed glasses and all, a literary superstar among middle schoolers everywhere.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fourth Annual RSVP

As in past years, I gave the students a writing prompt yesterday to get a baseline of their writing skills. Their pieces will be scored holistically using the state rubric. We'll give them another prompt in early June to measure their progress for the year.

The topic was the same as it has been the last three years:

Your principal wants to invite a celebrity speaker to your school. Think about the celebrity you would choose to speak; then write a letter to persuade your principal to invite this person. Be sure to include convincing reasons and details to support your choice.

It's always fascinating to see who the kids want to invite. This year it was a tie for most wanted:

President Obama
Rick Riordan

In addition to those two, it was cool to see several other authors represented, as well.

JK Rowling
Suzanne Collins
Jeff Kinney
Wendy Mass
Ally Carter

Of course there was no shortage of entertainers, although it's hard for the kids to find convincing reasons for some to speak to our students. They really just want a free show.

One Direction
Stevie Wonder
Taylor Swift
Jay Z
Demi Lovato
Selena Gomez
Wiz Khalifa
Sandra Bullock
Chris Brown
Niall Horran
Kelly Clarkson
Miley Cyrus
Sean Connery
Victorious Crew
Katy Perry
Ringo Starr
Daniel Craig
Shia Laboeuf
Bill Murray
Johnny Depp

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of athletes, too:

Dwyane Wade
Usain Bolt
Josh Lundquist
LA Galaxy
Baltimore Ravens
Miami Heat
Lionel Messi
Charles Woodson
Ryan Zimmerman
Dominique Dawes
Real Madrid
Michael Phelps
Tim Tebow
Gabby Douglas
Bryce Harper
Josh Lindblom

And then there were a few others.

Mitt Romney
Michelle Obama
President Clinton
Bill Gates
Tito from the county drug prevention program
Notch (the guy who designed Minecraft)
Amelia Earhart

Thursday, September 20, 2012

You've Got Mail

In the future, the US Postal Service will probably have an abbreviated role in our lives. Even today personal correspondence is way down (hardly a surprise, given the instant gratification of electronic communication), junk mail advertisements are on their way out, and most publications are available online or via an app. Most utilities and credit companies would prefer that we accept our bills electronically and pay that way as well. Of course there will always be things and stuff that must be physically delivered, at least until we perfect the transporter beam. Sure, it might take a while; Scotty won't even be born until 2222, but you're on notice UPS and Fed Ex.

Call me old-fashioned, but I can't help thinking something will be lost in such a transition. Just tonight our six-year-old friend, Savannah thanked us for her birthday gift. We got her a subscription to a magazine published for kids her age. She hadn't even read it yet, but just the experience of having a piece of mail delivered to her house with her name on it was exciting, and when we told her that there would be another one every month? She practically fainted.

Of course I only know this because we were on FaceTime. 21st century communication does have its advantages.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mainstream Media Miss

I heard a piece on NPR this morning about an experiment conducted by a researcher at the University of Chicago. The main question of the segment was how to motivate teachers to maximize student achievement. Of the method they were covering, "It's not exactly a carrot and it's not exactly a stick," the reporter told us. What "it" is is a riff on "loss aversion." The study found that teachers who received a cash bonus up front under the conditions that they would have to return it if their students did not achieve were gangbusters successful in making sure their kids passed the test.

Could there be any doubt that I was disappointed by this story? Not only is it insulting to suggest that teachers need external motivation to help their students achieve, but nobody even questioned the definition of "achievement;" it was stipulated as success on a standardized test. (Golly, I wonder what kind of test prep, cough, I mean teaching, was going on in those classrooms?)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's the Objective?

I have a student this year who is constantly asking why we are doing whatever it is we are. He is always very courteous and sincere when he asks what the point of the lesson or activity is. I know this, because as an experienced classroom teacher I automatically search his eyes with my x-ray bullshit detector vision to see if this is a case of work avoidance, defiance, or something else equally counterproductive. With him, though, it seems to be genuine, if pointed, curiosity.

Despite the fact that he is a bit mischievous and somewhat distractable (in other words, eleven), his question always has a ring of authenticity to it, and so I answer him honestly, explaining what I hope he and the rest of my students will get from the lesson and how. Once so informed, he seems not only satisfied but also doubly willing to accomplish the task at hand.

I wonder who taught him to ask this question, and why, especially because such a conversation is very rare in sixth grade. One day, I will ask him about it, but until then? I'm enjoying the accountability.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Worst Years of Your Life?

We ran into a former student and her mom at the farmers market yesterday. "How's high school?" Heidi asked. "Do you love it?"

Emma shook her head vigorously. "Oh yeah!" she answered.

Heidi and I exchanged shrugs and nods. "That's what they all say," Heidi told her. "Middle school must be pretty rotten."

More knowing shrugs all around.

"Well," her mom said brightly, "at least you two are there. That makes a big difference!"

That was nice.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oh My! That Internets is Amazing!

One of my newest semi-obsessions is Goodreads.  For those who are unaware, GR is a social networking site devoted to books and reading. I actually joined a year or so ago and then got busy and forgot about it. I'm not sure what renewed my interest in it a few weeks ago (probably work avoidance of some sort), but once I started listing books I'd read, the gratification of watching my list grow was pretty intense, and I've been hooked ever since.

But wait, there's more! Not only can you keep a running record of all you have read, along with your personal ratings (in stars, written reviews are optional), you can also receive suggestions based on your bookshelf, connect with friends to see what they are reading and what they recommend, and even follow authors who are also members.

I know I'm relatively late to the Goodreads party, but as an English teacher? I must say that it's never too late to celebrate reading. In fact, I'm working on ways to use the site with my kids. I'll keep you posted.

(In the mean time you can friend me!)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cowboys and Mennonites

We took advantage of the PERFECT! weather this evening and piled Isabel in the station wagon for a walk on the National Mall. I was kind of anxious to see the newly re-opened reflecting pool by the Washington Monument; it seems like it's been a muddy hole in the ground for a really long time.

Despite how gorgeous it was, at 5:15 we had no trouble parking and plenty of daylight left. There are many things I love about being on the mall. To me, Washington is architecturally the most European city in the States, and having had the pleasure of living on that continent for three years, I appreciate its monumental nature. That particular part of DC is also a place where people from all over the world converge, more so even than in other areas of our very diverse region, and on our walk tonight we must have heard a dozen languages. (I definitely recognized Arabic, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, and of course, English, but there were several more.)

Tonight I found yet another reason to head to our nation's backyard. Here in our nation's capital, we are lucky to have a very successful bike share program with stations conveniently located all over town. This evening as we walked, every place we passed was out of bikes, but that was hardly surprising considering the number of riders we saw all around us.

Judging by the appearance of those folks pedaling along the paths, it seems that like many of the other attractions of Washington, bicycles are also an international draw. My favorites, though, were the three guys in jeans, boots, and stetsons, who were closely followed by the four men in plain black pants, brilliant blue shirts buttoned to the throat, and flat wide-brimmed hats. Those guys must have left their horses (and buggies) at home.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ahead of Her Time

 This morning as I blended up Heidi's breakfast smoothie, I was momentarily transported forty years back in time to another blender in another kitchen, and it reminded me that my mother was always somewhat of a visionary. Back then, one of our breakfast staples was an invention of hers we called Goody Milk. Decades before the smoothie became the go-to on the run power meal, my mom was blitzing up milk, fruit, ice cubes, and a raw egg to give us a quick and energizing start to our day. She also baked breakfast cookies complete with oatmeal, dried fruit, and bacon.

But that's not all. Before we headed off to school, my mother corralled me and my friends for a ten minute work-out in our living room. Despite our teenaged groaning she led us in stretches, leg lifts, abs, and lunges every morning. Today, at 73, my mother continues to be a model of health and fitness. She exercises regularly and eats a sensible diet.

Imagine a road of wellness that stretches from Jane Fonda to Michelle Obama-- over the years, millions of people have jumped on the fitness bandwagon as it has passed by, modifying their habits and their diets to live a healthier life.

But my mom? She didn't have to jump on; she was already driving it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

I hate to be a knee-jerk complainer, so when I found out there would be an adult education class meeting in my room every day at 4:30, I tried to accept it as the Universe's way of telling me that I spend too much time at school. I'll go to the garden or the gym, I thought. Who knows? This could be life-altering!

It wasn't too many days before I knew it would be almost impossible to get all my work done if I was forced to pack up and leave by that time, and the only alteration it would have on my life was in my job performance. With a sigh, I resolved to contact my administrator.

Fortunately, she couldn't have been more cooperative (thanks Ellen!), and today I had access to my room until 6:45. I gleefully crossed several items off off of my to-do list, and it was quarter to six before I knew it. All of a sudden the prospect of going home to do my evening chores and cook dinner seemed impossibly exhausting. I was out of gas and running on fumes. Just then there was a knock at the door.

"Will you need us to move the later class?" the building attendant politely asked.

"No thank you," I replied, then added, "Please, shoot me if I'm still here by then."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In MY School...

Let this post be the first of a series.

Almost every serious teacher fantasizes about the ideal school-- so much so that we often either end a rant and start a wistful conversation with Well, when I have MY school...

In 19 years I've had my fair share of such conversations, but one constant has always been that anyone who is going to require teachers to do something should themselves be an active teacher. Theory and practice diverge every day in the classroom, and I do not mean that as an excuse. I truly believe that our job is more than just a job and to understand it, you have to do it.

So much of what we have been tasked with lately is hoop-jumping and box-checking in the name of accountability, and while some ineffective teachers may be ferreted out, the rest of our students will be penalized, because the time we spend proving that we are spending our time well is time we are not spending on them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Later

This morning I thought about how eerie it was that this perfectly clear, cool, and blue-sky Tuesday so resembled the one 11 years ago. I've told my 9-11 story many times-- how our school is just a mile from the Pentagon and colleagues actually saw the plane as it descended, how my classes were in the computer lab and the emergency announcement was made at passing time so that when we returned to our room we were confused to find it locked, how I knocked on a colleague's door and she wouldn't answer at first because we were in lock down, how my students and I sat obediently in the dark without having any idea why, how an explosion shook our building so violently that our principal used the PA system to warn us all to take cover, and how I decided it was better to sit up in a chair and read to my students than to hide under the tables with them-- we were all scared, but I wanted them to know that someone was in charge.

This afternoon I checked my email at school and was delighted to find a message from a former student. Here's what she wrote:

Given where I currently work (right by your school) and what today’s date is, I’m reminded of exactly where I was 11 years ago today. I was in your classroom along with the other students, completely unaware of what was going. I remember all of us were worried because somehow we were hearing rumors ( I say somehow because in '01, none of us had iPhones or Blackberrys), and I also recall the announcements telling us to take cover until we eventually were taken to the gym. But, what I remember most is how you tried to keep us calm by simply reading aloud to us in the darkness of our classroom, sitting under our tables. I remember that and as an adult now I can’t even imagine how stressful a situation that must have been for you, but even so, your priority was to make sure we all stayed calm. I hope the students you’re teaching today realize the significance of what today is, and know that about a decade ago the kids sitting in their seats were having a very different type of school day that would change them forever.

It was an unforgettable day, but even though I am in the same classroom doing the same job, many of the students I teach now were not even born then. They honor this day with us as they have been taught to do, but not from any sense of personal loss.

They remind us all that life goes on, and that is why I teach.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Rabbit Test

When I was a kid, a popular punch line on some of the silly sitcom re-runs we loved to watch was, "The rabbit died." Upon hearing the sentence, the studio audience would roar with laughter at the recognition that somewhere a pregnancy test was administered, and the resulting death of the lab rabbit meant that the woman was expecting... or not. Rabbits die under other circumstances sometimes, and that was the joke.

Today you can pee on a stick and get the same diagnostic results, and I'm sure rabbits everywhere are super-relieved, but back then I never gave those rabbits who died a second thought-- they may as well have been paper strips thrown in the trash once they had served their purpose.

Over the past week, Heidi has been caring for our neighbor's pet rabbit. A rescue bunny, Oliver had a room of his own, and, despite his understandably ornery disposition, was well-loved. Yesterday when she went to check on him, Heidi found Oliver lying still in his crate, a pet-sitter's nightmare and so not funny.

I guess it's different when you know the rabbit.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Two Day Weekends

Who thought that was a good idea?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Turn, Turn, Turn

Even though it was warm and muggy this morning when I took the dog out, the light breeze must have suggested a change to me. I couldn't feel it, but when we got back the muffins I baked were pumpkin instead of peach, and tonight we have mashed potatoes for dinner where last night there was ratatouille.

Sure enough, there was an hour of severe weather this afternoon, and tomorrow it is predicted to be in the 70s.

Now that is change I can embrace.

Friday, September 7, 2012

On to the Next Thing

  • 100% all beef Halal hot dog on  bun
  • Individual bag of chips
  • Bottle of water
  • Slice of watermelon
Number of diners:     
Total cost:
  • $481.57 or
  • $1.38 per person
2012 Sixth Grade Picnic:
  • A success!
  • Over!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How'd I Do, Mark Zuckerberg?

Tonight when I was squandering a little time checking in on Facebook, my eye was caught by an invitation to complete a survey. You might think I would feel all-surveyed out, given that particular form of data collection's heightened popularity around our neck of education, but I was interested in offering feedback on my Facebook experience. Plus, sometimes when I'm really cranky, it helps to go all negative on some random survey-- it's like sucking the venom from a snakebite or something.

So... imagine my surprise when after the first question, which was about Facebook, they started asking me where I get my news and how often. Then they wanted to know my level of education and my political opinions on the upcoming presidential election. Thank goodness I didn't exaggerate, because the last half of the survey was a quiz on US politics of the the last four years, and let me tell you folks, it wasn't that easy.

I kind of liked it though; they even gave the answers at the end, and I got them all right.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Show Me the Data

And while we're talking about measurable objectives... Why do we do a whole school science fair again?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Measuring Up

This is what bureaucracy looks like:

Every year we plan a sixth grade picnic for the first Friday we are back in school. In the interest of building a sense of community and engagement, it's a chance for the new kids in the school to celebrate making it through their first week of middle school and to connect and reconnect with their peers.

This year we have been asked to phrase all of our team business in the form of objectives and measurable outcomes... so what about the picnic? How does one compute the value of such an event? Do we administer a survey? Collect exit cards at the end? Have the students complete a reflection?

Would any of those make the picnic better, or would they simply justify it to any who cared?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pulling the Old Tom Sawyer

For the past few years, Heidi's dad, Gary, has expressed an interest in learning how to can tomatoes. As a retiree, he was thinking he had the time and resources, not to mention the love of tomatoes, to adopt such a hobby.

Yesterday he got the chance to see how he likes it. The four of us went to the farmers market and bought a thirty pound box of tomatoes. Then, in as efficient an assembly line as we could organize in our little kitchen, we peeled, chopped, and canned twelve quarts of tomatoes. It took no longer than an hour and a half, including the time we sat around watching TV while the full jars were boiling away in the processing pots.

When it was all cleaned up, I turned to Gary. "Are you going to go home and do some more?" I asked him.

"What for? I got six quarts right here!"

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New Kids

We went out for pizza tonight at a restaurant near us that only opened on Wednesday. It was a larger, fancier branch of a place that we like, and we were excited to try it. Our meal was fine, but it was amazing how easy it was to tell that this was only the fifth night of service. Our waiter was earnest and willing, but also unsure about some of the details, like the difference between Pinot noir and "that other thing" we ordered. My pizza came to the table uncut, and then was returned to the table without a serving utensil.

Even so, there was something about the concentration and engagement in the staff that I really liked-- they were young and enthusiastic and most importantly, they wanted to learn. As we left our rather generous tip, ("Are you sure you don't want change?" the waiter asked), I knew that if my students this year have half of that attitude, we are going to have a great time.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Another Misstep

It's been a summer of accidents and mishaps.

In addition to burning dinner last night, and in keeping with skinning my knee a couple of weeks ago, yesterday I stepped on a bee in my bare feet and was stung. That has not happened to me in over 40 years, and to be honest, it was much more painful than I ever remember it. For a moment I couldn't bear weight on my foot.

But the worst part was seeing the bee also in agony, writhing in the clover, and knowing that she would die because of my carelessness.