Sunday, March 31, 2013

What a Tweet

Like many things, I have been rather slow to embrace Twitter. While my brother has been an avid follower for a few years, I joined just last summer, and then only so I could get the inside scoop on where the food trucks would be (but that's another blog post).

Since then, though, I have definitely come to appreciate it. More than any other media, it offers spontaneous and immediate communication boiled down to what seems like the essentials. Not only do I know where the food trucks are and what they may be running low on, I can also see what the snow looks like from the studio window of an author I admire, what a certain celebrity cooked for dinner, or even get the answer to my own personal question from a famous chef.

But, wait! There's more: I can find out what trails are open in my favorite National Park, whether or not that actress is really going to challenge the senate minority leader, what books my friends are reading, and if it might rain tomorrow. All in one place, all in 140 characters, whether I really need to know it or not.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Postcard from Charles County

We went on another little outing today, this time to Chapman State Park, which is about 45 minutes from our house. I don't have a rating system, but if I did? CSP would be 4 stars, 2 thumbs up, 9 pine trees, or something else pretty darn good.

To begin with, the weather (which I'm aware is beyond the control of the park) was perfect: low 60's and plenty of sunshine. T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers were just right for the outing.

Next, although there were five or six cars parked in the lot, we only saw two other couples, and then just to nod as we passed.

Third, the trails were easy, but not flat or boring. They descend and ascend about 200 feet over a couple of miles through hard wood forests punctuated liberally with stands of towering loblolly pines.

Fourth, there is a payoff in the hike. About halfway, the trail opens to a wide sandy beach on the Potomac. We could see another of our favorite spots, Mason Neck State Park, right across the water. Several boats were out fishing, and a bald eagle agreeably soared just over head.

Fifth, there are historical sites to explore first hand. The property belonged to the Chapman family from 1750 to 1914. They were related to George Washington by both blood and marriage and good friends of George Mason, as well. Their plantation survived and thrived through both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The house that was built in 1840 still stands today, and there is also a family cemetery and some other cool ruins within the park boundaries. And, as if that were not enough, in 1954 a Hungarian countess bought the place and for the next thirty years, used it as her country estate and horse farm.

As we headed down the wide, red clay drive back toward our car, I was already thinking of when we might be back and who we should bring with us.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Good Friday

We ended our week off as it began: dealing with practicalities. There were deliveries and inspections, emails, phone calls, and bills. All were addressed without stress, as if each and only one were the business of the moment, which they were.

In the afternoon we took a short drive to a National Park within 20 miles of our home, but one that we've never visited. Literally a massive fort with bulwarks and bastions galore; it was built to protect and defend, and we practically had the place to ourselves.

Walking its parapets with sweeping view of river and sky, it seemed like I could almost see my home, and I realized that some vacations are meant for escape and some are meant for being present.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lions and Lambs

This year, March seems to have taken the old adage seriously, but on a micro level-- each day this week has provided sunshine, bluster, wind, rain, and even a little sleet and snow. The experts on these things have pushed the cherry blossom peak prediction back ten days or so, and the inevitable comparisons to last year's record warmth have been, well, inevitable.

It would be easy to gripe about the unpredictable weather, especially on the week of spring break, but why not think of it like this: March actually offers the best of all seasons. Enjoy the sunshine, but if the weather outside is frightful, then the fire inside will be delightful.

And so it has been.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Whining Allowed

Our dog had to have minor surgery yesterday. At 9 1/2 she had a few warts and cysts to be removed. While she was out, they cleaned her teeth, as well. In general, she is a very healthy pup, and when we picked her up, the vet tech assured us that everything went better than expected.

"She's going to be groggy for a day or two," the tech let us know, "and she may whine. That's normal. It's just her way of saying, Something happened to me, and I don't understand what."

And she did indeed quietly whimper and groan her way through the night and into this morning. We watched her closely to be sure she wasn't in any pain, but her protests seemed to match up with what they had told us. She just could not figure out what the heck had happened.

All day today, I've thought about the experience from our dog's point of view. How confusing it all must have been-- to be left in a strange place, then to feel so drowsy, to lose consciousness, to come to, again in an alien place full of odd smells, some of them coming from you, to be all woozy and wobbly. Then there is the lingering pain, even though it is managed with medication, there has to be some discomfort, and where did that even come from?

Yeah, you bet something happened to her! I think a little complaining is completely in order.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bake Me a Cake

With all the activity at the SCOTUS today, rather than chew my nails waiting to hear how the justices reacted to the arguments, I decided to youtube an old favorite: The Puppy Episode of Ellen.

I remember the thrill of watching it when it originally aired nearly 15 years ago, and it was still as goofy and hilarious and heartwrenching today. Best line? For me, it was the same then as now: I mean, you never see a cake that says Good for you! You're gay!

A lot of progress has been made in the past fifteen years, but I mean, you still don't see those cakes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Perfect Day for Nesting

We had the biggest snowfall of the season overnight. Awaking to two or three inches of snow blanketing the rooftops and flocking the trees, I wasn't even disappointed that such a day came when we were already out of school. It was too pretty.

As the day progressed and things warmed up a bit, it was more of a slush storm and not nearly as charming. We ran a bunch of errands and roads and stores were practically empty. It seemed like most folks preferred to sigh at this grey day from inside. Who could blame them really? It wasn't a fit day for man or beast.

That's why I couldn't get upset when I went over to the sliding glass doors a little while ago to see what the dog was fussing about. A squirrel had found my stash of pine straw. I collected it several weeks ago to mulch my strawberry plants later in the spring-- the extra layer should keep the fruit from rotting on the ground-- and placed the bags in the back corner of my deck to keep them from the elements.

The squirrel had other plans, though. I watched her fearlessly gather tiny fistfuls of the dry needles and stuff them into her mouth, mere inches from my dog's nose pressed up against the glass. Then she scrambled twenty feet to a junction formed by several branches at the top of nearby white pine, where I could clearly see her using it to insulate her growing nest.

I could have let the dog out or chased her away myself, but I didn't. I had to congratulate her on finding such a convenient supply of dry building material on a day like this, a day when she needed that pine straw much more than I do.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Fun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Today was definitely more eventful than yesterday. We kicked off the morning with an epic toilet overflow (in the other bathroom) along with all the attendant bleaching and nasty laundry, and continued on to attic reorganization, fluorescent tube replacement, and a litany of little things that should have been done months, if not years, ago.

Do I feel a sense of accomplishment? Sort of, although it's kind of a bummer to look at the water stains on the ceiling. In addition to all that, the seeds are started are sprouting and I finished the NY Times Sunday Crossword. AND?

We still have plenty of break to go.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bet Your Bottom Dollar

I was stuck in the house all day today while the workers finished up on our bathroom renovation. Any other Saturday I might have welcomed the excuse to take it easy, whittle down the ever-growing magazine collection, watch a little TV, but today is the first day of spring break and so the enforced down time seemed like kind of waste. Truthfully, I was bored.

Fortunately, there are eight days left. Tomorrow? I'm going to do some fun stuff!

Friday, March 22, 2013


As a writing teacher, I've found that for most writing assignments, there are three types of student products. There are the kids that totally get the task and usually write something super-creative and often outside the box. Their work is fun to read and easy to assess.

Then, there are kids who, for a variety of reasons, choose to meet the specified requirements as best they can, nothing more, and sometimes quite a bit less. Those often formulaic pieces can make you seriously question the rubric, if not your career choice.

And then there are some kids who approach the assignment earnestly and so end up composing something that expresses a heartfelt truth for them. No matter the initial technical quality, that writing is a delight to read and a pleasure to help revise, because the student authors care so much about it.

Is it unrealistic to work toward a class where drudgery is banned and the middle group is null? I hope not.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Attitude of Gratitude

One of the teachers on my team is retiring as of April 1, so today was her appreciation party. As the English teacher, I had all of the students write notes of thanks which we placed in a nice little album. The kids did a really nice job-- their cards were genuinely sweet and poignant.

The activity made me remember an interview I'd heard on the radio several years ago. It was with John Kralik, a man who, in his early fifties was overworked and overweight and facing his second divorce and a faltering law practice. Unsure as to how he could even move forward, he took a solitary hike on New Years Day, and after getting lost in the mountains heard a voice tell him that until he appreciated what he had, he would never get what he wanted.

He also remembered his grandfather who gave his grandchildren silver dollars with the promise that if they wrote a thank-you note, he would give them another. His grandfather's lesson was that expressing thanks will pay off, sometimes literally. Considering all the obsolete stationery he had back at his soon-to-be-closed office, Kralik  decided to use it to write 365 thank-you notes, one a day for the next year. His book, 365 Thank Yous, chronicles how that year of appreciation changed his life.

At this point in the year, my students complete a series of writing challenges designed to encourage them to write and post their writing every day, or at least twice a week. As our first task, The Alphabiography Challenge, draws to a close, I plan to do a poetry challenge in April, for National Poetry month. But before then, we have Spring Break, and just enough time to do a mini-project.

And so, our Gratitude Challenge kicks off on March 27: it will consist of ten days of thank-you notes, at least 2 of which will be handwritten and mailed off. Today the students made lists of possible recipients, and it was gratifying to see how little trouble they had.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Prefix Conundrum

I was feeling pretty good about the prefix mini-unit we just completed until I received an email this evening from the parent of one of my students.

So M. was flummoxed by a word problem on a math test that apparently asked him which answer "depicted" something. He had just learned that the prefix "de-" meant "take away" so he didn't understand what depict meant. He said he asked [his math teacher], but I think he was really confused. He thought somehow it meant "did not show."

And I replied:

Oh dear!

I sympathize with M's confusion, but I also commend him for trying to, as the SOL states, "Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to determine meanings of common English words."

Thanks so much for letting me know; I'll talk to him tomorrow to see if I can help.

I'll embrace it as the teachable moment about a complex subject that it is.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


There's a commercial that I've seen a couple of times. It's for a bank that promises it has dialed back on the automatic, non-human services that can be so frustrating. In this particular ad, the bank is closing and a dis-embodied voice tells the harried customer to "come back during business hours."

"I run a business during business hours," he complains as the lights go out.

Most teachers can certainly relate to his dilemma. We run a classroom during business hours. When we're in class, we cannot make or receive phone calls concerning anything. We can't leave for an hour to go to an appointment or let a repairman into our homes. If we need to take care of personal business, we take leave and get a sub.

Come to think of it, I guess most people are working during business hours, which makes sense if your business is business, but what about everybody else?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Street Talk

I have a boy in my class this year who stands out partially because of his commitment to projecting a tough, street-wise image. He wears flashy clothes and liberally references rappers who are known more for their criminal charges than their music. Oh, he definitely has his sweet side, but I was still a little startled to hear him ask one of his peers for help today in class.

"Will you be a dear and check this for me?"

The other student consented with a nod; he didn't even find the request unusual, so I rolled with it, too.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hurry in! Limited Time Only

Most people who know me know that I love the movies. Those who know me a bit better, may even know that I have a growing passion for short films. When Oscar time rolls around, I am gleeful because it means that there will be three showcases of the short nominees, an opportunity to see at least 15 movies in the theater that I may not have otherwise.

You can imagine my delight today, then, when a friend on facebook liked the PBS Online Film Festival. As much of a public broadcasting nut as I am, I had totally missed this event. In the words of the sponsors, the Festival, featuring award-winning films with a wide array of styles, perspectives and subject matter, will run from March 4 to March 22 and can be accessed via the PBS website and the PBS YouTube channel. From fact to fiction, the films in PBS Online Film Festival feature surprising stories that only we can tell. 

I watched a couple today (of course I went for the cat-cam first-- that doesn't make me shallow... well, maybe it does), and I was not disappointed. I am, however, a little concerned that there are only five days left!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Brave New World

We've been talking about re-doing the bathroom for sometime, but since it's never at the top of the list, any ideas we might have are very vague. Through a series of events, that project was fast-tracked today, and if all goes as expected, work will begin on Tuesday and be completed on Wednesday.

In the olden days, five or six years ago, when faced with such choices, one might consult magazines or books for inspiration, but this morning, as I began to wrap my head around the decisions I needed to make in the next few days, I turned to... Pinterest. A casual user of the site, what I love most is the pictures, and it was definitely visuals I needed to formulate a vision.

My fellow pinners did not disappoint; I found what I sought: the basis of an idea, cobbled from the many that were posted. And it was then that I more fully understood the value of this site. I considered all the stacks of dog-eared magazines and file folders stuffed with clippings that I have collected over the years and added all the periodicals I've purchased because of a single article; here it could all be stored and accessed at the click of a mouse.


Friday, March 15, 2013

All Poped-out

Even though I was raised Catholic, I confess to being a bit surprised by the intense interest this week in naming a new pope. All the details were widely reported in most media venues, but it was the tone of the coverage that really startled me: even the most veteran journalists seemed star-struck by the medieval pageantry of the event.

I suppose the statistic that there are over a billion Catholics on the planet helps explain this avid interest, but it was actually one of the other 80 percent of our fellow global citizens that really put it in perspective for me. Interviewed in St. Peter's Square, she said, Look... I don't like the English, but I watch all the royal weddings and funerals.

Well, if you put it that way...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hands Tied

Due to standardized testing, there were no laptops available for our weekly after-school writing club today, but never fear, we equipped each student with a legal pad and a pen or pencil. Both Susan Sontag and Maya Angelou have reported composing works of arguable genius on that humble venue, and so we figured it would do.

There was a bit of sulking: "We have to write the old fashioned way," one student complained to another who was just arriving, "like my parents did-- on paper!"

There was also some of the usual writing avoidance: "Can I use the restroom?" one student wrote in large block letters, holding it up.

Overall, though, it seemed like there were fewer place to hide from a blank page than there are from a blank screen, or perhaps just fewer distractions at hand, and everyone wrote (or drew) something they could share.

I'd call that a success.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let Me Have a Bite of that Cookie, Marcel

Over the course of a middle school day your average teacher probably has hundreds of interactions with students. Multiply that by weeks and years and it becomes pretty clear that we must forget ten times the events we remember.

The older you get, it seems like the worse it gets. This morning when I walked in the building, the first student I saw asked me if I had seen her alphabiography from the night before. "I'm sorry," I apologized. "I haven't had a chance, yet."

"It's S," she told me, "for you!"

"Oh! I can't wait," I replied, rubbing my hands together.

But of course, I forgot. Right before she was to enter my class, I dashed to the computer and pulled up her writing. The piece was about an incident that happened in class a couple of days ago, which, not surprisingly, I had totally forgotten about.

On that day, this particular student had not followed part of the directions on an assignment. When she brought it to me to ask a question, she prefaced her inquiry with, "Don't scream at me! I know I didn't do this right!"

"Scream at you?" I asked, "When do I ever scream at anyone?"

She shrugged and nodded, conceding my point.

"I! Never! Scream!" I shouted. "Right?"

She jumped and then laughed. The rest of the class looked over and then continued working. It was just another silly day in English.

Here's how she concluded her piece: Good memories that I will never forget :)

I wish I could say the same.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Strings Attached

Amari's going to be eight next week and so she invited me to her party. The daughter of a former student and the granddaughter of a colleague, I've known her all her life, and she is practically family. '"Sure, I'll come!" I told her. "That will be fun!"

The next day, she asked if I would read a book to the kids at the party. "Yes!" I answered, "That will be great."

The next day, she told me the theme of the party was arts and crafts. "We want you to make those little animals out of pipe cleaners and teach everybody to draw Ninja Turtles."

"What happened to the book?" I asked.

"That, too." She waved her hand across her chest.

My part in the celebration was growing, but it was still doable."Okay," I agreed.

The next day she came by to check that I had learned how to draw the turtles. I hadn't realized how tight my deadline was, but I searched up a quick model on the internet and sketched an angular head with a mask that passed her inspection.

In an effort to deflect any more unannounced responsibilities, I asked her a few questions about the other party details. "Is your mom going to make cupcakes?"

"Yes," she replied, "and the whole party crew is going to decorate them."

"Who's the party crew?" I wondered aloud.

"You..." she started, and my eyes grew wide. Visions of myself rising before dawn to begin work on this obviously very involved event made me catch my breath. "... and me, and Nana, and Heidi, and everyone else who comes."

"Oh! So, it's decorate your own cupcakes?" I said, relieved. "Cool!"

Monday, March 11, 2013

Writing by Ear

My students are polishing up their knowledge and application of the mechanics of dialogue, and one of the quick exercises I've assigned is to recreate a recent conversation. For some reason, this tickles them.

"What if I can't remember one?" someone always asks.

"Write this one down," I answer.

"Really?" he or she giggles and heads back to the table.

Then, when I try to quiet the class if there's too much talking, they like to tell me they are gathering material for the assignment.

You can imagine how spontaneous some of the writing is. Today, somebody turned in this one:

"I can't eat pork," I said.
"Mean either," Shane replied.

"What's this?" I pointed to the second line, curiously. I knew what the author meant, but I wondered why that construction made sense to her.

"It means that he's saying, I can't eat pork, either," she told me.

"Well, you write that as, me neither," I showed her, writing as I spoke.

"Oh!" she wrinkled her nose. "Well, it doesn't sound like that!" she told me.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tales of the Time Change

"Condolences on your least favorite day of the year," a colleague called snarkily over her shoulder on Friday.

"Enjoy your short weekend," I rejoined in the same spirit.


*     *     *
My brother is traveling to Texas today. "Is that like double Daylight Savings Time for you?" I asked. 

"No, it's like traveling back into Eastern Standard Time," he said.


*     *     *

"How's it going?" a neighbor asked this morning as our dogs sniffed each other.

"Fine, considering it's the worst day on the calendar," I sighed.

She was sympathetic. "At least dogs can't tell time," she offered. "On this end, they'll let you sleep in."


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Emperor's New Salad

I like to think of myself as a bit of a foodie. I eat out, read food magazines, watch Top Chef, follow the trends on Twitter, and cook a little myself, too. So, I am aware of the recent kale rage and not surprised in the least that lately? It seems like any place that considers itself some place has a kale salad on the menu.

Before we go any further let me publicly proclaim my support of greens. I have a winter CSA, and believe me, I have spent the last five years devising new ways to prepare and eat greens. I plan to continue to do so. Greens are great!

To continue...

A quick search of the internet turns up countless recipes for innumerable versions of kale saled. All have one thing in common: you must "massage" the kale before serving. Shouldn't that be a clue?

Even so, it was with happy aniticpation and the unabashed praise of the waiter that I ordered my first kale salad a few weeks ago. It was lunch time on a holiday Monday, though, and so the kitchen did not send my order with the rest of our table's.

We were on our way to a movie, I had a main dish coming, my family had shared their appetizers with me, so I shrugged it off and asked the waiter to take it off the check. His eyes widened in genuine concern. It will only take a moment, he assured me, but I was already sure, no salad today.

A few minutes later, along with our entrees the waiter presented a kale salad. It's on me, he said. I didn't want you to miss out. I appreciated the gesture, but I doubt any salad could live up to such hype, and that kale salad definitely did not. We all tried a bite, and when we were finished chewing, (and chewing, and chewing), we agreed that perhaps this green did not lend itself to a salad.

Or maybe it just needed a bit more massaging.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Parent-teacher conferences at our school are student-parent-teacher conferences, and I am a huge fan of that format. Once a child reaches the age of eleven or twelve, it seems silly not to include her or him in any meeting concerning academic progress. Seriously? No matter what we grown-ups decide, it's the student who must act. That is why we put them in charge of these meetings.

As a sixth grade teacher, I have the lucky job to introduce kids to this process, and in fact, one of the thing I like most about teaching this level is witnessing my students doing so many things for the first time. Their sense of accomplishment at opening a  padlock, finishing a book in a week, buying lunch and eating with their friends at a food court on a field trip, leading a conference, or even writing for 31 days in a row is infectious.

What other wonders await?

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I do not have a lot of time to watch television, and so the DVR has really simplified our lives. You might think that such a device would encourage one to watch even more TV, given its ability to record anything and everything, but we have found that it has pretty much eliminated channel-surfing. We watch one show per evening, maybe two, (no commercials), a few more on the weekend, then we're done.

So, it was a rare occasion yesterday when I sat in the waiting area of a local service station as my car was getting its safety and emissions inspection and watched a little daytime TV on the screen they had mounted to the wall. A few minutes after I sat down, the hosts of The Chew signed off, drinking merrily from their wine sippy cups, and the dramatic tones of what could only be a soap opera took their place. I looked up from my iPad, surprised to see the opening sequence of General Hospital.

It has been almost thirty years since I lived with my sister and my dad and we followed the show together, but I was curious to see what was going on in Port Charles these days. I expected to be totally lost, so my jaw literally dropped when they returned from the first commercial to a scene where Luke was quarreling with Laura over, of all things, Scottie. Not too long after that, Anna Devane and Duke enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the club, and then you could have bought me for a quarter(maine) when, in the next scene, Frisco tried to convince Felicia that they were meant for each other.

I guess I didn't miss too much.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Customer Service

When you're a regular customer at a place, even if it's a big box kind of a store, it's hard to avoid developing a personal relationship with it. This afternoon, when the storm local weather folks dubbed, "Snoquester" petered out, I ventured out to run a few errands.

The parking lot at Target was pretty empty when I pulled in and made a dash through the heavy, wet flakes. Inside, the store was just as I prefer: quiet, with the few customers there are of us spread out across the sprawling aisles.

I did my shopping quickly and pushed my cart purposefully toward the picket of check-out lanes. I eyed them carefully, both for length of line and cashier. I have shopped there long enough that if all things are equal, I will avoid the employees that I have found to be inefficient, or worse, overly-friendly.

Today was my lucky day! Because it was so slow, there were only a few lanes open, but all of the lines were building as I approached. Just then? I heard a familiar voice call, "Next customer-- Register 13." A couple people with a couple items moved over, but it was a no-brainer for me to join the line.

"Hello, young lady," my favorite cashier welcomed me. "How are you today?"

Young lady? I'd pay extra for that greeting!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Looking Ahead

What do you do when a storm's a-comin? Hunker down, of course: lay in supplies and prepare for some time at home.

But, this unexpected, late (late, LATE) winter storm has re-calibrated my nesting instincts. Tonight I don't want to prepare soup, stew, or cocoa. In fact, I'm making ratatouille-- a warm reminder of sunny days with summer vegetables. And if school is called off tomorrow? I won't be playing in the snow; I'll busy myself starting seeds.

Oh, I'm ready for a break... it's just not quite the one we may have tomorrow.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Xtreme Avoidance

I was dragging a bit at 4 this afternoon when a former student stopped by to see me. It had been a long day full of teaching and meetings and an after-school club, and I still had a few things to do for my lesson tomorrow.

Still, it's always nice when the kids come back to visit, even if it hasn't been too long. This particular guy was in my homeroom and my English class just last year, and time had not erased my memory of his struggle to focus, follow directions, and do his work.

Despite all that we have a very friendly relationship, and I was glad to see him when he plopped himself down in the chair by my desk and told me he was bored. I could understand-- he's in the after school program until his parents pick him up, usually at five. We exchanged pleasantries, but it wasn't too long before our conversation wound its way to his progress and grades this year. "I'm doing much better," he told me. "You should see."

"Well, I can see," I said. "I can look up grades for any student in the school. What do you think? Should we take a look at yours?"

"Um," he hesitated only briefly. "Sure."

With the exception of math, his grades were less than stellar. "Your math grade is great!" I said. "What's going on with everything else?"

I wasn't surprised when he had an explanation for each class. That's how it was last year.

"Mm hmm," I nodded sympathetically after every reason. "Well, what about tonight?" I asked when he was done. "Do you have any homework?"

"Actually, I do," he said, and then he shrugged. "But, I need a computer, so I'm just going to do it at home."

I pointed to the lap top next to him. "You can use that one," I suggested. "Since you have some time until your mom comes."

He leapt to his feet. "I gotta go!" he called over his shoulder as he darted out the door.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Catch Phrases

Once when I was visiting my sister, it fell on me to put together lunch for my four-year-old nephew. I knew what he liked, and so I created a little sampler plate with hummus, olives, grape tomatoes, string cheese, and pita chips. "Well," he said when I presented it to him, "isn't that a healthy lunch?"

Even though it was years ago, his comment stays with us as short hand. When I told Heidi what we were having for dinner tonight, she nodded and said, "Well... isn't that a healthy menu?"

Fortunately, they both meant it as a compliment. The same cannot be said for another of our family's common assessment terms. When my nephew Treat was very young, he did not hesitate to tell us when something was not pleasing to him. At three he had a vocabulary and register mature enough to say that the spinach on his plate was "disgusting" in such a way that might have insulted a cook less confident than his father.

Fortunately, those same verbal qualities made him very open to re-phrasing. We gave him a few other options for politely expressing his dislike, and the one he chose is still a standard for the rest of us. "I don't love this," is what we say whenever something displeases us.

Today as I was reading through my students' replies to their peers' writing I saw the same principle in effect. They are using my comments as models for their own.

Well... isn't that a healthy development?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hometown Homage

Sometimes one of the best things about having guests from out of town is getting the chance to see your hometown through new eyes. That was the case today for us.

This afternoon we headed into Georgetown with our friend Tom, who is here for the weekend from New York City. We've all visited this historic area many times in the past, and for us, the heavy traffic and the constant crowds makes it a place we usually avoid.

We were armed with an online scavenger hunt that I was able to download to my smart phone at a bargain price a few weeks ago. Since none of us had a specific agenda, the 18 questions provided us with just the structure we needed to explore the neighborhood. We spent a fun afternoon walking through the blustery weather visiting and revisiting many interesting sites both on and off the hunt, shopping boutique chocolates and bakeries and stopping for lunch.

The sun was setting over the Key Bridge and all the monuments of the city glowed behind us as we crossed the Potomac on our way back home. I know people come from all over the world to see these things I usually take for granted, and today I remembered why.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Constant Comment

My commitment to my students is that I will read and comment on any piece that anyone posts for our writing challenge. All 82 kids had time in class today to kick-off their efforts, and though I know the number of posts will dwindle as the days pass, tonight that's a lot of replies to compose!

Fortunately, as I read through it tonight, as always the writing is warm and disarming, so personal and sweet that it doesn't take long to remember why we do this.