Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fountain of Youth

I spent some time today going through pictures from the last ten years or so. They weren't in albums or shoe boxes or even special envelopes with a little pocket for the negatives, every one of the photos that I looked at was on my computer. I didn't sort or shuffle; I scrolled and clicked.

At first, it was simply amazing to me that it's been ten years since we went digital; it certainly doesn't seem so long, but actually looking back convinced me otherwise. In part it was looking at the kids in my life. What a cliche to say they grow up so fast, but there it was in 3000 pictures. At one point in my trip down memory lane, I decided to focus on the changes in myself rather in them, because, to express another common sentiment, I don't feel any different than I did back then. That was a short-lived initiative, mostly because whether I feel like it or not, the last ten years have wrought some undeniable alterations in me and the other adults in the photos. (Sorry guys!)

I have a lot of pictures from school, though, and they are like a little time capsule. To me, most of those children will always be in sixth grade. That's part of the illusion I think-- the kids I teach never grow older; every September they are simply replaced by another group of eleven year olds.

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Economy of Teaching

When I first started teaching, we always had a four-day weekend after the teacher work days and  before school officially began for kids on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Back then, the time off was wasted on me. I was always so anxious to meet the students and begin the year that I could never enjoy the long weekend.

That luxury was dispensed with long ago when we hit the first of several economic bumps in the road over the last 20 years. Today I worked from 8-6, and as I walked out the door this evening, it was with a heavy backpack and the feeling that I just wasn't quite ready. It almost seemed like the week was spent training and preparing for everything except my actual lesson plans.

Even so, I am going to relish the next three days. If I've learned anything in the last 20 years, it's to embrace the down time, because once school starts it will be scarce.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Platitudes Aside

In the last four days I have been bombarded by peppy platitudes. As a returning teacher, I have been encouraged to Engage Educate Empower and also to Believe Engage Succeed. I've been urged to strive toward being the Guide on the Side rather than the Sage on the Stage. I've been asked to don the four hats of the effective teacher, Facilitator, Presenter, Coach, and Evaluator, and I have been informed numerous times that PLC (Professional Learning Community) is a verb, not a noun.

That last one? Just dumb and patently false. I get that they want us to know that our active participation in our PLCs is crucial, but don't tell an English teacher to call a noun a verb; I couldn't possibly PLC a damn thing.

You know what is a verb? Teach. And once again, on this sixth grade open house day, as I stood outside my class room greeting so many of our students and their parents and answering their questions when they turned up to see their new school and figure out just where they must go on Tuesday morning, I knew that I was born to do just that.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Again

When I was a sophomore in college it was my habit to meet friends at our campus pub 3 or 4 times a week. We usually made it at 9:30 or 10, after studying or as a break in studying. I always had the same thing-- one Heineken Dark. There was something super satisfying about the mahogany brew, a little bit bitter, a little bit sweet, and awfully smooth going down.

I also learned to play Space Invaders then; the only two arcade machines they had were that and Asteroids, and the spinning carat trying to blast those chunky blobs of the latter game simply did not appeal to me. No, I much preferred the precision of destroying the linear ranks of those crab-like aliens and their flying saucers.

One of my friends, Todd, was particularly skilled at Space Invaders. He gave me valuable tips like stay to the left or the right and systematically shoot the invaders column. He also told me about counting my shots-- 22 exactly before destroying the first space craft and then 14 for each one after would make each ship worth the maximum 300 points. Of course it was a cheat, but in those days waaaaaay before the internet, how did he even know that?

Regardless of its source, it was all I needed to set the high score on that machine. Oh, how my friends cheered and celebrated seeing TAS at the top of that list! Heck! I probably had a second Heineken Dark.

Today at school, I hooked up an old plug and play TV version of some classic arcade games to the LCD Projector in my room. I figured that the kids would enjoy it on game day. These particular games were a few years beyond Space Invaders, but it did have Galaga, which in my mind was always the next step up from my old favorite. I turned out the lights and played a few rounds, and it was fun, but it was missing a little something...

Yeah, I cracked the beer open when I got home.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wishful Thinking

Today I received the following message on my school email account:

I would like to discuss a business opportunity that offers the potential for considerable returns.

I work for a privately held manufacturing company, which at this time purchases a product imperative to its processing operations, at a price significantly above the manufacturing cost. In my proposed business venture, you would assume the role of stand-in supplier, providing this key material while retaining the same profit margins. My role would be to introduce you to my company as the supplier and to establish a contract between you and my employer.

I understand that your previous experience may not immediately relate to my field. However, this venture is more in line with your personal capabilities rather than your professional experience.

Please send a return email verifying your contact number and to arrange the most convenient time to discuss these possibilities in detail.  I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Kindest Regards,
Edward Wassermann  

Wasn't that nice of Edward Wasserman, complete and total stranger that he is, to extend such a generous offer? I do have a couple of questions, though. First, I would like to know who actually falls for such bogus bullshit, and second, I'd like to know why opportunities like that don't really just show up in your inbox.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Brain Science

We had an all-day packaged training at school today. As it happened, there were many practical ideas offered, and spending the day in the library with my colleagues actually relieved a lot of my usual first day back stress-- there was really no other choice, so I just went with it. My group of four was also awesome, making it that much easier to relax and enjoy the day.

Oh, I still have a philosophical objection to the merchandising of education; I believe we paid a lot of money for nothing more than a common sense set of strategies and the common language that goes along with a whole-staff orientation, but I am glad that we did not buy any test-taking and remediation advice from any subsidiaries of test-making companies. (That will come later.)

The session itself was generally engaging; the presenter very effectively used the strategies she was selling to get her message of structured cooperative learning across, and although I do have some concerns about extrovert bias, this introvert had an okay time. I even learned a few things, like for example your brain is constantly evaluating your experiences and sorting them into threats, opportunities, or neither (which are things to be ignored). Once you perceive a threat, your amygdala goes into hyper drive, resulting in a mental state where it is impossible to think clearly or even learn for up to three hours.

Later, when Heidi and I were debriefing at home, I asked her about one of the activities. "So, what did you say your ideal job would be? Dog training?"

"Yeah, with Cesar Milan," she said. "What about you? Park ranger?"

"Yeah!" I said. "How did you know that? I could barely think of ianything to say myself this morning."

She shrugged. "I know you."

Better than my own amygdala, apparently.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stupendous, Indeed

Not content to sulk my way into the new school year, I invited my brother's family over for dinner tonight. They were just returning from a week at the beach, and so the timing was perfect, especially since Riley and Treat are off to college tomorrow and Thursday, Bill has business in Buffalo on Tuesday, and Heidi, Emily, and I will be in the library at school at 8 AM sharp tomorrow. Only Isabel and Sonic will be left to this life of leisure.

We had a really fun time, and a fun menu, too-- my dad's family recipe of tomato sausage sliders, served with fennel slaw, sliced tomatoes, and pickled peppers, delicious corn on the cob, and kale salad. We washed it all down with cold beer and followed it up with a South Jersey style peach and blueberry crisp and a variety of homemade ice cream, including a new one, cherry cordial.

We were definitely missing the other five of our family, but even so, I can honestly say that the evening took all the sting out of having to set the alarm in the morning.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Yeah, it Is

We're partial to Life is Good merchandise in our household. Each of has several T's, we also own pajama bottoms, water bottles, dog collars, pool toys, and a tire cover that bear that eponymous slogan. Oh, over the years there have been cynics among our friends wondering where the Life is Crap gear might be found, or criticizing the motto for being overly simplistic, or too optimistic, or just plain wrong. "They're just so bossy," someone once said to me. "I feel pressured to be happy whenever I see their shirts."

As for us, we take it as a reminder, an intentional way of looking at things, even when doing what we like and liking what we do seems impossible. Plus, they sell really comfy stuff.

Today, on our way out of the market, a young girl of perhaps 11 or 12 read Heidi's shirt. "Life is Good?" she asked. "It should say life is great! No! Life is awesome!"

We nodded and laughed and then parted ways as we turned to the parking lot. She popped up a moment later a few cars down from us. "Life is... STUPENDOUS!" she called.

"You're right about that!" I answered, glad for the extra reinforcement.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Buzz Kill

"Hey, did you see they caught a couple of sharks down at Point Lookout?" my friend Mary asked me yesterday.

I hadn't heard the news, so I whipped out my smartphone to discover the details. Two 8-foot bull sharks had indeed been caught just a few hundred yards from where we spent that idyllic day last Wednesday.

According to Wikipedia, the bull shark is known for its aggressive nature, predilection for warm shallow water, and presence in brackish and freshwater systems including estuaries and rivers.

And I was worried about the jelly fish!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Of the First Kind

I've been so busy complaining lately, (which according to an all-day meeting I attended today, is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but you don't really get anywhere,  hmmmm... maybe I'll write about patronizing platitudes sometime) that I haven't had a chance to tell about the very strange experience I had the other night.

I was sitting on the couch around 9 PM, and the sky outside my window was dark; the days have grown noticeably shorter in the last month. I happened to look up, and I noticed an orange light in the sky. I really didn't think too much about it, because we live very close to both Reagan Airport and the Pentagon, so we have all manner of planes and helicopters flying over our house all the time.

However, there was something about this thing that was arresting. It may have been the way it was moving: slowly, so that at first I assumed it was a helicopter, but there was no noise, even though it seemed pretty close by. I shrugged it off since the windows were closed, but I couldn't stop watching the thing. Finally I went out on the deck to get a better look.

"Heidi! Get out here!" I cried. The sky was lit by four identical orange orbs, silently hovering just above the eastern horizon. As we watched, they began to glide slowly up and away, and then disappeared into the clouds.

We looked at each other. "What the hell was that?"

I dashed to my computer, confident that others, too, had seen these things and there would soon be many reports and an explanation to follow, but there was nothing. As I waited for the news to catch up with me, I searched the phrase "Weird orange..."  

lights in the sky? Google suggested, and I clicked to find out what it was.

It turns out that many people all over the world have reported seeing (and photographed and video recorded) lights seemingly identical to ours in numbers from 1 to 20, but there has never been any official military or government acknowledgement of any of these sightings or accounts, and no one knows what they are.


C'mon! That's ridiculous.

Evidently, though, nobody else around here saw these lights the other night, or if they did, they have not detailed it in a way that I have been able to find on the internet, so I am reporting it here.

The truth is out there.

(Would somebody mind sending it my way?)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Professional Discourtesy

As I mentioned yesterday, our district is adopting a new grade book application. This one is designed to be seamlessly integrated with our student information system, which on the surface seems to be handy and, with any luck, labor-saving for those of us working directly with students. In order to prepare for the big roll out, teachers were required to enroll either in a face to face training or an online course to introduce us to our new tool.

Technically, people can get the training next week when we're contractually back to work, but that pre-service week is pretty busy, and so we were encouraged to do this over the summer, strongly encouraged, because they couldn't require us since they weren't paying us. Having a plan to meet this requirement was one of the things we had to do before we could "check out" at the end of the year in June. My plan was to take the online course, and I put my plan off until today.

To be honest? It's miraculous that I did it this far (4 days) in advance of the deadline, but I was putting something else off, and this seemed like a good way to do it.

Unfortunately, the class was excruciating. There were 13 modules, each with step-by-step directions and a video which was actually a narration of those same directions. There were four 2-question quizzes and a 7-question final test at the end. There was no hands on practice or other practical application and my brain was numb 30 seconds into it.

Perhaps if I could have accessed my new grade book, or a new grade book and played around with it a bit, these lessons would have seemed more meaningful. It was yet another example of adult learners being bludgeoned by some of the worst practices in education. Why do we do that to ourselves? It seems comparable to doctors treating each other with leeches. Oh wait, they don't do that. They use their best technology and efforts on their colleagues.

Don't worry. I aced the class, probably because mind-numbing and rigor rarely go hand in hand.

AND, I'll be sure to make that comment available in the public portal. (If not, you can always just FOIA it.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to the Future

I so appreciate my friend, Ruby Justice, taking the time to read and comment on my writing here. In her last reply, she agreed with my concerns about the headlong embrace of technology in education and she ended her post with, I see a return of paper gradebooks in the future , too! ;-)

Winky face noted, I started to reply to that comment specifically, but then I realized that there was more to my thoughts than a sentence or two.

When I first started teaching 20 years ago, there were some computers in the school, mostly in labs, and mostly used for word processing, math practice, or social studies simulations. The internet as we know it was in its infancy-- it would be a couple years before I had a dial-up modem and an AOL account at home, and after that, I helped introduce such connectivity to my school by writing a grant for my classroom.

Still, it was several more years before they gave us all "teacher work stations," and for that time, my grade book was vinyl-covered and spiral bound. Each student's name was handwritten in the column on the far left, as was each assignment vertically across the top. Grades were entered in the light green grid before assignments were handed back, and in those days, it took hours with a pencil and a calculator to figure out quarterly grades for 90 kids. That chore alone put the "work" in teacher work day.

As such, I embraced the introduction of grade book software. In addition to the hours it saved at the end of the quarter, it was really productive to know how kids were doing as we went along, and printing progress reports with lists of missing assignments was a useful way to communicate with students and their parents. Sure, there could be some confusion, particularly between home and school-- not being present in the classroom meant, understandably, that parents did not always understand what was missing or why a particular grade was what it was. Most teachers were more than happy to explain, however, and the electronic grade book became an accepted tool. Personally, I used to say that these reports were like snapshots-- they were, by their nature, likely to change, or have changed already, over time as more assignments were completed and assessed.

Soon, we were sending home bi-weekly progress reports, in addition to our mid-quarter, quarterly, and annual grades, which was helpful for some students and their families, and therefore in my opinion worth the extra work. Two years ago, we implemented a system where we uploaded our grades every week, affording that much more access to any interested stakeholders.

Of course, we were aware then that many school districts had taken the next step-- making the teachers' grade books accessible, live, to students and parents, and instead of feeling inconvenienced by preparing weekly reports, most of my colleagues felt lucky that that was the extent of access to our records. I think there was a consensus that live access was a bad idea, not because we had anything to hide, but rather because any snapshot can be, at best, unflattering, or at worst, misconstrued.

This year we have a new web-based grade book, and it looks like it's going to allow live access. I'll let you know how it goes, but as of now? I'm in the market for something vinyl-bound, maybe with light green pages.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Should We talk about This?

I've been thinking a lot about screen time lately. A new book outlines the dangers of such a commonplace stimulating entity to any of us, but particularly to children. It seems that such a regular intense experience can become addictive.

No shit.

It also seems that the quick cuts from image to image and topic to topic may contribute to the rise of attentional issues we see in our citizens, both child and adult.

Again, is anybody really surprised?

As an educator, I have definitely exploited the engagement and convenience that technology offers. I have successfully structured assignments intentionally mindful of those qualities. In the last few years, I have received some push back, though, from families who would like to limit their children's screen time. I have responded to them just as I have accommodated households without internet access-- by offering minimum requirements that can be met at school.

My assignments are usually limited to some sort of prompt and then the opportunity to share responses and reply to peers. In the last few years, my students' enthusiasm for such tasks has been on the wane, even as their parents' protests have grown. The kids want even more bells and whistles while their parents wonder what's wrong with good old pencil and paper.

My prediction? This will be a pivotal issue for human beings. Our technology is changing us, but exactly how so and to what end remains to be seen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

More Signs of the Season

After a very nice visit, we dropped Mark off at the airport at around 5:30. As we drove off after the hugs and farewells, Heidi sighed. "Summer's over."

"We have one more week," I said. "How can we make the most of it? Wanna go to the movies?"

She nodded and I gestured at my smart phone. "What's playing?"

In the end, we settled on the number one movie of last weekend, Elysium, not out of a burning desire to see it (although we liked District 9 and Matt Damon, so it was definitely on our list), but rather from convenience; that particular movie was playing in 15 minutes at a near-by theater.

Oh, I love the movies, and in the summer? Any movie will do, because there is always tomorrow to see or do something else. But I did not love this one, and as we filed from the theater, I knew our vacation was coming to an end, because I felt disappointed.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Move-in Day

In between bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants and take-out joints, Mark wanted to make a few other stops in DC today. In 1989 he spent the summer living and working in a halfway house in Columbia Heights. One of the places he wanted to revisit was the lower quad at Howard University. "I used to grab a blanket and a couple of pillows and escape the craziness by coming over here and reading under the trees," he told us.

I had never been to the Howard campus, and the quad was stately and beautiful and mostly quiet, despite today being "move in" day for the class of 2017. The weather is still unbelievably cool for August, and red, white, and blue balloon arches glowed in the bright sunshine and swayed in the fresh breeze.

Many, many cars were lined up way down the road and around the corner, waiting patiently for their turn to pull in and unload. As we walked by, I noted all the state license plates: in addition to DC, Maryland, Virginia, we saw several from New York, Georgia, both Carolinas, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Texas-- hundreds of kids from all over the country were here to start the next big phase of their lives, and it was really cool that this was my home town.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Along for the Ride

Heidi's brother is in town for the weekend, and unlike our other guests this summer, he came with an agenda. Despite or because of the fact that he is a very fit and lean guy in his late 40s, he has a list of bakeries that he wants to hit while he's here.

As soon as his plane landed at noon, we headed downtown to check off the first three places. And by "checked off" I don't mean we looked at the menu and then ordered a glass of water, I mean the guy ate six Portuguese pastries, two ginormous slices of pie, and a half dozen butter tarts before we got home. The other 3 slices of pie, six pastries, and slice of cake roll are also gone, as is dinner.

I don't think I've ever fully understood the notion of living vicariously, but friends? I get it now, and I cannot wait for tomorrow!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Like Sands through the Hour Glass

This year I find myself clutching each summer moment as it passes-- just sitting in the chair enjoying a cup of (okay, really good) coffee while reading the morning paper with the window open becomes a precious little gem I want to stow away for leaner times. Perhaps that's wise... the prospect of returning to another year of contemporary public education weighs heavily on each bright day. I'm sure there is a healthier way to handle this time off, but that strategy will have to wait until next year.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day Tripping

When I was a kid, my mom worked in the summer. Most days we had specific chores that were to be completed before she got home. Ever efficient, she typed a form for us on her IBM Selectric. I can still remember that typeball script.  

Good Morning _________,

Please complete the following jobs.

[Then there was a checklist, and of course the closing,]

Love, Mom.

Looking back on it, those chores were the least we should have done, and to be honest, it was no hardship whatsoever. That's not exactly how we considered it then, but there were always a few days when either we didn't have a list, or better yet, there was a note that Mom was coming home early and we were going to the beach.

In my memory, those days seem too good to be real; I can't recall a single bad thing about any of them. In my mind, the roads are never congested, the parking lot has plenty of space, the beach is never crowded, the day is never too hot, the picnic lunch never has sand in it, the drinks are always cold, no one ever gets sun burnt, and should we stop to pick blueberries on our way home? They practically jump into the buckets on their own, while we help ourselves to as many berries as we can eat.

This morning, when we awoke to a 60-something degree day in August, that siren call of the summer day trip was irresistible, and so we set aside the unit planning and pre-service reading we should be doing and instead packed a picnic and threw the dog, some towels, and a couple of beach chairs in the back of the station wagon and headed to a new destination for us. Two hours away there lies a peninsula that marks the confluence of the Potomac and the Chesapeake, and there, where once was a Union prison camp for all the Confederate soldiers captured at Gettysburg and later battles of the Civil War, is a state park with several picnic areas and beaches, some of which allow dogs.

There was no traffic as we drove out of town and down to Southern Maryland. When we arrived, the parking lot was empty and so was the beach. We set up our chairs, and ate our lunch as our dog played in the waves. Beachcombing our way down the shore, we found a fair amount of sea glass, an arrow head, and a shark's tooth. For most of the afternoon, two bald eagles swooped over our heads, chirping and whistling to each other. We only saw one jelly fish all day; it was not too hot, and no one got sunburned.

On our way home, we made two stops-- at a farm stand for some local corn and tomatoes and at a seafood place where they were selling pounds of lump crab meat that had been picked on the premises this morning-- then it was back home in time for dinner, almost too good to be real.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fun at the Pub

We met some friends for trivia night at a local Irish pub this evening. Well, we talked about doing the trivia contest, but when we arrived the weather was too nice to go inside and so we dined out front, chatting and people watching, until the skies opened and a torrential rain forced us inside to pay our bill.

The wait staff was apologetic, seating us at an open table so that Stephen could finish his tea. Marty seized the opportunity and went off to gather the proper trivia supplies. It was the beginning of round three, and we were game. In addition to the questions that our spirited host posed to the assembled patrons, there was a visual round as well, a page of photos that we passed around the table.

The noise in the pub was a bit loud, though, and the questions did not come as quickly as we may have liked, and so it was around question six that we agreed to pack it in at the end of the round. "What three word phrase popularized by migrant worker advocate Cesar Chavez became the slogan of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign?"

"Yes we can!" shouted a guy at the end of the bar.

"Really?" asked the announcer. "How about shut the fuck up asshole? Oh, wait! That's too many words. No one's going to get any points for that one, because you are such a douche, man!"

I started giggling at the first sign of confrontation. What can I say? It's funny when people don't follow the rules and then get in trouble for it. Well, it's funny when you're not the one whose job it is to get people to follow the rules. For the record? I would not have used that method to redirect a wayward participant.

At the end of the round, Marty, our 74-year-old, gray-haired, ex-teacher, mother of four, grandmother of seven, friend, took our answer sheet up to the guy at the mic. "Sorry for the rough language, ma'am," he said.

"Thanks," she told him, "but, it's not the worst I've ever heard."

Monday, August 12, 2013

We All Scream

One of the amenities that we have been offering to our guests this summer is the opportunity to design their own ice cream flavors. Regular readers may recall the s'mores, Earl Gray, and Thai cucumber flavors we tried last month. Before that, it was a vegan chocolate gelato, a coconut mango, and good old vanilla custard with add-ins.

I love it when visitors rise to the challenge, and this weekend the girls had some interesting requests. Allyn wanted root beer, and Delaney requested peanut butter cup. The pb and chocolate was a huge hit, but the root beer was too sweet and it lacked something to take the place of the fizz. 

Don't worry-- it wasn't disappointing enough to keep people from eating it, and fortunately, the micro-batches I've been making leave plenty of chance for improvement, so I would be happy to try that one again.

As much fun as it is to make all that ice cream, the drawback is that I don't really want to eat it. I like a taste, but more than a couple of spoonfuls is way too much for me. I think I have it figured out though: I've ordered some cartons so that I can start packaging up these creations to go.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

And so it Begins

25 pounds of tomatoes from the farmers market are sitting in a box in the dining room.

Can 12 quarts of canned tomatoes be far behind?

UPDATE: 8/13/13:
Make that thirteen quarts!

Saturday, August 10, 2013


We took the girls to the pool in our complex this afternoon. It was pretty empty for a Saturday, but as we approached, the sound of kids splashing and playing carried over the fence. It turned out that our neighbor was celebrating her birthday, and the noise we heard was five almost seventh grade girls enjoying the party. I thought nothing of it until I put my stuff down and looked a couple of lounge chairs over. There was a former student staring at me with her mouth wide open. I guess she's not used to running into her teachers in their bathing suits. That makes two of us.

I played it cool, though, like it was no big thing, and after a brief conversation, I jumped in the pool. 

Was it my I imagination or did her fingers fly to her iPhone the minute I turned away? A few minutes later, the birthday girl sat down next to her. They whispered for a minute, then our cheeky neighbor called out to me. "Hey, Ms..." she paused because that's not what she calls me. 

"Tracey?" I suggested.

"Nuha and Esinam say, 'Hi!'," she finished, naming two other girls who were not present.

""Tell them I hope they're having a good summer," I said, and I flashed a big smile and waved before I swam off to play with the girls, because I'm pretty sure there were pictures, if not video, to go with that text.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Just home from seeing The Smurfs 2, we got One Direction blasting, and we're making beaded rings, lanyards, and friendship bracelets. There was a little ballet demo from drama camp earlier, too.

God daughters in the house, yo.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Most Sincere

We have been trying to cultivate ourselves a nice cucurbitaceae for going on four seasons now. This late winter, when I was starting my seeds, I found a couple of old ones in a packet labeled "Connecticut field pumpkin," and in that most optimistic of moments, I planted one of them in my little starter cells. Flash forward six months, and that seed has grown into a vine that has taken over all the free space in our garden plot. On it there are two promising specimens and a couple of smaller back ups.

I couldn't tell you exactly why, no doubt we could connect it to any number of childhood Halloween memories, but I will be thrilled, thrilled! I say, to pick a pumpkin from my own little patch.

Here it is today:

(Fingers crossed!)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Those Old White Guys

One of my best friends from high school lost her dad today. He was 90 and died peacefully at home with 2 of his five children by his side; not a bad way to go, right?

When I heard the news, I noted the date, because me and dates? We have something going. Just the other day, I ran into a couple of friencquaintences (yes! by all means give me credit for that portmanteau word) at Target, and I had the occasion  to impress them with my knowledge of their birthdays. I wish I could take more credit for it, but (shrug) it's just how my brain works.

So, today, I thought of Nixon resigning. It was August 8, 1974, (Bobby Bloomer's birthday), and we had been to Great Adventure theme park with my aunt and cousins. That hot, sweaty night, with all the window fans blowing, we watched on TV as the president made a speech from the oval office that he would resign the next day. It was history.

How old was my friend's dad then? I wondered, and I calculated that he was 51, my age exactly. He was a fortunate man, and I personally wouldn't turn down another 39 years like those, but then I got to thinking. How old was Nixon then?

The answer-- 61. Just 10 years older than I am now. Hmm. So he was... 55 when he was elected. That seems impossible. How could that be? NIXON was only 4 years older than I am when he ran for president? But wait. The first time he ran, when he was that stodgy alternative to the young and vibrant JFK? He was just 47!

So, I did a bit of research into all those old, white guys who have led our nation. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) The median age is actually a youthful 54 and 11 months, which falls between Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson. (Really? Really!) Seriously... Tyler, Fillmore, Grant, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, BOTH Roosevelts (FDR? C'mon!), Cleveland, Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama were all my age, or YOUNGER!, when elected president.


You know how politics are these days. I'm already following "Ready for Hillary" on Twitter, and I am ready for her-- mostly because she's a woman, but also because she will kick that median age up a notch.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Turning Point

It comes every summer, that clear sense that nothing lasts forever and that no matter what, fall is on its way. Was it the bright red maple leaf I saw tucked among all the green on the trail the other day? I nearly picked it up. Might it be the butternut squash and pumpkins(!) that are dominating our garden, despite the fact that not a single tomato has ripened? Could this unseasonably cool weather be the herald of even crisper days yet to come? Maybe it was our conversation with Richard and Annabelle this morning wishing them good luck as they start school tomorrow, or perhaps it was the time spent at my own school last week, on an interview committee, setting up Heidi's new class room-- even though I am disillusioned with my field, the pull is strong.

Oh, there are still 20 days until teachers report back and summer is officially ended for us, but this evening when I showered after the gym, I ignored my shorts and put on a comfy pair of sweat pants.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I ran into a former colleague and old friend in Target today, and she looked great. She's left public school teaching behind and spends her days raising her four-year-old, doing and teaching yoga, and blogging to let off steam.

She was never one to be shy with her opinion, and so I eagerly noted her blog address, and I share it now with you.

Shout out to Bitches Broo!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Friends with Benefits

My newest friends are a half-dozen or so national parks. Well, okay, they don't actually know me, but



And it turns out those guys are a wealth of interesting information and spectacular photos. For example, Catoctin always tells me with a wink that "some parts of the park will be closed," meaning of course that the president will be at Camp David. The Badlands gossips shamelessly about fossils and stargazing, Acadia always shares gorgeous sunsets, and Great Falls is the first to let me know that the weather is going to be great so plan ahead to avoid the lines.

My BF GF means it, too: the cars went all the way from the gate down the access drive and around the corner to Georgetown Pike as we left there this gorgeous afternoon.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Teacher Knows Best

As I prepared dinner this evening, I had the TV tuned to Jeopardy. I like the show, I have even auditioned for it, but I am not a regular viewer. You couldn't have known that tonight though, as I shouted each answer (ok question-- but we know what they really are) at the television, despite being alone in the kitchen.

As much as I love summer vacation, I suspect I am suffering a bit from a certain type of withdrawal.

There are just not enough people asking me questions.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Orange is the New What-huh?

So many folks have recommended this Netflix original series to me that it seems for sure like "must see TV." (Remember that? the 90s were golden years, were they not?) So we watched the first episode tonight, and, "eh?" might be a little too strong.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Network Enabled

"What are you doing?" Heidi asked me a little while ago.

I turned from the computer. "Just entering a contest for a free trip to Vegas and listening to the only known recording of Virginia Woolf," I shrugged. "Why?"

Her raised eyebrows said it all.