Saturday, November 30, 2013


Our Thanksgiving holiday is nearly over. A week ago we were gathering for the first meal of the holidays and a week from now, We'll be decorating our Christmas tree. When I was a child, time was like an endless sidewalk stretching between right now, half an hour, and way too long to imagine, but now it's more like wide stepping stones across a slow flowing river; we hop from one to the next to the next. To stop often means no more than to simply look back, amazed at how quickly we have progressed, how far we have come.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Food Wheel

If Thanksgiving is orange and gold and brown, full of rich, traditional foods comforting and satisfying in their earthiness, then for our family, the next day is not Black Friday but rather Red Friday. For dinner on that day, we always have pasta with marinara and sausage, along with a salad with plenty of lemon and vinegar. It is a meal as acidic and tangy as Thanksgiving is warm and redolent, a complimentary feast of sorts-- especially when you put out those leftover desserts.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

More than One Way to Roast a Bird

This year for Thanksgiving, my brother did an excellent job roasting the turkey-- mahogany brown and crisp on the outside, inside it was moist and delicious, and as we sat around the table after enjoying our feast, our conversation turned to other birds and other cooking methods. A classic story in our family is about the time my mom called from work to ask me to start dinner.

A teenager, I was less than enthusiastic about the request. "What do I have to do?" I answered.

My mother told me there was a whole chicken and a package of drumsticks. "Just tie the legs together and put it all in the oven at 350," she said.

"Why do I have to tie the legs together?" I asked her.

"So they don't come apart when they're cooking," she said.

"What difference does that make?" I wondered. "How do I do it?"

"You've seen me do it all the time," she answered, slightly exasperated, perhaps a little annoyed. "Just get some string and do it."

We hung up, but I was still confused. I could not ever recall her tying chicken legs together, but dutifully, I did as I was told, and when my mother got home from work she found a whole chicken and a chain of six neatly bound drumsticks roasting in the oven.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

411: How Can I Help You?

Every classroom in our building has a system-issued, land-line phone somewhere in it. Technically, the students are not supposed to have their mobile phones with them, but realistically? The requests to use our classroom phones become fewer and fewer with passing time.

Even so, we teachers make use of them, particularly to call the parents of students when we are concerned. Fortunately, we have access to the parents' numbers, because believe it or not, most kids don't know them, and how could they? To them their parents are just another entry on their contact list. Personally, I think that is irresponsible, but I digress.

Often times, the students themselves are present during these teacher-initiated conversations, and it is rare that the parents don't ask to speak to their sons and daughters personally before ending the call.

That's what was happening the other day in one of my colleague's rooms. She handed a student the phone, and when he had heard what his mom had to say, he turned to his teacher in confusion, holding the handset in front of him.

"How do I turn this thing off?" he asked.

She took it from his hand and hung it up.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


And if I seemed a little grumpy today, perhaps it was because I walked out the door without my coffee. Not only did I forget it, I forgot to make it! I had no idea I was even missing something until I reached for it on my desk only to discover... well, you know.

Fingers crossed that having the next five days off will restore a few brain cells. Isn't that how it works? I forget.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Time to Set another Alarm

For years the method has worked. Radio at 5:15, alarm at 5:30, I usually rise around 5:45. Last night, though, my fitful dreams, centered around school and the book I'm reading, made any kind of deep sleep elusive, and so at 5:45, when they were talking about the possible hazards of a nicotine patch for pregnant women, I must have dozed off instead of getting up.

In fact it wasn't until 6:25 when my very busy dream about taking the Tolerance Club students to meet Bill Cosby with a radio journalist-- the reporter wore strange, high-wasted plaid flannel pants and offered one of the seventh graders a beer while Phylicia Rashad looked uncomfortably on-- gave way to the notion that something was terribly wrong, and Holy Crap!

I bolted to the shower. But not before I heard the end of that interview with Bill Cosby.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Potayto Potahto

One of the running bits in the movie Enough Said is how Toni Colette's housekeeper always puts things away in strange places-- hairbrushes in the silverware drawer, baseballs in the bathroom, etc. Our housekeeper only comes once a week, and she is generally very efficient, although at times there are signs of her haste to do a good job in the time she has. For example, she recently left the furniture polish can on the mantle (where it stayed for several days until I noticed it at a time when I wasn't sitting on the couch with no desire to get up).

I'm sure that we often share the blame for any confusion; certainly there are times when we make her job harder by neglecting to put some things properly away. Our pets also complicate her duties sometimes; they are well-loved and they have many possessions of their own scattered all about the place.

All of this is simply to explain why I didn't even blink an eye this morning when I discovered a catnip ball in the potatoes.

You have to admit, it kind of goes.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Good Tidings

Time with family,
a delicious meal,
and even a few snow flurries--
tonight, let us merry folk be of good cheer
for the holiday season comes just once a year!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Keep on the Sunny Side

It was gloomy and gray as I made my way the short distance to school this morning; the only bright spot was the day of the week.

With resolute positivity I ignored all that and took comfort in the small joys of my commute-- a fun song on the radio, perfect timing at the lights. Just a few blocks from my destination my attention was captured by a beautiful red maple tree made even more brilliant by the very filter of those dismal clouds.

"Oh my goodness," I gasped, but not at the glorious foliage; there was a rainbow sweeping through the overcast sky. My route took me directly toward it, and I imagined sharing its enchantment with students as I walked into the building.

But fat raindrops began to fall as I pulled into the parking lot, and by the time I locked my car the only rainbow in sight was formed by the garish panels of my big umbrella.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


I heard on the radio the other day that Mallomars are 100 years old this year.  

Wow! Why is that a thing? I thought.

Fortunately I had only to listen a bit more to hear that these chocolate-dipped marshmallow and graham cracker confections are only available in the cooler months of the year, when their chocolate coating won't be compromised. As such? Mallomars have a seasonal scarcity dynamic working for them. In fact, many people actually stock up on the cookies and keep them in their deep-freezes to dole out as special treats in those lazy, mallowmar-less, days of summer.

Well! It wasn't long before I realized that I'd never had a Mallomar. Happily, when I went to the grocery to satisfy my curiosity, they were both in season and on sale. And though I am not a big sweet eater, I would have to say that these cookies were nicely executed-- dark chocolate, sweet marshmallow, and tender graham cracker all united to make two pretty good little bites.

So now? I get it, Mallomars-- Happy 100th!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vegetable Burritos

Tonight for dinner I made a dish that we first had fourteen years ago at a little bistro in Provincetown. These vegetable burritos are labor intensive (they have four separately prepared filling ingredients and just as many toppings), but they are one of Heidi's favorites, and I have a soft spot in my heart for them as well.

Back then, our now 18-year-old Josh was not quite four, and Heidi and I met him and his mom on Cape Cod for a few days of summer fun. Having known me for less than a year, it seemed pretty clear that Josh was still a little suspicious of this lady who was now somehow connected to his beloved Aunt Heidi. He liked to ignore me whenever possible, or answer me in single syllables when absolutely necessary.

One day the four of us decided to drive to P-town and go whale watching. On the ride out to that curl of the cape, I was in the backseat with Josh. He had some paper and crayons and Heidi and his mom were talking in the front, so one thing led to another and pretty soon Josh and I were yucking it up and trading drawings back and forth.

The whale watch itself is lost to my memory, but I do recall that after the cruise, we walked from the wharf into town to find a place to eat. At one point, we waited at a busy corner for the traffic to clear. Without thinking, I held out my hand to the little person standing to my right, and for the first time ever, Josh took it, and we crossed the street together.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


"She's not going to show up you know," Heidi told me as we headed out the door to meet a friend we hadn't seen in a few years.

"What are you talking about?" I said. "Let's go or we'll be late."

Who knows what happens? Life is busy, signals get crossed, feelings get bruised, even the closest of friends can drift apart.

We met Jen and her partner at the dog park nine years ago, and despite the fact that they were considerably younger than we were, we bonded over being same-sex couples with adorable puppies. Over the next couple of years we spent a fair amount of time together, celebrating when they got their second dog and eventually trying to help pick up the pieces when they split (right before we were all supposed to go on vacation together).

There was a lot of drama, but we were able to navigate the bumpy road of staying friends with both.

For a while.
Until we weren't.
And then we were friends with Jen.
Until we weren't.

What can I say? Life is busy, signals get crossed, feelings get bruised, even the closest of friends can drift apart.

A couple of weeks ago Jen sent me a message that she was applying for a job in our county. Could I help? I told her that if she got an interview, I maybe could, but I couldn't help with the first part.

Fingers crossed, she wrote back. Then, We should get together. Reconnect for real. Deflate any elephants and talk about how or why we lost touch. I really miss you all and I think it would be nice.

And that brings us to tonight, when Heidi and I had a perfectly lovely dinner by ourselves.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Word of the Day

Ever since we started our forced word study, word parts have become of greater interest to me. (What can I say? I am a learner at heart.) And as such, the word-a-day calendar one of my students so thoughtfully gave me last year has become of even more fascination and relevance than it was before.

Take for example quinquagenarian. I'd say we folks in our fifties deserve such a fancy turn of phrase. Nice word parts, too!

Sunday, November 17, 2013


It was a little gloomy when we parked at the Tidal Basin this afternoon, but the light filtering through the clouds actually made what was left of the yellow and orange foliage on those famous cherry trees really pop. The water itself was emerald green, and there were several cormorants diving for minnows as we walked the circuit.

It wasn't crowded, but we encountered our share of memorable fellow walkers to be sure, most notably the two guys in their 30s sitting on a bench, smoking cigars, and playing a video game, and the older woman talking to her smart phone, Are you a puppy? RUUUUFFF! GRRRRRRRR!

No doubt we made our own impression as well, and wouldn't it be disappointing if we didn't?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

There's Something About Words

I just finished reading a 400+ page Gothic-style novel which is a far cry from my usual fare. I guess I was looking for something along the lines of The Night Circus or even Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore when I stumbled onto The Thirteenth Tale. I chose it using my Kindle app, so I'm quite sure I was not aware of its length.

Prudently, I downloaded the free sample first, and the the first-person narrative description of Margaret reading the letter that will change her life on the palely-lit stairs leading from her father's bookstore to her apartment definitely drew me in, but it was the letter itself from Vida Winter that made me buy the rest of the book.

As Margaret says, There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

OK it wasn't quite like that, but over the last ten days I have diligently followed my at-least-one-chapter-or-two-a-day regime, which is admittedly ironic, given the clearly high esteem in which books are held by the main characters in this one, until this morning. At a little beyond the halfway point my attention was captured, and it was only a couple of hours until I had finished the story.

And story is the right word for it, because although I cannot say it transcended either of the frameworks of fairy tale or Gothic novel, there definitely came a point for me when I was so involved that it almost felt like the way I remember being enthralled by stories when I was a child. And that was magical.

And that is what I work to help my students experience, because as soon as I finished? I wanted to read another book.

Friday, November 15, 2013


At a bit of a loss for inspiration as to what make for our evening meal, right before I left school this afternoon I hail-maried it and googled "dinner tonight recipe," and the first thing I found was this:

shiitake-kale-kimchi stew

Thanks Serious Eats!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Overheard in Writing Club

Grace complains so much about how she hates CJ that I swear he is her Mr. Darcy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Years ago I worked with a woman with whom, although I liked her personally, I considered myself almost diametrically opposed to professionally. She was 12 or 15 years my senior and rarely hesitant to speak her mind, especially when she disagreed with someone or something which was often. I thought her lack of diplomacy was kind of funny, and it actually made her much more manageable as a team member since not too many people took her seriously.

She retired five years ago in robust disgust at where education was headed. We wished her well, but welcomed the idea of a different teacher with a more positive perspective to take her place. Since then our country has elected a new president (who has appointed a new secretary of education), our state has elected a new governor, our district has hired a new superintendent, and our school has changed principals. With all of them has come an increasing over-reliance on unnecessary standardization, bankrupt assessments, and invalid teacher evaluation plans.

All of a sudden, taking a walk outside at lunch, leaving at contract time, and otherwise disengaging from all manner of oppressive policies seems like a really good idea.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Best Laid Plans

I left what I thought would be a fun assignment for my students when I was out of the building last Friday:

Use your word study words to create a word search in the grid below. Create at least 10 clues using the definitions of your words. Be sure to tell how many letters are in each answer. The first one is done for you.

I even planned to allow them to complete their own word searches as their weekly quiz grade, but when I returned, I was disappointed at how few students managed to finish the assignment in the time they had, so today, I faced the issue head on, sharing my chagrin and asking for feedback as to why so many kids had trouble with the task. I wanted to fix it.

"We didn't get it," someone shrugged.

"What part?" I asked. "Show me where you were confused in the directions."


"I didn't understand how to put the words in," offered another.

"But I gave you an example," I reminded him.


Throughout the entire discussion, a student who had completed her word search nicely was waving her hand. Finally I called on her.

"You did a great job," I said. "Was there a problem?"

"Yes," she said. "All the people who didn't finish were talking too loudly!"

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Chose Poorly

I cussed a little today when I chose the wrong lane on the exit ramp. Truthfully, I think of it as a game, a game I like to win. The right lane is always more crowded, but they can turn right at the light, if possible. Left lane is stuck until green, so it's all about the traffic and timing.

Today, I was first in the left lane, chortling at the heavy cross-traffic, watching the car I would have been if I had chosen the sucker's lane all jammed up in my rear view. Then, an unexpected break in the oncoming congestion-- right lane cars are making the right like water in a sluice way; nothing can stop them; the not-me car and many others all pour onto the road before the light turns green and I can join them, far back in the flow. They have gained SEVERAL seconds on me that I know from experience I will NEVER get back.

Shaking my head and chastened, I head for the gym where the treadmill awaits me, no choice but to move forward, so to speak, there.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Sunday morning of our weekend at the bay has evolved into a traditional breakfast challenge. We want a dish that uses as many of our leftovers as possible, but is completely different than anything we have eaten in the last two days. It started a few years ago when we took leftover cheese sauce and onions and turned them into a souffle. This year, the ingredients on hand were cold roasted chicken, rice, eggs, baby spinach, grape tomatoes, and feta cheese. In retrospect, it seems silly that it took so long to realize what the food was telling us:



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Room with a View

AT 6:49 this morning I did not even have to lift my head from my pillow to behold a deep orange ring banding the horizon and the sun rising from the dark blue Chesapeake Bay. Within moments, the indigo dawn blanched to cerulean and all the red fire was drained from the sun, leaving that familiar yellow orb in a cold November morning sky, and I pulled the down comforter up around my chin and went back to sleep.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Flocking Together

In my opinion, the ideal vacation rental house has very few personal belongings in it. Beyond a well-stocked kitchen, there might be some books and a few other things to keep it from being as sterile as, say, a hotel room, but too many non-generic items makes it hard for a renter to feel at home. 

This weekend we have returned for the third time to a "magical bay-front home," which is a vacation rental managed by the owner. Although it would be difficult to live up to the eight page confirmation letter, it really is a lovely location, perched  atop Calvert Cliffs with a naturally commanding view of the Chesapeake Bay. In years past, we have spent our November Saturdays scouring the windy beach for fossils and sea glass, and we are looking forward to doing the same tomorrow.

The house itself is pretty nice, too, although it does have its quirks, especially in the decor department. Case in point? Over the years there has been a definite increase in the number of carved wooden birds. Two life-sized swans have been joined by several gulls and sandpipers, a couple of ducks and a few other miscellaneous avians. The fake birds are everywhere, and they easily outnumber the people, but the creepy blue-eyed sea captain lamp doesn't seem to mind at all.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Come to my Window

"I'm going lesbian with my NaNoWriMo!" So declared one of the eighth grade girls in our writing club today.

"No!" her friend advised. "Don't do that!"

"Why?" asked the first student.

"Because," answered her friend, "you should just go ahead with your planned plot, and then just slip the lesbian thing in. That way you can tell the story, but you won't alienate anybody."

Her friend seemed unconvinced.

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I marveled to myself at how much things have changed, not only in the 21 years I've been teaching, but more so even in the last 3 or 4. Not a single student thought that this conversation was anything but two writers talking about their craft.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Siege Mentality

We got this message from our principal today, buried among her notes and reminders:

We are running low on paper. 120 cartons were ordered for the first 4-5 months of this school year. The next paper order will not be placed until mid-January. Please use copy paper very thoughtfully.

Such a shortage would be the first of its kind in my 21 years of teaching, which is as it should be, considering that we work in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. And while I would never condone wasting paper, I did bristle at the implication that there might not be enough to go around if we continue our thoughtless, educational ways. Shame on me for creating materials for my students.

Can you guess the first reaction of several people I know? They went and got a few reams to lock up in anticipation of hard times.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Get Out the Vote

In these times, when I remind myself each morning to strive to be patient, positive, present, and productive, it can be discouraging to consider the exercise of my civic right and duty only as an imperative to vote against a candidate.

But that is definitely why I hotfooted it down to the polls this afternoon. Don't disappoint me, Virginia.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Making the Hard Decisions

As I mentioned previously, my kitchen window has stayed open since early summer to provide us with a 6 X 30 connection with the world outside. Oh, I suppose if I was serious about my little nature portal I would have taken the screen out, too, but my commitment stopped short of letting bugs in.

31 degree air pouring in this morning made it a little nippy as I packed lunches, but I soldiered through despite my slightly stiff fingers on the knowledge that when the sun came out? It would get up to 49.

Maybe I was in a bit of denial; truly I like the window open.

Our house cleaner has a bit of a different sensibility. Over the 8 years she's been cleaning our house on Mondays, we've gotten a few subtle and not so subtle hints about the way she thinks things should be. For example, after she's been here, we can tell that the coffee table should be much closer to the couch, the dog's toy box should be closed, the cleaning supplies belong upstairs, the bath mat should go on the towel rack, and the tooth brushes? To the right of the sink, please.

Oh. And the kitchen window should be closed in cold weather.


Sunday, November 3, 2013


Read the Paris Review.

I mean it.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Case in Point

Every teacher has been taught not to scold the whole group for the transgressions of some of its members. It's not fair and it's not effective. Ohhhh, but sometimes it's so hard not to do. Sometimes it seems like almost every single kid is conspiring to turn your lesson plan upside down, and then it seems like nothing would be so satisfying as to give them a sharp scolding culminating in the most epic guilt trip of their lives.

 I must confess that I know from experience that such venting can indeed be very gratifying in the few seconds it takes to deliver it, but ultimately, just as you have been warned, you lose credibility with your students, some because they were innocent of the charges you brought against the group, and some because they didn't buy into the requirements in the first place, and your outburst has not convinced them.

I was reminded of this fundamental principal of management today, as Heidi and I stood for 90 minutes at the final meeting of our community garden and were collectively reprimanded several times for things I knew we were not guilty of. I always turn off the water, lock the gate securely, keep my tools inside my garden, replace the common tools neatly in the shed (cleaned of course), show up for my scheduled work days, and mind the edges of my plot. By the end of the meeting, I was fuming, but Heidi seemed remarkably unaffected.

Later, when I was complaining about the experience to my mom and my brother, they were very sympathetic. "I hated that in school," my brother said. "I always knew I had done nothing wrong!"

My mom nodded.

"Not me," Heidi said. "Usually? I was the one they were talking to, and

Then she laughed wickedly and asked, "How did we get together, anyway?"

Friday, November 1, 2013

Endless Summer

Tomorrow is the closing day of the season at our community garden. That may be, but today? It was in the upper 70s and just Wednesday I picked a few more eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers from the hardy hearty plants in my plot.

No doubt there will be more to harvest tomorrow, which is certainly an added bonus to the longest weekend of the year.