Monday, June 30, 2014


From the moment I got up this morning and my oldest nephew appeared like an apparition and wished me a happy birthday before mysteriously vanishing again, to the time I spent with him and his girlfriend on the beach learning to navigate the silky, croc-thieving mud so that we could fill our bucket with mussels, to the freshly-squeezed carrot-grapefruit-strawberry juice my brother served us on the granite ledges, to the warm noontime sunshine and perfectly cool breeze I enjoyed while tossing the tennis ball for the dogs, to the time we spent exploring the scenic back roads of this rural peninsula on the way to John B Mountain where the trail to the top is so springy it's like mini-trampolines propelling you forward until you reach those granite ledges with views of Camden and Rockport to the west and Mount a Desert Island to the east, to the inexplicably natural art-laden trail along the Penobscot Bay on the way to Goose Falls, to all the birthday love on Facebook, and my niece and nephew singing, facetiming my mom as I relaxed on the deck listening to the gulls screech and Josh softly strumming his guitar, while the daylight slips away with the tide and my birthday feast is being prepared inside, I couldn't have conjured a more wonderful day.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


After dinner tonight Josh built a fire in the fire ring in the backyard. Kyle and I were the first ones out there, but eventually the rest of our group joined us, lured by the fire but snared by the stars. Because the stars were amazing tonight. Up here away from the city lights of our hometown we can see so many more, not to mention the Milky Way, several satellites, and a ton of shooting stars. I pulled up the star gazing app on my phone, and despite implying that Pluto was visible with the naked eya and we could see through the earth to the other side, in general it was very helpful, allowing us to really see why they ever decided to name some of those constellations in the first place. It was kind of a revelation, and Treat summed it up best when he marveled, "Just look at that great bear!"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What's the Name of this River?

When we were children living in South Jersey our family made the drive to DC pretty often. In those days that road trip involved me, my brother, and sister tucked in the back of our Ford Falcon eating Chikn-in-a-Biscuit crackers and playing the license plate game with our parents. About halfway into the journey and a little while after passing under the hairpin towers of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the highway would open up and cross a huge expanse of water. "What's the name of this river?" my dad always asked, and in a chorus we replied,

"The Susquehanna!"

A few miles down the road we'd find ourselves descending through Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, its submarine subway tiles shining wetly in the dim yellow lights. Keep up Speed Keep up Speed Keep up Speed we chanted along with the reminder signs posted every hundred yards or so. Back then, the pay off of those trips was always a visit with our grandparents, or one of our beloved aunts and cousins, which was a very grand reward indeed.

Today I made that journey in reverse on my way to a family vacation in Maine, and it was impossible not to note all the usual landmarks. Oh the highway is wider, and tunnel has been updated, and there are two spans to the DMB now, and there's no longer a Hot Shoppe at the rest stop in Delaware, but the name of that river is still the same.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Tomorrow's ETD and...


my birthday!

The van is packed.

Let the wild rumpus begin!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Things You'd Rather NOT Hear...

...ever, much less 36 hours before your vacation:

"This is going to be an awkward conversation..."
"Neck to toe for 12 to 14 hours..."
"EVERYTHING in VERY hot water..."

Things you can't do anything about:

See above.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Watching the Grass Grow

The key for me to a happy summer is to try to do something I consider worthwhile every day. That can be harder than it sounds, but so far I've been successful. For example, on Saturday, I planted wheat grass in a little pot on the deck for our cat, and today it's nearly 2 inches tall. Now that's what I call measurable progress!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This is Happening

Even though it is technically summer vacation, I attended a required 2 hour workshop today. Our school system is providing iPads for all students in grades 3 and 6, and so their teachers have to be trained. This particular session was advertised as a very basic, first step, and so it was, although I definitely learned a few things.

Don't get me wrong. I've wanted more access to technology for my students since I started teaching. I understand what a powerful tool it can be. I don't know if this is the way I would have gone about it, but nobody asked me.

Perhaps most importantly, the management approach of our senior administration was evident in the presentation today. One of the slides actually said that there were to be no "buts"-- we were categorically instructed to move ahead with the expectation that things might be rocky at first (Ya think? Handing 400 dollar toys, I mean tools, to thousands of 8 and 11 year olds...), but it would all work out in the end.

And I'm sure it will.

Did I mention? I got my own new iPad today.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monkey See, Monkey Do

We were all a little weary, Treat, Heidi, and I on Saturday afternoon after unsuccessfully attempting to see two movies. We were hungry, too, and with some time to kill before our third try, we stopped into a Chipotle Restaurant. Heidi and I had never actually eaten in one, but I have heard very good reviews from kids and adults alike. Treat concurred, and I knew there would be a vegan option for Heidi.

And so there was. In addition to beans and rice and veggies, the chain is rolling out its tofu sofritas nation-wide, and this branch had them as a featured item. As it turned out, the three of us went for that menu item, in its taco form, Treat with soft wheat tortillas, Heidi and I with soft corn. Our meal was delicious (if a little high in sodium), so yummy in fact that tonight?

My own version of it is on the menu.

Buen provecho! 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Offer We Couldn't Refuse

One of the many joys of summer vacation for us is going to the movies. In fact, we go to so many that sometimes there's really nothing we want to see. This year, though, after a particularly busy spring, we're starting the season with a longer than usual list.

Yesterday we saw the new Tom Cruise-Emily Blunt picture, and the gray skies this morning had me looking up our next show. Imagine my delight to find The Godfather playing in three places. Regular readers may recall that this is one of my all-time favs, but I have never seen it in the theater.

Until today, that is. Even after watching this movie countless times, or maybe because of that, I felt a thrill when the lights when down and those first violin strains sounded as the title, stark white on black, flashed onto the big screen.

And? Two hours and 55 minutes later I was not disappointed.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Worth Counting

Before they packed up all their pencils and binders for good, last week I asked my students to calculate how many pages and books they had read since September. It's an annual tradition, and sixth graders almost always find their numbers amazing; it's as if they had no idea they were capable of such achievement.

This year students in my classes read an average of exactly 5,200 pages each, with a high of 19,456 and a low of 1,001. On average they finished 26 books a piece. Compared to the past, it was not a stellar year, but the requirement is only 3,800 pages, and they surpassed that by 37%. In addition, I would say the figures show that these kids as a group were workers: very few failed to meet or surpass the minimum expectation.

As an interesting frame of reference, I had one student who read nothing but the Harry Potter series. Her numbers? 4,194 pages, and 7 books, of course.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fair Trade

I finished up at school a little earlier than Heidi today, and so I sat quietly in my classroom and waited. It was all packed up for the summer-- all surfaces clear and bookshelves neatly wrapped in white butcher paper. The blinds were drawn to conserve energy, and I was still enough to fool the motion sensors into turning the lights off.

As I sat in the silence of the cool dim room, I calculated how much time I had actually spent there. Added all together it came out to over three solid years. No wonder I feel so much ownership of it; thank goodness I feel so happy there; it's hardly surprising that it's always a little bittersweet to leave for summer break.

A couple days ago, one of the students asked me how big my garden was. I thought for a moment, and looked around. "It's almost exactly the same size as this room!" I told her. We were both kind of impressed by that. This afternoon, I remembered that conversation, this time as I stood in my garden, puttering around on the first day of summer vacation.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Consensus is Over-rated

This is the time of year for educators that practically demands reflection and reminiscing.  Students move forward; colleagues retire or move on: everything seems to rush to so many endings. At the party I attended yesterday I stood with three other women as they remembered their earlier days in other schools. One told the story of a principal who, faced with the choice of adopting an earlier start time for the school or sticking with the status quo, called a staff meeting and asked for a show of hands. When the earlier time was the clear winner, she shrugged and said, "Well, I'm going to make an executive decision. We're staying with 9:05."

And that was it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

GST: Garden Standard Time

Our end-of-the-year party was held this afternoon at the home of a colleague. After all the speeches and tears for our beloved retiree, folks stood chatting in small groups, I with our hostess. At noon today, our area was the hottest spot in the country, but a few hours later that back yard looked very inviting, plus I wanted to pay a visit to my tomato plants. "Can I see your garden?" I asked at a lull in the conversation.

It was a popular request. Eight of us stepped out into the still very warm late afternoon shade. Turning to our right, we started at 5 and made our way counter clockwise around the serpentine line of garden beds that hug her straight fence. Roses, lavender, thyme, hostas, peony, lilac, day lily, peas and beans, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, basil, salvia, delphinium, echinacea, butternut squash, zucchini, cucumber, and cilantro brought us back around to 6 o'clock, which it was, so I made my farewells and headed home.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Crowd Control

What to do with three days left in the school year when all your students know that their final grades were due yesterday? Hmmm...

Well, you might find yourself, a bit shrilly but also with convincing authority, informing them that, Those grades were submitted with the expectation that you would continue or exceed your present level of academic performance!

And you conceivably could add (nonchalantly, but with crossed arms to accompany your shrug), I would more than happy to march down to guidance and making any changes necessary.

And then? Wide-eyed compliance would probably be yours.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Happy Week

Nothing like the last week of school to galvanize everyone into trying to fit everything in. Just today, there was a baby shower and then a happy hour after school. Wednesday will be the end-of-the-year staff party. Thursday is another after school gathering for a friend who is moving on to another school, and then Friday night there's a dinner for our retiring assistant principal.

I do believe my dance card is full.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Good Deed for the Day

At 10 am the place where I like to get my coffee was packed, which was hardly surprising on a beautiful Sunday morning. We had set out on our errands early, but there were still two more stops to make. After circling twice without finding parking, I dropped Heidi at the door and continued the circuit. My next trip around I saw that she had run into a former student's parent and they were deep in conversation, as they were the next time and the next time, too. I was on the back stretch of my third or fourth lap when a man on the street called through my open window. "Excuse me, ma'am? Are you looking for a parking space?" Across the way Heidi was still yakking, so I nodded. "Well," he said, "our car won't start. If you have jumper cables and you're willing to help, you can have the spot when we're through."

I assured him that I was willing to help whether I got the space or not, but he and his wife flagged off many would-be parkers as we pushed the car out, and I made a three-point turn to face it on the street. He made quick work of the jump start as his wife stood resolutely in the spot. As he wound up the cables and put them back in their bag, their six-year old daughter presented me with a micro bouquet of flowers she'd gathered from the grassy strip along the sidewalk while we worked.

Once I pulled into the space, they waved their thanks and drove away with a cheerful wave. Before I could get out, the passenger side door opened. "Let's go," Heidi said. And we did, leaving the parking space to the lucky driver that happened to come along next.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Last and First

On the last weekend before summer break I spot the first firefly of the season.

Hey universe, I like your timing!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Centurion Pride

Another hundred day writing challenge has come to a close, and this year nine students made it all the way to the end. In a tradition I have come to cherish, several wrote, unbidden, about their pride in the accomplishment. Here is what some said:

Dear Writing Challenge,

You have made me a way better writer. I think that it is so cool how you challenged me to write every day about different topics. You made me cry, laugh, and celebrate, but it was all worth it because I have finally written 100 days... WHHOOOOOOOOOO! I am so proud of myself for sticking with it even when I didn’t want to write. My brother did it so this kind of runs in my family. I still am in shock that I have written 100 days. It is so crazy and I am going to go tell Ms S. right now.

Dear 100 day challenge,

Thank you for helping me become a better writer. I greatly appreciate it. You are super awesome. I am amazed at how fun this was. I loved this challenge so much and it was really fun. Thank you for doing this.

Dear Ms. S,

Thank you for teaching me the joy of writing and the stories it can tell. Thank you for allowing me to become a better writer through Write Here Write Now. Thanks to you I have made it all the way to 100, and have become a centurion! I will never forget the impact you have made on my writing.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

That Works

My after-lunch class was working diligently to finish up the typed drafts of their personal profile pieces when I looked out over the lot of them and felt my heart swell just a bit. They have been one of the most memorable groups I've ever taught. At times polarized in terms of ability, and then re-polarized in terms of motivation, and then polarized again in terms of energy, it seemed like there was never any middle ground with this class. And yet, almost all of the lessons and activities I planned worked beautifully with them. Somehow, despite their nutty antics and loud voices, they were able to capitalize on the strengths of any grouping and bring out the best in each other academically. And now here they were, working quietly trying to get their profiles of each other just right. "I'm going to miss you guys!" I blurted out.

Oh! I should have known better, because of course the room erupted in a chaos of retorts, equally sincere and snarky, and it was several minutes before I could get them settled down again,

because that's who they are.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


There was thunder rumbling in the distance when I stopped at the garden on my way home tonight, but after being away all weekend, I just wanted to check in on it. The padlock on the gate was sticky, and I had to shove it up and yank it down hard more than a couple times, but once in, the garden was like it almost always is, so green and so quiet.

How different this spring has been than last! Warm, but not too warm, rainy, but not too rainy, and where last year we had not a single tomato before August, tonight I was thrilled to see not only blossoms, but actual fruit on several of the plants. The squash vines are starting to spread through the rows as well, and the sunflower? It's over three feet tall. The place is full of flowers and berries and...

weeds! They love this weather, too. I spent perhaps 15 minutes tidying up and pulling a few of those unwelcomes, and then, knowing there was more to do but that soon there would be time enough to do it with dirty fingers and the taste of early raspberries in my mouth, I jiggled that recalcitrant lock open and then spun it closed and headed home.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


It was our annual talent show after school today, and I have to say that the rise of TV talent shows (think America's Got Talent, The Voice, American Idol, etc.) has certainly boosted the popularity (and variety) of our little production. Today we were treated to a couple hybrid gymnastic-dance routines, some singing-- both acapella and accompanied, a Bach cello piece, an awesome yo-yo routine, some comedy cup-stacking by an actual cup-stacking world champion, a lovely violin-guitar duet, and of course, a rendition of Don't Stop Believin'. 

The bravery, earnestness, and talent of these middle school kids is so amazing and moving (and funny!) that I wouldn't have missed the show for anything, which is probably why I totally spaced on the leadership team meeting I was supposed to attend...

Monday, June 9, 2014

In the Field

One thing I like about our end of the year field trip to an outdoor adventure park is that, since the activities are run by their professional guides, my role is really to observe. I get to watch the kids interact and try to problem-solve with their peers. Who will be leaders? Who will be connectors? Who will opt out? As well as I know them after a whole school year, there are always surprises.

I also get to play a little. Today, before I went zip-lining myself, I clipped each of the kids in my group into the safety line at the foot of the ladder, but not before we snapped a souvenir selfie.

Twelve pictures later, I have indisputable photographic evidence as to just how hard I was rocking that safety helmet. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Old Lady by the Fire

"Hey!" I said. "Who are you calling an old lady, Jonah and Ben?"

Jonah giggled, but Ben looked confused. He and I had never been introduced, but earlier I had chatted with his parents at length. "How do you know my name?" he demanded.

"Oh, I'm so old I know everything," I told him.

"No one knows everything!" he assured me.

"I'll prove it," I said. "Your name is Ben. You're seven years old. You're in first grade, but not for long... Wednesday is your last day of school."

"Did you hear me talking, or something?" he guessed.

"No," I answered, "but I also know you don't have any brothers or sisters, but you do have a puppy named Biscuit, and before you got him? His name was Richard."

He frowned. "How old are you, really, anyway?"

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Cause for Celebration

I was sitting by the fire enjoying the darkening sky. Josh's graduation party was entering its ninth hour and going strong. In many ways it had been an idyllic day of family, friends, and fun. A gang of cousins and neighbor kids ran through the yard in their swimsuits, playing in the wading pool and squirting each other with pump guns. Folks came and left for other graduation parties and came back, floating inside and outside, eating and drinking and eating some more, tossing bean bags at the corn hole boards. Guitar, ukulele, harmonica jams popped up here and there mingling with the laughter and shouts of the kids, now with ice pops, now roasting hot dogs over the fire for their dinners. And now here I was, enjoying a tiny bit of quiet in the continuing whirl. Two small boys slammed out of the house and ran my way. They were on a mission to find an adult to supervise s'more making. In the dark, they didn't see me until they were almost there. "Look," cheered one to the other, "there's an old lady by the fire! Yay!"

Friday, June 6, 2014

Snark Attack

You might think that an educator, any educator, would be one to appreciate the ceremony, symbolism, and pomp of a graduation ceremony, but I can tell you that you would be wrong.

And yet, people graduate, people you really care about, and there you are, at the ceremony because you wouldn't miss celebrating their accomplishments for the world. But there is still that part of you that really doesn't like graduations, and so you might find yourself fidgeting in a scratchy theater seat making small talk with one of your godson's other aunts while idly flipping through the lengthy program until you happen upon a roll of faculty that includes not just the high school teachers, but the middle and elementary school, too. You sardonically wonder out loud why they have all those people listed. "Well," says the aunt, "I guess it's like they all worked together to get these kids where they are."

Not so crabby now, are ya?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Measure of All Things

After a long couple of weeks of standardized testing that kicked off with reading, the sixth graders finally took their last test, math, today. At the height of testing madness this morning, after successfully defending my computer cart from others and feeding the students breakfast since they would be quite late to lunch, but when no hall proctors could be found to escort the full-bladdered kids in my group to the restroom, and neither could the testing coordinator be reached to restart a test that failed to submit because the lap top switched wireless networks mid-test, I met the principal on my way to find help. "Are all your students finished already?" she asked.

"Yes," I told her and stepped forward, intent on my mission.

"Oh, by the way," she said.

I turned.


I stopped, mentally groping for the accomplishment she was referring to. She must have seen my confusion.

"On your reading test scores!" she clarified. "Great job!"

I know I managed a smile. "Thank you," I replied and continued on.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


It's the busiest time of the school year, and I worked wall to wall all day with a big pile of work on my desk when I left and some more in my bag to work on when I got home, BUT at 5:30 when I drove past the garden I did not resist the urge to stop. After just fifteen minutes outside in the fresh air weeding and watering, mulching and marveling at the amazing progress my plants make even when I am not there, I felt restored and I continued home to work some more.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Twilight Zone:

Tonight I shall talk to you about glorious conformity... about the delight and the ultimate pleasure of our unified society... you recall, of course, that directionless, unproductive, over-sentimentalized era of man's history when it was assumed that dissent was some kind of natural and healthy adjunct to society.

We know now that there must be a single purpose! A single norm! A single approach! A single entity of peoples! A single virtue! A single morality! A single frame of reference!

Wikipedia article on PLCs:

When teams learn together there are beneficial results for the organization. It becomes the team, not the individual, that is viewed as the main learning unit. High-quality collaboration has become no less than an imperative.

It is time for everyone to be pointed in the same direction and working on the same agenda! None of us know what all of us know!

Or is it the other way around?

Monday, June 2, 2014

That's a Thing?

This time of year is a bit of a Sargasso Sea of television for us. Regular season shows have had their big finales, but summer shows have yet to debut. Oh, in a week or so, our TIVO will be full of more options than we could ever watch, but I confess to doing a bit of channel surfing my way out of the doldrums over the last few nights.

I was surprised by the several things of interest I found... Anthony Bourdain, the 1960's (!), and Morgan Spurlock on CNN alone. But the most intriguing show of all was the one about tree houses on Animal Planet.

Forgive me if I'm way behind on this, but Pete Nelson and the other Tree House Masters have stolen my TV heart! 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Seek and Ye Shall Find

I can't think of a better way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon than zig zagging through DC chasing the answers to a series of goofy puzzles with my nephew, Treat. He and I were among the folks who attended the first ever Post Hunt back in 2008, and it's been an annual tradition since.

Say that the puzzles were easier this year if you must, but we actually solved the end game, and we were only a couple of minutes behind the winners. The weather was gorgeous; the company was great, and so despite the crowd (that neither one of us likes at all), it was a very good day.

In fact, it was everything I was looking for.