Sunday, August 31, 2014

Crying's Not for Us

It seemed like such a good idea. On the last Sunday of a summer where the weather has been nothing short of fabulous, a trip to a not-so-far-away national park for a moderate hike to the largest waterfall in Maryland, which also happens to be in the same park where my mom went to summer camp 66 years ago?

It was such a no brainer that Josh got up early and Riley and Seiyoung drove in the opposite direction of their final destination so that we could all enjoy the outing together. We had sandwiches and dogs and we gleefully watched the car thermometer plunge from 93 to 91 to 87, 85, 83 as we traveled first north, and then up the mountain. It was only a little sticky as we headed into the woods and began our climb.

The tall trees kept it shady, and we hardly noticed the gathering clouds. The patter of drops on the leaves high above our heads was not in the least alarming; the canopy kept us mostly dry, but as we continued steadily on so did the rain, and soon we found ourselves stopped and huddled near the trunks of trees, trying to stay dry.

The trail was soon a wash, and we reluctantly decided to turn around. As impossible as it seemed, it poured ever harder as we made our way back to the car.  Now the saturated forest offered us no shelter and soon we were completely drenched ourselves, literally dripping.

In a you-can't-make-this-up twist, the rain let up the last hundred yards to the trail head, and we emerged from the woods into brilliant sunshine, wet, really wet, incredulously wet, but not unhappy in the least.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Let's Get this Party Started

Back when I started teaching, the pre-service week for teachers was only four days. We reported to school on the Monday before Labor Day, had a few meetings, worked in our classrooms, and went home Thursday afternoon for a four day weekend. After the intensity of preparing for the new year, waiting four more days seemed agonizing.  And so it continues to this day. Although Friday off is long gone, that nervous anticipation lingers, and all day long I've been restless and at loose ends.  In a few days the voices of children will illuminate my days, but for now everything seems drained of the bright summer cheer it radiated just last week. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mastery Objective

WHO:      I will
WHAT:    let go of all the frustrations of the day
DO:          by spending the evening with people I love
HOW:      and then sleeping soundly through the night.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Kid in Town

He swaggered down the school hallway with a faux hawk and shades, confidently directing his sister to where she might find the answers she was seeking."Let's do this!"

There's talk on the street; it sounds so familiar

I long ago gave up trying to engineer which kids would and wouldn't be on me team at school. It's human nature, I think, to want to exercise control when it is possible, and there were always all sorts of brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and nephews and nieces of all sorts of folks that I thought would or would not make for a better year.

Great expectations, everybody's watching you

Sometimes I was right and sometimes I was disappointed, and a few years ago I realized that perhaps it would be best if I left it all up to chance. So this year when the new students and their families came for our annual sixth grade open house there were definitely a few familiar faces I was a little sorry to see heading toward one of the other teams, but there were a lot of fresh faces I enjoyed meeting, too.

People you meet, they all seem to know you

 One was Leslie, a quiet girl who seemed understandably anxious about middle school. I did my best to put her at ease with a friendly smile and a few wise cracks, but it was her younger brother who was my best audience. "I love this place!" he gushed. "I'm in fourth grade, but I can't wait to come here!"

"Well, I can't wait til you get here!" I said.

"And I want you for my teacher," he told me.

I just might have to make an exception to that hands-off rule.

Johnny come lately, the new kid in town
Everybody loves you, so don't let them down

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Come and Get Your Love

Hey! What's the matter with your head?

Putting one's classroom together again after dismantling it a couple  months back is not hard, exactly, but it can be time consuming. I'm not much of a linear thinker myself, and so all the little chores distract me, especially since my mind is on the million other things I need to get done by the end of the week.

Hey, what's the matter with your mind and all your sighin?

This morning, after I hung a few things on my wall I paused to take a picture of my newest piece of art, a framed print that a friend of mine gave me from her office when she retired last June. I meant to post it on Facebook so that she could see how nice it looked in my room, but that particular social media is blocked on the school network, so after a couple of tries I set my iPad aside and continued working.

Find it, find it, c'mon and find it

I had completely forgotten all about the picture when I got home tonight, but it was out there on it's own after all. My friend recognized her print right away, but below it hung the plaque I got for being teacher of the year back in 2006, and that got a few comments from current colleagues-- snarky at first, but genuinely complimentary in the end.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rockin Robin

Tweedily deedily dee, tweedily deedily dee

In a year of many new technology initiatives for our school system, there is one that seems to have been embraced whole-heartedly by senior administration.

He rocks in the tree tops all day long

It's not iPads for students,

Hoppin and boppin and a-singin his song

and it's not getting the bugs out of our student information system.

All the little birdies on J-bird Street

Someone at the Ed Center seems to think that 140 characters is the perfect way to connect with students, educators, and families alike.

Love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet


Monday, August 25, 2014

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle

The first thing that I'd like to do

Yesterday, I spent the last day of my summer vacation canning tomatoes and making pickles and kimchi.

Is to save every day 'til eternity passes away

Then Heidi, Josh and I went to Bill and Emily's house for a family dinner with them and Riley and Treat. There was grilled steak and succotash, all from the farmers market, with home made ice cream sandwiches for dessert. We stayed at the table talking long after we all should have been preparing to go to work and school this morning.

But there never seems to be enough time to do the things we want to do once we find them

At least, if summer can't last forever, we gave it a lovely send off.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ground Control to Major Tom

Commencing count down, engines on.

We spent a lot of time at my leadership team meeting last week revising the vision and mission statements for our school. There was some confusion between the two; in general it was agreed that cultivating productive global citizens was a goal of our school, but whether it was the mission or the vision seemed hard to decide.

Check ignition and may God's love be with you.

At one point, a young teacher new to our team this year who had been silent all day spoke up. He'd been researching the terms on his iPad as we talked, and he volunteered that as he understood it, a vision remained static, but a mission was more short-term, and could and should change once it was accomplished. For example, you could say NASA's mission was originally to put a man in earth-orbit, and then President Kennedy changed it to landing a man on the moon. There were nods around the table as he spoke. This seemed to make sense.

I'm floating in a most peculiar way, and the stars look very different today.

"So, isn't our mission to help students achieve?" he continued. "And won't we know it's accomplished when we see their test scores?"

Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Second Helping

We spent a couple of the precious hours of this last weekend of summer break at the movies this afternoon. In a fitting, book-end kind of a choice we saw Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest offering from the Marvel Universe. While I am not a dedicated fan of the comics I do like the movies, but there was actually a lengthy period of time this summer when I thought GotG looked too stupid to spend money on. When it opened a few weeks ago, I was quite shocked by the positive reviews which were only confirmed by my nephew, Treat.

Since then it's been on the list and a rainy day like this one was the perfect opportunity to go. It was pretty good-- to me more funny than gripping or exciting. One thing I admire about the Marvel movies is the complex canon that they pre-suppose and add to, but for the same reason, in every one of them I see I sense that there is more to it than I understand. Oh, each movie can be enjoyed on a superficial level as well, but I always know I'm missing something, and so the minute I get a chance I hit the internet to research all the winks and nudges.

I guess you could think of that as double duty, but in my mind?

It just adds to the fun.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Blog Odyssey

People who know me know I'm a counter-- I like numbers. I think that's why it's easy for me to remember dates and years. I know all my friends' birthdays, their ages, the years they started work, how old their children are, etc.

But while I am a collector of figures, I am not a fan of "big data". I know that there are enough numbers out there to tell any story we want to, probably because I count other things as well-- pages my students read each week, hours spent in meetings, snow days used and unused in a year, miles in a hike, the elevation of the mountain we climbed, calories burned by walking the dog, and so forth. It's all interesting, and there are some meaningful patterns, but I don't fool myself that they are absolute or even objective.

Certainly you won't be surprised when I tell you that I have been counting blog entries as well. Oh, I have mentioned milestones here in the past, and I was well aware that there was a big one coming up. But I've been so absorbed this week in getting ready to go back to school and helping Josh do the same that p2k totally slipped my mind.

So, this is post 2001, just another statistic for anyone keeping track.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Three-Quarters Baked

I've met a lot of college kids over the past couple of days, and the more time I spent with some of them, the more I could see the former sixth grader in them. I felt right at home.

Often these days when I meet young people I figure out what year they started middle school, and then I mentally match them up with the kids I knew who are the same age. More often than not I don't get to see how my professional efforts are paying off down the line, and so in addition to being a fun exercise it allows me to imagine how my former students might be faring.

Today I'd like to think that many many of the kids who sat in my classroom back in September 2007 nervously anticipating the next stage of their school career are, just like all the kids I've met this week, finding out how amazing college can be and preparing for four fun years of learning and growing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Getting There

Although I pride myself on being able to successfully navigate all the cities I have visited, I have not regularly taken a bus since I was in high school. These days, my main impression of a metro bus is something not to get stuck behind when driving-- there are soooo many stops!

But Josh is going to have to rely on public transportation to get him to and from his classes downtown, so today Heidi, he, and I traveled by bus and subway to the campus of GW University for his freshman orientation. As much time as he's spent here, he doesn't really know his way around, and although that will change in a hurry, we thought it would be a good idea to give it a try before classes start. 

I did plenty of research in advance and found the best routes and connections for our commute. Last evening, we all walked up the hill and scoped out the closest bus stops in our neighborhood. As we circled the blocks, all of a sudden it didn't seem like there were too many at all, and whether they were uphill or down, shaded or not, seemed very relevant. Already I had a new appreciation for commuter conveniences.

This morning, Smartrip cards at the ready, we headed out, timing our walk to the bus stop. I'll admit to a bit of a thrill when I saw that bright red metro bus turn the corner and roll our way. We boarded the bus and sat near the front, awash in yellowish fluorescent light. As we bumped through the neighborhood and onto the interstate, familiar sights seemed slightly different viewed from the wide tinted windows. I was a rider now.

In 8 minutes, as scheduled, we were at the Pentagon where we walked a few yards down to the metro. The Blue Line came in less than 10 minutes, and we emerged from Foggy Bottom station 8 minutes after that. Door to door, the whole trip took less than 45 minutes and cost about 2 bucks each.

There was a point in our journey, when standing on the metro platform, that I looked at Heidi and Josh and considered how far the three of us have traveled together over the years. I knew neither one of them had any clue where we were going once we got to the top of the escalator and they were not concerned in the least. They trust me to get us where we're going, and I felt proud.

Maybe a little too proud. As we waited, I rustled my itineraries and timetables officiously. "Good thing you guys have me," I said. Heidi raised her eye brows. I shrugged. "I mean, because I know where we're going and all."

"Really?" she said. "I think it would be easy enough to ask someone on the street if I needed to."

I gasped. Then I laughed. Such an approach would never occur to me, but she was right, of course. It would probably be very effective, maybe even as good as knowing just what to do ahead of time.

"What's so funny?" Josh asked. 

"Heidi and I are very different, but very complimentary," I told him, and relayed the whole exchange. "Take the best from each of us, and you'll do fine!"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Second Generation

To me one of the benefits of being a team leader and going in early for that meeting has always been getting a preview peak at the team list of new kids. After 21 years in the county both as a teacher and a resident, I've forged quite a few connections, and it's always interesting to see whose brother, sister, cousin, son, daughter, or grandchild might be in my class.

This year did not disappoint. As I was paging through the 120 info cards, I stopped on one. In retrospect, I can't say exactly what it was that caught my attention, but I spoke his name out loud, and the director of counseling who was sitting next to me, said, "Oh yeah, he's a cutie and his mom went here."

"What was her name?" I asked, and a few minutes later I discovered that for the first time ever I have the child of a former student.

I think they should have a name for that-- maybe, like the aunt or uncle, we could be great teachers, or better yet? Grand teachers. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dance Card

And just like that, it happens. After a fun day at the museums with Michelle and the kids, I have an all day meeting tomorrow at school, freshman orientation with Josh on Wednesday,  and suddenly the days seem so full that it's hard to fit everything in. Good-bye summer vacation.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

He Called It

After dinner tonight Josh sat at the table and finished writing his thank you notes for the graduation gifts he received. His mom is only staying until tomorrow, and she made him promise to do this before she leaves so she can mail them off from home. As he worked, Heidi, Michelle, and I gabbed away.

"Finished," he announced and handed me a white envelope. I read the note and laughed, and then I winked at him and held up the card to show Heidi. It's a nice custom design with pictures of Josh and some if his art work.

"What do you want to do with this?" I asked her.

"I want to put it right up on the refrigerator!" she said.

Josh and I laughed. "What am I missing?" Heidi frowned until she opened the card and read it, then she laughed, too.

Following the sincere message of thanks, it said,  You'll probably do something cheesy like put this card on the refrigerator. Love, your new roommate Josh.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eye of the Beholder

Considering refinancing the place, we had an appraiser come by today. Of course such a visitor forces you to see your home through someone else's eyes, all the flaws as well as all the improvements seem magnified in the moment.

The gentleman who assessed our condo was very friendly, professional, and courteous. He did have a bit of a habit of talking out loud as he made his way through the house, some of his comments directed to us, some not. He made sure to be complimentary of the upgrades and improvements we have made, but not overly so.

"I really like your kitchen," he said. "Nice cabinets! I see you kept the lighting, though." His remark was made in the most neutral of tones, but all I can think about since he's left is how to update those fluorescent lamps.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Realization of the month: 

We've been filling this place up for fifteen years...

Time to start drawing down.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Inquiring Minds

We had a couple of our kid friends over to the house to do a little tie-dying last week. Heidi has been looking after 8 year-old Savannah and 5-year-old Chase practically since they were born, back when their family lived in the next courtyard over from us.

A couple of years ago, right before their little brother Lincoln joined the family, they bought a house a little less than a mile away. Both older kids are in school, too, so we don't see them quite as often. Even so, summer projects accompanied by a trip to the pool are always fun.

Heidi and I like to think we have the tie-dying thing down, and it was all set up when the kids arrived, but there was a point before we began that Heidi and Savannah ran upstairs for something. Eying the work-in-progress that is currently our guest room, soon to be Josh's room, Savannah gasped. "That place is a wreck!" she said. "Who sleeps there? You or Tracey?"

"Nobody," Heidi told her. "We both sleep in the other room. We're getting that one ready for Josh."

Mind you, I had no knowledge of this conversation when a little while later, Savannah and I were cleaning up in the kitchen. "So, are you two married?" she asked me, "Or do you just sleep together?"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Calendar Girl

Running errands today I happened to see an academic year 14-15 monthly calendar for sale. For me, that particular school supply happens to be the first and most important thing I purchase each year, so of course I bought it.

Now, even though the kids don't report for nearly three weeks, and the first meeting of the year isn't for days, thanks to online resources and what-not, my calendar is good to go: it has the bare bones of the year all filled in the appropriate squares, and these events, joined by notations of field trips, birthdays, meetings, and tests will be the scaffolding of an entire school year.

I'll definitely admit to a bit of a thrill when I added those first items-- a new year is always an opportunity and a clean slate, but as I continued I quite merrily x-ed out first Thanksgiving and then Winter Break. After that there was a holiday, workday, holiday, conferences, Spring Break, workday, and the next thing you know, it was Memorial Day, promotion, and the last day of school!

Summer 2015 here we come!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ambulance Chaser

And now news that Lauren Bacall has passed away. She, too, played a memorable role in my teenaged years. In the summer of '79 I think everyone in my family read her autobiography By Myself. It had recently been released in paperback and was a perfect poolside book detailing her hardscrabble early years, her lucky breaks in modeling, her inexorable romance with Bogart, the tragedy of his death, and her determination to go on in the face of her loss.

Even so, the book lost some serious steam after Bogie died, but I have been an admirer of Lauren Bacall since, albeit at a distance; perhaps it was her grit and growl that made it a bit uncomfortable to get too close. I do feel a loss tonight at hearing the news of her passing, and it occurs to me that I may have reached that certain age where losing those of personal note becomes much less irregular.

But no less sad.

Monday, August 11, 2014


For American teenagers living in Saudi Arabia in the 70s, the time spent back in the states during the summer was priceless for keeping up with pop culture. Even the re-runs of popular shows were new to us, and I distinctly remember catching up on Happy Days one humid summer night.

The plot revolved around Richie and a space alien who tried to collect him as a specimen to bring back to his planet Ork. I liked Happy Days, but I loved Mork-- that alien was hilarious in such a hyperkinetic way that we were still giggling about it a few days later.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I returned to the US for college and found that there was a whole show about Mork from Ork. Who could fail to love Robin Williams, so quirky, so manic? When I started teaching, his example helped me to understand the positive, creative side of ADHD.

Later, as his career waned and waxed and waned again, as frequently happens with the brightest performers, I understood that he was probably struggling with much more, and tonight as I began a blog entry about something else all together I heard the breaking news that Robin Williams was dead, and although the family is not disclosing particulars, they are saying he has struggled greatly with depression, especially of late. I wanted a good Mork quote to end this post, and when I searched, I found the following exchange between Mork and his "handler" Orson:

Orson: The report, Mork.
Mork: This week I discovered a terrible disease called loneliness.
Orson: Do many people on Earth suffer from this disease?
Mork: Oh yes sir, and how they suffer. One man I know suffers so much he has to take a medication called bourbon, even that doesn't help very much because then he can hear paint dry.
Orson: Does bed rest help?
Mork: No because I've heard that sleeping alone is part of the problem. You see, Orson, loneliness is a disease of the spirit. People who have it think that no one cares about them.
Orson: Do you have any idea why?
Mork: Yes sir you can count on me. You see, when children are young, they're told not to talk to strangers. When they go to school, they're told not to talk to the person next to them. Finally when they're very old, they're told not to talk to themselves, who's left?
Orson: Are you saying Earthlings make each other lonely?
Mork: No sir I'm saying just the opposite. They make themeslves lonely, they're so busy looking out for number one that there's not enough room for two.
Orson: It's too bad everybody down there can't get together and find a cure.
Mork: Here's the paradox sir because if they did get together, they wouldn't need one. Isn't that zenlack?

Yeah, that's totally zenlack.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sweet Sorrow


The great clean-out continues. Not simply content (or let's be honest, able) to empty the guest room for Josh's impending residence, our purge has expanded to every room in the house including the attic. Last spring I hoped to rid our home of forty bags in forty days, but friends it's going to be more like forty in fourteen, or fifty in ten now that the ball's rolling.

In general, my job has been paper and electronics. I've recycled hundreds of paperback books and filled several boxes to take to shred. It turns out I really don't need my pay stubs from 1999, or much else of the hundred pounds or so of paper that's all set to go. AND, I've finally come to terms with giving up my iBook lap top. Apple is kind enough to contract with a company who will recycle them for free, but first I must wipe the hard drive. With that in mind, I booted it up for one last time this afternoon.

It's only been a few years since our iPad/desktop combo has pretty much made that brushed stainless steel brick obsolete, but I smiled at the desktop photo of the Chesapeake Bay beach in November where Heidi and I stayed ten years ago, and there was a certain reflexive familiarity when my fingers brushed that cool metal touchpad. Scanning through the files to find what I wanted to keep was like opening a time capsule, and when I was distracted for a second, the screen saver started spinning an array of pictures I haven't looked at for years. It was an album of wonderful times in beautiful places with people we love.

Oh, I'll be able to put everything I want on a single flash drive (that's how dated it is), but today I felt a direct connection with the me who used to spend so much screen time staring at that 12 inch display-- the person who wrote every piece for the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute there, and most of my National Board entries. The online course I use with my students, Write Here Write Now, was largely created with that laptop, and the very first post of this blog was composed on its keyboard.

I know it's only a machine, and one that has been left behind by technological innovation, but I?

I am only human, and parting with this particular object makes me a little sad.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Good Reflexes

I was browsing my Twitter feed this evening when something very unexpected happened. I saw a tweet by Kelly Gallagher that actually made me want to go back to school. It was nothing meant to be inspirational, but simply a practical resolution grounded in a philosophy I happen to share. Whoa! As a result, I read a few articles, pinned a few links, and jotted down several ideas for the upcoming year.

I guess you really can't take the classroom out of the teacher.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Old-fashioned Work Ethic

My friend Mary came by today to borrow the hand sander. Seems as if she has a couple of Adirondack chairs in need of a new paint job, too. "That's fun!" I said cheerily.

"I'm not sure if I would call it 'fun'," she told me, "but it has to be done." She nodded out to the deck. "Yours look pretty good-- do you have any advice?"

I laughed because from that distance, they do look pretty good; the drips and dings and rough patches aren't noticeable at all. "Remember they're 'hand-painted'," I answered. "The imperfections are part of the charm!"

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Unexpected Bonus

After painting? The elegant clean-up method of simply peeling the dried paint in a single, rubbery sheet from the paint pans the next day is weirdly satisfying.

Just sayin.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


News today about a company course offered to Googlers on mindfulness and meditation. It's title? Why,  Search Inside Yourself, of course!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Arnold Palmer on Deck

Last week I received notice that I had to clear all the plants and furniture off our decks so that they could be repainted. While I appreciated the action, it was kind of a pain in the butt to find a temporary place for everything.

When I was 10 my family moved across the highway from our originally pink Levitt colonial to an authentic Victorian house with six bedrooms. Oh the place needed work, which is exactly why my mother wanted it, and she was up to the challenge-- stripping wall paper, knocking plaster off covered up fireplaces, painting, laying flooring, building closets, re-upholstering furniture, you name it, in the three short years that we lived there, that house was vastly improved.

To a child, perhaps it was the porches that were the most different from our tract home. Where once we had poured concrete and brick, now we had wide gracious outdoor spaces with white trim and painted gray floor boards. One of the things I remember most was the side porch. Three feet above street-level, it ran the length of the front room and the dining room, but with no stairs the only way to get out there was through a door in the dining room. I liked to pretend that it was the deck of a ship and I was the captain, and in the summer I spent afternoons out there in the shade reading and drinking ice tea with lemonade.

When the painting was done here, I was a bit dismayed to find that they had whitewashed the formerly stained floor planks. That just seemed like a bad idea, so off I went to my local home improvement store where I purchased a gallon of porch gray. After patching and repainting the Adirondack chairs white, today I turned my attention to the floors, and now I have my own gracious space.

Ice tea and lemonade at the ready-- I'll need them tomorrow.

Monday, August 4, 2014


"So, when are you guys planning to bring Josh down to move in?" Heidi asked Michelle yesterday.

"Next Sunday."

Wait. What? I gulped and did some figurin, calendar-wise and other-wise.

"Next Sunday, or the one after?" I asked.

"Oops! One week off," was the reply.

So, there's a little breathing room, but...

This is happening!

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Oh that we could capture this summer and put it in a bottle! The weather has been delightful, the garden generous, the time relaxing and fulfilling. But pickled cucumbers and canned tomatoes are not the same as their fresh-picked brethren. As good as they are, they are meant to be put away and enjoyed after this season has faded. Until then, let's enjoy every bite of summer.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Scar Tissue

My sister-in-law told me the other day that she thinks of the school year as kind of an open wound, and summer the time when it heals. Ouch! But, if she's right, I have finally reached the stage of my summer vacation where I have sufficiently recovered from not only the school year, but also all the fun of trips and visitors that followed it. I'm finally ready to get a few things done around the place.

Trouble is, there's quite a lot to do. Years ago, I left my annual summer to-do list on the counter when we were off to do something fun. When my sister-in-law came to feed the cats, she happened to see it. "You'll be lucky to get that done in ten summers," she told me later. She was right.

Just last night it occurred to me that a new strategy might be appropriate. As usual, I have a loooooong list of things I have to do, I'd like to accomplish, and things I like to do. Next to each item I put "finite" or "on-going". I also noted any task that was likely to take a significant amount of time. I figured the hardest part is usually starting, and knowing you can't finish something quickly is a great excuse not to begin. I also considered that (in the absence of a drop-dead deadline, which is always motivating) I do well with a regular schedule, so maybe it would be a good idea to plan to work on some of these chores for an hour a day until they get done. Few things are actually all or nothing.

So, I've canned a couple quarts of tomatoes. I've glued and sanded the deck chairs and put the first coat of paint on one. I've been to the attic and later to Goodwill. I've cleared out two drawers and one bookshelf in the guest room for Josh. I've read over my novel, found my notes, and added to them. I've played Words with Friends with my mom, Ruzzle with my sister, and Draw Something with Mary. I've written my blog, read a magazine and three chapters of Sally Ride's biography.

The day is not done, and despite the fact that our home improvement store had shelves and shelves full of mums-- tight budded and very green, but still-- there are still three weeks left in my vacation and plenty left to do.

Friday, August 1, 2014


All week I've been thinking about those rings in the desert. How could it be Burning Man Festival when that doesn't even start for another three weeks? Plus, did we really fly that far north over Nevada? And, what are those rectangle things on the left? Still, I tried uploading my photo for a Google image search, and it turned up nothing. I had previously tried several search terms with no luck.

"Who knows what it was," my brother told me; "the government has a lot of weird shit in the desert."

I had almost (almost) forgotten about it when I went to check Heidi's flight last night. I wanted to see exactly where she was so I used a site that shows the live progress of any commercial plane. As I watched the tiny icon creep across the map, I wondered if I could find our flight path from 10 days before. It turns out that I certainly could, AND I could also view that map as a satellite image.

As before, my touchstone was Mono Lake, an unmistakable landmark that I saw just a few minutes after the strange array. I followed the neon green dotted line backwards through Nevada scouring the image for anything that might possibly give me a clue. The only concrete signposts were the Grand Army of the Republic Highway and a town called Tonopah.

Finally I searched for "concentric rings nevada desert tonopah" and at last I found what I was looking for. It turns out that what I saw was the Crescent Dunes Solar Plant. It isn't up and running yet, but when it is, it will be the world's most advanced solar station.

What looked like circles from the air was actually more than seventeen thousand ground-mounted mirrors called heliostats. They collect solar energy and focus it on that central tower, which is full of salt. The heat melts the salt and it goes down to power a steam turbine, which generates electricity. The molten salt also stores energy in the form of heat, functioning like a kind of battery that can continue to produce steam and electricity for up to ten hours beyond when the mirrors are collecting sunlight. It is projected to fully power 75,000 homes a year.

Cool! Evidently, there's a lot more burning out there in the desert than just the man.