Saturday, February 28, 2015

Write That Down, Pass It Around

I've been a member of the blogosphere for just about six years, which is a long time in internet years. To give you some frame of reference, back when I started, Facebook had 150 million users, as compared to over a billion today, and I was not one of them. Twitter? 22.3 million then, 285 million now, me included. Neither Pinterest nor Tumblr even existed, yet.

I spent a little time this morning clicking around some of the blogs I used to follow when I began writing mine; more than half of them have been abandoned or formally shut down; their authors have married, changed jobs, divorced, gone off to college, had children, battled illnesses, moved on or just faded away. The other half are going strong, though, and it was nice to check in with those writers.

A couple of years after I started my blog, I challenged my sixth graders to begin daily writing, too. Those particular kids are sophomores in high school now, but a little quick internet research showed me that some of them, at least, are still writing. And just yesterday, this year's students began a hundred day writing challenge of their own.

Traditionally, I launch this activity on March 1, because that is the anniversary of my own odyssey, but this year the first is Sunday, so I pushed it to February 27, because I wanted to begin in class. Even so, I was concerned that kids would forget to post today, since it is Saturday and the campaign still so new. I needn't have worried: when I logged in a few minutes ago, 25 kids had already published their second slice of life, which is not bad for an optional activity.

98 days to go!

Who knows where it will end?

Friday, February 27, 2015

I Like Talkin About You You You You Usually

I know, I know.

It's age-appropriate for sixth graders to be self-absorbed. But when you rotate through eighteen 90-second speed book-talks and nobody asks about your book because they're too busy talking about theirs, it stings a little.

Still, I was glad to hear all that enthusiasm for their independent reading!

(And for the record? I'm reading One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake. A Newbery Honor book last year, it tells the story of 13-year-old Georgie, who, in 1871, leaves her home of Placid, Wisconsin to search for her older sister, Agatha, because she doesn't believe the body the sheriff brought home was really her. AND it's pretty good, too.)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Peter Piper

It's that time of year when forward thinking gardeners (Isn't that all of us? Doesn't it take a leap of faith in the future to plant a garden at all?) start their seeds. In the past, my focus has been on tomatoes, and this season there will be plenty of those, but I have learned that the peppers must come first.

Growing up, I was never a big fan of peppers. Back then, we really only had one kind-- green bell. My sister loved them in salad, but I picked around them. My dad sauteed them every Saturday night with mushrooms and onions to go with our steak and french fries, but to me? They ruined the other vegetables. They were also in our chili and spaghetti sauce, and the first thing I did when I learned to cook was to hold the peppers.

When I was in my 20s, I was introduced to Thai food, and boy was that a pepper of a different color! Hot peppers barely seemed related to those others. The more I cooked and traveled, the more various the peppers became, and my appreciation grew. Pepperoncini, banana, ancho, habanero, roasted red, New Mexico, smoked Spanish paprika-- they all have their place in my kitchen and on my menus. I have even found a use for green bell peppers; it's impossible to make a good Cajun etouffee without 'em.

So this year I'm planting lots of peppers. The mail-order seeds arrived just the other day, and despite the snow on the ground, today I am dreaming of late July and August when the Guajillo, Hatch, Paprika, Aji Dulce, Peachy Mama, Cornejo del Toro, and Gochagaru will be ready to pick.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I've been reading a lot of sixth grade fiction-in-progress lately. At this stage, I try to keep my comments to these ernest young writers encouraging; we can fix grammar, spelling, and even minor plot inconsistencies in the second drafts. The other day, though, when I read through a tale about two brothers fighting a harrowing war in some dystopic future who are exchanging letters with their parents at home, I couldn't keep silent:

Dear Max,

Try to keep Alex up and working, if we lose this war we could all be destroyed. We are doing fine except we are very worried. We hope it will end soon. Do your best to survive, and take care of yourself and Alex.

Your mom

"Hey guys?" I called over to the co-authors. "I'm pretty sure their mother would sign her letter 'Love'!"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Unfortunately, a number of my students came down with an insidious ailment yesterday while I was away from my classroom on a personal day.

Sub-induced Amnesia

Evidently, it struck swiftly and hit hard. Children forgot many of the classroom protocols that have been in place since September. They couldn't remember their assigned seats or how to read the directions on the simplest of assignments. Reportedly, they even stood on their chairs and shouted to other students across the room.

And yet, when questioned about these anomalous behaviors, just 24 hours later, they only had one recollection.

The sub said we could.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Spin Doctors

I, like two billion of my fellow citizens of this planet, saw a picture of a cute puppy on the internet recently. This particular pup was a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle. Called a "Bernedoodle" it was an adorable little tri-color schmuppy, with moppy hair and sleepy eyes.

It did, in fact, resemble our own darlin dog, but with a Swiss twist which I found irresistible. With Google ever at the ready, I searched up a breeder in my state and clicked around their website. Those puppies are pricey, but that wasn't my main concern. BMDs are notoriously short-lived: along with Great Danes and Saint Bernards, those guys are lucky to make it to double digits. I was hoping that a little poodle in the gene pool might lengthen their longevity.

Alas, that seems not to be the case, but the way the information was delivered by this particular establishment made me gasp in horror and then laugh out loud at their audacity of commerce:

The Bernedoodle has an average lifespan of 11 years, which is below average compared to all other dog breeds. Therefore, the Bernedoodle is ideal for people looking for a shorter-term financial and emotional commitment in a canine companion.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Golden Boy

Here we are in the grip of Oscar fever. Our ballots are filled and a fine dinner prepared-- a yummy spread of tapas with shrimp, lamb chops, patatas bravas, roasted peppers, roasted beets, pea salad, mini pizzas, and a couple of nice spinach dishes-- we have settled in to graze and celebrity-watch the red carpet pre-show.

Of course that means a lot of commercials, and so in between our chatter about dresses and hair, who looks gold and who looks old, we also talk about those in our party who are missing this party, especially Victor and Treat. Just a few minutes ago, there was a promo for the Disney show Once Upon a Time where Cruella Daville, Ursula, and Maleficent were trying to convince a pretty blond to turn evil.

Their conversation brought to mind a long ago movie-inspired scene from my own life. More than ten years ago, on a lovely summer evening Riley, Eric, and Treat were all out on the front lawn playing with light sabers. Before the epic battle began, there was a pause and Eric said, "Wait! We can't all be Jedis. Someone's gotta be the enemy."

Without hesitation, Treat volunteered. "I'll go to the dark side!" he cried eagerly.

That's our Treatie-bird.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dogsta Paradise

Sand, water, and snow?

What a good idea!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Deep Freeze

We're rushing around getting organized for our annual Oscar holiday weekend. This year, like last, we're renting a place on the Chesapeake Bay. The idea came to me a couple of years ago when after taking the Monday after the ceremony off, we woke to nearly 70 degrees at the end of February.

Such a day cried out for a road trip and so we put the dog in the car and headed east. That day, we rolled up our pants and splashed through amazingly temperate tidal pools as we walked the sandy shore of North Beach. We should do this every year! I thought, and a couple of Oscars later, we found a place in Scotland, MD to spend the weekend.

Last year, the weather wasn't too bad when we arrived on Saturday, and we spent the late afternoon beach combing for fossils and sea glass. It seemed impossible that they were predicting snow for the next night, and we joked about being stranded in such a place. Truth be told, we did have a bit of a harrowing ride home, but it all turned out fine-- just part of the adventure.

Tonight we're preparing for our long weekend away in record cold temperatures with some more wintery weather threatening tomorrow, but I can't get upset. There will be a warm house right on the beach with plenty of firewood when we get there, and I don't even have to find room in the freezer for the extra stuff I got at the grocery store this afternoon. It's all chillin' in the car, ready to beat the storm in the morning.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


The collaborative writing project I mentioned earlier is in full swing-- students are working in pairs to create a story written entirely in letters and other forms of correspondence. Even though they conducted extensive interviews, some kids found themselves with a partner who wasn't exactly on the same page in terms of plot, setting, and/or conflict.

For the most part, I have been very impressed with their ability to to meet in the middle. Out of 40 pairs, I've only had to switch two and counsel one extensively. This latter duo was fraught with friction until they hatched a story about two students who didn't want to work together but had to find a way to successfully complete their assignment. They say write what you know...

My favorite bargain by far, though, was the guy who wanted to write about a zombie apocalypse and his partner who had her heart set on a murderous ballerina; united by their love of the horror genre, they decided to populate their story with killer zomberinas.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Buying the Farm

It was not uncommon at my first cooking job to chop up hundreds of chicken breasts a day. Lemon chicken, sesame chicken, chicken almond salad, all were staples on the menu of that catering and carry-out establishment. Over the years that was a lot of chickens sent to their demise for one small business. No wonder the classic Far Side cartoon made us laugh.

These days, we run a mostly vegan household, but that sensibility sure doesn't extend to our pets. They eat a pound of raw meat a day. They also enjoy an assortment of treats also animal-based. Beef trachea, kangaroo jerky, various tendons, they are all stowed away in our cupboard. Recently we came into a windfall of freeze-dried duck feet-- a friend with four dogs bought them in bulk and found that her hounds easily tired of those particular poultry parts. As a result we have a hundred of them in the larder, which just makes me picture 50 ducks bobbing rudderless on an idyllic lake down on the Footless Duck Farm.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Deep Bench

When I was little we had a set of Corning nesting bowls. Turquoise and white with a ring of farmers and roosters, the three of them were in heavy rotation in our kitchen. To us kids, the largest one was most notably the popcorn bowl, the medium one was the salad bowl, and the small one was often used for scrambling eggs.

The ones we had are long gone, replaced in my own kitchen by much more practical stainless steel, but several years back, I got a replacement set of the rooster bowls for Christmas, and I treasure them, even though I don't use them often, because there are certain times when those shelf-warmers are indispensable.

And on a snow day like today, when corn popped on the fire and Sally Lunn rising in the kitchen warmed us up after shoveling and sledding,, they were starters

Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidents Day Present

Historically, it seems that Presidents Day is the most likely time in our area for a big storm. '79, '03, and the Snowmeggedon/Snoverkill of 2010 delivered us multiple days of digging in and digging out right in the middle of February. And now this year, just when we thought that winter would leave us without a significant snowfall, we find ourselves at the end of three-day weekend contemplating a little more time away from work. And although our district hasn't called it yet, I've got my

fingers crossed,



I think the Presidents would want it that way.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


For me, it can be difficult to set school work aside, even on a three day weekend. For example, in my English classes right now, my students and I are focusing on the elements of fiction and plot structure, and so this afternoon when I was watching Marion Cotillard's Oscar-nominated performance in the French-language film Two Days, One Night, I was all about how that story of a woman who was forced to lobby her co-workers to give up their bonuses to save her job was being shaped.

At first, I found that I was a little confused at the lack of exposition, but also drawn in by the same, and then I noticed that I was marking events as they unfolded as "rising action". And when it came to a scene in the hospital that was clearly not the "climax", if one defined the conflict as the character of Sandra trying to get her job back, but was obviously the pivotal event of the movie, I had a true a-ha moment: in addition to realizing the central conflict was internal, not external, I also recognized that those little zig-zag diagrams can really be helpful!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Old Married Couple

At 6 o'clock on Valentine's Day the grocery store was not exactly deserted, but rather patronized by a few single shoppers and several families. The bitter cold of yesterday had subsided and our coats were unzipped when we stopped on our way home from the movies to get the final ingredients for our traditional heart-shaped pizzas. To our surprise, giant snowflakes filled the sky as we exited through the double doors. It was too warm for them to stick, but Heidi and I turned to each other at the same moment.

"Remember that time we went to the movies?" I started

"and when we came out it was snowing?" Heidi continued.

"then we went to the Japanese steakhouse for dinner, and after that? It was really coming down," I added.

"and we didn't have school for a week!" Heidi finished.

"That was fun!" we said together, and we climbed into our car to drive home.

Friday, February 13, 2015


We had our dog to the vet this afternoon for a minor procedure: it was time for an icky wart on her back to be excised. There were a lot of other dogs when we arrived, but ours was too busy quivering to pay any attention to them. The same could not be said for a persistent little black poodle mix about half her size.

All the while his owner was settling up at the front counter, he was at the end of his leash straining toward Isabel, nose high, tail swaggering. At last his owner finished and turned toward us. "Is your dog friendly?" she asked, intoning the tribal greeting of urban dog owners. Because I said yes, the two of us were obliged to make small talk in the minutes it took for our dogs to sniff each other. Generally that takes the form of asking about each other's dogs, and that's what happened this time, too.

"Half poodle, half golden retriever," I said.

"Schnoodle," she told me. "His father was an apricot poodle. Can you believe it?"

I looked at the cast iron tint of her pup, and shook my head.

"All the rest of his litter mates were orange," she continued, "But we wanted a black dog."

I nodded politely. She shrugged.

"Especially since we got him on Martin Luther King's birthday."

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Breathing Room

With a special activity and early release for students tomorrow as well as a holiday on Monday, I found myself with a rare feeling this afternoon around 3 PM. There was nothing that I had to do RIGHT AWAY. I surveyed my empty classroom. The custodian had already been through, but the books and papers cluttering my desk and shelves were not her responsibility. I took a deep breath and moved several stacks of stuff to an empty table, where I spent the next hour or so sorting, filing, shelving, stacking, and recycling. For the first time in a while, a sliver of the blond veneer of my desk top was actually visible. With satisfaction I packed my things to leave for the day, and as I closed the door behind me, the afternoon sun shone brightly on the vigorous fronds of my spider plant and illuminated the orderly room beyond.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Plane English

One of my favorite reading activities is giving students directions to fold a paper airplane. Practical and easy to assess, kids will go back to those instructions again and again to get it right. And when they do? They fly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Clash of the Titans

In this era of high stakes testing, any teacher will tell you that the math and language arts (specifically reading) departments drive the figurative bus, which in our case is definitely bright yellow. In general, these disciplines maintain a wary truce, each convinced that their skills and content actually provide students with the keys to success. Oh sure, math may claim to be an objective subject, but language arts recognizes that construct for the oxymoron it is.

Often these two plan school-wide events; meant to be fun and engaging, at middle school they are transparently self-promoting and usually a little lame. March is a big month for both departments-- the 2nd is Dr. Seuss's birthday which has been designated Read Across America Day, and the 14th? Well, this year, a little before half-past nine in the morning, it will be 3.14.15 9:26. It's the Pi Day of the century!

At our school, the proximity of two such momentous occasions made for a little bit of a prickly meeting this afternoon-- we have almost too much celebration scheduled. Maybe we should declare them both holidays and take a couple weeks off!

Monday, February 9, 2015

There's a Place for You

We got a new student on our team last week. He is in my homeroom, reading, and English class, so I have had some time to observe him. Coming in at this point in the year, a kid has to make a social call-- will he align with the teacher or with the students? A common dynamic is the new kid who has nothing to lose by defying the establishment and flouting the routine for the attention of the other students. Of course I want them to make friends, but not at the expense of the productive dynamic I've worked the last five months to forge.

This new guy has made a gentle venture in that direction. Soft spoken, he is self-effacing in the quiet confusion he broadly expresses about academic expectations, but it amuses his peers even so. The morning announcements can be particularly rich material for his act-- who are these strange folk and their odd pronouncements?

Today, though, there was a trailer for the international film we will air for the whole school on Friday, and when they said it was from Mongolia, his interest was genuine, and he moved to a seat where he could better see the screen. As the video rolled, he sighed and proclaimed, "My Mongolia! I would know you anywhere!" and I knew, that come Friday, he was going to have the attention of our class in a very positive way, as an expert on something he loves.

I don't think we'll have much more trouble after that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Applied Weather Report

As much as we talk about the weather, most people, including me, don't really understand it: cold front, warm front, jet stream, high pressure, low pressure, what? All most of us care about is should I bring a sweater, an umbrella, or both tomorrow?

We live in a little development tucked away on a hill bordered by some woods, but the interstate is less than half a mile away, and there are train tracks not too much further beyond that. I know, because I know, but I also know, because when there is a low pressure system in place, I can hear the hum of traffic and the rumble of the trains, but high pressure keeps those sound waves where they are.

Neat, right?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Ox

We saw this year's Oscar-nominated documentary shorts today, and they were interesting but offered a rather bleak window on the world, one that was difficult to gaze out of at times. Probably the hardest one for me was The Reaper about a Mexican meat packer. Most of the 32 minute film is a graphic account of his job at the slaughter house.

My brother and I sat side by side, and I knew what he was thinking as we watched, because I was thinking the same thing. In the summer of 1979 we visited a high school friend of ours who lived outside of Chicago, and her dad thought it would be good for us to tour the slaughterhouse where he was a USDA inspector. The plant in the movie was a lot like the one we visited 35 years ago.

I've written about the experience before. Here is an excerpt from my piece:

Heat shimmered up from the asphalt parking lot surrounding the urban corral, and the smell of livestock and some other thick odor was suffocating. The August mid-morning sun reflected off the windshield of one of the cars, hitting me dead in the eyes. I turned my head to avoid the glare and saw a hundred head of terrified cattle standing hock-deep in piss and mud. Two men in filthy t-shirts and waders prodded the cows forward toward what appeared to be a double stall. Another man with big orange headphones under his ball cap stood in front of the cows, just outside the two-pen, holding a broomstick with a shiny metal cylinder at the end. He raised it surely, touching the end of it to a spot on the first cow’s forehead, right between its eyes. There was a small bang, and the cow fell dead in its stall. He shot the next one, and the whole pen rotated like a giant wheel with four spokes, dropping the two dead cows beneath, and opening two vacant stalls for the next in line.

“Did you see that?” our host exclaimed. “Now that’s efficiency! Your Pepsi generation could learn a thing or two there, eh?” I grimaced and nodded politely, but with a shrug. I looked over at my friend, Renata; she avoided making eye contact. “Let’s go inside,” her father continued, holding the huge silver door to the slaughterhouse open with a flourish and a bow.

Shouldering my way through the long plastic streamers that insulated the entryway, the first thing I noticed as I crossed the threshold was the visible vapor of my breath. My heart leapt as if it were the first cold day in winter, and the crispness of the refrigerated air made it seem much cleaner. I felt wide-awake and free of the fetid stockyard that we’d left behind. As Dr. P. signed us in, there was a lot of hearty laughter and backslapping, and I knew right away that we were VIPs— guests of the USDA meat inspector. As we stood waiting for our tour to begin, the death of the cows outside played over in my mind in a slow-mo loop. They were upset; their sides twitched and their necks twisted; their eyes rolled back white in their heads, and then they were dead, and more scared cows took their places.

We saw the rest of the meatpacking plant in the next couple of hours. It wasn’t long before the welcome cool of the place turned dank. We started at the bottom, near the conveyer belt where the cows dropped. A rubber-coated worker clipped their tails to a hook on a wire that lifted them so that they floated along upside-down, suspended from a winding industrial track overhead. They barely paused at the first station, pirouetting gently as a man beheaded them with power saw, letting the heads drop onto a belt that whisked them away in another direction. Zip, zip, zip, zip—four hooves and hocks removed and tossed into a plastic lined dumpster. Next stop was a quick slit down the gut, and hundreds of pounds of entrails sloshed to the belt below, where off they were carried, as well.

Chilled now, we walked along rubber mats over floors of slick concrete with lots of drains. There were hoses on each wall, sluiceways beneath the belts, and pools of bright blood everywhere. The cows, most black, but some a rusty auburn and white, swayed along beside us matching our pace before jerking to a stop and being seized at the shoulders by two robotic arms with clamps for hands; they pulled the hides off the animals like a sweater from a sleepy child. Fortunately, the clatter of the disassembly line covered whatever sound that that procedure makes. In fact, it was too noisy to talk, and that was a good thing, too.

Once gutted and skinned, the headless carcass was quickly quartered and was soon even recognizable as cuts of meat from the grocery store. Dr. P. pulled a blue stamp from the pocket of his pristine white lab coat, and a small group of employees smiled proudly as he ceremoniously thumped it down on the deconstructed rump of what had been a live animal no more than an hour ago. “USDA Prime!” he exclaimed to our applause.

In the back seat on the way home I noticed that the cuffs of my new Osh Kosh b'Gosh overalls were damp. A thin ribbon of blood soaked the sharp edge of blue and white pinstripes. It never washed out.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Job Interview

My students are about to embark on a project where they will work with a partner to create a piece of fiction written in the form of letters exchanged. How to pair them most effectively? Such questions are the authentic stuff of education.

For my part, I want students to feel they have had some choice, but I don't want them to set themselves up for unnecessary difficulty or even failure, so I have devised an activity called "Job Interview." The kids think about what they want in an ideal work partner and generate a list of questions. Then, they conduct interviews of their classmates to see who might best fill the position.

It's always amazing to see how seriously sixth graders take this activity. Their questions are probing and their responses are earnest and quite thoughtful.

How are you as a writer?

My handwriting is really neat.

But what about, you know, the ideas?

I have a good imagination, too.

Okay, good!

Do you have any ideas about this project?

Yes! I know what I want to write about!

Will you compromise if somebody has a different idea?

[Long pause...] I will listen to anything.

In the end, they submit a proposal ranking their choices to me, the CEO of our operation, and, so informed, I assign the teams.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

And the Other One is Giving a High Five

I was walking around the class room this afternoon monitoring 11 pairs of sixth graders engaged in lively discussions about a couple of characters in the short story we had just read together. I paused at one table, confused to see a large stainless steel soup spoon laid next to a binder as if set for lunch. "What is that?" I asked the student sitting there.

"A spoon," he answered.

"But why is it there?" I continued.

"It was in my pocket," he told me.

"From lunch?" I guessed.

"Nope," he said.

Then why?" I wondered.

He shrugged. "I have no idea. I just reached in for a pencil and there it was."

Years ago, on the first cold night of Autumn, we took Josh and Treat, then ten-years-old, to a "haunted forest" for Halloween. Emily pulled last season's warm coats from the back of the closet and  the boys squeezed into them, then stepped back so we could evaluate the fit. They were snug, but fine for one evening and Treat slipped his hands into familiar pockets as we headed out into the cold dark.

"Hey--" He paused at the door and produced a pair of underwear. "What are these doing here?"

We laughed and figured that he must have stuffed them away after an overnight trip either to our house or his grandparents'. "Are they clean?" I asked. "Because they might come in handy if the forest is as scary as they say!"

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

For Want of a Pencil

It's a tough call.

We want our students to be responsible and bring the supplies they need to class, BUT we also want them to do the work. What does a stubborn teacher accomplish when she refuses to provide a pencil to a student without? Most of the time it's just a kid sitting there doing nothing, usually distracting others, because, let's face it, if they want to do the work? They'll find a pencil.

On the other hand, if we just give pencils out whenever someone doesn't have one, not many kids will see the need to bring one. What kind of life lesson is that?

These days, my strategy is to provide but inform. When someone asks for a pencil more than once or twice, I hand it over, but I also email their parents. In general, it works, and in fact just yesterday I got the best reply ever:

OH MY LORD, Ms. S. I am sorry you had to write the email. I will make sure this air head of my son will gather the thousands of pencils he leaves all around the house and bring to school.

May the power be with you.

And today?

That kid had a pencil.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Troubled Waters

"It's a pilot," they say. "Stop trouble-finding. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"Accidentally" crushed iPad?

Okay... let's see what's on the other side of that bridge.

Monday, February 2, 2015

We Interrupt Your Regular Programming

This is the time of year when there is a definite lull in television options for us. Members of the three-channel, test-pattern generation as we are, it's not that there is nothing on, it's just that there is nothing on. Our situation is probably further complicated by the fact that we have 90 minutes, MAX, a day to sit down and watch anything, so many times when there are shows that sound interesting or promising, we ignore them because we know they probably won't fit in with our one-maybe-two shows a night habit.

But in late January, early February, there aren't a lot of new episodes of the targeted female 45-55 demographic programs that we enjoy, so we branch out. In past years, we've taken the opportunity to hop on the bandwagon of some of those shows we formerly shunned for lack of time. For example, The Good Wife is now a staple on our DVR, but they're not broadcasting right now. Last year, Breaking Bad filled the void, and this year? It's The Sopranos. We just finished season one, and I now that I have time to get the fuss, I totally get the fuss.

It doesn't seem that long ago that Tony, Carmella, and Dr. Melfi were permanent fixtures at all the award ceremonies, but watching the show from its 1999 beginning is like traveling in a time machine, and the Twin Towers in the opening sequence are the keys. Oh, I know the final episode famously fades to black, but that's really all I know, and I plan to keep it that way, even as the other shows I like come back on the air.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


We were seated alphabetically in sixth grade, and our homeroom was also our math and science class. That's how I got to spend so much time with Bobby Shaffer, a little twerp with a dirty blond bowl cut. His dad was my brother's little league coach, and father and son were both bullies on the diamond.

The classroom was not Bobby's field of dreams however, so he was a little humbler there, but still pretty scrappy. I remember one day overhearing him tell someone the mnemonic he used to spell arithmetic, a rat in Tom's house might eat Tom's ice cream.

It impressed me at the time, and to be honest I can't hear the word without thinking of that boy and that sentence. I never really considered the scenario, though. What kind of rat would be so aggressive as to assail your freezer? Or worse, come at you when you were eating dessert? Poor Tom! And why Tom, not Ted or Terry or Tim?

This morning all of these questions finally surfaced when, out walking the dog, I heard a dreadful banging in the trash enclosure up the hill. Something was clearly stuck in one of the heavy-lidded plastic rolling cans lined up within, maybe a raccoon or squirrel. I took Isabel back to the house and called on Heidi for back-up.

Armed with a broom and the long-handled garden tool known as a cobra, I held the stockade door open as Heidi lifted the lid with the broom. A brown rat scurried out and away from us, then through the fence and into the woods. As scrappy as it was, too, I was ambivalent about saving its pestilent life, but I was glad to have prevented one of our neighbors from the ugly shock of freeing a trapped rat when they lifted the lid to deposit their garbage.

Mission accomplished, I wondered as we headed home what a rat in Tracey's house might do and crossed my fingers to never find out.