Wednesday, November 30, 2016

And the Good News Rolls On

What's that you say? The parking lot at our school will be closed for 2 years? But we can park a half mile away and take a shuttle?

Last morning shuttle: 7:15
Last evening shuttle: 4:45



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Savage Claim

The lesson in my English classes today was by the book. Dubbed "essay boot camp," it involved practice using a box and bullets structure for a quick essay on the Three Little Pigs. For the purpose of expediency, the claim for this familiar tale was a given: the third little pig is an admirable character; the students were tasked with finding supporting reasons and details.

We started with the reasons: common ideas were that he was commendable because he was hardworking, smart, kind (in the version where his brothers survive), and/or brave. But the most popular answer was not one I had anticipated. According to the kids, the third pig deserved our praise because he was... savage.

What about the details? I asked them, but they were well-prepared.

That little piggy does not hesitate to kill the wolf, and the method he uses is nothing short of brutal: he boils him alive over an open fire. And then? He eats his nemesis for dinner.

Yeah, that's pretty savage.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Alpha Girls

"Who? Moved! My! Stuff?' cried a student breathlessly as she slid over to her table just as the after-lunch bell was ringing.

The other girls at the table shrugged, wide-eyed.

"Well!" she proclaimed, "My binder was there," she pointed to a seat to the left of the one that was open and currently occupied by her notebook.

"I moved it," I told her. "That's where I eat my lunch. There are no assigned seats in our class right anyway," I shrugged. "It's really first come, first choice."

She was silent, but continued to glower at the other student. When she thought I wasn't paying attention, she turned to her and hissed, "WHY would you EVER sit in that seat??"

To her credit, the girl was unfazed. "Your stuff was over there," she gestured. "I didn't want to incur your wrath!" she laughed, clearly having no intention to move.

"Humph!" the first student literally exclaimed as she flounced into the unwanted chair.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Small Hearth

It's been a warm fall and a busy week, but after running errands and catching up on a little school work it was finally time this evening for the first fire of the season. And that is where you will find me: relaxing with a book and a beer as dry wood hisses and cracks in the guttering flames. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Conventional wisdom macabrely has it that those of renown typically die in trios, and so as with any other paradigm we psychologically stretch reality to make the pattern fit.

Florence Henderson, Fidel Castro, and Ron Glass?



That's three! 

Friday, November 25, 2016

My Rocker

I am not a big shopper, and Black Friday definitely is not my thing, but when my nephew said he wanted to go to a nearby thrift shop this afternoon, I decided to tag along. And it was not just any teeny tiny second hand place-- oh no, this was a huge emporium of cast-offs all seeking a second or third chance at utility and all very economically priced.

Sure, it took patience and a keen eye to sort through all the junk, but the promise of untold treasure for a few measly bucks was motivation enough to prowl the aisles, sliding hangers clickity-clack one at a time down the rack to evaluate their contents, appraising old phones and glassware, drum kits, computer monitors, and even furniture.

And it was in that department that I made my find for the day. A 1960s era small wooden rocking chair in the neocolonial style that was popular then. It had been painted with a two-tone blue design and was kind of dirty, but it was solidand sturdy and for 10 bucks, all I could see was possibility.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sweet Time

We are generally late diners; dinner at our house is never before 7:30 and most often closer to 8. So last year when Heidi's parents could only get a 4:30 dinner reservation on Christmas Eve the time seemed rather early, but what could we do?

As things turned out, it was twilight when we left the house in our holiday finery, and bright lights twinkled merrily in the gathering darkness. The spirit inside the busy restaurant was timeless; excellent food and company, heavy drapes and dim chandeliers made it easy to imagine that we were dining at a usual hour.

The more I thought about it, the more I was reminded of traveling across time zones, like eating breakfast at your midnight on a transatlantic flight in preparation of a 6 AM landing and a full day beginning while all your friends are sleeping soundly at home. All it takes is the twist of a watch stem or the willing suspension of checking the time, and time releases its hold on you.

That's why I wasn't upset at all when I heard that we were expected to dine at 4 this Christmas Eve (especially since we have to be at the airport at 6 the next morning, which could be like 8 or 9 if we were a couple of time zones to the east), and why I was willing to eat Thanksgiving dinner today any time it was ready and convenient for the rest of our group.

And after we finished our feast at about quarter to 6, and the leftovers were put away, we took a walk around the neighborhood before dessert. Through lighted windows it was plain that some folks were in our time zone or a little ahead, watching football and cleaning up, and others were an hour or two behind, just sitting down and offering the first toast of the holiday. And then we returned home, where our celebration, full of family, friends, and fellowship continued on in its own good time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gracious Winner

"Kyle's strategy appears to be the best," Victor reported when we asked them about their game-in-progress at dinner.

Treat agreed, "He hit upon it pretty early, and it's working well."

We all nodded as Kyle bowed his head modestly.

Later, when the boys had excused themselves from the table to continue their game, I said, "Wow! That was pretty high praise. I'm sure Kyle appreciates it, because he knows those guys do not give empty compliments."

And indeed, Kyle prevailed. "Aunt Trace!" he crowed. "It was only my second time playing and I won!" He turned to Victor and Treat, "But I owe it to you guys, too. You told me I was on the right track. Thank you!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Two Bits

Kyle and I walked up to a local shopping center this morning to run a couple of errands and get our hair cut. As the stylist worked she turned the chair so that I was facing the front of the salon, and so I occupied myself watching the steady stream of folks in and out of the building. "Is it always so busy on Tuesday morning?" I asked her with some amazement.

"Is it Tuesday?" she dead-panned.

Monday, November 21, 2016


The signs were clear: no dogs are allowed on either the Billy Goat Trail or the boardwalk leading down to the falls. But on a sunny, but very blustery Monday in November the hikers were few and the rangers were fewer. As such, we saw a couple of dogs enjoying the day with their owners in defiance of the regulations.

Years ago when our dog was a puppy we took her to Roosevelt Island to walk and swim. The 88 acre national park requires all dogs to be leashed, but we set her free to let her swim. The excitement was all too much for her, though, and when she exited the water she took off running down the trail. "I'm wet! I'm wet," she would have shouted if she could. We were laughing at her pure delight and whistling her back to us when a woman with her dog on the required leash happened by.

"That would be fun, if that were allowed," she sniffed to her dog and kept on walking. As a rule follower myself, I understood where she was coming from, but there was no way such joy could ever be wrong. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Against the Wind

We braved steady winds of 20-30 mph (with gusts of 50!) to bike-share around the tidal basin today. Well, Kyle and I pedaled while Heidi and a friend ran-- kudos to those two! We had the wind at our backs all the way from the FDR where we picked up our bikes until we made the turn toward the Jefferson.

There we had to laugh as, spinning our pedals as quickly as we could, we nearly stood still on the asphalt path. And once we stopped to say hello to Heidi who was chugging along from the other direction, it was impossible to even start riding again. So we turned in our bikes at the station conveniently located there, and spent a few minutes with one of the founding fathers.

As we stood in the rotunda, I remembered reading that the huge bronze image of Jefferson had intentionally been placed in the direct line of sight of the statue of Alexander Hamilton on the north side of the Treasury Building, so that he could keep an eye on his fiercest political rival.

I took a moment to line up my view with his, but although I could only make out the roof of treasury, I got a clear look at the White House. It was practically glowing in the midafternoon sun, and I confess that my heart swelled more than a little at the symbolism.

It's been a hard couple of weeks for me as I have wrestled with finding the appropriate way to respond to an impending Trump presidency. In all that I have heard and read and thought, my brother's advice has guided me most: don't protest the election or any abstract idea of the man, rather speak out against specific actions and policies that you feel are wrong and work for what you think is right.

Returning home I was greeted by some breaking news: Donald Trump confirms that wife Melania and son Barron will stay in New York after the presidential inauguration.

The president's family not living in the White House?

 I think that choice is wrong.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Night Vision

The weather gang was clear: the day would start out toasty for November, but in the afternoon a gusty cold front would drop the temperatures considerably. Even so, at 2 PM we decided to take our chances and head out to Mount Vernon, our house guest in tow.

Indeed, the golden autumn sun had given way to threatening skies when we bought our tickets, and we opted for the last tour of the mansion of the day so that we might beat the storm and still have a chance to explore the outside property. The wind steadily rose as we made our way around the farm raining brightly colored leaves down upon us.

Fortunately the rain held off, and we entered George Washington's home at about quarter to four, the heavy door to the new room blown closed behind us with a bang. I have been to Mount Vernon countless times and in every season, but I realized as we climbed the stairs into the dim second floor hallway that I have never been there in the dark.

And at 4 PM in November with a gathering storm overhead? It was very dark this afternoon. There is no lighting in the mansion except for a few 25-watt bulbs in fake candle-style wall fixtures, and for just a moment as I passed through one of the chilly upstairs guests rooms, the 21st century scales fell from eyes, and I got a real glimpse of the home that Washington held so dear.

Friday, November 18, 2016

An Animated Conversation

At the end of another nutty week in middle school, a few teachers were standing around swapping stories about student antics this afternoon.

"He was dead set against going, until I told him we were watching Wallace and Gromit in class today, and he literally spun on his toes and raced toward the classroom," somebody said. "It was like he was a cartoon!"

"Y'know, his expressions and gestures are kind of like claymation," I noted, "I wonder if there's a subconscious connection?"

"Somebody told me his dad looks like a character from The Flintstones," a younger colleague told us, "but the reference was totally lost on me. It was the alien guy or something?"

"Gazoo?" I said. "His dad looks like Gazoo?"

The young teacher laughed and shrugged. "I know Fred," she said, "but that's about it."

Our other friend couldn't really place the little green guy, either.

"Don't feel bad," I told them, flashing back to the countless hours of my childhood spent with Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, Dino, Pebbles, Bam Bam, and Mr. Slate, not to mention The Royal Order of the Water Buffalos, Stony Curtis, Ann Margrock, the boy scout jamboree, and the castle at San Cemente running in the background. "Unless you've put in the time, Gazoo is a pretty deep dive." 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Did She Really Just say That?

It was about 5 o'clock yesterday when a colleague poked her head in my door to say good-night. "I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself," she told me. "Since my husband is home today, I was able to stay a little late and take care of some things."

I nodded. "It's kind of nice to be here when it's so quiet," I agreed. "You really can get a lot done."

She frowned. "But it's good to have a reason to go home, too," she said. 

I shrugged.

"Like you, before your dog died," she added. 

I was silent.

"But now? You just stay too late, and you probably don't even get that much done. Have a good evening!" she finished.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


All my students took district-mandated benchmark test today. Kids today attack such standardized tests with gusto, but generally in the spirit of getting them over with. I set this particular assessment up to have a download password so that when everyone was at the screen from which they could proceed no further, they were forced to turn their attention to me.

It was then I was able to answer the questions they may not have known they had and to give them the pep talk they probably didn't think they needed.


Is this part of our grade?
If not, why are we taking it?
How many questions are there?
Do we have to finish today?
Did you make up this test?
What do we do when we're done?
Can I get water, go to the restroom, or otherwise take a break during the test?

Pep talk:

The password is, "Show what you know!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Undeniable Claim

In my experience, mentioning the word "essay" to students has never been a popular move. 


This new writing method we're piloting calls the genre "argument." 



It seems that students are very motivated to learn those skills.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Group Effort

I'm running a book group for girls who are struggling readers during our new intervention period. At the beginning of the session I brought some books that I thought they might enjoy, but they ended up choosing a novel that is very popular right now, but somewhat above their level. I agreed to their selection, because I figured that with high interest and my support, they would be able to read and enjoy the first book in a series that many of their peers were talking about.

When we started, I had not read the novel myself, and that was okay, too, because I wanted to be engaged as a new reader with them. Well, that was the theory, anyway. I'm not sure I would have continued much beyond the opening chapters if it weren't for my commitment to the group, and I know several of the girls felt the same way.

For them? The exposition, where the author introduced us to a world several hundred years in the future was too hard and confusing. The setting was both familiar and alien, and as weak readers, it was hard for them to distinguish between what was realistic but unfamiliar to them and what was pure science fiction.

To me? The book was a little too predictable, particularly because of the conceit of the series where most characters and much of the plot are based on fairy tales. But the conflict between our experiences has turned out to be the key to our constructive conversations as they point out what confuses them and I show them the blatant clues.

And? I'm almost through with the second book of the series. How bad can it be?

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Four of us middle-aged folk Ubered over to Union Market early this afternoon for a fun foodie event called "The Emporiyum." (Get it?) There were all sorts of fine locally-crafted eats and drinks to sample and buy, and Heidi, Bill, Emily, and I enjoyed ourselves quite a bit, even though we were somewhat older than the average patron. In fact, our culture-diversity made it much easier on us-- whenever I wanted to spot a member of my tribe, I needed only to scan the sea of hipster black and gray to find that one orange sweater, pink t-shirt or blue denim blouse. (We still looked cool, though!)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Until Next Time

The golden light of this November morning seemed to sharpen the edges of everything as we headed west. We had an appointment with a breeder to meet some dogs and see some puppies on the chance that we might like one from a future litter.

The place was out in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 2 1/2 hours away, and as pretty as the countryside was, I was a little nervous when we pulled up to the hundred-year old brick house and barn. There were several people gathered on the side lawn, among them three little kids and a puppy wagging and weaving their way in and out of the group. It was a classic scene: the young family was there to pick up their newest member, and their excitement warmed any chill from the autumn air.

Next was a retired couple there to meet their 5-week-old springer-doodle, even though he wouldn't be ready to go for another three weeks. Last was us. Since we had no puppy in reserve the owner just showed us around the yard and introduced us to a few dames and sires, giving us a general overview of expected litters in the near future. Finally, we went into the puppy kennel where she brought out a couple of already spoken for pups.

I felt a sharp pang as I cradled one of them close to my chest and looked into her sleepy brown almond-shaped eyes. With a teeny sigh she relaxed in my arms; her little pink petal of a tongue slipped daintily up to her nose as I rubbed her soft ears.  I did not want to let her go, but she wasn't mine to keep.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Comfort Food

We had some neighbors over for dinner tonight, and the little snap in the air along with the week's political disappointments made our menu seem just right: chicken potpie, salad, pumpkin mousse and sticky gingerbread with cranberries. Plenty of beer and wine, along with a few rounds of Quiplash made for a warm evening of laughter and friendship, and everyone was feeling a little bit better by the end of the night.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It's Complicated

As Heidi and I were walking out of the building this afternoon one of her social skills students ran over. He skidded to a stop about four feet in front of us, alarm on his face.

"Ohhhhhh," he said to Heidi, "I didn't know you were with that woman!"

I pushed my sunglasses down my nose and looked at him curiously. While I don't teach him, he is on our team, and I know him quite well.

He was focused on Heidi, though. "Is she your daughter?" he asked her.

"No!" she answered. "This is Ms. S. You know, from the Dolphin Team?"

I removed my sunglasses completely.

Confused, he took a closer look. "Then why are you walking together?" he asked, and then suddenly his face brightened. "Wait! Are you two friends?"

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Blue State Blues

I confess that I did not sleep well at all last night, and when I finally rose this morning, I was dreading the day.

The pouring rain in the gray dawn of this morning seemed like an appropriate contrast to the brilliant sunshine and autumn-colored promise of yesterday. It was also appropriate that the lesson in my English today was on composing belief statements in support of our upcoming essay-writing unit. Not surprisingly, our diverse student body had plenty of belief statements to go around today, and they really wanted to talk about them.

"What did you think of the election?" they asked me.

"I was surprised by the results," I said neutrally.

"Were you sad?" They were definitely looking for an ally or an enemy.

"I know a lot of people were disappointed," I answered, silently counting myself among them, "but a lot of people were happy, too."

And then I shrugged, thinking of myself tossing and turning last night as my phone glowed with update after devastating update. Could it really have been fewer than 24 hours ago that I was hoping the other side would turn their attention to what unites us rather than what divides us in support of a Clinton administration? Could I do the same now?

"I'm open-minded," I told them, "and I hope for the best."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sweets for the Sweet

It was a teacher workday today, and with no students the building was very quiet. Late in the afternoon a colleague stopped by with her 4-year-old grandson. He has a bit of a reputation as a terror, and he definitely knows what he wants. "I want some candy!" he said.

"No," I told him.

His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "That's not a nice way to ask," his grandmother said.

He grabbed a basketball and made for the mini-hoop I keep in my room. "I want to play basketball!"

"We don't have time for that," his grandmother replied. "Can you put the ball away and ask nicely for some candy?"

He moved closer to the basket, and I raised my eyebrows and made eye contact with him. "Nobody can have candy if they don't follow the directions," I said gravely.

"Can I please have some candy?" he tried.

"What did your grandma tell you to do?" I asked him.

He quickly put the ball away and stood nicely at attention.

"Would you like some candy because you did such a good job following directions?" I asked him.

He chose a little DumDum with a smile, and the two of them went on their way.

Later on, I saw him in the office, and he ran over to me. "I want to hold your hand!" he said and slipped his warm little hand right into mine.

"You hardly know me!" I teased him.

"But you have candy and basketballs," he said, "and you're nice!"

Monday, November 7, 2016

Two Thousand Zero Zero

I was dreamin when I wrote this

We got TSA Pre-Check on our boarding passes for the flight home this afternoon. But at 4:30, the Buffalo Airport was far from hopping, and I shrugged off our good fortune with very little appreciation. "It would take us like ten minutes to get through the line," I grumbled.

So sue me if I go 2 fast

It wasn't until we got through the cordons to discover not a single soul ahead of us that I understood our luck.

but life is just a party

The TSA agents were literally standing around, and with no shoes or jackets to remove we practically danced through to the other side of security in seconds. It wasn't long until my euphoria gave way to nostalgia, though. I could easily remember a time when these measures were not necessary.

and parties were not meant to last

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Polishing Up the Rust Belt

We drove by some ginormous houses this morning on our way to brunch at a new, hipster restaurant I read about online. Buffalo, like so many rust-belt towns, has endured some very hard times over the last 40 years: mills and factories have shed thousands of what were formerly solid, blue collar jobs that allowed workers to comfortably support their families, and a majority of young people have moved away from the contracting economy.

Over the last few years, though, small signs of a tiny turn around have become more and more evident. Some tech start-ups, state grants funding a huge solar panel plant, a rise in reputation of SUNY Buffalo and a new medical corridor have reinvigorated the area in many small, but meaningful ways. The waterfront has been restored with restaurants, museums, bike and paddle boat concessions, and an open-air concert stage. Old mills are being converted to cool loft condos, and the traditional ethnic and comfort food that the town is rightfully known for, fish fry, wings, pierogies, char-broiled hot dogs, beef on weck, kielbasa, sponge candy, and handmade donuts has been joined by some micro-breweries, healthy fast-casual joints, and some new restaurants like the one we visited today with menus that can compete with some of the places near us at home.

Oh, the food was a little disappointing, but the place was still fun. On the way home, I used a real-estate app to price properties in real time as we rolled past them. How about a 7-bedroom, 3 1/2 bath, 4100 square foot Victorian with finished studio within walking distance of the zoo, Olmstead's Delaware Park, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin-Martin House for 329,900.00?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Grain of Salt

We were on our first Wegmans run of the Buffalo weekend when an older gentleman in a motorized cart rolled up. "Excuse me ladies," he said, "I'm hoping you can help me."

"Of course," I replied, and prepared to reach an item from the upper shelf behind him, I was surprised when he continued.

"My daughter gave me a pot of chicken chowder," he made a circle with his hands. "Her neighbor was nice enough to make it for me, but it's so bland..."

I nodded sympathetically.

"She is a chef!" My mother-in-law pointed at me. "This is your lucky day!"

He nodded, unimpressed. "I added pepper to it," he said, "but it didn't help. And," he paused before delivering the kicker, "I'm on dialysis, so I can't have salt."

The mystery of the bland soup was suddenly much easier to understand.

"The soup part is like water, so I was thinking of adding bouillon or canned chicken broth," he said. "Would that fix it?"

"Those both have a lot of salt," I told him, considering a variety of solutions-- herbs, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, and trying to figure out the best match for him. "Maybe you could strain out all the chicken and vegetables and cook the broth down until it's more concentrated and flavorful. Then add the other stuff back in."

He frowned. "Would I have to cook canned chicken broth?"

"No," I shrugged. "It's ready to heat and eat."

 "Thank you," he said politely, and then giving us a courtly nod, rolled away down the aisle toward the canned soup.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Best of Three

A pair of sisters, former students both, appeared in my classroom this afternoon. "Ms. S!" they cried. "How are you?"

It was good to see them, and I know my smile told them so.

"Guess what class I'm taking?" asked the older. "AP English!" she told me before I could guess.

"Nice!" I high-fived her. "You're going to crush it!"

"I have a 94!" she said proudly.

"I'm in intensified English," her younger sister boasted.

"All right!" I high-fived her, too.

"Do you miss us?" one of them asked.

"Yeah, of course," I answered, "but I do have your little sister to carry on the family tradition."

"Do you like her?" the younger girl asked.

"Oh my gosh! Yes!" I said. "I feel lucky to have had all three of you in my class!"

"Who's your favorite?" they wanted to know, but of course I didn't say.

Just earlier in the day, I had a funny exchange with their sister. Our reading classes change teachers every quarter, and so next week her group was moving on. "Oh, but you'll still have me for English," I told the class. "You're stuck with me for the rest of the year!"

"Good!" she said, "because I just want to put you in my backpack and take you to seventh grade with me! You are the best teacher ever!"

How could I pick a favorite from those three?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

I'll Be Glad When It's Over: Reason # 496

Maybe that unknown caller will stop ringing my watch every single weekday at 10:20 AM.

(If I weren't busy teaching, I could probably tell them I already voted!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Throwback Wednesday

We have had some network issues in our school system over the last couple of days which rendered the students' iPads practically useless. "What are we going to do today?" my first period class came in excitedly moaning. "We can't use our iPads!"

"Sit down, kids," I said, "I want to tell you a story..."

They settled expectantly in their seats.

"Long ago," I started, "people used to grind up trees and press the pulp flat into this thing called paper! Today we are going to use that."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

There to Here and Here to There

"What are you doing here?" a student asked me a couple of weeks ago when  he saw me at a store.

"I'm shopping!" I told him.

"What are you doing here?" the same student asked when he saw me in another part of the school.

"I'm meeting with other English teachers!" I told him.

"What are you doing here?" the same kid asked me as I walked down to the bike share station.

"I'm going for a bike ride!" I told him.

"What?" the same guy did a double take when he saw me outside the school office a while later. "You're everywhere!"

"So are you!" I told him.