Sunday, December 31, 2017

Luke Star Wars

Well, we finally saw the new Star Wars movie this afternoon, and it was pretty good. I have spent the last few weeks actively avoiding spoilers, but even so, I was well-prepared for the ending, both because it seemed inevitable and also due to a garbled conversation I overheard between two sixth graders on the Monday after it premiered. I guess "Skywalker" and "Star Wars" do sound kind of similar.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Keep Those Rags and Machines Humming

After 8 hours on wintery roads yesterday, our car was encrusted in a thin film of salt. Of course, I had no idea that was true until I brushed the new-fallen snow from it this morning. At any rate, a trip to the car wash was definitely in order, and so this afternoon on the way home from the grocery store I made a quick right into an express outfit and waited in line to pay at the kiosk, but not before turning down two offers of unlimited daily washes for 25.99 a month.

Next we pulled around to the entrance where employees literally danced and bounced with signs reading first Pull Forward and then Put it in neutral and step off the brakes. Oh, they laughed at my indecisiveness, but the existence of the signs reassured me that I was not the only clueless client. I could not think how long it had been been since I rode through the car wash, but it was like a sudsy amusement park attraction with flashing blue and red lights and giant rags and brushes and soap and water squirting everywhere, so thrilling that it made me giggle.

"Maybe I will get the unlimited pass!" I told Heidi and Elaine as we drove out into the cold evening in our newly clean car. "That was kind of fun!"

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Night Closes In

After several hours of driving through sub-zero temperatures on the way home from Buffalo a bit of road fatigue hit me somewhere on I-70, and all of a sudden NPR was making me a little sleepy. "How about some Name that Tune?" I suggested to Heidi.

Ours is a road trip-ready version which involves hitting scan on the radio and racing to identify whatever comes up on the next station in range. Of course the tunes vary considerably depending on where we are, which is all part of the fun. At that point in the trip there was a lot of country music, both classic and contemporary, some current pop, some straight up rock, a little classic rock, and... then there was Max 92.9 broadcasting from Buddy Lou's restaurant in Hancock and playing deep cuts and hits from the 70s and 80s.

It turns out that there's nothing like recognizing Exile's Kiss You All Over in 2 bars after several decades to reinvigorate a weary driver in her mid-50s, folks. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017


It was zero degrees when we landed in Buffalo this evening, but you wouldn't have known it by looking at some of our fellow travelers. A frigid draft chilled the baggage claim area each time the sliding glass doors whooshed open, but those guys in shorts didn't flinch at all. And I wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck before zipping my coat all the way up and putting on my hat and mittens, but that perma-tanned lady with the in the hot pink Vera Bradley shift and matching slides never wavered once as she shuffled straight out into the bone-chilling night without even a jacket.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Honey Do

Heidi does not love playing games, but she knows her in-laws well.  As stocking stuffers, she got each of us a game to play.

AND even more impressively, she spent the day playing them with us today.

Now that's the Christmas spirit!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Process to Progress

After a delicious dinner and some traditional Christmas cracker hilarity, one by one the family members drifted from the enormous round dining room table, some with unkept promises to return and others with goodnight wishes for those of us who stayed behind. At last it was only Treat, Victor, Courtney and me, and the conversation turned to politics and the state of our country in these tumultuous times. For two hours we spoke and listened earnestly, trying to reconcile our beliefs, experiences, hopes, and fears.

"Are you guys solving all the world's problems?" Jordan asked me when I stepped into the kitchen for some ice water.

"No," I sighed, "but we're doing a good job identifying them."

We laughed.

"I guess that's the first step to fixing them though," I shrugged and headed back in.

Monday, December 25, 2017

White Christmas

3:45 came early this morning after a fun Christmas Eve of dinner and gifts. Lucy spent a restless night, too, sighing and snuggling hard into Heidi or me on the bumpy foldout couch. When I opened the back door to let her out, she bounded into six or more inches of new fallen snow, and the flakes were still swirling steadily from the sky.

A quick check confirmed that our 6 am flight was still on time, but a glance out the front door revealed a silent wonderland of undisturbed drifts with not a plow to be found. With a knot in my stomach, I called the cab company to confirm, but my call went straight to voicemail. The minutes crawled by as I sent text messages and emails to ensure our ride to the airport was on the way, but without a word in return, we finally woke up Heidi's dad from a sound winter's sleep.

He was ready in a flash, and in a few moments we were crunching our way over the luster of the unplowed thruway. We made it with a little time to spare. "White Christmases are over-rated," the gate agent had joked as he scanned our boarding passes, but I couldn't agree, even though when at last our plane climbed above the storm and headed south into the starry dawn, I felt like I'd had a full day already.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Taste Testing

I got an email early last week from SOB, Step Out Buffalo, describing "5 Hidden Gem Chocolatiers You Probably Don't Know About". They were right about that, living 381 miles south as I do, but I wondered if Heidi's parents were equally in the dark. And so yesterday I proposed a little tour of the five, and despite snow and ice, the four of us headed gamely out.

Heidi's dad actually grew up in a candy store in Buffalo, his father's business until business turned bad in the early fifties, and he was rather skeptical that these places might exist without his knowledge. We hit some matinee theater traffic on our way to the first one, and on top of the weather, it was closed when we got there.

The next stop was around the corner, though, and we found parking right in front of an early 20th century brick building wth plate glass windows and a wooden door with jingle bells. Inside wide floors creaked a little under a shiny pressed-tin ceiling. Wooden shelves held packages of handmade chocolate in holiday wrappers, and an old brass cash register sat next to a glass case full of single truffles and turtles and squares of bark. A green accountant lamp spilled yellow light over a big desk in a cluttered office, and in the way back of the place we could see stainless equipment in a tiny chocolate factory. The clerk offered us generous samples, and the chocolate was delicious-- creamy and sweet, but not too sweet.

We left with a shopping bag full of treats and headed off to the next place which was a vegan chocolatier and bakery. Heidi was especially pleased with the maple sponge candy, but I was impressed by the guy sculpting donuts and cupcakes with the snow he shoveled from the walk. We decided to stop for lunch to balance the sugar, and ended up at a fun burger place with 24 beers on tap, all offered in 5 ounces.

I could have stayed there for a while, but it was a little early in the day to start drinking, so we headed off to the last stop, a place outside of town and closer to home. They had ice cream and 25 different types of filled chocolates and truffles, but by then, I couldn't try another bite, and so I was content to sit in my wire and wood parlor chair and chat with Gary as he polished off a turtle sundae. The owner of the place overheard our conversation, and mentioned a couple of other places we missed. Agreeing to save those for another day, we piled into the car just as he was leaving too.

"Have fun with your chocolate crawl!" he waved, and I laughed, because that's exactly what it was!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Now That's What I Call Christmas Lights

There is no question that holiday light technology has come a long way in the last 50 years. A quick stroll through the neighborhood tonight furnished views of spiral trees and giant candy canes, illuminated reindeer, polar bears, and even a golden doodle, giant inflatable snowmen and minions, Santas with and without sleighs, neon-style snow flakes and trees and angels lighting up windows, and laser shows ranging from red and green confetti to messages such as Let it snow, Happy Holidays, and Ho Ho Ho. Some houses draped their trees and bushes with LED light strings, heavy on the blue and purple, and there were some with white icicle-style lights of the type very popular 20 years ago or so.

Collectively, all these lights gleaming in the snowy night were thrilling, but individually they were a little soulless, sad and cheap. Especially, when now and then we saw spotlights brightening up a decorated evergreen in the yard or wreathe on a door. Oh, and there were even one or two places with single candles glowing in each window, and a few others with old-fashioned strings of ceramic C-9 lights neatly following the roof line, in classic form.

Friday, December 22, 2017

One Stop Shopping

We were out running a few Christmas errands in an unfamiliar section of Buffalo early this afternoon when we came upon a wondrous sight:

a shopping center with both a huge Target and an enormous Wegmans!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Who Knew?

After dinner tonight we were all sitting around the table when Heidi's dad pulled a screenshot up on his phone. It was her brother's DNA profile. I glanced at it politely, but without much interest; after all, I had spent some time studying Heidi's DNA, so I really didn't expect any surprises.

Oh, me. It turns out I don't really know everything. As often as I learn that lesson, clearly it hasn't quite sunk in yet. Sibling DNA is not identical, and ethnic markers can be very, very different. For example, in the case of Heidi and Mark, she's 46% British Isles, and he's only 2%.

Holy cow! Maybe there is some American Indian in our past that I just missed out on! DNA tests all around!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

For Goodness Sakes

Lucy was awfully quiet this morning while I was in the kitchen packing lunch. On a hunch I poked my head out to check on her, and sure enough, she was in the living room surrounded by shredded cardboard and wrapping paper. Her project? A small gift addressed to Tibby and Milo. It didn't even contain food; a small cloisonne fish ornament lay among the ruins of the package.

As for Lucy, she was actually smiling and proudly wagging her tail...

right up until she heard the tone of my voice scolding her.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


"Ms S.?" a student raised her hand just as I finished giving directions.


"Your pants are split in the back," she told me quietly.

MY eyes widened in horror as my hand dropped to my bottom and felt a fairly large tear along the pocket. There was definitely skin and underwear exposed, and I racked my brain to try to figure out when it had happened. This was 5th period! How long I had been walking around with my booty hanging out was anybody's guess.

But then? I relaxed. This is middle school, I thought. If anyone noticed, I would know it.

I looked around; nobody was paying any attention to me. I took my sweater off and tied it around my waist and continued on, business as usual.

But then I went home and changed as soon as I could!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Demanding Curriculum

One of my students is off to India tonight for winter break, but before going she did the responsible thing and asked all her teachers for any work sh might miss over the next three days. I commend her, but lordy! The 3 days before vacation are crazy, and who knows what we'll get done.

Still, she (and her parents) are definitely in the Type A category, and so I pulled together a few resources to help her write the first draft of her essay. "Thank you!" she said as I handed them to her this morning. Then she frowned. "Do you happen to have a folder to put them in?" I did.

Later in the day I saw her again. "Have a great trip!"

"Thanks!" she answered. "I have my folder right here," she patted her binder. "You know what?" she asked. "You are the only teacher who had a packet for me today!"

I shrugged. "It's a busy time," I said on my colleagues' behalf.

She gave me a thumbs up. "You were right on point, though," she assured me.

"Thank goodness for that," I winked. "See you in January!"

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Cookie Monster

8 dozen mandel bread
4 dozen chocolate peppermint crinkles
4 dozen cherry apricot rugelach
5 dozen chestnut spice
3 1/2 dozen thumb prints with bourbon chestnut cream

and tea cakes yet to come!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Making the Season Bright

A few months back friends of my sister-in-law were actually moving overseas because of the election results last year. Big foodies, they had an enormous pantry to dismantle, and we scored a few luxury items. The roasted hatch peppers are still in the freezer, as is the duck fat, but the demi-glace is gone, and there is a dent in the Chinese cooking wine as well.

Today I also used the roasted chestnuts in my Christmas baking. I filled brown sugar and bittersweet chocolate thumbprints with a homemade bourbon crème de marron, and I also made some chestnut spice cookies rolled in cinnamon powdered sugar. I'm pretty pleased with the results, and it was fun to try something new using such an old-fashioned traditional ingredient.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Rights and Wrongs

A couple of the boys in my intervention group came roughhousing in the door.

"Whoa whoa whoa!" I stopped them. "What are you doing?"

"He pushed me!" one of them accused the other.

"He called me gay!" the other guy defended himself.

"And?" I raised my eyebrows.

What followed was an interesting discussion among all 8 boys in the group about whether or not such a remark justified such a response. The pushing guy held his ground firmly. "If someone says something I don't like, I can defend myself," he insisted.

"Have you ever heard of the first amendment?" another guy asked him.

"No," he shrugged dismissively.

"Freedom of speech?" the other kid continued. "You can't just attack someone for saying something."

The first boy grimaced. "Well, that's stupid!" 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Report Card

I looked at my wrist when the text message alert chimed.

Richard got a  92 on his exam and a 98 on his free verse, my sister wrote. Yay! This 6th grade ELA teacher was strangely relieved and even a little elated by the news that my 6th grade nephew did well on the ELA assignments I helped him with over the weekend.

But why? Just this morning I had a conversation with one of my own students about her assignment.

"Is it an A???" she asked urgently.

"Probably," I answered as I glanced at it, "but more importantly, what did you learn?"

"A lot!" she assured me. "So, is it an A?"

"We'll see, Franny," I told her.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Primary Sources

As part of my genealogical toolbox, I have a subscription to a searchable newspaper archive service. It hasn't proven to be very valuable when it comes to family history, but it is fascinating to look through scanned original news pages anywhere from 200 years to 2 weeks old. I can easily get lost for hours.

On a whim, tonight I did a quick search for "Christmas Recipes" for December 1962, and tucked between fabulous mid-century graphics and fonts, found a few fun cookie recipes that seem promising. I may try them, but imagining the breakfast tables where first the recipes were read, and then the formica countertops and linoleum floors of the kitchens where they were prepared, and finally the living rooms where perhaps the cookies were served, with Christmas trees and colored lights and tinsel and holiday records spinning on the stereo in the corner, was satisfying in its own way.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Home Remedies

“Are you sick?” a teammate asked me today, perhaps noting the hoarseness in my voice.

“Oh no,” I assured her. “It’s just a little congestion.’ Regular readers may recall that I refuse to use the verb to be when describing any health conditions. In my mind, I may have them, but they do not have me, and I certainly am not them.

A new teacher on the team seemed to get it right away, nodding with understanding. Later she poked her head in the door, catching me blowing my nose with more than a little gusto. “Hey,” she said, “did I ever tell you about my friend the naturopathic healer?”

I shook my head.

“She says that tea with honey and lemon and chicken soup really do have healing properties, especially when you have,” she paused meaningfully, “congestion.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “I love chicken soup!”

Monday, December 11, 2017

Peeping Teacher

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to help my nephew with his 6th grade English assignments. A book project and semester exam study guide on Google Classroom and IXL were an open window into the same class I teach 600 miles north.

It was interesting to peek through, and even more fascinating to see the whole shebang from the student and family's point of view. I wish I had some profound insights into the state of American education today, but to be honest, it was really just business as usual, and my nephew completed his assigned tasks with resignation and without joy.


Perhaps there is a bit of profundity there after all.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


"Look how big Richard is!" I said to Heidi pointing the facetime phone in his direction. "Can you believe it?" It didn't matter that we had seen him 2 weeks ago, he just seemed older and taller than before.

"But he is as awesome as ever!" she answered from Virginia. "Think of all the things we say that came from him."

I nodded and laughed. "That guy is moooooving!" we said at the same time with double barreled pointer fingers, just the way Richard had at 4, racing out to the front porch as a dump truck hurtled by.

"Wouldn't that be a good idea?" I said, just as five-year-old Richard had at the aquarium, explaining why he should be allowed to get a giant blue fish-shaped lollipop.

"Oh! What a healthy lunch!" Heidi replied, remembering six-year-old Richard's approval when I presented him with a small plate of rolled up turkey, string cheese and a few olives and cucumber slices.

And now that guy is 12! And just past that tweeny shrug and beneath that mop of hair, still as quirky and cute as ever.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cutting to the Chase

As I sat at the breakfast bar this morning, Jack whispered loudly in his mom's ear. "Can she play with me?"

"Who?" she asked, listening as he urgently whispered some more. "Courtney? Annabelle? Richard?"

He shook his head fiercely and then looked at me. "Her!" he pointed. "My cousin! Can she come to the playroom and practice my basketball with me?"

"You mean Tracey?" his mom asked, and he nodded vigorously.

I laughed. It's not every day a 55-year-old lady gets such an invitation from a 5-year-old boy. Plus, I liked the way my first cousin twice removed simplified our relationship. "You bet!" I replied hopping off my stool. "Let's play!"

Friday, December 8, 2017

Driving Conditions

A rare early December winter storm made its way from Texas across the gulf states and up through the mid-Atlantic on the very day that I was making a rare early December road trip to Atlanta. Winter storm Benji and I first met in Richmond; he heading north and I traveling south, but that did not prevent us from spending the day together. Freezing rain, sleet, and snow pattered against my windshield the whole 11 hours. Fortunately, the temperature stayed above freezing and the roads were clear most of the way, but even when they weren't, the snow was too pretty to complain, so I just turned on the Christmas music and sang along.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Be My Guest

My room is clean and organized, my lesson plans written with resources well-prepared.

Too bad I won't be there to actually enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Selective Amnesia

When it comes to gifts, I want to be surprised. So much so, that I intentionally wipe my mind clear of any request or suggestion I may have made related to the holidays, and I refuse to even guess what this package or that might hold. (Of course there are exceptions-- I'm talking to you, record albums and books, but even then, one can never be sure of the title until the paper has been gleefully torn off.)

My policy even extends to our Christmas decorations-- I am delighted every time I open the box and start pulling them out. Each one is a perfect, oxymoronic, familiar surprise.

And this year, I also found a little note when I opened the merry red and green container.

Dear Heidi and Tracey,

it read in my handwriting,

Merry Christmas! Remember to pull out all the ornament layers this year before you start.

I have no recollection of writing it, but it was excellent advice! (And Merry Christmas to you, too, Tracey of 2016! I know your holiday was very happy.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Right Here, That's Where

What was I thinking when I placed 10 of the wildest, non-readingest boys in my morning book club?

That I could tame them with the magic trick of staring into all their eyes without blinking once (and donuts!) and that maybe we would find a wild rumpus of a book to celebrate together?

It looks like I'll be sailing in and out of weeks to find out.

And I may need a wolf suit.

Monday, December 4, 2017


"Can we bring our own birthday treats?" a student in my homeroom asked the other day. Her birthday was coming up, and it is my practice to bring donuts or some other sweet to celebrate.

"Sure, if you'd rather," I shrugged. "It's your birthday!"

I smiled and she did too.

To be honest, it was one thing off my plate, but I was curious when the big day rolled around. I announced the celebration with the same fan fare as always, and we all sang and wished her a hearty happy birthday.

"Can I help you serve?" I asked as she pulled a rather small bag out from under the desk.

"Oh no," she said, "I can do it," producing a stack of napkins, a ceramic soup spoon, and a plastic container of...

pomegranate seeds!

It was a brand new experience for most of the kids, and as they chewed the tart little morsels their facial expression were mixed, but they are a gracious group, and I like that about them.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


I heard a story on NPR recently about how Paris is putting sparkling water fountains in parks all over the city. The objective is to eliminate plastic bottle waste, and indeed all of the Parisians interviewed for the piece were quite enthusiastic, many filling their containers to enjoy later at home. The high quality of water in Paris was definitely a subtext; one woman spoke about rotating the sparkling water she drinks weekly to optimize her mineral consumption, and how she was happy to include the new free bubbly in her regime.

"She's like Lucy!" Heidi noted when I recounted the report to her. "Lucy loves her upstairs water, her downstairs water, her kitten water bowl water, and now her Christmas Tree water."

It must be the minerals.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Counter Surfer

It gave me a little pause this afternoon when I found a glob of cinnamon roll on the floor. Did I drop that? I wondered. until I noticed that five were missing from the tray, and it became clear that our little puppy had obviously become a stealthy thief.

Oh, she paid for her transgression, moaning and sighing her way through the afternoon, but after a little bout of loose stool, she was more ravenous than ever for her dinner. Too bad! we thought as we cut her regular portion by half, a little moderation will be good for you.

Later on, when both the raw hamburgers on the counter were gone, we reconsidered.

Friday, December 1, 2017


You bought us a whole tree????? asked the puppy and two kittens.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Other Side of Town

There is a lot of diversity in the student body of my school, primarily developmental, intellectual, ethnic, and economic. In general, the kids take the differences among them in stride, but they are not always aware of what divides them.

Today, for example, my classes were reading "Raymond's Run", a short story by Toni Cade Bambara about a little girl nick-named Squeaky growing up in Harlem back in the late 20th century. The task was to find notable details that revealed something essential about the characters and discuss them with a small group. Squeaky tells the reader about another girl who used to be a friend of mine when she first moved to Harlem from Baltimore and got beat up by everybody till I took up for her. 

"They live in a tough neighborhood," one student noted.

"I have a connection," added another boy. "There are some older kids in my neighborhood who always fight and threaten us."

"Mine, too," said a girl. "And the police come all the time where we live."

"My neighbor has to call the police sometimes, too," another student told us, "because of teenagers being loud and disrespectful."

The first student's eyebrows got higher and higher as he listened to his classmates. "I never knew how lucky I was to live in my neighborhood," he said. "Nothing happens there."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Finding Fault

I was growing increasingly frustrated as I checked the work of my students right before lunch. "Anybody who isn't finished will have to stay until it's done!" I announced. "You'll have to show me your paragraph before you go."

When the fifth kid handed me an assignment that was missing the same essential detail as the four I had just seen, I gave up. "Forget it!" I said. "None of you are doing it right!"

The class looked at me with mild alarm, clearly wondering if they should stay or go.

I shrugged. "You must have a terrible teacher!" I laughed. "Let's try again tomorrow."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sticky Criminal

"Give me that!" a usually mild-mannered student shouted over the hubbub of our class.

I stepped over and stepped in. "What's happening?"

Her randomly-assigned partner for the day was impishly dangling a piece of scotch tape just out of her reach.

"He won't give that to me!" she explained indignantly.

"Why do you want it?" I asked.

"He told me to put my thumbprint on it, and then he used it to unlock my iPad," she reported with wide eyes, "AND... it worked!"

He laughed even as I confiscated the piece of tape and crumpled it up. "I'm like a secret agent!" he said. "I'm going to get thumb prints of everybody!"

"You are not," I told him. "It's like making copies of people's keys, or stealing the combination to their lockers."

His face fell.

"Way cooler, though," I consoled him. "But still, not allowed."

Monday, November 27, 2017

Post-Vacation Coma

Like the grocery store yesterday, the halls here at school were eerily quiet this morning. Students silently dragged in a few at time, slumping sleepily at their desks through the announcements, and the day continued on like that.

"To be honest?" I told my reading class, "I kind of like this side of you!"

They groaned half-heartedly, my enthusiasm clearly overwhelming them.

"Well, lucky for you, I have an activity planned where you are supposed to be, are you ready for it? SILENT!"

The task was to line up in order of their ages without talking. The record time for them to beat was 2 minutes and 6 seconds, and when they were finished, I congratulated them on their success. "I have some good news and bad news," I announced. "The bad news is that it took you almost 4 minutes to do that."

Their faces fell a bit.

"The good news is that you were the quietest group I've ever seen!"

And to that praise they let up a tiny cheer, before wordlessly returning to their seats.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mind Your Own

The grocery store was eerily quiet late this afternoon. When the whoosh of the sliding glass doors ushered me into the produce department, there was only one other family shopping. "I need parsnips!" the dad pointed at his teenaged daughters. "I'll go get the meat."

The girls and I crossed paths several times. As I picked up celery, avocados, and cabbage, they silently paced the vegetable case, unable to complete their mission. Watching them search, I started to look, too, and I spotted the parsnips right away. Should I point them out? I wondered, or would that be creepy? When at last they found them, I was relieved, but by then I had a predicament of my own.

Where are the carrots!? I scanned and scanned again, unwilling to believe they could possibly be sold out, even on the Sunday night after Thanksgiving. Finally I located them...

right next to the parsnips.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Salad Days

After several nights of huge, wonderful meals, the thing that sounded just right tonight was a great big salad. With turkey and a cranberry-orange-miso vinaigrette, of course-- it's still Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Then Came the Real Escape

We did a Titanic-themed escape room today and, with eleven heads working to solve the puzzles to open the elevator doors before the portholes totally filled with water, made it out with a couple minutes to spare.

Which begs the question, if it had been the real ship, what good would getting up on deck have been?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Chillin on Turkey Day

The weather is variable around these parts in late November. Over the years, some Thanksgiving days have been practically balmy, others gray and rainy, but most are around 50 degrees.

This year we have my favorite type of weather-- sunny and crisply cold. Oh, it's beautiful, for sure, with the last of the leaves burning bright beneath a pale, winter blue sky, but the real reason I like it so much? Is that with temperatures in the low 40s, the world becomes my walk-in refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Directions

Years ago around this time of year I designed a lesson for the sixth graders that involved reading the ingredients on traditional holiday recipe cards and guessing what dish it was and then making up a set of directions for cooking it. The objective was for them to use analysis and sequencing strategies, but the results were often hilarious. Most memorable was Fill turkey with water and boil in the oven for an hour. After I while I realized that there were more age appropriate ways for them to practice those skills, but I still have that pecan squares recipe, and it’s a darn good one. In fact I made a batch today for our own Thanksgiving Feast. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

You're Welcome

In a gesture of giving thanks and expressing appreciation at this time of the year, there were stacks of little orange cards in the main office. The idea was for students and staff to jot a few lines of thanks and put them in our mail boxes. As simple, or even saccharine, as it sounds, I was very moved by the notes I got, and I made sure to slip some in my colleague's boxes as well.

As nice as they all were, my favorite none was penned a student from last year: Thanks for not ripping my head off! 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Model Student

“How was school today?” my mom asked when I picked her up from the airport.

“It was pretty good, but the kids were crazy! As you can imagine they would be on the Monday of a two day week,” I answered.

"Even Franny?" she asked in mock alarm.

"No," I laughed. "Franny was very good. As always."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Name Sakes

As I mentioned in my last post, I have known





in my teaching career.

A lot of kids means a lot of names, and although there are definitely some common ones, (Caitlyn, Anna, Zachary, and Jack) every year brings a few new names, too. This year, I have a Damaris, a Serenity, and my first ever Tracee, which is admittedly a little weird.

But more importantly, I also have a Franny, who shares my mom's name. And I have found that I L-O-V-E taking attendance and calling on her, because I get a warm little feeling every time I say her name. Oh, it helps that she is a model student, for sure, but now I'm hoping for not only a few more Frannys, but also a couple of Bills, Courtneys, and maybe even a Bob.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Experience Shows

"How did you know that???" a student asked me the other day when I predicted exactly what he was about to say.

"I've known a lot of sixth graders," I shrugged.

He was unconvinced. "How many?"

"Maybe 2,000?" I guessed.

"What???" another student exploded.

"No way!" someone else said.

I shook my head. "You guys know how long I've been teaching," I reminded them.

"Twenty-five years," someone piped up dutifully.

"Right," I said. "Let's do the math. I have 85 students right now; let's say that's the average." And I wrote the multiplication problem on the board. Solving it together, they were momentarily impressed.

Then the statistic flew out of their 11-year-old brains, which was fine, because I knew it would.

Friday, November 17, 2017


There was more than a little tension when I showed up for my semi-weekly meeting this afternoon. Just 2 out of the usual 5-7 of us were there. “Where’s everybody?” I asked as cheerfully as I could muster.

“I have no idea,” my grumpy colleague huffed.

I ignored her tone. “Well,” I said, “let’s look at the agenda and get to work.” I could see I was alone on the shared document, but still I pressed on, asking questions and taking notes, until at last one other person showed up, followed by our administrator. Things were a little more cordial after that, but not much.

“Wow! It’s cold in there!” the reading specialist said as we walked out.

“Yeah it is!” I agreed a little too heartily. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Beyond Average

I ran into a student on my way out of the building this afternoon. "We had a really good class today!" she told me.

I considered the compliment. She is in my largest class, which is also the last class of the day. We have a lot of big personalities in there as well, so things don't always go exactly as planned. Some days it seems like I have to do more than the average share of redirecting in there, but today, with the benefit of new seats and a fun activity, they had seemed pretty engaged.

"Thanks!" I said. "I'm glad you liked the lesson!"

She looked at me blankly for a minute, and then recovered. "Yeah!" she replied, "and no one got in trouble, either."

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

You Talkin to Me?

Our school leadership team received the following email this afternoon:
Please note that if you did not use the YJP Protocol, or if you placed students before using the YJP Protocol, you must use the YJP Protocol before placing students.  Should you have questions about how to implement the protocol please, please see an administrator or Ms T.  It is imperative that we properly place students to ensure they are all getting the specific support they need. Thank you,
And to be honest? The process (not to mention this message) is so convoluted, that I'm not even sure if she means me!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Forward, Ho!

News today that our favorite grocery store is opening a location a little closer than the 20-25 minutes it takes to drive there now. Oh, it won't be open for four years, or so, and it's actually going to be built in the parking lot of what was favorite movie theater until about, four years, or so, ago.

I suppose there's a certain symmetry to that.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Chop Chop

4 oz liverwurst
8 hot dogs
12 ounces of cheese

For Lucy's agility class

4 pounds of apples

For apple-cranberry sauce

5 stalks of celery
7 small eggplant
1/3 of a large onion
1 green pepper

For eggplant gumbo

5 cutting boards
3 knives
1 tired ex-prep cook

on a Monday night

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Smarts and Braves

All of our young pets experienced their first fire in the fireplace last evening. The day had been cold, even for November, and the house was a little chilly, too, when I knelt to light the tinder and kindling. Six eyes were riveted, first on me, and then on whatever that was behind the metal curtain. As the flames grew higher, their fascination did, too, until a pop made Lucy dance away. The warmth was seductive, though, and soon the heat drew both kittens. Lucy kept her distance, though, even as Tibby moved closer and closer.

"Lucy has some smarts!" Elaine commented.

"Yeah, she does," I shrugged, "But Tibby has some braves."

And that's why I love her!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

No Good Deed...

Elaine tagged along this afternoon as we ran most of our weekend errands. As is our routine, at each of the stores we split up and meet again near the checkout. Our first stop was Target, and it was hard not to get sidetracked by all the early holiday magic they've got going. Cat litter was on the list, and to get to it we passed several winter wardrobe items for dogs. 

"Should we get Lucy a Christmas sweater?" Heidi asked.

"Nope," I replied.

She wasn't surprised-- she is well aware that I don't really believe animals should wear clothes-- but that wasn't the end of the conversation. "What about a plaid coat?"


The next two stops were DSW and Safeway, where fortunately for me, animal clothing is not carried. The final stop of the day was Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Heidi and I went inside while Elaine waited in the car, enjoying the heated seats.

"Look at this fleece jacket," Heidi said. "It looks so warm. Don't you think Lucy would like it?"

"No," I shrugged. "She's a dog, and they don't wear clothes. Let's get what we came for."

Once home, Milo and Tibby examining every package and bag strewn about the kitchen and dining room table, Elaine clapped her hands in delight. "I have something for everyone!"

The kittens received a bag of treats made with real tuna, which they enjoyed immediately. "Lucy!" Elaine said, "Look what I got you!"

It was a sweater of marled red. "It's for the holidays!" Elaine told us.

"Thanks!" said Heidi. "Let's put it on right away!"

Friday, November 10, 2017

Merriment Got in my Eyes

I was drinking coffee at the dining room table with my neighbor this morning, enjoying the day off when I reached down into my crate of vinyl LPs and pulled out a vintage Benny Goodman album. The kittens ran over to see what was making that sound. Milo quickly lost interest, but Tibby, drawn first by the wail of the clarinet, was immediately spellbound by the turntable.

Leaping onto the sideboard where it was, she cautiously investigated, jerking her head back every time her whiskers brushed the spinning disc. As brave of heart as she is, it didn't take long until she was gently swatting at the spiraling logo at the center of the record. When that approach did little to stop the turning, she leaned down and grabbed the edge of the album with her teeth, and tried to pull it off the player.

Oh, I should have made her stop, but believe it or not, it wasn't harming the record at all, and besides, we were laughing too hard.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Not Yet on First-Name Basis

In order to practice character analysis, I try to have my students view and read a number of engaging short films and texts.

To start off with, we watched Small Fry, a Toy Story short, where a kids meal version of Buzz Lightyear knocks out the real Buzz in the ball pit of a fast food restaurant and hitches a ride home in Bonnie's backpack to replace him. There the other toys rally to figure out what happened and make a plan to rescue Buzz who finds himself in a support group for discarded happy meal toys.

Most students love watching an animated movie in English, and they bring their familiarity with the characters to the assignment. Today I was circulating to check in with students as they worked. "Who are you writing about?" I asked one girl.

"The cowboy," she told me.

"The cowboy!" I laughed. "You mean Woody?"

She shrugged. "I guess that's his name. I don't really know the movies."

"Wow!" I said. "So what do you think of Woody?"

The cowboy seems to be the leader of the toys, she read from her notebook. He is observant, because he is the only one who notices when the mini-astronaut tries to take the mega-astronaut's place.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Day after Day

"I can't take these weeks with Monday Wednesdays," a colleague said on our way out the door this afternoon.

I squinted. "You mean Wednesday-Monday?"

"Oh yes," she conceded. "See what I mean? It's so confusing."

"How about Thursday Fridays?" I asked.

"Those I can embrace," she laughed.

"Me, too!" I said. "See you tomorrow!"

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Steel and Irony

How strange the world is! Less than 24 hours after I was walking in the rain in Pittsburgh, I found myself 250 miles away walking through the stainless gleam of another gray morning to vote in one of only two governor races this year. Oh, the stakes do seem very high, but it will be a long time before I get my hopes up in any consequential election.

I spent the rest of the teacher workday in my quiet classroom, surrounded by the plants I had rescued from the predicted freeze. As I sat still at my desk, the motion sensor lights kept turning off, plunging me into a surprisingly pleasant gloom. By the glow of my laptop screen I worked, rain pattering against the windows, uninterrupted by students and colleagues, and in full appreciation of the contradiction that this job would be so much easier without either of them. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Glass

The weather was threatening this morning when we headed out to explore downtown Pittsburgh with Lucy in tow. "Should we get our umbrellas?" Heidi asked.

"No!" I literally waved my hand. "It's just like yesterday, gray, but not raining."

She was doubtful. "It says there is a 50 percent chance of rain."

"That means there is also a 50 percent chance that it won't rain!" I shrugged off her concern, and so off we went.

First, may I say that Pittsburgh is a seriously cool town? Walking the streets lined with a pleasing blend of 19th and 20th century architecture, we found a fantastic coffee place and were just heading into Market Square when it began to rain in earnest. Taking refuge under the awning of a Greek restaurant, we watched dauntless workers setting up for the annual Christmas Market.

And we were more than a little damp just a block over when we stepped into the plaza at PPG Place. Pittsburgh Plate Glass was the first company to figure out how to mass produce plate glass in the late 1800s, and their 5.5 acre complex that spans three city blocks is literally a shimmering reflection of that origin. The six buildings and 231 spires surround a plaza that is festooned with a Christmas Tree and a skating rink at this time of year.

Oh, there was more that I would have liked to see, but the rain let up, and we decided to make a quick run back to the hotel, not soaked and somewhat satisfied with our tour of the town.

I prefer to think of it as a success!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Time Change

I woke in the dark this morning and looked at the clock on the unfamiliar night table. It was only 6:30, but 6:30 today would have been 7:30 yesterday, and it was really dark. I stretched and padded over to the hotel room window. Looking eastward, I wondered if the cloud cover was delaying the dawn, or if we were just that much farther west than we are at home.

Lucy woke up then, and I quickly pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt to take her out. As we stepped outside for a quick little walk, I lifted my wrist to check the time and realized I had left my watch upstairs, along with my phone. For the first time in years, I was untethered from any measurement of time. Undaunted, I walked briskly into the thin light of morning for who knows how long.

Saturday, November 4, 2017


For the past couple of years we have spent Heidi’s birthday weekend with her parents. The first year, they drove down to DC, and last year, dogless as we were, we flew up to Buffalo. This year? We split the difference and met up in Pittsburgh. We booked a couple of dog-friendly hotel rooms right on the Monongahela River.

The trip up here was fabulous, all open roads, blue skies and perfect fall foliage, and what a view of Steeltown we have! With Monday off and plenty of shopping and a bit of exploring on the agenda, I am looking forward to a fun long weekend. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Mixin It Up

I have a student who adds a little heart after her name so often that one of her other teachers started calling her Saraheart, and now I often do, too.

Saraheart was in a bit of a negative funk the other day, though. "This book is dumb!" she started. "I don't like Oreos!" she complained about the snack. "Why can't I just go to my locker?" she demanded.

"Oh my gosh!" I finally said to her. "Do you know what an anagram is?"

She shook her head with a little shrug.

"Let me give you an example," I said. "Are you Saraheart or Sarahater?"

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Watch How You Play

"Have you graded our personal narratives yet?" a student asked me today.

"Not all of them," I reported with a bit of a sigh. "There are quite a few kids in my classes, you know."

"Why don't you make it easy and just give us all As," she suggested slyly.

"Why not all Cs?" I replied archly.

"No thanks! Take your time!" she answered.

"Ms. S is savage!" noted another student who was listening.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Love thy Neighbor

"Oh hey," a neighbor stopped me in the parking lot the other day. "I had a dream about you the other night."

"Really!" I answered, and I confess that I was intrigued. I have lived 15 yards away from this lady for more than 18 years now, and although we are friendly, we have never been close.

"Yes," she said. "We were at the pool, and you must have gotten out of the water first, because you were standing on the side, and I realized I didn't have a towel, so I asked you if I could use yours..." Here, she paused and looked at me meaningfully.

I opened my palms in a then what? gesture.

"You said, 'No'," she told me, and then turned to go.

"Well you know what they say," I called after her.

She looked over her shoulder.

"Dreams say more about you than anyone else!" I said.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lotsa Luck

What do you call a day when a big chunk of your siding blows off and your car flashes three warning lights?


Because that day was this day, a day I was already off from work for my annual physical.

And not to boast? But I got it all taken care of and had oysters for lunch, dining right on the river in the glorious autumn sunshine.

I know, right?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ready to Learn

"Ms. S.?" a student asked this morning. "Can I talk to you outside?"

"Am I in trouble?" I replied, eyebrows higher than before.

She shook her head and I followed her into the hall.

"I wanted to talk to you about what happened last Thursday," she told me and paused.

I remembered what she meant. She and her writing partner had been off-task, and I reprimanded them for using their iPads for something other than they should have been. I nodded, and she continued.

"I think there was a misunderstanding," she began, and calmly laid out her side of the event.

Oh I told her my perspective, too, and after talking a little, and quickly came to a meeting of the minds, agreeing to communicate more clearly in the future.

"Hey listen," I said, "before we stepped back inside. "I want you to know that I wasn't mad before. I was willing to let it go."

She nodded.

"But your way was much better!" I continued.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Positive Energy

With two kittens and a puppy in the house there is a lot of chasing and wrestling and climbing and clawing and wrestling.


Saturday, October 28, 2017


We spent a beautiful autumn afternoon walking five miles on a clear trail along a creek, through the woods, up the ridges and down through the hollers, out one boardwalk and across 11 bridges... gotta love those national parks!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Do Tell

I remember my parents coming home from parent-teacher conference day. "I told them that if you give them any trouble to let me know and I would take care of it immediately," my father always told me.

I've often wondered how my teachers replied to him, because he really needn't have threatened. I did not have the slightest inclination to draw any negative attention to myself; school was a place of great success for me, and I loved it there.

I figure I conducted my 500th or so conference today, and my dad's words came back to me at the very end of the day. The student has been pretty successful so far this year: her grades are As and Bs, and her teachers rated her studentship skills as above average. A first generation citizen of our country, her parents came here from Vietnam in the late 1970's, and I know her mom from the time she worked as a custodian in our building. "You email me!" she said as they stood to go at the end of our meeting. "Right away! Tell me everything that's a problem!"

"Okay," I agreed, "but that will be a short email!"

We laughed, and she gave her daughter a hug as they walked out the door.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Simple Pleasures

Lucy's dear friend Cooper turned one year old today, and so of course there was a party this evening. Seven humans and five full-sized dogs piled into a cozy 10 x 10 living room. There was dog cake and people cake and water and wine to celebrate, and, amazingly, not a drop was spilled.

Despite an avalanche of new toys and treats for the celebration, the favorite toy of the evening was...

the empty paper towel roll.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Overheard in Sixth Grade

At the end of a writing partner conference:

"I think you're going to be a great storyteller when you grow up!"

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

No Yellin, Just Gellin

Today was just one of those days when everything seemed to work out just right in my classroom. Most students worked diligently with their new writing partners, taking advantage of fresh pairs of eyes and ears to work through the revision checklists for their personal narratives with. I was able to get to almost everyone and troubleshoot or answer questions. Many students asked if they could continue working at home, and who was I to turn down such a generous offer? With final drafts due Thursday and student-led conferences on Friday, it seemed like we were finally coming together as a writing workshop.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Share and Share Alike

Despite the fact that I did not actually go to the corn maze this year, somehow my perennial promise got around. When I got back to my classroom on Friday, a plump little pumpkin was sitting on my desk. "For you," a student told me, "because, y'know." She raised her eyebrows meaningfully.

I did know, and I took that punkin home and roasted it up that very night. All weekend we enjoyed it-- pumpkin biscuits, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, and of course! Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, which I brought in to share with my homeroom this morning.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Head to Toe

On a warm afternoon in October it seemed like a good idea to shed my shoes for a pedicure and then to shed that hair I've grown since June, too. So we took a little personal grooming trip up to our local shopping center, and now?

I'm ready for the fall social season.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Home Improvement

"You should come to Home Depot more often!" Heidi told me this afternoon.

We were standing in the tool aisle, but it could have been nifty containers, or maybe lighting. Our cart had a couple of mums, a keyhole saw (for our pumpkin), some velcro wire ties, and a clamp lamp.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it makes you so happy!" she answered, and she was right. 

All around me I saw possibilities for improvement. That washer, those light fixtures, that key chain, snow shovel, arbor vitae-- I knew just the place for all of them, and on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in October, with a 1 day work week behind me, and Halloween just around the corner, it all seemed within reach.

Friday, October 20, 2017

May the Road Rise up to Greet You

I parked the car this morning, grabbed my lunch bag and heavy, heavy backpack and started my long, long hike up to school. Halfway there, my path merged with a throng of students coming from the bus drop-off point.

"Ms. S!" a student hailed me with a genuine smile. He is one of the few kids I have had to call home about; we've gone to head to head more than a few times, and he is one of my genuine concerns. "I missed you!" he continued as I came up next to him, and then put out his arm and pulled me into a friendly embrace.

And what a quick and easy walk it was from there!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Plus One

Since Heidi was working every day we were at the beach, it seemed a shame to head home the minute she was done. And so?

We didn't!

Instead, we enjoyed dinner on an oceanside patio, and one more morning at the beach, complete with perfect weather, sandwiches from Taste (no longer unlimited), dolphins, pelicans, hawks, and an eagle.

Once in the car, the traffic was light, and we made it home in no time at all.

I think I can make it through the workday tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


I was walking on the beach this morning when I saw a blonde woman coming toward me with a couple of yorkies. She was dressed in seashore chic and wearing sunglasses, but I thought she was a few years older than I am. As she approached, I wondered if it was someone I knew back when I lived here.

Lucy bounded over to see her dogs and I followed, peering closely into her face. “Are you Gaye?” I asked her, because for a moment I really thought it might be my friend.

She looked at me in confusion and a bit of horror. "I'm sorry?" she replied.

I shook my head. "Is your name 'Gaye'?" I clarified with a laugh.

"Oh!" she looked relieved. "No. I'm Debbie."

"I just thought you might be someone I knew," I explained.

She nodded and hurried on her way.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

In the Present Moment

Lucy and I headed north up the beach on our walk this morning for three reasons. I wanted to go the opposite way from yesterday; I wanted to start into the wind so that it would be at our backs on the return; and I wanted to explore that section of oceanfront that used to be "ours" when we lived here over 30 years ago.

We lived in four places just a couple of blocks off the beach in the stretch from 47th to 58th Streets. The biggest change was that the "new" Cavalier is gone, demolished to make way for some multi-million dollar homes, and a few of the houses that line the way were different, but the beach was pretty much the same: wide and empty in the way I used to love it in the off-season.

We walked all the way to 58th, and before turning around I headed to the trashcan at the foot of the walkway from the street to dispose of a bag of Lucy's. Up there the seagrass and dunes cut the wind, and I remembered some of the cold days I came to a little windbreak right here where the warmth of the sun did not have to compete with the frigid ocean breeze.

The sky was impossibly blue, like today, and the muffled surf was a lullaby as I lay on the warm sand and breathed the salt air. The light was white, so white I could still see it even with my eyes closed. And time was suspended, then like now, and so now like then, I lay down and closed my eyes.

Monday, October 16, 2017

... Is Still a Day at the Beach

There must have been 25 dolphins playing in the breakers this morning. "I guess they don't mind the rain," Heidi said as we watched them jump and splash from the shelter of our balcony. It turns out Lucy didn't mind it either. It's 42 blocks down to the fishing pier and back, but she must have covered three times that distance on our walk, chasing seagulls and bubbles and running away from the scary surf. She never found the courage to actually enter the ocean, but that was okay with me-- she got just as much of a work out with no rinsing required.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Memory Lane

The road was familiar with many personal landmarks: that's where we used to meet Aunt Harriett and Larry halfway; that's where Pauly found her dogs; that's where we used to stop for barbecue; that's where we saw the Talking Heads; that's where we were catering when I rode to the event on the back of Curtis's motorcycle; that's where you turn to go to my grad school; that's where Courtney went to high school and there's her college; that's where the toll plaza used to be-- we would make the passengers toss dimes over the car until they hit the basket; that's where you turn to go to the mall; that's where we ran out of gas on the way to the movies; that's where we found Noah; that's where we used to work; that's where Elaine lived.

And then we were here-- at our dog-friendly hotel in an oceanfront room with a balcony.

What a trip it's been already!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Worth the Trip

A few years ago when I was surprised by a bumper crop of peachy mama peppers, beautiful apricots-and-cream-colored peppers with all the flavor and none of the heat of habaneros, I found that dehydrating and grinding them produced the most fragrant chili powder imaginable, so wonderful that I find myself sneaking a pinch into almost everything I cook.

I first acquired them from my local CSA, but otherwise the peppers are rare, so much so that the only way I can grow them at all is to save the seeds from the year before. Imagine my disappointment, then, when my pepper seeds were slow to start this spring and still just tiny sprouts by mid-July. I know these tropical fruits are late producing, and I nurtured them through a cool, dry summer, but by the end of September, there was only a handful of peppers, nowhere near enough to produce enough powder to make it through to next fall.

Fortunately, although I am no longer a summer subscriber, I know my CSA farmer vends his crops at a farmers market on the north side of the city, and so Heidi and I took a little Saturday morning road trip up to that little village. Oh my! We found parking right away across from a picturesque elementary school on a street lined with neat cottages and cute bungalows. There was a little grocer on the ground floor of a Victorian house on the corner selling organic meats and other local products. The market itself had about 7 stalls, one selling hand dyed wool and felt with 2 sheep in a pen, a couple bakers, a pan-African cooked-to-order stall, and a few farmers, including my guy. The peachy mamas were there too, and we scored a half bushel for a bargain price.

Munching on halves of a ginormous almond croissant, we drove home through the city, past embassies, parks, and monuments, a felted pumpkin kit and peppers in the back. "Why don't we live there?" I asked Heidi.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Paradigm Shift

Heidi is going to a 3 day conference at the beach next week, and she asked me if I wanted to take some personal days and come along..

"I can't!" I said. "It's the corn maze field trip AND the day of peace!"

She was disappointed,

And so over the next few days I gave it some serious thought. Finally it hit me. My gosh! It's the corn maze field trip and the day of peace!

Why wouldn't I want to be playing with my dog at the beach instead?

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Sixth week of school, and I’m making my way through the roster, having a quick conference with every student. “When is it going to be my turn?” asked Andrew.

“Not for a little bit,” I answered. “I’m going alphabetically backwards by first name. That puts you at the bottom of the list today.” I smiled apologetically.

“Wait! How come Alex just went?” he asked.

“Who’s Alex?” I replied with furrowed brow.

Andrew looked over his shoulder.

“That’s Nelson,” I told him.

He shrugged, and I made eye contact with his buddy.

“It is my nickname,” the second guy admitted. “It even says so in the information system.

I did not doubt him. “What does your math teacher call you?” I asked.

“Nelson,” he answered.

“What about social studies?”

“Nelson,” he admitted



“Well, Alex," I said, "I will make sure they call you by the right name from now on, BUT...”

I paused, and his smile drooped a tiny bit.

“I am going to miss Nelson! He is a great guy!”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


When I was a kid I couldn't get enough of ghost stories or any other creepy supernatural tale. There's just something about cooler weather, golden afternoons, and dark nights that makes me want to settle in with something scary, and I know from my teaching that many kids are the same way.

It's been ages since I've had that pleasure, though. I trace the decline of my enjoyment to 1980, the year I saw Friday the 13th. Back then there was no such thing as a slasher movie, and I can still remember the sick feeling I had as I trudged out of the theater along with the other shocked and silent patrons. We were unsure what we had just seen. A couple years later I had a conversation I can't forget. "I cried when I saw Friday the 13th," a colleague told me, "because I had never seen someone killed before."

Imagine that! A world where we had never seen simulated death and dismemberment! It seems like a very long time ago. And over the decades, it also seems that such graphic violence has completely taken the place of a good, old-fashioned boo! of a scare.

I suppose there have been some exceptions. The Sixth Sense (1999) comes to mind, and although there was plenty of blood and gore in that movie, too, somehow it had a gentler sensibility. I also liked Disney's Hocus Pocus (1993); it was spooky and entertaining.  And the TV show The Ghost Whisperer was a little hokie, but satisfying, but that went off the air in 2010.

To be honest, I think I had given up on the whole idea of October goosebumps, that is until I happened upon the podcast Spooked, by the producers of Snap Judgment. Well-produced, compellingly-told true stories of ghosts and other dark and scary things, I was hooked from episode 1.

I sometimes listen to podcasts to help me go to sleep at night, but when I tuned into this one? Man! I was wide awake and itching for another episode. Check it out-- it's really that good.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

An Allegory

At this point in the season the tomatoes are still sweet and tangy, but they are fewer and their skins are a little tough since the waning hours of sunlight means a longer ripening time. Even so, there were plenty of cherry tomatoes when I went to the garden yesterday afternoon.

Several years ago I found an excellent recipe for those times when we are blessed with such profusion. It involves lots of olive oil, shallots, garlic, basil, rosemary, and a long slow cooking time that takes maximum advantage of all that pectin in all those tiny tomato skins resulting in a silky and flavorful sauce.

It's kind of cool to watch the tomatoes burst as they cook, each individual losing itself for the good of the whole. Tonight, though, the pot was full of recalcitrant, tough-skinned little tomatoes, seemingly unwilling to yield.

Oh, I could have taken a masher to the batch of them and crushed them into submission, but I didn't. I hoped that with a little extra time and patience they would come along, and? They did.

(Except for that one little yellow pear tomato. That one I totally squished. After all, we had to eat.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Home Alone

"Whoa!" Heidi said as I made the right turn to go home. "I thought we were going straight to the movies!"

"But we have some groceries that should be refrigerated," I told her.

She shook her head. "Lucy is not going to like that!" she replied.

"We have enough time to take her out for a quick little walk," I said, but she was unconvinced. Still, we had our tickets and we had our groceries, so we followed my plan.

As we shut the door behind us to go to the movie, a muffled howl rose up. "Is that our dog?" Heidi asked wide-eyed. Another soulful bay confirmed that it was. "That hurts my heart," she said as we dashed to the car.

On the way to the theater Heidi was pensive. "I hope she doesn't do anything destructive," she said more to herself than me.

After the movie we opened the door, unsure of what would await us. A small mangled heap of cardboard and plastic was on the living room floor, but everything else seemed intact. "What is it?" I asked.

"The toothbrush I just bought," Heidi answered.

Hm. I guess Lucy showed us!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Not Always Right

It was a long wait for some popcorn. The line snaked beyond the post-and-ropes they had set up and into the food court, but this was, after all, the premiere Chicago popcorn place. On the Sunday of a three day weekend, we were willing to wait for our own little bag of the cheese and caramel mix,along with a small canister for the hostess of the open house we were attending later in the afternoon.

Plus? Did I mention the free samples? Maybe that's why the line was so long. At any rate, we chatted amiably as we moved forward at an efficient pace. At last the young woman behind the counter spoke her magic words to the customer directly in front of us, a well-dressed woman who looked perhaps to be in her sixties. "What can I get you?" she said, stepping from the kitchen door where she had interrupted her service a few moments before to have an animated conversation with whoever was in there.

The order was slightly complicated, involving a substitution of one caramel corn for another, but it was handled with alacrity, until as the second scoop of popcorn cascaded into the jumbo bag, the customer pointed haughtily at a couple of stray pieces on top of the glass counter and said, "That does not look good at all."

The employee stopped, and tilted her head. "Excuse me?" she replied.

"That looks dirty," the woman elaborated.

"Well," the other woman shrugged with a smile, "we are really busy!" She pointed her chin at the line behind us.

"Not too busy for you to socialize in the kitchen," the other woman said archly.

Behind the counter, the young woman's eyes narrowed, her smile frozen. She flicked the popcorn into the trash. "We can call my manager if you'd like," she said steadily, and when there was no reply, she returned to filling the bag.

"Have you ever been to the stores in Chicago?" her customer asked in a conversational tone.

The employee's shoulders relaxed, and her smile warmed again. "No, I haven't had the pleasure," she answered, holding the full bag out.

"Well," the other woman spat, "they don't play there. The service is," she paused, "impeccable." She took the bag of popcorn, and moved self-righteously to the cashier.

From behind us, a concerned voice piped up. "Are you almost out of cheese corn?" he asked with a little desperation, because the bin was pretty darn low.

"Don't worry," said the employee, "that's what I was talking to the kitchen about. It will be out here shortly."

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Many Happy Returns

"It seems like we just had cake last week!" Heidi remarked as we finished our shopping for Josh's birthday celebration last Friday.

"We did!" I reminded her. "For Elaine's birthday."

And tonight, for the third week in a row? Another birthday party! It's Emily's family dinner, and yes! There will be cake!

Friday, October 6, 2017


"...and so we want every sixth grader to volunteer in at least two different focus areas this year," our IB Coordinator was addressing a group of students in our school lobby who were about to attend a service fair and meet representatives of several local organizations to find out how they might get involved.

"Oh, fuck no!" said the girl to my right under her breath.

I tilted my head and furrowed my brow in disbelief. We made eye contact; she frowned. "Did you just cuss?" I asked her.

She shrugged angrily.

"Let's step into the office," I suggested firmly.

I gestured to the row of seats lining the wall in waiting-room formation. She plopped down defensively. "My sister said this school was going to try to make me do something like this!" she started angrily. "And she told me that I don't need to do nothing but focus on my grades!"

"What do your parents say?" I asked.

"What parents?" she answered.

I realized I was looming over her and sat down in the next seat. "How old is your sister?" I asked.

"The one that said that? 23," she told me.

"Who else lives in your house with you?" I asked.

"My grandfather," she said, "but he's in our country, and my other 2 sisters."

"How old are they?" I asked.

"32 and 29. My oldest sister has two kids," she explained.

"Well," I said, "the service requirement here is because we think it's important for everyone to think about how they can help."

"Our family already gives away clothes to our church," she told me.

"Why do you do that?" I asked.

She frowned again. "Because there are people who need them!" she answered in exasperation.

"That's right," I said, "and you want to help. That counts for part of your service here."

"How can giving away some old clothes change the world?" she challenged me.

"It makes a difference when people see a need and try to do something about it," I said, "that's exactly how the world changes. The people who are here for the fair know that. All we want you guys to do is to see if there is anything you are interested in helping with. You don't have to do anything, but there are some cool groups here. Don't you want to check them out?"

She nodded. I could see she was interested. "There's no cussing, though," I told her.

"Fine," she shrugged and stood up. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Where Have You Gone little girl, little girl?

Today Lucy got her first real clip at the groomers. All her sun-bleached golden locks were left behind on the floor of the pup salon. Her adult coat is a soft and gorgeous dark red, and she looks great, but I miss the shaggy little puppy we dropped off this morning.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Reaching the Low Bar

I woke at 2 am to the dog staring at me. She's had some on and off digestive issues over the last week or so, and I thought it best to get up and take her outside. I had to pee, myself, though, and so I padded in the dark to the bathroom and straight into a cold puddle of diarrhea.

It oozed fouly through my toes as I hurried to complete my business and stuff both feet into the sink and under some warm running water. Then Lucy and I headed outside, where she wandered about squatting and squirting for some time.

When at last we returned to the house, I still had to clean the bathroom and open a few windows to air out the place. I slipped back into bed around 2:45, at which time the puppy and the kittens, all wide awake, chose to scamper loudly through the room.

Rest was not easy and I was merely dozing when the alarm snapped my eyes open at 5. The good news? It didn't seem that the day could possibly get any worse, and it didn't!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Frustrating and Innovating

I feel fortunate that teachers in our system get a relatively generous annual budget to order supplies. Over the years I have been able to acquire almost everything I need for a well-equipped classroom. Oh, don't get me wrong, I supplement quite a bit out of pocket, mostly books and specialty items, but as far as the basics are concerned? I can order what I need.

For example, each of the six tables in my room is supplied with a basket of scissors, glue, colored pencils, markers, post-it notes, a pencil sharpener, a stapler, and a tape dispenser. It is this latter item, there to allow students to affix printed resources into their writing notebooks, that most delights and distracts the sixth graders at the beginning of the year.

On any given day, there is tape on their foreheads, tape on their cheeks, tape on their mouths, and tape on their fingers. They tape the markers and glue sticks closed, make tape balls and stick them to the bottom of the table, and wrap the stapler in tape. Please don't waste our tape, is my constant refrain, because I know that each roll costs over two bucks.

Today, though, the tape mania reached a new pinnacle. "Look Ms. S!" a student waved, "I hurt myself!" He flipped his wrist over to show me what looked like a smear of blood oozing from a staple embedded in his flesh.

It was a pretty convincing example of special effects make-up done completely with a single staple, marker, and of course, scotch tape. His work was actually so impressive, I couldn't even be mad. "Wow!" I told him, "you are ready for Halloween!"

He grinned in appreciation.

"Now quit wasting our tape!"

Monday, October 2, 2017

Won't Back Down

Mondays can be tough, and waking up to the news of another mass shooting did not make this day any easier. At 5 am the death toll was an awful 20, but when I looked again at lunch, it had climbed to more than 50. Nothing about the Vegas incident makes any sense to me; it seems to lacks motive, ideological or otherwise. What's to be done in times like this when a single man can kill and injure almost 600 people in less than half an hour?

When the fire alarm went off this afternoon at 1:45, we assumed it was a required drill until the administrator in our meeting said, "Damn! Someone must have pulled it," before dashing from the room. With the school under construction we lingered outside in this glorious October day wondering silently where the fire engines would go since they must respond to any unplanned alarms.

How hard it was to keep from scanning areas of height or cover, or speculating about the possibility of someone who wished us harm drawing us out into the light.

And just a few minutes ago, when I woke up my computer to write this post, there were some reports that Tom Petty has died or is near death. Hoping it was fake news in the same category as Morgan Freeman and David Hasselhof, some quick research verifies that he is quite gravely ill.

Something I've always loved about Petty is his writing: his lyrics are clever and wise, witty and inspirational, and fun. Just the remedy for a day like today.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

But What Do I Know?

Heidi and Lucy went to their first obedience class today and both came home ebullient. "They gave tickets to people and dogs who were doing well," Heidi told me. "Whoever has the most at the end of the course gets fifty percent off their next class," she continued. "The most you can get in one session is ten, and guess how many we got?" she asked.

I knew it was ten without her telling me, and I was proud of my girls, but the teacher in me paused. What is the objective of fostering such competition? I wondered. It was clearly motivating to Heidi, but she has both experience and aptitude in the area of dog training. How do those who are less successful feel to be thrown into an unexpected contest? Although it appears that they have nothing to lose, if they feel unable to win, the structure runs the risk of being demotivating.

Fortunately for me, I live with the winners. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lucky Day Break

The first thing we do in the morning is take the puppy out to pee. On weekends, it's usually my chore, because I'm the first one up. So it was this morning at around seven that I pulled on a pair of sweats, and a bit bleary-eyed stumbled out with the dog.

Lucy was very perky-- even more so than usual, and the reason soon became clear. One of her best buddies, Cooper, was right around the corner. The two of them chased each other up and down the giant grassy hill in the back of our complex for at least 15 minutes, before I leashed her back up and she trotted happily home.

Do I wish I had my coffee first?


But when you have a seven-month old puppy in the family, even unplanned play dates take precedence over almost anything else.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Way Back When

My sixth grade team is called the Dolphins, and so as we tidied up our area yesterday afternoon in preparation for B2SN, one of my colleagues broke into song. "They call him Flipper, Flipper, Flipper..."

"...faster than lightning," I joined in.

We both stopped dead. "Do you know the rest?" she asked.

"No," I shrugged. "It was a little before my time. I have a vague memory of black and white Lloyd Bridges in swim trunks."

"I used to watch it," she said, "but I never really knew the song. I only know the beginning because my fiance sings it every time I mention our team."

We laughed and continued stapling pictures of dolphins onto the bulletin board in the hall.

Today the same colleague came into my room and picked up a game one of my homeroom students had accidentally left out. "Perfection!"

"I know," I answered."It's an oldie but a goodie."

She nodded her head approvingly.

"Wait!" I teased her. "Don't tell me you used to play it while you were watching Flipper!"

Thursday, September 28, 2017


I was literally teaching my class this morning, marker to the whiteboard, when an administrator opened the door. This is not unusual, colleagues come in and out all the time to observe me, or one student or another, or all of us, and they are always welcome.

I finished my thought and turned to him, still standing at the door. "Hello," I greeted him, "do you need something?"

He stepped toward me, and in a low voice, said, "Make sure you get those bulletin boards in the hallway updated before back to school night tonight." And then turned and left the room.

To review:

I was teaching


he took instructional time


tell me to decorate a bulletin board that is not even in my classroom.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Time and a Half?

In the last 48 hours I have produced, voiced, animated and added music to a video overview of my course for parents who might be too inconvenienced by our lack of parking (tell me about it!) to attend back to school night (but don't worry! I'll be there until 9:30 tomorrow night), attended four meetings and facilitated one of them, analyzed data, wrote a description of my first five week intervention period, updated both my team and personal web pages, viewed slideshows about several more new initiatives and was encouraged, in lieu of training, to "play around with" them to familiarize myself their features, and assisted colleagues both new and experienced in troubleshooting their own work in all of these areas.

Wait. What?

You want me to plan lessons and teach students, too?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Back to Basics

I'll be the first to admit that there is


out there.

Just this afternoon I sat in a meeting where a group of colleagues "fishbowled" a "data analysis" "protocol". But not before we reviewed the "norms" of our "PLC" and discussed how best to represent that our "systems" are "aligned" to our "management plan". We were reminded to make sure our "unit planners" with their "statements of inquiry" (an oxymoron if I ever heard one!), "key concepts", related concepts" and "global contexts" were posted along with the "learning targets".

I think you get the picture. There is so much blah, blah, blah out there that at times we lose sight of the real stuff. For example, the word "engagement" has definitely been overused by us educators in the last decade or so, and yet?

Guys! Engagement really is key to learning. If the student doesn't care and/or can't make a meaningful, personal connection, the lesson just doesn't stick. Just today I was showing a coworker the video from my former intern's audition on The Voice. "I never watch the show," I told her, "but knowing the guy? I'm totally in!"

She hadn't met him in the time he was working with me last year, but she was happy enough to watch the clip. "Look!" I said. "That's his wife-- she went here!"

"Oh my gosh!" she said. "I taught her! I can't believe it!" She gave me a high five. "I'm totally in, too!"

Monday, September 25, 2017

White Cat Red Mountain

I got a bumper crop of tomatoes from my garden yesterday. They filled my huge fourteen inch bowl in a beautiful mini-mountain of tomato goodness. I guess Tibby thought so, too, because she actually climbed to the top of the pile before being firmly shooed away.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

September Song

Officially, autumn began at 4:01 pm on Friday, but you'd be hard pressed to know it around here. 

Maybe it was the warm summery weather, but boy! Did we pack a lot into the last two days. They were filled with a fun and satisfying combo of hiking, cooking out, farmers marketing, escape rooming, and the like. All in all a perfect weekend, except for one thing.

We have to go back to work tomorrow.

Holla if you feel me!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Shared Sorrow

"All the children in your family lost a cat this year," Annabelle noted when she heard of the early morning passing of my brother's family cat, Trixie.

"That's right," my sister and I agreed.

Poor us.

Friday, September 22, 2017

All in the Family

What does my cousin want for her birthday dinner?

Why, chicken with white gravy and biscuits of course!

And she shall have it.

Happy Birthday, Elaine!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fan Club

We're teaching personal narrative to begin the year, and so some of my fellow teachers asked to use a little memoir I wrote a few years ago as a mentor text. It's the humorous tale of a baby-sitting job gone wrong, and my students usually enjoy it when I read it to them. Still, I was not prepared for the reaction I received when yesterday afternoon I was introduced to a group of sixth graders in Heidi's special education social skills class who I do not teach.

"I know you!" one of them said. "You're Ms. B's friend, and I read your story!"

"That's right," I laughed. "What did you think?"

"Those kids were bad!" she said, "And you were funny!"

Her friend was listening to the conversation. "Hey, Tracey!" she said, and the assistant who works with her whipped his head around in shock at hearing her use my first name.

"It's okay," I said, "that's my name in the story."

"Did you ever babysit them again?" she asked me.

"Nope," I told her. "I sure did not."

Just then another of their classmates pulled a wrinkled set of pages from his book bag. Sure enough, it was my story. "I'll read it to you!" he said. "It's really funny!"

Aw, shucks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Teaching with Benefits

"I haven't picked on you yet," the workshop presenter said jovially, looking pointedly in our direction. "What are the benefits of co-teaching?"

It was the Monday of pre-service week, and my friend Mary and I were sitting side by side in an all-day professional development about differentiation. Mary, the pro, answered first. "Two heads are better than one!" she offered succinctly.

I had never co-taught, and at times I struggle when put on the spot in large groups. The presenter looked expectantly at me. "Uhhhhhhhh," I stalled."There's someone to help you when you don't know what to say?" The room laughed appreciatively, and her focus shifted elsewhere.

I remembered that morning today, three weeks into co-teaching one of my classes. In the split second after I had finished giving the directions and the plan for the day, one of our less-focused, chronically disruptive students waved me over. "I'd like you to explain those directions to me one-on-one," he said. "I didn't really get it."

I nodded. "I'll tell Ms. F," I told him. "She'll be over in a minute."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Loneliest Number

After an unusually cool start to September, the weather in recent days has turned much warmer and more like the early Autumn we Virginians are accustomed to. Tonight we shed our school clothes in favor of shorts and tshirts before taking Lucy for her evening walk. Windows were open, and a few midweek barbecues were even sizzling as the three of us ambled through the neighborhood. On the last leg of our journey we blinked and blinked again, unable to believe our eyes. A single firefly flitted and flickered above a few late flowers, and call as she might for another of her kind to light up in reply, there was no answering flash.

Monday, September 18, 2017


The last time I got a pair of kittens was back in 1989. Molly and Oliver were fast friends; she was the brains of the operation, but he was definitely the sweetest of cats. That dynamic seems to be playing out in Tibby and Milo, but only time will tell.

Back then, Paula Poundstone used to do hilarious riffs on her cats in her stand-up routines. She always had a bit about using a squirt bottle to train them.
It does work, because water's very upsetting to a cat. It doesn't hurt them, or mess up their fur or nothin"-- it's just very upsetting. They don't know why. So when I take a shower it's the most incredible thing my cats have ever seen. They line up right outside the shower. I can hear them banging on the glass while I'm in there. And afterwards when I open the door, they're like, that was amazing! Man, it was all over you! And there was nothing we could do about it-- that glass thing was there; we couldn't get in... You must have realllllly messed up!
Something made me think of that bit this morning as I turned the shower on, but it wasn't until I opened my eyes after rinsing the shampoo from my hair that I noticed I had an audience. Front and center on the other side of the door was a wide-eyed little orange kitten who clearly was wondering What are you doing?!?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Three Dogs in a Pool

Doggy Dip, Pooch Paddle, Puppy Pool Party, Canine Crawl, or to quote Treat, "If you want to stretch it, Wolf Wash," whatever you want to call it, this evening was the official end of summer for us, when the pool closes for good before one last blast for all of our four-footed residents.

Isabel used to be a star of this occasion, but Lucy has a lot to learn in the ways of the water. Her cousin Sonic was steadfast: gliding through the clear water to collect tennis ball after tennis ball and return it to the stairs. Rosie was also a stand out, with a beautiful stroke, she had no interest in retrieving, her reward was the swim itself.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Welcome Milo and Tibby

Since the last time we adopted a cat, 13 years ago, the rules have changed a bit. These days, kittens are usually adopted in pairs, unless there's another cat in the home. It seems like that's a better arrangement for everyone-- the kitten has a buddy, and the owners don't have to worry about lonely kitten havoc.

Heidi's wanted an orange Maine Coon-ish type cat for a while, and being catless has hastened the search. A week or so ago I found Milo on a local rescue site and promptly emailed an inquiry. At 4 1/2 months old, his orange ear tufts and huge paws seemed to fit the bill. Milo was a guy who needed a pal, though, and so the foster mom asked if we were particularly interested in another kitten.

Nope, I responded. Is there anyone over there he likes? Turns out there was. A tiny little white Angora mix. If he likes her, we like her, I thought and hit send on the adoption application.

The kittens came today for a home visit, and joyfully, they stayed. Milo's friend is Tibby, a bold little kitten with a grey Mohawk and the subtlest of buff streaks on her silky tail. Heidi has already predicted that she will lead the pack.

And technically?

She's a calico, and I love me some calico-crazy when it comes to a cat.

Friday, September 15, 2017

No Need to Thank Me

I read recently that the smell of flatulence is actually good for you. Evidently, hydrogen sulfide in small doses can protect the mitochondria in our cells, thereby preventing stroke, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, dementia and other effects of aging.

So now when I toot a little (or a lot), I don't even say Excuse me.

Nope, I just tell Heidi that I am purifying our cells, one fart at a time.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

A former colleague stopped by school today to bid us all farewell before moving to Charleston, SC. Although her replacement is terrific, we miss her big smile and easy way with the kids already.

"So how's the year so far?" she asked, well aware of the challenges we are confronting with increased enrollment, new staff, and construction literally right outside our classrooms.

"Let me put it this way," I started. "Last year I made the decision not to even think about how things might be this year." I shrugged. "What could I change by worrying? I asked myself. Maybe it won't be so bad."

The other teachers and I who are still at the school shook our heads with woe, considering the trials we are facing in addition to actually teaching our students.

No parking, everyone stretched thin, new administration coming down hard on the kids, first year of departmentalizing special ed, flawed master schedule, and a brand new learning management system that nobody knows how to use.

"It's way worse than I ever could have imagined," I sighed. "Thank goodness I didn't worry too much.!"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Lord of the Whys

Why do we tell stories? I asked my class today as part of the personal narrative unit, and as they were discussing their ideas with another student one guy waved flagged me over.

"Can I tell him a story?" he asked, nodding at his partner.

"That's not exactly what we're doing," I told him, "but why do you want to?" I continued, drawing out the word.

"Because he told me one," he shrugged, "and now it's my turn."

"But you don't have to tell a story," I said.

"I know," he answered impatiently, "but I want to."

"But WHY do you want to?" I probed, eye brows raised. "That is the question."

"Oh," he said. "Because it's fun? Because I think he might like it? Because I will like telling it?" He paused. "Are you just going to ask me why, why, why, again?"

"Nope," I said. "Do you know why?"