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?"

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sleep Deprived

Why? Why? Why?

Our puppy was doing so well-- out of the crate at 4 months, recovering from spaying like a champ with no chewing licking or even whining about her little pillow of shame. So last night, after the stitches were out, and she finally had a chance to play with other dogs for the first time in 10 days, and she ate a healthy dinner and was neatly groomed, it didn't seem like such a stretch that she might sleep soundly through the night.

And yet...

Let's just say, if Lucy ain't sleepin, ain't nobody sleepin.

After a night of jumping and playing and chewing and tossing and rocking and rolling, today was a very long day.

Monday, September 11, 2017

And There She Was

"I forgot to give Emily these tomatoes," I complained to Heidi as I packed up to leave school today around 5. "I don't know if she's still here, but I wrote myself a note for tomorrow," I continued, stepping into the hall and closing my door behind me. A quick glance down the looooooong corridor to my right revealed a miraculous sight. "Emily!" we shouted. She turned around, and I ducked back into my room to grab her gift from the garden.

Happy ending!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Did He?

We talk a walk on the National Mall this morning, hoping to enjoy the beautiful weather and tire our puppy out. Our plan was to walk from the Capital to the Lincoln, reflection pool to reflection pool a distance of two miles, and back again.

As we neared the first reflection pool, all the ducks diving drew Lucy's attention, but I was more engaged by the brother and sister walking toward us. She perhaps eight and he around six were also fascinated by the animal life in the pool.

"I see a shark!" he cried and grabbed her elbow.

"They don't have sharks here!" she said crossly.

"Where are we, again?" he asked.

"Washington!" she told him. "The Capital?" she jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the impressive edifice gleaming white against the amazing blue September sky.

"Well I saw a shark," he said.

Saturday, September 9, 2017


"Going for the exotic vegetables, are you?" the woman ahead of me in the grocery line asked as I unloaded my shopping basket. "What is that? Cassava? Jicama?" she guessed.

I laughed politely. "No, it's rutabaga," I shrugged, "actually pretty homespun."

"Well, I never eat rutabaga," she assured me. "Sweet potatoes? Yes. Carrots? Sure, lots of them."

"Better watch out," I warned her. "Rutabaga could be next... Those are definitely gateway vegetables!" 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Imperfect Storm

Week one is in the books, and oh my gosh you guys!




Could it be the grueling combination of new students, new staff, new curriculum, new learning management system, new elementary school being built right outside my window, and...

old teacher?


I see you Monday.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Telling the Tale

The first week of writing workshop is spent gathering ideas for personal narratives in our new writing notebooks. It's more fun than it sounds-- the kids get to play around with a few low stakes get-to-know-you writing exercises that are designed to turn up some new topics for the first unit.

On Wednesday it was If you were a character in a novel, what would the plot be? As I circulated from student to student, I found that just having them tell a story from their lives in third person turned out to be incredibly freeing. There were so many compelling tales about family, friends, heartbreaking losses, school and playground drama, pets, championship games, and changing schools, cities, states, and countries.

"What would the story be about?" I asked each kid.

"It's about a 9-year-old girl and her mom and brother who travel to Africa," one girl explained. "Her dad had to stay home to work," she continued. "All the grown-ups were really nice to the kids when their mom was around," she said, "but one day when their mom went shopping, the mean maid locked them in a closet!"

My eyes grew wide. "Wow!" I told her. "What a story!"

Another student's story was about a boy who was starting middle school. When he found out that his buddy wasn't on the same team, he didn't even want to go any more. He begged his mom to skip the open house so that he could stay home and play video games, but she insisted. When he got to school that afternoon, he was amazed to run into another kid who had been a really good friend in 4th grade until he moved and went to another school.

"It has a silver lining!" he told me.

I had to agree.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Baby and the Bathwater

On the second day of school our interdisciplinary team met. It was the first of semi-weekly meetings that will continue throughout the year and the final vestige of the middle school team model that was the standard when I began my career.

Back then, teams were intentionally-organized independent entities designed to support students and based on the theory that a small group of adults working with the same kids could use their common knowledge to both educate and build a community to support the whole child. Students would feel connected and nobody would fall through the cracks.

We spent a lot of time in the 3-4 times a week we met discussing students and meeting with other professionals and parents to find successful interventions to help them. The model wasn't perfect, but it was helpful in smoothing the way down one of the roughest roads many kids encounter.

These days the focused has shifted, and supporting the whole child has taken a backseat to academic achievement measured by standardized tests, an approach more reliant on technology and disciplinary expertise than personal relationships and community. Although teams exist in name, kids are cross-grouped more and more, and the discrete, grade-level team is a thing of the past.

Today, I saw the glazed eyes of my colleagues as they sat through a meeting that was significantly devoted to the needs of students they don't know and never will. When time is a premium, as it always is with educators, such a practice cannot stand, and my prediction is that the middle school model will be abandoned in a decade.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

First Impressions

Every year there is some notable feature about the latest group of sixth graders. This year it has to be height. I kid you not-- there are at least 10 kids who are under four feet tall.

"There must be a colony of elves nearby!" I noted to my colleagues as the students left us following their first day of middle school. "I hope they are the industrious kind."

Monday, September 4, 2017

So Long for Now

The cicadas were screaming this afternoon as we pulled into the parking lot at Roosevelt Island. Clearly, the place had been packed before-- as evidenced by the cars pulled up on the shoulder of the parkway on the other side of the stone wall-- but we had no trouble finding a spot. At 4 PM on Labor Day, the holiday weekend was winding down, despite the persistent aroma of wood smoke and barbecue.

As Lucy, Heidi, and I ambled down the trail and across the bridge crossing the Potomac, a fresh breeze blew over the river from the north, and without thinking the three of us paused to look over the railing. Lucy's eye caught a merry group of kayakers passing beneath us, and she cocked her head when they disappeared. Heidi and I looked out over the towers of Georgetown University and the National Cathedral, standing clear against the late summer sky.

We had a very pleasant walk along the perimeter of the island and then returned to our car, crossing the bridge again with the western sun in our eyes and summer at our backs, falling ever farther behind as we headed home.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


A house wren has built her nest in one of the hanging baskets on our back deck. I knew what she was up to when she darted away each time I watered, but I figured she'd go on her way after being regularly drenched.

A few rain storms later, she was well-established. especially since I hadn't been dumping water on her every day. And now? There is an ever strengthening peep peep peep coming from the basket, and a quick peek inside reveals a lovely woven structure with an opening to the side (presumably to keep the moisture out!).

Oh, I'm not angry-- the plants are fine, and what an idyllic young life those nestlings have! Imagine being born on a late August day in a basket of mint and flowers. I wish them all the joy that such a lovely beginning surely promises.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Mane of Shame

As Lucy's inevitable spay surgery approached, we tried to be proactive. Every pet I've ever had has been a little bit traumatized by that giant megaphone that some politely call a surgical recovery collar, but everyone else knows as the cone of shame. Watching them crash and stumble around the house is heartbreaking, so hoping to get ahead of that awfulness I researched alternatives.

The top two were an inflatable ring that resembles a travel pillow or a life vest and a soft, velvety version of the cone which was also designed to look like a lion's mane, complete with ears. Perhaps I should have known better, especially when the product description exclaimed that it could double as a Halloween costume, but that was the device we chose.

And... it is adorable! And somewhat useful, but we did go buy an inflatable ring this morning, and of course that classic, let's call it, Elizabethan collar, shall we? Is standing by.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Just Add Kids

Before I left school this evening I paused to look around my classroom. It was ready for the first day next Tuesday. In fact, it was so ready, everything just so and just so familiar, that I had to blink a few times to remember that summer even happened.

Year 25?

Here we go!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

It's On

On the Thursday of pre-service week we always host an open house for new sixth graders and their families. Moving to middle school is a big deal, and it must be comforting to scope out the place and put a few faces to unfamiliar names. Our message is simple-- Don't worry! When you come to this room on Tuesday, I will tell you everything you need to know. 

Almost everyone leaves feeling better, including me. It's always great to meet the kids, and the open house reminds me that I have been doing this job, this very job, in this school and this very room for quite a while. I know what I'm doing, no matter how many monkey wrenches are thrown my way. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Down a Man

There is no math teacher on my team right now. Last spring saw the exodus of three of the four sixth grade math teachers, and as of yet, with less than a week to the firs day of school, only two have been replaced.

Oh, never fear! There is a plan in place along with the promise that someone is definitely in the pipeline to start within a couple of weeks, but amidst the back-to-school bustle and buzz, the classroom across the hall from mine sits dark and empty. "What are you going to tell the kids and parents at the open house tomorrow?" a concerned somebody asked me today.

"I' just going to say that we're not offering math on our team this year," I shrugged. "If they want to take that class, they're going to have to switch to another team."

I thought it was funny.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Time Will Tell

Today I found out a couple of things I didn't even know I wanted to know.

1. What will happen when it's raining, and we're running late, and there's no parking lot at school?

It turns out, that so far, not many of our colleagues seem interested in parking on the street that adjoins the far side of our campus. Of course that may change in the next two years.

2. What would happen if the consultant who was hired to present an all day professional development to half the staff were to become violently ill with a stomach bug?

It turns out that we would be tasked with making all manner of gymnastic adjustments so that we could reschedule our PD for tomorrow and still meet, plan, and. Ollaborate with our colleagues who were in the other session which was not postponed.

Do I dare wonder what else I don't know I need to know?


Monday, August 28, 2017

Just No

Our little Lucy really is improving on the leash-- she's a good girl and she wants to do well, but at 6 months it's really hard sometimes. Fortunately, her fellow dogs are on our side. Oh, they know she's a puppy, but when she stands on her back legs and tries to tangle all the leashes, their patience is limited. Most of them turn and trot away to the far end of their own tethers, leaving their owners to shrug apologetically as Lucy turns her head in adorable confusion.

"I don't blame 'em!" we usually say as we continue on our krazy puppy walk.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


"I need to run to the garden," I told Heidi yesterday. "I think there may be some tomatoes and a few other things ready to pick."


Two half-bushel baskets later I staggered home. This morning? We canned 12 quarts of tomatoes! AND there are so many more in the garden that will be ready this week.

"How many tomato plants do you have anyway?" my brother asked when he saw


"A lot!" I answered.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Leader of the Pack

"They seem to be walking pretty well together," I said to Heidi, sweeping my arm at the three dogs ambling amiably by our sides. "Well, except that Sonic's a little ahead of me," I noted.

She nodded.

"Don't worry!" I assured her. "He's nearly 13-- I think I can outwalk him." And with that I picked up the pace a bit. But, so did he. Soon we trotting down the parking lot.

Heidi laughed. "Wow! I don't think I've seen him move that fast in years!"

Friday, August 25, 2017

Thank Goodness

How does it feel to be back to school? is a question many teachers hear at this time of the year.

For me it's never been an easy transition, no matter how much I love, or do not love, my job and workplace. Even so, there's nothing quite so sweet as Friday Night when you're just a workaday gal.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

I'm With Her

Because of construction going on at and around our campus, parking is going to be at a premium for the next couple of years. Fortunately, the district secured spaces in some temporary lots; unfortunately, over half of them are about half a mile away. Oh, there is a shuttle, but, well, it's not very convenient.

In the interest of fairness and transparency, the administration did a double blind lottery right after our meeting the other day. I waited to see where my spot and those of my friends and teammates would be, silently considering the logistics of all the possibilities. When at last my name was called, I was assigned to the far garage. Rather than despair, though, I crossed my fingers for Heidi's luck, since her name had not yet been called.

When it was? She got a spot much closer to school. "Another plus for marriage!" texted our friend Mary.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lavender Lining

As a last day of summer hurrah, my cousin treated the three teachers in her life, Heidi, Emily, and me, to lunch on the town. The meal started nicely with calamari and fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and tomato jam for the table. They were yummy, and I was gratified that everyone (but me!) agreed that my tomato jam was better than theirs.

When the mains were served, it took me a few bites to recognize that my grilled fish tacos were actually burned beyond tasting good, and so I flagged the waiter and asked him to take them back to the kitchen and let them know, which he did, graciously. I chose not to reorder or order another dish, which worked out for me, as dessert was next, and the restaurant is known for its milkshakes.

I don't usually order a sweet after a meal, but after sending my lunch back, I figured I had something coming. Oh, there was blueberry pie with lemon curd and cheesecake on the table, but my lavender milkshake? Was better than them AND a million fish tacos!

I'm going to remember that.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Breaking Ice

The first meeting of the new school year started with... an ice breaker.

"Uncommon Commonalities" required random groups of 5 to trace one of our figures on a big piece of mural paper and identify at least 10 things we all had in common excluding school and the area we live in. As I lay down in a classic crime scene pose, I eyed the one guy in our group of otherwise 50-something white women and said, "You are going to make this tough!"

And he did! Where everyone else liked coffee, gardening, and probably pedicures, he wanted to know who watched what sports. Cooking? "I guess you have to eat, so, yeah," he shrugged.

Oh, he wasn't the only outlier, by any means. "What's your favorite color?" I asked him.

"Blue," he answered.

"Blue," said the next person.

"Blue or green," said the third.

"Blue!" said the fourth.

"What about you?" asked the guy.

I laughed. "Yellow," I answered.

And so it went until we agreed that we all liked to read, go to the beach, have pets, travel, and eat ice cream, chicken wings, and pizza. In addition, we all saw part of the eclipse, celebrate Christmas, and appreciate flexibility.

We listened as people from the other groups reported their commonalities. "We all go to church!" one of them told us, "And we love Jesus!" she finished.

The guy and I looked at each other. His eyes were wide. "That would have been a hard one to say no to!" he whispered. "Thank goodness I wasn't in that group."

Monday, August 21, 2017


I'm not sure why I did not really engage with the great eclipse of '17. Perhaps it was the hype; I predicted it to be over-publicized and underwhelming, and I made no real plans for the afternoon. Still... there was something awfully alluring about the entire phenomena, and in the end I could not ignore it.

In fact, I dreamed about it last night. I was standing on the sidewalk of a small town, and across the street was an older man in a lawn chair explaining what an eclipse was. He was under the awning of an old-fashioned hardware shop, and as I listened to him, I noticed the reflection of the sun in the plate glass window of the store, and I watched the whole eclipse without any strain to my eyes.

So this afternoon when I found myself in the parking lot of a grocery store, I put on my polarized shades and looked for the reflection of the sun in the tinted windows of my car. It was not as clear as my dream, but when I squinted? I could see the shadow of the moon, and I was mesmerized. Fortunately for me, a young employee of the store was standing out front graciously offering to share his glasses with anyone who was interested in taking a peek.

Yeah. That was a waaaay better view.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

RIP Joe Levitch

News today that Jerry Lewis has passed away at the age of 91. Wow. My wish is that he rest in peace, but my feelings about his career are a little more complex. I have to say that I never found his humor funny. It always seemed a little inappropriate to me, even as a child. The fools he played always seemed to me to smack of ridicule rather than self-deprecation; they were stupid, and we were meant to laugh at them rather than with them.

Then, the telethon. I confess that part of my dislike for the spectacle was the inconvenience of having every program on one of the only three channels we got preempted for the last day of summer. Even so, I was not a picky TV watcher in the least (Did I mention we only had three channels?!), and there was definitely something about the program that turned me off.

It might have just been the sweaty tuxedo and cigarette that Lewis sported with manic weariness in the waning hours of the show, or the cheesy giant thermometer that showed donations, or the boxy tiers of "operators" manning the phones under stark fluorescent light. It just didn't ring true to me, despite the kids in braces and wheelchairs who were always part of the spectacle.

Who knows? These ramblings are based on 45+ year-old-memories, but considering all the fond memories I have of my childhood? Jerry Lewis is not part of them.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


"What are you guys doing the rest of the day?" my brother asked after we had met up at the dog park with the puppies and Sonic.

Emily and I had already been to the farmer's market while Heidi and Bill watched the dogs, and Lucy was pretty worn out, so our schedule was pretty wide open. Heidi and I looked at each other and shrugged. "No big plans," I said.

"Why don't you come over for dinner then?" he replied. "I'll make steak and tuna, and we'll have a good summer meal."


Hell yeah!

P.S. I'm bringing the tomato jam and corn ice cream!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hmm-ing Bird

Just a moment ago I opened the sliding glass door and took a deep breath of warm, humid air. At the end of a passing thunder storm everything dripped, and so I did not step outside but rather surveyed the hanging baskets and planter boxes through the screen. Everything was flourishing.

To my right brilliant green wheat grass sprouted a couple of inches tall, planted for the cat we no longer have with us. Could there be a clearer sign that life goes on, I wondered, or is it just a patch of grass that nobody even wants?

The tiniest of chirp pierced my sadness. A hummingbird as gray as the sky sipped at the salvia in the hanging basket across the deck. I held my breath as she whirred to within inches of where I stood, and just above the cat grass paused at a striped yellow petunia and drank her fill of nectar and rain water before silently zipping away.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


We had about a half an hour before our movie started this afternoon, so Heidi, Josh, and I wandered down the plaza, grabbed a coffee and a lawn chair and played a quick game of giant connect-four in the breezy, sunshiny day.

I loved it!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Jam

I spent a big chunk of the day dispensing with the bounty of my garden. Perhaps the coolest thing I did with tomatoes was to turn 2 pounds of lovely little homegrowns into 8 ounces of tomato jam with rosemary, a touch of orange, and a hint of habanero.

To my readers who are skeptical of such a [con]fusion of sweet and savory: try it! It's really good you guys!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Even as I spent my day pickling peppers and cauliflower, putting up tomato sauce, and adding "can salsa" to my end-of-summer-vacation list, my sister-in-law was helping friends who are moving overseas to clean out their pantry, freezer, and fridge.

She came away with an impressive haul of all manner of luxury grocery items, so many that my brother despaired of ever finding a place for them. Not to worry! How could I resist the offer of free, really good stuff?

Oh, I took a share of the loot including home-roasted Hatch peppers from New Mexico, Chinese cooking wine, jarred chestnuts, pistachios, hazel nuts, demi-glace, and duck fat. "It's a windfall!" I tried to console my brother. "We are going to eat well this fall!" But even so, it was hard not to think that, really? There was too much bounty here.

Back home again, I inventoried my own plenty and vowed not to allow it to go to waste.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What You Eat

I get a lot of my news from the radio: listening as I dress, cook, drive, etc. helps me to stay informed about a wide range of topics, some of which I never see in print.

Take the ethnic minority group that lives in northwestern China. As Muslims, they have clashed with the government there, and are by many accounts persecuted by the majority Han Chinese. A couple years ago, when there was more unrest than usual in Xinjiang, I was fascinated by the reports of this people and culture I had never even heard of, who to my ear were called the Weegers.

But as the U.S. election heated up, and ethnic clashes of our own and other international concerns took precedence, those stories eventually faded from the lineup, and from my attention as well, I am somewhat sorry to say.

And so it took me a minute when a few months ago I read a review of a relatively new restaurant nearby to recognize the cuisine. Billed as a fusion of middle eastern and Chinese, the place was a Uyghur restaurant.

Ooooohhh. That's how you spell it.

And tonight we finally made it there. Dry-fried shrimp, homemade noodles with ginger and aromatics, lamb-stuffed naan, and a lovely little bok choy and mushroom dish were all really good. The deserts? Were not. They almost seemed to be an unaccustomed luxury-- barely sweet and rather dry and garnished with tiny pieces of fresh fruit.

I think there's a story there.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Minding the Small Things

"Sensory memory is so strange!" Heidi noted this morning as she reached down to give Odie the miniature Schnauzer a farewell pat. "My family's first dog was a Schnauzer, and even though we lost him 30 years ago, I remember he felt just like this," she sighed.

I know how she felt. My whole weekend was filled with tiny deja vu moments. Everything from the grass in the fields- soft flat blades, plantain, a few dandelions, and a healthy dose of clover, mowed to about 3 inches- to the shiny tar on the pavement and the softball-sized Jersey peaches for sale at all number of roadside stands, reminded me of things I didn't even know I'd forgotten.

In fact, such memories were much more powerful and satisfying than seeing the things I thought I remembered today. The schools where I began my education were shabby and worn as were the neighborhoods and landmarks I recalled. (Although the liquor store that used to deliver cases of beer to our home and pick up the returnables did have a certain retro cool.)

Our last stop on memory lane was also a disappointment. Rancocas Woods, a historic colonial-style shopping village was still there, but gone were all the sticky-trunked Pitch Pines that shed their needles onto the sandy soil, as was the old wooden wagon and stocks where our out-of-town guests were always invited to poke their heads and wrists through for a little taste of early-American justice.

The candle store where we shopped for extra special gifts for my mom was closed, but the antique place was still open. As I browsed through the merchandise, I had to laugh at some of the items they had for sale: the last time I was there, those Corning bowls and 1974 road map of New Jersey were brand new.

In a tiny shop crammed with Colonial Christmas carolers and cocktail napkins, though, I found some hand-dipped bayberry tapers, and just like the other small details, they ignited a memory, too. My Aunt Sis bought them whenever we shopped there, and they always graced her home and holiday table.

Now I have some, too.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

In the Moment

Sometimes I think having a camera in my pocket at all times can be detrimental-- there are definitely occasions when I am more concerned about getting a good picture than actually enjoying the moment. Today the opposite was true. 

We took the dogs for a walk before heading out for some shopping with the girls. The park we chose was nearly deserted, and after exploring its winding trail through forest and farm, we ended up on a huge expanse of empty soccer fields, so we let Lucy and Odie, the miniature Schnauzer, off leash to run. 

We had a ball, but it turned out that we didn't need it-- swallows were darting and diving all over the fresh-cut grass, and both dogs took off after one. I laughed and laughed as it led them in wide looping circles and tight turns, as if on purpose. Lucy and Odie ran as if they were sure that at any moment they would take off and fly, too,  and they probably sprinted more than a mile in sheer joy before we called them over, leashed them up, and gave them some water. 

Oh, I don't have a single picture of their gleeful escapade, but I don't need one. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Glass House

One of the god-daughters was talking about her middle school yesterday. "What's it called, again?" I asked.

"Melvin H. Kreps," she answered.

"Who was he?" I said.

"I have no idea," she shrugged.

Perhaps I've been jaded by working in a district where most of the schools are named for notable historic people or places. "What!" I said, "You've been at that school for two years and you don't even know who it's named for? I can't believe it!"

"Maybe you're just more curious than most people," she replied, and we all laughed because she obviously knows me very well.

So last night after the girls went to bed, I did a little online research to uncover just who Melvin Kreps was. It took a little digging, too, because every simple search turned up information not about the man, but rather about the school. Still, I stuck with it until I found that his main claim to fame was that he was a former superintendent of the local school system.

I was just about to self-righteously snap my lap top shut, already imagining how I would tell the girls over breakfast what I had discovered and thinking what a paragon of inquiry I was, when it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea who Samuel M. Ridgway was...

...other than the guy my middle school was named for, that is.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shiny Objects

We were walking the dogs this morning when my attention was captured by glittering colored specks all over the pavement. It looked like someone had smashed several bottles-- green, blue, and amber-- into tiny pieces. I expected to hear crunching under my shoes as I moved forward, but my steps were silent. I paused then and removed my sunglasses to better examine the road. The glass was embedded and smooth to the touch, almost like flecks of sea glass. Looking ahead, the sun glinted and sparkled from the surface. It was amazing and beautiful, and I found it difficult to lift my head from the street beneath me. Oh, but I did, just momentarily though to google the phenomena on my phone. It turns out that glassphalt is a thing.

Will the wonders of New Jersey never cease?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Who Says You Can't Go Home?

"Here we go into the best state ever!" I said today as I always do whenever we cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge heading north. "Welcome to New Jersey!"

I have the softest of spots in my heart for the place I lived from the ages of 4 to 13. I started school here, got my first pets here, made my first friends here, and my memories of that time in my life are rosy and warm, so I love the place.

"What exactly is so great about New Jersey, anyway?" Heidi asked as we zipped along the turnpike, more curious than contrary.

"Oh my gosh!" I replied. "Everything! Well, jug handles to begin with. You rarely have to make a left hand turn from a busy road."

She nodded, unconvinced.

"They have the Pine Barrens, the Shore, blueberries, peaches and tomatoes. And they have lots of important historical places." Just then we rolled past a quintessential South Jersey landscape-- a wide, winding creek bordered by tall pines and wild grasses. "And then there's that." I swept my arm at the vista to our right.

"Pretty," she agreed.

"And Bon Jovi, Springsteen, and Philly Soul?"

"Not bad," she shrugged.

We drove on into the late summer evening, the trees casting sharp shadows in the slanting golden light, so familiar, so welcoming.