Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Go Ahead-- Be a Square

When we were kids we were lucky enough to travel a lot. Our dad worked for TWA, which meant unlimited standby flights, and my parents believed it best for us to literally see the world. Honestly? It was fantastic! (Thanks Mom!)

Of course, such privilege involved a lot of time spent on planes and waiting in airports, and so in that time long before smart phones and tablets we became experts in entertaining ourselves with cards, comic books, and paper. One of our favorite games involved creating a matrix of dots and taking turns connecting them. Anyone who closes a box, scores a point, and such a deceptively simple game involves quite a bit of strategy.

So, today at lunch when Richard and Annabelle had exhausted the tic-tac-toe boards on their kid menu place mats and our meals still hadn't arrived, I flipped one mat over, grabbed a crayon, and began to make a grid.

Some things just never get stale.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Southern Hospitality?

We were just outside Durham, NC when we stopped for gas and a restroom break. The gentleman at the register was surprisingly dapper; with white hair, mustache, and beard and a matching white suit he seemed a little more suited for KFC than the modest little Family Fare convenience store. In truth, he couldn't have been more than five or six years older than I am, but his look was definitely from another time.

"Would you like a bag?" he asked after ringing me up.

"No thanks," I shrugged as I scooped up my three bottles of water.

"Well, aren't you the independent little lady," he noted in a nasal drawl.

"I like to think so!" I winked as I pushed out the door.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Just Pull the Plug

Oh my!

2 inches of water filled our nearly vintage Jeep this morning after a summer boomer last night. No worries! I simply pulled the plugs on the floor and let it drain. A few towels later and the vehicle was cleaner than it has been in years. Well, maybe the upholstery was a bit damp, but a hot July sun steamed most of that moisture away.

Good thing, too--

It rained again this afternoon.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Morning Stroll

Dogs need exercise, even when the temps top 90, and so we tried to beat the heat today by taking the top down on the Jeep and rolling down to the Tidal Basin before 10 AM.

It was an eventful little stroll. We walked through an actual wedding that was taking place across from the Jefferson Memorial. Heidi, Lucy, and I skirted the group of 8 just as the groom began his vows. Unfortunately, the German Shepherd who was also in attendance barked energetically at the little puppy who dared near the ceremony.

Next we walked past a group of young folks carrying colorful, homemade posters. Meet a Muslim! offered one. I'm Muslim; ask me anything! invited another. They were a jolly assembly, and if I had had any questions, I would have approached them willingly.

A little while later we found ourselves trailing another group of young people with a very different vibe. "She almost gave me a Corgi playdate for my birthday!" gushed one guy, "because I love them so much!"

And when we passed by four generations of a family, Lucy was a good enough girl to sit and let the two-year-old pet her and (smooch her on the lips!)

At the Jefferson Memorial I got a facetime call from my sister, and through the true marvels of technology we chatted in the shade of live oak at the bottom of those famous steps.

Back at the Jeep, it was too hot to consider another trip around, but to be honest, it didn't seem necessary!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Staying in the Kitchen

This year my strategy for beating the heat has changed drastically. Instead of blasting the a/c? I open the windows whenever I drive and let the hot air cool the sweat from my brow.

It works.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Time is Not a Palindrome

We are just off a string of palindromic dates, which is definitely one of the unexpected delights of living at the turn of the century. The turn of the century? Wow. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe that that time is this time.

Forgive the banality of my observation, but time is a funny construct. I have found myself writing and thinking about it much of the, time, actually. My last two blog posts were unrelated but for their examinations of time and its passing, which I did not address consciously; those trite observations just happened to be the intellectual highlights of a couple of slow steamy days in July.

Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of the times that inspires such meditation on time, or perhaps it’s my age that draws me to the ages. Certainly rubbing away my wrinkles every morning with a product literally called Regenerist is symbolic if not sub-consciously thought-provoking.

Maybe living with an older person who casually dismisses pleasures of the past with such phrases as that ship has sailed and those days are gone is what sparks my scrutiny. I suppose it could be the time I have spent researching my family tree this summer that has led to a greater contemplation, but somehow I feel that such research is more an effect than a cause.

I confess that I do get lost in the generations, though, and all the lives that led to mine. Four grandparents, eight greats, sixteen great-greats, 32 three times greats-- sixty souls and two and a half centuries, and me a dead-end on that ever-branching highway of humanity.

Oh, but it turns out that I am in good company in my genetic cul-du-sac. Other childless folks throughout history include George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Queen Elizabeth I, Nikola Tesla, and Betty White. I’m sure they were all wonderful aunts and uncles, as I like to think I am too. Well, maybe not Elizabeth. She had the habit of executing her relations.

That was a long time ago, of course, but I have recently been a witness to the cold complications of cutting off your kin. My elderly cousin is living with us now because she has been so forsaken. Their story is double-edged, as always, but none of the players can see their side of that blade. There’s a lot of blood, but very few tears.

This is the week of the year when it seems like almost every kid I know has a birthday. Two on the 12th, one on the 13th, two on the 16th, and one each on the 17th and 19th. It used to be our dog’s birthday, too, but 13 x 7 was the end of that happy equation.

There are so many mysteries when researching your ancestry, and some regret that you didn’t ask the right questions when you had the time and opportunity. Now you are at the mercy of vital record-keepers, newspaper-digitalizers, and hucksters peddling suspect intelligence for a monthly fee.

What surprises me most about my family tree is that no one seems to know my grandmother’s birthday. Her children are all gone, but none of the remaining 22 cousins know the date. We do know it was sometime in 1902. I hope it was in February, preferably between the 10th and the 19th.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

File Under "Time Flies"

Regular readers know that we love us some documentaries in this house. I happen to be especially partial to those that cover the history of my own life. As such? The CNN series that documented the 60s one summer, 70s the next, and 80s the following year was a big hit. But honestly guys?

When did the 90s become historic?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Go-to Philosophers

We had a lunch today with a friend and former colleague. Chris has been gone from our school for three years now, and as we chatted about this person and that, it became clear to me that, as usual, Calvin & Hobbes had it right.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What You Pay For

My friend Mary and I took some time out of our summer to write a little curriculum today. (Oh! Don't worry! We were well compensated for a time, as teachers always are.)

Our school happens to be a part of an international organization, one you may have heard of, and as such, the majority of our teaching is to be documented in a prescribed format. And so it was we found ourselves at 10:30 on a Monday in July anxiously scanning and rescanning our laptop screens, desperately trying to make sense of the comments on the work we had already done.

"I don't understand a word of this!" I said in disgust. "It's gibberish!" And I read a few sentences to emphasize my point.

"I know what you mean," Mary answered. "Every word is in English, but I have no clue what it is trying to say."

Still, we persisted.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


There are a couple of young squirrels who have taken to lounging on our little deck whenever nobody's out there. They relax on the railing and even go so far as to nap on the Adirondack chairs. In fact, they act like they were born there, which I'm beginning to suspect they were. Welcome home, little squirrels-- don't wreck anything!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Heart of It

We were shopping the farmers market this morning when a sign at a meat vendor drew my eye: they were selling beef heart for 4.99 a pound. It seemed just the thing to add to our pets' raw food diets, and so it was that I found myself butchering the two pound aorta of a beast who lived a happy and dignified life, they assured me at the market. It was muscular, but not tough, and had no sign of fat or other disease. It was a pure heart, and Penelope and Lucy will doubtless appreciate the sacrifice.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Heidi can not stand having Lucy spend the night in a crate when she might be snuggling with her. Well, snuggling might be the most accurate of terms, especially since my wife has been known to send a beloved pet flying across the room in the middle of the night for the smallest of transitions. Still, they adore her, but from a distance on the bed.

That means that our pets wind up sleeping on my side, because it turns out that I am a very compliant sleepmate. On any given night you can find me in a variety of yoga-like poses clinging to sleep while trying to accommodate the dog or the cat. But Lucy has introduced a new wrinkle into our nocturnal activity. Last night she licked my feet clean for at least 10 minutes.

In that twilight state between wake and rest, my complaints were feeble; I think I may have groaned and wiggled my toes in protest. What she got out of it I have no clue, but tonight?

My feet are going under cover.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Fresh Produce

We saw Spiderman: Homecoming today, and while it was definitely a big explosiony summer confection, it was made it even sweeter by an extraordinarily low body count for such a movie. One. Just one single character died in the whole 121 minutes.

Oh, and Michael Keaton as the disenchanted blue-collar joe turned villain Vulture wasn't too bad as , either.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ask a Silly Question

I stopped by the gym today to reactivate my membership after it lapsed a while ago when my credit card expired. We exchanged polite small talk as the sales manager updated my account. "So, you're a teacher, eh?" he started. "Do you have any plans for the summer?"

"Well," I answered, "I'm going to join the gym!"

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Founding Fathers

My mom and I spent a little long-distance genealogy time this morning. The website we use has changed a bit since last she was actively using it, and so I was answering her questions as best I could. We chose an ancestor at random to use as a study case and started from there. Jones Temple is my five times grandfather on my mother's mother's side.

With a few clicks and a little analysis we traced our line back a few generations from Jones to a family living in Virginia in the early 18th century. "Well," my mother laughed, "it's not William Bradford, but it's pretty good." She was referencing my last big family tree discovery, which happened to be on my father's side.

"Who knows?" I replied, "maybe someone is descended from the Jamestown guys."

We turned our attention to more recent relatives, but our conversation stuck in my head. So after we hung up I kept digging, and? Believe it or not, it turns out that my 11 times grandfather did indeed immigrate to Jamestown, not in 1607, but just twelve years later.

I called my mom to give her the news. "He got here in 1619," I reported. "Which, I would like to point out, is one year earlier than the Pilgrims."

Monday, July 10, 2017

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled...

As summer vacation continues routine is out the window, and the days expand and contract to take on shapes of their own.

Take today for example:

Lucy and I woke at 6 and rose 30 minutes later; our young new neighbor breathlessly approached us as we made our first exit to ask what to do when your car is towed for no sticker; after assisting him as best I could, there was breakfast for all and Heidi, too, when she made her way downstairs around 7:30.

There was plant-watering and dog-visiting until it was time to meet a colleague at the dog park and then head over to try a new kebab place for lunch, dining al fresco at iron cafe tables in the shade outside the library. Arriving home with our exhausted puppy we decided to let her nap as the housecleaner did her job and take in a movie.

The Big Sick was entertaining, and finding Lucy still a little sleepy, we headed off to the pool for an hour. Now Heidi and Lulu are out on a walk while I prepare zucchini cakes, grilled chicken, and sliced tomatoes with basil for dinner.

From here? Who knows what the evening will hold? But isn't that the beauty of it all?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Like Cats and Dogs

Still no sign that Penelope is embracing the whole puppy thing; there is spitting and growling and hissing and yelping whenever the two of them get even a little close. No worries though- they have the rest of their lives to work it out.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Not so Lazy Days

Summer school starts at my school on Monday, and I am thankful not to be involved. One argument against summer vacation from school is the documented lapse that many students experience after so many months away. Not every kid has the summer full of reading and unstructured playing and  swimming and listening to the radio and doing chores and taking day trips and vacations and having conversations at dinner that I had when I was younger. Those activities were stimulating and involved critical thinking and problem solving that exercised my young brain, even if the game shows and soaps I also watched did not. Or did they? Maybe summer is kind of like the R.E.M. sleep of a kid's life, an active rest essential for proper development. Now if only they could find a way to measure that.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Kayak with a Twist

"Sure!" I said when my friend Mary asked if I would help her put her kayak on the roof of her new car to take to the beach.

"Ew!" I said when she flipped it over and showed me a season's worth of wet leaves and rodent-chewed styrofoam.

"No worries!" I said when the hose splashed me as I held the boat up at an angle so she could squirt it out.

"Hold that while I pull!" I said once we had the tie-downs around the kayak.

"Oops!" I said when we noticed the roof was bowing in beneath the styrofoam blocks.

"Let's Google it!" I said during the test-drive when Mary predicted she wouldn't be able to last the 6 hours down to the beach listening to the high-pitched vibration coming from the roof.

"Wouldn't it be funny if that fixes it?" I said after we read that if the straps are flat they will vibrate like the reed in a saxophone and sing the whole way, but if you give them a twist it will stop.

"There you go!" I said when it worked.

"Right!" I said when Mary laughed that at least I had something to write for the blog, and I should call it Kayak with a Twist.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Jiggity Jig

It was a zippy 7 hour trip along Lake Erie, up the Southern Tier, through the Alleghenies down to the coastal plain, and through this undrained swamp we call...


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fair Play

We spent part of today visiting with some of Heidi's extended family. It was breakfast with one of her aunts, a cousin and her cousin's daughter, and then lunch with a cousin from the other side and her 2-year-old son, Henry. They were very nice people, and I did a pretty good job holding up my end of the small talk.

And? Since one of my cousins is actually living with us, it's not like I had any room to complain.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Wee Bit Homesick

Being on vacation is fun, but there are always some comforts of home that can't be transported along. I miss my cat and in summer, my garden, too. "Oh you don't have to do that," Heidi's mom said when I started pulling weeds from her flower beds this morning.

"I want to," I answered,"and I'd be happy to water later, if you like."

Too bad they don't have a cat.

Monday, July 3, 2017

I Tumble For You

Niagara Falls is one of my favorite stops any time we are in Western New York, and since Heidi's family is here in Buffalo, I have been to the falls many times. And yet, with a nod to Heraclitus, it really never is the same place twice. Depending on the season, who else is along on the trip, and where we end up parking, the experience is not only different, but new every time.

Ten years ago, you would find us in line with four little boys clad in yellow plastic ponchos and disposable sandals, waiting to take the elevator 185 feet down to the Cave of the Winds and the craggy path that leads to the decks on the edge of the falls.

Four summers ago we parked in town and made our way through an early Canada Day festival to the well manicured park just north of Bridal Veil Falls. From there our group of 2 seniors, 2 adults, a 12-year-old boy, and our dog walked over the foot bridge and on to the Horseshoe Falls overlook.

A couple of Christmases ago, Heidi, her mom and brother, took advantage of a warm December day and wandered the nearly empty park. All the concession were closed for the season, giving the place an air of abandonment, and letting us have the falls almost to ourselves.

That summer, we visited the Canadian side with my mom, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and niece, marveling at how, well, Canadian,everything seemed even though we were within view of the U.S. the entirety of our excursion.

And today the sun was shining, a cool breeze was blowing, and from we parked we walked over another bridge and into a section of the park I've never seen before. A trail ran right along the rapids and made detours over raging tributaries to get out to the Three Sisters Islands. Then we followed it down the river toward the rainbows and mist rising dramatically ahead until at last we were at the top of the Horseshoe. From there it was around to the visitors center, which, to my disappointment, was under construction, meaning the statue of Tesla was in storage.

No doubt he'll be back soon. And so will I.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

WNY State o' Mind

Lunch on the patio
River walk
Corn hole

Let the vacation continue!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Handful of Weeds

On our walk yesterday, we passed a lady picking wildflowers as she went, creating a colorful little bouquet as she wound along the path. It was such a lovely idea, that I picked the next flower I came to, a sunrise-hued blossom appropriately named Butter and Eggs. We were distracted after that by other joys-- dogs and kids and creeks-- and when we met the lady on her way back, I presented her with my flower to add to hers. "They're beautiful!" I told her.

"Thank you," she said. "Other people would call them a handful of weeds."

I remembered her words today when we took another walk with Heidi's folks. The pace was slower than I might have made on my own, but I picked a couple Butter and Eggs and started from there. The enterprise occupied my mind and slowed my sometimes anxious feet.

Once around the little pond, and Heidi's mom declared my bouquet "florist-worthy"!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Around the Sun

We were tromping through a lovely meadow toward a footbridge spanning a gurgling stream. The sky was blue and a light breeze ruffled the grasses and wild flowers. It was a perfect birthday moment, one that made me reflect on June 30ths of the past.

"Last year on my birthday we went to the Lucy museum," I reminded Heidi, and this year--" I nodded my head at the frisky red puppy bouncing along the trail between us, chasing dragonflies.

"We love Lucy!" Heidi finished.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Road Is Long

The long and winding road

We pulled out of our parking lot at 10 sharp, just as we planned, and headed north without a trace of rush hour traffic.

That leads to your door

"Bring me that puppy!" Heidi's mom texted back when we let her know we were on the road.

Will never disappear

Our map app directed us up through Frederick and Breezewood and then onto a combo of windy Pennsylvania roads interspersed with a few miles of interstate here and there.

I've seen that road before

It is a route we have traveled before, and one I enjoy-- sending us over mountains and through state forests. We opened our windows at one point and turned the radio loud enough to hear over the wind rushing through the car.

And we made it to Buffalo in 7 and a half hours, including stops for gas and to clean up Lucy's puke in the back seat. All in all? A pretty good summer road trip.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How Happy We Would Be

Why can't every day be 80 degrees, sunny, with no humidity?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Customer Service

The space was obviously brand new when I walked in this afternoon. Boxes were plied in the corner, everything was shiny and new-- except for that are still outlined in blue painter's tape. The system seemed very new as well; when the automatic doors swooshed open, I was unsure where to turn.

After a lap of the store and several failed attempts to make eye-contact with blue-shirted folks at hi-tech stations, I joined the line at the counter to the right of the door. People who were clearly accustomed to the former system seemed confused-- hoping to simply drop off this cable box or that modem, they were told to hang tight while their name was entered in the customer service queue.

The young man ahead of me was quite vocal in his dismay. "And exactly how many people do you have serving us?" he demanded of the woman at the desk who ignored his question.

"What is your first name, sir?" she inquired politely.

"William!" he answered, and sweeping his arm in exasperation across the chaos of the room, added, "I'll be outside smoking!"

At about that time, the store manager relieved her of first contact duty. He expediently checked the two people ahead of me, Lauren and Richard, and me in. After that I wandered the space some more wondering if they were going for an Apple Store vibe or something else. Either way, they had a long way to go. A dozen or so people were gathered on hip couches in front of a huge screen TV showing college baseball. All of us were intently listening for our names to be called from some station scattered throughout the room.

"Courtney?" called an agent. A relieved customer practically skipped over.

"Courtney?" called someone else from across the room.

"They just called her!" groaned a young mother from the TV.

"Sorry! Mario?"

And so it went, until someone called William. There was no answer. I scanned the room. He was in the back, ear buds firmly planted. I made eye-contact with the agent and nodded my head toward the kid on the couch. "I think that's him in the red shirt," I told her.

"William!" she shouted in his direction.

He pulled out one bud. "Did someone say 'William'?" he asked.

I nodded at her. "Thanks!" she mouthed. And when it was my turn? She gave me great service!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Good Idea!

Last year we celebrated the end of the school year with a lobster roll and a movie. This year, I was hoping to make that meal a tradition, and so around 1:30 last Friday afternoon when our rooms were packed and our paper work complete, Heidi and I rushed home to fetch Lucy and Cousin Elaine for an al fresco lunch. Arriving at the restaurant, we were disappointed to find that they had closed their outside dining because a storm threatened. Right across the way, another place was not as cautious, and so we had a perfectly pleasant lunch on their patio, although lobster was not on the menu.

Today, my hankering for that dang sandwich was still pretty strong and so the four of us tried again, and this time we were rewarded with a perfect summer day and the meal I was hoping for. On the way out, we ran into another teacher from our school. "You know what?" she told us, "I just went to the gym and thought Today is the first real day of summer-- I should treat myself to lunch!"

I looked at the lobster roll on her plate. "How is it?" I asked.

"Great!" she answered. "I think I might make it a tradition!"

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Plymouth Rock

The reaction was not as I expected.

"Guys!" I called to Heidi and Cousin Elaine this afternoon from the computer. "You'll never guess what!" I had been poking around on my favorite genealogy website, tracing back the line of our Western Massachusetts ancestors.

They looked at me impassively from the living room. "Not only did our family come over on the Mayflower, but we are directly descended from William Bradford!"

With a polite nod, they tried to get back to what they were doing.

"William! Bradford!" I repeated. "You know, the head pilgrim!"

(Perhaps that was a bit of hyperbole, but he was 2nd, 5th, 7th, 9th & 12th Governor of Plymouth Colony, AND the author of Of Plymouth Plantation.)

"Mm hmm," they said.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


We are a three dog family for 24 hours this weekend. Lucy's cousins, 12-year-old Sonic and 5 month old Rosie are staying with us. I've written before about how Rosie and Lucy wrestle each other silly whenever they get together, and Uncle Sonic plays referee. I may have also mentioned how dog-crazy Lucy is. Now that is a cyclonic combination! So much so, that when Sonic and Rosie are visibly lagging and ready for a break, our girl is still rarin' to go.

I think we'll all sleep well tonight.

Friday, June 23, 2017


Yesterday I wrote of how I gave my students the charge to write the nicest thing they could about each of their classmates to end the year on a note of kindness and gratitude. Well, I, too passed my notebook around, and I was extremely moved by the praise of my students.

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I will share two comments:

The best teachers tell you where to look but not what to see. You are one of the best teachers on the face of the Earth.

I never liked to write, but you changed that. Thanks for teaching me.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Last Lesson

To end the year I shared the story of another teacher and another class with my students. The tale of Mark Eklund and his teacher Sister Helen is oft-told: how she had him in both 3rd and 7th grade, how despite his squirmy talkativity he never failed to thank her for teaching him, and how on one tough Friday afternoon she had her students take a moment and list the nicest thing they could think of for each kid in the class, and how when Mark was killed in Vietnam he was carrying his list, and how all the other former students who attended his funeral had their lists also.

After hearing the story, we passed our writing notebooks around the circle and everyone wrote the nicest thing they could think of about each of us in our book. At the end of class everyone was excited to read the messages, but I asked for their attention one last time.

"Today is our last day together," I told my students, "and I will miss you. But you are all going forward together," I paused and gave them my best teacher look. "Try not to forget to be kind to each other."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We're Still Learning!

But online quiz sites are definitely some of my best friends this week! Thank you Kahoot!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Final Equation

   2 days left of school
+ 2 substitute teachers on the team
   4 goodness' sake, you guys!

Monday, June 19, 2017


The big field trip for this year is in the history books-- we had another successful selfie scavenger hunt today. 47 sixth graders and 8 adults made our way downtown and around the Tidal Basin searching for fun objects and enlightening information as we went. Each find was photo-documented and posted to a blog created especially for the occasion. An IMAX movie in 3-D completed the experience.

Riding back to school on the bus I asked one of the chaperones if she'd had a good day.

"Yes!" she answered. "I had the best group!"

"Wait," said the teacher beside her, "I thought I had the best group."

We laughed. "That's the beauty of this trip," I told them. "The kids really like it, and so everybody really does have the best group!"

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lady Peeps

One of Lucy's favorite toys is a large lavender peeps stuffie, and although the squeaker gave out long ago, she still loves that filthy bunny. Today Heidi saw another one on clearance and couldn't resist the purchase. Oh, Lucy was thrilled-- chewing and squeaking away until she suddenly stopped, ran to her crate, dug through its contents, and produced the original. Then she gave a contented puppy sigh and flopped down with Mr. Peeps and his hot pink lady friend.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Miss Congeniality

For her entire life, our last dog was terrified to go to the groomer. Every visit was an ordeal filled with trembling and whining, and although she always looked great at the end, no one was happy in between.

It's hard to say why the experience was so negative; we have speculated considerably over the last 13 years. Could it have been that first time when they blew her out into a gigantic puff ball, and we laughed when we picked her up? Oh, the groomer scolded us soundly, but perhaps the damage was done. Or was it that time Heidi's mom and I gave her a bath because she had rolled in something? My mother-in-law is no one to be trifled with, and Isabel learned that lesson then.

No matter the cause, in an effort to avoid such distress with Lucy we made an appointment with our groomer for a puppy bath today, and Cassandra couldn't stop smiling when we picked her up. "She's so happy! She loved everything!" was the report. "I really like her personality!"

And although such praise made us sad that Isabel never showed her loveliness to the groomer, we were also thrilled that Lucy had no such challenge.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Too Much Fun

It wasn't the assembly with the record holding jump roper; no that was much too early in the day. That was followed by bowling, throwing balls at moving targets, the Indian version of red light green light, and a wacky British relay called corkscrew, and still, the kids held it together. Next we played a complicated Greek game a little like Ultimate Frisbee X3, golfed, ran around chasing balls and bringing them home, did a water balloon toss (twice!) and had popsicles before heading off to lunch.

Trying "Egyptian" food, making kites and flying them seemed to go pretty well, and watching a movie seemed to calm everyone down before the grand finale-- the student-staff basketball game, which was definitely a rolicking occasion.

How come it wasn't a better day?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

That's Entertainment

Any student-run production is high on my must-see list, and although it got off to a rocky start, the annual student talent show this afternoon did not disappoint. I actually missed the first performance due to an impromptu staff meeting, walking in as the emcee proclaimed it "Amaaaaazing!"

After that there were several karaoke-esque vocal performances hampered by technical difficulties and somewhat marred by being much too long. "I want a comedy routine," I whispered to my friend Mary, and shortly after we were rewarded with knock knock jokes to fill the lag time between acts.

Then there was a wacky rendition of Cake by the Ocean with awkward hand gestures a-plenty; a number which remained our top performance until a seventh grader belted the heck out of the theme song for Captain Underpants which brought down the house.

Way to go kids!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Get Outta Here

This afternoon our team had a little going away party for a couple of colleagues who are off to other opportunities. There were small gifts and an ice cream cake to celebrate their new horizons and drown our sorrows at losing them. 

"I can't have that," said Joel, who has been on our team for four years, when I offered him the cake. "I'm lactose intolerant!"


I must have missed that.

Oh, well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Looking Forward

A student waved at me on my way out of the building this afternoon.

"See you tomorrow!" I called.

"OK!" he answered. "But I can't wait until next week!" he added. "The field trip and everything? It's going to be great!"

"I agree with you!" I replied. "But I think the next week is going to be even better!" I winked.

He laughed. "Yeah, it is!"

Monday, June 12, 2017

You Got Me There

The upper 90s they were predicting inspired me to wear flip flops to school for the first time in a long time today. "Oh you had your toe nails done!" One student exclaimed, and although it was true, it made me a little cranky.

"How do you know I don't always have them done under my shoes and socks?" I asked her, eye brows raised.

She raised hers right back at me. "Do you?" she asked.

"No," I admitted, "but I could."

"No," she shook her head, "that's not really your style."

Sunday, June 11, 2017


I spent an hour or so at the garden this morning, weeding and watering and putting in a few annuals for bouquets later in the summer. When it was time to go, I happened to open the top bin of the little potting bench we keep in the corner, and a few wasps flew out. On closer examination, I noticed the beginnings of a paper nest, just five or six cells. It's inhabitants were as mad as the hornets they were, but luckily I avoided their wrath, smacking one of them through the air with my trusty shovel. I couldn't get in there to remove the nest, though, that chore is for another day soon when I am armed with something to subdue them first.

I did a little research when I got home, and it turns out that those five were probably the first generation. The queen starts a nest on her own, and then the offspring pitch in as they mature, growing their home exponentially. Luckily, I discovered their habitat early on, because lifting the lid on 125 or even 25 wasps could have been a way different story. Wasps are generally regarded as beneficial to gardeners, preying on insects that would gladly eat our crops, and I would consider keeping them around, too, if it weren't for that stinging thing.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

So Close and yet So Far

After a busy morning of chores, errands, and working on grades, we took Cousin Elaine over to check out the National Harbor complex today. In the 12 years since she moved away, that site has grown considerably. Our main objective was to hit the outlet mall, but we stopped for a late lunch at the waterfront first. Seated outside, with a view of the water and right across from the farmers market, we relaxed and enjoyed people-watching along with our seafood.

Along with the tourists and strollers and shoppers and dogs, a light breeze wafted up the cobblestone way, and I took a deep breath. "Two weeks from today..." I started with a sigh.

"...we'll be out of school!" Heidi finished. We made eye contact across the table. "Hope we make it!" she said.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Making the Grade

A woman of about thirty walked into my classroom this afternoon. "Ms. S!" she cried. "Do you remember me?"

I was on the spot. It was the end of a long day and a longer week, and later I would find out it has been 17 years since she was in my class. Still... I didn't want to give up. There was something familiar in her face, a hint of the girl she had been so long ago in sixth grade. My brain practically creaked and groaned as I reached back.

"Is it something with a J?" I asked.

"Yes!" she clapped.

"Janet!" I said, and added her last name, too. And once I had recognized her, I went about proving I had remembered her all along, asking about her sister, brother, and mother by name.

She was pleased, but no more than I was. I know such a lapse of memory would easily be forgiven, but I still felt like I passed a very important test.

Thursday, June 8, 2017


On the day after a marathon 4+ hour testing session, my reading class was working on "evaluating a short memoir to determine the main events and create an illustrated chronology showing them" (aka the chicken chronicles timeline project) when a student asked if I would play some music while they worked.

"You bet!" I winked, and soon the Chicken Dance was blaring from my little bluetooth speaker. "C'mon you guys!" I encouraged them, until about half the class was snapping their hands, flapping their wings, and wiggling their butts to the music. And when it came to the slow polka part of the song, I locked my elbows with this student and that merrily skipping in circles while other kids did the same.

Oh, we had a good time, but not everyone was amused. One boy held his hand in his head. "The fourteenth reason why," he muttered with dark humor.

And then there was a knock on the door. "The office sent me," the messenger said in a hushed tone. "There are people testing in the room below you, and they said you are shaking the ceiling."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

20th Century Skills

I heard recently that most VHS tapes will be unwatchable in the next 10-15 years. The technology that dominated home entertainment from the 1970's through the early part of this century and changed the way we consume TV and movies just wasn't designed to last. Which makes sense in a way-- VHS was the threshold of on demand viewing... if you can watch something anytime, availability stops being an issue.

This point was driven home to me the other day when, in a moment of down time, students watched the beginning of the movie National Treasure. Although at first they resisted a bit, when the bell rang 40 minutes into the film a collective groan filled the room. "What was the name of that again?" several students asked, interested in viewing the end.

One kid was particularly interested, and worried that he wouldn't be able to find and watch the end.

"I have a copy right here," I offered, raising a DVD. "Would you like to borrow it?"

"Oh," he shook his head in disappointment, "I don't know how to use a DVD player."

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


I overheard a couple of kids talking about their phones this afternoon. "I almost got in trouble for my phone today," said one, "but luckily it was a substitute so she didn't take it."

"If I get mine taken away," said the other, "my parents will take it away for a week!"

The first student gasped.

"So, I just turn it off all day," continued the second.

The first student's eyes widened in disbelief. "How do you even do that???" she asked, cradling her phone like a baby to her chest.

It was her friend's turn to be incredulous. "It's easy," he shrugged. "You just hold the button down until it says power off."

Monday, June 5, 2017

There is No Substitute

Because of a new district policy, this year as a language arts teacher I was unable to administer the state test to my own students. As a result, I was assigned to invigilate for the students on another team. Those kids did not know me, and so I was treated to what I thought of as a bit of substitute teacher behavior.

At 8:30 on a Monday morning with a high stakes assessment on the line, these hijinks did not amuse me. A few seat changes, a couple of reprimands, and threat or two later, they were settling down when their teacher called with a question about my group, which she was proctoring for.

"Oh, hi, Ms. B," I said pointedly," looking at the group with raised eyebrows to let them know who was on the line. "How are they doing?" I repeated her question and paused before I answered, making meaningful eye contact with a couple of kids. "Well, there a some sketchy characters in here," I told her.

There was a collective gasp.

"I think they'll be fine, though," I finished.

And after that, they were.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dawn to Dusk

When you have a puppy your day starts early, and so it was that I had baked 3 loaves of banana bread and a dozen and a half sweet potato muffins, packed all the recycling, watered the plants, paid the bills, and straightened the downstairs all before 8:30 this morning. Still, there were farmers markets to walk to, gardens to weed, errands to run, pedicures to be had, and meals to cook.

And so right now? The puppy is sleeping.

And I wish I were, too.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Windows open,
dogs barking,
birds singing,
breeze blowing,
sun shining.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sold Out

I was a little concerned about sending the information for our end-of-the-year activities out with less than three weeks to go. So often over the last 25 years I have found myself counting pennies and making phone calls the night before a trip just to be sure that everyone was included.

But this year our team decided to give the students a choice of activities, one on campus and one off. The field trip was a repeat of last year's selfie scavenger hunt and IMAX movie, and based on an interest survey, I booked one 55 passenger coach. The rest of the students would get to enjoy some fun summer-camp style activities back at school.

"Space for the scavenger hunt is limited," I told the kids yesterday, "and it will be first-come-first-served, so if that's what you want, make sure you bring your money and signed permission slip as soon as you can to guarantee your spot." And with that, I turned my mind to fixing flawed test rosters and modified schedules.

I should have known something was different when a couple of kids waved twenties at me on my way in this morning. "I sent some kids away from your door," a colleague told me inside, "and told them to come back at 7:40." As soon as the bell rang, a line formed at my desk and out the door, and by 7:55? The trip was sold out. I had collected 1000 dollars in payment and scholarship donations.

By the end of the day, the bus company and IMAX theater were paid in full. I'm stunned and relieved, but my heart goes out to the kids who want to go and can't.

BUT... I'm working on it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What? June!

That's what I wrote on my board this morning as my daily message to my homeroom students. On one level, it seems impossible that another school year will soon be over, and to be honest, I love my students this year. I will be sad to see each and every one of them move on to seventh grade.

There is a pent-up excitement in the kids, though, that they are hardly aware of, and that undercurrent of ridiculous, wild energy hums through the halls, spurting out in this or that impulsive behavior: neck-slapping, food-tossing, fidget spinning, dress-code challenging, giggles and whines.

And, oh, there is so much to accomplish in the three weeks we have left-- final assignments and high stakes tests, field days and field trips, all to be organized and supervised.

So, yeah.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Both Sides Now

I was bummed this morning when I woke up to the persistent pattering of rain, and when I took Lucy for her morning walk, my carefully careless coif curled crazily. Later, driving to school in soggy sneakers and damp clothes, I passed my garden and relaxed a bit and stopped grumbling. At least the tomatoes were enjoying the weather.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Money Quote

"You want give the subject of your profile the last word," I told my students. "End your piece with an inspiring quotation that really sums up the essence of that person." And to help them do so, I showed them examples and we imagined what questions the reporter had asked to get such a response.

Even so, we were looking at student work, which can be flawed, and when the words of a young basketball player flashed up on the screen one kid in the room grimaced and shook his head. "That's not very inspiring," he said.

"Well," I said, shrugging, "sometimes reporters have to work with what they get." I made eye contact with him and raised my eyebrows. "Not everyone is lucky enough to get someone who is well-spoken. We all have different strengths."

He nodded in understanding. When the lesson was over and it was time for them to follow up with their subjects to get that perfect ending, he walked over to me. "What advice do you have for people considering getting a puppy?" he asked, and I gave him my inspirational best.

"I really am lucky to have someone well-spoken!" he said.

Lesson taught; lesson learned.

Monday, May 29, 2017


We were driving past a family on their bikes this afternoon when Heidi asked me if I thought a certain student at our school could ride a bike. "No," I answered, "but there are lots of kids at school who can't ride bikes."

In Washington, D.C. there is a PE teacher who wrote a grant to teach a unit on bike riding to third graders, and in our district, third graders go to one of the high school pools to learn to swim. "I guess kids today don't learn the same things our parents taught us when we were young," I noted, before I thought better of it.

"I wonder if there was a time when people thought it was a shame that some kids couldn't ride horses," I mused. "Maybe they said things like, Can you believe so and so can't drive a carriage?" I laughed.

"And who knows what the future will bring," Heidi said, "Especially with self-driving cars on the horizon."

"Well," I shrugged, "I'm glad I can swim and ride a bike," I paused, "AND drive! Also? I wish I could ride a horse and drive a wagon."

"It's never too late, Babe," Heidi told me. "It's never too late."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

They Shall Inherit the Earth

An unexpected evening spent in the emergency room has been a revelation. This world is being taken over by young people! Not a single one of the health care professionals we saw tonight was over the age of 35, and most of them were under 30. Fortunately, if these folks are any indication, the future is in good hands. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

1 is for One More

Technically, I'm finished with the writing challenge, but for students who are trying to complete 100 days of writing, I have added the numbers 1-9 as well. I thought I would be relieved to finish, but like that April 1st eight years ago, I find myself at kind of at a loss. Turns out I like writing something for my students to read every day. Go figure!

So, 1 is also for 1st time at the garden. Today was the day we cleaned out all the spring and winter weeds and planted vegetables in our community garden plot. To be honest, even though I love having a garden, I was seriously considering making this the last year, because the season for putting the garden in falls at a very busy time for a teacher. Fortunately, my nephews Josh and Treat helped today, and we were done in under four hours. Now all that's left is to water and weed, and sit back and wait for the homegrown veggies to start rolling in.

Oh, and Lucy was there, too. She has never been to the garden, and so we brought a bone for her to chew. It kept her busy for a while until she literally tried to bury it!

Life Lesson: Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. ~Thoreau

Friday, May 26, 2017

Z is for Zonked

Lucy got a little taste of beer at one of the graduation celebrations last weekend, and now she's right there whenever she hears a bottle or can open. In fact she knocked over a little glass a bit ago and lapped up as much as she could before we scooped her up. So far she seems fine-- no staggering, barking, or canine confessions, but we're watching her closely. Hopefully she will sleep soundly tonight.

She also had a chance to try coffee, but it must have been too bitter, because she made a funny face and ran away. Or maybe caffeine is the last thing a puppy needs!

Life Lesson: Sometimes you're old enough to know better, but too young to care.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Y is for Yawn

Lots of animals yawn, and we do it for many different reasons. Yawning in people can be a sign of boredom or sleepiness, and they say that yawning in dogs is a sign of stress or anxiety. Why do we yawn in these situations? No one is sure. It is possible that a yawn just gets your lungs working and your blood flowing, which helps to wake you up and/or calm you down.

Whatever the reason, Lucy has the cutest yawn I've ever seen. She opens her mouth so wide it looks like a crescent moon, sticks her tongue out in a curly cue, and makes a little squeal. If you've ever seen Snoopy from Peanuts yawn, then you can picture it.

Yawning, by the way, is also contagious. Just reading about it can make you yawn.

Life Lesson: Admit it... you are yawning.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

X is for X-men

"What is that really high-pitched sound that you can hear in this school sometimes?" a student asked me today.

"I don't know," I answered. "I can't hear it." I shrugged. "I guess I have old ears."

"No," he reassured me, "there are kids who can't hear it either. I guess I just have rrrreeeaaallly good hearing."

"That could be your superpower," I teased him.

"Exactly!" he said, seriously. "I would be called Dog Ears, because I can hear things most people don't, and my sense of smell is incredible!"

I laughed and nodded.

Lucy would approve.

Life Lesson: Heros are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

W is for Waiting for When

Walking up the path this morning I glanced down at Lucy. Even though she has nearly doubled in size in the month that we've had her, she is still so small and so cute. Her tiny tail curled happily upward as she sniffed in unmown grass nearly as tall as she is.

I appreciate how much better she is on the leash, though; it was literally a drag to pull her along just a few short weeks ago. Looking at her now, it's almost hard to remember how she was then. What will she be like in another month? Two months? Six months? A year? More independent and easier to care for? Definitely. Able to take long walks, swim, and fetch? No doubt.

But this little Lucy will be gone forever, and I'm going to miss her a little.
Life Lesson: Forever is composed of nows. ~Emily Dickinson

Monday, May 22, 2017

V is for Vacation

The last four days away have been awesome! It was wonderful to get the family together, take a road trip, and spend the days playing with the puppies, going to museums, hiking, shopping, and eating out. Even the rain this morning just made the rolling hills and fields of Western Massachusetts seem more green and beautiful, and driving south toward home it felt like I didn't have a care in the world-- nothing was too stressful; everything was manageable.

Hey! Summer Vacation! Wait up! I'll be there as soon as I can!

Life Lesson: Tension is who you think you should be; relaxation is who you are. ~Chinese Proverb

Sunday, May 21, 2017

U is for Undaunted

I was giving Lucy a good head and neck rub this morning when my fingers ran over a suspicious little bump. Parting her fluffy fur to get down to the skin was a challenge, but what I found there was a nasty surprise-- the puppy had a tick.

Fortunately my brother was right there and I made him take it off her. (Thanks Bill!) We spent the next 20 miutes combing over both puppies and turned up 6 ticks-- 4 on Lucy and 2 on Rosie, all from just playing in the yard and the edges of the woods outside our rental house.

The puppies themselves could not have cared less, and in a kind of mental good luck-bad luck exercise, I convinced myself that despite the presence of filthy disease-carrying parasites crawling all over my precious puppy, the fact that the ticks were small (but not tiny deer ticks) and had not yet firmly attached was positive.

Life Lesson: If you can't see the bright side, try polishing the dull side.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

T is for Two

On her first big trip away from home, Lucy has been lucky to travel with her cousin Rosie. Everywhere they have gone this weekend, those pups have been the center of attention. People literally point and stop us on the street to pet the puppies. And when we're not out in public, the two of them wrestle themselves senseless until they collapse into a furry heap of cuteness and fall asleep. In many situations, twice the number means mean twice the work, but with these two the formula is inverted and two puppies actually seem to be half the work.

Life Lesson: There is a fine line between the numerator and the denominator.

Friday, May 19, 2017

S is for Stop and Go

Still another remarkable thing about puppies is their tendency to barrel through life at full speed, only to hit the brakes and drop into a sound sleep without warning. What's lovable in young dogs, however, is maddening in traffic, as I was reminded this afternoon when Connecticut kept us hostage for hours on I-84.

Fortunately, Lucy slept through it.

Life Lesson: Begin at the beginning and the go on till you reach the end then stop. ~Lewis Carroll

Thursday, May 18, 2017

R is for Rosie

A week before we got Lucy, my brother got a puppy, too. Rosie is also a Golden Retriever mix, and that makes her Lucy's cousin in more ways than one. Let me tell you, if one puppy is cute, then two puppies are unbearably adorable-- almost too winsome and fetching to be real. Together they tumble and roll in a wrestle and blur of sunrise-colored fur, nipping and growling seriously, but never in earnest. In between bouts they flop, eyes narrowed and pink tongues hanging in satisfaction, until one or the other remembers the game and pounces again.

Life Lesson: Treasure your cousins; they were your first friends and will love you forever.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Q is for Quixotic

What was it that made Lucy attack the water pitcher this afternoon? Was it the fact that I was paying more attention to it and the plants I was watering than to her? Or did it seem like it was threatening me in some way?

Whatever the cause, it was so amusing to see her growling at the big plastic monster that I turned it on its side, and made it growl back. Soon the pursued was in pursuit, as that mean old pitcher tried to swallow first Lucy's head and then her favorite toys.

Oh she put up a good fight, rescuing Mr. Peepers and the Monkey Bear from within the terrible fiend, but when at last she got her teeth on the handle and tried to drag it away so that she could put an end to its evil shenanigans, she discovered it was just too big to take anywhere.

And as it sat there in the middle of the living room, she gave it a little growl each time she passed, just to remind it who was the hero.

Life Lesson: The scariest dragons and the fiercest giants usually turn out to be no more than windmills. ~Cervantes, Don Quixote

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

P is for Penelope's Puppy

Even before we got Lucy, we were preparing Penelope, our cat, for the addition to the household that was going to




Isabel was already here when Penelope joined the family, and although they were never the best of friends, over the 12 years they lived together they definitely developed a warm(ish) relationship based on mutual respect, if not mutual affection. (Isabel herself was always wild for other cats-- probably a result of not getting enough love from her kitty at home.)

So, we knew Penelope would need some time and support to accept a new puppy into her well-established life. And? She has. She won't eat with or near the puppy, and so we put her food on the stairs behind a baby gate. She also ninjas around the house, above and below the puppy's line of site to get whereever she needs to go.

And yet... she does have a certain fascination for that furry little ball of insanity, watching the puppy intently from all her safe places. And when we tell her that she has to "teach the baby" she looks at us quite gravely and winks.

Life Lesson: Never give up on something because it will take time-- the time will pass anyway.

Monday, May 15, 2017

O is for Oil Change

My nephew is graduating from college in Massachusetts on Saturday, and so this weekend is Lucy's first big roadtrip. In order to get ready, I took my car in for some routine maintenace after school today.

Let me be the first to say that I really don't know very much about cars and how they work. My strategy is to try and find a service provider that I trust and then listen thoughtfully to what they say before okaying the procedures and paying the bill. And yet... there's always a nagging insecurity that somebody is taking advantage of what I don't know.

I can't count the number of times my students have asked me why they need to learn this or that. My answer is always the same: we want you to learn how to learn and learn how to communicate what you know so that you can get what you want from this one short life.

And kids? Take it from me. There's a lot to know.

Life Lesson: I think it's pretty obvious.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

N is for Nutsy

A few years ago I read an article about an amazing border collie named Chaser who had a documented vocabulary of over 1000 words. Her owner was a psychology professor who assigned his graduate students the research project of teaching Chaser to recognize words. They ingeniously started with teaching her the names of her toys.

It was impressive, and even though we had named all of our dog's toys before that, the article cemented our commitment to making sure she knew which was which.

Of course a new puppy means new toys, and each one has to have a catchy name. That's how we've come to spend our play time calling for Mr. Peepers, Chewy Bone, Monkey Bear, Piggy, and Nutsy the Squirrel.

Does Lucy know the difference?

Maybe, but she definitely likes to hear them squeak.

Life Lesson: What we learn with pleasure we never forget.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

M is for Meditation

"Sleep is the best meditation." ~Dalai Lama

As I write, the puppy is crashed out on the floor, all hot body and heavy breath.

What does she have to be so tired about? I wonder. Her days are spent sleeping and eating and playing and pooping and peeing-- how tiring can it be? But her days are also spent growing. In the less than three weeks we've had her, she has increased her size by about fifty percent.

Sometimes I wonder what it feels like to grow, because of course I don't remember. When I was growing, I didn't know any different, and when I stopped, I'm not sure I noticed a difference. But how could you not feel your body expanding: limbs lengthening, skin stretching, and back broadening, like the Incredible Hulk in super slow motion?

It must be utterly exhausting!

Life Lesson: Sleep well-- you have a big day tomorrow!

Friday, May 12, 2017

L is for Goose

I come from a long line of nicknamers. My father, given name Robert, was known as Bob, Bobby, and Bummer when he was growing up. One uncle named Thomas was Tuck, and another named Walter was Pudge, and their sister Mary was our Aunt Sis. As for us? I was Legs; my brother was Willski, and my sister was Bomber. At the very least, there was a 'babe' added to your name, as in my grandmother who was Ada Babe and my sister's friend who was Tonya Babe.

Not surprisingly, we are all big nicknamers ourselves. My sister calls her children Booboo and Noodle; my brother's sons were Monster and Treaty Bird. (In fact he still calls them by those names sometimes even though they are in their 20s!)

It's hard to complain, though, since nicknames are a kind of proof that you are known. Not just known, I suppose, but known and loved. In our family, we are all so special that one name just isn't enough.

Of course that rule applies to Lucy, too. Even before she was home she was Lulu, Sweets, Lucy Goosey, and Poopy Doo.

But I have to say my favorite alternative to her given name is one that I hit on today. This morning when we were out and about, I looked over my shoulder and gave a short whistle. "C'mon Goose!" I called, and as she trotted toward me, I nodded at how well it fit.

Life Lesson: I love nicknames. It makes me feel loved. It makes me feel less alone in the world. ~Ellen Page

Thursday, May 11, 2017

K is for Kindergarten

I'm not the type of person who thinks of my pets as my children, and I really, really dislike the term "fur baby". It's not that I don't love my critters with all my heart; it's just that I know the difference between animals and people, and I respect the animals in my life for who they are. That said, you might be wondering how I found myself attending something called "Puppy Kindergarten" with Lucy.

I have to admit that there have been moments in each class so far when I have asked myself the same question, particularly when the instructor asks us how we would feel if we were in our puppy's place. Since I'm not a dog, I really can't say. In general, I favor an approach that is a little more focused on dog psychology.

But, like any good kindergarten the teachers know that their students need lots of time to play, and sitting back to watch a half dozen pups romp and wrestle is never a bad thing.

Life Lesson: Everything in life teaches a lesson, you just have to be willing to learn.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

J is for Joy

Too often I find myself pressed for time, way too busy and trying to squeeze too much stuff into too few hours. What's sometimes lost among the stacks of papers on my desk, the emails that need to be returned, and the ever-growing to-do list is whimsy and fun, deep breaths and an open heart. Spending my days with kids helps: their energy and optimism lifts mine, and there is something to laugh at every day at school.

Having a puppy is a powerful antidote as well; when Lucy pounces and scampers after Mr. Peepers, her favorite toy, joy is irresistible.

Life Lesson: We're so busy watching out for what's ahead of us, we don't take time to enjoy where we are. ~Calvin and Hobbes

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I is for Ice Cubes

In the last days of her life, our dog Isabel did not have much of an appetite. Late at night I would wake to the restless smacking of her dry mouth. What could I do but go down to the kitchen and break up some ice cubes for her? She sighed gratefully each time I placed the small bowl of ice chips in front of her and quietly lapped them up before slipping off to sleep. I was happy I could comfort her like that.

These days Lucy spends the early mornings in the kitchen with me. She chews and plays happily while I eat my breakfast and pack lunch. Every now and then, when I fill my water bottle, an ice cube might fall to the floor. The puppy scampers over and grabs it like a treat. I can tell she loves it, and that makes me happy, too.

Life Lesson: If you have the power to make someone else happy, do it; the world needs more of that.

Monday, May 8, 2017

H is for Hero, Super

"What's the cutest thing your puppy does right now?" another teacher asked me recently.

The question alone brought a smile to my face. Unlike so many conversational inquiries, such as What's your specialty? when folks find out I'm a former chef, or What's the best place you've been? when it comes up that I have been lucky enough to live overseas and travel a bit, this one was easy.

"Our living room is one step down from the dining room," I began, "and when Lucy runs in, she jumps straight over the edge with both paws out like she's flying. It's adorable and hilarious all at once!"

Life Lesson: Who hasn't dreamed they could fly?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

G is for Great Falls

Exercise, Discipline, Affection

So goes the mantra of Cesar Millan, also known as the "Dog Whisperer".

I thought of Cesar this morning as we took Lucy for her first hike. We chose a favorite place, Great Falls National Park, for the occasion, knowing she would get plenty of exercise and assuming that walking on the leash would take discipline. Oh, but it was affection that won the day! As we made our way along the Matildaville Trail, through the secret meadow, and back along the River Trail every hiker we passed wanted to stop and pet and the puppy. And that was fine-- as long as she sat first!

Life Lesson: A tired puppy is a good puppy!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

F is for 'fer'

Even as we drove up I-95 to Pennsylvania on the way to meet our puppy, we were not sure of what her name would be.


Jelly Bean?






The list went on, but as rain pounded on the windshield, nothing seemed exactly right. "I think we'll know when we meet her," I finally said, and we traveled on in silence over the Susquehanna, through Port Deposit, and past the Conowingo Dam. The sky cleared and a bald eagle flew over us. Finally we pulled into the driveway of neat brick home. Goats were staked on a green hill in the back, and across the street freshly plowed fields rolled into the distance. Ahead of us 3 Amish boys chased four red puppies across the grass. One of them was ours.

Once we were back in the car, I looked at the tiny dog, and she looked right back at me. "I think her name is 'Lucy'," I said, and Lucy it was.

Lucy after another famous red-headed Lucy; Lucy because the name means light, and soon we found it was Lucy, because you can add 'fer' to it, and capture her naughty side perfectly.

Life Lesson: Would a rose by any other name really smell as sweet?

Friday, May 5, 2017

E is for Ears

When we picked the puppy up from the family who bred her we loved her caramel coat, but we wondered what shade she would be when she was grown. "Look at the ears," Amos Fisher said. "They say that will be her final color."

And I have looked at her ears every single day. It's not just their color, I also love the way they flop around her neck, and how she sighs when I rub them. And the way they feel--

Is it velvety? Soft as silk? Like ripe peaches, or the minutes before sunrise? Are they a perfect custard, down pillows, dandelion and milkweed seeds floating through the warm blue sky, fine sand at the bottom of the ocean in August? Or carrot purée? Maybe they are a bubble bath, a baby's breath, hot cocoa, warm gingerbread, or melted butter.

What simile or metaphor describes my puppy's ears best?

Life Lesson: There's nothing like the real thing.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

D is for Dog Days

I recently heard someone refer to an event last year as part of the "Obama Era." How far away that makes his presidency sound; how traumatic it has been to pass from that era to this fraught time.

I suppose, by extension, that last year also saw the end of the "Isabel Era" for us... writing that now makes her loss seem so final, and still so sad after all these months of doglessness.

And yet? Losing Isabel has ushered us into the "Age of Lucy," and who knows what wonders await us in the years ahead?

Life Lesson: When one door closes, another opens.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

C is for Crazy Time

There is an hour of every day, sometime between dinner and bedtime, usually right around dusk, when the youngest of creatures




Maybe it's to get rid of any extra energy that might tempt them to leave the safety of their dens, nests, or cradles in the dark and dangerous night, or perhaps it's just a spontaneous celebration of all that is good in life-- food, family, and fun. But whatever the cause, when you can see the whites of your young 'un's eyes, and she runs around like an invisible monster is chasing her-- ears flying, tongue hanging to the side, tail waving like a banner, then you know it must be...

Crazy Time!

Life Lesson: If you've never lost your mind, then you've never followed your heart.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

B is for But I'm Still Sleeping

When you get a new puppy, it must be with the understanding that all the time, worry, care, and yes, of course, LOVE, you put in will be an investment. Later on, when your dog is your healthy, well-adjusted, fun-loving best friend, you will forget all those poopy, pee-filled, sleepless nights. But for now, you have to yawn and bear it, dragging your sleepy self through days packed with all the regular stuff plus all the new puppy stuff. How do you do it? Well... you just look at the adorable little dog and sigh.

Life Lesson: Being cute is a survival skill!

Monday, May 1, 2017

A is for Adjusting Nicely

We took Lucy for her first big walk today. Barely 10 pounds and about 10 inches high, she probably walked at least a mile. Oh, we carried her part of the way, but she was definitely in for the pack walk-- following me or Heidi with a cheerful and brisk little puppy trot for most of the time. Of course there was plenty of sniffing and a few joyful encounters with some big dogs, all in good fun of course.

 AND when we turned for home?

She seemed to know the way.

Life Lesson: Home is where you find it.

The first of May brings the sixth annual "Alphabiography" Challenge for my students. They are assigned to write short (100-250 word) "chapters" of their lives and title them by letters. The requirement is to write twice a week, but the challenge is to write either 26 times this month or all 31 days.

Each piece closes with a life lesson. This part is a good way to encourage these young writers to consider their purpose or message. Theme is an abstract concept that many sixth grade kids are just beginning to grasp, and these short, autobiographical vignettes give them a manageable and concrete step up to that higher order thinking.

Such consistent writing will help build their fluency and confidence, but I'm hoping it will be fun, too.

This year, I plan to participate with a month of vignettes about, what else? My new puppy! (Thanks for the idea, Mary!) Oh? And if you notice a bit of a shift in tone and/or style, it's because I'm sharing the posts with my students, too. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Only a puppy could sleep through a couple of sheet pans hitting the tile floor not 2 feet from her head.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

T-minus Seven Weeks and Change

When you have a new puppy on a 90+ degree Saturday in late April...

Can summer really be far behind?

Friday, April 28, 2017

S'il Vous Plait

As part of yet another school initiative I was required to observe a colleague teaching today. The class happened to be French for sixth graders and I slipped into my seat next to my fellow English teachers just a little after the bell rang. As the teacher conversed with the students in exaggerated and simple a French, I was transported back to my own early language classes. The vocabulary came right back to me, and before too long I was counting les poisson, shaking my head to show that le requin ce n'est une poisson, and chortling at the corny jokes. when it was time to leave, we did our best to slip out quietly, but on my way to the door I made eye contact with the teacher. "Merci!" I thanked her cheerfully, and then waved at the students. "Au revoir!"

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day, and as always I gave my students time in class to choose a poem yesterday and share that poem today. As usual, they were also required to write a reflection about the experience.

The assignment was straight-forward:
What poem did you choose to carry in your pocket today?
Today's Challenge: Tell us the title and the poet, quote your favorite 4-6 lines and explain why you chose it.
To give them a model, and in the spirit of community, I posted my reflection first:

I chose the poem "How it Begins" by Mary Oliver, and here's why. Last summer, the morning after my dog died, I was listening to "The Writer's Almanac" on the radio, as I do every morning. When it came time for the daily poem, here is what I heard:
Puppies, puppies, puppies 
A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
She's probably in a basket with a bunch of other puppies.
Then she's a little older and she's nothing
but a bundle of longing.
She doesn't even understand it. 
Then someone picks her up and says
I want this one.
That day, I found those words to be a tremendous comfort after losing my dog, and now that I have a new puppy, they seem even more true.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Puppy Power

The sound from the window was alarming: a high pitched scream alternating between a panicky yelp and a pitiful whine. Even from inside the house, I knew it was our puppy.

"What happened?" I asked Heidi as she carried the tiny dog in the door. "She looks fine."

"Decker the Great Dane stepped on her accidentally!" she told me with wide eyes.  "I'm afraid I broke our new puppy!"

But of course, she hadn't. Mother Nature equips most babies with amazing survival safeguards. "Basically, they're like rubber," said our vet.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Like Coffee or Cheese

Things I may have forgotten in the last 13 and half years:

Puppies sleep 20 hours a day.
     The other four are very busy,
      and not always during the day.

Squatting and peeing are not always the same...
except when they are.

Let her cry is waaay easier said than done.

Oh, and puppies smell really stinky, but in a good way.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Dog to Walk

At last!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Night Before

The crates are built; the food and toys and tiny collars have been purchased, and tomorrow is the day.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SIlver Lining

The weather was dreary this afternoon when I got home from the last class of my word study class, and it was tempting to sit around and get involved with the pulpy movies that were playing on TV. By 4 PM, though, after Mr. and Mrs. Smith but somewhere in the middle of Non-stop, when I wandered into the kitchen looking for another snack, I knew I needed to get out of the house.

But where to go? The steady drizzle discouraged any real outdoor activity, the scientists march suggested that it might be crowded downtown, and I didn't want to sit for hours in a movie theater. Only a plant could appreciate this weather, I thought glumly, and it was then that I knew where I must go-- off to the garden shop to fill the hanging baskets for the balcony and front porch!

And that is what we did. Tomorrow I will repot all the tender annuals and herbs and hang their baskets high, and after that? I, too, will appreciate the rain.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Not Unappreciative

We were out to dinner this evening when a server walked by with a tray of desserts. Tall and center among them was a giant root beer float. My mind immediately went back to my childhood, when on certain evenings my dad would get out the popcorn, Pepsi and vanilla ice cream and concoct up treats for all of us to Much and slurp as we watched TV.

Still, my nose involuntarily scrunched up when I spotted the passing float tonight, because, truth be told, while I was always eager to lick the butter from the bottom of the popcorn bowl, I had to choke the float down. There was too much sugar and foam, ruining both the soda and the ice cream. And yet, I was never able to turn one down. It was supposed to be such a special and delicious treat, and I just didn't want to spoil the fun.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

It's Going On

I asked one of my homeroom students to come over and talk to me at my desk this morning, because I wanted to ask a favor. In the time it took him to cross the room, I had answered 3 questions, collected a permission slip, and okayed the removal of the computer cart to another teacher's room.

"Yes?" he asked politely, but in the moment before I could answer, I saw another student in my periphery reaching in to take a piece of candy without permission. I spun my chair ninety degrees and grabbed the magic chicken from beneath his grasp. An animated conversation ensued, and when I turned back to the original kid his eyes were wide.

"Wow!" he said. "No wonder your desk is so messy!"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Baby, Remember my Name

Every year my students read the poem Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye, a poem which redefines the whole concept of fame, ending with the lines

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

I always ask the kids to say what they would like to be famous for, and their answers are always amazing. Here are a few from our conversation today:
I want to be famous as the sidekick, still helping, but not in the spotlight 
I want to be famous like the sun, not to be popular but to inspire people.
I want to be famous like a caterpillar, it grows into a butterfly when the time is right.
I want to be famous for helping others, not because I had to, but because I could.
I wish to be famous to the fans
standing and clapping in awe after what happened that night
I want to be famous like the wind to a boat, drifting them along, and filling their sail.
I want to be famous for carrying the ocean on my shoulders.
To do what I can do to be strong.
I want to be famous like the drumSteady, strong, and the living, breathing beat.
I want to be famous to the hidden, teaching them who is safe
I want to be famous like music Not for the publicity or terrible fame But for the joy it brings to others
I want to be famous for my art passionate and impossible to perfect

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

If the Pun Fits

Sometimes I amuse myself by giving my assignments or presentations funny titles or subtitles. Hey? What can I say? I'm an English teacher and I love word games. So, for example, the slide show on conflict was sub-captioned The Struggle is Real. Ha ha ha.

Many of my poetry challenges are similarly named: Up Close and Personification, Smile it's a Simile, Sounds like Poetry (for hyperbole), and so forth. They are not the cleverest monikers ever, but as I said, they amuse me.

My students, on the other hand, rarely get the humor. (Tweens! They are soooooo literal!) So today, when I called the activity where they were supposed to evaluate their writing and pick a piece to submit to our literary magazine Publish or Perish, some students were a little alarmed.

"Are you saying we will die if we don't do this assignment?" someone asked dramatically.

"Oh no, " I answered. "Believe me, if not doing your school work was fatal, most of you would be long dead already."

There was a pause, while my words sunk in.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Hostess With the Mostest

Regular readers know:

I am an introvert.

What to do, then when your house guest is an extrovert? An extrovert who has been home alone all day?

Nothing but smile when she moves that chair into the kitchen while you cook. Oh, and keep up your end of the conversation.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


My students have been poetry champs over Spring Break! On average, at least 25 kids a day have taken time from their vacations to read the daily challenge and write a poem. One of the activities was to write an acrostic poem about a day of the week. This one pretty sums up today:

School is near
Until then
No more school for now
Do your homework
After that play outside
You're good to go!

Thanks, Shion!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Careful What You Ask For

And now, the squirrels are gone. They must have moved to a new nest yesterday afternoon. (Probably because I didn't feed them...)

I'm kind of sad, you guys.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Spoke Too Soon

So... this morning when I looked out on the balcony I was greeted by four tiny eyes and a couple of almost bushy tales dashing frantically for cover. Turns out there is a little family of squirrels living out there, and if my internet research is any good? Those twins are about 6-7 weeks old, a little too young to be completely displaced. So, I'm going to give them a couple of weeks before I dismantle the nest behind the shed.


I will not feed them.

I will not feed them.

I will not feed them.

(Unless they look really, really hungry.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Eviction Notice

Storage is limited in our condo, and so over the years we have come up with some creative work-arounds. Probably the most inconvenient thing for us has been where to store our bikes. We need a place that is sheltered, accessible, and frankly, not in our house. A few years ago I found a pop-up canvas shed that nestles conveniently in a nook on the upstairs balcony which has worked pretty well for us. Last fall when I stored the bikes for the winter, I noticed a little tear in the fabric at about railing height. I should really fix that I said to myself before promptly forgetting all about it the moment I crossed the threshold and entered my warm house.

Well, the days are growing more temperate and this afternoon I went out to switch around a few items in that shed. Hmm, thought I, upon noticing a ragged hole in the bottom, could that be dry rot? I nudged the structure with my foot and nearly jumped through the screen door when it nudged back with a panicky skitter. Uh oh, I concluded, someone is in there. I took a moment to find the courage to unzip the proper opening, all the while expecting my tenant to burst out at me, but I underestimated the little critter, because there was a back door chewed in the rear which had been clearly used for evacuation.

The collection of dry leaves and sticks in the bottom led me to believe we were harboring a squirrel, a single squirrel, with no babies to complicate what had to be done. I left the shed open; it does not offer any shelter like that. A little while later I saw a squirrel frantically peeking from the railing into the original window-like tear, and my heart clutched a little. But it is spring here-- cold nights will be few, and now is as good a time as any to build a new nest.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Product Placement

On the third day of our visit to the Twin Cities we ate lunch in a huge new destination grocery store, part of a chain that has recently moved into the region. In addition to several counters and cases with prepared foods and pastries galore, the place also has custom butchery, seafood, bakery and an extensive produce section. There are also several "stores within the store" including clothing, housewares, and health foods. 

Before we set off exploring this multi-mart, we stopped in for lunch at the full service restaurant. It was half-priced sushi day, and we were not disappointed with the tuna and salmon tartare our five bucks purchased. The dining room itself was a warm and bright modern tavern with a big bar, some high counter-like tables and booths and several big screen TV broadcasting a variety of sporting events. 

There was one screen, however, that was dedicated to the Food Channel, which, at first glance seemed odd, until I remembered where we were and recognized the genius of it. See something you like? Everything you need to make it just happens to be right outside those brass and glass doors!

Pay up and start spending!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Driving Miss Tracey

Let me start with this:


I didn't get my license until I was 20, but I have more than made up for lost time. Usually? If my group is driving, then I am at the wheel.

BUT, my car has been in the shop since last Friday, which, of course, could be a big inconvenience.

On Saturday we roadtripped with my brother and sister-in-law on an epic journey to a relatively untraveled region of our state. Emily was a perfectly wonderful chauffeur, piloting us through both heavy traffic and unfamiliar roads with hardly a shrug. And I really appreciated my rare view from the back seat, a perspective I rarely enjoy.

The next day Heidi and I drove our Jeep down to a local national park so that we could go hiking. That's the vehicle that Heidi usually drives, and so I took navigator, and we rolled our way along some less traveled roads with the windows down and the radio blasting. Again, it was pretty nice to sit back and enjoy the scenery, tweaking our route here and there to avoid excess traffic.

And now we are in Minnesota visiting my mom, who as our always gracious hostess is driving us everywhere we go. Just this afternoon we toured some of the neighborhoods of the twin cities on our way to Como Park, and once again I found myself in the shotgun seat looking at the architecture and spring foliage. It was great!

Oh, I will be happy to get the car back, but this cloud has definitely not been without a silver lining.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Way Out

Wait. What?

The Uncle Ben's rice commercial has a peppy version of Peter Frampton's Show Me the Way? And then the next spot featured Blondie's One Way or Another?

Hey netwaork TV! The 70s called and they want their music back!

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Years ago, while hiking in Shenandoah National Park, our party stopped to enjoy a waterfall and the pool it conveniently flowed into, almost like a water slide. My older nephew put his glasses on a rock to keep them safe, but somehow in all our splashing and sliding, his glasses were knocked off.

I remember that moment like it was in slow motion: first the glasses jumped up from the blow, and when they landed just a bit closer to the edge, they had lost their purchase and so plummeted into the pool. I plummeted after them, and wading as quickly as possible to where that tiny splash had appeared  I plunged my arm to the sandy bottom below and was miraculously rewarded by the unmistakable feel of plastic and glass and snatched them up even as the force of the falls was washing the away.

I thought of that afternoon this afternoon in Prince William Forest, another national park, when as I stood by the side of a tiny waterfall, no more than an out-sized rapid, really, my sunglasses inexplicably slipped from my grip and, just as before, in the slowest of slow motion, gathered their momentum on the gray stone and dropped into the stream.

Oh, there was no miracle in the woods today, but the sky was blue and the air was warm, and so I shrugged it off and called it even.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Spring Brakes

It seemed like such a good idea: Why not kick our vacation off with a 90 mile road trip down to Stratford Hall, home of the Lee family? Located on the Potomac River in rural Westmoreland County, that destination promised a little bit of everything~ history, scenery, and hiking trails to a beach known for its fossils. I texted Bill and Emily at around 10 AM, and they were in! By 11:30 we had eaten and showered and we were on the road.

Unfortunately, by the "road," I mean I-95, notorious for its traffic. The first Saturday of many people's spring vacation was no exception to the infamous congestion, and so it wasn't long before we found ourselves crawling along in the express lanes. Fortunately, we had some catching up to do, and Bill honored the family tradition of listening to Jesus Christ Superstar in its entirety during the Easter season, so although we sat, it was far from unpleasant.

When at last we got off the highway and headed south on secondary roads, Spring was everywhere. Redbuds were flowering, and farm fields were covered in rolling blankets of emerald and gold. Passing through tiny towns anchored by diners, tractor and feed stores, and the meeting halls of miscellaneous brotherhoods it seemed impossible that we were less than 50 miles from the city.

We made it to Stratford Hall in time to briefly check out the beach before joining the last mansion tour of the day. On the way home we took our time, stopping to do a little more beachcombing at Westmoreland State Park. Colonial Beach was not far away, and so we cruised the streets of that tiny river town as the sun gloriously set over the river.

Sure, it was a little late when we finally made it home, but what a way to spend a day in April, especially when you're on vacation!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Happy Feet

My spring break started early today when, due to the minor crack-up I had a couple of weeks ago, I had to take my car for the official claim inspection and repair. The appointment was at 9 and the distance was walkable, so by 9:45 I was back at home with not only a free day ahead of me, but an entire week of possibility rainbowing away to an endpoint so far in the distance that it was practically invisible.

What to do with such a wealth of time?


I went through all the junk from the back of my car and organized it into trash, donation, and yeah, I need that. I changed the ink cartridges in my printer, and along the way pulled out the newspaper basket under my desk to vacuum and wash the floor. I re-potted the seedlings I started a few weeks ago and planted some more seeds in anticipation of putting my garden in. I spent an hour in the attic finding things to add to my donation pile. I listened to the first hour of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I cleaned all my 45s and several LPs with my new carbon fiber brush. I practiced my ukulele, paid the bills, and talked to a couple of cousins about some family drama. I read some of my students' writing online and offered encouragement, and then?

I put on some YouTube videos and...