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.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Hard Part

One of our neighbors is having her kitchen and baths renovated. In the middle of the job, she is understandably aggravated by the imperfections she spots every evening, but she struggles with the unpleasant confrontation of giving her contractor the punch list every morning.

"That's the hard part," I agree when she comes over for a sympathetic ear, "but the good of having a new kitchen and bathroom that you love is the pay-off. Isn't it worth it?"

I thought of my own words today when it became clear to us that we would have to let our 15-year-old cat Penelope go much sooner than we ever expected. Just a week ago she was having so much trouble chewing that we bought a kitty straight jacket and hauled her off to the vet for only the second time in her 13 years with us.

The news was not good, but didn't seem that dire either. Tooth decay and a weird growth on her gum meant surgery and a biopsy, but when her blood work came back, weak kidneys, which are common in older cats, complicated the situation. Yesterday she stopped eating and started hiding, which is never a good sign. We struggled with the options-- move up the risky surgery to see if removing her bad teeth would allow her to eat again, try antibiotics and pain killers indefinitely, or stop delaying the inevitable.

When we dragged her out from under the bed and took her back to the doctor, she told us the tumor was much bigger already and bleeding and kicking pus into Penelope's sinuses. "This condition is ugly and painful," the doctor said, "and it won't get better."

Our pets give us years of joy and comfort and love, and in return we must care for them as best we can. And then comes the hard part.

It breaks your heart into a million pieces, but it is so worth it.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Rainy Days and Mondays

There are not a lot of options for exercising your city puppy on a rainy day, but fortunately for us there are four fenced-in tennis courts not far from our house. Although dogs are not really allowed there, no one plays tennis in the rain, especially on a Monday morning, so bending the rules is no big deal. And oh! Does Lucy love chasing a bouncing ball across the hard courts! The only thing better is chasing two or three.

She was adorably romping in the drizzle this morning when a little boy not more than three or four wandered over from the adjoining play ground to watch her through the fence. His dad who was preoccupied on the phone was clearly of the mind that a little rain never hurt anybody, and so we passed an amusing 10 minutes or so conversing with him through the chain link.

"Wow!" he laughed as she dashed to the other side of the farthest court chasing a tennis ball and snapping at the spray it kicked up, too. "She's a goooooood getter!"

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Other Side of Nuisance

The fans have been droning since 9:30. That's when the carpet cleaning guy left. There aren't a lot of options in a 950 square foot residence, so I have been hanging out down here-- cranking up the record player, working on the computer, and cooking in the kitchen-- while everyone else is upstairs with the doors closed.

Fortunately, the cool, dry weather has held, and with the fans and the windows and doors offering a cross breeze, the carpet is nearly dry. But, quite honestly?

It's been a peaceful day.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lucy's Big Day

A brazen little toad startled me when he hopped across the trail this morning. Enjoying the gift of a breezy, dry August day in the low 80s we had set out early for a forested national park about 25 miles from home. Lucy didn't notice; she was much too preoccupied with butterflies and the bright red, early-fallen leaves teasing her on the light winds.

Soon we made it to a little lake and found a tiny cove with a fallen log to use as a bench for lunch. A little ways down the path the lake narrowed to a stream with flat granite ledges for Lucy to play in, but just as we were about to unclip her leash, a little snake slithered half way out from a rock. Was his head pointed or round? His pupils slits or circles? It was hard to see anything but the diamond pattern on his back, and so we snapped a few pictures and kept going.

Not far away we found a rocky shore with both shallows and deep pools along it. Would this be the day when our puppy literally took the plunge to progress from avid wader to swimmer? Turns out, it would! She paddled happily about snapping the splashing water and fetching her tennis ball until it was time to shake it off and continue on down the trail.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ain't Nothing Gonna Break-a My Stride

The day was young when I headed to my garden this morning, and although the heat and humidity to come was perceptible, it was all good as I rolled down all the windows and opened the sunroof. Just down the road a huge garbage truck was struggling to back out of a tiny parking lot. No matter-- I was happy to wait on such a glorious morning! Several cars impatiently idled at the intersection ahead, their drivers clearly dressed for work, and even though I had the right of way, I was more than willing to wave them ahead of me. But when at last the truck slid into traffic just ahead of me? The stench was overwhelming! So I pinched my nose, changed lanes, and zoomed up the hill where my garden awaited, empty of everyone but goldfinches and me beneath the blue, blue sky.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tell Me About it

I've written before about my appreciation for a tour. Emily Dickinson's House, Mt. Vernon, Alaska, good or bad? Perhaps it's the teacher in me who is fascinated by people sharing information with others, but either way I've never met a tour I didn't like.

Today was no exception. The afternoon was Washington-in-August scorching when Andy led us out from the cool and peaceful interior of the National Cathedral to guide us on an examination of the damage that the earthquake of 2011 did to the largest masonry structure on the continent.

And it caught me off guard when he choked up in the very first segment, recounting where he was on that fateful day six years ago and how he came to realize what a profound effect that seismic hiccup had on what was clearly his very beloved cathedral. From there it was a breezy combination of too much technical information and his belief that a divine hand was present in the event.

In the end, I think it was his earnestness that won me over, that and the fact that he reactivated buried memories of art history classes I took 35 years ago. Oh, and I also love the Cathedral, and it was

a tour.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Here it Comes

Because our school's main parking lot is closed for the next two years, I parked in the tiny far lot and schlepped all my stuff up to the back door when I went in to work on curriculum today.

Guess I better get used to it.

(But only if I can find a space in the mornings!)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Give it a Week

Being away from home is fun, but coming back is fun, too, especially at this time of year. In addition to hugging our cat, going through the mail and packages, and sleeping in my own bed, this morning I headed straight for the garden to check on my vegetables and flowers.

I was not disappointed!

Monday, July 31, 2017

City of Looms

It's kind of a thrill when you're on a road trip and your phone GPS flashes those three magic words: faster route available. Despite no evidence of congestion, I eagerly exited I-85 when that happened just north of Charlotte this afternoon. As we cruised up the ramp, I spotted a backup on the road ahead that stretched as far as my eye could see, and so it was with glee and the knowledge that I was saving time that I navigated the local byroads. And secure in that knowledge, it didn't bother me a bit to stop at this light or that intersection.

"Kannapolis?" Heidi read the town welcome sign at one such stop. "Where did they get that name?"

"Hey, Siri!" I called, and soon we were treated to a Wikipedia article about the history of that little burg. It seems that over a hundred years ago, it was a company town built around a textile mill owned by the Cannon family. From there it gets a little fuzzy as to whether it was named after the mill (Cann-apolis) and changed, or whether it was named for the Greek kanna (reeds or looms) and apolis (city).

Personally, I favor the second on poetic principle, but either way it's a great story, and a little while later we were back on the highway with time to spare.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Search Term Success

There was a little bit of a hubbub across the way in WH Stiles Fish Camp as I waited in line to order lunch at Ponce City Market this afternoon. Lights, cameras, and reflectors surrounded a shiny-headed gent seated at the u-shaped oyster bar.

"Who is he?" the people around me asked as they craned their necks to watch the action without losing their place in the slooooooow moving line. He looked vaguely familiar to me, too, but I couldn't place him, so as other diners dodged onto the makeshift set to snap a selfie I used my phone to Google  bald food channel guy. The first hit was Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame, and that's exactly who it was.

Around that time? It as my turn to order, so I never did find out what strange dish brought him there today, but our Vietnamese salad with crispy fish and steelhead trout poke was 😋 delicious!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

There's no other word but 'bustling' to describe the scene at the mall near my sister's place in Atlanta today. Shoppers were nearly at holiday numbers, so many that entering and exiting the flow of foot traffic required some serious merging maneuvers. And why not? It is a holiday of sorts for the parents, if not the kids, down here.

School starts on Tuesday.

Friday, July 28, 2017

This Friday Night

"Do you guys have any dances in middle school?" Heidi asked soon-to-be 6th grader Richard the other day.

"I think maybe one or two," he answered.

"How many do our sixth graders have?" Heidi turned to me.

"Two," I replied, "but they have that mixer in the beginning of the year."

"What's a mixer?" Richard asked.

"It's a thing where they have a variety of activities," I explained. "There is some dancing, yes, but also games and contests, like donut eating."

"Donut eating!" both Richard and Annabelle repeated.

"Yeah," I said, "we tie Krispy Kremes to strings and hang them from a pole. Then the kids put their hands behind their backs and see who can eat one the fastest."

They looked at each other in stunned amazement.

"Why don't we try it while we're here?" I suggested, and it was easy enough to purchase a half-dozen classic glazed the next time we went to the grocery store.

AND, that's how we found ourselves out on the driveway this evening with four donuts hanging from a broom

Oh my gosh!

I have not laughed that hard in a long time!

Richard had the edge going in, but he quickly lost the advantage by chewing too thoroughly and chasing his donuts in circles trying to get the biggest bite.

Annabelle was the tortoise to his krispy hare-- she methodically consumed her donuts until the point where gravity took control. On donut one, she caught the last bite in her mouth, but when the second one hit the pavement? So did she, eating fast enough to stay within the five second rule, and handily defeating her brother who was still pirouetting around his second.

And their mom caught it all on camera! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I. De. Clare. Fun

Growing up in the South Jersey in the late 60s and 70s meant lots of muggy summer days with no air conditioning. To be honest, it was barely a hardship, especially since we didn't really know any different. Once it got so hot inside that the box fans in the windows weren't enough, we moved away from the TV and its game shows ans soaps and out to our shady side porch to read or play cards and drink iced tea with lemonade.

These days I spend most of my time in climate-controlled spaces, and there are many summer afternoons when I walk out of school or home with flesh so chilled that the blast of heat and humidity almost, almost, feels like a nice little hug. And even during the laziest days of summer, TV and card games are rarely on the agenda. 

Even so, today when the sweltering blue Atlanta sky turned thundery, Heidi and Annabelle and I took the dogs and headed out to the front porch. Torrents of rain spumed up into clouds of spray on the roofs and sidewalks as we played first War with an incomplete deck of Star Wars Hero-themed cards, and then Corn Hole with just one board pushed all the way to the end of the railing.

It was a perfect summer afternoon.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Touch the Sky:)

Hi I'm Annabelle, Aunt Tracey's niece. I'm nine years old and yeah. Today I went to SKYZONE, it's a trampoline park if you didn't know. Today I am going to tell you what I did there. The first thing I did was  get signed in and get socks. Then, we started bouncing on the normal trampolines. My brother Richard and I chased each other, he is really fun.

Next, Richard and I played dodge ball. We almost won. Then, we went to this thing were you try running up a hill, I couldn't do it though. There was also a line you have to try and walk across and jousting. Richard went against me and won every time. I went against this guy who was almost three times the size of me. I almost won against him but he pushed me down. This other girl was really strong and pushed me right off.

After that, Richard and I went to the foam pit which is really fun. I did front flips into the pit, but Richard was a lot better at the flips than me. We got bored flipping into it so we went and tried to climb a ladder across the pit. Richard went across and back twice but I didn't make it across once. The last trampoline activity we did was normal jump.We decided to do it again because we wanted to do flips, run up the wall, and run all around the trampolines.

Finally we had to go, but we got snacks and played some games. For example we did the hurricane simulator. At first I didn't really like it but then it turned out really fun. One of the games took our money and didn't give it back.We also tried a photo booth but that didn't work either.

When we got home Aunt Tracey and I played war. Then, we baked a cherry jello flavored rice krispy treat with vanilla frosting. It's really yummy.I haven't eaten yet but I'm about to. I'm having steak and the adults are having sword fish. we are also having salad. Richard is eating the same thing as me. After dinner we will all talk. Then I will get ready for bed and go to sleep.

 I really liked my day today it was really fun!
Thanks for reading my day everyone! I hope you enjoyed it and Bye! :)

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."