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...


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Been So Long

I confess, I'm an on-again-off-again Draw Something player, and I definitely do need a reminder every now and then. So it was hardly a surprise when I got the following message from my 9-year-old niece:

Oh, my! 
That is a long time!
I'm on it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Rescue

Every quarter my students have the assignment to write a micro-personal narrative about a rescue they have experienced when we read the two chapters in Ralph Fletcher's memoir Marshfield Dreams about the family's chickens being attacked and rescued and endangered and rescued again.

Today was that day, and as usual, I was prepared with several examples or prompts for students who were having a hard time making a personal connection. This time, however, my assistance was not required as the class had all witnessed a small rescue a couple of days before.

Several kids wrote about the same thing, and although the effect is kind of like a game of telephone, it's also rather amusing. I'll let them take it from here, but please! Note the figurative language.

The best rescue that I have ever witnessed was when Ms.S rescued Ms. M. We just going through the normal class when someone noticed that Ms. M was lying on the ground. Then Ms. S quick as a flash ran outside to help. She was like a first responder as she directed people to go get help and call the ambulance. Meanwhile we were all in the classroom watching through the window one kid even used the binoculars to see what was going on. Because the doors to the school lock behind you she to send one student to get the nurse and one to holds the door. I think those kids were the lucky ones because they got to see what was going on while we waited to see what would happen. When the ambulance finally arrived it’s siren was wailing like a hurt child to take her to the hospital. After that we finished our class like it was just a normal day.
Take 2
Ms.S looked out the window and rushed out the door calling G. with her. Everyone else in the class blew up with excitement.
“Why did she leave the class like that?” some said.
Others said, “ Why did she take G?”
I just sat there bemused. What happened? Did she run out of the room to yell at someone on the hallway like Mr.G does sometimes? The students sat waiting. Bam! The door opened and Ms.S flew into the room.
She announced, ”Someone just hurt her head and is bleeding, the ambulance is going to arrive soon.”
She then started to talk about the story from her point of view and why she needed G.
“She had to hold the door for me and call the Nurse,” Ms.S exclaimed.
After that the ambulance arrived and some students rushed to the window to get a better view. There were an explosion of questions and Ms.S was in the middle of all of it. She was like the Queen of Knowledge as she was surrounded by her little followers.

(Some parts may not be the exact words people said)
Take 3
One day, I was sitting in English class, and all of a sudden, our teacher, Ms. S ran out of the classroom and brought G with her. She didn't tell us anything, she just ran out of the classroom. We were all confused, but then we saw Ms. S outside! We all ran and crowded around the window. Ms. S was outside helping a teacher who was sitting on the sidewalk. We didn't know what was happening, but then we saw Ms. S coming back inside, and we all ran back to our seats. Boom! There was a crash behind us. Someone's chair had fallen down because they were rushing to sit down. Then, Ms. S came back in and we all asked what happened.

“Ms. M fell and hit her head on the sidewalk. There is a lot of blood. It is like a river,” Ms. S said. We all gasped. Then, Ms. S ran back outside and brought another student out. We all rushed back to the window to see what was happening, and we saw the nurse and Ms. S helping Ms. M. A few minutes later, Ms. S started coming back inside, and again, we all rushed back to our seats.

“Ms. M fell and hit her head on the sidewalk. She is a little disoriented,” Ms. S started. “I saw her sitting there, and she wasn't getting up. No one was out there helping her, so I went out, and she told me what happened. Then, she asked for some tissues, and the nurse, so I had G get the nurse, and I brought the tissues out to Ms. M. Ms. W called an ambulance and it is on its way now. She has a head injury, so we want to get it checked out to make sure she is ok.” 
Then, we all tried to get back to work, but it was hard because we were all so distracted. But one thing is for sure, Ms. S is a superhero! With superhero powers!
Take 4
On the third of April 2017, Ms. S saw a teacher outside sitting on the ground like a tired hippopotamus. She flew out the door with G. and went outside to see what happened. G. was the door holder so she held the door when Ms.S came inside and got the tissues for the teacher who had fallen and her nose was split and she had a black eye. She took the another student to get the nurse. Then after the nurse came Ms. S went to a teacher that was on break and said to them “call nine, one, one you slow poke get a move on.” In an instant the ambulance's siren was a piercing yell like a baby. The teacher was eventually taken to the hospital. The class was still in Ms. S room. We were all secretly looking through the window, so that is why this whole class is witnesses to the heroics of Ms. S.

My colleague is fine, resting comfortably at home after a bad spill, with no lasting injury. AND, for the record? I did not call anyone a slow poke!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ups and Downs

When it comes to the spring writing challenge I do with my students, I try to find prizes that are economical but enjoyable. (Even though, as I take pains to remind them frequently, writing is its own reward.) Of course candy is always popular, but sometimes I think a more tangible reward is, well, more rewarding.

When I was in sixth grade, yoyos were all the rage. Back then you had to have at least a Duncan classic, but it was better to carry a Duncan Butterfly. With its distinctive hourglass shape and dual coloring-- red on one side and yellow on the other, the Butterfly was the yoyo for serious yoyoers, and I had a Butterfly. As a result of those days, I can still yoyo quite well; I can even do around the world and walk the dog, with the alacrity, if not quite the same proficiency, as my 11-year-old self. I keep a yoyo in my desk drawer, and any time I bring it out, my current sixth graders are amazed, because yoyoing really isn't that easy.

Imagine my dismay, then, when the writer who won the yoyo for the March challenge was very disappointed in his prize. What else could I do, but borrow it from him and give a quick demonstration and lesson? Pretty soon his yoyo was rolling off his fingertips and spinning up and down with consistency if not fluidity.

My intervention paid off immediately.

"Can I win a yoyo, too?" asked several students.

"You might if you write all month," I told them.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Tisket

It's that time of the year when our school asks homerooms to come up with a theme and put together a basket to be raffled off as a fundraiser for the PTA. It's also time for me to register my dismay.

Personally, I find the practice an example of consumerism at its most wasteful: families buy inexpensive things that other families buy chances on, all in the name of supporting the school. Sure, it's fun to bet, and even more fun to win, but most of the items will end up in the landfill or ocean in a few year's time. It's either that, or basketful of candy or other junk food that nobody really needs.

Surely there is a better way to entertain ourselves?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

8 Miles

This is how it happened:

The sky was cloudless, the air was crisp, and the sun was warm. There was a flat, sandy path strewn with spring ephemerals, white, yellow, and pale blue, along a flowing stream, with the promise of a boardwalk, an abandoned pyrite mine, and some waterfalls beyond.

And so we kept on walking.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Return of the Hot Seat

We have reached the part of my word study class that is more developmentally appropriate for the age of the students that I have taught for my entire career, and so it was with confidence and redemption in mind that I volunteered for the hot seat activity again this morning. The category was eponyms, and I was waving my hand the minute the instructor moved the stool in front of the screen. As before, the premise was simple: I sat with my back to the screen and my fellow participants read clues about things that were named after people or places.

Named after a president who loved to hunt was the first one.

"Teddy Bear?" I answered.

The class applauded. The instructor read quickly through the clues I hadn't needed.

Food from England was the second one.

I smiled and shrugged. "I need another clue."

Can be white or orange.

"Cheddar cheese?" I guessed.

"Wow!" said the instructor, "You're pretty good at this!"

I beamed, and made quick work of bikini (named after an atoll in the Pacific, site of nuclear testing) and marathon (named after a battlefield in Greece, a messenger ran all the way to Athens).

"You should go on Jeopardy!" suggested one of my classmates as I made my way back to my seat.

"I actually auditioned for the show once," I said, "but I never got a call back."

"Their loss," she winked.