Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Both Sides Now

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Money Quote

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson taught; lesson learned.

Monday, May 29, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

They Shall Inherit the Earth

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

1 is for One More

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Z is for Zonked

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Y is for Yawn

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

X is for X-men

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

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

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

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

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

I laughed and nodded.

Lucy would approve.

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

W is for Waiting for When

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

V is for Vacation

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

U is for Undaunted

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

T is for Two

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

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

S is for Stop and Go

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

Fortunately, Lucy slept through it.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

R is for Rosie

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Q is for Quixotic

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

P is for Penelope's Puppy

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




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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

O is for Oil Change

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

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

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

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

Life Lesson: I think it's pretty obvious.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

N is for Nutsy

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

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

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

Does Lucy know the difference?

Maybe, but she definitely likes to hear them squeak.

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

M is for Meditation

"Sleep is the best meditation." ~Dalai Lama

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

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

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

It must be utterly exhausting!

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

L is for Goose

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

K is for Kindergarten

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

J is for Joy

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I is for Ice Cubes

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

H is for Hero, Super

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

G is for Great Falls

Exercise, Discipline, Affection

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

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

Life Lesson: A tired puppy is a good puppy!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

F is for 'fer'

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


Jelly Bean?






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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

E is for Ears

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

D is for Dog Days

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

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

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

Life Lesson: When one door closes, another opens.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

C is for Crazy Time

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




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

Crazy Time!

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

B is for But I'm Still Sleeping

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

Life Lesson: Being cute is a survival skill!

Monday, May 1, 2017

A is for Adjusting Nicely

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

 AND when we turned for home?

She seemed to know the way.

Life Lesson: Home is where you find it.

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

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

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

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