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 piled in the corner, everything was shiny and new-- except for that are still outlined in blue painter's tape. The system seemed very new as well; when the automatic doors swooshed open, I was unsure where to turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sorry! Mario?"

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

"William!" she shouted in his direction.

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

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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Good Idea!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Plymouth Rock

The reaction was not as I expected.

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

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

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

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

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

"Mm hmm," they said.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


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

I think we'll all sleep well tonight.

Friday, June 23, 2017


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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Last Lesson

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We're Still Learning!

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Final Equation

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

Monday, June 19, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lady Peeps

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Miss Congeniality

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Too Much Fun

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

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

How come it wasn't a better day?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

That's Entertainment

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

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

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

Way to go kids!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Get Outta Here

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

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


I must have missed that.

Oh, well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Looking Forward

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

"See you tomorrow!" I called.

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

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

He laughed. "Yeah, it is!"

Monday, June 12, 2017

You Got Me There

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017


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

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

So Close and yet So Far

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

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

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Making the Grade

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

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

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

"Yes!" she clapped.

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

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

20th Century Skills

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


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

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

The first student gasped.

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

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

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

There is No Substitute

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

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

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

There was a collective gasp.

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

And after that, they were.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dawn to Dusk

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

And so right now? The puppy is sleeping.

And I wish I were, too.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sold Out

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

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

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

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

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

BUT... I'm working on it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What? June!

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

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

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

So, yeah.