Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween in the Days of Yore

One of the first Halloween costumes I remember wearing was a cat outfit. It was a store-bought costume complete with a plastic mask, the kind of mask that had a small hole for breathing. Its design meant that condensation would build up on the inside of the mask, making for an uncomfortable evening of trick or treating.

Back then; the costumes came from Kresge's, not a fancy Halloween store. As we got older we came up with our own costume ideas. The design had to be comfortable. Movement couldn't be compromised as the evening entailed a whole lot of walking.

Somewhere along the line we started using pillowcases to collect the candy. They were sturdier than any shopping bag and held a whole mess of candy.

Friday, October 29, 2010


What to do with the kid who doesn't do anything? That's the question of the month.

We've met with his mother and agreed he should attend homework club three days a week. Well, he didn't agree, but the adults did. There were days he showed up, usually because the counselor or another teacher waited for him at his locker and escorted him personally. We quickly came to can lead Hank to homework club, but you can't make him do homework.

His mother says he stubborn. She's right. He's apparently been this way for most of his school career.

I see a kid who is very intelligent, but not interested in what we teachers are selling. The adults in the picture are puzzled and unsure how to solve the problem.

I just hope we figure it out before he decides to drop out of school.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Worries

I went to bed last night thinking about the Tornado Watch that had been posted for my area. It started at 8:15 and was to be in effect until 3:00AM. I watched one big storm this summer and couldn't imagine that kind of experience in the dead of night. Unsure of exactly how to prepare for the unlikely possibility of a tornado while sleeping I left my bedroom window cracked, thinking I'd hear something in time to find my way to a closet.

I don't worry too much about the weather. In fact, the only time I ever did was when I found my cat sitting in the bathtub during a hurricane. Animals often have an innate sense about danger, so seeing him sitting perfectly still alarmed me a bit. Luckily when I woke up at about 2:ooAM last night he was curled up by my side sound asleep. I smiled, turned over and went back to dreamland.

Monday, October 25, 2010

One Step Up, Two Steps Back

I stayed after to grade a few papers and quickly became depressed. It seems all that I thought I taught last week wasn't really taught at all. Or as is so often say in 6th grade, they didn't get it.

Now what? I spent part of today introducing the next step in the unit. Obviously, there's no point in going forward, the only thing to do is take a step back.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Back on Track

So, the thing about getting older is it takes a lot more work to feel younger. Well, at least that's what I'm finding. Since this time last year my once somewhat-regular exercise routine has been derailed by Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and the more recent diagnosis of Venous Reflux disease. Not only have these recent diagnoses made me feel old, they've also made it difficult to keep up with my already spotty relationship with running.

I've run for exercise off and on for at least 30 years. I've never been all that fast but have had some great runs along the Potomac and through DC. I've run in 5Ks, 10Ks and a few 10 mile races. I trained for a marathon, but never made it to the finish line after a flare-up of tendonitis 18 miles into a training run. For me, it's not abnormal for months to go by without a run. Life gets in the way sometimes, making it more difficult to find the time to commit to getting back into the shoes and back into shape.

Just the same, after volunteering to be a "buddy runner" for students participating in "Girls On Track" at school I found myself lacing up my running shoes one more time. My goal was to cover a mile. I knew I couldn't run the entire mile, but was determined to get from point A to point B as quickly as my out of shape body could take me. After a five-minute warm-up I settled into a nice run/walk pattern and covered the mile in about 12 minutes. It's a start...not great, not terrible...but a start. I think I'll be able to keep up with the girls next week. I do believe this could be the beginning of something.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Renovation Realities

Give me a good home improvement show and I'm hooked in for the duration. Tonight I'm watching Renovation Realities, a show that follows your average person as they try their best to complete some sort of home renovation project. Personal experience has taught me that in the world of home projects nothing is easy. Years ago I decided, with the help of a friend, to rip up the wall-to wall-carpet in my house to see what was underneath. My house was built in the 1940s so I was pretty sure there was hardwood underneath the deep pile carpeting that had been there since I'd purchased my place.

I was right, but the excitement of the discovery was somewhat diminished when I realized that it wasn't going to be as easy as carpet removal and furniture replacement. The floors needed cleaning and refinishing...a skill that I don't have the patience and strength to complete on my own.

A small problem compared to the people I'm watching tonight. They're demolishing their kitchen in hopes of a total renovation. It looks like they've got the right tools but they've also got full-time jobs, children to feed and a marriage to keep on track. Fifteen minutes into the show I know the experts will be bursting through the door any minute now, probably after the next commercial break.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Take Two

I considered yesterday's icebreaker to be a failure. No matter...I decided to give it a try again today.

Today I started by explaining why I felt it was a worthwhile activity. Not only does the icebreaker question give us all a chance to know a little more about one another, it also provides a quick opportunity for students to practice their oral communication skills. My sixth graders tend to speak in one and two word phrases. Instead of asking something like "where's the bathroom pass?" I often get something along the lines of "pass?" So when I talked about today's question, "What is the best gift you've ever received?" I reminded them I was looking for more than a one-word utterance. Uttering the word iPod wasn't going to be enough to communicate the information.

I was pleasantly surprised. They communicated their thoughts well. Even better were the gifts they'd received-a baby brother, the love of their mother, a new baby cousin. They loved their cats, dogs, birds and rabbits as well. Yup, they love their iPods and laptops too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tell Me Something Good

Today I decided to try a quick icebreaker activity to break the monotony of taking attendance. I asked the students to think of one good thing that happened in the last two weeks and share it with the class.

Things did not go as I expected. Instead of a quick share I was bombarded with questions. Do you mean one good thing in Reading Class? Is last Tuesday okay? What if nothing good has happened? Wait...what?

By the last class of the day I found myself explaining a good thing doesn't have to be huge. It doesn't mean they went to Disney World last weekend--something good might be putting on an old jacket and finding a five-dollar bill in the pocket.

There weren't as many questions after that, but there were a lot of kids who shared they found money in their pockets last week.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Project 365

Three years ago I decided to put my foot out on a creative limb and try making photography a part of my daily life. I had read something about the Project 365 and thought I'd give it a try.

I'm glad I did. Looking back at all the photographs I've taken I'm always happy with what I see. I don't like every picture, but I like the work as a whole. Each picture represents a place I've been or an experiment in perspective. Having a reason to get out on the weekends is great, but it's also fun to be forced to look for the specialness of an everyday object like a pen, or a clothespin. Yes, it's cliché to say there is beauty all around us, but it seems whenever I look through the lens of my camera I can find a little bit of beautiful almost anywhere.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rise and Paw

My cat's life changed drastically a few weeks ago when I decided to give him a small can of wet food. For the ten years I've had him dry food out of a bag was the order of the day. He seemed fine with it, but recently was more interested in soft, chewy cat treats than the hard, crunchy pellet sitting in his bowl. After ten years of the same food every day I could see how a change in taste and texture would be welcome. What I didn't see coming was exactly how that change would in turn effect me.

Morning feeding time occurs around 5:30 AM after I shower and get my coffee. Scout knows when I wake up the food is coming so he's taken to waking me up a little earlier than my alarm. The only problem with his plan is the polite paw across the face he uses to wake me up has been starting somewhere around 4:00 AM. That's just too darn early. My only defense is to lie perfectly still as though I'm still sound asleep. Any sense that I may be awake is enough to turn the wake-up paw into overdrive-meaning my chances of going back to sleep for the last hour before my alarm rings are small. I'm supposed to be the smarter one, for now it pays to be the frozen, quiet one.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Journey

I find it somewhat amazing that after 30 years, through countless moves and life changes, I still have the green mittens that I received as a Christmas gift in high school. They were a present from my best friend at the time. She made them herself with nothing more than two knitting needles and a ball of wool. I was impressed and touched.

Like the gloves, my friend and I traveled to many different places after high school. She went off to Philadelphia while I went south to Southern Maryland. After school there were jobs and a few more moves until we finally found ourselves in the same area at the same time. Another twist...after working in a variety of professions we both found ourselves in the world of education.

Like the mittens we've both been on quite a journey over the past 30 years.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

After the Fun

The end of a long weekend has a completely different vibe than the beginning. Saturday morning three of us climbed into our rental car in Providence, RI and headed for Cape Cod. The ride was a boisterous one filled with laughter and weekend plans. Seventy-two hours later the return trip was a whole different animal. The ride was quiet. The radio played but the sing-alongs from Saturday had given way to sighs and yawns.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I've spent the last three days in the company of two gals that I went to college with. The time has gone quickly... the days filled with shopping, eating and cocktails. We have gone down memory lane more than once, remarking on how surprising it is to find ourselves at the age we are. The bottom line is we just can't believe we are getting ready to hit the half-century mark. When we're together we feel like we're still the same nineteen year-olds we were when we first met.

Today we meandered along Cape Cod. The twenty-mile trip from Orleans to Provincetown took six hours. There was a stop at a bead store in Eastham, lunch in Wellfleet, spice shopping in Truro, and general poking around-shopping in P-town. One of our first stops was at the visitor's center of the Cape Cod National Sea Shore Park. It was there that we met up with another group of gals traveling together. They were about fifteen years older than us, but like us just the same. They had made their way to Cape Cod by way of Oregon and California. Their friendship started back in grammar school. We chatted a bit and took group shots for one another. As we parted ways we agreed that friendships among women were important. One of the California gals remarked, "we get each other through the hard times, there's nothing better than good friends."


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beach Walkin'

My introduction to sea glass was quite accidental. I was wondering around Point Lobos State Park in California when my skip from one rock to the next resulted in a somewhat painful slide down a slippery rock face. I had started on top of a giant rock and ended up 40 feet below on the beach. My friend called from the cliff above, "Hey, are you okay?" I laughed at my lack of coordination and assured her I was fine. As I brushed the sand off my pants I caught a glimpse of something irregular. It was a shard of pale blue glass. I picked it up with my hand and tossed it around. There were no sharp edges. Its weight and texture felt just right in my hand. I looked up to my friend on the cliff. "Look at this!" I exclaimed.

She knew it was sea glass. I had never heard of such a thing. I slid it into the pocket of my pants and cast my head back down toward the rocky beach in search of more. I've been hooked ever since.

I like the small stuff. I enjoy walking along the shore in search of the perfect shell. Of course, the perfect shell is completely subjective. For me the perfect shell is about weight and feel. It can't be too light or too heavy, and it has to feel just right in my hand.

As for sea glass, any find is good with me. Shells are easy to come by, sea glass isn't. Shells wash up on shore on a daily basis. Some are pretty and worth pocketing and some aren't. Sea glass is a harder to come by. Any piece I find seems like a little piece of good luck. Oh yeah, the colors are pretty too.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Parent Chat

I'm sure there are many teachers who dread Parent Conference Day. I just don't happen to be one of them. I love getting the chance to spend twenty minutes with the parents who entrust me with their children on a daily basis. I've felt that way from the beginning, even after my first year when the parents in my last conference told me that their child wasn't challenged enough in my class and they were sure it would be better if she were moved to the other fifth grade classroom.

As a first year teacher my opinion didn't count for much back then. Yes, their perspective bothered me a bit and surprisingly I wasn't shy about letting them know that. However, in the end, as parents they must look out for the well-being of their child. I get that and I agree with it, even if I don't always agree with what they think is best.

The student was moved to the other fifth grade class, but when her father tried to console me by suggesting I shouldn't "take it personally" I had to speak up. I told him "I didn't see any other way to take it."

Discussion doesn't always lead to the outcomes one hopes for. In this case, I hoped she would stay in my class. She didn't. Her parents hoped a change in teacher would motivate their daughter to do the kind of work she was obviously capable of. It didn't. Just the same, I think we all learned something in the long run.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Go Team Go!

The first grand moment of the year occurred today during the first field trip of the year, 4o miles west of the city at a Corn Maze. This team-building event challenges the kids to work together as they wind their way through the twists and turns of a maze created from corn stalks.

It's hard to tell how groups will handle the challenge. Kids don't spend as much time outside as they used to. They tire easily, they argue about the best path to take, they run ahead of the group, they get frustrated...they whine.

Fortunately, my group didn't do any of that. From the beginning we set our goals. We would find every clue and complete the entire maze. When decisions needed to be made there would be a vote. Teamwork was our motto.

We sailed through the first five stops. Students took turns holding the flag and coloring in the map. Every member of the group cheered on one another, the group members were especially encouraging to one student whose physical handicap makes walking difficult.

The sixth and seventh clues were harder to find. Faces became weary and discouraged but we somehow put frustrations aside and made it to the last clue. We let out a quiet cheer at our success-we didn't want other teams to know where the final clue was. As I looked around at the smiling faces I noticed one face missing. The handicapped member of our group was resting her head on the wooden platform that held the final clue. She was exhausted and close to tears. We'd been in the maze for close to forty minutes by then, her legs were aching.

I told the others to run and find their way to the exit, we'd take our time and meet them at the finish.

One young man spoke up. "No, we'll all finish together."

Everyone agreed.

That's my kind of team.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Play A Song For Me

I took guitar lessons a few years back. It was one of those things I'd wanted to do since I was about 12. At the age of 12 I was sure I could be one of those people that used music to tell their story. It was, after all, the late 1970s-most of the music playing those days was heavy on acoustic guitar. I wanted to play the Beatles, James Taylor and The Eagles. I was sure I could sing like Carole King. I just needed a guitar and a few lessons to prove it.

I can't remember why I never took lessons. I know I asked, it just never happened. And then Saturday Night Fever came out in the theaters. Suddenly music was all about disco, the guitarists of the early 70s faded in dreams faded with them.

Twenty-four years later I walked into the local music store to realize my 12 year-old dream. It turns out I wasn't going to be telling my story through music, but I'm glad I tried just the same.

Monday, October 4, 2010


This weekend was when autumn blew its way in, a little late, but welcome just the same. The calendar proclaimed it to be the first day of fall on September 22, but the weather didn't cooperate. Summer wasn't ready to loosen its sweaty grip on all of us. We sweated...and waited, not too patiently in some cases, for fall to come to our rescue.

Apparently, the torrential rains of last week were enough to loosen the stranglehold of summer. Saturday was missing a few of the regulars...namely heat and humidity. There was a new kid in town...and it was all about blue skies, low humidity and a gentle breeze rustling the slowly changing leaves.

Autumn, welcome back. It's been pretty hot here without you.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Catching Up

It's been quite sometime since I've had to spend a good part of the weekend grading papers. On Friday afternoon I packed up every last paper that needed to be graded and placed them into a metal tray. I shoved the tray in my backpack with a frown on my face.

For a variety of reasons I'm having a hard time getting in the rhythm of the new school year. I seem to be spending more time catching up than getting ahead. Playing catch up is never fun...unless I'm catching up with friends.

This weekend I got to do both. There were somewhere around 275 papers to grade- some essays, some short answer questions and some posters. I was happy to have a weekend to catch up but had also previously arranged to have a friend come visit to help my paint my bathroom.

A good friend knows when to step in and help. I graded papers, she painted the bathroom and every so often we'd meet on the back porch for a break in the sun and a little bit of chat.

It's just about time to get ready for another week at work and I'm close to ready. I've got 8 more essays to grade and one nice looking bathroom painted a lovely color known as "violet evening."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Back in the Group

My writing group met last was the first meeting since May of the group of four. A few of us decided to take on a three minute fiction challenge posted by NPR. We were tasked with writing a fiction piece of no more than 6oo words. The rules stated the piece must start with the phrase, "Some people swore the house was haunted." The story needed to end with, "Nothing was the same again after that."

Here's my offering:

Some people swore that the house was haunted. At first I refused to believe, mostly because those people were my two brothers who I didn’t think knew anything at all. Well, they knew how to annoy me, and pinch me harder than any pinch I’d ever felt. They knew how to never get caught feeding their vegetables to the dog under the table at dinnertime, whereas I always got caught.

But haunted houses? No, they didn’t know that. Besides the house they insisted was haunted wasn’t real. It was in the picture that hung in our living room. The house wasn’t even the center of the picture. It was just a run-down old building in the background of the photograph. I hadn’t even noticed the house at first. My attention had always been focused on the old lady standing in front. Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight bun that had to be giving her a headache. Frustration and anger seeped from her eyes. The worn features of her face disguised her real age. Her tightly pursed lips silenced her story. My dad told me she was only about 30 at the time the photo was taken. It was hard to believe. From my own 12 year old perspective she looked to be about 70.

She was my great aunt, times four…my grandmother’s mother’s mother’s sister. Aunt Annie had boarded a boat for the promise of the United States of America sometime during the potato famine. She left the coast of Ireland with a broken heart and arrived in Baltimore six weeks later and twenty-five pounds lighter. The crossing was much rougher than expected. She spent the last 21 days of the journey in misery with nothing but oranges to eat.

I didn’t know much else about her story. For the most part I made it up in my head. I spent summer afternoons in my own world. After lunch I’d race out the back door with notebook and pencil in hand and head for the cool privacy beneath the front porch. By the end of the summer I had made up and written down my story of Aunt Annie…

Annie had left Ireland in desperation. Starvation had taken her family, her farm and a good part of her heart. She had been a woman who loved her children more than anything. When they were gone there was no love left in her, only anger. Coming to America was her last chance. Her sister, Lizzie, had begged her to come and sent the money to do so. Lizzie was sure she could help, she knew if Annie was surrounded by the love of her nieces and nephews her heart would begin to mend itself…she could know love again.

Lizzie arrived at the dock in a state of nervous anticipation. She knew the rough trip was going to be one more thing to deal with--another part of the mess of Annie that must be mended. She felt strong and sure that she could help the older sister who had been such a part of her life back in Ireland. Life in Baltimore had turned out to be better than she ever imagined. As children she and Annie had spent many late night hours planning the happy path their lives would take. She smiled just thinking about those nights, the two sisters wrapped up together under a torn blanket with nothing but happy dreams for the future.

Lizzie looked up to see a slow, dark figure moving her way. Her eyes wrinkled in confusion as she looked into the empty face and dark eyes of the woman that she was there to rescue. An initial tentative hug turned into a five minute, sob-filled embrace.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.