Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Back in 6th Grade

New seats, new seats, new seats!  Everyone was so happy about getting a new seat and a new writing partner today.  It's funny- as I moved through the classroom I saw bursts of joy as students realized who they had been partnered with.  Trying to remember myself at that age I could barely remember anything about my own sixth grade classroom, and then I remembered Brook Boyle.

Brook was the goofy kid at my table.  I was quiet and definitely a rule follower.  There were many days when I cringed thinking we were surely going to get in trouble because of him and his classroom antics.  Thinking about him over 40 years later I didn't remember any specific trouble that our table got in.  In fact, I remembered very little about 6th grade.

I do remember:
~Not being able to spell probably and wondering why my teacher would only tell me it was wrong instead of telling me how it should be spelled
~Making something with Plaster of Paris- probably some sort of fossil mold
~Not being chosen for a special weekend surprise the teacher gave her top 4 students (apparently I was the alternate)
~The red bell-bottom pants I wore on the first day of school



Then I remembered one other thing about Brook Boyle.  He had the coolest little blue "Frito Bandito" eraser.  He didn't have it for long though.  Our table got caught playing around with the little blue guy and without much fanfare that little eraser found its way into the hands of our first year teacher, Mrs. Austin.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Walk On

It's been quite some time since I've taken a stroll around the neighborhood.  Tonight I was happy to lace up my walking shoes and get back out there.

The warm spring evening was perfect for walking.  The sun shined above as all sorts of yellow flowers strutted their stuff in the neighbors' gardens.  The kids were out as well.  They pedaled along the sidewalk as parents watched from the front stoop.  I saw a few runners, a few dog walkers and even one gal who was walking her cat.  The big black and white fellow sat patiently as his person stopped to chat with a neighbor.  The two of us exchanged glances and I knew, because he was a cat, how uncool he thought being on a leash was.  I did my best to respect his catness and kept myself from staring too long.

It wasn't a long walk.  I was back home about 30 minutes later happy to be reacquainted with the neighborhood's activities.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

On the Floor

The best moment of the concert I saw last night came towards the end of the evening.  It was a moment my group almost missed.

After performing their final song on stage the four musicians moved into the crowd and sang four more.  The group refers this part of their show as "four on the floor."  I moved closer to music and was able to enjoy the always-fantastic harmonies of the band.  The intimacy of the setting made me feel like I was listening to them in a small room- perhaps someone's living room, like we were all a party together.  The all-acoustic set, using only a guitar and tambourine that served as a drum, was inspiring.  The lyrics were that much crisper, the music that much cleaner.


It left me wondering what it would take to do the whole show that way.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Thank You Sleep

Monday through Friday I get, on average, 6.5 hours of sleep.  I manage to get through very busy days in the classroom and am pretty productive.  Somewhere around Thursday the sleep I'm not getting starts catching up on me.  Really I'm more of an 8-9 hours a night kind of sleeper.  Sure, my body can make do with the 6.5 nights but after too many in a row it starts to crave a little more shut-eye time.

Fridays are my sleep savior.  Just last night my Fitbit registered a whopping 9.5 hours of sleep.  No wonder I got so much done around the house today!

By noon I had done 4 loads of laundry, cleaned the downstairs, sorted the stacked up mail and cleaned the bathroom.

My chores are done and I'm still full of energy.

Thank you sleep.

Thank you Saturday.

Friday, March 24, 2017

From Zero to Sixty

I'm a slow starter in the morning.  I get up around 5:15 just so I can spend about 45 minutes with coffee and the news of the world.  I make my coffee from freshly ground beans by the cup.  Shout out to the makers of the Aero Press.  That thing makes one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had.  It is, by far, the highlight of my morning routine.

After coffee time comes the shower and the other get yourself together stuff.  I make a quick breakfast; pack up my lunch and head out the door for a slow stroll to the car.  It's hard to say goodbye to my comfortable little abode, but work is a necessity so I slip into my car and head off to work.

I move slowly through the neighborhood- a full 5 miles under the posted speed limit.  The community takes speeding through the neighborhood seriously.  Testing the limits is likely to get you a Facebook shaming.  


My left out of the neighborhood places me on the entrance ramp to the local highway.  As I wait my turn to merge into traffic I grip my warm cup of coffee.  In no time at all I go from 0 to 60 and I'm speeding into my day trying my best to keep up with the flow of traffic.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Oh Happy Day

There's nothing like a great day in the classroom to erase any bad feelings swirling around from a not so stellar yesterday.  Today was that day.

The student who was such a...12 year-old yesterday was a softer version today.  Sure he was still testing the rules with the sweatband he wore but he the snarl that was so prominent yesterday was packed far away.

We reviewed types of conflict today.  Thanks to my awesome colleague, who has done most of the work on the current unit, we zipped through external and internal conflict with smiles on our faces and nods of "yep, I got this!"  Not only did my colleague's Google slide presentation include a video insert, it ended with a round of Kahoot!

My students were shocked, impressed and excited about the lesson.

As my co-teacher Starr told me late this afternoon, "You blew Matthew away.  He had no idea you could ever play Kahoot in English."

Those kids better hold on tight.  My awesome colleague tells me the setting presentation is even better!

GeoGuesser anyone?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Can We Talk?

These last days of March are weary ones indeed.  My desk is a clutter of haphazard papers and tiny Post-it notes that have been around for so long that they often leave me stumped by my own cryptic messages to myself.

Today I had a rather negative interaction with a student.  It didn't feel good and I went in search of the counselor for some advice on how to best repair this frayed relationship.  This young man and I have had some ups and downs over the year.  I see him as someone who is testing the limits.  Some days it feels like he's more interested in testing his behavioral limits than stretching his academic self.

I get it.  I know that's part of being a middle school teacher, but it's hard to ignore at times.

I asked him to see me at lunch- hoping for a quick discussion, a little redirection and a pep talk.  The young man's body language assured me that was not going to be happening.  I could discuss, redirect and pep talk all I wanted but he wasn't going to hear it.  His wall was up and as strong as the snarl in his lip.

I cut the talk short, realizing it wouldn't matter what I said.  He may have felt victorious but I sure didn't.  

That meeting gnawed at my brain the rest of the day.  Finally around 2:00 I went in search of the counselor hoping she'd offer me some insight on the child and a path we could take together to bring out the best in our student.


--> The turn-around is going to take some time, it usually does.  We didn't completely solve the problem, but I must say talking with the school counselor always makes me feel so much better!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Club Tuesday

I rushed out of work late this afternoon to meet up with my book club at a local wine restaurant.  I hadn't read the book.  It wasn't for lack of trying, but I just could not find a reason to stay interested in this month's selection.  To be clear, it wasn't the writing.  I actually appreciated the way the author crafted her words, I just didn't care enough about the story.

I used to feel guilty if I showed up for book club without reading the chosen text.  Fortunately, my group is very forgiving.  Their forgiveness isn't all that surprising.  You see the club is made up of former elementary school teachers.  I started my teaching career with 6 of the core members of the group and they are just as cheerful and forgiving as any kind, jolly elementary school teacher you could conjure up in your imagination.

The discussion part of the evening doesn't usually last more than fifteen minutes.  Once we each put our two cents in we downshift into dinner, wine, and a lot of laughter.

No matter the book, and how much I've read- I can always count on leaving with a smile on my face.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Soup's On!

I wish I had learned earlier in life just how easy it is to make soup.  The first time I ever made soup wasn't until I was living on my own for the first time.  Up to that point I thought making soup involved dumping a can of Campbell’s Alphabet soup into a pan and heating it up on the stove.

Early on in my living on my own days I invited my parents over for Thanksgiving dinner.  Afterwards I was left with a lot of turkey- too much turkey.  It was then that I discovered a recipe in an old cookbook.  The recipe was for “Leftover Turkey Soup.”

It was pretty easy.  I used the carcass of the turkey to make the soup broth.  After the broth was done I added onions, carrots, celery and noodles.  A few spices were added and before long I was enjoying a delicious bowl of soup.


Since then I’ve made all kinds of soup.  Recently I made a big pot of chicken noodle soup.  It was the perfect meal on a cold, snowy day.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Data Inconclusive

Having students turn in work through Google Classroom has its ups and downs.  I like that you can clearly see who has turned in their work.  The submit button means I never have to hear someone say, "I turned it in, you must have lost it."

So, let's call that one point in the pro column.  Obviously, my sixth graders may disagree.

I've had a hard time learning to love grading in the digital form.  Thinking about the paper and ink I'm saving the school system sort of makes it easier to swallow, but I do miss sitting with pen in hand adding comments and corrections to student essays.  Of course, my wise niece told me just last year that kids never read those comments, so maybe all that work on my part was for naught.

Score add a weak point in the con column.

Let's talk about those papers a little more.  Usually, on a weekend like this one (and last one for that matter), I'd have a stack of papers sitting in a metal basket on my dining room table.  Every time I'd pass by I would be forced to face the mound of work that awaited me.  Tattered papers would reach out to me, begging to be graded as I procrastinated my way through a thorough house cleaning.

This afternoon blue skies and cool temperatures beckoned my bike and me.  When I looked at the dining room table it was neat, with nothing but a newly filled fruit bowl.  There were no persuasive essays calling my name.  No, those ungraded essays were neatly filed in the virtual land of Google Classroom.  Sure, I saw my laptop on the table, but it kept quiet- sleeping like a mouse as I grabbed my bike and water bottle and headed out the door.

To be fair, let's call it a draw.  


It seems the pro/con list has come up inconclusive.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Simple Pleasures

Peanut butter and jelly has to be one of my favorite sandwiches.  In fact, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast this morning.  I believe the best PB & J sandwich needs 3 important ingredients.  To start, the bread needs to be extremely fresh.  Eating a sandwich on sort of old, dry bread will not do.  Secondly, the peanut butter should be Jif.  I have to admit I was a Skippy peanut butter fan for some time but I switched back to Jif after having it at my sister’s house.  She reminded me that my grandmother always used Jif.  Anything my granny made was delicious so I went back to Jif and am happy that I did.  Finally, there is the jelly.  I prefer strawberry jam on my PB & J. 

Soft bread, Jif peanut butter (without chunks, please) and strawberry jam- that’s what I call a perfect sandwich.  The only thing that can make it even better is an icy, cold glass of milk.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Flashback Friday

In honor of St. Patrick's Day and my Irish heritage I offer a flashback piece that details one of my favorite memories from my visit to Ireland four and a half years ago.

July 2016

Certainly one of the more intriguing sites I've seen thus far in Ireland is the way the dogs and cats move about town.  Saturday morning I was driving down Marks St. with Kit when I noted a small, black and white dog walking at a clip down the sidewalk.  I watched as his four legs moved him purposefully down the block.  From my vantage point it was clear that this dog had a destination in mind.

We turned the corner and were stunned to see that our four-legged friend was still walking just ahead of us, except that he was now making his way spritely down the street...in the bike lane.  I laughed out loud as I watched him cross over by way of the crosswalk to the next intersection.


He stopped at the corner to assess the situation before heading across the street.  We held a collective breath as we saw he was crossing against the red.  No matter, all was fine.  The little guy looked left and met eyes with the oncoming car, which in turn slowed down to let him cross.  And then he was gone, marching down the street and out of sight onto what we'll never know.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dicing and Slicing

I took a few minutes of class time to review the goals of the March Writing Challenge.  I wanted to check in with students who have been posting regularly and offer an example to students who were struggling to come up with ideas.  I shared that writing can come from many places.  In fact, I had started to write about school lunches and ended up writing the following slice:

From 1st grade to 5th grade I went to St. Joseph’s School in the tiny town of Texas, Md.  It was a Catholic school.  My first grade teacher was a nun by the name of Sr. Boniface.  She was as mean as her name makes her sound.  She really disliked it when kids chewed on their fingernails.  I guess she thought it was unbecoming.  Every week she would line us up to inspect our nails.  She would actually measure our nails to see how long they were and look for signs that we had been chewing on them.  I was never a nail chewer back then, it’s a habit I developed later in life.  One day when Sister was inspecting my nails she noted some raggedy edges.  She asked me if I had been chewing.  I told her I hadn’t- I told her that my mom had trimmed my nails the night before.  It was the truth.  I’ve always had an issue with lying- it seems like whenever I did tell a lie I always got caught.  Now that I’m older I have a huge problem with dishonesty. 

Unfortunately, Sister Boniface did not believe what I told her.  I knew that arguing would not help.  She struck me on the hand with a ruler.  I guess that was supposed to remind me the next time I thought about chewing on my nails.

Sister Boniface wasn’t with us the whole year.  I think she retired halfway through the year.  Another nun took over the class.  I don’t remember her name, but I do remember she was one of the nicest nuns I ever had.

By the end of the day I had shared this story five times and came to expect the horrified reactions of my students as they learned that a teacher hit me.  All day I’d answered the same question- “Are teachers even allowed to hit kids?”

So, imagine my surprise when I called on Teddy during my last class of the day.
“Yes Teddy?”


“How do you even remember what happened in first grade!”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Paying It Forward

I'm the kind of gal who will buy a new car and then keep driving it until it pretty much can't drive anymore.  The first car I ever owned didn't cost all that much but boy did it take me far.  That little red Ford Escort gave and gave until she couldn't give anymore.  Her final ride involved me coasting her down "Superman Hill" to a nearby junkyard.

Needless to say, I've spent a fair amount of time looking under the hood of my car trying to figure things out when they go wrong.  I learned years ago to keep jumper cables in the trunk and have done my share of asking strangers to help me when confronted with the click of a dead battery.

Today, I finally got to pay it forward.

A neighbor posted her plea for help jumping her car on the community Facebook page.  Responding was a no-brainer and within 10 minutes time her car was up and running and I was back at home getting ready for dinner.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Request Granted

I looked out the window at about 4:20 this morning but couldn't really tell if the snow on the ground was going to be enough to warrant a day off.  Fortunately, I didn't have to wait too long for an answer.  After laying my head back down on the pillow I heard the quiet two-beat vibration of my cell phone.  A text message had arrived, and if it came that early in the morning it could only mean Arlington Public Schools would be closed today.  After a quick fist pump in the air I pulled up the comforter and rolled over smiling myself back to sleep.

I woke up at 9:00 AM to find my black cat staring at me with a look of disapproval.  Perhaps he disapproved of my 10 (!) hours of sleep.  Or maybe it was his empty food bowl that was bothering him.  Nonetheless, I grabbed my sleep sweater and headed down to the kitchen.

Even though there were a lot of things I could have done with my day off I chose a path of least resistance.  I resisted the calling of 110 essays and chose to fill out my NCAA bracket instead.  I resisted trying to plow through a book that I haven't particularly enjoyed and caught up on The Walking Dead.  Late this afternoon I even resisted a trip to the gym, opting for a nap instead.


Yes, there were two paths I could have taken today, and I took the one of least resistance.  My cat Edgar, who napped right along with me, approved.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Simple Request

Tiny flakes of snow are falling outside my window.  Inside I am warm and cozy in my most comfortable pair of sweatpants.

In many ways, it seems like a perfect winter evening.  The reality is that the daffodils behind my house are in full bloom, as are the tulip trees and pear trees.  Six miles away the cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin are just about to bloom.

From the looks of things one would think that spring has arrived, and that makes me pretty happy. The only thing that would make me happier is just one snow day on the school calendar.


Whaddya say Mother Nature?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Before the Storm

My diet has been seriously lacking some vegetables as of late.  To be honest my diet has been lacking any sort of focus at all.

After watching a morning news program that reminded me of the importance of vegetables in the fight against disease I decided to make a change.  By about 1:00 this afternoon I was in my car and on my way to Wegmans to stock up on fruits, veggies and lean proteins.  

Silly, silly me...I should have known better.  With anywhere from 2 to 10 inches of snow forecasted for Monday and Tuesday the grocery store, much less the shopper's paradise of Wegmans was the last place anyone would want to be.

Parking was a bit of a challenge, but once I found my spot on the outer edge of the lot I decided to embrace the chaos and get shopping.

Wow.  That's really all I can say.  Once I made it inside the store all I could see were carts and people, and then more carts and more people.  The usual Sunday shoppers zipped around with clear destinations on their minds.  The rest of us wandered aimlessly trying to figure out what was needed and where it could be found.

The produce section was, by far, the busiest section of the store.  I have to say, I thought for sure I'd see more people over in the wine/beer area.  Back in produce one had to be careful.  Lose focus and I could have easily been clipped by another shopping cart or a small child.  There were no bananas, no onions, and not much in the salad green section either.  I was able to grab some baby spinach, red potatoes, carrots, avocados and celery.  By the time I made it out of produce my heart was starting to beat a little faster.  Eventually, I was able to find a quiet place in the international foods aisle.  I took a few minutes to look at the marmite and HP sauce and relax.

In the end I came to realize that it was easier to leave the cart in one place and scurry around the store unencumbered to finish off my list.  With a better shopping plan in place I was able to check off all the items on my list and get out of the store without too much trouble.


This week's menu includes chicken noodle soup, salmon with broccoli, chicken fajitas, spinach salad, and maybe a beer or three.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hopeful

There's been a lot of talk of an upcoming snowstorm in the DC area over the last 24 hours.  This snow day-starved teacher is trying her best to not get wrapped up in the hype.

I gotta tell you that's really hard when a few of my colleagues are continually texting me the latest weather updates.  At one point yesterday the science teacher ran into my classroom to show me the latest weather reports on her iPad.  My English students got excited real quick.

I tried my best to quell the excitement by pleading with them- "It won't happen if we keep talking about it!"

I'm superstitious in that respect.  As long as I've been teaching I've learned to never count on a snow day.  I always make sure that my room is ready for the next day, no matter what the forecast says.

My sixth graders have other plans.  They'll be wearing their pajamas inside out and flushing ice cubes down the toilet.


I hope their plans work.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Ruh-Roh

So I got called into the principal's office today.  It seems all that community I thought was being developed with our March Writing Challenge had hit a snag.  Some posts had created a bit of drama on the team and problems escalated.  My principal had heard from a parent.

First of all, the time I spent in the office was nothing but pleasant.  It was not at all the way I had imagined it might be way back when I was in school.  Being an adult helps, right?  We had a great discussion of the problem at hand and made a plan for the best way to make sure all parties involved felt better about the situation.

In the end I think the problems have been responded to in the best way possible.  All involved parties seem happy with the solution and the weekend is here.

Tonight I put my feet up and sipped on an icy, cold IPA.  I called my sister to tell her about my day.


I just hope she didn't tell my mom I was in the principal's office.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Checked Up

My dentist appointment today makes the fourth different medical professional I've seen in the past 6 weeks. I started off the year with my yearly dental check-up only to discover that I was in need of a crown and a filling.   Ching-Cha-Ching.

Then a few weeks ago I checked in with my orthopedist in hopes of getting some relief for chronic knee pain.  I love my orthopedist.  Dr. M. lays everything right out there and is in general just fun to talk to.  One time we spent about 15 minutes discussing one of my favorite books, In Cold Blood.  From there we talked about Harper Lee and the rumor that Truman Capote wrote To Kill A Mockingbird.  Lucky for me Dr. M. had inside information- he told me Harper Lee stayed at a buddy's parent's house in New York while she wrote the book.  Not that Truman had enough heart to come up with Mockingbird.  He also told me Harper Lee was a gin drinker.

Dr. M. had a knee replacement a year ago so I feel like he's the best person to talk to as I consider replacing my own arthritic knee.  Fortunately, a little shot of cortisone was all this gal needed.  I walked out of the office feeling a little sting from the needle, but otherwise better than I've felt in 6 months.

The next stop was my dermatologist.  I haven't checked in with her in quite awhile, so after she froze a pesky little wart off I promised to come back for a complete skin check in a month.

Earlier this week I checked in with my optometrist.  Dr. L is the best!  She's always cheery.  I think I'm a few years older than her, but we laughed over similar experiences we had while living in group houses in our twenties.  The best thing about the eye doctor is there's no chance of a needle- just a little puff of air while I look at a glowing green light.

I was back at the dentist today.  There were two shots of Lidocaine in my gum before my cavity was attended to.  I also got my new crown.  At the end Dr. G. applied a little Vaseline to my lips and sent me on my way.  

And that's enough doctors for now.  

-->

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Holy Voice Control Batman!

It was on Sunday that my TV started blinking update messages.  Xfinity, my cable provider, was telling me to turn to another channel to get information on some sort of equipment update.  Usually I'd ignore these messages in much the same way I've been ignoring my check engine light for the past 4 months.  This time I had a friend staying over- the kind of friend who believes in maintenance and updates.  Intent on not looking like a complete slacker I went ahead and accepted the delivery of the equipment and a self-install kit.  Today I came home to find a sizable box from Xfinity on my doorstep.

As promised there were three new set-top boxes inside- one for each TV in the house.  Okay, so yes, I live alone AND have 3 TVS.  I realize it may seem excessive, but I'll just say I got that tendency from my mother.

Set-up was pretty easy as was pairing the remote.  The new box is a little different.  While I may miss being able to easily check the time on the cable box I think I'll get over it- because...

THIS THING COMES WITH VOICE CONTROL!

I mean, I've seen the commercials for Xfinity and knew voice-controlled remotes were out there, but to have one in my very hand is a whole other thing!  Wow!

Sure, my excitement is a little over the top.  But this girl grew up on a black and white set with rabbit ears and aluminum foil.  There were 3 channels on the VHF dial (the big networks) and 2 more on the UHF.  Remote controls didn't exist.  If I wanted to change the channel I could either try to convince my naive baby sister to do it or get myself off the couch (or floor) and do it myself.

This new contraption means I barely have to lift a finger to flip a channel.  A few minutes ago I picked up the remote and commanded my TV to "play the Gilmore Girls."  And there they were- Lorelei and Rory-without much effort on my part.  


--> It's fitting that I decided to watch a rerun of the Gilmore Girls.  After all, they would go crazy for a voice-controlled remote.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Common Ground


This March I challenged my students to participate in their own writing challenge.  Here's a shout out to my friend over at Walking the Dog for supporting me in this endeavor.

At a minimum, students are required to post at least ten times.  To help them experience success I make sure to carve out class time twice a week for some writing time.

I've been surprised at the community that has developed through our Google Classroom site.  All 110 students that I teach have an opportunity to read and comment on their classmates’ daily posts.  At this point I can say all the comments have been supportive and positive.  I've enjoyed getting a little peek at the lives my students lead outside of my classroom.  These kids are busy with sports, dance, family fun and all kinds of other activities.  


We may not enjoy many of the same after school activities, but one thing we all agree on is that getting up early is for the birds.

Monday, March 6, 2017

From Glasgow to Baltimore

A few weeks ago someone in the family mentioned something about my father's grandfather- the one who was born in a Scottish prison.

Wait, what?

How could it be that I didn't know this story?

Fortunately, my dad- the keeper of all family stories- had all kinds of information on my great-grandfather, Captain James J. Brown.

James J. Brown was born in Glasgow, Scotland (in a prison) on December 14, 1865.  He went to sea at the age of 12, working as a cabin boy.  It's unclear exactly how he ended up in Baltimore, but it was thanks to his life there that I can trace my paternal roots in the United States to the tugboats that sit in the Baltimore harbor.  

By the time he was 25, James was the captain of the R.M. Spedden Company's tugboat, Caroline. He spent many days working at sea.  Family legend has it that his obituary was picked up in newspapers as far away as Boston.

I've always had a fascination with tugboats.  There's something about their structure and color that stands out to me- like they know they don't look like other boats, and that's okay because they've got power that others count on.


--> I've spent many hours wondering the streets of Fells Point in Baltimore.  These days its waterfront location is a draw for pub-goers and restaurant seekers.  Certainly the next time I'm there I'll be looking at the area with a different mindset.  I'll look out at the tugboat tied up to the pier and try to picture Captain Brown and the life he lived over 100 years ago.

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