Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All Stuffed Up

A cold at any time of the year is no fun, but a summer cold is just a bit more irritable. I awoke this morning with a frog in my throat, aches in my body and congestion in my head. Even worse my first summer cold in years decided to announce itself at the same time I was all set to enjoy a few more hours at the beach.

My friends headed off to breakfast and I slowly got myself in gear for a morning beach walk. I didn't walk quite as far as I'd hoped to but was able to enjoy the bright morning light as it sparkled on the crashing surf.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday on the Beach

Another great day at the beach...I spent a good part of the afternoon with a friend from college who happened to be staying up the road from me. What a treat it was to hang out and chat with someone I haven't been able to spend enough time with lately.

The day ended with yummy fish tacos, a tasty pineapple and rum cocktail and a fantastic fireworks display. Not too shabby.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Afternoon on the Beach

The breeze whipped along the sand this afternoon, making for a pleasant few hours on the beach. Weather alerts from home came one after another to my cell phone, warning of severe thunderstorms at home. So far the sky is blue here at the beach and the sun continues to shine brightly in the sky.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Marsh Walk

I had what my British friend would refer to as a "lie in" this morning. I awoke at about 8:30 but then rolled over and didn't awake again until ten o'clock. It felt great to have a nice, long sleep and a day without plans ahead of me.

I completed a few errands around town and spent most of the day inside. It wasn't until 6:00pm that I considered going out again to take a few pictures. Without much thought as to my destination I climbed in the car with camera and iced tea in hand and headed off toward the Potomac River. I ended up at Daingerfield Island, a small plot of land on the river between Alexandria and Washington National Airport. There's a marina there and at first I thought I would take some sailboat pictures. After parking the car I found myself walking toward a marsh to take a closer look at the cattails in bloom. I was hoping to find some redwing blackbirds to pose for me, but ended up on a mini frog hunt.

The muddy, murky waters of the marsh were full of frogs of all sizes. The small ones are a bit skittish. As I walked along the edge of the marsh my steps were greeted with squeaks and splashes as the tiny critters hopped away to safety. The larger ones were more likely to stand their ground as they sat still cooling themselves in the mud and water.

I was also treated to a quick raccoon sighting, the first time I've seen a raccoon wading through water. There were also the herons that I love, perched gracefully on a fallen log. I spent about five minutes watching a small beaver nibble on a plant before he swam away.

The marsh walk was a great way to end the day.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Chore of the Summer

Things pile up over the course of time, especially in the refrigerator. I opened it this morning to retrieve some half and half for my morning coffee and realized the fridge was in desperate need of some love and assistance.

I plopped myself down on the floor in front of the open door and positioned the trash can to my left. Within five minutes I had discarded several containers of cheese crumbles in an assortment of flavors, two cloudy jars of olives, one empty jar of mayonnaise, a few bottles of salad dressing and one jar of pickle relish.

What a relief to see so much space in the icebox.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Nice Ending

One of the shining moments of my last teaching day this year came in the form of a list poem titled "Six Memories of Sixth Grade." It was written by a student I've written about before here, a student who has had some tough times this year. His memories were as follows:

I remember the looks of new faces and the resemblance of old.
I remember my teacher's greetings.
I remember a teacher's face, red with anger.
I remember the mats where I wrestled.
I remember how bad it is to be looked down upon.
I remember the sadness...leaving 6th grade.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Student Comments

As the school year comes to a close I ask my students to write me a letter about the ten months they spent in my class. I ask that they tell me what worked, what didn't and how to change things for the better. This year I also asked for some feedback on the resubmission policy.

Overall the comments given were positive. For the most part, students liked being able to resubmit work to better their grade. Only one student disliked the policy. He felt it allowed students to "be lazy." Another girl praised the policy even though she never took advantage of it.

My favorite comment came from a student that took advantage of the policy on numerous occasions. He wrote, "I really liked that I could turn in my work a second time to get a better grade. I really think you're on to something."

He made me smile.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One More Time

This year I allowed students to resubmit work for a better grade. My grading practices have come a long way since I started teaching. The work resubmission policy is part of my continuing effort to let the students take over more of the control of their grade. Truthfully, the students have always been the one in control of their grade, it's just they don't see that. Even sixth graders, who have been getting letter grades for three years, often fail to see that grades are something they earn, not something the teacher gives.

I was hoping that the kids would see the resubmission policy as a way to get the best grade possible. In my "perfect classroom world" all students would resubmit work until they got the best grade possible. Classrooms are not perfect. In fact they are often quite imperfect. They're chaotic, messy and unpredictable. So I shouldn't be surprised that only a few kids took me up on the offer to resubmit their work.

Even though the policy was met with limited response I think I'll keep it in place next year. Who knows how next year's class will respond? I'm anxious to find out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Sometimes things happen...things that need to happen because they are for the best. However, even though it's best it's not always easy. Mostly because there are people involved, which means there are feelings and emotions that don't always see what's best right away. Sometimes what's best is not fun, not fun at all.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Memory Lane

It seems odd to be spending the first day of summer on a charter bus with 82 sixth graders, but that's exactly what I did today. Really, it wasn't all that bad. We took two buses from our school in Arlington, VA and made our to Lewes, DE. It's about a 3 1/2 hour trip that allows the students to see a somewhat, radical change in landscape; one that begins in the urban setting we live in and continues east to the Atlantic coast by way of the small towns and farmland of Maryland and Delaware.

The landscape is familiar to me. I have traveled the very same roads for 48 years now, first as a baby with my family to see relatives on the eastern shore of Maryland. Later it was with friends as we made rowdy road trips to the beaches of the Mid-Atlantic during our late teens and twenties.

Lewes holds other memories since it was the town that friends chose for a summer rental. Even though I never had the money to share in the rental I was welcomed every weekend with whatever money I could scrape together to put toward my share of food or beer.

My phone rang as the bus was making its way back into Virginia at about 6:00pm tonight. Coincidentally, it was a friend who lived near the beach in Delaware years ago, one whose house was often the end destination of those road trips. I had talked with her early this morning and she knew of my field trip for the day. When she asked me how the day was I smiled, "It made me miss you," I replied, "it made me miss everybody and everything from those days."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Picture that Walked Away

The deer was standing near the edge of the canal, her body shaded by the leafy oak tree. Her head was down as she quietly lapped up a drink of water. I stopped and climbed off my bike to grab my camera. I lowered the bike to the ground with slow intent as I whispered across the canal, "Why not just stay right where you are, for just a second or two?"

The camera lens fogged up as soon as I lifted it from the cool backpack it had been stored in. Damn humidity. Using my t-shirt I did a quick wipe and lifted the viewfinder up to my right eye, but it was too late. The deer jumped gracefully up the small embankment and walked off into the woods.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Third Grade Memories

Back at St. Joseph's in 1970 everyone was friends, by third grade we had all been in the same class together for three years. We were too young for cliques. The only thing we agreed on was that nun we had in the beginning of our first grade year was about the strictest teacher we'd ever had and that our third grade teacher, Mrs. Carey, was the nicest teacher in the world.

Mrs. Carey used to let us listen to records during lunch. We didn't have anything like a cafeteria at St. Joe's, so teachers and kids ate together in the classroom. Mary Jane Welch brought in her 45s and we all listened to Cher sing "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves."

One day Mrs. Carey brought in kittens. I watched as they ran around the classroom and knew I needed to have one. Getting my parent's approval was much easier than I imagined. Morris came home with me a few days later.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Picnic Table or Patio Furniture?

Way back when I was a kid we didn't have anything called "patio furniture." I didn't know anyone with patio furniture. What we did have were some folding chairs. They were made of metal and mesh nylon straps that were criss-crossed to create a rather solid seat and back surface.

The metal chairs were nice, but if we were outside sitting we were most likely sitting at the picnic table. Ours was rather traditional; a burgundy stained, rectangular table with two benches that sat parallel to one another on opposite sides of the table. It was the perfect size for our family of six.

Somewhere along the way our picnic table got hauled off to the dump in favor of patio furniture. The risk of splinters while eating disappeared and I doubt anyone in the family ever thought about that little picnic table again. I sure didn't...

...Until tonight. I was out for a walk and noticed a beautiful picnic table set sitting on the side of the road. It was free for the taking. I really did want to run back home, grab the car and haul it back home. The only problem is I don't have the space for it; I've got too much patio furniture already.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dinner Time

The cardinals are frequent visitors to my backyard bird feeder. Of all the different birds that stop in on occasion I enjoy watching them the most. Really, I enjoy the way the male and female cardinals interact with one another.

The male arrives on the scene first, gently making his way from one limb to the next, taking his time to survey the area for danger and then finally landing on the bird feeder perch. He eats quickly, but again stops to take note of the surroundings, making sure all is safe.

The female sits on a limb nearby. Her random chirps signal all is well, and perhaps send the message that she too is waiting on a morsel or two.

Sensing his mate's presence the male flies to her side and transfers a seed from his beak to hers. He remains on the tree limb ready to sound the alarm at the first presence of danger. The female flies to the feeder and enjoys her meal.

The two of them really do seem to have the whole thing figured out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What to do

I think one of the most rewarding parts of any vacation is the freedom to retire and rise on one's own schedule.

I don't mind getting up early, but even after 6 years I have yet to embrace the startling sound of the alarm at 5:15 each morning. I'd say that a 7:30 or 8:00 am wake-up is more my style.

It's easy to waste away the summer days. I enjoy the slowness of the mornings, but have come to realize that it's best to come up with some sort of "to do list" for the day. Without the list my morning coffee/crossword puzzle time can easily stretch into lunchtime.

Summertime is my time to reorganize my cabinets and closets. Sitting in the living room I can already see things that need to be trashed or sent off to Goodwill. I can't wait to tackle the clutter.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yes, We Will

Crankiness abounds at work this week. (At least it does on my team.)

Patience is thin, students are full of energy and teachers are downright exhausted.

The weather outside is hot and humid.

However, even though it seems everything is going wrong, I'm pretty sure all of us will make it through the next week. It's quite possible we may even have moments or hours of fun along the way.

I know we will, we always do.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Permission Granted

About a week ago I wrote about my experiences at my nephew's graduation. As with most things I post I didn't think much about the writing once I hit the "publish post" key.

Today, my sister called. She had mentioned the post to her sister-in-law, Sue, who works in the alumni office at the same school. Sue liked what she read, liked the small town connection thing and asked if she could use it in the upcoming alumni publication.

When my sister asked me if it was okay I could only think about what I didn't like about the piece. Then I decided to let it go...permission to publish granted.

Exciting, eh?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Star Gazing

I spent the weekend with friends I met 30 years ago when I arrived on the campus of St. Mary's College of Maryland. It's become an annual tradition for us all to reunite for alumni weekend. There was, of course, the requisite reminiscing, seafood galore, laughter and very little sleep.

One of the highlights of the weekend was laying down on the cool grass in the church graveyard. The sky above was filled with more stars than I've seen in a long time. The fireflies blinked in the dark silhouettes of the nearby headstones. Five of us lay there last night sharing what we remembered from Astronomy class. The same graveyard was a common after-dinner walk way back when. Its location upon a hill overlooking the St. Mary's River made it a perfect spot for watching the always-remarkable sunsets. I watched the stars twinkle above, hoping to see a falling meteor, content to be back in such a beautiful place that offers so many wonderful memories.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I enjoy the quiet of the morning. Today is just a tad quieter than most mornings because it's Saturday and I'm not rushed to get out the door for work.

I know many people that can be up and out the door for work within 30 minutes. I'm not one of those people, nor do I desire to be. Sure, I can get myself in gear on the extremely rare occasion when I oversleep, but I prefer to have the time to linger over the newspaper with a tall cup of coffee.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Trivia Time

My mom turned 75 years old yesterday. For fun I put the following trivia question on the board: "Today is Ms. Brown's mother's birthday. How old is she?"

A few kids were intrigued, they noticed the question and asked a few questions.

"How old was she 50 years ago?"
"How old was she when you were born?"

One student responded, "How do we know? We don't even know what she looks like!"

I showed her a picture taken last year that I had behind my desk. She studied it for a minute or two and wrote down her guess...She is 75 years old.

I don't really know what 75 is supposed to look like, but I don't think my mom looks 75. Maybe that's because I'm a lot closer to that age than 12-year-old Claire who made the guess.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The baseball season has not been kind to my Baltimore Orioles. As of today they have played 59 games and only won 16 of them. Their win percentage stands as the lowest in all of baseball at .271.

At this point I have to admit I don't think they have a chance of turning things around. It's quite possible that this season will be the worst in recent memory.

It's not easy to watch, but I try to tune into part of a game or two each week. If the score is already a blowout I move on pretty quickly; if it's close I stay with it for a while to see if the team shows a little spark.

They're playing the Yankees tonight. It's the top of the 2nd and the Yanks are ahead 3-2. I'll watch another inning or so, and then in the morning I'll check the final score in the paper. Most likely, it will be another loss.

How long until the season ends?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Very Fat Cat

My very fat cat weighs somewhere around 18 pounds. He missed the lesson that instructed cats to be aloof and distant. As I write tonight he is straddling my stomach, grooming the fine hairs on my arm. Apparently my level of cleanliness is not up to his standards.

He seems to genuinely like me. I've had a two other cats in my lifetime; neither of them would have dared to show the admiration that Scout does.

I was out of town this past weekend. Upon my return I let the cat outside for a little fresh air and relaxed on the couch with the Sunday paper. Ten minutes later, I heard the familiar sound of the screen door opening. Scout is quite handy with the door, a quarter inch opening is all he needs to slide a paw through and push the screen to the right allowing him to get back inside when he wants.

I didn't think much of the door opening, but I was surprised and slightly freaked out by the small, perhaps dead, chipmunk he brought me. Fortunately the chipmunk was only playing dead. My cat may be quite the hunter outside, but he's no killer. I was able to gather the stunned striped creature into a bowl and place him back outside under the cover of some bushes.

I came back in and congratulated Scout on his hunting success. I know the chipmunk was a special gift for me so I thanked him and then headed to the kitchen sink to wash my hands.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

100 days later

I started this blog as a writing challenge for the month of March. As with most things I take on I didn't have much insight as to what would happen once that month was over. I'm not completely surprised that I kept on writing, but now that I'm 100 days into the challenge I've been thinking about when it might end.

I'm a person who likes to know what's going to happen. That's probably why I found myself in a career that begins and ends on schedule each year. Before I found my way into teaching I worked as a low-level government employee. I was a paper pusher in the personnel office. I recall filling out the forms that I was charged with and passing them along to the next cog in the system. I didn't know what happened before those forms came to me or what happened after I passed them on. It didn't bother me at first, but after two years of pushing things along I was determined to understand the whole process.

Finding out my part in the process was helpful. It kept me interested in the job for another year or so, and then I got bored and ended up going to graduate school.

I'm not bored with the blog thing yet. So for now, I'll deal with the daily challenge of creativity and keep plugging along.

Monday, June 7, 2010


A colleague told me I was cranky today. I was complaining about a few students who have given the team a good deal of trouble all year. I didn't feel cranky all day...until then.

Does complaining always equal cranky?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Small Town

Thirty years ago I sat on the football field of my high school for my graduation. Today I returned to that field and took a seat in the stands to watch my nephew, Michael, graduate.

I guess you could say I grew up in a small town. There was a movie theater on Main Street, a drive-in just a little ways out of town and farmland that was slowly being bought out by developers interested in making money on all those families that wanted to move out to "the country."

Thirty years later the farmland is 75% gone. With the exception of a few dairy farms on the outskirts of town all that farmland I drove by as a kid is now commercially owned. It's not quite the small town I remember leaving 23 years ago.

I listened to the names of the graduates announced by my former Western Civilization teacher and was surprised at the last names that were so familiar to me. They were the names of my former classmates. Thirty years later they were somewhere in the crowd to watch their own children graduate from their alma mater.

What a small town feeling.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Four Years Later...

My nephew graduates from high school tomorrow and in search of something to write about tonight I asked him what he learned in his four years there. He didn't have too much to say.

Four things Michael learned in high school:

1. Stuff about school...

2. You can fake your way through your first book report of high school.

3. If you're going to get a detention for being 30 seconds late you might as well drive home and go back to bed and be 3 hours late.

4. Sometimes when you decide to take a "break" from school you may be surprised to run into your mother in the kitchen...because she's also "taking a day."

Silly boy...

Friday, June 4, 2010


The classroom vibe was tranquil today. About one third of my students were off on a band trip so it was a good day for catching up on missing assignments and for getting ahead on next week's work.

I have three or four kids this year that rarely complete assignments on time. Overall, I don't give much homework, but with a tight schedule to finish the novel we're studying I've had to assign nightly reading on a regular basis. I've learned to leave 15 minutes or so at the end of class to allow for reading time and have given each student an assignment calendar for the remainder of the school year.

Still I can pretty much count on the same four kids to show up without their work. Their work completion problems are not limited to my class; they have missing assignments in at least two other classes. Teachers and counselor have met with their parents over the course of the school year to discuss the problem, come up with a plan to ensure homework completion and seen minimal success. As a team we have continued to call and email parents regarding lack of work and have seen...minimal success.

The school year is coming to a close, so yesterday I handed out missing work memos with next Friday as the deadline to turn in the work they owe. I've offered up my classroom as a lunchtime workroom. I know I can't make them do the work...but I sure hope they do.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Going Up

I listened intently as the mother tried to calmly explain to her son, who was on the other side of the locked bathroom door, how to flip the deadbolt and free himself. I was inside the doctor's office; the single restroom was outside of the office space at the other end of the short hallway. Still there was no tuning out the rescue.

At first the mother seemed confident that she could free the young boy without a hitch.

"Just turn the deadbolt latch, I'm unlocking the handle with the key from outside."

Failure. Whatever the young lad was turning, it was not the deadbolt latch.

"C'mon, honey...are you turning the TOP latch? Do you know what I mean by deadbolt?"

Failure continued, desperation began to creep into Mother's somewhat higher pitched voice.

"Sweetie, are you turning anything at all in there? Listen to me. Just turn the top latch, not the thing on the door handle. I can open that from my side. Are you turning the door handle latch? Are you? It's the top one honey, the top one."

I had given up on reading my book by then. I was reminiscing. I never locked myself in a bathroom, but I did find myself at the top of an escalator without my parents. I was young...maybe four at the time. I guess I hadn't seen many escalators at that point, so I was drawn to the moving stairs. I was intrigued. I climbed on without thinking about what might happen next.

Whaddya know--the darn stairs carried me to the next floor. The tricky thing was that it was one of those stores that didn't have side by side, up and down escalators. To get back down I would have to walk around to the other side of the store.

I was four...not ready for such a complication. I could see my parents at the bottom of the escalator. Much like the mother in the hallway they started out calmly trying to explain to me, a four-year old, how to get to them. Apparently they didn't know just how complicated it was in my mind. After all, they had many more years of experience with such things.

They did their best to talk me through my dilemma, as did the young mother at the doctor's office. Her son was rescued when the receptionist scurried from behind her desk with key in hand.

Eventually, my parents realized they weren't going to be able to talk me through. I looked down to see my older brother, Mark, riding up the escalator. He took my hand, walked me around to the other side of the store and we rode down the moving stairs to the laughing faces of my parents.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Watching the Animals

Tonight finds me feeling a bit like Dr. Doolittle. When I skipped off to work this morning I heard the familiar call of the cardinal coming from nearby. With a glance upward I spotted him sitting on a branch shrouded by the greenery of a small oak tree. Even with all the green leaves it was easy to pick out the brilliant red color of the vocal winged creature.

I returned home ten hours later to find a red cardinal sitting in the same tree singing his song. I can't be sure that it was the same one who sent me off to work in the morning, but maybe it was.

I threw my bag on the chair when I walked in the door as always. I was on my way to grab the mail that sat waiting for me on the floor under the mail slot when I heard a knocking sound at the back door. Surprised is what I was, because there knocking on my door was a squirrel. Was he selling something or looking for a handout? I'll never know because he scurried off before I could ask.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Wall

The thing is I've been seriously thinking of going dark on this whole writing blog thing. Although I certainly agree that participating in some sort of daily writing ritual is good practice, the bottom line is that it's also a daily challenge. Some days I'm up for the challenge. Other days I'd just like to go about my day unchallenged.

Perhaps it's like hitting the wall during a marathon. Not that I've done that, but I've heard tale of it. Runners are advised that getting over the wall is more about mind over matter. It's an argument between physical fatigue and mental fatigue. I understand that. With about 17 more days of school left I am most certainly suffering from a bit of both.