Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Catching Up on November

It's been a month since my faithful readers (all 3 or 4 of them) have heard from me. I'm sure since my last post was all about the excitement of NaNoWriMo you've been wondering what sort of award-winning first novel I've been working on. Wouldn't that be a great fairytale ending? Can't you see the headlines? "Unknown blogger writes of NaNoWriMo and disappears...30 days later she resurfaces with what is sure to be the next great American novel!"

Yeah, that didn't happen. And I'm okay with that. Some other good things did happen though. The writing club at school turned out to be a lot of fun and we did have one student who produced over 25,000 words. We met last Thursday to share our work and she came in with a big smile on her face, clearly proud of her accomplishments. I was proud of her as well...and, of course, just a little jealous.

Anyway, most in the group were able to share a little writing and what I liked most about that experience was the discussion that followed. Middle school students, at least the ones in the writing club, have no problem being honest. Anything that didn't make sense was immediately identified, as were phrases and words appreciated by the group.

In the end everyone left the meeting feeling like a successful writer, even those who churned out a measly 309 words.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This Month's Challenge

NaNoWriMo starts today.  I find it interesting that the start date is only two days after the Marine Corp Marathon was run in my area.  I trained for a marathon once.  My training got me to a slow 18-mile run and problems with my Achilles tendon.  I didn't get to run the race but I think it's possible that I could...some day.

A few summers ago my writing group decided to try the NaNoWriMo challenge.  Since we're all teachers we thought it best to use the month of July to write.  I didn't meet the challenge but I did write the beginnings of what may be a book...some day.

This month I'll be working with a teacher friend and a few students as we all challenge ourselves to write.  The young writer's program, which we're participating in, has a goal of a mere 20,000 words by the end of the month.  Compared to the 50, 000 I tried a few summers ago that sounds pretty darn attainable. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Technology Moment

Today's technology moment came along when a student asked to use my phone.  He had braces put on yesterday and wanted to ring up his father to ask that he bring him in some medicine for the pain.  Using the teacher's phone can sometimes prove to be a little confusing since most kids don't know they need to first dial 9 to get an outside line.

That was not a problem for the young man, in fact he asked about dialing 9 as he strolled toward my desk.  He started to push the numbers on the keypad and then stopped to look at me with a rolled up nose of confusion.

"Do I have to pick this thing up?" he asked as he pointed to the handset. 

"Yes, pick that up," I responded.  "Do you hear a dial tone?"

Again I was faced with the rolled up nose of confusion.  I moved closer to the phone and took the handset from him to listen.

"Do you hear anything?" I asked.

"Oh, that humming sound?"

"Yeah, that's a dial tone."

It was only then that I realized how the use of cell phones has started to change our own culture.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's Your Favorite Color?

What's your favorite color?  That's a question posed to children of all ages on a daily basis.  It's a conversation starter, a way to break the ice when meeting new young people.  Teachers ask it over and over in Kindergarten.  In fact I remember watching as a kindergarten teacher sat her students down in a circle and then took turns rolling a playground ball to her charges.  As each student grabbed the ball with their small hands they would call out their name followed by their favorite color. 

I'm Betsy!  My favorite color is black!

Yes, that really happened.  Even though Betsy was adorned from head toe in pink she was harboring a secret love for the color black.

My nephew, Michael, never liked that kind of game.  He would often complain about having to choose one color over all the others.

I don't like one color, he would say.  I like all the colors! 

We suggested just picking one for the sake of the exercise but that didn't sit well.

I can't, he would respond.  I like all the colors!

Fifteen years later he's in art school, a place where he can work with all his favorite colors on a daily basis.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Little Perspective

It was a busy day. The kind of day that started with a 7:10 am meeting that I was late for. From that point onward the day was in fast motion. Homeroom, welcome-back/safety assembly, a short first period, every class to the library, pictures with 3rd period, 35 minute lunch, two more classes, team meeting, doctors appointment, and a bowl of cereal for dinner before heading back to work for Back to School Night.

At some point during the madness of the day I looked down at the paper bead bracelet on my wrist. It was made by a woman somewhere in Uganda. Beading offers a small source of income--a way to rise above financial woes. The poverty they live in is more than I can imagine.

Thinking of the women who bead didn't make my day any easier, but it sure did put it in perspective.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another Kind of Vacation Reflection

Can I rant about air travel for just a minute or two?

I recently paid $26 extra dollars for a seat on my US Air flight from Portland, ME to Philadelphia, PA. Just to be clear, I was not in first class. A CL-65 has no such thing. On a 48-seater everyone is the same, it’s a class-less flight--unless you start talking about overhead space.

I paid extra because it was one of the last open seats on the plane when I purchased my ticket. US Air’s reasoning is that the upgraded seat allows me to be among the first to board the plane- a real privilege.

Boarding the plane first is a big deal these days. Early boarders are less likely to have to fight for the coveted over-head space. The unfortunate ones that end up boarding with the Zone 4 and 5 people walk on the plane with wide eyes darting every which way looking for 40 inches of free space to jam their 45 inch carry-on bag into.


It costs $25 to check a bag on US Air. Mathematically speaking I lost $1 on this transaction.

Actually, even that’s not true…read on.

The tiny regional jet used for small trips like one from Maine to Pennsylvania has even less overhead space. There’s no way the standard rolling carry-on bag is going to fit in the slim space above the seat so passengers were asked to check their rolling bags plane-side. That means that in reality my extra $26 got me…absolutely nothing.

Well, nothing worth $26.

Because I was the 6th person to board the plane I got to watch and privately judge the other passengers as they filed past me to their seats.

There was the older gentleman who apparently missed the announcement that all rolling bags should be checked plane-side. Either that or he thought his bulky, blue case had a magic “shrink this bag” button.

Other airline passengers often quietly annoy me; the grating ones are those who fail to follow the etiquette of air travel or individuals who appear unaware of common courtesy.

A few of the behaviors that bug me are:

1. Cell phone addicts

These are the people, usually men, sitting in their aisle seat chatting away on cell phones when I get on the plane. They are bothered by passengers like me who board after them – because I’m not a member of their many miles club that gives them preboarding privileges—interrupting their important business call so I can grab my seat by the window. They usually roll their eyes just a bit when someone gestures that they need to get by.

2. Window seat sleepers

Oh how I do wish I could sleep on a plane, really I do. Unfortunately, anxiety and ADD usually get the best of me so anything more than a sixty-second catnap is unlikely. Looking out the window is about the only thing I can count on to keep myself from being tortured by total, mind-numbing boredom.

Earlier this summer I found myself in a middle seat on a 5-hour flight to Phoenix. The young gal in the window seat next to me shut the window shade as soon as she sat down. She then grabbed a blue sweatshirt from her bag for a makeshift pillow and settled in for a nice, long nap. I was stuck analyzing the pattern in the blue seatback in front of me.

Okay, this gripe probably is a bit selfish, but you know how easy it is to get carried away when ranting.

3. The airlines themselves…that’s you, US Air

Granted, I don’t fly that often but really, what happened? The prime seat charge is bad enough, but isn’t it just crazy to charge $6 for a blanket and a pillow? Calling it a premium sleep package doesn’t make it any more than it is or ever was—a miniature pillow and a thin acrylic blanket.

What happened to the food, complete with the tiny flatware? I know I should be thankful for the complimentary soft drinks, all 4 ounces of them, but would it be so hard to throw a few pretzels my way?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vacation Reflection

It was literally the strawberry on top of the week. I’ve never tasted anything like it and from the way Michael’s eyes popped out of his head, neither had he.

“Oh my god, that is the best strawberry I’ve ever tasted!” I announced. “Here taste one.”

I picked out another from the small pile of fruit on my breakfast plate and passed it to my 19 year-old nephew. As soon as he popped it into his mouth his eyes widened and the smile grew on his face.

“It’s awesome, ridiculously awesome.” he replied.

Who knew fruit could be so fabulous?

California was full of small surprises like that. From the insanely delicious fruit, yummy donuts and burgers, to the jaw dropping vistas along Pacific Coast Highway and Harry Potter in 3D, there was something for everyone on the trip to enjoy.

For the most part summer vacations with family have only meant one thing—a week at the beach. It’s never been our thing to spend a week driving from one place to the next sightseeing along the way. I’m happy with the sights I see from the comfort of my beach chair. If I can see the ocean and dig my feet into the warm sand then I’m good.

California was not going to be that kind of vacation. It was more along the lines of in the car each day and drive, drive, drive to the next stop on the list of things to see and do. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure how it would all work out.

Drive we did, but fortunately our rental car had been upgraded to a Toyota Sienna mini-van, a vehicle that afforded us the room needed for three teenaged siblings that sometimes require a little of their own space.

A week later the van was returned to it’s home at the airport with an additional 1,000 miles and an illuminated warning light pleading for someone to change its oil. The van’s exterior was covered in dust and bird droppings. The latter a result of a surprise attack by a few seagulls as my nephew sat waiting for me to check out of the hotel in Monterey.

How does one describe the journey of a thousand miles sufficiently? One word works for me—surprises.

The California I knew consisted of beaches and palm trees with a few Hollywood types thrown in. Sure, I knew Gilroy to be the garlic capital of the world and had read a few things about Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley. What I didn’t know about was something referred to as the “real California.” My journey down 101 south proved to be a glorious adventure. I wasn’t driving at that point so it was easy to sit back and take in the impressive hills and fields that surrounded the highway. The land stretched uninterrupted to the horizon, with only a few trees and cows dotting the canvas. To see so much untouched land was inspiring, especially for someone who lives in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.

Route 101 runs into Hwy 46, another road of imposing landscapes. Before long, we found ourselves at the crossroads of a place known as Lost Hills, CA. The busy store located there, Blackwell’s Corner, is known for its selection of local pistachios and almonds. It’s also the last place that James Dean stopped in before heading north to his demise on the road to Salinas.

From Route 46 we continued south to Anaheim and the “house of mouse.”

It costs $80 for a one-day ticket to the happiest place on earth. My sister decided early on that if we were going to spend that kind of money we were going to get our money’s worth. The night before was spent plotting our attack on Disneyland.

The next morning we hit breakfast at 6:30AM and made our way to the park joining the mass of people gathered on Main St., USA waiting for the one and only Mickey Mouse to open his house for the day. We were quickly schooled on the use of the FastPass, which allowed us to walk past the 100-minute line at Star Tours to the front. The day went off without a hitch, we rode Space Mountain twice, watched Minnie Mouse shake her thing in the parade and had a meet and greet with Mr. Mickey Mouse himself. My sister even survived being surprised and groped by Goofy.

And then came the fireworks. They started with Tinkerbell releasing her wand to unleash a single star shooting across the sky. It was just like it used to be when I watched the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights.

Dumbo made an appearance as well. He flew through the sky just like Timothy knew he could, no magic feather needed at all.

My sister, Jeen, turned to me at the end of the fireworks, “I just have to say, Dumbo brought a little tear to my eye. I just love Dumbo,” she admitted.

After our 14-hour day in Disney and a good night’s sleep we headed back north along the Pacific Coast highway.

The drive from Morro Bay to Monterey is 143 miles. The GPS calculated the trip should take about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Yeah, the GPS doesn’t account for stops that must be made along the way. Each curve in the road presents a new vista of beautifulness. There was blue sky, rocky beaches and the sun setting over the Pacific. With two photographers in the car it took about 4 hours to reach our destination. We arrived at our hotel in Monterey exhausted, not only from the drive, but also from the stress of the curving road and the ominous cliffs below with a little rolling fog thrown in.

The next morning was breakfast in Monterey with the crazy, delicious fruit. After the strawberry tasting we tried a raspberry.

“Wow,” my sister exclaimed, “you know when you eat something that’s raspberry flavored? This really tastes like that.”

Michael shook his head as he reached for a blackberry.

“This place is awesome.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 1...Done

After a week of meetings, classroom readying and a great deal of anticipation the real business of school got started today. I can report that the new 6th graders in the building made it through the day with nothing more than the usual first day mishaps. That means there were a few lost (and then found again) children, a couple worried mothers and fathers, and of course a tear or to shed.

I survived as well. And other than swollen feet and a scratchy throat from talking way too much I am no worse for the wear.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finding my Groove

I started the new school year in the dark. Thanks to the now infamous Irene I settled into bed early Sunday night with only the light of my headlamp to guide me. Yes, it would have been nice to know the coffee would be ready when I awoke at 6:00 AM on Monday but things don't always work out the way I want. I've learned that. Besides with people suffering from much more than loss of power up and down the east coast I considered myself lucky to be in my own bed without a tree coming through my roof.

I was happy to find my refrigerator humming when I came home yesterday and looked forward to a better start on Tuesday.

I woke up late this morning having set my alarm for 5:45 PM by mistake. The coffee failed as well. I had measured out the water as needed but somehow skipped the important add coffee step.

Sometimes it takes a little time to get back into the swing of things doesn't it?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

School Supply Time

I have to say I was a bit envious of the young gal walking around Bed, Bath and Beyond today. Her mom was close by, clutching a shopping list and checking it twice as a younger sister pushed a cart full of everything that was sure to make her college dorm feel like home.

Maybe I was a little envious of the adventure she was about to embark on, but mostly I was jealous of all the cool stuff they have for college kids these days. Stores just didn't carry that kind of stuff 30 years ago when I headed off to school. My college shopping trip consisted of exactly five things: a green bucket that would be used to cart my supplies to the hall shower, a nice pink soap container, a brown bedspread, a small hotpot and a hot air popcorn machine.

I still have my pink soap container-surprising that it's moved with me over the past three decades. The bucket was re-purposed after college, it came in handy when washing my car. The hotpot got a lot of use during my four years of school--there were endless cups of coffee, noodle soups and mac and cheese (sometimes with a little tuna stirred in). I can't say what happened to that little hotpot, but I bet it was one of the things I threw in the dumpster the day I looked at all the stuff that wasn't going to fit into the car after graduation. The bedspread is still around. It now makes its home at a friend's beach house. Next weekend I'll meet up with a few friends from college at the beach and no doubt we will be lounging on that very blanket reminiscing about all the fun we've had since we first met so many years ago.

I did a little back to school shopping last week. I have a new plan book for the year and some new pens.

I'm ready for school.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Road Trippin' with Tina Fey

Many of my friends have shared the joy and satisfaction they find in audio books. Some use them as entertainment on long trips; others listen in as they run errands around town. Years ago I tried to listen to Personal History by Katharine Graham but found myself falling asleep and missing most of what was being said. I haven't had much use for audio books since.

Last week while cruising around the internet I came across an offer for a free audio book, with a 6-hour drive coming up in a few days it seemed like a good time to take Audible.com up on their offer. I downloaded Tina Fey's memoir, Bossypants.

Let me say this, Tina Fey makes for a helluva road trip partner. Sure she's no help with the navigational aspects of the trip, but what she lacks in map skills is easily made up in her ability to make me laugh. She taught me a few things as well. Thanks to Tina, I've got the basic rules of improvisational comedy down.

We spent about 5 hours together, enough time for me to know I'd let her ride shotgun any old time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Little Bit Of Beach Time

In the span of ten days I've travelled from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Tonight I find myself in a small beach town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Today's rainy, cloudy weather kept pretty much everyone except the fishing enthusiasts inside. It was a great day to do a bit of shopping and napping.

By about 6:00 pm the storms had passed and the sunshine streamed through the clouds. In turn, groups of people streamed from their rental houses and headed toward the beach. My group shuffled off with them.

Like everyone else that made their way over the dunes we knew that even one hour on the beach is better than no time all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Travels with family

7,000 miles of travel from Virginia to California and back again...

San Jose
Santa Cruz
Lost Hills
Venice Beach
Los Angeles
Studio City
Pacific Coast Highway
Big Sur
San Jose
and finally back to Alexandria

Many miles, many sights and a whole bunch of pictures.
Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Rewards of the Sky

Airline travel, the way it can so quickly and efficiently shuttle groups of people from one place on earth to another, is a pretty great thing. It can also be pretty boring.

I realized that three hours into my seven-hour journey from Baltimore to San Jose this morning. I looked around at the other people around me, some napping-others reading, and wished I had the focus they had while speeding along above the earth. Too many things distract me on a plane. If it's not the strange noises of the engine it's the bumps and dips that come out of nowhere. Sleep is difficult and reading more than a page or two in the span of 15 minutes is near impossible.

Of course there is always the reward of arriving at the destination. I stepped out into a glorious day in San Jose around noon this morning. The temperature hovered around 68 degrees and there wasn't a hint of humidity in the air. The azure sky was clear as far as the eye could see. It was a welcome change from the heat and humidity I left on the east coast. Three hours after my plane touched down I was enjoying the comforts of the hotel pool, my eyes squinting as they looked past the tall palm tree towards the sun. The boring plane ride pretty much left my head as soon as I stretched into a back float and felt the cool water lap up around my body.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eagle Eye Cherry

I've spent the last few days going through the stacks and stacks of music CDs that I've accumulated over the last twenty-some years. It's funny, I clearly recall buying my first album--Boston's debut album with that infectious tune, "More Than A Feeling,"--but have no idea what the first music CD was that I purchased. Nor do I remember the first song I downloaded, legally or otherwise.

Today I made a discovery. The music I had that came out between the years 1989 or so to the mid 90s is pretty forgettable. I recognized a lot of the band names but when it came to the songs listed I was lost. Which ones had I liked? Was it worth holding onto or should I let it go?

I spent a few hours plowing through the music of the early 90s. In the end I downloaded about 1o0 songs from 78 different CDs.

Tomorrow I'll take a large grocery bag of "oldies with a few goodies" to see if the local Record and Tape Exchange is interested in buying what I no longer need. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a little bit of money in those foggy musical memories.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Slowing it Down

My non-teacher friends, the ones who work 5 days a week, 50 weeks of the year, are always interested to know what I'm up to during the summer. I spoke with one of those friends last night and one of her first questions was about my plans for the week.

Of course the summer brings great opportunities for travel and I'm certainly going to do a bit of that. I like travel, but I also like time spent at home. It's during the summer that I get to catch up on the things that have been left undone or half-done over the course of the school year. Like the pile of mail and papers on my dining room table-- I tackled that mess yesterday. Within two hours I had filled a bag of trash and filed papers in their proper places.

I'll take the rest of the summer to work my way through the house, one area at a time, to get rid of the clutter.

Yes, I will head out of town for two or three weeks this summer, but what I like best about these 9 weeks is doing what I want on my own terms and at my own pace.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Tuesday has always been my least favorite day of the week. I'm sure I've written that before. The problem with this second day of the week (or third, depending on one's preference for framing the week) is that it's the day the memories of one weekend fade. The next weekend seems way too far away. The only Tuesdays that don't bother me are the ones that come during summer break.

So, in honor of this very last Tuesday of the school year I say...hip, hip, hooray!

Come to think of it, there is another Tuesday that never bothered me...she sat next to me on the bus in first grade.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Protector

My cat, Scout, takes his job as my protector quite seriously. He spends a good deal of time acting as sentry from the second floor bedroom window. I always know something is amiss out back when I hear the thud of his 17lb self hit the floor upstairs. Next comes the scurry of all four paws down the stairs and to the backdoor.

He has a real problem with other cats prowling in his backyard space. Any cat that comes near is met with the low, guttural growls of my personal security force. The other cats I've had over the years never cared much about me, so it's a nice change to have a cat that shows such concern for my safety. Unfortunately, the past few nights there has been one wandering orange tabby trying to infiltrate Scout's feline perimeter. Orange Tabby shows up at about the same time each night--4:30AM.

Me-ow, that's way too early to be awoken by the sounds of a through-the-backdoor catfight.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Me Cuisine

It's funny how new things wind their way into one's life. For me one of those new things has been cooking. I've lived on my own for over twenty-five years and for most of that time my daily nourishment has come from an assortment of frozen food, cereal dinners and meals without vegetables or creativity. And then I joined a writing group.

The group has done more than raise my self-awareness as a writer; it's also forced me to come up with meals that others would actually enjoy eating. I've learned if you want to be a writer you need to write, and if you want to eat well you can cook it yourself without too much hassle.

Apparently, my friends have noticed. My birthday presents this year included a nice griddle pan, a grilling glove, two nice loaf pans and a cool chopping board with fold up sides that allow for the easy transfer of chopped things right into the pan at hand.

Today I opened up my salad container for lunch and a colleague noted how impressed she's been with the salads I've been eating each day. I watched her open a pizza from Lean Cuisine and smiled as I thought about how long it's been since I've bought a frozen meal. And then I poured my homemade salad dressing over my steak with goat cheese salad and enjoyed my lunch.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Summer of '88

Yesterday's high temperature was in the 90s. The humidity level was around 70%. Heat plus humidity equals the usual DC summer. I've grown accustomed to the DC summer; in fact I've pretty much grown up with it.

Yes, air conditioning eases the pain, but I haven't forgotten what it was like to live without the comfort of cool, compressed air.

I spent one summer during graduate school as a messenger. I didn't have the guts and coordination to be a bike messenger so I settled for a job behind the wheel of my 1985 red Ford Escort. It was my first car. That means it was cheap ($8,000) and had absolutely no bells or whistles. Okay, it had a tape player. It didn't have A/C, rear window defrost, or automatic transmission. It had windows that were rolled down by hand, two doors without automatic locks and a roomy hatchback trunk.

I drove from office to office throughout the summer picking up packages and dropping them off. Driving in the city didn't offer much chance go faster than 25 mph, meaning it was tough to get a breeze going with my windows cranked open. It was a hot, sweaty summer.

It was the same summer that my grandmother was in the hospital undergoing surgery for cancer. She was in Baltimore, about 40 miles away from my home in Arlington. I made the drive up 295 to see her when I could-sweating my way through the heat that came with rush hour traffic. At one point I was at my wits end. It was close to 100 degrees and I couldn't face the thought of another trip in the red, hot car. Fortunately, my housemate came through and offered up her A/C-equipped Subaru.

What a difference cool air makes. I made my way up to Baltimore smiling at the jammed up traffic. Yes, I was living life on the other side, but I didn't forget where I'd come from. Whenever other cars would try to inch their way in front of me to keep moving I always let the ones without A/C get right in. I knew how much they needed the air circulation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Way Life Used to Be

To Whom It May Concern:

Charlie has been absent because he has company and had to stay home and help entertain them.



I found this small note in a country store that is easily one of the most fascinating places I’ve stumbled across recently.

My sister has told me about the many afternoons she and her housemate spent at a store called Ann and Tony’s. It was a gas station, a small market, a tackle shop, and a gathering place for the local folk. The owners, Ann and Tony, never cared if you grabbed a beer from the cooler and sat to chat for a while. Jeen reported that it was not uncommon for her and her housemate, Meg, to leave their car parked at the gas pump for close to three hours.

I’ve been in my fair share of small, country stores. There was one up the road from my grandmother’s house. When I was too young to make the trip on my own Granny would take my hand and lead me up the dirt lane and across the road to Palmer’s. The wooden porch out front was home to a huge plug-in cooler with a bright Coca-Cola insignia on the front. The screen door had a tin insert that proclaimed we should all be eating Sunbeam Bread.

My grandmother’s heels would click along the wide plank floors, stirring up the dust and dirt that had found its way through the front door. Mr. Palmer stood tall behind the counter that was lined with an assortment of items- everything from 3-in-1-ONE Oil and fly swatters to Red Hots and my favorite, Good and Plenty.

When I got older I was allowed to walk there on my own, often at the request of my grandmother who was in need of a little cream or a loaf of that soft Sunbeam bread.

Like my grandmother, the store is just a memory now. The last time I drove by that way there was nothing but a grassy piece of land where the store used to be. The memories of Palmer’s had slipped away into the recesses of my long-term memory…until a trip to Buzzy’s Country Store in Scotland, MD stirred them up.

It was Moe’s idea to stop in. She had been given an artist’s rendition of the small wooden shop by her in-laws and wanted to check it out; besides the sign out front advertised “tackle, liquor, beer and souvenirs” and we needed beer.

I smiled as I noticed the large Coca-Cola cooler on the front porch. By the time I heard the second little tap of the wooden screen door closing behind me I could feel my heartbeat speed up with excitement. All those memories of Palmer’s and shopping there with my grandmother came back to me. I stopped inside the front door and took it all in.

There was a small counter with a few bar stools sitting in front of the beer coolers.

“Looks like we need to have a beer here,” Julie remarked.

“Can we?” I asked.

An older gentleman behind the counter spoke right up. “Sure you can. Sit for a spell, grab a beer.”

It took a few minutes to wander the store. The souvenir section was small, but included a few Buzzy’s Country Store t-shirts and hats. The tackle section was a little larger with hooks, line and sinkers. There was some camping equipment and a variety of nets used for fishing and crabbing. Just like Palmer’s there was a long counter with an assortment of penny candy. Behind the counter was a small collection of wines and liquor.

We settled in at the Formica counter and watched the comings and goings of Buzzy’s. The event of the day was the Rockfish tournament going on. An older guy walked in and grabbed a piece of gum from the jar on the counter. He was there to set up for the post-tournament barbecue. Next in came a couple, Linda and Mike. They chatted a bit, asking about the barbecue and the karaoke that was due to start at 4:00. For a small store in a real small town there was a lot going on.

Over the course of an hour we drank our beer and learned a few things. The wide plank floors of the store came from the Confederate prison that was down the road. The building has been on the lot since the late 1800s. The current owner is J. Scott Ridgell; he bought the store from his father, Buzzy himself.

And then there was the note. According to the owner, Charlie is one of a group of regular guys that shows up every day around 4:00 to share some stories, laughs and drinks. After Charlie had missed a few days he presented the note that addressed his whereabouts. I’m sure there were a few more laughs about that.

The tagline at the bottom of the t-shirts sold at Buzzy’s reads, “The way things used to be.” Yeah it is.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Working Together

I spent a good part of the weekend watching the comings and goings of a pair of Osprey. Their nest, complete with a small and unobservable family, was a mere 500 yards from the bay front home I was staying in.

For the most part the pair stayed put. Mother Osprey sat on the nest while Father Osprey kept watch from an adjoining pier pylon. Both raptors seemed content to sit and watch over their young.

I found it most interesting when the mother decided she needed to leave the nest. She would stand up, spread open her wings and take off. As soon as she was in the air the father would move from his perch and jump down into the nest. I couldn't see how they communicated to one another, but was impressed with their ability to work together as a family.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


A student of mine was carrying around Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay a few weeks ago. I had just read it over Spring Break so I jokingly asked him if he wanted me to tell him how it ends.

A second student, who was standing nearby, piped in immediately.

"Oh, he's read that series like three times. He just keeps reading it over and over again."

What a gift it is to find a book that you want to read over and over again. I've certainly found myself so immersed in a story that I didn't want it to end. I felt that way about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. I was enchanted with the characters from the start and even though I rushed through the first half of the book I started slowing down as I got closer to the end. I was so taken with the people and their story that I didn't want to say goodbye. I haven't reread it but have a feeling I will before long.

East of Eden is the one book I reread every five years or so. In fact, a friend was just telling me that she had not read it before so we decided we would both read it and meet up again to talk about when we are through. She had recently read The Good Earth at my suggestion and loved it.

The ring of my cell phone at 7:00 am this morning surprised me. What didn't surprise me was the way my friend was gushing about the book.

"Oh my god! Thank you, for East of Eden! I've only read a few pages and already I'm taken with the writing."

"Yeah," I replied. "That Steinbeck is quite a writer, isn't he?"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


It’s been somewhere around twenty years since I’ve mowed a lawn. On Saturday I realized how much I missed that simple action. I had offered to mow a friend’s back yard so she could tend to her vegetables that were just beginning to grow. The peas were proving to be most troublesome. It seems the pea trellis that had been constructed needed shoring up. Otherwise there was a risk that the trellis would be unable to hold the weight of the climbing peas that are expected in the coming months.

I was happy to be able to cut the lawn. My friend was surprised by and perhaps even suspicious of my enthusiasm. It’s true…I love mowing the lawn.

The first pull of the starter cord made me smile, the mower started without a hitch and I was on my way. The rumble of the motor surrounded me, sealing me off from the rest of the world. I walked back and forth, creating adjoining paths of cut grass—creating signs of progress—instant progress.

It’s not easy to see such clear success in the classroom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ready and Waiting

Somewhere around Thursday of last week, day 6 of a very late Spring Break, I realized that familiar feeling I'd been experiencing. It was hot outside; my day was passing by in a civilized, leisurely fashion. A few projects had been accomplished and I'd managed to sleep until about 9:00 that morning.

Oh yeah, I thought...this is what summer feels like.

The stress and exhaustion I had felt just five days before had subsided. Feeling that sense of contentment inside me led me to my next thought.

If this is what summer is like, and I'm pretty sure it is, sign me up. I'm ready to embrace the civilized, lazy days of July and August.

I checked the calendar before I left for work on Monday and counted up the school days until the end of the year. 42 days. I can handle that.

When I got to school, I could see that I wasn't the only one thinking this way. Another teacher had already taken the time to write the number 42 on the chalkboard in the team room.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Great Place to Be

Years ago, I was fighting a summer cold and trying to decide if I was going to meet up with friends at the beach. My housemate at the time set me straight, "You can be sick here or you can be sick at the beach. Where would you rather be?" Uuhh, the beach of course...so with a weekend supply of Sudafed tucked in my bag I hopped in my Ford Escort and headed to the beach.

It's cloudy and chilly here at the beach today, but that's okay with me. The waves still crash, beating their watery rhythm onto the shore. The granules of sand still glide through my bare feet, reminding me that summer vacation is closer than I think. I dipped my toes in the surf yesterday...not quite warm enough for swimming but just fine for an April afternoon.

April or August...sick or healthy...the beach is always a great place to be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I can hear the woodpecker high above in the trees, but can't locate the bird itself. With eyes squinting in the sunlight I scan the tree trunk and limbs that tower over me. I am not successful, and the sound of the rat-a-tat-tat on the wood annoys me because I can't get the photograph I want. The picture is right there, but I just can't put it all together.

Writing can be like that sometimes.

Going to the picture is not always the best way; another option is waiting for the picture to come to you. It's often easier to sit quietly and scan the area for what is already there that hasn't been noticed. There's a bee buzzing above the flowering purple azalea. It's a bee that I could have easily missed if I was on the move. Stop, look, take it in...there's always something there worth putting together...it just takes time for it to gel.

Just like writing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scattered Thoughts

I don't know why I started thinking about praying mantises, but I did. We had one in my kindergarten classroom that I got to take home one weekend...it didn't make it back to school. Who knew it was so difficult to care for a praying mantis? Then there was the time I unknowingly took in the egg case of a praying mantis. I was in my second or third year of teaching then, I had no clue what it was when someone brought it in. It sat in the classroom for sometime, until I came into work one day to find what seemed like thousands of tiny praying mantises climbing around the back of my room. How would I gather them up? Could they be saved? Wasn't it against the law to kill one?

My brain raced as I conjured up every memory I had of the odd little creatures as well as a few thoughts that were completely unrelated to my initial memory. I looked up to see the light had turned green--it was time to move on down the road and onto another thought.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Short Walk

I went for a short walk around the neighborhood this evening. And when I say short I do mean short. I started by peering out my back door to see if I could see anything of interest. Nothin'. You see, I was looking for some photographic inspiration. I've taken a whole bunch of flower pictures as of late and quite frankly, even though I could take many more, I decided last week it was time to break free of any flora. I walked out front to see what I could find. At first I wandered around a muddy, dirty construction site. There were a few interesting shots...mostly textured stuff that I took in black and white. Without a clear theme or standout shot I continued around the corner. I was drawn that way by the clear chirp of a robin. I could hear the cheerily, cheerio, cheeriup but couldn't find the grayish-black and orange source of the sound. I was quickly distracted by a flash of pink running up a tree-it was a squirrel with one huge, pink flower in its mouth. The flower was almost larger than the squirrel itself. I couldn't get a clear picture but I did get a kick out of watching the pink flower jump from limb to limb and tree to tree.

So much to see in such a short time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

If at First You Don't Succeed...

So cake attempt #2 fell short of success, but I have reason to believe that I'll put it all together sometime soon.

I made myself pay close attention to the details of the recipe. Before each step was completed I double and triple checked the fine print. I was determined not to confuse teaspoons with tablespoons. Really, it wasn't that hard to read and follow the directions. In the end I proudly slid two cake pans full of creamy yellow batter into my 350-degree oven and set the timer.

Too bad I didn't push start on that timer. It wasn't until an unknown amount of time later that I realized the time was not counting down. I was busy on the couch putting together my thoughts on this very blog, unaware of my latest cake-tastrophe.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writing Group

My writing group is meeting tomorrow night. Since we've all participated in this month's Slice of Life Challenge we'll take the time to talk about favorite slices of the month. I'll bring my favorite slice of each group member as well as my personal favorite piece of the month. It will be interesting to see if there are any common favorites.

I always look forward to writing group. The monthly meet-up challenges me to keep writing-to keep working at the craft of being a writer. Sometimes I think my writing isn't quite real, or road tested at least, until someone else has read it. I'm not always happy with what I bring, but there's always a part of the whole that I like. It can be as small as one well-chosen word, or just a sentence. That's okay though, there's always the next meet-up.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No Cake Walk

One thing I've come to know about myself is that I don't like to read directions. If I buy something that needs to be put together I am more likely to start seeing how things fit on my own instead of taking the time to read the step-by-step directions. For whatever reason I don't have the patience for such things.

I have made exactly one cake in my life. That one cake was for the Cake Booth at the annual spring fair held at my high school. It wasn't a self-less act of kindness-it was a necessity of sorts. A cake for the cake booth meant extra credit in my Alg. 3/Trig. class. Sister Rita Dolerine was not only my math teacher; she was also in charge of the cake booth at the spring fair. What a simple equation: 1 cake=a better grade.

It was a sad cake, a lopsided ugly duckling that stood out like a sore thumb among so many other better-looking creations. Back then I couldn't have told you why it came out the way it did, but now I'm thinking it had something to do with my lack of patience with directions. Too bad I wasn't as self-aware in high school.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Smiles

Two things made me smile today. They were pretty insignificant events but that's the way it goes sometimes.

I was waiting at a stoplight this afternoon, watching the cars go by, when I noticed an older man-probably somewhere in his 60s-making his way across the street. He moved with purpose, taking long strides with head held high as he looked forward. But then, in the middle of the crosswalk, he took a stutter-step and came to a stop. He bent down to pick something up off the ground, some kind of coin I assumed. He took a closer look at the side facing him, smiled a put it in his pocket before continuing on his way with a small smile on his face. It was then I knew what he had found...heads up...good luck.

I thought about that little moment during my short commute home-how something so small and insignificant can brighten the day. And then my little moment arrived. I stepped out of the car and found a rubber band on the sidewalk. It was just a rubber band-no big deal. I took a second look and noticed it had fallen to the ground in the shape of a heart. It was my turn to smile.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Whole Lot of Nothing

Curses on the blinking cursor and the blank white space in front of it! And, have you noticed that there's always a vast area of nothing, as in no thoughts or words, in front of the damn thing? It's pretty tough to get ahead and see the progress of one's own thoughts and creativity when the cursor continues to blink, like it's tapping an impatient finger as if to say, that's all you've got...really? Only when the space behind the cursor fills does one begin to feel some amount of success, thinking hey, take it easy! If you'd take a look around you'd see I am getting somewhere. Geez!

Yeah, the cursor can be intimidating, but only if you look ahead of it for too long.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chit Chat

As promised, there was a tiny layer of snow on the trees and grass when I awoke this morning. It's was nothing more than "conversational snow"--the kind of snow that doesn't cause any change in schedule, but just offers up a little something to talk about that day.

While out for a jog later in the day I noticed two birds, one a bright red cardinal, the other a small sparrow. They were perched side by side on a telephone wire. Their heads were turned toward one another, and so it looked as though they were exchanging a few words. In my mind I imagined the conversation two birds might have, surely on this day any small talk would have had to include that sporadic dusting of snow that greeted us all in the morning.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Taking Charge

When given the opportunity to get a little bit of control in an out of control situation it's best to grab the reins and do what you can. That's what a friend of mine did today when she let a lovely woman shave the thick, beautiful hair off her head.

A month ago she was a seemingly healthy woman. Two weeks ago she was diagnosed with cancer. The first chemo treatment came on Thursday. Those in the know said her hair would fall out within two weeks. She took the reins--first there was the head shaving, next was a wig purchase. Myself and two other friends came along for moral support. Surprisingly, there were fewer tears shed than I would have thought. The wig shop works with a lot of cancer patients so there was a steady stream of woman coming and going. There was also a great deal of support between strangers.

Shortly after my group's arrival another lady came in, visibly upset. Her hair had started coming out in clumps the day before--the only thing she could do was have a friend cut the rest off. She was unsure of the wig she had chosen. We became her support group, as did others in the shop.

I can't say it was an ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but it was nice to be there for a friend in need.

By the way, her wig looks fabulous.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Maryland Day

Facebook...love it, hate it, or leave it? My relationship with this social network is not strong. As an introvert I'm not much interested in sharing my every thought with whoever is my virtual friend at the moment. So, not surprisingly, I rarely post messages or a current status. Today I was feeling nostalgic. It's Maryland Day, the day that celebrates the day a group of settlers landed their boat on the shores of the St. Marys River of what is now St. Marys City, Maryland. It was the first settlement in Maryland and also the place I spent four years of college.

Maryland Day weekend meant fun, frivolity and time outside with college friends. We would spend that day on the lawn of the old State House looking out on the glistening waters of the St. Marys River considering those who first arrived on the land we lived on at the time.

Okay, really, we just drank a lot of beer in the name of statehood. Yeah, it was another reason to gather and enjoy the company of friends. But it was historical, so it wasn't really like another night at the local pub.

Tonight I actually posted a status on Facebook, it said, "Happy Maryland Day to all my fellow Marylanders!"

Within ten minutes I had heard from three college friends. One is living in Belize, one in Washington State, and one in Annapolis. For all of us, living so far apart from the others, it was an instantaneous step back in time--one we all took together in the same moment. The responses made me smile. In that moment I felt like we were all sitting on that bluff above the St. Marys River together with an Old Milwaukee in our hand cheering on the setting sun.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dinner Time

I wasn't surprised to see my cat peering out the window when I got in from work this evening. After all, it was 7:00 o'clock, about two hours later than my usual arrival time. Some may think it's sweet that a furry little animal was watching for me, like he was concerned, or missed me. I know better.

This cat is a creature of habit, as I'm sure most are. He likes his first dinner at about 5:00. Dinner number one is followed by a little time outside to patrol the area for mice, small birds and cats that may be thinking about trespassing into his territory. He knows dinner number two comes after he returns from his nightly rounds. Well, he thinks it comes upon his return--really, I feed him half of his dinner portion when I get home from work, whatever time that may be, and the rest about 9:00. He spends most of the evening coming and going hoping his return will remind me it's time for dinner time number two.

He probably thinks my lateness has completely messed up this evening's ritual. Actually, he'll be happy when that second meal comes sooner than he figured on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring Break

The sky outside my window is darkening with the gathering of storm clouds. The wind hasn't started quite yet, but I can sense the storm is close. The balmy temperatures of late last week have given way to the 40s and 50s. There's even talk of a wintry mix next week. Spring may have sprung last week but it's lost a little umph this week.

I worry for the delicate, daffodils that brighten my backyard beds and feel as though I should knit up a quick scarf, in a pastel color of course, to help them fight the chill that's coming.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Back on the Road

First it was the vein surgeries and then it was the recovery. Next came work---there was too much to do at work. It was cold, too cold. I had a cold. I was sick. I was tired. I had to write my blog.

So many excuses. Tonight that ended. I got home from work later than I wanted and needed to make dinner. There was a friend, someone who's been going through a rough patch, who needed checking in on. By 6:15 I could see my brain formulating the excuse of the evening. And then I realized I'm in charge here! Without another thought I turned my heels and walked upstairs to change my clothes. With shoes laced tight I marched out the door and put one front in front of the other and got moving. My legs were pumping, my arms were swinging and I was smiling. My love/like/hate relationship with running was off and, well, running.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yes, I Can

Somewhere along the line, about the time I bought a house of my own, I became intimidated by the process of filing taxes. It was much easier when I was not responsible for itemizing deductions and could whistle my way through the 1040EZ form. For the past few years I've paid someone to do the thinking and deducting for me.

This year I decided to give it a shot on my own. So tonight I sat down with my stack of unorganized tax documents and wound my way through the process with the help of an online tax program. Seventy minutes later I was finished. Now I have nothing to do but wait to see my refund appear in my bank account.


Sunday, March 20, 2011


The Z-Pack didn't quite have the punch needed to fight my sinus infection. Even though I woke up last Wednesday feeling better in some ways I was feeling worse in others. My head hurt, but not in the headache kind of way. The back of my head was swollen and tender to the touch. I waited for the antibiotics to do their thing. Friday morning brought no relief so I decided it was time to take a trip to the doctor's office.

A look in my ears got a comment of "yikes, your ears are a mess!" My throat was red and my lymph nodes were swollen. I was running a slight fever. It was time for a new, super antibiotic.

A weekend away became a weekend at home. I took it easy, I slept, and I took it easy some more. Sunday morning came with a feeling of restlessness. The sun was shining and I wanted to be out soaking up a few of those rays. It took a bit of doing, but I was able to wrestle my bike out of the closet for the first ride of the year. My ten-mile jaunt started in Arlington and continued over the Potomac to Georgetown for a ride along the C & O Canal. It was an excellent way to break the monotony of my self-induced weekend at home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quite a Sight

I stood beneath the Air Force Memorial in Arlington this evening. From my perch upon the hill I had a beautiful view of the capital city. In the forefront stood the Pentagon, behind it the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Capitol. The Kennedy Center lit up the Potomac River as the National Cathedral glowed in the distance.

And then the moon appeared in the eastern sky. It wasn't just any moon--it was a super moon. It was a big, orange celestial sight-- one that added a nice exclamation mark to my hilltop view.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I have never watched an entire episode of The Simpsons. Actually, I can't recall ever watching more than two minutes of the show. Really. So whenever my students and I are working on crossword puzzles in class I have to ask them for answers related to the show. Thanks to them I now know that Ned is the neighbor of Homer Simpson.

As sixth graders there are far more clues that they have difficulty with. Today's stumper was "______ and Stimpy." I was surprised. I understand they may not get "what happens to a record in the sun," as they have never owned a record and only know the word warp in connection to characters that warp in novels. But I expected them to know about cartoons. After all, they know everything about The Simpsons. It wasn't until tonight that I realized that Ren and Stimpy was on and off the air before they were born. Sure the Simpsons originated before Ren and Stimpy, but it's still in production today.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Colors of Spring

Well it seems like the color yellow is everywhere these days. The forsythia have sprouted a bit of joy. The slim, yellow petals like to strut their stuff with a big reach toward the sky. Daffodils are everywhere in my neighborhood, especially in the common area near my townhouse. Whenever I see them I'm reminded of the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in which Gene Wilder sips a bit of tea from the flower of a daffodil.

Yellow is certainly one of the first colors of spring around here. Pretty soon the grass will shed the dull brown of winter in exchange for the deep, dark green of summer. Pink and red azaleas will bloom, as will dogwoods and cherry blossoms. And of course there will be tulips.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Clean Start

Tonight the possibilities are endless. My brackets are neat and tidy. All my predictions are correct and in my mind I'm sure I will be the winner of the family March Madness pool come April 4. What a nice way to go into the NCAA tournament.

This time tomorrow I'll be in the thick of basketball, rooting for teams I've never seen play before and looking forward to seeing my name at the top of the group standings. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Sick Plan

I slept a lot yesterday. I came home early from work and slept through the same movie two different times. Sleep is always my first line of attack for a cold. The next line of attack comes in the form of food. Yesterday I rallied off the couch long enough to throw together some chicken soup. Of course I loaded up on Vitamin C and did a lot of gargling with salt. By 8:30 I was in bed with a big shot of NyQuil in my system. Who knows what they put in that stuff. It smells and tastes terrible...unless you like Good and Plenty candy...but the stuff knocks me out for up to four hours every time I take it. Sleep is always a good thing.

I woke up about midnight but with five hours before the alarm was to go off I downed another shot and rolled over. Certainly all the sleep and such was sure to bring a change in health. But it didn't--I woke up at 4:35AM to a pounding headache and a sore throat. I closed my eyes and considered the possibility of calling in for a sub for the day. The thought of what I would need to do to make that happen overwhelmed me and I fell back asleep until the alarm awoke me forty minutes later.

A warm shower cleared my head a bit as did nasal spray, Advil and DayQuil. I packed up my honey, lemon and tea bags and headed out to face the day. I survived, but boy am I happy to be back under my quilt on the couch.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I should have recognized a problem last night--even though I was exhausted I couldn't get to sleep. I tossed and turned, watching the clock pass 11:00, 12:00 and so on. I did get some rest, but it came in 30 to 40 minute intervals. When I awoke this morning I realized the ache in my body was more than the kickback from a little exercise. My throat was screaming in pain and the aches took over every part of me. It was not going to be a good Monday.

I managed to power through most of the workday. At least I made it through all my classes. Fortunately, everyone was tired today as a result of Daylight Savings Time. We muddled along and got through the work at hand as best we could. As my last class walked out the door one student asked if I'd be in tomorrow. I told her my plan was to go home early and get some rest. She patted me on the arm and wished me well.

Here's hoping my plan works and that I'm back up to speed tomorrow.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Damn that kettle bell workout! Thanks to all that squatting, lunging and kettle swinging I wince in pain every time I stand up or sit down. If I consider the "no pain, no gain" approach I would have to say that I have gained a great deal. That's supposed to make me feel better, right? The pain is really a wonderful reminder of how hard I worked, right?

Wrong. I feel tired, and oh so very sore. Fortunately I do know that time heals all wounds. I'm just hoping I heal quickly; after all I'm due for another kettle bell workout tomorrow.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Parents Say the Darndest Things

A snippet of the unbelievable conversation I heard at the hair salon this morning:

Hair Dresser: "Are your kids good looking? I mean of course you think so, but what do other people say?"

Awkward silence...

Gray-haired Client: "Not really. My son was probably the best looking but he's not now, he's fat."

Me thinking: "What...the...hell?!"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Long Ago But Not So Far Away

Most people who know me are aware of my interest in reading the daily obituaries. In fact, the one thing that's kept me from canceling my paper delivery is the interesting obits that I might miss out on.

Today I read about the passing of Ulysses S. Grant V, the great grandson of the president of the same name. I showed the write-up to the Social Studies teacher on my team and we both remarked on how amazing it was that someone so close to the history of so long ago lived in our lifetime.

My grandmother was born in 1903. I find it fascinating to think that she was alive at the same time as someone like Harriet Tubman who died in 1913. She was 17 when women were granted the right to vote. The times she lived in seem so far removed from me until I think of her place along that timeline in history.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

After Dinner

The soft bread melts on my tongue as I try my best to savor the flavor for as long as possible. Without thought my fingers move slowly to the partial slice sitting on the crumbled, white napkin before me. Another piece finds its way to my mouth. Pumpkin-brown crumbs scatter in my lap and drop to the floor below. My cat takes a sniff and moves on--apparently pumpkin bread is not his kind of snack.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reality Check

Today's reality moment came in the midst of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution titled, "America on the Move." The exhibit highlighted how transportation has changed in America over the years. Among the things on display were a 1903 Winton, the first car to make the drive across the USA. There was also a car from Chicago's famed "L" system as well as a portion of the cross-country Route 66. There was a lot to see and with time running out on the meter my group and I moved through the exhibit pretty swiftly. Until I saw the small Honda Civic--it was of the first generation, from the year 1975. I stopped for a moment and shook my head with a laugh.

"I went to my senior prom in a car just like that." I offered.

"And now it's in the Smithsonian," my sister replied. "I'd say that makes you old."

I guess so, but it's nice to know we were driving around in a "classic" car...even if we didn't know it at the time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Survey Says

They break their pencils. I never knew that until today. I was chatting with my classes about the different ways that students procrastinate on a daily basis. You see, I'm an expert in the area of procrastination-I've been putting off until tomorrow for quite awhile now.

Our class discussion started off with my insights on student procrastination techniques. In the end we came up with a list of three top procrastination strategies. It was easy to see that students use bathroom/water breaks as their go to way to put off class work. It's a solid technique--one that I employed often during my two hour British Literature class in college. My students easily identified with this strategy, even smiling and nodding as we talked about it.

Then there was the general staring out into space. This is a tricky one for teachers, because when a student is asked if they're actually working they can quickly respond with a safe answer; "I'm thinking." Yeah, they smiled and nodded on that one as well.

And then I innocently surveyed the group. "What else do you do to procrastinate?" I asked.

A few hands shot up.

"We break our pencil points on purpose."

Wow, they say you learn something every day and boy did I.

Monday, March 7, 2011

An Afternoon Stroll

Today I watched as two happy Robins danced a little Do-Si-Do in a neighbor's front yard. A third robin sat high above in a tree, its orange breast exploding with pride as it chirped in the late day sun. I ducked as a hawk buzzed over my forehead in search of a little something to eat.

There's much to see on a walk about the neighborhood.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

So Wet

It's been a rainy Sunday around here, the kind of day that could easily be spent under the warmth of a blanket with a good book and a cup of tea. Gray skies, the gentle sound of a soaking rain and a little more time with Cutting For Stone...that was not to be.

I had a 90-mile drive to deal with first. Even though the rain can be soothing from behind the sheers that hang in my living room, it is anything but that when barreling down I-95 at seventy miles per hour. The worst part was the surprise sprays that come from cars as they pass by. Today those sprays felt more like driving through a waterfall, often reducing visibility to nil until the wiper blade could catch up and clear the windshield.

It was good to get home.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Going Back

Tonight I found myself sitting in my the auditorium of my old high school. It was the first time I'd been back in the school since I graduated thirty years ago. I was there to watch my niece perform in the school's musical.

During intermission we gathered in the cafeteria for refreshments and I recalled the very spot where I slipped and fell on a red cube of Jell-O. The tables looked pretty much the same, in fact it was easy to think back and see myself sitting with friends at the usual table.

The play was much bigger than any musical that was put on during my four years of high school. The two-story set, complete with sliding elevator doors, was much more technical than any set put together way back when.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to go back, but it was a nice visit.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Good Thing

Conference Day usually comes with its share of ups and downs. Today it started in a panic when I awoke at 6:10 to realize that my alarm didn't go off at 5:00 like it was supposed to. My first conference was scheduled for 7:00. I don't know if it's really possible to run through the shower but I sure felt like I did. In fact, I was on the run from the time my bare feet hit the floor until I headed out the door 2o minutes later. I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to get a shower, dry my hair, put on a little make-up and grab a large cup of coffee before storming out the door. I was in my classroom and ready to go by 6:50.

It was a tough start but thankfully, that was not a sign of things to come. The day went smoothly. Yes, there was a somewhat contentious conversation with one parent but I believe we parted ways feeling satisfied with the end result.

The workday may have had a shaky start but in the end the day was a successful one--that's always a good thing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Blinded by the Light

The blue skies and bright sun had both of us fooled. We sat on the window seat watching a squirrel as he spread his body the length of the green suet feeder. He worked efficiently, with skill and balance, to gather up as much birdseed as he could. His entourage was on the ground below working furiously to eat whatever he dropped.

Intrigued with the scene, we strolled over to the back door to unlock the deadbolt. With all that sun out there surely the forsythia had started to bloom. I wanted to be sure to get a picture of the tiny yellow blooms. We both thought a walk around the patio to take in the sun would be a good idea. Besides, I couldn't continue to watch as the squirrels pilfered from the bird feeder.

I opened the door. The skies may have been a warm blue, but the temperature was nothing but cold. My cat barely even stuck his nose out the back door before he backed up and turned toward the warmth of the window seat. I tightened up my sweater and headed for another cup of coffee.

Too cold-- if the forsythia were out they would have to wait until the morning temperature rose above 30 degrees to be photographed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring Signs and Memories

The first buds of spring surprised me, as they usually do. It was only a week ago when I was hastily scraping a thin layer of ice from my car's windshield. Yesterday afternoon I looked up to see the first red buds on the maple tree towering above my car.

I started taking note of the changes that signify spring quite some time ago...on the dreaded, daily bus ride to middle school. Richard and Steve were unlike any boys I'd ever met. They were loud, obnoxious and fond of inappropriate hand gestures. They were bullies. They never targeted me, but I had my problems with some other bullies at school so I knew it might be just a matter of time before they turned their attention my way.

I decided it was best to "lay low" on the bus and keep to myself. And so each morning I quietly slid in next to the window and adjusted my body to the lowest position possible, turning my gaze away from the chaos of the bus towards the quiet of the outside.

Over the course of the year I became well acquainted with how the landscape changed along with the seasons. The first red buds on the trees not only meant spring was coming-- they also meant the end of the school year was nearing as well. Hello spring. Goodbye Richard, Steve and other bullies.

I love the coming of spring, but it's hard to look at the red buds abounding without thinking of those painful days in middle school.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Out of Customs

Mylar balloons bearing messages of "Welcome Home" hovered weightlessly above the anxious crowd. With each opening of the gray doors came a turn of heads. Necks craned to see if the wait was over.

The area designated for International Arrivals at Dulles Airport was a happy place yesterday. Yes, there was a small amount of restlessness in the air, but that was only because the group who stood around the perimeter of the arrival doors was tired of waiting.

A blonde-haired woman leaned against the sign she held to welcome Libyan evacuees. And then the door opened to reveal the evacuees. In an instant her arms were outstretched and ready to embrace a part of the group she was waiting for.

Young girls and boys squealed in delight as they ran toward fathers, mothers, grandparents and cousins. Young couples embraced. Smiles abounded.

It was all good.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I left work yesterday thinking about a problem yet to be dealt with. Certainly, I could have dealt with it before I left, but I decided I was too tired to have any courageous conversations and I headed home to sleep on the issues at hand. I can't say that I enjoy the job of team leader. Just the same, I walked into work this morning with a solution in mind. There were colleagues to talk with and that I did. In the end everyone stepped up to the problem and solutions were put in place.
It was a long day. It started at 7:00 am when I arrived and ended about eleven hours later when I threw my backpack on my left shoulder and headed home. I was tired. I am tired.
But...I think the solution is at hand and that makes for a good kind of tired.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Flour, Yeast and Salt...oh yeah

I have discovered that in the wake of a challenging workweek there is one thing that can bring a smile to my face. Bread! This weekend, for the first time ever, I made my own bread. I started with bread flour, dry yeast, salt and water. Eighteen hours later there was the most beautiful loaf of bread I've ever seen. The pride I felt as it was pulled from the oven was incredible. Bread making might be the perfect antidote for a tough week at work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Tough Day

I got a note from a parent today. Well note probably isn't the best word to use since that would lead one to believe that it was shorter type of missive. Short it was not. It was about 5 pages long, written by hand and filled with anger and frustration. In this case the anger and frustration were directed at me and a few other teachers on my team.

Emotionally charged writing is difficult to respond to. Even though I'm sure I did my best to communicate the challenges this particular student has been dealing with as well as my response to the challenges I can't seem to get the parent to understand my concerns. To him, I am the enemy as is the school system I work for. What now? How do I proceed?

I left the letter in my desk. I'll look at it again tomorrow and do my best to look for some common ground that we can stand on so we may proceed toward a solution together. I wish I could say that a resolution is likely, but I'm having a hard time convincing myself of that right now.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Well, here we are midway through the school year and although many students have really grown academically during the year others haven't budged. Back in the fall I wrote about the problems many students were having with work completion. To be fair, I suppose things have improved. But still, it's tough to face a group of students and know that there will be kids that did not do the work they were assigned. My patience is waning and I'm getting cranky. I try my best to keep my emotions in check, but it's tough. It's even tougher when I hear excuses like, "I couldn't do my homework because we were at our cabin and there wasn't a pencil there."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

100,000 Miles Later

It took about seven and a half years for the odometer on my car to travel from a bank of zeroes to 100,000 miles. We've had a pretty nice relationship along the way. Sure, there have been times when I thought about what my next car might be. And yes, I've even built a few models online...but the truth is I really like my car and have yet to see another model that I like as much.

About two weeks ago the car started to sound a little sad. There was a rattling coming from somewhere and even though I could have easily turned up the music and ignored the noise I knew it was a cry that meant something. Kevin, my mechanic had a tough time diagnosing the issue. His first diagnosis was something called the serpentine belt "tensioner." That would be the coiled spring that gives the serpentine belt the proper tension. He replaced it sometime late yesterday afternoon, and yet the rattle remained. It was late, he was tired--too tired to re-diagnose--so the car stayed over night and I got to work by cab this morning. Fortunately, Kevin's second diagnosis was right...it was the water pump. Unfortunately, it was more expensive to fix.
One water pump, two new tires, an oil change, fluid flush plus a whole bunch of labor came out to about $1,1oo. Ouch.

No matter for now, as soon as I settled into the driver's seat and turned the key I was over it, because still I can't think of another car I really want right now.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Channel Surfing

I once heard Tom Hanks say that when channel surfing he will always take the time to stop and watch an Elvis Presley movie. I've actually only seen one Elvis movie, Viva Las Vegas, and I don't think I actually saw the entire thing. I probably wouldn't stop flipping to watch an Elvis movie but there are a few that I always stop for.

They are:
1. Doctor Zhivago
2. The Sound of Music
3. Out of Africa
4. Jaws
5. Castaway

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I've spent the last two days dealing with the post-op effects of some vein surgery. Venous Reflux disease is more common in women than men and somewhat hereditary. Lucky me, I'm a woman with a genetic history of varicose veins.

Fortunately, the fix for this problem is pretty simple. It involves two days of out patient procedures followed by a few days in compression stockings. Sure, there will be a bit of bruising, but I'm thinking once all that clears up my legs will feel better than they have in years.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nothing to Do

It was last Wednesday that I was granted an early dismissal from work. Tomorrow will be my first day working since then. I know a lot of people think that summer break is the biggest perk of teaching, but really it's the snow day. Summer break can get filled with commitments pretty quickly, and while I'm in no way complaining of those ten weeks off, I'm just saying the snow day has a whole other feel. A snow day is a day when those commitments one has (like work) get thrown to the wayside. Suddenly a gift of "nothing" is presented. Nothing- as in "no thing" on the day's schedule.

With my schedule cleared I was able to see a total of four movies and get in a little time at the gym. I did some laundry and even put the clean clothes away where they belong. I looked over a few new recipes and look forward to making some Tuscan Chicken soup later in the week.

All in all, I did a lot of nothing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's Playing?

Yesterday's storm started off as a bit of early morning snow. It was followed by a little bit of rain and gray skies. My favorite weather blog said the storm would return with a vengeance at 3:00pm. Even with all the weather facts available to me I was still shocked when the announcement came that school was closing two hours early. I walked through the cold mist to my car and headed for a matinee showing of The King's Speech.

The movie was delightful. I've always loved the Queen Mum, and seeing a little more of her life story made me love her just a little more.

I got to see another movie today thanks to the first snow day of the year.

An hour ago I was completely shocked to find out that school will be closed again tomorrow. Another movie? Why not.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Whatever Happened To?

I wrote about Frankie back in September. We got off to a rocky start but managed to forge a positive relationship in the end. I haven't had a problem with him since the binder incident back in the fall.

With the hype of the end of the football season there's been a good deal of sports talk in the classroom. I try my best to promote my hometown team, the Baltimore Ravens, to a group of mostly Steelers, Redskins, and Dallas fans. With very few Baltimore fans around I never count on much camaraderie. So, you can imagine my surprise and delight when Frankie confided that he would root for the Ravens. That was on Thursday before the big game. On Friday he came in wearing a purple shirt.

"Did you wear that for the Ravens?" I asked.

He smiled and nodded.

I smiled. So much has changed since September, and that's a good thing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Small Talk

I was chatting with one of the secretaries in the main office on Friday when I asked if she remembered the inauguration of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago. She recalled that she was in high school at the time. We chatted a bit about the passing of time and I walked around the corner to use the copier.

I turned to find the secretary standing beside me.

"You know, I was in college when he was shot. I never thought that bad things like that happened, it was then that I lost my innocence. Nothing bad had ever happened to me...until then."

Clearly, what started as small talk was not so small after all.