Thursday, July 26, 2012

TIme Check

"So, are we going to have this 11:00 to 11:00 schedule every day?"

That was the question posed by a weary American as he passed our table at a pub in Lisdoonvarna.

Yeah, you are.

You see the thing about this lovely little spot in Ireland is that the sun doesn't set until about 9:45pm.  That means it's easy to find yourself standing on top of the Cliffs of Moher at 8:00 enjoying the scenery against a perfectly blue sky (if you're lucky).  The only thing that may remind you that it's time to eat dinner is a little bark in your stomach and a hankering for a pint of something.

That's the way it goes when vacationing in these parts.  By the time our party of three heads up to our cottage atop the Burren the sun is setting.  And then all of the sudden it's midnight, or one or even two and we have to consciously declare the day over so we can get up and out by 11:00 tomorrow for another day of fun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Learning the Language

The weather is not to be counted on here in Ireland.  Today the forecast called for partly cloudy with a passing shower in the afternoon.  The downpour I experienced during my walk around Caherconnell Stone Fort was much more than a passing shower.  The powerful rains drenched my tour guide making it impossible to open the guide booklet to read and learn all about the last two stops on the tour.  That had to wait until I was back in the dry comfort of our red Skoda.

The young chap at the docks agreed that the weather was pretty bad.  In fact when we described it as dodgy~a new fabulous adjective I've enjoyed using over this way~ he disagreed.

"Oh no, this is worse than dodgy, it's diabolical."

Another brilliant word.

Cheers, then.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Moving Spritely and With Purpose

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

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

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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Family Meeting

Standing in a cemetery an hour outside of Dublin it's hard to know what to think.  I'm looking at the grave of my grandmother's great, great grandmother and it's just a tad overwhelming.  Here are people I obviously don't know, but if it weren't for the lives they lived here in County Kildare Ireland I wouldn't be here at all.

The question connected am I? 

First of all I have to say I was impressed at the care that had been given to the grave.  The headstone begins by celebrating the memory of one Elizabeth Kearney born in 1864 and ends with the death one Henry John Garrett in 1998.  To see those 134 years connected on one headstone is pretty impressive, but really even more than that was that in my thirty minute visit to this small, off-the-beaten track cemetery I ran into 3 other people, locals, who were there on a sunny Saturday morning to pay respects to their own.

I wandered about looking for the names of other family members I'd been given.  In my wanderings I was taken with a younger man who was standing at a gravesite with a pile of freshly turned soil.  He stared at the head stone for a bit and then made a quick sign of the cross before turning on his heels and heading back along the small country road to his next destination.

It was then I headed back to Elizabeth's grave for my own moment of prayer and reflection.  I thanked her for living the life she led which in turn allowed me the privilege of standing before her today~ and then with a sign of the cross I walked off to enjoy a bit more of the scenery in this home away from home.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Just a few minutes ago I looked out the back door and was surprised to see the warm yellow glow of a lightning bug flickering nearby.  Wow...I know they say the early bird gets the worm but I'm left wondering what the early firefly expects to find.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Different Kinds of Tired

The exhaustion of Friday night is completely different than the one that greets me on a Monday morning.  Friday night's exhaustion speaks of the five workdays that have come before.  It whispers of the failed student interactions in the classroom as well as the successes.  It echoes the frustrations and jubilations of the previous five days.  It's a good kind of tired.

Monday morning tired means why is the alarm going off and why must I arise at 5:30 AM?  The Monday morning yawn means I remember how warm and soft my bed is and how the comforter is exactly the correct weight to keep me feeling relaxed and happy.  It means yeah, I'd rather stay right in this bed, but I've got a job to do and I even though I like this bed I know in the end I like the job even more.  I like knowing that it's a new week, a new challenge and a new start.

Both kinds of tired are good ones...good in their own comfortable, satisfying kind of way.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Change of Pace

My middle-aged cat is sitting in his usual perch at the back window.  These days he seems more interested in surveying his area from the inside.  Yes, he's starting to show his age.

Just last summer Scout was happy to go outside for long periods of time.  He would slink along the perimeter of the back courtyard looking for whatever he sensed was out of place.  Mostly he was bent on keeping one orange tabby from entering his self-proclaimed area.  The damn tabby did not understand about feline squatter's rights. Scout had been here for 11 years, he had left his scent all over the place as a warning to others that this area was spoken for...there was nothing for any intruders to see here.

Orange Cat has been persistent over the past year or so.  He showed up from time to time, even having the nerve to lounge in the bushes on my back patio as he watched the birds fly in and out of the feeder.  There were more than a few scuffles between Lord of the Manor Scout and the uninformed tabby.  There were the loud howls and cries of a cat fight, tufts of gray and orange fur and even a little bit of blood. 

Eventually Orange Cat got the message.  He hasn't been around too much and I think Scout is thankful for that.  You see, my feline squatter is getting older.  Even though he understands his responsibility for guarding what he sees as his, he prefers to do most of his protecting from the inside.  Time outside is limited to 20 or 30 minute jaunts instead of the 2-hour security walks of just last year.

Bedtime comes early for Scout these days.  In fact, there are many nights when I head up to bed and see that my protective cat has already turned in for the evening.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Quiet Start to the End of the Year

I eased back into work mode today after a 9-day Spring Break.  Returning to work after vacation is never easy but today was a teacher workday so that made the day a little easier.  The halls were quiet.  I used the day to enter grades and comments for the 3rd quarter and to put together a general plan for the last 52 days of school.  I chatted with a few colleagues and it was easy to see we were all feeling a little bleary-eyed after time away from the classroom.

The students will return tomorrow feeling the same kind of tired that I did today.  No doubt it will be another quiet day in the classroom, and I am okay with that.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Getting Closer

So, if you've been reading what's here for sometime now you may know that I have had my fair share of struggles when it comes to baking a cake.  For some reason, I'm determined to figure this thing out.  That's very unlike me; really I usually can't be bothered with solving mundane problems that don't really adversely affect my life.  For example, I can't be bothered to figure out where those socks go when I come up short while folding clothes.  I assume the missing one will show up at some point and if it doesn't, oh well I just throw the single sock away.

But, for some reason this cake thing is something I want to figure out.  I like cake and I'd like to think I could make one at some point in my life.

I've been picking apart each bad cake of the past trying to see where I've gone wrong.  So far there has been an investment in new cake pans as well as an oven thermometer.  Today, I had the help of a friend who was sure her carrot cake recipe was the easiest ever.  She told me so as we sat in her kitchen on Wednesday night.  I laughed when she assured me that anyone could make this cake without fail.

"No, you come over and watch me make it and you'll see, it won't work out."

She agreed and showed up this morning to oversee the baking process, even better she grated all the carrots as well.

It really was an easy recipe, one that would involve three layers of carrot cake.  I mixed up the ingredients in no time and we put it in the oven.  We adjusted the oven temperature based on the reading from my shiny new thermometer and left the batter to rise and bake its way into cakedom.

It worked!  Sort of.  It was by far the best of my attempts but still just a teeny bit dry.  My friend and I rated it a 7---which is out of the park for me considering my other attempts wouldn't even make the rating scale.

No one who knows me would describe me as a perfectionist--I'm far from it.  However, this slice of success has me excited to try one more time, or more if needed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Just Wondering

Two of my favorite novels are Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.  Strange isn't it?  These books rose to the top of my personal favorites list long before I knew of the odd connection between Lee and Capote.  What an odd connection it is.  Two friends from a southern childhood both go on to be great writers.  They both write the novel of their lifetime around the same time and for the most part don't write much else.

Lee has not written another book, and although Capote did publish after the success of In Cold Blood his words never received the attention of that one book.

What's a writer to think?  Is there just one great book in each of us?  And, if you're lucky enough to find it inside of you--is that all your able to give? 

Maybe I can answer that question if I keep on looking.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Crazy Cat

I'm not sure what happened to my cat, but my only guess is he never went to "cat school."
Scout, a name I was once reminded sounds more like a dog's name, is nothing like any cat I've ever known.

Sure, he sleeps most of the day away but other than that his personality is much more dog-based than of the feline type.

This crazy cat of mine goes out of his way to check in on me.  He's not at all like the cat I had as a child that could barely lift her head to greet me.  When I walk in the door he lumbers his 17-pound body to greet me.  And yes, even though he's fond of the daily 3 or 4 hour nap he still wakes up every so often to check in on me.  If I happen to be lounging on the couch Scout will stretch and saunter over to say hello.

I got my first cat when I was 9 after begging my mother to let me have one of the kittens my teacher had brought into school that day.  I was sure that cat, Morris, was going to be my best friend.  She wasn't.  (She wasn't a boy either, even though my teacher assured me differently.)  Morris was only interested in food, naps and cruising around the neighborhood at night. 

Scout is a whole other story.  Although he likes his food his nightly outside activity is limited to the area in my backyard where he is most interested in securing the perimeter from any perceived danger toward me--meaning other cats are not allowed in the territory.  He never stays out too long, making sure to come back every 15 minutes or so to check on my well-being.

At night my dog-cat sleeps with one eye opened to make sure that all is safe at the homestead.  He takes his job seriously, making sure to check on me throughout the night as I slumber upstairs.

Scout is probably the best dog I never had.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I Can Get Some Satisfaction

While my students are traveling near and far over this week of Spring Break I am happily hanging out right here at home in Alexandria, VA.  The daily pace is much slower than it would be if I were at work, and really that's just the kind of break I've been looking forward to.
I'm keeping my list of projects to a minimum this week, doing so allows for more moments of gratification and satisfaction. Take today, for example, I woke up without the alarm, met a friend for a manicure, did some shopping and got my daily intake of vitamin D with a little time in the sun.  Satisfaction, indeed.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Memories and Memoirs

Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, is book that's been on my to-read list for sometime now.  Not that I'm a huge Patti Smith fan or anything, but I'd heard a lot about the book and knew I wanted to get to it at some point.

There was a segment on CBS's Sunday Morning about Smith this morning.  The piece was a look back at her life, starting with her early years playing music in New York.  She spoke of her relationship with Robert Maypole, one that began during those early years and continued until his death in 1989. 

What I found most intriguing about the story came at the end of the segment.  Patti was telling of the terrible year she had in 1994 when she was faced with the death of not only her husband, but her brother and keyboard player as well.  Not surprisingly she found it difficult to do much more than get her kids off to school each day, it wasn't until she picked up a Polaroid camera and took a random photo that she started to find the creativity that had been buried under her depression.

In February of 1995 Michael Stipe, lead singer of REM, reached out to Patti.  He called her on Valentine's Day; they had never met and didn't know each other personally.  However, he could empathize with the loss she was feeling, that first Valentine's Day without her husband.  He asked if she would be his Valentine.

It was a sweet story, one that not only reminded my about a book I wanted to read, it also reminded me how much I like Michael Stipe and REM. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

It May be the End, But It's Not Over

It's been quite a month for me.  It started out with the promise of spring and went downhill rather quickly with the beginning of the end of a friend's life.  I have to say that in some ways I'm glad I had a daily task to accomplish--other than the work stuff--because it would have been real easy to let the emotions of what else was going on take over my evenings.  I could have easily surrendered to the couch each evening, but instead I worked on the slice of life challenge. 
It was a tough month but I pushed on through.  I hope to keep pushing along over the next few days and months, so keep an eye out for a few more scattered thoughts.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Break

We never called it "Spring Break" when I was in school-- it was always Easter Vacation.  Spring Break was something that happened in college.  Even so, I was never one of those crazy college kids that packed themselves into someone's iffy vehicle for the 26-hour drive to Florida.

Well, I did head to Orlando with my parents one year during college.  My dad had a meeting that way and since I was off anyway I ended up there with my parents.  Luckily, a friend from college was staying nearby with his uncle so we planned to meet up one day for a little beach time together.

I'm not sure of all the details, but I do remember Donny and I headed out from his uncle's house with fun on our mind and a few cold beers in the car.  We laughed and drank as we headed toward New Smyrna Beach.

At one point, Donny noted a car to our left.

"Look at the nice Florida lady, Mary!  She's waving to us."

I glanced to my left and immediately did a double-take.

"Uhhh, that's no nice Florida lady...that's my mother!"

In a second the beers that had been in our hand were gone.   We met up with my mother and sister at the beach a few miles later.  Apparently, someone overheard our plan and thought it was good enough for them as well.

Unfortunately, Donny died about ten years later.  To this day, I can't think about Spring Break without thinking about him.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Successful Class Session

I came across an old made for radio play in the literature book this week and thought it would be fun to use it to teach the students about mood as an element of fiction.  It turned out better than I could have hoped.

After a short discussion of mood, and suspense in particular, I had the students read Lucille Fletcher's The Hitchhiker.  Today we listened to the original Mercury Theater on Air production.  The kids were silent as they listened to the story.  A few raised their eyes as the Gray Man in the story called out to the main character, Richard Adams.  It was easy to see that everyone was engaged in the activity. 

However if you're interested in the quantitative data I can add this: on most days I have anywhere from 3 to 5 students in each class that ask to use the bathroom or get a drink of water.  Others get up to sharpen pencils, get a tissue or throw out trash.  During today's class everyone stayed put.

That's what I call success.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What it Is

The phone call came this afternoon as I sat at my desk trying to figure out groups for Friday's field trip.  It was a call I knew would be coming sometime soon, I just didn't realize how soon.  My good friend was gone.  She died early this morning with her husband by her side.  Debbie had given cancer a damn good fight, but in the end the cancer got the best of her.

Certainly it's easier to hear about a death that is expected than one that comes out of nowhere, but loss is still loss.  I finished up a few things and walked out the door with my head hung low and my heart full of sadness.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

45s, 78s, and LPs

I had to interrupt my lesson in class today and throw in a quick music history lesson.  The story we were reading made reference to not only a record player, but also to a lever that controlled the speed of the record.  I was sure that most of the kids read that part of the story without even a thought, they probably didn't even think about what all that meant so I felt I should clarify the image a bit. What followed was a brief lesson on LPs, 45s and 78s.

45s, LPs, 78s...they were common identifiers in my childhood and yet they mean nothing to my students today.  I remember playing 45s at lunch in grade school.  (Yeah, that's what we called it back then.)  There was no cafeteria at St. Joe's, so the teacher stayed in the classroom during lunch and we all ate together.  My 4th grade teacher was young and hip so she let us bring in our 45s to play while we ate. One girl, MJ, was even cooler and hipper.  She would bring in her collection of Cher records and we would sing along to Dark Lady and Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.  Of course, it was a Catholic school so we also listened to Sister Janet Mead's rock rendition of The Lord's Prayer.

Monday, March 26, 2012


It's quite the blustery day around here, and I have to say I like it.  Some may disagree and even though I'm not so happy about all that nasty pollen that is blowing about I am happy about the wonderful sounds this windy Monday provides.  Tree limbs with new leaves dance as the new growth waves in the breeze.  The pine trees go swish as my front storm door bangs. 

The birds are still there.  They hang on just a little tighter to their perch and continue to tweet their tunes of approval for all that is good about spring.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Good Day

Sunday night means the newspaper scattered around the living room floor.  After a week of sun and high temperatures the area was treated to a weekend of clouds and rain.  The weather made for a quiet weekend, the kind of weekend that it seemed best to stay in and work on a few projects.  Laundry was at the top of yesterday's list.

There was more of a chill in the air today.  It was a crock-pot chili kind of day.  A little turkey, some white beans and pumpkin along with the usual spices made for a nice meal.  It didn't take a lot of work on my part, so once everything was in the pot I had nothing to do but lounge on the couch with the Sunday paper. A darn good day it was.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Checking In

I caught up with an old friend yesterday.  We arrived in this area at about the same time and met one another through our low-level government jobs at the Smithsonian's Office of Personnel.  That was about 25 years ago. 

Both of us realized pretty quickly that our future was not in personnel management and moved on to other careers.  We pursued different interests but our friendship remained strong.

We don't spend as much time together as we did in our twenties, but we make an effort to get together at least two or three times a year.  Of course, there are also times when we just can't get our schedules to jive.  Just yesterday I realized it had been over three weeks since my friend had called me, and to I had yet to return that call.

It happens, the day to day stuff takes up time and then when I remember I need to check in with my friend I realize that it's probably too late to call.

No matter, eventually the call gets made and we pick up right where we left off 3 or 4 months ago.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Snarky Much?

A friend of mine often reminds me of my own "snarkiness."  Yes, I'm pretty sarcastic.  But really, I can't help it--the character trait is in my DNA.  I don't think it comes from my dad's side of the family, really that side is a pretty sedate bunch.  Sure, they can crack a joke as well as anyone but if I had to pinpoint the origin of this trait I'd say it comes from my mother's side.  

Maybe there are people out there that see this as a negative trait. I don't.  I see it as a gift a quick-wittedness.  My mom is rather quick-witted, but really it was my grandmother that did it best.  In fact, many of the things I remember her saying, often in response to my own snarky comment, have their own label.  I call them "Grannyisms."

Years ago the two of us were talking in the kitchen after my sister's wedding.  I was giving her a hard time and she was giving it right back.  Finally I could see she had me. Her wit, even at her age, was quicker than mine that day.

"Granny," I laughed, "you are a piece of work."

Without a thought she responded, "Oh, I had to be."


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Creativity at Your Feet

How does one get the job for naming nail polish colors?  This afternoon I walked into the nail salon with some pretty shabby lookin' Yoga-ta Get This Blue on my toes and walked out looking much better with a few coats of Fly in its place. 

I could easily spend 20 minutes reading the labels on nail polish.  And yes, I've definitely made polish decisions based on the name.  Some of my favorites include Midnight in Moscow, Mrs. O'Leary's BBQ, A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find and Oh to Be 25 Again.

On the way home I thought up a few names of my own.  How about Orange Your Feet Feeling Better?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dress Code

Well, it's that time of year.  The weather is warmer, meaning it's just about time to pull out the summer shorts and Capri pants.  With temperatures in the high 60s and 70s around town what to wear is often the question of the day.  Really, if I could I'd wear shorts every day.  Is there's anything better than a comfortable pair of shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt? 

The only real problem with wearing shorts at this time of year is the way they display my ghostly white winter legs.  It seems those white legs that have been camped out under a pair of long pants for the last 5 or 6 months have also lost a little muscle tone.  Yes, the thighs are looking a little flabby.  Yikes!  What's a girl to do?

This gal took her pasty, pale legs to the gym this afternoon and worked on toning those flabby quads and hamstrings.  Next on the list is a pedicure, because as my good friend Julie would say, "it's time to bring these feet up to code."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Take Five

On the surface my back patio is a quiet place, but then again take a seat and have a listen and all the distinct sounds that make up that "quiet" each have their own little solo.  Of course there are the calls of all different kinds of birds but then just when I think I have identified a particular tweet I'm interrupted by a gaggle of geese flying overhead--the leader of the group honking to announce their fly-by.  I can hear the dull roar of the commuters down on 395 as well as car doors slamming nearby to announce the end of someone's workday.  An open window nearby brings the sound of a mother singing to her child.  It's a sing-songy kind of tune (is there any other kind?); one that I'm sure has the intended audience smiling.  I imagine that the young one is even attempting to sing along.

A glance upwards allows me to take in the cirrus clouds moving in from the west.  Even as I search the recesses of my brain to recall the type of cloud I'm watching I am easily distracted by two squirrels racing through the treetops.  They tumble on a branch and then jump, each one heading in a different direction.

Finally I consider that perhaps still is a better word to describe this setting.  There is not a speck of breeze in the air.  I'm satisfied with that description for only a minute...until my cat, who has appeared out of nowhere and onto my lap, startles me. I suppose he's telling me it's time for dinner.  With that not so subtle reminder I bid farewell to my happy little spot in my backyard.  One last solo before I go--a train whistle--a sound that always brings a smile.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Ride

This afternoon I ducked out of work shortly after the bell rang to make my yearly trek downtown to take in the blooming cherry blossoms that line the perimeter of the Tidal Basin.  There were a few clouds in the sky, as well as some chatter about the possibility of a thunderstorm, but I decided it was another great day for a bike ride. 

Let me just say that Monday afternoon bike rides are even better than Saturday afternoon bike rides, simply due to the lack of traffic.  In fact, I was probably the most annoying person on the trail this afternoon.   With a little bit of country music piping into my ears I found myself completely distracted by the landscape as well as the sounds running around my brain.  Many a cyclist took me by surprise as they zoomed past me on my left side.

With my bike secured at the Jefferson Memorial I strolled around the Tidal Basin to take in the pink and white blossoms of the famous cherry trees.  The blossoms did not disappoint, but then again they never have before.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wishful Thinking

Sunday nights have always been kind of a downer for me. The low point of the evening comes about the time 60 Minutes begins its broadcast.  Really, I've got nothing against the show; in fact I've watched it for years.  It's just that by the time the show airs the weekend is pretty much over for me.  The end of 60 Minutes means it's time to wrap up the free time offered by Saturday and Sunday and transition to the coming workweek.  Sunday nights make me wish for a 3-day weekend.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Accepting the Gift of the Day

The fabulous weather was calling me today.  I spent the morning taking care of a few errands, but by about 2:00 pm I was on my bike ready for a long ride.  The route I decided upon is a loop, about 16 miles long, around the perimeter of Arlington, VA.  The bike trails are one thing I love about the area.  I can leave my house and take the bike trail to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon, the National Mall, or I can just take a ride along the Potomac River and enjoy the landscape.

The trail was pretty busy today.  There were the runners and the walkers as well as all the bikers.  The usual crowds gathered at the end of the runway at National Airport, eager to experience the thrill of the constant flow of airplanes taking off and landing overhead.  I didn't stop to watch but noted the joy on many faces as they sat in the grass and enjoyed the beautiful day with friends and family. 

My legs worked hard as the trail climbed from Roosevelt Island, past the Key Bridge and onward.  At mile 12 I picked up a ladybug who enjoyed a ride on my sleeve until mile 14 where she took off, perhaps to check out what was growing in the nearby community gardens.

I was home about 90 minutes later feeling refreshed and content.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Under the Sheets

My friend over at Teacher Town challenged her students to take a look in their pockets.  She asked them to see past the lint and think about what the odds and ends found there said about them as individuals.  Kids and adults have all kinds of "stuff" jammed down those cotton hidey-holes.  Like most teachers I often end up with a few pens, paperclips and late passes in my pockets at the end of the day.

But what about your bed?  I usually wake up with a TV remote twisted up in the sheets. There may even be a pair of socks jumbled in the mess at the end of my bed.  And yes, as disgusting as it is to think about, I once had a housemate who confessed to losing a Dr. Scholl's corn pad in my sheets when she camped out in my room one night while I was away.

Yeah, that's strange, but not as strange as the list my sister offered up when she was cleaning up her daughter's room.  The assortment of items found in the bed included:  a pair of cleats, a razor, Rolo's wrappers, a Slim Jim wrapper and a bottle of Adult Gummy Vitamins.

At least she's thinking about her health.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Family Madness

We're a mere 8 hours into March Madness and I am already in last place in the family and friends bracket pool.  That's okay though, it's still all kinds of fun. 

We started the pool about four years ago and even though there's often talk of paying money to the winner I don't think anyone has ever collected the full amount due to them.  This year we didn't even bother to mention money.  Really, we're all about the trash talk.

So far this year my mother has let us all know that she is "in to kick butt."  My brother is wondering why he didn't watch the news before he chose Syracuse to win and tonight, thanks to a win by VCU, my niece is doing a little celebratory dance over her perfect bracket. 

And away we go...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Collision Course

One of my first visits to the ER came at the early age of 5 after my short career as an imaginary pilot.  My aeronautical career started early one morning after my mother had dashed out to drive my older brothers to school.  My dad was upstairs watching the baby, a sister I had pretty much chosen to ignore at the point. I'm sure my mom told me to do something while she was gone but since I couldn't recall what it was I searched for my own fun.

I wandered down the back stairs to the cold, dark basement.  A pull of a string illuminated a single bulb in the front of the room.  There wasn't much in the space, just a whole bunch of cement---gray cement floors that spilled out to gray cinderblock walls.  An old, wooden table, my airplane, was waiting for me in the center of the room.  A few rickety chairs were spread about; with a little maneuvering and my own strength I placed one of the chairs on top of the table.  Using another chair as my ladder I climbed aboard and into my unsteady cockpit.

The accident occurred somewhere after take-off, most likely as I was leaning back in the seat from the force of the plane's ascension.  All I really know is that I was up (on the table), and then I was down (on the floor).

It never feels good to tumble onto a cement floor.  It fells even worse when the fall comes from three feet in the air with nothing but an arm bone to break the fall.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Visitors From Above

One of the highlights of my day came in the form of a visitor from the county level.  I usually get a drop-in visit from the department head at least once a year.  That's never really bothered me, mostly because I'd known the former department head for years.  I had worked with her at another school and even babysat her children on occasion.  Seeing Mary walk in the door was never intimidating, it was like running into an old friend. 

A lot has changed in the county over the past year.  Many of those familiar higher-ups, like Mary, have retired.  I know a few of the new people but in this time of transition it seems that many of the jobs that had been held so long by the same people are now being held by individuals on a temporary basis.  A few teachers have come out of retirement to help out in the interim.

Such was the case today when I met a former 9th grade English teacher who was there to observe me.  She showed up at the beginning of 1st period, allowing us a few minutes to chat.  From the get-go this retired teacher was nothing but positive.  She remarked how wonderful it was that I had spent 10 years in elementary school-how knowing where these 6th graders had come from and what they had learned could only help them as they transitioned to middle school. 

Yes, I've thought that for years and although I had a lot to learn when I arrived in middle school I knew I had a great deal to offer as well.  It was nice to hear it from someone else.

My observer sat and watched the flow of the lesson.  She nodded and smiled as the students responded to my questions and offered questions and opinions of their own.  First period can be a quiet group but today they did not disappoint, they were engaged and interested.  By the time class ended I didn't need someone else to tell me how effective the lesson was, I could see that for myself.  However, it was nice to start the day off with a compliment from a stranger.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cleaning Out the Funk

With a little extra daylight to look forward to I climbed on my bike at about 4:00 this afternoon and headed to Old Town Alexandria for a spur of the moment ride.  After a week-long funk over the health of a close friend I was ready to shake off a bit of sadness with a change of scenery and some fresh air. 

I rolled the bike right out the front door, pushed off and was on my way.  It's been about 5 or 6 weeks since I've used the biking muscles but thankfully my legs weren't too rusty.  In no time at all I was riding parallel to the Potomac River watching the planes make their slow ascent above my head. 

I usually like to stop and take pictures along the way but today the ride was so enjoyable I skipped the usual photo stops and kept on pedaling. 

Yes, Daylight Saving Time is pretty controversial but tonight I was happy to have a little more daylight to ride by.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekend Wrap-up

A short while ago I graded the last of the stack of papers I brought home with me on Friday.  Fortunately the grade book used by the county is on-line so all grades are entered as well.  I packed up my bag tonight feeling a sense of accomplishment; again leaving a stack of papers on my desk was a good call.

Yesterday's phone issue has also been resolved.  Resolution came as mysteriously as the problem had only 12 hours before.  When I awoke this morning the phone was working again.  It is with great relief that I report that as far as I know there was no strange intruder from a 70s or 80s slasher movie in my house.  That's a good thing.  However, I have to say, I would have never watched The Exorcist on Friday night if I knew the phone was going to be acting strangely on Saturday. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


It's been a quiet Saturday afternoon, unusually quiet.  Somewhere around 7:00 tonight I figured out the reason for all that silence; my house phone is broken.  Those who call are taken directly to my busy greeting.  I might have never discovered the problem if I didn't happen to pick up my cordless handset and see a message indicating the line was in use.

The message creeped me out.  I live alone so if the line was truly in use that meant someone was upstairs using it.  Fortunately I've been home all day and was reasonably sure that there was no one else in the house. Thinking the cat had been upstairs knocking things around I climbed the stairs to check it out.  Yup, the phone was there, securely set in the charge station, with a message that stated line was in use.

Further investigation proved the quiet would continue...until Wednesday when the first technician appointment is available.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Friday afternoons are often productive ones for me in my classroom.  The afternoon is usually meeting free and since most of my teammates clear out quickly I find myself alone in our little pod of classrooms.  The lack of distractions and quiet is just what I need to clean up my desk and get ready for the coming week.

I stayed at work until about 5:00 today.  Goal number one was making sure all of my copies were ready for Monday's classes.  I then spent about 30 minutes clearing the books and papers that had been cluttering my workspace.  A little bit of planning was next on the agenda.  I'm starting a new unit next week, one I haven't taught before, so I spent some time thinking about how my ideas would align with the standards I wanted to cover.

I filed a few papers and in the process ended up cleaning up the team room as well.  Discarded coats, gloves and sweaters were placed in the school's lost and found and old papers that had taken up residence in the nooks of the area were recycled.

Finally, I gathered up the papers that I needed to grade. The stack was rather intimidating so I decided to be realistic and leave half of them on my desk.  I shut the door and walked out with my bag slung over my left shoulder, ready to face the weekend and Monday morning.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cooking with the Relatives

I am now in possession of a fabulous cookbook. My aunt's niece made it a few years ago.  Anyone who knows my Aunt Joyce knows that lady can cook.  One of the first memories of food I have at her house was cinnamon toast.  I know, cinnamon toast is pretty mundane but really everything that came out of her kitchen (and my grandmother's kitchen up the street) tasted better than any food I've ever had.

Both my aunt and my grandmother seemed to cook without thought.  I remember going to see my grandmother in the nursing home a few years ago.  I had decided to stop and get some soft crabs on the way home and figured I could ask for her secret recipe.   Granny shrugged her shoulders and laughed when I asked about the best way to cook them.

"I dunno," she replied, "flour, pepper, push 'em around and fry 'em up.  That oughtta do it."

It did.  It wasn't the recipe I thought I'd hear, but it worked.

My aunt's way of cooking is also a non-exact science.  It seems when her niece was trying to get recipes out of her she'd give ingredients, a few cooking directives and end by saying, "you know, just cook it 'til it's done."

My mom has a few secrets as well.  She always had the best freshly brewed tea.  My high school friend, Phyllis, still asks about the salmon roll and oyster stuffing she would make each Thanksgiving and Christmas in hopes there are leftovers somewhere.  And just two weeks ago she made some real kick-ass crab cakes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Staring Down the Cold Vegetables

I was never too fond of vegetables as a kid; so having parents who believed in the clean plate club meant there were more than a few nights that I had to sit at the table staring at broccoli that needed to be finished.  I'm sure it made sense at the time but in hindsight I can't be sure who would think that a kid who didn't like broccoli was going to want to eat it after it had sat on the plate for 40 minutes.  Besides eating it never seemed to be the point. There were many times that I shoved cold, mushy vegetables in my mouth long enough to get the okay to be excused from the table only to run out the front door and spit them out into the bushes.

I was thinking about those vegetables tonight as I metaphorically processed my day.  You see, I'm feeling like my plate is full of vegetables this week.  My teaching and the things related to my class take up a large part of the plate.  There are papers to grade, new lessons to plan and tomorrow's visitors to worry about.  Then comes the work stuff: paperwork for  special ed. meetings, emails to remind teammates about upcoming events, and after school meetings that I perceive as useless and unproductive.  There's the exercise I'd like to do and the decorations from Christmas that still haven't been stored in the attic. The plate is full and to tell you the truth I'm just not that hungry.

It's been a long time since I've had to sit at the dinner table staring down my vegetables.  Driving home I realized it would have been better to eat that disgusting broccoli when it was hot.  So tonight, even though I didn't much feel like it, I put the boxes in the attic and went out for a two-mile walk.  Tomorrow I'll try to get an early start on the day and make the best use of my time.  Hopefully I'll feel a sense of progress, but really I wouldn't mind a smaller plate.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Daily Savings

I got caught up on a lot of paperwork over the weekend.  The stack of open mail had been growing on the table near the front door.  There were bills to file and issues to resolve.  One of those issues was my bill for the Washington Post.

I've been a subscriber for almost 20 years but recently I took a good look at the amount of money I was spending and started to wonder if the money I was putting out was really worth it.  My bill was close to $50 every six weeks; it just seemed like way too much especially when I considered the papers that went unread.  By Saturday I was ready to make the call and change to a Sunday only subscription.

It took the customer service representative a few seconds to pull up my account.  When she did she remarked on the number of years that I'd been a subscriber, she also asked why I was changing my service.  As soon as I let her know the cost was too much she was ready with a new deal.  I could switch to the Sunday only service for $1.82 a week or I could get Sunday and weekday delivery for $1.81 a week.

Crazy, right?  Part of me was relieved that I wouldn't have to give up my daily paper, the other part of me was mad that I hadn't called 150 dollars ago.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Different Kind of Day

Many might assume that since I live a mere five miles from the nation's capital that I can often be found roaming the halls of any of the many museums found in the area.   The truth is that I spend most of my time across the river living my life in Alexandria and Arlington.  Like most people I get caught up in the daily activities of my existence and don't think too much about the artistic and cultural opportunities that are so close--which is why I love when visitors come.

Visitors arrived late yesterday afternoon, which meant we had just enough time to view the Capitol as the sun was setting.  With Mars shining brightly in the night sky we headed over to the Lincoln Memorial to stand in the shadow of the grand marble statue that is Abe.  Yes it was cold but we didn't let that stop us from walking around to the back of the building to see the eternal flame of JFK's grave light up a small section of the hillside across the Memorial Bridge.  We did a drive-by glance of Mr. Jefferson before heading back to Virginia to see the illuminated Iwo Jima Memorial.

Today we put on our tourist footwear, grabbed our cameras and headed back downtown to the Natural History Museum and National Gallery.  Seven hours of acting like a tourist was fun, educational and exhausting.  Not surprisingly, I drove back over the Potomac thinking about how I really need to get downtown more often.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Tough Job

It was only a year ago that I wrote about a good friend of mine who was taking charge by shaving her head before the side effects of chemotherapy took control.  She's battled her cancer with that same kind of attitude ever since.  Debbie has continued to lunch with friends, walk her dog and travel.  She saw the architecture of Chicago, the beauty of Paris and spent a few weekends in New York to take in a show and shop.  She was determined to live her life as usual---and she did.  Unfortunately the cancer inside her had its own plan.

I spent a good part of my day yesterday on the phone with various friends to let them know that Debbie had been admitted to the hospital earlier in the week after collapsing at home.  "She's taken a turn for the worse" was the phrase of the day.

It wasn't easy to be the bearer of bad news, to be the one to let so many know that we were now looking at what seemed to be the beginning of the end.  There were a lot of tears, but there was a whole lotta love too.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

No Reservations Needed

After a day spent inside cleaning I ventured down to the nearby shopping/restaurant village to pick up a little Indian food for dinner.  The weather was grand; there was a slight chill in the air but it was the kind of night that definitely made me believe that true spring was around the corner.

I was shocked at the number of people who were out.  Really the village of Shirlington was bursting with people.  Restaurants were packed full--waiting customers spilled out onto the sidewalk in front of the Mexican restaurant.  Even the Indian restaurant, which is usually only about 1/4 full, was doing a brisk business.   For a moment I felt like I was the only one who wasn't out to dinner.

No matter, I'm back at home now and happy about that.  I'll watch a little basketball and finish up a few small cleaning projects.

Friday, March 2, 2012

In Need of Gadgets

That pesky little check engine light came on again a few weeks ago...and then yesterday it was gone.  I'm not sure why and for now I'll continue to not worry about it, but even so, I must admit that I have been noticing other cars lately.  A few weeks ago I heard about the return of the VW Microbus and spent the next few days picturing myself driving one around town. 

I love my car.'s getting to the point where I know if I want any sort of trade-in I might need to go car shopping sooner not later.  It runs just fine and other than the check engine light that illuminates and darkens for no apparent reason there's not much else to complain about.

Except maybe the headlight thing.  The newer cars have a handy little gadget that turns the headlights off automatically.  Daytime running lights were big a few years ago and so it seems many cars were built with the ability to shut off the headlights when the driver forgot.  My 2003 Honda doesn't have that fine feature.  Lately I wish it did.  In the last year I've ended up with two or three dead batteries because of my own failure to turn off the lights.  That being said, I've been on a pretty good run lately.  Until today.  (Isn't that always the way?  I mean otherwise why would I be writing this?)

I left work after a long day and made my way across the parking lot to my car.  With a steady rain falling and a chill in the air I was clutching my keys with thumb on the remote to unlock the doors.  I pressed unlock over and over again and noted that the lights were not blinking to signal the doors were unlocked.  It didn't take too long to realize I was stuck on a rainy afternoon with a dead battery. 

Fortunately, there were still a few people left at work so I started to scan the cars in the parking lot to see who I might hit up for a jump.  I saw two good options and headed toward the front door. 

It turns out I wouldn't make it past that door.  It was there I ran into the PE teacher who was on her way out.

"Hey," I called, "Can I use your car to get a jump? I mean it's nasty rain and all so you won't even need to get out I just want use of your battery."

"Actually, I have a thing in my trunk you can use to jump the car.  I've used it myself in this very parking lot."

She was right.  Within three minutes the Black and Decker jump starter had done the trick and we were both in our cars and on the way home.

I'll keep imaging myself in other cars, including my very cool and dreamy red Microbus, but I'll also look into the purchase of one of those nifty jump starter things.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Noisy Change

“The birds are back in a big way.”  

That’s what one of my students said to me early this morning.  Interestingly enough we had opposite reactions to that observation.  Just as I was getting ready to tell him how much I enjoyed hearing the frenetic, joyful chirping outside of my window he let out of a puff of air.

“They’re so annoying!  I can’t stand it!”

I countered with, “Okay, but don’t you love how happy and cheerful they are?  I wish I had their energy so early in the morning.”

That conversation stopped pretty quickly, as most do in homeroom, when another student interrupted with a somewhat related thought.

"It's the squirrels that bug me.  They're always scratching on my roof.  They wake me up, it's terrible."

"I know, but have you ever watched them as run around and jump from tree to tree?  They aren't always annoying. Ya know, sometimes they can be pretty cute." I responded.

Yes, the wildlife has been pretty busy the last few weeks.  The robins are back along with the much quieter daffodils.  Spring is a showy time in the DC area, it's only fitting that a little bit of noise comes along with its arrival.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Odd Connection

In November of 1979 I found myself in Moscow enjoying a performance of the Moscow Circus. Yes, the dancing bears and such were great but still as a 17 year-old sitting in a communist country I was also guarded. Communism was bad, that's what I'd heard and certainly all these Russians sitting around me couldn't be as happy with their life as I was with mine. You might say that although I was enjoying the circus I was also looking around with one eyebrow raised trying to figure out what was really going on. I remember noticing that no one seemed to be wearing glasses. It freaked me out, my young mind started racing and in no time I was quite sure that whoever was in charge around there must have taken all the less-sighted people and shipped them off to Siberia or somewhere. I studied the crowd a little longer to make sure I wasn't imaging things and grabbed my friend's arm.

"Ed, did you notice no one around here is wearing glasses? What the hell do you think they do with all the people who have less than perfect vision?"

Ed probably said something snarky, because that's what he usually did and then proceeded to point out to me the many people sitting near us with glasses resting on their nose.

My theory was busted.

Tonight, I was out on a walk around the neighborhood when I came across not one, but two pair of prescription glasses lying on the ground near the sidewalk. I can't recall the last time I've seen a pair of glasses just laying on the ground. Immediately my mind started racing with the plot of a possible episode of The Twilight Zone. Were Martians in the area? Were they plucking innocent people from the earth as they walked to their cars?

Who knows, maybe it was the solar flares.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Day of Surprises

It's hard to say what surprised me more today, the afternoon snowfall that I'd heard no mention of or the absolute oddity of the thirty minutes I spent in the allergist's office.

The snow was a nice surprise. The flakes were pretty big at times and did a fabulous job of giving the drab trees a little pop. Is there anything more beautiful than a bare tree with a new coating of fresh fallen snow? Today, there was not.

Oh yeah, and then the allergist's office. Timing is everything with that kind of visit. I usually try to get there by 3:15 in the afternoon. That allows me to get there before most of the elementary school kids. Really, it's not the elementary kids that are so bad; it's the whiny younger siblings. Either the pre-school types are there for their own shots and not happy about it or they are bored out of their minds waiting for someone else to get a shot. Either way it usually isn't a pretty, or quiet, scene.

I didn't get to the office until almost 4:00 today, well past what I know to be the best time. Sure enough I was greeted as I walked towards the door by a gal a bit older than myself who was on her way out.

"It's getting crowded in there," she warned.

My smile fell a bit and I shrugged my shoulders, "Oh well, I guess I'll be here awhile."

I was surprised to see at least 3 empty chairs. For a second the passerby's warning confused me, it didn't seem crowded at all.

And then I understood. There was a father with his 2 or 3 year-old son sitting on his lap. They had a book open in front of them and the father was reading him the story of The Three Little Pigs.

I'm used to parents reading to their children in the waiting room, and it usually doesn't bother me at all...but this guy did.

I can only think he had no idea how loud he was reading, because his voice was what this teacher would refer to as definitely not an "inside voice."

I paged through a magazine of the 50 best local restaurants trying my best to ignore the strains of all the huffing and puffing. I was doing okay with it all, really I was, until Loud Father reached for his phone.

"Oh look, Mommy called us and we missed the call. Should we call her back?" he questioned.

I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. He proceeded to make the call using the speakerphone option. Myself and everyone else in the office got to hear his conversation with his wife that included an update on the road conditions (they were fine) and the proud announcement that his son had a big day. He had gone poopey in the potty for the first time. He was now a real, big boy!

It was then I reached for the headphones in my purse and tuned way out.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wingin' It

It was just Sunday when a friend's father asked me if I ever "wing it" in the classroom. Uh, that would definitely be a yes, although there are varying degrees to the process. I suppose someone who is truly winging it would enter the classroom without an idea of what will happen.

I can't say I've ever done that although I have walked in knowing what I wanted to teach and been unsure about how that was going to happen.

For example, today I introduced the students to the concept of analogies. I knew I wanted them to be familiar with how analogies are formed, what type of analogies there are and why it's important to know about them.

I also knew I had created a PowerPoint to introduce the topic last year. So, no there was no winging it today, but if I'd been unable to find the PowerPoint I'm sure I could have come up with something.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Procrastinator's Prison

I'm a procrastinator at heart. Isn't everyone? Are there really people walking among us that get things done, the kind of things they really don't want to do, as soon as possible? Maybe they're of the thinking that if it's no fun to accomplish why not just get it out of the way.

That's not me. I think more along the lines of, why do that boring, tedious stuff when I can put it off another day or so.

The non-procrastinators would probably be enjoying the last day of a 1o-day vacation. They'd probably hit the gym or go for a run...maybe even a movie.

Yeah, I didn't do that. I spent most of the day as a prisoner of my couch with a stack of essays and a pen.

Okay, and a few games of Skee Ball on the iPad.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Truly Scattered and Rather Unfinished

Somewhere between Baltimore and DC along 95 South my head was in full-scattered thoughts mode. It was Friday; the setting sun was creating quite a light show with a variety of clouds and colors in the sky. It would be difficult to map my thought pattern but as I passed the exit for the newly opened Inter-County Connector it became quite clear to me that the friend I was thinking about had been a true catalyst in my life. People can make all the plans in the world, but often it's a truly random moment that affects one's path in life.

How's that for a cliffhanger?