Sunday, June 21, 2020

Z is for Zamperini

My sister and I presented our father with a new piece of technology today. Before he opened the package completely, my sister offered some advice: "Don't freak out over it. We'll show you what to do."

The Amazon Echo Show is a small monitor that connects to everyone's favorite nosy houseguest, "Alexa". Yes, there's a lot Alexa can do-besides all that creepy eavesdropping. Jeen and I bought it for only one function- the ability to hear audiobooks.

At 85 my dad has a hard time reading much. Even with bigger fonts for the elders he still has difficulty tracking the words. It's a shame because up until a few years ago he was an avid reader. Retirement gave him the opportunity to catch up on quite a few books that he never got to with a big deal office job taking up most of his time.

It didn't take too long to set up the device and before long I had created an Amazon account for my dad so I could download a book to his device. We wanted to make sure Dad's first audiobook was a good one- the kind that would definitely keep him interested. There was only one story I could think of that fit the bill. It was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini- the Olympic track star and World War II hero who survived a plane crash in the Pacific, floated around for 47 days only to be captured by the Japanese. Louis spent over two and a half years in Japanese POW camps at the hands of some rather brutal captors.

I listened to the book a few years ago and was transfixed with the story from the beginning. I'm sure my dad will find the story as interesting as I did and look forward to talking to him about the story.

As I was leaving I confessed to my sister that I was a little jealous that he gets to enjoy Louis and his story for the first time. Who knows, maybe I'll listen to it again this summer. Certainly being reminded of everything Louis went through might give me a little needed perspective as I continue living my own life during a pandemic.

Life Lesson: Some stories are worth hearing more than once.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Y is for Year 27

Well, it's a wrap on year 27 of teaching...sort of. The kids are done so that means no more daily posting of assignments and assessing of work. This teacher is left with just a few days of professional development designed to help me get ready for the possibility of a continuation of distance learning in the fall.

The end of the year has been pretty anti-climatic. There were no end-of-year field trips, no assemblies, or student-led lessons. There was no bet between myself and my colleague Alex predicting which girls would be sobbing at the end of the day. (Obviously Shayla)

There was one last online meeting between myself and 19 of the 98 students I teach. We played Bingo and congratulated ourselves on going the distance through the crazy end of the school year.
As we said goodbye we were sure to include, "See you next year!"

Boy, do I hope we do.

Life Lesson- Connecting is so much better in person.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

X is for an X-tra Special Day!

My mom turned 85 today. I've seen her a few times since the quarantine started and don't worry too much about sending sickness her way. She lives with my immunocompromised sister so I know everyone up in Bel Air is on their best game in the daily fight against Covid-19.

So, this morning, right after I wrapped up my last online conference of the school year I jumped in my car and head 90 miles north to get in on the celebration. I was not a surprise guest- I was more of a decoy. Both of my parents have taken to sleeping late...real past noon. My sister and I knew if we didn't tell them I was coming up for the afternoon they could still be asleep when the bigger surprise arrived.

The real surprise was the arrival of my two older brothers from Upstate New York. They drove separately because older brother insisted they'd have to wear masks in the car and younger brother said no way- he couldn't deal with that for the 4.5-hour drive. The boys have been following strict quarantine guidelines with each of them looking out for their own family members at risk.

So, there we were- the original 6- enjoying an afternoon of chatter, grilled foods, and ice cream cake.

My mom seemed pleased to have us all together and my dad, the romantic of the couple, was obviously touched.

After my mom went inside my dad told us about the gift he had presented her with earlier that day.

"I gave her the letter she wrote to me just three weeks after we started dating," he said.

"Wow!" my sister replied, "You know where that is?"

"Of course he does!" I chimed in. "He's the romantic in the relationship."

Three hours after everyone arrived we all started to make the motions for leaving. My brothers had a long drive ahead of them. I checked the traffic for my own drive and hung around for another hour or so waiting for the roads to clear up a bit before heading south again.

Life Lesson: Family time shouldn't be taken for granted.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

W is for Wheels on a Gravel Road

The C&O Canal towpath is one of my favorite biking destinations in the DC area. During the hot, summer months the trees along the path provide shade. Once autumn rolls around those same trees show off some spectacular colors that often reflect in the still waters of the canal.

Whenever I go for a ride I can count on seeing a variety of animals. It's common to see Great Blue Herons standing still as they prepare to strike for food. The turtles are always out to great me as well- usually stretched out on a log with one leg lifted as they warm up in the sunlight. Every once in a while, I'll even catch glimpse of a deer or two. Today I was greeted by a snake- not exactly my favorite but I forgot about that once I saw a Bluebird flutter through the trees ahead of me.

I've spent many a weekend biking along the canal. A few years ago, I was surprised to run into a good friend there. She was completely unexpected as she lives about an hour away from where we met up.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, "What are you doing at my church?"

I replayed that conversation today as I peddled along considering the beauty and peacefulness of the ride. The ride provided a great deal of space and time to consider the last few months and the last few weeks. It's been a stressful time, one full of emotional ups and downs. Fortunately, there's something about that ride, about that setting that recenters me. And so I pumped my legs, looking around at all there was to see, listening to my fat bike tires roll along the gravel path, feeling my leg muscles working all while the whole of me felt so much better.

Life Lesson: Remember to enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

V is for Vintage

Today's office hours with my students started with a little show and tell. (Thanks to my friend Tracey for the idea.) Of course, I was scrambling ten minutes before the meeting looking for something to share. I have a piece of the Canadian Shield that I got years ago on an educational trip through Canada. I know it's something that my sixth graders learned about this year so I thought for a minute a few students may find it interesting. But really, probably not- so I reconsidered.

The top shelf of the bookcase in my living room holds one of my most prized possessions- a small red dress that my grandmother sewed for me when I was just a baby. My grandmother, who's been dead for over 18 years, is very special to me. Just about any great childhood memory includes her- including the way she always called me Buttons.

Once my students shared their possessions- a turtle, a 4-year-old helium balloon that continues to stay inflated, a stuffed animal, and a tour of a newly built in-bedroom home gym- I shared my little red dress.

"My grandmother who worked in a sewing factory, made this dress for me when I was just a baby," I said as I held the dress up to my laptop camera. I then showed the embroidery that reads, "Button, Button- who's got the button?"

"She always called me that," I continued, "because she thought I was as cute as a button."

Aaaawwws were heard from the small group-certainly because what's cuter than a little girl's dress and maybe, just a little, because they pictured what their teacher looked like 57 years ago.

Life Lesson: Connections bring us all together.

Monday, June 1, 2020

U is for Under the Stars

I grew up in Harford County, Maryland. It was a rural kind of place that started to get developed in the 70s so people like my parents could move farther out from the city in search of more home for less money.

Fifty years after that first development started, parts of the area are hardly recognizable to a person like me who hasn't lived there for quite some time. Fortunately, even with all the development, there are still glimpses of the small town, rural area I knew.

For example, Main St. in Bel Air looks pretty much the same even though some of the storefronts are different. Whenever I find myself there I can picture a much younger me helping a friend sell lemons with peppermint sticks at the town's Tom Sawyer Days festival. I can look down the street to where the movie theater used to be and picture the ticket booth and main lobby, as well as the theater where I saw such classics as Young Frankenstein.

Then there are the places that are no longer in business. For me, the biggest loss is the Bel Air Drive-In. I've always been a fan of drive-in movie theaters. Before moving to Bel Air my parents would take us out on a Saturday night in our pajamas. We head to the local drive-in and spend the night sitting on the hood of the car watching whatever family-type movie was playing.

With the recent state of the world, there's been some interest in drive-ins. I don't see myself sitting in a theater anytime soon but if there was a drive-in nearby I'd certainly spend a night in my car with a big screen in front of me.

Saturday night, we had our own drive-in of sorts. My brother-in-law's new phone comes with a projector attachment. So, after dinner we got ourselves set up for a backyard movie. First came the lighting of the firepit. Then came the chairs in a formation that allowed everyone to stay warm and see the screen my nephew had brought outside. A short time later the popcorn was done and the movie of the night, "Stand By Me," was rolling.

It was a perfect night for a movie under the stars- a little like the old nights at the drive-in, but this time dogs were welcome to join in on the movie on the lawn.

Life Lesson: “Simple pleasures are best.”
― Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Friday, May 29, 2020

T is for Turnip Exchange

Have you heard about the Stalk Market? What about Daisy Mae- the snot-nosed pig that sells turnips.
Daisy's grandmother grows the turnips and they make a lot of Bells ($) on their crop.

My niece, Mary, lives on her own island of St. Thomas. She's spent a great deal of time creating her own relaxing oasis. The problem is that it takes a bunch of Bells to live that super sweet life. Fortunately, Mary has everything figured out.

Buying Daisy Mae's turnips doesn't always bring the big bells at her local Nook's Cranny. But then she found out about the Turnip Exchange. The real money is made when Mary travels to other islands and sells those turnips for more money. Whereas, she may make a mere 75 Bells selling turnips on her own island she can turn big Bells on another island where they sell for up to 670. Of course, it costs a few Bells or Nook mile tickets.

That's life on Animal Crossing. If you found yourself confused as you read this post you'll know how I felt when I listened to Mary describe the Turnip Exchange to the rest of the group.

Life Lesson: Buy low, sell high.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

S is for Sailing

Sailing class is a great example of how book learning doesn't always transfer well to real-life experience.

I took a sailing class during my junior year of college. The classroom stuff was pretty easy, although a few of the knots posed a challenge at first. Other than that, I had no problems identifying the parts of the boat we would be sailing. I understood it was never referred to as rope- it was a line. Finding oneself "in the irons" is not a good thing and if your sails are luffing it's time to trim those things.

One day we stepped out of the classroom do take a look at the 540s we'd be sailing. It was our chance to rig the sails, place the centerboard, and see what things looked like in 4-D. My partner and I did a pretty good job getting everything in place- so good, that our instructor thought we should step in the boat at the dock to show everyone how we would position ourselves.

After we climbed in we were for quite a shock as he untied the lines, gave a quick kick to the side of the boat, and pushed us off into the St. Mary's River with nothing more than a wave and a "Have fun ladies!"

Yes, that's when I found out sailing in a boat is much different than reading about sailing in a classroom.

We survived the experience and even passed the class with a few bumps along the river. I learned a little about sailing but more importantly, I learned I like floating around in a canoe much better.

Life Lesson: Learning is a mixture of lessons and experiences.

Monday, May 25, 2020

R is for Rose Grower

I had a collection of jobs in my youth and a few had something to do with flowers. As a 14-year-old, I spent weekends sitting behind a row of white plastic buckets full of a variety of flower arrangements. In some ways it was a pretty easy job that involved a good deal of sitting outside. The difficulties arose when the weather didn't cooperate.  Sitting outside all day is one thing but sitting outside in the rain all day with nothing more than a poncho makes for a crappy day at work.

Then there was the summer that I worked for a local rose grower. That position involved working for a family-owned company that grew red roses for florists in the Baltimore area. It wasn't my favorite summer job. First of all, I had to be at work at 7:00 pm- an extremely early hour for a college student. Secondly, I didn't work with anyone close to my age. There were three of us besides the owner that worked together. The one senior member had been there long enough to remember the owner when he was just a boy tagging along with his dad. The second lady was about 30- ancient as far as I was concerned.

There was a rhythm to a day among the roses. The morning meant time in the greenhouse with a heavy shirt that covered my arms, leather gloves, and a pair of clippers to snatch the budding roses off the bush at exactly the right time. Clipping too early meant they couldn't be sold to the local wholesalers. Clipping too late meant they were trash or gifts to take home. Roses held too long weren't a big problem but clipping too early meant a loss of money.

Once the roses were cut they were sorted by size and eventually wrapped up together in groups of 25. By 3:00 pm the cut for the day was packed and ready to head off to the wholesaler.

 It wasn't until the end of the summer that I found out I was close to being fired my first week- I lost a lot of money that week. "I didn't think you'd ever figure it out," my boss said with a smile.

The next summer I found myself a job that started later in the day.

Life Lesson: The perfect job is hard to find.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Q is for Quadragenarian

So, quadragenarian isn't exactly the word for the 40th anniversary of something but I'll take it for today's anniversary.

It was forty years ago today that I donned a cap and gown to walk across the stage set up on the football field of my high school.  My memories of the day are few. The morning started with a baccalaureate mass in the school auditorium and was followed by time spent in the staging area classrooms on the lower level of the school.

My group was a bunch of other kids who, like me, had last names that started in B. At the age of seventeen, I wasn't all that nostalgic about leaving. I was more interested in the next stage of my life. First, there would be a celebration week at the beach, followed by a long summer at home, and then finally packing up and going off to college.

Forty years later, I'm not all that nostalgic about high school but I can get reminiscent of all the life that has happened since then. The places I've lived and worked, the people I've encountered along the way have certainly shaped the person I am today. For that reason, I'll take a moment today to remember the girl who walked across that stage and started on her journey through higher education, work, friendships, and all in all, a pretty darn good life.

Life Lesson: Life rolls on, even when we don't think about it.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

P is for Procrastination

Procrastinating is my superpower. I developed the power in college and have done my best to maintain my skill throughout my life.

I've always convinced myself that I needed the urgency of a deadline to get my "get up and go" going. Of course, I usually regret all the procrastination. Yesterday and today, I spent time pulling up weeds that had snaked their way through the cracks between the bricks on my patio.

I've been staring those weeds down for a few weeks now. Of course, there was always something that kept me from getting out there and pulling-- it looked like rain, or my back was tight, or wait, don't I have a few games of Words With Friends to catch up on?

By noon today the patio was cleared of weeds and swept. It looked pretty good, so good in fact that I spent about two hours sitting out back reading this afternoon.

Life Lesson: Stop procrastinating!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

O is for Oh My!

Like many others, I've used some of my quarantine time to revisit old habits- like exercising on a more regular basis.

Back in the early 90s a few of my housemates would gather several nights a week in the living room.  Someone would pop a VHS tape in the VCR and we would sweat our way through a few different exercise tapes.  There was "Eight-Minute Abs" and or other standby, "Buns of Steel."  We ended the session with a few different arm exercises on our own.

Earlier this week, my sister sent me a YouTube video called, "Ten Minute Arms."  It took me a while but I located my hand weights and set my laptop up on the bar to give my flabby arms a bit of a workout. The exercises were familiar- they were the same ones my housemates and I were doing thirty years ago. I suppose that means they're classics. The weight I was using this week was certainly a little lighter than in my youth, but hey, you've got to start somewhere, right?

The arm exercises had me thinking about Buns of Steel and the blonde-haired instructor, Greg Smithey. Fortunately, I was able to find a copy of the original VHS recording on YouTube. So tonight, I awkwardly lowered myself to the hard floor and jumped back in. It was just as tough as I remember it being- even more so now since I'm a tad older.

The other thing I remember about Smithey's exercises is how much my legs and butt felt the next day when we first started working out along with the tape. I fully expect to wake up tomorrow feeling a little sorer. Yes, it will hurt but no pain, no gain, right?

Life Lesson: Do something today that your future self will thank you for.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

N is for Nice to Know

Our English meeting was wrapping up today when Tracey posed a question to the group: "How's everybody doing with all this?"

Everyone took a moment to put away their "work face" and reflected. We shared our thoughts, our worries, and our anxieties about what's happening now and what is still to come.

A moment later our school principal and assistant principal signed onto the meeting to say hello and answer questions.  They shared staffing concerns and their own thoughts on what next fall may look like. Before we all signed off, Tracey posed the same question to them.

"We were having a little group therapy here before you signed on.  How are you both doing with all this?"

Both administrators were open and honest.  There were feelings of anxiety and motivation issues but there were also realizations.  Our principal spoke of the highs and lows of her journey through the pandemic but she ended with the idea that it's a time to reset, reflect, and reboot.

It's so easy to sign onto a video meeting and look like everything is going well. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's done that. Just knowing that I'm experiencing the same feelings of others is helpful. It reminds me that we will all get through this together.

Life Lesson- Hard times are easier when we go through them together.

Monday, May 18, 2020

M is for Motivation

Motivation can be difficult to hold onto these days.  Even within the span of one day, my motivation level can fluctuate from up and ready to change the world to up and that's all-but at least I'm up.

I've noticed myself procrastinating on my daily walks.  A few weeks ago I gladly laced up my shoes and headed out the door.  The last two days I've definitely had to talk myself into going.  It's a short speech- "I know you don't want to go, but you're going anyway."

Fortunately, by the time five minutes have passed I've got my stride and am looking forward to all I'll see and how good I'll feel.

Life Lesson: Getting started is often the hardest part.

Friday, May 15, 2020

L is for Lemons

Gladys Kuoksa, my college Sociology professor, came into class with a basket of lemons.  Each student in our small class of 15 was to choose one and carry it with us wherever we traveled over the next week.

It seemed like an easy enough task. I gave my lemon a name and carried it with me for the week. My lemon and I went to meals, classes, and all around campus together.  The next week we returned to class and were told we could get rid of our lemons after class. 

Suddenly, I was presented with the task of getting rid of something that I had built some sort of relationship with.  Obviously, there was no human relationship but I had come to expect to find the dimpled skin of the lemon when I reached into my pocket or my backpack.  Sure, it didn't look quite as good as it did the week before but we had spent a week together, and tossing it in the trash didn't seem right.

I took a stroll down by the river and tossed it into a bush hoping it would eventually break down and return to the earth.

A second later it rolled back out from under the bush. I scooped it right up and took it back to my room where it stayed.  It stayed long enough to dry out completely leaving me with a small, dry lemon that rattled seeds when handled.

Life Lesson- Relationships come in all forms- they just take time.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

K is for King Me

Checkers is one of those kids game that I played religiously a very long time but have hardly any recollection of anymore. I'm pretty sure it was my granny who taught me how to play but it's also possible that it was my great aunt.  Both women taught me a great deal from Checkers to Jacks and an array of card games.

At some point, my dad introduced me to the game of Chess, and Checkers seemed like a little kids game that I had outgrown.

As I said, I don't remember that much about the game but I do remember the way the pieces fit neatly on top of one another.  I remember the sound of the piece sliding along the gameboard. In the summer, we would play on the screened porch at my grandmother's house so it's easy to hear the crickets and the tap of the screen door shutting along with my grandmother saying, "King me!"-with a smile on her face.

Life Lesson- Memories are made up of many different layers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

J is for Jury Duty

I was a big fan of Perry Mason back in the day.  Although that day was when Perry Mason reruns aired in the afternoon along with reruns of another favorite, The Big Valley.

Thanks to Perry courtrooms offered a bit of interest to me.  I was always interested in the battle between defense and prosecution as well as the reaction of the jury members. I wondered what it might be like to be on a jury, to be one of the people who work to find the right answer. 

It took some time but I eventually found myself on a jury. Unfortunately, it wasn't a big Perry Mason kind of case- it was traffic court.

One of the things the TV shows never told us was how much sitting around those jurors did before they sat in the courtroom. On the morning I reported for jury duty I sat in a room with about 50 other prospective jurors waiting to see if my number would be called.  There were a few cases going on that day and it was unclear how many people were needed. So I sat.  And sat.  And sat some more.
Finally, just about when I thought I may get excused for the day- meaning I could take my juror's pay and head out early (maybe a matinee?)- I was called to sit on a jury.

Suddenly any old images of Perry Mason, his secretary Della, or his investigator Paul went right out the window. I was sitting on the jury of a case involving a driver and a bee in his car. I was attentive but bored as the lawyers asked questions of the jury.

I'm glad I was attentive because it may have been easy to miss the defense attorney ask the jury if anyone was allergic to bees or knew someone who was.

I raised my hand and explained that my older brother was allergic to bees.  I was dismissed a short time later- not quite in time for the matinee movie but in time to enjoy a little time to myself on a sunny afternoon.

Life Lesson- TV- it's not always realistic.

Monday, May 11, 2020

I is for Invader

Something wasn't quite right when I got home last night. After about 32 hours away from home, my two cats were weirdly uninterested in my return. They were much more interested in something under a small space heater that I had stored next to the back door.

Alice and Edgar, my two cats, are often seen staring under kitchen appliances or cabinets. Most often there's a cricket or some other bug holding their gaze. It's not surprising to find a few cricket parts on the kitchen floor in the morning. Apparently, the legs aren't as tasty as the rest of the bug.

Last night's distraction held much greater attention than anything I've seen recently so I wasn't too surprised when I saw Alice flush out a small brown mouse. Sure, I screamed a bit- just because I tend to do that with mice- but I wasn't surprised to see the small rodent darting around the dining room in search of a better hiding place.

What ensued after the initial flush-out was a scene straight out of Tom and Jerry.  Alice, the hunter, crouched, pounced, batted, and swiveled to the best of her ability to get the young mouse into her paws.  Little Mouse eventually found a spot underneath my exercise ball.  The stand-off lasted for about 40 minutes until I decided to give an assist and pick up the ball. I was ready with my plastic trapping device- but couldn't seal the deal after the little furball took an unexpected left turn and ran under the sofa.

I finally gave up around midnight, leaving Alice to work solo with Edgar fast asleep on the couch.

There was no mouse to be found this morning but there was an upturned rug in the kitchen. I can only assume Little Mouse found his way back behind the kitchen cabinet where I hope he will stay.  If not, Alice is more than happy to play cat and mouse another day.

Final score- Alice 0  Little Mouse 1

Life Lesson:  Sometimes the little guy wins the battle!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

H is for Home

I'm sure I broke a few travel rules by heading north to my home town. I even picked up my niece in DC so I'd have a partner in crime.

I'm so glad I did.

Not only did I completely surprise my mom and dad- I also took a long drive through the stunning springtime greenery on display in Harford County, Maryland. On Saturday, I drove my parents up over the Conowingo Dam and down through the small town of Port Deposit. My dad told stories of the Naval Training Center that had been in the area-- he knew a few guys that ended up there. We admired the stone of many buildings and later found out that stone from the area know as "Serpentinite' was used to build the Empire State Building in New York.

This morning, my sister, niece and I got up early and drove about an hour north to Strasburg, PA to pick up platters of brunch food that were ordered for Mother's Day brunch. The road was full of rolling hills, farms, and Amish wagons--offering up quite the scenic treat. The food was a delicious as the drive was stunning.

After brunch, a few of us headed to a local state park for a quick hike in the woods. We took our time--stopping along the way for pictures--and enjoyed the green canopy of trees that sheltered our path.

By 5:00 pm it was time to head back to Virginia. As my niece and I discussed the high points of the weekend we agreed on one thing- it all seemed very normal- a big deal in some very non-normal times.

Life Lesson-- It's true...there's no place like home.

Friday, May 8, 2020

G is for Grandma

The first in my group of college friends has become a grandmother.  Connie and I turned 40 around the same time so off we went with two other gals for a weekend of fun and celebration.  It was that weekend that she met an older guy, with 3 sons of his own.  They were a perfectly matched couple in many ways so it wasn't surprising that they married a few years later.

And now, seventeen years after the 40th birthday weekend one of those sons made my friend a grandmother.

Hanging out with the same people I did in college makes me feel young every time I see them.  It's like we haven't aged at all.  Sure we've all been there together- going through all the life things that happen but I never feel older around those girls.  No doubt, that's part of the reason we try to get together so often.

But  It sounds like maybe we are getting older.

Life Lesson-  It's true what they say- time flies.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

F is for Frances

Frances was my very first friend.  I was just a baby when we met so I don't know much about that.  The times I remember were somewhere around the age of three or four. 

Frances lived across the street. There were two huge pine trees in the front yard of her house.  Well, at least they were huge to 3-year-old me.  We loved to climb up on the lower branches and enjoy the shade provided by the aromatic branches.

If we weren't in the trees out front we were running around the rows of grapevines in the back yard.  I'm pretty sure they were Concord grapes- not that I knew that then, but what I recall of their coloring and shape makes me believe it to be true.

Frances and I would push our baby strollers up and down Hollen Ave.- resembling the very same thing our mothers had done just a few years before.

My younger sister, Jeen, was named after Frances' mother.  Mrs. Hendricks spelled her name irregularly-with two ee's- and so does my sister.  I'm not sure where the spelling came from but the legend goes that it just made it easier to remember how to spell when it was time to learn about that.

By the time I was five my family moved from the neighborhood- south on 95- far away from our Baltimore home.  We returned to the area a year later but lived a ways away from Frances.  Perhaps I saw her again if our parents visited but I don't remember too much about any of that.

But, 53 years later I still remember Frances.

Life Lesson:  First friends are always with you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

E is for Ed

I first heard Ed's name in middle school when he was a faceless voice over the loudspeaker running for SCA president. I must have liked what I heard because I voted for him. A year later we were formally introduced.

Walking into my first day of a 9th grade Russian Language class in September of 1976 I found a seat next to the guy with the curly black hair. It was Ed.  He was a bit of a goofball. He liked to do things like steal my cool blue-handled comb from my brown sweater pocket. He was the kind of guy that would distract me long enough that our teacher, Mr. Miller, would turn around to see what was going on a second too late. Ed would be the straight-faced star student and I would be stuck with my head down and a smirk on my face.

Eventually, we hung out in the cafeteria during free mods and went to the language lab during study periods to listen to Russian language tapes. We also laughed a lot. As high school seniors, we laughed our way through an 8-day school-sponsored trip of Moscow and Leningrad.

The boyfriend/girlfriend thing never happened between us- the timing was always off. Even so, we went through a lot of drama as teenagers together. We found abandon dirt roads to share Malt Duck on a Friday night and did our share of drinking on local golf courses and in corn fields in the dark. 

During our college years we hung out in the summer and I would bring him dozens and dozens of roses from my day job so he could impress his summer dates. We spent humid mornings on high school tennis courts talking, laughing, and sort of volleying the ball back and forth.

After college Ed stayed in DC where he had gone to college and I was back home in Bel Air.  Unfortunately, by the time I made my way to live in DC Ed had already packed up and moved on to California- a place he'd dreamed of living for as long as I knew him.

So for a while, we lost touch. Ed got married and moved north from LA to Oakland and for almost 15 years we never saw each other. There were occasional letters and a few phone calls but once everything changed to email we never exchanged those addresses.

And then one day about 6 years ago I got a call. Ed was in Bethesda for work and what if we met in Georgetown for dinner? I was a little nervous sitting at the bar waiting, but as soon as I heard the voice behind me, "When did your hair get so blonde?" -I knew my old friend was there.

In the past 6 years, we've seen more of each other than we had the past 15 years. Ed came to town for the Women's March and I was happy to host him.  He showed up again the following Thanksgiving with his daughter on the way to see his parents in Bel Air. I happily hosted them both and we all did the DC touristy thing together.

Last year, we met up in Baltimore for dinner as he was home again to visit his parents. And then, back in March- right before quarantine really hit home- we had dinner to catch up on his father's Alzheimer's diagnosis. 

There's never a loss of conversation with good ol' Ed.  He continues to make me laugh as much as he did in Russian class. 

Life Lesson- Old friends are the best kind of friends to have.

Monday, May 4, 2020

D is for Dempsey

I moved to a new town the summer before 6th grade. I left a group of school friends that I had known since 1st grade and a bunch of neighborhood friends I had grown to know over 2 or 3 years.

The neighborhood I moved into was brand new, our house was among the second wave of homes built in the subdivision called "Bright Oaks." Coming late to the neighborhood meant many friendships had already been formed so introverted me had a tough time making friends.  My neighbor, Suzanne, was about the same age as me and we hung out a lot during the first few weeks after my move.  And then we didn't.  It seems her real best friend had been on a beach vacation so I was just a short diversion until her friend returned.  Suzanne tried her best to have us all be friends but the third party wasn't having it.  Eventually, we all sort of learned to hang out and even met a few others including a girl named Dempsey.

Dempsey didn't live on our street- I think she lived a few blocks away.  I don't remember much about her except her long black hair and that she was taller than me even though she was younger.  I had never considered myself short- I was always closer to the end of the line on picture day.

There's one other thing I remember about Dempsey- she threw rocks at tadpoles.

A stream ran behind my house and it was clean enough that every spring Suzanne and I would go looking for tadpoles. Sometimes we trapped them and kept them in an aquarium for a few days so we could watch them slowly change into the next phase of their life.

One day Dempsey was with us as we looked under rocks for tadpoles. In a second, everything I thought about her change- it was the second that she picked up a bunch of rocks and started throwing them at the tadpoles we had uncovered.

I have no idea what I said.  I also have no idea whatever happened to Dempsey.  We didn't hang out that much after that.

Life Lesson:  You don't have to be friends with everyone.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

C is For Cal Ripken

This story doesn't have much to do with Cal Ripken at all except that I lived this moment while sitting in the stands to watch Cal play in his 2130th consecutive baseball game, tying the record set by Lou Gehrig.

The stands were packed that night early in September of 1995. And yes, most people in the park had all eyes on the field and the great #8 in his white and orange uniform. I was looking that way too until my eyes wandered to the left of me and settled upon the most unusual sight. There was a young man- probably high school age-with a notebook and chemistry textbook open on his lap. His head was way in the book as his pen moved across the notebook page. Every once in a while he would look up to see what was happening but then he was right back to the book.

I could only imagine what may have transpired before that young guy settled into the stands. Was there a big test the next day? Was he already behind, so early in the school year? Was chemistry that taxing that he needed to spend as much time studying it as possible?

Whatever the answer was he seemed to be having his own ironman moment. He wasn't going to let a little homework get in the way of attending a big sports event- just like Cal Ripken wasn't going to let anything get in the way of missing work for fifteen years.

Life Lesson: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

B is for Bike

When I was younger my bikes were something that might, if you were really lucky, be found under the Christmas tree.  I can only imagine what my parents went through the night before- after four kids were tucked in bed.  Back then bicycles were something that often had to be assembled.  It's no wonder my parents were so tired on Christmas day.

I've had a bike ever since I can remember.  I was about six or so when I finally said goodbye to my training wheels and have been enjoying the fun of bike riding ever since.  In elementary school, there were fancy bikes with big banana seats and even larger u-shaped handlebars.  It was a great bike for zipping around the neighborhood- especially because there was plenty of space to give friends a ride if necessary.

Then came the 3-speed.  I had an old 3-speed in middle school which served me well until I got my first 10-speed.  I was happy to have that 10-speed on hot summer days when I would ride my bike to the other side of town to see friends.  Before I got my driver's license my bike was my ticket to freedom- a way to see friends in the rural area I lived in.

I took a break from my bike once I was able to drive but made sure to pack my yellow 10-speed when I set off for college.  That bike made late-night runs to the snack bar and beer runs to the package store about 3 miles away.

Nowadays, my bike is a source of relaxation.  Nothing relaxes me like a long ride along the canal path from DC to Maryland. Recently, I've had to curb my canal path rides due to the crowds and the risk of contracting a disease so it's been over a month since I've saddled up.

Blue skies were in abundance today and with temperatures in the low 70s, I couldn't resist getting on the bike.  I kept my ride to neighborhood streets to avoid the crowds.  It wasn't a long ride, but it was a relaxing one-like a long walk with an old friend.

Life Lesson: Comfort comes in all forms.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

A is for Alice

I had never planned on getting a second cat.  My house is small and seems better suited to be a one cat kind of household.  But then there was some tough stuff going on in my life and I thought a kitten might just pick me up a bit.  So, on a whim, I looked at a few cat rescue sites and found a tiny gray kitten that seemed just right.  Her name was Fisher- which I took as a good sign since it was my grandmother's last name before she got married.  
I can't say that my first cat, Edgar, was pleased with the new addition to the household but over time he's learned to adjust to the now-named Alice.  
All the tough things that were happening in my life eventually worked themselves out but having playful little Alice around during those times certainly made things a lot less stressful.

Life Lesson:  Sometimes help comes in small packages.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Win for the Felines

I certainly should have recognized the signs.  My two cats have been staring under the dishwasher for the last week or so.  These two felines don't do much together- except argue- so to see them so intent on solving a perceived problem in tandem was a nice change of pace.

Alice, the real hunter of the two, never came upstairs last night.  Her evening schedule usually consists of a little kitchen security followed by some kitty playtime in the living room with her toys.  Bedtime comes around 2 or 3 in the morning.

Whatever happened last night- I missed it.  I never heard a sound. Really? I'd rather not know the details but I'm happy to be mouse-free for now.

As for my feline duo- they're resting up tonight on opposite ends of the living room. Who knows, maybe they're dreaming about last night's battle.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Hitting up the Produce Aisle

The strawberries were so big and red I just couldn't pass them by.  The blueberries were plump and calling my name as well.  So there were strawberries and blueberries with breakfast and tonight there was a personal portion of strawberry shortcake. 

Yes, it was a fruitful day.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Missing Those Familiar Faces

The weekends can be hard in quarantine time.  During the week I have the distraction of my work but come Saturday and Sunday I'm stuck with not that much to do.  It's on the weekend that I miss my old life the most.

This past weekend I figured out a trick to help me pass the time.  Friday night I made up a big batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.  On Saturday, I dropped by my doctor's office during walk-in clinic hours to drop off some cookies.  My doctor and I go back about 30 years- we lived together in a group house when I first arrived in the area.  She may have voted against me moving in way back when but I managed to win over the rest of the house and eventually won her over as well.

There were no other patients in the office while I was there so we had time to catch up from a safe distance with lots of hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves at our disposal.

Later in the day, I dropped some cookies off for my niece and her boyfriend in DC.  I even managed to grab two boxes of Fruity Pebbles for them- something she had been wishing for in a group text earlier in the day.  Again, we were able to see each other and chat for a minute over the fence in her front yard.

Seeing people is nice.  Surprising them with treats is even nicer.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Working the Crowd

I think Mother Nature is trying to make sure we stay in.  Yesterday was mostly cloudy and as I drove along the Potomac to another part of town I noted the number of walkers, runners, and cyclists traveling along the bike path.  I gave up on using the path a few weeks ago after I found it to be much more congested than the roadway.

Today there was just a whole lot of rain.  Skies were gray and rain sprinkled throughout the day.  As I drove over the river from DC I saw very few people out and about on the path.  There's more rain forecast throughout the week but it looks like next weekend will bring sunshine and no doubt, crowds eager for exercise to all of the usual spots.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Clear Headed and Walking

I walk along roughly the same path for my daily walk.  I may change up the order of streets here and there but for the most part, I stay within a 2-mile radius of my house.  What never ceases to amaze me is how different the same two miles can look from day today.

Sure, all the spring blooms help bring about those subtle changes I see each day but I think there's something else at play as well.

Thanks to quarantine life, this teacher is getting a good 8 hours of sleep each day.  I'm also not working through the day making somewhere around 1500 decisions a day.  This new normal is stressful for sure, but apparently--for me-- it's not as stressful as a five-day workweek in the classroom.  That means there is plenty of room in my happy brain to continually notice new things in my environment.

I don't have any wishes to maintain this distance learning life past the end of the school year but for now, I'll take time to reap the benefits.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Nice Blanket!

I had my first virtual meeting with students today.  Much like hosting an event at home, there's always a little anxiety about how everything is going to go. Is anyone going to show up?  Will everything work out? 

Fortunately, students did show up.  We chatted a bit about home life and online learning.  I talked to one mom who thanked me for everything, checked out an old oak tree in another student's backyard, and found myself getting rather jealous of another student's white fleece blanket.

Not the usual meeting but there's nothing but unusual in the world these days so I'm not surprised.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Best Show Ever

I saw a cartoon about a week ago- it featured a man leaning on the back of the couch, looking out the window, with his dog.  The tagline read something like, "Now, I see why you got so excited when somebody walked by."

So, yeah, this is quarantine for many of us.  I spend most morning tied to my computer waiting to hear from students or waiting to join another online meeting.  I also spend part of the time looking out the back door along with my two cats.  Both cats get quite excited when a bird flies in for a stopover at the birdbath.  Young Alice can't contain herself and immediately starts squeaking as if to say, "Lucky for you that I'm behind this screen door!"

Stoic Edgar prefers to shrink down to the floor in a full cat crouch position as if ready to strike his prey.

Me?  I just like seeing all the things there are to see.  Today I got to see the usual Cardinals, Blue Jays and Robins- but there was also an American Goldfinch, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a beautiful fox. 

So, yes, I now understand why the felines in the house are impatient when it comes to me deciding to open the back door.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Thinking About the Good Ol' Days

My grandmother had a Mimosa tree in her backyard.  It was under that tree with all the shade it provided that most summer gatherings were held.  Our table was a utility line spindle.  My grandfather dug trenches for a living and I suppose those trenches were later used to bury large utility wires.  Pop Pop's bonus was the two or three spindle tables in the backyard.

There weren't really chairs for the table, although there may have been a few smaller spindle tables around that whoever was gathered used for sitting.  Mostly there were lawn chairs with a green and white plastic weave for comfort.  Us kids didn't usually have a seat- nor did we need one. We were too busy running around.  Running after fireflies, running down the dirt paths in the garden and through the trellises that supported the pole beans. 

Every once in awhile we would gather under the tree to make ice cream.  My granny would add in whatever ingredients were needed and all of us kids- siblings and cousins- would do the grunt work of turning the handle.  The rock salt tumbled and crunched as the heat of the day moistened our necks.

When the ice cream was finally done we would gather as small bowls of sweetness were passed out.  A summer day that ends with homemade strawberry ice cream- you can't do much better than that.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

What a Game!

Friday night dinner was buffalo wings.  Once I placed my plate on the coffee table I started flipping channels to see what was on television.  I settled on watching a replay of the 2008 Superbowl game between the Giants and the Patriots.

It didn't matter that I knew the Giants were going to win.  By the time the 4th quarter rolled around, I was clapping and yelling at the TV like it was a Sunday afternoon in October.

For a little while, life felt very normal and I like that.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Stop Along the Way

If there's any good that's come out of my current situation it's the daily walk that is part of my at-home schedule.

Spring is in all of its glory in my corner of the world and I'm taking it all in every day.

I've been taking time to stop and snap a few pictures along my path each day and find that spending an extra minute for an up-close look at the rainbow of colors brings a smile to my face.

Yeah, it's hard to find reasons to smile sometimes lately.  Fortunately, Mother Nature in spring never fails to disappoint.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hide and Seek

My local grocery has a few new rules in place to help us all shop at a distance.  There are arrows in the aisles to guide us down the path that we should move through the store.  No surprise- there were a few people ignoring the aisles and going in whatever direction they saw fit.  I'm pretty sure they maneuver the parking lot in the same manner.

When it comes to checkout time there are identified distances for lining up.  So even if there are only two people ahead of me I may find myself lining up down a food aisle- creating a line length that is reminiscent of a winter storm approaching.

Yesterday I had to stand in the ice cream aisle for about 10 minutes.  I love ice cream.  I have no self-discipline so ice cream usually isn't allowed to make its way inside my house.  While waiting I checked out all the ice cream I would love to buy.  I even noted the tiny containers of Edy's Mint Chocolate Chip.  Perhaps I could buy a few of those and keep my ice cream eating under control?

No.  No, you couldn't.

I resisted and eventually made it out of the aisle.  Unfortunately, all the resistance I used for the ice cream made it impossible to walk past the 10-ounce bags of peanut M&Ms.  They were two for $7!  So I grabbed two and threw them on the conveyer belt.

Yeah, that was a bad idea. Two hours later I had already enjoyed three healthy handfuls of chocolate/peanut deliciousness.  I stopped myself when I went to reach for the fourth handful and threw them in a rarely opened cupboard- out of sight, out of mind.

It worked!  I didn't think about those treats again until this afternoon when I noticed the yellow ripped piece of plastic from the top of the bag.  I just ate another handful and then moved them to another cupboard.  No doubt I'll see them again tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Checking In

I checked in with my parents tonight to see how they were doing.  We talked about the usual stuff before I asked my dad how his poetry writing was going.  He had received his first assignment- to write three haiku-on the month Monday night.

"I gotta tell you.  This is really tough.  I mean, how old are these kids?" he asked.

Dad seemed shocked to find out I had given the same assignment to a class of sixth graders.

"School is completely different these days.  When I was that age we were.."

"Diagramming sentences?" I finished.

"Well, yeah.  But we were also fighting the Japanese," he continued.

Myself- I never learned to diagram sentences.  It was the one big thing I missed when I was out for three weeks with a broken leg.

I told my dad I'd send him a haiku of my own and he promised to help me out with those sentence diagrams.

Monday, April 13, 2020

My Kind of Student

I have a new student in English these days...sort of.  While talking with my dad yesterday I told him about the upcoming poetry challenges my now online students will be tackling over the next few weeks. He was intrigued. Years ago I showed him the poem "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyons. I also gave him a copy of the template shared with students so they could create their own poems.

He was hooked and now his "Where I'm From" poem is framed in his home office.

My dad loves a good assignment.  At the age of 85, he understands the importance of having something to take care of each day.

This afternoon he got his first assignment- to write 3 haiku.  One thing I know for sure is that he is one student I won't be pestering about getting his work turned in.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Feeling Free

Thirty days into my new socially distant life and I gotta say it's getting to me. I've been a little down the last two days. After talking with a few other friends it appears that I'm not the only one feeling that way.

I woke up disappointed that I wouldn't be going home for Easter, but I was also feeling determined to get out of my funk. Fortunately, I just needed to open my front door.  It was there that I found a surprise-  a six-roll pack of toilet paper and a small bag of peanut butter cookies along with a light blue bow. Had the Easter Bunny made a visit? Sort of- although the card that was included identified the Easter Bunny as my friend, Kathy.

Smiling, I considered how such a small gesture could so easily turn around my day. I decided to pay it forward by reaching out to another friend.  And then all of a sudden my phone started beeping.  Group chats were awake and people were texting pictures and Easter greetings. Everyone was checking in with each other. A friend in California shared a Spotify list and a video of a new puppy.  There were food pictures and smiling faces.

And before I knew it I was free of the funk.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Feline Rhythms

With all this time at home, I've become much more in tune with the daily rhythm of my two cats.  The dance begins around 7:30 or 8:00 when I awake to see four eyes staring at me waiting for the morning meal.

Once breakfast is over, I settle in with a cup of coffee and read over the news of the day.  Edgar, my aloof black cat sits nearby waiting for me to get up for a second cup so he can settle into the spot I've warmed up for him in the recliner.  From then on Edgar spends most of his day moving from perch to perch napping or watching the birds on the back patio.

Alice is a busy cat all morning.  She follows me around until she's tired enough to settle into her not so secret hiding spot in the closet where she is happy to snooze the day away.

As far as the cats go, there's not much else to their day.  I may be cleaning out closets or burning calories on the Wii but they are both content to sleep like cats do until about 5:00 pm.

After dinner, it's naptime again.  However, the one thing I've noticed is that the usually aloof Edgar is persistent about his need for attention.  No matter where I find a seat he is right next to me with his head butting whatever part of me he can find asking for a little scratch under the chin.

Even though I've figured out his needs it always surprises me as he is more of a "cat" than any cat I've lived with recently.  I quickly reach out my hand and give in to his needs- scratching the soft fur beneath his chin as he slowly closes his eyes and settles in for his evening nap.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Looking Ahead

My original Spring Break plans had me staying in Lexington, VA tonight.  I would have been on my way back from Asheville and stopping along the way for a trip to nearby Natural Bridge.  I've been to both Lexington and Natural Bridge so at least I can imagine myself there--walking the wide path along Cedar Creek to a view of the stunning limestone arch.

Frustration filled me for all of a minute today.  While I'm disappointed that my road trip plans didn't work out I'm happy to be feeling safe and healthy at home.

Okay, so I'm sort of happy.  Nonetheless, there's no point in sitting around feeling sorry for myself- especially when I'm sitting here with everything I need. 

But eventually, I think I'll need a vacation.  So today I told my sister to start planning our month-long stay in Northern England next summer.  She brought it up to me a few months ago and I pretty much shut her down.  I wasn't ready to make any sort of commitment for the summer of 2021.  Now I think it will be nice to have something to look forward to.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Slow Change

For the past six weeks, I've been working out some back problems with physical therapy.  I was in pretty poor shape when I started- my back muscles were guarding to such an extent that it was next to impossible for me to roll from my back to my side without grimacing in pain.

At that point, my only goal was to feel better by April 4- in time for Spring Break.  The student intern who saw me at my first appointment assured me that wouldn't be a problem.  I can't say I believed him back then, but I think that's just because I was in so much pain.

Who could have ever guessed how my world would change over the course of six weeks?  Certainly, not me.

Over the course of the last six weeks school has closed.  My student intern has left and will be one of those students who graduates without a graduation ceremony.  I'm no longer running to an appointment after school- with my wide-open schedule I'm more likely to be there around noon each day.  There are fewer people sharing the therapy space.  Just last week my therapist called to change my appointment so she could spread out her patients.  She used to see two people at a time.  The silver lining of the pandemic is that I am her only patient so I get a whole bunch of individual attention.

Over the last three weeks, I've often questioned if showing up for therapy was the wisest decision.  Every time I've gone in I've watched as my therapist disinfected anything that was touch by me or anyone else.  And so, I've continued going.

Today I walked in and found all the therapists, and many of the patients, wearing masks.  It was my last appointment and I was glad about that.

My back?  It feels good- just as promised six weeks ago.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Where I'm From

"That grass looks amazing!"

It was hard to get over how great the grass at the National Mall looked this morning.  I met up with three other humans and two other dogs for a socially distant walk along the mall.

"America's Front Yard" will always have a special place in my heart along with the Smithsonian museums that line its border.  You see, it was a clerk typist job in the Arts and Industries building that brought me to the area.

When I told my former boss at The Bank of Baltimore that I was moving south to the DC area she laughed.

"I shouldn't be surprised, you've been drinking coffee out of that Smithsonian mug for 6 months now."

The Smithsonian didn't turn out to be a career kind of position but the friends I made there did turn out to be life-changing.  Many sunny lunch hours were spent under a tree on the mall with my work peers.  For the most part, we had come to DC in search of the next thing.  In time, we would all find it.  One went on to a career in personal management, one found a career in law, and I found a career in education.

My five years there was a blip of a federal career but it was a time I'll always treasure.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Keeping to Myself

Once again the weather beckoned.  So today I found myself about 30 miles south at a state park on the Potomac.  The new normal that meant I never had to touch my brake for slowing traffic while driving south on 95.  For a moment I considered driving as far south as I could, just so I could feel like I was actually on Spring Break. 

The long drive south didn't happen...of course it didn't.  After all, this is supposed to be a tough week Covid19-wise so the less interaction I have with others the better.  That's exactly what I kept at the forefront of my mind when I saw the Wawa on the side of the road near my destination.  Yes, it would have been great to run in for my favorite chicken salad club but for sure the virus could be in there.

Today I settled for a walk along the river in Leesylvania State Park.  There were a few people around but not so many that I couldn't easily keep my distance.  Checking out the parking lots, empty storefront and boat docks I could imagine what it must look like on a crowded summer day.  Today the beach was empty except for a few fishermen.  People strolled on trails but moved to the side whenever they came upon someone else.

The water was quiet and mesmerizing today.  Walking along the path I kept my eyes on the sky in hopes of an eagle sighting.  No luck.  The marshes were quiet as well, there would be no turtle sightings along the way.  Even so, it was a pretty perfect visit to a new-found park. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Wide Open Spaces

It's just there are only so many places to go these days. 

I wasn't all that surprised at the number of people out on the bike trail.  The sky was blue, the sun was shining so, of course, the outdoors were calling to more than just me.  I headed west on the trail and found myself just past National Airport at the usually popular Gravelly Point.

The parking lot was empty but there were still a large number of people milling around.  It was enough people to make me wonder just how smart it was to be there myself.  So, a u-turn was made and a new, less-crowded path was found.

No doubt, it will be more and more difficult to find places to get outside while maintaining the appropriate distance from others.  Even so, I'll take on that challenge.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Looking Forward

Just a few days ago, in a low moment, I said to my sister, "So I guess I'll have my birthday all by myself this year."

Fortunately, as soon as I spit out my pity party for one I remembered one important detail- "But, I still have that ice cream cake Kathy gave me last year, so I'm good!"

Obviously, there are many, many people worse off than me in this world so it's only fitting that my little pity party shut down after about thirty seconds.

And then there's all the technology-

This evening I hosted a Zoom happy hour birthday party for a close friend.  Nine of us got together through the power of Zoom to hang out, chat and sing happy birthday.  At one point, the birthday girl herself took to her piano and delighted us all with a little "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  Thankfully, Zoom waived the 40-minute limit, allowing us to chat for over two hours.

Seeing all my girlfriends, along with their husbands and dogs was just what I needed at the end of the week.

When the meeting ended I immediately set up our next get together.  I'll see them next week and the week after and the week after and...

...that makes me happy.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Waiting Patiently

It's hard to say how I would have been feeling today, one day before Spring Break, if I was still teaching in my classroom. Sure, I would be exhausted but I think it would be more of a physical exhaustion.

The exhaustion I'm feeling today is mostly mental. Honestly, I have gotten more sleep and exercise in the last three weeks than I have in months.  So, physically I am feeling good. 

My days are now filled with spurts of educational coaching.  Yes, coaching...not teaching. And then I've been doing quite a bit of wondering.  I'm wondering how this is all going to turn out? How is this school year going to turn out?  What will I be asked to do, as a teacher, after Spring Break?

That last question was sort of answered in a 10-page email today.  I'm sure it was meant to make me feel better, to make me feel like there's a plan going forward--but it didn't.  I'm left with more questions, more things to wonder about and more mental exhaustion.

Fortunately, I know myself.  I know I'm scrappy and in the end, I'll figure it all out.  I also know that Spring Break is less than 24 hours away so for now, that's all I'm going to think about.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Moving On

I'm not sure if I was supposed to but I dashed across the state line into DC this evening to help my niece move to a different quadrant of the city.

Being the aunt has its perks- as does being the aunt who had a knee replacement last August.  Megan only needed me for the room in the back of my small SUV.  Fortunately, I didn't have to schlep up and down two flights of stairs to carry bags and other assorted items.

I couldn't help but smile as I watched her two roommates haul things down from their second-floor apartment.  It reminded me of the many moves I made in my twenties and early thirties.  Each new place promised something a little better- closer to town, the master bedroom, fewer roommates or even, finally, a place of my very own.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Flying in the Breeze

I did not get the "good hair" gene.  My head is draped in fine hair with a mind of its own.  There are a few things I've learned about dealing with this hair of mine.  First, finding a good hairstylist is essential.  Second, those perms I had in the late 70s and early 80s were a terrible, terrible idea.

The perm was most likely my mother's idea. That's been her move for dealing with her fine hair all her life.  Remember, it's okay to not always listen to your mother.  Times change and hairstyles do too.

I'm fortunate to have a hairstylist I love. I met Octavia on a whim when I showed up at my local Hair Cuttery a few years ago.  Not only did she do a great job on my coloring needs, but she also listened and guided me to a haircut that I every once in a while actually gets a compliment. 

The last time I saw Octavia was in mid-February. I had come in with a hair plan. Perhaps some of you have seen the cute little layered look that Reese Witherspoon pulls off in the movie, "Sweet Home Alabama."  Her blonde locks are cut in long layers.

"Now, of course, I know I'm not going to look like her," I started, "but what about the cut? Can I pull that off."

Octavia stood back and looked at my head. She grabbed a chunk of hair and let it fall through her fingers.

"There's not enough to quite do it yet, but we can get there."

We hatched our hair plan. 

Obviously, that hair plan didn't include a global pandemic and closing down Octavia's now-solo hair business. But here we are- two months since my last hair appointment and a good 10 weeks until my next possible appointment.

Yup, it's going to get "hairy" around here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Waiting Patiently

I've been keeping my own spreadsheet of numbers on the Covid-19 virus.  It was probably a mere 4 weeks ago that I started looking at the CDC website each day.  I was, and still am, intrigued by the changing color of the US map and the daily posting of numbers.  How many cases overall?  How many deaths?  How many states reporting cases?

A friend thinks it's kind of creepy and maybe it is.  For me, it's a way to have some control over the situation.  Watching the numbers climb isn't easy but I feel it's the only way I'll be able to also see them start their steady decline.   Once I see those numbers begin to tumble I know I'll feel my anxiety level tumble as well.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

New Day Old Workout

After a day of lounging around like a feline, I got up and moving today.  First came the dusting off of my Wii. It's been quite awhile since the gaming console has been plugged in. According to Wii Active, it's been 1999 days since I last logged in for my 30-day challenge. So, today was a restart of the calendar.

After sweating through a quick 25-minute work out- I chose medium intensity- I tried my hand at tennis.  Apparently, my tennis skills have slipped a bit.  It only took about 15 minutes to lose two different matches. I ended my exercise session with a quick boxing match and a quick victory. I had my opponent knocked out on the mat by the middle of the second round.

This evening I took a walk around the neighborhood with a stop in at CVS for batteries. My Wii Balance Board is in need of batteries and I'm thinking there may be a little snowboarding in my future.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Following the Feline Lead

This gray, overcast day zapped me of all energy.  For most of the afternoon I've been moving from one soft surface to another and napping intermittently.

I'm wondering if spending this much time with my two cats is detrimental to my energy level.  Because boy do those two felines know how to nap.  They wake up long enough to do a classic cat-back stretch and then resettle and close their eyes again.

I could never nap as much as Edgar and Alice do- but for today I'm willing to let them take the lead on relaxation techniques.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Pandemic Teaching

I used to complain about having the kind of job that didn't allow for teleworking.

Well, here I am at the end of week 2 of online teaching so I guess I do have the kind of job for teleworking.

In this new reality, I find structure works best.  Every workday I wake at 7:30 and jump right in the shower.  What a bonus to sleep two and a half hours more than I was just fourteen days ago.  By 8:00 am I'm in my "office" checking on what work my students have completed overnight.

As the day wears on I respond to students who have questions about assignments and due dates.

3:00 pm signals the official end to my workday.

I'm hopeful that we will all be back in the classroom when the new school year starts because, even though we can make do for now, teleworking and teaching aren't the perfect match. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Dog's Life

The sun was out today and I was able to take full advantage of the weather by taking not one, but two walks outside.  This morning I met up with two friends and their dog for a walk on the local bike trail.  We kept our distance (sort of) and caught up on what's been happening in each of our online teaching worlds.  It felt great to connect and work through some of my own questions about teaching in this new normal.

This afternoon I caught up with an old college friend and walked around a nearby park that I'd never been to before.  Again, we caught up and worked through some of the anxieties both of us were feeling with this new normal.

One day.  Two walks.  Five miles.

I'm beginning to understand why all the dogs are so happy these days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Maryland, My Maryland

It was on this day in 1634 that the first European settlers landed on St. Clements Island in my home state of Maryland.

Even though I've lived in the neighboring state of Virginia for the last 30 years my heart has always belonged to Maryland.  I can't say for sure why but thanks to my own family research I guess I'd say Maryland has been in my blood for a long, long time.

Robert Middleton, my 8th great grandfather, was born in England but came to Maryland somewhere around 1671, a mere 37 years after those first European settlers. His family settled off the Potomac River in present-day Charles County. Since his arrival, there have been Middletons living around the Potomac River and the nearby Chesapeake Bay.

At some point, those Middletons took a trip across the bay and settled in the small fishing village of Rock Hall on the eastern shore of Maryland. 

It's hard to argue with all that Maryland history and all those Middletons that dotted the land along the western and eastern shore of the bay.  I can only guess those people stayed in Maryland because they liked it there- they found a damn nice place to live and never bothered to look further.

I think they were right--and this former Marylander looks forward to returning to her home state.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


One of the first running races I ever ran was called the Dave Wottle run. It was a PE requirement in middle school. I didn't consider myself a runner, and like many kids that age had no idea how to pace myself for the race. I didn't come in last but I was definitely in the back of the pack.

In my twenties, I dipped back into the running thing after a housemate got me to run with her. Every stride was a struggle- I guess because I didn't see myself as a runner. I was slow. I didn't have the look- the right clothes- but eager to make a new friend in my new town I chugged along.

In my thirties, I kept on running with friends.  We ran 5Ks, 10Ks, and 10-milers. Still, for the most part, I didn't love it. In my eye, I was a person who runs, I was not a runner. I enjoyed the way running burned calories allowing me to eat more but I was not a runner.

Eventually, running took its toll on my body. There were aches. A doctor uttered the A-word...arthritis. Last August I got myself a new knee and officially said goodbye to my life as a person who runs.

When I'm out walking I see the runners. I see them stretch those legs out and hit full stride.  And I miss it.  I ran in my dream last night and it felt great.

So, when my students-the ones who didn't seem to care about school at all- the ones who didn't see themselves as students- write about how much they miss school (and even me)...I get it.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Big Activity Brother

If you have an Apple watch you know about the three activity rings.  They are the three rings that track my daily activity, exercise and the number of times I stand.  I have goals to reach with each of those rings- one goal being thirty minutes of exercise. 

Yesterday, I was out on my bike for about 50 minutes.  Unfortunately, when I checked the green exercise ring only showed 9 minutes. Well, that was frustrating.  I mean it's not like I was on some leisurely roll down the canal path.  There was sweat.  There was some huffing and puffing.  And yet, my watch didn't seem to think there was any exercise.

Last night I got a cheery message on my watch- "You can still do it!"

Ugh.  After my afternoon ride, I was tired and ready to relax. 

The pull of closing those rings was strong and a few minutes later I was out the door with arms swinging high on a brisk walk through the neighborhood.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Turtles and Deer Oh My

The turtles were out in full force today. I hit the towpath at Swain's Lock, a little north of yesterday's ride, and headed south toward Great Falls. The turtles were everywhere- lined up in an organized manner on logs all down the canal. I noticed there seems to be a pecking order to arranging a bale of turtles on a log. It seemed the smallest was always farthest up the log--meaning they were the first out of the water and into the sunlight. That makes sense. It's easy to imagine the rest of the group working as spotters of sorts as the tiny turtle makes its way out of the chilly water and onto the sunlit fallen tree.

Pedaling along I considered the peaceful turtle and somewhere between singing my very best rendition of Elton John's "Rocket Man" and Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" I decided perhaps they were my spirit animal. After all, we both like sitting by the water with the sun on our back. So, really- is it too far fetched to consider that our relationship goes a little deeper?

I'm not clear how one goes about identifying their spirit animal so I turned to the internet for help. One site listed a few ideas for getting in touch with my spirit animal. Basically, I had to be on the lookout for animals and note the ones I keep seeing- whether it be in real life or in a dream. Another option was to take an online quiz. Certainly, the turtles were everywhere today but that was only because I chose to be in an environment where I knew they would be. Does that mean anything?

Who knows. I took the quiz and was told my spirit animal is a deer. I was disappointed at first because the other thing I did while riding my bike today was write this blog post in my head. Finding out the turtle was my spirit animal was really going to bring this all together. Sorry readers-- that didn't work.

It's okay though. Having the deer as my spirit animal apparently gives me the power to deal with challenges with grace. Apparently, I have the ability to "be vigilant, move quickly and trust [my] instincts to get out of the trickiest situations."

Yup, I'll take that right about now.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

My Happy Place

The second day of spring brought temperatures in the 50s.  Even though it was a little chillier than yesterday the sun was out this morning and I was feeling ready to get moving.

By 11:30, when I finally got my act together clouds covered the skies that had been bright and blue just a few hours before.  My plan was to park at my usual spot on the C&O canal and take a leisurely bike ride along the towpath.  A lot of other people had the same idea.  My usual spot at Lock 10 was full so I continued down the Clara Barton Parkway towards DC in search of a parking lot with a bit of free space.

Fortunately, I didn't have to go too far.  The lot at Lock 6 offered up a few free spaces.  Once on the path, I headed north towards Great Falls.  It didn't take long to spy a few turtles trying their best to warm up on a fallen log in the canal.  Families of all size walked, biked and ran along the path.  I noted more than one person who preferred to turn their back to me as I approached.  There was no reason to take it personally as it seems everyone has staying healthy on their mind.

After about thirty minutes I turned myself around to head back to the car.  Just as I was thinking I had not seen much wildlife I was surprised by five deer galloping through the woods.  The weather for tomorrow is forecasted to be sunny and back in the 50s.  So, if anyone is looking for me I'll most likely be looking for wildlife along the canal.

Friday, March 20, 2020

No Surprise Here

Last night three friends sat around a backyard bonfire.  With a good distance between all, it seemed like a perfect diversion from the world's main event.

It didn't take long for these three college friends to start laughing.  Once the laughter started it was hard to contain. 

 Slowly the tension left my shoulders and before I knew it I had just about forgotten about the headlines of the week.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Days Like These

My students have been posting to our daily discussion board as they have been working on their own Slice of Life writing challenge.  I've been enjoying the connection with them and hearing about how they are spending their time:

Yesterday I went biking with my mom. It was fun, except it took my mom five minutes longer than me to get up this one hill close to our house. We went to Iwo Jima because I like biking down the stairs over there. I was chugging up the hill and after the dang hill, I sat there for 5 minutes waiting for my mom to catch up, and then another five minutes waiting for her to drink water and get ready to go. Overall it was pretty fun and those stairs at Iwo Jima are still really fun to go down.

 Today I got up in a good mood. I decided to make bacon and pancakes for breakfast. I put it on the griddle and right as it got on it smelt so good. Right away, I wanted to just eat it all for myself. The grease splattered all over me and it soaked into the hot griddle. I had to touch it a couple of times and my hand would like burn. While I was waiting my mom showed me an email that said my state championship gymnastics meet was canceled for good. The seasons over. All in all, I did great and I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Back to bacon, once it was done I tried a piece and I was in heaven. It was so good.

Yesterday, I played tug of war with my dog. He won every single game. He is way stronger than me. Right now, my dog is asleep right next to me. He is curled up in a ball and breathing very slowly.

Yesterday I was at the park with my sister when our friend Maya came and started carrying long sticks back to her house. While Isabella was on the swings I asked Maya, “ What are you doing?”
Maya simply replied, “Making a house with sticks without parental help, wanna help?”
”Sure!” I said because at the time that sounded fun.
Maya, Isabella, and I walked to her backyard where we had to saw of other branches and take all of the bark of the sticks. It took us forever just to do 5 of the sticks! We did over and over again and by the time we had to go home, we only did 15 sticks. Today I am going back over and continuing. It will take forever.
Today my sisters taught me how to knit, I didn’t know how to before I think it’s really interesting how people like to do this or some people even have it as a hobby.
I'm glad to see the resiliency in my students.  I know they are anxious about the current situation but I also know we will all get through it together.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Perfect Pupils on the Prairie

Playing school as a kid was always satisfying.  I could stand in front of my pupils- whoever I rounded up that day-and they would listen attentively.  If I gave out an assignment work was completed without a complaint.

Honestly, it was like a modern version of Little House on the Prairie- desks in a row, eager pupils raising their hands and not one little peep from the peanut gallery.

Real school isn't like that.  Desks never stay in place.  By the end of any given day, the previously perfectly arranged desks are askew having suffered through five different classes of sixth graders who prefer to exit their seats with a desk push instead of a chair slide.  Assignments are not met with Laura Ingalls smiles--I know, unbelievable.

Online teaching is completely different.  Each night I prepare activities for students to work on the next day.  I hit save and picture my students greeting each day's work with a smile as they log on to the leaning platform excited for another day of learning.  I know it's truly a dream but if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?  If a kid complains about the work at his own home--a good 2 miles from my home...?

Even though I'm pretty sure the desks in my classroom are in the same position I left them last week- I miss the kind of mess they are at the end of a day of learning.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Canine Adjustments

My sister's dogs, Lana and Bailey, are exhausted.  Perhaps some readers also have canines experiencing similar pandemic exhaustion. 

Lana and Bailey have it pretty good.  Each morning before Jeen heads off to work she takes her two labs, one black and one yellow, out for a walk around the yard.   Sometime later, around noon or so, my mother comes over and lets them outside again.  Mumsey, as she is known to most everyone these days, sits on the front porch while the two dogs run around a bit.  Mumsey is always packing treats so they also spend a good deal of time laying at her feet looking cute- the kind of cute that makes a person give you another treat.  The rest of their day is spent laying around waiting for people to come home.

What must it be like to be a dog who goes from being home for a good part of the day- who goes from sleeping the day away- to a day of all their humans being there all the time?

Oh yeah, there is a lot of butt wiggling and tail wagging going on up at Lana and Bailey's house.  They are happy to have their pack together all day long.  But they are also missing those daytime naps.  They are missing the couch space that has been taken up by the humans. 

No matter, Lana and Bailey have also discovered that the humans don't mind when they cuddle up with them on the couch.  Also, human laps make for great pillows.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Dancing With Myself

Flipping through the program I received upon entering the small church, I noted the usual fare for a funeral mass.  There was "Amazing Grace" and an old favorite, "How Great Thou Art."  And then there was one I would have never expected--"Take On Me".

Younger folks may not be aware of the pop song made famous by the Norweigan band, A-ha, in 1984.  1984 was prime MTV viewing time- the MTV that actually showed music videos 24 hours a day.  A-ha's cartoon sketch video was memorable and in high rotation on the cable channel.

Even with all its popularity, I don't think I'd ever consider it funeral music. 

My good friend Robin found a connection between the lyrics and the Alzheimer's her stepmother, Bronwen, suffered from for years before she died last month.  Her solo slowed the song down a bit making it easier to rethink the meaning of the words.

"...Today's another day to find you...
I'll be coming for your love okay?... needless to say
I'm odds and ends
But I'll be stumbling away
Slowly learning that life Is okay
Say after me
It's no better to be safe than sorry

Take on me(take on me)
Take on me(take on me)
I'll be gone
In a day or two"

The original version came on tonight while I was cooking up dinner in the kitchen.  Before I knew it I was dancing from the kitchen, through the living room and dining room with my spatula-microphone in hand.  Smiling, I belted out the lyrics and thought of Bronwen.  I have a clear memory of her from a few summers ago- a time when the disease was new- we were enjoying a Fleetwood Mac cover band and I watched as Bronwen got up from her seat, making her way to the front of the crowd so she could dance.  She twirled and glided to the rhythm of the music.  Apparently, Bronwen loved dancing and Fleetwood Mac.

If she were here tonight I bet she would have danced right along with me.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Singing Along

I have returned home after a quick trip north and boy, am I glad to be back in my own comfy home. So far, I've stayed away from watching too much news but the little I've seen appears to confirm my thought that we haven't experienced the worst of things yet.  I have small moments of worry- not panic- just a little worry.  You see, I've never been a fan of the unknown.

Fortunately, I am a pragmatic sort of thinker.  Even if one part of my brain worries the other part moves through the day doing what needs to be done.  So tonight, I've got sheets in the washer and other clothes in the dryer as I start a big house clean.

There are plenty of other mindless distractions as well.  Earlier this evening, a friend alerted me to the fact that the movie "Moonstruck" was playing on cable.  Thank you, Turner Classic Movies, for giving me a little lift.  It's not even necessary to watch the entire movie-- all I need is the last 30 minutes to make me smile and sing along--

In Napoli where love is king

When boy meets girls here's what they say

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie

That's amore

When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine

That's amore

Even better, it's just the kind of earworm I can use over the next few...?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Rule Breakers Since High School

I kept a dinner date with an old friend tonight.  Ed was back in our hometown from San Diego to oversee some health problems with his father.  I drove up 95 early this morning to visit my parents and meet up for a meal with the guy who I first met in my 9th-grade Russian class over 40 years ago.

The Tidewater Grille has a view of the Susquehanna River right before it meets the head of the Chesapeake Bay.  On any other Saturday night, especially one right before St. Patrick's Day, the place would have been full of people enjoying seafood dinners. That wasn't the case tonight as it seems most people decided that staying in was best for all. 

That meant great service for us and a table front and center with a view.  After dinner, a trip to the empty bar for a nightcap allowed for more talk time and the appropriate social distance.  A walk down the main street found the two of us feeling like we were the only ones around- even the Irish bar across the street was looking lonely.

I can't complain about having a quiet restaurant with a great view to catch up with a good buddy.  Tonight is most likely the last outing for awhile. Tomorrow night I'll be back home following all the rules for appropriate social contact for who knows how long.

Friday, March 13, 2020


I. Am. Exhausted.

For the last two weeks, my colleagues and I have wondered about possible school closures. 

Yesterday we planned online learning options. 

Today we waited...and waited...and waited for an announcement about school closings.  I went over the "what if..." plan with my students and waited some more.  Finally, at noon today, the word came down that school would be closed until after our scheduled Spring Break in April.  Relief washed over me-- I finally had an answer!

I survived the last class of the day.  The class where I tried my best to keep the attention of 20 sixth graders who were in front of me but who were clearly thinking about a month away from school.  They were excited and sad because as nice as a month off may seem the reality of being away from their friends isn't fun for most of them.

At the end of the day, I did a cursory straightening of the piles on my desk, packed up my spider plant and walked out in search of a long afternoon nap.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Bottoms Up!

The Green Door.  That was the name of the one and only college bar located about one and a half miles from the small liberal arts college I attended in the early 1980s.  There wasn't much to the place back then-by the time I started hanging out there the dirt floor had been upgraded to wood.  There were stories passed on about the guy who found a hole in the floorboards, stuck his hand in it and fished out a bottle of Bud.  Of course, no one ever knew the name of that guy.

The Door, as it was known, didn't have tables.  There was one long bar that stretched pretty much the length of the building and enough open space to house a small standing room area, a ping pong table, and two pool tables.  By late in the evening the ping pong table became a huge bench for drunken conversations.

Drinks were cheap and the owner was accepting of all kinds of payments.  I wrote more than one five-dollar check to the owner to pay for my night of drinking.  Yes, I said a five-dollar check--drinks were cheap back then.

On a recent trip back to the area my sister (who was apparently known to walk on top of the bar to move from one conversation to another when it got too crowded) and I stopped in for a nostalgic look-see.  It was early on a Saturday afternoon- the college kids were back on campus- so it wasn't quite the crowd scene I remembered from my younger days. 

Jeen and I posted up to the bar and ordered 2 Miller Lites.  We looked around and took note of the changes that had taken place over the years.  Really, it wasn't much.  The bathrooms were a little nicer and the ping pong table was gone. 

But the same old beer smell, the smell that permeated many a sweatshirt of mine back in the day, was still lurking in the air.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Scrappy Gets It Done

There's a whole lot of learning that one has to do to become a teacher.  Everything from behavioral theory to how to thread a film projector was taught when I went back to school for my Masters in Education.  All that educational content and pedagogy is necessary.  (Okay, maybe not threading a film projector.) And then there's the stuff you don't learn in school...the kind of stuff you don't ever think about happening in your classroom.

You see, as a teacher in training, I'm sure most people only think about the perfect classroom environment.  Maybe it's like the pretend classroom they had growing up when they were teaching their stuffed animals who dutifully listened to their every word and participated like nobody's business.

Fortunately, there are actually days that resemble those playrooms.  The animals aren't there, but the students listen and even participate!  And then there's the other things that schooling doesn't prepare you for, like:  when a kid slams his finger in the classroom door,  or when a student bursts into tears because you offered a small suggestion on how to better her oral presentation, or when an 8-year-old hands you a note from his mother that informs you she has breast cancer, or there's a sniper in the area and recess will be held inside for the undetermined future, or a student loses her fight with leukemia, or 9-11.

Sometimes, it's a lot.

But teachers--we're scrappy and we get through it all. 

Pandemic?  Yup, we'll get through this too.