Choices

9 May

Last week, feeling like the 8th graders needed something amusing for poetry Friday, we read the poem “Bliss Point or What Can Best Be Achieved by Cheese” by Benjamin Garcia. Then, I challenged students to write about their favorite snack food. I recalled a time when I was under 7, and had to make a hard snack choice.

On Saturdays we would get a dime

Then go to the Tanners’ store to get our weekly treat.

I used half to buy a Mars bar

And the other half for penny candy

Licorice cigars, jube-jubes, jawbreakers.

You could get a lot of penny candy for a nickel.

Then, one day, the unthinkable happened:

The price of a Mars bar went up to a dime

And I had choices to make.

Should I get only the Mars bar, which I loved,

Or spend the whole dime on penny candy.

It was a hard choice.

I don’t remember what I chose.

I just remember the dilemma-

My first encounter with inflation.

Feeling appreciated

3 May

Six years. 

For six years, I held onto the letters. And let me tell you, I have grumbled about it. 

In June 2016, my Humanities teaching partner convinced me we should have our 6th graders write letters to their future selves that we would mail the year they graduated from high school. I was all in. Over the next six years, I repeated the task with four other classes – all but the COVID years.

Last week, I dropped that first batch in the red tub for District mail. This morning, this message was sent to our school:

It was the best gift to receive on the first day of teacher appreciation week.

What’s seen cannot be unseen

26 Apr

Waking up Friday morning, I was surprised to discover my ribs hurt – the sort of hurt that comes from a night of coughing, but I hadn’t. I laid back, taking a moment to reflect on what might have caused this strange pain. And then it hit me.

A basset hound’s nose comes in second place after a bloodhound’s. Consequently, as I walk Richard, I look down, on alert for icky things his nose might be drawn to. Somedays I catch them before he does. Thursday I did not.

I live in a residential neighborhood a few blocks away from “Restaurant Row”. After almost 16 years in my home, you’d think I would have grown accustomed to the food waste that gets dropped. There are also lots of icky things that appear – there are also establishments that serve alcohol. Of course, Richard’s nose led him straight to the vomit obscured by grass. I yanked the leash, pulling him away, but the damage had been done. What’s seen cannot be unseen, and my lizard brain took over.

I have always had a light gag reflex. Thursday morning, it was in Overdrive because I gagged for a full two blocks. I used all the tricks in my arsenal – visualizing pretty scenes to banish the ugle, breathing exercises, self talk – all the while looking around to be sure no neighbors saw me retching.

As I sit here writing, the memory has me near-gagging. I’ll need to file this mental image deep in my brain, along with that time a kindergartner sneezed in a book. But that’s a tale for another day.

Good neighbors

19 Apr

A few weeks ago, I got an interesting request from a former neighbor. He was applying for an Irish passport and needed a dentist, clergy person, or teacher to watch him sign the application, then verify with their signature.

These were neighbors I loved and heart-broken when I learned they were moving. I see them from time to time in the neighborhood, and each time, they bring a smile to my face. Of course I said yes, and we arranged a time for them to stop by.

They arrived at my door with a lovely pot of Spring flowers. We exchanged “you shouldn’t haves” and “you are helping us outs”.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this,” he said, and went on to explain. “We aren’t religious and a dentist will charge for an appointment. The choice of professionals is odd.”

I explained that I once asked my principal for a signature on my Canadian passport application, then asked if they were thinking about moving to Ireland. That’s when his spouse chimed in.

“Malta!” she enthused.
“Malta?” I parroted.

“Malta,” she repeated and then, together, they explained that not only was it warm, but the health and education system were very appealing to them.

It might not surprise you to learn that I have yarn and knitted items around the house. Along with books, it is my decorating ethic. Her eyes had been roaming the room, taking it all in. When they landed on a colorwork hat perched on a styrofoam head, she almost squealed.

“Go ahead and try it on,” I said. “I loved knitting it, but it is not a flattering hat for my head.”

“Do you ever sell your knitting?” she asked as she put it on and preened in the mirror. She looked fabulous.

I explained how knitting for money stressed me out and took away the joy. Then, I offered, “Would like to take it with you?”

Eyes wide with disbelief, she said no she couldn’t, but I could see she wanted to. I insisted and we played that game we all play for a bit before she accepted it.

“How can I repay you?” she asked.

“Just send me a picture of the two of you in Malta – but you have to be wearing the hat.”

Snow day…for some

12 Apr

My phone rang at 5 yesterday morning. I was already awake, but not ready to get out of bed, so I grumbled all the way to the kitchen to turn it off. When I saw the caller, though, I swiped right and heard the announcement of a two hour delay do to snow.

I looked out the window.

Yup. We had snow.

On April 11th.

After reaching 77ºF on Thursday.

As the snow kept falling, I watched as the other districts in the counties surrounding ours move from a two-hour delay to full closure. Of the five school districts my school’s county, two closed. the other three stayed at a two-hour delay.

I don’t live in the county where I teach and Portland Public Schools was closed for the day. I dithered about what to do.

I saw that the highway I take to work was closed in both direction due to downed trees. Downed trees impacted other routes into Beaverton, so I made the decision for myself. I think almost every Beaverton teacher who lives in Portland made the same decision because we had 17 staff absences at my school, and only 9 were filled.

It was going to be a doozy of a day.

Emails came all day long asking staff to fill the unfilled jobs. It sounds like we had a lot of student absences too.I have no idea what I will go back to tomorrow, but I can tell you this: I got really damp and chilled cutting up the bush that was so weighed down with snow that it blocked my back door. Hot tea and cozy blanket were great restoratives.

So was this unexpected day off.

Rules of the road

5 Apr

“Drive right. It’s not bloody England.”

I mutter this under my breath at least once every time I take Richard for his afternoon walk in the park. Almost everyone walks on the right – but there’s almost always one person who moseys about oblivious to the natural flow of humanity on the park paths. It’s even more irritating when they have an unleashed dog.

Yesterday afternoon, another oft forgotten rule of the road raised it’s head.

It was a blustery and rainy day, but it seemed that the worst had passed. As I pulled off the highway and onto the city streets that lead to my neighborhood, the first traffic light was out. As I turned right towards home I tried to peek in windows to see if homes had businesses had power. It’s surprising how many people keep their curtains open when they aren’t home. I couldn’t tell if the power was out or not – I had to keep my eyes on the road.

At the first intersection, people seemed to remember the rule: If a signal appears dark, such as during a power failure, you should stop as if there are stop signs in all directions. Traffic flowed smoothly and safely, which was especially reassuring because it was a five-way stop with two lanes in all directions.

The next intersection, a mere four-way stop. It should have been straightforward. But, like the oblivious walkers in the park, some people just don’t pay attention. As I awaited my turn, I saw someone just assume they could go right after the car ahead of them. Some mild horn-honking ensued as I pulled up to the intersection. I watched cars cross properly in front of me.

Way back, when he was teaching me to drive, my dad suggested counting to two after a red light changed to green, just in case someone wasn’t paying attention. I don’t follow his advice at every light, but I keep it in my back pocket for days like this. And good thing I do. Before I got to two, someone tried to sneak through. Someone honked. The driver stopped and order was restored. People took their proper turns and I continued home

The last traffic light was also out, but as I pulled onto my street, I saw lights on at the neighbors house. When I opened my door, Richard greeted me with his happy jump, in a room where the lights were on, just as I had left them.

A puzzling mystery

25 Jan

Honestly, I was really careful when I opened the box and the plastic bag that housed the 1000 pieces of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories puzzle I got for Christmas. I developed routines as I sorted. I followed classic puzzle-solving protocol and put together the outside edges.

The next logical step was to sort through and put together the titles. From there I went to people, then background items, and ended with solid color and the borders between books.

The problem appeared early. By the time I was halfway through, I was a bit worried that one title remained incomplete. I tried to convince myself that it resembled one of the pieces between the book. The color of the letters for The Clue of the Dancing Puppet was very similar to that of the space between books. The closer I got to the end, the more I realized I was delusional.

When I put the last piece I had into the puzzle, my worries were confirmed. Can you see it in the lower left corner?

Maybe a close-up will help.

I searched the house – anywhere I’d had puzzle pieces ,

  • the table where I did the puzzle
  • inside the yoga mat I was using as the puzzle mat
  • the clothes in the laundry basket
  • in, on , and under my bed

I branched out to areas I’d never helped puzzle pieces, all to no avail.

Friends accused Richard, but I knew better. He’s not a chewer and was usually asleep on the sofa while I worked on the puzzle. I searched off and on again over the next few days before finally resigning myself to the fact that the piece would not be found.

At this point the pieces are back in the box and I am convinced I must have left a piece in the plastic bag when I first opened the packaging. The truth is, I’ll never know for sure.

One Word Challenge

4 Jan

The last week of school before Winter Break was rough.

To ease us back in January, our Admins created the “2 for “22” project. On the first two days back in January, we all committed to not doing academic work. Instead, we committed to two days of community building and/or reflective activities. I knew right away that I would turn my annual One Word writing assignment into an art project.

Students would choose their OLW, but illustrate them instead of writing about it. I would take their words and post them outside my door. They could see their word everyday, and be inspired by the words of others, too.

Day two of “2 for “22” is almost over and I have spent the day stapling. They aren’t all up yet, but here’s what we have so far:

Some poetry Friday fun

7 Dec

“What?” asked the kid sitting nearest me as I tittered as I typed away. “What’s so funny?”


It was Poetry Friday and today we were writing apostrophes, poems in which the poet addresses an absent person, an abstract idea, or a thing. On Poetry Fridays, I try to write a poem in each of my six periods. Some turn out better than others. Today, in period 2,  I was brilliant.


Somehow, I got the “Officer Krupke” song from West Side Story in my head. The rhythm got me going. And somehow I got the idea to address my naughty 8th graders. This was perfect since I was in the second of the three 7th grade classes. 


At one point, I might have snorted. Several heads popped up from Chromebooks. I continued working and promised to share. We always take the last 10 minutes to share a golden line or a whole poem at table groups, the I ask for volunteers to share with the whole class. It can be a mixed bag, and OI try to vary the public sharers. We always snap after a share because it’s poetry.


I don’t always share my poems, but this day, I let myself go first. And, with great passion, I read my poem aloud


Dear crazy 8th grade students
You talk an awful lot
You’re also lacking prudence
My nerves are getting fraught
I’m waiting for your homework
You’re always late to class
Oh my goodness do you think you’re gonna pass?


Dear speedy 6th grade students

Running down the hall
You spilled your backpack contents
All over Orange Hall
I know the big kids scare you
As you move from room to room
But oh my goodness  there’s no need to zoom!

Dear kindly 7th graders

I appreciate your poise
You’re not homework evaders 
And don’t make a lot of noise
I wish the other students
Could learn to be like you
Oh my goodness I say thanks to you.

I got a cheer. It was a great way to spend a Friday.

Holiday Masks

30 Nov

Last January, I pulled these two from the dryer and put them away. At the time, I believed I’d never need them again.

Last week, after decorating my house for the holidays, I pulled them out again. It’s disheartening that we are still navigating the pandemic. Although I wear a KN95 all day at school, I use cloth masks when I go to the grocery store and library. It is nice to have some festive flair as we enter the darkest time of the year.

Let’s hope that, when I put them away in January, they stay put

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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