Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

11 May

I’ve been thinking about not wearing my mask when I walk the dog. I am fully vaccinated and can, theoretically, go outside without wearing one. My brain gets it, my soul does not.

I still step off the sidewalk when people approach and give friends and strangers a wide berth.For over a year masks and social distancing have ruled my behavior and it is hard to unlearn these lessons. But I am thinking about it, and that is a good first step.

The shoe was on the other foot yesterday, as Richard and I took our post school day walk in Laurelhurst Park.

I’d like to say we meandered, but these days, Richard is on a mission. I’m not saying I have to run to keep up with him, be he goes at a fair clip and I have to walk fast. I don’t mind. I am hopeful my doctor will say nice things to me at my next physical – whenever that might be.

So, there we were, hoofing it through the park. We passed a group of men, then two older women before we got to the east end of the park. We sometimes see pairs of ducks here. Since early Spring, this has been their nesting grounds and a few weeks ago a sign in a childish script appeared warning people away from a particular spot at one corner of the horseshoe pitch, where duck eggs had been laid.

Over the weekend, ducklings had appeared. On Sunday – Mother’s Day – when I expected the park to be full but wasn’t due to an overcast sky – Richard and I stood in awe watching ducklings hop into the pond and swim. It doesn’t matter how old I get, ducklings still warm my heart.

Yesterday, as we rounded the east end, the men we had passed early, passed us. There is a lamppost that Richard has a special relationship with and he spent some time communing with it. When we restarted our walk, the men were a bit ahead, and so was a family of Canada geese. The group was waddling around on the north side of the path. The pond was on the south side.

I’d seen ducklings galore in the park, but I don’t recall ever having seen goslings. Richard was sniffing a particularly attractive tuft of grass so I watched the men veer away from the family, who were making their goosey way towards the path, and the pond. As we approached, the goose family arrived on the left side of the path. We stuck to the right side, this isn’t England after all.

I assumed we were far enough away. Richard was on the grass. I was on the very edge of the path. Apparently one of the parents did not agree, turned, and hissed at me. I apologized and kept moving forward, away from the goose family. Not good enough, the goos started running towards us, hissing more ferociously. Richard and I ran.

A couple was walking towards us on the path. The look half amused, half nervous. As we passed them, they took our place on the side far, far away from the goose family.

Teaching simultaneously

4 May

How do you hold the book so that both the students in the room and the students online can see the cover?

That’s a simple problem I faced as we embarked on simultaneously teaching kids in person and remotely. It’s a whole new learning curve and I feel exhausted like we did when all this began.

I mute myself so the students at home don’t hear the conversations with students in the room, but students at home tell me I’m muted and they think they are missing something.

A student asks for a private conversation in a breakout room. I have to tell them that anything they or I say could be heard by the students in the room.

It’s a delight to get to meet some of my students in person and engage with them, but it’s been a whole new learning curve. To limit contact, my 6th graders stay in the room and we three core Class teachers rotate. I began my career as an itinerant French teacher and I am back to the itinerant life, rolling from class to class on a cart.

I had worked out a comfortable routine working from home: computer in the center, iPad and stand to the left, plan book and everything else to the right. It took me a while to become comfortable on the cart. I opted for a tall cart, so I could use it as a standing desk. I am a natural spreader and there is no right or left with the cart. I have had to adapt and use the cart shelves as my new left and right, but I don’t feel as though I am at the top of my game yet.

I have learned to carry my power cord because my laptop battery doesn’t last all day.

With no home base, I bungee corded a plastic file box to the bottom of my cart so I can carry personal items, like my wallet and car keys, with me as I roll.

I seem to be fine tuning things just fine. Most days seem easier than the previous one, but then I get a day like yesterday, when I kept forgetting to share my screen and couldn’t figure out how to hold that booktalk book.

Thank goodness the kids are very forgiving.

A tooth story

20 Apr

It’s weird to feel an unpopped kernel in my second handful of popcorn, I thought as I settled in to watch a movie Tuesday night, they don’t usually show up until I am closer to the bottom of the bowl.

Richard was snuggled next to me, expectantly awaiting his share. I spat the kernel into my palm and looked at it. It took a moment or two for me to realize it wasn’t an unpopped kernel – it was a crown. I ran my tongue along my teeth and found a hole. I looked at the tooth again. Felt the empty space again. I repeated the action.

My first thought was – there’s no pain. I figured that was good news. I noticed there was no empty space in the tooth where the crown should anchor to the tooth. Another inspection with my tongue revealed that the nub was mostly gone. That probably wan’t good news. I put the rest of the popcorn in the compost – it didn’t seem right to keep eating it – and bagged the tooth, in anticipation of a dentist appointment.

I haven’t been to the dentist since October 2019, when I had my annual cleaning. I was supposed to go again in October 2020, but, like many people, I stopped making unnecessary medical appointments in the face of COVID. Fortunately, I still had no pain the next morning and, when I called the dentist, they could get me in on Friday morning.

It was curious to enter a medical office for the first time in almost two years. The waiting room was empty, but signage was everywhere. I had to rinse my mouth with a mild mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide before the x-rays. The dentist wore two masks and a face shield. It felt strange to remove my mask in the presence of strangers.

It was a good news bad news situation. The good news that it looked as though there was no infection. The bad news was that I’d been correct in suspecting the nub was gone. There was no way to reattach the crown.

I was given a couple of options and decided on a dental implant. What that means is several months of dental visits. In June they will remove what’s left of the tooth. At that point an appointment will be made to begin the implant process.

The good news is that I have good dental insurance, which a lot of people don’t have. The other good news is that I probably won’t set off the alarm in a metal detector, because that was the weird question I asked the dentist.

Tax trouble

13 Apr

Last year, when I did my taxes, the program I use informed me that it would be the last year my 2011 MacBook would be able to run their software. I set that news aside, but it has reared its ugly head. They weren’t joking.

This year’s software requires Mojave 10.14 and my ten-year old Mac lacks what it needs to upgrade. I am working on work arounds.

I could buy a new computer, one that can upload the software, but this Mac works just fine for what I do with it.

I tried uploading the software to my school computer, but it requires an administrator’s code, which I do not have. I will ask out tech person, who has an administrator’s code if she can help me out, but I suspect the answer is no.

I have downloaded paper copies of the forms I need. It’s super old school, but it might be easiest way to go.

Thank goodness I have another month to figure this out.

Pour un Instant

6 Apr

My daily afternoon walks to the park with Richard are always interesting. There are the things people we see: walkers, cyclists, skateboarders, ducks, cats on leashes, neo-hippies, tightrope walkers – it is Portland after all! These might not be the norm in every park, but they are in ours. Yesterday, brought something new: a young woman playing a harmonium.

A lot of musicians fill the park. Some cyclists carry radios and you get a snippet of a song as they roll past. There’s a guy who comes with a small keyboard, records tracks, and accompanies himself on a trumpet. Thursday and Friday afternoons, when the weather is nice, band perform beside the dog off-leash area. But yesterday’s harmonium was novel.

I actually had to look up the correct word. As I walked past the performer, I called it a hurdy-gurdy in my head. She was seated on a blanket near the pond. That’s a real gathering place for groups of friends and families. It is also the sunniest spot in the park.

When I learned that the instrument was actually called a harmonium, my mind took a little trip back to the 1970s. In grade six, our French teacher, Madame Murray, introduced our class to the music of a French-Canadian group called Harmonium. The one song I specifically remember was called Pour Un Instant.

It’s funny what you can remember after over 40 years. Everything is on Youtube now, so I sought out the song.The tune was not quite what I remembered, but I nailed the first two lines. For an instant, as I listened, I was back in my 6th grade classroom, looking at the words, loving the French language.


31 Mar

Welcome to my new home away from home. I mean that literally and figuratively. This is neither the classroom in which I taught for six years, nor the home office from which I have taught for the last year. It is my hybrid classroom. It looks like a detention room.

The bulletin board was left up when we left the building in March 2020. There was a long-term sub in the room, so it wasn’t taken down. It felt as if it were still February 2020, the only date I found on the papers that were strewn atop the desks and bookcases – a moment frozen in time. Not knowing what else to do, I collected the papers and put them in the teacher cabinet. I don’t think anyone will come for them, but experience has taught me that, if I toss them, someone will want them.

The cart is my new desk. Since students stay and teachers rotate, this is the vehicle on which I will travel from portable to portable to portable. In my first year of teaching, I was an itinerant French teacher, traveling from room to room with rolls of chart paper, a masking tape bracelet, and a cassette player. In a way, it feels like I am coming full circle in my career.

Starting off on the right foot

30 Mar

In all my angsty worries about reentering society and having to socialize, I forgot about the hardest part of the return to school. I mean that literally and figuratively, because I forgot how much my feet ache at the end of a day walking on concrete floors.

In warm weather I go barefoot at home. In cold weather, I wear handknit socks and slippers around the house. I only ever put on shoes if I am going outside. Back at school yesterday, I had to wear shoes all day.

I choose my shoes carefully. Over the years I have learned that it is better to have a few expensive pairs than a lot of cheap ones. My mother grew up poor and loved cheap shoes. She once scoffed at how much my sister and I spent on a single pair of Danskos. In her later years she developed severe hammertoe and had to have the second toe on each foot amputated. I will never know if her abundance of cheap shoes was to blame, but I only well-made shoes with good arch support.

I didn’t notice how tired my feet were until I got home last night and took my shoes off. Thin carpet over concrete makes for very tired feet at the end of the day. We have two more days at school before returning to two and a half weeks of remote learning. That means two and a half more weeks of barefoot teaching that I will appreciate even more than I have.

It’s not you, it’s me

29 Mar

My anxiety about returning to my school building today – and for the next three days – has very little to do with fear of catching COVID. I am fully vaccinated after all. It has everything to do with people.

I am one of those introverts who has actually thrived ( thriven?) in isolation. I love being at home. My students are being successful. I have a happy routine that has worked for the last year. For the next three days, I have to be around people and that has me very anxious. Since I know I probably won’t be teaching in my own room, I’ve been making jokes about planning in my car. I am really only half joking.

We are a large staff…62 certified teacher, plus administration and classified staff.For the last year I have lived alone, eaten alone, walked alone – except for having Lucy, then Richard by my side. Any forays into the grocery store are strategic strikes, in and out in minimal time. And now, for the next three days, I have to sit in a room with most of those 62+ people as we learn how hybrid will look.

This is what is stressing me out today. Having spent the last year avoiding people, I feel like I am about to enter the lion’s den.

Making a list and checking it twice

28 Mar

In the weeks before a vacation, I start a list of things I want to remember to pack. I have a special list for things I particularly want in my carry-on. Well, I am not going on vacation anytime soon, but I do have to go into school for three days next week, as we prepare for hybrid learning.That means I have to pack my schoolbag for three full days away from home. I haven’t had to do that in over a year.

Over the last few days, I have been writing a list so I know what to pack in my bag tonight, so I am ready to get going in the morning. Here’s what I have so far:

  1. lunch
  2. 2020-21 meeting notebook
  3. wallet
  4. inhaler
  5. phone
  6. ID & lanyard
  7. computer
  8. power cord
  9. extra masks
  10. pencil pouch
  11. a book to read

I tell my students to pack their back the night before so they are ready in the morning. I’ll take some time today to get mine ready. I’ll add the lunch tomorrow morning. A new routine begins.

RIP Beverly Cleary

27 Mar

Did you know there really is a Klickitat Street in Portland? It’s not far from my local public library, and it is the neighbor hood in which Beverly Cleary set her Ramona books.

Beverly Clearly passed away on Wednesday, at the ripe old age of 104. In honor of her passing, I will share my favorite Ramona quotes, in no particular order

  1. “Why don’t you turn on the dawnzer?” – Ramona, thinking she was quite smart, thigh that dawnzer was a synonym for lamp. She learned it in the national anthem: “Oh say, can you see, by the dawnzer lee light.” Brilliant!
  2. “Sit here for the present.” Ramona’s teacher says this to her on the first day of school. Ramona follows her directions perfectly, expecting a present for doing so. I like to say this to kids and I snicker when I do. I think they think I am crazy.
  3. “Pieface!” Mrs Swink, an elderly neighbor, and Ramona call each other this in a good-natured way.
  4. “I am too  a Merry Sunshine.” Ramon says this when she is accused of not being one. You can imagine the tone f voice she used when saying this.

To celebrate her life, I hope you turn on a dawnzer, do something for the present, and shout “Pieface!” at someone you love.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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