Alarming News

28 Feb

By Saturday afternoon, the 10 inches of snow that took Portland by surprise had started to melt, despite temperatures below freezing at night.

On my walk home from the park, that melting sidewalk snow and ice had finally made possible, I got to thinking about the heaps of snow on my car. Some had melted and slid off, leaving a trail of moisture. There was still quite a deep pile on the roof and windshield. I figured I should help Nature along so getting to school Monday morning would be easier.

Once home, I grabbed my broom and went to town pushing and sweeping aside the accumulated snow. Once it was all gone, I realized that there was about two inches of ice around the wipers. Unable to break it with my tiny little fists, I decided to use the broom like an axe on the passenger side. It broke the ice, but set off my car alarm. I dashed into the house, grabbed the keys, ran back out and turned off the alarm. It’s nice to know the alarm works, I thought.

I left the ice that remained and went back in the house where a message on my phone let me know someone might have been trying to steal my car.

Sunday afternoon, I decided to tackle the driver’s side. I left the broom behind, hopeful that two days of melting with a freeze in the middle, might have loosened the residual ice. It had, but not quite enough. I set the alarm off again. Another dash back to the house for the keys and the alarm was off once more. I kept the keys with me and finished the job with the car unlocked. Maybe I was gentler, maybe the presence of the keys helped, but the alarm didn’t go off again and the car was finally ice free. As I re-entered the house, I wondered, since I hadn’t remembered the alarm issue from one day to the next, would I fall prey to the same issue the next time Portland experiences a snow and ice storm.

Food for thought

7 Feb

During my recent trip to New Orleans we chose the 2023 Sibert Award winners.

Travel can be tough – even on a trip you’ve been anticipating for a year. Your sleep and eating habits are radically disrupted. I’ve learned over time that it is important to find good places to eat. Carbs are easy to come by, vegetables more of a challenge.

On Friday night, before our decision making meeting, most committee members met at a restaurant named Shaya. It was the first time we’d met in person. We opted for a family style meal during which I had a life-changing pita experience.

After making our decision on Saturday, a committee member and I went to True Food Kitchen for dinner. I was excited to have so many veggie options. We shared a side of Brussels sprouts and I ordered an Ancient Grains Bowl. I was so enamored of this place and meal, that I ordered take-out the next evening for a picnic in the hotel room.

After returning home, I thought about those two meals. Last week, on Poetry Thursday, we learned about the poetic apostrophe and I was inspired to write this:

Dear pita baker at Shaya
You have changed my life
No more will I savor
The flavor
Of Store-bought pitas
Because yours were so light 
And fluffy
Arriving on the plate
Puffed up like a balloon,
Warm and tender.

Dipped into hummus
You brought joy to my heart
And tummy.

In a different twist on creativity, I endeavored to recreate the Ancient Grains Bowl at home. I was thrilled with my results.

Original Ancient Grains Bowl vs My homemade version:

Slow and steady

17 Jan

I needed my OLW today.

When I walked into school this morning, I should have felt refreshed after a long weekend. Alas, it had been a busy weekend and I awoke this morning at three, things swirling in my head. As I entered my room, I felt a little overwhelmed by all the things I needed to do today.

 I chose steady as my word for 2023.  When I feel overwhelmed or as though there is too much to do, I often recite the moral from Aesop’s The Hare and the Tortoise: slow and steady wins the race.

I remember seeing a saying on the wall in someone’s house when I was a kid. It said, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” I thought it funny as a kid – I knew the grammar was wrong and this might be one of my earliest memories of word play. Now, decades later, I appreciate the sentiment to the saying.

My room felt warm this morning. As I felt myself getting wound up by the needs of the day, I looked over at the bulletin board where I had posted my word, and the words of my students. They too had chosen a word of the year. When we made them the first week back, I told that that when they felt stressed or overwhelmed, they could look at their word on the wall and get themselves back on track. Mine got me there this morning.

The Art of Tidying

3 Jan

I hate tidying. I am a stacker of paper and piler of stuff. It’s my ethos.

And yet, every once in a while, I hit a critical mass and tidying happens. It’s really just reorganization. Sometimes, it is just repiling. And so it was in the days after Christmas.

I am serving on the 2023 Sibert Award Committee, and my 500ish square foot condominium has been housing a growing number of books. If our shared spreadsheet is accurate, I have over 400 nonfiction books.

I had a fantastic system, organizing them in 11 boxes, in alphabetical order. Thank goodness I kept all those boxes from Scholastic Book Fair. They’ve seen me through several moves and are perfect for organizing the books. But they started taking over my home.

The resort started with pulling out the chapter books that will become part of my classroom library and boxing them together in two boxes. They will move to my classroom this week. The rest were reorganized into seven boxes that have been redeployed around my home, opening up some spaces that had been filled with stacked boxes. I had hoped to donate these to the Children’s Book Bank over the break, but, like schools, they were closed until today. I will make a call this week to be sure they want the books. I have a “Plan B” in case they don’t.

World Cup

20 Dec

My first encounter with the World Cup came in 1990. I had taken four 11-year OLDS to CISV camp in Stavanger Norway. There were groups like mine there from a dozen or so other countries, most of which were countries where soccer was the dominant sport, including Argentina and Italy.

The whole point of the camp was to foster international cooperation and understanding. When Argentina and Italy were to face off in the semi-final match, the adult chaperones pout their their heads together to see how we could pursue our goals, while watching the game. I don’t remember who came up with the genius solution, but it was brilliant. We would all cheer for Argentalia. I have to tell you, hearing a group of kids shouting “Argentalia!” and cheering for both sides brought tears to my eyes.

Four years later, i was in Colombia during the World Cup, which was held in the US for the first time ever. It was my last year in Colombia and the tournament was held during my final weeks. We often met at a friends large home to watch. And it was there that Colombia suffered a terrible moment in World Cup history: on June 22nd, a player scored on his own goal. Early in the morning of July 2nd, Andres Escobar, the scorer of that fateful goal was murdered in Colombia in retaliation.

This year, as I caught kids sneaking peeks at the games on their Chromebooks, I’d ask, “What’s the score?” Sometimes, I’d interrupt the class with updates on scores. I think I scored a few points.

I am not much of a sports fan, but I always like to pay attention to the World Cup. And I generally like to cheer for the South American teams. When Brazil was eliminated, I was team Argentina all the way. I was happy for this year’s happy ending.\

Light in the Darkness

13 Dec

I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. Richard’s weekday walks occur in the dark. It is the nature of the season. But those dark walks are made brighter by the lights in the windows. I come to count on them.

There’s that couple on the apartment across the street. They have early morning coffee together in the living room. On a cold, drizzly morning, their home looks warm and cozy.

There’s a family in one of the big houses that were built where a small bungalow used to occupy a large lot. Neighbors grumbled when they went up. But the family in the house on the corner puts their Christmas tree up at Thanksgiving in their second floor living room that has no curtain. They either turn the tree lights on really early, or they leave them on all night. It warms my heart every morning when I turn the corner and see their tree with it’s star glowing on top.

I thought back to my days in Toronto. A friend and I, University students short on cash, took the ferry out to Ward’s Island one evening. I’d been to Centre Island before. It is still home to an amusement park, and is the destination of most tourists. Fewer tourists ventured to Ward’s Island, as it was – and still is – primarily residential. There are no cars allowed on Ward’s Island, so we walked the narrow lanes in the dark, glimpsing into warm and cozy houses where curtains were open, and we imagined all the possibilities the future held for us.

On the way back to Toronto, the ferry was engulfed in fog. Except for the sound of the engines, It was had to know we were moving. It was disorienting. We grounded ourself in time and space by keeping track of the lights from the CN Tower. Although they were stationary and the ferry was moving, the opposite seemed to be true, until we docked. back in the well-lit city. It was a simple, quiet way to spend an evening, but it made an impression. Light and darkness and Winter.


29 Nov

The phone rang at 2:45.

“Oh, good, you’re still here,” said the school secretary. She continued, “How late will you be here? Someone wants to deliver something to you.”

I stumbled out a reply, lying a bit when I said, “I was planning on leaving at 3:15.”

Whoever thought to give us a PD day on the Monday after Thanksgiving was a genius. After a morning working on unit plans with the ELA team, my afternoon brain was mush. I’d been planning to leave by 3, but I’d been ready to leave for a while and was just doing busy work. Oh, there was a lot of work to do, I just couldn’t focus. Now my brain had a purpose as I wondered who had something to drop off for me.

The phone rang again just after 3:00 and I was asked to come to the office. As I walked the length of my hall towards the main staircase, I suddenly wondered if I was in trouble. It’s an old habit, not unlike the “OOOOOO” that rises when a student is called down.

Descending the steps, I turned towards the office and saw two strangers in the dark room: a tall man with a bouquet and a short woman. As soon as I entered the room I knew who it was.

A few weeks ago, the mother of a former student had reached out to me. I taught her son in the 2017-18 school year. She said she wanted to create a general academic/character profile for him and hoped to have letters from his Elementary, Middle and High School teachers. I distinctly remembered him and happily agreed, asking for a deadline.

As the dead line approached, I wasn’t happy with the prose I had written, so decided to shake things up. I wrote a poem that referred to two specific moments in 6th grade and my reflections as I saw him in the halls as a 7th and 8th grader. It’s not exactly what she asked for, I thought, but it captures my impressions of him. I sent it and offered to rewrite it if she wanted something more formal. Her effusive response was heart-warming.

I entered the office and knew exactly who these people were.

“You’re N, aren’t you?” I asked, knowing full well I was right.

We spent a few minutes chatting and catching up on his plans for the future and what had become of his other teachers. And they left me with this:

A Good News/Bad News Sort of Week

15 Nov

Monday arrived and with it, the anticipation of three days with kids, a grading day on Thursday, and no school Friday.We were all ready for the mini-break.

Tuesday morning, you could hear a chorus of “Have you seen the news?” echoing down the halls of our school as news broke that teachers would be allowed to work from home on Thursday. The validation that we were being treated like professionals, and the prospect of working on the sofa on comfy clothes, buoyed my mood..

I had mixed feelings Wednesday. I was very excited about working from home Thursday, but I was worried about a package I had mailed to my sister in Canada. We send each other an Advent calendar each year. I mailed mine on Tuesday, November 2 from a post office I don’t usually use. I’d been tracking the package and was concerned when it went through US customs. Weird, I thought, Is this a new step before sending it to Canada to pass through Canadian customs? It seemed to be stuck in Los Angeles.

Thursday morning, I received frustrating news: a vet appointment with a specialist I had booked for Veteran’s day was cancelled because the vet was sick. I’d deliberately chosen that day to avoid the stress of trying to find a sub. I called the office and managed to reschedule to Monday. Between planning and finalizing my grades for the quarter, I tried contacting my favorite subs. None were available. I put it out for pot luck.

By Friday, it was clear that the Advent package was on its way back to me. Could the postal clerk have written the wrong address on the form, I wondered. Fortunately, my job had been picked up by a sub who frequents our building.

I tracked the package all day Saturday. It was delivered around 6 pm, and yes, the clerk had erred. She folded the customs form to fit the plastic sleeve that attached to the package, but she put it in backwards. My address was face up. The receiving address was hidden. Fortunately, I managed to peel off all the stickers and made a plan to visit a Postal Annex on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, USPS said the package was still on its way to me. It was a beautiful Fall day, so I walked over to the shop, which is less than a mile away. I have always been a huge fan of the postal system, but I decided to ask about sending the package by Fed Ex when I got to the Postal Annex shop. I opted to send it USPS. Having told the clerk my story, she showed me that the correct address was clearly visible.

Monday‘s vet appointment gave me the news I expected: Richard has the heart of an old dog – a little leaky, but no enlargement or other issues.

I am hopeful that the rest of this week will be a little less up and down.


1 Nov

My new driver’s license arrived in the mail today and I laughed at the “new” old photo. It’s the same photo I took eight years ago. For whatever COVID-related reason, I was able to renew online. This license is still good for eight years and it made me laugh to think that in 2030, when I turn 66, the photo will still be 50 year old me. I wonder how much reality will differ from the photo?

I also received a renewal from Multnomah County Animal Control. As I opened it, I was puzzled because I thought Richard’s license expired next year. It does. This was a renewal for Lucy, who I lost two years ago. I got teary-eyed.

It’s funny how two pieces of mail can arrive on the same day and bring up two very different emotions. Here’s a photo of Lucy on her last birthday. She passed away three months later.

Conference sing-along

25 Oct

It was my last conference before I was planning to dart out of school so I could run home to walk and feed my dog. We’d given families the option to join in-person or by Zoom. I was a little surprised that so many families had opted for Zoom, but this conference was in person.

The family arrived on time and the student was well organized and well-prepared for the presentation she was about to begin. We’d opted for student-led and a building wide plan had been put into place to ensure every student had a slide in their slide deck for each class and some overall reflection.

By this point in the process, I knew most of what students would talk about for each of their classes. I could predict which assignments they’d share as soon as I saw the teacher name at the top of the slide deck. Tech with X: paper bag project. Language Arts with Y: hero archetype presentation. 

When this student arrived at her elective slides, I knew she really enjoyed choir because, as she spoke, her hands started making the solfege hand signs. She began explaining them, but her her dad interrupted.

“Hey, I know those,” he said, grinning. “They’re from The Sound of Music!”

Like a naughty schoolgirl, I leaned over and whispered, “I bet you were singing it in your head!”

Dad started laughing. Mom joined in and we had a ten-second sing-along. Then, their daughter refocused the silly adults in the room and carried on with her presentation. 

I hate the two twelve hour days we have to work during conferences, but it is moments like this one that make them enjoyable. 

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