Welcome home

17 Jul

Waiting at the arrival gate doors  at PDX (Portland International Airport) for my sister to arrive, I observed the following:

  • A dad and two kids –  a boy and his younger sister. The little girl was in her nightie. Dad and the little boy held flowers. The little girl held a box of chocolates. When Mom came through the doors there were lots of hugs and kisses.
  • A man with long grey hair and a long grey beard holding a “Welcome Home” sign. The two young black-haired girls who came through were swallowed up by the sign as he embraced them.
  • Two women who were obviously waiting for the same flight from Toronto. One had Princess Leia buns. A Canadian flag sprouted out of each.
  • A middle-aged couple came through the doors towards their daughter and son-in-law. The mom said. ” I spotted the tallest guy in the room.” The daughter laughed and said, “You’re embarrassing him. He’s sensitive,” as she looped her arm around his waist and brought him into the group hug.

I got thinking that, if I am ever feeling sad, this would be a great place to come to cheer myself up.




Reading my way home

16 Jul

I went to Canada with a list of new Canadian  books I thought might be hard to find at home, and that I could add to my classroom library. One of the beauties of flying is the time to sit and read without interruption. I read two of my new books as I waited at the gate, then flew home.

I started A World Below by Wesley King while I waited at the Gate.


Publisher’s Summary: A class field trips turns into an underground quest for survival in the latest middle grade novel from the author of Edgar Award winner OCDaniel.

Mr. Baker’s eighth grade class thought they were in for a normal field trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. But when an earthquake hits, their field trip takes a terrifying turn. The students are plunged into an underground lake…and their teacher goes missing.

They have no choice but to try and make their way back above ground, even though no one can agree on the best course of action. The darkness brings out everyone’s true self. Supplies dwindle and tensions mount. Pretty and popular Silvia does everything she can to hide her panic attacks, even as she tries to step up and be a leader. But the longer she’s underground, the more frequent and debilitating they become. Meanwhile, Eric has always been a social no one, preferring to sit at the back of the class and spend evenings alone. Now, he finds himself separated from his class, totally by himself underground. That is, until he meets an unexpected stranger.

Told from three different points of view, this fast-paced adventure novel explores how group dynamics change under dire circumstances. Do the students of Mr. Baker’s class really know each other at all? Or do they just think they do? It turns out, it’s hard to hide in the dark.

This was an interesting book to read mere days after the rescue of the soccer team in Thailand. Each chapter ends with a bit of a cliff hanger and that certainly kept me reading. I had arrived at the airport early so I finished the book early in the flight and had time to read a second. The second book was My Deal With the Universe  by Deborah Kerbel.


Publisher’s Summary: Daisy Fisher just wants to be normal, but growing up in a house known as the “Jungle” makes that impossible. It doesn’t help when the neighbours declare your family public enemy number one. Or when your best friend leaves for camp and forgets you exist. Or when your twin brother may be getting sick again….

Just when it feels like Daisy’s deal with the universe is unravelling, she finds out that love and strength can come from surprising places… and that maybe “normal” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Most people have made a deal of some sort with the universe, promising to do something if only the Universe will make something turn out the way we want it to. Daisy’s deal has to do with her brother’s illness. Many kids have been embarrassed by their parents and Daisy is trying to walk the line between her love and embarrassment for hers. There is a lot for middle grade readers to connect with here.

A few days in Ottawa

11 Jul

A few days after celebrating Mom’s life, we took my niece back to her summer job in Ottawa, where we spent a few more days. We did everything quintessentially Canadian.

We saw the changing of the guards on Parliament Hill while we waited in the ticket line for tours of Parliament.


We then ran a family errand: searching for a window air conditioner for my nieces apartment in a city that just went through a heat wave. We finally found what we wanted at the 4th store, then returned for our tours of Parliament.

The tours are free, but they limit the number of people per tour, so You have to get tickets for a specific time. We got tickets for two tours – the East Block and the Central Block.

The East Block tour focused on the history of Canada. We got to see the office of Lord Dufferin, Sir John A. Macdonald, and Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier, learning how they each helped build Canada.

We also got to go into the original Privy Council office.


On the Central Tour, we went right into the House of Commons and the Senate.

Then we got to visit the library.


We had to be silent. Fortunately, no on got shushed. The library is as modern and up-to-date as any library. I love though, that they didn’t remove the built in card catalogue.


My Mother’s Hands

10 Jul

I’ve been writing about my mom for years, using her life to model writing strategies to my students. I combed through my writer’s notebook before sitting down to write what I would say at her funeral. Here is what came out.


My Mother’s Hands

One of my earliest memories is of
My mother’s hands
Cupping, then twisting, an apple
Breaking it into two pieces
Her hands seemed all powerful.

They were always busy,
My mother’s hands,
Especially in the kitchen
Where they cooked, then cleaned
“Clean as you go”, she’d say,
With a dishcloth in her hands.
The same hands that peeled turnip for mashing for Christmas dinner
And always remembered to set aside several raw pieces for my plate
Because she knew I wouldn’t eat it cooked and mashed

When I was in high school, working after school,
Hers were the hands that arranged a plate
And covered it with plastic wrap
And made Dad drive her to the pool,
So I could have the same hot meal as the family

I learned to knit from
My mother’s hands
She guided my little hands through the basics –
Knit, purl, cast on, bind off –
Then set me free to explore
Allowing me to make this craft my own.

Those same hands,
Pinned the hems on yet another pair of pants
Too long for her short daughter
And taught me the steps because,
As she said
I’d be doing it the rest of my life.

They played games,
My mother’s hands:
Card games, bingo, and board games.
And they could be competitive.
She loved winning at cards
And we all knew to watch those hands
That sometimes cheated at Yahtzee.
And we all dreaded being paired with those hands for Pictionary.
Art was not their forte, though they made us laugh.

Mom was not much of a reader
Unless you count Danielle Steele in bathroom
But my mother’s hands
Took our little hands
And led us to the library
Upstairs in Rockton.
I don’t think she could have realized where those first steps would lead us.

They wrote countless notes
My mother’s hands
In tiny cursive
Excusing absences
Giving permission
But the best note she ever wrote
Was the feisty, sarcastic one to the administration
At Brantford Collegiate Institute
Where she stated that,
Since she and Dad figured I was mature and responsible enough
To spend a year in Europe,
They also figured I was responsible enough to come to school late
When I had first period spare.
Go Mom!
You didn’t mess with her when she was riled.

I look at my own hands.
They are small like
My mother’s hands
We weren’t blessed with long elegant fingers
We share small hands designed for work
And so I take my hands,
Her hands,
My mother’s hands
Into the world and do my work
Just like she did.







Flight Plan

6 Jul

As You read this, I am on my way to Canada for my mother’s memorial service.

One of the most important things to think about when packing for any trip  is “What books should I bring?” I have a nonstop flight from Portland to Toronto. It takes just a bit over 4 hours, so I can easily finish a book.

I am checking a bag, in which I have packed my knitting because my current project uses double-pointed needles which, unlike circular needles, are considered a threat. Really TSA, don’t you have more serious things to worry about!  I am also too short to comfortable put a bag in the overhead compartment.  I only packed one book in my carry-on, an ARC I picked up in New Orleans that I am excited to read.


Publisher’s Summary: In a United States in which half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

Sounds terrifyingly possible, doesn’t it!
This book was written for adults, so I plan to leave it behind for my sister when I leave.

The elephant in my summer vacation

3 Jul

I love my job, working with gifted 6th graders. I especially love 6th grade because I get to guide these wide-eyed newbies into the world of middle school.

But our numbers are down.

Just over a month ago, our admin team came to tell us and said that our four person team would be reduced to a three person team if the numbers stayed the same. They also said they had applied for an additional position, which, if it were to be granted, would keep us a four person team. They also said that, if it didn’t come, we would go from 2 Humanities teachers to one. That meant my job or my teaching partner’s job.

I worried that last month of school. I was the newer Humanities teacher. I was the one who had changed jobs and/or rooms five times in the last six years. Finally, the last week of school, I heard that, although they were still hoping for the additional teaching position to be added, I would be the one to change jobs.

And so I am enjoying summer, trying desperately to ignore the elephant that is with me on vacation.

The team I would move to is wonderful.

I wouldn’t have to change rooms, though I would be teaching regular 7th grade.

Even though this year’s 6th graders have moved on, I feel as though I am leaving them.

I try not to check my email and phone several times a day, hoping for the message that say we got the position. It has yet to come.

I figure I can pretend and ignore the elephant through July, but once August rolls around, I might need to accept reality – unless that call finally comes.



Brotherhood, friendship, and family

2 Jul

This week I read two books about young men navigating the difficult path of being young and black in America. They were both hard reads because of the subject matter, not the writing, and I wisely chose to read something a little lighter between these two books, which will inevitably be compared to last year’s very popular book, The Hate You Give.




Pubisher’s Summary: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.



Jone Rush MacCulloch

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