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

The License

23 Nov

On September 23, three months before my birthday, I hit the submit button renewing my teaching license. The last time I did so, five years ago, I had a remarkably fast turnaround, getting my new license in less than 10 days. I knew it would be different this time – everything is different now – so I hit the button and forgot about it.

The email arrived on Thursday

Now, it used to be that teachers got an actual license in the mail. Several years ago, they stopped sending the paper and gave you a digital image. This time through, I could find no digital image to send to HR. Instead the email stated, matter-of-factly that Employers can view your license record through the Public Search feature of eLicensing, and you can print a copy of the Licenses tab to use as proof of licensure.

Weird, I thought as I took a screen shot of the page and searched for the person in HR I should let know. Like, the image of my license, it was not to be found, but I found an orange button that said EMAIL HUMAN RESOURCES so I did.

I went back to the License Tab. When I’d filled out the form, I’d accidently left off one of my endorsements and I wanted to see if they’d included it. They had, but I discovered something far more interesting. My license expires on December 23, 2026. That’s the year I hit 30 years in our retirement system and the year I can retire on a full pension. This will be my last teaching license.

It would have been nice to get a paper copy.


9 Nov

The word in the wild is that shipping was going to be slow this holiday season. My holiday gift giving might small, but I always send a package to my twin sister in Canada. Over the years it has gone from just presents, to presents and an homemade Advent calendar.

It’s one thing to get a box of presents to her home before December 25th. It’s something else completely to get an Advent package to her home by December 1st. With the rumors or slow shipping swirling in the stormy Fall winds, I knew I needed to plan, prep, and ship early.

In September I sorted through my leftover skeins of yarn. (Did I mention we now send yarn Advent calendars?) I kept my eyes peeled for other little treats whenever I shopped. By October, I was ready to pack. Last Monday, November 1st, I mailed the parcel.

Shipping is usually pretty straightforward. I wait in line, fill out the customs form, pay a ridiculous amount of money, and off the package goes. This time, I got a postal clerk I’d never seen before. She must have been a newbie because she was a stickler.

“What does this mean?” she asked pointing to the words Advent calendar on the form. Clearly she’d never heard the term because blank eyes stared back at me.

“Can I just scribble it off?” I asked, moderately frustrated.

She nodded then asked about the other two words on the form: yarn and candy. It was the candy that bothered her.

“What kind? Is it gum? Chocolate? Canada is usually not a problem but it says ‘detailed description of contents’. ” She wasn’t using a friendly tone, so I reciprocated.

“Look,” I began, “There are 24 different kinds. I have been doing this for many years. I’ve never had a problem and I am willing to take my chances.”

She rolled her eyes at me, skeptical, but processed to my package as I desired. I left, a little disgruntled with my service, but I let holiday replace that feeling. I had a tracking number!

I tracked my package from Portland, to Hillsboro, to San Fransisco and through Canadian customs. I could see the package would probably arrive by the end of the week and let my sister know. She had mailed her package containing the Advent calendar she made for me on Tuesday, November 2. Her tracking said it should arrive by Friday November 9. Holiday festiveness filled my heart.

Yesterday afternoon, during my lunch, my phone pinged. My sister sent a photo of the package. It had arrived. One week was a new record.

When I got home, I was gobsmacked by a parcel sitting on my front stoop. her package had arrived at my house the same day mine had arrived at hers. I dubbed it Twinvent.


26 Oct

The cry of pain came just as I was finishing up my dinner prep. I dropped everything and rushed into the living room where I found Richard hobbling on three feet.

“Oh Little Man,” I cooed, “What happened?” Of course, he didn’t answer me – basset hounds can’t talk. So I gently got him to lay on a blanket and felt the rear leg he was favoring. No signs of anything broken or swollen, and I could move his leg, but any attempt to stand on it brough more pitiful cores of pain.

A similar thing had happened once before. We were at the park and Richard bounded up the stairs after visiting with his friends, to middle aged men who love him and give him treats. AS he topped the last step, he couldn’t put his weight on one of his back legs.  He limped for a few steps then seemed to walk it off.

This time, though, he didn’t.

Is it the same leg?  I wondered to m myself, wracking my brain for a clear vision of the memory. Nothing came.

I carried him to bed where I hoped that, after sleeping through the night, he’d be back to his old self. Every time he moved that night, he cried. Neither of us slept well.

The next morning, I was thankful for the six-foot leash I have because I was able to loop it around his back end for support when he went out for his morning constitutional. As we made painstaking progress down the sidewalk, I resolved to call the vet as soon as they opened to see if I could get him in. I was loathe to leave him alone when I went to work, but had no choice.

I called the vet and got a drop off appointment for the next day.  It meant I’d need the morning off because drop off hours are 8-10 and I couldn’t guarantee I’d make it to work on time. Then, I started my search for a sub. My favorite sub has been hired to teach half time in my building, afternoons only. Alas, she had her own appointment that morning. Knowing no one would take a half time job, I put in for a full day sub and contacted our secretary.

“Thanks for keeping me in the loop,” she replied to my news. “Did you ask J?”  J was hired in mid-September because of large class sizes in PE and 8th grade. She wasn’t even on my radar, but, when asked, she accepted.

Richard spent Wednesday at the vet, where his examination was inconclusive. As I had, the vet found no obvious injuries. They gave him some anti-inflammatories and suggested a sling for his hind quarters as an alternative to the looped leash. I ordered one when I got home, but also slit a cloth grocery bag at the sides to tide us over until the new one arrived.

Richard is walking on all four feet now. He’s still wobbly, so I continue to use the sling. He wants to jump up on the sofa or climb up on my bed, so I have blocked them off while I am at work. He looks at me with sad, confused eyes. In a few weeks, I hope he can have free range of the house again.


12 Oct

Despite a professional development day on Friday, Saturday morning found me grading papers. I’d intended to do the work the day before, but a new tool for scheduling conferences proved to be ore complicated than expected and 4:00 on Friday came before I’d finished the work I needed to do.

As I stared at the screen, a knock came at my door. Who could that be this early, I wondered as I peered trough the blinds. It was my neighbor, Sue, holding a rake.

As I opened the door she began explaining her dilemma with a simple, “There’s a squirrel on my porch.” It turned out it was an aggressive squirrel who would not leave despite the rake, and it was peering into her living room with malice it its heart. Sue needed help shooing it away.

“I have some squirrel issues of my own,” I said and explained about the vicious squirrels I used to encounter in Queen’s Park everyday as I crossed campus at U of T. But, two fraidy cats are better than one, so I put on some shoes and ventured out.

Standing before her porch, I looked for the wee beastie. He was under neither chair.

“I can’t see him,” I announced. “Maybe he left.”

“No,”she replied. “I see his head behind the chair.”

I raised my eyes and saw him. His little head poked up behind the chair that sat in front of the living room window. I reached for Sue’s rake and attempted to hook the chair leg. My first tug had no effect – on the chair or the squirrel. Realizing the chair was heavier than it looked, I tugged on the rake handle with both hands.

The chair moved.

The squirrel darted.

Sue and I screamed.

And then we laughed.

Booster Day

5 Oct

My first instinct was to judge the man who joined the line in the lower level of the Kaiser parking lot. There we were, a masked ribbon of humanity and this guy had the nerve to show up without a mask. He held a balled up hoodie over his mouth and nose, but still…

I took a breath and looked around to see if other people were giving him the stink eye. In that moment, my mind returned to a day a few months back when I showed up at Fred Meyer, intent on doing my grocery shopping. I stepped out of my car, pressed the lock button on my key fob and reached into my left pocket, where I always carry a mask, and found none.

I patted my back pockets and searched inside my car. Had I dropped it when I left the house, I wondered slightly panicked. My mind whirled as my heart raced. Should I go home and get a mask or just do groceries another day?

A heard the sound of car doors closing near me and the beep of a car locking. A couple about my age had parked not far from me. They wore those blue disposable masks. Dare I hope? Dare I ask? I opted to hope and dare.

“Good morning,” I said, maskless but warmly, as I approached them. “I seem to have left my mask at home. You wouldn’t happen to have an extra, would you?”

They sized me up for the briefest of moments, then the man said, “I think we do.” He turned, went to his car and brought me one.

The memory flashed through my mind in an instant, but that was enough time for me to let go of the judgement I directed towards the man. I continued to watch hime and noticed the anxious look in his eyes and the way he looked around. Was he worried people, like me, were judging him? When he reached the registration table, he took a mask from the box that sat beside the stack of clipboards and put it on. He seemed to relax.

I lost track of him as I was sent to the table for my flu and booster shots, but he has stayed in my memory, a lesson learned.

Poetry Friday

21 Sep

We have a new schedule that pushes our middle schoolers through eight classes a day on Monday through Wednesday, and nine on Thursdays and Fridays. By Friday afternoon, we are all exhausted, so I am opting for Poetry Fridays, low stakes lessons in which we examine a poem and students write one of their own. I am teaching two different poems , one in 7th and another 8th grade. In 7th grade, we looked at Another New Year by Janet Wong, and I challenged them to write a poem in couplets. In 8th, we were inspired by Roque Dalton’s Como Tu/Like You. With six ELA classes, I wrote six poems. Here’s one from each grade.

Back to School 2021

New schedule
Old room

45 students
Packed inside

Masks on

Backpacks full
Windows open

Door ajar

Familiar faces
New grades

Exhausted, sweaty
Middle School

Like you

Like you I
love walking under a canopy of trees
looking up
at the many shades of green.

And my heart sings
when I notice the first tinge of yellow –
signs of the changing season.

I believe the world is ever-changing,
moving forward,
in perpetual evolution.

And I hope
that this movement –
that I do not always embrace –
does more good than ill.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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