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Pulling rank

9 Mar

The kids had just started on their reflections about the governments of the four river civilizations we are studying when a question came up:

If first is gold, second silver, and third bronze, what is fourth place?

I’d asked them to rank each civilizations government and given them a wide berth. Their reflection could be in written or visual, by hand or electronic. They rise to the creative options. I had shown pictures of ways to represent or rank four things and many had latched on to the idea of a winner’s podium, hence the question about winner’s medal colors.

This sparked a discussion of alternatives to metal medals. Ribbon colors were discussed and I had a burning question You see, as a kid in Canada, I remember red being the first place ribbon. One of the upsides of teaching remotely is that I can text my twin sister in real time. I asked her my burning question and her reply came back quickly:

in sports: red, blue, white
in a fair: blue, red, white

I shared this news with students, but also let them know that they could choose whatever color combination struck their fancy. Their reflections aren’t due until Thursday, but I am already looking forward to see what students produce – and which colors they chose.

The Waiting Room

2 Mar

It takes about five minutes for all my students to make it to class. We’ve been remote since last March, so that means entering the Zoom room. Every morning I set up my waiting room with a question, a video, a cartoon – something to engage my 6th graders while they await their classmates. They can respond aloud or in the chat. At this point in the year, I can predict how each will reply.

Some students reply a lot, some prefer to read or listen to the replies of others. It is low stakes, so I sometimes hear from kids who don’t participate in more academic pursuits. I try to vary what I post, appealing to the wide range of interests of my students. Some like CNN10. Some like the Dean the Basset videos. Some like responding to a picture and a question. Some like talking about their personal lives. For each student who likes each things, there’s another who dislikes it.

On February 23, scrambling for what to post, I turned to an old favorite: The National Day Calendar. There are often multiple celebrations and February 23 was no exception – it was National Banana Bread Day, National Tile Day, and National Dog Biscuit Day. As a dog lover, I was tempted by the latter, but opted for National Banana Bread Day because there was a video, so I posted it. Above the video I asked students to tell me about their feelings for banana bread and bananas.

You’d think something as mundane as a banana wouldn’t elicit much passion. I should have used my own feelings as a gauge. I don’t love banana bread, but will eat it, especially if there are chocolate chips. I like my bananas with a hint of green in the skin and will not eat them if they are turning brown. It turns out my students had strong opinions too. The oral and written conversation, one of the best we’d had all year, revealed that my students were all over the banana map. Their comments led to stories. One student talked about baking with her mom. Another shifted the conversation to lemon bread and his grandma. I told students how my mother always said the bruises were the sweetest part and how I now wondered if that was just something she said to justify eating a rotten banana. She grew up during the Depression and hated wasting food.

It was our own little slice of life moment, revealing tiny things about ourselves. It had absolutely nothing to do with the lesson that followed, but it was far more important.

Sunday in the Park

1 Mar

These days, I generally avoid the park on weekends because I know it will be busy – and avoiding people has been my norm for the last year. But yesterday was so beautiful and Spring-like, I couldn’t stay away.

I usually take Richard to the park after my last class ends. As we walk, I see the regulars: the woman with the burnt orange tam, the man whose shirt stretched tight across his torso revealing he has no six pack, the elderly gentleman in the green puffy coat. We went a little earlier yesterday and, as I suspected the park was packed with interlopers.

There’s a strategy for navigating the park in COVID times. My eyes continually scan what is happening in front. My ears are attuned to anyone approaching from behind. Richard helps a lot with what is going on behind, frequently turning as someone approaches, hoping to meet a friend. Richard is really the wild card. He mostly trots along my left side, but is prone to veering off the path, into the underbrush looking for treasures. In these post storm days, he has become obsessed with sniffing downed branches, analyzing each fir needle for important details and messages. I often step off the path with him. back turned to any maskless person approaching.

Yesterday’s sunshine put a spring in Richard’s step and generosity in my heart. Even before we got to the park, he had admirers. Three young women walked parallel to us on the opposite side of the street and, despite their masks, I heard giggles and the word “cute”. I smiled behind my mask, knowing they were talking about Richard. It happened again and again as we walked the loop around the pond. Most just oohed and ahed from afar, but as we approached the junction where four paths met, we met a superfan.

We had walked past a cluster of masked people, moving onto the path that would lead us home. I knew someone was behind us because, although he was moving forward, Richard kept looking behind. I stopped to let the person pass, but the little girl stopped, too.

“He is so cute!” she enthused from behind her mask.

“Yes he is,” I replied, looking for a parent. “Would you like to say hello?”

She put out a tentative hand and started chatting, “We have a dog. She’s a lab.”

“What is your dog’s name?” I asked.

“Lily,” she replied. “He is soft and his ears are so long!”

“This is Richard. You can touch his ears ears if you like.”

“Oh, They are very soft!” she replied.

Usually, this is the extent of a conversation with a Richard stan, and I started to move away, but she followed. Still no sign of a parent. I didn’t want to keep moving without knowing her parent was near. Time seemed to stand still as I scanned the area. Then, her dad appeared, almost apologetically. He and I chatted for a moment and then they turned to go back the way we had just come. Richard and I continued on our way home.

As we walked, I thought about that small girl, so unafraid of strangers, so at ease with conversation. So unlike me at her age.

The glories of a grilled cheese

11 Mar


Until grade seven, I was able to walk home for lunch. It usually consisted of simple food like chicken noodle soup with bread strips or a grilled cheese.

Ah, grilled cheese. It is still comfort food.

In my first few years of teaching, when I lived near Huntsville, Ontario, we used to drive south on Highway 11 to the Pine Valley restaurant where we would order grilled cheese for dinner and apple crisp for dessert. It was the first time I had a grilled cheese on anything but store-bought white bread.

A few years ago, I was on the Sibert committee. One of the Honor Books we chose was Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix.  Because of this book, I started watching The Chef Show on Netflix, which stars Chef Roy Choi. In one episode, he makes a grilled cheese. His version was nothing like the ones I had grown up with or made myself. He used different cheeses and sourdough bread. It was a revelation – especially the sourdough bread. So, now, I make my grilled cheese exclusively with sourdough bread. If you don’t, you should give it a try.

P.S. You can see Chef Roy’s recipe here.





People in my neighborhood – The Recyclers

2 Mar

I held the back door open and set one foot on the top step. As Lucy hopped down, I heard rustling behind me. Someone was going through our recycling bins.

As Lucy took a moment to sniff – the air, the dirt, the rose bushes – I looked to see who it was.

“Good morning,” the female voice called to me. “How are you?”

“Great,” I replied. “And glad it isn’t raining.”

She laughed as Lucy and I walked past her. She was familiar to us. I don’t know her name but she is one of a number of regulars who collect cans from recycling bins in the neighborhood. She, like several others, come around with shopping carts, laden with can filled bags. There is a fellow who used to come around with a cart, but has since purchased an old, brown Ford Econoline van. He is not as chatty as this recycler. He is not as quiet as the elderly gentleman who comes around on his bicycle, bags hanging from every possible place. He never says a word, but I can tell by the look in his eye that he is terrified of dogs – even Lucy.

As Lucy and I walk past the recycler and descend the back steps to the street, I see the cart.

“Sorry about the cart,” the recycler says.

“No problem,” I reply, “Lucy is small and can get around anything!”

We walked South down the street. As Lucy stood staring off into space – something she does more and more lately – I heard the wheels of the shopping cart head North.


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Finish strong – Day 1 of the SOLSC

1 Mar

Today is the first day of the Two Writing Teachers’ March Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC) and I am writing about endings.

At several of the conferences I had last week, I told families that we wanted their child to “finish strong”. And finishing strong was what I spent my weekend doing.

People think that once the knitting is done a project is complete, but there are several things that need to happen before a project is well and truly finished. I had finished the knitting of my most recent project last Sunday and proudly posted this picture.


I received many lovely comments about the work, and about Lucy. No one commented on all the little loose ends hanging off the side. This weekend was all about tying those loose ends, literally and figuratively.  It took me most of Saturday morning to weave in all 96 loose ends neatly. And there was still work to do.

First, the wrap needed a bath, then rolled in towels to remove moisture.


Then, it had to be blocked.

The Knitter’s Dictionary  defines blocking as “a catch-all term for manipulating your finished knitting to smooth out the fabric, even out the stitches, tidy up the stitch patterns, and bring the fabric to the finished size”.  This can be done in a number of ways, but I decided this pattern needed to be pinned on blocking mats. The problem was, that I didn’t have a surface large enough, or the right number of mats, so I did some MacGyvering and came up with a solution that would keep it out of Lucy’s way.

In a day or two, it should be dry enough and for me to remove it without out fear of it losing any of the size it blocked to. Then, and only then, will it be truly finished.

The thing about teaching Shakespeare

21 May

I forgot how much I laugh at the end of the year when we read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

At first the kids are nervous, thinking it is going to be hard. But then these things happen:

  • we write skits in Elizabethan English and two naughty boys perform “A Midsummer Night’s Endgame”
  • they start adding eth to almost everything and I hear words like “noeth” and “oofeth” in the locker room, and I can’t help but laugh
  • they laugh at words like “nosegay”, “bosom”, “virgin”
  • our tableaux aren’t true tableaux because Lysander and Hermia can’t stop their shoulders from shaking in mirth as he cups her face and looks longing into her eyes
  • the look of terror in Hermia’s eyes as she realizes she is about to say “O, hell” in class and the twinkle that lingers there afterwards

Next week we will write Shakespearean insults. I can hardly wait.


Allergy eyes

30 Mar

There is something in the air.

I know because I feel it in my eyes.

I feel it even before I wake up: the heavier than usual lids, the itch, the grit, the tears that run from neither joy nor sorrow. Allergy season has hit my eyes.

It takes some time to get them serviceable. This means drops and hydrocortisone cream. This means frequent looks in the mirror to gauge the degree of puffiness and redness. This means extra wrinkles as the swelling goes down. This means NOT rubbing them.

It takes some time for them to feel normal again. Well, normalish. In allergy season, normal is a distant memory and desire. By noon, I feel normalish and I wonder when I will wake up and feel normal. I wonder, too, which student will be the first to comment.

Today, I replace the SOL logo with something more representative of how I’m feeling today.



Furiously knitting

29 Mar

“Do you ever take commissions?” my librarian friend asked.

I cringed inwardly. It can be an awkward question to answer and I gave my standard reply,”Yes, but I have rules.”

Her raised eyebrows were a sort of encouragement to go on, so I explained, “I won’t accept payment and you have to live with my timeline. I could finish it in a week, a year or never. I love to knit but don’t like pressure to perform. I want to knit a project because I love it. What did you have in mind?”



My friend had been on last year’s Printz committee. What she wanted was a pussy hat with the word “Fury” on it, in celebration of Damsel by Elana K. Arnold.

“Let me think and look around,” I said.

I found a free pattern  –  Hamilton Pussyhat by  on Ravelry. – that captured the beauty of the cover.Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 3.39.27 PM

During the Rose City Yarn Crawl, I made it my mission to find some yarn that would capture the colors of the book and work with the pattern. I did.


I took the peace of Spring Break to adapt the pattern, replacing “Rise Up” with “Fury” and began knitting. I learned to knit a Latvian braid and, slowly, but surely, the hat took shape.

It is now finished and blocking. I’ll give it to my friend when I see her at our next book club meeting in two weeks, unless I see her at the library first. I hope it is a good fit.



Mammogram 2019

28 Mar

Every other Spring Break I make the drive. I didn’t go last year, so it was on for this year.

I arrived 15 minutes before my appointment, as proscribed, checked in and took my seat in the waiting room.

I’d brought my book – the new graphic novel version of The Giver. It allowed me to read, but also pay attention. For the first few minutes, no one else was called .here weren’t many people in the waiting area. It was mostly women, but there was one very large man with a very tiny woman, who I took to be his mother. As I read Jonas’ story, one woman was called in and five came out.

Finally, it was my turn.

“We’ll take a right, then a left,” the nurse told me, smiling. Everyone in mammography is cheery.

She pulled the curtain on a cubicle and handed me a gown.

“Oh, it’s warm,” I commented as I took it from her hands. She laughed and pointed to the warming cupboard where they were stored.

I smiled, entered the cubicle and put on the gown. Once changed, I sat on the bench in my cubicle. Curtain open or closed? I wondered. Closed felt weird so I opened it and waited. The door across from me opened and a blond woman, similar to me in age, height and weight stepped out with a smile on her face and called my name. I followed her in for Mammogram 2019.


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