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The people in the neighborhood

17 Aug

With the return of better weather in the Spring, I started seeing more neighbors as I walked Richard around my neighborhood. Wet, wintery weather and Civid had kept a lot of people home, but now people are out and about, maskless in the open air.

But there have been changes. A white-haired man who walked daily with his wife now walks alone.A neighbor’s husband and two small dogs hav been replaced by a different man and a large dog. Their next door neighbors suddenly have a six month old baby. I want to ask about these changes, but good manners keep me from doing so. I send positive thoughts instead and wonder other changes have happened in the homes I pass.

A neighbor two blocks over is a school counselor. Over the course of my 15 years in the neighborhood, I saw the birth of her third son, her return to school, her first job as a school counselor. On my walks, she and I would compare how each of our schools and school districts were dealing with the pandemic.

I ran into her again yesterday. I had just passed her house when she came out, glasses on, armed with pen and paper.

“I’m finally reporting that car,” she said as she walked towards a white car parked in front of the house of the woman with the new man and dog. “It’s been there over a year.”

“I thought I was the only one who reported cars,” I laughed. “I am glad to know I am in good company.”

I had only noticed this car a few months ago, but I understood her frustration

“Be sure to let them know the front driver’s side tire is flat,” I told her. “They like those details.”

“The tags have expired, too,” she added.

We chatted a bit about the number of cars with expired tags we see on a regular basis before rolling into talk about the imminent return to school. We are both ready to get back to in person teaching, both comfortable teaching fully masked. We’ll be sure that we and our students are responsible about following COVID protocols, just like we make sure people are responsible about following neighborhood parking protocols.

Transitional thinking

3 Aug

Teachers know that August is the Sunday of Summer. At least, it is for those of us who start teaching after Labor Day. For me, it means that my brain starts having school thoughts.

I’ve already checked my classes to see if the new ones have been populated. They haven’t. With a new middle school opening, I’ve been wondering who I will get to teach again. I can still see last year’s students, and since I am moving up with my 6th graders, I printed off my class lists and checked out their enrollment for 7th grade. I wish I had the previous year’s class lists, since I will also be teaching 8th grade ELA.

In 7th grade, we read Julius Caesar and Hamlet. In 8th we read Macbeth. I’ve borrowed various DVDs of each from the library to refresh my memory. I read Julius Caesar in grade 10 but still remembered some of the lines I had to memorize in Mr Cull’s class. There were whole parts I’d forgotten, too. I read Macbeth in grade 12 or 13 – I can’t quite remember – and I saw the opera version a few years ago. My first exposure to Hamlet came from Gilligan’s Island.

Last week, I bought an orange notebook and a green notebook, the exact sort and colors I’ve purchased every year since I moved back to middle school. In the past, I used the orange one for morning classes and the green for afternoon, but I’m thinking one will be for 7th and the other for 8th grade ELA. A lot will depend on the schedule I receive later this month.

I have an eye appointment next week. I might even get new glasses for the first time in four years.

I’ve been thinking about checking out some curriculum guides from the school library. It will be a year of learning for me as well as for the students, most of whom have not set foot in our building since March 2020. It would be nice to take a look at what I am supposed to teach. I’m not sure when the library will be staffed, though.

I need to unpack all the boxes I packed in June. August always means carpet cleaning and it can be a complicated dance to coordinate the custodial staff’s need to get the building ready for September with my need to unpack and organize and my need to suck the marrow out of the last days of summer holidays.

Kitchen drama

20 Jul

With a plethora of blueberries in the fridge, I decided to bake lemon blueberry bread. Now, I am an intermittent baker, and don’t like to turn the stove on in the summer, but a cool morning and the presence of all the necessary ingredients turned my idea into a reality.

Following the recipe, I first mixed the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, and salt – and set them aside. I put the butter in the microwave to melt as I moved on to the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, I combined the melted butter with sugar, then went to the fridge for the two eggs required. The shell of the first egg made a satisfactory crack as I hit it on the rim of the bowl. I pulled the shell halves apart and let the egg drop into the bowl.

I gagged almost immediately.

An overpowering odor rose from the greenish goo that sat atop the golden liquid in the bowl. I gagged again. And again. I gagged as I sloughed to offensive goo into a compost bag. I gagged as I carried the bag outside to the compost bin.

By the time I returned to the kitchen, I was back in control, but only just. And I had a big decision to make: toss it all, or start over? I’d already been thinking about biting into a slice of sweetbread, so I bravely picked up the egg carton, determined to start again. Uh, oh, I thought when I saw the expiration date on the egg carton. These eggs expired on December 28, 2020.

I pulled out a bowl and tentatively took another egg from the carton. It’s cracking refilled the kitchen with putridness and gagging. I tossed the remaining egg into another compost bag. As I took that bag to the compost bin, I tossed the carton into the recycling bin, gagging all the way.

Back in control once more, I pulled open the fridge door. I still had a full carton of eggs in the fridge, the legacy of my last baking binge. It’s expiration date was in early May. I paused for a moment, then pulled out the carton, and cautiously cracking an egg into a bowl. No odor emerged, but, twice bitten, I was wary. The color of this egg’s yolk didn’t seem quite right. Was that real or did I just imagine it? I decided to try another. If this egg seemed at all dodgy, I resolved to abandon my baking project.

Fortunately, that egg, and the one that followed were fine. I finished the mixing and as the bread baked, I cleaned the kitchen. That process included putting all the remaining eggs into a compost bag and disposing of them. Who knew when the baking bug would bite again. I did not want a repeat of the egg incident.

An hour later, I had a delicious treat to accompany my tea.

Bee butts

13 Jul

Everyday, I walk past a neighbor’s zinnia bed. It’s a little past the halfway mark on homeward leg of the journey. A rock wall surrounds the bed and Richard likes to stop and sniff the stones, eager to read the messages of his people. While he sniffs, I lean in, looking for bumble bees.

I have developed a fascination with bumble bees. One day, I noticed two bumble bees on the butterfly bush out my back door. Butterfly bushes are considered invasive species in Oregon and are very hard to kill, but the attract a variety of pollinators, including bumble bees.

Whenever I see a bee I lean in close. In college, a friend and I took a beekeeping class and set up a hive, which we later gave to a local beekeeper, as we moved on after graduation. I learned to be calm and gentle around bees and so I lean in when I see bees.

The butterfly bush hosted several bumble bees that day. I leaned in close and noticed that although they looked alike from a distance, the two bumble bees I leaned into, were very different. You think you know something and then you notice something and your world is rocked. This observation rocked my world. Not only were their stripes different, one of the bees had orange, in addition to yellow and black on its body. I did a little research and discovered the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas.

I had no idea that there was such variety. I have become an obsessed observer. Whenever Richard stops to sniff, I scan for bee butts, trying to see the colors and patterns.

Change is coming

22 Jun

I have not had to pack up my classroom in maybe two of the last ten years. The upside of this is that I now start early. Way back in May, when we learned we’d lose 20 teachers due to the opening of the new middle school, I started the process, packing my personal books and materials. We were told someone else would take care of the classroom libraries.

I was fortunate to learn that I would stay in my job. Last week, we learned the rooms we’d move to with the reorganization of our school. I felt good. Then, we got the news I’d expected: no one was going to pack our classroom libraries, we’d have to do it ourselves. I was in a good place and had it all packed up by the second last day of school.

The packing all took place early in the morning because, with COVID teaching, someone else was in my room. I didn’t want to impinge on her plan time, so I got to work early and tried to leave shortly after she arrived. We always chatted a bit when she was there. That’s how I learned that she’d applied for a job in another building. That’s how I found out she got it. That’s why I made an appointment with my principal to ask about looping up with my 6th graders.

Because I’d been on the scheduling committee, I knew that my job next year would be 2 periods of SUMMA ELA and the rest regular. I was OK with this, but got thinking. I find that, sometimes, when you have to do two things, it is easier of they are two distinctly different things. The teacher in my room, I knew, would be teaching 7th and 8th SUMMA ELA. My wheels began turning when she told me she’d applied for the other job.

I’d also been thinking about relationships. I didn’t have real closure with the students I’d taught last year, who’s end of the school year was hijacked by COVID. It took a lot longer to get to know this year’s crew of 6th graders and I wanted a chance to get to know some of them better.

In the meeting, I explained all this to my principal.

I figured I had a 50/50 chance.

I got the word yesterday, as I was checking out, that I would, indeed, get to loop with these two classes. I was ecstatic.

I would even get to stay in my room, where everything was packed and labeled “Move to A8”. I tracked down the custodian to find out what to do with the boxes. He is a new custodian this year and just terrific.

“Have I got an end of the year surprise for you, ” I joked as I entered his office.

He laughed when I told him about my predicament. I offered to put as many as I could into the empty cupboards.

“That’s not necessary,” he replied. “Just change the label to read ‘Keep in D4′”.

I was relieved at his suggestion.

“Should I do all the boxes, or just the ones on top?” I asked.

“How many are there?” he asked with a perplexed look.

“Fifty-one.” I replied sheepishly. “I have an extensive personal library.”

He laughed again.

Despite this unexpected task, I smiled as I changed the label on all fifty-one.

The other shoe

8 Jun

Teaching from home, I went shoeless.
It’s my preferred way of being.
I’d put shoes on to
walk the dog,
get groceries,
go to the library, but
for over a year,
I was essentially,

When we returned to
teaching in the building, it was
and shoes
I chose my comfiest shoes,
being unaccustomed
to a full day of footwear.

But Spring is turning to summer
and the days are,
We’ve had some hot ones, too.
The AC in my portable is unreliable
at best,
so I have transitioned
to sandals.

Sandals bridge the gap
between barefoot and shoed,
between Spring and Summer,
between online and in person.

We have two weeks left.
I don’t know exactly
what I will be teaching next year.
I don’t know
which room I will be in,
or who I will be working with.
But I do know
that in two weeks,
I will be barefoot once more.

The Doctor is in

18 May

“Hey Ms. Gillespie,” an in-person student called to me one day last week. “What did you want to be when you were our age?”

I thought for a moment before replying,”I don’t remember exactly, but I know that before I went to university, I wanted to be a doctor, a journalist, a politician, a UN interpreter, and a spy.” I chuckled to myself and thought As a teacher, I am really all of those things!

A few days later, I found myself playing doctor.

Richard’s allergy test revealed that he was allergic to a wide range of things, including every tree in the neighborhood, most of the plants, and the yeast he develops on his own skin when he has an allergy flare-up. Based on these results, his serum was whipped up in a lab and the day had finally arrived for me to learn how to administer the shots.

The vet and I talked over his health history, how reactive he is, and decided that once a week, rather than twice a week was the way to go. She gave me a spreadsheet where I was to track each shot. We talked about reactions and I learned that dogs don’t have anaphylactic reactions. They get hives and their faces can swell, but it is extremely rare for a dog’s throat to swell. There’s be no need for an epi-pen but made a plan in case there were hives and swelling.

And then she pulled out the hardware: serum, syringes, and a needle clipper. She explained that we’d practice today with a saline solution, so I could learn how to be gentle, but effective.

I grabbed the massive cowl of flesh that is the nape of Richard’s neck – his basset physique made it easy.

“The needle will go in easily,” the vet explained as I filled the syringe with saline. “TV has given people a false impression. Sometimes they think they have to stab it in, but it is a slips in gently.”

She was right.

Richard didn’t seem to have noticed.He didn’t notice the first shot he had this morning either. As soon as it was over, he made himself comfy on the sofa and did what he does best.

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.

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