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26 Oct

The cry of 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.


14 Sep

Forty-five students in two of my six ELA classes, an HVAC system that works intermittently, the myth of 3 feet of social distancing, two new grade levels to teach, and a new nine period schedule: these are not the worries that have me stressed.

What worried me most today were the messages from my car. The low tire pressure light came on yesterday afternoon. A few months ago, the low battery message came on for my key fob. After watching a YouTube video, I was able to change the battery. I usually carried one particular key fob, but after changing the battery I worried, so I started carrying both the main and my spare. But the low battery light came on again.

Before leaving home this morning, I re-watched the video and changed the battery in the spare key fob. As I neared the end of the job a car alarm went off on my street. I went out to see if it was my car, but it had stopped by the time I got there.

On my way to school, armed with a pill bottle full of quarters and wet wipes, I stopped at the nearest gas station to fill my tires. When I got to work, I puttered around in my classroom as I do when I first arrive, opening windows and getting ready for the day. My room overlooks the parking lot and through the open windows, I heard a car alarm again. Could it be mine again, I wondered.

I exited through the nearest door and, of course it had stopped by the time I got there. Another teacher had just arrived and I asked if she’d noticed which card had sounded. She thought she might have touched her door to that of the car beside her when she got out, but couldn’t say for sure which car had sounded. I wondered if I’d accidently touched a button – the one for finding your car in a parking lot – as I had put my school bag and keys in my closet. It remains a mystery.

The low tire pressure light had resolved itself on the drive to school. It will take a few days for me to know about the fob batteries. That light didn’t come on every day. Until I feel confident, I will continue carrying both fobs. And keep my fingers crossed.

Foot Care

7 Sep

It’s hard to explain to non-educators how your feet ache the first week back at school. Despite comfortable shoes with excellent support, my feet throbbed after my first full day of pre-service week.

Maybe it’s because I go barefoot in the house all summer. Maybe it’s because a concrete floor lies under my classroom’ thin carpet. Regardless, my feet were throbbing Monday afternoon when, after walking Richard to the park, I finally took my shoes off.

As I puttered, barefoot, in the kitchen, I thought back to my PHL 100 Into to Philosophy class at the University of Toronto. It was a survey class intended to introduce philosophy neophytes to some of the biggies: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Bentham, Nietzsche. It was taught by two professors, one teaching the Ancients, the other teaching the Moderns.

On the first day of the second half of the class, I sat in the lecture hall like my classmates, awaiting the arrival of the new professor who’s name I no longer remember. What I do remember is her entrance. The entrance was at the back of the hall. As we sat there, a small woman in a black robe descended the stairs towards the lectern on the stage.

The hall was part of Trinity College. U of T is set up like the British College system with small colleges within the larger university. You could take classes at any college, but each had their own traditions and one of Trinity’s was the black gown that students had to wear to dinner. This professor, attached to Trinity, also felt she should wear it to teach.

It wasn’t the gown that got our attention, however. She had a mop of grey hair reminiscent of Albert Einstein and, as there was no handrail, she ran her hand along the wall as she descended the stairs. As intriguing as this was, it was her feet that grabbed my attention. She wore fluffy bedroom slippers.My memory of this professor – who was rather brilliant – sparked an idea. After dinner I packed a pair of Crocs in my school bag.

For the rest of the week, after the morning meetings, teachers had time to work in our classrooms. Each day, when the time arrived to work in my classroom, I removed my shoes and donned my Crocs. My feet hurt less when I got home. Perhaps it was the Crocs, perhaps I was just growing accustomed to being back at work. in any case, I left the Crocs at school, just in case I need them once the teaching starts.


31 Aug

The email came in the early afternoon on Thursday:

With the opening of the new middles school that would drain off many of our students, I’d been wondering which of my former students I would get to teach again this year. I checked Synergy right away. Nothing.

A follow-up email came:

I had to be patient. It was hard. At 3:30, I took Richard to the park to calm myself down. It was after 4 when we returned and I logged in. Up popped my classes and I scrolled through. I won’t deny it, I was excited and audibly reacted to seeing some of the faces. There were a few faces that made me chuckle in a different way. Those were students who might not be that excited about having me again. I am looking forward to working with them again – even if they think I was a little hard on them.

Schedules were released to students at the same time. A few hours later, I received this message from a student who had been at outdoor school with me in March 2020, when the whole world turned upside down:

I am excited to be back.

It’s May so….

25 May

Since my library job was eliminated 10 years ago, I’ve had to pack up almost every year. There was a year or two when I didn’t have to pack, and one when it was my choice because I had a chance for a better room, but this year, we are all being told to pack.

A new middle school is opening and my school, which is closest and the one to be most impacted. We are set to lose 20 teachers. The upside is that we won’t need the 14 portables we have. The bad news is that our administrators have told us all to pack our personal belongings. We can leave school materials in place.


A few years ago, I was told I was moving on the last day of school, so I am grateful for the early warning. Knowing how stressful that was, I am going into my classroom early – someone else is teaching in there these days to limit cohort interaction – and tackling one box a day. I have also begun sorting and boxing the materials I still have at home and bringing in those boxes.

Right now, my goal is the bookcases. There are a lot. My goal is to box my personal books and leave the school owned books on the shelf. The last time I moved, it took 48 boxes for all of it. I am estimating it will be 24 this time around.

We have no idea when we will know what – and where – we will be teaching next year. We are all hopeful that we will hear before school is out. Last year we didn’t find out until July, but we were right in the thick of the pandemic. Needless to say, morale is low and teachers are exhausted. I keep telling the kids to finish strong. I should take my own advice.

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

11 May

I’ve been thinking about not wearing my mask when I walk the dog. I am fully vaccinated and can, theoretically, go outside without wearing one. My brain gets it, my soul does not.

I still step off the sidewalk when people approach and give friends and strangers a wide berth.For over a year masks and social distancing have ruled my behavior and it is hard to unlearn these lessons. But I am thinking about it, and that is a good first step.

The shoe was on the other foot yesterday, as Richard and I took our post school day walk in Laurelhurst Park.

I’d like to say we meandered, but these days, Richard is on a mission. I’m not saying I have to run to keep up with him, be he goes at a fair clip and I have to walk fast. I don’t mind. I am hopeful my doctor will say nice things to me at my next physical – whenever that might be.

So, there we were, hoofing it through the park. We passed a group of men, then two older women before we got to the east end of the park. We sometimes see pairs of ducks here. Since early Spring, this has been their nesting grounds and a few weeks ago a sign in a childish script appeared warning people away from a particular spot at one corner of the horseshoe pitch, where duck eggs had been laid.

Over the weekend, ducklings had appeared. On Sunday – Mother’s Day – when I expected the park to be full but wasn’t due to an overcast sky – Richard and I stood in awe watching ducklings hop into the pond and swim. It doesn’t matter how old I get, ducklings still warm my heart.

Yesterday, as we rounded the east end, the men we had passed early, passed us. There is a lamppost that Richard has a special relationship with and he spent some time communing with it. When we restarted our walk, the men were a bit ahead, and so was a family of Canada geese. The group was waddling around on the north side of the path. The pond was on the south side.

I’d seen ducklings galore in the park, but I don’t recall ever having seen goslings. Richard was sniffing a particularly attractive tuft of grass so I watched the men veer away from the family, who were making their goosey way towards the path, and the pond. As we approached, the goose family arrived on the left side of the path. We stuck to the right side, this isn’t England after all.

I assumed we were far enough away. Richard was on the grass. I was on the very edge of the path. Apparently one of the parents did not agree, turned, and hissed at me. I apologized and kept moving forward, away from the goose family. Not good enough, the goos started running towards us, hissing more ferociously. Richard and I ran.

A couple was walking towards us on the path. The look half amused, half nervous. As we passed them, they took our place on the side far, far away from the goose family.

Teaching simultaneously

4 May

How do you hold the book so that both the students in the room and the students online can see the cover?

That’s a simple problem I faced as we embarked on simultaneously teaching kids in person and remotely. It’s a whole new learning curve and I feel exhausted like we did when all this began.

I mute myself so the students at home don’t hear the conversations with students in the room, but students at home tell me I’m muted and they think they are missing something.

A student asks for a private conversation in a breakout room. I have to tell them that anything they or I say could be heard by the students in the room.

It’s a delight to get to meet some of my students in person and engage with them, but it’s been a whole new learning curve. To limit contact, my 6th graders stay in the room and we three core Class teachers rotate. I began my career as an itinerant French teacher and I am back to the itinerant life, rolling from class to class on a cart.

I had worked out a comfortable routine working from home: computer in the center, iPad and stand to the left, plan book and everything else to the right. It took me a while to become comfortable on the cart. I opted for a tall cart, so I could use it as a standing desk. I am a natural spreader and there is no right or left with the cart. I have had to adapt and use the cart shelves as my new left and right, but I don’t feel as though I am at the top of my game yet.

I have learned to carry my power cord because my laptop battery doesn’t last all day.

With no home base, I bungee corded a plastic file box to the bottom of my cart so I can carry personal items, like my wallet and car keys, with me as I roll.

I seem to be fine tuning things just fine. Most days seem easier than the previous one, but then I get a day like yesterday, when I kept forgetting to share my screen and couldn’t figure out how to hold that booktalk book.

Thank goodness the kids are very forgiving.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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