Saturday, August 26, 2017

Superheroes don't cry

I didn't cry when I found out I'd be outside in one of the trailers (or the Quad as we call our set of four) this year because I know from experience about all the benefits. Being out in the Quad is a bit of a paradox because it both brings people together and keeps people away at the same time. Living in the quad is like having roommates again--you can keep the doors open and talk across the classrooms without much effort. Because of this, it's pretty impossible not to become close with your quadmates--And it's good to have close friends (your Quad Squad) because no one else will venture outside the main building to come visit you ever. Which, honestly, is also kind of nice because no one is going to bother you with a tour of the school or a pop in-visit when you are in the middle of a lesson.

As long as I'm imagining the superhero headquarters of the Quad Squad, here are some other amazing features: I'm able to staple anything and everything directly to the walls. I imagine myself with a holster slung around my hip and one stapler drawn in each hand.  Mrs. Kelly, fastest draw in the Quad! Also, I have control over my own thermostat! In the main building, we are subjected to the temperature of the day that can vary from freezing to sweltering and I used to keep an extra layer slung over the back of my chair for options. Mrs. Kelly, who wears a sweater only when she wants to! Yes, proximity to the bathroom and inclement weather means planning ahead, but I was already scrolling online for new pair of Hunter boots. Mrs. Kelly and her stylish wellies!

I didn't cry when I learned that the map changed and I would be sharing my classroom with another resource teacher. I get it--after being a classroom teacher for 13 years, I'm switching to a new role and I'm prepared to be flexible. I didn't cry--but I do admit to being surprised and slightly irritated when I learned of the new map via the summer update email. Lucky for me, my new roomie is also a superhero bundle of energy and fun and we worked hard all day Monday to unpack.  ESOL and AART, able to transform a massive pile of furniture, boxes and crates into a shared learning community in a single afternoon!

I didn't cry when I learned on Wednesday evening that the map changed again and my roomie and I were moving out of our spacious digs into a smaller, windowless workroom in our Pod. I mean, at least Pod still rhymes with Squad, right? And being back in the main building, think of all the money I'll save not shopping for new rain boots! So Thursday afternoon we spent packing our boxes, rolling up our rug, and debating about furniture as we prepared to downsize. If I did shed a tear, it would have been for our incredible custodial staff with superpower strength and extra thick back braces who moved an endless supply of furniture throughout the week. And Friday we spent the morning unpacking again, making our space happy again. AART and ESOL, able to unpack twice in one week and still be prepared to welcome students on Monday!

I didn't cry on Friday afternoon when the dust settled and the boxes were broken down and I could finally turned my attention to my week ahead. I printed out my list of ESOL students. I picked up my calendar and made the rounds to teachers, scheduling times to meet with individual students, join team planning meetings, visit classrooms. I have a total of 91 students to meet--seven different grade levels, 22 different classroom teachers--and I'm smiling! I can't wait to meet all these beautiful faces next week and begin to build relationships with them. I can't wait to learn more about them and learn how I can most effectively meet their needs. I'm thrilled to work with so many amazing teachers and hope I can be helpful to them.  At our opening kickoff, our new superintendent shared a favorite quote, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," and my main thing is our students. Mrs. Kelly, able to say "main thing" four times in a single sentence!

So, when I returned to my new happy place with my new roommate and my new schedule, I was unprepared for an email from my principal. "Currently we do not have a teacher for the fourth grade classroom...we will need you teaching in the fourth grade classroom until we find a teacher or a substitute..." 

I get it. And don't get me wrong, I don't mind. After all, the main thing is our students. One of the things I love about the staff at our school is our sense of collective responsibility--they aren't your students or my students but we all have a stake. I'm happy to help. But after overcoming so many challenges to be prepared for next week, I suddenly felt completely unprepared for next week. On Friday afternoon at 2:30. I didn't feel like a superhero, able to transform from an ESOL teacher into a 4th grade teacher in a single bound. And I cried. Then I blew my nose in a tissue, and went down to visit the 4th grade classroom teachers who had already prepped everything for me.  I sat with the instructional coach and she helped me map out a plan for team teaching.  Everyone was helpful and thoughtful and kind and patient while my totally unspontaneous mind processed the change. "I'm sorry I cried," I told my superhero roomie. "That's OK, I cried earlier when we were packing up for the second time," she told me. "I'm sorry I cried," I told the teacher across the hall. "Hey, don't worry. I cry all the time," she responded.

And that's when I realize superheroes do cry. Because we're super humans and we care about ourselves and others, and just because we're super doesn't mean we're not sometimes disappointed or angry or grieving. Sometimes we use our capes to dry our eyes and sometimes we use our capes to fly and sometimes we put our capes in the laundry and have a glass of wine. 

So cheers to all the teachers starting school this year! I know you will take on more than humanly possible and still get it all done. Most important, you will make a difference in the lives of our students. Cape or no cape, cry or no cry, that's the main thing.
My superhero roomie

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Make Good Choices

Dear Jack,
The days leading up to your departure for college were full of “lasts.” The last family dinner night, the last snuggle with Tatum, last round of golf with dad, last big hug for mom—all these activities took on a special significance when they became the last time you would do them before you left for R-MC. 
Now come the “firsts,” such as stepping into your dorm room for the first time, first meal on campus, first friends, first day of football camp. There are firsts for us too—the first time pulling back into the driveway without you was a hard one for sure. Then there was the first text and first picture from you reassuring us that you are going to be OK.
Before we left, I told you, as I often do, “Make good choices. I love you.” This isn’t the first or last time you will hear that. But on the car ride home, I thought about what those words mean to me, and what I hope they mean to you.  So, here is the expanded version--
1.      Choose to be kind to everyone.

2.      Choose to be a leader. Use your gifts, talents and strengths to make a positive impact.

3.      Choose to set high standards for yourself. Never miss a class. Never miss a practice.

4.      Choose to study. Be curious about the world.

5.      Choose to connect with God.

6.      Choose to own up to and take responsibility for your mistakes.

7.      Choose your friends wisely. You are who you hang around. Choose friends who also make good choices.

8.      Choose to stay healthy and active. Make time to exercise. Say no to drugs.

9.      Choose to reframe problems as challenges and lessons.

10. Choose to be thankful.
The choices you make during your first 30 days of college will set the tone for the next four years. Being thoughtful about starting with good habits makes it easier to maintain good habits. 
We miss you already, but we are excited about the new opportunities that college will offer you. We look forward to seeing you grow and learn and continue to mature into a young adult. We are so proud of you!
First day in dorm room

First day of filming

First text to make Mom very happy

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Walking Adventure to a Pirate Ship

"Part 1: Start near Nationals Park..." We haven't even officially started our walking adventure and we have our first problem. We can't find the start. Well, we walked to Nationals Park from the Metro with no problem. But now we are standing in front of a very large baseball stadium wondering where the "wide waterfront boardwalk" is.

We wander off in one direction, only to see a busy highway and shady-looking liquor store. Nope. Directionally challenged adventurers need more specific guidance than what we've been given. Luckily the article guides us to pick up ice cream from Ice Cream Jubilee, so I enter in the address on my GPS and we are back on track, winding our way through Yards Park to our pre-riverwalk treat.
I've been coming to Nationals games for years but had never taken the time to explore Yards Park, which includes dancing fountains, a dog park, lots of restaurants, and this canal basin waterwall area--a very popular destination for happy, splashing toddlers on our hot August day.

The ice cream did not disappoint. After sampling several flavors, Katherine chose mint and I selected a honey lavender. Properly energized and properly oriented, we were off to find Kingman Island via the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail.

Back in May when we were overwhelmed with everything school related, I pulled an article out of The Washington Post's weekend section with a guide to "D.C.'s best urban rambles." When I travel, I love to experience as many local flavors and activities as I can fit into my vacation, yet I don't often enough take advantage of the "tourist location" that I call home. The idea of exploring our city on foot appealed to me, and some of the routes were places I've never been. Katherine and I chose this 4.5 mile jaunt written up by Fritz Hahn and Harrison Smith to explore first.
 Following the directions from the newspaper, we made our way into the Navy Yard and found the Vietnam-era Swift Boat, then continued on to the 11th Street Local Bridge. Katherine and I did stop briefly at the observation area, but we didn't find the views as stunningly panoramic as the author had mentioned. There are definitely cool photo opportunities but there is also quite a bit of construction and trash to be seen.

After crossing to the eastern side of the river, we began walking on a wide paved path toward the island. We walked, and walked some more but no island. It was hot and my backpack was making me sticky and sweaty. Where was the island?
 I began to have a sinking suspicion...was the 4.5 mile trek ONE WAY?
"Part 2: Once you're on the eastern side of the river, keep hiking upstream. The path next to the water is wide and grassy, passing a playground with giant pirate ships..."
We found the pirate ship. While Katherine climbed around, I tried looking up the remaining distance to Kingman Island and it appeared we had another mile to go. When the article described the trip as 4.5 miles, it hadn't even occurred to me that it was a one way trip. We decided lunch was a more appealing option than a 9 mile hike, so we turned around and headed back to find the restaurant suggestion, 100 Montaditos. 

If you don't know (because we didn't), a montadito is a small baguette sandwich and 100 Montaditos offers "Dollarmania Wednesdays" where many of their menu offerings can be enjoyed for just a buck. Between the two of us, we ordered 5 montaditos and a beverage and our lunch was $7 and some change. As we ate, we talked about the pros and cons of trying to follow the directions in the article.

Pros: a newly explored area of DC, great restaurant recommendations, fun mother/daughter morning together. Cons: vague directions were sometimes tricky to follow, distance was misleading (Fritz, how did you get back from the island? Uber?), and we felt like the adventure was a bit oversold. ("Stunning panoramic"--really?)

All told, I was happy to get out of my comfort zone, spend some quality time with my teenage daughter, and try something off the beaten path. And I know the trip was a success because on the metro ride home, Katherine pulled the folded article out of the backpack. She pressed to smooth the creases, scanned it over and asked, "Where do you think we should go next?"

Link to article published online May 11:
These routes are made for walking 

Thursday, July 27, 2017


 We made it! No better place to start our Chicago adventure than "The Bean" at Millenium Park.
 Just the girls this boys allowed!

 Next stop, Navy Pier.
 View from the ferris wheel
 View in the ferris wheel
 Trying the famous Chicago hot dog dragged through the garden with 7 toppings. How and why do they make the relish so neon green?

 Taking time to stop and smell the flowers as we explore different parks along the Lakefront Trail 
  Learning about Chicago's history and architecture during a boat tour on the Chicago River
 Some highlights of Chicago Art Institute
 Checking out the Wooden Alley during our bike tour
 Guess who has a stature in Lincoln Park?
We loved learning more about Chicago's neighborhoods during Bobby's Bike tour.
 One of the last remaining "kit houses" that were sold after the Chicago Fire of 1871.

 The baby camel at the Lincoln Park Zoo is named Alexander Camelton.
 Our bikes had names too. I rode BeyoncĂ© and Katherine rode Gilbert.
 The view of Chicago's iconic Skyline from the kissing bridge.
 After our bike ride, we just happened to walk back to our hotel via The Magnificent Mile.
 Remember, no boys on this trip. So of course we went shopping. 

 The main event of our trip was Hamilton. Best. Musical. Ever.

Since we walked and biked everywhere, we had quite the appetite for deep dish pizza and Garrett's popcorn. 

 We ended our trip with the view from the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower.
Amazing views. Amazing company.
Katherine, we may have to make this an annual tradition! Just don't tell Daddy and Jack.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mississippi's Spell

MI-SS-ISS-IPPI. Mississippi was one of the first states I learned to spell, with its sing-song double letters, but one I had yet to visit. In my quest to visit all 50 states before I turn 50, this isn't the first time Paul has been my travel companion for an unconventional vacation destination.

Sign of true love:

Me: Where would you like to go on vacation this summer?
Paul: The beach.
Me: I was thinking Mississippi.
Paul: Of course.

So, while our friends' Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of toes in the sand and relaxing by endless sunsets, we headed down for views of the Mighty Mississippi River and some Civil War history to check state #39 off the list.

We stayed in the Anchuca Historic Mansion and Inn. Anchuca is a Choctaw word meaning "happy home" and we were definitely happy to take in beautiful surroundings, friendly pets, and interesting history of this antebellum home. Even the birds were happy. So happy, in fact, that they woke us up at 1:30 am chirping loudly. Paul walked outside in his pjs to greet them...or shake his fist at them...depending on your perspective. Finally morning arrived and we fueled up on a big Southern breakfast of eggs and grits. We were ready for our Mississippi adventure!

Let's be honest. Mississippi isn't usually on anyone's Top 10 list of destinations. And as you will read, the whole trip wasn't sunshine and roses. More like sunshine and magnolias. Honestly, what sticks out most are the friendly and helpful people we met along the way. Take Leo, for example. We rented bikes from Battlefield Bicycle and Leo went out of his way to make sure we had everything we needed--water for the ride, helmets, directions to get to Vicksburg Military Park the back way to avoid traffic. Beyond the bike rental, he offered us sandwiches and cookies for lunch and advice on where to eat an authentic Southern Plantation style dinner. (Walnut Hills for fried chicken and pecan praline pie, yum!) I get the sense that we could have sat in Leo's office and chatted with him all day. And maybe we would have, if we had known about the heat and the hills that awaited us. But no, we blissfully rode away, leaving Leo waving and smiling.

I could tell you everything I learned about the 47 day siege and the importance of the Battle of Vicksburg as a turning point for Union troops during the Civil War but what I really learned is that Vicksburg is hilly. In fact, our 18 mile bike ride around the park began at the aptly named Fort Hill. Those hills were tough. And hot. Paul said it helped him better appreciate those soldiers in their wool uniforms fighting in the summer sun. Our ride along the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers totaled 1,555 feet in elevation. I had to dismount and walk three different times!

By the time we finished, we were ready to cool off at the Museum of Coca-Cola. After a long bike ride in the sun, a sensible person might have driven to the museum, but it looked like a short walk on the map. Little did I know, it was a half mile trek down a steep hill with no shade. So, as we learned about Joseph Biedenharn, the first person who bottled Coca-Cola, we had the return hike uphill to anticipate.
I loved the history and memorabilia, which included years worth of advertising campaigns and an authentic soda fountain on display. I did not, however see any "delicious homemade candies" as the museum promised and we were a bit underwhelmed. The museum is owned and operated by the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation. Maybe they should consider partnering with a business who would like to operate a modern soda fountain and candy store.  Full disclosure: we drove our air-conditioned rental car to Rite Aid for our ice cold Cokes.
On the way back to our B&B, we stopped to look at the Riverfront Murals and found one of Joseph Biedenharn himself. We also found one of Willie Dixon, one of the Blues' greats. Mississippi's slogan is "Birthplace of America's Music" and we were looking forward to hearing some live music in Vicksburg. Vacation planning lesson: Vicksburg Music Society lists live music but shows usually occur Thursdays-Sundays. We were in Mississippi Monday-Wednesday. So, we had to be content with taking Willie's picture on the mural.

Day Two: We said goodbye to Vicksburg and headed deeper into the South to the city of Natchez. Here we were lucky enough to get a tour of the Melrose House with the world's greatest tour guide.
As I mentioned, we loved meeting the friendly people in Mississippi. Barney, a park ranger at Natchez National Historic Park, was one of those people. Barney's infectious personality and in-depth knowledge of history made our tour of the Melrose House one of the highlights of our whole trip. Do you know why the house was on an estate, not a plantation?  (There was no farm on the land.) Do you know why the sofa has a center divider? (It was a courting couch so there was no accidental touching.) Do you know how the owners were inspired to install indoor plumbing in the 1850's? (They saw toilets in England...and if you see flushing toilets made by Thomas Crapper & Company, they've got to be good, right?) Barney obviously had a true passion for history, both about the house and Mississippi in general. However a question about increase in output after the cotton gin was perfected was trickier. "That's math," he joked. "I was never very good with math. At Alcorn State University, you know how I passed Algebra II? I found out my professor loved fried chicken. Here's some math: one order of fried chicken and one biscuit in one greasy paper bag equals me passing Algebra." We loved the Cypress pond and the magnolia gardens but Barney was definitely the highlight of this visit!

Next, we headed into downtown Natchez to walk along the Mississippi River and enjoy some barbeque at the Pig Out Inn. You know it's going to be authentic when the cashier records your order on the side of the plate like its a Starbucks cup--only instead of code for mocha frap, its Pulled Pork Dinner.

After lunch we drove up the Natchez Trace Parkway to Jackson. The Old Trace was first used by Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians and then in the 1800's it was the main return route for Ohio Valley traders who floated down the Mississippi, then sold their flatboats as timber in Natchez and walked home. Now it is a 444 National Scenic Byway with lots of historic sites, campgrounds, and hikes along the way.
 We stopped at milepost 41.5 to walk along Sunken Trace. As the guidebook told us, "In fading sunlight within these high earthen walls, you are looking at the effects of time, hooves and feet. If you linger, you may sense the spirit of those who trod here before you."
We arrived in Jackson to satisfy one last bucket list item--live music. Thanks to the Jackson Free Press, I found out the New Bourbon Street Jazz Band was playing at a local bar. Due to our extremely early morning flight, I thought it would be easy to return the rental car and take the hotel shuttle to and from the airport. Unfortunately, even though the Hampton Inn Pearl is billed as an airport hotel with a shuttle, the short window of 5am to 11am didn't suit our needs. But before I had a chance to be too irritated with our Hilton property, we hopped in a cab with Isaac.
"200 Commerce Street," I told him. Isaac seemed confused.
"200 Commerce Street? That's an industrial park warehouse district. Why do you want to go there?"
"That's the address of a restaurant called Hal and Mal's," I said, unsure now. I mean, all I knew about this place was that they had a band. Was it in a sketchy part of town?
"Oh, Hal and Mal's! That's all you needed to say. Everyone knows Hal and Mal's." Isaac proceeded to take us there directly, all the while telling us about the daily specials (he likes roast beef on Thursdays) and the crowds for the live bands.  So on our last night in Mississippi we enjoyed some local brews & local blues. 

So there you have it--a successful trip to Mississippi. If you go, here's a little advice:
1)Bring earplugs for the "nocturnal" birds
2)Definitely find Leo, Barney, and Isaac...or engage in conversation with some other friendly Mississippi locals
3)Take your camera with you to the bathroom at Hal and Mal's.