Monday, December 30, 2013

12 Highlights of Christmas

Today I'm packing up Christmas.  So long, nutcrackers.  Goodbye, ornaments.  See ya next year, snowmen.  Good riddance, Sid Vicious!  Before we dive into 2014, here are some memories of this Christmas:                     1. Baking with my children.  This year, Katherine and I made peanut brittle together and I taught Jack how to bake bread.  It was fun to spend some quality time with the kids and see them take pride in making gifts for others.      2. Reading.  Between wrapping, baking and shopping, I did find some time to sit by the fire and enjoy a novel!  My next grad class starts in a few weeks so I'm cramming in as much reading for pleasure as I can.           3. Christmas Eve with the Bealles.  Over the river and through the woods to Maryland we go.  We loved visiting with Dad and Carolyn's fun family and enjoying Carolyn's delicious cooking!         
4. Vacuuming.  This is not probably a highlight on most people's lists.  This year, we named our Christmas Tree "Sid Vicious."  With needles are sharp enough to draw blood, (trust me, I did the lights) he is fighting captivity by shedding about a million needles on my living room carpet daily.  I find the whole thing quite amusing, but Paul, who picked out the tree, said we are not allowed to laugh about good ol' Sid until at least next year. 
5. Christmas Morning.  I love sitting in the living room early in the morning before anyone else is awake.  I appreciate my twinkling lights in the quiet, peaceful, dark morning.                   
6. Presents!  Katherine gave me a peg game that she made in shop class.  Jack chose new hand towels for the bathroom that are the perfect color.  Paul surprised me (that is hard to do) with tickets to see a comedy show next month.  These are the gifts I love--thoughtful, heartfelt, creative.  These are the people I love.
7. Celebrating with the Kellys.  Cranberry pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, citrus salad, cookies...mmmm.  We dusted off the china and crystal for Christmas dinner with the gang.      8. Running.  OK, too many cookies.  Also, in a moment of weakness, I was talked into signing up for a half marathon in March.  The training has officially begun!  9.  Sleeping.  Because I can, that's why. I don't even want to think about setting the alarm for 5 am again.  Not yet!
10. Annual Kelly Adventure.  Harold and Shirley are such good sports.  This year we went to see the National Christmas tree and checked out the train exhibit at the US Botanic Garden.  Can you tell which picture is the real Capitol building and which one is constructed from plants?                                         11. Movies.  A family movie that appeals to all four of us is a rare treat.  We all enjoyed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty this year in the comfort of the cushy reclining chairs of the theater.    
 12. My birthday!  I am so happy to be able to start my 43rd year with Kristin and family!  Dinner, games, laughs and cake.  I made a wish and blew out my candles but the truth is, it's already come true. 

Hope your Christmas was filled
 friends, family and fond memories

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This fall we had a fun visit with the cousins.  It was during the government shutdown, so instead of visiting museums in DC, the kids had fun with general mayhem down in the basement.

Meanwhile Blossom "helped" Jack with his homework...
No fancy plans--just good company, general silliness and lots of ice cream...
and of course, plenty of cousin cuteness...
just the way we like it.  Come back soon!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Happy Crying

I spent today crying.  Happy, sad, cathartic...a whole week's worth of craziness released in sobs and sniffles.

To catch you up on my week, on Sunday I found out I had lice.  I found this out when a bug fell out of my head.  I teach in an elementary school, so it is probably a small miracle that this was my first (and hopefully last?) bout with the little critters.  I spent most of Sunday afternoon sitting on my toilet with my hair sealed in lice-killing shampoo beneath my shower cap. 

Monday I spent the day sitting at my desk talking to parents.  I don't mind parent-teacher conferences, but they are emotionally draining.  I know, from the parent's perspective, it is important to feel my children are in the right hands.  So, I have to be "on" all day, answering questions, calming anxious feelings, explaining a quarter's worth of progress in 20 short minutes per family multiplied by 22 families. 

Tuesday I had a dentist appointment.  Yes, those of you who know me know that dentists are one of my anxiety triggers.  Luckily, I have a wonderful hygienist named Diane who is very soothing and helpful.  Unfortunately, when I showed up on Tuesday, Diane was not there.  I ended up having a panic attack with a different hygienist (who, I will say, was also wonderful and did not make me feel like a total freak when I burst into tears at the mention of "panoramic x-ray."  I'm pretty sure they put a note in my permanent record, though, and will give Diane a raise when she gets back.)

By Wednesday I was feeling pretty run down and started feeling downright awful.  I knew I was going to have to call in sick when I lost my voice.  Pretty much essential for teaching.

Whew, so you are all caught up.  Today is Thursday and I did, indeed, call in sick.  I spent the morning in bed reading Wonder and drinking hot tea.  It was such a good book and I won't spoil it for you but I spent the last quarter of the book crying my eyes out. 

The thing is, I didn't feel sad all day.  The crying was more an appreciation for my life--my beautiful, wonderful, crazy, imperfect life--and all the wonderful people who love me.  In the book Wonder, one of the characters plays Emily in Thorton Wilder's play "Our Town." In one of the final scenes, she says,  "Good-by to clocks ticking and Mama's sunflowers.  And food and coffee.  And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up.  Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you!"

That's the way I'm feeling today.  Life is complicated and messy and, yes, sometimes difficult.  But it is also too wonderful for anybody to realize.  That's what makes it so amazing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Congratulations, You Bought A Horse

My friend Alison just bought a horse.  I checked the Hallmark section for the "Congratulations, You Bought a Horse!" cards but I think they were out.  Alison invited me to the barn to meet the newest member of her family.

Meeting Blackjack for the first time.  Can I live here too?
You may be wondering how one goes about buying a horse.  Alison began by taking riding lessons.  After a while, she decided to lease one of the horses at the barn and then she fell in love.  She began riding several times a week, as well as working at the barn and volunteering with a therapeutic riding instructor.  Then, she got the sad news that her barn was closing.

What would happen to all the horses?  What would happen to Blackjack?  Alison learned that the horses would all be put up for auction.  And that's when the idea began to take shape in her mind.  Maybe, just maybe, she could buy the horse!
Here's where the story gets good.  Because, you see, we all have these --call them what you want-- crazy ideas? goals? dreams?  Too often, I think we let our doubts or our fears overtake our thoughts.  We talk ourselves out of our plans before we try them out.  We want to wait until we have more information, more money, more time...

Alison worked through her plan.  She had Blackjack vetted.  She found him a new home.  And then, she bought herself a horse.  Congratulations on the newest member of your family.  You had a dream.  Then, you made your dream come true.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What Does the Fox Say?

One year, when I taught kindergarten, I had a boy in my class who was a bit quirky, shall we say.   He was short and a little chunky.  His parents always seemed to buy his clothes a few sizes too big, maybe hoping they would last longer as he grew into them.  The result was that he often looked like he was wearing a dress when his t-shirt fell past his knees.

In kindergarten "M" loved two things: Legos and singing.  In first grade, his teacher used to use singing as a reward:  Perform well academically and I'll let you perform with an audience.  M was on a behavior plan that included singing for teachers as his reward.

Fast forward three years and the boy is now in third grade next door to my class.  This morning's windy, rainy weather broke into a beautiful day and we all tumbled out of the trailers onto the playground.  The teachers sat, as usual, on the bench in the middle of the field to keep watch over their flocks.  That's when Lizzie brought M over.

"Guys-- M has a song for you."  she says.

We turn our full attention to M.  As if on a stage, he begins to sing:

Dog goes woof
Cat goes meow
Bird goes tweet
and mouse goes squeak
Cow goes moo
Frog goes croak
and the elephant goes toot
Ducks say quack
and fish go blub
and the seal goes ow ow ow ow ow
But there;s one sound
That no one knows
What does the fox say?
At this point he begins to dance all around the bench, all the teachers clapping and cheering as he is singing at the top of his lungs:
He pauses back in front of us, more animated than I've ever seen him and belts out:

What the fox say?

It was hilarious yet heartwarming at the same time. The song stayed in my head the rest of the afternoon.  I bet the infectious tune stayed with M as well.   Every time I thought of it, I smiled.  I think he did too.  Does this have anything to do with standardized testing or curriculum?  No.  But moments like these are what make teaching worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Clicking My Heels Together

I don't own ruby red slippers like Dorothy.  If I did, I would be clicking them together and begging the Wizard of Oz to take me back to Kansas City.

Last weekend I arrived--not by tornado mind you, I flew United--and it was such a fun weekend with my friend Allyson! 

Allyson's dad picked us up at the airport and whisked us away to Atchison, KS faster than you could say yellow brick road.   There, we toured Allyson's hometown--seeing everything from her childhood home to the Amelia Earhart museum.

home sweet home

Allyson and her good friend Amelia!

Then it was back across the river to Kansas City where we were wined, dined and pampered by our wonderful hosts.

Two great guys!

Sunday we visited an art museum and took a walking tour of the city of fountains. 

hmmm, where should we go first?


I couldn't have asked for better weather or better company!  Hoping for another adventure soon!


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tools for the Toolbox

"What do you use to get your pushpin into a bulletin board?  Probably your thumb.  What do you use to put a nail into a 2x4?"

I am talking about tools with Jack.  Really, I am trying to talk about homework with Jack.  Actually, I would rather NOT talk about homework at all.  It is a rather exhausting topic.  Jack and I agree on this point.  We don't agree on much else, when it comes to homework.

Jack doesn't understand his Algebra homework so he's decided not to do it.  His history homework is hard and boring so he's decided not to do it.  I am trying to convince him otherwise.

That's where the tool analogy comes in.  Sometimes, you can't get the job done without the right tools.  I am trying to tell him that he has a lot of tools available to him:

The tool of time management:  starting homework right after school instead of waiting until bedtime
The tool of teachers: available for extra assistance if he stays after school
The tool of parents: willing to help

If those aren't enough we can get a bigger toolbox--work on reading strategies to make history easier or consider medication to help with focus, for instance.

To me, this all seems perfectly logical.  Jack doesn't seem to hear any of it.  Wait a minute, are those earbuds peeking out from his sweatshirt?  He's not even listening to me.  I am the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon, "Whaw, whaaw, whawww..."

Now I am the one banging my head against a 2x4.  I am tired of having the same conversation every week.  I look into my toolbox: 

Tool 1: Try rational argument about the importance of homework.  Offer to help.  Give a pep talk.
Tool 2: Threaten grounding until Christmas.
Tool 3: Retreat into bedroom in my pajamas with a glass of wine.

Nothing seems to be the right fit to get the job done.  I either need more wine or new tools. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Happy Birthday Johnny Appleseed

The American flag waves proudly in our neighborhood on so many occasions--Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veteran's Day...this year we added a new occasion to the list: Johnny Appleseed's birthday. 
Johnny Appleseed (his real name was John "The Worm" Chapman) was an American Pioneer who spent 50 years travelling the Midwest.  He created apple orchards in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Some of those trees still bear apples to this day.  (OK, you got me.  I made up "The Worm."  But everything else is true.  I think.)
It is hard to know for sure because there are many stories about Johnny Appleseed in American Folklore.  Some say he wore a tin pot on his head and walked around barefoot.  In one story, a rattlesnake tries to bite Johnny's foot but he can't because the fangs can't puncture Johnny's thick skin.  Johnny was known as friendly and kind, even to animals.  In another tale, he is dancing with bears. 
So, maybe some of the stories are exaggerated but Johnny still seems like a great guy and one worth celebrating.  That's where Katherine's expert party planning skills come into play.  For the table setting, she made apple napkin rings.  The centerpiece was, of course, a row of shiny red apples. 
Then we invited some guests to the party.  Pop Pop and Uncle Stu were happy to participate.  We sang the Johnny Appleseed grace and dined on some "American" fare of oven-fried chicken, succotash, biscuits, and apple sauce.  And, of course, apple pie for dessert.  Uncle Stu even brought the ice cream. 
After dinner we tested our knowledge of John Chapman's life with a little trivia game.  Pop Pop declared himself the winner, but I suspect he might have had a little creative point totaling because I thought I was the Amazing Apple Trivia Queen.   Good food and fun times with family.  Thanks, Johnny Appleseed, for giving us an excuse to celebrate.
The Johnny Appleseed Grace
Oh, The Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me
The things I need
The sun and the rain and the apple seed
The Lord is good to me.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Fall

Fall officially arrived yesterday as the Autumn equinox occurred.  The Autumn equinox is the point where there is exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator.   Now the days will get shorter until the Winter solstice in December.  Fall unofficially started three weeks ago here when school began. 
Jack is now a freshman in high school!
Katherine starting middle school!


I am still hanging out with the Haycock Cougar...
Surprise!  Katherine helped with orientation.  It gets pretty hot and sweaty in there...don't think she'll be applying to be a mascot again anytime soon.
In addition to starting school we also went on our 9th annual neighborhood camping trip.  This year's highlight was ziplining!
It was fun to get all the kids together for the weekend. 
We are now in the full swing of fall.  Jack is playing football (already had his first--hopefully last--concussion) and Katherine is preparing for the first Girl Scout camping trip...yes, I am chaperoning again. Looking forward to more adventures of the season. 
Happy Fall!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Triathlon Report

I set my alarm for 4:40 am but the sound of the pouring rain wakes me up instead.  Not the ideal weather conditions I was hoping for.  I plug in the coffee pot, grab a pb & j and a banana and pull on my swimsuit and a pair of shorts.   It is time to go.
When we arrive at the site of the triathlon, it is still dark and raining.  I wander through the maze of racks until I find the one for my number, 329.  I hook up my bike and grab my sweatshirt, leaving everything else in the waterproof bag.  Normally, people lay out everything they need for easy access but I wanted to keep my stuff dry as long as possible. 
“Bodymarking!”  a volunteer calls, holding a big fat Sharpie marker.
“Here!” I say.  He writes 329 down the sides of both arms and on both my thighs.  Then he draws a 42 on the back of my calf to show my age. 

Properly marked, I head over to the line to pick up my timing chip.  It is incased in a waterproof shell that I secure to my ankle with Velcro. 

Last stop, the bathroom.  “If I ever do this again, I’m getting a two piece,” I think, as I peel off all my layers to pee.
The transition area closes and by 6:45 am, 500 women are gathered by the edge of the pool, ready for our first event.  We stand for The Star Spangled Banner and the race begins.   Obviously, 500 women cannot jump into the pool and start swimming laps all together.  So we are seeded by our estimated swim time.  The faster swimmers start first and then every 15 seconds a new triathlete begins.  By estimating my swim at about 12 minutes, I am one of the slower swimmers and will be the 329th person in the pool.  I have a while to wait. 

While we are waiting and watching, I see a woman I had met in the bathroom line.  She had just learned how to swim and was really nervous about getting in the pool.  “You’ve got this,” I told her.  “If you panic, just put your feet down.  It is a pool.”  Now she is in the water and she is panicking.  There are too many swimmers—feet kicking, water splashing.  She stands up looking like she is going to cry.  “You’ve got this,” I yell to her.  She starts to move forward-not swimming but jogging in the pool.  Other spectators begin to cheer. 
“You can do it!”  Slowly she makes her way up and down the lanes.  By the last lane we are all cheering for her and she is grinning so wide and proud.  That’s the kind of triathlon this is—more supportive than competitive. 

Finally it is my turn.  “Ready, go.” I push off the wall and begin freestyle down my first lap.  I swim up and down the first lane, then duck under the lane line and swim up and back again.  This is called a snake swim.  I swim 8 laps for a total of 400 meters.  Done!  I push my body out of the pool and run down to the transition area.  Thankfully the pouring rain stopped but there is still a gentle mist falling. 
I try not to worry too much as I dry off, pull on my sneakers and shorts, and buckle my helmet.  The bike is usually my easy leg but I have never biked in the rain.  I walk my bike to the mounting line and hop on.   I worry about my tire traction.  I worry about skidding.  I worry about visibility.  Because I am being extra cautious, the first few miles are slower than normal.   At some point, though, I forget to worry and start to enjoy it all—the water dripping off my helmet onto my nose, my burning muscles as I push up the hills, the spectators waving and cheering.    I ride 11 miles and return to the transition area, rack my bike and switch my biking helmet for a baseball hat.

Now it is time for the run.  If you have never felt the sensation of riding a bike and then trying to run, try it sometime.  Your legs feel like bricks.  After struggling with my hip for the last few months, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to run.  I started jogging, slow and easy, trying to loosen up the legs.  “Slow and easy,” I kept telling myself.  “Walk if you need to.”  The rain was picking up again as I crossed the street to run around the lake.  Slowly I made my way around.  One mile, slow and easy.  Two miles, slow and easy.  I’m doing it!  I’m almost there! 

The third mile ends with a long incline.  I lean into the hill, slow and easy.  I look up to the top and there is my cheering section!  They are decked out in pink, holding a poster and calling my name

This is it!  I push up the hill and around the field to the finish.  I start to sprint but the field is like a giant marsh from all the rain.   I run as fast as I can to cross the finish line.   I did it, despite the rain, despite the worry, despite my injury.  I did it and I am glad.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dreaming of a Never Ending Summer

In my dream, it is recess on the first day of school.  “I heard you got Muffled Name,” another teacher says.  “How is it going?”
“I haven’t even learned all their names yet,” I reply.  “Which one is he?" We scan the playground, our eyes both coming to rest at the same time on a little dark haired boy in a red shirt who has removed his shoes and is now scaling the chain link fence behind home plate. 
“That one,” she says.
enjoying July in Asheville
My friend Katie compares the summer months for teachers to the days of the weekend.  June is like a Friday.  You have to work through most of it but the mood is lighter and you know the weekend is coming.  July is summer’s Saturday.  The whole month is yours for adventure!  Saturday is a trip to the park, a hike by a waterfall and a cookout with friends.  But then you wake up and it is Sunday.  Even though it is a part of the weekend, Sunday just doesn’t have the same feel.   Sunday is for going to the grocery store, or doing laundry.  Sunday is when you eye the “guilty bag” you brought home and think of lessons to plan, papers to grade. 
To teachers, August feels like one big Sunday.  We know the end is in sight.  And even though I won’t meet my new class until September, my mind and body have to report back much sooner.  I’ll go in the 3rd week in August for some meetings and planning sessions with my team.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have my room assigned so I can get a head start unpacking boxes and figuring out how to set up my classroom.  By the 4th week, we are all back full time, up to our ears in SIP goals and Epipen trainings, trying to master the new Master Schedule and beautify our bulletin boards. 
So, it is no surprise to me that I have already started dreaming about the new school year.   I remember in my dream—watching my little guy climb—I felt very calm.  Like, “OK, I’ve got some work to do with that one but I think we’ll get along just fine.”  When September comes, I’ll be ready.
In the mean time, I want to make the most of my dwindling summer.   Dinner with friends, a baseball game, a movie, a play and my triathlon are all on the schedule.  I have three books in my pool bag.  Maybe, just maybe, August won’t fly by.  Well, I can dream, can’t I?
More pictures from our July vacation to Asheville...
See Mom, we're not always bickering!

Long climb to the top but views of the Smokies are worth it.

Snuggling with Reed's pet rabbit.

It's a big job, but someone has to hold up the Biltmore.



It's cool to watch Uncle Bobby work.