Monday, February 28, 2011

Soooooo tired!

I won't bore you by repeating all the days off we've had but I will say I was terribly disappointed by several of my students today. Work that had been assigned last Tuesday was not done. I have four students who just won't do it. I am not sure they should go on to 8th grade or maybe they just shouldn't return to our school. It always bothers me terribly when parents pay for private school and we are unable to motivate their students to do the work necessary to pass. I've tried everything I know and the only thing that works is bringing them into my classroom, everyday, during lunch break. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to give up my precious 20 minutes to these little dears. If I do this, make them come in everyday and do my homework, it gets done. But it is so artificial! I've had late bloomers before but these kids have attitudes and issues. If it's just one or the other we can usually make progress. Both? Not so much.

My planning period is the last one of the day on Mondays and generally I love it. Today I used it to go to the dentist and have my crown reset. It came off with the yummy salt-water taffy that I enjoyed in Cannon Beach. Thankfully everything was in good shape and the dentist was able to just clean it up and re-cement it into place. I'm pretty sure this will be cheaper than a new crown!

After the dentist, I came back to school (about 4 o'clock) and worked until nearly 7 in the evening. I just had so many loose ends and I do not like that feeling. Finished planning, photocopying, organizing, uploading grades... I'm ready for the next two weeks. I like being prepared two weeks in advance! I feel so confident when I do this.

However, I came home and totally crashed afterward. Made black bean soup, toast, and carrots for dinner then watched reruns of NCIS and Bones. Now my bed is saying, "Get in here you idiot!" so I think I'll stop for now.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Back to work!

This has been a great couple of weeks. Thursday, the 17th after work, T and I headed to the beach and stayed there until Sunday. We also had Monday off for Presidents' Day. Tuesday was a school day then I took Wednesday off for my birthday. Thursday and Friday were snow days which made for a second four-day weekend. We really enjoyed the extra time to rest and we really did rest. We sat by the fire in our living room, reading, chatting, and roaming through the internet. Saturday the grands and their parents came over for one more party, which was lots of fun. Other than that, relax, refresh, renew... and now - Monday's comin' - back to work! I actually feel ready for it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Another Snow Day!

Last weekend was our four-day break, thanks to Presidents' Day. This week it's all about the snow (and ice) that has roads a mess! So here's what Robert Frost has to say:

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Enter our garden

Our school mascot is the gator. This one is in a bit deep!
The dust of snow - shaken onto our reading little ones

Our new old fence that we installed last summer

We are loving our snowy mid-winter break!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

God's Birthday Present to Me: Snow!

So yes, I have moaned and groaned about having snow days built into our school calendar and not getting any snow but today... we got snow!

Yeah, that's enough snow to warrant a snow day!

Tonight it is supposed to snow some more and then drop to 17* - quite cold for this part of the world! So maybe... well... I won't say what I'm thinking just yet. It is a nice winter break, especially as I sit by the fire sipping coffee!

Outside, it is cold and beautiful. Our backyard hillside project looks so pretty covered in snow. But everything looks nice in white, right?!

Lovely, lovely snow!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Zuppa Toscana

My cousin emailed me a recipe for Zuppa Toscana and I absolutely think this is the real thing! It tastes just like the Olive Garden soup to me. I made it for dinner tonight and we really enjoyed it. This makes about 4 quarts of soup when it's all put together. The one thing I did differently from the recipe is the sausage. Instead of a pound of spicy Italian sausage, I used a half pound of spicy and a half pound of mild Italian. My cousin had warned me that the spicy was really spicy! So I thought I would share the wealth. Here's the recipe:

Zuppa Toscana
Serves: 10
Prep Time: about 40 minutes

1 pound Italian sausage (half spicy/half mild) crumbled
1/2 pound smoked bacon - chopped (I used Real Bacon crumbles)
1 quart water
30 ounces chicken stock or broth
2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed clean, cut into cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped (I used dried since fresh bothers me)
2 cups chopped kale OR Swiss chard (I used kale, a bit firmer than chard)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper to taste

*In a skillet over med-high heat, brown sausage, breaking into small pieces as you fry it; drain and set aside.
*In a skillet over med-high heat, brown bacon; drain and set aside.
*Put water, broth or stock, potatoes, garlic, and onion in a big pot (6 quart); bring to boil then simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes).
*Add sausage and bacon to pot; simmer for 10 minutes. Taste. Add salt and pepper according to taste.
*Add kale to pot and cook for 10 minutes.
*Add cream to pot and heat through.

Note: If you are on a low-carb diet (like Atkins) you can substitute cauliflower for the potatoes and you will hardly notice the difference.

The 6-0

Ha! As I was typing the title, I accidentally typed 8-0 instead of 6-0. Yes, that was a weird feeling. But if God grants me the time, I hope to see that decade as well.

Today I am 60. I got emails from two of my cousins this morning. We went to different grade schools and junior highs but finished at the same high school. One turned 60 in December and the other in January. We were inseparable, not just cousins but friends. I have so many great memories of our childhood together. One cousin is enjoying her retirement on her little farm, just east of town and the other lives in CA, travels to lovely places, doing all the things that appear to be fun. The farmer is loving retirement; the traveler doesn't like the fact that she is now 60. It's all about attitude not numbers or lifestyle!

So I'm off to the PO to mail two packages to my adorables in France and then to my mother's to paint and help her reorganize her stuff after my brother remodeled her bedroom and bath. It has been a mess for a month and she hates clutter! My mom is going to hit 83 in June and she is the best! Great attitude, always busy, never complains (although she is a worrier), and will try to do anything and everything for herself before hinting she might need help. I have to stay a step ahead of her or I would find her on ladders and other silly places! I am grateful for my gene-pool because I am a very optimistic person with an incredibly high energy level. I think that's good, for me and for my family.

So welcome 60! I'm planning to enjoy every year, every day, every moment I get!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Decadal Change

I am on the verge... in moments... of adding a new decadal numeral to my age. Incredible! Where have the decades gone? In the first decade, I lived in this very town, went to one school, lived in two different houses. In the second decade I still lived in this very town then moved to another state, went to three different schools, and lived two different houses and a college dorm room. In the third decade I married, had two children, lived in three different states, two different countries, a bunch of different residences. In the fourth decade my children left home, then got married, I became a grandmother, I traveled the world. In the fifth decade life got complicated. Cancer invaded our family, I became grandma to four more beautiful children, we changed careers - twice, and we moved back home. And here I am... ready to begin decade number six and wondering... can it really get any better than this? I guess I'm ready to find out!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cannon Beach, OR

CB has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It has long stretches of deep beach area; a person could walk for miles. When the tide goes out, there are huge rocks that are home to all kinds of sea life. Snow-capped mountains frame the area bringing another dimension of beauty. We had such an amazing time on the beach, in spite of the cold temperatures.

Very cool starfish crawl all over the rocks. I don't know why some are purple and some are pinkish orange.

I have never seen blue green sea urchins before but they are all over the place at Cannon Beach!

And then there are the sunsets!

It was a wonderful weekend!

My First Birthday

For my first birthday, I got a brother! Today is brother Bob's birthday who's celebrating in sunny Palm Springs, CA. Nice! We are not quite a year apart in age (2 days shy) and I honestly cannot remember a moment of my life without him. I am hyper and outgoing and he is calm and reserved. We both love books. As young children we had a Saturday ritual. After cleaning our bedrooms, we would spend all morning at the library - coming home with at least 20 books each - followed by the Disney matinee at the Capitol Theater. We did that every Saturday during the school year and some summer Saturdays as well. We actually hit the library more often than that during the summer because we both read books like some people plow through a bag of chips! So happy birthday Bobby! Yeah, he would love that old nickname.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Complex People

I have several complex people in my life but no one more intriguing than my brother, the middle child. This guy and I have been at cross-purposes for years. He is incredibly high-energy and totally focused on work. For years it's been about making money... lots of money... something he does very well. He also loves Asia and Eastern religions, not that he believes any of them or any religion at all for that matter. He used to be incredibly foul-mouthed around me, baiting me... yeah, it worked. But when my dad started to get sick, he was the one who made sure dad had everything he needed. When dad had the bad stroke, he was the one who convinced me to come and I did and it made a big difference for dad and for me. He was the one who handled all of my dad's finances after his death, selling seven or eight properties, making sure we all got what dad wanted us to have. He even reserved a few grand and whenever something special comes along, takes us all out to dinner on dad's dime. When we moved here after 25 years overseas, he was the one who lined up all kinds of help for us to fix up our house. He has hosted the family dinners in his huge, beautiful, historic home. And just a few weeks ago, he moved a woman, suffering with brain cancer, and her son into his home. She has nothing left and needed a place to live - they are friends - he has a big house. That's how he recounts his decision. Such amazing generosity. She knows that if it comes down to it, she can die there. She hopes to be healed but it's not looking very promising. In the meantime, she and her 16 year old son live in a beautiful home with absolutely everything they need. I am so proud of my complex brother, who still has an amazing capacity for driving me crazy!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grandparent's Day

Today was Grandparent's Day; it was also Spirit Day, as in patriotic red, white, and blue day which meant I got to wear blue jeans. I wear black ones every day but my blue jeans... I love my blue jeans! Anyway, the entire school was mobbed with grandparents - all but the junior high. Oh I had three sets, the other 7th grade homeroom had two, and the 8th grade had one. But the sixth grade had at least two dozen, fifth had 30+ and I swear there were five adults for every kindergarten and first grade student! It was crazy! I wish junior high could just skip it but being part of a K-8 school means there are some things we just can't avoid, and this seems to be one of them. Of the three sets of grandparents who came today, one set has legally become the parents of my student. They took him when he was a year old and have had him ever since. We did have an interesting 30 minutes though. A few years ago I came up with a questionnaire for kids to ask their grandparents about the cost of things when the grandparents were the same age as the kids are now. Then a year later I added questions about the president at that time, the national fear, hourly wage or yearly salary... that kind of thing. The kids were freaking out at the idea of a movie for 25 cents. So that was fun and we had snacks. Done for another year!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Four-Day Weekend

Last spring, my brilliant administrator husband and the rest of the crew around here made the sound decision to not follow the path set out by the surrounding schools for this coming weekend. Public schools will have next Monday and Tuesday off. We, however, will have this Friday and next Monday off. So smart! So much more teaching is accomplished in two four-day weeks rather than a five and three! Plus, just think of all the teacher-joy, knowing that there are two short weeks back-to-back! We are headed to Cannon Beach. I don't care if it storms... I will enjoy it!

Monday, February 14, 2011


This little cutie showed up in my classroom today, cupcake and homemade valentine in hand. There are times when being the youngest is just not as cool as it should be. Big sister and big brother spent a good portion of Saturday and Sunday making Valentines for their classmates at school. Since she had no classmates, she brought Valentines to Grandpa and Grandma! We're not complaining although she might be. Sierra does not go to school... yet. But just ask her, she'll be four in June and she will go to school when she is four. I'm not going to be the one to tell her that school won't start until September! Her name is Sierra June but it ought to be Sierra Joy because that's how she makes me feel - so full of joy it's running over.

Valentine's in Junior High? Absolutely NOT!

Yes, I am the meanest teacher in the west! The first year that I taught in the junior high, we had a Valentine's Day party. It was nuts! Beginning a week or two before the party, all the girls were whispering about the boys and the boys were scheming and dreaming about the girls. It initiated previously uninterested students into the Life of Boys and Girls, something they simply do not need until much later in life. After that first year, I just said no. The rest of the school could have a party if they wanted but my homeroom class was not going to do it. The other junior high teachers were delighted that I said no and jumped on the bandwagon. So today, while K-6 teachers were frantically losing their minds, we conducted a normal school day. No flowers, no candy, no cards, no silliness. A few parents brought their children flowers or balloons and I do think some of the girls brought valentines for their friends, which they gave out quietly before school or between classes, but there was none of the craziness of that first year. Fortunately the high school is in a completely separate building; I have been praying for my principal husband today. I can't imagine the level of insanity over there! But junior high? No problem!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

4-day weeks

We have two four-day weeks ahead of us. I like that because I could really use an extra day off. We haven't had all the snow days that folks South and East of us have enjoyed. Not that I would want that much time off, but a day here and there is quite nice. Our administration chose to give us Friday and Monday rather than Monday and Tuesday. I, for one, am very grateful! I don't care for three-day weeks very much but four days - perfect!

I rewarded my short-story grading frenzy on Saturday and let myself read two books today. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo. Two very different books! One challenged me intellectually and the other reinforced my faith.

Tomorrow, Valentine's Day, the Whittaker family will honor the life of their little girl, Susana. I would love to give them the second book I read tonight but I think they could probably write one themselves. These people have incredible faith. God bless them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Smell of a Bookstore

It's incredible, right? I mean, we used to go to Barnes & Noble in Miami and spend hours thumbing through books, seeing what was on the bargain racks, enjoying a coffee. On vacations, anywhere, we find the little out of the way, odd bookstores, usually full of used books and other cool stuff. We'd literally spend days in these quirky little places. I've been thinking about bookstores lately. Word is that Borders is going to file for bankruptcy. I rushed right in and used up all my gift cards from Christmas! Hope you've done that... they won't be worth much after chapter 11.

When e-books first came out, I scoffed. Never... never would an electronic whatever replace the beauty of holding and reading a good book. Then my hubby bought me an iPod touch. I am not a gadgets kind of person. I'd never had an iPod because I couldn't think of a reason to get one... until we decided to go to Israel for Christmas. Right... l-o-n-g flights, plus terrible luggage restrictions and books are heavy! In comes my new iPod touch with my 20+ books downloaded and it fits in the little front pocket of my purse. The back-lit screen means I don't need a light to read at night so I don't keep my hubby awake. I absolutely love it!

So I'm really sorry Borders but I understand why this has happened. Amazon is my new bookstore... but I do miss the coffee, leather chairs, and that amazing smell of books!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas

One of my 7th grade students is having a bad year. Her father has inoperable, stage 4 esophageal cancer. He is not yet 50 years old but unless a miracle happens, it is unlikely he will see his daughter graduate from junior high school. The sad thing for us was that we didn't know about this. She started missing school, not doing her work or doing it poorly, and we just thought she was being lazy. We asked the office to find out what was going on and they did... they found out that dad was sick. Period. End of story. Then I saw him. I about flipped. He has lost about 50 pounds; I over-heard him talking to a volunteer bus driver, saying "They got it too late." A bit more probing and I had the full story. Chemo is hopefully shrinking the tumor so it can be removed. Cancer is evil! Dylan Thomas seems to fit today:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Yes, we have no bananas

I forgot to buy bananas on Monday so I went without on Tuesday. Then I forgot to buy them on Tuesday so no banana this morning. Every day I head to work with my breakfast: coffee and a banana. The past several days I have noticed a lady in a car next to me at the stop light on Carpenter Road and Martin Way. Every day, same car, same lady. She eats her breakfast on the way to work as well... a big chocolate covered doughnut. Normally I would be quite envious but eating that, before seven in the morning? Just the thought makes me kind of sick to my stomach.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Late night; questions...

Yesterday (Friday) was one of those days. We are finishing up literature circles in 8th grade language arts. Our focus has been novels that deal with the Civil War era. It's been fun, good reading for the students, plenty of work to do for those who are actually doing their work. One of the quirks about this results in me writing individual tests for each group. Now... to be honest, I don't exactly write totally individualized tests. The first page is always vocabulary based on the words that the students have chosen to highlight: new, interesting, or difficult words. The second page has the same essay questions, framed around the elements of literature, which the students answer based on their particular novel.

Thursday afternoon I began preparing the first test over Across Five Aprils. I dug into the folder, pulled out all the word list sheets, and began to read: wonderful, picket, idle, --- WHAT? The little darlings had chosen wimpy words, thinking they would beat me at my own game. So... I typed up their word list and next to each wimpy word I place a word that would challenge their learning. And no, I did NOT give them the definition! I finished the list and saw that only six of their words had survived the exercise. I printed one copy and gave it to a young lady in the group, telling her that she would have the dubious honor of presenting it to her group the next morning. The look on her face quickly confirmed that she knew exactly what was up! I went through each of the lists that afternoon, finding one more group who thought it would be a good idea to produce wimpy words. I doctored that list and gave it to a young man... who told me a few moments later that all his words had survived the cut because he had taken his responsibility seriously. I agreed with him; he did a good job choosing his words. However, he knew exactly what the others were doing and he didn't stop them nor did he choose to tell me what was happening. Brandon announced that there ought to be a banner in my classroom that simply states: Don't play around with Mrs. K or you will pay! I understood and agreed with that concept. To be fair, there was only one group who did not have any words replaced or added to the list but the four other groups had obviously taken their job seriously, I mean... prestidigitation? Good word. So last night I finished the tests.

Friday night, 8 o'clock, and there I was, working away... ridiculous but necessary. I have a ton of essays to grade this weekend and I didn't need those tests hanging over my head. As I worked, two of my former students dropped by to visit. There were basketball games going on in both gyms on our campus. Both girls are sweet, bright students. They didn't get all As from me but they did fine. One attends the high school on our campus and the other is at a nearby public high school. Miss Public High School Student began to tell me about her Honors English class. My head snapped up, "You are in honors? Congratulations." All the while my brain is saying, how in the world did that happen? I don't mean to belittle Miss PHSS; she's so sweet, a good reader, but certainly not among my top students. We chatted amiably for about 30 minutes and then the girls headed off to the game. I sat for a few moments, thinking of my students who had moved on to public high schools. Every one of my former students is part of an Honors English program in high school. I did not think Miss PHSS would be one of those, nor Mr. R, nor Mr. S, but they are. All of my former students tell me that they have yet to work as hard in high school as they did in 8th grade. And remember... they are in honors! I learned last night that they read one or maybe two novels each quarter and that their grade is based on a 50-minute timed essay. They will write three timed essays during the quarter and they are allowed to choose which one gets graded. The teacher rolls a dice which determines which part of their essay she will grade. R-e-a-l-l-y!

I think... no, I honestly don't know what I think! Good writing, in my very humble opinion, is not about a student's gut reaction to a topic. Remember, students have 50 minutes to make some notes, organize their thoughts, write, edit, and rewrite. I suppose that this works from a strictly testing point of view but to my understanding, this is the only essay writing these students will do during the year.

I am hearing this everywhere... timed essays... just sayin' - I'm not a fan.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Seven years ago today, my husband and I were in Martinique for meetings when we received the call: our first grandson had entered the world! Colton Gage Ketchum is a force like no other. He is smart, strong, daring, beautiful, and sweet. He is his dad's best friend, his grandpa's buddy, and reminds us often of his Uncle Brian. I love him with all my heart and rejoice that tonight he is coming (with his family) to our house for dinner and a birthday celebration. What a wonderful day!