Monday, November 12, 2012

What a difference!

A month in the life of a little boy makes such a difference. So does a haircut. Just check out my Bow Tie Boy and his previous birthday photo. It's hard to believe Eliott has grown up so much.

Saturday, October 06, 2012


This little guy is now two years old. He has discovered that he has opinions that are not the same as the rest of the world. He found out that he loves to do what he loves to do, and he detests doing what he does not love to do. And the truth of it is, I just love him. Happy Birthday Eliott Ray. May you be a voice to be reckoned with in this world. You are dearly loved.

Banned Books Attract

An English teacher whose blog I follow posted this letter from Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and many other works. I just had to repost!

To the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:
I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys.
I’ve enjoyed a lifetime love affair with English teachers, just like the ones who are being abused in Charleston, West Virginia, today. My English teachers pushed me to be smart and inquisitive, and they taught me the great books of the world with passion and cunning and love. Like your English teachers, they didn’t have any money either, but they lived in the bright fires of their imaginations, and they taught because they were born to teach the prettiest language in the world. I have yet to meet an English teacher who assigned a book to damage a kid. They take an unutterable joy in opening up the known world to their students, but they are dishonored and unpraised because of the scandalous paychecks they receive. In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why. Charleston, West Virginia, is showing clear signs of really hurting theirs, and I would be cautious about the word getting out.
In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.
About the novels your county just censored: The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are two of my darlings which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In Beach Music, I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.
People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I’m perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in The Catcher in the Rye forty-eight years ago.
The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in Lonesome Dove and had nightmares about slavery in Beloved and walked the streets of Dublin in Ulysses and made up a hundred stories in The Arabian Nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.
The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book-banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works—but writers and English teachers do.
I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you’ve just done what history warned you against—you’ve riled a Hatfield.
Pat Conroy

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Someone recently posted this photo on facebook and I snagged it:

Does it look like heaven to you? 
Yeah, me too.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

First Week Finished

What a beautiful week for the first week of school. Temps were in the 80s and the sun shone constantly. September is that kind of month for the Northwest. Even though the trees begin to change color, it's warm and sunny. Makes it difficult to stay in class and teach! Oh well... I love the cool mornings, sunny days, and beautiful evenings in our back yard.

The first week would have been perfect if Ms. Senior Class Officer hadn't come to me on Wednesday afternoon to tell me she was leaving next week for ten days. I was so irritated! Of course she wanted her work and expected me to have it ready for her by Monday. So instead of enjoying this beautiful weather, I spent my evenings preparing lessons. I usually work a week ahead but not the first couple of weeks of school. I need to get a feel for my students, a sense of their abilities, establish a pace. Friday morning Ms. SCO brought me flowers... nice touch. 

Another nice touch was having the Back to School Bash on Friday. Instead of working on that beautiful 85* day, we started with chapel then went to a local lakeside park. Unfortunately students couldn't swim because of a supposed bacterial rating, something that was quickly proven to be isolated and no longer existent, but the lake had to have two clean ratings in a row to be approved for swimming. I guess we should be glad as that meant we didn't have to deal with skimpy suits and raging hormones! Everyone had a great time, playing games, swinging, just hanging out. And because I had worked like a fool on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, I didn't have to work late Friday night, so we barbecued chicken and just relaxed at home. 

All in all, a good start to school. Hopefully it will continue; we will grow in knowledge, relationships, and numbers! I'm praying for that.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

First Day

Yes, school has started at ye old high school. I'm actually sitting in first period - study hall. I've gone over my expectation sheet and chatted briefly with each student. Now we all just sit here... they have nothing to study and I am ready to teach next period, Brit Lit. This is rather boring. Hopefully these students will have more excitement as the day progresses.

Saturday, September 01, 2012


How can September have started already? I'm not prepared for summer to be finished. In the NW, our summer begins sometime after the 4th of July and closes near the end of September so it is rather insulting to spent lovely weather days in the classroom. But there's no question, it's time to go back to school. Mornings are cool and crisp; the leaves are starting to change color. Some stores have started putting Christmas stuff on their shelves. That's ridiculous, but it's the way the commercial markets function. There are a lot of things I need to do, but the one thing I would love to do more than any other thing is cuddle with these three children. I have yet to hold little Nora; oh how wish I could change that!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Beautiful Mountain

We haven't been able to get away for a real vacation this year so we have enjoyed a few day trips instead. We have such beauty surrounding us - what a privilege to live in Washington!

Last Saturday, we drove up to Mount Rainier National Park. Once in the park, we still had a long drive to Paradise (that's really the name) where we hiked and had lunch.

 This is the top of the mountain, what we saw as we hiked.

 Here is one of the viewpoints. Gorgeous!

 The Lodge where we had lunch, nestled in the mountains and trees.

Gorgeous wildflowers dotted the mountain base.

On the way home, T snapped this photo, one of our favorite spots.

We ended our day in our own backyard. Perfect.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


The day we arrived in Haiti - 8.8.88 - we had few expectations. We had already lived in France for a year and served six years in Martinique. We were pretty fluent in French but spoke no Creole. I never did learn it. My husband and sons picked it up quickly but I never even tried. Part of that was because I was still doing French translation work for Martinique, something that continued for many years. A lot of Creole comes from French, without verb conjugations. That would be disastrous for French which prides itself on all the special verbs for special situations. The other reason was I didn't want to; I was afraid it would compromise my French. Oh well... We lived in Haiti for twelve years, were 'evacuated' twice (unnecessary but unavoidable), and then moved to Miami while continuing to work (off and on) in Haiti for six more years. Both of our sons graduated from high school while living in Haiti, making lifelong friends who continue to shape them as humans on this planet. There is nothing quite like friendships forged in a place like this country. Many people move to Haiti with the thought of doing something great for the Haitian people. I've always been of the opinion that people moving to Haiti were about to learn something very important about themselves and would grow in ways previously unimaginable, or quickly leave the country, unable to handle the pressure of this extraordinary place. I learned some of the most important lessons in life from relatively poor, uneducated Haitian people of faith. And I am quite grateful.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

List Making

I consider July 31 to be the last true day of my summer break. Once August hits, I tend to change the way I function. I'm in list-mode. What haven't I done that I need to cram into my final weeks? This definitely reduces relaxation and puts me into a more scheduled attitude.

On my list I find windows that still have to be washed, posters that haven't yet been laminated, a lecture series (two actually) that are unfinished, books that have not been read, a trip to the hazzo house that has been waiting for three years! My list has been around quite a while. I guess it can wait at bit longer, at least through today, the last day of July.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Another Project

If we ever finish designing our yard, we're just going to have to weed rather than create! Today T put twinkle lights on one of the trees. I liked it so much that we went shopping for more. Now our back yard pond is encircled by little lights. It's quite a pretty progression from afternoon to late evening.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Garden Life

My summer break is more than half over. Sadness... I love teaching, don't get me wrong, but I also love the 80+ days I spend outside the classroom. And outside is the key word for me. I spend a lot of time in my garden. I'm a developper... ever take that gallup inventory with strengths finder? My top fiver are developper, ideation, woo (winning others over), positivity, and input. Yeah... that pretty much sums me up. It's not limited to my classroom; I take it into my garden as well. Here's a few photos:

My favorite hydrangea, blue and purple

 Our new flagstone pathway, from the patio to the trails

 Out front: daisies and lilies

Every year I pot geraniums under our front window;
this year I added a white one.

Blooming for the first time, this was planted three years ago!

The front walkway, daisies, black-eyed Susans, white hydrangea, fuschia

The back yard hillside, terraced with trails. Not yet blooming.

It's hard work but I do love it. Seeing chaos organized into something pretty, very satisfying. This is what the back hillside looked like before we worked on it:

And this is after, before we put in the flagstone.

As I said, hard work but I love it!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nora's Quilt - The Beginning

Several months ago, I sent two squares of white fabric to Haiti so my friend and former employee could embroider them with baby scenes. One was for a baby girl and the other for a baby boy. This was in anticipation of the news we would receive for grandchild number six. And then the announcement came, a girl! I went to the fabric store and purchased what I needed to make the baby quilt. That took about all the time and energy I had. Having just transitioned from junior high to high school teaching, I was still up to my neck in work with little or no time for sewing. But now summer vacation is here and there is time, somewhat... I have helped with scheduling for the new year, hosted birthday dinners, shopped and lunched with my mother - so maybe there's time. I'm taking the time today to sew. Here's the center square, our baby girl square for Nora Elise.

And here is the fabric that I will use to create the quilt blocks. The bright yellow (far left) with the polka-dots is the back. The white with pink polka-dots (far right) is the border. The three fabrics in the center will create the blocks, which will be stripes on the diagonal. The eyelet trim will go around the border. I hope it turns out okay!

 Oh yes, I still have the baby boy embroidered square (not shown) just in case. Right, I think my sons would have heart attacks should another one show up anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer = Sore

I've decided that the new normal for summer break is being sore! Yesterday was a great day. I went to my son's house and helped K move all the furniture from two kids' bedrooms into a third kid's bedroom so that carpets could be torn up in anticipation of new carpeting. It was a job and I'm a bit sore today, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. My mother got me hooked on furniture sliders. Seriously, a person could put a queen-sized hide-a-bed on these sliders and move it with one hand! Great invention; I hope the guy's a millionaire! After working and lunch, I took my three grands to a park on my side of town and they played until they were ready to drop. It's a big park with lots of fun things for big kids as well as little ones. They had a blast. Limeberry was next on our agenda, followed by cartoons at home. I wore those little darlings out so their parents could rest. That's what a good grandma does!

Other than that, my garden is blooming and I'm loving it!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Soooo Sore!

Yesterday I worked, all day. First I made strawberry freezer jam, then cut up fruit for a large salad, and finally the yard. Oh my goodness, the yard definitely got its revenge. I took advil last night and tried to sleep. About 2:30 in the morning I gave up, came out to get more advil, and roamed the internet for a while. I tried the daybed in the kids' room but couldn't get comfortable. Finally about 4 in the morning, I went back to bed. I think I heard the clock chime 5 o'clock and then I don't remember anything until the phone rang at 9 o'clock. I don't want to just sit around because that makes me hurt more, so I'm doing laundry, vacuuming, and will run errands in a short while. This afternoon, we will attend Colton's last baseball game for the season, followed by a BBQ/bonfire for his team and the families at C's house. That will be fun. I want to see Kayla's room. She (and her mother) splatter-painted it, painted a dark brown wainscotting, and trimmed it out in ribbon. Scott repurposed the wood flooring from his office (which was destroyed by a falling tree during a snow storm) into her bedroom as well. Can't wait to see it all together.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Yard Work

Along with summer break comes yard work. Honestly, I love working in my yard. I love flowers and trails and waterfalls and shrubs and all growing things. I don't like some of the work these things demand. I've done a lot of weeding but there's a lot more to do! Today, the big deal... I finished pruning the rhododendrons and laurels. We have 15 rhodies and 4 laurels. Of the rhododendrons, only two didn't need a heavy pruning. I decided that this was a project I could do while T works all day. There are reasons why I wouldn't want to be an administrator in a school and summer break is one of them. Anyway, today I pruned the last four rhodies and two laurels. My arms and shoulders are so sore that I can hardly type. This means that it's going to be really awful tomorrow! I also put up two batches of strawberry freezer jam and cut up fruit for a huge salad for tomorrow's little league picnic for Colton and his team. I think I owe myself some lunch at a good rest. The sun is shining beautifully so maybe I'll have a little picnic all by myself. I do believe I deserve it!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Proud of my School!

As I previously posted, we attended my nephew's high school graduation. Two of my former middle school students and one of our former high school students graduated from THS the same night, along with over 274 others. Now, there were only 266 names on the program so I'm not sure where the other 8-10 students came from but that is incidental.

There were a few things that surprised me. This school honored their National Merit Scholar who was also one of the student speakers. We honored our National Merit Scholar as well, as our Valedictorian. Yes, we use the title. Oh, and their National Merit Finalist, the one who didn't quite make the Scholar cut, yeah... she was ours for more than half her high school experience but transferred for the big school's drama program.

This school had about a dozen students in the top ten percent category of WA state graduates. So did we... and they had one in the top one percent... hmmm, so did we.

This school hit their all-time-high for scholarships and grants at $1.8 million. Great. We came in just under $1 million... like $986,000 or something like that.

So what's the big deal? That school... has 274+ grads; we had 53 grads this year. 53! Our students came away with virtually the same number of honors in academics as one of the biggest high schools in the county! And we earned more than half the $$$ - even though - wait... (274 ÷ 53 = 5.16981132075)... Right... they are more than FIVE times the size of our school.

There are some out there who say small private schools are just taking people's money and handing out an inferior education. This is not true. Our small, private, Christian school is not cheap but the education is excellent, as demonstrated by the above stats contrasted with one of the most coveted public high schools in our county. We have eight large public high schools in our county and this particular one always has a waiting list for transfers.

I'm not here to rag on the public high school. I am sincerely happy for those students who were able to demonstrate their abilities in such a tangible way, but I would like those in our community who like to say private schools are not very academic to take note of the facts and quit the negative chatter. Because it simply isn't true. I am so proud of our school and our grads!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Last Graduation

At least the last one for this year. Last night a local high school held their graduation. My nephew was among the grads. It was touch-and-go for him to the very end. C has to deal with Tourette Syndrome. He doesn't have the serious version, just the kind that produces small ticks, which for him means his head will twitch every few seconds/minutes, depending on stress. Just try to read with your head jerking every few seconds; it's phenomenally difficult. When C was a little guy, he displayed remarkable observation and verbal skills. We all knew he'd grow up to be someone who would soar in scholastics. By the time he was in first or second grade, the ticks started, accompanied by violent bursts of anger. I can only imagine the frustration he felt not being able to do normal schoolwork because his head wouldn't stay still. Testing produced the diagnosis, and meds helped some with the symptoms but didn't do much to help the anger issues. Between elementary and middle school, I tutored C three times a week in reading and math. Yes, I did say math. I'm notoriously inadequate in that domain but I do have basic skills, and at that time, C didn't. That summer made a huge difference for C. He didn't lose what he had already learned, plus he mastered the multiplication tables and grew exponentially in comprehension skills. From that point on, his grades improved radically. I never had to tutor him again; he knew he could do it. C didn't graduate with honors or any other awards, but he did graduate - and that was a great accomplishment for him. Now we just have to help him find a decent job, and I'm sure he'll do well in the future. He's already learned that life isn't easy, faced down his challenges, and risen above unavoidable obstacles. Congrats C! Your family loves you!

Monday, June 11, 2012


I have the joy of an extra week of vacation this year. For the past few years, the Labor Day weekend has fallen so late into September that our school started in August. This year, instead of starting with students in August, we will begin the Wednesday after Labor Day. That means I have 88 days of "vacation" rather than 81! Nice! Of course next week I'll be at an educational conference, and there will be those necessary pre-teaching faculty meetings in August, but that's fine. Today the sun is shining, the birds are singing, my laundry is nearly finished and it's only 9 o'clock in the morning. I have lessons to plan, books to read, and letters to get out to students, but this week I'm going to let all of that wait. As a slight breeze blows through my window, bringing the fragrance of new flowers in bloom, I just want to enjoy this day, this moment. I don't do a very good job of taking time for myself, but I will today.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Almost Finished!

I can hardly believe this semester is coming to an end. What an eventful year. The best thing in 2012 has been the arrival of our new granddaughter, Nora Elise. This little sweetie was born in Chartres, France and will grow up with big sister Grace and big brother Eliott. They are elated to have her to cuddle!

I have spent a lot of time working on my classes for Brit Lit and Honors Am Lit. Coming up with new ideas and fun, brain-stretching projects has been a great challenge. One of my better ideas was to end Honors with brunch. We had a great day today and the food was yummy, as shown by some of my students gathered around the food table. Thanks to all my students for such a great semester!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

May Madness

Wow! What a crazy couple of months! But the end is in sight. Fourteen more days of actual in-school stuff and that includes finals. Over the past few weeks, honors has finished The Great Gatsby and is now reading The Whistling Season in groups. Brit Lit has finished C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces and will start Peter Pan in groups on Monday. Am Lit will finish The Great Gatsby this week and do a short story unit the last week of classes, designed to help some of them earn big points - up to 20 each day. Anyone want to bet there are students who don't?! It has been a crazy semester and I've barely kept my nose above water, but here we are - almost finished. Honestly, it has been quite amazing. Some of my students mourned the loss of their former Lit teacher and rightly so. Having a teacher resign in the middle of the year is never easy but when it is the senior year, that is tough. However, slowly but surely, these students and I have forged ahead and learned to respect each other. One of the students sent me a card recently that said "Over the past weeks, your passion for teaching has won me over and I've really learned a lot. Thank You!" I'm not sure anyone can understand what a big deal this was to me. I knew this young man was initially quite skeptical, and his note was a huge encouragement to me. This summer I plan to work diligently on my first semester classes so I don't have to rush in preparation. I hope to have all my power point presentations created and projects lined up for the entire semester. It's a big job but it will be so helpful to go into the year with this already in place.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


What a crazy week! Week nothing... April was too full to manage well!

On top of everything, I tried to update firefox and lost it since I have an older mac. Nuts! All those bookmarks, gone. Oh well... first-world problem, as my students like to say.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Spring Break Bliss

I have always been a big Spring Break fan. I think students and teachers need this week more than any holiday time of the year, except Christmas break, of course. However, this year it has meant even more to me for several reasons.

First, I've been fighting a silly virus since December 26th. Before anyone rags on me about going to the doctor (because I never do that) I have been twice, and the second time he told me that there was really nothing anyone could do. Evidently this virus has hit Thurston County with a vengeance and is showing no signs of letting up!

Second, changing schools has been a lot of work. I don't mind the work, and I am loving the change, but I was quite ready for some rest. Traditionally I don't count the days left in school until after break but the last couple of years, I counted them out well beforehand. This year I didn't even think about the number of days left until it was time to prepare lesson plans for the week after break. I realized then that I needed to plan backwards. I don't know if anyone else does this, but as the year comes to an end, I recognize that there isn't enough time to do everything I'd like to do so I plan backwards. I literally plan the last week of classes and move backwards from that point. For me, it is the only way to guarantee that I can finish those end-of-the-year novel studies on time. And yes, I always end with a novel study. Brit Lit will do two next quarter: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis and Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. We'll end with PP just because it's such fun. Honors American Lit will also do two studies: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. We'll end with WS as it is more entertaining than Gatsby. It's been twelve years since I read Gatsby so I re-read it during break. Oh yes... lots to dig into with this book! My American Lit classes will also read Gatsby but will end the year with a short story unit that we will do in stations. I haven't figured it all out, but I want the year to end by doing fun things in literature, and these classes are less interested in working than the others, hence the gimmick of stations. All that aside, this has been a great third quarter, and I love being back in high school. Nothing is more fun than teaching students who want to learn more, think deeply, and pursue excellence.

Last, my brother's girlfriend died the 24th from brain cancer. It was an awful way to go into break, but her memorial service was the Saturday after the last day of class. Denice was an amazing woman who loved her children, my brother, and the Lord with all there was of her. She literally changed my brother's life. Fifteen or sixteen months ago, Denice moved into my brother's house with her then 15-year-old son. She was not Jeff's girlfriend at the time, just a friend faced with homelessness due to a traumatic medical crisis. Jeff lives alone in a huge, gorgeous 5000-square-foot house in the historic district of our capital city. When Denice started planning for her future without a home, Jeff offered her the right side of his house. During the following months, they slowly, thoroughly developed a love for each other that was tested like nothing I've seen in a long time. Jeff waited on her with compassion and gentleness that he has never shown to anyone before, other than our father when he was at the end of his life. As Denice took her final breaths, Jeff held her face in his hands and gently told her to move on to heaven. I was the one my brother turned to for help understanding how to face this end, deal with family members, and plan a memorial service. As he spoke at her service, I sat amazed at this brother of mine. He never speaks for anything. This was so far outside his comfort zone that it might as well have been in another universe of life. Denice's two children (21 and 17) and her 30-something stepdaughter were supposed to share but none were capable of doing it. That left Jeff to be the one who really made Denice live before our eyes. He was brilliant, and I was so proud of him. Spring Break allowed me to be available to help wrap up the details of a life well-lived and support the one who loved her so deeply.

And now... the last quarter awaits. Actually, we are already a full week into fourth quarter. There are 43 school days left; we have May 4th and Memorial Monday off and will end school with graduation on June 8th. I will be glad for my summer break to rest, take a class or two, and plan for the next year!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stuff to love about high school

It's been 12 long years since I taught high school, so I have been working hard every day to get back in the game. In spite of all the work, there's a lot to love about this new job. First, I get to go to school a half hour later. This is a very big deal. I've always worked late into the day, and I am not a morning person so getting that extra half hour in the morning is huge! Next, no duties: no lunch duty (my least favorite), no break duty, no after school duty... love this too! Then staff meetings are once a month instead of once a week. There is nothing more frustrating that sitting through irrelevant meetings. Most of the all-staff meetings at the prior school dealt with elementary issues, but junior high staffers had to sit through those meetings anyway. Last, far fewer discipline issues. High schoolers aren't perfect, but they have learned quite a bit more self-control than junior highers. I don't have anywhere near as much missing or late work, no issues of disrespect (so far), and a much quieter work environment. When I'm speaking, students are listening. Wow! That's an odd experience after all my little chatterboxes! I must say, however, I miss the effervescence of junior high. When students were happy, they radiated, bounced off the walls, and hugged everyone in sight, and when they weren't, oh my goodness -- we certainly all knew it! However, I have to say, the very best, most excellent part about teaching at the high school is working with my new principal. I do love my hubby!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Chosen

My students are currently reading The Chosen by Chaim Potok. Although the book is about much more than the irritation that arises between various Jewish persuasions, that discord certainly comes into play. Given our study, this photo on MSNBC hit me as hilarious this morning. Look at that little clown! Normally I don't care for clowns but this one was too cute for words. What a statement about progress within a religious body.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Staff Meeting

I've been teaching school for a while... since the mid-70s; yes, I am that old. Anyway, I've been to my share of staff meetings. Most meetings during my public school days dealt with policy, why we had to do this and couldn't do that. I think that's a pretty fair statement for most public schools since I've taught in a wide variety of those institutions, including rural communities with migrant populations of students who were in school for a while then gone forever, suburban areas with parents who were total defenders of their kids - no matter what, and the inner city where few of my students even lived with their own parents.

Living overseas and being a part of an ex-pat community made school a really big deal. It was the center of our world. The most important aspect of ex-pat life overseas is making sure our kids aren't traumatized or forever damaged by not living in the same town as grandma. Now that I'm that grandma, I'm worried about myself not the babes. They'll be fine; I know this because my boys turned out just right, regardless of all the cultural differences they faced that I thought would mess them up forever. Teaching in that school was completely different from anywhere I'd ever been. Our staff meetings dealt with coup d'├ętat plans and other never-before-thought-of scenarios.

Moving back to the states and into private school teaching - junior high - was quite a change. For many years I brought student work to grade during staff meetings. Being in a K-8 school stateside is quite different. It didn't take long to realize that primary teachers love staff meetings because they get to talk to adult-type people. The junior high teachers just wanted to go home and lick their wounds, but those poor primary teachers and their need to speak to grown-ups made those meetings drag on forever!

And then I moved across the parking lot to the high school. For years my complaints about staff meetings have been central to dinner table conversation. When the hubby took on the principal job at ye old private high school, he faced the realization that he would now be the one to create those much-talked-about, waste-of-my-time meetings. The man does like a challenge, and I have to say, he can rise to one as well. In the first place, staff meetings at ye old high school are monthly. Yeah, I know, cry your hearts out all of you who have to sit through the same thing week after week. We meet on the first Wednesday of each month, and we are told ahead of time what one thing to prepare for discussion. During February's meeting (my first), our core issue was meeting the needs of our international students. This month was about teaching creatively, and we were supposed to bring examples of what we do. My example was of what another teacher did! I felt so stodgy and dull. I couldn't think of a thing - other than my table contest - that was creative about my classroom. In my defense, having very little time to prepare classroom and curriculum had me focused on getting through the basics and personal survival. I am just now at the place of planning more than a few days ahead. But that meeting... it really pushed me. We watched a Sir Ken Robinson clip and discussed creative teaching techniques in small groups, then came back together for a quick wrap-up. Afterward, the hubby asked me if I was mad or if he had said something irritating. I guess my face reflected the storm raging inside. I apologized and let him know that for the first time in a very long time, I felt professionally challenged because of a staff meeting. And then I did something about it.

I am the queen of power point but after a while, that can become routine. I'm also the biggest google freak around. If I don't know an answer to anything, google is my go-to guy. So I did what I do best and started googling for ideas and found some pretty cool things. Yesterday I used one of my new-found ideas in Brit Lit, where my students are working on creating poetry anthologies based on a single poet. Within the anthology, students must also thoroughly analyze one poem. Just one... they can choose and decorate and respond to the rest to their hearts' content, but that one poem has to provide layers of analysis. I gave them a hand-out that thoroughly described the process with an example, presented a colorful power point detailing analyzing a poem, and yesterday we had stations of analysis. First I found a reading on you-tube, a very British guy with a deep, scholarly voice read the poem (while eagles soared overhead - a bit lame); then in groups of three or four, students moved on to the stations. One station had dictionaries piled on the table so students could look up unusual words. Another had thesauruses for descriptive words. I found an article on the web that dealt with a big historical event that may have been the trigger for Yeats writing the poem in the first place and used that for a station. I put a big tablet at the front of the class with a couple thinking questions and students had to answer one question then post a question of their own. Directly across the hall in the computer lab, lap-tops were ready with a website that explained the allusions within the poem, and at another table, colored pencils, markers, and crayons were ready for students to create an artistic rendition. I had eight separate stations in all, and students spent six minutes at each one. It was fast-paced, fun, and hit a bunch of different levels of analysis. Yes, it took a while to prepare, but I'll use this idea again in other classes. I wonder what the next staff meeting will push me to do.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Life in High School

A few months ago, the literature teacher at NCHS informed my principal husband that she would be leaving at the semester's end to pursue her music career. I had heard inklings that she was headed this direction, but everyone thought it would happen this summer. Having pursued my secondary English endorsement, I knew I was in a good position for this job and wanted to go after it for next year. However, mid-year - that was something else, until I began to think about the students left behind in those classes.

I came to teach at the junior high in 2007, and my first classes of students were now the juniors and seniors about to make a teacher switch mid-year. That did it; I wanted the job. There is no question that I have worked hard in the junior high and loved every minute, well, almost every minute of it. I truly loved working with my colleagues, especially Mrs. History. The two of us were so compatible in our thinking, planning, and organization. I did not want the junior high language arts program to flounder and really encouraged my former boss to hire a particular young lady. After a lot of prayer, he did it. I worked hard, planning lessons to the end of the year, making copies of studies that I knew would be helpful, leaving everything on the computer so she would have easy access, and meeting with her weekly to answer questions and provide encouragement. As I expected, she is doing a wonderful job. It's been baptism by fire as she has dealt head-on with all kinds of issues, but she's been thoughtful, moderate, and firm in her decision-making and discipline. She's a great fit for that assignment.

Thanks to a full week of snow days, I was able to spend two days preparing my new classroom and getting ready to teach literature again. Yes, again. For several years at QCS in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, I taught American Lit, World History, 7th, 8th, 9th grade Reading/English, 12th grade Bible... whatever was needed (other than science and math). Those years, and my on-going relationships with colleagues from that time, have really helped me as I have made this change. I love teaching high school students again. But it is so different! The technology available to me now that I did not have at QCS is incredible. What an amazing benefit to have so many resources right at my fingertips via the internet.

Technology aside, serving at QCS taught me many things, especially planning ahead. The political dynamics in Haiti were always a bit dicey, and we were never sure when something would erupt and close school. Due to the uncertainty, we were required to prepare and distribute assignment sheets every Friday for the following week, detailing lessons just in case our students could not get to school because of burning tire barricades or soldiers in the streets. I did this type of planning for years, and that routine is still a part of my life today. It's probably why it was relatively easy for me to leave plans behind for my junior high replacement. I'm always looking and planning ahead. Case in point, my blog with homework posted ahead for those who are absent or planning extended absences.

It has been a serious challenge to get to that place in the high school. For the first week, I was really pushing myself with prep. However, I'm finally there. My lessons for this coming week were finished last Wednesday, and I hope to move that up to Tuesday for next week. I can always make changes but having a blueprint in place makes my life so much easier. At first I was worried about whether the students would accept me on this level. I knew their former teacher was challenging, but I heard last week that some consider me to be more challenging. What? Not possible! I'm requiring a bit more reading and writing, but I honestly don't think it's harder. I don't have as many daily assignments, preferring to have students working on bigger assignments over time. We'll see how it all functions in the weeks ahead, but I am loving my job, my classes, and my boss... yeah - my hubby. It's a good thing to be back in the high school again.

One thing that was relatively unrelated to literature (but helped create a fun classroom experience) was the table contest from last week. Our tables (rather than desks) are a bit funky and I didn't like looking at them, so I held a table covering contest. First place winners would receive a free-homework pass, and runners-up might win a free-journal pass. I had some great entries, as you can see:

First Place Winner - all hand drawn - The Edgar Allan Poe table

Second Place - The Brit Lit Table

The Granddaughter Award (Gracie's favorite)

Third Place - The Poetry Table

It was fun and the students are delighted to have their passes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Missing my adorables!

Thursday, mid-day, our two red-headed grandchildren flew off to CA and the next step of their stateside journey. They'll spend a week in California with their parents before heading to KC and the mission commissioning - career assignment - for mom and dad. After that, it's on to Indiana for a month with our daughter-in-law's sister and family. In early April, they will all head back to France and continue their ministry in that beautiful country. Our good-byes were not as tearful as they might have been. I took the time to buy new toys for the little ones, a great distraction for them and for me. I made it through without sobbing all over them; I was terrified I would lose it and make their transition even more difficult, but God is good and gave me the fortitude to get through that very difficult moment.

In addition to all the good-byes, Grace and Eliott will say a loving hello to a new baby sister in May as baby girl arrives to join the family. We have had a precious time, six weeks worth, with our beautiful little redheads and look forward to lots of chatting over the internet. What a blessing. For now, here are my little adorables:

Eliott Ray LOVES cars and trucks (and calls everything bus!)

Grace Blue, our dramatic princess, loves dress-up.

Eli is a big cookie monster fan too.

And Gracie dreams about baking cupcakes! She's the only pre-schooler I know
who will sit - for hours - watching the cake-decorating shows on the food network!

Such vivid little personalities! Is it any wonder we miss them?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I am SO tired tonight. Tomorrow I start at the high school, teaching 11th and 12th grade literature and a study skills class. Before I left my current junior high position, I prepared lesson plans for the whole year with detailed calendars for novel studies and the whole thing. I did this because the young teacher coming in to replace me is a first-timer in junior high. She's subbed a lot, taught younger children, but never done junior high. I happen to believe in this young lady and really want her to succeed. I'll be working with her for the rest of this year in a mentor-teacher relationship. I've invested a ton of time and energy preparing for her success.

This afternoon, I walked across the parking lot to the high school and began working in my classroom. There was far more stuff in there than I expected. The former teacher is coming by tomorrow so I'm going to talk with her to see what needs to be done with all this old work/projects/stuff. I love using kids' work in a classroom, but once they're out of the school, graduated, I don't actually see the point of keeping their old work. It may be that the former teacher was emotionally attached to these students and couldn't bring herself to throw their stuff away. I get that and will gladly perform the task for her if that is necessary. I do not like clutter in my classroom! I had to take all the chairs off the tables so I could see the room and get a sense of what I want to do with it. Then my hubby and I started taking things off the walls and cleaning up in general. It will be good to get the physical part completed so I can finish my lesson planning. I need to be ready to go on Friday morning, first thing. I really am looking forward to it. I don't think I mentioned that these students were my first group of junior highers! Now they're juniors/seniors. Wow! Where does the time go! Like now... it's after 10 and I'm tired and sore from working so late. Bed... I'm coming!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter Break - Part 2

We have been out of school ALL week! I am grateful to have a full week to enjoy my little adorables from France. It has been so sweet, even during the time with no power. Little ones are easy to entertain. We never heard the dreaded "I'm bored" even once. Lots of cuddles, stories, make-believe play will fill our memories long after they leave next month.

And today, older son and his family came over so they could have hot showers. They've been without power for quite some time, much longer than we were. They lost it before us and it's still out. We took advantage of the time together to celebrate daughter Kassie's birthday that's actually tomorrow. Oh all right, she's my daughter-in-law, but she feels like mine. I love her dearly. I truly love both my girls! My sons chose so well; I am truly blessed!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From 3-day weekend to who knows how many?!

My last post addressed my joy at having a three-day weekend. The snow has changed all that. Tomorrow's school cancellation gives us a five-day weekend, and who knows what will happen on Thursday! We are stocked with food, milk for the grandbaby, camping stove, and all the other supplies we need. We have a gas fireplace insert in the living room so if we lose power (which will probably happen), we can open the hide-a-bed for the little pregnant mama and three-year-old granddaughter and set up the pack-n-play for the baby, so they'll sleep warmly. Today I was able to take my mom shopping for all she needed, so she's ready. Now I guess we'll see just how much of the white stuff falls on us. It's supposed to start in just a few minutes, giving us around 10 - 14 inches. That's a lot for this part of the world. This could really be interesting, but I really am unconcerned. I'm with my children and grandchildren, and I know my other kids and grandkids are very well prepared. Plus, they have a big old wood stove that will heat their whole house! The kids are having a blast and so are we. Time together: an unexpected blessing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Three-Day Weekend!

I am so grateful for the upcoming three-day weekend. I've been fighting a nasty virus that has left me so tired. I spend the biggest portion of my nights coughing rather than sleeping. Yesterday I left school early so I could go home and sleep. I have a few things to do today or I'd do it again. But I think I have a new med combination that is going to work: musinex by day and nyquil by night. It worked last night! I'll try anything at this point. No, I haven't been to the doctor. I have no fever, no discoloration of anything that winds up in a kleenex, no aches or pains. My HMO doesn't want to see me unless something like that is present. The fact that this is the end of week #2 should mean that this will fade away over the next couple of days... I hope!

In the meantime, I have grandchildren at my house who make my days and evenings most enjoyable. I was designed for grandmothering. It is so much easier than mothering, and I'm just so good at it! I even have a Christmas ornament of two geese holding a heart between them with my motto. It reads: grandchildren spoiled here. Love it.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Dark Day

What a weird day! If I didn't know better, I'd say the sun gave up. It's not only gray but really dark and gloomy outside. This hasn't helped my homeroom. They were a group of crazies today. And it's not just me; it's not because I'm leaving junior high and heading to high school, so junior highers are making me nuts. I asked one of my colleagues about my homeroom, and she informed me that they behaved worse today than they have all year long. So... it's not me; although I feel relatively awful from coughing all night long for several nights and dealing with the afore-mentioned darkness around me. Then Mrs. History happened to mention that there was a full moon last night. Why don't I pay more attention to this? It is true; werewolves, vampires, and junior high students go nuts whenever the moon is full.

Late this afternoon, Mr. Custodian stopped by to see how things were going from a maintenance perspective. I really like this guy. He is vigilant, a self-starter, and thorough. He also has cancer and is dealing with chemo right now, so enough of me complaining about hyper-students and coughing. Mr. C is a real inspiration!

A former student asked to observe my classes for her field ed college class. I said of course, and she said she'd be here Tuesday and Thursday, until last night about 7:30 or so, when she let me know she was coming Monday and Wednesday instead. So I skipped morning staff to prepare a few things so I'd be ready to chat with her. Of course she wants to be here on full-moon-day. Gotta love the irony.

Tomorrow I will meet with the teacher I am replacing at the high school. I have a few things to ask, such as: what have you finished? and where are you in the chronology of Am and Brit Lit? I also want to ask about some innovative things she's doing on the web. I am actually sorry she's leaving. She's a good teacher, and the students have benefited from her instruction. I think it's hilarious that the one student I'm most concerned about accepting me as her teacher is the lit TA for one period. That ought to be interesting.

Well, I have after-school duty, so I'd better get my act together. Another thing I won't miss, all the duties. I won't have to eat with students, supervise their break time, or stand outside to be sure they don't get killed getting into their parent's car! Plus staff meetings are normally once a month not once a week. Joy, joy, joy!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Joys of Family

We are really enjoying our children and grandchildren. Thought I'd post a few photos:

The Joys of Christmas as a family
back row: Erin and Eliott, Terry, Kathie, and Kassie
front row: Brian, Colton, Kayla holding Grace, Scott with Sierra

Grandpa Terry and his little buddy, Eliott

It's so much fun for cousins Grace and Sierra to watch TV
on Grandpa and Grandma's bed!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Moving across the parking lot

The word is definitely out. Letters and emails were sent to parents; students were personally informed. I am moving to the high school to teach Literature. Yes, I am excited! It wasn't as easy a decision as one might think, but it is the right one. It's never easy to make major school changes in the middle of the year, but if I don't do it now when it's offered, it might not come my way again for quite a while.

The former teacher is part of a musical group, and I've been told that they are quite good. The band is planning to go on tour, and that will start before the school year ends, so the teacher resigned, effective the end of the semester. The principal investigated short-term options but red flags kept coming up, so the offer was made and I'm accepting. Yes, I am ready. I've loved teaching 7th and 8th grade language arts but I am ready for a change. Moving to juniors and seniors in high school is a great opportunity. I've taught these classes before so I'm not totally out of my element, but it's been a long time. I have some refreshing to do. I'll do it. My replacement is the teacher who subbed for me while we were in Texas for nearly three weeks. The students know her, like her, and most important - she's good, very good, at what she does.

The move will happen on January 23rd. Actually, moving stuff will happen before that, probably over the weekend. It's going to be fun!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Books Read in 2011

I had a lot more time to read this year because of our trip to Houston for T's surgery. I wouldn't mind if he never had to do that again! Part way through, I quit making comments. Oh well...

  1. Essays 1: First Series - Ralph Waldo Emerson (love Emerson!)
  2. Stuck in the Middle (Sister to Sister) by Virginia Smith (Christian fiction: so-so)
  3. Deeper Water by Robert Whitlow (Christian mystery: okay)
  4. Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry (Christian mystery, based in Amish country: I really liked it)
  5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (for the 50th time, still love it!)
  6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (brilliant!)
  7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (magic!)
  8. Drums of War by Edith Morris Hemingway (great for lit circles)
  9. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  10. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (love these stories)
  11. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (sweetly old-fashioned)
  12. Emma by Jane Austen (what can I say? A-u-s-t-e-n!)
  13. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (incredible)
  14. Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo (not well written, but faith-building)
  15. Fools Rush In by Janice Thompson (Christian Romance… cheesy!)
  16. Invisible by Lorena McCourtney (old lady mystery, like Murder She Wrote)
  17. The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen (old England novel, beginning and end were good)
  18. Fated to be Free by Jean Ingelow
  19. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (great book, quite disturbing)
  20. The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (like Sherlock Holmes, good read)
  21. The Heart of Rachael by Kathleen Thompson Norris
  22. A City Schoolgirl by May Baldwin
  23. Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (love her style!)
  24. I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson (fabulous!)
  25. Evergreen: A Christmas Tale by Richard Taylor
  26. “Hard Creek Bridge” a short story by Isaac Sweeney
  27. Dandy Detects: A Victorian San Francisco Story by M. Louisa Locke
  28. A Chance in Time by Ruth Ann Nordin
  29. Summons From A Stranger by Debra Diaz
  30. A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  31. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
  32. Teddy’s Button by Amy LeFeuvre
  33. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  34. The Summerhouse by Jude Deveraux
  35. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham
  36. The Fifth of March: A Story of the Boston Massacre by Ann Rinaldi
  37. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collings
  38. April Morning by Howard Fast
  39. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
  40. Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
  41. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  42. Ragman and other cries of faith by Walter Wangerin Jr
  43. The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Patterson
  44. Cast Two Shadows by Ann Rinaldi
  45. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  46. In My Hands, Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Cut Opdyke
  47. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
  48. The Hidden Hand by Emma Dorothy Southworth
  49. Cape Cod Stories by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
  50. The Chess Master’s Violin by Jennifer Willows
  51. The Man from Brodney’s by George Barr McCutcheon
  52. Capitola’s Peril by Emma Dorothy Southworth
  53. Duty Free by Moni Mohsin
  54. Caribbee by Thomas Hoover
  55. Not Pretty, but Precious by John William De Forest et al
  56. South Wind by Norman Douglass
  57. The Radiation Sonnets by Jane Yolen