I’m back and I needed the break!

I’ve missed all the posting deadlines for this weekend, but I have a really good excuse. The dog ate them. No, wait, my kids would say that! I do feel badly that I missed posting, but I also have both good and bad reasons for doing so. Friday was one of those days that if they happened more than once or twice a school year, we’d all bail! Two of my colleagues called in sick with the crud that everyone but them had already had; no subs were available, so things were crazy keeping the kids productive. In addition to the lessons plans for the non-existent subs, I had also received an email late Thursday night from my curriculum leader “strongly encouraging me” to rethink my lesson plans for Friday in order to do testing prep for the field tests the kids are taking this week. These field tests will impact nothing, the scores will not be reported and will affect no one, students, me or my center, in any way. As I had already done several weeks of test prep, I was going to keep on teaching, but…. so, I did test prep all day Friday to classes that had 10 or so extra kids per section. It was a blast- I’m being ironic here. The only thing that saved me was that we left right from school for Hatteras, North Carolina.

Friends there had an anniversary party for us Friday evening with amazing food and lots of friends, both old and new and it was a wonderful evening. We finished the day from Hell at 2:30 in the morning with a bottle of Bailey’s Irish on the beach watching the stars and I missed Friday’s posting deadline.

Saturday we attended the wedding of two friends who had finally found their soul mates after years in unhappy first marriages. The wedding was lovely, and we celebrated with them until the wee hours. I again missed the posting deadline, but I was feeling happier than I had in weeks.

Sunday was laid back and lovely. We spent hours on the beach; I read Creating a Writing- Rich High School, and my husband fished and we slept in the sun and walked on the beach and just de-stressed. I took today off (day one of the infamous Field Testing!!) so we had a late dinner of fresh tuna steaks on the grill, good wine, bocce ball, good talk and just a quiet space of escape that I didn’t realize how desperately I needed. Again, I missed the posting deadline as we chatted in front of the fire and time drifted away.

We headed home at lunchtime today, after a leisurely brunch. We stopped on the beach and watched a pod of dolphins head south following a small school of fish. We shopped a few antique shops along the road home and got in just about the time I would be coming home from school. I don’t dread going in tomorrow, I have ideas for breathing some life into my workshop, despite four days next week TESTING- district benchmarks this time. But it’s OK. I know now I can do this. I was reminded that all work makes me dull and testy and isn’t good for anyone. And we’re planning another get away next month for my birthday. I can stand anything for a month!

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Bocce Ball

We’re planning to spend a three-day weekend on Hatteras Island, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, about two hours south of home. We go there a lot, year round, but really love the quiet of the off season. We can drive the Jeep on the beach for miles, watch pods of dolphins playing the surf off the beach, and the flocks of pelicans patrolling the shallows for fish.

We stay at a bed and breakfast right in the village and have made friends with the innkeepers, a couple who escaped from the big city to manage the inn, built in 1920. This morning, Tracey called to remind me to bring the bocce balls for the weekend. Bocce ball is an interesting sport that just about anyone can play. A set of bocce contains four sets of heavy wooden balls. Ours are green and maroon, with different designs carved into them to mark  four pairs, but we usually play as partners. The only other thing needed for bocce is a big yard, grassy field, or stretch of beach. The point of the game is to see who can throw their ball closest to the point ball- a small white ball. The scoring is complicated, and usually fascinates the men, who measure and stride off distances and squint at invisible angles, while the women retreat to sip cold beverages. It’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon or early evening. The click of the wooden bocces hitting  is a sound I always associate with warm weather and good friends. I am really looking forward to Friday night.

Pelican Obsession

My kids and I continued to make lists of the small things that make our lives better. As this was day two of this quick write activity, and the seventh time I’d worked on this entry, it became more of a push for me to find things to add to my list and some of the most interesting possibilities came out of the session. So, tonight’s entry is about my obsession with pelicans.

We saw the pelicans, flying in a squadron formation, for the first time over the inlet between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. They were big birds, with a wing span large enough that they seemed to glide more than fly. To me, they appeared so calm, dignified, and steady in comparison to the clown-like gulls that swooped, dove, and chattered. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine a pelican standing at the foot of my chair, staring at me with a beady eye and  begging for chips on the beach! This immediately appealed to me.

Later, in a conversation with a tattoo artist- don’t ask- I learned the pelicans are some of the best mothers in the bird world. They’ll tear flesh from their own bodies to feed their chicks to keep them from starving. Talk about dedication! Calm and dedicated- both things I aspire to! And their less-than firm necklines don’t take away from that impression.

I am lucky enough to live on the mid-Atlantic coast, and cross a bridge tunnel complex every day on my way to and from school. Over that last few years, a small flock of pelicans has established itself in an inlet close to the tunnel. Many mornings I see my friends fishing, calmly skimming just above the surface of the water, taking care of business. Any time I spot one, I know I’m going to have a good day. I guess I have adopted the pelican as my personal totem.

Coffee on the Nightstand

I am trying to get my kids back into the rhythms of writers’ workshop after a long, dreadful, dry spell of standardized testing prep. Today we talked about writing small and I shared some of the blog posts I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks. Then, we made lists of all the small, often mundane things we overlook but that make our lives richer. During one of these sessions, I added  “coffee on the nightstand ” to my growing list and knew I’d found today’s SOL entry.

Every morning, I wake up to a fresh cup of coffee on the nightstand, steamy and fragrant, inviting me to wake up just a little and then linger another moment while the caffeine does its trick. I am ashamed to admit that many mornings, I take this wonderful little gesture for granted, as I stagger to turn off the alarm and curse the calendar that says March and not July. My husband, who is not a coffee drinker, gets up a few minutes earlier than I do, about one full snooze cycle sooner. He goes downstairs every morning and brews a fresh pot of coffee. He pours a cup for the nightstand and fills a travel mug for the drive in to school later.  Then he brings up the mug and gets in the shower. He has been doing this every school day for twenty six years. How do I love him? Let me count the coffee cups! Thank you SOLC, for bringing this simple gesture into new clarity for me.

Day One AT

Well, I missed a posting. We spent last evening with friends, celebrating our anniversary and forgot about the time change. By the time I sat down last night to post, it was after midnight. At least I missed for an important reason- celebrating important moments in life with close friends!

Tomorrow is day one AT- after the test. Usually this marks the stretch where I can just close the door and do what I know is best, as the BIG ONE is finally behind us. This year, however, we have two more days of field testing- whatever that means- and a week of benchmark testing (district-written tests to get the kids ready for state-written tests). So that will total eight days of testing in March, eight days in which very little teaching and learning actually got accomplished. Go figure!

Because I still met with my kids for very brief classes during testing, and because the writing test is intense and unreliable, I don’t plan a directed lesson during those days. The long testing session wears me out and I’m not the one doing the thinking. So, this year, we watched Dead Poet’s Society during the time that was left each day. It has taken most of my classes two days to finish the movie and I still have two classes that need to finish the last forty-five minutes tomorrow and Tuesday, but I thought it would provide us with a good starting point for getting back to workshop. It feels like years to me since we’ve thought about anything but testing strategies, so I know the kids have lost the workshop mojo. Dead Poets is one of my all-time favs and every time I watch it, I find something more to think about with the kids. Tomorrow’s Quick Write prompt is going to be: What message can we take from the movie to change our class? How can we be more relevant? I can’t wait to see what they think. And I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish as readers and writers. This is why I teach, not for all the stipends the School Board can offer, or cut!

Crab Legs for Dinner

I pulled into the driveway this afternoon to a pleasant surprise. My five-year-old grandson was standing on the porch with my husband and they were both grinning from ear to ear. “Guess what, Nana! We have a ‘versary’ surprise for dinner tonight!”  (As I wrote in a previous entry, our wedding anniversary is this weekend. ) He was so excited, he was dancing from foot to foot, his Star Wars tennis shoes lighting up with each hop.

We came in together and I went to the study to put my book bag down while my husband and my grandson unpacked mysterious grocery bags in the kitchen. “Don’t come in yet- you’ll ruin the crab legs surprise, Nana!” Chuckling, I went upstairs to change my clothes and read the paper.He finally came up and snuggled on the bed so we could read his five favorite books for this week- a ritual we started several years ago. He chooses  five new favorite books on Sunday afternoon and we read those five books first every time he comes in that week. This week’s include Chicka, Chicka Boom Boom,  Anamalia, and  The Napping House– all great choices. Once we’d read through all his faves,  the men disappeared back down to the kitchen and I settled in for a short nap.

Soon, it was time for dinner. No bed picnic tonight- “Pappa said dinner was too juicy,” my grandson explained as he led me down to the kitchen to eat. The breakfast bar had been set with candles, a plate of delicious broiled flounder, mashed potatoes and the piece de resistance- a bowl of steaming crab legs. After I showed how surprised I was at the special “versary” dinner, we settled down to slurp crab legs and butter. Everything was delicious, including the company. Our dinner talk when Robbie joins us is always broadly ranging, and tonight was no exception. We talked about what it meant to be a soldier, how many children he wanted to have when he got married , where crabs come from, and how Curious George could ski in space (he must have been dreaming!). When we were all as full as we could be, everyone did a part of the kitchen clean up.

Now, my husband and Robbie have gone out to pick up milk and bread. (They forgot them when they were in the store earlier, plotting our dinner!) I’m sure they’ll also stop for Frosties- another Friday night tradition, while I post this for today’s SOL.  Knowing I will be writing something each day has changed the way I go through it. I find I’m looking at things more closely, trying to picture them as small, sweet (or not-so-sweet, depending upon the day) slices of an ordinary life. I also find that my life is not so ordinary. What a gift this challenge has been. And what a special, crabby, ‘versary’ dinne we had tonight.

Anniversary

Our fortieth wedding anniversary is this Sunday. Forty years! Looking back, I realize we were both very young; I was nineteen and a college sophomore and my husband was twenty two and just home from a hitch in the Army. It scares me to think about it now, but neither of us had any qualms at the time.  I’m amazed my parents agreed so easily; I guess that’s one sign of how times have changed. We would not have been so pleased if our children had chosen to marry so young! Maybe our history had something to do with it.

My father was a senior in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Upon graduating, he enlisted in the Coast Guard. Born and raised in Ohio, the ocean had always called to my dad. He finished boot camp and reported to the Naval Ship Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. His immediate enlisted supervisor was an older man, a Norfolk native, married with no children. The CPO’s wife welcomed anyone who happened to come home with her husband each night, hungry and homesick. She would feed a dining room table full of young men away from home for the first time, and then ride the street car with them to the Navy Y  where she volunteered serving coffee and dessert. She opened her home to newlyweds who did not qualify for or could not find housing, offering to divide whatever she was cooking with anyone who sat down at her table. My father often talked about dividing a chicken wing into three or four pieces to pass around her table. As the war drew on, my father was transferred to Philadelphia and then to the South Pacific where he spent the duration of the war.  Because the CPO was an older man, he never saw overseas duty, ending up in the Brooklyn Navy Yards until the end of the war.

My dad survived the war, came home, married my mother and settled down to live out his American dream. My parents visited Virginia Beach on their honeymoon and stopped in to visit the CPO to meet the new baby that everyone had given up hoping for. Every December, my family would receive a Christmas card from Norfolk, Virginia. Across the years, the cards continued to come with a line or two of news. My father never went back to Norfolk, but always stayed in touch through the Christmas cards that always came.

More time  passed. I went  to Kent State University and lived through the student shootings there on May 4, 1970. I  decided to transfer  to a local college after the Kent campus became a media circus the following year. Shortly after I moved back into my parents’ house in January of 1971, my father received a phone call from his old CPO in Norfolk. His son, now grown and stationed in Germany with the Army, had met a girl from my hometown in Ohio and was coming north on leave to visit her. He’d like  him to stop by so my father could meet him. And the rest, as they say, is history. The CPO’s only son is my husband of forty years. We met, I ended another relationship and seven months later, we were married. We live in Norfolk.

I’m not sure if this is a story of karma, of two souls meant to be together, or of two people that have worked hard to make a good marriage and have been extraordinarily lucky along the way. I do know that you never know what the world has in store for you and that we need to remain open and alert along the way so we don’t miss anything!