Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Loved This Book

I just finished a fabulous book called A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, the same author that wrote A Single Shard, which I enjoyed very much.  At the request of a geography teacher I picked up the book to see whether it would be appropriate for him to use with his students as they explored the continent of Africa and the increasingly hot topic of water in our world.

I loved this little novel.  The author uses two voices to tell this tragic but hopeful story, switching between times (the 1980s and the closer present) and characters.  The two stories are tied together by the continuing theme of the importance of water in the lives of the characters and are reconnected in the end with a poignant scene.  Salva, the main character is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who ended up living in New York near Linda Sue Park who tells his story so well.

While reading, I couldn't help but consider the power of the story to move students to action.  This book should encourage students to consider fresh water issues both in Africa and here in the US: how we can get fresh water and how we share it.  It also brought to mind for me the plight of the refugee and how ignorant most of us are of our nation's policies, roles, and responsibilities when helping refugees in many war-torn nations.  What a great jumping off point this book might be to learn more about what these policies are towards helping refugees, what the needs are, and how we can best support these people who have been through so much already.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ponytails and

This afternoon Rebecca was excited to talk in the car about spirit week (today was twin day) - her twin had forgotten the right shoes but the Hollister shirt was the same color and style, and they really looked like twins during PE when they all had to change clothes into their uniforms, and wasn't that funny, tomorrow is decades day, mom, you've got to help me decide what decade to dress in and what decade are you going to dress in mom?

I was a little overwhelmed by her I drove and listened, nodding occasionally, possibly even grunting in agreement.  I love driving in the car with teenagers. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

I thought I had outgrown it - but the taste made me shudder and for a second I was sitting at the dining room table again, long after everyone else had been excused, with a plate of fish in front of me.  Although I am sure that my memory exaggerates...the plate heaped with fish, and it was so late that the windows looked pitch black.  I can vaguely see my little sister, with wet hair and wrapped in a bathrobe, peeking in to see if I was still sitting there.  Hours I sat at that table, I'm convinced, though I've no memory of how this standoff ended.  

I was miserable.  My Mom and Dad were making a point.  Fish was good and good for you - everyone liked it, especially those living in England (which we were at the time).  But to me, fish had a terrible taste and a really bad smell.  I believe that I developed a distaste for fish during the time that I lived near my Irish grandfather.  His favorite meal (which we often ate when we visited him) was creamed cod fish.  Because of tradition (I have to imagine) he always bought dried salted cod - and my aunt turned this into a nasty smelling goop consisting mostly of a thick white sauce with chunks of fish. One whiff of the wooden box that the dried cod came in and my stomach turned. 

So, tonight's catfish chunks looked good, but had that taste that I associate with creamed codfish - and I just couldn't eat anymore.  Fortunately, the cook felt the same...and the catfish will not be served again. 

Now, if it were salmon....Yum.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Paradox

I'm a little excited that this weekend will be cold here again.  I admit, winter's lack of extended daylight had been wearing on me, so I was glad to see spring's sun in the morning on the way to school and again on the way home. Daffodils springing up, cherry trees blossoming, Mother Nature is finally awakening from her long sleep.  And, I'm glad...but, there is something about cold weather that I love and always miss when it's over: the opportunity to cuddle down into my own space and escape. 

While it has been quite warm here, tonight it is supposed to get down into the thirties...I know - some of you poor people still have snow - but that is cold for us in March!  So, feeling chilly this evening, I crept up into our addition's library, turned on the gas fireplace, climbed under a blanket and pulled out my book.  Somehow in cold weather it is more permissible to "cocoon" like I love to.  Surrounded by books on the walls and with piles of books by my side, I am able to escape to other worlds in the most comfortable way.

This whole weekend promises to be cold and possibly rainy, perhaps even some wintry mix (whoo hoo) thrown in. Because it will be yucky, outside work will be postponed, and inside work will be procrastinated.  In preparation, I will stock up on hot cocoa and tea, making sure that I have a few new books to read, and setting aside a few hours to enjoy the cozy and warm comfort of winter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


What motivates us to write?  The last couple days haven't been especially motivating for me...I haven't had anything important enough to write about - or at least not anything positive. 

But, I was thinking about motivation of sixth graders - I taught sixth grade today and they seemed so engaged, even motivated, to participate in the conversation I had with them about research - and then to delve into the project that they were beginning.  They were, most of them, motivated to learn about their subject. 

One of the reasons they were seems to be the opportunity to make their own choices.  The importance of choice has been the topic of many papers in my personal education career - and I think I saw the idea of personal choice as motivator at work again today.  I wish that more teachers (especially middle school teachers) allowed more choice in their classrooms.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Family Dinner at Mom's

I come from a large family - there were five of us kids growing up, and I loved it.  Now, getting together at mom's house means dinner for 14 and 3 at the kids table.  I still love it, but it is more complicated.

Sunday is really the best time to get together with family.  You've done just about everything you were supposed to (or planned to) over the weekend, and by about 5:00 pm on Sunday you are ready to just relax.  It felt a little like work to get cleaned up and head over to mom's house, but once all the cousins got there, my kids played and had a good time, and, bonus:  they took care of the little ones so my sisters and I could just chat.

Feeding this crew is another matter altogether.  I admire my mom for the ease in which she does this.  Our Irish heritage seems to dictate a meat and potatoes meal; however, most of the sib spouses are on the No/Low Carb diet - so our meal was mostly meat and veges.  That worked and was delicious.  Homemade cheesecake that was melt-in-the-mouth delicious helped us linger at the table. 

During dinner it is hard to get a word in edge wise... my dad, who was (and is) the Alpha dog in our world, despite being soft-spoken, cannot compete with 6-8 conversations happening around the table.  At one point this evening he just loudly spoke my mom's name until things quieted down...and then he was able to add his point into the conversation. 

We don't necessarily get excited about family is less complicated to stay home and do our own things...but I had a rush of warmth looking around the table and watching my kids interact with their aunts and uncles and grandparents...and thought about how lucky we are to know each other, to like each other, and to get along.  There are so many who don't. 

Hey, pour me another glass of red? 

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Jazzercise is fun; Jazzercise is fun; Jazzercise is fun," ran through my head, convincingly, most of the afternoon, in order to counteract the predominant message my brain was sending my body:  It's Friday, and I'm tired.  After both children's afternoon plans had been solidified, and I was childless for a while, I really had no excuse not to go.

Changing clothes quickly, before I could persuade myself that sitting on the sunlit deck with today's newspaper was my civic responsibility, I considered all of the benefits that a workout would provide.  Ultimately, knowing that a friend was waiting for me was the most powerful motivator of all.  Health and weight be damned, I didn't want to let down my exercise buddy. 

Glad I went, but now I'm done, and I can let my body give in to its original message:  Thank goodness it's Friday, and I'm tired. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Perfect Thursday Night

I admire my friends who are, but I would never wish to be a single parent.  However, on the few occasions that the kids and I are home alone, we have a blast.  Tonight was really fun. 

As it is St. Patrick's Day, I decided to cook the Irish bangers in Guinness that Rebecca and I had taste tested at Trader Joe's.  Because I don't normally cook, this is a bigger deal than it may seem.  I listened to 80's music really loud on Pandora and made lots of dirty dishes, while Rebecca cleaned her room and Patrick finished his homework.  Then, we sat down for dinner - and the kids liked it!

At the end of dinner there was a little skillful negotiating of the evening schedule.  Apparently listening to such great music stimulated a desire to play a little Band Hero, so once showers and homework were the basement we went.

I have to say, I love Band Hero.  This game allows the inner singer in me - the one that sings along with almost every song - to be free.  The kids don't really care to sing, so I get to sing everything.  They also aren't very particular about the music that we play - so tonight we played a little American Pie and a little Pat Benetar (My favorite), as well as songs by AJ (Like Whoa) and All American Rejects.  We had so much fun. The kids switched off between guitar and drums, while I gripped my microphone and sang my heart out.  The high point of the evening for me was a score of 95% on Love is a Battlefield.  Fortunately, my husband wasn't home to hear me wailing about our relationship! 

As per another favorite song, the microphone does smell like a beer - I'm sure that's why I sounded better as the evening went on.  

Fed, showered, entertained - followed by a half hour of studying for they are in bed - and I'm headed there too. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rebecca, my 11 year-old, has finally (albeit somewhat reluctantly) picked up a book that I recommended to her.  For many years I have been recommending books to Rebecca and she has been quick to turn me down; "to old fashioned looking, mom; to long; to short; not enough pictures; so many pictures..."

More recently I have just wanted to have reading material in her my picks went to the bookshelf and other favorites like The Dork Diaries, Calvin and Hobbes, Archie Comics, and similar easy reads have been our go-to books.  My goal has been for her to build fluency - lots of reading at a level that is easy has been helping with that.  Her confidence is up and she doesn't fight our evening reading time quite as much as she used to.  She has even been known to say that she enjoyed a book!  She may not be a prolific reader whose head is always buried in a book, but between her excellent teachers and I she will perhaps build a vocabulary that is broad and a fluency that allows her to enjoy escaping into the world of literature.   

Tonight she is stretched out on the couch with The Borrowers - those little people whose stories amused and fascinated me.  Here are some of the old ones I will continue to encourage her to read: (ok, it is a list that could use a little freshening up - it is pretty narrow!)
  • Nancy Drew
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Little Princess
  • Little Women
  • Anne of Green Gables
 There are some more recent ones that I have loved, and I hope she will too:
  • Moon Over Manifest - Thanks, Tracey, for introducing this one!
  • The Hunger Games - Strong girl character!
  • Anything by Margaret Peterson Haddix - strong characters and fascinating plots.
What suggestions do you have for an 11 year old girl who is reluctant to read?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


In the car this afternoon, on the way to her lesson, my 11 year-old daughter asked, "Mom, how do you get a baby?"

I drove along for a minute, concentrating on my signaling and turning, while my brain was going a mile a minute.  What the heck?  Where did that come from?  Ok, now, what does she mean exactly?  I must stay calm, this is great that she is willing to ask this question, I must stay calm.

"Well," I replied carefully, "the girl produces an egg, you see, and then the sperm fertilizes the egg, and the egg then becomes an embryo.  Then, the embryo grows in the mom's stomach for nine months, and then you have a baby!"  I glanced over her and smiled the most winning smile...hoping that she would go with that.  Sitting in the passenger seat next to me, her face squished in thought, she shook her head.

"Mom, there is a rumor going around..." She eyed me sideways, "that says you have to mmhhmmhhmm with a ummuuummu?"  The multiple syllables of hummed letters really threw me for a minute.

I admit to being kind of slow on the uptake sometimes.  This time when I turned my head to look at her, her brown eyes were wide open and she was looking at me as if I had three heads.  Heck with it - I'm just putting it out there. "Oh, the rumor says that you have to have sex with a boy?"  Shocked, she nodded, red moving up her neck and covering her face.  "It is true," I added.

"That is so gross!" she gasped laughing hysterically. "But, what exactly does that mean?"

That's another blog post!

Monday, March 14, 2011

St. Patrick's Punishment

I woke up this morning with a headache.  Slumping into the bathroom, I glanced at the mirror (usually I try to avoid looking too early) and I noticed the cause...angry red skin crept across the apple of each cheek and my nose.  My chin was pretty red too, as was the spot at my neck where my polo shirt sat open.  OUCH! 

Sitting on the side of Constitution Avenue while the D.C. St. Patrick's Day Parade danced, piped, and floated by was so incredibly relaxing, I chose not to move.  Add to that, two hours of beautiful sunshine on a gorgeously cool day, and I have the perfect recipe for sunburn.  My son put me in my place for my stupidity this afternoon when he said,  "Mom, looks like somebody took a flamethrower to your face."

I really need to get into the habit of putting on SPF 30 after my shower.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Baseball Mom?

I had dinner with two of my favorite baseball moms, tonight.  For many years our sons have played baseball together and we have sat in the stands cheering the boys on and sharing the details of our worlds.  Our nine inning therapy sessions have helped us be better parents - and cemented into lovely friendships.  Now, one of the guys has dropped baseball, but once a baseball mom, always a baseball mom. 

For the last three years these moms have relied on my middle school expertise to help analyze our kids' situations.  Now, we find ourselves moving into high school - and we are totally on our own.  We're all freaked out by how little we know about what our kids lives are going to be like in high school.  Often you will hear one of us say, "When I was in high school..." but since that was over 25 years ago, that information is almost irrelevant. 

Tonight we were all full of worries about these boys, who have so many strengths, but they're human (thank goodness) so they have weaknesses as well - and we found ourselves questioning our parenting techniques and the resulting outcomes.  Never have I felt a mastery of parenthood...but I was hoping that with my oldest at 14 I would be feeling more sure of myself as a parent. 

Hence, my newest reading material:  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.  I'll let you know if I decide to change my whole approach. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Our Family's Newest Addiction

We rarely watch TV in my house.  Neither my husband nor I are big fans, probably because we're prolific readers...but also the TV just hasn't taken on a central role in our life.  I may watch when I fold laundry, Matt will watch when it's football season, but that's really it. 

Except for ... Saturday nights - just a few years ago our Saturday nights were spent watching Finding Nemo, or A Bug's Life with our little ones.  More recently these evenings have begun with a disagreement between the two children about what movie to watch, the older one wants a more mature movie - say Star Wars or James Bond, while the younger prefers lighter fare - Beverly Hills Chihuahua is her favorite! Ultimately, we desperate parents make a random selection and everyone ends up annoyed.  This fall, however, we discovered a show that we all can agree on and that we will watch multiple episodes of in one sitting:  Mythbusters! Have you seen it?

The premise of the show is simple:  Give the two characters?  actors?  scientists?...well, give them a myth (urban or historical) and they will go to great lengths to prove or disprove it - often with some interesting pyrotechnics involved in some way.  This evenings' myths were interesting...Could a crew of 8 rowers actually pull a water skiier?  Could the in-step marching of a group of soldiers over a suspension bridge cause the bridge to fail?  And, can the spray from the toilet cause toothbrushes placed all over the bathroom to become contaminated with yucky stuff? 

There are a couple of things I really enjoy about the show - first of all, they seem to be practicing good science (in most cases), they love what they are doing, and they seem unrehearsed and honest in their TV presence.  There are curse words that are bleeped out, mistakes that are admitted, and new methodologies explored when things aren't going quite right.  A couple of the guys (like many of our students) really like to make big they do, but always with the understanding that safety comes first - and they model this.  Most importantly though, is the explanation of the science behind the myth that accompanies the experiment.  We have learned so much watching this show.  

So - what happened this evening?  Well, yes, a rowing crew of 8 could pull a water skiier behind them for almost a minute!  That was impressive.  The bridge didn't collapse, although there were issues with both the simulated marchers and the bridge.  And, yes - there was fecal coliform bacteria (is that right?) on every single toothbrush placed in the bathroom; but even more shocking was that there was fecal coliform on the toothbrushes that were the control in a totally different room!  Yuck!  Don't panic, however.  The amounts that are in the air are negligible...and don't seem to be harming us at all. 

When there is dissension among your TV viewer about what to watch...I recommend Mythbusters!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Family Dog

She looks up at me with her big, brown eyes, her head tilts and her ears move forward as if she is truly listening to comprehend what I am saying.  I am reminded that her cute beagle face may express guilt or love, but the reality is she feels no remorse for peeing on the couch cushion, bolting out the door, or eating a stick of butter. 

From her resting position on the floor in front of the door, she puts her chin on her two front paws and blinks her eyes at me slowly, more alluring, I'm sure, than the most flirtatious of people.  Occasionally she will lift and tilt her head as if to say, "Won't you? Can't you? Please?"

As soon as any of her family walks near the door the body perks up - and if you reach for the leash she is bouncing at your feet, instantly.  Because she likes to run away we have carefully regimented our leaving-the -house routine.  One person will say, "I'm leaving" and another will grab Canela's collar to make sure she doesn't leave with you. 

When we adopted her two summers ago, we decided to take this full-grown dog with us on a two-week family camping trip.  Not having been a dog family member before, I really didn't know what to expect.  Most memorable was her time at the cabin by the lake.  A more idyllic setting couldn't exist:  log cabin, private lake front, quiet lake, shallow beach area, lovely pine trees.  The kids and I were swimming, Canela was on a leash sunning herself - until she wasn't...and only the blur of brown and white drew my attention up the private road.  Knowing that she runs like the dickens we clambered out of the lake (not gracefully), I grabbed a package of hot dogs from the fridge, and we jumped into the van.  Sighting her white tail tip ahead I floored it - and slowly we began to gain on her.  Soon we were neck and neck with the dog on a one-way dirt road.  Grasping one hot dog, I told my son to open the back door carefully.  Each of us was now poised for action.  At the straight away, Canela's body lengthened, and I realized she was just warmed up...leaning out the drivers'-side window I tossed that hot dog just as far up the road as I could, slammed on the brakes and yelled, "Jump on her Patrick."  Putting both arms around her, he hauled her 30 pound body into the car. Our saving grace is that Canela is more interested in the food than the chase - thank goodness.  A package of hot dogs is always available in my house! 

An escapade like this typically occurs about every sixth months.  It's almost like she is keeping us on our toes.  The rest of the time she is a wonderful family member, included in reading time and movie nights, safely tucked into her bed each night, and loved every day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Writer's block succumbs to the dentist's chair

What do you do when writer's block hits?

This evening I have:
-Cooked dinner - this is unusual - I don't cook
-folded three loads of laundry, and put them away
-exercised (!)
-cleaned the dust from between the keys on the keyboard of the computer
-helped my kids with their homework
-tried to solve a computer problem on my little netbook
-brainstormed a list of things I do when I have writer's block

I usually try to think about writing topics in the moment...for example, yesterday while I was sitting in the dentist's chair, tipped practically upside down, I was aware that I was experiencing a moment that might make an excellent slice.  While the drill whizzed and whined, and moisture sprayed across my face, I reminded myself to be aware of the details because these could be great fodder for my blog.  I even found myself rehearsing description of the noises, the pain, and the whole cleaning experience, as for the first time in many years, I found myself truly uncomfortable while having my teeth cleaned.

At one point, when the drill (is it a drill? It makes me think of one - but I didn't see it.  I think that she hid it from me when she was done) was grinding away at the plaque on my teeth, I could feel the pressure build - not quite pain, but a prelude to pain, and my eyes welled with tears.  Keeping them squeezed shut, I hoped that she would not notice.  Terrible thoughts ran through my head.  Why is this hurting me?  She didn't make anyone cry today, and as I'm the last customer, I win?  Perhaps they keep a running total of how many patients she made cry today (I know sometimes teachers do).  Maybe my teeth are dying - that's why it hurts so much today - I haven't been flossing and my teeth are all going to fall out.  

Despite my best effort, a tear must have overflowed my left eye; the zzzzah  zzzzah zzzzzing of the drill paused, and I braced, mouth open, waiting for the next instrument of torture to enter.   In a gesture that was totally surprising, a tissue gently patted my eye.

Then the zzzah zzzzah zzzzzzing began again.   

Writer's block, like the plaque on my teeth, has been brushed away.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Some Days...

This morning my fourteen year-old groaned when I called him from the doorway of his room, "Today's going to be the worst day ever!" Deep down inside, I couldn't help but wonder if he was right, but I tried to maintain a positive tone of voice when I asked him why. "Mom, we start the day by going to church (Ash Wednesday, you know), then school where I have a standardized test that will last most of the morning, and after school gets out I have to go to the dentist." Then, like the line from one of my favorite children's books, my son stated strongly, "I HATE the Dentist!"  Truly he was anticipating a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

"Some days are like that, even in Arlington," I thought.  I smiled, but kept that thought to myself.  Six-fifteen is a little early in the morning for literary allusion and witty repartee with this particular eighth grader.

Late this afternoon, he was chatty as we climbed back into the van to head home.  "Only 10 more minutes until I can eat - my fluoride treatment has to sit for 30 minutes.  It wasn't so bad, you know, my day.  We got out of church in 30 minutes, in time to get McDonald's for breakfast.  Then, I was done with the test in like 30 minutes and I read my book for almost two hours.  Finally, I didn't have any cavities and I don't have to go back to the dentist for another six months!"

"Awesome," I said, thrilled for him.

I'm so pleased that, despite his dread of this day, he was able to appreciate the silver lining and not brood on the negative. 

Thankfully, with teenagers it seems, some days are like this! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Organization - left behind.

Ok, if you know me, please feel free to skip this you've heard it before.  If you don't know me - welcome to my soapbox.

This afternoon I monitored homework club in my classroom for a seventh grade team.  There were a few students who are required to come to homework club and a few of my eighth graders chose to stay and work with me as well.  Really, my small classroom/office was chock full of middle school students working on homework.  I was delighted.

I run a pretty structured homework club;  I check that students wrote in their assignment notebooks what they have to do for the evening, I ask them to prioritize what they are going to get done, and I walk around the classroom making sure that students are working on an assignment.  Today, about 15 minutes into homework club I mentioned to a young man that his binder needed a "Binder 911" - our term for some pretty serious resuscitation of the binder.  Henry looked abashed for a few moments, and then asked, "Do you have a binder I could have? My rings have broken."

Immediately after Henry made his request, two other students raised their hands and asked me for new binders.  We do collect binders from offices and anyone, really, who will give them to us, so we often have nice, 2-3 inch binders hanging around. And, as the unofficial binder organizer, I was happy to help these three kids out.  New binders on their desks, they each began the process of sorting the huge stack of papers that they have been carrying around in a big stack between the covers of their old binder...with no organization system at all - and the paper stack just continued to grow.  As Henry's pile was the largest,  I had him transfer the contents of his old binder into the new binder while I sorted the stack of paper by class and hole-punched them so that they could go into the binder.

Each youngster left my classroom after their Binder 911 feeling pretty good about their work, their assignments, and their organization.  While not perfect, their binders at least had their papers contained in the rings so the risk of a binder explosion (say, on the lunchroom floor) had been limited.  My point?  I know how much better I feel when my closet is clean or the top of my desk has been cleared.  I value the mental clarity that an organized work space provides.  Trust me, this does not come naturally to me, I work on it all the time.  However, organization is not a "tested" subject here in Virginia, so this skill (like so many others) is pushed off - and often left untaught and unsupported.  The 10 minutes in homeroom, or even 45 minutes in homework club is just not enough time to help a student come back from the brink of binder organization disaster.

I will continue to support students who come and ask me for help with binder organization - but deep down, I wish we had the flexibility and capability to offer students true organization and study skills classes that addressed some of the vital skills that they will be expected to have mastered by the time they get to high school.   Another important thing...left behind.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Final Fire

I got home this evening from a gathering of friends to find the last of our winter logs crackling merrily in the fireplace.  Blogging by firelight, snoring dog at my feet, and the whistling of the wind around the house - sounds like a lovely end to a Monday.  I am warm, tired, and ready for bed. 


Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Grossest Jobs...

I cleaned the master bathroom today.  Since we added a master suite onto our house, I have reveled in the space - space in the closet (for all of my clothes and mess), space in the bedroom (it feels like a luxury hotel room), and space in the master bathroom (two sinks, a separate throne room, a walk-in shower, and a jacuzzi tub). However, not once did I consider how the extra space might impact the time I spend cleaning.

Today I decided to do a really good, deep cleaning on the bathroom.  Perhaps the torrential downpours that came and went in our area subliminally signaled the beginning of spring to me.  Whatever the reason, 11:00 found me on my knees in the walk-in shower trying to get rid of the yucky stuff on the grout.  Funny how the brain works - before I started, I considered removing all my clothes...there is no dry way to rinse this humongous shower...but I decided that I would do the best that I could in my clothes and then change if necessary - changing was necessary!

I decided the trick to getting this shower clean was, like many people's hair preparation, using the right combination of I started with a sponge with a scrubby side - and plain old Comet.  Not good enough:  a layer of greenish dust covered the walls - but the soap scum remained.  I moved on to a bathroom cleaning spray I picked up last week, drawn by the promise that it was earth friendly and an effective cleaner.  That removed lots of soap scum. Although, while scrubbing diligently, I became infuriated by a few stubborn spots (one might call them mold...but that would be disgusting) so I pulled out the big gun cleanser - Tilex, Mold and Mildew Remover.  Spraying that generously on the few remaining blemishes, I could feel my head spinning.  This had to do the trick.  I shut the shower door, crossing my fingers.

I moved on to the sinks, the mirrors and the floors - and completely forgot the think layer of Tilex that I had squirted onto the floor of the shower. Fortunately, when I checked back hours later...the floor was still there - and most of the dark spots were gone.  This was a victory!  I did encourage my husband, though, to let the shower run for a few minutes tomorrow, before he actually steps into the shower.  Who knows what this stuff will do to your feet!

I felt like today was very successful!

Saturday, March 5, 2011


After a quick shower, her preparations began.  She pulled on a clean white T-shirt, her special white bloomers, and then the sparkly socks that we save for special occasions like this.  Teeth cleaned, she called me to help with her hair.  Pulling the brush through her hair, I couldn't help but think about how I used to do this when she was a little girl.  With her hair twisted up and contained, it was time to put the curls on.  She grasped the bottom of the wig and shoved the comb up the back of her neck while I gently pulled up and over the top of her head and tucked the comb just above her forehead.  Magically, her thick, straight hair was transformed into riotous curls of exactly the same color. 

We packed all of the necessary tools in the backpack: hairbands, bobby pins, ghillie shoes and black duct tape, and jumped into the car.  Weaving our way into Old Town, she was a bundle of nerves.  "Turn the music up, Mom, it helps calm me down!"  After lucking into a parking spot, it was time to complete the preparations.  Black ghillie shoes, with laces that wrap around the foot and the ankle, were tied on, and she stepped into a beautiful knee length white dress, with orange and green embroidered Celtic designs.  We attached the orange silk sash from the shoulder - and she was almost ready to go.  The last touch....the duct tape.  Lifting her foot like a horse having her shoes cleaned, Rebecca's black ghillie shoes are prepared for the mile trip down King Street.  The leather is not tough enough to to handle the asphalt, but duct tape on the bottom takes care of that. 

The girls line up with their dancing partners and run through a few steps.  Mrs. James deems them ready, and they follow the Marshal's directions out onto the parade route and into the cheers of the welcoming bystanders.  To the strains of Celtic music the lovely Irish Dancers step down the street at Alexandria's St. Patrick's Day Parade.  Erin Go Bragh!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Moving On

This evening, like almost every Friday evening, my husband and I had a long discussion about the week and many interesting things...but we almost always end up talking about work - either his or mine.  Today's closer discussion ended up being about how skills evolve and replace (or eliminate) other skills that we once valued. 

Take working on the car.  My husband and our fathers grew up working on cars; it was how you took care of an expensive machine to extend its life span, but it was also about the art of tinkering, a hobby and a passion for those who like to know "how things work".  Matt's early interest in working on cars evolved to building and working on computers.  Like so many others who took programming classes in high school and college - he developed a fundamental understanding for how the computer works. 

Tonight, though, our conversation culminated for me in the growing awareness that these skills are changing - and that in fact, our children have no interest in working on the car, or the computer, or even taking something apart.  They have become, however, excellent users of the technology to an extent that neither Matt nor I will ever match.  They are the digital generation.  So, at what point will we lose the skill of working on cars or working on computers? 

Matt points out that we (he means me, of course) don't even need to know how to cook today - perhaps it is a dying, or even obsolete skill.  I can put absolutely healthy meals on the table without much of Julia Child's kind of cooking.  In fact, when was the last time you skinned an animal for dinner? 

So, while I was feeling nostalgic about my kids not being interested in working on a car...the reality is that they are developing new skills the like of which I cannot even imagine, rendering the old skills obsolete.  Time to move on. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What comes around...

I chatted with my mom this afternoon.  On parent conference days, when my kids have no school the kids that are school age get to go to Grandma's house for a special visit.  In the early years, I mostly appreciated the cheap and convenient babysitting.  Now that they are older, however, I am more appreciative that my mom is taking the time to get to know the kids (and all their lumps and bumps), and they are building wonderful relationships.  

So tomorrow Mom is taking my 5 year-old nephew, my 11 year-old daughter, and my 14 year-old son to the Air and Space Museum.  When informed of the plan my 14 year-old groaned, "Mom," accompanied by a healthy (and message-laden) pause. Then, "Do I have to go?"

What a conundrum - although it shouldn't be - I sympathize with him - he wants some time that is just his - unstructured, preferably in his room.  However, he spends plenty of time in his room, reading and playing those dastardly little electronic games.  A change of routine will be good for him.  Besides, it is the right thing to do.

So, I prepped my mom on the phone. "Mom, listen, I hope that he isn't too surly. He wasn't very enthusiastic, so I hope he won't be too much trouble.  You know, he seems to be going through this phase..."

"Ellen," she interrupted quickly, "I have had plenty of experience with surly teenagers, if you'll remember. We'll be fine." 

Relief washed over me.  It is true that in raising five children Mom gained lots of experience with teenagers...she was a master at getting us to do what she wanted us to do - and helping us keep a positive attitude about it.  Now that I think about it, she had teenagers in the house for almost 20 years.  Mom deserves a medal for putting up with all of us during those years. She's right - they'll be fine.   

I hope, some day down the road, my kids are able to look back on these days spent with their grandmother, exploring the Smithsonian Museums, eating at McDonalds, and watching movies, the way that I remember my time with my grandmother: precious.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Club

I love to read - so I am always excited to head out to book club to talk about the books I have been reading.  What is not to love about an evening with an interesting group of women, excellent wine and treats, and chatting about books? 

As the pocket doors were pulled shut, wine glasses in hand, our high-pitched voices dampened for a moment - as if in reflection of the seriousness of our task:  we were to talk about the book now.  A few women tugged at their chairs, pulling them closer into the circle; others leaned in and we glanced around somewhat anxiously as we waited for the first person to say something about the book.

"I loved Major Pettigrew. What a lovely man!" stated one woman, boldly, and the chatter of voices erupted in response - to a neighbor, the group, or the room in general. 

And, the book club discussion was off - it would range in content from porn and drugs (thank you, Charlie Sheen) to education and how to best prepare our young people to truly be happy, successful human beings.

What a delightful learning experience.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Introduction

I am
a negotiator
a moderator
a doer of laundry...
"Please bring down your laundry. Where's my
blue shirt? Hey, did you wear that yesterday?"

a prodder
a nag
a pain in the neck...
"Is your homework done?  Did you study for 
tomorrow's test?  Are you sure? Because I said so!"

a cheerleader
a shoulder
a hug when needed...
"Yeah - You Aced it?  Super.
Oh, You did?  That's tough. I'm sorry. C'mere."

a provider
a personal driver
a hygiene adviser...
"I'm hungry. Do you have any food? Can you get
me to Basketball NOW?  YES, I put on deodorant!"

a believer in all
a support after a fall
a tired, sometimes cranky know-it-all
"You can pass, I know it.  Come on, let's try it
again.  GO TO BED!"

I am a mother and teacher
of middle school students

Today, thankfully,
I am.