Saturday, March 31, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: Vote of No Confidence edition

The backstory: On Thursday evening, JT, T, and I were making plans for our Mega Millions lottery win (Update: we didn't win) and we agreed that we would buy an RV and hit the road for the year, driving to bunches of places that we would like to see.  JT was enthusiastic about the plan but concerned about his education.  I attempted to provide reassurance.

Mama:  Don't worry about the 7th grade buddy, I can home school you for the year.

JT (in a tone of great doubt):  You?  I think that we'd better bring along a tutor.

Nine years of college.  Nearly twenty years as a teacher at the high school and college level.  But my own son thinks I'm not quite up to the challenge.  Ouch.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Real Life Conversations at School: Local Culture edition

The backstory:  Spring at my school brings not only romance in the back stairwell, it also features a certain amount of outdoor enthusiasm.  So it was on Wednesday, when my class and I were enjoying open windows and a conversation about political parties and interest groups when we heard a very loud scream from the outside quad.  We all paused and then the following conversation ensued.

Me:  What in the heck was that?

Student A:  That was the mating call of the North American lax bro.

For those of you not native to the northeastern prep school,  lax = lacrosse and bro = male lacrosse player……and Student A hit the nail squarely on the head.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vocabulary with T: Shimmy-Shake

So far, the Vocabulary with T series has explained jimmy-jangled and coo-coo le crazy.  This month's new vocabulary word is one that proves useful when you are in need of movement, especially movement that you welcome. 

Need to walk across the room?  You should shimmy-shake on over there.  Plan to drive a few miles down the road?  You can shimmy shake on down the interstate.  If you're headed up north this afternoon to wish your sweetie a Happy Birthday, then you're going to shimmy shake on over to her home.  Near as I can tell, if you are engaged in a shimmy-shake, you are having a good time. 

For example, no one shimmy-shakes on over to the oral surgeon.  No one shimmy-shakes downstairs to do the laundry.   In fact, characterizing movement to those activities as a shimmy-shake might even be coo-coo le crazy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rocky Top

On Monday night, JT and I watched the NCAA Women's Basketball tournament and cheered on the Lady Vols, our favorite team.  I've been a Vols fan since I lived in Tennessee in the early 90s and I passed the condition on to my son.  He knows all the facts about the Lady Vols and their coach, Pat Summitt.  He knows that she's the winningest coach in NCAA Basketball.  He knows that she was once offered a job coaching the men's team at the University of Tennessee (she refused, arguing that it wasn't a step up).  He knows that the basketball court at the University of Tennessee is named for her. 

JT has a bracket in a betting pool for women's basketball and he picked Baylor to win the game and advance to the Final Four.  Even so, that didn't matter as he cheered on Tennessee.  Ultimately, the Vols fell to Baylor, just missing the Final Four.  We were disappointed when the team lost. 

At the end of the game, as the Tennessee players and their coaches left the gym and Baylor celebrated their victory, my boy started to cry.  "I want to see Coach Summitt again," he told me.  Like many fans of Summit and her team, we're worried that she might not be back to coach next year (Summitt has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's).    So I explained to him that while we don't know what Summit will do next year, we do know that women's basketball has a national audience thanks to her tireless advocacy of the game.  That 12 year old boys in New Jersey are eagerly watching the women's game is a pretty terrific legacy.  Thanks, Coach.

PS: For more on Coach Summitt, check out Mechelle Voeppel's story over at ESPN. com.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


JT is leaning about Vikings in school.  On his own, he's reading some books about medieval history.  As a consequence of this, when he wants something from me he's taken to calling me "the fairest maiden in the land."  It's possible that he's over-selling that notion, but I'm utterly charmed.

Which, of course, is what the fair prince is counting on.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dogwood Monday: Week 3

By now, the national media has dissected our recent heat wave and all the gloomy projections about what it all means have taken their toll.  So as much as I am enjoying the early spring, I know that it's not a good thing.  But it's still lovely in my backyard and the dogwood is coming along nicely.
A hard freeze is forecast for tonight and that will be troublesome for many of the spring blooms.  I can cover up the flowers on the ground, but the trees will be out there on their own.  The dogwood blooms looks awfully delicate; here's hoping that they are tougher than they look.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Living While Black

I teach at a very diverse school and so when a story like Treyvon Martin's lands in the news (Mother Jones has a terrific accounting, complete with transcripts of the 911 calls and regular updates as news on the case develops), there are invariably teenagers who have stories of their own about racial profiling they have experienced.  They are kids of privilege and opportunity, they go to school in a place with remarkable diversity and tolerance, and yet this school and their family life doesn't protect them from society's stereotypes. 

When someone volunteers a story, their classmates listen and nod, we talk about making sense of these experiences, we talk about how to get beyond them, and then I assure my students that when they run the world, this kind of thing won't be the norm.

With all of my heart, I hope I am telling them the truth. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Lima Bean Tree

T sometimes jokes that one must "know your audience."  This advice is particularly relevant when you're called upon to deliver unwelcome news.  But the "know your audience" rule is also handy when gift-giving, as T found when she gave me a lima bean plant for Valentine's Day.  It's not a gift that everyone would welcome, but I am not everyone.  I was thrilled.

As advertised, the lima bean seed was engraved with the phrase "I love you" which would appear as the plant germinated.  This is is the perfect "know your audience" gift as I like being loved and I like lima beans.  That there is a win-win.

The plant has continued to thrive and this weekend it got a new pot and a small climbing trellis.  I will eventually transplant the lima bean into the garden but for now, it's on the front porch, serving as my lima bean tree.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dogwood Monday: Week Two

With the exception of two cool days toward the end of last week, we've had a remarkably early and quite warm spring.  All over my corner of New Jersey, the daffodils are in bloom.  My yard has a lot of southern exposure, so my flower bulbs aren't yet ready to display.  But the dogwood tree in the back yard is coming along nicely.
The bigger of the two hydrangeas seems determined to provide some blooming peer pressure. 
It's all most lovely.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I am teaching an extra class this year --- a duty for which I volunteered and for which I am being paid extra --- but it means that I have 75 students in my care.  Now is the point where my friends who teach at public schools roll their eyes and mouth "I wish" and I certainly understand that comparatively…..well, my world really doesn't compare.  I get that.  But it is my world and this year it's rather kicking my backside.

Many years ago, in a land far away, when my teaching load averaged well in excess of 150 students, I assigned short answer and multiple choice tests and closed my mind to the inner critic who pointed out that these methods of assessment were not the most effective way to teach critical thinking.  But I was one woman doing my level best and the standards and expectations were very different. 

This teaching job, which requires preparation of students for college and critical thinking in the world beyond, cannot be effectively done via those methods alone.  So my students write essays and analytical arguments and I read and respond to every word they put on paper.  In-class lessons are offered in a variety of ways, but most often via an old-school Socratic method, which can sometimes be exhausting.  That politics is constantly changing also means the lessons must be evaluated and re-structured every year.  Twice a year I write a comment to every student in my classes, explaining their strengths and weakness and assessing their progress.  I take that responsibility seriously and crafting 75 honest and useful assessments of other people's children is no easy task.  Suffice it to say that I'm a busy classroom teacher.

I'm not complaining about any of this; there are truckloads of evidence that the method I use is quite effective.  I know that my students are engaged and I see that they are learning.  But no matter how much I value the process, by this time of the year I am growing weary.

Tomorrow's return from Spring Break, which also heralds the start of JT's Little League season and has me marking the time between now and that day in May when my students take the AP test, has a tendency to offer up a relentless pace.  It's a blessing that the marathon comes with the company of warmer weather and spring blossoms, a welcome addition to my days and a relief when things seem most busy.  This year, I've got a happy heart, which is no small addition to my ability to bear up.

I took no schoolwork to Florida.  Last week, I graded a pile of exams and papers in time to give me a free weekend.  Teaching plans and lessons for the rest of the year have been in place long before today.  So I'll return to a clean desk tomorrow.  I'm well-rested and re-organized for spring, the laundry is caught up, the house is clean, the garden is ready for planting….in short, I'm as ready as I can be. 

Even so, I know there will be days that overwhelm me.  This spring, in addition to my usual methods of organization, I'm also determined to draw some stark lines in my life.  I'll shut off the computer, get to bed early, take a deep breath, hit the gym, or go for a walk in the woods when it all becomes too much.   I'll enjoy the moments worth enjoying without regretting what comes next.  I'll remind myself to do it for my sake, for the sake of those I love, and for the sake of the 75 children who are in my care each week.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Yesterday, I read a story about one woman's effort to terminate her pregnancy.  That the fetus was much desired but badly damaged is really superfluous information, though it's a powerful part of the tale Carolyn Jones tells.  What's more important are the many ways in which our state legislatures are systematically disregarding and ignoring the needs of more than one half of the population.  The female half.

Those of you who think that birth control is not a real issue, who feel that women's reproductive health is just a smokescreen, who don't understand the consequences of ignoring women's rights, I suspect you're in for a very tough election year.  I'm a woman and a mother; a voter and a citizen.  And I won't rest until my rights - human rights - are secure.  We deserve better.

Ladies, it's time to raise a little hell.  I urge you to support Planned Parenthood, Emily's List, and NARAL/Pro Choice America.  There is only one pro-choice, pro-woman presidential candidate and his name is Barack Obama. Women's rights are human rights.  Let's make sure our government understands this fact.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Flowers & Sunlight

We've spent most of this week enjoying some very nice weather.  I've poured over my garden catalogs and made plans for flowers and plants for the coming Spring and Summer.  But yesterday and today, wet, cool weather has returned and so I've been looking at the pictures I made in Florida, a reminder of flowers, warmth and sunlight yet to come.

We arrived at Disneyworld early enough for me to make some pictures of Cinderella's castle before the crowds arrived.
Red geraniums always look so cheerful.
Epcot had loads of beautiful gardens; this is one of the more expansive beds of flowers.
Daisy Duck is most charming depicted in flowers.
Grandma ran across a Viking in Norway.  Lucky for us, he was a friendly invader.
In England, I enjoyed a cup of tea.
I've yet to determine what these flowers are but they smelled amazing.
My azaleas are still organizing for their showy display but they bloom much earlier in Florida.
My fingers itch to plant some blooms of my own!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Crazy Hat Day

In a rare display of parenting success, I have somehow been able to persuade JT to try on crazy hats and let me make his picture.  I don't even have to cajole to make it happen, and so I have a growing collection of my charming boy in a bunch of hats.  Disneyworld and Epcot are the perfect place to build such a collection and I took advantage of the opportunity.

He makes a cuter Uncle Sam, I think.

Senor Gigante Sombrero tried out his Spanish when we were at Mexico in Epcot.

I think that this hat is a boar, but I can't be sure.  Germany, you've got some explaining to do.

And here's the boy enjoying a Mickey ice cream bar and wearing one of his many baseball caps. 
I know that some day JT won't fall for my nonsense and will instead roll his eyes and say "oh, Mother" when we come across silly hats.  When that happens, I plan to bribe him with these photos.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dogwood Monday: Week One

Spring is coming earlier than usual around my corner of New Jersey.  Today has a forecast high of 69 degrees and the week promises warm temperatures ahead of that.   I always enjoy seasonal change and this year's Spring transition is no different.  When I was outside yesterday I noticed that my dogwood tree is just starting to bud.   It looks lovely against the vivid blue sky.  For the next few Mondays, I plan to make a picture of my blooming dogwood and to enjoy its progress.
Last summer's hurricane brought down one of the neighbor's backyard trees and that means that the dogwood gets a lot more sunlight.  The change will certainly help to bring the blooms out earlier, though I don't recall the tree blooming this early before.
The rest of the backyard is also getting in on the act, with blooms on the big oak, the hydrangea, and the clematis vine (this last is very good news as I feared that vine would not come back).  With time off this week and such warm weather I expect that I will be getting some quality time in the garden.  And I'm crossing my fingers that our early spring is also a long spring.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Real Life Conversations with T: Common Sense edition

The backstory:  T and I have taken to leisurely weekend mornings in which I lie about drinking coffee and trolling the web.  This morning's version of that lovely routine featured the added pleasure of me getting caught up with some of the mommy blogs I like to read.  Which led to a useful observation.

Me: Why are so many of the mommy bloggers of the world dysfunctional women?

T:  Because there's a lot of crazy women out there and some of them have learned to type?

At that, I burst into laughter.  I think she's pretty spot on.

Friday, March 09, 2012


JT and I are enjoying our last day in Orlando with my friends A and M, a trip we've been planning since last summer.  M rented a house with 6 bedrooms and given the extra space, decided to add a surprise: they invited my parents to join us.  JT was not in on that trip detail and so when we arrived Saturday he was in for a big shock.  He was wheeling our suitcase into the house when Grandpa called out a comment about finding the right house.   My boy stopped in his tracks and turned to look for the source of this very familiar voice.  Surprise, indeed!  We went to theme parks with Grandma (who has a boundless ability to walk the Disney acres).
We visited the world of Epcot and especially enjoyed the flower displays.
Then the four of us headed west to see the Cardinals play a spring ball game against the Nationals.  It was a real treat for JT to get to talk non-stop baseball live and in-person with his Gramps.
We fly home this afternoon, a bit tanned and a lot tired.  But most happy!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


In each of the Epcot countries, there are stores (duh!) and you can purchase a Mickey Mouse dressed in that nation's traditional costume.  Pretty cute, actually.  But when we checked out the American Mickey we were surprised to find that he was "made in Vietnam."  Oh, America.
 Insert your own ironic comment here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: Crash Test Dummies edition

The backstory: We were at Epcot today, riding the rides and visiting the world.  One of the rides was a car test simulation and there were loads of crash test dummies lying around.  I urged him to sidle over near them but JT could see where that idea was headed.
Mama:  Come over here and let me make your picture.

JT:  By the crash test dummy sign?  I'm not falling for that, mother.

Internet, I think think we've laid to rest any speculation that I brought the wrong baby home from the hospital.

Monday, March 05, 2012

JT and Lady G'ma

We're at the Disney megaplex of power here in Orlando (more on that later, I promise).  Today, JT and I went with Grandma to the Magic Kingdom.  Grandma may be nearly 70 but she can rock the 3-D glasses.  JT took one look at her wearing these glasses and announced that she wasn't Lady Gaga but she was Lady G'ma.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

In My Native Condition

We're in Florida for some Spring Break fun. The weather is warm and suitable for my favorite footwear.
That's happy!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Spring Break

This afternoon, when school let out at 3:05 pm, we were officially on Spring Break.  Within 5 minutes (give or take a second), I had removed my winter tights and exchanged them for slip flops and painted toe nails.   Two weeks of sleeping in, hanging out, and relaxing lie before me.  It's a glorious thing.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March 1st: Front Yard Flowerbed

I'm eager for spring, which is a bit presumptuous given the mildness of this year's winter.  In my defense, I am prepared to admit that at least some of my longing to switch seasons is the result of my desire to exchange winter clothes in favor of shorter skirts and flip flops.  In fact, despite fact that the calendar notes the start of Spring on March 20, I'm prepared to declare it Spring on March 1st, when it seems acceptable to abandon the wearing of tights and wool sweaters.  Had March 1st been Monday or Tuesday of this week, I might have been excused my desire to haul out the sandals.  Alas, the extra day in February brought us a day of icy cold and that cold has lingered into today, the first of March.
Happily, the front yard garden is just as eager as I am to enjoy the coming warmth.  The mild, wet winter has the bulbs fooled and I expect I'll have an early show of daffodils and tulips this year.
That's a happy development.