You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

When Leo was a puppy, he needed to be taught how to do everything from coming when called, to relieving himself outside, to learning that if food was left on a table or counter that it was not an invitation for him to help himself!  At some point, he learned, or used his instincts to help him retrieve objects when thrown – tennis balls, sticks, you name it, he would chase the soaring item and sure enough, bring it right back to whoever initiated the “game.”

At nine years old, Leo, a beautiful Golden Retriever who prances when walking (perhaps due to his father’s famous show dog lineage) has shifted his approach to retrieving.  Yes, he will still occasionally be enthused by the stick throwing routine, but these days, Leo has his sights set on a much more creative approach to play.

Instead of waiting for an object to be thrown and then capturing it, Leo initiates a whole new approach to fun.  Most mornings, he can be found racing through the Swift River trails en route to a quieter open space where there is a sandy spot that has easy access to a slower moving part of the river.  Upon closer view, one will notice that Leo is actually surveying the shallow waters and then hand, or paw-selecting a river rock.

Sometimes the transaction is seamless, and he is able to secure the rock in his mouth before bringing it up to higher ground, proudly dropping it near our feet and going back for more.  Other times, Leo may choose a rock that is too big for his mouth span and he will relentlessly try to capture it, nudging it with his nose – usually heading in the wrong direction away from the shore – whining at it and if really frustrated, barking profusely.  I am in awe of the whole fascinating process!  The fruits of his labor have been collecting over these summer weeks and he now has garnered quite a river rock garden!

As I wonder at how amazing Leo’s new development has been to observe, I am reminded that an old dog can learn new tricks!  Taking a page out of Leo’s book, and with the guidance of many writing legends – past and present – I am creating this blog to have a place to share my life moments – immense or miniscule – of any size.  It is here that I am committing to living a writerly life so that I can be a more authentic teacher of writing for my fourth grade students.  Cheers to all teachers as we get closer to the new school year ahead on the horizon.

 

 

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Grain of Salt

Someone has just said something that seems dramatic or over-the-top and words of the wiser say to “take it with a grain of salt.”

I’m here to tell you that once words are said, it’s incredibly difficult to erase them from your memory.  It’s even challenging to dilute them in your thoughts.

So, what does it mean to “take it with a grain of salt?”  Perhaps it means not to pay too much attention to whatever took place.  Afterall, a grain is smaller than a morsel, so it’s relatively tiny in the grand scheme of things.

I can recall many times where these words were offered as a consolation during times when I struggled with my emotions.  My mother would say “take it with a grain of salt,” trying to lessen the impact of my father’s words when he became stubborn about something and came across as harsh.  A grade level teacher would offer these words as an explanation for another colleague’s questionable behavior.  A swim captain would share “take it with a grain of salt,” with the team when a coach would be disappointed with a meet outcome.

Sometimes, just hearing the words, “take it with a grain of salt,” was powerful.  Other times, rolling my eyes wouldn’t be outside of the norm.

As a parent of three teenagers, I find myself offering the advice “take it with a grain of salt” to my own children.  Kids say and do things that leave lasting impressions. Teaching them at a young age not to sweat the small stuff has long-term value.

My own words of the wiser can be summed up in one sentence.  Live life fully, be playful, and don’t forget to “take it with a grain of salt.”

Careful

While the words “be careful” can mean many different things depending on the situation, once uttered, they immediately demand awareness.

Be careful not to make too much noise as the baby is sleeping.  This was a common line for several years in our house when our three children were new to this world. Whispering or using non-verbal signals was definitely the way to go!  “Be careful” begs us to notice our volume.

Be careful crossing the street.  Living in the center of town has its perks because we are within walking distance to many shops, schools, and churches.  Sadly, a crosswalk doesn’t mean that cars will always stop for pedestrians.  We have counted the number of cars that drive by while we wait to cross…in a crosswalk!  “Be careful” warns of possible danger.

Read the passage carefully and then be ready to discuss your thoughts.  Good readers read an excerpt at least two times, preferably three before being able to fully grasp the author’s message.  “Read…carefully” invites us to slow our pace and pay attention to the words on the page so that we can glean meaning.

Handle with care is written on boxes holding fragile items.  Think glass, ceramics, handmade sculptures, and more.  “Handle with care” instructs us to be gentle and intentional with our movements.

Our youngest child is named Caroline.  Her friends nicknamed her Carebear at a young age because her heart is full and she is a thoughtful young lady.  Grammatically, careful means full of care.  I hope Caroline continues to care and that she is surrounded by others who will reciprocate this human sentiment.

Be careful.  It’s a good way to be.

Quaint

Quaint

Nestled in the White Mountains

sits a picturesque village called Tamworth.

Walking to the center,

one cannot help but notice

the bustling, thriving commerce.

Catch a live performance

of the country’s oldest and best summer theater

at the Barnstormers.

Sample spirits made on site at the Distillery.

Need some paint, or a fresh loaf of Sunnyfield bread?

The Other Store has it all covered!

Don’t forget to visit the Farmer’s Market

which takes place each Saturday from 9-1.

The freshest produce, jams and maple cotton candy.

White Gates Farm’s bacon is such a treat!

Close-knit community is where it’s at.

Celebrating the 200th, Ultimate Frisbee, the Concerts on the Lawn,

Don’t forget the Yo Yo People – Cook Memorial Library runs it all!

Floating down the river,

Taking Leo on the trails.

Quaint summer days.

We are lucky to be able to spend our summer here.

 

Bubble

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live life inside a bubble.

At first, it sounds safe, possibly cozy, and simple.  Would I be happy in a bubble?  I’m not sure.  Afterall, I’d be able to look out and watch my surroundings.  But, I wouldn’t be able to participate in anything on the other side.  This is concerning and would also contradict many life lessons.

Is this how an outsider feels?  Seeing everything, but not getting to the doing.

Then I got to thinking about some characters in books that I have read.  Maddie Whittier in Everything Everything has a rare disease that forces her to stay indoors to keep her safe.  Inside her home is her “bubble.”  Ally Nickerson from Fish in a Tree doesn’t really have a bubble because she moves around too much.  She’s on the outside trying to fit in, but fails miserably.

I think I’ll be happy if no one bursts my “bubble.”

Deliver

Has the mail been delivered yet?  Fetching the daily mail remains one of the highlights of our days, even if the exact delivery time is unknown.

When we first moved into our home almost twenty years ago, we had one mailman who faithfully delivered our mail down our extra-long driveway and up our worn porch steps.  His visits were like clockwork.  We would hear the church bells chime for 10:30 in the morning and shortly thereafter, heavier footsteps outside could be heard from the foyer and living room areas.  What would be in the mail today?

Fast forward to present day:  our former mailman has retired and in his place, a younger man does the route.  We don’t really know him, and have no real idea of the timing of his deliveries, because we are no longer at the house during most days.  Yet the mail is still delivered.

When I look back on my favorite deliveries, I think of special moments that were celebrated with cards and gifts – all being delivered to our home.  First it was our marriage, then special birthdays, babies, my graduation, and now lots of bills, catalogs, and newsletters.

Technology may be nudging itself further into our daily routines, including email.  However, I am confident that delivering and receiving electronic mail will never completely replace the traditional pencil and paper letters.

As our daughter, who’s away at school will tell us, “I love mail!”  We will continue to send her mail and know that it will be safely delivered to her very soon!

Unite

It’s just a few minutes past ten and we’re late again, but we are here!  As we run up the steps, we hear the music and the singing from outside behind the closed wooden doors.  Sunday mornings are a time to put everything aside and be present.  A chance to unite with our church family under one roof.

There is strength in unity.

Today is a special Sunday worship.  Our pastor is out of town, and in his place are five men who together form the Christian band, “Still Working.”  They sing about unity – the lyrics asking us to “change the atmosphere,” “set the church on fire,” and to “open our eyes.”  It’s a different way to show thanks while coming together to praise God for our blessings.  There is power in music and song as story – the message is clear:  unite to help others, unite to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.

There is strength in unity.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a concert today and neither was my son.  Whether or not I was prepared, the words seep into my mind and ignite an organic reflection.  My thoughts quickly turn to the altar, though, as the band leader solicits the group’s participation.  Many of us are reluctant to stand up at first, and then to perform the motions that are modeled.  As more of the congregation joins in, the act becomes more comfortable and we smile while raising our voices and our arms.

There is strength in unity.

“I don’t have issues.  I have opportunities.”  Jim Piquette’s words remind me to keep my eyes open and to unite with others to be helpful where I am most needed.  I will let his words guide me everywhere I go.

An Awkward Moment

“How will they know who I am if you aren’t with me?” I ask.  It’s Open House at the Bridgewater Middle School tonight, and Caroline tells me she doesn’t need to accompany me to meet her team of teachers.

Thank goodness for social media because minutes later, a friend texts Caroline about meeting at the field while her brother practices football.  Another classmate calls and asks Caroline if she plans to go to Open House.  Even though I couldn’t convince her to come to school, her friends were able to encourage her to be there.

The Navy team is spread over three floors at the Intermediate School.  Before heading all the way down to the first floor, we stopped at the music room and chatted with Miss Howland.  She remembered Caroline’s siblings – the twins – fondly?  Coincidentally, Mrs. Watson, one of Caroline’s new Spartan soccer coaches, was right next door.

Spartan soccer is new to our family.  Tomorrow there is an away game in Seekonk and I need to pick her up so she can make her skating slot.  We wanted to check-in and clarify some of the procedures with her.  Another family is ahead of us, having an elaborate discussion.

“Go show your mom your banner,”  Mrs. Watson directs Caroline while we wait our turn.  Caroline looks at me – first with confusion, and then somewhat fearful.  When we get up to the front, Mrs. Watson puts all the pieces together and remembers having Abigal and Jackson in school.  I swear her face reddens as she realizes her mistake.

Caroline is not on her academic team, so she wouldn’t have a banner hanging in the classroom.

Definitely an awkward moment.

 

18 Minutes

Four teams of four

Behind a closed door.

Plans have been made

And materials are laid,

20 spaghetti sticks, one marshmallow,

a yard of tape, scissors and a yard of string

The online stop-watch is set.

The countdown begins.

Eighteen minutes.

Tallest structure?

Whose will it be?

Remember, marshmallow on top!

One group labors over the height

failing to factor in the marshmallow’s weight.

Another group gets fancy

Making yarn swirls to hold the base.

Following directions is key.

A group forgets and builds atop the marshmallow.

Using resources wisely is a lesson for group 4.

They run out of tape and string, there is no more!

Lots of chat.

Much excitement.

In the end, the one with the strongest base wins.

The other three didn’t stand a chance.

They fell when left alone

So failed to be freestanding.

Eighteen minutes.

 

A Freshman Tries to Figure It Out

“There’s a pasta supper tonight for cross country, but I’m not sure I want to go,” my son says as he hops in the car after practice tonight.  He sounds a little unsure, so I say, “Oh? Will any of your friends be there?”  He doesn’t know.  The conversation ensues and I learn that Coach Sousa won’t be there because there will be cupcakes.  “He hates cupcakes before race day.”  I leave the final decision up to him.  As I’m walking the dog, I receive a text stating, “I’m not going to the pasta party.”  I respond that it’s fine as long as he’s sure.  Ten minutes later, he texts, “I actually want to go.” “K,” I reply.

A freshman tries to figure it out.

Navigating the ins and outs of high school can be considered a full time job, for the new freshman and his parents.

Just last week, on the first day of school, we tried a new routine for drop off.  School starts earlier at the high school, so I am now the designated driver.  I drive right by the entrance on my way to school, so it seemed like a no-brainer.  We anticipated a slow start, but nothing prepared us for the cars backed up to the road with absolutely no movement in sight.  “I’m going to turn and drop you on the corner because I can’t get stuck in there,” I say knowing that this is not going to go over well.  “No, mom, you can’t,” he pleads.  Too late, I’ve turned the car and tell him to get out quickly.  I’m not even sure if I wished him a great day in all the haste.  He was absolutely mortified and there was nothing I could do about it.  Upperclassmen who drive to school walk on the same path, but that’s beside the point.

A freshman tries to figure it out.

Trying to stay low on the radar to avoid ridicule seems like the way to be as a freshman. My little stunt did him no favors in that department, though he seemed fine at the end of the day.

After last night’s debacle, I’m thankful that there was no large quantity of homework assigned tonight.  We share a space to complete work at the back table in our open living area.  I was reviewing plans for today, fine-tuning some of the key points I wanted to make, noting areas that needed extra attention and tips I didn’t want to forget to include in the lessons.  He was clearly frustrated with the opening section of a geometry review packet.  The table was vibrating after he banged it hard in an explosive gesture when he realized that he had solved the last 3 out of 4 problems incorrectly on the first attempt.  The anger was coupled with mild panic as he realized that he didn’t have a grasp on the skill and he was having a quiz today heading into it feeling unprepared.  Did I mention that it was close to 9PM when this transpired?  “My teacher said to wait until Sunday night to complete the packet,” he argued.

A freshman tries to figure it out.

Carving out ample time for homework is an area in need of improvement.  When a teacher says to wait until Sunday night, start earlier.

I get it…it’s hard to know the right step to take as a freshman.  To make the right mark.  I’m here to tell you that it’s equally difficult making the right moves as a parent of a freshman.

Here’s to lots of laughter along the way as we all try to figure it out.

Homework Strikes Again

What encompasses a range of emotions, a variety of content, and needs to be scheduled into family life?  The ubiquitous homework.  And it’s back whether we like it or not.

In theory, homework is a noble entity.  It allows students to practice skills learned in the classroom so that they can achieve mastery, or at least be more proficient.  The reality is that completing homework itself needs to be practiced before it’s an efficient routine.

This is well and good; however, no two assignments are typically the same.  Some content proves more challenging than others, making day to day homework somewhat of a wild card in terms of success rate.  From the student perspective, homework can be a roadblock and something that is dreaded if the content is not sufficiently understood.

One week into high school for our son and he’s quickly realized that he needs to employ more efficient time management skills.  He will also benefit from reaching out to his teachers and his classmates when he is struggling to complete his work.  Starting his work at 8:45 on a Sunday evening because his “teacher told him to” probably wasn’t his best plan.

Away from our watchful eyes, our daughter is adjusting to her new course load.  She has been creative with her methods of checking homework accuracy.  Twice in the last week I have received late texts with screenshots of her writing.  “How does this look?” she asks.

Our youngest hasn’t really said a peep about homework yet.  Since she doesn’t stress about being the best, perhaps her strategy will work out in the long run.  We’d love for her to put more effort into her work, and know that this is something we will need to monitor closely.

As a teacher who doubles as a parent, I value meaningful nightly homework.  I believe that students improve with practice and perseverance.  It is important to me that students have enough exposure to a skill before I ask them to practice.  There needs to be a balance between stretching a student’s thinking and bringing them to the brink of frustration.

I have been dragging my heels on committing to a homework policy for my fourth grade classroom this year.  To support the 40-book Challenge that my students are excited to experience, I plan to assign nightly reading for 30 minutes.  This will be a new routine for many of my students.  I hope that in giving them the choice in what they read, they will not dread this homework.  Add in a math page to practice the daily skill and that’s a recipe for respectable homework.

Perhaps more than anything else, children need to be supported.  They deserve our attention and our care, especially at this critical start of the new school year.  We expect them to put forth their best effort and to do hard things. Nothing is impossible, after all, the word says I’m possible!