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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Finders Keepers

The Vista Cruiser was packed to the hilt with bags filled of food, diapers for my brothers, clothes, books, and as many other things as we could fit inside.  When I was young, summers on Prudence Island were simple and yet filled with anticipation.

Visitors would occasionally come to the island to see what we were up to and that would always be a nice change of pace from our back to basics routine.  Relatives and family friends would come in large groups, usually for day trips, giving us the chance to show off our island.

One summer, things were a little different.  I was about ten or eleven years old and being the oldest of six, I was the first of my siblings to be allowed to have a friend visit the island by herself AND spend the night in our crazy rented summer home!  This was quite extraordinary – even for island standards – and I was beyond excited.

Alicia Philippe was a classmate and she was so pretty.  She had shiny dark brown hair that rested just below her shoulder.  She also wore the latest styles from popular brands at the time.  I remember being envious of her fashion sense, wishing I could dress like her.  Looks aside, one thing I noticed right away when she got off the boat was her new wallet.  Oh – it was so clever!  The velcro wallet was all the rage in the 80s – made out of a durable nylon fabric with tons of pouches – and if you were lucky, you could have a design on the exterior.  Boy, did I want one just like it!  I knew there would be a fat chance of me getting one as it would have been considered low on the priority list – food and diapers seemed to be where it was at back then.

I probably thought, “What will I do with Alicia first?”  I’m sure I made a mental list of dozens of things that we could explore on the island.  Maybe she’d like to ride bikes over to Canario’s to buy some penny candy – my favorite was the pack of gum dressed up like cigarettes that actually “blew” smoke, a.k.a. sugar on the end!  Or what about taking her to Sandy Point to jump off the docks?  How about asking my mom to take us digging for clams on the West Shore.  When it got dark, a game of Capture the Flag with the kids living around us could be fun.  Maybe she’d like to visit the gift shop to purchase a rope bracelet just like mine?  Ooh – I know I probably wanted to show her the rock houses I’d built by layering super thin rocks.  Perhaps she’d like to play “house” with my brothers’ matchbox cars?  That might have seemed too babyish – I bet I held off on that one.

It was nearing the time for Alicia to get to the ferry so she could head back home.  The ride was about a half hour, making 1-2 stops before reaching its final destination in Bristol.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the wallet.  Alicia ended up leaving it behind.  It’s possible that I put the wallet in a different spot, say a closed dresser drawer in my shared bedroom before her departure, but she was not privy to this information.

I remember thinking she would notice that she didn’t have the wallet with the rest of her belongings and my plan would be foiled.  Nope.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  The wallet was so calling my name.

“Mom, look what I found!”  I innocently exclaimed.  “It must have been left here by the family before ours.  Finders keepers!”

My mom – bless her heart – went along with my little scheme at the start.  She was quick to point out that the person who left it was probably looking for it, and maybe even a little sad about the loss.  She suggested that we leave the wallet where we found it in case the person came back looking for it, knowing full-well that it was Alicia’s wallet.  If only I hadn’t made such a big fuss about Alicia’s wallet, maybe I could have fooled the tired mother of six.  Nonetheless, I wanted that wallet and by default, it became mine for what was left of that summer on Prudence Island.

Call it what you will, but I do believe my conscience intervened and helped me realize my misstep.  As summer neared a close, and we packed our things back into the Vista Cruiser to head home and start a new school year, I decided that Alicia should have her wallet back.  Somehow, the velcro wallet that I’d temporarily made my own, was returned to its rightful owner.

I accepted that I made a mistake claiming someone else’s property as my own and I learned how smart my mom really was.  She never accused me of wrongdoing, which she could have easily done.  Instead, she let me wrestle with my own choices, probably faithfully praying that I would eventually see the light.

 

 

 

The Ubiquitous Grey Sweatpant

Can it really be?  Three years of waiting for the ubiquitous grey sweatpant?

“I ask every year for a pair of grey sweatpants,” Jackson claimed as the temperatures plummeted and his go-to shorts no longer cut the mustard.  “Maybe this will be my year,” my son commented sarcastically.

I distinctly remember hosting one of Jackson’s friends during a winter break.  Yes, you guessed it – a magic three years ago!  His friend was wearing a brand new pair of grey Under Armour sweatpants.  I would later find out that his mom bought the sweatpants that morning especially for the occasion as we would be outside for several hours in the month of January and he was otherwise ill-equipped.  Jackson discreetly whispered, “Those are the sweatpants I want, Mom.”  Reflecting back, I’m not sure why we didn’t run out and do the same thing!  Perhaps a combination of sticker shock and the sameness of the teenage “uniform” is to blame for the delay in purchasing the desired leg coverings.

Fast forward to present time and the plea for sweatpants returns.  So, like many other residents south of Boston, we trekked to the South Shore Plaza late Saturday afternoon.  It was our hope that the plethora of stores contained within the plaza’s walls would have something we could purchase that would fit the bill.

Reader, I kid you not – it was if Olympia Sports knew my son’s pain.  Their advertising seemed to pop out at us like neon signs, beckoning us to enter.  Multiple signs boasted fleece sales – buy one, get one 70% off.  It seemed like a tease at first because there were virtually no size smalls remaining on the racks.  He took a few pairs into the fitting room unenthused.  The first couple didn’t work – too baggy, way too long, too pegged at the ankle – you get the idea.  We even considered the Kids’ XL sizing – no dice.  It seemed hopeless.  Honestly, I think his need took over and miraculously, he was able to settle on two different pairs – one, a Nike cotton fleece, the other a synthetic option from Under Armour.

Was it worth the wait?  Considering that boy and grey sweatpants were virtually inseparable the next day, I’d conclude an astounding yes!  Some of the snippets of comments heard the day after went something like this:  “I just love the feel of sweatpants on my legs” and “they are so soft” as he repeatedly smoothed the outer surface like he was petting his most loyal furry companion.

Oddly enough, rekindling a love of sweatpants with a shorts guy was very satisfying for this mom.

Oh, Restless Night

“I thought you said you shut all of the storm windows earlier today?” my husband questioned me with a faint note of annoyance and just a hint of underlying concern.

Oh, restless night!

It’s now 11:30PM and what started off innocently enough with a gentle rain sweetening the air a few hours earlier, has now turned angry and threatening, slamming heavy rain drops against closed windows.  The wind is howling, banging against the walls of the house and thrashing against the shutters.  Audible drops of water are making their way through the chimney as the rain pours onto the house.

Oh, restless night!

We make our way through all three floors of the house swiftly and silently, pushing up screens and pulling down storm windows while the rain beats relentlessly against all surfaces, teasing us as it tries to enter the open spaces even for the briefest of moments.

Oh, restless night!

Meteorologists tried to warn us of the storm’s potential impact, but we didn’t take it too seriously as we’ve been fooled before.  Earlier in the day, as the sky darkened and looked even more ominous, I asked my daughter to text my husband.  She wrote:  “Mom said for u and Jackson to bring the glass table and chairs in the garage before the rain and wind. DON’T BE LAZY.”  A one-word reply came back almost instantly: “Nope.”

Oh, restless night!

Cars are parked in the driveway, not the garage where they should be.  Why is that, you may ask?  Well, our teenage son has taken over the garage with his hockey set-up – interlocking plastic tiles arranged in front of a net to encourage shot practice.  There is a feeling of urgency to get the cars inside before the weather really turns sour.  Jackson’s not using the practice space nearly as often as he used to, and besides, he’s taking up very valuable real estate!

Oh, restless night!

Finally, I lay in bed, cocooned by my covers, hoping that my husband’s even breathing will lull me to sleep.  Instead, I am wide awake, my thoughts swirling around inside my head making me feel like I am spinning inside a washing machine on the “extra spin” cycle.  I imagine the worst case scenarios and these devastating outcomes occupy my thoughts and hold my dreams hostage.

Oh, restless night!

Somehow, I manage to find some sleep and the sounding of my alarm at 5:30AM seems  a bit cruel and unfair.  I wake up with fully-functioning power, and quickly move downstairs to assess potential damage from the late evening’s ugly visitor. A massive tree branch did fall, but on the lawn, averting the driveway and sparing the cars.  Our vehicles are mostly untouched, just wrapped in pine needles and leaves that brushed gently along their outer shells.  Four chairs and the round glass table are barely out of place and in fine shape.

Oh, restless night!

I realize how lucky I am to have only had a restless night.  I will happily welcome a night like this, where cleanup is minimal and life goes on almost without a hitch.  After all, we only experienced a fraction of the devastation and inconvenience that our fellow Americans have endured during the wrath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.  Continued well wishes are sent to those still waiting to resume life as “usual” – whatever that may be.

 

 

Thank You, Mr. Baker

Dear Mr. Baker,

Do you ever wonder how many lives you’ve influenced over the years?  Or, how many students are who they are because you had a hand in shaping them when it counted?  I remember being a student in your fifth grade class and feeling lucky that I could call you my teacher.

Now, over 35 years later, the tables are turned, and I am a fourth grade teacher guiding 17 students to be curious, responsible young citizens.  We have just finished a shared reading study of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and a companion text, Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.  Mr. Daniels and Mr. Falker are teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty, and coincidentally are both male – how strange!  Are you familiar with either or both texts?  If not, check them out – they are wonderful stories that as teachers, pull at our heartstrings.

To keep the stories alive, students are planning and drafting letters to former teachers thanking them for inspiring their growth as learners and people.  I thought it only fitting to share the task and to take the opportunity to reflect on my own formative years and your role in shaping me.  You hold a special place in my heart and were ahead of your time on so many levels.

I want my students to know that you valued each person in your path.  You were in the business of forming relationships well before it became a catch-phrase.

I want my students to know that you made learning fun.  I distinctly remember playing Newcomb – a form of volleyball for the classroom.  Is this even a real thing?

I want my students to know that you encouraged us to take risks.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget our trek across the frozen Narragansett Bay at ten years old!  Can you imagine trying to pull that stunt today?  It would never happen.

Teachers have the power to make impressions that will last a lifetime.  You are one of those teachers for me.

Thank you, Mr. Baker.  May your life continue to be blessed with new students and old memories.

Your former student,

Patty (Flynn) Palmer

 

Flannel Sheets

A piping hot bath with fragrant essential oils.

My car’s heated seats and steering wheel.

A sauna hidden in the rocks at the Blue Lagoon.

Beach blankets that have been soaking up the sun’s rays.

Fresh-baked focaccia bread.

A blazing fire in the courtyard firepit.

Feet after walking in sheepskin-lined boots.

Hands that are toasty inside microfleece gloves.

Myriad things provide warmth.

My favorite of these is flannel sheets.

The ultimate warmth.

 

 

Fall Day

My chilled hands are numb as I come in from walking Leo, making my penmanship look slightly askew.

We need to adjust to fall now.

After-school walks can be so peaceful – just Leo and me.  We notice the fallen leaves are gathering in more places today.  The wind has quickened its pace and some leaves escape their piles and dance across lawns and sidewalks.  I tighten my grip on Leo’s gentle lead, knowing that he will happily play chase with the crisp, warm-hued artifacts of a glorious summer.

We need to adjust to fall now.

The sun is setting sooner at night preparing for Daylight Savings Time as we inch forward to the time change with each passing day.  Before it goes down, we notice the tops of tall trees, still holding their leaves hostage for a little longer, and looking like they were dipped in a golden dust.  Stunning.

We need to adjust to fall now.

The decorations are bountiful – variegated pumpkins, gourds, ghosts, spiders on webs.  Houses take on their own personalities as owners prepare for the Halloween fanfare.  Soon there will be glowing pumpkin moonshines adorning front steps and porches in and around town.

We need to adjust to fall now.

Homes will close windows tight, remembering to push up the screens in exchange for the draft-protecting storm windows.  Heat sources will be turned from off to on in anticipation of the imminent dropping temperatures late in the evenings lasting through most mornings.

We need to adjust to fall now.

Turning the corner toward our home, we catch a glimpse of the sun hitting the church steeple.  It casts a blinding bright orange light at the tip, calling us to pay attention to its beauty.

We need to adjust to fall now.

Once back inside, we close the door on the wind, refusing to invite the cool air along for even the shortest of visits.  I think about my ice-cube hands and know that we will be pulling out the baskets of hats and gloves to cover up exposed skin.  A vest will no longer cut it – fleece, then down coats will quickly line the closets.  Clothing will be layered and toes will no longer be on display.

As I light my “Fall Day” candle, I think I’m ready to embrace the changing season.

The Missing Green Sweater

“Did you get the sweaters from the attic yet?” my husband asked the other day.

“No, sorry, I completely forgot.” I replied sheepishly.

Our church has been planning and crafting all year for the annual Holiday Fair which is rapidly approaching on November 10th!

For the past few years, our children have “rented” a table to sell their wares.  Items have ranged from handmade photo cards, to survival bracelets, to scented body scrubs.  This year, our youngest, Caroline, decided to make layered felted wool trees.

You see, my mom made these very same items last year and presented them to each family at Christmas.  The special ingredients my mom used were my father’s old wool sweaters.  Now, every Christmas, we can remember my dad as we take out the trees and enjoy their beauty and the stories that are embedded in the sweaters – priceless.

Since my dad’s sweaters are nearly all gone, and honestly, too nostalgic to use for non-family members, we needed to help Caroline find alternate wool sweaters for her project.  I knew we had several wool sweaters with which we could part folded up in the cedar closet upstairs in our attic.  Knowing he was going to see my mother on Tuesday, my husband went to gather them so they could be washed and “felted” in time for the weekend.

He didn’t tell me until a few days later that he was unable to find two of the boiled wool sweaters I had in mind – the light green one and the fair isle.  I figured that I needed to look for myself as oftentimes, things go unnoticed that are right under his nose!  Up to the attic I climbed, opening the door to the attic, squeezing my way past the suitcases en route to the cedar closet.  Moving a box of clothes that the kids had outgrown, I opened the creaky old door to the cedar closet and quickly took inventory of its contents.  Lots of coats of various sizes and fabrics, blankets, pillows, old wool suits and separates, my wedding dress stored in a box still tucked neatly in a corner, and some baby clothes.  There were a few sweaters on the shelves to the right, but I didn’t immediately see the ones I was seeking.  After shifting the sweaters that were there, looking underneath the piles and on all of the shelves, it was clear that the light green and fair isle sweaters were not in the closet.

Where were they?  Did we give them away?  It’s unlikely, but maybe we moved them to another spot in the house?  There’s still a possibility that they’ll turn up, most likely when we least expect them.  In the meantime, I found myself scouting out green wool felt at Joann’s Fabrics today.

We may not have the green sweater that would have made perfect felt; but in its place is an inexpensive piece of slightly darker green wool blend felt that should do the trick.

Multipurpose Hands

Hands can be indispensable appendages.

Teachers tell you to raise your hand if you’d like to contribute to discussions.

Americans place hands over hearts when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

People place hands on Bibles when taking an oath.

Communities need all hands on deck to rebuild.

Friends are there to lend a helping hand.

Bikers use hand signals to make their turns known.

Dancers may use jazz hands in choreographed routines,

Or go back in time to relive the hand jive.

Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands” is the number one song this week.

We use our hands in countless ways every day.

This afternoon, mine were used for cutting wool for a craft.

How did you use your hands today?

 

 

 

The Power of Certainty

Perhaps it’s personal preference, habit, or social norm that dictates how a word is used. Who knows?

Being “certain” exudes confidence, surety, and all things positive in my world.

It’s friend, “sure,” is more likely to be used when something is negative or unknown, as in “I’m not sure.”

Certain can also mean “specific” when referencing a type, brand, or method.

There are certain brands of just about everything from food to clothing that are preferred in my household.

In fourth grade, certain policies and procedures are implemented for a community of curious learners to thrive.

Everything boils down to being done a certain way – sometimes we repeat our actions because they were successful.  Other times, we scratch the original plans and try an alternate path.

Of this I am certain.

 

What Kind of Smart Are You?

We all sport some kind of smart.

I grew up being told I was book smart.

Others are naturally smart.

Smartness can be measured mentally,

Or physically.

Here’s the start of my list.

Ready, set, smart!

Artist

Mathematician

Scientist

Writer

Reader

Athlete

Techie

Musician

Problem-Solver

Listener

Leader

You should be able to call yourself at least one,

Or perhaps you wear multiple smart hats.

If I’ve missed your smartness, I apologize!

The list can be endless,

If you call yourself a life-long learner.

Ready, set, smart!