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.




Walkers Will Thank You

Have you ever stood in a crosswalk just waiting to get to the other side of a street?  There is one busy intersection on our daily trek that we struggle to cross almost every time.  Today, I counted over a dozen cars that blew by us, oblivious to their obligation to stop.  Drivers really should pay attention to crosswalks and make every effort to stop for people to cross the street.

First of all, in the state of Massachusetts, it’s the law to stop at crosswalks whether or not there is a special sign in the middle of the road.  Despite the glaring signs, usually attached to an orange cone, many drivers ignore the request to stop.  I’m not sure how many people are actually aware of the law based on my frustrated experiences!

Drivers should also stop at crosswalks because it’s a safe practice.  People traveling on foot are far more vulnerable than people traveling in the comfort of heavy metal boxes shaped as automobiles!  Unlike those operating cars, walkers aren’t protected when traveling on foot.

Most of all, automobile drivers should stop at crosswalks because it’s the kind, neighborly thing to do.  If you see an owner waiting with her sitting dog, shouldn’t you want to help them out?  How about a family with small children and a stroller?  Be kind.  Be neighborly.  Stop and let those on foot have the right of way.

Next time you see someone in a crosswalk, be a leader.  Stop or remind the driver of your car to stop.  The walkers in the world will thank you and you’ll be glad you did.


Help or Hindrance?

Amended laws should be subject to further scrutiny, especially among the handicapped population.

In general, people approach change with reservation.  I am thinking about the start of this school year under the leadership of a brand new principal in our district.  We had been guided by the same leader for over a decade.  Until this year.  There was a familiarity in our schedules, policies, and procedures.  Until this year.  We knew the expectations and went about our days with high job satisfaction.  The time comes for our fearless leader to retire, and our world as we know it seems to tilt off its axis as uncertainty creeps into the cracks.  We meet our new leader in the spring, and assurances are made that for the first year, there will be minimal changes to life as we know it in our school culture.  Eight days in, and there are more changes than we can count.  It’s exciting to try new things; however, there’s apprehension in the air, and many of us yearn for the “old days.”

My 84-year old mother-in-law spent some time with us this weekend.  She shared a change to a long-standing Massachusetts law concerning handicap tags.  Her story made me think that sometimes changes need to be reevaluated, especially when they seem to cause more harm than good.

Did you know that it is now illegal to drive a car with a handicap tag hanging from the rear view mirror?  Yep.  It is.  A rule follower by nature, my MIL, petrified to be caught driving with her tag, placed it in her purse one day last week while driving to Target.  She wasn’t able to immediately find a parking spot upon arrival, so she circled around until one became available.  Out of habit, she parked and went into the store to carry out her business.  Returning to her car, her heart skipped some beats, racing, as she noticed a big fat ticket on her windshield.  She had forgotten to hang the tag on the mirror when she parked her car!

Clearly, she has a handicapped tag, and is permitted to park her car in marked spots.  However, the patrolling officer had no way of knowing this since her tag was not present.  Long minutes passed while she called the police department and was instructed to visit the station to clear up the confusion.

The kicker in all of this is that in order to rectify the situation, she had to bring her tag inside the station; thus, not allowing her to use the handicapped spot she so desperately needed to be able to make the journey up the flights of stairs into the building.

Is this change of handicap tag use really helping the handicapped population, or is it hindering them?  I mean, think about all of the extra steps my mother-in-law endured simply because she abided one law and forgot about the other one in the process.  At 84, she shouldn’t have to think so hard about something that’s supposed to help her obtain a high quality of life.

On this Constitution Day, I can’t help but think that some laws, especially amended ones, are unconstitutional when they prove to be a disservice to the very people they intend to protect.

First Impression


“Recognize Emily’s outfit…” pings on my phone

Greeting the soon to be hot day.

A photo appears of our sweet niece

Standing with her brothers, one older, one younger.

Waiting for the bus.

Freshly groomed, full smiles.

Anticipating a new school year.

Out of all of the clothes she could have selected

To make her first impression,

She chose a tee shirt and flowy shorts

That her big cousin proudly wore before her.

The shirt’s slogan may describe

Emily’s feelings about fourth grade.

My grade.

“She believed she could, so she did.”

I hope she had the best first day.

Bits and Pieces

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a series of events took a different path?

What if your teenage son mowed the lawn weekly, in its entirety, as is the expectation?

Then your husband wouldn’t have had to spend his day off finishing where said teen stopped, complaining of gas fumes making him sick to his stomach.

What if you didn’t try to mediate by offering your own services to finish the job after going to the lake for a family swim instead?

Then you wouldn’t find yourself maneuvering the lawnmower around the sloped front lawn or as close to the stone flower bed border as possible to reach every last piece of grass.

What if your teenage daughter took the dog for a walk into town right when you asked her, even though she was deep into creating her dream home using some design app on her phone?

Then the dog’s invisible fence collar would have been inside the house or better yet, back on him, because she would have come and gone in the time it took for her to take action.

What if, despite the need to mow, and the lag in time to take the dog out, you noticed that the collar was directly in the path of the lawnmower?

Then the dog’s collar would not have been eaten up by the lawnmower, crackling as you moved forward, spitting out bits and pieces that will never wholly serve its purpose again.

Chasing the Sun

Three soggy days in a row

We woke to gentle showers

Starting the day with a clean slate

Stuck in a pattern of wetness


Imagine our surprise

When the sky brightened a little

A blanket of clouds lurked above

But someone wanted to visit


Lunch was barely finished

Plates left piled in the sink

Everything could now wait

We were going to chase the sun


Suits were donned

Paddles and life preservers packed

Two chairs added for good measure

Could we enjoy this time at the lake?


The bridge was closed

A detour added time to the trip

Seemed like forever to get to the dirt road

All the while looking up to the sky


We were the lake’s only guests

The picnic table rested unclaimed

We set up camp for a bit

A horn tooted and family joined us


The kayaks came out

We squeezed in a swim to the island

A few more pages of books got read

Do we dare try to pick blueberries?


The first drops of new rain surfaced

But we expected them this time

We caught the sun

And savored the best part of the day.



Service Call

Drip, drip, drip

A melodic sound

A steady supply

Slow-motion speed


Drip, drip, drip

Gentle landing

Strength in numbers

Slick surface


Drip, drip, drip

So faint

Almost unnoticed

Thankfully discovered


Drip, drip, drip

Collecting in a bucket

Its source unknown

Until the service call


Drip, drip, drip

A different spot

Shower head trickles

No hot water






If the Shoe Fits

It starts in code

A secret glance here

Sisters’ eyes lock

A tsk tsk there

“Actions have consequences,” the older one says.


Mother is oblivious


A blanket of darkness unfolds

Apparent sleepless night

Linking yesterday to today


Girls visit the farm

Back too soon

Doors slam angrily

Crease lines stretch across mother’s forehead

“What’s going on?” she asks.


Moment of truth arrives

Little voice not quite loud enough

Maybe it’s on vacation, too

Out of balance, uneven, off

And missing a shoe


“I didn’t want you to be mad at me.”

Sobbing, puffy red eyes

Wet cheeks, swollen face

Tears of regret wishing for time travel

She’d make a different choice


An urgency to set things right

She’s old enough

She knows better

Thrived as a camper here

“Is this the shoe you’re looking for?”


A fleeting image

Tall, flowered rubber boots


Sun-kissed, freckled face



“I’m sorry,” she says quietly.


Add the Books!

How do you decide if classroom supplies are necessities or wishes?

I’m not talking about the obvious things like pencils and paper.  Or even traditional art supplies like glue sticks and crayons found on many lists.

I mean do store executives visit schools to see what children are doing?  What if they spent a day with students in elementary schools across the country?  Would they notice that books are the number one classroom supply needed for effective literacy instruction?

If Target employees visited classrooms recently, they certainly didn’t notice.  The company advertised its first ever nationwide Teacher Prep Event from July 15-21st, offering a 15% off discount on “select” classroom supplies.  Target hoped that teachers would stock up on the savings.  The event “helps [teachers] get the classroom supplies they need at a greater value,” boasts Mark Tritton, Target’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer.  “It’s a way for Target to acknowledge the role they play in going the extra mile for their students,” he adds.

The Scary Mommy website ( accurately states, “When it comes to classroom supplies, teachers everywhere pull from their own pockets to ensure their students have everything they need for the school year.”  Furthermore, the National Center of Education Statistics released a study earlier this year stating that 94% of teachers reported spending a considerable amount of personal funds to secure classroom supplies, often close to double the allotted tax deduction of $250.

What makes a classroom supply a necessity?  Google defines necessity as “an indispensable thing.”  Translated for the elementary classroom, a necessity is something that students cannot live without.  One they use regularly.  Hmm.  How exactly was the list created?  Qualifying classroom supplies include:  writing supplies, notebooks, folders, and binders, arts & crafts, classroom storage and organization, disinfecting wipes, facial tissue, hand sanitizer, food storage bags and more.  Unfortunately, books are NOT part of the “and more.”

Why not?  It’s like learning how to drive a car without the car.  The omission of books on the list of qualifying classroom necessities seems like a huge oversight.  How can teachers teach reading and writing without books?  They can’t.  Books are classroom necessities, not simply items on a teacher’s wish list.

Target’s signage does note that the savings offer excludes trial/travel sizes and Bullseye playground items.  Playground equipment is not considered “indispensable,” and therefore is not a necessity.  I applaud you, Target, for recognizing that playground equipment is not a necessity, but certainly can be considered a wish by many teachers.

Effort grade:  Needs improvement.

Readers, maybe it seems like I’m complaining, but let’s be real:  If a necessity is an indispensable thing, then books deserve a place on the list of qualifying classroom supplies.  Target executives, I urge you to visit elementary classrooms.  Add the books.  If we don’t stock classrooms with a wide variety of books, we run the risk of students being robbed of choice.  And ultimately engagement.  Do you really want that responsibility resting on your shoulders?

Practice Makes Perfect

“Do you know what I did last night?” he asks.  “Did Dad tell you?”

Backtrack to last night’s porch conversation in hushed tones between my husband and me.

“So I let him drive the car from the monument to the cabin,” he whispers.

“You did what?” I say horrified.

He repeats his original statement a hair louder and adds, “And I let him drive all the way home from the cabin.”

My mind is still trying to process this information when he says, “Let’s just say he needs LOTS of practice.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’d think all of those video games would have helped to prepare him to drive,” he says, truly astonished.


“He was NOT smooth. At. All.”


“Turning into the driveway was a nightmare.”

“How did you handle that?”

“I was very reserved.  Only said a few words.”

“OK. Good.  This was his first time and it was dark.”

“We’re going to have to give him A LOT of lessons.”

“Practice makes perfect!” I say, trying to look on the bright side.

Fast forward to my conversation with Jackson.

“I drove, Mom,” he says excitedly. “All the way from the cabin!”

“Yes, he told me.  How do you think it went?”

“OK, I guess.  Dad didn’t say very much.  He wasn’t very vocal.”

“Well, that’s good, I think.”

“Maybe, but I thought he’d give me more pointers.”

“He probably didn’t want to break your focus.  Lessons will help with the technical parts.”

And so it begins.  Not sure we’re ready for the road ahead, but it’s staring us down.

Consider This: Wireless Fences

When we bought a home in New Hampshire four summers ago, investing in an invisible fence for Leo was not high on the priority list.  It seemed like a splurge.  There was a generous section of the yard already secured by a chain-link fence.  Until this summer.  The fence is gone and the yard is more open than ever thanks to a new septic system.  With a change in landscape and a bold ten-year old Golden, perhaps now is the time to finally install a pet containment system?  

A decade ago, back in Massachusetts, we purchased The Canine Company Invisible Fence underground wire system, complete with a collar, training sessions, and a floor disc for inside use.  The market has expanded considerably over the years and now includes an array of wireless products promising the same safety and ease of use benefits of its predecessors.

The idea of plugging in a transmitting tower, determining the perimeter, and training the dog with an included collar – all at a third of the cost plus no disruption to our yard -sounded heavenly.  Would this really be effective?  There are many factors a potential owner should consider before purchasing a wireless system.  We learned the hard way, and have become experts on the subject with the help of customer service representatives at PetSafe.

Did you know that if your neighbors also have a wireless unit that they can’t overlap your perimeter or the play area doubles?  A mere 10 foot overlap is all it takes to trick the system.  Some may say this is a perk; however, if one of the goals is to keep your pet out of the 85-year old neighbor’s yard, this is not optimal.

Do you have any hills or slopes in your yard?  The mound of earth that creates the hill or slope can wreak havoc on the consistency of the signals being transmitted.  What results is a sporadic signal that seems to be weaker in nature.  Raising the transmitting tower may help the situation, but isn’t a guaranteed solution to the problem.  This is bad news for the end of our driveway which leads out to the main road.

How about metal roofs?  Does your home have one?  Ours does due to the heavy snowfall during the winter season.  This could be a factor in signal accuracy and strength, but may not be, so it’s hard to put stock in this fact in the decision making process.

Finally, within the last year or so, PetSafe has learned that the Smart Meters on people’s homes run on the same frequency as the wireless Stay and Play units.  This will compromise the effectiveness of any PetSafe wireless product.  I’m happy to say that we do not have a Smart Meter, so we can rule this factor out when troubleshooting.

All of these factors and more have created doubt in our minds that when we open a door with Leo in tow, or by force, he will remain safe if he leaves the property lines.  Not all properties are suitable for wireless pet containment systems.  It is looking more likely that ours may be one of the unfortunate outliers.

The Invisible Fence Company is scheduled to visit next Monday for a free estimate on a bare bones underground wire system.  I’m beginning to think this may be the only way to obtain peace of mind in New Hampshire with Leo.