Professional Daze

downloadWe had two days at school last week and have four this week. Next Monday our students arrive. Like most in our area, we plan to start school with a hybrid model and will have rotating groups of children. Group A on M/W and Group B on T/Th, with Fridays alternating. Days at home will be “Practice Days” with kids responsible for completing two hours of “engaging”, “meaningful,”  and “just-right” independent work.

Our whole district is working collaboratively to put all the pieces together and I feel grateful again and again for where I live and work. However, after yesterday’s curriculum work I was utterly exhausted and overwhelmed.

Professional Daze

Head spinning
Thoughts swirling
Zoom meetings
Touchless greetings.
What was that?
Six feet? No, three feet?
What? I can’t hear you.
Did he say face shield or face mask?
Both?
Communicate with parents
Teach into technology
Practice days —
independent, engaging, meaningful
Group A
Group B
Split A into C and D
and B into E and F
Got that?
No! Wait! What? Why?
Follow up
Feedback
Curriculum!
Curriculum!
Curriculum!
Don’t worry!
Take care of yourself.
Like planes and the oxygen mask.
(Did she say mask?
Or was it shield? Or both?
)
No time to waste!
We got this!
Streamline
Refine
Make it lean.
And green. Definitely green!
Get outside!
(We sprayed for ticks!)
Assessment!
Assessment!
Assessment!
Get a baseline
QuickQuickQuick!
Social emotional health
Build community
Be flexible
Teach in
Wash your hands!
Sanitize!
Sanitize!
Sanitize!
Head spinning
Thoughts swirling…

Are tears sterile?

©Molly Hogan

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how hard everyone in my district is working to put the pieces together thoughtfully. And somehow it will all come together–probably not exactly how we anticipate, but into some sort of workable form. But, wow! There are a lot of pieces and it really is, at times, simply overwhelming. Too many competing demands. Too many unknowns. And a base layer of anxiety under it all. 

Breathe.

What’s that feeling?

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My teaching partner, Sara, and I met at school yesterday. We sat in her classroom and thought and talked through a “typical” day’s schedule. Subject by subject. Transition by transition.

“Will kids be able to turn in paper homework?”
“How will we “gather” for our morning meeting?”
“Can we get bottles of sanitizer for the classroom library area?”
“If we read outside, what do we need to bring with us?”
“What will snack look like? How can kids be 6 feet apart in the room? Will some be eating on the floor?”
“Can kids turn and talk? What will partner work look like?”
“What are some good times for movement breaks?”

and on
and on
and on.

It took us over three hours.

We had to pull ourselves off the dizzy ledge of “Ahhhhhhhh!!!!” a few times, but overall, it was purposeful and productive work–though it left us with piles of unanswered questions and some uncertainty about how this would all pull together.

Afterward I puttered about in my classroom, looking through new and old books, sorting and organizing. I’ve been reading Katie Wood Ray’s “Wondrous Words” (Finally! Yes (shame-faced), for the first time. No! Most definitely not for the last time!) so I have reading like a writer on my mind. I paged through books and organized, considering possible mentor texts and envisioning how I might use them with student writers. Envisioned how student writers might use them. I felt a sort of internal shift. Something felt foreign. Different. Almost… anticipatory?

After a bit, I realized this moment reminded me of the scene from Kate DiCamillo’s Tiger Rising when Rob is running in the woods with Sistine, wondering what it is that feels different.

“Then Rob remembered the name of the feeling that was pushing up inside him, filling him to overflowing. It was happiness. That was what it was called.”

Oh. Yes.

Now I remember.

This is what excitement feels like. That’s what it’s called.

in my classroom
sorting books
excitement
nudges anxiety
to the side

Making Time for Caterpillars

downloadYesterday, my fellow fourth grade teacher, Sara, and I met at school and worked in our classrooms. We got a couple of things done together and then puttered about, putting away books (How will kids book shop?), trying to organize desks (Will we have our full class or half our class?) , figuring out new protocols (How will we have morning meetings? What kind of activities can we do? Can kids still “turn and talk”? How do we confer with kids?), and trying not to headspin about all the big unknowns. It was great to be together but stressful to be easing into “school mode” with so many questions swirling.

At one point Sara peered out the window.

“What are they doing?” she asked.

“Who?” I asked, walking over to look.

Outside, well into a marshy area, three of our custodians were walking about, parting the greenery, moving from plant to plant, intently looking at the leaves.

“It looks like they’re picking something,” she said.

“They’ve probably already cleaned everything inside and now they have to pick ticks to prep for us to learn outside,” I joked.

Nikki, our wing’s custodian, wandered over near the classroom window.

“Hey, what are you guys doing?” Sara called.

“Oh, we’re getting monarch caterpillars.”

“Have you found any yet?” I asked.

“Maybe six,” she said. “Missy’s taking them home for her grandchildren.”

“That’s so cool!” Sara and I enthused.

We chatted for a bit and then Nikki moved back to help out with the ongoing caterpillar search. Sara and I turned back to our work, determined to get a bit more done before calling it quits for the day.

On the way home later that afternoon, I stopped by the drive-through at Starbucks. After placing my order, I noticed movement in the small garden under the speaker, and looking closer, saw two little black things wiggling over the top of a leaf. And not just any leaf…A milkweed leaf!

No way!

I glanced behind me. No one was waiting. I put the car in park and hopped out. I stepped into the flower bed and bent over, peeking around the edge of the leaf.

Could it be?

Yes! Sure enough! There was a fat and sassy monarch caterpillar happily munching away. What were the odds?

I snapped a picture and jumped back in the car. As I waited, I forwarded the photo and quickly texted Sara:

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When I got home, there was another text from Sara:

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I smiled immediately, imagining Sara searching for the caterpillar at the drive-through. I thought back to seeing our custodians searching through the leaves. The stress of all the whirling-swirling questions and unknown answers faded slightly. Although I’m still feeling overwhelmed by the thought of returning to school in this uncertain environment, knowing I’m working with people who make time to search for caterpillars makes it just a bit easier.

Rainbow Connection

downloadThe storm came in quickly. A typical late summer afternoon thunderstorm, powered by thick heat and humidity. The clouds rolled in, trees twitched and swayed and the heavens opened to release torrents of rain. The temperature dropped, dropped, dropped. Ahhhhhh!

Safe inside, we watched the rain pattern the windows and splatter the earth. I puttered about in the kitchen, hoping the storm would last long enough to soak the parched gardens.

About 15 minutes later, dinner was just about ready and the downfall was easing. Rays of sunlight pierced the clouds from the western sky, transforming rain droplets to crystals.

“Oh! Look! There’s got to be a rainbow out there!” I announced. “I’m going to see.” I quickly dumped the gnocchi in the colander, and turned off all the burners.

“I’ll look out front,” Lydia called as I raced out the garden door, headed to the driveway. Both of us were heedless of the falling rain, busily scanning the skies.

Wait….is that one? No…. Over there? Just over the trees? The faintest tint of color at the top of an arch? Yes? YES!

“I see one!” I shouted. “There’s a rainbow! You can barely see it, just over the trees!”

Lydia rushed over to join me in the driveway and I pointed.

“Oooh!”

“I’m driving down to the river to see if I can see it better there,” I announced. “Want to come?”

“Sure! I’ll see if Sophie does, too.”

Within a minute or two, we’d dropped everything. I had double checked that the burners were off, thrown a dishtowel over the steaming gnocchi, and grabbed my camera.  Dinner could wait. The three of us jumped in the car and headed down the driveway.

As soon as we turned onto the road, our view opened up and we saw it.

“Look! Look! There it is!”

The sky was lit with the full arc of a rainbow, the colors dazzling and bright. We chattered excitedly, pointing as the rainbow shimmered and glowed.

“It’s so bright! I’ve never seen one so bright!”

“Wait! There’s another one! See! It’s really faint but it’s there! Oh my gosh!  It’s a double rainbow!”

We continued down to the river, making admiring comments all the while.

We pulled into the parking lot at the river park, and jumped out to join several others who were there, heads angled toward the sky, cameras snapping. Everyone was smiling.

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After several moments and several pictures, I looked back to realize my car was parked haphazardly, halfway in a spot, halfway in the middle of the lot. I looked around and noticed other cars similarly situated. I pointed this out to another spectator (and poor parker), and we laughed together. Clearly we’d all been too excited and distracted to park properly. Isn’t that wonderful?  It reminded me of a poem by Maggie Smith “Poem Beginning with a Retweet” and these lines,

If you drive past horses and don’t say horses
you’re a psychopath. If you see an airplane
but don’t point it out. A rainbow,
a cardinal, a butterfly. If you don’t
whisper-shout albino squirrel! Deer!
Red fox! 
If you hear a woodpecker
and don’t shush everyone around you
into silence.”

I want to be with people who drop everything to chase rainbows. Who point out the beauty in our world and who stop to pay attention. When I’m feeling down about how people are acting in the world or overwhelmed by the barrage of news, I’m trying to remember moments like this. The spontaneous rush to search for a rainbow. The heady feeling of delight as we caught sight of the full double arc. The moment when so many of us, after the storm had passed, lingered in a parking lot, enthralled by the sight of those two glorious rainbows dazzling in the sky. Smiling together. Connected.

Covid Points

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I walked in the door, arms laden with bags from my shopping excursion. 

“Ugh! I had to go to three stores. I have definitely used all my Covid points for the day!” I announced.

What are Covid points you ask? Well, I’m not sure how it first started, but we’ve fallen into the habit of planning and considering our potential outings (and exposure risk) in terms of Covid points, and we’ve placed ourselves on a sort of  budget. The higher the potential exposure risk, the higher the number of points spent. Our goal is to use a minimal amount of points, ideally zero. Covid points have quickly become a part of the household’s vernacular and part of our mental calculations as we plan our day. 

Determining the Covid price tag for each experience is a partially subjective process. You need to consider current guidelines and science, look at the risks, the benefits, your individual situation (physical and mental) and decide whether you’re willing to pay those hypothetical points. Of course, you do whatever you can to mitigate the risk–wear a mask, use sanitizer, social distance, etc. Still, those things don’t make you invulnerable. Keeping a casual mental tally of Covid points spent helps me keep this in mind. You may think it borders on paranoia, but it works for me. (On a side note, being paranoid in the midst of a pandemic isn’t necessarily a bad thing!)

As a household we are luckily in pretty solid agreement about what constitutes a risk and about the need to conservatively use our Covid points.  If we spend more points than usual one day, we try to spend fewer points the next day or two. Store exposure feels like one of our higher costs, but we have to eat and occasionally need something at the hardware store, so we condense our trips and go as seldom as possible. To be clear, going to three stores in one day was highly unusual for me and a huge Covid point expenditure. The cost of in-restaurant dining, even at 50% capacity, is out of our budget. We’re so frugal, we’re not even convinced that outside dining is worth the Covid points. We haven’t gotten haircuts since at least February, and don’t even talk to us about going bowling or to the movies. Flying somewhere? Ha!

On the other hand, hanging out on the back porch expends no points. Neither does cooking, baking, reading or spending time in the garden. Connecting with friends and relatives via letters, Zoom visits or phone calls is a freebie. Around here, going to the beach very early in the day or late in the afternoon is pretty low cost. Hikes and walks on less popular paths are, too. We’re fortunate to have many such options.

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day’s heat ebbs
the tide rolls in
evening beach respite

We’ve come to the conclusion that our safest bet is to continue limiting our exposure as much as we can. Maine, thank goodness, under the leadership of our governor, is doing well. Still, we play it safe–for both ourselves and for others. Until things change markedly for the better or until we have no choice (i.e., going back to school), we’re sticking to our budget.

So, what are you spending your Covid points on or what are your favorite no-cost or low-cost activities?

 

 

 

Thump! Thump!

downloadWe were headed for home, winding our way along the road, chatting about this and that. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a small creature darted into the road in front of the car. I braked quickly and swerved.

Thump!

Thump!

I looked at Kurt, horrified, then peered into the rear view mirror as I drove on, trying to see the road behind us. “Oh, no! Do you think I hit it?”

Kurt looked at me, astonished. “Do I think you hit it? How can you even ask?” He shook his head. “Do I think you hit it?” he repeated, now laughing. “Thump! Thump! Yes, I think you hit it. In fact, I think you hit it twice!”

“Oh, no!” I exclaimed, “But I didn’t see it in the road when I looked back.”

“Well,” Kurt amended slowly, apparently noticing my stricken expression, “actually, I think that squirrel was holding a nut. It must have rolled out of his hands into the road as he was running, and it was the nut you hit. Two times. In fact, you actually cracked it open for him and did him a favor!”

Well, I didn’t really believe him, but I have to give him points for creativity.

Poor little squirrel.

 

 

 

 

Another Summer Memory in the Books

downloadWe’d watched their Facebook page for weeks, looking for the much-anticipated announcement.

“Usually in mid June,” they said.

June 14th passed.

Then the 15th.

The 16th.

“Soon!” a post promised.

We waited impatiently as a few more days passed.

Finally, on June 20th, the post we’d been waiting for arrived: “The fields are open!

Yes! It was strawberry picking time.

Unfortunately, the soonest we could make it to the farm was two days later. Two whole days! I could just imagine everyone else picking away, harvesting the cream of the crop. The delay was agonizing! Over and over, I had to remind myself that more berries ripen every day,  and I crossed my fingers that this year the crop was bountiful.

On the 22nd, we woke early in the morning and set off. After about ten minutes, we slowed and turned onto the bumpy dirt road. A plume of dust rose and fell in our wake and around us the fields rolled off into the distance. Already the parking lot was full of cars. We looked at each other uneasily: Would there be any berries left? 

We parked, then read and followed the clearly posted new protocols. Directional arrows guided us to large tanks of water and soap. We washed our hands and then moved on to pick up cardboard containers. Suitably sanitized and equipped, we headed for the fields, careful to distance ourselves from other pickers.

As soon as we got settled and started picking, we knew.

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“Oh my Gosh! Look at these berries!” we enthused.

“Check this one out!”

“There are so many of them! I barely have to move!”

“This is the best strawberry picking we’ve ever had!”

We picked and picked and picked.

“Do you think we have enough?”

“Let’s just pick a few more. These are amazing berries!”

In about thirty minutes, we were done picking and ready to go. We paid up and drove home.

Once we placed the flats on the counter, we realized that we had picked A LOT of berries. Gorgeous, plump, ripe berries. But A LOT of berries. Oops.

The anticipated two-three batches of jam turned into four, then five and then six. The kitchen air hung thick and humid with the scent of cooking strawberries, and we ate jam by the sweet, sticky spoonful. Still there were berries! Onto Strawberry pie. Strawberry puree. On and on and on. Hour after delicious hour.

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Finally, we were done. All the strawberries were processed, the kitchen was clean, and the carefully jarred jam stood in neat rows on the counter, clicking as it cooled.

1-3It was a delicious, berry-full day… Another summer memory in the books.

Jamberry by Bruce Degen

A Seed of Hope

downloadThe e-mail flyer from the MAC (Merrymeeting Art Center) was ambiguous and intriguing:

Hmmmm…. What kind of exhibit was this? 

I read the flyer again. Then I checked the clock. 12:15.

“Hey, Lyddie,” I called, “want to go downtown and check out a show?”

“What is it?”

“I’m not really sure, ” I replied and showed her the e-mail flyer, “It’s opening today though. We’d have to leave right now, but I’d like to check it out.”

Lydia, ever up for an adventure, agreed, and about ten minutes later we were in the car, driving to our town’s local Arts Center.

After arriving, we parked, put on our masks and walked over to the entry. Outside the gallery was a small table with hand sanitizer and a stack of masks. A sign stated that only four people could be in the gallery at one time and masks must be worn. We still had no idea what the exhibit was.

As we approached, Mark, a town artist and MAC member, came to the gallery door. He greeted us and explained a little about the exhibit. It had been planned before Covid-19 and was based on the old-fashioned game, Telephone (the game where you whisper a word around a circle of people and the end word, when announced, rarely matches the initial word.) The twist, initially conceived of by a group of NY artists, was this:

“What if the game were played, not with spoken words, but with art?”

We were hooked.

What an amazing idea!” I exclaimed.

“I know!” he said, “I wanted to be in the show as soon as I heard about it!”

He guided us to a written explanation of the show and then stepped back to let us experience it for ourselves. According to the explanation, the process involved presenting the first artist with a stimulus, having him/her interpret it in the artistic medium of choice, and then sending that art to the next artist to spark another interpretation. Each artist had only 24 hours to respond. Talk about pressure!

In this case, in honor of Maine’s Bicentennial, the process began when the initial stimulus, a single chocolate cupcake with a candle, arrived at the home of the first artist, a local 10 year old girl. It arrived, unbelievably, on March 13th, as Covid-19 made its presence known. Undeterred, after a “mad scramble” of grocery shopping with her family, and amidst speculation and rumors about school closings, this young artist dove into a “creative flurry” and crafted her frosting-daubed collage:

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by Nori Edwards

The exhibit creation was underway!

In the next day or two, as our world shifted dramatically and quickly, the Arts Center and artists considered their options and ultimately decided to forge forward. They realized the process for this exhibit was actually well suited to a “distanced” setting. Now, instead of delivering the actual work to the next artist, images and files were sent of the inspiring pieces. No physical contact was necessary.

Commenting about the experience for her daughter, the mother of the first artist wrote:
“Doing the work and sharing it with other people felt important in that uncertain moment in time.”

So, off they went, inspired by others, creating within their own spaces, sending the message on down the line, until finally, all the pieces were brought together in this community space.

In the gallery a red string leads from piece to piece, evoking old string-and-can telephone memories. As suggested, we followed the string to guide us through the gallery. What began with a chocolate cupcake evolved into various interpretations before our eyes.

As we walked through the exhibit, I stood before the pieces, admiring the art, reading the artists’ words, and was deeply moved. More than once tears pricked. The  parallel between the creation of this exhibit and our recent Covid experiences is so strong. It was inspiring to see the creative effort of this group and to know that each piece was crafted in isolation while such huge uncertainties loomed over us all. This exhibit made visible the idea of working individually toward a collective goal. It was such a positive response to frightening times–a pivot to creativity in the midst of darkness.

Midway through, we stopped before a boombox and read the description, suddenly realizing that the music playing in the gallery was one of the artistic interpretations. The artist this time was the elementary school’s principal. He had composed a piece of music after receiving his prompt, a photograph of an elaborately conceived chocolate cake.

Mark, came back to join us.

“Wow, how cool to have a musical interpretation,” I enthused. “It really changes things.”

Mark, who had received the original musical piece as his spark, emphatically agreed.
“I know!” he said, “I looked at the e-mail attachment and was like…wait…this is an mpeg file, not a jpeg!”

He rose to the challenge and created a sculptural fiber arts piece in response. It was free form, but somewhat nest-like. And, one after another, the artists continued to respond, interpreting along the way. Ultimately, the show ended with a fabric piece of two birds nesting:

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by Caitlin Johnson

I turned to Mark. “Wow! This is such a wonderful show. It resonates so much now, doesn’t it?”

He nodded, pleased and smiling, and I turned again to the last artwork, the two birds nesting. I was struck by how uncannily appropriate that piece was. We’ve all spent so much time at home lately, tending to our nests and trying to interpret the messages coming down the line.

It was a small show, but it was a powerful show. It was a testament to art, to individual effort, and to collaboration. In the midst of a pandemic, the Arts Center persevered, the artists created, and a show was born. And as I walked through the exhibit, a small kernel of hope took root.

Garden Lesson

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I would have said it was impossible.

The snail caught my eye while I was playing around with my camera in the front garden. It was on the edge of a bishop’s weed blossom, perched in what seemed a slightly precarious position.

Be careful, little one!

I leaned in for a closer look.

DSC_0426 (1).jpgI’m not fond of the destruction snails can wreak in a garden, but I still think they’re kind of cute. As I watched this one, it stretched it’s head out toward a nearby blossom.

“Taking some time to smell the roses,” I thought, smiling.

DSC_0428Then, as I watched, it stretched even further across the empty space toward the blossom.

Uh, oh! That looks risky! What’s it doing?

I squatted down and prepared to watch the drama unfold.

DSC_0430It was hard to see exactly what was happening, but within a short time, the snail had somehow grasped onto some of the adjacent blossom,

What’s it doing? Is it eating? Is it using its mouth or its foot?

DSC_0431.jpgAs I watched, it became clear that eating was not its primary intention at this time.

No way! It’s not going to try that, is it?

But the snail, far more intrepid than I, was clearly charting its trajectory forward, pulling itself closer to its intended destination. I watched, astonished.

DSC_0432Bit by bit, it moved forward, committed to its path. I held my breath, wondering at the outcome, marveling at the snail’s unhesitating flowing movement forward. Slowly, but surely, the two blossoms came closer together as the snail manipulated them, its body bridging the gap between them.

DSC_0433In a surprisingly short amount of time, the snail was clearly entrenched on the second blossom.

It’s actually going to make it.

DSC_0441 (1).jpgAs the snail moved forward, the previous perch released and swung back to its original position. The snail continued onward. I sat back on my heels, dumbfounded. I considered how far the snail must have already come and how far it must be going. I marveled at its steady path forward across daunting, seemingly impossible, barriers.

DSC_0442Just look at the distance between those two blossoms! Look at the length of the snail’s body! Incredible, right?

Before this moment when I stopped to watch its journey, I would have said it was impossible.

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Letting In Some Light

slice-of-life_individualWendell Berry’s poem “In the Peace of Wild Things” is one of my favorites because I can so readily relate to turning to Nature as a source of solace. During recent weeks, so many people have done the same, desperate for some relief from the dizzying, dismaying reality of our world these days.

These days my own forays into nature have taken on an almost frantic air. I feel slightly desperate to find some space to breathe, to escape. I am perpetually thankful that I live in a place where I have so many options to do so; yet, in view of our current national woes, these moments feel tinged with guilt or almost inappropriate somehow. As a friend recently questioned seriously on a Twitter post,  “How dare I enjoy my garden?”

Still, I need the time within nature to pull my thoughts out of torturous circles, to find a short respite from the ongoing concerns of our embattled country, to find some peace. So, I go out and wander and take pictures when I can, and when I can’t not.

I post my photos frequently, seeking to share the beauty and solace I find. With them, I send an implicit message: “Look at the beauty in our world. Lose yourself in it for just a moment. Breathe.” Still, in the midst of such turmoil and tragedy, I worry that I’m being tone deaf  when I post photos of lily pads, dandelions, and osprey.

Then this past Saturday, I shared these photos:


Beneath them, two friends commented:Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 6.00.25 AM

So, while I puzzle over how to do my part, how to stand up for what I believe while balancing my need to be informed and my need to periodically retreat, I’m still sharing. I’m hoping to find peace amongst the wild things and to offer that momentary respite to others. The presence of beauty doesn’t deny the darkness surrounding us, instead perhaps it lets a bit of light in so that we can replenish ourselves, gather up our strength, and persevere. At least, I hope so.