A Rewarding Detour

slice-of-life_individualAfter a beautiful hike along some coastal waterways, we were heading home. Kurt was hungry and looking forward to getting some food. I was driving, contemplating which way to go.

I have multiple routes around “town.” There’s the 10 minute take-the-highway efficiency route for speedy errands, or a variety of more meandering routes. My favorite way home takes me on back roads past the Muddy River and then over the Cathance River. There are a few stunning vistas over Merrymeeting Bay along the way. You never know what you might see.

“So, how hungry are you,” I asked, glancing over at Kurt.

“Why?”

“Well, do you care if I go the longer way home?”

“That’s okay,” he said.

“I won’t go the longest way,” I said, “but I would like to check out what’s by the Cathance.”

I took the requisite turn, and we drove along companionably in the late afternoon, quiet and comfortably tired from our afternoon trek.

As we neared a potential detour, I shot another glance at Kurt.

“Sometimes I like to turn and go down by The Muddy from this end, ” I ventured hopefully.

“Go ahead,” Kurt said.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

He nodded, and I made the turn happily and continued to chatter, “You know,” I said, “I haven’t seen anything here at all recently except for one lone cormorant. But I figure if I keep coming, I’m bound to see something sometime.”

We crested the hill, and I slowly drove toward the bridge, both of us scanning the landscape. The sun arced from low-lying clouds and the river sparkled. The last vestiges of fall color spotted its banks and reflected warmly in the water. The tree branches shifted and the marsh grasses stirred in the breeze. The bursting cattails arrowed upward. It was beautiful, but there wasn’t a bird in sight. Not on the water. Not in the sky.

“Look!” Kurt whispered urgently, grabbing my arm.

“What!?! Where?” I said, hitting the brakes to stop in the middle of the road, and scanning the water.

“An eagle. Right there!” he pointed.

Sure enough, in a tree by the road, a bald eagle perched on a branch, looking over the river.

“Oh, isn’t he beautiful.”

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I put the car in park right there in the middle of the road (country roads, remember?) and grabbed my camera. Kurt rolled down his window and leaned back out of the way, while I snapped picture after picture.

Then we just sat and admired him for a while.

Sometimes you have to take that detour. Sometimes you have to take it more than once. And sometimes, you might just end up in the right place at the right time.

 

A Rotten Afternoon

slice-of-life_individual“So, please introduce yourself and say why you want to be in Writing Club.”

We worked our way around the circle.

“I’m here because I want to finish writing a story I started last year.”

“I’m here because I really like writing.”

Then a student started giggling and announced, “I’m here to write about Chicken Nuggets!”

Multiple students dissolved into gales of laughter. After order was restored, we continued. A student started to introduce himself by his given name, and his friend interrupted him, “No, you mean you’re Timmy!” she cried.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “I’m Timmy!” and laughed maniacally.

“Chicken Nugget!!” another student called out, accompanied by more laughter from some, and confused and/or annoyed looks from others.

And so it went on.

I made it through the hour. Barely. I spent most of my time redirecting, reprimanding and regretting my decision to have an after-school Writing Club. My only bright spot was that somehow quite a few students actually wrote to the prompt and had something to show for their independent writing time. I have no idea how, given my largely unsuccessful efforts to lower the volume to a reasonable level.

Now I’m home, drinking wine, and regrouping. I didn’t have the energy to go to my own Writing Group, which made me even sadder and grumpier.

Sometimes you just have to tell it like it is.

Thankful

slice-of-life_individualThis morning as I headed to work, the car wheel turned right toward town and the river, instead of left toward school. The unexpected detour felt beyond my control, so I just gave in–Well, honestly, I didn’t struggle too much. Apparently my will power was weak, and the lure of a brightly colored dawn was strong.

Down by the river I marveled at the glowing reds, roses, golds and greys. I parked and grabbed my camera to snap a picture or two. I walked out onto the dock, my steps sending ripples shimmering across the reflected clouds.

As I walked, something made me look up. Overhead a heron flew by,  its strong wings flapping, its silhouette unmistakable. I stopped in my tracks, so grateful to see it, awed by its silent dawn flight. Where had it been? Where was it going?

The stress of the week receded, and I stood, camera forgotten, simply watched the heron fly until it was out of sight. I wondered idly if it might be the last one I’d see until the spring. I was so thankful I’d been there to see it. So thankful I took that right turn.

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Moon Mission

slice-of-life_individual“I’ve got a mission tonight!” I announced.

“A mission?” Kurt asked.

“Yes! It’s a full moon and I’m gonna try to take pictures. I’m determined to figure out how to take a good moon photo.”

To date, all my moon shots with my “new” camera have been tremendously disappointing. Just a big white blob in the sky. I knew it was operator error, and tonight I was determined to succeed or at least improve. I also had new tools in this endeavor–a tremendous zoom lens and a tripod–recent gifts from Kurt. 

 “Do you know when it rises?” he asked.

I googled away quickly.

“7:23 pm!” I announced.

Looking at the clock, I realized I’d better get on it. I started leafing through my camera manual and googling on line: “best setting for a moon picture.” I barely noticed when, a few minutes later, Kurt left to go to a meeting.

I was deep in confusion when my phone rang, only a few minutes later.

It was Kurt.

Huh?

“The moon’s already rising, Molly.” I looked at my watch.

“What!?! But it’s only 6:30 pm!!!” (Clearly I do NOT know how to read a moon chart!)

He continued, “You should check it out down on Brown’s Point Road. It’s huge!”

“But…but… I thought it wasn’t rising til after 7! Ahhhh! I’m still figuring out settings!”

I hung up quickly and scrambled madly trying to at least address the basics. Umm….ISO 100, aperture f/11-f/16 and shutter speed 1/60-1/125. I fumbled with knobs and buttons.

I have very limited experience with manual settings, and I should have begun preparing earlier. I was paying the price now. Try as I might, I could not get the iso to change. Over and over, I pushed the sequence of buttons, but it kept reverting to the original setting.  Oh, well, I finally decided, I’d just drive down to the river and give it a try. I grabbed my camera bags and tripod and set out.

Down at the water, the moon was a huge glowing orb with wisps of clouds drifting across it. Stunning! I unloaded my gear and set up, happy that the tripod was pretty user friendly and that I was able, more or less, to manipulate it in the dark. Then I turned on my camera and swiveled to find that gorgeous moon. Ahhhhh….Perfect shot. With my zoom, I was so close that the details popped.

Click!

I looked at the picture displayed on my camera.

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Oh.

This was not the stunningly detailed moon that I had seen in my view finder. Despite my tinkering, I was still firmly at white celestial blob. This was very disappointing, but I rallied.

Cell phone flashlight in hand, I fiddled around with a few settings and tried again. The clouds were cooperating nicely, but…

Click!

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This was not encouraging. I took shot after shot on different settings.

Click! Click! Clickety click click!

Blob! Blob! Blobbity blob blob!

One time, I got desperate and tried some effect setting and, much to my surprise, wound up with this:

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Maybe the moon is actually made of a fried egg, not cheese…

Eventually, I packed up my equipment and headed back home, temporarily defeated, but determined to view it all as a process. A very messy one. Clearly, I needed to do some more research.

Once home, I dug into the manual and Google again. The more I played around, the more I realized how little I really knew about  my camera! After much reading, experimenting and head scratching, I discovered that there was an automatic iso setting that was confounding my iso adjustment efforts. I then figured out how to override that. Finally, the suggested settings were programmed, and  it was time to wait for the moon to rise above the trees at home. Every 15 minutes or so, I dashed outside to assess its location.

At about 8:30, Kurt came home.

“How’d it go?” he asked.

“Utter failure,” I replied, “but I did learn how to use the tripod and I think I’ve reset it so I can try again. I’m just waiting for the moon to rise over the trees.”

“Well, I could see it when I drove up the driveway,” he said.

I grabbed all the gear again and set up outside. Looking up at the moon, I shook aside the lingering frustration of missing the earlier much-more-magnificent version.  Process!  I reminded myself. It’s still beautiful!

I set up and found the moon in the viewfinder. All those glowing details. Vivid. Clear. I took a deep breath and…

Click!

I looked at the camera and…

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Woohoo! Yes! I did it!

I know I need to practice it a few more (hundred!) times to try to retain it. And I’m sure there’s still fine-tuning to be done. I’m having all sorts of thoughts about learning curves, process vs. product, frustration, and persistence. But mostly, for now, I’m simply celebrating!

Mission accomplished! 

Writing Club

slice-of-life_individualI finally decided to do it. I had hemmed and hawed for a long time before committing,  but finally I did it. I signed up to become…the Writing Club Advisor. Eek! I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted another school-related thing on my plate, yet I wanted to share my love of writing with students in a “freer” zone. Sure, the kids in my classroom know I write and I share that process and my enthusiasm on an ongoing basis. However, I can’t say I’m in love with essay writing and it seems to have a bit of a strangle hold on the fourth grade writing curriculum. 

Ok, I feel guilty even writing that. I need to work harder to feel the essay love!  There really are parts of essay writing I love…the feeling of finding just the right compelling evidence, the perfect quote, the stirring lead or satisfying conclusion. There’s a lot to love. But overall the genre is not what stirs me to write, and we do a lot of it. Maybe it’s the fact that my own life isn’t spiced with strong opinions. I’m more inclined to find a common ground than to take a divisive or rebellious stance. Is personality trait something that influences genre preference?

At any rate, I took the plunge and created and posted flyers for Writing Club. I deliberately did not send notices home with students. I didn’t want parents to sign up their children. I wanted students to self-select to be in this club–Students who are motivated to come and write.

Then I sat back and waited to see if there would be any response. And there was!  Ultimately, 23 kids from 4th-7th grade signed up! Wow! I debated about capping the group as the forms trickled in, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Last Tuesday was our first meeting. After a truly impressive amount of after school snacking (writing is hungry work! Well, pre-writing really…), we formed a circle on the carpet. I gave a brief introduction and then said, “So, let’s start by getting to know each. Can you introduce yourself and say why you signed up for Writing Club?”

If you ever need a cure for teacher burnout, sit in a circle of motivated student writers and listen to them all state some variation of “I’m here because I love to write.” My personal favorite was, “I want to write stories to inspire other people.”  Or maybe it was, “I’m here because I really want to write, and…..(very long pause)…and yeah, I really want to write!”

We started with a prompt. For ten minutes, the room was silent other than the scratch of pen and pencil and the shuffle of notebook pages.  Another antidote for burnout–Capture that sound and sell it on Teachers Pay Teachers!

I’m so glad I finally decided to do this.

Next Time, Engage Filter

slice-of-life_individualTired of doing the cobra dance from behind students, trying to see their writing in that elusive middle distance through my bifocals, I’d finally decided to opt for progressive lens. After helping me pick out my new frames, the woman at the eye doctor’s outlined my options, detailing what my insurance would pay and what it wouldn’t. She managed to convince me pretty easily that I should go with the newest technology. (Yes, of course, the one with the skimpy insurance coverage. Ouch!)

“Do you want transitionals?” she asked, then elaborated at my blank look, “You know, the ones that change into sunglasses when you go outside?”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, no, I don’t want those.”

“Well,” she said, “if you do choose those, there’s a package deal available. If you have three options selected –and you already have two–and add transitionals for only $25, you can get a free set of lenses and pay only 75% of the frame price. It’s a great deal!”

“But I really don’t want transitionals,” I said.

“So,” she confided, leaning closer over the table, “here’s what you do. You just say you want transitionals now. Then, when they come in, you tell me that you don’t like them, and I send them back and they’ll make you a new pair!”

“Oh,” I said. “I don’t know about that.”

“It’s no big deal,” she said, “I do it all the time!”

She looked at me  expectantly, hand poised over the mouse. I sat there feeling uncomfortable. Squirmy.  Should I? Shouldn’t I?

“You’ll save hundreds of dollars,” she reminded me as I hesitated, trying to organize my thinking and my response. I really did need a new pair of sunglasses, and that was a huge savings, but it just didn’t feel right.

“No,” I said, “I’m sorry, but there’s something about that that just hitches up against something ethical inside me. I just don’t like playing games or playing the system and am really not comfortable doing that.”

Then I heard my words in my head again. And cringed.

Oh.

Silently, I rebuked myself, Oh, Molly, why did you say that? You could just have said, “No, thanks!” Did you have to use the word ethical? Didn’t you just essentially tell her that she was being unethical? Ugh.

“I appreciate your telling me about the option, though,” I said aloud, quickly, smiling, hoping to make amends.

“Oh, that’s fine,” she said, coolly. “I just wanted to let you know.”

I bobbed my head up and down, vigorously. “Yes,” I said, “and I really appreciate it! It really sounds like a way to save a lot of money! Quite a deal! ” Stop babbling now, Molly…

After another year or two   fifteen minutes or so, we’d finally finished ordering my glasses (sans transitionals!), and I left the store, still inwardly shaking my head about my ill-advised comments. Why, oh, why did I say that?

Two weeks later, I’m still waiting to hear that my glasses are in. I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps the order was sabotaged…

Kids Write the Darndest Things!

slice-of-life_individual“Can you drive on the way back so I can get some school work done?” I asked my husband (and heard a faint echoing chorus of too many teachers saying similar things on a Sunday afternoon after a busy fall weekend.)

Kurt nodded and changed direction, heading to the driver’s side of the car. I climbed in and organized my papers around me in the passenger seat. Moments later we were on our way.

What to start with first?

I shifted through papers and sighed, wishing I were merely admiring the passing scenery, but knowing I simply had to get some work done. Finally, I pulled out the Habits of Work reflection my students had completed on Thursday. I needed to look through them and give feedback. Not too mentally demanding, but it had to be done. A good place to start.

With our Habits of Work, we have each student assess  himself/herself as “Not Yet” “Sometimes” or “Yes!” on four categories: Respect, Preparedness, Engagement, and Determination. Students who score themselves a “Yes!” in a category have to note evidence of how they show that particular strand. After reflecting on all four habits, students create individual goals.

As I read and marked, I was impressed by the detailed responses. Overall, my feedback was in synch with how students were rating themselves. The kids were giving thoughtful evidence and often noting specific areas to work on. For example, one student, explaining why she scored herself a “Yes!” on engagement, focused on partner work, writing, “I ask questions to try to understand what they are thinking.” Another wrote, “I raise my hand and share ideas.” A different student, commenting on determination, wrote, “I ask for help when I need it and try when things are hard. I need to take feedback.” I read through, enjoying the insight into their thinking and appreciating their efforts, getting to know them just a little bit more.

After a while, I looked up, taking a break to check out the rolling hills and sun-dappled landscapes. It was a picture perfect day–stunning New England early autumn in all its glory.

Taking a deep breath and gathering up my will power once again, I turned away from the window and back to my work. I was happy to see I’d made good headway through this particular pile and had only a few papers left. Turning to the next one, I glanced to see who’d written it, then began to review it.

“What!” I yelped and then burst out laughing.

My husband glanced over. “What’s so funny?” he asked.

I looked down at the paper again, shaking my head, laughing even harder.

“OMG!” I said, “I can not believe what my student wrote!”

“What is it?” he said.

So I read it to him, and he laughed just as hard as I did.

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Oh, my! I don’t think it’s going to be a boring year!