Cobbling Together a Post

I promised myself I’d try to blog twice a week again. After a long time not posting, getting back in the rhythm of Slice of Life and Poetry Friday felt like a stretch, but a positive one. And, last week I did it!

But that was last week.

This morning I knew it was Tuesday, and I told myself I’d think of something to write for Slice of Life during the day. I told myself that even though I knew full well that writing after school is NOT my jam. But still, I work with adorable second graders. How could I not find a story idea?

Still, I came home from work utterly uninspired. I didn’t want to write about the unfortunate-photo-on-the-iPad incident. Or how the first time two students sing you “The Twelve Days of Christmas” it’s endearing. The first time. Or about the amount of energy I expend trying to avoid sending students to the nurse. I didn’t really want to write anything.

Still, I thought about all the times I’ve read posts that other people started with the words, “I wasn’t going to write tonight…”. With them (and my promise to myself) in mind, I decided I should at least try. Maybe I could describe the fire in the wood stove, my sleeping cat, my on-going text conversation with my daughter, the Christmas tree lights glittering in the other room, the hum of Christmas carols playing from the radio in the kitchen… See, there’s a lot you could write, I told myself. So I opened a new page in my blog.

Has anyone else noticed this weird new thing that WordPress is doing? Ok, it could be that it isn’t new, but I have only recently noticed it. That happens to me sometimes. Anyway, when you start a new document, they now have a prompt or question. Once you start typing it disappears. Tonight it said: “What are 5 things you’re good at?” It struck me, in the midst of my struggle to find something to write about, that this new thing (that felt somewhat invasive the first time I noticed it) might actually be helpful.

Off the top of my head, without second guessing, I quickly typed my answers:

5 things I’m good at.

  1. Baking
  2. Taking pictures
  3. Procrastinating
  4. Avoiding uncomfortable truths
  5. Changing the conversation

Hmmm…interesting. I wonder what WordPress will ask me next time? This could be the start of a beautiful relationship… or at least a Tuesday safety net! What are 5 things you’re good at?

The potential of gathering charges

Driving to school, I feel the stress accumulating. It’s like there are free-floating electrons of anxiety in the atmosphere, and I’m greedily scooping them all up. A big stress hoover.

As I drive along, thinking of electrons, a memory tugs at me: childhood shock wars. I haven’t thought of this in years, but suddenly I remember it all so clearly. How, once upon a time, my brother and sisters and I would put on our thickest socks and scoot our feet across the rug in large swooping steps, skating across the carpet. How we’d dodge and chase each other, not lifting our feet, still scooting, hoping to pick up more and more and more charge. Finally we’d stretch out, connect, and a bolt of shock would release from one to the other.


“Ouch!” we’d yell. Or, “That was a good one!”

And then we’d laugh and laugh, and start scooting again.

I’ve been lingering in childhood memories lately and bracing for the next shock, whatever it might be. Missing my dad. Missing my friend. Grieving my newly lost stepmother. Mourning my relationship with my brother who’s chosen to remove me from his life. Trying to come to terms with this odd place and time called middle age.

On this particular November morning, as I reminisce, the day is brightening around me. Sunrise is imminent. I notice the dark grey clouds gathering above the horizon. I try to remember what I once learned about clouds. Aren’t there electrons hanging out there, too? I’m pretty sure there are electrons in the clouds, and that when enough of them accumulate, they stream downward. Then protons surge upward, and …

Boom! Zap! Lightning! Thunder! Power unleashed.

As I watch, that potential is gathering on the horizon. It could mean a devastating storm is brewing, or even a minor one, but for right now, the clouds merely seem intent on enhancing the sunrise, sending fractured rays of lights to shimmer through layers of pink, gold, and blue. Without them, the sunset would not be nearly as spectacular. That’s something to remember.

Autumn Exuberance

I’ve been out and about a lot lately, enjoying the spectacular fall foliage. Autumn really doesn’t know how to tone things down, does she? She’s the queen of gaud and exuberance and exults in every moment of it. I’m a delighted spectator. These days, no matter how late I’m running, I keep taking the long way home. Somehow the wheel turns and I’m heading along yet another detour, prolonging my immersion in the glorious parade of color. From country lane to marsh to river to harvested field, there’s a constant sense of anticipation, of wondering what technicolor marvels might be just around the next corner. Flames of crimson and gold leap about in the landscape, blazing into brilliant blue skies, reflecting off the water, and lighting up overcast days. It’s a non-stop autumnal extravaganza and I’m thankful for every moment of it.

Release Day

(I’ve been sharing our butterfly adventures from week to week. You can see earlier installments here and here. You should know that we named all of our caterpillars and the favorite was named Bob Weezer.)

The day had finally arrived! Three of our four monarch caterpillars had transformed into butterflies and although we weren’t able to witness their emergence, we were still enchanted by their presence in the classroom. After giving them a day to strengthen up, and after a lot of oohing and aahing over their beauty, and a lot of calling out with excitement whenever they flapped their wings or decided to fly from one side of the enclosure to the other, I we decided it was time to send them on their way. There was some last minute concern expressed that the late-to-pupate Bob Weezer, who still remained tucked into his tidy chrysalis, would be lonely without the others. After some debate, we all agreed that the other butterflies needed all the time they could get to begin their migration. Bob Weezer was going to have to tough it out.

I gathered up the butterfly tent and my students got in line. As we walked outside, I heard a student whisper under her breath, “I’m going to miss those little bundles of love.” We wandered over to one of the school’s flower gardens, chattering the whole way. Then, lo and behold! What did we see there?

The kids cheered! This monarch was already happily gathering nectar in the garden. We all interpreted this as a positive sign.

I set down the butterfly tent in a nearby grassy spot.

“Shhhhh!” whispered all the kids as they huddled around.

“Ready?” I asked.

“Ready!” they whispered back.

I unzipped the tent and immediately one butterfly flew out and soared into the blue skies. The kids jumped up and waved frantically. Within moments it was out of sight, but their cries lingered.

“Goodbye! Goodbye!” they called.


Mere moments later the second butterfly had joined its comrade, escaping the confines of the tent and flying briskly away to the cheers of our class.

We turned back to the tent. The final butterfly wasn’t as eager to leave. We watched and waited.

And waited.

“Come on! Come on!” the kids coaxed.

Some of them grew tired after a few minutes waiting and wandered off to examine the gardens, but quite a few still gathered around. They whispered to the butterfly.

“Come on, little guy. It’s okay!”

“You can do it!”

“It’s okay to be scared, but you’ll be okay. Just try.”

My heart melted just a bit. They were so earnest and concerned.

Finally, with their encouragement, the third butterfly stepped closer and closer to the opening and then leapt into flight with a dazzling flutter of wings. It soared up up up! The kids cheered again and jumped and hooted and hollered, waving furiously the whole time. After a moment or two of wild celebration, I zipped up the tent, rounded them up, and we headed back inside.

We walked back into the classroom with our tent, which seemed sadly depleted now.

One lone pupa hung from the top.

“Well,” said a student, “At least we still have Bob Weezer.”


In the past, most of my students have known all about the monarch life cycle. They got excited when they see the J form, knowing it wouldn’t be long til there was a dangling chrysalis in its place. This year, like every year, the kids have been utterly entranced watching the caterpillars roam around in their butterfly tent. I’ve already written about some of our caterpillar adventures (here), but what’s really struck me is that my students seem much more unaware of the process of metamorphosis than in the past. Instead of confident comments and shared knowledge, there have been a slew of questions: What’s it doing? Why’s it doing that?

With this in mind, the other day I read to them all about the caterpillar lifecycle. We spent a long time examining a series of pictures of the final skin shed, when the dark striped skin splits down the back of the caterpillar and the green skin below emerges.

We wondered at the idea that this final skin would actually harden into the pupa. Minds blown! We had a grand time talking about the process and about having green skin in general. Finally, I glanced up at the clock. Oops.

“Ok, everyone, we’ve got to get going. It’s time to head to Specials.”

The kids got up off the carpet and moved toward the doorway. L, who was ahead of us all, suddenly cried out, “Hey, it’s doing it right now!”

We all briefly froze in our tracks, then raced across the room to converge around the butterfly tent. Sixteen pairs of eyes focused on the caterpillar dangling from the top. Sixteen mouths dropped open. Sixteen people started talking simultaneously.

What had been a striped monarch caterpillar before we began our read aloud was now undergoing a transformation. Green skin was visible over about half of it. The kids burst into excited chatter, hopping up and down and pointing.

“Look at that!”

“Wait! What’s it doing?”

“It’s pupating!”


We watched as the caterpillar squirmed and wiggled and more and more green skin emerged.

“Look how much it’s moving!”

After the shed skin was finally gathered at one end, the caterpillar continued to wriggle dramatically until…


The discarded skin dropped to the floor of the tent.

“Ah!” shrieked K, stepping back. “Did its head just fall off!?!”

We reassured K. and kept our eyes glued on the caterpillar. What was it going to do next? Finally, its intense wiggling ceased and it slowly stopped moving altogether.

The caterpillar may have been still, but the energy in the room remained electric. Kids chattered, their voices and comments tumbling over each other.

At this point it was definitely past time to head to Specials. The kids got into line, wriggling with excitement, transformed by this experience. Eyes wide. Faces aglow. More than once I heard one of them whisper again, with a big grin on their face, “That was amazing!”

It truly was.

Watching Caterpillars

The monarch caterpillars are the first and last things the kids look at every day. It’s been a long time since I’ve had caterpillars in the classroom, and I’d forgotten that they are a continual source of wonder and conversation. They are a total distraction, yet totally delightful.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, as we’ve already had some high drama. One afternoon, we thought for sure one of them was a goner. It hadn’t moved or eaten for quite a while. All afternoon it stayed in one spot, far away from tempting milkweed. Never moving. The kids snuck over occasionally to peek. Nothing changed. It didn’t move. At all. Then a dark substance appeared behind it. It still wasn’t moving. Uh oh.

“Is it dead?” several kids asked later, as we passed the tent on our way to the buses.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “It doesn’t look good. We’ll see what’s happening in the morning.”

Silently, I was already contemplating how we could tuck a caterpillar funeral into our schedule.

We left school with heavy hearts.

The next morning, as I greeted kids at the door, two boys approached me.

Is it…?”

“Did he make it?”

“It did!” I enthused. ” Go see!”

The boys ran over to check things out. “Bob Weezer’s alive!” they called out in delight, high fiving each other. And so, in the midst of our collective relief, we all learned his name. (Later, we also learned that he was just chilling while he was shedding.)

Soon, the kids had christened two more of the visiting caterpillars: Chrysalissy and Butter. Debate raged about what to name the last one. It was down to two names: Tomato Tomahto and Hugo. C. asked me if he could poll the class during Quiet Time.

“Sure, ” I said. “Just make sure to whisper.”

He grabbed a piece of paper and created a tally chart with the two name options. Then, he quietly approached each classmate, asking them to vote.

At the end of Quiet Time, we were all on the edge of our seats. C stood up and made the announcement: It was a close contest, but…

Hugo won the day!

And now, we watch and wait.

Be sure to stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures with Bob Weezer, Hugo, Butter and Chrysalissy.

Change is Coming

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~Stanley Horowitz

I’ve been feeling change lately, like a physical presence. Perhaps it’s school starting or the thread of chill in the morning air. Perhaps it’s the shift in light to a rich, golden hue. Or perhaps it’s that night lingers into morning and arrives earlier each day. Clearly, fall is edging closer.

Autumn invites nostalgia in.
Come sit beside me. Time is passing. Let’s linger here for a moment together.

I find myself feeling slightly more vulnerable to my memories, to recent losses. Contemplative. There’s a shift in the air. A shift in me. Everything feels just a bit different. On the cusp. Summer is sighing, fading away as fall steps in. It’s both beautiful and faintly unsettling. My feelings and thoughts rustle like leaves in a breeze, kaleidoscopic–a flickering mosaic of past, present and future.

Yesterday morning I went to the river to greet the day, something I have seldom done of late. I wanted to be surrounded by the cool serenity of dawn. To slow time down and watch the day awaken. To wrap a blanket of calm around me. 

Clouds and light stirred and shifted, layered land, water and sky. Boundaries blurred. 

The river slipped in and out of sight behind gilded grasses and veils of glowing mist.

With every moment, the light changed. The view altered. Inevitably clearer, yet still transitioning. Sky. Clouds. Land. Mist. Water. Separating into distinct yet interwoven layers.

I heard them before I saw them. The mournful cries rebounded off the low-lying clouds and filled the chilly air. Unmistakeable. The keen call of Canada geese. I scanned the skies, thinking, as always when I hear them, of Rachel Field’s poem. Something told the wild geese… They flew low above the marsh, passed overhead, then soared around the bend in the river and out of sight. 

Change is coming.

First Day

All day Sunday and Monday morning I kept trying to find it, wracking my brain for the perfect word to describe how I was feeling along the continuum between excited and scared. Or maybe it was really between excited and nervous. Anticipatory? No, that wasn’t quite it. What word captures that feeling? Is there one? It seems like there should be. Some wonderful word in another language, maybe a super long German word or a French phrase or something in Japanese, that encapsulates that feeling of being a little scared, a little anticipatory and a little excited. I kept picturing a Venn diagram with excited on one side. Nervous on the other. What would the label be for that intersecting part?

Finally, while driving in to school, heading back to the primary wing after a six year absence, I created my own word: affizzle. I was all affizzle. Yes. That felt right. It also felt akin to frazzled and flustered, which tracked.

And then my first day of teaching second grade unfolded in vignette after vignette.

Scene 1: A little girl, A, arrives, walked in by her mother, faces wreathed in smiles. Two minutes later, mother has departed and A is standing by my side, tears slowly dripping down her face.

“I want my Mommy.”

As I move to reassure her, another student moves closer.

“Do you want a hug, A?” he asks.

Scene 2: At recess M. asks if I’ll play basketball with him. I agree, but let him know I haven’t played in years and might need some help with the rules.

“I’ll take it easy on you,” he assures me. Then he proceeds to articulately explain the basic rules of the game, accompanying his words with active demonstration.

“I’ll show you the rest as we play,” he assures me.

When I have to bow out after a few minutes due to my supervisory duties, he comments, “So, we can play tomorrow again, right?”

Scene 3: As we play a game of “Taking Sides” I ask kids, “Would you rather eat an apple or a banana?” As the kids move to show their preference, and I step toward the apple area, a student nods knowingly and says to me, “Teachers love apples.”

Scene 4: During Readers’ Workshop, N.’s face lights up. He shoots up his hand and simultaneously announces, “Hey! We’re basically a classroom family.” (Now that’s the kind of blurting I can get behind!)

Scene 5: B. hands me a pink sticky note. “This is a list to help you remember,” she says.

“Oh, thanks!” I take it and read it aloud. “Be kind! Be empathetic!”

I’m a little taken aback. Am I in need of a reminder? I quickly think back through the day. Have I not been kind or empathetic? I ask for feedback to clarify. “So, am I doing okay with this so far?” I ask her, somewhat tentatively. She nods her head vigorously.

“Oh, ok, ” I say, “this is a great reminder list. Thanks!”

Scene 6: At the end of the day V shares, “I was so excited about school starting today that I was all tingly last night and this morning too! My whole body was tingly and I could hardly sleep!” Several students enthusiastically signaled silent agreement.

I think my heart grew two sizes right then and there.

Scene 7: Then C, the morning’s hugger, chimes in, “Before school today, I was in the car. I made a lot of silly faces. And then you know what happened?” He paused then rattled along, “Then I farted in the car.” He paused again and finished with a great big grin, “Because I fart a lot.”

Thanks C. for keeping it real 🙂

Best shirt of the day!

By the end of the day affizzle had faded to fatigue. Still, it was a wonderful first day.

Gathering Calm

When I write first thing in the morning, I allow my mind to drift from thought to thought. My pen flows with the wisps of dreams, follows half-remembered images or feelings, or reaches back to recent events. Whatever moves me to write. I want to capture and distill strong emotions, interesting connections, experiences, new thoughts, etc. I can be surprised by where these journeys lead me.

When I go out to take pictures, I usually have at least the location in mind, which dictates some of what I’ll see. Ocean versus marsh versus river. Forests or fields. Still, there are surprises here, too. I never know what will capture my attention at that particular time. Will the fog call to me, or shadows or spider webs? Will interesting patterns emerge in sand, water or sky? Sometimes I go with a goal in mind, usually to find certain birds, like a snowy owl or migrating warblers. Then I keep my eyes to the rooflines or treetops, depending. Still, I’m always intrigued by what other images tug at my lens.

On Saturday I woke early and decided to set out early to catch the sunrise at the marsh. The marsh is one of my favorite places in the world. I always leave feeling more at peace than when I arrived. On this morning, I arrived shortly before sunrise and followed the flow of the unfolding scenery, breathing in the damp, swampy tang of marsh that filled the air.

First dawn arrived in gentle hues, painting sky and water and clouds into a sunrise composition.

Dewdrops clustered, strung on the architecture of a stalky weed, capturing miniature sunrises in their globes.

The marsh waved its colors like a rippled quilt of golds, greens and browns. The grasses undulated like water, and I stopped to try to capture the hue and the sense of motion. It reminded me of lines from “In the Salt Marsh” by Nancy Willard. I couldn’t remember them then, but looked them up later:
“How faithfully grass holds the shape of the sea it loves,
how it molds itself to the waves, how the dried salt
peaks into cowlicks the combed mane of the marsh.”

Queen Anne’s lace lined the path, in all stages, from newly opening to a tight cluster poised to disperse seeds to wind and water. Each blossom a world to explore–gathering sunlight or crystalline dewdrops or filagrees of delicately spangled spiderwebs.

The birds put on a show as well. Snowy and great egrets rose and fell out beyond the still pannes, a cormorant fished and preened, a seagull and his reflection gazed out with a bold eye, and a great blue heron rested, silhouetted against the great variegated green of the marsh.

Further along, goldfinch flashed their bright feathers amidst the flowers, following the edges of the path from blossom to blossom, stopping to forage then flitting away.

As I ended my walk, another image pulled me in– the reflected symmetry of rock and still water.

Mornings like this will be more precious soon, limited to weekends and holidays. As I head into the rigors of the school calendar and its relentless pace, I am gathering up moments of serenity. As I left the marsh, my mind tumbled back through all the images, holding each one in my thoughts. Lingering in the light, the color, the movement. Gathering up each moment. Gathering calm.

Garden Wonder

I typically spend a fair amount of time taking photographs, but this summer I seem to have lost some of that motivation. My morning field trips to marsh, beach, or the river, have more or less evaporated. I still wake early in the morning, but have had no desire to head out to take pictures.

This morning, after more than a week of high temperatures, morning, noon, and night, it was a delight to wake to cool temperatures again. Yesterday’s downpours had cleared the air and drenched the greenery. They apparently also reinvigorated me. After my coffee and morning notebook time, I stepped outside, camera in hand, to see how my gardens were faring.

How can I forget how easy it is to fall into wonder with the world right outside my door?