Miss My Cat

Slowly the reminders fade.  The sound of the kitchen mats sliding to place my yoga mat on them, while the tea steeps.  I remember a furry friend who loved to stay on the mat while I toed it over to the middle of the floor.  And, who, loving routines, became very adept at knowing where on the yoga mat he could lie under curled paws and when he’d need to move.

I still get a tweaky feeling as I notice I’m watching for the black and white fur as my car approaches the driveway, not only looking out for him, but expecting my welcome.  My house front wears a different expression now.

I thought I’d post a couple photos, only a few of the collection, and write my ode or to whatever memory.

My backyard was mainly concrete and weeds when I moved in.  I repurposed the extra driveway by having it jack-hammered and using the blocks to build a round, raised garden.  The only thing to do with the clay packed dirt was ground cover, to mulch it with “gorilla hair” as they call shredded redwood bark.  It fit because there’s a redwood tree.  (I know, who would plant one downtown in a city?) And it was affordable.  And Mickey found it wonderful bedding.

In several seasons the gorilla hair was breaking down and some tough ornamental grass seed was coming up in places.  I let it grow in clumps because it made Mickey a lair.

Every gardening move was supervised by this watchful cat.  Even when I put a gravel pathway in the front, it had to be tested.


Now my front porch is just a porch, with chairs, a swing and some plants.  It used to be a look out.


I realize writing this that, even when I was viewing the house, Mickey was in every photo, because he followed me around monitoring what I was doing on his turf.  And I realize that as I went through all the repairs and renovations, some of which I hired out and some I did myself, I always had my feline supervisor.

He was good company.

Why do we think less of a graphic novel?

Why did we have to dignify comics with the term “graphic novels?” And even picture books are not as valued as chapter books, it seems. What is this idea about academics being superior to and excluding art?

As far as writing goes, drawing is writing, and it preceded written literature.

In a world where most news is being presented live on site or by a video, wouldn’t school teachers do well to ensure their students are visually literate and can produce visual content?

The expressive ability of young students is sometimes stifled by insisting on correct sentences in paragraphs rather than using drawing with writing.

The social justice power in many current graphic novels for YA is going to be overlooked if every middle and high school English section is going to read the same text only literature.

I’m so grateful for teachers who are exploring graphic novelists.

But I’m noticing that some people still think it’s second class reading material.


morning sky 2

I was asked to sub for the morning in a 5th grade classroom whose teacher has been out all week, so I was one in a string of people stepping into their world.  Have to feel for those kids.  Fifth grade was my main assignment when I was in a self-contained classroom and there are many reasons why I appreciate people that age.  They want independence and to think for themselves, even if swayed a great deal by peer opinion.

They’d been on a steady diet of worksheets and math pages, but, during the week, we had held an assembly for peace in memory of the students who have been murdered in public shootings.  My verb.  I notice the media doesn’t call it murder.

To get outside the classroom this morning, on a chilly rainy day, I invited the fifth graders to form a line to make an “opinion continuum” on the walk under the eaves.  I modeled the number line idea: Be at this end if you’re positive, in the middle if you’re neutral, and at the other end if you’re taking a negative position.  I had to word the prompt on the fly – I’ve done this with groups taking their position on how they handle conflict — so I asked them to place themselves, on a the scale of how important is peace to them.  I qualified it by making it local.  In our school, how important is peace to you? [I now think I should have stayed with “world peace” or peace in our nation.”] Find your position by checking in and sharing your reasons for taking a spot on the line. Try out your place with conversations with others around you.  Some tried and some just played around.

Of course in any experiment, I got to learn more than they did.  Many simply enjoyed getting out in the air and talking.  So stretch break/brain break accomplished.  Quite a few were clumped at the front of the line, and I tried to get them to sort by who has a stronger reason.

Of course there were students who took to the end with a couple friends, placing themselves by distance — wanting to be separate.  In the middle, a few shared their reason for the neutral position was that they thought school was good as it was and they didn’t want quiet.

“Ah hah, you equate “peace” with meaning be quiet!”  I clarified for the group and said that peace meant something like being able to be expressive and take care of one another.  To be able to work and learn with those around you, but that I think conversations and talking are very important to peace — not quiet.  I realized the boys in the middle weren’t really neutral, they were saying there’s not a need for change.

Instead of moving them, for the sake of time and their attention span, I asked for some at the negative end of the line to share why they were there.  “I don’t know.” was one challenging response. The girl next to her said, “I don’t care.”  I got it.  Technically, if they could justify it, this was the neutral position.  Except not in tone. It wasn’t a “I can take it or leave it, detachment. I read a hint of defiance mixed with I don’t want to care.

But I realized that many of the student had sorted themselves into an attitude continuum about school in general, and those that agreed with nods with the girl who said, “I don’t care,” could say that because they don’t think anyone cares.  So, it’s the tough position.  Not caring.  Keeping a shell around you.

And I realized that the students who were on the positive quadrant of this continuum not only had strong opinions, but were vested in the idea that we ought to treat one another kindly and let everyone have a voice.  They valued what they understood as peace, but maybe it said more about what they care about at school.

Instead of a measure of how important they thought the [somewhat abstract, big idea of] peace was, I saw that I got an opinion continuum of where they were at with school.  At the end of a long week, missing their teacher and their routines.

If caring and knowing that others care, if kindness and mutual respect for others is a foundation for peace – in a classroom community, a school, or a neighborhood, I got a snapshot of how a one group of students saw it.

I thanked them for the insights they gave me.  I was beginning to understand how difficult it is to view a concept.  And to wonder, “Why would it matter to them?  Why work for peace?”

Another leader took over the class, and I went back to my intervention post.

Writing Club

I brought home a satchel full of writing journals from the “Finding My Voice” club, journals with each writer’s project, somewhat revised.  My task is to keep their syntax as EL students, and type their stories in a nice format with spelling corrected so that I can make an anthology, copied for each of them.  Then, Wednesday we’ll have a read around and comment on each others writing, with a reception.  Nice treats, of course.

We had little time, but I know they’re proud of what they did. They owned those topics that chose them.  Today we brainstormed titles in partnerships and then went round the table.  It was fun.  Some writers are using pseudonyms.

The projects include:

Brother’s Final Cup  (about the competitiveness between author and younger brother)

A Bedtime Story (the night mother told son her immigration experience)

My First Friend (being lonely and excluded until….)

Losing Grandpa  (honoring him)

Elena, My Role Model (death of beloved aunt)

Love That Tom (ode to his dog based on Love the Dog)

Oreo Love (hamster death)

And two more are coming in tomorrow, just under the wire.  My phone bedtime alarm is already reminding me to wind down.  I’ll just say that I’m a big fan of student choice in projects, and they take time.

Writing takes time to develop.  And learning to write, Peter Elbow so elegantly explains, is “a slow, underground process.”





I Should Be…

The blog daily practice should seem more established on day 14, one would think.  However, every day is unique, and I seem not the same person who gets to the writing desk in the evening.

I’m Ms. Should-be at the moment.  I should be working on the sheets for Saturday’s cartoon jam workshops.  I should be reading my book club selection.  I should be horizontal after 24 hours of dark chocolate and eclair exposure.  I should be cleaning up the kitchen sink and I should be…

What a tiring person I am when I’m a little off my sleep and sugar level.

I could be Ms. What-I-Didn’t-Say, as I was re-reading some of my recent posts.  Nice descriptions, but skipping over a rough patch or leaving out something intentionally.  Ms. What-I’m-Not-Writing always shows up when I have a writing club going and I’m modeling ways to find what to write about.  So many memories come up for me, and I find some buoyant, although I push them down — submerge them, only to find them popping back up.

But finally, breathing and taking long swigs on my water bottle, I am becoming Ms. Relaxed.  Noticing.  I have a lovely mason jar full of bright flowers and yellow roses on my desk.  From my writing partner.  They are cheerful and it is good to remember my long-lost writing partner.  We get to meet two Saturdays from now.

And I have a low ceramic bowl full of old marbles, mostly cat eyes.  Why I always keep a bowl of marbles around I do not know.  I used to keep them in a pint-sized fruit basket, but now they’re in the ceramic Ikebana bowl.  Sometime I think it reminds me of play, and sometimes a statement about having not lost my marbles, yet.

Actually, once I get here, I notice how pleasant my desk is.  How compatible it is with sitting and writing.  There are journals lined up on the left hand side of the desk.  On the windowsill, well, why not add a snapshot here? Taking it from the lower left to right…

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The two bunnies are from one of my long time friends whose nickname, like mine, is also Bunny.  The little ceramic pot next to the bunnies is a Dream Keeper given to me by another friend who is like a sister.  I have breathed a few dreams into it, but really don’t know how it works.  There is a dodecahedron crystal made of acrylic that is a reminder to look for the gems in writing.  The little photo collection has moms with their first born.  My mother is holding me, I am snuggling next to my first daughter, and she has her son over her shoulder.  It gives me a feeling of continuity.

Behind the photos is a print of an early photo I made back when I had a “real” lens film camera, maybe in 1080. It looks monochromatic, but it is a color shot taken in the SF Conservatory.  On the back left, teh fan was a gift from some teachers visiting from Japan who observed some of my writing lessons.  I have always been attracted to that style of printmaking.

The Japanese Lantern bush that mostly screens the window is in winter mode, but there are flowers.  Small birds, like chickadees, come hang on the flower stems and hummingbirds feed, too.  It is delightful for a bird to flit right by the window.

So books and folders and a couple stacks of post-it notes await me working on the comic jam, but not tonight.  I am giving myself permission to post, read some other blogs and give some comment love then head off to sleep early.


BD Song

On morning hall duty I heard someone singing and my first thought was “what person is losing it this early?” when I realized it was the music teacher, oh yeah, singing for me in the chilly rainy morning.  A solo surprise.

And when I walked into lunch, one of my kindergarten teacher friends had “Happy Birthday queued up on her iTunes on the laptop, and friends began to sing along.  Wow, this is two birthday songs on key and very sweet.  I asked for it in Soul Train blues — and got that and several other versions, so we danced along.

After school, when I got to SJSU for the writing project team meeting, there were gifts and cards and a cake from Bijan.

Truly beautiful.

I served slices around as the team gathered and talk about the website re-design started.  Then someone suggested it was a necessity, a traditional requirement, that they sing to me.  I was trying to wave it off, but all around the conference table, each one of my writing project friends sang…not just in tune, but deliberately so I could look into everyone eyes round the table and love each person so much.  They closed in a very interesting harmonic blend, which surprised everyone.  We all clapped because it was good!

I had set my alarm to go home at 6 pm because I’d promised my mother we’d have a glass of bubbly with our chicken sandwich, but when the alarm was going off there was a sign-in thing for us to do, and then a teacher wanted to talk about an email — and then I had so many gifts — flowers, wine, champagne, cards, chocolate bars, and things to pack — I got home late.

D. didn’t seem to mind.  There was a phone call from the neighbor, while I was slicing chicken, saying, “D. never answers her phone.  May I talk to her?”  So the neighbors had been invited over and were bringing bubbly.  I hadn’t even read all my cards yet.

They joined us at the dining room table, and we made a few toasts with our bubbly and started talking.  Then P. brought in a plate:

another lovely Bijan pastry

Those are eclairs with custard.  The significance of seven candles on seven eclairs was not lost on me.  More stories, and talk about the movies that won awards, and why we love old clay-mation.  Stories from camping and other birthdays.  I am so lucky having neighbors who are good friends.

I realized that my mom had gotten her “baby sitter” to walk over to the bakery, and had set this whole thing up, just for me.  And now, it’s way past my bedtime on a school night, but what fun to celebrate a birthday (I had been dreading somewhat) with such love and joy.






SS Admin

I got the last parking space in the garage and walked over to the Federal Building. There were only 3 in line for security check in. I applied for social security online and now need to present my W2 and pay stubs.

Did I make an appointment? No…

From the elevator I walked into a room with rows of plastic chairs and a very serious guard told me to “Get ticket and silence your phone!”

Get a ticket meant go to electronic check in. The options for my reason for a visit did not explicitly include “completing online application by showing documents.” I chose “other” and took a seat. I’m in the R group and they’re not getting called frequently. The J’s get a raspy call over the intercom, many of them.

R918 just got summoned. That’s 10 from me. Hope!

So retirement has a lot of business details and time frames to manage.

The room is filled with a wide variety of people – different ages, ethnicities, but there’s just one white-haired Scot/Irish who is turning 70 tomorrow and who thinks that even the bureaucracy of it all is fascinating.

Just the thought, “I’m retiring!” propels me. And, with a little help from my friends, it will get me through a landmark birthday tomorrow.

Still waiting for another R candidate to get called- R920, as I write.

Evening Walk

My usual walk around a section of Naglee Park was near sunset.  Some colors were saturated by the late light.  And I stopped to admire one of the many brand new fire hydrants installed.  Making me wonder two things.  Why weren’t there fire hydrants here already?  And two, did you really mean to paint your entire house that same color?

The Median Buddies keep the traffic controlling medians nice, but I think they should prune the plant in this one on William.  I keep reading it, “Drive Like Your Children…” and I’m wondering if that’s a good thing?

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I saw a young father riding his bicycle with a toddler in the child seat:  facing forward and riding in front of Dad.  I think about the child seat I rode my first born around in.  She was behind me, the seat over the back wheel.  I couldn’t see her and she could see little of where we were going.  Nice to see technological improvements.  The man had an orange shirt on with 32 on the back and as the dad and kid pedaled past a lavender Victorian with white gingerbread trim, my visual brain yelped.

A neighbor on the next street over had an artistic arch installed over her sidewalk entrance.  It is sculpted, shiny red metal – very modern and somewhat Japanese feeling and no, I didn’t attempt a photo.  You just have to be there.

Another neighbor’s stucco wall fence is complete, except the new driveway gate.  The top is capped with tiles, and the stucco is clean, clean white.  None of the diesel grunge that sifts through the air since we are surrounded by major freeways on every side has marred the fresh, crisp stucco.


Dirt in My DNA

The supposedly friendly ringtone for the Bedtime app on my phone went off at 5:15 a.m. while I was in the middle of a dream.  I hit snooze wanting to sort back to reality and my first take was, “I’m too tired.  Definitely not.”  Hit snooze the second time.

My better self thought, “Omigosh I want to do yoga this morning because I missed it yesterday due to that crazy Fosomax stuff I take on Fridays, because they both begin with an F.  I rallied.

Green tea steeping and me on the mat.  Still feeling out of sorts, but moving, stretching…and meditated.  I had an appointment to be one of the many presenters at our school district’s Academic Fair so I got ready, packed and headed out.

The morning was cool and cloudy, with that feeling that if it rained everything would relax.  It was grey and the sort of morning, I thought, when parents would do what I did, and hit the snooze, or just turn the alarm off.  Or, they’d dutifully get their kids to the first baseball tryouts and forget about us at the Academic Fair.

But parents did come in, and brought their kids with them and I enjoyed work-shopping with them around their questions about reading and writing.  And I got to use Matt de la Pena’s Last Stop on Market for the read aloud, and we were all happy when it ended.

I drove home feeling that pull, that physical dullness that had flattened me on Friday night.  And it felt like nap weather.

But I had an appointment with myself to put on grubbies, and between the rain showers, work in the front yard, continuing the weeding and trimming.  I can still see the clods of topsoil coming up with the oxalis which I was pulling out by the fistfulls and chucking into the waiting wheelbarrow by the sidewalk.  The dark soil, the pale lime green shoots and stems…the crunch of slightly composted leaves from fall…

All of a sudden I was genuinely happy.  It surprised me.  “Why does working like a dog in the dirt bring me joy?” I wondered.  Knowing a bit about my Scot geneology on my father’s side, I own that dirt is in my DNA.  Farmers, orators and tough people who traveled to new places, earned the money to buy land and worked hard to make it produce.  They were also orators, preachers on horseback, with a few artists thrown in there.  So, yes, gardening is therapy for me.  It connects me.  The cleaned up yard, the order satisfies me and I know that the spring leafing out will look good.

But I think that happiness was about something else too.  I was finally getting to do just exactly what I wanted, and that felt nice.  Like it was my free choice and my time.  So many weekends even have been committed to events and the work week sure doesn’t afford me much unstructured time.

So, I was weeding and digging it. And pruning another bush back, admiring my artistry.  And the cool, quiet afternoon stayed the same time all day, with only a few neighbors walking dogs by and no interruptions.

I realize there is something aesthetic about gardening and urban farming that I forgot over winter.  Healthy plant life is clean and vibrant, and wonderfully designed.


Getting on Toward Dusk


A colleague commented this morning that I might be susceptible to “senioritis,” which, if you recall, is the phenomenon when high school seniors become short-timers – in this state they produce nothing, or very little.  The term applied to me now heading into retirement suggested that I might find it challenging to work as hard as I have been, now that the end of a career is in sight.  Might I expect to goof off?

So far, what I’ve done recently is focus more intently on what really needs to be done and what matters.  And let small stuff go.

Senior-itis is a double entendre for me, because the big seven 0 looming ahead next week raises little inner voices of trepidation about aging and facing what T.S. Eliot referred to, I think, as “the failing pride in the failing powers…”  That kind of seniority is not a party.

So, do I have this itis?  I feel like I’m experiencing the normal state of used-upness at the end of a very full week.  I recall being this worn after teaching any old week when I was forty or fifty. It’s a high energy demand kind of thing, this teaching, to do full on, all day.

What is happening to me during this evening stroll on the boardwalk, as I become the happy go lucky graduate from my career, is I’m tending to pay even closer attention to my work as service to kids and teachers and give less — even disregard — the fruitless, distracting noise.  No, I’m not checked out. I’m aware it’s all brief.

Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write