Teaching From Home: One Month In

Good news!  A month of teaching from home has not killed me. It came close in Week Three, with my resting heart rate mounting from stress and an allergy medication contributing side effects of anxiety and depression.  But the doc released me from the allergy med and we got –dramatic pause– Spring Break!

I don’t know that I have ever so much needed to step back from the craziness and unplug.  Oh, I did a little schoolwork, but it was good to stop running at full speed and recharge for what will most likely be the long haul to the end of the school year.

One weird result of the break from teaching during Coronapocalypse was that I actually missed the structure and busy-ness of the teaching week.  An unending list of potential indoor and outdoor projects did not disguise the fact that I was stuck at home. Other than a grocery run and a disguised outing as the Easter Bunny (complete with mask and gloves), I had a lot of time to be with myself.  And I was pretty boring.

When school resumed this week, my students felt the same way.  They had to admit that without anything else to do, they missed the structure of the school day and the strange disconnected connectedness of meeting online. And so, in the absence of our old normal, we tentatively begin to accept the new situation.

Here are a few things that are making life doable:

Orderly work space

A critical project during the break was to deep clean and organize my office. Windows and curtains are clean. New blinds hung. A huge bag of clutter went out in the trash. All my curriculum materials sit in organized stacks on the shelf. A new microphone headset arrived. The command post is in truly functional order. The room looks good.  I actually like being in it. And guess what? After a week of teaching it is still in functional order! Order in my space does wonders for keeping the craziness at bay.

Plan for the week

The worst part of the first week of Corona Teaching was reworking each of my five lessons every night for the next day.  My normal routine had been to work out the week’s road map by the Friday before.  The last thing I did every Friday before leaving school was to post the week sheet on the class page.  Then I left the building, drove an hour home, and enjoyed my weekend.  Now, teaching from home, it is not sustainable to spend every waking minute thinking  about school when the “classroom” is just behind a closed door.

A major Corona Teaching Victory came when I posted my week sheets on the class pages at the end of the day before spring break. It was a huge relief to resume that normal rhythm.  My students and I are used to that.  It saves all of us time and frustration–one document is posted and we all know where to find it.  Of course, we can get derailed during the week. But we can address the changes the way we always did– in (online) class and by posting announcements.

Plan for the new reality

I teach foreign language.   I can’t just assign pages of reading and comprehension  exercises followed by a quiz. Language learning is a skill. While the students have access to technology to enable them to read and write and listen and speak assignments to me, it cannot really replicate what goes on in class.

Even with live online class meetings, we are not physically in class.  The give and take online is not the same as in the classroom.  So, the regular lesson has to morph into a new thing.

Mini-lessons

My lessons are morphing into a simple pattern:

  • Things we need to do together
  • Things they can do on their own

Live classes start with a mini-lesson where I present or explain material that is new or challenging.  That will segue to an oral activity.  I assign each student an example in an exercise, give them think time, and then call on them just as I would in class.  If it would have  been a partner activity in class, I play the role of the partner when I call on them.  Not ideal, but at least, I can hear where the problems are.  Then, that activity is often assigned again as a written activity.

Live classes end with everyone understanding their marching orders. If students have no questions, they are free to leave. Students who want answers to questions hang around.

Connecting students to my homescreen

I felt like a magician when I figured out how to display my homescreen on the students’ screens during a live meet.  It opened up all sorts of possibilities! So far, I have tried the following:

  • Displaying the online textbook page while I explain a topic.  It is so much better to have them staring at the page while my cursor squiggles around pointing to things than for them to stare at my face talking about it.  And when we work on an exercise in the book, I can point to the words the student is struggling with.
  • PowerPoints. It is so much better to move the slides for them, than to talk at them and tell them to move to the next slide on their device.
  • Kahoot! I use Kahoot a lot in class and immediately began using it as a self-paced non-timed comprehension activity. But now! Now, we can play a Kahoot together.  It doesn’t have quite the same rowdy effect when everyone is sitting in their own homes, but it is still interactive.
  • Online video/YouTube.   I successfully showed students a video from the curriculum, just to start a lesson.  They could have watched it on their own, but I wanted to “watch” it with them.  In another class, I had a epic fail trying to watch a YouTube video.  I watched it fine on my end, but they saw and heard absolutely nothing.  I’m pretty sure I clicked the wrong screen when I did that.  Oops.

Tossing redundant activities

Once upon a time, during normal teaching, there was classwork and there was homework. Homework generally replicated what was done in class.  Now, there is no classwork vs homework.  There is just work.  As lessons morph, I look at each activity and remind myself:

  • Do not cram too many new ideas into one day.
  • Do not assign the same type of activity twice in a lesson.
  • Assign only activities that actively advance mastery of the topic.
  • Less is more–choose quality over quantity.
  • Let go of the expectation that you will cover everything this year.

Respecting and managing time–theirs and mine

A few ideas are guiding me in respecting and managing time:

  • Set a reasonable workload. Live class plus written activities should not exceed normal class time plus normal homework. Ideally, if redundant activities have been pulled, students should spend less time on my class.
  • Have firm expectations for students. Students should respect our class time and assignment deadlines. I am not  teaching an open-ended correspondance course.
  • But be flexible.  Some students will struggle with doing school this way.  At this point in the year, I know who the most likely strugglers are.  And I know who the lazy bums are, too. Grace to the strugglers.  Zeros to lazy bums.

We are figuring this out. It is not at all perfect.  Some students are still very casual about attending live class and meeting assignment deadlines. Tech challenges are real. Family demands are real. Teenage attitudes are just as real as they ever were.

What am I missing right now?  

This crazy 2020 has become the year of the essential.  The essential worker.  The essential work.  Right now, I am missing the fluff and fun of class.  Movie days.  April Fool’s fish. French restaurant field trip.  I may very well end the year covering most of what I normally teach.  Why? Because I have cut out anything that is not essential.

And that is going to get boring.  I’ll have to think about that.

What am I happy about?

  • So far, the students are scoring as well from home as they did in class.  (Or as bad, depending on the student.) So I do not see anyone suffering academically because of this change.
  • Because I am giving points for everything they do (which would not have happened with spot checks in class), the less-than-stellar students are probably doing more work than they ever did before!  There is nothing so motivating to these kids (or their parents!) as a zero.
  • Distance learning has taken on real meaning as several of my international students went back home and are now checking in to class every day from South Korea!

 

 

Teaching From Home: Setting the Pace in Week Two

 

There are a lot of runners in my family.

You could say it runs in the family.

Sorry.

Not.

I am not one of them. I walk. But I still know the difference between a sprint and a marathon. This COVID-19 teaching experience is a marathon like no other. And we don’t even know where the finish line is.

The first week of online teaching nearly killed me. Or to be more precise, it became quickly apparent that it would kill me if I did not make changes. The first week, I charged off at full speed at the sound of the starter’s pistol—without knowing what race we were running.

Week Two was about finding survival techniques for what we now realize is a marathon. To survive teaching in the coronapocalypse, I am looking at three things: pacing, boundaries, and personal health.

Pacing

Online teaching is taking much more prep time. This is frustrating for someone like me, with decades of teaching experience and who was in a happy routine of tweaking things. Now, it is like starting a brand new job. I need more think time.

This past week, I gave my students and myself some breathing room. For my classes that do independent reading, I gave them all reading day on Wednesday. For my lower level French students, I gave them a link to take a walk in Paris. It was a rainy day and the three hour YouTube video was great for putting in some treadmill time. (No, I did not assign three hours of walking.) The benefit to me was a day without students checking in. My devices did not ding at me all day long. I had bigger stretches of uninterrupted time to think.

And so, a conundrum emerged this week. At the same time that I am increasing face-to-face meetings with my students, I am also pondering ways to give them longer stretches to get work done. This, realistically, is not going to happen much in my French 1 and 2 classes, where they can only handle one new concept at a time and need daily feedback. But French 3 and 4/5 can handle two day stretches. The Advanced ESL English class, starting their first research project ever…..well, yeah, still pondering that.

Mercifully, my amazing, awesome, best-ever boss has heard the cries of students and teachers. Effective this week, we will be teaching four days a week, with Friday as a catch-up day to plan or just to breathe. I have often told my students that I would gladly put in a longer day four days a week in order to have three day weekends every week. Who knew it would take a pandemic to make that happen?

So, pacing involves slowing down for the long haul. Assign smaller, manageable chunks of material. Give myself necessary think time. And give the students space. The students are not only being expected to keep up with their school work, but they need time to process this whole crazy life change, too. And they have to do it at home, with whatever dysfunctions come along with that.

Boundaries

I am a firm believer in setting boundaries. Up until now, I had a great work routine in which I did all my work at home, drove my thirty mile commute, and arrived home with my day tucked behind me. Now it is here in the house with me. All. The. Time. I never thought I would miss that thirty mile commute.

Boundary #1: The Office

I am fortunate to have an empty nest. Oh. So. Fortunate. Not only are there not little people in my face all day with their little needs and demands, but I have whole rooms of the house I have reclaimed for other purposes! One of those rooms is my office.

I do my schoolwork in my office. Only in the office. Not in the kitchen. Not on the sofa in the family room. Most definitely not in the bedroom. When I am working, I am in the office. When I am not in the office, I am not working.

The little glitch with this scenario is that I have not actively worked in the office in a while. So it is a bit disorganized. And not as clean as I would like. In fact, the mini-blinds are really gross. I have been meaning to replace them with the same blinds as in my bedroom, but never got around to it because, well, I just wasn’t sitting in there that much. So last night I went online and ordered the blinds—at 30% off! Woo hoo!

Boundary #2: Office hours.

I am available to my students during their normal class hours. If they contact me during another class period, I ignore them. Likewise, I expect them to be available to me during their normal class hours. This one has been a little trickier. A few have had internet glitches during our face-to-face meetings. How do I know it is a real glitch and not a lame excuse? A student with a real glitch contacts me ASAP in a panic saying he cannot get on. A lame excuse dribbles in many hours later with a “Sorry, I couldn’t get on.” A true hours-later tech glitch comes with a parent email verifying the problem. See? I know teenagers.

Boundary #3: Calling it a Day

While this new teaching day is taking me longer than my normal teaching day, it cannot consume every waking hour of the day. I need to call it quits at some point. My goal is to finish by dinnertime. My goal is to relax with my husband in the evening—even if it is our usual goofy scenario where we sit in the same room watching different movies on different devices! I did not quite meet that goal this week, but I did a whole lot better than in Week One!

Boundary #4: Reclaiming the Sabbath

In my old normal, I worked really hard during the week to get all my work done before I left school on Friday. The past two weeks, I have spent most of the weekend planning. (It did not help that I sort of forgot that third quarter ended this week and that grades were due Friday morning!) After only two weeks, I am desperately feeling the need for the day of rest. I need to power off.

Personal Health

Pacing and boundaries were immediate needs for my physical and mental health. But there are other things I am doing to keep myself from falling apart.  The last thing I want is to get sick now.  And the very, very last thing I want to do is to stand in the prescription line at Target.  The. Worst. Thing. Ever.

1. I take a shower, do my hair, and put on make-up. To a certain extent, I have to. There is no way I am facing my students online looking like Saturday morning! But I did so even on Saturday. Why? Because even I don’t want to look at Saturday morning me.

2. I take mini-breaks between online classes to do mini-laps around the house. In the normal classroom, I am on my feet and moving around a lot. Now I find I am glued to the chair at the computer. I have to move! I also need the little mental break.

3. Weather permitting, I eat my lunch outside. Last week, I sat on the side porch in a sweatshirt with a scarf wrapped around my neck. With the exception of the sweatshirt, it was très français. The sunshine felt so good and I need all the vitamin D I can get. Plus, it was a mental break from my office.

4. I do something more physical at the end of the school day. This is where the lack of a commute is really helping me. At 3:00 I charge outside to do gardening or take a walk. On the rainy days, I have a lovely Paris Walking Tour to perk up a walk on the treadmill. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xE3lpCIgeI)  

5. I allow myself rest. All that charging and mini-lapping is to manage the stress and all the adrenaline flooding my body. The fact is, I am tired. And I need a break from technology. A nap is good. And a paper book to read is really good.

 

Heading into Week Three

My goals for this week ?

Rest more. To quote the eminent philosopher Winnie the Pooh: “Let’s begin with a smallish nap or two.”

But also, grade the work I ignored this week because I was frantically wrapping up third quarter!

Because of the sprint we all did last week at our school, we can have our regularly scheduled Spring Break next week. Only four days to go. Easter break has never looked so good!

Les Rûches de Notre Dame and the Prize of Paris Honey: Beekeepers Go to Paris

montmartre

I took this photo because a student bought a painting of it. Came home to realize that I bought the same scene three years ago!

We were dining in Montmartre when the news broke that Notre Dame was on fire. Almost instantly, our phones began dinging with texts from back home. 

“Notre Dame is on fire!”

“Where are you? Are you ok?”

Concern for our well-being came with snarky comments, too: “Was John smoking cigars in the restroom at Notre Dame?”

“We are fine! We did not do it!”

After dinner, we made our way to the steps of Sacre Coeur, the highest point in Paris, where we joined many others in dismay to watch the glow of a historical treasure burning into the night. We stayed up there until 11:00 p.m. to give our group their first glimpse of the twinkling Tour Eiffel, but the Tour Eiffel did not twinkle that night.

Addison Mueller's photo of Notre Dame burning

Notre Dame as seen from the steps at Sacre Coeur. Photo by Addison Mueller, a student on our tour.

Our initial fear for the structure of the cathedral gave way to concern for the bees of Notre Dame.  We knew that three hives were kept on the roof of Notre Dame, but the roof was now gone!  Fortunately, the hives were not kept on the very top of the cathedral (that would be a bit difficult to manage!), but rather, thirty meters lower on roof of the sacristy on the north side of the cathedral.  The sacristy did not burn; however, Notre Dame beekeeper Nicholas Geant had concern for the temperature near the hives. The bees would be doomed by melting wax as much as by flame.https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/19/europe/notre-dame-bees-fire-intl-scli/index.html

Miraculously,  the bees were not harmed by flame, heat, or water.  Drone footage and video by those with access to the roof show the bees zipping hither and yon as usual. (Now the question is when the beekeeper will be permitted to tend to the hives.  Spring is a very busy time for beekeepers as well as bees!) 

The fire at Notre Dame affected, but did not diminish, our trip.  We had planned to attend a Tenebrae service on Holy Thursday.  Instead, we took our group to see the magnificent stained glass at Sainte Chapelle, built in the 13th century to house the Crown of Thorns relic which was rescued from the burning Notre Dame.

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle

 

Streets near Notre Dame were blocked and some metro stops were closed, which made getting to dinner in the Latin Quarter less direct, but we had only one glitch, when our guide had us going the wrong direction on the metro!  Good thing our group knew to follow the listing of metro stops posted on the train!

“Hey, Bibi! Aren’t we going the wrong way?”

“Oh! Yes! We are! Everyone off at the next stop!”  

And just like that, our group of twenty-three hopped off and turned around to go toward the Latin Quarter.  At dinner, our waiter told us of the cinders that fell just outside the restaurant when the spire of Notre Dame crashed in flames.

Our Seine River cruise detoured to avoid making its usual circuit around Notre Dame on Ile St. Louis, but we still got plenty of photos of a now-twinkling Tour Eiffel.

Tour Eiffel with full moon

 

But amidst all the usual touristy stops, Beekeeper John and Beekeeper Wife Me were in search of honey.  Our first stop, at the Opéra Garnier, yielded nothing.  The honey from the hives on the roof of the Opéra had sold out quickly after last summer’s  harvest.

Opéra Garnier roofline

Opéra Garnier, home of the Phantom of the Opéra and some beehives

 

We had more success in Giverny at Monet’s Gardens.  John found a sticky jar of Normandy honey in the gift shop. I gave him grief for selecting a sticky jar, but he assured me that all the jars were sticky.  Ah, what a homey touch! (I would have wiped the jars before selling them in a gift shop!)

Monet house & gardens in Giverny

Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny

My coup came at the unlikeliest of places–the Paris Catacombs.  My students had added this to our itinerary and waited patiently–and even happily–in line for three and a half hours–yes, 3.5 hours–to climb down and up over 200 steps to see the bones of 6 million Parisians arranged in artistic patterns.  The drama teacher sang creepy stage songs and multiple students simultaneously played their cellphone recording of another student’s laughter for a frighteningly good creepy atmosphere.

Paris Catacombs

The Catacombs of Paris

We emerged from the Paris underworld and entered the gift shop, which was full of ghoulish humor and plenty of  skulls on tee shirts, mugs, posters, magnets, you name it.  And there it was…Le Miel de Paris!  Paris honey from the beehives of Les Invalides gardens, L’Ecole Militaire, and the Musée D’Orsay.  Sweetness, for sure!  I was even willing to pay eighteen euros for the tiny jar.

Some people wonder why we would buy honey in Giverny and Paris when we have our own honey at home.  It has to do with terroir.  Just as wines vary not just by grape but by the environment in which they are grown, every honey tastes different.  This French-teaching beekeeper wife came home from Paris with three new scarves, four new kitchen magnets, two jars of French honey, and a sigh of relief that the bees still buzz at Notre Dame.

Paris and Normandy honey

 

 

 

Embracing the lunatic fringe

I was called a lunatic this weekend and it made me really happy.

Why?  Because I was in an auditorium filled with other lunatics and it was so nice to have company.  We were all lunatics.  Language learning  loonies who sold out a conference to hear a linguist.

Stephen Krashen spoke at the MDTESOL conference.   For the 99% of you reading this who do not know who he is, Stephen Krashen is an eminent linguist whose theory of comprehensive input has had a major impact on the field of language learning.  One can agree or disagree with his theory, but he is the man you agree or disagree with.  How cool to get to actually see him and hear him speak!

And then he called us the Lunatic Fringe.

And I was delighted.  I am a certifiable member of the linguistic lunatic fringe.  I love language learning in a country of monolinguals where being bilingual is like being a freak.  I cut my linguistic teeth diagramming sentences with Catholic nuns. (To this day, diagramming sentences is a fun thing for me to do.)   Krashen cracked a grammar joke about French past participles that only a smattering of other lunatics picked up on.  It was great.

Then Krashen said that “nobody cares” about language learning, which we all know to be true, but he wasn’t calling us unimportant.  He affirmed my membership in the club of linguistic geeks while reminding all of us that having a compelling story is what draws people in.  Compelling stories are irresistible.

Compelling story is what led one student in my 7th period class Friday to say, “I only came to school today because I knew we were watching the movie!”  That made me smile, but the student who made my Friday was the kid on the lunatic fringe.  When asked to translate Les poissons imitent un dauphin (the fish imitate a dolphin), he gave the smarty-pants answer “The fish imitate the son of the king of France.”  And I shot back, “I guess that makes it a pretender to the throne.”  The two of us were laughing like lunatics while the rest of the class went “huh?”

I suppose everyone belongs to some sort of lunatic fringe group: actuaries, tuba players, liverwurst makers.  We all just want to belong.  And hang out together. Sometimes even at a conference.

How crazy is that?

 

Convalescence, The Invalid Wife, and Emerging Bees

The bees know that the red maples are budding

I’m convalescing these days.  Convalescence is a great word, although we hardly use it anymore.  It conjures up images of sickly people bundled up in thick blankets and wheeled outside for a bit of sun.  Or rich sickly people doing the same thing on deck chairs of a cruise ship circa 1923.  To my stressed-out co-workers it means I’m taking the winter off.   To John it means I’m his invalid wife, with the emphasis on the second syllable.  In – val – id.

Convalescence is a great concept and it’s something we need in a world that tells us to go full speed ahead until we crash, and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.  In our society, if you are not in critical condition, you are expected to be high functioning.  There’s nothing in the middle.  You can’t just do nothing.  There’s got to be a pill or something to keep you efficient.

The problem with convalescing is that convalescents don’t look sick.  They look like they’re lying around doing nothing.  Taking naps and reading books, what a life.  It’s surprisingly hard to properly convalesce in a “do it all now” world.

Ah, but convalescing isn’t about doing nothing.  To my doctor, it means regaining my strength.  The body is working incredibly hard on the inside to recover from an ordeal.  That’s why the doctor can say, “Don’t even think about going back to work before six weeks.”  I love doctor’s orders.  Someone else is the boss telling me to stop.

The hydrangeas are more than just sticks

The end of February is a lot like the end of a convalescence.  Spring is tantalizingly close.  Yet everything still looks so brown.  The woods are full of brown sticks–big tree trunks, tiny sapling twigs, and creeping vines.  Everything is brown, but there is so much going on that we don’t see.

We see twigs but the bees see "yummy"

Using both a cane and a walking stick, I hobble behind John down to the beehives.  The two hives are active (hooray!) and bees are returning to the hives with pollen.  Pollen?  In February?  Everything looks dormant to us, but the bees know that the red maples are starting to bud.  A closer look reveals the beginnings of buds on the hydrangeas and the lilacs, too.  It will be months before they flower, but they are beginning to wake up now.

Are the daffodils doomed?

In the front of the house, daffodils are peeking up.  How many people have moaned about the early appearance of the daffodils?  Don’t the daffodils know that it is not yet time?  Don’t they know that showing up early means  they will get zapped by a hard cold snow and be pathetic little nothings when spring arrives?  The daffodils remind me to properly convalesce, to take it slow and emerge strong.

For the many of you out there who are francophile word nerds, the word convalescence comes to us (mais oui!) via late 15th century French, which morphed it from Latin.

  • con–from the intensive Latin prefix cum meaning “with, together, thoroughly”
  • valescere– (to begin to grow strong) from valere (to be strong) which is related to valiant and valor

So what I’m doing by convalescing is becoming thoroughly strong.  And maybe courageous,too, because heading back to school is going to be scary and my Joint Journey Handbook says my strength should be at 80% by twelve weeks out.  What?  Eighty percent?  For a high-achieving, A-student type person, 80% does not mean “thoroughly strong.”  It means I will still be convalescing, even while I return to work. However, it does justify the handicap parking tag I applied for.  Dang, this is going to take awhile.

Now, as for being invalid…

Hôtel des Invalides

Both invalid and invalid have the same Latin roots.  And both the noun invalid (meaning “a sick person) and the adjective invalid (meaning “of no legal force”) came sneaking into English by way of French.  And quel surprise! The noun originally referred to the old and disabled soldiers at the Hôtel des Invalides, the military hospital in Paris where Napoleon’s body now rests (but is not convalescing) I assume that the soldiers all had valid disabilities, otherwise they would be invalid invalids.

John knows that I am neither a sickly person nor his not valid wife.  He’s just trying to help my convalescence along by getting a strong reaction out of me.  I’m thinking a sunny chair on a cruise ship might work better.

Cleaning the Chocolate Fountain

T-day 2010 with the fountain in the kitchen

A chocolate fountain really adds “wow” factor to a party.  We’ve included a chocolate fountain in our holiday parties for several years now.  If you acknowledge up front that the massive amounts of chocolate are mostly going to be tossed out and that you ought to have an empty dishwasher when you put chocolate-coated parts in it to be cleaned, then you can enjoy the extravagant fun of serving a fountain of chocolate to your guests.

However, as I write, my chocolate fountain bowl is set on “warm” to melt the 80 ounces of chocolate that solidified when the fountain was turned off Thanksgiving night.  I have never done this before.  Every Thanksgiving, no matter how late, I don my rubber gloves, empty the chocolate, rinse the fountain parts in hot water, and load them into the dishwasher.  It must be done, because I have always feared the consequences of just turning off the fountain.  This year, alas, I was just too tired to deal with it.

But Thanksgiving was over a week ago!  I know, I know.  Here’s my excuse.  First of all, I staged the fountain down in the mancave this year.  So let’s just blame that on the Ravens game.   I thought the fountain should be where the people would be.  Usually the fountain is the star attraction on the kitchen island where it reigns over pumpkin pies, sugar cookies, and Vienna Cake, and also happens to be two feet from the sink and the dishwasher.   I made a strategic error in moving it downstairs.  People watching football do not dip into chocolate fountains.  They chug beer and hoot and holler.  And then, well, I forgot it was down there.  I guess I should just be glad someone turned the thing off at the end of the game.

Emily Margaret Reber on her birth-day

Then my daughter Julie had a baby.  Minor little family event.  NOT!!! Just kidding, Julie!!!  Emily Margaret Reber was born on Tuesday, weighing in at a perfect 8 lbs 1 ounce and measuring a perfect 21 and 1/4 inches.  Nothing will knock a chocolate fountain out of the forefront of your brain like a sweet new grandbaby who looks just like her daddy and makes faces just like her mommy.  Between spending time with her and attending to my teaching, I didn’t even get around to emailing her birth announcement, so you can imagine how far back in my brain thoughts of the chocolate fountain have been.  As it is, Julie is going to be annoyed that Emily isn’t getting a full post like her cousin John did and she’s going to add this to the list of things that she will never do as a mother, like not taking pictures of the third child and accidentally throwing away her Christmas stocking.

Anyway, there’s a time commitment involved with melting eighty ounces of chocolate on “warm.”  This requires the weekend.  I designate Sunday as fountain clean-up day.

I’ll carry the fountain up to the kitchen and melt the chocolate up there, where it will be easier to clean up the mess.

If I turn it on right after church, it might be melted by dinner time.  Sunday was a little rough, though.  I had a lot of trouble focusing on the sermon (could someone please explain what the video clip about Cinderella’s lost slipper had to do with the geneology of Jesus?).  I came home and immediately passed out for a long nap.

My first thought upon awakening was, “Crap!  The fountain!”  I dashed to the mancave to discover a fountain full of melted chocolate.

“I did my part,” says John.  “I melted the chocolate for you.  Now you can do the rest.”

Thanks, John, for turning a knob.

The good news is that it worked.  Engantée*  in one-use plastic gloves, I ladled the chocolate into a disposable container and then loaded all the fountain parts into a plastic bag to carry up to the dishwasher where they are now being liberated from their chocolate coating.  Using the technique I learned from our school nurse in our annual blood-bourne pathogen seminar, I slipped off the gloves without getting any chocolate on my hands.

The bad news is that it worked.  Now I’ll never be able to convince my helpers to give once last push of energy to clean the fountain.  I can hear them now, “Just turn it off, Mom, and deal with it in December like you did last year.”

**************************************************************************************

Engantée–to have gloves on. (Sorry, but it’s just better in French.)

Gouttières and Dutch boys’ suits

Lemon verbena by a goutière

This is transition week.  Next Monday teachers report back to work.  This is the week I’m torn by what to do.  Do I sit and relax?  Do I frantically finish summer projects?  Do I “set my face toward Jerusalem” and dig into school work?  All of the above?  None of the above?  (None of the above involves emotional paralysis from the inability to choose.)

So far I’ve been combining tasks.  All summer I’ve been soaking up books.  The past couple of weeks I’ve been priming my brain for the classroom by soaking them up in French.  I’ve finished two novels and am currently working through Suite Française.  I had read it in English a few years ago.  It affirms me to be able to just pick it up and enjoy it in French.

Last night I had a linguistic “ah-hah” while reading.  In the book, a cat had exited a bedroom and was walking along the gouttière.  Being a good lazy reader (don’t pull out a dictionary unless you really, really have to), it wasn’t hard to figure out that a gouttière was a gutter.  And if you know that a goutte is a drop, then it’s even easier.  Hah!  Who needs a dictionary for that?  But just because I’m now curious and want to prove myself right, I look it up.  Voilà!  The English word dates to the 13th century, coming by way of Anglo-Norman which came from the Old French goute which got started way, way back with the Latin gutta which, interestingly enough, is how they pronounce it today in New England.  (Part of my back to school transition involves thinking of my colleagues, especially my buddy from Maine who is mad at me because I am being relocated into his spacious classroom and he is being put into my closet of a room.)

This morning we awoke to gouttières whooshing with rainwater.  We drove down to Towson, our arrival at daughter and son-in-law’s house coinciding with a deluge.   One of their goutières, experiencing a leaf cloggage, spilled rivers of water out front, flooding the front walk.  I should have just removed my sandals, but I deluded myself into thinking that my umbrella would keep me dry.  We all pondered the weather.  What to do?  Enjoy a cup of tea or brave the rain?  Sit it front of Doppler radar all day?  Is it worth going out in to go to the library–with a baby?  Will I be able to plant my fall seeds?

Enough blue to make a Dutch boy's suit

We did have a cup of tea.  On my way home the rain had stopped, the sun was trying to shine, and there was enough blue to make a Dutch boy’s suit.  Back in the day, my grandmother Noona didn’t need Doppler radar to make her plans.  She always said that the weather would clear if there was enough blue to make a Dutch boy’s suit.  Admittedly, that’s a little vague.  How much blue do you need to make this suit?  And how big is the Dutch boy?  Is he, to use another Noona-ism, “the size of a minute”?  That boy wouldn’t need a very big suit.  But that’s the charm of it.  If you are sure you have enough blue, then the weather is surely clearing.

There is definitely enough blue.  I can now safely harvest some lemon verbena without floating through the yard.   Then I’ll make the lemon verbena sherbet that my mouth has been watering for and I will savor some while I continue with Suite Française.  Planting seeds can wait ’til tomorrow, along with a trip out to purchase school supplies.

Lemon Verbena Yogurt Sherbet

I found this recipe, from Jerry Traunfeld, at www.herbcompanion.com.  It is amazingly delicious.  And easy!

2 cups lemon verbena leaves

2 cups whole-milk yogurt

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

1 and 1/2 cups lemon juice

1 and 1/2 cups water

Purée lemon verbena, sugar, and water in blender on high speed.  Whisk together yogurt and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.  Strain lemon verbena mixture into the yogurt mixture through a sieve.  Whisk until smooth.  Process in ice cream maker until slushy.  Transfer to storage container and freeze until scoopably firm.

Sage Blossoms

Sage blossom

Sage blossom–it sounds like a paint color that my daughter Kristin would pick, except that she picks variations on sage green.  Sage blossoms are purple.  I didn’t even know that sage got flowers until two years ago.  (Just shows how “expert” a gardener I am.)  At that point my plants had decided they were mature enough to handle flowering and they were not in imminent danger of garden death.  I was surprised at how intricate the tiny blossoms were–like little bitty Siberian Iris.

The sage is blooming in the herb garden now.    It seems like just the other day the garden was waking up from winter, and now the sage is in bloom, chives are thinking about blooming, and the lemon balm is threatening to overshadow the chives.  Gill-over-the-ground is creeping all over the ground and slithering its way to world domination.  After all the rain we’ve had, the garden has blasted into being.

This weekend I finally planted my annuals.  It was good to finally have a day to myself to play in the dirt and re-create.  And ponder things…like whether the adjective sage is named for the plant, or the plant named from the adjective.  When you’re a language teacher, you ponder things like that while you garden.  So I looked it up.  As I suspected, the word sage comes from Old French with roots in Latin. (If you’re Greek, you think all words originate in the Greek.  If you’re a French teacher, you know that over half the English vocabulary came to us from French with Latin roots.) Anyway, the plant and the adjective come from two completely different Old French words with their correspondingly different Latin roots.   The herb has its linguistic root (salvus) in the meaning of “healing” or “uninjured.”  The adjective has a different root (sapere) referring to having good taste or being wise.   Interestingly, it was once thought that the plant could help improve memory and thus help make one wise.

Well, that’s all well and good, but the best thing I found out about sage was that in merry Olde England it was believed that sage grew best where the wife was dominant.  No wonder I have such a beautiful display of sage blossoms!

Fête du muguet

I’ve been around long enough not to be surprised, but I’m still delighted at how things bloom every year like clockwork.  It is now May and the lilies of the valley are opening their little bell-shaped flowers right on schedule.  In France, May 1st is the Fête du Muguet, when one gives bouquets of lily of the valley to loved ones to wish them happiness and health.  It is a tradition that dates back to King Charles IX who in 1561 gave lilies of the valley to all the ladies of his court.   What a romantically French custom!  And to encourage the custom, there are no taxes on flower sales on May 1 and no license is needed to sell them.

Cynical Me wonders if Charles gave the flowers because he knew the intoxicating aroma would please the ladies or if one of his gardeners talked him into it as a way to thin out the out-of-control plant.  Could that explain the license-free sale of the flower when it comes into bloom?  And did Charles know that every part of the plant is toxic?  Perhaps there was more to court intrigue than merely giving bouquets of flowers?

A few years ago I went foraging in the woods for free plants and dug up some lily of the valley from the woods near the old Maywood house.  It’s difficult to find things that are happy with as much shade as we have, so I was glad to find something I could plant on the north side of our log home.  I planted a modest line of flowers in the periwinkle bed and hoped for a clump to thrive.  Within a couple of years the rhizomes were running all over the place and competing with the periwinkle–no small feat!  Thinking I’d just relocate them, I grabbed a shovel to dig them up.  Those rhizomes are tough little buggers!  I ran upstairs to the computer and googled “Lily of the valley, invasive plant.”  Oh la la. Or as they say in France when it’s a real catastrophe: oh la la la la la la.                                    

When lily of the valley is happy in a location, it is very happy, and it thrives to the extent that it can become invasive.  The runners go zipping along underground spreading as far as happy little conditions will let them.  I can tell you that the north side of my house presents very happy conditions.

So it is May 1st.  I have taken my great-grandmother’s delicately etched  antique juice glasses from the china cabinet and filled them with bunches of the sweet smelling bells. My loved ones are welcome to a bouquet.  Just bring your own juice glass–and a shovel.

Motivation…complete lack of motivation

Apparently winter is not going to kill off the stink bugs

Another snow day.  And the big deal doesn’t hit until tonight.  Oh, I don’t mind.  I still live for snow days, even though I have given all my exams except for period seven.  If we had gone in today, I could call it a wrap on first semester.  Alas, that is still hanging over my head as my brain moves forward into second semester.

Well, my brain is sort of moving ahead.  My body is slower than molasses in January.  I have all these things that I’ve been waiting for time to do them.  Is that even a sentence?  Here are things that my brain is pondering doing:

STUFF I OUGHTA DO:

organize my closet (I’m starting to lose shoes when they are in the closet)

organize my office (I did about 25% one snow day, but even that has now been undone)

organize the kitchen cupboards so Shelley’s stuff will fit in there

declutter the pantry and figure out where all the bee/honey stuff should really go

get my lessons planned for French I  and II for next week

STUFF I COULD DO WITH THE EXTRA TIME:

make more activities for the SmartBoard at school

watch Letters to Juliette to get psyched for the Europe Info meeting next week (and so I can pass the movie on to Linda B)

read (I bought a bunch of French books last week–good francophone lit that I ‘ve been wanting to get into and then share with the French IV/V class)

call people

write notes to people

bake something

WHAT I’VE DONE SO FAR:

yap with Julie on the phone

take pictures of a stink bug

putz around on the computer

WHAT I PROBABLY WILL END UP DOING:

have tea with Shelley and eat almond macaroons from Graul’s

play board games and watch Toy Story I, II and /or III with Harper

Notice that nowhere on my list is napping.  I’ve done so much napping that I think I must certainly be caught up.  However, I’m pretty sure that if I plop somewhere to read today, I’ll be out like a light.

Not that I’m complaining.