The Pedometer Contest

Oh, the tyranny of a tiny purple belt attachment.

State of the art pedometer....not.

State of the art pedometer….not.

The health care provider at work was so kind as to give each plan participant a pedometer recently. They also are sponsoring a contest to encourage us to be more active, become more healthy, and thereby cost the plan less to maintain us. I see their point. I personally cost them a bundle last year for my hip and I know a few of my colleagues could use new knees. Replacement parts for aging teachers add up.

So, we have these little purple pedometers to calculate every step we take throughout the day. We write down our daily totals, send them to the office, and see who gets rewarded for taking the most steps.

Here’s the first glitch: the pedometers are, shall we say, not top of the line. They are sooooo not top of the line that everyone in the contest has to use them because using a good pedometer would be unfair. Let’s compare apples to apples, okay?

One contestant has noted that you get about 10 extra steps when you go to the bathroom. This is not a bad thing. She suggested drinking lots of water so that you have to go to the bathroom a lot. That’s a healthy way to let the cheapo pedometer work for you.

Another contestant found that the pedometer wasn’t registering steps at all. She kept attaching it to different body parts to get it to work. I pointed out that putting a pedometer on her wrist was not going to measure how many steps she took. Unless she walks on her hands. Last I checked she had it clipped to her shoe.

She might have been on to something when she had it clipped to her blouse, but jiggling boobs might technically be cheating. However, the pedometer won’t stay straight clipped to a blouse and the gizmo won’t work if it gets turned sideways.
It can also easily get turned sideways when you sit down. A little pudge here, a little pudge there, and next thing you know the pedometer is crooked.

Or it completely falls off.

Pedometers don’t work at all when they are lying on the floor. I would have thought that one’s muffin top would keep the dang thing in place. But when muffin top and tummy pudge meet at the waistband, that pedometer goes flying like a popped zit. Thankfully, this has so far not resulted in any injuries–which would cost the health provider in claims. (Although the most likely victim would be a student, seated at about eye level with a flying pedometer, and they aren’t on our health plan.)

So what’s the protocol for discovering that the pedometer has fallen off? Do you shake it a few times to estimate the steps you’ve missed? Suffer the consequence of an “inaccurate” step count? Or maybe go the bathroom a couple more times to make up for it?

It is actually nice to know how much one walks in the course of the day. The cheapo pedometer says I walk about 5000 steps in the course of the school day. That’s right in line with the bare minimum requirement for being “non-sedentary.” But how far have I walked in 5000 steps? A good pedometer would calculate this for me. In theory my purple pal will too, but I don’t trust it and calculating a stride is a nuisance. One fitness website says that a mile is 2500 steps. Another one says it is 2000 steps. Yet another says it is based on your height, so for me it would be about 2600 steps. On Saturday I walked a mile with my GPS-based walking app and compared it to the pedometer. The pedometer read 3600 steps. It must think I’m Japanese.

There are times I want to press a re-set button on the day, but not while I'm counting steps!

There are times I want to press a re-set button on the day, but not while I’m counting steps!

Another problem I discovered this weekend was the device resetting itself. Gah! I had already racked up about 6000 steps walking outside and trotting around the house doing laundry when I decided to rake leaves out of the flower beds. Raking leaves doesn’t really take you anywhere but it does involve stepping. I was curious to see what it would amount to. When I checked, the blasted gadget had reset to zero. It sat on the kitchen counter for the rest of the day. And all day today.

It’s not like I’m going to win the contest. How can I compete with my colleague who does line dancing on Monday nights? She scored a crazy 18000 steps that day. My big nights out were a singing rehearsal on Tuesday and babysitting grandkids on Thursday. Both were calorie burning and exhausting but did not score me many points. Alas, swaying side to side with a 17 pound baby wailing in your ear does not register clicks on a pedometer.
That said, it is still good to have some silly competitive fun at work and I will dutifully put on my purple taskmaster the minute I get up tomorrow. I won’t want to miss the 10 steps from my bed to the bathroom.

Hmmm…I could add a hundred steps by going downstairs to get my coffee instead of letting my husband bring it to me. Nah….he needs the exercise.

The pedometer doesn't count picture taking, but we are taking steps toward spring at Maywood.

The pedometer doesn’t count picture taking, but we are taking steps toward spring at Maywood.

Frozen Fog

Frozen fog?

I’ve listened to a lot of weather reports over the years, but this morning’s was a first.  Frozen fog was causing accidents all over Carroll County.  The pre-caffeinated brain has trouble conceptualizing this.  How can fog freeze?  Isn’t that oxymoronic?  Isn’t fog water suspended in the air?  If it freezes, wouldn’t that make it sleet or snow?  If fog freezes, can you walk through it?  Or it is like crunchy air?  Could you get stuck in it?  These are difficult questions to ponder in the early morning darkness.

Is  it any wonder I hate waking up?  Too much information bombards me too  early in the day.  Snow and sub-zero temperatures are bad enough…but at least they are predicted.  But freezing fog?  What am I supposed to do with this information?

Ah, but a cup of coffee lifts my mental fog.  The air is foggy but the temperature has dropped to below freezing, so all that oogy dampness on the sidewalks and roads has frozen.  And that makes for very treacherous driving.

Ok.  Now the caffeine needs to kick in so I can plan my alternate route to work.  The traffic  report lists many roads that I traverse on my avoid-the-highway route. Alas, the back roads are not an option today.  I will be forced to take the Beltway.  Oh, let’s hope that drivers can avoid crunching into each other or it will take me twice as long to get to school.

While I ponder this, Carroll County decides on a two-hour delay.  It’s a rather late call and I know at least one of my colleagues is already on her way to school.  Now the question is whether we will shift our half-day exam schedule or cancel school.  I wait for the call.  Caffeine and anxiety course through my system.

School is cancelled.  And I’m wide awake. Frozen at the window.  Peering into the fog.

Woo hoo!

Pioneers in the woods…or is it wood?

This week we hosted a Pioneer Day at Maywood for the new international students at school.  The ESL history  teacher had shown the students Colonial House and told them that I lived like that…sort of.  Well, ok, yeah, I live like that except that I have indoor plumbing, electricity, 2 zoned heat and AC, high speed internet, and a few other modern conveniences that were unknown to the pioneers.  I do, however, live in the woods.  And that is a big deal to kids who are from Seoul, Beijing, and Hong Kong.

First off, we showed the students the house.  It’s a log house “just like the pioneers”–except that it is much  bigger and has insulated windows and carpet and kitchen appliances.  Did I mention wireless internet?  These city kids who live in high rise apartments are not impressed with modernity, but the big house surprised them.  And it’s made of real wood.

hauling water

Hauling water in “baskets”

Next, we walked them down to the stream.  According to the Map My Walk iphone app with GPS that monitors my every step even in the woods at Maywood (just like God does!), it’s almost a half mile down to the stream.  Boys being boys, the  first thing they did was walk across a little stone dam someone had built and get their jeans wet.  Then we had them fill buckets of water–because pioneers did not have indoor plumbing–and carry the buckets back up to our yard where our next task was to prepare lunch.

One of the guys with ax

One of the guys with an axe.

Lunch was hot dogs cooked over a fire.  But they had to build the fire.  And before building the fire they had to cut wood for the fire.  One of the girls described it better than I can:

“Then the boys worked on the woods, they chopped the woods, it was pretty funny how they chopped it…They took a longtime to chopped the woods…Finally, the woods are done, it took about all the boys to make a fire.”

At least one girl tried splitting wood--she was pretty good at it!

At least one girl tried splitting wood–she was pretty good at it!

One of the boys put it this way:

The axe was very heavy and the woods were very thick, so chopping the wood was difficult.

I’m thinking a little vocabulary lesson is in order this week.  There’s a teensy difference between clearing a forest and splitting a few pieces of log.

If the fire doesn't light, we eat raw hot dogs, guys.

If the fire doesn’t light, we eat raw hot dogs, guys.

hotdogs over a fireOnly one of the students had any Boy Scout type of background.  Lighting a fire for cooking was a challenging experience, and my husband Mr. Pioneer Man even let them use matches.  They finally got it going, although I briefly thought we might have to resort to eating raw hotdogs.   Next year, they are going to start the fire with flint (which will take them even longer).  Next year, I am also going to buy more hotdogs.  I did not take into consideration the number of wieners that would fall off their sticks into the fire.  We had enough to eat, but they had worked up quite an appetite from chopping down all the woods.

Campfires call for s’mores.  It’s not a pioneer thing.  It’s just plain ol’ American.  Originally I was going to skip the s’mores because the international students are usually put off by the super sweet stuff that Americans eat.  But when I asked in class if they liked marshmallow, they immediately asked if we would be doing s’mores.  So we did.  I did not get any amazing photos of  torched marshmallows because I was so busy breaking Hershey bars and graham crackers into squares.  So much for internationals not liking sweets.

For most of the students it was their first American field trip–and to an actual field, at that.  On the ride back to school (after a final act of dousing the fire with the water they had hauled from the stream), half the students fell asleep.  It was probably because of their homework-induced sleep deprivation.  But I’d rather attribute it to a day in the great American outdoors.

Some vocabulary issues to touch on this week (and a peek into why the vocabulary load in chemistry is so daunting):

  • Wood is what trees are made of.
  • The woods is large group of trees.
  • A forest is bigger than a woods.
  • A stream is a small river.
  • A stream is not the same thing as a lake.
  • Water is carried in a bucket or pail, not a box or  basket.
  • A hotdog is technically a type of sausage but Americans think of them differently.
  • S’mores are made with graham crackers, not biscuits.  However graham crackers are not really crackers. Crackers are what Americans put cheese on.  Graham crackers are more like a cookie that the Brits call a biscuit.
cooking hotdogs

Williamsburg hat, yes. Plastic cup, maybe not so Colonial.

Hip chronicles: The bionic woman vs. the athletes

Here’s a little quiz.  You will know my correct answers by the end of this post.

 1. What does IT stand for?
     a. information technology
     b. iliotibial band
     c. idiot teenager

2. What does TFL stand for?
     a.  texting as a foreign language
     b.  Tahitian Football League
     c.  tensor fascia latae

3. What does GM stand for?
     a.  gross mismanagement
     b.  the general manager of General Motors
     c.  gluteus maximus

4. What does PT stand for?
     a.  part-time
     b.  physical therapy
     c.  post-traumatic

5. What does THP stand for?
     a.  total hip replacement
     b.  teenage halitosis problem
     c.  take your hands off my peanut butter

6. What does ACL stand for?
     a. anti-cheerleading league
     b. anterior cruciate ligament
     c. almond cocoa latte

It’s 3 pm on a Saturday and I have just migrated from p.js into sweats.  I’ve been so zoned into internet articles on my Ipad that my entire nutritional input for the day has been two cups of coffee, one of them gone cold.  I’m not even taking a walk today.  I’m stretching my IT band and feeling lazy—and smug.  I am so hip. I have the same physical woes as a triathlete.

I’m goofing off today because my IT band is hurting.  No, it does not refer to information technology.  It’s my iliotibial band, a band of muscles which stretches from the hip to the knee.  If you were a triathlete or distance runner, you would know this.  I know this.  My internet research repeatedly sent me to websites for intense athletes who are plagued by IT problems that have nothing to do with technology. Their knees hurt.  Just like mine.  The IT band is why hip problems result in knee pain.

I need to say this again, just to make me feel good: I have the same problem as a triathlete.  I feel so validated.  I’m not in the same shape as a  triathlete, but we both are referred to the same set of exercises I’ve been doing at physical therapy.  We both need to stretch the TFL (the tensor fascia latae) and strengthen the GM (gluteus maximus).  No need to get into the reality that a triathlete’s glutes are not all soft and jiggly like mine.  (In my defense, I will say that physical therapy has resulted in my slacks fitting pretty well, even if it has done nothing about the muffin top above the belt line.)  The fact is: triathletes have my same problem.  I feel so cool, although that could  be from the BioFreeze gel that the massage therapist gave me.  See, I am that cool.  I have a massage therapist as well as a physical therapist and an orthopedic surgeon.

Having a physical therapist and an orthopedist makes me cool with the athletes at school, too.  They are all falling apart on the soccer field and volleyball court.  I see high school athletes wincing in pain at the PT office while I increase the weight for my clam shell exercises.  At school, students on crutches hobble down the school hallway waiting for or recovering from ACL surgery.  I swap stories with the injured athletes about PT, surgery, and pain management.

During a fire drill at school this week, I trotted down a long flight of stairs with all the students.

“Hey, Mrs. Harp,” asked a student who has never been in my French class before,” What happened to your cane?”

“I had surgery.  I don’t need it anymore.”

“Hey, I’m taking French I next year.”  (No joke, he really said this.)

Whoa.  I’ve gone from being that old teacher with the cane to someone who has gone through orthopedic surgery.  And let me tell you, THP ain’t no walk in the park like ACL surgery.  I have earned some respect.  I won’t tell the student that my little  trot down the stairs has caused the IT to flare up.  He thinks I’m bionic.  No need to disappoint him.

Answer key for the little quiz:
Answers for normal people: 1.b 2.c 3.c 4.b 5.a 6.b
Answers for teachers: 1.c 2.a 3.a 4.a 5.b or c 6.a or c

Back in the Saddle…and My Back-to-School Techno-Rant

CIMG7913

Spiders webs are everywhere…the porch, my brain, and my office.

I haven’t written a blog post since June when I was still on narcotics after hip-replacement surgery.  Surgery is not the reason for the blog famine.  There are oodles of topics that have been crashing around in my feeble little brain.  No…the real reason I haven’t written is because of my Ipad.  I am going to blame Wi-Fi.

It’s like this: I spent the summer recuperating and thoroughly enjoying my bed and my screened in porch with Ipad in hand. Facebook, emails, Dopplar radar–it was great.  What was not so great was losing a lengthy blog post that I drafted on the tablet.  Who knows what I did or didn’t do, but it was gone.  This baby-boomer brain needs to sit at a real computer and type on a real keyboard.  But the computer was not on the delightful screened porch and my agility at climbing stairs, while getting better, is still not my forte.

But now it is back-to-school time.  Back to textbooks and lessons plans and, yes, the real computer.  In my classroom, our IT guy examined my set-up and told me that I could not have the desktop, the laptop AND the school-purchased Ipad.  Since we are heading toward teaching by tablet, either the laptop or the desktop had to go.  This presented a dilemma that my screened porch soothed brain was ill-equipped to handle.  I use the laptop for teaching applications: the Smartboard, internet, showing films, etc.  The desktop is where I access email, enter grades, and create documents.  The fact that they sit practically side my side in my work corner does not make one of them redundant.  Ah, but now that I can check grades and  email on the Ipad, the IT guy tells me that one of the devices is redundant.  I choose the brand-new desktop over the antiquated laptop and immediately find my computer freezing up with too many open applications.

Speaking of redundant, do I dare mention the smartphone?  Having washed my previous phone in a wish-I-could-blame-it-on-narcotics act of stupidity on the day my daughter decided to have her baby, I upgraded to an Iphone.  It had to be an Iphone because I have an Ipad and there’s no way my brain can handle both Apple and Android.  But now I get email alerts on a gazillion different devices and if I read mail on one device it doesn’t note that on another device and so all my devices are constantly telling me I have 173 unread emails.  Plus, the new devices required me to get Gmail and Icloud accounts so I now have four different email user names and passwords to forget.  And I get really confused as to when to use which.

Maybe someone is reading this and thinking, “This woman is a techno-idiot.”  Yes, I am.  The world was a simpler…if slower…place with land-lines and snail-mail.  It  was also cheaper.  But that’s another topic.

Busy as…

images[5]With the school year heading into its final stretch, I’m feeling as busy as a bee.  And I’m feeling about as  productive as the honeybees in our yard.  Oh wait, we don’t have any honeybees in our yard.  The 44,000 bees we ordered from Georgia haven’t arrived yet.  We have carpenter bees in droves, doing their destructive thing and also dive-bombing me while I try to weed the gill-over-the-ground from snaking all over the oregano.  Between the carpenter bees and my limited flexibility (new hip #2 coming in a mere six weeks!), I didn’t get much weeding done this weekend.  I gave up the bending and pulling to sit in a sunny spot to watch Mr. Beekeeper clean the empty beehives with his new power washer.

After a good nap, I pondered lesson plans.  Ugh.  At this point in my career I should be on auto-pilot like a few teachers I know.  Alas, my ESL prep is new this year and requires actual thought.  And my juniors and seniors in French are heading into AP season, so my French IV-V lessons have to try to sync with the craziness of who’s in class on which day.  I try to accommodate them with a more or less self-paced unit, but they will try to whine and complain about their AP tests…which will activate my hyper-angry button.  They have been warned.  Someone tried to pull the AP card last week and I went ballistic.  You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom which normally is so full of laughter that the math teacher next door can’t imagine what is so funny about French class.

(Warning to pretty much anyone in my vicinity: don’t complain to me about anything.  My pain tolerance does not allow for whining. Exceptions are made for my pregnant daughters, especially the one who is teaching full time up until her due date while also moving into a new house the week of her spring concert.  She’s allowed to whine.)

I took a break from my meager attempt at lesson planning to get more familiar with my new school-issued iPad.  Teachers were given iPads in order to explore the possibilities of teaching via tablet.  Training is coming in the new school year.  For now, we’re supposed to figure the thing out.  “Just play with it,” we were told.

I started out very professionally, looking for word-processing apps and wondering if they were worth exploring.  Then I wandered into French apps and downloaded one freebie from a site that I regularly use online.  After that, I let the iPad inform me on new apps.  Well, the free app of the week was a clever little game called Bee Leader.  Since it was free, I downloaded it and got sucked into its little world.  I am pretty sure that my seven year old grandson would have caught on to it quicker, but I got the hang of it.  The goal is to collect as much pollen, nectar, honey, and  bee buddies as you can before the sun goes down..while also avoiding nasties like spiders, wasps, and little black rain clouds.  If you smash into little alarm clocks you gain more minutes in your day.   Maybe you only have to touch the alarm  clock to gain the minutes, but the way my bee was flying, everything got smashed.  He was buzzing through his day like a maniac.  I could relate.

I don’t really want to fly through this week like a maniac.  I’d rather be a calm, focused, productive little bee, intent on the task at hand. And, wow, I could really use some of those time stretching alarm clocks placed strategically throughout my day.  Is there an app for that?

Jesus wept

CIMG4876Ask a class of Christian school students who are forced to memorize Bible verses to recommend one, and inevitably some wise guy will suggest “Jesus wept.”

“Please…can you  give us that one?  The one we did last week was sooooooooo long.”

Why don’t I want to give them that one?  Well, duh, they already know it.  However, they do not know it in French, so I agree.

Weeks ago, I agreed that we would memorize “Jesus wept” in French.  Jesus pleura.  It provides a good example of the literary past tense and happens to be shorter than the modern translation: Jesus a pleuré.  It’s a nice short verse for a three and a half day week, with some sobriety for Holy Week. Furthermore, it’s the end of third quarter and we are all feeling a little fried.

So Friday I began typing Jesus pleura on my “week sheets” of lessons for next week, but with the fresh news that a dear colleague of eighteen years has end stage pancreatic cancer. He goes from classroom to diagnosis to hospice in one fell swoop.  The news is a punch in the gut.

Jesus pleura.

And God has done it again.  He has taken a verse that was scheduled for some random reason–it’s the next page in my Bible, it’s part of a sermon series planned months in advance, whatever–and entered my world.  That’s one of the tricky things about selecting memory verses.  If I pick one like “Love is patient; love is kind” I inevitably find the circumstances of my week challenging the lack of patience and kindness in my heart.

This time God has prepared in advance a  comfort that he knew I would need.

Jesus pleura.  Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died.  With that, Jesus says, “I know.  It hurts.  Death sucks.”

Why did Jesus weep?  Was it because Lazarus was dead?  He was really, really dead, too.  Not like the sickbed miracles Jesus had done before.  Three days dead.  In the tomb dead.  But Jesus brought him back to life.  If he had the power to do that, why weep over it?

Or was it because of the grief of separation–a separation that Jesus himself would soon experience from his Father?  Seeing the grief of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha got him weeping.  It hurts to be separated and death is the ultimate separation.  It hurts even when God is saying, “It is time.”

Wait, God, we’re not finished enjoying Tim yet.  We don’t want him to die.  We want him to get better.  We want his laugh to roll down the hall again and interrupt our classes with our own responsive laughter. “There he goes again!”  We want to enjoy his curmudgeonly attitude during faculty meetings–an outward appearance that represents what we all feel on the inside.  Ok, I even want a bear hug, even though he does it in front of students and makes me feel unprofessional.

Jesus pleura.  Jesus gets it.  He feels it.  Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ death and his separation from his Father, but Easter Sunday celebrates his victory over that separation.  Good Friday is why I weep for the pending departure of my friend and colleague, but Easter Sunday is why am not despondent.  Death is the ultimate separation, but in Christ it is not permanent.  We have an eternity of fellowship without lesson plans and emails to look forward to.   And I don’t know about the streets being paved with gold, but the setting in heaven has got to be better than the pathetic table in the hallway that is considered our “teacher’s lounge.”

Jesus pleura.  Jesus comforts me in my sadness.

Jesus is risen.  Jesus assures me of eternity.

When it’s my turn to go, I expect a booming laugh to greet me when I arrive.  Tim is sure to be assigned celestial “car pool” duty. (And if he doesn’t want it, he’d better put his request in now!)

Life-long learning…

Teachers are constantly astounded at how much there is to learn.  We are so surprised that, some days, it’s what draws us to the classroom.  Other days, it makes us want to hide under our warm comfy covers until summer.

What lack of knowledge will we face today?

This past week, the teachers at my school were encouraged to work out a professional growth plan.  What courses, conferences, seminars, videos, books, and what-not do we need to maintain certification and/or grow professionally?  This is, of course, in addition to mastering the interactive whiteboards, the new computer operating system, and the many features of Edline, while simultaneously test-driving a new grading software package as we await the imminent arrival of Ipads so that we can teach ourselves how to teach electronically with one-to-one student/teacher interactivity.

imagesCAC2OJ3BMeanwhile, we also teach actual content lessons.  To teenagers.  With attention spans the length of a tweet.  The big excitement in French class recently was finding out that the Academie Française had banned the word “hashtag”  (that’s the symbol #, known to us old people as the pound sign or to even older people as the number sign).  The students came running to me with the news:  “Madame!!!  The Academie Française has banned the word ‘hashtag’!!!!!  It’s now called a mot-dièse!” 

Every once in a while we have discovery learning moments like this.  The rest of the time, we discover amazing things that the students don’t know.  Like how to operate the digital recorders.

I have a classroom set of digital recorders for recording student oral work.  I got them over ten years ago, thanks to a computer-teacher colleague who found them cheap on eBay.  Although a few of the recorders have died, I still have enough for them to be a pretty great classroom tool.  Except, the students can’t figure out how to use them.  If the device had an intuitive circle in the center or a screen to pinch and slide, the students would be ok.  As it is, there are buttons labeled with words: ON, OFF, RECORD, PLAY, STOP.

All through French I,  the same questions come at me: “Mrs. Harp, how do you turn it on?” (Press ON.)  “Madame, how do you record?” (Press RECORD.)  “What do we do when we’re finished?”  (Press STOP.) Then in French II: “Madame, I can’t remember how to use these.”  (Sigh.)

Alas, my antique technology does not compare with what the drama teacher learned at school this week.  While rehearsing with costumes for the school play, she discovered that the male actors did not know how to put on an overcoat.

Man in overcoat

Man in overcoat

Later, we shared this incident with the incredibly brilliant older brother of the lead actor.  His response: “What’s an overcoat?”

“You don’t know what an overcoat is?”

“I know trench coats.  They are light and khaki-colored.  And I know pea-coats.  I don’t know overcoats.”

Well, why would a young man know overcoats?  They never wear coats.  They exit the climate controlled comfort of a car to dash a few yards into a climate controlled building–in polo shirts in twenty degree weather with a windchill of minus three.

“It is scientifically proven,”said one shorts and flip-flops in winter student to his Spanish teacher mom, “that going outside without a coat will not make you sick.”

The teachers’ reply (in chorus): “But if the car breaks down and you are  stuck by the side of the road, you will die.”

The overcoat-challenged actors were baffled by the difficulties of putting the coat on over a suit jacket.  Clueless as to the technique of gripping the jacket cuff while sliding the arm into the coat, the boys found their jacket sleeves bunched up around their elbows.

” I can’t move my arms!”

"I can't put my arms down!" from A Christmas Story.

“I can’t put my arms down!” from A Christmas Story.

After teaching the boys how to put on an overcoat, the drama teacher had to  teach them how to take one off.  No, it does not fall into a puddle of fabric on the floor.  For the scene in question, the coat is to be folded gently shoulder to shoulder and draped over the back of the chair.

I can’t wait to see the school play next weekend, just to watch the boys put on overcoats. And someone should give the drama teacher an award for teaching life-skills.  With all that these students still need to learn, they are going to have to live a very long life.

As for all the things I’m going to learn this week, hiding under the covers sounds really inviting.

March mudness

Unless you’re into basketball, is there anything to like about March?  St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps.  You  have to wonder, though, if St. Patrick’s day was really originally in March or if the Irish just wanted to bless us all with an official drinking holiday in this most dreary of months.

Many people hate the month of January.  It represents diets and Christmas bills.  But January isn’t so bad–by the time we wake up to fact that we’re in it, we’re through it.  February gives us Valentine’s Day and a 3-day Presidents Day weekend. But March. Ugh.  Overcome with sunlight deprivation, we’re desperate for spring to come.  We can almost feel the sunbeams of spring vacation.  The garden is thinking about waking up.  And then what happens?  A snow forecast.

I’m not in the mood for snow anymore.  I’m in the mood for green. I want to peek into the herb garden and see little shoots of chives volunteering themselves to flavor my scrambled egg.  I want to rake away some leaves and discover happy little crocus.  Actually, this year I’d be happy just to see some sunshine.

It will snow this week.  I’m sure of it.  I took my car through the car wash.  It is shiny and clean; therefore,  it’s all ready for road salt. (It has already been baptized with bird-poop, but the windshield wipers took care of that.)

My aversion to March snows goes back to our early days at Maywood.  We had a couple of brutal winters in the 90’s.  Snow and ice in February was difficult, but snow in March was maddening.  Snow in March melts faster than snow in February.  This is not a problem unless you live on a dirt road.  Dirt roads turn to mud in March.

When we first moved out here to the Hereford Zone, to a property that had been used only as a summer retreat, all signs of asphalt stopped almost half a mile from the house.  At a certain point along the road, the county stopped paving or maintaining it.  The road continued as a  dirt road past our nearest neighbor’s house, and gravel began at the Maywood property line.

One soggy March, an 8-inch snow storm melted in one day.  Fifty years of hand-shoveled gravel sank in mud beneath the tires of our minivan.  The dirt road section was even worse.  The sled run of iceruts where we had aimed the car wheels in February turned into a sloppy mud pit.  The mud was so deep it threw the tires off balance.

I took the car to a Mr. Tire for a balancing and alignment.  They put the minivan up on the lift with mud dripping from it.

“Where on earth have you been?” they asked.

“Home,” I replied.

So it’s been twenty years and I really should get over it.  The county has paved all the way to the Maywood property line.  We added asphalt millings on top of the fifty years of gravel, and we paved our driveway.  It’s really ok to drive here in March.   But March, with the gray-brown woods and green-ish brown grass, is still the color of mud.  I’d be in favor of using next week’s time change to leap right into April.

That said, I’m a teacher and will never say no to a snow day.  So if we’re to have snow, bring it on.  If it’s to be a sloppy, gloppy wintry-mix of snowy rain, students beware.  The Ides of March can make teachers crazy.

My own medicine

Last week I made my ESL students write three paragraphs on a single topic to three different audiences with potentially three different purposes–to inform, to persuade, or to entertain.  I gave them four possible topics with the option of picking their own.  They moaned and groaned about how mean I was.  You would have thought they were American students.  The next day, I read some really entertaining paragraphs.  The best was from a Chinese student who could not pick a topic.  So he wrote about how hard it is to pick a topic. Unlike an American student doing this to be a wise-guy, Cyrus was really having a dilemma (a vocabulary word that we use a lot) and was pretty sure he’d be getting a bad grade on this assignment.

Cyrus’ first paragraph was addressed to me to persuade me not to ever again give an assignment where he can pick his own topic. Among his reasons was that it takes him forever to choose.  (My comment back to him noted that I did not make him choose his own topic.)  In his second paragraph he explained  to fellow students that, even if he comes up with a topic, he doubts whether he can write a good paragraph about it. Ok, ok, he played the ol’ self-esteem card.  By his third paragraph he was beside himself with frustration.  There was no paragraph–just notes scribbled in the margin:  “How can this topic be entertaining? I’ve spent hours on this assignment.  I quit.  I’m going to bed.”

At this point I was laughing out loud, having been entertained from the first paragraph. But now I’m facing a blog deadline and I…ahem…can’t settle on a topic.  I started one post that potentially wanted to be meaningful with quotes from Martin Luther on Christmas, but–like Cyrus’ second paragraph–I did not think I could do the topic justice in a hurry.  Then I started another one, inspired by a WordPress writing post about using different voices.  So I though maybe a funny letter to Santa thing would be good.  And it might–but the time thing was shutting down creativity and it was sounding really lame.

And then I realized I was being just like Cyrus.   I’ve spent way too much time on this thing.  I have some lesson plans to type up.  And I’m going to bed.  Some random day this week I may be posting a profound post with quotes from Martin Luther or an entertaining set of correspondances with Santa, but tonight, dear reader, you’re stuck with this.