Friday, February 22, 2013

Don't Have to Go

When I got home tonight, this catalogue was laying on the counter with the rest of the mail:

CoolGuy walked into the room just as I picked it up exclaiming, "I don't have to use this anymore!!"

He laughed, "When I saw this in the mailbox, I knew you were going to say that!"

I am enrolled in the very last class to finish my degree. It will be finished in May, and I will graduate. I've managed to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles to get all my papers signed and turned in at the graduate office.  It took a couple of hours on Tuesday afternoon, and required hiking back and forth across the campus to hunt down the people whose signatures I needed. But I finally found all of them.

It's looking good, so far. Just a few more weeks to go. Can you tell I'm excited???

Getting to the Point

Well, remember my "love note" from the student who pointed out that I "don't teach much writing" but she likes my class anyway?  She wrote each of her teachers a special Valentine's letter. When I got back to school yesterday, one of my co-workers came over to show me her Valentine greeting from the same girl. Good thing we all really like her...

Dear [Ms. Other Teacher],

You've actually made learning math really fun. You've inspired me to be a math teacher. I know your single, but try to find yourself a man. I mean you're 35 years old. Well, have a great Valentines.


Uh, huh. She really did say that! Oh. My. My friend said that it's a good thing that her boyfriend (she does have one...) just laughed. I mean, we all just cracked up. Even my friend! It was totally awesome. It made my letter seem so tame.

I'm quite sure that this student's mother did not read these notes. I'm equally sure that Mom would have vetoed them and would be totally humiliated if she knew of them. Good thing Mom didn't know, because then we wouldn't have had such a big laugh.

Don't ask a fourth grader what she/he thinks. They will definitely tell you. And it will be the unvarnished truth as they see it. So, don't ask and they won't tell. Well, sometimes they will tell. Especially if you didn't ask them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I just returned from a three day visit in Oregon with my daughter. She and I drove over to the coast to enjoy the view and the food. It was an awesome vacation! We slept late, ate delicious meals and talked and talked and talked!

Our original plan was to go whale watching one day, but the sea was quite rough, so the boat canceled. We watched the boat as it was coming in from an early morning fishing trip. We were standing on the cliff, watching the surf as the boat approached the harbor mouth. It was quite a challenge for the captain to time his entrance so as avoid being bashed against the rocks in the narrow path of the tiny harbor there. As we watched them try, and then try again, before backing off and waiting, we figured we weren't going to be watching whales out on the ocean that day. And that's fine---I'm sure I'd have heaved up my entire seafood omelet while boating on those roiling waters.

We'd eaten our breakfast at the restaurant that was part of the motel where we stayed. Usually, I'd hesitate to get a meal at a motel restaurant, but, remember---I'm in Oregon---this particular restaurant was rated quite highly. It didn't disappoint.

#1 We ate in a room that was perched on a cliff above a small beach scattered with mossy rock formations.

#2 On the spruce-covered hill that rose up sharply from the south edge of the beach,  a solitary bald eagle held his vigil on craggy dead branch of the tallest tree, silhouetted against the blue sky.

#3 There are no "bad" seats in the restaurant. Every seat is along the window, and they provide binoculars so that you can scan the horizon for whale spouts. Or, you can get a good view of the eagle.

#4 Oh, and the food is superb. I mentioned my omelet--it was stuffed with crab, shrimp and cheese. Yea. I know. My daughter had eggs Benedict and it was tempting to just pick up the plate and lick off all the remnants of the Hollindaise sauce.

And this wasn't the only great place to eat. We passed by several oyster bars and crab shacks. Ultimately we ate dinner twice at a place called Gracie's Sea Hag. Oh my. We were totally sated and could hardly waddle to the car. So we ate there the next night, too!

And then we went back to the motel where she indoctrinated me to the delights of Downton Abbey. We watched the first six episodes of Season One on her computer. Finally, we had to go to sleep. But only total exhaustion made me give up before episode seven. Dear me...addictive T.V.

In short, we talked and ate and laughed and talked and ate and laughed. I'd booked this trip last fall to celebrate my birthday early. My two daughters had come out to the Oregon coast for one of their birthdays last Spring, and it sounded so nice, I decided I'd come myself. It was such a great time.

Apparently, I bring the Mojave Desert sun with me whenever I go to Oregon. It shined all day on Sunday and, while normal to me, it was absolutely spectacular for the residents of this area to have sunshine all day!! In February!! Glad to be of help...

So, if you're looking for a very nice getaway---go to the coast of Oregon. The scenery is stunning with trees, ocean, moss and ferns. You can tour the Tillamook cheese factory, and enjoy driving through the green, green pastureland speckled with happy cows and free range chickens. You can (my favorite) sit by the ocean and smell and hear and watch the water. You might even see whales! And it doesn't matter what time of year you are there. Most of my trip, it was overcast and drizzling. Didn't matter---it was green and beautiful and birds were everywhere.

Plus: remember! You're in Oregon. Every meal will be delicious and delightful. And you can have a seafood weekend (like I did) or just indulge in freshly grown food of every variety, prepared by passionate cooks, into a magnificent meal that will give you a vision of the true meaning of that Deadly Sin of gluttony. Sigh. Oregon is the tasiest state.

I'm standing on the balcony outside our room. This is the same beach you are perched above while in the restaurant.
 I'm sure you've seen the iconic pillars of rock at Cannon Beach. They're iconic because they are very imposing, picturesque and beautiful.
This is a motto hanging in the restaurant, just above the window-wall. It's my motto, too.
Doesn't she look like a fun person to spend three days with? She is!!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ocean Love

Today is my dad's 90th birthday.  I'm on the Oregon Coast visiting my daughter who was just five years old when Daddy died, so all her "memories" of him are from stories I've told her. However, he would have enjoyed this vacation as well as I am.

He first saw the Pacific Ocean in Northern California when he was in the Navy. He joined after the Pearl Harbor attack and went to boot camp in northern Idaho. Yes, you read that right-- northern Idaho. There is a very deep lake up there and the Navy still uses it, I believe, for some kind of testing with submarine equipment. However in WWII it was also know as Camp Farragut and was a naval training facility.

After he finished his training to be a radioman and learning the Morse Code, he went to San Francisico to board a ship for the Philipines.  I don't know the timeline. I'm not even sure where he went to his school to learn his job, and I don't know how much time he spent in San Francisco. But just imagine what that experience would have like. San Francisco has never been a sedate place. From its very inception it was a port town---sailors looking for a good time.  But I think of my dad, who'd spent his life up till then in a tiny valley in the mountains, living in virtual poverty. Here he was in a very big city, bright lights, and he had an income of his own.  Actually, my dad wasn't a wild partier; all his stories of the few days he spent in San Francisco were of the yummy seafood.  He told me of date he had while he was there, but the point of his story was that he had such bad cold that he spent the whole evening trying not be obnoxious with his sniffling.

But the seafood! He waxed eloquently about the shrimp, crab, sourdough bread, salmon and oysters for my whole life. He loved all that fresh bounty from the sea and whenever he had the opportunity to indulge that taste, he did so with gusto. We got halibut in the winter when it was in season, and he settled for canned oysters to make the stew he had at least once a week. We always made shrimp cocktail for special dinners. Plus he lived in the trout fishing Mecca of the west. When they visited us in California, we'd always go to the nice seafood restaurants that were readily available.

So today, in honor of his birthday, I am happy to be on the beautiful, bountiful Oregon coast, enjoying the crashing surf and wheeling gulls. And now we're off to have a delicious brunch of oysters and eggs. I'll lift a glass of milk in his honor and scarf down some seafood for him.

Happy birthday Lynn Ray Welch.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Notes

This morning I got to school early to put the finishing touches on my presentation for staff development. I'm on the committee that teaches our co-workers ideas and skills that we've determined are needed to improve our instruction. We usually have these presentations on the morning that we've designated as an early arrival day, so that we'll have enough time to really give some attention to a particular issue.

Today, it was my job, for which I'd volunteered, to show how teachers can use one assignment to teach and assess more than one content standard. I'm the writing teacher, but I have a passion for science, too. Many teachers (not just in my building) feel so much pressure with all the math and language arts standards that are mandatory and tested that science is often overlooked or put aside. So, I had prepared my whole "show" to illustrate how we, in our grade level, have worked hard to incorporate the science standards into our language arts curriculum.

We worked at it for thirty minutes, and everyone was very enthused to go back to their classsrooms and utilize some of the techniques and methods we'd shared. Some gave us encouraging feedback with other ways we'd shown them to "scaffold" our instruction to help students better write complete paragraphs with evidence from the text. Etc. Etc.

I left the staff development feeling confident that what I'd been doing in my grade level for the last month or so had been effective and that our students were improving their writing, and learning science, too.

It was Valentine's Day, of course, and so everyone was just hyped up to the max. We'd planned our day to accomodate this, so we were prepared. The last hour of the day was the Party!! Everyone was excitedly reading their cards, and enjoying treats and snacks. So I opened the note that one of my dear students had wrapped around a yummy cake treat for me. Here's the note:

Dear Mrs. [EarthSignMama],
       Even though you don't teach much writing, I've learned a lot about many different things I couldn't learn in math or reading. I've learned a lot! Have a Happy Valentines Day with Mr. [CoolGuy].


After I finished laughing, I hurried to share it with my team members. We'd been really congratulating ourselves on our presentation earlier that day, but I guess I'm going to go back to the writing curriculum, undiluted by fun stuff. Or maybe she's been learning writing all along, but just didn't notice. She did spell everything correctly, and she did use correct letter format. Hmmm...maybe it's okay that we have a good time learning a lot of different things---plus writing

Here's a photo of some of the "love" I received from the rest of my students. One girl brought me a little pot of tulips, but I left them at school to enjoy in our classroom. They know what I like: chocolate.


Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Great Potato

For lunch today, we stopped in at our latest favorite little restaurant staffed by a husband and wife who cook Mexican food. It is the great kind with real refritos cooked in lard, carnitas, posole, and--one of my favorites: caldo de res. One of the reflections that occured to us as we were sharing little bites of each other's lunch was that potatoes are the universal vegetable.

Think about this delightful tuber and the many ways you can prepare it. It can be fried, baked, boiled, grilled, stewed. It can be served mashed, creamed, diced, sliced, peeled or whole with the skin on. In fact, the skins themselves are a wonderful dish.  Potatoes go well in nearly everything! You can pair them with cream or cheese, or sour cream. You can pour chili or gravy over them, or simply garnish them with butter and salt and pepper. They are divine in curry or korma or chicken soup.

You can slice potatoes and fry them with onions in a pan. You can slice them into sticks and deep fat fry them. You can grate them into shreds and make them into latkes and fry them into little cakes. Or, you can boil them and cool them and stir them up with mayonaise and mustard into potato salad. A potato is simply fabulous when cooked with the fantastic flavors of Indian or Thai curries. Potatoes are the very best thing in that caldo de res I had for lunch--a beef broth with chunks of long simmered meat, carrots, potatoes, and chayote (a Mexican squash) that you garnish with raw onions and cilantro and Spanish rice. 

Think of the societies for which the potato was a lifeline: Ireland, England, Russia and most of eastern Europe. But, I was surprised to learn that potatoes only became the basis of nutrition in these areas following their introduction in the middle 1500's by the Spanish explorers who returned with this unknown food from the "New World."  Potatoes started in Peru. They were cultivated there for centuries before anyone in Ireland even heard of potatoes. In fact, when potatoes came to Europe, their introduction into the cusine accounted for a big increase in population and the growth of cities in the following two centuries. People could grow a food that gave them plenty of nourishment (you'd be amazed at the nutrients in a potato) and could be easily grown and stored.

I remember my parents planting a section of a field one year with potatoes. You don't need seeds: just cut up a potato into sections, making sure that there is at least one "eye" in each section. Then, put that chunk into the ground, cover it with dirt and water it, and a plant will grow. We planted rows and rows of potatoes and then my dad  kept them irrigated on the same schedule with the hay growing near the potato field. I can still recall walking along in the cold dirt furrows in the late fall as we picked up and put into sacks or pails so many, many potatoes. My dad had plowed a little furrow with a hand plow to turn up the plants so we could get to the tubers at the roots. I don't remember them planting that many potatoes ever again. Usually my mom just had a section of her garden devoted to them, and we enjoyed small potatoes creamed with news peas and onions as the summer advanced.

Potatoes are one of those food items I always need to have around. While I serve much more rice than my mom ever did, I manage to need potatoes even when I'm eating rice. Curry is one of our favorites. But curry practically requires potatoes, and then yes, I serve it over rice. And, even though I don't make them that often, whenever I serve mashed potatoes and gravy, CoolGuy lavishes me with compliments. And, seriously, what else goes into soup if you don't have potatoes and carrots? Or stew? Or how about my favorite dinner roll recipe that uses mashed potatoes? Can you just feel the crunchiness of hashed browns, browned in butter? About the only way I don't serve potatoes is raw---but I'll always nibble on a piece of it when I'm slicing or dicing.

I guess I should stop now, but it would be easy to go on and on about the wonderful yumminess of those starchy little bundles of goodness. Just think about it--potatoes are the vegetable equivalent of a pig: the magical animal.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Hey...Wait a Minute...

I signed up today to be part of a focus group in the school district. We're going to discuss the new teacher evaluation system that was voted into law the last time our legislature met, two years ago.

I'm sure it seemed like a grand idea to someone. It would really hold those lousy teachers to account and reward those great teachers. Finally, something concrete instead of that whatever system that was in place before this terrific new idea came to be.

The new evaluation system uses the test scores of the students as 50% of the evaluation criteria for the teacher. Every state has a summative test near the conclusion of the school year that students take. And already these test scores have been used to evaluate the effectiveness of each school as making "Adequate Yearly Progress" with the stated goal of having each and every student pass the test above a certain cut score by the year 2014.

Yes, each and every student. Including those who have a individual education plan (IEP) that acknowledges that those particular students are not able to work at the grade level as their same-aged peers and so are being taught at the pace in which they can learn and succeed.

Well, now, the Powers That Be have determined there is a bit of a glitch in their awesome new teacher evaluation system. There are only certain grade levels that take a test that can be used in the evaluation plan. And how does one evaluate the P.E. teacher? Or Art teacher? or librarians? Hmmm...

E-x-a-c-t-l-y. Now there is a new effort to discuss with the teachers and administrators---or the people who actually work in the school systems---to get some imput as to how to implement a workable teacher evaluation system that might actually address the real job that teachers do in a school. We all agree that evaluations must occur---every dollar devoted to the public school system is from taxes and we must be accountable. But, because everyone once attended school, everyone thinks they are an expert on schools. So laws get passed that don't account for what goes on in schools, in reality.

I'm not afraid to be evaluated, but I want it to be a fair evaluation. I want someone to come in and see what I do and what materials I have with which to do it. I want them to see how my day goes, and how students respond, or not, to my lessons. I want them to really look at how the money is spent in my district, and what the priorities are, and then decide what is fair, and if my teaching practices are up to standard. I want them to be aware of Realville before they presume to tell me how my job should be done, and how I should get judged for my work.

 Come on down, lawmakers: join my world and then you can use that information to hold me accountable for our tax dollars. I welcome you.