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I am such a rock star……

July 15, 2015

Summer time musings

I’m beavering away in the office coming up with interesting ideas and plans for school. I’m on track. I’m ahead of the game. I totally rock my teaching license. What a good teacher. It’s 8.30 am and I am doing teachery stuff. I am a rock star!

The window is open.

The sun is out in a sky of endless azure and a slight breeze pushes the white gauzy curtains across my dusty printer in a pregnant puff. A scent of cut grass, milk weed blossoms, and ripening crab apples tugs at my attention like a puppy.

Well, looks like the morning is shot of productive teachery stuff. Off to the dog park with the Princessa for an early romp before heading to school for a few hours of organisational work.


Decluttering my life: realisations of what’s not necessary

July 14, 2015

I am a hoarder. Or, rather, was on the path towards hoarding.

We used to have a saying within my group of friends “She who dies with the most _______, wins.” You can insert anything from a long list that included fabric, yarn, paints, pottery, brushes, sewing things, assorted art project detritus, tools, scarves, clothes, and assorted historic costuming. That is just not true. We have begun to come to terms with our ability to complete projects and use things in our lifetime and of this same ability of our membership.  We are now wiser women.   We have laid down the law; “If you die and leave us to clean out your house, we’ll resurrect your sorry carcass and make you clean up your own mess.”

The mess in our house was nearing Cat In The Hat proportions. Even if I had his fancy cleaning contraption, I couldn’t keep up with cleaning everything or finding storage space. It’s just a townhouse with Me, the Husband, and Dog.  There was entropy everywhere and uncontrolled clutter oozing from all closets, cupboards, boxes, bags, and any flat surface. The office was a room of junk with a path to the computer and a kinda path to the radio. The guest room was simply a repository of assorted life flotsam and jetsam. Closets were bursting with clothes and shoes like a pustule being squeezed. Yeh, I live in Minnesota so I need about 2-3 different wardrobes in order to compensate for the two seasons: hot road construction and freezing winter.  But not that much.

I donated 23 pairs of shoes.  Twenty-three.  What was I thinking.

The truly sad thing was the amount of rubble that was mine. Not items I had borrowed, not communal articles, but my junk cramming every nook and cranny. I haven’t made the husband pitch one thing of his as most of this townhouse is filled with my crap. That’s not fair.

So lots of my stuff has been leaving via donations to Disabled American Veterans, Goodwill, the neighbours, the curb, and assorted garage sales. So far I’ve made back a little of my original investment in all this lifetime accumulation of scraps and bits.

I’ve been rolling through every closet, cupboard, and cranny, all the drawers and cabinets.  I’m mostly done.  I still have to unload a few  pieces of sentimental furniture, more of my project closet (I shall not die for 500 years if I go by the amount of projects still in my closet), more stuff from the garage, and more out of the basement.

When the first truck load of stuff went out with the DAV one morning, I was a  little apprehensive.  But then I looked around and noticed it was easier to breathe with less crowding me in.  As I have gotten better at this over the summer, I have felt more liberated, more comfortable, and more user friendly.  I don’t have to have all sorts of odd articles for others in my garage, waiting for the off chance my friend David will actually need an old Coleman lantern from 1930 sans shrouds.

As I’ve been thinking on this, I remember what Richard Voorhees, my Sociology instructor back at Inver Hills Community College said “In order to be satisfied, you have to know how much is enough.” I was about 19 when I first heard that. I didn’t get it back then in 1988, deep in the first flush of immortal, ignorant youth. It took nearly 20 years and lots of gray hair to really begin to understand it and I’ve been thinking on it for many more years.

“NO” is a powerful word. I’m getting better at saying it.  I’m learning to say no to more things to dust, but yes to experiences.  I have enough in our house.  I know that now.  What’s now required, however, is experiences.  I can’t have those staying home to manage surface area.

So now I’m going outside to walk the dog instead of managing dustables.  I know where her walking paraphernalia is without digging for it.  I know where my shoes are without excavation procedures.  I can even find my socks sans hassle.

Winter. Meh. We’ve all done this a zillion times.

November 10, 2014

It’s that time of year, Northlandians. I have some tips for you.


DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR! If you get stuck somewhere, STAY IN YOUR CAR! It’s warm in there. It’s cold and wet out side. The car has lights. And a horn.

Don’t ever let your gas gauge get below half. This is key. If you get stuck somewhere and help is on the way but not soon, you will need the fuel to keep your car running and warm and your lights on. Even if you spin out on I94W and get stuck in the median ditch area right off Radio Drive, you don’t know how long it will take to get the truck there. Think about it; traffic, weather, super busy truck guys, plows, and panicky freaked out drivers. Relax. You’ve been given a break time by the universe. Pick up your phone and play Angry Birds or call your Mom.

Get a Winter Survival Kit.  By now you should have a winter survival kit in your trunk. Your kit should be packed in one duffel that stays in your car.

  • up to date first aid kit including any medications you might need
  • 2 WOOL blankets per person riding in the car. Each set should be packed in two large garbage bags
  • extra WOOL socks and mittens (not gloves)
  • up to date flashlights
  • glow sticks
  • high protein energy bars (replace them yearly) or enough non-perishable food for a few days
  • 12 bottles of water (can be stored separately)
  • 1 bag of kitty litter (I get mine in a plastic bucket for easy handling)
  • 1 good hunting knife
  • 6 road flares
  • matches
  • 12 tea light candles
  • 1 clean tin can for said candles (I like tuna cans)
  • roll of toilet paper in it’s own zippy

I also keep an extra set of winter clothes in my kit and a can opener and canned soups. I have a pair of heavy leather gloves as well. Keep the items you pick small and self contained in zippy bags. My dearest hubby also got me an entrenching tool which has worked very well indeed on deep drifts.

The reason you want wool is that if it gets wet, it will still work to keep you warmer than any fiber. Cotton will actually wick away warmth. Cotton is good next to the skin, but to keep the warm in, use wool. All wool. 100%. No skimping on this.

Now the driving tips. Don’t lose control. You do this by locking up your brakes. Don’t do that.  My Dad was the best. Here are some of his:

  • If you have to get tires, get them now. Give yourself an early holiday gift. If tires usurps getting others gifts, do so. This is your life. You deserve new tires.
  • Find an empty parking lot and whip some donuts. Really. Learn how your car responds then figure out how to react. I like shopping center lots at about 6am. I usually wait for a really slippery situation. Do this for about an hour. Then get gas and go for breakfast.
  • Practice how to steer into and out of a spin.
  • Practice how to use your shifter to maintain control of your speed without losing control of your tires. NEVER SHIFT WITH YOUR FOOT ON THE GAS! You can do this with an automatic as well as manual.
  • Practice how to use the gas pedal to get greater torque and control of your speed.
  • Increase following distance and travel time. Give yourself the time and space to control yourself. Thor knows there are enough out there who won’t. Compensate.
  • Never let your gas tank get below half.

Stay clear of the plows. Snug in behind them with enough distance so they can see you in their mirrors. Don’t pass them! Those guys are working doubles and visibility is hideous. Give them a break. They are working to keep you alive. Don’t get huffy about being stuck behind one.

If the roads are closed, go home or go back where you were. Unless he wants you to put lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again. The roads are closed for a very good reason: emergency crews don’t need to risk their lives to save yours because you really need another can of cranberry sauce or you have a hot date with some burning hunk of lovin’. In some cases law enforcement can write you a really expensive ticket for your choice to endanger your life, the lives of people in your car, and those who have to come and rescue your idiotic self from freezing to death.

Check your local 511 road conditions before you go. Whatever state you live in has a Department of Transportation that will hook you up with road conditions.

This is all good stuff that will keep you alive. Many people think that just because you live in a city or large town you won’t need this. Freezing weather is freezing weather. If you are dressed for an office, you really do need those blankets, socks, and any other warming assistance you can get.

Most of all, think before you act.

I’ve got my kit in the car, is yours?

The latter half of summer blues

July 15, 2014

Summer time!

Sun! Beaches! Water colour paints in colouring books! Camp! And, of course, the inevitable phrase “I’m bored.”

It’s getting on to the other half of summer; all games have been played, many camps have been attended, ice creams, movies, backyard camp fires… Now what? School’s not scheduled for about another month and you are ready to commit some sort of hairy cairy (yes I know about the spelling) or retroactive birth control.

Our kids are surrounded with a zillion different  stimuli every moment, not to mention the power of our brains.  Adults aren’t around to be entertainers or cash machines.  Let’s begin teaching our kids where and how to make their own fun that doesn’t involve trips to Valley Fair, MOA, or other fantastically expensive locales on a regular basis.

Good news! I have a list of things your students can do either with or without you.

“But I’m broke! We spent it all on the first part of summer!”

1. Go play with your kids. Go to local parks with a picnic. Bring a van load of kids and other parents. Come up with a scavenger hunt based on native Minnesota plants and animals.
2. Disc Golf. If you haven’t played, you should. Here’s the rules:
3. You can’t swing a broken jump rope in Minnesota during the summer and not hit some sort of festival. Most of them are free and have music, games, cool art, and kid stuff for you to do. If you go to this website, you’ll have a bazillion different festivals that include fireworks.
4. Who doesn’t love art? What about an art contest?
5. Well, some of those school skills can have some brushing up on, how about a writing contest?
6. Caponi Art Park. Go there.
7. And I HOPE you did not forget about Como Zoo.
8. What about a zillion different art or science projects you can do at home?
9. The single most important place is the library. I went as a kid for wagon loads of books. The modern libraries have a ton of good things, go check out your local library.
10. Camp??? How about camp???
11. All around the Twin Cities Metro area are parks. Parks with nature centers, trails, displays, maps, and planned events. Look up the regional, city, or state park closest to you and check out what’s on.
12. Geo caching.
13. Produce a backyard play. Specifically, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. It’s hilarious. If not that script, check out this list for short children’s scripts. Make your costumes out of junk from around the house, scraps of fabric, and bits from the second hand store.

Summer fun shouldn’t cost tons.  It should be about creation and imagination. Make your own fun, teach your kids how to make their own fun and you will have a lifetime of self entertainment. Don’t forget to take pictures. Lots of them. You can use photos of your young children coated in water colour paints later as bribery for good adolescent behaviour; photographic evidence is always best.



Edibles Odds and Ends

March 30, 2014

So it’s time again to make sure all the cupboards get cleaned out, the freezer is emptied, and general spring cleaning to begin.  So, it’s odds and ends time.

Last night’s stew was an odds and ends deal.

  • 1# ground lamb
  • 1 end knob of butter
  • last few splashes each of port, sake, vermouth, and plum wine (should equal about 2-3 cups of liquid)
  • 5 tiny last potatoes chopped into bite size pieces
  • 2 small mostly paper onions chopped coarsly
  • 7 small carrots with the bad bits chopped off
  • 2 beef cubes
  • 1 chicken cube
  • the last dregs of garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about a scant cup of potato flakes
  1. Slowly cook meat in butter and booze
  2. add chopped veg as you chop it
  3. add beef and chicken cubes
  4. stir and bake at 350F for about an hour
  5. remove and add water and potato flakes, stir it good
  6. back in the oven for another 10 mn or so
  7. remove and stir it
  8. let it stand for about 10mn.
  9. stir and serve with odds and ends bread


Cool things I found in some of my recent classrooms

February 19, 2014

I love reading.  I love everything about reading.  The thrill of the hunt for a good book, the joy of emotional content, the purity if information, and even teaching folks how to do it.  I do have to admit, that last bit is really quite shiny in my mind.

I also love finding new ways of teaching reading.  One new thing I found was this;  a Personal Reading Phone.  It’s a hot line to your brain.  You read a story aloud in a quite voice and it gets piped right into your ear.  If you need it louder, just read a bit louder.  The kids loved this deal.  Its easy to sterilize and generic.  If you really wanted to, you could spray paint them to match the phone gag in the Fantasticks.

Personal Reading Phone

Personal Reading Phone

I’ve seen these little gems kept in student book boxes, in student drawers, and in a bin below the easel.  I have seen some in desks, but I don’t recommend it.  We all know how the inside of student desks get.

I’ve also seen some really great classroom organizational ideas.  Remember that drawer thing?  I have two ideas for you:

cheap plastic student drawers for daily use

  cheap plastic student drawers for daily use

I found drawers like these at Savers for about $4.  Your biggest investment might be a P-Touch label maker, though.  I’d play with that thing for hours and spend hundreds on the label tape.

Classroom drawers:  what the label says is what's in there!

Classroom drawers: what the label says is what’s in there!





What’s really cool about these drawers is not only the labels, but the pictures.  That’s what in the drawers.  I know it’s funky that I’m making a federal case out of labeled drawers, but you have no idea how many times I come into a classroom and drawers are all neatly labeled and that is not what’s in there.

Directly above the labeled drawers is student mailboxes.  Instead of putting student names on the boxes, put numbers.  That way you can use the same situation over and over and all you have to do is print up another sheet with student numbers on it.  Also makes it really easy to assign jobs, spaces, and tools to students.

Cool reading ideas.  We are all looking for them.  I found a super cool idea from a second grade room in Prior Lake; hats and beads.

Reading Hat Tree

  Reading Hat Tree

This super cool teacher buys the hats at the beginning of the year.  When she meets the kids face to face, she then takes a permanent marker and writes that name, however they want it, on the hat.  Each hat gets a little safety pin and a piece of leather shoelace.  Students bring in wide bore pony beads to add to the bead bin.  Each bead represents 10 books read.  Students can wear the hats whenever they wish in the room, but they may not wear them outside of the room except when they go home on the last day.  The teacher says the hats are easy to wash in case you need to.

some hats have dread-lock like collections of bead on them

This teacher says she has had students come back after many years and say they still have their reading hats.  I think that’s cute.  What’s in your classroom?






some hats have dread-lock like collections of beads on them

How does your school rate?

February 19, 2014

Howdy ho, neighbours!  Just now I’m a substitute or guest teacher.  I visit a lot of schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding suburbs.  I can see quite a bit about your school, your adult culture, and your student culture in less than 10 minutes based on observation and shameless eavesdropping.

I know your school is healthy because:

  1. The front of your school is clean, in good repair, and the trash has been taken out.  It’s unattractive to have a family of 10 squirrels raiding your front door trash cans and demonstrating bushy -tailed awake-ness by decorating your front walk and lawn on Monday morning at 7am.  Your signs or banners are hung appropriately and not sagging or flapping like old pirate flags.  Your doors are as close to shiny as time and weather permit.  I know it’s a school loaded with kids, but some polish needs to be in evidence as this is your school entrance. Entrance water and dirt control devices (rugs and those metal grating things) are clean and swept.  We live in Minnesota, I know how hard that is on entrance ways, but have a broom and shovel handy and after the masses arrive; be sure to keep that entrance as clean as possible.
  2. Your front office is a model of efficiency. It’s 7.15 am and I just had to drive through some horrid weather and/or traffic to get to your space.  Your front office person is on time, professionally dressed, and politely efficient.  If a person is there in jeans and a sweatshirt, I assume that person is NOT the office person, but someone else.  The space is clean, in good repair, and organized.  I don’t need to know how many boxes of office supplies you got from Office Depot.  The trash has been emptied and the bins are clean.  Your office person knows I am coming and has folders, keys, and badges out ready to go.  If it turns into a comedy of errors and no one knows I’m coming, knows a teacher is out, and no plans are to be had, I most likely won’t come back to your school.  And, since I am on Aesop and we are to leave feed back about your school, I will leave such notes as discourage others from going to your school.  No one needs the unprepared day to land on them.
  3. Evidence of a well trained maintenance team.  Hallways are clean and in good repair; the newer the paint, the better the impression.  Bathrooms smell pleasant, are well stocked with paper, and clean.  Signage is level and symmetrical.  Classrooms are clearly numbered and labeled with who’s teaching where and what are they teaching.  Many times this is my first inkling of what I’m really doing today is the sign outside a classroom door.
  4. Staff areas that can support the number of staff you have working in your school.  These include break rooms, lounges, and bathroom facilities.  Break rooms should have large tables, functioning microwaves and refrigerators.  Staff restrooms should be separate from student facilities.  You have no idea how much using the same potties as the kiddies gives me the willies.   Staff areas also include copy rooms.  Those should be neat, stocked with papers, toner, and assorted supplies.  There is nothing more annoying than being a guest in your school and I am the one to fill the machines while having to get stuff ready for my own class.  I will choose the wrong paper every time and load the toner wrong.
  5. While I’m in your staff areas and hallways, I will eavesdrop on conversations.  I love to hear staff having brief hallway meetings to trouble shoot an issue.  I feel good when I hear staff talking positively to each other.  Hearing students talk about academic issues makes me happy.  Since I am a sub and I don’t really get to have true camaraderie, I have to live vicariously through others.  It’s fabulous when I hear affirming chatter from staff and students that is earned, not just handed out like cheap candy on Halloween.
  6. The sub folder is ready to go with lesson plans, activities, and school information (login codes, copy codes, phone numbers, maps, bell schedules).  I don’t want to try and be a fill in teacher without the proper information on school behavior policies, dress codes, and classroom expectations.  I will impose my own if none exists.
  7. Login codes.  If you want me to use your SMART Board or Prometheus or any other computer oriented technology, set me up with the appropriate passwords.  I’m not going to hack into your system from afar, I just want to do my job and spending a half hour chasing around after the media or IT folks is exhausting and unproductive.  Don’t for one moment assume I have my own logins from the district office or main IT chick or Yahweh.  I don’t.  I really don’t want to look bad either hacking into you system or not doing what you wanted in the first place.

If you are in charge of a school, nearly every day of the school year you will have someone out due to life events like flu, weather, transit issues, and family things.  You will need a pinch hitter and I’m it.  I judge your school based on what I see and hear starting from when I get to your parking lot to when I look at the stop sign at the lot exit.  Remember, not only are you screening me, I am screening you.