Saturday, June 30, 2007

Random Facts

My friend Patty at Morning Ramble tagged me with the request for 7 random facts about myself. I'm supposed to pass this on to 7 others, but at least two people who would be on my list are on hers, but I will at least share the random facts.

1) I dearly want to be able to fly a plane. The closest I've come to that is dating a pilot for a couple of years and flying with him. I also flew across country (MA to CA) in a 6-seater plane with my sister's in-laws. That was an amazing experience!
2) I finished my MA degree at Harvard (although that's not where I started, or where my degree is from)
3) I've spent time in 28 countries on 5 continents. Countries include Russia (twice), China, Egypt, South Africa, Peru, and Norway. One of the countries (East Germany) no longer exists.
4) I play the clarinet and did much of my traveling with an orchestra, playing in many of the world's best concert halls and for several of the world's leaders/royalty.
5) I'm 52, but my students think I'm an "old" 35!!! I wish =) Actually no, I don't. I am glad to be the age I am. If I were "only" 35, I wouldn't have done half the things that make me appreciate life the way I do now...
6) I was nearly hit with an errant sword that Christopher Reeve lost control of during a play I went to see him in. It hit the person next to me, and he got to go back stage and meet Reeve during the intermission. Don't I wish it had been me instead!!!
7) I am related (very distantly) to Emily Dickinson, the famous Kelloggs, and at least 6 presidents. Also, one relative was the midwife at Lincoln's birth! These are all on my mother's side.

Anyone reading this...and who wants to consider themselves tagged...feel free to share 7 random facts =) Thanks for the tag, Patty.

Photos of my Mother's gardens taken today during an afternoon visit.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Shuffling our attention span

I was watching Charlie Rose's interview with Paul Simon earlier this evening. Paul is a hot commodity right now because he was just awarded the first ever Library of Congress Gershwin Award for Song Writing. A couple of nights ago I watched the concert that commemorated this award with all kinds of other artists singing his songs. That was a treat. But this with Charlie Rose was fascinating as they conversed about the craft of song writing.

Towards the end of the conversation, he started talking about how first CDs and then the iPod changed the way he writes, the way all songwriters write any more. He said it used to be that you planned out an album as a whole, a collection of songs that create a theme or a message the artist wants to convey. With the old records, you had a side A and B, and you designed your play list to lure the listener over to the other side of the record. There were about 22 minutes to a side, and that was about right for one's attention span, he said. With the advent of the CD, there was now 65 minutes to hold a listener's attention. "That's longer than your English class!" he exclaimed. But with the option of "shuffle" on your 5-CD player or your iPod, you are no longer listening to a whole album at once, nor are you listening to a single artist at one time. Your musical attention span has diminished as much as your others. He said this, along with the ability to download any song you want, has changed the music business so much that he may never release another album again.

I must confess that I had not thought of that aspect of this new technology before. No doubt, though, it will soon be a topic of discussion in the academic world, if it hasn't been already. He talked about the loss he feels with this speeding up of the world. He talked about the pleasure of slowing down, of listening to something all the way through, of a sustained musical experience. He said that people think they are getting more by speeding up, but the reality is that you can get more by slowing down, by going deeper.

There's more, much more in this interview. Rhythm, world music, deconstructing and reconstructing a song. The emotionally draining experience of writing even a single song. If you have the time, listen to the whole thing. His observation about music can actually apply to many other aspets of life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Like night from day

While Monday was amazingly quiet at school, yesterday was the complete opposite, like night from day. From the time I arrived to the time I left, an hour later than I planned, I had one visitor after another, and one phone call on top of the other, sometimes two and three calls going at once. It was crazy!

I wore my pedo- meter, by chance... well, not exactly chance. I planned to wear it, but had no idea how many steps I'd log. I put it on when I entered the building and checked it when I left: nearly 2.5 miles!!! And all I did was go back and forth between my office and the front door, my office and the office next door, my office and the office immediately above me. Three places, essentially, none too far from the other.

Today, it was quiet the first two hours, then busy the next three, then quiet the last one. It was beyond hot. Two girls stopped by and they were so hot, they were radiating heat from a foot away! No exaggeration.

I guess there's no such thing as a typical summer day at school.

Photos: A more calming scene from my life: Lake Quanopowit.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sounds of Silence

My administrative assistant is on vacation this week, so I am working all alone at school. It's not scary or eerie, just quiet. Verrrrrrry quiet. It was nice, though, because I was able to work undisturbed except for three brief from our maintenance guy, one from two students who stopped by to say hello, and one from the mailman.

I brought the stereo in from my classroom and played calming music louder than a whisper, cleaned the outer office, and got a lot of correspondence as well. The 6 hours flew by and I felt as if I'd accomplished more than I had all last week when people were constantly in and out of the office.

Yesterday, I drove over to the lake where w have our Walk-a-thon and walked for a mile or so. It was a beautiful day and with a breeze coming off the lake, it was a very pleasant walk.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I'm feeling sad tonight because I heard that one of my Norway cousins passed away two months ago. This cousin was a twin in her 30s, living in Skien, a city famous for being the home Norway's most famous playwright, Henrik Ibsen.

Two summers ago, my parents, my youngest sister, her children and I spent a delightful couple of days with Gru (pronounced "grew"), her sister Eva, and their parents. I had never seen them before this, and did not know much about them prior to our visit. We were impressed with their warmth and openness and how they welcomed us into their home and took such good care of us while we were there. The girls did not live with their parents, but near enough so that they spent the days with us all. In fact, they went out of their way to take me to Ibsen's home, knowing that I was an English teacher.

This, by itself, wouldn't be a big deal until you know that Gru's quality of life was severely compromised by some kind of illness that affected her ability to breathe. In fact, she was only able to take in about 20% oxygen on her own, so had to carry her own supply at all times. As a result, she had little or no energy. Even walking up a few steps exhausted her and she was unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time.

It was easy enough to pity her, but she refused any attempts at sorrow or regret. She was bright and funny and keenly interested in everything around her. She lived with her sister, who was so kind and loving, giving and doing so much for her.

We were completely charmed by these two young women and bonded with them immediately. I have e-mailed back and forth with Eva a few times since then, and my sister has even more. So imagine the heavy sadness to discover today that Gru passed away in April. I know it's probably for her best not to have to struggle for every breath she takes, but what a loss to her family and friends...I can only imagine.

I wrote to her mom expressing my sadness, but making sure she knew what a blessing it had been to know Gru, even just for two days...

Photos: 1) Eva is on the left. Gru took the picture. 2) Henrik Ibsen. 3) Gru is on the right. This is taken in her parents' home. Her uncle and aunt are to her left. 4) Church where family members are buried. 5) Family headstone.

Corps of Discovery

I've been watching Ken Burns' documentary of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. This is a story that has fascinated me for many years, and I've read countless books about it from all different angles: biographies of Lewis and Clark, biographies of Sacajawea and other Native Americans connected with the journey, and several historical fiction accounts.

I love the courage and abandon it took to make this trip. I love the perseverance, the vision, the curiosity. I love the thought of being the "first" see or do things, the opportunity to name places, to preserve the pristine beauty of what they were seeing in words (journals) and picture (drawings).

I love the adventure and the romance of it. And yet the truth of it is that it was hardly an easy, clean, or comfortable journey. And there was probably precious little romance to it either. One of my favorite accounts describes in detail the dirty, itchy, buggy, hungry truth of the experience.

I've always loved to read books about the westward exploration. I love to read about Native Americans, too. I tend to go on subject jags...reading everything I can get my hands on about a particular subject or person. This is one that you could read and study for years and never come to the end of the interesting material about it.

What an amazing journey into an amazing country!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Retreating into the Summer

As principal of our little school, I don't get the "summer off" the way most people think I do. When I was "just" a teacher, it made me laugh when people would ask me if I was looking forward to my "summer off." I'd always think to myself that these people must not have much contact with teachers, because if they did, they'd know that teachers are always "on."

Even if I wasn't going to school every day, I was always thinking about school, or going to school myself. A mere trip to the local Hallmark store, for example, would find me perusing the cards more for bulletin board ideas than the birthday card I was originally going for.

For the past 12 summers, I've worked full-time at the school, often only taking the 4th of July off, although recently I've done better about taking the weeks off that were coming to me. You can't stock pile them, and there is no overtime here. In the end, it's not all that heroic to deprive myself of recovery time, so I've learned to take my time when I can (and should).

Now that I'm principal, it's a little more stressful than when I was just there to recruit. In the past two weeks, for example, we've discovered a leaky oil tank (that was replaced for $500) and a defective place in the roof. I'm hoping that will be fixed for free (warranty). I don't enjoy all the maintenance stuff, as I don't have a lot of experience with it. I'm fortunate to have a reliable and knowledgeable volunteer who helps me quite a bit.

I've decided to take one week of vacation and spend it with my parents in Maine this year. Their place is as beautiful a retreat as any I might find in other parts of the country with the added bonus of my very dearest friends. My mother and I are already planning out our days. We are going to spend a couple of days at Boothbay Harbor, wandering the waterfront and visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (248 acres of oceanside gardens!). We're also going to go out to Star Island off the coast of Porstmouth, NH in the Isle of Shoals to see Celia Thaxter's gardens. (Celia is a fascinating poet and artist as well. If you've not read her work, check it out. You might enjoy it. ) I've been there a couple of times before but my parents have never been there. We'll take a cruise along the coast to see several of the area lighthouses as well.

The other days I think we'll just stay at home reading, writing, talking, relaxing. I hope to transfer my slides of my very first trip to Europe (a 10-week literary tour through 11 countries) some 30 years ago. I want to make power point presentations about the author homes and poetry-inspirations for my English literature class this coming year. I might even paint some!!!

Can't wait.

Photos: Childe Hassam's impressions of Celia Thaxter, her gardens, and the Isle of Shoals

Monday, June 18, 2007

Family Gardens

The past couple of weeks I've been admiring the gardens of friends and family, wishing I lived somewhere to have a garden, but glad that others keep them so I can admire them.

Here are some pictures from my mother and sister's gardens.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

50 years of friendship and conversation

Yesterday was my sister Lauren's 50th birthday (much to her dismay). I'll have to say, she does not look 50. Maybe not even 40. We went up to our parents' in Maine to celebrate the day with our other sister and family, her in-laws, and her sister-in-law and family.

There were 16 of us all told, and while it made for a full house, it was not too crowded. It was a beautiful day, so we were able to sit or wander outside in the beautiful backyard. The flowers and foliage has grown up in the three weeks since I was last there. The birds were as plentiful as ever, although the humming birds were a little shy of the numbers on "their" patio.

We had a delicious supper of haystacks and conversation followed by an angel food cake with fresh strawberries and a pineapple upside down cake that a friends had made. After the presents were opened, we had our final conversations, and a prayer good bye. Lauren is an avid gardener, so three of her presents were garden-related. My parents gave her a "Salsa-in-a-tub" container garden that I thought was so cool--all the plant ingredients for a delicious homemade salsa. Her in-laws gave her two lilac bushes, and Martha gave her a large patio planter for the deck of her pool. I gave her two books about lavender that I read about over at Gracious Hospitality, along with a book about Liszt and some lavender bath salts and soap.

In all, a joyful family celebration of one of my dearest friends.

Monday, June 11, 2007


So. It's the Monday after graduation. I don't have to be in the office until 10. So why am I wide awake at 5 and out of bed at 6? Could it have anything to do with being so exhausted last night that I went to bed long before my usual bed time and could not sleep longer than my natural 7-hour limit?!

I survived all the graduation services. But barely. Our school system has a tradition of a graduation weekend rather than just one commencement exercise. Having to be at two sets in one weekend was strenuous, but interesting. I am thankful that the two were only 50 miles apart so I actually could get to most of both.

And I was so proud of my niece. Yesterday, she received $14,000 in scholarships, and was chosen out of 45 students as the recipient of the Caring Heart Award recognizing her service and leadership in her school as well as her class (she was the class president). That pleased me more than the academic scholarships, to be honest. Academic scholarships they have to give you if you qualify, but the Caring Heart is a deliberate choice, a calling out, if you will. That makes two nieces two years in a row who have received this award.

The boys did well in their awards assemblies, too. The seventh grader who goes to my school received the Citizenship Award for his grade and the Math Award. The ninth grader received the history and science awards for his grade. Yes, I'm a proud aunt today =)

The weekend was emotionally draining, though. We had one senior who, at the last minute, was unable to graduate as she failed her final exam. That was heart-wrenching. Then all the driving back and forth the two graduations was tiring and stressful.'s over and done with now. All I have left is three post-session meetings, two board meetings, and an in-service. When all that is done, I will be able to catch my breath.

By the way, our history teacher gave the Commencement Address at our school yesterday. He read an amazing picture book to the seniors that I think is a must-read for every teacher. I had never heard it before, but am going to buy it first chance I get. It's called The Dot and is all about the difference a teacher made in a young child's life.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Commencing the Commencements

Last night, I attended the first of eight graduation services that I have to attend over a seven-day period. Ordinarily, I would just have six, but my niece and two near-cousins are graduating at our sister school in So. Lancaster, so I will be splitting my loyalties over the weekend and actually attend two commencements on Sunday some three hours apart. We set ours at 1 in the afternoon to make that possible.

But last night, was the first, the kindergarten graduation. What an adorable program the eight PreK/K youngsters put on! singing and saying verses and counting in English and in Spanish and doing other things to show off some of what they've learned this year. Proud parents took pictures and videos of their adorable little ones. And, when all was said and done, five kindergarteners received certificates and applause.

I've been in and out of their classroom numerous times over the school year, many times just to ground myself after a particularly crazy hour in the office. I think I would have a hard time being there all day, though. They would make me laugh too much...and would probably run away with the discipline (they are just too cute for words).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

One hot concert!

Our school choir gave a hot concert today in a beautiful old ivy- covered baptist church. I say "hot" because it was 90 degrees outside, and warmer inside... The acoustics in the sanctuary are quite good, though, and that inspired the kids to give their best effort, despite cramped quarters on the platform.

They had sung all but their final two numbers when the heat began to take its toll. We have 7th-12th graders in the choir and there was a 7th grade boy who had once before gotten faint after standing so long like that, so the director was watching out for him. Towards the end of the third-to-the-last piece he noticed that this boy was sweating profusely and swaying a little and he mouthed at him to see if he was OK. The boy shook his head "no" so they helped him off the rostrum to a seat at the end of the piece.

I went over to see how he was and another teacher went and found him some juice and the concert went on...briefly. All of a sudden another boy was swaying and back he went into the row of boys behind him. Luckily, they caught him, but he had fainted dead away. One of the juniors picked him up in his arms and brought him to the pew beside me. The boy was totally limp.

We had a doctor and a couple of nurses in the congre- gation and they came over to help out. He was in a tuxedo shirt, tie and vest, all of which either came off or were loosened. Someone called 911 and soon EMTs were tramping through the church to where we were and took him into a side room.

Mean- while, the concert went on, but only after the director moved the kids to the front of the platform and spread them out a little to get some air between them. Someone found a big fan for them as well. While they were singing the penultimate song, ambulance personnel came in with a stretcher, but soon left empty handed. That seemed to signal to the choir that their friend was OK, and they sang their hearts out to complete the concert.

Turns out the boy had not eaten breakfast... and it was about 1 p.m. when this began happening, so he would have had trouble without the heat. Put the two together, though, and it was pretty scary. Fortunately, they both recovered and were able to walk out of the church on their own steam.

Whew! is all I can say...