Fall in Love with Eric Newby

Love and War in the Apennines

Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Prior to seeing the collection of Eric Newby books at the bookstall at the Tavistock Pannier Market, I had never heard of him. I now realize two things: I should have purchased them all, and I am kind of smitten. In this memoir of being an POW in Italy during WWII and then a fugitive from the Germans after the Italian Armistice, he recounts what life on the run in Italy is like. It’s a pretty surreal experience. Not only does he meet his future wife, he is helped by many Italians who risk their lives and livelihoods to feed and shelter him when they themselves have so little. He writes with warmth and humor about those he met and his experiences in the Apennines.

I was not expecting this type of memoir. Normally when I think of POWs or people in hiding from the Germans, I think of terror and fear, of which there is quite a bit here, but I wasn’t expecting the humanity or the beauty of the mountains. Newby brings the setting to life to where I felt I was there. His writing and reflections reminded me of Laurie Lee’s “As I Walked Out One Summer Morning” and his descriptions of the Spanish people right before the Civil War. During the Spanish Civil War and WWII there were many people of the Resistance who helped people cross the Pyrenees, and while those journeys are written about, I have not read a first hand account of them and have wondered how such a journey is made. Newby fills in that gap with the Apennines. I was also not expecting this to be funny, and Newby has a wry sense of humor and finds the absurdity in many of the situations he is in.

While I am smitten with Newby, I love those who worked to hide him. The Italians he met seemed to straddle the old and new worlds. They worked without electricity or running water; they relied on homegrown remedies for illness; they maintained the art of storytelling; yet they were modern and savvy to keep abreast of what is happening in the war and in their area– enough to keep Newby safe for most of the remainder of the war. They used both worlds to their advantage. I kept thinking that with our reliance on our phones and GPS, we would be absolute toast in the Apennines. They also had generous spirits– much of what many our country today could learn from: they took someone who was once the enemy into their homes and fed him when they had so little. They helped him without any expectation or desire of reward. Newby mentions that after the war the British government tried to recompense them for their generosity and bravery, but they did not want money; they most desired to hear from those they helped save.

Let Newby take you back in time and renew you with the best parts of humanity.

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Want To Get Away? Some Tips To Make It Happen

London’s Tube reminds us to “mind the gap” so that we may get from St. Pancras to Green Park with our life and belongings intact so we can enjoy a soft serve with Flake as we stroll to Buckingham and then through St. James’ Park.  The gap between the train and the platform is obvious; we see it.  But gaps exist everywhere and are not acknowledged. Currently I am experiencing a watercolor gap.  I’m teaching myself how to paint and have watched many beginner tutorials on YouTube, but they all start with painting a picture, and the host starts painting away describing his technique while the brush disappears and reappears on the screen with fresh paint.  The gap is what happens off-screen: What kind of paint is he using?  How much water does he use?  Is he blending colors? This is common knowledge and routine to him, but not so much for me. I would really like to know the paint to water ratio.  Even though I paint pictures anyway and am developing my own unique “style”, I know that there’s a lot I’m missing.

This is true for traveling.  There are those who want to get away but just aren’t sure how.  Let’s be honest: planning a trip can be daunting and for many travel is limited to a finite amount of time and is a big investment. How can they  best spend their time and their money to gain a priceless experience?  Fortunately there are many resources out there to help a budding voyager get from point A to any where on the map.

I am fortunate enough to be from a family that values traveling.  I have clear memories of reading the AAA hotel and dining guides like novels, my mom teaching me how to read a map, and many family adventures that allowed me navigate new places.  I learned to make the most of small towns and conquer big cities.  However, it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I felt like I was a traveler.  In 2010 my friend Jessica and I decided to hike the Cotswold Trail in England.  I had been overseas once before for a school trip, but I didn’t have to do anything for that except show up.  This trip required research and preparation. It was daunting; it was intimidating; it was empowering.  That trip taught me two things: how to do it and that I could do it.

Here are a few tips that I hope can close the gap between wanting to get away to actually going:

  1. Know Thyself.  What do you enjoy doing?  What do you want to see?  Experience?  How far are you willing to push your comfort zone?  What is the purpose of your trip? What is your mobility?  When Jessica and I decided to go on a hiking trip overseas, we had to assess our comfort level.  We knew we were going to be out in the boondocks where we might get lost and need help, and to mitigate our nervousness, we decided that we did not want to face a language barrier.  Hence, England.  England is a hiker’s paradise; there are a multitude of trails spanning the country.  We knew that we would be hiking for about eight days, and since we are not hard-core hikers, we chose  the Cotswolds.  In the Lonely Planet guide to British Hikes, the Cotswolds were ranked as “moderate” (which does not equate to the American meaning) and that we could hike from pub to pub (and we earned our ale).  The Cotswolds also appealed to our love of all things British: sprawling countryside tucked with little villages and steeples; hedgerows and sheep; charming stone houses with thatched roofs; cosy pubs with hearty chowders and oversized utensils; English breakfast replete with broiled tomatoes, mushrooms, and beans on toast.  Because we knew our abilities and what we wanted to get out of the trip, we had a great time.
  2. Know Thy Destination. The key word here is research.  It bears repeating: research, research, research.  Learn the lay of the land.  If you are going to a new city and need to figure out where to stay, look up the sights you want to see on Google Maps.  Search the directions from one sight to another.  Find out how far it is and look at the car mode, the public transportation route, and how far it is to walk.  If there are different neighborhoods, read up on them.  Use this information to help determine where you want to stay, what kind of transportation you need, and what kind of experience you want to have.  Where ever you decide to stay, read the reviews.  They not only tell  you if that place is going to be a good fit for you, oftentimes reviewers will share places they enjoyed eating, how they got around, what to see, and other helpful tips.  Jessica and I needed to learn how to get from London’s Heathrow airport to Bath and back again for a couple of days in Town.  We read up on information about Heathrow and the English rail system.  We learned that the Heathrow Connect train would take passengers free of charge to Paddington Station.  From there we could buy a train ticket to Bath. We also researched train stops near the end of the trail so we could get back.  Since we needed to get back to Heathrow and wanted to use the Connect again, we booked our hotel in London near Paddington.  Paddington is also a major Tube station and allowed us to get any where we wanted to go.  On the hike we had maps, a compass, and the little pink Cotswold bed and breakfast guide. (We called a day ahead to make reservations based on how far we wanted to hike the next day.  We went in the off-season; I wouldn’t recommend this approach in the summer.)
  3. Know Thy Budget. This is huge.  How much money do you have to travel and what do you want to spend it on?  Again, research is key here.  If you are planning a trip, start looking at how much airfare is, the going rates for hotels, transportation, and the cost of things in general (for example, you can go to TripAdvisor and look up restaurants in your destination, read their menus and look at the cost of food and drink).  Start doing a realistic estimate of how much it’s going to cost you and think of the things you might want to buy.  Then start saving.  Jessica and I had ten months to plan for our trip.  Looking at airfare, bed and breakfasts, transportation, food, and the supplies I had to buy beforehand (boots, a pack, hiking clothes, special socks), I estimated what I would need, divided it by ten, and I saved that much more extra each month.  When all was said and done, I didn’t need as much money as I thought I did, but my trip was paid for ahead of time, I didn’t have to worry about finances during the trip, and I learned that I could save for travel.  On the trip Jessica and I didn’t live large.  We found ways to stretch our pounds: we shared a room and split the cost, B&Bs provide breakfast, and we found a clean budget hotel in London.  But we had everything we needed, and when I found a hand-crafted wooden clock made from the wood of a yew tree by a local craftsman, I bought it.
  4. Know Thy Resources. We live in a great time for travel.  We have the internet, Pinterest, Uber, and Airbnb.  Traveling has never been easier, but you have to know where to look.  One of my favorite things lately is to google flights.  Literally, type in “flights from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg” and google will pull up the cheapest flights for you.  If you go to the calendar, you can see the cheapest flight everyday for months.  How cool is that?!  You cannot book through Google, but you can go to the airline’s website and book there.  Pinterest is not only for arts and crafts; it also allows you to get crafty with your travel plans.  Type in your destination into the search bar and all kinds of articles about that place will pop up– even for places as far flung as Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  Uber was a life-saver in New York during peak taxi hours on a Friday night, and can easily get you to where you want to go.  And Airbnb has revolutionized the way that I travel.  Trips that would have been out of my budget because of hotel costs were made feasible by Airbnb. I stayed with a couple on the Upper West Side in Manhattan for $76 a night– unheard of in that city.  The hubs and I stayed in apartments in London, Paris, and Rome, where we had a kitchen and laundry facilities for way less money than a hotel.  I have used it in Savannah, St. Paul, Cambridge, MA, and Washington, DC.  Next month I am staying in a room in Budapest for only $43 a night– and it includes breakfast. Again, though, the key word is research. Make sure the place will suit your needs and location and read the reviews.  If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t book that particular place.

So here they are, some of my tips for planning a trip.  Travel can be daunting, but it is also a great time to spread your wings, challenge yourself, and see the world.

Readers, what are your travel tips?


Grateful in 2012

This time last year I anxiously awaited 2012, also known as the year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology.  As a fire Dragon, I fully anticipated this to be MY year.  Dragons are known for being rather lucky, and really, who can be luckier than a Dragon in its year?  However, the year of the Dragon is a tumultuous one, fraught with changes and upheaval. No one escapes unscathed… even Dragons.

2012 did give me a year of fortune and luck. I have a loving family and husband. I went to Palm Springs (three times), Michigan, Chicago, and New York; I took four students to London and Paris and brought them all back.  I started this blog, got back into writing, and met wonderful people from all over the world.  I have a job I love with an administration and staff that supports my goals.  I coach our school’s Academic Decathlon team and advise our Book Club, Health Careers Academy, and Adventure Club.  As a result, I spend a lot of time with students who give me a lot of hope for our future.  Then there are my own students who bring me many smiles and laughs.  In their reflections of the class, a few wrote about how they learned to love reading.  As an English teacher, is there any higher compliment?

2012’s upheavals served to remind me how lucky I am.  In February, my cat Toby fell ill and we were quite sure we’d have to say goodbye to him; fortunately, after a weekend at the vet’s, he came home more chipper than ever.  In April my MIL fell and broke her hip.  This resulted in a full hip replacement and pelvic reduction and exposed a whole host of other issues.  Anyone who has a stubborn, fiercely independent aging parent in complete denial about her bad health and habits knows what we’re up against.  There were many tense moments at home as my husband tried to acquire care for her even though he is 400 miles away.  Right now everything is “stable”– whatever that means.  Meanwhile, my health went bonkers with recurring bouts of getting sick (ie. vomiting) that landed me in the ER, my doctor’s office a few times, and the gastro-entologist.  We’re still pursuing tests to find the root of the problem.  Next up is my colon (yay.).  The most recent tests revealed that I am anemic, which helps explain my lethargy and constant need for sleep.  Oftentimes, I come home from work, take a nap, eat dinner, and go back to bed; hence, no blogging.

2012 taught me how to be grateful for everything I have.  I am grateful for my husband who takes care of me and makes me laugh.  I am grateful for my family who is always there for me.  I am grateful for my friends who all inspire me.  I am grateful for my cats, Toby and Molly, who melt my heart.  I am grateful for my job and my students.

I am also grateful for all of the readers who read my work regularly and those who stop by every now and again.  Thank you for making this so much fun.

Happy New Year!

A List of Delights

Yesterday my friend, Laura, at I’d Rather Sit On The Couch came up with a “small container” list as opposed to a bucket list.  Her reasoning behind this list is to achieve 30 things before she’s 30– but instead of grandiose ideas, she focuses on the smaller delights that she doesn’t get enough of as a new mother (and if you haven’t met Laura yet, please go pay her a visit).  This idea resonated with me for a couple of reasons.  One, I’ve been feeling aimless lately, so a list of delights might give me a purpose and goals.  Two, I’ve never been a bucket list kind of gal.  I’m more into the “sounds good” list– many things sound good to me, and then I go do them.  I’ve found that when I really want something, I usually make it happen.  So if I decide that I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, planning will soon commence.

So in preparation for my (36th) birthday in a couple of months, I’ve come up with a list of delights– or my 36 before 36:

1. Restart one of my book groups that has fallen apart over the summer months.

2. Get back into the habit of reading.

3. Stretch!

4. Read the book I ordered on assessment.

5. (Mother Nature, I need your help) Take a long nap on the couch during a football Sunday.  It must be cold and rainy out, and my husband must take off my glasses and close my book.  It must be this way.

6.  Watch the sunrise more at school (we get the prettiest sunrises).

7.  Listen to podcasts on the way to work now that Mark and Brian have ended their show (*sniff*).

8.  Incorporate more yoga into my routine.

9. Write a poem or two… it’s been awhile.

10. Dare I submit a poem?

11. Do a Trifecta writing challenge.

12. Have dinner with my hubby at Boston Blackie’s in Chicago.

13. Visit the Chicago Museum of Modern Art.

14. Genuinely have fun at a Rush concert with my hubby and not tease him too much or ask, “What’s the name of the one song I like?”

15. If I rode the London Eye… Ride the ferris wheel at Navy Pier?  If it’s open air, then never mind.

16. Think of Gramps at the corner of Michigan and Delaware.

17. Take morning walks along the lake shore.

18. Visit the Frick Museum.

19. Eat an ice cream while walking through Central Park.

20. Have a Stella Artois at a sidewalk cafe in Greenwich in the afternoon as the fall light glimmers among the buildings.

21.  Celebrate my birthday by eating fried chicken and macaroni and cheese and coconut cake at Bubby’s.

22. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (eek!).  This might require a strong drink in a nearby bar in Brooklyn and a cab ride back.  The bridge has intrigued me since I read McCullough’s The Great Bridge.

23. Walk through Cartier as the salespeople politely ignore the fact that I cannot afford any of it.

24. Spend more time with my hubs.

25. Have a movie night that includes Pride and Prejudice and Back to the Future and popcorn with molasses.  I’d like it to be cold and rainy then, too.

26. Continue with the 1,000 thing toss out challenge.  I’m up to 109 things so far.

27.  Get a massage.

28. Spend an afternoon reading in bed with my cats by my side.  Again, cold, rainy.

29. Visit my friends who get neglected during the school year– Ginger, Jess, Juliette, Aprille, Alisa.

30. Hail a cab.

31. Go to Apple Hill and take pictures of apples. (No rain or cold, please.  Prefer a nice fall afternoon with a tinge of warm.)

32. Eat peach pie with crumble topping. Nothing ala mode.

33. Go wine tasting in the foothills and drink port out of chocolate cups.

34. Eat the chocolate cups.

35. Remember wine tasting in the foothills.

36. Enjoy the time I have left being 35.

If I had a bucket list, this would be the number one thing on it:

1. Follow Jake Barnes’s route from Paris to Pamplona and San Sebastian and drink lots of wine. My trip won’t be as authentic as his since I won’t see a bull-fight (not an aficionado) nor will I hook up with prostitutes (dull and boring, I know).  My trip will lack the drama of Mike, Robert Cohn, and Brett Ashley, but that’s okay.

This would be the number two thing:

2.  Learn how to fly a plane.  After reading West With The Night by Beryl Markham, a part of me (the tiny part that doesn’t freak out at heights) has wanted to fly a plane.  This feeling was cemented by a trip in a little turbo-prop from Indianapolis to South Bend I took.  It was in the evening and the sun set over the farms and silos.  We were below the clouds and everything was so peaceful and pretty.  I was scared shitless, but it was still pretty.  Plus, my grandpa flew.  Do they allow hard of hearing people who are bad at math fly planes?

Readers: what delights are you looking forward to in your life?

Michigan Mornings And A Love Affair

Michigan has a special place in my heart.  It’s where my parents grew up, met, and married.  It’s where my grandparents and aunt and uncles lived.  It’s where I spent a majority of my childhood summers, and now as an adult, it’s where I travel to every year.  There’s a lot to love.  It’s rolling hills, green grass and trees, wildflowers, the sweet smell in the evening as the sun finally goes down and the fireflies come to life.  The quaint towns and civic pride.  The people who wave and say, “Good morning!”.  The scent of zucchini bread emanating from my grandma’s house– a cozy and comfortable place that envelopes me in security.  This is where I have spent the last eight days.

My husband teases me because a lot of stuff reminds me of Michigan– especially smells.  When it’s humid here, I ask, “Do you know what this smell reminds me of?”.  Steve will roll his eyes and groan, “Michigan.”  This time when I arrived on the 10th, it didn’t smell like Michigan. It smelled like California– dry and dusty. The state, as well as much of the Midwest, is suffering a severe drought.  The typically lush green grass was brown and crispy; the soybeans in the fields hung limp and the corn drooped.  It was a sad sight.  The drought did afford me a new opportunity: long morning walks.  Normally the air is so thick and warm with moisture that going out for a walk is uncomfortable; my energy is sapped before I get to the corner.  This time the dry air allowed me to explore areas in depth and see parts of my second home that I’ve never seen before. Not to mention the fact that I could indulge in my love affair with my favorite flower, Queen Anne’s Lace.

Queen Anne’s lace is actually wild carrot.  The carrot is edible while young, but it’s not recommended to start chowing down anytime soon since it closely resembles wild hemlock (remember what happened to Socrates).  It’s seeds, ground up, were also used as a contraceptive a long time ago.  I love it because it is delicate and graces the roadsides– like nature’s white picket fence.

Here are some pictures from my walks and visits in Michigan; many feature my love, Queen Anne’s Lace.

Flowers for sale at a Frankenmuth farmer’s market.

Queen Anne’s Lace and purple flower.

I wish I had a barn.

The sun’s rays grace the Queen Anne’s Lace.

Two swans enjoy the stillness of the Old Mill Pond.

The sun enjoys the pond, too.

A lush cluster of Queen Anne’s Lace.

I wish I had a silo, too.

Wild turkeys eating a soybean breakfast. Does this make them Tofurkey?

Red wheel, white flowers.

It’s very quiet at the Old Mill Pond. This is a nice place to come to just sit and think.

Over the hill and through the woods…

Queen Anne and kayak.

Since I have returned, the corner of southwestern Michigan has received two inches of rain and more is expected tonight.  Hopefully that will provide some relief.

The Summer Sanity Survival Guide

Summer break is a joyous time.  No students, no schedule, no papers to grade, and endless amounts of time loafing about in pajamas.  After 180 days of teaching, countless meetings, unending emails, and trying to make heads or tails out of teenagers, it is well-deserved.  I love having my alone time and could easily veg out and watch A&E and TLC all day.  However, for someone like me who is susceptible to melancholy and ennui (and sometimes flat-out depression), lying on the couch staring at the ceiling is not necessarily a good thing.  After having gotten to know myself for a while now, I’ve come up with some strategies that keep me happy and healthy until school starts back up in a couple of months.

1.  Eat breakfast.  This is a no-brainer.  Everyone is told to eat the most important meal of the day, and there’s a reason for it.  It works.  For me it levels out my blood sugar, elevates my mood, and keeps me full most of the day.  I’m not talking about grabbing a breakfast bar on your way out the door in the morning to be inhaled in the car.  I’m talking about taking the time to sit down and eat a meal.  Mine consists of oatmeal with dried cranberries (or diced apple), walnuts, and cinnamon, a glass of OJ, and a cup of coffee.

The right start to the morning!

2. Fish oil.  Fish oil has many benefits from making your skin and hair look nice to aiding a healthy heart.  It also has the benefit of stabilizing mood and alleviating symptoms of depression.

3.  Work out.  I once read that the best type of exercise out there was the one that you would actually do.  Going to the gym is a hassle to me.  Getting cleaned up to go somewhere else to work out and then come home to get cleaned up again (cleaning up around strangers doesn’t appeal to me) doesn’t make any sense.  Instead every morning my living room becomes my home gym as I pop in a workout video and work out for an hour.  I don’t have to worry about being in anyone else’s space, share equipment, or wait my turn.  Plus, with a multitude of videos, I can choose which workout “class” I want and when I want it.  Today it was yoga and strength.  Tomorrow it will be cardio and strength.  The benefit of working out is huge.  I feel better about myself and proud that I can hold balance poses and do plank push-ups.  Feeling strong gives me mental and psychological strength.  Being strong has provided other benefits, too, such as when one of my male students, for who knows why, decided to play tough-guy and flex his bicep at me (he wasn’t being playful).  I walked up to him, pulled up my sleeve, flexed mine as he said, “Holy crap!”  I didn’t have a problem with him after that.

Who needs to drive to a gym and pay a monthly fee?

4. Go outside and go for a walk.  After working out and eating breakfast, I will head out for my walk.  I have two routes: a two-miler and a four-miler.  If I am short on time, I walk two miles, but almost always it’s four.  Nothing clears my head better than a walk.  I can say helllo to the neighboors, see what people are doing to their yards, and feel the sun on my skin.  For an added bonus and extra geekiness, I also use walking poles.  They cause people to give me funny looks (although today a woman with a cane really wanted to know if they helped me walk better), but they scare away dogs and little children.  Using walking poles improves posture, works the arms, and burns more calories– and if I’m going to be out there for an hour, I want to get the most out of it.  An unexpected result of using them is the killer ab workout they provide, and any ab work I can do that is not a crunchie is freaking awesome in my book.  They also provide a great way to relieve tension since I can whack the ground with them.

Those sticks are made for walkin’. And that’s just what they’ll do…

5.  Read.  Can the benefits of reading be overstated?  I think not.  I belong to three book clubs, and this gives reading new purpose.  I pay closer attention to what I read and develop more opinions about the topic.  A variety of genres appeal to me, but my favorites are histories, biographies and memoirs about people overcoming great odds and danger.  My favorite book in this category is The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey.  Books like these help me put my own life into perspective.

Part of my reading list.

More tales of overcoming obstacles.

If you haven’t read this, stop reading my blog and go get it! I lent it to my mother and once she finished it, she called me to say thank you for making her read it. via Goodreads

6.  Blog/Write.  For the last few months as a blogger, my anxiety has gone down a lot.  Although blogging can bring about new and unexpected forms of anxiety, it forces me to focus on the positive and allows me to process my day.  Blogging has introduced me to a wide variety of funny, inspiring, and talented people.

WordPress is ready. Are you?

7.  Learn something new.  If you have a ton of time on your hands, why not learn something new?  When else are you going to learn it?  Plus, you may develop a new hobby and meet new people.

You say you want a Con-sti-tu-tion, All Right! (This is what I want to learn about this summer).

8.  Plan something.  Planning is fun.  It means that something is going to happen in the future and right now you can work towards that outcome.  Next fall I will teach U.S. History for the first time, so this summer I will plan my course and implement new strategies that I haven’t been able to try in my English class. But planning doesn’t have to be work related, you can plan what you’re going to build next, what new piece of music you want to learn, or plan a trip.  Which brings me to my next point…

I’m planning on making history. What’s your plan?

9.  Go somewhere.  Planning a trip is the best kind of planning (to me) and nothing lifts the spirits more than getting away.  It doesn’t have to be far away, but just a change of scenery.  Traveling challenges you and you learn new things about people, places, and culture.  Sometimes if you feel down in the dumps, the best way to feel better is to leave the dump.

All of my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…

10. Hang out with friends.  Good friends aren’t going to let you feel sad and mopey.  They’re going to make you laugh, get you out of the house, and have a good time.  Everyone knows that one of the most important things to good mental well-being is having a strong social network, whether it be two friends or two hundred.

I look like I’m one sip away from singing the South Pacific songbook. (“I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair…”) Someone will have to put me in the car before I get to “Bali Hai”.

11.  Sleep.  As much as I don’t like my regimented schedule when I teach (lights out at 9, wake up at 3:45), keeping a standard sleep schedule is so important for my mental health.  In the summer I fall asleep at 10 and wake up around 6.  By following this schedule, I get enough sleep and don’t lounge around in bed all day.  Getting up at 6 allows me to work out and walk while the weather is still cool, and I still have the rest of the day ahead of me.  I also try to get a nap in everyday.  Nothing beats a good nap.  Being well-rested helps keeps the doldrums away.

Toby and Molly are my sleep role-models. There should be an Olympic event just for them. If curling’s a sport, why not sleeping?

These are the things I do to stay positive in the summer months.  What do you do to keep your spirits up?

Twenty Two Days Then Off And Away

If you want to  know how many days left of school there are, the person to ask is not the student, but the teacher.  Once spring break is over and there are no three day weekends to look forward to, but just solid weeks of teaching (which goes beyond standing in front of class droning, “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller…”), it becomes a mantric countdown.  We don’t even say hello to each other anymore, it’s just, “____ days!”  Today’s mantra is “22”.

This is the time when, besides planning our final lessons, we are also planning our summer break.  All of our summer breaks look different.  Some use it to catch up on all of their scrapbooking, cleaning the house that got neglected for the past ten months, or visiting friends that haven’t been seen in just as long.  We become anxious to do the other stuff in our lives that we enjoy, or think we enjoyed, because it’s been a really long time since we last enjoyed them. We start imagining a life that does not include the sulking, sullen teenager who tells us that everything is “boring” and how no one, in his entire educational career ever taught him adjectives (even though their purpose is continually reviewed in the study of phrases and clauses).  Of course, on the last day of school we will assure that student that, yes, he was indeed our favorite as we wish him a nice life summer and as we help him with his bag and guide him to the door.  We try not to imagine saying goodbye to all of the wonderful students who we watched grow up as they graduate.  We know the halls will be emptier, but there’s always a new batch and the sulky, sullen kid will miraculously mature over the summer and greet us with a hug on the first day of the new term (it’s real, it happens, and it’s rather scary at first).

For me, summer looks like morning yoga and walks, long bouts of uninterrupted blissful reading on the couch followed by a nap, or getting on an airplane and getting out of Dodge.  My mother-in-law once joked that I have the “get-me-the-hell-out-of-here” syndrome– because if there’s an opportunity to go somewhere, I take it.  This summer is shaping up pretty well for travel and uninterrupted reading.  Maybe this year, to commemorate our new computer (which makes this blog possible), I will also paint the office and get some decent office furniture that matches.  There will be lesson planning, too, but it’s spoils the bucolic image, so I don’t think about that until I have to.

There are those of you, like my husband, who are shaking your heads at us for this time off. My husband mutters, “I get to look forward to working everyday until I’m 82 and then maybe can retire.”  If you had two months off, what would you do?






As I circle the room, observing my students writing,

checking for understanding,

checking for learning,

Jen Le smiles and hands me a hard candy in a wrapper from her oversized purse.

It’s tamarind, she says.

Her tablemate, Harjeet, pipes in, You’ll like it.

Simran, Sukhveer, and Kelani all nod their heads in agreement.

I thank her and slide the candy into my pocket and move on to the next group; Imroz has a question.


Later, the bell rung, alone amid the empty desks,

I feel the candy in my pocket and pull it out.

I study its coppery skin and cannot read, understand, or interpret the name of its manufacturer.

All I can comprehend is “Tamarind Candy”, but that, too, holds no meaning for me.

This is no roll of cherry, orange, lemon or lime,

Nor a red and white swirled peppermint,

Or a “if-there’s-nothing-else-I’ll-eat-it” butterscotch.

This is no barrel-shaped root beer that is the first to be thrown away after Halloween,

Nor a much coveted strawberries and cream that I rest on my tongue as long as I can.


I open its wrapper, inspecting its translucent brown color,

I raise it to my lips, wondering what to expect,

I swirl it in my mouth, releasing blood orange and pomegranate,

Thinking of places where such tastes must be common on the tongue,

Thinking of the knowledge and understanding contained within my students,

And what life that includes tamarind means to them,

And what I am learning from this confection that transports me to another world: their world.


I let it rest on my tongue for as long as I can.

Everything’s Just Ducky!

Meet Stewart, my rubber duck. Stewart and I have been traveling around together for a long, long time (19 years!). Stewart came into my life when I was 16 years old-- and how this happened is a very long and complicated story that involved a boy. The point here, really, is that he (Stewart and the boy) ultimately showed me that Steve was the ONE. See the purple ribbon around Stewart's neck? That's from Steve's graduation party when he received his bachelor's. The lamb next Stewart is Olive, named after The Olive Branch B&B in Broadway, England. My friend Jessica got her for me to commemorate our Cotswold hiking trip. I wanted to name her Jessi-baa, but Jess wouldn't let me. Stewart, too, went hiking through the Cotswolds.

Here is Stewart resting on a Roman wall somewhere between Bath and Tormarton.

Stewart gets refreshments at the Old Spot in Dursley.

This is Steve. If you can't tell, he's driving.

Stewart helps us navigate. Actually, he helped navigate me to Steve. Out of all of the guys I dated, Steve was the first to understand Stewart's importance to me. When we first started dating, I got a double-whammy of the Humboldt crud and bronchitis. Steve took care of me by bringing me soup, crackers, 7-Up and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Seeing the depths of my misery, he realized Stewart was across the room and asked, "Would you like me to bring Stewart over here?" If this isn't love, then I don't know what is. Steve fully embraced the fact that his (then) girlfriend had the tendencies of a five-year old.

This is Stewart on my bed at my grandma's house in Michigan. Not only is Steve accepting of Stewart, my family is, too (if you don't believe me, the polar bear needlepoint on the wall made by my grandma was done in homage to my cousin Jennie's stuffed polar bear, Bear). My grandparents included Stewart as part of the family. One special memory is when my grandfather's health sharply declined and I had to make a last minute trip to see him. When I finally arrived to his hospital room, I presented Stewart to my grandpa. His face brightened as he said, "It's Stewart!". When I had to return home, I said my final goodbye to my grandpa before heading off to the airport. Stewart provided comfort on the plane ride home.

Stewart has friends. This is Reed from the Seattle Public Library.

Reed lives on my desk at school (he's on the far right behind the vampire-- "I vant to duck your blood!"). These ducks remind me of the special people in my life. Vampiric duck and Fairy duck are from one of my most thoughtful co-workers. She's always thinking of others. Angel, Devil, and Baseball duck all came from the same student who failed my class. She kept asking me, "Would you like it if I got you a duck?" I said, "I would like it if you passed my class." I think giving me ducks instead was always her master plan. Luau duck is from Hawaii. The Jumping Out Of Box duck is from another co-worker and comrade-in-arms. Again, another person I am so thankful to work with-- we make great collaboration and happy hour buddies.

More ducks. These are two bookends that I stole from an ex-boyfriend (the one who sent me the Coca-Cola socks). I consider them to be my "reward".

Reindeer duck was a surprise from another teacher I work with who I have had the chance to get to know better this past year. Like my other ducks, he serves to remind me of the talented and dedicated teachers I am fortunate to work with.

Somewhere, I have a student drawing of an aristocratic duck name “Mr. Darcky”.  Where did I put him?!