Mother-daughter travel

Mother and Daughter have just returned from a pleasant walk to get supper at McDonald’s (chicken wrap for Mom and fries to share) and immediately after that, Tim Horton’s (Caesar salad for vegetarian Daughter, who discovered that Tim’s Caesars include bacon). Mother suggested Daughter record a video or audio of the counter guy, who would call each customer forward with a “I can help who’s next, b’y.” Daughter received her order from an island matron who handed over her salad with a “Here you are, my darlin’.”

It was clear on the walk back to the B&B, the chilly north Atlantic wind and cloud banks having  finally receded after several days of blow. Now it is night, and Mother and Daughter recline against the pillows on their respective beds in the B&B. It’s last night in Newfoundland, time to access wifi for the first time in several days. Daughter is catching up on Youtube videos, Mother is writing a blog post. Daughter’s quiet, breathy laughter drifts across the room to Mother.

Mother: “S, it’s okay to laugh out loud, you know.”

Daughter: “Don’t tell me how to laugh.”

Mother (lightheartedly): “I’m not, but I’m going to now.”

Daughter: “You just sucked all the happiness out of the room.”

Mother (laughing) “S, you’re good for me.”

Daughter: “I’m good for everyone.”

Not a hard word, hardly, between my daughter and I, on this whole trip. I am so proud of her, that she has turned out such a quality person. Every one of my family members was blessed by her quiet, kind presence. Just the fact that she could be out of what many young people consider “civilization” and could actually enjoy herself, is impressive. Mom & Dad, who live so far away from us and have only seen these four of ours every few years, will be talking of the sweet moments with her that they enjoyed. Lunches in and out with Mom, walks along the trail and through the village, the dip in the frigid water that my eighty year old father and she took  in the cove, reading all together by the wood stove, exploring gift shops, museum, dock and beach.

It would not have been as good without her, that’s sure. I feel like I’ve come bearing gifts.



Ontario Part II

My daughter and I have been away from home just over two weeks now. She’s a wonderful traveling companion, and a credit to her people, as they say. Just came from my parents’ little house in Crow’s Head near Twillingate on the north side of Newfoundland, where we spent a few days. Before that we stayed with my youngest sister and bro-in-law in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before that my other younger sister in Montreal. We’re taking a small breather at a B&B in Gander, NL before flying out to Winnipeg early tomorrow morning.

My brother and sister-in-law said goodbye to us in Kingston, Ontario, seeing us off by train for the almost three hour ride to Montreal. Just enough time for a good visit it was. Heather gave us a driving tour around town and took us out to lunch, all the while making my eighteen-year-old daughter feel thoroughly at ease and appreciated. Heather is tall and beautiful at fifty, and has that personality we in our family refer to as “mercy,” where her motivation for all she does is rooted in a desire to make others feel cared for. Every little touch to make us feel at home in their place was there–soft towels, toiletries obviously for using, half a dozen soft pillows each, both quiet time and companionship, attentive and interesting conversation, genuine words of affirmation.


My brother is also a good host, but in a different way, his own way. He kept us active–took us out to see his goats and chickens, with eggs in incubation, and to the pond to look for water snakes. No snakes, but we did come upon thousands of tiny toads, so many that we had to walk farther away from the water’s edge to avoid stepping on them. So tiny and perfect, hopping like small crickets toward the water in waves as we passed.IMG_5610 (1)

We went with him on a hike at Dunder Rock with his dog Jack, hoping to see a corn snake, a large one having bee seen by several others in the area. Matt shook his head to see others’  dogs off leash, which would effectively prevent such a sighting. Most owners never even realize what their dogs are bothering or killing up ahead, he said, just want them to be free and happy. But they kill snakes, among other things.


We stood and felt the height and cool breezes, watched resident turkey vultures and took some photos. After working up a sweat on the way down we eased down a rocky bank into the lake, delicious cool water but not too cold. Then back home for another array of salads and whole grain bread and cheese. We talked a little about teaching, but only slantwise and reverently, of the attachment one feels with students, the fulfillment of helping them understand, appreciate and care for this wonderful world.

On Canada Day Matt took us into Seeley’s Bay, the local village, where we caught, or rather joined by mistake, the tail end of the parade, walked around town, Matt recognized by various locals young and old and exhibiting his characteristic plain charm. In the ice cream and souvenir store he plunked down beside the owner for a chat, and soon came around to the question of whether she needed more stock of his handmade bat houses. His summer work includes humanely extricating bat colonies from attics and outbuildings and providing new quarters. Mostly these are small boxes of barn boards, erected on poles or building exteriors, but last year he built the miniature house, a bat mansion, mentioned in a recent post. We checked stand found some evidence of bat visitation–the crumbly droppings made of insect exoskeletons excreted by local brown bats.

The last evening we played Blokus, which brought out the playful teasing that Heather and Matt enjoy, him being always competitive, which tends to make everyone else, even Heather, want to gang up on him. Later Heather and I talked about that competitiveness, where it came from and its positive and negative sides. Came up again when talking to my brother-in-law on our visit to Halifax too. Matt loves to win when there’s a game on, and excel when it’s time to get to work. As well as being a well-loved teacher (Heather tells of numerous parents and students who take biology just to be in his class, and students who hate science coming out wanting to pursue it in college), he’s skilled in construction, woodworking, gardening, riding, athletics, art, and music. He’s pretty much self-taught. Indeed, Heather and I agreed, he doesn’t like to be taught or acknowledge others to be more expert than himself unless absolutely necessary. This is a quality that shows itself in various members of my family. Yes, this is really about me. So much easier to be bothered by my flaws when they are reflected by others. So this family tour is not only a way to reconnect, but to understand and improve myself. My daughter gives lots of good insight there, too, and has a fresh perspective that’s enough removed from the generational hangups to enable me to be more open.

Heather drive us to the rain station on her way to her vet clinic the next morning for the ride to Montreal.



Rigor, as in mortis?

Question on teacher job application: How do you ensure that there is rigor in your classroom?

(Here’s how I would have liked to answer the above question. I gave a somewhat milder response to stay under the 1500 character max.

This is a post I started weeks ago, then found that another teacher’s similar comments on “rigor” had been picked up by a blog I follow. Guess I’ll put this out there too.)

One definition of rigor is “a sudden feeling of cold with shivering, accompanied by a rise in temperature, often with copious sweating, especially at the onset or height of a fever; short for rigor mortis.” Aside from this medical sense, rigor is associated with inflexibility, difficulty, and severity. Some educators have adopted “rigor” as a stated value, with the meaning (one would hope) being limited to “challenge.” This emasculated sense of the word may come to predominate over the traditional one, but “challenge” seems what is wanted as a word here, rbecause unlike rigor, which can be a precursor of death, challenge is an essential element of growth, including the growth we foster in education.

Where there is challenge in a classroom, the evidence manifests in two basic ways. For students with a growth mindset, there is active, interested engagement and anticipation of accomplishment. Students with a fixed mindset, in contrast, exhibit discomfort, frustration, and, if the teacher is not careful, fear of failure and the onset of mental rigor mortis. It’s easy to deal with students who enjoy challenge—they practically teach themselves if presented with appropriate guidance and resources. Creating rigor there is about connecting that natural and relatively uninhibited drive to learn with well constructed and timely lessons incorporating content and process skills, rich resources, and the means of synthesizing and applying learning. Highly motivated students who react to an overly directive or restricted approach need more freedom, while motivated but disorganized or easily distracted students might need more guidance there.

Inspiring the others, those whose basic attitude toward learning, whether academic or personal, is the teacher’s special challenge and, one hopes, gift. The teacher should continually foster an atmosphere where these students feel safe taking risks, so building community and a consistent routine is very important. These students need frequent positive feedback; they also need help connecting prior understanding with new and grasping the value of what they are learning. Pacing is also important, as the brain does not learn well under duress. Humor, a sense of being cared for and valued, and the fostering of a “need to know” drive help these insecure students to press on. If everything is in place and students experience not just external reinforcement but the personal sense of gratification that comes with success and growth, all students can enjoy challenge, and there will be no need for inducing shivering or copious sweating in pursuit of rigor in the classroom.

By the way, I heard that the teacher who started using the “rigor” term has regretted it. I agree that it’s a poor use of terminology, and that the term rigor should be reserved for medical emergencies.


Posted by on July 7, 2016 in Education


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Dog and cat politics

Before my brother drove us into his driveway, he warmed us that his fox terrier, Edie, could get so tense about new people in the house, that she would suddenly attack the big, old lab, clamping with her jaws that it was hard to pry her off. Said that once she had done so much damage, the lab had to have dozens of stitches. So we were all nervous that we would not cause that much of a stir. And a little worried for myself and my daughter about all those teeth in that alligator gar-shaped mouth.

We pulled in, unloaded our luggage, and my brother went ahead to the house, saying he’d “release the hounds.” Out they poured: Jack the quick, low-running border collie, who licked and adored, jumping up lightly to get more skin; Nellie, the lumbering, white retriever with big, watery eyes, thick tail swinging back and forth, and little Edie, short, pointed tail up and waving rapidly and tightly–a good sign, and circling. It was a go, so far so good.

Over the next few days there were more signs of harmony: Edie would follow my daughter and me around, wagging and watching our faces, very alert, as if asking, “Everything good? Need anything else? Okay, okay.” Up and down the 45 degree sloped wooden stairs, checking at our bedroom doors, accompanying us, along with Jack, down the lane for a walk. My sister-in-law said these were all good signs, that a rare quick acceptance had been given and that she showed no signs of her prior psychosis. I wondered if our having some of the same DNA as my brother could have something to do with it.

Jack was always there, too, and if either of us sat, he would lay his head, and sometimes a paw, on our knee, gaze into our faces and offer as many kisses as we would tolerate. When we started up a trail by the side of the house, we found one of his stuffed toys, and he made clear signs he wanted to play fetch, which he did joyously down the trail and then again in the pool, leaping with abandon and always asking for a redo.

Then the cats, in succession, made their various communications. Not including Mouse, who was recovering in a spacious pen from surgery for a car accident, each made contact. Steve and Lola, right away. Steve, an old, gray cat with a hoarse, melodies meow that tended to forget he had been fed and was continually asking for more. Lola, a pretty yellow and cream big-eyed girl who vocalized constantly until petted. Mud, the back male outdoor cat, came in after a day or two to check us out and became affectionate. Of Stella, the orange and white tabby, we only caught glimpses until the second to last day, when she cam ever to me quickly as I sat on a bench outside, gave me a quick sniff, and ran away. Then on the final evening, as I was reading on my bed, there she was, up on the bed, purring and rubbing.

These animals are an important part of my brother and sister-in-law’s household. That they have been unable to have children is one reason, I suppose. Plus all but Nellie have a story of rescue and recovery, and as a result have become even more cherished, since no one else apparently wanted them. My sister-in-law, a vet, had a hand in the care and cure of each, and both she and my brother, in their different ways, have a soft spot for underdogs (and cats). All the animals have bonded with one another also, and with the exception of moments of high tension for Edie, get along very well.




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Posted by on July 1, 2016 in Places & Experiences


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At my brother and sister-in-law’s in Ontario

At my brother and sister-in-law’s in Ontario

It’s striking to hear a quiet person, a person who habitually describes others as “lovely people,” who hates conflict and whose main motivation is to be kind and giving to others so they will experience being loved and respected, heat up about an injustice. My sister-in-law, HS, a small animal vet, just told me of her experience volunteering at a local animal shelter years back, hoping to save animals. Expecting to diagnose injuries and metabolic abnormalities, social needs, allergies and infections, administer remedies, do corrective surgery and dental care. Instead, cat after cat, dog after dog, was lined up to be euthanized. She had to do fifty animals in one day. Reasons given on the paperwork seemed to be random: Non-sociable. Dental abscess. Respiratory infection. When she couldn’t see serious symptoms of these things in the animals on death row, or judged the problems correctable, she questioned those in charge. She received pat answers from hardened workers whose main concern was that mixed breed or unattractive, less “adoptable,” less “premium” (a fee added to adoption fees of purebreds) animals were taking up resources.

She described the people in charge of these euthanizations as hard, cold, uncompassionate. Not animal lovers at all. Their concerns revolved around running fundraisers using photos of cute, sad puppies and kittens, and making sure they always had space for the purebreds that brought in more case at sale. What the salaries were, she could only guess.

I made the comparison with charter schools that call themselves “non-profit” but which are run by venture capitalists to funnel public money into the pockets of high power administrators and their contractor and “consultant” friends.

HS spend the whole day with us, driving us around the local city, taking us to coffee (away from my brother, not a coffee drinker), lunch and a little shopping. I bought a tiny string of LED lights and a Sherman Alexie book, she bought a favorite vegetarian recipe book for my daughter. I tried to share costs with her on groceries, but she wouldn’t have it, and I could see this is something she loves to do, to make people happy. Sees herself as having no “talents” like my family does, has so much to give and has given so much. She vowed to give at least fifty pro bono vet services to stray animals brought into the clinic, to  make up somewhat for the fifty she was told to euthanize. The three dogs and five cats of the household are recipients of her and my brother’s love for broken animals. They are like their children, and not in that pathetic, misplaced affection way that some childless humans show toward their cuffed, pampered, purebred lapdogs. Each cat and dog has free reign to live well and do the jobs that suit them, to belong to a family. They don’t run the household, but give it more character.

After another gourmet meal at home, my brother arrived late, with a bellyful of feeling and stories about the students he just helped graduate from the school where he teaches. He is well loved, H says, never has a hard word to say about any of his students, inspires a love for biology in just about everyone he teaches. Keeps out of the school politics, focuses on the students, connects with families, teaches from his heart. We talked about biology, evolution, the books we were reading, and went to bed.

“When M was a boy, was he afraid of anything?” H asked me. She told me he’d hitchhiked to Newfoundland when he was sixteen, which none of us had known. I told her maybe of losing someone, animal or person, he loved, I said, or talking about certain things. Nothing else. His Newfoundland pony, Solomon, for example, who H said was suffering from founder’s in his feet and should be euthanized, but he wouldn’t talk about it at all–not up for discussion. She, who hated any animal to suffer needlessly, and he, who wanted things to take their natural course and not let go until necessary. “They can live up to fifty years,” he told me, when I was surprised Solly was still munching in the stable, fifteen years after I saw him first at the farm. He has goats and sheep, built a stone chicken coop, a big glass and wood greenhouse, lean-tos for firewood. Out in the pasture is an experimental bat house, a miniature house on stilts, complete with any crevices in the usual old house places so the bats could move in. (See his blog

This is the sibling I guess I feel most similar to. Within two years in age, both biology majors, biology teachers, same feeling about that vocation. We are not close in the sense we can share anything and everything, but similar, and lots of unspoken understanding, I would say. He is more reticent, though, and I wish I knew more what he was feeling, wanted, needed, what might be bothering him. Especially so I don’t say something insensitive or fail to do something helpful. But he’s very generous, lots of fun, and especially enjoys having his niece here. My kids all consider him their favorite uncle, though my oldest brother, whom they’ve seen less, comes a close second. All my siblings have the gift of being uncles and aunts, and most of them have had ample time and energy, not having children themselves, except now my youngest sister, whose daughter is now five years old. They just hang out, explore, talk and listen as equals. My kids have memories of smearing Cobequid Bay mud all over their bodies, going to a historic farm, exploring my brothers’ truck cab, building a frog pond, complete with frogs, running a general store, painting pictures.

We will be seeing each of my five siblings (with two spouses and a niece), my parents, and maybe my uncle and a cousin. That’s all the way across Canada stopping here near the Great Lakes, Montreal, Halifax, and Newfoundland, where my parents have a little cottage on a cliff. Since no one is there, we’ll not stop at my childhood home.

My daughter and I are on our own today at my brother’s house, she doing some work for her online course in interpersonal communication, I writing and working on job search and study plans. Strawberry picking, supper and a movie tonight (H’s pick is “Finding Dory”). Tomorrow the local village is having a Canada Day celebration, with a boat treasure hunt, parade, music, and fireworks. I’m wondering what I can offer back for all the hospitality they have given us, and how to show how much I appreciate it.



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Family stuff on a rainy weekend

Half asleep in my shoes, trying to shake fatigue and a chill, listening to my two oldest chatting in the kitchen, I drifted in and out of sleep, that creative half sleep where ideas flow and connect, and the true self can distill priorities, yet all I could come up with was what if someone made playlists to go with mental states, such as a playlist for betraying a loved one (I had been reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver before my nap) or when experiencing knee pain (which I was). I woke fully, feeling like I used to when living with my folks and Dad had turned on classical music that was reverberating around the centuries old farmhouse, and it was a weekend. Delicious, bordering on divine. This time it was the sound of my own grown children enjoying each other’s company.

I need to register a prediction, which, when it is discovered that I made it first, will get me calls to go interview with the big names, and I can earn some travel money. I predict that when the presidential candidates are finalized and ready to begin the actual presidential campaign, the majority of voters on both sides will be so exhausted and disappointed, and the candidates so exhausted themselves, with laryngitis all around, that suddenly up will step a miscellaneous presidential-looking candidate with no known flaws, and he or she will be the new darling. He or she will have quietly made powerful connections and saved up funds that will allow him or her to strike the final blow to the reputation of each opponent, and jog across the finish line in the lead. No one will really know what they are getting until it’s too late. That’s where my prophesy ends.

I picked up a disaster preparation booklet in the library yesterday, which may prove useful in case Trump comes to power. Put my youngest on the job of creating a shopping list–he says we need 36 gallons of drinking water, among other things. From the stuff on the list I can see they presupposed very little competence in living off local ecosystem or garden provisions. Thought it would be cool to spend some time at our woods property and learn more about what a person can eat out there, practice making shelters, try out the bow and arrows my father handed on to us. Truth is, I think that would make me happy. Call of my wild roots–a grandfather that lived in the woods many winters, father who surveys the forests of Newfoundland as an undergrad, mother who could publish a book on what ways to create meals and accoutrements from dandelions and medicine from wild oats. The private office is nice, but I need the woods, and if I can’t have a river, at least there’s a little stream there. I hope this is not just talk. I have a habit of denying myself what I think could feed my soul, maybe out of fear it won’t, and a bit of hereditary martyr complex.

My daughter wants to take a trip, any trip, outside the U.S., before college, possibly another mother daughters one, though I said maybe I could plan it and their dad could take them. He didn’t like being left behind last time, but it’s just too hard to travel all together. He did a great job of taking care of the garden while we were gone.

We talked about France and the British Isles, since I know both languages and none of us has ever been even there. Could hit museums, explore the farmland, eat in French cafes, then visit the home of George MacDonald and hike the highlands. Or, I’d be fine with my spouse going instead, as long as someone is giving the girls a good time. I’m pretty good at vicarious living.

My father in law turned eighty this week, and we’re celebrating tomorrow. I’m responsible for the cheesecakes and salad–must check extra carefully for slugs. Twenty two family members will be there, just the kind of gathering he will love. Though he married my ma-in-law only about a decade ago, he is actually a cousin of my husband’s actual dad and has always been in the family. He’s a loving guy, fun, outgoing, easy to talk to, and loves a party. He’s very proud of the clan, which now extends to a few great grandchildren. Lately he’s been caring for his wife, my mother-in-law, as she’s injured her knee and can’t walk. Though he never cooked or cleaned much, being more of a handyman and car guy, she says he’s getting really good at eggs, oatmeal, all kinds of stuff. My kids have been recruited, gladly, as they like to hang with the grandfolks, to do some cooking, cleaning, and yard work. Looks like knee surgery is coming, but they both feel that the decline in mobility and feeling old can’t be stemmed much, which needs to be accepted gracefully. I don’t know if this will change what they were thinking about living arrangements. Currently they have two places and keep them both up, one in their home town and one where she raised the kids. They plan to sell one eventually, and we’ve told them we’d be honored to have them consider going in with us on a house together with some nice extra living quarters.

Still no house, though we made two offers. We let them both drop, my husband not feeling ready. I’m so ready I can’t make a level headed decision, maybe.

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Posted by on June 1, 2016 in Uncategorized


Total light blue

Do you know where you’re goin’ to
Do you like the things that life is showin’ you
Where are you going to?
Do you know?

It’s showing me white-tailed rabbits, cheeping towhees, and purple lupines with hidden talons that hide quick-action stamens and yellow pollen.
Falling dusk as city lights shine yellow on rusty cargo ships.
Car after car after car after car of coal train.
A bearded man riding a motor scooter (sounding like a large June bug) past a freshly painted sailboat.
If you were me, you would be grateful, and go home to supper.

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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorized


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