Slice of Life #9- Sounds

Who-ho-o-o, whoo-hoo-o-o, whoo!

Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep!

Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack!

The forest is a cacophony of sound.

Today it was over seventy degrees and the amphibians woke up from hibernation.  I drove to Assunpink Wildlife Management Area today and when I got out of my car the noise was deafening. As I moved closer to the marsh and vernal pools the sound got louder and louder.  If I had been able to go deeper into the marsh I would have needed earplugs!

The sound linked above is a brief recording of the spring peepers and wood frogs advertising their mating calls while I was at Assunpink today.  I can still hear spring peepers outside my house at 11pm at night which means it is officially spring (no matter what the calendar says).

My morning started with noise, too.  When we left the house a little after 5am and well before dawn I heard the great horned owl hooting.  Only this time it was clear that Chris and I were listening to a duet!  Most likely a male and a female they duetted for the entirety of our morning dog walk.

Then about 12 hours later they started up again.  I crossed the street and decided to try to find the general area where the owls were hanging out.  Once I got into the woods I realized I was listening to at least 3 owls!  The male and female pair were making it clear that they were defending their territory while the third owl, much further away, hooted to or at them.

I didn’t find the owls, though I did narrow down the area where they are living/nesting.  I didn’t want to stress them as it’s breeding season so I’ll keep an eye out but I won’t go any deeper into the woods to find them.  Instead, I’ll hope that one of them decides to visit my backyard again.

Now it’s 11:30pm and the cacophony has finally quieted down.  But I know that the spring peepers are just getting started….For the next two weeks you won’t be able to hear yourself think outside my front door because the peepers will be desperately trying to attract a mate.  And you know what?  I’m ok with that!

Slice of Life #8


Today it was 65 degrees.  Today the sun was shining and the sky was blue.  Today was the perfect day for a long hike.

After school I changed into hiking clothes (my spring hiking clothes!  Not flannel-lined pants!) and packed up the dogs.  The days are getting longer so I decided to try to get a few miles in at Thompson Park.  Because I wanted to avoid the crowded side of the park I ended up driving around a bit in an effort to find a parking lot that didn’t bring us into the middle of the main, paved trail.  Because my dog hikes are also birdwatching hikes I prefer to stay on the unpaved trails and in the woods.

Eventually I found a parking lot that was across the street from the county park.  This lot did not have a gate so I didn’t have to worry about the possibility of getting locked in the park.  By 4pm we were on the trail, feet squishing into the mud.

We walked up and down the hills of the park for about 90 minutes and 3 miles.  I spotted common mergansers, savannah sparrows (lifer!), mute swans, bluebirds, red-winged black birds, robins, a red-tailed hawk, and some deer.  We didn’t leave until 5:50pm and I didn’t need a jacket or a hat.  I love spring!  Now I just need the spring bird migration to start….

Slice of Life #7


Today it was beautiful.  Sun shining, birds singing, flowers blooming beautiful.  After school I came home, changed, grabbed the dogs, and headed to the park.  I threw my pack over my back and we set off down the trail in search of the elusive pileated woodpecker that I’ve seen and heard over the last few months.  Pileated woodpeckers don’t usually live here, thanks to habitat fragmentation, but this guy (or guys) has been around for a few months.  Of course, the only time I see a pileated woodpecker is when I don’t have my camera with or when it is too far away to get a decent picture.

It’s been about a month since I saw my last pileated, though I do think I’ve heard him/her/them a few times in the last few weeks.  I’ve only gotten a few terrible pictures, but they represent my current goal:

I didn’t have any luck today.  The dogs and I walked about two miles, including off the trail and a little deeper into the woods.  No pileateds, but we were pulled off the trail when I heard what I thought were ducks.

Turns out I was hearing wood frogs in the vernal pools.  The first sign of spring! Then I saw skunk weed starting to pop up out of the ground.  Spring really has sprung!


Slice of Life #6


After I got home from tutoring this morning I made my way to the window on the far side of the house  Outside that window I can see my bird feeders (all eight of them).  Saturday and Sunday are my Project Feederwatch days so I make sure to spend a few minutes each day observing the feeders and writing down the species I see. I always keep my camera nearby so that I can photograph any new or exciting species that visit the yard.

As I settled in to spend a few minutes relaxing and watching my feeders something caught my eye.  Under the feeders, mixed in with a flock of blackbirds (grackles, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds), I caught sight of something different.  Something the color of a burnt orange crayon and about the size of a female cardinal. It hopped around, in between the blackbirds, and I suddenly realized what it was.

I turned to grab my camera and it wasn’t there!  Ahh!  That’s right, I had taken it on the field excursion yesterday.  It must still be in my field bag!

I flew out of the room, rushing past Chris.  “New bird!  Need the camera!” I explained. He didn’t even blink.  He’s pretty used to my bird antics at this point.

I grabbed the camera and rushed back to the room.  No!  The bird was gone!  I scanned the tree line and tried to see into the bushes.  Nothing.  Arg!

I was pretty sure I knew what I had seen but without a photo to get a closer look I felt guilty  counting it and adding it to my Project Feederwatch data. With a sigh, I packed up  the camera and headed out to run errands with Chris.

We returned about an hour later and I figured I’d give it one more go.  Not expecting to see the bird again, I sat down and started to count the juncos flitting about the feeders.

Then I saw it.  Red.  Orange.  Grey.  It was back!  I grabbed my camera and began clicking away through the window.  The bird hopped around, cracking sunflower seeds and safflower seeds, ignoring the other birds doing the same.  After taking a lot of pictures I grabbed my phone and opened up the Merlin app.  After inputting the size, color, and location of the bird I was vindicated.  My rare sighting was confirmed!

Meet the fox sparrow.  A first of the year, a first in the yard, and a lifer for me!

Slice of Life #5

Happy Friday!  It’s been a long week and because I’m working on Saturday and Sunday I spent this afternoon relaxing.

My favorite part of every Friday is when I sit down on the couch, cue up DVR, and settle in to watch that week’s episode of Law and Order:SVU. I’m a huge fan of SVU!  I’ve been watching for years and I never miss a new episode. It’s one of my go-to chill out shows. It may not seem like a relaxing show but I love how each episode contains it’s own narrative arc while still advancing the overall plot of the show. It’s one of the shows I can turn on and watch regardless of the episode currently airing. It’s perfect!

For the record, this week’s episode was incredible. Kudos to the writers who had me gasping and on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, it’s a two-parter and the next episode won’t air until March 23!

Good thing Netflix released season four of House of Cards today….

Slice of Life #1


And we are back! The Slice of Life Challenge is my favorite time of year because it helps me get back in the habit of writing.  I’ve lost track, but I believe this is my 9th year of participating in the challenge (which is coordinated by Two Writing Teachers). Stacey of Two Writing Teachers helped me confirm my longtime commitment to the challenge.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 9.45.55 PM

And as I mentioned in the above tweet, I also challenge my students to participate in the challenge in order to help them build a habit of writing.  All 73 of my 9th graders will write at least 10 blog posts during the month of March.  The real “tryhards”, as my students say, will write one blog post each day for a total of 31 posts at the end of the month.  It requires commitment but will result in improved writing skills for my students.  My favorite day of the year is when I get to read their reflections on the slicing process at the beginning of April.

I just checked our class blog account and it looks like many of my students are determined to complete all 31 blog posts.  Wish us luck as I am making the same commitment!

Happy slicing!


(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, on my personal blog. It has been edited and revised for this posting. I have reposted some version of the original post every year since 2003.)

It still seems like just yesterday.

I had moved into my dorm at Douglass College (Rutgers) just days earlier. As I sat in the dining hall on that beautiful morning with me best friend Erin and chatted about our schedules, I remember hearing the morning radio show talking about the Twin Towers. I remember Erin and I wondering aloud why the talk radio station was being broadcast in the dining hall and why were the hosts talking about something that had happened in 1993? We tuned out the radio and it became nothing more than white noise in the background. We were college students and it didn’t seem important. Quickly, we finished breakfast and headed off to class.

I went to my Women and Public Policy class; it was a class of about 50-60 students and I think I was the only freshman. As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our professor, Jen, apologized as she placed her cell phone on the podium. She explained that she had to keep it turned on because she a had flight out of Newark later that day and she needed to keep up on any delays due to the incident in the city.

That was the first that I heard about a plane crash.

This was college in 2001.  I had a TV in my room but it wasn’t hooked up yet. I hadn’t heard about a plane crash but everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. There were no details available.  We didn’t have smartphones or wi-fi available.  All of our news came from television or our wired internet access and neither were available in the lecture hall. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. I packed up my bag at the end of class and followed a group of students out of the building. I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, listening to people around me say classes were cancelled for the rest of the day. It seemed strange but I figured I would get details when I made it back to my room.

I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the rest of the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable in the dorms). But I quickly realized it did not matter.

As I walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air were palpable.   I walked up the three flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone, which had been turned off in class, but the call would not go through.  “All circuits are busy” was the only response I got when I dialed.  Cell phone lines were jammed.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floor mates pace up and down the hall. One of the girls walked past my door no less than twenty times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Twin Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. We all just needed the reassurance of talking to family.

Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our common room TV. No one spoke.

After a few minutes I couldn’t watch the news anymore. I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened; they kept showing the same clips over and over and they didn’t have any answers.  I knew I could find out more on the internet.

At 11:00am I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see flames from the beach by our house and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it,  I chose to stay.  I wanted to be with my friends, and I admit that the idea of driving home was frightening.  None of us knew what was happening or what would happen in the next few hours.  It felt safer for us all to stay in one place.

It wasn’t easy, though. The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage and reading each other updates from the internet. At one point, military planes flew over campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I IMed and received IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, 60 students in a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we all felt while we checked on all “our” Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there. Messages popped up on my screen continuously because the internet was the only way to get in touch with anyone.  Phone lines were still down and we were being told not to use them in case emergency responders needed to get through.

AOL Instant Messenger was our lifeline. Emails were sent back and forth.  And I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers.  The tragedy began to hit home as some of my peers posted messages asking for the readers to look for names on lists- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. As each new manifest was posted by the media it became more and more apparent that some of those who were missing would not be coming home that night.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…

Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.

And I stayed home. School was cancelled for days. We weren’t sure when classes would start again.  Most of my floormates went home, too.  We didn’t know if we were at war, if terrorists would strike somewhere else in the coming days.  Suddenly college didn’t seem that important.

At home, my mother told me how on the morning of September 11th, ferries came from the city to the our harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. Ferries would load up and sail to any dock available outside of Manhattan.  Passengers stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

Over the next few days the newspapers talked about how my town, Middletown,  was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school. Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues all of them. We were a commuter town and every family was touched in some way.

We all grew up that day. My current students don’t have any memories of this day in history.  September 11th is history to them, something they read about each year. For my entire teacher career I’ve had to be careful of what I’ve said on 9/11 because there was always a student in the room whose life was touched by the tragedy.  But this year?  My students were only a few months old or were not born when the tragedy struck.  If their family lost a loved one my student most likely never met them.

That’s hard for me to comprehend because 9/11 is such a huge part of my life.  But for my students it’s something their parents and other adults talk about.  The visual of a plane hitting the towers live on television isn’t part of their life; that’s something I can’t imagine.  But for my students toay is September 11th “capital letter because it’s a month” not September 11th “a day that changed our lives forever so it has forever been ingrained in our minds”.

For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute.  While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned.  It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives.  Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.  September 11th will always be a day that stops me in my tracks but I am glad that it’s history for my students.   hope they never experience anything like we all did on that day. But I also hope that they never forget.

We will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……