Slice of Life #5- Library Card


As an avid reader I am embarrassed to admit this: I have not had a library card since I was  a little kid.  Ok, I haven’t had a library card for my local library.  I have a grad school library card (for e-access) and I have a library card for the community college library at school.  However, I have not had a regular old town/county library card in many, many years.

This weekend I decided to change that.  The town I grew up in has its own library system, independent of the county system, so when I moved here I never made it to the library.  My to-be-read pile, both physical and virtual, is huge an ever-growing so I didn’t need the card.  However, I’ve started to listening to audiobooks on my commute, in place of the news, and I burned through all of last summer’s free offerings.  I also used up my Audible credits.  When I realized I was running out of books to listen to I decided it was time to get a library card so that I could borrow books through Overdrive.

Saturday morning I headed over the library.  (The main branch is in the next town over). I walked in and headed to the circulation desk.  Imagine my surprise when a former student was behind the desk!  She’s 22 now (eek!) and I had her when I taught 6th grade.  I was definitely mortified, as she probably wondered why her voracious reader English teacher did not already have a library card, but we had a great conversation.  I love seeing former students who have grown into wonderful adults….even when it makes me feel old.

I walked out of the library a few minutes later with my new library card.  I’ve already borrowed my first audiobook (American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers) and I’ve jumped on the holds list for a few others.  I’m thrilled to be a card-carrying member of the library again!


Slice of Life #4


Today I went to Target for the first time in months.  I tend to avoid Target for two reasons: it’s out of the way and I never leave without spending at least $80.  Has anyone figured out why that happens?  No matter what I do, no matter why I go there, I walk out $80 poorer.  Today was no different of course.  The good news is I got some great deals and I pretty much finished my food shopping for the week.

While I was browsing the aisles I spied some Irish soda bread.  I’m a big fan of Irish soda bread, but only the homemade kind.  Real Irish soda bread, in my experience, is moist and cake-like.  Store-bought Irish soda bread always seems to be dry and gross.  I didn’t want to buy the prepackaged bread but it did inspire me to make my own Irish soda bread today.  I quickly pulled up my favorite recipe and skimmed the ingredients list.  I had most of the ingredients at home and only needed to grab raisins and buttermilk at Target.

I finished my shopping and, of course, the final bill was $82.  It’s like some type of witchcraft!  But once I was home and all the groceries were put away I got to work.  I mixed the dry ingredients and set up the wet ingredients.  The oven was preheated and once the ingredients were mixed together I put the batter in the cake pan and set the oven time for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes I stuck a knife in the center of the loaf and it definitely was not done.  I added 15 minutes to the timer and checked again when the buzzer went off.  Still not done!  15 more minutes added.  Finally, when the buzzer went off and I ran a knife through the center of the loaf it was done!

Now I have a huge loaf of Irish soda bread for breakfasts this week.  I already snuck a piece, warmed it up in the toaster oven, and devoured it.  Delicious, as always!

Slice of Life #3- Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall

Today I had to run a lot of errands after school.  Once I packed up I headed out to pick up the dogs.  Luckily, they went to doggy daycare today so I knew they would be very tired!  By 4pm we were on the road to Agway, the feed store about 20 miles south of my house.  Agway is the only local store that carries the dog food I am currently feeding my two guys and Navan was completely out of puppy food this morning.  Thus, I had no choice.

Once I got to Agway I grabbed the biggest bag of Victor puppy food and headed towards the register.  Then I remembered that Chris had asked me to check for parsnips in the garden section.  He’s starting his seeds indoors and this year he’s added garlic (which is already sprouting in the bed outside) and a few more new vegetables.  However, we haven’t been able to find parsnip seeds anywhere.  Luckily, the seeds were near the register and parsnips were readily available.  I grabbed a package, paid, and sent Chris a text saying I got the seeds.  He responded once I got in the car and asked if they had seed potatoes yet.  I turned around and headed back inside.  This time, I realized I could hear chicks in the chick house near the front door.  That’s definitely a sign that it’s almost spring!  I quickly grabbed a set of purple seed potatoes (why not!) and paid again.

Once I grabbed what I needed at Agway it was time to steer the car towards the next county over so that I could go to the Barkery, a specialty pet store that carries the cat food I needed to pick up.  Because it was almost rush hour I decided to ask the Waze app to skip 195 (traffic city) and take the back roads.  That was a great choice!  I got to take a 25 minute drive through Chesterfield and Robbinsville, past farms and field, around all of the traffic.

When I got to Hamilton the sun was beginning to set and the wind was picking up.  I left the dogs in the car and ran into the store.  It got cold here today so I wasn’t worried about leaving them in the car for five minutes. In the store, I met a 10-week old boxer puppy, got a free sample of a new raw cat food, and picked up everything I needed.  As I was making my way to the register I glanced out the front windows and saw snow!  More than snow, actually- it looked like a blizzard!  It was a complete white-out and I could not even see my car in the parking lot!

Within minutes it stopped and the sun came out again.  But now the ground and the trees were covered in sparkling snow.  Wasn’t it 70 degrees just the other day?


New Jersey- where you can experience all four seasons in a single week.  How insane is that?  The dogs were excited to see the dusting of snow, at least.  And it didn’t affect my commute home.  In fact, I don’t think it snowed anywhere besides Hamilton!  I saw no snow on my way home and there was not sign of snow at my house when I got home.  Weather is totally weird!

Slice of Life #2- Field Guide to NJ Species

Last week I tried a new assignment with my 9th graders and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Our current unit is called Literature and the Land and we are focusing on nature writing.  Specifically, we began by studying writers like Edward Abbey and John Muir and moved to writers who focus on New Jersey.  Right now the students are reading excerpts from John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I’ve also been sharing picture books like Coyote Moon, Finding Wild, and Faraway Fox.

It’s too cold to go outside most days so I wanted to come up with a way for my students to learn about species found in NJ without forcing them to freeze.  I’ve always loved field guides so I decided to challenge them to create a field guide to NJ species. I borrowed a bunch of field guides from the biology teacher to use as mentor texts and drew up the assignment.  Using resources like Conserve Wildlife NJ and the NJ Fish & Game site, the groups of students each chose three species to focus on.  They studied our field guide mentor texts and figured out what their pages would look like.

I wasn’t sure how this would turn out but I am so glad I did it anyway.  The kids blew me away with their research and designs!  There are a few changes I would make for next year but I definitely plan to do it again. It was a really fun way to bring science into my English class while helping students learn about the local environment.  The assignment helped them practice their research skills, concise writing, and photo licensing. Definitely a lot of fun while killing a bunch of birds with one stone.

If you are interested in trying this with your students you can check out my assignment sheet.  You could focus on your town, county, state, or region.  You could even encourage students to choose animals that they see in their own neighborhoods.

Slice of Life #1- Year 10!

Happy March! March means it’s Slice of Life time and this year is my 10th participating in the month-long writing challenge. Ten years! 

Today it was 70° and humid after school: not exactly March weather. My phone buzzed with a severe thunderstorm warning on the ride home. Is it summer? I wondered. 

My normal routine is to come home, feed the puppy, then take the dogs for a nice hike. Today I did not want to be caught out in the woods during a storm so I had to hustle. Poor Navan ate quickly and then we all jumped in the car. It was dark and the wind was picking up but I wanted to get a mile in, at the very least. To save time we headed to the county park a few blocks away. 

The good news was that the park was empty due to the weather. We parked and jumped on the closest trail. 

Two miles later the clouds were closing in and the wind was picking up, but the rain hadn’t started. The dogs were tired and that means I can get things done tonight. Plus, walking in the woods is relaxing. It’s my favorite part of each day. 

#NeverForget My 9/11 Story

It still seems like just yesterday.

I had moved into my dorm at Douglass College just days earlier. As I sat in the dining hall on that beautiful morning with my best friend Erin chatting about our schedules, I remember hearing the morning radio show talking about the Twin Towers. I also remember Erin and I wondering aloud why talk radio was being broadcast in the dining hall and why were the hosts talking about something that had happened in 1993? We tuned it out; it became nothing more than white noise in the background. We were college students and it didn’t seem important. 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. We had the internet but it was hardwired and most of my time was spent on AIM, not looking at news sites. I had a cell phone but it definitely wasn’t smart.  In class I had a notebook and pen, so there was no way to seek out any more information than what the instructor shared with us. 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 and 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.  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 they heard that 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.

As I walked into my building, I could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air hit me like a slap in the face. Girls were walking around crying.  A group was huddled around the one television in the back lounge.   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 floormates 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 in touch with 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 where I 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. We’d only met a few days earlier and suddenly the scariest event of our lives was occurring in the city we thought of as our own.  The city.

After a few minutes, I couldn’t watch the news anymore. 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 hoped 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) who 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, alternating between watching the television coverage and reading each other updates from the internet. At one point, fighter jets flew over campus and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. Were we at war? That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I sent IMs and received IMs from friends who were at school in the city, in DC, and across the country. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, only about 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.

AOL Instant Messenger was our lifeline. Away messages served as  life affirmers.  Emails were sent back and forth.

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 classmates 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…

Later that day, my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made a decision. I went home.

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, if we were safe.  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 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. Today, Middletown is known as the place that lost the most residents on 9/11 after NYC.  There are memorials all over town.  There are scholarships and 5K races each year in memory of those who were lost.  It’s a constant part of so many lives.

We all grew up that day and our lives changed forever. Safety and security became the most important social and political issues.  9/11 effects us to this day; we take our shoes off at the airport, we arrive 3 hours early, and we still get a little too nervous when flying. But this isn’t new for my students. For them, it’s just the way it’s always been. September 11th is history to them, something they read about each year. For my entire teaching 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 now?  My students 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 today 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. I  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……

Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari – Interview and Giveaway!

Hop on over to Wild Delight to learn about one of my favorite picture books of 2016 and comment to win your own copy!

wild delight

A few months ago I saw someone on Twitter mention an upcoming picture book about coyotes.  Now, anyone who’s heard me talk about my grad school program knows that the intersection of humans and animals (especially apex predators) is a special passion of mine.  I am particularly interested in coyotes because they’ve adapted so well to humans, especially in urban areas.  Last year I was able to hear Dr. Mark Weckel of the Gotham Coyote Project speak and it only further stoked the fires of my interest.  I’ve been lucky enough to see coyotes in my town and last year a few of my students worked with me and my biology colleague to set camera traps on school property in order to see if coyotes were living there. We haven’t seen any coyotes (yet!) but we know there is a good chance they are in the area.  We did…

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