Monthly Archives: May 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge: Going Places

Enjoy taking photos? Love to share them with others? Welcome to this week’s photo challenge! (I post a new challenge every week…check in each week and join the fun!)

As I think about a photo challenge for this week, my mind is also on the horrendous fires burning in my community.  (If you are interested you can read more about it in yesterday’s blog post.)  Schools were closed today and most, including mine, are also closed tomorrow.  The firefighters are amazing and the flames are fierce.  At one point yesterday we had at least 9 separate fires burning in San Diego county.  And while there is still danger and fear around…it’s time to think about a photo challenge for the week.  I had one all ready to go…and then changed my mind and decided to go in a different direction–literally and figuratively.

Seeing the sky fill with smoke creates an urge to move…to check on your home and neighborhood, to see what is going on, to make sure children and animals are safe.  This photo was my “going” photo yesterday…as fires moved into my area.

smoke over cardiff

But earlier in the week, I had done some other versions of “going places” as  I headed up to the Bay Area to attend a conference and visit my son…and took advantage of the opportunity to ride the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

bart station

Sometimes going places is as simple as taking the dog out for a walk around the neighborhood.  (You can see I fell a bit behind as I stopped along the way to take photos of other interesting things in the neighborhood!)

walking Roscoe

And then there’s this little guy who is genetically programmed (I think) to determine his travels based on eating his way through all available milkweed.  I love how the butterflies who lay the eggs seem to be always going places and somehow know how to find milkweed…this particular box of milkweed is outside my classroom.


So this week’s photo challenge is to capture an image or images that show someone or something going places.  As always, you are welcome to interpret “going places” in ways that suit you best! Post either the photo alone or along with writing inspired by the photo. I also invite you to use others’ photos as inspiration for your own writing and photography. I often use another photographer’s image as “mentor text” for my own photography, trying to capture some element in my own way.

I like to share my images and writing on social media…and I invite you to share yours widely too. (You might consider Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+) Use the hashtag #goingplaces and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602. I’d love to follow you if you share your handle.

You can also share your photos and writing by linking to this blog post or sharing in the comment section below. How will you show going places through your lens?  I can’t wait to find out!




Palm trees, the Pacific ocean, mild temperatures, sea breezes…paradise in so many ways.  But this week we are reminded that even in beautiful southern California, there are risks and dangers that make us all feel powerless and frightened.

High temperatures, low humidity, Santa Ana winds…and extreme drought conditions… combine to make the scariest of conditions for us this week.  This is fire weather.

And yesterday…with temperatures into the 90s on the coast, the worst happened, a fire erupted.  In these conditions, the smallest of sparks is fanned into a raging inferno.  With a single fire yesterday, all fire resources were focused on battling that fire.  My husband watched air drops from his office window.  Schools were evacuated, residents were evacuated…no buildings burned and that fire is at 50% containment.

Today it was already more than 80 degrees when I woke up…and was warming quickly. Before the end of our minimum day, as I spent time observing reading groups, I noticed what appeared to be clouds in the sky.  As I walked out to take a closer look, and take a photo, I noticed the dark smoke in the distance and headed to the office to find out if there was more information about nearby fires.  I had heard earlier that there were fires on Camp Pendleton (a nearby military base), but this new smoke was much closer…a few miles from home.

fire from cardiff

Shortly after students left, we had an announcement that our staff meeting was canceled and we were free to go to our homes–with many teachers living close to areas threatened by the fire.  The thing about fires is that they are unpredictable.  They aren’t easily controlled and they turn in an instant.  Winds whip them this way and that and they create their own weather systems within the fire itself, fanning the flames and generating tremendous energy that seems to spin the destruction in all directions.  100 degree temperatures didn’t help the firefighters, but water drops and the expertise and courage of these people manage to keep devastation to a minimum.

At one point this afternoon there were at least 7 active fires in the county…most in north county.  Some houses have been lost, but human life at this point has not.  School has been cancelled for tomorrow and uncertainty prevails.  I’m fortunate, my family and home are safe…for now, but we are watchful and vigilant because this is not yet over.

Here are a few photos of the fires…courtesy of some of my friends who shared them on social media.

Bernardo fire, Tuesday (photo credit: Abby)

Bernardo fire, Tuesday (photo credit: Abby)

Oceanside fire, today. Photo credit: Janis

Oceanside fire, today. Photo credit: Janis

Carlsbad fire from Encinitas, Photo credit: Laura

Carlsbad fire from Encinitas, Photo credit: Laura

Like tornados and earthquakes and floods and storms, wildfires are scary.  They make you feel helpless and vulnerable…and they reveal all the weaknesses of our urban systems.  Traffic jams up, electricity capacity is compromised, and we often realize we do not have the plans in place that will serve us best in an emergency.  My bags are packed…just in case…and the cat carriers are ready if things change and we have to leave our home.

In the meantime, thank you firefighters for your amazing service, expertise, and dedication.  I hate fire weather, but I love this place.  I understand that wildfires are a natural part of our ecosystem, made more difficult because of urban development, but it doesn’t make me like them.  It does make me more wary about fire, and more vigilant about paying attention to fire safety advisements and preparation.

So, stay safe San Diego, take care of yourself and each other.  It’s supposed to be hot again tomorrow…and then cool off.  I hope tomorrow brings good news and containment!






A Mother’s Day Adventure

Sometimes one invitation creates space for new adventures and unexpected opportunities.  And for me that invitation led to today’s Mother’s Day adventure.

Tomorrow I will attend the 100Kin10 Summit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco–an effort focused on improving STEM teaching by bringing interested stakeholders in lots of different fields together to support teacher development and retention.  But more about that later…

So this morning I was on the moveheading to San Francisco on Mother’s Day to spend the day (and night) with my son and daughter-in-law.  And all of today’s travels were adventures…trying some new ways to getting where I needed and wanted to go.

I started my morning on an airline I hadn’t flown before.  I made my decision based on both price (of course) and on my need to fly into SFO.  There were lots of choices…and Southwest is usually my go to airline for short jaunts like this.  But this time I decided to try out Virgin America.  Advantages: same cost as Southwest, secured seat assignment (no worries about checking in exactly 24 hours before your flight to get your line-up number).  It also has a very different vibe…feels a bit “retro” and “hip”…especially the safety features video (a music video piece…quite amusing!).  The purple light decor and the music that played during the boarding process added to that feeling.

Virgin airlines

My flight arrived early into San Francisco…another plus, and I headed off to find the BART.  Today I would ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system from the airport to my son’s house in the east bay.  I’ve ridden BART before, but not from SFO and not to my son’s house.  And you probably know, when you don’t do something very often, each time feels like something new.  Figuring out how to buy the ticket was probably the trickiest part of my journey…and it wasn’t too challenging.

sfo bart station

bart rails

I spent the BART ride people watching and taking photos of the scenery passing by.  While the train was relatively empty when I got on at the airport, it continued to fill as we headed from station to station toward the city.  There were travelers with luggage, young people with backpacks, families…a cute family with three exuberant boys got on at one point, the young couple with the bouquet of flowers for her mom, the guy with the electric bike that he positioned between his knees so he could sit and work his crossword puzzle for the journey, the older woman who was off to spend the day with her son, the cute older couple who held hands as they found seats, and more…

electric bike

I took this shot by shooting out the window while we traveled at a fast pace through a tunnel, capturing the reflection of people in the car with me.

window reflection

It was fun to watch and notice and recognize the different communities along the way, from the colorful houses on the hillsides between the airport and the downtown area to views of the oil rigs and shipping containers outside of Oakland, and then the expansive hillsides of the suburban east bay communities.  I arrived as scheduled, ready for my son to pick me up.

bart station distance

After being treated to lunch out with my son and daughter-in-law, we had a relaxing Mother’s Day, hanging out at their house, catching up and talking, and playing with Roscoe…their Corgi. We were still on the move as we headed out for a walk into the sunny and warm afternoon, giving me an opportunity to explore their neighborhood.

dog walking

And…it gets better…my son cooked a delicious dinner for us!  The perfect ending to a wonderful day filled with adventure, movement, and love.  I’ll be back on BART tomorrow, commuting with my son this time, as he heads in to work and I head in for the conference…


A Conversation With a Duck

Sometimes a conversation with a duck takes a surprising turn.

mallard talking

This guy had a lot to say about my camera and the intrusion of his privacy.  He stood right up and let me know that my attention was not wanted.  Before I had walked toward him, he had been sitting in this spot, relaxing in the cool and sunny afternoon sun.  A couple of females swam nearby.  This little body of water sits next to a local community college…across the street from the local lagoon.

mallard swimming

As I walked back toward my car, this mallard continued his conversation as he stepped into the water and swam upstream, against the current.

I’ve been working to capture some of the sounds I hear on my photo walks these days.  And it’s hard.  When I am out walking and taking photos and noticing the world around me, I also hear amazing sounds…like the conversation with the duck.  Unfortunately, the microphone on my iPhone is simply not sensitive enough to capture these conversations with nature.

Today I headed out to a portion of the lagoon I had never explored before.  It was strangely desolate…dry, smelly…not the lush environment I experienced closer to the shore.  I could hear so much more than I could see in this setting.  Birds called, dragonflies and bees buzzed, the rushes whispered, and I could hear the white noise of the traffic from the freeway not far in the distance.  I came across this sign…and it made me wonder if the birds take note of information like this!

bird sign

As I explored this dry and deserted environment, I noticed these strangely unique plants…I don’t know what they are called and haven’t seen them before…but was immediately drawn to them.  My husband called them alien flowers and immediately began a narrative about visitations from aliens (he is a big sci-fi aficionado).  Personally, I think these thistle-looking flowers are beautiful!

alien flowers

As I walked along the road away from the lagoon toward my car, I found myself thinking about the distinctions between weeds and native species…and in many cases, I think they may be one in the same!  I doubt that anyone planted these flowers, but I recognize them as native.  I have seen them often in and around the lagoon…and they are lovely…especially as they blow in the sea breezes.  They are like miniature sunflowers or daisies…brilliant yellow…the definition of spring!

flowers near lagoon

I walked through many patches of these flowers growing wild along the side of the road, attracting bees and other pollinators, and simply making the road more beautiful than ordinary dirt and asphalt ever thought of being.  And then I noticed this tree, large and stately…and likely home to many birds and bugs, and shade to many more.

tree near lagoon

I learn so much on my walks with my camera…even when I don’t capture it in images.  Today I was much more aware of sounds than images.  What looked like dried grasses and brush hinted at a richness of life within.  I could hear birds calling, the rustle of animals, and the wind singing in tune with the plant life.  I came across a hidden babbling brook and wondered if the water were fresh or brackish.  At one point a bee came to whisper in my ear and stayed with me longer than I really wanted.

And so I am reminded to not just look…but also to listen to the world around me.  There is so much to be learned from a conversation with a mallard or the whispers of a bee, if you just take the time to listen.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Chasing Shadows

Enjoy taking photos? Love to share them with others? Welcome to this week’s photo challenge! (I post a new challenge every week…check in each week and join the fun!)

Inspired by the Daily Create (and a little nudge from Kevin), I’ve been chasing shadows today. Actually, when I first saw the daily create prompt for today, shadow guessing, my thoughts immediately went to a photo I took over the weekend.

litterati shadow

I’m sure you know by now that I love to walk on the beach.  Something you might not know is that my husband (who often accompanies me on my walks) loves to walk with a trash bag in hand to pick up trash from the beach.  About a year or so ago I discovered the #litterati movement–people taking and posting photos of trash they come across, especially in nature, and then throw away.  By posting these photos on social media using the #litterati hashtag, they hope to bring more attention to the importance of taking care of our world.  This shadow is my husband as #litterati.

And then I remembered this photo of a sign in Ocean Beach that projected a wonderful shadow of itself…perfectly positioned for a picture!

ocean beach shadow

But I wanted to find photos to take today…hence, the shadow chasing rather than shadow guessing prompt.  Luckily we had some sun this afternoon, and as I headed to my car after work I came across some interesting shadows.

hydrant shadow

bicycle shadow

eucalyptus tree shadow

And I love that the light stays out longer these days.  The sun was still present even when I got home this evening.  I captured this interesting shadow playing with the railing on the stairs in my house.

light fixture on bannister shadow

So this week’s photo challenge is to chase some shadows…or create some shadows.  You can play shadow guessing or chase some interesting shadows that you just can’t resist snapping up with your lens. Post either the photo alone or along with writing inspired by the photo. I also invite you to use others’ photos as inspiration for your own writing and photography. I often use another photographer’s image as “mentor text” for my own photography, trying to capture some element in my own way.

I like to share my images and writing on social media…and I invite you to share yours widely too. (You might consider Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+) Use the hashtag #shadow and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602. I’d love to follow you if you share your handle.

You can also share your photos and writing by linking to this blog post or sharing in the comment section below. Go out and chase some shadows…who knows what interesting images the shadows will help you create!



Morning Light

When you live in a place with moderate temperatures all year long, the end of winter and the beginning of spring often pass unnoticed.  Plants grow and flowers bloom all year long…outdoors!  So this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge at the Daily Post was a hard one.  I feel like I have already posted photos of beautiful blooms and outdoor fun…so what does spring really mean to me?

We had a few days of unseasonably hot weather last week…it felt more like September than the end of April/beginning of May.  But this week we’re back to more usual, cooler temps (in the 60’s).

I came across this quote from photographer Henri Cartier Bresson last night and realized that I, too, use my camera as a sketchbook, capturing moments and feelings as I come across them.

“For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson

I’ve been paying attention to changes in light and color, especially when it comes to my photography, trying to capture those instances of soft glow and light that seem to kiss the subject. And I have instances in my camera roll that capture these noticings.

This morning my eye was drawn to the clouds on my way to work…and I had to pull over to snap a few shots of the ocean and the clouds above.

ocean from the road

And while the original was nice, I love the way the filter adds even more dimension to the clouds.

Even before I left the house this morning I had my camera (phone) out as I noticed Phil laying on our new rug (no furniture in that space yet) in the morning light. This is unedited and unfiltered.

Phil on carpet

On Saturday morning my husband was up early baking.  I could smell his handiwork as I woke up, knowing that he enjoys the early morning quiet for his cooking creativity.  When I made my way down to the kitchen, I saw the blueberry pie cooling in the morning light and couldn’t resist taking a photo.

morning pie

Later that morning, when I was walking on the beach I noticed the reflection of this fishing pole on the sand.  And I managed to not only capture the reflection of the pole in the wet sand and also the soft light on the beach on a sunny Saturday morning in May.

fishing pole

Now that spring is here, the days are longer and I’m noticing differences in the quality of light, especially in the morning and early evening.  So maybe spring is about light for me. At least right now it is.

Lighting Up Writing and Art: a Design Challenge

My students love a project!  Project communicates to them that they will be doing some making, some designing, some problem solving, and probably a good bit of collaborating.  They also know that projects are about sustained time to create something they will value…and likely, others will too.

The project they did last week comes from 21st Century Notebooking: work I have done in collaboration with Paul Oh of the National Writing Project, Jennifer Dick of Nexmap, and David Cole of CV2.   I’ve had a few opportunities to explore the possibilities of “lighting up” my writing and art–and knew right away that my students would both love the opportunity and learn a lot from working with circuits and writing and art.  I feel fortunate to have the chance to pilot the use of LED stickers with my students and explore the ways a project like this works with young students (grades 1, 2, and 3).

On Monday we started with a pre-assessment to document what my students already knew about circuits and electricity (not much) and then to read a picture book to give them a bit of background knowledge about how electricity and circuits work.  We read Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger to give students an overview of electricity and circuits.  And while the book is a bit dated, it did pique students’ interest and generated lots and lots of questions.  “Breaks” in circuits in conjunction with switches created lots of confusion!

On Tuesday we began talking about how light might impact a piece of writing and art.  I showed students examples that I had created and then they began to brainstorm other possibilities…focusing on topics and things they cared about.  They were invited to come up with at least four possibilities and began sketching them in their writer’s notebooks.

Just this small selection shows the variety of ideas…and students were eagerly discussing not only what they would draw, but also what they would write.  And in typical fashion they were already questioning whether they had to write in the format I had written (I had written a Haiku as my example) or if they could write in some other way.  For me, this was a demonstration of the ownership they were already feeling as the creative juices flowed.

On Wednesday, students were asked to commit to a design and draw it on their folded booklet. Then I showed them how to draw a circuit diagram on the inside of their booklet that would allow them to put the light(s) where they wanted them to shine through.

circuit diagram

series diagram

Thursday was the day that the kids got their hands on the copper tape and LED light stickers. Before they tackled creating their own circuits, I showed them how to work with the materials, how to make turns with the tape, how to use the stickers to measure how far to run their tape…and then they set off to work.

working with led stickers

guiding copper tape

The room hummed with the 43 six through nine-year-olds all focused on getting their circuits constructed with the tape and lights.  Many worked with a basic one-light circuit and a few brave students tackled a parallel circuit that included two lights.  When the first circuit worked, the entire room lit up with the students’ excited energy.

circuit success

But as you might imagine, every student was not successful on their first attempt.  We suspected we might have to deal with a few tears of frustration during the course of the project…but, although there was frustration, everyone kept at it, and the spirit of collaboration and encouragement could be felt across the room.  Some students became expert debuggers–and helped their classmates figure out why their circuit wasn’t working.  And my teaching partner and I also became experts, giving recommendations and helping those little hands that had trouble keeping their copper tape smooth and getting their battery lined up and clipped on.  Even before everyone finished, it was time to clean up…and we reassured them that we would return to the project the next day.

On Friday we were fortunate to have our school’s science teacher design a lab to complement our project.  She had students work in groups of four to attach components to make a circuit with an AA battery and battery holder, a light holder and a small incandescent light.  Because of their experience with the circuits in their project, this was a fun review for them…and they loved that they were able to get their circuits to work!

science lab with circuits


light with Joe

As part of the lab, they also explored conductors and insulators and noticed which materials allowed the light to light up and which interfered.  All of this was useful information as they returned to their circuit/notebooking project to problem solve circuit issues and continue with their art and writing.  By the end of the work period on Friday every student had successfully gotten their circuit constructed and their light(s) to work.  And we learned some important lessons along the way.  The stickers are pretty easy to work with, but grubby little hands can cause interference with the conductivity of the adhesive.  We had a few instances where we needed to pull the adhesive off and use tape to secure the sticker.  And sometimes our best approach was to peel the copper off and begin again.

Here are few examples of student projects:

circuit project-CJ

circuit project sophie

circuit project-elke

circuit project_Eva

We still have some final details to complete…including some writing about the science learning that took place during the project. And students are anxious to get a closer look at everyone else’s projects too!  So this week we will take some time to concentrate on the finishing details and already have a gallery walk planned for students to get a close look at all the projects.  The kids can’t wait to take these projects home…but they will have to wait until after Open House later this month.  We just have to have them on display on that night to allow families to experience the “wow” factor in the classroom.

With all the work we have done with the power of iteration this year, I am wishing for some more LED stickers to allow my students a second chance to use these materials.  I am wondering what they can do and would do now that they understand the possibilities.  Maybe I can talk Jen and David into scrounging up a few more just to see what my students would come up with…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

Enjoy taking photos? Love to share them with others? Welcome to this week’s photo challenge! (I post a new challenge every week…check in each week and join the fun!)

As I go through my daily life, there are lots of things, places, and people I see every day.  And while they are not the same from day to day, they are quite often as I expect.  But this week as I looked through my pictures to decide on the weekly challenge, I realized that instead of seeing what I usually see, this week I had opportunities to catch glimpses of the unexpected.

On Sunday I headed off to the lagoon for a walk.  My husband usually pushes for the gym, but I am much happier out walking in nature than on the treadmill.  The lagoon is filled with native plants and there were lots of lizards scurrying about in the mild sun.  I’m used to seeing plants that thrive in a low water environment like the prickly pear cactus.  But it was unexpected to see these cactus in full bloom!  And what beauty these scaly, spiny plants displayed.

prickly pear in bloom

After work on Monday I was trying to convince myself to head the gym (you might notice a theme here–the exercise habit is a hard one for me to establish consistency with!) when I remembered that the tide would be low at the time I was leaving.  I rolled up my pant legs and walked along the shore, convincing myself that this would count as exercise.  As I left the beach to drive home, I took a look in my mirror and was hypnotized by the beauty of the ocean in the mirror.  While this photo doesn’t quite do it justice…you get the idea of my feelings of the unexpected.

ocean in the mirror

Tuesday I had a few minutes before an appointment, so parked and decided to squeeze a quick photo walk and an iced coffee into my schedule.  I took photos of some interesting buildings, a mineral water place (unexpected, but not a great photo!), and then I noticed this beautifully painted fire hydrant.

scenic fire hydrant

Last night I had a late meeting at school, an information night for my multiage program.  We’ve also had a heat wave, complete with scary Santa Ana winds, so when I headed out the door to head home it was still quite warm.  I teach in a place where when I walk out my classroom door and head down the hall I have an amazing view of the ocean.  But yesterday as I headed toward my car, the sky was painted in oranges and reds as the flaming sun dipped into the Pacific Ocean, creating this gorgeous and unexpected sunset.

sunset from school

And today my students reached the point in a project we are doing that they got to plan and construct the circuits that would light up their art design and writing.  I knew the circuits would be tricky for little hands, and while optimistic, I wasn’t sure how successful they would be, at least on their first try with these materials.  The first, “It worked!” was both unexpected and amazing…and gives me confidence that this project is within reach for my young students.

circuit success

So this week’s photo challenge is to pay attention as you go through your daily life and be on the lookout for the unexpected.  Or you might look through older photographs with an eye for the unexpected.  Post either the photo alone or along with writing inspired by the photo. I also invite you to use others’ photos as inspiration for your own writing and photography. I often use another photographer’s image as “mentor text” for my own photography, trying to capture some element in my own way.

I like to share my images and writing on social media…and I invite you to share yours widely too. (You might consider Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+) Use the hashtag #unexpected and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602. I’d love to follow you if you share your handle.

You can also share your photos and writing by linking to this blog post or sharing in the comment section below. Be on the lookout for the unexpected…who knows what this week’s challenge will bring!