Category Archives: Slice of Life

A Treasure Hunt: SOLC #23

I like to think of each day a treasure hunt. I look for those hidden gems–sometimes only unseeable because of my own shortsightedness.

On those days when everything seems unbearably humdrum, monotonous, with sameness coloring my every thought, I have to stretch myself to find something, anything at all, that I can classify as treasure.

I was finding myself in the humdrum doldrums on a recent walk at the beach. Impossible, you say! The beach couldn’t possibly be boring or mundane. Except when my brain fills with negative thoughts…all the I want-tos that just can’t happen…yet.

Time for a treasure hunt.

Winter tides bring lots of rock onto the shore. And sometimes, when the light is right and I look at just the right angle, I’ll notice the glint of buried treasure. Sea glass comes in a variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and degrees of ocean sanding. It’s always such a treat to come across a piece during a walk along the shore.

Sometimes the treasure is all about just how you look at something. There’s a place along the beach that we call “the corner.” The cliff juts out a bit, making it tricky to get around when the tide is high. But when you look at that corner, the cliff itself, just right, a face appears. Another treasure. Judge for yourself.

You never know when you’ll come across the remains of someone’s work of art. It might be a stack of stones: a beach cairn. It might be an image raked into the sand. And sometimes it’s a sand castle. This treasure caught my eye because of its creative use of algae. Even in its tumbledown ruin, you can see the brilliance of the design…and the cloudy light also brings a certain feeling of low-key ambiance that whispers treasure in my ear.

Reliving this treasure hunt brightens my day. Remember that treasure is in the eye of the beholder–that the littlest of bright spots can make all the difference in the way you feel at the end of the day. Make time for a little treasure hunt. I’d love to see what treasures you find!

Tiny Perfect Things: SOLC #22

Today students continued their work with photography after we read Tiny Perfect Things. We took the iPads and headed out onto the track around the field to uncover our own tiny (or not so tiny) perfect things. We then used Elaine Magliaro’s poem Things to do if you are a Pencil as a mentor text to get started on a poem to accompany the photo each student selected.

We didn’t get to any sort of publication today, so I don’t have student texts to share with you. That will have to come later.

But, I did write with my students, inspired by this photo and our mentor text.

Popover Memories: SOLC #21

If you’ve read this blog over the years, you know a couple of things about me and food.

Today, my husband decided, would be the perfect morning for popovers. Unlike biscuits, popovers are not a food I grew up eating. In fact, I first had popovers a few years ago: at Acadia National Park in Maine.

I listened to the mixer whirl as Geoff prepared the ingredients to pour into the special popover pan that we purchased upon returning from our Maine exploration. It’s one of those pans that is specially made for just this purpose–so most of the time, the pan is buried in a lower drawer that we don’t frequently access.

While they baked in the oven we had a quick conversation with our 5-year-old twin grandsons, who love to see what grandpa is up to in the kitchen. After saying goodbye to their special friends (those special much-loved items that are always close by when they are at home), I heard the timer ring. When the oven opened, a warm eggy smell filled the air, mixing with the smell of coffee freshly brewed.

And as I bit into one of these tasty treats, smothered in butter and jam, my mind revisited that moment when I was introduced to this comforting snack on a cool summer day not far from Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

We had walked and walked, following a hiking trail that circled the pond.

My camera ever in hand, I couldn’t resist take photos of all the mushrooms. There were so many varieties and they were such bright colors! (So different from mushroom life here in Southern California!)

And we ended our adventure in a National Park restaurant–known for its popovers. So when in popover territory–and after hiking all day–try some popovers.

Today’s popover breakfast took me back to that wonderful Maine exploration. What a wonderful way to take a mini-vacation through my memories (and some photos) in the midst of this mind-numbing pandemic. I look forward to my next trip to Maine and some more popovers…sooner rather than later!

Fog: SOLC #20

I walked into a cloud, experiencing it now from the inside out. Water drops too small to see kiss my cheeks as they swirl and dance all around me. My vision is soft-edged, everything ahead of me in vignette. Cocooned in light as the sun’s rays, wrapped in cotton balls, bounce and reflect. The world feels close and small in the cloud. I can’t see too far ahead or too far behind, I’m forced into the here and now, noticing what is right here.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the cloud lifts and opens wide, like a deep breathe and the blue appears. The world expands and the view shifts. I walk out of the fog.

Walking and Wondering: SOLC #19

I’ve walked a lot of laps around the neighborhood. Worn a pathway through the gate, along the sidewalk, turning east and then back to the west. Passing house after house after house. I’ve watched the seasons change: buds become flowers and then fall away as spring becomes summer. The days shorten and leaves drop as summer becomes autumn. I change my walking time as dark pervades and autumn becomes winter. And a year later I’m watching those trees and bushes and groundcovers begin to bud and bloom once again.

I’ve logged mile after mile. But instead of seeing the same scenes days after day, I see new sights each time I head out. Don’t get me wrong–this pathway has become tedious, boring even. I’d much rather be somewhere else, exploring new vistas, hanging out with different people, seeing places I haven’t see before. But for now, this remains my scene.

This week I noticed that a neighbor has a structure that peeks out above their hedge. Maybe the structure had always been there–but this week I noticed that it is adorned with license plates. Utah, Hawaii, Massachusetts, California, Montana… Is this a license plate collection? A record of places lived? Cars owned? A lot bid on and won from an online auction? And what is the structure? A pergola? A shed? A chicken coop?

I don’t have the answers, but the wondering makes these somewhat boring walks a bit more interesting.

Thinking about Data: SOLC #18

Have you ever had the experience where you read a post on social media and it sends you down a rabbit hole of further exploration, thinking, and wanting to tell everyone you come across about what you found?

Laurie over at the San Marcos Writing Project Facebook page does an amazing job of posting current blog posts and articles related to education, writing, and connections among and beyond. It’s like an article-at-a-glance from so many different sources. I’m not really sure how she does it, but I totally appreciate her curation of relevant information. Every once in a while, one of the articles shared catches my attention and I find myself going into a deep, satisfying swan dive.

The title, The Trouble with Data, immediately got my attention today. In the piece, the blogger talks about data related to the COVID pandemic–the lack of it, the problems with it–based on a science article in the Atlantic–and then extrapolates it to education.

The three points, in both the Atlantic article and in the blog post, resonated with me and my own experiences with folks who value data (meaning numbers) over all other ways of knowing. The argument these data people always want to make is that data is objective, other ways of knowing are subjective. (Meaning, objective=good, subjective=bad)

Now, please be assured, I am not anti-data or anti-science. I simply always want to know where the numbers came from, how they are gathered, who made the decisions, and about decisions made about how they are displayed and explained. I’ve spent plenty of time in conversations with colleagues explaining that in these seemingly objective testing scenarios, the subjectivity can be found in the decisions made prior to giving the test–in the development of content, format, who is tested, etc.

The three points that I keep thinking about are:

1. All data are created; data never simply exist


2. Data are a photograph, not a window.


3. Data are just another type of information.

When I think about the ways testing data is used to describe our students, the ways it constrains teaching and learning with a huge emphasis on test prep and tremendous time spent away from teaching and learning that is instead spent on the testing process, and the ways what teachers and families know about students is diminished as irrelevant compared to those “snapshots,” I keep going back to my questions about where the data comes from. I encourage you to read and think about data and the ways it is presented–often without context, background, and transparency.

And one more tidbit–this one about some “learning loss” numbers being thrown out into our educational mix. Check out this article from Forbes about where the number–57 days of learning lost during the pandemic–came from.

A quote shared in the Atlantic article to chew on:

Data-driven thinking isn’t necessarily more accurate than other forms of reasoning, and if you do not understand how data are made, their seams and scars, they might even be more likely to mislead you.

My mind is swirling with so many thoughts. I might need a conversation group to talk through some of this!

6-Word Story: SOLC #17

It all began with green beer.

That’s my 6-word story…and I’m sticking to it. It’s the story of meeting Geoff and the love story that we have lived since that day. (Ironically, it wasn’t actually on March 17th, it was on March 10th–must have had something to do with our college spring break.)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Photos and Small Poems: SOLC #16

I love the garden as an outdoor learning space for students. As you may have read yesterday, we began the process of experimenting with some photography techniques in preparation for some writing today. The PM group was rained out of the garden yesterday, but today was bright and sunny so they were able to catch up and try their hand at using the photography techniques.

Today students selected a photo from the garden, and in the spirit of Ansel Adams, transformed the photo to black and white using a filter in the iPad. This photo along with Eve Merriam’s poem, Peeling an Orange, became the inspiration and mentor text for their own original small poems. Before starting our own poems, we took the time to study Peeling an Orange carefully. We named what we noticed: the use of comparisons (similes and metaphors), the opposition of the words carelessly and meticulously (serendipitously, meticulous had been a vocabulary word earlier this year), the inclusion of sensory use (smell). Then I set a timer (something that I find focuses these third grade writers) for 7 minutes and off they wrote!

We shared a few, noticing the interesting comparisons, the use of strong verbs and other vocabulary and moved to the next step: creating a shared Google slide deck to display the photos and poems. While not everyone finished today, I did ask if students were okay with me sharing some of their writing on my blog. They were excited by the prospect.

Here’s a couple of student examples:

And one of mine (since I always write with students):

I’ve been intentionally prioritizing time for writing–from start to finish–in the classroom, in spite of the short time we have in our hybrid schedule. It is totally worth the time spent–and I am seeing the writing improve when students write in community. I look forward to more time for writing as my students return to the classroom for full days, in one group, beginning in mid-April.

Purple Beans: SOLC #15

With rain in the forecast (again!), I was thankful to be able to get my morning group of students out into the garden with their iPads. (No such luck with my PM group–but that is another blog post.)

In the fall, we had spent time in the garden clearing out overgrown beds, pulling weeds and enormous carrots that hadn’t been harvested because of our pandemic shutdown. We groomed the soil, sowed some seeds, made sure the irrigation was working–and then my attention turned to other instructional priorities, neglecting the garden.

This is the time of the year when I like to use photography as a tool to teach my students about perspective, about “seeing” the world in different ways, and about the role photos have played as advocacy. We’ve learned a bit about Dorothea Lange and her photographs during the depression and World War II and also about Ansel Adams and his photos of National Parks and Japanese internment camps.

So we headed into the garden to try on a few photography techniques: a bug’s eye view, leading lines, natural frames, and the rule of thirds. A lot had changed since our last visit to the garden before the winter holidays! We were greeted by 4 foot tall dandelions, beets bigger than a your head, and plenty of other surprises.

My students happily explored with their iPads in search of photographs. They laid on the ground seeking that bug’s eye view, looking up and under the masses of plants. They sought frames and lines, hopefully holding their devices still enough to prevent the inevitable blur that so many experience. They used those helpful grid lines to define the focus of their subject and carefully place it for their rule of thirds photos.

And they pointed out all the wonders they found. There was the little girl who worked diligently to photograph the roly poly that was trying to make a quick get away and the one who dug around in the garden bed and discovered that giant beet (above). They photographed flowers and beans, pinecones and weeds…and who knows what all else.

I found myself captivated by the purple beans. Lots and lots of purple beans and the mass of curlicues reaching up and around.

Tomorrow we will examine our photos, evaluating how well the photography techniques work in helping us look carefully. We’ll also do some writing, using the photos as inspiration and subject matter. And maybe we’ll also get back to some gardening. Weed those beds again, harvest our overgrown bounty, and start again with seeds. Seeds that will also help us grow–as photographers, writers, and advocates too!

Snowy Adventure: SOLC #14

I had a snow day today. Of course I know that most of you will be scratching your head and thinking, what is she talking about? It’s Sunday! But then you will need to know that, in fact, I have never had a snow day. Not once have I experienced one of those days that so many of you describe. No school, no work, just a snowy day for tucking in to read by the fire or to spend outdoors playing in the snow. (You may also notice some romanticizing that goes along with never having lived where it snows!)

I’m lucky enough to live in a place where within a two hour drive you can go to the beach, to the desert, or to the mountains. So this morning as we debated how to spend a wide-open Sunday, my husband suggested our local mountains. With rain last week on the coast, our mountains got some snow. We wondered if the snow was still on the ground, so we checked out the mountain webcam just to see what to expect. It looked like there was still some patches of snow at the highest elevations, so we dressed for snow, laced up our hiking boots, and headed east.

As we passed the 4000 ft mark, we started to notice small bits of snow on the side of the road. We zigzagged up the winding mountain switchbacks, at times feeling like we were right in the middle of the clouds. At about 5000 ft, the skies opened up to all the shades of blue along with bright sunshine…and snow! We started to find cars pulled off to the sides of the already narrowed roads and saw kids on plastic sleds and boogie boards slipping and sliding on available open roadside patches of snow.

When we got to the Palomar Observatory we found the parking lots closed and fences bolted. But not far from there, we found our own side-of-the-road space to pull into. We pulled on hats and jackets and headed out to explore. We stomped through some snow drifts, hoping to find some marked trails to hike. Instead, we found still fresh snow perfect for snowman building. So…we built (in a minimalist sort of way).

I love to explore through the lens of my camera. I snapped pictures of pine cones, of snow tucked in the nooks of trees, of rounded mounds on tree stumps softened by the sun. (I had abandoned my jacket by then–it was a gorgeous, warm snowy day!)

And we even found some places with stunning long range vistas of the valley below.

When we headed back down the mountain to the west, we decided to make a stop at the beach for a walk to get those exercise minutes logged on our watches since the hiking trails on the mountains just weren’t accessible to us snow novices. It was a mountains to the sea kind of snowy day adventure. And the perfect way to spend a wide-open, spring-ahead Sunday.