Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Chickens are Restless

I got up at 3:30 this morning in order to get some words in the bank before the events of the day slowly and inevitably gobble up my writing time. I'm doing the single mom thing for a week while my husband is out of town for work, and the start of school has introduced all sorts of unexpected trips to the the dreaded commercial area near my (very) rural home.

I am also nursing a post-surgical Labrador Retriever, which has turned out to be a much bigger job than anticipated. She needed an ACL repair (start saving your pennies now, dog owners) and to have a "foreign body removal." Said foreign body was a horrifyingly large section of a stick that got jammed up into her leg via the space between her toes one day last January. We were out skate skiing (well, she was running; she can't seem to work the skis and poles) and she suddenly started limping. I could not find anything in her paw, so I figured she'd poked herself or pulled a muscle. We headed home, but when infection set in, she had two surgeries to remove a 1" piece of the stick. Our vet could not find any more, and nothing showed up on x-ray. Turns out, it jammed (sorry in advance, folks) so far up her leg - all the way up her hock - that neither the vet nor I thought to look there. The infection raged on, and she became weaker and weaker in her hind end, to the point that she needed to be carried up the stairs. I was referred to the amazing and affable Kurt Schulz of Peak Veterinary Referral Center in Williston, VT, who diagnosed bilateral ACL tears (ouch) and agreed to go looking for the foreign body while he was in there fixing her knees. He gave me a high-five when I returned to pick Abby up, and explained that it was hiding, nestled in her tendons and ligaments, and even gave me the stick as a souvenir. But not the quarter. He took all of my money and then some.

As I fine-tune Abby's pain meds, she oscilates between groggy and anxious, sometimes needing a sling for her undercarriage in order to go out to pee, other times needing a bit more sedation in order to protect her incision. The cat finds her relative stillness intriguing, and has taken this as an opportunity to fully investigate her smells and attack her listlessly wagging tail. She is not entertained, even if we find it endlessly amusing.

I awoke at 3 AM to a strange noise at the bottom of our stairs, and when I went down to investigate, found that it was the sound of Abby's elizabethan collar repeatedly smacking into the door and doorjam as Abby repeatedly attempted to cram her gigantic satellite-radio shaped head through the too-small opening.

Again, she was not amused, while I found it hilarious.

I let her out to pee (no sling this time, the pain meds had kicked in), and went to get a blanket so I could sleep next to her. She hates the elizabethan cone of shame and figured she'd sleep better without it, but that means I have to be nearby to stop her if she tries to lick her incisions.

Just as I was falling back asleep, an idea for my book hit, and I decided to get up and write rather than suffer an hour of deliberating whether or not to get up and write while trying to go back to sleep.

A couple of paragraphs in, the chickens started screeching and squacking. This is the sound I dread, the sound that wakes me from my dreams and makes me spring out of bed, race downstairs, and charge out into the backyard in bare feet and underwear. I will note that this is particularly unpleasant during a New Hampshire winter.

I just missed seeing the whateveritwas - I think a raccoon - run off with one of my favorite hens, a lovely golden-laced partridge. The rest of the biddies were scattered around the yard, running in all directions and clucking in terror as I tried to get a head count. Again, not entertaining for them, but objectively pretty funny when I'm not standing out in the back yard in my underwear and pissed off at whatever just snatched one of my hens for an early morning snack. Tim probably would have surreptitiously taken a video of it if he'd been in town.

The varmit had unraveled the chicken wire, made a 5" hole, reached in (I think), and pulled a hen out the hole. Feathers were stuck in the wire, and while I was still pissed off, I had to admire the varmit's perseverance. I've had chickens long enough to become philosophical about these things.

I chased down the chickens and got the remaining seven back into their coop, then hunted around for a spare piece of chicken wire so I could patch the coop until tomorrow, when I will have to spend an hour doing the permanent repairs. While I am at it, I should fix the rotten wood that's preventing the staples from holding the chicken wire securely, replace the perch that broke last week, and reinforce the wire that's disintegrated under the front end of the chicken run. If I budget my time tomorrow, I can get that done before taking Finn to a birthday party, shuttling Ben and some of his friends to a back-to-school party and soccer game, and attending a get-together I agreed to go to months ago. Hopefully, if I take a nap today (as is my habit on the weekends), I can get some writing time in tonight. Until then, here's the score:

Words written: 53
Chickens murdered: 1
Varmits vanquished: 0

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

At The King's English Bookshop, one of my favorite spots in the world. 

I've spent just about every free moment of the past five months writing, writing, writing, so my husband put his foot down and insisted that we get out of Dodge before school starts up next week. I waved my hand in the air and said, "whatever," so here we are, in Utah, visiting my husband's family. We used to live here, so our visits are a wonderful blur of social visits and meals with Tim's parents. I really do love SLC, but these days, I find it really hard to concentrate on anything other than my November first deadline and all of the details that have to get checked off before I can hit "send" on my manuscript. Tim is a thoughtful guy, so he carved out some time for me to write amidst our busy social schedule, and my equally thoughtful parents-in-law scheduled a massage for me. I however, was not thoughtful at all, for my suitcase was packed with a few pieces of clothing and a lot of books, research files, and Post-it flags.

As we landed, and I turned on my phone, I found one more way to ruin my husband's carefully laid vacation plans. I had the opportunity to chat with two of the more smart and talented people I know, radio host Celeste Headlee and cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman (author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined). Celeste wanted to talk about my Atlantic piece "The Perils of Giving Kids IQ Tests" and Scott's research in neuroscience and education during her week guest hosting NPR's Tell Me More. The lovely people at KUER in Salt Lake City were willing to play host for my end of the segment, so really, how could I refuse?

To their credit, Tim, my boys, and my in-laws have been tolerant of my intermittent attention to the world around me, mostly because my mother-in-law is a writer herself, and Tim was hard at work on his own piece for the Atlantic on "The Strange Phenomenon of Pentecostals Who Deny HIV Treatment." The boys were the lucky recipients of their grandparents' largesse where bookstores are concerned, and could have cared less what we were up to as long as we left them alone to read. Ben devoured the entire John Green oeuvre and Finnegan burned through a couple of books in Michael Scott's Alchemyst series. 

Our version of a vacation might not look quiet like your version of a vacation, but this week has been pretty near perfect for this family of readers and writers. I hope these last weeks of summer are the same for you. 

If you would like to hear how things went on NPR, click here

Monday, August 12, 2013

Roots of Action: 55 Best Back-To-School Articles for Parents

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell puts together a lovely list of articles for parents, organized by topic, at the beginning of each school year. This year's list includes some gems, many of which are now bookmarked and on my Facebook feed. I'm honored that "Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail" is right up there at number one, but that's not why I am promoting the list. It includes resources from Andrea Nair, Miguel Escotet, Jacoba Urist, Meryl Ain, Susan Cain, Scott Barry Kaufman, Michele Borba, and many of my other favorite parenting and education experts.

This is absolutely my favorite list of resources right now, and thank you so much, Marilyn, for putting it together! You can access the list here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

On Why Oddities Should be Memorialized

The talented and amazing artist Anna Raff painted my oddball chicken, Diller, and I just had to post her portrait. If you like her work, head on over to and see what other gorgeous creations she's whipped up over there. She's also a picture book illustrator...I highly recommend World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


When RobertPondiscio wrote “How to Get a Big Vocabulary,” I knew it was just a matter of time before my defenses would weaken, and I would have to start spouting off about the beauty of language, Latin, etymology, and classical roots. I can’t help it. I get excited about these things. I teach Latin, English, and writing, and my happy place lies at the nexus of these subjects.
Just when I thought it was safe to take a break from grading my students’ writing assessments and see what’s happening on the internet, Core Knowledge blog reader John Webster had the nerve to ask specifically for a Latin teacher’s opinion on the value of Latin, and Robert had the unmitigated gall to publicly provoke me into a response to John’s comment.
@Robert (comment 30). Here in Minnesota, I know of several public schools that offer – require – Latin. They’re called charter schools, and all of them are also Core Knowledge schools. Yet another reason why some alleged supporters of Core Knowledge who oppose all charter schools are in no practical sense real friends of Core Knowledge. My two kids, 9th and 7th grades, study Latin and do the obligatory grumbling about having to learn a “dead” language. I rely on the authority of teachers I respect that Latin helps in developing literacy and vocabulary skills, but I’ve never read anything addressed to laypeople why this is so. Anyone know of any articles/essays that explain the value of Latin, or can any Latin teachers in the CK blog audience explain this value in a practical, meat-and-potatoes way?  Comment by John Webster — December 27, 2012 @ 8:07 pm
Before I get all in a twist about the word “value” as it relates to anything I teach, (Latin valere, to be strong, vigorous, in good health, to have force) let me begin with the low-hanging statistical fruit, all thanks to Bolchazy-Carducci, the publishers of the textbook, Latin for the New Millennium:
1. Studies performed by the Educational Testing Services show that students of Latin outperform all other students on the verbal portion of the SAT.
2. In the District of Columbia, elementary school students who studied Latin developed reading skills that were five months ahead of those who studied no foreign language and four months ahead of those who studied French or Spanish. Two years earlier, the same students had been excluded from foreign language classes because of substandard reading performance.
3. In Philadelphia, students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades received 15 to 20 minutes of daily instruction in Latin for one year. The performance of the Latin students was one full year higher on the Vocabulary Subtest of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) than the performance of matched control students who had not studied Latin. 
4. Sixth-grade students in Indianapolis who studied Latin for 30 minutes each day for five months advanced nine months in their math problem solving abilities. In addition, the students exhibited the following advances in other areas:
·      Eight months in world knowledge
·      One year in reading
·      Thirteen months in language
·      Four months in spelling
·      Five months in science
·      Seven months in social studies
But the fun part – the “value” – in learning Latin has nothing to do with these statistics or test scores. It lies in the evolution of our language, the stories revealed through etymology, the history of our culture articulated through the words we preserve and the words we discard.
As Robert’s post points out, a big vocabulary does not come from sheer memorization. Anyone who has ever been subjected to an 11th-hour SAT prep course knows that. It comes from a deeper understanding of word origins and repeated exposure to novel words through reading. If I know that the Latin acer means “sharp,” I can deduce that “acid” has a sharp taste, an “acute” angle is sharp, “acrid” is a sharp smell, and an “acerbic” person has a sharp wit.
I am all for the memorization of vocabulary; in fact, my school teaches vocabulary using a lovely series called Vocabulary from Classical Roots and my students memorize their share of vocabulary lists. However, if we want our students to achieve true depth and breadth of vocabulary, it’s worth spending some time among the Romans. A working knowledge of Latin is worth more than the weight of its word roots. It is an exercise in reverse-engineering our own language in order to understand how all the parts fit together to create a whole.
And as for the greatly exaggerated rumors of Latin’s death? Latin teachers squall and writhe in horror when confronted with this rumor as evidence of Latin’s obsolescence, but I couldn’t care less. In arguing for the relevance and necessity for the continued study of Latin, I call on Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer at The Guardian.
The  most frequent charge laid against the door of Latin – aside from the absurd accusation of elitism – is that it is useless. Why not learn Mandarin, people ask, or Russian or French? For me the pleasure of Latin is precisely because – aside from the points sketched above - it is “useless.” Latin doesn’t help to turn out factory-made mini-consumers fit for a globalised 21st-century society. It helps create curious, intellectually rigorous kids with a rich interior world, people who have the tools to see our world as it really is because they have encountered and imaginatively experienced another that is so like and so very unlike our own.
I couldn’t agree more. My students can “amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant” with the best of them, but they can do even better than that. They can tell their friends Amy and Amanda where their names come from. They understand how amare meandered north and became amour. They can become enamored, have inamorata, wax rhapsodic about their first paramour. They will know what Catullus meant when he lamented that odi et amo, and take solace in Virgil’s observation that omnia vincit amor.
Latin is alive and well in my classroom, thank goodness. My mother likes to remind me that she was the one who forced me to take Latin in seventh grade, and like John Webster’s kids, I moaned and groaned about having to study a dead and hopelessly irrelevant language. But thank goodness for my mother’s stubborn insistence. My students are far more accomplished readers, writers and students of the world for their years spent among the Romans.

Start Empathy: Fair is Foul, and Foul is Fair

I am so, so proud to be writing for Ashoka's Empathy Initiative. Here's my latest post over there, about the role empathy plays in my classroom, particuarly when I'm facing a student who has hurt my feelings and disrupted my classroom.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Bread of Life

I lifted this picture from King Arthur's website, because while I had my iPhone, 
I hardly thought taking a shot of the mom buttering the toast was appropriate. 

There I was, sitting at a table in King Arthur Flour's lovely new cafe, waiting for a meeting with a Head of School who is visiting from out of town, and I caught something going on at the table next to me. A family - mom, dad, teenage daughter - were enjoying a lovely breakfast together. That's nice, I thought.

My reverie was pierced by the rapid movement of the mom who yanked the plate away from her teenage daughter, asked for the daughter's knife, and hastily unwrapped the neat little package of Cabot butter. I watched - I'd like to say in disbelief, but my reaction was more like disgust - as the mother buttered her thirteen or fourteen year-old's toast. 

I watched for a while. I watched out of the corner of my eye to make sure the daughter did not have a cast I was missing on her arm or some other obvious disability that would have interfered with her ability to butter her toast. Nope. Not from my perspective, at least, nothing obvious to report. [As some commenters have mentioned below - at least the ones who refrained from swearing at me - have correctly pointed out that I can't assess neurotypicality from ten feet away. This is absolutely true. Her inability to butter her toast could have stemmed from any number of issues. However, I sat next to them for a full hour, and as far as I could tell from my seat, there were no waving neuro-atypical red flags. But thanks for the obscenities and one particularly vivid description regarding where to put my own head.]

The daughter watched her mother frantically buttering, buttering, with what appeared to be a little bit of impatience and maybe even irritation. Ah, yes. It was irritation. I know, because when she bit into the toast, she complained to her mother that it was "too crunchy" and to please get her another order of toast that's "less crunchy." 

I wish I was making this up. 

To her credit, the mother made her go get it, but when the daughter returned with her less crunchy toast, the mother got back down to work, buttering, buttering...

And I got back to work on my book. 

My cursor blinked at the end of a sentence in the following paragraph, in a chapter on the research behind intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivation:

“The hallmark of successful individuals is that they love learning, they seek challenges, they value effort, and they persist in the face of obstacles” writes Dweck. She calls these successful individuals “mastery-oriented,” and
There's that "and," just waiting. I honestly did not know where to go from there. Luckily, my colleague arrived and I was able to shut down Scrivener before I finished with 

"...and therefore, it's vital that your child be allowed to butter their own toast, to experience that sense of mastery over their breakfast."
NB: I edited one sentence above after receiving comments and added the stuff in brackets.