Monday, June 9, 2008

Mosaics in Cyprus

Several years ago I visited Cyprus, the small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. There are many, many things to enjoy on this sunny Greek-flavored island. One of my favorite parts was touring the archeological sites in the cliffs. The floors are covered with intricate mosaics that made me want to start quilting immediately.

I haven’t made a Cyprus quilt yet, but the inspiration is there, and someday something will come from it.

My husband told me that I’d be good at making an entire mosaic floor… something about repetitive detail work. Yup, he knows me well. That might have been a good job for me 2,000 years ago if I lived on Cyprus.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Paper Quilt

During the first week of school, my third graders worked on this paper quilt. Each block is a grid with 100 squares (10x10). I used blank 100 charts that were in the math textbook we use, but it would be simple enough to create a grid that would work well. Each student made a block by writing their name over and over again in the squares and then coloring each letter a different color. For example, “Jane” might choose red for J, yellow for A, orange for N, and black for E. The pattern is repeated until the 100 squares are filled up.

Students with 5 or 10 letter names just colored stripes, where students with 7 letter names had to be a bit more careful. Overall the project was fun and not too demanding for my uncertain brand new third graders. They were very excited when I unveiled the complete project!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Crazy Hair Day

I went all out for Crazy Hair Day this year. I put my hair into dozens of mini buns all over my head, and my husband helped me poke tiny cardboard airplanes on wire into each bun.

I looked like a busy airport. My students were mesmerized. They just kept staring at my head and talking about the airplanes. Thankfully crazy hair day is during the last week of school!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Too Much Help

Now that testing is over, a lot of the students and some of the staff have a definite feeling that this part of the year doesn't count any more. Some of my students have totally checked out, and spelling test scores have gone way down. Behavior has generally gotten worse, too.

At the same time, the administration suddenly has a lot more time on their hands, so I've got lots more people in my room trying to help me and coach me. It's pretty overwhelming, and hard not to take personally. It's across the board with all the new teachers, though, not just me, so I don't really think I suddenly stand out as needing lots of help with math, literacy, and ELD. I think they just suddenly have extra time.

So I have decided to go talk to the principal about it. I want to improve, I just can't work on so many things at once!

Update: I talked to the principal. She was totally understanding. I cried when I explained how I was feeling (arrgh). But she's already talked to the coaches and lightened my load. Another part of the problem was that the coaches were observing and leaving a note on my desk, but never meeting with me to discuss issues. So that's improving, too. I'm lucky to have such a responsive principal. Even if she did have to let me out the back door of her office so I didn't have to walk past the office full of people.

Standardized Testing Advice

As a first year teacher, I wasn't quite sure what to expect during state standardized testing. In my state, third graders take the test over four days. The first day is the writing prompt, and then the following days are each an hour and a half of reading, then an hour and a half of math.

The pressure during the test was huge, on the teachers and on the students. I had one girl start crying when I passed out the tests, just from pure anxiety. I knew she was going to, because she'd been getting easily upset and crying whenever something wasn't super easy. She has a high pressure family- her mom asked me for her class rank during a conference. Thankfully she and I had been discussing relaxation techniques and stuff like that, so after I had her to go to the bathroom and get a drink (I told her to walk slowly, and breathe deliberately, and listen for bird sounds), she came back and started doing the test.

I spent $20 on fruit and snacks for the week, and each morning I gave my students a small snack, like 5 apple slices and a few grapes, or some sliced up oranges. My students also love Mangoes and I found some of those on sale too. The school provided me with snacks, but it was all packaged stuff like granola bars and fruit snacks. I gave them those snacks in between morning testing sessions, so the schedule went like this: at school at 8am, eat fruit, start testing at 8:30, break at 10:15 for packaged snack, test until 12, when it's lunch time. In the afternoon we worked on coloring the pictures for the books we've been writing for a few weeks. Nothing academic, but nothing too crazy either. I was also very liberal with prizes during the week. I passed out mint mentos and chewing gum, because everybody on staff is convinced that the kids do better with mint. I told my students (privately, in whispers during the test), that the mint flavor would wake up their brain. I only gave stuff to kids who were still working or checking answers, never to the early finishers. Sometimes I could get them to go reread questions and check answers by bribing them with a single mint mento. I also put tiny stickers on an index card on the corner of the desk when I saw a student working really hard. That meant if a student just skimmed over the questions, they wouldn't get very many stickers. The people who took the longest always got the most stickers. Then in the afternoon I allowed the students to buy prizes with the stickers, like an eraser for 10 stickers or a bottle of bubbles for 20 stickers.

Our testing took 4 days. On Friday I had good intentions, but I was sick and feeling crappy. I showed two movies, did a bunch of read alouds, and gave my kids popcorn, and while they watched the movies I flipped through the test booklets and checked for bubble neatness. At our school we had to check out the box of tests from the principal each morning and return them during lunch, but thankfully they let us check them out again on Friday to go over the neatness of the forms. The only problem with that is that I found a few students who had skipped problems or in one case two pages, and there was nothing I could do about it because testing was over. Next year I'm going to flip through their books as they finish to make sure they did every problem.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What is This Bird?

We have an orange tree in our yard. The oranges were ripe over the winter, and now the remains of the season are falling off the tree.
I have been noticing that quite a few of the fallen oranges have holes like this one: The hole is perfectly round and quite deep. The pulp inside the hole is gone. I have seen a few Orioles struggling with my hummingbird feeder, so I assumed it must be Orioles eating the oranges. I even put up a specially designed Oriole feeder, but I haven’t seen any Orioles visit it yet.

Then, the other day, I noticed a bird high in the tree, busily eating an orange that is still on the tree. I took some pictures and realized that it’s certainly not an Oriole. The problem is I can’t figure out what it is, even with the help of some books about regional birds from the library. The identity of the visitor will stay a mystery.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This is the second Pern book on the list provided by the library. I read this book while traveling in Thailand. The story was addictive, and I ended up staying awake very late the night before we left to finish the book.

The story takes place 7 years after Dragonflight. The oldtimers, the riders and dragons who came into the present to help protect Pern after the thread began to fall again, are causing problems. They are demanding and greedy, and the people who live in the areas protected by oldtimers are growing resentful.

I was interested in how the groups changed from the first book to the second book. The oldtimers are brought to save Pern in the first book, and now they are causing problems for Pern by their old ways of thinking and acting. One of the things I like about the Pern series is how characters change over time. They grow more mature, or serious, or problematic, or generous. The stories are plot driven, but at the same time character driven. This makes the fantasy and sci-fi aspects softer and more human.

I also loved this book because of the introduction of the fire lizards. They are miniature dragons, basically, only more playful and not as smart. One of the dragonriders happens to impress a fire lizard on the beach, which spurs a newfound interest in the small creatures, as pets and message carriers. I especially enjoyed the scenes where non-dragonriders impress the fire lizards as pets and gain a new understanding of the emotional bond between dragon and rider.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Make Up Day

During the week of standardized tests at my school, the morning announcements mentioned that Friday was “make up day.” Because we have four days of testing, students who miss a test session can make up that section on Friday.

On Thursday, my girly girl student told me how excited she was that tomorrow was Make Up Day! I was confused, because she didn’t need to make up any tests, and then I realized that she thought it was a special day to wear make up to school. Lipstick, eye shadow, blush… quite a theme day for an elementary school!


This is the first Pern book on the list provided by the library.

The main character of Dragonflight is Lessa, a clever girl who is able to speak to all dragons. When the story begins, Lessa is working undercover as a kitchen drudge in her family’s hold. The hold was seized by an ambitious overlord, and she is biding her time before she can take back the hold. This part was a bit difficult for me to be interested in, because it spends a lot of time talking from her bitter and dissatisfied point of view. It is necessary back story, though.

The dragonriders are in disfavor because thread, the destructive silver rain that dragons burn up as it falls, hasn’t fallen in hundreds of years. The citizens of Pern don’t believe it will ever fall again, and they are questioning their support of dragonriders.

The last remaining (and lazy) queen lays a golden queen egg, and the search for a suitable female dragonrider uncovers Lessa. When Lessa is brought to the Weyr and impresses her queen dragon, the story is finally in full swing. The emotional attachment between dragon and rider is a touching component of these scenes.

Of course, the thread begins to fall again, and the small number of dragons are woefully unprepared to fight it effectively. It is at this time that Lessa discovers that dragons can fly through time as well as space, and she mounts a very risky and experimental mission to bring oldtimer dragons and dragonriders to the present time to help fight thread.

By the time I was a quarter of the way into this book, I had a hard time putting it down. There is wonderful tension and excitement in this book.

Shaved Cat

One of our neighbors has a beautiful white Persian cat. The cat spends a few hours each evening on top of our wall. He’s even deigned to let me pet him a few times.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed a movement out the window and saw this:

Poor shaved cat. Why did they leave the puff on the tail?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Painted Veil

The local library near my house has an extensive collection, and I occasionally make a trip down a random fiction aisle and choose a book I’ve never heard of. On a recent trip, I picked up The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham.

I’ve never been introduced to Maugham before. Actually, I’ve never even heard of him. After this book, I plan on returning to his books often. The Painted Veil is the story of Kitty, a silly society girl who marries a geeky academic scientist out of her desperation to be a bride. She quickly begins and affair with another married man, and they are discovered by her husband shortly after that. Her husband gives her two choices: get her lover to leave his wife and marry her, in which case he will give her a painless annulment, or accompany him on a research and mercy trip into an area of China that is infected with a plague of Cholera. In a painful scene, Kitty begs her lover to leave his wife, and is humiliatingly dismissed. She returns home to find that her husband was expecting that reaction and has already had her things packed for their expedition.

In China, Kitty’s husband throws himself into his work and seems determined to kill himself. Kitty is at first bored, and then decides to volunteer at an orphanage run by French Catholic nuns. Kitty’s mental, spiritual, and compassionate awakening is beautifully written. Knowing Kitty’s new world perspective gives the eventual heart wrenching ending even more poignancy.

Based on the cover art I assumed the book was written in the last decade or two. It turns out I was wrong. As I was reading, I was so intrigued by this “new” author that I flipped to the copyright page and discovered it was written in 1925. The language is remarkably modern and easy to read. Thankfully, it seems like he was a prolific author. I’ve since checked out several more of Maugham’s books. I have a new author to explore!

I Want To Love My Label Maker

I have read about the wonders of label makers on many blogs. People seem to be passionate about their label makers. I could imagine lots of ways to use a label maker in my classroom. So when WantNot linked to a great deal on a label maker a few weeks ago, I bought one. It arrived a week later in a box so large it could have held ten label makers.

I carried it to school, thinking that I would have time to label some things in my free time.

Turns out nobody has free time during standardized testing week, especially not first year teachers.

When I finally opened it up on Friday, I realized that I needed batteries. Which were at home.
So I brought it home, and it requires 6 AAA batteries!That’s like an entire package! So now I have to buy batteries just to play around with it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Organizing My Fabric Stash

During my week at home during spring break, I had grand intentions of cleaning and organizing my entire workroom. I didn’t get quite that far, but I did get my fabric stash sorted out. It was in total disarray, the result of several moves and several shopping sprees.

I am so happy with the results. Smaller pieces are folded in a box on the bottom shelf, and scraps are in a storage crate nearby. I can finally see my entire stash at once, and it is easy to sort through and pull out fabrics for projects. Hopefully the visual appeal with encourage me to keep it in order!


I am in the midst of reading Anne McCaffery’s Pern series, in the order listed on the informative bookmark at my public library. I have read and enjoyed many of McCafferey’s books since I was in high school, but I’ve never read them in order, and I have missed out on many of the Pern books. The series is addictive. I’ll be posting short reviews as I read each book in the series.

1. Dragonflight
2. Dragonquest
3. Dragonsong
4. Dragonsinger
5. White Dragon
6. Dragondrums
7. Get off the Unicorn
8. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern
9. Nerilka's Story
10. Dragonsdawn
11. Chronicles of Pern: First Fall
12. Dragonseye
13. Girl Who Heard Dragons

Friday, April 11, 2008


How I kept my hands busy while catching up on season 3 of Battlestar Galactica:

This embroidery fit the requirement of being portable (and brainless) perfectly last weekend. These will be tag labels for my linen closet, although my reasons for embroidering the words had more to do with my desire to have a portable project than to have a super organized linen closet.

And… I can’t believe who the cylons are!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Summer Quilt

This was one of those projects that starts with a particular fabric grabbing hold in a store and demanding to be bought. I brought two yards home, and the next day I went and bought two more. I hung the pieces over the back of a chair and left them for a week, looking at the colors and the design that I liked so much and smiling every time I passed. I couldn’t find a project that suited the fabric, so then it had to live among my stash for a few years.

A few weeks ago, while I was awake on a jet lag fueled night of insomnia, I saw a picture of a rectangle quilt with sashing that seemed like the perfect project for my beautiful fabric. I spent the next few days cutting and assembling the simple top.

It’s still just a top, but it will soon have a border and be layered with just backing and muslin. I want something very thin as a coverlet during the hot summer. Something more substantial than a sheet, but not as hot as a quilt.