Sunday, May 30, 2010


"Most of life is routine - dull and grubby - but routine is the momentum that keeps a man going. If you wait for inspiration you'll be standing on the corner after the parade is a mile down the street." by Ben Nicholas

Men of routine or men who can do what they are told are not hard to find; but men who can think and plan and tell the routine men what to do are very rare. William Graham Sumner

" For pragmatic reasons, I love routine. I love the structure of it. I love knowing that my days are free. I know where I'm going at night. I know my life is kind of orderly. I just like that better. by Andrea Martin

"The only routine with me is no routine at all." Jackie Kennedy

I was blown away by a Seattle kindergarten class in which I subbed on Friday. The kids were well behaved, orderly, and skilled, making for an easy teaching day and a lot of learning. What made the difference? It boiled down to children knowing and following classroom routines. No need to exit the room by table names, or remind the students to do "lip-hip" as they walked down the hall. Gone was any time-wasting chaos as they lined up to get small white boards, erasers and erasable markers. Forget the need to use the point system to control behavior. They were obviously well versed in what they had to do and how to do it, and it paid off. They beamed when I announced that it was the best day I had ever had as a substitute teacher in Seattle.

I got to thinking about routines in life and found quotations both for and against the advantages of living a life filled with them. Actually, most people being quoted saw a life of routine as boring and stifling creativity. A few relished the productivity they experienced when living an ordered life.

I had an opportunity to discuss the subject with a number of family members over the holiday week-end and came up with some interesting thoughts. Basically it came down to what one was doing that determined the value of routines. Here are some of their thoughts:

1. SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) are sacred when engaged in reproduceable work such as that which might take place in a lab testing for AIDs or determining someone's DNA. Surely no one would question the need for accuracy. In other words, if you send a blood or other specimen to two different labs you want to know that the routines, criteria and outcome will be the same.

2. On the other hand, research work (while undoubtedly having some built in routines) is the place for "out of the box" thinking and experimenting to come up with either different outcomes or different ways to get to the same outcome.

3. Routines are a way to impose a semblance of order in a chaotic world. Children can certainly add chaos to a family or classroom, the outcome of which is frustration, anger and a lack of productivity. Parents can minimize these reactions by implementing simple routines. At home, from an early age, learning routines for daily living, household responsibilities, interacting and cultural activities reduce stress and provide comfort. Read the following article for some practical ideas for parents.

4. In the classroom I mentioned above, the teacher obviously had spent a long time at the beginning of the year teaching classroom procedures. The following web site gives specifics about classroom routines and practice.

5. The use of two little songs at the end offered the biggest surprise. The students were enjoying choice time - a favorite time of day for many. I pressed a key on the document camera-computer, and a "clean up song" began to spill forth. Immediately the kids stopped what they were doing, began to clean up, singing the song as they went, put up their chairs, got their backpacks and were sitting on the rug before two short songs ended. Parents could use songs to get children involved. The results are amazing!

6. . Routines allow us to have some control over our own lives. In the aforementioned kindergarten class the kids, knowing how, what and when to do things got a good start in understanding the important of structure. When we adults live in chaos, where important routines are absent, we spent a lot of time allowing life to control us rather than vice-versa.

7. Classroom planning and routines are important to figure what and how to teach. On the other hand, a classroom which is bound by routines and a time schedule, often has no room for "teachable moments". An opportunity is lost forever if a teacher does not take advantage of learning something first hand about a classroom visitor's career or culture.

8. Routines just plain make us feel better and ensure that our world feels right. Before you "pooh pooh" the value of routines in life, ask yourself what you do in the morning, from making coffee, reading the newspaper, or turning on your favorite TV program, to what you eat for breakfast. Think about your day and how you do things like paying bill, fixing dinner or cleaning house. Ask yourself how you get ready for bed, and which side of the bed you like to sleep on. These are all routines providing a sense of order and comfort.

9. Though SOPs are cast in stone in some work environments, can we be flexible enough to modify them to maximize one's working and personal life? I know someone who has developed a filing system that is fast and efficient. Her supervisor does not want her to use it because it is not "the way we do things." This lack of flexibility is not good management and causes hard feelings and misunderstanding.

To have routines in your day does not mean you have a routine, ho hum life. On the contrary, I think it frees you up to pack more into your day and to live a fuller life. Lucky indeed is the kindergartener or other student whose teacher realizes this. That teacher provides structure and routine into every day while also seizing the many teachable moments that arise. Even luckier is the child whose parents see the value of family structure as a way of building good personal habits and a work ethic. So I say to you, carpe diem, but also enjoy the fruits of your daily routines. That way you'll have the best the world has to offer.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


... I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free, and I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me and I'll proudly stand next to him to defend her still today, 'cuz there ain't no doubt I love this land. God bless the USA. -Lee Greenwood

Memorial Day weekend will be here in a week. Three glorious days off for most of us. What plans do you have? Are you going to picnic, party, and play? If you are in Seattle are you going to the Folk Life Festival? If you are in Bellingham will you participate in the annual "Ski to Sea"? I asked twenty ordinary people in the Northwest what Memorial Day meant to them. They ranged in age from nine to eighty-two, and here are their answers:

1 . Remembering those who have gone before us.
2. Camping, family and bar-b-ques.
3. Camping and death, because of the word "memorial." (from the nine year-old)
4. Remembrance.
5. My dad, because he's a veteran.
6. Camping and Sea to Ski.
7. Veterans and stuff.
8. Remember people who cared for us.
9. People who fought for our country both alive and dead.
10. Those who fought for our rights.
11. Memorial Day is like something with dead people.
12. I don't know. I think about my grandpa because he was in the war.
13. All the people who died in war for our country.
14. Honoring all of those people who have affected my life, or anyone significant, who died for us.
15. A day off.
16. When you buy little red posies.
18. I remember those who served in the war, and we show respect by flying the flag at half-mast to remember those who died.
19. I can wear white pumps. It's the beginning of summer.
20. I think of Anzac Day in Australia. Note: This is a day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, that now commemorates those who died in military operations for those countries.

Believing that many of us have a sketchy understanding of our country's history, I did some research. Here is what I learned.

Memorial Day, first celebrated on May 30, 1868, was originally called Decoration Day. It was a day to honor the fallen on both sides during the Civil War In the words of General John A Logan, an order was declared on May 5, 1868, as follows:

"The 30th of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance, no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

In 1971 Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. The purpose was to honor all those who had died in all of America's wars. This is not to be confused with Veteran's Day in November, which is a day set aside to honor all veterans, living and dead, on November 11.

Thinking about all this is particularly poignant for me having recently returned from Virginia's Historic Triangle, (See May 9 blog) and Appomattox where Generals Lee and Grant signed a treaty ending the Civil War. While there we visited the surrounding battle fields, now beautiful and tranquil on a warm spring day, and it was hard to envision the slaughter, despair and heartache of that horrific time in our country's past. If taking time to remember what war means and the toll it takes will lessen the possibility of further wars, then we should do that.

Now, if you are unable to visit the Historic Triangle or Appomattox, where remembering the past is a daily occurence, take time during the upcoming three day weekend to remember those who died so that you can live to party, play and picnic. Here are some ways you can do that:

1. Pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day. This is the "National Moment of Remembrance" established by Congress. If you are driving, turn on your lights.

2. Explain to your children what Memorial Day is all about, now that you know more.

3. Participate in any Memorial Day event related to remembering our fallen soldiers.

4. Call a veteran you know, or a family of a veteran, and thank them for their service.

5. Fly a flag at half-mast until noon.

6. If you can, buy some red carnations and place them on the graves of soldiers in a local cemetary.

7. Listen to some of the songs on the Youtube address below. You will be glad you did!

8. If you are a teacher, go to the following two sites for some good ideas in how to provide your students with an understanding of Memorial Day:

9. And finally, after you have spent a few minutes thinking about the past sacrifices of those who have gone before us, celebrate the privilege of living today with a party or picnic. To help you with some tasty recipes, go to you will find recipes for a delicious BBQ flank steak, whisky grilled baby back ribs, strawberry lemonade, delicious salads, and easy mint chocolate icecream. If you want a real old fashioned experience, you will even find out how to make the ice cream in a bag.

An early Happy Memorial Day to you all!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Which quotation best represents you?

"You must master your time rather than becoming a slave to the constant flow of events and demands on your time. And you must organize your life to achieve balance, harmony, and inner peace." – Brian Tracy


"If you can’t ride two horses at once, you shouldn’t be in the circus." – American Proverb

Let’s face it. I either “vegg out” and spend a lot of time playing computer bridge and Hoyle games, or I go full bore with whatever project is at hand, juggling everything that comes along and giving 150%. I have a hard time saying “no” if someone asks me to do something, and I don’t like letting people down. This is a recipe for stress and drama. I guess I must like living this way or I wouldn’t keep doing what I do. All I know is that when I am in worker mode I am a multi-tasking nightmare walking.

I had intended to continue writing about our journey to Virginia, sharing insights about the American Revolution, the Civil War, and life in an important time long ago. BUT regular life got in the way, so it will have to wait until another week. By regular life I mean what I do daily. In this case it means almost single handedly planning and implementing a scholarship banquet for one hundred and thirty five people on May 17.

The banquet will be honoring thirteen Seattle high school graduates who will each be receiving $l,000 awards from the Martin Luther King School Dream Foundation. Family, friends, school administrators, former teachers and community members will be on hand to celebrate the event. It’s a big deal to all the stake holders. It’s a big deal to me because twelve years ago I committed to putting on an annual banquet honoring young scholarship winners, and it’s grown from thirty-five to one hundred and thirty-five guests.

So that becomes my priority approaching midnight on a Sunday, and in the words of Robert Frost, I still have "miles to go before I sleep." Also, like Robert Frost, I have promises to keep. I had made a promise to myself to publish an article every Sunday, so here is an introduction to an article about giving and receiving. I'll leave you with that until tomorrow night or the next as I keep plugging along. . . . . .

. . . . . .It’s the night after the banquet -- a very successful one I might add. Now I am again looking at my blog and thinking about the last twenty-four hours. As the title indicates I “changed my mind to save my mind.” Now I’m going to change it again because the topic of “giving and receiving” is too important to just throw together, and I’m still not ready to tackle it or Appomattox. Instead, as I concentrate on what the last few weeks looked like, the word that comes to mind is “multi-tasking.” While I was looking up what other people say about juggling tasks I came across a funny picture with a toilet in the middle, a computer on one side of it and a phone and answering machine on the other. Click on the address here to see the picture and read the article. It made me smile.

My multi tasking revolves around my computer, my cell phone and my car. Here is part of a 24 hour period from the Friday before the banquet.

1. Write summary paragraphs for all thirteen mandatory application essays. Include them in a packet that also contains a list of over one-hundred former award winners, and a great poem called “Why Did You Come To School Today?” (Note: There was a lot of copying and pasting involved. I love being able to copy and paste, and whoever invented it needs a medal.)

2. Drive to Lowell Elementary School to pick up rainbow placemats that had been colored by some of the students there, followed by a stop at Garfield High School to pick up a box of books for the banquet.

3. Drive madly back to Office Max where I make 150 copies of the packet then grab a quick “no room Americana” at a nearby Starbucks.

4. Once home consult the computer to view last minute changes to the guest list. Make, save and print the changes.

5. Make a name tag list for all the guests, then print it off.

6. (In between work on making corrections to the new foundation web site which is going to be shown for the first time at the banquet.)

7. Knowing that there will be eighteen tables, each seating eight, figure out who will sit where which involves knowing the guests, diplomacy and another list.

8. Once that list is made, sort out name tags by table, Then catalogue them neatly into envelopes.

9 . . . and on and on and on. You get the idea. I think it’s called multi-tasking. And this was only a few hours in the twenty four I mentioned. I think there were only about five hours for sleep because I was too charged up to sleep longer.

The point is, I worked hard and got the job done. Is there a price? You bet. My house was a disaster, my husband either fixed his own food or ate frozen dinners, and I woke up on the day of the banquet with a dizzy spell. Is it worth it? To know the banquet was a success and brought joy to a lot of people felt great. Will I do it again? Probably. It’s either the way I was made or how I evolved. Or maybe it’s because I’m a “two” on the Enneagram. I know that to live with me must be trying and challenging when I am in my full on work mode. I wish I could be more like my husband – measured, self disciplined, organized. But I have a hunch, because of our different styles, he might say that he couldn’t have gotten the job done in the same period of time.

The world is full of multi-taskers. Teachers definitely fall in that category, especially on the elementary school level. If you have twenty five kids in your room and the bell rings, you will probably have twenty five different tasks in the first half-hour of school. But if multi-tasking is not your work style because it seems so frenetic and disorganized, remember that somehow we multi-taskers accomplish a lot, and take time to appreciate us. It’s the way we are.

By the way, it’s 1:10 a.m. As I redo my blog, and put the finishing touches on it, I am also planning something special for my daughter’s birthday today, determining how to drop off and pick up some things from the banquet site, trying to figure out the best time to return a rental van, and wondering if I will be called in for an afternoon of substitute teaching.

You will notice I started this article with a question and two quotations rather than just one as I usually do. Perhaps you will recognize my husband in the first quote. The second quote is all about me. :)

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past. - Edward Gibbon

How deep is your understanding of America's early history? Do you get the Mayflower, Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria mixed up? Not to mention the Susan Constant, the Godspeed or the Discovery. Do you think that Plymouth Rock was the first settlement on eastern shores, and that the pilgrims were the first settlers? How much do you know about who landed where and when in our nation's early days? What about Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown in Virginia? Are they cities still in existence? And what about Pocahontas? What was she all about? And who was that guy she married - John something?

There is nothing more sobering, than to take a trip to an area you thought you knew something about, only to learn how much you didn't know. I guess that's what life is all about, though. I just returned from a week in Virginia, visiting the historic triangle, and wish to report that my brain is still fuzzy from all that I saw and learned. It's a trip we should all take, either in person or by armchair. It's a trip all teachers should offer their students, starting in the early grades and working up through high school. It should not be one class offered to high school juniors, filled with memorizing dates for a test and random bits of information that do not seem relevant at the time.

What is the historic triangle? (I blush to say I couldn't have answered that question on Jeopardy two weeks ago.) It's comprised of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown in Virginia.

Simply put, and in the preceding order, JAMESTOWN is where our roots began in 1606, when three British ships landed - The Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery - carrying 104 men and boys. This was not a trip to seek religious freedom as was the case of the Pilgrims who didn't arrive at Plymouth Rock until 1620 - thirteen years AFTER Jamestown was founded. These were mostly adventurers who were expecting to find silver, gold and other riches, after which they would return to England to live comfortable lives. This landing set in motion the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, as the first permanent English-speaking colony in America.

I am in awe at the courage it must have taken to cross an ocean in very small, primitive ships, to land in what would prove to be a beautiful, but also hostile setting. The story of how these intrepid fortune seekers explored the area, traded and skirmished with the native people, and finally overcame adversity by colonizing the area, is one that needs to be told and understood by all Americans. During this time there were many stories within stories. Certainly the love relationship between the Indian princess, Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, and how she saved and later married John Smith in that tumultuous time, is one of them.

With the passage of years WILLIAMSBURG became the capital of that area when it was moved from Jamestown in 1699. This thriving city under British rule, is where many of our founding fathers made history. According to a book entitled The Historic Triangle in Virginia by William Snyder, "Washington was noted for his leadership in the French and Indian wars, and George Mason presented the Bill of Rights there. Patrick Henry spoke out against the Stamp Act, and Thomas Jefferson wrote that Henry's speech started us on our path to independence." It is where patriots, disgruntled and chafing under British rule, and opposed to taxation without representation, plotted to take over the country. Patrick Henry's speech "Give me liberty or give me death" on May l7, 1775, was a catalyst that brought about the flight of the British governor in June, and a motion for independence a year later by the Virginians. On June 12, 1776 the Bill of Rights was introduced, Virginia adopted a constitution and Patrick Henry was elected governor. An invasion by the British occurred on May 10, 1781 and the war was fully on until its conclusion on October 19, 1781 in Yorktown.

YORKTOWN was an official port established by the British in 1691, thriving because of the growing tobacco business. In this busy little town tobacco was exchanged for goods like weapons, furniture, fabric and spices. Located on the York River, it is the site of an important battlefield that signaled the end of the American Revolution. It is here that Britain's Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781 to those who would be called Americans. Now Yorktown is a tiny town of 250 permanent residents and thousands of visitors to the battlefield, museums, restaurants, gift shops, and beaches. On the sunny day we visited Yorktown hundreds of people were sunbathing on the beach, a short distance away from where long-ago patriots, fighting and dying, made such a lazy and pleasant day possible.

I'm retired now, without a class of my own, but if I could go back to my teaching roots, I would have a clearer time line of the historical "whos. wheres and whens" than I did. I would start this journey through time on a very simple level, as soon as school started in kindergarten, and build on the information as each year went by. If we teachers had this kind of mandatory continuity in our teaching of history, we might all have a better understanding of who we are as a nation, and how we have evolved and continue to evolve. Maybe there should be an historic time line posted in every classroom right above the number line and alphabet letters, in daily view for teachers and students. If there can be a book called "One Minute Manager" for businessmen and women, why can't there be the same kind of book for educators? Perhaps we should have a complementing new curriculum called "The One-Minute U.S. History Teacher - A journey Through Time."

I am not hopeful that this will happen, so instead I suggest reading what you can about the historic triangle, and taking a minute out of your day to give thanks to those early American heroes.

The Official Guide to American's Historic Triangle, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2007, Williamsburg, Virginia,

This is a complete planning guide to Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, including historical information, illustrations, both modern and historical, and practical information such as where to stay and eat and travel tips to make the trip memorable.

The Historic Triangle in Virginia, written by Willaim Snyder, Williamsburg, VA

"A story of our country's beginnings through beautiful photographs and wonderful tidbits that intrigue, amuse and enlighten." A very easy read that gives a good overview of the three areas - Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


"History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are." by David C. McCullough

I met a man today - James Cameron of Williamsburg. Nearly seven feet tall, he has a commanding presence and the kind of deep, resonant voice any man would envy. Ensconced in a small, dimly lit colonial style restaurant, after hours, my husband and I sat enthralled as actor Cameron, garbed in the clothing of the time, brought John Rollison, a Revolutionary War era African-American to life.

In the hour that followed I gained a more accurate understanding of the life of that time, with some myths dispelled and some previous gaps in history filled in.

Myth #1 - Originally, captured blacks were brought over from Africa to provide slave labor for the colonists.

Fact: The first blacks brought to Virginia were not slaves, but indentured servants who earned their freedom over time. The theory now suggests that Portuguese ships carrying captured Africans who were destined for sale elsewhere were themselves taken by British privateers and brought to Virginia. At that time, since slavery was not allowed in the area, the newly arrived Africans became, instead, indentured servants, eventually earning their freedom. It should be stated here that anyone, black or white, could be indentured in Virginia.

Myth #2 - There were no free blacks.

Fact: Upon fulfilling the terms of indenture, blacks and others who were indentured, were set free and given a pound and a half to go out on their own. Actually, slavery did not exist, as we think of it, until a law was passed allowing the practice in 1672. According to the Black Patriot, this law made it possible for any non-Christian arriving in the area to become a slave for the rest of his natural life.

Myth #3 - Blacks did not own slaves.

Fact: Rollison was born a free black man in 1725. He acquired great wealth and owned several slaves himself who helped to manage his various properties and businesses.

During a question and answer period after Mr. Cameron's portrayal of a Black patriot, we posed some "what ifs" to him about how our forefathers would have felt about modern day American life. Shock? Awe? Disgust? It was interesting to hear his conjectures. Simply put, he thought it would not be that much different, i.e. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry would probably have been more conservative, although differing in their religious views. Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin would probably have been more liberal.

It would seem that insults and fear mongering were as prevalent then as now. As an example he cited one rumor reported in the newspaper that President Adam's White House would be turned into a den of prostitution. We have certainly witnessed many scandals and rumors about today's political figures. This seems to be the way of politics, as each party candidate attempts to disparage the other in an effort to help his own party win office. However, actor Cameron deplores the growing lack of respect and civility we show to each other today in our daily communication.

In the next few weeks I hope to discuss the Historic Triangle and how visiting Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown has given me a truer reading and understanding of an important time for all Americans. An additional visit to Appotomax, which signaled the end of the Civil War, was also a profound experience to be shared.

When it comes to history, which today will be tomorrow, it is up to teachers to have a good background and understanding of that history, and to bring the past to life in an exciting way with as much truth as possible. Furthermore, it is up to today's writers and talking heads to keep the record straight, report and repeat the facts, and to do so with civility. Hopefully this will enable future generations to view their past with a degree of accuracy that I certainly missed.



Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina by Paul Heinegg. This book contains information from the Colonial period until about 1820.

The American Revolution and Slavery - A Digital History