We’ve weathered one storm system without too much damage, and now this is the lull before the big storm. Alexander McCall Smith graciously kept his speaking engagement here at the BHS commons this wet and windy afternoon, and it was entirely delightful!


(Fun connection to my life: He is the grandson of the doctor who founded Hokianga Hospital in Rawene, NZ, G.M. Smith.) His gentle wit, the way he giggles at his own tales, the string of anecdotes from around the world–I could listen to him for a couple of hours, even though in principle I agree with his view that no one should go on about anything for longer than 50 minutes.


He spoke about his writing process: Wake at 4 a.m. and write for two or three hours, turning out an average of 1,000 words per hour. This is very unusual for a writer, and even more unusual because he very rarely revises. For him, the stories just come out the way  they are meant to be; he taps into a subconscious part of his brain that is constantly examining and questioning the world.

He said he doesn’t hear the characters’ voices, but rather hears rhythms and fits their words to the rhythms.

I’ve a penchant for noir, and McCall Smith doesn’t really write noir. His mysteries are gentle, almost employing the genre as a pretext to examine the humanity and warmth that we are capable of, rather than the dark complexity of, say, Mankell’s world. That being said,  I’m a big fan of McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, and the Isabel Dalhousie Mystery series, set in Edinburgh. Today he told some stories from his 44 Scotland Street series, and I’m intrigued–they’re on my to-read list.

The New York Times reviewed his short story collection recently–I love the way that review ends: “These stories trust in the liberal, humane values that are at the heart of all McCall Smith’s fiction. Can one have too much of that hopefulness? I doubt it.”

McCall Smith’s themes are above all, compassionate.  His books are soothing, even lulling. Though comparatively sweet and therefore seemingly less important than fiction that exposes a grim and splintery world, I would argue that right now, we’ve all had enough of that.

A ‘lull’ can connote a false sense of security, but it can also mean a welcome relief from a storm. Thank you, Alexander McCall Smith.



Family photos


A surprisingly bright October morning at Fay Bainbridge with a fabulously talented photographer friend = family pictures to share!




The family picture wall in our house is full of the kids as babies and really young children. Photos can be a sort of stagnant story we tell ourselves, and it’s time to update the visual story.

Part mythology, part mirror, portrait photographs have the potential not only to capture a particular moment, but also to show us who we are.

I’ve been reading and analyzing Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray with my seniors, so a portrait’s potential symbolism has been on my mind.

Some of K’s senior photos! We love this beautiful person so very much.




Photo credit: M. W. at 



2016-08-17 10.56.53Our street on the Upper West Side. Manhattan was a study in contrasts: heat wave, air-conditioning blast; subway heat/noise/crowds hell, Central Park Ramble shade/birdsong/open space heaven; inexpensive meals at the apartment, pricy meals out; lovely conversations with native New Yorkers, S getting yelled at on the subway; goingdoingseeing, restingwaitingstaying.

2016-08-17 10.58.00We stayed very close to the Museum of Natural History, which is the first in a short series of Holden Caulfield sites for my students.

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2016-08-17 19.29.05Next up: Rockefeller Center:

2016-08-19 09.42.26And last, ducks in Central Park:

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2016-08-17 11.29.41Looking back at the San Remo apartment building on Central Park West. We walked past it every day on our way to the subway.

2016-08-17 12.02.14-1In Shakespeare’s Garden.

2016-08-17 11.37.11I was impressed by all the runners and cyclists using Central Park in the August heat. We brought our running shoes and clothes, but I didn’t go running once–that goes on the list for another visit.

2016-08-17 13.32.13Something Rotten on Broadway was a hit with everyone. Amidst the humor, catchy songs, clever allusions, and showstopping dance numbers, it’s a thought-provoking exploration of what a marriage is.

2016-08-18 16.37.08Beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

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2016-08-18 17.22.10My favorite skyscraper: The Chrysler Building.

2016-08-18 17.09.51English teacher grin.

2016-08-18 17.09.17The kids were more excited to sit down and read in NYC’s libraries than nearly anything else.

2016-08-18 17.18.06Cool Lego lion downstairs in the children’s section.

2016-08-18 11.47.25K, B, and I toured Juilliard (fun to see where so many talented people have studied, including my aunt C) and then sauntered over to the Met Opera House.

2016-08-17 18.33.41Laundry dropped off at the neighborhood cleaners: done, folded, and ready for pick-up after a day of us being out and about.

We made our way to Chelsea Piers and then boarded the 1920s-style yacht Manhattan II for an architecture tour around the entire island of Manhattan. Narrated by a delightful member of AIANY, this was one of our favorite experiences.

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2016-08-19 14.01.11One World Trade Center (at a deliberate 1,776 feet tall, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere).

2016-08-19 16.08.45The Empire State Building, among others of interest, as seen from the Hudson. Right about here was where Captain Sullenberger landed his plane.

2016-08-20 12.15.15Last day in NYC: thunderstorm; the Guggenheim’s soft white curves.

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2016-08-15 13.43.30Philadelphia: my dad’s birthplace, first capital of the U.S., home of some seriously beautiful historic architecture, and current relatively affordable city. K, B, and I toured the gorgeous campus of Curtis as private guests of the director of admissions. It would be a bit of an understatement to say we were impressed.

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2016-08-16 10.53.33We also visited Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution were debated and signed.

2016-08-15 13.31.41We stayed in a lovely B and B tucked into a quiet side street in the Rittenhouse neighborhood, which is where we found a molto delizioso lunch.

We toured the Philadelphia Mint (no pictures allowed, for obvious reasons) which was interesting. Its first director was David Rittenhouse, who was among other things, an astronomer who studied the 1769 transit of Venus. Later that year, Benjamin Franklin published Rittenhouse’s findings in the Journal of the Royal Society of London–the first time American science was presented to an international audience. (source)

Who else studied the 1769 transit of Venus? Captain Cook, whose expedition to Tahiti was undertaken for the express purpose of viewing Venus and who inadvertently found New Zealand in the process.

If I could return to this city in short order, I would–I didn’t plan enough time for Philly, but wanting to come back isn’t a bad way to leave!

Washington D.C.

2016-08-12 19.25.28Wallace’s #5 Metro bus from Dulles airport to L’Enfant Plaza in downtown D.C. is the best. Before we boarded, I saw the driver engaged in a very animated discussion with someone sitting on the bus and assumed that there was a problem. Once we stepped up onto the bus, Wallace greeted each person with a remarkable amount of enthusiasm and conversation, and I realized I had misunderstood the overseen interaction–a good reminder that things are not always what they seem. Wallace’s energy transferred to driving style as well; lots of honking and jouncing in the pothole-ridden service lane.  In fact, I can say with assurance that the kids were looking travel-stunned here only because we weren’t under way yet.

2016-08-13 11.45.59This Cubano pizza (DF, GF) at Pi was amazing. Would you believe mustard and pickles belong on a pizza?

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2016-08-13 13.16.34The Library of Congress is like a palace to democracy, books and access to them being the foundation of freedom.

2016-08-13 13.28.21Waiting for a tour of the L of C to begin: appreciating the cooling properties of marble walls. We walked through 101 degree heat (tied with the record from 1981; humidity of 78 percent gave us a heat index of 111 degrees, which The Washington Post called “obscene“) and then decided to use Uber for most of our other excursions during the Hadean heatwave.

2016-08-13 13.38.04Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and civilization. She’s contemplating a scroll listing various fields of learning.

2016-08-13 13.39.17Main reading room.

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2016-08-13 14.23.15A closer look at a page from a Gutenberg Bible (this is one of only three complete copies extant) printed on vellum, with the illuminations added later by hand. A hand-lettered Bible such as the Giant Bible of Mainz would have taken years, while this three-volume printed Bible would have taken a fraction of that time.

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IMAG0147Photo credit: K

2016-08-13 19.44.38D.C. date: Dress up for The Bombay Club and go for a stroll past the White House on your way back to the hotel. (After learning our lesson in Sydney, we called ahead for dress code during a heat wave: at The Bombay Club, shorts are okay but men should wear a collared shirt and jacket.)

2016-08-14 16.10.53Nearly at the end of a long day of museums, ending with the National Gallery. We saw the Spy Museum, the Hope Diamond, the Air and Space Museum, a text from my brother that he was also at the Smithsonian that day too (what are the chances?!), and lots of beautiful, inspiring art.

We took a sunset/moonlight tour of the National Mall, which is a spectacular time to be walking around the monuments and memorials.

2016-08-14 19.21.41As we progressed, the wind picked up and lightning began streaking overhead, lending the tour guide a little extra drama to his presentation: “The sacred conversation between Washington and Lincoln–CRACKBOOOM!–isn’t interrupted by the placement of any other memorial.”

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2016-08-14 20.45.51Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

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Opera Workshop

Earlier this month K participated in an opera workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. She stayed in an on-campus dorm room at PLU for her 10-day experience, a taste of college living and an opportunity to learn from inspiring PLU faculty members and radiant professional singers along with other high school, undergraduate, and adult opera singers.

2016-07-14 12.05.57The day I dropped her off: K’s getting her bearings, standing in PLU’s music building under the Chihuly rose installations.

2016-07-23 15.46.52A week and a half later, the singers had honed their parts for Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and various opera scenes for a best-of-opera variety evening performance.  Hansel and Gretel was in the early afternoon, and then the opera scenes were performed in the evening. K’s wonderful teacher M came with for the day.

2016-07-23 15.47.04Nana’s visit coincided with K’s performance.🙂

2016-07-23 20.44.52K’s opera scene was the Flower duet from Lakmé. It’s one of the most beautiful arias of any opera; after hearing K sing the mezzo-soprano part so incredibly beautifully on stage, it’s become my favorite.

K’s duet partner was a fantastically talented coloratura soprano and a terrific person for K to work closely with.

2016-07-23 15.44.17We were all so proud of K and happy that her experience was such a great one!


First two days of summer vacation: I have time to cleeeeaan!

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And time to go to Seattle! Here we are across from Seattle Central College, where K registered as a Running Start student for this coming school year.

More time for watching the Copa America (Dempseeeyy!) at Plate and Pint, and for going to movies (A Bigger Splash–whoa. We watched this at The Lynwood, where I wasn’t alone in reacting audibly, laughing, gasping, groaning.)

And more time for reading. bookcover-3d-mockup

I finished Lisa Damour’s Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood. Notable parts: “People only make changes when they are uncomfortable” (187).

That’s a sentence worth sitting with for some time. One of the main premises of the book is that encouraging someone to change by making them uncomfortable with you doesn’t usually work. As a parent (or as a teacher) the goal is to allow kids to become uncomfortable with themselves.

On a very specific note, the author comments on online grade books “that give parents an easy way to keep daily tabs on their daughters’ assignments” (189); this would be our digital, real-time system here in our school district. Damour says that parents who closely monitor assignments can interfere with teens’ ability to plan for the future and learn from their failures.

In my experience, parents of struggling students feel like they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. In the interest of aligning with research on adolescent development and supporting positive family relationships, schools should only make periodic progress reports available to students and families.

On another note, I’ll spend several hours of this rainy Saturday fine-tuning a presentation for Monday on teaching gifted students (first time to present to a large group beyond my own school). I’m a little nervous but I’m hitting my stride in knowing what I’m doing.







IMG_0223I teach thoughtful, thoughtful darlings.

IMG_0248Slightly sunburned, looking forward to the vast shift in routine that summer will bring in two days, making lists.

Things I did this year without even trying:

Grew very tasty butter lettuce • Gathered more wrinkles, freckles, and gray hair •

That’s all I can think of. It’s a very short list, I know.

Things I did this year through trial and error:

Revised lesson plans and expectations for myself and my students • Counseled, loved, cried with and for my own kids • Found time to occasionally accompany a choir and occasionally sing in a women’s chamber group • Read for pleasure during the school year (!) • Occasionally made time to exercise • Got enough rest to dodge illness–not even a cold–but not enough sleep to ever feel rested • Morning meditation • Talked with friends and family about tough stuff • Laughed with friends and family, relaxed, had fun • Learned from my talented colleagues • Approached group relationships as one-on-one relationships (e.g. enough one-on-one time with each of the kids as well as B; focused on my students as individuals) • Made breakfast for the family: eggs on toast (going on several months now and they’re not tired of it yet) • Moved dinner to B’s domain except for my version of salade Nicoise • Found new ways to deal with new stress • Attended as many music/art/performance opportunities as I could fit in • Wrote, reflected, thought •

40 feels good.





A thoughtful gift from a student who remembered Tasha!

Having said goodbye to my seniors last week, today I gave my 1st period ninth graders their final exam, a written response to the question: What is the purpose of literature?

They did not know what the prompt would be ahead of time. Here are some of their thesis statements:

• Literature exists to reflect the variations in the human experience.

• Literature allows us to understand the complexities within ourselves, and in the world around us.

• The purpose of literature is to get people to listen.

• Literature confronts reality and explains it in a way that we can understand.

• Literature is meant to guide us in life, for it informs us, opens our minds to new possibilities, and enables us to change lives.

• The purpose of literature is to help us understand human situations, conflicts, and emotions.

• Literature creates ways for people to see and teach themselves about abnormal situations.

• Literature gives us a history of the world we could never know.

• Literature makes you wonder, think, and explore new ideas.

• Literature lets us take our intelligence and knowledge, and expand it into something greater.

• Literature inspires people to learn and allows many people to cross over from not wanting to be taught something to wanting to learn as much as they can about a topic.

I find myself continually delighted by my students’ perceptiveness and eloquence, and I’m looking forward to the last two days of school because I get to pose three more questions and read three more class sets of responses. (I’m being very careful to stay away from the word ‘essay’, which carries a weightiness and a dread for some students, let alone strict formal rules for what constitutes an Essay.  It’s a shame, really, because the word in the Montaigne-esque sense is what I want–an attempt to honestly and fully answer the question.)