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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Rock, Not Stoned

A work in progress

We’ve been in the middle of a huge landscaping project. All of the plants from the house in Wellesley (that we just sold) were transplanted here at the Cape. I love that all these mature green goodies aren’t going to get bulldozed by the developer who is knocking down the house. So, we’ve got plants and lots of them. They’re all in the ground, getting their twice daily long drinks of water and gentle spritzing with spray. They’re all happy… Amazing.

However, it’s not the plants alone that I’m psyched about. We’ve got rocks, yes, mucho rocks here at the Cape. While transplanting the big trees/shrubs, Tom, the landscaper discovered even more rocks. And that’s when I really started to have fun. Since he had a great little Bobcat that could lift boulders and arrange them one on top of the other without me lifting a finger… I had a blast (bad rock pun, sorry!)

Goddess DeVida

At the front door is Goddess DeVida. She’s welcoming, but has enough heft to keep creeps and nasty relatives away. I love her and promised I would not dress her up for every Hallmark holiday.

Here’s a close up of her heart- made of stone—but definitely a heart.

She has a heart: stone, of course.

In the back yard are two smaller stone people. They’re located right outside my studio window and make me smile every time I see them, especially the male!









My favorite… and then yet another heart shaped rock we dug up… go figure.

There are still a few more that are works in progress. One reminds me of a cat, but I have to hunt for the “perfect” middle stone. It will happen.


This last one has potential, but right now, I’m only seeing a duck, and I’d rather see a bunch of undulating waves… Tom will be back with his machine on Friday. I can hardly wait.


Rock on!


Often I absolutely hate to see a book come to an end. I savor the last fifty pages and sip them like fine wine. This happens more times than not, but this week it was “not”.

I read three books, all of which would have benefited from a haircut, two severe, one just a trim.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is an engaging flight of fancy. The reader leaves behind roots in reality and yields to the power of imagination. It’s a story about a fantastic circus where nothing is what it seems. Is the illusionist doing clever slight of hand tricks or are other forces at work? Yes, there’s a love story, but that isn’t the prime mover for me. The tension between what is possible versus the bizarre energizes the novel for me. Is it all a dream or would that be too simple? So many people told me they either hated the book or loved it. I liked most of it, with the exception of three or four chapters that seemed unnecessary and non-productive. The ending is not as interesting as I would have hoped, but the author succeeds in making me let go of rational expectations and that is an experience worth having.

It’s true that I tend to favor fiction over non-fiction, but two pieces of non-fiction made it to the top of my reading pile this week. Unstuff Your Life by Andrew J. Mellen caught my attention because of its focus on simplicity and minimalism. It is just shy of 400 pages and could well have afforded to unstuff itself. This is one of those books that would have made a superb two to three page magazine article. There are basically three messages:

1.     You are not your stuff. Separate yourself from your things and make rational decisions about them.

2.     One home for everything. That means everything has its place; put it there.

3.     Like with like. Group like objects together so you know where to find them.

I didn’t learn anything new from this book and should have known better to buy yet another book about decluttering my life.  Lesson learned; I’m donating the book. It will be out of the house tomorrow.

The second non-fiction book I tackled this week is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The subtitle interested me: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Duhigg explores how habits are formed and looks at the science, business and behavioral aspects of the subject. Examples are drawn from the research labs of MIT as well as case studies from around the country. He lets the reader see how cravings are turned into habits. This book bounces from neurological studies to animal research to case studies focusing on anecdotal stories then ricochets to management’s study of customer habits and back again. There is the constant reiteration of The Habit Loop which shows that habits consists of a cue that prompts a response, a routine that satisfies the prompt, and finally, a reward. The bottom line in converting bad habits to good ones calls for leaving the cue and the reward in place, while swapping out the routine to a healthier one. Duhigg shows that it is possible to create new habits and that even unsuspecting victims of memory loss can succeed at this task. Maybe there is hope for me.

I confess, I was fascinated by the analysis of how businesses collect customer habit information and use it to increase sales. I felt like a voyeur looking into the creation of Febreze—a product that was almost doomed for failure because customers were not making this product a habit. People who had smelly houses, didn’t recognized the smell after a while, and never felt the need to “refresh it” or get rid of the odor. The folks who did buy it saw it as a finishing touch to a room that was just tidied. I was likewise curious about how Alcoa revamped its entire company by making Workplace Safety its top priority. It retrained all levels of its operation to strive for no workplace injuries. Basically, new habits had to be formed from top to bottom. The process was eye-opening and yet another example of “doing well by doing good”.

The Power of Habit is a worthwhile read, but needs some serious skimming through the repetition and prolonged case studies. It is interesting to learn how business endeavors to get inside the consumer’s head (literally) in order to push for more sales, more business, more buying. The marketing research team at Target found a way to identify pregnant women at the very earliest stages of pregnancy in order to capture the $6800 of potential sales during the first year of a new born’s life. Big brother is alive and well—I should have already known that.

Know That Kid ASAP

As a teacher, when the college semester is limited to 25 classes or the middle/high school marking period is ten to twelve weeks, I found it crucial to learn as much as I could about each student as early as possible. Here are some strategies that I used for all ages.

  1. Name That Face Before classes begin, review class lists, get student photos to be able to match the face with the name. Have index cards and markers so each student makes a name card to place on his/her desk; that facilitates you learning names and the students learning each other’s as well.
  2. Intro Letter and Task Also before classes begin, send a short, pleasant letter/e-mail to each student introducing yourself, reviewing the agenda for the first couple of days and asking them to collect a small number of items for a local homeless shelter (3 toothbrushes or 3 bars of soap or 3 pairs of athletic socks). Tell them to be prepared to discuss how they managed to get these items. This task serves as an icebreaker and gives insight about each student solved the problem of procuring the goods.
  3. The Questionnaire During the first class, I hand out a questionnaire that is somewhat lengthy. It’s due at the beginning of the next class. I ask what they liked best and least about English class. Also, what do they think is important for me to know about them in order to better teach them? What books have they read recently? What do they think makes a person a “good reader”? What do they think makes a student a “good writer”? I ask them to tell a little about the best paper they ever wrote. What is unique about their style of learning that would be helpful for me to know? What do they want to be doing in four years? What makes them happy? What scares them? They are told to write in complete sentences and answer each question fully.

And lastly, most importantly, what questions do they have for me… and I leave a large space for them to write as many questions as they want. I promise to answer their questions promptly. I pour over the surveys once they’re submitted and make notes in my grade book regarding anything I can glean from the student’s responses that will help me teach them. For example, next to StudentX’s name I might write: says hates English, has ideas but can’t write, likes to read books she chooses herself, not assigned ones, many mechanical errors. My work is clearly laid out for me.

Knowing that information on Day Two is an incredible asset. I make time to meet with each student and address the issues that jump out at me. It’s an open discussion and a friendly, professional way to start the semester. It diffuses problems before they begin. Students are often surprised that a teacher would care to ask these questions and begin to see that this learning process is a two-way street requiring effective teamwork between teacher and student.

  1. Define Your Recipe for Success: I clearly list what I believe is necessary to succeed in my class in the class syllabus. Here is a sample of the ingredients:

-Show up on time and fully prepared to work and think hard.

-Mistakes are not signs of weakness. They’re data to use and an opportunity for learning. Don’t be afraid of them.

-Good students ask for help and for lots of feedback on their work.

-If you try hard, learn from your errors, and persist, you can succeed.

-Consistent effort and effective strategies are the main determinants of success.

-Writing is rewriting.

-Reading for pleasure results in improvement of many skills: vocabulary, comprehension, synthesis. Get addicted to reading.

-Ask questions—of yourself, or your textbook, or others.

-Push beyond the obvious.

-Be invested in your own education.

This “recipe” eliminates ambiguity about my priorities. I want them to be fully engaged and fearless. I make that clear.

5. Office Hours and Scheduled Appointments: During the first two weeks of classes, I make it a point to meet individually with each and every student. It gives us an opportunity to review what is expected and to address any questions or worries. We also map out a game plan of what specific goals the student has for this class and what particular skills need special attention. It’s a way to catch and eliminate problems of the past and move forward as a successful student. Yes, this is time consuming, but it is well worth it; it thwarts problems that most likely would have surfaced later in the semester when there might not be time to handle them.

What I like about this whole “ramping up” process is that it significantly shortens the time we need to get acquainted and hastens the time we get to start working on class work. It also makes the teacher aware of information that either wouldn’t be known or would take valuable weeks to discover.

And I do love the questions they ask me…some of my favorites:

Why do you teach?

Do you always have so much energy?

What is your favorite book, TV show, movie, ice cream?

Are you really going to answer my questions? Really?

P.S. If you have already started classes, it’s never too late to put any of these practices into action.