Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Seattle Hailstorm

We Seattlites take a lot of ribbing from the rest of the world about our notorious and ever-present rain.

It's true. We get a lot of rainy days here.

But what most non-locals don't understand is that the rain in these parts doesn't fall like most rain. 
It's a slow, soft rain, more of a mist actually.

On the average rainy day here, the drops fall so gently that they make no sound, no mad drumming on the rooftop or even constant patter into puddles as in most other parts of the world. 

One surefire way to prove this fact is to look at any street full of Seattle pedestrians on a rainy day. We don't use umbrellas. A basic fleece jacket, or even a sweatshirt with a hood.is all we need to stay reasonably dry.

If there was only one thing I wish the world would grasp about the infamous Seattle rain, it's that we don't get more rain, we get slower rain. 

Please, help me pass the word. 


Important Seattle Weather Fact Number Two comes straight from today's headlines: especially in springtime, we get a surprising amount of hail.

Certainly, we are not known for extreme weather of any kind, but the truth is that every spring, we encounter a few episodes of bouncy white balls of ice falling from our skies.


Today's episode - the second in the past week or so - filled my yard with  icy pellets. I'd say they were about the size of the red rubber eraser on the end of a standard #2 pencil. 

I love to watch hail fall. If they hit a soft surface, like the grass or garden, the hailstones drop quietly into place and stay put, but when they drop onto a hard surface - roof, patio, sidewalk, driveway - the crazy devils bounce with great abandon. I find it endlessly entertaining to stand at a second story window and watch them careen wildly off the roof and then ricochet around the patio. 


Today, Gracie and I headed out for our walk just as the hail was transitioning into rain. Though much of it was melting fast, we still found some nice pockets of icy hailstones tucked in my garden beds among the spring bloomers. 

But mostly we just got wet. 


Well. Gracie got wet. Happily, I was snug and dry inside my Seattle-rain-proof fleece jacket. 

Keep Life Simple

Now, it's a well-established fact that none of us have ever experienced anything quite like this planet-wide Covid-19 crisis we've got on our hands. 

Granted, we handled 9/11. That was a doozy. The whole world has dealt with terror on a large scale in the past few decades.

Before that, you'd have to go back to World War II to find a multi-continent catastrophe that compares in scope and scale. And most of us were not around in those days.

So there's no doubt that we are all on new and shaky ground as we tiptoe through this pandemic.

Upstairs in my bedroom, I keep a triangular shelf. Several years ago, I saw it at Target and fell in love. So I bought it. The fact that it was designed for children did not bother me one little bit. 

But in a way, on a more personal, private scale, anyone who's lived for more than a few years has experienced some similar kind of emergency existence.


Definitely life throws us a variety of challenges that force us to retreat into a protective posture, that demand that we make some terrible predicament our highest priority, that drop us to our physical, emotional, and financial knees. 

That is yet another nice thing about living longer. These gut-punching traumas lose some of their power when you've already survived a few.

What we learn from our previous challenges helps us face the new ones ahead.

And of all the things I've learned, one of the best is this:

Keep life simple. 

At first, I imagined that I would fill the clever little shelves with a variety of treasures. My mind's eye saw small wooden boxes, miniature cats and dogs, a handful of air plants, and some of my beloved rock collection. 

From what I see, we are all quickly picking up on that.

My husband told me today that there's a nation-wide jigsaw puzzle shortage.
My social media feeds are full of chatter about the joy of making things. 
My grocery store struggles to keep flour on the shelves as home bakers kick into gear.
My neighborhood streets are jammed with walkers, bikers, and scooterers.  

My own life is slowing and shifting and settling down.

For a year or two, I struggled to bring that vision to reality. But I could never lay my hands on the tiny treasures that apparently lived only in my mind. Several of the shelves sat empty, and the air plants I bought starved for sunlight on this shelf so far from the window, and in the last few months of winter, I gave up and moved them closer to their beloved son.

In the meantime, my rock collection kept growing and while I kept my favorites here, the extras had no place to call home.

Because here's the thing.

We don't need any more stress.

We've got plenty of Covid-related things to worry about, so the rest of our lives should be as streamlined and simple as possible.  

So my wish for the world today is this:

Keep life simple.
Let go of what feels complicated, if that's possible.
Trust that everything is going to be okay.
Remember that sometimes the things we fear most end up being blessings in disguise. 
Take this time to love the people who matter most to you, and to live in the moment. 

Then one day last week, it dawned on me: I was making this way too hard. Impulsively, I emptied the shelves and gave them a spanking good dusting. The non-rock treasures were moved to a new, much smaller home which they took to immediately. Then I gathered all my rocks together and gave them the run of the place. 

This new arrangement is so much simpler. And so much better. 

Though sometimes it's hard to believe, this wild coronavirus ride will not last forever. Sooner or later, we will all throw open our front doors, leap into our cars, and head off into the world. Normal will come again. 

Monday, March 30, 2020

What I'm Doing Lately

I suppose this reveals my nature as a true introvert, but I must say that I am digging the effect of our Covid-inspired Stay Home mandate on my creative energies. Without the distracting energies of jumping in the car and driving away every day, I'm bursting with extra enthusiasm for projects around the house. 

Here's what I've got cooking these days:

Boring but necessary.

Back in January, when the sun still rose in the east, we finally bit the bullet and bought our home some much-needed new windows. Installation was originally scheduled for March 23 but for weeks now, my husband has been insisting that it would not happen like that in our post-corona world. Replacing windows is not an essential business activity, he reasoned. But it appears that Governor Inslee is down with home repair, because our windows were indeed installed right on schedule. 

Which is the fun news. The less fun follow-up report is that I spent several days last week staining hundreds of feet of new woodwork, and that was just the beginning. Post-install, all of the new windows needed more attention from a paintbrush, and I spent quite a few hours of quality time over the weekend in painting mode. I'm extremely thankful to my fourth-born for helping me, and as of Sunday night, we are almost done!


* * * * *

A long-overdue project whose time has finally come.

When my girls were little, I kept meticulous photo albums. 

Editing down to the best of the best shots, 
Arranging everything in chronological order, right down to the day.
Writing little notes in the comments section of the pages. 

And the whole family - especially my daughters - have spent many a happy session flipping through those perfect pages and chortling over the childhood memories.

Then, around the early 2000s, the whole system went kablooey.

My trusty old-school Nikon died.
My daughters started taking a lot of their own photos and no longer wanted to pose for mine.
My brain filled with important homeschooling details designed to get my kids into college one day, and photo albums took a back seat.

As the years tumbled by, we all continued to take lots of pics. Our social media accounts and personal computer stashes overflow with beautiful shots, but I've never figured out a reasonable way to convert all that digital data into anything as simple and old-fashioned as a hand-held photo album.

I'm still not sure I have all the answers, but I've finally decided to start. 

Though I'm hoping to eventually fill in the last ten or so missing years I'm going to start with the current year. After looking at a truly absurd number of options, I finally pulled the trigger on a versatile photo album that should be around for some years to come.

Then I bought a photo printer. 


Again, I studied the options in digital photo printers for quite some time before deciding on this one. The reviews that raved about color quality won me over, and after setting up the printer over the weekend and running a few test shots, I must say I'm impressed too. 

Now I've got everything I need to start pumping out the next generation of family photo albums. Let the giggles begin!

* * * * *

Art to feed my soul.

My brain is pretty much always percolating with ideas for making art. Though there are usually a half-dozen solid candidates milling around in my mind while I try to find time, every now and then, an newcomer will catapult straight to the front of the line. 

So it was the other night when I came across this amazing three-dimensional sculpture-ish gem online, it was crazy mad love at first sight.With a head full of dopamine, I ordered the balsa wood and promised to make this before anything else. 

Cannot wait to create its insane geometric beauty. 

And then, because I'm pretty sure we will still be in lock down, I will find some other things to do. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time For Me To Fly

Do you ever
listen to a song
and remember exactly what
life was
like when you
first heard it?

A moment ago, I scrolled past this post on social media, and heard the resounding woot woot! of the Karma Train pulling into the station. I'd just experienced a walloping case of this "Do you ever listen to a song..." phenomenon and was still reeling from the effect. 

An hour ago, as I sat watching the much anticipated third season of Ozark on Netflix, the soundtrack hit me with a major blast from my past. 

REO Speedwagon's Time For Me To Fly

At the opening notes of that tune, my heart, mind, and soul skipped back through the decades to my freshman year at college. It was early spring, and my dorm mates and I had turned out en masse at a local campus bar. This was the seventies, my friends, so we spent the evening swilling cheap beer and dancing to what are now known as classic rock power ballads. 

Plenty of healthy mixing and mingling was going on, and somewhere during the early part of the evening, I caught sight of a fellow student I'd never seen before. 

Trust me, I would have remembered that face anywhere.

Well, from that point on, I kept my eyes glued on him as each of us with our own posse of friends moved here and there around the crowded space. Pretty sure he caught me looking at him once or twice, but maybe that was because he was looking at me too. Hard to tell. 

After an hour or so of this cat-and-mouse game, a guy named Jeff caught my arm. He was a sixth-year senior - oldest guy in the dorm, for sure.. My suite mates, who were fifth-year seniors themselves, hung out with Jeff often so I knew who he was. 

I had no idea that Jeff knew my n00b self by name, but apparently he did. 

Because with great energy and a hearty helping of drama, Jeff breathlessly informed me that he had a friend from the dorm who was dying to meet me, and I just had to agree to dance with him. 

And no offense to Jeff, but I was thinking that any friend of Jeff's was not going to hold my interest. Especially with my new person-of-interest in the room. So while I did my best to put Jeff off, he  energetically persisted, and soon I gave in. 

"Ok, Jeff. Just one song. Where is this guy?" 

"Turn around," said Jeff. "He's right behind you."

And so I turned.

Standing right smack dab in front of me was...my guy! 

He grinned at me. I felt the room sway, and heart-eye emojis filled the air. 

Just kidding. Those had not been invented yet, but honestly, it was a heart-eye emoji moment if ever there was.

He introduced himself to me. Greg. Let's call him Greg.
We danced to not one song but every song for the rest of the evening. 
We walked home together, with our respective groups of friends loitering behind us, as college friends do, catcalling and making a general scene.

We didn't care. 

As wonderful as that first encounter was, there were more lovely moments that spring. Greg and I saw each other fairly often. We hung out, watched a few movies together, went to a formal dance that was actually a lot of fun. When it was just the two of us, we enjoyed each other's company immensely. But there was also something very strange in the air. Whenever Greg's friends were around - especially his roommate, Smitty - there was some indescribable weirdness that made first Greg and then me in response feel tense and awkward. 

In the seventies, we didn't use the word "awkward" like we do now. But it's exactly the right way to describe the chilly breeze that swept through the room whenever his friends walked in..

Spring turned to summer, Greg and I said a sweet goodbye and went our separate, several-hundred-miles-apart ways. 

I thought about him all summer long, mostly with good thoughts, but still that lingering confusion. I felt like there was something I was missing but in spite of my solid Dr Phil instincts, I couldn't figure out what was wrong. 

Fast forward to the first day of sophomore year. On the fall Friday before classes started, my floor threw a kegger - yeah, in those days it was perfectly legal for students to serve open alcohol in the dorms - and though I seriously considered staying in my room to brood, I decided to make an appearance. 

Guess who I found there.

Yep. My mysterious quasi-boyfriend, Greg.

Lightning struck twice and the night was a perfect dream. He told me about his summer - he mostly mowed lawns, he said - and he complimented my tan. We talked to no one but each other for hours and it was amazing.

And that was the last time I ever spoke to him. 

He never came over to my room again. 
Never called me on the dorm landlines. 
Never even smiled at me across the cafeteria. 

A few weeks later, I discovered that Greg, Smitty and several other friends had moved out of the dorm to an off-campus apartment. Beyond one or two chance sightings across campus, I never saw him again. 

How did I feel about this bizarre turn of events? Sad, for sure, but only to a point. The whole scenario had just become too confusing, and while I was sure Greg liked me, there was something wrong and I was tired of not knowing what it was. So I moved on.

But that is not the end of this story. Not by a long shot.

* * * * *

Three years later, I had graduated, taken a job at the then-prestigious public accounting firm, Arthur Andersen & Co., and moved to Chicago with two accounting-major friends from college. 

And one night, one of my roommates mentioned the name of my mystery man. Seems she had lived on the same floor of the dorm as Greg.

"Oh, I didn't realize you were friends with him. I knew him too," I said, carefully sidestepping the more complicated explanation of our acquaintance. 

"I know you did," my roommate said, sly smile creeping across her face. "Everyone knew about you and Greg."

"Okay, I give up," I exploded. "I don't get it. Why are you acting so weird about this?"

"Because of his hometown honey."

Oh, my goodness. Suddenly the missing puzzle piece flew out of thin air and snapped into place. 

I had no idea that Greg had a girlfriend at home. 

My roommate spilled the whole story. Greg and this girl had dated in high school; she'd studied at a local school while he went to university out of town. The gf had always assumed that she and Greg were together forever and in fact, at this point, they were engaged. 

And get this. Greg's girlfriend knew all about me, her boyfriend's college fling. Apparently, all of Greg's friends and half of our dorm knew that he had a serious girlfriend at home and me on the side.  But Greg never breathed a word of it to me. 

My emotions then embarked an interesting journey.

I felt relief. I finally understood why he acted so weird.

It seemed important that my innocence be proclaimed. I wanted everyone to know that I had no idea that I'd been cast as the other woman, and had I known, I'd never have agreed to play that part. 

Then - and I settled here for a long time - I wished Greg could know that I was fine without him, that even though he hid the truth from me, and then unceremoniously dropped out of my life, I had landed on my feet and found happiness beyond him.

Because that was true. I was fine without Greg. More than fine. 

But this is still not the end of the story.

* *  * * *

Around seven years after our magical meet-cute, four years after finally learning about Greg's girlfriend, I was still in Chicago, engaged to my now-husband, who also worked at Arthur Andersen with me. 

One night, he and I went out for dinner with another couple. The guy, named Mike, worked closely with my then-fiance. Despite the fact that my husband almost never socialized with his underlings, he enthusiastically reported to me that Mike was a really great guy, and I would surely enjoy getting to know him and his wife, Julie.

My husband did not know what I knew. 

His co-worker, Mike, also known as Smitty, was Greg's college roommate. 

And Julie, who all through college had been Mike's hometown honey, also knew my story. Mike/Smitty and Julie had both watched the whole kooky relationship unfold between Greg and me.

But of the three of us, no one mentioned a word of these facts.

Instead, we cozied up around a four-top in a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night, munching cheeseburgers and nibbling at a heaping helping of fried onions, laughing and enjoying each other's company very much indeed.

As we talked, I secretly hoped that Mike/Smitty and Julie would take a full report of the evening back to Greg. And his fiance. I wished them no ill will but I wanted the lovebirds to know I was alive and well. And I'd bet my bottom dollar that that's exactly what Smitty and Julie did.

This is almost the end of the story.

* * * * *

Tonight, during Ozark, when I heard the opening chords of Time For Me To Fly, I remembered this whole story as if it were yesterday. 

Because this is one of the first songs that Greg and I danced to, on that night so long ago, and with lyrics that so clearly prophesied the end of our relationship, it always reminds me of him. 

It really was time for me to fly.

P.S. About a year ago, late at night, I felt a sudden urge to search Greg out on social media. Yep, a good old-fashioned stalking session. I found him in an instant, and he's apparently fine, with three grown kids and a few cute grandchildren. And still married to his hometown honey. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Do Dinner

"Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening." 
-Art Buchwald

"Dinner is to a day what dessert is to dinner."  -Michael Dorris

Those are fresh raspberries in the bowls on the table. 
The rest of the menu featured turkey burgers and grilled asparagus. 

No, I get it. Life is crazy, and generally speaking, the average day gets crazier with each passing hour.

Once everyone gets out of bed and shoots off to where they need to be, mornings calm down and drift into reasonably focused afternoons. But as evening closes in, many of us find it a challenge to gather up the reins, get the day back under our control, and prepare - let alone serve and clean up after - an organized evening meal.

But it is so worth the effort. 

I know it's easy for me to sit here with my adult daughters, two of whom live at home and help me with my dinner-making chores, and preach about going the extra mile, but hey, I served my time in the trenches. And while I won't pretend that every dinner I put on the table during my daughters' growing up years was performance art, I'll say this. 

I tried.

Whether the menu offered up a pricey roast or grilled cheese sandwiches - again - I somehow found time and energy to see that the table was set properly, to use actual serving bowls, to bring out the cloth napkins. To light a candle.

And while the parents' efforts at coherent conversation were often drowned out by a cacophony of giggles and general chaos, we kept chugging away at developing a proper dinner mood. 

Now, as I look back, I'm so glad I kept trying. Sit-down dinners are worth the extra effort, and our meal times together helped to form the bedrock of our family life. 

Last night, as I was stirring up the contents of  various pots and pans on the stove, I glanced across the room to see the table, ready and waiting for our meal. 

In these crazy days of coronavirus upset, when every aspect of life feels jarringly off and strangely unfamiliar, and we can't help but grieve for the life we used to know, I take particular comfort in doing dinner.

* * * * *

Read more stories about life with Covid-19 here in suburban Seattle:

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Covid Cleaning

Once nice thing about Washington's new stay-at-home mandate is that I've got plenty of extra energy and attention span for deep cleaning and reorganizing projects. Thanks, Covid-19!

* * * * *

Forget about coronavirus for a hot minute. This situation I blame on my new oven.

The old one died back in January. And though we went out right away and purchased a new one, the  first available install date stretched all way out into mid-March.

Little did we know in January how the world would have changed by March.

But anyway, back to my oven. She was finally moved last Friday and ooh wee, she's a beauty. 

And by beautiful, I really mean clean. 

I do my best to keep up with daily maintenance and the monthly deep clean, but there's no doubt that the roasting vegetables, open face sandwiches, and broiled fish take their toll. After ten plus years of hard living, well, let's just say the bloom was off the my previous oven's rose. 

But then the new kid arrived, all shiny clean and crumb free. 

And my heart exploded with joy for this pristine creation.

Suddenly, I felt a fierce and burning desire to clean every inch of my kitchen, especially the regions within six feet of my shining appliance.

Just kidding about the six feet. That's a little social distancing humor.

But anyway, my cleaning frenzy soon directed itself to a specific and particularly well-deserving target: the cupboard over the oven.


Now this guy's always been a bit tricky. I have more than enough baking pans, cookie sheets, serving trays, bread boards, and platters to overflow the left section with the vertical dividers. And no enormous soup pans, mega Dutch ovens, or other oversize cookware that particularly need the wide, deep, tall space on the right.

So what has happened over the years, and I can only blame myself for this, is that the overpopulation of things that would dearly loved to be stored in those overcrowded vertical dividers on the left have spilled over into the empty space on the right, and arranged themselves in a sloppy, entangled, inaccessible and ridiculously tipsy heap.

So I did what any passionate organizer would do on a stay-at-home Saturday morning. 


I spontaneously dumped the whole mess onto the kitchen counter. 

Well, if the first step or a good reorganization is to get everything out of the space, the second imperative is to clean. 

Yep, ticked that box with relish. I pulled out those divider things, wiped away the grime, and used my favorite wood conditioning oil to nourish every inch.

Then came the part where I stood back, stared into the folly of that big empty space, and chewed over the problem.

At first, I thought the solution was more vertical dividers. But that didn't address the issue of all the wasted space in the top half of the cabinet. I don't have super tall objects that need to shelter here, so while I appreciate the existing vertical dividers for keeping order among my baking sheets and especially those pesky cooling racks with their trouble-making little wire feet, I decided that they were not the droids I was looking for. 

Suddenly it hit me. Horizontal dividers! Shelves, if you will, that would allow me to perch my big-but-not-that-big holiday roaster up top, and the daily favorites, cutting boards and platters, to have their own assigned spaces below. 

My husband wandered in around this point and got excited with my plan. He could build these shelves for me! Tape measures and carpenters squares suddenly appeared, and he began mentally browsing his lumber cache.

All of which I appreciated very much. But since I was hoping to get this project squared away before Christmas, I put him on pause. "Let's see if there's anything on Amazon," I slyly suggested as I reached for my phone. 

Sure enough, within seconds I found a product that whose description, reviews, and price we could both get excited about, and less than five minutes later, I swiped right.


By Monday noon, I was in business. 


My above-the-oven cupboard is now a place of harmony and joy, befitting its close company with that gleaming new oven. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Gracie’s And My Daily (Socially Distant) Walks

Well, thanks to Covid-19, the world has turned upside down and every routine we've ever known has been summarily tossed out the figurative window. 

But until hell officially freezes over, you better believe Gracie and I are still taking our daily walks.

Determined though we are, we're not daredevils or in denial about pandemic protocol. So here is how we are coping with our socially distant walking program. 

Body still, ears up, eyes lasered in on the target. Yep, the signs are unmistakable. 
Gracie has spotted a squirrel. 

We live by the six-foot bubble rule. Which, honestly, I've kind of expanded to a ten- to twelve-foot bubble because honestly, I'm on the side of extra caution.

But I'll tell you what. These sunny, warm March days are making things difficult. 

Gracie and I typically walk around 4:30 or 5 p.m., and what with kids home from school all day and daylight saving time having kicked in, that means the sidewalks have been unusually busy. 

I'm seeing a lot of

work-from-homers taking a break from the laptop to walk their dogs
pairs of mom in deep conversation
dads keeping up with kids on scooters, bikes, or roller blades
parents pushing strollers
and the occasional lone jogger. 

Practicing germ avoidance and proper courtesy at the same time, Gracie and I pull off the sidewalk whenever we encounter our fellow walkers, and give all passersby wide berth. 

Strangers often ask me how I keep Gracie from wandering into the street with her super long leash. The answer is simple: she just knows not to do that. She also stops at crosswalks like this one, and waits for me to catch up. Good girl. 

Granted, Gracie pads barefooted down the sidewalk and sticks her entire face into some fairly unsavory places, but then again, she doesn't have to worry about virus transmission. I, on the other hand, practice keeping my hands to myself.

Normally, I wear a pair of work gloves when I walk. Besides looking extraordinarily stylish, the gloves protect my hands while I'm handling Gracie's fifty-foot lead and I wear them unless we are in the hottest time of the summer. Which can sometimes last as long as a week. 

Even thus protected, my gloved hands don't come in contact with many surfaces as I walk - really just the leash.

"Take care of yourself and others. <3" Little post-it notes like this one have appeared all over the neighborhood and they make me smile. 

The only exception to that rule?

Crosswalk warning light buttons.

Twice on our daily route, Gracie and I cross a street that is not only busy but typically traversed by people who are in a rush. Let's just say that there are some speedy pants who do not like to idle their vehicles while notorious pedestrians and their big red dogs sashay across the street. And they tend to push the envelope, shall we say, of courtesy and common sense. 

So. I take full advantage of these crosswalk warning lights to help ensure a safe passage.

And to be extra safe, I bonk the switch with my elbow, rather than my glove-covered hand.

Even so, I wash my bare hands like the hounds of hell are after me when I get back home. I've even taken the precaution of keeping my gloves out on the front porch. Covid germs, you are not welcome inside.

Gracie has scented more than one raccoon in this section of our walk,and I suspect she may be on to one here. Either that, or she's stalking the blooming forsythia.

I would be naive to think that our walkabouts are completely safe. Even using my precautions, there's a risk of a preschooler bursting my bubble with an out-of-control bicycle, or a runner who comes up behind me and gets too close for comfort.

But as long as I can reasonably manage the risks, Gracie and I will keep walking. Taking in some sunshine and fresh air, watching spring burst forth, cranking up a bit of cardio - I need this daily routine to keep me sane.

Gracie's dinner is waiting for her at the end of our walk. Blink and you'll miss the entire meal. 

Same goes for Gracie. Our walk is a pivotal point in her day, the first step in a series of interesting experiences that involve her favorite activities: 

eating her own food, 

That nose goes places that get it into trouble. But we love her anyhow. 

and supervising the preparation of ours. 

So, Covid-19, I'll admit that you've really boxed us all in. And because I trust the science and want to end this siege as soon as possible, I'm willing to give up my freedoms and daily routines in order to halt your spread.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Life Of A (Socially Distant) Math Teacher

A couple weeks ago, when Covid-19 had just begun to breathe down our backs, I decided to start teaching my classes remotely.

I teach upper level mathematics - algebra, geometry, trig, pre calc - to homeschooled high school students. That looks like me sitting at a dining room table - sometimes mine, usually my students' - and working with one, or two, or maybe even three kids at a time. I often teach the same student for three or four years, and multiple students in the same family. It's a dream job and I love every minute. 

Now obviously, I'm not the first teacher to take math instruction online, so I'm not exactly inventing the wheel over here. 

But I aim to do more than just deliver up some standard lectures on rickety technology and expect my students to adapt. Over the years, I've come up with quite a few bells and whistles that take my classes from good to great, and coronavirus devils notwithstanding, I am not willing to compromise. My goal is to take each element of my tried-and-true learning process and somehow morph it into a germ-free, socially distant version of what we do in person. 


In real life, the first step of my process is the lecture. 

Well. Allow me to clarify. 

The first step is me explaining some new math concepts, one lesson at a time, using strange metaphors and rambling stories, substituting more colorful descriptions for dry math jargon

The quadratic formula is the man-eating dragon.

Radical signs are known as pig houses in which the little fellows hide from the big bad wolves. 

The art of adding or subtracting to solve a basic algebraic equation is termed, "swimming fish."

All the while, I'm writing out the problems and key ideas (highlighted as "puffy clouds of knowledge") on a whiteboard. In normal times, that is. 

While many impromptu digital instructors are turning to a Skype, FaceTime or Zoom type platform, that doesn't work for me. Those systems work well when the main means of communication is voice, but I need voice and visual to be transmitted with equal precision. 


My solution to this conundrum has manifested itself as a chair on my dining room table. Using my phone with the camera facing down onto the table creates an environment where I have considerable control over the variables of the shot; my hands are free to write with abandon and my mind is free to roam all over the math landscape. 

And so I've been video recording my lesson. I teach four lessons per week to five different groups of students, which makes for a lot of time in my "studio."


Gracie finds my performances mesmerizing. She curls up at my feet and snoozes for hours on end while I work. Lord only knows what mathematical knowledge has accumulated in her brain over the past few weeks. 


Once recorded, the lessons are uploaded to my Youtube channel. Yup. I'm pretty much an influencer.


The second major component of my classes is homework. Lots and lots of homework.

I hope you won't be shocked to know that the average teenager needs some accountability on that front. Normally I provide pep talks and procrastination advisories at the start of each class. Nowadays I follow up the assignments with individual phone calls with each student to a) hear the sounds of their adorable voices and b) interrogate them about their work status.

I've been checking in once a week by phone, but also manning my texts and emails for random questions that come up as my students are actively working problems. At any time of day or night, I might open a text that says, "Hey, I'm stuck on Problem 17 Lesson 85." Usually, the resolution involves me quickly getting up to speed by working out the answer for myself, asking the student some questions delicately loaded with helpful hints, and possibly sending a photo of my solution. 

My students have already been using a checklist I designed for keep tracking of assignments and due dates, which works fine for in-person classes and distance learning alike.


And the third component of my coursework is the dreaded test. 

I give my students a weekly one-problem quiz that I euphemistically describe as a "review problem."  And I administer two midterms - one before Christmas break, the other before spring break - and of course, a big, bad final at the end of the year. Normally, we set aside time in class to cover these events.

Trusting my students as I do, in the age of coronavirus, I've no problem with letting them test at home. I'm sure I could whip up some sort of pdf and shoot it off via email. But I prefer to send their tests through the good ol' US Postal Service because everyone likes to get mail, even if it is a math test.

And I enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the return trip so that a) I present the test takers with no obstacles (besides licking the envelope) to popping their completed test back in the mail to me and b) they will be among the rare members of their generation who understand the acronym SASE.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=15oPh3Cf1GKjjTm9Iu-VQOb-a78pKA8-lNo matter whether I'n teaching in person or at a distance, my method of testing is what many might consider laissez-faire. And while that may seem to fly in the face of my otherwise high-expectation and high achievement course design, there's a very simple method to my apparent madness.  

With classes as small as mine, I know each student's math brain inside out. I can pinpoint the look on their face when they are confused or tired or just over it for the day, and I recognize and celebrate those magical "aha!" moments when their dear little light bulbs come on and the new ideas snap perfectly into place.

Honestly, I don't need a test to tell me how a student is learning. I know by the look on their face.

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And this brings me to the absolute worst part about being a socially distant math teacher. I cannot see my students' shining, expressive, revealing faces. And to be honest, that takes most of the fun out of teaching. 

As much as I'm grateful that my students and I can carry on as Covid-19 rages around us, I can't wait till we are back at the dining room table together. 

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Read more stories about my life as a math teacher:

Friday, March 20, 2020

This Miracle Of Light

"Miracles come in moments. Be ready and willing." -Wayne Dyer

Remember my story about the sunshine and disco balls that flood my living room with light?  

Well, a few days ago, I posted it late at night and shortly thereafter, I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up to find the most beautiful photos of another living room flooded with light. 


As I scrolled through the images, like a dream, a strange sensation came over me. I'd been here before but at first glance, my mind could only summon up a surreal feeling of deja vu, a fantasy of a memory, something that seemed not quite real.

Slowly, the pieces fell into place.


This room is in Havana, the home of the Malaysian Ambassador to Cuba, where I was fortunate enough to visit in 2016 when my friend, Nayli, and her family lived there. 

The crystals on the table belong to Nayli's mother, who collected them in Cambodia when the family was living in Vietnam.


And these photos were born from the artistic eye of Nayli who had seen my post about the disco balls and wanted to share her own memories of living in a room filled with light. 


Once my muddled brain was able to sort this out, my spirit soared. 

What beautiful pictures.

What a thoughtful friend to connect the dots between her life and mine, and share with me her own experience of the same lovely phenomenon. 


Who would ever have guessed that a Gen Z Malaysian college student, born in the United States, raised all around the world, and now attending university in the UK would feel the same sense of magic as I do over such a simple thing as reflected light. 

And who could have ever predicted that our paths would not just cross but connect, and that by chance, I would share a story that had already been told on her camera roll, several years earlier.


This story is, for me, a beautiful marvel. And from now on, whenever the sunshine hits my disco balls and little sparkles dance across my living room, I will think of my friend, Nayli, and remember this miracle of light.

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Here are more stories about my friend, Nayli

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Check out all the stories stories about my once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cuba and my wonderful friends who lived there: