At last, my husband and I made it to southern California to spend a few days with our son and his family and to celebrate my birthday. So far our trip had been great! We were looking forward to a few more fun days before heading back to the Midwest. After dinner we made plans to visit the aquarium on Tuesday with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter. As we pulled into the hotel parking lot, we gave a sigh of satisfaction. Life was good, but that all changed in the morning.

My husband is an early riser, so he usually gets to the breakfast area ahead of me. I wandered down and normally he is finishing up his breakfast, but he was no where in sight. I wandered over to the coffee, poured a cup, wondering where he was. As I was scooping up some eggs he came into the lobby.

One look at his face told me something had happened and it was not good. “The car is crawling with ants!” he tells me. “The front of the car is covered and they are inside too!” He had gone out to clean the windshield and discovered the invasion when they began crawling up his legs.

He pulled the car around to the covered area right outside the entrance. We emptied the trunk and car of all items. All the while wiping away, knocking off, smashing ants, teeny, tiny, minuscule light brown ants. We opened the hood and they ran for their life. He took the car to a car wash, but once he got back they began crawling out of every crevice.

We eventually pulled the car around back and the hotel had the maintenance man use the hose to spray the engine area because that seemed to be where most of them were. He sprayed the radiator and the water looked like it someone had poured five pounds of pepper in the water. As the water flowed away the ants pulled themselves out and scurried away.

There would be no aquarium this day. My husband stayed to battle the ants while the “girls” went to see The Giver. I think I got the better end of that deal.

What we learned was ants LOVE dead bugs. Our radiator and front of the car were full of tasty treats for ants. The sprinklers at the hotel turned on, which brought the ants out of the ground. Once up from their dens, they discovered a smorgasbord had been delivered to their doorstep. Eventually their numbers dropped off. Of course that could be due to the can of Raid we purchased.

Needless to say, we did not park near landscaping for the rest of the visit.


On the Road

Back and forth, back and forth, we have been driving to California for thirty-seven years. As you can imagine, this route is as comfortable as your favorite chair. We know when to leave, where we will be at mealtimes, what restaurants are available, and where to stay. Sometimes routine is just what one needs, but sometimes you need to shake things up a bit. That’s exactly what we did this year.

Our goal was not our final destination, but we created a plan to visit places we had never visited before. First on the list, Mesa Verde National Park in CO. However to get there we would pass through some interesting land.

Most of our trip was not on interstate highways, but rather two or four lane state roads. Even Kansas provided interesting scenery. We stopped in Greensburgh, KS at a coffee shop for lunch. This town was nearly wiped off the map in 2007 by a tornado. They have done an amazing job rebuilding with a focus on “green” buildings. It is the world’s leading community in LEED-certified buildings per capita. We drove around town marveling at the new buildings.

First night we made it to Pueblo, CO. The second day we enjoyed the scenery of the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado as we drove south of Montrose to Durango. At times I would have to hold my breath because the drop off was so close and there were no guardrails.

A sunflower with an interesting bug, cool clouds, views along the Million Dollar Highway

A sunflower with an interesting bug, cool clouds, views along the Million Dollar Highway

In Durango, we were able to spend an evening visiting family that we see rarely. It was an enjoyable evening chatting and sipping on the porch of their mountain log cabin.

Off we were the next morning to discover the wonders of Mesa Verde. We bought tickets for two different tours and headed into the park. I marvel at the ingenuity of the people who were able to survive. I barely survived the one hour tour. There was no way I would be able to do the second tour which included climbing a thirty foot ladder. We had seen enough, so we made our way out of the park. That is when my husband revealed he didn’t really have a route planned for the rest of our trip.

Cliff palace at Mesa Verde

Cliff palace at Mesa Verde

We looked at the map and determined there were two routes we could take. Once we checked hotel availability, we knew which route to go.

Vistas that intrigued

Vistas that intrigued

I always pack a tote bag full of books to read when we drive across country. So far, I had not taken one book out. I did not want to miss any of the new scenery.

We made it to Phoenix where we stayed a few days visiting my brother-in-law. He was happy to welcome us because we brought a box of tomatoes from our yard. It was great to be able to step away from eating out for a few days (I can’t believe I said that! I love to eat out!)

Soon we left for Orange County in California. If only we had known what was in store for us (beyond the change of birthday plans, which I wrote about last week). You will have to wait until next week for that episode.

Birthday Celebration

One thing I can look forward to every year is my birthday celebration with my best pals. They always surprise and delight me with the way we celebrate the yearly milestones. This year was no different, except they created an evening that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

After a tasty dinner, they drove me around to a place called RSVPaint. Inside was an evening of creativity. The project for the class was to create a circle painting with Kandinsky’s art as the inspiration.


What follows is a collage of the fun we had. Thanks Tiff and Janay! You know how to make an old gal feel special.

photo 1 (14)photo 2 (15)photo 3 (7)photo 4 (3)

Not What I Planned

Last week was my birthday. It was a day to begin the journey through a new decade. Since it was a landmark number, I decided we would spend the day with my son and his family. Gather my  loved ones close to witness the aging process. Unfortunately they live 1,500 miles away from me, in California. So what’s a person to do? Road trip!

Future posts will share some of the sights and activities of the trip, but this is all about my day which was planned a month in advance.

Catalina Island has always intrigued me. That would be my destination for the big day! What a joy and surprise to discover that birthday people get special treatment on their birthday day. First off, the boat ride over is free! Then there are many merchants who offer special deals on your birthday. Who can resist a free ice cream cone? Reservations were made for the ferry and at a hotel. We were ready, but apparently Mother Nature had other plans for us.

As we walked into the terminal, the lines to the ticket counter snaked like a premium ride at Disneyland. My son shook his head in wonder. “They never have lines like this,” he said. Nervously, I glanced at my watch as the line inched forward. We needed to have tickets in hand thirty minutes prior to departure. I feared we would not make that.

I checked with the person in front of me to be sure I was in the right line. This man shed light on the situation and where all the people had come from. He had been on the ferry that departed at 6:30 a.m. They made it over to Catalina, but the dock was moving too much because of the high surf that it would not be safe to tie up. (Remember the hurricane, Marie, that was causing swells on the California coast?) So his boat turned around and returned to the mainland.

Once we reached the counter, we learned that our boat would not be leaving, nor did they know when or even if it ever would. My heart sank. There would be no Catalina birthday for me. Fortunately we were able to cancel our hotel. Then the issue was what will we do?

Maddy and Me

Maddy and me in the backseat on our way to San Diego to celebrate my birthday

San Diego was the answer to our question. We had a wonderful rest of the day riding beach cruiser bikes along the beach, cooling off in the pool, and discovering some incredible places to eat. Yelp was able to point us in the right direction. Perhaps that will be another post. Let me just say, I came so close to picking up my plate and licking it clean. It. Was. That. Good! (I know you want to know what it was, spinach filled ravioli with Gorgonzola sauce, YUM!)

It wasn’t the birthday I planned, but it was one of the best days of my life.




Then & Now

Growing produce is a challenge! I could never be a farmer. You just never know from one year to the next what will happen to your crops, plus the biggest factor, the weather, is out of your control.

Last year the tomatoes never got their act together to produce much. This year, we are awash with tomatoes. Unfortunately most of them are still green balls.

I cannot believe the clusters of tomatoes this year.

I cannot believe the clusters of tomatoes this year.

Recently I counted the possibilities of tomatoes, there were over fifty potential tomatoes hanging. Now if only they ripen gradually, I should be set for at least a month of savory, home-grown tomatoes with every meal.

The beginnings of last year's bounty.

The beginnings of last year’s bounty.

Last year the peaches were bountiful. I was knocking at every door handing out bags of peaches.

This spring, the tree never had a chance to bloom. It was with sadness I gazed at my tree, longing for the beauty of the golden peach. However, one day I did notice there there were a few fuzzy balls beginning to form. They were difficult to see, but I kept watching, as they slowly began to take on the blush of a golden peach. Each day I would check the ground under the tree to see if any had fallen. Thankfully, they were hardy and continued to hang on until we decided they needed to be picked. The ladder was brought around and by str-e-t-ch-ing my husband was just able to pluck them. There were five and they were the sweetest peaches of the year. All the sugar from the tree must have pooled into those five peaches. Yum! There was no sharing this year.

Can you see how high up the peaches were? Aren't the five peaches a sad sight compared to last year?

Can you see how high up the peaches were? Aren’t the five peaches a sad sight compared to last year?

I wonder what my “crops” will be like next year. Would it be too much to ask for a bumper crop of tomatoes AND peaches?

Spark an Idea

10 for 10

It is time once again to comb the bookshelves for your go-to picture books. Since this is my third year, I was clueless as to what books to highlight. I approached my shelves wondering what could be my focus for this year? In the past, I’ve shared the books that I just love and have to use, but this year something different happened as I began pulling books.

I discovered that each book sparked a writing idea for me. Hence my theme was born. It may be the topic or perhaps  the structure that sparks an idea. I hope you will discover something that sparks an idea for you.

The books are listed in alphabetical order by author.

First up is A Is for Apple Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan. musk oxThe zebra is writing an alphabet book but musk ox has perfectly good reasons why each letter is for musk ox. Sample: “Gg is for goose musk ox. Because musk oxen eat grass. And live in Greenland.” This book has great vocabulary and more facts about musk oxen than you ever thought you might need to know.

favorite animalWhat’s Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle and Friends would be perfect for developing opinion writing. Fourteen illustrators draw their favorite animal and explain why. Did you know that Jon Klassen’s favorite animal is a duck? He likes to watch them walk around.

The End by David LaRochelle really takes cause and effect to the-endthe extreme. Sample: “The knight fell in love with the princess because   . . . she poured a big bowl of lemonade on top of his head. She poured a bowl of lemonade on top of his head because . . .” If you want to know the answer to that, you will need to find this book.

TogetherTogether by George Ella Lyon is a beautiful poem about a special friendship. The rhyming couplets and repeating refrain are worthy of multiple readings. Sample: “Let’s put our heads together and dream the same dream.” Isn’t that what we want our students to do?

My No, No, No Day! by Rebecca Patterson is a situation that my no no dayalmost everyone can relate to. Bella’s day begins badly and it continues its downward spiral all day. Sample: “Yesterday I woke up and Bob was crawling round MY ROOM licking MY JEWELRY. . .” Now that’s the start of a terrible day!

no one sawNo One Saw, Ordinary Things Through the Eyes of an Artist by Bob Raczka takes you on a journey into the art world. Sixteen pieces of art are shown. I love to show the picture and ask what do you think Bob Raczka said? The ending is a perfect beginning, “Artists express their own point of view. And nobody sees the world like you.”

What the Sun Sees by Nancy Tafuri is a double book because tafuri bookhalfway through you flip it and you have the second part What the Moon Sees. A wonderful way to compare and contrast. Sample: “The sun sees bustling streets. The moon sees empty streets.”

where i liveWhere I Live by Frances Wolfe has a hidden answer within the first letter of each two-line verse. The pictures are amazing! They are drawn from many different perspectives. The language of the text is beautiful. Sample: “Sunbeams sparkle like diamonds on water and gulls glide on morning breezes, where I live.”

Least Things, Poems About Small Natures by Jane Yolen makesleast things you stop and notice nature. Yolen has used the format of haiku to bring each creature to life, then she gives additional facts in a sidebar. Her son was the photographer for each. Can you guess what the animal is from this haiku?

“I am green as grass,

Green as moss, miracles, morn,

Green as a moment.”

It is a lizard.

I, Dokoi, doko the tale of a basket by Ed Young allows us to experience a lifetime and a lesson from the point of view of a basket. Students could take on the voice of an inanimate object as it observes their life.

I hope these titles and bits from the books sparked your interest.

Thanks to Cathy Mere (Refine and Reflect: Building a Learning Community) and Mandy Robeck (Enjoy and Embrace Learning) for creating this special day in August.




Plant Envy?

One evening I was checking the progress of my tomatoes in my minuscule garden plot when a spot of red appeared through the feathery ferns of the asparagus. My heart beat a little faster. My mind already planning when and how to eat the juicy tomato as my hands eagerly reached through the greenery that tickled my hands. Oh yes, it was a tomato that had developed all on its own while hidden by the asparagus. It was ripe and just ready to be picked. So I did.

A hidden tomatoe!

A hidden tomatoe!

Then I wondered if there were any more. Gently my hand separated the fern fronds. My eyes scanning and seeking a bit of red. Ah ha! Red! But as I moved aside the green, this red was simply a red berry produced by the asparagus.

The asparagus wants to get attention too.

The asparagus wants to get attention too.

I thought that perhaps the asparagus was jealous of all the attention the tomatoes have been getting, so it decided to produce its own version of  a round red fruit. However, I have investigated and discovered that the female plant produces this berry as a seed. The plant’s yield will be reduced due to the energy put into developing the seed. Therefore, I must get out there and pluck the seeds so I will be sure to have lots of asparagus next spring. No plant envy here.

Still waiting on the ones front and center to begin the process of turning red.

Still waiting on the ones front and center to begin the process of turning red.