Before the harsh neon lights of the school day get turned on

IMG_0078In the morning, I often don’t turn all the classroom lights on. At least not right away. It feels too harsh, too bright. If some student happens to flip on all the switches when they come in the room all the students yell at him telling him to turn them off. When I ask the students if there is enough light in the room, most of the them will say yes. We gradually wake to the light, ease into the day. It feels more intimate, more homey than the glare of institutional light. There are lights over the blackboard which lend a kind of soft ambience to the classroom space. There are some days when I refuse to turn on all the lights. This supports quiet conversation and informal interactions.

This morning it was really dreary, cloudy and raining, so the level of natural light was lower than usual. Some students were catching up on reading before the class began. Pictured above is ML’s creation of a cozy and personal reading space in the early hours when school begins, before the harsh neon lights of the school day get turned on.

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Jacob’s Guile

IMG_0073One of the most important things that JB has brought to our relationship is his recipe for Jacob’s Guile. He said he got the recipe from an old friend in the 70s (who found it in a Time-Life cookbook) and he has been making it ever since. It is the absolutely perfect dish of lentils and garlic and rice. Tonight I walked in the house after a long day at work and JB had a pot boiling on the stove. I could smell it from the yard before I even opened the back door.

The name of the dish comes from the story in the Bible of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. This is the bowl of stew. After tasting this dish, I can totally understand Esau’s inability to stand up to its temptation.

Below is JB’s heavenly evolved version of this dish.

IMG_0074The bottom right hand corner says (it’s hard to read in the photo),

Add lentils and salt to 10 cups water.
Heat to simmer.
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent.
Add to lentils.
Place rice and butter or butter substitute in onion pan and cook on low heat until rice is golden brown.
Add to lentil onion mix.
Cook 15-30 minutes until rice is done.


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Billie Holiday’s voice still sustains and inspires

The sophisticated, unique, and haunting way she understood and phrased music continually keeps her artistry fresh and alive. Billie Holiday, a remarkable talent on the planet for only 44 years, would have been 100 today. It’s an incredible gift, with the magic of recording technology, that her voice can still sustain and inspire us.

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Under the spell of All Quiet


We are presently reading All Quiet on the Western Front. A student shared with me that he and some of his friends have adopted some of the characters in the book, have become one of the characters in their group of friends. “You know we’re the nerdy group.” I certainly would not call them nerdy. They are bright and creative and awesomely unique. AL has become Kat because he is clever, especially good at solving problems, and really is the leader of the group. KD has become Tjaden because he is rebellious and gets in trouble a lot. GP is Westhus because he is a pretty big guy (at least the biggest in the group) and pensive. GR is Muller because he “thinks about stuff.” TT is Kropp because he is the clearest thinker and short. TL is Behm because he likes to think for himself (though Behm joins the army anyways even though he didn’t want to). BF is Detering because, well they couldn’t really figure out why but it seemed to all of them to make sense. And Paul, well, Paul is just Paul. GP told me they made a google doc of all of this. This is the same group of boys who loves to play Diplomacy and one of them brought into school a very large map he painted and uses to play reflecting the boundaries of 1914 (see photo above).

I love teaching this book especially because it makes the boys, some of them reluctant readers, come alive in class discussion. Of course, becoming the characters themselves was nothing I ever suspected. Watching these young men put themselves in the boots of these literary characters is remarkably playful and inspiring. It’s wonderful to watch kids fall under the spell of a book.

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Breakfast with a Mourning Cloak

P1240800During our breakfast on the back porch this morning, a Mourning Cloak alighted on the Silver Maple to bask in the sun. The is the first butterfly we have seen since last year. The Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis Antiopa, 1758 by Linnaeaus), named after the funeral shawls which were worn by widows and sometimes draped over caskets, is the earliest of the butterflies to appear. They do not migrate but rather hibernate over winter through a form of “cryopreservation,” secreting chemicals which act as a kind of anti-freeze through the cold of winter. Because of this hibernation, once the days start getting longer in the spring, they are ready to get mating sooner than other types of butterflies. They live very long for a butterfly, almost a year, and will die soon after mating.

The Mourning Cloak was warming itself because it needs its flight muscles to heat up before it can do much flying. All butterflies have to be warm to fly. Once flying, they will generate enough heat to keep going. This is perhaps why the body and wings of the Mourning Cloak are so dark, the better to absorb the heat from the spring sun. As we ate our oatmeal and fruit and sipped our espressos, the Mourning Cloak may have been eating its breakfast as well, dining on the Silver Maple’s sap, the adult’s preferred cuisine.

Having breakfast with the Mourning Cloak this morning was a pleasant surprise. It’s always nice to have guests who remind us of the renewal going on all around us.

May Swenson wrote a concrete poem about a Mourning Cloak (though if so, the spots would be blue), “Unconscious Came a Beauty,” which interrupted her writing:

IMG_9974(top photo by JB)

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Just like the relationships we celebrate this time of year


Orchids are not easy to care for. They take a bit more discipline and consistency than taking care of normal houseplants. They are more sensitive to regular waterings, do not like their roots sitting in water, prefer a bit of breeze, and crave specific kinds of light depending on their species. If purchased with buds they will usually bloom, but it is tricky to get them to bloom the following year. This is what takes the carefully maintained environment and attentive nurturing.

Every birthday/anniversary season, which for us falls between the last week of March and the last week of April, we trek out to Hauserman’s in Villa Park, Illinois to wander the acres of greenhouses and select a few orchids to care for throughout the year. This year we brought home two dendrobiums (Yellow Song and Nesto NN), a Vuylstekeara Smile Eri, Phalenopsis Sogo Vieker, a Coconut Orchid (Maxillaria Tenifloria— unbelievable aroma), and a Witchcraft Orchid (Monnierara Millennium— a fall bloomer with supposedly black flowers).

This morning all the orchids we purchased a few weeks ago were in full bloom (except for the Witchcraft Orchid), a couple of them subtly scenting the morning light. How delicate, vulnerable, and complex their beauty and aroma. Once the blooms, which can sometimes last for weeks, die, the careful work continues in earnest so that they can renew and rebud. Just like the relationships we celebrate this time of year.



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US_65.svg65 is the magic constant of a 5 x 5 normal magic square.2d5208a498bf0345f65076619d309c4b

The Silence of the Lambs is the 65th movie on the AFI’s list of best films.

65 is the smallest integer that can be expressed as a sum of two distinct positive squares in two ways: 65 = 82 + 12 = 72 + 42.

65 is the atomic number of terbium, a lanthanide.

The United States ranks 65th in the world on the gender pay gap.

U.S. Route 65 runs north/south from Louisiana through Minnesota.

The 65 Grand Avenue Bus in Chicago travels between Nordica (7000 west) and Navy Pier.


The Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love” is number 65 on the Rolling Stones List of the top 500 songs of all time.

You can make 65 cents in 14 different ways using quarters, dimes, and nickels.

The Evanston/Skokie School District is School District 65 in Illinois.

A 65 inch NEC TV costs $3,679 at Best Buy.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, is 65th on the list of Modern Library’s 100 best books.

“65 Roses” is what some children with cystic fibrosis (CF) call their disease because the words are much easier for them to pronounce.

+65 is the international code for direct calls to Singapore.

The 65th Congress of the United States declared war on Germany on this very day, April 2, 1917.

65 is the age I turn today.


Shakespeare’s Sonnet  65:
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
xxO, none, unless this miracle have might,
xxThat in black ink my love may still shine bright.


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