Traveling to CA

I tagged along with my husband who was attending a conference in CA.

I saw seals and sea lions in La Jolla:

I enjoyed a day and evening at Huntington Beach in Orange County, CA:

But my favorite part of the trip was watching the sun set on axis with the Salk Institute’s water feature on the first day of Fall.

Lots of nature time.
Lots of outside time.
And a magical time, thanks to the architecture genius of Louis Kahn.


My Top 10 Favorite Spaces

Yesterday a slicer named Adrienne posted right before me a slice entitled: 5 of Our Favorite Places. It got me thinking about what would be on my list. Being married to an architect, the places I go tend to involve architectural wonders. So today I’m going to reflect on and write about my top favorite built environments. Thanks, Adrienne for helping me write today.

My Top 10 Favorite Spaces

The Lawn, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
* Thomas Jefferson designed a space to be a functioning academic village and called it the University of Virginia in 1812. As you walk the lawn today, all ten Pavilions showcase examples of classical architecture. If you haven’t visited the Lawn yet, I recommend taking a walk down this UNESCO World Heritage Site. (My husband, myself and one of our daughters also our proud UVA alums!)

The Morgan Library, New York, New York
* JP Morgan’s home on Madison Avenue in New York was already pretty impressive before architect Rezio Piano designed an addition. During my last visit there, I ordered lunch and sat and read my book in this peaceful, sunlight open space.

The High Line, New York, New York
* What a gift this walkway/park is to the city of New York. As a pedestrian, it is fun to be three stories above the street level, taking a walk! Plus, it shows how with a little imagination, an old, abandoned raised railroad track can be transformed into a park!

Storm King Art Center, Hudson River Valley, New York
* One fall, we took a trip to the Hudson River Valley and fell upon Storm King. All the large modern art installations are magnificent. But my favorite is The Wall by Andy Goldsmith. There is something uplifting about being outdoors, walking along and then seeing modern art!

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
* Another large outdoor space is the impeccable gardens on the du Pont’s estate. Now open to the public, visitors can walk and enjoy the flowers and trees in all seasons and at times, enjoy a fountain show.

The Inn at Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina
* The inn is a modern-designed set of rooms on the grounds of the Middleton colonial farm along the Ashby River. I enjoyed staying at this hotel designed by one of my husband’s UVA architecture teacher, W.G.Clark. Especially the simple concrete, glass and wood design and the floor to ceiling windows .

Seaside, Florida
* A visit here occurred so my husband could see in-person this 1981 New Urban planned city he learned about in architecture school. Lots of great architects were involved in the design of the houses and buildings in the town. I enjoyed my stay in the cottage on the beach.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
* What a building designed by Frank Gehry! I toured it with my family just after it opened. Recently, I enjoyed watching this light show video to celebrate its 20th Anniversary.

Venice, Italy
* ALL of Venice is utterly unique. ALL of it!! My husband spent his last semester studying in Venice while getting his Masters at UVA and I joined him for a week. Then we returned three years ago with our girls to share this magical city with them over Christmas and New Years. It is now a family favorite city!

My house, Arlington, Virginia
* My husband designed the house we live in now. He calls it White-Out House because we razed our old house or whited it out, and build this energy-efficient home. Looking back on the kinds of spaces we like to spend time in, I start to see more clearly why my husband designed our home the way he did. I love it!






VSRA Presentation

Yesterday, instead of teaching my 6th graders, I went to Richmond, VA and made a presentation with my friend and colleague, Tammy. Because of all the support we got, the day was a success.

Thanks to Tammy driving us the two hours down 95, we easily arrived.

Thanks to the helpful Marriot staff, the car was parked, our bags were checked and we had a few hours to grab lunch and rehearse before our 4pm showtime.

Thanks to Evi, our one friend also attending the conference, whose serendipitous encounter just 10 minutes after arriving amongst the 100s of teachers scattered around the lobby, helped calm our nerves. (At least one person was planning to come hear us!)

Thanks to the conference volunteers who registered us and helped us find where we were presenting when confusingly the “Learning Lab” wasn’t listed on the conference map.


Thanks to the tech supports. One man ensured we had the cords and dongle and a working mic and another shared the wifi password with us. (And for Tammy who tracked down these supports while we both envisioned the worst case scenario – our tech not working for a presentation called  Using Technology During Reading and Writing Workshop).

Thanks to Sarah, a conference attendee who volunteered to introduce us to our audience. She arrived early and helped pass out our handout and shared the wifi password and now is a new teacher friend. Afterwards we exchanged emails after we discovered she lives in the next town over from us back home.

Thanks to the 30 or so teachers who came to learn with us! They listened, asked questions and smiled as we both nervously shared examples of our students using padlet, google slides and kidblog in Reading and Writing Workshop all shared from    this padlet.


Finally, thanks also to our school, system who supported us by covering the cost of the conference and are family and friends, who sent text messages of encouragement.

As I sent out a tweet after the presentation, I was reminded that it was International Women’s Day. I’m thankful, as a women, I had the opportunity today to empower more women in their teaching work.

Now today, I get to spend another day here. But this time, I’ll be sitting in the audience to learn from Jen Serravillo and Smokie Daniels! And I’m wearing jeans and my VA sweatshirt (because happily, my team, the UVA Mens Basketball team won their first game yesterday in the ACC tournament – Go Hoos!).


Free Land!

As I sat eating my lunch in the Faculty room last week, a substitute teacher mentioned there is an island in the Pacific giving away land. Really?! I got to thinking, maybe this is an option! I looked it up. It is called Pitcairin.

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According to Wikipedia, it is a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean that form the last British Overseas Territory in the South Pacific.” When I read more, I discovered it has internet and a shop opened 3 times a week. And the supplies ordered from New Zealand only take 3 months. The temperature is in the 60s all year long and the island is surrounded by the bluest water! And a big plus for someone like me who doesn’t know other languages, English is spoken by the 50 current residents.

With the recent news, escaping to an island sounds refreshing. I can’t understand the people who think school teachers or administrators should have the right to carry a gun at school. And if this ever becomes a rule where I work, I’ll need an exit strategy. So moving to a remote island where the land is free, might be my option. For now, it is a pretty place to dream about visiting at least for a vacation, if not for my next act.


Saturday in Hyde Park

“Let’s have brunch at Obama’s favorite cafeteria?” Bridgit suggested. After parking the car on a nearby side street in Hyde Park, we strolled along the main street, lined with shops, a mixture of longtime establishments, like the one we were headed to, and newly opened chains. “Since I left in June, a Target and a Whole Foods and a Roti have opened,” Bridgit laments. “So many more options now.” Yet, we walk into one option that has been around for a long while and I see this menu. I order President Obama’s #4 Favorite!

After a filling brunch, we stroll down the street and I see this landmark:


We wandered around some more and Bridgit points out, “That house beyond the trees is the Obama’s house. Those evergreen trees got added for privacy by security.” I snapped this photo, showing the chimney peeking out. IMG_8868

We strolled some more around the campus of the University of Chicago, a place where many smart people have strolled and thought. Where many people’s thoughts led them to grow ideas and hope for change. As I strolled, I was even starting to think, “Yes, we can!”

Road Trip!

We left Arlington, VA at 8:30am….saw this sign right away…


After seeing this sign, we drove a little more and then stopped for lunch and filled up with gas.


Then we drove from one end of this state to the other, mostly in and out of heavy rain. And then stopped for a snack and more gas.


Then 2 more signs…

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And at 7:30pm, we made it…. to Chicago!!

My oldest graduated from University of Chicago last June but had to start a job ASAP in NYC so friends stored her stuff. Tomorrow and Saturday, we retrieve her stuff and then do this trip in reverse on Sunday!! One thing that helped today – listening to the This American Life S-Town podcast. I highly recommend it!

Thanks for the space and opportunity to write for 31 days!! I did it, again, for the 4th year in a row. Thanks for all the comments. Thanks for writing such great stories for me to read each day!! Really….THANK YOU!! I love this writing community and love having writing friends. Though I will be busy today and all weekend, I WILL miss posting tomorrow and reading tomorrow. PLEASE consider showing up on TUESDAYS all year long. Because now we are ALL writers and NEED a space to post our stories, the ones only WE can tell!!

A Walk in Brooklyn


We stepped out of the Brooklyn Hotel lobby and heading down the street.

“I’m so glad you know where we were going. It saved me from having to look it up,” I told my daughter.

“It’s weird to be walking on this street again. This was my route every day when working on the campaign,” she recalled. “I also checked and there’s a deli right across from the school.”

“Perfect! I told my friend I’d bring lunch for us to eat!” As we walked quickly amongst the morning crowd, I saw a sign advertising a dentist. “Remember that blog post I told you about – the one where the guy’s mom was one of 14 kids. He also wrote about how her dad was a dentist. It was during segregation but he took anyone as a patient, sometimes they only paid a dollar. And somehow he raised 14 kids and made it all work.”

“That reminds me of the lady who recently gave me a pedicure. She told me she was one of 12 kids. She said her mother loved it. She never had to do any chores because she had a job chart and all the kids took turns cooking and cleaning. She said now that her kids are all older, she loves it, too. When she wants to do go on vacation, she starts to call each kids, asking to borrow money. Once she gets to the 12th, she is set!”

We kept walking and chatting. It was fun to be in a new neighborhood and have a whole free day ahead of us. My first stop was a school where my friend now worked and then a trip to the Brooklyn Museum for fun. My daughter was off to meet a friend she recently worked with. We both enjoyed being in Brooklyn on a March morning, walking on sidewalks still lined with snow from Tuesday’s storm, and breathing the fresh air on a clear, blue sky day.


March 6 – Thoughts about a photo

In Jen Serravallo’s new book, The Writing Strategy Book (Heinemann, 2017) the lesson on pg. 97 called Photo Start. “Look closely at a photograph and try to reexperience the moment it was taken, thinking about what you see, hear, feel, smell, and so on.” Today I pick this photo below seen by holding my eye up close to the megaphone’s smaller opening. Inside I see:

That’s me, sitting with my dad!! The year is probably 1965 or ’66. My dad is in his early 30s. In the background are one-story rental houses. We sit on the sandy beach. I hold the beach bucket. My dad’s soft, terry cloth top keeps him from getting too sunburn. A sweatshirt protects my soft, toddler skin.

I went on an Ocean City website and learned on its history page that “By the 1970s, big business flourished and gave birth to the construction of more than 10,000 condominium units, creating a spectacular sight of high-rise apartments that assured every investor of a glimpse of the ocean and pounding surf.”

This is the Ocean City I know – tall skyscraper lining the beach, looking like this:Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 9.14.01 PM.png

Yet, my 3-year old self enjoyed the wide beach and the walk back to the one-story rental house. I bet my dad carried me there at the end of the day. I snuggled up against his soft, terry cloth cover. I slept well after a day of breathing the salt air and having the ocean breeze wear me out. Then, as the sun rose over Atlantic, I arose. Back to the beach, I toddled to build a sand castle.

“Would you like a picture,” a voice said.

“Sure. Sit with me, Sally. Say cheese!”

“Cheese!” I repeated.

This writing idea and more are listed on my 2017 March Writing Challenge Inspiration Padlet.


Fall Equinox, 2016

“We just want to see the sunset,” I explained.

“But I’m not suppose to let anyone in,” the man said. He was exiting The Salk Institute and I was determined to not take no for an answer. I fully expected that I would get in.

“I’m visiting all the way from D.C. and I’m a teacher,” I ranted. “I just want to be able to show my students a photo of the sunset,”  Plus, I knew my architect husband wanted to enjoy the courtyard space designed by Louis Kahn on the evening of September 22, 2016, the very moment Kahn designed for the sun to set on axis with the courtyard water feature.

“Okay, okay,” and the man stepped aside and allowed us to enter.

For the next 30 minutes, we stood with others and watched the horizon line beyond the courtyard. And inch by inch, the yellow ball got lower and lower and lower. My eyes followed the single narrow strip of water that runs down the open plaza at The Salk. And sure, enough. As the sun set on this first day of Fall in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun and the water feature were in perfect alignment.



I tweeted about it here for my students and families at Discovery ES to see:


While I played hokey to accompany my husband who was attending the bi-annual conference of the  Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) held at The Salk Institute, my school was also celebrating the Equinox. Instead of a water feature, Discovery ES was designed by VMDO Architects with a solar clock installed at the entrance. As the 22nd of September began, a camera filmed the movements across the entranceway which included the shadow of the sun. And on the 9, 12 and 3 stone markers impeded in the front wall, the shadow formed in a perfect circle to mark the precise time of day. Watch the film to fully enjoy the movement that took place by sun and students on the first day of Fall:



As I reflect on the Fall Equinox, I take comfort in what I observed, on both the East and West Coasts. I felt a bit of peace in watching the sun perform in a perfect order on the Equinox. Don’t we all need a moment of peace , especially now when, in our world, it sometimes feels more random and chaotic.

To learn more about the architecture at The Salk Institute, click here.

To read more about the design of Discovery ES, click here.

Black and White with Lots of Green Bamboo


IMG_7495“There!” I said excitedly as I pointed to the zoo map. I was touching the upper lefthand side and noticed that the star and the label YOU ARE HERE was in the lower righthand corner of the same map.

“Ok, let’s head up along this right side to see some other animals along the way,” my daughter Anne said. And off we started. Anne, her friend Giulia and I were tourist at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

First, we spied a lazy lion lounging in a shady spot in his enclosure. His head was held up high as if he knew we wanted to take his picture. We all did snapped his picture. Then, as if he knew we were done, he stretched to his left and laid down. Nap time! We only glimpsed one tiger living next door.  He was pacing down the stairs in the corner, outside the zookeeper’s entrance to the exhibit. “He must be thinking it is lunchtime!” I suggested.

Next,  I was in awe of the size and the details I saw at the gorilla exhibit. One very active gorilla was outside. He ambled from spot to spot, stopping at times to sit and eat some leaves he grabbed with his hands. His body resembled mine – a head, 2 arms, 2 feet. But the big different was the size. He was HUGE. And he was all covered in dark fur. Inside, a gorilla was fast asleep right against the glass wall separating him from me. He looked so peaceful sleeping on his back with his hands folded on his chest. Seeing him up close, I realized even his hands resembled mine. He, too, had fingernails and knuckle lines. His thumb was shorter than his other fingers, just like my thumb. The only difference seemed to be the darker, chocolate color and the fur covering his forearms.

Once back outside, we kept climbing the hill at the zoo to reach our ultimate destination – the panda house! Last year a new panda was born and I had not visited to see it in person yet. As we continued on, I had my fingers crossed that we would get to see this black and white bear in action. I wondered if instead, he would be tired like the lion and gorilla. With hope, I kept walking up the hill to reach the Asian Trail.

“We made it!” I pointed out when I spied the sign Pandas with an arrow pointing to the left. We turned and took the path. As we walked by the outside enclosures, no crowds were gathered. A sure sign that no pandas were outside. “They must be inside,” Anne said with confidence, believing we would see this beautiful black and white animal.

Once inside, there he was!! He looked like a student at school who was told to sit “Chris-cross-applesauce”. On his bottom, with his front legs crossed in front, he reached and grabbed a stalk of bamboo from the pile surrounding him and started eating the leaves. Munch, munch, munch! He sat in his enclosure enjoying his lunch as dozens of tourist clicked a photo or a video from the other side of the glass. Anne, Giulia and I joined right in. We watched, clicked, and laughed at this amazing black and white and covered in green animal enjoyed his lunch. I realized I was seeing something miles from my house, usually only seen in China. IMG_7503

As we headed back down hill, we saw more animals. Pink flamingos in the Bird exhibit, elephants in the Big Mammal exhibit, tree frogs in the Rainforest exhibit and pigs and goats in the Farm exhibit. All so different in their appearance and habits from each other and from me. Yet, this trip also made me realized the many ways we are similar. Walking back to the car, I said, “What a day! I feel like I have traveled the world.”

“Let’s stop and get a snack on the way home,”  Anne suggested. I chuckled and agreed. I guess seeing all those animals eating, gave her an idea! We headed toward a restaurant to get a human refreshment!

Have YOU visited a zoo recently? If so, what did you see?
If not, I recommend that you plan a visit soon!

NOTE: One reason I wrote this post was because this summer, I have been reading the TCRWP Writing UoS, Grade 3: Unit One, Crafting True Stories book. As I read each session, I acted as the student and went off to write independently, keeping in mind each session’s teaching point.

Before beginning the unit, I wrote this Narrative On-Demand:

Pre-OnDemand, June 26, 2016

Planning….a small moment…I could write about swimming…softball…shopping for back to school dress…July 4th fireworks… July 4th games…penny toss…


The whistle blew as the second hand of the clock reached the nine. It was a quarter to 2pm on a hot and sunny Fourth of July and I was playing Sharks and Minnows in the deep end. Yet, the blasting sound from the lifeguards meant I had to get out of the water for a 15 minute break because I was only 9 years old.

As I dried myself off with my big yellow towel, an announcement came over the loudspeakers. “All children ages 6-10 years old, report to the 3 ft area of the pool. It is time for the Annual Fourth of July penny-dive.”

“Come on,” I shouted to my friends Diane and Lisa and we speed-walked across the pool deck. My pool was shaped like a Z – the top part was 3 feet deep. The middle part was 25 meters long and started at one end as 4 ft and ended at the far end at 5ft. Then the bottom part of the Z was the deep end. It was where I had been playing before the whistle blew and was 8-10 feet deep and also had 2 diving boards, a low dive and a high dive. Being a strong swimmer now, I rarely spent time in this 3 ft. part of the pool but I was NOT going to miss the PENNY DIVE CONTEST.

“Sit on the edge of the pool, please,” the lifeguard instructed. Then stepped down the pool stairs and was standing in the 3-foot high water in front of a long line of 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 year old boys and girls sitting with their legs dangling in the water. He was holding an open coffee can and he reached in, grabbed a handful of the contents and threw it into the water. Suddenly, copper-colored circles sprayed across the surface of the water and slowly drifted down to land on the bottom of the pool area. He repeated this action 4 more times, sending coins throughout this area of the pool.

I sat and waited. He moved back to the pool steps and ascended out of the water. “Swimmers, whatever you find, you get to keep. If what you find has a RED mark on it, be sure to show it to Mrs. Larkin at the PRIZE TABLE. The RED marked coins can be traded in for a PRIZE.”

“On your mark,” he shouted.

“Get set….”


Ten minutes later, Diane, Lisa and I returned to our towels, sat down and revealed our newly found treasures.

“I found 10 pennies and 1 dime but nothing with on it,” Diane announced.

“I got 3 dimes and a 8 pennies but no RED here either,” Lisa chimed in.

“LOOK,” I shouted. “This penny is painted RED! Come on, let see what I win!” I screamed.

Once at the Prize Table, I discovered I could pick from anyting on the table. I saw candy bars. I saw coloring books. I saw water sqirt guns. And then I saw a real, live baby turtle.

“Can I have the turtle?” I asked.

“You sure can!” Mrs. Larkin said with a smile.

Just then the whistle blew for break to be over and Diane and Lisa ran to resume the Sharks and Minnows game. I happily took my turtle over to show my mom my new pet. What a great Fourth of July!


And then this week, I drafted this panda story as my final on-demand. As I wrote it in one-50 minute sitting, I kept MY goal in mind. My goal I set for myself was to work on my ending so that “I chose the action, talk, or feelings that would make a good ending.”

As a final reflection after reading and living this Unit One:

I used to be the kind of writer who didn’t think much about my endings. My stories just ended. Now I am the kind of writer who works hard right through the end of a piece of writing. And I think about how to craft the ending by including just the right action, dialogue or inner thinking.

I can’t wait for school to start on September 6th to teach this unit alongside a group of 3rd graders!