Fancy that—tulips and Maypole dances!

I’m following in my mother’s footsteps and picking up freebies of every sort from school as the year winds down and retiring teachers are clearing their rooms. I happened on some great versions of classics, one of the series being a graphic novel Sherlock Holmes.

So naturally GK—the six year old—has been reading mysteries on the sofa before bedtime. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Stone Soup at school in music class—I hand out percussion instruments and as ingredients are added to the soup in the story, I let students punctuate each vegetable with a beat on the drum, a scrape of the guiro, ding on the triangle, etc.—including sound effects. I had the kids purr, “oooh, fancy!” in a British accent each time I said the line, “Soup from a pot? Fancy that!”

Anyway, I laughed when at home one night while folding clothes, GK casually mentioned that “in Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock says, ‘Watson, I fancy we may employ ourselves better at home.’ What does ‘fancy’ mean?”
I feel like we have the most hilarious and entertaining crossover conversations in this house.

I’m seeing all my new tulip varieties pop up. The double late and ruffled parrot tulips are gorgeous and the slender yonina are elegant but I love the fringed orange tulips better. Even though the stems are almost too short for cutting, there is not a more stunning color. Look at me turning into a flower lady! I promised a friend I wouldn’t get old prematurely by falling for roses or irises (those being, in my mind, old lady flowers. It will happen, I am sure. Just not pre-40).

The kids at school can’t believe they’re even real, they keep coming up to the desk to touch and smell them.

I didn’t add columbine to the jars I gave to teachers because they are just too fragile. But I love having a prolific columbine plant just down the steps from the porch. It’s my little Colorado memento.

Monday I explained the tradition of May Day and the May pole and May Day baskets. I showed the students a clip of the dance from the opera La Fille Mal Gardee. I tied some tulle ribbon to the top of my old North Pole sign (worked perfect!), took a deep breath, and crossed my fingers it wouldn’t be a total disaster. For preschool and kindergarten, I just had kids skip in the same direction while I played music. For the middle grades we tried a bit of weaving but it was still almost too complicated for them to grasp. Only my sixth graders really got the hang of it (boys in and under to the left then over to the left while girls did the opposite moves to the right).

I was so proud! I daily feel like it is down to the wire planning sixth grade stuff and then I just have to go with my best idea and hope they don’t act like it’s completely dumb. Usually I preface sixth grade activities with, “I tried this with my younger kids and they didn’t really get it, so I was thinking we should try it…” At least it justifies me in case they hate it and think it super lame—hey, I can blame it on the little kids!

Six and a half days left in the whole school year! We’re going to play music Jeopardy! (This is Mrs. Stegner’s favorite ice cream flavor. What is cookies and cream?) and make a Venn diagram of theremin music versus synthesizer. (Beach boys will make an appearance!)

I cannot wait.

A thornless blackberry project and Spring concerts!

The double late tulips I planted in the front bed popped open the day after Easter. It looked like I had a Chiefs theme going on. I actually thought I’d get a mix of more pinks and reds than anything.

Other tulips are still grow, grow, growing. I’m so glad we pulled up that landscaping fabric to let it all breathe again. Remind me I said this when it’s finally summer and the weeds are everywhere. But hopefully the mulch will keep most of it down. For now, I have tons of ranunculus, columbine, and strawberries filling in the gaps.

We trekked over to a local nursery where they focus on native-to-our-area plants. The story goes that back in the day the old fella who runs it would dry plants for seeds in the barns on our property. His name is Mervin, and he not so fondly recalled climbing the vertical ladders to the barn loft with his bundles.
We chatted with him about supplying us some compost. He has his own metal barns now where he dries seed, but he was happy to help us after we told him where we lived.

Joe has decided he wants to grown thornless blackberries and raspberries. I am more on board with this project than other suggested projects like pigs, chickens, or cows, but I am no bramble expert.
The first step was to find the right spot and prep the soil. The compost Mervin gave us is an old mix of potting soil and other scraps from his native plan nursery. It isn’t exactly the cleanest compost, but it is healthy and robust (and cheap).

We decided the back side of the pond would be the ideal place to pick. Not too close to the house, no views blocked, a bit of an incline for drainage, room to spread. The blackberries will not produce fruit the first year, but the raspberries should.
(I’m a little scared of this endeavor…My friend, Brandy, has only four thornless blackberry bushes and said they go crazy and produce gallons and gallons of berries.)

Blackberries and tulips have been a welcome home distraction from the craziness of end-of-year music endeavors. I come home and grab a shovel if it is nice, move baby plants out into the sun, water, check on sprouts, mow. It doesn’t matter how hard the outside work, it is a welcome respite from a rough day at school.

We wrapped up the last Spring concert this week and I was having nightmares about it leading up to the day. Lots of behavior issues just make teaching so stinking difficult. I am waiting for summer to digest and write more. The most significant daily issues deal with kids that are consistently rude or argumentative. This coupled with an ever-shortening attention span and a device-fueled addiction to instant gratification—can you even imagine how hard it is to teach recorders and how to read music on a staff? How hard it is to walk down a long hallway to the auditorium, expect them to calmly enter and exit the stage, stand safely on risers, perform as expected, listen to directions, rehearse multiple times? Each day is a struggle.
To top it off, we have a handful of kids that sometimes show up on or off meds and exhibit violent and threatening behavior…Yikes. A book awaits. Let’s see if I can also make it sound funny and lighthearted like David Sedaris—that’s my summer challenge to myself.

I really am so proud of how much has been accomplished but this year was stress-filled on a 10 out of 10 scale. I have to remind myself that at the beginning of the year the older kids smirked when I told them we’d be singing.
And look at us on stage singing! And playing recorders! And Orff instruments! It’s enough to tempt a teacher to think she can do it again next fall (especially after a summer break).

Baker Seed and Laura Ingalls

It is tulip time and lovely weather and I’m in bed instead of my messy basement music room at school.

It is difficult to take a day off when sick, because I have the mom mentality of must-push-through. I am guilt-ridden even when sick because getting a substitute teacher is not exactly a promise. It’s more likely they split the classes and make the remaining teachers bear the load. So as I lay in bed I feel worse because my favorite art teacher will have 50% more of a class to teach, and might even have to toss her lesson plans out so she can manage the chaos.

It should not be like this at school. Chaos management should not be the goal.
Four weeks…I can do anything for four weeks!

What does one do with the lone asparagus stalk that pops up every spring? He is delicious raw. We do fight over him.

Isn’t incredible how there are such beautiful things still in this world even as people go from bad to worse (2 Tim. 3:13)? Isn’t it fantastic how flowers bloom even as creation is subjected to frustration and groans like it’s in childbirth (Romans 8)?

We just had tornadoes rip through the Midwest and all the ranunculus roots held fast? Brilliant.

I sprinkled poppy seeds in the garden by the peas, and dahlia and zinnia seeds around the tulips. We took a day trip to Mansfield to visit Baker Creek and the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum. I think I’m getting old because I trust internet shopping less and less. I’d rather drive two hours to buy seeds than order things to be delivered to my house.

But Baker’s Creek was worth the trip (of course) and would make me jealous of the work that goes on there…except! I know their work is back-breaking. They test and try hundreds of seeds. They don’t just grow and go. I am very interested in the only-sow-what-I-can-handle method.
Still, it’s beautiful and a great experience and if I had to recommend a what-to-do-in-Missouri trip, this would be top of the list.

Will there someday be a cardboard cutout of me in my kitchen? I sure hope not.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder museum is another thumbs up, but it is not free entrance. She was in her sixties when she began writing her embellished childhood memoirs. I would’ve meandered more, but we had ice cream to get to and seeds to bring home and plant.

Easter Break, Windmill project.

A co-worker casually mentioned this week that I was “well-suited for life in the sixties”—meaning, I am sure, the 1960s and not actually me being sixty years old.
I don’t know what brought on the comment, but as much as I hate screen-time and teenaged zombies and phone addiction (ask someone who is sober how they feel about their past), I do agree. (But I’m pretty sure she was calling me a hippy because her words landed after I gifted the first flowers from Honey Creek for the P.E. teacher’s wedding shower.)

We have arrived, blessedly, at Easter break. Our Spring break was long overdue and we won’t get a full week like most everyone else. No matter, I have one more Spring concert behind me as of today and one more to go before summer break. The kids rightly butchered a couple partner songs and I led them astray on Here Comes the Sun. I do blame it on no rehearsals since last week, but that’s just how my schedule worked. I couldn’t have done anything to fix it. (Frankly, I am still shocked that I can speak into a microphone in front of hundreds of people without passing out. There are small and large miracles.)

After neglecting laundry folding and cooking for after school allergy shots and hand x-rays (the school nurse said, “have you looked at his hand?” I did—in passing in the hallway. It looked puffy was all. It was when she added, “lesser things have broken a hand in gym class,” that I took him to urgent care) I am ready to catch up on spring cleaning beginning tomorrow.

We did not blow away in our latest spring storms. The tornadoes went south and north of us even while the winds threatened to damage things. Our trampoline was already down last month so I was hoping we wouldn’t lose a tree or more than a barn door. The door that fell off a couple weeks ago will have to be rebuilt and we’re waiting on some Amish folks to cut us some thick wide planks with their saw mill.

I spray painted an old wind mill we found in the weeds. It will be the first colors in my back garden before the real stuff pops up. Joe picked sunflower colors (I probably would’ve picked pink or blue but I don’t argue with folks who run to Tractor Supply so I can stay home). For a couple days my spray finger muscles hurt.

I have in mind to write quite a bit this long weekend since I’ve been busier with school stuff than I’d like. If I could write I could think out the school issues better—I have a finish line in sight, something like 25 days left of instruction—but I don’t want to wait till the food gets cold, so to speak. So many thoughts on teaching, kids, attitudes, commonly held beliefs, culture. I gather all the opinions I can find and then I gnaw on the big chunks and piece together what I believe to be the best and worst of the experience.

Today was better than yesterday: yesterday I was looking up alternatives. All the things I’ve said unflinchingly like, “I’ll never do that” or “a person who cares should be willing to do this”—well, I waver, you know. And on top of this burden, I keep seeing all the schools in the state that also have position openings for elementary teachers…and it’s so critical. Kids are getting the short end and kids are our future. But then I know I can’t save all the kids and at this point I’m barely staying afloat for the ones I’ve got.

Wouldn’t it just be so simple to stay home and spray paint things and fiddle in the garden? And isn’t that what everyone wants and shoots for yet also murmurs flat “must be nice” sentiments if I were to be a stay-at-homer again?
In my current teaching world it’s fraught with strong feelings that no one keeps to themself even as some strive to make money (a pittance) and spend it on seasonal screen-printed t-shirts, manicures, spray tans and eating out. Yet this more boring existence (privileged, some call it, though I’ve never myself bought the t-shirts or had a spray tan or mani) is what turns out solid kids, I think—the moms and dads who are home, again and again, doing the mundane and meticulous parenting.

Veering into Average Pearl material here…I’ll save it for tomorrow.

Kodaly and how taunting helps kids sightread.

Over the long weekend I took a couple kids to the library’s used book sale. This is the first I’ve attempted, and I went for two reasons: I could get as many books as I wanted with my teaching ID and the middle boys are getting ready for a knowledge bowl tournament. It was a long, cold, dreary weather weekend and we had nothing better to do than study up. (Postscript: the kids each snagged medals, gold and silver. A success!)

Whenever I get weary of public school ways, I am consoled by the fact we read incessantly. I hope it covers a multitude. Our street smarts are definitely tuned up at public school but our k-bowl chops are home nursing books. Lu has been obsessed with Robinson Crusoe lately so I’ve had my eye out for other old goodies. He is strong where Jubal is not. They are really two halves to the same coin. Jubal memorizes the necessary trivia words (Pequod—Queequeg—Melville) but Lu internalizes the story. If you ask Lu for a brief synopsis of any book he will drone on about details till you politely distract him with a bag of potato chips. If anyone doubts, just mention the gae bolga or how he feels about Swiss Family Robinson novel versus the movie.
(Foy’s expertise is more in the mental math department and general war trivia. This doesn’t make for as good of a story.)

Anyway, I came across a Kodaly book and nabbed it because, though my music teaching days are short, I still am only sprinkle-immersed in this Hungarian-born approach to learning music.
I have tooled around on the Holy Names university folk song list but I didn’t completely understand where it came from or why it applies to anything elementary.

But the idea overall came, as I learned, from the pre-kinder work in Hungary in the early to mid 1900s. If educators could give children a brain inventory of hundreds of familiar folk tunes, they would be able to more easily transition to reading and sight reading music. Solfège—the idea of assigning a tone to a note (movable or non movable) would be accessible to kids who already chanted sing-song on the playground or jumped and clapped to rhythms.

The example that stuck out to me from this book was this:
Johnny is a sis-sy!

Also note: I am bigger than you are!

Ha! Right up my Kod-“alley” (can’t and won’t apologize). The method behind this music teaching madness is so basic, but the foundation relies on the simplest of refrains.
I’m not sure if the next music teacher will continue on with this sight reading training, but it’s been fun to watch the kiddos at school go from begrudgingly singing anything to playing solfège copycat games and singing in rounds. My first graders are especially great at it and are pretty good at hand signals, too.

March flowers: daffodils and grape hyacinth. There isn’t a happier pair.

I pulled out my big tub of dahlia tubers to see how they overwintered in the basement. Half had rotted; the other half were dry and peachy. I’d covered them with dry oak leaves and newspaper. I was pleasantly surprised they did ok overall. I’ve stuck the good tubers in some soil to see if I can get them to sprout early.

Some choppy thoughts—I look forward to the day when my brain isn’t overbooked and can wander more freely. We have a short Easter spring break and then one month left till school is out!

Leprechaun Habitats and Learning.

Last week as I led the kindergartners onto the stage for the first time, I expected them to be a little awestruck by the lights, the risers, the microphones. It was just a little rehearsal to get comfortable with the auditorium (and to learn the valuable lesson of not getting too close to the front of the stage).
I didn’t expect for a handful of them to gasp and offer, “it’s just like Papageno!”

They really loved that Mozart unit. We really went into the weeds when we studied it, lots of little rabbit trails over to Ben Franklin and his glass armonica and all the contemporary issues of the day; lice, hygiene, clean water, etc. We touched on Requiem and child prodigies, but we sank our teeth into the opera. It was Grieg, and now we have moved on to Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf) and Sant Saens (did I spell it right? Carnival of Animals). Dipping our toes here and there.

This is what makes me saddest about public school, if I’m being honest. Even the squirrelly kids are curious and have the desire, when little, to learn and love learning—that tangible, soak it up stuff. But we wean them right off of it by offering the tantalizing tablets and laptops and brain-chemistry-altering “tailored” education by way of standardized, computerized testing and diagnostics.

And then a whole new problem is created where a kid has an attention span of 0.4 seconds and must be “positively reinforced” by gaming tokens or cat stacking and insipid “brain breaks.” My six year old came home and told me they watch ASMR videos on YouTube to relax before they’re dismissed to the buses or car rider line. Are you kidding me?
No wonder classroom management is a joke and kids are ruder than ever. They’re used to calling the shots and are completely surprised when an adult erects boundaries, corrects them, or expects them to do anything that requires stamina or effort.

I do think the year I’ve spent teaching has been valuable to the students. Co-workers are asking why I am leaving and it makes me sad. I love the teaching part. In fact, to think I’ve gone to the work of meeting and making relationships with this many kids, let alone getting them to sing comfortably, simply by starting a song off (in the beginning they looked at me as if I had a third eyeball)—this is something I don’t want to shrivel up and die. But I cannot continue to teach at the level I’d like when the standards for behavior (parents included here) and the curricular approach are so opposed to what is natural.

Teachers who want to teach from their own fountain cannot follow the rules of school these days. We have to paint with a wider brush. We of the “painting” variety need time to plan and create and come up with our own flavor of passionate teaching.
Another way of saying this is: kids hate testing and aren’t learning better (I reckon it’s actually worse) by one-to-one devices.
Now that I’ve seen it from the inside and have the advantage of not being absolutely dependent on the job—I feel obligated to cross the bridge between teacher to administration and parent.

With the help (very little, come to think of it) of some sixth graders I made a leprechaun habitat/puppet stage for the little grades.

But first—St. Patrick’s Day! Ha. The kindergartners and first graders sang three songs (a One Bottle Pop/Fish and Chips/Don’t Chuck Your Muck round, Lucky Leprechaun, and All I Really Need—a Raffi classic) last Wednesday for a mini-concert during the day. I had no idea how difficult risers were to put up and take down. I’m already regretting I said I’d do another concert in April. But if we pull it off it will be epic. It’s a rain-themed bunch of songs and I’m hoping some high schoolers can accompany us for the CCR song.

High winds sent the trampoline into the woods. I think it’ll be our last tramp. We are lucky it got hurt before it hurt one of us. Many unsafe wrestling matches over the last seven years. RIP!

We are waiting out a freezing spell on Honey Creek. Flowers are covered; peas and beets and poppy seeds are at the mercy of the Creator. I’m not worried because it’s doubtful they germinated before the cold set in. We did get some seeds in the plastic trays. GK potted some flowers and tomatoes and put them in a recycled croissant container for a little bedroom greenhouse. I’m trying to force some ranunculus inside in a pot along with some allium and tulips just for kicks. The ranunculus love it; the other two are reluctant.

I love those packages that urge me to get a head start and sprout them inside 6-8 weeks before last frost. Even though I’m not the most faithful of indoor sowing and watering . It’s still nice to see something pop up.

At This Rate.

The girl had an inspiration. “Would Mrs. Kumlien like the very first fish I ever caught?”
“You should keep it for yourself,” Kumlien said, admiring the big, gleaming bass.
“But my mother would know I have been fishing.”
“Of course, how stupid of me,” the Professor said. “Yes, it would make Margretta very happy. We’ll eat the flesh of your fine fish. But I will skin it so carefully that I can mount it for you, Inga.”
“You mean it will look alive? All glistening like this forever?”
“Forever,” Professor Kumlien promised. “Absolutely forever.”
He had spent the morning mounting two passenger pigeons for Robbie. Now he would spend the rest of the day mounting Inga’s black bass. At this rate he would never lay up for himself treasures upon earth, but many were the treasures he would lay up for himself in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.

The Wolfling,
Sterling North

We’ve made it to March. March! I do not care to bemoan Mondays or any season in particular, but it sure feels good to have only two full months of school left on the horizon.

I know the feeling of at this rate and never laying up treasure here upon the earth. It’s not that I even want the treasure, but I do like a clean(er) house and a tidy garden, and I’ve been trading it in for choir practices and running furiously. Maybe “running furiously” is overkill, but my work days are unrelenting and I’m not getting home with much oomph left to cook supper and do house stuff. I love teaching; let me say it again, but I also love being a mom and that second job is finite, with an approaching deadline.
(Here I feel the pull to defend myself, because it has been pointed out to me that to even have the option to not teach is out of reach for some folk, as if I just happened upon the good luck to not need an income. Which—I’d like to point out, for a long time we scraped by on one income and I’d do it again in a heartbeat because it taught us a million good lessons we would’ve never otherwise learned. One car, no cellphones, chopping and stacking wood for our winter heat, dinners of hot rolls and baked potatoes and stringy meat we could afford. Love, sacrifice, hope, dependency, generosity, long-suffering, kindness…yes, I recommend. God does bless those folk with all the blessings in the heavenlies)

On teaching: sometimes I feel the pinch of what I could do with my time to be more effective but it is too costly to fix myself in that direction. I have to really lean in and examine if I’m doing it to impress or please people or if I’m doing it just to be a decent, not lazy person. Heaven knows I’m not getting paid anymore for working harder. I can follow the state standards and draw up a perfect pacing guide AND have monthly performances AND afternoon/weekend choirs AND visit the nursing homes…and I can bust my tail doing it all.
We could busy ourselves to the point of not enjoying anything, and I know we are at the cusp.

Still, I really want the kids at school to have an excellent experience in music class and walk away with more than just a memory of some teacher forcing them to sing when they didn’t want to sing. (I’m a realist—this is exactly what the kids remember about the last qualified music teacher they had.) I enjoy being creative and working with the medium of children, even if they are doggone fickle and sometimes have terrible attitudes and self-control.

I’m slowly tricking the fifth graders (all of them) into singing an actual 2-part choral piece and I had no inkling this might happen. I just shrugged and tossed them each a piece of “Rattlin’ Bog” and said something evasive about how kids should have the experience of examining a real piece of music…maybe we should try to read it and see if we could follow it through to the end?
I can’t believe I have them tricked into doing exactly what I want! We’ve come a long way since Dona Nobis Pacem.
Next thing you know I’ve scheduled a concert for April.

Fourth grade recorders are back out because I signed up for MusicPlay Online and discovered the magic of experienced recorder teachers. Step one, teach B A G and have them “practice” by holding long notes for ten to twenty counts on each, thus wearing out the students before they annoy you with random tooting throughout the class.
I’ve also been explained the difference between Baroque and German recorders and successfully avoided F and explained why to the kids (different style recorders finger it differently).
I don’t have to print out music—all of the resources are already there. Highly recommend MusicPlay! We’re already playing DCBAGE in waltzes and 4/4 time. Watch out 5th grade band, we are coming in hot.

Sixth graders are still a random box of surprises. They are pretty poor music readers, so I’ve come up with a few games to examine rhythms and copy them (without making it feel like kindergarten clap alongs). My best idea lately has been to split them into small group and hand out cards with a rhythm which they have to translate into spoken words. Four sixteenth notes followed by a quarter note, rest, and paired eighth notes would be “peanutbutter-toast—sh—grape-juice” and so on. Once the small group can clap and say their measure, I assign a point and give them a new card to work on. Jolly Ranchers for the winners!

Their progress is behind even the fourth graders because they start out with such a poor learning attitude. I have to slowly win them over to my side. It is (eye-roll) ridiculous but sixth graders are consumed with the is-this-cool/this-can’t-be-cool riddle. This from large children with mullets. I know.
I do try and support their tender little misunderstanding souls by giving them the pick of the litter fun stuff when I can swing it.


We are on the cusp of spring. I am watching the two littlest play on the trampoline. It is incredible to see a little girl in a faux pink fur coat, rolling and tackling her big brother. If I weren’t a touch grossed out by girls competing in the sport of wrestling, I would give her a fair shot. She is as spicy as they come and not even one bit afraid of getting hurt.

We are past the one hundredth day of school. There have been high school basketball games and pep band and elementary after school choir practice. The middle boys are practicing for an upcoming knowledge bowl competition. I got to moderate my first high school quad, which is as nerdy and fun as it sounds.

I have put in my resignation as music teacher. It makes me sad because I love it so much and I’m getting better every single day. But it’s added too much to my plate (understatement) and I am truly under qualified for the position. If I stayed, the administration would eventually (and rightfully) require me to pass a music test. They need to go ahead and find someone who is trained for the spot. Two years have gone by now without a qualified music teacher. If I stay they would continue to be happy and unaware…I guess I’m trying to be responsible and force things to come to a head for the benefit of our students.

I started some ranunculus in the basement in January. Last year was such a ranunculus flop because I just soaked the corms and plopped them in the ground, basically setting them up to rot. Who knew it took such a gentle touch?
One of the kids remarked that as delicate as the process is, and if they can’t regenerate naturally, ranunculus ought to have died out a long time ago. I think I agree.
My Successful Gardening book doesn’t even list ranunculus as a corm, but a tuber. So I’m pretty much in the dark here…

As were my little corm friends. I soaked them and stuck them in a shallow tray of soil and popped them in the basement. After two and a half weeks, about half of them had sprouted or grown tender little roots. A quarter of them were moldy. Another quarter were dried out.

I planted the sprouted corms and covered them with the heavy black landscape material. Then I re-soaked the dry ones and patted them back into the dirt tray. Since then, a few more have sprouted. I didn’t even bother putting the trays back in the basement, but left them in the front entryway in full sun. They have done fine—I think it’s more important they just get a head start in cold, but not frozen, simulated ground.

Can you tell I love the pioneer style of figuring out plants instead of using science? Ha.

Froggie, Rihanna, and the consent we give.

Finally a weekend! I started to write at the beginning of the month but keep getting derailed by weekend jaunts to knowledge bowl contests. I would be very boastful about our k-bowl conquests if I didn’t have the “let another praise you and not your own lips” verse imprinted on my heart. Let it be said that kids who read will one day rule as k-bowl royalty. We are coming into our own and it is pretty magical to watch.

We made it to Valentine’s Day and second and third graders square danced for parents and other admirers. I didn’t have time to get nervous before calling the program with a microphone in hand and 120 kids who can’t remember their left hand from the right. I definitely put a Sharpie dot on every student’s left hand before hitting the gymnasium. We started out with Arkansas Traveler and finished strong with Achy Breaky Heart.

This week I’ve been reading the book and singing the song Froggie Went a Courtin’ to my littlest students. I cut out some foam puppets and glued them to popsicle sticks. Someone was getting rid of a little wooden puppet stage and I am a sucker for puppets.

Yes, the puppet stage is upside-down. I also just taped cardboard to the edge to serve as the hollow tree. I have a high school helper for pre-K, she is a dream!

I have to laugh when I think about the conversations we have in class. I can’t even imagine what the kiddos go home and talk about. My own kids have said all sorts of stuff that had me bewildered when they came home and relayed teacher news.

After Froggie asks Miss Mousie to marry him she replies, without my Uncle Rat’s consent, I wouldn’t marry the President!
We paused and talked about “consent”—this is the funny part, though these days you get the feeling it’s on the Do Not Mention list or else you’ll make CNN headlines.
I went tangential (as I often do) and told them the story of Mr. S going to ask my dad, Mr. Roger, if he could marry me. There was baited breath in the music room—-what did he say?! Wide eyes blinked.
I paused for effect and then told them how my dad agreed and gave Mr. S his permission to marry me, just like Uncle Rat gave Froggie!
Super simple, right? These kids had never even heard of such a thing. It was hilariously cute and kinda sad, too. So many kids are starving for these sweet little conversations (and puppets, too. Even the older grades saw the puppet theater and begged me to do the puppet play for them).

I think many grownup people forget how much kids need to be treated and talked to like kids. A child needs a thousand stories, lots of repetition, simple explanations. At the music conference I attended last week, I was informed that Jingle Bells was now on the no-sing list, along with Pick a Bale o’ Cotton.

“I know we used to sing it, but know better, do better. Picking a bale of cotton is not a fun thing,” the workshop leader said. When I came home, I asked Gretel what she thought the song was about.

“It sounds like a fun jumpy song for kindergarten,” she said, and that was that.
If the “know better, do better” rule applied across the board, I’d more readily accept it. But for now I’d rather a thousand kids innocently sing a bouncy song about picking a bale of cotton than one kid watch Rihanna singing at the Super Bowl that “chains and whips excite me”—or whatever other trash she plans on dishing out.

It’s such a sad era, culture wars and all that. Too much emphasis on culture, as if it ought to define us, when culture is not, nor should it be, synonymous with tradition and things we hold sacred. Many folk tunes are filled with death, matching upbeat tunes to morose storytelling.

Froggie, the insensitive amphibious masochist, carries a sword and a pistol by his side, also not culturally appropriate these days. It’s so hard to make Miss Mousie, Uncle Rat, and everyone else happy, poor guy.

The music conference was still the best thing I’ve done all year. I learned more than I could have ever hoped—I wish I could’ve done it at the beginning of the school year. I met teachers who believed in me and instructors who encouraged me. It was like a power boost in Mario after he catches the star—I’ve got some energy and can super-focus my classes again.

Snow day and Second Semester Expectations.

I was just about to get the kids up for the day when I plugged in my phone and saw school was cancelled for snow.
Yesterday a kindergarten teacher dropped her kids off at my classroom and mentioned in passing that we ought to be singing Let it Snow.
“Why?” I asked. The weather was springy and beautiful.
“Because there’s a chance we could get some and I really need a day off,” she laughed.
I told her I’d pray about it.

And look! Turns out I needed a day off, too.

The Colorado kids have been working on a snow fort all day. Four inches of wet packing snow go a long way in raising their spirits. I hear whispers of wishes that they could go skiing. But sledding, building stuff, and après-snow-activities hot chocolate and reading makes for a great Thursday.

Those days of locating mittens, hats, boots, and putting a thousand layers on little screamers are blissfully in my past. Everyone can find their own warm stuff, and everyone can take it off. I remember having hot flashes (I was always pregnant or nursing a baby) while dealing with snotty-noses, kids pooping inside layers of snow bunting. Bending over a big belly, about to burn up from stress-induced heat of wailing children. They wanted out; they wanted back in; they were tired; they fell in too-deep snow. They got snow inside their boot; their socks were suddenly wet. One was halfway down the mountain, another was inside crying, looking for a mitten. One was hungry. No one was ever ready all at the same time to go out. And it was worse convincing Jubal he needed to come back inside. Every outdoor adventure ended in wailing and gnashing of teeth. Such was my experience with little boys in snow.

It was not fun and it was not funny. I was so glad to get off that dang mountain.

Maybe I should’ve held on longer and waited for these days when everyone can manage themselves a little. But I’m not sorry we are having a wonderful snow day in the Midwest today (with the perfect amount of energy-burning and resting—no pressure to spend thousands of dollars on season ski passes and gear).

I got most of my tulips and the narcissus in the ground this week. I put some ranunculus in a tray to sprout in my basement. Last year when I tried ranunculus, they rotted in the ground. I had never planted corms before and didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve had such great luck with bulbs and tubers since our climate is so season-driven, but when it comes to dried corms and roots, I am at the mercy of whatever Google research pops up.

It’s an experiment every season!

Second semester at school is, likewise, experimental. I came back with every intention to do bucket drumming with the oldest grades. After a couple days of this, I remember I’m an idiot to think drumming on anything is anything but a headache?!
I also had the brilliant idea of putting on a square dance with 2nd and 3rd graders for Valentine’s Day. It is on the schedule, so say prayers.

I want my days to be productive and at the same time feel like they are flying by, but the thing I’ve learned is the importance of allocating my energy in these efforts.

First of all, I only have an hour a day to plan all my activities (duly noted that I very well could spend hours after school worrying about all the ins and outs, and I choose not to because I have a very full life at home)—if I wanted to give each grade equal planning time, it would work out to be 7.5 minutes for each level. Our school schedule is such that sometimes I will have three days in a row of the very same class before I even see the other classes in the grade—this means I have to remember who has done what so I can repeat the same lessons with each class and no one lags behind or gets too far ahead.

I don’t think I set myself up to fail except for the fact that I had no framework or music education training at all whatsoever. I had to just jump in the cold, cold water and start swimming at some point. I have to, on occasion, teach myself various things, like how to finger notes on the recorder and the difference between Mozart and Beethoven, but these are small compared to time/energy management and dealing with hoards of expectant children.

It is entirely unfeasible (infeasible?) to pull out and put away instruments for each 30 or 40 minute period. I thought I was going to do a ton of ukulele work, but I can either tune ukes every morning or plan something reasonable and non-string-instrument-related for my 9 classes. (It takes a good 20 minutes for students to tune their own ukuleles, and they fall out of tune within several minutes of strumming.)

This is fine and I accept it; I just have learned I cannot let myself become stressed over my circumstances. Instead, I have to lower expectations and give myself space to do a reasonable amount of work instead of trying to entertain the masses like some circus clown.

An example: if 4th grade recorders sucks it out of you (and, boy, does it ever), then lay off the bucket drumming during the other periods, and vice-versa. Right now I’ve got my 4th graders doing a unit on bluegrass and more recent, local music history while I let the 5th and 6th graders do drumming.
Grades 2 and 3 square dance (lots of me yelling out instructions and explaining allemonde and do si do to very loud, bouncy, excited children) while the lower grades work on less energy-sucking activities, like memorizing songs and reading folk stories.

This is the only way I can manage as many classes as I have with the expectations that they will perform at some point during each semester.

Praying that every music teacher gets at least one good snow day this January!