Unity. Liberty. Charity.

Some,  most, or possibly all of these images evoke different thoughts, feelings, values, and beliefs. That’s my point in its simplistic entirety.

I was free to walk around, to take the pictures, to think what I wanted to think, to believe what I choose to believe, to feel what I honestly feel about each of the subjects.

I also was free to disagree with those who think, believe, feel, and value different things than I do.

The last photograph is of the plaque I found on one of my after-work White House walks. This time I was able to take the picture during the light of day without risk of frostbite.  I thought it was an appropriate sentiment for this day.

A couple of weeks ago, I took an overnight trip to New York City and took these photos on my way to my hotel.



trinity church nyc2

Trinity Church, near the towers

Street view.

Street view.

wall street nyc


Flags at Vietnam Veterans Memorial, lower Manhattan

Last week I went for a walk after work.

White House (north side)

White House (north side)

You can hear at least half a dozen languages just walking around here for a few minutes, all of them happy to be here.  On this late summer evening, I passed a woman sitting on a bench facing the White House, just as her phone rang. She told the person on the other end, “I’m just sitting here in awe.”  I knew exactly what she meant by that. I feel that way all the time. Tourists snapping photos, tour groups getting the inside scoop, a wedding party posing for portraits, impromptu vigils ranging from one person to hundreds. Even when they completely oppose the current resident, they respect the building and its history and symbolism.


I have no idea what this person’s protest message was, but he seemed lost in whatever he was writing and he clearly passionately believed in his purpose, whatever it was.  He didn’t stop, just kept writing, listening to loud Christian radio, oblivious to people stopping to stare at him.  These people fascinate me.

I understand the point of view that there should be more monuments to peace than to war . . . but

I understand the point of view that there should be more monuments to peace than to war . . . but

 . . . I also think Andrew Jackson and his horse look pretty impressive against a clear September sky.

. . . I also think Andrew Jackson and his horse look pretty impressive against a clear September sky.

Simple enough.

Simple enough.

The diamante final exam: a lesson worth remembering

I taught middle school early in my career, at the beginning of the movement to “mainstream” students receiving special education services, moving them from a self-contained classroom environment into the general classroom population.

Jeff was a sixth grader in one of the classes I team-taught with the Special Ed department chair.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get Jeff to participate in class assignments.  We couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil, much less the curriculum-required blue or black ink pen.

We couldn’t get him to dictate a story or a response to a question.  We tried modification after modification, parent conferences, team conferences.

We worked hard to get a computer so that he could use a word processor. Even bribery (yes, it’s in the teacher bag-o’-tricks).  Nothing.

He wasn’t a bad student, or a bad kid. He just didn’t want to do anything – seemingly because we wanted him to.  We sensed he was probably fairly bright, but we were locked into a “Do it. / I Won’t” cycle that had probably been a pattern for him for years. (Apparently there had been a BIG power struggle – not just for Jeff but also for many of his peers  — with their fifth grade teacher over writing in cursive. )

We could tell by watching him that he was taking things in and had some thoughts about it all.  He just was not going to share and we couldn’t find a way to make it worth his while to do so.

I  experienced many moments of feeling like an abject failure, and if it hadn’t been for the highly skilled, seasoned professional with whom I worked, I might have arrived at that conclusion early on and given up on both Jeff and  on myself.

Although she felt the same frustration, my co-teacher had been through many similar challenges, so we didn’t give up on him. We did come to accept that we weren’t going to get much, if anything from him, but still we tried, hoping that some day something would click, even if we weren’t there when it happened.

Traditional diamante template from www.readwritethink.org

The final unit of the year included figurative writing and formulaic poetry forms.  There had also been a year-long cross-curricular initiative in learning the eight basic parts of speech.

I combined these in one “take home” element of the final exam:  students were to prepare a self-descriptive “diamante,”  a form poem so named for its diamond shape.

For assessment purposes, the final exam diamante differed from the traditional form in that it had to include a metaphor, a simile, three verbs, and a summarizing statement of fact, all describing the writer.  To achieve the diamond shape, the diamante began with the writer’s first name on line one and ended with the writer’s last name on the final line.

Exam day came, and Jeff showed up without a pen or pencil, much less a diamante.  He sat through the entire session with the Scantron (“the bubble sheet”) in front of him.  I don’t recall whether he even bothered to write his name.

He turned in a sheet with a few random bubbles filled in, left the room, and that was the end of our time together.  There wasn’t much for my co-teacher and me to do or say about it. That was that.

Then, at the end of the day, I found a crumpled up piece of paper tossed on my desk at the back of the room.  I opened it to find this diamante, which I have kept ever since in a little frame on whatever desk where I find myself.

Although I’ve altered the names for privacy’s sake, it is written in ink and was signed…in cursive. . . by someone who taught me a lesson worth remembering:

You never really know what’s going on with a person and people will surprise you in the nicest ways.



Diamante links:

Read. Write. Think. (An interactive diamante generator).

University of Oregon


A traditional diamante begins and ends with nouns that are opposites.  The poem can be used in two ways, either comparing and contrasting two different subjects, or naming synonyms and antonyms for another subject.

The subject is named in one word in the first line. The second line consists of two adjectives describing the subject, and the third line contains three verbs ending in the suffix -ing which are related to the subject. A fourth line then has four nouns, again related to the subject, but only the first two words are related the first subject. The other two words describe the opposite subject the lines then are put in reverse, leading to and relating to either a second subject or a synonym for the first.


I’m not really a hoarder.

I am a proud member of a village that has successfully raised two village people.  Somehow they managed to survive  bandaged knees and chicken pox,  lost lunch money and forgotten field trip permission slips, losing seasons, winning seasons, stage fright, mean girls, puppy love, and broken hearts.

By now we’ve been through the stages of separation necessary for them to go off on their own to do the things that young villagers do. Still, one part of the child-rearing process lingers:

The village is starting to pile up with shoeboxes.

Every time I buy new shoes, I put them neatly on the shoe rack in the closet, and start to break down the box for recycling.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Then I freeze. And a slight panic sets in.

Someone might need this box. . .

You know how that always goes. . .

 As soon as you get rid of it, someone will need a shoebox.

After a lifetime — two lifetimes, actually — of looking at shoeboxes as vessels to hold sidewalk chalk, finger paints, scissors, glue, Barbie clothes, baseball cards, rocks (not the pretty ones — the dirtiest, grungiest ones he could find), Happy Meal toys, squirreled away allowance money (we’re certain my son is already well on his way to a secure retirement) and things I’m probably better off not knowing, I can’t look at a shoebox as just a shoebox.

Nor can I reason with my more altruistic self that cutting it down and putting it in the recycling will help the box find its way into serving some other village in some other helpful way.

No, not me.

I look at a shoe box and imagine that at just about 10:30 pm, someone’s going to call to tell me they just remembered that their Social Studies diorama project is due tomorrow morning. You never know.

Maybe they’ll want to paint them and turn them into colorful “bricks” to build a living room fort. You never know.

Or maybe this year they’ll start waxing nostalgic and will want to make a gingerbread village for Christmas. You never know.

And so the boxes pile up, because once you’ve been a responsible member of a village, you understand that it takes a lot of shoeboxes to raise a child.

In defense of Washington

A couple of weeks ago I had a tough day at the end of a tough week, the kind of day that brings to mind the well-worn and oft-misquoted advice, “If you want a friend in this town, get a dog.”

I don’t have a dog to talk  me down from this nattering nabob of negativity, so I did the next best thing: I took a walk.

You should see this in person. It’s awe-inspiring.

It’s only a few blocks to the White House, but I don’t take that walk as often as I’d like. When I passed that way, my mood started to brighten.

I love walking past the White House.

Visitors from all over the world come here to stand at its fences and look at that building that I take for granted twice a day as I drive past.

I also love the view of the Capitol Dome looking east down Pennsylvania Avenue.  To me, it’s almost majestic.

I headed past Freedom Plaza, where the gnarly skateboarders have returned to replace the Occupy DC camp and down through the archway at Woodrow Wilson Plaza toward the Smithsonian buildings on Constitution.

And there it was: the Washington Monument.

There is something about the sight of the Washington Monument that takes me back to a grade-school field trip. Our lunch break for that year’s outing was a picnic on the grounds surrounding the monument.

I remember a beautiful day, with people flying kites. I had a bologna sandwich, with American cheese and mustard — plain old yellow mustard, none of that brown junk — on white bread. A very 1970s American bag lunch.

The perfect setting for a bologna and cheese sandwich.

I think that’s the day I fell in love with this town and looking at the monument, even on a dark, chilly night, takes me back to that beautiful, sunny day.

On the return route from my walk that night,  I passed what looked and sounded like a revival tent set up on the Ellipse, between the monument and the White House.

A policeman quietly sat guard while those in the tent sang and danced and praised. I love that they were free to exercise their freedoms of religion and speech and that he was there to protect that as much as he was there to protect that important residence just across the field.

When I saw the White House from the south side,  its gardens and  fountains  lit against the night sky, I felt this sense of awe that always comes back to me. I slip into a moment of silence, an almost prayer.

I don’t know why. I just do.

On my way back I thought about this election season and what many regard as the “ugliest” presidential campaign “ever.”  I disagree. It hasn’t been pretty, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s been necessarily  uglier than any other.


Maybe I’ve tuned it out. Maybe there are just more access points for those who are technologically tuned in. Maybe I see ugliness, mean-spiritedness, excessive self-interest  everywhere.

We Americans are obsessed with  catfights and reality show “alliances,” blood-sucking vampires and flesh-eating zombies.

We disregard rules for our own convenience all the time.  So why wouldn’t our elected representatives reflect those values and mores?

There are hard-working, well-intentioned leaders here, too. They just aren’t shiny enough to be noticed, and sadly, too many have given up and gone home.

  A plaque on the front of a building near the White House reads:

In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In  all things, charity.

It really struck me as an appropriate thought so I looked it up when I got back.

The quote has been attributed to St. Augustine, but scholars have identified a more complex history, which you can read about by clicking here. Regardless of who first said it, there must be a reason it has stood the test of time.

I took a walk again last night.  On the north side of the White House, a dozen or so Occupy protesters were watched over by the same police force protecting the same freedoms and expressions of the singing, dancing worshippers at  David’s Tent on the other side, still keeping vigil on the Ellipse.

We get the government we deserve.

It is undoubtedly a tough town and there are many days when you wonder if even your dog likes you, but then there are nights when you take a stroll and encounter visitors who come from all over this world to see these places for the history and the freedoms they represent.

I know the prevailing attitude toward Washington DC isn’t terribly positive these days. There are days when I’ve had just about enough of it, too.  As I walked around last night and passed by people from all walks of life, and then stood in line this morning to vote, alongside people with whom I may agree or disagree, I have been reminded of my great fortune in working in this town and being a citizen of this country.

This election day  seemed like as good a time as any to share these things with you. If you haven’t yet voted, I hope you will. It’s the best way to make a difference and it’s very American — kind of like a  bologna and cheese sandwich.

(P.S. I still believe the line about the dog.)

A quasi-hippie attempts to accessorize

Somewhere in a law school classroom, a lovely young woman with a funky, contemporary fashion sense shifts uncomfortably in her seat, unaware of the drama that is unfolding . . . and refolding . . . and unfolding again some thirty miles  away. She is not aware of any cause for concern, yet  there is this slightly nagging sense that the delicate balance of the universe has been set askew.

Fig. 1: Funky, contemporary fashion accessory.

In her world everything is as it should be. She is prepared for today’s lecture. The sun rose this morning. It will set this evening. When she left home, the  neighbors were lined up awaiting the opening of the liquor store near her apartment. They will be there when she gets home. The bus came on time. It dropped her off on time.  Down the road a-piece,  her  mother is preparing for work,  probably wearing black. Again. The Orioles lost last night. A day like any other.

Still there is this uneasy feeling, this sense that something in the universe is not as it should be.

In her ever-optimistic  perspective,  today is another day for The Birds, and come next Tuesday she’ll either be cheering her heart and her voice out at Camden Yards or going to the theatre with her mother, who always wears  black. All is well. Except for the black. Why must she always wear black?

I know two things that this lovely young woman does not yet know.

I know that she has inherited a keen and heightened intuition that the women in her family have possessed for at least three generations. It will grow stronger as she gets older and it will, to employ the vernacular,  freak people out.

She’ll be hoppin’ on wavelengths, having odd dreams that come true — although none of them ever involve anyone winning the lottery or coming up with a cure for cancer or

anything . . . noooo . . . because that would be just too darned useful. And she will have this sense that creeps up on her, which she will shrug off each time, until the reason for it later reveals itself. It will bother her because she will understand that  it’s a pretty nutty thing to talk about and people will wonder about her sanity. But they’ll also be wondering how she knew to say X or do Y, when she didn’t know to say or do those things. It just happened.

This is why some time before the end of the day, without knowing why, she will feel compelled to call her mother, wherein she will learn the second thing I know that she doesn’t yet know.

And that is this.

The second thing.

Somewhere down the road, her mother is taking to heart the gentle criticism this lovely young woman with the funky, contemporary fashion sense offered the last time they were shopping together.  It went something like this. . .

NotReallyAHippie Mother:  What do you think of this blouse?

Fig. 2: What’s with the hatin’? It’s beautiful and versatile and, most important, slimming. Look how svelte that letter A is . . with no cosmetic enhancement!

Funky/ContemporaryFashionSense Daughter: Love it! My favorite thing about it is that it is not black.

 Thus the lovely young woman’s mother is dismayed, looking at the only thing in today’s wardrobe line-up, a plain black dress. With the weather finally cool enough,  tomorrow is going to be the first official donning of The Uniform (black turtleneck, jeans, and black boots), which will be standard for the next several months.

She recalls yesterday’s black slacks. Three consecutive days of black are too much even for her, especially this early in the cool months.

She decides to take a page from her daughter’s book and add a scarf. A pink scarf. A bright pink scarf.  The one she bought because it reminded her of her daughter’s contemporary fashion sense. The daughter rocks pink. She rocks scarves. Maybe that’s why her daughter is so cheerful. Maybe it’s the pink. . . or the scarves. She decides to give it a try.

Fig. 3: Seriously, how hard could this be?

The NotReallyAHippie mother wraps the scarf loosely around her neck, the way she has seen the lovely young woman wear hers. The look does not translate when she checks the mirror. She unwraps, tries folding it a little, re-wraps. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

She thinks to herself that somewhere up the road in a law school classroom, her daughter is probably sitting uneasily in her seat, with a cute scarf wrapped perfectly around

her neck, wondering why she has this uneasy feeling that something is wrong in the universe.

 The end. Or so I thought.

I Swear I Am Not Making This Up.

In the middle of the afternoon, the NotReallyAHippie mother is surprised to receive an email from her lovely, yet very busy daughter.  This is a verbatim excerpt from that email:

P.S. I am dressed like a hippie today. Flowing shirt, moccasins, and new turquoise necklace [boyfriend] brought me from Turkey. I thought you would approve.

Fig. 4: Some thirty miles away, a law student is dressed like a hippie.