From Pumpkin head to Confident Teacher

Pumpkinhead at the age of 3

I literally “woke up like dis.” Look at my hair.

In a recent post I introduced you to my colleague Lady Snark or Maria M, if you want to be formal. Remember she came up with the winning entry for my winter cold comments?

Let me tell you a bit about Lady Snark.

She is a Brooklyn native, writer, technological wizard, and cock-eyed optimist. And a darn good teacher who cares passionately about her students.

She also blogs about education and her experiences in the classroom.  Check out Maria’s blog.

Before you head over to Maria’s blog, read her guest post below about her transformation from a Pumpkin head to competent and confident woman.

Pumpkin head. That was my nickname.

I grew up ugly. Actually I was born ugly. All babies are supposedly cute, but my grandmother nailed it. “Pumpkin head.” I had a huge noggin and fat cheeks and was a rather big baby. And I looked like a boy until I was age three.

Things didn’t improve until much later: age twenty-five. I went through bad teeth, big glasses, unfortunate haircuts and the fashion of the 1980s and 1990s.

My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up so fashion was not a concern my parents took too seriously. And my dad’s family insisted on baptizing my matrilineal Jewish three-year-old behind, much to the chagrin of my mother’s family. (But it did not negate my Jewishness.)

As I approached my quarter life, I did not go through a crisis, but a transformation.

I moved out of my parents’ home, got hired as a teacher and began to forge a life for myself. I began taking control of my life and my image. I dressed better, put more care into my appearance and looks…for ME.

In my predominantly religious Jewish neighborhood, I am an old maid. I should have married years ago and be on my third child by now. Even my accountant, who congratulates my success, laments the lack of a “nice Jewish boy” in my life. I smile politely. I check my shoulder for an expiration date. None exists.

No ill-conceived baptism or lack of nuptials negates my femininity. Or Jewishness. I am an independent Reform Jewish female.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped caring about others’ opinions.

Maybe it was when I found my apartment on my own, while working a $300-a-week job.

Or when I realized that having two degrees by age twenty-three was an accomplished feat.

Or when it was when I bought and assembled my own furniture.

Or when I found my first teaching job (in the South Bronx) without any connections.

Or when I decided I wanted straighter teeth and paid for it in small increments thanks to insurance and a steady paycheck.

Or when I decided I am beautiful and comfortable in my own skin.

Or  when I decided to not get angry with the naysayers, because I wanted to be better than that.

Or when I got out of a miserable relationship that was weighing down my very soul and knew I could do better.

Or when I decided in my fourth year of teaching that the feeling of hopelessness I felt four months into teaching was not how I wanted to experience my career.

Or when I finally found a school that makes me happy and made me fall in love with my profession all over again.

Or when I decided I determine my own happiness as a [single] woman, a Jew, a teacher, and a human being.

As Robert Frost said: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And I will go on, embracing positivity and using my newfound power to make others and myself happy.

Back in History: Walking the Land

Manhattan as it was when the Dutch arrived.

Green Manhattan as the Dutch saw it.

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world.  The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

The six-lane highway is excessively traveled. The highway is not particularly lengthy. It leads a traveler through small densely populated towns and ends at the river. The tunnel is the only option if a commuter wants to continue his/her travels.

I am a regular on a bus which uses the aforementioned route. The bus I am a passenger on typically gets to the river and tunnel area around 6:25 A.M.

At this time of year, the sun has been up for a few minutes by that hour. In fact, the sun is high enough in the sky so that it is visible above the buildings which are clearly visible across the river.

I look out across that river at the crowded populated land.

The land I refer to is Manhattan, and the tunnel is the Lincoln Tunnel.

I’ve lived in the New York/New Jersey area for close to 20 years now. Yet, I still feel my heart race when I get to Manhattan. I love the energy, the pace, and the possibility.

When I see Manhattan in the early morning light, I feel a sense of wonder. While I know anything can happen on any day, my wonder goes beyond that.

I’m a history buff.

I go through phases where I read 1000’s of pages about a particular place or era and the people that populated that place and time. One such obsession was the Civil War. I read about the major battles –Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, etc.  and of the distinguished people – Lee, Grant, Lincoln – of the time period.

Another such obsession was New York City history. I read about Boss Tweed, Vanderbilt, Horace Greely, The Five Points, Central Park, Times Square, Triangle Factory Fire, Building of the Subway, and other people, places, and historical events that New York is known for.

My new phase is the Revolutionary War and the early history of America – any recommendations? I recently finished Revolutionary Summer and am currently reading Founding Brothers. Both books are by Joseph J. Ellis.

As I go through these periods, I don’t care about specific dates though I do have a good memory for such things. What I do care about are the people that make up history.  I wonder what was going through their minds, how did they view the world, what prompted them to act as they did, and did they know they were creating history.

My goal has been to understand and sense not only what was happening at the time (from multiple angles) but what people were thinking and feeling.

I love the energy and hyperkinetic activity that is present day Manhattan.

Yet, I wonder what Manhattan was like during the Revolutionary War era?

There were no Starbucks or CVS or Duane Reade. One could not tell where he/she was by recognizing the closest skyscraper.

Manhattan was green and mountainous. The terrain was rough. Unconquered and untouched.

If I could,  I would step back in time like Simon Morley in Jack Finney’s Time and Again  (he went to the late 1800’s). However, I would go back further maybe to the 1700’s or when the Dutch first landed. I’d walk that land.

If I look hard enough through the bus window each morning, the buildings fall away and I can almost see that Manhattan of old.

This was a Pizza Hut
Now it’s all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it.

‘Talking Heads’

Check out the video:

A New Dream: Grades, Friends, and Florida

Grades, Friends, and Florida.

Old Fashioned Grading Book

Grading is done on computers these days. Well, that’s one thing that is easier about grading.

The fall term has ended and with the conclusion of the term comes grading.

Grading is a lot of work. However, the most difficult part for me is when it’s time to actually put the grade in.

I’m troubled by those students who straddle the border of pass/fail like a circus performer on a high wire. I have an internal debate and never feel great about it when I’m done.

Anyway, I’m done grading now and am happy to leave it behind.

So, what’s been going on? Well, the frigid weather seems to be a topic which continues to dominate the news and conversations.  And not for good reason.

Most conversations go something like this:

It is cold out there.


I can’t wait till this winter is over.

Me too.

Both participants of said conversation stare off and sigh. Clearly, they are both dreaming warm weather thoughts.

As I was putting on my third layer (you know what they say about layers. So are onions warm?) of clothing one morning, a thought ran through my head.

Actually, my mind wandered to the Friends episode when Joey puts on all of Chandler’s clothes. The two friends were having an argument and Chandler took Joey’s underwear. So, in retaliation, Joey put on all of Chandler’s clothes sans underwear and starts doing lunges.

Anyway, that’s what I feel like every morning is like.

  1. Get up.
  2. Put on as much clothes as I can fit under my jacket
  3. Leave house while calculating how many days are left till Spring.
  4. Chant Sand, Sun, Beaches, Oh My while shielding face from wind.

You may remember my chant from an earlier post. I am still using this trick despite the mixed results.  Anyway, when I posted this blog entry, I asked for additions to my kind of crazy cold’ list.

A number of people gave me some great and funny response, and I recommend you check them out on the post (SandSunBeachesPost) or on my Facebook Page. My favorite came from my colleague Maria M.

Here it is: It’s so cold that politicians have their hands in their OWN pockets!

By the way, Maria also teaches English and as you can see from her snarky comment (a word that she uses to describe herself), we Brooklyn High School English teachers are witty.

So, you’ve got Grades. You’ve got Friends. What about Florida?

Calm down Fox. We’re getting to your home state.

By now, regular readers are familiar with my desire to move to Florida upon retirement. A glorious warm place is the essential criteria. Well, this desire has changed.

And I bet I am not the only one who has had a change of mind.

Check out this article I wrote that appeared in the paper recently and find out how the dream has changed: The New Dream.


photo credit:

<a href=””>victoriabernal</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>






A Love Song For His Children

Sometimes things touch us, move us, affect us.

The Nick and Zack Song by my fellow Dad Blogger, Bill, did this for me. Bill and I belong to the same Dad Bloggers Facebook Group. Everyone in our group knows him as the wise and sensitive sage and the best compliment giver.

Anyway, I’ve been reading his blog, I Hope I Win a Toaster, for some time now. I quickly learned that Bill is a loving father and a sensitive soul.

Besides blogging, Bill is a Stay-at-home-Dad, husband, guitar player, trained actor, and reader of books on spirituality.  Bill prides himself on being a “meat whisperer” meaning that he can take any meat and any source of heat and make it good. He swears it’s a gift, God-given and very handy.

Prior to becoming a Stay-at-home-Dad to his twin 9-year old boys, Bill spent nearly thirty five years in the restaurant business. He says it prepared him for life as a Stay-at-home-Dad.  Besides the food prep and safety and all the obvious stuff, he learned about prioritizing and triage.

Check out Bill’s post below for the back story about the song and then make sure to give the Nick and Zack song a listen. I promise it will make you smile. Once again, you can check out his blog here: Bill’s Blog.

When our twin sons were born in the Spring of 2005, I was 44 years old. Six weeks later my wife, a youth minister at the time, went back to work, and I stayed at home to look after the boys. I hadn’t had much experience with newborns – as in, I think I’d held one once. But, I didn’t have much time to learn things.

I think you can guess what happened: I fell in love with them. So, what does a guy raised up in the sixties and seventies do when he is in love? Right, I wrote a song about it. I had penned dozens of love songs up to that point but never for a couple of infants.

Listen, when a guy writes a love song for a girl he is doing it for a reason… I’ll leave it at that. In fact, I wrote a song for my wife asking her to marry me. It worked. I didn’t know the reason I was writing this song. That came much later. One summer my family and I were camping. I was playing a few tunes around a fire, and I asked Nick what he’d like to hear.

“How about that song you wrote for us?”

“Yeah,” Zack chimed in, “I love that song.”

And, we all sang it together

I love this song too, and, it seems to have done what I had hoped – it cherishes them. And, they understand that.

A while back I began to worry that there wasn’t a recording of it, so, I sat down in front of the computer, faced the camera, and sang it for them. I’m glad I did.

Nick and Zack Song