I Washed My Hands. Again.

I sat down to write this, and–after just a few moments–I stopped.

I had to wash my hands.  Again.


A few months ago, I was watching a Billy Collins video when I heard him say one of the truest things I’ve ever heard about writing: “There’s a lot of staring involved.”  When I write, I stare.  A lot. 

In addition to staring, for better or worse, I’m a beard stroker.  The fact that I don’t really have a beard right now (I shaved it three days ago and started growing it back moments after doing so) is beside the point, but I guess it’s more accurate to say I’m a chin stroker.  My own chin, for the record.

Anyway, that’s why I had to wash my hands.  Not because my chin was dirty, but because my hands apparently were.  Still dirty.  They smelled like rats, despite having recently been washed.  You can trust me: whenever I do anything to make my hands smell like rats, I wash them.  

A lot of people don’t know this, but recently thawed rats have a distinct smell, unlike, say, mice or quail.  I handle those a lot, and when I do, my hands rarely hold a smell after I’ve washed them.  “Hold a smell,” as in, “retain it.”  I don’t know if there’s another way for hands to hold a smell, but it’s best to be clear.

Anyway, I washed my hands again, and now I’m ready to write.  Before I sat down, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about—that’s what led to the staring and chin stroking—but I soon found a topic right there at my fingertips.  Literally.


Oh.  Before I sat down to write—even before I washed my hands—I had just gotten home from feeding one of the birds I care for, an American kestrel.  They eat juvenile rats, which, I’m here to tell you, have a odor all their own.


Libraries.  I love ‘em.

There’s just so much in there, and almost all of it appeals to me.  While I’m not intrigued by, say, Home and Family Management in the 640s, or French and Related Literatures in the 840s, I’m definitely interested in Drawing and Decorative Arts in the 740s right between the other two. 

That doesn’t mean, though, that I won’t wander through those other two areas as I pace the stacks.

I’ll browse.  I’ll meander.  I’ll get a crick in my neck because I’ve been walking with my right ear toward the ground through all those shelves.  I’ll impulsively move from a section in the main library to the corresponding section in the “youth” area.  I’ll stand for a few minutes, trying desperately to remember what it was I just had to look up.

Music.  There’s plenty of it, even though nearly all of it is available through a few clicks on my phone.

Don’t forget video.  

And the children’s books, standing upright, ready to be flipped through in their wooden bins.

I love all of it, and I miss it dearly.

I was working out of a school library today (an elementary school, so walking through the French and Related Literatures (840) section doesn’t take long), and as I set my book bag down I heard the librarian ask one of the teachers not to touch the books on the shelves because she didn’t have time to wipe them down again after the teacher left.

I don’t fault the librarian; I worked in the same room with her for most of the day and she rarely stopped moving.  I don’t fault anyone, really.  

That little booger, the Covid-19 virus, is only 60 nanometers in diameter, and it’s messing some stuff up.

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, I hope the only place it’s found is Medical and Health (640).  You can bet I’ll walk right past it.

Big Rig

If, a few months ago, you asked me what came to mind when I heard the words, “Big Rig,” I probably would have said something about a semi-tractor/trailer combo.  Maybe I’d have thought about oil drilling, or even fishing tackle.  That last one’s kind of strange, but it goes back to my youth when I had the opportunity to go fishing in Canada.  What kind of tackle should one take?  Who knew, but it had to be big!

Now, though?  What comes to mind when I hear “Big Rig” mentioned?

A chicken.

Yep.  A chicken.

Well, and my granddaughter.

My granddaughter is learning to read, and with the current school situation I have been helping with that endeavor.  I didn’t have a lot of experience with beginning readers, since I’ve been a third-grade teacher most of my career, but I knew where to start: Talk to a kindergarten teacher.  And that’s what I did.  

After some talking and a little bit of brushing up on the basics, I came home with a handful of simple readers to use with my teaching.  I love books that are written with beginning-reader text, but–in my limited experience–a lot of them can be kind of boring.  Not the set I was able to borrow, though.  The text is good, but the pictures are what really make them great.  The series is set in a town populated by trucks and other vehicles.  Race cars, construction equipment like dozers, and even a tow truck named, yes, Big Rig.

My granddaughter really likes Big Rig.  

A few weeks after we started with that series, my wife decided it was time to start with a new flock of chicks.  Early one morning they found a home in a container under a heat lamp in our garage, and that afternoon our granddaughters came to visit them.  We’ve never been one for naming our chickens, but, well, that’s changed.  Again: Granddaughters.

So, we’ve got a Yeti, since it has “furry feet,” and we’ve got Dot because of a dark patch below her eye.  Plain Jane looks like Dot, but doesn’t have the dark patch.  The logic behind the naming process is strange, but it makes sense if you’re my wife or one of my granddaughters, especially the oldest one.

What else came out of the naming process?  

Yes, indeed, we have a feathered gal by the name of “Big Rig.”  

I suppose it’s okay.  She’s not going to answer to it anyway.

Deadlines and Trails to Hit

There are people, I’m told, who don’t seem to know the meaning of a deadline.  In the good way, that is: If they’ve got a project due next week, well, it’s already done.  Those people are on the ball.  I like to think I’m on the ball, too, but certainly not in the way they are!

On occasion, I’ve struggled with procrastination, but when I step back and think about it, it’s possible I’m overcommitted and don’t really give myself the chance to get ahead.  I don’t know.  I’ll have to think about that one some more.  Later.

I’m involved with our local Land Trust’s education committee, and have been for about 10 years or so.  Until recently, we have, of course, conducted all of our events in person, usually on one of our trails here in north Alabama.  Most of our events are youth-oriented, and the group size is typically between 10 and 25, and I love it.  With the current situation, though, we’ve had to adjust the way we do business.  Just, I suppose, like everyone else.  

Enter the virtual education event.  To be clear, the hikes aren’t virtual—the teaching part is.  Families, equipped with materials we prepare, go out with their kids and experience the preserves with a guide who teaches from some sort of mobile device.  In some ways, it’s better than a group event because the outdoors part can be done when it’s convenient for the family.  In other ways, though, it’s not quite the same.  Especially not for the leader.

To get back to deadlines, yesterday was the day I was supposed to submit the material for my virtual trail event.  Not to be anticlimactic, but I made the deadline.  I almost always do.  To be clear, though, I wasn’t the week-ahead guy; it was dark when I hit send, but still well before bedtime!  

When I think about it, I’m kind of blown away by what we can do nowadays with technology and teaching.  My wife and I went out and walked the trail a few days ago.  I took a notebook and a GPS unit (I know I can use my phone, but darn it, I paid for that GPS 15 years ago and it still works!) as well as my camera, er, I mean my phone.  I jotted down some notes, took some pictures and videos, and started to make a plan.

During a few hours over the long Labor Day weekend, I wrote up the activity in a shareable document, catalogued my photos, edited and published a couple of short videos, and gathered a few additional online resources I thought would help my eventual participants.  I linked everything in the doc, and hit send with enough evening left to spend some time sitting and talking before bed.

I really miss the face-to-face aspect of our trail events, but I’m happy thinking about the families who will—virtually, anyway—walk my trail over the next few months.  For now, that will have to do.

Always Learning!

Note to self: This is, indeed, a slice of life, but as I was writing it I found myself surprised by its tone.  Interesting.

Learning and encouragement, I think, oftentimes go hand in hand.  Learning isn’t always easy, and it’s nice to have an encouraging voice in your ear as you work toward understanding something new.

Recently, I’ve had a few experiences that have sort of refined my understanding of how those two activities–learning and encouragement–go together.

I have, for most of my adult life, been an avid user of technology.  In my early professional life, computers and automation were just starting to make inroads into the military maintenance units of which I was a member, and I sort of grew up with them.  As new technologies emerged (Windows 3.1 was pretty awesome), I had the opportunity to learn as I used them to do a few different jobs.  The nineties turned into the two thousands, and the world of early blogging and wikis turned into social media and other more-user-friendly and intuitive technology tools. 

Nowadays, I have the opportunity to help other teachers take advantage of some of the new tools we have available to us.  Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s not.  Given the current events, sometimes the process is leisurely, and sometimes it’s sink or swim, where sinking isn’t an option.

Over the last few days, I’ve been working with a teacher I’ve known for several years, helping her learn to shoot and edit screencast videos.  The process isn’t too difficult, but her expectations for herself are high and she’s quickly taken things to a pretty decent production level. 

When she first started, I found myself trying to be encouraging as she worked with this new-to-her set of tools.  (“Really, your voice sounds fine!”) As time passed and her level of proficiency grew, I could sense that my need to encourage her was diminishing.  She was finding success with her work, and that success became a source of encouragement beyond anything I could say.  At a certain point, verbal encouragement wouldn’t just be unnecessary–I think it would start to sound patronizing.  She is doing well, and she knows it.

In an interesting sequence of events just today, I left the teaching situation of my friend’s classroom, got in my car, and headed to our district’s tech services department where I spent an hour or so learning some of the basics of mobile device management (MDM) systems.  I was sort of familiar with the process, but there was quite a bit of new material and I had to work to make sure I had the gist of what was happening.  The material wasn’t totally new to me, but it was challenging, and as I was learning alongside another colleague our “teacher” assumed we were rolling along with her, and the time went well.

On my drive home, I thought about the “tech” events of the last few days.  Over the days I spent teaching, my need to encourage diminished and my learner’s success became its own motivator.  During my own learning experience, verbal encouragement was neither expected nor given.  Had it been, it would have seemed awkward at best.  If it crossed anyone’s mind, it was mine alone as I celebrated my own learning while figuring out how to apply my newly acquired abilities.  

As I’ve read over this slice, I realize that I haven’t necessarily learned anything new, but it was cool to have recognized what I have about the last few days.  I’m not sure how this will translate to teaching elementary-age children, but I’m happy to have re-experienced this insight!

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