Thursday, January 9, 2014

Spreading the Sunshine

Let’s Get Started

How appropriate I should receive the Sunshine Award challenge from two colleagues up North, experiencing an Arctic blast while I am in Florida for Intersession break with balmy temps in the 80's.

Here are some shots of a walk through the nearby Morikami Japanese Gardens, right down the road from where I am staying in Delray Beach, FL. I’ll also include one of the Delray Beach to bring some ray of comfort to my friends up North. How the Canadians do it in the winter, I don’t know, but each time I come down here for a week or two in December-January, I notice more and more plates from Ontario and the Canadian provinces.

Morikami Japanese Gardens
Bonsai, Morikami

Just Another Day at the Beach in Florida

My first tag to participate in the Sunshine challenge arrived from Calgary high school teacher, Pamela Hunniset; check her ““Spreading the Sunshine” post to learn more.

The second came about a week later from Wamogo High School English Department Chair Colette Bennett, hailing from the northwest corner of Connecticut. You can read her Sunshine Award post following this link:  Zero Degrees F, Spreading the Sunshine”: just that title reminds me of how fortunate I am to be in Southern sunshine.

It's funny how in today’s world we often meet people online before we do in person. I met both Pamela and Colette face-to-face at the fall 2013 National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Boston. I knew both from Twitter and Twitter English chats (#engchat), and also knew Pamela from last year’s Educational Technology MOOC, spearheaded by the University of Regina Professor Alec Couros, who was one of the first people I followed on Twitter. 

Although Colette teaches not far from where I am in CT, we met at the Council of English Leadership opening session at NCTE. She tapped on me on the shoulder and introduced herself after we heard Eric Sheninger’s dynamic Opening Address about the power of social media. We promised to meet again in our home state. As for Pamela way up in Calgary, the last time I was up there was for a Calgary Stampede and to camp in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Hope to make the trip again, though more likely, I’ll find Pamela at a professional conference.  

The Basics

As for the “rules” of the Sunshine Awards, I like how Pamela framed them in her post “Spreading the Sunshine.” Thus, I am mimicking what she did here.

Here’s how this chain letter of inspiration works:
1.     Acknowledge the nominating blogger & let him or her know when you complete your post.
2.     Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3.     Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger authored for you.
4.     List 11 bloggers to pass along the challenge. [I listed more in hopes of spreading Florida sunshine further.]
5.     Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all them know they have been nominated. (Obviously, don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.)
6.     And Pamela added criterion, which is good advice: embed links and visuals that personalize the post.

My Journey Begins

Now, on to the tasks. 

“11 Random Facts” The first three are about crashing stereotypes.

1. Statistics: 

When I was in my doctoral program, focused on English-Education, my advisor told me to take the two required quantitative research courses last because most of the English folks in the program found them a challenge. Following that advice, I held off. I enrolled in both at the end, opting for the 6-week summer format, but accidentally missed the first week of the first course. The prof told me to drop the course, but figured I would hold out for a week to see if I could brush up and get caught up. When I attended the first study group, I found myself tutoring the others, including some with math degrees and some who were district superintendents. I went on to earn an A+ in both courses. Don't let anyone tell you English majors can't do statistics.

2. Science: 

In high school, I completed a physics course in 6 weeks in the summer and became the first female in my school to take AP Chem. Both of my teachers did not appreciate having a female join the "all boys’ club." Luckily, my lab partner for the physics course was the captain of the wrestling team, and he defended me fiercely. Again, another stereotype broken; that is, girls can succeed in science.

3. Athletics

Non-athletic types should not forsake the challenge of running marathons. I ran 5, and my time in all but the last one, which I ran in 100-degree heat, was decent. Prior to training for marathons, I swam 2 miles a few times a week. But I did flunk the lifeguard-qualifying exam because the test administrator put me up against saving a 200+ pound, muscle-bound hulk when I weighed in at 106 pounds. My lack of athletic skills did not serve me well in this matchup.

4. School: 

Way back as a young kid, I skipped a year of first grade. Actually, I was accelerated after a half year of kindergarten and advanced to the end of first grade. This meant I graduated high school at 16 and student-taught when I was 19, teaching high school seniors, when I barely looked 16. The next year, I completed my master’s work and went on to teach middle school, moving from upstate NY to CT. Opting for the younger age group to compensate for my age, this worked well. Management issues were never a problem. I never thought about them: just taught and loved every minute with the students. I also took on the job of directing the Drama Club and put on 6 plays, though I had no prior experience in acting or stagecraft. Luckily, the middle school students had talent and led me on the way.

5. Powder and Ice

I learned to ski in powder at Jackson Hole joining a UConn ski team trip while a student in the doctoral program. The first day on the slopes, we were all asked to demonstrate our skills. Imagine someone shaking as the ski team members wiped down the moguls.
Jackson Hole: Wishful Thinking

I stuck it out for the week. Now the ultimate challenge was: Transferring those west coast skills to skiing the icy, hard-packed slopes of Vermont! (Remember, I said I was non-athletic. Won’t include any self-portraits at Killington.)

6. Island Fun: 

I grew up on an island where the top competitive sports were sunbathing (who could get the best tan) and surfing. I excelled at the first, and won't mention how I did with the second.

The Dunes, Near the End of the lsland

Beach Across from My House

7. Spur of the Moment: 

When I was 21, after my first year of teaching in CT, I acquired a small pack-back and comfy sleeping bag, hopped a plane, and spent the summer trekking the Greek Islands, sleeping at night on the beaches under the stars. Although I did this solo, I met up with groups, such as Peace Corps volunteers on break, hiking with them to remote parts of the island of Ios. 

Just One of Many Islands Where I Camped


8. British or American: 

While at York University, England, taking three 20th century British Literature course, I studied the works of T.S. Eliot. Just the semester before, I studied him as an American author in an American Poets course at State U. Albany, NY.

9. Poetry: I once memorized the full of William Wordsworth's “Ode to Immortality." He remains one of my favorite poets, and on another sojourn to England, sat at Ullswater Lake, imagining Wordsworth composing the daffodil poem (“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”), apparently penned there on the shores. Visited his home, Dove Cottage, in Grasmere, and took a photo with a grand niece of his who at the time was the caretaker of Dove.

Dove Cottage

10. Globe Hopping: 

Fortunately, I have visited more than 40 countries--have stopped counting. I've spent time in almost all the US states: have only about 5 more to go. Won't mention places that are my favorite: the list is too long. I did manage to make a few videos of my visit to Hawaii two summers ago. Here's one.  

If you want to hear a narrated one about Kauai, check this one on You Tube. My narration is monotone, but the photos are worth seeing: "Our Adventures on the Island of Kauai." 

11. Transportation: 

Would much rather fly to a destination than drive, and I mean for distances not too far. Sure flights get canceled and airports have turned to human zoos, but the skies are friendlier than the byways. Not mentioning the NJ Turnpike, but you get the picture. 

Eleven Questions for Bloggers,” posed by Pamela in her Sunshine Awards challenge. I received these before Colette’s, and doing 22 will make this post even longer than it already needs to be. (Sorry Colette, but did like your questions, and there’s some overlap.)

1. What do you do to escape or for relaxation?

Travel and disconnect from the Internet to enjoy the beauty of nature.  I did this when I was in Costa Rico four years ago. Here is a shot taken from the porch of my hut while in Arenal and a shot of a wild orchid, the national flower of Costa Rico. 

Orchids, Grow in the Wild in Costa Rico

Active Volcano, Arenal, Costa Rico,
Zip Lined Over the Rainforest Canopy, Nearby the Volcano

2. What film or play has captured your heart?

More than one film: Shawshank Redemption and the lesser-known films: Paris, Texas and Lone Star are three that make my list every time. As for plays, I find Death of a Salesman of interest, though it is dated, and still am trying to figure out Waiting for GodotLong Day’s Journey into Night tires me, but also fascinates me, and A Streetcar Named Desire brings me back to New Orleans, a city like no other.

Not recommending to all, but The Great Gatsby converted me from chemistry major to an English, so it holds a special place in my life. For high school students, I recommend All Quiet on the Western Front to gain an understanding of war from a teenager’s perspective. The more recent The Book Thief does the same. Both stories ultimately reinforce the theme of world peace. I’m a fan of Hemingway and Faulkner (I know white males), but also of Richard Wright and Maya Angelou. I recommend two of my favorite books, but know others would decline to put them on a list of must-reads: The Sun Also Rises and Absalom, Absalom. 

I also recommend something by the lesser known author, Andre DuBus II, especially his “A Father’s Story,” and the puzzling works of Flannery O'Connnor, including her story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," and Joyce Carol Oates’, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" This Oates' story teams well with "A Father's Story.” 

For middle students, I recommend the popular The Fault in Our Stars, and for elementary school students, and for even younger students, starting grade 4, Out of My Mind has been a hit. Most of all, I recommend that elementary and middle school teachers get involved in the Global Read Aloud, an annual event, each fall. To find out more, check Pernille Ripp's blog devoted to the project. 

4 What has been the best vacation you ever had? Greece (see 11 Random Facts above)

Although the Greek islands are now overtaken with tourists, their beauty is undeniable. 

I also loved a trip to the Swiss Alps and hiking the peaks. Got to spend 4th of July atop snow-covered Junfgrau, and the next week, traveled to Matterhorn at Zermatt.  

Perhaps the most exotic was Morocco, with its vast stretches of deserts and the Marrakesh spice market. Even enjoyed a cup of tea in a nomad’s tent.

Matterhorn, Zermatt

Marrakesh: Snake Charmer in the Spice Market
5. What are some of your guilty pleasures?

I am a night owl. I can stay up all night reading a book, writing an essay, surfing the Internet. I hate going to sleep. I used to think sleeping was a waste of time. Functioning on 4 hours a sleep a night, I was told by friends I gain a few extra days in the week. Now, I love to catch a dark, rainy or snowing morning and sleep till noon.

6. If you could travel to any one place in the world, what would it be?

This is a hard one because I could spend the rest of my life on the road and be perfectly happy. I would like to explore Asia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific islands including Mt Fuji and Bora Bora. Also, have yet to get to Machu Picchu.
Mt Fuji

7. What is your one life mantra, motto, or credo?

A cup or two of dark roast coffee a day keeps the doctor away. I also like this quote attributed to Thomas Edison: Genius is 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. And this maxim from Ben Franklin, “Early to Bed, Early to Rise makes a good man healthy and wise.” Have heard by that he meant getting to sleep early in the morning, which makes sense to me.

Photo Courtesy of Niece Lauren, My Soul Mate

8. What is your favourite season and why?

Litchfield, CT, 2012
Walk in the Woods, Down My Road, Fall 2012
It used to be fall, especially living in New England, with all the glory of the colors as the leaves change to magnificent shades. But now that season reminds me winter is on the way, so am opting for the fresh beginnings of spring. 

Talcott Ridge Walk, Near My House, Fall 2013

Horse Barn Taken from Inside Window,
Not Yet Ready to Go Outside

Winter 2013,
Used My Body Instead of Shovel to Empty Deck of Snow

9. What is your favorite band, musician, artist of all time?

Because I love the poetry and feel of “Fields of Gold,” I guess I would say Sting. Ask me on another day, I'll have another choice. 

10. Who or want inspires your writing?

The keyboard and an empty screen. Like to tap on the keys, and then hours later discover the screen is filled with words. 

11. What metaphor or simile describes your writing process?

It gushes like a stream. It used to be a dried-up lake in a sun-soaked desert because I could never get past the introductory sentences. I learned that kind of self-editing is counterproductive. 

Your Turn Now

Play it Forward: Here is my list of other bloggers to keep the chain going. Their names are hyperlinks to their blogs, and links to their Twitter Profile pages are in the parentheses. I included those links in hopes that they’ll all hook up with one another on Twitter.

11 Questions for these Bloggers, but first remember to give the 11 Facts about yourself and don’t forget to play it forward to other bloggers and to generate your 11 questions for them.

Here’s the set of questions for the above bloggers.

1) What teachers inspired you and why?
2) If you could change your college major, what would it be and why?
3) What is the best part of being a connected educator and how do you stay connected?
4) If you could make one significant change that would shift the course of education, what would it be?
5) What are your favorite tech tools and why?
6) What do you do to escape?
7) What fields/careers would you recommend to young people today?
8) If you could live your life as another person, from history or living today, who would you choose and why?
9) Would you rather be a kid or an adult, and why?
10) What is your favorite charity, and why?
11) What do you think is your greatest strength?

Image credits for photos from Flickr

Santorni: cc licensed BY NC SA ) flickr photo by derrickting:
Ios: flickr photo by Roland Turner:
Dove Cottage: cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Simon James:
Jackson Hole cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by rarejacksonholerealestate:
Zermatt: cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Martin Abegglen:
Spice Market: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Natalie Maynor:


  1. Judy,
    I loved learning so very much about you!! Your life sounds very invigorating - keep it up! Thank you for sharing, but I must decline your "tag," as I've already (although a bit reluctantly) accepted the challenge...

    I'll answer one of your ?s here, though - I'd rather live as an adult - because I'm FINALLY starting to figure things out and put all the puzzle pieces together... sort of. ;-) Thanks again for sharing!!!

  2. Your post is beautiful with all the illustrations! Totally enjoyed reading about your globe-hopping....and to read your recommendations. Agree with recommending the "puzzling" Flannery O'Connor and "The Shawshank Redemption" is one of the films I teach in the film and literature course....a masterful execution of screenplay and cinematography.
    I am struck by all your academic science and math connections....makes sense considering your blend of literacy and technology.
    Thank you for participating, and YES...we will see each other this year. My invitation to stop and see what is happening in technology in Region #6 is open to you...and your students.