The man, the legend, the Bard

Pip pip, cheerio kids!

As you perhaps can tell from my greeting, we are about to embark on a transAtlantic journey to the home of the Bard.  Needless to say, I think the Bard is just the bee’s knees, and I’m sure that in no time we’ll all know our onions about the fabulous William Shakespeare.  (Those expressions are British slang.  Can you tell what I’m saying?)

This week, we began our journey with a simple question, “What do you know about William Shakespeare?”


Day 1: The board about the Bard. (Notice someone was bored with the Bard…like my little pun, there?)

On day one we asked ourselves the question:  Do we really need to read Shakespeare in modern day America?  We tackled that idea by interviewing friends, high school graduates, and teachers.  We read Kate Tempest’s poem and watched her video

and read “Why Read Shakespeare”, a speech given by Catholic University professor Michael Mack.  We spent the rest of the week getting acquainted with our dear friend William.  Ultimately we learned quite a bit about the Bard of Avon and the London businessman via a powerpoint, a couple of short videos, some photos, and a few Entrance Ticket questions that allowed some of us to “eat me out of house and home”.  (2 Henry IV, II, i, 74)

This week we embark upon the plays Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.  We’re chronicling our journey on Twitter #354RandJ and #354Macbeth.  Of course, we will celebrate the 23rd of April with a Birthday Bash for the Bard, which this year, also marks the 400th anniversary of his death.  And we are hoping that some of us will be able to make an actual trip across the pond next year to walk in the footsteps of the man, the legend, the Bard.


One of the witches upon the heath. There to meet with Macbeth.


When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.


The valiant captain gives King Duncan news from the battlefield.

What would you like to see and do if you were able to visit the home of the one and only William Shakespeare?


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Play on!

Epidauros (III)Creative Commons License

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World via Compfight

Have you ever seen or acted in a play? When I was in second grade I had the role of the narrator in a classroom production, the title of which escapes me now.  Ten years later, as a senior in high school, my class took to the stage in the musical My Fair Lady.  I played a maid with one line.  Singing was not my forte.  After I graduated college I spent a summer studying at Cambridge University in England; while there I had a number of opportunities to see plays in both London and in Stratford-upon-Avon.  I remember seeing The TempestCats, Phantom of the Opera, and The Starlight Express.  

Since then, I have had many opportunities to watch amateur and professional plays at our own Venice Theater.  I love watching A Christmas Carol every December, and one of my favorite shows ever was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat performed by Epiphany middle schoolers.  I saw that show three times in three days and gave it a standing ovation every time.

Epidauros (VI)InCreative Commons Licensestitute for the Study of the Ancient World via Compfight

The Ancient Greeks were no different than we are with our modern day fascination with acting, Broadway, Hollywood, and awards shows.  They held a three day drama festival in Athens each year dedicated to Dionysus, the god of the theater and of wine.  During those three days, three playwrights presented three plays, and the playwright with the best play received a prize.

Take a trip to Ancient Greece and the City Dionysia via the BBC  and The British Museum.  Explore the orchestra and the teatron, watch the actors in their masks, climb the Parthenon, and vote for the play you like best.  Perhaps Sophocles will win again!

After visiting the sites for awhile, leave a note for future explorers as a comment below.  Have fun!

Epidaurus Theater Randy Durrum via Compfight




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Back in the Swing

A new home

A new place

Hey Kids!

Well, we’ve made it through three full days of school.  So far, so good.

In our two days together, we’ve learned about the people in our class through poetry and song.  We’ve learned about the places in our classroom and in our school where we can find resources to help us develop our minds.  And, we’ve learned about the things that will guide us to success by reading and developing questions for our fact sheets.

By far, I have enjoyed learning about the people around me the most.   What an interesting group!  When asked to describe yourselves with adjectives, you responded with this list: amazing, inquisitive, fantastic, awesome, overachieving, enthusiastic, the best, quiet, hard-working, super, multi-lingual, excited, fabulous, smart, excellent, pretty, responsible, wise, independent, beautiful, ambitious, metalhead, gamer, and cool.  

It is safe to say that the apple does not fall far from the tree.  Your parents are also: wonderful, amazing, awesome, highly motivated, supportive, proud, nice, involved, goofy, good-looking, interested, and ecstatic.  

You have all piqued my interest with your one-word descriptions!  I need to know more!

How did you get to be so inquisitive and enthusiastic?  Did you have a teacher (or parent) who really motivated you to learn and grow?  (Parents are our first teachers.) Tell us about your best teacher.  What did he/she do to help you become the fabulous, smart student you are today?

I know we’re going to have a great  year!

Untitled design

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It’s time to THINK BIG!

Hey Kids!

Here we are THINKING BIG!

Here we are THINKING BIG!


Great news!  Our homeschooling group is officially underway.  August 13th marked our first official homeschooling gathering, a book club meeting to discuss You Have A Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.  by Dr. Ben Carson, a 2016 Presidential contender.  Seven students who are continuing in traditional schools, our four homeschooling students, and three parents met at my home, the site of our summer book clubs for a number of years.


After spending a few minutes engaged in “How was summer?” chat, we passed around this cool rock.


Do you know what kind of rock this is?

Everyone who read You Have A Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G. identified it as an obsidian rock.  This common rock had a profound influence on the life of Dr. Ben Carson.  (You’ll have to read the book yourself, or watch the movie Gifted Hands to find out how.)  We watched a short clip from the film to remind us of the turnaround in Dr. Carson’s life once he started reading two books a week, per his mother’s direction.  Inspired by the movie’s snippets of the G.E. College Bowl, one of the two television programs Ben watched growing up, we discussed the book as we played Jeopardy, a modern day quiz show, with questions from T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G.  

Jeopardy at home.

Jeopardy at home.

Our categories were: Childhood, The Teen Years, Neurology, Life Now, and Think Big.  Here are a few questions our contestants answered:

What is Dr. Carson’s middle name?  (We had lots of discussion after this on what proved to be a very appropriate name for Ben Carson.  God’s hand at work.)

What class did Ben nearly fail in college?

What book does Dr. Carson quote heavily from in T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G.?

In what country is the Benjamin S. Carson School of Medicine?

What does the B stand for in T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G.?

Have you ever watched the G.E. College Bowl?  See if you can answer any of the questions.  These college kids sure are smart!  (The only one I got was the Friar Laurence question.)

After Jeopardy, and following in Ben’s footsteps as a middle schooler, we had a short spelling bee using words from the book.   The words were tough!  Hence, the brevity of our bee.  Here are a few of the words we tackled: charlatan, omniscient, retrospect, magnitude, and perpetuate.

All this mental activity made us hungry, so we had lunch, some of us continuing to talk about Dr. Carson, his accomplishments, and the first Presidential debate.  When we finished fortifying ourselves, we discussed ways that we can THINK BIG.   We decided to host a community yard sale, complete with lemonade stand, and to donate our proceeds to Heifer, International.  We read through the Heifer, International catalog, deciding what we could buy to help families in need of assistance.  Some of our ideas are: a llama ($150), bees ($30), and baby chicks ($20).

Would you like to join our book club?  If so,  read Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick by September 26th and then log onto Off the Grid to join the discussion!

You can also join our discussion of You Have A Brain by commenting on this post.  As you know, Dr. Carson is running for President.  What criteria do you think are important for our President to have?  Who would you like to see as our next President?  What do you like about this person?

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“Trust thyself”

Hey Kids!

Well, we’re off to another school year, and this time, it will be a bit different since many of us are off to new places.

As some of you may already know, the new place where I will be teaching is totally off the grid.

I first heard the expression “off the grid” when I was visiting Hawaii about ten years ago.  My husband and I were in the back of an SUV heading to a rainforest for a walking tour.  Our guide, a native Hawaiian, pointed out a house set all by itself, behind some trees, about half-way up a hill.   He told us that the house was “off the grid”, meaning that it wasn’t connected to any electricity.  The owner was completely self-sufficient in regard to power.  He also provided for most of his own food and water.   I thought it was pretty remarkable that in this day and age, someone decided to live in a such a self-reliant manner.

My new teaching adventure is similar to that self-reliant, independent man in that I am no longer connected to a school.  This year, I will be teaching a small group of homeschooling students.  Cooper and I will be learning all subjects, with the exception of math, together.  Peter will join us for language arts.  Emmalee, Juliana and Ellie will join us for special events like book clubs, field trips, and curriculum days.  And who knows?  We may find some more friends along the way.

I have taught in a lot of settings: public high school, public middle school, Catholic elementary school, and a detention center for juvenile boys.  I have never been totally on my own before, so this is a new adventure.

Although it is different, and I am a bit nervous, I think I am going to LOVE it!

Joseph Conrad

In honor of our new adventure, I have changed the title and theme of our blog.  Not to worry, though; all our old posts are still here, and currently, so are the links to the blogs of all the students who have not yet graduated.  How do you like the new title and theme?

P.S.  Whose famous line is “trust thyself”?  What is the name of his well-known essay?

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Summer Reading 2015

A cup of tea, a summer morning, a long awaited is good.

A cup of tea, a summer morning, a long awaited book….life is good.

Well, hot diggity dog, kids!  Summer is here!  YAHOO!  

And you know what that means, right?  Time for……..READING!  YAY!  Happy dance!  If you’re anything like me, you love summer because it is a season when we are able to do everything we love but have been putting off until we have time.  In June, July, and for some of August, we have the luxury of time.  Time to rest, time to exercise, time to spend with family and friends, time to vacation or to staycation, and time to READ!

Whoop, whoop!

What books are you planning to read this summer?   My list includes:


House of the Red Fish, (the sequel to Under the Blood Red Sun) by Graham Salisbury

(Remember our Skype visit, kids?  Also think about Eyes of the Emperor and House of the Bamboo Rat)


A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, by James Shapiro

a year in the life of william shakespeare

Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, by Lee Cockerell

creating magic

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd


Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury


and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Life of Pi

If you need help finding a good book, try DOGObooks Summer Reading list and program.  Kids write all the reviews on DOGObooks; this year 78 books made the summer reading list,  and 76 books are offered as prizes for those who participate in the program.  Now is the time to find a good book, immerse yourself in another time and place, and then start a conversation by writing about your book adventure here.

Let the adventures begin!

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Writing with Mrs. Rombach Reads

Hey Kids!

Through the wonder of blogging, we have found a great new class!  Mrs. Rombach and her readers, whom we have visited a bit in the past, have sent us some prompts so that we can write interactive stories with them.

How cool is that?  (Mrs. Rombach has also shared a very creative and fun method of working on vocabulary, but I will save that secret for another day.  Teachers are required by Teacher Law #65113 not to allow too much fun into any one day.)

So today, we can finish a story that has been started by a member of Mrs. Rombach’s class.  We also get to share prompts with her middle schoolers at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn, Virginia.

So let’s put on our author hats, and get writing!  Perhaps one of us will be the next Graham Salisbury.  You never know what the future holds.


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Happy Mother’s and Father’s Days!


My mom and I; Christmas Day, 1969. I’m riding my horse, Patches.

My mom and I; Mother's Day 2014

My mom and I; Mother’s Day 2014

What will you do this year to let your mom and/or dad know how much they mean to you?  Did you know that Mother’s Day began as a day to spend in church and in writing a letter to your mom, letting her know how much she meant to you?  Father’s Day was begun by a woman whose own mother had passed away and who wanted to honor her dad.

When I was growing up, my dad wasn’t around very much.  He ultimately left our home when I was nine, and he died ten years later.  There were times he was a great dad, but there were lots of times he wasn’t.  My mom really had her hands full taking care of us three children, working as a nurse, keeping the house up, and dealing with my dad.   I think she did a great job.  My brother became an Eagle Scout and is now the CEO for the Boston Boy Scout Council.  My sister and I are both teachers.  We all have our own families and homes.  None of us would have the lives we do if it weren’t for all the sacrifices our mom made for us growing up.


Here are some of my favorite stories about my mom.

When I was about 12, we didn’t have any money for a Christmas tree.  My mother, being the resourceful New Englander she is, got a rusty old saw from the cellar, opened our living room window (which was about 15 feet off the ground), sat with one leg dangling out the window, and began sawing off the top of a pine tree that hugged our house.  She succeeded in getting us a four-foot Christmas tree and in changing the shape of our two-story pine from a triangle to a trapezoid.  She went out to the front lawn where the treetop had fallen, hauled it into the house, set it onto a table to give it some added height, and voila!  Problem solved.  I didn’t love the tree, nor did I love explaining to my friends why we had such a puny tree or why our outside tree had been amputated, but I did love the way my mom took care of us without asking for help or pity from anyone.  She is resilient.

Another time when I was around the same age, we were on a picnic at Castle Island in Boston.  It started to rain, and so my mom put a dish towel on her head and began “running” for the car.  My mom has not really been a runner since she was about five-years-old.  To my junior high way of thinking, she looked crazy, but she was laughing despite the rain, the ruined picnic, and my clear disdain for her dishtowel rain hat.  Even at the time, I still loved the way she laughed at the whole situation, which was beyond her control.  She was able to look at the big picture of our family together, running in the rain, and overlook the fact that the evening did not go as planned.

My mom has taught me a lot by the way she handles adversity.  It is often through adversity that we grow, and guess what?  Without rain, that pine tree next to my old house would never have been able to re-grow, so that today it once again stands two-stories high and is a perfect isosceles triangle.

The house I grew up in.  The pine tree is around the other side of the house, but you can see how high the first floor windows are off the ground.

The house I grew up in. The pine tree is around the other side of the house, but you can see how high the first floor windows are off the ground.

What do you need to thank your mom or dad for?

What is the funniest story you can think of that involves your mom or dad?

How does your mom or dad inspire you?

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A star danced, and under that I was born…

Happy 451st Birthday, Shakespeare! on PhotoPeach

Happy Birthday, William!

The 451st Birthday of the Bard was celebrated in grand style around the Globe (pun intended) on April 23, 2015, and of course, we had to get in on the festivities.  From Stratford-upon-Avon to New Jersey and Florida, Shakespeareophiles acted, danced, read, dueled, and ate cake, all in homage to London’s finest playwright.  You can follow the worldwide merriment at Shakespeave Lives Here, part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

In our little hamlet on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico,  we trumpeted our procession and waved our flags from the “cradle to the grave”.  After processing to our courtyard, the Bard ceremoniously passed the quill to our head student.  We unfurled our flags and released our black and yellow balloons before heading to the final resting place of our honoree, where we laid flowers on his grave, making sure not to move his bones, and recited some of his famous floral verse.  Eventually we made our way into our classroom for cake and ice cream, followed by the reading of birthday poems on lovely, homemade birthday cards.  No party would be complete without games, so we finished our revelry with a Shakespeare Academic Bowl.  Eight teams, including one parent team, answered questions during four rounds of play to determine the team with the most knowledge of Mr. “Shakspere”.  Needless to say, a student team won goody bags of British treats, but a good time was had by all.

What was your best birthday celebration?

(P.S.  Do you know what Shakespeare play is alluded to in the title of this post?)


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Long live this, and this gives life to Thee


Paula Simoes via Compfight

A Google search of Shakespeare locates 129,000,000 results.  WOW!  Imagine that.  Our friend William Shakespeare is still going strong, even at 451 years of age.  After all this time, we are still uncovering new theories about London’s leading dramatist.  Some of the most recent information written about the Bard revolves around the discovery of an additional play, Double Falsehoodwhich has long been attributed to another writer named Lewis Theobald, but which according to new research, was most likely penned by Shakespeare, with some collaborative effort by his friend John Fletcher.

See?  There are always interesting things to learn about our friend, Bill the Bard.

What else can you discover about the poet and playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon?  Visit a couple of these sites suggested by our students and share some knowledge gleaned in a comment below.

Kyle suggests Absolute Shakespeare for absolutely everything you need to know about the Bard.

Shane, Emma, Grace, and Courtney advise you to read and watch a biography of Shakespeare at

Lizzy says Shakespeare is easy to understand if you check out NoSweatShakespeare.

If you want to know more about Shakespeare as a poet, try offers Sophia.

One of Lexi’s favorite Shakespeare sites is  You can spend hours and hours in here!

To learn how Shakespeare is faring on this side of the pond, try Shakespeare in American Communities suggests Brianne.

Let’s learn about Shakespeare!




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