Dog On Me

Half the time I’ve been walking this earth, there’s been a dog walking next to me. Gracie and Joker, both female, are my two constant companions these days. They’re both mutts, both were rescued and we got them about a year apart, Gracie first in 2007, making her the Alpha Female. At 55 pounds, she’s 15 pounds heavier than Joker. Gracie is a Lab, all black with a white beard, a tiny white blaze and two white socks on her rears, while Joker looks a bit like “Pete,” the sock-eyed dog from the 1930’s Little Rascals movies and 1950’s television show. You know, the dog that Target remade into one of their logos? That’s Joker.

Growing up, I took my dog everywhere. If I biked, he or she ran alongside. When I played in ballgames, they would sit near the sidelines or go play with other dogs. In 7th and 8th grade, in then-rural Abington, Massachusetts, there wasn’t a day I walked all the way home from school without Queenie, my German Shepherd, greeting me somewhere along the shortcut I took through the woods. When I started to drive my own car, my dogs rode shotgun. I could take them into stores and banks and all sorts of businesses without a bother to anyone.

Most of my friends had dogs, so paying a visit usually meant bringing along a playmate. Collars and tags? Sure, my dogs wore collars and tags. Their tags had their name on one side and my name, home phone number and address on the other. My Dad always kept up with all our pets’ shots, for their own good, not for any law or rule. But leashes? Never. Maybe I was lucky growing up, but I never owned a “bad” dog, one who would not stay, sit or come on command. Those are the three easiest things to teach a puppy, even a child can do it. And puppies are as eager to learn as young children are. My pups and I taught each other good manners, and with love and affection we learned what pleased each other. I’ve yet to take a dog to training, for anything, but I’ve known a lot of dogs – and dog owners – who needed training!

One of my earliest memories is riding on our Great Dane, Valorie, like she was a horse except I’m hanging onto her underside. According to my sister, Valorie taught me my first steps. I was rarely sick as a kid and allergic to nothing until I was teenager. Having my own dog at age ten, I learned early on it was a lot of work. It was a chore to groom, feed, pick up poop, pick off tics, de-skunk and clean small cuts on their noses from cat fights. But they never seemed like chores, and they were always bracketed with playtime.

When I started owning a home, I would leave one outside door open so my dog, or dogs, could come and go without disturbing me all the time. Jarvis was the biggest wanderer. Living in rural Northwestern Connecticut, he would roam for miles and be gone for hours. More than once, we got a call from a friend who lived about five miles away saying Jarvis was over there, playing with his dog, who happened to be Jarvis’s brother. Fine. He knew his way home, too.

And I’ve lost dogs before their time. Accidents. Sometimes with cars, sometimes with poisons like antifreeze. Queenie just vanished one day, that was the toughest of all because there was more anxiety in not knowing. It’s never easy and my initial, gut reaction every time is that’s it. No more dogs. No more heartbreaks. That would only last about two or three nights before I’d go puppy shopping.

Today, it’s different. Gracie and Joker have the run of the house and an 80 x 100-foot backyard to patrol, but they are never off the property without a leash. Except at the park, at sunup, most mornings, before the joggers are out. It makes my day, watching the sun rise and the dogs run. I’m not alone. The park is about 1,300 acres and often there a dozen dogs or more, running free. Not a leash in sight. Not on the dogs, anyway. Our town has a leash law, so all us owners carry leashes. Ironically, we wear them around our necks in case the nice policeman happens into the park.

Here, the dogs have the run of the wild. There’s a river that runs through it, and a pond with ducks to chase, and lots of natural woods and brush to explore.

I know all the dogs’ names but their owner’s names I sometimes get confused. All the canines get along, from Nadia, the Great Dane, to Taco, the Chihuahua, they play and scout together or just ignore each other. There are very few fights. When they do get gnarly, we give them a few seconds to solve it on their own, and they usually do. I can’t remember the last time we had to break up a dog fight. Us owners get along, too, as long we stay away from politics. We’re a mix of nurses, lawyers, bikers, shop owners and retirees. Some of us get together a few times a year for pizza and beer, but, really, we all have very little in common aside from our love of dogs.

Lately, I’ve had three dogs home with me a few days a week, including my son’s Maltese – Shih Tzu mix, “Trixie.” She’s a 14-week old fluff ball who is still finding her legs. She hops more than runs and can walk a few steps on just her rears while begging with her fronts. Trixie is as cute as a button when she does this, and at just three pounds she’s not much bigger! Gracie and Joker are very careful around Trixie. Gracie has adopted a motherly attitude, wagging her tail playfully as Trixie tries to catch it, and she allows Trixie to climb all over her. Trixie may be small but her little teeth are sharp. When she gets too friendly with her mouth, Gracie lets her know it! Joker is afraid of her unless Trixie is in my lap. On the floor, Joker runs away whenever she approaches. Joker likes to roughhouse and I think she knows Trixie is too fragile for her usual antics. Joker’s the same way with all the puppies at the park, too, regardless of size. Funny how they know.

Trixie has her own bed but prefers to sleep on a human, on my shoulder to be accurate. While I’m watching TV, she’ll fall asleep and snore in my ear, which makes me laugh. My laughter wakes her up, then she licks my ear and falls back asleep, and it starts all over again.

If they don’t allow dogs in Heaven, then, when I die, I want to go where they go.

So All Can Learn

So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation by John McCarthy


This exciting new book is just what is needed today! It will help new teachers, as well as those with many years’ experience, reach students in a time-efficient manner. New ideas are fine. But if one doesn’t have the time to implement them, they are not going to happen.


What makes So All Can Learn,, so relevant is that it gives the information, as well as the encouragement and resources, to create differentiated lessons today! It also shows why student ownership is essential as well as giving ideas on how to gain it. When students are involved in lesson planning and assessment, they’re self-motivated to do a good job.


I remember one fourth grade reading class. My students were of average intelligence or better but you’d never know it looking at their scores. I could see them struggling every day. This book would have been a big help! Its resources, strategies, and guidance would have given me so many great ideas and saved me so much time! Instead I had to invent the wheel by myself.


I also remember one of my favorite third grade math classes. The students came in every day smiling, happy and enthusiastic—until we got to word problems. Then I watched their moods sink. Why? Many of them were reading below grade level. They could do the math, but they couldn’t read the problems. So they didn’t know what they were being asked to do.


When I read about Assessment Fog in Chapter 3, it really resonated with me. That was the problem I had faced. Yes, I solved it, but again, it took a lot of time. If I had had So All Can Learn, with all its resources, I could have created fog free assessments much faster.


This is why So All Can Learn is so valuable. It has, all in one place, the ideas, suggestions and resources that teachers need to help create successful differentiated lessons quickly.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this piece, and would like to support the author, please click on this link:

Once the page opens up, on the left, is a link that says, “Follow the Author”. Click on it. This shows Amazon that people value John and it helps sell the book. Thanks!!!


Claire Murray, M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C.

Coffee shop Chronicles: An awkward coffee conversation

January 2017


Livonia, MI

My fingertips touch the grande cup of coffee when I think to ask, “This isn’t yours, is it?”

“Oh no,” the guy next to me says. “I watched her make mine because I got hazelnut in it. I’m trying something new.”

I didn’t really think it was mine; I was being polite. I always order a tall coffee in a grande cup so I have room to add milk. The barista set my side of steamed 2% milk on the counter at the same time she put his tall coffee down. That’s why I asked. Just in case.

It’s an embarrassing thing to touch someone else’s coffee cup. What’s the etiquette? I’ve seen people ask for a new cup of coffee, perhaps thinking of all the germy diseases that transferred from that two-second touch. I’ve seen people walk away without a second thought. Do you, the toucher, ask the touched if they want you to buy them a new cup of coffee? Touching a for-here mug, however, is that whole salad bar sneeze guard thing, except that there’s no sneeze guard at a coffee shop. Fortunately, I don’t need to worry about etiquette. Not today.

“I’m not a hazelnut person,” I say, stirring a Splenda packet in my mug. “What kind of coffee did you get?”

“Just the regular, the Pike,” he says. “I’m just a coffee guy. What about you?”

“I got a Veranda.”  He stares at me. This conversation has just turned awkward.

“It’s the blonde roast,” I explain. That’s how the Starbucks baristas refer to it. There’s dark, medium and light roast. Blonde is the lightest; Pike Place is the standard medium roast; and there’s a rotating variety of dark roast. Knowing to say “blonde roast” means you’re hip with the proper terms and slang to fit in. You know how to order a drink. You’re a regular. I’m a regular, but I still refer to the coffee by the BEAN/BLEND itself, mostly because the dark roast rotates. The average blue collar drinker uses the roast terms. Will this guy understand me?

“I’ve never had that,” he says as he pours excess, filled-to-the brim coffee into the trash bag.

Ew. This is why, I get a grande cup. Would you pour hot liquid into your trash bag at home?

“It’s the light roast,” I say, reaching for another Splenda. “It’s smooth…”

“Oh, yeah, yeah,” he interrupts me.

I’m a bit put out. He wanted to experience something new with his hazelnut. I want to share with him something I like that could turn into a new experience for him.

“They used to offer a vanilla blonde,” I continue, thinking of our shared reference of flavored syrup. I pause, he’s staring at me. I can’t tell if its stop or go, so I continue, “But the vanilla took away from the taste.”

He looks down at his coffee, stirring. I look over his shoulders at the signage board. It’s a place for my eyes to rest on before stirring more milk into my coffee.

“I got a friend who’s a coffee specialty guy. He comes for the special coffee,” the guy says.

Special coffee? What’s that? I’d like to try it if there’s something unique. “Does he come here to this store?” I ask.


“Oh, he must get the Reserve coffee,” I say, pointing to the signage board I was just staring at. Good move there. This store is a Clover location, which is one that has a special coffee machine. A Clover coffee was the first cup of coffee I had today, but you can only get a free refill with one of the regular coffees.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he says, his voice energetic, finally. He had sounded impatient, like I was keeping him from leaving or something, but now, he continues the conversation. “I call him a coffee connoisseur.”

If your speech could roll its eyes, this would be it. He wipes up his trash–poured coffee–he spilled. “Me, I’m a coffee guy.”

It’s that act of wiping the coffee that catches my eye and stops me. He’s cleaning up his mess, like he would do at home. And he’s really cleaning it up, wiping hard with the napkin and scrubbing the counter space.

‘Just coffee guys’ don’t do that. Heck, coffee connoisseurs don’t do that.  I do it when I can because there’s nothing more icky than setting your cup down on a sticky counter. Even when I put a napkin down first, I hope that sticky drop under my napkin is honey.

He says something else, but it’s that friendly garble-rush of someone finishing a conversation with no room to continue. I don’t hear what it is because I stare at his clean counter area. I was wrong about him? He takes a seat at the window seat behind me. So, he wasn’t rushing to get out to his car after all. For some reason, him sitting there surprises me. Regardless, our moment is over.

I’ve spilled some Splenda on the counter. I’d wipe it and brush it into the trash bag, but there’s a rim around the trash bag that I can’t get over. I brush the white powder on the floor instead. It’s something.

The Amazing Aruba Sandman

The Caribbean Sea smashed onto shore with nearly the same intensity as a migraine I woke with. “Stay . . . Rest a little longer . . . Warmth and the sunshine are good for you.” The self-indulgent temptation to remain in Aruba sang to me like a siren and fought hard to keep me firmly planted in paradise. A pounding headache was just a ploy to keep me from confronting my reality: my respite was over. Home—snow-covered, below zero, Michigan—beckoned. There was only time left to finish packing, shower, check-out, and drive to the airport. Rebellious, I drowned the pain with two Excedrin so I could make my way, once more, to the beach. I couldn’t fathom leaving without taking a picture of the spectacular sand sculpture that had been finished the day before.

Cathy and Heidi, my friends and travel companions, returned from a short walk and said there was a problem. During the night, the selfish tide had reached its gnarly fingers onto shore to reclaim raw materials it wanted back. Bit by bit, the ocean defiantly picked apart the seventy hours of craftsmanship that Marc Mangia had spent in building a story out of the sand.

I rushed to the shore. Marc wasn’t in sight, but other early risers were nearby, under the shade of their palapas. Five-gallon, white plastic buckets still held sand in them from days before and rested near Marc and his wife Debbie’s lounge chairs. Even in a state of collapse, the sand sculpture was impressive. One man walked slowly around the display and videotaped it from every direction. I sat close by so I could watch the reactions of others and hear their comments about Marc’s rapidly dilapidating creation.

“What a shame.”

“How awful.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It looks like the ruins of ancient Greece.”

All comments were tinged with pain as if the onlookers to the tragedy had spent their vacations transforming nature into another art form.

“No wonder Marc isn’t anywhere to be seen,” I thought. “He must be devastated, witnessing the erosion.” But when he came forward, it was clear that, all along, he understood the impermanence of his craft. He quietly conceded, “What can I do? It’s the way it is.”

Initially, the passersby seemed more disappointed in the destruction than Marc, who didn’t outwardly convey how he was feeling. He told me that he had never before seen his work wash away. Usually, his pieces hold together long after he finishes his vacation and returns home to Ohio, where he’s a carpenter and business owner. Once, another vacationer sent him an e-mail to tell him that his work was still standing two weeks later.

I continued talking with Marc and watched him closely. Fighting an ache in his back that had plagued him for days, he stooped down to his knees once again. This time, he wasn’t adding a fine detail—chiseling miniature bricks; hollowing out windows; carving his name above a doorway. He bent down so he could reach a perfectly intact, miniature clay pot that had been pushed out of place by unruly waves. Marc gently lifted the pot and repositioned it to higher ground—on the steps of an arch that were half-gone. He prolonged the life of this one tiny remnant.

Not an artist, not a sculptor, Marc Mangia is a talented hobbyist who inspires people of all ages to play in the sand.

Marc next picked up a damaged and unidentifiable part of his masterpiece. He stood to show it to me. He explained that the outer covering was made from one part glue mixed with nine parts water. The concoction was gently sprayed to seal in moisture so the sand structure would hold together longer. He crushed the clump gently between his fingers, and I could see the fine sand underneath the outer surface. He handed some to me so I could squish it too. The outside consistency resembled icing on a cake—once the icing has been exposed to air for awhile and gets a little firm or stale. Inside, the sand was still moist and powdery. It crumbled easily.

“In the fifteen years we’ve been coming here, I’ve never seen the water come up this high,” he said.

Comparably, this was my sixth visit to Aruba and first time meeting The Aruba Sandman. On the first night of this trip, Cathy and I had arrived at the Marriott Ocean Club in time to make it to the beach for sunset, but Marc’s partially completed sand sculpture stole our attention away from the setting sun. Reaching up about five feet towards heaven, a lighthouse was the focal point and served as the foundation for the rest of the display. A spiral staircase wound its way up one side of the beacon.  Another set of stairs was carved into its rocky-looking base. Beneath an arch that connected the lighthouse to a clock-tower was a small fishing boat.

The creation looked so perfect that I initially thought it was made of plastic, like the three-foot high chess pieces laid out by Marriott for the vacationers to wile away their time. With closer inspection and considering the sign that requested, “Take pictures, but please don’t touch,” I realized that the sand sculpture was amazing.

That same evening, a father and son walked up and admired yet another feature—a church. Marc pulled out a picture of the island’s Alta Vista Chapel, showed it to the boy, and explained that this part of the sculpture was a replica of the church located nearby on the island.

Cathy and I examined the intricate design further. Detailed attention had been given to each part of the sandy display. Plastic, flameless, tea-light candles had been added for night-time ambiance. It was easy to visualize the hustle and bustle of a busy seaside town and imagine its residents hurrying home after a long day of work. Anchor the boat, cross over the bridge, stop in the chapel to light a candle, and get home before nightfall.

In a jealous attempt to earn back our admiration, the night sky could wait no longer to boast of its beauty. Clouds blocked the sun and hid it from view, but it wouldn’t go down without a fight. It squeezed in between every soft crevice it found and exploded with a fury. Reds, oranges, yellows and blues lashed out and burned away the daylight in a fiery glow. “One of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen,” was spoken out loud by many, including me.

“How did you get started in sand-sculpting?” I asked Marc.

“My wife and I spend a lot of time on the beach, and I just got sort of antsy. I started playing in the sand. I figured it out on my own throughout the years. What’s funny is that I recently spent time watching others so I could learn their techniques. But they weren’t doing anything different from what I was doing.”

Those of us who appreciate Marc’s talent disagree: That’s not so, Mr. Sandman. Not so.





The fun part of marriage are the odd disconnects that make life interesting or, should we say, challenging. Years ago, for instance, we were shopping at a major suburban mall and I noticed there seemed to be few customers in the mall’s primary store, Lord & Taylor. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was nearing 8:00 pm closing time. Just then, an announcement came over the store’s sound system confirming they were closing and everyone should leave.

Now, I’d never been in a department store so late, but I mentioned to Joan that we’d better get moving. She said she’d only be a minute, so I ambled out of the entrance to wait inside the mall. As expected, within minutes, Lord & Taylor’s store lights began winking out with no Joan in sight. Then, to my great concern, a twenty-foot-high metal security gate began descending from the ceiling but still no Joan. Many other mall stores were also closing and, with few people around, there was an eerie sense of abandonment. She’d always made sure I wasn’t to worry in case she didn’t arrive exactly on time; that she’d be alright. But this fortress-like metal gate was clanking its way half-way down and it was now so dark inside Lord & Taylor that I couldn’t see her in last mad scramble to get out.

As the massive, castle-like gate thudded into position, she rounded a corner and stood there, helpless. We were well and truly separated, with not the slightest clue what to do to extricate her. This was long before cell phones, and I had no idea how to contact Lord & Taylor Security, much less the store’s main offices. Would I have to find someone in the mall and call corporate headquarters somewhere in Georgia? This couldn’t be the only occasion when a customer was trapped inside. Did Lord & Taylor offer sleeping bags and emergency rations in cases like this? Were there any other trapped last minute shopper ladies inside? I’d never inspected the store notices, so maybe Lord & Taylor offered all-night champagne parties that no one knew about, but I wasn’t counting on missing anything.

How can wives who love to shop actually purchase anything when it’s too dark to see and no sales people selling them anything?  Was this what drove the beginning of the new age of internet shopping, when they can look at a screen, with no salespeople, and customers don’t get trapped inside? In this case, we finally came upon a security guard that let my wide-eyed wife escape. Seeing her tiny, at first clinging in desperation to the wrong side of the bars, her release reminded me of a cuddly thing being coaxed from behind a zoo cage enclosure. We were overjoyed at reuniting, promising such a separation would never happen again.

Of course, the next time we were abruptly scary-separated, we were schlepping two, very large, roll-around suitcases and a smaller version through downtown Portland, Oregon’s streets, trying to catch a rail-car to the airport. It was misting rain, what else, and we weren’t really dressed for the weather. An automatically-operating inter-urban rail train finally arrived, the doors opened, and I began lifting our two, huge, overweight suitcases up into the interior while Joan waited momentarily with the smaller roll-around on the curb.

While I was still struggling with the two pieces, the doors began closing. Before I could locate and push a button to stop the entire process, the train began moving. Joan was still standing, wide-eyed, curbside in Portland’s ever-lasting mist. What to do? Semi-scary panic time. I wasn’t sure where, exactly, to get off. Joan had our airline tickets and I wasn’t even sure what airline we were taking or what terminal to use. Neither of us had cell phones at the time so, should I get off somewhere between the last stop and Portland International, or guess what Joan would do?

I decided the best thing was to get off as soon as possible, still struggling with the two suitcases, wondering how to return to the previous train stop to meet her again. But now it wasn’t obvious where the opposite direction line was located. How much time did we have before the flight left, I had no idea, but we were well and truly disconnected without a backup plan.

Saving us both, the next automatic rail-car arrived with Joan on it before a train in the opposite direction hove into view. She was waving wildly, hanging onto her smaller roll-around, and a passenger pole, which takes three hands if you’re counting. Practically tossing the suitcases inside, I clambered aboard in record time. Greeting each other again after only minutes of separation, throwing our arms around each other, was like Stanley meeting Livingston in the deepest African jungle.