BEYOND THE WINDOW by Gail McCabe (A Student’s Pandemic Journal)

The 2019-2020 school year marks my 19th year in the classroom as a secondary English teacher. I suppose this year due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, like teachers across the country, I can now add Distance Learning Teacher to my resume. Though, I would prefer the title Distance Learning Encourager. I have always felt that the word ENCOURAGER aptly describes my role as an educator. I encourage my students to read, write, and to record their impression of the world. I try to instill in them the belief that our stories and our voices matter. Our writing is our way of making our thinking tangible – it is truly our fingerprint. Our writing is a time capsule that can chart our personal, academic, and professional growth as human beings.

Our district recently unveiled our Continuous Learning Plan and our teachers, like others across the country, have been engaging students in lessons via online platforms such as Google Classroom, Zoom, DoJo, and Google Meet.

While I have been a blogger for years, I admittedly struggle with technology. Since I live in a rural location – I too had issues at first with “Equal Access” when it came to internet connectivity. However, thanks to a data boost to my Verizon jetpack, I believe I have the issues ironed out.

I am thankful for a strong network of administrators and  colleagues for the guidance and support as we navigate these challenging times. I have to give a huge shout-out to my best friend and fellow English teacher Heather Hollands for helping me come up with ideas to help keep ourselves and our students connected and engaged for the remainder of the school year. She helped me develop a plan to have students create a Pandemic Journal and a plan/log for daily reading. (Heather credits Kelly Gallagher

I have used this blogging platform to help model a “Pandemic Journal” to my students over the past couple of days. It gives me a way to publish my writing and hopefully connect with other educators and writers. This blog was part of my the professional development goal that I set for myself last year. When I created Glitter and Dog Hair I had no idea that I would be using it in this capacity. It is exciting that I can use it to help publish not only my writing, but the writing that my students create as well.

Here are my posts from the past couple of days. I am proud to say that I even traveled out of my comfort zone and made a couple of videos to let them know I am thinking of them:

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember
Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

My instructions to my students for their Pandemic Journal were the following:

Dear Students,
We are living through a history making moment—right now! Today, tomorrow, and the days that follow will be captured in history books. Some day, you will share stories with your children and grandchildren about living through the challenges we are facing in 2020. Because these days are historical, it is critical that we not let these events pass without capturing how they affect you, your family, your school, and your community.

How we are documenting our days – on paper, on canvas, on social media, on video – will one day become a primary resource for others to reflect on. As I often say in class, “Our writing is a time capsule.”

Since you will be “schooling” from home, I will describe here the activities to be done outside of our classroom. Here are your daily writing and reading plans: 

Daily writing (via a paper notebook of some sort) 

You will be asked to write at least a page a day in your writer’s notebook, capturing your thoughts, questions, comments, and concerns about the events that are unfolding. I want you to capture this history—your history—any way you’d like. Try to spend a minimum of an hour per week writing, hopefully more! Below are some suggestions for your daily writing, but you do not need to follow them. Feel free to generate your own thinking.

Some possibilities for daily writing:
●  Capture how this virus has disrupted your school year —including sporting events, concerts,   assemblies, dances.
●  Discuss how your daily life has been disrupted or enhanced (more time with family, family dinners etc.)
●  Share the effect it has had on your friends and family.
●  Write reviews of movies, television shows, podcasts, video games, etc., that you are turning to for entertainment during this time of social isolation. ●  Respond to any idea about the crisis you find interesting. You can respond to an article, a
broadcast, a Tedtalk, a tweet, a photograph, a podcast, a film, an Instagram (or another online) post, a TikTok video, a political cartoon or meme, a song, a conversation—anything that spurs some thinking.

As the days unfold, you will be able to find new aspects that encourage reflection. This story changes every day. Be creative: Write across genres: poetry, dialogue (just capture a conversation between people), description: zoom in on a moment you experience; discuss songs that capture these events for you; find and respond to charts and graphs worth thinking about. Or perhaps you’d like to make a scrapbook. Another idea is to write and mail a letter to a grandparent or other person who is lonely or missing you. 

Flex your voice and take risks. Be honest. Try to create writing that you will be interested in re-reading years from now. Chronicle your thinking as we navigate these uncertain days/weeks. Do not forget to record the date on every piece you write.

*Thank you again to Heather Hollands for the inspiration.

Yesterday my students started submitting their Pandemic Journal entries. One of my 8th grade students, Gail McCabe, took my breath away with his journal response. Gail had already impressed me with his sophisticated writing, but his writing still caught me off guard and brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thank you, Gail for this gift. You made me remember once again why I am so fortunate to be an English teacher.  You’re a talented writer and visual artist and I knew that I had to share your response with others.

We are going through challenging times and yet, at a young age, Gail understands the importance of stepping outside our human realm to allow nature to help heal and show us the way. Gail’s writing reminded me of one of my favorite Louise Gluck quotes.

“It’s a mistake
to think of them
as birds, they are so often
~Louise Gluck

With Gail’s permission I am sharing his entry with you. Here are his powerful words:

Beyond the Window

During the quarantine, the birds have been reliable, always coming and going, unphased by the panic of the outside world. Nestled in the everlasting pine-bows, their safe haven.

I stare distantly outside my window. The pine trees sway in the gentle breeze as the birds flutter absentmindedly around the newly filled feeder. They come and go in a timely manner. Chickadees arrive early after the sun’s early rays skim the treetops, leaping and fluttering from branch to branch. They begin their distinct and sweet call at eight, then leave at one.

Chickadees have always reminded me of my Grandma, whom has now passed. Perhaps it’s their soft coos that echo beyond the birch trees or the carefree and curious glint behind their dark eyes.

Petite Goldenfinches stick in groups of five, landing in synchronization on the snow-coated deck outside the large, smudged window. They descend down from the higher branches at three but never stay for more than an hour and a half.

When the isolation leaves me feeling hollow, like a roughly tumbled rock with a single omar– I open up the door, slinking out into the dappled sunlight, and sit quietly. I listen for the soft murmur of the wind, the slow rippling of the lakeside, the rhythmic dripping of the ice– so delicately clinging to the eve of the house. Most of all, the stories the birds tell– not with their sorrowful melodies as the snow begins to fall, but the air sifting between their feathers like sand as they skip like a rough pebble through the air. I, hardly breathing, lost in the chorus of selective silence, patiently wait. I squint against the sun, of which now is skimming the surface of the icy wasteland that meets the decaying pine-needle and mossy quilt at the abrupt shoreline. Out over the ice-glazed lake, small shoals are still visible under the surface of semi-transparent desolation. I turn my head, the ice rippling as a lone duck pulls itself out from the ice-infested waters.

I breathe deeply, the air crisp and bitter from the cold, but the sun warm and radiant- maintaining the balance– of which is like an orbit– both hot and cold interdependent on the other, there is no judgment of hot without the cold,  as of, no life without death. A cycle. Plagues in themselves are a cycle, masquerading behind face masks, a timely balance of panic and composure.

Photo Courtesy of Abigail McCabe

Please feel free to comment on and share this post.

Thank you to Gail for generously allowing me to share your writing.

To all reading this post ~  please stay safe, healthy, and seek ways to discover joy in your life. ❤

Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

Earth Day – April 22, 2020 (entry written in paper journal @ 7:00 am)

“Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system.”
-Rose Hayden-Smith

Morning coffee in a quiet house. Just the occasional snore or grumble of a sleeping dog and the gentle rushhhhh of the aquarium.

Sleepy Apollo


I fight the temptation of going back to sleep after my husband leaves for work. It’s easy to fall into lazy patterns and waste the day. I am sure those who are “sheltering in place” share my struggle. Life is really thrown off balance without the regular routine of physically going to work. However, this is a reality that teachers face every year summer break arrives.

While I have gotten out of the habit, I used to always start my mornings with journal writing. The benefit of writing in the morning is it clears one’s mind, helps set the tone for the day, and charts progress from day-to-day. It feels great to begin the journaling journey again.

I’ve been spotting posts about Victory Gardens more frequently. Victory Gardens were encouraged during WWII as a way to help Americans supplement food rations and give families more fruit and vegetables in their diet. The practice of planting a Victory Garden was also used to increase morale.

I can understand the importance of wanting to feel “in control” when so many aspects of life feel just the opposite right now. Planting a garden gives one a tangible goal to focus on and gives hope for the future.

My family tries to grow as much of our own food as possible. That is one of the cornerstones of the lifestyle that my husband and I are trying to embrace. We can and freeze the majority of the vegetables that we eat throughout the year and we raise our own pigs and meat birds (chickens). We also have hens that keep us entertained and provide us with eggs all year long. These sweet girls and our two Roosters, Romeo and Odysseus, are friends not food. We lost Shakespeare, our alpha male rooster last week to old age. He lived a great life on our homestead and we will miss his soulful strut immensely.

We will miss you, Shakespeare!

While I have never been a morning person, our homestead has created a morning person out of me. Why would I want to miss views like this?!

While my husband and I share a connection on wanting be as sustainable as possible when it comes to our food production, the yearning to garden goes back to my early years. My grandfather, the late Thomas Puskala, had an epic garden in Iron River, Michigan and many of my childhood memories stem from his hours of labor. From his careful sifting of soil to remove rocks and his long standing feud with dandelions. Not to mention the non-traditional breakfast feasts he would prepare for my Aunt Christina which consisted of cucumbers and vinegar (Yes, for breakfast! 🙂 )

Grandpa Puskala in his garden. Thank you to my cousin Alicia for this photo.

To this day, the first crunchy cucumber out of the garden is heralded in my heart as a celebration of Grandpa.

I planted seeds in our house on 3/27 (tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, cabbage, squash, and kitchen herbs – basil, dill and cilantro (My step-son’s bearded dragon Harper LOVES cilantro). I also planted flowers: zinnia, marigolds, and cosmos).

We planted peas, beans, and greens (lettuce, kale, spinach) in our hoop house on 3/29.

We have a tiny house but we take advantage of every available window to start our seeds inside.

I spend all winter dreaming about garden tomatoes fresh off the vine. My husband isn’t a “fresh” tomato fan and even loves the chocolate cherry tomatoes we grow.

In April my husband and step-son collected sweet water and boiled down maple syrup from the trees on our property.

The syrup that John and Lukas bottle is like liquid gold.

My husband’s homemade waffles with fresh maple syrup and bacon that we raised ourselves.

The weather is still cold and lousy – in fact, we received over two feet of snow on April 12-13. Though it’s receding again and our duck pond is nearly open. The robins are dining with our ducks and chickens on fallen apples in our orchard and I get goosebumps when I hear the cranes in the distance – all sure signs that spring is finally here.

My ducks Dante and Lucky. You can see my husband’s maple syrup line in the background.

Romeo, one of our roosters.

Today my goals are simple. I will check in on my students and encourage them to write with me. Many are sharing their Pandemic Journals already. Their entries make me sad and smile at the same time. Most prominent in their posts is the face that they miss their friends – but they all sound hopeful.

So today, on Earth Day, I am going to embrace positivity. I am going to head outside and will finish one inside goal (I am cleaning off our upstairs landing to clear out “Office Space” for myself.

I still need to find a book to read and I will create a path for joy and growth in my life.

Yet, for the next half hour – another cup of coffee steeped in silence. Before the roosters wake up.

Here are a couple videos of our snow storm and one of my husband’s projects. We are almost ready for the roof trusses on our home addition. How exciting!

Please don’t be offended by the irony of him cutting down a tree (this video wasn’t recorded on earth day 😂). I promise we will replace this tree with several new ones!