A Booming Tradition

It is 6 AM on the 4th of July, 1975. On the 48th parallel, North latitude, the sun has been up for nearly an hour, but in the San Juan Island town of Friday Harbor, Washington, there are few signs of human activity. The streets are deserted, no ferry will arrive for two hours, and the tiny marina is silent. In the rickety, World War II era dormitory complex of the Friday Harbor Laboratories, which is held together by the trails of the burrowing ants and the fervent prohibitions against stray sparks from the wood-burning stoves, the students are following through on their plan to honor the holiday by sleeping late. The horn that summons the marine-biologists-in-training to breakfast will sound at nine instead of the usual 6:45.

At the stroke of 6, all plans for a morning of uninterrupted quiet are exploded.


The blast rattles the ant colonies in the dormitory and reverberates across the harbor. Throughout the dorm, heads pop out of sleeping bags and blankets. “What the [insert favorite delete-able expletive here] was that?!?” Some of them peer around anxiously, listening for the sirens of emergency vehicles, or tuning radios in an effort to hear what sort of dire calamity has just been visited on their über-peaceful corner of America.

Nothing. No one seems to care except the rudely-awakened labbies. The silence following the explosion is as deafening as the explosion itself.

It is much later in the day when one of the lab’s veterans explains the mystery; a man familiar with the ways of the place, with Friday Harbor as a town of fishermen and farmers, of salmon canners and quarriers of sand and gravel. One of the quarrymen (he said), probably the owner, decided one year, no one could say how long ago, that he was going to be the first to announce to his neighbors the dawning of the American Independence Day. Fireworks he didn’t have, but he did have the dynamite he used to blast the hills on his land into the piles of sand he shipped away on trucks and barges. So he rigged a keg of the stuff at the bottom of one of his pits, and, at 6 AM on the Fourth of July, he set it off. Evidently, he could show his face at the town’s one tavern thereafter without getting it ripped off, so he did the same thing next year. And the year after that. And so on. It became a tradition …

It is 6 AM on the 4th of July, 2007. The sun has been up for nearly an hour, but in the town of Friday Harbor, there are few signs of human activity. The student who, in 1975, bolted out of a sleeping bag desperate to know who was bombing whom, and why, lies in a bed in one of the apartments on the Laboratory grounds that has appeared since 1975 (the ant-infested firetrap of a dormitory is no more; the horn that once summoned everyone to meals is silent) and awaits the stroke of the hour …




Hey, waitaminute …


Who the hell are all these other guys lighting off dynamite? Haven’t they heard of not gilding the lily?

Oh well. Friday Harbor’s a tourist town now. The sand and gravel quarry is still there, but the fishermen are gone (along with most of the fish), so are the canneries and the farmers. The marina that was once so tiny now stretches halfway to Seattle. There are yachts tied up to the docks that would have filled the entire harbor in 1975. The fireworks display tonight will rival anybody’s anywhere, and right up close and personal too. I hope these people are impressed.

I wish to return to a time when one blast was enough.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


January’s Test:

Today we received our scores from the 5th grade writing profeciency exam we took in January, and 76 of the 118 fifth graders who took the test passed. We needed 53% to meet federal mandates, and we achieved 67%. That is pretty dang good for a school whose population is abput 85% second language learners.

Update:  I have just reviewed the data.  In my classroom, 11 out of 22 students passed,  50%.  Out of the 11 that did not pass, one speaks limited English and two are classified Special Ed.  One of the two raised his score 5 points this year, but it still wasn’t enough to pass.  The very worst score in my classroom came from a student who should have passed, but is just too lazy to bother with pushing his pencil across the paper.

+ + +

Today’s Test:

This afternoon, Ben worked diligently on the constructed response question on the State Criterion Referenced Test. He drew a food chain. He labeled it. He explained it. It was beautiful. Then he double checked his work, reading the directions again. “F–k!” He muttered. “I need an eraser.”

I turned, extending the eraser. “Excuse me?

He looked right at me as he took the eraser and repeated, “F–k!”

My eyebrows rose. “I beg your pardon?

With one hand, he pointed at the test-booklet right below the directions telling him what page to write his answers on. With his other hand, he pointed at the page number he did write his answer on. They didn’t match. “What would you say?” He demanded.

I shrugged one shoulder apologetically and nodded my head. The kid had a point.

Saturday School

Believe it or not, the kids come voluntarily.  Fifty-one 5th graders showed up this morning for a half a day of math.  We’ve done this 3 Saturdays in a row.  We aren’t teaching anything new, just reinforcing what they’ve already learned.  

The thing is, our 5th graders are smokin’ hot.  They’re ready for the test, and they don’t need any more pressure — but we’re locked into these Saturday classes, because we signed up for them, and signed the kids up.  So — right now I have 12 fifth graders in my classroom playing Yahtzee.  I am talking to them about probability and ratio while they play.  Mostly they are ignoring me and having fun — as it should be.

Today the kids will rotate between 4 different classrooms.  They will play three different math games, and a reading game.  This is our last Saturday class.  The big nasty test starts Tuesday.  I think they’re ready. 

Some People Never Learn

I’ve gone on many diets in my life.  Mostly what I’ve lost — on each and every one — is money.  So, why did I decide to try another?

This latest — and hopefully last — diet, has taught me quite a bit about myself and my healthy eating needs, so it has by no means been a waste.  And the book they gave me is quite good.  I am enjoying the class and talking to the other people.  Basically, I am not even having a problem with the diet — except:

I spent a part of my life homeless.  There were periods where I would go three to five days without adequate food.  Most days there were frozen apples still hanging off a tree down the road.  One had to eat them at just the right moment — still frozen enough to chew, but thawed enough not to break teeth.

During my homeless time pretty much all I thought about was food.  I was constantly hungry and I worried 24/7 about my next meal.  Even after I was no longer homeless or hungry, that obsession stayed with me.  I didn’t even recognize it until a few years ago.  At that point I started reprogramming my food thinking.

I do not have to clean my plate. I know where my next meal is coming from.  I do not have to over-eat.  I know where my next meal is coming from.  I do not have to worry about getting my fair share of everything.   I know where my next meal is coming from.  Just because there is food in front of me, I am not obliged to eat — especially if I’m not hungry.  I know where my next meal is coming from.

Last August it all finally clicked.  My eating patterns changed.  My food stress left.  Poof — gone.  I thanked God for the miracle and watched the scales roll back.  The weight was coming off at two to three pounds per week without effort. I found myself wondering what would happen if I applied myself — so I joined Curves.   The weight started coming off at three to five pounds per week.

So I decided to take the Curves Weightloss challenge.  They didn’t advertise it as a diet.  They said it was a class on healthy eating habits — which it is, but it comes with a 6 week prescribed diet.  Suddenly I am back to thinking of food 24/7.  I am weighing, measuring, recording — eating certain foods in certain amounts at certain times …

And even though there is plenty of food and I am not going hungry, I am constantly hungry — because I can’t set the thought of food aside and go on with my day.  I am headed once again for obsession mode — worse, doing things their way, I lost only 1 pound this week.  Losing one pound is better then gaining one, but it is not the kind of progress I was making pre-diet.

I will keep and use their book.  I will attend their class.  I will exercise — but I am going back to eating what I want, when I want, in reasonable portions.  I am no longer going to record every bite that goes into my mouth, or plan for my meals days in advance.  I will listen to my body and feed it when it needs fed — what seems tasty and right at the time.

Check back this time next week to see if my way puts me back where I should be.


If you give away seven cents, what is the probability of getting a $1.75 in return?

I told my after-school tutoring kids we were going to work on probability.  I handed each of them a penny.  As I pressed the penny into each student’s palm, I said, “Here.  I want this quarter back when we are finished.”  Each child looked at his or her penny and said, “Okay.”

A Title One (NCLB) inspector was in the room watching.   She chuckled.  “You just taught me something,” she said.  “If this works, I’m changing jobs.”

I told the students to look a their pennies closely, then record in their notebooks the chance of flipping that penny into the air, and having it land heads up.  All four of the fifth graders and one of the fourth graders wrote 50%.  The other two fourth graders weren’t certain.  With a little prompting they came to realize their coins only had two sides and, if tossed, would have to land on one or the other.  They each wrote down “half.”

They all flipped their coins 100 times and tallied heads or tails, proving that indeed, their 50% predictions were very accurate.   The next thing I did was hand each child a die and ask them make the same sort of prediction for the number five.  They all figured out very quickly the odds would be one in six, of obtaining a five.  I asked them to record in their journals which of the two games they thought would have the best odds in winning, and explain why.

After they settled to write, I said, “I need my quarters now.”  They all tried to hand me the pennies.   “No,”  I shook my head and pulled my hand away.  “You said you’d give me quarters.”

Andi’s eyes grew wide.  “We did!” She exclaimed.

Bill handed me his penny again.  “Here’s your quarter, Ms. A.”  he said.

I said, “Bill, this is a penny.  I want a quarter.”

He answered, “Your odds of getting one are zero out of seven.”

The inspector gave me an A+.