Monday, May 1, 2017

Little Birds

Today I had the opportunity to accompany some of our Early Childhood Department students on a much-anticipated bird walk. 

We set off on foot, traversing our beautiful campus in search of some feathered friends.

Along with finding and listening to the birds, developmental kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Ness and her "little birds" had another task to accomplish.  They were collecting objects with which they would build their own nests!

Working diligently on his creative nest, one of the boys 
glued a piece of branch to the side as a "camera" to 
keep tabs on his birds.  He also thought the flower would 
be a nice touch for any bees stopping by to visit.  
We think an engineering degree is in Collin's future.

Almost immediately after exiting the building, the teacher instructed everyone to "freeze and listen!"  The sound of the tweeting birds caused a wave of increased enthusiasm in the bird-watching line.  They had clearly spent class time learning the song of the robin because they began imitating the tweets in the form of a jingle. "Cheer up! Cheer up!  Spring is here!"

Birds on our campus are not a new sensation.  Some evidence:

  • A kamikaze bird flew directly into one of our school softball players several years ago! 
  • Our school community spent years watching purple martins swoop and dive around carefully positioned houses made expressly for them.
  • Almost a decade ago, my daughter and I were regularly accosted by a very particular birdsong while walking into the building.  The voice came from a rather large bird which routinely sat atop the parking lot lamp posts in the morning. This bird sounded decidedly like a W.C.Fields impersonator and we were certain it was repeatedly making fun of us as we trudged up the incline.  (It should be noted, NONE of today's birds were as disagreeable as that fellow).

Observing birds for their appealing nature (rather than tracking them for food) can be traced to the late 18th century. 

Our entourage of small students found many appealing traits in the first birds we encountered.  They were two chubby robins, their red breasts prominently displayed as they sat high atop a flowering tree branch.

These harbingers of spring were exhibiting an impressive amount of bravery since their perch was abruptly surrounded by a spirited collection of rather noisy miniature bird enthusiasts, half of whom held colorful binoculars to their eyes.

The American Birding Association has specific rules about bird watching and subsequent documentation.  No such rules encumbered our search today.  I'll admit I kept an eye out for my favorite home feeder visitor, the Carolina Wren.  

No wrens were spotted which was a little disappointing as I would have loved to show the students that wonderful cinnamon fluff and distinctive white eyebrow I so admire. 

Being able to recognize the languages birds use is an important skill for the disciplined birder. 

For my part, I love hearing random tweets and morning songs from the hodge-podge of feeders and birdhouses hanging from my porch trellis.  

Threatening calls from a hawk or the distinctive sounds of a territorial blue jay will sometimes drive my slippered feet through my back door in a vain attempt to scatter small joyful friends before they suffer oppression at the beak of a larger and less congenial visitor.  So much for survival of the fittest.  

Before reaching the nature walk portion of the campus, the class had to get a little something out of the way.

Apparently, one of their all-time favorite pastimes is running at breakneck speed down the grassy knoll.  In light of today's birding agenda, their running took the form of "flying" down the hill...our young birds flapping their arms as they giggled and tumbled down, down, down.

Safety in mind, Mrs. Ness and I collected binoculars from small necks before our adorable birds took flight.

Classroom aide, Mrs. Welby handed out plastic bags.  It did not take long before the students began eagerly searching for nest components. 

As if by magnetic pull, the troop moved immediately to a thorn bush! Their teacher was quick to redirect and before long, pine needles, twigs, grass, leaves, strings, and feathers were added to personal collections.

Onion grass seemed like a good idea to some of the boys until Mason caught a whiff of the scent.  It was soon labeled unfit nesting material and discarded.

Birdhouses and nests were discovered and there was an appropriate amount of oohing and aahing over each new find.  One such nest was enormous and affixed securely to the very top of a tall and swaying tree.  Though the only sea birds we see on campus are the occasional vagabond gulls, the nest we saw today looked large enough to comfortably seat a pelican! 

At one juncture, Mrs. Ness pointed to the top of the trees and called for the class to listen for the chirping. rapidly became evident that the bird watchers were much more captivated by a rather large groundhog hole at their feet!  

Discussion ensued about birds making homes in holes and a perfect hollow log was soon on display.

SPEAKING OF HOLES....                        

"We have a GARDEN SNAKE at our house...TO PROTECT OUR GARDEN! 

This alarming information was shared by Ellie - (with great satisfaction in her voice)! Let the record show, I will not be visiting the Shafer residence anytime soon.

The "sneaker group" crossed the water on the high road while those equipped with rubber boots stepped through the creek with a surprisingly discreet amount of splashing. 

A bluebird residence was spotted in the field and there began a mad dash to the pole.  The sudden and unexpected approach of our noisy plastic bag-wielding crowd must have surely inspired cardiac arrest in any mother bird looking on.

Sara noted that a bird entering the birdhouse hole would need to protect its wings by tucking them alongside the body.  She demonstrated this by perfectly tucking her own wings. Despite her excellent demo, the class remained unconvinced of Sara's ability to pass through the hole.

Near the end of the walk, the children found a patch of remnant daffodil greens.  A beautiful spot for a classroom nest.

A little bird told me we were going to have a great adventure and she was correct.  It was the perfect day for feathered friends and five-year-olds.  

Photos by Kathy Gordon

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hoagie Day

The springtime scent of freshly cut onions wafting from the doors of the school.  This can only mean one thing!  Another Hoagie Day on the Penn View campus of Dock Mennonite Academy.

Let’s take care of something right off the bat.  Lest debate arises suggesting these sandwichy creations of decadence should hitherto be referred to as SUBS, let me remind you where you are.  Montgomery County, PA.  There are many of us walking around in this area with measurable percentages of Pennsylvania Dutch, Philadelphia Navy Yard, and Italian immigrant blood coursing through our veins.  These sandwiches are not heroes.  They are not grinders.  They are definitely not subs.  Just humor me and say it correctly…. HOAGIES.

I’ve participated in hoagie-making every year without fail since my son was in first grade.  He is going to be 30 years old this month.  If you promise not to look at me in a different way when you realize how many rings my tree has, feel free to do the math.

Dock Mennonite Academy Dad and dedicated Hoagie Day volunteer, Tom Putera

One might think after all these years of opening rolls and laying out freezing cold lunchmeats until my fingertips failed to retain feeling...I might actually be repelled by “Penn View hoagies” forever.


Nope.  (Merriam Webster says "nope" is a real word but I guess that doesn’t necessarily mean I should use it).

After assembling and smelling hoagies in the hallways all morning, I can barely make it to 10:30 a.m. before taking at least several bites of the lovely torpedo which was supposed to be my lunch.  I blame my premature appetite on the crazy hour at which devoted Penn View campus people crawl out of the comfort of their beds to join the happy throng of hoagie assemblers.  

Good Morning, Ben!
There are perks beyond knowing you’ll get to enjoy the perfection of a school hoagie later in the day.  The early morning socializing with coworkers, parents, students (and friends who just keep coming back for more) is fabulous.  

The snacks for volunteers get more interesting every year, too.  In fact, I ate a piece of home-baked angel food cake this year in lieu of a donut.  Remarkable fuel for the rest of my day!

Over the years, I’ve learned to bring myself a hat.  There is a simple reason for this.  

Our dedicated group proves annually that NOBODY looks good in a hairnet.  Every volunteer wears a hat or hairnet.  Even volunteers without quantifiable hair!  

Former Elementary Principal, Dr. Penny Naugle and Grandma Dorothy Kratz
sporting their hairnets (circa 2011)

Bob Walters, secure enough in his masculinity to don the Hoagie Day hairnet.

Bob Rutt and Alissa Messina - 2013

Our students particularly "love" the hairnets.  (photo from our 2013 fundraiser)

Okay, MORGAN looks good in a hairnet.  She may be ONLY exception! 

Gone are the days of direct onion application “on the line.”  The onions are now efficiently prepared and placed inside individual packages for distribution rather than allowing them to permeate ALL of the gymnasium air with their mighty scent.  

I'm sure my daily dose of queasy students is grateful their attending nurse no longer smells like a bowl of onion dip.

This year I spent a solid hour fighting with the little gadget which is supposed to seal the hoagie bags.  It looks like a giant tape dispenser but as I soon discovered, it is an instrument of torture.  I tried various strategies.  Closing bags slowly and then closing bags with great speed.  Yet repeatedly, the adhesive portion of the closure tape became tangled in the plastic of the waiting hoagie bag, wreaking havoc on my patience and the perfect assembly-line rhythm I was trying to achieve

A similar catastrophe recurs when I throw myself too zealously into covering leftovers with Glad Cling I guess it could be me.... 

Student, Ben Longacre (the mathematical human force behind precisely packing 30 hoagies to a box) found a little too much amusement watching me struggle.

If you are one of the lucky hoagie recipients who received a few extra knots of green sticky adhesive on your bag closure, you can thank me later.  Just think of the hoagie calories you burned as you tried to free your dinner.

3,800 hoagies were made this year with over 3,000 additional Wawa and Landis Supermarket coupons sold.  Soups and snacks have been added to this sale along the way, providing a variety of options for those who incomprehensibly do not care for hoagies.

Current Hoagie Sale Parent Coordinators, Ben and Chris Shafer

Kaiya's smile is billboard-ready.

This annual fundraiser honors a long tradition of coming together as a school community.  Though the nurse in me wants you to know you should probably not eat hoagies every day of your life, the sentimental part of me wants to remind you there is nothing like a good school hoagie to make your taste buds sing and your heart feel pleased as punch for contributing to a perfectly wonderful cause.