Archive for the ‘story’ Category


AI – Save Humanity?

May 2, 2023

Beginning conversations

Recently I joined a book group. I’ve never been part of a formal ‘book group’ (secret is out). I’ve never been interested and truth be told its only recently that I’ve been reading books at a very fast rate, now that my schedule allows. I like this book group for several reasons. It’s pretty non-traditional, no one book is read and discussed like in traditional book groups. Actually, its one of the reasons I decided to join the group. We gather over lunch monthly and each participant shares books, films, podcasts and other forms of stories and ideas. The participants are retired educators who have a keen interest in education and other interesting and sometimes challenging topics. At our April gathering we each shared a poem in recognition of National Poetry Month.

At more than one gathering the conversation has included AI – Artificial Intelligence. I’m certain as we learn more that the conversation will continue. I’m reading and learning about what AI is, where it is, and the potential impact on the world. A 60 Minutes episode from a couple of weeks ago provides foundational information that I suggest you take the time to VIEW. It’s very informative and important as educators that we inform ourselves.

You can google AI and come up with the definition but until you begin to ‘see’ and experiment with the online tools I’m not sure it will provide you with the understanding to consider the impact on education. For example, think about this: The sum of all human knowledge is online. AI is replicating the brain. What are the implications on education? What is the impact on art making? AI can solve problems in very little time compared to the brain. Is humanity diminished because of the enormous capability of AI?

Visual artist Jonas Peterson is creating art work using AI. His collection of art called Youth is wasted on the young is an amazing collection that is his way of celebrating the ‘old’ and a comment on ageism. He used fashion to highlight the personalities of older people. Jonas is a photographer but in this collection he uses AI to create scenes, the people and what they’re wearing. In his own words:

I give specific direction using words only to a program, lenses, angles, camera choice, color theme, colors, styling, backgrounds, attitude and overall look and the AI goes to work, it sends back suggestions and more often than not it’s completely wrong, so I try other ways to describe what I’m after, change wording, move phrases around and try to get the AI to understand the mood. It’s frustrating mostly, the AI is still learning, but getting any collaborator to understand you can be difficult no matter if it’s a human or a machine. After a long stretch of trial and error I get closer to a style and look I want and after that it comes down to curation, picking the renders I believe go well together, I start making it a series. To me the process is similar to that of a film director’s, I direct the AI the same way they would talk to an actor or set designer, it’s a process, we try over and over again until we get it right. Should I get all the credit? God, no, the AI creates with my help and direction, it’s a collaboration between a real brain and an artificial one.

You might be thinking or asking, is this really art? Do I want my students to use this in their art making? Here are some of my thoughts and questions. AI exists in the world. Microsoft introduced ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, in November 2022. Bard is a conversational generative artificial intelligence and was released in March 2023. How should educators learn about AI? Should we leave it up to students to teach us? I’m sure that this will be the next wave of education professional development offerings, in person and online.

Jonas Peterson said:

I’m not here to debate the process, I’m a professional photographer, writer and artist myself, I understand the implications, how this will affect many creative fields in the future. I’m simply using a tool available to me to tell stories, the same way I’ve always told stories – to move people. To me that is the point of this, not how I did it. Dissecting something will almost always kill it.

You can learn more about Jonas’s work by googling him and also at this LINK.

I’m sure I’ll circle back to this topic in future blog posts. If you have questions or comments that we can all learn from please don’t hesitate to comment at the bottom of this blog post. Thanks!


And Away I Went – Traveling and Learning

April 4, 2023

Hawaii – Aloha!

My word for this Spring is flexibility. I am fortunate to have the flexibility to make a schedule that is all but perfect for me. (And, I am reminded periodically, nothing is ‘perfect’). The trip I recently returned from was amazing and part of it is due to the flexibility I presently have in my life. This blog post contains my ‘story’ accompanied by photos which is about my learning adventure in Hawaii on the islands of Kauai and the Big Island – Hawaii. It’s quite lengthy but I’ve learned no sense in telling only part of a story. I learned something every day on our adventure and realized how much I didn’t know. WOW! I figure when I’m really old that someone can read my travel journals to me and I can relive the sweet moments. I LOVE TO TRAVEL!!! Fortunately, I had wonderful travel partners; my husband Don and during part of our trip one of our sons, Nicholas joined us.

My recent travel story starts with this Walt Disney saying:

Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious — and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Day 1 travel to Hawaii…

We traveled on the 4:45 am bus from Portland to Boston, Logan airport. Our flight was direct to Honolulu on Hawaiian Air, just over 10 hours, 5,109 miles. We took a second plane to the island of Kaua’i in time to check in to the Kaua’i Inn, have supper and crawl into bed. Five hours behind Maine time, it was a 21 hour day.

First sightings, surprises, wowzer moments:

*hot (80 degrees) and humid but not so bad because the wind is very very strong. (quite different than the near 0 degrees we left at home), (my hair has gone from curly to tightly curly)

*color of water is indescribable

*first sighting stepping out of the airport: Suburban w surfboards on the roof rack

*there really is a wiki-wiki bus here

*the economy is based totally on tourism (people in service jobs are sooo friendly)

*sky is always changing, very dramatic

*can’t tell where people are from, by their cars, because everyone who is visiting that’s driving, has a rental car (it’s an island)

*many travelers, mostly older people

*there are chickens EVERYWHERE!! (more on that later)

Kaua’i Inn

Day 2, the adventure really begins…

I can’t stop smiling w bugged out eyes. Soooo many different sights to take in. The biggies for today:

*moved into our Airbnb in Kapa’a on the island of Kauai, where we’ll be for 6 days. Rows of small attached homes.

*visited Alekoko Fish Pond at Menehune Pond Lookout. The river below was fast moving water, thanks to the tide and wind. Six double kayaks spotted. Restoration area run by volunteers and a non-profit. Site is listed on US National Historic Register. They’re working to remove 26 acres of mangrove which is an invasive species. This will help restore the native vegetation, wildlife habits and traditional forms of food production. Next to the river we could see children with shovels and wheelbarrows hard at work. The funniest thing was looking down at a post at the edge of the pullout and seeing a sticker: North Haven Oyster. So far from home, yet so close!

*headed west along the coast to Shipwreck Beach to see BIG waves, surfers, sun, beautiful sand, amazing color water, some beach goers and wind (30 knots). We took a trail that meandered up and along the waters edge. What a gift to my eyes-stopping to breathe deeply and exchange greetings w others out for a hike.

*amazing lunch at a tiki looking spot, waitress was delightful. Kale salad w beets, fruit, goat cheese, macadamia nuts and the most delicious figs!

*Spouting Hole was similar to Acadia’s Thunder Hole. The lava rock along the coast is so different.

Grateful for another day in this US state, the farthest from our home!

Alekoko Fish Pond
Shipwreck Beach
Spouting Hole

Day 3, based in Kapa’a on the island of Kauai

The weather is unusually windy, the water temperature always between 70ish and 85ish, and at any time of the day suddenly it rains for 3-10 minutes.

Today we each did something we love.

*Don went fly fishing for Bone fish w a guide. They wear these water shoes that look like light weight plastic hiking boots. They’re pretty rugged to protect feet from being cut on the rough surface covered w various sizes of coral. They waded about 75 yards out in the water close to the coral reefs. Water is fairly shallow, up to his waist. When Don looked over his shoulder there were 20 foot waves not far off. The work of the reef. He had three fish but didn’t catch any. He saw about 20 giant turtles swim close by.

*Nicholas went for a hike on the northern part of the island. Part of the trail was through lush green grasses and it went down to a beach.

*I spent time at the beach, breathing deeply, walking, soaking up the sun, reading and taking in the amazing beauty of the water colors changing, and watching the waves breaking at the reef.

*We stopped at a juice stand where I drank coconut milk direct from the coconut and fresh coconut.

*Our evening was spent at the Smith family Luau. A unique experience! The business has been in the family going on 5 generations. Our experience started w a tour of the gardens, on to the Imu Ceremony – digging up the pig that had been cooking for 5 hours. On to a delicious supper including Mahi Mahi, tomato salmon salad, mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, Chinese fried rice, Adobo chicken, purple sweet potatoes, teriyaki beef, poi (root of taro), green salad w traditional Hawaiian dressings, and of course pork. Drinks: mai tai, pina colada, Longboard beer (local).

Desserts: coconut cake, variety of jello’s and delicious Hawaiian rice pudding

Afterwards we had instructions on how to do a traditional hula dance. From there on to the Lagoon Theater for the Luau show which included history and traditional culture explaining the contributions that blend together in Hawaii. About 12 different performances from Philippines, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Japan. Fire and drumming included. Overall it was a good introduction to Hawaiian culture. Part of the US, yet so different.

pathway to the beach
Coral reefs not far from the beach
The meal at Smith Family Luau
Hula dancer at the Luau

Day 4, based in Kapa’a, island of Kauai

We’re a 3 minute walk to the beach so we headed out the door for the 6:50 sunrise. Even w clouds the sunrise was a beautiful sight and only got more amazing as the sun ascended from the horizon.

We spent the morning at the Hole in the Mountain Farm where they grow Sugarloaf pineapples. They’re white and it will be impossible to ever eat a pineapple bought locally again. Sugarloaf pineapples don’t, in any way, resemble the taste of any pineapple I’ve ever eaten!!! The farm, owned by Jude and Paul Huber, is 38 acres of well drained soil, ideal for growing Sugarloafs, where they’ve work extremely hard to get to the point of harvesting 250,000 pineapples a year.

We learned:

*there are 4 ways to grow pineapples-from seed, planting the crowns, slips and suckers

*takes 18-24 months to grow a pineapple

*Jude and Paul are science nerds and instead of watching TV at night they read research papers

*reading and learning and experimenting has led them to being able to get 39 plants from 1

*each plant grows only 1 pineapple at a time, planted 3 across in each row/bed

*plant a field every 2 weeks in order to have ripe pineapples year-round

*sell them at 2 farmers markets on the island and ship them anywhere

*we saw the pineapples in all the stages, my favorite was the red heart stage

*learned how to plant a crown, harvest a pineapple, cut it for eating

*machines do not plant or harvest pineapples, both are done by hand

*pineapples don’t ripen on the kitchen counter. Pineapples should be harvested when ripe. On the counter they only get softer, more colorful, more aromatic.

*4lb pineapple is ideal for Jude and Paul to grow which they sell for $4 lb

*they’re grateful for their 2 full-time, 2 part-time employees who they pay $33 an hour

*left the farm w 5 small pineapples that we picked, and w the taste of pineapple ice cream that was soooooo yummy!!

Paul and Jude are 70 and 68 years old. For fun (and for years) they go to Alaska, jump out of helicopters on snowboards.

During our adventure at the farm we were rained on twice. These rain showers come on quickly and last 2-10 minutes. The wind continues to blow throughout the day and night keeping it cool and comfortable.

In the afternoon we walked part of the 4 mile path to the lot w a bunch of food trucks and had Mahi Mahi fish and chips. Yum!

Sunrise in Kapa’a
Beginning stages of pineapple
3 pineapple plants across each row
1 pineapple plant grows on each plant
We planted and picked pineapples and took 5 to our home away from home – delicious!

Day 5, based in Kapa’a, Island of Kaua’i

Our Airbnb comes w toys, one of which is bikes. We’re a 1 minute ride to the 4 mile bike/walk path that goes along the ocean. We started our day w a ride stopping along the way to read the signs and learn some of the history of the area. Like the first railroad in Hawaii was built on Kauai which moved some of the harvested sugar to the wharf for shipping.

Today’s highlights:

*we drove 20 minutes up the mountain to where Don met his local guide Jordan for some small mouth bass fishing in the river. He had so much fun and caught a few fish. As Don says “it’s always fun to fish somewhere different than Maine to compare. And fun to see how a different outfitter does business.” The Eucalyptus trees were AMAZING!! They looked like someone had a giant paint brush and a variety of colors and painted long stripes. Sooooo tall-maybe 100-200ft. It was wet at this higher elevation and our shoes were covered w the reddish-brown dirt. There were murals on the bridge that were painted by the local high school students.

*while Don fished Nicholas and I meandered down the mountain stopping at Opaekaa Waterfalls and a view of the highest part of the island, 5,243ft where 400-600 inches of rain falls each year. The wettest spot in the world. The Hindu Monastery was immaculate. The bamboo walkway was serene and the statue of Lord Hanuman was brilliant.

*we explored around downtown Kapa’a. Local thrift store, fabric store, potter’s studio and shop, trinket shops and food truck stop for Thai food for lunch.

*our day ended w delightful Hawaiian music and hula dancing. The most interesting dance called Poi is done w balls suspended on a flexible cord. They are swung around in different patterns. Children use them to increase their flexibility, concentration, and eye hand coordination. I wonder if anyone has researched the Poi dance to learning?!

*today is Girls Day in Hawaii. We were delighted to see Girl Scouts selling cookies outside the grocery store!

*todays highlight for me was visiting the potter. Dean K McRaine of LightWave Pottery. He uses a process similar to jewelry made out of Sculpey. He uses color clays to create intricate designs in 12”x12”x16” blocks. He takes slices off of the block and makes mugs, cups, plates, and other items. He started doing this a few years ago after being a production potter for 30 years.

Don fishing in the river
Mural painted by local high school students
Eucalyptus tree
Pottery of Dean K McRaine of Lightwave Pottery

Day 6, in Kapa’a on the island of Kauai

Today was the first day without crazy winds, it was definitely warmer and the sun felt stronger.

We headed north to Hanalei (yes, the Puff the Magic Dragon Hanalei) for a farmers market.

Stopped at a lookout with a view of Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. Sectioned plots of land where we could see different stages of Taro (or Kalo) growing. They are having success working to reverse the decline of wetlands and taro to support water birds. The view was beautiful!

We walked down to the Hanalei Beach passing by a surfboard exchange. Just like our ski and snowboard exchanges in Maine!

Next stop was the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. (If you go be sure to make a reservation). We were in awe-the sounds, the colors, birds in flight, the stunning view in every direction and the lighthouse. Some facts:

*US government realized in 1909 that a lighthouse was needed in this location when shipping increased between Asia and the west coast. They purchased 31 acres from the Kilauea Sugar Company for $1. There were no roads or motorized vehicles at the time so they had to bring supplies by boat to the leeward side. Everything was loaded onto smaller boats and brought around to the 568ft bluff, taken by derrick crane to a narrow gauge inclined railway and moved up the cliff. Even w all this effort needed they completed building the lighthouse in less than a year.

*Light keepers lit the lamps everyday at sunset and kept them burning all night (just like Abbie in Maine). In 1976 the original light was replaced by an automated one. In 2014 LED solar power replaced the rotating beacon which is visible 11 miles out to sea. The lighthouse has 4 floors plus an 11 foot basement, unique to this lighthouse. 10 years ago a full restoration of the lighthouse was completed. The lighthouse is located on the northern most tip of Kauai.

*the point protects and supports native bird populations including: the nene (Hawaiian goose) which is a new bird for Don’s bird list, Red and White-tailed Tropicbird (they are the coolest w 2 long skinny tail feathers), Layson Albatross (huge w 6.5 foot wingspan), Great Frigatebird (the name comes from their quick maneuverability w a 7ft wingspan), and my favorite, the Red-footed Booby (amazing beak, face and feet colors). It was so fun to see and hear and watch these birds swoop, feed, collect for nest building. It was a thrill to see a Humpback Whale-surface about 8 times!

Soooo grateful for the opportunity to visit the refuge. What an amazing and beautiful day!

Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge
Surf board sale
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Looking from the refuge to the thousands of birds

Day 7, based in Kapa’a, Kauai

We had a magical day in Waimea Canyon State Park. Some call it the Grand Canyon of Hawai’i. We left Kapa’a early to make the over hour drive to the western side of Kauai. Up we went to over 4,000 feet. The terra cotta color soil was hard and muddy in some places. The sky was blue in spots and the clouds moved in as the day progressed. Soooo many trails to pick from. The views were spectacular! The history and environment explained in many ways along our day. The pictures tell the story best although they don’t capture the enormousness of the canyon. It was a long and exhilarating day in the park that ended back in the town of Waimea for the famous JoJo’s Shaved Ice.

Waimea Canyon State Park – every sight was spectacular
Waimea State Park just before the fog moved in
Jo Jo’s Shaved Ice is very popular in Hawaii – we found it similar to snow cones

Kaua’i, some of the highlights not included above:

*Our Airbnb called Kapa’a Garden Apartments had art everywhere inside and out.

*Some of the foods we enjoyed on Kauai’i: Mahi Mahi, Poke Bowls, sushi

*the local signage

*flowers and plants everywhere – so beautiful

relief made of plaster on the outside of our airbnb
a door on the inside of our airbnb
on the porch of our airbnb
one of several signs
this is an understatement
One of the many yummy meals we got at food trucks
ferns not open yet but looked like giant fiddleheads – about the size of a hubcap

*CHICKENS CHICKENS CHICKENS everywhere on Kauai. What’s up w all the chickens here? Wellllll… one of the story goes like this…

There were two major hurricanes that damaged the island of Kauai and scattered the chickens. One in 1982, Hurricane Iwa and 10 years later, Hurricane Iniki. No one could identify which ones belonged to whom. It was declared that they would be left to roam freely. They estimate that there are 450,000 chickens running amok on Kauai. The population of Kauai is 73,000. Yup, for every local resident there are 6 chickens. No hunting season on them (unlike wild goats and pigs), the only predator – people (cars). the locals are used to their constant clucking and cock-a-doodling. Most of the day and night! In fact, we’re used to the sounds now as well, sleeping through the clucking!

chickens everywhere
all colors
chickens in Waimea Canyon

Day 8 travel from Kauai to the Big Island

We flew from Lihue Airport to Honolulu. Picked up the rental car and drove across the middle of the island on Route 2000. If you look at a map of the island there are mostly only roads along the perimeter where most of the residents live.

Our eyes feasted on a very different environment than what we had experienced on Kauai. Black lava rock, flat w high jagged mountains in the distance, big big sky (reminded us of Wyoming). We heard that the high peaks had unusual snowfall and sure enough, there it was! Both mountains Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

We landed in Kea’au for the few days, not far from Hilo.

Day 9, island of Hawai’i, Kea’au

We left our Airbnb at 5:30am for Volcanoes National Park, a 40 minute drive. We walked about 1/2 mile following the signs saying ‘eruption viewing’. We viewed no eruption however the site of the crater of Kilauea and everything we set our eyes upon in the park, was magical! The photos don’t match what we observed. Hopefully you can get a sense of this unique place!

Here’s some of what we experienced and learned:

*Hawaiians believe that the Goddess Pelehonuamea-Pele of the Red Earth, home is the caldera of the volcano Kilauea. They’ve observed and learned from the deity Pelehonuamea.

Ika nana no aike – By observing one learns

For centuries Hawaiians have come to the caldera to pay homage to the ever-present life force that embodies all things volcanic. They believe in ‘mana’ – a supernatural or divine power.

*Today’s scientists are able to use what they learn from the frequency of the eruptions. This info sheds light on how our planet works and lead to better predictions for the future eruptions, ultimately saving human lives.

*The first volcano observatory in the US was established at Volcanoes National Park in 1912.

*We could see the steam rising from the caldera as we watched the moon set over Mauna Kea. And we were surprised to be watching w only two other visitors.

*We traveled along the rim and the view of Mauna Loa covered w snow was along our trail. The Hawaiian’s have been very surprised about the snowfall.

*We walked on trails among the steam vents that are formed due to cracks in the earth. Rainwater soaks into the ground, finds hot rock and vaporizes to form steam.

*The visitor center opened at 10 and many cars started arriving. Again we only see Hawai’i license plates (on an island) so we don’t know where people are visiting from like we do in Maine.

*Next stop-the 500 hundred year old lava tubes where 2000 degree lava once flowed. They were discovered in 1913. It was like walking down into a cave. Luckily they are lit w torches during the day. On a side trail I saw a wild pig. There are tall fences to keep wild animals in certain areas so they don’t destroy the habitat.

*I was blown away by the Petroglyphs. They know of 23,000 in the park. Their purpose was to record travel around the island, express consideration for human longevity and well being, communicate current and past events, and mark boundaries and trails. Not to mention many are beautiful creations. We saw a large mound with shallow holes of various sizes. The umbilical cord of newborns were placed in a hole w a rock on top. In the morning the cord is gone which insures long life for the child.

*The Sea Arch is an example of the force of water. Over time the arch has shifted and eventually will no longer be recognizable as an arch.

*Driving through the park is almost indescribable. The hills covered w hardened lava are like large fields, some grey, some black. The newer lava appears blacker and almost looks like a map showing rivers. Close up the lava rock looks like cow pattys or brownies just spread in a pan or black mulch. So very different than what I’m used to seeing in farm type fields in Maine!

Daybreak at Volcanoes National Park
Watched the moonset at day break at the edge of the caldera
steam vents
lava tube
petroglyphs, one of 23,000
walkway around the petroglyphs to help protect them
hardened lava resembled cow patties
Sea Arch will eventually collapse with the fierce wind and tides

Day 10, based in Kea’au, Hawai’i

Visited waterfalls not far from downtown Hilo on the western side of Hawaii.

First stop was at the 80ft Rainbow Waterfalls and the Boiling Pots above the falls. We were impressed by the sound of the water.

The story of Rainbow Falls…

Hina was the mother of Maui.

She lived in the cave under the waterfall with her ‘women’ making kapa, a cloth created by beating the bark from the mulberry bush.

A mo’o or giant lizard named Kuna lived along the Wailuku River and frequently tormented Hina by sending volumes of water, logs and other debris over the falls. One night there was a huge storm and rain filled the gorge. Kuna decided to put a large rock over the opening of the cave and trap Hina inside.

She called out to Maui who woke from his dream of his mother calling:

O Maui, fisher of islands,

O Maui, slower of sun,

Listen! It is Hina who calls.

Come quickly, oh Maui my son.

Come in your swift canoe.

Come with your mightly war club.

Save us from Kuna Mo’o.

Maui came quickly and saw no water in the river and knew something was wrong. He went above the falls and struck on the bank to make a waterway around the rock.

Then he went after Kuna who was hiding in the ‘boiling pots’ (located above the waterfall). He started throwing giant rocks at the boiling pots but Kuna stayed in hiding. Maui asked Pele, Goddess of volcanoes, to help by making the rocks hot which in turn he threw them into the river to make it boiling hot. Kuna was forced to leave the water and was struck by Maui’s club. Over the falls he went and still lies as a giant rock at the bottom of the falls as a reminder.

From there we traveled north to Akaka Falls State Park. A 1/2 mile loop trail winds down into a rain forest w some leaves as large as a small car. Along the way there are 4 waterfalls, all different from each other, the largest one, 442ft.

We also visited the Tsunami Museum in Hilo. It was a fascinating place w stories, history, facts and warnings. People here are very aware of the Tsunami since most live close to the coast. They have a warning system in place in the event.

Besides the beauty of the waterfalls we saw our first mongoose and very rare cloud formation-linticular clouds. They hung, barely moving all day long, resembling UFOs. They continued through the sunset. The locals were surprised about them as well.

Rainbow Falls
Boiling pots just above Rainbow Falls
Akaka State Falls State Park – one of 4 waterfalls and the largest at 442 feet
Akaka State Park – one of 4 waterfalls
Very rare cloud formation-linticular clouds – resembled UFO’s

Very rare cloud formation-linticular clouds – resembled UFO’s

Day 11, left Kea’au and headed to the eastern side of the Big Iskand, Hawai’i

Another sunny and 80 degree day. We stopped at Black Sand Beach Park. Yes, the sand was black and I was glad it was early morning because it hadn’t reached a point that would be too hot to walk on. The life guard was out surfing, one woman was snorkeling, a few people were laying on the beach and others like us wandering around enjoying the colors of the water, watching turtles popping up heads. We took off our shoes and waded in to see how warm the water felt at 82 degrees. Very different from our salt water in Maine.

I was reminded about the importance of wondering as we meandered down a road. I’m so grateful to Nicholas for finding this spot.

It turned out that we were not far from the most southern spot of the US called South Point. The 11 mile long road was in good shape at the beginning. The road condition failed some, got narrower the closer we got to South Point. The farms seemed huge. We saw cattle in some and horses in others. Fewer houses the further we went. Up from the horizon rose 12 wind turbines. It reminded us a little of Ireland. The sky felt huge like Wyoming big.

We got to the end of the road and the point and the wind was wild which of course made the seas more wild. A bit surreal like we were at the end of the earth. Felt really special being there, a gift. especially being from Maine, the farthest state from Hawai’i.

We traveled on towards our next Airbnb and stumbled onto The Coffee Shack, another gem w the most amazing view of the coastline. It felt like we were in a tree house. We had lime pie to go w Don’s afternoon coffee.

On to the best of our 4 overnight accommodations. If you’re coming to Captain Cook area of Hawaii, it’s the perfect place to stay.

Supper on the water in Kona and a short drive to the airport where we said so long to Nicholas. Sad to see him go but very grateful to be traveling w him during the last 11 days. Nicholas has traveled to over 50 countries to date. He is knowledgeable and clever and swift in his traveling habits. Not to mention, sooooo fun!

Black Sand Beach
Black Sand Beach – we could see turtles from these rocks
Driving down to South Point these wind turbines loomed up
Driving to South Point – more than one field of horses
South Point – the most southern point of the US

Day 12, Captain Cook, Hawaii

We felt like we were sitting in a treehouse while eating a delicious breakfast at The Coffee Shack. Our long view was the Pacific Ocean. Not 20 yards away from where we sat was an avocado tree. According to our waiter the tree is 100 years old and 100 feet tall. If you look closely at photo you can see the avocados.

We toured Greenwell Farms where they grow and process coffee. Our Airbnb is right in the middle of Kona coffee country. Here’s what we learned from the knowledgeable guide who grew up new by, native Hawaiian, and oh by the way, some of the info goes way beyond coffee facts…

*Greenwell family has been running the coffee business for five generations

*Henry Greenwell came from Australia in 1820 and started acquiring land. 500 acres and he started growing coffee. He also was a rancher, the postmaster, superintendent of schools.

*coffee trees bloom for months and months. The key is to pick them when they’re ready. They produce year round but more than half the crop produce in September, October and November.

*coffee beans are commonly called cherries

*Greenwell’s original trees are in a field they lovingly call Great Grandma, root stock is over 200 years old. They graft from these trees and plant within a year. It takes about 20 years from graft to production. They are planting them in straight rows and on level ground which impacts the production by growing a healthier tree. They’re grafting 25,000-35,000 trees a year w a 99% success rate.

*self pollinating

*16.8 inches of rain falls in this particular area

*youngest trees are 2 ft tall, in a year they will be 7 ft tall.

*there are 900 growers in the Kona coffee belt

*several farms deliver their crop to Greenwell Farms where they are processed by sorting out the good ones, taking out the seed, soaking and drying them. They pick them when they’re red. They remove 80% of the water. Takes 4 days to dry, then they’re roasted.

*Greenwell Farm also has avocado trees, pineapple plants, pepper vines, coconut trees, banana trees, and vanilla vines

*200 varieties of avocados grow in Hawaii. The lace mites have impacted the production this year.

*don’t spend time under a coconut tree because not only do the coconuts fall out at odd times but so do the fronds and they might hurt a lot more

*banana trees are actually a grass

*picked pepper, green and tried it. Very hot!

*saw a chameleon in a cherry tree

*takes 3000-4000 beans for 1lb of coffee

Yes, Don bought a lb of coffee after the opportunity to try their many flavors.

Food is expensive here, we saw eggs for $7 a dozen BUT the avocados are not so, $1, bananas 4 for $1.

We bought some Huli Huli (means ‘turn turn’ in Polynesian) chicken on the side of the road. BEST chicken ever!!

The Coffee Shack – giant avocado tree
Breakfast at The Coffee Shack
Coffee beans are picked when they are red and called cherries. In this photo are the red beans and the beans removed from the fruit.
Pepper growing at Greenwell Farms
Grafted coffee plants ready to be planted
Chameleon in a cherry tree
Went to the beach after the coffee farm tour
All the Huli Huli chicken workers were so happy!
Huli Huli chicken was best chicken I’ve ever tasted

Day 13, Captain Cook on Big Island, Hawai’i

We explored along the western side of the Big Island. We headed up the coast early before the day got very hot.

Pu’ukohola Heiau is a large structure which took almost a year to complete in 1791 ordered by the ruler Kamehameha I. It’s completion enabled him to be ruler of all the Hawaiian islands and it turned out to be the last major sacred structure built before outside influences changed traditional life permanently. It has been undergoing restoration and is now a National Historic Site. Thousands of men were assembled to build the original war temple. Because the temple had to be created using water-worn lava rocks they lined up for 20 miles forming a human chain to pass the stones one by one. Once completed the Heiau was used for many reasons ranging from state and war to ensuring rainfall, successful harvests, and abundant fisheries. Heiau’s were often associated w human sacrifices. This one includes a large platform for displaying wooden carvings. Pu’ukohola was only accessed by priests and chiefs. Today the Hawaiians honor the past by continuing to hold ceremonies in this Heiau, allowing only natives to attend. We couldn’t enter the Heiau but looking at the massive structure it was easy to imagine the seriousness of the ceremony’s that take place on the hill that looks down and out at the sea. This plaque is at the site:

Eon wale no ‘oukou i ku’u pono ‘a’ ole e pau – Endless is the good I have given you to enjoy

We traveled up the coast to a State Historical Park called Lapakahi. The restoration of the village provided the sense of a complete community from the late 1700’s right up to the early 1900’s. The trail winds through the area where the people planted and used the sea to access food.

This site included:

*a house built w a bamboo frame and grass thatching for the roof

*hollowed out stones which they filled w salt water. The sun evaporated the water and the remaining salt was used for cooking and used to preserve the fish they caught.

*stone game board similar to checkers called Konane w black and white pebbles

*protected cove where they stored their canoes and fished from, we watched dozens of beautiful Yellow Tang fish and a sea turtle

Ready for lunch after a morning in the sun we headed up the coast again and rounded the northern tip to the small town of Hawi and found the delightful restaurant called Bamboo Restaurant.

Don had a Cuban and I had grilled tuna served on a homemade bun – both Mr. Delish! The menu cover was sewn, almost looked like a quilt square. I had been considering a Pina Colada since I haven’t had one for about 35 years. The owner of Bamboo was a delightful woman who visited our table several times during the meal. When asked about the drink she said: “we use dark rum and a secret.” I thought no better time then the present, Pina Kohala. Yummy! I highly recommend Bamboo Restaurant – go for the food, art, ambience, signage, and the Pina Kohala!

We headed back to Captain Cook and our Airbnb after a delightful day.

Spot were the native Hawaiians launched their fishing boats.
They would fill these rocks with salt water. Once the water evaporated they’d scoop out the salt and use it for preserving fish and in cooking.
Fun and interesting place for lunch.
Tuna on home made bun – delicious!

Day 14, our last in Hawaii

We arrived at our favorite breakfast place on the Big Island, The Coffee Shack, when they opened at 7. They filled up fast. Nice to know that others rise early, even on Sunday. We had another yummy meal as we gazed out at the 100 ft tall avocado tree.

Back to our delightful Airbnb to pack for our long day of traveling.

We had one big last visit to an organic farm called Kuaiwi Farm to learn about growing chocolate. The name kuaiwi means ‘backbone’ and refers to the long low stone walls/mounds that stretch from the mountains to the sea.

In addition to cacao (chocolate beans) we learned about growing macadamia nuts, tea, cinnamon, allspice, mango, Surinam cherries. They also grow tangerines, navel oranges, big lemons, Meyer lemons, bananas, coconuts, coffee, avocados, pineapple, and their vegetable garden was filled w much of what we grow in our gardens in Maine.

We tasted oranges, sugar cane, tomarillo tomatoes (don’t eat skin), coffee bean, the outside of the chocolate bean (slimy fruit), Suriname cherry, stem of cinnamon leaf (tasted like tea berry), and chocolate.

To get to the Kuaiwi Farm we drove on a winding one lane rutted dirt road that rose in elevation for about 5 miles. Fun to be off the main roads.

After the drive it was fascinating to learn that Una’s nephew teaches in the Hatchery program at Camden Hills Regional High School and he designed and helped finish their two geodesic domes in their home on the Kuaiwi Farm. Small world indeed!

We headed down to the waterfront for our last afternoon meandering along watching people enjoy themselves swimming, parasailing, playing cornhole, windsurfing, fishing and gazing out at the blue green water of Hawai’i one last time. We were feeling so grateful and appreciative for this adventure.

We headed to the Kona International Airport to begin our 25 hour trip home. The sun was setting as we boarded the plane at 6:45. We flew to Denver, to Boston, bus to Portland, drove home to Union. We went from 85 degrees to 40 degrees.

Coffee beans drying out – takes about 4 days.
Suriname cherries
Banana trees were very tall.
Chocolate growing
Meyer lemon tree

One fact that we found fascinating was that when the Polynesians (the first people on the Hawaiian Islands) traveled to Hawaii there were no native things to eat. They brought bananas, coconuts, pigs, and taro root in their boats. Just imagining them traveling with these items is interesting.

Our last sunset in Kona just before we boarded the plane to start our trek home.

Traveling can be costly but there are ways to make it less expensive. As I said at the beginning of this post I love to travel so I save to be able to do so. We had conversations beforehand to consider what each of us wanted out of the trip. I did research beforehand to find places that met our interests as well as stretch our thinking. It’s important to me to have a list of possibilities and at the same time meander to find ‘stuff’ to do. Many things and places were unplanned and probably the most fun to visit. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity! I took about 100 photos and have included some of my favorites in this blog post. Feel free to contact me at or leave a message below if you have questions or wonderings. Read about my trip to Ireland from last spring at THIS LINK.

Last week the final story on the nightly news was about two 81 year old woman who just completed a trip around the world, visiting all 7 continents, 18 countries, in 80 days. Their message was: “step out of your comfort zone, makes some plans, and live. Don’t be afraid to dream.” I agree!


One Boy’s Story

March 14, 2023

Imagination, Focus, and Autism

I love this story and the way it is presented for the viewer to stop and listen and think. The creativity and Anthony’s autism remind me of the importance of doing all three. What does each child have hidden inside them? How do I support young people to tap into their passion? The support of his mother is amazing, something I wish for all children. Anthony is using his tools and creativity that contribute to his success now and hopefully into the future. I can only imagine what the future holds for this child.


Remembering Jason Anderson

October 23, 2022

Maine has lost an arts education champion

We are fortunate in Maine to have had many arts education giants over the years. Some at the local level, leading conversations, at the regional level providing leadership and at the state level influencing conversations and policy. This week Maine arts educators lost a champion, an individual who had experience in all three arenas. Jason Anderson, age 41, passed away much too early. At the beginning of his career he taught music for 14 years in Vermont and Maine. His teaching experience plus his graduate degree in curriculum and instruction prepared him well for his employment at the Maine Department of Education (DOE). Jason started at the DOE not long before the outbreak of Covid and he rose to the challenges and provided multiple opportunities, clear communication and supported educators in every way possible. His ongoing work was done with enthusiasm and he was totally committed. Jason was greatly appreciated and will be missed!

Jason’s funeral is on Saturday, October 29, 10:00 a.m. at the Military St. Baptist Church, 308 Military St., Houlton. His obituary can be found at THIS LINK.

Jason Anderson
December 21, 1980 – October 19, 2022

Music Educator Rebecca Edmondson

July 19, 2022

Hancock County Teacher of the Year

Please join me in congratulating Music Educator Rebecca Edmondson who is the 2022 Hancock County Teacher of the Year. Rebecca teaches at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor. Next week, Rebecca will join her colleagues, who along with her, have been named Semi-Finalist for the 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year. All 8 Semi-Finalists will be providing a presentation which is the next step in the process. Below is Rebecca’s story that will provide her history and her journey to this point in her life. The writing is her own, I’m sure you’ll hear Rebecca’s voice. Her commitment to education, her students, and the community of Bar Harbor is commendable!


Tell us your story, what led you to this moment Rebecca?

Teaching was a way of life in my home. My grandmother, mother, and numerous cousins were teachers or administrators. They shared stories that provided warm and delightful chatter at the supper table. It got my attention! At that point, I began dreaming of becoming a teacher.

It was my mother who impacted my decision on becoming a music teacher. She taught music for twenty-eight years and we always had instruments laying around our home just waiting to be played. 

Edmondson piping at the Town Pier in Bar Harbor to welcome the Queen Elizabeth II on her maiden voyage.

During my high school years, I wanted a taste of teaching so I gave private music lessons to beginners. That was it! I knew that I wanted to continue to have a positive impact on young learners. From then on, I devote my life to teaching. Teaching comes naturally. Music is my life. Teaching music is my forte! 

My music education began at age five with learning the piano because I wanted to be just like my older sister so I begged my mother for lessons! Mrs. Frisk was our piano teacher and prepared us both for college auditions. She had even taught my mother when she was young! In her younger years, she played for silent films and I thought that was really cool.  

Edmondson at piano for community production of “Clue,” literally playing the part of Professor Plum, the murderer at the piano, at The Grand Theater in Ellsworth.

In fifth grade, I discovered the oboe and loved it! A few years later, I began private lessons from Dr. Dicicco at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I always studied under the best instructors and was classically trained. During my teen years, folk music and instruments captured my heart and I was compelled to play the Great Highland Bagpipes! I spent summers on the shores of the St.Lawrence Seaway with a hundred other pipers, receiving instruction from world class pipers Seumas MacNeil, Angus MacLellan, and Iain MacFadyen from Scotland. These inspiring teachers will always have a special place in my heart.

During my high school years, on Saturdays, I traveled over the mountain to play oboe in the Johnstown Youth Symphony and on Sundays I ventured into the big city to pipe in the Pittsburgh Scots Pipe Band. It was the best of both worlds – classical and folk!

Several of Rebecca’s Conners Conners Elementary School violin students

My formal education includes earning my Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). I expanded my education and earned my Elementary Education Certification from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and from there, I was placed as a program Reading Specialist Graduate Assistant back at IUP when suddenly I received a call for a music teaching interview and was hired on the spot. So many opportunities presented themselves in that year and shortly after my teaching career began, I married Bill and in the next few years our children were born. Life was good!

Then one day, Bill said that it was time to make the move to Maine that he had been dreaming of for years. I cried. I had a beautiful home, loving children, and my dream job. I did not want to move, especially 800 miles away, however, I put on a happy face and packed us up. Upon moving to Maine my current teaching position became available and we built our home on the beautiful Mount Desert Island! I have been enjoying a wonderful life near Acadia National Park and a successful teaching career at the Conners Emerson School since 1990! Life was good again. 

Fifth grade dulcimers created by students

My education continued, earning my Master of Music in Music Education degree from the University of Maine at Orono. I continue to enjoy learning new music and instruments. Harp and accordion are my newest additions! Teaching and music has created opportunities to bond friendships that endure to this day and I love to perform for community events. It brings a smile to my face when I fondly remember my Dad saying, “With all of those classical lessons that I drove you to, what do you prefer? Bagpipes and tin whistle!”

I truly feel that every facet of my teaching and life experiences with music in the community has pointed me in the direction of becoming the 2022 Hancock County Teacher of the Year. Thirty five years of teaching has given me ample time to live my dreams and achieve my goals.

Conners Emerson Show Choir

What is your present teaching assignment – how long have you been there?

My husband Bill, our children Bethany and Ethan, and I moved to Bar Harbor in 1989. We found a piece of wooded land overlooking Echo Lake and built our home. I took a year to earn my Maine Teaching Certificate and be home with my children. The following year, my current music position became available! It was meant to be! I have enjoyed inspiring thousands of children and involving their parents since 1990! 

At Conners Emerson School (CES), I teach K-6 general music classes, consisting of programs that I have initiated; second grade class violin, third grade tin whistle and xylophone, fourth grade ukuleles and acting to the classics, fifth grade dulcimer constructing and playing, sixth grade keyboard class, third through eighth grade string lessons and two orchestras. My fiddle group, the Swallowtail Fiddlers, provides a creative and traditional approach to learning tunes and this group serves as musical ambassadors from CES providing community service and delighting audiences of all ages. Every class sings and dances as well and the icing on the cake is the show choir where it all comes together! 

Image of an original song that Rebecca composed for my students

What do you love about teaching? What are your biggest challenges?

One of the most rewarding experiences that a teacher can experience is the creation of a new program. A quarter note is always a quarter note, however, there are so many different songs to sing and tunes to play that every year, even though the curriculum remains the same, I have the flexibility in choosing new music that the students and I are interested in and form new ensembles. I rarely have repeated music during my past 35 years of teaching. Also, if I am unable to find just the right music for my students, I compose something for them! It makes them feel so special.

Schools have locked their doors to community connections for the past two years due to COVID. My advocacy is building community; bringing the community into the school for inspiration and taking our school students into the community to serve. This generational aspect in reciprocity creates a circle of mentoring, which renews with every passing generation for my school and community. Parents of the primary grade students have not set foot inside our schools. Now is the time to reconnect and rebuild our school and community collaborations to inspire our young people to become responsible future leaders and policy makers! 

2018 Hancock County Teacher of the Year Jennifer Farnham with a student clarinetist, demonstrating a circle of mentoring. They first performed together in my community orchestra that I founded, TEMPO: The Eastern Maine Pops Orchestra, and continue to play alongside each other in the Bangor Band!
Photo that appeared in a YWCA calendar, empowering community women

Tell the blog readers about the Teacher of the Year process, what’s it been like?

The Teacher of the Year process has been one of reflection, self evaluation, and networking. I have enjoyed reflecting on my past accomplishments when writing the essays. Self evaluation gives me pause to fondly recall community music and performance events that I had forgotten about because my mind is always looking towards the next thing! The networking with my county cohort, Maine TOTY cohort, and Educate Maine gives a teacher a big picture of what we as TOTY can do to, well, educate Maine!  

Those involved in Educate Maine have prepared the TOTY candidates every step of the way for success. The Professional Development that I have participated in, through TOTY, has been very beneficial, educational, and fun. Because of it, I have grown as a teacher and person. 

 Sponsor Lee Auto reminded Rebecca of the time when her Swallowtail Fiddlers performed at the Seal Cove Auto Museum

The 2022 County Teachers of the Year is a strong cohort and it is an honor to be a part of it. Once a TOTY, always a TOTY so the friendships formed within this group are sure to last for years to come. The sponsors, UNUM and Lee Auto, to name two major contributors, have made it possible for the Teacher of the Year cohort to be treated as professionals so that travel to state-wide events is a luxury in that expenses are covered. I feel supported and appreciated.

Whose classroom have you visited that really impressed you and what were the pieces that stand out most to you? What did you learn from that experience?

Oh my! There are so many to choose from and I do not want to leave anyone out! 

During these COVID times, extra duties have been added to my schedule, which gave me insight into classrooms that I would not have normally walked into. Spending time in the K-8 classrooms during snack time, lunch, and indoor recess, have given me the gift of spending extra time with students in their homeroom in a relaxed atmosphere. Student interactions in their own environment during non-instructional time, gave me a glimpse of their social interactions.

 Composer project, 4th grade project at the Conners Emerson School. The students learn about a different composer each year, Rebecca draws it and cuts it apart, deals out the “puzzle pieces,” students color, assemble, and voila, masterpiece legacies!

Each physical classroom that I was assigned to, was set up differently, taking on the persona of the classroom teacher. One was decorated with elephants. The color blue was the predominance of another classroom. Yet another displayed items accrued on an overseas trip. Some classrooms were calm while others caused overstimulation, in my opinion. 

One thing that all the classrooms had in common was the display of student work. Whether it be self-portraits, a research project, or the signing of a classroom contract, every child was represented in some way in the classrooms. I work with incredible teachers at Conners Emerson and each brings a personal touch to their classroom to create a positive, safe, and inspirational cultural community. 

There are 32 composers hanging in Rebecca’s music room – one for each year that she has taught at CES. They are a good conversation starter among students plus alumni who return like to point out which composer that they helped create

You’ve had professional development in ‘communicating with the press’ since you’ve been selected as the Hancock County Teacher of the Year. What did you learn that is good advice for all teachers in communicating about the importance of your role as a teacher?

Communicating with the press is much different than communicating with your students. Teachers present new skills and techniques to students in numerous ways to accommodate various learning styles. With media, your communication needs to be clear, concise and to the point. Do not babble. 

Reporters love to let you talk on and on to catch you on something. Less is more. Keep it short. Create a one sentence, eight second sound bite from a paragraph to effectively make your point. If the interviewer shifts and has an underlying agenda, say, “That is an interesting question but it is not why I am here. Let me share my classroom experience with you” then blow your own horn.

Edmondson’s Swallowtail Fiddlers in 2009 performing in Agamont Park on the CBS Early Show

You have heard the saying, “Music speaks where words fail.” That is my motto! My Swallowtail Fiddlers spoke through toe-tapping jigs, reels, and strathspeys while performing on the CBS Early Show and the Channel 5 Morning News and I never spoke a word! 

I collaborated with first grade teacher, MaryAnne Young, to create the Maine Musical, Plant Kindness and Gather Love, about nature and Maine history. It makes a musical statement with eleven educational and entertaining songs, enhanced by movement, dance, script, and classroom activities that encourage students to be stewards of the earth. The synopsis features fourteen characters named for the wild flowers of Acadia National Park. All students in grades K-4 performed Plant Kindness and Gather Love at a public performance at The Criterion in Bar Harbor. The timing was perfect, for Plant Kindness and Gather Love became a celebration of the Centennial of Acadia National Park and the Bicentennial of Maine!

Edmondson and Young collaborated to create Maine musical, Plant Kindness and Gather Love. Acadia National Park donated Ranger hats for our young thespians and parent volunteers made flower decorations for the hats representing the wildflowers of Acadia National Park

What advice do you have for new teachers? 

Be flexible, go with the flow, and have a sense of humor. Young students are the source of an endless supply of optimism. Open your mind, hand, and heart and seek resources and opportunities beyond the classroom walls for real life learning experiences. Be a facilitator to spur your students’ imaginations. Expose your students to a wealth of stuff to guide them to discover their talents, to create their own voice, and have fun. Just like my classical training with a love for folk music I have networked with incredible musicians, both professional and recreational. I have the pleasure of expressing myself on both oboe and bagpipes, reaching very different audiences. 

Edmondson with two members from the Dirty Dozen band at their performance at the MENC National Convention in Salt Lake City. Edmondson advocated for school strings programs on a panel of twelve music teachers when she was designated as one of twelve in the country for having a Model Music Program.

Be diligent in continually making connections and build relationships between students and the community to spark an interest with your students. Be a good listener to what your students need and to what your community wants. There is a whole new world out there that is constantly changing. Embrace your journey with your students. You never know where it may lead for your students and you! Anything is possible.

Edmondson having fun being a pirate at Fort Knox. Her students enjoyed her antics.
The best of both worlds of, classical and folk, met on stage at The Grand Theater in Ellsworth. Guest Scottish National Fiddle Champion Sean Heely and Edmondson on the great Highland Bagpipes perform with her community orchestra, TEMPO, while Ethan Edmondson conducts Tributum for Celtic Pipes by Nan Avant, Composed for the Celebrate the World Music! Concert in 2013.

Music Teacher Extraordinaire Retiring

June 21, 2022

Congratulations, Mrs. Murphy and thank you!

I love helping students find their voices.

Kim Murphy has been teaching music for the last 34 years and is retiring this month. She’s one of those teachers who I thought would never retire since she has a ton of energy and is totally engaged in every aspect of teaching. She has high expectations for herself and her students. Kim always has a smile on her face and her laughter is contagious! I’m certain that she will be missed! (You can learn something about Kim’s humor by the most of the photos below and the embedded links, be sure and click on the center capitalized titles to see the videos).

Kim started teaching grades 6-12 Choral and General Music at Oak Hill High School, Sabattus, Litchfield and Wales. Shortly afterward the position changed and she taught Band and Chorus, grades 9-12 at Oak Hill High School. She took a sabbatical in 1996-97 and then moved to Lincolnville. For the last 25 years she has taught at the high school, Camden-Rockport High School for 3 years and when the new high school opened, Camden Hills Regional High School (CHRHS), she has taught there. Earlier in her music career she worked as a music therapist in Peapack, NJ and Bethlehem, PA.

Kim was a double major and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and Music Therapy. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher.

What has been your favorite part of teaching?                                                                                                                       

  • I love helping students find their voices. Find their self-confidence through singing. I love it when someone has a solo – and other people never realized what a beautiful voice that person has.  And then there is just the self-confidence in getting up and singing before a large crowd – whether in a small group or a large group. There are life lessons – the teamwork is necessary. 
  • I love music festivals – where students from different schools come together to create works of beauty. It’s SO different from sports – where someone is always the winner and someone is always the loser. With music festivals – the competition has already happened (through auditions) and the coming together to create a concert in 2 – 3 days is a wonderful way to build connections.
  • And then of course – I love musicals!

Tell the readers about a moment in your teaching career that has been unforgettable? 

  • Well – there are many.  But a recent one is…. During the 2020-21 school year, I had the FIRST tent up!  And my tent was the FIRST to blow away! UNDER THE TENT!
And there she blows!

What changes have you experienced during your teaching career that have been positive and/or negative?

  • I think it’s great that kids can take so many AP courses – and get college credit. Yet this (adding of AP classes to schedules) has really hurt music programs in that the schedule and time for Band and Chorus is getting squeezed out. And also – is it healthy for a student to have so many AP classes?
  • In a positive manner, I think students are more assertive; they self-advocate for what they need in education; education is now –  less “top down” instruction and more collaboration.


What do you think are three keys to ANY successful music ed program? 

  • Know your students, be genuine in your care for them
  • Flexibility and creativity – learn to work with schedule changes, or things that happen that throw your carefully written plans out the window
  • Plan, plan, plan 
  • And (a 4th!) have a sense of humor!

What are you most proud of in your career?

When I was hired at CRHS I said that my personal 10 yr goal was to have the strongest choral program in the State of Maine. We are lucky – we have fantastic community support. I think – with the numbers of students that have been accepted to District III, All State, All Eastern and National festivals over the years – I think that it has been one of the strongest choral programs in the State. Unfortunately – right now – due to Covid and other challenges – the Chorus program is not as strong (in numbers) and that breaks my heart. You have to have the numbers.

Who influenced your work as a teacher or perhaps inspired you?

Charlie Seymour and Steve Moro

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Teaching is the hardest and best profession. There are days when you will want to cash in your chips early – don’t! Hold on. Your students learn more from your daily attitude and mindset than you realize. As a teacher – you teach a subject area – but it’s the character that you bring into the classroom that has the lasting educational benefit.


How much of what you do is learned skills and how much is innate?

Wow – that’s an interesting question. I come from a family of teachers – so I think that was how we grew up. So – teaching comes naturally. I was going to be either an English or Math teacher. Those subjects come easily to me (well….not Math anymore – ha ha). But Music didn’t come easily. I had to work at it. I had to make it look easy. But – because I had to work at my music skills so hard, that made me a better teacher – because I could understand why kids were struggling, and I could break it down into smaller chunks for them to understand.


What does retirement look like for you?

Exciting and Terrifying.  I have an Air BNB business at my house, which I LOVE to do – and hope to be able to grow that – especially in the shoulder seasons (when I would have been at school). I’m connecting with community theater and music groups – because that is my passion. I do a lot of work with my church – and hope to be able to volunteer more with places like AIO food pantry (food and energy assistance for citizens of Knox county) or other social programs. And finally – I will fly to CA (whenever I damn well please) to see my son!

If you were given $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

I would create a theater program for kids – especially kids who struggle in life.  

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back, do you have any regrets?

I hope not!  You have to live in the moment and enjoy each beautiful step.

The concert photos in this blog post were taken by Marti Stone Photography.


Art Teacher Extraordinaire Retiring

June 14, 2022

Congratulations, Mrs. Bickford and thank you!

There is nothing more rewarding than being in a room full of students who are productive and teaching each other the skills you have shared with them. When all the art rooms are full of active learners at every level and they are teaching each other a broad range of skills, that feeling is intoxicating. I still marvel at it to this day and I cannot think of anything like it.

Debra Bickford, better known as Deb, is retiring this year after 37 years teaching visual art. Her career started at Wells Jr. High School (1 year), she moved on to Westbrook Middle School (2 years), and she is ending her career at Westbrook High School (34 years).

Her early experiences as a student have influenced her teaching and her life. She learned at a young age that she loved learning but didn’t care for school. When she arrived at Maine College of Art & Design – then called Maine College of Art (MECA), she fell in love with being in a space where people were hungry for learning about the same thing. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from MECA and went on to the University of Southern Maine where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education. During her formal learning she was engaged in pre-service teaching at Waynflete School in Portland and student taught at Gorham Schools and Thornton Academy in Saco.

Deb and I had a conversation about her teaching career and what became clear is her passion comes through every single day in and out of the classroom. She has positively impacted thousands of students! She’s proud of the fact that she is honest with students, even when it is hard. And, she has NEVER taken a sick day! Many people have influenced Deb over the years. She’s had the opportunity to work with many positively astonishing educators who have shown her what excellence looks like and how to make it happen.

“It would be really inspiring to make some sort of visual map or “who” and “what” I learned from so many. Like a mind map with art education inspiration at the center and people fanning out all around the center.

I hope Deb takes the time to make this visual map and send a copy to everyone on the map. It would be an amazing representation exhibiting the numbers that influence teachers!

Deb has had many unforgettable moments during her 37 years in the classroom. Here are a few highlights:

  • The day a student in my adaptive art class shared how much her family loved her art work and said: “I never knew I could be an artist”.
  • The day both parents met a students guidance counselor at 7a.m. to have her drop another content area to start Pre-AP Studio Art. The student had made the request but was told she had already had an art class. That same student went on and received a $10,000 scholarship at class night and earn a BFA in Painting at MECA.
  • The many texts, visits and emails from students thanking me for preparing them to be successful in college level visual arts classes. Many have even reported being asked to lead critiques in class. This makes me so happy.

Deb presenting her colleague Matt Johnson the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA) Art Teacher of the Year award in April at the spring MAEA conference at CMCA, Rockland

During Deb’s career she has experienced many changes, both positive and negative. She is pleased to see “more students who desire a broader, deeper education in the arts and are willing and prepared to advocate for what they want even when there are roadblocks.” The negative aspect: “Over a decade of lower expectations in just about every aspect of what makes a strong, successful student has had a powerful impact on adequate progress. In general, students who used to be in the average range are finding the typical stress of high school level classes too much to cope with and organize for. What it means to “be a student” has, on average, deteriorated.

Deb’s program has evolved over the years. She’s grateful for the educators she has worked closely with who have influenced the evolution. Her classes are often mixed groups with AP, Art 1, and advanced students in one space. And, Art 3, 4, AP and Studio Art the same. Juniors and seniors enrolled in Studio Art have their own studio spaces within the art room. Her colleague Matt Johnson teaches in an adjoining classroom. Students migrate between Matt’s and Deb’s classes, moving where learning needs can be met. Deb and Matt’s collegial relationship promote a common studio space that encourages a cross pollination between students. Flexibility has been critical in leading to student success. The teachers move to meet the needs of the kids, not visa versa. A great example of ‘student-centered’ learning environment.

These are the four key ingredients that Deb believes are essential to any successful visual art education program:

  1. Know your content inside out, backward, forward and upside down and be willing to honor tradition whilst embracing the future.
  2. Understand that art skills and teaching skills are two very different things.
  3. Make sure that ‘what’ you are teaching and ‘how’ you are teaching it provides real world, valuable skills to every student no matter what level (skill level, experience in art) they are, or why, they are taking your class.
  4. Embrace Advocacy at every single turn. Never, ever pass up the opportunity to help people understand how and why arts education matters, no matter how exhausting it is.

Deb’s advocacy has been ongoing and her successes have served students well. I asked Deb to look into her crystal ball and offer advice to teachers.

Being an educator is not for the faint of heart. Wanting to help others learn and grow takes courage. When you do your preservice, think really hard about ‘why’ you want to pursue this. Teaching Art is not easy or fluffy or romantic. If you want to work hard and can commit to being a lifelong learner – go for it.”

You can view Deb’s pinterest teaching board which she has organized by elements, principles, concepts, media and process at Her personal website which includes here amazing art is at

Deb’s future is bright with a retirement plans filling her days with activities she loves. She’ll be tending her multiple gardens. 60X40 vegetable, fruit trees, and perennials. She has willow gardens for traditional willow basket making. Deb and her husband are tearing up 20 year old floors in her home and replacing them with something easier to care for time in retirement. Deb will include time in her studio on a regular basis; printmaking and painting. She plans to pursue becoming a Golden Artist Educator and run a few painting workshops. Deb and her husband love visiting remote locations and plan to travel to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton and make a return visit to Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada as well as several other beautiful highways.

I’m sure all your colleagues and the blog readers are joining me to wish you well on your retirement Deb!

If you know of other visual or performing arts teachers retiring this year please let me know by emailing


Penny’s Story

April 19, 2022

MLTI t-shirt design

This story starts with the design that was selected for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) conference t-shirt. But, it’s about much more than that. It’s about a 7th grader who LOVES the arts. Congratulations to Penny Graham who attends Waterville Jr. High School. Her art work, seen below, was selected to be printed on t-shirts that will be worn by Maine middle schoolers and their teachers while they attend the virtual student conference being held, May 26. Registration is open for the MLTI Virtual Conference and all grade 7 and 8 Maine students are invited to participate.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Penny recently about her design that connects with this years conference theme: Space2Connect. Before getting to the creating part Penny looked at t-shirts from past years which helped to guide her decisions. She wanted it simple so she considered ideas with space, specifically planets. She decided on one color so it could be seen and read easily. She tried different colors including pink and green but kept coming back to purple. She’s been using the digital app Procreate on her iPad for about a year so it made sense to use it for designing the t-shirt idea. In fact, she has created a video that demonstrates her knowledge and how she went about accomplishing her design. Video about using the app Procreate. Penny’s video will be included on an upcoming episode of the MLTI SLAM Show, which focuses on student leadership in technology integration. 

Penny drawing

After being on the phone with Penny for about 45 minutes I realized that I was not only speaking to a t-shirt designer by an incredible arts advocate. “The Arts are important to me. My whole life I’ve always loved doing music and art because they’re my passions. I’ve done art clubs, I draw a lot, I played a little saxophone, guitar, and the recorder. This year I can see myself improving.”

In addition Penny loves to write, narratives and some poetry. She’ll often learn something while writing in school and goes home and practices what she’s learned. She’s had several different learning opportunities in the arts. “I love doing art with materials and using my hands and getting dirty. It is such fun.” She enjoys pen and ink, sketching, water color, rock painting and pottery. Penny also loves creating with digital tools because “I can change the design quickly and the process goes much smoother.

The arts rotate through the schedule for students at Waterville Jr. High and as a 7th grader she doesn’t have visual art but she does have music. She selected the violin which she played when she was younger and is happy to return to it. She enjoys playing in the school orchestra and likes the performances.  

She also loves theatre and has participated in the Sound of Music and Nobody Believes in Fairies which was written by one of the school’s 6th English teachers. She’s excited about the musical coming up this spring called Middleschool Madness. Penny says: “Theater is a really nice bonding experience. It’s a fun, social thing that I just love to do. I got to meet so many new people in the two plays I’ve been inMy theater experiences have all been really great.” 

Penny as Gretl

Penny also shared her experience of the pandemic. She was glad to have alone time to draw and bake and was able to pursue her hobbies. “I feel like without the pandemic I wouldn’t have been able to move forward that much. I feel like I could take big strokes that I wouldn’t have had time to do.”

Penny’s dad shared: “Waterville is a wonderful place for artistic and curious children like Penny.”

I’m certain that Penny has a bright future and I’m grateful to have met her and for our conversation.


Nicholas Parker’s Story

February 26, 2022

Musical journey and it’s impact on something larger

This is a story about Nicholas Parker but his story is especially poignant at this time with the invasion by Russia of Ukraine earlier this week. Samantha Smith was a 10 year old girl living in Manchester, Maine when, in 1982, she wrote to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Yuri AndropovI. She was seeking to understand why the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were so tense. Her question and bravery prompted a response and made a huge difference. She received an invitation to the Soviet Union and became a Goodwill Ambassador. Sadly, Samantha, at the age of 13, and her father, died in a plane crash. Her spirit and commitment to peace lives on. I pray for peace for the people of Ukraine.

If we could be friends by just getting to know each other better, then what are our countries really arguing about? Nothing could be more important than not having a war if a war could kill everything.” ~Samantha Smith


As many young children do when there is a piano in the house Nicholas started ‘playing’ random notes for fun at an early age. At age 9 he started taking piano lessons from Amy Irish. At the time, he knew how to play “Do-Re-Mifrom The Sound of Music using solely his pointer finger. Amy taught him to develop his piano abilities and he fell in love with the instrument over the next decade.

PLEASE NOTE: All of the indented bold and italic sections below are quotes from Nicholas Parker.

“Plunking around on the piano and coming up with my own melodies has been one of my favorite activities since the beginning, though I never really put my efforts into writing a complete piece until the eighth grade.”

Nicholas playing Do-Re-Mi

In 2014 while in grade 8 at Reeds Brook School in Hampden Nicholas had Karyn Field for a teacher. Students were engaged in project based learning using Meridian Stories. Along with teaching Karyn was the Civil Rights Advisor so she decided to reach out to Rob Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) to enrich the opportunities for student learning. Rob brought some of his large portraits to school to hang in the library. Students selected a portrait from Rob’s collection and were assigned to do some sort of creative project on that person. Nicholas chose Samantha Smith.

I chose Samantha Smith, a girl from Maine who, in the ‘80s, was known as America’s Youngest Ambassador, and who traveled to the Soviet Union as a peace activist at the height of the Cold War. For my project, I wrote a piano piece about Samantha’s life.

Piano recital with Amy Irish

For several days Nicholas worked independently in the music room while writing the piece about Samantha Smith. Karyn remembers checking in with him periodically to hear what he was accomplishing. Nick used his musical abilities and combined them with Samantha Smith; an ideal project in many ways.

When Rob and AWTT staff saw and heard what Nicholas had accomplished they were very impressed. A conversation followed and out of this grew the ongoing AWTT project offered each year to middle students. The Samantha Smith Challenge (SSC) is a dynamic educational program for middle and high school students that uses the creative arts to build a bridge between the classroom and the world as students become compassionate, courageous, and engaged citizens. SSC projects teach students that, no matter what age, they can be part of solving the challenges and problems they see around them and work for the common good.

“Looking back, I would have written the piece a bit differently now (on account of my skills having developed significantly since I was 13), but the music nevertheless managed to elicit a response from Mr. Shetterly, who was present when we displayed our projects.”

Playing on a street piano

Karyn shared that Nicholas was a confident and very humble student. He was provided an amazing opportunity to take what someone did that created change and through Rob’s painting of Samantha, together they elevated her voice. Nicholas was invited, while in high school, to speak at the New England League of Middle Schools annual dinner. Karyn said: “Through his passion and intelligence and his gifts he opened doors for others students and served as a good role model.”

“Seeing the impact my project had on Mr. Shetterly and the creation of the Samantha Smith Challenge was wonderful. Since then, I’ve loved staying in touch with AWTT when I’m able, and have enjoyed learning much more in the fields of piano performance and composition.”

Nicholas returned at Christmas from a semester studying in Italy. He took time to provide an update what he’s doing and some of his thinking.

“Today, I am headed into my senior year at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where I am majoring in Music and Italian Studies. While I have grown a lot in my abilities, I must admit that I’m still trying to figure out what it is that I want to write (and how to write it). George Winston, whose CDs my parents used to play when I was growing up, is a source of much inspiration. His seasonal albums are some of my favorites, and the way in which he captures natural settings through the piano is exceptional. 

Working on music while in Italy last fall

The opportunity to teach music to others has presented itself in recent years as well, and I have found myself working with a few students—albeit largely in a virtual format—on the fundamentals of music and piano-playing. To introduce people to the piano has been an immense joy, and quite often has made me think of the importance of the arts and music in education. I personally have learned at least as much from studying music as I have from any science or math course, and in fact have found that the subjects of music and science are not quite so different. And yet, when it comes to many schools (especially those in less-privileged areas or with less funding), the arts and music programs are all too often the first on the chopping block. The benefits of music in education are plentiful, but inclusion and accessibility are indispensable when it comes to having an impact on students’ development.

Nick performing the Samantha Smith piece he wrote:

As was stated by Stanford University professor Eliot Eisner (quoted previously on this blog), “The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.” Whether by aiding in telling the story of Samantha Smith, or by helping me explore the natural world around us in a way that words and numbers cannot, music has occupied a space in my life that nothing else could. It’s impact on me has in turn given me the potential to impact a little bit of my corner of the world, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

AWTT Education Director Connie Carter has valued her time working with Nicholas and said the following: “Besides being the catalyst for AWTT’s education program the Samantha Smith Challenge, Nick has continued to be a strong voice for courageous student activism.  He has spoken at conferences about AWTT and was a critical voice in our strategic planning process.  Listening to Nick talk about the importance of finding and using one’s voice is like listening to a beautiful musical composition  — full of meaning, compassion, and inspiration.”

It was such a gift to converse with Nicholas and hear his story. His journey in many ways is just beginning, especially to those of us who have been around for many years. But, his musical journey started many years ago as a small child. I’m grateful Nicholas shared his story and I’m sure it will inspire and remind us how important it is to provide learning opportunities in the arts for all.

If you have a student or a former student whose story will inspire please contact me at!

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