The Unexpected, It’s a Boy!, Field Trips, & Following Directions

Posted by debraallenellis January 17, 2018


This is a post I had really been looking forward to writing since October, when 5 of us (mostly teachers) made some exciting and unexpected plans to travel to Paris over winter break to soak up lots of art, history, and local culture. I was thinking of it as teachers on a field trip and planned to tie in our adventures with some FB posts I’ve made in the past about field trips with students.  Of course, I had a marvelous time in Paris, was even able to make an incredible day trip to England, and the time flew by in the blink of an eye! I’ll get back to the wonder of our European adventure in a bit, but, first, I need to share some unexpected events that occurred before and after our journey. 


Since we were departing for Paris on Christmas Day, we predicted that any complications would arise surrounding family plans, but we didn’t leave until 5:40 p.m. and all went well. It was a little tricky getting ready for the holidays and a big trip all at once, but, surprisingly, all that family celebrating stuff worked out just fine--better than expected.


Just a few days before Christmas, though, my Uncle Tommy passed away. He'd had medical issues for a while and Hospice was caring for him, so it wasn’t completely unexpected, yet we never really expect the way we’re going to feel when someone we love passes away. Do we? Uncle Tommy was a great man, a kind man, a funny man, as good as they come, and he will be sorely missed.  As the co-founder of a popular local business, he was a friend to many in this community. My heart goes out to his family—my Aunt Linda and my cousins. 


For the past few years, Christmas has become a bittersweet time in my family, as we seem to be losing someone within a week or two of the holiday every year now. Nothing prepares us for loss, no matter how expected we think it will be.


Then, just a couple of days after we returned from our trip, my 26-year-old baby, my only child, my Rachel became engaged to the love of her life, alongside a lighthouse in Florida.  It was so sweet and Zach had been planning the perfect proposal surprise for some time. We knew it was going to happen at some point that week, we expected it, because he did the gentlemanly thing and asked for her hand in advance, but I found it to be another life event that you simply can’t prepare for emotionally. Just like that—my baby is getting married and we’re getting a new son!  


While in Paris, my stepmother, Brenda, and I had set aside time for a day trip to England (it’s only a couple of hours from Paris to London on a EuroStar train). We had plans to meet Mr. Ray Thomas and his wife, Lee.  As a co-founder of the Moody Blues rock band over 50 years ago, Mr. Thomas had an incredibly successful career in music. Six years ago, he and his wife unexpectedly became fairy godparents to my classroom and we’ve been corresponding here and there ever since. If you want to learn more about our annual Mr. Thomas birthday project, visit my pre-Thanksgiving blog post. Since we would already be in Europe anyway, he and Lee welcomed us to visit them in their home to hand deliver his birthday letters and gifts this year. It was wonderful to meet someone I have long admired; to hear some of his engaging stories and experience his quick wit firsthand; and to have an opportunity to listen to one of his newer songs, written in honor of his grandfather, sitting right alongside him in his living room. His voice and flute have been an important part of the soundtrack of my life and it was quite a treat to get to visit with him and with Lee, to chat so informally about kids, books, music, animals, and whatever else came up.  


When our visit with the Thomases ended, our charming and knowledgeable tour guide, Richard (who turned out to also be a Moody Blues fan),  drove us to Windsor, where we visited its amazing castle and chapel, walking in the footsteps of so many historical figures. We ended our perfect day by feasting on a pub dinner of fish and chips, followed by a stop at Kings Cross Station to see Platform 9 ¾ of Harry Potter fame, before heading across the street to board our evening train back to Paris. 


Then, completely unexpectedly, only days after we returned home, I awoke to a FB newsfeed filled with posts that our Mr. Thomas had passed away--only 5 days after we had visited with him. Certainly, I would have mourned this loss regardless of the timing, but having had such a delightful visit with him only days before, I was and still am absolutely gutted. The world lost a marvelous talent the day he passed away and I am heartbroken for his family.  I’m thankful to have such a wonderful memory of my short time with the Thomases.  

So, although there was much excitement during our trip to Paris and with Rachel’s engagement, our holiday began with the loss of a great man and ended with the loss of another.  My thoughts and prayers are with both of their families as they grieve for what was and treasure their memories.  Life is so short. I hope you now see that I couldn’t possibly get on with the excitement of our trip and humorous moments with my students without first honoring Uncle Tommy and Mr. Thomas. Hmm . . . typing their names side by side just made me realize that both were Thomases.   





Now, on to Paris. The idea for our field trip centered on a visit to the Musee Marmottan Monet to see a temporary exhibition. Our group consisted of two art teachers and three others who are more than a little obsessed with anything involving European history. We hit as many museums, cathedrals, and other important sites as we could fit into each day. It was a wonderful experience and, although it was my 4th visit to Paris, I’ve still only scratched the surface of that amazing city and its treasures!




We stayed in an AirBnb apartment in the lovely Le Marais district, just across the bridge from the amazing Notre Dame Cathedral and next to a quirky little café called Le Ju that had shadow-box-type tabletops along the sidewalk, filled with funky things like candy and underwear with funny sayings written across the butts. Quite a contrast in styles! We walked, AT LEAST, 10 miles every day and I’m pretty sure that one of those miles was spent trudging up the long, narrow, winding staircase of our old apartment building each night. We feasted on crusty bread, tender croissants, and onion soup (they leave off the “French” in France);  we drank our fill of marvelous coffee (some from large bowls ),  thick hot chocolate, and bubbly water (only me—no one else ever seems to like the fizzy stuff); we ate lots of cheese, much of it on fabulous pizza; and we toasted in 2018 in a charming sidewalk café on New Year’s Eve. It truly was an incredible adventure!





In the midst of dashing in and out of museums and Metro stations, we encountered a few student groups, reminding me that we, too, were on a field trip to learn about art and history. Oh, how I envied those teachers and students, who could so easily enjoy the treasures of Paris on a regular, everyday field trip. Amazing!


(Students in a Metro station)



(Students learning about a nude sculpture at the Rodin Museum and NOT giggling about it)


And, just like good teachers anywhere, throughout our trip, one or two of us were constantly checking to see that all 5 of us were staying together and patiently waiting on stragglers, while each of us had opportunity to field plenty of whining such as, “I’m hungry,” "When are we gonna get there?," “It’s cold,” or “Can we stop now?”  Just like a real field trip with students. I’m surprised that no one suggested we hold hands with a buddy in all the crowds.  



Definitely, field trips make for some of the most exciting and stress-filled days in a school year. Just think about the responsibility involved when one is taking 21-24 elementary-aged children out into the world on a school bus, on highways, in the midst of who-knows-what. Regardless of how well we plan, there is a great deal of stress involved with keeping watch over a class of kids out in the wild, outside the secure walls of the school building. But, of course, those days also make for some of the most wonderful times to connect with students and observe their wonder in the world around them.


Field trip days are the best and today was another great one! I always love seeing my students get excited about the discoveries they make at the Museum of Life & Science in Durham. There are so many interesting hands-on science activities and so many fascinating creatures for them to encounter. The long bus ride over is always really LOUD with anticipation and excitement, but they are always physically and intellectually exhausted on the way back to school, falling asleep in the bus seats. What a great day! I think I'll turn in early.

Had a delightful first field trip of the year today to see Seussical the Musical at NCSU. I love to see the look of wonder on the kids' faces when the lights first go down and the opening act begins—it’s priceless!

Today was a soggy, but wonderful field trip day. The kids were mesmerized by a hilarious stage production of Skippyjon Jones at NCSU. We giggled all afternoon!

Field trips are always wonderful experiences, but VERY hectic. Overhearing a couple of kids say, "This is the best day of my life" makes them worth all the trouble and exhaustion . . . even if I know they are only exaggerating.

Today, we took our first field trip of the year to the lovely, old Carolina Theater in downtown Durham to see the musical stage presentation of Skippyjon Jones. Of course, the kids loved it, as did I, even though it was raining AND we momentarily lost one of the buses. On the bus ride back to school, I texted Steve and Rachel to see if they are up for Mexican food tonight. All the reading we've done this week about bullying bumble bees stealing frijoles, Chihuahuas wrapped in tortillas, and Holy Guacamole finally got to me when I heard it again on stage! Los-something-or-another in Apex, here we come!


On our field trip today, a few kids were playing with a fun hands-on exhibit that teaches about water flowing downstream. It's sort of like an old arcade game and they were REALLY into it. I asked if they realized what the activity was trying to teach them and tried to explain it. Most were far too engaged in the "game" to listen, but one stopped playing, looked up with a quizzical face, and said, "So, this thing is just basically messing with our minds then?" LOL! What?! I probably should have told them the learning part BEFORE they started the playing part! 


We had a field trip today (which explains why I left school so early this afternoon - POOPED!) and it was fabulous, as usual. I always enjoy the engaging bus conversation as much as anything on these trips. Today, though, I heard as many "Yo Mama" jokes as I could stand. What in the world? I thought those things ran their course years ago. Apparently not; they’re still around. Of course, I gave them the obligatory lecture of, "You really shouldn't be telling jokes about people's mamas," and, "What would your mama think about you telling these jokes?" But, that was only after they got to me and made me chuckle at their best: "Yo mama is so dumb, she sits on the TV and watches the couch."   


Today, we went on a field trip to The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park. As we were leaving, the kids were waving goodbye to a man dressed in costume as Honest Abe. Once we were back on the bus, a little boy taps me on the shoulder and smugly says, "See, I tode you Wincoln was still awive." A couple of minutes later, he taps me again, as we're passing the store/restaurant that sits across the road from the park. He said, "Do you see the Wincoln Genewal Store? That's where he worked when he was a kid."   

We went on a great field trip yesterday to a local science museum and, as always, had some wonderful conversation on the 45-minute bus ride back to school: "Hey, Mizz Ellis! We're almost passing my house! If you turn at Cook-Out and go for a long way and don't turn on the first street and don't turn on the second street, you'll see another street to turn on way down the road. We don't eat at Cook-Out very much. I like McDonald's more better. My grandma says McDonald's is poison. I don't believe that. It tastes too good to be poison. Keep going until you see a black car in the driveway. That's my house. But, I like Red Lobster more better than anything. I'm hungry. Is it almost time for lunch?  


While in Paris, we were constantly looking at maps to figure out how to get from one place to another in the most efficient manner. Adding in the language challenge just made the struggle that much more interesting and rewarding. Funny . . . some of our escapades reminded me of listening to kids give directions, which can be quite entertaining. Thankfully, I’m usually trying to decode the directions they give me within the secure concrete block walls of our school building and not standing on a rainy sidewalk in Paris, surrounded by thousands of people.

I could sit and listen to second graders give directions all day: "If you see a road with a car shack and a red stop sign with a green sign on top of it, there's this house . . . and, then, there's a brown house . . . but that's not our house . . . that's our neighbor's house . . . we live in the white house." I'm still dying to know what a "car shack" is. I’m thinking garage, but, in my mind, the B-52s are singing “Love Shack, Baby, . . . Tin roof—rusted!” 


I was working with a small group to introduce cardinal directions, a compass rose, and to determine which direction people were going from one area to another on a map we were using. When answering one of the questions, a child looked up at me with a quizzically scrunched up face and responded, "Nnnn . . .Neast?"  




Student (hugging me around the waist as he’s leaving for the day): “Miss Ellis, I just KNOW you’re going to come to my church someday.”

Me: “That sounds really nice. Where is your church?”

Student: “Oh, it’s in Dunlap . . . er . . . on that road.”

Me: “Do you mean ‘Durham’?”

Student: “Oh yeah. It’s in Durham. You drive there on a road and you turn on another road. Then you turn the corner at that building. You know the one. Then you drive some more and you see my church. It’s called Redeemed.”  


“My cousins are comin’ ta visit this weekend. They’s comin’ all the way from Chaganooga!”


Student: "Miss Ellis, you JUST might run into me on spring break. Me and my family? We go to E-town ALL the time."

Me: "That would be great! Where do you think I'll see you?"

Student: "Well, we do go to Walmart a lot. That's the first place."

Me: "Any place else you think we may see each other?"

Student: "Well, there's that other place we go—you know, right over by that old place that used to be a warehouse, that's right by the place where there used to be a carwash? Yeah, not exactly there, but close to there, a little bit. OK? See ya there!"     



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