Category Archives: Fourth Grade

Writing, Teaching and Traveling

Hello Friends,

The time has just flown by since I last sat down to take stock of life and share it with you.  Since February, my last post, life has been full of good stuff.  I finally finished my second book in the Treasure Chest Mysteries titled “The Jade Serpent.”  I will be announcing when you can pre-order through Amazon soon.  Working on finishing the illustrations now.  Very excited.  It has been such a different process to write a second book in a series; full of constraints, but overall they have been fun challenges to work with.

As to the rest of life, the last half of the school year at Sacramento Country Day School was packed with history.  For the American Revolution unit the students researched the key players, learned about women spies, explored how and why the revolution happened and then, after writing papers, they performed a musical, in A Capella, that spanned the American Revolution.  It was great.  We then learned about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, before heading into the Civil War.  For this final unit the students’ main project was to research and debate in groups. They went above and beyond and I was so impressed with their debating skills.  Also, throughout the year, the kids did 10 Minute Minis.  This was their opportunity to teach the class anything (upon approval) that they were interested in, to the class.  We had the gammot: card tricks, history of dogs, turtles, elephants and video games, rugby, lacrosse and baseball strategies, how to shake and make ice-cream, create clouds in bottles, and decorate your locker, step-by-step origami, and how to speak a little Japanese… and many more.  It was amazing what we learned in ten minutes.

Learning how to attack in Rugby

Creating a cloud in a bottle. (Classroom was set up for our North vs. South debates)

History of dogs – with a live specimen

Lacrosse strategies

Earlier this summer I was given the great opportunity (from my school) to participate in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History‘s Seminar on the American Revolution in New York City.  It was a week of amazing learning.  New York City in 1789, became the first US capital under our new Constitution and therefore it was packed full of history that we explored. We walked between 7 – 13 miles each day uncovering its revolutionary history.  Some of the places we visited were:
~ Trinity Church founded in 1696. Alexander Hamilton is buried there
~ Federal Hall – where George Washington was inaugurated,  and it was the home of Congress
~ Wall Street – named so because it used to have a wall that ran east/west across the island to protect the tip from First Nation peoples
~ Bowling Green – where the Dutch would chop off the heads of dissidents and use them as bowling balls for entertainment, and where the statue of King George the Third used to be.  Also the iron surrounding the little park is the original fence, minus the little crowns that used to be on the poles – they were cut off when the Americans toppled the statue of King George.

Flying into NYC. In this photo you can imagine where the “wall” was that protected the tip from the Native Americans.

The plaque on Wall Street explaining the “wall.”

The stone block that used to be in Federal Hall that George Washington stood on when he was inaugurated as our First President.

Map of the Battle of Brooklyn – a very decisive battle in the American Revolution.

We walked from Brooklyn to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge – just a gorgeous bridge, day and views.

Alexander Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church

Inside Trinity Church

Me having a beer with my new teacher friends in Chelsea.

We also spent our evenings exploring: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Little Italy, Alexander Hamilton’s Grange…

Arriving by ferry to Ellis Island.

Visiting the Statue of Liberty.

Mighty Girl!

Alexander Hamilton’s Grange – this used to be 9 miles outside of town in the country – now the area is called Harlem.

Inside Hamilton’s Grange – this is the room and desk that he wrote the Federalist papers. Gave me chills, it was inspiring to be there. But… is it wrong that I kept picturing Lin Manuel Miranda sitting there? 🙂

At the end of the week I took the train up to Connecticut to spend the weekend with my sister and her family.  A great seven days on the East coast.

Since returning to Sacramento I have been teaching two creative writing classes at Sacramento State University for 4th – 10th graders.  It has been really fun to help them step outside the usual, observe their surroundings and find the stories waiting to be expressed.  Such creative minds.

I’ve also been working on my house a bit here and there.  Last weekend I tore out the old carpet in my living room and refinished the hardwood floor beneath.  I’ve now repainted, put up crown molding and moved back in.  Still working on the wall paintings, but getting close to being satisfied.

This week I am home to focus on my writing.  As I have been wrapping up “The Jade Serpent,” I have outlined a nonfiction book about my time in Myanmar full of photos of that beautiful country.  After those are off to the presses, the next big writing project is to continue developing a fiction story for young adults that I started a few years ago.  It is centered around a stolen antiquity, moves between centuries and across continents… an adventure mystery: mysture? adventery?

I have also decided that the next Treasure Chest Mystery will take place in Vietnam – one of my most favorite countries I have visited.

So lots to keep my mind engaged.

Next year I am teaching fifth grade again.  I will be coaching one volleyball team (instead of 3 like last year!) and tutoring a 6th and an 8th grader as my extracurriculars.  I’m excited also, to be piloting a year-long service learning program for my school with my fifth graders.  The focus is on hunger but I’ll be tying in issues around water as well.  My school also has a “sister school” in Rulindo, Rwanda and I am hoping to tie in the local service with the global learning.  Should be a fun year.

These cubist paintings were created by my students last year – arent’ they awesome? I love them altogether.

On that bright note, have a great August!

~ Gretchen



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Filed under Education, Fifth Grade, Fourth Grade, Summer, Super Creative, Travel, Writing

My First Book, The Launch

Hi All,

A few months ago my mom found a really fun, wooden chest.  It was covered in a circus motif and painted by a local artist in her town.  With my nephew’s baby on the way, she snatched it up and sent me a picture of it.  Seeing the chest sparked an idea and I started writing a story with the thought of giving it to the parents, my nephew and his wife, at Christmas.  So I have been working on the story and attempting my first illustrations.  With the great encouragement of friends, family and my current 6th graders that I am teaching, I decided to not only give it to my nephew, but to publish it.

I decided to self-publish through Amazon’s Create Space.  It was a fairly painless experience and now my book is listed on Amazon!  I am beyond excited.  I am finally coming down from my initial high and working on promoting the book, as well as writing the next one, as it is to be a series.  But I have to be careful not to over publicize right now as my nephew might see the PR blitz!  That would ruin the fun for Christmas.

So as soon as my nephew has the book in hand, I’ll launch my Facebook page etc. and let you know.  I did take the plunge and set up a Twitter account as well.  I have also created a website for the book which you can view here.  But for now, if you know of anyone that has a child reading at the 1st – 3rd grade level – I would really appreciate it if you would pass the word on about my book – it ships internationally!

You can see one of the main characters on the side bar to the right with a light blue background – Titanus McDuff.  Below is the cover of the book.

Cover Trade

Thanks and have a happy, creative day!



Filed under Adventure, Animals, Fourth Grade, Third Grade, Writing

Nigeria is Wonderful

One week left of my fun adventures in Nigeria.  Since my last post, life has found a lovely rhythm.  Working out, watching a friends choir perform, eating good food, HASHing etc…it has been nice.  Work remains good, even though the kids are getting so excited for the last day of school it is hard to keep them focused on learning.

Since our grades are already done and turned in (but the students do not know that!), I have been having them do projects that they think are just fun and silly, but they are actually learning too.

We started making paper mâché globes – this next week we’ll paint them:


And on Monday they will be performing their rap songs.  We are finishing up a unit on the Heroes Journey in Language Arts so they are creating a rap about a chosen hero.  They had a choice between Greek, Literary, Historical or Unsung heroes.  Here is what the groups chose:  Spiderman, Robin Hood, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Abigail Adams.  As of their last rehearsal they were starting to sound pretty good.  It is really fun to see who has a beat and those that don’t.  I’ll try to video tape them and share with you next week.

I finally caught a photo of one of the myriad of lizards that are constantly darting across my footsteps, bobbing their heads up and down.  They are literally everywhere and some have the coolest color combos, but as they are so skittish, it is really hard to get a photo – here is my best one so far:

IMG_2216And I was thrilled to finally be up close and see this magnificent bird:


Photo by

This of course is not my photo, but I have been seeing flits of red flying by and wondered what it could be.  A couple days ago on a back road driving to drop off a friend’s son, we spotted one sitting right next to the road.  S/he graciously did not fly off for quite some time as we marveled at the bright little creature.  This is a Red Bishop.  There have been so many colorful birds here – gorgeous sky blue, little tiny birds  (think size of a Mouse Tit) and large, golden browns and oranges the size of a large Robin.  I definitely needed a bird book for this part of the world.

I also took my students on a field trip to the Children’s Zoo. IMG_2158


Me and my TA; Lucia.

It was a pretty sad place.  Obviously very little funding and it was a massive zoo.  We saw ostrich, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, crocodiles, gazelle, African golden eagle, tortoise, goats (originally there to feed the lions but the lions died, so now the goats are on display).IMG_2178IMG_2195And lots of monkeys.  Here is one in particular I found fascinating – look for blue.  It wasn’t an anomaly, they all had them!

IMG_2201   On that note… I’ll try to post one more time before I fly back to the USA.

Have a great week!  Gretchen




Filed under Animals, Crafts, Education, Fourth Grade, Nigeria, Photography

Abuja Color

Another fun week in Abuja, Nigeria.  My fourth graders are simply wonderful.  They are so kind, polite, funny, talkative, inquisitive… I love them.

The week just flew by with major wind and hurricane rains three of the evenings.  One of which I went to a great Indian restaurant and sat up on the top floor and looked out as the sky lit up with streaks of lightning, howling winds and sideways rain.  The storms here are intense to say the least.

Last night we had another pool party in celebration of the Thai (really SE Asia) Water Festival.  It was really fun, excellent BBQ, silliness with water, great dancing…  This group of teachers, administrators and friends from embassies, Medicine San Frontier and other NGOs is full of energy and interesting.  It will be sad to say goodbye.  I can only hope that I have such a great group to join in China next year.

Next weekend we have four days off, so I am hoping to go hike Aso Rock or Zuma Rock – both famous here in Nigeria, do another HASH and visit a handcraft market.  Thus I will hopefully have a lot more photos to share.

But for now I will leave you with a few new ones.  Have a great week!  Gretchen

Palm base 2

Palm fronds – just loved the feel they exude.

Painter in Abuja

An artist painting by the side of the road to the grocery story. I am so excited to see more art.

Flame Tree at school

Everywhere are flame trees (I have yet to find out the real name for these but they are everywhere in SE Asia and I think I remember seeing them in Guatemala years back!).

Cows at school 3

Cow crossing. Heading home on Friday afternoon – we had to wait for the cows. I just love this. Check out those horns!

Cows at school 2

Cows at school 1

4 Blue

My cuties hard at work.

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Filed under Animals, Crafts, Education, Fourth Grade, Nigeria, Photography, Travel

Continent: Africa, Country: Nigeria

Image by

Image by

I’m in Africa!  Since I was a child, I have wanted to come to this amazing continent.  I am simply thrilled to be here.

My first impression of Nigeria is that it is a country burgeoning with hope.  Everywhere you look buildings and roads are being constructed.  In Abuja, the capital and where I am working, the red earth is being shaped to accommodate the large influx of people moving here to work for the government, embassies and NGOs.

I arrived just 12 days ago during my new school’s spring break.  I had finished my Myanmar school year at the end of February and then flew back to the US.  I spent a wonderful three weeks in beautiful Oregon where it was cold (to me), and after a 25 hour flight arrived in Abuja where it is hot, hot, hot!

I am happy to report that hands down, I have never been treated with such inviting warmth, support and immediate friendships as I have here at the American International School of Abuja.  School.Front EntranceEven the immigration and customs officers at the airport were smiling, inquisitive, offering to help and generally joyful.  Crazy!

And it didn’t stop at the airport.  The Curriculum Coordinator who had been covering the 4th grade class I am taking over for the rest of the year, has been nothing but accommodating; helping me transition into the classroom, driving me everywhere to get myself settled and acquainting me with the surroundings and new friends.

I have already been to a pool party (around the pool at my apartment compound), a bush bar (outdoor, under a thatched roof, beer bar) an Indian restaurant, a German Riding Club dinner and a HASH (Hash House Harriers). And today a lovely Nigerian woman came to our apartments and gave us massages.  Nice!

As to the school, it is great.  It is a K – 12 with about 500 students.  The administration is wonderful and organized.  The current principal is the founding principal (20 years!).  They have a wonderful library with computers and loads of books as well as a librarian that gives the kids weekly lessons.  A computer lab, an olympic size pool, lots of playgrounds, a stage in the cafeteria…  My assistant, Ms. Lucia is a dream.  She is wonderful.  She is very respected here and her smile is effusive.

My 20 students come from seven different countries.  Here is a list of their names as I just love the sound and mix of them all: Demateide, Saidu, Amber, Kenya, Omer, Abigail, Othneil, Kambili, Rai, Emmanuella, Hope, Kofo, Lucy, Gabe, Proshun, Theadora, Davide, Fred, Tomer, Halimah.

I will get a better picture of them – but here is a quick snapshot of the class:

Classroom.Day 3Tomorrow starts week 2 of teaching.  The kids are wonderful so teaching is easy.  My only complaint is that they love to talk, but then again don’t most 10 year olds?

As many may know, Nigeria is also having troubles with different factions causing serious harm to others.  It is mostly in the north.  From what I have been hearing from locals and expats, the main reason for the in-fighting is the current president is a Christian and it is apparently time for a Muslim to be president.  I have been told that as the country is nearly 50/50 Muslim/Christian that it is expected that when presidents change, so should the religious conviction of the new one in office, keeping it equal-ish.  The current president (a Christian) took office when the last president (a Christian) died in office.  He is now running for re-election.

Here are a few shots of what I have seen so far.  I am told that taking photos is not looked upon favorably, so I mostly likely will stick to my iPhone for photos while I am here, so the images aren’t as sharp.  Also it is the Harmattam season – when the winds from the Sahara desert kick up and fill the sky.  So the air looks like massive pollution, but it is mostly from the Sahara that is just north of us – kind of cool actually! 🙂

Yam Mounds

Yam plantation – mounds and mounds and mounds.


The crazy traffic. Worse here than in Mandalay! Here they all have cars and go everywhere they want when they want. Most cars are dented on all sides.


The local money: Naira (Nie Rah).

Home.Neighborhood street

A lovely street in my neighborhood.

HASH.Newbies Circle

HASH: All of us “Newbies” getting initiated.

HASH.Hill Top2

HASH: Top of the hill.


HASH Hike: hiking up the hill through a cashew plantation.


At the top of the hill during our HASH hike.




Side of a local market.

More to come.  I’ll be here until early June.  Then back to Oregon to start a hybrid (on-campus/online) graduate program in Geography and then next fall heading to Guangzhou, China to teach secondary Humanities.  A fun few years ahead!

I’ll be back with more photos and insights soon.  Take care!




Filed under Adventure, Education, Fourth Grade, Nigeria, Photography