February 26th, 2015

I’m Reading

I wrote a few weeks ago how I want to read more this year. How I want to put my phone down and stop playing silly addictive games and pick up a book instead. I want to make my way through this list of Mock Printz Young Adult Award Winners. I don’t think I can (or want) to read all 48 in a year, but having the list is motivating me to keep reading.

And wow! The first two books I picked were AMAZING! The kind of books that make you afraid to start another book because you know it just can’t live up to the one you just finished.

First, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. I downloaded the book onto my kindle and I’m so sad I did. I wish I had the actual book to hand to friends and to so many of my students for whom I know this will be THE BOOK. The one that reminds them that they are not alone in this world. The one that reminds them that all types of people struggle and persist and that words matter in more ways than one. This book. Man, I loved it so so much. It is full of poetry and beauty. Pain and sadness. Love and triumph. I am not always a huge fan of books written in diary form, but Gabi won me over from the very beginning and her words are words I won’t forget any time soon.

“Poetry helps heal wounds.
Makes them tangible.

At the poetry reading I read
a poem.
A prophecy I wrote down.
Almost couldn’t go through with it.

But it came out
hurried and hot
and by the end
my tongue was on fire.”
Isabel Quintero, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Next, I read Pointe by Brandy Colbert. This book was tense, full of secrets and silence and tragedy. But it was also full of discovery and friendship and support. I tried to discuss it with a student today and I didn’t know how to talk about it without giving it all away. And this is the kind of book I need to talk about with someone else who read it. It was incredibly tense and heavy. A powerful story about characters who are so unsure of their power. I couldn’t put it down because I couldn’t leave the main character, Theo, until I knew she’d be ok.

“She doesn’t get that it’s scary… to want something so much and not be sure if you’re good enough.”                                 — Brandy Colbert, Pointe

When I finish a good book these days, I tweet the author. I figure, if I wrote a book, I’d love to hear from people to whom my words mattered (just like I love to hear from you all who read my blog). This is my favorite thing about twitter, really, that I’m 140 characters away from starting a conversation with many amazing people. I get so giddy when I get a tweet back from these masters of stories.

Brandy Colbert Tweet

What are you reading? What should I add to my list of must-reads for this year?

**All links are Amazon Affiliate links. I have to support my book habit somehow…. **
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February 24th, 2015

He’s Four (Plus An Awesome Giveaway!)

“He holds up four fingers. ‘Good,’ she says. ‘Very good.’

At this moment she could devour him, not ravenously but adoringly, infinitely gently…She is full of a love so strong, so unambiguous, it resembles appetite.” –The Hours

Four

He thinks he can fly. He wants to. More than anything else, he wishes he could fly up to the clouds. “I think they would be so soft, Mom,” he tells me as he stares out the window on our way home from school. As he looks up to the blue sky that he has named and claimed.

He has powers, he says. He has powers to run really fast. To jump really high and fast and far. To fly for a split second when the running and the jumping combine for the moments of the day that he most looks forward to.

These are the powers he says he has.

I know he has others.

He has the power to melt me with one small smile.

He has the power to make me laugh with his quirky insights into everything he sees.

He has the power to notice things, small things, and to ask question after question after question. The power of curiosity.

He has the power to love, to hug me tighter than I thought a small child could manage, to give me kisses after he sweeps my hair out of the way, to hold my hand as we walk together.

He's four

He turned four this weekend. He celebrated with a few friends, ate pizza in the top of the treehouse, blew out candles perched atop chocolate cupcakes. Opened gifts and said thank you and oohed and aahed over each and every one. He loves everything, this kid. He really does.

He’s four and he loves cars and dragons, dinosaurs and books. He narrates his games aloud as he plays before bedtime, living out one last story for the day. Sometimes I listen in on his tales, of the banter he creates between race cars who can suddenly speak, dragons who are more magic than I can imagine, dinosaurs who suddenly arrive to save the day. I marvel at all he can conjure in his vast imagination.

He sometimes feels his smallness, telling me on many occasions that he cannot accomplish something because he’s still learning. Because he’s still growing. He’s in training, he tells me.

We all are, I tell him.

On Saturday he slid down the fire pole all on his own for the very first time, mustering more courage as he moved into a new year.   Beaming with pride, he ran to hug me, told me how brave he was becoming.

“I’m four now, Mom!” he said.

He's Four

 

My awesome friend Cara made Miles’ birthday shirt. Her shirts are hand-sewn and all designed by Cara. She is so creative and has excellent taste and I’m so excited that she is starting this creative venture! And the exciting part for you? She would love to give one of my readers a shirt too (one custom shirt, size 12 months -5T, shipping in U.S. only)! In order to win, you must comment on this post (make sure to leave a good email address) and like Cara’s facebook page, A Pocket Full of Posey.  I will use random.org to choose a winner next Tuesday.

Disclosure: She gifted me Miles’ shirt because she’s awesome and agrees that he’s really cute (not because she really wanted me to write about her on my blog…) And she made another one for Nora that she obviously adores. 

He's Four

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February 18th, 2015

Six Word Wednesday

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February 16th, 2015

The Teacher Becomes the Student

Back in October a blog post about a veteran teacher following a student for 2 days went a bit viral. My friends shared it on facebook, retweeted it on twitter and my principal was among the many who read and shared it. Instead of just reading and sharing, though, he offered us all the opportunity to recreate the same experience on our campus for a day – pick a student and shadow them for the whole day. Do all the work. Sit in all the desks. Take all the tests and quizzes. Eat lunch in the cafeteria.

So I did.

The initial blog that circulated boasted in its headline that the teacher had a “sobering” experience. It talked about what she learned she’d been doing “wrong” and all the ways she saw students suffering in their long days at school.

My experience was not sobering. Quite the opposite, actually. My experience was energizing and confirmed for me that when teachers continue to learn, schools can look and feel just as we hope they should.

Student for a day

In this initial blog post the blogger noted things that have to change:

She said students sit all day. While two of the classes were mostly seated due to writing tasks, the others were not. I was not tired of sitting all day like I often am at the end of professional development.

This was most evident in math class. Math class, also, ironically, was my favorite. My student, knowing that I am an English teacher, was very prepared to help me prepare for pre-cal all day. She loves math much more than she loves writing essays for me. The class started with a quick warm-up that looked a bit like the homework my student had used to teach me earlier in the day. Then, most fun of all, we got up out of our seats, left the classroom for the big open hallway and did a math scavenger hunt. It was last period on a Friday before Valentine’s day and all the kids were engaged in a fun activity to review before a quick quiz at the end of class. (I took the quiz and I think I did ok. That’s saying a lot since I took pre-cal 20 years ago. )

She said students sat and passively listened for 90% of the classes. That wasn’t at all the case for me. I’d say it was less than 25% of each class that was passive listening. There were opportunities to talk to peers and ask questions as we worked in all classes. Students worked together through the challenges that the teacher set. All classes allowed for an encouraged collaboration as a way of pushing students towards the learning goals. I wouldn’t have succeeded on the assigned tasks otherwise.

In AP US History and in my own class (where my student teacher was at the helm), students talked out their thinking and worked together on skill specific and focused work. They weren’t expected to struggle or suffer in silence, but rather to ask questions as groups and figure it out together, to point each other in the right direction. The teacher was there to help, but the teacher wasn’t seen as the one and only source of help or answers. That seemed really healthy to me.

The initial blogger said she felt like a nuisance all day. I never ever did. Not once. I sat in classrooms with smiling teachers who, on Friday the 13th, while students were hopped up on pre-Valentine’s day sugar and hormones, still seemed like they really wanted to be there. They had well planned activities that students worked through. There were reminders to put phones away, to pay attention to how much time was left, but never once did I hear sarcasm or snark or remarks that showed a lack of patience or respect.

Instead I saw, all day long, a community of learners. Teachers who had clearly learned from each other and from the good professional development we are lucky to have from the Creative Learning Initiative. And students who (like I already knew) impress me in so many unmeasurable ways, ways that may be reflected in grades and test scores, but most likely are far beyond the story those pieces of data tell.

I started my day in band. It wasn’t a normal day since the director’s were out at a conference, but perhaps that was an even better day to visit. Directors not there… mayhem ensues? Nope. Not at all. What I saw in the band hall was what we hope happens when we adults aren’t watching (and there were adults – two band parents and a substitute). The students took initiative without anyone breathing over their shoulder. The students became the teachers. Groups practiced pieces together. Groups with no impending performances formed study groups to help each other learn math and physics and English before tests that day. My awesome host student tutored me in pre-cal and I was so impressed with her ability to teach me. She knew here stuff so well I did too by the end of the class.

And lunch. This was the most terrifying part for me. I have been at my school for ten years. This was exactly the first time I ever went to the cafeteria during lunch time. I should be embarrassed to say that. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was at lunch time that I started to realize that this experience wasn’t going to be sobering in the same way it was for the other teacher. Instead, I sat at that lunch table eating the chips and sandwich I brought while the students didn’t at all freak out that there was a teacher in their midst. They talked about their days and their friends and their weekend plans. And I sat there and thought that I hope my own children sit at such a table with such friends when they are 16.

I shadowed a student and, while I learned and reflected on my own practice (I might share that in another post), I mostly learned what I already pretty much knew: I am lucky to work at a school where everyone is a learner and where students and teachers form a true community.

We tend to share and retweet and comment on the “sobering” lessons, the failed tests, the teachers who aren’t teaching, the students who aren’t on track. But our schools aren’t failing and our teachers and students are working hard and learning and growing together in creative and innovative ways. I saw it first hand.

Can we still improve? Of course. But shouldn’t that be true of all professions? We are always learning and growing and changing. That’s what will make us successful.

And I’ll let you know if I passed the pre-cal test as soon as I get it back :)

 

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February 12th, 2015

To Promise More

“What lives undimmed in Clarissa’s mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more.” –The Hours

I wasn’t much of an explorer. Or an adventurer. I was a studyer and a reader and a plan-aheader and a quiet-timer.

He used to pick me up in his blue truck and declare that we were going on an adventure, that we were going somewhere new, doing something I hadn’t planned.

Once I stopped myself from worrying, I was all for it.

He took me to new restaurants and concerts in the parks. He took me on long scenic drives to places I didn’t know existed. He took me up mountains and down canyons and across rocks. He proposed in the midst of an adventure on the beach, next to a campfire where he’d cooked me dinner, on a giant rock where we watched the moon rise.

One day, I suspect, my children will ask me how I knew I wanted to marry him. And I will tell them that I always knew there would be more. More adventure, more questions, more answers, more love, more conversation, more pushing me to get out of my comfort zone and discover. More.

In our shadows, which I photographed and framed, the only photo that used to sit on my desk, I saw promise and possibility.

FullSizeRender (3)

It’s hard to adventure when you have small children, when you are working hard to fold the laundry, cook the dinner, pick up the toys, plan the birthday parties, drive to dance class, to make money and ends meet and provide all the luxuries you envisioned you’d have when you were parents of small children. It’s hard to pick up and go without much planning, to be spontaneous and explore when you have to pack all the snacks and fill all the water-bottles and find the right socks and tie the shoes just right and be prepared for the unexpected.

But then there you are, out on the rocks on a Sunday, having decided rather suddenly that a trip to a new park, a hike along some new paths was just the thing for that day. There you are, watching the kids dip their toes in cold water, throwing pebbles into the puddles, sitting in the sunshine on a day that feels easier than most.

And there it is. Possibility and the promise of more still hiding in the shadows.

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February 11th, 2015

Six Word Wednesday

tall tales

 

Saturday morning in the car, Miles and I are alone. He puts on Nora’s sunglasses. 

Miles: I will wear Nora’s glasses. She will never know.

Sunday afternoon we are all in the car together. Nora puts on her own sunglasses. 

Miles: I’ve never word those before.

Me: What did you say?

Miles: I told her I wore those yesterday. *Big grin*

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February 9th, 2015

Easy Last-Minute DIY Valentines

I love making Valentines. Most years I think I spend more time making my kids’ Valentines than I do our Christmas card. So far I’ve had very willing participants who are sold on the idea of photo Valentines over the character-clad store bought ones. And since I love taking and editing photos on my phone, making these cards is super easy.

This year, I set up a photo shoot in the back yard against our convenient white fence backdrop. Nora picked out some hearts at Michaels that we taped up on the fence in various arrangements. She dressed herself in red and put on her silly Valentine’s headband and I found Miles’ sole piece of red clothing. The light was good and they were happy to pose and smile.

Easy DIY Valentines

 

FullSizeRender (2)

diy valentines

Once I took the photos, I edited them in one of my apps that adds text to photos (I like Over). Miles’ were a bit tricky so I ended up doing all of his on picmonkey on the computer. I did all of Nora’s on my phone. She told me which photos she wanted to use, what she wanted it to say, what font to use and what color to make the font.

Once I had them all arranged, I opened the Walgreens app on my phone and ordered my prints! Miles’ are square 4×4 prints and Nora’s are 4×6 (she didn’t want them to look as small as Miles’). I wanted to make Nora’s 8×8 and cut them in half, but alas, those prints are expensive! The other sizes are totally reasonable and printing Valentines for the whole class is just as cheap (if not cheaper) than a whole box of pre-made Valentines or a bunch of craft supplies to make your own.

I think they turned out really great this year!

diy Valentines

 

diy valentines

Some time this week we will attach lollipops on the back using some colorful washi tape Nora picked out and voila! Easiest photo Valentines!

(Just thought I’d add that this post is in no way sponsored by Walgreens or any other app I mentioned. I just love the ease of Walgreens photo ordering and they are right down the street!)

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February 5th, 2015

I Want To Read More

I’ve written before about how I used to be a voracious reader, how I used to read more than write. Last year I read more than I have since the craziness of two kids set in, but it still wasn’t as much as I’d like.

Monday morning I watched twitter explode as the Mock Printz awards were announced. I clicked on title after title and thought, “I want to read that.” And I was surprised by the fact that I hadn’t even heard of so many of the titles. I love Young Adult fiction – it is addictive and easy and a true escape for me. So, I decided to tweet a friend, a fellow reader, to see if she was down with my crazy idea. She was (not surprisingly – I think she likes reading and YA even more than I do).

So I am going to try to read all 48 of the Mock Printz winners. That’s my 2015 reading goal.

I started with Gabi, a Girl in Pieces and so far so good. I can tell this will be a book I will recommend to many many students. It is well-written and offers a diverse picture that a lot of YA doesn’t. I’ll let you know what I think after I finish it.

Reading all 48 books will be a huge challenge for me, but I’m going to try. Off to read… 

**Amazon links are affiliate links…
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February 4th, 2015

Six Word Wednesday

angelic

 

 

I staged a Valentine’s photo shoot this weekend (more on that later) and this one has been cracking me up all week. One day he and I will laugh at this together. Later in life , maybe when he’s 16, he probably won’t make this pose accidentally and innocently in response to the thought of hearts and flowers and cliche love.

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February 2nd, 2015

The Thing Itself

“Still, this indiscriminate love feels entirely serious to her, as if everything in the world is part of a vast, inscrutable intention and everything in the world has its own secret name, a name that cannot be conveyed in language but is simply the sight and feel of the thing itself.” –The Hours 

I had planned ahead.

“You’ll want a glider,” a friend had told me. “You’ll want it to recline and glide. You’ll spend hours in that chair. Get a nice one.”

It was going to be the nicest piece of furniture we owned. I stood in the store when my baby bump was still barely visible and I picked out the finish and the fabric and the model that would fit perfectly in the corner of the tiny nursery we had just begun to plan and envision. It was the kind of chair that took months to get, so I had to plan ahead, order early.

I wanted to be ready.

When the chair arrived in oversize boxes that rolled off the truck and into our house, I was weeks from giving birth. I was tired and growing still, worried about my rising blood pressure and the looming early delivery, the bedrest that didn’t feel so restful in our still unfinished house.

We opened the boxes as I anticipated resting my pregnant body in the chair that would recline and rock, that would ease me into motherhood.

But it was the wrong chair. It was dark finish and brown fabric. Mine was supposed to be white painted wood with green and white checks.

It was the wrong chair and the nursery wouldn’t look perfect when we brought our first baby home.

Nothing would be perfectly planned anymore, really.

The chair was my first lesson in motherhood.

“We are so sorry,” they said. “We’ll get you the right one right away, as fast as we can.” And they did. It was even nicer than the one I’d ordered, all the extra features thrown in as a customer service apology.

In the wrong chair and then the right one, I learned to be a mother. I sat patiently with my oh so tiny baby who would hardly wake to nurse. I took her tiny clothes off to try to keep her awake, lifted her chicken wing arms as the nurse had shown me, held her close and balanced her on the pillow and against my breast.

And I rocked.

In the wrong chair and then the right one I sang her her first songs and read her her first books. I kept the baby books, filled with answers and advice, within arms reach, talismans against doing anything wrong. I kept pacifiers she’d never take in the side pockets just in case. I fell asleep with her snuggled up on me, smelling like spit-up, milk leaking through my shirt.

And I rocked.

In the chair I held her as she suffered her first cold, coughed her first coughs. I held her, wrapped her in blankets, checked her temperature and cried because I felt so helpless. And because I was so in love.

And I rocked.

In the chair I held a second small baby, a boy who was never quite as sleepy as the first. I held him tight, smelled his baby smell, reclined into the sunshine to soak up the beginning of who he was and will be. Put my feet up and rocked him in the quiet moments we stole together.

I propped him up for pictures in the chair, the sunniest spot in our house on the mornings when it was just he and I, when we were simply looking into each others’ eyes for love and affection and the memory of those first moments. When time slowed and I could examine each tiny dimple on his hands, the way his knees disappeared into his chubby legs, each new hair sprouting on his bald head.

I nursed him all night for too many nights, until I was so tired I couldn’t see straight and he was so miserable with ear infections he couldn’t sleep. We rocked and rocked and rocked and the rhythm of the gliding got us through until we asked for help.

And I rocked.

In that chair, I learned to be a mother. To let the unexpected be expected. To sit and stare and love. To laugh when there’s no other choice. It’s where I sat to memorize the way her face puckered up and her body stretched as she emerged from sleep, the way he smiled with his whole body, projecting happiness throughout the whole room. It’s where things went exactly as I thought they would and exactly the opposite.

In that chair, I fell in love.

*****

“What do you think?” He asked.

“I don’t know. You’re the one who thinks we really need a nice chair,” she said.

“Oh. You’ll want a chair,” I said. “You want this chair.”

The Thing Itself

I sold the chair this weekend.

Someone else can rock and learn the love that cannot fully be conveyed in language.

 

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