Friday, March 31, 2017

Creating a Poem about Age - Slice of Life 3/31/17

During this month I wrote about my plan to write a poem about age with my students. We began this week. I used the following mentor texts to get the kids thinking along these lines:

Then the kids went off to craft their own poems, and so did I. They will be turning their poems in today. I've read several. Many are extremely personal and private. I'm impressed that in this first poetry assignment of the unit, they've already gone far beyond what I could have dreamed possible.

Here's where my poem is at now. It isn't where I want it to be, but it is on the way there:

This is 43 

This is 43
the sandwich generation
raising children
nervously watching our own parents grow old.

At 43 you begin to sense time more deeply
you long to slow down,
to cherish moments with your kids,
your parents,
your spouse.

At 43 you wish for a magic wand
just to keep things the way they are,
but you know you can’t.
And at 43, you begin to accept that.

When you reach 43,
you begin to find a peace you didn’t know you had.
You can look at things objectively,
evaluate them for their worth,
and move on.

43 is about giving up
on friends who aren’t true,
unrealistic expectations,
and worrying about others’ perceptions of you.

43 is coming to accept your own limitations
and knowing that only you are responsible for you.
It’s the time to stop blaming
and become who you are meant to be.

43 is finding out that your children
are actually interesting people.
You watch them navigate the world,
Wish you could make life easier for them,
pray that you’ve taught them what they need to know
and push them out of the nest to watch them go.

And after twenty years of marriage,
at 43, your idea of a great Friday night
includes hanging out at home,
ordering pizza with a sweet red sauce,
and watching Fixer Upper on TV.
Hearing your boys in the basement,
dogs laying by our side
equals perfection.

At 43 you catch your reflection in the mirror,
and wonder how your mom got there.
Inside you feel like a kid,
but are also grateful you are not.
You’ve learned too much,
become too comfortable in your own skin,
to ever want to go back.

43 is knowing you are on
the downhill part of your run.
Life is moving by at a faster pace,
but the wisdom gained through
age lets me soak it up,
appreciate the small moments
and embrace myself for who I am.

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nuggets of Goodness...Slice of Life 3/30/17

Man alive, I was grumpy yesterday. I love this new, fluffy, ball of energy living in our house named Leia. That being said, yesterday I was spent. I haven't had a full night sleep since last Wednesday. Yesterday I also got up at 5am so that I could squeeze in a swim before school. I was stressed, exhausted, and then a certain puppy was not cooperating. Perfect story of ugh.

So today, even though I had to wake up at 5am again, I began looking for the goodness to be found. I was determined not to be grouchy again.

I laughed at my oldest son. We were up early because my boys see a dermatologist every four months. His office is thirty miles away, but he does 6:30am appointments so we don't need to miss school to go. Luke went to his first concert last night with his friends (Green Day) and got home shortly before midnight. Getting up at 5:45am was rough on his teenage body, but it was an experience he won't forget. (And he was hilarious trying to curl up with his long lanky body.) 
I got to school and finally had a moment to read this picture book. WOW. Here Reynolds is talking about our students that have ADD/ ADHD and how we need to celebrate all kids. I absolutely loved this one.
I know how blessed I am to work in a building with a librarian, even though we don't get her full time - she works in two buildings in our district. Today my students went down to hear book talks from Mrs. D on our assigned genre this quarter. I sat in the corner doing some fluency testing. I loved hearing the kids get excited over books, how they would flip to the back of their notebooks to write down the books they wanted to read, or the shouts of "Mrs. S book talked that one..." when they saw a book they knew.

The dogs were markedly improved in their attitudes towards each other. I'll take it. It is far from perfect, yet today was much improved over yesterday.

And, once again, I was reminded that life is better when we work together. After yesterday's post about the challenges with Leia, I had so many comments, Facebook messages, texts, and more giving advice. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I appreciate it all.

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It's a Good Thing She's Cute... Slice of Life 3/29/17

I am frazzled. Our lives are crazy busy on a regular basis. We have one dog, Rosie. I often describe her as a hot mess - she's anxious at times, a bit of a princess. However, she's also one of the easiest dogs in the world. She's happy as long as she can sit by you. She's pretty quiet, unless she sees a bird or squirrel outside. Otherwise, she's a breeze. 

And yet, we decided to bring a new dog into our household. There were a variety of reasons. One, as crazy as Rosie is, I think she truly would love a friend. Two, our boys have never had a puppy - that's something to experience. Three, we just love dogs. So, Leia joined our home last week.

Holy smokes, folks. It has been seventeen years since I had a puppy. Today found me taking her out to play in the yard as soon as I got home from school. Rosie came out too and Leia had a bathroom break outside. After awhile, we came back in. We played ball in the living room for twenty minutes or so, then I grabbed my shoes and took both dogs in the van to go pick up the boys from track. Returning home, I found Chris cleaning up the rug. Apparently in the two minutes I ran to get my shoes, Leia went into the living room and pooped on the carpet. Twice. 


So, twenty minutes before I began recording a podcast tonight, Chris rolled up the rug and took it out of the house. I just think she can't be trusted right now around one. 

I think I've been muttering, "This too shall pass..." nonstop of late. 

Leia is lovable, cuddly, and adorable. It's a darn good thing too.

If anyone has house training tips or advice for living with a crazy puppy, feel free to send some our way.

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

It Was a Good Day... Slice of Life 3/28/17

First day back from spring break, I wasn't sure I was ready. I love seeing my students, of course, but I was tired. This puppy business makes me feel like I have an infant once again. Sleep is elusive. House training is frustrating. Yet, she's adorable and our break was over, so off to school I went.

The day began a bit rough. I should have gone in over break and made copies. Instead, I naively told myself that I could quickly make copies at the start of the day. Which would be fine if a good portion of the teachers in the building hadn't had the same idea. So there was a line, and the machine was jamming, so I revamped.

School started, my students came in, and we did the Status of the Class. I could quickly see the majority of them had read quite a bit over break. I let them know I was impressed. 

The rest of class found us sharing book talks, heading outside for a quick write, looking over mentor texts for our poem about age, and brainstorming what might be included in our own. And this happened two more times. 

After school I got to play with Leia and Rosie, visit with my mom, and then quickly ran to Champaign with Luke. There we took a quick trip to the bookstore and swung by Starbucks to cap off the day with a bit of perfection. 

While it might have been a Monday, it can't get much better than that. 
Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Water - Slice of Life 3/27/17

When I was small, I was afraid of the water. I remember swim lessons where they'd ask me to dunk my head, pick up a ring. My toes were made for the job, seeking out that ring, curling around it, bringing it to my hand as my head stayed dry.

Yet, one day, I finally got my courage, took a deep breath, and went under. I remember opening my eyes and looking around, amazed at this "other" world.

Water became solace, water became comfort, water brought me joy.

My astrology sign, if you put stock in such things, is Pisces. Maybe it was predestined that I would have such a connection to water, maybe it wasn't. I just know the connection is there.

Once I got over my fear of dunking my head, I became a fish every summer. I'd spend days at the pool with my friends, hours swimming laps for swim team every morning. The sound of the waves on the beach would sooth my soul in a moment, as did gazing out over a lake or a pond.

As an adult, I live for time near the water. My favorite vacations center around a beach. If I could somehow magically transport my town to be near the ocean, I'd be in heaven. Instead, I treasure the time that I do see that glorious expanse of the horizon, the birds calling overhead, the smell of salt in the air. 

And, when that's not enough, I head to the pool as I did today. 

I pulled on my goggles, set my watch, took a breath, dropped below the water, and pushed off from the wall. Bubbles raced past to me as my body pushed up to the surface. My arms started pulling me through, the strokes and breaths are instinctual, my mind knows them by heart. 

There's no fear of the water any longer, only a longing in my heart to be near it. 

This is home.

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Classroom Environment - Slice of Life 3/26/17

I spent the evening trying to type up a grant proposal for my classroom. I say "trying" because Leia, our new puppy, thinks it is great fun to climb onto my lap, onto my laptop, and paw the keyboard. The entire process took double the time it should have, which seems about right. At any rate, I loved writing this proposal, which seems odd, I know. I loved it because it gave me time to reflect on the classroom I share with my students, to think about what works and what doesn't. To try and brainstorm what could make the space better.

To give you some perspective, this is the classroom I left last year when I left the fifth grade classroom. 

The best parts of the room were the large windows, high ceilings, and sense of history. The building was built in 1894. I loved sitting quietly with my students, thinking about who came before us in that room, who would come after. I loved that I sat in that classroom as a fifth grader myself. I loved that you could see my favorite classroom ever - my preschool Farm School from the south playground. It was a great place to teach. The downside to the room was that it was old. No air conditioning in fall and spring in Illinois is not fun. There were over forty stairs to get to the room, great for cardio, not great when you are running up and back multiple times a day. Part of me misses that room, part is glad to be somewhere else.

This is the room I moved into in June:

It is no exaggeration to tell you that I was in tears this day. I questioned what in the world I was doing. I wondered how to get any character into this classroom, to make it feel like a spot my students felt at home in. I am not a "decorating" teacher. I don't color coordinate, have cool boarders, or anything of that nature. I have nothing against that, my belief is that you do what works for you. I just felt sad sitting here, there was no history to work with. My son, Luke, figured it out and told me we needed to move in my books first. Smart kid. Once that happened, everything began to change. Here's a few photos of our classroom now:

I'm grateful to some local organizations, including our education foundation, for providing me some grant money last year to get more alternate seating in my room. I'm also grateful to my janitor, who didn't bat an eye when I asked him to get rid of my teacher's desk, several filing cabinets, and a slew of student desk/chair combos. Finally, I'm beyond thrilled that my husband not only supports my classroom, but built shelves for me this year when I realized the built in shelves in my old classroom wouldn't be coming with me. 

Classroom environment is something I'm constantly thinking about. I want every student to feel comfortable in our classroom. I want them to feel that it is truly our room, not mine. I ask them repeatedly what works for them and what doesn't. I hope that by seeking their input I end up with a classroom that works for all of us. 

What works for you in a classroom? Please share in the comments. I am always trying to reimagine what a classroom needs to be. My students help me a lot here, but I would love to learn from all of you too.

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Disappointment - Slice of Life 3/25/17

This morning
as I blearily picked up Leia
carrying her outside
I thought of the laps I would swim tonight.

We wandered the yard
dawn just arriving
and I marveled once again
how similar a puppy is to a newborn.

Going about my day
with a crazy busy morning
and a calm afternoon
my mind looked forward to the peace of the pool.

Liam and I were almost late
so caught up was I in The Hate U Give
that the early evening snuck up on me.
I raced to get my suit on,
grab my pool bag,
he got his basketball shoes
and we were out the door.

On the way to the Y I mulled over 
the book I had just finished.
A must read.
I turned on Pod Save America
And stressed out a bit over the current climate.
Yep, those laps were needed.

We pulled into the parking lot
spilling out of the van.
I grabbed my bag
and we headed into the building.

Pulling up the Y's app,
I got ready to check in,
and then, 
I saw it.
A red notification on facilities.

Oh no...
my mind raced.
I looked up at the desk
while also opening the notification center
as I walked in.
My heart sank as I learned the news

The lap pool was closed tonight,
and possibly longer.
Pump failure.


Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Friday, March 24, 2017

Welcome Home, Leia! Slice of Life 3/24/17

Last fall I began to get serious about looking for another dog. I'm a big believer in dogs in my life. As a kid I had Pokey, Tristan, and Sally. As an adult I had Bally, then Rosie. Rosie is still with us, she's only a three year old King Charles Cavalier, so why the need for another pup? I'm not sure. I've always wanted to have two - I felt like they would always have a friend at home. So, we began the search.

After many starts and stops, we found a breeder of Golden Doodles near us around Thanksgiving. The owner sent me a message right before Christmas, they had a litter coming! And, on New Year's Day, the litter was born - one girl and three boys. 

Since New Year's we have trekked the twenty or so miles to visit the puppies several times. We knew we wanted a girl puppy. After some discussion over her name, we finally settled on Leia. Rosie was named by her breeder - she is Princess Rose. So now, we have another princess, Princess Leia. 

Leia came home on Wednesday. Rosie is not sure what to make of her. Wednesday she ignored Leia while we all tried to shower equal amounts of attention on both of them. Wednesday night was rough. Leia was sad to be away from her brother, she wasn't sure what a crate was, and couldn't understand why she couldn't be with us. She cried and cried, even though Liam and I were laying in a bed right next to her crate. I took her out several times during the night. On the third trip, we had an additional visitor to Liam's room, Rosie. She wanted to see Leia and lay near the crate. Small steps.

Thursday found us having a visit to the vet's office. Leia weighed in at a whopping 19.6 pounds at 11 weeks old. The vet was impressed with her chill nature. We laughed at how she struggled to stay awake during the visit after playing with the boys all morning. (I'd like to have her this exhausted at night...small steps.)

As for Leia and Rosie, they've warmed up a bit. Leia wants to be best friends - to play and wrestle, curl up together on the couch. Rosie wants to walk near her, lay a foot away from each other on the couch, check her out from afar. While they aren't best friends yet, I'm hopeful at where they will end up in a few weeks.

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How Lucky Are We to be Alive Right Now - Slice of Life 3/23/17

So much has happened since I wrote my slice for Wednesday. That one I wrote ahead, on Monday, because I knew there would be no time on Tuesday. See, Tuesday after lunch we packed up, headed three hours north, checked an item of my dream bucket list, spent the night in Chicago, drove home Wednesday, and picked up our new puppy. While there are likely a million slice possibilities to unpack in the past two days, I'm going to focus this one on the reason for our trip north and Friday's slice on our new puppy. 
So a little less than a year ago I purchased the Hamilton soundtrack to see what the fuss was all about. I fell hard. There is no way to begin to estimate how many times I listened to the soundtrack. I purchased the book Hamilton: The Revolution to learn more about Lin-Manuel Miranda's process in creating the book. I've watched the PBS special around ten times. My family has begun to catch my sickness. They've already heard the soundtrack, Chris read Chernow's biography of Hamilton. In September another group of tickets went on sale for Chicago (I was presenting for Scholastic when the first group of tickets became available and missed out), I got four. WOO HOO!

Tuesday night that dream of seeing Hamilton became a reality. My family was thrilled, but I was flying. I got another monster cold, my third of the school year, because apparently I can't have a break from school and not be sick. Even a cold couldn't dampen my spirits. 
Ceiling at The Palmer House
We stayed at The Palmer House, only a block from the theater. This hotel has a special spot in my heart. My first NCTE was in Chicago in 2011. We stayed at that hotel. In the bar in the lobby I had a conversation with my friend, Colby, about blogging. He encouraged me to begin one - and this space was born. I felt like not only was I having a dream come true on Tuesday night by seeing Hamilton, but I was also getting to revisit such a special place from my past.

Chris, the boys, and I headed to dinner at a Chicago institution - Miller's Pub. After dinner we trekked over to the theater to stand in line to get in. Both in line, and in the theater, I ran into people from our tiny town. Crazy! We're from a town of 5000 people, yet at least three groups of folks were at Hamilton on Tuesday night.

Time flew and before I knew it, it was time to begin. For the entire first act I felt like I was in a dream. It was so good! At one point I looked at Liam next to me, he grinned and said, "When are the Cabinet Battles?" Which are his favorite songs in the soundtrack. I reminded him that both of those songs are in Act two. I said a quick prayer of thanks to be here in this space with my three favorite people. 

We sat through intermission and Act two began. Before I knew it, we were at the end, tears were streaming down my face, and I wished I could start the entire evening all over. Luke turned to me and said "That was amazing." Chris told me he loved it. Liam just grinned.

I didn't think it was possible for Hamilton to live up to my expectations, but it by far exceeded them. I'd go again and again if I could. If you get the chance, jump on it. It was a night I will never forget.

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I love my Mac, but... Slice of Life 3/22/17

Ok, I am seriously an Apple snob. It happened so gradually I hadn't even realized it. I think it started when I began teaching in my district, seventeen years ago. I came in my classroom and this beauty was on my desk...

From there my district moved on, and so did I. When Chris and I needed a new computer at home, we bought a beautiful iMac. When I needed a laptop, I purchased my first MacBook Pro. My phone, since I have had a smartphone, has always been an iPhone. I have an iPad, but don't use it. I'd love an iPad mini though. And for my birthday Chris bought me one of my favorite things - an Apple Watch. (It counts my laps as I swim!) So when I tell you the following please understand, it is coming from a place of love.

Today I wanted to pitch my MacBook Pro out a flipping window. 

I purchased a new one around Christmas. My old Pro had seen me through grad school, blog posts, articles, and more. It was a faithful computer, but was on its last legs. The new Pro came and it was a thing of beauty. There is this bizarre touch bar, but otherwise it was the same, right? NOPE. There are these stupid ports instead of anything normal called Thunderbolt 3. They really could just be called $$$$$.

I've bought countless adapters so that I can still use this computer the way I have in the past - ones to charge my phone in it, to hook up to HDMI, USB, blah blah blah. Today I needed to record a podcast for Voices From the Middle. I typically hardwire my internet when we record, WiFi in our house tends to be unreliable. I purposefully bought a new adapter for tonight - ethernet to Thunderbolt. The time came to get online and I realized it needed to be Thunderbolt 3 and wouldn't work. ARGH!

I ran and grabbed my old laptop that Liam supposedly uses now. It had no charge. Grabbed the cord, plugged it in, logged in, pulled up Zoom and nothing. It wouldn't connect. Now I remembered why I got rid of this thing.

Grabbing my laptop back, I decided we'd have to rely on the WiFi. I said a prayer to the internet gods and loaded up Zoom. I grabbed my headphones that I use for my iPhone 7, put them in, and realized they didn't work with these ports either. Are you serious? Tossed those to the side and just recorded, sans headphones.
Me, before I figured the headphone wouldn't work.

Oh Apple, I do love you so. I'm sure that the Thunderbolt 3 has wonderful and powerful reasons for the inclusion on this laptop. However, it is absolutely flipping ridiculous to expect people to shell out a ton of money (after buying the laptop) for all of these adapters. 

Deep breaths. The podcast was recorded. The conversation was excellent. I will, I'm certain, forgive Apple tomorrow. For now, I need to breathe. 

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Comfortable in My Own Skin Part 2 - Slice of Life 3/21/17

I wrote a post the other day about turning forty-three and being ok with who I am - especially as it relates to spending time alone. (Which I need, but have not always been comfortable claiming for myself). 

I'm thinking more about age and self-acceptance as I prepare to write a poem about what 43 looks like for me. I mentioned that this is a poem I want my students to write this year. I've gathered a few mentor text about age - some poems, some not - for us to study. A reader asked if I'd share those with you all. Here's what I have so far:

Billy Collins On Turning Ten

A Lady Who Thinks She Is Thirty

This is Thirty Eight

Poem at Thirty-Nine

This is 45: The Eye of Life's Storm

Five for Fighting lyrics for 100 years

Age of 55 by Raburn

If you have any I should add, please let me know in the comments.

The more time I spend thinking about age, writing about what my current age means, the more times a small moment sneaks its way into my brain. I record it on Google Keep, storing it as a squirrel stores nuts, waiting for the poem to come together. For example, I saw my age in the locker room today at the Y. Apparently I'm not as "comfortable" as I thought. The eighty year old women were all around me, leaving water aerobics, taking a shower, talking about their grandchildren, great-grandchildren. They didn't even try to cover up their bodies, naked as the day they were born. I bring my towel to shower, put my underwear on in the stall. I've seen far too many students in this locker room. They need to be somewhat protected from that image of their teacher. Maybe forty more years will pass and I won't care, but for today, modesty prevails.

I also see my age in friendships. I comforted a student the other day. She had been let down by a friend. It had been a one sided friendship, she felt. They did a lot together, but it was always initiated by her. She wondered, was it not really a friendship? At the age of forty-three, I've had my share of friendships come and go. I love where I am now. I absolutely have had one sided friendships in the past, but I got to tell her that she was in control. If that person was someone she valued, it didn't mean that she needed to cut her out of her life, but recognize that was the way their relationship would be for now. She should feel comfortable speaking up if she wanted, or she could let it continue, but she got to make that decision. 

As a kid, so many things bothered me. I agonized over little issues. I worried how many friends I had, what they thought of me, what circle of friendship I was in for them and they for me. (Acquaintance, close friend, best friend, etc.) At forty-three, that's gone. I have many friendships where I do the heavy lifting, and that's ok. I have some that have faded with the craziness of being a parent to two boys, that's ok. I think friends are like the tide, they ebb and flow. What remains is meant to be there, in your life. I have friends I don't see often, but when I do it is as if no time has passed. It's a funny thing, the balance in relationships, and a hard one to figure out. I was glad to stand on this side of that struggle and try to comfort my student, but I'm not sure my words helped. Sometimes you have to live through it. 

I can't wait to see what else comes to my mind as I think of my age poem, or what it ends up becoming. And I certainly cannot wait to see what my seventh graders create. I have a feeling it will be some of my favorite writing of the year. 

Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers