Saturday, March 25, 2017

SOL #26: What's good about...

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

"What's good about my dolls' heads,"
she tells me gravely,
"is that I can rest my chin on them if I get sleepy
while I'm holding them."

What's good about this truck,
I think,
is that you sit right next to me on this bench seat,
your dolls in your lap.

What's good about late March
is that the cherry blossoms look lovely
even on a day as grey as today.

My daughter made this little comment while we were driving home today, and it sounded like the first line of a poem to me.  So I tried to write the rest.

SOL #25: The Dish Towel to End All Dish Towels

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

There's a blog I follow that is neither a teaching blog nor a book blog.  I believe I found it back when I was reading a lot of adoption blogs, but although the writer's family includes adoption, I wouldn't call it an adoption blog either.

And "Mommy blog" is so dismissive.  Family blog?

The best I can do is tell you it's like Erma Bombeck, although that's not quite accurate either, as Erma took the seeds of real life and spun them into exaggerated stories.  This blogger doesn't have to exaggerate (much) in order to hit over-the-top.  But the incredible humor still reminds me of Erma, and she has the ability to switch gears into poignant reflection as well.

Enough of the intro.  I'm talking about Beth Woolsey's Five Kids is a Lot of Kids, and if you click over there right now, you'll find her latest piece, which literally made me laugh until I cried (and we English teachers make a point of using "literally" correctly, right?), as well as the piece from a couple of days ago, which just made me cry.  A pretty definitive showcasing of her work.

Anyway.  Beth is my hero in a lot of ways, and I was fortunate enough to meet her last summer at a welcoming and fun writing retreat she runs on the Oregon coast.  And one concrete thing I've learned from her is (drum roll...) you can embroider whatever the hell you want onto dish towels.

When I first learned this amazing fact from her blog several years ago, I set to making dish towels for my sisters with family sayings on them.  Then I had my daughter draw a picture onto a towel, and embroidered it as a gift to her grandma.

But I think I have reached new heights with this, the dish towel I'm presenting my friend Kristi with at her birthday brunch in an hour.

Kristi and I have been friends since she joined my class in third grade.  Which is to say, 40 years next fall.  We have celebrated a LOT of birthdays together.  She is one of my favorite human beings, and I made her a dish towel that is both topical and timeless.  Check it out.

I totally free-handed the cat, by the way, so its legs are mildly hilarious, but that's okay.  I also thought seriously about adding a Georgia O'Keefe inspired flower/vulva type thing to the fourth corner, but decided to rein myself in.

So, thanks to Beth's blog, Kristi is receiving perhaps the coolest dishtowel ever stitched.  Who says blogging won't change lives?

Friday, March 24, 2017

SOL #24: Alpine Glow

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

On this morning's commute, I heard two list poems: "The Fantastic Names of Jazz" by Hayden Carruth, and "The Possessive Case" by Liesel Mueller.   I was inspired to write my own, focused on the language of Mt. Hood, a place of immense significance to my family.

Alpine Glow

Trillium Lake, Lost Lake, Mirror Lake

Cooper Spur
Illumination Rock
Tom, Dick, and Harry Ridge

Cairn Basin, Elk Cove, and Ramona Falls

McNeil Point
Eliot Glacier

Tie-in Rock, the Hogsback, the Pearly Gates, and the summit
The Bergschrund and the Steele Cliffs
White River Canyon
Langille Craigs
Cathedral Ridge

Scree, glacier, crevasse
Traverse, glissade, self arrest

Old Man of the Mountain, lupine, Indian paintbrush
Glacier lily, Avalanche lily, Tiger lily, Fawn lily
Columbine, Delphinium, vanilla leaf, oxalis

chipmunk, golden squirrel, marmot
Clarks' nutcracker, mountain chickadee, Oregon junco

Tilly Jane
Cloud Cap
Alpine glow.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

SOL #23: The Mess on my Desk

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Today we are two days from starting spring vacation, and at the end of the day, this was my desk:

I can't even sit here any more, because there is no room.  It's easier to just grab my laptop and sit with my students.  

There's a lot going on, okay?  (She says, defensively.) My students need me to research, to plan and prep, to reflect, to assess.  They don't need me to bustle around organizing my desk.

More to the point, I have no idea how to organize this kind of stuff.  My coffee table at home looks pretty similar.  I clean them off from time to time, of course, but it's a matter of days until we're right back where we started (although the above picture is a pretty extreme case).  Why is this?  My classroom isn't entirely paperless, but between the focus on reading and our school's one-to-one iPad adoption, there's a lot less paper than there used to be.  And yet it STILL piles up like this.  

Sometimes I feel like there's a lack of some key skill is what's keeping me from being a truly good teacher.  I don't maintain a laser-like focus, and things slide out of my control little by little, until I'm surrounded by chaos.  The same thing happens with classroom routines.  You know that old chestnut, "You get what you allow"?  Sometimes I am about ready to lose it with my students, then I realize--oh, I've been ALLOWING this!  So I tighten things up.  Reintroduce a seating chart.  Review classroom procedures.  I've been doing this the past several days (because a disorganized class is more problematic than a messy desk), and it helps.  A lot.  But I know I will have to do it again later in the year, and several times next year, and every year after that as well.  How do you "KonMari" your students?

All the same, I only really cringe about the state of my desk when I look at it from the perspective of one of my more organizationally gifted colleagues.  Usually, I fall back on a quote I've had hanging over my desk as long as I've been teaching.

I'm wondering if my fellow late night posters and seat of our pantsers can relate?  Or are some writers who plan also organizationally challenged when it comes to their physical space?

Or am I the last non-Pinterest-worthy teacher out there?  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SOL #22: Reminders

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

When I see a certain type of old man, my heart gives a little lurch.  Two types, actually, that remind me of two different stages of my father's latter years.  There is the guy with wispy, wild, white hair, scrawny of elbow and knee--which you can tell because he's wearing his khaki shorts and a t-shirt.  He's definitely old, but still alert, still determined, puttering through his errands slightly off-kilter.

My parents around age 70.

The other type is frail and unfocused.  He sits in a wheelchair or leans heavily on his walker, looking slightly lost.  Busy people move around him, talk about him, schlepp him from one place to another. He's fretful, trying to get their attention to tell them something, or he's dozing in the midst of the bustle.  I can tell from across the parking lot or across the room that he's hard to talk to.  Deafness and confusion and querulousness work together to deny him easy conversation.

My dad's 80th birthday, sort of between the two stages I've described.

I could, of course, be projecting.  Physical and mental decline definitely happen with age, and the elderly men I notice have that in common with my dad.  But I also know that my dad was deeply unhappy the last few years of his life.  He missed my mom every moment of every day.  The rest of it--loss of mobility, loss of independence, loss of work and responsibility and socializing and all of that--was secondary.  The light had gone out of his life, and he was just waiting for the end.

I wonder what it's like for the old men I find myself gazing at.  Are they still balancing good days with the bad, still lighting up when certain people walk into the room, still finding new things to be amazed by?  Or have they started pulling into themselves. losing interest in the world as the world seems to lose interest in them?

Do they get enough hugs?  It seems to me now that I should have made sure my dad got enough hugs.

There's a tragedy in dying too soon, regardless of age.  When my mom died, her plans were interrupted.  She'd ordered seeds for her garden, signed up for fabric art exhibits.  She was still making new friends.  It felt so unfair for her body to stop cooperating while her spirit was still so vibrant.

Is there also a tragedy in living too long?  An hour in any long-term care facility will probably show the answer to be yes.  In the end, it doesn't truly matter which is worse, dying while you still have plans or dying after you've lost enthusiasm for life.

Your kids, it turns out, miss you either way, and still seek your face in white-haired strangers.

SOL #21: Legos for Skateboards

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Once again, the day has slipped away from me, and I'm late-night-pantsing my post.  I just got home from an evening out with my son, he of the many challenges.  He's developed a sudden strong desire for a skateboard after meeting some kids in the neighborhood who skate a bit.  Since he's--how do I put this?--wildly destructive, he's trashed two skateboards in the last four years, so we were a bit reluctant to plunk down a bunch of money on this.  He found one for $30 at Target and asked if we'd match his savings if he could save $15.  We agreed, wondering privately how the kid who spends any cash INSTANTLY, then begs for loans from his sister, would be able to save it up.
The answer came in the recent push to get my kids to treat their rooms like places they want to spend time in, as opposed to trash heaps that happen to have a bed.  They both have been clearing out trash and donating clutter at a slightly terrifying rate.  (How can they throw out so much stuff and still have a full room?)  We have a brick store locally, which is a place that buys, sells, and trades used Legos.  The kid gathered up a huge tub of Legos and asked me to take him to the store to sell them, so we planned on that for this evening.  I seriously had no idea how much money he would get--two dollars?  Fifty?  
The guy at the brick store, long-haired and lanky, sifted through the bin, then said, "You've got about four gallons here, but a lot of non-Lego stuff mixed in.  I can give you three bucks a gallon, so that'd be $12."
We looked at each other and shrugged.  "Sure," said the kid.
"Or," the clerk continued, "if you want to sort through it better, I could offer you more money.  You probably wouldn't have as much left, but it'd be worth more per pound."
So there we sat on a bench in the small mall, pulling out debris and non-Lego pieces from the bin.  After I held up what I took to be a small ball of foil, but was actually a helmet, he started teasing me.  "That's a LEGO, Mom!" he'd say when I held up a broken pencil, a Nerf dart, a scrap of paper.  
He (we) ended up getting seventeen dollars for the cleaned out box.  I didn't mind helping, since I figured it was less I'd have to pay also.  Then we found a twenty dollar skateboard at the store, and celebrated by going to a breakfast place for dinner.  The waitress mentioned several times how handsome my son is, and I wanted to ask her if she thought he was in charge of the tip, but he was adorably flattered by her kindness.  "She was really nice!" he kept saying.  I left a solid 20% after all.  
I have no idea how long a twenty dollar skateboard will last, but his delight in it is, as the ads say, priceless.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

SOL #20: Six Word Memoir

his March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Sorry I'm so late--book's fault!

(Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele this time.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

SOL #19: Thoughts on Binge Commenting

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

1.  Ooh, that Scholastic retreat looks fantastic.  I bet I can comment on 60 blogs this weekend.

2.  Interesting title...funny description...oh, I like her, click, click.  

3. That's 20 posts picked.  I'll keep them all open on these tabs and close them as I comment to keep track.

4.  Whoops!  Running late.  I'd better get the kids up for the day.

5.  Okay, now I'm settled down in the library and I'll comment on another 20 blogs.  Click, click, click...

6. What?!?  Why won't it let me comment?  Must be something about the library computers or Wordpress or something.  I'll have to do this at home.  I guess I can use this time to write my own post instead.

7.  OKAY.  Trying again.  Back to picking out 20 interesting sounding blogs.

8.  Hm. I must be good at picking them, because I've had something to say about every single one of these posts.  I was prepared to choose new ones for each one I read and could only say, "That's nice," about.

9.  40 posts commented on for my first day!  AND I wrote my own post!  

10.  There are a lot of good ideas for quick posts and fun formats.  Glad I've been writing them down.

11.  There are also a lot of blogs that look like fantastic teaching blogs.  Hope I remembered to follow or or bookmark them all.

12.  SUNDAY.  Only 20 posts to go.  This should be pretty quick.

13.  Let me follow this link and see what she's talking about...

14. Oh, I should probably follow this guy on Twitter too.

15.  Oh, I haven't heard of that book; I'll go add it to Goodreads.

16.  Wait, where was I?

17.  I suck.  Why are all these people better teachers than I am?

18.  Let me research Teachers Reading and Writing Project.  Could I take that much time out and get myself all the way to New York?  Hmmm.

19.  This challenge is a writing challenge, but I'm learning so much about teaching and getting so many resources for developing my work in the classroom.  That's actually kind of cool.

20.  I DID IT!  Commented on 60 blogs over two days.  I think my brain is bigger now.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

SOL #18: Currently

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Currently, I'm blaring Damien Rice's cover of "Hallelujah" in my headset.

Currently, I'm sitting at the library computer.

Currently, there's a man who may be on the autism spectrum talking loudly about the time he saw Lynrd Skynrd in concert.

Currently his voice is being covered by Rice's.

Currently I'm wearing my husband's plaid wool shirt for coziness.

Currently I'm full of good coffee and baked goods.

Currently it's cold and rainy out.  Again.

Currently, I'm reveling in the new rules that allow me to have library cards in two counties.

Currently, my socks don't match my outfit.

Currently, I'm wondering what the point is of remaking a Disney movie as a live action film without changing anything, and if Emma Watson will make it worthwhile anyway.

Currently, I'm chuckling at myself for writing my niece's name instead of Watson's, as they are both Emma W's.

Currently, I'm frustrated that something about  Wordpress and the library computers is making it impossible for me to leave comments on other blogs.

Pretty soon, my son and I are going to go pick up my daughter after her Lithuanian lesson.

Pretty soon, the three of us will figure out what to get their grandma and their uncle for their birthdays.

Pretty soon, I'll be able to get to those comments on my own laptop at home.

Pretty soon, I'll try to summon the strength of will to get our living area picked up and vacuumed.

Pretty soon, I'll listen to the book of poetry I got on Audible yesterday while I work on the birthday project I'm making a friend.

Pretty soon I'll get hungry again and heat up some leftover soup for lunch.

Pretty soon I'll finish reading When We Collided and decide what to read next.

Right now, I'm going to hit "publish" and link up HOURS before the deadline!

Friday, March 17, 2017

SOL #17 Poetry in the Morning

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

I missed yesterday.  I'm a little bummed about it, but am trying not to be discouraged.  Life happens.

This morning I got into the car and turned on NPR, bracing myself for my daily onslaught of disturbing news.  Instead, I landed in the middle of an interview with a poet, whom I quickly identified as Kwame Alexander.  (Imagine my smugness when this was confirmed at the end of the interview.)  He read a  poem inspired by his daughters and by e. e. cummings, and by the end of it, I was in tears with joy.  The sun was rising behind the mountain and the sky was all pink and gold glory.  I thought--even if this is the only good part of the day, it will be a great day.

The rest of the day delivered, though.  Sixth period (last class!
 on a Friday!  the week before spring break!) one girl looked at me and whispered. "It's so quiet in here.  Everyone is actually reading."  Also, I stress-baked last night, so I had biscuits and chocolate cookies to snack on throughout the day.  My son had a great day at school, my husband already had dinner planned, and the boy whose mom I talked to the other day was on his best behavior too.

I was so delighted by being read poetry in the morning that I got onto Audible and used one of my husband's credits to get Good Poems, a collection of poetry read by Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac over the years.  The print version would give me time to mull over (or, perhaps, skim past) certain poems, but it is really going to class up my commute to have someone reading me poetry the whole way.

Here are the lines I pulled while washing dishes:

"I hear a butterfly stirring inside a caterpillar."  Charles Simic
Something about change, possibility, and grace in here that I really needed to hear right now.

"What luxury, to be so happy we can grieve over imaginary lives."  Liesel Mueller 
A reminder for all us book lovers.  The people in the poem are weeping over Chekov.

And from the book Alexander was being interviewed about this morning:
"Find your way to that one true word 

(or two)."  
from Kwame Alexander's "How to Write a Poem"
I love that sly little pause and addition at the end.

I don't think of myself as a "poetry person."  Emily Dickinson baffles me, and anything fancier than that feels like a test I'm failing.  I also struggle with writing poetry.  Whenever I attempt it, I end up with prose with weird line breaks.  (That's why I'm so fond of haiku and limericks--I can spout cheerful nonsense within those formats and call it light verse.)  But there are definitely poets and poetry I love, and Keillor's collection is right up my alley.  Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Mary Oliver, Raymond Carver, Billy Collins.  Straightforward, but still poetic, with an ability to surprise and illuminate.

A short list of poetry books that I've connected to over the years:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

SOL #15: Persist

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

I'm feeling pretty frustrated right now.  My son just got suspended for the second time in just under a week.  I'm over here reading articles about trauma in the classroom and therapeutic parenting and it's all increasing my empathy, but it's not making the situation any better for any of us.  The Winemaker is flat-out pissed off.  The school is running out of ideas.  The kid is convinced he's just a bad person, so he might as well do bad stuff.  His learning is suffering, our home life is suffering, and after missing four days in February for various PD sessions, I'm taking yet another day off tomorrow to try to schedule meetings with the school and with our counselor.

On the bright side, it will also give me some time to work on a birthday present I'm making for one of my oldest friends (40 years and counting).  I'm embroidering a tea-towel with the words "Nevertheless, she persisted," and this symbol:

We shall persist through this as well, though the path may be dark and the future uncertain.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SOL #14: 3.14159 Day

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Happy Pi Day!

My mom used to make pies fairly often.  Fruit pies usually, but also the occasional cream pie or--my favorite--lemon meringue.  It didn't need to be a particular occasion, she'd make pies if she was in the mood for some pie.  After rolling out her dough (made with Crisco), she'd make tarts with the scraps.  She had shallow tart pans, two sets of six, that she'd apparently gotten from her mother-in-law.  She'd dab a bit of leftover filling, or some of her homemade jam.  Occasionally she'd fill the tart shell with chocolate chips, or just with butter and cinnamon sugar.  I claimed for years that I never actually tasted one of these tarts until my older sisters moved out when I was in middle school, as they'd snack on them after school while using the "you'll spoil your dinner" argument against me partaking.  Still, I can remember the taste and texture of those tarts clearly enough to make me suspect I exaggerated the extent to which I was denied them.

I make pies rarely, if at all.  I did inherit Mom's pie plates, mostly because the other members of the family already had their own long before she died.  Good pies aren't difficult so much as time-consuming, and I always figure you get much the same flavor with a quick-n-dirty cobbler.  Then I'll chance upon a slice of homemade pie--the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, or one of my sisters' pies at some other family event, and I'll remember how delicious pies really are, and vow to test my skills again soon.

I've never attempted a lemon meringue though, and I've rarely had a decent one outside of the house I grew up in.  The ones served at diners and pie shops are lousy, not to put too fine a point on it.  Flavorless, greasy meringue on top of jello-pudding, neon yellow lemon filling.

I made no pie for pi day.  My daughter worked hard at memorizing the digits for the 4th grade competition, but her 60 digit feat didn't even get her in the running for 3rd place.  I suggested her coach take her out for pie all the same, and that's where they are now.

I think I just came up with a plan for spring break though.  I'm going to make a lemon meringue pie the way Mom used to.

Monday, March 13, 2017

SOL #13 Haiku Summary

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Another last minute one.  I'm settling for haiku.

"Spring forward," they say
But I trip over that hour
and fall on my face.

"Too much read-aloud"
says my boss, then I drown him
in Krashen's research.

"Buy one, get one free"
but those pizzas cost more than
we'd spend sans coupon.

"Please charge my phone, Mom,"
says the kid who's finally
earned the damn thing back.

"Red wine and chocolate,
a book, roaring fire." He knows
what would be perfect.

Snippets of my day based on things people told me.  The almighty "they," my principal, the fancy pizza place I wasted money on, my son, and my husband.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

SOL #12: Surrounded by Love

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

I stand in the kitchen, waiting idly for the coffee to brew and the bread to toast.  I look at the coffee cup I've picked out, and the name of the woman who gave it to me as part of a Secret Santa exchange comes to me.  "Pam," I say out loud, remembering what a kind person she was.  It's been ten years since I worked with her.  Then I notice the stock pot waiting to be washed, and snort, "Tiffany!" thinking of the teenaged co-worker who brought it to my house-warming party as I transitioned from my last retail job to my first teaching job.  She was kind of an idiot, but I've used that stock pot for two decades and counting.

Now I'm on a roll, and I look around the kitchen for more gifts.  Miki and Jenn gave The Winemaker that espresso machine for his 30th birthday, and he himself gave me the bright red tea kettle.  The microwave and fridge are hand-me-downs from one sister, and the end table piled high with paper detritus was a hand-me-down from the other.  Carla gave me that "Bloom where you're planted" magnet, Jenn gave us the "Each grape holds a bit of sunshine within" one, Andy the Puerto Rican waterfall one, and my sisters, again, with the chicken magnet.

That blue bowl is one my mother-in-law picked out for us at a ceramics show, the painting of flowers is from a sister, the photo of a rainbow over the small town I served in Peace Corps is from Aija and Normunds, and the photo of Mt. Hood is my dad's work, framed and signed and given to me by him.  The Kitchenaid was my parent's wedding gift to us, the small bowl there a wedding gift from my friend Jane's parents, and that big painting of grapes was a wedding gift from my mother-in-law's former boss, who sent it to us despite having never met us.

The Winemaker helped the kids make me that wooden footstool for my birthday, way back during that first summer they were with us.

My sister dropped off the cheerful pot of hot pink cyclamen on the anniversary of our dad's death last month.

The bedraggled 3D snowflake that should really come down was brought home from school by my daughter and presented to me with great pride.

Coffee in the cup, toast buttered, I sit on the couch and ponder the way my connection to things gets folded up with my connection to people.  I understand the Kondo point of view, that the things aren't actually the people, so keeping a simple photo, or ONE key item, is a better way to remember people without cluttering your life.  But all the same, to drink coffee from this mug reminds me both of the person who gave it to me, and of the importance of kindness even between co-workers who aren't intimate friends.  The value spirals on itself--the object is important to me because of who gave it to me, the gift reminds me of certain specific traits of friendship and generosity I want to embody as well, the positive emotions of remembering the object's giver means that it now qualifies both as something I "know to be useful" and "believe to be beautiful" to bring in a much earlier interior design thinker.

Then I look back at my post, and wonder if I should take the whole last paragraph out.  Must my writing have an end goal, an "aha" moment?  Or given the spirit of a "slice of life," is it enough to just share the gifts I became aware of, trusting the reader to make their own conclusions? Is the "meaning" implicit in the title?  I'm leaving it in so any readers can let me know their take on it!  

Saturday, March 11, 2017

SOL #11: Tutus and Grit

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

My day slipped away from me, and I'll have to crank out another quick one to get this submitted on time.

We started early for a Saturday, as I drove my 4th grader through the pouring rain to her first 5K.  Her technology teacher and a high school volunteer had put together a girls' running club, and this was their culminating event.  It had a St. Patrick's Day theme, so there was a sea of green, and the girls ran with green tulle tutus over their running clothes.  Their "training" consisted of four after school sessions in the last month, two of which my daughter missed (sprained her ankle, then got an eye infection), so she had to rely on will power and youthful energy rather than actually being in shape. 

The thing that struck me as I looked at the ten girls is that when I did after school clubs, all the kids looked the same.  There was one black boy in my school, a couple of kids with Hispanic last names, and two Asian families.  In fourth grade two Vietnamese immigrant families joined the mix.  That was it.  The rest of us were as white as white can be.  

My daughter's group, however, had only four white girls (and one is an immigrant, for what it's worth).  One girl ran in an hijab.  There was an also Indian girl, two Asian girls, a black girl, and two Latinas.  They all hugged and squealed and jumped up and down together.  They ran together, they took selfies together, they posed arms around each other for team pictures.  Nobody mocked the one who walked most of the course.  Nobody seethed at the ones who came in earliest.  Each girl took pride in her own achievement and supported her team members' efforts as well.

We do not live in a post-racist society.  Each of these girls will face limiting expectations based on their race, their weight, their religion, their attractiveness, their language, and their gender.  But seeing them gives me hope all the same.  As long as they keep building each other up, they will be okay, even with all the crap the world will throw at them.

Friday, March 10, 2017

SOL #10: Shocking Questions and Judy Blume

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

"I'm gonna ask her."  It's a willowy 8th grader, sitting on one of the couches in my reading room, after whispering and gigging with her friends. 

"Go on, do it!" responds her friend, the girl who knows no boundaries.

"NO!  Don't--jeez--just--no."  The guy sitting with them raises his book protectively in front of his face.

"I mean, I want to know for sure, and I think she'll tell us-"

There's no point in pretending I can't hear them.  "What do you need to ask me?" I call over.

"Um, this is kind of weird, but--can you get pregnant from, you know, swallowing sperm?"

For some reason, my initial reaction is to be proud of her for couching her question in such clinical and inoffensive language, and for seeking knowledge instead of relying on rumor and guesses.  So I answer, "Well, no.  Your reproductive system and your digestive system don't cross over at all."

"Wouldn't your stomach acid kill them anyway?" asks the irrepressible girl.

"Probably, but that's not really the main reason."

In my own innocence, I'm thinking of this as a question without practical application, like a small child asking if babies come out of your belly button.  Clarification of half-understood knowledge.  It was only later, sharing the story with some colleagues, that the full import of why they might want to know hit me.

"NO!" screeches one of my colleagues.  "You are supposed to tell them, 'Yep. For sure.  Even from just SEEING them.'"

But still.  I would rather arm them with correct information.  I would rather be unflappable in the face of questioning about the body.  A few years back, an 8th grade girl told me how frustrating she found the abstinence-only sex ed classes in our district.  "I have friends at the high school who got pregnant because they really thought you couldn't the first time. Or because they don't understand how birth control works.  I only know that stuff because my big brother told me.  What about kids who don't have anyone they can talk to about it?  How are they supposed to know?"

Personally, all that knowledge was purely academic until FAR past eighth grade, but even back then, even in my middle class, suburban high school, girls were getting pregnant by our freshman year.  I know our 9th grade sex ed classes covered birth control methods, and even pre-AIDS and "safe sex" PSAs, we were told that two methods were better than one.  But most of what I learned about the actual changes in my body, about sex itself, about sexuality in general came from Judy Blume.

It must have been in 1979, when I was ten, that I received a boxed set of her books for a birthday . The collection included Blubber, which I read repeatedly even though I loathed it.  I could relate to all sides of the story--the mean girl, the victim, the follower--and I was horrified that instead of everyone learning better, at the end the victim and the mean girl turn on the narrator.  It also had Sheila the Great, which was fun.  But the two that were eye openers for me were Then Again, Maybe I Won't and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.  I'm pretty sure that a good 50% of what  I know about male puberty still comes from the first book.  Maybe more.  And Margaret asked questions I hadn't even thought of yet. 

Later, I read Deenie, Iggie's House and  Tiger Eyes.  All of these books are remarkable because Blume was almost the only writer doing what she did.  Writing about adolescents living modern lives.  Addressing all the stuff that kids care about--puberty, bullying, divorce, feeling alone.  Paula Danziger and Norma Klein are the others who come to mind from that era.  But Judy's books were a class by themselves.

Then there were the scandalous ones--Forever and Wifey.  Passed around in secret, with specific page numbers recommended.  (Where did these copies come from?  Possibly parents who saw Blume's name on the cover and didn't ask any further questions, or older siblings.  I suppose some parents would have been cool with the books, but then why would we have been so secretive?)  We didn't even know people could WRITE about that stuff. 

Decades pass.  I end up a reading teacher and start building a classroom library.  I try bringing in old favorites, but their time, it seems, has passed.  Overall, I engage in very little censorship in the books I add, and none on the books students bring in to read. 

Then one day, a student is reading Forever.  She got it at our school library, a modern edition with a decidedly not-1970s cover. I choke back a laugh and let her know it gets a little, um, racy. She loves it.  She recommends it to her friends.  A line starts to be the next reader.  I buy a copy for the classroom library (and get a copy of several other Blume books too, which also fly off the shelves). The ending disappoints her, and I use it as a chance to talk about the fact that your first love probably won't actually be "forever."  Her friend reads it and adds the idea that you should keep that in mind when you're deciding whether or not you're ready to have sex. 

These are the girls who ask me that shocking question.  Would they have trusted me with their question if they hadn't had my tacit permission to read and talk about that book?  There are plenty of YA novels that address sexuality and complex social issues, but Blume's books are accessible to more readers, I think.  They are straight-forward, usually include humor, and have a relatable voice even for kids who aren't "literary" minded. 

Judy Blume, pushing 80, is still a revolutionary. 

And no.  That's not how you get pregnant.  But I think a follow-up conversation is in order. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

SOL #9: Last In, Last Out

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

I thought I was getting to work on the early side today, but I was still the last car in the small parking lot around back, where the folks on my end of the building all park.  "What time do they get here?" I wondered to myself, not for the first time.  I know at least two of them show up over an hour early and walk.  WALK, when they could be sleeping!  I don't get it.  Over the past couple of years, I've started getting up a bit earlier, but it doesn't get me to work any sooner.  It just lets me eat breakfast at the table instead of in the car, and gives me some time to just be me, in my own home, when nobody else is awake.

Usually, though, I'm the last one to leave the parking lot, my truck absurdly parked far away in the empty space.  I'm just not that good at transitions, at leaving here to go there.  There's always more to do, whether I'm at work or at home, in the library or at a friend's house, and I struggle to let go and move on to the next thing.

Today, in an effort to fight that tendency, I had sworn to myself that I'd leave at our actual, mandated end of work day, instead of the hour or two later I tend to go.  I was actually watching the clock, finding small jobs to do in the classroom that wouldn't waylay me too much, not wanting sneak out early and cheat anyone out of my paid time.  Still, by the time I got my coat on and bags organized, I wasn't the first one gone--there were a few empty spots already.

And now it's seven minutes before the cut-off, and I need to post.  Timeliness will never be my greatest virtue.   So I'll claim this badge with pride:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

SOL #8: International Woman's Day Across the Decades

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Also, for reasons unknown, Blogger is not letting me center text right now.  

This is partially inspired by a post I read the other day, a play in five acts about the writer's lifelong love of ice cold Pepsi.  For reasons known to me, namely my lack of organization, I am not currently able to tell you who that Slicer was, but if it was you--thank you, and please make yourself known.

March 8, 1990

The choir of the Danish international folk high school (sort of like a live-in community college with a social justice slant) where I'm spending spring of my junior year in college performs John Lennon's "Woman" for an International Woman's Day event.  I've never heard of this holiday before, and the irony of singing a man's song on this day is lost on all of us.  We just like belting out, "I loooooove you, yeah yeah, now and foreverrrrr."

March 8, 1995

My high school students in the Latvian town I'm serving in as a Peace Corps Volunteer bring me flowers.  Well, the boys do.  They also hand flowers to their female classmates.  We are charmed, although not as blown away as I'd be in the US, since flowers are given at the drop of a hat around here.  Still, there is still snow on the ground, so these hothouse blooms are a welcome promise of spring.

March 8, 2006

I'm back in Latvia on a teaching exchange, but only one boy brings flowers for the women at school.  "It's a Soviet holiday" sniffs our next door neighbor.  "I'd rather wait until I'm a mother and get flowers for mother's day.  THAT is a real Latvian holiday."  At our evening language class, the Cuban student brings flowers for our (female) teacher and the two of us in the class who are women.  I wonder if this proves our neighbor's point about the connection between Women's Day and Communism.

March 8, 2017

I have a note on my computer that says: 
  • Wear red
  • Stay off social media
  • Don't spend money
I don't feel like staying home will send any kind of real message.  My substitute would most likely be another woman.   I also decide not to sacrifice the Slice of Life challenge to a strike either, although I will limit my commenting to the minimum of three.  The hardest part, of course, was not stopping for coffee this morning, but after Googling the CEO of my preferred shop and seeing it's a man, I figured I could make it.

How did International Woman's Day go from flowers and songs to strikes and boycotts?  Well, when the status of women in the world and in our country takes several steps backwards, that affects things.  Thinking of how the holiday seemed "Soviet," I can see its connections to labor movements and social protest throughout time.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Not Exactly a Book Haul

For someone who insists that they only buy books for their classroom, I've acquired a lot of new books in the past six months.  These are the unread books I've bought. Sure, many of them will end up in my classroom, but it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that is the only, or even the main, reason I picked them.

And then there are my library books.  I definitely have an impulse problem there.

And then at school, either for read-alouds or because I picked it up one day to talk to a kid about it and then got interested, there's

Yep.  34 books.  (Okay, 33 books and a magazine, but I plan to read it cover to cover.)  I realize this is more than many people read in a year.  It's enough to make me feel vaguely panicky.  But probably not enough to keep me from picking up and reading other things I come across before I get through most of these.  And not enough to keep me from not buying or borrowing another book until I get through most of these.  

On the other hand, if my choice of problems is:
a) too many great books on hand
b) nothing I want to read
c) not being able to find the books I do want to read

--then I definitely have the best problem.  

Why is it only Tuesday?  I need a weekend so I can power through a couple of these!

Monday, March 6, 2017

SOL #7: Phone Poem

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers
This is where the community aspect of this challenge really comes into play.  I saw the notice on the daily link-up that Sally had started a Padlet to track ideas for slicing.  From there, I saw her notes from 59 Reasons to Write, which I'm assuming is the Kate Messner book I've been wanting to get for awhile now.  And this snippet caught my eye:

Pg. 151 - Phone Number Poem (# = number of words per line and zeros = wild card)

Like many people of a certain age, I could recite a dozen phone numbers from memory, all of them decades out of date.  Before cell phones, even before speed dial, back even before push button phones, these are the numbers I literally dialed.   The friends I knew best had the numbers that are stuck forever in my brain.

But the key one, of course, was my home number.  It had the same area code that my cell phone does, but we never dialed it, of course, unless we were calling from out of state.  So my poem will have only seven lines.

Huber Street,
Home of my childhood.
The phone was stuck
Onto the kitchen wall.  The curly long cord extended--
All the way to the sink. Chat,
hands in dish water.