Thursday, March 30, 2017

SOL #31: What I Know About Myself as a Teacher

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Last year, I wrote a SOL post (actually, two posts)  about what I know about myself as a reader.  (I found this out because on this, the last SOL post of the month, it finally occurred to me to look back and see what I wrote about last year.)  That inspired me to try to write about what I know about myself as a teacher.

1. This is going to be a lot harder, because I feel much more vulnerable talking about my professional life than my favorite hobby.

2.  I did not always want to be a teacher. Specifically, when we had a very nice student teacher in chemistry, and everyone treated him terribly DESPITE liking him just fine, I resolved to NEVER put myself in that situation.

3.  I got into teaching because I really wanted to live in Eastern Europe after graduation, and it was a way I could afford to do that.

4.  My first students were four years younger than me, and I had no idea what I was doing.

5.  That first year I started jotting notes at the end of each day about what had gone well, what didn't work, what I needed to think about differently.  I only did that on paper for that first year, but I am so glad I stumbled into the habit of active reflection.

6.  I once wrote "bowel" on the board when teaching an adult ESL class about "things in a kitchen."  One young man looked up from his dictionary a few moments later, with furrowed brow, and said, "Is that the right word?"

7.  I am not a scary teacher.  I have to work very, very hard to be stern when it's appropriate.  As a younger teacher, I would be nice and nice and nice, then lose my temper, slamming the door or raising my voice.  I'm better now at being forceful before I am enraged, but students usually describe me as "chill." I am aware this can be code for "pushover."

8.  I have learned most of what I know about poverty and racism from observing the lives of my students.  Some of the things they've told me and some of the things I've seen have permanently affected the way I view our country and society.

9.  I taught overseas for four years, then taught ELD in one district for ten years, then moved to my current district nine years ago.

10. For a long time I thought I'd peaked in years 8-10 of my previous district.

11.  My last year at my old job, I fell off the stool in front of the class one day, and not one kid laughed.  My first year at my new job, someone went behind my desk, unzipped my backpack, got into my purse, and stole my wallet.  Also, my old principal cried when I told her about my new job, while my next principal gave me the first "basic" ratings I'd gotten since my first year of teaching.  So you can see why the transition was rough.

12.  I loved the 17 years I spent teaching ESOL.  I never felt sure of myself in the four years I spent teaching ELA.  I've loved the past year and a half of teaching reading.

13.  I hate standardized testing.  My grad school program didn't give grades, and I'd love it if we could do that k-12 as well.

14.  I wish I had a teacher voice.  One year I got to use a voice amplifier, and I really liked it.

15.  I am really bad about enforcing things like dress code and bathroom passes.  If you are in my class and doing what you're supposed to be doing, I don't really care what you're wearing or if you need to take a three minute break.

16. I love collaborating with other teachers on the planning end, but I don't like having to stay in sync with what other teachers are doing.  This is one reason why I do better when I'm in charge of the entire program (ELD, reading) instead of part of a department teaching the same curriculum (ELA).

17. There are nearly 2,000 books in my classroom library.  I got a grant last year for about 500 of them, and now I can't stop adding to it.  My family wears thrift shop clothes and shoes so I can buy books for my classroom.

18. I'm really bad about setting up routines.  I don't think I've ever made it through a whole year using notebooks.  I always peter out mid-year.  I brought in alternative seating last year, but I do a terrible job at setting my expectations, so my pillows are always getting torn, the couches are always getting hogged, and it's just not what I know it could be.

19.  I used to pride myself in my ability to connect with the difficult kids.  Now that I have a difficult kid in my family, I sometimes have to take a step back so I don't transfer my feelings from home to school and back.

20.  Since adopting my kids my eyes have been opened to the number of students in trauma I have.  I wish this also meant I was an expert in helping them, but it doesn't.

21.  Middle school students make me laugh.  Sure, they're not cute and eager to please like younger kids, nor are they capable and relatively calm like older kids, but they are funny every single day.  In a lot of ways, I feel like middle school teachers can have a huge impact on kids' lives.

22. Some teacher friends made me sign up for twitter four or five years ago, promising that a "PLN" would be transformative.  I didn't get it.  At all.  This year I finally started to see how twitter and the connections made there can improve my teaching.  So many great minds to learn from!

23.  Some of my best times with my students have been on field trips and hiking trips.  You see a different side of many of the kids who don't thrive in a traditional classroom environment, and both teacher and students get a chance to interact as just people.

24.  I love it when I have a student who likes to read, who talks about books, who asks for and offers recommendations.  I really love it when I hear something like, "Mrs. Gassaway, I don't even LIKE reading but I can't stop reading this book!" or "I'm not a reader or anything, but this book is actually really good."

25.  I believe in a semi-superstitious but also totally serious way that I am healthier and happier when I teach in a room with windows.  I've done six without, four with, three without, one with, four without, and one with.  I really hope I get to keep my window room next year too.  (Why does anyone design classrooms without windows?!?)

And so we come to the close of another glorious month of writing and commenting, of noticing and bearing witness.  I hope everyone here got something they didn't even know they needed.  And I hope to see you again, on my blog and yours.

SOL #30: I Did It and I Will Do It

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

I can't believe there's only one more day left in the challenge.  I missed one day completely (16), and my very first entry came in past the deadline because I didn't quite comprehend the whole "12-12 Eastern time" thing yet.  Days #20 and #28 were the only two I felt like I just published something because I had to--the rest, successful or not, were from the heart.  So I'm definitely calling this a win.

Last month, inspired ironically enough by a tech conference, I took up bullet journaling.  It's sounded cool for a year or so, but I didn't think I'd have the stick-to-it-iveness to make it worth my while.  I have a tendency to get super excited about every new idea, but be lazy in the execution.  The hands-on practice, specific examples, and yes, the tutorial in how to draw a banner convinced me it was worth a try, and I've been loving it ever since.

One of the many (MANY) lists I've started in my journal is called "I Did It!"  I know we're all supposed to focus on gratitude, but at the risk of sounding insufferably smug, I kind of already do.  But I also tend to sell myself short, so I decided to write down one accomplishment each day.  Nothing huge (unless it's that kind of day), but something I did that I can take a little pride in.

Looking over what I've done in the last month, I see everything from my horrifyingly overdue storage of the Christmas boxes to using a new recipe, from making the gloriously feminist dishtowel to participating in my first twitter chat.  I noted the weekend I commented on 60 SOL posts, and tomorrow I already know I will commemorate this month of slicing.

There were times when I had to really wrack my brain to come up with any accomplishments for the day.  I want to keep my list pretty focused.  My husband and I started a new TV show together--fun, but not an accomplishment.  I was happy that a family member with mental health issues did something that showed significant progress--an accomplishment, but not mine.  I got up and went to work, I washed dishes, I folded laundry--basic expectations, not accomplishments.  I joined Weight Watchers--an important step, but not yet an accomplishment.  Still, knowing myself means I can identify things that are accomplishments for me, even if they wouldn't be for someone else.  I am ridiculously afraid of confrontation for a supposedly mature woman, so the first accomplishment I noted was pushing back with data when my principal questioned the value of daily read-alouds in my middle school classroom.   I love my introversion and my peaceful nature, but I want to celebrate when I show some gumption, some energy, some follow-through.  

The past few years have been mostly a matter of hanging on.  Things have been challenging, and I have needed every second of quiet recharging time I can get.  But some things are shifting and settling, and I'm remembering that I used to Get Things Done, even with my passive tendencies.  I traveled.  I organized an exchange camp for students from two different countries. I founded and ran a hiking club.  I learned how to knit socks.  I went on a Fulbright teaching exchange.  

I painted every wall in this house, some of them more than once.

In my second twitter chat, the day after the first one, I jokingly said that since Michigan's nErDcamp is too far for me to travel to, I would have to organize one here in the northwest.  Another participant said she'd been thinking the same thing, and now we are in touch and cautiously committed to trying to make this happen in summer 2018.  It would be a big project, and not like anything I've ever done before.  It will mean working with people I don't actually know (yet), and balancing my own ideas with theirs, trying to co-lead without being a control freak.  

The acts of taking risks, trying new things, building community, and following my passions--this all sounds a lot like what the Slice of Life challenge encompasses.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

SOL #29: The Art of the Brick

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

For a variety of reasons, it's somewhat rare for all four of us in my family to leave the house and do something together.  There was a period of about 16 months when the only place we went as a family was to extended-family events, and even then, we were likely to take two cars.  But some of the issues have calmed down, and some compromises have been made, new habits formed, and today we all piled into the car to drive across town to OMSI.

OMSI is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and if you don't have something similar near you, then I am deeply sorry.  It is full of hand-on building and experimenting and playing and learning.  It is also a SUPER popular rainy-spring-break activity, and the line was humungous, but it moved quickly and we got inside before anyone completely melted down (though I was pretty close, to be honest).  We were meeting friends there, because we got a membership last summer when a bunch of the Winemaker's relatives were in town, and we wanted to take full advantage of our membership, which lets you bring guests.  They have five kids, so we definitely felt like we got our money's worth!

OMSI is currently hosting a "Brick Art" exhibit.  This is what you and I call Legos, but apparently legally if you are not Lego Company, you have to call them bricks.  Remember when my son sold a bunch of his Legos?  He did so at a Brick store.

I went in expecting something like Legoland, which I've only seen pictures of.  Structures built out of Legos. What I didn't realize is that the creator, Nathan Sawaya, actually makes art, with bricks as his medium.

 The first few rooms featured reproductions of famous works of art.

I liked how even the reproductions of paintings had a 3D aspect to them.  There were "paintings" hung on the wall that had a textured surface, there were sculptures, and then my favorites were the ones like the American Gothic and Whistler's Mother pictures above--where a sculpture and a flatter surface worked together to recreate the painting with depth.

Then we got into his own art.

I didn't take a lot of pictures here, not because it wasn't good, but because it's hard to get the nuance of brick and shadow in dramatic museum lighting on a phone camera.  This piece represents his worst nightmare--losing his hands, his tools of creativity.

Some pieces were whimsical, some thoughtful, and some both, such as this one:

I neglected to get ANY pictures of a section that had these hyper-realistic photos of people posed in weirdly flat American Southwest landscapes with one item in the picture made out of Legos--a cloud, a dress, an umbrella.  It's hard to explain, but they were sure fascinating to look at.  

The exhibit ended with a huge dinosaur-fossil sculpture and a take on the classic PDX carpet, something that has become a pop culture icon locally.  

The rest of the visit to OMSI was as usual--loud and overstimulating, but stuffed to the gills with interesting things to look at and try.  I get overwhelmed pretty quickly, but luckily it's not a place that needs a ton of adult intervention unless you're all about making sure the kids get the EDUCATIONAL side of what's going on.  I just let them play with stuff.  Even the 12 year old, who was huffily blasé about our plan for the day, had a great time--and even said so!  So we're calling this a successful spring break outing.

Now we all need a nap.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

SOL #28: Cleaning out the Storage Barn

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

I can't believe this month of writing and reading is nearly over.  The next big blog-related event I'm looking forward to is Dewey's 24 Hour Read-A-Thon in late April  Join the fun!

So, there's a lot of background that I don't want to get into right now, but yesterday we spent several hours going through boxes and bins that have been in storage for about eight years.  Some of the boxes had severe water damage, others had severe varmint damage, and one particularly exciting box featured two mice scurrying away in panic as we leapt back in panic after lifting the lid on their home.

But it also included some very satisfying finds, such as my Christmas mugs, a poster I had literally been trying to find online the day before, my two Madame Alexander dolls (which my daughter was THRILLED to receive), and The Winemaker's extensive shell-and-rock collection, which both kids were super excited about.

It was obvious that when we boxed all this up, we anticipated un-boxing it a few months later.  There were stored items that we brought back home during that first year, but at this point, it seems that we could probably throw away every single thing, since we've lived this long without it.  I wish I'd sold all the books, 98% of which are now ruined. Still, we found a good amount of things we want to hang onto or that are in good enough shape to donate.

It's a bit of a problem that we are sentimental about different things, but it also helps us to be patient with each other.  I have a tendency to just want to jettison everything (besides those items I'm sentimental about, of course), while my husband wants to check all the way to the bottom of each box, and wonders if we could use or sell all sorts of things.  His caution kept me from a few rash decisions, and my "it's a chance to lighten our load!" philosophy convinced him that nobody really is going to want textbooks from the early 1990s.  But I kept those mugs, the un-ruined journals, the charm bracelet, and he kept the shells, the Russian dictionaries, and the parts from his friend's motorcycle.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

SOL #27: Kids, Expectations and Boundaries

This March writing challenge is organized by Two Writing Teachers

Truly a slice of life here:

The Boy has been grounded for three weeks, meaning no playing with friends, and very little screen time.  This is due to several back-to-back incidents that kept resetting his time owed.

Today his buddy came by hoping to play.  It's spring break, and refusing to let a kid play during spring break just seems wrong.  Still, it is the same buddy he's gotten into trouble with before, so I said yes, but you need to stay within view of the driveway.

They did that for awhile, then they came in and baked cake without a recipe, then they wanted to head back out, and asked if they could go further afield, to a nature path one street over.  I went over some ground rules, then said yes.  Then the buddy asked if my daughter could come too.

"Great idea!" I enthused.  "That way she can tattle if you guys do anything dumb!"  The friend looked embarrassed, but shrugged and nodded.  My daughter eagerly started to put her shoes on.

"Wait," said my son.  "She doesn't have to tell on us for swearing, right?"

Such are the compromises of parenting.

Later, everyone was home again.  The friend came in to the living room where The Winemaker and I were sitting and said, "Can I borrow your phone to call my mom and ask if I can spend the night over here?"  I'm sure the looks on our faces were comical.

"Let's talk about that for a minute," I said diplomatically.  We offered to have him over tomorrow night instead, but it seems he's busy.  "Maybe some other time, then," I concluded.

After they scampered off again, my husband and I looked at each other.  "Seriously?  Can I borrow YOUR PHONE to INVITE MYSELF over?" I said.  "How does that seem like an okay question?"

"You know, I think I expected kids to show up already thinking like adults," my husband confessed.  "I am always surprised at the things they don't get."

"Your expectations were..." I started.

"Misguided?"  he finished with a grin.

Edited: I just heard my son call his friend, "You raw turkey breast!"  Is this what the kids are saying these days, or is my kid really good at off-the-cuff invective?

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!