Monday, March 31, 2014

#sol14 Right Now, On This Last Morning in March

It's March 31st and I've made it to the finish line.

Right now I am:
  • Glad I've written of the smiles and laughter of every day life even on days when my mind has been preoccupied, or my heart has been breaking.  
  • Reminded that we're not promised tomorrow. Share your love, laughter and gifts with those you love and care about.  Try not to sweat over the small stuff.
  • Hopeful that I can take the wisdom of the ages to heart: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference
  • Grateful that I accepted this challenge, again. It has changed how I think about writing, spurred endless conversations, and opened doors I did not know existed.
  • Honored that anyone would take time to read my thoughts..  
  • Respectful of writers.  Playing with words and organizing thoughts is work. I want to always remember this when I criticize a student's work.  
  • Thinking about some reading-writing posts that I need to organize and publish.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Taking no credit for this format.  I am proud to say I used a mentor text from someone who used a mentor text  I wish our student-writers knew that it's OK to share formats as long as you give credit and writer your own ideas!
  • Looking forward to next year, this empowering community, and the adrenalin inducing power of this month long writing marathon.
  • Confident that some of this writing energy can be moved onto to the treadmill.  My own April challenge will be to exercise every day!  Thank goodness April only has 30 days! 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

#sol14 March 30 It's cold and rainy out!

When Jake came to visit, we had lots planned (long late night and early morning walks, some chase in the yard).  He certainly seemed excited, at least at first!  He panted, paced and panicked for a bit - 1 minute.  He snorted, snuffed, sneezed for a bit - 30 seconds.  He barked at a passing deer or two or three for about - 15 seconds.  Then, he settled into "guard dog position." 

We did get him out a few times and we tried really hard to take some long walks; however, it was cold and rainy - he would have no part in staying outside one moment longer than necessary. 
We did get him to play for a bit in the kitchen where the oven was on making it warm and cozy; however, it was cold and rainy - he would have no part in playing in that rain! 
We did put out his food and he ate ravenously - as if he had taken part in those planned long walks!
We did - all of us - settle down for some late night TV viewing - as if we had taken part in that energetic game of chase. 

When his "parents" texted to check on him, we sent them this picture. We could have added something like, "Busy day with long hike and serious game of chase in the rain." However, they would have known that was an exaggeration, so I went with the truth. "Tired after a busy day of guarding the door and my water bowl. It's cold and rainy out today.  Perhaps I will spend some time outside tomorrow - if the weather is better!"

Saturday, March 29, 2014

#sol14 #celebratelu March 29th Aches and Pains of Sadness, Sprinkled with a Celebration of Life

Discover. Play. Build.
As I lay in bed and listened to the clock tick early this morning, I was torn between "celebrating" this week or "just skipping the celebration." After all, nobody really wants to hear about the aches and pains of sadness, do they?  I have not been to the gym, yet, my shoulders hurt as if I were carrying the weight of the world around!  I'm tired; yet, I've gone to bed earlier and slept later than usual! I know it is not physiological, but my heart really hurts. Is there anything to celebrate, I wondered as I huddled under the blankets?

Then, as I read a bit of the NY Times, tracked some favorite blogs, and commented on some Slices of Life, I noticed that I was smiling, like she would have been.  There are indeed people, celebrations and smiles that have sweetened the sadness of the week.

  • The food, oh my, it kept coming and coming all week! 
  • Bagels and coffee; cookies, sandwiches, and coffee; more coffee!
  • Colleagues who checked on and supported each other.
  • Colleagues who corroborated that being forgetful was normal, at least in their minds.
  • Students who somehow knew that they needed to be a little kinder to each other and to their teachers.
  • Students, who in their innocence, remind us that hope springs eternal.
  • Spring, the timing is not lost on me.
  • Spring, I pray that light, hope, smiles and laughter may grow from of the darkness. She would not have wanted it any other way.
  • This morning, I still have the aches and pains of sadness - they are not likely to leave for a long time; yet, this weekend, I am remembering that hope and laughter can be sprinkled over sadness.  
  • This weekend, I will shed some tears, smile some smiles, and laugh with family and friends. That is what living is all about when you look at it through the lens of sadness sprinkled with a celebration of life. 
  • This weekend, I am Celebrating Life.   

Friday, March 28, 2014

#sol14 March 28 A No Cell Phone Kind of Day

I realized it was a going to be a long and "empty" 21st Century kind of day as I prepared to enter the Taconic Parkway. My phone was not in the "pocket" where is was supposed to be and I could not remember putting it into my bag.  If I went back home, I would surely be late, very late.  If I went ahead, it would be a long day without a phone.
I suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable.  I felt empty and undressed.  I felt scared and lonely.  I wondered if I would be able to make it through the day!  I wondered how long it would be before one of my many "peeps" needed me?
The day was very long; yet, I made it through the day without a phone!id. 
I did have a few missed calls, a few missed texts, a zillion emails to answer and a few texts waiting. Yet, the day really did go on without my cell phone! 
I was reminded of that old dream about arriving at the HS locker and realizing you forgot to get dressed, so you keep you coat on all day.  Life goes on, even if you are not prepared. 
However, the Central Message of my story might be that we can get along without THINGS, even though things make our lives more comfortable and easy.  Instead, we need and want people around us and supporting us on this journey. 
When we lose one of our peeps, we arrive at our destination unprepared.   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

#sol14 Day 27 Sustained by Coffee, Conversation and Companionship

The announcement was, "There's coffee and goodies in the faculty room." So, most of us, even though there was a teaching day ahead went, like lemmings, for the free coffee and food.  Somehow, the lure of substance seemed comforting at that moment.  Yet, the real need was probably for the companionship that ensued.

The room was already filled with grieving teachers filling their plates with food when I arrived.  "You know," someone said as she slathered a bagel with cream cheese," Jews eat at times like theseIt helps."
"You don't know eating and drinking until you've seen the Italians before and after a wake" claimed the nearby friend.
"The Irish, we drink a wee bit to get through these times," said a third!

"Let me tell you a story that will make you smile," said another teacher. " My son, 'G' an eager third grader facing his first State English Language Arts State test told us he was 'excited about the upcoming state tests.'  'G' didn't wait for a response before adding, 'I'm really excited because I know all about states."
"His older and wiser brother and I looked at each other," she added shaking her head! "We were wondering WHO should tell him the truth about the upcoming tests!  So I, the wise mother, began to burst "G's" bubble and share that the ELA would ask him to read for 3 mornings in a row for about 2 hours a day.  'G,' ever the optimist, listened and then smiled, saying, 'Well I guess that's a good thing because I do not know the capital of China, yet!" 

We laughed, smiled and remembered the innocence of youth and our promise to protect them, as much as we can, from the trials and tribulations of life.
I smiled as I headed back to my room to prepare for the hard day ahead thinking about gathering together, the power of stories, and the many slices of our lives.
I wonder if generations of people have come together thinking that it was the food that would sustain them through the tough times?
I'm sure that the older and wiser ones figured out that the food was just the vehicle to taking us to the conversation and companionship we need most to sustain us in tough times.

#sol14 March 26 A light in the hallway really was out

An early morning message,
Sent us reeling,
The heat, electricity, water were working.  
We knew, even if we could not admit it, 
Our grieving would begin, shortly.
Our anguish would come in waves.
Our sadness immense.

As the day began,
The eager faces were waiting for stories,
Math projects, exit tickets,
Test prep strategies, writers' notebooks,
We pushed aside sadness,
Wrestled our grief into the back corner,
We checked on our neighbors
As you do in an emergency.

As the day ensued,
Our thoughts wandered,
Her family, the enormity of their loss,
Our community, our immeasurable loss.
Shared passions, hopes and dreams,
Family, politics, life-long learning,
Twitter feeds and the NY Times,
Our memories,
Her laugh, smile,
Her optimism, hope.

Late in the day,
We noticed,
A light in the hallway
Really was out.

Monday, March 24, 2014

#sol 14 March 25 Dinosaur Inspired Reading and Writing

Early Monday morning,"W" announced proudly, "I have something for you!"  She then continued a conversation with her peers about the events of the weekend while I smiled thinking about her infinite energy and wondering how I might corral that into reading and writing!

When she arrived in my "Reading Club Room" a few hours later, she was just as bubbly as she had been earlier. "I have a story right here," she announced proudly as she plunked herself down. "It's about what I did this weekend." In her left hand, clutched tight, was a small spiral notebook, the kind normally reserved for jotting down reminders.  In her right hand, was a pencil, covered with hearts, the one she had earned last Friday for finishing her first "chapter book," Young Cam Jansen and the Missing Cookie.

This morning's proclamation of writing was a "first" for this reluctant reader and writing; yet, she looked mighty confident of what she had done, and so I asked, "Do you want to share?"

"Of course," she said as if writing and sharing of one's writing had been part of her regular course of study. For a minute, I looked at her and wondered if she had "grown up" over the weekend.  "This is about my trip to the museum," she began proudly sharing about seeing dinosaurs, whales, formerly-alive-but-now-stuffed-but-not-with cotton-animals.

I must admit to becoming a bit misty eyed as this first-for-her, student initiated, even if not-particularly-exciting-list-story played out before my eyes.  I thanked her for sharing and her classmates quickly echoed their own praise for her efforts amid some real questions about the museum.  

Then, I glanced at my plans and smiled, again, as somehow, this student who had long resisted my push to read and pull to write had, unwittingly provided for me an "anticipatory set" for the story we would be reading this week. Instead of saying, "Have any of you ever been to a museum?" I looked at my still glowing student clutching that notebook to her heart and said,"This week's story takes place in a museum, just like the one 'W' told us about this morning!"  

I was glowing at the inspired timing and student initiated writing; she was glowing at the prospect of reading a story about a museum as I passed out the books!

Truth-be-told, I had almost talked myself out of the ol' Danny and the Dinosaur classic last Friday.  It's too long, I told myself, and so much of it (the Drug Store, the clotheslines) is old fashioned.  Yet, years of experiences and something in my heart suggested this might just support my students' reading fluency and confidence. It might even be Common Core sanctioned if I add video clips and maps from museums and then write a paragraph or two about our virtual (or real) visits!

I'm not quite sure where Danny and the Dinosaur will take us; but I am confident I will be hunting down dinosaur-covered pencils before we're done.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

#sol14 March 24 You can still smile and choose joy at 91

In '23, it's likely your dad stopped by to see your mom, up in their bedroom at the end of his workday.  "Anna," he probably said, "how are you and this new baby doing?" 
When you were born, it's possible Anna and Jeremiah were hoping for a boy; after all, you were the 7th girl in a row and the "older boys" were getting ready to leave the farm to head off to the Army or to college!
In '23, back on the farm, there were concerns about another mouth to feed even though there was joy in your safe and healthy arrival.
At '91, you can remember life on the farm, but also living for most of your life in Brooklyn and working in the city.  You can reflect on your "country condo" next to your sister-in-law, and think that your journey has taken you where you were supposed to go. 
In '14, you have been retired for many years.  Working now is physical therapy a few times a week.
At '91, life is very different, but you find joy in Days of Our Lives and those endless episodes of CSI.
In '14, your siblings, even your younger brother, have all passed.
At 91, you wonder who will be at your birthday party, especially if you never married or had children.
In '14, your hearing is going.  You need those around you to talk one at a time, slowly and with clarity.  You need a hearing aide even though you claim that you have "selective" hearing loss.
At 91, your vision is going, especially if you had major surgery, with lots of anesthesia last summer, after you broke you hip.  You need large font print for sure!  You can't do those crossword puzzles from the paper anymore.  Hopefully, your niece will give you a large print puzzle book!
In '14, you move slowly, particularly if you are recovering from that really bad broken hip.  Most people do not recover, but you are among the lucky ones and you move slowly, hesitantly with a walker for support.
At 91, you need some help to live in your own place.  You need help dressing, bathing, cooking and doing laundry!
In '14, you can still enjoy a slice of ice cream cake.  You remember Sundays on the farm and the homemade chocolate ice cream that you would make and eat - every last drop of it!
At '14, if you are lucky enough to still have a pancreas that is working, you can enjoy cookies and candy; thus, those York peppermint patties are a big hit!  Who cares about watching your weight at this point!
At 91, a birthday party is still a fun affair but it is subdued,  There are a few family members and a few laughs, most of which you don't hear all that well, and a few stories that you share. 
In '14, you can still smile and choose to find joy in your day, 91 short years after that first day!   

#sol14 March 23 That Ol' Striped Throat

It goes around and seems to "peek" in March.  Often, the symptoms are obvious (sore throat, upset stomach, headache) and those of us without medical degrees "seem" to diagnose it without a swab!  One day, the kids (and sometimes teachers) complain a bit, then they are out for a day or two.
I sent "J" to the nurse's office one morning after he put his head on the table and announced, "My throat can't say any words," and then, as I anticipated, he was out "sick."
A few days later, when I picked him up, "J" eagerly bounded up the stairs to the Reading Club Room, clearly back to his old self.  "Did you miss me?" he asked.  Without waiting for an answer (he most likely knew I had missed him), "J" continued, "I had a sore throat and bad temp-for-shure, so I went to the doctor.  He looked at my throat and told me I had The Striped Throat!" 
I smiled assured that my diagnosis days earlier was accurate.  "The doctor gave me pink medicine and told my mom to buy those wipes in the yellow can, like the ones you have," he volunteered waving his arm towards my wipes-that-try-to-keep-germs-like-strep-under-control!  "Now, I am all better and can read again.  It's a good thing you have those yellow wipes so you won't get The Striped Throat."    
As he eagerly began reading Goldie and the Three Bears on my freshly wiped down table, I was glad that ol' pink medicine was clearing the "stripes" from his throat.  With the image of fading throat stripes clearly in my head, I'll be reminded to generously use those ol' yellow wipes to make sure the ol' Striped Throat stays away from my reading table! 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

#sol14 @celebratelu March 22 Fawks and For Real

Discover. Play. Build.
faux   [foh] - artificial or imitation; fake  Origin: French
re·al  [ree-uhgenuine, not imitation; authentic. 
I celebrate faux (pronounced fo in France but here in America, more accurately fawks!
  • Schoolyards and walkways are overrun with slush; it's a good thing we have faux boots to protect our feet and our wallets!
  • I cannot even imagine anyone wearing anything but a faux fur to playground duty!
  • As we cart tons of papers, it's a good thing that a faux bag or two help ease the burden!   
  • Bending over kids to read or confer makes wearing real pearls foolish, but with the faux kind, style is possible! 
  • Then there is the faux spring weather we have had of late. Those temps in the 40's during the day have been dipping back into the frigid zone where the piles of snow linger at night! 
I also celebrate real because:
  • Real friendships (the kind that help you smile through life's adversities) are one of the most empowering gifts on earth.  
  • Real hard work can move mountains (even though it can't make snow piles disappear!)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

#sol14 March 21 The longest day of the year is NOT in June!

It's the best day. 
We're outta here, half-day,
We can play.
It's an easy, short day!
Hip, hip hooray!
We'll have fun today...

The kids
Giddy with excitement.   
Bubbly and buzzing, excited and eager
For play dates, bikes, bowling, shopping, Legos.  
For them,
The half-day held promise 
Less-than-usual homework and more-than-usual fun. 

The teachers, however,
Walked slowly, talked softly,
Perhaps saving themselves for the marathon ahead.
Yes, it was a half-day for kids,
But the many hours of afternoon-into-evening 
Parent-teacher-conferences on the horizon
Would mean the LONGEST day of the year
For them!

#sol14 Day 20 Problems and Prayers

Sure I have problems, 
Reports, IEPs to print 
Folders to organize,
Student record reports pending,
Dishes to put away,
Piles everywhere,  
Clothes strewn,
Bills to be paid;
Worries about kids,
Frustrating people,
Piles of stubborn snow,
Concerns about next steps,
Stresses, strains, strife,
So much that I should do.

For those who would give all
To have any one of mine,
Be any one of their 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

sol14 March 19th: Why would someone stop to pick up a penny?

"Come on," one of the boys said seriously, "this must be one of those really old fashioned stories! Why would anyone think a penny is important?"

 "They must be kidding " his friend said with the conviction of an astute student of finance, "why would someone stop to pick up a penny!" 

We were almost done with a short story called, the Lucky Penny, an emergent reader chosen because it's a good story with a clear problem and a cute solution.  Plus, it offers students lots of opportunities to apply their emerging strategies reading two-syllable words (penny, lucky, silly)!

During the 10 minutes I had been guiding their reading through this somewhat challenging (for them) text, I had already redirected their thinking more than once. I had also responded to several compelling (to them) questions.  In retrospect, the word "lucky" on a day filled with images of leprechauns, encouraged their thinking to diverge from the central message of the story.  In retrospect, I should have saved the story for a day or two.  But who knew?  So, I tried to answer "burning" questions about leprechauns (Are they real or not?) and about St. Patrick (Is he more like a Santa Clause or a God-man?)"  Now, I had to convince them that the premise of caring about and finding a missing, lucky penny was valid!    

While I was still trying to formulate my response, one of the boys figured out how to answer their questions.  

"I get it," he exclaimed. "He stopped to pick up the lucky penny because it was shiny! You know shiny pennies are always good luck!  I saw that on TV!  No one would stop to pick up a penny for any other reason.  It's not worth anything at the store.  But, if it is shiny and clean,and you find it on the ground, and if it is near St. Patrick's Day, and if you really like pennies, then it might be good to put in your pocket to help when you take a math test!

Perhaps the central message of this story was different than I had originally thought:
It's best when we let the kids answer their own questions!  

#sol14 Day 18: Spring has sprung, We can play ball.

We really did need to replace our winter-jacket-clad-poem-advocating-snow-makes-you-happy bulletin board before parent-teacher conferences..
We really did have a lot to do this week with report cards and those conferences looming.
We really did search for an inspiring quote or poem.
We really did search for some words that would remind us all that hope springs eternal this time of year.
We really were about to leave the empty bulletin board until tomorrow and hope that inspiration came to one of us during the intervening hours..
We really do spend a good bit of time with those Wilson/Fundations sound cards and our students use those sound-symbol connections to make the phonics-decoding-encoding part of reading and writing a little easier.

So in a moment of must certainly be inspired Wilson teaching, here is a board that will make our students smile and Barbara Wilson smile:
Spring has sprung, 
We can play ball  

We really are sure this was one of the fastest bulletin boards in the history of teaching.
We really are sure those "glued sound" cards hanging up there will inspire reading.
We really are sure this will make even our first graders smile!
We really can't wait for our kids to see the sound cards on the bulletin board!
They will be SO excited!    

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#sol14 Day 17: Slices of St. Patrick's life

Today, even those of us who are just a wee bit Irish don green and we pretend we are Irishmen for the day. The parades, partying, and corned beef sales are all signs that we either bored with winter or really honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland!  In truth, the historical accuracy of St. Patrick's story is clouded in legends passed through the ages.  He was many things, but he was not Irish by birthright!
Patrick was born in either Britain, Scotland, or Wales. 

Patrick wasn't particularly religious until after he was kidnapped and sent to Ireland to raise sheep.  He heard voices that urged him to escape his captors.  He escaped but later was captured, again, and sent to be a slave in France!

Patrick spent many years in France and became a bishop there. 

Patrick became a missionary and that is when he returned to Ireland.

Patrick did not like particularly like green.  He was usually dressed in blue!
Patrick did promote the shamrock as a religious symbol (of the Holy Trinity).
Patrick did not celebrate with corned beef! Irish immigrants to this country began brining beef brisket because it was cheap!
It does appear that our celebrations are historically accurate on this point: Patrick enjoyed a drink or two!'s_Day

#sol14 March 16 Fueled by Ceylon Mango

"Let's meet at Panera's," she suggested, "we can do brunch."  So, on a bright spring morning, even though we both should have been moved to begin spring cleaning, or joining the a gym, we joined forces in a back booth, away from the grab-a-bit-between-sports-practices-crowd-of-kids-moms-dads.
Over time, we had yogurt-granola-strawberry parfaits and tea, not just one cup of the ol' Lipton diner-kind-of-tea.  Instead, we had many, many, many refills of a magnificent Ceylon Mango that that fueled a very-long, but very-needed conversation in which we talked of hopes, dreams, anger, angst, peace, trust, faith, and forgiveness.  Our paths, so very different, yet, they are intricately intertwined by life-events we could never have imagined when we first met.  Long ago, she was the perky co-ed girl-friend, and I was the big sister of a little brother who had fallen madly in love; yet now, many years later, many miles later, we have become sisters-by-choice.
It was a conversation interspersed with laughter, tears, smiles, and sighs.  The kind of conversation that fuels women to smile in spite of life's adversities. I suspect it was the kind of conversation women have been having for centuries, over quilt squares, shopping bags, wine, and coffee.. the kind of conversation that might just solve world peace.
We left at dinner time, exhausted, in spite of sitting for hours, as a new crowd of sweat-suit clad diners began to arrive for a bite to eat. As we hugged good-bye, I knew the time was well-spent even though the laundry piles would not be attacked this weekend.  I was also sure that time can stand still, even at a place designed for fast food!