a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Have you met Kate?
Kate and I (before we met Rick Yancey)
Kate and I with Donalyn Miller and Sugarbear

Four years ago, Kate became my teaching counterpart when my previous counterpart moved into a leadership role at our district administrative center.  As thrilled as I was to have her voice in a leadership role, I was not happy to see Rachel leave.  I was not happy to have been left out of the interview process for her replacement.  I was not happy.

I am ashamed to admit that for the first few months, I coped with the transition by secretly referring to Kate as "the Kate I hate."  Luckily, I am surrounded by wise women who nudged and coached me to just give her time.

And luckily, Kate is one of those women.  She was wise enough and bold enough to weather my disdainful looks and impatient sighs.  

Before long, her previous nomenclature was replaced with, "That's my Kate!"

For next school year, due to shifting enrollment, Kate was bumped from our middle school to the high school.  

Once again,  I am not happy.  

But this time, I am listening to the wisdom in my own heart.  I am listening to the whispers of joy over having such an amazing colleague and friend to miss.  Here are just a few of the things that make "my Kate" so worthy of celebration:

1| She has a fierce love of books and kids and the magic that happens when they are connected.

2| She turns nuggets of professional development into concrete classroom practice in a matter of minutes. (Okay, minutes might be an exaggeration, but she always beats me to it!)

3| She finds the gem inside each and every student she meets, patiently listens for what their hearts need to hear, and nurtures freely.

4| She. does. not. give. up.

5| Her burps come from all the way down in her toes.  So does her passion for working with readers and writers.

6| She is smart as a whip.  Maybe even smarter.

7| She writes with her students--the kind of words that make me envious of her ability to craft, especially in the presence of middle school students. 

That's my Kate!

Sunday, May 1, 2016


I am a language arts teacher.  I have been a language arts teacher for 16 years.  I teach language arts to 8th graders, sometimes 7th graders.

Next year I have been asked to teach a section of social studies.  To 6th graders. Ancient world history.  Did I mention I am a language arts teacher?

This fact makes me whiny.  My husband is a social studies teacher.  An excellent social studies teacher.  I do not do what he does. 

Did I mention the thought of teaching social studies—especially ancient world history and especially to 6th graders—makes me whiny?

This is definitely not my cause for celebration this week.  However, this week one of my 8th grade boys learned a lesson that shifted my perspective from whiny to open-minded.

Every year our 8th graders take a field trip to our regional vocational training center.  The center provides hands-on career-related classes for high school students in a variety of fields, from building trades and fire science to early childhood education and culinary arts. 

Students are invited, a few weeks ahead of time, to sign up for their top 6 choices.  Then, on the day of the trip, they are given a schedule to follow, and they visit 5 different classes for approximately 20 minutes each. 

This year, on the bus ride there, G started whining to me:

G: Mrs. Rush, I am signed up for cosmetology.  I don’t want to do cosmetology.

Me: Then why did you select it as one of your top 6?

G: T talked me into it.  He was signing up for it.  I didn’t really understand what it was.

Me: I explained each option AND gave you a list with descriptions.

G: I know. I was just supposed to be in it with T.

Me: (beginning to giggle) Now T is absent and you are stuck.  He got you good.

G: It’s not funny!  I don’t want to do cosmetology.

Me: It will be fun—an adventure.  You will end up enjoying it.  It will give you something to talk about.

I was certain G would not be miserable.  He was not the first boy to have ended up in a similar situation on this annual field trip.  I knew he would enjoy talking about it—maybe even exaggerating how miserable it was—on the bus ride home. 

However, I didn’t expect this:

G: Mrs. Rush! I learned to braid hair!  Watch this!

Me: I am impressed G!  You are a changed man!  What did you learn?

G: How to braid! 

Me:  Yes, clearly you learned to braid hair quite well, but what I meant was what did you learn about life from this experience?

G: I guess I shouldn’t jump to conclusions before I try something.

It turns out G is a wise young man.  His words made me think again about teaching social studies next year. 

Maybe, just maybe, by teaching social studies I will learn to braid.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Because Ruth inspires me to be on the lookout for celebrations, I paused long enough in my morning routine to notice that my dog, Roosevelt, had hidden his favorite toy in my slippers.  Roo's playfulness, even at the ripe old age of thirteen, charms me.  He will toss a ball and chase it all by himself for extended periods of time.  Last night, when he was done playing, and I had already stepped out of my slippers to get into bed, he must have tucked his ball away for safekeeping. 

I had woken up early this morning to take the dogs to the vet for their annual vaccines.  I was feeling tense because Roo has had reactions to the vaccine in the past that have required emergency vet visits.  In addition, Aurora has had two surgeries in the past year and today was the day I would find out if her kidney stone issue (the cause for one of the surgeries) was going to be persistent.  

That red rubber face smiling up at me from my slippers was Roo's way of reassuring me that everything would be okay.  And it was.

As I get older, I find it easier to let go and have faith that things will turn out fine, but there is still some small part of me that holds onto the belief that excessive worrying wards off awful outcomes.  Maybe in part because when I excessively worry, things turn out fine and the belief I cling to is reinforced.

Parent/teacher conferences are one example.  It is an annual tradition for me to over-stress about conferences.  This week, a colleague and I were talking and she asked me point-blank why I think it is that we get so stressed.  It is funny how powerful a self-reflection it can be to be forced to say something aloud.  I thought of this passage from my "366 Days of FLOW" calendar from FLOW magazine:

And I answered that I am afraid parent/teacher conferences are going to reveal that I am a fraud.  Prior to conferences, I run through all of the things I know I am getting wrong--things like not updating my class webpage often enough or with the most relevant information, and making stupid mistakes in my grade book like changing the weighting for one class and forgetting to make the change for another.  

Every year, as it turns out, the things I am getting wrong are never the MOST IMPORTANT things.  This year was no exception.  In fact, this year I walked away from parent/teacher conferences on a high because I suspect that one of the conferences I had this year changed the trajectory of a student's life for the better in a big way.  There is power in wrapping a child with support both in and outside of school.  When that support is in sync, the insurmountable odds against a child suddenly dwindle.  This, I celebrate.

Friday, January 1, 2016


I signed up again for Ali Edwards's One Little Word class.  Even when prompts for some months go unfinished, I find her monthly lessons to be a worthwhile reminder to reflect and to live my word.  I have been gathering fodder for the first month's prompt...

A list of Words:
2011- apathy
2012- nudge
2013- note
2014- lift
2015- mindful
2016- fuel

Some definitions of my One Little Word for 2016:
FUEL noun
·      a source of energy
·      a thing that sustains or inflames passion, argument, or other emotion or activity

FUEL verb
·      supply or power with fuel
·      cause to burn more intensely

Quotes that helped me come up with my word:
“Be with those who help your being.”    -RUMI (line from a poem)

“Be the right kind of hungry.”    -Randall Mann (on a postcard containing advice for poets)

My intentions in adopting this word in 2016:
I want to fuel and be fueled. 

I think I miss opportunities to provide fuel for others.  I have more to give than I am giving.  I want to do more, to be more, for others this year.

I want to be the right kind of hungry this year—to take in the things that truly fuel me physically, emotionally, creatively, and professionally.  I want to surround myself with the people and things that fuel me.  I want my time to matter. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015


celebrate weekly with Ruth Ayres and friends
"All those golden autumn days the sky was full of wings."
-Laura Ingalls Wilder
First Day of Fall
In the midst of my morning routine their cackles drew me to the window.  I looked out, half-expecting to see that what sounded like massive amounts of birds would turn out to be the squealing breaks of an aging automobile.  But nature did not disappoint.

A congregation of crows had taken over our treetops. 

I paused for a moment in between packing lunches and feeding dogs.  I marveled in the wonder of a sky filled with wings.  I chuckled when the meeting that had seemed to adjourn appeared to pick right back up again, this time along rooftops. 

I carried away with me the gentle reminder to listen to the music the earth has to offer.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015


This weekend marks the 100th official invitation to celebrate at www.ruthayreswrites.com.  I have not joined the celebration all 100 times.  Before I knew Ruth, this is the kind of thing that would've made me feel guilty, confirmed that I am not good enough, even caused me to feel like an outsider.  I am so lucky to know Ruth.  She released me of should, which means I am also released from should have

After being knocked down with pneumonia so close to the start of the school year, I have been struggling to recover my routine.  Friday night Mark and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary by staying in and watching movies while it stormed outside.  I worried it might be my only moment of calm all weekend.  Saturday morning I found myself caught in a whirlwind of check-things-off-the-to-do-list.  By this afternoon, I was churning so fast internally I had to pace just to stay focused.

Then it occurred to me that there was just enough time left before it got dark to take a walk. 

I hadn't taken a walk since before I got sick.  I forgot walking was an option. 

Mark and I readjusted our dinner plans to make time for my walk.  I got my earbud headset and called my mom to talk while I walked.  It turns out that walking, talking to Mom, and observing nature are my trifecta of healing. 

While I was walking I came across this enormous fallen tree. 

I think it was trying to teach me something. 

Immediately, my mom and I were reminded of horseback riding together when I was younger.  I regularly rode a retired horse named Scout.  Scout was not the leader of our group, but when we came across a fallen tree it was Scout who showed the other horses how to step over it and keep moving instead of shying away.

So I stepped over that fallen tree. 

I think there might be a few other fallen trees in my life that I need to step over to move on.

While I was navigating the fallen tree, I realized I had company.
I think she was trying to teach me something. 

And she had friends helping her get the message across.

A white egret as I rounded the lake.
More deer when I re-entered the woods on another path.

I am surrounded by support.

Just before heading home, I came across this beautiful yellow flower at the edge of the prairie grasses.  Goldenrod.
 I think it was trying to teach me something. 

I know it is the cause of my allergies, but man is it pretty. 

There is good to be found even in the things that cause us discomfort.

I came back home calmer, happier, and wiser.  And all it took was a little walking, a little talking to Mom, and a little nature.  This is cause for celebration.

Monday, July 20, 2015


There is something about taking a road trip in the Midwest that makes me feel, well, more like me. 

Perhaps it has to do with my family having lived in the Chicago suburbs with a lake house in the Northwoods of Wisconsin beginning when I was in 5th grade.  The lake house became our permanent residence for a few of my middle/high school years, but even then, we made regular trips of the 7-hour drive to visit family and friends.  Let’s just say I am familiar with the route.

Although our lake house is long gone, I haven’t seen the Northwoods for years now, and I was headed to Minnesota instead of Wisconsin, the simple act of getting behind the wheel of a packed car awakened my inner road tripper.

Driving the 8 hours (the first 4 hours of which repeat the path to our old lake house) to visit my dearest high school friend and her family brought back memories I didn’t know I had.  As a result I felt grounded, centered.

Having expected a dreary, rainy journey, my eyes were thirsty for the sunshine, blue skies, and brilliant greenery I experienced instead.  I drank in patchworks of farm fields, rolling hills, and distant farmhouses.  I soaked up stacks of sedimentary rock layers, towering evergreens, and humble wildflowers.  I even snapped a photo of windmills in the distance because they reminded me of my friend Kim’s poem comparing them to fireflies at night.  Sights that used to blend into the background of routine travels became new to me.

I was surprised to encounter slowed traffic only to discover the cause was an army convoy.  I had forgotten how commonplace it used to be to pass a convoy of camouflaged vehicles carrying supplies and uniformed soldiers.  I recalled the thrill it used to trigger in my youth and was struck by the depth of emotion the convoy summoned from my current heart.

However, even though some things have changed, one constant was the comfort of being with a friend who really knows me.  Since her husband was headed out of town for a business trip, Dena and I were able to stay up late each night chatting at her kitchen table.  Those quiet moments, extended time to allow moments to just breathe, were just what I didn’t know I needed. 

In her fabulous hostess fashion, Dena packed my few days with fun-filled outings.  No matter how many times I tried to convince her that I considered driving her son to piano lessons and swim practice to be fun-filled outings, she wouldn’t leave it at that.  She got front-row tickets at a play of Charlotte’s Web.  The costumes were completely designed out of materials found on a farm—burlap heads and funnel beaks for the geese, a grain scoop face for the sheep, and a metal bucket snout for the pig.  How fun!

The food was incredible!  Dena took such care in selecting restaurants that would suit my taste—both culinary and aesthetic.  Look at that beautiful wood tabletop—and we ordered our food on an iPad!

treats from the General Store in Minnetonka

gourmet lunch at Lunds & Byerlys Kitchen

a Caribou Coffee smoothie--my favorite (Caribou Coffee is becoming extinct in the Chicago suburbs)

a fun sandwich shop based on characters from stories a father told his children at bedtime

On top of all that, Dena even made sure we had time to fit in a visit to my two favorite spots in Minneapolis (pay attention if you are headed to NCTE in November—these two should be added to your list of must-sees) Wild Rumpus and Hunt & Gather.

Wild Rumpus is a bookstore that specializes in children’s books.  The book collection is so wisely curated that I am always able to find true treasures amidst the shelves.  In addition to books, the store is home to several animal friends.  The welfare of the animals was a big concern of mine, but having visited several times, I am convinced the staff goes out of their way to educate visitors about proper interaction and to provide relief for animals that are tired of attention.

a beautiful window display read: let books be our mirrors and windows

one of the cats greeted us at the door

a window cat


a chicken roams the store freely

a tarantula named Thomas Jefferson

Hunt & Gather is an antique and gift shop filled (and when I say filled, I mean FILLED) with fun finds.  I could spend hours wandering through the two floors of goodies.  We had a blast sifting through the many collections to find the gems we wanted.  I even went back to the store on my way out of town because I couldn’t bear to leave some treasures behind.  My car was sure FILLED for my trip home!

the treasures spill out of the shop

lockers on display
lockers being transported to their new home
a fun chair in on display
the chair being transported to its new home
My car wasn’t all that was full at the end of this road trip.  I headed home with a full heart and a fuller sense of who I am and who I want to be.  Now that’s what I call a road trip!