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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE unpredictability

celebrate with Ruth Ayres and friends on Saturdays
one | bulletin boards

My creative process, no matter the end product, always includes drafting in my head.  Sometimes my vision is manifested in the final creation.  Other times, there is a bit more problem solving needed along the way. 

Each of the display cases below began with a mental picture and some sketches (one of them began with a literal vision when I found this idea on Pinterest).  All of them required unexpected problem solving and ended up looking much different than my original plans. 

Nonetheless, I am choosing to celebrate how wonderful these look in comparison to the dusty displays that had been there for the past three years rather than dwell on how different they are from my initial vision.

two | weather

Mark and I intentionally planned a trip to see my dad and Jane one last time right before school starts.  In the days leading up to our trip, the weather forecast predicted four days of straight rain during our five-day visit.  Instead we had four days of beautiful lakeside-worthy weather. 

three |  a special delivery

The puppy in this picture has fleas.  She also has worms.  That might have been enough to make some people pass her by, but not my dad.  This week he rescued this pup from a local shelter (giving more than the required adoption fee). 

I was lucky enough to help out by driving the pup from here (a Chicago suburb where Dad works during the week, near my house) to Indiana where Jane was home to take care of her.  My friend Michelle joined me for the journey.  Her company was an added gift.

four | sale

Mark and I started our own Etsy store this summer.  We work at the same school (in fact my classroom is directly above his) and wanted to work together on something completely unrelated to school.  It has been a learning experience to work on our products and set up a mini-business.  Since we are really doing this more as a hobby than anything else, we were surprised to get our very first order already!

five | archiving

When Ruth invited me to co-host a Twitter chat with her, I didn’t even consider declining.  I really had no idea what it would mean and how much or how little work might be involved, but whenever Ruth opens a door of opportunity, I am willing to charge through with bright eyes. 

I did my homework ahead of time and learned everything I could about moderating a chat and archiving.  I felt prepared.  I felt confident.  Then the chat arrived. 

I tweeted without the hashtag.  Everything I knew about archiving backfired.  And yet, I am celebrating how much I learned—from everyone who participated (especially our experienced guest host Katherine Sokolowski) and about how these chats work behind the scenes.  I am celebrating all this experience has taught me about Twitter and taking risks. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

in which I limit my CELEBRATIONS to five

CELEBRATE on Saturdays with Ruth Ayres (and friends)
one | I am a WRITER!

I may not be keeping up with my blogs lately, but I have been writing.  I am celebrating the evidence that it’s true—my first article for Choice Literacy has been published in today’s Big Fresh!  What a kick it is to see my name in digital print as a paid writer! 

two | Writing begets writing.

I thought that perhaps since I was busy writing for other purposes, I might lost sight of other writing projects.  However, that hasn’t been the case.  It turns out the more I write, the more I am motivated to write more.  There is something to be said for this sort of momentum.  I want to think more about how to provide this for my student writers.

three | Ruth Ayres is awesome.

I just cannot say enough good about this woman.  Not only did she become my friend (and after years of friendship, I am no less starstruck), but this summer she has introduced me to Brenda Power of Choice Literacy AND invited me to co-host a monthly Twitter chat: Teach & Celebrate Writers.  I think so highly of Ruth that knowing she thinks enough of me to send these opportunities my way is humbling and confidence-boosting all at once.  Please join us for our first chat on Sunday, August 3rd.  The fabulous Katherine Sokolowski will be our guest host to chat about routines and procedures for writing workshop. 

four | I have been painting.

Today is the 4th birthday party for the daughter of a friend who I’ve known since second grade.  One of my first couple paintings as a result of the Kelly Rae Roberts e-course Hello Soul, Hello Mixed Media Mantras was for her.  It contains scraps of my mom’s old sewing patterns and lace from my grandma’s sewing kit.  I think there is something special about capturing the essence of powerful women in art.

This other painting is for a friend who has a tendency to want to control things.  This summer she took a giant leap of faith and it ended up working out in her favor (and mine too, since we will once again be working in the same building). 

five | Connections matter.

Did you know that Deb, elsie, Linda, and Kim are just a tweet away?  After having met these incredible women via blogging and now in person, I am tickled by the idea that we can continue our conversations by simply tapping on a keyboard.  I can even run into Terje in Estonia during Twitter chats!  What wisdom and support at my fingertips! 

I feel like I could go on and on with celebrations this week—no grit needed! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE every day

celebrate with Ruth Ayres and friends on Saturdays (or Sundays)
Sunday | I got to spend a day at the lake with my husband, my dad, his partner Jane, and her mom Dulce.

Monday | I had the surreal experience of participating in a Choice Literacy writing retreat.  I was completely out of my comfort zone and felt like I was growing for the first time in years.

me, tucked away to get some writing done
Tuesday | Mark discovered a restaurant near the lake that we hadn’t tried.  We were able to convince Jane and Dulce to go out with us and indulge for a night of fun and great food.

Jane and Dulce
Wednesday | Mark and I agreed to stay at the lake and watch over the house, the dog, and Dulce while Jane visited her friends in the city.  I was a bit nervous about the responsibility, but I was confident Jane’s mom would not give us a hard time the way she does Jane.  I was wrong.  This is a day for gritty celebration.  Although Dulce was more than a handful because of her attitude and condition, I was able to spend some moments enjoying stories from her childhood in Cuba. 

Donii, Jane and Dad's adorable dog
Thursday | The trying experience of caring for Dulce allowed me to share some insight with Jane and my dad.  This is sparking improved conversations about the care she needs, and will ultimately lead to a better situation for all of them.

Friday | My friend Kate’s mom passed away.  She was suffering from COPD and her health suddenly declined.  My heart aches for Kate, who lost her dad within the last year as well.  This weekend I will join Kate in celebrating the life of her mom—a life for which I am deeply grateful.  Kate’s mom has made her who she is and made it possible for Kate to be such a positive force in my life.  Kate’s experience is also a reminder to celebrate the health and lives of all those I love.

Kate with our friend Kathie
Saturday | This morning I got to take my niece to see The Fault in Our Stars movie.  Usually, our nieces and their friends come to the lake with us each summer.  This summer, because of Dulce’s condition, it is not going to be possible.  Because I won’t be giving them swag bags containing books (and other goodies) to pass time at the lake, Kadie recently requested some summer reading suggestions.  As soon as she finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Kadie texted me.  We made plans to see the movie together when I got back from the lake if she hadn’t already gone with friends.  I was thrilled when she texted me to say she wanted me to take her.  Even better than the shared experience of the movie, was the conversation in the car. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

In which I CELEBRATE people

celebrate on Saturdays with Ruth Ayres and friends
This Tuesday I met with my new writing group.  We started meeting as soon as school got out with the purpose of holding each other accountable and giving each other feedback on longer, more substantial writing projects.  We get so much more out of these meetings than we originally intended.  So, this week I celebrate each of my writing group members

I celebrate Mark (my husband, a 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher) for knowing when to provide comic relief and when to give serious feedback, for working hard at writing, for being brave enough and determined enough to share his writing first.

I celebrate Jessica (6th grade language arts teacher) for expert advice that is thorough and portable, for her loyal use of legal pads and fountain-nib pens, for responding straight from her writer’s heart to ours, for keeping us on track with meeting invites and agendas.

I celebrate David (8th grade social studies teacher) for his unmatched collection and use of meaningful quotations in his writing, for knowing each member of our group as individuals enough to seek glimpses of our selves in our writing, for his ridiculous optimism.

I celebrate Kristen (6th grade language arts teacher) for sending me feedback this week even though a sick child prevented her from attending our meeting, for her bold determination to quiet the monster voice in her head and listen to the writerly voice instead (reference to this post by Ruth Ayres—one of the Two Writing Teachers who created the blog where it can be found), for starting a blog of her own this year.

This week I also attended the All-Write Summer Institute!  Today I celebrate all the amazing people who came together to learn, to teach, to speak, to listen, to grow.  Here are many highlights that still don’t begin to cover everyone:

I celebrate Ruth for coordinating the Wednesday night dinner (and many other special meals), for being gritty enough and talented enough to deliver a keynote so personal and meaningful and that the audience barely breathed while she spoke for fear of missing a beat, for a million little moments where I witnessed the truth of The Other Ruth’s words: [Ruth Ayres] is real.

I celebrate Mary Helen for bravely presenting to a room spilling over with people, for breaking down the process of finding mini-lessons so clearly, for smiling every single time I saw her.

I celebrate Tammy for being simply the BEST storyteller ever—especially when it comes to raising chickens, hunting bees, fly fishing, and caring for ducks.

I celebrate elsie for her talent in jewelry design and construction, for her incredible kindness in sharing that talent—in the form of two beautiful bracelets, for making me feel special by knowing my one little word, for being an inquisitive scholar of Twitter.

I celebrate Linda for her dedication to helping others grow, for driving me around—providing the incredibly special treat of having her all to myself, for sharing stories of family and school life that remind me how much better I am for knowing her.

I celebrate Kim for immediately being the kind of person I can run down while browsing books, for laughing at the things I find funny, for Pepper Jack.

I celebrate Jen for sharing my love of all things Kelly Gallagher—so much so that we bonded over shared dread for the end of his sessions, for making me guess her age and proving I am not as old as I feel, for starting a blog since coming to All-Write last year.

I celebrate Becca for having written one of the most genuine thank you notes I’ve ever received, for reaching out by sending me friendly texts that make me hopeful we will continue to correspond throughout the coming school year, for sharing my vision of what kids need.

I celebrate Leigh Anne for attending All-Write with her daughter—reminding me how much I love to spend time with my mom, for joining me during Kelly Gallagher’s morning session (everything is more fun with a friend)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE the right kind of busy

celebrate your week on Saturdays with Ruth Ayres
Ahh, it’s summer.  That means I get to  s  l  o  w  down.  Or so I thought.  Instead it seems that since school ended my days have been filled from top to bottom.  However, they are being filled all the best kinds of things—things that are worth celebrating (in numbers):

one mended friendship
four meals shared with great company (including one Caribou smoothie)
three sweaty attempts to shed extra layers jogs through the woods
two crafty projects
two writing projects
five gifts for others
three visits with friends
one boring meeting at school opportunity to develop a meaningful literacy intervention
two stinky toilets that had to be scrubbed floors of clean house

I am finding that like a lot of things in life, sometimes CELEBRATION is hard all about perspective.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE kicking off summer

CELEBRATE with Ruth Ayres on Saturdays
We are three full days into summer break and I already feel like summer is in full swing.  I think it is the little things that make the difference.  These are some of the little things that have gotten my summer off to a great start.

one | walking

Thursday morning, my husband and I had a meeting at school.  On school days we usually drive separately, but for a meeting like this it would make sense to drive together.  "Let's walk to school," I suggested instead.  So, we did.  It was beautiful out.  The walk forced us to slow down and clear our heads both before and after the meeting.

two | biking

Friday afternoon, I had another meeting at school.  This time, I was cutting it too close to walk to school, but I really couldn't stand the thought of driving when school is so close, the weather is so nice, and I have so little carry with me.  So, Mark dug my bicycle out of the basement and got it ready for me to take to school. I think this might be something I try during the school year a few times, too.

three | eating strawberries

A few years ago, Mark planted strawberries in the backyard.  This year, the plants seem to have finally really taken off.  Friday, I was able to pick a handful of perfect berries to clean and munch on.  Nothing tastes more like summer than fresh picked strawberries.

four | planning projects
This summer I am working on lots of projects.  Some personal, some professional.  I wrote about one of them here.  I celebrate that I have the time and brain space to begin working on projects!

Friday, June 6, 2014


“We need to shut off the noise that seeps into our classrooms so we can better listen to our students.”
by Dorothy Barnhouse

The noise to which Dorothy Barnhouse is referring in this case is that of mandates, materials claiming to be aligned with Common Core State Standards, and standardized tests claiming the same.  I believe it also includes the voices of district and building administrators urging us to adopt practices that fit their tidy checklists—practices that add up to effective teaching on rubrics far removed from authentic practices. 

I listened to far too much noise this school year. I listened to the noise of administrators labeling teachers for whom I have a great deal of respect as less than proficient at their jobs, and I adjusted my practices to try to fit into their rubrics.  I listened to the noise of curriculum leaders claiming that their interpretations of the standards and assessments of those standards were ultimately good for students, and I changed my practices in an attempt to meet their expectations.  I listened to the noise of mandates calling for rigor in the form of lexile levels and disengaging texts, and I made text selections to answer their call.

As the school year came to a close and I had time to breathe, time to reflect, time to face regrets, I realized this is the only one I have: I regret that I listened too often to the noise and not often enough to my students.

Having the summer to reflect and to renovate my instructional practices is one of the things I most appreciate about working in the field of education.  I intend to make good on this opportunity.  So, I have been asking myself this question: Heading into next school year, how do I turn this regret into positive action? 

This is the conclusion to which I have come: To shut out the noise and truly focus on students, I need to filter everything I do—every choice I make and every action I take through my beliefs.  I need to ensure that each time I listen to a mandate, standard, or directive I have considered whether or not it is a reflection of what I believe.  I need to be sure that everything I do is with the intention of helping students learn.  And I need to be able to articulate my intentions. 

This has led me to start a summer-long journey of discovery.  I want to explore my educational philosophy, the history of how I’ve become the teacher I am, who has influenced my instructional practices, what I truly believe about education—where I am and how I got here.  I want to discover my teaching heart and soul.  I want to capture and document it.  I want to package it so that next year it can be the filter through which my every teaching move is run. 

So, with the help of Ali Edwards, through all I’ve learned from her course Hello Story at Big Picture Classes, I have plans to spend this summer creating a sort of portfolio/scrapbook/journal to this end. I plan to share the process and end result here.  I would love for you to join me!