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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

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To Do List

Every year, I brace myself for the transition from school to summer. It is always a welcome change, even years like this when I am losing an amazing group of students as they grow up and move on to high school. I look forward to the freedom that summer brings to my daily schedule. I look forward to the chance to reflect and renew. However, it is always a bumpy transition. If I don’t acknowledge it, I end up missing out altogether on the opportunities that summer has to offer.

My husband, also a teacher, tends to hit the ground running. He doesn’t know the meaning of “time off.” So, although he started summer break with a nasty sinus infection, he is already well into several projects around the house. While he plows through some intangible, perpetual To Do List, I have been wandering the house with my dog at my heels wondering, “What do I do now?”

So this year, in search of some direction, in search of the answer to “What now?” I decided to come up with a list of goals. I consider it my own version of an inspiration board. Here’s what I have so far:


My Summer Goals
eat healthy
establish some sort of schedule and give myself permission to stray from it
read, read, and read
write- for my blog, professional articles for intellectual challenge, and for me
school projects- hmm, work on curriculum maybe, plan Caudill nominee book talks
take more pictures
craft- get an early start on Christmas presents and Christmas cards
fall in love with life
kayak my heart out
visit with friends
give my house some much needed loving care
take lots of walks



Just the act of writing the list has made me realize that I although I have no grand direction for the time being, I do have lots of Things To Do that are worth doing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Making Meaning

Over my spring break, I have been immersing myself in poetry to help prepare myself for National Poetry Month and all that it means for my classroom. By surrounding myself with poetry, I can’t help but be inspired and renew my passion in a way that will surely be evident when I walk into the classroom tomorrow morning.

I have gained so much inspiration, that my biggest struggle is to break it into digestible chunks for my students as well as for me. My thinking is a work in progress…

This morning, in an effort to reach my five book goal for spring break, I picked up The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrated by Peter Sîs. I was quickly drawn into the language, the illustrations, the story. And I read the book all the way through in one sitting. I never do that. I fell so in love with the language in this book that I started diagramming sentences in my head as I read. Now that is true love.

I have never diagrammed a sentence in my head while reading. It became a new way to savor the language, to absorb it, to own it. Here are some sample sentences I worked on:

“He stepped down onto the streets of Santiago, to make his way in the world.”

“Although he had changed his name, his history came with him, even to his writing.”

“The rhythm of his rain-soaked childhood became a sequence of words.”


The Dreamer is a fictional work based on the life of poet Pablo Neruda. Need I say more? It is a true case of the language and format matching the content.

The instant I closed the book, I was moved to write. The political nature of the writing near the end of the story birthed the idea that I could turn a moment, which had previously been fodder for something as scant as a Facebook status, into a poem. It was a moment in which I had searched for meaning. The kind of moment that nags at you. Writing it has allowed me to find the meaning in it. Isn’t this a true purpose of writing? To find meaning?



Reminder

I’ve never been the type to get a manicure.
Such girlish indulgences are not my style.
I don’t pay for eyebrow maintenance
or to have the telltale signs of aging
on my upper lip removed.
But the hair—
the hair needs help.
I work hard and pay well to give the hair
what little life it has.

When my husband and I sat down
to shave our budget,
we did not shave my hair.
Even he agrees it is one
necessary extravagance.

So, when I walked out of the salon
That Monday morning
Into the empty parking lot
I was blindsided by the fury

A high-pitched mocking call echoed across the pavement
amongst the brick columns.

The hatred licked at my ears,

“Must be nice to go to a day spa,
while I was jumping out of planes,”

The footsteps rushed closer.
I fled towards my car.
The voice spat at me,

“You make me sick.”

I did not look up.

I breathlessly slid into the front seat of the car
clicked the lock button
and breathed.

In the safety of the locked car
I felt shielded

and
exposed.

I watched the
military issue buzz-cut
dark, beady eyes
and well-worn backpack
continue on a path away
from my car.

I felt relieved.
I was trying to shake the heart-pounding fear.
I felt righteous.
I felt guilty.

“What did I do wrong?” I silently asked myself.

Why do I deserve this?
It isn’t my fault
he chose to enlist.
It isn’t my fault
he endured the horrors of a war
he never saw coming.
It isn’t my fault
for getting my hair done
while countless others are enduring the horrors of a war
they never saw coming.


It is my fault

for forgetting.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Naming Nugget

I got a text tonight from the husband of my good friend Shelley. He once had a dream that Shelley left him and he called me to try to find out where she was. The version of me that existed in his dream replied, “I will help you make contact with her once, but after that it’s up to you to fix things for yourself.”

Apparently, even in people’s dreams I can be pretty intimidating.

Anyway, luckily he wasn’t texting to find out where Shelley had run off to (which would never happen in real life, only in some twisted dream-state). Instead, he was contacting me to let me know Shelley is in labor.

They already have a beautiful two-year-old boy with melt-your-heart blue eyes, so this will be their second baby boy. I congratulated him and asked him to keep me posted. Then, I got bold enough to put in my vote for the baby’s name.

That’s the thing. The baby does not yet have a name. Shelley referred to her first son, Jacob, as “Sprout” while he was in the womb. This one has been referred to as “Nugget.” Even though Jacob was “Sprout” up until the day he was born, I knew Shelley already had his name in mind.

This time, she is completely unprepared (Shelley and unprepared DO NOT go together). She had settled on a name, only to find out two weeks ago that her husband isn’t really sold on that name.

What a responsibility! What if they get the name wrong? Is that possible?

This got me to thinking about what is in a name. My parents thought I would be a boy based on my heart rate. So, I was supposed to be named Douglas. Then, when it was clear that I was a girl, my parents picked the name Sally. When my mom thought it looked like I was not going to have blond hair, she changed her mind (whoever heard of a brunette named Sally?) and settled on Christy. Who would I be if I had been named Sally? Wouldn’t it have made a difference?

Is there time to change my vote?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Square Dancing and Crazy Socks

Did you know that kids these days do not have to square dance in P.E. anymore?

Tomorrow Linda Urban, author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect, is visiting our school. This means that tomorrow is crazy sock day. To remind my students why we are wearing crazy socks tomorrow, I did a read aloud of the part in the book about the socks. It mentions that the first time Zoe met her former best friend, Emily, was in P.E. during the square dancing unit in third grade.

So, it occurred to me to ask my students if they are still required to square dance in P.E. They answered with a resounding, “That is sooo elementary school!” I huffed that back in the day, I was required to square dance in middle school. Perhaps because I had been reading in the voice of Zoe and she tends towards rambling in a classic adolescent girl kind of way, I couldn’t help but gush out the rest of the thought the book had triggered.

The book explains that Zoe and Emily became immediate friends when they chose each other as square dance partners and danced together in their socks. My memory confirms that the most important aspect of square dancing is finding a partner with minimal stress. You see, square dancing in P.E. was the sole reason I had to “go out” with Rob Struck. I agreed to “go out” with him (which we all know involved no actual going out of any sort) only for the duration of the square dance unit. When I blurted this out to my class of 8th graders, it led to further explanation that I really wanted to go out with Rob’s best friend, John, but John went to a different middle school than Rob and I. I knew John liked me ever since he ran away from my birthday party in 3rd grade because he got me a beach towel as a present and was embarrassed since it was a pool party and he discovered that I already had beach towels. That was when the adolescent girlish rambling really started to go full swing and I had to stop myself.

However, just when those 8th graders thought they had me off topic and rambling, I surprised them with a lesson on textual connections. In the book, Zoe gives Emily socks at her birthday party and they are not well received. Just like John thought the beach towel gift would not be well received.

That’s the best way to deal with 8th graders. Keep them on their crazy-socked toes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gym Class

Gym class was my demise. I was a goody-two-shoes in every aspect of my life, except gym class.

I had asthma and allergies. I lived with parents who smoked and large, hairy dogs. I was a walking Kleenex ad.

When I refused to go to school in 7th grade, you can bet it was on a gym day.

When the class was told to run the mile in 8th grade, guess who walked, slowly?

Give me a pencil and paper in gym class and you really created a monster. When we started the bowling unit during junior year, I was the one who wrote “Mac Bites” on the score sheet. Mac was our female gym teacher’s nickname—are you starting to see where I was coming from?

It wasn’t until I hit my thirties that I really started to become physically active. I live in a smoke-free home with a hypoallergenic pet. My asthma is well managed and my allergy symptoms are nearly non-existent.

I didn’t start running because I found the activity itself enjoyable. I started running because I wanted to coach Cross Country at the middle school in which I teach. I started running because I wanted my pre-thirties figure back and I knew I would have to work for it. A good friend (with a good figure) told me she doesn’t enjoy working out, but she works out because she craves the feeling she gets after working out. It was that idea and that idea alone that got me going and kept me going for a long time.

Even today, as we pulled up to the gym, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m not really feeling this running thing today. I have a headache. I think I’m dehydrated.” I started building up excuses to push myself less than usual. Though, somehow, I dragged myself in. I got on a treadmill. I walked.

But today was different. Today, I surprised myself. Walking truly wasn’t enough. I needed to run. I never thought I would say or think that, much less feel it. But it’s true. I need to run. I’ve been running on the treadmill regularly for years now. Out of obligation. Out of necessity. Not out of the pure joy of running.

One of the t-shirts our Cross Country team considered getting this fall (from from http://imagemarket.com/), carried the mantra that I realized today is true for me:

“I love to run. It makes me smile. I think I’ll run another mile.”

I love to run.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Early Retirement

“She’s not going to be here until later because she forgot her makeup in her dad’s car.”

This is the explanation given when I inquire as to whether or not anyone has seen one of my 8th grade girls, before I mark her absent only to have to change it to a tardy moments later, as is usually the case with this particular girl.

Hmm. Lack of makeup. Is that an excused absence?


“I got early dismissal. My sister’s picking me up because it’s my birthday.”

This is the explanation given when I inquire as to why one of my 8th grade girls is walking the opposite direction of the lunchroom at lunchtime.

Hmm. Early dismissal on your birthday. Is that an excused absence?


If these are acceptable excuses, I am excited about the world of excuses this opens up for me. Bad hair days join the rank of ‘sick days’. Not to mention the I-don’t-have-anything-to-wear-days. Since I just got some new clothes, I will be racking those up and hoping to pool them so I can retire early.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Merry Men and Fawning Ladies

I have been helping our drama coach, who is appallingly underpaid and underappreciated, with practices for the spring performance: The Mostly True Story of Robin Hood. She asked me to come watch, critique and give suggestions.

After only a few minutes of the play, I had already noticed a major factor that needed improvement. On stage at any given time, there are about 10-15 characters. Most of the time it is the Townslady (narrator), Robin Hood (protagonist), and the Prince (antagonist) who are speaking. The rest of the characters are either Robin Hood’s merry men, or the Prince’s fawning ladies. These characters have very few lines, but need to remain on stage, in character and react to the lines the main characters are speaking. This is an not an easy task.

Thinking about the roles of the merry men and fawning ladies made me think about how difficult it is to be in a supporting role. These characters do not speak much and therefore they do not get any of the glory that the spotlight brings the lead characters. However, these characters can make or break each scene in which they take part.

They reminded me of the role we play as teachers. So much of the good work we do each day goes unnoticed. Our work makes up the background or foundation of a school. If things are going well, it is not necessarily attributed to the teachers. However, if things fall apart, it is surely the teachers who stand out as the cause.

The more I sat there, the more I identified with the merry men and the fawning ladies. The more I wanted to communicate to them that I get how difficult their jobs are. I want to help them feel what a big part of the production they truly are. I want them to know that they are valued and noticed and appreciated. I want them to see how important their roles are—that supporting others is work that is worth doing.

Supporting others is work that is worth doing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Passing Period

I hurriedly step into the classroom and crane my neck to calculate how many seconds are left of passing period. When does the second bell ring again? I have almost two full minutes. Just enough time to rush down the hall and share a brief quip with a colleague.

Shelley and I started teaching during the same year, ten years ago. She was a January hire and I remember feeling a sense of competition all those years ago. However, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that we had the same values and would prove to be a powerful force when it came to instituting much needed change in our district. We worked together on committees and through co-teaching. Our friendship grew beyond the school building through weddings and baby showers.

Today, as I dart amongst the students to get back to my classroom before the bell rings, I wonder how I will get by when she goes on maternity leave. It hits me that I hunger for social interaction within my school day as much as the middle school students I teach long to spend time interacting with their peers. I need the validation of my friend to assure me that I am normal, that other humans feel and think what I feel and think, just as much as my students need the validation of their friends.

“Ten seconds!” I call out in an effort to usher the lingering 8th graders to their classrooms. This time, I understand just how hard it is to break away from conversation with friends and face a day of school.

I kick out the doorstop and enter my classroom. The bell rings. I sigh and although I enjoy the next 45 minutes working hard with my students, creating a classroom community of readers and writers, I admit to myself that part of me is watching the clock and looking forward to the next passing period when I may get a chance to exchange a few words with a friend.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Priorities

I open up my laptop with my left hand while I slide the switch on the belly of the wireless mouse to “on” with my right. I adjust the lap desk until it is situated just right so that I can maneuver the mouse without disrupting the dog curled near my elbow.

Before my brain has time to process what my body is doing, my fingers are already beating out a familiar rhythm on the keyboard. I feel at home in the light of the screen.

I start with Google. It is like home base. Everything loads faster when I get there from Google. This is not proven, but it is a belief so embedded that it has led to an involuntary ritual of sorts. From Google, I head to my work e-mail. I am a woman whose priorities are in the right place.

After industriously dismissing the work-laden school e-mails by claiming to myself that I will return to them at some better, more productive moment I like to refer to as “later,” I happily head to my personal e-mail account.

My personal e-mail account; however, is really just a vehicle to get me on the road to my ultimate destination: Facebook. It is at this social networking site that I will squander way too much of my coveted evening time. Like I said, I am a woman whose priorities are in the right place.

Monday, March 1, 2010

You're Not a Chick

One of my students wrote his persuasive letter to me, convincing me to play Modern Warfare 2.

The next day in class I overheard him telling his friend, “Chicks can’t play Modern Warfare.”

So, naturally I interjected, “Hey, you told me to play it and I’m a chick.” A weak argument, I know, but the point was to call him out on his sexist statement. In the moment I thought it would be most effective if I pointed out his hypocrisy.

Little did I know, he was not being hypocritical, “You’re not a chick; you’re a woman.”

There you have it: I am old.

If it’s true and I really have reached the threshold between youth and adulthood, I really need to start doing something with my life.

And so, this blog begins with the hope that the act of challenging myself to take the time to make meaning of my world will cause me to breathe more deeply, to open my eyes wider, to talk less and listen more, to be in the moment—each moment of my days, to spend less time on the filler and more time on the good stuff, to live with intention.