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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dad's Encyclopedias

 A complete set of Funk and Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia (new in the 1980s, anyway), purchased one volume at a time from the grocery store, sits on the bookshelf at my father’s house.  I pass by this shelf countless times during each visit to his house on a lake in Indiana.  His new house.  His “Dad and Jane” house.  Not a house I ever called home. 

I wonder what Dad sees when he looks at those books.  I know he doesn’t see the towering display of encyclopedias that Mom, Rebecca, and I were giddy with joy over each week.  He was never with us to see that tower. 

I know he doesn’t pull the volumes off the shelf and touch the gilded golden edges of the pages.  I know he doesn’t choose random letters and flip open to random pages just to find out what he might land on each time.   I know he doesn’t run his hand down the spine of the books just to feel the bump of the decorative ridge. 

I suspect that instead, he has memories of the encyclopedias that I don’t share.  He might remember packing them as we moved from house to house over the years.  He might remember purchasing new cherry wood bookshelves to showcase the set of volumes.  He might admire the regal look of the complete set on the shelves.

His history of the encyclopedias is much different than the history I own.  

Part of me is comforted by the familiarity of those golden spines all lined up neatly.  Part of me resents their position amongst artifacts from a past I never knew—a past that belongs to someone else.  

I get tangled in this conflict every time I see my Dad.  I do not get caught up in mourning over my parents’ divorce.  It is not resentment of Jane, or his new life with her, that ensnares me.  No.  It is the way my Dad’s memory of the past does not match my own memory of the past that trips me up every time. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Driving along Pacific Coast Highway in California
was the first time I saw sedimentary rock. 
I marveled at layer upon layer
of beautiful earth-toned strands.
I was in awe of the history that rock held—
the way each layer represented a moment in time. 
I wondered what each layer would say
if it could talk. 

Packing up to head home from school this afternoon
was the last time I saw sedimentary stacks of paper.
I amaze myself by whipping just what I need
from layer upon layer of items-waiting-to-be-filed.
Before I left, I stood back
and admired each layer’s remnants of educational moments—
representative of our work since August. 
I’d like to think of those layers
having made their way into the heads of my students—
their very own layers of sedimentary grey matter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Adirondack Journey

(or what I am looking forward to most about the summer)

I sit in my backyard
in my Adirondack chair—

a purchase brought on by my longing
to recreate
and summer weeks spent at the lake.

My Maine lighthouses travel cup,
filled with ice cold water,
a reminder of my week with Nancie,
rests at the tip of the oversized, flat arm.

Farther back on the arm is my notebook,
accompanied by a variety of pens,
for notetaking.
I want to savor every moment,
to absorb the pages into my pores,
by keeping record of my thoughts.

At my feet,
the dogs lay,
panting in the cool grass—
content to travel wherever I may lead them.

In my hands, I hold a book—
my guide on a summer journey
of professional growth.

I sit in my backyard
in my Adirondack chair—
I read.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Going through Grandpa's House with Mom

The hardest part wasn’t
losing him.
The hardest part was
watching Mom lose him.

I walk with her through the empty house.
Each room is
filled with memories
of uncles, aunts, and cousins gathering.
of playing with Grandma’s Lite Brite
at the kitchen table.
of watching Nickelodeon in the dining room,
back before we had cable at home.
of selecting the stuffed wind-up lamb off the couch in the living room,
my Easter gift, and a nighttime comfort for so many years.

However, layered beneath those memories,
at the heart of Grandpa’s house,
is another generation’s history. 
A history made of three brothers
and their baby sister, Susan.
of dinners crowded around the kitchen table,
where baby Susan had to snatch up all she wanted
before her brothers devoured every last crumb.
of annual Christmas visits
from Grandpa’s Doghouse Club buddy
dressed up as Santa.
of playing cowboys,
or riding a stick horse as a cowgirl,
or even pretending to be the horse itself.

I think about the memories Mom must be seeing
in each room we pass through.

I follow her up to the attic,
to her old bedroom. 
We find a box filled with cards,
an old telegram—a love note from Grandpa to Grandma,
and pages of Grandpa’s writing—skits, jokes, anecdotes.
These pages hold the secrets
of the writer who lives in my bones. 

We head to the garage,
I find a bowling pin—
a memento of Grandpa’s years as manager
of Bleeker’s Bowling Lanes.

In the basement, behind Grandpa’s bar,
I find a metal cart—
a reminder of his practical side.

I gather each of my treasures
and pack them into the car.
But I know Grandpa left me
with much more than his words,
a bowling pin,
and a cart. 

He left me baby Susan.
I look at Mom,
I see the memories of my past.
I listen to Mom,
I see the memories of her past.

I haven’t lost him,
and neither has she.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Have you met my sister?

She is three years older than me, but if you met just our emotions incarnate walking down the street, I would seem ancient compared to her.  At one time, we were mistaken for twins, but we both laughed at that—even then, when we were so close, it seemed absurd.  Maybe it was just the pigtails.

She is fiercely independent, and though she might show her love through domestic gestures like cooking your dinners and doing your laundry, don’t try to hug her.  Her smile of approval will make you feel like you could conquer the world, but be careful because she will just as easily flash her dark eyes at you.  “The look” will stop you dead in your tracks.

Over the years she has worked to outgrow the chubbiness that I used to claim caused her to be mean and now has a slender figure.  She was graced with Mom’s olive skin instead of Dad’s Irish pastiness, which was reserved for me.

She is the smartest person I know, and I think I only began to truly know her once it was much too late.  Try not to miss your chance.  Her complex personality, changing needs, and physical distance (first to Iceland, now in Boston) have made it nearly impossible to maintain the sisterly relationship that once was. 

If you get an e-mail from her from time to time, be sure to let it sit in your inbox for at least a week or so.  She doesn’t like to feel smothered and you certainly don’t want to make that mistake.  She might stop speaking to you altogether.  You don’t want to be hurt like that.  Again.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


This morning my husband and I were headed in two separate directions.  I had to get up early to drop the dogs off at the groomer and he had an early oil change appointment.  Though we have plans to meet up again in the afternoon for the first home soccer game of the Chicago Fire’s season, I missed the laziness of a Saturday morning, lingering in bed to read together or padding around the house in our pajamas for an extra hour.

I headed off to the groomer with the errands of the day on my mind.  On my way home, I was surprised (though not entirely, since my husband has become less and less of a “morning person” over the years) to find that he was just pulling out of the garage as I was pulling in.  I waved to him, and smiled to myself that I stole this extra moment of connection with him. 

I unloaded all of the schoolwork from the back of my car into my office in hopes of actually catching up this weekend.  I thought about where to start while I have a quiet, dogless, husbandless house to myself for a couple of hours.  I headed further down the hallway to put down my purse and keys. 

That’s when I noticed the scent of my husband’s man-soap mixed with aftershave and cologne lingering in the air.  During the weekdays, I leave before him, so it is a rare occasion that I actually get to enjoy the clean-man scent (although other, less savory,  man-scents are a common occurrence).  I was amazed to catch myself smiling at the luck of being enveloped in this remnant cloud of fragrance marking the recent presence of my husband.  I feel lucky.   

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two Stories

Talking in the Dark Before Falling Asleep

“What does your day look like tomorrow?”

“I have a stupid literacy coach meeting tomorrow after school, and it is an assembly day of all days.”

“Do the principal and assistant principal attend your literacy coach meetings?”

“Yup, but they don’t do anything.”

“That’s funny, because I have a key leader meeting with them after school tomorrow.  Clearly, one of us is either wrong or going to get a free pass.”  Pause.  “I hope it’s me.”

Checking My Computer in the Daylight Before School Starts

It wasn’t me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

20 actions that could become poems:

The fun of this Nancie-Atwell-inspired list is that all of these topics would make great poetic or prose slices as well as plain old poems.  Once I got going, I found myself having a hard time stopping at 20…

  1. Baking cookies for key leader meetings, to remind myself to stay positive
  2. Getting an e-mail from my sister, and having to refrain from responding too quickly
  3. Talking in the dark before falling asleep
  4. Getting up in the middle of the night to let the dogs out
  5. Picking out an outfit to wear while shopping
  6. Watching “How I Met Your Mother” and wishing I could hang out with Ted, Marshall, Lily, Barney, and Robin
  7. Seeing an old classmate on Facebook and not knowing whether I know them from Wisconsin or Illinois
  8. Going through Grandpa’s house with Mom
  9. Spending time with my mother-in-law at the hospice center
  10. Going to dinner with my nieces when they are finally NOT arguing over who doesn’t want to sit next to me
  11. Being asked for advice
  12. Sitting in my plastic Adirondack chair in my backyard
  13. Finding pieces of my past in my Dad’s new house
  14. Hearing Mom say she thought I was 33, not 32
  15. Eating lunch with grown-ups in the staff lounge (and how it is a lot like eating lunch in high school or middle school)
  16. Chopping vegetables or baking cookies while watching a cooking show where really technical things are being done
  17. Eating at Cheddars in Springfield, and being amazed at the awesome service
  18. Stacking items
  19. Having an opinion about other people’s baby names
  20. Running on the treadmill

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Lately, I have been feeling very… in-between.  The weather has been caught somewhere between winter and spring.  So, the house has been caught between the extremes of sweltering in the sunny afternoons and freezing during the thunderstormy nights.  I am torn between dressing lighter for spring and staying bundled for the remnants of cold, winter air.

I am wavering between moments of complete and utter dedication to my work and moments where I want to escape more than anything.  I find myself pulled between pride in my students’ growth and maturity and devastating disappoint at their apathy.  Our district is even somewhere between being led by the retiring superintendent and being led by the incoming superintendent. 

All of this has left me feeling kind of…in-between.  When I feel…in-between, I find the best thing to do is park myself on the couch in-between my sleeping dogs, right where I belong.  Sometimes in-between isn’t so bad.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


You know the sound an eye makes when it blinks?  Or how about the sound of a pupil moving back and forth, scanning lines of text across a page?  Or maybe the sound of an imagination blossoming with images lifted from words?

Well, that’s the sound you would’ve heard if you had stopped by my classroom today during independent reading.  That’s the sound of progress.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trying Poetry

“I could feel that swarm of feelings buzzing in my chest day and night.  I needed some kind of container to hold all of them.  Poetry became that container.”
-Ralph Fletcher, from Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out

I have been feeling that swarm of feelings buzzing inside my chest day and night.  I want poetry to be my container too.  My apologies to Sylvia Plath who wrote the lines I borrowed:

You ask me why I spend my life writing?
Do I find entertainment?
Is it worthwhile?
Above all, does it pay?
If not, then, is there a reason? …
I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.

My attempt at filling a container...

independent reading

you ask me to justify
why I allow my students to

is it worthwhile?
do they enjoy it?
above all, does it raise test scores?

I allow my students to
simply because there is a voice within me
that will not be still

it is the voice of an educator
who longs to inspire
lifelong readers
to feel
to hope
to participate
to communicate
to grow
to read
their way through this world

it is the voice of a citizen
who wants to inhabit a world
of people who know what
it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes

it is the voice of an educator
who longs to inspire
it is a voice—
my voice

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What Mordicai Gerstein Taught Me about Writing

Author's Note:  Mordicai Gerstein is the Caldecott winner for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.  I had the opportunity to hear him speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference.  This is a found poem based on the words he spoke.   The image is original artwork (I cannot yet find to whom it should be attributed) that Mordicai saw on a postcard and redrew in front of us to explain his point.

Most people say
write what you know,
but I don’t know
what I know
until I write it.
So, I write
what I don’t know.

To write fiction,
one has to be willing
to write straight ahead
and not look back.
Well, maybe until at least
a week has passed.
Then you can look back
and be surprised at the words
that came out of your writer’s mind.

Writing fiction is like
walking on a tightrope
into the sky
with no support,
except your own faith
that you will get somewhere.

A story should provoke questions,
not provide answers.
Readers should not look
for the author’s message
in a story,
the story IS the message.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Just a Slice

Take a deep breath.

I find myself needing this reminder today.  I feel like I have returned home from the reading conference and hit the ground running.  I need to give myself permission to take a night off. 

There are so many ideas and seeds of ideas scribbled in my little notebook that I want to capture before I get pulled back into the pace of my day to day.  I want to pin them all down to examine, like butterflies in a shadow box. 

I have to remind myself that the ideas will still be there tomorrow.  They do not yet have wings to take off into the distance.  I have to tell myself to relax and escape into the first Chicago Fire soccer game of the season.  It is an away game, so I can even watch it in my pajamas while I reconnect with my pups on the couch.

There is a voice within me that keeps pushing me to find direction, to take these seeds of ideas to another level, to keep going.  Tonight I need to quiet this voice. 

I take a deep breath.  I slow down long enough to write.  This spot on the couch (in my pajamas, near the dogs) is begging me to stay.  Just a slice is enough writing for one day.  Just a slice is all it takes to make me relax.  Just a slice.  The rest can wait until tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2011

You See: An Unexpected Memory

Donalyn Miller, Carol Jago, Jeff Anderson, John Rocco, Dr. Frank Serafini, to name a few. 

You see, these are the people who have filled my head, over the past two days, with ideas that will not rest.  However, in the midst of intense learning and focusing on my innermost passions as an educator, a woman two rows in front of me dropped her IRC Conference “Literacy: Out of the Box” bag and transported me to mid-summer at Toyota Park. 

You see, the seats in this particular session were very old, vinyl cushioned, folding chairs.  When she set her bag too far back, it caused the seat to flip up and the bag to slide to the floor behind the chair.  This simple oops in her day was a breath of fresh air in mine. 

You see, my husband and I are avid soccer fans.  We have season tickets to the Chicago Fire Major League Soccer games.  Being that we are both educators, and even work in the same building, soccer games are the ultimate escape for us.

And you see, the chair flipping two rows in front of me reminded me of the way the chairs at the stadium flip up every time I stand to cheer.  It reminded me of the way the chair of the child who sits in front of us always flips up when he stands.  But mostly, it reminded me of the way the child who sits in front of us always forgets that the chairs do that flipping thing and, without fail—at least once every other game—sets his hot dog or pizza or dippin’ dots on the chair as he stands.

But, you see, the best part of this memory isn’t even the innocent charm of the child’s surprise and disappointment over the lost treat.  The best part of this memory is that the child who sits in front of us always brings his younger cousin to the game, and his younger cousin, without fail—at least once every other game—immediately upon the demise of the fallen treat, offers up his own treat until the father of the child who sits in front of us is able to purchase a replacement.

So, you see, in the midst of intense learning and focusing on my innermost passions as an educator, a woman two rows in front of me dropped her IRC Conference “Reading Out of the Box” bag and I smiled.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Scent of Ink on a Page

Have you ever smelled a book?  I am telling you, each book has its own distinct scent.  There are few scents as appealing to me as that of ink on a page—old, new, or otherwise.

One of the best aspects of attending the Illinois Reading Council Conference is the exposure to the latest and greatest in young adult literature.  Today I got my fill!  Becky Anderson, of Anderson’s Bookshops, presented a session about the latest picks for students in K-8.  Immediately following her presentation, I hightailed it over to her booth in the exhibit hall and did some shopping.  There are still many more books on my wish list, but I felt like 10 books was a good start.  My highly sophisticated system of ranking the books as she spoke proved helpful in determining which 10 I wanted right away.

I am basking in the anticipation a deep whiff of each of these fresh books causes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Day in Numbers

Because I am missing Family Math Night at school tonight, I decided to write “My Day in Numbers” as a sort of tribute to the world of math.

This morning I baked 18, 2-inch, peanut butter w/ peanut butter chip cookies. 
Today I taught 3 classes, consisting of 22-32 students each. 
After school, I packed a total of 6 bags and a rolling cart (all were entirely necessary, I swear). 
Before leaving, I opened 2 packages from UPS (containing a surprise gift of books from a dear friend and the long-awaited NCTE journal containing my published article). 
This evening, I traveled over 200 miles to attend the Illinois Reading Council Conference for the next 2 1/2 days (I won’t mention the travel speed, but simply because I don’t want to overwhelm you with more numbers). 
I parked to check into the conference and stepped out of the car to find 1 dead bird (this is not a bad omen, and you can’t convince me otherwise) at my feet. 
I checked into the conference and received 2 complimentary books.   
For dinner I ate salmon with 2 side dishes. 
After dinner, I spent $38 and saved $9 on the purchase of 1 windbreaker because I failed to pack a jacket in any of my 6 bags or even the rolling cart (would love to blame this oversight on the husband, but have to take full responsibility myself). 
Upon returning to the hotel, I made 1 phone call to check on my 2 dogs (who are visiting my mom, making the sum total of dogs in her house a harmonious: 3). 
Soon, I will settle in for a restful 6-8 hours of sleep, resting my head on 2 pillows (covered in puffy, white, hotel blankets that will feel like sleeping in the clouds).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Comfort Zone

I am watching an episode of TLC’s What Not to Wear.  Clinton just said that part of the process of the show is to “push people out of their comfort zones.” 

Earlier today I was talking to a student, who said that his favorite slice of life was the one he typed today (I would like to take this opportunity to add that he was our school spelling bee champ and the speller from our district who advanced the farthest at the county bee):

Ges wut? Ah iz da skool spelin b champeen. ah kan spel reel gud. ah kan spel kat und dug und hippopotamus. and toonah. aint yall prowd uf me er b ing awwsum iz spelin wurds?

After a chuckle, I told him that I had a different favorite slice of life.  Initially, he guessed (probably because I had expressed to him my appreciation of his humor when he wrote it) this slice:

() ()
() ()

Don't ask. Please. Just accept this poor bunny. a lawnmower killed his parents. his name is francis. and for $1.25, you can provide francis a home. please put your donations in Locker # D619. Cash only.

However, my favorite slice of his was really this one:

Isn’t it hard to write when you’re sad? I mean when you’ve got that empty feeling inside your heart, and it starts draining away your creative thought. It first happened when last summer, worst one I ever had, mainly because my Grandfather died on the frickin’ fourth of July.. I was going really good on this book idea I had when Summer went to hell and I just couldn’t write anymore. I was drained. It’s happening now, why, I don’t know, but it sucks. The Beatles couldn’t cure it, neither could The Who, I am now attempting emergency does of Queen, greatest band on Earth.

My explanation to him was that he never writes anything that reveals his emotional depth, and I loved that the slice of life challenge encouraged him to take some baby steps out of his comfort zone.  Call me the Clinton Kelly of writing workshop. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Becoming a Writer

I am anxiously awaiting my March 2011 edition of my NCTE journal, Voices from the Middle.  The online version was already e-mailed to my inbox, but that is not enough.  I want to see my name in print.  Ooh, I love the sound of that. 

A year ago, I read the call for manuscripts for the “Honoring Student Voices” themed issue.  I have never had the confidence myself to write and submit an article, but I certainly believe in my students enough to push one of them to write an article!  So, I did. 

It turned out that when her article was accepted, I was asked to write an introduction to it.  And so, I have a small piece of writing published in a national journal.  All thanks to a student.  What a beautiful, symbiotic relationship!

There is something about this writing thing that builds momentum.  Once I get started, I am motivated to write more and more.  Feedback definitely helps build that momentum.  Participating in a community of writers helps build that momentum.  Seeing my name in print doesn't hurt one bit either. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Life as Usual

 I have always thought that these are things that aren’t so fun to do, but are really rewarding to have done:

Grocery shopping
Cooking dinner
Folding laundry
Entering grades

However, lately, I have been enjoying the escape into the predictable comfort of these routines.  There is something to be said for the precious opportunity to continue life as usual. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

To My Lost Hour

Why did you leave me? 
Just when I needed you most?
Didn’t you know this was the weekend before the Illinois Reading Council Conference? 
Didn’t you know I have to lead department meeting after school on Monday?  Take the dogs to the vet tomorrow?  Get an oil change Tuesday? 
I am in the heart of the Slice of Life Challenge…I thought we had a beautiful thing going here, hour—you give me time, I give you my heart and soul.    
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder—I am sure I will fall for you all over again upon your return to me!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Skype and Learn

What is more exciting as a reader than getting to meet the author of a book loved?  This is the premise of the latest reading intervention at my school.  I recently found this Skype an Author website.  So, I contacted a few authors, we bought some books, and invited some struggling readers in hopes of helping them see how meaningful it can be to connect with others through words on a page.

This morning, I started the day with a video call to Jennifer Bradbury (author of Shift) via Skype.  Is there a better way to begin a Friday morning?  I think not.   She shared with our group that she spends as much time planning a book as she spends writing a book.  Her goal is to get the planning done so that the first draft can be written quickly “to outrun those voices that say this probably isn’t very good.” 

It’s so true, isn’t it?  The more I look at a piece of writing, the more critical I am.  If I look at the piece of writing too much while I am in the midst of it, I will never complete it.  I think that is because it allows time for those nasty voices to sink in. This makes me think of those students who come up to me mid-draft and say, “Is this good?”  Those students are clearly looking to chase away the doubting voices.  We all need to shift those voices in our heads as we write from negative to positive!  The process of writing is good, no matter what the outcome.  Simply believe.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It’s a Memory

I talk on the phone with my mom nearly every day.  I don’t think there is a time when I am more me than when I am on the phone with my mom.  Mostly, we just catch up on the day to day.  Occasionally, though, our conversations are the kind I want to keep in my heart for a long time. This was one of those conversations.

I was lamenting the way my dogs have ruined the couches.  I complained to my mom that their frequent naps along the top edge of the couch have caused a permanent dip in the back pillows.  My mom said, “They haven’t ruined the couches, they just created a memory.”  Then she followed this up with, “That’s what you told me.  Remember when you and Rebecca had to turn the dining room table on its side to block Bear into the kitchen that night?  Remember how you scratched the dining room table?  Well, I was furious that the table had been scratched, but you looked at me and said, ‘It’s not a scratch mom, it’s a memory.’  So how could I stay mad?” 

I knew the night of which she spoke, but I hadn’t remembered calling the scratch a memory.  I was warmed by the reminder that once upon a time I was filled with sunshine and refused to see the bad in things. 

That conversation is my reminder that all of the bumps in the road I have been feeling lately will, one day, just be memories.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Everyone Needs a Soundtrack

 If there was a soundtrack to my life, the Cheers television show theme song would have been playing this evening:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

I have been teaching for 11 years.  I have the most apathetic group of students I have ever seen this year.  Our district administration is undergoing drastic changes that have only resulted in deepening the wounds our teachers feel from the nation-wide scorn for teachers.  Needless to say, this is not my best year.

However, I walked into Carlucci Restaurant this evening to the welcoming arms of Pearson Education.  I have never been so happy to be schmoozed into buying textbooks.  I was immediately offered a free beverage and appetizers.  Then, I was inspired for an hour by the words of Jeff Anderson (run-on sentences = compound sentence readiness).  I was fed a gourmet Italian meal.  I was given a $100 gift certificate for Pearson products, and even entered in a raffle to win an iPod.  Did I mention I got to meet Jeff Anderson??

At the end of the evening, I walked up to my regional representative, and nearly burst into tears (this is the point at which the soundtrack would have kicked in as background music).  I was just so happy to be treated like the dedicated, knowledgeable professional educator that I am.  I am going to hold on to this feeling… (ooh, there’s another track for the album of my life).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Physical Education

Friday I was cornered into subbing for a gym teacher afforded the unique opportunity to be a guest teacher in a physical education class.  I was terrified a bit nervous about being outside of my comfort zone.  Luckily, it was a free for all an option day, so I didn’t have to lead any activities.  Instead, I hovered along the wall watching out for flying balls of doom I walked around supervising the various games the students decided to play.  I found that I had lots of time to avoid being annihilated reflect.  It was enlightening to see my students run off some of their energy interact in a completely different setting than the classroom.  I wish I had more opportunities to dodge low flying spherical objects to see my students in a new light. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

I fought the smoke detector and the smoke detector won.

Today is Pulaski Day here in Illinois.  A day off that I covet because it is not a Federal holiday and not all school districts take the day off.  An added bonus is that my husband is in Washington D.C. with our 8th graders this weekend.  So, I woke up ready to spend most of the day in pajamas, getting some schoolwork done at a relaxed pace. 

My smoke detector had other plans. 

Right as I sat down to eat breakfast (usually only a granola bar, but today a warm meal), I heard the telltale chirp.  So did the dogs. 

Immediately, I checked for a new 9-volt battery.  No luck.  That meant a quick breakfast (chirp), a quick shower (chirp), and a quick trip to Ace Hardware for a new battery (chirp).  The dogs were stressed about the chirping noise (not to mention my husband being gone), so it also meant loading Mr. and Ms. Bark-a-lot into the car.

Back at home, I installed the new battery and everything seemed fine.  I headed out to run my errands to the post office and grocery store. 

Upon my return, I noticed the dogs still weren’t back to themselves.  And there it was…the telltale chirp. 

I tried flipping the breaker off, taking the battery out, switching batteries.  Chirp, chirp, chirp.  I became convinced that the batteries from Ace had to be old.  Back in the car with the dogs for a trip to Walgreens.  By this time the dogs were really stressed, and so was I.  I lifted them into the car and realized I was wet.  I looked down to see a puddle on the garage floor.  At first I thought it was just water, but then I realized the rest of the garage floor was dry.  I am ashamed to say this, but after realizing it was dog pee, I still hopped in the car and drove to Walgreens.  I just wanted to be done. 

More new batteries (and a fresh dog-pee-free outfit).  Chirp.  By this time, I had texted and called both my husband and my mother.  I needed reinforcements.  I got out the vacuum to clean the blasted thing.  I finally disconnected the smoke detector from the wall.  I took the battery out, and although it defied any logic my brain was willing to accept, the smoke detector chirped as I held it in my hand devoid of any connection to a power source.  So did the wall.  The wall chirped; I kid you not. 

I broke down in tears.  I know there are much bigger issues in the world, but I pathetically broke down in tears two hours into my struggle with the smoke detector.   My father was suggesting an electrical connection with the GFI outlets in my house.  My mother suggested changing the batteries in all 12 smoke detectors in the house.  We were grasping at whatever straws we could.   

I snatched the still chirping smoke detector (that finally stopped a few minutes later) and jumped back into the car (again with the dogs because I couldn’t leave them home with a chirping wall) to go purchase a new smoke detector. 

After connecting the new detector, I still heard a muffled chirp. 

I turned to climb down the ladder in utter defeat, ready to put the house on the market.  As I turned, the carbon monoxide detector that sits on top of our armoire caught my eye.  It had fallen over.  I set it upright and was blasted in the face with a CHIRP. 

Luckily, the carbon monoxide detector also takes 9-volt batteries. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Happiness is The Gap

Another advertisement from The Gap in my inbox usually just means it is in an ordinary day.  However, this one is different.  Today and tomorrow only I can earn a $25 shopcard if I spend $50, it entices me. Add that good news to the fact that I have a $50 Gap gift card (earned with my Bank of America World Points) and you have all the bliss that a good bargain hunting shopping spree promises!

Am I the only one who dresses intentionally for shopping?  I have to have on comfortable shoes, but not look too sloppy.  I have to dress as if I am worthy of the new clothes in the store, but not wear clothes from that store.  I have to wear something that is easy for trying things on, but heavy enough so that I can avoid wearing a winter coat into the store.  It is a lot of work to do this shopping thing correctly.

After paining over an outfit, I finally made it to the car—iPod cranked, Gap-bound, and ready to enjoy every gorgeous moment of the journey.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Get It

Will I shake this off, pretend it’s all okay, that there’s someone out there who feels just like me?  There is.

-from the song “There Is” by Boxcar Racer (the side band of some of the members of Blink-182)
I get it.  These three words were the first three words of the comment elsie left me on my One Little Word slice.  These could possibly be the most comforting words in the English language.  I am not sure what is more validating than knowing you are not alone. 

I also think these words are the reason I am a reader and a writer.  I read to find my thoughts articulated through someone else’s words, and I write to put my thoughts into words that others can read and understand.  In short, I read and write to understand and to be understood.  What else is there?

And so, today I find myself filled with gratitude that I can be part of this community of Slicers brought together by Two Writing Teachers. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

One Little Word

I’ve seen this One Little Word challenge around on several blogs, but I have never really pinpointed its origin.  It appears to me to be a scrapbooker’s challenge, but is also a healthy way of developing a mantra for the year.  So, when I thought long and hard about my New Year’s resolutions, I gave some thought to how I could sum them up in “One Little Word.”  So, here it is, my One Little Word for 2011: apathy. 

Okay, I know it sounds sort of negative, but before you judge, allow me to qualify my One Little Word with an explanation.  Apathy is the absence of feeling, and therefore, seems to have a negative connotation.  However, when I hear the “apathy, apathy, apathy” mantra in my head, it is always to remind myself not to sweat that over which I have no control. 

You see, I am the type of passionate, driven person who has gotten myself into some trouble over the years by allowing my passion to leak out in the wrong manner and at the wrong times.  So, rather than being a sign of my negativity, my One Little Word is merely a healthy exercise in self-control: refrain from feeling strongly about things I can’t control, and I will refrain from speaking strongly about things I can’t control. 

Some days it is not as easy as it sounds. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ode to My DVR

 My husband groans, “We have a ton of shows to watch on the DVR.”

I respond with a gleeful, “I know, isn’t it great?”

What he sees as a burden, a commitment of his oh-so-valuable time, I see as a delightful escape from the never-ending “To-Do List” that looms over me. 

Thank you, DVR for bringing me such moments as:
Sheldon claiming, “They were having fun wrong.” 
Brick whispering to himself over a stolen book.
Howie Levin (outside in Times’ Square) announcing, “The litigants for our next case are entering the court room right now.”
Barney declaring something is, “Legen……wait for it…..dary.”
Mike arguing that his feet do not smell like blocks of Parmesan cheese.
Sue insulting Will Schuester for having too much gel in his hair.
J-Lo crying over having to deny a good person a chance at his dream. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Enemy of Creativity

“Extended response is the enemy of creative writing,” quipped a student of mine the other day.  Sadly, he spoke the truth. 

We are into day two of standardized testing, and I can’t wait until it’s over.  I must admit, though, that the monotonous standardized testing proctor script awakens the rebel in me.  While I completely understand why teachers bemoan the students who declare their plan is to simply “bubble in a pattern” on the answer document, there is still a part of me that admires those students.  It is the part of me that makes me wonder what stopped me from being that student?  What stops me from the being the teacher who urges students to be absent during the two week testing window, like Alfie Kohn taught me to be?  What stops me from distributing colored pencils to my students so that at least those bubbles will be brought to life (even if they are all marked wrong by the state because they are not darkened using “No. 2” graphite)?  What stops me from challenging my students to eat a marshmallow between every question on the test? 

I would like to think that it is not fear that stops me—fear of being declared a highly UNqualified or ineffective teacher, fear of being questioned, fear of being fired.  I would like to think that instead, what stops me is my respect for the system—my respect for the public education system that served me well and that I signed up to be part of even after I was legally required to be.  You see, even though I don’t agree with the way the test results are used, I have a respect for the meaning those test results hold for my students, and the impact they will have on each student’s educational experience. 

Even the rebel in me respects the system because it is the system that serves (or fails to serve) my students.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Laughing at Lightning

With all of this thinking about music, I finally sat down to upload some more of my CDs into my iTunes. This should have been a relaxing project for a Sunday afternoon.

Enter: Aurora.

You see, my dog has an obsession with flashing or moving light. She has been known to lunge at the wall to catch the beam of a passing car’s headlights.

Have you ever noticed how a CD reflects the light? Aurora did. Every time I took a CD out of its case to pop it into the slot on my laptop, she went crazy. Her bark was so irritating due its intensity and high-pitch that I could no longer continue to upload music.

Later on, I settled myself on the couch with both of our dogs to watch the Oscars, my guilty pleasure. It is my experience that dogs make the best company during the Oscars because nobody else appreciates the glitz of the production like I do.

Enter: Thunderstorm.

It took one flash of lightning to peel Aurora away from my side. She went tearing at the window in an effort to “catch” the lightning.  This time, the playful nature of her misguided attack had me cracking up. 

How can the same obsession be so irritating one moment and so hilarious the next?