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, November 9, 2013

in which I CELEBRATE finding joy

Last school year, when Ruth visited my classroom, she graciously led a workshop for our staff, during which she nudged us to find joy.  Each Saturday, she leads a celebration about just that idea: finding joy in the every day. Click the link below to join her! 
one. There is joy in seeing a movie in the theater (for the first time in years), and getting so lost in the story that I was sorry to see it end.  About Time is one of those stories to which I want to return again and again.  It is a heartprint kind of story.  Its message is very relevant to these Saturday posts. 

two.  I find joy in the reminder lesson I got from parent/teacher conferences this week: parents and politicians/administrators don’t want the same things.  I can be me and please parents.  I can be me and reach students.  What sweet relief to hold onto these truths.

three.  Joy and bookstores are synonymous.  Especially when a visit to a bookstore means a book signing with none other than Kate DiCamillo!  Better yet, I was able to nudge a friend to join me last minute, turning it into an author visit/shopping/lunch event. 

me with Kate DiCamillo
Here are the highlights from her talk:

·      What she had to say about writers’ block: When I am stuck, I am really acting out of fear or I am being lazy.
·      She told us she worked at Disney World and had the job of telling people, “Watch your step.”  She said it made her believe there had to be something more, something bigger to do.  {I think the storyland quality of Disney World somehow planted itself in her heart, or perhaps that is what drew her to work there in the first place.}
·      Reason she gave for writing so many animal characters:  As humans we are more likely to open our hearts to animals than we are to other humans. 
·      She said reading kept her alive as a child.
·      She said that her books are not finished until readers pick them up and read them.  She said she wouldn’t elaborate on endings of books because, “Whatever is true for you is the truth of the book.”

four.  Joy lives in the whirling, twirling dance of leaves escaping my lawn mower and rake this morning during the fall cleaning of the yard, which I had been dreading…until I got up and out and was greeted by a beautiful fall day. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I sat in utter despair.

Why don’t they want us to feel successful ever?  Would it be that detrimental to test scores if we felt a modicum of success now and then? 

The words, “I don’t have time to give teachers positive feedback,” repeated in my head.

Every time I was sure I had gathered myself together, the tears spilled over the edge of my eyelids. 

At the end of the day, I walked by a classroom to hear teacher pitted against teacher over evaluations.  Talk escalated to verbal attack. 

On my way back to my classroom, I was stopped by another teacher,  “Do you have a moment?  I just need to cry.”

A few minutes later another teacher walked into the room and burst into tears. 

This is the aftermath of a typical Monday after school staff meeting.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

in which I CELEBRATE two of 22 Voices Strong

He was no longer saying the mantra.  He didn’t even stand up or acknowledge that everyone else was moving on around him.

I could feel him peeling himself away from us.  Away from our class.  I reached out.  Despite my desire to help, no matter how careful I was, the more I reached out to pull him back inside the circle of voices, the further I pushed him over the edge. 

It wasn’t until the other students got fed up with his distance, with his disruption that there was a breakthrough. 

It began with, “Mrs. Rush are you going to let him have it?  Because if you don’t, I think I might explode at him.”

I paused.  Smiled.  Remained centered.  And answered, “You know, I’ve learned that I have nothing to gain by losing it, by lecturing, by getting angry.  I cannot control his behavior any more than you can.  He has to make the choice.  I am confident he will come around.  However, this is your class too.  And, in the meantime, if you have something to say, please do so.  Do not get yourself in trouble in the process, though.  You know where the line is and how not to cross it.”

She sighed, “No, I am ok.”

I continued class.

He continued being disruptive.  Widening the chasm between where he was and where we were.

She seethed.  And burst.  She turned on him, “Why are you being so disrespectful?  Mrs. Rush is not asking that much of you and you are just being plain rude.  For no reason.”

A light bulb went on over her head in that moment.  I could almost hear her last words, for no reason, echo through her head.

“Well, I mean,” she sputtered, “if there is something going on at home and you are upset, well then that’s cool, I get it, but if not, there is no reason to be acting like this.”

He suddenly became a flower bending towards the sunlight of her words.  Perhaps the chasm hadn’t shrunk, but something like a bridge was beginning to be formed across it. 

She read his face.  She saw straight into his heart.  She got him to talk. 

On Tuesday, he stepped up to lead the mantra. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The Liebster Award is given by nomination from a fellow blogger.  It’s an award for small bloggers made to encourage one another.  Liebster is a German word for “sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing & welcome.”

This week, I was surprised and flattered with a little Liebster encouragement from my Estonian friend, Terje (who blogs at Just for a Month).  I am always charmed (enchanted, even) by Terje’s words.  She has such an endearing way with language and never fails to come up with a clever approach to her blog posts.  I also follow her on Pinterest and find her taste in artwork just as inviting as her writing.  It is amazing to be connecting with someone so far away.  To have her recognition like this means a great deal to me; the honor alone is special, but to be honored by someone whose writing I so admire is truly meaningful.  Plus, I suspect she knows me better than many of the people I interact with daily know me.  That makes me smile.

My duties as a Liebster recipient are to answer some questions to introduce myself and to pass the honor on to a blogger I know and love.  Here goes:

Why did you start blogging? 
After silently lurking around the Two Writing Teachers blog for months, I decided to try the Slice of Life challenge.  My first attempt was not what I would consider successful, but I stuck with it and eventually got the hang of this blogging thing. 

What is your favorite book?  
Ahh!  Authors always say this question is like being asked which child is your favorite.  I think the same goes for readers.  How can I choose just one?  Answer: I can’t.  So, my answers right now are...

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is a book I can read again and again and like more and more each time.  I admire the poetic quality of the prose.

The Human Comedy by William Saroyan is a classic that I fell in love with in high school.  It is about a young boy who has a job as a messenger during WWII.  It is a coming of age story with Saroyan’s trademark philosophical ponderings threaded throughout.  I collect first editions and old copies of Saroyan’s work. 

What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt is a future classic.  The more closely I study this text, the more deeply I love it.  In fact, all of Gary D. Schmidt’s work is worth this kind of study.

Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo is my favorite of her books.  The Magician’s Elephant is a close second, though.  Reading Kate DiCamillo is the book equivalent of wrapping yourself in the comfort of a thick, fluffy old quilt.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.  This book made me fall in love with books written for grown-ups again.  I had given up on them for so long. 

What makes you laugh out loud? 
My husband (even his fart jokes).  And the latest episodes of Modern Family.  Often my 8th graders—for instance this conversation today:
S1: My friend’s cat had kittens.  I named one Cookie Monster.  When it was 6 days old, her dog ate it.  Then he threw it back up.
S2 (obviously misunderstanding the gravity of the previous story…and the fact that kittens can’t survive inside a dog’s stomach):  Do you still have it?

What is your favorite social media?  
I don’t know what I would do without Twitter, Blogger, and Pinterest.  I am pretty addicted to Pinterest.  It is like a hobby.  Or an illness. 

Who would play you in a movie? 
Alyson Hannigan.  She is one of those stars who looks like a regular old Joe. And I am a regular old Joe. 

How long have you been blogging?
Since March 2010.

What is the most annoying song in the universe? 
At the risk of offending, I cannot stand the Christmas song “Carol of the Bells.”  Something about the frantic pace of it makes me tense.  If it is playing while I am out shopping, I will all of a sudden start rushing without even processing it is my physical reaction to that song.

What time of day do you write? 
Nighttime.  Always.  I am a night owl.  Plus, writing is one of those things that I do for myself.  Because it just feels good.  So, it often gets pushed to the end of my list of things to do for the day.

What part of your home is your favorite? 

I am especially fond of my little work area tucked into a corner of our main living space.  It contains a chicken wire bulletin board my husband made, an antique jelly cabinet my husband bought me, and an antique typewriter.  It makes me happy; however, the best part of my home is wherever my dogs are cuddling.  They are the therapy in fuzzy form.

What is your favorite recipe?  
I make the yummiest vanilla fudge, and it is so easy!

2 bags of Nestle Premier White Morsels (12 oz)
2/3 cup of sweetened condensed milk
1 jar of marshmallow fluff (7.5 oz)
1/4 cup of butter or margarine (one-half stick)

Place White Morsels in microwavable bowl.
Microwave on DEFROST setting until completely melted, stirring occasionally. (approx. 10 minutes, stir every 2-3 minutes)
Stir in melted butter.
Heat marshmallow fluff and stir it in.
Add 2/3 cup of sweetened condensed milk.
Keep stirring until the fudge mix is one consistent shade of off-white.
Pour fudge into a foil lined 9x9 brownie pan.
Smooth the top so that it is even.
Refrigerate for a few hours until firm.
Cut into squares and serve.
Keep refrigerated and store in an airtight container

What is your favorite season?
I’ve always liked fall best.  Sweaters, jeans, and scarves are an indication of perfect weather to me.  I like the sound of leaves crunching under foot.  However, I am also a fan of summer sunshine and sparkling white snow.  Really, spring is the only season with which I don’t really get along.  Rain, humidity, and allergies make for a long three months.

How fun it is to pretend I am giving you information you wanted to know!  Now, for the best part…I get to share the goodness.  So, my Liebster award goes to Deb Day.  You can find her blogging at Coffee with Chloe.  I was lucky enough to be allowed into her classroom last spring to see the amazing work she does with her high school students.  In fact, she doesn’t even know this yet, but I started a middle school speech team at our school because she makes it sound like so much fun in high school.  Plus, she has an incredibly cute (and talented) writing dog. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

in which I CELEBRATE Lehman, Roberts, and Kittle

Ruth Ayres is hosting a Saturday link-up!  Join us by clicking the link below.

Participating in the Heinemann Webinar Let’s Talk About Your Readers with Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, and Penny Kittle was just the nudge I needed to deepen and solidify the work Paulsen’s words had begun. 

Friday after school, I met with some colleagues for our weekly staff Write Club.  Each week we read a short piece, complete a quick write in response, and share our writing (of course we do much more than that—laugh, cry, vent, grow—but this is the basic structure of our time).  This week, I had chosen “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins.  Initially, I thought I might write my own piece in response focusing on the passion, knowledge, and dedication I bring to my job, and counter it with the mandates, clipboards, and negative feedback I get in response. 

However, I just couldn’t muster up the negative energy (which had come so easily over the past few weeks) to write such a piece.  Instead, I found myself focusing on a line of the poem that I hadn’t fully appreciated the first few times I’d read the poem:  and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered.  This time, with the words of Lehman, Roberts, and Kittle still lingering in my heart, the whispered gift of two clear eyes to read the world tugged at my sleeve, calling to be noticed, hoping to be admired.

I started to think about reading the world—closely reading the world.  I started to think about choice and the role it plays.  And I wondered why I have been choosing to closely read the parts of the world I have been lately.  This reminded me of the words of Ruth AyresLife is for celebration, not survival.  Why had I been focusing on the parts of my world I feel I have to endure instead of the parts of my world that sustain me?

And you know that part of the Grinch’s story where his heart grows?  I felt that happening for me.  The black outer layer started to crack away to reveal a pink, fleshy interior, as if someone had finally sprinkled water on the dry, parched ground of my teacher soul. 

I whispered a new choice—a choice to focus my two clear eyes to read closely the parts of the world that matter.

I choose to focus on Chris Lehman’s idea that close reading is a particular type of thinking about text, a habit readers can choose to use while reading; it is NOT all of reading, NOT an entire curriculum, NOT a list of text-dependent questions.

I choose to focus on Kate Robert’s thoughts about the purpose for close reading being to raise engagement and joy for reading.

I choose to focus on what Chris Lehman said when he was summarizing Kate Robert’s ideas about close reading being an interaction between a text and reader rather than the act of finding of a truth inside of a text.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s practice of closely reading her students, and Chris Lehman’s thoughts about students being our curriculum.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s idea that part of our job is to create a love reading, which leads to the development of non-cognitive qualities that are critical to future success (see How Children Succeed by Paul Tough): persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s words about taking time for what really matters in our classrooms: Without conferring I can’t reach my readers.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s declaration that every text is worth reading closely, and students should be making choices about what they are closely reading.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s ideas about text complexity needing to start where kids are, that it is okay for students to end the year in different places when it comes to text complexity.  This kind of differentiation is good practice, she says.

I choose to focus on Penny Kittle’s idea that the more control she gives her students, the more they read.

I choose to focus on Chris Lehamn’s words about the Common Core State Standards: They are all about independence.

I choose to focus on what matters.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I have been feeling lost lately.  I have been feeling distant from myself.  I have been feeling disconnected from what really matters.  And I have been downright crabby.

So, Saturday morning, knowing I had an hour of wait time to fill during an oil change and tire rotation, I grabbed a couple of old notebooks to reread.  My hope was that sifting through past notes, wise words, and thoughts I’d forgotten I ever had would offer a spark, perhaps even awaken something inside of me. 

I ended up taking new notes on my old notes.  I marked passages that I intend to revisit soon.  And I came across this gem from Gary Paulsen’s address to teachers at the Illinois Reading Council Conference a couple years ago: 

Boy, did these words ever awaken something inside of me!  Paulsen’s advice was like fuel for my soul.  Don’t let them grind at me.  Is that what I was allowing to happen?  Well, not anymore.  Thanks to Gary Paulsen.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

in which I CELEBRATE this week

Ruth Ayres’ one little word this year is shine.  She never ceases to amaze me by the way she lives her beliefs.  Her one little word is no exception.  The CELEBRATE This Week link-up she is hosting is just one of the many ways she shines warm light into my life.  Won’t you consider linking up with us?

one.  I started this week in the company of a three-year-old.  My oldest friend (we’ve been friends since second grade, she is not old herself), her husband, and their daughter joined my husband and me at my dad’s house in Indiana for Columbus Day weekend.  I think this is obvious cause for celebration, but moments that made this extra special include A telling us to be her darling cows while she pretended to be the cow mama.  When her father complied by letting out a deep, “Moooo,” she ordered us to sound like darling cow children by using our pink voices.  Here she is sharing Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons with my dad’s partner:
two.  Yesterday I had to give my students their third district common assessment for language arts this school year.  But since this is about celebration, I won’t dwell on that issue.  It is simply significant to note because following the multiple choice style beatdown, we shifted the energy in the room by having what Ruth calls in her newest book, Celebrating Writers, a ‘Silent Celebration.’ 

I mounted student poems on large sheets of butcher paper.  These were scattered around the room in a ‘Gallery of Poetry.’  Each student chose a fun colorful pen.  Mozart played softly in the background.  I briefly set the stage with a tightrope visual, discussing comments that offer the kind of strong support I expect and the lenses through which students might respond (as a human, as a reader, as a writer).  Students moved around the room, visiting each others’ words, offering celebratory responses. 

At the end of class, I heard evidence of the power of celebration in the words of my students as they walked out of the classroom:
“Class flew by today.  I hate when class is so good and it is over too quickly.” 
“I didn’t know people would think these things about my poem.”
“These comments are like food in word form.  I feel full.”
“I should’ve just put my name on my poem.  I had no reason to worry about what people would say.”
“I had no idea D could write like that.  His poem was amazing.”
They had already forgotten the 45 minutes spent bubbling in answers. 

three.  This week is ending with freshly groomed pups at my side, the last Chicago FIRE soccer game (complete with hopes for making the playoffs) on the television, warm pumpkin seeds straight from the oven, and words on the page (thanks to Ruth and Terje for nudges to find joy this week).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


For as long as I can remember the rhythm of my life has included the following equation: school day ends=talk to Mom. 

As a result, my mother is often on the receiving end of ugly rants as I drive home.  Ranting tends to be one way I process issues in order to work through them to find solutions.  Ranting is also my body’s natural response prior to having a proper after-school snack. 

Sometimes I am centered enough to remember to share the good news (the plane landed safely stories, as my mom calls them).  Sometimes my day is so filled with goodness, there are only funny stories to share.  Sometimes I am feeling so good that I even brag a bit to Mom. (Only, for the record, it’s not really bragging if it is to your mom, since it is really a compliment to tell her what a wonderful daughter she has raised, right?)

Today, I shared the following story with my mom as I drove home:

After a particularly challenging last period, two of my 8th grade girls returned to my classroom at the end of the day.  They told me they had something to tell me.  In my experience, there is no anticipating what might come out of the mouth of an 8th grader.  So, I braced myself. 

And one of them unleashes this gem, “Mrs. Rush, we just wanted to tell you that we love your wardrobe!” 

The other girl immediately follows with, “Yeah, I mean, all of your dresses are so nice; you just always look so put-together.  You need to take us shopping or give us fashion advice!”

While this is not quite the kind of recognition I strive for as a teacher, I have to admit: it felt good.  I laughed and told them I will have to make my own ‘Mrs. Rush version’ of What Not to Wear.  They gushed some more before walking away. 

I didn’t really wait for my mom’s response before launching into another story, which surely led to another.  So it wasn’t until several stories later that she responded.  I walked into the house, my phone headset still in my ear, connecting me to my mom.  There is a long pause and she says, “Wow.  I just still can’t get over how amazing it is that you impressed today’s 8th graders with your fashion sense, at your age.” 

I am choosing not to take offense to the comment.  After all, it was someone who is old enough to be my mother who said it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


My week started with a headless bunny day (a phrase I coined based on an unfortunate Monday morning backyard surprise—compliments of an owl or hawk according to my people at Google)

I thought it was going to be a headless bunny week. 

After all, I have been in a dark, negative, headless bunny kind of mood.  Some might even call it a funk.

But then something happened. 

All of the ‘theys’ that have been the source of my angst became, well, human.  Right before my very eyes.  

They are by no means perfect.  In fact, sometimes I am not sure I even like them. Especially when they are creating and using assessment tools that don’t measure what I value.  Especially when they are swarming my classroom with clipboards and judgment.  Especially when they become little voices in my head critiquing my every move when I am trying, working, struggling to get it right. 

Maybe I should talk to them, I thought.  I sure would like to give them a piece of my mind, I thought.  They have no idea what damage they are doing, I thought.

So I asked, requested, demanded to meet with them.  And they showed up. 

I planned to be diplomatic.  I planned to wear a mask.  I planned to keep my distance.

But it turns out they are human.  I like humans.  I am human, too.

So, I shared my story with them.  I listened to them tell theirs.  

I felt lighter.  The little voices got quieter.   

Today was not another headless bunny day.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I hate this class.

Four words written in a random notebook.  Random because he hadn’t brought his Voices Strong notebook to class. 

Four words that made my heart sing. 

In fact, my heart was singing so loudly that I had to celebrate.  Although I didn’t reveal to the rest of the class what his words said, I was moved enough to stop the class dead in its tracks to point out what A had done: He had written unapologetically.  It is part of our daily mantra. 

“That’s a good thing?” A glared at me from behind strands of hair he’d tipped his head to force over his eyes, incredulous. 

“Of course! We start class pledging to write unapologetically every day.  Writing from who you are, not who you think I want you to be is our primary goal for this semester.  It is what this class is about.”  I knew I was chirping.  I was aware that my voice, my cheeriness, chafed A’s apathetic 8th grade attitude.   But I simply couldn’t help myself.

I love this class.  Even those four words written in a random notebook.  Especially those four words written in a random notebook.

They are 22 Voices Strong.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


There is only one more Tuesday until school starts.  It was a short summer this year.  It feels that way every year, but this year it is true.

Even so, my summer was packed with all sorts of good things.  And as I head into the school year, I am working harder than ever to hold onto the feeling those good things gave me. 

I really felt like my summer began when I headed to Indiana for the All-Write Summer Institute.  That experience propelled me into summer with a light heart, a slow pace, and a burning passion somewhere deep inside me to be better—at teaching, at writing, at collaborating, at life.

I had fully intended to capture all of these moments I was so determined to hold onto here on my blog.  But every time I tried to write how much Penny Kittle’s double session on the work of Donald Graves meant to me, my words felt inadequate.  It was a moving experience—one that is now part of who I am as a teacher and writer.  One that words simply can’t capture. 

So, I tried to move on to summing up how awesome it was to kick around Winona Lake with women from five different states who had just met face to face for the first time, but felt like the best of old friends.  Again, I found the experience to be so personal I just couldn’t convey what it meant about who I am and who I will be from now on.

Even when I sat down, with a huge smile on my face, to express the energy in the room when Mary Helen and Tammy presented the best books for teaching writing, I couldn’t seem to get it just so.  Mary Helen’s ability to make an entire room filled with people feel personally welcomed, like her words are one big group hug, just doesn’t come across the same when written.  Tammy’s outrageous stories about chickens, bees, and hiking up her skirt to climb ladders make her larger than life in a way that words cannot do justice. 

And so, many summer Tuesdays came and went without a single posted word.  Though not for lack of goodness to share.  Nor from lack of writing.  Maybe sometimes, some things just seep too quickly into our bones to be captured by words. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013


Wednesday, July 3rd, was my 35th birthday.  To celebrate, I compiled a list of 35 things to be happy about from the past week:

1.  a finished book

2.  a new book begun
3.  a humbling tribute (via blog post) from a dear friend
4.  a birthday wish from Google (!)
on my birthday, this is what my google page looked like!
5.  a homemade birthday present
my dad is building me a patio table
6.  a dinner with Mom
7.  a winning Chicago FIRE soccer game
they played (and won) on my birthday
8.  a thoughtful gift from my niece
9.  a surprise gift for my niece
my niece with her charity auction jersey being signed by the player (Steve Kinney)
10.  an old photo discovery
dad, grandpa, and grandma (the only photo I have of grandpa)
11.  finished Annie Sloan Chalk Paint projects
12.  more Annie Sloan chalk paint projects in the works
antique metal tray to be turned into magnetic chalkboard with Annie Sloan chalk paint border
13.  a breakfast meeting at Starbucks with my favorite librarian
14.  a brand new bicycle
a spontaneous purchase from this awesome shop in Indiana (post-All-Write)
15.  a bicycle ride (see #14) to an antique shop with Mark
I am in love with how adorable my bicycle looks at this little shop by the lake
16.  getting caught up on my One Little Word projects
my notes to self for May's One Little Word project
17.  a visit to a yarn shop
a yummy wall of texture and color
18.  a chocolate shake (first one in well over a year)
me with a chocolate shake (and my husband Mark)
19.  a surprise package in the mail
my dad's girlfriend (of MANY years) sent me birthday gifts from one of my favorite places: sundance
20.  building blogging momentum
21.  a walking buddy
my friend joins me on this beautiful path
22.  an author event date with Mark
the AMAZING Katherine Applegate (and plain old me)
me with the AMAZING Katherine Applegate's pretty cool husband Michael Grant
23.  a surprise gift from my usually unsentimental sister
included in the package was this old photo of her holding me in her lap
24.  plans to open an Etsy shop with Mark
25.  too many ideas for writing and not enough time
26.  new lesson planning ideas
27.  another amazing season of So You Think You Can Dance (this is not a reality show, it is a cultural experience)
28.  an entire month off stretched out ahead of me
29.  weather warm enough to justify ice in my drinks
love the way ice clinks against glass
30.  time to enjoy the new homemade patio
not perfect, but made with love
31.  a family reunion with in-laws
me, Mark, and my father-in-law Lee
32.  Fiddler on the Roof in an outdoor theater
33.  a new audiobook for my road trip
read by Nick Podehl
34.  winning a raffle prize, then giving it away
Mark and I won a 50/50 raffle and passed the prize on to this former student of ours who leaves for the military in 10 days
35.  a brand new camera {of my own} to document these things (thank you, Mark)