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, March 31, 2015

WHAT I LEARNED {from posting vintage slices}

Blogging is where I play with form (poetry, strikethroughs, lists, words combined with images).

I have stories to tell.

Rereading, revisiting, reflecting on past words is powerful.  It is essential to make time to do this more often (and to make time for students to do this).

I have new things to say right now about the same old writing territories.

It is possible to see progressive improvement in writing over time.

Length matters--if I write long for a blog post, there better be payoff for the reader.

Writing preserves the meaning in my moments.

There is a comfortable rhythm to my life that is apparent in my writing over time.

Writing helps me understand my world and my self.

Conclusions are everything.


March 25, 2013

Today I am off my game.

Today I am too busy waiting for a too far away spring break myself to corral a classroom of teenagers into focus.

Today I am ready to move on to next year when I will really get this teaching thing right.

Today I am struggling to find moments to be proud of amidst the ugly mess of teaching middle school language arts.

Today I am slicing beyond the deadline.  Again.

Today I am feeling like I don’t belong.

Today I am visited by three administrators who know little about me or my teaching, but know lots about making people feel judged. 

Today is over, for those who live by eastern time.

Today I wish I lived further east.

Monday, March 30, 2015


March 12, 2012

I walk into school,
dodging the worms.
It would be tragic
for one to get stuck to the wheel of my cart,
mangled by the plastic treads.

I consider stopping to carry them
each back to the safety of the grass.
But there are so many.
And I am so late.

Inside the building, in the hallway by the courtyard,
I am reminded of the plight of the worm.
The tile is littered with the corpses of worms,
inching their way to the dry safety of the building
by worming their ways through the crack under the door. 

I spot one still moving.
The worm wriggles its wormy self
in an attempt to break free from shiny linoleum.
I pull out my keys.
I open the door.
I am not THAT late.
I pick up the worm.
and transplant him safely in the mulch.

There were so many.
I couldn’t make a difference.
But I made a difference to that one.

I cringe as I exit this building this afternoon
thinking I am sure to see
so many dried little bodies
shriveled up by the sunshine
pounding down on the black pavement.
But as I make my way back to my car
there is not a single worm in sight.

They made it
without my intervention.

Sometimes well wishes
are enough.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


It is Sunday night.  And I am celebrating.  In my world, Sunday nights are amongst things least likely to be cause for celebration.  And yet here I am.

I celebrate that I am not letting another week go by without blogging.

I celebrate that when life got hard last week, I was able to skip posting vintage slices on my blog guilt-free because I was not part of a challenge.  Skipping a post was not about letting anyone else down.  I have been posting for my own benefit.  And that feels good.

I celebrate that I have learned a lot over the past month--especially about who I am and who I want to become.

I celebrate that I have a notebook bursting with ideas I have not yet managed to make time to write.  

I celebrate that spring break means making time.


March 28, 2011
Grandpa's bowling pin sits on a table in my workroom

Lost (a revision)

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

We walk through
Grandpa’s house together.
Each room filled with emptiness
and memories.
Mom and I search for something to hold on to.

The dining room
holds memories of uncles, aunts, and cousins gathering.
Memories of Lite Brite, Nickelodeon,
and Lamb de Lamb

But these are my memories,
I think.
Beneath this layer of my past,
at the heart of Grandpa’s house,
is another generation’s history. 
A history made of three brothers
and their baby sister, Susan.
My mom.

I think about the memories she must see
in each room we enter.
Stories of her childhood flood my heart.

For Mom, Grandpa’s kitchen
holds memories of dinners crowded around the table,
where she had to snatch up all she wanted
before three older brothers devoured every last crumb.
Memories of visits from Santa, games of cowboys,
and running around pretending to be a horse.

Still searching for something to keep for ourselves,
a tangible piece of Grandpa’s life,
of what he means to us,
I follow Mom up to the attic,
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. 
I carry the box downstairs.

We head to the garage,
I find a shelf filled with bowling pins—
mementos of Grandpa’s years as manager
of Bleeker’s Bowling Lanes.
I pick one out to take with me.

In the basement, behind Grandpa’s bar,
I find a metal cart for keeping things organized—
a reminder of his practical side.
I wheel it to the stairs and carry it outside.

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

He left memories. 
Memories of my past.
Memories of Mom’s childhood.
Memories of a lifetime.

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


March 10, 2011
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. 


March 15, 2013
me with Trent Reedy

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. ”
Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia
The Illinois Reading Council Conference has been incredibly difficult for me to write about this year.  Usually I have difficulty condensing my learning to a digestible post, but this time the stumbling block is much bigger.  I have experienced so many rich and powerful presentations—the kind that rock my world—I am afraid I don’t have words worthy of conveying their impact.

One such session was ‘Trent Reedy and Katherine Paterson: A Conversation.’  Reedy and Paterson shared their connection to each other with the audience.  I was teary for the duration of the session.  I knew the whole time that their story is bigger than me—bigger than the giant room we were in—bigger than the words they were using to express it. 

The basic story is that Trent Reedy, from Iowa, taught 9th grade English and was a member of the Reserves until he was called to duty in 2004 and sent to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.  In Sara Holbrook’s session today, she read us a poem she had written about the idea of a poet being sent into war.  Trent Reedy is just that guy.  He referred to himself as a “Teacher Made Soldier.”

When he spoke of his experience in Afghanistan, it was clear he was overcome with emotion.  He was keenly aware as he spoke that no words could possibly truly communicate to this group of teachers and librarians what it was like to enter the world of war torn Afghanistan.  And it was clear he wasn’t sure he even wanted us to fully understand the truth of his experience.  It was ugly to say the least. 

What he did want to seep deep into our souls is the lesson he learned.  Reedy found himself in a place where his physical needs for sustenance were being met: basic minimal requirements for nourishment and shelter.  What he lacked in droves was sustenance for his heart, food for his soul.  He was surrounded by weapons and men trained to kill.  He was charged with unspeakable tasks and faced daily death threats that grew increasingly dangerous. 

Then a copy of Bride to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson arrived in the mail from his wife, who purchased it for him on a whim. 

Reading Paterson’s story, one I have long loved, in the midst of his situation in Afghanistan was life changing for Reedy.  It prompted him to write a letter of thanks to Paterson, who was so moved by his story that she wrote back.  A chain of correspondence began between the two. 

Reading Bridge to Terabithia, writing to Paterson, renewed in Reedy a dream to one day become a writer himself. 

For next school year in the state of Illinois, Reedy’s book Words in the Dust is a nominee for the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award (a student choice award).  It tells the story of an Afghan girl Reedy met.  His unit was able to help provide her medical assistance for a cleft lip.  Before leaving, he promised the girl he would share her story. 

It was a promise he kept. 

As Reedy spoke about the process of sharing the letters he had exchanged with Paterson, he shared a story of the first time they spoke together.  It was in front of a group of 6th graders.  Paterson had brought the actual copies of the letters Trent had written for him to share.  When he described the experience, his voice shifted.  He spoke of the sand, the dusty grains of earth in Afghanistan and how it gets into everything—how it will forever coat the letters he wrote while he was there.  Then with a depth of emotion that can only be felt in person, he said something like, “You can’t get rid of the dust.  It is everywhere.  I think you breathe it in and Afghanistan is always part of you.”

Afghanistan is part of him.  Through his story—his words—I now feel like I, too, have breathed in the sandy dust.  Although I understand that I cannot possibly understand all of the emotions behind his words, they will always be part of me.


March 25, 2012
sometimes I get a little help from Mark
I take all the vegetables out of the fridge and lay them out on the peninsula of countertop. 

I select a cutting board—I am in a red mood today. 

I dig the knives, the carrot peeler, the colander, the Tupperware out of drawers and cabinets. 

The most important bowl is saved for last.  I open the bottom cabinet to step on its shelf in order to reach the ceramic bowl on the top cabinet’s second shelf.  For as long as I can remember this white bowl with the blue painted design (is it flowers?) has been our family’s dill dip receptacle of choice.  I am not sure how I got away with snagging it for my own house, but perhaps that was a bonus of my parents getting divorced.  Some items got lost in the fray. 

There is something about chopping fresh veggies and mixing up a batch of dill dip to go with them that makes time feel well spent.  That extra little treat with our meals each night will make the week feel like a holiday.  It is a reminder that the weather is shifting, a reminder of special occasions, a reminder of my family. 

Our best moments as a family took place in the kitchen.  We were famous for sitting at the island bar, heckling whoever was busy doing the work of cooking at the moment.  As the responsibility shifted, so did the target of our humor. 

Even now, after our family has drifted in separate directions, my mom still gets excited when she is invited over for some good ol’ dill dip and veggies.  And my dad’s new girlfriend, who loves to cook, has finally mastered the dill dip recipe enough to make me feel at home when visiting. 

I place the white ceramic bowl on the counter and grab a handful of green onions. I quickly get lost in the rhythmic chops.  I am home.  


March 23, 2013

I try on slices each day like I try on clothes. 

Maybe I should write about running outdoors for the first time since fall, I think as I puff breaths of steam into the crisp air.  I could write about how good it feels to put feet to path and pound out a rhythm of health.  But it isn’t all good, is it?  No.  I am struggling to breathe, my side is cramping, and these yoga pants that used to hug my body in celebration of curves are creating bulges where bulges should never be. 

I toss that idea aside like the pair of jeans I have to suck in my stomach to button. 

Perhaps today’s slice will be a moment from yesterday.  The conclusion of an ongoing story—M’s decision to abandon War and Peace in favor of another graphic novel. I could celebrate the way he said, “Mrs. Rush, I think I am going to stop reading this book.  There just isn’t any action,” instead of saying, “Mrs. Rush, I just don’t get this book.  It is too difficult.  I give up.”  I could celebrate the way he will always carry this moment of having begun reading War and Peace and having chosen to stop—not quit.  I could celebrate how this shows he has grown as a reader—how he has become a reader. 

I leave this idea folded neatly on a shelf like my favorite sweater, the one I have to be careful not to wear too often or I will wear it out too quickly.

Instead, I’ll try writing about my new couch. 

I drape the idea over the armchair, planning to pick it up and put it on another day—when the mood suits me.  I am careful not to rumple it, leaving it untouched and fresh for future wear.

Rather, I could craft a slice today about my sister’s reappearance in my life.  How all of a sudden a call on my cell phone is a casual occurrence.  How after years of no communication, she stayed at my house to care for my dogs while we were at the Illinois Reading Council Conference.  How although I don’t trust her so much that I am willing to unguard my heart, my mother is the only person in the world I trust more than my sister when it comes to watching my dogs.

This idea itches like a wooly sweater.  The one I remember feeling just too tight in all the wrong places.  The one I want to love and am not willing to let go of, even though I know it is unflattering ever since an ill-fated journey through the laundry.  Maybe one day it will fit just right again, I tell myself.  Maybe one day the damage will be reversed.

I try on slices each day like I try on clothes.


March 20, 2012

I am convinced my dog is the Handicapper General from Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.” 

I originally sat down


at quarter after 5 to write my slice.  I have an arsenal of ideas at the ready.  I am quickly learning from this year’s slicing challenge that knowing what I want to say


and knowing how I want to say it are two very different things.  I am struggling with snippets of ideas, bouncing from topic to topic,


opening new blank document after new blank document.  I am recovering from the beatdown of a Tuesday teacher’s institute day.


I am gathering inspiration—adding to my

arsenal. If only I could complete a thought, I might have a finished slice by now.


March 9, 2012

to my delight, I recently found that the protagonist of Paper Things shares my love of catazines
Recently, my Sundance catalog came in the mail.  I think I have “read” it at least five times now.  I have a gift card to spend.  So, I dog-ear pages.  I visit and re-visit my faves.  But I don’t make a decision.  Instead, my mind is too busy drifting to memories of the roles catalogs have played in my life.

As children, one of the many strange activities that kept my sister and I busy for hours involved those great big Sears and JC Penney catalogs.  You know, the ones you could pile up and use as a booster seat in a pinch (back in the day). 

We used to spend hours, even over several days, searching through those catalogs and cutting out representations of our fantasies for the future.  My future self was always played by Cheryl Tiegs.  I picked out other catalog models to play my children and husband. 

Once our families were established, we would continue the game by choosing the clothes, the furniture, and the decorations we would need to create a fulfilling future life for our catalog selves.

This might seem like an odd obsession for two young girls, but you see, this obsession was in our blood.

As a teenager, I remember my father sitting down at the kitchen table once a week to read his magazines, which translates to flip through catalogs in English.  We used to tease him for calling the embarrassingly tall stack of catalogs his magazines.  We coined the term catazines just for him. 

Tonight I take one last flip through my Sundance catazine and narrow it down to two choices.  Which item would Cheryl Tiegs purchase?  I need only answer that question to know what the appropriate choice for me is.  After all, I am now that future self I dreamt about for all those years—I am Cheryl Tiegs!


March 11, 2013

This week is a full week for me.  Tomorrow is the author visit, and I get to play host.  Thursday and Friday are our state Reading Council Conference days, and I get to travel to Springfield to attend.  That means three days of a guest teacher immediately following state testing, which followed a snow day.  Needless to say my middle school students are out of sorts.  And it is not getting better soon.  This unique vantage point sparked today’s slice.

Things I really want to write wrote in my Guest Teacher Plans:

Keep Calm and Live Through the Day Thanks for coming in for me today.

Watch the one in the far left corner.  He has a pink, fleshy heart somewhere beneath the black crustiness, but he is not ready to reveal it yet—and certainly not for a guest teacher.  Guard your heart and stay strong.  It might help to know that he is terrified of tornadoes.  Use that little nugget if need be.  Some students need additional support. 

Please don’t get me fired.  Please copy this learning target onto the board.

If they turn on you, it might be a good idea to just try acting crazier than them.  It will throw them off their game.  I left a back-up plan in the blue folder.

Though they act bold, they are really pretty naïve.  Don’t joke about packing heat.  Really.  A Guest Teacher got fired for that.  Leave me the names of any students who were especially challenging.

In the case that you are going to play cool guy by bad-mouthing me and the work I assign, just know that my students are a fairly loyal bunch.  That plan will backfire. It may take them longer to settle in today because we just finished ISAT testing and they have been on a different schedule.

If you want to me to request you again in the future, don’t leave notes about how awful my students were.  What I don’t know won’t hurt me. Please leave me the names of any students who were particularly helpful.

No matter what it looks like today, just know that a week ago we were reading Shakespeare.  Iambic pentameter, sonnets, ecphonesis O, analyzing passages, the whole nine yards.  For real.  These same children who today are twisting their hoodie sweatshirts into fake sweatshirt babies that they cradle and rock.  Really.  Remind students not to write in the QR code on their answer sheet or they will have to do the test all over again.

They keep chocolate in Staff Services.  If you need any, just put it on my tab.  I owe you.  This is a great group of students; I expect you will have a wonderful day!