March 31, 2017

It was a different day at school. Professionals from Morgan Franklin came to present “Junior Achievement Day.” The students had guest teachers all day, giving me some time to work and plan.

I spent about 3 hours reading and scoring at least 50 first grade “All About Books.” I had so much fun. Not only is it fun to see what topics first graders feel to be their areas of expertise, but it is also fun to see how they write and illustrate with voice and authority.

Here’s an example of why I adore first grade writers:

Cats

You just can’t make that up.

March 30, 2017

What have I learned this month? I’ve learned that writing my stories and thoughts and responding to other writers makes me happy. When I read your words, I am fed,

challenged,

affirmed,

stretched.

You show me new ways of seeing everyday experiences. You bring my attention to the details the way a bee values the pollen more than the petals. You teach me that there is power in small things.

While writing this I remembered a moment, the smallest of moments measured by time, a moment that is one of my most precious memories.

One day in October, 1995, my father walked me out to my car. I had been visiting my mom and dad with some of my children. I got them into the car. (I remember the air was soft as it sometimes is in Virginia.) I turned to say goodbye to my dad. I thanked him for the visit, and then I tried to put into words something more. I hoped he knew how much his love and presence in my life meant to me, and how deeply grateful I was that my children had a grandpa who loved them.

He loved them by attending their baseball and basketball games. He loved them by picking them up at school, when I couldn’t, and buying the special shampoo for head lice. He washed their hair before I got home. He loved them by taking them to Great Falls National Park and teaching them that they should “take only pictures, and leave only footprints.” He took their pictures over and over. He made the best egg salad sandwiches and grilled cheese sandwiches for our weekly lunch. He always had a clean handkerchief to dry tears. He often had a dollar or two to give them with the admonition, “Now, help your mother.”

On that October day in the parking lot of my parent’s apartment, he simply put his hand on my cheek. His large, thick hands were always warm and always gentle. We looked into each other’s eyes–his were blue rivers of wisdom.  No words were necessary. I felt peace; our hearts joined.

When he suddenly died a few weeks later, I knew peace, but my heart broke.

 

March 29, 2017

At 10:37 p.m., all I can do is count to ten. It was a long day for this grandma.

One spilled dinner.

Two crying grandchildren.

Three recent birthdays.

Four orders of kabobs.

Five adults at the table.

Six funfetti cupcakes served.

Seven, hmmmmmm.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Eight hours until I start again.

Nine grandchildren in all, soon to be

Ten.

 

March 28, 2017

Kindergarten

Kindergarten Orientation is always a nostalgic time for me as I remember the feeling of sending my first child to Kindergarten, and then my second, and on to my fifth. Now I have grandchildren who have crossed this milestone. Time marches on.

Tonight I tried to present a message to our new Kindergarten parents that we are partners in their children’s literacy development. I encouraged conversation, playing with names and letters, noticing print in the environment, playing outside, providing experiences that later become stories, reading aloud, going to the library, and drawing pictures. So many things were in my heart and mind. They all feel urgent. But mostly, I wanted to say how reading and writing are the hope of the future. It was hard to find the right words. Was my message strong and kind enough that some will consider doing just a little more of these things?

I looked around the room and saw many very young parents, older parents, maybe some grandparents, and siblings of new Kindergarteners. I saw toddlers with Legos, toddlers snuggling with mom or dad, and toddlers who needed to be walking/running around. I saw parents on phones, parents who looked tired and stressed, parents who looked concerned. What might I have said to offer comfort that school can still be a place to feel cared for, encouraged, and challenged? My message wasn’t front page news, but sometimes I wish it could be. Literacy is urgent. So much depends on what happens before children are 8, or 10, or 12.

I feel my own concern. It sounds cliche to say, “I want to make a difference.” But at the end of the day, that IS really what I want.

March 27, 2017

Ten reasons why I’m glad I have two sisters:

  1. No one else remembers the way it used to be like a sister.
  2. A sister sets you straight when you don’t quite remember the way it used to be.
  3. Sisters sometimes tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear.
  4. Older sisters can help prepare you for the next stage of your life.
  5. Sisters make Mondays better by sending texts and emails.
  6. Sisters provide a ready-made book club without the deadlines.
  7. Sisters remind you why you want to eat cookies and drink Pepsi after school and why you shouldn’t anymore.
  8. Sisters let you try out new theories and might tell you when your theory doesn’t work.
  9. Sisters understand when words don’t cut it.
  10. Sisters are my best friends.

Like these three sisters, we hold each other up.

The-Three-Sisters-Szmurlo

Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Sisters_(Alberta)

 

March 26, 2017

I never took a college course on poetry. That is still on my bucket list, but I had a father who loved poems and read them often. I have mentioned before that well into his later years he could recite many poems from memory that he learned as a boy and young man. Every year, I find myself drawn more and more to poetry although I’m not sure exactly why.

When I need to find stillness inside or need a dose of beauty, I will often turn to poetry. Most often, I read Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Wendell Berry, or other modern poets. Their works are accessible and beautiful to me.

Today, I am inspired by the story of another poet and am eager to read her works. You may already know Anne Porter’s works, but she is new to me. What inspires me is that she didn’t publish her first book of poems until the age of 83! She wrote as a young woman, but put her writing away when raising her five children with painter, Fairfield Porter. The Writer’s Almanac Extra March 25, 2017 Edition (an online newsletter) contained this explanation:

After his death, she realized how alone she was, and began to rifle through her old notebooks, rereading uncompleted poems. She even bought a book called Getting Organized and dutifully arranged her drafts, brought out her Olivetti typewriter, and began rewriting. She revised, crossed out, and coated her poems in Wite-Out, which amused her friends. One of them, fellow poet David Shapiro, secretly submitted her poems to a press, which promptly accepted them. Anne Porter’s first book, An Altogether Different Language, was published (1994) when she was 83 years old.

I guess the thing that inspires me most is that she was still learning and growing at age 83 and beyond. In 20 years, I wonder if  I will be looking back on this blog and and through my journals. What will I see worth keeping? What will I revise and see through new eyes? Will I have different words for my memories?

Anne Porter

March 25, 2017

eagle
Photo by Ralph A. Johnson

Some yoga teachers will tell you that balance is a gift. Some days it’s there and some days it’s not. While doing eagle pose today, I found myself focused in a way that is not typical for me. This time I was balanced and focused in a deeper, more central way than I have ever felt before. My mind started to think about eagles and what is was about this pose that earned it the name Eagle. I felt my eyes pierce the focal point I had chosen,  and I thought maybe it’s having “an eagle eye.”  Then I considered how I felt perched, and thought maybe it’s like the eagle perched on a craggy cliff. Then I considered my arms and wondered if it could be that they were wing-like. It made me happy to be an eagle for a minute or two. A favorite verse came to mind:

Isaiah 40:31. “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

March 24, 2017

The “rule of three” is a time-honored pattern in literature, scripture, and advertising. I find that when I write, subconsciously I am often searching for that third example. Three seems more powerful than two or one. When I write, I ponder, type, and delete over and over.

A master teacher once taught me to conclude lessons by asking: “What did you learn? What did you do? How did you feel?” Recently lesson plans moved from a 5-point LEARN model to a 3-step lesson plan:  What, Why, How. This shift is intended to tighten instruction for more explicit teaching. What are we learning? Why are we learning this? How do we do it?

Today I was introduced to another Three: Know, Do, Be. What do I know? What will I do? What will I be? This group of 3 seems very powerful to me. It frames the idea that what I know affects what I do and how I walk in the world–what I will become. To me this is hopeful. This idea matters. This is worth all my daily effort. Knowing, Doing, Being. Another form for faith, hope, charity.
 

March 23, 2017

My slice of life thought journey took its own path today. It has to do with the idea of wanting. During our second grade team meeting we were discussing introducing persuasive writing and our hopes for how the unit would go. One of the teachers brought up the question of elevating the work to go beyond “getting someone to buy me what I want.” The discussion went to asking, “What are things that 2nd graders can show they care about that would be motivating to write about?” We talked about whether 2nd graders would respond to approaches that would lead to topics related more to social justice. What would be stepping stones to developing the skills of persuasion while also fostering a sense of “what could we do to persuade others to act for the good of our class, our community, our world?”

It was a rich and robust conversation, and it made me think about children in general, children at my school, and even my own children. All children want things. I think I’ll even say, all people want things. Is it “bad” for kids to want things? Should we judge whether someone’s wants are worthy of wanting? That’s way too big a question for this moment, but I do remember my own children being very aware that our family didn’t have the “stuff” that their friends had. They wanted. Sometimes there was begging, cajoling, and pleading, even whining. We lived through it and even learned a few things along the way. Somehow we learned that wanting didn’t mean we were lacking.

Another twist on wanting. Tonight an essay in Naming the World (edited by Bret Anthony Johnston) caught my attention. “The Importance of Being Envious,” by Tom Robbins addresses the effect of reading on writers. Don’t we write because we want to say something? How many of us have read a phrase or paragraph and felt “oh…I wish I had said that?” Or, “that’s exactly right?”  He says it’s writer-envy. It’s motivating. It makes us want to try again to craft words into powerful language.

In Robbins’ words: “Yes, we should never underestimate the valuable role that sheer envy plays in the creative process. Whereas in a romantic relationship jealousy is stupid and destructive, as a lubricant of the verbal brain machinery it can be highly effective.  It’s elementary: you read a few pages (somethings a few paragraphs or even a line or two will suffice) of work of which you are in awe, and in minutes you’ll find yourself motivated–burning!–to try to compose passages of equal merit. . .By no means is this a case of competing for fortune or fame. . .In merely attempting, with every muscle in your envious psyche, to climb to that elevation–to be that inventive and amusing and tough and daring and true–you may well have mooned the drab angel of mediocrity, and if nothing else you will have let loose your juice.”

I know I’m just barely writing my way into this and many other topics, but I appreciate (so much!) this forum in which to try. Many of you have sparked “writer-envy” in me which really means I admire your work so much.

Time for bed.

 

 

 

March 22, 2017

I stayed up too late last night, so I was tired this morning. My husband began my day by picking up mid-sentence, it seemed, with a difficult conversation we had started last night.

I had reluctantly agreed to be the fox for Fairy Tale Day (our Kindergarten celebration) and was so afraid I’d forget my costume that I forgot to take my computer to school. Wearing costumes and being playful makes me anxious. Truth.

I work with a challenging first grader who was even more resistant to reading today than usual. After she interrupted me for the tenth time, I sent her back to class early feeling like a bad teacher.

It seemed like there was one in every group today who got on my last nerve.

I ate by myself and tried to calm down. The afternoon wasn’t much better. Chocolate didn’t help.

So when the bell rang, I shut my door and attacked the pile of papers on my desk.

I may have had a rotten day, but at the end of the day I’m proud I went out of my comfort zone and was a pretty good fox. Want a ride across the river?

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