Monday, September 23, 2013

In defense of graphic novels

Front CoverI was taught about the usefulness, accessibility, and impact of graphic novels during my master's program, and got to witness a bit of that effect in my classroom.  Now that I'm in the library, I was pleased to have three great graphic novel moments last week! I saw one student waiting in the checkout line with an Artemis Fowl book, and commented on how much I liked the series. He said he had read and liked the graphic novel, which is why he was checking out the book. (Yay!) Then another student came in who was reading Rick Riordan's 

Front CoverPercy Jackson and the Olympians series, and was bummed because the last book was still checked out. I asked if he had ever read the graphic novel for The Lightning Thief--he hadn't, and was happy he had another book to explore for the weekend. Then a teacher came in for her fairy tales we had pulled for her, and I asked if she had read 
Front CoverRapunzel's Revenge(Dean Hale, Shannon Hale, Nathan Hale); after booktalking it and suggesting how it could be used for enrichment/ critical thinking, she checked it out as well. Whooohooo!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Summer's slip-sliding away...

Yep, two days into August, and I can feel my summer days coming to an end...

I especially like Paul Simon's lyrics: "You know the nearer your destination/ The more you're slip slidin' away".  Those final days of summer break just zoom by in the blink of an eye, as I scramble to whittle away at the gargantuan to-do list I made for myself back in May, when I was dreaming of those days I would have under my command, setting my own schedule and answering only to myself...

Well, that's only partially true.  Teachers know that summer is more of a "catch-up" time than one of relaxation.  Catching up on needed appointments, networking with other teachers, finding new resources for the classroom, finally getting to read for fun and learning (because how can we teach that reading is fun unless we do it ourselves?).  Yes, I had the occasional free day, but there was still laundry and cleaning and shopping.  And napping...oh, how I love my summer naps!

So I didn't get the crochet projects finished.  I didn't do as much professional reading as I would have liked (but I have done a lot of reading for fun!).  We did have a garage sale, and I have gone into my new library a few times to get my bearings and get to know some of my new colleagues.  I've attended two more trainings and went on my first leadership team retreat.  I even managed to get my daughter and I refitted for new retainers, and I have a decent tan line from swimming a bit.

And yes, I'm still reading!  I've got three books on deck now:  one on women's health (nonfiction), a grownup novel, and I'll be starting Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein as soon as I post this blog.  I still have a few free moments at my disposal, and what better way to spend them, than with my feet propped up and my nose in a book?  Read on, my friends; summer's not over yet!   

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hello, again! How are things going?

Just so you know, I was shocked, too, by the date on my last post.  May 3rd--what?  I could have sworn I had posted something since then!

Well, I had--on my professional blog.  And it was pretty big news, too--I got a job as a librarian!  You can read the details and my first feelings about it there.  I'm still getting used to the idea that I am now a librarian; my son is helping by reminding me at least once a week, usually couched in a witty comment (he's getting good at those, being fifteen and all).

So, what else have I been doing besides getting a new job?  Well, since the last post, I have:

  • wrapped up another year of teaching, 
  • moved my daughter back from college for the summer, 
  • told everyone I knew that I get to be in a library next year,
  • visited with the outgoing librarian,
  • spent face-to-face time with friends,
  • spent a lot of time on Facebook catching up with old friends,
  • spent a lot of time on Facebook playing Candy Crush (omigosh, it's addictive!),
  • read a LOT of other people's blogs, and commented on them,
  • taken a lot of naps on the couch,
  • totally rearranged my craft room shelves, and organized/ purged a lot of supplies,
  • crocheted a bit,
  • gone swimming in my neighbor's pool and walked along the hike-n-bike,
  • gone to two workshops already,
  • shuttled teenboy back and forth to appointments and horn lessons,
  • been READING BOOKS!!
Yes, I have been allowing myself to slip into book comas here and there this summer.  I spent an entire day reading Gone Girl (a grown-up bestseller), picked up a couple picture books from the library including 

 Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Busa Bluebonnet Book by John Grandits, and old fantasy from Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea.

I've read more than half a dozen books since June 1st, motivated by a group I formed on Facebook of like-minded friends who wanted to read more this summer and share reading experiences, too. We've posted intended reading lists, changed them based on each other's reviews and abandonment of books that just don't fit, and talked about our reading styles (I tend to skip around sometimes!).

Have I gone into a book coma every day? Heavens, no! Otherwise, all those other bulleted items in my list above wouldn't have gotten done. But I am reading at least an hour a day, which is more than I could manage most of the school year (though I'm anticipating reading a LOT more as a librarian!).

Any reading is good reading, in my opinion. So even if you have fifteen minutes waiting on your music lesson, or can't quite seem to fall asleep when you hit the pillow, or you need an excuse to avoid doing another load of laundry--grab that book, and READ! Oh, and have fun doing it, IS summertime, after all!


Friday, May 3, 2013

Just call me Calpurnia!

So I FINALLY got around to reading my graduation gift!  It's been less than a year since I received it, so compared to some of the books in my Mt. Everest of a to-read pile, it had a lot less dust on the cover!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly was just a hoot to read.  It was given to me by my friend and colleague Mary, who is a history buff and reader extraordinaire.  It's a used edition in perfect condition, signed to a Mister John Sexton by the author herself.  Jacqueline Kelly is a local lady, residing both in Austin and in Fentress, Texas, the location of the leading young lady of her book.  Ms. Kelly is also a transplant, hailing from New Zealand, with several degrees to her name.  You don't become a lawyer AND a physician without some love of knowledge and learning, and she communicates those through the main character, Calpurnia Tate.
Calpurnia is an 11 year old girl living in rural Texas, fifty miles from the Austin capital, in 1899.  The middle child of seven, and the only girl, she is a nature-loving budding scientist before her time.  Luckily, she has a grandfather who is a member of the fairly new National Geographic Society, and he supports her efforts in forging a new path for herself.  There isn't a "pat" ending to the book, but you just know that Calpurnia is destined to be a scientist and explorer in her own right.

I connected with Calpurnia in two ways.  First, I am a lover of learning.  In school, I loved reading, biology, algebra, and art.  I couldn't decide what field I liked best, which is one of the reasons I became a teacher!  The other connection I made was with the snow scene in the final chapter.  I had a hard time coming to terms with adult responsibilities when I turned eighteen, until a freak snowfall in March 1984 in El Paso changed my mind.  I don't want to give too much away!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a lovely read, especially for teachers of girls and of science.  If I was in a general ed fifth to ninth grade classroom, it would certainly be on my read-aloud list.  If I were a science teacher, there are passages I would certainly share with my class to spur their curiosity and observation skills.  As a history teacher, it would be a good start to a discussion of gender role expectations of that period as compared to the present.

A big thumbs-up for this book, and an even bigger thank you to Mary for giving it to me; it's a keeper!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A little of this, a little of that

Ooops, I've been reading, but forgetting to blog about it!  I finished a book a couple of weeks ago, and read a picture book right after...and immediately began thinking of connections between the two.  (We ask students to do this all the time--try and make connections between books they've read.)

The "grownup" book I finished is called Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert's Search for Spiritual Community, by Enuma Okoro.  It's about a well-educated, well-traveled, deeply spiritual woman looking for a church community to call home.  I'm fascinated with people's spiritual journeys, particularly those of women, and this book called to me with her story.  It wasn't a fast read for me, but it was enjoyable and thought-provoking.  Ms. Okoro and I share similar religious backgrounds, so I was able to connect with the book in many ways.  

After I finished Reluctant Pilgrim, I read one of my latest purchases, Lemony Snicket's   The Dark, illustrated by the award-winning Jon Klassen.  Laszlo is afraid of the dark, and tries to keep it at bay...until one night, it visits him in his room.  What happens next is an explanation of why we need the dark, and an unusual way it helps Laszlo.  With Klassen's trademark spare illustrations, the story opens the door for lots of discussion about the dark and other scary things that trouble children.

Both Reluctant Pilgrim and The Dark talk about the light and dark; the former, in the spiritual sense, and the latter, the stuff that hides behind doors and curtains.  In both books, knowledge comes from darkness, and we know what light is because of the dark.  Both Okoro and Laszlo come to terms with the dark, whether it's the dark night of the soul that Okoro finds herself in at times, or Laszlo's literal darkness; both don't seem so scary anymore, since the light is always a step, or night, away.  

I didn't plan to read these books together, but I'm glad I did.  It was like reading the Cliff Notes on a tough classic novel after poring over the unabridged edition; the picture book put the grownup book into perspective.  What a lovely coincidence!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 31: Lessons learned

Today marks the end of two challenges I assigned myself this month--the Slice of Life Challenge to blog each day during March, and the Oprah/Chopra 21-Day Meditation Challenge, listening to guiding thoughts and meditating each morning for the last three weeks.

How nice that these goals were met today, Easter Sunday, smack dab in the season of spring and rebirth and new beginnings.  Maybe that's why I'm hesitant to pronounce these challenges as done, met, checked off the list.  Instead, I feel like I've learned a few things to carry me forward.  

Not that I'm feeling all fired up, ready to take on the world.  In my mind, spring is a gentle season, filled with pleasant birdsong, soft rains, breezes and buds just pushing out into the world.  That's how I feel--tender nudges to make small but important changes.  No raging like a hot summer thunderstorm here, barreling out of the gates with missions to accomplish.  Lord knows, I've already got plenty of backlog on my to-do list at work and at home!

So what have I learned?  On writing:

  • It is hard to write.  Hard to get thoughts down on paper in a way that makes sense and flows and says what I want them to say.  Hard to know what to put in and what to leave out.  Hard because  what I may be feeling strongly about in the moment may not be appropriate for the forum I'm writing in.  Hard because I'm ending sentences in prepositions, and that bothers my inner grammar police, but the proper way doesn't sound any better.
  • I like getting feedback.  I can be a feedback junkie...and I'm not sure that's a good thing.  Sometimes it should just be enough to get it down and put it out there.  Which leads me to my next thought--
  • I feel uncomfortable using a blog as a diary.  I really enjoy sharing stories of my past, little snippets of activity like birthdays and baking.  And while some of the best feedback I got was on posts in which I bared my felt kinda weird putting them out there for such a broad audience.  Maybe it's because this is really my blog about reading, and this challenge brought out much more that that.  I'll consider having a separate blog if I attempt this challenge next year.
  • Writing is hard.  Or have I said that already?
Lessons on meditating:
  • Ten minutes is a long time to focus on being still and thought-less.  It helped to have a daily mantra to bring me back from intruding thoughts, but the thoughts kept coming.  
  • I really look forward to my meditation time in the morning.  I've always felt kind of guilty for spending most of my pre-dawn alone time playing games on Facebook.  Meditating for some of that time feeds my spirit, instead of exercising my brain cells (my excuse for game playing).  Since I've heard that both can ward off signs of aging, I'm going to try and continue my meditation practice before squeezing in those rounds of Candy Crush.
  • Having someone else--or something else--time the meditation is awesome.  I've had a folder full of timed meditations on my desktop for ages...I'm finally going to get around to using them!
So there are no earth-shattering conclusions, no major breakthroughs coming out of this month.  Just a nod to myself for stepping up to these challenges, and a plan to take what I've learned and move forward with it, one babystep at a time.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 30: The zen of baking

It's been about three months since I last made roll-and-cut sugar cookies.  Truth be told, they're kind of a pain to make, with all the steps it takes to get from mixer to decorated cookie.  For some reason, though, the baking bug bit me this weekend, and I decided to make a batch for our Easter dessert.

I love Penny's Roll and Cut Recipe from Cookie Stories by Penny McConnell and Kathy Sutton.  It consists of a no-chill dough that, as the authors claim, "cuts like a dream".  I added fresh lemon zest and juice to make them taste spring-y, and cut out egg and flower shapes.  

The recipe calls for six cups of flour, and makes dozens of cookies (a fact I seem to forget each time I make the recipe, when it's already too late to cut it in half).  Pretty soon I was in my "baking zone":  flouring and re-flouring the counter as I cut out the shapes, placing them on my silicone-mat-lined baking sheets, re-rolling the scraps to cut more.  Each batch takes nine minutes in my oven, which means I'm turning the sheets every four-and-a-half minutes.  One sheet is in the oven as I'm filling the emptied, cooled sheet with the next batch to go in.  

As the last of the cookies slide into the oven, I realize two hours have passed.  My kitchen meditation done, I wipe down the counters, dump the bowls, spatulas, and cutters into the sink, and wait for the final beep of the timer to sit down and rest...until it's time to make the royal icing and decorate them.

Not my best work...but I don't think my family will mind!

Friday, March 29, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 29: The taste that takes you back

It's dangerous to go grocery shopping on a half-empty stomach.  But these days, it's considered a date for this old married couple we've become.  So off we went to buy food for the holiday weekend.

Halfway through the store, in the aisle with the salad dressings and ketchup, he reminds me that I wanted olives.  I get a jar, and my eyes wander over its neighboring products on the shelves.  There's another jar that catches my eye, full of cauliflower and carrots and red pepper pieces and celery.  Taking a glance at the label--some Italian surname--and reminding myself that I need to slip more veggies into my diet, I place it in the basket.

Fast forward through unloading groceries, making a flower arrangement, reading a bit, taking a nap, waking up to a phone call from my daughter, and then getting the munchies.  The veggies!  I spoon some out for a few bites...

...and realize that this is antipasti.  The antipasti from my childhood, and I'm sitting in a pizzeria off of the Via Domitiana, near the Lago d'Averno.  I'm listening to the grownups laugh and talk as I nibble at the vegetables and ignore the odd-looking meats and cheeses, waiting for my pizza margherita to arrive.  After dinner, if the grownups aren't too tired, I'll be allowed cappuccino served in a tiny white cup on a saucer.

Funny how a jar of pickled vegetables from an HEB in Austin, Texas can send me back to Naples, Italy--no airfare or time machine required.

My grandfather took this picture of my grandmother and our family in front of our house  in Naples, Italy, 1975.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 28: To widen the circle...or begin to circle the wagons

Compared to many people I know (and popular culture), I was the odd one out when it came to attitudes over two of my "big" birthdays.

I was not enthused about turning eighteen.  For weeks leading up to that milestone birthday, I would lie awake at night and unsuccessfully try to quell my fears over becoming an adult.  Being a grownup did not equate to freedom for me; instead, it meant huge responsibilities.  Deciding where to go to college and what to study, managing money and bills, becoming an informed citizen so I could make an educated vote in the ballot booth that all seemed daunting, not carefree and fun as many of my friends saw eighteen to be.  I literally cried over the loss of legal childhood status, and the only thing that snapped me out of it was getting snow for my birthday, an unusual event for March in El Paso, Texas.   For whatever reason, it lightened my mood enough to get me out of my funk and let me celebrate.

When I turned forty, I was over the moon.  I was in a good place; my family was strong, I was in good health, and I was happy in my job.  My life was fairly in balance.  I felt gratitude for many people in my life and the experiences they had shared with me, and so I wrote forty letters to both the living and the dead to thank them.  I bought flowers for myself every month that year.  Above all, I finally felt empowered.  I had lived through all that decision-making as an eighteen year old.  I had graduated from college, held a few jobs, married a wonderful man, borne children, buried a parent.  I had lived through losses and gains, and not just in my pants size.  I finally felt like I had enough life experience to completely own my opinions.  Don't get me wrong--my thirst for knowledge is still huge--but I knew that I had something to contribute, too.

What does this have to do with widening circles or gathering the wagons?  As I get older, I love the fact that my circles are widening, both in learning and influencing.  I have reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and their numbers span the globe.  The world wide web has opened up a treasure trove of information and connections with others that excites me to no end.

But when I find myself up against opinions that are so diametrically opposite, I am quick to entertain the thought of circling the wagons.  And I'm not talking politics; as long as you appreciate the freedoms we have in this country, I'll pleasantly (and passionately) debate opposing views without crying foul on our friendship. When it comes to matters of social justice and equality, when others' opinions weigh down my heart because they smack of discrimination, or blame and shame on victims--that's when I entertain thoughts of backing out of their circles.  But then I question myself; am I being too judgmental?  Should I seek to understand the others' opinions, and continue to try to maintain the connections?  Can I just agree to disagree on these matters and move on?  Or should I follow a popular line of advice to surround myself with those who lift my spirits and add joy to my life, forgetting the rest, because life is just too short for more drama?

So much for being the self-assured forty-something...guess it's back to being eighteen again.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 27: Too smart for my own good

My family attended a counseling session today.  For privacy purposes, I won't go into which one of us is the main client,  but I do think it's okay to share that we utilize counseling services because I believe there should be no stigma in doing so.  I will say that we are dealing with an ongoing issue that does not involve anything violent or  abusive or potentially damaging to our family relationship.  In fact, I think it's a sign that we're a strong family when we work together on problems, and know when to seek outside help when we don't know what to do on our own.

Whew!  Now that the disclaimer is presented, I want to write about three things I walked away with from today's session.  I'll be interested to see if any of it resonates with my readers, especially those who have also received counseling services--and of those, if any were teachers who have experienced the second topic. Here goes:

1)  Counseling is exhausting, mentally and physically.  I find this interesting, because as I previously stated, we are not working on horribly traumatic, gut-wrenching issues.  We simply have a problem and are trying to get to the root of the cause and fix it.  Discussing family dynamics and the issue at hand for an entire hour, without distraction, had me so worn out that I took a two hour nap this afternoon!  Or maybe, on second thought, it's the exercise of truly listening during that time that involves so much effort and concentration.  As a teacher, I tend to do more talking than listening (I'm working on that!).  This brings me to the next topic--

2)  I was told today that I know too much.  And I totally got what the counselor said.  I'm a trained educator and a trained parent (you don't have kids with amazing birth stories without being a trained parent!).  I've provided special education services, and been on the receiving end as a parent.  I parented and worked in a neonatal unit.  I've sat in on at least a thousand special education meetings for students--most of which involved behavior and disciplinary issues, written functional behavior assessments and behavior management plans, been trained in and facilitated play therapy as a parent.  My current paying job is back in the elementary special education setting.  I get to talk with licensed school psychologists and counselors on a daily basis.  It's tough to separate what you know and practice at work, from what you do and say as a family member.  In some ways that's good; I feel like I may have a bigger "toolbox" to utilize when problems arise.  In some ways it's not so good, because I come across as a know-it-all, even though I feel like I'm constantly saying that I don't know everything.  

Basically, I need to learn that even if I think I know what will work in a given situation... sometimes I just need to shut up, listen, and let someone else step in, step up, figure it out, take over...I need to let go.

3)  I love my family.  I love that we trust each other to deal with problems head on, in open discussion, from a supportive stance.  As I looked around the counselor's office today, I had to smile.  We've created a wonderful family, and it just keeps getting better.  My heart is swelling with joy and pride as we take this journey together.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 26: Three things

Disclaimer:   I  apologize to my Facebook friends for cross-posting the first item.  But it is very important to me to say it, because I'm a person who believes in gratitude, even when it comes from across cyberspace.

Three Thoughts for Today

1) I was really, I mean really, feeling heavy-hearted over something today, and not sure how or if I should do anything about it. (See my previous blog post.)  And then I read some people's comments on another blog that I found exceptionally positive and powerful. They so eloquently, diplomatically, and intelligently debated the naysayers and haters that I felt they were speaking for me as well. And now I feel better. I am so glad that others can find their voice when I cannot.

2)  A few of us have been feeling "off" at work, in a general state of unease.  A mailroom discussion at the coffeepot yielded insight from a colleague:  When the wind is blowing (literally) as much as it has been around here lately, it stirs up more than pollen and dust.  It seems to stir up our thoughts and feelings, too.  This is exactly the state I've been in, and yes, it has coincided with the wind gusts!  Hmmmm...

3)  The almost-full moon is absolutely gorgeous outside my back window this evening.  Breathing in anger and fear, breathing out soothing, healing peace.

Wishing you a peaceful, relaxing evening.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 25: Has the well run dry?

Here we are on Day 25 of the Slice of Life blogging challenge...and I'm worried that the well of inspiration is running dry.  

Maybe it's because I'm feeling whiny today, and I don't want to put readers through that.

Maybe the Muses want me to feel like my fourth grade writers who struggle.  Do they feel the same constraints I do, afraid to empty themselves on the paper for fear of reprisals? Sometimes I feel like all I write about is cutesy, beating-around-the-bush stuff, when I really want to scream and rant and vent about what is weighing on my soul.  But I have to keep my audience (and potential audience) in mind, so I hold back.  Do the students feel the same way?

Between my previous job running special education meetings at our district disciplinary center, and my current training to be a librarian, I have become almost paranoid about what I put on paper for public consumption.  Forget about the First Amendment; I've become my own censor.  Is this diplomacy, or repression?  Am I a coward for worrying about the repercussions my posts may have on my current or future employment?  Or am I just following what I've been taught to teach in information literacy and digital footprinting, to be wary of how I represent myself in cyberspace?

Can I handle writing my truth?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 24: The card section

Let's take a look at the list.  First stop, health and beauty section on the left for teenboy's Vitamin C gummies and college girl's Q-tips.  Oh, better pick up some contact solution while I'm here.  Hmmmm, sunblock for tattoos...that's new.  Should probably let Spyke know about that...

Okay, moving on.  Need a new whisk and spatula...nah, I'll get that at the next store, like their selection more.  On to toys...great, there it is, just what I was looking for.  Where's the list?  

There's the men section.  Look, Mario pajama pants! Teenboy could use those.  Now where are the packs of T-shirts...Come on, there have to be colors other than black and white!  Let's see, size and gray.  Any other colors in the men's section?  Wow, they carry hot pink!  Should, don't need another tee shirt.  Remember Suze Orman's talk on "The Sunday Morning Show" NEEDS, not WANTS as much as possible!

Okay, enough distractions, on to the Easter stuff...oh, wait, I could use a new pair of shorts to work out.  Light blue...oooh, like the length!  In the cart they go.  (Is that a need or want?  Oh, well, too late, moving on.)  NOW on to the Easter stuff.  

Chocolate eggs, check.  Marshmallow Peeps, check.  Jelly beans, Reese's miniatures, oh, and perfect, a sturdy cardboard basket for the college girl, in purple.  She can use that even after Easter.  Pretty glittery plastic eggs; yep, she'll like those.  Getting the Reese's eggs for myself!  This can't be all they have...need to check out the seasonal aisle.

Bingo!  Pastel M&Ms, gotta have those, it's tradition.  There's the Hershey's miniatures, and teenboy's favorites.  Cart's getting full of candy...nice chat with the lady in the aisle.  Teacher too, figures.  Let's girl said she could use pretzels and granola bars.  Check, and check.

Am I forgetting anything?  Oh, need to get cards.  One for college girl, one for teenboy, one for hubby...

Mother's Day.  They already have Mother's Day cards, right next to the Easter ones.  For a split second I start to inch over to take a look...

And stop.  I'm a motherless daughter.  I've been a motherless daughter for almost seventeen years.  The sharp twinge gripping my chest, I find the three cards I'm looking for, and head to the checkout registers.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 23: Happiness list

After writing about such intense feelings yesterday, both in my blogpost and conversations with friends, I felt I had to lighten my own mood a bit.  It helps to remember things that make me happy when I get riled up over injustices.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; just what comes to mind this afternoon:

  • Fluffy clean towels
  • Friends who leave me awesome unexpected gifts on my doorstep
  • My owl collection, growing by the day (partially because of aforementioned friends!)
  • My favorite pajamas, and spending a Saturday in them
  • A crochet project turning out better than I expected
  • Finishing dreaded tasks faster than anticipated
  • Access to adequate healthcare when needed, like right now, when my ears are protesting allergy season
  • Fun sparkly green nail polish
  • Healthy, yummy food to eat
  • The week-long jeans pass I "won" in the egg hunt at work; planning my outfits will be a snap next week
  • Professors who continue to encourage me past earning my degree
  • Social media, which allows me to stay in contact with friends all over the world
  • My awesome husband and children (who really aren't children, anymore...sigh)
  • Dancing with teenboy in the kitchen, to music only we can hear
  • Watching the neighbor's cat unsuccessfully stalk the birds in our backyard; he's a gorgeous creature!
  • Afternoon naps....which is where I'll be headed soon, after posting this and eating lunch.
To all my friends and new acquaintances visiting in cyberspace and the blogosphere--have a happy weekend!

Friday, March 22, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 22: If you want to know

If you want to know what's really going on in the lives of our nation's children, ask a teacher.

Now, I'm not talking about all teachers.  There are the token few whose bias may be way off course, due to a much-overdue retirement still not taken, the blatant power struggles they just can't seem to let go of, the ones who, for whatever reason, cannot find happiness in their profession.

No, you need to ask the ones who show up everyday because they want to, they need to.  The ones who dare to care.  The ones who may complain and vent and let off steam on their "bad days", but will turn around the next day and tell you the sweetest story about the one who drove them crazy the day before.  The ones who tell it like it is, but then tell you how they think it can be, and how it can be changed.  The ones who arrive early, stay late, wipe that nose and those tears, share their lunch, speak the language, cross those t's and dot those i's.  The ones who cry about the kids and with the kids and with their parents.  The ones who have high expectations that your kids complain about, but whom the kids hug the hardest on the last day of school and thank in their graduation speeches.  Ask these teachers about the real lives of their students, not the pundits who haven't spent weeks in a classroom in years. 

Oh, and then we have the bravest of the brave, in my opinion--the high school teachers.  They work with the attitudes, the bravado, the often addled confused state of those we call young "men" and "women".  Kids, still, with child hearts in grown up bodies.  Kids who can accomplish great things and make life-changing choices with those grown up bodies.  These teachers are the last line of defense, among the last truly attentive adults who will care for our children before they are thrust into that big scary land of adulthood, full of promises and pitfalls.  

There are certain lines I can't cross as an elementary teacher, social mores and developmentally inappropriate topics that I cannot and will not discuss with my "babies".  But high school teachers have the whole can of worms to deal with.  And I am thankful for those teachers who step up and not only allow those cans to pop open, but let the worms wriggle out, to be displayed and dissected and discussed.  To support those child hearts in grownup bodies as they see, some for the first time, the sometimes ugly truths that we, as faulty human beings, create for ourselves and others.  

If the kids are lucky, the ugliness gets scrutinized from the eyepiece of the telescope, looked at from afar with solutions born of objectivity and humanity, history tests that don't have to be repeated to pass this course called life.  

Sadly, in this day and age, there are many child hearts in grown up bodies who are at the other end of the telescope, who have experienced ugly truths.  Many more are extremely aware of the ugliness, but have no forum to process their thoughts and feelings about it.  For all of these kids, teachers can be their lifeline, their validation, their rescue.  Classrooms can be the place to hack their way through the confusion and access compassion and clarity.  

The teachers who are brave enough to venture through this territory with dignity and intelligence, guiding their students without judgement to that place where students can guide themselves to a brighter future for all of us...These are the teachers who know the hearts of our children.  These teachers have my utmost respect and admiration.  

Go ahead, ask a teacher.  I dare you.  Be careful, because you may not like what you hear.  But please, please, be thankful for whom you hear it from.  Because I'm guessing you would much rather hear it from a teacher, than from your local law enforcement officials or news media.        

Thursday, March 21, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 21: The books are calling...

The book piles are calling, taunting me.  

How dare you call yourself a book lover, teacher, librarian-wanna-be?  There is DUST on this pile!  Deal with us, already!

C'mon, finish R.J. Palacio's Wonder-- everybody but you has read this, what's taking you so long!  What about that just-for-fun read next to your bed, Pale Demon by Kim Harrison?  You like your witches and elves and pixies and magic!  And hey, didn't you say you were going to start over on the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, after you stopped halfway through book five a few years back? 

Oh, and don't even get us started on your self-help pile.  The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz has been languishing by your bedside, with a dozen pages read, for over a year.  Geneen Roth's Women Food and God--how long has that been sitting by the living room chair?  And that organize now! by Jennifer Ford Berry has us laughing nonstop as it hides under a pile of old greeting cards on the corner of your desk.  Remember your Lenten resolution to eat better?  Don't you think you should at least look at your copies of The Belly Fat Cure by Jorge Cruise, or The South Beach Diet:  Good Fats Good Carbs Guide by Arthur Agatston?  Um, they just might have some useful info...just sayin'.

Let's not forget your professional reading.  You didn't buy When Readers Struggle:  Teaching that Works by Fountas and Pinnell just to scan through it during training.  What about those great Jeff Anderson books on writing, Mechanically Inclined and 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know; bet they'd be coming in handy during this month in which you're spending all this time blogging...

                                                                                                  ...instead of reading!

My reply to my book piles:

Nanny nanny boo boo!  I just finished reading Wonder, so THERE!!!  And now on to that "women and food" book....where did I leave it....okay, where are the reading glasses...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 20: Keeping it short

Hail storm
Up at two-a-m
Big yawns
Back to sleep

Up again
More big yawns
Dark drive
Grateful for coffee

                                                      Busy day
                                                      Hard working students
                                                      Friendly teachers
                                                      Leave for meeting

                                                      "Old" colleague
                                                       Some catching up
                                                       Making plans
                                                       Son now ready

                                                        High school
                                                        Classes are chosen
                                                        Meeting over
                                                        Back to work

                                                        Faculty meeting
                                                        Lots of celebrations
                                                        IEP updates
                                                        Back to desk

                                                        Sub planning
                                                        New schedule printed
                                                        Eleven hours
                                                        More big yawns

                                                         Back home
                                                         Immediately in pajamas
                                                         Head hurts
                                                         Leftovers for dinner

                                                         Facebook time
                                                         Chatting with son
                                                         So ready
                                                         Warm comfy bed.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 19: Snapshots of Spring Fling

Arriving a half hour late, I feel the bass before I hear it, seconds after swiping my badge to get in the side door.  Ignoring the voice that says to skip the dance and go work in my classroom, I slip inside the cafeteria.  My fluid-filled, just-checked-by-the-doctor-this-morning ears are vibrating with the pounding beat of Chubby Checkers singing "The Twist".

The cafeteria tables have been pushed to the sides, and the floor cleared for the dance.  Lights are down, disco ball is up, and the stage is filled with DJ equipment.  I sit at the outskirts and people-watch.  The principal is called up to the front to demonstrate "The Wobble".  Dozens of children of all ages, parents, and a half dozen teachers are joining in the fun on the dance floor.  The Wobble then turns into "Beat It", and I watch one mother video her child with her phone.  Another joyfully dances with her little girl in a party dress, their eyes totally focused on each other, smiles beaming through the strobe lighting.  Then everyone is dancing "Gangnam Style", including the dad in the back, lassoing the air.  A mom at the front is getting dancing lessons from the middle school siblings, former Armadillos themselves, returning to their elementary home to party.  I say "hey" to one of my students and a few parents who frequent my crosswalk. 

One of my colleagues motions me to join in, and I point to my ear and shrug, shaking my head as she smiles and continues dancing.   Try as I might, I'm just not feeling the beat tonight.  After quietly singing along to fun.'s "Some Nights", I decide to slip out the same way I came in.  The walk to my car is quiet, the radio intrusive and immediately silenced as I drive the short way home to an early bedtime.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 18: Old habits die hard...or not at all

I like my job.  I have wonderfully supportive administrators, and colleagues who make me smile and laugh and listen to my successes and frustrations.  There is purpose to my work, a legacy in the attempt to not only educate scholars, but to instill a thirst for knowledge that will continue long after they leave my classroom.  I most likely will never know the fruit of my efforts, a decade or more away in the harvesting.  But I still strive to fulfill the duties of my chosen career.

And it makes me tired.

A little background knowledge:  until three years ago, I had not performed the duties of teaching for seventeen years.

Seventeen years.  It's a long time.

Three of those years were spent tutoring.  Another three found me on twelve-hour weekend shifts in a neonatal unit, first as an assistant, and then as a desk clerk.  For the remaining eleven years, I re-entered the education workforce as a half-time ARD facilitator for the district DAEP.  Paperwork was my life, along with running ARD meetings on my assigned campus and attending the same at the secondary campuses in our district.  I really liked that job, too.

And then I got surplussed; my job went away.  My children's elementary alma mater was gracious enough to scoop me up and rescue me.  I was hesitant at first.  It had been seventeen years since I had been a teacher.

Seventeen years.  Have I mentioned that it's a long time?

I didn't think I'd last through year one, especially since I (foolishly?) took on graduate school at the same exact time.  But I did.  And I survived the next year.  Got my MLS, even.  And now, by all accounts, I will survive this third year.  It seems that teaching is like riding a bike; you never really forget how to do it.

Except now, the job is different.  There is more paperwork, more meetings, more professional development.  And I now have a household with children, four schedules to juggle, more laundry to be done.

So I'm tired, but it's a good tired.  After Spring Break, I was going to try to break my habit of napping after my workday.  But ten hours just had me pooped.  

I guess napping, like teaching, is a habit of mine that is just not going to die anytime soon.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 17: Luck o' the Irish

Lucky us, Seamus visited the house last night!

Seamus is the leprechaun who visits each St. Patrick's Day, leaving behind gold (chocolate) coins for our children to discover.  We have a small decorative cauldron that he pulls out and labels with the number of coins to find.  This year, there were 64 coins left by the leprechaun; only 63 have been  accounted for.  

Maybe the Easter Bunny will find the missing coin.

We like St. Paddy's Day in our home.  My mother was full-blooded Irish, so there were always cards exchanged with her side of the family for the holiday.  My husband, knowing my love of the color green and this celebration, proposed to me on March 17th with an emerald and diamond ring.  And don't even try to pinch me; I have two green Irish tattoos, a four-leaf clover in honor of my mother, and a Celtic triquetra knot to celebrate my 39th birthday.  (Threes are big in my life; that's a post in itself.)

What it really boils down to is love of tradition, and tweaking traditions to fit our family.  My family celebrated the day with the wearing o' the green and cards; we added the leprechaun visit when our own children became ambulatory.

We are lucky to have these traditions, and lots of others surrounding holidays, bedtime, and daily demonstrations of  love. 

We are lucky to have each other.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 16: Musicoincidence

I know there is no such word as "musicoincidence."  

But there should be.

If music is a regular part of your life, be it via radio, CD, MP3 player, iTunes, smartphone, or TV, then musicoincidence has had to happen to you at least once, right?

Musicoincidence by my definition is the moment when the song you hear matches exactly what you need, emotionally, spiritually, motivational-ly.

I find this happens a lot when I walk with my MP3 player.  Just when I feel bored or stiff or want to head for home, a song pops up that gives me just the burst of energy I need.  Yes, I know I chose the music mix to facilitate walking, with appropriate beats per minute, peppy tunes, etc.  But not every song "hits it" just right every time, and I have the player on shuffle.  So it's got to be musicoincidence when that happens.

When riding in the car yesterday during a family road trip, a string of songs that I love to sing came on the radio.  Even though it had been a great day, I was in a mildly funky mood because of lack of sleep and a sore back.  Singing along with the radio (which, thankfully, my family tolerates) lifted my spirits and got me back on track.

Today, after spending time in guided meditation that focused on the body being perfect and whole just the way it is, I got an email link from a different site with embedded music.  It happened to be Indie.Arie's "Video", a song about being comfortable in one's own skin and doing what feels good in your soul.  A great musicoincidence, to be sure--and now the song is part of my music library.

And just because I'm feeling especially musical today, here's another song from my high school years about the power of music.  Hoping you have a day filled with musicoincidences!

Friday, March 15, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 15: What makes me different

Today's prompt comes from Sandra Cisneros:

"Write about what makes you different."

This is something I've had to think a lot about the last two years, as I've pursued a library position.  It is a question that comes up frequently in interviews--"What makes you uniquely qualified for this job?"  I struggle with this, because I know that in most ways, I am not unique.  There are others who have degrees in Library Science, who have taught in public schools, who yearn for a place among the stacks.

I've come to the conclusion that while we all have shared experiences, most of us do not share them in the same combination.  The human population is like a huge, complicated Venn diagram, with all kinds of crazy intersections, yet very few (if any?) completely congruent lives.  The ways I distinguish myself are not unique, but the combination just may be the only one out there.  Could I find someone who shares these life events and accomplishments:

  • born in France, as a military Brat (lots, I'm sure)
  • spent half their childhood overseas (lots, I'm sure)
  • had a mother who was runner-up to Miss San Fernando (okay, maybe not so many)
  • ate sugar cane in Bangkok (lots, I'm sure)
  • played in a dead volcano in Naples, Italy (I know my Brat friends did)
  • experienced earth tremors in San Jose (I'm certainly not the only one)
  • licked the walls in the salt mine in Salzburg (definitely not the first or only)
  • watched missiles arcing through the sky over White Sands at night (lots of Raytheon kids shared that experience)
  • graduated as valedictorian from high school (there's one at every school!)
  • got a degree in special education (there were 200 of us that May, at UT Austin)
  • met a guy at an Air Force base, got dumped, and then married his roommate (that happens to everyone, right?)
  • gave birth to a micro-preemie who is now thriving in college (different, but not unheard of these days)
  • gave birth to a child with three thumbs (there's a term for it--polydactyly--so no, not completely unique!)
The list could go on and on and on.  The experiences themselves are shared with so many people...but could I be the only one who's had them all?  Is that what makes me different?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

SOLC 2013 Day 14: Homecaring

The word prompt of the day was "care", and the first thought that popped into my mind was "homecaring".  

I'm not even sure where I first heard the term.  I remember there was a discussion about the difference between "housekeeping" and "homecaring".  I think the latter was used as motivation for doing household chores.  Doing laundry, cleaning the toilet, and loading the dishwasher aren't just things we do to maintain a house; we do them to care for our home and those who reside in it.  As I've often told my family, "Nothing says 'I love you' like clean underwear in your drawer."

Today, though, I'm paying attention to the connection between homecaring and caring for myself.  I've read time and time (and time) again that uncluttered, peaceful surroundings reduce stress.   And yet I continue to be a clutterbug.  I blame it on my upbringing as a Brat; since we tend to have no geographical home base (pun intended), our stuff becomes our home, the only physical reminders of our experiences.  And while I'm not at hoarder status--trash does get thrown away in our house, and the recycle bin has to be emptied several times a week--I've definitely accumulated waaaay too much stuff over the years.
The mountain of stuff I'm climbing today is clothes.  Switching out the fall/winter duds for spring/summer, I've come to the realization that I have more clothes than I can wear in a year.  

Deciding what stays and what goes just about paralyzes me.  I don't tend to buy trendy, and stick to a lot of solid colors, so I can't use the "it's out of style" reason to pitch most stuff.  I've also lost a lot of weight, and gained it all back, over the last six years.  Since I've lost the weight before, I'm convinced that I can do it again (and need to, for my health!), so I'm holding on to clothes within two sizes down.  

All this makes for a LOT of bins and bags and piles--which is now covering my bed, bedroom floor, and spilling out into the dressing area.  My husband has already nixed the idea of putting any of it in the garage (there's stuff to go through there, too).  I'm now wishing I was better at Tetris; it might help me find room for all of it.  

Five pieces of clothing have actually ended up in the discard pile.  Time to wade once more into the fray, and see if I can add to that amount.  I would like to sleep in my bed tonight!  And maybe, just maybe, it will seem a bit more peaceful, with less clutter to view from the pillow.