My classroom is not a quiet, orderly place.
Students are constantly moving, thinking, talking, reading and writing.
I do my best to help my students find success.



December 31, 2013

Blue Skies


The thermometer read 10 degrees this morning.  The driveway was covered with a dusting of snow.  Sunshine cascaded through the windows, and the sky sparkled a beautiful blue.

I bundled up and headed out to brush off the cars, push snow off the drive, and soak up the sunshine.  My nose stung from the cold, but the fresh air and sun inspired me.

This year has been filled with small and big challenges for our family.  We've laughed, cried, pouted and smiled.  We keep saying that we are finished with 2013, but some of the hardest times were the ones that made us stronger.  Some of the smallest events made us the happiest.  We look forward to a new, fresh year.

May your 2014 be filled with health, happiness and love.  Be grateful for every moment, small and big.

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers


December 17, 2013

Role Model

On Friday morning, I was late to pick up my 1st grade students from their classrooms.  Everyone was in the hall, lined up for our resource groups.  Uh-oh.

My fellow reading specialist, Michelle, was reading with another 1st grader, so I invited both groups to my room.  I was worried about the interruption to the usual routine, but it didn't phase them.  Everyone found a spot and started to read after a quick conversation.  Then I pulled out the whiteboards and markers to try some word work.

"New markers...wow!"
"Can I use blue?"
"These are nice!"

We were happily writing words and practicing our vowel sounds when a 3rd grader (K) knocked at the door.  He's the kind of student who needs to "run an errand" to my room (or the office or another room) from time to time to keep his behavior in check.

I had heard that morning that his pet rabbit had died the night before.  Our staff believes that our students belong to all of us, so word traveled fast.  We knew the loss of his pet would cause K to have an awful day.

I invited K to sit at the table.  He told me he wanted to tell me a story.  I asked if he could help us with our word work before we talked.  He agreed, and we took turns dictating short words to the students.  He helped the students near him.

After a few minutes, I let the first graders give the dry erase markers a workout (read:  make a quick picture) while K and I talked about his pet.  He spelled some of the words (d-i-e-d) as to not upset the other students.  One student shared that his dog got a shot that made him sleep forever, but it was a quick contribution, and K looked a bit relieved.

The students asked if they could hear a book before they went.  One suggested that K read to them, so he did.  It was the cutest scene I have ever laid eyes on.  K read them I Spy Fly Guy, and the first graders had to keep reminding him to show them the pictures.  That made us all giggle.  When time was up, we all walked quietly back to our classrooms.

I snapped a picture of K reading to the students.  I plan to give it to him on Monday to show him how he looks as a role model.  It's not usually the part he plays.  I'm thankful that the first grade students were so flexible and accepting.  This was an experience I won't forget.

December 14, 2013

Book buddies


Ruth Ayers has encouraged us to CELEBRATE more often, so this week, I'm joining in!

As a reading intervention teacher, I work hard to grow readers in my classroom.  I always have more than a handful of students who tell me right away, "You know, I hate to read."

My response runs from "We need to find you the right kind of book!" to "I understand ... I'm no good at running, so I hate to run."

I encourage students to read at home everyday, but for a variety of reasons, it's something that doesn't happen.  Instead of being discouraged, I "hired" book buddies.

I visited two 4th grade rooms and described the book buddy position.  I encouraged students to sign up if they felt they could do a good job.

"Do I have to be a great reader?" one asked.
"No, you need to be a great listener," I replied.

I had to pull names from a hat when the volunteer list came back.  I was so tickled to see the long list of names.  My first and second grade students were impatient once they saw I had a list of names.

"Who do I get?  Is it a boy?"
"I can read with three girls, really!"
"Can't we start TODAY?"

This was our first week of reading with buddies.  I'm already seeing a difference in my resource students' confidence and stamina.  I won't beat myself up for not thinking of this sooner, but why didn't I think of this sooner?

December can be a stressful and hectic month.  I'm grateful to have something simple -- yet making a big impact --  to celebrate!

November 19, 2013

Breathe. Just breathe.

Read more Slice of Life posts at
Two Writing Teachers


Anna Nalick's song, Breathe (2a.m.), has been running through my head this week.

Especially the chorus:

'Cause you can't jump the track, we're like cars on a cable
And life's like an hourglass, glued to the table,
No one can find the rewind button, girl
Just cradle your head in your hand
And breathe, just breathe
Oh breathe, just breathe.
It's one of those weeks (months, years).

The more time I spend outside, the better I feel.
Sunshine warms the skin and the heart.
Frozen, clear air helps me to focus my thoughts and prioritize.

Working to keep ahead of the rolling boulders,
Attempting to be proactive,
Keeping my ears open and mouth closed.

Reminding myself that I am human.
Remembering to breathe.
Just breathe.

November 12, 2013

Spinning head = motivation

Oldest daughter is trying to make her college decision before the end of 2013.  She wants to put this huge, adult decision -- one that weighs on her heavily -- behind her so she can actually enjoy the remainder of senior year.

As we walked the first of the two final candidate campuses this weekend, I let the senior daughter walk ahead with her friend, taking in all the sights and information.  I lagged behind with my sophomore daughter.

We have focused much time and energy on my youngest daughter, helping her to be a confident person and student.  She has quite the "staff" at school (as we joke, but it's true) to help her be successful.  She dreams of nursing, or helping people in some way.  We dream that she will have independent academic and social skills to be able to study at a 4-year university, perhaps even far from home.

It's November, so it's prime time for me to be stressed and preoccupied.  I wasn't talking much during our campus walk.  Youngest daughter can talk about anything and everything, filling any dead air around (yes, she did inherit this skill from me!)

As we crunched the leaves on the path, youngest started to tell me how she plans to study nursing and dance at a medium or large school.  The conversation was fast-paced and all over the place.  She wants to have our trust that she will do her best.  She wants there to be lots of clubs and people going to football games.  She knows that the people at the disability office have to give her help. (I reminded her that she needs to seek accommodations). She also plans to make lots of friends and eat at all the different cafeterias and have a cool dorm room with lights.

Is your head spinning?  Mine was.  Her head was spinning, but her mixed up thoughts have turned into a spurt of motivation.

Yesterday we saw a campus that her sister liked, but youngest adored.  She begged for a sweatshirt.  "I can go here. This can be my college.  I need to do my work and focus in high school. College starts now," she explained.

Someone's highly motivated.  I'll take it!

November 5, 2013

Best friend

Read more Slices of Life at
Two Writing Teachers

Yesterday was my best friend's birthday.  Beth is the kind of friend that everyone needs in their life!

We met when we were four years old.  We lived on the same street, but I had to get across the street and walk past a few houses to get to her house.  Kindergarten was with Mrs. Maki.  We got to play "house", sing songs, and celebrate graduation with a pinata!

Our moms started a Brownie troop for us and many other girls.  We had great times playing with Barbies, riding bikes, and spending long hours on the swing set.  At the end of 4th grade, her parents found a new house in a town a few minutes away.  My parents were looking for a new house that spring, too.  The universe wanted us together... our parents (unknowingly) bought houses four lots away from each other on the same street!

Throughout the years, we've been very close, traveled in different circles, had a variety of other friends and interests.  This hasn't stopped us from picking right back up where we left off, every time we talk.

Beth is caring, kind and selfless.  She's organized, thoughtful, and gives you just enough of a push to get you going when you're stuck.  She can handle the most stressful situation with ease and poise.  You may think she's a pushover, but she's far from it!

Happy birthday to my best friend, 40 years and counting!  Thanks for always being there for me and my family.  You are a treasure!

October 29, 2013

The Dinner Dilemma

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers


It's hard to be married to a man who is a great cook and also loves to eat out.

Our kids definitely have opinions on what makes a great dinner:
  • caesar salad
  • beef tenderloin
  • baked potato with everything
  • sweet dessert
I'm lucky to remember to defrost some meat from the freezer and toss it into the crock pot with a can of condensed cream-of-something soup and some spices.

I'm not the person in the family who should be shopping, planning and preparing dinner.

The person who should works out of town 3-4 days per week.  When he gets home, cooking is the last thing on his list, even though he's been hanging in a town where the "fine dining" is Olive Garden.

Another force working against me ... the oldest teen has a job at a grocery store.  She spends hours checking out her favorite foods and snacks, taking mental notes about what we groceries we should have in the house.

What's a mom to do?  I'm capable of cooking with spices, creating rues from soups and sauces.  I know how to handle a meat thermometer, my oven and the grill.

I turned to Pinterest this year.

My cooking has not improved.  It's become more unexpected and experimental.

Maybe I'll make a list of some go-to dinners that the family likes and enjoys - (hahhahhahah) I wonder how many meals will be on this list.  Maybe I'll precook meals and keep them in the freezer.  Maybe I'll inspire my girls to take over dinner duty once in a while.

Then again, I may just stick to my favorite meal.  Eating out!

October 15, 2013

Building relationships


Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Last year, I worked with a group of 4th and 5th graders, all afternoon, in an intensive reading intervention program.  By May, the kids were exhausted, I was jumping out of my mind with stress.  There was no time to talk about books, and very little time to connect. We had to stay on task, work well in a group of eight, and push through.  We weren't having any fun.  At all.

This year, I have three of those students (now 5th graders) in a small group.  I started out the year excited to see them... forgetting how tough the end of last year was.  I let them know that I had picked them specifically to work with me - we would be working with a new intervention program, and we were going to be talking about books....ALL THE TIME.

I talked with them about writing about books in a journal.  They decided that each of them would pick a day to write:  Mon, Weds, Fri.  They were good about it the first week (especially after I gifted them a beautiful - yet inexpensive - new journal), and they are working to get back in the habit.

The girls are really trying their best when they come.  I am being patient and helpful.  I'm modeling and asking more questions.  I give them time to discuss what they are thinking while we read.  Some of our small but significant successes:

  • S has finished!!! reading THREE graphic novels (this is the same girl who announced "I don't like books" - while B gasped in horror - during our first meeting).
  • S has encouraged T and B to also read graphic novels (Babymouse and Smile top the list)
  • B has reminded S that we all need a turn to talk.  She is the model for waiting and not interrupting.
  • T is carrying many books (old habits die hard), but she is concentrating on reading Double Fudge and working hard to understand the story.
  • T is our lead note-taker. She understands how to find evidence in the text.  She helps S and B do the same in a kind way.
Today I was given a chocolate bar from S.  It even had a little bow.  I profusely thanked her.  Later, I wrote a thank you note to each of the girls, pointing out how they've been working hard and contributing to our small group discussions on books.

Does every day roll smoothly with these girls?  Nope.  Do we all want to accomplish the same thing?  Yes.  They know they are off to junior high next year, and there's not much time to become more confident and proficient readers.

I'm happy to help.


October 8, 2013

Trying to contain the chaos

Find more Slice of Life stories
(or post a slice!) at
Two Writing Teachers
I know, I know.

It's always been part of my life.

I bring it on myself. I claim that I can't find time to organize.

Well... that's not true.  I have the time, but

I do other (more fun!) things instead.

But then it starts to get to me.

CHAOS:  In the classroom

  • student materials in need of reorganizing (did take care of that today)
  • library ... half at home, most on shelves, most labeled, not quite in boxes... barely even touched
  • papers for a binder laying on top of the binder
CHAOS:  At home
  • the drawer full of bills and papers to be filed
  • the socks that need pairing and rolling 
  • the pile of sheets pulled from beds on Thursday
Since we survived a crazy homecoming week with two teenage girls,

I'll take every drop of sympathy I can get this week....


(can you hear the violin music in the background?)

  • "You need more sleep!"
  • "It's not that bad!"
  • "You've had a lot going on!"
  • "Do you feel okay?  You seem out of it."
Maybe after a cold beverage, a funny sitcom, a soak in the tub and a full night of sleep....

I'll feel a little better

Less whiny 

and more 

motivated

to clear a little bit of the chaos.

October 1, 2013

The Book Talk Tuesday Phenomenon

Slice of Life stories are hosted by
Two Writing Teachers


It's Tuesday!!
What's so great about Tuesdays at my school?
It's BOOK TALK TUESDAY!
This calls for a t-shirt with some reading celebrities!
Wonder Shirts
Then I meet Michelle (friend! colleague! best reading teacher!) at the computer lab for our school wide television broadcast.  One of us has written a script, but we usually don't practice.  (We love to ad lib... it's funnier for the other adults watching!)

"It's Book Talk Tuesday," announces one of our 5th grade anchors.
"I wonder what reading tip we'll learn today," muses the other anchor.

We've talked up books, BIG TIME, this year:

  • we discussed finding a good fit book
  • we talked about the SHINY Newbery and Caldecott medals
  • we shared how fun it is to READ a book (we read "It's a Book" by Lane Smith)
  • we've interviewed other teachers about their reading (thanks, Karen!)
On Tuesdays, when kids from all over the building (even the littlest bilingual kindergartners) see us in the hallway, their eyes light up.

"I saw you on the TV!"
"I like your shirt!"
"It's BOOK TALK TUESDAY!"

When we talked about the SHINY Caldecott and Newbery medals that adorn many books in our library, we added a little sparkle of sound... a little riff on the xylophone (psst... Michelle - that was brilliant!).  After school, I was standing across the room from three 5th graders.  One called my name.  As I looked over, the three of them mimicked playing the xylophone and in unison exclaimed, "SHINY!"

I have to admit, this Book Talk Tuesday bit is the highlight of my week.  Yes, we plan to get students on board and share their books, but right now I'm enjoying the conversations we are creating throughout the school.  Classroom teachers are using our BTT topics as a springboard for more book conversations in their classrooms.  We've built a bulletin board to track our topics.

All this... and we're just talking books.

I love it!

*****
P.S. Michelle talked about BTT on her blog back in September.  Enjoy her post here.

September 24, 2013

The True First Day

Read more Slices of Life at
Two Writing Teachers
The first day of school was August 21st for students and classroom teachers.

Since I'm a resource teacher, I helped students and parents find their classrooms, caught up on their summer activities and basked in the beautiful sunshine at lunch recess.

During the next few weeks, classroom teachers and students built community, learned routines, enjoyed learning together.

Resource teachers gave district assessments, diagnostic assessments, compared new students with current students, popped in for a few classroom read alouds, created and revised Instructional Planning forms, created data sheets and spreadsheets, and truly hoped their work positively benefits the classroom teachers and the students.

***
Today we welcomed primary students to resource groups.  I had to completely shift my thinking and function from whole-school and grade levels and data management to children.  Real children who greeted me with hugs and high-fives.  As I left classrooms, I heard tiny voices, "I can come, too!  Don't forget me! I'd like to go!"

Today I went from thinking and collaborating to listening and conversing.  One student remarked, "I have missed you SO MUCH!"

I really hope all our front-end, building-wide spreadsheets and forms will be seen as time well spent. It's hard to hear from a colleague exactly how many days of school we've had before resource groups began.  I don't want to "compete"... I really don't.  Our roles are vastly different and incredibly essential to student success.
May we all have a common goal.

Today was a good day.

September 17, 2013

Pretend You're an Armadillo


Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers


My oldest daughter asked me yesterday, "When is the last time you blogged?"
"August something," I replied.
"August 13th," she stated.  "Better get writing!"
Hmmpf.

****************************

School started on August 19th after my extended summer vacation (I left school in May to care for my hubby after surgery).  The school year has started out smoothly, but of course it's had its share of bumps.  Each event - from school and from home -  screamed to be a slice:

  • Book Talk Tuesday Rocks!
  • Screening Assessments Completed in Record Time!
  • Football Season Starts:  Poms!  Band!  Fun in the Stands!
  • Are Co-Taught Classes Right for You?
  • Can We Live Through the College Application Process?!?!?!
  • Is That an Ambulance in Our Driveway?!
(P.S. The ambulance was in our driveway, and all turned out fine!)

Whew.  Life sure does have some pretty big ups and downs.  It also have some little problems that feel like big deals. This brings me to the title of my slice:  Pretend You're an Armadillo

Photo from Texas Parks & Wildlife
Today I told my youngest daughter that she needs to pretend she's an armadillo.  We ALL need to feel more like the armadillo.  I have never met one personally, but I can see from the picture that armadillos have  a shell that looks like armor.  Armadillos avoid being eaten by predators because their shell protects them (but not from cars, according to my research).

My younger daughter (and myself, at times) has a pretty soft outer shell.  She easily lets teasing, bad feelings and the crummy moods of people around her permeate her attitude. 

My goal for her is to be more like an armadillo and let her outer shell deflect the negativity.  Of course, she has to learn how to do this in a positive way (especially when her friends pull a prank on her and she's unhappy).  I know this is a life lesson that many adults still need to work on, but I think we'll have some success soon.

Next time you feel negative feelings creeping towards your positive attitude... be an armadillo. 

August 13, 2013

Be awesome at something

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
It's the final week of summer.  I'm ready to head back to school for a new year, and I'm working to keep calm and positive attitude (I need to get a new bag of dark chocolate!!!!).

When we have our first staff meeting, our principal asks for one highlight from our summer.  Last year I mentioned that I had read about 50 books.  I had some great cheers from my table and amazed looks.  I wasn't trying to brag (remember, most are picture books and middle grade novels), but one colleague looked over and made a face.

"I read a lot of books, too."

I responded with excitement and encouragement to her statement, but I could see in her face that she thought I was bragging and seeing myself as an "elite reader" or something.

I really just like to read.

I'm not too much into fitness, I can barely cook a meal, my house is disorganized (until I slide all the papers into the drawer), and I like to shop a little.

I really just like to read.  I'm good at it and it's fun!

My plan for this year is to be part of helping my family, friends and students find what they are good at.  Then I will cheer them on, wholeheartedly.  I will help my developing readers figure out ways to get better at reading, even if they are wayyyy better at drawing, soccer or video games.  I will coach them to use their fine motor or large motor skills to approach a book with confidence.

We all can't be great at everything (my oldest daughter begged me to stop pinning dinner recipes --- they never turn out like the picture!) but we can be awesome at something.  We should share that talent with our circle of friends and colleagues in a positive way.

Now I'm going back to my book, Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Summer Vacation.

Happy _________ (insert what you love to do awesomely here)!

July 30, 2013

Bursting with Ideas


Read more (or link up!) Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
It's the two-week "rest" period before school starts.  No sports or summer school for my teens.

Ahhhhh.

My oldest daughter landed a job (hooray!) and will work next week, but this week is all about small errands, friends, reading and rest for the three of us.  My husband is happy to head off to work - he can't deal with too much unstructured time.
Since I've had more time to relax, I've spent more time on Twitter (I'm @ReadSoMuch) with my Personal Learning Network.  When people ask how that works, I tell them it's all about who you follow, and what you are looking for.

I'm looking for lots of ideas for my resource room and school reading community...

  • read alouds
  • organizational tips (!)
  • ways to engage kids (and teachers) in reading
  • how not to be overwhelmed by the Common Core State Standards
Now that I've had more time to research and dig into many tweets and blog posts, my mind is bursting with ideas.  The challenge I have is organizing (!) these ideas and figuring out how to best implement them. 

Some of my plans for the beginning of the school year:
  1. Bring my books from home (labeled with levels and organized (mostly!) into book boxes) and reboot my classroom library
  2. Ask teachers to share pictures of themselves from elementary school along with a book cover of their favorite read - this will share our "reading lives" (even if we were reluctant readers) with our students
  3. Use Evernote instead of a planner (but I will miss writing with my colorful pens!) to keep track of team meetings
  4. Journal many times during the week to empty my brain of stress and great ideas I want to capture
I'm happy to have plans, but I'm not stressing myself about any of them.  My plan is to avoid the back-to-school nightmares and ease into my 13th year of teaching.  

July 23, 2013

OLW update: Thrive

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Last week Stacey at TWT inquired about our OLWs, our One Little Word that we've chosen for the year as our mantra, instead of a full-out resolution.

My family's OLW for 2013 is thrive (here is the story of how we picked this word as a family).  We are two adults and two teenagers, and 2012-2013 has had its share of bumps in the road.  Nothing devastating, but challenging.

My husband, Jeff, had the challenge of heart surgery in May to correct a congenital defect.  He was doing great until a minor setback during his last week of leave.  His recovery was pretty easy (from my perspective - the one who didn't have surgery!), and it was tough to see him in pain the week before he returned to work.  Thankfully that issue resolved itself and he went back to work.  Jeff starts cardiac rehab later this week.  He's looking forward to redesigning his nutrition and fitness plan.  He's a man with a plan, and I know he will reach his goals and thrive.

My oldest daughter, Lindsey, is entering her senior year. (I will not cry. I will not cry.) It's a time of tough decisions (college!) and fun (fun!) and a full class load (no time for senioritis!)  I know she can balance all the school work, sports, activities, college apps and fun now that junior year is behind her.  I've offered to coach more and nag less in order to give her space to thrive.

My youngest daughter, Allison, will be a sophomore this fall.  She has her driver's permit (she's SUPER excited - like Mo Willem's pigeon).  We're hoping she can build her homework stamina and see school as more than a social scene.  She's got all the tools to thrive - she just needs to use them.

I am trying to walk and eat my way to a healthier body as well as organize my books, coach my girls (without nagging) and be my husband's number one fan.  I'm happy that I walked or biked over 50 miles in June (hooray!) and I'm eating more veggies and fruit.  I still spend a bit too much time nagging (old habits die hard) and I love surfing the 'net instead of exercising, but I'm not beating myself up about it.  I'm trying to thrive by living each day to the fullest - appreciating my good health, great books, the beauty of nature and all the positive people in my life.

Here's hoping you're doing your best to thrive as well!






July 16, 2013

Senior Summer


Read more Slice of Life stories at
It's summer.

Time for fun, sunshine, travel, reading, relaxing.

It's the summer before senior year.

Time for college visits, questions from family, decisions, job hunting, summer reading.

It's supposed to be a fun, carefree time

but

deadlines and decisions loom.

As the parent, I try to provide advice, but I find myself keeping my thoughts to myself.

I'm providing facts and guiding questions.

I'm not the one choosing a school or a job or when to do my summer assignments.

I don't have to live with the decisions... just the person who has to make them.

It's stressful to watch, but that's my place.  On the sidelines.  Coaching.

She's in the game.

July 2, 2013

Allison

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Tomorrow the baby of our family turns 15.  Wow. I don't know where the time has gone!

Allison is enjoying a busy summer full of classes, poms camp, hanging out with friends, dance, volunteering at swim lessons, and --most importantly -- driver's education!  Ask her when she is able to test for her permit, and I'm pretty sure she can tell you, down to the number of hours! As my second child in the driver's seat, I'm pretty calm about the process.  I even traded in my old SUV for a new crossover with better mileage and smaller frame.  It's new, but I'm not worried about dents or crashes.  As Allison reminds me all the time, she is an excellent lawn-tractor-driver at my parents' house.

I had the pleasure of watching Allison on stage last weekend as she performed in her 11th recital.  She's been taking dance classes since she was nearly 5 years old.  Back in the early days, she was extremely shy and didn't dance if it was observation day during class.  During the first performance of her first recital, she stood stock still on the stage, as her classmates "danced" next to her.  As I stood backstage in the wings, pushed right up to the curtain by the studio director, my heart ached for Allison.  I wondered what kind of mother puts her shy, wary preschooler on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers.  I was convinced she would be scarred for life.

Then something amazing happened.  Allison made eye contact with Nicole, a sweet girl in her class.  Nicole smiled and Allison smiled back.  They began to dance together.  I was astounded!  After the recital, two different moms came up to us to share that they had been rooting for Allison to begin dancing, and when she started dancing with her class, both moms had begun to cry.

Fast forward to last weekend.  My nearly 15 year old daughter confidently performed ballet, hip hop and contemporary numbers. She took care of her own hair, makeup and costumes.  She helped her friends prepare for their numbers.  My shy, wary dancer is now a teen with drive and ambition.  On Sunday night, after all the performances were finished, Allison shared that the stage and the dance studio are her "homes away from home."

Happy birthday, Alli!  You make us proud (and make us laugh) every day!

June 25, 2013

Summer Reading... so far







Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
I have been working through a few good books this summer, between cleaning out my daughter's room, washing lots of dishes (now I know why we like to eat out!) and purging the basement.  Here's a few I've enjoyed:

 (book cover photos from goodreads.com)

Summerland

My sister-in-law shared Summerland with me.  She devours adult fiction and passes them to me (we love Janet Evanovich's quick reads).  I liked this book as it wove together the small town of Nantucket, MA as three families deal with a teen car accident.  The writing floats between the past and present, and reveals so much about the characters.


Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1)Beautiful Darkness (Caster Chronicles, #2) The Caster Chronicles series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl caught my eye when the Beautiful Creatures movie trailer came out.  They tend to be a bit long, but the characters and the South Carolina town they inhabit are fun to read about.  The magical categories and boy/girl drama between Lena and Ethan keep me reading this series.  The next book in the series is Beautiful Redemption.  I may save it for winter reading.
Butter

 Butter is a morbidly obese high schooler who plays a mean saxophone and secretly pines for a girl in his class.  He's bullied by two guys, especially, and decides he should just eat himself to death.  Butter has some great mentors, but you can feel his desperation.  (Psst - it does have a happy ending, don't worry!)

The Book of Broken Hearts


The Book of Broken Hearts is my second read by Sarah Ockler.  I immensely enjoyed reading about Jude and her family (three intense sisters, hardworking mom, dad with early-onset Alzheimer's).  These characters are so real and dealing with such a raw, terrible disease.  There's great sparks and chemistry between Jude and Emilio.  He's a motorcycle repair kid from a family of heartbreakers who Jude is supposed to avoid.  Be prepared for heartache and tears in this story.  I couldn't put it down.

Liar and Spy

Finally, I need to go back and reread Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead.  This is my fave middle grade read this summer.  Georges, Mom and Dad downsize to an apartment building in New York.  Georges meets Safer and Candy, two homeschooled kids, who introduce him to the art of spying.  Georges deals with separation from his mom and a few bullies at school.  The ending makes you realize how much you missed while you read this book!  I didn't figure out the clues the author left, so I'm determined to reread and find them.  This would be a great read for those middle graders who crave a little mystery.

Happy summer reading!  I recommend setting up a Goodreads.com account and searching #bookaday on Twitter to find your next great read!


June 18, 2013

Progress

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Progress

We are all making progress in my house this June.  We have many different goals and dreams, but everyone is taking small and large steps.  

My youngest daughter (nearly 15) conquered her cluttered, tchochke-filled room and closet with just a little help.  She felt better about sending her stuffed animal collection to the basement or my classroom ("Mom, the kids need to have a Read With the Bears Day in your room!").
Her room is nearly ready for a fresh coat of paint, now that we've removed some furniture (*See my progress below) and cleared her space.

My oldest daughter (gulp, a senior) has been applying for a part-time job and deciding which colleges she needs to visit this summer before diving into the application progress.  I've tried my best to give her space and not nag her about the job apps (I'm failing miserably!).  She's asking lots of friends about where she should apply and has successfully answered hundreds of personality and work style questions on these 45-minute applications.

My husband is now at the 5-week mark after heart surgery.  He wasn't cleared to drive yet (UGH!) but he has helped me fix up a few items around the house with a screw gun and circular saw.  This week he plans to spend some time in his office and maybe work a touch on the basement.  He's determined to get into cardiac rehab ASAP so he can start working out.  

I took the bookshelf from my youngest's room and plan to house my home library collection in the basement.  I bought clear shoeboxes and started sorting a few shelves of books.  The basement floor is a total disaster, as I only work on this project when we have crummy weather.  I'm so glad that I've started to sort what I have - I didn't realize how many books need to be in my classroom library.  Once I can get back into school, I'll purge and organize there, too.  This project is long overdue, and I'm excited to finally be making progress.



June 4, 2013

A Little Stir Crazy

I started my summer vacation a few weeks early when my husband had surgery.  I think we both know we've become a bit stir crazy.  Today's episode proves it.

The UPS and FedEx trucks make frequent stops at our house.  We (especially hubby) enjoy shopping online, especially for hard to find items.  Today I was expecting a box of clothing, but a tall, skinny box was left on our porch.

"Oh! It's my garden weasel!" my husband exclaimed.

The following soliloquy ran through my head and out of my mouth:
A garden weasel?  The garden tool on TV?  You have got to be kidding me.  You really ordered a garden weasel? Why do we need that? We don't even have a garden! Did you order that contraption when you couldn't sleep at 2:00 a.m?  I seriously think you need to change your meds.  Are you out of your mind?  Why do you "need" the most random items? Why did you order a garden weasel?
He opened the box and inside was the famous TV tool.  He just looked at me with his mouth open, shocked that I couldn't understand why he ordered it.

I stomped  away and pouted on the reading chair.  A million ideas ran through my head:  I should call the doctor.  I need to hide his credit card.  The man has lost his mind!

A few minutes later, I found him in the bedroom.  I apologized for my verbal attack on his shopping habits.

"I bought the garden weasel so I could fix the patch of grass that got charred from the fire pit.  I figured it was the best tool for the job, and we didn't have one" stated my husband, matter-of-factly.  "Is that okay with you?"

Oh.

I guess it's time to go read a book or organize my home library.

May 28, 2013

Encouragement

Read other Slice of Life stories  at
www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com
Encouragement - that's the word I'm focusing on this week!

Encouraging my teens:
It's the last full week of classes for my teen daughters.

The freshman is covered in papers from the past few weeks of classes, haphazardly thrown in a folder.  We discuss the importance of getting organized for finals. That's too big an idea for my youngest, the right-brained creative-type.  We talk specifics.. sorting papers, writing notes, filling out study guides.
"Thank you for NOT calling me LAZY like some of my teachers!" she exclaims.
She's her worst enemy when it comes to self-talk... she needs encouragement.

The junior has a few quizzes, essays, and reading to do.  Two AP tests are out of the way, so those classes have started showing movies.  Many of her friends are seniors and their last day is this week.  Prom is on Friday.  She needs encouragement to stay focused on school, even with all the fun activities and friends with "senioritis" surrounding her.  Junior year is the toughest, especially at the end!

Encouraging my husband:
I'm on family leave, helping my husband recover from heart surgery, so it's another week of slowwww healing for him.  He needs encouragement in a sly way.  I can't remind him that he can't lift the pot on the stove after he boils pasta.  He doesn't want me to offer to help him find a comfortable position for sleeping.  He needs encouragement to keep positive and not be frustrated by his tight chest muscles and sore back.

Encouraging myself:
Since I'm not working, it's hard not to think about what I could and should be doing at school, with my students, in these last days of school.  I thought about making them an iMovie to remind them to read over summer vacation.  I'm going to start organizing the hundreds of books I have at home.  I hope to scan them into an app and sort them into categories so I can have an awesome classroom library in the fall.

In addition to balancing hubby care with book projects and making meals, I need encouragement to stay out of the fridge and snack cabinet.  It's much easier to eat lots of yummy stuff when I'm at home.  I must encourage myself to keep walking and riding my bike.

I hope you will share some encouragement with someone who needs it this week!

May 14, 2013

Thankful for nurses

Yesterday, my husband had heart surgery to repair a genetic defect.  The surgery was successful, and I'm thankful for all the awesome people who decided to make their career nursing.

Kind and Caring
The pre-op nurses were calming and funny.  They soothed our anxious nerves as they prepped my husband for his procedure.  They shared stories about their pets (the female cat named Jeffrey) and their families.  All of them had great bedside manner, even at such an early hour.  

Informed and Efficient
The communication nurses balanced their pagers, phones and notebooks.  They gave precise information -in minute increments - about the status of the surgery.  They scurried between waiting areas to find families and delivered messages in a clear language.

Essential and Confident
The nurses in the ICU were able to welcome us into a maze of intimidating machines, scared to see our loved one in such a vulnerable condition.  They gave clear status updates as we stared with large eyes and my knees buckled.  They assured us that we could leave, eat and rest, and they would keep a vigilant watch.

Tireless and Patient
The recovery nurses have the hardest job.  They get to work through the pain, nausea and meals.  They support and walk with my husband when he doesn't really want to.  They deal with family visitors who are in the way in a room that barely fits the patient and his equipment.  They will see the most improvement, but they will work the hardest.

I am so very thankful for the incredible nurses who have helped us navigate this very intense experience.  May they get the thanks they deserve on a regular basis.

April 30, 2013

Loosening my grip

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers



Raising teens can be fun - they get your sarcastic jokes and funny comments.  They have some decent reasoning and usually understand the reasons you refuse to let them do something.  They have great stories to share about their social lives (if they decide that you can hear it!).

It's a bit more tricky to raise teens who have a driver's license and access to a car.  There's a balance between over-parenting and under-parenting.  I'm still trying to find ways to keep track of my daughter, allowing her to run errands and even get a bite to eat, without both of us feeling like she's being micromanaged.

I've asked for a message when she moves from one place to another.  That's worked pretty well.  Some days I'll be told earlier in the day that she plans to head for the mall or food after practice.  Some days there is "radio silence."

On those days I'll send out a message, asking if she's still in the place where she started.  Then I get the "sorry... we went..." message.  I try to contain my frustration.  When did a driver's license give you the freedom to jaunt all over town?  I know - when I gave you access to a car.

We are trying our best to get along and keep the communication lines open.  I'm jealous of time she spends with her friends, away from home, but at the same time we have little to talk about when she is home.  Sometimes I'm accused of talking to her too much when she's home.

I'm feeling the stress of walking on eggshells, trying to preserve our relationship.  I don't want to fall into the overly dramatic mother/teen dramatic-I-hate-you/you-are-ungrateful but I feel like I'm working too hard to watch my steps and what I say.  I've heard from other mothers of teens that you should stay true to your mothering style and the teen has to deal with it.

One thing I want to become better at doing is to remind both my girls each day that I do love them to pieces.  That's hard to express when "I love you!" is  a phrase we use sparingly in my house.  My husband and I are mushy when it's funny.  We need to find a way to express our love and feelings of pride to our kids.

I never thought I would say this, but parenting teens is tiring and wonderful, all at the same time.


April 16, 2013

Emotional day

Read more Slice of Life stories
every Tuesday at
Two Writing Teachers


Sunday night
Busy mind, tired body
Wind howling through the yard
Little sleep

Monday morning
Testing, thinking
Teaching, lecturing
Students, staff
Long day

Monday afternoon
News
Distress
Concern
Disbelief
Helplessness

Monday evening
Questions, few answers
Discouraged
Processing with my children

Monday night
Brahms, Tschaikovsky,
Winds, brass, strings
Beethoven, Greig
Calm
Peaceful
Sleep


April 9, 2013

Alone time

I realized today that I've never lived alone.  I lived with my parents and brother until I went to college.  I had between one and four roommates every year at school.  I got married during college (child bride, LOL!).  We have two children.

I knew at an early age that I like to be surrounded by people.  It was more fun to have lots of kids on the swingset or in our small pool.  I was constantly asking my best friend, Beth, "Can we have Sami play, too?  Is Jeannette home?"  I think Beth was content with just the two of us to have a dance party or play with our Barbies, but I loved having a big group of friends over.

In college, I had a hard time studying by myself.  I would find myself leaving the door open if my roommate left for the weekend so people on the floor would stop by.  I studied in the library or in the common room.  Again, the more the merrier!

This year (at the ripe old age of 43), I've figured out that there is some peace of mind found when I am by myself.  I'm finally comfortable with alone time.  I'm choosing more often than not to have lunch in my classroom with a book or my Twitter feed.  I'm enjoying quiet evenings when my girls are at their activities or out with friends.  I don't mind that my husband is traveling.

I'm beginning to relish the quiet.  I can calm my mind and think through what needs to be done.  I can reflect on my day.  I can make decisions for the week. Reading and knitting can be done without distractions.

I almost had a solo night at home recently.  The girls were off to their respective friends' houses, with the possibilities for sleepovers.  My husband had left town.  I would be alone in the creaky house (with the parakeet for company).  I was excited, I was bummed.

Then my phone chimed with a text message.  "Can my friends stay over at our house?"

Alone time canceled.  Maybe next time!

March 31, 2013

Sunday Night Procrastination SOLC #31

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
We had a beautiful Easter celebration with my side of the family at our house today.  The food was delicious, the company was fun and enjoyable, and we had an excellent day.

Now the dishes are nearly done (2 dishwasher runs and many sinks full of soapy water), the great room and kitchen are vacuumed.  

Now it's time for our weekly installment of ....Sunday Night Procrastination!

I do get a round of applause -  I emptied my school bag yesterday and took care of the most pressing details (read:  evaluation reflection).  Tonight I'm simply repacking my bag with lots of papers that I will deal with another day (read:  they will sit on my desk until summer vacation!).

It's 9:45 p.m. My oldest has been gone for a week on vacation with a friends' family.  She pulled out her homework at 5:00 p.m.  A mere 4.75 hours later her history vocabulary is done, but there's that one paragraph to write for English.  She's been looking though old pictures for the past 30 minutes.  (The leaf does not fall far from the tree!)

My youngest gets kudos for packing her school bag and finding her ID tonight.  She hasn't fallen into the procrastination trap tonight (there's always a first!).

We all decided that we procrastinate when it comes to the least favorite chores on the list.  The clock keeps ticking and we pretend we still have time to do things later.  Meanwhile, our brains are turning to mush from spring break.  Sure, tomorrow's April, but it feels like the first day of school!

*****
P.S. 
Thanks to all the slicers who visited and commented here during the month of March!  WE DID IT!
I sincerely hope to write alongside of you most (or every!) Tuesdays.
Thanks to Ruth & Stacey for being our writing mentors!
Thanks to Michelle & Lynn for personally encouraging me to keep writing!

March 30, 2013

Saturday by the numbers SOLC #30

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Saturday by the numbers...

20 people at brunch tomorrow
2 cakes baked
21 eggs colored
1 counter covered with flour
4 loads of laundry
1 helpful yet messy daughter
1 more trip to Target for 4 missing items
41 plastic eggs retrieved from the basement
2 Easter baskets prepared, but not hidden
6 bottles of bubbles ready to be enjoyed by kids
1 bag of jelly beans opened too early
2 handfuls of jelly beans consumed
2 egg casseroles still need to be made
4 dozen pierogis wait in the freezer
Yet...
10 purple toenails on 
       2 bare feet propped up on an outdoor ottoman in
            58 degree weather under
                  1 shining sun on
                       1 comfy couch... Resting until Round
2 of cooking and preparing for
20 people
Begins again

March 29, 2013

Friday SOLC #29

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Blue skies
Sunshine
Feelings of 
Gratitude for our beautiful earth

Neighbors
Cleaning yards
Scrubbing cars
Smile and wave

Shopping
Cooking
Laughing and talking
Preparing for a family holiday

Thankful 
Peaceful
Calm
Relaxed 

Friday

March 28, 2013

Alli's home SOLC #28

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
The text looked something like this, "Yes, PLEASE come and pick up Alli.  We will be home around 2:00p.m."

It was my dad. I think my youngest and my parents had enjoyed each other just enough, but now it was time for them to go their separate ways.

Allison gathered firewood with the lawn tractor as I got the scoop on their 5-day RV trip to Nashville.  My parents reported typical teen behavior:  earbuds, music blaring, on the phone, sleeping late.  My dad loves to keep the conversation going, but thought maybe Allison talked a bit toooooo much at times.  Sure, they had a few complaints about her attitude and lack of interest in regular meals, but they both agreed they had a good time.

At dinner tonight, Alli exclaimed that she was SO glad to be off the "senior plan."  She reported typical "senior" (60+) behavior:  waking up too early, eating at early times, asking me what I want to do, telling me to get off my phone.  Sure, she had a few complaints about their demands ("You need a coat!"), but she agreed they had a good time.

Of course, we all know that Alli's home.  A pile of her luggage, sweatshirts, blanket and pillow sit at the top of the stairs, waiting to go down to the laundry room.  She already called and invited a friend over to have "the campfire I didn't get to have in Nashville because it was either too cold or rainy."  You can hear she and her friend laughing and talking outside, even with the windows and doors closed.  (They are 14, 'nuff said!)

It's good to have Alli home!

March 27, 2013

Catching Up SOLC #27

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
After finally finding all the *&^% paperwork for our taxes (Grrrr!), I jumped in the car to visit my friend, Carol.  We worked on the same floor at a marketing firm back in the early 90s.  She was in a numbers job and I was on the help desk - the perfect place for a new teacher who was afraid to set foot in the classroom.

Carol and I have been friends for a long time, but we don't see each other very often.  We have similar shopping styles (wander, touch everything, only buy on sale) and we are givers - she enjoys sending notes and funny "how ya doin'" texts, I like to coordinate nights out and make lots of phone calls.

I drove the hour to her house and we had lunch.  In a matter of minutes, we had caught up on everything from family drama to favorite vacations to teenagers.  We simply talked and talked and talked.  We decided that our husbands are annoying but we love them dearly (really they are awesome - they picked us as wives!).

It's fun to spend the afternoon with a friend who doesn't live nearby or work with you - they bring fresh perspective to your life, and confirm or redirect your feelings.  It's also important to spend lots of time together in the purse department... just because it's fun!

March 26, 2013

Minutiae SOLC #26

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
minutiae [mɪˈnjuːʃɪˌiː]
pl n sing -tia [-ʃɪə]
small, precise, or trifling details

I am a big picture kind of person.  I can't be relied on to make sure the day-to-day details and important information are in the right place.  I have math skills, but I am truly a right-brained individual.

Paperwork is the enemy.

My husband checked the date, and he reminded me that we need to get our taxes to the accountant.

In doing some research for my "teacher stuff", I found that I didn't renew my International Reading Association membership.  (I thought that was on auto renew!)  I can't remember when I bought my classroom bookshelves.  I always forget to keep track of classroom expenses separate from my household expenses (BOOKS FOR EVERYONE!).

Can I help a student find a great book?  Yes - I'm wired to remember book titles, authors and summaries.

Can I remember pieces I've played in orchestra?  Yes, when I hear them. Don't ask me who wrote the piece.

Today I will try not to feel guilty about what I can't find in the minutiae.  I will conquer the paperwork drawer so I can then celebrate my creativity and work on knitting, music, and reading!

March 25, 2013

Exercise SOLC #25

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers


Exercise.  A necessary evil when you're trying to drop a few many pounds.

Can't we find a way to make it more appealing?  I hate it.

I spent 30 minutes on the XBox this morning, coached by Bob from the Biggest Loser.  I figured he would be more caring and kind than Jillian (she's mean!).  Alas, even when Bob called out encouragement, "I know you can do this.  You need to dig deeper!" I couldn't help but scowl at his virtual reality face.

Shut up, video game guy!

I tried 8 weeks of Yogalates and discovered that I like yoga, but I abhor pilates.  I have no core and I look ridiculous.

I enjoy walking outside, but it's been cold and blustery and my shoes don't fit correctly.

I look like a sausage in my capris and sports bra.  My Nike shirt clings to every bump and roll.

Even though I feel better after it's over....  Exercise.  I hate it.  

March 24, 2013

Attitude is everything SOLC #24

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers

It was crazy hair day at school on Thursday.  I was excited to get to school and see all the crazy hairdos.  Lots of teachers decided to wear pigtails - it made them look like grade school girls.  Two of our male teachers chose rainbow clown wigs.

The most impressive hairstyle was this one:

Colleen is a new teacher this year, teaching kindergarten in the morning and assisting students in the afternoon.  Pretty fancy hair, right?  Creative is the word I use to describe her!  

What I admire about Colleen is her attitude.  She's trying new things in her classroom every day.  It might not work the exact way she planned, and she has her hands full with a few behaviors, but I have yet to see her get frustrated.

This makes me think about teachers' attitudes toward teaching.  We can be in our first year, our twelfth year, or our thirty-second year, and our attitude is what makes our jobs easier or more difficult.  I've really felt like I've been less than excellent in my teaching this year, but when I've exclaimed that to my coworkers, they respond that they didn't see it.  I've kept a positive face and attitude. 

I've tried to see the best in the adults I work with, but there's a few who lament, "I'm overwhelmed.  It's just too much.  I can't do it."  It's frustrating to hear this.

I wish they would say, "This is tricky.  I feel unsure of myself.  I will give you my best effort and stop complaining and work with you to complete it."

Maybe I'm dreaming, but I think our students do this every day.  They don't say it, and they may get red-faced frustrated, but they try.

Attitude is everything.  We need to remember that as adults.  I'm hoping spring break will breathe a little "can-do attitude" into my colleagues.  


March 23, 2013

Rejuvenate & restore SOLC #23

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers

The girls are on spring vacation, so I'm going to try a few things while they're gone.  
  1. Eat well 
  2. Drink lots of water
  3. Exercise every day
  4. Sit in a quiet spot and just be
  5. Read, write, think, reflect
  6. Enjoy time with my husband
  7. Only start projects that I can finish (cabinet clean out, sorting papers & photos)
  8. Relax
  9. Soak up the sunshine as much as possible
Michelle put it best - absence will make the heart grow fonder.  My wish for the girls is they come back from their trips tired and smiling.  I hope to be calmer and easier to live with as well.  

I used to think that fall was my favorite season, but spring has so much hope and promise.

Maybe I'll change my mind!

March 22, 2013

Adventures for the girls SOLC #22

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
My teen daughters are on two separate adventures for spring break this year.  I've taken them college towns for the past two spring breaks, but this year opportunity knocked separately for them.

The oldest is heading to Florida with her friend's family.  It was stressful to help her pack, as she will be traveling from winter to summer in two day's time.  (It's still SO cold here in Illinois!)  I'm feeling a little bummed that I won't be joining her at the Harry Potter amusement park (maybe next year!), but I'm glad she's getting a chance to get away from home and relax.

The youngest is traveling to Nashville with my parents.  When my dad retired last year, they purchased a class C motorhome.  They are experienced RVers after tackling the Rocky Mountains last year.  My daughter is looking forward to campfires, country music and some kickin' boots (whatever works in her budget).  I'm glad she has time to chill out and forget about school and the drama with some of her friends.

My husband will be working a good chunk of hours next week, so what does that lead me to do?  I'm not sure.  I'm hoping I'm not too motivated to do lots of cleaning or remodeling.  I thought about a lot of projects, but the first thing on my list is to catch up on my sleep!

Ahhh.  Spring break.  I've been waiting for you!

March 21, 2013

Packing SOLC #21

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
laundry

folding

searching

suitcase

trip to drug store

laundry

phone calls

cash station

sock folding

room cleaning

questioning

check weather

packing

all this work.  but I'm not leaving.

(more tomorrow)

March 20, 2013

Parfaits anyone? SOLC #20

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
We hosted a sweet parent/child event at school last night.  We invited students in grades 3rd-5th to come with a parent and read functional text.

We called it "Fun, Food and Following Directions."
Catchy, right?

At the start of the evening, I read aloud Chicks and Salsa and used my document camera to project a portion of the pictures on a big screen.  It was my first time reading the book, and now I know why it comes so highly recommended (Ole!).

We decided to have our students create a simple parfait.  The directions we wrote lead students to crush vanilla wafers, then layer those with vanilla pudding and whipped topping.  YUM!

There wasn't too much of a mess, and we had lots of great interactions between parents and children.  Some of the parfaits were more like blizzards, and some were total works of art.  I talked with two fifth graders about sedimentary rocks as I checked out their parfaits.

The best part of the evening came when four families were simply relaxing in the lunchroom, chatting.  We teachers continued passing out books to students and thanked other families for coming.  One mom from the chatting group jumped up and exclaimed that she felt like she was at a gathering, and they were very relaxed at school as they socialized.

My fellow teacher explained to her that being relaxed at school was exactly the reason we hold parent/child events.  We want our parents to be comfortable coming to school, and we want our students to see that we value them as part of our school community and as a part of their family.

Today we were all tired, but it was worth it!

March 19, 2013

Thanks for listening SOLC #19

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers

This post is dedicated to my family and friends who have listened to me ...

vent 
whine
complain
sigh
throw my arms up and express complete frustration

            especially today
(and a lot of other days before and after today)

This is for you, my fellow slicers, who "listen" to my ...

ramblings
random posts
silly ideas
serious reflections
somewhat poems
chaotic brain dumps

             especially today
(and a lot of other days before and after today)

Thanks for listening!