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 30, 2014

Stop and celebrate

We are in the second week of winter break.  Ahhhh.  I figured out it's Tuesday and I could actually get a Slice of Life post blogged for the first time in months.  Hooray!

Today I think I'll focus on the positive.  In the past I've been a glass-half-full person, but this fall I'm especially prone to the negative.  Yes, my whole world was shifted when I was moved from reading resource to a classroom.  I really wanted to be positive and think it would be easy.  It isn't.  I have high expectations for myself and I need to cut myself some slack.  I'm always telling my students and children that I have never met anyone who is perfect.  I need to listen to myself.

So... today I give myself permission to celebrate all that has been fun and exciting around here!
Cookie Baking Fest
My girls and five friends helped bake and decorate many varieties of cookies.  My husband played holiday and Broadway songs on the piano.  Everyone was laughing and making messes until midnight.  What fun!

Most Energetic and Sweetest Class
I have 19 sweet, kind and energetic students this year.  We are learning along together, every day.  One of my sprites, G, told me before break, "I told my dad that all you want for Christmas is for the kids to listen."  Yup, G, you get it!

A is one of our more reserved and gentle boys.  His favorite Friday tag line is, "I wish we didn't have weekends.  Then we could stay at school."  Maybe we are becoming the school family I hoped for!

Rest, Relaxation and Family Time Highlights

  • Not one alarm clock has been set during winter break
  • Only one school-related nightmare
  • Family game night with my best friend from grade school and her family
  • Enjoying holiday lights in our neighborhood and the arboretum
  • Time to blog, pin on pinterest, and read like crazy!
Wishing you a wonderful 2015!  May we all find the positive in all situations.




November 15, 2014

Tales from the classroom

Yesterday was the 59th day of school with my first first grade classroom.  We have been working so very hard to become a community of learners, thinkers, writers, scientists and classmates.

It hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been impossible.

The students come every day with smiles.  They bounce into the room with rosy cheeks (it's been freezing!), bright eyes and pure excitement.  They can't wait to see what we will do today.

I try to keep the morning moving.  We are working on an integrated unit comparing the past to the present.  We are talking about pictures, writing our ideas, and learning from historians.

Sharing our ideas is noisy.  There are those that don't wait their turn.  There are arguments and tattling.  They demand personal attention.  Some are shy.  Some are bold.

We talk it out.  We unfold our arms.  We sigh.  We cry.  We dance it out.  We snack.
We read aloud.  We share our thinking.  We calm ourselves.

Then we tackle reading, writing, word work... independently.  Students treasure this time to work on their own.  Notebooks are filled, books are devoured.  Not everyone understands that it's independent work time, but we are getting there.

LUNCHTIME arrives... woo hoo!

After lunch students line up to share their complaints.  Left out at recess.  Scraped knees, frozen hands.  Scowls and tears.  We take long drinks and run hands under water.  We come to the carpet and talk about goals.

More work, more reading, more learning.  Kids whine and groan when the timer rings and it's time to change centers.  They are building their stamina.  They are hitting a groove.

BUT THEN IT'S SPECIALS TIME  (excitement ensues:  stop pick that up I can't wait for gym I have library I have to change my shoes let's go let's go)

When they leave, I sit.  I eat a piece of chocolate.  I breathe deeply. I regroup.

WE ARE BACK!  It's math!!!  Calendar, number of days in school, number of the day.  "Can we PLEASE play mystery number again!?"  Let's talk decomposing numbers, number bonds, turn around facts.  Lots of math games, individual help, I KNOW HOW TO DO THAT!  Counting, learning.

WHAT?  It's time to go home?

Groans.  Clean up, find folders, pick up gloves, herd kids to the bus, chairs go up, tie shoes, find lunchboxes.

BYE!  SEE YOU TOMORROW!!

Yesterday was the 59th day of school with my first first grade classroom.
What a roller coaster of awesome.


September 30, 2014

Thanking My Village

Read more Slice of Life stories
at Two Writing Teachers


It takes a village to run a classroom.

It's important to thank the members of your village.
Today I take a minute to do just that.

From the custodians who sweep up the scraps and talk football and home improvement,
to the resource friends who make sure
you have the best read alouds,
the best classroom setup,
and are the best support system
a girl could ask for
(including emergency pie on Saturday nights).

From the family and friends
who are patient and willing to help,
to the parents
who write notes like
"no worries" and "thank you."

From the teammates who say
today is the day
you step outside 
the building to get some lunch
to the secretaries and nurse that tell me
"No question is too silly.  Thanks for asking.  I'll help you."

From the support team
who brainstorms and brings fidgets
and puppets and posters

to the students,
the energetic
enthusiastic
smiling
students
who forgive my mistakes
("You said meet me on the table instead of carpet!")
and draw me beautiful pictures
and remind me
why I come to school
each day.

P.S. Thanks to Lynn for the writing nudge

September 2, 2014

Snail's Pace

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers


It's the start of week 3 in the new classroom.  The big, disorganized, can't remember where anything is, classroom.

I've decided to take a snail's pace when it comes to the cabinets and shelves.  I inherited many materials from last year's teacher (thank you to J!) but there are also YEARS of books and other materials from previous teachers who left many "treasures" behind.

I'm not discouraged by a classroom full of supplies.  Really.  I just wish I had the time to sort, purge and organize.  (Don't laugh at that last word!)

Instead, I'm spending time really thinking about instruction.  I'm being mindful when it comes to reader's workshop, writing time and math. I'm taking my time in launching the Daily 5.  We are going slow to grow, as my friends Michelle and Karen always say.

I'm trying to find one-on-one time with each student each week. I'm complimenting good behavior more than I'm correcting mistakes.  I'm letting students explain directions to each other.  I'm asking students for feedback.  I'm apologizing for misplacing the timer (for the 5th time!!!!) and forgetting to bring the cushions (I fixed that today.)

I'm trying to keep a snail's pace.  I'm building relationships and trust with my students.  I'm taking each day as they come.

I'm asking my colleagues for help.  I'm trying not to whine (it's hard!).  I'm trying to smile and get lots of sleep.

Taking a snail's pace is new for me.  I think I like it.

August 17, 2014

A Few Thoughts for the College Girls

Dear College Girls,
(Anne, Chloe, Katie L., Katie S., Kelsey, Lindsey & Mikayla... this is for you!)

Congratulations on meeting your big goal!  You're in COLLEGE now!

WOO HOO!
HOORAY!

OH CRAP!


I remember sitting in my dorm room on the first night.  I had moved in early to attend a retreat with the honors college (Surprised?  Me, too!).  It was dark.  It was verrrrrryyyy quiet.  I had already talked with my back-home boyfriend on the phone.  My parents and brother were gone.

It was very lonely.  It was 1987.  No cell phones.  No social media.  No Netflix.  Wahhhhh!

Fast forward two days later.  I had fun on the retreat and made a new friend.  I met three girls on my floor that were juniors (they had lots of survival tips).  My roommate wasn't bad.  The girls next door were nice.  College was much less lonely!

The most terrifying thing to do in your life is something new.  Something unknown.  I think you are all really brave for heading to new towns on your own to follow your dreams!

I couldn't write a blog post for you COLLEGE ladies without giving some advice.  I know you like it LOVE IT when I give advice!  Here goes:
  1. Don't spend the whole year in your dorm room.  Leave your door open when you're up for some socializing.  Talk with people at the sinks and in the food lines.  Be yourself - you will make lots of friends!
  2. GO TO CLASS, even when you're too tired, too crabby, too uninterested.  I got a B in Introduction to Anthropology by going to class, taking minimal notes and doing the Northern Star crossword puzzle each lecture.
  3. Join a club, organization, sport or group.  If you don't love it, pick something else, but try to be involved on campus or in the community. It will make the college experience more worthwhile!
  4. Get a pretty planner and write down your assignments, tests, and projects.
    (My lack of organization still bites me in the a** on a regular basis. You will excel at this!)
  5. Enjoy yourselves.  Really.  Most adults would go back to the college years in a New York minute.  Many of us moms are SUPER jealous and want to live vicariously through you. But we promise not to.  This is your turn.  
Be careful, have fun, and love every minute of these years, even when it gets tough.  We (moms, dads, friends, siblings, former teachers) are ALL here for you.  Just text/call/write when you need something (read:  I will send you chocolate).  We understand you have lots of mixed feelings on an hourly basis.  

Dear College Girls, you WILL be AWESOME!

Kid President knows it!  We know it, too!

  



August 12, 2014

Transitions

Read more Slices of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Yesterday I put one foot in front of the other and walked toward room 107.  It's my new classroom at the elementary school I've worked at for 11 years.  Our custodians warned me that there would be dust (new floors) and lots of desks (nowhere else to put them).I stopped and chatted with a couple of colleagues.  Then I finally went in.

Blank slate classroom
I started moving desks into groups, and I wiped out my desk.  I started emptying boxes and wiping down counters.  My oldest daughter, Lindsey, arrived with lunch.  She helped me angle the desks and move some tables.  She made a carpet area and picked the bulletin board colors.

Then she noticed the room number on my door.

"Next week, I'll be in room 107 as well."

As I start a new adventure this fall, my oldest daughter will be starting a new chapter in her life.  We move her to college next week.  Her dorm room number matches my classroom number in a interesting coincidence.  

We are doing our best to stay calm, but the shopping and organizing and gathering and planning put us at odds at times.  To deal with the stress, my husband happily travels for work each week and my youngest daughter slips on headphones and retreats to her room.

I can't predict how the next week will go as I prepare for 18 (as of today) smiling six-year-olds to enter my new room.  I know there will be groans, laughter and lots of chocolate.  I think the roller coaster of emotions will be similar for my daughter as she prepares to leave home for the first time.

Transitions are part of life.  We all need to find ways to make them successful.  Luckily I have an excellent support system, including my family, friends, coworkers, online PLN and writing community.

Wish us luck!


July 16, 2014

Reading in the Wild Part 2 #cyberpd

Today is the second part of our #cyberpd conversation about Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley's awesome book, Reading in the Wild.  Check out the conversation over at Laura Komo's Ruminate and Invigorate today.  Last week's feedback can be found at Cathy Mere's Reflect and Refine and we're headed to Michelle Nero's Literacy Zone next week.  Whew!

Let's talk about chapter 3, Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers, and chapter 4, Wild Readers Have Reading Plans.

Bring on the Book Love
On page 89 this quote rang true for me, "Successful learning communities require cultivation, and I spend a lot of time forging relationships with my students and helping them connect to each other."

I've tried my best to connect my past resource students to books and fellow resource classmates, but it's tricky when you only see them for 40 minutes a day and then return them to a classroom that may or may not have the same book love.  I've felt for many years that I'm the tuckpointer in my students' brick building.  I'm the person fixing the chipped bricks, filling in the cracks and trying to keep up with the weathering.  I've done what I can to help students fit into their classrooms full of students who can read circles around them.  I've given my all to helping them find books that they might enjoy.  I've read aloud books to them that they aren't ready to try alone, but their friends are all talking about it.

This year I'm a little giddy about the idea of having one set of students all day long.  (I'm also feeling exhausted already because they are six years old.)  I've always been one to figure out what makes each of them tick.  I'm ready to start handing books to kids and building a classroom full of reading and book love.

Track Your Book Love
On page 118 I had a brilliant idea (that I'm sure I heard from someone else!) to use one of the digital picture frames gathering dust in my closet to display all our read aloud titles.  This year I'm all about the visuals.  I know I have a couple students that are not yet reading.  Visuals work for everyone (especially me) and I will be snapping pictures of our read alouds (perhaps this is a student job!) and uploading them to the digital picture frame.

Create Reading Goals
I keep feeling that some of the record keeping, list making and book review ideas will be tricky for first graders.  This comes from my underestimating what these digital natives can do.  I definitely want to help the students set reading goals for various genres and series.  I'm just trying to figure out the best way.  I DEFINITELY want them to have a list of some sort when we head to the library.   I know most of the best-loved books (read: Elephant and Piggie, Babymouse) will be missing from the shelves and I want the kiddos to have more than just one book on their mind.  I'm sure if I ask the students, they will be the ones who have a solution.  They will figure out what works for them:  list, pictures... something!

Reading All the Time
I definitely want, like Donalynn and Susan, for my students to realize that reading is something you can always do.  I hope to make book bags with my students so they can find time to "read in the edges" during long waits and car rides.  I hope to encourage my students to get their family to bring them to the library and rediscover the joy of books.  I have lots of hopes and dreams, and I think I can spark some book love by being a voracious reader myself.  Reading, like music, dark chocolate and time with friends and family, feeds my soul.  I'm able to lose myself in a book.  I hope some of my reading habits will rub off on my students.

July 15, 2014

Listening

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Today my brother and I had a long talk.  The good thing is that he did most of the talking.  I did most of the listening.

He has lots of different struggles, some big, some small.  Struggles that most of us have.  The problem is that he feels like there's no one in the family that can listen without judging him for his choices.  I understand that.  I usually keep my big problems to myself and vent all my little problems to anyone who will listen.

I don't know if my brother will make any huge life changes or decisions based on our two-hour conversation.  I do hope he feels like he was heard and not judged.  I hope I was a good listener.  He needs understanding and ideas to move forward.  I hope he will find some positive moments in his life this week.

July 9, 2014

Reading in the Wild #cyberpd Part 1

I'm excited to be in a virtual book club with Cathy Mere (Reflect and Refine), Laura Komos (Ruminate and Invigorate) and Michelle Nero (Literacy Learning Zone) and many others.  We've chosen to read Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley.

Please share your thoughts on Cathy's Post!  Here are my thoughts on Chapters 1 & 2:

Growing Readers
This fall, I'm moving from reading support to 1st grade.  This will be my first classroom experience since student teaching many years ago.  I'm excited to have a whole class to learn alongside.  I will have a mix of strong and developing readers.  A few quotes from Donalyn resonated with me as I try to design our literacy block and create goals for our classroom community.

"Our students must see themselves as readers, or they will never embrace reading beyond school." (p.9)
I am so excited to have first graders.  They have a great love for school, books and characters (Elephant! Piggie!).  My job is to empower all of them to read like crazy, both in and out of school.  I am thinking of asking my mom to sew colorful book bags so that everyone has a bag to keep their books.  I plan to teach each student to keep a book with them at all times so they don't miss out on any reading opportunities.

I'm also planning to pick the brains of every primary teacher I know to figure out how first graders can best keep track of their reading (to be proud!) and respond to reading.  I've been an avid user of Kidblog with my intermediate students, and I hope to help my first graders navigate blogging as a way to have conversations with peers and parents about their reading.

Read Alouds

I was not surprised to read that Donalynn reads aloud to her middle school students every day.  I see read aloud time as a non-negotiable part of my literacy block.  I remember hearing author Jim Aylesworth speak about his first day teaching first grade.  He discovered that the secret to keeping his students engaged was through read alouds.

"They (read alouds) provide prime opportunities to introduce students to genres they often avoid, like poetry, biographies, and nonfiction." (p. 49)

I will use read alouds to make sure my reading diet, and my students' reading diets, are balanced.  Poetry is especially fun to read and short non-fiction is great for curious first grade minds.  Biographies can help our littlest learners understand why we don't have school on Columbus Day.

I plan to have a whole bucket of my favorite read alouds, and I will encourage my students to share their favorite books from home.  I'm trying to figure out how to best track our read alouds... perhaps an infographic of the book covers?  Maybe a list?  I am hoping to enlist the help of our library staff in labeling some shelves in the library with character pictures (The Pigeon, Babymouse, Katie Woo) to better help our youngest readers (and English learners) find favorite books.

Yes, my head is swimming with all the ideas and questions and hopes and dreams for my first grade classroom.  I hope you are excited about returning to school with lots of ideas from Donalynn and Susan, as well as all the other bloggers!

Thanks for stopping by... I welcome all your ideas, comments and gems!

July 1, 2014

It's All About Allison

Beginning in May and continuing into June, we teased our younger daughter, Allison, that it was Lindsey Month.  Lindsey is our oldest daughter who recently graduated high school and tore her ACL.

Allison has happily taken on the role of "lovely assistant."  She took pictures at prom, she fetches items for her sister, and she has done her best to be part of the support team.
Lindsey and Allison
But this week is all about Allison!

Last weekend Allison danced in her studio's recital.  Her ballet number was lovely.  Three days of performing with her friends was fun and exciting for her.  I was a little emotional during the finale as my daughter was in the back row among the other high schoolers.  Wasn't it just yesterday that she was a tiny tot in the front?

Recital
Proud Momma














Today Allison finishes her summer school course.  It will be awesome tomorrow morning when we don't need to set the 6:15 a.m. alarm!  Hooray for sleeping in!

On Thursday, Allison will turn 16 years old.  Oh boy.  I can't believe it!  We've helped her learn to drive over the past year.  Next week she will take her driving test.  This fall she will be a junior in high school.

I. Will. Not. Get. Emotional.

Ah, yes I will.  My baby girl is growing up.  She's crazy fun, silly and full of joy.  Sure, the dark clouds float in every now and then.  She's highly distractible.  The girl takes 50 minute showers!  Arrrgggghh!

But that's what makes her Allison.


 



June 17, 2014

Circle of Friends

My oldest daughter, Lindsey, had a very interesting end to her senior year of high school.  This spring she played her third season of varsity lacrosse.  The team was meshing beautifully and working well together, but many injuries, illnesses and concussions plagued the team throughout the season.  Excitedly, the girls entered the playoffs.  In the first 17 seconds of the first game, Lindsey got possession of the ball.  She turned and fell.  Pop! The athletic trainer's years of experience led him to believe (correctly) that her ACL and meniscus were torn.

You can only imagine the rush of emotions that followed.  While her leg didn't really hurt (but her knee was very swollen), Lindsey's heart was broken.  In her mind, she had let her team down.

The girls took their grief over Lindsey's injury and turned it into a force.  They played their hearts out.  We spent the evening in the trainer's office, and then we heard the news.  The team had won the game!!!

Lindsey commented later that week that she was awestruck by all the positive texts, tweets and hugs she received from her teammates and friends.  #DoItForLRay was their hashtag.  Lindsey and I talked about how she found out, through a terrible event, how much her friends cared about her.  We decided that people need to hear caring thoughts, especially when things are going right.

The next few weeks went by in a blur: senior picnic, senior breakfast, prom, a trip to the beach, and graduation.  All with a wrapped knee, and a smile on her face, once she decided to make the most of the situation.

Three days ago she had surgery to fix her knee.  The texts, snapachats, and visitors are helping keep her spirits high.  It's not the summer before college that Lindsey imagined, but I think she will look back and treasure the time spent with her friends.

June 3, 2014

A note to my students

Read more Slice of Life posts at
Two Writing Teachers


Dear reading students, 

This has been an EXCELLENT year, don’t you agree??

I am so proud of ALL of you.  Every one of you made progress with your reading, writing and thinking. 
You have all grown smarter -- your brains are sponges that continue to grow with all your learning.
I hope I have helped you to be excited about books, reading and learning.

I know I have learned many things from all of you. 
I learned that I need to give really good directions.
I learned that I need to show you examples of work.
I learned ways to help you remember to read every day.

Thank you for being respectful, funny and kind students. I have smiled and laughed many times this year. 
It’s so much fun to be a teacher. 
It’s truly the best job in the world.

May 6, 2014

An attempt at backwards planning

Read more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
A concept that I'm trying to even attempt is backwards planning.  As I face the month of May with a graduating high school senior, an involved sophomore, a traveling husband, and a case load of 18 developing readers, I have no choice but to try this.

My husband recommended using a calendar.  I explained to him that there is no way that I am ready for a calendar in my planning process.  I have yet to even discover what needs to be done for each event, let alone figure out what day I needed to do it!  (After 23 years of marriage, he should know I can't find my way out of a paper bag!)

I sat down Sunday night with my daughters, a Sharpie, and a stack of colorful notebook paper.  I started a page for every upcoming event.  I dumped our thinking on the paper.  I listed things we needed to do.  I listed what was already done just so I could check some things off!  (See "date" on Prom paper... tee hee)

Here's my brainstorming.  It's far from a backwards plan, but it's something.


I am hoping to add some dates to the to do lists.  I know I have deadlines.  Now I have to abide by them!

Wish us luck - we hope to thrive, not merely survive this crazy, exciting month and all the fun and joy May brings!

March 30, 2014

Spring Break finale SOLC #30

Join the Slice of Life Challenge!
Write every day in March!
I woke up this morning at 9:00 a.m. and thought to myself, "This is it.  The final day of spring break. Time to stress!"

Then I realized that I don't need to stress.  I need to relax more.  There are only 24 hours in a day, and (hopefully!) I always have tomorrow.  I need to prioritize.

Today's weather promised 50 degree temperatures!  Lindsey talked about bike riding, so we pulled the bikes from the shed and inflated the tires.  After a 4 mile ride (I asked for lots of stops!), I feel thoroughly exercised.  And exhausted.  And very sore!

Now it's 7:00 p.m.  I did accomplish some paperwork wrangling, room cleaning and more laundry. I really should open the school bag, but I need to practice for orchestra rehearsal tomorrow.  I'll set a timer and see how Dvorak and Brahms treat me.

Later, I'll get into pajamas, get comfy on the couch and then open my school bag.  I'll spend an hour just figuring out the week, and filing student work and assessments.  

I'm in no hurry to end break, but wow - it's been exhausting!  I'm ready to head back to school and see my students.  I wonder how their break has been.

March 29, 2014

Whoops! SOLC #29

Join the Slice of Life Challenge!
Write every day in March!

How is it that I managed to write slices 
from a itty bitty phone screen 
with limited WiFi 
from an RV in Disney, 
yet 
I get home 
and forget
completely
about the SOLC?

Whoops!

Maybe it's because I got LOTS accomplished on Friday!
  • laundry washing and folding (5 loads)
  • grocery shopping (12 bags!)
  • spa maintaining
  • pinterest pinning
  • calendar filling
  • teenager feeding (brownies, s'mores)
  • movie watching
Whoops - I forgot to do two very important things:
  • blog writing
  • comment posting
Well... nobody is perfect!

Please forgive me!

March 27, 2014

What I'll Miss SOLC #27

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Write every day in March!
As the plane wiggled, shook and swooped its way into Chicago (breathing in 4s is a great strategy for staying calm!), I realized that our trip to Florida was a gift.  A gift of time spent with my traveling parents, a gift of seeing my daughter and friends march through Magic Kingdom, and a gift of being somewhere green and warm.

We returned to a rainy, cloudy Chicago day.  Nothing new for March.  There are still piles of snow here and there (70" of snow does not melt quickly).  We are happy to be back home.  I'll miss and not miss a few things.

I won't miss the MILLIONS of people at the Disney parks (pull your kids out of school, I'll forgive a few days to avoid spring break madness).  I won't miss the bugs that chewed up my legs.  I won't miss the stress of weaving between scooters and strollers.  I won't miss the sad part of my heart, wishing my husband was with us instead of working.  He truly needs a break!

I will miss the chirping of birds in the morning, the sweet taste of a Mickey ice cream bar, the thrill of the rides, the laughter, seeing band students enjoy themselves away from home, my dad's random conversations, my mom's hospitality, the green grass, the palm trees, and the warmth of the sun.

Now it's back to reality with only three days left of break.  Time to rest up before school starts on Monday!

Long day SOLC #26

Today was a long day. We started by pulling the RV out of our spot into the overflow lot at the campground.  This proved to be a lengthy process as parking spots were taken by cars.  This upset my dad?  He proceeded to rant about respect and entitlement.  I didn't blame him, yet I encouraged him to email the Disney resort and offer suggestions.

We then traveled via bus and boat back to Epcot for a lovely lunch in Italy.  We enjoyed wood-fired pasta a friendly service.

Later, we headed to the airport to catch an 8:15 pm flight, only to find that our flight had been delayed until 12:33 a.m.  This put me into a bit of a panic.  I called my frequent-traveler husband.  He sent me right to the ticket desk.

I was able to switch our flight to Thursday at noon.  The agent requested our bag to be returned.  She handed us vouchers for food and the airport hotel.  This was a pleasant surprise!  It's always great to have a calm ending to a hectic day.

March 25, 2014

Proud Band Mom SOLC #25

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Write every day in March!
Tonight I'm a very proud band mom.  Today I watched 150ish kids from our high school band march at the Magic Kingdom.  They held their instruments and heads high as they kicked off the afternoon parade.  People around me were excited for the kids, but not nearly as much as I was.

I know I'm only mom to one of the sousaphone players (we jokingly call Lindsey "Susie" as she is the only Sousa-girl).  Since I've helped outfit so many of the kids in their band wear and gotten to know these great kids, they all have a place in my heart.

Many parents didn't come to Disney to see their kids play for many reasons.  I'm lucky that I had the time, opportunity and accommodations (thanks, Mom and Dad for your RV hospitality!) to come.  Today I cheered loudly for all the  kids, whether they had family here or not.  We are a band family, and I will miss all the fun next year.

Today I am a proud mom!

GO BAND!


March 24, 2014

Clamshell rides SOLC #24

Join the Slice of Life Challenge!
Write every day in March!
Today was Epcot day! We focused on the Future World side. We only visited Germany in the World Showcase for dinner.

Yesterday I wrote about rides that make you cringe. Today we called "Clamshell Day."  I am pretty chicken when it comes to rides.  Today's rides were all calm, like the Nemo and Friends ride where you ride slowly in a pink clamshell with a buddy, watching all the fish find Nemo.

Ahhhh - that's my mind of ride!

We also went on Soarin' - a "hangliding" experience over California and Mission: Space.  Since I was the first to the line in my pack, I chose the green line for a less intense journey (read : no spinning).

Do I feel like a guppy? Sort of, but we still had a fun day, even if our day was filled with clamshell rides!

March 23, 2014

Power of Suggestion SOLC #23

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My parents, Allison and I visited Universal Studios today in Orlando.  We headed straight to Hogwarts Castle at the Harry Potter attraction.  Before we even considered a pint of butterbeer (I only recommend having it if you have a sweet tooth!), we got in line for the Harry Potter experience ride.

There are HUGE warning signs next to every ride at the park.  The signs let you know if there will be dark, fog, and if you should be riding or not, depending on any medical conditions.  I never asked the ride attendants about the HP ride.  We knew we wouldn't miss it.

As we secured ourselves in our individual compartments, I realized that this ride might be more than I wanted to handle.  They caution anyone with motion sickness to skip this ride.  I have anxiety about many things, but I can usually handle movement on rides because I close my eyes.  (It's a strategy.)  My eyes were probably closed for 80% of the ride.  When the ride ended, I stared at my parents in awe as we talked about the experience.

"What do you mean, you didn't close your eyes at all?" Allison asked them.

Neither of my parents had any issue with the motion on the screen and with their bodies... at least that they admit.  Allison was scared by the dementors and spiders, so that's when she shut her eyes tight.

I'm not sure what my issue is with movement, airplane rides, and car rides with my husband.  I've been accused by a few family members (Mom) that I have a control issue.  That is, I want to be the one in control of the situation.  I wonder if that's the case, or if I let my mind go too far with suggestion.

In another experience in the park, we were told (as we waited in a dim, warm closed-in space with hundreds of people) that anyone suffering from claustrophobia might not be a good candidate to stay in line.  Of course, there's no clear exit.  I started to sweat.  I didn't know what to expect.  I knew I needed to leave, but I decided to stick it out.  The experience was in three huge rooms with lots of air, but lots of darkness.  No biggie for me.

I wonder why I feel more anxious and cautious the older I get.  I may have to figure this out!

March 22, 2014

Happiest place on Earth SOLC #22

We've arrived! Allison and I flew from Chicago to Orlando this morning. The morning had quite a bit of stress as we couldn't find Alli's state ID and I haven't seen an airport in quite awhile.

The flight was mostly uneventful (I used some anxiety breathing strategies!) and we arrived in sunny Orlando this afternoon.

We are camping with my parents in an RV. They are excited to have us, and I'm happy to be their guests. Now we are relaxing under the awning and making plans for the next four days

I think Disney is the happiest place on Earth when you are here with family!


March 21, 2014

Is the box here? SOLC #21


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I manage the Scholastic book orders for two 5th grade classrooms.  The teachers share the points, and I'm happy to help.

Last week I handed out book orders with a plea to return the forms quickly.  Our spring break begins at 2:30 p.m. today.  After collecting from a few stragglers, I placed the order last weekend.

I love 5th graders, but they are still working on the skill of delayed gratification.  The morning after the first student handed me his book order form he asked if I had the books.  I explained that I would be ordering the books altogether, and it usually took at least five days to receive the books once I ordered them.  He understood.

Each day this week, I have been stopped and asked about the books by each of the seven students who ordered.  Each time I explained what I knew based on emails from Scholastic:  the order was placed, the order was shipped, the order was in transit.

Have I been annoyed?  Of course not!  They can't contain their excitement for NEW BOOKS!  I'm excited to get the box, and not one of the books inside is for me!  This enthusiasm for reading fills my heart!

Today we hope that the UPS truck will arrive before our 2:30 dismissal.  I asked the office staff if they can call me when the box arrives.  I do plan to stay after school until the box arrives.  I may even make deliveries to students' homes.  They need these books for spring break!

Happy reading to all! 
(Please cross your fingers for us!!!)

UPDATE:  At 1:30 p.m. the book box was delivered!  The kids were very excited to see me come to their classrooms with my arms full of books.  Happy spring break reading to all!

March 20, 2014

Calendar confusion SOLC #20

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You don't realize what elementary students don't understand about the calendar until you try to explain spring break.  Between my classroom and a few other resource rooms, these were the reactions to the announcement that we would not be in school next week.

1st Graders:
"Do we get to wear shorts?"
"Will it be hot next week?"

2nd Graders
"Will I be in 3rd grade when we come back?"
"When is my birthday?"

4th/5th Graders
"Nine days without homework!"
"It's not a vacation if I'm not going anywhere."

The hardest reaction to hear were four simple words, "I will miss you."  My heart aches for the kids who look forward to school because it's the most predictable and calm part of their day.  Students know the grownups at school care about them.  We are a sea of friendly faces, even if students make poor choices.

I'll miss their shining faces for a week, but I'm glad for the chance to recharge my enthusiasm for the remainder of the school year.


March 19, 2014

New team, new sport SOLC #19

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My daughters are having two different experiences as the lacrosse season revs up.

New Team
Lindsey (senior) is playing at the varsity level for the 3rd year.  Her team has a few return players and many new players who moved up from JV.  They are missing 8 girls who graduated last year. Lindsey's learning a new position, moving from defense (stay near the goal) to defensive wing and offense (run the whole field). Lindsey is figuring out the strengths of her new teammates, and how she can fit her strengths with theirs to get the win.

New Sport
Allison (sophomore) is playing lacrosse for the first time.  She has played catch with Lindsey in the backyard, but this year she decided to go out for the team.  Being involved in a high school sport is a completely different experience than participating on her poms team.  She's now at practice or a game six days each week compared to her two or three days of practice and a football or basketball game.  Allison is easily coached, and she is learning that after the game she doesn't have to ask the coach for specific pointers.  She is still trying to figure out what to bring to practice and how to get there on time.

Mom is Hanging in There
I'm trying to keep my sanity as I send one off to her practice in one car, then shuttle the non-driver when she needs to be there.  Sometimes they can ride together, but youngest struggles with time management (her leaf does not fall far from my tree!) and she has been left behind.  Dinner has become one of three options:  frozen Lean Cuisine, pick up something on your way, or crockpot meals (I search Pinterest daily!).  If all else fails, both girls have loads of snacks in their bags.  Yesterday I watched both girls play in 45 degree weather with 20 mile per hour winds.  My lacrosse bag now has two blankets, hat, mittens and extra socks!

I'm excited that both girls are playing.  They will both find joy in being part of a team effort, even if they are completely exhausted by Saturday afternoon.  Now I'm off to cheer on the teams!


March 18, 2014

Reading room slogan SOLC #18

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Yesterday left me drained, but my 5th grade group provided some inspiration.  I am grateful to have this group!

B walked in and grabbed a piece of paper.   "You need a slogan!" she exclaimed.

"Sounds good to me!" I replied.

B thought for a minute, tried out some rhyming words, and thought some more.

This is what she wrote:


I LOVE IT!

I wonder what other slogans, writing and poetry we will see from B in the future.  She is truly a wordsmith!

Have an excellent day!

March 17, 2014

Waving the white flag SOLC #17

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Never in one day
have I seen
more people
over the age of 10
be
defensive
agitated
abrupt
unkind
assuming.

 I tried to
fill buckets
stay calm
carry on
smile
but 
it was 
very hard.

I am thankful
for 2nd graders
who think leprechauns 
"throw up rainbows"
and
"slide under doors"
to play tricks.

I'm so proud
of my 
5th graders
who learned
from their peers
in class
how to work politely
in partners
thanks to their
classroom teacher.

Today
I wave
the white flag
of 
surrender.

Tomorrow
I will try
again
to
stay calm
smile
carry on.

March 16, 2014

Sugar Bush SOLC #16

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Today my nephews, brother, sister-in-law, oldest daughter and I visited our local nature center to celebrate maple syrup!  YUM!

Our park district personnel (and helpers) reenact a pioneer sugar camp.  Pancakes and sausage covered in real maple syrup under a tent.  Youngest daughter volunteered to pour coffee and hot cocoa.

Today was a freezing, blustery day with a lot of sunshine (which didn't help).  I had brought my girls many times when they were younger, but today was my brother's family's first time.

My nephews taste-tested store-bought versus tree-tapped syrup.  They were proud that they picked the "right one" (tree-tapped).  The boys were impressed that it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.

The boys watched carefully and listened intently as a volunteer whittled and cored a piece of sumac into a spire just like the pioneers would do to tap a tree.  Danny, the oldest, showed off his vocabulary by explaining to me that the native Americans used a hatchet to cut a "V" in a tree to collect the sap.

All of us moved quickly through the stations.  We then made the brisk walk back to my place, 1.5 miles in total.  I kept apologizing to my brother, nursing a sore hip, for the long walk, but he claimed not to mind.  We made sure he had the spot in front of the fireplace when we returned.

I'm happy to share our nature center with my nephews.  My girls have enjoyed programs there for years, but now it's time for the boys to take their turn.  I wish they lived closer than an hour away.

It was so cold, the sap was frozen!

Lindsey and Troy

Mike and Danny
(I told them to show how cold they were!) 
Pioneer display (love his hat!)

March 15, 2014

Front seat driver SOLC #15

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Today Little Sister/Student Driver, Allison, wanted to drive the 2.4 miles to my husband's office.  Big Sister/Licensed for 18 Months, Lindsey, made a face.  "I'm not getting in the car with her," stated Lindsey, as she got in the passenger seat.

"She was a willing and quiet passenger as you learned to drive," I told Lindsey as I handed Allison the keys to the car and slid into the backseat.

"Humpf," sighed Lindsey.

"Let's go!" I sang.

Allison adjusted her seat, the side mirrors and the rearview mirror.  Lindsey had to make a comment for each adjustment.

"Can't we just go?  The mirror is fine!  Start the car already!"

Allison kept quiet. She didn't turn enough for Lindsey's liking as she backed out of the driveway.

"Move it back.  Let's go.  Ugh.   You stopped too fast."

I kept quiet in the back, sipping my coffee.

"Do I turn left?" Allison asked.

"Are you kidding?" Lindsey asked.

"Head to Dad's office.  Remember where to go?" I asked.

At mile one, I slid the window open to try and get some warm-ish air in the car.

"See?  Your driving is making Mom carsick!" Lindsey exclaimed.

"I'm fine!" I sang from the back.  "The car smells musty.  I'm trying to get fresh air."

"Humpf," replied Lindsey.

As we pulled in the parking lot after our 4-minute ride, Lindsey launched out of the car before Allison had it in park.

"Did I really drive that badly?" asked Allison.

"Nope," I answered.  "But now you're prepared for your driving test.  The DMV employees aren't nearly as surly as your sister today!"

March 14, 2014

Great kid, strong mom SOLC #14

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Lauren sent a text message inviting many of us to a St. Baldrick's event tomorrow.  "Finding a cure for that monster called children's cancer" read the tag line. Lauren knows.  Her 13 year old son fought a great fight with cancer nearly four years ago.

Jeffrey was a great kid:  athletic, friendly, kind, happy-go-lucky.  In 3rd grade, he was most often seen in my front door window on weekend mornings, peeking in to see if the girls were awake.  They played in the snow in winter, raced bikes in fall, and set up backyard campsites in the summer.  He moved on to hanging out with the neighborhood guys in 5th grade, but the years before that, he was a fixture at our house.

"I know they are girls, but they are my best friends," he once told his mom.

Jeffrey was home and in the hospital, fighting a great battle, during 6th grade.  The girls tried their best to stop by, drop off books, say hi.  It was hard - you wanted to visit, but you weren't sure what was a good time.  Lauren always welcomed them with a big smile and open arms.  She made the visits easy for everyone.  Jeffrey had a great demeanor and would talk about anything.  You didn't have to be afraid of saying the wrong thing.

When Jeffrey passed in October of 7th grade, Lauren was the rock at Jeffrey's wake.  It was near Halloween and candy was everywhere around the room.  "He doesn't have to do homework anymore," she exclaimed to my girls as they struggled to keep their emotions in check.  

Lauren continues to post inspirational messages on Jeffrey's facebook page.  She also shares her positive days and her awful days.  She knows that we are all here for her, but we have no idea what she is going through.  She truly supports the community more, I feel, than we support her.

Jeffrey is always on our mind and in our hearts.  I know he watches over my girls and always will.

March 13, 2014

Comic relief SOLC #13


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My husband, Jeff, returns every Thursday night from his out-of-state consulting gig.  He's usually very tired and crabby.  This week was longer than usual for him, and I think the lack of sleep has made him a bit punchy.  Today he's been making jokes, faces and he's been full of stories.

Jeff is known around the office as "comic relief."  No matter what company he is working for, he is always known as the guy who can break the tension.  At this client, he's found himself in search of other people to joke and lighten the mood with him.  So far, he's been in luck.  There are a few guys that can roll with the jokes (never off-color or personal), and there's been many who are the topic of some funny stories. 

"Buzzword Bingo" is a great game they play at meetings.  He and few other people will draw Bingo boards and fill them with the current "lingo" around the office.  It's usually a pretty quiet game (not many know to play) until someone on the conference call yells "BINGO!" and forgets the phone isn't on mute.

Jeff loves a good psychological experiment. In August, he and another Jeff, by coincidence, wore their green dress shirts on a Tuesday.  "It must be Green Shirt Tuesday!" exclaimed the other Jeff.

My husband took the idea and ran with it.  He told everyone on the project (115 people) that Tuesdays are green shirt day.  People looked at him like he was crazy.  It's March.  He ran the numbers this week and 30% comply.  Jeff believes that the leaders and/or the most secure people in the group are the ones wearing the green shirts on Tuesdays.  Everyone knows it's an unofficial big deal.  Some vehemently refuse.  Some went searching for green dress shirts in their size.  Others wear their green shirts on days other than Tuesday.  Very interesting!

It's never dull at the office or at home when Jeff's around!

March 12, 2014

Expectations SOLC #12

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After six days of state testing, I jumped back into my routine of teaching on Tuesday.  I picked up my first graders, and headed to my room.

A quick run down of my students:  One student has a new baby sister at home, and this child is past exhaustion.  Another has a very short attention span.  One will talk to anyone who will listen.  The fourth one stands and jumps if the lesson doesn't move fast enough.

The first day back was crazy.  I felt like I was herding cats.  I counted to five more than once.  We finally accomplished a few things, and I returned them to class.

Is it the kids' fault?  Nope.  It's all mine.

A quick run down of my students:  They are all eager to learn.  They all need structure.  They are all special little people who think coming to my room is the equivalent of a field trip to their favorite place.

On Wednesday, I cleared my head and started with expectations.  I put name tags on the table to mix up their seating.  I pulled out my color cards (green, yellow, orange, red) to remind them to stay on task and stay on green.  I put a big stack of positive behavior coupons right on the table.

When I raised my expectations and gave them a solid routine, these cherubs rose to the occasion.
We've had two great days.  

So much of teaching is setting routines, and setting up students to be successful.  

March 11, 2014

Mixed cereal SOLC #11

"Mom, is it okay if I mix two cereals together?" called Allison from the kitchen as she crafted a late night snack.  Tonight's concoction was Rice Krispies and Apple Jacks.
"Your dad's grandfather, Boppa, always mixed his cereal," I replied.
"Oh good, that's where I get it from,"  said Allison.

My youngest daughter is always trying to connect herself with members of our extended family.  She feels like a square peg in a round family (hmmm... I feel that way at school!) and she wants to attribute some of her characteristics to heredity.  She has a unique personality and a joy for life.  Her nickname is "All is on."

Unfortunately, her enthusiasm isn't appreciated by everyone.
"Why can't she be quiet and normal!?" growls her big sister.
Our big saying in the house is "Normal is a setting on the washing machine."
Big sister isn't buying that.

Allison is caring, noisy, grumpy, happy, playful, loyal and persistent, all rolled up into one person.  She's been labeled with many letters of the alphabet by teachers (especially in 3rd grade), but I refuse to let these labels define her.  I truly believe she is a right-brained kid being taught in a left-brained world.  Some of her former teachers taught to her strengths... music, lyrics, movement.  Most didn't.

As a sophomore, she's asked a lot what she'd like to do when she grows up. She has lots of ideas, but she knows she needs to figure out something practical to balance out the creative.

Recently she took a career quiz and the number one answer was "race car technician."  This is her new go-to answer when people inquire about her future plans.
"Oh," they say, "are you taking any auto shop classes?"
"Nope," she replies.  "My Papa Paul watches NASCAR.  I'll just work for one of those guys.  They are rich."

Yup.  Square peg with a sense of humor.  This sense of humor has helped her create some great relationships with teachers and friends, and I know she will rely on it in her future.

Mixed cereal.  It's just the tip of the iceberg that is Allison.

March 10, 2014

10 things to know about me SOLC #10

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10 things you should know about me

1.  I'm a procrastinator, but sometimes I surprise myself and do things on time or even early (it's rare)

2.  I never met a carbohydrate I didn't like.  Really.

3.  I really should be eating better, but it's hard.  I cannot cook.  I repeat, I cannot cook.

4.  I love to walk, ride my bike, and take yoga class.  I just don't exercise every day (I'll do it soon, see #1)

5.  I'm the outside person at our house - I take the garbage out, deal with the cars, pull the weeds.  My husband is the inside person. He can cook (see #3) up a storm!

6.  I love chocolate.  The darker the chocolate, the better!  Just leave the nuts out (you are what you eat!)

7.  I've played violin since 4th grade.  I joined a community orchestra when I turned 40, and it's a challenge (in a good way!)

8.  My birthday is September 8.  I'm a Virgo who is not organized.  I like to take care of everyone else.

9.  I hate to shop for clothes because I'm not good at creating outfits.  My favorite outfit is jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and thick socks.  My kids have threatened to put me on What Not to Wear.

10.  I have the best husband in the world (see #5), the most awesome daughters (watch this space for slices) fabulous co-workers (some even slice - Michelle and Lynn), and very fantastic friends.

Thanks for stopping by!

March 9, 2014

Spring Break Planning SOLC #9

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What day is today?  The 9th?  Already!!?

On past spring breaks, we've done college visits or just stayed home.  This year we are taking a trip that includes a plane ride, packing for much warmer weather, and finding care for the crazy parakeet.

We are going to Disney World!!

I have mixed feelings about going.  How is that possible, you ask?  It's the happiest place on earth!  Well, oldest daughter, Lindsey, is traveling to WDW with her high school band.  They will be spending 24 hours driving each way on a coach bus.  My parents are driving their RV down to Orlando.  Allison and I will be flying down to stay with my parents in the RV.

I have mixed feelings because my husband, Jeff, is the biggest Disney fan in the family, and he has to work.  There's a big presentation at his client.  I really wish he could go with us.

Will I make the most of our time in Orlando?  Yes! We plan to hop between Disney parks, visit the Harry Potter park at Universal, and soak up the warm sun. 

I appreciate that my parents have helped make this trip happen.  I'm thankful for an opportunity to have a full-out vacation this year. I'll just be missing Jeff.  He needs this vacation more than any of us!

March 8, 2014

Halftime of life? SOLC #8

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It's March 8th.  I'm officially 44-1/2 years old. Woo hoo!?!??

On the first Tonight Show, Will Smith talked to Jimmy Fallon about skydiving.  Will decided that at 45 years old, he is at halftime since he has a good chance of living until 90.  Will decided to skydive to kick off his "3rd quarter" of life in a strong way.

According to Will Smith, I will soon be entering my "3rd Quarter."  I started thinking of life expectancy and what I still want to do.  I have no plans of skydiving.  My brother jumped out of two perfectly good planes when he was younger.  I will continue to leave the crazy stuff to him!

I plan on living past 100.  Why?  I want to be here to see everything!  I have no plans of leaving, really!

I do want my mind to be as sharp as it can be.  I purposefully play word games and complete crossword puzzles to keep my brain from becoming mushy.  I try to eat fruits, veggies and fiber-full cereal in an attempt to keep a my body healthy.  I have great intentions for exercising, and I go to yoga class sporadically.  (LOL)  I keep in touch with friends and watch comedies.

Will my plan work?  Gosh, I hope so.  My husband says I live like I'm running from something.  Maybe I'm running from illness and sadness.  I don't want either of them to get me.  I want to be the happy person, even when life puts hard things in my way.

I'm not making any plans to skydive or do anything crazy.  Don't worry.  I do admire Will Smith for his bravery, but I'll hang out here on the ground!

March 7, 2014

Frazzled Friday SOLC #7

Finally Friday.

I started the day meeting with our resource team to collaborate on report card progress notes for our students.  This is the first year of these progress notes, and they are still a work in progress.  Two of our team has been out of the building meeting potential principals.  We didn't mean to leave these until the last minute (report cards went out today!).  Really!

ISAT testing wrapped up today.  I tried my best to read a scripted science test to the fourth graders with great inflection to keep it interesting.  The kids started getting antsy halfway through the test.  H had stopped using her thinking bubble and started talking about random things.  We managed to finish up in a reasonable amount of time, and they skipped back to class.

Finally Friday.

Time to curl up on the couch under a blanket and relax.  It's been a long week!