Friday, November 12, 2010

Memorial

A student of mine was hit by a car when she was riding her bike to school a week ago Thursday. She did not survive the accident.

Friday morning I sat in a circle with all the sixth graders and told them what happened. We shared many tears and memories. I attended her funeral on Tuesday.

Today we watched a beautiful movie with pictures of Heather that my principal created. Holy macaroni, that kid had a wonderful smile. A whole face and whole body smile. Some of us wrote her goodbye letters and we also wrote some specific memories to share with her family. After, we went outside and let go of 40 yellow balloons. I did my best to communicate to my students the message whispered into my own hurting heart: Love her. Love her, and let her go.

I've always enjoyed how teachers wear many hats. We are clowns, anthropologists, nurses, and social workers. At times, I've learned this week, we are also ministers. We hold the fragile, broken hearts of innocent children. We give them comfort and we help them create meaning from deep, deep sorrow. I was worried I wouldn't know exactly what to say to my sixth graders last Friday, or how to honor Heather today. But I think I did okay. We are all doing okay.

A few things I loved and enjoyed most about Heather. She was brave enough to always be herself. She would introduce herself to new students, she would talk openly about whatever was on her mind, and she didn't hesitate to show that she genuinely cared about people. Her sense of humor was mature and quirky and fun. And those radiant, generous, expressive smiles. My favorite was her mischievous smile. I can't help but laugh remembering it. Thank you, Heather, for being you, and for being part of my class this year.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Classroom Beginnings in 2010

This school year has started off well. I have 19 adorable sixth grade students. And a fabulous new principal. And a dedicated and funny and loyal and smart sixth grade teaching partner. And many colleagues that are also my close friends. Cross your fingers and petition the universe on my behalf please--I don't want to combine our two sixth grade classes into one or anything else drastic because of our small class sizes.

My heart and mind are far more calm and focused on teaching than they have been for the last two years. That whole divorce and custody battle and learning to trust another human with my heart again was a rough, frightening journey. I wasn't a horrible teacher for the last two years, and I had lots of support from people at school and from my family at home. But I am so much better at teaching when my heart and mind are at peace. I was a little worried last year that I needed to change professions or go back to school or something. But right now I feel what I've felt most of my teaching career: that I hope I get to do this wonderful work for the rest of my working life. This is where where I belong---in a classroom, with children, brewing magic learning elixirs.

Some of the best reading highlights of the first 3 weeks:

I've used many ideas from Igniting a Passion for Reading, a professional book that I read over the summer. The books is full of specific ways to create a book-loving classroom culture. I have a giant chart on the wall with my own reading log. I am doing book talks every day. I've had my students write very specific and personal goals for the number and genre of books they want to read by the end of October. We had a "Back to Books" party last Friday. I taught them how to preview books. I do a "status of the class" check in on their independent reading almost every day. I'm getting to know each of their tastes and reading interests.

The guided reading group (aka Book Clubs) part of my reading instruction this year is going to look a little different. Everyone's "job" is to read assigned book selections and short stories, to record several observations, questions, and ideas, and to share this thinking with their groups when they meet on Thursdays. I'm having them use sticky notes that they code with the category of the responses. They refer back to these when they have their Thursday discussions. Their responses to the short story we read as a whole class this week were amazing, but I haven't figured out how to get them to be more brave about sharing all of their amazing ideas with me and with each other. After a rather disappointing whole class discussion I read through all of their sticky notes and I was stunned to see tons of thoughtful responses. Open ended questions, astute observations. Lots of great responses that I hadn't though of when I read the story. I read a bunch of these responses to them and teased them about being such big chickens. They laughed and I am actually confident that they will be more brave and generous with one another as more and more time goes by.

Here is the coded sticky note system that I'm hoping will generate thoughtful responses and discussions:

N-NICE! (scenes, sentences, descriptions--any part of the text that makes you say WOW!)
F-strong Feeling
Q-Question
A-dialog with the Author

They write the letter and a few words or a sentence to remind themselves of their question, observation, or idea. (This also is a nice record for me to see how they're doing.)

The final reading highlight from our first three weeks is the novel Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. This has been such a great read aloud to start off the year. I don't get super preachy with my students very often, but there are moments in this book when I can tell them exactly why I'm so passionate about books. Great books can teach us how to LIVE, how to live with integrity and love and courage. And books can also help us figure out who we are and what to do when scary things happen that are beyond our control. And what to do about imperfect parents and complicated friendships. These are urgent issues for 12-year-olds and I don't believe in Final Answers to such big questions, but I do believe we can learn how to be more thoughtful and aware, and this alone can help us live more peaceful and joyful lives.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes

This book is a sparkling jewel. The narrative voice is funny and distinct, a lot like Lemony Snickett, but less pompous and less grating. The plot is a lot like Roald Dahl, with completely outlandish and impossible events and talking mutant animals and magic elixirs. Yet the narrator and the main character Liberty are both somehow compelling enough that these impossibilities are easy to imagine and believe.

Liberty has two super awful parents and the only way she has managed to cope with their abuse is by reading her way through a library of books that she found hidden in her house. Although he is pure evil, her father is also a "friggin genuis". Liberty manages to escape from her parents by breaking into her father's secret laboratory and drinking some of his potions. She has never been outside of her house and must use her own incredible wits and her new friendships in order to avoid capture.

One of the potions that she steals lets her talk with animals. She befriends a street cat and a pigeon. The other potion makes her float up into the sky. In addition to the animals she also makes a couple of human friends as she searches for a private school that she read about once, where she imagines she will finally be happy. I can think of lots and lots of kids who would enjoy reading this book.

Friday, July 02, 2010

today I am listening to my own sermon....

A little over a year ago I did everything I could to end the raging and bitter war that was my divorce. I had "won" in court two times, but there was nothing sweet about those victories. My three adopted daughters had become the casualties of our selfish fight. All three of them were under huge amounts of pressure to fight against me. As soon as I realized that there might be a way to give my girls back some peace, I gave my ex full physical custody and agreed to pay child support. We have joint legal custody, which means that I have visitation rights. There was nothing easy about giving up custody. The pain of that loss knocked me all the way to the ground on more than one occasion. Thank the universe that the ground is such a solid place to fall, and that I've had more than one good soul get down there and let me cry in their arms.

Sometimes I still hate the whole situation. My relationship with my girls has changed a lot. I think part of my stress, even though it hasn't been at a very conscious level, has been about how far from any recognizable "ideal" or traditional "role" I have with them now. I don't have enough say about any important decisions to be called their parent. And I'm pretty sure they don't even think of me as "family".

But then today I remembered to apply that beautiful God is Love theology to my own life. My joy is most full when I am doing my best to love. It doesn't need to get all complicated. If I just do my very best to love my girls, who really cares how we label our relationship? They are these three complex but essentially good humans that the universe has given me to love and that's what I'm gonna keep on doing. Whenever and however I can. It is what it is and it isn't anything worth hating or stressing over. True, the money is a lot. It's way too much for me to be paying someone who made it clear to everyone, especially my girls, that I am not their mom. But at the end of everything, it's just money, and they need it more than I do. Between frequent visits with my girls, quiet days of solitude, and weekends and evenings with my best mate, there is nothing but countless and limitless moments for me to feel lots of love and peace and joy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mike Rose's Words for New Teachers

Some inspiring words written by Mike Rose for new teachers. It's a nice read for older teachers as well. Yes, I recognize that I'm getting kinda old. (Wise! Experienced!) I've found that despite feeling more confident in my practice and having tons of experiences and ideas to draw from, it's the fire and passion that are sometimes missing these days. It's not just a given like it was my first few years in a classroom. I am quite excited for this upcoming year though. New people, new possibilities, and a group of students that I already know and love.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Deep Down in a Writing Cave

I'm chasing a neon purple dragon around in a dark underground labyrinth. Okay, fine. What I'm really doing is working away on a fantasy novel that has been simmering in my imagination for a long while. It's pretty scary down here in this first draft labyrinth. I'm not sure that my writing can capture the characters and the story very well, but I do believe that it has the potential to be a very fun and very good story.

Word goal today: 2,000
Current progress: 1,486

I'm enjoying the work, and trying to keep at it, even when I get wobbly.

A thought for today about the tao of being mormon: I think the most valuable thing I get from having some taoist ways of looking at religion is that I don't get at all stressed or care that much about whether or not religious ideas are true. All religious thinking, for me, is a lot like listening to good music or reading good fiction. I don't think it's likely that there is a man in the sky somewhere who created everything and who will one day judge us. In fact, I find this proposition just about as preposterous as the proposition that there is a tribe of holy purple pandas in the sky that sit around making jokes about all of us silly, sorry humans.

But, even though I don't see any convincing evidence pointing to the existence of a higher holy being, I do adore the story of a Grandfather God (how I usually refer to and think of the Mormon God). I even pray to him sometimes. It's very similar to another story I love, the story of the magical powers that keep me extra warm whenever I wear the blue scarf that my grandma crocheted. In fact, there's a chance that that particular scarf actually makes me physically more warm because I really do believe that my grandma's love was stitched into it. And a mere awareness of being surrounded by grandma-love probably has very real physical manifestations. Many religious stories give me similar kinds of comfort and hope. Yeh, they are just stories, of course. But which of all the bazillion thoughts and beliefs that I hold so dear are anything but stories? And those purple pandas, with their big kind eyes and soft fur and jiggly bellies, when I imagine them laughing at my self-pity, and my frustratingly human need to be in complete control of everything all the time, how can I help but laugh at myself too?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity

This is Kate Braestrup's second memoir. Her first, Here If You Need Me, was also very good. Kate is a minister for the Maine wildlife wardens. (I want an exact job like this when I retire from teaching.) Kate was a radical feminist in her 20's, was a widowed parent of four in her 30's, and was brave enough to marry again in her 40's. She articulates a theology in both of her books that I find very appealing. God is love. No more, no less. And our job as humans is to love. We are to be as loving as we can be, for as long as we are able. Period. Simple. But never very easy, of course.

I often remember this one Saturday, a little over a year ago, before I lost custody of my girls. My 11-year-old daughter, Easter, had spent enough Saturdays at my mom's house to know all about "Saturday Jobs". (On those same Saturdays my dad also taught my girls about organized labor.) But on this Saturday we were living back in our own house. We were just relaxing and talking about our plans for the day. We were curled up on my bed with our darling kitten named TJ. When she suddenly started to realize that I might be about to follow my mom's example and assign her some Saturday Jobs Easter fiercely declared, "MY ONLY JOB IS TO LOVE TJ!!!"

Me too, Easter. My only job is to love---to love you and your sisters, to love my students, to love the very kind man that I am sharing my life with, and to even love my enemies and my ex-husband. Although, thank-the-universe, Kate says we are not required to like everyone. But then what does this kind of love even mean? Just that we have a deep desire for others to be happy and whole; to have a sincere hope that they are able to live in peaceful joy. And that we use all of our relationships to become more and more compassionate and understanding and patient. All of which becomes a wise and gentle love that we can offer to our own stumbling selves as well.

My own theology and understanding of love and God are connected to two distinct spiritual traditions. Mormonism and Taoism. I would like to keep writing about how I weave these two starkly contrasting paths together. Starting tomorrow. /smile

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer Fun


I'm cooking up a fiesta of Mexican cuisine this evening. There is no occasion. I just love good food and it's a nice way to bring together many of my favorite people. And it's summer! We can eat outside. And, HELL, I've got nothing else going on these days. HA HA HA. Isn't teaching a fabulous profession? Seriously friends, summer vacation is a part of the annual teaching cycle that I'm learning to relish more each year.

Touch Blue is the title of a very lovely little book I just finished. It would be a fast read for lots of sixth graders, but has complex themes about wishing and about what makes people a family, and about luck. The setting was an island up in Maine with a family with a dad who is a lobster fisherman. Cool stuff. I don't think this book is officially published yet, but Lisa, my librarian sister, has come through again with two full boxes of great books that she has bequeathed to me and my classroom. Thanks sis!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Soothing Voices

When I was small my mom would read books to me before I went to sleep. I'm sure she did. But I don't have distinct memories of the particular books. I have vague memories of some well read picture books, including one about a penguin who goes off on his own and lives on a sunny beach. When I was a bit older she read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to my younger brothers. I wonder what she read to me and up to what age. I have a feeling that she may have read at least parts of The Hobbit, and Charlotte's Web to me and my sister. But I'm not sure. Just because these events are outside my conscious memory, though, doesn't stop them them from shaping the person I've become. A reader, of course. But also a person who can get through physical ailments with the soothing sounds of just about any American voice reading or talking. (I can't do British audio books. I don't understand or have a working theory on why. I just can't.)

I fell off a chair and broke both my elbows four years ago. The first 48 hours after that accident were very painful. I got through some of the worst hours by listening to audio books. The sound of another voice telling a story carries my mind away from whatever pain or stress I'm experiencing and gently eases me into a restful sleep. Last night I was in the worst part of a cold I've been fighting for a couple days. I was congested and achy and restless. But I was able to relax and sleep by listening to two Speaking of Faith podcasts.

Even though I don't have detailed or specific memories, I'm glad my mom planted the seeds of this easy and effective way for me to deal with physical pain and stress. And I'm glad there are so many options available these days to find such a wide variety of audio books and programs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes

I've made these enough to confidently say I've got the recipe down. It's pretty simple, but makes for some reliably delicious hot cakes.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp salt

Mix all these dry ingredients together with a fork in a big mixing bowl. In a separate bowl mix the wet ingredients.

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter

Heat the griddle. Just before you're ready to start cooking the pancakes, dump the mixed wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir a few times with a wooden spoon. Don't stir too much. The batter will look rather lumpy. That's a good sign.

Cook until golden brown on each side. Serve with maple syrup, apple butter, bacon, orange juice and eggs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Small Actions

I sent my students off this weekend with an assignment straight from Nancie Atwell's "Lessons That Change Writers". Their job? Notice 20 small actions that could be poetry seeds. I collected a couple of great ones during school today. My favorite: Zoe grinned with satisfaction when I finished the mini-lesson by announcing that I was headed right at this moment to my writers notebook to record some of my small moment butterflies before they got away. Her grin and little chuckle were more than enough, but she also wrote down MY exact words in her Small Moments list.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Faeries of Dreamdark

I am a hobbit loving fantasy freak. I inhabit a world that my active and powerful imagination is constantly filling with magical creatures and stories. I am currently in the process of writing an alien/sorcery adventure. Yet--I rarely come across new fantasy books that I truly enjoy. Even Harry Potter didn't kindle much of a flame for me.

Lo and behold! I am only on page 99 of the first book in this series, but the hook in my reading mind is already set deep. The tug of being reeled through this world and story is a steady and wonderous pleasure.

A desperate wish: that I can somehow get this book for either a literature group set or even a whole class read-a-loud set. Shush now, I can wish.

keep on reading

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stepping Word Stones

If I was a little forest elf crossing a dangerous river by jumping from stone to stone, these are what the stones would say for the last 12 months:

blazing
growling
fighting
grasping
shattered
severed
stomping
summiting
grieving
praying
healing
aching
loving
tethered
cherished
held

I'm across that river now and on solid ground. Oh my, what a wonderful enchanted forest I've happened upon.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Choclate Chip Cookies and Beef Stew

I had a pancake disaster two weeks ago and my best mate has been super sick. We went for a couple weeks with out much delicious cooking or eating here on planet fun. But my cooking adventures have now started back up.

First. I've tinkered with this chocolate chip cookie recipe over the past few months and it has now evolved into a recipe that produces perfectly moist and delicious cookies every time.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cream:
2 cubes butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1.5 tsp vanilla
Add:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 (a little heaping) tsp salt
1 (a little heaping) tsp baking powder
a whole bag of chocolate chips. (I like the miniature ones these days)

Bake at 375 for 10 minutes


Second. I made a hearty and delicious beef stew today. I'm going to put it into a beef pot pie for dinner tomorrow. I don't want to forget what I did to get today's stew so nice, so before I forget, here's how I made it:

Beef Stew
Caramelize half of a chopped onion in olive oil.
Add a package of cubed beef and also add one chicken bullion cube
After the beef has browned, add water, parsley, and 2 bay leaves and let it all simmer for 90 minutes.
Add 5 chopped potatoes and 5 chopped carrots, boil for 30 more minutes
Add a can of sweet corn and a packet of brown gravy, turn down heat for last ten minutes.

Hrm. Was that all I did? Yeh. I think so. I'm looking forward to the pot pie tomorrow.

I want to have about 12 main dish recipes and 6 dessert recipes that reliably turn out well. That's my goal.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

a little poet

One of my petite fifth grade girls regularly gifts me these incredibly sophisticated poems written in pencil on blue-lined paper. Yesterday I asked her if she was going to write me one of her masterpieces for Valentine's Day. She gasped with joyful anticipation. And this morning she handed me a poem that switches points of view, from a fierce but lonely dragon to a shy but generous elf.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

pink and red and shades of green

I hate February. It's a month that is very gray and drab. But so far this has been a good month. School often starts to feel like it's really draggggggging around now, but this year I have an energetic student teacher in charge most the day. Most of my students seem to be making decent progress. They might be itching for spring, and, trust me, so am I, but it isn't affecting any of us so much that we can't enjoy learning each day. I'm looking forward to the three months I'll have back with my class starting in mid-March.

Other reasons this particular February feels us overflowing with lovely colors: Zumba dance classes are now offered at the Bountiful Rec Center. Almost every day! There have been a few days of warm-ish weather and bright sun. My siblings all bought me some way cool hiking boots that I've been breaking in. My best mate slash best friend is very good to me and very funny. Two of my daughters enjoy hanging out with me. And I'm making reasonable progress on my lifetime dream of becoming a real writer.

And this:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

new gratitudes

A few winter 2010 gratitudes:

1. the Words With Friends iPhone app
2. no cavities
3. a warm bed
4. love
5. buttermilk pancakes
6. eliptical machines
7. books
8. five or six ridiculously darling students
9. funny colleagues
10. supportive friendships
11. laughter
12. deep sleep
13. words
14. star trek the next generation
15. my family

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tapioca Pudding

I had never cooked this before but it's one of my best mate's favorite desserts. We basically followed the recipe on the back of the Kraft Quick Cooking Minute Tapioca box. We used half whole milk and half skim and quadrupled the recipe. It was a good thing we had a huge stew pot or it would have overflowed. We added a little extra sugar, but not more than a tablespoon. And also an extra tsp of vanilla at the very end. It took about 20 minutes to heat up to a boil, but thickened right up perfect. I'm glad my best mate was there to help me learn this one.

Result: it was delicious hot, maybe would have been a little better hot with all whole milk. And it has been super delicious cold. We cooked it on Saturday and it's already gone.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Shaping My Year

I've never been much of a goal setter, Mormon Taoist that I still am. But last January I set my sights on some reasonable goals and accomplished most of them. It felt pretty darn good to look up the metaphorical mountains and say I am going to climb those. And then proceed to climb them. And so...I'm gonna give goal setting another go.

2010 goals:
*Run that Centerville 4th of July 5K again and beat last year's time.
*Summit 12 mountains, but be safe and sane about it.
*Write two books. My brother getting published has lit a scorching fire under my butt on this lifelong dream.
*Get to where I can do 25 real push-ups
*Get Stabbetha, my World of Warcraft character, to level 80 and beyond!
*raft a river or two
*Read 100 books
*Keep peace, hope, love, and trust in my own heart and life
*Memorize 3 poems
*Write 5 poems
*Try out some new recipes and keep enjoying all the old ones

On a different, but related note--it's somewhat terrifying but also quite wonderful to recognize how far a stable and supportive relationship can go in healing deep wounds and in helping me shape a gentle, happy reality.