10/21/14

Growing a writer, a human, a boy

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My son wants to improve his writing.  Specifically, he wants to learn to write more creatively, in his own words, “with fewer transition words like ‘first’, ‘next’, and ‘then’”.  It still amazes me that he has reached and exceeded the point where he likes to write again.  He started excitedly in kindergarten, but by third grade he would refuse to make a birthday card for anyone, let alone sit down and write a story.  Last year I thanked his teachers for giving him the tools to move forward, especially in writing, I may have even written about it here somewhere. My little guy is growing up, literally. . .at age 11 he is 5 foot 3 and wears his dad’s old pants and has to shop in the men’s section of the shoe store, and he likes to write his stories.  He’s gaining skills, and now he has even set a goal for himself. . . in writing!  This mama, teacher, writer couldn’t be more proud.

His 6th grade teacher is a man, who at nearly 7 feet tall commands a presence in his classroom.  It was clear at curriculum night that an appreciation for literature, poetry and art were high on his priority list along with teaching our kids to take responsibility for their own learning, (and that of the other kids in the class as well), to be actively engaged in developing desirable character traits within the classroom and to have the skills necessary to survive the big school next year. He includes the students in conference time with parents and, this week, sent home a brief outline of academic goals to look over before conference.  A few areas seemed to my son to need little attention, and honestly he may be right.  A few others brought up red flags in my brain and sent my son literally sliding under the table just thinking about them.  The writing goal, however, brought an immediate sincere response from my eleven year old boy, a desire to get better and enough confidence that he could achieve this goal that he actually said it, out loud, for me. 

So, I will bring our list of goals to conference with the idea that all of us can help my boy, (including the boy himself) grow into the best writer, human, sixth grader he can be.  I may just start surfing for mentor texts to help him in his writing goal before then.  

10/14/14

10 minutes or days? a writer's perception of time

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. . .
The clock on the wall mocks me as I finish an application for Reading program,
tick, tock, tick. . .
as I do a quick edit of meeting notes from this afternoon
tick, tock, tick, tock, . . .
as I stare at the screen and wonder. . tock, tick. . . what to write, tick, tock. .
so I just do. . .tock, tick, tock,
what comes to mind, tick, tock,
Click, click, click of the keyboard
as the tick, tock, tick of the clock continues on and on and on
tick, my eyes grow heavy
and tock, chill settles on my shoulders
tick, I must rest,
for now. . . tock.

10/7/14

The Most Important Thing. . .

Just yesterday, I was reading an online Q and A with Elizabeth Gilbert, (Eat, Pray, Love) and came across this advice from her.  "The most important thing in your life today will get the most time."  She goes on to say, "Every day I have to mobilize myself and ask, 'What is the most important thing today?' and then I say to myself, 'Prove it Liz.'"  I loved reading this!  It reminds me that we all have to make decisions every day that shape our lives.  How motivating it is to think to myself, "If my family, or my writing, or teaching, or my yoga practice is really important to me, why the heck am I wasting time reading random FB posts during my morning quiet time?"  But it is more than that isn't it?  I struggle with acknowledging "what is important", sometimes from minute to minute, not just day to day. 

Sometimes the "what is important to me today", isn't so straightforward, as I noticed this weekend.  We spent a couple days in Maine, and took one to visit the Fryeburg Fair.  I found myself feeling not quite tip top that morning, and though I had been looking forward to the trip, once we were there I was just going through the motions. . . ok, where's a ticket booth?, which rides do you want? we'll get a candy apple after, I was just on autopilot as if I didn't really want to be there. It was drizzly, but not too cold and we separated so Lila and I could find the little kid rides.  Though it may seem silly there were a couple points where I just had to ask myself, "What is important today?", but it was not just "what's important to me?" my family of course, but within that, if family is important to me, then I had to ask, "What is important to them?"  Fortunately it was not just to spend money and eat junk food, but also to experience things they may not experience every day, so when Lila went through the fun house and decided to log roll through the spinning cylinder at the end, I didn't tell her to "stop", or "get up", or "don't get muddy, hurry up", because to her, in that moment, rolling in that tunnel was, "the most important thing." and I reminded myself that my most important thing in that moment was to say "yes!".

A bit later, the boys headed into the blacksmith's shop to have another link of chain added to their link from a previous visit, and my husband suggested the baby barnyard for Lila.  She Loved that idea, and I said "yes!", but my personal reaction even before we rounded the corner to see the line headed into the petting barn was sadly, "ugh."  I was standing there with my little girl, waiting probably a bit impatiently *smirk*, when I thought to myself, "This is why we are here!  Hello lady, wake up and be in the moment."  That is the point when I began to notice the line wasn't so long, Lila was enjoying a nearby show of young tap dancers, the rain isn't so bad just really thick mist, what a great day we are having!  When we entered the barnyard it became very apparent that Lila knew what was important to her and she found some of the cutest little goats to pet and feed.  The barn was filled with little critters, goat kids, people kids and lots of clean dry hay, one of the most lovely "petting barn" experiences I have had.  She was in heaven, and she brought me with her.

I left the fair with my family, smiling at the great day and memories.  Now with a bit of nostalgic melancholy, I recall a time when the boys were still tiny, probably it was when I just had the one, that living in the moment and saying "yes!" to my life was so much more natural feeling.  Perhaps because "all that was important" was rolled up in one tiny package and a husband and we had committed to me staying home at that time, so I had no distractions, no other ambitions or dreams to dilute my focus at that moment.  As time moves forward, my family grows, and I return to teaching, and discover writing, my focus shifts so frequently, I have to keep reassessing and reminding myself of what is important today. . . what is important right now. 

9/30/14

My hands are in it

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My hands are in it, squeezing the salt into the cabbage, crushing the squeaky shredds to start the fermentation process when my mind takes a wander. . .or is it my body?  I become aware in that moment, watching the muscles in my own fingers working in the worn stone crock, of the many hands that must have prepared the kapusta for winter storage over the generations of my mother's maternal side of the family.  I can almost picture the hands, all shapes and sizes, working just as I am now.  I enjoy bread making in much the same way, kneading the product with strong hands and love and knowing I am making something that will nourish family.

My grandmother was born in America, of Polish immigrants, farmers, and squeezing cabbage was surely not the hardest work any of those hands had seen.  I wonder for a moment about the generations of family who I will never meet and if they enjoyed this process as a tradition, a promise of a winter feast, or if it was merely a chore, with a 'Cabbage is better than none.' mentality, but that thought passes and I sink back into the work, and press the cabbage firmly, now packing it tight and watching the water rise to the top.  It has begun.  I tuck large clean leaves on top, weight them down and cover the crock with a cloth.

Then, I wait.  My hands no longer in the crock, but still in the family.

9/23/14

The Little Philosopher

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After driving across town to pick up my middle son at school, he runs toward me swinging his backpack and being goofy, big smile on his face.  He is like this every day at the end of school and though he would never admit it, I am sure it is as much to do with his current school as it does that school is over for the day.  He hops in the car, first stopping to be goofy with Lila, then climbing onboard.  As we drive off, he begins talking, "Did you ever think so much, you outsmarted yourself?"  No way to answer that one, and luckily I didn't have to, he kept on talking.  As my mind glanced back at the days of sitting in philosophy class in college, my son continued, "You know when you think so hard about something it gets confusing?  Did you know that everything is made of nothing?  There's these things called atoms that are about eighty percent nothing and when they get close together, we can feel them, like when I put my finger on the dashboard, but this isn't really a dashboard, it's really a bunch of nothing.  And we can't really see things, we just see the light reflecting off the atoms."

A couple hours later, at supper, the conversation resumed with big brother kicking in like they had read the same book.  (As it turns out they did, *snicker*)  Joey turned the conversation, "Yeah and when you read something, it's like you suddenly start seeing it everywhere, like just today Mr. Gifford said. . ." My mind wandered.  I know Mr. Gifford, Joey's sixth grade teacher, said last night at open house, "I appologize in advance for how many times you are going to hear my name this year."  The next thing I knew the conversation had moved on without me. . ."and isn't it cool that powder is explosive if you put it in the air?"

So I have been practicing my questioning skills and asked, "Given what you guys have been talking about with atoms, and air, and objects, what do you think is the reason why powder in the air is explosive?"  (Go. Mama! Go. Mama!---my silent cheer as I ponder my own question.  I am curious to hear how they explain it)  Charlie didn't have an immediate answer, so I encouraged him to keep thinking.  Then Joey decided it had something to do with the surface area of the powder molecules.  Dad pitched in a hint about the burn triangle, and added his own question, "What will there be more of around each particle of flour when it is, here's your word of the day, atomized?" and both boys chimed in, "Oxygen!"

Sometimes the richness of the conversations my kids have, or are capable of amazes me. . .   

9/17/14

A Sweet Memory

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My last baby started Kindergarten this year.  I can hardly believe how much she has grown in height and as a personality.  I am enjoying watching her become a fantastic little girl.  Tonight I had a rare treat when I went up to kiss her goodnight.  Daddy had already tucked her in for the evening and she asked me, as she does, to lie next to her for a few minutes.  I stretched on the edge of her bed with my arm across her tummy as she rubbed it, then before I knew it the rise and fall of her quiet breath filled my senses and carried me back to a time when she was just a baby, warm and fuzzy headed, smelling new and sweet and faintly of milk.  Then just as quickly, I was back.  Like waking from a dream, I was present and kissing her cheek.  I moved out of her room as she curled cozily onto her side for a good night's slumber.

9/2/14

Conversation beginning with. . . "Graveyard"

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Tonight my almost Halloween baby, almost 6, asked me, "Mommy, what is a graveyard?"

So not wanting to say, "A place to bury dead people." I told her, "It's a place to remember people who have died."

Then Lila, "Like who?"

"Well Super Grampy for one."  I did talk to the kids this spring, but they didn't go to the funeral, and it seemed to have floated over little miss Lila, because she replied, "Super Grampy Died?" (insert quivery voice). . .that's sad."

So onward our conversation traveled, past the Graveyard and up to Heaven! and of course Lila asked "What's heaven?"

I said, "It might be different for different people? If we use our imagination that's what our heaven is. . ." and Lila replied,
"No, it should be the same for everyone."

"Well honey, I do think heaven is a place where the most beautiful parts of our selves go after we die?  remember how we talked about being beautiful inside?"

Lila, "Do we have houses there?"

 Me, "I don't know because I've never been there, but I think we just live on the beach."

"I think we have a long row of houses that goes around and around and is surrounded by the ocean. . . .no it's surrounded by a lake bigger than Sebago Lake."

"Wow, that sounds amazing."

Then she hugged me around the neck and said, "Mom, I love you more than me.  I love you to the edge of outer space and back, and to the edge of outer space and back, and to the edge of outer space and back."

I take that as high complement from an almost 6 :) And about as much sign I got this conversation moderately close to "right" as any parent can expect to get.

8/26/14

twilight

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A few moments,
dew drops on metal roof
crickets, crickets, crickets, crickets, crickets. . .
black of night,
ink sky
crickets, crickets, crickets, crickets, crickets. . .
fades to black tree top shadows
against blue twilight
a last star
Boom!

8/19/14

Leaving an Impression


I got the call about last week's job interview, as I was driving my kids to their Aunt's house, so I could go to another interview.  I tried to hide my disappointment, and brush it off as, oh well. . . I was on my way to interview for a job that posted no real description, was not a typical classroom teaching job, and which I had no time to prepare for.  "Can you make it today, dear?"  So, I did the brave thing and forged on.

It was unlike any interview I had ever experienced.  The principal talked, for a good long stretch about a lot of things.  Her school was just moved to level 3 from level 4 and she has worked hard and her teachers have worked hard to achieve that.   I knew within minutes of meeting her that I was sitting before someone to be respected.  My impression, she was a hard nut.  She asked me only one question, and though I know the answer, I stumbled (that is me), she interrupted.  I knew her impression was that I was too far out of teaching.  The conversation continued a bit, and I enjoyed listening anyway, because along this curvy winding ramble of speech, I was picking up on the pieces of a plan this lady had in her head to teach a lot of kids how to be writers.  I knew in a piece of me that I would not get this job.  Heck a part of me was slightly petrified, in that moment, that I might.

Oddly, I left feeling better than usual.  Like some of the determination and drive that eminated off this tough nut lady principal had reached me.  I was thinking about the job on the way home, and how I would approach it, and that night wrote an email stating that plan in three or so steps.  The next night I wrote an email I titled "the meat of it".  This job was downright meaty, you see, to teach students K-5 to write, that is six classes, six different plans, but wow, there are 3 classes of each grade, so each week for 3 weeks I would have a different set of kids at each grade.

So I wrote it out, because that is how I think best.  I explained what I would be teaching at each grade level, merging CCSS with corresponding early literacy skills at each grade level.  I modeled my plan on teaching a love of literacy and writing with the use of great literature and poetry to model teaching points.  I sent it.

Well. . . still, I didn't get the job, I haven't actually worked as a teacher for ten years, and I knew that was a BIG factor, that she wanted someone "IN it" who was ready to go, I respect her decision.  What I did get though, rather than a click on schoolspring of "not hired", was a very lovely email in response.  In her words, "Your letters about the position and what I wanted for my students was on the spot in each grade level.  I was completely taken aback by your emails. They were awesome and perfectly written."  I have never not gotten the job in such an uplifting way.  I am left with an optimistic feeling, glad that the last impression this amazing lady has of me is not of the girl who stumbled while answering her question, but the teacher who understood and interpreted her ramblings and put together a plan to make it happen.

8/13/14

In a split second. . .


There is a line from a movie my kids watched recently, about a split second of bravery, when you take the leap and voila, you can change the course of your life (and it only takes that split second of bravery).  I still can’t quite remember what movie it was, and I don’t dare wake my kids to ask, or I won’t get to write this!  Yet, that idea of doing something that scares the pants off me only taking a deep breath, a moment’s decision, one baby step and then voila?!  It is so enchanting.  That was the thought in my mind when the principal asked me to tell a bit about myself. I knew that was, The Moment, I took a deep breath and I began to pull photos and materials from my bag. (How many interviews have I done and left my true teaching self hiding in a bag or basket on the floor, leaving the scared mom looking for a job sitting in front of a panel of interviewers?)  Today, I let the teacher out of the bag!

Suddenly, the door was open, I had bridged that point where I usually struggle to find the right words, because I wasn’t the only one talking.  The others, a combination of teachers, curriculum specialist, and principal, instantly saw me as a teacher.  I explained how in ancient times we teachers did not have to stamp everything we did with the standard we were teaching, but I had gone through my things to see how they apply to current teaching standards and written the standards that applied.  My good faith effort for them to see, I “get it”.  I know that we need to cover CCSS, but I also know it still needs to be good teaching and worthwhile to children. 


The interview flowed like a conversation after that.  Sometimes they skipped questions I had already answered. They each asked questions, and so did I.  We were all talking and smiling and it felt right.  We ended with a tour of the school, a handshake, and a promise that I would find out by the end of the week.  I left, past the field with the little overgrown gardens of school during summer, out past the farm houses, barns, tractors and miscellaneous four wheelers and variety of critters pastured along the winding mountain road, feeling the tension gone from my shoulders and knowing whether or not I get the job, I accomplished something life changing in that split second.

8/7/14

Our Magical Creatures-To start a New School Year


Many of us have children beginning school soon, or who have begun a new year already. We are parents and teachers and we know, beginning school can be hard for kids and families with new routines, new teachers, new classes, or new schools. I thought of this post as I do at the start of each school year, from a time when feelings were still quite raw from a "difficult" school experience, and am reposting for you all to reread and share. Here is hoping that you all are blessed with kind, loving teachers with abilities to see the best, the most positive traits in your children.  Hope you are blessed with Teachers and staff able to erase the proverbial box and replace it with an open mind and heart.  
:)  Amy

OUR MAGICAL CREATURES

When I started teaching, someone, I think it was my stepmom, shared a poem or letter? she found.  I believe it was written as if from parent to teacher about a little girl on the first day of school.  And though my memory is foggy on everything else, I remember the message as 'please notice that my child is nervous and excited to be at school, that she wore 'special shoes' and lost a tooth last night, and she longs to be noticed for who she is and welcomed to this new adventure called school.'  

I felt most successful as a teacher when I made time, first thing, to check in with each and every child, each and every day.  I would say, "Tell me something you've done lately." or "Tell me something I don't know about you."  or I would just let them bubble over with whatever they were fizzling to tell me.  I really felt I knew my kids and therefore taught them better for it.  Conferences were easier because the parents and I could laugh and share their children.

Isn't that what we all hope for when we send our children off to school?  We want our children to be noticed and loved for who they are, and who we parents created.  Creation via a child is a powerful (or at least time consuming :) form of self expression.  Probably the most painful as well, because our children are us, and our children are not us, all at once.

What I didn't know while reading that letter as a twenty something first year teacher was that when I feel my child has been rejected or is not being seen for his true and beautiful self, to say it hurts doesn't even scratch the surface.  I've had to grow a thick skin as the mom of a child with an invisible disability.  People in general have a hard time believing what they can't see.  So, to explain what they don't really understand, they make up stories like the Greeks, and Romans and many other cultures between now and then. 

One popular tale is "I see that child misbehaving.  That parent is doing a lousy job.  She needs to discipline that kid the way my parents did it."  The story is based in fear of the unknown I think (The idea that a child that might not succeed with the usual parenting techniques or the one's we're most familiar with may seem scary to some), and (the story) is meant to create a feeling of safety (this couldn't happen to me) for those telling the story.  They also distance themselves by giving our kids worrisom names or labels; naughty, manipulative, busy body, bully or more serious; Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Child Onset Bi Polar Disorder, or Tourret's Syndrome. . .  and They see our children as monsters through their fear. 

The lucky ones (parents, teachers, relatives, friends), those not blinded by fear, see our children as the magical creatures that they are.   Our children are truly Magical creatures with special powers to ignite ideas into being, to illuminate the darkness with their smile, poetry, music or art as they dance through life to an unfamiliar beat.  The lucky ones hear our child's voice as a song on the sea breeze gentle and steady and meant to be.

As a Mom and teacher, I feel the need to extinguish the power of the bad stories and names and the fear.  In order to do this, I accept the sage advice of wise philosophers.  I love what is, and accept the truth.  So when the storytellers say "He is oppositional, defiant, or seeking attention.", I say "Yes. He is!"  He is defiantly opposing being placed in a box built by a stranger . . .built, for some other child.  He demands for people to pay attention to who he truly is.  He is loving and loved, creative and evolving, strong and fragile, and. . .human.  As a parent I love him, nurture him, teach him and advocate for him.  As a teacher I love those like him (and all the others too), I nurture them, teach them and advocate for them.  

8/4/14

Cape trip, Un-snapshot



I wonder what it would be like to be one of those families, like on facebook . . . , that land of happy faces vacationing and frolicking joyously together. . .  I am guilty of posting those happy faced pictures too, really, but sometimes I am tempted to take a photo of the kids in the car when 12-18 inches of self space clearly becomes "not enough space", or a selfie of me when my tolerance even for "happy noises" becomes rashly depleted.  Take our recent trip to The Cape. . .

I think the ride out (just under 4 hours for us) went amazingly well.  Once we got onto the Cape, the kids watched their favorite movie "Sandlot" for the billionth time to avoid the "Are we there yet? blues".  We rented an RV (lovingly dubbed "Big ole Parked Turd, thanks to Robin Williams in "RV" the movie) to avoid arguing during "set up camp" time, usually held when the kids have too much "helping" energy, and Mom and Dad not enough, and that strategy worked surprisingly well too.  We headed to find the "big grocery" which I had an idea about the location of, but it had been years since I had been there, and I wasn't driving, soooooo. . . We took the wrong left turn first, then circled around to the tune of "Are you sure it's in Provincetown?", "Yes! I am sure!  I just don't remember the name of the road, but it is one of these big lefts, and I forgot my phone with the map on it at the camp!" My thought bubble read, "why do we really need to go to the store for a package of rolls right now anyway?!!"  But it's all ok, because we all ate icecream after and laughed at the little pig wagging his tail and walking on a leash and a few other interesting sights while in town.

I am of the philosophy that when vacationing or "roughing it" you "go with the flow" ie: don't get crabby about wrong turns (um. . .until the end of the trip when to take the same wrong turn as last year and then it's ok to get downright grouchy. .  hm hmm. . . uhh, just saying, going home is harder for some of us!).  You "make sacrifices." ie: who needs salt and pepper and mustard anyway? and you pretend it is not really raining too hard ie:  find a way to laugh and smile through it . . .till the water is actually running down your back to the seat of your pants.  Let's just say, everyone in our family doesn't share my same "roughing it", "vacation" mentality, so sometimes attitudes get a lit-tle sour.



All in all though, the trip was good.  Improved upon some otheres before it, and tried some new things.  The Pirate Museum is a great way to drip dry during a deluge at the Pier for about a dollar a minute, as it's not that huge a place.  We had a great beach day, I laughed at the kids laying in the water and acting like the waves were huge.  (sadly trip to Marconi washed out due to rain, I was hoping they would see real waves) The water was warm compared to the icy waters of Maine so we were all good there.  And the kids surprisingly had loads of fun at the campground "playground" which consisted of . . . swings.  Thats it folks, but the swings were in beach sand which set off their stunt man ingenuity to see how far and wild they could jump from the swings.  We had a fire, roasted many marshmallows and ate many smores.  All in all a good trip. . .

. . .till that wrong turn on the way home (quickly remedied by husband driver, who clearly had no part in the wrong turn, due to terrible options: a. ignore very sure sounding wife, or b. follow very sure sounding wife's directions the wrong way till she realizes and gets angry anyway. . )



  

7/29/14

Boys will be "Boy Writers"


boywritersI am in and out of reading Boy Writers:  Reclaiming their Voices, this rainy summer morning.  The kids' sounds and voices are streaming into my ears from the living room, drawing my attention from the book occasionally.  The book is an easy read for this mom of two boys.  I get it.  This morning I read two chapters back to back, the first about the issue of violence in boys writing and the second about humor.  Somewhere in there the two overlapped and I thought, "I love this book!", then my oldest interrupted, "Do you have a washer?"  I ask, "Why?" as I get up and take down a junk box to rummage through to no avail.  "I am making something."  I look at the created 'something' in his hand, and think, is that a slingshot?  "You aren't going to shoot the washer are you?"  "No.  It's just a  noisemaker." big grin.

My son continues his search, a sign of task persistence in it's most authentic form, and I return to my book. "Take your boys humor seriously.  Look for the intelligence behind the apparent silliness."  It is so true we can easily mistake silliness for stupidity, they are not one in the same. Excited kid noises drift up from the basement when a washer is apparently found.  I think about the previous page where a teacher describes her problem of "not sharing their (boys) sense of humor" and another who acknowleges, "I don't get it." and I know it is true.  Sometimes as a parent I have moments where I don't allow myself to "get it", but when I sink down into the muck of it, feel it through their laughter, it is a great place to be sharing in their inventive, silly, clever (but admittedly not always intelligent--insert smirk here) humor.

As I draw down out of my own thoughts and again into the book in front of me, a sudden larger than life and louder than humanly possible ripping, flatulent sound accompanied by uproarious laughter fill my home while my boys thunder upstairs, whooping in boyish hilarity, into the room with me. . .'Did you hear that??!!"  I smile, even laugh, and think to myself, "How could I not?" while I absorb the proud smiles of boys in the midst of creating their own fun and . . . materials for writing.  I may have to share this book with their teachers this fall.


7/22/14

I Woke and the Clock said 2:00 AM. . .again

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"By the pricking of my 
thumbs,
Something wicked this 
way comes."  ----Shakespear (Macbeth)

As I sit down to write this morning, I am not sure I am far enough from the awefulness of the story to put it down in words, but the telling of it might be a help to me or someone.  Just a few nights ago I lay my head to sleep and woke a few hours later to a nightmare that would last for days, at least, and may continue who knows how long. . .

My husband uncharacteristically threw up the sash to bring in the dry cool air that swept in earlier that evening, and unbeknown to him, something else crept in as I slept and he tossed.  I wonder what would have happened, or not, if that night had been like many other?  What if my husband had come in and shut the windows tight, would events have unfolded as they did?  But "what if's" are seldom useful and that is the case here and now.

"How can you sleep?" my husband grumbled in a strained voice.  "There is something in here, I thought I was crazy, but there is something. . .can you see it?"  

I think I must have groaned trying to drag my conciousness out of slumber and blinking my eyes clear till I could see.  He was prone and propped on his elbows staring down. . .at his pillow.   "Can you see them?" he strained again.  I stared down too, and I did see, or did I?  They were tiny like flecks of pepper, but they were moving, quickly.  "Fleas?!!  Where did we get fleas?!!  We don't even have pets??"  Then, I began to feel them as well as see them or was it my imagination?  The sensation of something creeping on my skin was too much, we both jumped out of bed and began ripping off the sheets.  I ran them straight to the laundry and put what didn't fit in a large plastic bag, tied it off, and then showered.

My night eyes hurt trying to focus on the screen of my phone as I googled how to get rid of fleas, while waiting for my turn in the shower.  I got a few ideas for home remedies, applied them and showered myself.  We remade the bed and settled in once again, but not for long.  Our visitors, whoever they were, were not to be expelled so easily.  When I glanced at the clock it said in red, 2:00 AM.  

The next day I continued the laundering of sheets, bedding, pillows, clothing, little did I know the washing machine would be running for the next 36 hours non stop.  I texted my husband, "This is bad.  The clothesline is loaded with fleas.  I haven't been using it, but went to hand an item that wasn't drying well.  All the lines. WTF"  His response.  "IDK.  Maybe they're not fleas?"  then, "No time.  Google little bugs that look like fleas."  

At times like this, it becomes very apparent that Google wears the faces of both friend and foe, knowledge is the best and worst thing when facing the unknown.  It quickly became apparent that we were not dealing with fleas, fleas are actually a bit bigger, not so difficult to see.  I kept reading, and a gnawing idea was forming from the cloud in my head as I scratched a bite under my arm, on my neck. . ."Something wicked this way comes.", the telemarketer, the door to door salesman- they still do that?, bad signs.  The window was uncharacteristicaly wide open in our room.  Bird nest up in the eve.  Bird who lived there was acting strangely just the day before, chirping at me frantically when I went out that end of the house.  I thought perhaps her chicks had fledged, and she was worried I would step on one, but I didn't see a thing on the ground.  Now I wondered. . .

My suspicions were confirmed when I began to read about how bird mites will migrate when their host bird leaves the nest.  Identification is key here, and getting rid of the source, ie. the nest, is key. . .  Good information!  Then the nightmare stories (whatever you do, Don't go to birdmites.org!!!), they feed on any blood source, they can take days to exterminate.  Another page, "they can live up to nine months without a bird host"  The nightmare, I could see was far from over.  Armed with an arsenal of borax, tea tree oil, epsom salt, and insecticide we continued our battle against the creepy crawlies in the night.  Tired, but wary, we fell into bed, hopeful for peace.  

I startled awake, 2:00 in red numbers, and the thought, "They aren't gone."  My husband snored on, apparently he did not taste so sweet.  I showered, scrubbed with epsom salt and tea tree oil dressed in clean garments, after bagging and running more laundry, load number 15? 16?  I can no longer keep track.  I rolled out my yoga mat and slept fitfully, till morning, then began again, strip bedding, wash. . .everything, dry, fold, vacuume, sprinkle borax, add para mothballs (not old fashioned).  I am thankful that the problem(s) were isolated to just our room inside, no sitings elsewhere in the house, but the decks are off limits till further spraying and the clothesline will be burned and replaces as well.

My husband, armed in long clothing and bathed in OFF! with deet, continued the battle outdoors. He removed every nest and burned them, the one above our window was indeed The source.  Four dead baby birds and millions of bird mites, I thought of the mother bird yesterday.  One spray just slowed them down, another seemed to do the trick.  Peace of mind begins to set in, but this is just one battle, the war is not yet won.  That night we slept, bathed in bug repellant with an undertone of Tea Tree oil.  I don't know if it was the OFF, the removal of the source, the general sense that we were getting ahead of the problem, the toxins or just plain exhaustion, but I slept hard and didn't wake till morning.

We are not finished.  The washer and dryer are still running.  Our pillows remain in mothball filled bags, maybe I will just burn those too.  I am afraid to open them.  We change our sheets daily, and I still scrub with Tea Tree Oil and salt.  I haven't seen a mite in days, but last night I woke to see the red numbers 2:00 AM and wondered when the nightmare will really be over.





   

7/14/14

Letting Go- Farewell


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This quote turned up on a friend's FB page as I scrolled through my news feed and I thought it was just perfect, perfect message and perfectly timed. . . for me anyway. It made me smile, and it helped me to realize, I have come a long way from three years ago. I began writing this morning, but it was getting a bit long.  I was beginning to get bogged down in an old familiar suffering, then I just set it aside, and got on with my day.  So now I sit again, to try and convey a feeling from this morning that started me writing after a two week break.  Hopefully, with this quote to remind me, I can let go a bit more.

Our local bi-monthly publication is only about 24 pages and is filled with the usual "local news", happenings at the library, and local churches, mixed with occasional school or historical stories as well as fire and police updates.  My husband mentioned it had arrived as well as who was front page news, but we were away for a while and have had a busy start to summer, and I didn't really think I wanted to read it.  This morning is snagged my eye, but I didn't feel the usual shortness of breath, and steam puffing out my ears from my rage at the mere mention of the name, I just feel the echo of  a sad, sick feeling in my stomach and heart.  So I read about a local second grade teacher retiring this year.  She is a beloved teacher as can be discerned by the opening line,
"If you were lucky enough to have had a child in one of MJ's classes, then you will understand my disappointment when I discovered that my second child would not get a chance to have her as a teacher this coming fall."    
She's just not beloved by me, particularly, though she held some teacher qualities that I can admire in retrospect, particularly her passion for science and hands on experiential learning (kids never get enough of that) I don't think I will ever quite grasp the 'love thy enemy' philosophy.  I am truly sad to say that I could even think of another teacher as an enemy to begin with, but that is the crux of it. It was the impetus for my beginning this blog four years ago, to sort through my strong feelings over my son's nightmarish school experiences and the fact that I am also a teacher in my heart and soul.  So I suppose my very positive thinking friends would advise me to notice that a very bad experience with this teacher led to something good, great, wonderful, in the birth of my writing self . .and of course they would be right :)

When I mention that I found the note of her love for teaching social justice ironic, I will do so not out of mean spirit, because my son suffered by her "fair is equal" mentality.  It no longer makes me angry to think of that, just sad that an opportunity to teach the children a more compassionate meaning for fairness was lost. MJ once told me that the children would not think it fair if she did something/anything different for my son than she does for the other children, and that the children were very concerned with fairness at this age.  Rather than let them rule with their idea of fairness, wouldn't it have been lovely if she pointed out to the students. . .  If everyone in the class gets new winter boots to go with their coats, that may seem fair at first glance, yes? However, if one or two kids already have new winter boots, but have no winter coat, that fairness is clearly lost.  I have learned from my son's experiences that fair is not about everyone getting the same thing, it is about making sure each child has what they need.  And a classroom is not a place to let stagnant ideas rest, it is a place to stretch ideas, to grow them and teach.

Of course, noone is perfect, including myself.  We are all different, with different stories that make up the fabric of our lives.  I can wonder now, if it were another year, when her mother wasn't dying, her husband wasn't diagnosed with cancer, and all disjointedness of a schoolyear that goes along with all that,  would our story; mine, hers, my son's, have been a different one.  But frankly, that was only a flicker of a thought and I let it go along with the fiery anger and angst that filled me back then and I am moving further forward into the unknown with love in my heart for the lessons learned during that time.

**This is where I came from 3-4 years ago if you are a curious reader:  http://parentingandpedagogy.blogspot.com/2012/03/parenting-stress-mourning-dream.html

 






6/24/14

The Girl Who Didn't Know How to Write

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Once long ago there lived a young girl, who feared writing stories most of all when in school.  She shied not away from the tests of the day, nor round robin reading, (she thought spelling was cool). But these simple words from a teacher once said, "Take out a pencil, here's your paper." she did dread!

She loved to read stories for sure it was true, but when it came to writing she knew not what to do. . .  She wrote essays, spelling words, and journal entries galore, research papers, and poems, and lists and more, but stories she worried, "I don't know where to start!", "What do I write about?", "When. . . is. . .art?"

This lasted for years, those years they had passed.  The girl grew through grade school and college went fast. Soon she was Mom with three kids of her own, and to write a story was still an unknown.  She read to her children, and told them short snippets, of pieces of her life and silly stuff in it. But writing them down, still seemed quite the challenge.

"Write what you know" say the experts so plain, but she thought that what she knew would just be too plain. Yet she wrote her own thoughts about this and of that and she created a blog that was becoming quite fat. Then she worked in a school where writing was taught, and the teachers showed kids what her teachers had not.

They read books and wrote stories to talk and to show the ways writers think, lots she still did not know!  Then she went on searching for more, and to grow, she joined a challenge one March full of snow.  She wrote day and night about any and all, from family and work to the smells of the fall.

Now this girl is all grown, her kids growing too.  She writes stories of life for herself, kids and you. Sometimes she writes, with tears fully streaming, sometimes to stop her own self from screaming.  She laughs and she scribbles, deletes and keeps going, because this girl's now a writer all grown and still growing.      

6/17/14

First Family, Family First

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I probably should have written last night.  I was a bit restless and the funeral was fresh on my mind, but I wanted to let it all settle, all the tears, the hugs, and the memories that come with a funeral day.  It was blue sky and sunshiny outside, and I drove with sunglasses and a/c on and drove right past the funeral home with its suited men awaiting visitors and parked on the next street.  Something about the men in their suits, who I didn't know, I just didn't want to have to talk to them.  My stepsister pulled in and turned her car over to the suited ones just as I rounded the corner by foot, looking for the entrance.  I was thankful.  I didn't have to enter by myself.  My husband wanted to attend but I hadn't worked out the details and he needed to take over kid duties (I was wishing I had planned better).  Of course I barely made it over the threshold when tears began to stream mercilessly down my cheeks, despite my sunglasses and will.

Mom took my hand and led me into to the viewing room.  "Come on.  Let's get the hard part over with"  and there he was, and wasn't, all at once.  "Too much makeup." I thought to myself.  You know how sometimes people say, "He looks so good, they did such a good job."  I didn't hear anyone say that, and it simply wouldn't be true if they had.  His eyelids lay over his once sparkling blue eyes.  Nearby Mom showed me the flowers she picked in her favorite coral pink and the note for "Dad" of mom and her brothers, "Grampa" of all us cousins, and "Super Grampy" to our little ones.

We did the right thing.  Hugged our way through the line.  I never called her Grandma, and her sons were never my uncles, her granddaughters I scarecly new.  "I'm sorry for your loss." said one of the girls, and I think I gave her a funny look, because here she was in the line of "kin" telling me she was sorry for my loss.  I wonder if she will ever realize the irony of that.  Or the irony, that my Grandfather's remaining sisters sat across the room, and his own children were about the room, with no place in the line.  It bothered Auntie, she said something to my mom, but Mom was prepared for this, knew it would be this way just as it has been since (not) Grandma entered our world.  Mom made lemonade out of lemons, "It's ok.  I just met everyone at the door instead.  Don't worry about it."

I was holding and folding a piece of paper all morning, trying to remember not to accidently set it down or absentmindedly throw it away.  I needed to read at the church.  Mom couldn't do it, she knew, and that was one of few branches offered to Grampa's first family.  At least it was a nice piece to read.  The whole ceremony was well tied together with the themes of building, a family, a home, a life, within a community and country that he loved and gave willingly to.  Even the (not) uncles said a few things that tied in.  There were only a few silent chuckles (not bad for a girl prone to giggling in church) from me at the over emphasis of the selflessness of the (not) Grandma.  The one so self centered as to not notice that her dear husband's blood relatives who had loved and known him twice as long as her and her clan of fools should probably have been afforded a space in line, or offered an opportunity to memorialize this man too.  Sometimes the minister opens a space for attendees to share memories of their own, but that was not the case this day.

My brother was a pall bearer and I couldn't help thinking that he looked like the little boy he used to be, on the verge of tears as they carried the casket into the church.  My reading was right in the beginning, it caught me by surprise to hear my name announced but I pulled it off, looking into the audience, pausing for affect and emphasis.  I gave the casket a touch on the way by and went to my seat.  Of course, there was singing, but I didn't even try, because singing would make my cry.  So instead I smothered a laugh at Edith Bunker's voice trailing from the seat behind me.  My step sister thought, "Who brought the muppet." but quickly conceded, Edith Bunker was behind us.  These are the distractions of a girl trying not to let the memory of "running" downtown, my hand in Grampy's as he strode long with steps long and purposeful, leave me in a puddle on the pew.

At the cemetery, it took me a minute to notice Grampa was to rest next to (real) Grammy and I smiled back the tear that was trying to escape.  A World War II Navy vet, he was buried with a flag ceremony and taps. As the music began, I smiled as one of the Aunties rummaged for another tissue, having thought she was done with the tears.  I was fascinated soon by the folding of the flag.  I had only seen it done by my boys and their friends as young scouts.  I could see they had a bit of practice to do.  My arms felt hot from the sun as the flag was handed over to the wife, then we milled about in the sun for a bit as folks taking shelter beneath the black tent dispersed stepping between gravestones as they went.  I bummed a ride back to my own car, with my Mom's cousin and his daughter before the reception, and scarfed a third of the raspberry chocolate bar in my purse as I wound back through traffic to the other end of town, where my real family saved me a seat.


6/14/14

Building Literacy

Supporting early literacy evolves.  The year begins with a foundation.  Assess students and prioritize needs.  Add to that, get to know children (& teachers), make connections with individuals that will form the foundation for a respectful learning and or teaching relationship throughout the year.  Within the classroom setting, supporting and collaborating with teachers and children to establish routines, procedures, and a safe community, a place where children struggling to learn literacy skills and good learner skills, social and executive skills, can feel safe to learn & take risks that allow learning.  I believe in Resp Classroom practices and “the power of our words” as educators to either open minds or close them to learning, trust and connection. 

The first floor is laid with planning.  I am a planner.  I plan for individual, group, and whole class instruction.  I keep in a handy place a plan for my day, week, month, and year.  I think of a plan as a place to begin.  It keeps me on track so I don’t forget any pieces yet also is flexible enough to stretch or change as formative and summative assessments inform my teaching.  I have experience planning independently and in groups.  I will continue to play an active role in whole staff, & grade level planning.

Framing walls & windows is about supporting learning at all levels.  As language develops, from listening, to speaking and reading and writing, I listen, I watch, I model and I provide opportunities for children to practice language (speaking, reading, writing).  I teach explicitly when children don’t notice.  I use Read Aloud, RR, Guided Reading, and Interactive Reading and Writing to support new readers and writers from K- 3rd grade.  Learning is a multisensory experience and can be tailored to the needs of students to maximize learning and engagement.

Nails, screws, nuts and bolts are skills that are necessary to become proficient at a task.  The details of letter sound correspondence and familiar chunks, roots, prefixes, suffixes along with sight word recognition, letter formation, and concepts of print, decoding and encoding, build the mechanics of reading and writing.  I support children in learning these skills by providing many opportunities to practice with real books and using hands on activities, games, and songs that focus practice within an engaging format.


Wallboards and Windows are the understandings and comprehension along with connections to the world outside.  Our wall is taking shape, gaining color, we can see how it defines a space in time and we can see through it to the real world.  I build comprehension with literature.  I provide opportunities for children to read and listen to books and explore stories in ways that encourage a deeper understanding.  One year my class explored versions of The Little Red Hen, then the children participated in interactive writing to create their own class version of the story.  We also reenacted The Little Red Hen for a buddy class.  Children prepared by practicing reading their parts aloud in small groups or with partners, creating the setting with paint, and establishing distinct characters with simple costumes.  Each child had an active, if not speaking, role in the production.  Students learned about chickens and eggs through hands on and live science activities and by reading non fiction books on the subject.    I am more than willing to work with teachers on a wide array of activities and modalities that support children’s literacy and comprehension skills.

6/12/14

What I was thinking when I wasn't answering your question. . .

"What was your most challenging behavior child and How did you handle that?"

I had answered a few questions and felt pretty good, but then attention shifted to the window behind me, one of them left the room, and I was mid sentence, thinking. . . "Who was it?"

I dismissed one of the kids I work with this year who is often noisy, he squeaks and squeals, at meeting mostly.  He is full of energy and his wheels are turning. . .always. . .we just don't know where they are going.  But he is easy for me.  I use calm words, lots of love, and phrase things in the positive, "Yes. You can keep playing with trains, First you must go with me to get your eyes checked, Then you can come back to trains." And it works with him.   He reminds me of my oldest at this age. Too easy.

Do I mention A, the first child I worked with who was really intense?  I was able to keep her in school for half the year, with no support system within the school to help me.  She was thought to be schizophrenic and known to be badly abused. She could be violent, and she was sometimes a runner.  First step.  Watch for signs.  Distract.  Remove.  Calm.  Calming transitions every time, for everything, included sitting in a quiet place and counting to sixty, (not slowly). . .No.  That felt so long ago and irrelevant.

Do I mention M who always wanted to make a mockery of the sub, which sometimes was me?  I didn't get indignant or stern.  I cracked a joke, set the boundary firmly in place and tension lifted quickly so we could get on with our day.  Certainly not the worst or most difficult.

Last year was more recent. . . Mr. D?  Big boy who liked to throw his weight around and intimidate people when he forgot to leave his baggage at the door, which was often.  I connected with him and would try to get him to laugh and release his baggage for a minute.  That often worked. His face would lighten, that boy had some charisma!  I hope he learns to use his power for good! When his grip was too tight on the baggage to let go with a laugh, I would let the school psychologist know.  Those days he would stand with his eyes mean, chest almost to my chest and try to intimidate me, but that wasn't happening.  Mr. D you can't scare me with your own fear, but you will feel better if you let it go for a bit.  Man I loved that kid.

Perhaps it was the redhead with PTSD.  He would tell you he had it.  When his pencil wasn't quite sharp enough, or he perceived the work as "Too hard!"  He would stand, mouth open and scream as loud as you can imagine a child screaming.  I could see it coming, sometimes I would sit by him and whisper calmly to him to encourage him.  "You are ok.  You can do this."  Part way into the year, one of the theraputic support staff was assigned to him during writing.  I wasn't in his room then.  I don't think of him as my most difficult behavior problem.

I was feeling a little nervous about talking about the day I had to restrain my own son after I was called to his school to pick him up and he was throwing a plastic trash can at the principal who had restrained him, because he was yelling angrily and the principal "Didn't know what he would do."  When that escalated my son, school called me to pick him up.  Oddly, I had to restrain my own son from going back into class, because he didn't understand why he was being sent home.  It turned out that other kids had upset my son by taking building materials from his project to use on their own.  By second grade they knew if my son hollered, he would get in trouble and they would get all the materials to themselves.  I have more stories like this or from this time, but I can't tell them without crying, or feeling like crying.

I read "A Mind at a Time" by Dr.Mel Levine, and "Lost at School" by  Dr.Ross Greene.  I told staff,  "He will talk to you if you wait.  I went to workshops for teachers and parents of children with Asperger's and Autism and began collecting books and materials, by Kari Dunn Buron of Social Thinking fame.  I scoured Late, Lost and Unprepared, and Smart but Scattered for tips to share.  But mostly I knew my son.  He won't be calm right away, and if you try to talk right then, he will just escalate again.  Give him time, he won't forget, don't rush it.  They began to see that what I said made sense, but on year three, it was a bit late.  He didn't trust any at school and he didn't feel safe because all they ever saw was his behaviors, all he ever heard was what not to do.   "He needs directions written down.  He needs specialized instruction (which I like to think of as really good teaching with visuals, and graphic organizers, and times to shine) and he needed to be challenged academically.", "He needs processing of social situations."  All of this came from me, one wonderful teacher, and a neuropsychologist.  In his new placement where he gets those things, he has flourished.  He has never been restrained or placed in the time out room.

 Ummm. . . .that's a bit off track from the question, isn't it?  . . .

So I don't think I can really pick one behavior challenge. Living with my own son and working with a whole passle of quirky, loud, silly and sometimes explosive and other times wonderful kids last year; researching how to best handle explosive children and how to teach children who's skills can lack in not just reading or math, but also in waiting, seeing the gray between the black and white, persisting on challenging or tedious tasks, managing emotional response to frustrations; talking with other parents experiencing this same aweful experience; I have learned I can handle just about any situation you throw my way.  I have learned. . .

  • Be Calm
  • Don't take it personally
  • Help child achieve calm (calming words, remove aggravating stimulus or move child to appropriate space for needs)
  • Humor is Key
  • Connect with the child.  Every child.
  • Just because they seem more settled doesn't mean they are ready to process.
  • Don't restrain a child for looking or sounding "dangerous" only for Doing unsafe, dangerous things. 
  • Don't take it personally.  (did I say? Don't take it personally?)
  • Later use Collaborative Problem Solving--The child is part of the process in finding a solution.
  • Set up a classroom that really is positive for everyone, not just the ones who have difficulty reading or learning math, but also that is a positive place for children to learn social skills, good learner skills, executive function skills.


6/10/14

Busy Job Hunting

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It is Tuesday and I am busy job hunting for next year.  No small feat in this Rural area with no helicopter for transportation.  So as I just interviewed yesterday for a job I would love to get, I woke up this morning to write a cover letter for another position that would suit me very well.  Today's post is that letter, different than my others, perhaps do to influence of slicers!  

Dear Search Committee:

I am a writer.  Last year I worked in a school that was just getting the Lucy Caulkins writing program up and running and I was amazed at what those kids accomplished over the course of the year.  This spring I took the “March Challenge” on the Two Writing Teachers website, where teachers write and share both their experiences and their ideas about teaching Writers Workshop.  So I wrote and posted every day in the month of March, and since, have written and posted each week on Tuesday as a part of a yearlong teacher writing challenge.  I am excited by the Lucy Caulkins writing program because it not only teaches children to write, but to be writers, to think like writers.  To teach that I believe it helps to be a writer myself.  I am a writer.

I am a reader.  I have read some of Lucy Caulkins work, and lots of posts from teachers using her methods and sharing ideas, strategies and minilessons for teaching kids how to be writers.  I read with  an adult book club at my local library.  I read for fun and I read to inform my teaching and instruction and my parenting.  I am currently reading the Power of Our Words.  My home and classroom libraries bulge with fiction and nonfiction alike and my children are becoming readers too.  I am a reader.

I am a teacher.  I am MA certified (1-6) and Reading Recovery trained.  I taught Reading Recovery and supported classroom teachers and children in grades K-2.  I have used Benchmark Assessment Tools and Running Records and worked collaboratively with teachers and staff to identify at risk readers and to make teaching decisions throughout the year.  I have taught mini lessons, guided reading lessons, and used modeling to teach students literacy skills.  I have offered general support in a variety of classrooms working and sharing with teachers in a collegial manner.  I have also taught first grade, and have been a paraprofessional in many various support situations.  I love children and opening doors to literacy.  I am a teacher.

I am a parent.  So I read, I write, I teach, often.  I understand the concerns parents have about their children’s learning and feel the importance of creating a home school team that supports our learners.  I think about ways to support my children’s teachers and my children and their friends as learners.  I share my thinking and offer my support.  I encourage confidence, good learning habits and grit.  I am a parent. 
I am applying for the job of Reading Recovery Teacher and Literacy instruction teacher at B Elementary.  I am ready to return to work full time now that my last child is beginning all day Kindergarten.  I have planned for this by taking several courses through the Collaborative for Educators in 2013 and achieving the task of getting my MA liscence renewed.  And have been searching for a position that is both the right fit professionally and proximally close to where I live, no small feat J  I look forward to hearing from you about this position.

Amy Boyden 

6/3/14

Be back in a half hour. . .

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I walked down my driveway and along the gravel road as the sun sank to the west highlighting tree tops, translucent leaves glowing golden green.  As I approached the fields and gardens of a neighbor, I felt as if walking into a painting.  Everything vibrated green, green, green.  Gray green timothy twizzled in the breeze, oak leaves and maple, poplar and pines, grasses and new growth each held it's place in a patchwork rainbow of greens as I stepped quickly and turned my attention to listening.  Birds.  So many songs, mostly familiar and I thought how sad it was I couldn't match a one to it's owner.  My youngest brother would know the birds that belonged to the songs.

In a second, barking ensued, a flash of black bounded through the break in the stone wall and circled me in the road with his hackles up.  I could hear the call from within the house.  I didn't recognize this dog or his name, but I knew she would come for him.  Sure enough, "Get over here!  Come on!" and an appology for the nuisance. Her own dogs were accustomed to foot traffic and came out to greet me often enough, but in a more friendly manner than this visiting canine.  "No problem!" I waved and walked on.  A constant and unwavering buzz soon overwhelmed me, the Chestnut trees were in bloom and it seemed every pollen jock in the country was here buzzing from blossom to conical blossom among the three grand trees.

I stopped a moment to watch while one of the big black bumbling bees went about his business of pollination, and as I resume up the hill my mind wanders to an image of my kiddos scouring the ground below the trees for prickly shells cracked open with mahogany nuts peeking out.  The smooth nut inside makes a lovely childhood treasure, and they often fill coat pockets and bike baskets at our house come fall.

For a while, all I hear is my own breathing, as I make the most of this hill.  Then, I think of my promise, "Be back in half an hour!"  and I turn around to head back home.  To the right, past the buzzing chestnuts, I hear the "glump.  glump." of the frogs in the pond and I wonder as the pond leaves my sight if the heron was there tonight stalking through the tall reeds.  My feet take me out of the warm sun set into the cool shelter of trees and past another barking dog.  This guy is tethered, straining against his leash and breathing raspy, thick breaths between barks.  I wonder if he just wants his ears rubbed. . .

Around the corner running water wooshes down a spring stream.  This one will be dry in July, but for now it rushes down the mountain, under the road, through a culvert and splashes quietly through the woods on the other side.  I don't linger to throw stones or send sticks through the culvert, the bugs are hungry.  I head up the hill and up my driveway calves burning just a twinge and I meet my husband on his way out of the house.  "The kids are in bed."  When I get to the boys room, Charlie told me that when I opened the door to come in, the clock hand was exactly on the 12, exactly one half hour since I left.

5/28/14

A Writing Place

Last week Stacy Shubitz from Two Writing Teachers posted about her "Writing Work Space" and I thought what a fun idea, (and secret inspiration for cleaning mine up a bit- like inviting someone over, blogstyle)  I am a huge fan of my writer's notebook, where I like to collect ideas, brainstorm, doodle and just plain write, and I do that almost anywhere, but my favorite spot is really here. . .
This room used to be an open air porch, but we hated coming inside during the winter, so we added a heated floor and lots of windows so we could have the porch year round.  Even with three kids in the house, this room remains relatively quiet unless the kids join me in here, then all bets are off.






That said, I have really come to also appreciate my computer for all the ease of editing, revising, rewriting, reworking, and sharing with the world via blog.  I have another space for that, which is a "family space" that I share with my three kids.  Commonly referred to as the "playroom", this is a writing work place, drawing work place, lego work place, matchbox work place, dollhouse work place etc. . . My husband rarely ventures to this space or the computer as it is known to cause instant headaches and pains in the neck *smirk*
I did take the liberty of skipping the before picture, because it was too gruesome for public viewing.  (I wrote about it *here* though) Kid stuff completely overwhelmed the space, and that's all I will say about that.  I just reclaimed the space to a more balance "share", but the battle is ongoing and never truly won.
This room was formerly the dining room, so it is fairly open to the kitchen as you can see here. . . workspace on left, kitchen on right. . .  Sometimes I like that, sometimes I wish I could close a door and block out the world, so instead I do most of my computerizing after the kids go to bed.




Here is a view of the room mostly post cleanup, still a pile to sort on the table there.  I need a taller lamp by the settee, which is actually comfortable if you don't try to sit "properly" in it. 

 My computer desk was salvaged from the side of the road and painted an oceany blue color for my peace of mind.  Unfortunately I am still losing the surface area battle.  A pullout drawer double tasks as a place to prop my notebook.  The far side of the desk houses the printer on top, and Lego bins below, a true compromise.  But alas, it works for me.

5/26/14

Sunny Saturday

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It seemed to be taking me forever to get out the door.  No sooner would I make a step in that direction when one child or another would come back through it to ask for something, a glove, a drink, a hat. . . I began to put on face cream which made me think of sunscreen.  I realized they would need some too, so I began to snag them one by one to rub on the potion.  As I am stepping through the doorway my youngest comes up the steps smiling, "Hi Mommy.  Daddy says it's really nice out, you should come outside."  I contain my eyeroll by closing my eyes for a short moment, and tell her, "I am coming out right now honey, I have some things to do in the garden."

I headed to the tiny greenhouse just a short distance from the house.  The sun is shining and air is clear, just a bit of a breeze momentarily cut off as I duck in and grab a couple plant trays, hot in here.  Across the yard, I go to a low area which seems to collect just enough moisture so I rarely have to water the garden there.  The lettuce I began a few weeks ago is just beginning to look good, but still too small to be eaten even in "baby" form.  I direct my attention to plucking a few rogue weeds that escaped my last garden adventure.  I dig into the warm, damp soil with my fingers reaching for roots to pull and flick them into one of my signature piles along the edge of the garden.  Once clear, I smooth the surface with a rake and then dig several small holes.  First I plant the peppers, then the eggplants, it is hotter in the hoophouse and I hope that will help these heat lovers thrive. I think to myself, it would be nice to have another for the tomatos, but then I would have to water, a lot.  Not a good plan.  Before I know it I have planted about 20 tomato plants, and I am ready to begin work in another section of garden, pluck, rake, dig holes, plant.  Here go more tomatos, along with some cukes and zukes.

I stand and stretch my back and legs and walk back to the house for some seeds.  I am never satisfied with my organization of seed packets.  No matter how I do it, I always end up spending countless minutes searching for a packet I "just had my hands on".  I headed back outside with a handful of paper envelopes, nasturtium, carrots, lettuce, spinach, beans.  I gave up looking for the beet seeds, which I know are there, and decide that what I already have planted is enough for now.  Again I pluck, rake, and this time swish little rows with the handle of the rake to they will come out relatively straight.  I sprinkle in carrot seeds, and a couple different varieties of lettuce, alternating throughout the bed, and look up to see my kids riding down the driveway on their bikes, the boys bikes are tethered together by a rope about 10 feet long.  Do I say anything, nah!  They are boys.  I continue on to planting beans, whoops pluck, rake, swish, first.  Along the kids come again, now Lila's three wheeler is attatched like a little caboose behind the two boys and their bikes.

Suddenly though the sun was still shining, raindrops began to fall in such a way that felt surreal.  They were falling in enormous droplets and spread out so that it seemed I might be able to walk between the drops without being touched if I were quite careful.  But I couldn't dodge the argument that would soon begin between siblings.  Ropes were untied, grumblings echoed, clouds of blackflies appeared out of nowhere and garden time came to an imperfect, but well timed end as I had accomplished all I had set out to do, and the black flies hadn't even noticed.



5/13/14

Family Stuff

I recently saw an image of my livingroom pop onto a screen at a relative's house, and was amazed at the amount of floor space I used to have.  I could see the entire room without a car, sock, cup, or random scrap pile of paper.  The only things on the rug were children (not mine), and the wood floors reflected light! Our house isn't huge, but it surely felt bigger before we had children.

When I came home later, it was as if the walls were squeezing in on me.  I was greeted with dozens of shoes, sneakers, workboots, cleats and flip flops cluttering the floor, and a basket attempting to contain baseball equipment hanging out in the corner.   Sometimes the 'stuff' of my family of five overwhelms like a glacier slowly creeping in till I suddenly can't overlook the fact that something huge is looming.  Truth be known, of course, there is nothing particularly large or obviously responsible for taking up the space we once had in my house except maybe my children, who aren't that big.  They have an indescribable knack for covering any flat surface faster than a storm whips up on Big Sebago, by setting down one little thing after another.  The fact is, this was all cleaned up not very long ago, we cleared rugs for vacuming, and tables for projecting.  It can sometimes take just one rainy day, or one hour of mom writing or doing anything "in the other room" while my kids play together, that is the loose brick that ultimately breaks the dam, or opens the floodgates.

As I glance around, I see childrens' scissors sprawled open on my desk, abandoned just five short feet from the jar that ought to contain several pair but holds none.  A tubby duck lay on its back smiling up at me from next to the scissors, the top of a nearby toy shelf holds a recent art project of hot glued popcicle sticks and lego figures possibly trying to look sea worthy (or see worthy?) floating next to a Goldiblocks set, abandoned at the mouth of the River "I'm not done yet, I will put it away later." and merging with more hot glue projects of plastic cups with  stick ladders and straws glued onto them, dumping into the sea of "these are so special, they should adorn the remaining flat surface" On the floor are containers of cars, lego parts and miscellaneous sciency type projects that "not me" left, instead of moving them a foot, two feet, six inches. . . to the shelf where they might be considered put away.  This is just when glancing to my left, and frankly I don't have the energy to describe in detail the miscellaneous dolls, stuffies, books and so on that cascade to my right.

Honestly, if this were my classroom, we would have a meeting, do some interactive modeling and practice "taking care of our room and our things", and I would do this without resentment.  Somehow at home, I feel like "Geeze do we really need to go over this again, same kids, same house, sort of the same stuff. . .?"  I guess it is the nature of the beast, because my kids really do need to be reminded, often, just as sure as Charlie reminded me tonight when he mirrored my own thoughts on the subject, "It just sort of builds up slowly, I don't really notice it until one day I come home and, Whoa!"




5/6/14

Good to the last throw. . .

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My boys don't live baseball, but they love it nonetheless.  Some kids have been tossing balls since they could walk.  Our boys. . . sorta, kinda, once in a while would play catch, usually with Dad.  As they get older though they are becoming more and more interested, each spring they are more capable than the last and their interest increases.  This is a whole new experience for me since I never played sports as a kid myself, other than gym class, and though I loved phys ed, I just despised baseball out of principle.  The fact of the matter is, I really knew Nothing about the game.  It was easy to label it stupid though, because my only first hand experience was in public school PE classes, where the teachers assumed everyone knew the "rules", watched the game, and played the game, and then the class--mostly the boys, would spend the next 30-40 minutes arguing about the "rules".  To this day, if a dispute breaks out about the "rules", I go to my "happy place" in my mind. Now that my own kids have played for a few years, it amazes me that our teachers back then didn't just lay down the PE version of baseball rules.  So far we have been through t-ball rules, farm league rules, minors rules, and we are still learning majors rules, how hard would it have been to lay down the PE rules?

So, tonight when I went out to "play ball" with my boys, I laid down the Mom rule.  Rule Number 1 (the only rule):  We are playing catch, that's it.  I don't pitch, but the boys are both learning, which equals "the boys are both very unforgiving of each other and each other's mistakes despite being imperfect themselves".  Therefore, bats and Mom are out of the question.  So we headed out to play ball, first Charlie and I, while Joey finished his homework.
As we found our turf, I said to my son, "Charlie you might have to give me pointers, I don't want to throw like a girl."
Charlie replied, "Mom, that's going to be kind of hard since. . ."
Me, "I know I know, I am a girl"
And so we began, the sun just low enough in the trees to not be a nuisance, the sky still blue, the air still relatively warm.  Thwap.  Thwap.  Thwap.  Thwap.  Charlie is talking away and throwing them in, I had reminded him "no lobs" as we began, and we discussed the wrist snap vs. straight release. Whoa, I realized silently that my feet were firmly planted on the ground, I could snap balls out of the air without moving an inch.  By golly this kiddo can really throw this year, no squiggly laps all over the yard for Mom this time.

Soon, out of the house steps Joey, glove on hand and ready.  I reminded him of Rule Number 1 and then repeated it again, "We are playing catch, only catch."  In the past a game of catch with 2 boys and mom have ended in a grouchy huff for most if not all parties.  Joey formed our triangle and we threw the ball.  Thwap. Thwap. Thwap. Joey gets a stinker look on his face as he throws me a fast one, he claims is not fast at all. I catch it, smile and remind him "You are pitching to me, we are just playing catch." He smiled back and after a while, we switch up the rotation Charlie to Mom, Mom to Joey, Joey to Charlie, and back around again.

The whole time my ears are filled with advice, "Square up for a grounder Mom", or "catch it in the pocket so it doesn't hurt" or requests, "Throw me a pop fly"  Thwap.  Thwap.  Thwap.  After a while, the boys began the usual, try to irritate the other type throws, bullets from Joey to Charlie, sky balls through the tree branches from Charlie to Joey.  I instituted, "Throw it back to me"  I am determined, I will not let this end on
a sour note.  A few throws later, a miriacle happened as we all headed back to the house with smiles and good spirits, fresh air on our shirts and the smell of leather on our hands.


4/29/14

Creativity, Writing, and Resilience in a Storm

I recently watched Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk "Success, Failure and the Drive to keep Creating"  drawn in because creativity creeps into my thoughts often when I consider teaching and learning.  It is an important concept and even skill to foster in our children and ourselves and it is connected to resilience. The idea of resilience really sank in for me during this talk, as well as Elizabeth's ultimate message, to "find your home, that thing that you love to do more than you love yourself."  Where these ideas collide, I see lessons I would love for every child, student, person to learn.  Basically, first, find your own home (that place where you love to work, play, persist) Then, figure out how to stay there in that productive place, "safe from the random hurricanes of outcome", because both success and failure have the equal and opposite potential to pull you away from your home, away from what you love to do.

As I watched and listened to Gilbert speak, I was transported back to that second grade poetry experience I have written about before, I think of how writing that one poem, and the way that two teachers responded to that poem created for me, my first random hurricane, at age seven.  My experience was on a smaller scale, but parallel to the one Elizabeth Gilbert herself had after writing Eat, Pray, Love.   I had no idea how to handle that.  But I knew, just as she knew, that whatever I wrote next, those two teachers were not going to like it. In that moment, it felt like the fate of my new vocation, "writer of poems", was up to these two teachers to decide.  The message to me was "One good poem does not a poet make" when really, I should have been learning the lesson "Keep writing.  Write often.  Perservere."  If I take what Gilbert says to heart, really my writer self was still in there, she hadn't gone anywhere, she just needed to get back to work. . . instead my writer put down her pencil after that second grade poetry unit, and didn't pick it up again on her own accord for at least 15 years.

The funny thing, a second grade friend in that class who had seen this whole thing unfold, "What did she expect, you were just going to sit down and write another great one, because she told you to?  Doesn't she know about inspiration?"  What is it they say about the mouths of babes?  Thirty something years ago, we grappled, at age seven, with the very same issue that this now famous author of Eat, Pray, Love has had to grapple with as an adult writer, the very same "hurricane of outcome".  So of course, I ask myself, how can we teachers, parents, mentors teach our young writers to ride the storms?  That is an important skill throughout life, not just writing, yes?  I also wonder if we shouldn't be concious to not create storms of outcome for our new writers.  It always strikes me when we ask children to create, how often and persistent many of them are at seeking approval from the adults around them. I always try to give supportive feedback, but try to word it carefully so as not to sound like the be all end all of their creative career. I feel if we perpetuate the idea that someone outside the writing, teacher, parent, reader, can determine a piece of writing's worth, aren't we just pushing our kids out in the storm without an umbrella, in the dark.  Are we then failing to teach them how to find their own way, how to be resilient?   

4/22/14

Let's Play the Ball Game!

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"Let's have a special night." said my five year old daughter as Daddy and brothers headed out the door to baseball practice.  She hopped down from the Lazy Boy in the livingroom.  "Let's go play the ball game!"  "Alright kiddo." I replied and we slid on our shoes.  I was expecting to need to pull on a sweatshirt, but as I stepped off the porch into the sun, I realized the air was still quite warm.  I know it should be warm, we are approaching the end of April now, but I scraped snow and ice off the Cherokee just last week.  After such a long winter I seem to bundle up out of habbit, as if I expect to be wearing fleece and gloves in June too.

Out in the yard, a warm breeze feathered our skin as Lila began to swing quickly and steadily.  "You won't have to wait for me!"  She was right.  With the large pink ball in hand, I watched her swinging.  She swooped low and high, stretching her body long and pulling in strong.  (Didn't I have to push her to get started just last year?)  I timed my toss and she popped the ball into the air over my head.  She giggled wildly.  I zinged the ball again, my timing was off.  The ball went under her swing and I performed my best grumbly exasperated act while fetching the ball and tickling her on the way by.  (Game requirement)  She giggled wildly.  Again and again I tossed the ball, and fetched the ball, once her flip flop went further than the ball.  She giggled wildly. . . and flipped the flop off the other foot too, this time squealing with laughter!

This is her game, The ball Game, and this girl will play and play and laugh and play for as long as anyone will play with her.  We play it in sun and snow, wind and rain, from dawn till dusk.  Summer months see more action only due to the abundance of free time and daylight hours, not because the weather matters. As I chase the ball across the dried grass and cold spring ground in my now bare feet, an emotion washes over me, along with the warm air and bright sunshine.  Honestly I'm not quite sure what it is, wistfulness? awakening? hope?  Little buds on branches, a few patches of freshly turned earth planted with little rows of spinach and carrot seeds just hours ago. . .I have noticed these things throughout the day, but it just now struck me;  spring is really here!  summer is on it's way!  Just eight weeks to the end of school for the kids and I.  Days have been flying by and I have felt as if I were trapped in time gripped by winter's cold hand.  Despite the cold weather, time tramped on, the suns arc traveled and my daughter grew.