Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Break

After reading all of my blog partner's posts about her relaxing Hilton Head Spring Break, I was struck by the difference in our time away.  While my spring break wasn't as relaxed and laid back as Karen's, it was, however, no less fulfilling.  The Lovely Mrs. Prosser and I flew to Orlando to hook up with Meredith, who is student teaching there.  It was an whirl wind, eye opening week for us.

Since enrolling at Ashland University four fast years ago, Meredith has had the goal of being part of their Southern Internship Program.  Originally, she wanted nothing more than to spend her 12 weeks of student teaching in Celebration, the town created by Disney just outside the parks.  Her dream was to teach at Celebration School, and be Cinderella in the summers.  As she progressed through the education program at AU, she began to have second thoughts.  Not only about the Celebration dream, but teaching in general, she hadn't had that classroom experience that helped keep her teacher fire going and she wasn't sure it was the right field for her.  If you've read any previous posts about Meredith, you know that I know she has that "it" factor of teaching that can't be taught, so we knew she was a born teacher she just needed to stick with it.

In the fall this year she had an outstanding experience in Shelby, OH with a cooperating teacher that saw what we have seen all of these years, a natural born teacher.  Here supervisor from Ashland saw it too, and Meredith's fire for the classroom began to see a spark again, then she was chosen for the internship program, and the director, Joe Hendershott, a guy I grew up with, worked very hard to find just the right placement for Meredith.  For the first 6 weeks she taught in Sarasota, FL, just 10 minutes from the #1 beach in the United States, according to the signs.  Her second 6 weeks would fulfill her dream, she was assigned to Celebration School.Ashland's program pairs the students with host families in the school districts and the two families Meredith stayed with could not be any nicer and welcoming to her. 

Each time we talked with Meredith the spark that started in Shelby, grew and her passion for the profession was back.  She loved living in Sarasota with her runs on the beach, the sunny weather, avoiding the horrible Ohio winter, and quickly realized that she is a misplaced beach person.  She really felt it was where she was meant to be all along.  The Lovely Mrs. Prosser and I sensed a contentment in Meredith that we hadn't before and both agreed with her that Florida is where she belongs.

When we met up with her she had just finished her second week in Celebration and they were on break this past week so we were able to spend the whole week together.  As I said, it wasn't a relaxing break, we drove from Orlando to Sarasota to Fort Myers and back to Orlando in the first 3 days.  We visited family, walked on a cloudy beach at Siesta Key on a day of rain, and spent one sunny day on Hickory Island Beach.  Through it all we had time with Meredith.  Time to talk about her plans, time to help her think about her plans, time to look into what she needs to do to teach in Florida, and time to appreciate the independent young lady she has become.  The weather wasn't great, and it was a busy time, but as she dropped us off at the airport yesterday, this sentimental father couldn't help getting a little teary eyed. My baby girl is grown up and grown up good.  We couldn't be prouder of her.

I know there is a beach town in Florida that will have an amazing young teacher next year.  It makes me happy to see Meredith happy.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things - SOL, March 27


"These are a few of my favorite things..."

This was a wonderful week for me; an opportunity to recharge and rejuvenate.  Many things made me happy; the words Maria sang in Sound of Music have been a soundtrack in my mind as I thought about what brought that happiness:

University of Dayton has been doing incredibly well in the NCAA tournament.  After sharing much of our money with UD the past four years to pay for our youngest daughter's education, I am incredibly excited at how well they are performing.

After a long cold winter, the opportunity to pursue outdoor activities that didn't (well, usually didn't) require a winter coat was appreciated.  Many walks on the beach, several days of golf, reading by the beach and pool,  and riding a bike for miles - these activities were gifts this week.

Being able to eat fresh seafood is one of my favorite parts of being here at Hilton Head.  Whether it was walking across the street to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store and having them steam the shrimp as I waited, or going to one of many excellent restaurants found on the island, much seafood was consumed.

Quality time spent with both our oldest daughter, Kate, and my husband.  Kate lives in DC, so it's easy to understand why I treasure my time with her.  However, my husband and I have been so busy the past few months, it was wonderful to get the chance to relax and spend unhurried time together.

One of my absolute favorite things this week was watching my husband and daughter be readers totally immersed in all the books they chose to read.  I know they are both individuals who love to read, but oftentimes don't have the opportunity to relax and get lost in a book.  Getting away for a vacation provided that time, and they both engaged with many books.  A sight like the one below was not an uncommon one this week and it brought joy to my heart.

Though not visible, these two are
both engrossed in the books on their
respective Kindles.
For more slices, head over to Two Writing Teachers blog.  Four more days; enjoy the daily slices while they last and then join Slice of Life on Tuesdays after that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cold in Carolina - SOL, March 26

It was cold in South Carolina today.  Specifically, there were freeze warnings, and it didn't make it out  of the 30's until after 11 AM.  Now I know I probably have some friends laughing, knowing that they have snow on the ground or in the middle of a blizzard where they are.

Cold in Carolina?  The 30's?  Please, Karen, be serious.  That's not real cold.  Get a grip.

Because I knew there would be no sympathy on this issue from some of you, I decided to embrace this day and all of its temperature fluctuations.  I wasn't going to let a few degrees stop me from enjoying the day.

This morning, I put on at least 4 layers on the top, and 3 layers on the bottom for my daily walk along the beach.  It was brisk, with a stiff ocean breeze blowing as well.  But, I was able to enjoy several things along the way during my hour-long walk:

  • the waves were barely breaking; the ocean was as smooth as glass
  • the sun was shining brightly; not a cloud in the crystal blue sky
  • the dolphins playing and cavorting as they looked for food
  • greeting several of my new-found Hilton Head friends
  • watching little ones play in the sand, and reflecting back on the days our girls did the same -- so many great memories!
This afternoon, it warmed up to a balmy 50 degrees and I was grateful because my husband and I had gotten a tee time to play golf.  I'm normally a very fair-weather golfer, so this was going outside my comfort zone, but once again, I layered my golf clothing and was good to go.  It was a great afternoon:
  • we have been looking forward to getting out on the golf course all winter
  • though my score might indicate otherwise, I was quite happy with several of my shots
  • Myron and I had time to be alone and talk since we weren't paired up with another two-some
  • we got to see at least 20 turtles and 3 huge alligators sunning themselves (luckily our shots didn't land anywhere near those big guys!)
So yes, it was cold in South Carolina today, but we made it work anyway.  I'm sure that the year-round residents were shaking their heads at the crazy people outside, but it turned out to be a day full of surprises and fun.  And a lot of layered clothing.


With only 5 days to go, be sure to check out the other slices at Two Writing Teachers blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Vacation Friendly - SOL, March 25

Anyone who knows me well would agree that I am not a particularly outgoing person in large, social crowd situations or with new people.  In small groups or with close friends,  I can talk a mile a minute, oftentimes sharing too much.  But in larger groups or with new people, I tend to hold back, observe the different conversations, and figure out where I might best insert myself.

That reserved nature has been thrown out the window this week.  I have initiated conversations with more strangers than I can ever remember.

I met an older lady walking down the breezeway on the floor of our condo unit.  We engaged in a 5 minute conversation about how she was walking the different halls of our 5-story facility as opposed to the beach where the wind was blowing fiercely.  We talked about where we came from (Ohio and Minnesota respectively) and the importance of walking on a daily basis.

I have had several elevator conversations, something I normally avoid at all costs.  I have discovered where people live (many of them were from Canada), how long they have been down here (1 month is the average), what the weather has been like back home (for the Canadians, anywhere from 1 - 4 feet of snow await them), and what restaurants they might recommend.

At the pool, I ran into the same lady three days in a row.  We have become the best of friends, discussing how cold is too cold to be sitting by the pool, sharing titles of books we are reading, and talking about where our homes are.

So what's with this new chatty Karen - this person who is conversing with so many strangers?  I'm not sure, but I think it might be related to how relaxed I am feeling this week; it seems to have taken out a layer of inhibitions I might normally have had.  I am enjoying the ability to be open to new experiences and people when I have the "room" in my brain to take it all in.

And it's been a blast!

For more slices, head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog.

Monday, March 24, 2014

That Good Kind of Tired - SOL, March 24

Last night, I felt just like my children when they were younger.  On the first, nice spring day after a long winter stuck inside, they would play outside to their hearts' delight.  Then, that evening, as they ate dinner, filling their bellies with food, their eyelids would begin to get droopy, their bodies would begin to slouch, and their movements would begin to slow down.  Simple fine motor skills like spearing a piece of food with a fork and getting it into their mouth would become a challenge.  All that fresh air and play appeared to be their undoing.

Now, fast forward 20-plus years, and the same thing happened to me yesterday.  It was a gorgeous day, and I was determined to be outside for the majority of it.  As many of you know, it has been a long, cold winter, and I wanted to enjoy every last minute of the amazing weather here in Hilton Head.  I took several walks on the beach (one of them particularly long) and spent the rest of the time outside reading - on the beach, on the sun deck overlooking the dunes and beach, and on our balcony.

So, by the time I got to dinner, I had spent much time in the fresh air laden with pollen (an oxymoron I know), ocean breeze blowing, sound of the waves lulling me into relaxation.  As hungry as I was, the movements to my mouth became lethargic (and that never happens) and the sounds of the conversation at our table with my husband and daughter became muted.

When we got back to our condo at what seemed like the ungodly late hour of 8 PM, the two of them wanted to walk across the street and get some ice cream.  More steps?  More food?  I just didn't think that was a possibility for me, so I "let" them have some father/daughter time and I went upstairs to put on my jammies and settle into a good book until they got home.

By some miracle, I was still awake when they got back.  But not by much.  I actually fell asleep on four different occasions before finally admitting that sleeping in the bed was where I needed to be.  At what I thought was 11 PM, I headed back to bed.  But I noticed that the alarm clock in the bedroom said 10:02, so I reset it to 11:02, thinking it hadn't been done since Daylights Savings Time began last week.

I slept like a log through the night, waking up when my clock said 6:30 this morning, feeling fairly rested.

I bet you know where this is headed.  Turns out I actually did go to bed last night at 10 PM, something unheard of for me, and probably why in my sleep-deprived mind, I was so certain the clock was wrong and not me.

When I woke up ready to embrace another new day here in Hilton Head, and maybe even see the sun rise, I walked out to the kitchen and living room area and realized that all the clocks said 5:30.  Whoops!  I guess I was that good kind of tired last night and actually did officially go to sleep at 10:00.

I thought about heading back to bed, because who gets up on vacation at this hour?  But I decided to take another route instead -- I am writing my Slice for today, will comment on other Slices, and with any luck, I will see the sunrise soon. And I'm pretty sure there will be a nap outside in my future as well.

Have a great Monday!  Check out the other slices at Two Writing Teachers blog.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

First Day Pleasures - SOL, March 23

We are currently at Hilton Head Island, enjoying some much-needed time away.  Our first day here was Saturday, which made me reflect on an incredible day of "firsts."

Arrival day is 
one of my favorite days
A day of firsts:

First smell of saltwater
as we traversed over the 
bridge onto the island
window rolled down,
savoring the aroma

First meal on the island
ordered the local specialty
for lunch:
grilled shrimp
with she-crab soup
as the opener

first grocery store run
stocking up on the essentials
since being at the ocean
makes one hungry -
adult beverages, cookies,
cheese, crackers, ice,
more local shrimp
(they steam them while you wait),
and other snacks as well

first vacation 
with oldest daughter since 2007
picking her up at the airport
big hugs and laughter
reminiscing about previous trips
to the island
as we drove down Hwy 278

first walk on the beach
toes in the sand
waves gently lapping
conversation with my daughter
and restful periods
of silence as well
time to appreciate 
each other and
the immensity of the ocean 

first book read 
on the balcony overlooking the ocean
feet propped up
incredible view in front of me
but the scenery just a background
for the book in which I get lost

first dolphin sighting
how effortless their motion
a gentle curve out of the water 
and then back under
two of them together
focused on searching for food
yet entertaining those who watched
as well

first time 
I've been this relaxed 
in a long time


For more slices, check out Two Writing Teachers blog.  Have a wonderful Sunday!

The view from our balcony
 early on a foggy, Sunday morning




Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Review Before Spring Break: Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance

Our daughter Meredith has been student teaching in Florida since January, so tomorrow afternoon, the Lovely Mrs. Prosser and I will board a plane bound for Orlando.  She's had a great experience, and has learned she loves living in the sunshine and not the snow which made her decision to apply for jobs in the Sarasota area a pretty easy one.  Hopefully something will work out for her, she's very good at what she does and the student teaching experience has reignited her passion for teaching, the job I believe she was born to do.

Before leaving I wanted to finish   When Cynthia visited Bailey a year or so ago, she shared the beginnings of this book.  She told us about a photo scavenger hunt contest that a character named Lucy wants to enter.  The problem is that her father, a famous nature photographer, is the judge and she isn't sure it would be ethical.  Cynthia Lord's new book, Half a Chance.

Just after moving to a lake in New Hampshire, Lucy's dad leaves to do some work in Arizona leaving her to collect the package containing all of the entrants for the contest.  She meets the family next door and gets involve in the loon patrol, keeping track of the loons nesting on the lake.  She becomes especially close to Nate Bailey and the two of them begin work on the scavenger hunt together as they become friends.

Lucy learns that the Bailey family has summered on the lake for years, and Nate's grandma Lilah has always been there, spending the whole summer and hosting the family visits throughout the summer.  This summer, however, is different.  Grandma Lilah is having some memory difficulty that seems to be getting worse and causing the family alarm.  They decide they will all spend the whole summer at the lake with Grandma Lilah so she can have one last memorable summer.  Mostly its good, but occasionally Grandma Lilah lapses into a panic or depression because she can't do all of the things she is used to doing on the lake.  Nate, Lucy and the Bailey family do all they can to make the summer seem as normal as possible, trying to make sure Grandma has a summer to remember.

Again Cynthia Lord handles an issue facing many families in a sensitive, delicate and honest way.  When she visited Bailey I don't remember hearing that this book would deal with aging and dementia, but it does.  Half a Chance is a touching book and the ending is perfect.   For many of us it may hit close to home and will be a great read for 4th and 5th graders.

Michael's Grille - SOL, March 22


***Warning - this post might not appeal to non-meat eaters. *** :)

Last night, my husband and I stopped at Rock Hill, South Carolina, on our way to Hilton Head.   We got in somewhat late, and immediately asked for directions to a good local dinner restaurant.  We were referred to Michael's Grille.

What a treasure this place was!!   After some glitches with our directions on the way to the restaurant (we basically doubled the distance we needed to drive), we finally arrived at a quaint place, complete with a lovely front porch.

When our waiter came to the table, we inquired as to what the specialities of the restaurant were.  His immediate reply, "The ribs."

Oh my goodness - he was so right.

These were the kind of ribs whose meat literally fall off the bone.  And then the glaze on the ribs was a mixture of special recipe barbecue sauce, honey, and sugar.  The folks at KFC might call their chicken "finger-lickin' good", but that's because they haven't eaten these ribs yet.  They were truly the best ribs I have ever eaten.

My husband and I tried to decide after dinner if we wanted to clean our fingers properly, or just lick off the bbq sauce; we opted for the proper thing to do, even though the latter idea would have been incredibly delicious.

As we fell asleep last night, I knew I wouldn't be dreaming of the lovely Hilton Head beaches that night, but instead would dream of the ribs from Michael's Grille.


If you haven't run to get in your car and drive to Michael's Grille in Rock Hill to order those ribs already, then maybe you should check out the other slices today at Two Writing Teachers blog.  Happy Saturday!! :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thank you for the comments - SOL, March 21


I want to say a very sincere thank you to everyone who has taken the time to leave comments on my posts during this Slice of Life Challenge.  It has meant so much to me that you stop by and leave such kind comments.  I apologize that I haven't been very consistent with my comments.

I plan to reciprocate your kindnesses and add to your conversations starting today.  My husband and I are headed to Hilton Head, and I can't think of a better use for my iPad in the car.   Just like you have found out what is happening in my life, it is time for me to catch up with all of you.

Thanks for your support.  I am humbled and grateful to be part of this community of writers.

For more slices, head over to Two Writing Teachers blog.  Thanks so much to that team for hosting us this month!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weather.com Addiction - SOL, March 20


"Hi, my name is Karen and I have a slight weather.com addiction.  It's been 30 seconds since I last checked the weather."

I check the weather.com app multiple times a day on my phone, especially before the following important events:
  • outdoor parties like weddings or graduations
  • golf outings
  • recess duty week
  • pedicures
  • the days we have tickets to our local AAA professional baseball games
  • road trips
  • possible snow days
But I get even more obsessive about checking the app starting 10 days before vacation, especially a beach vacation.  In the last 10 days, I have clicked on the Hilton Head forecast at least a million times (okay, maybe not a million; I'm teaching hyperbole right now, so that might be a slight exaggeration).  And of those million times, the forecast has changed multiple times.

But a girl has to pack eventually, so I finally had to make some clothing decisions based on the latest forecast 30 seconds ago. While I know I'm incredibly overpacked, I am ready for almost any weather condition, which appears to be a good plan.

And by the way, all the books I need to read made the suitcase as well!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers blog for more slices.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Professional Development - SOL, March 19

Professional development comes in all forms, but the kind I participated in tonight is my absolute favorite.  It was not a PD dictated to us by someone else; a one size fits all model.  Instead, it was PD that was organic, stemming from questions, concerns, and new learnings we had for one another.  We decided the general topic, and there was no agenda except for sharing.

A group of teachers that encompassed 3 different school districts, and represented a total of 8 different schools gathered together for dinner tonight, followed by a conversation about how to use technology in smart ways in our classrooms.

Amazing tools were shared and discussed:

  • Thing Link
  • Explain Everything
  • Media Core
  • Touchcast
  • Corkulous
  • Book trailers
So many wonderful tools, but I loved that we kept our conversation centered on the pedagogy of what we do each day.  We talked about how to use each tool and shared examples, but we realized the tools are there to help our students, and we all make it our priority to keep our eye on the end goal of teaching children the skills of  thinking, reading, writing, and communication skills. 

As I approach the end of 32+ years of time in the classroom, I am still invigorated by this type of PD.  It just never gets old.  It replenishes and nourishes my professional self.

For more slices, head over to Two Writing Teachers blog.  Have a great day!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Two Short White Buses - SOL, March 18


When I returned to school after my mom's most recent surgery, my principal asked me how things were going.  I shared that some days were good while others were a bit more difficult.  We chatted about how elderly parents who are rehabbing from a surgery or injury have many needs and have to relearn a multitude of new skills.

He told me about a sight he had seen recently, and the analogy of what he said has really stuck with me the past few weeks.

He was driving down the road and as he stopped at a light, he saw two short white bus/vans cross the road side by side, in front of him.  One was a white daycare van; the other was a white elderly daycare van.  This scene visually drove home for him the point of how life comes full circle.

When our children are young, they have many needs and demands that, as parents, we have a responsibility to navigate.  They can't care for themselves because they don't have all the skills required, not to mention the safety issues of leaving them alone, so working parents need the help of daycare professionals, and sometimes that means having children transported on the white daycare van.

The flip side of that coin is that when our parents are older, they might have health issues or limitations that don't allow them to be the independent adults they once were.  Again, for working adult children, sometimes the need for professional assistance to help take care of their parents is there, for both safety and health reasons.  That might even mean a trip or excursion for the parents on a white daycare van.

This conversation has been a bittersweet revelation to me as I've pondered the cycle of life the past few weeks and months.  My parents, rather they realize it or not, have been just as dependent on my brother and me at times, as my daughters were when they were toddlers.  It leaves me feeling a combination of humbled, overwhelmed, and grateful.

For more slices, head over to Two Writing Teachers blog.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Stockpiling Books for Vacation - SOL, March 17

While some folks might be out tonight, drinking green beer or eating their fill of corn beef and cabbage, I have chosen a slightly different way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year -- I am gathering and stockpiling the books I would like to read next week on vacation.

This weekend, I heard Donalyn Miller ask if anyone in the crowd has ever thought about, or actually did, take clothing items out of a suitcase to pack more books. I had to chuckle to myself as I thought about what I would be doing Monday night.  I am starting my packing tonight with the books, and then will move on to clothes later in the week.

Thank heavens books are more portable now, so the space my books are taking while packing the car doesn't need to be a disagreement.  You would have to believe after almost 29 years of marriage, my husband would understand the importance I place on traveling with books.  Actually, I'm delighted that he is looking forward to getting lost in quite a few books during our time away.  He reads so many technical texts on a daily basis, he plans to escape in his reading over vacation.

So, knowing that I am gathering reading materials for both of us, I have stockpiled books from a variety of sources:

  • After hearing many new, wonderful titles from Donalyn this weekend at MRA, I went on an Amazon shopping spree tonight, and there will be many brand new books arriving on my doorstep in the next few days.  The three that I am really excited about are Under the Egg, Boys of Blur, and The Riverman.
  • Then, I added even more books after reading Betsy Birds' early Newbery predictions.
  • I texted a friend to borrow a copy of a brand new book, Hope is a Ferris Wheel.
  • I loaded several books on my Kindle.  The Headmaster's Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene, Killer by Jonathan Kellerman, Panic by Lauren Oliver, Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, and Missing You by Harlan Coben (showing up on my Kindle in the morning) are just a few of my selections.
The initial books are ready.  But there is always room for more books, so feel free to chime in with suggestions of books you think I need to take with me! :)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!  Luck 'o the Irish to you all.  Head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog to read the rest of today's Slices.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#KatieKnows - SOL, March 16

Today's slice is a quick one after a great morning and Nerdy Book Club lunch in Grand Rapids, followed by a 5 hour drive home.

If you haven't seen the clever spoof Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon did on twitter users and their excessive use of hashtags, you really need to check it out!

But this weekend at MRA, a small group of us began our own hashtag - #KatieKnows.  One of our group that traveled to Grand Rapids is a darling young teacher who is vivacious, adores books, and has a thirst for knowledge.  She also proved to be more aware of her surroundings than those of us old enough to be her mother.

Every time we needed a direction on our road travels, Katie knew what to do.  When we were seeking out rooms for our sessions in the convention center, Katie always knew what to do.  When one of us needed coffee, Katie knew where it was.  When we smelled a wonderful mix of cinnamon and nuts, Katie knew where they were roasting and even bought some for us.  When we were seeking the dinner room, Katie knew where it was.

We relinquished total control to Katie this weekend.  She took great care of us, making sure we showed up where we were supposed to be all the time because #KatieKnew. :)


For more slices, head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog.  Thanks to that wonderful team for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge this month.




Saturday, March 15, 2014

Celebrating MRA!! - SOL, March 15


Since this is a celebration, I will be cross-posting to Celebrate Saturday and Slice of Life Challenge today.

I am soooo celebrating my decision to come to MRA this year for many reasons, of which I will share some snippets.

1.  #CarPD just never gets old.  Even when stuck in a traffic jam that had us creep 4 miles in 1 hour, the conversations in the car pushed my thinking about life and the profession I love.

2.  Starting the day with Jeff Anderson, author of 10 Things Every Writer Should Know.  If you have never heard Jeff present, you are missing an action-packed ride full of music, humor, grammar instruction, and a passion for teaching children.  Who knew commas could be such a riveting topic?!

3. Our Keynote speaker today was R.J. Palacio, the brilliant author of Wonder.  First she talked about the seeds for Wonder, and then she brought the crowd to tears by sharing all the ways the concept of "choose kind" has spread across the globe.  What an incredible woman and book!

4. Listening to the brilliance of Troy Hicks just never gets old.  Today, he had with him the co-author of their latest book, Create, Compose Connect - Jeremy Hyler.  A fascinating look at persuasion, argument, and summary writing using digital tools.  Will be investigating mindmeister.com closely soon - its synchronicity to Google Docs is amazing.

5. The last session of today was with Kristin Ziemke, coauthor of Connecting Comprehension and Technology.  As she shared the work she is doing with thinking, reading, writing, composing, and communicating using technology with 33 first grade students and no aide, I was in awe.  She shared many things that would work wonderfully in our 5th grade classroom as well.

6.  There is a cute boutique in our hotel.  After that last session, there were a few fun purchases made by all of us.  Retail therapy when you don't need the therapy is the best kind of all!

7. As soon as I am done typing, I am headed to a Nerdy Book Club dinner, followed by a Nerdy Book Club party.  I will be surrounded by people who came to a conference to refine their teaching and want to talk books.  As Donalyn Miller would say, "These are my people!"

Head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog to read other slices.  Thanks to that incredible team for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge this month.

And for more celebrations, head over to Ruth's blog to celebrate!!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Feeling grateful this Friday - SOL, March 14



Today, I am feeling grateful.

Grateful for a community of writers who understood that I needed to be kind to myself for awhile.

Grateful that in the last three days, my teaching partner and I got to celebrate the learning of 50 students with their parents.

Grateful that Mom was released from the hospital on Tuesday, and is now safely back in rehab, working hard to re-learn how to use both of her legs.

Grateful that Dad has progressed enough that he will be released from rehab next Wednesday.

Grateful for the colleagues in our school who asked about my parents on a daily basis.

Grateful to be heading to Michigan later today for MRA.  It will be so fun to catch up with smart educators, and learn from them as well.

Grateful for the #CarPD, conversation, book talks, and laughter that will happen in the car ride there and back.

Grateful for the kind and generous card that came in the mail yesterday.

Grateful for the sun and warmer temperatures today that always put a smile on my face.

Grateful that next Friday I will be headed to Hilton Head with my husband.

Yes indeed, today, I am feeling grateful.


For more slices, head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog to read what others are slicing about.  Thanks so much to the TWT team for hosting this event.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A True and Always Friend - SOLC March 9

As the events of these past few months have overwhelmed, outside of my family, there is one person who always had my back... and always does.  I'm very fortunate to have her in my life. Today's slice is just a small way of appreciating our past 41 years of friendship.


We met in August of '73
Both freshmen at Miami University
Living in Emerson Hall
Pledged the same sorority

The bonds that we formed back then
Have tied us together through the years
Even though we are opposites in so many ways

She is a wonderful cook who patiently 
taught me how to make her Italian
mother's meatballs
She also gave me tutelage
on her family's famous
sugar cookies and icing

She has always had the ability 
to sing like an angel
Breaking into song spontaneously
All day long
While my singing sounds more
like a frog croaking off-tune

We've laughed 
that being on time is a flexible concept for her
While I have my days planned down to 
the minute

She is incredibly thrifty
always looking for a great deal
While I'm the one who
doesn't even want to negotiate when buying a 
new car
Sticker price - sure!

But where we find common ground 
are matters of the heart
She is my family
As sure as if we were sisters

Through the years
our spouses and children
have become family as well
Celebrating holidays
and important life events together

She has been there for me
In good times and bad
Tears and laughter
Births and deaths

We can go weeks without talking
and when we reconnect 
it feels like no time has passed 
We are right back where we left off
the time before

A friend like her
is one to cherish for life


For more slices, head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog to see what others have to say.  Thanks so much to our hosts for moderating this month-long event.




Saturday, March 8, 2014

Kind and Tired Aren't Mixing - SOLC March 8


 Kind.  That was the word that I chose for my OLW this year, and I've been thinking about it a lot in the past few months.

Tonight, I came home from the hospital stressed, but mostly tired.  Sitting at the hospital is always tiring, but when your parent is in pain, that time is even more tiring.  When your parent is in pain and distress and not acting like herself, things become overwhelmingly tiring.

And this overwhelming sense of tiredness is exhaustion.

But it's not just the hospital waiting and my mom's discomfort that led to this exhaustion.  It's the sum total of all the ways I've tried to mesh my personal and professional lives the past few weeks.  Progress reports, parent-teacher conference forms and conferences, lesson plans, sub plans for all the days I had to miss school to be at hospitals or doctors with my parents, writing my posts for Slice of Life Challenge, trying to comment on other's slices (not very successfully, so far), spending an hour or more with mom and dad each night at their rehab facility, doing their laundry, running errands for them, finding time to spend with my husband, making sure I get my exercise minutes in -- these have all become the "have to's" I've imposed upon myself.

Which brings me full circle to my OLW - kind.  I reread my original post carefully and realize that I stand no chance of being kind to others if I'm not being kind to myself.

Some of these items I don't have choice about; they are part of my professional duties.  But others, I can begin to be more flexible about.

Though I love the idea of writing every day in March, and I hope that happens, as of tonight, in this state of exhaustion I find myself, I am choosing to be kind to myself.  If I post every day with this amazing Slice community, great.  If not, it means on that particular day, something else more pressing needed my attention, even if that "more pressing" item is going to yoga or reading for an hour or so.

I don't like the person I am right now, so "choosing kind" for myself will helpfully allow me to choose kind in regard to others as well.

Thanks so much to the amazing team at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting this month of Slices.  Head on over to see what others are talking about today!!




Friday, March 7, 2014

At the Hospital Again - SOLC March 7

"Hospital Time" - whoever invented that phrase knew hospitals well.

It's a beautiful Friday afternoon (I know because I can see it out the window), and I'm sitting in a hospital again.  On this particular day, my mom is having a hip re-replacement, and my brother and I are in the surgical waiting room waiting to hear from Mom's surgeon.

As I sit here in the hospital yet again, I can't help but reflect on this past year and what a crazy roller coaster it's been.

May, the month where hospital waiting began
Hip replacement for Mom
Mechanically, a fairly simple surgery

Her rehab was close to us
Giving us many hours to reconnect
And talk about life and love
As she gained strength and mobility

Yet she was still excited to be going
Home 
A place that belonged to her

Pain set in shortly
Many doctors and specialists were consulted
More questions than answers

After months of waiting for answers
Finally, decisions made
An exploratory hip surgery scheduled
Infection probable

Hospital waiting again in December
Replacement removed
Temporary spacer and antibiotics inserted

More waiting at rehab
Learning to be strong with one leg
Can't bear weight on the other

Hospital waiting again in January
This time for Dad
Back surgery 
Where half-way through a 5 hour procedure
Power went out
Generators failed
They stitched him up in the dark
Opened him up and finished the next day
Two days of serious waiting

Now, here we are again
In the waiting room
waiting, waiting, waiting 


If you don't feel like waiting, head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog to check out all the other slices.  Thanks so much to this group that leads us through the month of March!!





Thursday, March 6, 2014

Progress Reports - SOLC March 6


I just want to say this upfront -- "Hi, my name is Karen and I am addicted to Evernote."

It's that time again.  It is the end of the trimester, and progress reports need to be completed by this Monday.  I have had a love/hate relationship with progress reports my entire teaching career.

However, my feelings have shifted in the past two years, and I can thank Evernote for that.  I find myself documenting so much more learning now.  So when it comes time to write thoughtful comments that will benefit the student and the parent(s)/guardians, I get to look through a digital portfolio of all the learning and teaching moments I have captured.  I can see trends for my language arts students when it comes to reading, writing, and word study, and can annotate that so all can learn.

When I finished my last progress report comment tonight, I knew I had good data; information that would be meaningful to all.  Thanks Evernote.

And with that, I say good night.

Thanks so much to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge!  I look forward to catching up on many lives this month.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Whoops! - SOLC, March 5

Real life -- if you can't laugh at yourself, who can?


I have been flying from meeting to meeting lately, and trying to tie up loose ends, such as progress reports and conference forms for next week before my mom's hip surgery this Friday.

To keep up with what I need to do each day, I originally plotted out all the deadlines on a monthly calendar.  Then each day, I create a daily "to do" list; one of the old fashioned paper and pencil kind.  It even says "To Do List" at the top in case I forget what the list is for.

But I digress...

So, today I:

  • worked on progress report comments
  • finished grading the last stack of papers
  • sent out our weekly parent update email
  • stayed very organized at the end of the day, so that I could immediately leave for my 4:30 meeting on the east side of town
  • drove to that meeting
However, when I got there, I was the only car in the parking lot.  Being the problem solver that I am, when I saw the empty parking lot, I got out my registration slip, and upon closer inspection of my workshop confirmation, it appears that the 2 hour workshop is tomorrow, March 6, not today, March 5.  Whoops.

As I drove the half hour back to my house in rush hour traffic, knowing all the pre-planning I've done to stay on top of things, thinking of all the "to do" items I could have accomplished, trust me that the word I was saying out loud was not "whoops!"

Thanks so much to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge!  I look forward to catching up on many lives this month.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Power of Modeling Writing - SOLC March 4


 I have been thinking in these first few posts about how to elevate the quality of writing in our workshop.

At a language arts council meeting I attended recently, I had the good fortune to see a video clip of Tony Keefer doing a writing mini-lesson about "manipulating time."  He specifically modeled for students the writing strategies of speeding time up and slowing it down when appropriate.

What struck me immediately on watching the tape was that Tony actually had written, revised, and shared writing pieces with his class.  I have written many first drafts in front of my class, but had never gone the next step to actually revising and polishing a piece.  Sure, I did bits and pieces, but never really shared work from start to completion.

Layered into my thinking about Tony and his modeling was something Penny Kittle had shared at the Dublin Literacy Conference.  She oftentimes gives students a piece she has written, and then asks them to read the piece, marking on it as needed, so that they can analyze it and give her the specific feedback that she requests.

Tony's video clip + Penny's share about requesting feedback = an important moment for me as a writer and a writing teacher.

I began to dig through my writer's notebooks to see if I had a seed of an idea I might want to develop, and lo and behold, I stumbled across my 28 pages chronicling all the events that happened when I visited my daughter, Kate in 2007, when she studied abroad in Spain.  That trip was my first-ever time across the ocean, and I knew there were many stories I wanted to tell from that time period.

As I scanned through the 28 pages I had written, I realized that most of my notebook entries were filled with minuscule details of things I wanted to remember.   They were the very stories we warn our students about -- bed to bed.

My first draft, with students' feedback
The passage I chose to focus on was our weekend trip to Florence, Italy -- the arrival, the hotel, and going to dinner.  I typed this passage in a document and made a copy for each student.  The next day, I shared the piece, and then told the students that I was unhappy with the piece.  Specifically, the feedback I wanted from them was three-fold: 
  1. Does this piece have a clear story line? 
  2. How were the details of the piece -- too few or too many? 
  3. Would dialogue help my piece?
My first revised draft, incorporating
students' feedback, as well as
technique of speeding up time
They had 5 minutes to mark up their copies of my piece, keeping my three questions in mind when thinking about suggestions for me.  Their feedback was amazing, and I jotted all over my copy what they had suggested.

I made revisions using their suggestions, and shared a part of the piece the next day.  I also made sure to "manipulate time" by speeding up the action in one part.  On that second day, we did a comparison of where my piece had been and where it was today.  I hadn't just substituted words or moved sentences, but rather I had truly rewritten the story for better flow.

I encouraged them to try speeding up the action in pieces where they were doing exactly what I had done; telling every single mundane detail.  We had a model of how improved a piece could be.

My second revised draft,
focusing on dialogue
and slowing time down
The third day, I came back with more writing; a continuation of the Florence piece, only now that I was in the restaurant scene, I wanted to slow down time.  When I shared this part, one of my students volunteered that I must have used the "show not tell" strategy when I slowed down time.  I didn't consciously, but he is correct when he noticed that had happened.

For writing teachers, you have heard this a million times before, but there is great power in being a writer with real writing problems in front of your students.  Having them see me struggle, ask for their feedback, and then use it becomes a wonderful teaching tool.

That's all for now.  Not because this post is polished the way I want, but I am exhausted and need to go to sleep, and I have 17 minutes to make the deadline for posting today.

Thanks so much to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge!  I look forward to catching up on many lives this month.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Having an Audience Matters - SOLC March 3



I'm continuing my thinking about how to put energy and purpose into our writer's workshop.

My students recently completed a focus study on opinion writing.  We spent a great deal of time talking about how important it was to know who their audience is in order to find the best supports and evidence for their thinking.  In addition, knowing their audience allows the writer to choose the best "container" (thanks, Mary Lee for that great word) for their piece.

For their opinion pieces, many students did a slideshow presentation (Keynote or Explain Everything), other students made books to share with younger classes, while another group decided to write more formal essays.

Yet another group of students chose to write a letter directed to a specific person or institution.  A smattering of the topics and recipients:

  • a letter to our local youth football league regarding the safety of helmets
  • a letter to the Washington Redskins organization asking them to change their name
  • a letter to all the 5th grade teachers in my building asking them to reinstate a specific field trip
  • a letter to all the 5th grade teachers asking them to institute a second recess
  • a letter to the principal and PTO requesting that swings be added to our playground
  • a letter to the principal protesting our current use of eTextbooks in social studies
The list goes on, but the thing all these letters had in common was a strong belief that something needed to be changed, and these students wanted to go to the source with their cases.
When there was so much passion shown by the writers in the classroom, it was an absolute surprise and delight to find typed letters on school letterhead from our principal in my mailbox one day last week.  He had written to each and every student that had composed a letter for his eyes.  This action on his part literally brought me to tears, anticipating how excited the students would be that the principal not only read their opinion piece, but responded to the specific arguments they had made.

When I handed those letters out last week, there was a palpable excitement in the room.  "Let me see!  Let me see!" was a refrain in both classes.

Audience is important.  Audience matters to writers.  Take a second to read what my principal wrote to this student.  A response like this guarantees that this student will have purpose for every opinion/persuasive piece he writes in the future; he now knows he can make a difference. 



Thanks so much to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge!  I look forward to catching up on many lives this month.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A New Way of Connecting with Students - SOLC March 2


On a recent #NCTE Twitter chat, the topic was formative assessment, such an important topic for all educators to be thinking about.  During the conversation, Kristine Mraz posted a picture of a chart in her room that helps her stay honest when it comes to conferring with students and meeting with them in specific strategy groups during writing workshop.

Kristine Mraz's brilliant idea
Kristine is a primary teacher, but I immediately saw implications of how I could use this system in my own writing workshop with 2 groups of 5th graders.  I set up a bulletin board that was divided so that both classes had a place to communicate their writing needs to me.  As a starting point, I divided the possible needs into 3 categories (very similar to Kristine's, just slightly different wording):

  1. I need your feedback on a section of my piece
  2. Our group would really like to work on a writing strategy with you (slow down time, speed time up, show not tell, effective dialogue, developing characters, taking good research notes, etc.)
  3. I would like to share a short piece or a small section of my writing on Friday.
My version of Kristine's idea
The students were asked to put Post-it notes under one of the categories that would best help them as a writer when a need arose.  My initial thinking was about the autonomy this would give students; the power of having them ask for what they need as writers would be terrific.  This board went into place the day after the #NCTE Twitter chat, and in my humble opinion, has been a huge success.

While I still have strategy groups or conferences that are on my radar as a writing teacher, students are now asking for the assistance they need as writers to get them past a particular roadblock to which they may have come.  The focus and the industry of our writing workshop has changed dramatically, especially this last week, as this new routine became a more solid part of our workshop. Truth in advertising, this was also the first 5 day week I've worked since December (more on that in a later slice), but I think it's more than that.

I think this chart I borrowed and remixed from Kristine has allowed students a voice as writers that they might not have had before when I was the only one directing which students I would meet with each day.  Now, we have a more democratic way of helping writers, where everyone has a voice.

I expect that these categories might get tweaked as different needs arise, but for now I am cherishing the "work" time of our writing workshop.

Thanks so much to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge!  I look forward to catching up on many lives this month.



Saturday, March 1, 2014

Literacy Celebrations and Serendipity - SOLC March 1

My slice for today is a precursor to the slices of the next few days.  Several events have dovetailed in my professional life lately that make me strongly believe in serendipity, and have allowed me to become a more thoughtful writing teacher.

The events in no particular order:

1) A week ago today, I attended the Dublin Literacy Conference.  This is always one of my favorite conferences of the year.  The committee gets amazing thinkers and authors to headline this special day.  Year after year, the lineup never disappoints.  There were many amazing speakers, but the one I could have listened to all day was Penny Kittle.  Whether talking about reading workshop or writing workshop in a high school setting, Penny was so passionate about her work with students, and helping them to see themselves as readers and writers.

2) During a recent Twitter #nctechat on formative assessment, Kristine Mraz shared a picture from her classroom about a very public way she stays on a schedule with her writing conferences and strategy groups.

3) About a month ago, we finished a study of opinion writing.  Our emphasis was twofold: write for your audience and make sure you are able to support your position with many logical arguments and facts.  Some students had written persuasive letters and had mailed them to the person/organization they thought could best affect the change they were seeking.

4) A week or so ago, I was at a language arts council meeting for our district.  While there, during our reflection on workshop practice in the classroom, we watched a video of Tony modeling for students the art of manipulating time in a piece; knowing how to both slow time down as well as speed up time in a narrative.  His mini-lesson was brilliant.

These great nuggets of information about writing have been swirling around in my brain.  Stay tuned for the next few slices to see how these events have helped our writing workshop refine and evolve into a better version of itself.

In the meantime, you really need to head over to Two Writing Teachers blog to read the amazing Slices that others are writing.  The challenge of writing each and every day in March can be quite daunting, but what a great group of people with whom to tackle this event!