Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Nerdy Awards - Nonfiction Picture Book Category

I love the week the Nerdy awards begin to be announced! With so many fabulous books published for children each year, it is hard for them to all get the accolades they so deserve. That's why this week at the Nerdy Book Club blog is such a celebration - we are celebrating the best and the brightest books in many different categories.

I am delighted to be the person who announced the Nonfiction Picture Book winners today! Check it out if you haven't already, and don't forget to follow the other Nerdy winners the rest of the week!!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

#Celebrate! - 12/5/15

I love that Ruth hosts a community of celebration each Saturday. When world events and things close to home make me weary, I so enjoy my escape into the celebrations posted here. Thanks so much Ruth for nurturing a community of "JOY"!

The first thing I would like to celebrate is the return to my blog. For a variety of reasons, I have felt unmotivated as a writer. But thanks to #WriteDaily30, organized by Linda Urban. I am setting a goal to write something for myself or for public consumption each and every day this month. All writers that joined put their goal or their progress in a spreadsheet shared by all, and then we leave comments for one another daily. A powerful motivator to write and a huge celebration!

Second, this week I would like to celebrate my parents and making it through Thanksgiving. This holiday was my parents' absolute favorite - my dad liked to cook the turkey using his engineering skills - depending on the size of the turkey, he had a regression chart to tell you how long you needed to cook the bird - and no I'm not making that up! Mom and Dad loved having us gather at their home, all sitting around one table, enjoying their food, and then following the meal, joining in some cutthroat family games; ones where Mom always stacked the teams so she was guaranteed to win. Last Thanksgiving, they were not physically able to prepare the meal, so we celebrated the holiday at my brother's house. But since then, Mom died last December and Dad died in July. The remaining family knew it would be a tough holiday, but we had a lovely time together, eating incredibly well and yes, still playing those cutthroat games. I think Mom would be so pleased to see how I channeled her competitive nature and beat my nieces and eldest daughter in a game of Spoons. :)

Finally, I have much more to say about this in future posts, but I want to celebrate #ncte15.  I know this happened a few weeks ago, but I haven't really talked about it a lot. While I know not all educators are in an ideal situation where they work, I left #ncte15 with my spirit having been lifted up. So many conversations about keeping joy in our profession, so many educators sharing smart philosophies and practices, so many like-minded friends/colleagues coming together to refine our practices and feel the support of others - that is a true celebration!

Hope this week brings something to celebrate for everyone.

Monday, October 26, 2015

#IMWAYR - Oct. 26, 2015

I'm so happy to be back and sharing my reading life on Mondays. Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for hosting #IMWAYR each and every Monday!!

It was a fun reading week for me. I read one picture book and 3 middle grade chapter books. I loved each one of them for different reasons.

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall - I loved this book!!! It read like a combination of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life and Touching Spirit Bear. Much like the latter, it involved an adult stepping up to propose an alternative punishment than going to juvenile jail for the main character. Like the former, the main character needs to discover the truly important things in life. Add to that, Pearsall based this story on something incredible that actually exists now at a Smithsonian museum.  Great read!

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Elis Smith - This is another story that has the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina (quite a few of those this year), but what makes this story unique is that "hurricane" can mean more than the storm that forms out in the ocean. In this story, hurricane also is a feeling you get when you live near a mountain in Vermont and a tragic event occurs. The dual story lines of the character living through Hurricane Katrina and the character trying to escape Vermont, though a bit far fetched, truly worked for me.

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb - This was a find at last week's Junior Library Guild Warehouse sale. I loved that the setting was in Ohio, on a small island located in Lake Erie, off the shore from Toledo. The twist of having an island story be something located in the Midwest made it fun for me. Great characters, family dynamics that occur that no one else even realizes, the ups and downs of friendships, and even a teacher who maybe found her true calling again through a conversation with the main character (an avid reader!) - all wonderful reasons to read this gem.

Neighborhood Sharks by Katharine Roy - This picture book is fabulous told with a narrative line as well as page after page after interesting facts about this Great White Shark. I'm not sure what took me so long to read this book, but it will be a mentor text I share with many colleagues!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Words Matter - #SOL Sept. 22

Thanks to all the wonderfully smart women at Two Writing Teachers who host this gathering each week. It is a lovely place to capture and share those small moments in life.

Recently, I was sitting on my screened porch, doing some writing. While the screened porch is one of my favorite places to be, this particular writing activity had been weighing heavily on me for awhile and I was dreading it. I was writing the thank you notes for all the kindnesses shown to our family when my dad died this summer.

I think I put it off for so long because, after Mom died in December, and then Dad died a scant seven months later, writing these thank you notes meant there would be some closure around my parents' deaths and I wasn't quite ready for that.

But, through the days I procrastinated on this activity, I started to think about all the words that had meant so much to us as a family this past year:

  • The kind words on each sympathy card that made its way to our mailbox.
  • The words people used during calling hours to talk about what a positive impact my parents had on their lives.
  • The words my brother gathered and arranged into eulogies for our parents - words that captured the special and unique qualities of both of them.
  • The words the granddaughters used when sharing their favorite memories about their grandparents.
  • At the memorial service for Dad, the words that a variety of people chose to share with the entire group.
  • The comforting words on the cards accompanying the flower arrangements that added such a lovely touch to each service.
  • The letters received from cousins recalling memories of their times with my parents and how much those experiences had meant to them.
  • The online words: emails, text messages, Facebook messages, Voxes - these were words of comfort.
And then, one day, I had a big "aha" moment about my grief and moving through it - WORDS MATTERED. 

Words mattered during my grief, and the least I could do was to share my words of appreciation for the gifts of concern and kindnesses we had received as a family. So, while those thank you notes were not my favorite task to do on the screened porch, I could only hope that my words of appreciation mattered to the recipient of each thank you. I know your words most definitely mattered to me!

Monday, September 21, 2015

#IMWAYR - September 21

A huge thank you to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts for cohosting the kidlit version of It's Monday, What Are You Reading? I love it personally to find out what others are reading, and, as a coach, I love to share it with teachers to help them find new titles to share with their own students.

I haven't contributed for awhile, but in the last week, I've read some books that are definitely worth sharing.

I'm New Here by Anne Sibley O'Brien caught my attention because of the front cover. As there is a  call for more diversity in books and the need for all children to see themselves in a book, this is a picture book that would do just that. The story focuses on 3 children that are new to a school in America. Each student spends a great deal of time thinking about the talents they had in their former homes; now, the language, the words, the writing, their contributions in class are difficult for them, and leads to sadness and confusion. There is a nice shift within the story that allows each child to feel some success with his/her classmates by the end of the book, but I wonder if that is a simplification of  the actuality. Regardless, the story would lead to great conversations within classroom communities.

See You Next Year by  Andrew Larsen and Todd Stewart was another lovely story about a family that returns to the same beach each year. This would be a great book to use with students in a narrative writing unit. I especially like the narrator's story about the Sunday at the beach, beginning with watching the tractor on the beach as it rakes the beach, and ending with the people leaving the beach in the evening and the gulls returning. Not all children will have the background knowledge or experience to relate to this story, so finding multiple books about experiences children might have would be good.

Leo: A Ghost Story written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Christian Robinson is a testament to children's imagination and the value of friendship. Leo is a ghost who is not appreciated by the new family who moved into his house, leading him to leave that home and search for something better. I love the words and illustrations that occur when Leo encounters Jane, who has decorated the sidewalk with imaginative drawings and asks him if he wants to play Knights of the Round Table with her. I love the nods to creativity and friendship.

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson was a fun frolic. I looked forward to this book because it was by Jeff, and I so enjoyed the story - quirky characters whose storylines come together in humorous, and sometimes empathetic ways. This is a slice of middle school that Jeff writes very well.

I hope you all have a great week of reading!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Celebrating Six New Colleagues

Thanks to Ruth for creating a community where celebration at the end of each week occurs!

Our school district hired many, many new teachers this year. However, this week, I am celebrating the good fortune my school district had in their hires of six specific new-to-our-district teachers. They all came with years of experience; some a few, some more. But the thing they all have in common - a passion for learning.

I am the literacy coach in four different elementary buildings; three of those buildings hired these six new teachers. I reached out to them this summer, as soon as my building administrators informed me of their hires. I welcomed them to their respective buildings, and I shared some district literacy learning opportunities available to them during the summer. I also offered to meet with them at different times to talk about what reading workshop, writing workshop, and word study might look like in their classrooms.

Here is why I am celebrating after our first week of school:

  • Every single new-to-our-district teacher availed themselves of one, or more, of the summer learning opportunities available to them.
  • Many of them attended the weekly summer literacy chats the coaches hosted.
  • Many of them attended our district's two day summer Leadership Academy where they attended sessions to help them with student learning in their classrooms.
  • All but one (and she had prior summer commitments) sat in my house for hours over several days as we talked about the components of workshop.
  • I was invited into many of their classrooms this summer as these teachers were setting them up to help organize or think about spaces for student learning.
  • With one group of three, we were able to sit down together and talk about the components and expectations for word study in our district.
  • They all expressed their gratitude for all the amazing professional development opportunities in which they had taken part.
  • They are all learners and continue to engage in conversations with me and their other colleagues on how best to help children learn.
  • They all have expressed how lucky they feel to be part of a district that supports their professional growth.
And me... Well, I feel quite fortunate to coach and collaborate with these new-to-district teachers who value learning and PD. How lucky am I??!! I look forward to this year of collaboration with all of them!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer Tech Work

Our school district has been rolling out new MacBook Airs to teachers, 4 per building at a time several times a year.  My name cam up at the end of the school year and I recently completed the short class required to receive the new machine. It's pretty awesome.

As part of the class we had to create a short video and post it to the district collection of videos.  I figured since I was spending time on it, I might as well make something I can use in the library so this is what I came up with.  I plan on using it the first week of library, probably just have it playing on a loop as the kids come in and then talking about what I read as they share their summer reading.

I'll be adding to the video over the next few weeks because summer's not over and I'm still reading.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tops of far

My reading has picked up again after a bit of a lull, so I'm adding to my list of top titles for 2015 every day.  I'm also changing my list Tops of 2015 every day, so it's all a bit confusing. I've mentioned a few in my recent posts and thought I'd do a bit of organizing to make it easier to think about what is on my list since we're a little more than half way through the year.

There's a lot of good stuff this year, so it wasn't easy to narrow my list down to top 5, all of these titles are easily interchangeable with other titles but I had to start somewhere.  I'd love to hear what titles you have on your list that are missing from mine.

My top 5 picture books for far, are:

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson: Obviously the illustrations are beautiful and the simple lesson about sharing is too.
My Grandma's a Ninja by Todd Tarpley Ill by Danny Chatizikonstantinou: When ninja Grandma comes to visit it's all fun and games, until she starts to get in the way. Can't wait to read this in THE PIT!
With a Friend by Your Side by Barbara Kerley: A collection of photos accompany the text that tells the importance of friendship. Kids will love looking at this one.
And Nick by Emily Gore Ill by Leonid Gore: The four mouse brother are always competing for attention and Nick always gets left behind. In the end he blooms brightest of all.
See You Next Year by Andrew Larsen Ill by Todd Stewart: The annual trip to the beach highlights include a new friend and all of the usual beach things. Good end of summer story for THE PIT.

and my top 5 fiction books for far, are:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart: Two points of view, one a teen cancer patient runaway and the other his friend who is left behind and knows where he is. One word description, INTENSE!
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: Starting with a magical fairy tale, this is a wonderful piece of interwoven story writing.
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff: Strong and dramatic from start to finish. The main character, Trent, deals with his anger after being involved in the accidental death of a friend. I'm thinking this will be best for older readers.
The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville: This 3 Bears story from the bears' view is a little long, but fascinating how the author brings in all of the other fairy tales.
Catch You Later Traitor by Avi: Based on Avi's memories of growing up during the Red Scare, written like an old time detective novel make this a pretty quick read.  I'm not sure kids will have enough background knowledge to completely understand it.

So there you have it, my Top 5 of far.  I know there will be changes as I keep reading, let me know what yours are.

Monday, July 13, 2015

#IMWAYR - July 13

#IMWAYR is one of my favorite days to check blog posts. It is so fun to see what everyone is reading! Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the kidlit version of this at her blog, Teach Mentor Texts!!

It's been a few weeks since I've posted my reading, so it's fun to see that one book I loved, Bill did too - Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. Some of the other books that I read the past weeks and entered in GoodReads are shown below.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate - This was a generous gift received at #nerdcampMI last week and it did not disappoint. An imaginary friend that stays with you when he/she is needed - so many children will relate to this. It seems that I've read several books on homelessness and this would be another one to add to that list. With all the great books out there on this topic, a unit on empathy could add Crenshaw as a must read.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan - This was my read after Crenshaw and since I loved that story so much, I didn't think any book could measure up. Boy, was I wrong! Three separate story lines, intertwined by the same musical element, and cliffhangers after each section that left me needing more - all of these combine in a story that children will love. 

Blizzard by John Rocco - A wonderful picture book that many have already read, but I just got to it this summer. I still liked Blackout better, but I really enjoyed the community service displayed in this book. And the winter of "the blizzard" was my first year to live on my own as an adult after college - many of the scenarios in this book felt very familiar!

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett - This was a fun story of two boys who both labeled themselves master pranksters. It was only natural that a "prank war" would ensue. Lots of trouble and fun, all at once. The best is what happens when two pranksters combine their efforts toward a common goal!

The Island of Dr. Libris - An island where a very imaginative boy can make characters from stories appear - that is the premise of this story, but it gets a little complicated when characters from different stories start to engage with one another. I enjoyed the literary elements built into this story, and I really liked the message of how much more creative children are than adults.

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman - Another story with a literary backdrop, but I liked this one even better!!!! This was recently recommended to me, and was a great find! Ciphers, friendships, trying to fit in, bad guys, playing a game that no one else (except the bad guys) know about, family relationships - this book has it all. I love the shout out to Edgar Allen Poe in this book, but I especially liked the different books the main character, Emily, leaves in different parts of the city for others to find using a site for Book Scavenger players and giving online clues - Escape from Mr. Limoncello's Library and The Westing Game, just to name a few. I think students will really enjoy this, though I also think many of them may miss out on some of the Poe literary references.

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard JacobsonI loved this book as much as I loved her other book, Small as an Elephant. This is a beautiful story that focuses on unique family units as well as homelessness (another book to help promote empathy).

I had a great few weeks of reading! I'm looking forward to even more great books in the next weeks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dear Hank Williams Full of Surprises

I found this gem while looking over the new fiction table at my favorite Hilliard branch of the Columbus Metro Library and was drawn by the author, Kimberly Willis Holt.  I like her style...A LOT!  Dear Hank Williams didn't disappoint.

Set in post World War II Louisiana, Tate begins writing letters to Hank Williams who she listens to on the radio every week.  He performs as part of Louisiana Hayride, a music show much like the Grand Ole Opry only on a much smaller scale.  She falls in love with his sound and, as part of a class project, she takes him as her pen pal instead of a student in Japan.

Through her unanswered letters we learn the story of Tate, and her absent mother and father.  She is in the custody of her great Aunt Patty Cake and sometimes her Uncle Jolly when he is not out with his latest girlfriend or drowning his sorrows at the local watering hole.

Tate spends a lot of time with her little brother, Frog, pretending to be spies, practicing her singing or playing hide and seek.  Frog seems to be a scared of a lot of things, and disappears mysteriously at unusual times.

The story moves quickly and filled with surprises and turns that frankly, I didn't see coming.  I love the down home language and Kimberly Willis Holt's descriptions of a simple time in a small town in Louisiana.  I can't wait for my 4th any 5th graders to read this book so we can talk about everything that happens.  I'm definitely adding it to my tops of 2015 reading list.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Series Show Promise

When I moved into the library my super aide Yvonne had a great idea.  She wanted to pull the series that are reading levels grades 1 - early 3 out of fiction and give them their own spot.  Like so many things Yvonne comes up with, I liked it immediately and the books were moved.  Things like June B. and Jigsaw Jones, Cam Jansen and Magic Tree House now had their own place in the library, making them easier to find and so they get more circulation.

Over the years I've updated the series by weeding those that didn't get used and adding new titles like the Ball Park Mysteries, Calvin Coconut and Roscoe Riley just to name a few.  I'm always on the lookout for something new to appeal to a larger audience and recently I have found three that I think will do nicely.

Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly B. Burnham Ill by Trevor Spencer:  Main character Teddy is obsessed with getting his name in a Guinness World Record book and will do anything to make it happen.  In addition to this quest, he is also trying to find his place and a little space in his very large family.  With the popularity of the world record books in our library, I'm pretty sure this series will have a long reserve list of kids waiting for it.

Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson Ill by Gitte Spee:   I'm not sure if this will be a series or not, but I sure hope so.  Based on the title, it would seem to fit the category. Detective Gordon is a tired detective who has been asked to solve the mystery of Squirrel's missing nuts.  He is joined in the case by a young go getter, Buffy the Mouse who eventually becomes his assistant.  The story moves along with wonderful illustrations and I'm sure it will be a hit with animal lovers.  I love the gentle humor and interaction between the detective and his new assistant.

Anna, Banana and the Friendship Split by Anica Mrose Rissi Ill by Meg Park: Anna must deal with her best friend turning mean girl, really mean girl, stealing her new birthday necklace and trying to control Anna's every move.  Anna is force to find another friend when all of the other girls are turned against her.  I like this one for the fact that the problem is very relatable and Anna solves it on her own, very little grown up intervention, which is a lesson all kids need to learn.  This book does it in an excellent kid friendly way.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

#Celebrate - June 27

Thanks to Ruth for having a spot where we can celebrate life together. Please check out the other celebrations as well.

I am celebrating 2 weeks of life that couldn't have been more different than the other, yet I cherish both of them!

A week ago, I headed to Nashville with my youngest daughter and my dear friend to explore the city. There were multiple reasons to celebrate our time there. First, I had reserved lodging through a new site (to me) - This is a site very similar to (vacation rental by owner). We stayed in a lovely high-rise condo right in the middle of town. We couldn't have been more perfectly located had I actually tried, but since I had never been to Nashville before, it was pure beginners' luck. We spent time exploring the city - if you've been to Nashville, you will understand my next statement - you can't walk anywhere without knowing there will be hills going UP at some point; that made walking quite different than the flat terrain that I usually walk. But, even with hills, one didn't have to walk far to get to a fascinating area, or great view.

We spent time doing the touristy thing on the main drag, Broadway, where bar after bar was packed with singing, usually someone different on each floor of the bar. We even made sure to stop at Country Music Hall of Fame. My daughter knew several people in Nashville so it was fun to meet them and to visit less touristy places as well. And we had some great southern food while in Nashville. Getting away for a girls' trip like this was fun and a true celebration.

My other celebration actually encompassed multiple days of this past week. Each day was full of learning and collaborating with others. Two mornings, teachers with whom I collaborate and coach gathered in my family room, and we spent time reflecting back on a year of writing instruction/learning, and looking forward to next year and what instruction might look like then. These were educators looking to refine their art of teaching. A huge celebration!

At one of those meetings, 3 new teachers to our district were in attendance. They stayed for yet another hour after others had left, asking smart questions, and setting dates with me to meet again. I'm excited about the conversations that are happening now, before they begin the set-up of their classrooms. The thinking we are doing together will help them be even more thoughtful as they design the learning environments in their new classrooms. Another huge celebration!

Then, on Thursday, I led a summer literacy chat for our district around the topic of independent reading in the workshop model. 27 educators showed up and we talked about our beliefs surrounding children and learning, and also had good conversations about how to document student growth during this block of time. How lucky I am to work in a district that not only promotes professional development, but where many teachers have a huge buy-in to it as well. It was rainy and dreary, and would have been a good day to stay at home doing something else more leisurely, but they came, we talked, and we learned together. My final celebration!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Echo is Beautifully Written

I got my hands on an ARC of Echo by Pamela Munoz Ryan and finished it over two weekends on a bus to Boston, what a beautifully written story of three characters facing great odds.

By starting the book with the legend of the magical harmonica, Munoz draws the reader in immediately creating an eagerness for finding out where this story is going.  Using a harmonica as a vehicle for the story gives the story a twist not found in any others that I can think of which only adds to the appeal.  Everyone has played a harmonica, so the story has instant appeal.

The three characters cross a span of 18 years, from the beginnings of Nazi Germany through depression era Pennsylvania ending in WW II California.  Fredrich, the first to come in contact with the magical harmonica, is a target for Hitler's storm troopers because of some special gifts and an unfortunate birthmark.  The Mike and Frankie are brothers who end up in an institution during the Great Depression because there is no where else for them to go.  Ivy is a young Hispanic girl living in California who must deal with racism in the schools and try to understand why Japanese Americans are being sent to Internment Camps.

The stories of these characters are told with language that is so wonderfully written, that the reader can't help but be drawn into their lives.  The author uses words that create an empathy for the characters and a sense of wonder about how people could have acted as they did during these incredible historic times.

The book is over 500 pages so it will take some stamina for readers, but the reading level is such that I will recommend it for my good 4th and all of my 5th graders.  This book easily is in my top 5 for 2015 and will absolutely be a Newbery contender.

Monday, June 22, 2015

#IMWAYR - June 22

#IMWAYR is one of my favorite days to check blog posts. It is so fun to see what everyone is reading! Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the kidlit version of this at her blog, Teach Mentor Texts!!

Much of this past reading week was spent in Nashville, so I didn't have as much time to read, and when I did read I was in longer adult books. I did get to read 3 picture books (see below) and have begun a fun chapter book - Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. More about that one next week.

Of the 3 picture books I read, a quick synopsis of my thinking:

Little Red's Riding Hood - there are so many very clever versions of Little Red Riding Hood, but this wasn't one of my favorites. Red is a cute little scooter, the wolf is a tricked-out truck, and Grandma is a cute little pink Jeep - the illustrations are fun. There was some fun play on words and fun language to enjoy. 

I will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard - Good message to teachers about embracing the uniqueness of each student. I had a hard time with the behavioral management system used; I wish we could celebrate students without the stars. 

Under a Pig Tree - I chuckled the entire way through this. An error at the publisher leads to every word in a book about "figs" having the word "fig" changed to "pig" each time. As you can guess, that one letter can dramatically change the story. My chuckles came from that, but the comments that the author and publisher leave for each other were my main source of hilarity. I really loved the voice of each one.

Hope you have a great week of reading!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summer Joys - #SOL June 16

Thanks to the wonderful ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Tuesdays. Though I have been a very infrequent participant, I love that this community exists and supports one another!!

This past week was my first full week of summer break, and I embraced it as a time to begin to get my life in order and try to feel a bit more organized. I had some coaching work and a meeting to attend, but other than that, this week was my own.

Here are a few things (okay - 10 things) I enjoyed about the gift of time this past week:

1. Reading!!! Since school has ended on June 2, I have read 14 books. Some of them great children's books, some great adult books, and some just plain fun adult reading.

2. Time with friends - I've had the opportunity to have breakfast with one friend to plan an upcoming trip, had brunch with a group of friends, and I had dinner with yet another friend. 

3. Work - crazy, I know! But the ability to work whenever I want during the day in the summer is very liberating. The intermediate literacy coaches even met at my house for an entire afternoon, and that was fun as well. Though focused on work, it is much different when being able to sit on the screened porch to talk, or to gather the entire group in the family room in a comfortable setting.

4. Write! This blog and any other types of writing I typically do needed to be dusted off and revisited. I forgot how much I enjoy the process of composing.

5. Pampering - getting my hair cut and colored one day and the next day getting a pedicure - both during morning hours. Loved it!

6. Exercise - meeting with my trainer once a week, 2 days of water aerobics, 2 days of yoga, and a few days of walking as well. I know this is the time to really take care of my physical fitness and to build great routines that will carry into the school year.

7. Organizing around my house - I spent two entire days last weekend cleaning, rearranging furniture, and purging things from our living room/my study. It felt great to take 3 bulging full garbage bags to the curb for the trash collectors to pick up.  I can't wait to tackle the other rooms in the house next!

8. Cooking - I cook year round (kind of...) but this past week, I had some time to try recipes that I had  collected because they piqued my interest. They were all yummy!

9. Naps - I don't think I can say enough about the restorative power of a nap.

10. Phone calls - the ability to make phone calls that are needed whenever works for me - what a lovely thing that is. Setting doctors' appointments, planning travel, conversations with family, setting appointments for things that need to be done around the house - all of that is done at my leisure.

I don't take any of these things for granted, and I look forward to an entire summer of joys such as these. Hope your summer is full of some restful things as well.

Monday, June 15, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - June 15

Even though I haven't participated in quite awhile, #IMWAYR is one of my favorite days to check blog posts. It is so fun to see what everyone is reading! Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the kidlit version of this at her blog, Teach Mentor Texts!!

I've been reading mostly adult books lately, but many children's books have also made it into my library bag and are most definitely worth a mention today!

Here are the GoodReads pictures of the children's books read since summer break began:

Some notes about these books -

Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt - I have always loved Holt's writing style and her development of characters. She didn't disappoint in this book. The story is entirely told from letters to Hank Williams, a country singer, from the main character, Tate P. Ellerbee. Tate has chosen Hank Williams as her pen pal for a year-long school assignment. Through her letters we learn about her, her family, her truths, and her deceptions. Holt has built in a few plot twists that I didn't see coming. So clever how she tells so much through this one-way correspondence.

The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon - My first 2 reads of the summer are both set in the South. The Main character in this story, Ivy Green, is quite unhappy that her mom just up and left town, her dad, and her to follow Hallelujah Dave, a preacher to Florida.  I really enjoyed the relationship between Ivy and Paul Dobbs, the person traveling with her to retrieve her mom.

Billy's Booger by William Joyce - This will be a great book to share with intermediate teachers and students, and would be a nice mentor text for narrative writing. The fact that there is an actual book inside a book (even if it is about boogers) is a bonus!

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - A fantastic story that gives a new meaning to the phrase "save my life." My favorite page of all is the last one for that very reason.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick - This man is brilliance. The ability to tell one entire story in pictures, then intertwine it with a story written in words and set in a different time period is amazing. This is a must have for so very many reasons.

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord - I am a huge fan of this author and she doesn't disappoint with this story in the least. The plot around two girls from different heritages and lifestyles is solid. And this story demonstrates how we are so much better when we embrace the differences between us.

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban - I can only hope this is the beginning of a series by the very talented Urban. The ending definitely leaves the door open for that possibility. A great fantasy with some wonderful bad guys in the mix lead to a fun, energetic story that children are bound to enjoy!

How to Read a Story by Kate Messner - A perfect book to share in the beginning of the year when setting up the structure of reading workshop in the classroom. It is probably meant for a younger audience but I can see great possibilities for intermediate students when it comes to modeling how independent reading should look for them.

A great beginning to my reading summer. Hope you are enjoying some great books as well!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sharing our Notebooks - Summer Edition

I had the pleasure of contributing recently to Amy Ludwig Vanderwater's latest inspiration -- Sharing Our Notebooks. She is asking anyone who is willing to share tips for notebook writing that she can share at this blog site for both children and adults.

So far, there are 67 contributions (I'm #62)!, and the numbers grow daily! This would be a wonderful website to share with students now if you're still in school, or in August/September when you are trying to build a new community of writers.

Amy has always been generous with sharing writing tips around poetry at her blog, The Poem Farm, and this new blog centered around writing and writers' notebooks, looks to be another great resource for all!

Thanks to Amy for her generosity. Check out the contributions, and I know Amy would love to hear from you if you have any other notebook ideas!!

Happy writing!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

#SOLC15 - Spring Break

I am in awe of all those of you have consistently posted each day this month. Congratulations to all of you! 
I took a bit of a break for over a week. My husband and I were traveling for spring break to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  The posts I have written this March have been about relationships. That continues today. I have a deep love for, and relationship with, Hilton Head.

Spring break was both a literal and figurative breath of fresh air for me this year. I took some time for myself, and time with my husband, to regroup after several very difficult and emotional winter months. So, it seemed perfect to have planned a trip to Hilton Head, a place where I can always find some happiness and some inner peace.

So, what did I do that rejuvenated me?

Walking for hours on the beach
Soaking up the sun
Watching the waves lap up on shore

On our rainy day
Watching from our oceanfront view
As the waves crashed on the shore
Bringing all sorts of debris with it

Eating seafood
Fresh local shrimp
(grilled and steamed my favorite ways)
She Crab soup
Local crab cakes

Reading for hours on end
Suspense and thrillers
Heart-wrenching stories
that found me crying in my beach chair
Fun beach reads
as counterpoints

Playing golf several days
Trying out my new driver
not very successfully
but great weather
and my 6-iron keeping me happy

People watching
as I sat in my beach chair,
as I sat at the pool,
as I walked

Shopping on a rainy day
Fresh Produce:
One of my go-to stores at HH
and they sell NO fruits or vegetables
only fun clothing for warmer weather

with my husband 
the sound and feeling of it
delighting me

whenever I felt like it
and sometimes even when 
I didn't mean to fall asleep
Awaking feeling refreshed

This was my relationship with Hilton Head this past week, and I am quite grateful.

For more slices, go to Two Writing Teachers blog. Thanks so much to those lovely ladies for hosting this month-long event!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#SOLC15 - StitchFix

My theme for SOLC this year is "relationships." Today I focus on my relationship (addiction) to StitchFix.

About a year ago, a good friend was talking about how much she loved Stitch Fix, an online personal shopping site. I filed it away as a something to look into at some point. Then I began to hear about more and more people using, and enjoying, this service. I decided it was time to give it a whirl myself.

In the beginning, Stitch Fix had me fill out an online profile about myself -- clothing sizes, color preferences, styles to which I gravitated. They even posted pictures of apparel items and had me rank my reactions to them. Then based on the profile I created, my online personal stylist gathered 5 items, including a card for different ways to wear each piece, and sent it to me.

I remember the first time the Stitch Fix box showed up on my doorstep - I was so excited. I scooped the box off the porch, tore open the box, and saw five pieces of clothing - 2 sweaters, 2 blouses, and 1 infinity scarf. I immediately tried the items on, and much to my chagrin, based on fit or style, none of the clothing items worked for me. Out of my first Stitch Fix box, I only kept the scarf.

It was hardly an auspicious start, however, when I "checked out" to pay for the items, there was an online form to share which pieces I would be keeping and which I would be returning. For each of the items, there was a text box to give specific feedback about why an item either worked or didn't work.

Those of you know me, are aware I love feedback in the classroom and how it can better shape instruction. So, I was hopeful if I made my feedback about the clothing as specific as possible, my stylist would make better styling decisions for me the next fix.

Score! After the first box, all the other boxes (which arrive monthly), have resulted in me keeping two or three of the items sent from each box. I still haven't kept all five items yet, but I remain hopeful.

My latest box arrived this past Monday. It was sunny out AND I had a Stitch Fix box on my doorstep - what a fantastic day it was shaping up to be!

So my relationship with StitchFix continues. Especially after these two blouses and one infinity scarf stayed with me on Monday. I can't wait to see what surprises are in store for me in April!

For more slices, head on over to our gracious hosts' blog, Two Writing Teachers. Thanks so much to those wonderful ladies for hosting this event each year.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

#SOLC15 - Books and Brunch

As I began to write this post, I realized that not only am I focused on relationships this month in my writing, but many times I am focused on the fabulous women whom I'm lucky to have in my life. This is another celebration of my relationship with some of those women.

Books and food - what a great combination! A little more than a year ago, some of my Central Ohio friends and I put our culinary lives into the hands of our dear friend, Stella, once a month for brunch. Stella is an amazing person for numerous reasons, but the one that kept capturing our attention was her ability to know so many great restaurants here in Columbus. She is a self-proclaimed "foodie." And she truly knows what she is talking about!

After some bantering back and forth with a few of us about venturing outside of our "bubbles" for our food experiences, Stella set a date and we began our monthly visits for Sunday brunch. And at each of our brunches, we always end with a sharing of what everyone is reading. The number of attendees changes from month to month, but the intent of the group - to enjoy great food at a fabulous restaurant while also reveling in each other's company and conversation never wavers.

Today was one of those lovely Sundays. The restaurant chosen was The Pearl, in the Short North section of our city. Some of us had adventurous treks as a major convention was in town, and there had been a race downtown in conjunction with the convention. Streets were closed, parking lots were full, parking meters were taken, but we were all determined.

Seven of us gathered today and we never lacked for conversation and laughter.

Upcoming spring break plans, recent conference take-aways, professional opportunities this summer, an unfortunate accident, a summer baby, food that is "life-changing", a motorcycle trip to Michigan, our jobs, our families -- these were just some of the many topics discussed.
And of course, books! I hate when I see people in a restaurant and they all have their phones out, yet that was us today for the last 15 minutes of our time together. We were sharing book titles and we each were madly using our phones to capture those titles - Shelfari, Notes, Amazon, GoodReads - these were all apps that I noticed being used.

When we left The Pearl today, there were many hugs as we said goodbye, which is another reason I adore this group. It reminds me so much of my family reunions - even though we've just spent two hours enjoying one another's company, the hug sort of caps it all off. For me, those hugs say, "I'm so glad I got to spend time with you today, and I can't wait to do this again."

The camaraderie of smart women I admire, laughter, fabulous food, and so much more are all reasons why I place such importance on my relationships with my Books and Brunch friends. They are very special women!

Thanks so much to our hosts at Two Writing Teachers blog for developing a spot for this community of writers to come together. Head on over to their blog to read even more slices of life!

Friday, March 6, 2015

#SOLC - My Nails

I continue to think about relationships for the #SOLC15. Today, I am considering my relationship with my nails.

Last week, I decided it was time to ditch all things winter, even though there were still several inches of snow on the ground. So, when I went to get my gel nail polish touch-up, I noticed this really nice dark watermelon color that was new. I was immediately drawn to how bright and happy the color was.

I did notice that it seemed to have some sparkle to it, but that just seemed to highlight the "fun-ness" of the color. The nail tech applied the color, and in the salon it looked wonderful. I paid and then walked out the door into the sunshine of a brisk winter day.  By the time I walked to my car a short distance from the salon door, that sunshine let me know that I was now channeling the middle school girl in me - that sparkle was more like glitter.

Every time I look at my new nail color, there seems to be more and more glitter embedded on my nails. Recently, I was downtown and there was a cheerleading competition at our convention center. There were many cheerleaders walking around sightseeing, rocking the glitter they wear to jazz up their team appearance - that is exactly how my nails look. Trust me when I say I am way past feeling comfortable with the middle school glitter stage.

So, I am having a relationship issue with this color - I am pretty sure we need to break up. Nothing personal. It's not you, it's me...

For more slices, check out the posts at our wonderful hosts' blog, Two Writing Teachers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#SOLC - My Book Club

I've heard many writers talk about exploring "writing territories", and I'm choosing to do that from time to time this month. I've written about my book club before, but as I think about the theme of relationships for my #SOLC, I need to explore my thinking about book club again.

Tonight was my turn to host Book Club. As I was rushing home from school to get out food and drink for the group, I couldn't help but reflect back to our beginnings.

Our group began about eight years or so ago when I sent out a letter to the staff at the school I was teaching, and asked if anyone was interested in participating in a book club. The response was a quite enthusiastic "yes" from many.

I hosted the inaugural gathering. I think back to that first group of women who gathered - we all worked in the same building; we had that common link and often talked about school issues in addition to the book.

Oh how times have changed! Many members of the group dropped out over the years - families grew and time became less available. Some of us began working at different schools in our district. At least five of our members have retired in this time span. We don't share the same school or employment anymore, but we are still going strong.

We have celebrated with each other as children graduated and got jobs. We celebrated when children got married. We rejoiced with those becoming grandparents (some of them multiple times). We provided sympathy when there was illness in a family or loss of loved ones.  We empathized when someone was having a difficult time and we laughed during joyful moments. We attended many retirement parties! :)

Tonight, only two members besides me could make it. At the beginning of our history together, that might have entailed a quick email to say book club was postponed until we could find a date when more people could attend. We are much wiser now. We understand that whether our attendance is three (such as tonight) or ten, the most important thing is to honor the date to which we committed to the best of our ability. If something else gets in the way, we understand and hope we will see our missing members the next time.

The conversation was rich tonight: pregnancy, engagement, children moving back to Central Ohio, and a cruise were some of the topics in which we engaged. As great as the book was, it only merited about 5 minutes of our conversation. There were just too many other things to share.

One simple email a little less than a decade ago has helped me forge relationships with these women I might not otherwise have developed. I look forward to Book Club because I know it is about far more than just discussing the book; it is about sharing our lives.

And for anyone interested in what we read this time (hi #nerdybookclub friends!), it was an oldie but goodie by Nelson DeMille, The Charm School. A great spy thriller! Our next book will be The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg, and the book after that will most likely be The Girl on the  Train.

For more slices, please head over to our gracious hosts' blog, Two Writing Teachers. Thanks to all of them for keeping us organized this month!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

#SOLC - March 3

I still continue to think about relationships in this slice...

The past two weeks have been PARCC assessments for my school district, and it has required "all hands on deck." So, I've had the good fortune to do these assessments with someone who has some testing modifications, and I have had a blast!!!

Yes, you read that correctly. Every day I have helped to administer an assessment to Kay (not her real name), I have ended up saying, "What a hoot and a half that was!"  And no, I'm not referring to the actual assessment. Instead, I mean my time with Kay during breaks and after she completed her work each day.

She is a student I might not have otherwise known, if we hadn't been thrown together for the PARCC.  Let me rephrase that - I knew who she was because I have the pleasure of spending time in her teacher's classroom as a literacy coach. But to really know her - it took the PARCC to make that happen.

Kay and I have developed such a fun relationship these past two weeks. She is never short of topics for conversation, and I have learned quite a bit. Things such as:

  • How her mom adds extensions into her hair by beginning with a "box" braid, and the fact that it takes multiple days to finish the entire process.
  • The best place to shop if you want to buy boots with zippers on both sides of the leg (only 1 is decorative and the other one truly works).
  • The magical draw of The Princess Diaries movies -- seems it encourages some young ladies to stay up way, way, way past their bedtime when they are in the middle of a marathon.
  • Chocolate has magical powers to help concentration so I guess it's a good thing Kay noticed the container of chocolate in my office!
  • The difficulties of having to move to 3 different cities, and how important it is to find a place where extended family resides.
  • Food - this topic could be a post all by itself.
  • The excitement of a planned shopping trip; we had much we could share together around this topic.
We always finished our assessment well before her homeroom was done, so there was much time for all of this rich conversation. I have loved our time together; we have one more test tomorrow, and I think I will have a little bit of "Kay-withdrawal" after that. The relationship that we forged was a fun one, and I will always smile when I think of out time together.

For more slices, head on over to our gracious hosts at Two Writing Teachers to read what others have written.