Celebrate This Week: Food, Family, and History

The summer slips by and days are filled with ordinary: clear skies, soft breezes. I am grateful for this gentle time.

This week I celebrate the ordinary that surround summer and a few extraordinary moments.

When someone cooks for you, it is more than a meal. The care it takes to plan, create, and give is an act of love. This week a chicken curry dinner found its way across the country into three homes.

The meal was a gift to the three.
Each took the memory
from the east
to the west
to the north
to the south
to spice and feed collective hearts.

 College starts in a few weeks for my girl. I’m lucky. She’s a planner. She knows what to do and when to do it. She’s got it all mapped out. We traveled south to get her classes, to see her dorm room. It was just a day trip to get ready. Not the final move. That comes later, in four weeks. Mixed emotions. Highs and lows have taken up residence at my house.

The last child is about to go.
She registers as
I sit beside parents.
We share pride and worry.

The last child at home a few weeks more
then off to test her wings
in unknown territory.
We share pride and worry.


The Democratic National Convention was the centerpiece at dinnertime this week. We sat and watched each speech on my laptop centered on the kitchen table. The three of us sat to bear witness to a historic moment. More than once I was moved to tears.

She works in the supporting role
doing difficult, necessary jobs.
Mopping floors and faces.
Repairing fences and opening doors.

She stands behind
so leadership is questioned.
But I say one
who does for those who can’t
can lead us to kind.


Thank you, Ruth, for Celebrate this Week link up. Read more celebrations here.



Poetry Friday: Lost in Books

Poetry Friday is hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche

Right now, the house is quiet. Daylight goes on and on. The pressures of day-to-day teaching are still a few weeks away, so I feel justified in devouring books, beginning to end in one sitting.

Yesterday, I finished Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story  by Nora Raleigh Baskin and got two-thirds through Towers Falling  by Jewell Parker Rhodes. What an emotional duo. I’m feeling lost in that time.

For Poetry Friday, I offer two poems that celebrate my summer reading life. The first from Donald Graves’ book  Baseball, Snakes, and Summer Squash. I wonder, how many of my students are having this experience. The second poem from Wallace Stevens speaks to my more adult self, calming and justifying my reader’s heart.

Lost in a Book

by Donald Graves

We get up from the table
after a full lunch.
Dad says,
“Got a book here
you can have.
‘Bout a kid lost on a mountain in Maine.
True story.
Author signed it.”

I reach for the book,
picture of a boy
on the cover
lying in a sack
thin and pale.

I opened to the first page
and read standing;
Dad has disappeared,
leaving myself, the boy,
and the book.

I finally sit down,
and travel with the boy
up Mr. Katahdin, lost
in the clouds,
and I am the boy,
terrified, cold from the clouds,
bitten by blackflies,
mosquitos, following a brook, while I
eat blueberries.

I turn on
the living room lamp;
a bear moves from cover
and the boy watches
from the other
side of a blueberry bush.

“Time to set the table
for supper, Donald.”
I hear the voice
but the boy trudges on and
loses his sneakers
in the rocky stream.
I want the voice
to tire, to go away.
The boy falls
in a heap
across the stream
from a cabin
where a man spots him.

“Will you put
that book away?

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm

by Wallace Stevens

 The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Slice of Life: Buried Stories

This morning I read Jess Lifshitz’s brilliant posts on the Dangers of a Single Story.  I thought about the way others read stories, but I  also thought about the stories we choose to give the world.  The pieces of us that we share. Certain things for certain audiences.

There are layers of stories.  Parts get left out, forgotten. Maybe this happens because they tell too much. Or maybe because they go unnoticed. Memories flit by and hide under things.

This morning the sun took me back and the feeling of summer washed over me. It was undeniable and the desire to go to the beach was intense. Still, I drove home.  I tucked those thoughts away with like memories. Now, because of my wonderings and writing right now, I pulled out that morning moment and push myself to remember.

Kid play muffled by the surf is just enough to put us to sleep. For how long? I wonder. Long enought for the sun to leave patches of salt on our skin. Burned? I wonder. Standing, the breeze from the ocean hits and cools enough to wrap towels around us.  Standing, just seconds on the hot hot sand is unbearable. Rubber zories come to the rescue, only to scrap the sand between toes and on the tops of feet as we walk. The straps pull and snap the backs up, kicking sand on our legs. Feet dig deep into the soft pack sand. At the base of the cliff, the ocean winds disappear, and we start to sweat. Finally, showers rinse and wash away irritants, leaving sandals that slip and squeal up the ramp.

A small slice of many summer days. A buried story. Unimportant? Maybe. But the process made me thnk about my students. And the stories they write.

Students write the same story every year. The rollercoaster story, the lost at a theme park story, the when I fell on my skateboard story.  The story I tell my teachers during the personal narrative writing unit.

Every year they gather those same stories when they are asked to think of a time, a place, person, and write; gather; choose.  Every year, the same one. They’re stuck.  And I don’t blame them. Their little stories are buried. Deep under layers. They don’t even think of those moments as stories. So students tell their single story. The story they think they should tell. And that is dangerous.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. This day makes me write. This day made me dig and remember a slice of summer. Find more slices here.


Celebrate: This and That

I’ve been digging into the “I’ll it do when summer comes” pile. Exciting things like travel to conferences and seeing friends and necessary things, like cleaning out closets and getting things fixed. Interestingly, the pile hasn’t diminished in size. It’s bigger, filled with ideas, plans, and hopes for the coming year. Summer is filling me up.

celebrate link up

This week I celebrate the time that it takes to recharge.
To be in a place removed from my day to day is a great gift.  This week I went to Old Bedlam Farm in Upstate New York. I wrote. Find it here and here. I took it in. The sights, sounds, tastes are full bodied. So far removed from city life. Distractions minimize. Peace sneaks in and makes its presence known. This makes space for growth.

This week I celebrate friendships that form a community.
To be with people who share themselves and listen is a great gift. This week three friends took communion. Teachers live solitary lives. Writers live solitary lives. It is the nature of the work. For sustenance and growth, teachers and writers need the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings. That supports me to be a better teacher and writer.

This week I celebrate books that take me to places and people I need to know.
To sit with people not like me in places, I don’t go; to feel their pain and see their humanity is a great gift. I read All American Boys and The Wild Robot. Now I can’t help but think about the world through the eyes of Rashad and Quinn, Roz and Brightbeak.  I’ve been in that liquor store, that hospital, that high school, that cliff, those rocks, that tree, that nest. I can never be Rashad or Quinn, Roz or Brightbeak but I see them. And pieces of them are me. This makes me a better human.

Thank you, Ruth, for Celebrate this Week link up. Read other celebrations here.


Poetry Friday: The Magic of Three

Dear Kimberley, Margaret, and Tara,

This week you’ve given the magic of three.
A mystical combination of nature, words, and peace.
I’ve soaked up daily gifts of food, laugher, and kindness.
Thank you, dear teacher writer friends.


Bedlam Bounty

Light climbs and cuts
the mountain mist.
Dew coats my feet
and I wait for warmth.

High above
wildflower bouquets sprinkle
the tall grass.
Coveting the color
I reach and pull to the table
dignified Queen Anne beauties
the daylilies seize up protesting their importation
from the field to the vase.

 Afternoon sounds soothe.
The fans whir, chimes join the trees’ rustle,
an intermittent tree frog
punctuates a soft breeze
and shadows lengthen memories I take home.


Thank you, Chelanne for hosting Poetry Friday. Find more offerings at Books4Learning.


#cyberPD: DIY Literacy Chapters 5 & 6

The final chapters of Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts DIY Literacy‘s address the nitty-gritty issues facing every teacher: getting the right tools to the right kids at the right time.

Picture this:
A unit starts and the first few lessons go wonderfully. You get to lesson four, or maybe eight and the kids are all at different places.The whole group lesson gets difficult to determine. When this happens, I have had these exact thoughts:

For a moment, you imagine writing three lessons each day and teaching each one to the right group of students, but the thought of all that work feels, well, unsustainable at best, especially knowing that any given  lesson might miss the mark.

It’s crazy and unsustainable, but the situation is inevitable. Chapters 5 and 6 give me hope for the coming year.

Chapter 5: Just for You provides clear ways to get students to use tools.
The Demonstration Notebook is the small group tool. I love the systematic way this process exposes students to multiple ways to accomplish a goal, allowing for demonstration, practice and in the end choice. And beyond the actual lesson, the notebook is accessible: a simple idea that had not crossed my mind.

Micro-progressions are the great goal setting tool. I love the cognition this tool requires. A student needs to find their skill level and set a goal for their next step. And, if they hit a bump along the way to that goal, the if-then chart can keep them going: if things get confusing, then they can continue working in a comfortable zone.

The bookmark is the nudge, “the gentle pressure” that gets students to acknowledge what’s working and what they want to work towards. Accountable, reflective practice.  A culmination of all the other tools.

Polling kids as to what is working is an assessment of our teaching and their learning. I plan to do this. Simple, straight forward questions.

Did this week’s lesson push you ? Did you try or learn anything new this week? Were there times you couldn’t do the work that was asked of you?

.Chapter 6: Nuts and Bolts is the how to make these tools work for kids.
Three things hit me.
One: Make tools simple and bold. I’m not Krisi Mraz or Marjorie Martinelli of Smarter Charts, but there are some icons I can master. They will take me a long way to making my charts clearer. Straightforward icons, consistent colors, large print (upper case slows readers down to process), and using white space help users process meaning.

Two: Make tools accessible and attractive. I’m thinking about how charts and demonstration notebooks should be positioned to be advantageous for students in my classroom. Students should know where the tools are and use them. If you’re not sure if they are using charts, ask them.

Look for a tool that could help you to come up with ideas for your writing.
Where would you go to push your nonfiction reading?
You worked hard and now you feel done, but there are twenty minutes left of independent work tim. Which tools could help you stay productive?

When I set up my books, I think bookstore. When I set up my charts, I’m thinking to advertise that connect to our emotions. Our metaphors and examples need to tap into kid language and culture.

Three: Make tools about kids. The more the tools incorporate student voice and work, the more useful they will be. Co-develop a tool as a whole class in the beginning. Have student groups create tools as they become more familiar with the tool. Recruit students to create and teach as they master the tools.

As my culminating activity, I made a bookmark in my notebook of goals and reminders to start out the year.

Thank you, Cathy Mere, Michelle Nero, and Laura Komos for organizing this summer #cyberPD.

SOL: Green

It smells green. Not cut grass, but growth. I walk around the corner and meet the afternoon filtered through the cornfield below. Across the dirt road, a small barn sits atop the valley view. Framed by trees and hills, the shades of gray, blue, white clouds shift overhead.  The moon discloses itself and the heat of the day evaporates.  We sit. Breathing in the valley, the sky and each other.

When the moon is overhead but before the fireflies, we walk up the path towards dinner, and I see quiet wonders. A forest road to the left,  a stone wall enclosing the back of the house, a pasture reaching up,  midway a lone chair, trees linked by a clothesline.

Today, I find a small room in the corner and write.  A chair and a pillow that fits the small of my back are my writing partners. The light joins us through the window. Outside the ferns, oak, and blue sky are filtered by shifting clouds.

Bird calls, wind chimes, and the swoosh of the fronds as the breeze moves through her fingers.

I take in what I can while I can. The solitude and space. And green.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

Celebrate: Mentors

This week I celebrate mentors.
I celebrate ideas that guide my life.
I celebrate people who invite me in and support me through the questions and doubts life presents.

I stand beside them. Watch. Imitate. Follow. And join in.
I fly path a path of my creation with their guidance in my pocket.

Sometimes the mentors are professional books.
I celebrate the texts that grace my teaching life this summer. I’m writing in the margins. Writing reflections. Imagining how this could go. Each one will find its way into my teaching next year.

Sometimes the mentors are books that transport and inspire understanding.
I celebrate these books and the journeys I’ve been on.

Sometimes the mentors are bloggers:
I celebrate link ups and the communities they foster. Without them, I would not be the teacher, writer, or person I am.  Ruth, your invitation to join in and celebrate opened the door for me. I was welcomed. Without that I would not have been brave enough to venture on to Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers and then to Poetry Friday. Each place has been a safe spot that nurtured me.

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Sometimes the mentors are virtual discussions.
I celebrate the Good to Great Voxer chat. This group is like family. Offering unconditional trust and compassion.  Their actions and words show me how to be my best in this world. Thank you, Mary Howard, for your infinite support. Thank you. Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan, for your wisdom in finding Mary and creating such a group of individuals.

Sometimes the mentors are right there in front of me.
I celebrate the opportunity to learn and be with friends.
Last week, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris extended an invitation to be with them at ILA as they presented their new book Who’s Doing the Work. Those moments of learning and friendship  will hold me  up this coming school year.
In two days, I will be with Tara Smith, Kimberley Moran, and Margaret Simon. I can’t wait!

This week I celebrate my many beautiful mentors.


Poetry Friday: Joe Henry and Jane Hirshfield

Four or is it five weeks into summertime and under the clutter I found some poetry and Poetry Friday. Thank you, Mary Lee at A Year of Reading,  for hosting.

poetry friday logo

A few weeks ago, On Being, featured singer-songwriter Joe Henry.  I wasn’t familiar with him or his music. It’s beautiful. His reflections on his writing process led me to read the transcript. Here’s an excerpt:

..(writing) is mysterious. I mean, I think as anybody who lives any kind of creative (l— is devoted to a creative life, but not only — I mean, any of us alive. I mean, we’re really called to — not to dispel mystery but to abide it, to engage it. And that doesn’t mean necessarily making sense out of it. It’s just understanding that there’s a big part of this that is inherently and beautifully and romantically mysterious — has to be and always shall be. I write to discover. (read transcript here or listen here)

Henry spoke of his poet friend Jane Hirshfield.
That led me to her work.

In “A Blessing for a Wedding,” she extends the invitation to take up life and the cycles inherent in it. To abide and engage.
Our songwriters and poets help us navigate and appreciate the challenges and joys of our world.

A Blessing for Wedding 

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died
     or someone you never met has died
read the rest here

Slice of Life: Difficult Conversations

I had to leave ILA early. That’s another story. This story starts with something I missed:  Cornelius Minor and Sarah Ahmed’s session on using the world as our curriculum.  Fortunately, Heinemann interviewed the two before their session. You can listen here.


And then there was an impromptu session wth Cornelius. Read this post detailing what must have been a tremendous experience.

This is what I’m thinking.

Gun violence against people of color happens every day. And it affects the classroom. It’s a story of a cousin of a student in my class It’s about a nine-year-old in a  neighboring town. It’s talked about at home and on the playground. All of that drama is on my students’ minds. They come to school with it. They want to talk about it. And they do, with each other. But in the classroom? Only if I bring it up. And that can be uncomfortable. I sit there in my white, female self. Wondering, worrying. Am I doing this right? Is this ok? And then I answer myself. I am an educator. I have to be talking about it. This is the world we live in. If I don’t address it I am negligent.

The conversation needs to happen. And we must be able. Because we want classrooms that foster discovery. Where students read, write, and are heard. We want it to be a place to learn about people who are worthy. Worthy of attention and understanding. A place to read about and to talk about people, of different gender and race, so that students can connect because even if they are different, they are like them.  That’s one pathway to seeing possibility in this world.

Our classrooms need to be a safe place to discover and create kindness. What happens on the playground, in the home, on the streets, across the country, comes into the classroom and must be addressed. We as educators have to listen, discuss and empower ourselves and our students with knowledge and understanding. That’s our job.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to write and share. Read more slices here.