Slice of Life: Seeking Real Food that is Lost in Transition

Last night my husband made dinner.

“I don’t trust anything that isn’t packaged in plastic,” he joked.

Due to our heavy reliance on all things Trader Joe’s, salads, pizzas, wraps, pastas, you name it, are prepared and packaged. Every meal is quickly created by mixing, boiling or heating. Occasionally extra veggies are cut or a little cheese is shredded, but the salad dressing is in the package, the sauce to be added (not created) might be from another container. Sometimes we slice some bread.  I’ve often thought we’d starve were it not for TJs.

The meals are quick and good but my husband’s comment is disturbing. Our daughter’s response to the meal was, “When are we going to have real food!”  (Her idea of “real” is Hot Pockets, the grocery store version of TJs.  Which is again, disturbing.)

How did I get here? I was the organic recipe seeker, the baby food maker, the farmer’s market shopper. Now I can’t be bothered to make coffee, let alone grind it from fresh organic, free market beans. No, I pop in the k-cup of Peat’s high-octane blend as I fly out the door, feeling good about the fact that I didn’t stop for coffee at the local Starbucks. Good about saving time and a little money. But annoyed by the fact I had to add water to the machine.

Not too long ago I would regularly cook a meal, with ingredients that were chosen, cut, sautéed, broiled, or baked by me. Leftovers existed. The quick meal was on Friday, when we were all out of “real food.” Real food seems to be something I plan to do. Just not right now. You see, I’m late. I’m hungry. I got to go. I don’t have time.

But time has always been scarce. Even in the past when I cooked and shopped for my family. The change is the family. As they went off to their own lives, the need to make a real food diminished. The few that remain were often off doing, and getting home late. Meal time became a solitary venture. The lack of others diminished food’s importance.  Full disclosure, I’m not a foodie. Left to my own devices, I’d gladly eat Triscuits and cheese for dinner. Until I get thirsty and then I’d have some seltzer water.

The trouble with this is not just the lack of environmental friendliness, increased cost and high salt intake.  It’s the isolation, the lack of human interaction, discussion, and connection. Being alone can be a nice break for an overburdened parent, but too much of it is just not healthy.

Luckily, in just a few weeks, the holidays will bring family home. Whether out of guilt or habit, they come back and with them come routines, rhythms, and expectations. Some of it is strange stuff: sibling to sibling and child to parent interactions that are struggling towards adulthood. But with it comes good things, real food and discussion.


I’m still moving from what was to what could be. I’m just a bit lost in transition. I wonder (my one little word for 2014) what might move me towards this after the holidays pass.

Thanks to Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara for Slice of Life Tuesdays at Two Writing Teacher blog. A wonderful place to share our thoughts and writing. Read more slices here.



Slice of Life: Stopped Cold

Today was an adjustment for my 5th graders  Their last day in class was November 21st. A lot has happened to them in the week we weren’t together.  Lots to catch up on. To figure out.

My morning class seemed to flow. They jumped back into the routine.

By the time the second class rolled in, recess had happened, students were reaching their max in terms of focus. Tired bodies and minds had the need to go to the bathroom, walk around, talk, get drinks of water.

There were many one-on-one conversations and many worked to solve their problems on their own.

One student in particular was having a rough time. This isn’t unusual for B. We talked.  About books, about where he should work. About keeping his thoughts in his head until it was time to talk. About the choices he could make on the playground and in the classroom.

After lunch — My students migrate from the yard to the classroom. I walk behind two souls who are beautiful, bright and don’t fit comfortably in classrooms. They are too big in spirit. I watch them bouncing and spinning as we move towards the door. One of them is B.

We get into reading and things seems to settle. I sigh and send a silent thank you to the gods of patience that guide me. Then a bit of unrest starts up in the space B inhabits. I overhear him tell another student, “I won’t be in school tomorrow.”


I call him over and ask about his planned absence.

“I’m going to a funeral.”

“Oh no, a relative?”

“Yeah. My cousin.”

I pause and ask, “How old?”

“18,” he tells me. “He was shot. In his apartment. By police.”

I’m stopped. Cold.

This is what happened on his Thanksgiving break. This is what was in his head as I talked with him about books about his choices on the yard about school.  Oh my.

I was too busy managing busyness, the seating, iPads, shopping for books, book talks, recommendations, blog, vocabulary, read aloud, all the little things. The usual.

I didn’t hear what I needed to hear until the end of the day. We didn’t get to what we needed to get to today.

When I got home I googled “18 year old shot.”  I found his cousin, plus this report from The Daily Beast. Tragic, by anyone’s measure. This is happening right here, right now to our children. Eight years from now, will it be the boys in my classroom? This quote from Roxanne Gay cited  on Vicki Vinton’s recent blog post keeps ringing in my ears:

How do we see one another as human, as having lives that matter, as people deserving of inalienable rights?

Vicki goes on to offer hope and a challenge.

I believe the answer lies in part in classrooms and in people like the ones I heard at NCTE who are trying to help children revise, rewrite, recast and reimagine the stories of their lives so that we can all be and do better.

This is a big challenge. I’m not sure I know how.  But, I know I need to try.

I’ve found some good resources at #FergusonSyllabus. These were the few that spoke to me: Lee Warren’s  tips  could work at any grade level.  Jen Cort also offers sound advice here for dealing with uncomfortable but meaningful issues.  I’ve also got this chat on my calendar.

If you are so inclined, add in your thoughts, tips, recommendations in the comments. My thanks to you lovely Slicers.

Thank you Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara four Slice of Live Tuesdays. Read more slices here.



Slice of Life: Face to Face at NCTE14

I must start this slice by apologizing to anyone who did not go to NCTE14, you have my permission to be extremely jealous, to stop reading, and to start making plans for NCTE15 in Minneapolis.  I you won’t regret it.  I promise.

Sadly, I am suffering from NCTE14 withdrawals. I thought, if I can only get to that conference, then I’ll be satisfied. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Now that I’ve gotten a taste of this kind of learning, I just want more.You just don’t want to it to end.


Someone said, not sure who, that reading slices won’t be the same after this weekend. #true  Seeing slicers face to face, and actually hearing their voices made it real.

Interestingly, anticipating that “real” I had this worry. This what if… What if my thoughts, when they aren’t being re read and revised, aren’t so interesting or worthy.  When I write, I can measure my words. Think about them. Change. Delete.  What if, in person, without the re read, and editing mechanisms, I’m not what I appear to be, what people expect.

It sounds a bit crazy, but at the same time a bit interesting. Something I never would have anticipated.

As it turned out the dinner was wonderful. Worries were unfounded. I had that feeling of being with best friends that I just met. Being surrounded by people that you feel such a kinship toward is just a little bit of heaven.

After the dinner, unsure I would see people again, I started saying good bye. Hugs all around.

Then Sunday morning. Not so coincidentally, I run into slicers. Seems we are attracted to similar kinds of things. More hugs. And good byes.

Thinking back to moments in the conference, in sessions, at the dinner, in passing, I feel this overpowering connection. These are my people. You have accepted and supported me and all the things that come with me. And when I think about it, that is a pretty big deal.  While I’d like to have you all in my town, at my school, or at least a train ride away, I feel honored to have you here every Tuesday.

My thanks to all of the Two Writing Teachers. More than ever. Thank you Dana (love the notebook and surprises within), Tara (my go-to grown up for assurances in my blogging classroom), Betsy (for your calm poetry-self making it all seem so doable), Anna (smart words for my writing workshop struggles), Stacey (for putting it all together – stressful, but so appreciated) and Beth (wish you were there).

For more of this week’s slices or to contribute your own, click here.





Slice of Life: Am I asking too much?

Today I had someone observing reading workshop. Afterwards, she said what I’m doing is challenging or maybe she said difficult. This made me wonder, am I asking too much?

Walking out to my car, I’m still thinking about this and start to kick myself for asking too much of students. More than they can do right now.

Then I remember the beginning of the day. “D” in the front looks back at his friend, and then points at the board.

What?  I look at the board.

He smiles and whispers, “Look, Genius Hour.”

“Yes!” whispers “C’ from behind.

I smile.

Genius Hour. They love it. In this one hour, students have the opportunity to create their own learning. The only constraint I give them is that their project needs to make a difference in the world. I tell them that they have an obligation to the world and themselves to give back and this is their time to do this work. That’s the major criteria. And students amaze me.

One group of students have taken up a passion project about bullying. I shared a few things I found on blogs, (thanks Michelle Haseltine and Pernille Ripp) and they were off and running. Kids I’d never imagine working together have become teammates, deciding tasks and carrying them out.

After class, “P” tells me she is writing letters to all the teachers, “Okay, Mrs. Harmatz?” And to think this coming from the girl who hates to write.

Lunchtime rolls around and I have a classroom full of students all working on their projects.  There is the endangered animal project, the Minecraft contingent and a group of passionate artists.  One student is researching why students don’t like to read (she does). I get fed a new fact or strategy on a daily basis. Honestly, she is really making me think.

Students come after school and stay as long as they can. They take the work home to work more on it. They blog about it. They think about it. They don’t forget the work at home. They greet me the next day with their findings and ask my opinion about next steps.

They are reading, writing, speaking, creating things that matter to them. If only every day could be Genius Hour day.

Is that asking too much?  If only school could bring out this passion everyday, then I couldn’t possibly ask too much.

Thank you to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara at Two Writing Teachers Blog for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays. Submit your own slice or read more slices here.



Slice of Life: Teacher Gifts

It’s time of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Thanks to Ana, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Stacey and Tara for a place to share our writing and our lives. Read more slices here.
11454297503_e27946e4ff_hA Monday, that faces a day-off Tuesday, makes students a bit off. I made room for that kind of day, planned for it. But there were some unexpected things.

I walked into the office, to distribute paperwork to boxes and desks, to pick up post its and pens; and in the small reception area, usually filled parents and student in transit, are a group of teachers.  I remember hearing something about being observed, but I guess it didn’t process as happening today.

I’m introduced as a “guru” of reading/writing workshop. Uh oh. Gulp. Good thing I didn’t know they were coming. I would have stressed. Now I’m just stressed in the moment, which is the good kind of stress. The stress that you don’t over think. The stress that helps in the moment and you just do.

The day was filled with the usual:


read aloud, amazing thoughts,

readers workshop, small groups,

writing, reflections, one-on-one conferring,


whole group,


lack of tech,



social studies,

good independent decisions,

bad behavior



in between.

The classroom just kind of moves from one thing to the next. Not perfect, ever. There are bumps. We got off course, maneuvered back. Some good moments, some things that didn’t work.  The students were who they are everyday. The thing that amazed me were how perceptive these teachers were. They “got” my students. They conferred, took notes, took pictures, listened in.

At recess we talked a bit.  And then back to the classroom, for my second group.

At the end of the day,

I found an envelope in my box,

and a purple Uniball pen.

After cleaning the room,

charging the iPads,

collecting some notebooks,

bags packed,

I opened

the note.

I was speechless.

What she said in her lovely hand written not hit on what mattered most to me.  She saw the work, the content sure, but she also saw all the rough edges. The reality of getting students to do the work of reading and writing. It is not Pinterest perfect. It’s real and messy. She saw work that was not complete, that was in process as valuable.  She saw students being pushed to independence. Really? You noticed? .

Teachers who notice the stuff that matters, and say so.

What a gift to have and to give.

Thank you.


Slice of Life: First Language Learning

Fall hides in Los Angeles, showing up in small moments. If you are paying attention you’ll feel it in the early morning chill and the dark 4:30s. A smattering of rain cleans the air; a cool breeze pulls in puffy white clouds and a crystal blue sky. The light changes slightly and the sun filters through the window at a lower, less aggressive angle. Mid day is still warm. I revel in cooler moments and bits of color that hint at autumn and the winter to come.

I walk by this tree daily and think, I must take a picture. I walk by, yes I will do that, but then all of a sudden, it’s dark. Last Sunday I walked by, focused on to do lists rattling around in my head, arms loaded. But this time I set the pile down and looked up. Light streamed down. The air was perfect and I catch it. The picture on my phone disappointed me. It never comes out the way I see it real time. I shot few more and walked on. Looking at it now, I see the beauty that would not have been remembered. The comparison to the original moment is long gone.

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I took pictures constantly when my kids were little. I remember getting them developed in an hour (dark ages of image making), anxiously waiting to see them. At the time I thought I was a bit nuts. They were right there. Why the pictures. Why the urgency.  I look at them now and my heart sings, so grateful I was crazy, or maybe not so crazy. I have memories I wouldn’t have held on to without the image.

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Images dominate our world for good reason. They work. Ideas are absorbed readily with images. I think of this as I transcribe words of a presentation to images. It’s the same exercise my brain goes through when I make a chart for students with icons that convey concepts rather than words. To be honest, it is a struggle at times finding images for words. I feel strangely disadvantaged, disassociated from images. Almost debilitated by my world of words. The language we are born with is set aside for the world of words.

I’m reminded of the Opal School and their work that uses the visual arts to activate deep thinking in students; the power of wordless picture books; of studying art to learn history and to activate writing; and the many technologies that marry words and images into powerful messages.

Images, so easy to digest, stir the heart, activate the mind and preserve memory. I have never been so aware of the need to reacquaint myself with my first language. It’s an adventure and a lot of fun!

Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara for Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life.  Read more and post your own here.


Slice of Life: The Trials and Tribulations of Animal Love

In the car on Saturday morning, I turned on my local NPR station. Animal House was on.  I can listen to almost anything on NPR, but calm animal behavior advice at 5 am kind of lulls me back to sleep, so usually turn it off. This segment, titled “Is There a ‘Chill Pill’ For My Cat?” got my attention. The soft spoken Dr. Katy Nelson talked to a beleaguered 90-year old Florida woman about her misbehaving kitty. She spoke of bottle-fed cats (wait, my cat was bottle fed) and how they don’t learn their manners from a momma cat (oh no!) and how that could lead to bad behavior. She suggested a cat behaviorist, or cat whisperer. I can’t believe I am actually thinking about this as possibility; I am identifying with a 90-year old cat lady.

Our cat does what he wants. Most of the time he sleeps. Occasionally he looks at us. Sometimes he walks in front of us. He puts up with our need to hold and pet him. At times he even seeks out our attentions. We have a live and let live relationship. Until recently. Now due to a change in his access to the outside, his in and out privileges have been limited.  Come to find out he is easy going when he gets his way, obnoxious when his desires are less than fulfilled. Now he demands in or out, and he gets it, because you can not ignore his crazy making and unrelenting meows. After listening to Dr. Nelson, I feel like an inadequate cat parent.

This behavior has been created by a change in our behavior, not the cat’s. We have two doors off the back of the house. Both have screens that have been custom sliced (by the cat), just enough to allow him entrance in to and out of the house. My husband dubbed them cat doors, the perfect accommodation for cat and human biorhythms.

One evening I sat at the dining room table reading and I hear, crunch, crunch. Not an unusual sound, but a little louder. I look up and a raccoon is chomping down cat food, right next to me. Unbelievable. I chase the critter out; then he stood on the other side of the glass sliding door eyeing me and the food. Disgusted, I secure the door and wash the cat dish.

The cat doors are now sealed, the cat’s desire to venture at will hasn’t changed, and our sleep cycle is interrupted.

Why do we put up with this and still greet our cat with love. Why do shows like Animal House exist. Crazy or typical?

When I looked up the Animal House segment, I found a Fresh Air podcast with Vint Virga, veterinarian and author of The Soul of All Living Creatures, What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human. An interesting excerpt can be found at the link. This quote struck a chord as a slicer and an animal lover:

We reach out to people as well as animals out of a longing we hold deep within to not be alone, to share what we feel, to relate in some way to the world around us. We yearn to be accepted for who we are, warts and all. We spend much of our lives in an unfolding saga, sorting among all the others we meet to find those who we believe best understand us, with whom we can feel free to just be ourselves. Yet with animals, I find, we do so quite differently.

By their sides we let down our guard and show them more of who we are.

Within the shelter of our own homes, one-­half to two-­thirds of us look on our pets as full-fledged family members. We speak of our pets as if they’re our children, invite them into our beds with us . . . While we all talk to animals in one way or other, an astounding 94 percent of us speak to them as if they were human. And more than 90 percent affirm that our pets indeed respond in turn to our human fancies, emotions, and moods. By the same token, just as many believe our pets share human personality traits, such as being inquisitive, outgoing, or shy. Considering how we regard our connection with them, perhaps it’s not surprising at all that slightly more than half of us would willingly risk our lives for our pets, and even more believe that our pets would devotedly rescue us.

Apparently this thing we do with animals is a part of being human.

2014-10-18 09.31.37Thank you Tara, Dana, Anna, Betsy, Stacey and Beth for Two Writing Teachers blog and Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices and post your own here.


Slice of Life: Five Things I SHOULD Have Said at Work Today


It’s Tuesday and time for Slice of Life. What a gift it is to be able to write and link up with thoughtful bloggers at Two Writing Teachers! Thank you Dana, Tara, Betsy, Stacy, Anna and Beth  for this and all you offer on your blog. Read more slices and share your own here.

Yesterday I started to shift instruction: edging toward a heavier dose of informational reading and writing. Every year this is uncomfortable. Not because I don’t like the work. It’s just moving the ship in a new destination without tossing out all we have done is tricky and makes me a bit uneasy. With a color coded plan in hand, and belief that we can hold tight to what we have done, I enter a grey Monday.

I walked by two colleagues who were immersed in conversation. I didn’t really notice them. I was alone in my thoughts. I didn’t notice until I was in the copy room, punching cards, and I tuned in to the conversation. It was about a book he was writing. The fact that I wasn’t included hurt a bit. The little grey cloud that was hovering over me got a little bigger.

Morning minutes ticked by. The air felt stagnant. Everything that met me seemed a little off.

Students walked by. Not quite the same smiles. Distant?

The day hadn’t even started, and I had a feeling that the direction I was going in wasn’t good.

The day happened. Sort of kind of what I had planned, but not quite right. After a union meeting and a parent conference, I sat in my classroom mulling it over. I try to think in a linear way. But I’m more of a circular thinker, which can make me crazy. You know a what if, then, and what about that thinker. The possibilities are endless.

To blame someone or something for my funk would be easy, if only it worked. My circular logic keeps running through this not quite right, now that I think about it, actually really awful day. I’m irritated with the why and what next feelings,

Home I go. Think. Read. Write. Troll around the internet. I read a few posts, and fell into Kelly Wickham’s post on Five Things I Said At Work Today. Fun stuff. Could be a slice some day.

But today’s slice is five things I should have said (done) at work today.

I should have said, how can I help?

I should have said, here’s this book, I think you’ll love it.

I should have said, read this post, it made me think of you.

I should have smiled, a lot more and a lot bigger than I did.

I should have said something. Caught up in my own world, not wanting to complicate what I was trying to figure out, I realize I didn’t talk to colleagues today. I sort of holed up inside. Ironically, that inward motion magnified the dissonance. Rather than breaking out and letting a little light in, I kept the door closed.

Today made me realize how much I power I have in creating my life.  It made me think of most days when it seems like the whole world just looks me straight in the eye, smiles and offers up possibilities. Today wasn’t one of those days. Lesson learned, at least for now. Tomorrow, I promise I will be looking out not in. And it will be much better.

Slice of Life: Writing About Reading With Kelly Gallagher

I spent last Saturday learning with Kelly Gallagher, the amazing Clark Kent-like teacher, author, speaker. While his work is geared toward middle and high school students, don’t be afraid elementary folk. Many things make sense for the youngers too.

For years, I have struggled with students’ writing about reading. They have done it because I asked them to. Kicking and screaming.  From the students’ perspective, writing about reading was more about accountability.  I believe them.

On Saturday, Gallagher shared a writing about reading activity that blew me away in terms of my understanding of a text.  We were to read a short text, the poem “Billiards’ by Walker Gibson, three times.  Each time we read, we were to self assess our understanding. After scoring the third read, we were instructed to write about the text’s meaning for three minutes. My understanding dramatically increased by writing my thinking down.  Of the teachers in the room, about 75% reported the same phenomenon. The difference was so clear I thought I had to try this with my students.

I choose a 150-word excerpt from our read aloud. This exercise was presented as an experiment. Something for them to try out to see what they got out of it. I told them I was not collecting it. It was for them. After writing, over half of the readers reported growth in understanding and felt the writing increased their understanding.

Interested in their thinking, I conferred with a dozen readers.

I asked  – What happened as you went through the process? Here are a few responses.

Writing about it after I read really made a difference. It totally changed my thinking since the first read.

I had to really think to write what I thought.

It was completely different than the quick writing I do. It took longer, but I got a whole different idea from it.

It was hard. I understand the text but putting it into words was difficult.

Writing made no difference in understanding, but there was a change in re reading it. I noticed more by the third read.

One partnership reported that writing made no change in their understanding.  I asked them to write again after they had talked the text. After about two minutes, we reconvened. Both reported the writing after talking made a difference.

Some individuals claimed no change in their understanding through out the process which is a red flag for other reasons.

While this isn’t The Solution to my writing about reading issues, it has added a new tool for my students and me.  It’s interesting work worth trying.

A few other thoughts  —

  • Readers saw this process as useful when they were confused or in part they think might matter
  • Readers who struggle writing their thoughts need to be coached.
  • Readers need reading time. Writing about reading should be strategic, purposeful.


Thank you to Dana, Betsy, Anna, Beth, Tara, and Stacey of Two Writing Teachers Blog for Tuesday Slice of Life.

Read more slices and contribute your own here.

Slice of Life: Parent Conferences, What’s the Verdict?

It’s Tuesday, time for Slice of Life. Thank you to Dana, Stacey, Betsy, Anna, Tara, and Beth at Two Writing Teachers Blog. Read more slices and contribute your own here.


Today’s slice marks the first day of parent conferences.

To prepare, I pull together a sort of paint by numbers portrait of each child.

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It’s a snapshot of mastery of the standards at this point. Some students are very “photogenic” in the classroom environment. Others, just don’t look good in this light. They need a different space or perhaps time to show their real colors, their true beauty.  This parent conference moment is just that, a moment in time with one set of expectations and measures. Is this measurement what will matter or measure a child’s potential for the world they will soon be participating in?  A world they will contribute children to that may end up in our future classrooms; a world that will support their parents (and us) in old age.

For all this data (and it does provide direction to teach with), it isn’t the picture that parents hold in their hearts. When parents walk in and ask, “How are they doing?” It’s with the child’s yesterday, today and tomorrow swirling around in their heart.  You see it in their eyes. They are looking for confirmation that it’s going to be okay. They don’t want their child to fight the battles and make the mistakes they did. They want their child’s path to be better.

The child sits next to their parent, wanting more than anything to please. Some get teary and you’re not even sure why. Perhaps they are beginning to feel the burden they can’t begin to articulate.

You talk with each parent wrapped up with what matters more than anything to them. I’ve known their child for nine weeks — two hours each school day. I’m just learning who they are and their parents are looking expectantly at me to give them a verdict.  Will they make it?

We talk about growth and goals.

We talk about concerns and next steps.

We talk about student’s dreams, about middle schools to apply to, about times when their child felt proud of an accomplishment, of how to help that child find those moments of pride.

While the mastery of standards matter, when I really think on what matters most, what we want each child to walk out with, is the sense of pride in accomplishment; the knowledge that they can make it and that they matter. As much as they depend on us now, we will soon be depending on them.

So much is at stake. I feel lucky to have families that care so deeply. It is their past, present and our future.