70 Degrees

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It is not warm enough for shorts.  Yet, as the thermometer inches up toward the 70° mark, I find myself itching to shed the warm sweaters, scarves and corduroys that have kept me warm through an unusually cold winter.

Heading home from work today, I stopped at Home Depot to pick up a new butane tank for the grill on our back patio. Our two dogs can feel the change too. They bounded down the stairs, tails wagging, straining to dart out the back door.

I carried the plate with hamburgers and hot dogs. My husband had the grilling utensils. Our backyard has yet to come out of its winter slumber. Most branches are bare and the mulch looks bleached like driftwood, thanks to a snow-laden winter.

As the dogs chase each other around the yard, familiar summer smells rise from the grill. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel the heat of a summer day fading with the sunset. It may not be warm enough for shorts yet, but after a lovely evening on the back patio, I can take a deep breath and know change is just around the corner.

Seeking Refuge

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Refuge is something we all desire…

Refuge from stress,

from pain,

from loneliness,

from strife,

from hunger,

from biting cold

or baking heat.

Yet, when others seek refuge…

we look out from our places of comfort

and turn a blind eye.

Why?

Shouldn’t our first instinct be…

to grant comfort,

friendship,

warmth,

dignity.

 

Sharing Space with Raccoons

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Yesterday morning, my predawn walk with our dogs led to an encounter with two young foxes. Today, I set off hoping to see our fox friends again. However, just steps out the front door, another creature crossed our path…a raccoon.

The young raccoon ambled down our driveway, heading for the trashcans set at the curb. One look at the dogs and the raccoon backed into the shadows of the neighbor’s house.

The raccoons regularly visit our trashcans. We have tried bricks on top of the cans, a bungee cord securing the lid as well as a motion-activated light.  These raccoons are tenacious.

In fact, this summer when our son was visiting, a raccoon accidentally fell into an empty trash can in the morning. When Nash took out the trash after dinner, he opened the lid to an angry, albeit dehydrated raccoon. We used a pole to knock the trash can over to free the raccoon. He waddled off a bit woozy from the heat. However, the trapped experience did not deter the raccoon and his family from feasting on our trash in the dark of night.

Raccoons are funny creatures. Some mornings, I find perfectly cleaned bones and neatly arranged peels on top of the trash cans, as if the raccoon set a table and enjoyed a dignified meal.

This morning, we interrupted an early breakfast. I imagine the raccoon was happy to see me head off to work so he could eat in peace.

 

Come Out, Come Out to Play

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Under the pooling lamplight, I glimpsed the slender figure of a young fox ahead. The fox hurried along the path to the small neighborhood pond my dogs and I circle each morning before the sun rises.

This time of year foxes are a common sight. Enough woods still populate this suburban enclave for foxes, a few deer, raccoons and other creatures to share the sidewalks in the predawn hours.

As my dogs and I approached the pond, I scanned the pathway for the fox. The fox had headed left, so I turned right to circle from the other side. My two dogs picked up the fox scent as soon as we stepped onto the pathway, noses down and tails wagging.

In the fading moonlight, I noticed two ducks gliding across the pond. My eyes searched the opposite bank for the fox. One quick movement signaled the fox standing next to a bush. But, another motion and wait…there are two of them!

Together, the foxes darted into the dry bushes. The rustling sound attracted my two dogs. Alert and expectant, my dogs pulled as if they wanted to join the fun.

One fox emerged from the bushes and stared in our direction. The second fox jumped out and initiated a chase back into the thicket. I stood transfixed, knowing that as the minutes ticked by, I was delaying my departure for work.

Slowly, reluctantly, I turned our trio around and headed for home. Tomorrow, I may leave a few minutes early in case our young friends come out to play.

 

Notebook Pages: Making Thinking Visible

As I mentioned in my March 7th slice, I set a personal reading goal to read five ALA-award winning books in the third quarter (ALA awards include Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Pura Belpre, etc.). My goal looks like this:

Goal #2

I will read 5 award-winning books from the  2019 American Library Association (ALA) list in order to recommend books to students. Award winners are carefully reviewed and selected. To accomplish my goal, I will:

  1. Research the award winners
  2. Create a “to read” list
  3. Include variety — picture books, YA, middle grade
  4. Create a notebook page for each book

I am happy to report that I finished book number four this morning. The addition of a second reading goal this quarter has added motivation to read even more than I normally read.

But, a favorite part of my new reading goal is the commitment to create a reading notebook page for each book. As I read, I find myself considering what I might include in the notebook page. Thus, I am an extremely active, engaged reader.

Every couple weeks, my students have a day in class to read and create a notebook page. Leafing through student reading notebooks, I am struck by the variety of entries and the level of analysis. I tell my students it is not about beautiful art. I am not naturally artistic. Instead, the regular practice of making thinking visible DEEPENS the reader’s interaction with the text.

Here are my notebooks pages for the four ALA award winners I have read so far:

darius

 

 

 

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A Little Wacky is a Good Thing

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Today’s slice is a story from my sister. Katie and I are 18 months apart and the best of friends. She lives in New York. When our children were little, we rarely went six weeks without getting together. Commitments, jobs and growing children have stretched the time between visits but we still share stories via phone.

This morning’s hour-long conversation had a story so funny, I laughed and laughed until tears ran down my face.

Before I share Katie’s story, you should know two things about my sister: she hates going to the dentist and she LOVES Man of La Mancha. Her love of the show stems from childhood when we saw a production of Man of La Mancha on the big stage and she spent weeks belting out the tunes, as the grooves on the record wore thin.

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Katie’s story:

A few weeks ago, she had a toothache. It was the first such ache she remembered ever having. She visited the dentist, who immediately sent her to the oral surgeon a few floors down. Katie’s tooth had to go.

Katie has always disliked going to the dentist. In her 20’s, she avoided the dentist for a couple of years, leading to a few cavities.  The idea of immediate oral surgeon was frightening.

The oral surgeon had provided care for Katie’s children so she at least felt comfortable enough to walk in the office door. Once inside, Katie expressed her fear. The surgeon immediately worked to set her mind at ease. He offered her a choice of teddy bears to hold (remember he works with children too) and opened a cabinet filled with CDs. Katie could pick her choice of music to listen to while the surgeon worked.

There it was, in the middle of the stack, the soundtrack to Man of La Mancha. Katie grabbed the disc and settled into the chair, bracing herself.

The surgeon administered novocaine and pulled out several scary looking metal instruments. Katie’s white knuckles must have been a sign to the surgeon that she was still tense. For, as soon as the familiar refrain from The Impossible Dream began, Katie’s doctor started belting out the tune at the top of his lungs. Behind the anesthesia, my sister grinned and relaxed her grip on the armrests. Oh, how she wished she could join in!

The doctor continued singing in full voice. As the song reached its final notes, the surgeon proclaimed, “To dream…the impossible dream…and, I’m done!”

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Aside from the laughs my sister and I shared this morning, I hung up the phone reminded that we all face hard things in life. But, if we are lucky and open to the world, wonderful, crazy things can happen. I hope the next time I am afraid, there is someone there to belt out Helpless from Hamilton or Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from Evita.

And, if you ever need a terrible singer to give comfort, I’m your girl.

A Bucket List Evening

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One by one, members of her band

quietly walk on stage.

A diminutive piano player with a pork pie hat,

a cool stand-up bass player,

a Brazilian guitarist,

and the heartbeat of the band,

her drummer.

Each musician has a resume

overflowing,

but the audience waits with held breath

for the reason we are there this snowy Friday evening…

Dianne Reeves walks onto stage, larger than life,

in an emerald silk dress and a long brocade jacket —

she looks like royalty.

The velvet seats of the Kennedy Center

are clearly underdressed.

An NEA Jazz Master, the guest of presidents, royalty and

every major performance hall in the world,

Dianne Reeves is incomparable.

When the applause dies down,

Ms. Reeves opens her mouth and

bathes the audience in rich, dulcet tones.

Warm stories about family and early life are sprinkled

between songs.

For this one evening,

music transported us all to a world built

of bright colors, joyful energy and pure intention.

 

 

 

 

Practice What You Preach

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This year my eighth grade students are setting reading and writing SMART goals. If you are unfamiliar…SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Each quarter, students reflect on progress and make adjustments or set whole new goals.

As a firm believer in “it is hard to know a thing, without trying the thing”, I set SMART goals along with my students. For my reading goal, I set a volume goal (65 books during the school year). I am well on my way to meeting the goal. But, in all honesty, my goal is not that relevant for me. Without the goal, I would likely read nearly 65 books during the school year. Volume reading is essential for my job if I want to talk about and recommend books to students.

Coinciding with the start of the third quarter, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners of awards it sponsors (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc.). The list is a great source for book recommendations. Talking with a student, I saw a new SMART goal taking shape.

I laminated a list of the winning books, cleared a display shelf in my classroom and got my hands on as many of the books as possible (classroom library, school library and I ordered a few). My goal: read at least five titles from the list before the end of the third quarter. When I told students I had added a new SMART goal on top of my existing year-long goal, I found several students wanted to join me. As evidence of reading, the students and I are creating notebook pages for each book we read.

My new SMART goal has created a spark in my steady-as-she-goes reading life. I am reading faster and I can’t wait to read the next book on the list. The rotating titles I see on the classroom “ALA winner” bookshelf means students are reading away too!

Perhaps you want to consider a midyear pick-me-up for your reading life?

 

Why I Teach

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She entered the room quietly,

sitting by herself.

A complex emotional life

bubbled below the surface,

but her face remained emotionless.

Today, she worked diligently

outlining an essay.

The quiet space around her

felt like a moat other students

were unsure if they wanted to cross.

I stopped by her desk to check in

and she asked my opinion…

“What do you think? Am I on the right track?”

A glance at her jottings revealed

a clear understanding of the task.

“Such original thinking…very compelling,”

She looked up and beamed.

Her smile,

a bright light cracking the surface

she worked so hard to construct.

A girl at the next table looked up,

“What did you write? Do you mind sharing?”

 

I teach

because I have faith

in the power of community.

Yes, I love reading and writing.

But, equally important,

are the moments of true

human connection

I witness everyday

in my classroom.

Five Cups of Tea

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Our friend Rachael invited us over for a cup of tea.

“Hello!” Rachael said as she welcomed each of us in with a hug.

On this chilly, bright afternoon, five friends gathered to catch up. We all used to work in the same school but Rachael’s path took her to a new job two years ago.

With chai tea steeping in our cups, we talked books, students and everyday life.

“What books have you loved this year?”

Titles rolled off of our tongues as we laughed and smiled. There is nothing like a gathering of kindred spirits. Reading connects us and friendship will keep us in touch for years.

Five hot cups of tea sat on the table, warming our souls. Thank you Rachael for the invitation!