Wednesday, March 29, 2017

#SOL17 Food 29/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Food


Food drives me crazy. The constantness of it. The fact that you can never be free from its grip on your life. The amount of effort that needs to go into it each day. The thinking, the deciding, the list-making, the shopping, the putting away, the cooking, the eating, the cleaning, and the more cleaning.

I know that it is an incredible privilege to be able to complain about food. Which is one more reason to feel terrible about complaining. But, even so, here I am, complaining.

I never liked making decisions about food, even as a kid. My parents will gladly regale you with stories of my endless menu-starings and my shocked deer-in-the-headlights looks when I was asked to order. Sometimes I think I was worried about making the wrong choice. Sometimes I think I just didn't actually have an opinion about the every-widening array of choices.

Even now, I rarely have opinions about what or where I'd like to eat. (And can I say, just as a matter of record, that sometimes "I don't care" or "I don't have any opinions" is an actual, legitimate response to a question about food and is not just a passive-aggressive attempt to make someone else make a decision that you then complain about? Thank you.)

It's not that I mind eating food. I just resent the amount of time it takes out of my everyday. If there were a simple, nutritionally sound way to get all my nutrients without the bother of buying, cooking, eating, and cleaning (and it wasn't made of people), then I would gladly sign up.


Now, off to feed the cats and figure out what to do about dinner ...

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#SOL17 Cat Contentment 28/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Cat Contentment


I admire cats for their ability to sleep anywhere. During the course of just today, Alexei has slept on my arm/shoulder while I was sleeping, on Scott's arm/shoulder while he was sleeping, and on the end of our bed while we both were sleeping. He snoozed in the top of the cat tower after breakfast and was likely either resting against a pillow on the couch or passed out in a spot of sunshine on the guest bed while we were away at work.

This evening found both cats stretched out in the HUGE patch of sunshine in the library. When I got home and opened the sliding door to let the fresh air in (60°F means open windows in this house), even the promise of fresh air wasn't enough to lure them away from sleep ... at least for the first few minutes.

After dinner, Alexei had settled in for his food-coma, sleeping against the arm of the sofa until I unsettled his plans by heading up the stairs. Must. Follow. Anyone. About to Sit. In Computer Chair.


So here we are. Me, trying to type without using my right hand, and him, trying to sleep without listening to the ever-changing clacking of the keys.

I'm sure that there are deeper lessons here. About following your bliss (the sun, the food, the computer chair) or about finding contentment in any situation. But for me the lesson is about time. Time to stop frittering away on the computer and losing myself to the depths of the Internet.

Time to pet the kitten.

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

#SOL17 Looking Back 27/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Looking Back


(Inspired by Lois Lowry's wonderful memoir, Looking Back: a book of memories)


It was either the summer before sixth grade or the summer after sixth grade. I no longer remember what in the world inspired me to decide that I wanted a perm. It was probably the first and the last time that I ever thought to do something dramatically different with my hair.

Being the rule-following type, I paid attention when the stylist warned me about taking a shower the first few days after the perm. But somehow I did not connect the dots between the shower (i.e. water) and swimming in the quarry (i.e. water).

The quarry was only a few miles down the road from our house. (A quick Google search informs me that the quarry was dug in the 1880s to early 1900s and was later turned into a local swimming hole-type of place, which also boasted bike trails and a campground.)

We went there fairly often in the summers, either to swim or play on the beachy part during the day, or less often to "commuter camp" for a few nights. (Commuter camping meant that my mom and sister and I stayed around camping, while my dad would spent the night, get up early to drive home and shower, and come join us again after work.)

I think we had friends in town on this day, which is how I found myself playing in the water while showing off my brand-new perm. The memory stayed, but the perm did not. It was nearly unidentifiable by the end of that first week. A victim of the water and the fun of that day.

Something about this particular photograph has always stuck with me. I no longer remember what I was doing or why I was staring off into space at such a particularly dreamy angle. But something about that picture, something about the particular balance between childhood and middle school and beyond, has always stuck with me.

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

#IMWAYR It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 03/27/17


It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.



Last Week's Posts




Middle Grade



Hello, Universe (2017) by Erin Entrada Kelly. The solidly-middle grade offering from Erin Entrada Kelly features several main characters who bring their distinctive voices to the various chapters, as they find "fate" drawing them all together at the beginning of summer. You see where the book is going almost immediately, but I appreciated the ways she drew the characters together and her willingness to not just jump to the easiest conclusions.


Matylda, Bright and Tender (2017) by Holly M. McGhee. (A review copy of the book was provided by Candlewick. All thoughts are my own.) The jacket flap warns you that this is a book about the loss of your best friend, so even though that event doesn't happen until a ways into the book, the story is already imbued with the inevitability of the coming loss. As Sussy struggles to go on after Guy's death, she finds solutions (both positive and negative) for her grief in this gentle but difficult story.

Young Adult



American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, paired with Monkey King by Ed Young. Before handing out American Born Chinese for our next book club read and discussion, we shared and discussed Ed Young's version of the Monkey King tales to set the stage. Knowing a little bit about Monkey as a folktale character I think will help my students to dive into the three intertwining strands of AMC, one of which focuses on an abbreviated history of the Monkey King. I am looking forward to some powerful conversations about identity, racism, and the everyday struggles of middle school.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

#SOL17 Procrastination Productivity 26/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Procrastination Productivity


The things that got done instead of this blog post (once I finally sat down to write it) ...

  • Writing a linkup post to send to co-hosts that needed to be done by the end of the day
  • Writing an email blast to announce the post that needed to be done by the end of this week
  • Formatting a new cover for my photography ebook so that it can be turned into a paperback (which, incidentally, no one will buy because printing costs demand a starting price around $25 and who pays $25 for a paperback book?)
  • Writing my #IMWAYR post that needed to be done by the end of tomorrow
  • Folding some laundry on top of the bed that needed to be done in order to sleep tonight
  • Cleaning up cat regurgitation (because our sensitive eater managed to steal a few bites of his sisters food) which needed to be done by the end of that moment
  • Taking a few hours off to eat dinner and watch a movie
  • Throwing the squeaky cat toy, which needed to be done by the end of the next yowl ... or else!
  • Coming up with and quickly composing this post, which needed to be done by the end of this hour


(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

#SOL17 The Wonders of the DVD 25/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: DVD Player


Charlie was the first to get a DVD player.

We were in high school, and until then we'd been content with VHS or with watching movies on TV in real time. There was no On Demand (at least not for free, I suppose there was Pay-Per-View even then), no DVR, no "cloud," no streaming services. Not even RedBox. There was still Blockbuster - you remember, right? A physical store that you went into to browse for movies?

Anyway.

Charlie's parents had gotten a DVD player, and he'd invited us all over to watch our very first movie on DVD. I wish I could remember which movie it was. But what I do remember was how awed we all were by the features.

There were menus and menus of features. You could add subtitles! You could change the language! You could do both at the same time! (Which turned out to be how we spent most of the evening: attempting to follow the movie by watching it in French with Spanish subtitles. I was taking Latin at that time, so my comprehension was rubbish either way. But if you've never tried it, you should. I found that I couldn't not read the subtitles and couldn't not listen to the voices. It's a major mind warp.)

I don't think the movie actually got watched all the way through, as we were too busy messing around with all the options and exploring the additional special features.

Tonight? Scott and I watched a movie on our Xbox via the streaming service Netflix. We didn't purchase a DVD (or Blueray now). We didn't need to leave our house, drive over to Blockbuster, or hope that the movie we wanted was still there and not already rented. We don't even have a cable subscription to worry about movies in real time or On Demand or for purchase digitally. We just sat down, flipped on the TV and Xbox, made our selection, and it started immediately. A simple function now. No longer a wonder.

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Friday, March 24, 2017

#SOL17 Slicing My Classroom (and a reflection on quiet) 24/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Slicing My Classroom


Writing Slice of Life posts has been about the quietest my classroom has ever been this school year. Sure, our read to self time is generally pretty quiet, but any time students are writing or working, there is almost always a background hum. Questions being asked, kids chatting off-topic, and on and on.

Most of the time, I don't mind it at all. The off-topic-ers redirect quickly, the noise bouncing from spot-to-spot as talkers refocus and get back down to work. But long, sustained quiet is a rarity.

With slice of life writing, it tends to come in waves. Right as we settle in, the quiet descends. The tap, tap, tapping of keyboards becomes the only sound.

As the period passes, the quick writers move on from their own posts to reading and commenting on the posts of others. Soon the spell is broken. Certain posts are so interesting, so funny, so (something) that they inspire verbal as well as typed comments. Yesterday it was March Madness and the Badger's prospects against Florida this evening. Today it was the dog that walked by the playground at recess (and a link to a video of the panda Bao Bao being absurdly cute).

I was inspired to think about slicing about our slicing (and about our silence) both by the shock of the silence itself and the fact that two students also wrote posts about the silence, which I wanted to share.

Silence by M


Right now the classroom is quiet. I have no idea why. This is unusual. What is wrong with our class. Wait, no it's not quiet any more. L just snarled. And people are typing. Someone is sniffing. Pr is giggling. L is laughing silently. J and T are arguing over something. Now L and Pa are talking. Now E is asking something to Katie and she is answering. Now K and L are talking. R just said something about the delete key. Pr's freaking out about a dog. L and K are responding. T is talking to Katie. E and R join in the conversation. J just added some more. L can't find a picture of a specific dog we saw at recess. THE CLASS IS NO LONGER QUIET.


The Question by C


While thinking of a topic to write about, I looked around the room, noticing everyone (or almost) everyone was lost in their own world, typing away as though nobody else was there. The purpose of Kidblog is to share writing with other people, and yet while we work within a few feet of each other, we hardly acknowledge our neighbors in the desks next to us. This observation provoked a question. I wondered - does technology pull people apart, or bring them together?

There are plenty of examples supporting both sides of this argument. Email and cell phones allow people to chat across long distances, allowing a conversation regular mail would never allow. Take for example - A college student, who attends a college in another state, can easily talk with his or her parents across the phone. This is a clear example of people being brought together. But consider this - If there was no method of fast, convenient communication, would the college student have gone so far away from home? Instead of only talking several minutes a day, would the student have been able to hold a conversation for twice as long? Technology influences us, whether the effects are obvious or hidden, and often in ways that many do not expect. Are we truly together when we only see through a screen? Should we trade convenience for sincerity? Like many things, this requires a balance: Do not fear to reach people over a screen, but do not forget the sincere talks that delve much deeper than technology ever could.

(If you are a teacher on Kidblog, you can connect with my class here. Or click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#SOL17 On My Desk 23/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: On My Desk


(In approximate order of how long they've been on my desk ... Thanks to Elisabeth for the inspiration.)

A wind chime used to get attention

A ceramic crane a student brought back for me from Epcot Japan, in honor of our class folding 1000 paper cranes

A box for holding note paper (now post-its) that still contains a greeting from that student

A painted birdhouse in honor of the annual "Prepositional Birdhouse" lesson

A tiny squeezy koala bear, brought back from Australia (by a third grader who is one of my seventh graders now, but I don't know that she's noticed)

A nazar (blue eye amulet) from a student from Turkey

A gigantic painted pottery pencil - with wings and a cape!


A tiny clay blob figure holding a pencil and a paper that says "Katie"

A Raymie Nightingale-labeled mason jar that once held candy corn and now holds abandoned pencils from the floor

A mysterious wooden box with the question "What is the unbelievable FIB?" won at last year's Nerd Camp Michigan art auction

A rally towel from last January's Packers playoff game against the Giants

A bookmark from a student the previous year who dropped it off on my desk as a surprise

A remembrance for Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Two never-ending stacks of books: to read, to review, to hand out to students

Rarely ... me.

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#SOL17 Adventures in Gardening 22/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Adventures in Gardening


Last year was our first growing season in our new house. We visited the house in August and closed in September, so we had no real idea what might be lurking under the ground come spring time.

The previous owners ran a gardening and lawn supply company, but they appeared to follow the gardner's version of "Doctors make the worst patients." I don't know if there really wasn't anything at all growing when they still lived in the house too or if they dug up a bunch of things before putting the house on the market. But we came up pretty empty in the curb-appeal department.

The berm in the front of the house sprouted a few things: daylilies and scattered wood lilies, along with a single, fat Stella D'oro daylily. One side of the house was entirely devoid of plants, the other a row of identical hostas.

There was a circular berm near the driveway that sprouted randomness: a whole field of Virginia bluebells (maybe) that blossomed and died away before anything else had grown. An odd, tall plant with big droopy leaves, and bud-like things that never bloomed all summer. A scattering of allium that lasted only a week.

And the backyard? Oh, the backyard. One empty deck-side planter, another gigantic berm in the back corner, also empty. Two hydrangeas and a bleeding heart (which we had to transplant to another spot while we removed the gigantic poison oak vine that had twisted five feet up the fence). Clearing fallen leaves off another empty planting area I discovered three inches of a rose, thorns and all, sticking up.

But it was only when we decided to turn over the soil and install two raised garden beds in the empty back berm that we discovered the true horrors that lay within. Only a few inches down, and we hit landscaping canvas. And rubber. Miles and miles of both. Layers and layers of both. Layers within layers. Layers several inches under other layers.

(This doesn't even do the piles justice.)

We eventually found soil - and tree roots, in addition to the assorted trash that was also included in the fill (empty bags from peat moss, broken plastic gardening posts, a coat hanger ...). The few things we planted there flourished, as did the weeds once the barriers came up.

This year we are hoping for a little less chaos, a little less disappointment, and a little more growth and color and life.

Here's to hoping!

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#SOL17 How to Turn Go, Go, Go into Slow ... ? 21/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: How to Turn Go, Go, Go into Slow ... ?


I love to travel. As my blog bio recounts, I have been to several different countries across 5 continents (South America is still on the bucket list) and to 41 of the 50 states (the remaining 9 are not really on my bucket list ... ). I love being new places, seeing new things, and experiencing other cultures.

But I don't know how to rest.


There's so much I want to do that I find myself constantly on the go. My husband is the same way, which can be good, because we both are constantly chomping at the bit to get to the next thing, but it can also be bad, because neither of us is good at letting go or slowing down. (Our honeymoon in Morocco, for example, covered more than 700 miles by car - at an least 3 miles by camel - over just 10 days.)


As a child I had slower vacations. Time at a beach or a cabin by the lake playing card games. But most of those vacations were at destinations where the destination itself (i.e. the beach) held little actual interest for me. They were mainly an excuse to burrow myself into a book.

But now, as a teacher and book blogger, I burrow myself away into books all the time! I don't want to spend my vacation time reading (unless I'm on a plane), because I'd rather be doing something at my destination.

If Lao Tzu is right and "A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving," then how do I cultivate that kind of mindset for myself? (The Type A part of me is very intent on the planning and the checklists and the photography shot lists and ... and ... and ... )


(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

#SOL17 On Tears and Reading Logs 20/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Reading Logs


You never forget the first time you made a student cry.

As a first year teacher, I knew that I would make mistakes. I knew that there would be things I would want to change. But I never expected to make a student cry.

I was teaching third grade, and we were close to wrapping up the third quarter and approaching parent-teacher conferences. I wanted a bit of accountability when it came to my students' at-home reading, so I had decided to assign a Reading Calendar. On one side was a calendar for the month, so that students could record how many minutes they read each day and have a parent initial it. On the other side was a Reading Log to keep track of titles as they finished books.

Students were supposed to keep their calendars in their daily folders so that they would have them with them both at home and at school (mainly so that if they finished a book at school they could add it to their list).

It was midway through the month, and I had a feeling that many of my students had forgotten about the calendars and could use a reminder to get back "on track" for the rest of the month. In my desk I had a packet of stickers that had caught my eye at the teacher supply store. Adorable monkey stickers. FUZZY, adorable monkey stickers.

In a flash I put two-and-two together. I could do a spot-check and see who had been keeping up with their calendar. Hurriedly, I cut the sheets of stickers apart into individual monkeys that I could bestow on my diligent record-keepers.

As my students filed in and settled down for read to self time, I asked them to first get out their folders so I could take a peek at their Reading Calendars. What I found was decidedly mixed. At the first table, two students had their in-process calendars, complete with minutes and initials. I dropped off stickers.

Another student explained that her mom made her keep it at home, on the fridge, so it was easier to see and remember. No sticker for you. Another had minutes scribbled in here and there but no initials. "They said they'd just sign all of 'em quick at the end," he explained. No sticker for you. My resolve about this being a good idea had begun to waver, but now I was stuck following through.

I was somewhere between tables two and three when it happened. Above the quiet sound of kids engrossed in books and turning pages, I caught the sound of sniffling. As I turned, that sniffling escalated into full-out sobbing. Desire for stickers and affirmation had overwhelmed her.

"You, you didn't tell us," she gasped out as I hurried over. "It wasn't due yet."

My heart, which had already been sinking with each explanation, hit bottom. This is not what a desire for reading looks like. This is not what actual readers do. This is not how I wanted my students to feel.

Another student offered to take her out to get a drink of water, and I just nodded numbly. As the classroom door closed behind them, I looked down at the rest of the monkey stickers and paused. Then I quietly handed the rest of them out, one to each and every child, and stuffed the leftovers in the back of my desk drawer.

They were still there seven years later when I cleaned out that desk to change classrooms to seventh grade.

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 03/20/17


It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.



Last Week's Posts




Middle Grade


Amina's Voice (2017) by Hena Khan. Amina is struggling with many of the same issues as all middle schoolers - feeling felt behind by her best friend, stage fright, and protective parents. But on top of all of that, her conservative uncle is coming to visit from Pakistan, and her father is nervous about how he might interpret their "American" ways. This is an engaging and highly relatable story with important lessons about tolerance and understanding, with great insights into a Muslim-American family.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#SOL17 Sunday SMarch Walk 19/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Sunday SMarch Walk 


Yesterday it was 32°F; today it was 50°F. The snow has melted (again), the paths are muddy (again), and spring time seems more than a day away (again). I don't know what it is about this quip from the Simpsons about "SMarch weather," but it always seems to ring true this time of year.


On today's walk around the ponds ...

the ice had melted (again), and the water levels remained high

hundreds of tiny shoots appeared along the edges of the woods and in the open sections of park berms

two sandhill cranes strutted through someone's backyard, yielded to a pair of bicycles, and sauntered over to the larger pond 

a small turtle had emerged from the underwater mud, dragged himself up a small embankment, and parked himself with his nose in the sunshine

the smallest of all the dogs we passed greeted us with the angriest of all the barks

a pair of Canada geese played a loud symphony as they swam triumphantly through a side section of the pond

the first cardinal of the spring hopped off a branch and flew off down the road

and we took off our gloves as the sun kept shining.

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)