Tuesday, December 13, 2011

OK, OK, I Get It!

I had never jumped on the idea of Skype calls. I don't know why. When my parents come to visit I let the kids ask questions and they (both students and my parents) love it! The students are engaged, making connections, and thinking deeply. Why I never realized how simply I could add the same excitement I have no idea.

Well, I have a bit of an idea. First of all, Skype is technically not allowed on campus. I also figured we could do the research together and that I could help them connect the dots

It's true. I can help them make those connections, but I am doing that all the time. How invigorating for my students to see a fresh face - a different perspective. Plus, there is the expert factor. I can research, but that does not make me an expert.

Yesterday morning we Skyped with an expert. Major Anderson flies F16s. The impetus was our science variable unit. When we made 'flippers' we also read about how catapults are used in the "real world". One example was planes taking off from an aircraft carrier. I made a connection myself thinking of my childhood friend being a pilot and wondered if he would talk with us.

I received permission to put Skype on my school machine and to have the call. We spent a little bit of time building our background knowledge and we created a Google Doc with our wonderings. We also talked about the logistics of the call: where to stand, how to address him, remember to say 'thank you', and how to know when it would be your turn to ask a question.

The call time came and we spent 30 minutes engrossed in learning - watts to km, size and speed of the F16, comparison of planes, and more. After we said 'good-bye' we took five minutes to write down what we were still wondering about. Some of the wonders will be simple searches and some we will email to Major Anderson (who volunteered to answer any further questions). We then shared, as table groups, the things that had really stuck with us, what we thought was cool. The room was quite a buzz.

I'm convinced!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Random Links that Got Me Thinking

Today's links have no correlation to each other. These are simply the posts I read this week that I continued to ponder. I thought you might like to ponder them too and perhaps even converse about one (or more) of them.

Saving the warm-fuzzy one for last. If you read nothing else, skip to that one.

Saudi Arabia and Human Rights. Oxymoron? Blue Abaya posts reflects on the discrepancies between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (whose birthday was yesterday) and the status quo in Saudi after The President of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi-Arabia said "On the occasion of the World's Human Rights Day, the Kingdom continues to promote and protect the values and principles of human rights at all levels". Here is the link to her post.

A teacher's reflection comes from Karl Fisch at The Fischbowl. In this post he reflects on the mandatory standardized tests required in the U.S. and what would happen if legislators were required to take them.

For a parent perspective we cross the Atlantic to Vienna to read "The Boy With The Moms" from the blog Well, That Was Different. (I wish she would refer to her son as having ADHD rather than is ADHD, but don't let that detract from the post.) She reflects on the challenges they faced when presented with a school system that expected educational success to look one particular way.

Finally, for your warm fuzzy, the Tonggu Mommy shares this post. Just read it. You will be glad you did.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree

IMGP8851 IMGP8854 IMGP8859loading in Seattle

When we moved to Jeddah we shipped a 20 foot container of 'household' goods. (Things for the classroom too.) Our shipment departed the States in August for its six week transit. It arrived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia October 8th. We didn't see it until the 8th of December. Why? Great question!

There are many things that are not allowed in Saudi - all for religious reasons. The only religion allowed to be practiced is Islam. Any item that can be seen as against Islam can be confiscated. If it is overly offensive there can be additional consequences, jail time, and/or deportation.

Our shipment was originally packed in Jordan when we had no idea we would end up in Saudi. (Yes, it went from Amman to Seattle and then back to Jeddah!) Once we were hired for Saudi I went through the shipment to pull out the no-no's. I pulled out Bibles and icons, nativity sets and some art. I searched for bottles of liquor and stuffed animals. (Technically no depiction of people or animals are allowed.)

Sometimes I chose to play the odds. After talking with others about their recent experiences I decided to send the Little People, as toys tend to be ignored. We had purchased them on Craig's List so we wouldn't be losing a fortune if they were taken. I also chose to put in a Christmas tree. I had purchased it at 60% off, so again, not a huge financial loss if they took it and a balm to the soul if we got to have it.

Here is the crazy part about trees. You can actually buy them in the Ballad (downtown market). They are very poor quality, but available. You just can't bring one in. We didn't know this before we arrived, but does it make any sense to you? Me either.

I shipped over 50 boxes of books, mostly for my classroom library. (Though G isn't hurting for books at home.) It was these boxes of books that were probably the great hold up on our shipment clearing customs. The government liaison officer at our school figured each day they took out one box of books, opened it, and then put it back. The next day, another box, and so on. This is very possible. Plus we got to pay a storage fee for each day they held our container. They could honestly say they were working on it!

Finally we got some news. I had to go sign for the confiscation and destruction of prohibited items. What had they found? Our tree. I jokingly asked how many days should I wait before I went down to the Ballad to buy back my tree.

IMG_8949 IMG_8953delivery in Jeddah

That seemed to take care of it. The day was scheduled for the container to be delivered. (The delivery is another story.) The container had been loosely packed. To keep the space from shifting during its oceanic crossings the packers in Jordan had used four HUGE boxes in addition to everything else (the 50 book boxes, etc.) When I say huge these boxes were 6'x3'x4'. Absolutely unruly, heavy, and packed with all kinds of things.

As I was unpacking the third of these monstrosities I came across the stand to the Christmas tree. I chuckled to myself and thought, "This figures. They probably didn't know what it was." I continued to take out hand-woven carpets, bedding, and various household goods. I then came to the middle section of the tree. I was a bit annoyed. What good does the middle do me?!? It felt like someone was thumbing their nose at me.

By the time I had unpacked the whole box the entire tree was there! I was joyously in shock. I called my husband (who was traveling for work) to tell him the news. All we can figure is there was a case of 'the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing' and they both assumed the other had taken out the tree.

Whatever the reason I am so thankful and deeply blessed to have twinkling lights next to me as I write this.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day

Somehow I made it to Thanksgiving. Since that is just a normal weekend around here it doesn't seem that impressive, but still, Thanksgiving marks the true beginning of the holidays, right? Friday morning I decorated the house, hauling out the tree, testing lights, and letting the two year old help with the ornaments and decorations. The mp3 player set to The Best of Christmas in the Northwest and then Ring We Now Noel. Sunday brought the first true day of Advent, the start of the Church year. Getting on the plane and flying home still seems very far away and actually gathering together with family currently is only believable as theory. Today, December 6th, somehow feels like the final hurdle.

Today is St. Nicholas Day. Who was St. Nicholas? Here is a full recap and here are more kid friendly stories. He was a bishop who was known for his generosity. He died 1668 years ago today and was later sainted. It is his life that inspired Santa. We celebrate St. Nicholas Day as a way to separate Santa from Christmas without removing him entirely.


This morning we donned our Santa hats, found our stockings under the Christmas tree, opened the small gifts that were left for us, and talked about who St. Nicholas was. G often drops the first part of people's names - the 'Mrs.', 'Mr.', or 'Grandma'. Today it was the 'Saint'. Perhaps she is too reformed. She was wishing people "Happy Nicholas Day!"

Ideally today is the last day of Santa songs and decorations in our house. That may be why I feel like I have finally made it. The commercialism and stuff is behind us. From here on out it is all about waiting for the mystery of Christmas, waiting for Jesus' birthday.

(And then comes the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany.)


Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like…

Christmas Advent.

Our tree is up, but it isn't your typical tree. (And the story of it even being here is fodder for another post and a HUGE blessing.)
We only have angels, stars, and bells on our tree. I
like the twinkle of the lights and wasn't willing to give them up. The compromise is a tree with symbols.
I am thinking of trying this recipe with G to make some more ornaments. (Ornaments aren't easy to purchase
here - go figure.)

(Perplexed? Stars and angels may make sense to you, but perhaps you wonder about the bells. Didn't you know "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day" is central to the story? O.K. You are right. It is not, but we are ding-a-lings. We even met playing handbells, so that is the 'why'.)

When G is older we will start using a Jesse Tree as well.

Santa only gets one day, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.
(More about that on the 6th.)

We light our Advent candle(s) each evening as we read a verse for the day.
I'm using these and these.

The nativity set is out. The cast is named and rearranged.
(Mostly huddled together in close community these days.)

We talk about waiting. Advent is a REALLY LONG TIME when you are 2.
Jesus' birthday will get here, but first there is lots and lots and lots and lots more waiting to be had.

The point to all of this? We are intentional about our Advent / Christmas / Epiphany observances. They are traditions we set in our first year of marriage. We wanted them to feel 'normal' even before there was a little one around. And they do.
These are our traditions and I am thrilled they have begun for this season.

(If I ended with the tune I began with bells show up again!)
"Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart."

But, if you really thought about that song it is mostly about consumerism. You probably won't be surprised to hear that 'stuff' is not big in our season. I love this video and since this is my 'link' post I will share it with you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gross, but true


Wednesday afternoon. The end of the week. We are on the bus headed home. G is strapped into her car seat, left thumb in her mouth while her right hand is twirling her ringlets. This is her decompression time. She is happy to zone – especially at the end of the week. She loves school, but it is hard work being two!

She reaches for me, wanting a little snuggle. I lean over, stroke her forehead, and tell her I love her ‘bunches and tons’. She then puts her hand to her mouth, briefly.

Time freezes. I’ve been here before. This is the brief lull before – yup – the puke comes. And comes. And comes.

I grab handfuls of chunks and then empty my hand into her lap, ready to catch the next round. I kiss her head and, with my clean hand, stroke her forehead. I tell her I love her and it will be OK. She doesn’t cry. She never cries when she throws up.

When she is done and covered with breakfast, lunch, and snack I clean her face and neck and tell her we will take a bath when we get home. What does she do? She wants to clean up the mess. Right now. And starts picking up chunks and using the already nasty wipe to move bits around.

I told you it is gross, but true.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Field Day Camaraderie

I do not enjoy Field Day. Spending hours in the sun, under any circumstances, is not how I would choose to spend my time. (We won't even get into the fact that heat is one of my migraine triggers.) That being said, I know one of my favorite memories of this year was made yesterday, during Field Day.

Our school splits Field Day up by age so we are all able to fit onto one, big field. Fourth and fifth grades took to the field yesterday morning. Each class was sporting class colors, ours was white. First up in our rotation, volleyball.

Our P.E. teacher does a great job preparing the kids for the events. They have practiced all the games and know the rules and how to play. I asked my 22 students if they had been playing volleyball 11 on 11 or rotating through. They informed me they played seven to a side and rotated in and out.

With the class split by cubby numbers, they took to the court. I sat on the cement, in the shade, and cheered them on. There are almost no successful volleyball servers in my class. That said, there was not one negative or snide comment made throughout their 30 minutes of playing. They encouraged one another and both sides cheered when a serve actually went over the net.

When it was time for our next activity I gathered my class around me and bragged about what I had seen. I love this group of kids and I want them to realize they have something special going. I want them to be proud of how they work together. I want them to know that I notice. I concluded by pointing out that most activities for the day were about working together, teams.

The next activity was the one thing we would be doing that was all about the individual. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and asked them if they knew what I had. A few looked at me as if I had gone mad. I quickly added, "a stopwatch". They instantly 'got it' as they looked at the obstacle course before us. I let them know that we would go by reverse cubby order, told them they could sit on the grass with their water bottles, and got the first child to the starting line. The high school volunteer walked her through the course while I reminded everyone else they just had to watch as she would be their example.

"Ready… Set… Go!" I yelled. She took off over pads, high stepping tires, weaving through eight-foot poles, diving over mats, and the rest of the course until she arrived, panting, at the end. Meanwhile the entire class sat on the grass cheering her on and chanting her name. They continued to do this for every one of their classmates.

Thirteen students later it was one of my special needs student's turn. He had not been happy about Field Day. In fact, his iPad was on the field and if he participated he was able to sneak off for five minutes of use here and there. We had even contemplated moving him up in the rotation, but he was content watching his classmates overcome the obstacles. Now he stood at the starting line, ready. I yelled "go!" and he began the course.

What I hadn't noticed was that the entire class had come over to the starting line, encasing both sides of the horse shoe. As he began the class not only cheered, but they followed him through the course, always at his side. I stood, beaming, at this special group of students I get to work with. Maybe Field Day isn't all bad.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

November 29th has been the U.N.'s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People since 1977. Palestine has been partitioned since the 29th of November 1947. What does that mean? The 'land without a people' has had its native population displaced for 64 years. In honor of the Palestinian people and their unique challenges, let me share a few articles with you.

Here is The Independent's article about touring Hebron with the focus of the tour on the intentional abuse of the Palestinians. Seeing is believing and I have been to Hebron to see this with my own eyes.

Photo credit URL

The olive harvest is what first took me to Palestine. Years later I am still trying to get my head around all I saw and experienced. When I do I will write about it myself. Until then I have to share what others have written like this article from the Guardian.

Uri Avnery writes a fascinating piece on the "Boycott Law" within Israel itself, which can be found here. One day after it was enacted into law there was already a 22 page application submitted to the Israeli Supreme Court trying to annul it. What causes such a strong reaction? Will the law stand? What would Charles Boycott think?

Archaeologies or law-breaking grave-diggers. Intrigued? Here is the article.

Two Israeli human rights groups have published a report in which they claim, among other things, "that [many doctors] allow Israeli Security Agency interrogators to use torture; approve the use of forbidden interrogation methods and the ill-treatment of helpless detainees; and conceal information, thereby allowing total immunity for the torturers." The Guardian reported on it here.

So, no matter what your background is please take a moment on Tuesday to think of the plight of the Palestinians. I bet you can find something in their situation to rally behind.
Photo credit URL

Friday, November 25, 2011

End of Life Hard Questions


When does life end?

How much is a person with no brain activity aware of?

How do you balance the previously expressed wishes of the patient against those of the family?

What about loved ones who aren't technically family?

How do you process laws of a country that don't fit with your understanding of 'right'?



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grown Up?


Even though I am quickly approaching 40 I don’t feel like a grown up. It is not that I think there is a numeric age that magically makes you a grownup. There are people younger than myself whom I consider to be grownups, just not myself.

I have a hard time trying to figure out a way to explain my feelings. The first time I ever tried I was in my mid 30s and a couple of months pregnant. In between sobs, I wondered aloud to my husband, “How can I be having a baby?!” sob, sniffle “I am not even a grownup!” It is one of those hysterical pregnant lady moments we laugh about now, but the feelings are still true. I do not feel like a grownup.

The next time I thought about trying to explain these feelings was when Christine, a friend I knew in high school, posted similar questions on her blog These Stones. The link to this particular full post is here. The part that I really connected with was when she said, “I’ve been a mom for almost 4 years, and I’m still asking questions. I guess it is hard to know if we ever really feel like a mom.” For me, forget wondering about being a mom, I stumble on the grownup question first.

I am trying to figure out how to express these feelings that I’ve never heard or read about anyone else experiencing. Is it just me? Or, if I feel this way and Christine has questions, maybe there are others with similar ponderings. Maybe lots of people still feel like someone who is ‘growing up’ rather than someone who is a grownup.

I am a wife, a mother, a teacher. I run a household (two actually, on two different continents) and a classroom, yet if I think of the big picture – the huge responsibility that comes with being a grownup – the weight bears down on me and I start to feel overwhelmed and squished by its enormity. I can manage daily chunks. I can grasp loving, nurturing, and protecting for a day. I can take care of paying the mortgage and planning meals today, but not the idea of 29 years of payments or the never-ending need to feed us and clean up afterwards.

Maybe that is the key. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be a grownup, but continue with our journey of growing up. Maybe we are supposed to just take each moment and hold it for its fleeting bit of time. Maybe the point is to be present in whatever the moment may be. Perhaps we are to be concerned only with the task in front of us and let the grownups worry about the rest.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Starting Points

I read so many blog posts and news articles that get me thinking. They are great food for fodder and often things I want to write about. So, in an effort to keep me going (that is one of the purposes of this blog) I am going to start posting three times a week. (If you haven't noticed it has been two - SOLC on Tuesdays and another piece of writing on Fridays.) Today I will kick off my Sunday posts with thoughts on Parent / Teacher Conferences.

Kristin at Rage Against The Minivan posted this last week. She shares her seven stages of panic after she realizes her son's first grade conference is scheduled with an open block following her time slot. What does that extra time mean? I promise you will laugh!

The web is my primary form of communication with my parents from day 2 onward. I schedule all of my conferences via email and the parents don't see the actual schedule until they are at school when the times are posted on my door. I do think about the perception of those seemingly extra blocks of time. After reading Kristin's post I will be even more aware of what might be going through a parent's mind. Perhaps I will leave the name of a student listed even when I know the parents have rescheduled, just so the schedule doesn't have unexplained gaps!

Conferences themselves? I believe in communicating with parents early and often so any major challenge a student is facing I have already been in dialogue with the parents and student. (I even have taken to showing students potentially sensitive emails to their parents before hitting 'send' and asking the student if they think it is fair and accurate.) Also, I have been teaching long enough now that I don't get nervous or stressed about conferences. Plus, I only have one per year as our spring conferences are student led. On top of that, this year we are in the process of switching to a new standards based report cards. The quarter ended last Wednesday, but the report cards have yet to be finalized and won't even be ready for us to start marking until after conferences.

So what will we be talking about at conferences? I have M.A.P. (standardized test) data to share with the parents. This is our second year using M.A.P. and the first time the data is being shared with parents. There were information sessions available, but I know I will be doing quite a bit of educating about the assessment and how to interpret the data. This is just one snapshot of the child as a student. I will have other student work to share to 'fill in the picture'. Of course I will have a few minutes to address any questions or concerns the parents have and then send them on their way with something wonderful I have observed about their child.

Thank you, Kristin for helping me to keep the stages of parent panic in mind. I hope I can alleviate those feelings for the parents of my students.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Scene of the Crime

I had very little sleep last night so mid -morning I was in desperate need of a nap. G went downstairs to help Daddy with the dishes. I crawled in bed.

An unknown amount of time passed and G came in wanting to wake me up. She ended up climbing on the bed to 'snuggle' with Mommy. (What that really means is I will lay down and look like I am going to snuggle until Daddy goes away and then I will climb over Mommy going back and forth from one side of the bed to the other testing each bed side lamp each time.)

At one point she pulled the blanket up to my ear and patted my shoulder. The climbing stopped. I figured she had left and I went to sleep.

When I woke up I rolled over to look and the clock and was shocked to see G sitting with my makeup spread around her using my mascara as nail polish on her toes (as she had already finished her fingers).

She had gone into the bathroom, gotten a stool, brought it out and used it to climb up and take all the things she was interested in off of the dresser. This included red nail polish, which I am thankful she was unable to open. She had also gotten a couple of tissues. She had removed her bracelets and socks and those were sitting on my bedside table along with the crumpled tissues, a book, and Daddy's clock.

Vaseline got most of the mascara off of her fingers and toes. A baby wipe removed the other bits of makeup that were on her knees and neck. I am not sure the sheets will ever be the same.

I did manage to not crack a smile and I figured taking a picture of her before cleaning anything up would send the wrong message. Once she was downstairs having a snack with Daddy I did photograph the scene of the crime.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why the long silence? Traveling Staycation

We were on vacation. You might even term it a “traveling staycation”. How is that possible? Well, we traveled by plane out of the country, but we were not headed to be tourists. Instead we went to visit friends in Amman, where we used to live.

What did we do for nine days? We hung out. We made meals, ate meals, and cleaned up from meals. We were entertained by 5 kids ages 2, 3, 7, 9, and 11. We talked about life. We went grocery shopping and to the pharmacy. We slept and read. It was a break from regular life – from the cycle of work and weekend and it was great.

Now we are back and through most of a week. (Remember Wednesday is our Friday.) The rhythm of life is good. It is dependable. Times of pause are restorative. I am restored. (And Christmas Break is less than 4.5 weeks away.)


Tuesday, November 1, 2011




Ding-Dong     Ding-Dong  Ding-Dong Knock      Knock Knock  Knock

I was only ten feet from the door, but whoever was outside was anxious to have the door open. I grabbed the yellow bowl full of lollipops and opened the door. Before me stood three Arab boys, about 12 years old, dressed in jeans and t-shirts rustling plastic grocery bags.

“Happy Halloween” they say, in near unison. Ah, I think to myself. This is a scene I want to capture on film. This is my moment to train the “natives” on American customs.

You need to say ‘trick-or-treat’ I tell the adolescent boys. “Trick-or-treat” they each say as they grab for a couple of lollipops. They turn and head off grinning. I figure they were thinking they just discovered the best way to get free candy, ever!

(Perhaps next year I should have face paint to teach the costume aspect of the ritual.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

From Her Perspective

This summer I attended a class called "Re-writing From The Margins" with Anne Marie Ekland Russell at Holden Village. Here is what I wrote based on Mark 5.21-43.

I woke up from my nap and there were strangers in my room. It was so weird - especially because they were men! What were my parents thinking to allow (invite?) four strange men into my room? They know I am of age as they have been discussing my approaching betrothal. Are they crazy?

I started to wonder if I was still asleep. It must be a dream as one of them tells me to wake up. Even more bizarre is that I do, without any hesitation! His voice has both comfort and authority in it.

My parents stood there with their mouths hanging open. Then this guy, (I later find out his name is Jesus) tells everyone - with that same authority in his voice - to keep this a secret.

What is so secret? What were they doing while I slept that must be hushed? At least he became practical and ordered my parents to feed me. Good thing too as I was famished.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reading in Jeddah will never be the same


I love to read. Curling up with a good book is a fabulous way to spend
a few minutes, an hour, or an entire evening. (I have a two year old – entire days are not an option.) A good read becomes a
great read if you have not only a fabulous book, but a comfortable place to read.

The availability of books overseas can be a challenge. I have plenty of YA books to read as I try to keep up with books for my students. Both my classroom library and the school’s library provide opportunity to read. Books I would share in book club, if I were in the States, have been harder to come by. The school library does order some new titles every year, but only a few and only once a year. There is a pretty decent bookstore, but prices are inflated and often what I want is not available. Yes, I could order from Amazon and have it shipped, but I find it hard to choke down the price of shipping.

When I am in the States I am a happy public library patron. I add things to my hold list throughout the year. I then release some books from their frozen hold status a few days before I arrive in the States so I have the first few titles waiting for me when I arrive. I miss my public library when I am overseas. You can then understand that the idea of being able to check out library books to my Kindle was very exciting. I welcomed the news with optimism because usually these things don’t work when originated overseas. I was ecstatic to find out that the usual is not the case this time. I have access to my public library with holds and a wish list and chances to read. Ah, for those moments and hours and evenings to be filled with fabulous reads.

We now come to the part about wanting a comfortable place to read. Curling up in bed is nice. The best natural light in our house is on the daybed in my daughter’s room, but that doesn’t work when she is sleep, which is my best opportunity. Sometime I will put pillows on the landing of our stairs. This way I avoid the AC and have decent natural light. The downside is the floor, though carpeted, is still pretty hard. Our couches don’t really fit me. I try to modify with pillows, but being a smaller person it is hard to find a really comfortable place to sit. I am thrilled to say it is no longer a challenge for me at our Jeddah house! My husband bought me a little recliner that fits me perfectly! We now own two, one at each house. His is so big I can’t get out of it without crawling over the side. Mine is so small his head and legs don’t even come close to touching the chair. Someday we may have side-by-side recliners, but for now reading in Jeddah will never be the same. (At least for me.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Inspired by “Packet of Letters” by Louise Bogan

You said you would always keep them.
Do you still have them?
Are they with you
     or in storage?
Have you ever re-read them?

Those letters were when I first thought of myself as a writer.
Would reading them now do any good
     or is the memory of becoming a writer enough?

I have yours.
They are all nestled together in a box in the garage.
Would their co-mingling tell a complete story?
I don’t think so.
In our hearts
     and our memories
Our fading memories hold the story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reading Logs Be Gone


I love books and discussions that get me thinking. I naturally reflect on my own teaching practice and I’m happy to ponder why something should or shouldn’t be done and what is ‘best practice’. Reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller brought up ponderings for me about my literacy choices, most pointedly when it came to the idea of reading logs.

Last year I had an evolution of reading logs. I moved from using a paper version to an e-version. I made this switch for a few reasons.
Why kill trees?
I had Googlified my class and using a Google Form was an easy alternative.
I hope to get to teach 1:1 some day and in preparation for that dreamt eventuality I look for what I would change.
All of these led me to utilizing e-logs.

This fall has brought a further evolution to my thinking and practice. In her book, Donalyn Miller questions the purpose of reading logs. Yipee! A chance to ponder and reflect!
Is the point to have homework?
To make students read?
To be an authentic record of reading?
Hopefully we are looking for the latter, but probably with a dash of ‘let’s make sure they are reading’, but does it work? I know I have students who fill out their log all at once, sometimes even in the hall as it is due.

So, does a reading log actually serve as an authentic tool? Is it something you use as a reader? I don’t. I do not keep track of the number of pages I read each day nor the minutes read. I do keep track of books I’ve read and so do my students. Why would I ask them to do something different then what I find helpful as a reader? So I threw them out, both on paper and virtually.

I had a very frank conversation with my students about their reading and their logs. I told them that I required a reading log for the first month of school as a way to help them establish good reading habits at home. They told me how and when they were filling out their logs. The logs, for most of them, were an artificial record and not a motivator of reading. We realized that we all read because they want to know what happens next, not because of a log that is supposed to be filled in. I made a deal with my students. If they promise to read every night I promise to not give them busy work or an artificial assessment. I also made the logs available to those couple of students who do find the accountability helpful. I also emailed the parents to let them know of the change and the reasons behind it. I now have a room full of happy readers and no reading logs.

Friday, October 14, 2011

We Had the Run of the Place

Second grade - Mrs. Hale's class. I know, for sure, it was second grade because it was Mrs. Hale's class, but looking back I often think "Really? She really let 2nd graders have the run of the place?" We did have the run of the place.

I remember being given the opportunity, often, to work on projects, sometimes during recess. (And I don't remember Mrs. Hale staying in the room.) This was one of those lunch recess projects.

I have no recollection why, but we were painting on a long piece of white butcher paper, perhaps eight feet long. We had mixed the powder we needed for each color of paint in large glass jars. I remember the blue Miracle Whip lid.

There were seven of us; Amy, Christina, Jenny, Jodi, Jessie, JennieVen, and myself. We had been painting and talking and laughing - enjoying one another and accomplishing our task (whatever that was). When we had finished, and it was time to clean up, we all pitched in.

Someone rinsed out the paint brushes. A couple of people moved our completed work out of the walkway. I picked up the green paint by the Miracle Whip lid. You guessed it - the lid was not on firmly. The moment froze around us as green paint slammed onto the floor and splashed upon items in an irregular radius.

Do you remember the "Free to Be You and Me" song about 'some kind of help is the kind of help we all could do without'? In my mind the words are written in green paint.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What’s the definition of teaching?

Redundant? Worthless? Slacking? Decoration? Unnecessary? Lazy?

These are the descriptors going through my mind as I walk around my room and find myself with nearly nothing to do.

All of my students are actively engaged with their group. Each person is learning, discovering, sharing, questioning, and recording. Fabulous – right? Then why do I feel like I’m not teaching?

Once I shake off my sense of uselessness I appreciate the inquiry process that is taking place before me. They are discovering meaning, assimilating information, and applying it to their worlds.

What is the definition of teaching?
Today I am a facilitator. A guide. An encourager of learning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bike Crash

I am such a big girl
I can ride a two wheeler

Big, open, flat parking lot
No problem
Steep road behind our house
Sure, you bet!

I didn’t know about gravel
Gravel can make you lose control
Next thing I know I am under my bike
and bleeding

(memories from age 7)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Verdict Is in

sols_greenWe are 3.5 weeks into the school year and I am willing to say out loud that 'what you see is what you get'. In this case it is a good thing. I am starting to allow myself to get excited about the year. This group of kids is respectful and engaged. They are willing to work with whatever partner or group they are placed with. The quality of work is better than acceptable. And, with the exception of my special needs students, no one is more than a grade level behind (as opposed to three or four grade levels in the past couple of years).

In addition to this being a promising group of students I am having a great start myself. This is the first time I am teaching the same grade level two years in a row, at the same school, without being really sick. (I was 'all day sick' for almost my entire pregnancy.) So I am able to fine tune some of the things I do and the way I do them. For example, a project I have used many times I finally got completely written out, step by step with entire rubrics. No shock that this clarified the expectations and big surprise, the quality of work went up! (I know that ideally we do this before all assignments, but my reality is that there are so many hours and when something has to get left behind I don't get these things written out completely.)

So the jury has voted and a promising year is in the making.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Memories Not Blown Out

     I was kidnapped! One morning I looked out my bedroom window and two stories below I saw a car pull into the parking lot. I was excited to see my friends, Nej & Christina, get out of the car.

     But then they blindfolded me, put me into the car with them, and drove off!

     When the car finally stopped we were in a parking spot along the waterfront of downtown Seattle. They took my blindfold off ( to avoid suspicion?) and then led me onto a ferry.

     Why would my friend do this? What was their plan and where were we going? I wouldn't know all the answers until the end of the day, but I did know it was to celebrate my birthday.

     There are many parts of the day that have faded with time. The moments I remember, and treasure, most about the ferry boat ride are when all three of us where standing at the rail, wind whipping our hair and echoing through our ears. There was no way we could talk - we wouldn't hear each other, but there was no need for talk. I felt loved and special that sunny march day simply standing between my friends.

     The celebration didn't end with the ferry ride. That evening we went to Zones. It was a game place and snack bar. They had a couple of other friends meet us there. We played mini golf and I don't remember what else. Eventually we sat down at the booth to eat.

     There was a cake - complete with candles. After the singing and the blowing Christina told us of a special birthday tradition in her family. The person whose birthday is being celebrated - in this case in - is required to have each person feed them a bite of cake.

     That was a new one. I had never heard of that tradition. Have you? As you would imagine it is a bit embarrassing (is that the point?) but I made it through and it added to the specialness of the day.

     The story doesn't end there, though that birthday celebration did. Many, many months later (perhaps even a year or two) I was at Christina's house when her family was celebrating a birthday. Since I knew of the family tradition I was looking forward to being on the other side of this ritual.

     The cake came out. Singing and blowing occurred and now it was time to feed the honored guest, yet that didn't happen! Cake was served to everyone and each person commenced eating their own piece. Conversations continued, yet for me time froze. What about the family tradition? Could they have forgotten? I whispered  something to Christina and she started to snicker. Eventually an explanation was offered. Turns out it isn't a family tradition at all, but something she had made up just for my birthday!

Thank you for making me feel very special (and embarrassed and then stupid and finally cherished once more.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can't Wait and Don't Wanna

Have you ever had the experience of simultaneously being so excited and entrance by a series of books that you want to spend every minute reading to find out what happens next and wanting to pace yourself in order to savor your infinite time with the characters? I sure have. In fact I am there right now.

It doesn't seem to happen with books of necessarily high literary content. (Though, how often are those part of a series anyway?) I tend to find myself in that place with works of fiction that have characters I have come to care for and high amounts of action. I can think of three times, over the last many years, that I have visited this place. And, in all cases one of the main characters is a female. Girl, actually. Teenager to be precise.

Now, some will take this as a confession. Remember I've already told you they aren't amazing bits of literature, but dang compelling. Living overseas. I have had an advantage. I didn't now about any of these books until the entire series was out.

(On a side note, my favorite novel, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell I stumbled across and had to wait, what seemed like FOREVER, but was probably many months for the sequel to be published in order to find out the resolution. The Sparrow is the only book that upon reading the last page I immediately flipped to the front and began reading again. And, if you are an audio reading The Sparrow is done well, but the sequel, Children of God, is not.)

So what have these series been? The summer of 2008 I was visiting my best girlfriend and her family in Wyoming. She handed me Twilight. We were headed on a camping trip and I inquired if I would want to plow through the rest of the books as well so we borrowed book two and three from the library. The fourth arrived from Amazon the morning we headed out. I hiked and played during the days and devoured the books at night. In five days I knew how it ended.

Last spring I spent a weekend with The Hunger Games trilogy. (I am sure I surfaced to spend time with my toddler, but it seemed like a weekend retreat to me.) Right now I am savoring Forever, the last of a trilogy I started in June. I read the first book, Shiver, thinking it was simply a novel. It wasn't until I turned the last page and found the 'coming soon' that I discovered there was more to the story. I tried to go buy the next one, but it wasn't available in the country. I put number two and three on hold at my home library for the summer and waited. Part way through the summer my turn came up for the second one. It was a pleasure to revisit the characters and walk the next section of their lives with them. I was still quire a ways down the hold list for the third one and contemplated purchasing it several times, but, for many reasons I didn't.

Now, back in country I decided to reward myself for all of the single parenting I had been (happily) doing to support my husband in his new job and downloaded Forever to our Kindle. I savored the idea of enjoying it over the long weekend. Now I am caught between being anxious to know what happens and wanting to devour every word and wanting to stretch out my time with it - savor the moments that will soon come to an end.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Unification = 24 hours

This was our only three day weekend of the school year. I have to actually say it to remind myself that the rest and space of three days won’t happen again until next year. It was a wonderful weekend of family time, sleep, a great book, games, giggles, poking around blogs for ideas for my classroom, a few chores, and an entire extra 24 hours to occupy.

A big shout out for Saudi National Day.

ksa flag

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peace One Day

This post is in honor of Peace One Day
and inspired by What does PEACE feel like? by Vladimir Radunsky.

Peace One Day

Peace sounds like the silent steps of huge camels in the desert.

Peace tastes like amazingly smooth, rich, dark chocolate melting in your mouth.

Peace smells like fresh cut grass.

Peace looks like people of every color, shape, and size - every language
and belief system having a picnic together
(on the grass with chocolate)

Peace feels like snuggling up on the lap of someone who loves you

Peace feels like a warm, sunny day
(not hot - warm - just right - perhaps with a breeze)
(at the picnic, on the grass with chocolate)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whisker Free Zone

Grace loves kisses. She kisses someone on the cheek to wake them up. She kisses me right on the lips, usually with a bunch of slobber. She likes being kissed too. What she doesn't like are whiskers. At the end of the day she will only kiss Daddy on the forehead - a whisker free zone.

This wasn't always the case. She became very aware of facial hair on a camping trip this summer when Daddy was growing a beard.

As twilight deepened and time for bed approached she would go around and give everyone hugs and kisses - unless they had facial hair. Daddy, Papa Jim, and Grandpa were very intentionally shunned from this ritual.

That's all it took! The next day Daddy shaved, but ever since then Grace has been very aware of whiskers and whisker free zones.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I am in a quandary and I hope some of you can help.

As I nearly select bits of writing to post I realize there is something I need to decide first. The big question? Will I share this blog with my students? So, you teacher types out there, do you share your blog with your students? How does your decision impact what you choose to post?

Thank you, in advance, for your fabulous input!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Jury's Still Out

The jury is still out.

It is day four of the new school year and I don't want to jinx the year. Am I seeing their true colors yet? When will their annoying habits begin? In a week or two or three will we run into content that baffles them?

Thus far I am very excited about the possibilities. The students are well behaved, engaged, and motivated. They are kind to each other and quick to meet or exceed expectations. Their prior knowledge is where I would hope it to be. To (mostly) steal a line "Oh the Places We Could Go!"

At the same time I am remembering that today is a full moon. I am remembering that I have three boys yet to appear. I am also remembering that there are two yet to be vouched for desks in my room.

The jury is still out.

Slice of Life

As I plan a new school year I have been particularly focused on how to improve my teaching of writing. I can't think deeply about writing without reflecting on my own writing life. The final nudge into a writing blog was given by Two Writing Teachers, in particular their Slice of Life Story Challenge. I encourage you to take the challenge as well, even if you don't post it for the world to see. Thus begins my journey of posting bits of my writing notebook on the web, a Writing eNotebook is born.