Friday, March 31, 2017

31 of 31: Goodbye & Hello

Today is a day of GOODBYES.
Goodbye to daily slicing. Thank you for teaching me so much about myself as a writer and for working my writing muscles and giving me biceps like Popeye.
Goodbye to my student teacher. Thank you for teaching me as well as my students.
Goodbye to March. I won't miss the rain and gray days.

But where there are goodbyes, there are also HELLOS.
Hello to blogging on a weekly basis rather than daily. I enjoyed the interaction and feedback far more than I thought possible.
Hello again to my students, whom I've missed teaching more than I thought possible.
Hello to April and sandals and cropped pants!

Thank you especially to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting this amazing opportunity for teachers and students.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

30 of 31: Today Was a Strange Day

Today was a strange day. Thunder peppered my morning commute providing a lovely soundtrack for my drive along with the hypnotic droning of my windshield wipers. Heavy gray clouds filled every one of my second floor classroom windows. By the time students arrived, the rain had tapered off, but the morning was still dark.

By first lunch, the sun poked his lazy head out from behind those clouds and seemed to demand our attention. I could finally turn off one of my classroom lights and still have enough natural light and overhead light for students to work comfortably.

By third lunch, tree branches were whipping and the sun retreated behind another barrage of spring storm clouds. Slanted rain captivated my students attention as they stood before the windows watching sheets of rain slap against the roof. Quietly they stood, just observing in wonder how they had been lucky enough to go outside for recess and relishing the fact that the eighth graders would not.

I lost track of the weather during my planning period. Probably because I was staring at my computer screen the entire time trying to catch up on emails, to make Google classroom updates, to read my students' slices and encourage them to stick with it for two more days, and to update students' grades in the online gradebook. The term ends tomorrow.

After school, I walked into my book club meeting with my rain jacket on and walked out with it tucked under my arm squinting and shading my eyes from the sun with my hand. Yep. It was that kind of day.

The kind that takes you on the ups and downs of spring storm. Teasing you one minute with the sun only to send you into a stupor with the rain the next minute.

When I pulled into my driveway, I noticed the lime green weeds that sprouted from the cracks of my driveway and wondered if they had just come up to say hello sometime today. I marveled at my bright technicolor lawn that would need its first mowing very soon if the rain keeps up. The vivid colors after the winter months never fail to amaze me.

I love spring with its unpredictable surprises.

Today was a strange day, but at least tomorrow's Friday!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

29 of 31: A Couple of Lists

I was inspired to compose this list based on one of my 7th graders slices listing things she loved and things she hated. When I read it, I had this nagging feeling that I had heard such a list before. It wasn't until I was on my way home that I remembered that Eric Stoltz starred as Rocky in the movie Mask along with Cher, who played his mother, in 1985. If you have never seen this movie, it is definitely worth watching.

These are the things I love:
Sitting at the bar of a sushi restaurant marveling at the skill of a sushi chef
Someone's face lighting up when they see me
Watching a student find that just right book for the very first time
Sitting around a campfire under the stars and surrounded by woods and gurgling water
Books, books, books
Coffee with Italian sweet cream
Fat flakes of snow swirling around during a snowstorm
My family and my friends
Holding a small baby and falling asleep
And the rain falling on my head

These are things I think are a drag:
(to the best of my memory, those were Rocky's words in the movie)
Assigning grades to children's writing and thinking
Unnecessary meetings
High-stakes standardized testing
Yard work, especially when four sweetgum trees are involved
No longer being able to sleep past 8am on the weekends
Overhead fluorescent lighting
And the rain falling on my head

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

28 of 31: Two Thumbs Up

Are you ever too old to enjoy a Disney movie? 

The unequivocal answer to that question is absolutely not!

My mom, my older sister, her daughter, her daughter's daughter, my baby sister and I made our way into the IMAX theater. Our fingers immediately found the appropriate buttons reclining our seats while raising the footrests. These chairs even had heat. 

Incessant giggles ensued as my technology-challenged mother tried repeatedly to take a picture of her girls as we continued to hear the loud click of her cell phone camera. The flash, however, was noticeably absent. Thus saving us the misery of being momentarily blinded by a bright white light...along with the rest of the movie goers in our row. Obviously a dark movie theater is not ideal for popping pictures. With fierce determination, she continued to click at least seven or eight shots, but to no avail. Every time we heard the all too familiar sound of a camera's shutter closing, we knew she'd only be rewarded with a very dark and fuzzy screen.  

Finally, the movie started and we practically had to demand she return her phone to her purse before the people in the row behind us complained about the crazy lady trying to take pictures in a dark movie theater. We promised her we'd take a selfie in the lobby afterwards.

As the scene opened on a sleepy little village in France, I almost felt a bit dizzy as if my eyes couldn't process all the images spinning about on the enormous screen. Luckily, I grew accustomed to the sheer magnitude of the IMAX and my stomach settled.

Beauty and the Beast didn't take me back to my childhood because I wasn't a child when I first viewed the animated Disney classic. But that mattered not since it did captivate my imagination and heart with its music and stunning effects. As if on cue, we all shed a tear when (spoiler alert...sort of) Beast died even though we knew that true love would bring him back to life in his human form just a moment after. There is something magical about being swept away into a fairytale. Especially a fairytale where the princess rescues the prince!  

From her love of books to her emphatic rejections of Gaston, I just cannot help but love Belle. It didn't hurt that she was played by Hermione, I mean Emma Watson, to boot! 

I will be forever grateful that I was able to share this evening with the strong, beautiful, smart, and caring women of my family four generations strong. Even if we never did get around to taking that selfie!

I may not be Siskel or Ebert, but I'd definitely give it two thumbs up.

Monday, March 27, 2017

27 of 31: Fun in the Rearview Mirror

Today was the first day back from spring break. Dark clouds poured rain all day long in a deluge that bemoaned the return of blinding fluorescent lights and tardy bells. My seventh graders were rather subdued and hardly even protested the writing pretest they completed after they shared a bit about their own spring breaks.

With the last bell, students quickly packed up their belongings and slammed locker doors. Many seemed just as exhausted as me, and I found myself longing to pack my bags, too. But alas, the dreaded Monday afternoon faculty meeting delayed my departure.

Let's just say that this was a frustrating meeting and the gripes and negativity were as ubiquitous as the gray clouds that filled the sky.

Finally, forty-five minutes later sweet relief. I headed to my car mentally exhausted and chiding myself for complaining to my colleagues. I vowed to return tomorrow with a better attitude.

So I drove home. I was almost there, two streets away in fact, when I looked into my rearview mirror. And there he was. His ball cap was precariously perched on his head and I noticed his strawberry blond beard stretched from ear to ear, but was noticeably absent above his lip. He was young. Maybe a high schooler or college freshman based on what looked like a parking permit dangling from his rear view mirror.

There was nothing extraordinary about his looks, but what was exceptionally captivating was his singing and dancing. Though he was alone in his car, it was as if he was performing live on stage to thousands of adoring fans. His head moved to a rhythm I could almost feel and he sang the words with unabashed passion. Bobbleheads would need neck braces if forced to keep up with this young man's swiveling neck, ducking chin, and shoulder shrugs. It didn't take long for my own smile to span from ear to ear. Quickly, my eyes darted back and forth between the road ahead and my rearview mirror not wanting to miss a second. I couldn't get enough of this kid, and he obviously couldn't get enough of whatever song thumped through his speakers and filled his car with fun. When he signaled with his blinker, strutting and jutting his head, I sadly continued straight up the hill and watched him disappear around the corner.

I was humbly reminded that one can find joy in anything if they take the time to stop and look for it...even in a faculty meeting or your own rearview mirror.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

26 of 31: Today is my sister's birthday

Today is my little sister's birthday, so I wanted to write a little something for her since we live several states apart and I wasn't able to wish her happy birthday in person.

J - Just the right balance of savvy and strength
E - Enough determination to net her dreams and capture a career
N - Nursing called to her after motherhood and marriage
N - Never does she let the doubt that creeps permanently cast a shadow over her 
I - Immaculate in her housekeeping (at least before nursing school) and 
     judgmental of mine
F - Forever my best friend and not just my little sister
E - Especially for her chattiness on the phone and her ability to see things I don't
R - Rebel though she was, wise as she is, I wish her the happiest of birthdays 

With love from Biz

Saturday, March 25, 2017

25 of 31: Happy to Be

This slice was inspired by a post that I read yesterday.

Happy to visit his family farm's sprawling fields of cut corn stalks,
unshaven stubble poking out.
Happy to escape the city and wander through the purple henbit,
another beautiful reminder that spring's about.

Happy to amble along a forgotten train line
now invisible beneath the chat.
Happy to wander his childhood playground
of barns, fields, fences and the occasional animal track.

Happy to don sunglasses to keep from squinting under the bright, bright sun,
Happy to hold his hand as he recounts escapades of his younger years quite fun.

Happy to understand a childhood and life so different from my own
Happy to learn of the wonders of the woods so seldom known.

What makes you happy?

Friday, March 24, 2017

24 of 31: Bend with a Friend

She climbed into my car and it was nonstop chatter the entire 20 minute drive catching up on her kids and their various states of health, her husband, my family, our jobs, and how we had spent our glorious week off. Halfway there I shrugged out of my jacket at a stoplight because it turned out to be too warm to need it. It was definitely a sunglasses and t-shirt type of day.

We exited the car and strolled across the parking lot towards my yoga studio, which was running a "Bend with a Friend" promotion. As she signed in, I slipped off my shoes. Dani, one of my favorite instructors, introduced herself to my friend and asked if she practiced yoga before and if she had any injuries or problem areas. 

Dani continued peppering Susan with questions and tidbits of information about the class as she walked us into the studio. There were three yogis already on their mats stretching like cats in the bright morning sun shining through the plate glass windows. After grabbing all necessary props, Susan and I rolled out our mats next to each other in the back corner of the space.

When we walked in, I was mid-story, so I very quietly leaned over to whisper the epic conclusion and Susan just shook her head sharing in my disgust. I didn't want to disturb my fellow yogis so I kept our conversation brief.

Finally, Dani began class and we started focusing on our breathing. We set our intentions for the class and I silently acknowledged my good fortune and good friend sitting on the mat next to me. I slipped back into a meditative state focusing on my breath and occasionally pushing out the thoughts about lunch and my to-do list and whether or not Susan wanted to go shopping. I managed to always return to count my breaths in order to still my mind.

Seventy-five minutes melted away as we stretched and breathed and balanced and moved in and out of various poses. I love yoga. And there couldn't have been a better way to spend the last official morning of my spring break than to bend with a friend. 

My advice to you: bend with a friend at any and every opportunity. It is good for the heart, mind, body, and soul.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

23 of 31: The Not So Fast Drive-Thru

"What would you like for lunch?" I asked.

"Well I like McDonalds," she replied without looking up from her coloring book. Her brand new Mr. Sketch cherry scented marker in hand as she carefully filled in the lines of her coloring book.

"Well are you a cheeseburger or chicken nugget kind of a girl?" I responded marveling at her concentration.

"Chicken nugget. But do you think I'm an apple slice or fry kind of girl?" a smile tugged at her lips.

"That's a tough one. Let me think."

"Oh, I'll give you a hint. I love mashed potatoes," and she paused her coloring to consider me as I pondered.

I rubbed my chin for dramatic effect and then exclaimed, "French fries it is!"

With that settled, I left my friend Laurie's 7-year-old daughter, Adie, with my mom and retrieved my car keys and purse.

I could not tell you the last time I was at McDonalds, but I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of line. I pulled right up and politely ordered a happy meal. Now, you are asked if you want that for a girl or boy. I wondered when that started. I certainly didn't remember that from when I was a kid, but alas, that was a long time ago.

The first window opened and I reached out my hand with crumpled bills and thanked the attendant.

Slowly, I pulled up to the second window and waited less than two minutes. A friendly young man smiled as he opened the window and passed me a Hi-C in the smallest of cups. Then he handed me a bag and wished me a nice day.

I pulled away thinking that this happy meal was, in fact, going to make one little girl very happy.

Six minutes later, I pulled into my garage and walked in feeling a bit like Santa sneaking down the chimney. Adie still colored and when she saw me, she commented on how fast I was. I made a silly joke about the virtues of fast food.

And then we looked in the bag. I found a small bag of hot french fries that even I have to admit smelled tempting. I found the tiny Barbie doll gift. I found napkins, ketchup, and barbeque sauce. What I did not find were the chicken nuggets.

I knew it was too good to be true. I picked up my purse and grumbled that I would be right back. Clearly, I'm so out of practice at a drive-thru window that I had forgotten the cardinal rule of checking the bag before pulling out of the parking lot. So, back to McDonald's I drove.

Again, fate smiled down on me about the same time the sun peaked its bashful head out for the first time all day. I pulled right up to the ordering station, explained my unfortunate situation, and was directed to pull straight up to the second window.

The same smiling young man opened the window though I noted he didn't make quite the level of eye-contact as he did our first encounter just minutes before. He quickly handed me a small bag and gave me the same have a nice day line. I smiled in reply and pulled away.

It wasn't until I was down the street a bit that it occurred to me that a, "Sorry about that," would have gone a long way to assuage my annoyance at having to make a return trip.

I could have grumbled or demanded my money back, but honestly that didn't even occur to me. My only thought was getting the chicken nuggets home so that Adie could enjoy them with her french fries.

After all, I've made mistakes. I've certainly messed up. And that's life. Sometimes the order is right the first time and sometimes, we have to circle back and revisit the window a second time.

Ultimately, I had the pleasure of watching Adie munch her chicken nuggets after making sure she counted them to ensure accuracy. It was worth both trips.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

22 of 31: Brave

Brave is telling your family the truth even when they don't want to hear it.
Brave is wearing a two piece swimsuit.
Brave is going to nursing school while raising two young children.
Brave is standing up for your beliefs and convictions and faith.
Brave is doing more than just complaining.
Brave is taking action.
Brave is putting your voice out there.
Brave is dancing even when people are watching.
Brave is singing because you love to.
Brave is writing and letting others read it.
Brave is caring for an aging parent.
Brave is traveling abroad and seeing the world.
Brave is committing to someone and keeping that commitment.
Brave is loving after heartbreak.
Brave is giving second chances.
Brave is taking second chances.
Be Brave.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

21 of 31: Spring Cleaning on Spring Break...What???

I've put off cleaning and decluttering my small home office for far too long. Stacks of books spill over the edges of the two book shelves outlined in dust. You can no longer tell the color of the desk due to the therapeutic coloring books, gel pens, markers, old CDs, mail, bills, taxes forms, thank you cards, desk dictionary, pen caddy and desk organizer, framed photos, printer, computer, and stapler covering its surface entirely. Who even listens to CDs anymore?

The casualties of my dirty office lay on the floor shrouded in dust bunnies with their six stiff legs pointed toward the ceiling frozen in their salute. I mentally add calling Linda the Bug Lady to my spring break to-do list.

Black framed degrees hang smartly on the grey wall reminding me that I should have the intelligence and wherewithal to keep this space tidy. My floating book shelves no longer look like they are floating since there are books stacked up the wall underneath them resembling more of a leaning tower of books than the uber-cool wall decor they should.

The purge begins. I shred at least a year's worth of old bills, credit card applications, and standardized test data. Only in a teacher's home office will you find binders of old data, meeting notes, and handouts from workshops and faculty meetings long past. Some circa 2003. I empty the shredder 8 times filling two huge plastic bags with tiny bits of paper. I certainly could make some guinea pigs or hamsters happy playing in all this shredded paper. At least I have single stream recycling.

Next, I attack the book shelves. I grab the teacher totes I've collected from various conferences and begin filling them with books that will find a new home in my classroom, books I want to offer to my curriculum coordinator, and books that will be donated to Goodwill in hopes of finding a home where they do more than collect dust. At last, I slip on my dusting glove and begin swiping the black shelves until the last dust mote is removed. I once again have floating book shelves giving the room a rather stylish look.

I turn to confront my desk. The desk I no longer use. I suck in a deep breath and hop to it. Before I know it another hour and a half has ticked by and I am beginning to see signs of progress. Just a bit more shuffling, stacking, pitching, and wiping and I can see the faux blond wood grain smile its greeting.

Now vacuuming and then wiping the wooden floor with my microfiber dust cloth. I still am grossed out by the amount of dirt I get up AFTER I vacuum. I look at the clock and realize that I have been at this for nearly 5 hours and the room is only 9' x 9'. Thank goodness I don't have a huge sprawling office!

The very last touch is wiping down the wall next to the fish tank to erase some drip marks and then dusting the baseboards. I thought about draining and cleaning the fish tank for like a split second, but quickly moved that to the summer break to-do list.  What's nine more weeks?

Deep sigh of satisfaction as I look around this small room and realize that I wish I would have taken a before and after picture to prove just how productive I've been!

Okay, now on to the bathroom.  Grrrr!!!

Monday, March 20, 2017

20 of 31: I Did It Again

I did it again.

I overate. 

It's so hard to just put down the fork. 

Even though I shared my entree. Even though I only consumed one fish taco. Even though I refused dessert and drank mostly water (okay, okay, I had a few sips of each of the four beers in my sister's beer flight). Even though I left two untouched jalepeno poppers on the plate (I lost track of how many I actually popped). I still sit here with the waistband of my sweatpants rolled down so that my extended stomach can protrude in peace. My eyelids are heavy no doubt from an overdose of MSG. I'm fighting the food coma with every ounce of energy I can muster, but I fear I'm losing.

Ugh. I do not feel well. I feel like I should walk around the block, but my fingers walking over this keyboard will have to suffice.

I did put down the fork

It was just too late.

I did it again.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

19 of 31: My Life In Numbers

I was inspired to write this post about my life in numbers after reading a fellow slicer's post doing the same. I really enjoyed the format!

1 is the exact number of traffic tickets I've received. I might add that it was for running a stoplight (I still maintain it was yellow) and not for speeding - I've received 0 speeding tickets in the 24 years I've been driving. I am crossing my fingers that this does not tempt the fates!

2 is the number of school districts in which I have taught middle school and 7th grade English. One with 20,553 students and the other with just over 4,454 students.

3 is the total number of cars that I have owned in my lifetime. My car is over 10 years old and has over 161,000 miles and still goes zoom zoom.

4 is the number of sweetgum trees planted in my yard. I've written about these in an earlier post, but they still taunt me with their 100s of prickly gumballs littering my yard.

5 is the number of books currently in my "to read" pile on my night stand.

6 is the number of siblings I have. 1 older sister, 2 younger sisters, and 3 big brothers, who happily tortured me as a kid and sometimes still do.

7 is the number of years that I have been a proud home owner...cutting the yard and picking up gumballs!

8 is the number of beautiful and talented and funny nieces and nephews whom I adore and love to spoil!

9 is the age I was when my father passed away from a sudden heart attack. He was only 47, and I used to think that was old. I have since adjusted my attitude about age properly and realize he was incredibly young when he died.

10 is the number of episodes of Sneaky Pete that I watched consecutively today on Amazon Prime. It was the perfect lazy Sunday to kick off my spring break!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

18 of 31: Breakfast with My Mommy

She has to shimmy her way up and onto the high back bar stool. Once perched there, we realize she is too far away, so she has to carefully climb off, scoot up the stool, and then scale back up until her rump is squarely on the seat.

I hadn't realized I was holding my breath as I watched. She refused my offer to push her chair in for her. I just wanted her to be able to reach her food without trouble or spilling half of it into her lap or down the front of her green shamrock sweater. It was my idea to eat at the bar rather than wait for a table, and as I watch her shakily make her way up, I wonder if it wouldn't have been smarter (and safer) to just wait the twenty minutes.

Slowly, I exhale and we chat about the next couple days. You see I have my mother on loan to me from my baby sister, and I want to make the most out of our time together. Being the fifth born of seven children, I have always cherished time spent alone with my mother. My father died when I was nine, leaving our upbringing solely to her. As you can imagine, stolen moments of one-on-one were few and far between. Now she lives several states away, she just turned seventy-seven, and I'm still vying for her attention like I am 14 instead of 40. 

Thankfully, she has spent more time in Missouri as of late, and I have my beautiful new nephew to thank for that. Let me translate, she comes to get her wizened hands on this nine-month-old baby and to heck with the rest of us! And I don't blame her. Wyatt brings a joy to all he encounters with his smile and laid back demeanor, with his tiny hand wave and infectious giggle. He's just now mastering, "Uh-oh!" and it's hilarious to hear his every approximation. We haven't had a baby in the family for six years, and I suspect my mother worries that she might not be around to know the next.

Right now, I am bathing in my mom's full attention, but I'm also struggling with something and it isn't the enormous breakfast burrito that was just placed before me. I guess I'm struggling with the inevitable. Her frailty and declining health slug me in the gut with each and every visit. I desperately push these thoughts to the back of my mind, but they linger there like a nasty cold you just can't kick.

When I was a kid, she didn't seem so small, but now she's shrinking. She no longer even measures five feet, and I feel like an Amazon princess walking next to her in all my 5'4" glory. I have to force myself to slow my gait when walking next to her so that she doesn't lose her breath resulting in an asthma attack or coughing fit as she tries to keep up. Just this morning on our way into the restaurant, she reached for my hand. I like to think she just wanted to hold it like when I was a little girl, but I also wonder if she wanted the extra support as we wove our way through the parking lot. 

She recently liberated herself from chemically coloring her hair and is now veiled in a beautiful white halo. It was a little shocking at first, but I have really come to like it. She looks more and more like her own mother every day, especially as she nods off on the couch with her head leaned back and her slack jaw and parted lips. The best is her puffer-snores. They aren't the deep throated rumbles, but rather like she has to work hard to push out her exhales is gentle little puffs. 

"Mom, why don't you go lie down for a nap?"

"No, no, I'm not sleeping. I'm just resting my eyes," she always replies even though she sometimes wakes herself with her own snores and then sheepishly looks around asking if we heard her.

All this flashes through my mind as she sits perched on the stool next to me smiling and spreading butter on her pancakes before drizzling syrup on one section at a time. She offers me a bite and it's delicious. 

And so is this moment alone with my mommy, and I consciously choose to linger in the sweetness of it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

17 of 31: A Limerick for St. Patty's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I hope you enjoy my short limerick:

I awoke early this first morn of my well-deserved spring break
With a powerful longing that I just could not shake.
    Was it caffeine?
    Or just something green?
No, it's me mom's Irish stew and a dark foamy brew of which I must partake!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

16 of 31: His Student-Led Conference

He stands in the front of the room next to a 50 inch television displaying the website that he created for his student-led conference, which includes links to his work. Nervously, he pushes his black plastic frames up his nose. His down coat is zipped almost all the way up, and I know he must be hot, but I think it is his protection. His father is casually seated with his leg crossed and arm slung over the back corner of his chair taking it all in.

The resemblance is uncanny though the father's salt and pepper hair is jet black on his thirteen-year-old son. They must share a barber, for their hair is styled similarly. Parted to the side and slightly messy in back. Dad's eyebrows raise in surprise at his son's astute self-reflection in all the right places. His son discusses his learning and assignments for each of his classes. Dad leans in more closely to learn about the parts of the heart and their functions.

Son shyly looks up from time to time making eye contact with me, the teacher, hiding out in the back of the room. I can't tell if I make him more nervous or if he appreciates another adult in the room in case he has a question or something goes wrong. He is in charge and we don't step in unless invited. My heart swells listening to him brag about his work and goals for the remainder of the year.

Sometimes I bite my tongue to keep from interjecting. I want to brag on him or tease, and occasionally I do. But I remind myself this is not my show.

This is their show and it is beautiful.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

15 of 31: Currently I'm...

Thanks to Katie Kraushaar's amazing post I learned how to write a 'Currently' post. 
Here is the link Katie shared to help inspire you if you like this format!

ANTICIPATING: Spring Break. Luckily for me, I have just one more school day and evening filled with student-led conferences before it's officially spring break.  

CELEBRATING: A Publishing Party themed "Companion Books and Kool-aid." I cannot wait to celebrate all the hard work of my 7th graders as they share their writing about reading. I have Kool-aid as well as blueberry, chocolate, lemon poppyseed, and apple cinnamon muffins. There is nothing better than watching students share their writing while snacking!

EATING: Homemade chicken noodle soup. When I came home from my first night of conferences with the sneezing sniffles, I could just barely detect the smell of simmering chicken noodle soup. Knowing I wasn't feeling well, Morgan put his culinary skills to work and made me soup. Mmm mmm good!

LOVING: Students' Slices of Life. Between classes, during lunch, before school, my eyes are glued to my computer reading my students' slices. The beauty and creativity in their writing still blows me away! Since this is an optional contest for them, I'm also blown away by how many students stepped up to the challenge!

READING: Joe by Larry Brown. This is for my "fun" book club and though I'm only a few pages in, I find it quite compelling!

QUESTIONING: Grades! Grrr. I believe in feedback and coaching students to become stronger readers and writers. I just think that letter grades are not the most effective way to assess...they may even do more harm than good. I hope I live long enough that we get rid of them!!!

WISHING: Laundry and dishes washed themselves. I am off to remedy both of these dirty situations right now. Things have gotten a little out of control this week!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

14 out of 31: A Haiku In Honor of Student-Led Conferences

I realize Haikus are typically about nature, but I felt inspired (and short on time) during student-led conferences this evening. Our student-led conferences replace typical parent-teacher conferences and really put the student in the driver's seat.

Our 7th graders created Google websites showcasing their work and shared their personal reflections, goals, and learning with their parents. I was able to float from family to family and listen to students' conversations since multiple conferences were occurring simultaneously. It was amazing!

In between parents,
Display all they learn and know
Pride swells in all hearts.

Monday, March 13, 2017

13 of 31: Sneezes Are...Well, They're Just Weird

The foreboding tickle and twitching of my nose started yesterday. By mid-afternoon, the sneezing ensued. I hoped for allergies, but feared I had contracted one of the viruses that has plagued my school this semester.

This morning as I drove to work taking in the beauty of the snow-covered trees lazily dripping wet clumps of snow onto the pavement, I darn near wrecked my car. No, not because of the snow, but because my nose was dripping its own wet clumps onto my lap. My eyes squeezed shut and I violently jerked the wheel after an aggressive attack of sneezing. This was worse than texting while driving!(Author's Note - I put my purse in the backseat so that I'm not even tempted to text at stoplights, but this proves to be a real pain when you'd like to retrieve your handkerchief from said handbag)

Luckily, there wasn't much traffic and the roads had been treated to prevent icy patches. I made it to school unscathed.

You know it's bad when your school nurse has even called in sick. We didn't have a substitute and so my hopes of getting my hands on some cold medicine vanished. My only saving grace today was that students completed an on-demand writing piece in class, so I had the opportunity to sit and reserve my strength and voice for the two evenings of parent-teacher conferences scheduled this week. The rhythmic tapping of computer keys accompanied my instrumental music comforted me and almost diminished my headache.

So, now, I'm counting. The familiar tickle preludes every stinking sneeze. My eye instantly waters (just the one). And then I find myself bracing either by grabbing a tissue or having my elbow ready. Why did I pick today to wear a white cardigan sweater, which I fear may be a little crusty in the elbow crease by the end of the day?

I'm up to 17.  Yes that's right, I have sneezed 17 times since second hour when I started counting and it's only lunch. Tears constantly flow from my right eye and the reddened skin around it and my nostrils already feels raw and inflamed from the constant use of tissues. Thank goodness for kind parents who donated Puffs Plus with Lotion to our classroom at the beginning of the year!

I tried staring up at the ceiling to ward off the pesky sneeze. - Didn't work.
I tried pinching my nose closed. - Really didn't work.
I tried only breathing out of my mouth. - Still not working and I stopped when I noticed students scooting their desks away from me a few inches at a time.

I sound more and more like Kermit the Frog with each passing period.

I will stop by CVS on my way home to stock up on any and everything marketed to attach colds and relieve runny noses.  I will fight this bug! I only have three full school days, two evenings of parent-teacher conferences, and one after school club meeting before spring break officially begins.

The tally is now up to 26 sneezes...and counting.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

12 of 31: Twelve Truths on the Twelfth

Thanks to a post I read yesterday ("SOLSC Day 11: Truths"), I was inspired to write my own list of truths.

So here are 12 of my truths on this twelfth day of March:

1.  I love couch-potato Sundays, especially when Morgan is cooking in the kitchen, and I can smell his concoctions from my reclined position. (Sometimes I take off my fitbit to remove any physical evidence of how few steps I take on these Sundays)

2.  I would rather read a book than watch television. (I must admit that the occasional Netflix binge does interrupt my reading from time to time)

3.  I love superhero movies. Iron Man, Thor, Superman, or even better Superman vs. Batman, Transformers, X-Men, you name it, I'll go the movie theater to watch it! (I will probably also buy the DVD once it's released)

4.  I love my nieces and nephews and secretly wish they could be a bit more like Peter Pan and never grow up! (So I will always have my ruse to see animated movies at the theater)

5.  I think I prefered life before cell phones. (I unplug from mine as often as I can)

6.  I still confuse my right and left. (Morgan knows to point so that I will turn the correct way while driving or when he's driving he'll point just to verify I actually meant the direction I said - it's usually about 50-50)

7.  I am a terrible speller. I had to look up how to spell twelfth. (I blame it on seeing so much inventive spelling from my 7th graders that I can no longer discern how words are actually spelled, but the truth is that I think I gave up when I lost a 6th grade spelling bee because I couldn't spell canoe)

8.  I hate running. (I'm only going to run if I'm being by a rabid dog or something equally frightful)

9.  I love yoga and think we should incorporate an hour of yoga and mindfulness into our schools each and every day. (I really think this could make all the difference for many children...and teachers)

10. Pop music from the 80's makes me tremendously happy. (Morgan tolerates this passion but doesn't quite understand it)

11. I have already started to count the days remaining until summer vacation (I'm a chronic counter...I also count how many papers I have left to grade even when I just counted two papers ago)

12. I really didn't want to participate in this writing challenge. (But I'm so very glad that I did...even on the days when it is really difficult to write)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

11 of 31: My Not So Smart Alarm Clock

Just two days ago, I wrote about sitting under a sycamore tree and reading outside bathing in the warmth of a bright spring sun. This morning, I awoke to a very light dusting of snow on the ground reminding me of chilly mornings in my youth when my mama sifted powdered sugar atop golden pancakes.

I snuggled back underneath my beige comforter hiding from the slight chill in the air while trying to take advantage of sleeping in a bit on a Saturday morning. The sweet song of chirping birds was noticeably absent as I closed my eyes in the peaceful silence. Sadly, I was unable to lull myself back to sleep, so I lazily opened my eyes gazing at my bedroom ceiling where electric blue digital numbers indicated that it was 7:13. That's right, I have reached the point in my life where I no longer wish to roll all the way over to see the numbers on the actual alarm clock perched on my nightstand. My new alarm clock projects the numbers onto the ceiling, so now I simply have to open my eyes, focus, and there they glow!

I have also reached the point in my life where 7:13 is now "sleeping in." Long gone are the days where I could sleep away an entire morning waking at noon. Sluggishly, I threw off the comforter and quickly found my fuzzy slippers. The allure of coffee sent me scuttling to the kitchen. After filling my favorite coffee cup, I cozied up on the corner of my couch. From my perch, I looked across my kitchen and out the window where small flakes of snow gently fell as I warmed my hands on my steaming mug. The thought of fluffy pancakes once again crossed my mind. My eyes settled on the clock on the stove directly beneath the window, and I noticed that it read 6:21.

It's true that my brain was not firing on all pistons. After all, caffeine hadn't yet hit my bloodstream in full, but I recognized that it should not be that early. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the living room clock shared the stove's sentiment as its second hand made its way around the clock face in its usual rhythmic manner. I logically deduced the batteries worked, but why was it so early in my living room and kitchen and so late in my bedroom?

That's when I realized that my projection alarm clock was so smart that it automatically changed time in recognition of daylight savings. It just wasn't quite smart enough to know the correct date of daylight savings and sprung forward a day too soon.

Stupid smart clocks! So much for sleeping in!

Friday, March 10, 2017

10 of 31: When the Flames of Saganaki Refuse to Go Out

*Warning - do not try this at home!*

So I belong to a few clubs: 3 professional book clubs, 1 fun book club, 1 investment club, and 1 dinner club to be precise. Though this keeps my calendar quite full, I'm usually able to juggle meetings without incident.

Until last night. One of my professional book clubs was scheduled to meet at a little Greek restaurnat called Ari's. As fortune would have it, this was the exact location, date, and time my investment club was meeting as well.

In earnest, when I realized both club meetings coincided, I was conflicted. I briefly fancied myself stealthy enough to split time between the two meetings, but immediately dismissed that notion as an act of sheer folly. Ultimately, my book club took precedence. I took a little needling from my investment club friends, but they supported my choice.

So, when our waiter, the same goatee-sporting waiter who always takes such good care of my investment group, arrived at our table to take our order, I eagerly requested the Saganaki. For those of you who have not yet had the culinary pleasure of tasting Saganaki, I highly encourage you to do so. There is nothing like flaming cheese. Literally. Saganaki is presented to the table in a dish cradling two ample sized triangles of lightly fried Greek cheese, which is then doused with alcohol and lit with a flaming flourish and a bellowing "Opa" from the waiter who then allows the flames to burn for several seconds much to the amusement and sometimes astonishment of its intended recipients. It is delicious.

Last night as the flames burned, our waiter moved to pick up a thick slice of lemon to squeeze over the cheese. Not only to add a bright citrus flavor, but more so to extinguish the flames. He confidently went to grab the lemon and it slipped from his hands and fell promptly to the floor. He quickly reached for the other chunk of lemon and began squeezing heartily. Unfortunately, there was not quite enough juice to tame the flames, and the cheese continued to burn. His discomfort was evident as he contemplated his present dilemma. My eyebrows rose as I looked around the table at the five glowing faces surrounding me before returning my attention back to our waiter only to catch the slightest puff of his cheeks. Surely he will not blow on it as if extinguishing the candles on his birthday cake. He quickly composed himself realizing I might not appreciate his spit all over my cheese. By this point, I was doubled over belly laughing. He bounced from foot to foot awaiting the alcohol to burn off so that he could rid himself of the Saganaki that stubbornly refused to go out.

Finally, to his total and utter relief, the flames sputtered down like a Coleman camp stove running out of propane, and he gently placed the Saganaki in front of me. I thanked him profusely through another fit of giggles and he quickly retreated to the kitchen, but not before sheepishly bending down to retrieve the lemon wedge that had betrayed him.

Luckily, the rest of the evening was flame-free and full of rich discussion.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

9 of 31: Under the Sycamore Tree

Today I had the good fortune of taking my students outside to read for twenty minutes. I sat down on faded wooden bench under a tree in front of our school and watched my students find their own spaces to stretch out and read. It was 71 degrees, and I could not wait to get back to my novel. I opened its pages and soon the mumbled rush of the cars and semi-trailers zooming by on the highway  just above our heads began to fade. Several minutes passed before I realized that I was so engrossed in my reading, I had tuned everything else out completely. Quickly, my eyes darted up and around taking a mental headcount and making sure everyone was reading. They, too, seemed just as captivated by the fresh air and their fictional worlds. It was a magical twenty minutes. Students thanked me for allowing them to read outside, and it was then that I became inspired to write this poem, which was loosely formatted and influenced by Neil Hilborn's poem, "The Sadness Factory." So thank you Neil and thank you mother earth for such an inspiring day!

Under the Sycamore Tree

is where we go to read when the weather
Permits it. Because it provides

the perfect blend of shade and sun, perched on a bench
under the sycamore tree. Let me tell you

about happy 7th graders: they're either propped up
against another trunk or sprawled on the soft, spring grass.

Books in hand, they squint in the bright sunlight. The copper koi
send gentle ripples across the top of the small pond in our

Outdoor Classroom. Contentment is much more easily found
in a fictional world where students groan in protestation

When they have to stop reading and return inside; the air
does not stir nor smell so clean as outside. On a clear spring day.

Under the Sycamore Tree.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

8 of 31: It's Like Edgar Allen Poe...Morbid But Amazing

Slice of life is right...only today there was literal slicing! There's just something about razor sharp scalpels and seventh graders that sets my nerves on edge. But year after year, I'm amazed at how students perform under pressure. Today was our pig heart dissection field trip to St. Louis University.

An experienced surgeon leads the students through the dissection. He was a commanding presence with his salt and pepper hair and booming voice. Our students immediately gave him their full and undivided attention when he began poking and prodding both a healthy and unhealthy human heart pointing out the effects of heart damage and its causes before finally turning to the pig heart. Our seventh graders sat silently, gloved hands rested in their laps despite the shiny metal tools and an actual pig heart in just inches away.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about it beyond the familiar burn of formaldehyde in my nose. Once the first cut was made, it didn't take long before I escorted a young person up and out of the dungeon dissection lab out into the brisk March air. Usually only a handful out of a hundred struggle through this experience.

Today there were only three friends who needed to step out of the lab at some point. I came equipped. I had mints to distract them and replace the chemical smell with a pleasant peppermint perfume. I had tissues, which I didn't need. Some year there are tears, but not this year. I had the medical bag slung across my shoulder, which was unneeded - thank goodness!

My three friends and I enjoyed a beautiful day and compared what parts of the lab sent us reeling whether it be the smells, the sounds, or just the overall experience. The lab is a little over an hour, so we were not outside or alone for very long. The rest of our team came upstairs chatting excitedly and we managed to corral them all on the steps in front of the building for a team picture!

I always love talking with kids on the bus ride back to school. Many confessed that their fates as surgeons were now sealed. Thank you SLU and Grey's Anatomy. Others professed that they were proud because they didn't throw-up. In fact, one young lady proudly boasted that she made an excellent nose scratcher because she refused to touch the pig and her gloves were clean enough to scratch her lab partner's nose.

However, my very favorite response when I asked the young man sitting next to me whether or not he enjoyed the field trip was, "It was like Edgar Allen Poe...morbid but amazing!"  What a perfect response to his English teacher's question!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

7 of 31: Sorry Richard Simmons, My Heart Belongs to Shaun T.

One Week Strong!
The beautiful island of Kauai is the "Green Isle" of the Hawaiian Islands. I have the good fortune of traveling there for a week this summer. And so I have decided to get my beach body in shape. As of late there is a noticeable bounce in my step, and by noticeable, I mean there is way too much bouncing when I step!

I pulled the dusty T-25 DVDs out from the bottom corner of the shelf under my television. It's easily been three years since I last used them, but my determination was fierce. I cleared an area of the basement as a makeshift workout room and created a space for my old laptop, speakers, and workout mats. I was ready to do this!

Enter Shaun T. You might know him from his Hip Hop Abs workout circa 2003, which garnered him and his abs the spotlight on many an infomercial. He has sculpted abs; in truth, he has sculpted everything. He is not hard on the eyes, and so I thought if anyone is going to encourage me to do mountain climbers, lunges, and squats, oh dear lord the squats, that it might as well be someone I actually enjoy watching. Sorry, Richard Simmons, but Shaun T. plays better music. T-25 boasts that in just 25 minutes, six days a week, you, too, can have a beach body worthy of spreading your beach blanket next to Shaun T's.

Week 1 - I completed the first DVD, 25 minutes of cardio exercise, exactly twice. I reserved a few choice words for Shaun T. in the privacy of my basement. By the end of each workout, my legs felt like sandbags unwilling to cooperate and much too heavy to actually belong to my body. I was sore. Really sore. The rest of the week was spent in the yoga studio stretching my muscles so that I could walk without a noticeable limp.

Week 2 - I'm one for one. I successfully completed the cardio workout last night without incident. I even walked up the steps without any pain this morning. I'm actually starting to hold out the slightest bit of hope that there might be something to this. I might be ready for the second DVD, speed 1.0. And I cannot lie, I feel a little bit of hardened muscle where there was only softness before. I feel accomplished and victory. I'm staring 40 in the face, but I can still kick it with Shaun T!

Let's hope I can carry forward with this blog and T-25. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 6, 2017

6 of 31: From drool to the very uncool.

Meet Wyatt.

  • He's hilarious. 
  • He's a baby of a thousand facial expressions. 
  • He's able to crawl and pull himself up on furniture to a standing position. 
  • He's inquisitive and quite contemplative.
  • He's a studious little guy trying to figure out the world around him.
  • He's mastered waving, clapping, high fives, and raising his dimpled arms above his head when we coo, "How big is Wyatt? Sooooo Big!"
  • He's my newest nephew.
  • He's completely stolen my heart.
  • And he's already a reader.  
You might have read that I love spoiling my nieces and nephews with books...whether they want them or not!

Last Friday, I couldn't wait to pull out of my school's parking lot and zoom over to my youngest sister's house to deliver a bundle of baby books for Wyatt. I had all the bases covered, numbers, colors, opposites, animals, trucks, boats, bees. You name it, I had a cardboard, drool-proof book about it.

My sister and Wyatt greeted me at the door and she thrust him into my arms. He and I immediately sat down to look through his new books. As he carefully turned the pages (in the correct direction I might add) and studied the pictures, I desperately wished to crawl inside his tiny brain and figure out what he was thinking. I wasn't reading aloud to him yet. Instead, I sat in awe and watched as he figured out how to lift the flaps on each page. Suddenly, it occurred to me that he was reading. I mean, really reading. It was obvious that he was trying to make some sense of the pictures as he turned the pages. Clearly, this was something he was used to doing. His mama, a former fourth grade teacher, had done a terrific job incorporating books into his earliest moments making them a regular part of his life. When I had to take the book away from him and pass him back to his doting mother, he signaled his displeasure by reaching for the book and knitting his tiny brow together as if to say, "Why Aunt Liz, why?"

As I drove home I started to wonder what kind of reader Wyatt would grow up to be. My thoughts then drifted to my current seventh grade students and their personal reading lives. I know some were as privileged as Wyatt and owned books before they were even born, but many were not. Regardless of the myriad of literacy experiences these little human beings encountered in their earliest years, they all began school and were expected to reach certain benchmarks at certain times. It is not their fault that they were or were not read to. But I wonder if somewhere along the way we didn't make them feel that it was. Perhaps this might explain why I battle book haters year after year in seventh grade.  

I'm thinking of one of my students in particular who assures me on a weekly basis that she still hates reading and always will. No matter the book talks I give, the bits I read aloud, the suggestions of her peers, previewing books of every genre with her in the library, despite asking her tons of questions trying to tap into her interests, I cannot find the magic bullet book. In truth, I'm desperate to find that pivotal text that will sway her to the "dark side" where books are worthy of her time. 

I looked at the odometer and realized I was speeding.  I gently eased my foot off the accelerator and I continued to wonder. 
  • I wondered if she was read to as a baby.
  • I wondered if she ever loved reading. 
  • I wondered if we intervened too early and unintentionally stole the joy of reading from her. 
  • I wondered if she has made it through eight years of school hating something that is so integral to her development. 
  • I wondered if she thinks reading is uncool.
  • I wondered if she never received a new smart phone if she would have more time to read.
  • I wondered in what ways her life might be different if she opened herself up to books.
I gripped the steering wheel tightly as I drove. She is a talented, strong student, but I can't help feeling like I'm failing her. If only it were as easy as sitting down with her and pulling her onto my lap with a cardboard baby book. 

But I will not despair, I will not give up. I have many more days until the end of May. I will continue scouring books with her in mind. I will continue to try to draw her into a reading life where maybe, just maybe, she will eventually admit that she hates reading just a little bit less.  


Sunday, March 5, 2017

5 of 31: My Niece...the Harry Potter Hater

So I'm the aunt who buys her nieces and nephews books for every occasion.  Books for the holidays, book for birthdays, books when I visit, books before we go see the movies. I'm an English teacher and I love books, and I want all eight of my nieces and nephews to love and own books, too. In fact, just this past Christmas, I couldn't wait to deliver the entire Harry Potter collection to my niece Audrey. You see, Audrey is now in fifth grade and I felt like she was ready for the enchanting world of Hogwarts.

As she ripped the green and red striped paper, she looked at me eagerly anticipating the quite heavy books underneath until she spied Harry's name. Audrey has grown quite accustomed to receiving books any time I visit, and she's always enjoyed them. However, I was not quite prepared when all her joy vanished from her face only to be replaced with horror and disgust as if she just consumed a dirty sock flavored Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Bean. She grimaced and pulled herself up as only a fifth grader can do, set the entire collection down rather harshly on the coffee table, and chastised me in her haughtiest voice, "Aunt Liz, you know I hate Harry Potter." There was Slytherin venom in those words.

I thought I was prepared, for she had previously shared her views on Harry Potter with me over the phone despite my numerous protests. Deep down, I just knew that if I could get her started, she would be hooked. This fall, several of my adorable seventh grade students discovered Harry's story for the first time and completed geeked out. They write fan fiction and argue over which wizarding house is best, and it's just absolutely endearing. I wanted that for my Audrey, too.

Plus, I secretly plotted to have Audrey finish the series before June so that we could visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter together in Orlando. It would be perfect because Audrey lives in Florida and thus would provide the perfect cover as my sidekick so that I would not have to brave Diagon Alley alone (even though I would...and happily).

Well, long story short I sweet talked her into letting me read the first chapter to her before bed that night. She snuggled up next to me and patiently listened as I did my best to bring the magic of Harry Potter to life on the living room couch. In fact, we made it through the first two chapters before her eyelids grew heavy.

As I sipped my coffee this next morning, Audrey stumbled out of her bedroom and came to sit next to me. She shyly pulled out the book from underneath her blanket and with downcast eyes asked me to continue reading. My heart swelled and I wanted to scream, "I knew it! I knew it! I knew it! You do love Harry Potter!!!" but I had to play it cool, so I nodded keeping my smirk to a minimum and simply started reading. We made it to chapter six before I had to return home after the holidays, but she solemnly vowed she would continue reading.

Just this morning, she called me to tell me that she had just finished the third book. She couldn't believe the ending and she couldn't believe that she was actually going to heft the enormous fourth book everywhere so that she could find out what happens next. I know this will be the longest book she has ever read to date, and I also knew she was a little nervous about it. I reminisced with her and told her that when I finished the third book, I had to wait an entire year for the next one. As a Netflix junkie, she couldn't even fathom having to wait for the next episode. I informed her that there used to be midnight release parties at bookstores where people would dress up in long black robes and wire rimmed glasses and children would get their hands on the latest book and fall right to the floor to start reading. She giggled at the thought.

Victory is sweet. That is the power of books.

Now bring on the butterbeer ice cream!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

4 of 31: My Nemesis - The Sweetgum Tree

My small home rests in the middle of a beautiful corner lot in a quiet suburb of the midwest. Just under half an acre. The hostas are starting to peek out, the earliest signs of life are taking root, and the brown of winter has willingly succumbed to the lime green of spring. These last few unusually warm weeks are undoubtedly the cause of my severe case of spring fever.

Earlier today, I spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon soaking up Vitamin D thanks to a bold sun and clear blue skies. I found myself peeling off layers as the thermometer rose to a toasty 71 degrees.

I couldn't ask for a more beautiful day, so why is it that I'm angry typing? You know the kind of typing that produces shouting clacks with each keystroke.  Well there are only two words that induce this kind of violent typing:  sweetgum trees.

Not one, not two, but three sweetgum trees stand sentry over my yard. They angrily drop their spiky, nefarious gumballs covering my lawn like a prickly blanket. They are more than an unsightly nuisance, they are dangerous. No ankle is safe in my yard!

Don't get me wrong, sweetgums are stunning trees in the fall and provide ample shade in the summer. But after spending hours maneuvering the gumballs into manageable piles and shoveling them (like with a snow shovel) into TWELVE YARD BAGS and FOUR TRASH CANS, I sort of want to punch whoever planted them in the face!

So when I looked out across my now visible lawn, I felt a certain sense of satisfaction. It wasn't until I looked up that I despaired. For on the dark brown limbs of all three trees, there dangles thousands more of the little monsters taunting me in the gentle breeze. I know that the next storm or brisk wind will bring them down, and I'll have a repeat performance of my day.

I guess it's time to stock up on the IcyHot patches for my lower back!

Friday, March 3, 2017

3 of 31: Ode to Starbucks on a Friday Morning

The green plastic stir stick pokes its head out of its plastic lid and salutes me this fine Friday morning.  I love Starbucks Fridays.  My three colleagues and I take turns buying coffee for each other on Friday Mornings, and today, it's my turn.

There is just something about a full coffee carrier permeating the car with the rich aromas of roasted beans bearing the promise of both the sweet and bitter bite of caffeine. I love Lady Starbucks and her crown and even her weirdly split tail, which wraps itself around my coffee keeping it warm and protecting my hand from burns. That's how much she cares. I always looks forward to holidays and promotions because then she might be clad in red or pink proclaiming some wise or profound message. But let's be honest, the only message I care about it the one currently coursing through my veins and increasing my heart rate.

Yes it's Friday morning, and I get to deliver coffee and gather up the smiles and sincere gratitude of the teachers with whom I work most closely. There is nothing better than starting the morning with smiles and coffee.

So thanks a latte Lady Starbucks for another beautiful Friday morning!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

2 of 31: Thin Mint Time

"Hay do u want any Girl Scout Cookies" the text bubble next to the tiny picture of my beautiful 14-year-old niece glowed on my phone's screen.

What do I do with that? My fingers quickly swiped across the keyboard as I composed my response. Luckily, my forefinger hovered above the send button. Just as quickly as it was composed, I deleted my entire response. The little inner critic living inside of me wanted to point out that "hay is for horses" and that questions end with question marks...even in text messages. But for fear of tarnishing my favorite aunt status, I relinquished my cell phone to ponder the issue some more.

And I did just that. I pondered long and hard, and I wasn't pondering whether to order Thin Mints or Do-Si-Dos (like there's even a contest, Do-Si-Dos all the way). And I wasn't pondering how to avoid my revolting habit of devouring an entire sleeve of cookies in just one sitting (that's easy, just avoid keeping milk in the house). So why couldn't I shake the bit of despair crawling its way under my skin?

It wasn't about the calories I would soon happily consume. It was about donning the green vest proudly displaying all my hard-earned badges and trekking from house to house.  Knocking on the doors of neighbors and strangers, a cheerful smile plastered across my face with the long form and pen in hand. "Hello. I'm Liz and I'm in troop 1198. We are selling Girl Scout cookies, would you like to help support our troop and buy some?" And when I had exhausted my neighborhood, I would then pick up the olive green receiver of our house phone, which was mounted on the kitchen wall, and awkwardly cradle it between my shoulder and ear.  Carefully sticking my pen into the appropriate numbered hole and dragging it around the rotary dial, the ring would signal that I could cross another name off my list. A similar spiel waited on the tip of my tongue for family members and friends who lived a bit further away. Caller ID didn't exist, and these phone calls were tricky because my aunts and uncles would no doubt pull me into a longer conversation that my script accounted for. At which point, I would craftily find a way to interrupt and pawn the phone off on my mother who would twirl that curly phone cord and chat for hours.

But still, the text message just felt so impersonal. I wondered if she was missing out and whether or not we were doing our children a disservice by not teaching them how to have such conversations. So yes, I had turned the crotchety corner, and with a shudder, I realized that I was about to reminisce about my two mile hike to school in the snow...uphill.  Never mind that I rode the bus. It was official. I'd turned into my mother.

At that point, I shook my head and reluctantly picked up my phone and texted my niece, "I'd like one box of do-si-dos for me and one box of tagalongs for Morgan please."

A split second later, the familiar ding signaled her reply.


I sighed and hoped that it would, in fact, turn out okay.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

1 of 31: The Little Black Box Theater

I stand in the very back of The Little Black Box Theater aptly named for its black walls and black floor and black stage. Every black chair, row upon row, is occupied. This ghost of a former high school band room newly converted provides the perfect acoustical setup for the young man thrashing his drums. The crowd murmurs and sways to his beat. The energy is palpable, and I can feel the drums inside my chest as bodies press up against me.

The Little Black Box Theater fills to standing capacity. Suddenly a booming male voice shouts that there is no more room and something about a fire code. He corrals the twenty or thirty high school students desperately trying to shove their way in and informs them that they will have to return to class. Groans and dejected feet retreat, and I am left standing alone in the back of The Little Black Box Theater.

Suddenly, the large screen above the stage lights up and the M.C. steps up to the microphone donning a snappy black sports coat over a gray t-shirt and jeans. He smiles and warmly welcomes us. Though his voice is soothing, I can’t help but wonder if it is my own beating heart flooding my ears as I shift my weight from foot to foot. His words warble and I realize I am holding my breath.

You would think that it was me he was introducing. You would think it was me slowly climbing the two steps up to the stage desperate not to trip and fall in front of a full house. You would think it was me carefully flattening my page on the podium and reaching up to adjust the microphone. You would think it was me looking up from behind those dark rimmed glasses. You would think it was me clearing my throat before reading my original work for the very first time in front of a live audience. You would think it was me whose hands shook but whose voice did not. You would think it was me who had authored the incredible poetry that filled the air with such vivid imagery and emotion that you could almost reach out and wrap your hands around it. You would think it was me tucking my long blond hair behind my ear before neatly folding my poem and stepping off the stage to return to my seat. You would think it was me.

But you’d be wrong.

It wasn’t me. That never would have been me. I wouldn’t have been brave enough in seventh grade to stand in front of eighth graders and high school students and parents and adults I’d never met and read my words and bare my soul.

No, I’m the one standing in the back of The Little Black Box Theater with shiny eyes and gooseflesh running up my arms. My hands sting from clapping as I finally find my breath to hoot and holler for each and every young writer who took the stage.

You see, those are my students. And in this perfect moment, all my worry for them dissipates and I am reminded of why I am here. I am here to help grow my students as readers and writers so that their voices may be heard echoing off the walls of the world and all around The Little Black Box Theater.