Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Celebrating Far From Home {SOL 12-29-15}

Being far from home during the holidays can't be easy, especially if you are 16.

Some of you may know that we have an exchange student staying with us this school year -- Hannah from Germany.  Ever since Hannah arrived here in August, I have been amazed at her ability to adapt and thrive in our American culture.  She is an active teenager and has made some good friends here in America.  She has become a part of our family so much that we 'joke' about adopting her.

Leaving your home when you are 16 takes a lot of guts.  Being away from family and friends for 10 months to travel to an unknown place to live with unknown people requires one to be very brave. I don't think I could have done it.

I was worried that the holidays would deliver a bout of homesickness for Hannah.  But packages arrived in the mail from home, delivering cookies from grandma and gifts from her parents.  Hannah opened these on Christmas morning, cherishing each one.  On Christmas Eve, Hannah Skyped with her family as they opened their gifts.  She spent the afternoon visiting with family and friends.  There would be no homesickness because Hannah was able to be in both places -- America and Germany -- through the magic of the Internet.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Many Tiny Things {Celebrate This Week 12-19-15}

I have many tiny things to celebrate this week:

My husband, Jeremy, is learning to fly.  He has taken many lessons and is ready for his first solo flight.  While the thought of this scares the pants off of me, it is also is awesome to see his childlike excitement over this new adventure.

Holiday season is musical concert season!  Two holiday concerts and one Pep Band game kept me out at night, but I loved seeing the kids enthusiasm for their music.

Speaking up about something that you feel is wrong is not easy, but this week, I put on my brave big girl pants and did just that.

We are reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park for our read aloud and my students can't get enough of it.  Not the likely choice among 4th graders, they are recognizing that there are many amazing books outside of their regular reading repertoire. (And I am loving that it is nonfiction!)

Today, we are heading down to Chicago to see the lights and windows.  It has been MANY years since we've done this and I am very excited.

Wishing you many celebrations this week!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Celebrating Taking a Chance {Celebrate This Week 12-12-15}

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for gathering all of these celebrations each week.

Lately, I have tried to be more of a risk taker in my teaching.  When I first started teaching eight years ago, I taught the way I was taught...sage on the stage, keeper of knowledge, lots of worksheets.  But times have changed and I have learned that this style of teaching is not what's best for my students.  I needed to let go and let THEM lead.

This week I did just that.

This past week was Hour of Code, a week dedicated to setting aside only one hour to let students learn the art of computer programming and coding.  My principal asked me if I was going to participate.  Fear and panic overtook me....I don't know anything about coding, I thought.

But I decided to take a chance.

I muddled my way through setting up student accounts on code.org, found a tutorial, and let my students 'have at it.'

The results....were simply amazing.

We coded every day!  Students helped each other figure out what to do if they got stuck.  The room was absolutely silent during coding time because there was 100% engagement only to be followed by moans as I announced the ending of coding time.

I couldn't have asked for a better learning opportunity for my 4th graders.

I'm so glad I decided to let go, take a chance on something new, and let my students lead each other.

What are you celebrating this week?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Un-Doing {Celebrate This Week 12-05-15}

Thank you to Ruth for hosting this weekly celebration of life!

In this crazy time of year, it is easy to get caught up in the swirl and whirl of life.  You rush from one experience to the next without ever fully living any of them.  There are so many things that we feel that we have to do that we just "do" them without thinking.


This is kind of a funny word.  What, exactly, does it mean? I know there are dictionary definitions, but when I think about this word, I feel all sorts of blurry, rushed feelings about it.

This week, I have tried to focus on the opposite of of the word "doing"....un-doing....a conscious slowing down to enjoy the moments of life.

On Sunday, I began the day by going to a nearby Starbucks to work on my writing.  This was a first for me, but it won't be a last.  I loved sitting there, enjoying my tea, staring out the window, watching people come and go, and (occasionally) writing.  Lots of un-doing.
Sunday afternoon, I moved my writing to my favorite chair in my living room next to my Christmas tree.  I built a fire in the fireplace and spent the afternoon writing, napping, and enjoying the fire.  I worked on the prayer shawl I am crocheting for church and wrote a little more.  I was un-doing.
Yesterday, I took a personal day from work to finish my Christmas shopping. There were lots of un-doing moments here too.  I lingered over lunch, browsed among the books at Barnes & Noble,  walked the aisles of Trader Joe's looking for nothing in particular.  It was an unrushed and a completely enjoyable day because I did what I wanted to do and took time to slow down and notice.  Un-doing.
Please don't let the busy holiday season take you away without a few moments of slowing down and undoing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Reading Zone {SOL 11-17-15}

I am lucky in that I can dedicate about 45 minutes at the end of our day, every day, to silent reading time.

This is a time that my students treasure, and heaven help me if something interferes and I have to shorten (or cancel!) this time.

Yesterday was an especially good reading day.  My 4th graders were spread out among the room.  Some were reading at their desks, some at the front table, some on pillows in the library, and some were just laying out in the middle of the room on the floor.

The room was totally silent, except for the sound of words swirling around my students as they enjoyed their books.

Then there was a giggle.

At first, I ignored it.

Then it happened again.

I looked up from my book that I was reading to find where the giggle was coming from.  Everyone seemed to be reading.

Then I spotted the giggler -- totally engrossed in his (obviously very funny) book, oblivious to the fact that he was giggling at the funny parts while the rest of the room was totally silent.

A few students looked up from their books, looked at him, then looked at me to see if I was going to do something.

Nope....not a thing to be done other than appreciate that this student was in "The Reading Zone", a place where nothing else exists aside from the story in your mind as you read your book.

As he continued his on and off giggles, I smiled every time without looking up from my book.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

90 Years {SOL 10-13-15}

Life has been a whirlwind lately.

Busy, busy, busy and always on the go it seems.

This past Sunday, the craziness culminated with a very important event:  the celebration of my stepfather's 90th birthday.

90 years of life...

90 years of family...

90 years of jobs, of friends, of holidays.

90 years of love, of cars, of service to your country.

90 years of vacations, of building houses, of Sunday dinners.

90 years of Sunday crossword puzzles, of Tom Clancy novels, of cheering on the Chicago Bears.

90 years....

So while my past few weeks may have been a whirlwind, I can only imagine how his past 90 years seem to him.

Happy birthday, Papa!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Celebrate This Week {9-26-15}

Sometimes, celebrations come to you in a whisper...

* Spying a hot air balloon in the sky on my way to school.

* Seeing a rare albino Whooping Crane eating breakfast in the field.

* Blackberries still fruiting in the garden.

* An amazing sunset.

And sometimes they come to you in a roar...

* My daughter sticking true to her choice to go to homecoming with someone, even though some of her "friends" have been giving her a hard time about her decision to go with this boy.  I am proud of her for going with her heart on this one.

* The book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday and I have hated to put it down.  I'm not sure....but I think this book was written specifically with me in mind.  There are so, so many words that speak directly to my heart and mind contained within the pages of this book.  A must read for everyone!
Thank you, Ruth Ayres, for opening up this space for celebrations both quiet and loud.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Are You Smart?

Last year, I dabbled with teaching my 4th graders about growth mindset.  We practiced adding the word "yet" to the end of most everything we said and by the end of the year, my students became quite good at it.  I've heard that some of them even carried this vocabulary on with them to 5th grade, which is awesome to hear.

This year, we are diving full force into growth mindset and it is very exciting!  As part of this, we are learning about the brain and how it works.  Learning about the brain and growth mindset must go hand in hand.  Students need to understand that the brain is constantly changing with each learning experience.  If they struggle with something, lots of practice can actually alter the structure of the brain until it is no longer a struggle.

Who would have thought that a bunch of 4th graders would be learning about things like neurons, synapses, malleability, and neuroplasticity -- and actually understand it well enough to be able to explain it to someone else!  I know that I wasn't learning about this when I was in 4th grade way-back-when....But I wish I would have.  It may have changed my life.

Last week, I gave my students a short survey to find out what they knew about the brain and learning, a sort of pre-assessment.  Their answers were astonishing and have given me much food for thought. There was one question that received the most answers and I wanted to share some responses with you:

Question:  Are you smart?
*   No, because my brain thinks slow.
*  No, because I am not good at math.
*  No, because every time I let info in, other info gets out.
*  I am smart only when it comes to reading.
*  Yes, I am smart and I believe others are too.  Everyone is smart at something!
*  Yes, I am smart and I am going to keep getting smarter and I am proud of that.

I hope you can see, as I quickly did, that there is plenty of room for growth mindset here.  These last two students demonstrated that they already have a growth mindset hard at work, and boy what a difference it makes!

Have you taught your students about growth mindset?  If so, I'd love to hear how it's going!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Celebrate This Week {9-19-15}

For the past 100 weeks, Ruth Ayres has provided us this opportunity to reflect on and celebrate our weeks.  It is quite a milestone.  Thank you Ruth!
Last week, Ruth wrote about getting rid of the word "should" in our lives.  Maybe you know that word and the effect it has on you.

I sure do.

This week, I listened hard for all the "shoulds" that I keep telling myself.  I never realized exactly how often I said this word to myself as a way of trying to make myself do something--and then feeling guilty when I don't.

     I should make something for dinner other than pizza.
     I should go in early to finish those plans.
     I should not be watching TV, but should be reading instead.
     I should really get going on that science unit.
     I should get the garden cleaned out.
     I should be doing something other than just sitting tonight.
     My school day should feel normal by now.

Now that I'm aware of how often I use that word, I can do something about it.

Be gentler with myself.

Release myself of guilt.

Recognize the choices I have.

Reclaim my power.

Understanding all of this has been completely eye-opening and actually quite freeing.  I am so thankful for Ruth's words last week.

And for this, I celebrate.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Waiting for the 'Flow' {Celebrate 9-12-15}

I'll be honest....the beginning of this year is kicking my butt.

Getting back into the swing of things at school, figuring out my daily schedule, making sure there is dinner to be had and that laundry is done,  standing all day, keeping my students all headed the same direction, trying to plan engaging lessons...all of it is making me want to head straight back to summer.

But I can't.

I know this happens at the beginning of every year, but just like the pain of childbirth, I tend to forget about it after it passes.  And it's probably a good thing that I do, otherwise I probably couldn't bring myself to repeat it every September.

The good news is that I know that soon, everything will click.  Soon, everything will make sense as I can head out the door and go through my day without having to think about these things too much.  My brain will be freed up to focus on different, more creative and exciting things. I won't come home exhausted and cranky.  My feet will be used to standing all day and walking around in something other than sandals.  I will have found my groove.

I know this will happen because it happens every year.

The 'flow' -- this good stuff -- I remember.

I am glad that I do.  And for this, I celebrate.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer is Over {SOL 9-08-15}

Labor Day has passed.

     No more lazy mornings.
     No more endless days.
     No more afternoons at the pool.
     No more playing in the garden.
     No more shorts,  all day PJ's and white shoes.

  Summer is officially over.

Labor Day has passed.

     Cooler, crisper days are ahead--
     Trips the orchard or pumpkin farm,
     Bonfires where friends gather to keep warm,
     Sweaters and boots become the uniform,
     Comfort food cooks all day on the stove,
     Rich reds, oranges and golds please the eye.

  Summer is officially over.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Celebrating this Week {9-05-15}

Thank you, Ruth Ayres, for offering this space every week for celebration.
As I was considering my celebrations for the week, I was drawn to look at the pictures on my phone.  I seem to capture my celebrations to hold them forever in pictures.

Here's what I found this week:
My 16 year old daughter still gets out the sidewalk chalk to add some unexpected color to life.
These three stopped me as I was on my way out the door on the first day of school to be sure that I snapped their yearly photo.  Surprising...for a bunch of teenagers!
Hannah (our exchange student from Germany) and Kara are becoming very good friends.  They even sometimes dress alike!
I love this picture I took of the girls as they rode X-Flight at Great America last weekend.
Having a tremendous fear of rollercoasters, I celebrate that my daughter does not share in this trait.
I just love this little planter I put together to put near my desk at school.  
The little birdhouse tops it all off.  Every time I look at it, I feel peace and happiness.

What are you celebrating this week?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Celebrate This Week {8-29-15}

This week I celebrate:

* Returning to work.  It has been a long, long summer.  I do love the down time, but I am looking forward to returning to a routine.

* Ryan's acceptance into the University of Iowa.  This is only his first and we aren't even sure this is where he will end up going to college, but the first acceptance letter is very exciting.

* My ability to remain (mostly) positive during the crazy 'getting ready for school' week.  Schedules changed at the last minute, patience ran short, and sleep went missing....but I took lots of deep breaths, put a smile on my face, and remembered how blessed I am. 

* Prayers answered.

* Friends -- there when I need them them most, even when I don't realize that I do. (Yes...I'm talking about YOU! :)

I hope you had a great week with bountiful celebrations!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

So What Do You Do? {SOL 8-18-15}

So what do you do when it has been almost a month since you've written and the thought of putting pen to paper reminds you of the feeling you used to get when your mom used to force you to ride that tall, scary roller coaster when you were six?

So what do you do when life has become so much that you do not even have the words to help you make sense of it all and you know that writing will only shine a spotlight on the craziness?

So what do you do when you know you should be writing, but instead you think of a million excuses for why you can't?

So what do you do when you see others around you who are writing -- people you admire and trust -- and feel that there really must be something wrong with you because you can't do the same?

So what do you do when you feel like you are losing one of your favorite parts of yourself for every day that goes begins and ends with nothing written down, only promises that tomorrow will be different?

                                                                            You write.

You pick up the pen or open the laptop and you let the words come out...word by word or letter by letter.

And you pray for the same thing to happen tomorrow.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Links I Loved This Week {7-26-15}

Here are some of my favorite ideas, inspirations and thoughts from around the internet this week:

The always inspiring Ruth Ayres opens up her teaching treasure chest as she shares some amazing ideas to help support teachers of writing, as well as teachers who write.  I especially love the Lessons for Writers page!

Jon Gordon shares why we all need people in our life who help us stretch in this week's newsletter. Who do you have in your life who can give you that extra push when you need it?

Loved Melanie's ideas for building my own Reader's Notebook to help me teach this skill to my students.

Mary from Teaching with a Mountain View has compiled a list of great back to school activities.  Who says going back to school can't be fun?

Kathleen Sokolowski shares a beautiful poem about how her career as a teacher chose her, not the other way around.  There are lots of us who can relate to her sentiments.

The Positive Writer shares the four people you must have in your writing life.  Honestly, I think this applies to life in general, not just our writing lives.

Thank you to Elisabeth Ellington at The Dirigible Plum for the inspiration of this weekly post!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

One Step Ahead {SOL 7-21-15}

Teenagers argue.  It's in their DNA, I think.

They are fighters and they will fight with you until they wear you down and win.

Their weapons of choice?





When did they morph from the adorable, cuddly, mom-can-do-no-wrong children into...THIS??

Day after day, I have to stay in a constant state of alertness, just waiting for my children to announce what I have done wrong, how I don't know anything, how I am ruining their lives...blah, blah, blah.

They are trying to bait me into another argument, just so they can assert their independence at the sake of my sanity.

But I have found a new way to approach these battles...

          I just don't.

It takes two people to have an argument, and lately, I am finding myself more and more unwilling to be one of them.

I have this little sign that sits on my desk.  I bought it about a year ago because I liked the saying. Now, it has extra meaning for me...
So when I feel myself getting to the point that I am getting sucked into argument mode, I go for a walk.  Usually by the time I round back toward the house, I am much calmer and clear headed and can handle the situation in a much better way.

Yesterday, I took two walks...
My kids better watch out.

I have outsmarted them again!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Just When I Needed It {Celebrate this Week 7-18-15}

I love it when life sends celebrations just when we need it the most.

This has been a rough week....

My daughter's boyfriend was in a car accident on Monday. During a bad storm, there was a malfunction with the stop lights at a busy intersection, giving everyone in all directions a green light.  I celebrate that he was able to walk away because it could have been much, much worse. Cars can be replaced.  Lives cannot.

We were approved as a host family to have Hannah from Germany stay with us for the next school year.  Unfortunately, there was a mix up with the paperwork and the school was not kept in the loop, jeopardizing Hannah's placement with us and leaving us in limbo.  I celebrate the patience I showed as the school and exchange company worked through this, even though I wanted to rant and rave which only would have made matters worse.

Writing has been a struggle for me lately.  I have not blogged or written anything for about three weeks.  I celebrate my new online writing group who will help get me back on track.  Thank you, Michelle and Leigh Anne!  :)  I saw this and it made me think of our conversation this morning:

My daughter turned 16 this week.  It is clear to me that she is no longer "my baby" and is flying out of the nest.  I celebrate the wings she has, the beautiful woman she is becoming, and the strength I am finding to let her go.

I hope life has brought you many things to celebrate this week!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's a Bird! {SOL 6-30-15}

We've probably all seen them in home improvement stores.  Birds that enter through open doors and fly around until they can find their way back out.

Never did I think this would happen...to me...in my home.

On Sunday afternoon, I walked from my living room into my bedroom.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something black begin to fly around.  I screamed.  I freaked out a little.  I called for my kids to come help.

After I regained my composure, I was able to see that it was a Barn Swallow.

What the heck?

Apparently, my lovely little dog Rosie decided she needed to let herself out for her daily sunning on the deck.  She slid the door to the deck open about 12 inches and it stayed that way for quite awhile.  This bird, not knowing what was beyond the door, decided to investigate.
We were finally able to shoo it back outside.  I'd have to say that I've never seen a bird fly away so fast.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

That's What Hugs are For {Celebrate This Week 6-27-15}

Hugs are for welcoming back someone you haven't seen for awhile.

Hugs are for saying, "Welcome to our family!"

Hugs are for the reassurance you need when times get tough.

Hugs are for holding onto to someone, soaking up the moment and etching it into your memory.

Hugs are for showing someone how much you love them.

Hugs are for making a connection with another like-minded soul.

Hugs are for celebrating.

Hugs are for saying goodbye.

                This week, I have many hugs to celebrate.

And for that, I am grateful.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Being with Those Who 'Get Me' {SOL 6-23-15}

Do you ever feel like sometimes others don't "get you?"

Don't understand your passion for learning?  Look at you funny when you talk about a book you read over the weekend?  Question the pull you feel toward always trying to improve your craft of teaching?

I sometimes feel this way, and when I do, it can feel very lonely.

But I am lucky that I have people in my life who DO understand me.  People who push me, ask questions, offer words of encouragement, celebration or support -- people who know.

That is one of the reasons why I love connecting with others through conferences like All Write, which I attended this past week.  Imagine spending two days with people who feel the way you do. Who love learning, reading, writing and connecting with others as a way of life.  Others who understand.

On Wednesday night before All Write began, I was lucky enough to go to dinner with some friends, Ruth Ayres being one of them.  The conversation around the table focused on the connections that had been made with each other through Slice of Life Tuesdays and Celebrate this Week.  Through these weekly check ins, we heard each other's stories, learned things about each other, and became friends.

Ruth turned and asked me why I attended All Write.  Being the 'new kid,' I mumbled something about the opportunity to learn new things.

But it really is about more than that.

Meeting up with my online friends face-to-face, if even only once at year,  is a time for being with others who get me.  Others who understand.  It is affirming and confirming how I feel.

It feels good.

So while there are AMAZING learning opportunities at All Write (and they were amazing!), it was the connections I had with others that will give me the spark and the fuel I need to boost me through another year.

I am grateful for the people I have in my life who do this for me, whether they are there every day or only once a year.

Monday, June 22, 2015

What I'm Reading {6-22-15}

Last week, I was reading heaven when I attended the All Write conference in Warsaw, IN.  Not only did I connect with several friends that I knew only through blogging, I learned from some of the masters of reading and writing instruction and came away with a TBR list a mile long.
Andrea of Mrs. Payan Reads
Linda Baie of Teacher Dance

The Honest Truth =  5 Stars
On my way to and from All Write, I listened to Dan Gemeinhart's The Honest Truth.  I'll have to admit, I didn't know exactly what to expect with this story, but I had heard amazing things about it.  It did not disappoint.  It is the story of a young boy who is faced with a life threatening illness and fights to live life on his own terms by climbing Mount Rainier with his loyal dog, Bo.  While I felt there were parts of the story that were being dragged out, at the end I realized why this was done and was super impressed with the surprise ending. (And if you love dogs, you will surely fall in love with Bo.)
Conferring with Readers
Jennifer Serravello was one of my favorite speakers from All Write.  In this book, Jennifer walks us through the ins and outs of conferring with our readers.  The writing is clear and purposeful and is giving me some fantastic ideas for when I return to the classroom in the fall.  If you need help with this skill, I definitely recommend this book!
I came home from All Write with a cart full of books in my Amazon account.  Let's just say that I am looking forward to the mail delivery today...

What are you reading?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Where I Write {SOL 6-16-15}

Now that summer is here, I have time to nurture my creative side which means LOTS of reading and writing.

The reading part I've got down pat.  My TBR pile seems to be growing taller instead of shorter.

The writing part, however, has been a little difficult for me.  Inspiration has been eluding me, despite my best efforts to make it show up for our writing dates.

In the past, I have usually done all of my writing in my office upstairs in my house.  It is a beautiful room (it used to be my sewing room) that my husband repainted my favorite color.  It has a large window and two skylights so there is lots of natural lighting.
I love this room and spend a lot of time in it.  But I thought...maybe I need to try writing in some new and different places to get my writing spark back.

Yesterday, I went into a neighboring town to the Coffee House to try writing.  I loved it here and did do a little writing.  But mostly, I sat and took in what was going on around me -- people working on their laptops, a group of women discussing a book at the back of the room, a toddling boy's relentless attempts to break free of his parents' watchful eye.  This is a place I will definitely return to for more writing.
This morning, I wrote my morning pages on our front porch, another place where I have never written before.  While I sat and wrote, birds bickered with each other over the bird feeder that hung near the crab apple tree off the corner of the deck.  To my surprise, two Red Headed Woodpeckers even came over for a morning treat.  
So I have decided that one of my summer goals is to write in as many different places as I can -- at the beach, in a park, at the farmer's market, in a library.  I will try to snap a picture of each place I write to keep a photo journal of my writing journey.  If nothing else, maybe the change of scenery will help get my writing spark back.

Where do you write?  Please snap a picture and post it to Twitter using the hashtag #iwritehere.  Many people have already shared their favorite writing places (including some authors you may love) and there is much inspiration to be found.