Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Sounds of Silence {SOL 12.13.16}

I prefer silence....

no TV,
no music,
no noise at all

other than the sounds of

the dryer firing up,
the dog snoring,
the click of the timer that turns on the lamp in the hall


the crunch of the snow,
the whir of the dishwasher,
the flutter of the birds meeting at the feeder


the tick of the clock,
the rocking of my chair,
the rumble my neighbor's car engine.

For if I had the TV on or music playing,
I would miss this symphony
that I call silence.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Constant Celebration

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could walk around in a constant state of thankfulness and celebration? To notice and appreciate the many, many joys in our lives, both big and small?

I'm trying to make an effort to live more this way.

(Some times, it is not easy.)

But I've found that the more I do it, the easier it becomes. I've also found that the more I celebrate, the more things I have to celebrate. I've also noticed that I'm a much happier person when I do this.


Here are some of my {many} celebrations this week:

* My son called me from college just to talk

     * Friends who trust me with their words

* The whisper that tells me my time in my comfort zone has come to an end

     * Unexpected opportunity

* Sweet raspberries

     * Writing by the light of the Christmas tree

* Hearing the furnace kick on in the morning, knowing I will wake to warmth

     * A book recommendation from a friend

* A fire in the fireplace

     * Birds that gather on the bird feeder outside the window

* Warm cinnamon bread baking in the oven, making the house smell heavenly

     * A smile from a student

Being in a constant state of celebration and thankfulness is also about being mindful. In this crazy month of December, when we zip from one event to another, I hope you will take a minute to stop and celebrate all of your blessings.

It will literally change your life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Patient Princess {SOL 11.22.16}

Once upon a time, there lived a princess who was blessed with incredible patience and a sparky sense of humor. She lived in a castle in the country with her handsome prince, young daughter, and two naughty (yet adorable) dogs.

The princess prided herself on her ability to remain calm in the face of chaos, for she knew that in order to keep peace throughout the land (and her castle), someone had to take some deep breaths and remember the wise words once shared by the princess's mother, "This too shall pass."

One Sunday morning, the princess was cleaning up the breakfast dishes and decided to make soup for the castle lunch. She reached into the cabinet drawer where she kept the canned vegetables, broth, and other necessities for making soup, discovering that all of the cans were stuck to the cabinet bottom. Apparently, one of the castle inhabitants put away the new bottle of corn syrup without tightening the cap, allowing it to spill out all over the drawer, hardening, and attaching everything rather securely to the drawer bottom.

No bother, the patient princess thought. This too shall pass. She set about to removing the cans from their sticky trap with the aid of the royal hairdryer and a metal spatula.

When that job was finished, the princess walked into her bedroom and was frightened by the ghastly sight before her, for the royal mutts had made quite a mess on the carpet after frolicking in the castle yard. No bother, the patient princess moaned, glaring at the two naughty (yet adorable) dogs.  She took a few deep breaths.  This too shall pass.

The patient princess got out the castle carpet cleaner and began to soak the carpet with cleaning solution. After spraying down a rather large container of cleaning solution, the princess began the task of going over the carpet again to remove it.  It didn't take long for the princess to realize that something was wrong, for the cleaner would not suck.

The princess tried and tried to make the cleaner work, taking it apart and putting it back together several times. The princess, who was beginning to lose her patience with the carpet cleaner, got a little huffy when reassembling the cleaner for the final time and struggled a bit with reattaching the hose, finally snapping it back into the holder rather abruptly (and not at all patiently). The hose responded by squirting the princess in the eye with some remaining solution. The princess wiped her eye, glared again at the dogs, then went in search of some box fans to dry the carpet.

Later that evening, the princess's daughter suggested that since the patient princess had such a rough day, perhaps a bubble bath was in order. The princess agreed.

She walked into the castle bathroom, carefully passing by the box fans still trying to dry the carpet, and began running her bath. As the water filled the tub, the patient princess put away a few items of laundry. When the bath was ready, she stepped into the tub, and squealed. EEEEEKKKKKK!!!!!

The princess, who did not take baths very often, had filled the tub with cold water, not hot. She should have been more patient before leaving the castle bathroom after turning on the water apparently. This is a bother, the princess thought, reaching for a towel and then her pajamas.

"I'm going to bed," the princess announced to her handsome prince and darling daughter, who were sitting in the living room enjoying the Green Bay Packer football game. "I've had enough of today."

"Don't worry, mama, this too shall pass," the darling daughter said to the princess as she bent to kiss her good night. "Tomorrow will be a better day."

The princess went off to bed, avoiding any more catastrophes that might have been lurking around the castle corners.

When the princess awoke the next day, her patience and sense of humor had returned. She laughed to herself about the adversities of the previous day -- right as she walked into the box fan that was still drying the carpet.

Oh, bother, the princess thought.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

25 Hour Day {SOL 11.08.16}

I am always wishing I had more time in my day. (Aren't we all?) On early Sunday morning, that wish was granted as the clocks were rolled back one hour, leaving 25 hours to the day.

My mind excitedly considered the options of what to do with all this extra time. I could:

   Sleep late (Wait -- that would feel like wasting time. Strike it from the list.)
   Start a creative project
   Go for a walk
   Bake something special
   Rake leaves
   Take a nap (I don't consider napping and sleeping late to be in the same category, do you?)

As the day went on and I pondered what I would do with my extra hour (not wanting to waste it, of course), I found myself constantly rolling the time forward an hour every time I looked at the clock. I kept telling myself, "At this time yesterday, I was (eating lunch, making dinner, feeding the dogs, etc.)." It's an annoying habit that seems to stick with me for a few days after every time change.

When I went to bed, my husband said, "But it's only 8:15. Aren't you going to sleep a bit early?"

"Yes, but it feels like 9:15, which is past my bedtime," I replied, yawning. (I must have tired myself out doing all that elapsed time calculation all day long.)

What did I end up doing with my extra hour?  I spent it on Monday morning, rising super early at 4:00 am (real time) and heading down to the basement to work out. (It seemed like 5:00 am after all -- a perfectly normal time to exercise, right?)

I hope you found something exciting to do with your extra hour this weekend. We will need the memories of this longer day in the spring when we have to give it back.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Simple Celebrations

I sit here this morning, thinking of the events from this past week that were noteworthy enough to write about in this celebration post.  There is nothing BIG that comes to mind, so instead I will write small and simple today:

This week, I celebrate:
   * Cinnamon
   * New pens
   * Figuring out my lesson plans
   * An offer of strawberries
   * Water
   * After work walks
   * Kids helping others
   * Student discussions
   * Falling leaves
   * Apple scented candles
   * Friendship

The lesson? Big or small, all celebrations count.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Unsubscribe Me {SOL 11.01.16}

There are only so many minutes in a day, yet there's so much I want to do.

I get frustrated with myself when I pull back the covers at the end of the day and think about all the things I didn't get done. Or when it's Sunday night and I think of all the big plans I had for the weekend that are still sitting on my to do list.

I need to simplify.

Focus on what's important.

Control my time instead of letting it control me.

I began this morning, like I do every morning, scrolling through my emails. Before I knew it, 30 minutes had passed. That's 30 minutes of reading shopping offers, Facebook updates, and messages from companies that I once did online business with. (It's also important to note that none of the messages I received this morning were from an actual person, asking me actual questions, or sharing actual news.)

I liken my morning routine to going through the paper mail. As I search through the envelopes, I pull out the junk mail, tear it up, and recycle it. I never even read it, even though many days, that's all that's in my mailbox.

So why don't I do this with my Inbox as well? Why am I wasting precious time reading electronic junk mail?

Good question.

I went back into my email and scrolled to the bottom of most every one, searching for the 'Unsubscribe' button and clicking it.

As I did, I felt this amazing sense of freedom. I felt my time coming back to me. I was taking control.

Are there things in your life that you need to 'Unsubscribe' from? I encourage you to click that button too.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Dinner Surprise

I drove home from school on Thursday, pondering what to make for dinner. My husband had been out of town all week, so it was just Kara and me. She had worked two nights after school this week already, which meant that I was alone and dinner could have been just about anything I could find in the fridge...or not. 

I was feeling like I needed to make some actual food for dinner, but it took me the whole 30 minute car ride home to think about what that would be and I still came up with nothing. 

Normally, my something-fast, nothing-fancy, go-to dinners would be a frozen pizza or grilled cheese, but I am trying to stay away from carbs so those wouldn't work. Maybe I could give her money to go grab something for herself from McDonalds and I'll just eat a cheese stick and hard boiled egg (again), I thought.

When I walked in the door, Kara was in the kitchen cutting up broccoli. This was an odd sight -- Kara doesn't usually cook. 

(And where did she get that broccoli?) 

Turns out she had planned dinner for the two of us. She even went to the store -- twice -- to get what she needed. That night, we feasted on grilled chicken, grilled pineapple steaks, and steamed broccoli, all prepared by Kara. "It's even low carb, mom," she smiled at me. She was proud of herself for planning and preparing a meal for us. 

So was I.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Celebrating a Visit {Celebrate This Week 10.15.16}

All week, I have been looking forward to Friday...and not for the usual reasons.

Yesterday, our son came home from college for his first visit. While it has only been two months since he's gone, it seems like two years.

Normally, college freshman don't make it home until Thanksgiving. However, Ry is in the UMN Marching Band and -- believe it or not -- they scheduled a concert for the weekend of Thanksgiving. (Seriously???) So he will come home on Thursday for Thanksgiving and then have to fly right back on Friday.

Since his Thanksgiving visit will be so short (and crazy busy, I'm sure) and since flights between Milwaukee and Minneapolis were about $120 round trip, we thought it would be okay for him to come home for the weekend.

And it is so good to have him here! Aside from spending time with him, he is making sure to eat up all the frozen pizzas, french fries, and pizza bagels that have been sitting in the freezer since he left. Ahhh....I'll get some space in my freezer back!

See....everybody wins!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Surprise in the Mirror {SOL 10.11.16}

Last week, it rained practically every day. If it wasn't raining, the sky was heavy and overcast with clouds.

To get to work, I drive west. Usually this is a good thing because it means I don't drive with the sun in my eyes.

But last Wednesday, I wished I was driving east.

As I came to a stop sign at the end of the road, I glanced in my mirror to see if anyone was behind me and this is what I saw:
Such a stark contrast to the sky ahead of me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Washing by Hand {SOL 10.4.16}

We have a dishwasher, but I find myself using it less and less these days.

I have come to enjoy washing dishes by hand.

If I have the time, I will fill the sink with hot, sudsy water and wash away! There's a certain satisfaction that comes from swirling the washcloth around a plate, rinsing it clean, and setting it to drain and dry.

I find it comforting, almost meditative. It gives me time to think about what I just prepared and who I made it for. What will I serve with it? How long do I have to wait to try it?

Plus, there's something soothing that comes from dipping your hands into the hot water, especially on cold days.

You just can't get that from a dishwasher.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Celebrating Strength {Celebrate this Week 10.1.16}

In the midst of struggles and troubles, it is important to remember the celebrations. They are what feeds us and keeps us going.

This week, I celebrate:

* We were in Minneapolis last weekend visiting our son for Band Parents' Weekend. It good to see him, but it was even better to see how settled he's become in this new space. It is comforting and puts my mind to rest.

* The launch of my companion blog, Sweet Teaching Life. I will be posting reflections from my classroom there. I am pushing myself to write more and felt I needed a space devoted just to my teaching thoughts. I hope you will stop by sometime.

* I went down to my garden last night to pull an onion for dinner. Most everything has died back. What was once so lush you could not even walk through it, is now spindly and brown. I celebrate not only the vegetables and flowers that my garden gave me this summer, but the joy it brought me as well.

* Setting long term goals is easy at the beginning. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm that provide the momentum to get started. To be able to keep working on those goals weeks down the road is when it becomes tough.  This week, I had several moments when I considered giving up on a long term goal I am working on -- but I didn't. I celebrate those moments of deliberation because they gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I am strong and can do this. (I also celebrate the decision to keep going too!) I found this graphic in my email feed this morning and I thought it was appropriate:

Wishing you many celebrations in the days to come!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Time for Tough Love {SOL 9.20.16}

Why do we feel the need to hold onto things that we don't use anymore?

I am guilty of this.  Really guilty.

This past Saturday, I decided to do something about it and made some tough love decision about the items in my closet.

If I hadn't worn it in the past year and I didn't feel any kind of connection with it, it went in the giveaway pile.

Shoes that hurt my feet were a no-brainer.  Into the give away pile they went.

Cute tights that were stretched out? Thrown away.

How many white tank tops does one person need??

How about pajamas? Are five pair too many?  (YES!)

Do I really need four pair of black flats? Probably not.

And on and on it went....

When I was done, I had two garbage bags full of shoes and two more full of clothes to take to my local Goodwill center.

My closet is now neat and trim and I can actually see what I own.  What I wasn't expecting was the calm feeling I now experience when I walk into my closet. I think all that "stuff" was causing me some anxiety I wasn't aware of.

Now, the trick will be to NOT fill it up again with more stuff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sometimes I'm Lucky {SOL 9.13.16}

Sometimes I'm lucky....

To overhear a student share an enthusiastic (and unsolicited) book recommendation with a fellow classmate.

Sometimes I'm lucky....

To spot a hummingbird drinking nectar from a hollyhock, just as I am heading off to school.

Sometimes I'm lucky....

To see the excitement of my class when every student scores 95% or higher on our first timed multiplication quiz of the year.

Sometimes I'm lucky....

To have my students moan and complain when I put the bookmark back in our read aloud book because they want to know what happens next and can't wait until tomorrow.

Sometimes I'm lucky....

To get a hug or a "hello" from a younger student who passes me in the hallway, even though I don't know them by name.

Sometimes I'm lucky....

To spy tree frog who is peeping in my classroom window.

Sometimes, if I'm really lucky, all of these things happen in the same week.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Celebrating Routines {9.10.16}

Routines are a good thing.

I think that deep down inside, we all crave a predictable routine. A knowing what-comes-next can help us feel safe, calm and content. It frees our minds up to be able to focus on other things.

When we don't have a routine, we can feel unsettled. Sometimes, I feel shaky and unable to focus.

For me, the beginning of the school year can be a bit unsettling because my mind naturally wants to find our daily routine. When I find it, I feel like I have so much more ability to notice the bigger picture instead of the smaller what-comes-next steps.

The lack of a daily routine can affect our students too. The long days of summer, full of freedom and without a daily schedule, can wreak havoc. When they return to the classroom, they also are searching for the familiar feeling of the classroom routine. They feel safe there. Routines also give them a sense of control and a predictability that they may not have otherwise.

My son called the other day from college. He had just sat through his first college class - Trigonometry - and called to report that he thought it was going to kill him. He felt overloaded by his class load (even though he had been through one class), his extracurricular responsibilities (marching band), and getting used to living away from home with strangers.

He was unhappy.

I let him talk, then tried to assure him that the reason he felt this way was because he was craving a predictable routine that he had not yet found. "Give it a week or so," I told him. "You'll feel better soon. You just need to know what's going on."

I talked to him yesterday. His voice was much lighter. He cracked a few jokes and complained about the 5:30 am call time he had for today's football game. He told me he'd FaceTime with us on Sunday and that he had to go meet his roommates for dinner.

I nodded to myself, recognizing that he was starting to find his routine.

We are finding our routine in our classroom as well. Next week's lesson plans have us diving into our full curriculum. I can finally put our daily schedule on the board with confidence that we will be able to actually follow it.

Routines can make us all feel better. I'm starting to find mine and I hope you are on your way to finding yours.

For this, I celebrate.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cooking Lessons Gone Wrong {SOL 9.06.16}

My children come from a long line of seasoned cooks, bakers and kitchen experimenters. For us, FOOD = LOVE and if I cook for you, I really like you.

But it wasn't until we were getting my son ready to go away to college that it dawned on me that I never really taught him how to make his way around the kitchen. He took a cooking class a his freshman year in high school, but that pretty much taught him how to master the microwave. (I am NOT kidding...microwave cinnamon rolls???)

His cooking lessons will have to wait until next summer, but it's not too late for my daughter to learn.

Her lessons began last night -- Chicken fajitas were on the menu. A great start!

I had picked some peppers from the garden to use -- two red sweet peppers and a spicy green poblano. I unearthed an onion and was excited that all of the veggies would be homegrown.

I showed my daughter how to clean the onion, cutting off the root and peeling off the papery layer of outer skin. Then I showed her how to clean the seeds from the red pepper and how to slice it.

She set the onion aside and started with the red pepper. She carefully scooped the seeds, cut the membrane and sliced the pepper into strips.

Next, came the poblano. As she was slicing, she noticed that this pepper smelled spicier. The fumes from the pepper tickled the her nose and throat, causing her to sneeze. She grabbed a tissue to wipe her nose, washed her hands, and went back to work.

A minute later, she noticed her nose was starting to burn...the oils from the poblano had gotten on her skin. Ouch! She must have touched her arm as well because that was burning too.

Next came the onion...and you know what happens when you slice an onion.  Yep, the crying
got her too.

Soon she could no longer see clearly (thanks to the onion) or breathe without burning (thank you, poblano).  I sent her away and told her I would finish.

Kara's first cooking lesson was pretty painful. I'm not sure she will be excited to join me in the kitchen for lessons again anytime soon.

Maybe we will stick to desserts for awhile.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Celebrating This Week {9.03.16}

This week, I celebrate....

The first week of school went well and it is so, so good to be back with my students for our second year together. Seeing them all on the first day of school was like coming home.
My son, Ryan, is doing well at college. We still talk every day and I can hear happiness in his voice. (Something I haven't heard in awhile.) Being in the marching band has kept him busy and connected him with a "tribe" that is helping to ease his transition to his home away from home.

My daughter and I had a nice visit at a local university -- her first college visit. She really liked the school (and so did I!).

My garden is bursting. On Wednesday night, I picked 24 cucumbers, 5 cantaloupes, 5 eggplant and a huge bunch of zinnias. My in-laws came on Thursday to help my husband can our tomatoes which resulted in 14 quarts using what was ripe at the time.
This old guy, Toby, is 13 1/2. It's been a rough summer for him. He has gone deaf and has many hip problems. The vet told us last spring that he was in liver failure. Despite all these problems, he has been showing more energy and eating more these past few weeks with has given him new life. We know his time is limited, but we celebrate that he doesn't appear to be suffering and his plan seems to be that he will carry on with life as usual. (He even photo bombed Kara's first day of school picture on Friday.)

I hope you had many, many celebrations this past week too!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Old Beginnings {SOL 8.30.16}

Summer is officially over, but I'm not too sad. Sure, I will miss my free choice days where I could go or do anything. But I'm ready to get back to school.

I am moving up from 4th grade to 5th grade this year and I am really looking forward to it. I'm looping with my class from 4th grade. They are an awesome group of kids and I'm looking forward to seeing what this year brings.

Looping with the same group of kids greatly reduced a lot of my nervousness over this new school year. I already know the kids and they know me. Instead of spending the first quarter of school trying to figure each other out, we can hit the ground running. It's an added benefit that their parents know me as well and are familiar with how the classroom runs as I also know a bit about their family routines.

It just makes things easier -- for all of us.

Not having that nervousness for a new class has made getting ready for this new school year easier. I can begin to plan because I have a feel for where each student was last year. Of course, I am leaving lots of room for summer growth as we all change over time.

I can't wait to get started.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Years are Short {SOL 8.23.16}

When you are holding your newborn baby in your arms, staring into its barely open eyes and listening to its sweet coos, time seems like an infinite thing.

When a wise friend tells you to cherish every minute because time moves quickly, you brush their words aside because time seems endless.

When you ask your sweet child what he wants to do when he grows up and he answers that he wants to be a superhero, you gently laugh to yourself because you can't imagine a time when he will have to be something other than your little boy.

When you sit through band concerts, scout ceremonies, parent teacher conferences, volleyball games, birthday parties, and play dates, they seem like mere appointments on your calendar that you check off in a blur.

When your little one learns to walk, takes the bus to school, goes to sleep away camp, gets his driver's license, and graduates, you don't realize what is happening.

Then comes the day you were warned about.

That day that seemed like it could never, sometimes would never,  come.

That day that is the culmination of every day that came before it.

Your sweet child leaves the nest.

And you realize that the days may seem long, but the years are very, very short.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Exploring Barn Swallow Babies {SOL 8.16.16}

I'm a little bit of a bird fanatic. Living in the country will do that to you.

In the spring, I love to watch the bird feeder outside our front window to see who is visiting. I will often find cardinals, woodpeckers, and yellow finches all hanging out together.

Later in the summer, I become fascinated by the barn swallow.
It is a beautiful bird and it flies with such grace and ease. It swoops down to catch insects and can turn on a dime or reverse directions easily. It's fun to watch!

When the baby barn swallows are old enough to leave the nest (about 3 weeks old), they like to fly up and sit on the gutter on the backside of my house. I often will wake up to the sound of their singing to the rising sun. They are fluffy and their beaks are too large for their faces. I just love them!
I sat for a few minutes and watched the babies and saw how the feeder bird (both moms and dads -- and older brothers and sisters) bring insects to the baby. As they approach, the baby will stop its singing and wait with its mouth open. The feeder bird swoops in, drops the insect in the baby's mouth, then flies away. It never stops to rest during feeding, it all happens on the go. Pretty impressive!

Yesterday as I was cutting the grass, the barn swallows were swooping around me. I used to think they were trying to dive bomb me when they did that, but I now realize they are catching the insects that fly up from the grass as I pass over with the mower.

Here are a few interesting facts I found about the barn swallow:

* A male barn swallow who has not found a mate will often destroy the eggs in a nest as a way of "breaking up" the mated couple to try to steal the woman bird. (How rude!)

* Legend has it that the reason the barn swallow's tail is so forked is that it stole fire from the gods to bring it to earth for man. As it was flying away, the gods threw a flaming spear at the bird, singeing the middle of its tail as it flew.

* Barn swallows mate in the air. (That's talent!)

* They can fly up to 600 miles in one day.

* They can live up to 10 years. 

* Legend says that the first person to see the barn swallow return after winter will have good luck all year long.

My curiosity about my favorite summer bird led me to find these interesting facts.  Then it dawned on me that these facts would make a great exploratory notebook that Ralph Fletcher describes in his book:
I'm looking forward to sharing my notebook with my students to show them how our personal interests and curiosities lead us to writing topics.

But for now, I hear the birds chatting so I've got to go!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Time Flies {Celebrate This Week 8.13.16}

This has been a busy week.

My son is leaving for college a week from Monday. There is a lot of shopping we are doing to get him ready, in addition to washing laundry, packing and going over lists of things he needs.

He had his wisdom teeth pulled on Tuesday and has had a tough recovery. The mom in me is torn. On one hand, I am trying to prepare myself for letting him go as he heads off to college. On the other hand, I get stuck thinking that he is still a little kid who needs his mom to heal his hurt, make sure he takes his medications, and bring him ice packs.

It is a funny contradiction.

I am trying to focus on the celebrations instead of that sinking feeling I get when I think about sending my first born out into the world alone.

I celebrate the little boy who grew up to be a man who can set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to take his antibiotics and pain meds.

I celebrate the little boy who grew up to be a man who takes himself shopping to get some things he needs for school and then doesn't even ask me to pay for them.

I celebrate the little boy who grew up to be a man who still comes in to kiss his mother goodnight when he gets home from work at midnight.

I celebrate the little boy he used to be and fine young man he has become.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Writing is Hard {SOL 8.02.16}

Writing is hard work.

But I'm preaching to the choir, aren't I?

One of the things I wanted to do this summer was write some stories that I could share with my 5th graders.  Funny school themed stories that capture the lives up upper elementary students.

I want my students to see me 'walk the walk', but I also want  them to know that I know how difficult writing can be because I've been there.

I go back to school in three weeks and I still don't have even one story to share with them.  I've tried writing. A lot. While I feel like I may actually be on the verge of a story breakthrough, I've learned quite a bit along the way that I will take back to my classroom:

* Writing IS hard, especially when that little voice is telling us that we don't have any ideas. We need to learn to tell that voice to be quiet or tell the one that is cheering us along to speak louder.

* Timed writing actually works for getting words out of your head and down on paper. Writing continuously for 10 minutes has brought me some pretty cool ideas that I never would have found if I had just sat and stared at my computer for 10 minutes.

* Sometimes, you just have to get it out. Keeping an idea in your head that you don't write on paper actually blocks your creativity like a dam blocks water. Even if you don't think you'll use it, write it down. You can always edit it out later.

* Imperfect is okay. I am a natural born perfectionist and I want my writing pages to look just a certain way. This summer, I have worked on being okay with scribbled out words, messy margins, and bad handwriting.

I truly feel that when we allow our students the freedom of choice in our classroom, they take writing more seriously, show more growth, and take more risks in the writing. However, choice can be messy. My writing this summer has shown me that.

So even though my writing has been challenging this summer, I'm still glad that I am a teacher who writes. I will return to the classroom a better writing teacher because of it.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

No News is Good {Celebrate this Week 7-23-16}

We all know that the world is a pretty frightening place right now. Shootings, bombings, murders, despair and tragedy are flashed before us in a constant news cycle.  Reporters report on the same stories over and over, sometimes repeating the same events for days on end. Over time, this has a tendency to wear us down and numb us to all the goodness in life.

This summer, I've made a conscious effort to turn off the TV news. I have seen about two newscasts since the end of May, and those were because my husband was watching as we were heading off to sleep.

I still know all the bad stuff is happening out there, but I don't need to be reminded of it 24/7. I don't need the emotional stress of all the tragedy. I don't think it's healthy. I still hear about events through conversations with other people, on the radio, or through social media. I'm not completely oblivious, I have just chosen not to constantly expose myself to bad news. The only thing I miss about not seeing the daily news is the weather forecast.  Luckily, there's an app for that.

Since going on a news vacation, I am definitely happier. I have more time for reading, gardening and cooking. I am not drawn to a schedule dictated by when the news is on.  I can think about world issues and come to my own conclusions, not those that are voiced to me by news people with their own agenda. As a side benefit, my husband is picking up a book to read more often than reaching for the remote control at night.

I truly feel more mindful and peaceful. And happier.  {Did I mention happier?}

For this, I celebrate.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Fear Not {Celebrate This Week 7-16-16}

I feel a shift coming.

It's a change that I've known would be coming some day. As it turns out, that some day is now.

This fall, I will be sending my oldest off to college. His sister, my only other child, will begin her senior year of high school. Major changes are coming.

I used to fear this.

Fear of not being needed, not being busy, not having a house full of kids. Fear of losing my identity as a mother and not knowing what comes next. Fear of being bored or feeling useless or unneeded.

But it turns out, those fears may have been for nothing.

I've gotten a taste of this parenting change this summer. Both of my kids work two jobs so they are pretty much gone all the time. My husband is a retail pharmacist, working several nights a week. Often that leaves me. Just me.

And I have to say....It is okay.

I find lots of things to keep me busy, possibly even busier than I was when the kids were younger. But it's a different kind of busy. It's a busy that is focused on me. It's a busy that leaves me feeling fulfilled in a way I didn't expect.

I read, I write, I work in the garden, I sit in silence with the dogs and watch the sun set, I make myself dinner (or not), I meet friends for coffee. I run on my own schedule, not someone else's.

I've spent a lot of time this summer thinking about this new way of life. It's not as bad as I thought it would be.

Sure, I will miss my kids desperately when they go off to college. But I also recognize that this will allow our relationship to grow in new ways.

It is all going to be okay.

For this, I celebrate.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Positivity Bubble {SOL 7.28.16}

"Mom, I need help."

My daughter's voice came through loud and clear on the bluetooth speaker in my car. My stomach dropped. This was not the phone call I usually received from her.

"What's wrong?" I asked, ready to whip the car around to go rescue her from whatever tragedy she faced.

"My positivity bubble is bursting."

I released the breath I didn't realize I was holding. Thank goodness. 

I kept driving.

"Everyone here at work is in such a bad mood. I got yelled at twice already and I don't even know what I did. I'm trying to be positive, but it's just so hard when everyone is so....crabby."

My daughter is a cashier at a local store. It hasn't been easy going for her. There has been a lot of turn over (two people quit the day she called me) and despite the store manager's call for 'positive teamwork', there hasn't been much of that.

"Well..." I began giving my daughter some of my positive words of wisdom:  The only person you can control is yourself; Find something good and focus on that; It's 90 degrees out and everyone is a bit cranky; and finally -- Remember that you are making $100 for working today. (The money one would surely stick with her.)

We chatted for a few more minutes, her spirit uplifted a bit, and she went back to work.

I pondered a few things as we drove on:

1. My daughter reached out to me in her time of distress. I am grateful that she feels that she can do this. I am grateful for our continued closeness, even into her late teenage years.

2. My positive outlook has apparently rubbed off some on her. She's been listening.

3. She recognizes how important attitude is to creating your reality and how your attitude affects others. She was trying to be positive and upbeat, but everyone's "crabbiness" was making it difficult. Maybe (maybe!) she will remember this when she is in a crabby mood.

She came home from work that night in a pretty good mood. Apparently, she was able to re-inflate her positivity bubble.

Thank goodness.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Stepping Out {SOL 6-21-16}

I have a fear of heights.

Always have.

This fear has kept me off rollercoasters, deterred me from becoming an astronaut, and helped me avoid taking rides on winding roads that snake around mountains. (Luckily, there aren't any mountains in southeastern Wisconsin.)

Recently, my family took a day trip to Chicago. Hannah wanted to go to the top of the Willis Tower.

You may know that the Willis Tower is one of the tallest buildings in the world. It is a part of the iconic Chicago skyline, often the first thing you see as you drive toward the city. At the top of the tower is an observation deck where on a clear day, you can see four states.

A few years ago someone got the brilliant idea to put glass ledges on the observation deck so visitors could step out and over the city.

"You'll never catch me doing that," I said when I heard about this high-flying new addition.

I should have never said 'never'.

We boarded the elevator for our 60 second ride up the 1,353 feet to the observation deck. After circling around the observation deck and looking at the city from every direction, it was time to get in line to step out onto the ledge.

"Mom, are you going to do it?" my daughter asked.

I looked ahead in line at the people already on the ledge. They made it look like no big deal.

Maybe I could do this....

"Sure," I told her. I reminded myself of Eleanor Roosevelt's famous quote: "You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Our time in line came and we all stepped out onto the ledge. It was a rainy, dreary day, but the view was still pretty amazing. I looked around -- and down -- and was surprised that I felt no fear.  We snapped a few pictures then moved along for the next people who were patiently waiting in line to have their turn.

So I did it! I faced my fear of heights and prevailed!!

Who knows...maybe next week I'll start applying to astronaut school. 

But rollercoasters are still out of the question.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lessons {Celebrate This Week 6-18-16}

Many of you know that my family hosted an exchange student for the past school year. While Hannah came to America from Germany to learn about American life, there were many things I realized she taught us as well in her short time here.

I have really good kids.  This one I already knew, but Hannah just reinforced it. My daughter and son are fairly well grounded and some of the advice I heard them give Hannah made this momma's heart proud.

I CAN share my space. One of the things I feared in taking in a student for the entire year was having to have another person around the house, getting in my space. I'm one of those 'I like it the way I like it" people. I like falling asleep on the sofa at 7:30 some nights, eating pancakes for dinner, and doing laundry on Saturdays. Another person around here might complicate things. Thankfully, it didn't. We were all able to coexist.

Our family has some pretty cool traditions. Be it family dinners on Sundays with the grandparents, singing "Let It Go" when arguing begins, or giving everyone nicknames (Hannah became known as HB, short for Hannah Banana), Hannah reminded us that these things are not 'usual', but that she loved them. I found it to be a huge compliment when I was singing my good morning to her one day and she commented that her mother would never sing.

There is always something to discover. Hannah had never had grilled cheese. When I took her to the Cheeseapalooza Festival in Kenosha (yes, there is such a thing), she fell in love with these sandwiches. Who knew? Having Hannah here encouraged our family to go new places and try new things too.

My heart has an endless capacity for love. Hannah quickly became part of our family. She became a sister to my kids (without the bickering and the need to sing "Let It Go.") and I swelled with pride at her many successes at school, like when the band director took time at the final spring concert to talk about Hannah and how much he enjoyed having her in the band. Hannah became a daughter to me. It was very difficult to send her home.

Would I have known all of these things if we never had Hannah stay with us?


But it wouldn't have been as much fun.

For this, I celebrate.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hannah {SOL 6-14-16}

In August of last year, Hannah, an exchange student from Germany, moved into our guest room for the upcoming school year.

I was a bit hesitant to take on a student for the entire year. I'm the kind of person who likes my space and adding one more person's schedule to our already crazy family routine might not work.

We had hosted two students before, but only for three weeks each.

One student, Cecile from France, was amazing.  She was willing to try anything and so appreciative of every experience. Three weeks with her was not enough.

The second student, Marina from Spain, was absolutely horrible. She was afraid of our dogs and pretty much expected to be waited on while she was here.

Not. gonna. happen.

When we got the call asking us to host Hannah, I was very cautious. I feared we would end up with another Marina and then be 'stuck' with her all year.

I poured over Hannah's application, looking for signs of trouble.

Hannah was the oldest of three kids and the same age as my daughter. She played the flute and loved to read. She said she was "good at helping other people solve their problems" and "a good listener."

All of these qualities seemed to make Hannah a perfect fit for us.  I said "yes."

I'm so thankful that I did.

Hannah left us this past Saturday to return to Germany.  It was a long, tearful, heartbreaking goodbye. Over the past 10 months, we all came to love Hannah as if she were one of our own.

Hannah and my daughter became as close as sisters, which made this past week with its windup to the goodbye that much more difficult. Hannah had a five hour layover in Chicago and they spent it on Facetime with each other. My heart broke as I watched each of them let go.

When Hannah got here last August, she said she felt extremely lucky to be chosen by us.

Turns out, we were the lucky ones.

We will miss you, Hannah Banana.