Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Memory Tree {SOL 11.28.17}

When my kids were babies, I started an annual tradition of creating a photo ornament of each of them.

Every year, I would take a favorite photo (yes, we printed our photos -- at a store! -- in those days), hunt down a photo ornament, and hang it on our Christmas tree.

As the years passed and the ornament collection grew, I began looking forward more and more to putting up the tree. I loved looking at how cute the kids were, each ornament sparking a favorite memory and taking me back in time.

This year is the first year that both of my kids are away at school and my husband and I had to put our tree up alone.

But we weren't alone -- we had our collection of photo ornaments and their memories to keep us company.

"The days are long, but the years are short."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Leave Your Excuses at the Door (Literally) {SOL 11.07.17}

This past week, I spent four days in Nashville at Christy Wright's Business Boutique event. Christy is an advocate, teacher, and business expert whose work involves helping women start and grow businesses that they love.  (If you are trying to do the same, you will want to get to know Christy.)

Some of you may know that I left the classroom this past spring to start my own business, Teach Write,  which is dedicated to helping teachers teach writing.  This move is exciting, but it has launched me into a sea of uncertainty and doubt as well.
At one of the sessions, Christy talked about overcoming our fear and challenged us to stop making excuses that hold us back from bringing our dreams to fruition.

I am quite familar with both fear and excuses, but I am an exceptionally good excuse-maker.

"I must clean the bathroom before I write today."
"It's a bad time to make those cold calls because it's lunchtime."
"I need to do a little more research first."
"I don't know anything about running a business."

At the end of Christy's presentation, they passed out Post-Its and asked everyone to write their excuses down. Then, as we left for the day, we were to put the Post-Its up on the doors, literally leaving our excuses at the door.

 See the Post-Its on the glass doors?

This was a very powerful experience.

Not only did it help us call out our excuses and move them from the shadows into the light of awareness, it also showed us that other women's excuses and fears were also my own.

It reminded me that I am not alone.

What excuses are holding you back from doing something your heart has been calling you to do?

I encourage you to write them down and bring them out of the shadows into the light of awareness where you can walk right through them.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Message From Beyond {SOL 10.31.17}

The doorbell rang a little after 3:00 pm and I shuffled my way toward the front door.

Peeking through the side lights, I saw four ladies standing on my front porch, holding Bibles. The bright daylight behind them hurt my already sore eyes.

Ugh, Jehovahs' Witnesses, I thought to myself.

It's not that I mean any disrespect to anyone's religion, but these ladies had terrible timing in more ways than one. They had just woken me from a much-needed nap that I had been fighting all afternoon to fall into. I was hoping sleep would help me forget about my morning, but that just wasn't in the cards for me.

I opened the front door and greeted them. One of them introduced herself and handed me a brochure.

On the cover of the brochure was a picture of some people standing in a misty-cloudy sort of setting, staring lovingly at each other. The words "You Will See Your Loved Ones Again" graced the top of the brochure.

I stared at the brochure for a moment while the lady began her pitch. She didn't get to talk long before I burst into tears. Right there, standing in my front doorway.

You see, earlier that day, we had to put our beloved 14-year-old Springer Spaniel, Toby, to sleep. It was a gut-wrenching decision, but one that had to be made out of necessity because of his failing health. Being the only one home, I had to take him to the vet myself. I stayed with him the entire time. It was very peaceful, but the only comfort I could find was knowing he was no longer in pain. I missed him already.

The ladies my front porch stared at me and the tears streaming down my face, offered some words of comfort after I explained what happened, then told me they'd come back another day.

That brochure though...

It could have been seen as a strange coincidence, but I took it as a message from my Toby. He wanted me to know that he was in a good place and that he was okay.

And although they woke me from my nap, I gave thanks for those ladies for delivering that message that I so desperately needed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

DWP #35: SIGN {10.18.17}

The Signs of Fall
A pondering by Jennifer Laffin

Where are the signs that fall is here?
The temperatures are in the 70's and the sky is clear.

Is it the dry leaves 
falling from the color washed trees?

Is it in the golden wheat field
whose blades are preparing to yield?

Is it the birds flying south?
Or do they know to leave by word of mouth?

Is it the buzzing of the bee
looking for one last taste of something sweet?
(Hey....he just stung me!)

Is it the setting of the sun
because earlier and earlier the day is done?

Is it the late-morning dew
Bringing wetness to my shoe?

Perhaps it is this and more
that says that summer has been shown the door.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DWP #34/SOL: WARM {10.17.17}

Mother Nature certainly knows how to spoil a party.

This past weekend, we went to see our kids at the University of Minnesota. Saturday night, we had tickets to the football game to see our son in the marching band. This was Band Parents' Weekend and the band had been rehearsing their halftime show for the past two weeks so they could dazzle the parents.

The weather forecast was not looking good -- in the low 50's with rain forecasted to begin at 4:00 pm, right when the band activities started before the 7:00 kickoff.

Sure enough, just as we left the hotel at 3:00, the rain started. We layered up our clothes, donned rain ponchos, and set off for the stadium. We weren't going to let a little rain spoil our fun.

By the time we got to the stadium, the rain was coming down a bit harder. Neverminding that, we followed Ryan's tailgate band around the parking lot as they played for the fans.

The rain kept up through band inspection and their pre-pregame show. It was now raining so hard that the woodwinds didn't carry their instruments for fear that they would get wet and cause swelling damage.

Finding our seats in the stadium, my husband reminded me that I was never going to be allowed to pick seats again because we were literally in the nosebleed section. (Really?? Okay!)

The football team cleared the field and the band came out for their pre-game show. They played one song and were lined up to play the national anthem when an announcement came over the stadium loudspeaker:

Ladies and gentlemen: Lightning has been sighted in the area. Please evacuate your seats and take cover in the concourse area immediately. 


We trudged back down the stairs and joined the rest of the crowd in the concourse area (which would not have been fun if you suffered from claustrophobia.)
The rain came down in buckets. The wind started up. It was a mass of humanity. It was not fun.

There was a man standing near me who had apparently had a bit too much of the celebration and passed out from the heat and lack of fresh air. I called 911 from my cell phone, not sure how to tell the operator where we were in the crowd for her to send help.

Twenty-five minutes later, they announced that the storm had passed and we could return to our seats.

But there was more disappointment waiting at halftime -- the markings on the field were getting too washed out from all the rain that they weren't allowing the marching band to perform. After all of this, we weren't even going to get to see the band. (Insert sad face emoji here.)

We were too soaked, to frozen, too exhausted to stick around. We went back to the hotel where there was one highlight to the day -- we remembered to leave the heat on in the room before we left.

Monday, October 16, 2017

DWP #33: ADJUST {10.16.17}

Change is hard.

Perhaps it is the pain that sometimes accompanies change that makes it so difficult. (I would say this pain is usually a mental discomfort, not necessarily physical discomfort, but sometimes it is.)

Sometimes in life, though, we do not have a choice about changes that happen.  Sometimes, change is just a part of life.

When my kids both left for school at the end of August, I really struggled with my empty nest. I didn't know what to do with myself. I spent a lot of time talking to the dog. I maybe ate a few extra carbs. I crocheted a lot of washcloths.

But they've been gone now for six weeks or so and I've adjusted. I would even say that I've adjusted so much that I actually enjoy being an empty nester now.  Christmas break may be a different kind of pain...

What I marvel at in this whole change thing is how we can go from thinking the world is going to end to being really okay with our new reality. How does that happen?

Time helps.

So does chocolate.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

DWP #32: GREEN {10.15.17}

This weekend took us on a nice drive from southeastern Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota to visit our kids in college. 

I was looking forward to the drive to see some fall color. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t see much. 

As the flat land of rural Wisconsin gave way to the rocky dells in the middle of the state, most of the trees were still green. Moving farther west toward the Great Mississippi River and Minneapolis, there was a bit more color, but not much.  A hillside might have a yellow or orange tree tucked among the green, but that was about it.

The funny thing is that on the evening news, the anchor said that the area was in peak fall color right now. 

Peak fall color is green?

I thought that was peak summer color.

Friday, October 13, 2017

DWP #31: CERTAIN {10.13.17}

These are the things that I am certain about when it comes to teaching writing:

1.  Students need to write -- a lot. Yes, this takes time. No, you should not hover.

2.  Telling students what to write about does not necessarily make them better writers. They need choice.

3.  While writing can be assessed, grading it makes me cringe.

4.  Writing gives us authority. It makes our thinking concrete. It is our way of sharing our ideas with the world. It demonstrates our uniqueness.

5.  The writing process is not circular and orderly. Expecting students to go from prewriting to drafting to editing to revising to publishing in that order is NOT how real writers write. We jump all over the place before we get to the end. Take down the charts and clips.

6. Revision is where the magic happens. Drafting should be quick -- simply getting our ideas down on paper before we lose them.

7.  Students need time to talk to other writers to share their writing and get feedback. Don't skip share time or undervalue writing partners.

8.  Students write best when their teacher is a writer too. You don't have to write a book, a blog, or anything more than simply putting a few words down on the page or computer document regularly.

9. Opportunities for teaching writing can happen in every subject throughout the day. You can teach writing during your read aloud (see my tips here), in math journals, or in science logs. Specials teachers -- there are ways you can have students write too.

10.  Writing for an authentic audience makes all the difference.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

DWP #30: SMART {10.12.17}

It amazes me how my dog can be so smart and so stupid at the same time.

She is so smart that she knows when we are leaving the house, long before we even grab our keys. When she senses this, she puts herself in her kennel. She is not doing this to be helpful. She is doing this in the hope that we will not see her laying around and think that we already locked her up. Then when we are gone, she will have free run of the house. 

Very smart.
Yesterday, she tried a new trick.

She managed to get the zipper open on my purse. (Very smart) She rooted around inside my purse and managed to grab a container of Breathsavers mints. She carried the mints into my bedroom and shimmied herself under my bed where she proceeded to get the container open and eat every last mint. Minty breath aside, sugarfree mints and sugarfree gum can be toxic to dogs. (Very stupid) Luckily, she is fine. (This is also the dog who ate a whole box of Valentine's chocolates -- also not so good for dogs.) She must have a stomach of steel.

Sometimes, her smartness gets her in some real trouble.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

DWP #29: RULE {10.11.17}

I cringe when I think about the kind of teacher I used to be, when I first began teaching. Not knowing any better, I taught the way I was taught:

I had a red-yellow-green behavior clip chart for my 4th graders.
I kept kids in from recess for not finishing their homework.
I assigned a reading log.
I killed a lot of trees from copying worksheets.
I gave rewards for passing an AR quiz.
I didn't "have time" for teaching writing and allowing my students 30 minutes of independent reading time every day was out of the question.
Classroom rules were posted before the students even walked in the room on the first day.

Whew....I cringe again just reading that list.

Maya Angelou got it right when she said: "When you know better, you do better." I think this quote sums up my growth as a teacher. Thank goodness!

Take the classroom rules, for example.

When I first started teaching, my list of rules was probably quite long: Raise your hand to talk; No talking when the teacher talks; Use the bathroom on your own time; Do your best work; No cheating.

Blah, blah, blah.

Thankfully, I began to know better and do better.

Rules became expectations and there became fewer of them. We came up with these expectations as a class, not just me telling the students what they were.

Eventually, we thought it best to just live by the Golden Rule: Treat others as we want to be treated. This led to many rich conversations and "family meetings" when things were not going well and the classroom community was affected.

In reality, no one really likes rules because they take away our choice of self-direction.

Maybe the world would be a better place if we all just treated each other the way we want to be treated.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

DWP #28/SOL: DOOR {10.10.17}

While visiting Papa Ed this morning, we came across the game show, "The Price is Right," on TV.

I haven't seen this show for at least 25 years, but it used to be one of my favorites to watch growing up. The host has changed, Bob Barker handing over his stick-skinny microphone to Drew Carey, but the games are the same and it still amazes me how the show can just hand out free cars, bedroom makeovers and cold-hard cash with such reckless abandon to contestants who simply spin a wheel.

If life was only that easy....

One of the games we saw involved the contestant getting to choose from one of three doors. Two of the doors held fabulous prizes -- a whole-house vacuum system and a trip to Colorado -- but the other door was a bust -- no prize.

The contestant carefully weighed her choices. She looked to the audience to see which door she should pick. (Like they could really help her...) She picked Door #2 and is now packing her bags for a trip to Colorado.

Lucky her!

If you have been following my #DWHabit (Daily Writing Habit) journey, you may know that this past week, we made the very difficult decision to put my stepdad, Papa Ed, into a nursing home because of his Alzheimer's. Seeing The Price is Right this morning reminded me of what we've been through this past week.

Before us stood several doors of options for him:

Door #1 was that we do nothing and continue to care for him at home.
Door #2 was to find a care facility that offered respite daycare services.
Door #3 was to find residential care for him.

Which door should we choose? Which one was the best for not only him, but my mom? We consulted our family and medical professionals as we weighed our choices.

We picked Door #3 and I really do feel that we won the big prize. After this period of adjustment that we are going through, we will know that we did.

Monday, October 9, 2017

DWP #27: EXPAND {10.9.17}

My knowledge base has expanded in so many ways over the past two weeks. Things I never imagined having to learn how to do, I have now done out of necessity.

I have learned...

What Sundowner's Syndrome is. (For people with dementia and Alzheimer's, their symptoms get much worse in the evening because the sun goes down and they become very disoriented.)

How to tell someone they are not coming home from their nursing home.

How to support my mom and help her realize that this is all for the best.

How to do odd jobs around her new house that needed to get done. I'm quite proud of myself for figuring out how to reprogram the keypad for her garage door opener and how to program her car to open the door. We also leveled the refrigerator in her garage because the door kept popping open and managed to take apart a recliner and get it up the basement stairs.

We learn to do some things out of necessity. That's the beautiful thing about the human mind and heart -- it can expand to whatever size necessary to get the job done.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

DWP #26: ANNOUNCE {10.08.17}

"I'm going home. My wife is on her way to pick me up," the slight, grey-haired man announced to the nursing aide sitting behind the central desk. "I've got places to go and things to do."

Back in his room, Room 282, the man had packed his things believing that he was indeed going home. He didn't have a suitcase so he took three hangers from the closet. Over each, he hung a t-shirt, outer shirt, pants and a jacket. In the jacket pockets, he stuffed socks and underwear.

He noticed a box sitting next to his recliner that held the Time magazines and daily newspaper that his wife had brought for him to read. (It was Thursday's paper, but it didn't matter. All news is new news to him.) He pushed the papers and magazines deep into the box and stuffed in a family photograph that hung on the wall -- the one of the family whitewater rafting on the Colorado River in 1986. He wrapped another jacket around the box to hold everything in. (He had a lot of jackets because of always being cold, you see.) The box sat neatly on the table next to his recliner.

"Let's have you wait in the activity room. I think they are doing morning exercises. You don't want to miss that," the CNA spoke gently to the man. The staff was used to hearing this from most of its residents, especially during the transition phase when the residents were still adjusting to their new home.

"Will you tell my wife I'm there? I'm leaving today, you know," the man replied, letting the aide lead him by the elbow to the activity room.

"Yes, I will tell her."

The thing about announcements is that they usually speak the truth.

Except when they don't.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

DWP #25: WAVE {10.07.17}

Being the new person in a group isn't easy, no matter how old you are.

Papa Ed is the newest resident on the assisted living floor at Libertyville Manor. He is only one of two men. The other happens to also share his name -- Edmund. What are the chances, right?

He has a private room that has a nice sitting area. Next to his recliner sits a basket that holds his Time Magazines and the daily newspaper. There is a TV on a table, although figuring out the remote is tough. The oversized door, which does not have a lock, is best left partially open to encourage socialization and visits from neighbors.

When I got to the Manor yesterday, Papa's door was closed.

I knocked then went in. Papa was sitting in his recliner reading Thursday's paper (again). We sat and chatted for a few minutes. He told me about his night. ("Slept right through," he told me, but the nurse said he was up about four times.) I asked if he showered today. ("Of course!," he said. The nurse: "Not today.") I asked what he had for breakfast. ("Fried egg and one of those round things with a hole in the middle -- a donut -- but the menu on the wall told me it was French Toast.)

At 10:30, it was time for morning activities. Papa didn't want to go. He said he would rather sit in his room and read. Finally, I talked him into walking down to the activity room with me. The circle of residents were sitting in chairs and waiting for the activity to start.

We were late.

As a person who is always early so I don't have to figure out how to fit in, I started to panic a little bit.  There was one chair left. The activity director waved us over and pointed to the chair. Papa and I walked over to it.

"Everyone, I want you to meet Ed, the newest member of our group," the activity director started.

Waves came at us from around the circle. Many said "hello."

A woman in a wheelchair next to Papa reached over to shake his hand. His name-twin Ed was sitting a few chairs down from him and gave a short wave when we looked his way.

My heart relaxed.

A wave is a powerful thing, isn't it?

Friday, October 6, 2017

DWP #24: STAY {10.6.17}

How do you tell someone that they must stay at the nursing home and can't come home?

How do you respond to the continuous loop of questions, asking the same thing over and over because he doesn't remember the answer, let alone ever asking the question?

How do you decide what to do when one moment there is perfect clarity, and the next you are back in the days of your childhood or the great war or living with your brother who died 20 years ago?

How do you decide what things to bring to make his room a little more like home, knowing perfectly well that he won't recognize the people in the pictures or the items he once loved?

How do you go back to your home and live amongst the silence, knowing that this is your new reality?


This week has been a rough one. My stepfather suffers from dementia, probably Alzheimer's, although he hasn't been diagnosed -- yet. After caring for him at home, the decision was made this week to move him into a facility where he will receive the care he needs.

This decision was heartbreaking, torturous, and yet a relief to make. There was wavering. Then there was certainty. Then wavering again.

There were tears. Lots and lots of tears. Lots and lots of guilt. Lots and lots of questions.

Watching my mom go through this has been horrible, but it has made me stronger. I have done things this week that I didn't know I could do. I am blessed to be able to walk beside her through this week, to be her voice when she couldn't find her own, to be a buffer when it got bad.

Losing your memory,and at times your mind, is a horrendous way to finish your life. Living with someone going through this is beyond words.

This is the long goodbye.

I am so thankful that the decision was made to have him stay at the care facility. Starting today, he will have the attention and structure he needs to help him. My mom will no longer be his caregiver and can go back to being his wife. The nurses -- oh, the amazing nurses -- are a gift from God.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

DWP #23: WATCH {10.5.17}

As teachers, we are excellent watchers.

We watch our students' body language to see if they understand a lesson. By watching, we can tell if someone is having a good or bad day. We can get insight into their thinking process just by watching how they work a math problem. We watch our students' behaviors so we can stop an outburst before it starts, have a conversation about friendship, or pair up two students who can help each other learn.

As writers, we are excellent watchers.

We watch the world around us, looking for inspiration and material for our next piece of writing. We watch nature change, people in the grocery store, a mother and daughter having lunch. By watching, we add life and interesting particulars to our writing toolbox, the kinds of details that lift our words off the page.

In one of my social media feeds the other day, I saw a post about the senses. The post said more people would rather lose their sense of hearing than their ability to see. I would agree. My ability to see goes beyond just seeing -- it helps me learn, think, anticipate, reflect, absorb, and process.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

DWP #22: BERRY {10.4.17}

Is home-canning a generational thing?

My mother didn't can too much, but I remember basement shelves full of home-canned applesauce and plums. My mother-in-law still cans the bounty of her garden every summer: dilly beans, tomato puree, and beets make their appearance at the dinner table and family gatherings throughout the year, bringing a bite of summer back to the table no matter what date it is.

I don't know of too many people of my generation who still can and preserve food.

I'm in the minority, I suppose.

I don't do a lot; just a few things. I like to make homemade pepper jelly to have around for gifts and appetizers. This year, I threw some blackberries from the garden into the jelly and it was amazing!  My son and I also made some mixed berry jelly. We took raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and more blackberries from the garden and created another breakfast treat. He liked it so much that he took a few jars away to college with him, hiding them in the back of the kitchen shelf so his roommates couldn't find it.

My garden is still producing blackberries. As I pick them, I'm throwing them into the freezer. I think when the holidays roll around, I will make another batch of blackberry jam to give as gifts. (That's only as long as my kids don't eat it all first.)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

DWP #21/SOL: SPARK {10.3.17}

What is the spark

that turns the day from
calm to chaos,
that wipes away
the memory of loved ones,
that takes you back
to a time too long ago,
makes you question
who we are,
where you are,
what day it is?

What is the spark

that turns you away,
blocks us out,
that turns your mind back into a young man's
even though your body is very, very old
makes us question
where you went,
who will you be today,
what you need?

What is the spark?

Monday, October 2, 2017

DWP #20: ROAD {10.2.17}

Highway 45 is a north/south highway that runs 1,300 miles from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico.

I grew up in Mundelein, Illinois, just about a half mile from Highway 45. We would take 45 to get to most places in town -- the grocery store, the dentist, the gas station and the mall. There was barely a day when I didn't travel that road.

In the summer, we would take Highway 45 north to my uncle's cabin in St. Germain, Wisconsin. I remember getting frustrated that it took extra time when we traveled that way, instead of taking the much faster interstate. Traveling north, Highway 45 wove through small towns with stop lights, traffic, and slow speed limits. This was a killer for a kid who just wanted to get to the cabin to go swimming.

I have my own home now and find it interesting that again, I find myself living about a half a mile west of Highway 45.  Again, I take this road to get almost everywhere, every day.

About seven years ago, my sister moved from Wisconsin to Dallas, Texas -- again, within close range of Highway 45. My uncle lives in Houston -- close to Highway 45. My mom recently moved -- quite near to Highway 45.

This one road -- Highway 45 -- runs through the country, but also runs through my life in so many ways.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

DWP #19: FINE {10.01.17}

It was going to be a LONG night.

How could it not be when the trip to the hospital began at 9:30 pm?

It was really quite REMARKABLE the way he had been treated --

Zipped out of the waiting room, straight to an exam room.

Doctors and nurses and other people doing important jobs buzzed around the room.

Hooking up monitors, taking blood pressures, asking questions --

What's your name?
Can you touch your nose?
Do you have any pain in your arm?
Does your head hurt?
Who is she?
When did this begin?

His VOICE seemed tiny in the busy-ness of the room.

More tests, more time.

Can I get you anything, the THOUGHTFUL nurse asked.

Wait. Wait. Wait.

The waiting paid off -- The tests were negative.

Just an episode. It often happens to others with the same condition when the sun goes down. (Hence the name, Sundowner Syndrome, I suppose.)

He will be FINE.

If there even is such a thing anymore.

Today's writing incorporated several of the Word of the Day words from this past week. I felt they were fit right in with today's word, FINE.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

DWP #18: LONG {9.29.17}

It was a beautiful day here in southeast Wisconsin. Picture perfect in every sense of the word!

I took advantage of the day and took one last trip down to the Kenosha Harbor Market, a farmers' market located right on the shore of Lake Michigan in the city of Kenosha.
I walked the aisles.
Took in the beautiful flowers putting on the final show of the season.
Visited with a little bit of nature.
 (See the butterfly?)
Went to Common Grounds, sat on the patio, and enjoyed a cup of coffee with a view.
All in all, it was as perfect of a day as I could get.

I know it will be a long, long time before a day like today will return again. The Market has only two more weekends before it shuts down for the year. But what a beautiful way to end!