My New Student

Another school year is drawing to a close, my second year teaching 5th grade ELA.  We close our writing year writing memoirs.  Last year we didn’t get to this unit in time to do it justice with all the interruptions the end of the school year brings.  This year my partner and I planned better and almost all of my kids have turned in their memoirs or will soon.  I’ve been pleased that so many of my students have really reached deep to find something worth writing about.  And then there’s my newest student.  The one who came a week before our state reading test.  The test that 5th graders must pass to move on to 6th grade.  The one they get three opportunities to pass.

This young man doesn’t remember how many schools he’s been in THIS year, much less in his school career.  He admitted that he doesn’t like to read when I was giving him his Benchmark Assessment a couple of days after he enrolled.  The assessment showed that he’s reading on a mid-second grade level, though he’s been retained somewhere along the way.  It was no surprise that he didn’t pass the reading test the first time, and unless some kind of miracle occurs, he won’t pass the second administration either.

I sat with him to try to pull out something that he could write about, even if it wasn’t really a memoir.  It was like pulling teeth.  We ended up talking about how it feels to move so much and have to change schools.  He talked about his most recent move.  I asked if he had to help pack boxes, but he said there wasn’t time for that, they just had to leave almost everything behind.  His Playstation and some other belongings went to the pawn shop to pay for gas.  I checked on him several minutes after we’d talked, and found he’d begun with, “Do you know what it’s like to move from house to house and always have to make new friends?”  Wow.  Without any coaching on how to begin, he managed to engage the reader instantly.

My heart breaks for this young man.  I can’t even imagine what his life must be like.

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I lost my mom to leukemia 12 years ago on this May 29th.  In August it’ll be 5 years since I lost my dad.  He had walked me down the aisle one year earlier.  I hate not having my parents.  I miss my mom every day, but I don’t let myself think about it because I don’t want to cry every day.  Even though I have multiple cousins and aunts and uncles from my dad’s side, I never spent time with them or got to know them.  Consequently, my family is very small and narrow.  I have my husband, my sweet, wonderful husband, and I have my sister, who is also sweet and wonderful.  I married late in life, so no kids.  My sister never had any kids, either.  So here we are – a one generational family.  My husband was born to his parents late in life, and he was estranged from his mom even before her death, so no family there either.

Why take the time to explain all that?  Because last week a teacher friend lost her mom.  She had lost her dad before I met her.  My heart hurts for her, but I see her with her kids and siblings, and aunts and uncles, and I’m jealous.  I’m jealous because of all the loved ones she has around her.  Several months ago a close friend lost her dad.  She’s making plans for her mother to move in with her family.  She has a brother and a sister and nieces and nephews.  I’m jealous of her, too.

I don’t say that, of course.  Because I know it would be hurtful and self-pity is no good.  But it hurts.  When I was a kid I had a typical family.  We visited my maternal grandparents several times a year.  My mom’s brother (who committed suicide 28 years ago) and his family were around at holidays.  I spent summers with my cousin (his daughter) at my grandparent’s lake house.  This is not how I envisioned my life would be.  I don’t talk about it.  I can’t.  Because really, what good would it do?

I have a good life.  I have a job I love and I work with great people.  My husband loves me and we have a good life together.  I have a best friend who is like a sister to me, and the best sister in the world.  When I married my husband I may not have gotten a biological family, but I did get some really great friends that are like family.  Life is good.  It’s just not what I’d planned.

Maybe a part of me is mourning losing the life I thought I would have, and maybe I need to let that happen.

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Grand Canyon

Layers of color sparkle in the sun,

Textures and shapes as far as the eye can see,

Depth and lightness marry in breathtaking beauty.

Pinon pines cling to walls, reach impossibly for the sun,

Clouds move and shift in a blue sky,

Ravens swoop and call on the breeze,

Ribbon of river runs far below.

There is more here than can be described with words.


Pictures only hint at the grandeur.

One must stand still before it,

And let their eyes drink deeply of the magic that is the Grand Canyon.

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On Being an Introvert…

This week this statement appeared in my Facebook feed, “Introverts unite, separately, in your own home”.  I shared it, and not surprisingly, it got a lot of likes on my page.  I have a lot of friends who are introverts.  My closest friends tend to be introverts.  What does it mean to be an introvert?

I don’t like small talk.  I’m better at it than I used to be, but I still feel awkward.

I enjoy spending time with a few good friends, but feel uncomfortable in any situation where I have to “mix and mingle”, even when I know all of the people in the room.

I’m comfortable spending time by myself.  In fact, I need time to myself to recharge.

Last Thursday I went to Scholastic’s Reading Summit.  I was so excited to get to hear Donalyn Miller speak about reading.  The Summit was great and I left inspired and excited about teaching in the fall, but since I went by myself my introversion was on display.

  • I sat by myself on the end of a row, waiting for the first talk, and took out my Kindle to read.  
  • Lunch was provided and I sat with 8-10 other ladies without really talking to any of them.  I made a few attempts to enter in a conversation with the group to my right, but didn’t feel particularly welcome and gave up.  The two ladies on my left chatted with each other, so I finished my meal and went to find my next session.
  • I was 30 minutes early and sat and read on my Kindle again.  
  • We went back for the keynote and I sat on the end, with an empty chair between me and the next person.  
  • At one point we were asked to talk with our neighbor.  I looked to the ladies on the other side of the empty chair, but no one looked my way.  I looked behind me, but those ladies were engaged with each other, so I just waited for the talk to start again.  

The speaker (Donalyn Miller!) made eye contact with me when I was supposed to be talking with my neighbor, and I wondered what she thought of me. I know the teachers at my school would have been surprised at how quiet I was.  I thought I must have looked antisocial or weird at the Summit, but I don’t feel that way in my everyday life.

It took me a long time to understand that being an introvert isn’t weird, and that I’m not really socially awkward.  The older I get the more people I find who understand those feelings and share them.

Introverts of the world, unite! (Separately, and in your own homes.)

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“Beau!  Come here, Beau!”  I call, waiting for him to show up to come sleep with me on the couch.

“Beau-Beau!  Come on, buddy!”  OK, so I have to call several times before I’m rewarded with his cute self looking at me beside the couch.

“Come on, you know you want to!”  He looks, puts his paws up on the edge of the couch.

“Come on, buddy!”  I give him a little more encouragement.

He jumps up and walks on my chest, finally curling up on me.  He purrs in contentment as I scratch his head.  He turns his head upside down and we both settle in for awhile.

I love this little guy.  Well, he was a tiny little orange guy when we got him, now he’s more of a big guy – about 15 pounds of sweetness.  He’ll be 2 years old on Friday.

Happy birthday, Beau!

2012-12-08 12.34.05 2014-06-17 15.48.31

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For the birds…


Over the last few years I’ve become a very amateur birdwatcher.  I look at birds everywhere I go.  I take pictures of them and try to figure out what they are. I have a bird feeder by the patio and one outside my kitchen window.  I love to watch the cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, and the occasional wren visit the feeder.  I love the indigo buntings that have made an appearance the last two years, and I especially love the red-shouldered hawks I see several times a week on the wires up and down my rural street.

I’m not sure what it is I like about birds.  I’ve never wanted one as a pet.  I just like to look at them.  Maybe it’s because they can fly and I’d love to be able to fly.  I flew in my dreams often when I was a kid.  I wonder where those dreams went.  I don’t have them anymore, but I remember the feeling of freedom I had.  I imagine what it would be like to soar on the breeze, catching the updrafts.  Some birds seem to fly for the sheer joy of it – I love that.

Today I saw a killdeer in the Target parking lot (school supply sales are starting, you know).  This is the bird that will pretend to have a broken wing to lead predators away from its nest.  Killdeers nest on the ground, so I guess it’s no wonder they need a strategy to keep their little ones safe.  I always have a camera in my purse for just such sightings.  Isn’t that a pretty bird?

Happy slicing!



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My Love of Reading

I love to read- I’ve loved reading as long as I can remember.

My mom took my sister and me to the library every week for years. She was never without a book, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. My sister wasn’t much different, and Dad often was awakened when the book he had been reading landed on his chest. I learned to read in Kindergarten – which is normal these days, but wasn’t over 40 years ago when I started school. We had these little yellow readers. The first one was Sam.  It had three words in it – I am Sam,and it consisted of every possible combination of those words.  A few new words were added with each little reader and I learned to read.  I was thrilled to join the family of readers.

My mom told me my first trip to the library was in a baby carrier.  I can picture it so easily – my little carrier sitting on the table while Mom browsed the paperbacks.  Books were always a treat.  When we took long driving vacations as a kid, Mom would take us to the used bookstore where we would each pick out a big stack of books which were immediately hidden away until the morning of the trip.  I think I looked forward to the books more than I looked forward to the trip.  I can remember traveling through the Rocky Mountains and my mom knocking on the window (my sister and I rode in the bed of the pickup with a camper on it) and telling us to put down our books and look out the window.  We didn’t.  We were lost in our books.

As an adult Mom and I would meet each other at the library every two weeks.  She typically checked out 10-12 books, and my stack was similar.  One time I watched a little girl in line behind my mom.  Her eyes got big as she looked at the tall stack of books in Mom’s hands.  She said, “Are you really going to read all those books?”  To which Mom replied, “Yes, and if you keep reading you’ll be able to read all these books someday, too.”  My mom was a reading hero to me that day.

This summer I’ve been reading Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild. My mom was definitely a wild reader; both my sister and I continue to read voraciously.  My dad kept a spreadsheet of books he’d read, along with his own rating system.  I’m so grateful for the example my mom gave me, and I love trying to pass that love on to my 5th graders.

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