Friday, March 31, 2017

#SOL17 Day 31: Never Have I Ever...

Today is the last day of this writing journey we've been on together for the last month. For me, I know this is just the beginning. I had hoped this experience would help me be a better writing teacher. I still hope this. But what I know for certain is that slicing has reignited my love of writing, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing. I hope to see a great many of you on Tuesdays as we continue to share and support each other.

Today is also the last day of my trip-of-a-lifetime. My husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage in Tahiti, and let me just say, it was everything I had hoped it would be, and so much more. I gave a lot of thought as to how I wanted to wrap up this experience and, as usual, was inspired by something that happened at school. A few weeks ago, my fellow teachers, staff members, and I participated in a fun exercise called "Never Have I Ever..." The basic gist goes like this:  everyone is seated except one person. That one person say, "Never have I ever..." and names something he or she has never done. Everyone who hasn't done that gets up and scrambles to find a new seat. The one left standing is the next person to share, "Never have I ever..." It's a really fun way to get to know each other a little bit. So, in honor of both my time in Tahiti, and my work friends at Schiesher and Tate Woods Elementary schools, I leave you with this lists of "firsts" in a similar form.

Before Tahiti, never had I ever...
  • traveled below the equator
  • met and named a puffer fish (we'll miss you, Albus!)
  • snorkeled off the deck to my room
  • seen the ocean through the floor - and glass-topped coffee table- of my room
  • eaten passion fruit 
  • had breakfast delivered by canoe
  • swam in an infinity pool
  • slept comfortably on an airplane
  • had a drink with coconut in it (not a fan of coconut, but this was surprisingly tasty!)
  • had a sunset be a major, multi-hour, multi-color, wonderous event
  • had an ocean view from my bathroom
  • had a run-in with a feisty crab while walking down a path (little guy was FIERCE)
  • snorkeled with a rainbow of fish who let me be part of their "school"
  • witnessed a Marquesan warrior dance
  • watched an actual chicken cross an actual road (I swear, it happened. He was chasing a hen and crossed right in front of our rental car. Maybe THAT'S the reason why the chicken crossed the road!)
  • been to a famous surf spot where the World Surfing League holds an annual contest. If you surf (as my California-raised husband does) this is a big deal. The black sands and monster waves of Teahupo'o are spectacular!
  • been this far away from my kid (can't wait to see you, Bug!)
  • been floored with love and gratitude for my family who moved mountains to make this trip happen (Chance and Lisa, you are my heroes!)

I  hope this post doesn't sound like a humble-brag. These experiences: the writing, the trip, the writing about the trip, have all left me changed, grateful, and growing in new directions. To be honest, I wasn't sure I'd be able to blog daily because of this trip, but I wanted to try, and I'm incredibly thankful that I did. A massive thank you to all of the wonders at Two Writing Teachers for creating the space for us to share and support each other. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

#SOL17 Day 30 - The Rewards of Travel

Our time in Tahiti is almost at an end. We leave late tomorrow night. Last night was Tahitian Marquesan Night at our hotel. The evening consisted of a buffet dinner and a traditional Tahitian performance... kind of like a Hawaiian luau. It was quite something, to be immersed in a culture with which I was unfamiliar and, like most new things, got me thinking.

This is a big reason why I travel. Yes, I love to see new places. Yes, I love to go to warm weather whenever I get the chance (I live in Chicago... I know you understand.) But a large part of why we choose those new warm places is to learn about new cultures, and to remember that the world is both very big, and very small. Someone way smarter than me once said that travel is the antidote to prejudice. I believe that with my whole heart. Learning about new places - their cultures, environments, people - makes you less fearful of the world. I think fear drives prejudice. Whatever we can do to keep that fear from taking over our lives will make the world a better and safer place.

So, go. See new places. Try new things. Meet new people. The world will thank you for it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

#SOL17 Day 29: Onomatopoetic Ocean

The South Pacific Ocean sits right under our bungalow as I write this. It's sitting, but it's not still. The sea, along with the unique materials it meets as hits its boundaries, work in harmony to create a cacophony of sounds. There are so many different sounds the ocean makes, so Chance and I started to try and describe them using words, and the idea of using onomatopoeia came while we were having that conversation.  We fall asleep to a symphony each night, and it's our alarm early each morning. Here are the sounds we hear, described for you onomatopoetically.

We wake before the sun
The ocean is calm
Thwap goes the water on the moorings of our dock

The winds wake with the sun
The ocean grows noisy
Splash goes the water against the jetty rocks

The storm clouds gather
The ocean turns angry
Roar go the waves pounding the shore

The rain subsides
The ocean calms down
Whoosh go the waves, lapping against the dock

The sun settles down
The ocean follows suit
And murmurs goodnight along the sand

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#SOL17 Day 28: Sweet Students

Last Friday afternoon was an exciting time in my class: we had just wrapped up a 4-quadrant pairing analysis on "Tragic Prelude," and were basking in the last few minutes before we all went our separate ways for spring break. Backpacks were being loaded with book stacks, plans were being discussed, Snapchat usernames were being exchanged.

Wait. WHAT?

Yes. My students were exchanging Snapchats. I know what you're thinking. I rolled my eyes, too, as they started grabbing sticky notes and passing around their usernames. Some even asked me if I had one (yes, but I place a social media moratorium on current students.) But then I started to listen. This is what I heard:

"Do you want mine? I want to keep in touch with everyone over break."

"Sure! That'd be fun. I'll miss you guys."

"Here's mine, too."

"We have a group chat called Mrs. Barber's Class. I'll add you."

"That's awesome!"

Oh, these SWEETIES! They wanted to stay connected! Our bond has grown so strong that they were actually going to miss each other this week. Mind you, this wasn't between BFFs or among one sub-group of friends; they reached out across racial, socio-economic, friendship, and gender lines. And that group chat??? Oh, they got me there. It was in that precise moment that I realized: we are a team. A unit. A squad, as my kids would say. They care about each other so much that they want to communicate outside of school. It made me want to give them my username.

Almost. 😉

Monday, March 27, 2017

#SOL17 Day 27: Is This Heaven?

     As I sit here on the deck of our bungalow, I'm tempted to do what I try to get my students NOT to: give a generic rundown of one of the greatest days of my life. No exaggeration. This place we've chosen to celebrate our anniversary is more than we ever anticipated. And I was anticipating A LOT. Day 1 in Tahiti brought a thousand different moments, each spectacular in their own way. I'll share one, so I can practice honing in on the small details in the hopes that you'll feel like you're in paradise, too.
     At about 7:30 this morning, as I was wrapping myself in a white, waffled robe, Chance shouted for me to come outside. I slid on my Birkenstocks, slid open the glass door, and stepped down onto the lower deck of our bungalow. 
     "Look there!" my husband whispered, pointing to the water down to my left. I peered over the dock and saw, to my utter amazement, a puffer fish. Approximately the size of a football, he was swimming lazily about 2-3 inches under the crystal clear surface of the water. I watched. He chilled. We stayed together, nature and observer, for well over twenty minutes. He seemed perfectly content to ride the calm waters, keeping watch on the colorful tangs and angelfish swimming off our deck, like a headmaster looking over his pupils. I named him Albus. 
     He let the current cradle him, every so often turning this way or that, as though he didn't have a care in the world. And, in that moment, neither did I. We were in full relaxation mode, Albus and I, letting the day take us where it wanted, no schedules, deadlines, or meetings to stress us out and cause us to blow up. There was no "finding a happy place." We already had. 

UPDATE: He's back again this morning. We're having coffee together. ❤

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

#SOL17 Day 25: Travel Observations

Security changed... no more taking off our shoes! Everyone was sniffed by a security dog, though, so that was new. Interesting how it keeps changing.

I watched two moms kiss their kids goodbye and watch wistfully as they headed down the jetway. I wonder if the moms went and bonded over a glass of wine after we took off.

Our flight to LA is completely full. About 75% of the people on the plane are using some sort of electronic device. My kid is reading a book. I'm so proud.

Southwest's flight attendants have a dry sense of humor and I love it.

We pushed back from the gate 10 minutes early. We're now sitting on the tarmac waiting for a new route west due to weather. The captain says he still thinks we'll get into LA on time instead of early. Let's pray he's right.

Runway lights are pretty at night. They sparkle.

We now have to go get more gas to fly our new route. Better to be safe than sorry. People are being very patient. Everyone is Spring Break Mellow.

Flying with a pilot is fun. My husband tells me all this stuff I don't know and I feel like I'm an insider.  I'm way more relaxed when I'm flying with him.  I just looked over at him and he's reading my blog. As I'm writing a new post. Weird.

Now he's on his iPad looking at the weather. He's glad the storms are "not tall." I'm taking this to be a good sign.

The view from the airplane as we sit at the gate: it's now thunderstorming.  The ramp has closed because it's too dangerous for the rampers to refuel. I'm going to be one of the minority and pull out a book to distract myself. Deciding between Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies. I think I'll settle into the battle of the Starks and Lannisters.

If you're reading this, it means we made it to LA and will make our Tahiti connection!

Friday, March 24, 2017

#SOL17 Day 24 - 27 Years Ago...

27 years ago today was a bright, sunny Saturday morning in southern California. It was also the day I lost my dad to a sudden heart attack. I was 16. My parents had been married for a little over 19 years. As I write this, Chance and I have been married for a little over 20 years. In fact, we're leaving tonight on our much-anticipated trip to Tahiti to celebrate this milestone.

My Dad and Me
In truth, I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that I've been married longer than my parents. I'm not sure what it is, exactly. I just feel unsettled about the idea. So I decided to try and write my through my unsettled feelings in the hopes of gaining some clarity. I think part of my discontent is that I don't feel like Chance and I have been married that long. The picture I have in my head is of us when we met: college seniors, hands joined, looking outward from the shore in a similar direction, our whole lives spread out before us like an endless ocean. Now, we're in the midst of the ocean of our lives. Am I afraid that we're closer to the other side of our ocean? Maybe.

Another part of my discontent is definitely a fear-based result of having a parent die in my youth. My dad's sudden death all those years ago made me acutely aware of how quickly things can change. He was here one minute, making fun of my boyfriend and nagging me about my grades, then he was gone. I don't like that I'm getting close to 49 (the age he died.) Getting older isn't bothering me as much as just seeing age 49, like it's some sort of scary finish line. Morbid, I know. But no one ever said fear was rational.

As I reflect on these thoughts, I notice two things: they're both fear-based. And they both mean one thing: I must choose to cherish this life I've been lucky enough to have. Regardless of where we are in the ocean of our lives, it's our life, meant to be lived to the fullest with the same joy as that young couple with the hands clasped together had all those years ago. No matter if the memories are small ones (coffee on winter mornings, cuddles in front of the fire, summer evenings by the pool) or momentous milestones (#TwentyinTahiti - we decided to hashtag our trip, because we're dorks) each one should be cherished and lived to its fullest.  

To honor my dad and his memory, this is what I'll work on: be present. Cherish the small times, because they often end up being the big times. Be grateful for each day and leave it a bit better than I found it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#SOL17 Day 23: ONE. MORE. DAY

Anticipation By the Numbers

1 more day
2 people in Tahiti
3 family members traveling
4 flights
5 time zones away
6 nights
7 days

20 years

Infinite gratitude

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#SOL17 Day 22: She Who Knows Me Best

In two short days, my family and I will be traveling west. Final destination: Tahiti, where Chance and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage. On the way, we will stop in Los Angeles, to drop our 15-year-old off where she will be spending her own dream vacation: Aunt's house.

My sister Lisa and I are identical twins. All the things you're thinking are true: we share the same brain, we talk to each other almost every day, we have a thousand inside jokes that no one else understands. When Chance and I moved to Chicago from Los Angeles in 1999, the worst part about it was leaving my sister. Hands down. Our significant others are the most understanding men on. this. earth. They put up with Saturday morning Facetimes that last hours, travel plans around each other's schedules, and the fact that we know way more about each other than most people do, or even want to. In short, Chance and Garrett are absolute gems because they get it.

L-R: My Hubby, Me, My Mom (seated), My Daughter, My Sis
Since the day my daughter was born, Lisa, despite living more than 2,000 miles away, was determined to be "Auntie." The one Sarah could count on when her parents were annoying. The one she could go to with her problems. Her person. Lisa has consciously worked at "Auntie" throughout Sarah's entire life: coming out for school milestones, sporting events, and all kinds of other kid activities, which isn't easy when you have a demanding job. She called Sarah often, switching to Facetime and texting when times changed. In short, she put in the work. And now she's reaping the benefits. She's "Aunt" ("Auntie" got shortened when Sarah was around nine.) Sarah now Facetimes, calls, and Snapchats her. They have a relationship independent of the one I have with either one of them. Sarah has a person.

A year ago, when we started talking trip logistics, the big question was, "We have a teenager; what should we do? Bring her? Send her to Grama's? To a friend's house?" My sister immediately piped up, "Seriously?" and arranged to have her schedule meld with ours so Sarah could stay with her. The two of them have been planning their spring break festivities almost as long as Chance and I have. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the beach, go-karting with friends, and pedicures are just a few of the events in the line up. Today, Lisa sent me a video of her shopping cart titled, "Spring Break Prep," full of Sarah's favorites. "I want her to feel at home," she said.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude, not just because Lisa's "taking Sarah," but because she understands - deep inside - the value of being "Aunt." It has been breathtakingly beautiful to observe as the bond continues to grow between Sarah and Lisa. Seeing them together is truly one of the greatest joys of my life. On Friday, when we arrive, I'll be so excited. Not just for Tahiti, but also to see my sister. And when we leave for the island on Saturday afternoon, I'll know in my heart that we placed Sarah in the best of hands.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#SOL17 Day 21: A Long Overdue Thank You

Dear Mrs. Hauser,

It's been seven years since I was your very first student teacher. Last week, I just finished working with my very first student teacher. Throughout the 2-month long process of growing a new teacher, I thought of you almost daily. You, as my cooperating teacher, had impacted me in countless ways, one of which was on a subject I had no idea how do tackle: mentoring a student teacher. I reached back into the only student teaching experience I had: my own with you, and I asked myself: WHAT WOULD DEBBIE DO?

This became my mantra. I was in a position similar to the one you were in when you graciously chose to mentor me: teaching long enough to feel confident in what you were doing, but still questioning and knowing how much more there was to learn. You taught me that we never stop learning, growing, and changing as teachers. You taught me that reflection is vital to a good teaching practice. You taught me that doing something "because that's how it's always been done" probably means it's time to retire.

All of these little nuggets of wisdom, and countless more (the way you treated your students, the collaborative relationship you had with your colleagues, the professionalism with which you worked with all staff members) became the meat and potatoes of my mentorship with Shannon, my student teacher. I know I wouldn't have been as confident in my abilities as a mentor if it weren't for you.

Therefore, to make a long story short, thank you. Truly. From the bottom of my heart. I hear horror stories of student teacher fails, of cooperating teacher nightmares, of candidates quitting the program due to a bad experience. My experience was just the opposite and, in part because of your influence, I hope Shannon's was as well.


Monday, March 20, 2017

#SOL17 Day 20: Unexpected

When I started this month-long challenge, the goal was to become a better writing teacher. Yes, I've learned many other things along the way (I wrote about them here and here.) But the one thing I never anticipated was that I would be an inspiration to others. I never thought that "other" would be my 15 year-old daughter.

Sure. She's watched me slice. She knows she's in a lot of them, often as a small moment or part of a post. She is curious about my notebook and has asked me about it as she flips through the pages.

And then, last night, she created a blog. And the reason? "You've inspired me, Mom," she said. Four little words that held such big meaning for me. You see, I've always hoped I would inspire her. But I thought I was years from that. I assumed that inspiration from mother to daughter would come after the rollercoaster ride of the teenage years. Apparently, I was very wrong.

My kid has always been a writer. Since she could hold a pencil, she wrote stories. She has team of notebooks full of ideas, and files of short stories on her computer. Now, she has something to say. Things she wants to share with others. She wants to be heard. (You can find her here, if you're so inclined.) So, her plan is to start by slicing every Tuesday with you inspirational folks.  I think I'll join her when this month is over.

After all, she's inspired me. ❤

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#SOL17 Day 19: Packing for Paradise

Packing for Paradise - a Poem by the Numbers

5 days until we leave
5 time zones away
12 hours by plane
2 days of travel
Tahiti, here we come

20 years to celebrate
6 years of saving
18 months of planning
5 days of giddy anticipation
6 days in paradise

1 huge suitcase
1 bag for the plane
3 swimsuits
0 sweaters
11 books - is that enough?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

#SOL17 Day 18: My Work Here Is Done

My family and I had a rare occurrence last night: uninterrupted time together. My daughter's plans with a friend fell through, and my husband and I were both home from work. We had finished a lovely dinner and decided to hunker down for a movie night. On the menu: both of the National Treasure movies, a favorite in our family.

My daughter was snuggled in her blanket at the foot of our sectional as we watched together. One of the characters in "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," upon finding the Lost City of Gold, was overcome with excitement about all the learning that the discovery would to lead to. Sarah's response? "That's Mom in a bookstore!"

I love that she identifies me as a lover of books. It's true, I do get a little overly excited. Or, to quote the first movie, "Go one step short of crazy and what do you get? Passionate." That's me about reading in a nutshell. But the fact that my daughter sees it as such an intrinsic part of me? And that she loves books as much as I do, AND loves the Beatles and musical theater, to boot?
*Drops the mic*
My work here is done.

Friday, March 17, 2017

#SOL17 Day 17: 17 Truths

For the 17th day of the 2017 Slice of Life Challenge, here are 17 truths about me (inspired by at least three other slicers), in no particular order :

  1. I like to cook for my family, but struggle to find the time and plan ahead.
  2. I'm an identical twin. I love it! Being a twin is a huge part of my identity and part of what makes me who I am.
  3. I have one kid. She's awesome. It irritates me when people say, "Oh? Only one?" If they knew my struggle to try and have another kid, they'd probably choose different words. And I don't think people are aware of that unless they, too, had a similar experience.
  4. I've taught every grade from 2nd through 6th. 5th and 6th are my absolute favorites. High school TERRIFIES me.
  5. I'm reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the first book in my absolute favorite series) to my class for the first time ever. Potter fever is now sweeping my classroom. Students are coming to school dressed in robes and wearing Potter glasses. We're using spells to learn Greek and Latin stems. And we're learning about friendship, bravery, and complicated characters. It is (ahem) MAGICAL.
  6. I love to watch my kid play volleyball. I used to play in high school, and I get such a special feeling in my hear when she asks me to pepper with her.
  7. No one told me that parenting in the early teenage years is basically akin to being a taxi driver.
  8. I don't like cake. But I'm obsessed with brownies. And my daughter's chocolate chip cookies. And thin mints.
  9. I just realized a few days ago that I've been married longer than my parents were. There's definitely a future blog post in that thought somewhere.
  10. We go to someplace warm and tropical every spring break. It's the carrot dangled in front of us to keep us going through the winters.
  11. My happy place is at a beach with my family, book in hand.
  12. Teaching is my 3rd profession. I was a television producer and a finance office manager. Both of my previous careers followed in the footsteps of my parents. Teaching is the career I chose for me.
  13. I love to snorkel. Coolest place so far? Costa Rica. I felt like I was swimming in Nemo's reef. My daughter got inked by an octopus. (Awwww... you guys made me ink!)
  14. Coffee is my goddess. I bow down to her daily. Fun fact: I didn't start drinking it until I was in graduate school getting my master's in teaching. 7 short years later, I'm fully addicted.
  15. This blog has made me more present. I laugh more, notice little details more, and take the time to slow down and be in the moment more often.
  16. My husband and daughter are both genuinely funny people. I value a sense of humor so much more now than I did when I was younger.
  17. I grew up in Southern California. I went to college at Long Beach State University, and have lived blocks from two fabulous beaches (Belmont Shore and Manhattan Beach.) I'm now in Chicago, which simply proves that I'm insane.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#SOL17 Day 16: Reflections from the Half-Way Point

We're halfway through (already?!) this grand and unexpected experiment called The Slice of Life Challenge, where people from all around the word commit to blogging daily about small moments in their lives. Their reasons for joining are as varied as the people in the group.

I chose to join the challenge because I wanted to experience daily writing in order to help my 5th grade students develop a more purposeful and authentic writing life. What I didn't realize were all of the priceless side benefits I would enjoy. I meant it when I said "unexpected." Today's post lists and reflects on a few of my takeaways, the ones for which I am most grateful.

  1. I am having a great time... way more than I thought I would! I'll admit: at first, I was nervous. Putting your life - not to mention your craft - out there makes you vulnerable. Definitely not my strong suit. But I'm pleasantly surprised at how FUN this daily exercise has been!
  2. Poetry is awesome! So far, I've written 2 haikus and an ode over the course of 15 days. The wordplay that I'm doing stretches me in a way that I haven't done before, and I'm enjoying it immensely.
  3. Writing doesn't have to be a dissertation. Less is often more.
  4. A notebook is necessary. HUGE takeaway for my students. My scraps of paper weren't cutting it anymore. My notebook now goes with me everywhere, and is a place to both record tiny moments to write about later, and to expand my thoughts I've started.
  5. Reading the words of others is just as important as writing. I've been inspired creatively, inspired by the stories, and pushed in new directions by this fabulous community of writers. Reading and supporting the members of this group through comments has been simply lovely.
  6. Ideas are overflowing! I'm definitely a plan-ahead type, but as I become more present and notice more, I get so many ideas running around my head (thank you, notebook!) that there are times that I have posts written several days in advance. 
This experience is already inspiring me to get my students blogging. I shared my blog with them this morning, and want to brainstorm with them the best way to get them started on their own blogging journeys! A MASSIVE thank you to the team at Two Writing Teachers for creating this creative, collaborative community.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

#SOL17 Day 15: Morning Thoughts

Thoughts running through my head from the time my feet hit the floor to when I got in the shower:
- What day is it? That's right. Wednesday. 
- Your foot isn't hurting this morning! Yay! Small blesssongs. 
- Is the east coast is unburied yet?
- You have a 7:45am meeting about the PARCC (insert eye roll here).
- Urrrrg. You've gotta make your lunch this morning because you were too tired last night. What did you say you wanted? That's right! PB & J and an apple. What are you? 7?
- You have two domain meeting this afternoon. Hope math goes smoothly. The kids are great, so I'm sure it will. 
- Leaving RIGHT after school. Being with Chance and Sarah is crucial since you saw them so little yesterday. 
- Oh!! You've got that 5:40 doctors appointment, too. All the more reason to skedaddle ASAP. 
- Wonder when I'll have time to blog. 
- I can't think of anything to blog about. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#SOL17 Day 14: Struggle = Compassion

I have two friends that are going through fertility treatments. This weekend, thanks to a serendipitous series of small events, I had a chance opportunity to talk with them simultaneously. As an (unsuccessful) survivor of the fertility treatment experience, I'm in a unique position to view the process from beyond the finish line. What I didn't expect, but am grateful to report, is the overwhelming amount of empathy I feel for my friends.

Empathy, to me, is a unique feeling, born from struggle. Had I not experienced the rollercoaster ride that is the fertility process for myself, I would not be able to understand the depths of the emotions, fears, and struggles my friends are feeling. They are alternately hopeful and anxious, excited, yet afraid to be too excited. Nervous, yet trying to limit their stress because they know how much stress can affect your body. I know this place. I was a resident for well over a year as we struggled with adding to our already lovely little family. But when our experience was over, and we had reluctantly admitted defeat, I rarely talked with anyone about what we went through. It felt too personal. And, in truth, I also felt a little guilty for feeling so sad because we do have a daughter who rocks our world on a daily basis. "What about people who don't even have a child?" I'd think to myself. "Suck it up. You're lucky." I am. It's so very true, and I am so very grateful. However, I know now that it was okay to feel sadness for the loss of what we thought would be. In fact, once I gave permission to feel that sadness, it led to even more thankfulness for the gift of our daughter. 

Having our experience come up over a decade later has turned out to be a gift. As my friends share with me the small moments of their fertility journeys: the tempered hopes, the expectations they are trying to manage, I find myself being both their cheerleader and their sounding board. I can empathize with what they are both going through, and in turn, they both trust me with their vulnerability. It's a honor, a lovely place to be, and one I didn't ever think my experience would bring me. For this, I am grateful.

Monday, March 13, 2017

#SOL17 Day 13: When Books Bring Us Together

As we continue to prep for our 20th anniversary trip of a lifetime, Chance and I, naturally, found ourselves on a mission to our local bookstore. He wanted a specific cycling mag to read on the plane; I though eight books weren't enough to take with and was looking for two specific novels to add to my book stack.

Quest completed and books in hand, I wandered to the children's section, hearing the siren song of middle grade lit calling to me once again. Browsing, I heard the strangest thing, a girl's familiar voice, talking just above a whisper, the sentence ending, "... Mrs. Barber."

I moved out from behind a book display to discover one of my students and fellow book nerd! To be honest, I think I startled her a bit, as if I magically apparated to her location when she said my name! Once she recovered from her small shock, her mom shared that, given the choice of getting frozen yogurt and buying books, she chose the books.

My fellow book nerd and me in the stacks.
"Every time!" I agreed, nodding vigorously in understanding.

Her mom then explained that they were choosing books based on what they could donate to our class library when she had finished reading them.

"Oh, WOW. That is just the sweetest," I replied, my heart full.

Despite our dinner reservations quickly approaching, Autumn and I spent time in the stacks. She LOVES fantasy and I am always recommending books & series to her. Sometimes, I can't get books in her hands fast enough! We talked about series from her favorite authors that she had yet to read, and the fact that some of her books needs are now down in the YA section. Her mom fondly remembered this sign of growing up with her older daughter, and I shared about the trips my daughter & I took here, when she walked the middle grade/YA tightrope for a while. I took a few pictures of books to remember so I can carefully begin selecting books for Autumn's spring break stack when I get to work today.

My husband found me where he knew I'd be, pleased - yet not surprised - to see that I had a new shopping partner. Autumn's and my impromptu time together had come to an end. We hugged goodbye with a promise to see each other on Monday, books in hand.

It was one of the best book experiences I've had in a while. I left the bookstore, heavy with books, and with a deeper understanding of how much they truly connect us.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

#SOL17 Day 12: Grrrr, Winter

An Angry Haiku for Winter

If a snowstorm comes
And brings one more May school day
I'm gonna lose my mind

Saturday, March 11, 2017

#SOL17 Day 11 Winter Is Here

Winter is here. It's been here. And even though it's March 11, it's 18 degrees, with a windchill of 8. Good times.

Being raised in California, I (along with all those "blessed" enough to live in harsh climates) get through these dark days with a combination of humor and optimism. My family plans a trip to a warm climate each spring break, so we have something to look forward to on days like this. We have fires in the fireplace. We joke about how crazy we are to be transplanted from California to Chicago, when everyone else seems to be moving in the other direction.

My dogs have their own special ways of handling winter. My big guy snuggles on a sheepskin bed, curling himself up as tightly as he can to keep the heat in, snout tucked into the warmth and softness of the thick fabric. My little gal can always be found warming her underside on our family room heat vent, face poised directly over the vent, ears gently blowing in the warm breeze. I'm pretty sure she thinks she's lying on a beach in the south of France.

Don't get me wrong. I love it here in the City of Big Shoulders. My husband and I have been here almost 18 years now. We have deep roots planted, friendships that we couldn't live without, and a daughter who is very connected to her school and community.

But in 13 days, we'll be in paradise for our 20th anniversary trip of a lifetime.

More on that tomorrow!

Friday, March 10, 2017

#SOL17 Day 10 - Oh, the Places You'll Go!

I'm saying goodbye to my very first student teacher today. She was with me for 8 short weeks, as she has a split placement with me and an English Language Learning push-in teacher at another elementary school.

I spent last night putting together a "teacher toolkit" for her and, as I was doing so, felt quite emotional. I hope I prepared her well. I hope I didn't do anything to dull that "new teacher" sparkle and unbridled optimism that simply radiates from her. I hope she understands what a great privilege this job is, that we as teachers have an unparalleled effect on the lives - and the futures - of our students. I hope she takes this awesome responsibility and holds it close to her heart. It is delicate. We can break it if we're not careful. I hope she sees the value of collaborating and working with the other amazing minds that will surround her.

I know she'll go far. She is exceptional (my principal's words, not mine.) She has set the bar very high for all other student teachers I might one day choose to mentor. I know she'll love whatever grade level she's at. I know she'll love her students, even when they're not all that lovable. I know she'll call them her "kids." I know she'll stay up nights and worry about them.  I know I learned just as much from her as she did from me. I know she already has the tools to be a great teacher. I just gave her a kit of cool stuff.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#SOL17 Day 9 - Ode to a Thin Mint

Ode to a Thin Mint

O, Thin Mint
You're a magical combination of
Luxurious chocolate and snappy mint.
You arrive each year,
Couriered by little gals in green sashes
Like a harbinger of spring.

O, Thin Mint
Like revenge, you are a dessert
Best served cold.
You rest in my freezer
A sweet surprise that awaits
When I go for ice.

O, Thin Mint
Your green box delights upon sight
Box? Who am I kidding?
Do I have enough 
To last until next year's delivery? 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#SOL17 Day 8 - Storm Insomnia

I think I made Mother Nature mad. I had finished my little haiku, beckoning Spring in 17 syllables, scheduled the post to publish the next morning, and started to wind down for the evening.

I knew it'd be a rough one before I went to bed. My weather app kindly informed me that severe weather would be visiting Chicago in the wee hours of the morning.

I should also tell you that I'm a terrible sleeper.

At 1:30am, when the wind began to howl and the thunder began to rumble right on time, I woke up. I stayed awake as the storm approached. The wind was furious, as the new month continued to March in like a lion. The sky continued to illuminate as the front of the storm passed over. I tossed. I turned. I checked my phone to see of the severe thunderstorm warning had changed to a tornado warning. It hadn't. I relaxed a little.

The light and sound (was this a storm or a Metallica concert?) abated just minutes later. But I, the terrible sleeper that I am, continued to toss and turn. I wondered if there was more to come. I wondered if today's lessons were going to go okay. I wondered how long the meeting with the new school architects would go. I wondered if I would fall asleep during dinner with my friend.

I needed my coffee intravenously. Next time I try to nudge the universe toward Spring, remind me that maybe Winter's not so bad after all.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

#SOL17 Day 7 - Haiku for Spring

Haiku for Spring

Sun wakes earlier
Means that Spring is on her way
To bring needed warmth

My 15-year-old daughter's response when I read this to her: "You're hai-cute."

Monday, March 6, 2017

#SOL17 Day 6 - A Love Letter to Myself

This one's for the girls, especially my daughter, Sarah, whose work writing a love letter to herself at Snowball last week inspired this post.

Dear Me,

We've been through so much over these last 40 + years, and I just wanted you to know how much I love you. I really don't say this enough, and it's important that you understand the reasons why you are so precious to me. Let me count the ways. Here are just a few:

We are strong. We survived a youth that can best be described as tumultuous. But, like Dumbledore, we learned from our struggles. We now know that perfection doesn't matter (we are, and will always be, far from perfect) as long as we are learning from our mistakes and continuing to grow. You are amazing because you didn't give up, admit when you are wrong, and try to do your best.

Even when you thought you weren't worth loving, you let yourself be vulnerable when we met Chance. You are worth loving, you are capable of great love, and you are able to forgive and be forgiven. Your vulnerability is what makes you both strong and lovable, and it is a quality that I know you work on. Keep it up. It makes me love you all the more.

Finally, I love you (always) because you gave Sarah to the world. She's such a great kid. She's so much like you: empathic, opinionated ;), and idealistically wants to make the world a better place. You did that. You carried her, brought her into the world, and - with Chance and a village - are raising her into a a delightful young woman.

There are countless more reasons why I love you more and more each day. I will work on communicating them to you so that you really, truly, get it.

Love (Always),

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#SOL17 Day 5 - Hogwarts Teaching Part III

Here's the last of my three #SOL17 posts reflecting on the teaching qualities of three Hogwarts professors. A podcast titled "Teach Like They Do at Hogwarts," created by Chuck Poole (@cpoole27) at described three teaching qualities and challenged teachers to reflect on the qualities within themselves. (Click here if you want to give it a listen.)

Severus Snape. Arguably the most complicated character in the Harry Potter series. My students don't get why he's my favorite character. They can't comprehend why Slytherin house is my favorite house. Then they read the "The Prince's  Tale" in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And they understand. Always.

The lessons from Snape are profound. He loved deeply and unconditionally. His love moved him to make remarkable sacrifices, to bravely risk himself, and ultimately changed countless lives for the better. In teaching, the same thing can happen. I - like a lot of teachers - can get stuck in the negative: not enough time, lots of pressure, blah, blah, blah. What if, instead, I could find ways to focus on my passion for this noble profession, growing the positive thoughts and working toward eliminating the negative? The podcast suggested I reflect on the why: Why do I teach?

I teach because of those kids who need me the most. You know: those ones who show me the least. I teach because I truly believe that a relationship with a child can have a profound impact on the rest of his life. I teach because I get from my students so much more than I can ever hope to give. It's really all about them. Always.

This is the mantra to which I will return when things get crazy. Crazy happens in cycles for a teacher, and it is during those times when I am least likely to notice that I'm not present in my passion that I will stop, breathe (my One Little Word for this year) and remember the WHY. I need only to look around my classroom. I am surrounded by WHY. Soon, this group of WHY will be headed off to middle school. I will no longer be surrounded by this unique group of awesome ten and eleven year olds, this team of amazing kids who surprise me each and every day. My motivation in staying present is simply that we, as teachers, are always on borrowed time with those with whom we work. For me, each group is precious. The time with them is fleeting. Seizing each and every day with joy and purpose, and with unconditional love is worth it. The sacrifice is worth it. Always.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

#SOL17 Day 4 - Hogwarts Teaching Part II

Here's part two of my three #SOL17 posts reflecting on the teaching qualities of three Hogwarts professors. A podcast titled "Teach Like They Do at Hogwarts," created by Chuck Poole (@cpoole27) at described three qualities and challenged teachers to reflect on the qualities within themselves.

Minerva McGonagall. Her name is synonymous with both "strict" and "kind," those characteristics which imply a balancing act that many teachers struggle to achieve. Professor McGonagall has long been my spirit animal and is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated characters in the Harry Potter series. She tolerated zero nonsense at Hogwarts, yet would give any student the cloak off her back. McGonagall had a wry sense of humor, and her reputation as a firm but fair teacher earned her respect among the Hogwarts students (with the possible exception of Draco Malfoy.)

I think McGonagall is such a great teaching archetype because she doesn't make the mistake of being her students' friend. She is clearly their teacher, their protector, and their mentor. In the muggle world, Professor McGonagall wouldn't be friends with her students on social media. But she would care for them, care about them, and help them learn to care about themselves and the world around them. This is the kind of teacher I continually strive to be.

The podcaster that inspired this post hit my 5th graders on the head perfectly when he said that students crave "a balance of freedom and routine, of discipline and choice, of consequence and mercy." The question is, which side do I fall on? Am I more lenient, or more of a disciplinarian? I think the latter, but only a little bit. So, being even more inspired by Minerva McGonagall than ever, I'll jump on that balance beam and strive to move slightly more toward center, show my students a little more mercy, kindness, and respect.

Friday, March 3, 2017

#SOL17 Day 3 - Hogwarts Teaching Part I

I am a Harry Potter FANATIC. The book series made my non-reader husband a reader, my daughter a book nerd, and serves as a gateway to hard literature for my students. I've read the series countless times, have regular movie marathons, and have been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter twice. So imagine my excitement as I was meandering through Twitter early this morning and discovered a podcast titled, "Teach Like They Do at Hogwarts," created by Chuck Poole (@cpoole27) at Turns out, this podcast is tailor made for reflection, so I'll be dedicating three #SOL17 posts to it as I reflect on the teaching qualities of three Hogwarts professors.

Dumbledore gained wisdom through struggles and hardships, then used it to help his students. What are some moments in my life that were tough, times that actually taught me valuable lessons?
  • I struggled with believing I was "good enough," but that taught me the value of not comparing myself to others and to focus on making my best effort. As Dumbledore put it, "It is our choices that show us what we are, far more than our abilities."
  • Having a father who was an alcoholic taught me that things might be bad, but that those things don't last forever. Or, in the words of Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."
  • There are so many times in my schooling and in my career when I just felt like stopping because I was tired, or it was too much work, or something else seemed more fun. But I am so happy that I stuck with teaching because I truly love it, and it is so right for me. Dumbledore puts it more succinctly, saying, "We must choose between what is easy and what is right."
This just scratches the surface of lessons and wisdom I can pass onto my students (and, WOW, is Dumbledore quotable or what?) I will continue to reflect on times in my life that I've struggled so I can share them with my students. 

Tomorrow, I'll tackle the mercy of my favorite Hogwarts professor (and spirit animal) Minerva McGonagall.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

#SOL17 Day 2 - Lessons from Kwame

So I bought Kwame Alexander's The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life last night. And today, I already used it to teach. In math, I chose a couple of the rules and had the students relate them to math. What WONDERFUL connections they made to their own lives. What a wonderful mindset this man has!

Here are top favorite 3 rules from The Playbook:

  1. There is no single formula for winning, but you must have a game plan (Rule 30.)
  2. The size of your heart matters more than your opponent (Rule 2.)
  3. Starting with a simple move like a lay-up can build confidence as you move through the hard screens and tough challenges on your way to the goal (Rule 37.)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#SOL17 Day 1: Blogging Anxieties

On this, day one of the Slice of Life Challenge, I am riddled with nerves. I've had this blog and others, for a couple of years now, but I've been quite inactive until I was inspired by this. And now I feel myself feeling quite nervous.

My blogging anxieties (in a stream of consciousness):

  • What if I don't have anything good to say?
  • What defines "good"?
  • What if no one comments?
  • Do I need the comments as validation?
  • I feel very vulnerable right now. Does this mean I'm growing?
  • Is this how my students feel when I read their work? Whoa.
  • What if I can't keep up? I don't have to be perfect. I just want to grow.
  • I want to give helpful, valuable feedback. WOW. This part will be super helpful for me in the classroom.
I'm feeling way less anxious. It felt really good to get that out... this writing thing is cathartic! And I'm finding that I don't even mind sending my insecurities out into the world because I'm guessing this community welcomes them and understands them.

Anxiety + writing = anticipation!! LET'S GOOOOOOOOOOO!

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