Creatures of Habit


I don’t know why he likes that side of the loveseat better, but he does, and he gets rather annoyed when it’s being occupied by anyone but him. If the other side is open, he’ll lie there and sigh deeply, letting you know that he’s making a sacrifice for you. If both humans are sitting there, then you’re in for it. He’ll hop up in the middle and then spread out as wide as he can, leaning heavily on the person on the left. To the untrained eye, it looks like a plea for affection, but in reality, it’s a land grab. You can’t read, never mind type. Dewey will not be denied.

We’re all creatures of habit. Look at where you sit at lunch, in meetings, heck, even at the dinner table. My father always sat at the end of the table in what we called the Chairman’s Chair as he was the chair of his HS English department at the time. My mother sat next to him, and we kids filled in the remaining spots. While my mother was closest to the stove in case anyone wanted seconds, there really wasn’t any reason why my brothers had to sit with their backs to the windows or for my sister and I to be at the other end of the table from my dad. But it’s what we did for years without question.

How many other things do we do daily without question merely because they’re habits? I frequently find that my cellphone has died because I haven’t gotten in the habit of plugging it in everyday. I can also go a day or two without using it which explains why I’m so forgetful about charging it in the first place. This is definitely a habit that needs attention. In comparison, I start everyday with a cup of coffee on that loveseat, but this is a conscious choice. I love the taste of it. I love the coziness of the couch. I love the critters piling on between my husband and me.

At school I make many deliberate decisions. I value pleasure reading by sharing my own reading with my students, by figuring it heavily in my grades as well as by investing a lot of money in my classroom library. I honor the effort it takes to write well by counting the process as much as the product  in my grading and by unveiling the morass that is my writing until several drafts in. On the other hand, I don’t consciously choose to let my filings of articles, etc. stack up. They just do. Today after school they will have my undivided attention, and I’ll pledge to stay on top of it in the future, but I probably won’t. It’s hard to break bad habits of almost thirty years.

Today is our last day of The Slice of Life Challenge, something many of us have been looking forward to for a while now. Writing is hard work. Writing well is even harder. We’ve put aside other endeavors to live up to our word and to blog daily. In my case, I took this on because I’d been having a hard time finding the energy to meet my weekly blogging commitment on the blog I write, Third and Rosedale, with two Writing Project friends. I’d hoped my participation and its emphasis on writing about anything from our lives would free me to write joyfully again. And it did. I hoped to find some great posts to read and new folks to follow. I did and I have. I hoped to write well enough that it will gain us some new readers. Only time will tell.

Writing about the mundane aspects of my life has been more than fun. It’s fed my thinking about school too. Last week, I was discussing the nearing completion of the Challenge with some colleagues and the fact that Heinemann is starting its One Hundred Words for One Hundred Days soon. Someone asked if I was going to take that on. My response. “Hell, no.” A friend wondered if I wanted to reconsider now that I’d made it thus far. “Don’t you find it much easier to find topics to write about now that you’re writing all of the time?” As someone who blogs daily, she knew the answer to the question. “Yes.”

So while I may not throw my hat in the ring for another blogging “competition” in the near future, for these reasons I’ll write more frequently than once a week and will post Slices on Tuesdays. That’s a habit I’m willing to embrace. How about you?

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 11:32 pm  Comments (4)  

Stop Being Such a Snob

I love Downton AbbeyThe Newsroom, and Game of Thrones. They’re all shows deemed worthy of watching by my friends and family even if they don’t partake themselves. Not everyone is a fan of costume dramas, politics, or warring kingdoms, but the series are respected in their own right. If I care about public opinion, I’m on solid ground with these three.

Where I venture onto shakier terrain is mentioning that I follow Scandal, a show that follows the misadventures of a “fixer”, Olivia Pope, who happens to be having an affair with the President of the United States. It’s a soap oprea/thriller that English teachers are supposed to be above.

I happened on the show one night last spring and was hooked on the premise. My friends at school were already watching it, so I decided to give it a go. Thanks to Netflix I got caught up on all of the past episodes over the next few months while watching the new ones too. Talk about confusing.

What was also confusing was the absence of logic in the plots. Murders are frequently committed, prominent people kidnapped, Presidental elections rigged. There’s also a lot of sleeping around. Don’t these people ever govern? Don’t forensics labs ever pick up on the mismatch between DNA evidence? Doesn’t anyone ever go to jail?

Once I gave up on looking for ordinary consequences for extraordinary behavior, I enjoyed it far more. Things happen so quickly in each episode that it’s a bit of a thrill ride to watch. In fact, the show’s production company, Shondaland, includes a roller coaster in its logo.  It also frequently features Joe Morton as Olivia’s father. I could watch this guy read the phone book. And every once in a while, we get to see nuanced character development as we did at the end of this week’s episode with Jake consoling a dying James.

While The West Wing and House of Cards are where I turn when I want a true political drama fix, the former being how I hope government is run and the latter how it probably is, Scandal is just fun fodder for discussion during lunch duty.

It just occurred to me that Scandal is the equivalent of the Percy Jackson series. I’ve long regarded these books as too action-laden with very little character development. Generally, they are harmless, but I’m happy when my kids move beyond them. But if Scandal is a guilty pleasure I’m allowed to indulge in as part of a more “rigorous” body of TV shows that I follow, shouldn’t my students be afforded the same latitude as part of a healthy reading diet? It seems maybe I have learned something about real life from Scandal: stop being such a snob.

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm  Comments (5)  

What Should We Play Today?

We’re watching To Kill A Mockingbird this week as an antidote to testing.  One of the many reasons, I love the book and its movie adaptation (and there are indeed many) is that its young protagonists spend their free time playing outside, acting out stories from weekly serials and comic books. Though they do border at times on being stalkers, they remind me so much of my own childhood. Sure we had our football, hide and seek, flashlight tag and the like, but we had imaginative play too.

Just like Dill came to visit every summer, my next door neighbors had cousins who came to stay. Robin was a few years younger than me, but we got long famously. We used to pretend to be two outlaws, planning a bank heist in the Old West. Her name was Shorty, but I don’t remember what mine was. I do remember “smoking” candy cigarettes and walking around bow-legged a lot. There was also a period where Robin, my sister and I acted out Starsky and Hutch, but my memories are much hazier of this.

Even when no one was around, we still managed to have fun. My brother, sister, and I used to play restaurant fairly often. Our cooking skills were quite limited, so patrons usually ordered grilled cheese, hamburgers, toast, cereal, or PB and J. We took turns running the restaurant. Whoever was waitstaff manned the “grill” as well. The others alternated between being a Russian diner who wore a fur hat that used to be my grandmother’s and a customer who ran out on the bill. This required an elaborate chase scene throughout the house before we all sat down to eat.

We also used to play communion until my parents caught on, complete with wafers made from Wonder bread and veils fashioned out of slips. Once my parents put the kibosh on that, I’m sure we resorted to making more Blood Demon horror movies in the woods behind our house. My oldest brother always had a camera in his hand. He’s the one who captured the rest of us in the photo below in a quieter moment without any fake blood to be found.

Of course, we also played Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Clue, and any other board game we could get our hands on, but our fondest memories involve Madame Bushka, running through the scrub pines, and each other.


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Published in: on March 29, 2014 at 1:53 pm  Comments (1)  

No Rest for the Weary



six appointments

with our local

Congressional delegation

to stress the importance

of reading and writing



We traversed

hallways once

walked by abolitionists,

war hawks and pacifists


Those seeking redress

for the government’s wrongs.

Others seeking aid

for disease or famine.


The marble stairs

leading to

those who can help

worn weary.

Their treads


but not broken.


A chance encounter

with John Lewis,

civil rights


still fighting

the good fight.


The promise of

We the People

still burning,

however dimly,

but still burning.

And I thought I was tired.


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Published in: on March 28, 2014 at 9:51 am  Comments (5)  

Good Times at the Goat


Last night after our kickoff meeting for NWP’s Spring Meeting, a few of us grabbed some burgers at The Goat, a joint across the street. Its Chicago counterpart inspired the SNL “cheezborger” skit.

As we ate, we talked and laughed a lot. Kim and Abbie, Californians, lamented that their temperate weather would never allow the fun of my heat sensitive nail polish. Mostly we talked of school and philosophy, of changes across our careers. Rhonda, a former principal, recalled how sometimes the minutiae of the job interferes with true leadership.

We were excited for Abbie who will be starting at a new school in the fall that will be inquiry-based. She told us that some are concerned that its students won’t be prepared for the more traditional high school they will attend. It reminded me of something Kathy Collins said at Columbia Saturday. She said, “You don’t prepare for a famine by starving yourself.”

Wise words appropriate for so many situations.

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Published in: on March 28, 2014 at 12:29 am  Comments (2)  




My fingernails,

temporary thermostats,

while wearing

heat sensitive

nail polish.

Perfectly plum

in the frosty

morning air

gives way to ombre

before long as

dark purple recedes

only to tinge the tips

in warmer hallways.

They’re festooned

in bright scarlet

in the savana of

my classroom.

The air conditioner is

no match for the will

of the heat pump.


True spring and a consistent color

has to come soon,

doesn’t it?


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Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 9:25 am  Comments (3)  



The novel, Divergent, is based on the premise that societal harmony is best achieved when like-minded people live together and pursue similar goals. In this world every sixteen year-old is tested to see which characteristic s/he possesses most strongly and thus which faction s/he is to join: Abnegation, meant to uphold selflessness; Amity, meant for the peaceful; Candor, meant for the honest; Dauntless, meant for the brave; and Erudite, intended for the intelligent.

I am Divergent. Like Tris, the novel’s protagonist, I have aspects of each of the factions. And like Tris each has held me in good stead. Each has also caused me some consternation.

I am selfless. I volunteer for many jobs. Whether it is taking on a parent questioning a younger colleague’s use of a text, volunteering to help establish a science curriculum at the non-profit early childcare center I work with, or agreeing to write a new course for my Writing Project site, I am willing to do so. Some times this leaves me stretched thin, impatient with others when I should be taking myself to task. But I do believe that we are bound to do all that we can to make this world a better place, and so I’ll continue to say yes even when it comes with a price.

Some of what I volunteer to do is a smidge beyond my ken and so some of my abnegation is related to taking risks. Not the kind that the Dauntless take by jumping off of moving trains but scary nonetheless. I haven’t taken a science class since my senior year of high school and I have no background in early learning, but I’m willing to learn. Going to my first National Writing Project professional writing retreat scared me silly. Who was I to sit beside Mary Ann Smith and say I had something worthy to say? And when censorship is bandied about, sometimes people lose their jobs. I don’t expect it to happen, but I know it’s a possibility.

Erudite is what makes the others possible. I love to learn and to teach others. Because I am willing to learn new things, I have a bit of a reputation as a jack-of-all trades and master of none, but I love learning all things literacy related. This is also partially related to the goal of making the world a better place. Because of the skills kids learn in my class, they can do anything they like. Erudite can take over if I’m not careful, however. I have to be careful to remember that knowledge doesn’t trump people in my classroom and in my home.

Amity is something I strive for. I don’t always achieve it. I like when things are peaceful, but I won’t sacrifice Candor in order to make that happen. I do care about others’ feelings and try not to hurt them but not at the cost of truth. Nevertheless, I am fiercely loyal and strive to be someone people can count on. I know how important lending a helping hand or an ear can be to someone in need. I may not always deliver, but I do try.

What about you? Is there one quality that you possess that stands out among all others or are you like me and Tris, Divergent?


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Published in: on March 24, 2014 at 11:28 pm  Comments (7)  

Let the Games Begin


Pencils behind ears,

packs of gum at the ready,

they enter battle today.

Fingers fly across calculators,

Formula sheets consulted,

Charts scribbled on scrap paper,

before the bloody bubbling.

Let the Games begin and

May the Odds be Ever in your Favor.

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Published in: on March 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm  Comments (1)  

Genesis of a poem

Friday’s post had to be written quickly and early as I knew I wouldn’t have time later in the day. I’d been kicking around a few ideas and even had a post half-written, waiting to be completed, when shampoo got in my eyes, flashes of bathtime struggles reemerged, and a poem was born.

I chose a poem because there wasn’t enough substance there to warrant an essay or a story. So once I I’d dried off and dressed, I tried to capture those moments. I wanted to juxtapose the first few minutes of fun in the tub with the anxiety of water and soap getting in my eyes. I don’t think I’ve succeeded there yet. In a later draft, I may want to include the Barbies that usually joined me in the tub once my sister and I outgrew bathing together (though never as many as there are in the picture) or swishing the washcloth through the water like a dolphin or my fascination with the whirlpool that the drain made.

Until I’d written it, I forgotten all about the protective magic of the washcloth or the epic battle we’d have about combing my hair out afterwards. My hair still gets really tangled. I do like the line about broken promises of No More Tears. I didn’t know where I was going once I’d gotten the memory down, but then remembered bathing the little people in my own life, repeating my mother almost word for word. But it still didn’t feel complete.

I added the last stanza, looking for some import to these memories. I wonder if I’ve introduced a much larger idea about the nature of pain and our response to it than the few lines I have written. I need to return to them and really figure out what I want to say and do it justice. But that’s what second drafts are for.

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Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 5:07 pm  Comments (1)  


This is something much earlier in the day but am just getting to post it now.

Over 3,500 teachers are gathered at Columbia University’s Teachers College for a day of growing our reading and writing. Diane Ravitch, author of Reign of Error, kicked off the day with some sobering statistics about standardized testing. Lots to think about.

Because her keynote ran a bit long, my first session was filled before I could make my way there. Ditto for my second choice, so I ducked into a campus coffee shop for some caffeine and writing. An apple and some Goldfish will be lunch quickly eaten while racing between sessions, so some quiet and a cup of joe may be just what the doctor ordered for a frenzy of learning.


Hope your Saturday is shaping up to be as enjoyable  as mine.

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Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 12:16 am  Comments (1)