Serendipity

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)  

Down the drain

Soap in my eyes,

a sting I haven’t felt in years,

gives way to memories

of my mother coaxing me

to wash my hair

in the bathtub.

After she sculpts my hair with

shampoo into whimsical shapes,

the crying begins.

“No, Mommy. It hurts.”

Just tilt your head back and

close your eyes.

“Please. Tomorrow.

Pretty please.”

Cover your face with the 

washcloth. Then quick as a bunny

we’ll be done.

A bit more pleading before

capitulation. Hair rinsed,

ready to do battle with tangles

and the broken promises of Johnson’s No More Tears,

my mother and I dreaded

Sunday nights.

As a grown-up I’ve engaged in

the same battle with toddlers.

Singing songs is no palliative for fear.

When you’re too old for the tub,

you realize

some pain is fleeting.

That which you can’t anticipate

can rob you of your self for a bit, but most

pain washes away as quickly as the suds

down the drain.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?

Published in: on March 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm  Comments (5)  

The Big Dance

mmfull

Today begins the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, so I thought I’d share something we’re enjoying at school. Last year I brazenly stole this idea idea from a friend from my writing project site and a fellow Slicer, Maria Selke, and I’m so glad I did. 

As you can see, the brackets look very similar to the ones many of you have hanging on your refrigerators though instead of starting with a field of sixty-four, we made it a more manageable thirty-two. And instead of comers winning their conferences or wild card games, we asked kids to nominate their favorite books of the year. We limited nominated authors to their two most popular books to avoid having every Rick Riordan book ever written and the entire Harry Potter series take over the tournament. (Yes, eighth graders still love Harry.)

“Games” are conducted via weekly Googledocs surveys. As you can see , we’re currently in the third round as we actually started on March 1st. There have been some contentious battles. We had to learn to turn off the “See Survey Results” option to avoid vote tampering. Even parents have gotten in the act, asking during parent conferences, “How could you pit The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy against Divergent? So unfair!” 


The close-up reveals that this round asks kids to make some tough choices. The Book Thief or The Maze RunnerThe Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars? I’m glad I don’t have to choose. And the results so far indicate a few nail-biters as well as some blow-outs. I just can’t tell you which is which yet as games, I mean, voting is still going on.

No matter which book goes all the way, what’s clear is that the real winner are the kids. Whether they lobbied their lunch table for one of their favorites or  read a new book in anticipation of the tournament, everyone comes home from the big dance victorious.

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Published in: on March 20, 2014 at 9:41 pm  Comments (2)  

Bacon

How do you explain an inside joke? I guess it all started with a small stuffed pig one of us had in college that we would toss around the room from time to time, yelling “Pigs in Space”, a reference to a skit on the now defunct Muppet Show. Or it could be that Hoffman occasionally snorts when she laughs. Maybe it started in the dining hall one Sunday morning. Whatever it is, we definitely find all things bacon funny.

Cards are exchanged with pigs on them. Bacon-shaped pens too. (Hoffman, like my friend Reene, is a big supporter of the postal system.) There will be an occasional oink at an opportune moment, and of course, she makes a killer dates stuffed with almonds, wrapped in bacon, appetizer. In fact, not too long ago we hosted a party where every item on the dinner menu from the aforementioned dates to candied bacon for dessert featured this crispy treat.

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find this in the mail the other day.

bacon

Yes, that’s right. Every single recipe in the entire magazine contains bacon. Some seem try-worthy like lentil salad with beets and bacon. Others sound disgusting like The Italian Elvis, which stars bananas, bacon, Nutella, and mascarpone cheese. No, thanks. There are quizzes to take about your bacon knowledge, restaurants to seek out that feature rare pork products like Bacon Cotton Candy at a joint in Houston, and stuff to buy like kitchen towels that declare, “Bacon Makes Everything Better.” This issue of the Food Network Magazine has it all.

What it doesn’t have is the smile that lit across my face when I opened up the package in came in whether I ever try one single recipe contained within or not. (And given how much I love bacon, I probably will.) What I love more is a shared history of over thirty years with my buddy and how silly we can occasionally be even in our advancing years.

Care to share any of your inside jokes?

I’m participating on the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?

Published in: on March 19, 2014 at 12:34 am  Comments (3)  

The Word on Our Words

Here’s an update I wrote for my students about their progress in #SOL14. I hope you find it useful in some way.

We’re more than halfway through the challenge, so here’s an update on where we stand. There are about a dozen of you who have blogged every day of the month so far. That number is half of what it was last week, so kudos to those of you who are sticking with it. You must really want those Fathead posters of you that I promised. (And I must really learn how make those Fathead PDQ.)

 Twenty-five of you have already met the ten-post minimum, so anything you do is gravy from here on out. The same number of you has left comments for others. The Commenting Challenge had about four of you commenting like crazy on others’ work, but ultimately Lainey with her 138 comments left her competitors in the dust. She chose John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars as her prize. If you’ve read it, you know she chose wisely.

 Eleven of you haven’t posted anything yet. Come on in. The water’s fine. Don’t know what to write about? Many of your classmates have lamented about the snow. I can’t blame them for doing so. When spring finally decides to stick around, I expect we’ll see many posts about how beautiful the weather is. Others have talked about fun things they’ve done with their families, written reviews of books, TV shows, and/or movies, vented about their pet peeves – not to mention Honors Band, and a few are writing stories. There were two different versions of a fish rescue and one post about the world’s messiest sandwich.

When I’m having trouble of thinking of a topic, I’ll read what other bloggers are posting as well as check out Facebook and Twitter for ideas. Some times you’ll get two or three good ideas at the same time. I already know two topics for later in the week. What you don’t need to worry about is being brilliant. When you write on a daily basis in addition to everything else you’re doing, you strive for good. If you have time for great, go for it. But for most of us, good is good enough. (Of course, good still includes spelling correctly, etc. We still need to be able to read it.) And no matter how hard writing might seem, it’s nowhere near as hard as what these guys are trying to do.

challenge

I’m really glad we’ve taken this on together. I hope you are too.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t You Join Me?

 

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 10:33 pm  Comments (4)  

Alchemy

Irish Soda Bread

There’s something magical about Irish soda bread.

What makes it magical? Certainly not the ingredients. Flour, both baking soda and powder, salt, sugar. They’re all very humble with only raisins for flair and there’s not much flair there. Of course, there is buttermilk, but does that rise to magic?

Is it the preparation? Only fifteen minutes from the first scoop of flour to opening the oven door with no kneading required, so that’s not it. Forty-five minutes to bake. You could even, as the recipe suggests, measure out the dry ingredients the night before. But let’s admit it. No one is being sawed in half here.

Special equipment needed? Nope. You don’t need more than a wooden spoon to stir it, so no need to lug that Kitchen-Aid onto the counter. You’re told to bake it in an iron frying pan, which most houses have. Since I give most of mine away, mini-loaf pans come in quite handy. See? Nothing up my sleeve.

Part of the alchemy is the once-a-year-ness to it. Though certainly my ancestors ate it more regularly, I only make it for Saint Patrick’s Day. Tonight my husband will make corned beef and potato pancakes as his contributions for the occasion. We don’t do “Irish potatoes” or wear “Kiss me. I’m Irish” pins, which would be silly for him because he’s technically not, but we always mark the day.

That the recipe was handed down to me from a former co-worker is also part of its charm. She used to tell me stories of her grandmother who had come over from the old country. She’s long since retired, but I think of her every time I make it and wish she weren’t. It’s irrational I know, but recipes I’ve gotten from friends and family taste just a little bit better than those found in magazines or on the Web. They’re talismans I won’t trade for the world.

The big abracadraba for me is seeing loved ones eat this treat. This morning my goddaughter slathered so much butter on her slice that it looked like a cupcake. That she thought it was made of soda pop is no matter. She loved it just the same. I love that her family and others count on me to bake it for them every year. It connects me not just to my heritage but those I choose to count as my family as well.

There’s so much we can’t control about our lives, but we can inject a bit of magic into it every now and then. And that’s no blarney.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 10:33 am  Comments (3)  

Painted Promises

My eighth grade girls decided they were too old to participate in Girls Night Out, an annual event at my school to foster self-esteem and skills through fun. Too bad. They missed out on a lot. I tagged along a bit with Yosi, a sixth grader I mentor. When I asked her at the end of the night how she liked it, this usually reserved girl breathed, “I loved it.”

They started with a session of yoga. I wasn’t so sure how an hour of this would sit with the girls, but apparently some time perfecting their “downward dogs” helped to expend some pent-up energy after a long day of school while also helping to quiet them, readying them for what came next.

Then it was onto a catered dinner and a speaker on etiquette. Following this the girls went to three half-hour long concurrent sessions of their choosing. These included making good choices, painting still lifes, lessons on how to deal with bullies, salsa dancing, and advice on all things high school. Each of the sessions I visited saw very engaged girls, eager to contribute to discussions. There was lots of laughter and a few tears, but not the girl drama that you might expect from a hundred sixth and seventh graders.

I’m sure that has a lot to do with the tone set by our guidance counselors who organized the event and by the volunteers who led the sessions. I was particularly taken with a young teacher, raised in the next town over, who had been mercilessly bullied throughout middle school. She stood before them a beautiful, confident young woman and also as a survivor of what some of them have faced. Because she was honest with them, they were equally frank with her.

On a lighter note, the session led by a group of high school girls, included questions on boys. One girl wanted to know, “What do you do if a boy wants to kiss you?” Lots of giggles as the high schoolers pantomimed some Matrix-like moves to avoid an amorous embrace. Then they got serious and advised the girls not to let a boy pressure them into doing something they weren’t ready for. I was happy for this and even happier when the leader of the group admitted to the girls that she hadn’t been kissed until her junior year. Several others chimed in, “Same.” One girl allowed that she still hadn’t. What the middle schoolers saw before them were a group of very pretty, very smart, and very popular girls who weren’t defined by boys.

blue-nail-polish1

The evening ended with decorated cupcakes and pinky promises to stand by each other through thick and thin, sealed with an exchange of nail polish in all shades of blue, our school color. These badges of honor will set them apart on Monday when they return to class. Someone who had merely been a face in the crowd before might just become a friend.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?

Published in: on March 15, 2014 at 10:57 pm  Comments (3)  

Snail Mail

letters

Yesterday I got a lovely letter from a friend, complimenting me on a blog post I’d written a few weeks ago on our new teacher evaluation system. You may be wondering why she didn’t just leave a comment? After all, wasn’t she already on the computer to read it? Why switch media?

First, a practical matter. Reene’s letter was far longer than any comment box would allow because she crafted her words to follow a pattern. She started every paragraph with “I wanted to see you today, but…” Every sentence was filled with specific details from our friendship together like catching up over steel cut oatmeal at Panera or long walks with dogs in the sunshine. And of course, references to what I’d written were in there too, including a request for an autograph. That’s the kind of writing that requires you to mull things over, not the quick responses usually elicited in comments.

Reene also knows the pleasure of finding something other than bills in your mailbox. Of knowing that someone cared enough to sit with pen and paper to reach out to you, struggled to find just the right words to capture her thoughts after choosing just the right stationery for the occasion. Never mind then finding a stamp and tramping out to the mailbox to post it. Did you notice the use of the word post? For centuries before social media, people communicated through the post. I love it when people still do and usually keep the cards and letters people send me. A colleague who’s recovering from breast cancer covered a bulletin board with all of the cards she received while undergoing treatment so that her students understand the power of the written word to inspire others.

Those that were sent to me when I lost loved ones in my life or even in happier times have inspired me to be sure to send notes of my own. Not the perfunctory, obligatory condolence or congratulations on your retirement card, but something more heartfelt. If it makes me feel good to be thanked for a job well done or when I’m troubled to receive a cheery card from a pal, I’ll wager others feel the same way.  Let’s follow Reene’s example some time in the next two weeks. Think of a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, someone worthy of your attention, someone like Reene who is a true friend and a good writer too if you’re lucky,  and jot her a note to let her know you’re thinking of her. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up the subject of a blogpost too.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?

Published in: on March 15, 2014 at 12:31 am  Comments (4)  

Bossy

That’s what I’ve been all of my life. Not Beyonce, but Bossy. I bossed my siblings around. Still do or at least I try to. I ran things when I was in high school and college: editor of the paper, class officer, president of clubs. I ran things where I teach – yearbook, student council, my grade level team, various field trips – and still organize others. I’m proud of One Book, One School, the Poetry Slam, and the Faculty-Student Basketball Game. Ditto for activities at my Writing Project site. So I guess you could say I’m still bossy.

But Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In organization and the Girl Scouts would rather you didn’t. They announced on Monday that they’re mounting a campaign to ban the word for its negative implications for girls. They cite statistics like middle school girls are twice as likely to shy away from leadership roles for fear of being called bossy.  They’d rather be perceived as being nice. Because girls don’t want to be thought of as bossy, they then don’t practice the skills needed to be bossy in the workplace years later, the same skills that boys refine throughout school though they are thought of instead as being leaders. Played out in board rooms across the country, there are far fewer women in leadership roles than men.

So I wondered if my students fall into this trap. I polled them yesterday.While fifty-three percent said they’d rather be called a leader than nice by a slim margin, there was an overwhelmingly negative response to being called bossy. Few saw it as a positive: someone who steps up and gets things done. Most saw it as being synonymous with controlling, arrogant, condescending, mean, and pushy. What’s more forty-nine percent of those I polled said they’d been referred to as bossy a few times in their lives and seven percent said that they were frequently called this term.

With more time, I’d like to explore with my girls if being labeled bossy or the fear of it  has impacted their behavior. For example, “Because I want people to like me, I declined being c-captain of the lacrosse team” or instead “Though I’d like people to think I’m nice, I still act as the captain of my lacrosse team. ” If it’s the former, we need to do something to address it. 

While some may say that banning a word won’t change the attitudes behind it,  the campaign is an important step if we are striving for true equality for the sexes. We’re more likely to stress risk-taking, goal-setting, and assertiveness if it’s on the forefront of our minds. By making leadership a goal for all, we have a much greater chance of leveling the playing field.

So instead of calling myself bossy, let’s just say that I started refining my leadership skills at an early age. Let’s help other girls to do that too.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?

 

Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm  Comments (7)  

The Culvert and the Cup

Image

I noticed it the very first time we went for a walk together, a coffee cup sitting next to a culvert. That was over seven months ago. Of course, back then, it was sitting up as if left behind absent-mindedly, ready for a refill of some French Roast or perhaps Earl Grey Tea.

Though likely, it was swiped from a mother’s cabinet to catch some tadpoles and some fun, I’d like to imagine a conversation interrupted during a leisurely enough evening stroll to allow sipping something warm to chase away the chill.

But what kind of conversation? Was it an argument? I doubt it. You don’t take the time to carefully place a coffee cup on a patch of concrete if you are angry. You’re more likely to spill the contents with your upset and then clutch it as you stride back home, biting your tongue, afraid of making the situation worse.

A secret confided? Could be, but those tend to be shared behind mugs at a table as though hiding your smiles behind the ceramic somehow cements the conspiracy. What about bad news? Probably not. Though walking can help work off some of the nervous energy those confronting difficulties possess, stopping to pour a cup of tea before setting off doesn’t suit this mood either.

Perhaps it was a young family stretching their legs after dinner days before they were to move out of the area. Their oldest might have insisted that she was too big for the stroller, and they’d yielded. She’d soon be upset enough about leaving the only house she’d ever known. What had started as holding hands turned into “Carry me and Mr. Snuffles too.”  While the stuffed elephant didn’t weigh much, she was beginning to.

Stooping to scoop her up, the mug is set down to be retrieved the next day. Only it isn’t. Instead it greets my puppy and I every time we head that way. He doesn’t give it much thought though clearly I have.  Maybe in a few weeks, we’ll use it scoop some tadpoles ourselves.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?

Published in: on March 11, 2014 at 11:06 pm  Comments (4)