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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thanks a Million!

I have a quote on my refrigerator uttered by Abraham Lincoln that says, "Whatever you are, be a good one."  I don't know how many times I have stood at my kitchen sink and read this thinking that he had no idea how many things a modern day woman would be trying to be "good at."  That the quote is noble, but unattainable.  And then a split second later I think, what a DUNCE!  Pull yourself together woman.  Your first world "problems" pale in comparison to what this man faced!  But, it was reading this quote on March 16th that put my Slice of Life posts on hiatus.  I stood in my p.j.'s at one o'clock in the morning staring at the fridge.  In that moment I realized that I was trying to do to much and was not being a "good one" in multiple departments.  My children were running amuck, my husband was starting to growl a little, my house was a mess and I was not rockin' it in the classroom.  I was tired and it showed.  My short lived adventure into this wonderful community of writer's was intoxicating and keeping me up way past my bedtime.  I had to make a choice.  I couldn't quite figure out how to be good at making my posts, reading posts (I could never just read 3!) and getting enough zzzzzzzzzz's.  I mentally boxed with myself  for a few days for being such a loser.  It was just 31 days right?  Eventually I admitted defeat and came to grips with the fact that I would not be able to continue the challenge.  I will spend some time trying to figure out what I can do differently next time, and hopefully, be a "good one" when it comes to the challenge next spring.  I learned so much and the experience has invigorated my teaching of writing in the classroom. A special thanks to all of you who shared your writing and encouraged me with your comments.

Photograph by Will, age 3

Thursday, March 15, 2012


     So I was standing in the hall today waiting for my son to get out of school.  All of a sudden a great lead to a story about sitting in the snow while my 3 year old napped in my lap in the middle of a ski run popped into my head.  I reached blindly into my purse and felt around for a pen.  Check.  Then I searched for a piece of paper.  I was sure there would be a pad of post-its in there somewhere.  Nope.  No post-its.  However, I did find my checkbook.  I pulled it out.  Nothing fancy.  Just the checks.  I flipped it over and scribbled down my thoughts.  When I was finished I looked up to see one of the other parents smiling at me.  "Paying bills?" she asked.  I giggled.  "No, just had a great idea for a story.  I didn't want to forget about it."  I dropped the checkbook back in my purse just as my son came bounding out of the classroom, all smiles.

     Hours later I sit here at my desk.  I have spent two hours cleaning my classroom and am ready to sit down and write my slice of life.  I walk over to my purse, open it and start digging around for my checkbook.  Oh yeah, I had taken it out to write a check for Eli's t-shirt.  Hmmmmm.  I find myself back at my desk.  No papers to shuffle through.  No checkbook.  No lead.  Bummer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ah ha! Momments

Ah ha! moments I have had since participating in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge.

1. Being part of a writing community is f-u-n, FUN!
2. Positive feedback from my peers inspires me to write again and again and again.
3. Sometimes I can't think of anything to write...until I read what somebody else has written.
4. Making personal connections to other peoples stories is cool.
5. Taking risks as a writer is exciting.
6. It is easier to teach and inspire young writer's when you walk the walk and talk the talk.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Second Grade Spelling Tools

     Second grade writer's need tools.  Practical tools.  When I am writing, whether it be an email, note to parents or my SOL I either have a dictionary handy or my web browser open and ready to search for that word whose spelling escapes me.  I try to point this out to my students regularly.  When I make a mistake or know I am not certain of a words spelling I bring it to my students attention and model how I go about fixing or learning from my mistake.  
     Here are a few of the tools I have found motivate and encourage second grade writer's to move past their fear of misspelling words (which seems to stop them dead in their tracks so many times!) and get down to the business of putting their incredible stories on the page.

1. I teach students to break the word into syllables and write one syllable at a time.  I also encourage them to write a word three different ways (using the different letter combinations they know for making the same sound) and choose the one that looks best.  I have a cute poster I made with these strategies on it to remind students to use them.  Of course it is on my work computer so I will have to post a link to it tomorrow.

2. I give students a form called "I'm not afraid of my words!" to keep in their writing folders.   When they have a big "juicy" word they are trying to spell they write it in the left hand column of their paper.  When I come to conference with them they show me any words they tried to spell and then I write the word correctly in the right hand column.  Afterword we discuss the smart things they did as a speller and the part they have to work on for next time.  I believe this is a Katie Wood Ray strategy.

3. An office.  Students can grab an "office" anytime they need one.  The office has the first 100 sight words they learned in first grade, long and short vowel sounds, beginning blends, word families and our second grade sight word/vocabulary word list which includes number words, days of the week and months of the year.  

What kind of spelling tools do you provide your students?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

     The moon was full and the sky was bright on Thursday evening.  It was not so full and not so bright on Saturday night when I decided to give my new skins and AT gear a whirl and head up one of the beginner runs at our local ski hill sometime after 8 p.m. 

     After having successfully figured out how to put my skins on my ski's as well as put my ski's and boots in touring mode I threw on my backpack, turned on my headlamp and started up the hill with my friend, Chris.  I wasn't really sure what to expect.  I had never "toured" with skins on my ski's before nor had I ever headed out on a nighttime skiing adventure.  I thought it would be a lot like cross country skiing.

     For the record, "skinning" up a hill is nothing like cross country skiing. It is more like walking with two concrete blocks attached to your feet.  Not at the beginning so much, but certainly by the time you climb a thousand vertical feet.  According to my friend, what we were doing, skinning up a groomed run, was the easiest way to tour.  Psh!

     I only commented on my burning calves once during the hike.  I spent most of the time trying to breathe and thinking about how amazing it was that I was not sliding backward down the steep, icy slope I was slogging my way up.  I also kept wondering how such a steep, never ending slope could be classified as a "beginner" run.

     After about an hour we made it to the top of the mountain.  My first summit!  It felt good to reach the top.  We sat on the chair lift to catch our breath and remove the skins from our ski's (no easy feat!). Chris took some pictures and posted them to Facebook.  While he was posting away it occurred to me that I was going to have to ski downhill, in the dark, with a tiny head lamp to light the way because the moon was nowhere to be seen.  What in the world?

     Soon we were ready to make our descent.  Chris said we should take it nice and slow.  I agreed.  He led the way and there was nothing slow about his departure.  He is a Telemark skier and I don't think they can actually go slow down a sheet of ice even if they want to.  I buckled my helmet and started out with a pizza wedge, gaining confidence as I went.

     Skiing down that bumpy sheet of ice was an exhilarating experience.  My husband was nervously waiting at the bottom of the hill when I returned, not sure if he had just ruined any chance of us touring together by suggesting I head up the hill that evening.  "So, how did you like it?" he asked.  "Loved it!" I replied grinning ear to ear.  He came in for a bear hug knowing he had me hook, line and sinker.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Finding more memories...

One of my favorite writing lessons is teaching my students how to "find" poems in another piece of writing.  Tonight I have decided to try "finding a poem" in one of the journal entries I have written for my son.

November 4, 2011

Today you built your first snowman of the year.
Today you gave your snowman a baby carrot nose, coffee bean eyes, coffee bean mouth, yellow satin scarf and a Cal Poly ball cap.
Today you surprised me by building a second snowman...and I said it couldn't be done!  Shame on me.
Today you lost a tooth!  A front tooth.
Today you belly laughed when you said, "Eli licks lollipops" because your tongue tickled the spot where your tooth used to be.
Today you shot a balloon down from the ceiling with a sling shot you made with Papa and Uncle Ed.
Today you held baby Estelle.
Today you made snowflakes.
Today you left a light on for the tooth fairy.

My found poem...

November 4, 2011

Your first snowman of the year
surprised me.
A second snowman?
I said it couldn't be done.
You belly laughed
for the tooth fairy.


My first son was born in January of 2006.  In June, 2008 his little brother arrived.  I thought I would remember every little detail as I  cuddled, kissed and played with these two little fellas.  Sadly I found that wasn't the case.   I wanted to remember all the tiny details of our lives together but quickly realized that I would not unless I wrote them down.   I started a journal for each of them in July 2008.  I keep their journals on my nightstand and periodically read them aloud to the boys.  They love hearing about themselves as little guys and I love that the memories are here forever.  Here are a couple of our treasured memories...

Eli: July 28, 2008

-When you wake me up in the morning you are inches away from my face with a huge smile and sparkling blue eyes.  You usually say, "Good morning Mama.  Are you awake? Look, the sunshine is out. It is a sunshiny day.  Let's talk about it."

-You give me lots of hugs and kisses and tell me not to be grouchy when I am.

Will: October 13, 2008

-You smile and laugh so much!  You have a deep, raspy little voice that we all love.  We went to the pumpkin patch today and Eli helped you pick out the perfect pumpkin.

Will: May 11, 2011

We have been reading Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge every night.  In this story Miss Nancy loses her memory and Wilfred Gordon helps her get it back.  Tonight you told me that you lost your memory.  You said you lost it in the garden and would go and dig for it tomorrow.  I hope you find it!

Eli: November 4, 2011

Today you lost one of your front teeth!  You also "belly laughed" when you said, "Eli licks lollipops" because your tongue tickled the spot where your tooth used to be.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Family Hot Tubbing

"It's family hot tubbing night!  Who's with me?"  Instantly three hands from their various perches around the living room shoot up toward the ceiling.  I jump up off the couch and head upstairs to put on my suit.  In a flash I am back downstairs.  Nobody else has moved.  I say nothing,  grab a towel from the linen closet and quietly slide open the back door.  I don't tell anyone I am headed out.  I am hoping for five minutes all to myself.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE family hot tubbing, but I also LOVE five minutes all to myself too.

My bare feet sting as I walk over the snow to the front of the tub and hoist half the lid up and over.  Creeeeeeeeeek. THUMP! That aught to attract someones attention I think to myself.  As quick as a flash I am on the other side of the hot tub pushing the rest of the lid up like some kind of hot tub superhero.

Tossing my towel on the chair I throw a leg up, over and into the tub. Yikes!  This baby is hot.  My foot tingles as if a million little pins are trying to push their way out.  I quickly throw my other leg over the side and feel the same prickly sensation.  I gingerly lower the rest of my body beneath the surface of the water.  Awwwwwww, that's what I am talking about. Nice.

The jets are working their magic and my arms are floating effortlessly just beneath the surface.  I lean my head back, close my eyes and wait.

Someone slides the back door open, closes it, and sticks a leg into the water.  I open one eye to see my husband climbing in.  He smiles.  I smile and close my eye.  "Are the kids coming?" I ask.  "Right behind me." He replies.  Our oldest slides open the back door, it squeaks.  He closes the door and squeals as his bare feet hit the snow.  My eyes open as he flings himself over the side with a big splash. Family hot tubbing has officially begun.

Next comes the little guy.  He has decided to swim "naked as a jaybird" but appears to be upset behind the glass door.  His face is contorted and I can see tears streaming down his chubby cheeks. This is unusual.  I wonder what in the world could be wrong.  We all look at each other confused.  He opens the door and announces, "IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII caaaaaaaaaaaaan't geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet myyyyyyyyyyyy tooooooooowel ooooooooooooooooon!"  My husband tries to soothe him by telling him he doesn't need his towel on right now.  That he should just come jump in.  It seems simple enough to the three of us already in the hot tub. Will can't see the big picture.  He slides the door closed and wails behind it.  This goes on for what seems like forever.  After multiple, unsuccessful attempts to place the towel over his shoulders he finally gives up.  Disgusted, he comes outside,  throws the towel on the chair and joins us.  

I lean back into the jets and attempt to relax.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Grandpa Pat

My Grandpa Pat was an 82 Airborne paratrooper during World War II.  He made three combat jumps and lived to tell about them.  Yet, he never did.  Not to me anyway.  When he returned home from the war he married my grandmother, built a house next to his brother, worked 8-5 Monday through Friday at Sierra Hardware, came home everyday at noon for lunch, ran his dogs everyday at 5:30 on the canal near his home, raised two children and never left the county again.  He had seen enough.

I was his "babydoll."  His only granddaughter.  He took me fishing on opening day,  showed me how to stack wood just so, allowed me to whittle sticks with his pocket knife while sitting on the river bank, taught me how to shoot pop cans with a 22 rifle and let me eat as much black licorice as I wanted.  He also taught me to drive a stick shift in his 1972 Ford Pick-up and never ever, not once, did he ever say a swear word anywhere near the vicinity of my precious "babydoll" ears.  He was quick to hug you, quick to laugh and quick to change the subject if you ever asked about the war.

My high school history teacher, Mr. Stang, invited my grandpa in to share his experiences about the war with our class on numerous occasions.  Each time he politely declined.  He never made an excuse, just said "no thank you" and smiled his big toothy grin.

When I think of him, as I often do, I marvel at the simplicity of his life.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Slice 2012: 5 of 31

Second Graders...Gotta Love 'em!

     It is late afternoon and I am surrounded by 3 second graders.  We have just finished reading the Lorax and they are baffled.  They can't figure out how the book came before the movie.  "How is this possible?" One young man asks another.  "I think the book came first." Offers the little girl in the group.  I suggest we look at the copyright date in the book and point out that the movie is brand new, having just been released in theaters on Dr. Seuss's birthday (which we all know was last Friday).  We open up the book to the dedication page and read that the book was first published in 1971.  "Oh, that was a year before I was born." I say.   I look up and my gaze rests on a very serious second grader who replies, "Geez! This book must be a hundred years old!"  "WHAT!" I screech.  "Do I look like I am a hundred years old?"  Sheepishly grinning he replied, "Well, sorta."  I gave him a big squeeze and vowed to reconsider purchasing another round of that "miracle" skin care product I have taking up a ton of space on my bathroom counter.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Today I...

Today I had a cup of coffee and watched the sunrise over the mountains while soaking in the hot tub.
Today I defined the word "underwear" for a three year old as I helped him get dressed.
Today I grinned a big cheesy grin when I read the comments from the other Slice of Lifers.
Today I realized my husband is a domestic genius.  Craft room + laundry room = a productive mama with happy kids.
Today I made Truffala trees and did 7 loads of laundry.
Today I said we would go for a walk but took a nap with my boys instead.
Today I figured out why we keep getting enormous black ants in the house.
Today my 6 year old convinced me that kids really do prefer playing with anything that does not technically belong to them.
Today I decided I would cook dinner tonight.  This is usually my husbands department.
Today I had to go to the grocery store twice because I forgot the main ingredient for dinner tonight.
Today a sweet elderly couple let me go first in line when the new checker arrived.
Today I tried to login to Pinterest to get my recipe for dinner tonight but the website would not load.
Today I winged making a chipotle chicken soup.
Today I realized I might actually know what I am doing in the kitchen.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In the Wee Hours

Here is my first post for the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Writing Challenge.  I read about it last week and decided I would really like to try participating.  Of course, I am late.  It is day 3 of the challenge and I am making my first post.  I am doing this with my second graders too.  I actually wrote a "slice" on the 1st when I modeled this for my students.  However, I didn't post it.  Anyway...I am going to try to make as many posts as possible for the rest of the month.  I am hoping to grow as a writer and a teacher of writing.  Wish me luck!

March 3, 2012

I was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by my 6 year old asking to get in bed with me.  Half asleep I motioned for him to climb in by lifting the duvet only to discover his 3 year old brother was already there.  The 6 year old squeezed in anyway.  This upset the little one who moaned and climbed on top of his big brother.  This isn’t going to work, I thought to myself.  So, I climbed over both of them, hoisted the little one up into my arms and stumbled through the darkness towards his bedroom.
After depositing the little guy back into his own bed I padded back across the hall and climbed back into my bed.  I snuggled up with the 6 year old only to have him start coughing in my face.  Great.  I wondered how long it would be before I started in with a cough too.  I rolled over and tried my best to get back to sleep.  3:00 a.m.  Lying with my eyes closed thinking about yesterdays skiing adventures.  3:26 a.m.  Lying with my eyes closed wondering if it is raining or if the dripping water is from the melting snow.  3:45 a.m.  Thinking about school and what we will do for Dr. Seuss week.  4:00 a.m.  Decide to get out of bed and clean house before kiddos wake up.
I head downstairs, let the dog out, build a fire and make my way to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.    I press the button to grind the coffee beans…empty.   I head downstairs to the garage to get the freshly roasted coffee beans that I am sure my husband has forgotten to bring up.  NO COFFEE BEANS!  Grrrrrrr...
Returning to the kitchen I search the freezer for the emergency Costco bag of coffee beans.  Nothing.  I decide to clean out the fridge, inventory its contents and tidy up the kitchen until 5:00 a.m.  I grab the “light” yogurt out of the fridge that I accidently purchased last week, put on my blue puffy jacket and throw on a beanie cap.  Grabbing my keys I head out the door, down the driveway to the car.  I am not dressed warm enough but I figure I can tough it out for a quick trip to Safeway.
I pull into the deserted parking lot.  Two police cars sit side by side.  I grab my yogurt, purse and car keys.  Walking briskly to the entrance of the store with my yogurt in hand I come face to face with a sign that says to use the other entrance.  It is sprinkling and I am a little bit bummed because I have to walk 200 feet to the other entrance, in the rain, in front of the police officers.  I don’t know why this bothers me but it does.  When I get down to the other door I stand in front of it waiting patiently for it to open.  Nothing.  Waiting.  Still nothing.  I give the door a little push.  It doesn’t budge.  I imagine the police officers staring at me wondering what the heck I think I am doing.  I walk back to the first entrance and read the “Hours of Operation” sign thinking I probably should have read this first.  5 a.m. to midnight.  I am pretty sure I left the house at 5 a.m. but figure I must have read the clock wrong.  I walk back to the car and turn on my cell phone.  5:08. What the? I wait 5 more minutes.  Read a text from my brother and answer it.  Not a sign of anyone.
I drive slowly past both entrances and still don’t see a soul inside the store.  I decide to drive across town to Albertson’s thinking I will grab a cup of coffee at one of the coffee shops along the way.  Surely they are open at this hour.  I notice Dutch Brother’s is open.  Not my favorite so I drive on.  Cup-of-Joe, closed.  I like Cup-of-Joe, bummer.  Albertson’s, closed.   Starbucks looks open.  I pull into the drive thru.  No crackly, high pitched, “Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you?” greets me.  I sit there for a moment.  My shoulders sag with disappointment when I realize no one is going to make me a vanilla latte.
I drive back to Dutch Brother’s and order a medium vanilla latte and medium coffee for my husband.  As the drinks are being prepared I realize that my husband is not going to like his coffee, it is an Americano.  I should have gotten him a latte.  Perhaps, in retrospect, I should have just stayed in bed this morning.