Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Tenzi Time

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Tenzi Time 

Last Sunday we had planned to go snow tubing following our Sunday morning worship service at a local ski hill, a little over an hour's drive by car. Yet, as many events this winter, we cancelled it due to a nasty winter storm.

As it is our annual church youth group snow tubing tradition, a few youth had invited friends to join us. Instead of sending everyone home, one of our co-leaders thought that it would be great to play board games and eat pizza. The weather was crummy, but at least we could still salvage part of the day.

As our frozen pizzas cooked in the oven, I learned how to play the game Tenzi, a new-to-me-game, with some youth. *Jessie, one of our youth, gave quick but thorough instructions for this fast-paced dice game. Soon we played twelve rounds of Tenzi. 

Variations to play Tenzi with
Besides learning a new game, one of my favorite parts of the afternoon was when *Kat, a quiet friend of Jessie's, joined us. Donned in a black hoodie sweatshirt, blue tuft of hair peeking out, Kat had barely muttered a sound. Yet, as we played Tenzi, I saw Kat smile. As we got into the game she started to laugh and then talk, revealing bit about who she was. 

I adore how games can sometimes bring teenagers out of their shell.

Although it was another disappointing cancellation that day, I am grateful we were still able to make our own fun - a surprising kind of joy. Most of all, I was able to make a new, but small connection with Kat. 


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Uke Can Do It!

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Uke Can Do It!

Are you Ready to Learn How to Play the Ukulele? It was mid-December and this email subject line caught my attention. 

I opened the message and read the first part of the message:
Why Uke? Fun, inexpensive and unique, the ukulele's lightweight frame and easy-to-press strings make them compatible for everyone. Uke can do it! 

As a busy mom, wife, and teacher, I had been searching for some sort of class or activity just for me - something that I could just enjoy.

My daughter had a nice ukulele sitting in her closet - one she begged for after a ukulele mini unit at school. Unlike toys or gifts that one of my children loses interest in or outgrows, this one wouldn't go to our local Goodwill or passed along to friends - I could make use of it.

So I signed up. 

Classes began in mid-January. Due to all of our snow days and extreme cold weather, I have only had two lessons so far. I only know a few chords and a handful of songs. It's challenging for me to strum and my fingers don't always move as fast as I would like. Yet I've felt playful and brave - full of joy when I play. 

My daughter's ukulele with music I am learning 

Sam, one of our teachers, urged us to play to relax and wind down instead of viewing it as a chore. So far I have taken his advice. 

I feel good about learning something new. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Cover Challenge

Book Cover Challenge

Recently I was invited by my friend Cris via Twitter to post seven covers of books that I love - no review, but just the cover. The challenge requested that each time I posted the cover I was supposed to invite someone new to accept the challenge. I was excited, yet a bit apprehensive. I knew not everyone I tagged would participate (they didn't) and that many of my pals on Twitter had already participated in the same/similar challenge. However, I have loved seeing book covers posted during this challenge, adding many to my to-be-read pile (like these titles: Several short sentences about writing, The Worlds of Harriet Henderson, Heart Talk)

For me, the hardest part of this challenge was not writing anything about books I love. If you couldn't guess, I adore books - reading them, talking about them, writing about them, and simply being surrounded by them.

Below is a bit about each cover I posted in the challenge and what I love about each title:  

Voices in the Air by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye is one of my favorite writers. This is a book that I turn to when I want to find writing inspiration or even for a bit of personal comfort. Her writing is stunning, often bringing out tender emotions when I read her work. Once I heard the author share on a podcast that she often shares with students that we live in poems. Since then, I often think about how we live in poems. 

A Book of Uncommon Prayer by Brian Doyle 
I learned about writer Brian Doyle at one of teacher/author Katherine Bomer's brilliant presentations. I own many of Brian Doyle's books, but one of my favorites is A Book of Uncommon Prayer. What I love most about this book is it reads like a collection of list poems in celebration of the most ordinary things. Ultimately, it is about taking time to notice what's around you and writing about it. This is a book that has served as a mentor text to me before. It's also helped me show up with more gratitude, especially with I am going through something heavy. The late Brian Doyle was an exquisite writer. 

The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer
Katherine Bomer's work deeply changed me as a teacher, especially as a teacher of writers. Although I hate to admit this, I used to approach teaching writing through more of a deficit lens. I focused on what students could not do in their writing. I used to teach the dreaded five paragraph essay. I wasn't celebrating what my students could do as writers. The Journey is Everything challenged many of my traditional secondary teacher views; It helped me approach teaching writers in more authentic and purposeful ways, and I learned how to use mentor texts more effectively. The Journey is Everything was one of the books that sparked my journey as serving my students better as writers. 

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
by Louise Erdrich
A few years ago a wise woman I know introduced me to an impressive array of new-to-me titles and authors. Her suggestions expanded my reading diet, changing me as a reader and person. One of the titles on this list was Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. By far, this is one of my favorite pieces of fiction. I lingered in Erdrich's beautiful prose and story telling and cared deeply about the characters in this book. Over two years later I still think about this book- how Erdrich's characters dealt with grief and spirituality and about the power of community and humor and forgiveness and redemption. The book also made me think about all of different ways to show and receive love. Just thinking about this book makes me want to reread it. 

That Workshop Book
by Sam Bennett
I was initially drawn to That Workshop Book because of the cover. Yet, the inside is just as great (if not better) than the cover. Although I had read books about the workshop model before, this is the first book that really made sense to me as a teacher and literacy coach. Sam Bennett's writing voice is lovely, inviting, and compelling. She introduces you to remarkable classrooms you want to be a part of. Sam Bennett's work helped me be a smarter instructional coach and teacher. She inspires me to want to keep learning in order to serve my students better and to show up as a better human. When I'm struggling as a teacher, especially in planning and creating meaningful work for my students, I reread this book. It always leaves my soul a little fuller.

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader
edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick
I've been an avid follower of Maria Popova's Brain Pickings for a while now. When A Velocity of Being was published I immediately purchased it. This book is filled with gorgeous illustrations, paired with lovely letters to young readers. This is a title that I have been slowly reading just so I can savor it a little longer. My ten-year-old daughter and I have been marveling at this volume, frequently looking up artists. Later this year I hope to use this book as a mentor text with students, integrating art and writing.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 3
by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I first heard about The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories on a teacher blog post (I think from Three Teachers Talk). It is a small volume of tiny stories, accompanied by artwork. I am always searching for possible mentor texts to use with my high school students. This title reminds me that story doesn't have to be long or complicated to be meaningful or poetic. Some stories are quirky and unexpected, while some I found thoughtful and touching. The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is a quick and fun read; It's often checked out from my classroom library. 

There were many covers that I could have (and wanted to) include in this challenge. Most importantly, this was a great way for me to think about some beloved books and share them. 

Thank you, Cris. 

As Rainer Maria Rielke once remarked, "Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading." 

Touché, Rainer Maria Rielke. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Snow Day Spine Poetry

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Snow Day Spine Poetry 

As I compose this post, we are home again from school today, due to Winter Storm Destiny. This is the fifth unexpected day off of school in three weeks. I continue to love extra time at home with my favorite humans and pets, yet I am tired of significantly altering my lesson plans and rescheduling meetings and after school events. And the snow. Did I mention the forecast reports that we are to receive a total 8-12 inches of snow by the conclusion of this storm? 


Don't worry. I have enough books and school work and tasks around the house to keep me busy for days. As I was trying to organize some books last night I got distracted and created a few spine poems:

How the Light Gets In. 

Reader, Come Home.
 Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. 

Stay safe and warm, friends. 

(*I updated this post because I forgot to add Almost Everything to last line in my second Spine Poem!) 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Inclement Weather

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Inclement Weather

Last week's weather "polar vortex" was intense, even for Wisconsin standards. We had three days off of school, due to inclement weather. I've been teaching for nineteen years in Wisconsin, and I do not recall ever having this many days cancelled in one week. 

This meant two days of instruction last week instead of five, which meant lesson adjustments. Meetings were cancelled and rescheduled (and rescheduled again). In addition, this meant that I had a lot of extra time at home with my own children. I always welcome this gift to slow down and be home with my family.

As the parent of a tween and teenager, my kids don't need constant supervision anymore. However, much to the dismay of my children, I am not the kind of parent who allows for unlimited gaming or Netflix viewing. Besides reading, writing, catching up on laundry, and constantly cooking and cleaning up after my kids, we put together many jigsaw puzzles, baked banana bread together, played marathon sessions of inside catch with our dogs, and conducted various home science experiments (such as creating more snow out of boiling water outside). 
Our second puzzle complicated puzzle in a day!  
What happens when you throw boiling water when it's -37 degrees below zero with the wind chill? 

Boiling water instantly turns into snow! 

I also wrote daily Haiku. Here are a few stanzas I penned throughout the week (not necessarily meant to be read as one piece): 

School cancelled prior
snowfall. Robo text alert.
Celebration screams.

Ice crystals dance in
fresh coat driveway snow. Puppy's
tail wag excitement.

Continuous Snow. 
Shovel. Repeat. Break. Shovel.
Nearly nine inches.

Winter skin cracks hands,
lips dry-parched for thirst. Bitter,
stale air circulates.

Paw raising cold. Chill
pricks nose hairs. Bars, churches closed. 
Paused mail service twice. 

Last weekend's temperatures were unseasonably warm. Huge chunks of snow melted, leaving the sidewalks drowning in deep puddles. Freezing temperatures returned, and the last mornings have made for icy sidewalks and side streets. Tonight we are scheduled to receive more snow. 

Although I loved spending more time with my family last week, I hope that Punxsutawney Phil's predicition of early spring proves correct. I am already yearning for Spring!  

Slice of Life Challenge #21 Day 31: Easter Preparations

For the month of March, each day I am writing and posting  a slice of my life , hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Slice of Life Challenge #21...