Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Peonies and Thank Yous

It's Slice of Life Tuesday sponsored by the wonderful team at Two Writing Teachers.  Won't you join us?
Peonies and Thank Yous

I stooped down to take a whiff of a bouquet of peonies the other day and an image instantly popped into my mind...
It was the last day of school and I was dressed in a cool summer dress. I was holding a bouquet of peonies for my favorite teacher, a gift for helping me learn and grow that year. The blossoms were fragrant and sweet smelling. My mom had cut them from her garden that morning so they were still dripping wet with dew.  She wrapped the bouquet in a damp paper towel and then covered the paper towel with foil so the stems would stay cool until I got to school. The foil was rough against my hands as I rode the bus to school, but it was all worth it when I saw the smile on my teachers face as I handed her my peonies and whispering a soft thank you.  It was the only gift we could afford, but it was from the heart.  And with her smile I knew it was worth more than gold.

This week I must find a way to say thank you to a colleague that I admire more than gold. She mentored me in a gentle and caring manner and was there for me in my darkest of days.  How do I thank her?  I recall the warm smile I received from the few stems of peonies and the whispered words of thanks.  Maybe a stem or two from my garden will do, but I think I will add my whispering words of thank you by way of a letter, telling her of all my appreciation and admiration. 

I am sure this community will agree - words from the heart are worth more than any gift. Words are gold.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

#joy #blessings

It's Slice of Life Tuesday at The Two Writing Teachers blog and I post along with a community of other writers desiring to share the craft of writing.  Join us!

#joy #blessings

Multicolored tubes splayed across the yard
Damp bathing suits hanging willy-nilly from the rack
Boat waiting to be covered
Cushions to be put away before it rains
Empty water bottles and seltzer cans laying on the table
Glasses in the sink filled with melted ice cubes
Dirty dishes on the counter
Full dishwasher waiting to be emptied
Towels on the bathroom floor

So many things screaming at me for attention...

But it's all worth it after a weekend of fun surrounded by children and grandbabies.
#joy #blessed

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Learning a New Language

It's Tuesday and I am joining the Two Writing Teachers for their weekly Slice of Life post.

"Hey Chris, want a boat?'  asked my brother-in-law Joe.  "Now that I closed on my house in Maine I don't need it any more.  Would you like to use it for the summer and see what you think?"  

Living on a lake usually means you get a boat, but my idea of boating is a quiet ride on a kayak.  I really never saw myself owning a boat... with a motor... that needs gas... that requires maintenance...that means $$$. So when Joe asked me to take his boat I certainly had a lot to think about.  
With the gentle encouragement of my kids I decided to try it out for the summer.  Last weekend Joe took me out for a spin on the lake and to get my first lesson.  He spoke about watching the trim, taking care not to cover the vents from the fumes of the out-board motor, and making sure that I turn on the fan prior to starting the engine.  He shared that I might have to add another cleat to the dock and that on sunny or even rainy days I could put up the Bimini top. Many of these words I had heard before but not in terms of marine craft. It was like he was speaking a new language to me.  I just smiled and went along for the ride. 
When I got off the boat I realized that I had so much to learn. While my kids were calling me Captain Bebe (my name for grandma) I judged I was Captain Flounder, struggling to take it all in and beginning to feel overwhelmed.  It took some effort on my part not to drown (pun intended) in all the new information but rather remember that I needed to slow down and take the learning step by step. I take consolation in knowing that I am fortunate to have so many people around me that can teach me the ropes and I need to look to them to gently guide me to success because I can't do it on my own.  All of this new information required me to be patient and allow myself some scheduled time to practice with my teachers at the ready.  I can't do this on my own, I need the help of the experienced boaters by my side until I have mastered driving the boat, or at least feel confident enough to have a go at it on my own.  I am not there yet by any means, but I am charting the course with the help of my great teaching friends.

I couldn't help but think of the parallels to my students and how they learn.  I wonder: Do I sound as if I am talking in another language when I am teaching a new skill or strategy?  Do I drown them in vocabulary?  Do I leave them to sink or swim? Do I patiently let go or hang on too tight? My experience learning to drive a boat reminded me that I will be more cautious when I release the independence over to my students.  I think about the need for more check-ins, either through observations or questioning to ensure that they are ready to take the next steps.  I need to make sure I explain the new strategies and skills in a way that makes sense to them, and break down the steps into manageable pieces so as not to overwhelm them.  All this while carefully thinking about the balance of letting the students do the work so they can experience the success and not me. 

Like me, most children want to feel successful.  They want to speed through the waters and reach their goal. Sometimes this will take some hand holding and small steps and other times our students will simply take off quickly and surprise us all. Each of us are individuals with differing needs and backgrounds.  Knowing those needs is part of the challenge of teaching.  For me, when it comes to boating it will be slow and steady wins the race! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lily of the Valley

Each Tuesday I write a slice of life story and join my writing friends and my writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.

When I chose joy for my one little word for 2017, I promised to write a slice a month about my word. I didn't expect it would be easy to stick with this goal but I knew that making this promise I would more readily see the joy that is in my life. I know joy is all around me, I just need to slow down and look a little closer to see it.  I didn't however expect to find it in a small vase of flowers.
The other day as I was walking into the house my eye caught a small patch of lily of the valley flowers in a side garden. They had just bloomed so I went over to take in their aroma. Instant joy filled my nose and travelled right to my memory bank with thoughts of my grandmother. I could picture that yard so vividly, with her in the gazebo surrounded by the little pips of lily of the valley flowers filling the air with their sweet scent.
I walked over to my patch and pulled out a few stems to place in a small vase for my coffee table. I chose an old bottle and filled it with water in preparation of holding the flowers. I sat and watched the tiny bubbles on the inside edge of the glass. The air bubbles caught the sunlight streaming in the windows and shone like diamonds in the bottle. 
I sat back and smiled a joy-filled smile at the sight and aroma that filled my senses. It was a joy that traveled right to the depths of my soul.  A sweet and pure joy. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


It's Slice of Life Tuesday!  Thank you Two Writing Teachers for providing a forum and a community for writers!

This weekend I finally found the dedicated time to work in my garden. I had waited an entire year to get accustomed to my yard and finally I was ready to dig in and make the changes to create the yard of my dreams. The first area I wanted to make over was my pathway to my neighbor's house. My vision for this area was clear: add shade plants such as hostas and ferns to surround and soften the old pink wrought-iron chair that graced the garden walkway. I grabbed my tools and gloves and started separating the hostas in the yard. I added a few daylilies to the mix and  voila, instant garden path with a pizazz. I stepped back after a few hours of hard work to admire my handiwork. I realized then and there that having a clear vision and the available resources to accomplish that vision made everything happen.

I think that is true for many areas of life - vision and resources make most things a reality!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cooking Lessons

I hosted 12 guests for a Mother's Day brunch this past weekend.  I chose making brunch because the menu can be so varied with sweet french toasts, to savory quiches, to just right eggs, all delectable choices to cook.  The down side is the lack of oven space usually keeps me from going too wild with new dishes.  That is why I chose to use the crock pot to cook an overnight bread pudding on Saturday night. I have made these easy bread puddings before so it's simple to be creative by changing out the flavors and literally dumping new combinations of seasonings and fruits in at whim.  For this weekend's brunch I thought I'd try a bread pudding of raspberries and cream cheese. I was dreaming of the flavors as I quickly added the ingredients rather willy nilly into the pot.  I hit the "cook on low" button and went to bed, knowing that sometime in the early morning hours I would awake to the smell of sweet goodness! 

Six-thirty in the morning and I awake to smell something cooking, but not the usual sweet smell. I made my way downstairs and opened the lid to find a brown ugly mess with a smell to match.  The raspberries looked pale and mushy, the cream cheese was curdled and the bread looked overcooked with burned edges.  I unplugged the unit, tucked it aside and turned to plan B, oven french toast with some Irish soda bread I had stashed away in the freezer. This time I chose to follow a recipe. 

I felt fortunate that I had other ingredients available to save the day.  Just like in my classroom, I had to make due with what I had to make the best of the situation.  I am happy to say everything turned out fine thanks in part to being open and to being flexible!

Thank you to the authors of the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Tuesday Slice of Life. I love this community of writers that can freely write and grow together.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writing Engagement and Book Spine Poetry

I discovered book spine poetry during the March Slice of Life Challenge and immediately fell in love with the simplicity and whimsical nature of this format.  As I described in my slice, I shared my stack with a colleague and she wanted to have a go at this poetry writing format with her class, but she wanted to wait until later in the year.
Yesterday was the "later in the year" date. The classroom teacher had told me the students had earned a reward and they wanted to write all day long, so she thought this was a perfect time to break from their realistic fiction series books for a day and dive in with poetry.  
I introduced the lesson by asking students to turn and talk, sharing what they recall about writing poetry.  I leaned in so I could judge what I needed to reinforce before letting them compose their own poems. Today I reminded students that poems do not have to rhyme and that poems can be silly or serious.  After clarifying these basic concepts we explored a few of the books pine poems that I found searching through google images. The students were hooked!  I placed a tall stack of hard cover books (easier to see the spine) on each of the tables and said our celebratory "Off you go!"  

The buzz in the room was exciting as they walked back to their tables to work with their new writing partner. Some students quickly stacked the books and made a poem.  Others read over each title with care.  I was very aware of how each student's personality rose quickly to the top for this project, with some children creating wildly and others being very strategic and concrete. Many of the children approached this writing activity by simply stacking books and thinking they were done. When asked what they thought the poem was about, they eagerly went back to work arranging and rearranging.  Others pushed themselves to think about creating a poem that made some sort of sense. 

Once their poems were built, students were instructed to either take a photo or video of their stack to upload into their class SeeSaw account.  Many of the students chose to record themselves reading their poem.  They were so delighted that when it came time to stop to go to music class, they moaned, signaling their high level of engagement.  

Book spine poetry was a great break for this group of students and charged them up to continue writing in new and fun formats.

How do you foster writing engagement?