Losing My Way #sol19

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Losing My Way #sol19

October 1, 2019

One day last week,  I decided late in the day to have my GPS help me find the way home.  I was at a bookstore in a nearby town and the traffic was heavy.  I’m not sure why I programmed home into my GPS. I had driven both to the store and home from there many times over the years, but I sat in the parking lot and asked my technology to virtually show me the way home.

As you may guess, it didn’t go so well.  I was tired from… a long day, dehydrated, hungry, tired, talked out.  I programmed the GPS to my address and then immediately took a wrong turn.  Not to worry, I thought.  The GPS will just reconfigure and get me back on track.  The GPS did loop me back around, but then either I misunderstood for the second time, the GPS noticed the traffic, or fate was messing with me.  I got more and more off track.  I would close to a turn or street that was familiar and then the GPS would have me turn off.  Was I tired and mishearing?  This continued to happen until I knew I was way off track in a further away town nearly an hour away from home.  The roads were unfamiliar and this made me more and more hesitant and slow moving.  Finally,  I called out in the car,  I need help.  I did need help.  I was beginning to be frightened.  It was getting later.  The roads were busy. I was lost.

Unable to get myself back under control,  I called my husband and said, I’m lost.  Understanding and caring, he honestly said back,  I can’t tell where you are.  Does anything look familiar?  As he continued to ask me question, my breath regulated.  I realized I could figure this out.  Eventually,  I saw something familiar and I began to navigate with certainty toward home.

During that half an hour drive,  I thought about why I was so tired.  I thought about why my resources had failed me.  I thought about why for those few minutes I had felt like I couldn’t solve my own problem.  Then… I overreacted.  When I arrived home, my husband and son were worried and glad to see me.  They were full of helpful suggestions about how this could be avoided in the future.  I’m not sure what they said.  I know it was something about using a different navigation, giving myself time,  not overbooking, and I believe, something about antioxidants.  All extremely well meaning.  The truth was,  I had been lost coming from somewhere that shouldn’t be difficult.  What did it mean?

Perhaps it meant that my head was too full, my body too empty.  I tend to think of it as a life lesson.  We can get lost in the partially familiar and instead of relying on what we know, look to others to create our reality.  These other explain things in their terms, with their understanding.  Sometimes it looks familiar, but not enough for us to see the path forward with clarity.  We wander around in the weeds for a little while.  Then, if we are fortunate, we talk it over, we gain clarity.  Then we find our way forward, slowly, a little shaky from the experience.

Ahh, September.  So full of overcommitments, dark roads, and unsure steps.  Here it is October.  Steady as it goes.

5f9e283f-67af-4f49-b354-801430caeed6While my September has been inconsistent,  I write in the community of other writers who graciously accept me when I am lost, every Tuesday.  Please read other remarkable writing at Two Writing Teachers.

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The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

The Chaos Before the Calm #sol19

August 13, 2019

Yesterday I had a lovely afternoon in our traditional pre-fall book club meeting.  Once a year, five of us get together having read a ridiculous romance novel, have lunch, and talk over our summers.  It’s always great fun.  Silly, sweet catch-up.  One question inevitably come up near the end of our time together.  What are you going to do before you go back?  

Usually,  I can say a quick answer, go to Martha’s Vineyard, go to a ball game, even one more home project.  Yesterday,  I realized that I’ve already shifted into my ‘school‘ head without even noticing.  I quickly said, some interviews, a meeting with the other literacy specialists, new teacher training… My retired friend called me on this answer.  No, she said, what are you going to do in the remains of your glorious summer? 

I stopped and instead of looking ahead at the two weeks before school starts,  I glanced in the rearview mirror.  What had I accomplished?  I thought of the books I have read.  Dinners, lunches, day trips, dog physical therapy.  What was that thing that I still want to do?  Perhaps in this quiet summer, I have done it all.  Maybe, this year I won’t think of it as the end.

What if this year, I continue to give myself space to enjoy life even during the school year?  What if I actually create that elusive work-life balance?  What if someone asks me if I relaxed this summer and then gives me that skeptical look like she knows me, I’ll answer, I always take time to relax.  Truth is,  I think I do.

Sometimes, I binge watch TV.  Yesterday, I watched a night full of The Food That Built America.  Full disclosure, I was thinking about Milton Hershey, Heinz, and Marjorie Post and how I could work them into a biography project, but I also enjoyed every minute of the fascinating series, googling details as I watched.

Sometimes, I read picture books or kid novels or chick lits.  Full disclosure, when I read these, I’m thinking about coaching points, author’s craft, new text sets, post-it note reviews, and book talks.  The books are still fun to read and I enjoy every minute of them.

Sometimes, I swipe through social media.  Full disclosure,  I read literacy blogs, follow other coaches and teachers on Instagram, and read the TCRWP pages on Facebook.  I forward pictures and quick ideas to others I know will like them.  I share posts from my virtual PLN and new things I have discovered.  It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like growth.

Sometimes, I make lists or reminder stickies, or full length musings, full clearing of ideas about a topic.  Truthfully,  these lists and reminders don’t stress me, they help me sleep at night.  A little forethought and organizations reduces my often daily rush.

Sometimes I actually do legitimate work outside the normal work day.  I plan on my porch.  I take notes on my patio.  I arrange book bins at my kitchen table.  I take notes at stop lights.   I wear yoga pants and an old sweatshirt. I pet my dog absentmindedly. I get something to eat and drink when I want. When the ideas come to me, I have found that it’s best to give into it at the moment.  Again, I sleep better.

So as I move into the fall,  I can honestly say,  I did have a relaxing summer.  In my head I’ll add, and I’m going to have a relaxing fall as well.  

I write in community with an amazing group of writers led by Two Writing Teachers.

I am Working #sol19

IMG_0556I Am Working…on Myself #sol19

August 6, 2019

As the calendar turns to August, I begin this dangerous mental T-chart entitled What I Have Accomplished in the last 6 weeks v.  What I Meant to Do.  Every year, that invisible yardstick of justification comes out and I judge myself lacking, resigning myself to the fact that I will always have way more To-DOs  than Ta-DONES!  I mean, really, what have I been doing???

This year I want to flip the narrative and not just for my own fragile ego.  This year, I want to be the mentor and coach that I should be.  Instead of looking at the half empty glass,  I want to remember that the glass is at least half-full and at most, absolutely refillable.  Whatever was accomplished between that elusive June 19th and that slippery date in August when I work way more than I don’t, is absolutely a win.  So how will I measure this summer term?

I’ll measure it in dog moments and dog walks.  At the beginning of the summer, our poor Lily lab-mix couldn’t walk at all without a very painful three-legged hop, now she can, albeit slowly, take a leisurely five minute walk down the street and back down our steep driveway.

I’ll measure it in book recommendations I can make in the fall and throughout the year.  Forty-five books read this summer and many, many will make it into the hands of teachers and students very, very soon.  Along with reading,  I’ve considered techniques, assessments, analysis, and author craft moves to tuck into a toolkit or a conversation just at the right moment.

I’ll measure it in trips to Starbucks… where I met with a teacher over three lovely sessions of collaboration.  We gave each other encouragement and good ideas.  Accomplished some shared reading plans and a template.  Read many short texts for students and thought hard about what it means to share materials, ideas, and differentiate.

I’ll measure it in quick shares through text, facebook, instagram, meet-ups and the occasional email when I saw an idea that would be a perfect fit for another educator I know or just had to talk it over with someone.  Those quick hits kept connections going and made a soft nest for new ideas to hatch come fall.

I’ll also measure it in lobster rolls, ice cream cones, leisurely chats on our  patio and others, Sunday morning movies, and weekends  that spread out for family because all the chores can be done on a weekday.

I do have a large stack of professional texts that I had hoped to get read.  Some of them I will read over the course of the next few weeks.  Some will be stretched out over stolen minutes, carried in bags for weeks, dog-eared and written in, sometime during the next year.

What have I done this summer?  I’ve grown…  I’ve grown a little more tan.  I’ve grown a little more relaxed.  I’ve grown a little more patient and a little more long-sighted.  I’ve grown slightly more organized and slightly smarter.

So I’ll put away my T-chart and my measuring stick and give myself a certificate for being my best self for the last six weeks.  That best self and the memory of these sunny days will carry me far into the year.  That’s quite an accomplishment.

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100% Lily #sol19

100% Lily  #sol19

July 30, 2019

We’ve reached the midpoint of teacher summer here in New England and that’s just when I usually feel like it’s winding down.  I generally give myself the month of July to indulge in whatever projects I want and then when August rolls around I begin ramping up to the start of the school year.  Over the years, Bob and I have developed a summer routine around the flexibility in my schedule that only summer can afford.

This summer, I have had one driving project, my dog Lily.  Our dog, an eighty or so pound rescued lab mix had a rough late spring this year.  She developed a significant limp with research was found to be a torn ACL.  Yep,  a sport’s injury for my dog.  Thus started months of work for Lily and also me.  The first month I was still in school and Lily was on the DL.  Totally rest.  One floor living, limited starts, anti-inflammatories.  A short, short leash.  Very difficult for a dog who loves to run at the park and take long walks.  Honestly, it wasn’t that easy for me either.  We started to worry what was next.

When we had an X-ray in early June, it was determined that her ACL was in fact completely torn.  While under sedation for the X-ray, they cleaned Lily’s teeth.  For non-dog owners, it’s much the same as our teeth cleaning, scrubbing and polishing and noticing inside the dog’s mouth.  What they noticed was a broken molar.  So in the midst of our rehabilitation plan, we also had a tooth pulled.  Picture a teenager having his wisdom teeth out.  All the same…

So we, along with Lily’s doctor, developed a strategy for her rehabilitation.  There were choices, surgery or other holistic methods.  We chose to start with holistic methods, so Lily had a regiment of herbal supplements, laser treatments and VOM, a form of chiropractic medicine for animals.  The initial appointments were 2 a day for a week, then 3-4 days a week,  then one, and now we are at one appointment for laser and VOM every other week.

Last week,  Lily started physical therapy.  Twice a day, Lily and I go up and down our steep driveway for 5 minutes.  Five minutes of up and down.  By the third trip, she’s panting pretty hard.  This is followed by ice.  After a week of that treatment, we, just today,  ventured beyond our drive for a five minute walk down the street and back.  She was beside herself with delight until the journey home proved to be challenging.

We have started to call Lily’s journey, 100% Lily, and compare her to New England Patriot’s wide receiver, Julian Edelman, who’s rehab is outlined in the documentary, 100% Julian.  I’ve worn a boot before for sprains and bone spurs.  I have had a cortizone shot in my arm.  Watching Lily fight back to be a four legged dog again is inspirational.  Helping her do that is making me a better person.

So today from our training camp,  I reflect on how Lily’s journey back from injury and our assistance of her rehab is like the partnership we make with students and perhaps teachers who are struggling in their own ways.  Sometimes, they don’t fully understand the struggle itself and the way to recovery so to speak, requires determination, planning, and not a small amount of patience.

Today,  she’s stepping mostly without a limp, though slowly.  She was excited to see and sniff the neighbors’ lawns for the first time in perhaps ten weeks.  Let me be reminded of that when the road at school feels frustrating and long, 100% Lily.  Eye on the prize.  Patience in all.

Collection #sol19

Collection #sol19

July 23, 2019

I was torn between my appointed slice writing this week and a looming library book deadline.  You see nothing is more frustrating to me that an unfinished, long-anticipated library loan squandered by poor reading planning on my part.  Truth be told, Susan Orleans’ rambling, loose, though not quite long, The Library Card, has sucked me in after 79 pages and six chapters and I don’t want to leave it behind until I see where she might be going with this.  Plus I have waited for this book since early June.  Having listened to Jennifer Serravallo’s podcast yesterday about comprehension and the differences between an actual book, a ebook, and audiobooks,  I am deeply unsatisfied by this ebook.  I gave the beautifully presented mysteriously red bound book to my son’s girlfriend for Christmas and of course, have wanted it for myself ever since, a problem we can discuss another time.

So here is my compromise, a story slightly like The Library Card, rooted in a moment in the past, carried through decades, and finally, the stuff of not only family lore but mission.

The Smashed Pennies

Sometime in the late summer of a year in the late 1990’s, my husband and I decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary, perhaps fifteen years, with a trip to San Francisco for a long weekend.  Not as much of a commitment distance-wise from the midwest as it would be from New England, leaving two young sons behind with their grandparents gave me enough worry to leave a typed note in my chest regarding their care should something happen.

After much hustle and quiet a bit of bustle, we arrived in downtown San Francisco with the long list of must-sees that only two over-educated, ever-learners could compile.  I could tell you about all of those amazing first sights and experiences, alleyway fortune cookie making, tea gardens, Ferlinghetti’s favorite book store, and fancy coffee shops before the rise of Starbucks, but that isn’t this story.

This little slice is about smashed pennies.  If you haven’t seen a smashed penny, it’s just that, a penny that has been rolled through a machine until elongated and flat and pressed with the imprint of its current locations.  They, of course, cost fifty cents along with that penny to roll them through the machine.  However, this story begins before we had ever seen one of these marvelous penny smashers.

San Francisco was full of amazing sights and people.  As we were taking in all end, we saw a young man with a tube contraption nearly as tall as he was.  Noticing us, he said this is the only portable penny press in the world, I designed it myself.  Using his arm and body strength,  he pressed the penny until it was stamped.  Having never seen a smashed penny before and taken by his ingenuity, we were sold.  Then he told us there were many, many machines around the city operated manual with a crank.  For the low price of half a dollar and a shiny penny, we could have a souvenir from each of our travels.   In the age prior to ready phone internet access, we were off on a hunt to locate these machines around the city.

Thus began our collections of smashed pennies.  These days, silly collections might not be in vogue. They seem so old-fashioned, the machines, the pennies, the impressions stamped upon them. Each son  collection remains on their childhood dressers in decorative boxes with the other ephemera of their childhoods.  They are a condensed travelogue of all the places we saw when they were young, dozens of zoos, aquariums, parks, and ships.  There are ones from New Salem and something called The Sixth Floor Museum.  There is a penny from Wall Drug and The Alamo,  The Grand Canyon, and The Sydney Opera House.  As I look through, I am reminded of all those halcyon days.

To this day as my husband and I travel around here and there, from habit or nostalgia, we stop when we see one of those old penny machines, and press one again for old times sake.

Profile of a Reader #sol19

Profile of a Reader #sol19

What I’m reading

July 9, 2019

Several weeks ago I received a Facebook message from a long lost friend.  We haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years.  She and her husband retired to Wisconsin quite a few years ago and from her page, it looks like she enjoys her garden, crafts, her book club, and her grandchildren.  It was surprising to get a direct message from her, but the message itself was  the big surprise.  She said, I read these books with my book club and I thought you might like them too.  Send me your address and I’ll send them to you.  

The next week,  I went to the MFA and the Kelleher Rose Garden with a retired friend from here.  She reached into her bag for a book.  I started to tease her about not going anywhere without a book when she offered it to me saying, You’re the person I knew I could give this book to, the girls (her daughters) wouldn’t understand a reference to George Peppard.  

It might not seem unusual for a literacy coach to be given books by friends.  It’s not even all that usual for friends to share books with each other, but the books themselves made me consider who I am as a reader, what I do like to read, how my reading has evolved, and what I always want to share with friends.

I love my Goodreads profile.  I keep track of books that friends are reading, books I’ve read about, and I try to keep myself on track with my own reading. I find it a good balance that the number of books I have currently read surpasses finally the number I want to read.  I know this is only temporary.  Perhaps you will fill my comments with other books I should add to my growing list.

Like many readers, I think, I have piles and bags and baskets of books in various stages of read, lend, currently reading, and will eventually read.  On the top of my summer to-do list is make a reading plan.  I can’t seem to get through all of my reading.  Something in a book will interest/distract me.  I’ll have to go and look that up and read more about it, then come back to the book.  This habit can really slow a person down, which brings me to my profile.

I believe myself to be a reader that respects research.  I recently read a book, The Editor. The Editor isn’t a particularly long book, a particularly deep book, or honestly a particularly memorable book.  It is a good book.  The most significant way it is a good book is that it’s clear that the writer, Steven Rowley, did his research.  He made his fictionalized story breathe of the almost.  As if he knew me,  he shared his research bibliography at the end of the book.  Points for that.

Back to my gifted books and my profile.  Beth sent me two books,  Save Me the Plums and Where the Crawdads Sing.  I know why she sent me Ruth Reichl’s memoir.  I loved Gourmet Magazine and read many of the copies she mentions in the story.  After Beth sent me the hardcover version, I abandoned my audio and Kindle versions and savored this book out in my garden.  I haven’t read Where the Crawdads Sing yet, but I know why she thought I might like it.  The review says it is reminiscent of Barbara Kingslover.  Beth and I read many of her books together and she continues to be one of my favorite authors.

So here I am finally steeped in my vacation days, surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of reading materials.  This might be heaven.

The Charm Bracelets #sol19

The Charm Bracelets #sol19

Collections #1

Unexpectedly, I was drawn back to the charm bracelets this week.  I hadn’t thought about them in some time.  They used to be ever present, but now…  My husband was thinking of places he’d like to visit and said, I’d like to go to Lake Tahoe.  I think I’ve been there, I said.  You should check your bracelet, you’ve probably got a charm from there. 

As I was walking by the jewel box with the charm bracelets on my dresser yesterday morning, I stopped and opened the lid.  There they sat gleaming in the still morning silence. There are two bracelets,  one curated during my childhood and one began as a gift from my husband so many years after. Pulling them out, the soft jingle gave me that feeling, that soft, safe feeling of memories on memories on memories, and I began to gently touch each charm in turn.

I wish I knew how the first one began.  I look through the charms, but the origin doesn’t come to me.  Perhaps it was that set from my distant aunt.  Why did she begin to send those and then stop after just a few?  That broken charm with the Portugal seal is from that set.  Are these four Asian ones as well?  Each one is spaced out along the bracelet, so perhaps she sent it all, the bracelet and the charms.  The rest, they are adventures of my childhood.  Each one a story.  Some are silly.  Why did I pick that oneI think as I consider each one.  That Hopi one had hoops in each hand.  That chair lift from Banff?  From my father’s trips?  That worry bird, I know why that’s there.  

Charms were once ubiquitous, every gift shop and jewelry store was full of them. I recall moments of pouring over choices, carefully deciding which to pick.  My mother and grandmother each had broad thick gold charm bracelet nearly an inch across with  silhouettes dancing along the edge, girl heads and boy heads for my grandmother’s grandchildren.  I’m not sure what happened to them.  The three of us were scattered from each other after my father’s death so many years ago. And now, they are gone as well.  My charms remain from that time, stubbornly grasping those memories and make each one strong and clear.

Memories of car trips and museums, wonders and joy, wrapped into silver plate and jingle.  There’s a beautiful articulated pineapple, still shiny after all these years.  Who went to Hawaii, I wonder.  My mother didn’t fly, afraid, I suppose.  Perhaps again from my father, but now it shines here as a promise that I should go.  Ballet shoes, musical notes, a roller skate remind me of a younger Susan, each accomplishment growing the woman she would become.  Race cars, old cars, prospectors and broncos from a father who shared so many things he loved.  Nearly fifty charms to represent a childhood and the memories and love that can be contained there.

My adult bracelet has a subtle difference, but still carries memories of trips and passions.  A stand mixer and bundt pan.  A bright blue crystal heart and the clock from Marshall Field’s.  A pine cone, a pea pod, and a towering sequoia from my favorite place on earth. A flat charm that holds the barest trace of the young faces of those two cherished boys, so long grown.  They were so excited about that one.  I remember them in the photo booth and then waiting, waiting from the charm to come out.  Precious, precious memories.

I used to wear the charm bracelet when I was nervous, if I had to get in front of a crowd or have a tough meeting or interview.  I rubbed my opposite hand along the charms, touching this one and that, causing that gentle tinkle, to sooth myself.  It worked every time.  When my second one started to fill, it became nearly impossible to wear the two of them at once, so I’d choose which one based on which strength I wanted to draw from, my beginning or my now.

We still look for charms on our trip and talk about them in between.   You rarely see charms now, a tradition from another time. If I see one in an antique store, I look at each charm, thinking about the collector.  Some day someone will look at my charms.  I hope they will feel them as I do now. Those charm bracelets in that antique box on my dresser waiting to stir the memories of a well-lived life with each turn of my wrist.

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