Friday, April 3, 2020

Looking for hope

Some days I feel like I am crushing this online learning "thing" with my own home routine but some days it looks a lot like hell. I know many of you are feeling this way also. As a teacher that act of going off to work Monday - Friday kept most every day compacted with very specific roles. I did often bring work home to get a large project finished but in this new pandemic world my work day is often very mixed in with my home life which was fairly active but quiet. I feel like I have dozens of balls in the air and I'm multitasking too much. Some of my questions are: am I spending too much time on school work, how can I do the school work more efficiently, and how do I figure out new technologies to make this flow?  I wonder about starting a book club online via Google Classroom for students in upper elementary to access when they want, will they access it?  I don't want to be doing extra work and have students already engaged with too much through their classroom teachers, maker space challenges put out by our district, and activities from other special teams. Plus I have a few special students that I am constantly worrying about...

{Online dance class T-Th}
It helps when I start most days with a little bit of yoga and getting dressed.  So Monday-Friday I am going to just get that on my calendar and do it.  And then I want to set up a school day that I can deal with mixed in with taking care of my family. My husband and his crew were all laid off from our community theatre and so he is often bouncing around the house, moving from project to project, and he has Zoom meetings which is two steps above the tech chain for him so I invariably have to help him get on and he has to use my MacBook Air b/c his old MacBook is too old for Zoom.

My daughter, our beloved Groovy Girl, has already emotionally had a tough year and then this happens! Like for real, it is too much for her to bear.  She's had a week of online dance classes that went okay but I honestly don't think she is getting much schoolwork done. For someone suffering from anxiety or depression this is major ordeal.  I thought she would love it but she is spending too much time in her bed bemoaning the loss of her senior year.  We are working with her on creating a schedule for herself and breaking the day up into manageable pieces. How is this all working for you? From preschoolers to teenagers to college students this pandemic will have such long lasting affects for our children going beyond who gets it and who doesn't.

Good food is a huge draw in our family so I made her a Dutch Baby Pancake to cheer her spirits and it did for about one hour.

I share with you today a lovely poem by the amazing poet Mary Oliver:

“Wild Geese”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things. ~Mary Oliver
I love her writing and hope this poem can cheer you even for an hour or two. We will get through this together and we will be smarter for what we've learned. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Happy April!

April is National Poetry Month and National School Library Month, two important events in the life of a school library. A little strange that all libraries are closed right now. I love sharing poetry with kids especially silly ones like Kenn Nesbitt's Poetry4kids website.  He has several poetry books out and his website offers up many poetry categories for you to click on. Share some this month with your kids while you are at home. Start the day or end the day with a funny poem and then have them create their own. I have magnetic words at school that kids love to rearrange into unique poems. Bring poetry to life and let it be silly and serious.

Today We Had Some Weather

 we had some weather
like I’ve never seen before,
so I pulled on my galoshes
and I headed out the door.
It sprinkled, first so lightly,
it could easily be mist.
A tornado then came dancing by,
it swung and did the twist.
The fogbanks opened up their vaults
and let out all their fogs,
and the dog pound took a pounding;
it was raining cats and dogs.
It started raining buckets,
then the rain came down in sheets.
I had never seen so many
sheets and buckets in the streets.
I’d planned to watch the weather
and, though gallantly I tried,
when it started hailing taxis
I gave up and went inside.
 — Kenn Nesbitt
This poem reminded me of our weather the other night when we had a tornado touch down. We are still all staying at home.  I am finding a good balance of school work, deep cleaning the most cluttered pockets of my house, reading, and meeting friends on Zoom for happy hour. Every day is different, which is a lot like school for me, and yesterday I read for too long on the sofa. I'm almost done with the 800 page The way the crow flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald-I get to a certain point in a book where I am just pulled in and literally can't stop. Normally during school hours it would take me many afternoons after school to finish this book but as our quarantine life holds I will finish it within a week. Today I woke and new I need to do some yoga (thank you Down Dog app) because my body ached from sitting curled up reading. Also I'm not going to lie; I love, love, love sleeping in.  It is glorious. It's good to find the positive.
What's keeping you fueled this week? 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Writing, trying to stay normal 2

Happy Friday!

We are on day 10 of our Shelter in Place and what I've learned so far is it's important to make a schedule and get dressed each day. And I mean both of these pretty loosely; I try and do yoga every day, I do something for school, and I do get dressed but that could be sweat pants or other activewear. Most days I make food for both of us. Today is the first day our teenage daughter is home with us. She's been on quarantine with the family she traveled with for Spring Break for the last week. She doesn't have any symptoms and neither does the family so we deemed it safe for her to come home. We don't know what's really safe and what isn't yet we missed her and felt like it was just time. It's hard to keep our distance and it's extremely difficult not to hug/cuddle but we're doing it because this is the new norm.  In another week I'm going to feel comfortable to hug her.

Yesterday we had a teacher/car parade through our school neighborhoods. It was fun to honk and see students and families--I miss them all. It's a lot more fun to teach class in person than remotely. The teenager here is struggling to understand a new set of rules for school as well. She has one college-level course that needs real assignments.  Her teacher posted assignments with no due dates and no real instruction.  It's confusing and not exactly how she wanted the last months of her senior year to go. Everything is off the table; senior skip day, prom, dance recitals and competition. Really it's the essence of being a senior that's been cut short.  Plus her sibling are all trying to make it through.  Kaylee is in Brooklyn trying to shelter in place as she works from home. She takes walks and even then it is too crowded on the streets she says. Tristan is still going to work every day hoping he doesn't fall ill. Everyone is worried about money and rent, house payments and toilet paper.

It would be real easy to bury your head in your covers and not come out for a few weeks.  Obviously I've contemplated this more than once but I find it much healthier to get up at a decent time, have breakfast, do some yoga, clean something (even myself), and read.  I limit watching shows or movies until the evening. We've been great about taking our dogs for walks, getting out breathing the crisp air.  We've played cards and board games-don't know how we will do that with the teenager yet but we'll figure it out.  March seems to be going out like a lamb not a lion so I hope spring weather is just around the corner. I would love a walk without the biting cold.  I always said my house would be the best place to be stuck indefinitely because I have stacks and stacks of books.

Right now I'm reading The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie McDonald (800 pgs). And I've finished Netflix's Next in Fashion, Virgin River, and still watching Sex Education.  I think my goal for next week is to read chapter books using Google Classroom and posting for students to listen in. What are you doing to keep yourself busy?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Writing, trying to stay normal

(Our teacher celebration b4 it got crazy)
I haven't been inspired lately. It's been a long winter and I've spent most of it sick or just slightly under the weather, as they say. And now the world is sick and we've only just begun. We are shielding ourselves and others by staying home; social distancing.  Others are just plain greedy sick, grabbing more than their share of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, water, produce, soaps, etc.

Today I stopped into to see two friends working at a small shop downtown and while we chatted, staying a few feet from each other, another woman burst into the store grabbed one solitary candle and told us she had just returned from Florida. The rest of us took a few steps back and the shop owner even said "well please don't breathe on me". Now granted I didn't have to stop in the shop to visit yet my thought was why on earth upon return of travel would you feel the need to stop in a local shop to buy one candle?  This is equal to buying extra toilet paper because it shows a lack of empathy about others.

This is where we are at. I worry every time I cough or sneeze. We are trying to hold together some form of normalcy in the midst of a pandemic with no leadership from the top in our country.  The two school districts in our county will not go back to school until April 13th.  The trickle down for this will be far-reaching as well; graduation, dance recitals, dance competition all will come to an end. The world as we know it has changed ~ R.E.M. (on replay in my brain constantly).

43982054So what have I been up to to occupy time over Spring Break when I normally would be about town, hanging out with friends.  We've met several times with friends over FaceTime which felt so good to reach out and connect with friends in town and out of town. We had a virtual meeting with cocktails with our theatre group~ so much fun to arrange about 7-8 people on FT messenger video chat. We've had happy hour with my husband's family via FaceTime. And tonight we are eating dinner with friends over Zoom. Next week I have a few school meetings over Zoom to figure how best to take care of our students and families. I'm trying to keep on a schedule of activities otherwise you can just spend the day flying the sofa...

My list:

I'm reading Ta'Nehisi Coates' The Water Dancer.
I'm watching Unbelievable, Contagion, Next in Fashion, and Virgin River on Netflix, all great but I highly recommend Unbelievable based on a true story and frustrating as hell until the end.
I've played around with video taping myself reading stories for students.
I'm deep cleaning parts of my house.
Today I made bread for friends and they are picking it up from my front door.
Connecting with friends.
Waiting for my daughter to make it home.

What are you doing with your extra time?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Black History Month Lesson

I love this animated short that won an Oscar this year. We've shown in to 3rd-6th grade students and it's created an atmosphere for good discussion about hair, cancer, and families. I worked hard to create an interesting history project for 5th and 6th grade students.  It's a Google Slideshow if you are interesting in checking it out or using it.

My students have been very engaged in research and creating their slideshows. I love their excited conversations as they find out facts. One group announced that John Lewis' birthday was on February 20th and he was turning 80. They've discovered a few Iowans like Anna Mae Weems and were excited to know she is from Waterloo and that she is still alive! Lonnie G. Johnson invented the Super Soaker. Wow!  I look forward to seeing their projects and knowing each of them learning a little something new which is what we all need to broaden our horizons.

I recently finished Maybe he just likes you by Barbara Dee which chronicles Mila as she navigates 7th grade with a group of unique friends and a group of harassing young men.  These boys play a game centered around touching or talking about Mila's body and she has a hard time fending them off. One of her friends keeps telling her she is taking it too seriously because maybe they like her or they are just joking. The boys continue the game even after Mila has asked them to stop. This is a wonderful book for middle or high school students to read although I personally didn't think the boys were truly understand how their behavior was wrong. It certainly will create good conversations for students. Last weekend I read The War that saved my life which was a huge hit two years ago in the library but has been gathering dust this year.  I took it home, read it and loved it so of course book talked the heck out of it with 5th-6th grade students and now it's circulating again as is the sequel The War I finally won.

I'm still working on Mary Pipher's book Women Rowing North.  Aging is tough and this book is an excellent navigational resource. I want to highlight the heck out of this book except that it isn't mine.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

So Much in February

Tomorrow is CAUCUS day-a pretty big deal here in Iowa but for everyone as well because if we pick well it can be a positive push for the nation. For example if my choice Mayor Pete Buttigieg has great numbers at all caucus locations than suddenly people in other states will be saying his name a bit more often.  It's exciting stuff. I'm ready for it and I'm kind of ready for it to be over. If you are politically active it makes for busy days. On Friday night Groovy Girl and I walked for 2 hours knocking on doors for Pete.  It was snowy, a little cold, and we had one or two really great conversations which made for a lovely Friday night.

February is Black History Month which I feel awkward about because I feel like this should be something integrated into our curriculum naturally all the time every day but I also understand the need to highlight and move beyond the quick Dr. King and Rosa Parks stories. The week surrounding Dr. King's birthday I shared his "I have a Dream" speech with 5th and 6th grade students and we discussed then vs. now and racism today. I was a little taken aback that so few students really understood the reason for the holiday is to celebrate his birthday. Clearly this area does need constant work!  My teaching plan for this month is to share stories about a variety of African Americans from history and the present.

I recently watched Ava DuVerny's documentary When They See Us on Netflix and I highly recommend everyone watch this. It was a struggle to watch because it made me so angry! It's helpful that it is offered as 4 parts which helped break it up for me. I literally couldn't wait to get the last one to find the positive for these young men so wrongly accused and abused by the police and the whole system.  It easily brings to mind all the more recent unjust deaths like Philando Castile. And while scrolling though Twitter I found Black History in Two Minutes narrated by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Challenge yourself to find something directed by, created by, or written by a Black/Brown American this month. I'll be following up with more throughout the month.

Be peaceful with one another...

Saturday, January 11, 2020

2019 books in review

I've read an amazing amount of great literature this year. It was a treat to look back and reminisce about each book on my GoodReads account and it is my hope that I can inspire one reader to pick up at least one of these fabulous books.  I prefer fiction over nonfiction so I surprised myself with three fantastic memoirs this year.  Leonard Pitts has an excellent article "This is the Year of Reading Women" in order to push himself to read more works by women. I am glad to say looking through my lists women authors continue to take a lead for me. 


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Becoming by Michelle Obama


Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg


Educated by Tara Westover


The gifts of imperfection by Brene Brown

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Better than carrots or sticks; restorative practices for positive classroom management by Dominique Smith



Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Where the crawdads sing by Delia Owens

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Salvage the bones by Jesmyn Ward

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Heads of the colored people by Nafissa Thompson-Spires


The Bar Harbor retirement home for Famous Writers (and their muses) by Terri-Lynne DeFino


The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

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Helen Hoang's book's  The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test

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Sally Rooney's Normal People and Conversations with friends

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Young Adult/Children's Fiction:


Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky


Front Desk by Kelly Yang

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Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart


Louisiana's Way home by Kate DiCamillo

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Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds


Summoner Series by Taran Matharu

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Wishtree by Katherine Applegate


Here Lies the librarian by Richard Peck

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Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundt


Aru Shah and the end of time by Roshani Chokshi

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Amina's voice by Hena Khan

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Merci Suarez changes gears by Meg Medina


Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed


Ban this book by Alan Gratz

I'm so gratefully to work in a field where I enjoy the homework very much.  There are so many fantastic diverse authors out there now and I loved what I read in Amal Unbound, Are Shah, and Merci Suarez, Amina's Voice, Ami Polonsky for Grayson, and Kelly Yang!  I hope 2020 brings as much joy reading.