Monday, March 30, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge - What I Know For Sure - The Other is Gold

     It's Day 30 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)
Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.

     You know that ugly cry kind of movie?  The kind that just rips your heart out?  Well, Steel Magnolias is one of those.  Libby once told me she doesn't cry at movies, and I challenged her to watch that one without crying.  I won.  Before the tragedy part of the whole movie, though, there are some priceless and hilarious moments.  Moments that inspired my friend, Lisa, to analyze the characters and try to peg each one of them as one of us.  By "one of us" I mean the five of us.  The five that have been best friends for a LONG time.  If you've read my blog for awhile, you know the ones I mean.  I write about them often. You know that I've known Karan and Lisa since grade school, and Jill and Annie since college. You know that we've celebrated Friends' Thanksgiving for 26 years and that we go away together every summer on a girls' trip. This friendship we have is the real deal. We've been through graduations, weddings, births, birthdays, illnesses, the death of one of our dear friends, divorces, our children going off to college, laughter, and tears. I can't imagine life without them.

     Lisa and I had fun coming up with who represents each of us in the movie. No one is actually completely spot on, of course, but it was still entertaining to try to figure it out.

The easiest: Karan is Truvee, Dolly's character, because she is moved to tears often and sometimes without obvious reason. Truvee says "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion" and "I have a strict policy that nobody cries alone in my presence." Truvee, aka Karan, is kindhearted, positive, funny, and sweet, just like our Ka. Karan had breast cancer several years back, and showed us all how to deal with adversity with incredible faith and even fun - she hosted her own Ta-Ta to the Ta-Tas party when she decided to get a double mastectomy! Truvee and Karan are both artists (Karan is an incredibly talented potter and teacher of ceramics), colorful, and have lots of beautiful hair!  They are endearing and true blue friends.

Lisa: Keep in mind, Lisa pegged herself as Ouiser, Shirley McClain's character. ;-) Ouiser's famous line is "I'm not crazy, I've just been in a bad mood 40 years!" Lisa is far from crazy and not in a bad mood at all, but that kind of self-deprecating humor is definitely Lis. Lisa is practical, hilarious, and extremely smart. Karan once innocently called her "abrasive and snide" when comparing her to someone else she knew. We've given Karan a hard time about it ever since, especially Lisa, but we don't mean it. Karan said it affectionately and lovingly.;-) Lisa sees things pragmatically, and yes, maybe sarcastically, yet optimistically, and keeps us laughing. What I love about her is her tender toughness - totally Ouiser!  She doesn't take things personally, and is incredibly resilient. She went through an incredibly difficult divorce not too long ago and after a tough grieving period, came out swinging. 

Jill: a little harder to peg which character she might be. Lisa and I decided on Annelle. My favorite Annelle line that embodies Jill is "Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair." Yes! Jill has been through her share of life experiences, but she continues to be optimistic and has great hair! ;-) She's endured two divorces, and her daughter was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 3. Yes, that is somewhat ironic since Steel Magnolias is about a brittle diabetic. However, Ellie is in much better health and has a bright future. This is in a large part due to Jill's vigilance as her fierce and loyal mother. When you meet Jill for the first time, you might think she is whimsical and slightly tipsy (yes, she has been accused of that when stone cold sober). One person said of her, "No one can be that nice." Yeah? Well, she really is. (BTW, that person is no longer my friend.) But don't let that niceness and whimsy fool you. She is tough as nails. She also happens to be a blast to be around.

Annie: the only two characters left are M'Lynn (Sally Fields) and Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), and Lisa pegged me as Clairee. That leaves M'Lynn as Annie, which isn't perfect, but I'm going to do my best.  There are a few times in my life when I've laughed so hard I was crying, barely able to recover. Those times have always been with Annie. I met Annie at the end of my freshman year in college because we were going to be on the same RA staff. We became fast friends and then roomed together our junior year. She is much more animated than M'Lynn and has the most distinctive voice ever - throaty and sexy! She has an exuberance that is contagious, exclaiming "That's fabulous!!" over everything. My girls love her because they feel so validated around her.  She makes everyone feel special. She is currently getting her doctorate and is one of the smartest women I know. Unfortunately, she lives 7 hours away. I wish she was closer because when I'm with her, I feel happy. That's how she makes you feel. M'Lynn is compassionate, strong, and funny. Just like Annie.

And that leaves me as Clairee, according to Lisa.  You can draw your own conclusions about that. 

What I Know For Sure: I've chosen the best 4 friends a girl could ever have. When I look over this post, I realize they have several things in common: they are smart, funny, strong, positive, resilient, and compassionate.   I am an only child, so I get to choose my sisters, and I choose them. I love making new friends, but there will never be friends like these; I am blessed.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge and Celebration Saturday - What I Know For Sure - Young People Doing Good in the World

I'm doubling up today!

     It's Day 28 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)
I love linking up to a wonderful celebratory community, inspired by Ruth Ayres, on Saturdays!
     Today I'm celebrating young people giving back to the world.  In the fall, we embarked upon our second annual #ReadWalkWater fundraiser after reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  Our sixth graders  jumped on the opportunity to do something about the world water crisis after reading about Salva Dut and his organization, Water for South Sudan, Inc.  Those kids raised money, walked, and donated water to Matthew 25 Ministries with joy and conviction.  Yesterday I learned, after we sent in a check from a community member who read about our story in the local paper, that we have raised just over $15,000 this year so far - the full cost of building a well in a South Sudan village.  And we're not done yet!!  We've pledged to raise another $1,000 by the end of the school year for the Iron Giraffe Challenge to help buy a new oil drill for the organization so they can build even more wells in the region, along with clinics and schools.  I have no doubt that the kids will give another 100% to get that challenge met.  Meanwhile, my friend, David Etkin, raised over $16,000 with Sweet Home Schools this year for wells in Uganda, and I know many more teachers across the country who are doing a similar social action project with their students.
     You hear a lot about "today's kids," the Millennials.  and Generation Z - all accused of being narcissistic, entitled, digital natives, having no attention span, disillusioned, and obsessed with video games, texting, and selfies.  While I'm sure those traits are present in some of our youth, I see something different.  I was amazed at my 6th graders last year and this year and their commitment to do good in the world.  Last year, before we even finished A Long Walk to Water, students started planning fundraisers.  They were moved to action. They made bracelets to sell,  started conserving water, and wrote about the water crisis.  They volunteered to sell bracelets during lunch, at football games, and school events.  They were deeply affected by the plight of people without water.  Our 5th graders last year donated pajamas to the Pajama Program sponsored by Scholastic.  They were so excited that they were a part of keeping kids warm during the winter season.  I also have many students who are involved in church missions, charities, and other good works.  They write about it in their Slices of Life, full of compassion and empathy.
     I also see my own children and their friends doing wonderful things, too.  Throughout high school, each went on mission trips - Libby to New York City and Mexico, and Katie to Philadelphia and Czech Republic - with our church youth group.  I attended a couple of these with them, and I saw the amazing faith and gifts the youth group members displayed.  They were willing to do anything asked of them in any situation.  I was humbled and moved at their abilities, courage, and the relationships they formed.  Once Libby went to college, she immediately bonded with the most amazing group of young adults.  They all have a passion for God and for helping others.  Many of them are involved in Campus Crusade and Young Life, continuing to go on mission trips and even planning careers involving full-time ministries.  Her fiance, Jamie, did a summer project with Campus Crusade in New Jersey, and Libby did one in Ecuador.  I've written about one of Libby's friends, Jordan, before because she helped with our #ReadWalkWater initiative.  She is the founder of the Wells Project with Living Water at Miami University and took teams to Guatemala and El Salvador to build wells.  Katie's sorority is involved in the Make a Wish campaign, and she raised money for Buckeyethon for Nationwide Children's Hospital.  I could go on and on, listing the young people I know who are doing great things like this.  What a difference they're making!
     What I Know For Sure:  Young people are hungry to make a positive difference in the world.  We, as adults and mentors, need to have faith in them, help equip them, and be positive role models of service and giving.  There is hope in our future.  I choose to focus on the good in our young people. 
Jordan Griebner and the Wells Project

David Etkin and Sweet Home Schools


Friday, March 27, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge - What I Know For Sure - Deliberate Optimism

     It's Day 31 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.

It's the last day of the SOLSC, and once again, it's been a joyful experience. There is, of course, a sense of sadness but a little relief. My students are saying the same thing - they're happy it's over in a way, but will be sad to lose the comraderie of the SOL community.  The feedback and encouragement other writers provide each other will go back to being sporadic, not daily.  These feelings are  a testimony to the power of writing. It is a deeply personal, but largely communal, experience. So powerful! Thank you so much, Two Writing Teachers, for providing this forum for us and our students!

This brings me to my last What I Know For Sure post.  I'm participating in my staff book club, and we are reading Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education.  I love the concept of "deliberate optimism," not only in education, but in life.  I know I fall short of seeing things optimistically at times, but for the most part, optimism is a key factor in my life.  

Several years back, I took a Spiritual Gifts course at my church; I loved it so much I now teach it about once a year.  I learned that my top spiritual gift is faith.  I believe faith and optimism go hand in hand. I'm not sure who first said the quote, "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." I wholeheartedly believe this, mostly because I also believe this life is not the end either.  

Deliberate optimism frees you up to take risks, make mistakes, and pursue goals and dreams.  It's what makes life full and exciting. It helps us focus on what is important and worth paying attention to. It can make it possible to offer people and God our best.  Deliberate optimism helps us believe in our students, our children, our friends, and our spouses. It makes it possible to believe that there is more good in the world than bad. It makes life worth living.  

Part of the reason I love this SOL community and challenge so much is that I see deliberate optimism in all of you. Writing is a form of faith and optimism, isn't it?! You bare your soul, you take chances, you hope to connect, and you trust that someone will read what you wrote and laugh, cry, be inspired, or maybe not feel so alone.  Thank you to you all - here at the SOLSC and to all those kids out there who took the classroom challenge. You are all optimists, dreamers, creators...writers.

What I Know For Sure: Deliberate optimism is a form of faith. To be optimistic, you are daring greatly, you are standing in the arena, and choosing to live fully.  

Slice of Life Story Challenge - What I Know For Sure - Travel

     It's Day 29 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)

I love to travel.  Right now, I'm enjoying Palm Sunday from a cabana in Aruba, enjoying the tropical breezes, bright blue sky, and a few iguanas crossing my path.  I just finished a great beach thriller (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins) and am about to start Paper Towns by John Green since it's being made into a movie, and I haven't read it yet. Life is good.  

Since we're here enjoying this trip, it makes me think of the traveling I've done in my lifetime. When the girls were little and we lived in Pittsburgh, we did a lot of camping.  Ed's sister and her family lived in Connecticut, and they have girls the same age, so we would meet in as many places as we could think of between our two states and with our campers.  We visited Hershey, the Poconos, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Rehoboth Beach, Deep Creek Lake, Lake George, the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania called Knoebels (I think that's the place where Libby rode her first big roller coaster), and Niagara Falls.  We also camped in Williamsburg with our friends Karan and Mike and their kids, and made many trips to Lake Cumberland with big groups of friends and family.  We made lots of memories in that little pop up camper, even pulling it to Disney one year (that turned out to be a solid 7 days of rain, but we had a great time with our kids and nieces). 

 Without the camper, we took the girls to New York City, Salem, Dollywood, Cedar Point, Washington, D.C., Seabrook Island, Michigan, and the Outer Banks.  We learned all kinds of things on these trips.  The historical places taught us about great events in the past, the natural sites taught us about the beauty of our country, and the beaches, lakes, and amusement parks taught us about fun and laughter.  Our family bonded and became closer with these trips, and time spent with family and friends was priceless. 

When the girls were older, we continued to travel, eventually even overseas.  It's amazing to experience other cultures and countries.  We loved being surrounded by different languages, food, and centuries old architecture.  Now, since the girls are in college, our trips are being taken separately more and more because of different schedules.  Katie went to Pennsylvania (to see her boyfriend, John) and Florida with her OSU friends for her spring break, and Libby went to Destin with her fiance and his family.  And we're here in Aruba.  I'm excited that we have a trip this summer planned that will involve all of us again when we celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary.

What I Know For Sure: Travel broaden horizons, teaches you about life, and strengthens bonds with family and friends.  As I see the palm trees flutter in the wind and the waves lap on the shore, I thank God that He made this awesome world, its natural beauty, and vastly different cultures, and lets us borrow it for awhile.

Slice of Life Story Challenge and Poetry Friday - What I Know For Sure - Your One Wild and Precious Life

     It's Day 27 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)

It's also Poetry Friday.  I participate haphazardly in Poetry Fridays, but today's thoughts were inspired by one of my favorite poems, so I'm going to link up there, too!  Visit Jone at Check it Out for the Roundup!

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

     I grew up in the country, raised animals, played outside, hunted, and went fishing.  I showed my poultry and an errant goat in the Warren County Fair and rode horses.  My parents taught me to respect nature, not to litter, to care for creatures, and love the outdoors. When you raise animals, you see death as part of life, realize how vulnerable we all are, and how strong, too.  It is so important that we know how to pay attention and be present in the glorious world we live in.  The spring should make you stop in your tracks.  Buds are unfolding, sprouts are pushing up through the earth, and birds are straining to be heard. It is a resurrection. How can you not want to "fall into the grass" and "stroll through the fields"?  I'm glad I know who made the world so I can offer up a prayer, whether I know what one is or not.

     Another thing  I grew up knowing was that we only have one life and that you better figure out what you want to do with it.  My mom loved her job as a teacher.  Not a day went by that I didn't know she was passionate about her chosen profession and that she was loved in it.  I knew her colleagues, students, and students' parents thought the world of her.  My dad was also a role model when it came to jobs and life.  I'm not exactly sure how to explain his vocational journey, but he eventually became an entrepreneur and opened up his own store, doing what he wanted to do.  I married an entrepreneur, too - he left a known job to start his own business with a friend and colleague.

     Both our sets of parents are now living in Florida, choosing to live their retirement the way they want to, before they are unable or someone else chooses for them. It's a joy to visit both of them, knowing they are living their dreams out while they are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it.  They are vital, social, and active. They are mentors.  In my life, I've learned that you better do what you love because you're going to spend a lot of time doing it.  I've also learned that you can make choices about your life.  If you don't like what you're doing, change it. Take those risks.  Don't settle for something you don't enjoy.  Time is short.

     What I Know For Sure:  You only have one wild and precious life.  We only have one wild and precious world, and it's beautiful.  Appreciate your life and world - be idle sometimes, pay attention, and feel blessed.  Take the time to stop and enjoy, but to also take action when change is needed.  Work at something you love.  There's no time to waste.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge and Spiritual Journey Thursday - What I Know For Sure - Walking with God

Doubling up today!
     It's Day 26 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)
I also look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us! For the past couple of months, we've been writing around the One Little Words of our little community.  Feel free to join us on Thursdays if you'd like.  Let me know at @muellerholly.
This week we are writing about Mary Hill's OLW, EXERCISE

     I'm a walker.  I've tried other forms of exercise - yoga (don't even get me started on that one), running (ugh), Pilates, spinning, step class, Zumba, weight lifting, and on and on - but my favorite is walking.  I love to grab my iPhone, plug in my ear buds, and listen to an audio book while walking with my dog, Ben.  Shortly after we moved into this neighborhood, we went to a neighbor's house for a euchre party.  As we were making introductions, one of the men said, "Oh, you're the walker."  Yep.  That's me.  Another time a neighbor apologized to me because she had heard that her husband almost ran me over when it was dark outside!  She told him, "Honey, if it's between 6 and 8 p.m., Holly is out walking.  Be careful!"

     I've written about walking before.  There was the engagement walk I wrote about here after Libby got engaged and many posts on #ReadWalkWater, our walk that raises money for Water for South Sudan. 

     Walking has always been a part of my life.  I walked many miles hunting pheasants with my dad, walked around the campus of Miami University in the evenings even after walking to classes all day, and walked the trail near our house in Pittsburgh when we lived there.  One of the prerequisites of our future condo community was that it had to have a place to walk.  It does!  A beautiful walking trail surrounds the lake.  I walk in every season, at all points of the day, and on every vacation.  I'm looking forward to walking the beach on spring break!

    When I thought about today's One Little Word, I thought it might be difficult to find the spiritual aspect of exercise.  But when I thought about how my favorite form of exercise is walking, I thought of Jesus. Jesus was a walker, and we refer to walking when we talk about our faith.  We walk with God, embark on the Christian walk, walk through the Bible, and some participate in the Walk to Emmaus.  Jesus walked on water, walked from town to town, and walked to invite his disciples to follow Him.  He had dusty feet and worn sandals.  I like to think I would have dropped everything to walk with Him when He passed by.

"Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess." - Deuteronomy 5:33

     What I Know For Sure: I admire people who run, do yoga, climb stairs, hop on the elliptical, and dance the night away.  But I'll always be a walker.  I like to walk outdoors, look up at the sky, breathe in fresh air, and stretch my legs. Someday, I'd like to walk beside Jesus, match His strong stride, ask Him questions, or just settle into a peaceful quiet, knowing it took awhile to get there, but I had finally walked all the way home.

     Thank you to the Spiritual Journey Thursday community  for lending your One Little Words to us.  It's not the end of the road - I will still be here with a theme topic each Thursday, but I will miss our OLW explorations!  Next week our theme topic will be Maundy Thursday.  See you then!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge - What I Know For Sure - My Biggest Cheerleader

     It's Day 25 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)

     At the end of my 6th grade year, I decided I wanted to try out for cheerleading.  I think this came as a surprise to many people.  I was not exactly the cheerleader type.  I hadn't taken any gymnastics or tumbling classes, I was awkward with poufy hair (see yesterday's post), and I had loved playing soccer and was involved in 4-H.  I had lots of experience showing poultry at the fair, but not backflipping my way across a football field.  Keep in mind cheerleading was nothing like it is today.  Today's cheerleaders are quite the athletes and need advanced tumbling skills.  I should've had more skills than a decent cartwheel and backbend, but still, I wouldn't have had a prayer today.  I barely had a prayer then...

     I'm sure my mom was skeptical.  However, I didn't know it.  She fully supported the decision I made and watched me practice out in the back yard.  Not once did she counsel me otherwise or tell me I would never make it.  I practiced my little heart out, and amazingly, I did make it.  I spent 3 years as a cheerleader, and honestly, it was never a comfortable fit.  I should have stayed with soccer and 4-H, but that's fodder for a different post.  The point is, my mom showed me she believed in me, and I'm sure that gave me the confidence to show the judges I could do it.  She had also shown me how to be a cheerleader my whole life.

     I am so fortunate that my mom (and dad) made a seamless transition from parent role to friend when I became an adult.  She is never critical and never offers advice (unless I want it).  When I sometimes forget to share something like an award, or an article in the paper, or some other good news about my teaching or life, she gently scolds me with an "I want to know about these things so I can congratulate you!"  When we recently decided to buy the condo I wrote about last weekend, some parents might have hesitated a little and wonder why we're taking on a project like that in our busy lives.  But not Mom (or Dad).  We got nothing but enthusiasm and encouragement.  "You're doing the right thing!"  she exclaimed.

     I know I am blessed.  I know I led a charmed childhood and now get to enjoy parents who are healthy, happy in their own lives, and are my biggest cheerleaders.

     What I Know For Sure:  A mother is the foundation for confidence and unconditional love.  I was led by a mother who loves learning, reading, and making friends.  She's loved my dad for 50 years and me for 48. She is energetic, kind, loyal, and fun.  She leads a life of faith and joy, and she passed those on to me.  If you are fortunate enough to have your mom as your biggest cheerleader, no matter how old you get, you are blessed beyond measure. 


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge - What I Know For Sure - A Hair Story

     It's Day 24 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)

     It was bound to happen.  I had my first stressful wedding dream.  You know those teacher dreams you start to have in August - the ones in which kids stand up on their desks and throw things, you can't get anyone to do anything you say, or you're late, or, God forbid, you're NAKED?!  Or if you've ever been a waiter or waitress, you've had dreams like that, too.  Everyone in the restaurant wants something at the same time, patrons are screaming at you, or, yes, you're NAKED!  Well, as you know, Libby is getting married in June, and of course, my brain has to start processing all the things that might go wrong.  At least I it wasn't about me being naked.  It was about my hair.

     My hair, you ask?  Yes.  It was about getting my hair done and it turning out AWFUL.  Of all the things that my subconscious could worry about, I got up in the morning, chuckling that it had to be hair.  Well, if my brain wants to go to my hair, I might as well tell its story.

     It's been a journey, this peace I now have with my hair (maybe it's not quite all that peaceful since I had a "nightmare" about it).  You see, it's curly.  Very curly. This fact gets mostly positive reactions today, but if you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you'd know that it hasn't always been a positive thing.  It's also mostly positive today because we have a gazillion hair products on the market (THANK GOD) for curly hair, and it can be tamed and controlled.  This was NOT the case in the 70s and 80s.

     The first time I even cared about what my hair looked like was probably around 5th grade.  Before then, I was a farm girl, a soccer player, a 4-Her, an outdoorsy and tomgirl-ish type.  My hair wasn't a concern or a factor.  When I was really little, I mostly wore it in pigtails.    Somewhere along the way, it was cut short.  First mistake. Around 5th grade, you can start to see, in tragic school photos, that I was trying out "styles."  It was mostly just a poof on the top of my head.  In 7th -10th grade, I grew it long again.  However, I remember those years as a desperate attempt to have "wings" like Farrah Fawcett.  I could only come remotely (and I mean remotely) close if I used rollers and sat under a dryer.  In 3 uncomfortable years as a junior high and freshman cheerleader, I could never quite achieve that look that the other cheerleaders seems to enjoy effortlessly.

     After repeatedly growing my hair out and cutting it short again, I've finally settled on longish and let it go curly.  I've come to peace with it and embrace it.  Both my daughters have even curlier hair than I and it's beautiful.  That's not to say they haven't both waged their own battles with their hair...Libby even wrote a college essay about it that described God painstakingly wrapping each strand of her hair around His fingers.  I knew her fiancĂ© was the right one from the start, but it even confirmed it more when she was tossing around ideas for how to wear her hair for the wedding, and he responded, "Please wear it curly." He's a keeper!

My daughters' beautiful curly hair

     When all is said and done, I will wear my hair curly for the wedding, too.  It's me.  It's who I am. And I love it now.  I've battled it, tried to tame it, cut it, rolled it, ironed it, berated it, cursed it, and all but disowned it.  But not anymore.  My subconscious needs to quiet down.  I've got this.  And it's curly.

What I Know For Sure:  I'm going to borrow Libby's final essay words for this.  "I make a point of thanking God for spending His precious time wrapping my hair around His fingers.  I'm sure He had a lot of better things to do."

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well."  - Psalm 139:14

My students are writing about their own hair struggles!

Read about them here  and here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge and It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - What I Know For Sure - Being a Bibliophile

     It's Day 23 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week.  I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.
     A student came up to me last week and said, "Mrs. Mueller - I learned a new word, and I think it describes you." 
     This caught my attention.  I chuckled and said, "Hmmm...dare I ask?"
     She laughed.  "Yes!  You're a bibliophile!"
     Relieved, I replied, "Oh, you are SO right!"
     On Mondays, a community of bibliophiles share what they are reading.  I used to be a faithful #IMWAYR participant, but I have to admit, I've dropped off lately.  Because of a very busy life right now, my reading has severely suffered.  I've met my Goodreads annual goal of reading at least 350 books in 2013 and 2014.  I made a slightly lower goal - 250 - for 2015 for various reasons, and to be honest, I'm worried about not attaining it.
     Now, there are a few things going on in my life right now.  First and foremost, we have a wedding fast approaching in June.  Libby was engaged in October, and preparations started right away.  We'll be addressing invitations over Easter weekend.  Planning has not been stressful - it's been fun.  However, on top of that, we decided to move and downsize because the perfect place became available.  I wrote about that on Saturday.  We closed on the condo in a nearby town.  It's a renovation project, and demolition has already begun.  Design plans need to be made.  Purging and organizing our house to get it ready for market is imminent.  Meanwhile, there are papers to grade, lessons to be planned, blogs to be written (WHY am I participating in this SOLSC you might ask?!  Ha - that may be one of my blog posts this week), and friends and family to hang out with.  Ed's job keeps him extremely busy, too.  Fortunately, he's working in town right now, so that helps a lot! 
     I realize I can't do everything I'd like to do, so my reading time has taken a beating.  I should be reading my book club book right now since our dinner is Tuesday, and I'm only halfway through The Nightingale.  There is also a pile of laundry on the floor and paperwork to sort through on the counter.  I need to approve over 200 comments on Kidblog and comment on some of my students' posts.  (I'm AMAZED at the number of my students who are blogging and commenting every day as a result of the SOLCC!)  And I need to call my mom.  At least I already walked today because that sometimes takes a backseat, too, and that's not good!  Oh, and THANK YOU to Ed for grocery shopping this evening!  I'm so lucky that he actually understands this blogging thing and is a faithful reader. ;-)
     With all that being said, I do have several books to review.  Thank God for audio books because I can listen to them on my walks and commute to school!
 Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim   Me Talk Pretty One Day
by David Sedaris
I had never read David Sedaris before, and I don't know why!  I was missing out.  I listened to both of these on audio (narrated by Sedaris himself) because he was coming to Cincinnati, and a friend had mentioned she wanted to go.  Out of curiosity, I got Dress Your Family...and was hooked, laughing out loud every time I listened.  We got tickets for April 13th. I can't wait! 
Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
I think a lot of people liked this sequel to Better Nate Than Ever even better than the first.  I'm not sure I agree.  I loved the first one, a story of Nate Foster's pursuit of his dreams of Broadway and ending at his casting in E.T.: The Musical.  This one picks up where it left off.  It was still funny and entertaining, but I missed some of the more poignant moments in Better Nate Than Ever and more interactions with his best friend, Libby.  However, it's still a must read after the first one!
That's it for this week!  I'm hoping I'll be able to do lots of reading on spring break next week!
      What I Know For Sure:  I am a bibliophile through and through.  I have piles and piles of books everywhere in my house (which Ed says might have to be purged a bit as we downsize - sigh) and at school.  I believe in language arts teachers being avid readers themselves so they can recommend current and "just right" books to kids.  My favorite people are readers because we speak the same language, and I'm so thankful my family reads.  When I'm not reading, I feel a little out of sorts.  Even though I'm giving myself permission not to read my usual amount of books right now, they are imperative to my well-being, and I will get back to them ASAP!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge and DigiLit Sunday - What I Know For Sure - Professional Learning Network

I'm doubling up again today!
     It's Day 22 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)
Margaret Simon hosts a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.
     A little over two years ago, I read a blog post by my PLN friend, David Etkin, about his student-made Animoto book trailers.  I loved it so much, I reached out to him in the comments (along with several other people), asking to borrow his ideas.  He didn't hesitate - he sent his storyboard templates and other resources right away.  This, I soon came to realize, is typical of David, and also started an online/Twitter/blogging collaboration that eventually led to #ReadWalkWater (which I'll write about in a future SOLSC post this upcoming week).
     That year, I did the project for the first time, and it was a rousing success.  My fourth graders at the time (I now have them in 6th grade), made book trailers over their civil rights-related historical fiction novels.  The project is chronicled hereAugusta Scattergood even featured the one a pair of students made on Glory Be on her own blog!!  They seriously thought they were famous for a day!
     I decided to do the same project this year with my current 5th graders who just finished small group books over the theme topic, JOURNEY.  They all read fantasy books - I was so excited to introduce a group to Harry Potter for the first time - they had never read the series!!!  Now, one of them has blown through the entire 7 books in less than a month, and the rest are working their way through - my job is done!  Ha.
     We started working on and completing the storyboards right before PARCC testing.  It was a great way to engage them in authentic learning right beforehand!  We start by watching many professional mentor book trailers and making a list of characteristics of what they include - main character's traits, setting, main conflict, maybe a minor conflict, images, music that fits the tone/mood of the book, persuasive techniques that invite the viewer to read the book, no climax or ending, etc.  They choose to work alone or in pairs. 
     This year I also did a lesson on responsible image use.  I had recently read an excellent DigiLit blog post by Cathy Mere that I used in the lesson. She has a website she created for the kids with several safe sites on which to find images that don't infringe on copyright and that are safe for kids. Then they fill out and cut out text panels that fit Animoto's character limitations and design and sketch in image ideas on those panels.  They cut them out, arrange them in the sequence they want them, and glue them down in order on a larger posterboard.  Then I give them their individual passwords (it's easy to set up an educational account for your students) to start the project.  I go over a few of the tips and techniques about Animoto on the Promethean Board, and off they go!

On Friday a few kids finished up and published their trailers:









What I Know For Sure: Because technology is changing and emerging so quickly, our Professional Learning Network is more vital than ever.  Even the fact that technology itself expands our PLN is fascinating! By entering the Twitter, blogging, and Facebook world, you have access to free professional development at your fingertips.  Because of the generosity and knowledge of people like David, Margaret who hosts this DigiLit meme, the folks at Two Writing Teachers who host the SOLSC, and Cathy (and many more), I am a better teacher.  We can not do this profession alone.  Collaboration is key!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge - What I Know For Sure - Seasons of Life

I'm doubling up today!

     It's Day 21 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)
I love linking up to a wonderful celebratory community, inspired by Ruth Ayres, on Saturdays!
     Spring tip-toed in last night at 6:45 EST.  It was a chilly evening, but signs that it might actually be spring have been popping up everywhere - tight purple Hellebores buds are lifting up out of dead, brown leaves, yellow crocuses are emerging delicately from the muddy soil, and clusters of daffodil stems are promising soon-to-be trumpets of cheer.  Birds are chirping, geese are honking, and neighbors are emerging from their cozy houses.  Left behind are the crystal-cut snowflakes of winter, ice-covered lakes, hot chocolate and Christmas, sledding and skiing, mittens and bare branches.  Winter has passed, and spring is here.
     When winter came, I was excited about it.  I love sweaters and boots, cozying up by the fire, and snow.  Christmas is my favorite holiday, and there's nothing better than the childlike excitement of a snow day (or eight).  I love reading under a blanket on the couch while watching the world transform to white.  But now, I'm ready to move on!  I'm ready for the sunshine, sitting by the pool or outside on the deck, warm evening walks, beaches, and bare feet. 
     Katie, our youngest daughter, went off to college this past fall, making us empty nesters.  I have to admit the fall was a little difficult.  It was harder than I thought it was going to be.  All the things that made me a mom and gave me lots of purpose, were changed.  You don't realize how much you do for your kids when they are in the house until you don't have to do them anymore.  And I missed them. I also missed the company and fun Katie and Libby brought to the house. I realized the days of the girls living permanently in our house were over.  I loved having the girls around and realized how fast time had gone.  News of Libby's engagement in October was so exciting and joyful, but it was also the end of an era.  A season ended. A new one beginning.
     This isn't to say I didn't enjoy the freer lifestyle.  Ed and I took a couple long weekend trips - one to visit my parents in Florida in September and one to Washington, D.C. in October.  We only had to worry about our own schedules and meal preferences.  The t.v. became completely mine again!  I had more time to read and work and mornings before school were slower and easier.  However, I looked forward to having the girls home again at winter break.  It was great!  We enjoyed lots of time together and fun holiday activities.  In January, off they went again.  This time, though, I was much better.  I was okay. I had readjusted much easier. 
     Now that life has changed, we're ready to embrace a new season.  Ed and I have decided to downsize, and we took the plunge and bought a condo.  We closed on it March 13th. We have loved living in this big house on the hill.  We have been here just over 10 years, and this house has held many wonderful occasions.  Our kids were only 8 and 11 when we first moved in, so lots of growing up happened here. 
     We held Friends' Thanksgiving weekends, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, birthday parties, graduation parties, showers, youth group events, Super Bowl parties, company and school holiday parties, and small get togethers here.  I've loved sitting out on the deck with woods surrounding us, sipping coffee or wine, listening to birds or the chatter and laughter of friends and family, grilling steak or hamburgers, and just lounging and reading.  I love the way the sun streams in through the Palladium windows and the fireplace flickers in its stone setting.  I loved the parties when teens came over and played pool or air hockey downstairs or got together for pictures before high school dances.  I loved the New Year's Eve parties when we played darts and card games.  I loved having the room for all those celebrations.  However, it's really big.  And really full of stuff.  And a lot to take care of. And now it's only us. We're ready to go.
     We won't be selling our house until after Libby's wedding, so we still have some celebrating to do here. We're not going far away.  I'll be right across the street from my school, and still close to my best friends.  We'll still have three bedrooms and room for family and friends. We have a beautiful view of a large lake; however, the place is much smaller.  Our new condo is actually an old condo and ready for its own new season.  But that's another blog post.  Now it's time to get organized and purge! It's spring, and we're celebrating!
     What I Know For Sure: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens..." Ecclesiastes 3:1.  Happiness is having enjoyed a season, knowing it has ended, and embracing the one to come.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge - What I Know For Sure - The Complexity of Children's Literature and The Giver

     It's Day 20 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)

     My 6th graders are reading and writing around the theme topic, LIBERTY, right now and just got finished with their dystopian small group books.  My read aloud for this literacy contract cycle is The Giver by the great Lois Lowry.   You may question my decision to choose the dystopian genre and this read aloud for 12-year-olds.  The books we are reading are all categorized as young adult literature, which is more for 14 and above.  However, I know these kids very well.  These 58 kids have been identified gifted in reading, and I've been teaching them since 4th grade.  I feel like we've read practically everything together for these 2 1/2 years - books about civil rights, social injustice and responsibility, poetry, mystery, science, humor, novels in verse, fantasy, picture books, graphic novels, memoirs, and I could go on and on!  I know they are thinking about things like suicide, bullying, ISIS, kindness, happiness, family dynamics, etc., because they are writing about these topics in their Slices of Life.  They are thinkers.  They are readers.  They are writers.  They are a special group. They were ready for The Giver.

     I'm not quite done with it, but I've read through "the chapter" in which Jonas and the reader finds out exactly what's happening in this futuristic, seemingly perfect, world.  The gasps, then stunned silence, then the eruption of discussion that followed that chapter will go down as one of those memorable moments of shared reading experience.  I have two sixth grade classes, and both times, chills ran up and down my spine and tears threatened as I read that chapter.  I think everyone suspected that something like that was going on in this dystopian world, but Lois Lowry describes it with such finesse, that they were still shocked and dismayed. 

     I followed up that chapter by talking about how The Giver is one of those books that has been banned in schools often.  After the initial shock from them that books are ever banned in schools, we talked about why that might be.  Their answers were spot on, but then they started the defense.  They defended the book by listing things that dystopian literature teaches us: it's a warning, sameness should not be desired, imperfections are actually perfect, differences are good, we have to experience grief to experience joy, colors make life interesting, life is to be valued,  we need to be careful with technology, we need to be kind, we need to guard our freedom, kids can right wrongs, and on and on.

     In the same conversation about children's literature that Libby and I had the other night (I wrote about it here), we talked about the complexity of topics in many children's books.  Because she is reading picture books and intermediate/young adult literature as a college student, she's realizing how good children's literature really is.  She loved reading as a kid, of course, but it's not until later that you fully grasp what complex themes, vocabulary, and topics are woven throughout those books.  Excellent children's authors don't shy away from serious stuff: fear, divorce, historical tragedies, civil rights, survival, grief, death, homosexuality, genocide, hope, goodness, kindness, family, faith, love, etc.  Our kids are exposed to these in life all the time.  How can anyone think that banning books is okay when we need to be talking about these topics, writing about them, trying to figure them out?  She was incredulous that some of the students in her college class were shocked that kids would read things with such sophisticated material.  (Libby was pretty sure they weren't voracious readers as kids.)

     Of course, I think there is a time and place for all books.  We need to know our kids and communities well enough to know when to put a book into a child's hands.  I have a place where I keep classroom books that are a little more mature.  My 6th graders know where they are, and an occasional 5th grader. I've made mistakes in my liberal attitudes towards books - just ask Libby.  When she was younger, I tended to ban t.v. shows and movies often, but would occasionally give her a book that maybe she wasn't quite ready for. ;-)  She would even tell me: "Mom.  Don't you remember such and such a part?!  (Me: Um, oh yeah - oops) I'm not ready for this!"  Ha.  Okay.

     But this I know for sure:  Kids are often underestimated. That's why they love dystopian literature so much - dystopian authors don't underestimate kids. They need literature that delves into difficult issues just as much as they need humor and light entertainment.   Good children's literature handles grief and death just as well as laughter and hope.  To be fully literate, empathetic, and thoughtful citizens, we need to read, write, and discuss all these issues.  Dystopian literature warns us all: if we ignore emotions - grief as well as joy, memories, colors, differences, and the capacity of humans to do harm or good, we are missing the boat.

Student Slices of Life on The Giver:
Gabby  Brynna


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Slice of Life Story Challenge and Spiritual Journey Thursday - What I Know For Sure - Be Brave

Doubling up today!
     It's Day 19 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge, started by Two Writing Teachers.  I am writing around the theme topic of "What I Know For Sure." (See Day 1 for a full explanation.)
I also look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us! For the past couple of months, we've been writing around the One Little Words of our little community.  Feel free to join us on Thursdays if you'd like.  Let me know at @muellerholly.
This week we are writing about Teresa Winterstein's OLW, BRAVE

The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan


"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." - 2 Timothy 1:7

     A couple years ago, our associate pastor taught a class based on Francis Chan's book, The Forgotten God.  We read the chapters, watched the videos, and had discussions.  The book's main message is that the Holy Spirit is often forgotten and even feared.  Our churches and Christian lives are often based on living within our comfort zones, relying on our own human strength, and underestimating or ignoring what we could do if we truly invited the Holy Spirit into our lives.
    The video above is based on chapter 2 of the book, and it makes me laugh.  Not because I think it's so funny (it is), but because I can feel the uncomfortable truth of it.  I DON'T want to know the truth, necessarily.  I don't really want God to take over my life.  I got it, God.  Don't mess it up.  I'm living a pretty cushy life right now, and I like it.  I don't really want to be all that brave.
   To fully give control over to God is risky and radical, isn't it?!  It means I have to let go and let God do what He wants to do through me.  It could mean I need to get out of my comfort zone, my perfect plans, my timidity.  I want to go to the beach, not a third world country.  I want to sleep in, not get up early and go to the soup kitchen.  I want read a book, not help someone clean up their yard.  I want to relax on a Sunday afternoon and skip the committee meeting on planning upcoming classes.  I want, I want, I want....
     The spiritual gifts class I teach just finished up last Sunday.  The excitement (and sometimes confusion) of participants uncovering and clarifying their gifts and passions is exciting,  but I also detect a little fear.  It makes people a little nervous to know God gave them these gifts and passions for a reason, and they are not to be squandered.  Not that they don't want to use them - the participants took the class, after all, because they're hungry to learn more about what God wants from them and are already doing great things - but most people don't feel equipped to do what God might send them out to do if they follow Him unconditionally.  But that's the beauty of the Holy Spirit.  God gives us the Holy Spirit to equip us.  To make us brave and capable.  Fearless.  Equipped.  We don't have to be afraid of that.
     What I Know For Sure: God created us to be brave and courageous.  We are not to sit on the sidelines, comfortable and passive.  He gave us His power through the Holy Spirit.  All we have to do is surrender.  He will do the rest.  Be brave!
     One more left!  If you would like to explore the spiritual aspects of your One Little Word, we would love to write about it!  Just let me know!
MARCH 26th: Mary Hill's OLW, EXERCISE