Friday, March 31, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - The March SOLSC in Six Word Memoirs

It's the March Slice of Life Story Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

Image may contain: cloud, sky, train and outdoor Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, sky, cloud and outdoor
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios

     Spring break is coming to an end.  We're finishing up at my mom and dad's in the Tampa area after a week at the Disney parks and Universal.  Ed and I had such fun being big kids in such magical places, but after 77, 308 steps (37.57 miles) and very sore feet, we were definitely done.  

     It's also the end of the March SOLSC. I didn't write all 31 days, but I loved participating in the extent that I could, and I am amazed by the Slices of Life my students wrote and the community they built during the SOL Classroom Challenge. I enjoyed being connected to all of you and to my students throughout the month and during break through writing.  The Challenge is so hard, and yet so rewarding.  I'm going to borrow Angela Faulhaber's idea to write in six word memoirs.  She summed up her spring break that way; I'm going to sum up the March Challenge.

Beginning of March, making writing goals.

Kids excited, ready to blog daily.

Ideas flowing, waking me up nightly.

Paying attention to details, conversations, moments.

Using metaphors, personification, similes, sensory details.

Teaching leads, mentor texts, catchy titles.

Two hundred fifty words, writing stamina.

Missed Slices, disappointment, but starting again.

Positive, encouraging, specific comments equals community.

Seeing each other through words, priceless.

Blogging keeps us connected while apart.

End of month, relieved but sad.

Until next year, there are Tuesdays.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - Book Bonding Over the Hibachi

It's the March Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

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     "Do you like to read?" I asked the Japanese boy sitting beside us at Teppan Edo in Epcot's World Showcase.  We spoke to his parents who told us they were from Tokyo and were vacationing in Orlando and would spend some days in NYC at the end of the week.  If you read my Slice of Life from last Friday, you know my husband, Ed, and I are vacationing at Disney and Universal without kids this week.

     He looked at me, tilted his head, and looked at his mom, since he didn't speak English, but his parents did. They explained to us that he was 12 and would start taking English this year in school.  I gestured a book to him, and she translated for me: "She's asking you if you like to read."

     His eyes lit up, and he nodded enthusiastically.  "Harry Potter?" I asked.  That needed no translation. Again, he responded excitedly and vigorously nodded.  His parents laughed.  They told me he loved to read.

     Across the table was a family from Alabama with twin 7th graders, a boy and a girl.  They heard us talking about Harry Potter, and we launched into a discussion about books they were reading. They both loved Harry Potter, too, and then the Twilight series came up.  Their dad and my husband sheepishly confessed that they had read the whole series, loved the movies, and we all laughed about whether we were Team Jacob or Team Edward.  

     We enjoyed the hibachi chef and his tricks with food - a volcanic onion tower, slicing and dicing, and spearing a lemon he had tossed up in the air.  With his great humor, the delicious food, and more talking among the families, we had a terrific time.  I must say, though, my favorite part was that we had a bonding moment across states and countries over books!  


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - Gallery Tour of my Children's Illustrators Collection

It's the March Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

This Is Not My Hat Cover

     I have an extensive picture book collection.  I wish I knew how many I have, but I haven't cataloged them.  Someday!  They are organized in crates by theme topics, content, writing craft, and reading skills.  I reorganize them once in a while, depending on how I want to use them each year.  I consider each and every one works of art.  Where else can you have a whole art gallery at your fingertips?  I love picture books.

     Even though I can enjoy amazing works of art in the books, I also started getting interested in collecting prints and original art by children's illustrators when I fell in love with Jon Klassen's Hat Trilogy.  I LOVED I Want My Hat Back and enjoyed kids' reactions when I read it aloud.  Then came This Is Not My Hat, which did not disappoint.  It may have been even funnier.  I missed the dark humor a little, but loved the satisfying ending of We Found a Hat, published last year.  I was so sad to see the trilogy end, but I'll enjoy sharing all three with my students for years to come.  They love them as much as I do.  My husband bought me my first print, which started my collection, from This Is Not My Hat.  It hangs proudly above a bookshelf in my classroom.  All my framed prints and originals hang on my classroom walls.  It's fun when I read a picture book for the first time, and the kids realize there is a picture on the wall from it!

     Speaking of trilogies, my next item came from another favorite trilogy, Aaron Becker's Journey books.  I am a HUGE fan of these beautiful, wordless books.  Aaron made a wonderful video for my kids, answering our questions, and I got to meet him at NCTE and get my book signed.  He signed 2 out of the 3 prints (he was in Spain when my husband bought me the 2nd), but only two are framed.  I got the third one for my birthday, and I still need to take it in to my favorite framing place.  They are BEAUTIFUL!

When I get the third one framed, I'll rearrange them so they'll hang in order.
The third one (Return):
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Aaron Becker answers a fifth grade teachers' classes questions about "Journey" from Aaron Becker on Vimeo.

     I'm not quite sure what order the following prints/originals came into my life, but I love them all!

     I am a huge fan of Matthew Cordell's.  This wonderful watercolor painting was from his book, hello! hello!  It's about a young girl, Lydia, who is frustrated that her family is caught up in electronics, and she wants to enjoy the big, beautiful world.

hello! Cover

     Matthew offered these originals on Facebook if you bought a certain number of his books, if I remember correctly.  You're going to send me an original painting?  Um....count me in!  An amazing follow-up story is that, when I brought it in to be framed, there was a leak in the storage part of the frame shop, and ruined the painting.  My framer felt SO badly.  I took a shot and told the story to Matthew, and he said, "No problem!" and made me another.  Just another reason to be a fan of his!! This watercolor reminds me to enjoy this one and only life we have!

     This next original came from Jarrett J. Krosoczka's The Frog Who Croaked, the first installment of his hilarious and fun Platypus Police Squad. series.

The Frog Who Croaked Cover

     I bid on this awesome original in a charity auction that Jarrett set up.  I believe it was for the Joe and Shirl Krosoczka Memorial Youth Scholarship at the Worcester Art Museum, which provides tuition to underprivileged children.  I've had the pleasure of hearing Jarrett speak at literacy conferences, and he is one of the nicest, inspiring people you'll ever meet.  This painting makes me smile.
     Next, is a print from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. I just love this story about a tiger who is searching for his true identity.  The colors and beautiful foliage in this book are amazing.  My students love this one.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild Cover

     I was convinced this book was going to win a Caldecott Award or Honor that year, but alas, it didn't (there were amazing books that did, however, including an Honor for Journey).  However, it's gotten plenty of other accolades, and I love this print from it.  It hangs above the pencil sharpener, so the kids see it often!

Lion, Lion Cover     These next two originals came from Nerd Camp 2015.  I love this story and wrote about it here.  I won the lion painting in the Nerd Camp art raffle, which raises money to buy books for kids at Nerd Camp Jr. The lion original is by Larry Day and comes from the book, Lion Lion by Miriam Busch, and the sketch of Miriam Busch and I is by Ruth McNally Barshaw. These hang side by side behind my desk. I'm not sure you can see the dialogue between the lion and the boy.  The lion is asking, "Where are you going?" and the boy answers, "I'm going to Nerd Camp. What about you?" These two works of art remind me how kind and fun children's authors and illustrators are.

     Have you heard of The Yarn?  Since I just mentioned Nerd Camp, I should mention the amazing children's literature guru and 3rd grade teacher, Colby Sharp.  He and Travis Jonker created this podcast series interviewing children's lit writers and illustrators.  Since I contributed a certain amount to this project, they sent me original sketches from Jennifer and Matt Holm's excellent and honest graphic novel, Sunny Side Up. As an added bonus, Colby included a print by Loren Long, from his book Little Tree.  I love both Loren Long and that book!  Loren is from Cincinnati, so I've met him several times, and he incredibly kind and generous.  So are Matt and Jenni!

Little Tree Cover  Sunny Side Up


Nana in the City Cover
     This next print is by Lauren Castillo, from her sweet book, Nana and the City.  I was a big fan of that book, and I read it every year as a paired text with Matt de la Pena's Last Stop on Market Street.  I met Lauren at an NCTE Nerdy Book Club party, and she is just wonderful!  Do you see a trend here?  Children's authors and illustrators are an amazing group of people!  Nana and the City won a Caldecott Honor Award, which was much deserved!  I love looking at this print, full of happy people on a beautiful fall day in Central Park!

   Last, but not least, I was flabbergasted by Pam Zagarenski's generosity when I saw this beautiful painting on her Instagram and told her I loved it.  She immediately sent me a signed print!  Unbelievable!  I loved it because I was currently reading PAX aloud to my 5th graders, so the fox appealed to me, and my favorite poet is Robert Frost, so the line "Whose woods these are I think I know" melted my heart.  I have yet to get this framed, but I can't wait for it to hang on my classroom wall!  I have several beautiful picture books by Pam, including her 2013 Caldecott Honor winner, Sleep Like a Tiger.

Well, that concludes the tour!  Of course, I'd love to add to my collection.  Some illustrators I'd like to still collect include Erin Stead, Molly Idle, Christian Robinson, Sophie Blackall, Bryan Collier, and more.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - The Most Magical Place on Earth (Without Kids?)

It's the March Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

Disney, the Most Magical Place on Earth!  

    I had never been to Disney as a kid, so the first time I went, I was an adult.  We first went in September of 1996 when Libby was three and Katie was just a baby, with some friends.  I remember it being HOT. We're all a bit rosy-cheeked and slightly miserable in the photos.  The girls were so young, they didn't quite appreciate it, especially since we were roasting most of the time.  But then we went again on my 36th birthday (in 2002) with Ed's sister's family, and it was like being a kid all over again.  I got to eat with Mickey for my birthday dinner when we arrived:

     The girls were 9 (Libby) and 6 (Katie), and since they didn't really remember their first time, it was like it was their first trip.  Their cousins were 10 (Catherine) and 9 (Stephanie).  They were all the perfect age!  Young enough to be enamored by it all, but old enough to be independent and fun. I don't remember any arguing, whining, or complaining the whole time (or maybe that was just fairy dust sprinkled over us)!  We stayed in a villa on Disney grounds, so all the parks were easily accessible, and it was a blast.  It was probably one of the best vacations we ever had.  We had a great time with Ed's sister, Cindy, and brother-in-law, Tom, too.  I remember laughing A LOT.  Notably on the way back to the villa after the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue (that's a whole blog post in and of itself)!

     Because it was right after Christmas, one of the things I was enchanted with was the "snow" along Main Street.  Snow, made with bubbles, fell on main street in the evenings.  I also remember how magical it was to see Tinkerbell "flying" down from Cinderella's Castle at midnight.  I was in charge of booking the shows, so I had discovered that you could get the best seats, without waiting, if you made dinner reservations in addition to the show.  We certainly got easy access to the shows, but oh my, we ate BIG meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  At one point, Tom laughed and said, "They're going to have to roll us out of here by the time we're done!" We had to cancel a few bookings.  Ha.  

     Unfortunately, it poured on New Year's Eve, so we weren't able to go out and enjoy fireworks, but we made it fun anyway by staying in and enjoying games, snacks, and NYE on t.v. Some highlights:

"Cindyana", as we nicknamed her, was chosen to participate in an "Indiana Jones" skit.  She's the one in the red pants.

A picture with Goofy

Epcot in the background

Donald Duck!

At a Japanese restaurant in Epcot - I remember the chef making "volcanoes" out of onions.

With Snow White at the Princess Breakfast (one of the many big meals we had!)

Catherine was the only one who braved the Tower of Terror with Cindy and me!

Best seat in the house for fireworks on Main Street!

Everyone (especially Ed) loved trading pins!

 Magical family vacation!

     So. Much. Fun. We returned in 2011 when Katie was in high school (Libby was on a mission trip, so we asked another set of cousins, Kaela and Natalie to join us that time), which was fun, but we camped at the Disney campground, and it POURED all week.  I still remember lots of laughter.  This year, we decided to go back for my spring break - of course, our kids are grown now.  Katie is at OSU and already had her spring break, and Libby is working and her husband goes to law school, so it's just us.  We'll spend some time at Disney, and a day at the Harry Potter theme park (my students want lots of pictures of that), and then finish up with a couple days at my mom and dad's in Tampa.  We're ready to experience the Most Magical Place on Earth without kids!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - Theme Songs for Right Now or Life

It's the March Slice of Life Story Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

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     I'm listening to the audio of Two Turns from Zero by Stacey Griffith, and finding lots of ideas for Slices of Life in this motivational book.  One of the things she talks about is how music can influence your motivation, mood, and life.  She brings up the idea of life theme songs.  They can be songs that define your life or just how you're feeling right now.  I loved thinking about that and thought it would be a fun topic for a Slice of Life.  I also wanted to know what my friends' and family's theme songs were.  I got lost in YouTube videos and song lyrics last evening, enjoying what they revealed about us.   I'll start with my best friends...

Karan - Karan and I have known each other since grade school.  We graduated from the same high school together and both ended up going to Miami University, rooming together our freshman and senior years.  She is an eternal optimist, but she also has a lot going on in her life.  We call her "The Project Queen". She chose Walking on Sunshine as her life theme song, but this Jackson Browne title as her "right now" song:

Jill - I met Jill my senior year of college when Karan asked her to be our 4th roommate in our first off-campus house. She's from Cleveland, but we ended up living in Lebanon, OH (Karan, too - Jill and Karan lived in the same neighborhood) for many years, and now we live in the same condo community!  Jill is a single mom, and she and her daughter, Ellie, are very close and have always had this Kelly Clarkson title as their theme song:

Lisa - Lisa was a friend from grade school along with Karan, also went to Miami University, and lived with us senior year. Lisa chose all country songs which focus around the ideas of hometowns, living the simple life, and being thankful for who you are and what you have.  Her titles include Jake Owens's Real Life, Kenny Chesney's American Kids, and Zak Brown Band's Homegrown.  Her life theme song, though is "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks:

Annie -  Annie and I met and college as Resident Assistants in the same dorm.  We became close friends, and even though she lives in State College, PA, we try to see each other four to five times a year. We have so much fun when we get together, and she is always full of optimism. She was very definitive about her song, and it totally captures her:

Megan - Megan is a former colleague and close friend. She and I do a lot of presenting together at literacy conferences. She chose a "right now" song because she is preparing for the state tests with her students,  vacationing with family, and interviewing for a new job - all making her stressed!  We both laughed about the video, though - she's adding a disclaimer that she's not quite at Billy Joel's level of "under pressure" yet. Ha!

Julie - she was my neighbor at our former house, and we became good friends throughout the years.  She is one of my Bachelor/Bachelorette friends. She responded quickly, too, and picked Brad Paisley's "Today".  I knew whatever it was, it was going to be country.  We share a love of country music!  I thought this was a perfect song for her. Get some tissues because this video is a tearjerker! 

Now on to my family's songs...

Libby - my oldest daughter.  She and Jamie have been married a year and a half. She picked two very different songs. She and Ed are alike in that they have very eclectic tastes in music!  When she was a young girl she would listen to Anne Murray one night, Macy Gray another, and Brittany Spears the next. She also loved country.  When she was older, her CD mixes were very interesting...right, Lib? Now she likes a ton of different things. One of her theme songs is "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga. Here is the other:

Jamie - Libby's husband.  He and Libby met at Miami University.  One of my favorite parts of his twin brother's toast to Jamie and Libby at their wedding is explaining when he knew Libby might be somebody important.  After they had been dating for a bit, Jeffrey got in the car, and there was one of Libby's CDs playing.  I think it was country music. He responded by saying, "Hey, that's not our music."  Ha.  Jamie chose this one as a "right now" song because he is currently into classical/instrumental music.

Ed - my husband.  He has an almost comical diverse playlist of songs.  He likes everything from heavy metal, to rap, to contemporary Christian music, to country.  When I met him in college, he was the one who made me a Bruce Springsteen fan, and one of our first dates was a Billy Joel concert. He's always kept current with music, and even introduces our daughters to songs first that later become popular. The song that first came to him was the following one, but he had also listened to Eminem's "Till I Collapse" three times yesterday.  See what I mean?

Katie is having a hard time picking hers, but we have a funny story from when she was a young girl.  We had been talking about what songs we would pick for our future funerals (I know - we have these kinds of conversations), and she didn't even hesitate with her answer:  "If You're Going Through Hell" by Rodney Atkins.  Katie has always had a great sense of humor!

And that brings us to me.  There are so many songs to choose from!  I chose three. My "right now" song is Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop That Feeling".  It's a song played at Cyclebar often, and it just makes me feel happy.  Once I think of or hear the song, I can't get it out of my mind!  I haven't seen "Trolls" yet - I need to.  I'm in a good and happy place (most of the time - ha) in life right now, so this one represents my present being well.

I've had memorable "right now" songs in the past:  Amy Grant's "Thy Word", Michael W. Smith's "Friends",  "You've Got a Friend" by James Taylor (our wedding song), Alabama's "Dixieland Delight", "The Dance" by Garth Brooks, anything by Prince because I loved him, "Praise You in the Storm" by Casting Crowns, "Thunder Road", "No Surrender", and "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen, My Wish by Rascal Flatts, Don McLean's iconic "American Pie", and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" by Billy Joel. I even have my funeral songs picked out: "When I Get Where I'm Going" by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton and "I Can Only Imagine" by MercyMe. Choosing life theme songs is harder, but I think I've decided (at least for now).  I've seen Bruce Springsteen in concert 6 or 7 times, and they were all awesome.  However, my favorite one was "The Rising" tour when I saw him in 2003 at the PNC Park in Pittsburgh.  PNC Park was brand new, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was the first musical act to play there.  Ed and I went with good friends on that August night, the weather was perfect, and we danced all night.  This song makes me think of my optimism and faith, knowing that if things get hard, they will always get better - especially if you have someone by your side. It speaks of sorrow, hope, and love. And it's also really fun to watch this video!

My second one is from one of my favorite movies, so I've listened to it again and again, I had to pick it.  This one represents my life with Ed.

This was a fun Slice of Life to write.  What are your life or "right now" theme songs?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - Write Anyway

It's the March Slice of Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

Image result for natalie goldberg writer anyway

This poem is inspired by one of my student's Slices of Life:

Write Anyway

I don't have anything to say
and these pages are blank
and so is my mind
Write Anyway

The pressure to write
is too much
and I'd rather do anything else 
Write Anyway

Writing is frustrating
and sometimes so terrible
it's embarrassing
Write Anyway

I missed a Slice of Life
in the March Challenge
I'd rather give up now
Write Anyway

My words come out
and nobody wants to read them
Write Anyway

Practicing is not as fun
as getting in the game
and winning
Write Anyway

No one is commenting on
what I write
or cares
Write Anyway

Emotions surge
I start out with nothing
just words
but then ideas start to emerge
something happens
to the words on the page
becoming something
something important
something lasting
something I wanted to say
see what happens when I
Write Anyway

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - Sunrise, Sunset

It's the March Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

 I thought this post was a good excuse to include one of my favorite songs from my favorite musicals!

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First day of spring, right before a vicious storm.

     In last year's Slice of Life Story Challenge, I wrote memories about the house we lived in for 11 years. We loved the house, but it was too big for us once we became empty nesters.  We started opening our minds to downsizing a couple years before we actually found what we wanted - it was an interesting journey.  The condo we decided on was in a perfect location - a great community about 3 minutes from my school!  It needed a lot of updating, but when we first walked in, we looked past all that and right out the wall to wall windows across the back and to one side of the place.  We were captivated by the view - a beautiful lake!  We knew we had found the perfect place. So the process began of cleaning out and purging ALL THE STUFF from our house, putting it on the market, and practicing patience until it sold.  From the time we bought the condo to when we moved in, a year had past.  We moved in on April 1st, 2016, so almost a year ago.  We LOVE it.  The simplification enriched our lives, and we get to wake up to the most beautiful sunrises.  If you're friends with me on social media, you are probably sick of all the pictures of sunrises I post, but there are no two ever the same, and they are stunning.  We never get tired of it.  

These purples and pinks cloaked the lake in royal robes.

That sun was so bright - ready to shine on us all.

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Cotton candy clouds reflect in the glassy water.

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The shadows of the trees split the horizon, the water looking like sky.

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Sunset - captured on a walk around the lake trail on an autumn evening - serene ducks.

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Dinner with friends as the sunset cast a beautiful glow.

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The sunset in the west, behind our house, sometimes reflects on the trees in the east just so, creating this beautiful hue.

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Hanging out on the deck after the sun went down.  Blue evening.

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It snowed a week after we moved in - April 9th!

As the sun set on our previous house and our lives there, it rose in a new phase, and it's a beautiful one!