Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Five Things I Love About Fall and One Thing I Don't

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Well, hello, first Tuesday of fall!  Your gorgeous sky and cool breeze have me wishing I could spend the day outside, enjoying all of your glory instead of inside in meetings today.

In honor of today's glorious weather, here are five things I love about fall:

1.  Honeycrisp apples.  Yes, I know everyone seems to love these beauties.  I'm not a super-sweet apple fan, and honeycrisps are the perfect balance of tart and sweet.  When they're on sale, I load up and eat them at every meal.  It's a bit ridiculous, really.

2.  Lightweight sweaters.  My favorite days are when it's cool enough to pull a lightweight sweater on but warm enough to go without a coat.  The air seems fresher and lighter, somehow.  Perhaps it's because the humidity that makes Chicago summers so oppressive is gone.

3.  The new TV season.  I don't watch nearly as much TV as I used to, but I still get excited about the new TV shows.  I like seeing what's new and returning to fresh episodes of my old favorites.  Though it seems like there are always new shows to watch due to all of the cable channels available as well as web-only shows, nothing seems as good as those first few new shows in September and October.

4.  The Anderson's YA Literature Conference.  This is an annual weekend for my friend Sarah and I to get away from our busy lives for a day and meet up with friends old and new and talk books.  If you've never had the opportunity to attend this event and you live within a few hours' drive of Naperville, Illinois, you should definitely try to come.  Anderson's is one of the largest independent bookstores in the area, and they bring in amazing authors for the day.  I've had the opportunity to talk to some of my very favorites because of this event.  Eventually, I'll have to start bringing my daughters.

5.  My electric blanket.  I know... I know... why would I love my electric blanket?  My bedroom is FREEZING and my Land's End electric blanket is soft and fuzzy and warm.  The best part is the dual control, so I can have my side cranked all the way up and my husband can have his completely turned off.  It's the BEST!

and the thing I don't:

Ugh.  Squash.  Right now my CSA boxes are loaded with the stuff.  Spaghetti squash.  Acorn squash.  Delicata squash.  Soon we'll have butternut squash and even the dreaded pumpkin.  Every fall I try new squash recipes, hoping I'll find the one that will make me change my mind.  So far, no luck.  The only way I'll really eat squash is in butternut squash soup.  Of course, I'm the only one in my family who will eat it, so I never make it.

So there you have it.... five things I love about fall and one thing I don't.

What's your favorite thing about fall?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Family Dinner

When I became a parent 12 years ago last month, I set a goal to have dinner as a family every night for as long as we could make that possible.  For the most part, I have been successful.  Somewhere between 6:15 and 6:45, my daughters set the table, Dan turns off the TV, and we all sit down together to my favorite time of the day.

We have a couple of rules at our dinner table:

  1. No books. (I know... I know.....)  This rule is sometimes suspended on leftover night, because I just can't face leftovers unless I'm distracted.
  2. We use our good manners.
  3. No TV.
  4. You have to try everything, even if you think you won't like it.

My girls are great about three out of four of these rules.  Occasionally Abby makes fart jokes or shows her sister her chewed up food.  Sometimes Molly pokes Abby under the table and starts a fight.  But for the most part, we have a civilized dinner and we TALK!  I love hearing about what my girls learned that day - they know "nothing" is not an acceptable answer.  We share our favorite parts of the day and describe a problem we each had to solve.  I like to think that when we sit down to a family dinner, whether it's in our home or at a restaurant, Dan and I are reinforcing for our girls how much they mean to us and how much we value what they have to say.  I know I'm teaching them how to have conversations and how to dine in polite company that will serve them well in their futures.

This school year is the first time that we will not eat together TWO nights of the week.  Because of Molly's dance schedule, she must eat either before the rest of the family or after.  When this happens, I sit with her at the table, sometimes with my dessert, to talk to her so she doesn't have to eat alone.  I don't want her to feel left out of this important family time.  I'm sad that her busy schedule has interrupted our family dinners so soon... I was hoping to make it to high school, but I'm not in charge of the Y's dance schedule.

I keep telling myself that the other five nights of the week, I have my family around me, usually not complaining about dinner, sharing our trials and triumphs and just enjoying being a family.

I'm pretty lucky.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pre-teen smiles

This, my friends, makes my day:
Those moments when I look over and see my 12 year old daughter genuinely, unabashedly, can't-smile-any-larger happy.  It seems sometimes like I'll never see that smile or hear that infectious laugh again as we enter the mother-daughter-love-hate-dance that is adolescence.  I know she loves me, and I she knows that I love her more than words can say.

And yet....

We push each other's buttons.  We make each other frustrated.  We don't always HEAR what the other is saying.

It's not a new story.  Moms and daughters have been doing this dance as long as there have been teenagers.  Intellectually, I know that this is normal... it is all part of growing up and becoming an independent person separate from me and the rest of the family.  Emotionally?  Well... that's another story.

SO.... everyday I try to think of a way to make her smile.  To hear that giggle or at least to avoid the dreaded eye-roll.  I think twice before I say something I might regret, and I try to temper the tone of my voice so she realizes I'm just trying to make conversation, to learn about her life and her day, and not nag her about her laundry or her homework.

I want to enjoy these 12-year-old moments so that in the blink of an eye when she is off at college I'll know that I did my best.

And that's the best I can do.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Somber Reflection

I have a confession.  I am obsessed with cemeteries... the older the better.  I'm not sure when this started, but I can't remember a time when I wasn't absolutely fascinated by wandering through a cemetery, examining the headstones and wondering about the statuary people chose, especially during the Victorian age, which seemed to be the golden age of funerary monuments.  I would peek into family mausoleums, wondering what they looked like inside.  One day I decided to explore a very old part of the cemetery where my great-grandparents (and now my grandparents and mother, too) are buried and got myself stuck in a hill of mud.  I wondered if I was ever going to get myself out!

When I was in high school, we lived for a time in a duplex across the street from a different cemetery, one of those that looks like a park because the headstones are all flat on the ground.  From time to time, my mom and I would take a walk through the cemetery since there was really nowhere else for us to walk.  It was on these walks that I learned my mom was terrified of being buried alive.  She told me that when the time came, she wanted to be cremated.  I had no idea that just a few short years later, I would be making sure that her wish was followed.

This past weekend, as part of our family vacation, we visited the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.  Part of the draw was that Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is buried there.  The other reason was that part of Cave Hill is a national cemetery, established during the Civil War.  As we drove through the winding lanes, I was struck by many of the headstones, both old (early- to mid-nineteenth century) and modern.  They truly are works of art.  Though it felt strange at first, I had my daughter take some pictures of the sculptures.  Here's one....
I was truly struck, though, by the thousands upon thousands of small white markers in the National Cemetery.  Though I've been to Arlington, it was a short visit on an 8th grade class trip I chaperoned my first year of teaching.  It's a blur.  This, though small in comparison to Arlington or other National Cemeteries, has haunted me for days.
I looked at the headstones, read the names, the regiments, the dates of death, and I couldn't help but wonder about these men... boys really, when it comes down to it, and the circumstances of their deaths.  Were they wounded in a battle, only to die, days later of infection or loss of blood?  Did they die of dysentery before ever stepping foot on a battlefield?  I thought about the small, rectangular markers that signified an unknown soldier.  How long did his mother, wife, girlfriend wait for him to come home, only to wait in vain?  These men, known only by a number etched into the top of the marker - who grieved for them?

It didn't take me long to think of the soldiers serving today and those who have been killed in the past 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, who gave what Abraham Lincoln called in the Gettysburg Address "the last full measure of devotion."  While I may not agree with the politics that got us into two simultaneous wars in the middle east, I can still hope for more soldiers to return whole and living home to their families.  Unfortunately for many, that is a hope unfulfilled.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On My Mind

What do you do when you have so much going on in your brain that you can't think of any ONE thing to write about?  That's how I'm feeling right now.  Here's why:

  1. Last week I attended the All Write conference in Warsaw, Indiana.  Some of my literacy heroes presented, and I'm still thinking about all of the learning, conversation, laughter, and friendship that comes out of those two days of learning.  I'll be thinking about this stuff all summer, planning how I can incorporate all that I learned into my coaching work next school year.
  2. On Saturday, I attended the commencement ceremony that marks the end of my Ed.S. coursework.  Last spring I suddenly decided to go ahead and get my school administrator's certification and joined a cohort that was forming at National Louis University.  The ensuing year was stressful but full of learning.  As I sat in the auditorium and watched the Ed. D. students during the hooding ceremony, I wondered if I had another commencement to attend down the road.... I won't say never....
  3. On Monday night I had dinner with three of my friends, the first time we'd been together socially since school got out.  I was reminded of the importance of letting loose.
  4. In between, I've been thinking about whether or not I'm making the most of my summer, this precious time when my girls and I (and Dan on his days off) can spend time together and do things we just don't have time for during the school year.  I worry, though, that I'm spending so much time thinking about the things we COULD or SHOULD be doing that I'm missing the opportunity to just go DO!

So what about all of you who've been lucky enough to be out of school for at least a couple of weeks... is your summer filling up or are you taking the opportunity to relax a bit and do things for yourself that fall by the wayside in the midst of a school year?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


School has been out for two weeks now, but in many ways I feel as if my summer vacation has really just begun.  Last week was full of professional development meetings and completing my internship hours for my administrative certificate, so I was at school for a great deal of the week.  The weather has also been conspiring against pool-going and picnic-taking, so when the sun shined bright on Sunday morning, we all headed out to the forest preserve for a bike ride.
We're lucky to live in an area where there are miles of well-maintained (for the most part) bike trails that wind along rivers and lagoons and through forests.  It's easy to forget that busy roads and intersections are nearby when you're gliding under a canopy of green with birds calling above.

Because I'm usually biking with my family, I don't wear earbuds on these trips.  This gives me the opportunity to get lost in my thoughts while I ride.  On Sunday, I spent some time thinking about balance.  Balance, of course, is important on a bike.... you can't ride if you don't have any.  Balance is just as important in life.  If one part of my life is taking over my time and energy, my family suffers, and  summer is a great time to work on reinstating that balance.  I can spend time with my girls, just doing whatever strikes our fancy on a particular day without feeling overscheduled like we do during the school year.

I also spent some time thinking about how the bike trail in many ways mirrors the bigger world.  Along the trail you find people who are friendly, who pass you with a smile and a nod.  Several of the "real" bikers cheered Abby along with a "You're doing great.... keep it up!".... something she needed as we approached mile 15 of the ride.  Others, while not overtly friendly, were polite and considerate, letting me know they were coming up on my left so I wouldn't be surprised as they passed us.  Then there were the boors.... those people who seemed to believe the trail was theirs, those who didn't bother to let us know they were passing or who looked at the four of us as if we had no business being on a public trail on a beautiful day.  These are the same types of people I encounter as I move through my life.  The  trick is to focus on those friendly, supportive people who help you along the way.

So yeah.... it's summer.  The craziness of dance recital weekend and Abby's birthday is behind us, and the month of July stretches before us with the promise of a long weekend at Kyle's for the Fourth of July and our vacation to Louisville and Mammoth cave, then the girls are off to Camp Woodbrooke for two weeks of fun without Mom or Dad.  I just have to remember to slow down and enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Holding Them Close

Today, images of yesterday's tragedy in Boston fill the newspaper, sounds of it fill the airwaves.  It's nearly inescapable, even from the front windows of the school building where I work - I can easily see the flag flying at half staff in honor of the victims.

One of those victims was an 8 year old boy.  That hits home for me... I have my own 8 year old, currently getting ready to head into bed.  I can't stop thinking about that child's parents - the father who ran and the mother currently hospitalized with serious injuries.  How will they ever pick up the pieces of their lives and carry on?  I can't imagine many things that would be worse than losing a child, especially in such a random, inexplicable way.

I want to keep my girls within arm's length.  I want to hold them close and keep them safe from harm.  I don't want to send them off to the Y to dance class or to school or around the block on their bikes.  Something might happen to them.  Someone might hurt them.  They might hurt themselves.

Realistically, I know that I can't shield them from every danger, real or imagined.  I know I need to let them explore and become independent.  I need to let them bump their elbows, scrape their knees, and get lost not too far from home.  I need to let them experience the joys of first love and the sorrows of a broken heart.

I need to let them live their lives.

Easier said than done on a day like today....

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Waiting.....For What?

I feel like I'm spending a fair amount of time lately waiting.

Waiting for a meeting to being.
Waiting for a meeting to end.
Waiting for my daughter to get ready to leave for school.
Waiting for both girls after dance classes.
Waiting for dinner to finish cooking.

Waiting for spring to finally, truly, arrive.

This last one is kind of getting me down.  I'm tired of cold, gray days. I know that spring days in April are often rainy and gray, but when the air is warm and smells like lilacs, it's just easier to bear!

I know it's coming... it always does.  If fall and winter are any indication, though, spring may just take its own sweet time to arrive on my door step.

When it does, though, I'm going to embrace it!  I'm not going to:
wait for a better time to work in the garden.
wait for better weather to go for a walk.
wait for a free afternoon to go for a bike ride.
wait for life to pass me by.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fan Girly

Ever read a book that made you grin from ear to ear and sigh when you had to stop reading for any reason?  I've read lots of those in my day, let me tell you, and lately, I find that I am reading more of them.

What's different now from when I read those books when I was a kid is social media.  When I was a kid, I knew authors wrote books.  I knew there was a person named Judy Blume who thought up the stories that kept me reading under the covers with a flashlight night after night.  But I never thought I would have a chance to SAY something to Judy Blume.  I knew I could write her a letter and send it to her publisher, but I never knew if I would get an answer back.  NOW, though, NOW there is this thing called Twitter, and authors... REAL LIVE AUTHORS are there... and when you tweet them MANY WILL ANSWER YOU BACK!  It's crazy!  I love it!

The other difference is now I know where to find authors in real life... I can go to bookstore events and meet and talk to them and get my books signed.  Like here:
Yes, that's Maggie Stiefvater and me at the ALAN cocktail party.  And you know what?  When I meet my favorite  YA authors, like Maggie or Libba Bray, or Beth Revis, or many of the others, I go totally fan-girly.  I get completely excited and feel like I'm 13 again.  I'm just so in awe of these people who can spin stories and completely captivate me for hours on end.

I know I am an adult, and I know that authors are people just like me, but I just can't help getting excited when I meet them.  Besides... it makes me feel young.

And that, my dear readers, is priceless.

(This post was inspired by my reading of Book Love by Penny Kittle.)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

I Did It!

I did it!  I can't believe it!  I wrote and posted a blog entry every day for the month of March!  Next year, I'll work on being a better commenter.

What did this slice of life challenge teach me?

  1. I CAN write every day, even when I don't think I have anything to say.
  2. People will read what I write if I write it well.
  3. My blog posts often turned out to be about something completely different than I thought they would be about.
  4. Writing helps me work through things in my head.
  5. I really like sitting down each day to write.

My writing goals:

  1. Continue writing SOMETHING every day.  I know it can be done.
  2. Write at least three articles to submit to professional journals in the next six months.
  3. Start that book?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Good Day

Warm spring weather... beautiful gardens.... my girls & my guy.... what more could I ask for?

Living as I do in a major metropolitan area, we have many choices for our Saturday entertainment.  Many of them are close to home and do not require a drive into the city.  One of my favorites is the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  Just a 10 minute drive from our house, the garden is a peaceful place to walk and enjoy the beauty of nature.  When we go, we almost always take the same path: through the welcome center, past the sculpture of Linneaus, along the rose garden to the Japanese garden.  I have walked through the Japanese gardens in all seasons except winter, and I always find something beautiful to look at.  The girls seem to love this garden, too, which is fine by me.
They also love walking through the greenhouses and looking at whatever art is on exhibit in the exhibit halls.  Right now, the exhibit is called Woodcuts, and it is a series of prints made from horizontal slices of tree trunks.  Molly and Abby were both fascinated by how old the various trees were when they were cut down; Dan and I were hoping copies of the prints would be available in the gift shop.  Unfortunately, the only ones were out of our price range, so we bought a box of cards that I plan to frame and hang instead.
from the exhibit at the garden

I needed this day.  After last night's funk, I needed to get out into the spring sunshine and really feel that spring was indeed here.  Even though snow lurked in shady areas of the gardens, there were signs.... the shoots of spring bulbs poking through the soil, crocuses and snowdrops blooming at the bases of trees, ducks and swans lurking in the ponds.  All signs of warmer weather on the horizon.

These girls, too, are promises of great things to come.  How can I not smile when I look at them?

Friday, March 29, 2013

I've Got the Friday of Spring Break Blues

This has been a fairly relaxing and low key spring break.  I've done everything I've set out to do, and I've not let myself overplan our days (or evenings).  Today the girls and I went to the movies, and now they are coloring eggs, mostly on their own.  There has been relatively little bickering between the girls, and we've all had a good amount of fun.

You would think I would be ready to head back into school on Monday, refreshed and ready to tackle the last quarter of the year, that swift downward slope to summer.

Well... I'm not.  I'm kind of bummed at the thought of heading back in on Monday.  I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that I'm not going back to a class full of students, eager to talk about what they did over break.  Instead, I'll be getting things ready for our spring benchmark assessments in writing and reading and beginning to plan the assessment and intervention calendars for next year.

It's almost as if the decision to leave the classroom and move into the coaching position is only hitting me now.  I am beginning to miss those things that I hadn't been missing so far, such as that daily interaction with three groups of kids that are "mine" and who share my class for 80 minutes each day.  I miss hearing them bicker and joke and laugh together about the little things that make each learning community unique.  I miss introducing them to new books and authors and watching them grow as readers and authors themselves.

I miss knowing I make a difference.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Today's spring break adventure involved a train ride into the city to have lunch with Dan at his office.  One of the perks of his job is a chef-made lunch four days a week.  Once a month during lunch, the staff has a "round table" where each person talks about a topic of his/her choice for two minutes.  Of course, today was the day for round table, so I got to do a talk, too.

I thought a lot about what I would talk about that would be remotely interesting to this audience of mostly web developers.  I decided to go with what I know..... books.  I booktalked four YA books for not-so-young adults.  Here was my slide:
I chose these four books partly because of my audience and because each of these four books evoked a strong response from me when I read them.

I was not an eloquent speaker today.  The two-minute time limit really shook me at first, and I felt like I was talking with marbles in my mouth. By the time I stumbled through the summary of Beauty Queens, though I felt better.

You would think that with my experience presenting at workshops and conferences that this two minute talk wouldn't even faze me.  But it did!  Partly because when I present at workshops and conferences, I am presenting to my peers.  This was completely different.  I also didn't want to embarrass Dan in front of his coworkers.

Maybe I'll get a chance to do another talk over the summer.... maybe I'll branch out and talk about something that's NOT book related.

Or maybe I'll find four more books to share....

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Eat Your Veggies

One of the problems of having a small suburban yard is our lack of space for a garden.  The past two summers, we've planted in raised beds in our front yard.  I'm sure our neighbors are thrilled, but no one has said anything to us directly, except for the lady who used to live across the street.  She offered to take any of our excess tomatoes.  We never have excess tomatoes, especially if we also have basil and fresh mozzarella.

About this time of year, I start to crave fresh summer veggies.  Tonight for dinner I pretended it was summer and made a yummy baked pasta dish with yellow squash and zucchini.  I'm counting the days until we get our first CSA delivery.  The thought of tomatoes warm from the garden, sliced and sprinkled with salt is enough to drive me crazy.

Monday night at dinner I asked my kids and nephews what they're looking forward to for the summer.  I, obviously, am looking forward to tomatoes.... and cucumbers.... and lettuce.... and radishes... and sweet corn.... and

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Love Letter of Sorts

So we've returned from visiting my brother's family in Baraboo, and that visit got me thinking about Kyle & me as kids.  Our parents separated when I was in third grade and Kyle in first.  We moved with our mom back to the town where she had grown up and started a life, just the three of us.
It wasn't easy.  Mom got married at 19, had me just shy of her 20th birthday and then Kyle came along two years later.  She never had a chance to experience life as a grownup before getting married, and once she and my dad split, she was suddenly the main caregiver and provider of two young children.  Luckily, she was able to go to work for her dad as a secretary, and my grandparents always made sure Kyle and I were taken care of when the week lasted longer than Mom's paycheck.

Kyle and I didn't get along too well; I remember our childhood differently from him, though I guess that's to be expected.  We fought -- a lot.  Looking back as an adult, I'm guessing we did that as attention-seeking behavior.  If we were fighting, SOMEONE was paying attention to us, even if it wasn't positive attention.  I remember Kyle as being an annoying little brother, always picking on me in just the right places and times to make me cry.  I'm sure he remembers me as an overbearing and bossy big sister who overreacted to every tiny thing.  We're probably both right and both wrong.  I can admit I wasn't a perfect child.

Now that I'm an adult, I can appreciate how much we went through together as kids.  We're both parents now, and over the past eleven or so years since Molly was born and Kyle and Kris moved to Wisconsin for Kris's surgical practice, we've grown much closer.  I appreciate his wicked sense of humor and his ability to tell a great story.  I love how great he is with kids, both his and mine, and how both he and Kris welcome us anytime we decide we need to escape the city and head to the calm quiet of the Wisconsin countryside.  I love that we're making new traditions with our kids and that we can share some of the things we loved growing up with them.

I'm one lucky big sister.

(Sorry, Kyle, couldn't resist using this one!)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fun With a Side of Cheese

Every once in a while we venture from the quiet of the country here outside of Baraboo into the touristy area of Wisconsin Dells.  As the kids get older, we visit new attractions or revisit favorites from when they were younger.

Today it was the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory.  To a jaded adult, the Exploratory (formerly known as Robot World) is a slightly seedy, second rate science museum.  To the kids... it's a place to solve puzzles and see the MIR space station.  The kids enjoyed themselves doing all sorts of science-y activities, both high-tech and low, from playing 3-D tic tac toe
to pretending to be a head on a platter
to experiencing the shock of the Van De Graff generator:
The kids had a ball, and so of course, we had a ball watching them.  I doubt we'll come back to the Exploratory any time soon, but there are many more Dells attractions for us to (re) visit over the next few visits:  The Ducks, The Rick Wilcox Magic Show, go-karts and water parks.  

Our afternoon of cheesy fun ended at a great restaurant where we had too much for dinner as well as decadent desserts.  Tomorrow we head home, and I have to admit, I'll be sad not to see this across the table from me at dinner..
It's been a great weekend.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Today was my kind of spring break day.  I slept in 'till NINE, which almost never happens except at Kyle & Kris's house.  There are no windows in the room where we sleep, so it is easy to do.

After I woke up and Kyle made breakfast, I settled in here to read...
and I pretty much stayed here all day.  I read two books:  Soulbound by Heather Brewer and Endangered by Eliot Schrefer.  At one point I was covered up with two blankets and all of those pillows.  My nephew wanted me to be nice and cozy, and cozy I was!  It was a cold day here in Baraboo, and I wasn't especially wanting to go outside anyway.

This lazy day was a much needed recharge for my batteries.  At home, I have too many things I need to do; too many errands to run, and too much laundry to do.  Here, I don't feel guilty for not tackling my enormous to-do list.  I can just BE.

Right now, we're all winding down, and Kyle's entertaining the kids by showing them funny youtube videos.  I don't know whether to laugh or be appalled.  The videos aren't any worse than what they show on America's Funniest Home Videos, but I still feel like I shouldn't chuckle.
I think it's time for me to start my THIRD #bookaday.  So I'm signing off.  Hope you all had a relaxing and book-filled Sunday!
(I mean, really, how can I resist reading in front of THAT fireplace?)

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Spring break has officially started, even though it doesn't look like spring here in beautiful Baraboo, Wisconsin.  My brother's yard is still covered in a blanket of snow, and while it is beautiful to look at from inside in front of the fireplace, it would be nice to see greening trees and perhaps a crocus or two peeking out through new grass.

However, I'll be keeping my glass half-full this spring break, and so far the best part our our mini-getaway has been listening to the four kids play together.  With the exception of a few howls of pain coming from the other room, most of the noise from the kids, ages 7-11, has been laughter.  My two girls and my nephews play incredibly well together, especially now that the youngest is old enough to keep up with the other three.  They invent all kind of games together; right now they are upstairs, probably building something out of legos or the giant wooden blocks.  While I'm curious to know about the game they've invented, I'm also loathe to go upstairs and spoil the mood.

I treasure these days my girls get to spend with their cousins.  Not just because Kyle & Kris have the best couches for snuggling in and reading in front of a raging fire on a cold afternoon or because Kyle cooks my favorite foods when we come to visit.  More than that, it is the low-key atmosphere that lets the kids just spend time playing together and having fun.  They see each other about 5 times a year, whenever we can find time in our busy schedules to make our way to Baraboo and then when they all go away to camp together in the summer.  They are together often enough that their relationship is easy and they fall right into games they've played before but also allows for the invention of new ones.  I love that when we're here at "Uncle Kyle's farm" they can all go run around outside and I don't have to worry about anyone being hit by a car or wandering off with a stranger; I just have to remind my girls to stay away from the donkey and not to go too far into the woods.

The kids decided to take a break from playing to take a picture:

I love these kids!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Break Bookaday

One of the reasons I look forward to school breaks is the opportunity to read a #bookaday or even more.  This spring break is no exception!

Here's what I'll be reading:

  • Soulbound (Legacy of Tril book #1) by Heather Brewer
  • In Darkness by Nick Lake
  • Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie
  • The Silence of Our Friend by Mark Long
  • The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castalucci
  • Math in Plain English: Literacy Strategies for the Mathematics Classroom by Amy Benjamin
  • Get it Done! by Jeffrey Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and James Fredricksen

I'll let you know how I do!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

One Day More

Tomorrow is the last day of school before spring break.  Let me tell you.... it is a much needed break here at the Rench Ranch.  Between playing mom taxi, doing work for my grad classes, keeping up with  the reading for my award selection committees and staying on top of my professional reading, my batteries are beginning to feel a bit run down.  We have a rather low-key break planned.

1.  We are going here:
This is the view of my brother's back yard.  Unfortunately, there is probably still snow in his yard, just hopefully not as much as when this picture was taken over winter break.  There are definitely benefits to driving to beautiful Baraboo to spend a few days:  my kids get to play with their cousins, something they both love and look forward to; Kyle has a massive fireplace in front of which I can relax and read; my sister-in-law Kris is also a book person, so she understands my need to bury my nose in a book; and finally, Kyle is an amazing cook!  Add in the eggs fresh from the chickens in the barn and the bread fresh from the oven, and I'm pretty much on board.

2.  We are going here:
Why, you may ask, would I go to school over spring break?  Well, my office is a mess because I've been too busy to put things away properly.  I have papers I need to file, and I have new book sets to get put into the book wall before our next round of interventions start in April.  During the school day, I get too distracted to take care of the little details that need taken care of, and it's too the point where I almost can't function because of the disorganization.  I'd rather go in for a morning and get things taken care of and then return to school to an organized space.

3.  We are going here:
One of the perks of Dan's job at Table XI is his four-day-a-week chef-prepared lunch.  Dan's lunches always sound so much better than my lunches from the school cafeteria.  I thought it would be fun for the girls and I to take the train downtown and have lunch with their Dad.  Also... I really wanted to get another taste of Chef Aram's cooking.  The guy knows what he's doing.

The rest of the time, we'll be at home, probably cleaning out closets and bedrooms.  I'll also be watching this, probably more than once after my kids are in bed:
So all in all, not a bad plan for the last week in March if you ask me!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Tool I'm Eager to Try

Today I learned about an app that I think will come in very handy in my work as a literacy coach.  It's an app called LessonNote, and it is a free app available through Itunes.

Here's what it looks like:

When I am in a classroom collecting student data as part of my coaching work with a teacher, I can set the screen to reflect the classroom.  I can then click on specific students and make notes about behaviors and contributions.  I can then go back in my discussions with the teacher and look at the information I captured and reflect on it. I can even snap photos and those get included in my notes.

I know that I could do this just as easily with a pen and paper, but I am trying to migrate to digital file keeping, so this app could really be helpful with that.

The only thing that would be better is if I could export directly to Evernote.

I think I'll be playing with this one over spring break!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Brain Drain

Do you ever take a step back from your busy life and wonder what the heck you've done to yourself?  I'm having one of those weeks.  I managed to completely over-schedule myself, and now I'm paying for it.

Yesterday, I had the first meeting of an after school book study and today I held the morning session.  Each was an hour long, and while I was tired for the 4-5pm session, I was super tired for my 7-8AM session.  I was moving slowly this morning and realized just as I was about to cut and toast my English muffin for my egg & toast breakfast that I really needed to be at school in 10 minutes.  Cue me inhaling my sliced mango and quickly mixing my coffee in my travel mug and then dashing out the door.  I was half way to school when I realized I didn't have my keys & fob to get into the building.  I had to turn around and go back home.  (This was not a tragedy, as I live super close to my school and luckily was not stopped by a train.)

The book study group was pretty good for 7AM, especially considering we were having some pre-reading discussions around the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.  We're prepping to read Pathways to the Common Core by Calkins, Ehrenworth, & Lehman, and I'm actually excited to have people to talk with about this book.  Though many of the participants were not quite awake, we had some good discussion around two wordles I created from the anchor standards.  Not a bad way to start a morning.

This was followed by two data meetings where we identified students for the next round of literacy interventions.  Data and I do not get along well.  When I agreed to change roles and take on the job of literacy coach in my building, I knew that analyzing data and leading these decision-making meetings would be part of my job.  I figured I would not like it, and I was right.  I'm hoping as I get more comfortable with looking at trends and thinking about what the data tells us, I'll feel better about leading these meetings.  I am lucky that I have colleagues who are willing to help me and to ask the questions that put students first.

By lunch time, I was pretty much a zombie.  My afternoon was less than productive.

So this isn't an earth-shattering slice tonight.  In fact, it's a pretty run of the mill slice about a run of the mill day in my crazy life.

How many more days until spring break?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rainy (Make That Snowy) Days and Mondays

Here it is... March 18, just 3 days from the vernal equinox and what is the weather like outside? It was SNOWING today.  I know that snow after St. Patrick's Day is not unheard of here in the Chicago area, but gosh darn it, I'm ready for SPRING!

And why is it that gray days, whether rainy or snowy, are so much worse on Mondays?  It's so bad that Karen Carpenter famously sang about how rainy days and Mondays always got her down:
I have to say... there are Mondays when I get to school and play this song because it just fits my mood. Today was one of those days.  I had a pile of work to get done before I led a book study after school.  I still have more to do for some meetings I need to lead tomorrow.  It's March and snowing and my kids are crabby and we all need spring break!

I tell ya... on Friday afternoon I'll be feeling this:

Thanks for indulging my fondess for the Carpenters.  Now you all know the true extent of my nerdiness.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Zero Calorie Problem

I have a problem.  It's a problem I've had for about 28 years, and it's a problem that I've tried to solve multiple times.  The more I learn about why it's bad, the more I want to stop, but it's just so hard.  There's nothing that can make me feel as good as this particular thing.

What is it?

I know I'm not alone in my sad, sorry addiction to Diet Coke.  I also know that many people drink way more than I do.  For the past several years, I have limited myself to one a day (most days).  For most of the past 8 months, I had almost given it up completely.  I have resolved to do it again.... wean myself back off of this chemical-infused memory-stealing siren.

There's mounting evidence that diet sodas (all sodas, really, but I only drink diet ones) are bad for you.  It's more than just the artificial sweetener used.  When I think about the changes in my eating habits over the past three years or so, I've cut almost all processed foods out of my and my family's diet:  I cook at home, we eat fresh fruits and veggies, and I try to buy local when I can.  I've eliminated most high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.  My family and I are healthy eaters overall. The one thing I struggle with is cutting the Diet Coke completely.

I know I can do this.

As soon as I finish the Diet Cokes that are in the fridge......