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......

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wayne's World Makes Me Feel Old

In an effort to relax after a busy two and a half days at the Illinois Reading Council conference in Springfield.  It was great to touch base with my friends from across the state as well as people from far away who came to the conference to present.  I'm returning to school on Monday with lots of things to think about (research on motivation presented by Nell Duke and reminders from Jeff Anderson to find the magic in mentor texts to name a few).

I come home exhausted from this conference every year and spend Saturday evening vegging on the couch, watching a movie and making my grocery list.  Tonight I was browsing the Amazon Prime list on our Roku and saw that Wayne's World is streaming for free. I haven't seen it for years, so I thought, "Why not?"

Here's why not..... it makes me feel old.  The very obvious early-90s setting, the horrible clothes and the young Rob Lowe make me wonder why I thought this movie was funny when I was 19.  Okay.... there are parts of it that are still funny.  But mostly I wonder if I looked as horrible as many of the people in this movie look.  I'm afraid the answer is yes, but I'm sure I looked EXCELLENT!

Friday, March 15, 2013


If you live in the Chicago area or if you are Twitter or Facebook friends with John Schumacher, you have heard of Anderson's Bookshops.  Anderson's is one of the most successful independent booksellers in the country, and part of the reason why is because of the events they sponsor in the stores and the vast knowledge of their booksellers.  When you go into Anderson's and ask for a book recommendation, you will get one.

Here is my then 10 yo daughter when she met Veronica Roth at the Naperville store.

One of the things I love about Anderson's is that they bring a bookstore with them to professional conferences around the country.  I visited them in Orlando and Vegas in the NCTE Exhibit Hall as well as here in Springfield at IRC and in Chicago at both NCTE and IRA.  I tried to find a photo of the massive booth, but I couldn't find one.  Suffice it to say.... it's awesome.

So.... if you know me at all (even from this blog), you know I'm an epic reader.  I read ALL the time.  I read voraciously.  If I couldn't read, I couldn't live.  So imagine the temptation of the Anderson's booth. Surrounded by books, mostly for kids with a few adult titles thrown in for good measure, all of them 20% off!  It's nearly impossible for me to walk by without being drawn in like a magnet.  It's torture... pure torture!

Just as tempting, though, are the Heinemann booth and the booth that carries books from Stenhouse and other educational publishers.  I seem to have a sick need for the lastest professional books on all aspects of literacy instruction.  I am lucky that as a literacy coach, my district will pay for these books since I end up using them in my work with teachers. When I think I'll have time to read these, I have no idea.

So this year, as I prepared to come to Springfield for IRC, I promised myself I would limit my book buying.  I'm overwhelmed by the sheer number of unread books in my house at the moment, and to add to the backlog would only increase my stress.  I did a pretty good job. Here's my IRC bookstack:
The top two books are gifts for my daughters and the rest are for me.  In addition to these, I bought one book through Amazon that Anderson's didn't have.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Let's Talk Authentic

Today was the first day of the Illinois Reading Council conference.  I got to start my day in a hilarious yet thought provoking session with Jeff Anderson on informational and explanatory text.  Jeff started us out on our feet with a revised version of "Stronger" that had us smiling and nodding our heads.  Should I admit that I own every book Jeff referenced in is session except one, and I immediately bought that one through my phone?  I figure if Jeff says a book is good, then it probably is.

Next I saw a session for literacy coaches and all I can say is that I have some philosophical differences. I just kept thinking that I'd like to introduce the presenters to Teri Lesesne and her Unprogram.

Lunch with Jeff Anderson was, as expected, lovely save for the surly waiter who was in charge of our table.  He did not appreciate us asking for more ranch dressing.

After lunch I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Katherine Sokolowski and two of her Monticello colleagues talk about different apps and web 2.0 tools they have incorporated into literacy instruction in her school.  Though I knew about a few of them (Magic Wand canner and LiveScribe pen to name two), others were new to me.  I'm looking forward to trying them out over spring break.

Finally, I made my way to Trent Reedy's presentation where he talked about his time as a soldier in Afghanistan and how his experiences there inspired him to write Words in the Dust.  I can't say that Reedy is an especially polished public speaker, but honestly.... that's one of the things that made me like listening to him so much.  He was real.  His passion for his subject great.  The emotions he showed while speaking of what life was like in that small village in Afghanistan were raw.  At times, he seemed as if he was on the verge of tears... just as many of us in the audience were as we listened to him.  This is the second time I've seen  Reedy tell his story.  The first was at an Anderson's Books events shortly after Words in the Dust came out.  I was moved that day to buy and read the book, but I don't remember the delivery of the story being so emotional and on the edge of barely controlled anger in some places.

In the course of his story,  Reedy talked about how his wife sent him a copy of Katherine Patterson's Bridge to Terabithia and how he read it in one day.  I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forget the power of his voice as he told how he NEEDED that book.  THAT book on THAT day changed his life.  It's an important reminder to us as teachers and parents that we can't give up on putting those just-right-at-that-moment books into kids' hands.  We might never know when that book might be the thing that makes a difference in a child's life, that provides comfort in a time of pain or hope in a time of despair.  We might never know when a teenager makes a different choice than the one s/he originally planned, one that may even save a life.

I may be sick to death of the words "aligned to Common Core" and "close reading" and "text-dependent questions," but I can honestly say I'll never be sick to death of the power of a story to move me to tears.

Thank you, Trent Reedy, for sharing your story with me.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Road Trip!

Short post tonight as my friend and colleague Sarah and I are in Springfield for the Illinois Reading Council Conference.  We have just completed step one of our IRC ritual... going through the program and highlighting our preferred sessions for tomorrow.  I'm excited to see my friend Jeff Anderson first thing tomorrow morning!

I'll try to post highlights of the day tomorrow afternoon before we go to dinner, and of course, I'll be tweeting throughout the day.  Watch for #IRC13 updates!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Equal Time

So tonight was daughter #2's orchestra concert.  This is the beginning orchestra with over 150 beginning string players in it.  The kids have only been playing since late September, so the difference between last night's concert and this one is HUGE.  It's good, however, to regain perspective; to remember how far the older one has come and to have a picture of where the litte one may go.

Here's Abby all ready for her performance:

I'm very glad the concerts were Monday and Tuesday evening, because tomorrow after school my friend Sarah and I head to Springfield for the Illinois Reading Council Conference.  I so enjoy these 2.5 days where I can recharge my professional batteries.  When I come back to school next week, I'll begin putting my foot in next year, thinking about how I can be a better coach next year than I was this.  I'll have new ideas and thinking to share with my colleagues as well.

Lest you think tonight's concert was torture, here's a short clip of the Beginning Orchestra playing "Bile 'Em Cabbage Down."

Monday, March 11, 2013


Tonight's slice continues on the theme of my daughters.  This is not a surprise, given that so much of my life right now is being a mom.  This week marks the spring concert week for my district's orchestras.  Monday night:  Chamber Orchestra (the oldest kids) and the Cadet Orchestra (4th graders). Tuesday night:  String Orchestra (fifth & sixth graders) and Beginning Orchestra (3rd graders).  My daughters are in both ends of the spectrum.  Molly is in Chamber as a sixth grader - quite an honor, and something that has given her amazing confidence and has inspired her to practice more to keep up with the seventh and eighth graders.  My youngest is in Beginner... and she is very much a beginner, only playing since October.

I've been hearing the Chamber Orchestra play for our school assemblies for eighteen years, and I never cease to be amazed by the young musicians in my school.  Knowing that my kid is one of them is just icing on the cake.  Many people might cringe when they hear the words "junior high orchestra," but this one is NOT cringe-inducing.  They are pretty darn good!  Here's a small sample of Sabre Dance.
So yes.... I am a proud mama once again, and I can't wait to head back to that gym tomorrow night.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What a Great Way to Start a Week

This week, many of my friends from around the country converged on Grand Rapids, MI, for the Michigan Reading Association conference.  Because I'm going to be out of town next weekend for the Illinois conference, I didn't think it was fair to ask my husband to take on sole care of the girls for two weekends in a row.  I was incredibly jealous of all the tweets flying around about the amazing sessions and the fun socialization happening all weekend.

Even though I didn't get to go to the conference, I was lucky enough to have dinner tonight with my friends Jillian and Lea (and new friend Kim) as Jillian and Kim drove back to Wisconsin from their trip to Michigan with all of the rest.

We spent a pleasant hour and a half talking about future conference plans:  will we attend NCTE in Boston?  Will we submit proposals for Minneapolis in 2014?  Driving?  Flying?  ALAN after?  What about this summer?  What will you be doing?  ALA?  Jillian and Kim filled us in on all that we missed in Grand Rapids, and it was <almost> as good as being there (well, not really, but I'm going to pretent that it was).

The most amazing part of this conversation was that we talked almost NO books!  If you know us, then you know this is not usual for us. After all, what makes us friends is not just that we're all English teachers, but that we are all voracious readers of YA literature!  I guess that means we need to get together again soon to talk about our new favorite books.....

Who's in?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Proud Mama

My school (which is also my oldest daughter's school) has a tradition of offering social dancing lessons to sixth graders for a six week span each winter.  I live in an area where seventh grade is a big year for bar and bat mitzvahs, so this is good timing for teaching kids not only how to dance a waltz and a cha cha but also how to behave appropriately in a social setting.  The boys get spiffied up in ties and dress pants and the girls wear dresses and white gloves (so they don't have to worry about sweaty hands).

The last session is Parents' Night, and the kids' parents get dressed up and join in the fun.  We sit in the bleachers and watch the awkwardness unfold.  Trust me... a gym full of sixth graders being watched by their parents as they dance... that's the full on meaning of awkward.

This was my favorite part of the night:
Molly danced with her daddy.  She looks so grown up and poised.  I couldn't help but flash back to  this:
It's hard to see sometimes how much she's changed when I'm with her every day.  And it's more than just the outside.  She's growing into an amazing young woman.  She's kind and friendly.  She's smart and talented.  She has goals that she wants to achieve:  write a novel, become a third grade teacher.  I'm sure she'll reach them, too.

All I know is... the roughly 9 years between those two pictures passed by in a flash.  I'm sure the next 9 will, too.

Friday, March 8, 2013


A month ago I took the Illinois certification test for my General Administrator license.  I've been on pins and needles ever since, waiting to get my results.  Historically, I have been a pretty good standardized test taker, but it's been over twenty years since I last took one.  I was fairly sure I had passed, but there were several questions on the test that I just didn't know the right answer for.

When I think about actually using this piece of paper I've been working toward for the past year, I am torn.  In one way, I think working in a district-level position as a curriculum coordinator or professional development coordinator would be an exciting move for me at this point in my career.  As a classroom teacher for almost 20 years, I've certainly seen my share of educational trends and buzzwords come and go, but I also grew in my professional knowledge and have learned what works for the learners in my classroom.  In my one year as a coach, I've been privileged to work with teachers in my building who want to grow as professionals. Both of these positions have provided me with a foundation on which to build as an administrator.

On the other hand, if I moved into an administrative position, I would be one step farther removed from the classroom.  I'm not sure how I feel about that at this point.

Of course, there's no law saying that I immediately have to seek employment as an administrator as soon as my licensure is complete.  I do, however, have a husband who would like to move to the historic area of Naperville, which would be too far to commute from Northbrook.....