Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring.... delayed

Today is the first day of spring, but here in the Chicago area you wouldn't know it.  This morning I woke to snow flurries.  The weather forecast for the next few days looks like this:
While tomorrow and Saturday don't look to bad, the beginning of spring break week is not as warm as I would like it to be.  This winter's cold weather and 80-plus inches of snow has broken me.  I know there are places in the United States that look at Chicago and think we're cold weather wimps.  I also know that I choose NOT to live in such places.

I like having seasons.  I usually don't mind winter OR snow.  Usually, our winters aren't this brutal.

There are some positive sides to this especially cold and snowy winter.  The large amounts of snow will help reverse some of the drought conditions that have plagued us the past few years, and the over 90% ice coverage on the Great Lakes will help prevent evaporation, helping to restore the lake levels, which were getting low in some places.  Some pests, such as the Emerald Ash Borer will see a decline in population thanks to the prolonged extreme cold.

The most positive positive, though, is how happy I'll be when it's well and truly spring and daffodils and tulips are sprouting in yards and trees begin budding and I can get out in my yard and get it cleaned up from the winter's mess.

And before we know it, we'll be complaining about the oppressive heat of August.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


So far this month I've had a fairly easy time thinking of topics to write about.  I'll see something as I go about my day and it will trigger and idea.  By the time I sit down to write, that initial glimmer might have evolved into something completely different, but I can almost always trace back to the beginnings.

Today is different.

Today I'm tired and a little bit cranky.  Dinner out at the local Japanese restaurant was nice, but my girls were bickering by the end of the meal and I just wanted to go home.  Now that I'm home, staring at the list of papers I've yet to complete for my grad courses before we leave for break, all I want to do is go to bed.

I don't have anything witty to say, no astute observations about my day.  No clever story about my girls.

I'm writing about not having anything to write about.  The important thing is that I sat down and put my fingers to the keyboard and started.  Eventually there were words on the page.

Somedays are like this, I know.  Everyone who writes has days where they feel uninspired and perhaps out of words, but they keep on...

So that's the lesson I'm taking away from today.  Even if you think you have nothing to say, dig deep and let the words come.

What's your takeaway for the day?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Date Night of a Different Sort

Saturday night I'm going on a date.... but not with my husband.  I'm going with these crazies:
My daughters and my brother's boys: four of my favorite kids of all time!

I'm taking these four kids into the city on Friday night to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  This is one of my all-time favorite musicals, and I've been waiting impatiently for it to make a return to Chicago so I could share it with my kids.  Turns out my nephew Cooper loves the music, though he has never seen the show.  I thought it would be fun to bring the boys along with us.  And four kids.  Loading up in the family mini-van and heading downtown.  On a Saturday night.

Their dads will be hanging out at the Rench Ranch, probably watching some crazy movies and having a New Glarus or two.  My sister-in-law will be back home in Wisconsin, working.

I'll be watching my young ones watch this show, probably singing along from time to time, thoroughly enjoying my first weekend of Spring Break.

I'm so grateful Kyle and Kris were willing to make this happen for the kids.  They love spending time together, and don't get to do it enough.  The three hours separating our homes might as well be three days sometimes.  Whenever they're together they laugh and play, and yes, sometimes even drive each other nuts, but I know they're forming bonds that will last a lifetime.

Look at those smiles.... who wouldn't love them?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Yes.... Today WAS a Monday.

Technology is a great thing when it works.  Today as I was working on data spreadsheets for tomorrow's grade-level team meetings, GoogleDrive suffered a worldwide outage limited to spreadsheets and chats.

Yes.... worldwide outage....related to spreadsheets.

Of course, all of my spreadsheets are in GoogleDrive because the teachers all enter their data and we share various sorts & analyses of the data through the Drive.

I panicked.
I froze,
I quit Chrome and tried Firefox.
I tried another computer.
I restarted my MacBook.

Finally, I went in search of our tech support specialist who got right on it.

Of course, there was not much she could do since it was a Google problem.  She did what she could, though, and that made me feel at least a little bit better.

Finally, I was able to access my spreadsheets again, and I got my data finished.

Now.... on to Tuesday!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Will I Make it Through This Week?

This is our last week of school before a week-long spring break.  This winter has been especially rough.... the polar vortexes (is that the right word?) have brought nasty cold and snow over and over again, keeping me and my family inside more than usual.  Add to that the crazy assignment schedule for some coursework my district is requiring for my job and some personal things I'm struggling with, and you get a big ol' mountain of overwhelmed.

I need sun.
I need warm breezes.
I need time with my girls and my guy to just do nothing if we so choose.
I need to find me again.

This year for spring break, we decided to take a few days and head out of town - south, but not more than a day's drive, just to get away from HERE.  I'm hoping this week-long hiatus from the routine will help me get my head in a good place to finish out the school year strong.

I'm already thinking about next year, and ways that it can be better.
I've got plans and ideas; now I just need to figure out how to make those ideas work.  I need to reach out to some people I know for help along the way.

That, my friends, might just be the hardest thing of all.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I Laughed Until My Stomach Hurt

This afternoon my mother and father in law came to Northbrook to see Molly perform in her school musical.  Afterwards they came over for dinner (Lou Malnati's pizza) and to visit with the girls.  Then we played this game:

Have you ever played it?  It's a combination of The Telephone Game and Pictionary.

Some of the drawings and guesses were so wrong.... so hilarious (sweatpants somehow became face-pants which became pants-on-your-head)..... that I found myself holding my sides and laughing long and hard.  My father in law kept having to take his glasses off to wipe tears from his eyes.  There were several times when I had to control myself to keep from spitting wine across the table.

I love these kinds of nights... low key time spent with family, laughing and talking and sharing our lives.

Though they don't live that far (about 45 minutes away via the tollway), we don't get to spend as much time together as I would like.  They are busy with their lives, and we're busy with ours.  I've been trying lately to be more purposeful in making arrangements to get together, but then things get crazy again and I forget.

My girls are lucky to know their grandparents and know them well.  They're lucky to have family who will come and watch them perform in Xanadu, Jr. or watch their dance shows.  Marty and Nancy are lucky to have amazing grandchildren who have inherited their musical talents.

What have you done with your Saturday?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Nothing Like the Last Minute

Have you ever had the feeling that you forgot to do something?  All evening, as I went to dinner with the other three teachers who traveled to Springfield with me for the Illinois Reading Council conference, I kept thinking there was SOMETHING I needed to do, but I couldn't figure out what it was.

Our presentation was over.... it wasn't that.
I had my phone and my wallet....
I had called my children to find out how their day had been.....

It wasn't until just about 5 minutes ago that I realized what I had forgotten.

I forgot to write my SLICE!

So here I am writing now at 10:37 PM, a time when I am usually snuggled up in bed with a good book, barely keeping my eyes open, but I am bound and determined to write and post here every single day.  I'm sure I have many profound and wonderful things to write about, but I'm so tired that I can't think of a single one.

Tomorrow I drive home and get back to my real life.  It will be good.

And maybe I'll remember to write my slices earlier.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Power of Conversation

This year, I came to the Illinois Reading Council annual conference with three colleagues, all science teachers.  It's been very interesting to attend sessions with them, both because they are first-time attendees to this conference and because they are science teachers in reading-teacher land.  We attended several sessions that discussed close reading and the common core, both subjects that apply to ELA and the content areas.

This is good learning.  But it is not the BEST part of this trip.

The best part is having TIME to spend with these three, talking about our families, our pets, our lives outside of school.  We talk about the challenges we are facing, both in and out of school, and supporting each other as we come up with ideas for how to handle the situations that might be less than ideal.  We CELEBRATE the good things that are happening and that our kids (our personal children and our students) are achieving.

In the hustle and bustle of the school year, the time for these kinds of conversations is often lost, and that's really a shame.  All of us need these connections in our lives - they enrich our days and help us to feel less alone.

I'm looking forward to more great conversation tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Amusing Myself

What do YOU do when you're alone in your Mom-van for a three hour drive through the flat, flat land of Illinois?

I know what I do... I sing.


As I drove south on I-55 today on my way to Springfield, I puy my playlist on shuffle and sang whatever songs came up.  I sang loudly and off-key, and I didn't care one single bit.  After a hectic week, the release of being alone and singing at the top of my lungs was rejuvenating and much needed.

I have very eclectic taste in music.  Want a sample?  Here are the five songs that randomly came up as I hit the foward button on my playlist:
Monday Morning by Fleetwood Mac
Daydream Believer by The Monkees
If I Were a Boy by Beyonce
January Hymn by The Decemberists
Clocks by Coldplay.

Sometimes I wonder how I must look singing with my mouth wide open and dancing from the hips up as I drive down the highway.  I realize just as I'm about to censor myself that it doesn't really matter what the heck I look like.... I'm having fun and blowing off steam.

In the end, that's what matters.... not what anyone else thinks.

I'm curious.... what's on your playlist?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Always Learning

I'm incredibly lucky to work in a school district that believes in job-embedded professional development and provides us with the resources to continue to grow as teachers and learners.  As a literacy coach, I am part of that job-embedded PD, through coaching cycles, book studies, summer workshops, etc.

Today I was lucky enough to facilitate a day of learning with Ellin Oliver Keene and a small group of colleagues.

Ellin has worked with our district since my now-seventh-grader was in kindergarten.  As a Lab Teacher, I was privileged to work closely with Ellin, and she completely changed me as a teacher.  She encouraged me to be an avid reader of professional books and to think critically and reflectively about my own practice.  She coached me in my classroom and helped me learn to trust the process.

Now, when Ellin comes, I put together the agendas and facilitate the day.  I participate in the conversations, observations, and discussions, but the main focus is not MY learning.  I'm constantly thinking about how I will continue to support the teachers in this small group after Ellin leaves as well as ideas for future PD sessions and coaching cycles that may come up as part of the work we are doing.

But I am learning, too.  Every time Ellin comes, she leaves me thinking about some new aspect of my practice, both as teacher and coach. I learn about the language of professional development and how to provoke thoughtful conversation without coming across as confrontational.  I learn about new research in my field and its practical implications for the students in my building.  I learn more about myself and my core beliefs.

I learn that there is always more to learn.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Good Kind of Tired

The first day of school following "spring forward" is always hard, and today was no exception.  I actually slept until my alarm went off instead of waking before it, as is my usual habit.  It seemed like everything I tried to do as I got ready for work this morning went wrong, including spilling my coffee as I was trying to get out the door.

But the sun was shining.

I didn't need the car seat heater as we drove to school.

I was incredibly productive today.  My only break was at lunch.  Though I wasn't in any classrooms today, I used my one day of unscheduled time this week to take care of tasks that I haven't had time to get done and to prepare for the two solid days of meetings that begin tomorrow.

I left school as soon as the car line let up and headed to the car wash.  I was SHOCKED to see the line was only three cars ahead of me... I had been prepared for a much longer line, and was kind of looking forward to sitting in the silent car DOING NOTHING, LISTENING TO NOTHING for about 15 minutes.

My clean-inside-and-out van was worth it.

Tonight I got to see my 9 year old play in her first real band concert.  Let me say... she rocked it on the bass drum!

Looking forward to a great day of learning with my colleagues tomorrow.  I'll be a good kind of tired again, then, too.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Sunday Slice

Yesterday, I wrote about my crazy busy Saturday.  Today couldn't have been more different!

First... I slept until nearly 9AM.  That's nearly unheard of for me.  It felt so good, though, after a late-night carpool run that got Molly and me back home around midnight.  I figured I would sleep in, but I didn't figure it would be THAT in (of course, the spring forward helped)!

THEN I got to be lazy on the couch until it was time to get the girls ready for their first performance with the North Suburban School of Dance dance company.  The girls in the company range in age from 9 to 13, and they have been working on this nine number show since early January.  The girls performed in an assisted living center, and they did an amazing job.  I love watching my girls dance... each time I get a little teary-eyed remembering the 3-year-old dancers they once were.  Molly especially has grown very graceful over the past year.  I almost don't recognize her when she's dancing.  Abby is more confident in her dancing this year.  She smiles more and looks less like a deer in the headlights than this time last year.  I'm thankful the Y offers this extra dance opportunity for the girls to go out into the community to perform.

THEN I did some shopping.  I hate everything in my closet right now.  I'm tired of wearing black and gray and brown and craving some brighter colors and springy pastels.  Molly needed a pair of shorts to wear with her costume for the school musical this week, so off to Kohl's I went.  They must have been giving away something in that store, because the parking lot was Black Friday-packed, and the lines inside were long!  I couldn't believe how crazy it was for a random Sunday in March.  Maybe, like me, people are tired of hunkering down at home and avoiding the cold and so used today's mild, sunny weather to do errands they'd been putting off.

When I got home, I took a nap... my favorite Sunday afternoon activity.

Though it seems like a busy Sunday, it really didn't feel like it.  The pace was slow, and I was able to take some time to be by myself and just enjoy driving around on a beautiful sunny day.  I'm looking forward to more of those sunny Sundays in the future.

Now.... on to Monday!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturdays are NOT Restful Days

All week I look forward to the weekend... to relaxing and getting things accomplished around the house.  To having time to enjoy my family.  To having time for me.

Every Saturday I wonder what the heck I was thinking.

Saturdays are quite possibly the busiest day of my week.  A typical Saturday look like this:

  1. Get up.
  2. Put in a load of laundry.
  3. Go to the grocery store.
  4. Transfer laundry to dryer; put in new load.
  5. Put away groceries.
  6. Tidy the house.  Badger the kids to at least put their dirty clothes in their hampers.
  7. Fold first load.  Repeat earlier laundry sequence.
  8. Fix lunch.
  9. Badger girls to get their dance things together.
  10. Play mom taxi.
  11. Multiple times.
  12. More laundry.
  13. Fix dinner.
  14. Collapse on couch in exhaustion.
I'm sure this schedule is not all that different from many other moms.  It's easy to be overwhelmed by all I have to accomplish.

At least I have my Sundays!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Organizational Woes

Last school year, I switched jobs in my building.  I went from being a 7th grade LA teacher to taking on the role of our school's literacy coach.  As part of the transition, I downsized from a full-size classroom to an office that doubles as our school's book room.  Once my bookshelves arrived, I organized our leveled books, my picture book collection, and the professional book collection in a way that I thought made sense.  I crammed all of the "But I might need this someday" stuff into the bookshelves and muddled through my first year.

This year, our assistant superintendent ordered me some more leveled texts, and I had to figure out how to make them fit.  I decided to do a complete overhaul of my office.  It's taken me weeks, and I'm still not finished.

The most frustrating part of this whole endeavor has been the MESS that I'm living in as I work my way through all of the STUFF that is taking up so much space.  Last year, I was afraid to get rid of anything, not knowing what I might need at any given time.  This year, I'm purging... getting rid of things that I'm pretty sure I'm not going to need, making digital files for the things that MIGHT come up.  I'm hoping that by the beginning of April I'll be working in a space that makes sense for me, the kids I work with in intervention small groups, and the teachers who come looking for resources.

Wish me luck.

Behind me you can see my newly organized leveled texts, put neatly into magazine files.  The other bookcases have yet to be tackled!  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

So I Have This Problem......

I'll bet some of you have this problem, too.  It seems to be rampant among teachers, especially those who teach reading and writing.  It's an expensive problem to have, and it seems to kick into high gear right after the Fourth of July, but hey.... who am I kidding?  It can rear its ugly head at any time.

Know what it is?  I'll tell you.....


I can't got into an Office Max or Staples without buying at least a package of pencils or perhaps a ream of paper.

Colorful binder clips send me into a tizzy.

Sharpies.... forget about it. MUST have them in every color.

My biggest problem, though, are pens.  I am a persnickety pen procurer.  I can't use just any old Bic. No Siree, Bob!  I need ink that flows smoothly from the barrel.  A cushioned grip is a plus.  I prefer gel ink that doesn't smear, and I MUST have a medium point.

In other words, I like expensive pens.

For a teacher, this is a problem, because pens have a way of developing legs and walking stealthily out of the classroom.  Over time, these escaped pens add up to a pretty penny!

Right now, my favorite pens are these:
They might well and truly be the best pens I've ever bought.  I have to hide them from my daughters who like to steal them from me, and I am careful never to leave one in the copier room at school.

I think deep down, I must believe that if I possess the perfect pen, suddenly I'll be transformed into a REAL writer.... that the words will flow without hesitation from my brain, through the pen, and onto the page.  I know, however, that it's not that easy, that writing is hard work, and I need to sit down and write EVERY SINGLE DAY and get those ideas onto the paper (or screen) and then revise and reread and revise again.

Someday I'll do that.  Maybe.

Until then..... HEY!  GIVE ME MY PEN BACK!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Moment of Panic

Today I was a bit distracted as I left school.  My daughter had texted me a photo of our dripping ceiling and after I texted her a reply I tossed my phone into my purse and then headed out the school doors and into the parking lot, loaded my bags into my van, and drove home to investigate the ceiling situation.

I went to text Dan, only to discover that my phone was nowhere to be found.  Not in my tote bag... not in my purse.... not in the small bag I used to carry my shoes home.  I figured I must have imagined tossing my phone in the bag and assumed it was on the table in my office at school.

Tried Find My Iphone.  No luck.  Battery must have died.

About an hour or so later, Abby and I headed out to get Molly from play practice, and as I backed out of the driveway, I noticed a blotch of pink and purple lying in the snow in the driveway.

I experienced a moment of panic.

That pink and purple blob was my phone in its Otterbox case.

And I had just backed over it.

In case you don't know what an Otterbox is, the one I have looks like this:
And amazingly... my phone still works!  The cold zapped the battery, but once it warmed up and charged a bit, it started right up and worked.  The screen didn't even crack.

If I wasn't convinced of the greatness of the Otterbox before, I am now.  I will NEVER leave my phone out of this case ever again. 

This is my second near-disaster with this phone.  The first one was last July when my phone, at that time in a cute Vera Bradley case, went for a swim after falling out of the back pocket of my jeans.  I saved it that time by letting it dry in rice for three days.  Perhaps if I had left it in the heftier case, the water would not have gotten inside the phone. 

Perhaps I should be more careful with my electronic devices.  
And zip my purse.

Lesson learned.

Disclaimer:  I am not trying to sell you one of these.  Otterbox did not sponsor my post.  This story is true!  :-)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Taco Tuesday

Tonight was Taco Tuesday at the Rench Ranch, just as it was in many households and school cafeterias across the country.  I've discovered my girls like chicken tacos made with sauteed chicken breasts seasoned with taco seasoning from The Spice House.  It's not spicy... mild but flavorful.  They like flour tortillas, not corn.  They like queso fresco and avocado.

It was an awesome meal.

Not because of the chicken tacos, or at least not solely (though they were awfully tasty).

It was awesome because all four of us were seated around the table, talking about our days and sharing our lives.  The topic du jour was ISAT testing.... though that's a blog post for another time.

When I sit at the table with my guy and my girls, I think about how dinnertime is my favorite part of the day. The girls are growing up so quickly and their lives are increasingly busy.  I know that by the time they are both in high school, these family dinners will become less frequent.  I know that in just five years, our dinner table will have an empty place as Molly will be off in college.

It makes me misty.... AND IT'S FIVE YEARS AWAY!

But for now, I'll revel in these everyday miracles that are my girls and enjoy their company as long as I have it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday, Monday

It's Monday again.... seems like Monday creeps up on me and I'm always taken by surprise when that 5:30am alarm goes off to start my week.  Right now, I'm settled on the couch, dog burrowed under the blanket next to my legs, catching up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, thinking about what to write for the day.

In general, I try to look at Mondays as a fresh start.  It's a new week!  I get a new chance to get this whole mom-wife-coach-ME thing right.  As long as I remember to put the coffee in the pot BEFORE I hit brew (and yes, I have forgotten this important step in the coffee-making process), my Monday usually starts out pretty well.  Molly and I head out the door by 7:30 to get to school for her 7:45 am orchestra rehearsal.  I spend a few minutes with my calendar, figuring out my week... when will I be in classrooms working with teachers and kids?  When will I be in meetings?  When will I find time to finish getting all of our leveled books back on the shelves and make progress on my office/literacy room reorganization? Then it's off to the races!

I find that if I start my week with a positive outlook, the rest of the week is likely to follow suit.  I'm more able to find the silver linings in challenges and not let the little things get me down. I don't mind the Mom Taxi obligations quite so much, as they give me time to be quiet with my thoughts on my back-and-forths to the Y.

So I'll go brew my coffee and I'll pick out my clothes and I'll hit the door with a smile on my face and my week will be off to a great start.

Hope yours will be, too.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Hole in My Life

Each of us has days that are etched into our memories: a wedding day, the birth of a child, the first day of school.

For me one of the biggest is March 2, 2005.  It started out like any other day... get the girls up, get them fed and dressed.  Drop them at daycare and head off to school.

The day did not end that way.

During my planning period, the principal and assistant principal appeared in my room and asked me to come with them to the office.  This was odd behavior.  Normally, our secretary would just call on the intercom or phone to ask me to come up.  They told me Dan and the girls were fine.  This immediately triggered a stab of fear in my heart.  That meant someone wasn't fine.

They escorted me upstairs to the office and into a conference room normally used for parent meetings.  Dan was there waiting for me.  I took one look at him and knew.... he didn't even get the words out of his mouth to tell me.  My Gram was gone.

I remember wailing... really wailing, and almost falling to the floor.  This wasn't supposed to happen, not yet.  She wasn't sick, she had just had her birthday days before.  I had just talked with her on the phone.

She died in a horrific, violent way that I wouldn't wish on another human being.

The next few days passed in a blur of rushing downstate to be home with my family as we made arrangements for her funeral. Then the visitations for her and my great-aunt Dorothy, her sister who was a victim along with Gram.  It was surreal to walk into the funeral services and see the long lenses of cameras capturing photos of the families and the other mourners, to be approached by a reporter as we left the church that awful morning we said goodbye.  It seemed unreal to see Gram's face and that of Aunt Dorothy on the news as reporters speculated on how long it might take the police to find the person who willfully, violently took them from us.  It was impossible to shield my nearly-five-year-old daughter from hearing things she shouldn't.

Every March 2, I think about the details of that day... that week... the ones that followed.  The trial that led to an acquittal of the person charged with the triple homicide.  The closure that we as a family still lack.

The rest of the year, I think about how special Gram was.  How she loved me unconditionally.
Her laugh.
Her bright silver-white hair (which if my own gray is any indication, she passed on to me).
Her generosity.
Her joy in her grandchildren and their accomplishments.  Her smile as we married and had children of our own for her to cuddle and love, just as she had for us as babies.

I hold her in my heart, and I think about her every single day as I go about my life.  I know that somewhere, someplace, she and my mom are with me, watching my girls grow up, applauding their accomplishments, helping to guide me when I need to comfort their hurts.

I hope she is proud of the woman I have become.  I love you, Gram.

Gram and my girls, just days after Abby was born.  June, 2004.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Each March TwoWritingTeachers sponsors the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Bloggers who participate write every day in March, link to the TWT website, and comment on other Slicers' posts.  Last March was the first year I succeeded in posting EVERY DAY in March.  It felt amazing to complete the challenge and to participate in this community of writers.  I felt like a much better writer at the end of the month than I did at the start.

It seems, then, that the decision to participate again this year would be a no-brainer.  But this year is not last year.  This year I feel a bit like I'm drowning, struggling to keep my head above water with being a mom, a wife, a student, a literacy coach..... I wasn't sure if "writer" was a tag that I could really add to that list.


Then I thought about how the act of sitting down for 15 minutes at some point of each day might help me find that center I'm missing in the craziness of my life.  It might help me focus my thinking about some of the issues I'm struggling to figure out.  It will definitely help me strengthen connections that have frayed a bit over the past year as I find my way in my new role at school.

So I'm in....
My goal is to write just a bit every day.
I might not comment on as many posts as I'd like each day, but I will comment, and I will write, and I will link.

And I will think and laugh and cry and celebrate and mourn and live along with the rest of the Slicers who've also made this commitment.

What about you?