Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice of Life, March 31st -- "A Month of Deep Life"

“It is not the length of life, but the depth.”

 --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Deep life.

What is it?

Is it teaching? Learning? Being with family or friends? Is it dreaming, creating, working hard....?

Yes, yes, and yes. It's all these things, but at a new level....deep. So what does that mean? How do you live your life deeply?

Many people, I am sure, could wax long on this subject, but here's what I think. 

We all just did it for a month. 

Together we stopped. We listened. We looked closer at our jobs, our families, our students. We watched with wonder as spring crept in on little cat feet. We took walks that became journeys of the heart. We retold stories that made us laugh and weep. We relived our lives through our words.

I think that's what deep living is at its core. Deep living means not letting life pass you by in moments that cannot be counted, days that are not noticed. Writing is a cure for the shallowness that threatens to engulf us with each day that passes without memories. Writing keeps the years from slipping by without our fingers grasping the important stuff.

So, write, friends. I intend to. 

SOL has challenged me, scared me, and even threatened me, at times, if that sounds believable. But it's also inspired and awoken me. It's changed how I see things, and I don't want to go back to days that are forgotten quickly. It would be easier to give it up and not write again until next March, but I'd be missing the deep life that I discovered this month. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be part of this group. 

Thank you, SOL community, for welcoming me with your comments.

Thank you, students, for joining me.

Thank you, Webb City staff, for supporting and encouraging us all.

Thank you to the organizers and helpers who must have worked endless hours to make this month run smoothly for the rest of us.

Thank you so much for helping me find that deep life that is only found in the written word, penned from my own experiences and thoughts. I needed the little boost to find it again.

I think I'll keep this deep life. It's hard work, but so worth it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Slice of Life, March 30th-- "Dear Students..."

Dear Slicing Pod 2 Students,

Whether you decided to go for the 16 or 31 day Slice of Life goal, this letter will apply to you. I decided that one of my last posts will be directed towards you and to the things I've observed over the last month. It's long, but I hope you'll read it all. It's from my heart.

First, I know you had no idea what you were getting into when you signed on to this little adventure at the end of February. I know you didn't know, because I didn't know either. I had no idea what I was having us do. I had just found out about the challenge, and it sounded fun! My classes would LOVE to do this, I thought. I was right. You responded with enthusiasm that fueled my own excitement.

March 1st came and off we went! We even had some adults coming along with us; Dr. Zornes, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. O., Mrs. Booher, and Mrs. Hulstine all signed up to blog for the whole month. It was so much fun to feel like we had our own writing community all around us. Guest bloggers spiced things up, too!

We got off to a strong start.

Then, the first week passed, and the second week was gone. Slice of Life got hard. Really hard. Writer's block became a constant companion. A few students gave up, and I don't blame them. Between snow days, weekends, and Spring Break, we didn't even have each other to bounce ideas off of most days. Some days--a lot of days, maybe-- we wrote because we had to write. This wasn't exactly fun, but the rewards in the future made it worth it, we thought.

The third week was my hardest--your hardest, too, I think. Spring Break gave lots of new "out of the norm" ideas, but the encouragement from each other and the newness of the journey were just plain gone. Some days I thought really hard about giving in to the relaxation and laziness that comes with Spring Break, but it was you (and the chance at prizes from the teacher blog) that kept me writing and commenting. I felt like I was a blogging "fake." I just wasn't enjoying the discipline it took to keep up. I dreaded the moment that I had to stop exploring Florida and write. I wanted to be done. I felt like a terrible person. Can you relate?

It was a little easier the last week, because we were at school again. Something about school just makes you feel like writing is expected. Sort of. It was still a stretch to come up with things to write. While I was trying to motivate you, I was trying to motivate myself. I coined the phrase, "The Slice of Life ate my life." I dreamed of the day my computer could spend the night at school instead of following me home every night. I wish I could say that I loved every moment, but some days I just wanted to go to bed early, not post. To lie about that would make me sound like the "real writer" in the group, when all of you, I'm sure, had moments like me, and you're just as much "writers" as I am.

Then...all of a sudden, it's almost over.

One more post after this one for me. How is that possible? I made it?

I've thought a lot over the last few days about whether this is something I will do next year. Was it worth it for my kids, for me? I needed to get to the bottom of my feelings on the subject. I like to be honest, and this is how I really felt.

But after a lot of thought, I've come to a decision. I'm in. Next year, I will do it and so will some of my brave students who will follow in your footsteps.

Here's why:

1. When I look back over my 30 days of posts, even the ones that were stretches at the time, they make me proud. I teach writing, but I've never published a blog like this before, full of my own ideas. Even when I thought I was terrible, I was okay. I didn't have to be full of inspiration to write a good post. Maybe, for the first time, I realized that I don't have to be perfect to be a writer. It's a nice feeling.

2. I persevered, and so did you. We're all lying if we say each post was a joy to write. We wanted to give up at some point, all of us, but we didn't. It's amazing what we did through sheer willpower.

3. Not only did I notice what I wrote, I've noticed what you wrote. You are good. Really good. You may have thought, like me, a few days, that what you wrote was hardly worth reading, but you were wrong. Look again, please, at all your posts...the poems, the narratives, the opinions you crafted. Not just the ones you published, but the ones you kept hidden in your journals for only your eyes. Notice that your words are powerful, beautiful, amazing. Notice that you sound like a real writer. Notice that you ARE a real writer.

4. The SOL community we formed was priceless. I feel like we've run a race together and now we're at the finish line about to cross-- together. I am so glad that I know more about you through your writing and that we've completed the challenge with each other. Good and bad, we finished, and that's what matters.

So, students, a word of advice from your Comm Arts teacher: Don't be too quick to label this little adventure as "not worth it" or "not a big deal."

It IS a big deal.

You finished. You wrote. You grew. You were disciplined enough to do what many adults would have given up on weeks ago (or never had the courage to start to begin with).

As you prepare to move to Jr. High, remember this lesson. If you can do Slice of Life, you can do a lot of things you think you can't do. It just takes a made-up mind and dedication. It takes doing what you don't want to do when it's easy to give up. People say it a lot, but it's true. You can do anything you set your mind to do. You've proven that to many adults lately, and more importantly, I hope,  to yourself.

Do me a favor. Save your writing. You might not feel like it now, but those entries, those slices of your 6th grade life in March 2014 will be worth more than gold to you one day. Trust me on this.

The good news? It's almost time to celebrate our accomplishments. We have slices of pizza and cake and t-shirts and parties coming, but those won't be the biggest moments of joy you experience. I hope that moment comes to you tomorrow, when you pen your last entry.

I hope you savor the moment of accomplishment and pride wrapped up together.

You deserve to enjoy it. Congratulations!

                                                                                                          Your proud teacher,
                                                                                                                Miss Collins

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Slice of Life, March 29th-- "Tucker, the Snorting Golden Retriever"

I promised at the beginning of SOL to introduce both my dogs. Jackson found his way into a post quite early, but I've saved my second dog for later. Meet Tucker:

Tucker is my 9 year old Golden Retriever. When he was a puppy, we noticed something different about him. When he was really happy, he snorted. Sort of like when a cat is content, they purr-- well, Tucker snorts. It is seriously cute.

He snorts when you're petting him. He snorts when he wants you to pet him. Sometimes, when he's sitting across the room just looking at you, he'll snort, just to let you know that it's on his mind. It sounds like a snore and a pig snort combined.

He is a for-real retriever, not just in name. He is happiest when he is chasing something. He often wears himself out chasing his tennis balls and other dog toys. I have never in my life seen a dog more enchanted by flying objects. When we get out the bean bag toss game in the summer while we're grilling, he has to be in the house, because he will run and snatch bean bags from the air during the game. It's hard to know who's winning when the dog is running around with all the bean bags!

Tucker is very sweet and loving. He will snuggle with you all day if you let him (in between games of catch, of course). He likes to be scratched, and if you are not doing your job while he lays with you, he will "gently" remind you with a little swat from one of those big paws.

He likes to be with his family and is very loyal. Earlier this year, as I was putting my things in the car to go to school, Tucker followed me to the garage, climbed in the back seat, and got comfortable. He put up quite a fight when I told him he was not allowed to go to school with me!

His favorite place to be is outside. He will lay outside by himself for hours. He especially likes to eat grass or snow, whichever happens to be covering the ground. He loves the shade, even in the winter, probably because he has such a thick coat of fur.

His least favorite thing is to be brushed. You would think this might feel good when you're covered in hair like him, but he acts like he is being tortured. It takes two people to pin him down long enough to give his coat a good brush. When it's over, he snorts because he is so happy to be done!

So, that's Tucker, the incredible snorting Golden Retriever. I hope you enjoyed reading about what makes him special!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Slice of Life, March 28th-- "My Hour as a Middle School Nacho Lady"

PTO school fundraiser night
The cafeteria is full of parents, middle schoolers, teachers, and siblings.
The concession stand is my post,
My job for an hour.

Behind the rows of tables,
I man the nachos.
Chips, liquid cheese, and plastic bowls are my tools
To create Tex-Mex greatness.
$1.50 will buy you the chance to try my creation.

I listen for the words, yelled across the small, loud space--
"One nacho, please!"
I jump into action, pouring fresh cheese onto crunchy chips
Quickly pushing another masterpiece into the hands of a hungry buyer.

The room is full of buzzing--
Students are talking excitedly in pairs.
Parents are standing in small groups.
Tables are full of mini pizza parties of middle school kids.
The timer in the gym blares again.
The crowd roars from the stands.

The pace is fast, but the view is perfect.
For one hour, I am a nacho-creator and people-observer.
I see smiles, silliness, hugs, and humor from my corner of the room.
I see my school-- my community, together
Laughing and enjoying each other's company,
Working to achieve a common goal for the common good of our students.
And I am proud to be part of it.
Even if I'm just the nacho lady.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Slice of Life, March 27th -- "Avoiding Regret"

“The pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret.”
Sarah Bombell, Olympic synchronized swimmer

This quote hung in my room for years; it is one of my all time favorites. It's been on my mind lately.

I think to understand these words-- to really understand them-- you must have experienced the pain of regret that comes from a lack of discipline. It is one of the most heartbreaking kinds of pain that I know.

Discipline is what causes you do what is necessary to achieve your goals. It is the hardest part of doing great things in life. Discipline isn't fun, but it is part of a well-lived life. It is what causes people to rise above "the norm" and accomplish amazing things.

Regret is the feeling that you could have done something, but knowing, in your heart, that you didn't have the follow-through to finish. It is one of the worst feelings I know. To feel as though I could have made a difference or reached a goal, but didn't have the mental discipline to keep going until it was done, is a feeling I avoid at all costs.

Regret can haunt you. There is no routine or discipline that is more painful than the disappointment of not achieving a dream. 

Goals, professional and personal, are not reached by wishful thinking or just positive attitudes; they are conquered in the trenches everyday, sometimes doing the same thing over and over again with little measurable gain. 

But, the work is always worth it in the end. When goals are worth the fight, they taste even sweeter in victory.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Slice of Life, March 26th -- "I Want to Hug You...and You...and YOU!!"

We are doing a project in one of my writing classes where the kids design games, write directions, and create the game boards and pieces. One of the "catches" is that it has to be based on a book they love. Sometimes this can cause a little trouble. Not all books make great games! So, sometimes we have to do a little brainstorming to come up with one that will fit the assignment.

Monday was "book choosing day," so I had everyone brainstorming some books they had read that were usable. Of course, a few kids knew immediately what they wanted to do and got started without my help. As I saw faces becoming perplexed, however, I mentioned that it doesn't have to be something they're read recently during their middle school years. It can even be a children's book from elementary school I explained.

Still, faces looked a little blank, so I told them I had some books they could look through to get ideas. In my storage closet, I have several books that were my standbys when I taught 3rd grade a few years ago. I taught that age for 6 years, so when I moved up a few levels, I felt like I was leaving friends behind when I couldn't use the same texts.

Of course, I know that some books can be used at any grade level, and I do utilize them on occasion, but not nearly as much as when I lived among 8 year olds. My 6th graders have read all my favorites, and so they sit, like old dolls on a shelf, in the dusty closet, only to be pulled out when I need them. It's been awhile since I was back there.

I took a few of the kids into the closet, propped the door, and started going through the titles with them. Before I knew what I was happening, I was hugging 3 or 4 of these treasures against me, like long-lost friends. The students looked at me strangely.

"I's just I haven't seen them in so long!" I gushed. Their faces looked amused now.

I lovingly pulled more books off the shelf, asking as I went, "Have you read about Alexander and his bad day? What about Edward Tulane? Surely you've read about Despereaux and Mrs. Frisby?" I realized I was listing off the character names, not the titles, unknowingly.

Those books, read so many years to so many students, were filled with my dear friends, the characters. Those characters had worked hand in hand with me to help many reluctant readers learn to appreciate the beauty of words on a page. Their stories were my stories.

I left the closet with my arms full, lugging books back into my room. I just couldn't leave them sitting in the dark for another moment. I needed them on my desk, near me.

After the kids left that day, I sat and flipped through the books, the familiar words, phrases, and pictures jumping out at me. I tried to make myself read them, but I was filled with an emptiness I couldn't identify. They stayed on my desk. I couldn't bear to take them home.

Today I realized what that weird feeling was, why I couldn't bring myself to turn to page one and begin.

I had no audience to experience them with.

To me, those books have always been shared with wide-eyed, young readers at my feet on the carpet. Often it was after recess and they were hot and sweaty, yet they crammed together to be nearer to the pictures. Without children listening to the voices and sound effects, the words on the page weren't worth reading, even silently to myself. I was surprised at myself.

I wonder if anyone else out there has felt this feeling before. Those precious books, for me, are reserved to be read during read-aloud time, with the funny voices, the sound effects, and a gusto that can only be achieved under special conditions.

It must be still, quiet, the air alive with a touch of magic.  If those circumstances cannot be arranged, I cannot read. Maybe that sounds picky, but I just can't bear it. The memories of past journeys through the books haunt me without my enthralled young audience.

You know what, though?

I think I still can arrange those circumstances with 11 and 12 year olds. I believe there is still wonder in the air, still imagination enough to appreciate the voices of the friends from my books. I think that together we, the characters and I, can create an atmosphere of quiet joy in my room that will lure kids in and capture them in the net of a good story.

I think there are still stories to be told and children to tell them to in my life.

I can't wait to begin.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slice of Life, March 25th-- "The Dystonia Slice of My Life"

This is a part of my life that is difficult to slice about, but it's a huge slice of my life. Although it's hard, I feel it's important. I also I know some of you will be able to relate to my story. That, too, makes it worth sharing.

A three and half years ago I was diagnosed with a disease that changed my life. Since then, it has become a constant "slice"-- a daily "slice" of who I am.

It's called dystonia. It's a neurological movement disorder. That means that a part of my brain sends messages to my muscles to move all the time, with or without my permission. The movements can be tremors, sharp jerks, or sustained muscle contractions in different directions. My kind of dystonia is called segmental dystonia, which means that it affects 2 or more parts of my body; for me, that is my shoulders, neck, jaw, and sometimes my right arm. It is a very rare disease, but not unknown. You may know someone with a kind of dystonia, or you may have never heard of it at all.

There is no cure, but there are treatments that have helped me tremendously. In addition to oral medications that help with symptoms, I receive injections of Botox (yes, BOTOX!) into my affected muscles by a neurologist. This weakens those deep muscles, so that the movements are not as strong and easier for me to control. It's been an amazing help to me. I get the shots every 3 months. Without these treatments, it would be impossible for me to work or live even close to a normal life.

While the treatments are helpful, there are challenges each and every day. I've had to make some adjustments that will be familiar to many of you with chronic disease.

There are no pain-free days in my life. It is a continuum, day to day, week to week, month to month. Some days it is like a constant background noise that is mostly ignorable, and other days it is so loud I can hardly think.

I am always fatigued. The disease is exhausting in itself, but combine that with the side effects of treatments, and I never have enough energy to do everything I wish I could. I feel guilty all the time because I can't keep up with what I want to accomplish.

It is unpredictable. I never really know what kind of day or week I'm going to have. It's hard to make plans because of this. It can be really disappointing when I think I can do something, and dystonia has different plans.

It requires so much rest to keep up with a normal schedule. Outside of school activities are often the first to go. Anything out of my "norm" can require days of recovery. I'm still learning to balance.

It is frustrating. I can't do what I used to be able to do. I'm limited. Boundaries are hard to adjust to, and I'm learning everyday how to live with them.

I've had to change some goals. As much as I hate it, some doors are closed because of dystonia. I am finding new ways to define success and feel accomplished.

I feel misunderstood a lot. What might come across as grouchy or out-of-sorts, is usually just pain overwhelming me. What appears as laziness, is actually me recovering so I can keep going the next day. I want to be known as me, not my disease, so I hide as much as I can. Sometimes this backfires and people make incorrect assumptions. I blame myself for this, but I haven't found a way to fix it. Yet.

As hard as the above are, I've found some positives I would never have known without dystonia and I'm thankful for that. For example...

People are kind. I have met more people who are understanding than the other way around. When I am up front and honest with people, they accept me for who I am. They want to understand and help. This says a lot about human nature.

I am strong. I didn't know it before, but I have a willpower of steel that keeps me going. I've learned to appreciate this about myself. I'm proud of how much I've overcome, even if I still have a long way to go.

A positive attitude and smile can make all the difference. I know sometimes I am annoyingly positive about negative situations...I can't help it; it's just how I've learned to cope with life. I can't sweat the small stuff anymore. I refuse to let the little things get me down. I take life a day at a time. The good days are too precious too waste with negativity.

Laughter is medicine. I love to laugh and make others laugh. It's part of how I get through each day. Sometimes I search for things to laugh at, even if it's myself, to bring some brightness to a hard day.

I'm not alone. Family, friends, and co-workers have all stepped up to help me get through some incredibly tough times. It sounds cliche, but I couldn't have made it without them. They know who they are!!

So, that's the dystonia "slice" of my life. I know there are many of you out there that can relate in some way or another. Whether it's you, or a friend, or a family member, most of us know someone dealing with a chronic disease of some kind. It's never easy, but together, it's bearable.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Slice of Life, March 24th-- "My Life in India Through the Lens of Food"

The year after I graduated from college, I decided I wanted to travel. I lived for one year overseas: 4 months in Mexico City and 4 months in New Delhi. I spent the year working with dedicated people and teaching at a small college. What I thought was a selfless adventure, turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I took away much more than I gave, that's for sure!

Here are a few of my memories from India through the lens of food. I took the pictures at a small grocery store in Orlanda last week. I left with tears in my eyes. The memories flooded me as I walked the tight aisles.

Here is the store:

Outside of the small college I lived and worked at was a small vegetable stand. They spread their offerings on a blanket on the ground each day. There were always things I'd never seen before, like this vegetable-- an eggplant, but so small! These veggies were cooked into curries that we ate twice a day with rice.

Another daily tradition was tea. If I could transport one tradition from India home, it would be tea time. In India it's not just a drink; it's a way of socializing. You stop everyday in the mid-afternoon for a cup, sweetened with milk and sugar. If you were at someone's home, you never left without having a drink together. It was a sign of friendship and hospitality. It opened the door to conversation. I miss it so much.

If you were at someone's house, you were often offered something like this, a sweet cookie or "biscuit" to eat with your tea.

Sometimes we ate out at a little restaurant near the college. It was across the street. We always ordered the same thing: paneer (cubes of cheese that you must try someday), dal (a lentil soup that is exquisite), and naan (flat bread that is cooked on the inside wall of a clay oven). Here are pictures of the make-at-home versions from the store:

When it was time to leave, my friends had a party to say goodbye. They insisted that I try home-cooked, South Indian food. They were from the South, and it was their way of sharing their culture with me. I have craved it ever since. In America, most Indian restaurants serve Northern Indian food--wonderful, trust me--but if you ever find one that serves South Indian cuisine, it is a special place! This is a traditional South Indian breakfast food, idli. It is made from rice flour, is about the size of the inside of your palm, and is the epitome of fluffy, white deliciousness.

Chocolate isn't something you run into a lot in India, or at least I didn't. This is the picture of the most popular brand, Cadbury. When I was about 2 months into the trip, I made an ill-fated trip to a little convenience store to pick up a few candy bars to use as treats for a game I was going to play with the students in class. I bought 3 bars. I hadn't had chocolate in 2 months. I ate all three in a row in minutes and hid the trash. No one knew the difference. The game was fine without prizes, but, needless to say, I was the one that learned a lesson that day. I've never done that again...

One of my favorite memories is of the students eating the green bean-looking items below. Be careful! They're not green beans, but the hottest chilies you'll ever run across. The kids would eat them plain, just like you see here, dipped in some salt. I vowed to try it before I left for home, but I chickened out!

I have a thousand pictures of the people and places I remember so well, but, truly, some of my most vivid memories are unlocked through the portal of food. The spices, the textures, and the smells bring back my moments there in the most amazing detail.

The store we visited last week made me smile and remember. It's like a mini-trip back to my little niche in India. I hope you enjoyed our visit!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Slice of Life, March 23rd-- "For It's the Last Day of Spring Break"

I should...
I should finish unpacking.
I should go to the grocery store.
I should straighten up the kitchen.
I should tackle "the list."

But I can't.
You see,
For it's the last day of Spring Break.

Please notice that it's sunny outside--maybe chilly, but sunny.
The Sunday paper is waiting.
The coffee is still brewing.
The daffodils have bloomed in the front yard.
The birds have returned from the south--I hear their jubilant voices.
I have yet to finish "the list" here in Spring Break.

There are still some moments left for me to enjoy here.
Some quiet, precious, tranquil moments.
Moments that can only be lived now, not later.

Be still, my mind.
Monday will come.
The list will get done.
The alarm will go off.
The week will begin.
All will be well.

But this moment?
It cannot be replaced, relived, redone.
It begs to be lived in its silence and full, thoughtful detail.
It speaks to me, "Don't move too fast. I am leaving soon."
It reminds me that its simplicity is its gift to me.

And so, you see, I should...
But I can't.
For it's the last day of Spring Break.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Slice of Life, March 22nd-- "My First Day of Teaching, Remembered..."

Our first day of teaching...a day we all remember, I'm sure. For me it was 8 years ago, but I can see every moment in high-definition detail. Allow me to recount a few of the highlights for your amusement.

6:00 a.m.-- I'm sitting in my '96 Honda Accord in the parking lot of the school. I'm the only one there, obviously. School doesn't start until 7:50, but I can't sleep because I'm so paranoid I'll OVERsleep and miss the first day. Plus, the first day of school nightmares are killing me. To escape, I just get up and go. At this particular moment, I've got my head against the steering wheel breathing deeply in the dark, sick to my stomach, with one thought rolling through my mind on repeat, "How did I talk this principal into believing I could actually TEACH?! I don't even know if I can teach!" I was so terrified by the thought of having my own classroom of real kids that I could hardly move. Needless to say, I did...

7:30 a.m.-- The parents and students start rolling in for the first day of school pictures with the new third grade teacher. The impostor complex kicks in again; I feel like they can all tell I have no idea what I'm doing. My panic is documented in pictures that I still have. The look on my face is priceless.

8:30 a.m. -- I'm reading them a book about first day jitters, and it's going well! We're building community! A victory! Then someone opens the door...another parent wanting one more picture. The momentum breaks. The doubt returns. I suppress a real urge to hide.

11:10 a.m. -- Someone from the office comes in to ask if we're going to come to lunch. We're 20 minutes late. I've been so worried about everything else that didn't realize my clock was running slow, and the time for lunch had come and gone. It's a nightmare come true. We make it just in time before the next shift of kids.

11:25 a.m. -- I shove food into my mouth behind my desk as the kids sit for a few moments after their lunch. It's all I've got time for. I feel like I'm going to throw up.

1:30ish p.m. -- A child beats me to it, and throws up on his desk. The cleaning staff is busy, so I repair the damage on my own; the gagging 8 year-olds wait on me in the hallway. I want to go home.

2:50 p.m. -- I put on a brave face, and go out to car pick-up line to wave goodbye to all my kids. I feel like I've lived a whole week in 8 hours. I'm exhausted, but I know I'm in the right place when I realize I can't wait to try again the next day. For the first time ever, I'm a real teacher and it feels amazing.

It was a first day for the books, that's for sure. In the end, I had a wonderful year despite some more growing getting the whole class lost in downtown Indianapolis on my first field trip.


Live and learn, right?

Truthfully, I wouldn't change a thing about that day. It's brought a lot of smiles to my face and the faces of others over the years. I like to tell new teachers in my building that they can't beat my first day flop! They usually feel better about their "terrible" first day after I tell them the above story.

After all, we can't be perfect all the time, but it doesn't mean we're not supposed to be here. It's just part of the journey.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Slice of Life, March 21st-- "Home"

I overheard a woman this morning talking to a co-worker. She lives and works in the part of Florida I vacationed in for a week. On my first day there, I wrote a post about how just looking at a palm tree made me over-the-moon excited and happy. This morning, as I moped around getting ready to leave the resort, this is what I heard:

"I'm getting ready to take some vacation time," said the lady, excitement in her voice.

"So where do you want to go?" said her friend.

"Anywhere without a palm tree!" she replied.

They laughed together.

I digested.

My oasis was the very place she wanted to escape from. It's all about perspective, isn't it? I wonder if she'd be happy visiting my area of the country. It's not Florida, but, then again, we don't have palm trees either!

I've tried to think about that today as I've traveled home. Maybe my little town isn't a vacation spot on the the map for anyone, but, you know what?

It's a pretty special place, too, and I'm glad to be here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Slice of Life, March 20th -- "Tapas, anyone?"

I've tried to write 3 posts tonight and none of them are working out.

Have you been there, friends?

I've decided that instead of working hard to come up with a hearty "main course" slice, I'd just offer you some "tapas"--a Spanish tradition of "small plates" of food. Instead of a long post with all my thoughts on one subject, I'll give you a small sample of some of the many thoughts that are swirling around my mind tonight.

Thought 1: Today is the International Day of Happiness, created by the United Nations in 2012. It coincides with the first day of Spring, which I think can't be an accident! I've been pondering all day about what it is exactly that makes one person happy over another person. I've decided that, when it all boils down, happiness is a choice. As cliche as it is, I choose whether a circumstance is going to steal my joy and my smile or if it is going to be just a bump in the road. I've also thought about how happiness does not have to be a polar opposite of sadness; I think in life we experience all and joy combined with sadness and difficulties that together create the perfect mixture to produce happiness.

Thought 2: I've been reading some great books in my independent time. I am a reader of many books at once, so here's a few from my current stack:
       The Monuments Men: The book surprised me with the nonfiction narrative full of fascinating facts about the rescue of art during WWII. I love it, but in small doses. Sometimes my brain just isn't ready to absorb it all, and I don't want to miss anything! I read this book a chapter at a time, slowly.
       The Book Thief: It was not a book that instantly grabbed me, but after about a third of the way through, I was hooked. It is a glimpse into the life of a young lady during the start of WWII in Germany. I've never read a book like it before, and I'm mesmerized by the author's style.
      Various German Guidebooks: I'm planning a trip to Germany next summer, so I'm reading up on places to visit and things to do. I love planning trips almost as much as taking them, so it's a lot of fun. I read these books when I feel like escaping for a few minutes. Perhaps the trip subconsciously attracted me to the above books, too! I'm noticing a theme now that I'm writing it all down.

Thought 3: Spring Break is over. I'm flying home in the morning. I have the normal mixed feelings. I'm so sad to leave vacation and exploration behind. It's been a wonderful break from the normal routine. I've had a lot of firsts on this trip to Florida: first trip to the Everglades, first airboat ride, first time to hold a baby alligator. On the other hand, I'm excited to get going at school. The end of the year always goes so fast, and it's full of so many traditions and fun times. Plus, I miss my students!

So, that's my list, my "tapas" for you. Now, if only we could all fit around a table and have a nice, long conversation about my ideas and yours.

I have a feeling THAT would be something to write about!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Slice of Life, March 19th-- "This Moment Brought to You Because of Winn Dixie"

I wrote a few days ago about my first encounter with the real Winn Dixie grocery store. It was an exciting moment which led me to add a new item to my Spring Break Bucket List: shop at a Winn Dixie before going home.

So, in my pursuit of that goal, I dragged the family to the supermarket this afternoon for a quick trip through the store for a couple of things. Of course, a short list always grows once inside the store, and it wasn't much time before our arms were loaded with mid-vacation essentials: the pineapple I was craving, raisin bran, diet soda, granola bars, a loaf of bread, and several other must-haves.

We met at the front of the store after our foraging, carefully balancing our food finds. We were attracted to the self-checkout by the allure of no lines and a quick exit. Hurrying, the three of us pounced on the open checkout, beeping our items through the scanner with gusto.

Things started going downhill fast.

The woman in the machine started talking to us. "Please place your item in the bagging area," she politely, but firmly said. We tried again. Our definition of the bagging area was clearly misguided. The woman repeated herself, louder this time and more authoritatively.

I then realized an even more serious error. We didn't have a Winn Dixie savings card! We were being charged the full price for every item we were purchasing!

The tension dialed up a notch as I went in search of an employee to help us sign up for a card.

When I found him, I asked if we could please get a Winn Dixie card. He took in the situation, looked me up and down, and asked nicely if we were visiting from out of state. I would like to go back to the store and ask him how he knew on his first guess, even if the answer would hurt my feelings. He thoughtfully offered to use the store card to help us, rather than having us sign up. Smart man.

I turned with him to walk back to our check-out area.

By the time we had returned, the polite woman's monotone voice was echoing through the whole store, repeating infraction after infraction that we had somehow committed in 3 short minutes. The groceries were in the wrong place, the produce wasn't being weighed right....every sentence that poor machine had been programmed to say was being yelled all at once. At us!

I had a moment where I wasn't sure what to do. Put my hands up like a criminal? Drop everything and exit the store in defeat? Melt into the linoleum in embarrassment? What HAD we done to create such a moment of mayhem? It felt as if the whole store was looking at us. Actually, I think they were.

There we were, the tourists, who couldn't even figure out how to use the self-checkout at the local Winn Dixie.

Vacation humiliation.

Thankfully, the kind young man rescued us. He quickly typed in super-secret codes while machine-lady continued to chastise all of us.

She stopped.

We paid.

He saved us.

We gathered our badly-packed bags and ducked out of the store. It was finally over.

Bucket list: CHECK.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slice of Life, March 18th-- "My Thoughts So Far"

Here are a few of my musings about SOL so far...

1. It's hard. Really, really hard. Harder than I ever thought.

2. It's rewarding. So much more rewarding than I imagined writing could be.

3. It's become part of my life in a way that I didn't expect. I look at life differently, constantly asking the question, "Is there a slice in that moment?"

4. It's become part of my family's life. "Are you going to blog about that?" sighed a family member today when something funny happened. I laughed when I realized this solo event has turned out to be a family affair.

5. It's changed my students. I have seen growth, perseverance, and dedication from my 6th graders that goes beyond wanted a slice of pizza or a t-shirt. They are doing this for their own reasons: to prove it to themselves or someone else, to express their minds, to publish to a global audience, to stretch as writers. It's an amazing thing to watch.

6. I am so proud of what I've written. When I look back over 18 days of blogs, I see my own growth and thoughts compiled in the most unique way.

7. I am going to miss it so much. The 13 days left in March feel like an eternity and a nano-second all wrapped up into one feeling. Maybe some SOL vets can speak to this feeling and what you do on April 1st!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Slice of Life, March 17th-- "The Taste of Anticipation"

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.” 

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I love to anticipate. 

In fact, anticipation is one of my favorite things about teaching. In a job that follows a schedule so closely and so similarly each year, looking forward is a pleasure. I look forward to all parts of my year: the summers and the holidays, of course, but also the first school supplies that show up on the shelf in July, the first day of school, decorating the room, the parties. 

I was almost tarred and feathered for my anticipation of snow days this year. What can I say? It's another thing to anticipate that just makes me happy.

Last Friday about 6 minutes before Spring Break started a co-worker looked at me and said, "What other job lets you have this feeling several times a year?" We just grinned at each other. Kindred "anticipating" spirits. 

Naturally, to everything in life there is a balance that is necessary. You can't live in the future and be unhappy in the present. But I have found that looking forward to the natural flow of life--the traditions, the birthdays, the holidays, and the everyday moments that only come once or twice a year--makes life fun. 

I heard a study that found that planning a vacation made people happier than actually going on one! I think that might be taking it a little far, but the point is well made.

Anticipating is underrated! What are you looking forward to these days?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Slice of Life, March 16th--"The Power of a Palm Tree"

Yesterday I took a "selfie" with a palm tree.

For real.

And, yes, there is a reason you're not looking at it below. First, it is a really bad idea, taking a picture with a tree. Second, I look supremely happy-- not the "cool" happy, more like the "I just won the lottery and my own private island all at once" happy. The smile isn't cute, it's scary.

It was what really happened, though, when we pulled over at a gas station on our trip to the coast and I saw the first palm tree of the trip. No matter that it was at a GAS STATION. It was just so excited to see signs of vacation, I'm pretty sure I skipped over, hugged the tree, and took the dumbest picture known to man.

This brings me to my title: The Power of a Palm Tree. It may have been a bad idea to document the moment with a camera, but the moment itself was pretty special. That tree was a symbol to me.

According to a "symbol" is...

"something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing 
something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign"

In other words, that wasn't just a tree to me. It was vacation, relaxation, fun, joy, getting-away, and warmth all rolled into one bark-covered, woody plant. 

Bless it's little heart. It got the full brunt of my spring-break-itis when I spotted it yesterday afternoon. I hope, when it's your spring break week, that you find something symbolic like I did that reignites you, refuels you, and gives you the much-needed break that we all--students and teachers--need at this time of year.

I hope you find your palm tree.

(And don't bother one is ever seeing that picture.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Slice of Life, March 15th--"Stop!! A Real-Life Winn Dixie!" took me all of about 35 seconds in Florida to find my first blog topic. We were driving to the hotel from the airport last night and all of a sudden I saw it. The place that had lived only in my imagination materialized right before my eyes!

"Stop!" I screamed, "It's a Winn Dixie store!"

My travel crew looked at me like I'd grown a second head. "You know," I explained, "like a Winn Dixie...from the book..." The looks of confusion turned to concern. Perhaps I was dehydrated or jet-lagged from the 1.75 hour flight, they wondered.

I tried to explain again about how the book was written by one of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, and that I didn't even know that the stores really existed, etc, etc., but I got nowhere with my audience. I did get a picture, though, for all my book-loving friends and students.

They DO exist!!!
For those of you from Florida reading this post, try not to laugh too hard at me. It's just that I've read the amazing and wonderful book Because of Winn-Dixie no less than a million times to my kiddos (We even read the readers' theater just last week!), and I never fail to DIE laughing at the supermarket scene where the precious dog receives a name and a best friend. I have watched the scene in my mind so many times, and when I saw the store--the real-life store--I felt like I'd been plunked out of reality into my imagination come alive.

If you've never read the book, oh my word, you must. In fact, if you've never read her other books, The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, then put them on your to-read list. They have been friends of mine for years. You will not be disappointed. If possible, read them out loud to children. It's the only way to fully enjoy them.

And trust me, before I leave Florida, I will have shopped in a Winn Dixie, too! The produce aisle has my name on it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Slice of Life, March 14th-- "Packing...Oh the Agony!"

I love to pack. I hate to pack. I love to pack. I hate...

Well, you get the point. Packing is an emotional roller coaster for me.

I have an obvious issue that surfaces anytime it is time to pack to go somewhere on a trip. This time it's a Spring Break trip to Florida to watch the Cardinals at their Spring Training camp with my family.

I am totally pumped to get on the road today to the airport and fly into Orlando tonight. But the image of me the last few days at home trying to get my act together has been less than picturesque.

This is my routine. It changes a little with each trip, but this is the general picture:

First, I start with a list.
Then I make another list.
Then I throw the other two lists away and just start throwing stuff in the suitcase.
Then I take it all back out and try to organize it.
Then I realize I've packed too much warm attire and I need to start over and think "beach" as I'm packing.
I search for sandals.
I try to find an umbrella.
I make a mess.
I destroy my closet.
I weigh my suitcase.
I go to the store to buy things I can't find/don't have/don't know if I might need.
I start over.
I panic.

Finally, I am ready to leave. I actually finished this morning. Typically, my suitcase weighs in right at the limit. This time it is 39.2 pounds, just under the limit of 40.


I know it's insane. I don't even know what's in the suitcase honestly. Don't know, don't care. As long as I have my driver's license and ticket, I'm golden. That's what 3 days of stressful packing does to me.

Next stop: sunny Florida! Have a wonderful Spring Break!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Slice of Life, March 13th -- "A Pile of Wishes"

I wish...
    for honesty.
    for kindness.
    for hope.
    for creativity.
    for inspiration.
    to have an impact.
    to make a difference.
    to see my students succeed.

I wish...
    to keep my promises to myself and others.
    for happiness.
    for joy.
    for simple pleasures.
    for spontaneous smiles.
    to amaze others.
    to be amazed every single day.

I wish...
    to teach with love.
    to make every moment count.
    for simplicity in life.
    for deep friendship.
    to be a daring dreamer.
    to live life fully.
    to have no regrets.

I wish, most of all, to be an everyday wisher.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Slice of Life, March 12th -- "The Day I Did Something I Didn't Think I Could Do"

This is the story of my first half-marathon. It was one of the most memorable, special days of my life. It was wonderful in a million ways, but mostly because I never thought I'd be able to do it.

Let me back up. I've never been a runner. A few years ago, I was facing a particularly difficult challenge in my life. The idea of running hit me like a lightning bolt. It seemed brilliant, except for the fact that I was the one that could barely complete a mile for volleyball tryouts in 8th grade. I hated running! When I told my family I wanted to run my first 5k, my mom told me later that she would have been less surprised if I had told her I quit my job to become a brain surgeon. They supported me, but secretly thought I was insane.

A few months went on...I ran my first few blocks, then my first mile, followed by my first few 5ks. Then I started training with a few of my best friends for my next challenge: the half-marathon. While each milestone and success felt important, this was the big one. This was what I was working for.

I got up early on Saturdays and Sundays for my long training runs--up to 12 miles. During the week, I ran 3 or 4 nights a week. My times weren't great, but I was doing it!

Suddenly, the day was here. November 11th. I couldn't sleep the night before. I felt sick all morning. I was shaking. Here is a picture of me with my friends before the race:

It was in the single digits that morning...brrrr!!!
I had on my brave smile there, because the truth was, I didn't believe I'd ever finish.

I knew I'd trained hard and I knew I was ready, but doubt sunk in like a heavy blanket. When we started running, my emotions took over and I felt tears sting my eyes: tears of pride, fear, doubt, excitement, all mixed together in one single moment.

The race is mostly a blur. It took us over 2 hours to finish 13.1 miles. I remember at the 7 mile mark, feeling strong, and thinking, "Oh no, I've trained for this moment for so long, and it's going too fast! It's going to be over too soon!" I was having so much fun living my dream. Everything I had feared evaporated as we ran.

During the last mile, I felt the pain of the race start to wear on me, but I kept going. Over the last few hours, as we ran, my friends and I had stuck together but spread out a little, too. I found myself running beside an older gentleman who had run many races. He was someone who was okay with talking and okay with being silent. That was perfect for me, because I was trying to take in every moment of my last mile.

I finally turned to him as we got closer to the last bend and said, "You know, this is the first thing I've done, I think, that I really didn't believe I could do."

He looked at me, wisely quiet as I spoke my heart.

I continued, "I, I knew I had the skills to do that. My Masters Degree, I knew it would take time and effort, but never once thought I couldn't do it. Teaching, my job, I felt like it might be a challenge sometimes, but I would figure out a way to make a success of it..."

He continued to run beside me, listening.

"But this.....running a half-marathon. This was just a joke a few months ago."

He glanced at me quickly, then looked ahead again, still quiet.

"I trained, and I worked hard, and I talked about it, but....I never really believed I'd be here finishing 13.1 miles..." My voice trailed off.

Finally, he spoke, "That's beautiful."

It was my turn to look at him, tears and sweat burning my eyes.

"That's amazing, because here you are. You did it." His voice was quiet and calm.

We made eye contact again, both of us realizing what an incredible moment that was for me. I had done the impossible. No, it wasn't really impossible, but my mind had said it was impossible, and there's not much difference, is there?

He finished a few blocks ahead of me, the final sprint separating us. Guess who was at the finish line, though, to give me a big hug before he headed on to his own family?  You guessed it.

Here is the picture he took of me with my medal and my friends at the end of the race:

I was so proud. I don't think I've ever been more surprised at what I was able to do with just hard work and will power.

My next goal? That's right--a marathon! I was training about a year and a half ago for my first one in Chicago, when I injured my foot. I haven't run since then. I found out at Christmas this year that I need to have surgery on one of my feet before I can run again. When I'm ready to go, though, watch out! It may seem unconquerable, but here I come!

After all, I know better now. I don't listen to that voice of doubt in my own head, because it turns out I can prove it wrong.

And you better believe I plan to.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Slice of Life, March 11th--"In Defense of Grammar"

I know this statement has the potential to make me unpopular, but the honest truth is I love grammar. I feel like I have to defend myself in this quite often because many people do not feel the same way. Whether it's students, other educators, or just the general public, the consensus is, most often, that grammar stinks.

When I ask people what they hate so much about it, the most common answer I get is that it just "doesn't make sense." I respect that people are entitled to their opinion, but truthfully, grammar does make sense. Yes, there are the "exceptions" that come up every once in awhile, but every subject has that!

I love grammar for many reasons. Allow me to elaborate.

First, it brings order to (what can be) the confusing chaos of written communication. It is the method by which we make sense to each other. It enables us to say what we mean in precisely the way that we mean it.

Second, knowledge of grammar is empowering. I have seen so many children blossom in their writing as they begin to understand why they have received red marks in the past on their writing or have gotten comments that something was not "a complete sentence." It's not because they are bad writers, but because the knowledge of grammar was held by only the teacher. As they gain more knowledge about language, they can craft sentences that are not just grammatically correct, but they also feel confident sharing their work with others.

Third, knowledge of grammar enables creativity with language. Just as an artist must have a rudimentary knowledge of paint and brushstrokes before they can create an abstract, original piece of work, so a writer must understand the construction of sentences before they can experiment knowledgeably with words. I had an art history professor in college that explained why work that looked like splattered paint could hang in a gallery next to the Mona Lisa. Just because a piece of art does not "look" as hard or as "thought-out" as the one hanging next to it, she said, does not demean or lower its value as art. Art is defined by the process many times, not the complexity of the product. Sometimes a less complicated, more rudimentary piece of art "says" more in its simplicity than a grand painting 12 feet tall.  In the same way, writing should be judged by the process and effect on the audience, not always the final product. Knowledge of grammar allows a poet who writes 40 well-crafted, thoughtfully-placed words to gain the same acclaim as the writer of a classic novel that is 400 pages long.

Last, it creates a common language in which we can communicate as writers about our writing. I love that my students can discuss why a prepositional phrase would make sense in one spot of their sentence over another spot. I enjoy hearing them defend their choices about why they are using several simple sentences over a compound sentence. Maybe they don't NEED to know the names of the different types, but why would I withhold that information when it is so simple to impart? Why wouldn't I teach them the full expanse and variety that is available to them within the English language when it is within my power to do so?

So, please, teachers, don't let the reason you skip grammar be because you feel it's not important or because it stifles students' creativity in writing. I find that it does the opposite. As they learn more about the English language, they begin to take ownership of their own writing. It becomes an art that they craft using creative word choice, sentences structure, and organization. It allows the beauty of language to flow from students in bold, new ways. It creates original, knowledgeable writers.

To the students, learn it. You don't have to love it, but learn it! It will become your friend in the most unexpected of circumstances and help you in ways you cannot anticipate. Grammar equals power. Everyone has something to say; it's how you say it that makes the difference in whether you are heard.

Thanks for listening, slice of life community. I've needed to say that for a long time, and it feels good to do so.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Slice of Life, March 10th - "10 Things I'd Do With $100 Billion Dollars"

We used to say, "What would you do with a million dollars?" but that question has outlived its imaginary usefulness. Truthfully, with a million dollars, I wouldn't do much. So, for the purposes of dreaming, I've come up with a number I can't imagine. I know that eventually one hundred billion dollars would be gone, but probably not in my imagination.

So, here's my list, both selfish and unselfish, of the things I would do with that much money. I've included both, because when I find myself dreaming of endless resources, both pop into my mind.

1. First, the boring but smart one. I'd do the expected and practical: pay off bills and invest for the future so I never run out!

2. I'd donate a LOT to places/people I love: my family, my church, my school, my friends. It would be wonderful to see them have the money they need to put their own dreams into action.

3. I'd start a few foundations to help others get out of desperate situations and back on their feet. There are an awful lot of people out there that don't deserve what they got out of life, and I'd like to help give them what they do deserve. I actually have quite a few ideas. I just need the funds. (Anyone want to donate....??)

4. I'd buy a few houses: one here near family, one on a private island in the tropics, one somewhere in Europe on a little cobbled street in a small town, and one in a big city somewhere. The exact locations would need to researched, of course! I'd enjoy them myself, take family and friends there, and invite others to relax.

5. I'd buy a private jet. I think someone with $100 billion would need one.

6. I would travel voraciously. I'd visit every place I've dreamed of, which is a lot of places: Europe, Australia, big cities far and wide, and small towns that barely make the map.

7. I'd take the time to learn some other languages.

8. I'd enjoy the arts-- visit museums, watch opera, go to the ballet...all things I dream of, but never have time for. And I'd take people with me and make them love it too.

9. I'd write a book. I've always wanted to be an author, and I've always said I just need time and a great idea. I finally think I've got the great idea, but the time? Not so much.

10. I'd write random checks to random people. I'd call the hospital and find out who has outstanding bills and pay them anonymously. I'd drop $10,000 in the Salvation Army buckets at Christmas. It would be a real pleasure to show people there is still kindness in the world.

Did you find any of yours on my list? What did I leave off? What are your dreams?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Slice of Life, March 9th--"My Sunday Mornings in 14 Words"


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Slice of Life, March 8th-- "Rain that Makes the Flowers Grow"

On rainy (almost) spring days like this one, when a light rain covers the grass and falls in soft, but steady pitter-patters, I am reminded of a phrase my mom says at times like this. She calls this kind of rain "the rain that makes the flowers grow."

Today's view outside my front door
When I feel myself tempted to be annoyed at cancelled plans or the constant wet all day, I remind myself that this rain is bringing a late gift with it. In a few weeks, we will bask in the warmth of the green grass, the peeking sun, the trees budding, and, yes, a few brave flowers that will begin to lift their heads from the cold, wintery ground.

I love the thought of this rain nurturing those cold, tired little seeds and bulbs beneath the ground and giving them the strength they need to appear again and bring beauty to our world this spring. Spring means awakening and that is what this rain was meant to do.

If you thought I loved winter, friends, you haven't seen anything yet. My adoration of spring is beyond even words. If I could hug a season, it would be spring. I rejoice with the trees as their little flowers and buds appear. My heart beats faster as the rose bushes begin to branch out. I relish the moment I get to dig my fingers in the still-cold dirt and plant seeds that will reappear like magic as vegetable plants and flowers. I feel like my own spirit awakens with the world as the green and warmth reappear once again.

Last year's garden...can't wait to plant this year!
I'm so thankful it doesn't happen overnight. What fun would that be? I love the slow, anticipatory process that is measured in small moments over many weeks and months. Inch by inch, and day by day we get closer to the a fully-spring day. I look forward to the second when driving to work or driving home or on a walk--sometime in the next few months, I will see that day. I  know I will feel tears in my eyes at the beauty of it all, at the consistency of the seasons, at the sheer joy that will fill my heart when spring finally arrives in full bloom.

A rose from last year--one of my favorite sights.
So, embrace this rainy day. Be thankful. After all, it's "the rain the makes the flowers grow," and we have a LOT to look forward to! Spring is coming, and delight awaits.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Slice of Life, March 7th - "The Little Secret Behind My Morning Smile"

There are some mornings I just feel like I can't move. I can't get the covers off. I can't figure out what to wear.  I can't get out the door.  I can't get a smile on my face...until...

...I get into the car. Then it all changes for me.

Before I pull out of the driveway, I pull up a wonderful little app on my phone, choose the station, and turn up the volume as high as it will go. As loudly as I can, I sing whatever comes on. I sometimes wonder who is watching, or if I'll ever have to explain myself to a coworker or student that I happen to cross paths with on my drive. Sometimes I try to pretend that I'm actually just "talking" on the phone when I'm parked at stoplights!

My favorite stations are anything with Disney and Broadway songs (I know, I know...don't judge me.). From October to December, it's Christmas music. If I don't know the words, I skip the song until I find one I DO know all the words to. Sometimes listening to music is enough to change your mood, but not for me in the morning. Singing at the top of my lungs in the corniest way possible is the ONLY way to go. I imagine I've got an audience and millions of people are applauding at my beautiful voice (which is actually NOT beautiful at all, believe me). I make myself laugh every morning at how silly I must look and sound. The worse the mood, the more dramatic my drive to work gets.

So what's up with this strange ritual? Well, it comes down to this: no one wants me at school in the mood I wake up in.

I'm not friendly, sweet, kind, fun, or anything even close to what a teacher should be. By the time I've commuted 10 minutes with a personal sing-a-long, though, things have turned around. The day is brighter. I may not be perfect, but I've got a smile on my face.

So, if mornings are rough for you like they are for me, find something to make yourself laugh, or just something you enjoy, like singing. Make some space for it, and watch your days change!

And, Webb City folks, watch out for me in the is quite a show!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 6th Slice--"A Full Heart Speaks..."

**Written last night, after posting my student blog...

Tonight as I copied and pasted my students' work into our student slice blog, I silently read along.

My heart is so full right now of so many emotions that I find myself unable to write about anything but the amazing effort of my students. Writing is such a personal act, and it reveals so much of the character of the author--this time my 6th grade Communication Arts students.

As I read my own student authors, I see them more clearly than ever. I feel like we are on a 31-day, get-to-know-you adventure together. As we peel back the layers of superficial, "school" writing, the true natures of my 6th graders are revealed. Themes develop like kindness, friendship, perseverance, hard work, fun, optimism, joy...the list grows each day.

And then there is the effect they have on me...their hopes, their dreams, their uplifting words become MY inspiration. I am brought to tears as I read about their failures, successes, and heartbreaks. I am challenged by their risks. I know it's starting to get hard at this point (Mostly because it's starting to get hard for me, too!), and yet they stay committed.

I love that I see their words evolving; they are finding their writing voices. I like seeing them comment to each other; not the comments they might have left each other a week ago, but the thoughtful, deep compliments that real writers give to one other. As their confidence grows, I feel more and more sure that Slice of Life was meant to happen this year with this group of kids. Thank goodness, I get to be part of it.

I confess. I never expected this much of an impact. On me. On them. On others. The chain effect continues, and I love it.

I think March might be my new favorite month.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slice of Life, March 5th-- "The Anatomy of a Compliment"

I got a compliment yesterday, and it absolutely changed my day.

It made me feel so good I could hardly stand it. I felt like I was smiling all over and just glowing. I have a feeling it will be the kind of compliment that I carry with me always in my back pocket, the kind you pull out and listen to again in your mind, just to live it all over again.

As I drove home, I started thinking, "What made that compliment so special to me?" I mean, there are compliments, and then there are these kind of compliments. Here are the conclusions I came to:

1. It was specific. It was not a "good job" cookie-cutter compliment; it told exactly what they appreciated in detail about what I had done.

2. It was about something I had been working on especially hard. After putting my heart into this particular "thing" for a really long time, someone noticed and mentioned it!

3. It was totally unexpected. I had no idea someone was watching, let along noticing.

4. It was from someone that didn't have to say something. You expect some people to feel obligated to compliment you every once in awhile. This wasn't one of those people.

5. There was an audience. Not only did this person make me feel like I was walking on cloud nine, they made me look good in front of others! Wow!

I have to tell you, this was big to me. It's made me feel so fabulous, that I want to inspire others to do the same for someone around you today!

I challenge you to find one person in your life--maybe someone on the "fringes" of your life--and just make their day. Give them a specific compliment about something they're been working hard at in an unexpected way. If you can pull it off, do it in front of an audience of people that will also applaud and celebrate that person.

If you can make someone feel as amazing as I feel right now, you will have made a HUGE difference! Trust me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March 4th, Slice of Life -- "Reflections on Why We Stop Trying"

What was the last dream you gave up on? Why did you quit believing you could do it? What contributed to you packing it away as unachievable? 

I've been reflecting on this lately.

I'm not talking about the dreams you set down, move on from, or decide aren't for you. Those are the goals that are not unattainable-- just not desirable anymore to you. Maybe it's a dream that's literally not possible. No one could tell my four year old little sister this, but her dream of being the tooth fairy just wasn't going to happen. I mean...there's only one of those, right? Right. (wink, wink)

I'm not talking about those dreams. Those probably had a shelf life anyway.

I'm talking about the ones you really could reach. I'm talking about the one you judged yourself not smart enough to achieve, not athletic enough to reach, not good enough to do. The ones you didn't leave behind as you grew and matured, but that left YOU behind.

And I ask you today, March 4th, 2014, why you stopped trying? Why? What was the final roadblock or negative thought or disrespectful comment that finally made you give in?

Will you do me a favor and hit the rewind button for just a second and imagine that that moment of surrender never came? Now, look at the that dream honestly. Is it something worth your time, your heart, your energy? Do you still want it deep down?

If the answer is yes, then do it. Make plans now. Do something TODAY that will move you in the direction of your dream. You have to move fast, or life will move in and snatch it from you again. You must make it happen.

The good news--you CAN make it happen. You are smart enough. You are athletic enough. You are __________ enough. You can and you will do it if you want it enough. It might be hard; maybe the hardest thing you will ever do, but you will do it.

I believe in you.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Slice of Life, March 3rd -- "My Dog Found His Voice"

Our dog, Jackson, has found his voice.

Before I go on, I need to give you some background. We have two dogs, Jackson and Tucker. I'm sure they'll find their way into a few more posts, so I'll just describe Jackson today. First, here's a look at the star of today's show.

Can you see the ornery look in his eyes?

Here he is digging for a stick to chew on in the wood pile on the back porch.

We got him 12 years ago. He is a Golden Retriever, but a very dark red one. The breeders told us that he was the most feisty of all the puppies in the litter, and they weren't kidding. From the very start, he's had a mind of his own.

He's smart. It's like he knows the rules (even though he's a dog), and still chooses to do whatever he wants. I've never met an animal who I think can actually read my mind, but I am pretty certain Jackson can. In fact, I know he can.

He has a softer side, though, too. He has adopted my 2 year old niece as his own child. If she is in the house, he must be beside her. He watches her, protects her, delights in her. She belongs to him...his baby.

This dog, Jackson, who knows his mind, stands up for himself, gets in so much trouble, and loves intensely, has changed in the last few months. He's found his voice.

First, it started with a little bark every once in awhile when he wanted inside. Then it developed into a quiet "growl" (not mean at all, just a "Look at me!" sound) when he wanted you to pet him. It wasn't all the time, but when he did it, it was so cute! Almost like talking!

The "Isn't that cute!" sentiment didn't last long from the humans in the house.

Now, he's out of control. It's like, in his old age, all of a sudden, he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. Barking! Loudly! Anytime he feels like it!

Today, after being barked at and then stared at intensely until I was uncomfortable, I finally let him out for the millionth time to play in the wintery weather. And then it occurred to me...

He's found his voice. And it works. We listen!

While he was growing up, he knew his own mind and what he wanted, but he wasn't sure how to voice it. The dog-human barrier was just too much for the communication gap that existed.

But, when you think about it, we humans are the same, right? We grow up, knowing what we think and wanting to speak out for what we believe in, but we stay silent, unsure of how we will be viewed and received by our peers.

Like Jackson, though, we slowly find our voices. Maybe it's just a little sound the first time we get the courage, and then later, we get louder! Suddenly, people are listening. To us! It's a wonderful, new feeling...communicating and being understood.

The older I get, the less fearful I am to speak my mind. It's one of the best things about birthdays; we find ourselves more sure of who we are at each turn.

So, to whoever is reading this today, take a little lesson from Jackson and SPEAK! We want to hear your voice; what you say is valuable. All of us in this Slice of Life community--teachers, students, readers, learners--can change the world with our words. 

So, friends, remember Jackson, and go find your voices! And don't be surprised when people start listening.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slice of Life, March 2nd-- "My Top 10 List of Lemonade-Makers"

I've been thinking a lot lately about the things that make me happy. Not the events, people, or places, necessarily (although I have a TON of those, too), but the "things" that put a smile on my face, insert calm in the craziness, or give me a restart on a rough day. I think having a list like this is important; it's part of the journey towards knowing yourself. It always helps to have a few items in your "bad day toolbox" that can help you turn it around when things are spiraling towards serious bad day material! When life looks negative, you have to make lemonade out of your lemons! no particular order (other than what came to mind first!), here's my list. Maybe we'll have some things in common!

1. Coffee: Mostly I like it black, but occasionally I get in the mood for a fancy drink from Starbucks. I can't imagine my morning without the sound and smell of a coffee maker brewing. I think a coffee cup is attached to my hand everyday until lunch time. It may not be the healthiest thing ever, but it's not the unhealthiest thing either (I rationalize to myself...)!

My birthday present this year--coffee galore!

2. Cards: I like writing notes, and I like getting them. Maybe it's old-fashioned, but snail mail makes me smile. Stationary in general is just fun! All the colors, the designs...I could spend some serious money on pretty paper!

3. Chocolate: Predictable, right? There's not much too say; it's just plain amazing.

4. Fires: I love to start a fire in the fireplace and keep it going all day. I love the warmth, the brightness, and the constant movement. I feel like a fire is a sponge for all my thoughts; when I stare at it, I instantly feel relaxed and calmer.

A fire I lit during a snow day this year.
5. Flowers: The first time I pulled up to the Middle School the rosebushes in front were in full bloom, and I thought it was the most beautiful school I'd ever seen. Flowers can change any room and make almost any situation more bearable. In the spring and summer, I have fresh flowers from the backyard in my bedroom and bathroom all the time.

From the rose garden in the yard
6. Gardens: Anytime I've had space for one, I've had a garden. Even when I only had a small back porch, I grew herbs in containers. It made my back porch look like a jungle, but I loved it! I like making things grow and the process of planting, watering, and nurturing. It's one of my favorite summer activities. When I get home from school in the early fall, I like to go wading through the garden and eat cherry tomatoes straight off the vine.

Can you tell what we're growing here?
7. A nature picture: I know this may sound weird, but I can totally lose myself in a picture for a few minutes. My favorites are beautiful scenery photographs, like mountains or forests or rivers. I love to stare at them and imagine that I'm there.

8. Journals: Writing about things helps me understand myself and my own thinking. I love that blank pages can only listen and don't judge my thoughts. I like making my writing sound better, too, and journal writing is the perfect time and place to do that.

9. Hot tea: I know, I know...another drink! I have to include tea, though, because just choosing what one I am going to brew makes me happy! I have a certain kind for every mood, or even a headache. I like to serve tea to people, too. I've helped a lot of friends with a cup of tea, and the act of sharing makes me feel good, too!

Just one of the tins of tea I have at home. You should see the school stash!

10. Candles: I like how just a smell can instantly change your mood. I like the flickering in a dark room. I like that I have hoarded on-sale candles and gift candles so that I can choose which one I want depending on how I'm feeling. A room lit by candle light alone is just magical.

Now that I've shared my list, what's on yours? What are your favorite lemonade-makers? Share below!