Slice of Life Tuesday: Searching for furniture…and discovering stories

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers!

I’ve been on a quest for furniture that will look at home in a farmhouse in upstate New York, a farmhouse which we will finally be able to call our own on Wednesday.  That quest has taken me to tag sales, and antique barns, where I’ve sifted through piles of this and that until something just right catches my eye- something that’s just a bit worn, of some age, with lots of character.  In the process, I discovered Craig’s List, which is a wonderful, ever changing catalog of piles of this and that, too.  And, i searching for furniture, I’ve been unwrapping stories: long ago stories, just-the-other-day stories, some well remembered and some just vaguely so.

I love arriving to examine a table or mirror, and then learning the story behind it – who built it, why, and how it was used.

I love the way people light up with smiles and warmth when they know you are listening, helping them hold on to their memories even as they part with a chair from Grandma’s house on the Jersey shore, or the table that always sat on their parent’s porch – the one with the chocolate brown Bakelite Philco radio.

I love leaving a driveway with a piece of history tucked away in the trunk,  a chair that will grace our new porch and look out on new views, even as it remains a living archive of other views, a repository of other memories.

My favorite will always be a pair of bent wood Adirondack chairs, purchased from a lovely woman, a poet, who was moving out to California and wished to shed her “east coast stuff”.  I admired them as we made our way to the book case (built in a Vermont town about 15 minutes from our farm) I had come to purchase, and she mentioned that they were bought for a farm they had once owned, “in a tiny upstate New York town you’ve never heard of.”

“Oh?” I said, “where? we just bought a farm upstate, too.”

“West Hebron”, she replied, gesturing towards a beautiful watercolor of a lovely white farmhouse, with blue shutters and a wraparound porch.

That, of course, is exactly where our farm is located, as well. Small world.  So there we stood for a few moments, in a living room in Mahwah, New Jersey – she knew where I was going, I knew where she had been.  “Those chairs have got to go home,” she suggested, and who was I to argue?

So, on Friday, they will journey back to West Hebron, to sit on a porch overlooking the Black Creek Valley, Green Mountains and Adirondacks once again.  A piece of connected, living history.

adirondack chair

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading (#IMWAYR): The Port Chicago 50 & Nest

Visit  Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this each week.
I purchased Steve Sheinkin’s much heralded book for my classroom, and so many of my students wanted to read it that I was not able to do so myself until last week.  What an amazing read!  Here is Sheinkin himself, summarizing the story and reading an excerpt:
The struggle for civil rights is an ongoing one, and we are still made aware of the distance left to travel on this road by news events here and there across our country.  This struggle seems especially stark in our armed forces, where brave men have stepped up to fight for their country and make the ultimate sacrifice for its principles of freedom and equality for all, only to be told that their fair and just treatment is wholly dependent upon the color of their skin.
The Port Chicago 50 captured the interest of my students, and I can see why.  The first person accounts and photographs lend an immediacy to this story, which unfolds as its main characters (the young men who signed up to serve only to discover how little their patriotism was really valued) first suffer the consequences of institutionalized racism, and then fight to clear their names.  
I had not known about Thurgood Marshall’s role in this event, or of its link to the larger Civil Rights movement itself, and the strategizing that was involved was fascinating to read about. So, too, was reading about the political debate within the armed forces, as they debated and stalled integration even as the country and the service men themselves were moving forward.
The Port Chicago 50 will be an important selection in our nonfiction book clubs next year, as well a mentor text for our civil rights unit of study. I can’t wait to share it with my whole class next year.    
Esther Ehrlich’s Nest is a difficult book to describe, it certainly was an emotional roller coaster of an experience for me. Here’s the book jacket summary:
“Home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein; her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But when Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, the family struggles with tragic changes.

Chirp gets comfort from watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the road. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.”

Ehrlich is a lyrical writer, and Chirp is a character who is easy to imagine and love.  But, spoiler alertthe way Chirp’s mother handles her diagnosis of MS is  problematic for me, also a mother diagnosed with a chronic disease.  The relationship Chirp shares with her mother is achingly beautiful, as described by Ehrlich, full of the small moments and memories that parents weave together with their children from their earliest moments. This makes it all the more difficult to follow the psychological deterioration of Chirp’s mom, as she is unable to come to terms with her disease and slips away from the family into a world of guilt and fragility.  As a reader, and as a mom, I was so hoping that somehow Chirp’s mom could pull through, certainly her family was doing all it could to be brave and hopeful.  When she drowns herself (a la Virginia Woolf), I had to put the book down and cry.  
I loved Nest, and yet…  This would be a book that I would have to consider very carefully when handing out to my sixth graders, although I know they would love the story and be moved by its beautiful writing.   

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye – How do I know when a poem is finished?

Carol at Carol’s Corner is hosting the Roundup this week.

Naomi Nye

Yesterday, Naomi Shihab Nye spoke to the lucky folks attending the Summer Institute at TC.  I followed Tweets, inspired as always by the power of this particular poet’s ability to move me.   I remembered sitting at Riverside Cathedral on Saturday Reunion, and listening to her deep and rich voice reciting poems and urging us to get  out there in our classrooms and nourish our students’ desires to notice and write.  I went home that day, and felt the need to listen to her voice again, and knowing that I would feel this need again, I saved these:

And she is reading a Naomi Shaihab Nye gem:

How do I know when a poem is finished?

When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.

It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.

Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.

Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.

When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well

leave it that way.

TCRWP peeps

Slice of Life Tuesday: The Perfect “Faculty Meeting” :)

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We met because we wanted to: who wouldn’t want to meet with like minded friends, far flung but always connected through our web of blogs, Twitter, books, and Facebook.  Six educators, and one education luminary – that would be Vicki Vinton, of course – gathered around a table, breaking bread and toasting our gathering with cool wine, and sparkling laughter.

We talked about what we wanted to: there was no agenda to run through, just a meandering pathway of interesting ideas, thoughtful commentary, perceptive speculation, and  wishful dreaming.  We celebrated Vicki’s book-in-progress and her adventures in Provence, we welcomed Fran, Allison, Julieanne, and Sandy – our travelers from half-way and all-the-way across the country, we plotted over a farmhouse writing retreat for us all.

We stayed as long as we could: almost (by ten minutes) four hours.  It takes time to develop threads of conversation,  follow thoughtful ideas, pose meaningful questions, allow for notions to germinate and then work together to allow them to flower.

We truly appreciated this chance to be together: I think each of us felt lucky to be able to sit around the same table and spend time in each other’s company.  For some of us, occasions like this, however few and far between, have to sustain us through a long year of teaching.  Knowing this, we draw closer, listen more intently, remember more vividly.  We were grateful.

It was a lovely gathering of friends…and, since I’m still in the school day frame of mind (summer vacation is just a day old, after all), the perfect “faculty meeting” :).

It’s Monday , And here’s What I’m Reading (#IMWAYR): A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

Visit  Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this each week.
a handful of stars
Some books grab you from the very first lines and hold on to your heart page after page.  That’s how I felt reading these lines from Cynthia Lord’s A Handful of Stars:  “The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch.   Sometimes life is like a long road leading from one “if” to another”.    That was it, I knew that this was going to be another winner from Cynthia Lord, another wise and powerful story that would join the copies of her Rules, Half a Chance, and Touch Blue, being passed from one lucky sixth grader to the next.
Lily (short for Tigerlily, a name chosen for Lily by her late mother, and one that this particular twelve year old has misgivings about) lives with her grandparents among the windswept blueberry barrens of Maine.  Her blind dog Lucky, all she has left to remember her mother by, takes off one afternoon and is rescued by Salma, a migrant worker who has come to Maine with her family to work in the blueberry fields.  Lily and Salma, whose lives seem so different, find much in common: both are determined and compassionate, and both have experienced loss.  Lily feels a great hole in her heart – she misses her mother, and feels her absence. Salma has never known what it is like to live in one place, once the growing and picking season begins, she and her family leave their home in Florida and move with the crops – Pennsylvania for apples, Maine for blueberries.
But two goals bring the girls together for the summer: Lily wants to make and decorate as many bee houses as she can to sell at the annual Blueberry Festival, so that she can pay for Lucky to have an operation that may restore his sight.  And Salma wants to win the first prize of a $5,000 saving’s bond at the festival’s Pageant Queen competition, so that she can begin a college fund.
I absolutely love the way Cynthia Lord writes, weaving keen observations and insight into an engrossing story.  The blueberry barrens of Maine are entirely unfamiliar to me, but I learned so much about all things blueberry through Lily’s story – an added bonus!  Best of all, this is a warm and lovely story.  Lily may have lost her mother, but her grandparents love her and she knows the comfort of steady and sustaining love.  Salma may not know economic certainty or the satisfaction of having one place to call home, but her parents love her and are there for her.  I always appreciate the fact that Lord’s books have adults who behave as adults ought to, as we hope they would: they are reliable and constant, whatever their quirks may be.  I sometimes tire of the steady stream of dysfunctional parents who seem to people so much of YA literature these days; goodness knows that they exist in real life, but our kids need to read about a few (at least) adults who take their responsibilities seriously, and who behave with compassion and patience.
I was saving A Handful of Stars for my first summer read, now I can hardly wait to book talk it in September!  My kids will love reading this book, and I think it will be the perfect book to read aloud and begin a new school year with.
cynthia lord
Here’s a link to a recent interview in which Cynthia Lord talks about writing, and about A Handful of Stars:

#CelebrateLu: School days end and summer begins


Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because, we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!

This week I celebrate the end of another amazing school year. I always gather my kids together in the last five minutes of the very last day for what has come to be known as “the speech”, in which I thank my kids for taking the sixth grade journey with me as their guide, and for their trust in my judgement as their teacher, and their mentor.  I was so proud of their willingness to work hard and challenge themselves, the best proof of which was our end of the year writing celebration.  I arrive at school every day with a passion to teach, but it’s my kids and their willing spirits that allows for the real magic to happen.  This year, due to all sorts of nonsense not of my own making and not in my power to fix, I seriously considered stepping down from my job and taking my career in education in another direction.  But, the kids brought me back to my senses – I belong in a classroom, teaching children, and helping to shape their lives. Our end of year celebration was a time to rededicate myself to what I love.

end of yearToday, I celebrate Father’s Day and the Dad in our house.  Scott is, by far, the best human being I have ever known.  Our kids have grown up with his example of living a life based on values and priorities that count, kindness and empathy, and the gift of music. We are all blessed to live with and know him.

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With Elizabeth

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With Ben

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With Olivia

I celebrate closing at the end of this week on our farm, a place we love and hope to be a gathering place for our family and friends.  Scott and I began thinking about taking this step some years ago, and now that it is becoming a reality, we are beside ourselves with happiness and excitement.



Finally, I celebrate the beginning of summer. It’s been a long year…and I am ready to spend my weeks painting and sprucing up a beautiful old farmhouse and gazing out a this view:


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Slice of Life Tuesday: Just a regular middle school day…

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The day begins with one “regular” breakup and one “rumored” break up.

There are tears and shrieks in the hallway…and the clock reads 7:32.

Just a regular middle school day.

Two students negotiate trading a lunch for a stash of Airheads and Sour Patch kids,

three others attach flowing beards and use mascara to enhance their brows.

These three are mine, playing Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and James Longstreet,

in our Civil War Battle cast presentations.

Two others have decided to make a fashion statement by exchanging just one shoe each.

At lunch, a pack of seventh graders huddle together on my reading rug

and offer their counsel: here’s how to to say “I would never dream of going on a date with you”

but in a kind way –

“You don’t want to wreck his life, right, even though he’s kinda ewwww?“.

“I am so TIRED of all this drama!”

says the Drama Queen of the year.

There is a thunderstorm in the afternoon, and visiting eighth graders gather at the window,

in their faces I see their sixth grade selves – full of wonder and delight in the smallest of things.

Two former  bff’s pass each other with stony faces,

just as a gaggle of boys jostle and wrestle with joyous whoops of laughter.

I notice that two of my students are now holding hands,

the romance, it seems, has progressed.

It is raining again when the bell rings,

and through my rain streaked window

I see kids playing hopscotch in rain puddles.

Just a regular middle school day…