Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sacred Saturday

Teaching is hard work, no matter your experience.  There is always work to be done.  You could spend the next 72 hours working and still find more to do, that's the truth.  Therefore it is important to carve out sacred time for yourself.  I call mine Saturday.  This Saturday, however, I gave it up for a worthy cause. Our debate team needed judges.  My friend is the debate coach.  It was a simple equation.  It is important to give back to those who give to you, those who fill you up as a friend and colleague. Hence my Saturday spent at school.

If you have never spent a day contributing to the world by judging competitors in a high school debate tournament, you are missing something.  The perks, food and beverage galore, would be enough for some to give up their Saturday, but truly the best part of my day was garnering in inspiration from the students themselves. If you are ever worried about the youth of tomorrow, spend a half a day in Congress where students work to pass legislation that they have crafted and present arguments for and against each law.  It was the swiftest two and half hours of my teaching life. The twenty students debated about mandatory Ebola screenings for travelers and providing free internet for all Americans. There were many other laws that they considered passing.   Congress is a level playing field for all levels of debaters, novices and varsity members.  The students managed themselves. I just listened and evaluated..   I was in awe.

I suggest that if you are a secondary English language arts educator, you donate some time judging. You don't need much experience just time. You also will be able to study teens and learn about them as critical listeners, readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers. Powerful stuff!  They were powerful. Students are most always the fount of our teaching inspiration and I was glad to give up my Saturday to be reminded of that truth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Light Up the Night

Yellow lanterns were carried in memory.
Red lanterns were for supporters.
White for survivors.
Last Thursday was out of my ordinary. I headed up to Jacksonville for a Light Up the Night Walk with my friend and daughter to meet my family to walk in memory of my Aunt Joanie who lost her short, but fierce battle with ACL last January.  The purpose of the walk was to raise money to defeat blood cancers, Everywhere you turn, you might be asked to donate for a cause and the money is certainly a part of it.  Without events, there might not be a cure.  You might even question the necessity of putting on a walk, a run, or an event. Wouldn't money just be better spent giving directly to the cause? Ultimately the events are for the living too.  The events celebrate the surviving, celebrate the supporters, and memorialize those who didn't survive because there are always                                                               those who must carry on when they are no survivors

It was a beautiful night to celebrate a life lost.  Last week would have been around the time that my aunt confessed she didn't feel well and went to the hospital.  Once she was admitted in November, she spent only a few days from November to January out of hospital care.   This fall we created TEAM JEM.  Friends and family donated money.  A few of us, her husband, her sister, her niece, and friends, walked.  Our hearts weren't light that night, because the first year is always the hardest.  The first of everything without them always is.  Later the firsts become less, but the firsts without never end.  The two mile walk was a small way for us to collectively face the sadness.  My daughter summed it up wisely, especially for a ten year old.  As we crossed the last bridge, she said that she wished there were more white lanterns, because that would mean that there were more survivors. Which is always in the end why we walk.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Pie Slice

Frederick Buechner once wrote or said, "Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world's hunger."  I credit Jaana, a fellow slicer, for allowing me the steal from her slice last October. I copied it from her blog as well as her link and created a draft which I have come back to several times over course of this the year. Read her amazing post here!   

I've only meet Jaana through blogging as part of the Slice of Life writing community.  She probably doesn't know about the impact or inspiration that I derived from her write.  I kept coming back to that draft post all year.  I finally found the words today that went well with her quote.  I engage in a vocation that meets my students' hunger and feeds my gladness.   It only took one of Oprah's writing exercises last weekend, pie graphing our life to help me uncover the connection. Trust me, I have graphed my life before, but this time was different.  I discovered that I was pretty lucky; my pie pieces melded.  My hobbies are directly connected to my health and occupation and friends.  I don't feel torn.  My biggest aha was that my occupation and my contribution to the world were married.  I don't think many adults can say that, but in the teaching profession we can.  

We need to remember it is each child's story and our story that matters especially when we are asked to crunch kid's data like they are dollars on a spreadsheet or when teachers's VAM scores are being crunched to calculate our value. There is no doubt in my mind that each teacher's contribution to student life cannot be quantified and reduced to a number.  We might not see our contribution in the short-term or in the long-run, but in the end it the students matter most.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life You Want Weekend

I wouldn't seek out spending a weekend with Oprah.  Most people who know me, know that I love to spend time outdoors and I love to read.  I love to spend my time and money that way.  In May when my sister asked me to join her for the weekend, I didn't hesitate. I didn't consider the cost, time and money. If she was going to make all the arrangements, then I would definitely go along for the ride.  I had absolutely no expectations for the weekend except for wanting to have one good meal and have a good time with my aunt, sister, mom, and friend.

In a movie or in a book, the backdrop of rain and dark clouds would indicate that we were off to an ominous beginning as a front sat right down on typically sunny Miami, Friday.  We spent our day outside regardless of the weather trekking through O-Town.  We all waded through the mud, but my day started off right. I won a pair of $150 pants.  Wow!  I got lucky! Normally, I might spend $150 on a pair of sturdy sensible shoes or my entire wardrobe for the year. But that win was only the beginning.

What followed was an evening with Oprah where she kicked off  her keynote dissecting the composition of stars.  She ultimately led us to the idea that star material is what we are all made of. What a powerful message, especially one to bring back to students.  She then gave an overview of her life and what resonated most with me was how reading impacted her life.  She went to kindergarten as a reader and it was the caretaker in her life, her grandmother, that led her to that love.  She also told the story of how she loved The Color Purple so much that she carried around copies of it and gave it away to people who hadn't read it.  She loved it so much that she desperately wanted to be in that movie.  By no accident, she was. Her keynote left us full that night, full of inspiration, full of hope, full of the anticipation of more.

In the morning we were given an unexpected seat upgrade.  Although I didn't expect Oprah to stay all day when the rest of the speakers were they, I was delighted by the fact that she did facilitate the entire day.  We kicked off the morning with meditation led by Deepak Chopra.  We had a brief interlude with Elizabeth Gilbert, who waxed eloquently about Joseph Campell's theory of the monomyth and the importance of hero's story, especially for women.  A science and spirit lesson with followed.  Laughter, stories, and wisdom from Iyanla Vanzant closed out our afternoon.   The day was also interspersed with writing exercises with Oprah. (What I know for sure is that when Oprah looks over your shoulder to read your paper.  You better be ready to share.) I used Storify to capture my takeaways from their speeches.
Rob Bell

What I loved most was that I carried the energy and spirit of the event into my Monday...and into my Tuesday and I felt people such as my fellow teachers, administrators and students alike responding to my mirror neurons over the past two days.  I wonder how long I can sustain that sustain that energy and how I can foster it into my everyday living. I want that energy to last.  In the end, I want to thank my sister for organizing the trip and getting us to go. Often that first step is the hardest part. I'm glad she made it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sewing Adventure

My zombie 
Halloween is tricky in Florida. It can be in the eighties or sixties.  For many reasons not due to the weather, I've missed Halloween with my daughter. These absentee excuses include writing my dissertation, teaching night classes, and being in the hospital.  I have, however, always prided myself on her having a homemade costume.    Okay, maybe there are two exceptions, her frog costume, and her flapper costume, but she often decides what to be a year in advance and doesn't change her mind. My husband is an artist and can craft most of her costumes.  My favorite was the mermaid tail that he made by cutting metallic and green cupcake wrappers In half and attaching them to a skirt.

This year is the year of Greek mythology.  My daughter became obsessed Greek mythology by reading the Rick Riordan books and decided to be Artemis.  I am excited by her decision, because her reading life is fueling her imagination.  She has challenged me, however, to sew her costume. She doesn't believe I can do it. I know I can, but it won't be pretty. I did get that badge in Girl Scouts, where I am certified to make and do small things such as the bag made out of dish towels that you hang your mess kit out to dry in when you are camping or sew buttons. I often rely on tape for hems, forgetting to take it off before I put clothes in the dryer. 

 I do think my sewing blundering is a good life lesson for my daughter. We often make things we do as adults seem easy at home or at school and kids do not see the practice it takes to get there. It is important to let your children watch you struggle, learn, and  make mistakes. My daughter got a lot of that this weekend when I created a pattern and cut fabric to do a preliminary practice run for Skipper. I didn't account for the dimension of the doll. I cut out material in a pattern that would be better suited for a paper doll than a Barbie. I sewed the dress right on the doll. I did figure out what my mistakes were before I started with my kid-sized costume. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my stitches stay kid proof tomorrow during her Super Ball,  but what's most important were my openness to feedback and willingness to take a risk when I wasn't quite sure.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


My aunt Joanie & daughter, last vacation together 
Less than a year ago, I lost someone special in my life, my aunt Joanie, an unforeseeable event occurred which life often brings. I didn't really know my aunt during my childhood.  She lived in Rhode Island and I lived in Florida.  I only saw her once at her first wedding when I was a fifth grader. Eight years later I would miss her second wedding because my dad died. I did, however, get to know her in my young adult life, get to know her well as her roommate.

My uncle still calls me "roomie" affectionately. My aunt and uncle relocated to Orlando in the early nineties and there our lives converged when I was 23.  Fresh out of college, I interviewed for my first teaching job in Orlando on a Friday, was offered the job on Sunday night and started Monday morning.  I needed a place to stay since I was currently residing in Jacksonville. She offered it. I joined her family, baby Kelsey and her husband, on Baker Street and stayed for two and half months.  That is what family does.

It is hard losing your parent at any age, but sticks with you when you are young.  My dad died quickly.  I remember him at the height of happiness, heading off on a vacation that he never came back from. I dropped two parents off at the airport and picked up one.  I didn't see my dad die.  I remember his laughter, his rosy cheeks, and his twinkling eyes.  It didn't happen that way for my two cousins. My aunt died slowly, yet swiftly as time flies.  Although I haven't had to do it, I believe it is harder watching your parent die slowly.  Cancer changes a person into someone you don't recognize on the outside and yet someone you do on the inside.  My aunt spent the last two months of her life in the hospital. The irony of my aunt's hospital stay was that her room overlooked the bridge we crossed together 8 months earlier toward the finish line of half marathon celebrating my other aunt's victory over breast cancer. My aunt Joanie wouldn't cross it on foot again.  She had a different bridge to cross. That is what blood cancer does.

After enduring rounds of chemo and blood transfusions over the holiday season, the new year brought the sentence of chemo-resistant transfusion-dependent leukemia, an insidious blood cancer. My aunt's life expectancy dwindled swiftly from "we will beat this" to "a matter of days to live."  She chose to spend her final days in hospice.  She welcome the last goodbyes and weathered the pain.That is what strength does.

Since  she passed, I've been on the lookout for double rainbows and dolphins, which is what she said she would send. Over the past eight months, I've seen more double rainbows than I have ever seen in my adult life.  I live inland so dolphins are pretty much out of the question unless I go to Sea World. It was at this time last year that she started noticing symptoms, but we wouldn't get a diagnosis until Thanksgiving.  This November, however, we won't be making visits to the hospital.  We will walk to celebrate her life in the the Light Up the Night walk. That is what the living does.

 Check out TEAM JEM and join us in any way you can.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Nature Walk

It's 9:35 and I am home from open house. I didn't get my work done, but I need to post.  Never miss a Tuesday writing is my brain mantra much like never miss a Monday workout is my body manta. So I am drawing inspiration from images that I have captured from the great outdoors. 

1. Objects are as small as they appear. Although you have done something many times, pay attention to the details.  

Tiny perfect starfish on the shore of Crescent Beach, Florida.

Baby alligator snapping turtle found on the bikeway of Lake Baldwin on Sunday. We moved him\her to the grass. He\She was one of a few we found that morning.

2.  Are things feeling tired?  Are you going through the motions?  Perspective is everything. Change it! I have passed this bridge over 100 times by car. It is on the side of the road next too my school.  We turned right out of our school rather than left on our Friday weekly walk and discovered this cove.  Remnants of the swamp that my school was built upon. If we didn't changed our perspective, we wouldn't have noticed it.