Category Archives: Laura’s Slices

Browsing Blogs

I enjoyed sampling from among the hundreds of posts and reading what others wrote during the SOL2018, the March Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers (link) , I enjoyed writing responses to a half dozen or so blogs each evening, sometimes as much or more than I enjoyed writing mine.  This was a new experience in the five (six?) years I have participated in SOL.

I appreciated the range of people who teacher — the variety in what they were doing, background, age and experience.  Some were retired, some working in school leadership, and some starting their careers.  They offered daily poems, letters, memoir bits, snapshots, anecdotes and occasional rants.  They wrote of families, books, moments with students, of weather, weariness, and realizations.

Some were timid new participants who wrote with hesitation and some were seasoned, adept writers.  There were posts on the level of I-got-to-the-desk and that’s all I have left to give, but I wrote and then there were inspired, artful pieces of writing.

Maybe what I enjoyed most was tuning in to the voice of each.  Unique.

It was also nice to get comments on my writing, empathetic and sympathetic words that let me know I’d been read and heard.  I hope that is how people felt who read the comments I wrote on their blogs.

Having an audience for writing is at once daunting but also energizing.  This year being a reader and listener has been delightful for me.

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Teensy Sliver

Out of a full day of SST meetings, preparing for new students and subbing for a kindergarten teacher this morning, the thing that stands out is

[Omigosh there is a ruby throat hummingbird sipping the Japanese lantern flowers right outside my desk window.  In the late evening light the red looked rich and exquisite!]

my desk window view

Um, the thing that stood out was read aloud. After the kindergartners did two rounds of Daily 5 while I assessed a couple students, there wasn’t enough time before brunch to do another rotation.

I scanned the row of inviting books on the white board sill and couldn’t resist picking up a story about a pig and an egg.  This sliver of my day is my recall of how much fun I had getting into the feel of a read aloud, doing character voices, and having the children get swept up in the story too.  The story was funny because all pigs friends are birds — they can fly and lay eggs, and he feels left out a good deal of the time. Pig sees a turnip in the barn and decides to hatch it.  Oddly enough something comes boring out a hole in the turnip….

This book won’t win medals or prizes, but it was great fun to see that the worm who came out made a nest and then hatched as a butterfly.  This time it was Pig’s turn to say to his friends that he had no time because he was busy watching his baby fly.

My sliver, or teensy slice of life today was being caught up in the story for a few minutes with a group of rapt kindergartners. Then we lined up and went to brunch.

Dirt

The days are warming up in San Jose, CA and the dirt is producing voluminous quantities of grass, weeds, suckers and shoots. Also pushing out of the tended ground in my backyard are flower seeds.

This is a new thing to give over more of the gardening energy to growing annuals and perennials.  On beyond tomatoes.  Of course, I have two heritage tomatoes, which are fuzzy, cute looking little things like puppies right now, sitting demurely in the bottom of their big metal cages.  Like puppies, these varieties, a Mortgage Lifter and a Brandymaster Pink, will grow into enormous dogs, huge mutts dropping tomatoes everywhere.

But flowers.  Cultivated.  One sign of order and art in my house is when I make a flower arrangement.  The care it shows and the life it brings to a space, whether the kitchen table, the dining or the living room, is a nice touch.  So, this year, since I have the gray water system, I thought I’d try varieties of cut flowers, most of which are not so drought tolerant.

To think it all comes from the dirt.  And the temperature.  When the dirt is still cool, the lemon cucumber seeds will not sprout. But the red chard is growing by inches daily.  With the temperatures expected to be in the low 80’s for the rest of this week, I can expect more seedlings to appear, along with the usual weeds and unwanted grass.

Some people don’t dig the dirt.  But I find it very therapeutic to tend garden spaces and watch.  Yes, the best part of gardening may not be the hand to hand combat with the clumps of grass that got started during winter rains.  The best part may be sitting here at my writing desk, tipping my chin up a bit to peer over the windowsill to see the well manicured round, raised bed that is the main garden in my backyard.

Writing on Demand

Writing really wants us to tell the truth.  So, on the surface I don’t have anything to write about.  But after the words started coming [below] and the blah blah blah of recent details were out, I hit the nerve.

After my bout with the flu, I knew I was better when I worked in the garden on Sunday.  I planted a camellia bush my neighbors gave me for my birthday, and another Heritage tomato plant.  I weeded and whacked back the growth along the fence, making a huge pile of trimmings I was too tired to haul out for the green pickup on Wednesday.

And didn’t write on Sunday, so now it’s Monday. Today I taught first sessions with eight groups of students in Leveled Literacy, including my three new groups of kindergarten children.  Lively ones, all of them.  After school I worked on some coaching material and cancelled a consultation with a periodontal surgeon.

This evening, after I made supper for mom and me, I simply didn’t have the brain space to face the blank screen and make up a blog post.  I guess once I slipped off the March challenge, I slid a long way.  We watched a taped episode of Madame Secretary.  Just one.

And now I think that my Monday weariness makes more sense.  There’s another procedure, a caudal injection, for my mom’s excruciating hip pain scheduled for Wednesday.  So she has one more full day to cope.

I find it so wearing.  Not her, but hearing her breathing and gasps under her breath and watching everything be so laborious for her.  So, I’m not just tired from gardening on Sunday after being sick, and having a very full Monday, I’m just worn out in my nerves.  I cannot find a way to tune out what is happening.  And I can’t believe how many months we’ve been going through this.

So, I hope that something — this thing on Wednesday — helps mom.  I really, really hope so. I know how it might sound.  You?  You’re tired of the pain?  What about her?  She’s the one who’s experiencing it.

I know that.  And I’m really weary of watching her suffer.

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San Francisco

My visual art brain turns on when I drive into SF. The afternoon is mostly sunny and the air crisp and clean. The light on buildings on the Embarcadero shows off elegant new architecture – Portia, curved facades set into each other filled with elegant windows. Both classic and contemporary. Car colors merge with signage and restored ferry building look rich in Mediterranean light.

A marvelous variety of people – some dressed for spring break others for business — line the streets at crosswalks.

The antique boutique hotel is shabby chic. Walking with my best friend from high school through North Beach brings back memories.

Driven

Sometimes I remind myself of my kids when they were toddlers.  Each would get so tired, going and going, that we’d have “the pre-crash crazies” – a burst of child exuberance — quickly followed by the crankiness of being over tired.  Fussy and hard to settle into bed.

This morning, I pushed myself to get up early, do yoga, meditate, get ready for school, drive in and begin the day.  I saw a reading group dominated by one second grade character who has issues, and then I figured out which color system in Fountas & Pinnell has enough books for take home at the new group levels, and I mixed and matched where there were holes.  I insured that the support materials were all in files and placed in easy grasp.  I finally finished putting away the zillion materials from the previous intervention.  I actually enjoy getting projects done and being driven.

I should have felt really good that it was organized and ready.  I made a few changes, confirming schedules, and I should have felt great that I can resume meeting with groups.  I went to the staff room, cut up an avocado and veggies and ate lunch.  The teacher talk mostly floated over and around me.  I was in neutral gear.

I went back to my room, the downpour now making the covered hallways slick,  with a sickening amount of worms who’ve left the compacted lawn to try to escape drowning. They have not escaped the feet of many students.

At my desk, I sat and took stock.  Lunch had made me feel poorly, not refreshed.  My hands and mind felt leaden.  I remembered the bloody mucus that came out of my nose this morning.  My throat sore and sinuses achy.  Then the self-diagnosis registered.  It began to all add up to a zero total of energy.  Being driven was going to have a different meaning today.

I got my purse, put away the laptop and walked to the office.  “Please sign me out, I’m not feeling well.”  The secretary looked at me and nodded. I drove myself home in a torrential rain, with everything grey.  Streets, sky, my mood.

When I got home I crawled under blankets feeling chilled to the bone and fell into a hard sleep.  A couple hours later, I awoke because Mom was laughing on the phone.  It pulled me out of a weird dream in which I was working and it was raining and I was working and it was raining even in the office rooms.  Strange.

So, now I’m sitting up in bed after making mom and me tofu with ginger and broth.  I’m going to stay in the garage of rest and recovery.  Get a recharge.

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A Bit More Birthday

You know you have too much going on during a birthday week when you forget to go over to a friend’s house after work for port and cheese.  That was last week, so I got a do-over and went today after school.

Since the after school writing club had celebrated publishing their stories and poems, and since I’ve chipped away at some of my recent work load, it was good to visit, taste port and swap news.

It was humbling, which means good for me, that my friend had gifts — thoughtful, fashionable things, like a bag, a scarf and a wallet purse…all with a travel theme…and tasteful and lovely.  Some people would return the gifts if you forgot to go to their house.

I’m reminded that the most important thing is to love and to be grateful for the people in my life who love me.  And, I really like cheese.

 

Why Teach Writing?

I got home from work late today, stopping at FedEx to have the writing club’s stories bound into booklets.  Somebody walked with the comb binding machine at my school, I guess.  There are ten stories, so ten booklets — some very shaky first efforts and some short pieces that the young writers crafted and revised.

And, after hastily stir frying some tofu for Mom and me, I noticed I had a parent email to answer for the summer writing program I direct at SJSU.  This is turning into a pen pal, since it is a parent who is also a teacher.

Instead of blogging I wrote him, supplying the daily schedule, the link to the offerings — the choices of workshops student will have — and tried to address his concern about his son needing to be better able to write a main idea with supporting detail.

I wrote:  When you mention that your son needs to give a main idea and supporting details, I’ll have to ask you if any of the writers you read, say, — the NYTimes Op section, or your favorite nonfiction writers — do they do that?  This formula for school writing is intended to be a support, a short scaffold to help students understand the idea of having a central thread and saying enough about a topic to engage the reader with the idea.  Main idea and supporting details is in general how a paragraph might go, but it is not writing instruction.  Writing instruction gives students many strategies and they find the ones they can use to move their writing along as they are developing it.  These skills transfer from one genre to another.

I wonder if that helped.  And out of the corner of my eye, as I’ve kept some parent feedback I want to address on Blog for Writing Workshop at SJSU 

She wrote:  My child likes to write.  I’d like to learn how to encourage her to cotinue to be creative when otherwise the teaching of writing in schools is very prescriptive (and dry).  I’d love to learn great principles of writing that she can use, but that I can also use for myself (as I support her).

I really want to write blog posts to some of the parent feedback.  It is late.  Tomorrow my writing club will review strategies we tried out.  I’ll be charting them, as a support for them giving meaningful feedback.  The writers will nibble string cheese and fancy cookies and sip limeade, while they read around the table, signing their post-it notes.

Lofty title I started with.  Did not quite answer that huge question, but I think that there’s writing instruction and then there’s writing instruction.

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Sudden Spring

It was only 40 degrees (California, the south SF Bay area) this morning, so I layered up with a sweater and jacket over my utility shirt and headed for school.

By morning recess, since I subbed I was on yard duty, I was peeling off the jacket.  Teaching kids how to play Four Square.  Games really aren’t fun if you don’t know the rules.  The sun was drying up any evidence of the recent days of chilly rain we’ve had and kids were running out on the field.  The grass was up to some knees.  And more kids were joining the game, once it was a game.  I love Four Square.

By lunch I had parked my sweater on the back of my chair, too, and went to the staff building to heat up leftovers with sleeves rolled up.  It was 70.  By the time I went home, I put the top down on the Miata and enjoyed a 74 degree late afternoon.

Tomorrow is the official first day of spring and I’m grateful to note there’s a 70% chance of rain — about a quarter of an inch — predicted for San Jose.  I’m not in a hurry for summer heat, and I’m not in a hurry for the change in the students once the sap rises.  Spring is so short in California, sometimes.

When much is going on in my mind, I take the Midwestern default.  Talk about the weather.