Category Archives: Laura’s Slices


IMG_5314Tuesday, tomorrow, is the eve of my birthday.  This year is a nasty number, although the numbers had never bothered me before.  It’s the year I got discount offers on cremation and cheerful bulk mail like that.

Today was a Monday squared to the max.  Tonight I posted my letter to a highly critical teacher who hijacked my precious 25 minute lunch time today.  Within 3 minutes of posting for today, the Slice for tomorrow dropped in my mailbox.

So, I’m writing for the Eve of My Birthday.  I want the day to have a few laughs.  I want to see my students besides walk through my school with The Suits from the district office.  I want one person to say “thank you” to me sincerely for some teensy, little thing.  I want my day to taste like the photo, “My first lunch in Paris.”

And the best part of tomorrow will that at night I will go out to Club with my very best girl friend.  We will have wine, fantastic Italian food, and — most important — we will laugh and talk about our true selves and Life.  (No, I won’t have my feet propped up blogging, so that’s done now, tonight.)

So, on my natal day at school Wednesday, if everything I’ve planned in order for teachers to enjoy teacher consultants coming into their classrooms; if it doesn’t all go perfectly or make everybody happy, never mind.  I’m going to go out again that night and fouggeddaboutit.  Another sweet friend and her dad are taking me to a great little fish market cafe.

There are times when a dedicated teacher needs to put her attention on what she likes and loves. They call it “balance.” I called it “my birthday.”  The very best part won’t be these weekdays workdays, although I’m pleased with my plan to break my no-going-out-on-school-nights rule.  This Saturday, my family ~ Mom, two daughters, two grandkids, two close friends, and two neighbors will come to my house for a Backyard Takeover.  I’m living for time with my peeps.

We will grill fun little bits of fancy food on the patio, have champagne and SPEND QUALITY TIME TOGETHER.  That is what I love most.

So, the Birthday Queen is taking up her scepter.  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, critical people are not allowed to bother her, even if they bow first.  They must stand in the background of Her Highness’s birthday aura.

Friends, family and colleagues who care, may approach.  I count myself rich beyond measure for the people I love and for true friendships in my life.


An Argument

Hi Xxxxx,

If you give that opinion writing lesson we saw you do at the district office last Friday in grade 4, Ms. J.’s class this Wednesday, I’m sure the students will do a fantastic job.  The teacher, Lxxxxxn, however, did not follow your flow of logic about writers workshop for the unit (no experience with workshop ~ i.e. concept of keeping topics in a notebook) and didn’t understand you using personal topics and essays to scaffold to opinion writing. Sigh.

I’ll just say that was her complaint today, plus the lingo.

My opinion was that you modeled well what any 4-5th teacher might do to launch opinion writing with a class.  Below is what I wrote to Lxxxxxn to answer her concern about the academic language.  You’re busy and you might scan for the red highlighting or not.

I have been in meetings past 6:45 tonight and am turning off teacher writing mode.   🙂 L.

Dear Lxxxxn,

Thank you for airing your opinions today about the academic vocabulary and the meaning of the anchor standard 1, opinion writing.  I will pass on to Exxxx your concern about not understanding what she was doing from a writers workshop point of view, and the disconnect you expressed.

This Mar 13th event has been on school calendar since December 2012, and I updated it when we came back to school in January in the body of your email.  You have every opportunity to let your wishes, needs and opinion be known about what is demonstrated in your classroom.  But think:  As a teacher, would you want it last minute? 

In 6th grade, according to the CCSS, opinion writing will be called argument.  (Aka rhetoric.) What we are doing in primary and elementary with opinion writing will lay the foundation.  And yes, a thesis (or position or stance or whatever you want to call the big idea) PLUS the reasons, support or evidence (whatever you want to call them) — those two things combined equal the argument.  You know that.  But that is a big concept to begin teaching our students.  They don’t know that.

Also, I recently learned that our school RenLearn STAR reading tests include such concepts and words.  The STAR reading test is tallied by domains.  One is “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas.”  After pondering what the heck that meant, I called their support person.  When I went to Core Progress on our RenLearn site, they also called it “Analyzing Argument and Evaluating Text.”  Argghh!
It means what the CCSS means: Recognizing the claim in an argument and evaluating or weighing the support given. The language our students are already encountering on STAR tests includes:

“Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support a claim.”  (GR 4)

Content-Area Vocabulary reasons or explanations; evidence, claims, support
Conceptual Knowledge determining support for a claim
Linguistic Competencies finding words that are clues to opinions: should, must, ought, believe, never, always, most
ELL Support Use a think-aloud with a short piece. Ask aloud as if to yourself: What is the author’s argument? What evidence does the author use to back it up?
Prerequisite and Related Skills
• Denotes Focus Skills
Grade 4 –
Identify and explain the main idea and explain how details support it
View Teacher Activity View Sample Item
Grade 3 –
Determine author’s message
View Sample Item
Grade 3 –
Identify and explain the main idea and distinguish it from supporting details in informational text

You may be shocked to learn that apparently no primary teachers or elementary teachers were in on the national common core standards writing process.  So we are naturally going to balk at the new content and the level of academic language.  (Are you surprised they didn’t ask us??)  However, I have taught writers workshop, as has Exxxx, in which my students learned the terminology for the parts of the essays they wrote.  We called it what traditional academics have for years:  thesis & evidence = argument.  (That’s what a 5th grader will hear in 6th grade.)  Adjust the language for your fourth graders if you like…great time to use synonyms.

I hope this helps you know that I did my best, in our limited lunch time frame, to hear your concerns.   I will say, in her defense, that Exxxx is totally maxed, teaching full time, taking GLAD training, and being willing to present for writing project at our school.  I will tactfully remind her to consider her audience‘s background with workshop.  But neither you, me, nor Exxxx are authors of the CCSS.

If you look for the checklist page in in the Common Core Writing Book I loaned you, (pg 6?) it shows at a glance what Anchor standard 1 (Opinion) looks like at each grade level K-5 all on one page.  Cut to the bone, no froo froo.  Check it out.

Writing growth, just like teaching growth, takes place slowly over time.  I trust you will glean something of value this Wednesday.

Every teacher, I believe, has to watch methods and practice, and in their own time ~~ invent their own teaching.  You are, in my opinion, a highly engaging, thoughtful teacher.  I trust you’ll figure out what and when you want to re-invent.

My very best,

Cats Choose You

That glazed look on Mickey’s face occurs when he rolls in the dirt inviting me to agree whatacutekitty, knowing he will whack me if I take more than three seconds to rub him.

After Carlos I thought I never wanted another cat, for the pain of signing him over to a vet tech who could give Carlos meds all day and monitor what we thought then was kitty diabetes.  Which was way better than Plan A to put Carlos to sleep.  Turns out, it must have been a pancreatic infection, because Carlos came back to the bloom of health.

Two years later, I was negotiating buying a neglected downtown bungalow, happily before it listed to avoid the all-cash buyers who were bailing out of the stock market.  When I walked the neighborhood to see what the block was like in the evening, the cow kitty came to check me out, in a friendly way.  On the house showing and another walk-through, the black and white creature was in every photo, noticing what I was doing.

When we put the offer in, we, my wonderful realtor and I, were distracted by the ineptitude of a mortgage manager at B of A, and the news that 200 guns had mysteriously disappeared from a local store (the seller was an undocumented gun dealer) so, while I wanted to ask if he would leave the cat with the house, I did not.

However, I had chirped to family and friends, apparently in the hearing of the seller’s sister, Kelley, that you don’t go find a cat.  Cats come to you.  They choose you.

Several months after my move in, after the clatter of re-roofing, the clutter of repainting, the erasure of refinishing floors, and scouring of nicotine and grease accumulations indoors, Kelley called on me, asking over the driveway fence, “So, do you still want a cat?”  Her brother’s heart and kidney failed and he could not keep Mickey.

That is how Mickey arrived home from Reno, hating every second of the ride.  His paws cautiously stretched out of the carrier on the clean oak floor of the dining room. The place just didn’t smell right. When he saw the big, brick-clad house next door, where he was born and raised by Granny, he drew himself up by front paws on the window sill visibly amazed.

After a quick check of features like the kitchen, the basement and the dog door, Mickey was relieved to realize he was home.  In weeks he bonded completely.

So why this little narrative?  And why the glazed look of cat craziness in Mickey’s portrait?  Ideas choose us.  I really believe that the best writing I have done came when I was just home taking care of business and heard an Idea come to the back fence asking, “So, I hear you want to write?”  And when it was something worth it, wanting to be written,  I found it tricky to get close to it; to not get scratched and back off.

The best way to get a fine cat is to let a cat choose you.  Ideas choose us.



Blogging Before

When blogging takes precedence over playing Words with Friends on FaceBook during my morning cup of coffee, I know something’s up.  Maybe this writing thing I’ve been trying to nurture is taking hold?

The sunlight slanting across the neighbor’s roof, the dew soaked plants, and piles of redwood debris from this week’s windstorm all beckon me to get out of doors with gloves, tools, and the wheelbarrow.  Daffodils

Yet I dally over this mug of cafe creme because I noticed the Slicers link is up.  And wanting to write is good, but actually doing it is better.  Like wanting to get more exercise and then getting out for that brisk walk daily.

Enough moralizing.  Just saying,  I am enjoying this blogging thing.  It is a joy to work with image and words and for my thoughts to be instantly framed in a lovely format.  That’s compelling.

Writing for a non-specific, general audience is also good for me, rather than ranting or poeticizing to myself.  That does sound weird, but you may agree with professional writers who claim adamantly that a writer writes for himself/herself.  I agree with them, but the next step is to include someone else as audience.

Good morning, bloggers everywhere.  Especially to those who blogged at a kitchen table with a tall mug of coffee before anything else got your attention.






OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had a cat from Hurricane Katrina named Carlos.  He was the best part of coming home to my studio with piles of work.

Cats, and Carlos in particular, was a master at unwinding, chilling and enjoying life.  His eyes said he loved that I was home.

Now I have a big black and white “cow kitty” who just greeted me and went out to enjoy the return of sunshine after a rainy day.

It’s Friday.  The presentation is done.  It went well.  Other things happened, but mainly the heat is off and I’m going out for Indian food tonight with a girl friend.

Does anyone have any idea how sucked dry and zapped teachers can feel at the end of an especially challenging week?  I see even the 20 and 30 something year old’s dragging.  Numbing, bone-tiredness.  And then, we spring back.

Like my amazing cats, Carlos and Mickey, I will decompress.  Chill by looking at the daffodils blooming in my circular garden, having a glass of zin port, and simply not doing anything.  Not for a little while.


I’d Like Your Opinion

my watercolorTonight, while I ate my Trader Joe’s Guilt Free Chicken Breast in Pablano Sauce, I watched a YouTube from a FB friend’s share: Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking at the Senate Banking Committee Hearing on Bank Money Laundering.

Senator Warren asked clearly, “I’d like your opinion….” and the banking committee  dodged and skirted her question and she’d return them to the question: “I’d like your opinion.  What does it take to even consider closing down a bank that is laundering money?  How many billions of dollars of drug cartel money laundering would you say it takes to consider shutting down a financial institution?” (approximate quote).

I saw that what we want, what I want, as an educator, is to send people into the world who are as clear and concise in their argument as Senator Warren.  Writing for real world purposes has got to be the reason we do the Common Core.

It’s the eve of my long-awaited presentation on opinion writing for primary teachers and students.  I can see the purpose in taking the time to teach kindergarteners to state their opinion, for first graders to rate something as the best in the group and for second graders to review the books they read with opinions.  Our primary students can give an opinion when asked. Senator Warren said, “I’d like your opinion….” and the Senate banking committee could not state theirs.

I’m going to put the finishing touches on my presentation, enjoy a glass of port and my big black and white cat come in out of the rain.



IMG_0010Creating presentations for teachers takes a creative aesthetic like composing a great salad.

The one I’m writing now needs something twisty like the orange muscat champagne vinegar that makes this simple green salad sing.  Hmmm, what will that be?

I never fear my audience when i cook for them.  However, these are K-2 educators, professional arm-crossers and well acquainted with the details of their trade.  I am a newcomer to primary as an intervention teacher even though I am a veteran teacher.  Why do I not feel I’m their equal?

What mix of student samples, visuals, information and activities will engage them?  How will I scoot off center stage and set them by grades to a meaningful task at a meeting they did not invite themselves to?

The salad course is CCSS Anchor Standard 1:  Writing opinions.  Perhaps I should plow on with my prepping and not trying to field all the imaginary opinions?  Maybe they’re not going to throw cabbages at me, after all?

Even so, a presentation should be crisp and multi-flavored, like a great salad.


Le Café

Cafe chairsMy first morning in Paris, I was briskly shooed out of our shared apartment with a moral charge to get café creme, write in my journal and watch French people.

Karen is going to have tea and oatmeal.  I loathe oatmeal and taking orders.   And more so, demands to know my Plans-for-the-Day before I’ve had coffee.

I was the only patron at the Boulangerie de la Butte aux Cailles, because the French don’t hurl themselves out of their apartments like Californians from South Carolina, ahem.  I have crumbs from an excellent mini-crossant, pain au chocolat, sticking to my lips and an excellent mug of coffee beside my journal.

I wonder if the French get tired of this school girl naivete that presumes to study them from cafe tables?  (Will a few French customers please step in so I can notice you?)

I will never tire of cafés.  In our Parisian neighborhood, several to a block.  I felt loss returning  cars and freeway structure in California.  Friends assured me there are cafés in San Jose.  But you have to drive to get to them.

What a café speaks to me is this wonderful value people find in talking to each other…and sitting and thinking, or having a drink or two.  Socializing, at once casual and sophisticated.

A café is like a writing attitude.

Invite your ideas to sit down with you.  Do a bit of idle noticing….maybe have another cup of coffee and scribble a bit. There’s no hurry.  And perhaps you can tell a friend when the words are there. Or not.




March 4th

In my peripheral vision is James.  Mr. K., as his adoring students call him. My second husband and lost love.

James.  Not the alpha male, but content in his own skin.  And very fine, brown skin down his long back and well-formed arms indeed!  The curl of dark hair touching his tanned neck I still recall.  James, the sensual man, the nature lover. Tall, lean frame astride a BMW or the bike de jour, leaning into a turn rides my memory as an archetype.  The peaceful warrior, the knight in black leather.

James, we lived through so much B.S. with that mission church turning to a cult.  I tried so hard to be the perfect wife that it really wasn’t your fault I lost touch with you.  Being a guilty bystander to so much strangeness incapacitated intimacy.  So-called “prayer” drove me to isolation.  And, how could you know the black hook in my heart, the cult leader being the reincarnation of my violent/schizo alcoholic father?  You married a girl tied to the fear trip of surviving her daddy.  But was my bit of neurosis really reason to abandon me?

With very frightening people I walk very carefully, not wanting to make waves. You left, afraid, at least able to articulate your fear.  I was numb.  Or the remnant brethren ran you off.  But the point was, you left without me.  You said you needed space.

James had the wide territory of my heart.  Yet, his Leave-It-To-Beaver Willow Glen heritage made him hide in “keeping it positive.” Mr. K,  I could not tell you my problems.  I was becoming something monstrous while you watched from your superior perch.  I bore it alone, like your alcoholic Mom.


So I broke our legal bond, with the most deliberate sadness ever.  It was March 4th when I had the papers served.  A march forth, a long time ago.  I fiercely wanted not to love someone who would walk by me weeping piteously on his recliner while he collected his Fiesta ware and homemade jam. Your apologetic air wasn’t enough to save me. When you wrote love letters from the “outside” I burned them on the patio grill because your words didn’t match your actions.

Years later, I would finally stop looking back in regret, stop longing for the simple comfort we took in each other.  The ache of seeing another put his arm around his girl, or two being silly in a grocery store.  The pain of spring blossoms screaming I’m alone without you.

Once we walked, you as Abe Lincoln in a 4th of July parade, and  I, of course, worked well as the short wife, eccentric and supposedly mentally ill.  I remember that now, since Speilberg’s film is out. Yes, I seemed crazy trying to loathe someone I loved.

And that’s not the real tragedy.  Not the great loss.  The lie of a sealed system of “correct” belief that was paraded as salvation was tragic.  The unabated emotional cruelty of cult leadership was obscene.   However, the saddest piece may be that I married you when I believed you’d never stay with me.