Tag Archives: Laura’s Slices

Slice of My Life

Dear fellow writers,

I’m going to spend my writing energy tonight on typing up the ten stories my after school writing intervention have started.  We’re the RS Fiction Factory.  These funny, challenging fourth grade kids, whose English proficiency is intermediate, and whose background in writing is sketchy, have created characters who are thinly disguised versions of themselves.

Tonight I will put their scenes in print, using Track Changes in Word, to put in compliments and comments in the margin.  Since we only meet an hour twice a week and time is running out, this is an attempt to speed up their revision beyond what I can do in conferences.

Seeing it in print always makes the audience, the idea of audience more real, too.

So, I will not write about my adventures in gardening, or reading testing, or wine shopping, or writing project planning.  I will be full of these kids’ stories:  a ten year old who likes to go to school, but really lives to play soccer. And an older brother who is a hero to help out his family. There’s Alexia who is smart and popular, but who picks on a little kid and changes her status.  Emma is a white girl who is not very cool.  She’s new and doesn’t want anyone to find out she is adopted.  She has a hard time fitting in with the Latinas.  Sherman is a nice looking kids who wants to join in the games at school but gets left to himself often.  There’s a second grader who talks the bigger kids in the neighborhood into letting him play football in the street with them and breaks his arm.  Then there’s Bella who is a smart 4th grade Mexican girl who acts very brave and boasts a lot, but she is very afraid of insects.

I’ll resume regular slices soon.  I promise myself.

 

 

 

Revision

Lately, it’s all revision.  Every action in the workplace, every discussion…my updates on the garden or the finances.  Student tests, reports.  Looking again and rewriting it maybe a bit better.

This afternoon I completed the second year of support for teachers at a dual immersion K-8 school.  We began with celebration:  fresh strawberries, chocolate and fizzy water.  The principal sent in ice cream and sundae fixings.  So when the teachers arrived it seemed like a party.

Instead of going straight to celebrating the writing they brought, we celebrated the teachers’ genius.  I had them remember a moment this year when their teaching was gold. A time you are really proud of…(I could see when they had a real memory in mind.)  I asked them to walk across the room (with their treat) and share that moment with another teacher.  Now the party talk was on.  Warm and real.

Then we did a modified version from Bohner’s Gems – a round robin share in small groups selected by numbering off.  Funny how hard it is for teachers to stop presenting the lessons and talk simply about how a piece of writing affects them.  After that fun, we opened Units of Study and calendars and questions and got to deciding what to try next year in addition to our first attempts this year.

It was lovely and perfect for the mood to be like a party.  Add to end of year pressures that planning is difficult with teachers who have been told a new curriculum is going to show up — and nobody knows for sure what it is.  “Plan your writing around what students need to learn and practice,” I urged.  “When the boxes show up, then you can see what you might want to match up with reading goals.”

The most interesting discussion was with the TK teacher and a kindergarten teacher, as we waded into the If..Then… first unit.  We had a lively conversation and I had to make myself move to other groups.

It is all revision.  Map where you’d like to take your students, but be prepared to change it when the whatever shows up.  The principal told me aside, “And those don’t usually include good writing instruction…”

The strawberries were eaten.  Someone put the melting ice cream away in a fridge.  We said our friendly farewells.  And exchanging thanks, the principal said she’d be in touch about ways to continue support.  And I’m immensely relieved another extra thing is completed and done well.

So the year was a huge revision since we had the actual UOS materials.  And who know what the need will be next year.  One of my possible revisions is no extra things. 

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Sketch

One afternoon last week I sat with new watercolor crayons to sketch the front porch corner of the house my sister and brother-in-law built on the 2.5 acres they’ve come to call their “Hobby Farm.”

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For the record, I haven’t sketched a real object, and certainly not architecture, since oh say um….

I knew my hand and eye would be rusty, and I disliked the mismatch of watercolor sticks to the blue-gray wash on their house, but I tried a semblance in love.

I admired the craftsman style carpentry, eyed the angle of the roof, noted the detail in the soffit, and thought about the southern sky back lighting. I was so challenged to lay out the major beams, looking up into the afternoon that I began to lose my sense of vertical.  I got lost in the wonder of wood siding worked this way and that.  I didn’t realize the strong vertical needed for perspective was unavailable by the time I drew the front porch step rail. I hadn’t stepped back to notice things were quite a wobble off ninety degrees.

But I gazed at the rocker John built in his shop, a chair that has presided over after dinner tea many summer nights. I loved getting the hollow of the inside porch roof and the living room window.  I remembered rocking, when the day cooled and sipping decaf Constant Comment, watching the bats come out to fill up on insects with the back splash of sunset on the mud floe hills.

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I recalled the comfort of that porch when I sat with real water colors, for an entire morning on day in July, just messing around. Now my crayon sketch loosely showed the line of poplars and a few pines in the skyline, hinting at the garden rail.  Peggy’s garden is a whole other world.  I sketched her daphne bush in bloom by the front porch, and one of the many clay pots with fascinating rock garden plants; succulents, sedum and things I admire but have no name for.

After I put my crayons down, I brushed a bit of water over parts of the sketch. I wanted colors to blend, but keep an open, breezy feel.  And the funny flop of the front porch rail became okay with me.  Sigh.  I have not done a realistic drawing in so long.

I filled the left two thirds of the page, but the house and porch drawing faded to plain paper on the right.  I wondered when I finished if that was just being arty or if there should be some words on the page.

This evening I have enjoyed remembering my sister’s place and the rest it afforded over break last week. I gave the drawing some words.  I wanted to celebrate the love and care they put into each detail, into the horticulture and the craftsmanship.

 

 


Two’s

Good things came in pairs today.

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At the dentist after school, my upper gums healed of the bone disease by a miraculous injection of antibiotics a month ago and my new crown is doing well.  On the way out I found out my dental plan paid the entire bill and my balance was $zero.

At school after school, I began planning 12 sessions of EL writing intervention for the next two months of Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I love that the principal got approval and trusts me to plan it.

During the final reading group two kids stood me up by not coming in during P.E. so I got to get caught up on putting away books and taking out books for two units.

My morning reading group with grade one that was so miserable yesterday was picture perfect today.  It was fun instead of giving me a headache.  Learning and practice.  The group that I was leading before recess got turned over to the school secretary while I went to another class as designated principal to see a student throwing things.  The fun part was that my secretary friend had so much fun with the reading group.  She deserves it!  Two great groups this morning.

I started cartoons with two boys depicting the six steps of showing best work on multiple choice answers.  They both got into it.  It is the first time they’ve approached test taking this way.  I finished those cartoons with another morning group today and they are ready to collaborate on some practice problems.

I woke up twice this morning.  Once at 5:15.  I thought I hit the snooze button.  I slept some more and my cat came in and jumped up on the bed.  A thought crept in my mind as I rested.  “What if you turned your alarm off and not on snooze?”  I looked.  Yep.  I’d gotten an extra 40 minutes of sleep this morning, so I tootled off to work without going out on the exercycle.

 

 

Perpetual Present – Note to Self

Slice of Life #31
IMG_0015I see there are many thanks posted already on Two Writing Teachers and posts on lessons learned for the month long challenge of daily blogging.  I am in a quiet conversation with myself,  not having quite come up with a neat lesson learned. Writing to learn…

I’m presently under the influence of Annie Dillard’s  The Writing Life that I started reading last night. She is talking about writing as so much more than my exercise of a daily blog.  And perhaps what I’ve “learned,” or am coming to suspect, is that to write well I will have to give it much more than I presently think I have to offer.  Or am willing to give?

There is a realization trying to dawn on me that my shift of mode is not simply about vacation.  I love it when someone else writes it down, saying it better than I can think it.  From the blurb of the book When Breath Becomes Air by neurosurgeon and writer Paul Kalantithi:

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present?

It is that line “flattens out into a perpetual present” that speaks for me.  It describes what I have recently observed as turning off the striving switch.  I’m no longer on driven.

This is in large part due to having my rapidly aging mother living with me and dealing with recent setbacks to her health and comfort.  It creates a different take and pace.  While I’ve subscribed to yogic traditions and philosophies of be here now, it really is different to live as if the present is all there is than talk about it and say a few oms.

I used to pay to sit still on a yoga mat.  Now I can, of my own free will, sit and stare out the window watching the daylight play on foliage.  Now, I am learning it takes time to be.  It takes time to be thoughtful and kind.

So, while taking care of my mother has its challenges and sometimes demands a lot of me on top of my work life, I think maybe the perspective it gives my own life — seeing her begin dying — which is the surest evidence of my own mortality, has helped me take the ladder to the future down and store it in the garage.

So, it isn’t that I’m entering my dotage, but that I’m shifting how I want to live my life, the rest of it.  Writing and art.

And still needing to work for a few more years, maybe two.  So, I think that I will certainly continue to write and make a daily exercise out of it.  But with more serious purpose, more artfully than tapping out an anecdote.

There are stories in me wanting to turn into lines that are far too raw for a daily draft on a public blog.  Or so they feel to me. There are books that want to be read and things that my mind wants me to see, to look at clearly.  My hope that I will live like this when I retire is a conceit.

I have to live like I mean it now.  What else do I have except these moments?  This exquisite atmosphere in a coffee house, with my decaf Earl Grey and classical guitar in the background of conversations.  A student studying.  The barrister chatting up the clients.  Yes, on vacation and not mired in the daily demands of school.   But this time I mean it, George, I’m taking what I’ve learned back with me.  I have known for awhile, that, while I teach and coach teachers, I am really not a teacher.  I mean, I do that job well, but I am at heart a communicator — the artist card, thank you for articulating it, Anne Lamott.

A gift of slowing down to take care of Dolores has been that I am attending more to what interests me, rather than running around looking for adventures to fill my soul.

Accepting one’s mortality before the symptoms are super severe can be a good thing.  This is my life.  Mine.  I don’t owe it to the Company Store.

 

 

 

 

History

Slice of Life #30

For wifi I drove into the town of Ashland out of Valley View countryside where I am happily having tea and an orange biscotti in the coffee house of the bookstore.  Heaven.  This is the kind of place my pd partner in crime, Lorena, and I could talk about writing workshop and teaching EL writers for hours.

Today has been a do-whatever-I-like kind of day.  After tea and toast this morning I drove to the hardware store where I purchased windshield cleaner, garden gloves and art supplies. Love these small town stores.  And the local coop had organic dry cannellini beans for $2.19 per lb. which is four times less than what I pay in the SF bay area.

After getting the water stains off the windshield with this miracle product, (I really know how to vacation) I started taking pictures of the old family photos I brought my sister Peggy.  Her hobby (after horticulture) is genealogy and she’s unearthed an entire generation of the Brown family we didn’t know, and she can tell a bunch of crazy stories which make TV sound boring.  She’s been studying history county by county. And it turns out I brought a copy of some family history that she didn’t have.

I photographed the old photos so that there’s a digital file.  Tricky not to get skylight shining on the glossy ones, and keep the tones of the black and white ones.  After touching up each one, I put them in folders on the new memory stick.

And that means I have been looking at old pictures of my siblings and ancestors quite closely.  There is a funny disconnect sometimes between the smiling lineup in front of the Christmas card-bordered door — my dad and the four children, me the eldest.  The taller in the stair steps.  We are in morning pj’s and unwrapping presents mode.  It is a nice memory and yet, if I let myself into the picture, my father’s face and that fourth grade year for me…well, it wasn’t all smiley.  There are the moments and then the memories in between.

The old photos and digitized copies are a gift to my sister.  We are the two surviving children of four.  The two other gifts I have in mind this week are to make a photo essay of the Hobby Farm, as we refer to the 2.5 acres she and John built from scratch over 30 years ago. I also bought some watercolor crayons and paper so I plan to do a sketch that turns into a painting of the homestead.  This documentary work is because J & P think they are going to sell their place to move closer to the granddaughter in Portland.  Mom and I have certainly had some great road trips up here and spent lovely days here.

I want to honor their history.  And I love to make photo essays.

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A portrait of me with my cousin Ruth Anne cropped out.  Something the same about me in pictures all my life — essentially the same person, just in an aging package

It is good to remember good times.  My sister is at her computer searching for Ebenezer Brown’s data by locating the railroad he worked on in Kansas.  I can hang out in this coffee shop as long as I want and comment on other teachers’ blogs with Two Writing Teachers.

I am grateful I get to be here at my sister and brother in law’s with mother for the week.  We’ll take good memories home.

 

 

Mishmosh

Slice of Life #29

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Some lovely effects come from what seems a jumble, a hodgepodge of colors or finishes as on this gate door in Twin Peaks.

Car travel means mishmosh for me. Both of time and things.  We have spent the weekend in SF, with events and changes of clothes so that my suitcase and extra bag are jumbled.  Now I’m in the Garden Hilton in Redding and the mishmash increased exponentially.  The coffee and tea things and last night’s room service salad litter the desk, so I write on a bench with my laptop on the queen bed.  Since we’re still en route it makes no sense to dump and repack everything. It’s a bit like the Mad Hatter’s tea party…

The bag with my shoes and electrical cords and chargers has gotten particularly disorderly.  There are now two miniature bottles of catsup and dijon mustard in there along with my toothbrush charger, camera and make up bags.  And I’ve answered a jumble of texts and phone calls hoping to help others put order into their worlds. And so many memories are stirring around wondering when they’ll be written.

I noticed this morning when this lack of neatness affected me. I realized it isn’t about the stirred contents of my suitcase and bag nor about my longing to do laundry.   It is more missing the predictable spaces of my home.

I miss my writing cat.

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Prose Poem for the View

Slice of Life #28

 

The middle of the night view makes you feel like falling out the window…

out the three floor-to-ceiling windows

from Twin Peaks gazing down Market Street

to downtown SF and beyond the Bay Bridge

across the East Bay and Oakland shipping yards

pulled the miles to the dark hills behind.

That view is a blink of jeweled strings of lights

mostly monochromatic and moody

with an orange shimmer from a local street lamp

patterned lines of lamps and traffic crisscross

taking your eye to the Bay Bridge with traffic backed up

people driving around at 3:00 a.m.

Human lights build the scene.

 

The view at 8:00 a.m is a glaring palette that rocks you back on your heels…

blink, blink, blinding whites and shining greys

under a huge canvas of sky with the bay reflecting  back.

Now sunlight jumps into the three floor-to-ceiling windows

A bold shine skipping off tall rhododendron and camelias

various angles of roof and musical an array of vents and chimneys

slick surfaces offer up greys and watery tones

while rows of terra cotta house roofs take the scene

human life scaled back under solar glory

the lovely geometry of dwellings

outlined with wind-whipped shrubs and sparkling trees

sit easy and securely in the broad daylight.

Now the view down Market Street and the slope of the land

swoops your eye downtown.

The immense broad array of buildings and sky scrapers

make their own horizon against the SF Bay

From the Peaks up here the cluster seems

miniaturized by detail, but still commanding it its sweep,

like a  monochromatic sculpture done by some ancient civilization.

This is a view that never tires me no matter the light or season

I have watched reverse sunsets when those tall buildings turn pink

then glow tropical orange and tempered glass glints with fire.

I have looked for the same architecture

Mysteriously altered under blankets of fog before dawn.

I’ve taken endless photos from these very windows–

Studied the lay of the land

the space and distance planed by streets, roof tops, buildings

I’ve admired the bay with cloud scapes or panoramic clear blue

It is a simple composition with endless variety to which

I’ve sometimes offered spoken comment from the table

Or appreciated it aloud from the upholstered swivel chair.

This morning I’ve tried

to picture it only

with words.

On Not Being in a Hurry

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Slice of Life # 26 & #27

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Yesterday I remembered my slice of life commitment, and my day filled up.  G. and I took my mother to the SF Zoo, where she was a docent for many years in her retirement.  The zoo was her happy place as D. loves animals and adores learning new things.  Walking wasn’t going so well, so I went back to rentals for a wheelchair for mom.

This allowed us to stroll several hours with the sea of people enjoying a fabulous SF day in a well-tended zoo.  Even the horticulture is worth a visit.  We were in the rain forest exhibit when one of mom’s docent friends caught up with us.  The two women were so glad to see each other and catch up on the zoo news.

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As Gary pushed the wheelchair in for closer looks I saw my mother soak in the scenes, adding commentary from her memories.  DSCN0935

 

 

 

 

 

Of course I was having fun with my new camera, besides enjoying my mother’s elevation being back in her beloved zoo.  She thanked G. and me profusely as we drove back to G. ‘s house where we are staying the weekend. “I don’t know if I’ll see the SF Zoo again,” was her comment.

Yet I am writing about a sort of spring fast I’ve chosen for myself.  I am on a cleanse from being too busy.  I mean, I still have plenty to do, but, I am fasting from being in a hurry.  So, it is a break from the pressure of busyness and the accompanying feeling of hurry and rush. Yep, it is easier to start this sort of fast while you’re on vacation, you might say.  But I started in those quite hectic final days of school before Spring Break.  I simply concentrated on slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time.

As in the case of blogging, I chose to rest awhile before we went out to co-celebrate Alice’s and my birthdays at the House of Prime Rib. When G. drove mom and me down to Van Ness Ave in the considerable traffic last evening, I was feeling the pull of noting we would arrive a few minutes past our meet up time. I declined to feel in a hurry and focused on enjoying the scenery.

Then, when we found A. and her beaux J. in the bar we had a glass of bubbly, waiting for the rest of our party to arrive.  I asked Alice when her health cleanse began and she quickly noted “after my birthday because I want to drink champagne!”  I mentioned my spring cleanse to J. is to fast from doing things in a hurry.  His eyes lit up and he said, “There’s a book on how to not hurry.”

“I’m glad there are instructions available,” I smiled.  “And happy that others have noted it is important.” Clink!  We toasted.

When we were ushered into the small dining room, lit with a fireplace and wall sconces I felt so happy to be there.  I had looked forward to this engagement for weeks on my calendar. So I settled in to enjoy the good company of A. and her lovely women friends as well as my dear mother, who was on her second major outing of the day. 

The champagne glasses were refilled and pinot noir poured.  We went from bread to salad to the prime rib replete with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.  All in a lovely hum of laughing, chatting, and occasional dramatic interlude from our waiter.  Someone tipped him off about our birthdays, so we got a glass of ice cream with a candle in it. I made a wish instantly, then realized A. was arranging a photo.

That way, I re-lit the candle and got to make two wishes, both for the happiness of my daughter.

The moment I called the cab and we walked out, our ride drove up and took us back to Twin Peaks.  Satiated with company and food.  All easy and comfortable and fulfilled.

Sometime today my bff from high school is coming over from Berkeley to hand out with me for awhile.  I got some plastic eggs and put gummy raspberries in each along with really dumb Easter jokes.  I’m going to hide them in the garden for Sheryl.  But there’s no hurry.  She’ll text me when she feels ready to drive over from the East Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vacation

 

Slice of Life # 25

Stairway

Getting out for a walk on Twin Peaks this afternoon in the fabulously fresh air made it officially vacation.  Packing and cleaning the house did not count.  But now, D. and I are at “Cousin Gary’s,” her long time friend from SF.  We are staying in his home over Easter weekend and then heading up to Ashland.

The walk from Gary’s includes several flights of brick street steps and then a wooden staircase up to the old water tank site.

I love the homes perched up here on Twin Peaks. Many are elegant and graceful and the gardening is lovely.

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Here’s a bit of the view from the Water Tank.  The Golden Gate Bridge is slightly to the left (Marin across the SF Bay) but the afternoon haze made it hard to see at this distance.

G. and I walked and chatted.  It was a rush of clean air and movement for me.  It felt really good to be out of doors and enjoy the scenery.