Thursday, March 23, 2017

SLICE #23- Sometimes the stories are so hard.

Sometimes I think I cannot stand one more day.

The stories are so hard.

Today was one of those days.

I spot her first thing this morning.

Sixth grade girl.
Beyond quiet.
Oldest of three.
Gentle spirit.
Tangled reader.
Incredibly talented artist.
Hard, hard home life.

Today her head is on her desk.
Face buried in her arms.
Clearly upset.
I move toward her.
Touch her gently.
"You ok?"
Stupid question.
She is clearly not.
She does not lift her head.

Her teacher tells me
she is upset about her birthday.
It is during spring break.
She thinks no one will celebrate.
No one will acknowledge her special day.
My heart breaks.
Everyone should have a birthday.

Teachers. Administrators. Office staff scramble.
A quick run to the grocery store.
Sugar cookies.
The yummy kind
with thick yellow frosting.
A coloring book.
Sketch pad.
A huge variety pack
of colored pencils.
Birthday cards.
A two-class party.
Percy Jackson movie.
The birthday song.
Happy birthday to you, 
dear S.
Happy birthday to you. 

Her teacher asks,
"But what should I say?
Who should I tell her
the cookies are from?"

"Just tell her
that she is a precious treasure.
And the cookies
are from the people
who love her."

Sometimes the stories are so hard.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


We meet after school. The state adopted a new computerized reading assessment this year. We are required to give the assessment once a month. Students are classified as Tier One, Tier Two, or Tier Three. We are still learning to interpret the results, to know how to use the data to drive instruction.

Earlier today, I retested one of the kindergarten boys. He had tested as a Tier Three this month. His teacher wasn't sure that was accurate. We are allowed to retest if we want to. I'm a reading interventionist, and I've been trying to pull those types of kids every time I have a free minute or two.

F was delighted to come to the library to read with me. I watched as he took the test. Made notes about what he could and couldn't do. Marveled at his kindergarten brain.

And now we are meeting to discuss the data. C's partner comes over from next door. It's not a scheduled meeting. She doesn't have to come. But she does. Because she cares about kids. Because we want to understand this assessment. So we can do a better job with our kids.

We look at the numbers. I tell them a few stories about the things I noticed as F worked through the test. How he made personal connections to the stories, but then got so excited about those that he forgot to listen to the rest of the question he was supposed to answer. How he burst out into the "ch" digraph song, when a test item about digraphs came up. How he knew beginning sounds and rhyming words, but had trouble when the test alternated with these two types of questions.

And he how he had tested not as a Tier Three reader, but rather as a Tier One reader, when he worked one-one with me.

We wondered which results were accurate. Wondered whether the littlest guys would do better with iPads. Wondered how much of what the test measured was developmental. How much was about kids' familiarity with technology. We talked about how we might be able to test all of our Tier Three readers one on one to see whether they might do better in a one-one situation.

We thought about which kids were not being represented accurately by their March scores. Listed the ones we wanted to retest. Talked about what we thought we could do to solidify F's understandings of beginning sounds and rhyming.

And pretty soon, a five-minute, "Let me tell you what F did this afternoon, when I worked with him" had turned into a 30 minute conversation.

A time when real decisions about real instruction were made.

A data meeting, at its finest.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


So I wrote a paper.
It was due today.
And even though I worked really, really hard.
It was only about 3/4 of the way done.
The last paper we turned in
I worked really, really hard too
And did what I thought was a really great job.
The professor wrote one comment.
And corrected about ten APA style mistakes.

I wasn't really happy with this paper.
The topic felt big and unmanageable.
I still can't get my head around it.
I'm not at all sure I did what the professor wanted.
But when I was driving home tonight
I did have an idea of how I can make it better
Iehearsed a couple of transition lines .
And I think I might have figured out
what the paper is really about.
I think I really did write my way
to new understandings.
But it's taken about 15 hours so far.

I am so tired.
And I hate having the dang paper
hanging over my head

until tomorrow.

Monday, March 20, 2017


I have a huge paper (a 2000 word research review) due tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. And I haven't started it. And I don't even really totally understand what the paper is about, or why I'm writing it. So I'm doing a quick currently slice, then trying to wake myself up, after a really long day, to get something on paper for tomorrow. 
WATCHING      CSI. I like background noise when I'm working at night, but I hate shows like THE VOICE AND DANCING WITH THE STARS. And I don't like a show that takes too much attention or thinking. CSI is my drug of choice. 
LISTENING     to nothing. I need to go to the library to get a new audiobook. 
WONDERING  how my son's first night on his new job is going. Where my other son might have gone off to in his car.    What I could write my paper about.
EATING          Nothing! I'm doing Weight Watchers and I'm out of points for the day! But I could still have some fruit. and I might, because my stomach is growling.
DRINKING      This morning's coffee, rewarmed in the microwave, with a little skim milk, but thinking I need to go get a glass of water, because I haven't had nearly enough today (see above).
WISHING         My professor was a little clearer about his assignments and a little less nitpicky about APA format
HOPING        I don't have strep throat, which has been going around our school. I have been feeling kind of crummy since yesterday and now I'm starting to get a sore throat. 
READING          Gertie's Leap to Greatness,  Trevor Noah's Born a Crime (my next book club book)
WISHING          That my paper was already written and I could go to bed

Sunday, March 19, 2017

SLICE 19- Keeping the salad with chicken factory in business

Every Sunday, I go to Colorado Springs to spend the day with my mom.

We clean a little, do a little shopping, pay a few bills, and go out to lunch.

Lunch is always the big dilemma.

"Where do you want to go for lunch?" she asks.

"I don't care. Where do you want to go for lunch?"

We go back and forth two or three times. And then I remind my mom that it really doesn't matter, because wherever we go, chances are good that I will have a salad with chicken on it.

And I have decided that there is a universal "salad with chicken" factory located somewhere in the world. This factory acts as a supplier and churns out salads with chicken for every restaurant in the world.

There are several variations, but they are basically "salads with chicken" are the same wherever we go:

1) Chicken Caesar Salad- lettuce, chicken, croutons, shaved parmesan cheese, caesar salad dressing.

2) Barbecue Chicken Salad- lettuce, chicken with barbecue sauce, something crunchy (like tortilla strips), black beans, corn, sometimes jicama, ranch dressing.

3) Chicken Cobb Salad- lettuce, chicken, bleu cheese, and I don't know what else. I don't like bleu cheese so I  stop reading right there.

4) Oriental (sometimes called Asian) Chicken Salad- lettuce, chicken, mandarin oranges, pineapple, something crunchy- sometimes it's  wonton strips, sometimes it's chow mein noodles, dressing

5) Fried Chicken Salad- lettuce, fried/breaded chicken, cheese, eggs, ranch dressing- I don't know what else because I don't ever have this one either.  The Fried Chicken and cheese are too many Weight Watchers points. I might as well have a burger, which would taste better anyway.

6) Mexican Chicken Salad- Lettuce, chicken flavored with taco seasoning, salsa, sometimes sour cream and sometimes guacamole, corn, something crunchy, usually corn chips, sometimes served in a taco shell bowl, which I usually try not to eat

Pretty much every week, I choose one of these (not Chicken Cobb because of the bleu cheese or Fried Chicken Salad because it has too much fat) Sometimes we go somewhere else; today, for instance, we went to a Mexican place and I had chicken fajitas, or every once in a while I break down and have a burger, and occasionally we have Italian or Chinese, but mostly I have a salad with chicken.

I want to make sure I am doing my part to help the salad with chicken factory stay in business. It's my civic responsibility.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Do you ever feel like "Big Brother is watching you?" I have that experience pretty regularly. Especially when I participate in Facebook.

I first noticed it last year. The primary grade students at our school usually do an extended author study every spring. As part of the unit, they make T-shirts from their favorite book, then wear them to field day. The kids love them, and the teachers have an easier time keeping track of their kids.

Last year, I helped the first grade teachers order their t-shirts. They were nothing fancy, just plain white t-shirts, as cheap as we could get them. The next day, and every day after that for about two weeks, my Facebook page was inundated with ads for little boys' underwear.

It took me a day or so to figure out why I was getting the ads. My boys are not little. They don't wear Size 6 Fruit of the Looms. And then I happened to mention it to one of the first grade teachers and she explained that it was because I purchased the t-shirts for the author study.

It actually felt a little creepy. First, I was kind of worried about what people would think about an old lady who searches children's underwear sites. It just felt weird. And then, I didn't like the idea that
Facebook was watching me. It just felt icky.

But I've noticed the phenomena pretty regularly ever since. With me, it's mostly about books, because that's mostly what I buy. And it doesn't just have to do with what I post publicly. Recently, a friend messaged me about buying a bathing suit for an upcoming trip. She was was talking about how expensive bathing suits are. And about how buying a bathing suit made her feel extra large. I concurred. And mentioned the name of a company that supposedly has attractive, not super expensive bathing suits. And ever since then, I have been receiving bathing suit ads. From that company. And from others. And especially for plus sized women. And with bargain prices. A little creepy.

The "Big Brother is Watching You" phenomena took an interesting twist this week. About a week ago, I saw an ad for a pair of high top tennis shoes with books on them. I loved them. I clicked on the ad, and saw that they were pretty expensive. But they were really fun. I didn't buy them then. But they kept coming up. And every time I would look at them, I wanted them. Sort of unusual for me, because I'm really not a shopper, or a clothes horse. And they were kind of expensive.

But I really liked them.

And today they came up again. And it was a hard day. I didn't lose any weight on my weekly weigh in. In fact, I gained a pound. I came home and  cleaned up the kitchen and ran the dishwasher. And then my son cleaned his room and left a huge pile of dishes on the kitchen counter. And we had a fight. And then I graded papers. That were supposed to be finished ten days ago. And they still aren't done. And I have a ten page paper due myself on Tuesday. And I haven't started it.

 So the shoes came up again today. And I clicked on them. And bought them.

Because sometimes maybe the universe, or at least Big Brother knows what you need.

Friday, March 17, 2017

SLICE #17- Puppy Watching

Sometimes when I can't stand life any more,
when I can't hear one more story about what is going on in Washington D.C.
when I have worried long enough about what I will be doing next year,
or whether my sons will ever be normal, functioning adults
I sneak away to go puppy watching. 
I don't sneak away physically.
I sneak away to an entirely different virtual reality. 
Warning: It's highly addictive)

The Warrior Canine Connection is a Maryland-based organization
that raises labs and golden retrievers
to act as service dogs 
for warriors with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. 

I've written about these guys before.
I stumbled across them in the summer of 2012
when my son had departed for his first year of college
and the Aurora theater shooting had just happened. 
My soul was deeply troubled
Just like it is right now

But there's something about watching puppies nursing



sleeping in a giant puppy pile

that soothes me. 

Right now, there is a litter 
of eight golden retrievers, 
four girls and four boys,
with a beautiful mama named Jessi

The puppies are about five weeks old.
They are already at least partly potty trained
they interact with puppy petting volunteers
of all ages several hours each day

they eat out of bowls
soon they will be named 
(the last few litters have been named after veterans)
go home with volunteer puppy parents
and spent two years learning
how to be service dogs. 
It's a hard job
and it seems like only about half actually make it. 
Others become therapy dogs
or family service dogs. 

I love watching them grow. 

There's just something soothing
and hopeful
about watching puppies.