Monday, March 2, 2015


I've spent the last month stuck in stupid.

Take today, for example.

I drove the 130 mile roundtrip to Colorado Springs to see my mom.

On the way back I stopped on the south end of Denver to see a dear friend.

She is working in Hong Kong right now, but her old golden retriever is having some health issues and so she came home for a few days.

I sat down on the floor next to Buddy and loved on him for a little while.There is nothing sweeter in the whole world than a old, white-faced golden.

I visited with Laura and her husband and then got up to leave.

Laura walked me to the door.

We hugged goodbye. It's hard having a piece of my heart so, so, so far away.

And I drove the 30 or so minutes to my home in the north side of the city.

A full night ahead. A dog to walk. Slices to read. Bills to pay. Papers to grade. Laundry.

I drove up to my house. Got out of the car. Reached into the back seat and realized I had forgotten my coat at L's house.

Which wouldn't have been a big deal except that my driver's license and debit card were in the pocket.

And that was a problem.

I called L. Her husband offered to meet me halfway but it was cold. And I knew they had had a long weekend with the dog.

And so I turned around and drove thirty minutes back to her house.

Thirty minutes home.

I still had a full night ahead. Dog to walk. Slices to read. Bills to pay. Papers to grade. Laundry.

It really has been a month stuck in stupid.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


I am participating in the eighth annual
March Slice of Life Challenge 
I think our ordinary activities pretty much reveal who we are,
so here's my first slice, 
A Day in the Life.

4:00 The alarm goes off. I am squashed on the left side of the bed; my black lab, Star sleeps on the right, where one dog or another has slept for most of my adult life. It's Saturday, but I'm teaching a class for the ELA (English Language Acquisition) department this morning. A never-married, fifty something, dog lover.

4:30 Out of the shower. Coffee made. Dogs fed. I head to the basement. This year for the first time since I adopted my sons in 2003, I joined a Bible study. I've loved getting back into the Word on a more consistent basis.  A Christ lover. Adoptive mother. 

5:00 I review my presentation, fiddle with a few slides. I've been doing professional development for almost thirty years. Some of the teachers that will be in this session were not even born when I started teaching. A veteran (that's a polite way of saying old) urban educator.

7:00 Head out the door, computer bag over my shoulder. It's a beautiful Colorado winter morning. The  sky (at least for the moment) is blue, blue, blue and the air sparkles silver and white. I make myself stop and breathe. Slow down and be amazed, I say to my soul. Remember this moment. It will never come again. A wanna be wonderer. 

7:07  I get a few blocks away from my house and remember that I have forgotten my debit card and driver's license. I had planned to buy bagels for my class, then get some cash so my sons could get haircuts afterward. Return to the house, grab the debit card and head out for the second time.  A disorganizational goddess. 

7:45 Arrive at the school. Three trips later I have transported my computer, LCD projector, chart paper, handouts, the bagels and a large coffee to the last room on the second floor, almost a city block away. Love my job, but all the schlepping, not so much!

12:30 Class over, time for clean up. I put the room back together. Five of us presented this morning, but by the time I am done, everyone else is gone. I wonder why I am always the last one finished.  Disorganization, a constant theme. 

1:45 Pick up Boo, my mom's maltese, who has lived with me since my mom moved to assisted living a year ago. Take her to the groomer, who says they tried to leave a reminder call, but weren't able to leave a message on my home phone. I know why- earlier this week I dropped the phone into the dog's water bowl. I explain the situation and all three of us laugh. "I do that kind of stuff," says the sweet young woman who clips Boo.  I've made a lot of friends laughing at myself. 

2:00 Return home. My real dog, Star, a black lab mix is waiting for her daily walk, which has been far from daily in the last two weeks of subzero temperatures. A lover of labs and golden retrievers. A pretty much daily walker. Not a lover of winter weather.

3:45 Pick up the dog. Stop to pay a bill.  Tell myself I will go to the grocery store tomorrow.  Go home.  Sons "remind" me there are no groceries in the house. I head out again. A procrastinator. Mother of two college-aged sons. They were both away at school, but this semester both of them are at home. It's been a pretty bumpy couple of months at our house.

5:00  One of those times when we needed everything- Groceries, snacks, two kinds of dog food, paper towels, laundry detergent. $246 later,  I am done at the store. Son #2 comes out to help me, then both boys unload the groceries. They don't unpack/ put away groceries the way I do, so I shut my mouth and head for the basement. A recovering perfectionist. 

5:45  More than $200 worth of groceries and I am too tired to cook. I bribe the boys to go to Chipotle (we end up settling on Qdoba). An hour later they return. I wonder/worry where they have been. Worrier. Trying to be a tough-lover. 

7:30 My mom calls. She wonders if I will be going to visit on Sunday. I have been making the 130 mile round trip pretty much every Sunday since last February, but my mom always calls to ask. I skipped last week because we were in the middle of a blizzard. We are supposed to get three inches of new snow tomorrow. I hope it will be late afternoon. A sandwich generation daughter trying to get used to a mom whose health has deteriorated significantly in the last year. 

8:00  Flip the television. I refuse to watch a special about Lawrence Welk or a rehash of the Academy awards and find a real life crime show, my go-to background noise. Attempt to draft my first slice, which I know I will have to revise tomorrow.  I am a morning writer. The March challenge is hard because I don't always have time to write in the morning and sometimes I have to do it at night.

9:45  I wake up. Computer in my lap. I put the dogs out for one last time, then we head for bed. Tomorrow is another day. 

Friday, February 27, 2015


My large urban district, rarely, actually almost never calls a snow day. The plowing teams are terrific, we don't have any rural schools, and our parents, mostly working poor, depend on us not only to educate their children, but also to care for them during the day, and feed them breakfast and lunch. 

Yesterday was different. It's been snowing off and on since Monday and there's more than a foot on the ground (I know people on the East coast have a lot more). For some reason, the superintendent decided to call a snow day, but he didn't do it until after six. By that point, I was already on my way to school. This is an abecedarian, 

"Anatomy of a snowy morning"

Alarm goes off extra early, I lay there
Building the day’s schedule
Checking agendas for five vertical team meetings, and tonight’s two hour inservice
Dreaming dogs groan as I
Exit that haven of warmth and head to the cold kitchen
Feels like -5, according to weather channel, even though it’s actually a balmy zero
Gotta shovel the six inches of snow that have fallen overnight
Helping to make this February the third snowiest on record
Icy sidewalks, icy windshield, icy cold car
Just doesn’t want to warm up and I
Keep counting pennies, contemplating sandy beaches while wiggling frozen toes
Longing for lavender tulips and yellow daffodils,
Major thoroughfares are clear as I
Navigate the nearly empty early morning streets with
Only a few slip and slides arriving at school
Parking lot empty except for lunch ladies and one first year teacher
Quiet school is waiting and I think there
Really should be a few more people
Starting to arrive, until custodian appears and
Tells me the superintendent has called a snow day
Up until 6:00 when I left home it was
Very cold, but the district website said the buses would be running
Why wouldn’t there be school
eXtreme cold and a minor blizzard never stopped us before
Yawning, I head to my office thinking

Zealous early birds do not always catch the worm.

(c) Carol Wilcox

Poetry Friday is at Heidi's My Juicy Little Universe

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


"Driving Lessons"

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

A friend tells me
about the first lesson
his  professor
taught her African American son
after he got his driver's permit
if you get pulled over
immediately place your hands squarely
at ten and two
do not touch the gear shift
do not reach down into your pockets
do not fumble in the glovebox
for the car insurance
or registration papers
place your hands at ten and two
and yessir nosir
until you are told to do otherwise

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

when my son's
rearview mirror
inexplicably falls off
I immediately call the dealer
order the part
and then the car sits
in front of our house
for almost two weeks
while we wait for the part
because black men
with defective cars
get pulled over
patted down
on the side of the road
while all the neighbors watch

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

our license plates expire this month
it has been a hard month
with a six hundred dollar plumbing bill
and the toilet still gurgling
and me trying to ignore it
because there is nothing left in the bank
but we have two sets of license plates
set to expire
and i will replace my son's
before payday
because he is a six foot five
black man
and black men get pulled over
sometimes even shot
by well-meaning
but nervous police officers
and it makes my stomach roll
to think about
all that blood

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Discover. Play. Build.

Every week,  people from all over the world meet at Ruth Ayres' place to celebrate happenings from their week. Usually I don't get my act together to celebrate, but yesterday I was invited to a huge celebration. In this age where rigor too often  seems synonymous with ridiculously difficult, and where engagement is forgotten way too often, there are still teachers who continue to do amazing work, and I just felt like this needed to be shared. 

In my district, each grade level does an author study. The fifth grade author is Roald Dahl, and for the past six weeks, our students have immersed themselves in his work. I recognize that some people do not believe in asking all students to study the same author, but that's part of our district curriculum, and we work really hard to make it meaningful and engaging for students. 

Each fifth grader has heard/read at least three Roald Dahl books (and many have read more). They've also read a biography, excerpts from BOY, and fractured fairy tales from Dahl's REVOLTING RHYMES. Yesterday they celebrated their expertise by inviting the fourth graders and a few adults to share their final products. I apologize that there are no students in these pictures- I took lots, but I'm not sure who has photo permissions and who doesn't. I wish you could have seen their smiles, but also how nervous they were, and how serious they were about sharing their work.  I'm not a photographer, but sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words…

A banner welcomed the fourth graders to the fifth classroom. 

Desks were arranged in a big U around the outside of the classroom. Each student  displayed the books they had read, their research file, an author timeline, their pamphlet of book reviews,  
and a five paragraph literary analysis essay. 

Guiding questions for learning about Dahl's life, 
surrounded by some Roald Dahl timelines

Close reading of Roald Dahl biography. Sorry it's sideways!

Another timeline, close up


 Students compared two of Dahl's books to begin to identify commonalities.

They then used these characteristics to track the commonalities across other Dahl books. I'm not sure if you can read it but the boxes outlined in pink are related to language, those related to blue are related to plot. Book titles are listed down the left side, then students rated each book with a plus, check, or slash to indicate the presence of a particular characteristic. They totaled the columns to decide whether a characteristic always, usually, occasionally, or rarely appears in Dahl's books. 

Roald Dahl pamphlets. These included an introduction and three book reviews. The colored squares represent the results of the semantic feature analysis. Roald Dahl always, Roald Dahl usually, etc. …

The back side of the pamphlet, where students identified theme 
and cited the evidence that led them to draw their conclusions.

Students used Alphaboxes to gather interesting vocabulary.

 Finally, they wrote and revised five paragraph literary analysis essays. 

 Our kids just LOVE Roald Dahl.
I just love kids doing 
reading, writing and thinking!

Head over to Ruth Ayres blog for lots more celebrations. 


There's nothing I like better than a good dog story. I found two at the library today. Both of these would be just plain great read alouds for younger kids, but could also be used to teach point of view to intermediate or middle school readers. 

The narrator of this story is a dog. A very independent dog. He fetches his own slippers, curls up at his own feet, and wouldn't sit if someone told him, even if there was a bone involved. He throws his own sticks for fetching, and tells himself he is a good dog. 

Except one day he needs a spot on his back scratched. And then the guy follows him home. So he as to get him a leash. And teach him commands. And clean up the ice cream he spills. 

Perfect for any dog owner!

DOG DAYS OF SCHOOL-Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs

Charlie does not like going to school. On Sunday nights, his stomach does flip-flops and he can't fall asleep. "You're lucky you don't have to go to school," Charlie tells  tells his dog, Norman. The next morning, when Charlies wakes up, he and Norman the Dog have switched roles. Norman goes to school all week- he makes a clay sculpture, plays the maracas, goes on a  field trip, and even eats a triple hot fudge banana sundae with extra whipped cream. Charlie stays home-- drinking out of the toilet, learning how not to play fetch (with a skunk) and visiting the groomer.

A really fun role reversal book. Also a terrificback-to-school read aloud! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Today is one of my all-time favorite days of the year- Nonfiction Picture Books 10 for 10. Thanks to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for inventing this fabulous (and very expensive) event. You can read all of the NF 10 for 10 posts here.

Apparently I missed the boat last summer, because I did nonfiction picture books during the Picture Book Ten for Ten last summer too. Oops! Oh well, you can never have too many nonfiction picture books in your collection, right? Anyway, I served as a CYBILS judge on the elementary nonfiction committee this fall, and had the privilege of reading 108 fabulous new nonfiction picture books. Almost all of these are from that list. Many of them I have reviewed on my blog,  I tried to link those to the more complete reviews. 

Everyone knows about Ruby Bridges, not nearly as many know Sylvia Mendez who paved the way for Hispanic children in California approximately ten years before Bridges. I love FEATHERS: NOT JUST FOR FLYING, the book that won the CYBILS this year,  but SEPARATE was my personal CYBILS winner. 

If:  A Mind Boggling New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David Smith
Each page in this book could pretty much be its own stand-alone spread. I lent this one to a sixth grade teacher at our school and don't think I'll ever see it again. 

This was my, "Darn it, I really wanted it to make the finals list for the CYBILS," this year. SHARKS is Roy's first picture book, and it's a really unique blend of picture book, and heavier text pages. Her diagrams are perfect for a nonfiction text features lesson. 

This one the CYBILS this year.  Beautiful, beautiful language (perfect for any mini-lesson on how writers use language, and lovely nature journal-like illustrations). 

Beetle Busters-Loree Griffin Burns
 OR Chasing Cheetahs OR Sea Turtle Scientists
I pretty much love any book in the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series. 
This year there has been a bumper crop.

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses by Rebecca L. Johnson
Gross photographs, fascinating factual information, terrific format!

Biography about the inventor of the ferris wheel. Perfect for a unit on inventors or on perseverance!

The power of narrative! I love the quotes about how people can use anger to bring good or to destroy. I copied them down in my journal and have shared them more than once. The illustrations in this one are fabulous!

Had to include my favorite Colorado nonfiction illustrator on the list somewhere! 
Jennifer Ward's text and Jenkin's illustrations are a terrific combination. 

Water Can Be- Laura Purdie Salas
I couldn't have a nonfiction list without at least one poetry selection, and no one does it better than Laura Purdie Salas. This book is actually part of a series, there are two more- A Leaf Can Be has been out for a year or two and A Rock Can Be will come out in March.