Tuesday, September 29, 2015


The smell hits me as soon as I walk into the discharge pharmacy.

Unwashed. Unloved.

I wonder momentarily if my son smells that badly, but quickly realize it cannot be him.
I don't think the hospital would have let him go that long without a shower. And I am pretty sure I would have noticed it as we walked the two blocks from the hospital ward to the pharmacy.

There is a gentleman sitting in a chair at the pharmacy.

I wonder if he smells or if someone else just left the pharmacy.

The prescription is not ready and we have to wait.

The door opens again.
It is a woman about my age with an eight or nine-year-old girl.
The girl wears a polo shirt from an elementary school in my district.
Her long brown hair is pulled away from her face in a pony tail.
Her eyes are striking aquamarine blue.
She is beautiful.

She and the woman converse about school. She did hard math. She went to gym. She ate grilled cheese.  The girl asks if she can ride her scooter when they get home and the woman tells her she will have to ask her mother. I decide the woman must be her grandmother.

I look away and when I look back she has pulled her shirt up over her nose.

She stays that way a long time, probably for almost five minutes.

Her grandmother finally notices and asks her what she is doing.

"It stinks in here," she announces.

The man, who has been sitting silent since the girl and her grandmother came in, but now he speaks.

"It's me," he says. "I live outside."

And then he apologizes for smelling bad.

The woman doesn't say anything.

The little girl with the gorgeous aquamarine eyes doesn't say anything.

I want her grandmother to tell her to apologize.

I want her to tell the little girl to be kind.

I want her to explain that not everyone has a home and a shower and a warm bed to sleep in.

But she does not.

She does not say anything.

And I want to cry.

Because there are way too many people who smell in Denver.

And way too many people who do not do anything about it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


When people ask me where they should go for children's literature titles, I always tell them about the CYBILS awards. In case you are new to my blog, the CYBILS are books nominated and chosen by book lovers- teachers, librarians, authors, and parents. The first two weeks in October, people nominate books for more than a dozen different categories-- fiction, nonfiction, speculative fiction, poetry, book apps, etc. Books are also separated by elementary and Young Adult. Starting in mid-October, panels of judges start reading-- last year I was on the Elementary Nonfiction judging panel and read over 100 books published in the last year. That panel chooses 5-7 finalists to pass on to the second round judges, who are charged with the difficult task of choosing one winner. You can get the lists of finalists and the winners from the CYBILS website here and you will be set up with reading material for the next year.

Earlier this week, the CYBILS judges for this year were announced. I've done elementary nonfiction the last couple of years, but this year I will be switching over to poetry. I'm super excited to be working on a panel with some really heavy hitters in the poetry world! I know I will learn a LOT! Here are the other first and second round Poetry judges:

Nancy Bo Flood

Irene Latham

Jone Rush McCullough

Margaret Simon

Tricia Stohr Hunt

Sylvia Vardell

Linda Baie

Diane Mayr

Heidi Mordhorst

Laura Shovan

To see the CYBILS judges for other genre, click here

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


I hoped we would not come to this dark place again so soon.

Earlier this summer, my oldest son had a "psychotic episode"and was hospitalized for about a week.
He was released with medication and encouraged to seek treatment at a local mental health facility.
Which we did.
But he hated it.
He went three times and stopped going.
Then he stopped taking the medication.

This weekend, he had another episode.
And ended up in a different hospital.
I have not seen him since Saturday night when he went by ambulance.
I did an intake interview Sunday morning.
And spoke with a doctor last night on the phone.
He said I could call today,
which I did,
but my son will not talk to me.
And the nurses will not tell me anything
because he has signed a form
saying he does not want any information to be released to anyone.

The hole in our hearts is huge.
The silence in our house is deafening.
My prayers bounce endlessly off the ceiling.

I hoped we would not come to this dark place again so soon.

Monday, September 14, 2015

BLACK ICE- Becca Fitzpatrick

I teach in a K-8 school. In my mind, that means I have to be ready, at any time, to talk to kids from 5-15 about books. I try, then, to read up and down the age spectrum and across a variety of genres. I also have a book, usually YA, but sometimes adult, in the car at all times.

For the past couple of weeks I have been reading (with my ears) BLACK ICE by Becca Fitzpatrick. When I read the back cover, I thought it was going to be a survival novel, kind of a YA version of HATCHET, and with a female main character. And with a little romance, which some of the older girls like a lot.  (I should be honest here. I don't read a lot of romance-y kind of books. Either for kids or for adults).

Here's the premise of the story. Britt Pfeiffer is a senior in high school. She convinces her best friend that they should back pack in the Tetons, rather than go to Hawaii with all of their friends for spring break. On the way there, they encounter a snowstorm, and hole up in a cabin with two young men. But then it turns out that the men are actually fugitives, attempting to find their way off the mountain. They want Britt, who has always depended on other people to take care of her, to guide them. Britt sets out with the men, believing that her ex-boyfriend, Calvin, will soon rescue her…

The story doesn't quite work for me. First, I can't imagine a seventeen-year-old's parent agreeing to a backpacking trip in the mountains, over spring break, when the weather is still dicey at best. And I wonder why Britt's father didn't check the weather report ahead of time. The romance part of the story is also a little much.

At the same time, when I suspend judgment, I can think of a whole group of eighth grade girls who might enjoy this book.  Some of them are not doing a whole lot of reading right now. And if I can get them reading something, and help them connect with an author who has several other books, well, that's definitely worth a shot.

Not my kind of book, but one that I am glad I read.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Yikes! A crazy beginning to the school year and I'm just not blogging much! I will try to do better soon! Except today's is going to have to be quick because it's a beautiful sunny early fall day and the dog is casting hopeful looks outside and the Bronco's are playing at 2:00.

OK, anyway, today's read is POPPY'S BEST PAPER by Susan Eaddy. Poppy is a little rabbit who loves to read and wants to be a writer when she grows up. When her teacher announces a writing contest, Poppy is absolutely sure she will win. Unfortunately, Poppy doesn't really want to work all that hard at her writing, and when the winner of the contest is announced, it isn't Poppy, instead, it's her best friend. Lavender Bloom.

Here is a link about the process Eaddy went through in trying to first illustrate the book using her favorite style, clay, and then finally turning it over to a different illustrator. Really interesting! And it shows readers how hard authors and illustrators work at their craft.

And the trailer for this book is really cute!

A great story about solving problems, e.g. jealousy, in friendship, or writing process, also about the importance of working hard to achieve goals.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Her voice is soft.

"But why, Dr. Wilcox? Why wouldn't we want them to come?"

I draw a deep breath and look into this seventh grader's oh-so-earnest eyes.

Her class has just started a unit on refugees. They are reading LONG WALK TO WATER, about the crisis in Sudan. Today her two incredibly talented teachers are sharing a powerpoint, a series of visual images of refugees from Sudan, Vietnam, Haiti, and Syria, among others. These teenagers become more engaged, more outraged, and quieter, with each image.

And then the question comes.

A is the oldest of three, a sweet, hard working, dependable young woman just coming into her own. She has a sister, two years younger, and a brother in preschool. The three of them live with their mom, who immigrated from Mexico about ten years ago. The family has struggled since A's father passed away when she was in first grade.

Her question comes again as I try to gather my thoughts.

"Why wouldn't we want them to come?"

I explain it the best way I know how, which doesn't feel very good. "It's sort of like if I have a large pizza and I'm planning to eat the whole thing, but then you come along and you are hungry too. I can tell that you are hungry and you would like some pizza. If I give you two or three slices, I will still have more than half, and that's plenty. More than enough. I'd be stuffed if I ate all that pizza. But I don't want to share because I'm selfish."

I continue. "I think that's how the refuge crisis is. Most people in the United States and lots of other countries have plenty. But we are selfish. And we don't want to share."

A looks quizzically at me. "I'm never going to be selfish," she declares, as her big brown eyes fill with tears. "I'm never going to be that way."

"I'm sure you won't," I say. "I'm sure you won't."

Thirty years of this. Such an amazing privilege.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Friday night after a terrific, but very long first week of school, and I am beat.  Even so, I set my alarm for 5:30. I have a big day ahead on Saturday. It's Young Life's Senior Snap, and I have volunteered to help with the food table. I will be there from 7 until 3:30.

Senior Snap is the brain child of Andy K., a graphic designer and also a Young Life volunteer. Two years ago, one of Andy's Young Life kids asked Andy if he could take his senior pictures. Andy was glad to oblige, but a day later, his Facebook account was blowing up. There were lots of kids that needed senior pictures and the deadline was 24 hours later.

Andy couldn't help all of the kids that needed help, but he couldn't stop thinking about them. He wondered if there was a way he could do something. The next fall, he borrowed his church facilities,  enlisted the help of five of his photographer friends, gathered a few others to help with food, and Senior Snap was born. High school seniors from all over Denver have the opportunity to sign up to have their pictures taken, and it's totally free.
Anna Rose, Carlos, and I were the food team. 
That first year, Senior Snap took 21 pictures, this year we did over 30. High school seniors sign up online for a time slot. When they arrive at the church, they are treated to hair and makeup, pizza, chips, candy, and lots of loving. Each senior goes out in a group with a photographer, a photo buddy (the person who holds everything for everyone), and one or two other kids. They wander the blocks around downtown Denver, looking for perfect shots.

Elizabeth, a kindergarten paraprofessional did hair.

I also had the privilege of going out on a couple of photo shoots. Amber, the photographer, was willing to try anything and these guys jumped over walls and climbed on roofs and played guitar and just generally had a blast. The pictures from my second round aren't posted yet, but the two young women were from Sudan, with high, high heels and super interesting stories to tell. 

I have been thinking about Saturday ever since then. Andy's words keep ringing in my ears. "I saw that there was a need," he said. "And I wondered what I could do to fill it?" 

"I saw that there was a need. And I wondered what I could do to fill it?" 

"I saw that there was a need. And I wondered what I could do to fill it?" 

In my mind, that's the way more Christians should live.  I wonder what needs I'm supposed to be filling right now.