Tuesday, March 31, 2020

SLICE #31- Confessions of a Night Slicer

OK, I think I'm just going to say it.

My name is Carol and I was a night slicer.

It's not that I really wanted to be a night slicer

I much prefer to write early in the morning.

I've always been a morning person. Even now, with nowhere to go, I'm almost always awake around 5:30. I think better, and write better, early in the morning.

But somehow, that just hasn't worked for me this year. In January, I committed that the first part of my day, every day this year, was going to be devoted to growing my spiritual self. Specifically, to reading my Bible and praying. I guess I could have written after that, but at the first part of the month, there were papers to read, and lesson plans to finish, and well, you get it. I was already getting up at an hour my sons affectionately call the "butt crack of dawn" and I didn't want to get up any earlier than that.

So I wrote at night.

And then, when the school closure happened, I think it was on March 13th, I really thought I would switch over and write in the morning. But somehow, it seemed like there was always stuff to do-- meetings and conversations about remote learning, talking to my mom, who has been in solitary confinement at a senior center for the last thee weeks, online Spanish class, etc., etc., etc.

So I sliced at night.

And now, it's March 31st. The month is over. And I'm writing my 31st slice. At night.

My name is Carol and I'm a night slicer.

And truthfully, I don't think it was that big a deal.

I wrote every night. I tried to write something reasonably significant. And I always commented on at least ten slices. Usually, I tried to comment on the last ten slicers because I knew they probably wouldn't get very many comments.

And I'm not sure why, but this year I felt like there was kind of a stigma about being a night slicer

Like people who were night slicers are somehow slovenly, or not serious about their writing, or maybe just lesser citizens of the slicing community.

And I am really not sure why people thought that.

My name is Carol and I was a night slicer.

Monday, March 30, 2020

SLICE #30- Tomie de Paola died today

This afternoon, I heard that Tomie dePaola had died.

Not from COVID, which is what I expected to hear next, but from a fall.

And I felt sad.

Because Tomie is one of the first children's authors that I remember loving.

And because I met Tomie dePaola.

In an elevator.

In Wyoming.

And I was a baby teacher, just beginning my career.

And he was a huge rock star artist.

And yet was so, so kind and gentle.

I had gone to Wyoming for some kind of reading conference.

I was with one of my local heroes, the woman who was the head of Title One in my district.

And I truthfully can't remember whether we went for the school district, or for our state reading organization. I think probably our state reading organization, because I'm not sure why someone as important as Colleen would have taken me, a first or second grade teacher, with her to an out-of-state conference.

I do remember that we drove to Wyoming, maybe Casper or Cheyenne, after school.

And that we got there in the early evening.

And I was in the elevator by myself.

Holding a Tomie dePaola book that I had brought with me, or maybe even bought at the conference.

A gentleman got on with me.

He was in his fifties, and I was twenty-something.

He smiled at me.

I must not have recognized him, or maybe I acted a little nervous, because he said, "Do you know who I am?"

And I remember feeling a little concerned that someone I didn't know was asking me, in an elevator, if I knew who he was.  I said I didn't and then the elevator door opened.

I started to get out

And he told me he was Tomie dePaola and asked if I wanted him to sign my book.

And right there, in front of the elevator, he signed my book, and drew a picture, I think he drew Strega Nona, although I'm pretty sure that the book he signed was THE LEGEND OF THE BLUEBONNET.

And over the years, I have loved so, so, so many of his books- STREGA NONA and all of his other folk tales, but also THE ART LESSON, OLIVER BUTTON IS A SISSY,  NANA UPSTAIRS AND NANA DOWNSTAIRS, NOW ONE FOOT AND NOW THE OTHER.

Recently, some of Tomie's "vintage art" has been showing up on my Facebook page. Except I don't think I figured out that it was "vintage." It still seemed fresh and lovely and comforting, amidst all of the current craziness.

And then today, I heard that he died.

And somehow, the world seems a little less lovely tonight.

RIP, dear Tomie.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

SLICE #29/31- Maybe I am not quite as ok....

Tomorrow we start our third week of staying at home.

Last week, our governor issued a "Stay at Home" order.

Essential businesses only. No public places open. No parks.

I think I'm doing ok.

I've kept myself on a schedule.

I've read, and written, and practiced my Spanish, and walked both dogs every day.

I've gotten ready for remote learning and emailed my kids and read some of their previous work. I think I've been reasonably productive.

Every morning when I wake up, I recite kind of a little mantra to sort of situate myself in time. Today, for example, I said, "Today is Sunday. Usually I, go to see my mom on Sundays, but today I am going to watch church online, then I am going to take my bag of groceries to the More Life center."

And that's where the trouble began.

My church has a food pantry, called the "More Life Center."

Every month, on the first Sunday, we are supposed to take a bag of non-perishables-- spaghetti and canned chili and vegetables-- to church. There's a pick uptruck parked out in front of the church, and you put your bag into the back of the truck, and grab an empty green "More Life" bag for the next month. We have been doing that for at least five years. Maybe even longer.

Yesterday, when I was at the grocery store, I made a special point of buying things I could put in my "More Life" bag. I threw in a little extra, because I'm feeling really grateful that I still have a job and a paycheck, when so, so many people don't.

My son always puts the groceries away when I get home from the store. I forgot to tell him about the "More Life" groceries, so he put those away too. Last night, I got out a grocery bag and refilled it, so I wouldn't make noise banging around the kitchen this morning. The bag was so heavy that I thought about breaking it into two smaller bags, so it would be easier to carry. I left it by the front door, so I wouldn't forget to take the groceries today.

This morning, I got up about 6:30. I read my Bible and drank my coffee, then watched church online. The first thing the pastor did was to hold up the green "More Life" bag. "Remember," he said, "Next week is 'More Life' Sunday. We really need you to come by the church with your groceries. We will have a team of volunteers, wearing masks and gloves, to take your bags out of the back of your car."

Actually, I only kind of heard the pastor's announcement. I got lost right after he said, "Next week..."

Next week??? Next week??? "More Life"is supposed to be today. What is he talking about?

And then I realized that today is NOT the first Sunday of the month. I am NOT supposed to bring groceries to church today. I'm supposed to bring them NEXT Sunday, which actually is the first Sunday of the month, and the Sunday I have been doing "More Life" groceries every month for the past five years.

Maybe I am not quite as ok as I thought I was....

Saturday, March 28, 2020

SLICE #28- Happy birthday Roo!

As people who have read my blog for any length of time know, I'm raising a service dog for Canine Partners of the Rockies. Rooney will live with me for about two years, and then if he passes all of his training (only 50% of the dogs actually do), he will become a mobility dog for someone in a wheelchair, or an autism dog. Here's a photo essay of our first year together. 

On May 26th, I picked this guy at from the airport. He had left California at 5 am, flown to Dallas, and then on to Denver.  He cried all the way home, then fell asleep in my arms. 

He was the greeter at CaPR's graduation when he had been here about two weeks. 
He lasted about ten minutes, then fell asleep.

He instantly decided Star, my 13-year-old Lab mix, was his new mama.

She's still his favorite!

He helped with a presentation at the Denver Country Club when he was about four months.
I sat on the curb outside and waited for him to come out. 

At the Scholastic Reading Summit!

He loves the Rockies!

Everybody into the pool!

Hanging out with his girlfriend, Olivia, and Auntie Val at the park.

He loves his babies, but he is a little rough, 
and they usually end up dismembered within a few weeks. 

First day of school!

Dog tired on Halloween!

Rooney loves shoes! I have to remember to close my closet because when he's bored, 
he grabs a shoe and heads out through the dog door!

Cuddling with A, his favorite seventh grade girlfriend in my office at work.
I wish I could show her face-- they adore each other!

November- First snow! 

Christmas- with a stuffie from his girlfriend, Nina, 
our night facility manager at work.

And somehow he has magically become this guy! 
Yesterday was Rooney's first birthday!
Happy birthday, Sweet Roo!

Friday, March 27, 2020

SLICE #27- Lessons from Distance Learning

It is Friday.

The end of a long week of remote learning.

Yesterday, between classes and meetings, I was online for 13 hours straight.

Today, I am in my second of six classes, and I am tired.

The presenter is great, but I am having trouble concentrating.

My eyes are drawn to the participant thumbnails on the side of the Google meeting.

Most people, myself included, turn off their cameras, so all that you see are their names, and some kind of initial or photograph.

My eyes are drawn to movement from one of the people who have not turned off their camera.

It is a woman, about forty, standing in her bathroom.

She is wearing dark colored leggings

and nothing else…

I watch,

along with I don't know how many of the other 250 session participants,

as she grabs a lacy white bra off the counter,

and fastens it,

leans forward several times to adjust her girls,

and pulls a long-sleeved t-shirt over her bra.

The show goes on for almost two minutes,

and I keep waiting for the tech guy to darken her screen

but that doesn't happen.

All day I have been thinking about that poor woman

who by now is probably mortified

by her digital indiscretion.

Her friends and colleagues

are probably all talking about her,

Her principal has probably heard.

I am sure she is considering moving to another state

or perhaps changing professions.

I shudder thinking about all of the mistakes

I have probably made this week.

I have decided that rule #1

of remote learning should be

"Always put your bra on before the session starts,

because you never know who might be watching."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

SLICE 26- It's hard to watch your kids screw up

It's hard to watch your kids screw up.

Even when they are adults.

Son #1 has had a rough year.

In August, he got in a car accident.

He totaled his car and broke his femur.

His car was not a new car.

It was actually about ten years old.

But it was a working car.

In October or November, he got his insurance settlement.

His half was $2200.

And he immediately started looking for a car.

He found what he thought was the perfect car.

A 25 year old Saab.

I was not so sure it was all that perfect

and advised him to take it to our mechanic to get it checked out.

He refused.

It was perfect.

And so he bought it.

It lasted three months.

He finally sold it for $300.

To a junk dealer.

A couple of weeks ago he got his taxes.


A trusted friend sold him an old truck.

A 25-year-old-truck.

"It's always worked great," he said.

Last week it wouldn't start.

A bad battery cable.

He's still not working,

because he still can't be on his feet for 8 hours

or do heavy lifting

so I loaned him the money to have it towed.

And get it repaired.

This week, the serpentine belt,

whatever that is,


The friend was going to help him fix it.

If I just went and bought the belt.

And then they had a disagreement.

And he didn't come.

And my son drove his limping old truck

To the mechanic.

The diagnosis was bad.

And so he sold the truck

for $300

To a cousin who likes to tinker with old cars.

And once again

my son is carless.

It's hard to watch your kids screw up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

SLICE #25-- In Which I Forget How to Make a Sandwich

Today has been a teeny bit hard.

OK, maybe more than a teeny bit hard.

Actually somewhere between pretty hard and really hard.

Today was so hard I forgot how to make a sandwich.

I spent the morning, 3 hours straight, in my basement doing online tech sessions. We are learning all these new-to-me apps. I can do the basic stuff, e.g. Google Classroom, Slides, Docs, Flipgrid, Padlet, etc. but I don't do a lot of fancy stuff. And this morning felt really fancy. And it was the kind of PD where there is three hours worth of material poured into one hour, so you don't get any time to practice or mess around, you just watch someone else do it. And take notes frantically hoping you can remember to do it yourself.  And get more and more stressed.

So I staggered up from the basement at noon to make some lunch and get outside for a breath of fresh air before the next three-hour go round started at 1.

And I should mention, I pretty much have the same thing every single day for lunch-- a turkey sandwich, either on two slices of light bread, or one slice of whole grain. This week it's whole grain because that's what I found at the grocery store last weekend. And when it's regular bread, I only have one slice, except I cut it in half.

And so I got the bread out, and the turkey out, and the mustard out and started to make my sandwich.

Except I forgot to cut the bread in half. So I spread the mustard, and laid out the lunch meat, but then I couldn't figure out how to where the top had gone.

And I probably stood there for 30 seconds, staring dumbly at my sandwich, trying to figure out how to make a top.

Right now, some days are so hard, you forget how to make a sandwich.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

SLICE #24- I miss my homies

I'm on the leadership team at my school.

Today the district came out with a bunch of information about what remote learning is going to look like when we return from what was supposed to be spring break, next week. The information included some classes that start tomorrow. We weren't sure that everyone is checking email every day, so we decided that everyone on the leadership team should call a few people.

I just finished making my six phone calls.

It took awhile.

Not because there was that much information to share.

Mostly because it was so really good to talk to the people that I usually see and talk to every single day.

R and I talked about going to the grocery store.

E and I are huge baseball fans. Last summer, he and his wife, and K, the first grade teacher and I went to several games together. Tonight we talked about when baseball might start, and dreamed of warm summer nights, and beer and hot dogs at Coors Field.

I texted K because it was starting to get late and I didn't want to call and wake her up. I shared that I had been learning from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher every morning. She wants to check it out.

I miss my homies.

I wish we could go back to school.

Monday, March 23, 2020

SLICE #23- Confessions of a crappy notebook keeper

Can I just admit this?

I am a crappy notebook keeper. As in, considering I am a writing teacher, and that I learned from experts like Don Graves, Ralph Fletcher, Jane Hansen, and Linda Rief, I totally should be much better at this than I am.

Don't get me wrong, I've kept notebooks of some kind or other, off and on, since I was in junior high. I still have many of the notebooks I kept in high school and college, piled on a shelf in my closet.

I have a favorite type of notebook-- spiral bound, heavy cardboard or plastic cover. I like them 3/4 size, not full 8"X11", probably because they are easier to carry around. And lined, because I can't write straight without lines, and I don't like when my words go downhill.

I almost always have several different notebooks going- sometimes intentionally for different purposes, or sometimes just because I misplaced one, and started another one, then found the other one.

But these days, I am seriously doubting my notebooking expertise.

It's been going on for a while actually. I want to be more consistent with the keeping of notebooks. I even signed up for a Facebook Group, 100 Days of Notebooking. I only lasted 25 days. Mostly, I think, because people were so creative, and so artistic. And the things that they produced were so beautiful. And my notebook was so uncreative and unartistic and un-beautiful, that I felt embarrassed sharing it. So I quit. I still belong to the group. And I still admire people's gorgeous notebooks. But I don't post on that page myself.

I've been watching several people talk about notebooking while I have been home for the last week. Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher are doing an amazing thirty minutes of PD every day. Today, they talked specifically about their notebooks. And Kelly has this really incredible record of life during the Corona Virus. Penny started out planning to draw a fish last weekend and ended up with this incredible collage. You should totally go to You Tube and watch their Day #6 presentation. And Ralph Fletcher is also doing a really cool series on notebooking. And one day, when I get my schedule down better, I really want to watch Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's series on notebooks, because I've heard that it's terrific.

I really, really, really want to be a person who has a beautiful notebook. I dream of having a notebook like Paula Borque, or Penny Kittle, or Linda Rief. You know, one of those that is beautifully lettered, has lovely and creative collage illustrations, and is deeply profound besides.

I think about it a lot.

I've been trying to learn to Sketchnote for two years. I've bought several books. I follow (ok, actually stalk) a bunch of people who do it on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I practice it. But not nearly enough. And so I'm still not very good at all.

I like art. I like to draw. I like collage. Today Penny Kittle recommended a book called SKETCH. And said that the woman who wrote the book doesn't see herself as a natural artist, but she practices art for ten minutes every day. And because she practices, she has gotten better. I'm going to order that book.

But I really don't quite know about those fancy notebooks.

When I write in my notebook, it's usually quick and dirty. Just stuff I want to think through or process or remember. I don't usually take the time to make it pretty. Most of the time, I'm lucky if it's even legible.

And yes, there is also the typing thing I need to acknowledge. These days, I much prefer typing to writing. There are a lot of days when I don't write in a notebook, but I do write something on the computer. I tried several of Ralph's notebooking ideas, but I didn't do them in a notebook, I did them on my computer. Typing is a lot faster for me than writing by hand. And I don't get the balance thing as to when I should be writing in a notebook and when I should be typing on the computer.

I'm thinking a lot about notebooks right now....

Sunday, March 22, 2020

SLICE 22/31- Does someone know something I don't know?

Sometimes I get a teeny bit creeped out by the whole social media thing. Usually, it has to do with Facebook or Google sending me advertisements for things I have recently purchased, or thought about purchasing. A couple of years ago, for instance, a first grade teacher friend and I were looking for white t-shirts. Her class was doing a unit on Mo Willems and Field Day was coming up. The kids wanted to make Pigeon or Gerald and Piggy T-shirts to wear on Field Day. We googled children's t-shirts and for weeks after that, we got advertisements for little boys' underwear. I kept thinking the school district was going to fire us for being pedophiles.

That "advertising connection/pollution" happens all of the time. I just bought cookies for my mom, so now I'm tempted by pictures of yummy desserts several times each day. Several weeks ago, I was stuck in a huge traffic jam next to a Rolls Royce. I wondered, as I sat there for over an hour, how much a Rolls Royce actually costs, so I googled it (for those of you who are now tempted to email me about irresponsible phone usage, I literally was at a full stop, for more than an hour) and now I get advertisements for ridiculously priced luxury cars several times a week. On a more mundane note,  I want to some minor bathroom remodeling, so right now, I get pictures of bathroom cupboards every day. 

This week, though, the advertising craziness reached an all time high. I have started getting advertisements for jobs. Clearly, the people who are sending the ads don't know anything about me. Driving an 18 wheeler shows up pretty much every day. Whoever is sending the ads doesn't know they are talking to a woman who struggles to parallel park her car in front of her house several times each day. 

And then there are the ads for nurses. If I thought there was anything I could do, I would be glad to volunteer in a hospital right now, but again, that's pretty much out of my league. I'm really healthy, but I'm over 60, so I'm considered high risk. I don't particularly like blood, although as a veteran teacher, I apply a mean band-aid. I don't do vomit, it makes me gag even after thirty plus years of teaching. Nursing does not seem like a likely second career. 

Today's choices include RTD Bus Cleaner (whoever sent this has clearly never seen the inside of my car, my own mother told me it looks like I live in the car a couple of weeks ago), KFC line manager (do you have to be able to cook? Or like KFC?), and Warehouse Worker (OK, I could probably do this, I carry our Scholastic Book Orders from the office to my classroom, up a flight of stairs and half a city block down).

I keep wondering though, why am I getting all of these ads for new jobs? Does someone know something I don't know?  Is a new career looming on my horizon?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

SLICE 21/31- A teeny bit of normalcy

Today started out with a teeny bit of normalcy.

I went to Weight Watchers.

I've gone to Weight Watchers pretty much every Saturday for the last three years. It's part of my Saturday morning routine.

OK, I didn't actually GO to Weight Watchers, because the physical facilities are closed.

But I did go to a meeting via Zoom.

And there was a lot about it that was the same.

Cheri, the leader I have had for the past three years, led the meeting.

Mary Ann, who usually weighs me, and Denise, the other weigh-er, were both there, helping with the technology.

Lots of the people who usually attend- Deb, Cassie, Alice, Jean, Jessica, who also goes to my Monday night Bible Study, and about twenty more were there, most in sweats and t-shirts, many nursing mugs of coffee, some looking slightly sleepy.

We followed the same format we usually do- people shared how their week had gone, and then Cheri moved into the topic for this week. We set goals for next week. Mine was to track what I ate  honestly and completely. Oops. Today was not too pretty in the point department.

And like I do most weeks, I came away thinking about what people said.

One woman, about my age and single, talked about how much she needed to physically TALK to someone every day, not just text, or email. That made sense to me. There's just something about having an actual conversation. I need to work harder at calling people and making connections.

Another woman talked about how tired her husband was this morning. He works in the oil industry. Yesterday, he had to lay off two of his co-workers. And I thought about how blessed I am to have a stable job. It's not always perfect, but I love my job, and I won't get laid off.

Cheri really put everything in perspective for me. She said that she led a meeting on Friday, and at that meeting, there was a mom, who is an ER nurse, but has been out on maternity leave for the past five months. On Sunday, she will leave her family-- her husband, her baby, and a two-year-old. She said she probably won't get to go home again until she gets sick. I've been thinking about that woman and her family all day.

I left the meeting feeling really energized, and ready to move forward with my day and my week.

It was really nice to have a teeny bit of normalcy.

Friday, March 20, 2020

SLICE 20/31- I miss my kids!

I miss teaching.

I miss seeing my kids and reading to them and talking about books.

I miss seeing their faces light up when I tell them they did something well in their writing.

And how that same thing usually shows up the next time they write.

And how they point out that they did it again.

I miss hearing about their families and pets and music practices and sports teams.

I miss them.

I'm trying to stay connected.

Every two days, I email them on their school accounts. I am not sure how many of them are actually reading them, because not that many reply. When they do reply, I jump right on it, and send them back personal emails.

My teammate set up Zoom, then taught me how to do it. We plan on being there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, until "real school," such as it is, starts again.

Today five kids joined us on Zoom. K didn't like seeing himself on camera and kept covering his face up with his hoodie. J only stayed for a few minutes, then left. Girl K did her makeup, including curling her eyelashes. Sweet B was very quiet, but stayed almost the whole time. And R taught us about his video games.

We met for about an hour. We all dragged our pets into the screen and compared pet stories. We talked about what we are reading. We played a drawing game. And made plans to get together on Monday.

It was so good to see them.

I miss my kids!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

SLICE 19/31- A good day for learning

I guess it's time to admit it. I work a lot-- sometimes more than sixty hours a week. And that doesn't include the evenings at home responding to essays, preparing lessons, talking to parents, etc. And then I do other stuff- Spanish class, Bible Study, Weight Watchers, Book Club, and dog classes. And now, all of a sudden, everything has ground to a halt. I don't have a husband or any kind of significant other. My sons are adults-- they live at home, but they don't spend a lot of time with me. And life is way, way, way quieter than I'm used to.

I'm trying hard to establish some kind of schedule for myself. Every day I try to:
  • read my Bible
  • do housework
  • do financial stuff (taxes, etc.)
  • spend time outside
  • do something physical
  • do some reading
  • do some writing
  • connect by phone or video chat with other human beings
  • learn something
  • practice my Spanish

So far, I think I have been the most successful in the "learn something" category. Today, for instance, I did two big "learn something" activities. First, I watch Ralph Fletcher's presentation on keeping a notebook. Ralph actually did the presentation yesterday, but I was driving the puppy to the mountains, so I missed it. He shared his full-sized notebook and also a smaller "stealth notebook" that fits in his shirt pocket.  Ralph also shared a poem, and encouraged watchers to write off of the first and last lines. Here is my first attempt:

“Football Mom”

Sometimes I remember 
the good old days
watching you
team captain
a red and white flash
flying into the end zone.

And you,
after the game,
shy smiled
king of the field
pushing your way 
through adoring fans
to give your mom
a sweat-scented 
post game hug. 
I still can’t imagine 

anything better than that.

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2020

 Later this afternoon, I watched Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher on You Tube. Every day this week, Penny and Kelly have amazingly and graciously gotten together (cross country) and shared their thinking about reading and writing. It's been beyond fabulous; thoughtful and deep and practical, such a sweet respite in the middle of these crazy days. Penny and Kittle have also pulled together an amazing guest list. Today was Donna Santmann, a middle school teacher from New York City, who talked about using notebooks with her middle school students. Donna was down-to-earth and realistic and really honest about her work with her middle schoolers. And she said a couple of things I really want to remember...

It’s eighth grade.They’re little. Let them play.Who cares if they are wrong?

They’re not so deep.
We’re not so deep. 
Most of us are fairly ordinary. 
         Let’s embrace just being beautifully ordinary.

Today was a good day for learning

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


So I have to tell you that I'm feeling more than a little
disappointed in myself tonight.

Maybe even ashamed of myself.

It has to do with our state tests.

Yesterday, our state department of education announced that we will not be having the tests.

And that's a good thing. I hate those tests.

At the same time,  I feel really disappointed in myself.

Because we spent a whole lot of time getting ready for the tests.

We did A LOT of literary analysis paragraphs and essays.

My kids were ready for the test.

And now they are not even going to take it.

(As of today, according to our governor,
we may not even go back to school at all this year.
That seems totally crazy to me!)

I think what I'm most disappointed about is what we didn't do,
because we were writing those stupid essays.

We didn't tell enough stories.

We didn't write enough narrative.

We didn't read enough poetry.

Especially not the kind of poetry that kids love.

And we definitely didn't write enough poetry.

We were going to do that in April.

We didn't do enough writing to express our opinions.

Or use our voices to change the world.

Instead, we wrote literary analysis.

Every year, for the past three years, I have told myself I am NOT
going to fall into the testing rabbit hole.

Instead, I am going to do real teaching.

Every day.

All year.

I think I did better this year than I did last year.

We started the year with a Coming of Age unit.

And wrote some personal narrative.

We did a unit on Immigration.

We read infographics.

And read and wrote informative pieces.

And did some writing around undocumented immigrants
(a topic that impacts a lot of my kids).

Even so, we wrote way too much literary analysis.

And now, I'm feeling really badly.

Because I am not sure my sixth graders understand

that reading and writing can make their lives better

and also change their world.

And it really doesn't matter

that they can write literary analysis.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Today I took a puppy break.


No Facebook.

No Twitter.

No Corona Virus.

Today I did puppies, pretty much all day.

CaPR, the organization that owns Rooney, has three new puppies- Vail, Frisco, and Breck- named after Colorado ski resorts.

The puppies arrived from California about ten days ago.

One of the puppies, Breck, is going to spend the next month or so in Salida, a mountain town about three hours southwest of Denver, with one of the CaPR board members.

CaPR needed someone to transport him to meet her in Fairplay, which is not quite two hours away.

And because I don't have a whole lot going on right now, I volunteered. A drive in the mountains would be nice. And it doesn't feel like I am violating any social distancing rules because I will spend two hours driving, get out of the car long enough to pass off the puppy, and then turn around and drive back.

Today Rooney and I picked Breck up in Boulder, where he has been staying with his brother, Frisco, since he arrived. I brought him, and his crate, and his harness, and his bag of food to my house. Tomorrow, I will drive him to Fairplay.

But this afternoon, he and Rooney played.

And played.

And played.


Tug of war.

Bitey face.

And I laughed.

And laughed

And laughed.

It was a nice change from thinking about Corona Virus.

And all of its short and long range implications.

Today I took a puppy break.

Monday, March 16, 2020

SLICE 16/31- Today was a hard day

Today was a hard day.

I went into school with the intention of straightening my classroom library and cleaning up my office. When I got there, the administrative team was congregating in the office. They were there to do triage, or at least that's what it felt like. A local restaurant, a really nice restaurant, wanted to give dinners to 50 people, starting tonight. And that was great, except that we probably have 200 kids, not to mention siblings, and parents, that could use meals right now.

We also had some gift cards to give out. $50 to King Soopers. $50 is not much, but it's better than nothing.

And then there was the option of free "grab and go" breakfasts and lunches at schools around town, and also dinners at the recreation centers.

The administrative team was a little shorthanded, so I volunteered to call the sixth graders. We had listed about half of the sixth grade class, about thirty kids, as possibly needing support. I called down the list, explaining the situation in my less than perfect Spanish.

Some of the parents thanked me, but said they were ok right now.

Others said yes, they would like the gift card.

And still others said yes, and arrived within minutes to pick it up.

When they came, we offered them access to the teacher supply closet.

D and his family took markers, crayons, notebook paper, pencils, and glue. S and her mom, who I had never met before today took wipes, kleenex, and paper towels. G wanted plain white paper for drawing.

Every time I said goodbye to someone, I wanted to cry.

I know how far $50 goes at King Soopers. Not very. Especially when you are feeding a family of five or six or seven, like many of the families at our school are doing. I wonder what they will do when the cards run out.

I know how icky the bag lunches from school can be. We take them on field trips. I always bring bags of chips, and cookies, to try to offset the nasty bologna sandwiches and bruised fruit that usually appears in the bag lunches. And now kids will be eating those lunches for days on end. With no extra bags of chips or cookies.

And I know how much our families depend on school-- for everything from day care, to social worker, to medical diagnoses. And now we won't be there for them, for at least three weeks, and probably a whole lot longer.

Today was a hard day.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

SLICE 15/31- Today is Sunday. I'm supposed to visit my mom.

Today is Sunday.

For the last five years, Sunday has meant one thing for me.

I've driven to Colorado Springs, about 65 miles south of where I live in Denver, to visit my mom.

My mom is in an independent living center there. She's 86 years old, and sharp as a whip, to use an old term. She lived alone and drove until she was 80. About five years ago, however, she had to have a shunt put into her brain.  Since then, she has had a few balance and vision issues. She moved into a senior living apartment, where someone is always available if she needs help. There's a dining room where she can eat if she wants to, and there are also activities every day.

My mom doesn't drive anymore, but still manages to get out almost every day.  She goes to the grocery store on the facility's shuttle bus. She also goes to dinner once or twice a week on the shuttle. A friend still drives and they play bridge several times a week, at various venues around the city. And she's in two book clubs.

My sisters and I also see my mom, pretty much every week. One sister goes most Saturdays. They get their nails done together and then usually have lunch. Occasionally, when my brother-in-law is out of town, my sister and mom also go out for dinner during the week. My other sister and her partner usually see my mom sometime midweek for dinner. And Rooney and I go on Sundays.

Most weeks, we don't do anything all that exciting. Sometimes my mom has errands she needs to run. We go to Barnes and Nobel to restock her never-ending need for reading material. We go to the office supply store. We go to Target. Sometimes we go to the grocery store. Once in awhile, usually when it's just starting to get warm, like it is right now, we go for a walk around the park across the street from her place. Once in a while, we go to a movie. And we always go have lunch.

So today, right about now, actually I should be heading out to Colorado Springs. I'm not though, because her entire facility is shut down because of the Corona virus. No one is allowed to go in unless they are a medical care provider. If I want, I can take my mom groceries or a meal, but workers would take it from me at the door, and deliver it to her room. No one is allowed to go in or out.

Today is Sunday. I'm supposed to be driving to Colorado Springs.

Today I'm missing my mom and our regular routine.

On Sundays, we are supposed to be together.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

SLICE #14/31- Maybe I am getting old

I'm getting older. 61 last Friday, to be exact.

I like to think that I am still flexible and open to change, except a few things have happened recently that are causing me to wonder.

The grocery store I have shopped in for the last five years, is undergoing a complete, and I mean complete renovation. Everything is in a different place than it was. And it's not having to look for things that bothers me, ok, I guess it does a little; but it's really more having to readjust my shopping patterns. One of my staples, for example, is Diet Coke. I buy a 12 pack pretty much every week. And it's always been on the far north side of the store. I start on the south side of the store, in the fruits and vegetables department, so by the time I get to the north side, my cart is full and I'm pretty much done. I grab a couple of things in the dairy department, heft the Diet Coke onto the bottom shelf of my cart, and then usually, unless I need tylenol or bandaids, I make my way to the checkout stand.

Last week, though, they moved all of the Diet Coke, and other related items to the southeast corner of the store, right beside the bread. I saw it today,  but I didn't want to put it in my cart at that point in time. It was on sale, 3 twelve packs for $11. I didn't want to push the cart around with three twelve packs; first because it's heavy, and secondly because one inevitably falls off and either breaks open, so the cans roll around in the aisle, or it gets stuck under the front wheels of the cart and I have to dislodge it.

I decided I would do my shopping, then back track to pick up the Diet Coke when I was almost done. But then I forgot to backtrack. I remembered that I had forgotten while I was waiting in line, but the lines were super long, and I had already waited fifteen minutes, and I didn't want to start all over again. I decided, then, that I would stop back by the store, or maybe another store, tomorrow.

I was bummed because I wanted to cross grocery shopping off my list. And now I can't. Because I didn't quite finish.

I don't think I am quite as flexible as I would like to believe.

Maybe I am getting old...

Friday, March 13, 2020


Some days I wonder if anything I say goes into the sixth grade brains I teach.

Most of the time, the kids seem pretty oblivious.

Take today, for example.

Our district gives interim exams three times each year. Supposedly they are a predictor of the state's blessed event. I have questions about whether that's actually true, but that is a post for another day.

Anyway, my kids did pretty well on the last test, beating the district average by 8 points. Our administration wanted to reward them for their hard work, so today each student received five "bravo bucks," which can be spent in the school bodega. The bodega has items like gatorade and chips and candy.

Today, my assistant principal came in to pass out the bravo bucks. After she left, O said to me, "So what am I supposed to do with this?"

"You spend it at the bodega," I said.

"Where's that?"

I am surprised that he doesn't know. The sixth graders go down the main staircase to leave at the end of the day. The bodega is held two days a week at the Welcome Center, right at the bottom of those stairs. I'm not sure how anyone could walk down the stairs and past the Welcome Center without noticing.

"It's at the Welcome Center on Tuesdays and Fridays after school."

"Where's the Welcome Center?"

"It's that big desk (probably eight feet long), right in the front when you walk in."

O still seems confused. "Where you get tardy slips if you are late," I say.

"I'm never late," says O.

"It's that big wooden desk," I say again.

"Oh yeah. And what am I supposed to do with this?" says O.

"You spend it at the bodega, to buy gatorade and stuff."

"Oh yeah," says O again.

"What am I supposed to write here?" he says, pointing to the lines that clearly say name and date.

And then I wonder why our argumentative essay writing unit is kind of limping along.


So last night, I learned that my school district will be closed for the next three weeks. I'm not afraid of Corona. I am afraid for my kids. I'm afraid for my sixth graders being alone for days and weeks on end. Or alone with little brothers and sisters while their moms and dads go to work. I'm afraid of kids being hungry. I'm afraid of parents who are over stressed and worried about money being harsh with their kids. Mary Lee published a beautiful poem this morning. And then Parker Palmer shared Lynn Unger's poem "Pandemic."


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
Read the rest of the poem here
Matt Esenwine, at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme is hosting Poetry Friday today.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

SLICE #12/31- A Good Day

People warned me about J. 

Wiry, fast moving, loud.

Performing significantly below grade level. 

English language learner. 

Single mom, working all the time.

J and an older brother are pretty much raising themselves. 

The warnings were pretty accurate. 

She is loud. Busy.

At the center of pretty much every off-task event in the classroom.

And yet at the center of all of the naughty

there is a sweetness.

A little girl longing to be loved. 

Despite her insistent protestations,

"Don't touch me, Miss. I don't like to be touched."

Again and again and again.

"Don't touch me. I don't like to be touched."

In my afternoon class of 30.

She's pretty rough.

But she shines in my morning ELD group. 

She's grown a bunch. 

Is writing in English. 

Loves graphic novels. 

Especially NEW KID.

She stashes a copy behind the bookshelf 

so no one else can find it. 

Today I had to meet with J.

during recess.

There had been another incident. 

She dropped a book out the window

on purpose yesterday during cleanup.

We talked about safety.

That she could have hurt someone

And about respect.

That that's not how we treat our materials.  

She apologized

And we talked about how much 

she has changed this year.

Who she had been.

Who she is now.

"I'm trying Miss. 

I'm trying to do better."

I assured her that I knew that. 

That change takes time. 

"Can I go outside now, Miss?"

I told her she could and then I took a chance.

"Can I give you a hug?"

I expected her to say no, she didn't like to be touched. 

Instead, she wrapped her arms around me.

Stayed there for 30 seconds. 

I wondered when she had last been hugged.

Today was a good day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


I'm not sure I should admit this,
but pretty much every day,
somebody cries in sixth grade.

Today there were two.
This morning D cried.
She's afraid her mom might be dying.
I saw her mom a couple of days ago
she didn't seem sick.
She works at nearby restaurant
and was wearing her uniform.
I ask D if her mom is in the hospital.
She isn't.
I ask if they went to the emergency room.
She didn't.
Why do you think she's dying? I ask.
You can see those blue lines.
Those blue lines? I say.
Yes. She says, pointing to the veins
snaking across my old lady hands.
You mean her veins? I say.
You think she's dying because you can see her veins?
And then she tells me that there is purple
around one of the blue lines on her hand.
I'm trying to put the pieces together.
I'm thinking perhaps her mom has a bruise on her hand.
In the mean time, A jumps into the conversation.
My mom gets lots of those, she says.
She says there are these little tiny red hairs
all underneath your skin
all through your body.
This seems to appease D.
Your mom gets them too?
Yes, says A.
But she's not dying.
She's at work making cannolis.
D seems much relieved.

This afternoon K cried.
Was sobbing when she walked in the door to class
With a friend holding her up on either side
Are you ok, I asked.
Even though she clearly was not.
Is there anything I can do?
No, she says, I don't want to talk about it.
I watch as she walks across the room to her seat
Puts her head down on her desk.
Doesn't raise it for at least five minutes.
I make sure everyone else is started on independent reading
and go across the room
Her face is tear-stained
but she isn't crying any more
Can I do anything?
I ask again.
No, she says, I don't want to talk about it.
Will you let me know if I can help?
 I say as I move away.
She nods.
Five minutes later she is laughing with her table mates and
shortly after that, she leaves for an internship meeting.
She seems ok.

I'm not sure I should admit this,
but pretty much every day,
somebody cries in sixth grade.