Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hope is...

This is a beautiful book that I love having on display in my classroom.  And kids love reading it.  Hope.  A simple word that can mean so much to so many.
     I found this book while wandering the bookstore and had to buy it and since then I've recommended it to several teaching colleagues.  It's a book about comfort and peace.  The author wrote it to comfort her son after the events of 9/11.
     It begins with the line Sometimes hope feels far away.  But hope is always there.  I love the simple phrases and repeated text... Hope is the warmth of strong arms around you... Hope is scared words asking for help, and finding hope is there... Hope is sad tears flowing, making room for joy.
     It's a great mentor text for writers and the photographs are amazing (and there's a story in the photographs as well).  It's simple.  It's beautiful.  It's hopeful.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Give her the River

Michael Dennis Browne's picture-book is a beautifully written story of a father's love for his daughter.  The poetic language coupled with Wendell Minor's paintings make this a wonderful text to share with writers.  I love using it as mentor text for a study of "writing vignettes with a repeated line."  It's also a wonderful text to use during a study of "creating sensory images." 

     "If I could give her anything, I'd give her the river..." a father's dream for his daughter, beautifully writtern.  I first found this book in the bargain section of The Tattered Cover.  And, while it's not a new book, it's once I revisit often.  A first grade teacher I know used it in conjunction with an inquiry study of a river's ecosystem, bringing a bit of poetry into a typically non-fiction oriented study.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Odd Boy Out

I love this book. The more I read of his work, the more Don Brown is one of my favorite authors.  In Odd Boy Out he tells the story of Albert Einstein as a young boy who spends most of his time alone, spends hours building houses of cards, and provokes his teachers.  It's such a well-crafted book and focuses on Einstein's as he finds himself the "odd boy" at school.  It portrays Einstein's childhood in a surprising and poignant way.  The illustrations (I have the older version) are thought provoking and portray Einstein's life in the perfect combination of watercolor and pen-and-ink.  It follows Einstein from infancy to adulthood... and the author's notes are especially interesting.  It's an intriguing text.

     I use this book in a study of endurance and also share it with parent groups.  It tells the story of a unique man with such a melancholy and sad childhood.  One of my favorite lines is "The 'mindless and mechanical method of teaching caused me great difficulties,' he said.  'I would rather let all kinds of punishment descend upon me than learn to rattle something off by heart." 
     My students loved hearing the book and our discussions were rich and thought-provoking.  Not a new book, but certainly one worth exploring again.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Magician's Elephant

What is it that draws us to Kate DiCamillo... her brilliance with words?  Allegory?  The sense of darkness and light that meanders through her work?  The story itself?
     She's done it again with the story of Peter Augustus Duchene--an orphan who visits a fortuneteller and discovers that his fate relies on an elephant that falls from the sky (the result of a magician's trick gone wrong).  DiCamillo's books are perfect for drawing on a sense of questioning and inference... and just plain fun to read.  So much for Peter buying fish and bread at the market (a bit Jack and the Beanstalk like)...
     You must follow the elephant.  She will lead you there.  From that point you just want to read it aloud to someone--if not your students, your own children.  There's an eeriness in this book, but it's a grand tale.    
     The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a book I read with my students to enhance our study of stamina and endurance... and this book will definitely find a place on my bookshelf.

Friday, September 25, 2009

An Old Favorite

I pulled Donald Graves' How to Catch a Shark off my bookshelf two days ago.  I love his stories of learning (and life).  If you want to illustrate the gradual release of responsibility, there are no better stories than "Shoe Tying" and "Shaving."  Don truly embodies the soul of a lifelong learner.  I first met Don my first year of teaching when he did a workshop in my district in (gulp) 1987.  When I was writing Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop, I referenced a letter he wrote to the participants over twenty years ago; it was as apropos then as it is today.  The stories in this book represent endless possibilities of thinking about life, learning, and writing.  Teachers of my generation hold Don's words in esteem, but I'm always sad and surprised when I talk to "younger" teachers who say, "Donald who?"...  
     Writing: Teachers and Children at Work was the first book I read about teaching.  I was majoring in communication disorders (speech/language pathology) and my wife (then girlfriend) brought home his book and said, "You have to read this... it's the best book I've ever read."  She is the one who nudged me to become a teacher (along with Don's book).
     I've worked with Donald Graves several times over the years... I think it behooves us all to reread his work and to encourage the new generation of teachers to do the same!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sky Boys

Sky Boys:  How They Built the Empire State Building.  In this book, a boy learns about the building of the Empire State Building during the Great Depression.  I'm always on the look out for books that are written in second person... Deborah Hopkinson tells the story of this historic landmark in wonderful detail.  I love the poetic nature of the text and the historical significance of the subject matter.  Deborah Hopkinson's website is well worth a visit:  I gave a copy of this to my son who is studying architectural engineering and he has it on display on his bookshelf in his apartment.  
     This is another book I use to talk to my students about stamina and endurance.  I write about it in my book.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Teaching with Intention

As I was working on Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop, I revisited some of the wise words of my mentor and friend, Debbie Miller. 
     In Teaching with Intention: Defining Beliefs, Aligning, Practice, Taking Action, Debbie says, "When we confer with students, we're not standing above them or even leaning over, we're sitting right beside them, shoulder to shoulder.  We're digging deeper now, working hard to individualize our instruction and support children as they apply what we've taught them in large- and small-group settings." (p. 114).  This is one of her quotes I used in my new book.  I learned about the power of conferring from Debbie.
     I've known Debbie for a long time and she's one of the mentors I turn to when I find myself needing a nudge to stand firm in my beliefs.  Teaching with Intention is a book that nudges us all to identify and nurture our instructional underpinnings about children and learning.  Whether you're a first year teacher or someone who's taught for 20+ years, I'd recommend you read it or revisit it.  Debbie's nudge to "take action" is critical for all teachers today.  From Debbie, I've learned many important lessons.  Here are a few:
  • There is nothing beyond the power of reader's workshop--it is the most effective structure in which I can  couch literacy learning.
  • The language I use with young reader's and writer's is of utmost import--to guide children toward independence.
  • All children can _____! (Fill in the blank... I've never heard Debbie say, "Well, these kids are different... they don't have...").
  • The environment I create for learners has to be tempered with trust, honesty, and beauty.
  • I have to teach children to think--a natural bridge to support engagement and understanding.
  • I have to be reflective--taking a reflective stance can't help but benefit my teaching and my own learning about what is possible. 
     Pull out your copy of Teaching with Intention again.  Reread it.  You'll be a better teacher for it!  I know I am.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Scarecrow's Dance

Many of Jane Yolen's picture books have made it on my all time favorites list:  Owl Moon, All Those Secrets of the World, Grandad Bill's Song, Before the Storm... (and her poetry books).  
      I just ran across The Scarecrow's Dance and I think it's going to join them.  In this book, a tattered scarecrow leaps into the sky to dance at dusk.  There's something simple, humbling, natural and almost reverent about this book... as the scarecrow comes to life and dances through the pages accompanied by Jane Yolen's wonderful sense of word.  The scarecrow peers through the window of the farmer's son who is praying for the scarecrow and his job of protecting the crops.  And then, as he ends his dance, the scarecrow begins to think about purpose and his own thoughts about "life."  
     It's a beautiful book.  The illustrations are by Bagram Ibatoulline (who illustrated Great Joy by Kate diCamillo).  There's something haunting and mystical about the illustrations and the color palette took my breath away.  A wonderful cousin text to Cynthia Rylant's Scarecrow...
     This book is one of the picture books I'll keep on our coffee table this fall... just as a reminder of what we sometimes take for granted.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Hidden Find

I found a copy of Mr. Hacker lurking in my collection.  It's simple text and story serves as great mentor text for young writers.  Often children want to write "chapter books" and this is a great text to get into their hands.  Katie Wood Ray wisely nudges writers to ask, "What have you read that is like what you're trying to write?"  
     We used Mr. Hacker as a nudge in our ongoing study of notebook writing... my third graders chose to think about memory writes, quickwrites, word writes, daily pages, and line lifts using this book (after a few weeks of studying each type of notebook entry) as fodder for ideas.  They can now use each strategy independently, using text as a launching point for our independent, "ongoing" work as writers.  Now, when we're in the midst of a full-fledged study, they have some strategies to use during composing time; to strengthen and hone their skills as writers.  Writers who want to have a go as chapter book writers (on their own, not as a class study) could this book's short chapters as a perfect mentor. 
     After sharing this book, many of my students asked if Cynthia Rylant read this book before she wrote Mr. Putter and Tabby... they surmised that she may have read it for it is, indeed, a cousin text! 
     Again, the power of searching our libraries for great text!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

That Book Woman

That Book Woman is a beautiful book, written by Heather Henson.  It's about a boy named Cal.  Cal lives in the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky in a remote area.  A woman arrives with her saddlebag full of books; she's a Pack Horse Librarian who returns every two weeks with a new collection.  Cal's sister loves the book lady, but Cal's not sure... Why on earth would someone let you have books "free as air"?  Why does she keep coming back up the mountain, despite the weather, just to deliver and "swap" books? 

The trouble is... Cal doesn't know how to read, so he wants nothing to do with her until one winter evening when that book ladybraves the snowy mountain weather to deliver new books. Her courage makes him realize that her job must be very important.  So he gets up his courage and asks his sister to teach him to read.  He overcomes his pride and learns... all thanks to this woman's persistence and nudging.
The illustrations by David Small are amazing!  And, the author got her idea through the photographs she found of New Deal Pack Horse librarians, part of the WPA system.  Check for actual pictures of these brave women!  Here are a few:

It's a part of our history we should explore.  I'd never heard about this unique library system until I read this book... it's a wonderful book to teach stamina.  That Book Lady is one of my new favorites!
In Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop I write more about the notion of helping students develop stamina and endurance using picture books as a guide (coming soon... in November by Stenhouse Publishers).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy Birthday!

My youngest turns 11 today.  She is an avid reader... "Please, just five more minutes, let me finish this chapter..."  Lights out at 8:30 tends to stretch a bit on nights dad is home and mom is at work. 

She has read every polar bear book in her school library (and most of the tiger books, rabbit books, etc. as well).  And, there are a lot!  In honor of her 11th birthday, here are eleven of her favorites polar bear books (which are from her private collection, housed safely on the polar bear shelf in her bedroom):

Little Polar Bear by de Beer, Hans

The Life Cycle of a Polar Bear by Bobbie Kalman

Klondike & Snow: The Denver Zoo's Remarkable Story 
of Raising Two Polar Bear Cubs

 God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren 

 Snow Bear by Piers Harper

Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear by Nicola Davies  

I Love You with All My Heart by Noris Kern

 Polar Bears: Animal Predators by Sandra Markle 

Ice Bears by Brenda Z. Guiberson 

The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett

Just One More Swim by Caroline Pitcher and Jenny Jones

Friday, September 18, 2009

In Memory

Greetings to all of you this lovely morning!  We just made 35+ cupcakes for my youngest daughter's birthday (soccer balls)....  

Today... in honor of my mom, Freda, play a game of Yahtzee with your students or your own family (it's how I learned to multiply and add)!  Or call your mom and tell her you love her!  

We had my mom's funeral nine years ago today.  I wrote and read her eulogy (which I shared with her before she died), which included a read of Badger's Parting Gift by Susan Varley... for all the kids.  It was the perfect book to share with the grandchildren (included Isaiah 35 for the adults).  Sometimes we keep looking for new books and forget the incredible literature that's just classic.
Have a little fun today!  And, Happy Friday....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

From the Spiritual Shelf...

     Not your typical "educational" book suggestion, but a Denver colleague, Gari Meacham has published a book that tackles the issues of today's dieting obsessions, binge mentalities, and other eating disorders.  Biblically-based, Gari takes on these issues from a personal level.  You can read more about it at
     Gari is a former lab teacher for the PEBC in Denver and works as a staff developer.  She left the classroom to persue this important subject and personal mission.  This book is a result of her labors....

     Another book that I've recently read is a collection of writings by Paul Murphy, the late father of my friend and colleague, Cheryl.  I've read this one and it is a wonderful collection of stories, sermons, and advice from a man who dedicated his life to his faith, friends, and equality.  It was edited posthumously by Donald E. Messer.  It's a beautiful tribute!

     You never know when you'll run into a friend or colleague who might need either of these books...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Good Friends: A Primer

A few days ago, I was conferring with a boy in my room and he was rereading an old favorite from the Diary of Wimpy Kid series.  
     In the course of our conference we were discussing the power of a reread and he said to me, "Every time I read this book it's like I'm reading to an old friend... when I read, I hear a really good friend talking to me... it was good for me to come back to it and read it again because as I am reading I'm learning a lot of new stuff about a friend I thought I already knew."
     As we came back at the end of reader's workshop, he openly shared his thinking with the rest of the group about the power of rereading something you've read before (even though I've talked to them a lot about rereading text, they needed to hear it from him and it was his choice to reflect with other readers in the room).
     As a result of him sharing his thinking, we creating an anchor chart with the following comments (note student's initials to give them credit for their thinking).  As students shared their thinking, I recorded what they were saying about J.D.'s comments:

     "Talk to a book like it's a good friend." J.D.
  • You have to think of the book and how it was talking to you. L.H.
  • You have to enjoy the book like it's a friend... you can read it again and again. B.F.
  • Treat it like a friend--take care of it. I.C.
  • You experience it--like it's a friend telling you what to do, you hear its voice. C.T.
  • You read the book like it's talking to you and you respond like you're talking to it.  R.J.
  • It's like you understand it; you can always come back to it. J.D.
  • I play around with it... I imagine it differently than what it says. P.A.
  • I try to think about it carefully...try to understand it better. R.M.
  • I hear a reflecting voice. T.P.
  • I hear a thinking voice. P.L.
      I love these unplanned moments where student thinking takes over... forget any type of reflection (sharing) I had in mind, this is their workshop.  That's the beauty of having a workshop-oriented classroom.  In my mind, there's nothing better, nothing that moves us beyond the power of crafting, composing, and reflecting.  
     As J.D. said in a previous crafting session:  "A workshop is our time to experience learning... it's the students' workshop... it's our time to learn, the students own the workshop (not the teacher)... we have to be creative and it's our time to shine... it's our time to learn... and it doesn't matter if it's a workshop about cooking, reading, writing, math, or building... the workshop is ours!"
    So, over the past few weeks, I've been privy to learning about Workshop 101, taught by my third graders--they've put me back at the primer level of what a workshop can and should be!  But, as "friends" I'm sure they'll be patient with me as I listen in... listen in on their workshop.  It's all about trust...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Remembering Freda, Remembering Mom

     My mom, Freda, died nine years ago today... so I thought I'd post a little blog about her.  It's amazing how many lessons we learn from our mothers.  Lessons that we remember, long after they are gone.  My mom taught me to: 
  • Always choose a Bingo card with O-63 in the corner!  Mom was an avid game player.  Yahtzee, Kismet, and Canasta were her favorites.  I remember learning to play Canasta long before I could even hold the cards in my hand (she made me a card holder out of two jar lids).  When she was older, she and her friend, Velma (a waitress at Freda's Cafe) would play the best of 200 games of Yahtzee and treat the winner to dinner!  Always play fair and remember "the board's the play," no changing your mind.  She would have died in July had she not wanted to play one more game of Bingo at the Lion's Club tent at our small town's summer celebration!
  • Sing!  Mom had a lovely voice.  I grew up listening to The Mills Brothers and Jim Reeves.  When we were sick, mom always sang, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" to us.  When she was buried, we sang it at the cemetery and blew bubbles, filling the air with joy.  I loved when she'd sing songs in German, especially Silent Night.
  • Darn socks, embroidery, iron, and sew on a button.  All four boys (although none of the others would admit it) learned the basic skills that would keep the holes in their britches patched and their sleeves crisp!  I still can't leave the house without my shirt ironed!
  • Be an advocate for children.  Mom loved kids (she was tough on her own, but we learned to have strong characters) and would protect them at all costs.  Perhaps because of her own not-always-nice childhood (growing up on Kalamath Street) she knew that all children deserved to be loved.
  • Give gifts from the heart.  Even in her later years, we all got a Christmas gift (from Gibson's or Dollar General), down to the great-grandchild.  Nothing fancy, but there was always something from her under the tree!
  • Read.  Mom was an avid reader--comic books, True Confessions, Louis L'Amour, Reader's Digest, Zane Grey.  In her later years, the librarian would leave a bag of books on her front porch (at least ten) and when they were finished, she'd call up the "Liberry" and more would be delivered.
  • Fish.  She loved to fish.
  • Be Creative.  Use what what you have to make what you need.  I remember she collected old nylon stockings, cut them into pieces, and stuffed pockets of calico to make my sister a quilt--feather stitched in between each row.  Mom had a knack... she could make anything you needed out of what she could find.
  • Let the housework go.  Didn't grow up living in the cleanest house, but we sure did have fun!  
  • Cuss if you need to and sometimes when you don't.  There was one word I never heard my mom say... but she liked to pepper her stories with a swear now and then!  
  • "You old crab-patch!" can be used as a term of endearment.  My mom's favorite term for my dad.  With the greatest of love, she used it often when talking to my dad!
  • Eat good tomatoes, lots of asparagus (pronounced aspargruss), peaches, pears... and put up enough for winter.  Don't can, but wish I did!
  • Cook.  She was a fabulous cook... she owned a bakery in her 20s and a restaurant in the 1960s... I would love a piece of her lemon pie right now!  Thank goodness, she taught me to cook!
     She taught me one of life's biggest lesson on one of my last visits with her.  It's the little things that matter.  I drove home to spend the day with her "to get some things put away."
     I remember taking mom to her house that afternoon (she was living in a nursing home a few blocks from her house).  Her legs were beginning to be ravaged with diabetic gangrene.  We sat in the yard for a bit, enjoying the shade of the old elm tree.  As I wheeled her in, she said, "Boy, sure looks like Curtis should get this lawn mowed!"
     I helped her sort some boxes and put up her drapes (freshly cleaned).  I put her in her bed and covered her up with a sheet. I watched her sleep like she hadn't slept in months.  When she woke up, she said, "I wish I could sleep like that all the time!"
     Later that afternoon, my sister brought us lunch (meatloaf, summer squash, and tomatoes... delicious).  As we ate, Mom said, "I sure could use a piece of lemon pie!"  I agreed and suggested we make one.  We laughed. 
     At the end of the day, I knew it was time to take her back to the nursing home.  I think she would have preferred to stay in her own house, but she agreed it was time to go.  We grabbed a few things she needed (a box of dates to share with her roommate, her embroidery scissors, a few hankies) to take with her.
     As I wheeled her out of the house and closed the door, I think we both knew it was the last time she would sleep in her own bed and spend time in the little bungalow she and dad had worked so hard to buy!
     I got her settled at the nursing home and bent down to hug her goodbye and give her a kiss.   "Thank you, Sweetie!"
     "I didn't really do much!" I said.
     "You did more than you'll ever know..."
                                                      So did you, Mom.  So did you!

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Cowboy Heroes

When you were little, who was your hero?  Mine was my brother-in-law, Curtis... why?  Because he was a cowboy.  Not a dime store cowboy, not a weekend cowboy, not a rodeo cowboy, but a real life cowboy.  A rancher.  A break ice and drop hay in winter cowboy, a pull calves in spring cowboy, a brand cattle in fall cowboy, and a white straw hat in summer cowboy.  I think he owns every John Wayne movie there is and heck, he'd decorate the house with memorabilia if my sister would let him (it's relegated to the back porch area mostly). 
     Many of my favorite childhood memories involved spending time on the ranch, pretending.  I never owned a pair of boots and most of the time I stayed around the ranch house, playing in the barn, gathering eggs in the chicken coup, chasing kittens in the haystack... but it was the closest thing I knew to being a "real" cowboy.  There was something mysterious about it all for a city kid.
     I had lunch Sunday with my sister, Doris, and Curtis.  He's retired now and just went through a major battle with lymphoma (so far so good).  So, I guess you could say he's a hero now for another reason.  Perhaps because he's a fighter.  Perhaps because he's the proud father of three wonderful daughters.  Perhaps because he's an involved grandfather to his seven grandchildren.  Perhaps because he has a twinkle in his blue eyes and is still a bit ornery.  Perhaps because he never fails to smile when he sees my wife, Susan, and counts her as one of his daughters.  
     There's a spirit of cowboy that he exudes--honesty, humility, and heart.  He's still a cowboy...
     When I was in second and third grade, I was a Cowboy Sam reader.  I think I checked out every book about Sam that Edna Walker Chandler wrote, both in school and at our little downtown library (I love when you read her biography and it says she was "born near Macksville, Kansas, in 1908, grew up with the rhythm of the wheat.").  For me there was something magical about Cowboy Sam.  I loved reading about rodeos, airplanes, Indians, the fair, and rustlers.  I loved reading about Sally, Miss Lily, Porky, Flop, Big Bill, and Freckles.  For a young reader, there was something that Mrs. Chandler did to create a rhythm in my brain.  The simple dialogue fascinated me, the characters and their dilemmas intrigued me, and the cowboy life she described reminded me of my hero, Curtis.  Still do.        

     Each year I share my love of Cowboy Sam books with my students.*  I have a few that I share with them and some even latch onto them as text they can read (Last year one of my most reluctant readers, after hearing me share Cowboy Sam and the Rodeo said, “Hey, I think that might just be one I can read!)*. 
     Which brings me to two questions…  
  • Do we take the time to ask learners about their childhood heroes and share ours with them?  
  • Do we take time to share our reading lives with our students (especially from those early years)?   
I think if we want to nudge our students to find joy and purpose in their reading lives we have to do both…  Thanks to Curtis and Sam, I can!
*I'm not advocating we fill our classroom libraries with Cowboy Sam... our choices today are endless!  But he sure did get excited to read a book that "Mr. Allen read when he was little."

Sunday, September 13, 2009


My third graders and I were talking about metacognition.  One of our beginning of the year conversations about what wise readers do...  
     One of my boys said, "I know that metacognition means that (as readers) we have to think about our thinking.  And I see the word "cog" in the middle of the word... it's like we have these cogs moving inside our brain.  Sometimes when I'm reading, I can just see the cogs moving... one is my schema, one is asking questions, one is a word I don't know..."
     Another student responded, "Yeah, it's like you can just see them moving... the cogs help you understand what you're reading.  Like a bicycle chain!"
     "Oh, and when you don't understand, you know those times when you don't get it... when all the thinking is getting in the way..." 
     We all nodded.
     "... we should call that metaclognition!"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Missing Mom

     My mom, Freda, died nine years ago this month.  I've been thinking about her a lot lately.  She was a woman many would describe as brusque... but those who knew her well, really well, loved her softer side, her gentle side, her laughing side, her "I'll do anything to protect a child" side.  Had circumstances in her life been different, she would have been a wonderful teacher, but her path lead her to become a cook, a fine cook.  Often I thumb through her Household Searchlight cookbook and think of her; though most times she didn't use a recipe.  She was that good!
      I was reading When You are Happy by Eileen Spinelli the other day and I thought of mom.  This book is on my list of "Top Ten Favorites."  These lines remind me of Freda:  When you are lost, I will search for you with my lantern.  I will follow the tangled path and find a way when there is no path.  I will wear out my shoes and a dozen little rays of hope, but... I will find you.  Mom would do anything for a child!  When You are Happy would be a book my mom would have loved.

     So, I hope you'll indulge me for the next few entries as I tell you a bit about Freda.  Let's start with a notebook entry from my reader's/writer's notebook from November 6, 2001.  The crock bowl I mention was one of the things my mother gave me, she knew I loved it.  But it isn't the bowl I cherish, it is the learning.  I was writing from the quote, "All one can really leave one's children is what's inside their heads.  Education, in other words, and not earthly possessions is the ultimate legacy, the only thing that can't be taken away." (Dr. Wernher von Braun).  With that quote in mind, I wrote:
     I sit at the old kitchen table watching as you pour ingredient after ingredient into the huge crock bowl--flour, milk, eggs, cold coffee, raisins, vanilla, this and that--never once stopping to measure, never once noticing the excess flour falling to the linoleum floor, it didn't matter.
     With the strength of a weight lifter you lift the bowl.  I watch as you heave the twelve pound bowl into the air and rest it on your left bicep and hold it tight against your ample bosom.  In your right hand, the huge wooden spoon begins to churn--slowly at first, then with the speed of an outboard motor.  You beat each ingredient into a batter--thick, rich, and creamy.  The consistency is spongy and wet.  You dip your finger into the concoction, taste it, and look up. "Perfect!" you say with a secretive smile.
     I sit amazed as your body moves in perfect syncopation with the rhythm of your right arm.  Like a dance.  Your hips churn and your arms churn as the mysterious ingredients--a bit of this, a touch of that--become your famous coffee cookies.  Often imitated, never duplicated.   There is a joy in your spirit.  You are happy.
     I love watching you cook!

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th


I always thought of firefighters as people
who save other people from fires,
but now I think a lot more than that
when I hear the word

I think of brave men and woman risking
their lives for others.

I think of people who were
searching through rubble hoping
to find someone alive.

I think of going into that
burning building.

Most of all, I think of the day
when terrorists
took over our lives and hearts. 

September 11, 2001 is a day I’ll never forget.
I don’t think anyone will forget that terrible day,
but what ever happens,
those fire fighters
will always be there to protect
our beautiful country.
Ashley, 9/11/01

Where were you?  

     I was driving to a staff developers meeting at the Ken Caryl Manor House in the foothills of Denver.  The traffic on E-470 was horrible that morning and I was near Chatfield Reservoir when I heard the news on the radio... I was in shock and my car was overheating!  I pulled off and took a different route; of course, when I arrived we all decided to cancel the meeting.  I started driving down the hill and my water pump went out (such a trivial thing), so I pulled into Safeway parking lot at Ken Caryl and went in to call a tow truck (a three hour wait) and all I wanted to do was go home...
      I pulled out my new writer's notebook and wrote the following entry:

"Hello New Notebook, 
      I'm sitting here waiting for a tow truck to arrive--my water pump just went out.  Rather than sitting in the dining room of the Ken Caryl Manor House, I'm here... the events of today weighing heavy on my heart.  Instead of sitting around a table, discussing learning, here I am watching shoppers going in and out of the Safeway--wishing I was home.  Stupid car!
     Today, our nation became vulnerable after the attack on our country.  The skies are silent--the only flight right now from the birds that continue to soar and sing.  I turn to the skies and see the clouds floating freely.  I'm finding my mind turn to God and praying His hand will glide gently over the hearts of mankind today.  He has the power to heal and I know I'm blessed to know Him.  Suddenly, my water pump seems so trivial...
     Today the World Trade Center became rubble.  Today the Pentagon was hit.  The world as we know it has been forever changed.  I sit here waiting for a tow truck, while thousands sit waiting for news of loved ones, in disbelief!
     I'm thinking of Graham--he's so handsome and kind--and I pray he'll be sheltered from war.  I pray for Anneke--that her compassion will continue to be her stronghold.  I pray for Jens and his questioning--I wonder what he's thinking.  I pray for Lauryn, so young and sweet and innocent.  And I pray for Susan, the love of my life..."

Ah, the power of the written word.  I'm so glad I keep a writer's notebook.  So, like Ashley, I can remember!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Well Here It Goes...

I am posting my first blog entry tomorrow... here goes...  Thanks to my son, Graham, for the title of the blog.  Check back often, I may start to enjoy this!

Most of my entries will be my own writing, random thinking, and classroom anecdotes!


I Know A Lady

     My oldest sister, Joy, is 80-years-old.  I've been calling her on the telephone a lot lately.  She lives in my hometown, about two blocks from where I grew up.
     In the 1980s, she and her husband, Mac, gave up the hustle and bustle of Denver and moved to the Arkansas Valley to enjoy their golden years (and to be near my folks).  When they moved to the country, they bought a small acreage outside of town and immediately started turning the old farmhouse and its surrounding property into their own-planting trees, a huge garden, and almost an acre of irises.  
     Unfortunately, Mac only spent a few years on their little piece of heaven before he died.  They never did get to build the adobe house that Joy dreamed of-the one she had sketched out with the courtyard surrounding her flower garden.  Joy sold their house and tried the city again, but that didn't last long.  She moved back to the Valley, into town this time.  She planted some of her favorite iris bulbs and few trees and settled into small town life again.
     There's a wonderful children's book by Charlotte Zolotow called I Know A Lady and each time I read it, I'm reminded of Joy.  
     Joy is the only one of my nine siblings who remembers my father's mother, Jenny Belle Bloomer.  Recently she gave me an unfinished quilt top that my grandmother made, her last one.  Joy remembers watching her stitch the pieces by hand, sitting on the floor nearby and listening to grandma tell her stories of pioneer days (after all, our father was born in 1904).  At the time, Grandma Allen lived in the basement of one of my aunts and when Joy was naughty, she said her punishment was being sent to the basement to spend time with grandma.  She said, "I got really good at being naughty so I could spend as much time with Grandma as possible."  I'm so glad she did. 
     Joy is the keeper of the history.  She remembers things so clearly (and she admits if she doesn't remember something exactly, she makes sure she makes it a doozy).  She makes me laugh!  But for the most part, I listen to her stories with a keen ear.  I have to.  That's what family stories are for, to be passed from generation to generation.  If it weren't for Joy I wouldn't know much of my father's childhood (he told her the stories he wanted her to remember)… like seeing Haley's comet in 1910 and thinking it was the end of the world, like watching Shep (his childhood dog) being shot, like having locusts attack the Kansas fields of his childhood, like hearing his father (a Methodist circuit rider) preach at a tent revival.  I love hearing those stories.
      Recently, Joy sent me a hand-written story of her first days in school.  The memories are so clear to her.  The teachers asked a group of children the first day, "Who has been in school before?" And remembering she had visited the previous year, Joy quickly raised her hand.  It was weeks before the teachers noticed that she was in the second grade when she should have been in first.  I read her account, written in her own shaky hand, and I'm so glad to have her-story, her piece of history.  Joy told me she didn't learn to read letter-by-letter, she learned whole words, even as a beginning reader-and more importantly, she understood them!  She wasn't so keen on breaking things down to minute, meaningless dribble.  (And, she's still an avid reader-her house is filled with books).  She remembers sitting on my father's lap listening to him read the bible and the newspaper (much like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) and going to school with words floating through her mind.  She remembers her first teacher so clearly-the description she wrote is brilliant.  My sister was born a learner and to this day continues to read, write, and think--always exploring a new topic.  Joy is wise.
      And, as I sit with children each day, I wonder about story.  Do we take time to tell our children our stories?  Do we slow down often enough just to talk, to listen?  Do we have them sit on our lap as we read or talk?  I know I'm guilty of letting the television or the computer get in the way of taking that time.  For me, it's too late to hear my parents tell me their stories (I wish I had listened more carefully).  Precious time is flying by.
      So, I think tomorrow, I'll give Joy another jingle.  Just to listen.  Because I do know a lady, one who has a story or two left to tell.  And, I'll bet the next one will be a doozy!