Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writing Matters

As an educator I have taken numerous classes and workshops over my 20 plus years as a teacher.  I can count the ones that have have had lasting impact on my teaching.  The ones that not only changed my professional life but my personal life can be counted on one hand.  Of these courses the National Writing Course held in Laurel MT (2009) has probably had the greatest impact of all.

The fall of 2009 I started my first blog.  In it I write about Alzheimer's, dementia, and caregiving.  The second one I started focuses on education - books and technology.  Last year I started my third blog, this one relates to sharing more personal writing.  I have also been fortunate to have published a few articles. An exciting event for me was to be contacted to write a piece on the Father's Day Tornado that hit here in Billings, MT.

Even as terrific and satisfying as all that is, that is not the most important change.  The most important change is how it changed my teaching.  Because of that class my students writing is improving because of what I learned.  I teach library skills and because of the National Writing Project I am able to use content in a way that makes a difference in their lives.

Each step builds on the foundation.  I have made connections with other teachers who write.  Many of them have also participated with the National Writing Project.  So what you have are teachers, on our own time and dime improving our skills as writers and teachers.  This program works! We believe in this program!

This last month I have participated in the Slice of Life Challenge held at the blog "Two Writing Teachers". I have written 30 days out of the last 31.  I have made connections with people who span the globe.  I have received encouragement and "ata girls".  I have also commented on other people's writing and experiences.  We have formed a community.  That's what I am trying to do with my students - form a community of writers.

I think it is working.  Recently I have done some 2 minute writing exercises, several of my reluctant learners begged for longer time to write!  The National Writing Project works, there are years of evidence that testifies to its effectiveness.  That's why I felt sucker punched when our government cut programs like the National Writing Project.  Why would you cut the programs with good track records when you say you are for education?

Our government wants accountability.  Our leaders say our kids deserve a great education.  They say that our education system isn't working.  My response to that is many of us strive to improve our ability to be the best teachers we can be.  We care about our students, our schools and our communities.  We care about our democracy.  Teaching students to examine and express their opinions is an important piece of being an educated and informed citizen.

As a taxpayer I'm confused.  We have money to bail out banks, yet we choose to balance the budget by cutting programs that make a difference in people's lives. Why?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Circus Is In Town

 The news tonight talked about the pachyderms and how they like to eat popcorn from people sitting in the front rows.  They are amazing animals.  I watched them at the last circus I went to, many years ago.  They looked so very sad when no one hardly clapped at the right places.  It all but broke my heart.

Saturday we are taking Hailey, our granddaughter to the circus.  It will be her first visit to the Greatest Show on Earth.  It will be her first glimpse of the mighty pachyderms up close.  They are so incredible,  their society so very complex.  Their society and life intersects ours in so many ways.  Elephants even mourn, like we do.

I think I will check out "Twenty-One Elephants" by Phil Bildner.  It is the story how P.T. Barnum proved that the Golden Gate Bridge was safe and made his circus the event to go to!

In Montana there is a little town called Ringling.  According to Wikipedia "Ringling was named for John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers circus family, which once owned considerable ranchland in the area. Ringling was also president of the White Sulphur Springs and Yellowstone Park Railway."

According the Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey site the the elephant's closest living relatives -the mammoth and the American mastodon went extinct in the ice age.  I love the history of the circus.
Last year I had walked into one of the kindergarten rooms and a child ran up to me carrying a picture.  It sort of resembled an elephant.  I however had fallen into those traps before so now wiser leaned down and asked the child to tell me about his picture.

He looked at me with surprise, surely I would already know about his fine drawing.  He cocked his head to the side and looked up: "Mrs Ferris you know, the big hairy elephants.  You remember them!"

Oh the pain -  I looked into his innocent eyes and nodded, "Yes I remember them."  

How do you explain to a kindergartner that you came along a few thousand years later.  Especially since he still believes I had one roaming around my backyard when I was young.   I just nodded as he continued to tell me about his picture.  Laughing inside at the idea of knowing the mammoths from long ago.

The news said that the elephants were downtown earlier.  Oh I would have loved to have seen them.  I am looking forward to going to the circus even if I can't remember the mammoths of my youth.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Do You Think of Harmonica Music?

The Harmonica by Tony Johnson is a powerful book. Based on Henryk Rosmaryn life in the Dyhrenfurth concentration camp. It is the story of a boy who survives because he can play Schubert on his harmonica. I later learned that Franz Schubert composed music specifically for the harmonica.  

When I read the book I could not quite associate what he played with the harmonica music I remembered.  Then a cousin sent a video clip of Buddy Greene playing the harmonica at Carnegie Hall.  I was overwhelmed. Listening to Buddy Greene is a moving experience.

The illustrations are done by Ron Mazellan.  They capture the darkness of the boy's experience.  Yet as you look at the illustrations there is a luminous quality about the art work.  

This book garnered lots of discussion when I read it to my 6th graders last year.  It is not an easy read but lends itself to providing initial background knowledge of the Holocaust.  I believe these stories need to be told and discussed.

In 1999 I was deployed for a short tour in Germany and went to to see the Dachau concentration camp.  Since then I have worked to find literature that is appropriate for our 5th & 6th grade students.  Genocide still takes place - I believe we must work to stop the practice of genocide in all its disguises.     

As I look at my stepfathers harmonica I am touched that such an instrument can produce such exquisite music. 


Monday, March 28, 2011

Discovering Sammi's Ancestors

The little blue Plymouth Neon passed us - with a large dog in the front, head hanging out the window.  In the back was an elderly lady and another big dog.  We were out riding our 4 wheelers at Spotted Eagle, a recreation area outside of Miles City, MT.  Spotted Eagle has a lake, trails to ride, an open field, their is also a range for skeet shooting and bow and arrow target practice.

The Neon stopped a lady let out the dogs - one Great Dane and one Rottweiler.  We chuckled that this lady drove a little car and had two large dogs riding with her.  As we watched the Great Dane run, was watching a massive animal eat up the distance.  This dog had a very distinctive gait as he ran.

Dan and I looked at each other, then in unison said Sammi.  One of our dogs with an unknown blood-line.  After watching the Great Dane run we had discovered one part of her heritage.  Yes her gait and bark were indistinguishable from the Great Dane in front of us.

Sammi is a very petite girl by Great Dane standards.  She weighs 96 pounds and stands a mere 26 inches tall (toes to shoulder).  It is incredible to watch her run, the gait is hard to describe but once seen never forgotten.

Watching the Great Dane run fueled our curiosity to know more about her dog.  We went over to talk to the lady with the blue neon and 2 big dogs.  As we pulled up the dogs were back in the car, the Danes head hanging out the window.  The Rottweiler was in the back with the elderly lady.

We chuckled to ourselves that the dog got the front seat.  Boy were we surprised - one bucket seat had been removed from the front of the car.  The dog was sitting on the floor and still could hang is head out the window.

As we visited with the dog owner we learned that the other lady was her mother.  While visiting I noticed that the floor of the car was covered with " spray on bed liner."  They spray bed-liner (rubbery substance) into the back of pickups to keep it from getting all scratched up when hauling stuff.  The lady said she put it in to make cleaning the car easier.

We asked lots of questions about her Great Dane.  Comparing her answers to what we knew about Sammi.  We were now convinced that Sammi's antecedents came from that massive breed,

Walking away Dan teased the older lady, " Well I guess you know where you rate."

She smiled, shook her head and laughed, "yes, I know."  then she reached over and petted the Rottweiler.

We would occasionally spot the blue Neon around town.  The other day, Peggy, Dan's daughter saw the neon.  She told us that the lady now had two Great Danes riding shot gun with her.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Better to See You

We were driving by when we saw this curious K9.  The fence is over 6 feet tall.  And this American K9 was vocal about our appearance on his street.  I'm not sure what he is standing on.

The image appealed to me.  I cropped the picture a little and enhanced it so you see him a little clearer in the corner.

I want to use this as a writing prompt for my older students.  When I view the picture my mind jumps from mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or humor.  There are so many possibilities.

Here is my original start:

"It always starts the same way.  The weather is always cold and stormy.  The energy crackles, kind of bends reality.  That's how it always begins.

I was minding my own business when they drove by.  I tried to warn them.  They didn't listen.  You tell them and tell them, but those bipeds never listen."

Can We Talk To the Magic Mirror?

"Ruthie, can we talk to the magic mirror again?" asked my 7 year old granddaughter.

I smiled remembering the first time she had heard the magic mirror talk.

I had left both Hailey and her grandpa unsupervised in our new Equinox.  Grandpa is a very permissive grandpa.  When she is with him he just lights up.  So Hailey was exploring the new vehicle.  Opening and closing all the windows, the sun roof, locking and unlocking doors.  Then her little fingers discovered the mirror.  She pressed a button.

A voice asked, "What is your emergency?"

My husband explained that there wasn't any emergency, he was sorry for bothering them.  He further explained that his granddaughter had hit the button.  He looked kind of chagrined when he told me this.  I remember laughing.

All this came back to me as Hailey and I got into the car and she asked to talk to the "Magic Mirror".  This delightful memory replayed as I heard hear again repeat, "Can I talk to the Magic Mirror again?"

It was then that I wondered if the Magic Mirror in Snow White was part of the "On-Star" network?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Telling The Flip Side of a Tale

One of the books I bought at our Book Fair was "A Troll's Eye View:  A Book of Villainous Tales" by Ellen Datlow. It is a collection of short stories. They are from the "villains" point of view.  The one I read to my fifth graders was "Up the Down Beanstalk:  A Wife Remembers" by Peter S. Beagle.  I used it as my mentor text for this lesson.

After reading the story I asked if they thought Jack was innocent or guilty of theft and murder.  We had a thoughtful discussion.  I was surprised how many thought he was guilty.

I followed the discussion with this writing exercise.  They had a choice - (1) They could write about a court case involving a fairy tale character (2) they could write about a fairy tale from another character's point of view (3) they could write a sequel to the fairy tale.  I gave them 15 minutes to write.  Almost all of them wrote furiously.

When the time was up I had them get into groups of 3 or 4 to share their stories.  Each teammate was to tell the writer something they liked about their writing.  They also were to make one suggestion they had for the story.  Once everyone had shared, they went back to their seat and began revising.  I also gave them the option of writing about a different fairy tale.

My students really were excited about today's class.


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Waiting for the Book Fair

We are having a Book Fair today and tomorrow in the library.  The books are from the Great Northern Book Company out of Balantine, MT.  Barb and Ron Scherry were both educators in the area prior to their retirement.  Then they bought the Great Northern Book company and do book fairs around the state.

This husband/wife team do a fabulous job of book talking some of the new books.  I love watching the kids as they sit transfixed, hanging on each word.  Then they get to browse and make a wish list to take home to their parents.  Tonight the Book Fair was open until 7:30 pm.

The note on the wish list lets parents know there is no obligation and it also lists the Book Fair hours.  I had a kindergartner and his parent come in at 7:15.  He was so excited he was reciting the titles of the books he had put on his wish list.

His young mother collected the books and said he came home very excited about the book fair and told her the Book Fair STARTED at 7:30.  She recounted that they were waiting impatiently for the designated time.  Her son kept asking if it was 7:30 yet all evening.  Finally she said, she read the paper he had brought home again only to realize that the Book Fair ended at 7:30.  So they hurried to get there before closing time.

She also shared that she and her husband read with her son, but it was difficult because they both have ADD and reading is a struggle.  I was impressed with this young couple.  Their son will have a better chance because they are working with him.  I also realize that just everyday written communication is a hurdle for them.  When I listened to her I realized that we need to find other methods to communicate with parents.  I can see for some of our parents a video or audio message on our website would have been helpful.

The young man and his mother walked out of the fair beaming proudly carrying their purchases.  What I saw as they walked by was a young man who will be a lifetime reader because of his parents love. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Legacy of a Life

The service I attended was very personal and beautiful.  I was amazed at the stories that were shared, especially since many had been friends with Pat since elementary school and were still close.  I thought about the gift of friendship.  I think one of the things I noticed was the number of longstanding friendships he shared.  Many spanning more than 50 years.  

He Had The Gift of Friendship

When I looked around the room I thought about that first piece of his legacy.  He was a friend.  He was a friend to ride the rapids with.  How lucky we were to have had him and his family in our life.

I resolve to celebrate the friends in my life more often.

He Had The Gift of Laughter

Many of the people reminisced about the jokes he told.  The stories he shared, the teasing - the laughter. Friends referred to the always present twinkle in his eyes.  I remember his good natured teasing and his ready laughter.

I resolve to share more laughter.

He Had The Gift of Loyalty

He listened and kept confidences.  Always there when you needed him.  He had a way of making you feel important.  He cared about people.  He took commitment seriously.

I resolve to be constant and true with the people in my life.

He Had The Gift of an Open Heart

He gave his time and his resources with an open heart.  He was not judgmental.  He reached out in quiet ways.  His presence was a steady influence.  When he gave he gave freely.

I resolve to take more pleasure in helping others.

He Had The Gift of Courage

His battle with cancer was a hard fought battle.  So many times he survived against great odds.  In his obituary he was quoted as saying "The theme of my life became "Living With Cancer.  He strove for quality of life over quantity."

I resolve to deal with my problems head on.

The service ended with two songs he had picked out to be played "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFeran and Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again."

These were the lines from a Hallmark Card that spoke to me "Love will live on wherever a beautiful soul   has been, the love still there will flower again.  For memories bloom like a garden in spring - the sun still shines, and birds still sing, and a voice of hope seems to whisper like wind, - Love's never lost; love never ends - Wherever a beautiful soul has been."

Pat had a beautiful soul.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Its Snowing Again

Its been snowing all day. It looks like it will start sticking. Maybe 2 inches by morning. The buses for Columbus aren't going to be running tomorrow. They got a foot of snow. I think it is the first time this year that they didn't run.

Today has been crazy. Grades had to be turned in. We will set up the bookfair after school tomorrow. And I ended up needing two subs to cover tomarrow for the funeral. One amorning the other afternoon. When I made the original arrangements. I was thinking of Tuesday's schedule not Wednesday.

I feel so discombobulated. Definitely fractured fragments. As I listen to my kids this chaos must be most of their life. I have a hard time keeping track of my life and I only live in one house. Many of mine are at one house this week and another house next week.

Growing up has so many pitfalls. Its hard for me to imagine the expotential problems, because of chaos of multiple homes. I remeber trying to figure out where I belonged. Today its hard for some kids to figure out what there address is this week.

Here is to getting centered on a "Swiftly Tilting Planet." I think I'll go read some fiction. At least there the plot has rules and be predictable.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I'm Reading It In My Head

One of my kindergartner's chose a chapter book (reading level 3.9) to check out.  I asked him to read a page aloud to me and we would do the 5 finger test together.  I reminded him to put up one finger each time he came to a word that was hard or he didn't know.  If at the end of reading the page he had 5 fingers up is to challenging, 0-1 probably to easy 2-4 a just right challenge.

The kindergartner just looked at the page.  He didn't say anything.  I prompted again.  I asked, "Why aren't you reading it to me?"

He looked at me with confidence and said, "I'm reading it in my head."

What do you say to a comment like that?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Road Trip to Townsend

PhillipsConoco is replacing Coke Drums at their refinery here in Billings, MT.  The drums left Lewiston, Idaho in February.  The shipment travels approximately 40 miles a night.  It has been a controversial trip and its movement was postponed waiting the court outcome.  It has also been delayed due to weather.  Last Wednesday it was in Helena.  We thought it would be in Lewistown today.  Not so.  They were in Townsend about 30 miles from Helena.

Dan had itchy feet and was craving a road trip.  He also was curious about the "Megaload".  We made some calls and tracked it down.  I took a bunch of pictures of the coke drums.  The trip was a little over 200 miles one way.

The ice on the rivers has been breaking up.  In some spots the ice is almost completely melted.  Yet in places the ice-flows protruded above the water a couple of feet.  The road between Townsend and Three Forks is a two lane paved road.  There was quite a bit of traffic on the road today.  On the way home I was driving when I passed a body of water that was just breaking up.  It was a pond running into a creek/ditch that ran alongside the road.

It was then that I saw something I have never seen before.  There were two magpies sitting on the edge of the ice drinking the ice cold water.  I wanted a picture in the worst way.  Unfortunately there was no place to pull over or turn around, to much traffic.  It was a memorable glimpse in time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grumbling Clouds

The wind whispers, running icy fingers along my ears, caressing my hands.  My hair now pulls loose, cavorting in the air.  The grumbling clouds begin to gather, drawing a dark curtain against the sky.  Blocking the coveted view of the rising Super Moon.

 The temperatures have dropped 10 degrees since we started riding.  My machine screams it’s high pitched whine.  We dart through allies agitating the neighborhood dogs.  They voice their opinion about our presence in their kingdom.  The deep baritone voices compete with the sharp yipping of barking mice.

The neighbors wave as we go by.  Some of my students yell out greetings, as we cruise the streets on our ATVs.  Returning home I laugh as I try to warm my freezing hands on Dan’s warm skin.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Where the Memories Stop

When I heard her voice I knew that I was hearing the sound of splintering glass from a heart that was shattering.  She is a very loving and determined lady.  She loved and cared for her husband, who fought valiantly and overcame great odds.  At times literally jumping from the grave as the grim reaper tried to pull him into the after life.

Their journey together in this life came to an end at 7:00 this morning.  At 8:00 she was notified that her only sister had died at the same time several states away.   How do you prepare for such a double whammy?

I think not only of my friend and her family, but I think about all the voices crying out in Japan.  The roar of breaking hearts sounds thunderous in my ears.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I LOVE Books

I LOVE books!  I have many other shelves and boxes with children's books, art books, teaching books, history books etc.  We have a garage that my husband has never parked a vehicle in because it is filled with boxes of books.

I have a friend who was on her way to China to visit her young grandson.  She asked me if I had any children's books that she could take to him.  When I told my husband I was going to give her some.  He smiled.

"Did you tell her you had 2 to 3000 books she could have?"

"Honey, she couldn't fit that many in her suitcase."

"Hm, but you could give her that many and you'd still have more."

One time when I was moving a gal I knew was thinking about going back to teaching.  She and her husband were planning to go to Alaska.  She mentioned she didn't have any of her books.  I gave her 11 large packing boxes of books.  Her husband told her she couldn't accept anymore!

My one big regret is that I never learned how to make those wonderful big bookcases.  I think every bibliophile should know how to make bookcases!  Otherwise they sit in boxes or on non-stable bookcases made from cinderblocks and boards.  I have had lots of such shelves give way because of too much weight on them.

I once attended a Scholastic Book Fair Training session and won the main prize - a collection of new books.  I called my husband and told him.  He groaned, "Where are you going to put them?'

"In the school library."

Thank goodness he is a reader, even if he's not a collector.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Shelves Runneth Over

You know you have a problem when you don’t let your spouse know about what you bought.  I love cookbooks.  In fact my shelves runneth over.  I have vintage books, handmade books and everything in between.  I love the Taste of home cookbooks and magazines.  My other big favorite is the Gooseberry Patch cookbooks.

Someone once asked my husband if I did a lot of cooking.  His classic comment was, “Not so you’d notice.”

I love looking through them and at times I’m inspired to even try one.  Our JoAnn’s Fabric store sells Gooseberry Patch cookbooks.  I was in the back at the pattern table browsing their selection.  An elderly lady walked by and asked about the cookbook. 
“Do you like cooking?”

“Sometimes, mostly I just like to eat.”

She laughed and shared a recipe she thought I would like.

Finally I fessed up,  “I tend to read them more like novels instead of cooking with them.” 

Opportunity Knocking

Tonight I was talking on the phone in the dining room when the dogs erupted and a cacophony of noise ensued.  Signaling someone was at the front door.  As the dogs continued barking loudly, Dan got out of the recliner in the living room and ambled to the door.  The dogs quieted down.  Pretty soon he came back, got out the checkbook and started writing.  

I could make a pretty good guess that there was a child selling something at the front door.  My husband has an open heart when it comes to kids.  When I got off the phone I asked, “Who was at the door?”

He smiled, pointed to a stack of boxes, ”A Girl Scout.”

I chuckled and shook my head.  You see I had bought 6 boxes from someone at school.  On Saturday Dan had bought another six boxes from Girl Scouts at a sidewalk sale.  We had bought an additional box from Girl Scouts in front of Big R (a ranch and supply store).  Now there sat an additional 3 boxes in the living room.

Still shaking my head, “Guess we supported the Girl Scouts rather well this year”. 

We added up the purchases.  $21 at school, $21 sidewalk sale, $3.50 Big R, another $10.50 now.   It came to a grand total of $56.00.  The last 3 boxes were “Samoas”, there are 15 cookies in each box.

I chuckled, “Kind of expensive cookies.”

Dan of the loving heart tenderly looked at me, “Good cause.”

Yes opportunity knocked on our front door last night and we answered.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Shadowed Memories

What are your earliest memories as a child?  How old were you?  My earliest memory is sitting on my mother’s bed looking at magazines with her.  I was probably about 2-1/2 years old. 

Another memory is waiting for the train and waving at the engineer and the man in the caboose.  The train went by our house every morning.  I remember standing in the backyard waiting to wave to them.

I remember my mom taking me to a beauty parlor.  The lady had a mirror that sat on the floor.  I remember seeing a little girl in the mirror and looking behind the mirror for her.  The lady laughed gave my mom a large mirror for me.

We moved to another town when I was three.  I remember parts of the car ride to our new home.  I have asked many people about their early memories.  Most people that I have talked to don’t remember things from their early years.  I wonder why most people don’t remember?  I wonder why some of us do?

I have always been drawn to old mirrors.  Sometimes they show up in my dreams.  In one recurring dream I am a young teenage girl looking into a full-length mirror.  There are lots of decorative beveled cuts in the dark wood frame.  The reflective surface has bubbles and is smoky.  My reflection seems to be in the shadows.  As I look at my reflection in the mirror I am aware that the mirror is reflecting a different setting than the one behind me.

I can see the interior of an older house.  Maybe an old Victorian house, maybe a Painted Lady.  There is a large staircase with a light colored banister on the left side of the mirror.  In the reflection I am wearing a long dress with a high collar edged in lace.  The skirt flows out.  My hair is braided and pinned up.  I am not wearing any glasses.  Around my neck hangs an oval shaped locket.  There is an oval mirror hanging on the wall behind my reflection.

As I look at her I wonder why I can see her.  I wonder if she can see me?  I wonder who she is?

Then I wonder who I am and why this scene continues to replay itself through my life.  I usually flash back to that first mirror and I wonder if I saw my own reflection or if I saw someone else in the mirror.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are There Whales in Montana?

One of my young kindergartners is a live wire.  He skitters like a droplet of water on a hot skillet.  The energy just emanates and sizzles.  He always has a smile.   Every morning I see his grandpa pull-up.  I watch as the boy runs to the school door.  He’s always in hyper drive.  Slow is not in his vocabulary.  Neither is quiet.

In the afternoon his grandpa is waiting as he runs through the doors.  Smiling up into his grandpa’s face I see him rapidly spilling out the day’s happenings.  I imagine his words running over themselves as they hurry to escape.  He wants to share everything with his grandpa as quickly as he can.  His grandpa is raising him.

He shares snippets of his life as he flashes past me.  “My grandpa quit smoking, so he can live longer for me.

I have never heard about a grandma. Pieces of the story zing past, his father lives elsewhere.  Now he lives with grandpa. 

He loves to hear stories.  His exuberance is contagious.  I read the “Three Bears” last month.  I asked who had previously heard the story, only a few hands went up.  The boy with eyes the size of saucers, claps and at full volume, “You have to listen, the story is AWESOME!”

When I read a story he is familiar with he retells in a staccato rhythm as I read it to the class.  He just can’t help himself.  I now choose books that he can echo as I read.

Friday he excitedly shared that he and his grandpa were going fishing.  Then with candor, “My grandpa’s fishing pole can catch a whale.  A really big one.”

For landlocked Montana that is a "good day's fishing".  I know that in the boy’s eyes his grandpa is bigger than life.   

As he runs through the door, the air whooshes out leaving a vacuum of silence in his wake.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Windows to a Grandparents Heart

Tonight we had supper with my sister and her family, Rita and her husband Andrew, her daughter Kelsey and her boyfriend Travis and her son’s daughter Ava.  Ava is 5 years old two years younger than my granddaughter Hailey. 

I remember the first time I saw Ava.  She was a baby being carried in her grandfather’s arms at Dan and my wedding.  She was so little.  And Andrew so smitten with that small bundle.  His eyes lit-up as she lay nestled against him.

I have seen this tender look before in the eyes of another man.  I saw that soft sweet expression every time Dan was with Hailey.   Both of these men held these small beings in their large calloused hands.  Smiling, as they hardly breathed.  You could see their hearts open and overflowing in the presence of their granddaughters.

One of my favorite snapshots was taken the day Hailey was born.  Dan is enthralled,as he gazes down at her tiny face.  The room light shimmers as he holds this wondrous gift.  His smile speaks of a secret only he knows.

Andrew once told me that he loved to just watch Ava sleep, marveling at her tiny fingers and toes.  I sat between my husband and Andrew tonight.  I watched him gaze at his wife and granddaughter with affection and tenderness. 

As I contemplate these scenes, my eyes grow misty.  We are so lucky to know this kind of love.  I know these little girls are blessed with the love of family.  There is something quite wonderful about a grandchild.

Here’s to the love of grandparents. I often joke that when I married Dan I gained a daughter and a son, but best of all I got a granddaughter without having to raise her parents.  Here’s to seeing through the windows of a grandparent’s heart.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Teeth, Childhood Milestones

The other day several of my primary students were in line waiting to go to their classroom.  I noticed several students wiggling a tooth.  One youngster looked at me and pointed to his missing tooth.

Gleefully another one told me, “My tooth is loose.”

A third child not to be outdone, showed me his loose tooth and added, “I’m trying to get it to fall out during school. Because then I will get one of those plastic teeth to put it in.”

They all made me smile.  The magic of losing those first teeth.  The excitement when it finally happens.   A shared milestone, we even have songs that refer to the loss of baby teeth.

Last fall I read the book “Teeth” by Sneed Collard III.  I started to share the book talking about the title and author.  One boy told me, “ I’m really not interested in the topic of teeth.”

I looked at him, “That’s ok.  Sit quietly and listen, other people may be interested.”

“Ok, but I’m not interested.”

When I got to the part about the largest elephant molars weighing 9 pounds.  He was leaning forward listening.   When we got to the part about the great white shark having 3000 teeth, he couldn’t contain himself.

“They have 3000 TEETH?”

As he digested this information I saw his tongue moving over his teeth as he tried to count his own.  I’m not sure whether he added or subtracted for the new front teeth that were crowning.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Butterflies and Watermelon Wine

Last night at dinner we were talking about inebriation, the potency of 5oz of wine versus 12 oz of beer.  From there we talked about the bears here in Montana getting inebriated from eating fermented grain. 

Grain falls off the train as it goes along the tracks.  From time to time a train car may over turn and lose its load.   Then with the rain, snow, and heat it ferments.  Many animals are drawn to the impromptu bar.  Bears are especially fond of the ingredients that make a good brew.

Once they find such an oasis, they will return time after time for this delectable mash.  Always hoping that this magic elixir will manifest again.  You have the picture.  Bears are unpredictable at the best of times. Now imagine one that is a surly drunk.  Not so good.

I remember one fall day going to a college class and being run into by a low flying bird.  There were several of them that were dining on berries that had fallen to the ground.  As I watched them I noticed that they were having trouble with their aerial acrobatic display.

I still hadn’t grasped the total picture until one of the birds was weaving back and forth on the sidewalk. His eyes were glassy and out of focus.   At first I thought it was injured.  Then coming closer, I caught a whiff of the over ripe berries.  The bird was tipsy!

My Mother was an enthusiastic gardener and kept a compost pile in the back corner of her garden.  After eating several watermelons that summer, she put the rinds on top of the compost pile.  We were enjoying a real warm spell that summer.

One afternoon, I went to get clothes off the clothesline.  I discovered a kaleidoscope of blue and black butterflies on the ground swarming over a fallen watermelon rind.  As I approached for a closer look, I feared they would quickly take flight.

I was wrong.  None of them flew away.  These small beings were having a hard time getting air-born.  On closer observation I noticed many had their proboscis extended and were sipping the watermelon juice. I continued my surveillance. Butterflies were staggering and falling down.  They weren’t sipping juice.  They were inebriated!

I often remember that long ago day, when butterflies drank watermelon wine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Join a Group

What makes you decide to give up your time and energy to belong to a group?  Why attend meetings?  These are some of the questions I have been grappling with.  I belong to a group called MERC.  When I first joined (In the last century) we averaged 100 plus members.  It has dwindled down to about 20 dedicated members. 

Next year I may be in a leadership role.  A role I have avoided in the past because of time commitments.  None-the-less I believe literacy and reading is important and I want the organization to be a success.  A few years ago we ended up in the hole.  The last few years the leaders have worked hard at rebuilding the organization.  Through their efforts we are again in the black.

From the brochure sent out to recruit members:  “The Midland Empire Reading Council (MERC) is a nonprofit educational organization whose members are dedicated to improving reading instruction and promoting literacy needs in the community.  MERC contributes to the professional growth and development of its members and addresses literacy needs in the community.”

These are lofty goals that the organization generally meets.  I come back to the question what do we need to do to – (1) Build membership numbers (2) Make it so people look forward to attending (3) Make it fun  (4) Meet our mission statement?

I keep looking to the PLNs  (Personal Learning Networks) that I belong to. - lots of knowledgeable people,  lots of support,  and an online community.  I think that is what is missing in MERC.  As an organization we have not connected personally.  We have not built a community where everyone feels included and welcomed.  How do you build that community?  How do you build that membership base?

When you have a small membership base, the same people end up doing all the work.  That builds resentment and disenchantment, as well as burnout.  I know that many service organizations across the nation are feeling the pinch of dwindling membership.  Our young members are extremely busy people.  How do we recruit them?  What can we offer that makes for a fair exchange - for the time, money and effort that they contribute?

We stand on a pivotal point, our world is changing at a rapid rate.  How do we keep up?  How do we move forward?  How do we convince others to take the journey with us?

A line from an old song comes to mind, “the answer is blowing in the wind”.  Here is a funny coincidence – 2 teachers just came in and were looking for the book “The Wind Blew”.  Maybe the answers to my questions are blowing in the wind.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Question -  Why didn’t you bring your library book back?
Answer -  My Mom didn’t put it in my backpack.

This is a conversation I have had many times.  I have tried many different ways to encourage responsible behavior.  One strategy I stumbled upon last year, was writing a friendly letter.  I started having the students write a letter home telling about their overdue book.  They need to bring the letter back with a parents’ signature on it.  Usually it comes back with the book.

One youngster and I had the following discussion.

“You need to write a letter to your family about your over due library book.”

“I know where it is.”

“That’s good.  Where is it?”

“In my bedroom.”

“Ok, write a letter to your parents, tell them where you think it is.  Ask them to help you remember to bring it to library.”

“I wrote a letter last week.”

“Did you bring the book back to the library?”

“No, but I know where it is.”

“Good.  You need to bring it back.  In the meantime write another letter.”

“I don’t need to, my first letter is in my desk.”

I smile, “Since the book hasn’t been returned you still need to write a letter home.  Go get started.”

I use this strategy with my 3rd – 6th graders.  They have to bring the letters to me to check before they go home.  I check them and send them back to make any needed corrections.

I figure they are learning some valuable skills. 1.  They are being held accountable for their missing books.  2.  They are learning how to write a friendly letter.  3.  They are getting the opportunity to experience natural consequences.  4.  They are gainfully employed and do not have time to disturb the the other students who are enjoying the privilege of reading.

I knew this strategy was a keeper when I had a young man finally return his books.  They had been missing quite a while before I implemented the letter writing policy.  I asked him what finally motivated him to return his library books.  He glared at me.

“I got tired of writing those “blank” “blank” letters!”

Yup, I knew then this was a keeper!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Playing to a Tough Crowd

This afternoon I shared my “Wind Song” story with one of my second grade classes.  They listened intently.  I asked them what they thought.  They were so polite, they told me lines that they liked. 

I asked one young girl if she thought the story was funny.  She looked at me and smiled, then nodded her head yes. 

“You didn’t laugh.”

Dakota with eyes twinkling responded, “I laughed in my head.”

Yes this was a challenging audience, and I felt devastated when my story didn’t even elicit a chuckle.

So what did I learn?  Audience - this was a story about young children, but it didn’t play to their humor.  It played to adult humor.  I have read other books for children that just didn’t work.  Good story lines just missing elements like timing and a bit of magic - the laughter of children.

So what makes children laugh?  Funny words – dialogue – playful sounds – clear pictures in the mind.  Humor that is up front and lots of pictures.

The kids were checking out books today and I discourage my kindergarten kids from checking out chapter books.  I focus them on picture books and true books written at their interest level.

One boy asked could they check out from the black cart (cart where the fiction books are waiting to be shelved).  I explained they were for the older kids.  He was not buying what I was selling.

 Another student offered – “Books with difficult words. “

 I said, “yes”. 

Another added, “Too many words.”

I agreed.

My young student reflected, “Just lots of words?”

I nodded, “Yes” and added, “not very many pictures.”

His nose wrinkled up,  “Just words?” 

I then asked him if he was still interested in checking one of those books out.  He looked at me with such disdain, and repeated “No pictures.”

It made me remember how disillusioned I was when I started reading chapter books and they didn’t have many pictures.  I remember asking my mother why they left the pictures out.

Her answer was, “They expect you to make movies in your mind.  You have to do the work instead of relying on an artist.”

Want to know a secret?  I still like books with lots of pictures even though I have learned to make movies in my mind.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Quick Quiz

Some years ago the Montana National Guard hosted a trainer to conduct some awareness training.  I was very impressed by the trainer and his quiet way of sharing his journey to America from Africa.  The problems he had overcome.  Mostly I was aware of the great hope and humor he projected as he taught us about his experiences with discrimination and social injustice.

He gave us all a quick test, asking us to write the first person we thought of living or dead who best fit the question.  Please consider taking this short quiz and see if your results were similar to our results.

1.     Name a famous American.
2.     Name a famous Native American.
3.     Name a famous Irish American.
4.     Name a famous Asian American.
5.      Name a famous African American.
6.     Name a famous Jewish American.
7.     Name a famous Woman.
8.     Name a famous Italian American.
9.     Name a famous German American.
10.  Name a famous man.

I was chagrined I was only able to answer about 3/4 of the questions.  I expected him to talk to us about bias and being aware of other cultures.  As I looked around I gave myself  silent brownie points.  I had answered more questions then most.

Then he looked at each of us and quietly said, “How many of these questions did you answer with the name of a woman?” 

My answer was one.  I felt humbled.  Here I was a female in a nontraditional role and I didn't think to answer the questions with women leaders. Such a powerful message and it was all the louder because he said it with such gentleness and grace.

Then he said, “We are all products of our education and experience.  Education is critical, stereotypes and discrimination come in many forms.  It is important to include all the voices as we study and teach history.” 

I was shocked by his question and comments.  Maybe more importantly it helped me to look differently at what I taught and whom I included.  Over the years I have forgotten the speakers name but not his message. 

I challenge you to look at your answers.  What does this assessment tell you?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

When Wind Song Whispers

I read Elizabeth's blog Word by Word about her son and "The 2 Year Old Facials".  It reminded me about an event with my younger sister that happened decades ago.

We lived in a small town and our phone was on a party line.  Kind of like facebook without privacy settings.  My older sister Barbara wore perfume.  Her favorite scent was "Wind Song".  Rita loved watching Barbara get ready for school.  She especially enjoyed it when Barbara would give her a little spritz of "Wind Song".

Rita's best friend was a four year old named Tracy.  Occasionally Mom would let Rita call Tracy and talk on the phone, much to Rita's delight.  Well one time Rita was describing the perfume to Tracy.  I remember hearing her say just a minute and she raced off to the bathroom and returned with the perfume bottle.

As a ten year old I didn't pay my little sister's conversation much attention.  BIG MISTAKE! I heard Rita say "Do you like the smell?"

Then she listened intently.  I heard the repetitive soft whoosh as the spray wafted through the air, and the vapors targeted the phone.  I got to the phone just as Rita was saying, "You still can't smell it?  OK.  I'll spray it again."

I grabbed the almost empty bottle before she could continue spraying.  The phone dripped with liquid vapors.  Rita looked perplexed.  She scrunched up her eyes as she asked, "Why can't Tracy smell the perfume?  I kept spraying it so she could."

The phone retained the concentrated scent for what seemed like weeks, before finally dissipating.  I remember cutting my own conversations short because I couldn't take the overpowering aroma.  As I retrieve this memory I can still catch a whiff of "Wind Song" as it swirls and whispers through my mind.

On a whim I checked to see if "Wind Song" is still available.  To my amazement you can still order it from Amazon.  The description reads, "Wind Song was launched by the design house of Prince Matchabelli in 1953 and is described as a flowery fragrance.  This feminine scent is a blend of florals with fruity, green middle notes finishing with hints of musk and amber."

Hmm, I wonder if Rita would still like this fragrance?  Maybe I will order a bottle for her birthday.  You see "Wind Song" still sings in my memory.

40 Winks - SOL

We came to know Tom, over the last few years, when he helped us with odd jobs.  The dogs quickly adopted him.  They would go nuts every time they would see him.  This last fall he started renting part of our basement.  The dogs were in 7th heaven.  He spoils them as bad as we do.

Max is our Boxer cross, and weighs in at about 75 pounds.  A small lap dog, not so much.  Dan paid $25.00 for him at a truck stop in Texas about nine years ago.  He was so small and he wiggled so much.

I couldn't resist taking the picture of Tom and Max.  It is a precious moment in time.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Remembering the Back Stories

I was browsing posts at The Poem Farm and found Spark Day- Nancy Claeys & Poems #332.  I was inspired by what she had done by matching a picture and a poem.  What great ideas for collaboration.  What a great idea as a writing prompt.

I started to think of some pictures that my uncle shared at my mother’s memorial service, pictures of her youth that I had never seen.  Melissa a friend took our pictures added music and did a wonderful slide show for the service.  I loved it – it was so poignant.

Friends who attended all commented on the slideshow.  I shared some of the stories that connected to the pictures.  The most common comment was, “Oh I wish there had been captions so we could have known your mother’s earlier life.”

That slide show and the comments have lingered in my thoughts, following me.  Lingering among the shadows, surprising me at unexpected times, helping me to remember and connect my thoughts.

I want to take some of those pictures and tell the back-stories.  Snippets of time, a pictorial slice of life. – A way to remember and connect, the hauntings’ of my mind that whispers to my soul.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Favorite Clunker Story

Trying to decide on just one clunker story was challenging.  You see I have owned a long list of clunkers.   I finally decided on a story about my 79-80 Horizon.  It had a Volkswagen engine, three white doors and one orange one.

I paid $300 for it when I lived in Red Lodge and was commuting back and forth to work in Billings.  My little car had a little over 200,000 miles when I bought it.  That little car always seemed happy running up and down the road as I logged lots of windshield time.  It always ran like a top.

I began to notice that it needed to be “herded” down the road more often.  It would kind of list – side to side as it meandered down the highway.  I was planning a trip to Kalispell and decided it was time for a trip to the repair shop for a re-alignment, before I went. 

I checked with several shops and K-Mart offered the best price.  I took it in and was told to come back in a couple hours.  I went shopping and killed several hours.    I returned to K-Mart to collect my car and head for Kalispell.

I asked the mechanic how much I owed.  He replied matter-of-fact-ly that there was no charge.  I looked at him incredulously and repeated “No Charge?”

“No, Ma’m.  No charge.”

“Why isn’t there a charge?’, I asked.

“We didn’t fix it.”

My amazement was quickly turning to irritation, “Why didn’t you fix it?”

He shook his head and responded, “Lady, there wasn’t anything left to re-align it to!”

I thanked him and decided against the trip to Kalispell, then promptly drove it home.

At the time I was a member of the Montana National Guard.  I worked with a great bunch of guys in the Mechanics section.  I shared my story the next time I saw them.  Their eyebrows rose as I told about the aborted attempt to have the car re-aligned. 
Sgt Hammer was concerned because he knew I often drove back and forth to Miles City.  He found me a little Subaru that was more dependable.

I still drove the Horizon in town until one December night it broke down in the Shopko parking lot.   I had gone and called AAA and was waiting for the tow truck to arrive.  While waiting, a family drove up.  The gentleman asked me if they could help.  I thanked him and said I was waiting.

He seemed reluctant to drive off, and leave me by myself.  He had a quick conference with his wife and then finally spoke again, “I used to have a Horizon that I traded off.  I have often regretted that decision and wished I hadn’t.  I just wanted to know how many miles you have on your car.”

I told him that the car had a little over 300,000 miles on it.  I heard him laugh and say, “I knew it!  Those little cars you could drive until the wheels fell off.”  He wished me a goodnight and I could see him still shaking his head as they drove off.

I got the car running again, but finally parked it in the driveway where it sat for the next couple of years.  One of the neighbors offered me $50 dollars for it.  Dan told me to just give it to him, so I did.  I later learned that he sold it for $100.

That little car had heart and I almost literally drove it until the wheels fell off.  My Mother often told me that the only reason I could get a mechanic to work on my car wasn’t because they were trying to figure out what was wrong.  They were trying to figure out why it had been running.  I once told a mechanic what she said.  He looked at me in all seriousness and said, “She’s right.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Did He Come to Say Goodbye?

Can people connect across the miles or across time?  My husband told me last week when he was laying down to take a nap he heard the front door open and close.  He thought it was his son, Joe coming in.  He told me he called out and there was no answer.  Just one of those strange things.

Saturday afternoon I was working on the computer in the living room.   I could hear the dogs snoring in the other room.  All of a sudden I heard the front door open and close.  Looking up I expected to see Joe and was a little surprised that the dogs hadn't come running in the room.  No one was at the door, nor was there anyone outside.

Sunday morning my sister-in-law called to tell us Dan's cousin, Casey had passed away Saturday night from cancer.  Later I learned, shortly after his passing all the fire alarms at the hospital went off. Coincidence? 

I think coincidences are sometimes God whispering to our hearts.