Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve

From Israel! We are thoroughly enjoying our time in Jerusalem with our children, Brian and Erin, and our grandchildren, Grace and Eliott. We are staying with Erin's parents, who still live and work in this part of the world. They've been here over 30 years. That's pretty amazing! Erin's entire family is here, her two sisters, one who lives here in Jerusalem and the other who now calls Indiana home for herself and her family of four. Erin's younger brother is also here from Chicago with his fiancée. It is packed and such fun! Watching Gracie play with her cousins, Zoe (3) and Scarlett (20 months) is so much fun. She just cannot get enough of them! We are playing a lot as well, on the floor with playmobiles and dollies.

Today we went to Bethlehem, now part of the Palestinian area, visited the Church of the Nativity, Manger Square, and went to the Franciscan run Shepherd's Field. The most interesting thing to me were all the different nationalities converging on this place, on this day, to honor the birth of the Christ Child. There are many Arab Christians living in this community. Too often we forget them, focusing only on other faith groups. Today is a great day of celebration for the Arab Christians: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, all come together as one to worship and celebrate Christ-mas. May we remember that it is about Christ, his coming, his sacrifice and celebrate with open hearts the greatest gift the world has ever received. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas International Travel

Yes, we are beyond nuts. We are hoping to fly from Seattle to Chicago to Brussels to Tel Aviv. Tomorrow. Anyone see the European weather reports lately? Yeah, so hold a good thought for us. Also, our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren were supposed to leave Paris this afternoon for Tel Aviv. That didn't happen. Brian stood in a line of over a thousand people, trying to get to the customer service agents when his brother-in-law called with the good news that they had new flights. (Reuben took care of it via the airline reps in the states.) Our kids are currently sleeping it out in a hotel near the airport and re-booked to arrive in Tel Aviv shortly after we arrive... if they leave... if we arrive... sigh... Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

School's Done in 2010

What a day! I am tired, no question about it. But it was a good day for us. The students were well-behaved, loud - but good kids. Several thanked me for the fun Christmas party but honestly, they made their own fun. After the party, the students helped me stack desks so that the floors can be steam-cleaned over the weekend. It's always nice to teach junior high when that kind of work is involved. I have some big boys who are quite strong! Then I headed out to dinner with my mother, did some last minute shopping and wrapping, and now I'm by the fire, in my leather recliner--so relaxed!

Not so with my husband. I think the early part of his day went well. At noon he took the students-of-the-month to Izzys for lunch and I know that was great! He always enjoys that monthly responsibility. Then everyone gathered for a Pep Rally. It was really going well, fun games, hilarious activities, cheering for the basketball team... all good... until one of the cheerleaders came down wrong after a routine and literally broke her leg in front of the entire school! NOT good! It was a severe break so an ambulance was called and as I type, she's in surgery. My husband is the game administrator tonight so he's still with basketball players, coaches, high school kids, and their parents. He won't be home for at least an hour, probably two. Poor guy, he's going to be wiped out. And tomorrow? Christmas with our kids and grandkids. That will be fun!

Junior High Christmas Party

So I am in my classroom, in the middle of chaos, junior high chaos! We are using three classrooms and the front walkway for our down time. One room (not mine) is the quiet room; "The Princess Bride" is entertaining those girls... of course. Another room (not mine) is the game room; organized sets of table games are being enjoyed by several. The last room (sigh... mine) is the hang-out room where students laugh and talk and act crazy. Of course it's my room!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Getting Smarter

The longer I teach, the smarter I become at managing the days before holidays. My 8th graders and I spend five days reading A Christmas Carol by Dickens and then the last three days of class we watch the movie, the George C. Scott version. It is a wonderful two weeks! The 7th grade classes are something else again. I work them harder than ever the last two weeks because calm is not part of their vocabulary nor personalities at this time of year. The last three days before Christmas break, I bring out a huge collection of children's Christmas and Hanukkah books. I do need some Kwanzaa books as well. The students have quizzes during these three days but they also have the opportunity to read these books and fill out a very short evaluation form, rating each book on its story-line, characters, and illustrations. We will tally them all on Friday, choosing the top ten books for Christmas 2010. It works quite well, gives them something fun to do that is also quiet. Sigh... lovely for me but they do take out their energy in other classes. So another year comes to a close. What an incredible year this has been - both in good ways (baby Eliott) and bad ones (Haiti-EQ, cholera, elections). I am praying that there will be far more good things in 2011. Joy to the World!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


A week from today I will hold my youngest grandchild for the first time. I am so excited to meet young Eliott Ray! I will also be able to play with his big sister, Gracie, for the first time in a very long time. Oh, how my heart has missed her! But traveling over the holidays means that everything else must get done sooner. I need to have all my Christmas preparations for the three other dearly-loved grandchildren ready to go by this Saturday morning. I need to get suitcases packed, bills paid in advance, even lesson plans completed before I leave town. One thing I learned early on as a teacher is that the unexpected will happen. There is nothing quite like international travel to render all pre-planning irrelevant! We know that our trip home could be delayed; we have some very tight connections. And although we have planned for every possibility, there will be some sort of complication or interruption - count on it. So I have finished my lesson plans and the shopping for the grandchildren. I do need to shop for our children and for T's staff. Bills are also needing some attention... sigh... don't they always need attention? Regardless, I am joyously anticipating the holidays!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Like Mother, Like... I suppose so

I love my mother; I really do. But she is one independent person - even when she shouldn't be! Yesterday, after wrapping a table full of gifts for Christmas, I sat down to relax a bit and called my mom for a chat. I wasn't on the phone very long when I realized that she sounded extremely tired. She's 82 and sometimes doesn't sleep well so I asked her all the questions about her sleeping habits, kept getting the I'm fine responses and finally just asked her why she sounded so tired. It seems that she decided to have the inside of her house painted last week so she moved all her living room and dining room furniture, took down the drapes, rods, pictures on the wall, etc. The painter came, did his job (took three days because there were several cracks to repair) and then left mother with her freshly painted house. She started getting everything put back. When I called she had replaced all the furniture, drapery rods, and just hung the drapes. She informed me that she thought she was tired from standing on the ladder, hanging the drapes. I told her I'd be right there. I talked with her again as I was on my way and found out that she hadn't eaten much the past three days so I went by a fast food place and got her a chicken pita sandwich. I was more than just a bit upset. She promised her doctor over five years ago that she would stay off ladders. I reminded her of that but she just brushed my words aside. I stayed the afternoon, hung her pictures, helped her decide on lamps and table placements and did the rearranging. Once I got back home, I was still steaming a bit about it to my husband... and he started laughing! I was not pleased and asked him what he found so funny about my 82-year-old mother's independent streak! He told me flat out that I was just like her and that I'd be doing the same thing when I was her age so just get over myself! I represent - I mean - resent that!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Do Unto Others

My husband and I adopted a little family from a City Gates Ministry list. Shopping for these people was such fun! We decided to go to a local, large super store (no, not WalMart!) so that we could get clothes and toys and housewares all in one place and only have one gift receipt to include with the presents. I have a lot of wrapping to do today! I have to find out how to go about the next step of delivering the gifts. I don't want anyone to feel embarrassed or awkward by receiving presents from complete strangers. Regardless, the ones who are blessed by this... yep - it's us! My eyes filled with tears more than once as I looked for just the right thing for a little 3-year-old girl. Images of my own granddaughters kept coming to my mind. I am so grateful for my family, for the opportunity we have to do some small thing for someone else this Christmas. I think next year I will choose a bigger family and get the grandkids involved in this. How fun would that be!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Change can make a difference.

We made a homeroom switch today. There is a new boy (new this school year) in another homeroom who has had quite a negative effect on several students, especially one very promising young man. Last year the Young Man had a rough time, got into quite a bit of trouble, had a bad attitude. Over the summer, the Lord really helped YM find other ways to live his life and he came to school a changed child. That was before the New Boy became a part of his life. The NB is powerful, negative, uncaring, and for whatever reason, attractive to far too many students. His effect on YM has really been evident during the past three weeks, so we made a decision. We have moved YM from the other homeroom into my homeroom, and we called it like it was: YM was making poor decisions because he allowed himself to be negatively affected by others. What a difference today! Knowing he was getting a new start, a chance to once again be the person he became this summer, YM has already shown a completely different attitude. He seems... relieved... and he is grateful, very grateful. I'm so glad. YM has such a good heart as well as everything else he needs to become a wonderful leader; he just needs a bit of maturity. Surprisingly, NB also acted quite differently today. I think he was shocked to see that we would actually remove his friend (for the good of his friend) and NB is rethinking his own actions. He was respectful and relatively prepared for class today. I hope this helps both of them but I am totally committed to YM; I know it will help him.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Earthquakes, Cholera, Protests

They say things happen in threes. I hope so. I hope it is finished for a while. Haiti has experienced a horrible 2010! Beginning with the earthquake that killed thousands and left millions injured and homeless, then to cholera that has sickened and killed more people than anyone actually knows, and ending with rigged elections that resulted in her well-known manifestations, Haiti is a mess. Any country would be but in Haiti, life is already so incredibly challenging that three horribly tragic situations result in complete and total chaos. On a good day in Haiti, life seems chaotic but add the teeming black smoke of burning tires and random gunfire from people who have no means of expression other than causing havoc, and life goes from chaos to anarchy. It's all so sad. The potential in Haiti for beauty, goodness, and productivity is unmatched. I have never seen any group of people work harder than these people do. They toil and labor from sun up to sun down without ever getting ahead. It is time, it is way passed time, that Haiti gets a break and experiences re-construction, health, and prosperity. Any one of the three would be welcome. Please Lord, heal Haiti - from the inside out!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Dignity and Death

Elizabeth Edwards died today. Mother, mentor, health-care activist, the should-have-been candidate rather than her preening husband. (Every time I saw John on TV, I wanted someone to mess up his hair!) She really struggled with her faith and I am hopeful that faith won at the end. Losing her beloved 16-year-old son gave her every reason to question God. I certainly don't blame her for that but I do hope that she was finally able to get passed the pain and back to her foundational beliefs, especially as she has now joined that child in eternity. I do my best to refrain from criticizing people who have suffered that kind of loss. Who am I to say they shouldn't challenge God? I don't know about you but I figure God is big enough to deal with that kind of anger and pain. Admittedly the grace required to endure such loss is one that (thankfully) I have not had to experience. It's true that my father died eight years ago but that is not like losing a teenage child. I admired Elizabeth Edwards. I agreed with her stance on national health care. We should at least have something that can provide for those who cannot afford their medical bills. I have seen first hand what happens to people who are not covered and the result is usually bankruptcy and often homelessness. It makes me so angry. That - should - never - happen! Not in this country! But it does and we should be ashamed of it. But no, we're going to give millionaires their tax breaks because they want to be billionaires. Ridiculous! But, I digress... rest in peace EE and may God give your children a special sense of His presence as they suffer this loss of their mother at this young age.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Thinking 8th Graders

I love it when my students actually think, mull things over, question, and come up with ideas. Today I explained their essay test over the book they've been reading in literature circles. Normally I create a real test based on their vocabulary words, questions, and observations during their group meetings. This time our group time was so disjointed. We had a day off for power outage and then two and a half days off for snow plus Thanksgiving Break the next week. Their discussions never got to the flow mode that I've come to expect in these meetings. So I changed it up. Tomorrow each student will write a 100-150 word book review in class. I told them to focus on three things: the author's purpose in writing the book, the content (did they think it satisfied that purpose), and evidence - particular passages that demonstrate the author's support of his or her purpose. We had such a great discussion over these three points. Students were talking about the survival of the fittest in White Fang and how nature demonstrates this element of Darwin's thinking. Conversation about utopian societies surrounded The Giver and how that idea came out of French philosophy. There was so much more but it just thrilled me that they got it! On the other hand, Mondays and 7th graders are definitely polar opposite nouns! These students simply cannot be contained today - and that's not a good thing!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Friday Night Surprise

Last Friday night was the women's ministries dinner and I was asked to speak. It went very well; the sanctuary was transformed into a beautiful winter scene. There were 41 round tables of eight ladies, each table hosted by a lady who decorated the table with her dinner-ware and favorite Christmas centerpiece. It was truly lovely. When I arrived and headed to my place, I got a big surprise. Among the ladies present was my granddaughter, Kayla, and her little friend, Zoe. They were with their mommies at a table quite near mine, but my back was to them so I didn't really get to watch them. Every 10-15 minutes I would feel little arms coming around my neck and get another hug from the girls. They were so sweet. I didn't think my daughter-in-law was going to be there, let alone my granddaughter. Otherwise I would never have used illustrations about them! ha! The speaking part went fine; it's something I've been doing for many years so I'm not afraid but I do want what I say to be relevant to those who listen. When I wrote my speech, I didn't have anything in it that was funny but as I spoke, little things came to me rather spontaneously and that provided the levity that these events need. It really was a lovely evening; the ministries team did a great job and I was thankful that the Lord was able to encourage the ladies to make a difference in the lives of others.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Countdown Is On

We will go to Israel for Christmas this year. Our second son married a lovely young woman, Erin, who was born in Jordan and raised in Jerusalem. With her entire family converging for Christmas, it became obvious that we wouldn't be going to France this year! And that is more than okay; my husband has had a deep desire to go to Israel for many years. My deep desire is to see my two little grandchildren; I don't care where they are - I'll go there! So the countdown has begun. If I count today and the day I finally see them, I have 18 days to go! Yes, I can wait that long, just that long--- I'm so excited!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Night

Tonight is the dinner that I wrote about here. I've been working on what I'm going to say ever since the ladies first spoke to me about the evening. Editing, rewriting, reprinting, all those things I've been teaching my students in Writer's Workshop are coming into play. The good news is that I like those things; I enjoy playing with words on paper. The bad news is that I never know when to quit! I cut, reprint, rework, reprint, find something else to add, reprint. I've been through a lot of paper! Right now the sun is shining. I need to get through my planning period, dismiss my class, go to the bank, change clothes, and by tonight - this will be finished! I'm glad; I can finally stop reprinting!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Magazine Readers

This year, more than any other year, I have a lot of magazine readers in my 7th grade classes. I always buy a few magazines to put on my library shelves so that the boys (generally) have something to read at the beginning of the year. Usually by now, everyone is engrossed in a book or two or three. However, this year, at this very moment, I have five of seventeen students reading magazines rather than books. I am quite disappointed but it does explain why this group has so much trouble with writing, parts of speech, and all the other details that prolonged reading of good literature enriches.

Not a good way to end the day

It was a long day. Staff meeting went late for me and even later for the one at T's school so we decided to eat dinner at the restaurant across from the school. We invited T's admin assistant and had an enjoyable dinner. Then she went to youth group and I went to choir and T paid the bill. Next he headed out to the pick-up where he discovered someone had broken into the truck and stolen his briefcase with his laptop inside. He had our entire lives stored on that thing. Everything he does, schoolwork, web-page management, 30 years of information about everything everywhere is on that thing. He is not happy. We spent the next four hours canceling every credit card, changing every password, and filing reports with police and insurance. The police said that there's a ring of thieves operating in the area who are breaking into vehicles, homes, businesses and grabbing purses, cash, briefcases, electronics with the intent to sell it all - fast. Fortunately T had every model and serial number for everything stolen and it will go on some hot-list that is circulated to pawn shops and other second hand type places. Guess who's getting a new Mac? And it can't happen soon enough!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yay for December!

There are several things that are good about December. First and foremost, we are going to Israel for Christmas and will finally get to hold our newest grandson!
We'll get to play with Gracie and her cousins and just enjoy these little ones. It makes me smile just to think about it! I also have 13 more school days... yes, I am counting - thank you very much! I have to say, today was much better than yesterday! That first day back was brutal! Also NaBloPoMo ends today; now I don't have to think about posting every day. I only kind of missed one day - I was six minutes late! To me, that still counts; I hadn't slept yet! I must shop and mail two packages asap! So much to do, so little time! Plus... it's time to sleep!

Not On My List!

One of my favorite students of all time is moving to Pennsylvania. I told her that this did not make me happy for she is not on my list! Yes, I know, how unprofessional of me. I don't really have a list of students that I want to get rid of but I do wish that this one wasn't leaving. She came to our school toward the end of sixth grade and within a couple weeks, participated in the all-school Spelling Bee. After winning the sixth grade division, she won the seventh grade division. She placed second overall, losing to an incredible reader. Being a military kid, she's used to moving around but this time is special because she's going to the area where her grandma lives! That actually makes me very happy for her for I think she needs the special attention that her grandma will give her since her mother gave birth to twins on the first day of school this year! She adores her baby sisters but I know that going from thirteen years as an only child to having twins in the family is not easy for her. I am praying that grandma will be someone who gives her undivided love and attention. Regardless of where she goes, this girl will succeed. She is just this side of brilliant. But oh, I will really miss her!

Monday, November 29, 2010


The only thing worse than Monday in junior high is Monday after two days off for snow and two days off for a holiday plus two days off for the weekend. Then add massive computer issues and you have one frustrating Monday! Nearly a fourth of my classes had no work and no supplies, ie books, binder, Monday folder. I'm so glad Monday is over!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New ideas for essays

I'm in the middle of literature circles with 8th graders. They are reading White Fang, The Giver, The King's Fifth, Roll of Thunder- Hear My Cry, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, or The Eagle of the Ninth. I have come up with a new idea for an essay topic. Actually, I've developed a list of 30 essay topics based on ideas I've gleaned from websites, and I'm going to give each group a choice of several different topics. They can choose, but they must all write on the same one. I think this will enrich their discussion during their groups. I'm planning on making the due date several days after the completion of the literature study because I want them to completely finish the book, to have the whole picture as they write their essay. We'll see how this works, if it works.

Six Point Snowflakes

Technically it's Sunday but in my brain, since it's just after midnight, it's still Saturday night. I've been cleaning most of the day because I have company coming over for Sunday dinner after church. But this afternoon, I took three hours off to babysit my grandchildren... and the granddog! Kayla was trying to make snowflakes but she wasn't happy with the results so I taught her something new, something I learned to do in 1981.

We were in Albertville, France to learn the language. Honestly we were doing quite well, enjoying the mountain village life, frequent trips to Geneva Switzerland, establishing new friendships. One of the things that the French ladies at the language center did every Christmas was to decorate with six-point snowflakes. They were very particular about making these just right. It involves starting with the square the folding the paper in half, corner to corner into a triangle. Next fold the triangle into thirds and again in half so that there is one straight edge across the top of the folds on one side of the folded paper. Cut along that line and then just start cutting. The more paper that is removed, the prettier the snowflake. It's important to cut shapes into all three sides, without, of course, cutting through the whole thing. Unfold and flatten the snowflake and you will see the prettiest, most delicate snowflake ever! Kayla was absolutely enchanted with these. She made eight of them and Colton made two! Not bad for a six-year-old. It is not an easy process so I was very proud of my little ones.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: True Beauty

I have been searching for a poem that might express my sense of appreciation for my mother. She is, in many ways, my hero. Raised in a quiet, modest family, she married into one that was loud and demanding and not always very kind. She was betrayed yet through all of it, managed to remain a friend to my father. I couldn't find a poem that expressed my gratitude so in a very inept way, I jotted down these thoughts:

Beauty is my mother.

Every line can tell the tale

Of days and nights, of toil and care,

Of giving life, more pain to bear,

Of peace, yea love that will not fail,

Beauty is my mother.

Beauty is my mother.

Who danced until the break of dawn,

Who smiled and laughed so quietly,

Who loved with whole heart joyously,

Who found betrayal, that mourning song,

Beauty is my mother.

Beauty is my mother.

So valiant, brave, steadfast is she-

My friend and confidante, true and deep,

Ready to go, to stay, to keep

Her word and promise, for them, for me

Thankful is her daughter.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Progressive Thanksgiving

What a day! If Thanksgiving is all about family and food and fun, we certainly met our quota and then some!

We started our morning at the annual Turkey Bowl. Three years ago our son decided to have a morning football game with his then three-year-old son and friends plus their dads. This evolved into a kids' football game with the dads while moms pulled together a huge brunch. It is a blast! As much fun as we had three years ago watching the little toddlers play football, it was even more fun to watch school-age children, committed to the game, tearing up the field that our son had cut out of the snow. They played for a full hour from 9 til 10 o'clock and then went sledding down the back hill for thirty minutes. A full breakfast followed with biscuits and sausage gravy, french toast casserole, cheddar cheese eggs, bacon, sausage, cinnamon buns, coffee cakes, fruit salad, and spiced cider. Then the kids were ready for more sledding outside. We stayed until everyone had gone and helped clean up, leaving about 1:30.

Round two was at my brother's house. Turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, white beans, carrots, green salad, fruit salad, cranberry/raspberry relish, garlic bread, and pies! Oh my word! It was decadent!

To end the evening we went to my husband's brother's for dessert. Pies, cookies, cakes, by the time we left we felt like we needed to be rolled out the door!

But the point of it all was family and friends. The food was wonderful but not the focus of our day. We are blessed because we are loved and we have others to love. That is thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankfulness #5

Today I am thankful for spontaneity. This is such a fun time of year. Baking is not my strong suit. I tend to cook rather than bake. But 'tis the season so I baked pumpkin brownies with cream cheese frosting a couple days ago. This morning I made up the dough for molasses crinkles, quite like ginger snaps only chewy, and I prepared a batch of my dad's clam dip, a family tradition. As I was working away, the phone rang. Scott and the family were on their way to the store and wanted to stop by to pick up something to do with tomorrow's Turkey Bowl. So I invited them to lunch, DiGiorno's pizza, and they happily accepted. I was glad I had a carton of peppermint ice cream too. It was such fun, only a couple hours but I love that I am a part of their lives.

Tomorrow is the big day. We are doing a "Progressive Thanksgiving" celebration. We'll begin at 9 in the morning at Scott's for the Turkey Bowl. This is the BIGGEST FOOTBALL GAME EVER, played by some of the cutest kids you've ever seen. Scott started this tradition three years ago when Colton was just three years old. That first year the game lasted about 10 minutes. It gets longer and more elaborate each year. Afterwards, Scott creates a DVD of the game with highlights and background music and player interviews. It is absolutely hilarious! The DVD is played over and over by these kids, which totally builds the excitement for the next year to come around so they can do it again! We'll have brunch with them: biscuits and sausage gravy, bacon, eggs, all kinds of special breads and coffee cakes. I'm bringing Trader Joe's Spiced Apple Cider and a big fruit salad. We'll leave there around 1 o'clock then head to my brother, Jeff's, for the next round, the meal: Turkey and stuffing, ham, new potatoes, fresh vegetables, more of my fruit salad. They'll have pies but we're skipping dessert... with them. We'll leave and head to Terry's brother, Verle's, for dessert. We are going to be the ones who are stuffed! Of course a lot of the fun is the anticipation. And I do anticipate good fun, loving family, wonderful memories.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankfulness #4

I intended to go a different direction today but something was posted on Facebook that has given me such encouragement that I have to say, I am so thankful for my students! One of my former students, now a sophomore in my husband's high school, posted that she had truly enjoyed the literature circles that I developed for her 8th grade class, and that she had learned so much through the process. I was so blessed by that comment.

I saw that learning taking place in my classroom but I was never certain that the students actually realized how much they were learning. I have taught many novels over the years but this book club atmosphere just seemed so relevant to me. There are several things that I think are important about it. First is choice. I lay out ten to twelve different novels and let students choose what they want to read. Sometimes the novels have a unifying theme, for example my American Revolution, Civil War, and Holocaust novels. Other times it's about the length of the books because I do want the students to begin and end at about the same time. Other times it's just random books that appeal to me at the time. But choice is very significant. I have found that students are willing to try harder to do well if they have the responsibility of choosing what they read. Next is the atmosphere of collaboration. No one person is responsible for creating the lesson; each student contributes to the day's work. The discussion that ensues is amazing. When I hear my 8th graders talking about dynamic or static characters, the repetition of theme, the importance of the setting to the development of a novel, I get a bit light-headed. It is proof that they are really learning, becoming critical thinkers/readers. Plus, let's face it, junior high students are social beings who need to talk. Directing their discussion into literature doesn't seem to matter to them as long as they are allowed to talk! Also I find the organization of the system really helps students to become more organized themselves. I prepare individual task calendars for each student. That is the most difficult job of this entire experience. Once it is done, it's smooth sailing for me as a teacher. Students love ticking off their jobs on the calendar and tend to pay more attention to their own planners once we start this.

Another little trick I have is quantity of reading. The first novels studied are the shortest and are over the longest time period. Each novel study is a day or two shorter than the prior one. I begin to push students to read more, faster, and thus become habitual readers. They create their own tests through their word choice for the smithing process and the thinking questions that lead to my own essay questions later. And it is never difficult to find an essay proposal when it involves literature. Apart from the obvious character analysis, there is the element of theme or mood or conflict that is easily explored in a 250-450 word essay. And yes, they often write longer essays but are learning to become more concise in their writing, to choose interesting words that reflect big ideas rather than ten words to say the same thing.

So today I am thankful for my students. It probably helps that today is a snow day and that I'm home, still in my bathrobe, drinking coffee in front of the fire. Right. I am quite sure this helps!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thankfulness #3

I'm glad I'm focusing on thankfulness this week otherwise this ridiculous day would get far more attention than it deserved. As it was, this was the least productive day I've had at school in years! And it's all because of S-N-O-W! Nearly all night long, students emailed and FB questions about school. I told them we were having school but they didn't want to have school, so today they acted like crazy people instead. Actually my husband's stories of this day are far worse than mine so I will refrain from any more discussion of my day. At least I'm alive!

I never totally understood the concept of Christian Family until my first grandchild was born. This idea of the cycle of life became so clear to me at that moment. Kayla, my beautiful granddaughter, came into this world over ten years ago and has been a delight from the moment she was born. But more than that, she gave me the sense of generational faith that I had not understood before her birth. It was reinforced last month when my fifth grandchild, Eliott, was born. Another boy! We now have three granddaughters and two grandsons... plus a male grandpuppy. Don't think for a moment he doesn't count. Colton needs him to level the playing field at his house.

My father-in-law once told me that he was praying through my grandchildren and it would be my duty to pray through my grandchildren's children. I know it's not that easy. I know that the element of personal choice is huge in this relationship but his words have often caused me to think and yes, to pray, that my grandchildren's children might early know and love God.

I am so thankful for these five children (and any more that my second son and his wife would like to bestow upon me). Whenever I am able to see them, to be with them, I have such an overwhelming sense of joy and delight. Talking to other grandmothers, I realize that I am truly blessed because not all grandmas feel as I do. Their situations are completely different. Too many of them are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Parents have abdicated their responsibilities through substance abuse or incarceration. It's a sad thing to have to raise grandchildren because of parental irresponsibility. If anything ever happened to my children, I would gladly step up to the plate and do everything in my power to help my grandchildren feel loved and supported but I am glad to say that this level of responsibility has not been necessary. My sons and daughters are wonderful parents and I rest in this sentiment of deep personal satisfaction for all I have received... from them and from the Lord.

It's true; God Himself considers grandchildren to be a blessing (read Proverbs) and I heartily concur!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thankfulness #2

It is snowing outside, which is not what I'm thankful for but wow, it is so beautiful! There's nothing quite as pretty as the first snowfall of the season. As long as it's done before December 21st so my plane can fly, I'm just dandy about snow!

I am so thankful for my sons and daughters. I have four children - with two of them I endured nine months of being really large and awkward. Both of them arrived via c-section, with the second birth being significantly easier than the first. My two red-headed boys are such a joy. They love us dearly and they are the best of friends. It's more than we could have hoped for, given all the sibling rivalry that occurred when they were quite young. Thankfully they got over that a long time ago. Both of our sons have grown into wonderful men. They both are committed to loving God and serving their community of believers and unbelievers. I really like that. Both are strong men, leaders, yet amazingly gentle with their little ones. Both did something really, really intelligent. They married extremely well. Scott married Kassie over 14 years ago. Amazing! That's so much longer than it feels like to me. I love my Kassie, a first born girl with great strength and a loving heart. She continues to impress me with her innate ability to handle three children and that big fourth one - my son. She is an organizer of the first order, great at graphic design, and the perfect mother for my three oldest grandchildren. What a blessing she is - daily in our lives! Then over eight years ago, Brian demonstrated his good taste by marrying our Erin. Dear, gentle, quietly resilient Erin. Oh how I love her. Her talent as an artist is demonstrated by her work displayed throughout our house. Her love for international life makes her the perfect match for our son. Her incredibly gentle and astute abilities as a loving mother to our two youngest grandchildren bless me beyond measure. I am so grateful for her. She rescued us all many years ago, took us on to love and cherish (well, that was actually for our son) and has changed our lives forever. Both of my girls love the Lord with their whole beings and are committed to serving Him. They astound me with their depth of faith and character.

I have done nothing to merit such blessing. People I know who were, without doubt, better mothers than I, deal with broken family relationships today. These children are simply a gift. They are perfectly wonderful and wonderfully imperfect. I would not enjoy having perfect children. How boring! All of my children have enriched my life by simply being. Oh God, I am so very thankful!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thankfulness #1

I have decided I need a week of thankfulness. I've been overwhelmed by some of the things I read on the web, from the amazing generosity of people to the idiocy of some classroom situations. I realize that I lead a very blessed life and want to reflect on that this week. Beginning with the man on the roof of my house.

I met my husband when we were in high school. We have defied the statistics; not only did we get married but we've stayed married - for 37+ years so far. T's greatest love (besides the Lord and me) was playing his trumpet. He was so good, so very good; it was an amazing gift. But years of living overseas away from all his musical opportunities took its toll on his lip - an important commodity for a trumpet player - and his trumpet began to gather dust. Then cancer visited, thankfully just as a visitor not a resident. Whatever hope he had of getting his lip back seemed to be out the door. Then at some point in time this year, I began to hear the muted sounds of that horn again. This morning, the mute was removed and the trumpet was blown full blast. And it sounds wonderful. I am so happy to hear him playing again for he loves it so!

Oh yes, about the roof... my one-eyed man is up there spraying a bleach/water combination trying to kill the moss. I have given up asking him to be careful. He's living his life, doing what he would have done with or without cancer. I love this man. He is one of God's greatest gifts to me. Yes, I have good reason to be thankful today.


I am trying to convince myself to clean my house. I seem to need more motivation to do this than I presently possess. I love Saturdays more than any day of the week and to spend the day cleaning feels wrong somehow. Maybe I'll give it an hour and then forget it. Laundry doesn't count. I'm talking the vacuuming and scrubbing stuff. Yep, I'll give it an hour and a half. At lunch time I will quit and live with the rest of the dirt! Such powerful reasoning I have to arrive so quickly at such an acceptable compromise.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Poem 4 Friday

I have no idea who wrote this but it is Friday and I am SO glad!


Friday is most certainly the greatest of days.
The reasons it’s great are too many to say.
But with that said, I’ll try to explain
Why Friday is better than a day without rain.

You see on Friday, you can work with a smile.
You need only work, for a little while.
For the weekend is near and then you can play.
Much fun to be brought by the most generous of days.

And generous it is, as morning treats can attest.
The cream filled donuts are definitely the best.
But don’t dare forget, the bagels are good too.
If there’s none in your office, that’s too bad for you.

Friday isn’t all treats and happy things.
There is but one obstacle the day does bring.
And that, my friend, is the slowing of time.
But if you can bear it, you’ll do just fine.

So join with me and laugh and cheer.
The work week’s end is drawing near.
Join with me and praise this day.
I’ve said what I’ve said, and I’ve nothing more to say.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Half days and plays

We are in half-day week because of conferences. As fatiguing as that is, the conferences I mean, there's something great about finding out a ton of info about my students that helps me understand how they tick. Even better, today our students were the audience for the high school fall play, "The Scarlet Pimpernel" which was simply fabulous. Even better, the director is one of the seniors! The drama coach stepped "off the stage" last year to have a beautiful baby girl. And they were present today for this dress rehearsal. I know it meant so much to her former students. It was a good day!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Conferences and rain

Rainy, gloomy weather makes for somewhat disgruntled adults. At least when they come into my room for a conference, that's what I'm seeing! Usually I am able to help them leave hopeful and smiling but not always. Many of my students are suffering, and I didn't even know it. The things we do to our kids. God help us! And He is helping us, to challenge, to instruct, to correct, to encourage our students. Ah, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my God and my Redeemer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Unexpected

We have a day off school today. Last night a big wind storm blew through Western Washington and many lost power. Ours flickered on and off a few times but kept chugging. The area around our school, however, is totally out. One of our colleagues went in early this morning and said it was dark and cold!

I remember living days, weeks without power in Haiti. At one point in time, we went 120 days with less than 100 hours of electricity. That was a strain but we were fine. The difference? Weather. It's one thing to lose power when your average temperature is 82* and quite another when it is 8 o'clock in the morning and hasn't hit 50* yet! Think I'll just enjoy the day!

Monday, November 15, 2010


AUGH! I could probably just post that word and it would be sufficient. Mondays in junior high are terrible, for the most part. Every now and then, we are surprised by a Monday with students who remember their homework, manage their books and supplies, get to the right classes without bumrushing someone in the hallway, and speak respectfully to their teachers. But that happens about as often as that blue moon thing.

This is conference week; we'll start on Wednesday. Suddenly the grades on-line are important. Suddenly we are wondering what can be done to raise this and that. I'm at a loss. There is no easy answer to this situation. If I post grades every night (which I do) and post homework on Edmodo every day (which I almost always do) then I should be able to expect that others will look at what I have done and that consequences will follow. But... I... guess... not! So I'm going home.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday - long day!

Part of the reason today seemed so long is that I went to bed so late last night. A month or so ago, I was asked to speak at a dinner. Since that day I've been gathering my thoughts. Almost right away I started a document on my computer. From time to time, I just jotted down my thoughts - a paragraph here and there, whenever something came to me. Last night I read through my notes (it was already after 10, silly me!) and started putting things together. When I finished around 1 o'clock this morning, I had about 1600 words. Obviously I'm not done with this. (e.d.i.t.)

I was up before 7, got ready for church, sang in the choir for first service then picked up two of my grandkids from their classes. They had muffins and juice and told me all about their morning. Then it was time for 2nd service and choir again. Once the choir was done, T and I took grandchild #3 and headed out to I-Hop for brunch. This time we actually made it to I-Hop! The entire time we had little miss Sierra, she never quit talking. I think I heard more out of her today than I have heard in the three years she's been alive! And I learned so much about her. She is very compassionate and generous. When we first talked about going to brunch this morning, she was all excited about it. But she was also concerned for her brother and sister and wanted us to know that it was okay if they came too. We told her that they'd already had a turn and it was her turn to go with us, by herself. She just wiggled with excitement. When asked what she would like to receive for Christmas, she said a doll so she could give it to her friend Hailey because she really loves dollies. Somehow I never expected these types of reactions from Sierra. What a sweetheart!

After brunch I took Sierra home while T got ready for the National Honor Society induction of new members. He worked for quite a while yesterday on a lovely program for the ceremony and the parents and sponsors were so appreciative. Of the fourteen new members, eleven have been in my classes either in junior high or last year's World History class at NCHS. I really was just delighted to be a part of this moment, honoring these great students.

Got the doors locked and went out to the parking lot where we decided to divide and conquer. T went to visit his mom and I went to visit mine. We spent about an hour and a half with them then headed home. I'm tired and still need to plan a devotional for tomorrow morning. Not to worry, I have a file at school with several options. I think I'll just sit here by the fire and sip my spiced cider. It's time to relax!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


We had a fun evening at our son's last night. He called about 4 o'clock, inviting us over so we could meet Scout their new dog. He's a boy-dog because Colton needed another boy in the house. He feels quite outnumbered with two sisters. Here's Scout:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: In Flanders Fields by Dr. John McCrae

Today I talked with my students about Armistice Day - Veteran's Day. We had the day off yesterday and although we had the informative assembly on Wednesday afternoon, it's always better to have the discussion in a smaller setting. For Poetry Friday, I shared this one:

In Flanders Fields - a poem by Dr. John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

As painful as it is to remember (and we have many military families in our school) we need to think of those who have made that ultimate sacrifice and be grateful.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fall Clean-up

My husband and I spent about three hours in the yard today. Actually, that's not quite right; he was on the roof removing moss and I was in the yard. Nevertheless, we were both outdoors. It was nice this morning, cool but sunny. I weeded a couple beds, cut back calla lilies, the huge stargazer lily, the rest of the iris, and some day lilies. I also planted 75 daffodil bulbs. Cleaning out my raised bed garden turned into a treasure hunt. The tomatoes were long gone so I pulled out the plants. The lemon cucumbers were finished but there were still six cucumbers on the vines so I picked those, and I found two more zucchini before I pulled that plant out. Note to self, one zucchini plant is plenty! Thankfully it started misting about noon and raining about 30 minutes later. As it is, I am so sore! I haven't done any yard work for months and wasn't truly prepared for what I did today. But it was nice to clean things up a bit. Winter is just around the corner!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanks to the Vets

There is a mandate in American education that school children will be instructed once a year in the cost of our freedom through an assembly honoring veterans. It happens the day before Veteran's Day each year at our school. I always get a lump in my throat as I think of the many students who have parents serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other places. I do want to honor the veterans but I also want to be kind and considerate of those children who are trying to figure out how to get through the day without mom or dad or both, as is the case with one elementary student here. I am always moved by the children's sacrifice and I pray that a happy reunion will come soon. Freedom truly is not free; it costs lives and relationships. God bless those who serve and those who wait at home.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Field Trip Schedule

Yesterday the 8th graders went on a field trip. I was here at school with the 7th graders, which was lovely. Two additional planning periods became a part of my morning. Oh how I love having a planning period in the morning! The chance to stop, think, breathe in the morning was just glorious! My colleague was not so fortunate and had the normal five solids in his morning schedule but because I was so relaxed, I took one of his afternoon classes so he could have some extra time to make up for his harder morning. Unfortunately the 8th graders only take this one field trip as an individual class. All their other field trips are in conjunction with the 7th graders. But I am still thankful for the breath of fresh air granted to me on this one day in November.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Negotiator

We have started something fun. Each Sunday after church we go to breakfast with one of our three in-town grandchildren. Last week, first-born granddaughter Kayla went happily to I-Hop with us and then spent the afternoon at our house. Yesterday was Colton's turn. He does like to eat at I-Hop so that was our plan, with his approval of course. As we were leaving the church I looked back at this thoughtful little boy. I could see that the wheels were turning in his mind. We made eye contact and then he began:

"You know a really good place to eat, Grandma?"

"No, Colton, where's a really good place to eat?"

"Wendy's, it's really good!"

"Really! I didn't know that. Why is it so good?"

"Well, they have this thing called a Frosty. Have you ever had a Frosty, Grandma?"

"Yes, I have Colton. You're right; they are very good! What if we go to I-Hop for breakfast and then swing by Wendy's for a Frosty?"

"Well, we could do that... or... we could just go to Wendy's then we wouldn't have to go to two places!"

"What a good idea Colton. Let's go to Wendy's."

And that, my friends, is how a six-year-old negotiator works his grandparents with complete courtesy and respect. Kudos to my children who have raised him to express his needs and desires without being abrasive!

Sunday, November 07, 2010


While driving both to and from church today, we saw the most amazing rainbows! Doubles, even a triple - incredible. I have never seen such bright purple in a rainbow as I saw today. Really beautiful. Of course, in order to have this beauty there must be rain.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

What to do?

As I was leaving school Friday night, I heard a student tell his mother that he had a "C" in every class. I didn't say anything, just kept walking. I had just told him that morning that he had a "D-" in one of my classes and an "F" in another. But I still didn't say anything because I was at the far end of the hallway and would have had to sprint down there, admit I was listening to their personal conversation, and it was Friday - 6 PM - I had just finished my grades and I wanted to go home. Besides, his mom is something else to deal with and it was Friday, I had nothing left that could possibly give me enough strength to do that. Conferences should be interesting.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Kind Kids

I love it when my students do good things. Yesterday one of the 8th grade girls had a birthday. She's been in this school since she was three! The balloons and treats and posters and screaming and singing---pandemonium!

In the middle of a party, one of my 7th grade students, who happens to need an extra level of compassionate attention, got all teary. He is a new student this year and his birthday was the second week of school. No one knew him well enough to say Happy Birthday let alone go crazy over his special day. He simply could not let go of the idea that all this jubilation was going on and no one even thought to say anything nice to him six weeks ago. He was pretty miserable all day yesterday.

When G and J realized what was happening with this special guy, they got their heads together, designed a big birthday card, decorated his locker with balloons and posters, greeted him at the door this morning with all their classmates, had candies, popcorn and cookies hidden in his locker, and then sang to him at lunch. He was so happy. It is very difficult for him to truly know how to respond to people but he was happy all day long.

Teaching students like G and J make it all worthwhile. Good work ladies!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Long day

Wednesday, what a long day! I’m finishing the Bronze Bow unit with my 7th graders this week and we have so many things to deal with that even I get confused! Wednesday was fun though. Students have been choosing vocabulary words since day one of this study and creating a word search puzzle. I checked their work and then had them exchange and work each other’s masterpiece. They loved it, especially the boys. They were laughing so hard that the girls started complaining about the noise. Today is project day. I’m expecting a lot of scrolls (the easiest project) and several replicas of synagogues and outlaw camps. Those seemed to be the favorite suggested ideas. Testing happens Friday and then – the weekend. Oh weekend, how I love thee…

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Politically speaking...

What an interesting night, politically speaking. Does the Party of No now find a way to do something over the next two years or do we continue to blame the White House? Honestly, I’ve been pretty disgusted with the last four years. Who was in charge when this mess was created and what have we done to try to fix it? I hate it when people refuse to take responsibility for their actions. All that deregulation of banks and Wall Street. Made the really fat cats uber rich and shoved everyone else underwater with their mortgages! I hope this election means some work will be done in the DC area but it’s pretty scary to think that 40% of those now serving in congress will be in their first term. Some of the truly dumb challengers didn’t make it, thank heavens. Some changes were good ones but in the process big promises have been made. I can’t wait to see Mr. Boehner actually start to work; what a refreshing change for him. The other election news that actually shocked me was to learn that Meg Whitman spent between $150-$168 million on her campaign! And lost! And that $120 million of that money was from her personal bank account! Oh - my - word! As for me, I’m certainly not a political expert. The Republicans I voted for lost and all but one of the Democrats I voted for won. Rather weird. Guess we’ll see if we change it all up again in two years. Our country appears to be quite ADD when it comes to elections. But it sure beats what I have seen in other places. People who lose here actually admit it and people who win usually have something nice to say about the guy they were calling a slimeball just hours before. Now to watch everything get fixed. And I will be watching, won’t you? How long shall we give them to do it? Six months? That’s the time we used to give Haitian government officials to fix Haiti’s problems before the impeachment graffiti started appearing. But we’re Americans, and so generous as well – I say we give them nine months. That should do it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Forever and Forever

My grandchildren mean the world to me. Love, yes the kind of love that truly would lay down my life for them, that’s it! That’s what I feel for them. Babysitting is a riot, including trips to Chuck E. Cheese from time to time, which makes for great childcare plus rates pretty high on the cool grandparent scale.

On Halloween night, three little costumed cuties showed up at my door, ready for treats. And treats were what they got – a quart sized zip-lock bag of small toys, candy, and fruit roll-ups for each Jedi, Asian Princess, and Super-Girl. The three left for a few moments to hit the neighborhood, accompanied by Grandpa (the Pirate Captain) and their dad. When they got back, I was helping my three-year-old Super-girl adjust her outfit and the conversation went like this:

“I love you Sierra; you are such a big girl!”

“I love you too Grandma and I’m Super-girl and I’m going to take care of you forever and forever… cuz I’m Super-girl and I just love you.”

I was stunned. Overcome with joy. Ready to sob big tears, but I didn’t. Had I begun, I never would have stopped. How? What? Why… am I so blessed. I can barely contain my love, my delight, the sense that any moment I will awaken to find that the best dream a woman could imagine just passed through my mind and heart. Don’t you dare pinch me!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Welcoming November: Anyone find an ark nearby?

It is one of those days, raining non-stop. Washington is quite famous for this type of weather but somehow, I am always ready to sing the Monday/rainy days song whenever the two coincide. Dripping rain would be one thing but this torrential downpour is starting to freak me out. And I was born here! But if I am feeling threatened, imagine the troubled minds of those who live in Haiti, who are anticipating Hurricane Tomas. As my older son said, "Because a massive earthquake, pandemic poverty, and a cholera outbreak aren't enough... What do you say to those living there that seek a merciful God? Crazy!" I don't know what to say to them but I do know that lately, I have been asking God a few questions about justice.

On a lighter side, this is National Blog Posting Month. NaBloPoMo I have friends who are using this month to focus on writing the book that is hiding in their heads and hearts. No way on earth will I begin to attempt such an operation in November. The grading period ends Wednesday, conferences are in a week and a half, essays, packets, grammar review tests... need I elaborate? But I will try, with all my might, to blog daily during November. Even Thanksgiving Day! That is if I can tread water long enough and eventually swim through this storm.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween: the great debate

It's funny how jacked up people get over Halloween. No matter how these things once started, they have evolved! We are part of the group who has fun on this day. As I type this, my one-eyed husband is all dressed up in a pirate suit, ready to scare the little kids... or not. He isn't that scary! But he has a wonderful sense of humor and he loves to have fun. So we celebrate, not with haunted houses or creepy devilish anything, just fun and candy and enjoying the presence of little children coming to the door for a treat.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Blank Beauty by Judith Pordon

My students in Writers' Workshop loved this:

Blank Beauty by Judith Pordon

Beautiful blank pages
kiss our
with backgrounds
that demand precision.
Our black letters cross
on tightrope lines,
without wavering
across deep invisible currents.
These beautiful blank pages
are promises of our
Our gentlest strokes
of darkness upon light.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Book Club

Like many junior high schools, ours is set up so we teach our core classes in the morning. Bible is first and then all the history, math, English, and science follows. The afternoons begin with an enrichment class, one of four: Spanish, Pacific Northwest History, Writers' Workshop, and Applied Science. All student take each of these as a one-semester class at some time during the two years of junior high. Grade levels are not an issue and the seventh graders love being in class with the eighth graders. We used to have enrichment classes three days a week (MWF) with fun classes called electives on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But it just didn't work. I really needed continuity for Writers' Workshop. My students sometimes just lost their train of thought when they had to wait so long for class. Plus, most of the track meets were on Fridays so the Spring was awful!

Last year I proposed a change. We would teach our enrichment classes every day, five days a week for seven weeks and then devote the last thirteen to fourteen days of every quarter to electives. And it works! Quite well! Each teacher is asked to do two of four electives during the year and parents volunteer for the remaining classes. Usually I facilitate a chess room first quarter and the word game room third quarter. But this year I wanted something different. I wanted a book club. So I put it out there, thinking of all the special girls who would sign up to read Pride and Prejudice with me! Imagine my shock at having six boys in my group - not a girl to behold! P-n-P would obviously need to be replaced.

We started with Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park. A Korean-American, Ms. Park wrote A Single Shard, one of my favorite books for junior high and the one I use to introduce writing research papers to my students. We finished AQ in a week and were ready for other things. So I went through my bookshelves and pulled out 30 books that I thought the boys would like. They quickly made their choices, pulled up bean-bag chairs and floor pillows and read for 30 minutes. The last ten minutes of each session we get together and talk about our books. So far we've discussed setting, characters, over-riding themes, conflict, and surprises. This has worked beautifully. I read too. The first couple of days I read some of their books but I finished them so fast that it didn't seem quite fair. Now I'm reading a book about birth order. The boys were intrigued by that idea. I love how each boy's face lights up as he shares his book with his friends. It really is a great class!

A couple photographers from the yearbook staff came into my room during our book club today. They took pictures - and the boys never knew they were there. They even got one of me, leaning back in my chair with my feet on my desk. This is the most wonderful 42 minutes of my day. And the boys love it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

50 Gourdes

No, I'm not talking about the hard-shelled vegetable looking thing. A gourde is a unit of currency in the country of Haiti. One of the blogs I follow just mentioned that a man (sick with cholera) told the writer that he was too poor to get a moto-taxi to go to the hospital. The writer mentioned that the taxi only cost 50 gourdes or $1.25 US. There's danger in that statement. Anytime we value someone's currency based on our own, it gets tricky. When our family first arrived in Haiti, the Haitian gourde was legally tied to the US dollar, so much so that we used to calculate everything in Haitian dollars, a currency that honestly never really existed. But it wasn't just the ex-pats that referred to the currency that way, the grocery and hardware store owners, the bankers, as well as the average Haitian on the street did too. At that time, $1.00 US was equal to 5 gourdes - not 50! So even though the 50 gourdes is only worth $1.25 US, to that sick man it is still 50 gourdes - not one, not two but fifty! Those of us who get paid in US dollars and exchange our valuable currency for the very weak Haitian gourde can quickly accumulate a lot of gourdes. However, the Haitian who works sweeping the street or doing yard work or working in one of the few factories in Haiti is not paid in dollars but in gourdes, a currency that has plummeted in value over the years. Fifty gourdes is a lot of money to a poor Haitian.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lit Circles - American War for Independence

I finally have enough different books that I can have literature circles that deal with the American War for Independence. Since I have students who read at various levels this can get a bit tricky. But I found multiple copies of several books including the old stand-by that's still quite good Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. In addition I have Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson, The Fighting Ground by Avi, An Eye for An Eye by Peter and Connie Roop, and Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen.

Mr. Revere and I
is interesting because it's told from Scheherazade's point of view - and she's a horse. The protagonist in An Eye for An Eye is a 13-year-old girl, Samantha, who does not allow herself to be defined by the social expectations of her day but chooses to fight to save her brother. The girls who read it liked Samantha's independent spirit even if they thought the book was too easy.

Woods Runner
is a new book; the paperback version doesn't come out until January 2011. I scoured the libraries until I found six copies that I checked out for my students. This has a very interesting format. The story line is quite simple. A 13-year-old boy, Samuel, is very adept in the wilderness. His parents and other nearby settlers depend on his hunting skills for meat. One day while out hunting, the British come, accompanied by Iroquois, and kill most of the settlers, but take his parents captive. The story follows Samuel's journey as he attempts to save his parents. In between each chapter is a half-page to page and a half of historical information that relates to the previously read chapter. This causes a slight disruption in the flow of the story but the facts presented are quite interesting, not what junior high students usually learn while studying the American War for Independence.

Frankly, none of these books is difficult to read but Woods Runner and The Fighting Ground are quite descriptive in the death or dying scenes. The Fighting Ground is interesting in that it takes place over just a few days. The scenes are measured by time not dates.

I plan the literature circles so we finish these book studies just a few days before the history teacher actually starts teaching this part of American History. It gives the students a lot more background information than they realize and helps them relate to the information presented.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The word disparity keeps coming to my mind. For several days I've been reading everything I can find on cholera because people I know in Haiti are now fighting that battle. And here at home, it has been homecoming week. Football games, class competitions, carnival, volleyball games, and last night's homecoming cruise on Lake Washington that ultimately took us near Bill Gates' little place on the water. With very little research I discovered that "according to King County public records, as of 2002, the total assessed value of the property (land and house) is $113 million, and the annual property tax is just over $1 million. Also according to the National Association of Home Builders, the median American house size is slightly more than 2,000 square feet. Microsoft founder William Gates III house is more than 30 times that size." []
Yeah, it was totally impressive.
Disparity... Now I'm not here to bash Bill Gates. I am well aware of his investment in health care and education both here and abroad. But what do we do about disparity? My husband and I talked today about ourselves, the cruise we went on with our students last night. Seriously, what a fabulous evening! The kids were gorgeous in their pretty dresses and nice suits. Dancing, singing, and laughing hilariously, everyone had so much fun. But as we passed along the shoreline, we wondered how many people were living under the bridges, homeless, cold and wet, hungry?

Disparity... What must we do? Should we stop the party? Stop homecoming and prom and school plays, all activities that cost a lot of money, and put that money into something to help the poor? Would it help the poor? I just don't know. How do we respond to the suffering in the world?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poetry Friday: Did I Miss Anything? by Tom Wayman

I found this one night in my shuffling around blogs. I loved it! I've printed it off and shared it with our staff at school. I just had to repost it! Now is the season of colds and flu at school and kids always ask the question:

"Did I Miss Anything?" by Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours.

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent.

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning.
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose.

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter.
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on Earth.

Nothing. When you are not present,
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience,
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder.
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place,

and you weren’t here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunch Duty

It's silly but I hate being in the lunch room. I only have this duty once every three weeks but I think I'd pay one of my colleagues to do it for me. Anyone want to make an extra $25? When we go into the cafeteria, we inevitably have to wait for the pre-schoolers to vacate our tables. They're late. And messy... you can only imagine! The third and fourth graders leave within five minutes of our arrival but the kindergarteners stay until five minutes before we leave. It . is . chaos! The noise level is well beyond obnoxious.

Students will do all kinds of things in the cafeteria that they would not think of doing anywhere else! And I don't mean throwing food. Although a few have pulled that stunt, it doesn't happen often. Especially if I'm in the room. But the pushing and bumping and snatching of others' stuff, oh dear, so annoying. I only have one more day and then I don't have to do this again until the middle of November.

In my previous schools, aides were hired to take this duty. And the school before that? We ate outside at picnic tables. Oh fond memories of rice and beans and bananes! I don't remember that being a duty but it sure is now!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Praying the News

The purpose of the news is to make us pray. I am convinced that immeasurably good things would happen if we prayed about the news rather than complained about it all the time. [And yes, I am totally sick of nasty political ads and wish it was mid-November right about now.] God calls us to pray continuously: in times of crisis, blessing, need, praise, all the time - we're supposed to pray. It's about communicating, talking to God. He wants to hear what we think and then He wants to tell us what He thinks... if we'll just listen. He wants to prepare us for hard times and share in our joy. We're supposed to pray, to want to pray. I'm so glad it just means to talk, just normal conversation.

All day I've been praying for students. Former students. Our junior high gets a big influx of students from the public elementary schools each year and then after 8th grade, they often go back into the public high schools. I am so aware that I only have two years to teach these students to stand up for the right thing because it's right, to bear the burdens of others, to love others - not only as we love ourselves - but with the new commandment that Jesus gave - to love others as He loved us.

A local high school student died in a car accident last night. As soon as I saw the two-sentence breaking news, I posted a message to my former students who are now part of that high school student body. It basically said this: "Armor-up. God is calling you to comfort and console, to be a voice for Him at your school tomorrow. We will be praying for you!" And we did. Our staff prayed for those former students this morning and many of us continued to pray throughout the day. As I followed comments on FB I realized that our students were answering God's call, listening, loving, helping, comforting, encouraging... and I was so grateful that they were ready and that we were praying.

The news is often discouraging; we need to recognize it as God's call to prayer. And pray.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Two Weeks later

What cute grandchildren I have. Eliott is now two weeks old (only a week in this photo) and his big sister, Grace, adores him. We do too!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Autumn Fun

Yesterday was fun. My husband and I have worked hard for months both at home and at school. He's a high school principal and I'm a junior high language arts teacher. At home we have completely renovated our backyard, something that took all summer to accomplish. There has been a fair amount of renovation at school also. T redesigned the staff work room layout, making it much more organized and effective for teachers. Plus it just looks good! New classes were added and others deleted from the school program. Slowly but surely he is making significant changes.

When we woke up Saturday morning, late, the sun was shining and the cool air beckoned us outside. It would have been so easy to work in the yard. I have 75 daffodil bulbs that need planting! But we resisted that temptation and headed downtown.

We haven't been in our downtown area for a few years. Sad but true. Parking has a lot to do with that. But since the weather was gorgeous, we parked and walked about ten blocks into the downtown area. We first hit a great toy store. We need to buy for additional people this Christmas since we are going to Israel to spend the holidays with our French kids and their families. I found dolls that I love for the little girls but the price exceeds the budget that we were given so I need to keep looking. Nuts! We had lunch at an old restaurant that my dad used to haunt. He needs to truly haunt it now (he died in 2002) because it isn't very good anymore. Then we walked around town, window shopping, looking for a bakery that would make the memory of our lunch disappear. We didn't find a bakery but we did find an antique store that had lots of books at good prices. I bought 22 books for $34. Not bad.

I've noticed something in my classroom. Each day my kids come in and read quietly for as long as I can permit. It depends on the day and the quantity of material that needs to be covered. I have added considerably to my classroom library to the point that the kids spend quite a long time scanning the shelves. I've noticed that the boys have gravitated to the non-fiction shelf. Yes, I only have one good-sized shelf of non-fiction books and several of them are biographies. I love biographies because they can inspire kids to persevere but my kids aren't really reading those books. Interspersed among the bios are several books on fishing, hunting, spiders, snakes, and cowboys. Yes, I do live in the west. Yesterday more than half the books I picked up were non-fiction books that my boys would enjoy. There are more cowboy books as well as books on sharks, inventions, and space. I also bought three Patrick McManus books. A little known fact about PMc is that he was once employed by the Daily O - our local newspaper. He is a great, humorous, short-story writer and the author of the first story my 7th graders read each year. They also base their first essay on this story. I can't wait to share these books with my students. My boys are going to fight over them!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetry Friday with Emerson

Not a poem but one of my favorite American authors ever:
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The definition of success--
To laugh much;
to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children;
to earn the approbation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give one's self;
to leave the world a little better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm,
and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--
this is to have succeeded.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Rats?

I'm not sure why God created rats. I know I can't stand them. Having lived in tropical parts of the world for 25 years, Martinique, Haiti, and the country of Miami, I expected to see them everywhere. I hated watching them scamper across the electrical wires onto the roofs of buildings. Finding purpose in the life of a rat... I'm struggling with that one. Imagine my surprise at discovering one in my garage, here, in the cool and comfy state of Washington! After packing lunches for school early this morning, I opened the door in the kitchen/family room into the garage, turned on the light, stepped onto the garage landing and before stepping down onto the concrete floor, noticed a rat calmly waddling across the floor toward the furnace. I didn't scream but I didn't actually enter into the garage either. Calling for my husband to do his manly duty, I went inside to finish getting ready for school. T informed me that the rat had moved slightly behind the furnace. Not good! He thought it had probably eaten the poison he'd left under the shed in the backyard and that it was dying because as he explained, he'd never witnessed a rat move so slowly. UGH! All day I thought of that rodent in my garage. I got home from school at least two hours before T but I didn't linger in the garage. Not me... I came into the house, firmly shut the door, and stayed busy. Later, T came home and finished the job of slaying the rodent who was somehow still alive. Gross! I find those critters to be disgusting. I sure hope it didn't leave any family members behind!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lovin' technology!

Some days technology is my friend and other days it is a bitter enemy. On enemy days it usually means something isn't working! But today I am loving it sooooo much! This morning T and I spent an hour on iChat, watching our grandchildren and talking with our kids who live in France. Oh we miss them but iChat does make it so much easier!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Poetry Friday - New Grandson

I have a new grandson but I live in Washington (state) and he lives in Jouy-en-Josas, France. The earliest I will be able to hold him is Christmas time, and he will already be close to three months old. So in honor of my newest (#5) little one, I post this poem by Susan L. Schmidt.

A poem written by a grandmother to her grandson whom she has not yet met. She gives her heartfelt advice to live the good life.

Letter To My Grandson
© Susan L. Schmidt

By the time you read this you will be a big boy.
I know you will be kind, funny, wise, sensitive, interesting, and a ball of fire!
Your parents are all of these things.
I know you will be strong and a wonderful hugger. Your father was and still is.
I wish you happy, happy, days! You will have some bad days, yes.
They are important so you can appreciate the good ones.
There will be disappointments; I know you will be able to handle them.
Granny always says, "Life is 10% of what happens and 90% how you handle it.
I pray you learn about humility.
Please always let an outsider feel inside, and always, always, be kind.
I hope you learn that honesty is the best policy, and that doing hard days
work will always make you feel better.
Be a loyal friend, one people can count on and trust.
I hope you put all of these wonderful things you possess to make yourself and the world around you a better place to live in.
Please learn about the “God Stuff”, it really works, trust me.
You have such a wonderful mother. She will be the one to teach you all the good things in life. Remember how to play, for you are in for a loving time.
I hope we will be close always.
I can't wait to see you. I love you already.

Susan L. Schmidt

Monday, October 04, 2010

What a difference nine hours make!

I have a new grandbaby! His name is Eliott Ray and he was born on Tuesday, October 5th. Yes, I know today is Monday the 4th but he lives in France so he is nine hours ahead of us. It feels weird for him to have his birthday on a day we have yet to experience! But I am overjoyed. Another red-head! Woo-Hoo!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

And the walls came a-tumblin' down!

Twenty years ago... I remember watching the wall that separated East and West Germany fall. I stopped by Jeanine van Beek's house on the campus where we lived in Haiti. She was in her living room, glued to the TV, tears streaming down her face. Jeanine's family had suffered during WWII. Her father was responsible for saving many Jewish refugees and the family went through a tremendous amount of suffering because of his commitment to do what was right regardless of the cost. Jeanine never thought she would see that wall destroyed. It wasn't too long after that when a college in Schauffhausen called her to be their president. She was thrilled to go, to be a part of the new Europe. Jeanine died several years ago. She was an ordained minister, a gifted professor, a very intelligent woman, and I was proud to be her friend.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Poetry Friday: Don't You Quit!

I was reminded recently that often we are too quick to give up, on others and on ourselves. It is vitally important that we remember that some of the best minds in the world were early failures.

Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old; he didn’t read until he was seven.

Sir Isaac Newton did not do well in school.

Ludwig Von Beethoven’s music teacher said, “As a composer, he is hopeless!”

Thomas Edison’s teachers claimed that he was too stupid to learn.

F.W. Woolworth went to work in a store when he was 21 but couldn’t work with customers because the manager said he “didn’t have enough sense.”

Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper because he had “no good ideas.”

Enrico Caruso’s music teacher told him he couldn’t sing.

Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college.

Louis Pasteur did not do well in chemistry in college.

Louisa May Alcott was once told by an editor that her writing had no popular appeal.

Fred Waring was rejected from the high school chorus.

Winston Churchill failed sixth grade.

So as I look at my junior high students, I want to the one who totally believes in them, to forcefully encourage them--

Don't You Quit!

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
Whe he might have captured the victor's cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Extremely Significant Day!

September 30, 2004 was a very difficult, life-giving day for our family.

In April that year, my husband was diagnosed with an adenocarcinoma of the lacrimal gland, a tiny tumor in an equally tiny gland that created incredible havoc. We lived in Miami at the time and although there were many excellent surgeons and oncologists in the area, and we visited four of them, no one seemed willing to take action. I was so frustrated. Everytime we saw a doctor it was for tests or more exploratory surgery. A moment came in June when my husband and I finally realized that no one knew what to do. We called a friend, a former family physician, who recommended that we self-refer to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a part of the University of Texas Medical Center. God ordained that conversation with our friend because it changed our lives immediately.

T began the lengthy process of obtaining copies of all his tests and records and by mid-July, had faxed everything to MDA. Within days we had a response. We were to be there by the first of August for a week. There we had an amazing encounter with Dr. Bita Esmaeli, a teeny-tiny, incredibly brilliant, Iranian, oncologic-oculoplastic surgeon. She was the first doctor we met who had treated patients with T's cancer. She had seen three before him. She ordered a number of tests and after a few days met with us again. She had one recommendation that she believed could save his life, not just treat him while he lived with this disease but cure him of it. She was wonderful! She exuded confidence and assurance. However, the one course of treatment would mean that T would have radical, disfiguring surgery. He would lose his right eye, eyelid, and all surrounding nerves and tissue. She hoped to save the bone structure that comprised the orbit. T was devastated. He wouldn't lose an internal organ or chunk of flesh that could be hidden under clothing, he would lose part of his face. It was not an easy decision for him but he chose life; he chose to have the operation.

Today, six years after that day-long surgery, I continue to bless Dr. Esmaeli and her team who used every bit of their knowledge and expertise to heal my husband. I thank God for His sustaining grace that allowed T to not only endure but to thrive as he inspired all around him with his dry wit, unfailing humor, and positive outlook.

T had only one fear, that his grandbabies would be afraid of him. They have been curious from time to time; sometimes they're worried that Grandpa might hurt but they have never pulled away or shown even a bit of fear. In fact, when Gracie and her family lived with us for a few months last year before moving to France, she became used to seeing Grandpa without his eye-patch or prosthesis. One afternoon he came in from work, took off his patch, and Gracie ran to his arms. He picked her up and she turned toward him, patted the right side of his face, and kissed his empty socket. It was a moment of incredible emotional healing for T.

So today I celebrate renewal of life. We treasure every moment we have with our children and grandchildren. We pour ourselves into our students, doing all we can to prepare rock-solid Christian leaders who will love others as Christ does. And we are thankful, not only each year at this time, but every day, every minute, for the possibility of living... together.