Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I am in the process of reviewing the books my junior high students read each year. I did at least skim read them before I purchased six copies of each for my literature circles. Some I have read thoroughly. I have chosen two sets of book titles based on wars. I don't know that this is a good thing but the coming of age theme is always a good idea for junior high and nothing grows a child to adulthood like war! For all of my themed studies I've tried to choose books that range from about a 5th grade level up through 8th or 9th grade. I haven't gone higher than this, even though I have many students who are post high school in their reading abilities, because my goal is to teach the literary elements through these novel studies. It does seem to be working and my students enjoy the freedom of discussing their books in small groups.

I would like to develop a study revolving around the American War for Independence but for now, my students read Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes and Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson. Johnny Tremain is an old classic that does a great job of developing characters as well as introducing a lot of historical characters and events in a realistic manner. Students read this early in the year and learn to write a character analysis as well as pick up lots of history along the way. A couple years ago, I taught this to one of my classes early in the year and the other class a couple months later. The US History teacher was complimenting the class of students who had read the novel, saying they were so well prepared for their study of the American Revolution, especially compared to the other class which knew little or nothing. I really hesitate to use this book because it is such an easy read but I'm still doing it. If I ever find another than presents the subject as well on a higher reading level, I'll buy it.

My first themed study for literature circles is the Civil War. Students read a range of books including Red Cap by G. Clifton Wisler, Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark, Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt, Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith, and Which Way Freedom by Joyce Hansen. I'm on the lookout for two more so if anyone has a recommendation, bring it on! This, of course, introduces the whole concept of slavery and our discussions are intense! I'm sure it helps to live in the Northwest; we can be incensed, appalled, and probably a bit arrogant in our opinions since "we" didn't do it! It's a good time to inform junior high students that slavery, especially child slavery, still exists today and that we need to do all we can to eliminate this horror!

Toward the end of the year I introduce World War II or Holocaust novels. There are tons of these but I have a new favorite: I Am David by Anne Holm. We read others such as The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank, Behind the Secret Window - Nelly S. Toll, Daniel's Story - Carol Matas, and The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom, but I Am David is quite a special story. It grips me that he had to teach himself to smile. Although just a momentary pause in the overall story, David's fear for an infant was palatable. He couldn't remember seeing a baby so small and and knew she could not defend herself or know enough to be invisible around them. I love his decision to have a God and how he calls upon "the God of green pastures and still waters to help him" - to become his compass. David is quite a believable kid, doing unbelievable things. Sadly, the more I read of this era, the more the unbelievable becomes the expected.

Another book I really, really like is A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. I teach this as a class novel study. We have several Korean students who are a part of our junior high and I really wanted to introduce a book that would honor their culture and inform our students. A Single Shard portrays a 12th century, homeless, Korean, peasant boy who longs to become a potter. The ethics taught in this book are fabulous! Poverty is no excuse for lying, stealing, or doing wrong in any way. One of my personal goals for my students is to help them to kick it up a notch, to do the right thing because it is right not easy. This book is a great reinforcement for that idea. It is with this book that I teach writing a research paper with bibliography and all. I just picked up six copies of another Park book: Archer's Quest. I'll admit it, I bought it without reading more than the back cover. I also want to buy her novel The Kite Fighters but haven't done so as yet.

I teach a lot of other books throughout the year. I love teaching English through literature. I do have a basal series but I pick and choose what I use (not much). I also have the Write Source curriculum, the Wordly Wise workbooks (love them, even though it is random vocab). WW is a quick way to learn roots, antonyms and synonyms, prefixes and suffixes, and analogies. My students maintain reading journals with the help of 35 questions I found somewhere on the internet, actually I've compiled this list of questions from many I've found on the web.

I teach a Writer's Workshop as well. I love using Gail Carson Levine's book Writing Magic for mini-lessons. It's such a practical book but that's another post for another day. Time to get moving - the sun is shining!!! And that's a big deal in Washington state!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Life in the Park

Yesterday my husband and I went to Frye Cove County Park. This is so out of the way that I didn't even know it existed! We went for a short hike, down to the inlet, and just up and down trails in general. The vegetation is so dense that there were actually few birds in the area. But the forest smell was heavenly and the beauty of the water and mountains in the distance: breathtaking!

I live in a residential area that resembles a park. It's called Timberlake. The word says it all - we are surrounded by evergreens that are 40-50 feet tall and six houses down hill, at the end of my street, the lake begins. The development is about 50 years old. Our house is 42 years old. The houses in this development are pretty much all simple ramblers, ranch-style homes of about 2000 square feet on quarter acre lots. It's so nice to have space around us for the trees and gardens. We have deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, tons of birds. One neighbor saw a coyote near the lake last week. We are on the migration routes for ducks and geese, thanks to the long lake, I'm sure. Living in the northwest is so different from other parts of the USA. It's a lot cooler for one thing. This morning, at nearly 9 o'clock, it's not yet 60 degrees and the sounds and smells are quite reminiscent of yesterday's walk in the park. I actually hear and see more birds and the water is fresh water, not salt water, but the beauty of life in the park is quite the same. I love the peace and serenity it brings.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Different Perspective

I noticed people posting TGIF on their Facebook entries today and thought to myself, "It's Friday?" That is one of the things that happens to me when summer vacation hits, I don't know what day of the week it is and I certainly couldn't tell you the date! Well that's not quite true - today is June 25th and I know this because yesterday was the 24th, my Gracie's second birthday. We began our morning with her. Actually, she's in France - lives there with her parents - but through the wonder of iChat we were able to sing "Happy Birthday" and watch her open her present from us, a tricycle! Thank you Amazon.fr! Oh we miss her, but we are so very thankful for the gift of technology that allows us to see and experience her life in real time!

It is certainly different to live overseas these days. When we first left the states, I determined to stay in contact with my family so I began writing 'family letters' using six sheets of typing paper, carbon paper, and my manual typewriter! Good grief! It has not been 30 years yet but when was the last time anyone had a thought about a typewriter. I tried to explain it to Kayla one day, telling her that I had to push a lever to get to the next line of type - she was so confused. Anyway, my family letters... I always felt sorry for the person who received copy number six and would try to rotate the receiver so that everyone had the opportunity of receiving a clear copy at some time during the year. But my mother always received the first copy, the truly typed copy. She was, and still is today, my hero! But that's another post.

My family letters were blogs of sorts, rambling entries of our days, cute sayings from the boys, odd moments of loneliness or happiness, depending on our state of being at the time. We were in Haiti when the internet became a true force in the modern world. We never thought it could work in Haiti - but it did - and it revolutionized communication in that poverty infected nation forever. What a tool it was post-earthquake. I spent literally hours every day connecting needs with resources via the internet. What a difference it made! A-m-a-z-i-n-g!

So... right... today is Friday, June 25, 2010. I normally write the date on the whiteboard in my classroom each morning. During school I know what day it is, what the date is... but now, I am enjoying my summer vacation. Every tiny moment I have! I'll get back to knowing the date in a few weeks.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Speaking Truth Into Existence

Last Saturday, Sierra turned three. This is an amazing child. She is a creator - according to her father, Sierra speaks truth into existence. Earlier last week, I spent the day with Sierra. We did all kinds of fun things together but at some point, we talked about her approaching birthday. I asked her if she was going to have a party and she emphatically responded, "Yes! I am going to have a Princess Party!" I was impressed. This little girl loves playing with trucks in the sand, throwing baseballs with her brother and father, doing anything the big kids are doing, and she loves to dance. Whenever she decides to dance, she puts on a beautiful, pink, organdy dress that just floats. That's the only time she is princess-ish so for her to have a Princess Party - that's a big deal. So I asked her who was coming to her party and she told me that I would be attending her party. Hmmm... really? So why hadn't her mother told me about it? The next time I saw her mom, I mentioned the Princess Party. She didn't know a thing about it. There was no Princess Party... there was no party! I was concerned; my granddaughter was expecting a party. I asked if I could plan just a family party for her and her mother was delighted that I wanted to do this. So I went to Target... I love Target... and bought everything I needed for a Princess Party. Saturday, her birthday, I sent my husband to the store for beautiful cupcakes. I can make cupcakes but I don't have the patience to make beautiful cupcakes. I had purchased a cupcake holder that sets them up in tiers - very cool. Then I remembered that Sierra had mentioned a balloon and I hadn't told my husband to get a balloon! I called - I love cell phones - and he told me that he had purchased a package of them. What a guy! Thinking in the store, not after he got home! T came home, blew up balloons, tied three of them to the lamppost and scattered the rest over the entryway floor. We were ready. Sierra came in, followed by her brother and sister and her parents. We had a great day - a wonderful party - relaxing, celebratory, just perfect. Later, I was talking with my son about the party that almost wasn't and he informed me that Sierra does that... she speaks truth into existence. In the most matter of fact way possible she simply says what she thinks needs to happen. And she says it again and again and again until it does happen. Amazing. I am so glad she did because the entire day was perfect. It was a Party fit for a Princess and the entire royal family.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Summer Book Club

I have just organized a new summer book club. I actually began the process just before school was out so we would be ready for our summer vacation. There are only two members in this club: Me... and my granddaughter, Kayla. I am so excited! She is a great reader but I wanted to share some of my childhood faves with her so we are starting this Wednesday with Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. We will do lunch, somewhere nice, chat about the book (which she read in a couple days) and then head to a book store. I have a gift card that a wonderful parent gave me as a thank you for dealing with her difficult son. I SO earned that card! Kayla also had a difficult year at school this year. Her teacher was a down-sized administrator who was angry at the budget cuts that put him back in the classroom. It was NOT the year I had hoped she would have, especially in fourth grade, such a pivotal year. There's not much I can do to help her with math but I can build her understanding of literature and introduce her to more writing ideas. Although, thankfully, the writing specialist has not been eliminated so she still receives a ton of encouragement and instruction in writing. I am really hoping that my summer book club becomes a tradition for us. This child is God's special gift to me. I have four younger brothers, married a man with two brothers, gave birth to two sons, and when my firstborn announced that his wife was pregnant, I dared to hope (yep, I even prayed) that I would be buying pink! And there she was - my Kayla Rose - first flower in a garden of little girls plus one lone boy... until this fall when his first male cousin enters the world. So I have some work to do as I plan my first club meeting. I want to see what she knows about the elements of literature and discuss them, one or two at a time. I also need to choose book two. And I just want to enjoy my little girl who will be ten years old in August. She is growing up so fast and I don't want to miss a moment of this joy that she so freely gives me! (deep, contented sigh)

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I feel so blessed. It's literally embarrassing how blessed I feel. I know that life has not been easy; I'm not saying that. I am saying that through everything, God has richly blessed us by walking with us - holding hands kind of walking.

Early in our marriage, my husband developed a fever of undetermined origin. He spiked at 106.5 degrees for seven weeks. The doctors were helpless to heal him; they just treated it, doing all they could to bring it down. Meds didn't work but ice wraps and such helped. We went overseas as missionaries and twice in the six years that we lived in Martinique, the fever returned. Our doctor (yes, socialized medicine and all) was able to find a medication that worked, bringing the fever down to around 102 degrees. The first time it hung on for four and a half weeks, the second time about two weeks. It never returned.

While he was in college, our older son fell from a fence top on a construction site, broke some ribs, but missed the rebar sticking out of the concrete block where he fell... missed it by a couple inches. A few years later, our younger son was in a terrible car accident on icy roads. He was driving my cousin's BMW. Just before pulling onto the road, he noticed that his cousin didn't have her seatbelt on and he waited while she hooked it up. Seven minutes later they were up-side-down in a ditch. They walked away with a scratch on his hand where he had hit the window glass in order to make enough room to crawl out of the car. My cousin had planned to sell that car; insurance gave him $2000 more than what he was going to ask for it.

In December 2001, my dad had a stroke. He had been having TMIs over time but this one was bigger. He was in rehab, seemed to be doing well, and it was time for my husband and I to return to Haiti for the two week marathon of annual meetings. Eleven meetings in twelve days all over that country. My younger brother kept calling and asking me to come home instead. He was the only one of my four brothers who insisted that I come, the only one who didn't think my dad would go home again. I prayed and decided to listen to my brother. My husband went to Haiti and I flew into Seattle. For a week and a half, all was well with my father and it seemed that my trip was not really necessary. On January 15th, during rehab, the blood clot in my father's head cut loose and went to his heart. The therapists couldn't elevate my dad enough so I climbed onto the rehab table and held him in my arms. I talked to him, prayed with him, and let him go home to heaven. My brother was right... my dad died at the very moment I would have been landing in Seattle if I hadn't changed my plans.

Less than three years later my husband was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer. We went to various specialists in Miami for five months while each new physician repeated the tests already given by the others. Finally in frustration, we contacted MD Anderson Cancer Center, a part of the University of Texas hospital system, and self-referred. Within two weeks (August) T was accepted as a patient. Within a month (September) he was scheduled for surgery. By the end of the year he lost his right eye, endured six weeks of daily radiation, and began a five year journey of trips to Houston TX for follow-up testing. In 2009 he was set free from the process and told to live his life.

Today is Father's Day 2010. This morning my husband preached in a church whose pastor is on sabbatical. He spoke from John 13, the ministry of the towel - servant leadership. I sat in church and thanked God for walking with us, for giving us opportunities to experience His intimate presence. I thanked Him for giving us the strength to continue in ministries that are very fatiguing yet so important: equipping the next generation to be Christ-like leaders through Christian Education.

Recently, I have been following the blogs of several people who are in the depths of suffering. Nearly all have children who have been afflicted with cancer or a traumatic brain injury. I do not know any of these people personally but I pray for them, for their kids, for their minds to be renewed. I am so grateful to know God intimately. These people will also get to know Him better than they ever imagined possible. I am also grateful for this moment in time, a reflection on what has gone before and a time to give thanks.

It's Father's Day 2010. My father is in heaven. My husband is here with me. My two sons, both fathers, are with their children, loving, caring, providing for them. I am blessed. It's embarrassing how very blessed I am and I am so grateful for the blessing. Thank you God, my Father.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's here!

I have been sooooooooooooooooo ready for this school year to finish and it is finally over! What a trying year! I think there are layers of frustration that have rendered this year as one of my least favorite of all time. Things like a homeroom of non-speakers, normally I like a quiet class but this batch took an entire semester to warm up to each other. There was the earthquake in Haiti that possessed my mind for weeks and months, making my teaching less effective because I just wasn't "present" in the way that I needed to be. There were the expulsions in both junior high and the high school; both were LONG overdue and nearly went unnoticed.

But summer vacation is here. I have 80 days beginning today before I walk into a classroom of students again. I am going to do something significant every day. Today I will go to my mother's, work in her garden planting and weeding, then take her out to lunch. I am determined that each day will have significance because I really need it and I know that if I bring purpose into these days, they will seem to last longer! Also on my agenda, a baby quilt for a new grandson who will be born in France next fall. My heart aches that I won't know him early but it is interesting that it was the grandsons who were born at a time when we could not be present. We were there for each of the granddaughters' arrivals. Maybe my little boys are made of tougher stuff... nah... not so much!

Time to move out of my leather recliner and into the sunshine. Thank the Lord for summer vacation!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

I hate it when that happens!

I feel soooooo stupid! I left the door to the upright freezer ajar--- all night! So instead of enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon, I have been throwing away thawed food, relocating still frozen foods, and defrosting a really icy freezer. Almost done! I guess it needed doing; it's been four years. Four years! I have lived in this house, in this city, in this state for four years! For a person who spent a quarter of a century living in places where people don't normally speak English, this is just weird. But I've always been able to adapt and this has been the easiest adaptation so far. Guess I'd better go finish cleaning the freezer!

The Last Week

I will admit it, I am really looking forward to the last week of school, as in: Friday, 3:15 PM. This has been a very difficult year. Really bright students have had a hard time settling into learning. I've struggled myself, trying to find something that will work so these kids will be as prepared for high school as the two previous classes I sent on from this junior high. I'm not sure I've been successful. I guess I'll know next year. But I do have some thoughts on why this year has been so difficult.

Fear. Anxiety. Stress. I don't remember a time when it has been so evident. I know our country went through a difficult recession in the mid-to-late 70s but the lack of non-stop, multiple-channeled, cable TV and the constant message of fear allowed us to focus on other things. I do think we have been bombarded with the things that sell cable news and most of that has been negative. There is proof positive that our nation is working its way out of the mire we found ourselves in in 2007-2008 but the good news does not sell like bad news does. This fear has become a factor in the lives of our school families. I teach in a private school and most of our families have experienced little change financially but they don't act like it. Their stress levels deeply affect their children, who bring their internal pressures into the classroom. Everything is exaggerated to the point that marriages are crumbling like we haven't seen before this year. Were they cracking before this? Probably. They just needed this last push to break them apart. It absolutely breaks my heart to see students hurting so much. No wonder they are having a hard time with school.

Regardless, we've all worked like slaves, doing our best to give our students a quality education and a ton of support. And I am ready for a break. I am ready for summer sunshine that has not yet appeared for more than a few hours at a time. I am ready to sleep past six in the morning. I am ready for bright flowers, walks near the lake with the love of my life, chats with my mother, hugs from the grands. Five days and this should begin, my summer reality. I am just so ready!