SOL, Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I opened up the NYT on line today and randomly chose an editorial to peruse.  I landed on one that brought up a conundrum that is present in several ways in my life.  David Brooks writes about what makes thick and thin institutions.  Thin are those that after you leave, you may or may not stay connected with.  Thick are the ones that no matter the distance and time, you are connected to others from that institution in ways hard to explain.  When I think about the perfect example, good summer camps, NOLS courses, and spring break roads trips come to mind.

Both of my children are about to make a big transition.  One is graduating from college.  The other is likely going to transfer to a new college or university.  I think this thick and thin is central to both of them right now.  Their college experience did not provide them with anything thick.  They love their professors, they are challenged by what they are learning, they like the students around them, and neither of them is unhappy with their experience.  I keep wondering what the driving force is behind the transfer and behind my daughter’s enthusiasm for getting out of here.  I think it is because there is nothing thick; they have wanted something strong, solid, and thick to hold on to and instead have found something too thin to feel safe.

One description of the dichotomy really stuck with me.

“In other words, thin institutions tend to see themselves horizontally. People are members for mutual benefit. Thick organizations often see themselves on a vertical axis. People are members so they can collectively serve the same higher good.

In the former, there’s an ever-present utilitarian calculus — Is this working for me? Am I getting more out than I’m putting in? — that creates a distance between people and the organization. In the latter, there’s an intimacy and identity borne out of common love. Think of a bunch of teachers watching a student shine onstage or a bunch of engineers adoring the same elegant solution.”

When I translate this to my school and my classroom, I can see through the thinness.  And I have no idea how to go about making it thick.  I know part of it is leadership at a level that I cannot affect.  But how can I make my classroom thick?  I am going to sit on that today.

Tuesday April 11, 2017

My teammates and I have a habit of writing our own William Carlos William poems for pretty much any situation – a messy room, a celebration of good work, a vacation weekend or a boring staff meeting.  It has been our go-to for expressing things when we don’t know what else to say.  14 years ago on April 8th, we adopted our dear sweet Chaco.  And last week on April 7th, we said goodbye.



So much depends


That fluffy black


Peering right at


Asking for


SOLSC, March 31, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge 2017.

It has really been a challenge for me to write every day.  Finding the time is challenge enough but then add on what to write about, how much to write, how much of my soul to bear, how much of my life others might find interesting and it it truly a story challenge.

My husband has been reading a book that a friend recommended.  It is one man’s struggle to find meaning and purpose in life.  His philosophy in the beginning of the book is to write his own story.  Instead of letting life happen to him, he made it a goal to write his own story.  He traveled far and wide and sought out experiences that make my stories look mundane and provincial.  We have been talking about how we write our story each day.  We are trying to be more purposeful in our choices and are seeking out new things instead of continuing in the same old easy patterns.  But even being more thoughtful about writing a story instead of just letting it happen around you hasn’t made my own stories any more exciting or engaging.

We spent a night with some friends in Aspen this week.  They are both about 15 years older than us.  They had other house guests at the same time; a couple they had known when they had their first jobs out of college many years ago.  We sat through a long laughter filled dinner listening to their stories.  They drove old junker cars across the country, set up new homes in tiny towns where they fought off mosquito killing chemicals, worked with underprivileged folks to find them jobs, read to the blind, sat on community boards that supported health care for those who can’t afford it all the while earning Master’s degrees and PHDs in everything from psychology to public policy.  They told stories of meeting senators, presidents, movie stars, and famous Westerners.  My husband and I did a lot of listening.  We both felt as though we had few if any stories of such caliber to share.

Last night we invited my teacher partner, her husband, and kids over for dinner.  We played a rousing game of Dogopoly with the 7 and 9 year old.  We laughed and joked while we moved the Flea and the Mailman and the Fire Hydrant around the board.  We traded dog breeds to move the game along and roared when S went to the Kennel for the 4th time in the game.  We called it quits at 9pm as it was way past bedtime for the little ones.  Before sending them home, we sat in the hot tub collecting snow on our heads as the kids tried to figure out how to design a light bulb that shed light in all directions but was still attached to a post of some sort.  They were thinking and creating and designing and sharing.  I could not have been in a happier place.  While we didn’t share stories, we shared an evening together and maybe created a few stories of our own.

We all have different stories.  Our Aspen friends’ stories are loud and public.  I have read from fellow bloggers stories that are heart breaking and painful, hilarious and laugh outloudly, thought provoking and deep, educated and world changing.  I think mine are just smaller and quieter and more private.  They may not entertain the dinner party or impress the listener with fancy names and titles and degrees, they may never be worth publishing.  But my stories fill my heart and my days.  And they are mine.  I am so very grateful of the challenge to get them written down, if only for me.

SOLSC, March 30, 2017

A Very Quick Number Poem

11 minutes left to write and post for today

10 minutes too long in the hot tub designing light bulbs with a 7 year old

9 times 2 switchbacks in the hike at Snowmass this morning

8 trips outside with the dogs trying to avoid the unavoidable accidents in the house

7 minutes left to post and thinking this number poem was not such a good idea

6 computer tips with Mom that I’ll likely need to repeat

5 minutes left to post and still struggling with 8 and 7!!!

4 dinner guests playing dogopoly together

3 quarters of a waffle with fruit for breakfast

2 stops on the way home from Aspen

1 wonderfully long, friend and family filled day

SOLSC, March 29, 2017

I follow the blog of a fellow teacher who was the lead teacher in The Colorado Writing Project when I was a student there.  I enjoy reading what she is up to as I share her passions for not grading papers but growing writers.  I also feel like I know her as a close friend after the 2 intense weeks of writing with her.  Walking away from CWP is like leaving college after rooming with the same 20 people for 4 years.  It was the most intensely emotional experience I have ever had with people I am not related to.

She wrote a poem inspired by Monica Prince that approaches a topic from the negative.  I thought I’d give it a try.  Here goes:

This Is Not a Poem about Loneliness

This is not a poem about being left behind

It is not about bringing up the rear

Or watching everyone disappear over the next ridge

It is not about struggling to keep up

Or falling behind

Or feeling like I am frantically following

This is not a poem about hiking,

or biking

or running

or skiing

or swimming.

This poem is about looking way ahead and seeing your steady gait, eyes focused forward, soaking in what fills you to the brim and brings you joy.

SOLSC, March 28, 2017



Getting lost in the flow of shapes and colors.

Seeing each piece and learning it’s curves

To find it’s neighbors

and slowly create the full picture.

Maybe it is the way that persistence

Brings order to the chaos

Makes sense of the nonsense

Finds meaning in the mess.


SOLSC, March 27, 2017


My students often will purchase a book for our classroom from my wish list at the book fair every November.  This year we received the book, Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life by Ann. M. Martin.  It has been out in circulation since its arrival and one of my students returned it to my bookshelf the day before break.  It has been getting good reviews from my students so I snagged it for my spring break 5th grade book read.  I haven’t started it yet but the title gave me something to write about.

Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life

Good – I have been married to the most amazing man in the world for almost 28 years.  He is my best friend, my best caretaker, my best adventure partner, my best everything.

Bad – I will probably never be able to give him all that he gives me.

Good – I love to read.

Bad – I am getting to the point and age where I don’t always remember the details of what I read.

Good – I am very loyal and love my family intensely.

Bad – I am a worrier, often times about things I cannot control, often at a level that is unhealthy.  And apparently I have passed that down to my daughter.

Good – I get along really, really well with my mother in law.

Bad – I travel more with my mother in law than my mother.  It can make for sticky situations.

Good – I have always felt that being a mother is my calling in life.  I have poured my soul into it for the past 21 years and I think I have done well.

Bad – My kids are in college and while I know they will always need a mother, there isn’t as much mothering these days.  I worry about what will fill the void (because I am a worrier, you know!).

Good – I love, love, love chocolate.

Bad – My waist and thighs don’t.

Good – I have the best job share partner.  We are an amazing team together.  She makes me a better teacher daily.

Bad – We never actually get to teach together.  We are the champions of ships passing in the night.

Good – I am blessed to live in a beautiful town filled with many compassionate, kind, giving, tolerant, and accepting people.

Bad – The world can be very different outside that bubble.

Good – I am in pretty good shape.  I can hike, bike, swim, ski and play with no adverse affects on most days

Bad – I need to exercise, really exercise, every day and I really don’t like to exercise.  I can play and adventure – but heart rate exercise, bleh.

Good – I have had 51 good years so far.

Bad – I am pretty sure I am on the downhill side now.  Yikes!  I better stay on task and enjoy!

SOLSC, Match 26, 2017

I just started reading the book, Destiny of the Republic, a biography of James Garfield.  I’ve been on a streak lately reading about past presidents and about the people who were instrumental in forming our country.  That author, Candice Millard, describes Garfield as having ‘a passionate love of learning that would define his life”.  That seems to be a common thread among the great leaders.  Not only were they naturally inquisitive and intellectually talented, they had a passion for learning.

Garfield and other like him others spent time reading and memorizing the classics, writing vociferously and discoursing daily with their peers.   They attended college in their early teens and graduated before they were 20.  They read and learned for the sheer pleasure of learning and this led them to then be influential on matters of politics, government, and ethics.  They were thinkers.

I am not sure I could tell you the last time I saw one of my students have a passion for learning or for thinking.  I look out at my 10-11 years old and think that 100 years ago some kids were heading off to college in just a few years.  Nowadays, it is virtually unheard of for an early teen to be that academic.  Students excel in IB programs and accelerated or Advanced Placement programs but how many of those kids come away as thinkers instead of parrots reciting what the test requires?

My students do have passion though.  There is not shortage there, but passions for learning?  I am not so sure.  A has a passion for horses.  E has a passion for dragons.  P has a passion for dance and S has a passion for talking.  🙂  But a passion for learning?  I don’t see much of that very often.  And I wonder why.  It is because passions can be fulfilled in so many different arenas in this century?  Is it because there is so much more to learn?  Is it because we reward doers more than thinkers?

I look at our current political status and wonder what happened to the great thinkers.  Right now it seems like the leading skill is to voice threats in 140 characters or less, or to filibuster because your party isn’t getting what they want, which are really just adult manifestations of pouting.   Where is the common desire to find compromise through passionate debate and dialogue rooted in knowledge?  Where is the passion for knowledge and learning in order to rise to a higher level?  I don’t often see it modeled publicly these days and perhaps that is why I see so little in my students.

SOLSC, March 25, 2017

This time of year we always play the game of ‘where were we for spring break?’  Sometimes we most clearly remember our spring break trips based on where we watched basketball games.  NCAA basketball runs deep through our spring break travels each year. At times, the devastation of KU or Villanova losing overtook the awesome and wonderful trips we have taken.  Sad, isn’t it?

This year, we are with friends in Breckenridge.  We don’t have a very big TV here so we went out for dinner at a pizza place with too many TVs.  It was sad to watch KU lose on all 9 that we could see from our table.  But we got to reminiscing about past spring breaks and watching games.

Last year, we met Villanova alums cheering in a hotel lobby in Cancun and watched the Oregon game with my cousin’s kids in a great Mexican restaurant off the beach in Tulum.  We sat in a dark air conditioned sports bar/room at a resort in Mexico on a Saturday night watching Nova beat KU after spending most of the two hours debating who we were really cheering for as both were equally loved in our family.  It really didn’t matter who won, but that didn’t keep us from watching every minute of the game.

The year before, both of our teams were out early.  We were traveling the East coast visiting colleges with our son.  It seemed like each school we visited lost right after we passed through; Villanova, then Virginia.  Unfortunately, our bad luck did not rub off on Duke.

The year before that, we were road tripping through Canada and skiing off the grid for part of the time.  We would desperately try to find reception each time we returned to the rental car.  We were driving through the Rockies when KU lost to Stanford.  Stanford?  Really?  I can still hear my son in the backseat shaming the Jayhawks for that loss.

And the year before that?  We were in Hawaii visiting my mother.  We were at a super fancy hotel for only one night and we found ourselves in the lounge watching KU play.  And before that, Michigan and Trey Burke beat Kansas in a hotel in Mexico.  And before that, Kansas rolled through to the finals while we were in rolling through Utah.

It seems as though many of our most significant memories involve watching NCAA basketball, particularly KU.   We carve time out of our family vacations to find places to watch them play.  We spend hours analyzing them and bracketing them to the final four.  imgres-4And the funny thing is that none of us ever went to KU.

SOLSC, March 24, 2017

Ah, spring break at last.  I love the Friday before spring break if for no other reason than because my class size diminishes drastically.  I normally have 28 students.  But often the families of these 28 students take advantage of leaving a day (or two or three) early and coming back a day late from spring break.  Today we started with 21 and then lost two more as the day went on finishing with an all time low of 19.  By the end of the day I was a bit panicked; my room seemed too empty.

The biggest difference I saw today was with my ELL students.  Both of them worked harder today than I have seen in months.  They are also often at each other, irritating and bothering each other.  And today they were getting along and actually helping each other out.  I wonder how much the quiet and the lack of chaos helps them to settle in.  I know that A is able to stay focused because he knows he can’t get lost in the crowd with only 19 kids.  He settled in and did exactly what I asked him to do for a full 40 minutes.  He has NEVER done that.

I laughed more with my kids today.  I talked to more of them today.  I made eye contact more times today and had one on one conversations with all of them today.  We only lost 10 Blurt Beans today – a record for the 20 days we have been doing it.  The kids helped me get the room ready for the long break and it looked better than it has in months without me having to direct the cleaning.  They seemed to know what to do without my direction.

We have a storyteller come to our class every other week.  Today she told a story about a storyteller who would only keep telling stories if he received gifts from his listeners.  One of the kids piped up, “Do we need to give you gifts?”

“Your listening is gift enough,” she responded.  She has seen us struggle with this group and with their attention level.  She has actually walked out on telling stories because the kids could not sit still and listen properly.  She, too, was amazed with how good the kids were today.  Their listening and good behavior today was more than a gift enough for me as well.

So, is it really just because of numbers?  Can I attribute a really good day to having 10 fewer students in my room?  That makes me sad as I anticipate the cuts that we will see in our building for next fall.  I will likely have 31 students in my class next year.  Big heavy sigh.