Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Okay For Now

I just finished reading Gary Schmidt's book Okay For Now. It was amazing. Truly. The main character, Doug, is a kid who has an incredibly awful home life, with a dad who's a total jerk. Dad's abusive and hangs out with another jerk, which only makes matters worse. Most of Doug's teachers think he's a trouble-maker and give him nothing but negativity and judgement. 

The way Gary gives Doug a voice (using first-person narrative) is stunning, and he allowed me to deeply engage with Doug's struggles, fears, anger, and doubts. Doug's story resonated so much with me, I think, because although many of my students have homes with stability, love, support and encouragement, I also have those who are hanging on by a thread. Kids who, like Doug, come to school with so many other issues pressing on them that survival is what is their highest concern.

This year, it seems more of my kids are finding themselves in that awful position. As our relationships have developed, my heart aches for them. One student has repeatedly told me this year that she never wants to leave my classroom. She loves being at school. Apparently her mom has had multiple boyfriends in their home and a former husband who is in and out of the picture. It's her first year at our school, but she missed the last three days before break. Word on the street is that her family is moving. They've been evicted. This girl is smart; she's connected with another student in my classroom who is on the spectrum and that's given her purpose. It's helped her to connect and feel needed. She has grown in every area of the curriculum and as a person, too - by leaps and bounds! She qualified for our district's spelling bee, but no one brought her. 

I so wish I could write the rest of this girl's story and control the ending. Her family would see the light and embrace her unique qualities. They would learn to love and appreciate each other. They would celebrate the good in every member of the family and reach goals together. Mom would be an advocate for her kids in their learning and in their interests. She would get her daughter involved in healthy relationships and never miss an opportunity to allow her to shine. 

What makes this even more disheartening is that there are way too many in my classroom who are in similar circumstances. The time in our classroom is precious because it gives those kids hope. Shows them they are important. And capable. Gives them opportunities to face and overcome challenges in order to grow, knowing they have a community of encouragers believing in them. 

It is especially for those kids that we create classrooms where acceptance, understanding, encouragement, teamwork, and learning opportunities are constants. We expect kids to be challenged and we believe in their abilities to be their best. I want every single one of my kids to always know and remember that no matter how old he or she is I will always be his or her advocate and cheerleader. 

Gary's story of Doug's journey may be fictional, but my hope is that for my kids, whether parents come around or not, they will know their worth and abilities. They will enjoy learning because they will know someone truly cares and believes in them.

An article worth reading: 
Parents Aren't Necessary For Students to Learn by Ben Johnson 

Ted Talk by Rita Pierson

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lily's Crossing

What an incredible story this is, written by Patricia Reilly Giff. I hesitated to write about it, because it's really a book review, but since this is how I spent part of each day this past week, that would be okay, right? Plus, I LOVED the book, so it would be pretty difficult for me to not share it with you!
We get to know Lily in this Newbery Honor winning book initially as a spunky girl who is not afraid to disobey and sneak around, although her grandmother diligently attempts to keep her in line.  She's precocious, yet she loves spending her summers at her grandmother's house on the ocean. She is especially adept at anything having to do with water (swimming and boating, especially) and lying - about anything. Much of her life she has spent those summer days with Margaret, but because of World War II, Margaret's family must move to Detroit where her father will go to work for a company that builds equipment for the war. 
Patricia Reilly Giff tells this story beautifully, weaving in details about how families had to make adjustments due to the wartime situation in such a way that the reader is pulled in completely. I found myself empathizing easily with that generation and appreciating the sacrifices they  made in order to make a stand for world peace.
I loved the way Lily grew throughout the story, especially through the losses of old relationships and new ones that came to be, naturally unfolding much like they do in our own lives. Patricia created genuine people with real problems and answers that were not always black and white. And although the ending was satisfying, I found myself wishing for a sequel. I want to keep up with Lily.
If you have not yet read this wonderful story, please do so as soon as you can! You will be enriched by it


I've missed the last two days of SOL, but seriously, my life has been crazy! It's not that I don't want to write, it's that my schedule this month is non-stop! Today's a snow day, though, and I have a little bit of time...

Yesterday morning I took off for my seven o'clock appointment. I have three of these every week. It takes  about 20 minutes to get there, ten minutes for the treatment, and then another 20 minutes to drive back home or to school. It's one of those annoying non-negotiables that must be squeezed into an already over-taxed schedule. Plus that, I was running late and in my sprint to the car I realized several necessary things I had forgotten to do. That meant rather than going straight to school, I'd have to swing back by the house and get those things wrapped up before going in to my classroom. Arggh!
Fortunately, traffic was calm so my drive in and back were uneventful and efficient. I had the radio on, too, to help my frame of mind and hopefully calm down before the day really kicked into gear. As I pulled back into my garage, the announcers on the radio station declared they were giving away two tickets to see "The Sing-Off" on tour. Being a singer myself, it's one of my favorite shows on television these days and I truly appreciate the work it takes to even make it on to the show. It's totally up my alley! They discussed how they would decide on a winner. Initially the directions were to sing a cappella to them. Cool, I thought! I can do that easily! Then they did the old switcheroo and proclaimed whoever called needed to "beat box." NOT my thing. I decided I'd still give it a try, but since I rarely win anything, the chances of me getting those tickets were pretty slim. It just so happened, though, that I was able to pull into the garage, put my car in park and ready my phone for when they announced the  number. I dialed. I heard the ring tone at the other end. It rang and rang.
Just as I was about to give up on anyone answering my call, I heard, "Hi! Who's this?" My heart skipped a beat or two. I began my own rendition of beat boxing. When I finished, the announcers compared my attempt to the sounds of laser tag! Hmm, don't think that's a good thing. I shot back that I would have been super happy if they'd stuck to their original task of singing a cappella, so they suggested I do that. Making something up off the top of my head, my song was to the tune of "If I Only Had a Brain" from "Wizard of Oz." The lyrics were something like, "Oh, I'd love to see the Sing-Off, it would be a total pleasure, if I only had a ticket."
Both announcers laughed and one even recognized the tune. They proclaimed me the happy recipient of those two tickets! I truly can't imagine winning a better prize (other than maybe a trip to a tropical island.) Even better, my husband is a fan of the show, of music, theater, performances, and all that, so both of us will thoroughly enjoy our date together!
Think of us on Wednesday evening as we make our way over to the Royal Oak Music Theater and enjoy and evening of incredible music!! Thank you, Home.FM!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Special Assignment

I just got home and immediately put on my flannel pjs. The couch feels great, especially with the snuggly fleece throw over me and only my hands sticking out. The day was full, my tummy is full, and I'm feeling relaxed.
Today was spent shopping in one of my favorite malls at some of my favorite stores with the person I love shopping with most in the world. She's getting ready to go on a pretty amazing trip, so it was my duty to help make sure she had the appropriate clothing. She needed traveling clothes, clothes for warm weather, clothes for a day in the rain forest, clothes for sailing,  clothes for layering, and, of course, a purse! Shoes were pretty much the only thing not on our list. We were up for the challenge and by noon we had several full shopping bags on our shoulders. The sushi lunch gave us the energy we needed to complete this rigorous expedition. It was only when we were making our way to the car that we realized it was dinner time. 
It was sweet to be able to assist my pal and help her get ready for her trip. It was even better to simply spend the day together. 

Friday, March 7, 2014


After a long week, my head needed a break. Truly. It has been a looooooong week. Fortunately, though, we  already had plans for a weekend that exactly fit the bill.
We drove a little over an hour to meet with our financial planner, who also happens to be my best friend's husband. Hope had also wanted some help with picking some new paint colors for her house, so we stopped by to pick up some paint samples. That was followed by a very fun dinner in an excellent Mexican restaurant, complete with an entertaining and talented Mariachi band. We had great food, we got to sing "Margaritaville", and enjoyed plenty of laughs. 
Upon our return to their house, we experimented with the paint colors and stuck them to the walls. It was fun to collaborate together and come up with some beautiful combinations. Tomorrow, we're going shopping for the day to unwind and be together. To be human and find some rejuvenation. 
I am so thankful for this amazing friendship that's really more of a sisterhood. The tension headache and upset tummy I had earlier is gone. I'm completely relaxed, thankful for this 24 hours of escape!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

New Printer Cartridges

My ancient school-issued desk-jet printer ran out of ink – again. There were several things that needed high-quality and/or color printing for my kiddos, but I had no time to actually go get the cartridges. No, they’re not supplied (or paid for) by the school system.
Tonight, though, after piano lessons were done, and my hubby was still at his middle-school conferences, it seemed like the perfect time to run that annoying errand. I bribed Hannah into going with me, glad for an opportunity to spend time with her in the car, which is when she usually does the most talking. We hopped in the car to retrieve the expensive but necessary supplies.
For no apparent reason, after I found the needed cartridges, I took a little gander down the printer aisle. (I’ll admit, I was a bit curious about the price of a new printer.) Shock took over when I realized it would cost me approximately ten dollars more to buy a brand spankin’ new wireless printer (with cartridges installed) than it would be to replace the cartridges for my dilapidated one that had to be tethered to my laptop to work. Ten dollars, for cryin’ out loud!! And the one sitting on the shelf was wireless, could scan, and  even print documents from my phone (not that I even know why I would ever want to do that). It took me all of one minute to make my final decision. That pretty baby is now in the back of my car, waiting for installation tomorrow after our staff PD.
We followed up our short-but-sweet shopping spree with a low-key dinner at a local sandwich shop. My daughter chatted about random things. We laughed together. Then we made our way home, where she gloated about not having to go to school while I’ll be involved in a professional development all day. 
She may be relaxing all day tomorrow, but I’m happy as a clam to know I’ll be printing wirelessly with full ink cartridges.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

One and Only Dad

Just as we were sitting down for dinner, my phone rang. It was one of my brothers. We typically talk at least several times a week. I answered, made a smart-aleck remark, and then he asked (in a serious tone) if I had a minute to talk. From the tone in his voice, I hated having to say that I didn't, but let him know I'd call back right after supper.
My imagination was getting the best of me when I returned his call after an expedited meal. We started with small talk and I was beginning to think the concern was unwarranted. That thought was short-lived.
The news was that our Dad had a pretty bad day on Monday. You see, my 83-year-old father lives in a constant state of cardiac arrest. He's had this since he had rheumatic fever as a young teen. Every time he sees a new physician the nurse who checks his vitals practically has a heart attack because he doesn't ever have a steady heart beat. Ever. Despite this, he's lived through brain surgery and other health issues. But on Monday, he could hardly breathe and had to stop his wood chopping (which I hate him doing, anyway), go inside and lay down.  He spent most of the day in bed, was weak, and had chest pains for hours.
Of course, as soon as my brother and I ended our conversation I called my dad and he brought me up to date in his own words. As his words soaked in I felt almost panic that he could be gone forever any day. 
Life ends sometimes without warning, and that jolted me. Tonight I realized again how much I love my dad and  how absolutely horrible it will be when he passes on.  I so hope it's a long time from now.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Star Trek - The Final Frontier

Today, my daughter was thrilled to not have to go to school (Only Juniors had school, for testing, of course). She was so overjoyed, in fact, that she even asked if there were any chores for her to do while Stan and I were at school! (I did give her some, so as not to disappoint her!)

On Sunday of this week she already had planned out what would occupy her day: watching "Star Trek" episodes from season four. She even begged for a bottle of Coke when we went grocery shopping this past weekend to save for the special occasion. It's hilarious, really, because our older daughter, Jessie, bought the set for my hubby for Christmas, yet Hannah has become the one who is obsessed with it!

After school I came home to discover that Hannah had done her due diligence on the chores. I then taught piano lessons, just like every Tuesday (and Thursday), which was followed by the typical conversation revolving around what to have for dinner. We were all in the mood for breakfast food, so Stan made the toast while I scrambled the eggs. 

Once everything was on the plates and ready to go, I noticed Hannah still sprawled out on the couch, remote in-hand, engrossed in an episode. Although dinner is almost always a family gathering at the kitchen island or the dining room table, with proper place settings, I asked to no one in particular if we would rather eat in the living room. Without missing a beat, Hannah gasped, "YES!" So Stan and I smiled at each other, took dinner to our delighted daughter, propped up our feet, and watched one of the most cheezy shows ever. 

It's amazing to me how sometimes the simplest things delight us. Hannah fully engaged in this fifty-year-old rerun was such fun. Stan and I sitting side-by-side, glancing at each other to roll our eyes at the particularly unbelievable scenes, made for a wonderfully relaxing and fun evening!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Love for Linda and Other Authors We Adore

"You can't just get up and walk away every time you mess up. You'd never get anywhere." from A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

I've messed up a lot in my life, and this statement totally resonates with me. While I could go on and on about how it impacts me personally, that's really not what the post is about. It's about how I've hung in there, made some changes in my classroom and found what a huge difference it has made. It is about Linda Urban's impact on readers everywhere. But it's also about how much Linda AND other authors have forever changed the lives of my kids.

Last year was the first year I had a true classroom library. It was the first time I'd ever worked diligently to read middle grade books in order to recommend them to my kids. It was the first time I was digging for new titles, pre-release titles, and "old" titles that would engage my kids and help them to develop a true love for reading. Before that, I had no clue who Jenni Holm (or Matthew Holm), Kate Messner, Clare Vanderpool, Tom Angleberger, Brian Selznick, Rebecca Stead, Kirby Larson, Barbara O'Connor, or a host of other authors were. Once I "met" them and then introduced them to my students, however, their lives - and mine - were forever changed.

I began to read feverishly. My goal was to truly be able to recommend a book from my own reading experience, not simply say someone else had recommended a book on Goodreads or another blog (although thanks to so many of you, especially Nerdy Book Club friends, that's where I got many of those recommendations).

We began reading in class. I read picture books to my kids and for the first time we had dedicated time in our daily schedule for me to read aloud to my kids. I also had kids choose their own books. Currently, we're loving Linda Urban's The Center of Everything. As a class, we fell in love with Auggie from Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, and have our own version of a "Choose Kind" painting on our wall. We adored Rump and his adventures with Red in finding his real name and destiny, thanks to Liesl Shurtliff. She even came and visited us and now the kids are debating what her next book will be about! We laughed at the antics of the Herdman tribe in Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The kids were totally stumped in Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots and learned to hang in there because the story is so completely mesmerizing and then fulfilling in the end. Plus that, we REALLY enjoyed baking one of the cake recipes when we were done! The list could go on...

Book love wasn't just with our class as a whole, though. To find girls chatting up A Crooked Kind of Perfect (which is one of my all-time favorite books), Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky and others demonstrated my kids were truly becoming book lovers. Boys digging into, and sharing with each other Satch and Me, by Dan Gutman, Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, and a host of non-fiction titles about wars, baseball, or anything else they became interested in has become thrilling. 

It was even better to find girls AND boys sharing with each other so many wonderful titles. BabyMouse by Jenni Holm and Matthew Holm started with Cole, probably the biggest, most athletic kid in my class. Because of Cole's enthusiasm, BabyMouse spread to everyone. Jenni's historical fiction title, Turtle in Paradise, is a big hit with both boys and girls. Just yesterday Josh announced to Raven that she just had to read it because it's  "SO, SO GOOD!"  Kids are completely enthralled with Dwight and his cases that Tom Angleberger's books are rarely on the classroom shelf; kids are typically whispering to each other, "Can I have that when you're done?" They anxiously await for me to put out a new book on the shelf and "fight" about who gets to read the latest new book. Jack has written a persuasive letter to Tom with a suggestion for his next book (along with a strong hint that Tom dedicate the book to Jack). This real life engagement and the conversations that surround books is thrilling.

Sometimes I cringe when I think of the kids who were in my classroom before it was like this. I know they missed out on some amazing opportunities in reading and discovering wonderful characters, settings, themes, and story lines. However, as Linda suggested in Crooked Kind of Perfect, I have gotten somewhere and my kids have benefited because I didn't just give up and walk away. We're getting somewhere now. Authors are becoming (or in some cases, have become) our super-heroes. 

Super Hero Linda Urban is coming to visit us in March and we could not be more excited. I wonder if she'll come with a cape. :)