“The House Without a Christmas Tree” in The House with 3 Trees

December 25, 2013 by  
Filed under My Writing

Today on Christmas, my family is reminiscing on yesterdays as we count our endless blessings.  Rummaging through Christmas storage boxes, I found this old tattered book!!

Does anyone remember this CBS special with Jason Robards that used to air every holiday season?!  I looked forward to it quite a few years in a row. The special, which won an Emmy in 1973, was based on the story of the same name by Addie Mills.  My mother found this book for me one Christmas knowing how much I adored the show.  It’s the story of a 10-year old girl’s struggle with communication with her father that comes to a head when he refuses to buy a tree for their home one Christmas.  The message of empathy, generosity and growth in relationships still resonates with me today.

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my tattered old book

Tree

A beloved old story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hmmm . . . perhaps recounting this story so often as a young girl made me extra exuberant with holiday decorating.  Hosting a cozy get together with cousins I haven’t seen in years may be another reason this special year.  🙂  My house holds three proudly standing soldiers this season:  the white “Rudolph” themed tree, the main tall red/nutcracker/dance themed tree, and an extra tree this year for my visiting niece and baby cousins – the Disney character/Barbie tree.

Happy Holidays to all!!!  May the new year hold dreams achieved, goals reached, and new blessings born.

Three trees in my home!

Three trees in my home this year!

 

Long Days, Short Years

August 12, 2013 by  
Filed under My Writing

I’m fresh from an exhilarating morning hill run with a dear friend who is also a teacher just as excited as I am with the approaching school year!  I’m about to enter my school building, in fact, but felt the need to stop and reflect before charging through the rest of the day . . . .

 

While summer is flying away as briskly as it usually does, I reflect on life lessons learned or reinforced over the warm days.  Reflecting on summer occurrences helps me mentally prep for the exciting new school year ahead.   There were quite a few mini-lessons these past few weeks but the one that resonates louder than ever is make the most of this moment we have NOW.  I’ve always believed living for today is essential:  yesterday is gone and done, tomorrow is not guaranteed.  My very first online post, Living in the Moment,  illustrates such subject through a poem I wrote for my mother years ago.

The major reinforcer of this lesson is watching my daughter embark upon her senior year of college.  Time flies more than we can foresee.  — My advance apologies if I start to use a bit too many clichés.  I tend to fall back on them when I philosophize.  —   I’ve told my colleagues who currently have little ones how much it seems like yesterday my girl was the same age even though it was two decades ago.  Gretchen Rubin’s video illustrates how long days can feel as we trudge through daily responsibilities and routine; however, looking back, the years seem short. It’s a poignant video that reminds us to revel in the routine!!

As my students sometimes complain that Thanksgiving or Christmas or spring break can’t get here fast enough, I always, always tell them that they’ll look back fondly and school days won’t seem as long.  Of course, they shake their heads disbelievingly but maybe someday they’ll understand.  🙂

Another reminder of what it means to enjoy our days stemmed from the recent loss of our pet of almost 16 years.  Full disclosure:  I am not a cat person by nature.  I grew up with dogs and, until we rescued our Crystal cat from a shelter, I was very close-minded about those I viewed as “cat people.”  Pet discrimination – guilty as charged.  To this day, I would always pet Crystal much more roughly than she preferred.   Anyhow, cats require lower maintenance and that’s exactly what I was seeking when I went back to work full time.  Crystal charmed us with her tricks and companionship.  She exemplified patience and unconditional, simple love.  What better lesson is there to learn than that?!  While I plan on getting a yellow Labrador or Golden Retriever in the future, Crystal will always hold a special place in the corner of our hearts.

Most negative incidents hold a very positive lesson within them.  Perhaps we just have to be patient or look a little deeper.  Case in point, my daughter sprained her foot badly at the very beginning of this summer.  What was supposed to be her last summer running (sometimes, literally) around Chicagoland turned out to be many hours spent sitting.  Flexibility is key in our minds even if our bodies aren’t always as flexible.  What this created for us was an opportunity to spend more time talking, sharing writing, looking at old videos, reading recipes and relaxing like we should and usually don’t.

One of my favorite simple summer spots

One of my favorite simple, summer spots

And so, as the new school year starts very soon, I’m grateful for the summer of reflection and the precious moments spent with the special people in my life.  We truly learned how to revel in moments this summer – it was pretty awesome!  The little downfalls we experience along the way are minor in the grand scheme of things.  Looking forward, I’m grateful for new beginnings.  I’m grateful for personal and professional possibilities.  I’m grateful for the exciting unknowns.

I’ll be watching with a fresh viewpoint as I ask my students to reflect on their own work.  I am anxious for the changes approaching at school:  new iPad classes, remodeled building, new homeroom period . . . as these changes and more occur, I will remember that, however long a particular day may sometimes seem, the school year is indeed fast!!   The end of the year approaches quickly; while there is work to be accomplished in between, it is the amazing students I teach that make the months fly by.

 

Reading – Fitness for the Brain

May 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons

Overcome your obstacles one step at a time!

Overcome your obstacles one step at a time!

As I encourage my students to take part in our school’s summer reading program, I can’t help but remind them that their brains are muscles too that need “exercise” over the long summer break.  We’re all aware of the benefits of exercise to make us stronger and healthier, and we know how much knowledge we can gain through reading.  Both activities consume a significant portion of my life; it seems only fitting I provide my twist on how the two activities correlate:

1.  We travel. On the track or treadmill, we walk, bike or run.  When reading, we travel to destinations we may never physically reach.  I’m anxious to race through And The Mountains Echoed by Khaleo Hosseini, for instance, and travel to Kabul.

2.  We strive for goals.  With exercise, we strive to achieve certain goals:  shed pounds, prepare for a run, or master a skill.  With reading, we similarly strive to achieve a goal:  finish a book, read the next book in a series, or learn something found within the pages.

Maintaining balance is always key.

Maintaining balance is always key.

3.  We balance. We balance what we read for fun, for work and school.  Similarly, testing our balance physically benefits and lessens chance for injury.

4.  We practice.  In the classroom, students practice strategies modeled by the teacher until those strategies become an automatic part of one’s reading repertoire to build comprehension.  In the gym, fitness folks practice exercises modeled by the personal trainer until those exercises build muscle to a desirable shape or size.

5  We hit obstacles along the way.  Whether we literally hit obstacles (as pictured above) or hit a mental block and lose motivation, no one in the gym is constantly “on.”  Both good and bad days play integral parts of the process to help reach goals and grow stronger.  By the same token, we have good and bad times reading – sometimes there will be more distractions, some days will include more difficult text, and some days we will simply be bored.  Success lies in how we face these obstacles.

6.  There are no shortcuts.   We can’t get stronger by osmosis; it takes some sweat but even just a few moments of exercise a day adds up to burned calories. By the same token, we can’t become better readers without reading.  Study upon study shows the number one way to improve reading is simply to read – as little as 10 minutes a day is all it takes to improve our reading comprehension, fluency and enjoyment.  

7.  We get stronger.  Day by day, rep by rep . . . our muscles grow.  Lesson by lesson, book by book . . . . our brains grow smarter.  🙂

Running and Reading!

Running and Reading!

8.  We get up and try again.  Both are never-ending processes that cause continual growth.  Whether in the gym or the classroom, we strive toward a goal, learn ways to achieve that goal, practice and encounter obstacles along the way, and keep going until we become stronger readers or fit.  Keep running, keep reading!

**Thank you to Scott Robbins for these photos.**

From Paris with Love

April 11, 2013 by  
Filed under My Writing

While spending spring break in London visiting my daughter studying abroad, we planned a day trip to Paris.  Taking the earliest Eurostar train (bright and early @5:30am!), we arrived in Paris by 7:30am and stayed until the last train departed at 9:15 pm.  What a pleasant excursion – clean, comfortable and delicious breakfast choices.

Mom and I on the Eurostar train

Mom and I on the Eurostar train

Thanks to my daughter’s advance planning and subway navigation, we were able to visit no less than five landmarks and still have time to shop boutiques and indulge at a couple authentic cafes.  Needless to say, all four of us were exhausted upon return but I definitely wish to return and meander longer to truly experience the essence of this romantic city.

A sample picturial of what we saw during our day in Paris . . .

First stop was appropriate on this early Good Friday morning: Basillique du Sacre-Couer.  I very much admire the history and architecture:

From Paris with Love

In front of Basilique du Sacre-Couer

I found Parisians to be extremely polite.  They seemed to appreciate my attempts to speak back to them en francais or, perhaps in my case, “franglais.”  It was fun in cafes and shops to converse back and forth.  Je parle un peu de francais, et vous?!

Since my daughter already stayed in Paris on a previous visit, she lead us to a destination she had yet to see –  Moulin Rouge.  Despite the lime green truck parked in front, this infamous theatre looks just like the pictures.  We peeked in the windows but during the early morn hour, there wasn’t any can-can dancing going on.

Next stop, the Eiffel Tower.  I expected to spot this famous landmark as soon as we stepped out of the subway stop.  No such luck as the lattice design was nowhere in sight.  But . . . . I will never forget turning that corner from the first building on that street near Champs de Mar – GASP!  My breath was literally taken away.  There she was in all her glory – the beautiful tower I’ve seen in so many pictures and drawings all my life.  The sun was shining down on her, a dream come true to see with my own eyes.  Words cannot truly describe my awe.

If not for the brisk weather and more to see, I could have easily stayed in that vicinity all day. Having the crepe vendors nearby (banana nutella, anyone?!) made it all the sweeter.

After taking many, many pictures, we finally transitioned to our next stop – the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  So many shops to stop into here . . . such incredible architecture to snap pictures of.  One dismay, I was surprised of the many American stores here on this famous street.

Oh, Champs Elyssee!

Oh, Champs Elyssee!

Amusing case in point:  We walked toward one large store front that was roped off with two men standing on either sides of the entrance.  I look up and see that it’s Abercrombie & Fitch! ?????  Arianna explained that apparently the chain is still VERY popular overseas.   Interesting. . . not what I came to Paris to shop for but to each his own.

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Here’s a shot of a random street I strolled down.  I’d love to sit and read here in warmer weather . . .

a beautiful street in a beautiful city

a beautiful street in a beautiful city

Our last stop was the Louvre Musèe.  We wandered through the museum and adjacent shopping area for quite some time.  Mona Lisa and the Greek & Roman masterpieces were my favorite; however, the architecture of the museum itself is beautiful.  I was tickled when my daughter recognized a few of the paintings from a memory card game we played years ago – those educational toys pay off.

Standing tall outside the museum:

Departure creeped upon us all too soon. I will be back. Until next time, au revoir.

London Called!

April 8, 2013 by  
Filed under My Writing

This year, I ventured a few miles further than I normally do over spring break.  My mom and I took a trip to London to visit my daughter who is studying abroad there this semester. Studying abroad is, quite simply, an unmatchable experience!  For five months, my lucky daughter gets to call London home.  Her field trips include ventures to the Globe or the British Museum or Oxford University; her weekend trips include jaunts to other countries – she’ll have visited no less than 20 destinations by semester’s end. I’ll never tire of tauting the benefits of abroad study to my students.  It’s the one period in life – before grown-up responsibilities settle in – to experience so many cultures in so little time, on a little student budget.

Sharing in my daughter’s giddiness, I already have a list of must-dos when I go back some day in the not-so-distant future!! London is everything friends and colleagues said it would be and more.   I have so much to share with my students, friends and family, and I’d like to share a sample of my experiences with readers here . . 

Saturday Greetings and catch-ups, walking around and getting to know the wit and wisdom of London 🙂

After 11 hours of travel (including a layover in Newark), I was surprisingly not fatigued upon arrival at London on 10:30am.  I was too excited to see my daughter greet us from so many miles away:

Heathrow airport . . . bright on a Saturday morn!

Heathrow airport . . . Arianna and I, bright on a Saturday morn!

I almost instantly noticed how much more user-friendly London’s public transportation, the Tube, is.  With the infamous “Mind the Gap” auditory reminder along with easy-to-follow maps at every corner, even I felt fairly comfortable to travel independently. Impeccably clean, the Tube makes daily transport a rather pleasant experience.

Walking the Tube!

Walking the Tube!

Artwork is everywhere!!  Check out what greeted my mom and I every time we stepped off of at the Charing Cross station to get back to our hotel, Citadines Prestige Trafalgar Square.  . . . .

Recognize these men?!

Recognize these men?!

If only the Chicago train stations decorated the walls this way . . . if only . . .

My description of the Tube would not be complete without mention of the stairs!!!!  I did not step into any gym for 10 days (shocking for me) but walking the stairs of the Tube kept me refreshed.  I’m not just talking a few steps here and there; I’m talking at least two – three flights at a time followed by another set just around the corner. I wish I would have taken a picture to show here. U.S.A. take note – build MORE stairwells!!  It’s no wonder the obesity rate is lower in this country. With no other option but these stairs, Londoners work hard for their fish and chips!!

SundayTower of London, Big Ben and House of Parliament

I have so many pictures and new knowledge to share from this visit . . The Tower, the keeping of the ravens, the Crown Jewels, the Royal Beasts.  Stay tuned for a SlideShare I’ll be sharing with students and posting publicly.  Here’s one of the shots:

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

 

Standing near Big Ben and The House of Parliament

Standing near Big Ben with my “little” girl

Monday – Buckingham Palace, Harrod’s, Sherlock Holmes Cafe

This may have been the very coldest day of them all.  We consistently endured windy temps in the low 30’s all week – not typical, as many Londoners assured.  While I was too excited to let the cold air stop us from following the itinerary that Arianna diligently planned, waiting for the 11:00am changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was particularly painful on this blustery day.  My mom and I were lucky enough to arrive early and stand directly next to the gate; however, that meant enduring the cold longer.  Once it became literally impossible to take anymore pictures because my fingers just would not fing and once it became apparent it would take an hour to leave the vicinity based on the growing crowd, we made a judgement call to take shelter in the Buckingham gift shop during the end of the changing.  I was still enthralled by the Palace, by the guards, by the Royalty – cold or not!   During a warmer climate, I look forward to return and walk through the Palace gardens.

Hello, Buckingham Palace!!

Hello, Buckingham Palace . . . before the crowd ensued!!

Next stop – Harrod’s for afternoon retail therapy . . . London style!!  Harrod’s is unlike any other department store.  It is more expensive than Nordstrom’s and more theatrical than Nieman Marcus.   Spanning 7 floors on over 4 acres of lavish space, I still don’t understand the layout even after visiting with my daughter and returning by myself.  Wow!!!!  That’s all I can say.  Harrod’s makes shopping a true rich experience in itself.  It is a must-see if only to gawk at the beautiful array or stop at one of its uniquely delicious restaurants or cafes . . . like the Milk Bar where we indulged in ice cream.

Example

Example of Harrod’s eye-catching displays

 

Taken in the Princess Room at Harrod's!!

Taken in the Princess Room at Harrod’s!!

Take a rest from shopping here!! Yummy ice cream!!!!

Steal a reprieve from shopping here.  Delectable ice cream!!!

 

A visit to London would not be complete without fish and chips.  My daughter, mother, my daughter’s roommate and I each had the fish & chips entree at The Sherlock Holmes Cafe only steps away from my hotel in Trafalgar Square.  Yes, my eat clean diet was absolutely out the window for this trip! Thank goodness for those stairs. . . .

an authentic London pub . . . we ate here twice!

a pub just steps away from our hotel

a facsimile of Sherlock Holmes room inside The Sherlock Holmes Cafe, Trafalgar Square

a model of Sherlock Holmes room inside The Sherlock Holmes Cafe, Trafalgar Square

Cultural difference I had a hard time getting used to:  At most restaurants, tipping is not customary.  In fact, it may be frowned upon, regarded as insult.  A few venues include gratuity on the check but, for the most part, it is not expected.  Also, Londoners know the more healthful way to enjoy their meals – slowly.  Servers do not bring the check until you ask for it nor do they seem to care how long you sit.

Tuesday – The National GalleryWestminster Abbey, “Book of Mormom”

My mom and I spent this morning perusing the beautiful collections held at The National Gallery.  Full disclosure:  when I stood in front of Blue Dancers by impressionistic French painter, Edgar Degas, I cried.  Studying the authentic brush lines in total awe, the realization I was standing before the original of one of my favorite pieces overcame me.  Unfortunately, shooting photos is not allowed in the Gallery.  I have pictures from the British Museum that I’ll share in a SlideShare later.

The afternoon was spent at Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Duchess Katherine wed.  Simply put, it is beautiful!!!  It is a must-see and walking through this sanctuary is humbling.  All week I kept my eyes open for the Duchess or even perhaps the Beckhams – no such luck. 🙂

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

 

At Westminster Abbey - I so wanted to sneak in that door . . . I'm drawn to interesting doors.

At Westminster Abbey – I so wanted to sneak in that door . . . I’m drawn to interesting doors.

The night belonged to “Book of Mormom” at Prince of Wales Theatre.  Oh my goodness – there was hardly a minute not filled with laughter.  While I felt just a wee bit sacrilegious at points, I give it a definite A+!!!  “Turn it Off” and other catchy tunes are still rolling in my head.  Fun little tid bit – they serve ice cream inside British theatres during intermission.  Best cookies & cream ever!

Prince of Wales Theatre . . . all lit up!

Prince of Wales Theatre . . . all lit up!

WednesdayThe Globe, St. Paul, Duck & Waffle

English Teacher’s Dream!!!  I am most definitely creating a SlideShare for this.  Stay tuned over the course of the next couple of weeks as I will share experiences here with students and readers before we begin our study of “Romeo & Juliet” in the classroom.  In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek:

Sitting on the Upper Level of The Globe

Sitting on the Upper Level of The Globe

St. Paul’s Cathedral  – My mom and I were very humbled to attend a full service here at St. Paul’s.  I was one of those wide-eyed little girls who adored Princess Diana and glued to the television when Prince Charles and her wed.  The cathedral was very familiar to me from that memory.  It was haunting in many ways.  No photos allowed here. . . . I have outdoor shots of the beautiful architecture only.

Duck and Waffle – Oh my, I would never even think of putting duck and waffle in the same sentence much less same plate!!  Let me tell you, it is one heck of a combination . . . . a thick, warm waffle with a flaky duck leg on top garnished with a fried egg.  Maple cinnamon syrup is served on the side to dip the dish.  This entree can be found at Duck & Waffle, a two-year old fine dining restaurant found on the 40th floor of London’s Heron Tower.  (take the Liverpool stop)  A+ to this!!  It’s a repeater.

ThursdayBorough Market

My daughter was here previously on her own and couldn’t wait to take us!  The labyrinth of fruit and vegetable stalls and fine food purveyors collected under London Bridge is one of the oldest and largest food markets in the world .

So deliciously varied vendors here!!

So deliciously varied vendors here!!

What I ate along the market):    Various cheese samples, grilled cheese, warmed brownies, softball-size meringues, prune tarts

YES!!!!

FridayPARIS!!!  We took a 5am Eurostar train from London to Paris and spent the day in this romantic city.  Paris is everything I imagined and more.  This special day deserves its own post, From Paris with Love.

SaturdayCafe in the Crypt, Notting Hill

Cafe in the Crypt is in the basement of the Church of St Martin in the Fields but don’t let the word “basement” fool you.  The cafe is a gem of baroque architecture, a venue for breakfast, lunch and evening concerts.  I’ve never been to a more elegant “cafeteria or basement, for that matter.  This picture doesn’t do the architecture justice.  Oh and yes, the food is delicious.  I experienced my first authentic English breakfast here:

Cafe in the Crypt

Cafe in the Crypt

A trip to London would not be complete without a trip to Notting Hill.  While the bookshop made famous in the movie by the same name with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts is no longer there, my daughter and I got more than a little excited when we stumbled upon a similar such shop.  And no, they don’t have any Winnie the Pooh.  😉

Heaven!!!!

Heaven!!!!

Our day in Notting Hill consisted of walking around the neighborhoods, checking out the fashion and food markets, and trying on hats.

I'll take the pink one, please.

I’ll take the pink one, please.

 

SundayTrip Home with one stop in Toronto

Not that I’ve frequented many airports yet, but London’s Heathrow is by far my favorite thus far.  The good folks that planned this airport made waiting for a plane a rather pleasant experience.  There are toys scattered for wee ones, there is a plethora of good eateries to choose from and one can certainly leave her last pounds and pence in England – sooo much shopping including small Harrod’s flagships.  I was a particular fan of the comprehensive bookstore.  Much to my mother’s dismay, I got lost in my own little world more than once in many a bookstore.

The depictions and pictures above comprise a portion of this trip-of-a-lifetime.  It is so very true that life is richer through the collection of experiences rather than the collection of material goods.  My daughter will forever remember and be forever changed from her experiences abroad.  In turn, I am forever grateful for our special time together in this now not-so-foreign land.  

 For more pictures from this amazing trip, see my Learnist board, Eating My Way Through London and my Prezi, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  Cheers!

Opportunity for Optimism

March 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Quotable Quotations

To open each day, one of the first things I like to do in the morning is turn up the blinds in my home and let natural light shine through.  Similarly, when I walk into my classroom in the morning and find the dark curtains closed, I immediately open them for a burst of energy to kickstart the day.  

Once I have this natural light streaming in and the energy flowing, there’s one little trick I do to intensify those positive vibes.  Almost considered old school with our iPad screens projecting these days, I scribble a handwritten note on the board.  It can be a quotation or word of the day, a run-down of the day’s agenda, or a simple “Good Morning.”  As messy as my handwriting can be, it’s a surprisingly effective way to lift the spirits.

The act of writing something down – and then reading it – forces our minds to focus on those words and the feelings they create. Try this:  write a happy little note or quotation and put it in a place that you’ll see often: on the refrigerator, on a post-it note stuck onto your bathroom mirror, on a scrap paper tucked inside your wallet or purse… Every time your eyes gaze upon that note, make a point to take a moment and really READ the words. Think about what they mean, why you wrote them, and how they make you feel. Take a moment to try this little trick and I bet your lingering winter days will feel a bit warmer.   By the same token, tuck a handwritten encouraging word into the belongings of someone you love to discover later in the day and, voilà, you’ve just made his or her day a little brighter.  

That’s the power of writing . . .

Here’s something on one of my blackboards at home right now . . .

A positive quotation is a gentle reminder that each day brings another opportunity for optimism.

A positive quotation is a gentle reminder that each day brings another opportunity for optimism.

 

A Turkey and Talking Toys . . . A Girl’s First Writing

January 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

I splurged on composition books for each student in my reading classes this semester; to begin, I am asking students to bring in (or snap pictures of) an early piece of writing they created when they were young.  While the students will have their own web sites to post blogs, I believe good old-fashioned writing in an old-school composition book brings out authentic expression that can’t be replaced.  To initiate that authenticity, I will be sharing my own writings.  Here is a sampling of my first writing experiences**:

Two Early Pieces of My Writing - A Composition and A Book

Two Early Pieces of My Writing – A Composition and A Book

a.  “Thanksgiving” – I was seven years old when I wrote this in the first grade. The only point I remember about the assignment is that we were told to write something about Thanksgiving.  I associated Thanksgiving with my brother’s birthday as he was born around this feast, and I was recalling the special Thanksgiving when my mom was pregnant with my bro.  To this day, I joke with him that my story about Mom having a turkey indeed came true.  🙂  This is one of my first full-length “papers.”  Embarrassingly apparent is my lack  of spelling skills  – thank goodness I grew up relishing spelling bees and Speak & Spell  (true story!).

b.   “The Unusual Christmas Morning”  – I sharply remember this assignment because I enjoyed it immensely – 5th grade, age 11.   It involved drafting, editing, re-writing, and drawing an original Christmas story.  Once the composition and drawings were complete, my teacher sent the drafts off to be “published.”  I recall my anxiousness in waiting for the book to be returned all bound and neat.  This particular storyline is one I was always fascinated with – toys coming to life when humans are not around – and I re-created it again and again using different settings whenever I had the urge.  To this day, I am drawn to similar story lines.  “King of the Dollhouse” by Patricia Clapp, “Wednesday Witch” by Ruth Chew and “The Doll People” by Brian Selznick continue claim to a closet space at this very moment.  I jokingly declare that Pixar needs to send me royalties – Toy Story came after my ‘published’ piece.  My mother still brings this book out to display every Christmas.  Speaking of, I believe one of the reasons I’m driven with my English teaching endeavors is because reading and writing was always celebrated in my home – our fridge was consistently a landing for prized papers coupled with every room in our home accented with books thrown strategically around ( . . . . hmmm . . . sounds familiar!)

My message about writing is this: write every.single.day.  Writing is a release.  Writing is an expression.  Writing is an extension.  Writing is a connection.  I learned this from these very first pieces and I continue to discover more about myself and about the writing process each day.  It is a gift to take full advantage of.

When you cannot write, read.  When you cannot read, write. 

Pieces of Me

**This activity is an adaption from Expository Composition – Discovering Your Voice by Gary Anderson and Tony Romano (a comprehensive resource for writing I refer to again and again!)

 

An Extra Special To-Do List

December 17, 2012 by  
Filed under My Writing

 

from Bono

While my curriculum and administrative to-dos are still prevalent  to complete this week before Winter Break, the items below need significant attention.  In the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, now more than ever students need to know we are all in this world together to collectively maintain an environment where we continue feeling safe to learn and grow.

Before I step into my school building this morning, I feel compelled to jot down a few extra to-dos for each day this week:

~ Make sure I convey just how happy I am to see each one of my students.

~ Remind myself that I teach the student, not the subject.  

~ Call a parent to tell how wonderful his/her child is doing.  

~ Leave a positive note in a colleague’s mailbox just because.

~ Smile and listen. Answer questions with extra patience and care.

~ Continue doing the great things we’re doing.  Move forward with hope.

. . . . .

What Gram Gave

May 13, 2012 by  
Filed under My Writing

Two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away.  She was 95 years old and, for 93 of those 95 years, she led a life full of fun and passionate love.  Still traveling at age 75, still throwing a strong, fast (base)ball at 85, still driving alone at age 90, I thought it fitting on this Mother’s Day morning to pay tribute to her.  I love you, Gram:

 

The Gram I remember . . . strong, jovial all-Italian woman 🙂

 

As my brother wrote in the eulogy read at her ceremony:  In a world where people are consumed with what others think of them, Gram always seemed more interested in simply being herself, consequences be damned.

This is so true.  That brings me to the first life lesson Gram taught me:

1.  Be yourself and “Don’t give a damn” (her words!!!) what others think.  She always spoke her mind, laughed when she wanted to laugh and never EVER worried about what others thought.  She never had high blood pressure, never was a nervous person – why, because she didn’t worry about “the small stuff.”

Gram and I, 3 years ago. . . she was starting to become the “Incredibly Shrinking Gram” as we lovingly joked.

2.  Eat what you want to eat but be sure you eat well.  I remember Gram verbally taking inventory of whatever was on her plate when we sat down for a meal:  “I got my meat, I got my “potatas” (her pronunciation), my veggies – always eat your veggies.”  Yep, I can hear her now.  Never one to skip dessert, Gram was living proof that as long as one eats in moderation . . . one can remain healthful on the inside.  🙂

3.  Make regular doctor and dentist visits.  Gram never missed doctor and dentist visits; in fact, I think she rather enjoyed them as I enjoy spa visits today.  (Never mind she dated her dentist . . . teehee)

4.  Always laugh.  Gram innately knew that laughter is the best medicine.  Also from my brother’s written eulogy:  It was her silliness that made her so much fun to be around and kept you wondering what she would say next. ALWAYS armed with a good story–the details of which would change slightly with each telling–it seemed Gram’s mission in life to make people laugh.    Let’s just say that if Gram were at a party in which any of my friends or significant others were present, I had to be prepared to be embarrassed – either from a story Gram would tell about me; or simply from a story Gram would tell.  Period.  🙂  We can hear her laugh now!!  Loudly I might add – she was a loud person.

5.  Do what you got to do to make yourself feel better and move on. My grandmother was never one to hesitate to do things to make herself healthier or happier.  She walked A LOT.  She took a bath every single night.  She made sure she ALWAYS got plenty of sleep.  She slept A LOT.  She read many books (refer to the little Shakespeare books I found recently in her home, posted on my Instagram).  I recall her subscriptions to Reader’s Digest, Good HouseKeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal . . . all of which she would read cover-to-cover.  She watched the news avidly.  She viewed many movies and was an old movie trivia queen.

6.  It’s never too late to find the love of your life.  She found the love of her life at age 70!!!!   This was years after my grandfather passed away.  (sadly, my grandparents stayed married but were not truly compatible.)  Yes, she found her Joseph at a Democratic party she was working at.  We even called him “Grandpa Joe.”  They had five wonderful years together before he passed away of cancer – but, in talking with her, one would think she spent her whole life with him the way she always talked him up.  It was love so many of us wish for!!!  I still remember their little wedding.

7.  Say “I love you” every time you see a person you love.  I’m getting better at this – Gram ALWAYS  said I love you at the end of every conversation.

8.  Be strong.  This is a woman who lost her only child – my father – when he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 37. She held her head high (literally) through that tough time and even managed to throw laughs in here and there.  My mother just recently recalled something my Gram told her at my father’s funeral, “If one of you had to die, it’s better for the children that it was my son rather than you.”    WOW!!!!

Gram, I know you are happy and peaceful now at “The Happy Hunting Ground” . . . as you used to refer to it, reuniting with so many open arms welcoming you:  you survived your two brothers and three sisters (whom I also loved dearly!!); you survived two husbands; you survived your son.  You will never be forgotten.  You were such an integral part of this family.  I love you.

 

Cala Lillies

April 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Recipes, School's Out

Here is a recipe I traditionally make for Easter gatherings. My cousin affectionatey nicknamed them “deformed twinkies,” and that is exactly the color and consistency of the cake portion. They are called Cala Lillies, however, because of the similar (easy to hold) shape to the flower. Every time I bring a platter of these light and airy gems, they disappear within minutes of landing on the serving table. Check these out for a different spring treat.

Cala Lillies

CAKE PORTION:

~ 3 eggs

~ ¾ Cup sugar

~ 1 Cup flour

~ 1 tsp. baking powder

~ 1 tsp. vanilla

FILLING:

1 carton of whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the eggs until they are frothy (this is one of the most important parts – mix on a high speed for a few minutes)! Add the sugar, flour, baking powder and vanilla. Beat the entire mixture on low for two minutes.

Drop by teaspoonful onto a greased baking sheet – only six on one sheet at a time; also, place only one sheet in the oven at a time. This will allow you just enough time to “pinch” the ends together when the little ‘lillies’ come out of the oven. (Any more than six, and the dough will cool too much to form the shape properly.)

Place in the oven for five minutes. Immediately take them off of tray with a spatula and pinch the ends together so that they look like cala lillies.

Place whipped cream inside of them.  By the way, sprinkle a sparkle of sugar and a dash of vanilla into your whipped cream right before it reaches its perfect consistency . . . great way to add extra taste to the cream.   May also garnish with one thin piece of pineapple in the middle of the whipped cream to emulate the yellow spadix in the middle of the flower.

 

 

Take it to TJ O’Brien’s!

January 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Restaurants, Reviews

There is a popular restaurant and sports bar open in the northwest suburbs of Chicago that I didn’t even know existed until a couple of weeks ago.  I was missing out, indeed!  In fact, I was so impressed by the hospitality of this father and son establishment that I told them I’d write a rave review . . .

TJ O’Brien’s Bar and Grill is a cozy restaurant and sports bar that serves contemporary Irish American fare, including a to-write-home-about comforting Shepherd’s pie (I tried this!), satisfying pizza (I indulged on this as well), huge hamburgers, and the juiciest beef sandwiches this side of ChiTown. Prices are extremely reasonable on top of their good taste; they are open for lunch and dinner and even offer catering.

O’Brien’s atmosphere is friendly while roomy enough to mingle with friends.  A sports bar with flat screen televisions greets patrons when they first walk in while, along the side, a homier room that includes a mantled fireplace and pool table is open for quieter dining and mingling.  I personally appreciated the welcome ambiance of this room.

Every single person who works at TJ’s makes you feel right at home, as if they’ve known you forever as soon as you walk in.  James O’Brien, one of the owners, is in almost every day; he’s constantly moving from patron to table to patron, ensuring everyone’s satisfaction with food and service.  TJ’s hosts fun neighborhood parties such as their now annual Halloween costume parties, Christmas Eve Eve celebrations, snow days commemorations and, of course, get togethers centered around popular sports events.

TJ’s recently added regular live entertainment to their establishment.  For instance, every other Thursday evening at 9pm, live music is offered.  Local, soon-to-be famous, rockstar Darryl Markette (Darryl Markette Music) is a regular performer.  Stop by for a great chance to unwind and catch up with dear friends.

TJ O’Brien’s is located at 53 W. Slade Street in Palatine, Illinois, conveniently just off the Metra tracks, at 847.468.7468.  Go for the deliciously authentic Irish fare and stay for the friendly atmosphere and entertainment.  It won’t be your last stop . . . .

A+ to TJ OBrien’s for sweetly satisfying food, high quality local entertainment and welcoming, neighborhood ambiance!!

 

BEST Slow-Cooked Turkey Lasagna

January 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Recipes, School's Out

A slow-cooked meal is a gift from your early self to your later self.  This one makes the house smell extra scrumptious.

I made this for the first time this Christmas season.  I discovered it in my latest issue of “Muscle and Fitness Hers” (Jan/Feb issue) so you know it’s healthful!!  My family members tried something new this year.  Rather than exchange material gifts (except for the young ones, of course), we took turns preparing special dinners for each other.  Here is what I decided to make . . . it is a definite repeater.  It is, in fact, the best lasagna I’ve made – and it’s healthful, on top of it!!

Slow-Cooked Turkey Lasagna

~ 6 – 8 whole wheat or whole grain lasagna noodles

~ 12 oz 99% fat free ground turkey

~ 1/4 cup red cooking wine

~ 1/2 cup fat-free cottage cheese

~ 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

~ 1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese

~ 6 oz low-fat part skim mozzarella cheese

~ 6 oz can tomato paste

~ 29 – 32 oz tomato sauce

~ 1 cup chopped white onion

~ 2 tsp minced garlic cloves

~ 2 tbsp dried parsley (divided)

~ Mrs. Dash to taste (or whatever spices you have on hand!!)

~ 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1. Heat large sauté pan over medium heat.  Cook ground turkey, onion, and garlic until turkey is browned.

2. Add tomato paste, tomato sauce, Mrs. Dash and 1 tbsp of parsley to meat mixture.

3. Simmer for a few minutes on low.  Remove from heat.  Stir in cooking wine and set aside.

4. In another bowl, combine all cheeses with remaining parsley and nutmeg.

5. Spoon one layer of turkey mixture across bottom of slow cooker.

6. Add one layer of dry lasagna noodles (you will need to break them to fit in slow cooker)

7. Add a layer of cheese followed by a layer of cooked turkey.

8.  Repeat steps 5 – 7.

9. Top lasagna with a pinch of parsley, cheese, and 1 – 2 tbsp of red cooking wine.

10.  Cook on low in slow cooker for 7 – 8 hours.

NCTE11 News and Notes 2

December 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Achieving Assignments, Mini-Lessons

Need some inspiration during these last few days before Winter Break?!  While the following post does not give the NCTE 11 session, National Literature Project, nearly enough justice, I’m sharing a few inspirational tidbits that continue to stick with me since attending a month ago.  I continue to be inspired . . .

~ Meaning is neither in the text nor the reader.  It is in the transaction.

~ Literature helps us work out our relationship with the world around us.  Students have this experience all the time with games, movies, etc.  We can help them see that they can get just as lost in literature!!

~ “Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.”  Robert Frost

~ NAEP reading framework – % of Literature vs. Informational text:    4th grade – 50%, 8th grade – 45%, 12th grade – 30%

~ Young people betweeen the ages of 8 – 18 are using entertainment media 7 hours, 38 minutes a day!!

~ HOW they read matters much less than HOW MUCH they read!!!!  (in other words, the video game magazines are helping their reading as well!!!)

~ Background knowledge only builds from reading.

~ A student, on average, takes 7 seconds to look at a painting and 36 seconds to read a plaque.  In other words, students are much more likely to interpret visuals freely rather than interpret written text.  Students are visual these days!!!!

~ Reading is a way to have tea with an author.  🙂

~ All teaching and learning is relational.  We are creating culture and knowledge!!

______________________________________________________

Lesson idea:

A. Write a note to one your favorite authors or teachers.  Include some highlights of that relationship, influences, insights gained because of the relationship, great moments, etc.  Perhaps explore how you have grown with/because of this teacher or author.  How has this author/teacher transformed your thinking?

B.  Exchange letters with your neighbor.  Cirle words that seem to capture the relationship highlighted in your neighbor’s letter.

C.  Use those circled words to create a poem

D.  Once poems are written, ask for volunteers to stand in a line in front of the class.  One at a time, the standing students read one line from their poems.  The teacher (with the help of the students) will move students around to create a “class” poem; place students in the order of lines that build upon one another.

E.  Finally, read the final poem

The moral of this lesson . . . the power of attachment is so much greater than detachment.

“Produce great persons.  The rest follows.”  ~Walt Whitman

 

 

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