Saturday, March 31, 2012

Accomplished - Slice of Life #31

I woke up this morning feeling very excited and yet very sad that we've made it to the end of the Slice of Life Challenge! I've truly loved reading and writing every day. I've been so inspired by all of the other Slicers out there! Hopefully, this will keep me in the writing mode for a long time. :) To finish off, I'm going to reflect on the month by just creating a found poem of sorts, using the one word titles from each of my posts this month. So here we go...


Thanks again to all of my fellow Slicers for all of your comments and encouragement throughout the month! A special thanks to Ruth and Stacey for hosting the challenge.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Anderson's - Slice of Life #30

If you are ever anywhere near the Naperville, Illinois area, you must MUST visit Anderson's Bookshop! I first heard about them on Twitter from John Schumacher(@MrSchuReads)and have made several visits. They also have a Downer's Grove location... but after visiting both, I have to say the Naperville one is my favorite!

Not only is it a wonderful indie book shop, but they play host to so many author visits and special events. For example, Veronica Roth will be visiting/signing there on Friday, May 4th. Guess who already got a number to be in line that night?! Yep... I'm number four (fitting, isn't it?!)

Indie book shops have always held a special place in my heart. When I was growing up, we had a tiny little book shop in our town square (Griggs, which later became Books on the Square) that I visited any time I possibly could! I spent pretty much all of my gift money (birthdays, Christmas, Easter, you name it!) buying my next reads. And I spent plenty of time hearing about how I spent too much money on books (from my mom.)

When my family would vacation up north in Wisconsin, my biggest thrill was the two indie book shops that were up there! The only reason I loved when my parents wanted to shop around was that I just knew I'd be able to sneak off to the book shops. With whatever money I had left, I'd find a way to add more books to my collection.

To this day, I still love finding indie book shops whenever I can. Last winter, I was vacationing with friends in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area when we visited Park City. Leave it to me to find Dolly's Book Shop there! :)

These days, I fall victim to shopping on Amazon or visiting Barnes & Noble because of the convenience... but whenever I can, I support indie book shops like Anderson's. As a matter of fact, I donated over $100 to Anderson's today! :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Delirium - Slice of Life #29

My heart is still pounding after finishing Lauren Oliver's YA novel Pandemonium! It is the sequel to Delirium, which I read earlier this week. My friend Karen Terlecky (@KarenTerlecky) tweeted about how much she had enjoyed both of them, so I had to check them out. I'm so glad I did!

Lena is living in a time when love (amor deliria nervosa) has been diagnosed as a disease, and everyone must have an operation to be "cured" when they turn 18. She fully believes in what she has been taught and is prepared to undergo the process of being cured... until she meets Alex. I loved watching as Lena changed, questioned, rebelled, and grows up over the course of the two books. What really irks me is that Pandemonium totally left me hanging, and the next book isn't due out until next February! :)

I can see how so many young adults would identify with Lena and the struggles she goes through... everything from questioning her relationships to losing her mom to finding her first love. While love hasn't been banned for us, I think today's teens will find a strong message about finding themselves and deciding what they believe in.

Originally, I said I thought my 15 year old self would have loved this book. I still think that is true, but I actually think my 13 year old self would have benefitted greatly from reading Lauren's books. It was during that time in my life that I really started questioning and figuring out what I believed in.

I hope that there are middle school and high school teachers who are putting these books into the hands of girls who need Lena!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Scattered - Slice of Life #28

I'm having another one of those super busy, super scattered kinds of days. There's lots of random topics running through my head. So let's take a look...

I saw Hunger Games last night. I really liked it. I thought it was done very well. But it wasn't as good as the book. It did, however, confirm that I am totally Team Gale.

I briefly caught a news report on the radio earlier about homework and whether or not it's still relevant. I'm always especially surprised to hear about kindergarten, first, and second grade students having "hours" of homework. IMO, kids need to be kids. Yes, I want my students to read every day. Yes, they should practice their writing and spelling a few nights each week. Yes, they are welcome to write on their blog if they'd like. Yes, I send the occasional math Home Link. But, really... HOURS worth of homework for the little ones is just not right.

I'm reading Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. It's the sequel to Delirium, which is a dystopian YA read. It was so so so good that I had to download Pandemonium as soon as I finished it. I'm super anxious to finish Pandemonium... and yet I'm dreading the fact that it will be over. (In a nutshell, Lena lives in a time when love has been diagnosed as a disease. Everyone goes through a surgery to be "cured" when they turn 18. Lena is all for it... until she meets Alex.)

I love that it's Spring Break. I've loved spending tons of time with my family (especially my niece!) I really needed this time to relax, unwind, and recharge. I know the next two months will be action-packed!

I took our company on a tour of our town this afternoon, as they used to live here about 20 years ago and wanted to see how it had changed. It was fun to give them the "Groundhog Day" tour, since that movie was filmed here. It's funny, though, to think of people visiting our little town as a "tourist spot."

So... those are just a few of the completely unrelated, scattered things going through my brain tonight!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Character - Slice of Life #27

Vampires and werewolves that are enemies. Girls who are draki. A world where you have to belong to one of five factions. A family of werecats striving to protect their pride. Surviving in a time when a super volcano erupts. How in the WORLD do authors come up with this stuff?!

I had this conversation with two of my teammates (Candi and Karrie) last week. I commented on how I've been following lots of authors on Twitter and that I'm astounded how they can come up with their stories. I'm gaining more confidence in myself as a writer, a reflective, professionally developing writer. I know I'm a great storyteller of things that have happened to me. But I just don't think I was born with that creative thinking gene. We laughed as I described what my fictional story might sound like.

"Hello," said Karrie.
"Hi," said Candi.
BOOM! Now there's a new character.
"Howdy," said Laura.

Ok, maybe... maybe I exaggerate a little bit. It might not be that bad. But I am bewildered at how the minds of these amazing authors work. Listening to the process they go through as they tweet about it makes me respect and admire them even more.

How do authors create those characters that I come to know and love? How do they make those characters come alive in a way that makes me want them to befriend them? How do they know what to add that will make me gasp out loud? How do they make me admire their lead characters?

Someday, I may learn to find that creativity in myself. Maybe there is a Rose Hathaway or Faythe Sanders hidden deep in my brain. In the meantime, I guess I'll just continue to read and enjoy the creative genius with which they are blessed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Putty - Slice of Life #26

Have you ever seen a cat eat corn on the cob... right from the cob? My Putty Tat goes crazy for it! It's one of her favorite things. Putty is our 17 and a half year old kitten. She's an orange and white tabby cat... and is quite a character!

These are a few of her favorite things...

1. Meowing. She loves to meow. Loudly. Especially when I'm sleeping.

2. Eating. Not her special kidney diet food, but anything that I'm eating. She usually enjoys just helping herself. While I'm still eating.

3. Sleeping. She enjoys taking her cat naps snuggled under my super soft brown fleece blanket.

4. Hiding. Especially when my sister brings her dog over.

5. Sitting on the windowsill, waiting for me to come home.

6. Lunchmeat. You can try to sneak a piece of salami as quietly as humanly possible... but she will hear you, regardless of where she is or what she is doing. And she expects you to share.

7. Catnip. She will roll in it as soon as she catches the scent.

8. Sitting on the iPad, so you cannot use it and are forced to pay attention to her.

9. Her toys. She has sparkly balls and a little mouse that she adores. Actually, she loves drowning them. As soon as I give them to her, it's a guarantee that she will immediately take them over to her water bowl and dunk them.

10. Warmth. She loves sitting in the sunshine or sleeping on top of the warmest human she can find.

And yes... in case you were wondering, she is named after the Sylvester/Tweety cartoon where Tweety remarks, "I tawt I taw a putty tat!"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nature - Slice of Life #25

I'm still amazed We grilled outside today. The leaves on the trees are starting to green up quickly. The grass ia already green and waiting to be cut. My mom's irises and daffodils are already blooming. We have a trillion trillium growing in the yard. Wild onions are starting to pop up. Insects have already invaded. Birds are singing their spring songs. Crickets make their music at night.  And it's March.

I've been in awe of these changes for the past week or so. It's so hard to believe we aren't in the midst of yet another snowstorm. I've made it a point to stop and take notice of these early changes. To really appreciate the little things that are leading up to the big changes.

Tonight, when I took a little walk out to the mailbox to collect the mail and newspapers, I took notice of the beautiful sky. It's one of the things I love most about living out here in the country. The sky is illuminated with billions of twinkling stars. I didn't see any shooting starts tonight, but I did stop and gaze at the moon. A beautiful crescent shape. Near it, there are two brightly shining lights. I wondered if those might be planets. Or just bright stars.

During our first grade chat on Twitter tonight, someone mentioned the book Last Child in the Woods. It's written by Richard Louv and describes the "nature deficit disorder." As I was staring at that beautiful moon tonight, it made me wonder if any of my first graders would really take notice of that. Are kids these days paying attention and wondering about nature? Or are they busy finding an app to learn about nature?

For me, being outside and connecting with nature really has a calming effect on me. It grounds me. Helps me to refocus and put things in perspective. Sometimes I just need to be away from the "busy-ness" and take in everything around me. I think I get this from my dad. I can only hope the children I teach are getting their roots planted firmly in the wonder of nature.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Adventure - Slice of Life #24

I love adventures. Whether big or small, I love the spirit of an adventure. Trying something new. Setting out without a destination. The risk. The uncomfortable feeling in my tummy. The nervous giggle. The smile when it's over. 

I don't mean to brag... but I guess I kind of am bragging. But really, my intention is to share. And to maybe spark another writing idea. So here goes. Some of my favorite adventures... in no particular order.

1. Being at Game 7 of the Cubs NLCS in 2003 (where Kerry Wood hit the 2-run homer that almost brought down Wrigley Field!!)

2.  Meeting Rick Sutcliffe, my all-time favorite Cub, at the Cubs Convention in 2010

3. Kayaking on a lake in Maine

4. Taking a whale watching trip (27 miles out into the ocean!) from Bar Harbor, Maine 

5. Rapelling off a cliff in Devil's Lake, Wisconsin

6. Hiking in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming

7. Cave camping (and waking up to hear bats above my head!)

8. Building a quinzee (similar to an igloo) and camping in my friend's backyard, just for the fun of it

9. Meeting Taye Diggs at Andersons Book Shop in Naperville

10. Camping with mushers in Michigan (Lance & Tonya Mackey, Jason Barron, Ryan Redington, DeeDee Jonrowe)

11. Being a surrogate mother for an orphaned raccoon

12. Getting stuck on the side of a mountain in Utah

13. Snowmobiling in the mountains in Utah

14. Taking a 3 week East Coast road trip

15. Appearing on Good Morning America (meeting Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer)

16. Meeting Will Smith in Times Square

17. Winning the team spirit award for a Mud Volleyball tournament at Ball State University

18. Eating a picnic lunch on a cliff in Acadia National Park

19. Fishing in the North Woods

20. Power parachute ride... as my first flight... ever

I guess this also speaks volumes to who I am as a teacher. I'm always looking for new ideas, ways to improve, and new adventures.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Connecting - Slice of Life #23

The idea of building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) has been on my mind a lot lately. You see, for years, I quite honestly felt like my beliefs and interests were far-fetched. Unrealistic. Conversations turned into debates with colleagues because we just simply weren't on the same page. That's a lonely place to be. Until I found my Twitter life.

As I was starting this post today, I read Maria's post on The Joy of Twitter where she gives her Top 10 reasons for loving Twitter. I loved that format, so I'm borrowing it! Thanks, Maria! 

Here are the 10 Things Twitter has given me!

10. A voice! Twitter gives me a place to quickly share my thoughts and ideas with my 1000+ followers (and the their followers... and their followers...)

9. Time. Time for reflection, collaboration, and information.  

8. Quick access to the latest blogs, articles, sites, and book titles. If it's new, someone will tweet it!

7. A blog. A year ago, I would've laughed if you asked me if I was a blogger or a writer. Now I would describe myself as both.

6. Authors. At my fingertips. And they engage in conversations!

5. Literacy Experts. Some of my heroes have become my friends because of Twitter.

4. Opportunities. I am still astounded by the opportunities I've had since I really started using Twitter.

3. Chats. An hour of some of the most powerful PD I've ever had. And it's free.

2. Conferences. I can tweet out my learning or follow along virtually if I'm not there!

1. Community. I am truly blessed with a supportive, smart, funny, inspirational PLN. And it was just as awesome when I've met some of them in real life!

Some of my favorite Tweeps! :)
You can read more about how Twitter has changed my life if you'd like. I'd highly recommend joining in the fun!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Daily - Slice of Life #22

As I was doing my morning browsing on Gail and Joan's Discussion Boards, I noticed someone had posted a link to an article that really caught my attention. It's from this month's Ed Leadership magazine (from ASCD) and is written by Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel. It's titled Every Child, Every Day and outlines the 6 elements of effective reading instruction. 

To say I needed this article would be such an understatement. I've been struggling so much lately with what I believe to be true about literacy instruction and with what I see happening around me that is in direct contrast to those beliefs. I crave those pieces of current research that affirm my beliefs and my instructional practices.

My first graders have time each and every day to choose what they read. As a fellow reader, I provide opportunities, feedback, and guidance as they make those choices. We spend lots of time talking about "good fit books." My first graders know there is more to reading than just knowing the words. They read books that are of interest to them. When I confer with each reader, I pay attention to the choices they've made as well as how well they are able to read those books. This helps me make suggestions to that child in the future and to talk about the importance of accuracy.

By sharing bits of my reading life with my students, modeling how to check for understanding, and talking to them about books they're reading, we place importance on comprehension. We are learning to comprehend and be thoughtful readers in the context of real reading. We share our reading lives with each other. Readers pass their favorite books to friends who might also enjoy them. We talk about what we read together as a class. There is nothing more powerful to show comprehension than being able to talk about what you've read!

When it comes to fluency practice, we spend time reading and rereading our favorite books. We also spend time reading and rereading poetry. I find that poetry is the perfect medium for helping little readers to find that rhythm and flow to what they're reading. Thanks to my smart Twitter friends, I've also learned that Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems provide short, relatively easy texts that lend themselves PERFECTLY to practicing how to read with fantastic expression.

My growing authors have lots of opportunities to write, on topics of their choice. As an adult (and a writer,) I know the power of being able to decide what I value and what matters to me in my writing. When my first graders blog, they have choices on what to write. They also have an authentic audience, made up of their own peers. It is powerful to know someone is going to read what you've written. It is also powerful for students to be able to give feedback to each other!

Did I mention these are opportunities for each and every one of my first graders? I feel very strongly that ALL of my students must be given these opportunities. Those struggling readers who are pulled in so many directions for so many interventions MUST have time to engage in real reading every day so they can see how reading looks as a complete process, not just a set of isolated skills.

What Allington and Gabriel detail in the article closely matches what I believe. What Allington and Gabriel suggest about Things That Really Matter ... well, they hit the nail on the head with that, too. Today was a day I really needed to hear these things. I am hopeful again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stand - Slice of Life #21

Waiting for that idea to spark.
Waiting for the right moment.
Waiting for the lightbulb.

Deflating as I continue to listen to nonsense.
Deflating as we continue down the wrong path.
Deflating as I realize I no longer belong.

Hoping things change.
Hoping people see what's right.
Hoping someone else stands with me.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Better - Slice of Life #20

On my 12 minute commute to work yesterday, I stumbled upon a new Tim McGraw song on The Highway (Sirius XM radio.) While I know Tim isn't singing about teaching, one part really got to me.

I ain't as good as I'm gonna get...
But I'm better than I used to be.

I couldn't stop thinking about this all day yesterday. I find it to be so true when I think about my teaching and learning! When I look at all of the things I'm reading and learning, I am well aware of how much room I have to grow. However... when I look back at my teaching career, I know I'm better than I used to be.

I look back and giggle at how I did things my first year of teaching. I kick myself for doing things I just KNEW weren't right... but I caved in to peer pressure and did them anyway. I laugh, knowing things will never be that way again.

And now, I glance at my GIANT stack of professional books that I plan to read. Whoa. I have a LOT of learning ahead of me. I thank my lucky stars every day that I have an amazing PLN on Twitter that pushes me, guides me, challenges me, and supports me.

As we were leaving a gathering of Twitter friends a few weeks ago, I overheard Donalyn and Nicole talking about returning to school in the next day or two. They were commenting about how they'd go back "just a little better" than they were before we attended the conference in Dublin, Ohio. I think that is so powerful! All too often, I think we look to make huge changes to improve ourselves. We ignore all of the tiny changes that make a HUGE difference for our children and for ourselves.

Yes, I do have big plans. Big dreams. I have many areas that I'd like to improve in my instruction with my first graders. But I smile today, knowing "I ain't as good as I'm gonna get, but I'm better than I used to be."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Melody - Slice of Life #19/It's Monday! What are you reading?


I've been participating in the Slice of Life challenge for 19 days now (woohoo!!) and have always wanted to link up for Jen and Kellee's "It's Monday! What are you reading?" post... so I'm writing one post that I am going to use for both purposes! :)

This weekend, I read devoured Sharon Draper's middle grade novel Out of My Mind. I do say devoured, although it took me a few sittings across two days. Not because I wasn't into it... because I wanted to savor it.

It was the first book I picked up after reading Wonder by RJ Palacio. After adoring Auggie so much, I just couldn't find the right book to read next. Until I remembered Out of My Mind. Twitter friends suggested it as a "next read" after Wonder... and they were so right.

A quick summary... Melody is a brilliant, spunky, hilarious little girl who has never spoken a word in her 11 years. If you ask her (and are genuinely interested,) she'll tell you she was born with cerebral palsy. If you ask her (and she can tell you're being nosy,) she'll simply tell you that we all have disabilities and that she wants to know yours. And so goes the story of Melody.

I had to stop throughout the book to savor "special moments" and to just digest. About halfway through the book, I had to stop because I had big, fat, happy tears rolling down my cheeks. 

While the outside world has trouble understanding Melody, she is very smart and aches to be able to communicate. I loved listening to her thoughts, cried over her struggles, and laughed with her sense of humor.

Not only did I read this from a teacher POV, but I also thought a lot about myself as I read. Would I be the kind of person who could easily approach Melody and become her friend? I'd like to think so. In fact, I think I'd love to have a friend like Melody. Honest, sincere, funny, smart. You can't ask for more than that.

And now, I'm actually shocked to find myself thinking (and sometimes saying aloud) that I might like Melody even more than I adored Auggie! Both characters are very well-written, and I don't know that I can even compare the two... but for some reason, I always feel like I need to do that. Maybe I felt more of a connection to Melody?

Since Melody is in 5th grade, this book is aimed at middle grade readers. Donalyn Miller often says you haven't finished with a book until you've given it to another reader. I read this one on my Kindle and don't teach middle grades... so I'm giving motivation to you instead! Read this book. Soon. You won't be sorry.
One more thing... if you're already a fan of the book, you should check out Sharon's Q&A on it on her website.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Almost - Slice of Life #18

Almost. It is almost time for Spring Break. We have one week to go. Five days. I long for a week of down time, but it also makes me realize that when we return, we'll be heading into the final stretch. The last quarter with this group of first graders.

Spring fever has hit HARD this past week. Temperatures in the high 70s have thrown us into a feverish frenzy! Typically, we're bracing for a snow storm at this time of the year. I can only wonder what the upcoming months will hold for our weather.

I feel like we've come so far since late August, and yet there is still so much we need to accomplish. Our reading lives are in full swing; we're recommending books to each other daily. Books often change hands and have "waiting lists." We're big thinkers and wonderers.

We need to make the push to Spring Break so we can all come back refreshed and ready to leap forward in our final couple of months together. Only five more days. Almost.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Focus - Slice of Life #17

I woke up to the sound of hail hitting my tent. Except I'm not camping. Windows on both sides of the bed were open, since we're having summer-like temperatures here. And for whatever reason, the thunderstorm this morning woke me up and made me think I was camping.

As I tried to fall back asleep to the soothing sounds of the thunderstorm, my mind was racing so I decided to just get up and get moving.

I read a couple of today's slices bright and early this morning. I was inspired by Cathy Mere's post as she shared her thoughts on "Growing Up Small Town." I was struck by how much it sounded like me and my life! Immediately I knew I'd found my topic for today and my mentor text for this piece.

But then, I decided I'd better get a few things done before I sat down to write. So I started cleaning. And avoiding cleaning. I started reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. I threw in some laundry. I turned on my Breaking Dawn DVD. Ooh, maybe I should write about how my friend Jacquie just REFUSES to give the Twilight series a try.

I finished unpacking from last weekend's trip to Detroit. Maybe I could write more about how I love every minute that I spend with that group of friends. How we have inside jokes galore. How we created new inside jokes that will carry on into future visits.

Speaking of future visits, maybe I should write about how I am already looking forward to next year's Dublin Literacy Conference. It's been 3 weeks since I left that group of Twitter friends, many of whom I met in real life for the first time.

Maybe I'll write about the delicious corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes, and carrots that my mom is making. The whole house smells incredible. It's no wonder I can't focus.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Confession - Slice of Life #16

Hound Dog True. Harry Potter. Nerd Camp. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I. Just. Can't. Read. Them.

Breadcrumbs was recommended by so many of my Nerdy Book Club friends. I struggled through it. I know I'm missing out on a lot of incredible books. I've tried. I swear, I've tried.

So, here it is. My confession. *Ahem* I cannot read books written in third person.

No, for real. It took everything in me to finish reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. It was a beautifully written book, but I really, really struggled with it. Because it is written in a third person point of view.

See, when I read, I become totally, completely involved in the book. The movie version plays out in my mind as I'm reading. I can picture almost every detail. I become a part of the story. When I try to read books written in third person, it's like a slideshow. Every once in a while, a new image will pop up but I have a hard time really being IN the book. And it drives me crazy. I lose interest. Fast. Most times, I'll set the book down and never return.

I am so thankful that there are so many incredible books written in first person so I can feed my reading habit! Recently, I was giddy to find that Wonder and The One and Only Ivan were written in a first person POV. I read devoured both of those books, thanks to Nerdy Book Club recommendations!

I will say that I don't avoid books because of this when I'm reading aloud to my students. It doesn't bother me (as much) in picture books. It makes the chapter book read aloud experience different for me, but I do use books that are written from any point of view. But when I read just for me...

Whew. I feel much better now that I admitted that. Out loud. I welcome any advice or tricks you may have to help me overcome this HUGE obstacle in my reading life! Or... if you have some favorite books that are written in first person, I'd love to hear those recommendations!

P.S. As I was writing this post, I remembered that Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is written in first person. Looks like I know what I'm reading this weekend!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Silence - Slice of Life #15

Silence is necessary for me sometimes. I need silence to decompress, unwind, reflect. And I'll be honest... sometimes, I just need my first graders to be silent. Just for a little bit. Once in a while.

Years ago, my teammate and I came up with a game to give us just that. A few minutes of blissful silence. Now, I know that every moment with my little friends is precious, so this game had to have a purpose. Because this was created about 15 years ago, we didn't have iPads, iPods, or even much computer access. "Blogging" hadn't even been invented yet! Instant messaging is what we did when we left a sticky note on someone's door.

Yesterday was one of those "I need silence" days. So I introduced our game... The Silent World (copyright Miss Komos 1996-ish.)

Now, you see, on this silent planet, no one communicates by talking. They communicate by writing. On whiteboards. Everyone walks around the room with individual whiteboards, socks (for erasing) and markers in hand. And they write messages to each other.

Purpose? Handwriting practice. Spelling practice. Writing practice. Decoding practice. Comprehension practice. Community building. Silence. :)

Now, I ham it up and flash the lights as we "travel" to this mysterious world. Children are sent to outer space (hallway) for a minute if they are talking. I walk around, too, and share in the joy of exchanging messages.

That's it. Pure. Simple. Real reading and writing. A little bit of silly. And some silence.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy - Slice of Life #14

I've been inspired by Katie Keier's posts over at Catching Readers lately. She's written about being happy. Today, I'm going to celebrate Wordless Wednesday and show you something that makes me happy.
Sharing Skippyjon Jones with my niece

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring - Slice of Life #13

Sunlight streaming through the trees.
Fog lifting up the morning.
Birds laughing.
Mosquitoes breeding.
Warm breezes.
Toes celebrating freedom.

And yet...

I miss the winter we didn't have.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Optimism - Slice of Life #12

A four-time Iditarod champ is struggling right now just to finish the race. Only time will tell if his team actually crosses that finish line in Nome. And through it all, Lance Mackey remains optimistic.

Lance will admit that he's frustrated. But there is still optimism in his attitude and his voice.

What you might not know is that Lance is a fighter. He's battled addictions. He's battled poverty. He's battled the nay-sayers. He's battled cancer.

If you've ever talked to Lance or read his book, you know it's his dogs that kept him fighting through those toughest of times. I think it's also his drive, his passion, and his optimism.

Lance was faced with severe pain in his fingers due to all of the chemo and radiation he underwent. His optimistic attitude led him to make the decision to just have the doctors remove the finger that was causing him the most pain!

Watching a video of him this morning, I had to laugh out loud. He asked about the Red Lantern, which is the prize given to the final musher to leave the trail. Even though he is having a rough go of this race, he's wondering if he could set a new record for being an Iditarod champ AND Iditarod last place finisher. Talk about making the most out of a situation! :)

It's no secret that I am a HUGE Lance Mackey fan. He was the first musher I followed and the first one I really got to know in person. I'm realizing today that it's not only his sense of  humor and his passion for his dogs that draws me to being a fan... but it's his optimism that continues to inspire me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trying - Slice of Life #11

Can't think straight.
Don't know what to write.
Not sure if I'm even awake.

Mind spinning.
So much to do.
Wanting to accomplish something.

Connecting with friends.
Tiring laughter.
Over-the-top fun.

Towards a good night's sleep.
In the direction of a new week.
Ahead to Spring Break.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

NIOS - Slice of Life #10

Northern Illinois Operation Snowball. NIOS. Just saying the name makes me smile and feel warm and fuzzy. Oh, the memories.

Allow me to backtrack for a moment...Have you ever heard of Operation Snowball? It stems from the early 1980s and the whole anti-drug/anti-alcohol movement. It is an organization that provides healthy alternatives for teens and young adults. It focuses on leadership and natural highs. It is based on the principle that if I have a positive impact on you, you will have a positive impact on someone else, and it will "snowball" from there. I joined as a freshman in high school and was involved with the organization for over 20 years! Anyway, back to my memories...

Here is a snippet of what NIOS gave me over the years...
*my best friends
*my confidence
*opportunities to speak in front of people
*road rallies
*leadership opportunities
A few of my forever friends...
 We had a reunion back in the summer of 2010. We all traveled back to Lorado Taft Field Campus, where our events were held oh-so-long ago. And it was there. The magic. Sure, some of the buildings had changed. Some of us (ok, many of us) had changed. But the magic hadn't. It was as if we'd never left. We laughed. Cried. Hugged. Listened. Shared. Reflected. Took pictures. Danced. Laughed some more. We sat around the campfire and shared memories. We sat around the campfire and made memories.

As my wise friend Ashley so eloquently put it, "NIOS has watermarked my soul."

Today, a bunch of us Snowballers are together, celebrating the marriage of one of our dear friends. I am ever so thankful to have these people in my life.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Drive - Slice of Life #9

I love to drive. I love road trips. Whether long or short, I love the adventure of hitting the road.

I'm a lot like my dad in that I can drive for 19 hours to my destination, unload the car, and then drive to just "look around."

I actually really enjoy road tripping alone. Sure, it can be fun to have a travel buddy... but more often that not, I like the freedom of being on my own and seeing what I want to see. Selfish? Maybe.

When I do have a road trip buddy, it's usually my mom. We've had some fantastic road trip adventures over the years! We've driven across country. We've explored around where we live. We've wandered. We've taken some roads we didn't mean to take. We have found some beautiful places because we chose to take the back roads.

Sometimes, I enjoy the silence. It gives me time to think, reflect, dream. Sometimes, I enjoy the music. Loudly. It gives me time to relax and let loose.

And now, with these fancy GPS gadgets, it makes road tripping even more fun! I wonder where I'll end up today...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Words - Slice of Life #8

One of my little girls asked (ok, begged) to read aloud an Elephant and Piggie story to the class today. Why not? She chose Should I Share My Ice Cream. Now, to say we love Elephant, Piggie, and Mo Willems is an understatement. We. LOVE. Them. I took my seat with the rest of the kids and listened to her read the story beautifully with brilliant expression. I was fascinated as I listened to her reading and her comments.
"Would you please save your questions for the end of the book? Thank you."

"See? I made my voice tiny because the speech bubble and words are tiny."

"Oh, that's my favorite kind of ice cream."

"If I could add sound effects to this page, I'd add (feet walking.)"

"Did you get what happened? What Elephant thought would happen did - but it happened to him, not Piggie!"

"The Pigeon is at the end of the book because that is Mo Willems' trademark."

"Now, that's not a question, it's a statement."

"Ok, everybody... shhhh."

"Miss Komos, can you go on Twitter and ask Mo Willems..."

I scribbled my notes furiously after I ran over to grab a pen and paper. I couldn't write fast enough to capture the magic of what I was witnessing. What a great opportunity for me to reflect on so many things... on so many levels!

I was just talking to my podmates this morning about read alouds. We all agreed that our kids are not quiet during read alouds. They need to be able to react, respond, reflect, ask questions, laugh... just as we do when we are reading to ourselves. I found it fascinating that this little girl was giving her "students" these opportunities, just like I do. She was guiding them with her questions, thinking aloud, and sometimes asking them to simmer down a bit. Just like I do.

Do we have to be careful with our choice of words? Do we hear our voices coming through our students' mouths? Can I glean a ton of information about her as a reader? As a teacher? Absolutely.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

WRAD - Slice of Life #7

Like many others around the globe, we are participating in World Read Aloud day today! I started the morning by reading a brilliant blog post by Mary Lee Hahn about the importance of read alouds in building our classroom community. This put me in the right frame of mind to head to school and share this day with my first graders! My "Wild About Reading" tshirt is helping, too!

We spent some time reading aloud Elephant and Piggie books to each other, I read aloud to the class, our assistant principal did a guest read aloud, and our birthday girl read aloud a book she donated to our classroom library. All of that was wonderful... but nothing compared to our Skype visit.

Iza Trapani (@IzaTrapani) contacted me on Twitter and set up a Skype read aloud call for today. It was the first time I had used Skype at school, and let me tell you... it will NOT be the last. How incredibly powerful. We read and sang a bunch of Iza's books last week, and it was so much fun to be able to hear her voice! She sang/read us her new book The Bear Went Over the Mountain which is being released on April 1.

Not only did she share her new book, but she told us that she moved here from Poland when she was 7. She didn't know any English and used to hear lots of nursery rhymes. This has inspired her to use the first verse of a traditional song and add on her own verses for her books. She also talked about where she gets inspiration for her writing. You better believe I'm going to be referencing this conversation during our upcoming writing lessons!

My head is already spinning with ideas for how we can use Skype as a tool in our learning. And those ideas all stem from an author visit on World Read Aloud Day

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Seriously?! - Slice of Life #6

I was a little panicked this morning as I was struggling to figure out what I was going to write about today. Then my inspiration arrived in the form of a text message from my good friend Jacquie (who teaches first grade in another district.) It read,

"I can't believe I'm wearing this stupid ISAT tshirt. This is totally going to boost our scores!"

Of course, I immediately picked up on her sarcasm... and checked to make sure she really had to wear an ISAT tshirt. Yes, yes she did.

Seriously?! SERIOUSLY?! This is what our test-driven culture is now doing. What's next? ISAT pancakes on the lunch menu? ISAT emblems on student desks and tables? Test scores printed on their ISAT school uniform?

I'm a little fired up this morning. Is this really what we value? Is it honestly all about test scores? I get it. I know it's not all of us teachers that place all of our eggs into one testing basket. How will we find our way out of this?

I have to give Jacquie major kudos for wearing that shirt today. I think mine would have miraculously disappeared.

I guess I'd better go take a few (hundred) deep breaths this morning before my little friends walk in. :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wonder - Slice of Life #5

Thanks to the Nerdy Book Club for so much chatter about this book! I just couldn't resist reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

I was drawn into Auggie's world from the first page. Not only was I drawn into his world, but readers are given an opportunity to see Auggie's world from many different points of view. His sister. His friends. His sister's boyfriend. Lots of opportunities to see how Auggie impacts them.

I don't want to give away too much, but Auggie was born looking very different. His life up until now has been one surgery after another. He has been homeschooled until now. He has lived his life watching people stare. Avoid him. Not know how to react. Palacio handles this so gracefully yet so honestly.

Throughout the book, I honestly wondered how I'd react if I had an Auggie in my classroom. Initially, I'd guess I'd be curious. I think this is natural. I know I'd learn to quickly look past his "differences," just like I do with any other child. But I do believe Auggie has lessons to teach.

My grandmother had a stroke when I was only a few months old. She was paralyzed on the left side of her body and had to use a cane/wheelchair to get around. But to me, that was normal. She was my Nana. I credit her with giving me the drive to teach and the accepting attitude towards those who are "different."

I usually plow my way through books, especially those meant for younger readers. I just couldn't do that with this book. I really took my time, spending almost 2 weeks with it. I haven't been able to pick up another book since I finished reading Wonder.

I'll leave you with this quote with the book, which still resonates with me... "If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Iditarod - Slice of Life #4

Hanging out with
DeeDee, Ryan, Jason, and Lance
Someday, I'll be on the back of the sled... listening to the sound of the runners swish through the snow. Until then, I live vicariously through the men and women who keep this historical sport alive.

Today marks the official start of the 40th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage (Willow) to Nome. 1000 miles across Alaska. Mountains. Frozen tundra. Northern Lights. Denali. The Happy River Steps. Checkpoints. History. Tradition.

Toasting with the IditaQuest champ
Lance Mackey!
Since I started following the Iditarod (and now many other races,) I've been very fortunate to have wormed my way into the mushing community where I've camped with and gotten to know several "big name" mushers. I can honestly tell you they are the most humble, down-to-earth, dog-loving people I've ever met! We've had hilarious conversations around the campfire as they shared their tales from the trails. Getting to know Lance's wife Tonya was wonderful, too! We became fast friends over our weekend together.

2012 Yukon Quest champion and
Chicagoland native Hugh Neff
Not only was I able to get to know Hugh Neff before he won his very first race this year (the Yukon Quest, a 1000 mile race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks,) but I was able to arrange for him to visit my first graders last year. What an incredible experience for them and for me! He promotes reading and literacy every year because that is why he originally headed to Alaska... all because of books he'd read. He is hilarious and loves his dogs tremendously.

So, for me, this is the hard part. I can't choose just one musher that I want to win "The Big Race." I want DeeDee to win because she has an amazing spirit. I want Ryan to win because he so badly wants to get his hands on the statue of his grandfather, race founder Joe Redington. I want Lance to win because he symbolizes all of the struggles we go through and yet he always finds a way to come out on top. I want Hugh to win so that he can be a back-to-back Quest/Iditarod champ. 

I adore the adventure, the spirit, the love that goes into this amazing race. Really, I have to cheer for each and every team in the race. Every dog that loves to run. Every musher pursuing a dream. I'll cheer for the first team to cross the finish line right down to the last one to bring in the Red Lantern.

And someday... I'll be at that Finish Line.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Yeehaw! Slice of Life #3

I'm not graceful. I'm not coordinated. But I've got rhythm. And cowboy boots. I'm a country line dancer. Yes, seriously.

Years ago, I read Regie Routman's amazing book Reading Essentials. She talks about leading an interesting life and how important that is. I take that advice to heart. I think it makes me a better teacher. And my adventurous spirit loves that advice, too. One of my upcoming slices might just focus on sharing some of my adventures.
My favorite cowboy
I miss you, Dad!
One adventure that I've enjoyed over and over since 2003 is that of line dancing. It started with a friend suggesting I join him one evening at a local saloon. I grew up listening to country music. My dad grew up in Chicago but was a cowboy at heart. Always wore his boots and hat. I left the saloon that night knowing I'd be back... but not until I'd learned some moves.

My friend and I spent hours in the kitchen and the basement, trying to make my uncoordinated limbs remember the dance steps. His line-dancing parents joined in trying to help me. Finally, with two dances under my belt buckle (Slappin' Leather and Thunderfoot,) I returned. Being able to get out on the hardwood floor for those two dances inspired me to learn more. The thing with line dancing is that once you know a few basic steps, you pick up more dances quickly. In time, I was even able to master the fast-paced Applejack!

Learning how to line dance taught me about perseverance. And muscle memory. It reminded me that it's ok to make a fool of yourself sometimes. Because I had people helping me when I got started, I pay it forward and help others who are new to the dance floor.

I love the people. The music. The atmosphere. I love being out on the dance floor, not having to think about anything except which way to turn next. Being loud and stomping my boots. The sound everyone's boots on that sawdusted hardwood floor.

I don't line dance as much as I used to. But each time I do, I'm reminded of how much I love it. Tonight, I'll be there, kicking up my heels and yeehawing away some stress. Can't wait to hear that "5, 6, 7, 8..."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Jennifer (Slice of Life #2)

 It hit me like a Mack truck.
When my friend sent me a text and asked me if I knew a girl by the name of Jennifer Learns, I didn't recognize it and didn't give it another thought. I got to school on Monday, and she said she could've sworn Jennifer Kearns had been in my class. Stupid auto correct. Yes, yes I did know Jennifer. She was one of my first graders 13 years ago. Jennifer was in a car accident last Thursday night during a snow storm. She died at the scene.

Jennifer and Tomika

I immediately googled her name. Her picture popped up. Her obituary. It hit me. Hard. Oh, how I remembered her! She was an adorable little girl. So polite and respectful. A reader. Such a good friend to her classmates. We all adored her.  Her family was so supportive. Her mom volunteered in my classroom often. Jennifer wasn't wearing her seat belt.
  I hated the thought but knew I had to go to her wake. Her family has been in what used to be "our little town" forever. I stood in line for almost 3 hours to pay my respects to her and her family. While I waited, I noticed the plaid shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots that reminded me so much of how this farming community used to be. I miss that. I miss Jennifer.

Beautiful grown up Jennifer

Standing there, I couldn't help but wonder how these hundreds (a thousand?) people knew her. But there was no doubt they all knew the Jennifer I knew from so long ago. That amazing smile that brought joy to everyone around her.

As I waited, I kept sneaking a glance at a girl across from me in line. She was chatting with the girls but kept looking at me, too. Then I saw a look... a look that confirmed she was definitely Tomika. As I realized she was that little girl from the picture above, I noticed her dad standing near her. We exchanged hugs and memories. Caught up a bit. Tomika ran over and gave me a huge hug. She remembers first grade so well and thanked me for making it so wonderful. She loved being in my class. She still remembers our first grade song (and proceded to sing it for me right then and there!) She remembers.

Kacey and Jennifer
 I kept it together this whole time. I kept my emotions in check and tried to put on my brave face. Then I saw the casket. I had to be strong. I had to be able to speak to the family. Just as I approached, her mom recognized me. "Miss Komos" was all she said. And I lost it. Big time. I ugly cried. There was nothing I could do to control it. Jennifer's mom and I hugged while she told me how much Jennifer loved first grade. How she remembered me after all of these years. How Jennifer loved to read because of me. She remembered.

So now, as I try to move forward and heal, I remember. I choose to remember Jennifer the way I knew her best. Just like in the pictures. A good friend. A good reader. An adorable little girl whose life was cut way too short.