Quote Collecting

I’m a quote collector.  I write quotes on post its, on torn pieces of paper, on old napkins, in my notebooks, and in the margins of books.  I post quotes on my walls at home and at school. I send quotes to family and friends, write quotes inside birthday cards and thank you notes.  I start professional development sessions and talks with quotes.

I just love finding the perfect words for an occasion.  I love to find the words that resonate with me, or that I hope will resonate with someone else. Quotes have helped me through tough times, helped me celebrate the good times, helped me try to understand what seems impossible to express in words.

Here are two that I collected this weekend:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”  George Eliot

“Better is possible.  It does not take genius.  It takes diligence.  It takes moral clarity.  It takes ingenuity.  And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”  Atul Gawande

Enjoy them.  Use them.  Share them.  Collect them!



Finding “Gardening Moments” in Our Teaching

My husband and I have spent the last few weekends working in the yard.  It is spring in CT, and the weather is just perfect for planting grass, getting gardens ready, putting in  new plants, and getting the lawn in order.  But we only have those two precious days of the weekend to get everything done!  When we looked out at the yard a few weeks ago, we were humbled, to say the least.  The grass was long and filled with weeds, the gardens had saplings sprouting or were overrun with weeds (which we sometimes call “wildflowers” when it seems more convenient),  the forsythia was out of control (a pretty yellow, but taking over the front yard), and the gardens were filled with leaf litter.  So, we decided to stage a full on attack!

We weeded.  We planted. We mowed. We ripped out overgrown forsythia.  We even hired someone to come and blow all the leaves out of the pachysandra (After all, this is Connecticut….the land of Lyme Disease!). And then we sat on the back porch, with a nice glass of wine and some cheese, and admired all that we had accomplished. In just two weekends, we had made an incredible difference.  The lawn was trim, and a few of the gardens were planted, others weeded.  The yard looked significantly better than it had two weeks earlier.  We could clearly view the positive change from then to now.  It gives us hope that if we keep at it, we can really create something beautiful!

I think we need to look for more of these “gardening moments” in our teaching.  What we do as literacy educators takes time.  The changes can be very slow, almost imperceptible. It sometimes takes years to see progress.  At times it can be hard to feel that sense of accomplishment that gives us the hope and energy to carry on.  How can we find ways to take a step back and admire the progress our children are making? It is there!   We need to find ways to look for it, admire it, and celebrate it.  The flowers are growing and blooming.  Let’s make sure to sit on our classroom porches and admire all the progress that is happening right in front of our eyes!

Enjoying This Stage of Motherhood

My kids are all grown.  They live on their own, have full time jobs, have relationships, pay their own rent and bills, have friends I’ve never met, do things I’ll never know about (probably a good thing), and live their own lives according to their own values and rules.  I couldn’t be prouder or happier about the adults these beautiful children have become, but this stage of motherhood is different and not well defined.

My role is no longer to look after the kids. They can clearly look after themselves.  One daughter is married with her own children, my son runs a company and travels all over the US for work, one daughter runs her own business in addition to holding a full time job, and the fourth, and youngest, works out of the country for months at a time. Of course there is nothing I like better than to bake up some cookies or muffins when they are visiting,  or to take them shopping and buy them a little something, but that is no longer my role.  They don’t need a caretaker.

My role is no longer to keep the kids safe.  As much as I worry about their safety (and the world’s safety for that matter), there is really nothing I can do about it.  They are all pretty savvy about the ways of the world, and they are not completely irresponsible.  Everyone is at risk, of course, but again, keeping the kids safe is no longer within my purvue.

It’s not my role to keep them fed or dressed.  It’s no longer my responsibility to make sure they get a good education (I don’t miss those tuition bills!).  It’s not up to me to set expectations or limits. So then, what is my role as a mother? What does motherhood look like at this stage?

This past weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day.  We attended a play in New York City, followed by a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite spots.  We were all moved to tears by the story that unfolded on stage.  We were incensed by the intolerance of some and the inability to stand up for what is right by others.  We were broken-hearted by loss and angry at the lack of fairness that exists in the world.  We talked at dinner about the play, about books we’re reading or want to read or want each other to read. We talked about politics, ideas, and, of course, some of the more mundane parts of life. As my husband and I drove home from the city, I thought about my role as mother.  Maybe it’s time to just be myself in the presence of my children.  Maybe it’s time to let go of the care-taking, the safety-ensuring, the minding, the managing, and just fully enjoy this stage of motherhood.

Taking Stock

Rejection is hard.

I recently applied for a new position in another district.  This meant revising my resume, gathering three recommendation letters, researching the district’s philosophical approach to literacy, completing the lengthy online application, and hours and hours of interview preparation. Of course there was also the issue of what to wear: Should I wear a jacket, or is that too business-like? Maybe a dress?  Too summery? Pants and a sweater?  Too casual?  The process was hard, long, and very stressful.  And in the end,  I didn’t get the position.

I was, of course, disappointed.  No one likes to lose. It’s hard to get that phone call and hear the news (even when people tell you all sorts of positive things about your qualifications and experience) that the job has gone to someone else; someone who they decided was a better match for the position.  But at the same time, I was a bit relieved.  I am highly engaged in my current job, and my colleagues can’t be beat.  We are on the edge of doing some great work.  I’m already re-energized for the rest of this year and the years ahead.

Going through this process also helped me realize how powerful it is to “take stock” of my professional life.  Reviewing my many years of experience, the positions I have held (in teaching, but also in other fields), the people I have met along the way, the challenges, and the celebrations,  helped me to identify those things that I do well, the things I need to continue to work on, and most importantly, it helped me to articulate (to myself and to others) my vision for the literacy work we do.

Rejection is hard, but maybe it’s an essential part of crafting my professional narrative.

Feeling Whole

Do you know that feeling when you are OK, but something is missing?  It’s like when a piece of metal is far from a magnet.  It’s fine.  It just sits there.  It looks complete.  You would never imagine that it is feeling a little lonely; not quite complete.  But if you move the magnet a little bit closer, the metal starts to shake.  It doesn’t look so content. It’s not so fine. And then, bam, the metal flies toward the magnet and connects to it with ferocity.   Now you see wholeness.

Yesterday I picked up my youngest daughter at the airport.  She has been working in Italy for three months.  I’m really OK when she is away.   I work, spend time with family and friends, walk the dog,  I’m fine, really.  We keep in touch through emails and texts, Facebook and Instagram, and an occasional FaceTime chat.  I get used to this way of being.  You probably wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary if you observed me from afar.  But as the day of Morgan’s arrival drew closer, I began to anticipate seeing her in person, hugging her, laughing with her.  Then the day came. I tracked her flight all day long.  The little plane on the screen moved slowly, from Italy to the UK, over the wide expanse of ocean, across Canada, and slowly down the East Coast. She was going to arrive early!  As I drove to the airport, I could feel my excitement.  Then I hear a text come through.  “Landed!” And then…there she was, at Passenger Pickup A. I jumped out of the car and ran.  She strolled toward me,  her two huge suitcases in tow.  She smiled.  I gave her a huge hug. The magnet met its metal.  I am whole again.

Food from My Childhood

I’ve just finished Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  I just loved reading her short vignettes on everything from signs she came across in the bathroom to thoughts about how quickly people can slip away from us.  Reading this book after Rosenthal’s recent death at such a young age made it all the more profound.

One of her entries was a table (She said she enjoyed creating all sorts of tables) of food from her childhood with notes and reflections about each one.  I loved it, and thought I’d give it a try!  

Food Item Notes
Carnation Instant Breakfast and Coffee Cake Juniors for breakfast.  Sometimes we added a Pop Tart! My stepfather once explained to my sister and me that Carnation Instant Breakfast was supposed to be a whole meal, not just a drink you had with breakfast!
Cube Steaks When mom came home from work after a long day and commute on the train, she would grill up some cube steaks.  We thought it was kind of fancy at the time.
Bananas grilled in butter and brown sugar Dad made these every now and then (for breakfast!).  I thought we had died and gone to heaven.
Jarlsberg cheese and Triscuits A staple then.  A staple now.
Popovers We had our first taste of popovers on a trip to Bar Harbor, Maine. How I loved when they would deflate and then I would fill the middle with butter.  It was like eating a bit of magic.
Fig Newtons The best cookie ever invented.
KFC whipped potatoes They really did taste like styrofoam, but for some reason, I loved them!
Devore’s Muffins I would pick up 4 muffins from Devore’s Bakery and bring them home to be divided among 3 of us.  It was so much fun to try to figure out how best to divide the fourth muffin.
Breakfast for Dinner It was a special night when we could have pancakes, sausage, and applesauce for dinner.  It felt like the day was upside down.
Chicken Paprikash This comforting dish of chicken, sour cream, paprika, and a bit of ketchup (!) placed over warm egg noodles was the very definition of comfort food.  It’s often a request from the girls when they return home for a visit in the fall or winter months.
Karp Burgers We had a neighbor growing up named Marshall Karp.  He would grill burgers and then top them with avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo (Yup…no ketchup).  They were delicious!  A staple summer food. And now a Griffin Family Favorite!

Thank you, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  Part of your legacy will be to inspire writers like me!

The Listening Experience

I have been spending a great deal of time in my car lately as I now have a longer commute to work.  The bad news – traffic (and lots of it).  The good news – more time to listen to books. I had never spent much time on Audible or Hoopla, always believing that nothing could surpass the experience of curling up with a ‘real’ book.  While I still love holding a book in my hands and turning the pages, the smell of the paper (especially when the book has been purchased at a tag sale and is just a little bit musty), the ability to stop and jot a favorite line, or read parts aloud to anyone who might listen (usually my dog, Bailey), and the ability to flip back and reread pages easily, I have become a real fan of the listening experience.

In some ways, listening to a book feels different to me than the act of reading a book.  It’s more like watching a play or a movie.  The readers bring their own interpretation of the story to the text. I suppose it’s what our students experience during Interactive Read Aloud!  In other ways, I find the experience can be similar. I still get that “lost in a book” feeling and arrive at work wondering how I got there.  I find myself laughing out loud or on the brink of tears as I listen. I can’t wait to get in the car and see what’s going to happen next.  At times, I don’t get out of the car because I can’t “put the book down.”

Recently my daughter recommended that I listen to a podcast.  I decided this might be a new kind of listening experience.  I listened to the NPR podcast “S-Town.”  Again, it was a different experience to listen to a story told in this format, but I enjoyed it immensely.

I’ll never give up curling up with a print book, but I’m enjoying the listening experience.