Simple Sunday – Sunny 62 Degrees, Mimosas, and Gingerbread Houses

We were lucky enough to be invited over to a friends house to make gingerbread houses today.  This being a tradition of theirs, I felt honored to be asked to attend.  Each person brought some candies for decorating.

gingerbread house 1

The gingerbread sides and roof pieces were already made, as was the frosting.  The structural skeleton of each house was a gift box, folded and taped just so.

gingerbread house 2

We sat in the sun, drank mimosas and constructed festive gingerbread houses.  A perfect Sunday afternoon.

gingerbread house Collage

The houses turned out great!  Carter’s is on the left with the pretzel stick Mohawk, mine has the green chimney, then our friend Missy’s and Kate’s houses, with Cody’s house on the far right.

gingerbread house 3

There were others, but after I took this picture, I had another mimosa (or two) and chatted with friends – my camera forgotten.

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Being Taught

I am the one determining which state standard to focus on each week for English Language Arts (ELA), Math, Social Studies, and Science.

I am the one writing the lesson plans, creating, collecting, organizing, and readying the materials for each lesson.

I am the one finding ways to individualize the instruction and activities so all students can be successful, whether they are special needs or English Language Learners.

I am the one managing the behavior of not just all the students in the class, but especially those few outliers.  (And by outliers, I can say they are outliers in a school wide sense, who have their own behavior management plan and regularly check in with our Behavior Intervention Specialist.)

I am the one in the front of the room gaining the attention of the class, teaching, redirecting, releasing them to practice in groups or with a partner.

I am the one creating assessment to determine the level of learning taking place and what next steps I need to take.

I am the one with the degree in Education.

And yet I am the one being taught.  Daily.  From each student in my class.

One student, slow to process information, teaches me patience.  Another shows me he does not understand what I perceive to be simple social skills and reminds me that I need to teach this regardless of whether there is a state standard for it or not (and reteach and reteach and reteach it again).  One boy, the youngest of four boys being raised by an overwhelmed father with no mother at home, is angry and flinches at the slightest touch.  He is disruptive, disrespectful, mean, and is the reason that on most mornings I can hardly eat breakfast – my stomach hurting thinking about making it through the day.  He has removed any resemblance of kind community in my classroom and others have started mimicking his behaviors.  I am struggling to recreate our classroom family.  Some days I am just happy to make it to the end of the day without crying.

But strangely enough, he is the one I think I love the best.  He is the one who brought tears to my eyes as we sat on the floor last week, him and I with one other student, finishing their poems about snowflakes.  The other students had finished and were doing centers.  We sat, heads bent over clipboard, pencil in hand.

If I was a Snowflake I would be soft as… cold as…  small as… beautiful as…  and a special as me.

We had brainstormed words to fill in the blanks and they also create some on their own.  When he wrote in soft as a teddy bear, an original idea not found on our anchor chart, I placed my hand on his back and told him how beautiful his writing was.

He did not pull away.  We sat there not acknowledging my hand on his back.  He wrote.  I helped the other student sitting on the other side of me without moving my hand.

He finished his poem and sat there a just moment longer.  Then he got up to turn it into the turn in box.  I took a deep breath.  Not more than three minutes later he was sticking his tongue out at another student and calling them names.

Snowflake Poems

The students’ snowflake poems with painting done with bits of tree branch and Q-tips.

So yes, I teach, but I also am being taught.  I don’t know who is learning more – them or me.

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Simple Sunday – Desert Flower in Bloom

Desert Flower with bee

I am always surprised by the greatness of cactus flowers.  I spied this one on my walk with Haley yesterday.  As I pulled out my phone to take this picture, a little bee alighted upon the creamy white petals.

Not a bad picture considering I had a restless black lab on the end of my leash…

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As if they were mine

A child lagging behind the class because they need extra time to complete their work.

A child crying because they were given one choice and not the other – the one they wanted – for lunch in the cafeteria.

Friends one minute and not friends the next – the feelings and emotions that are real, raw, and on the surface.

A book box, bottom collapsed from the weight of great reading materials, its contents strewn across the room.

Excitement over a book, or a moment, or simply a story they really want to share – right now.

Asking to use the bathroom at the most inopportune time.

A shoelace that needs tying (and is in a knot) when the bell rings and the buses wait for no child.

It goes on.  And on.  And on.

When I feel my frustration rising to the surface, when I feel like it is simply too much – the juggling of actual teaching of academics and the teaching of social and self-help skills – I ask myself the question: What would I want my child’s teacher to do in this situation?  And I stop.  And I look at that child as if they were mine.

lunchbox messages

This question grounds me but it is also slowly chipping away at me.  The responsibility is great, as is my passion.  I am finding, however, that my energy is not equal to these two.

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Humm, I thought as I slowed down my driving and cocked my head like a confused puppy, my car has never made that noise at me before.  Maybe it will just go away, my irrational mind rationalized.

It was the end of the day, Friday.  After attending a last minute meeting my principal called for our grade level team, having to chase three rogue crickets around my classroom who had escaped as I was transferring them from their shipping container to their habitat (our science unit is insects), and gathering materials for lesson planning (and planning my second formal observation that is next week) all I wanted to do was uneventfully go home.

But I was not going home.  I was on my way to pick up the boys and then go grocery shopping for the following morning, (today), was (is) Practice Thanksgiving.

The beeping came again.  I turned off the radio – when I am alone in the car, it is loud and I am a rock star – the beeping did not go away.

I pulled over, got out and circled the car, looking for I-don’t-know-what.  I saw nothing.

I got back in the car and stared out the passenger window feeling deflated and defeated.  And then my rational mind kicked in.  Piled up on the passenger seat next to me were my two large book bags.  Each bag was overflowing with binders and books and papers.  And they were a bitch to carry the long distance from my classroom to the car.  They were heavy. 

I removed them from the seat, that smart seat, which beeps to alert everyone in the car that the passenger is not wearing their seatbelt.

I think, perhaps, that I am bringing home too much work.  Either that or I need to better protect my book bags by buckling them up before driving home.

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Simple Sunday – Cranes, Coffee, and a Shared Towel

On my walk with the dog this weekend, I noticed the building near our place had grown.

crane and blue sky

When I got back Gray Leopard, a stray cat I have been wooing and have hopes of taming and adding as a member of our family because we simply don’t have enough going on in our lives, was waiting at our front door.  I brought down my coffee cup and my watering can, which I used to fill up his water dish, as well as a small dish of cat food.  He was interested in the coffee and even let me scritch him behind the ears for a moment or two.

Gray and Coffee Collage

And finally, with no real connection to the previous two pictures, Cody and Carter enjoyed a couple hours in the pool.  I captured a moment of them sharing the towel as we walked back to our apartment.  They are just too cute.

Shared towel

In the name of full disclosure, moments after I snapped this picture, Carter tripped and both boys fell to the concrete, cocooned in the towel.  There were scraped knees and a few tears.  Sigh.  But at least I have this picture.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend.

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Lost and Found

Being a first year teacher is hard.  To compound things I am, as you know, a mother to two boys.  We also just moved to Arizona from Washington and Husband is currently very busy helping his aged father gracefully navigate the state of befuddlement he is rapidly descending into. Life is very challenging for me right now and if I stop to think about it all, or even focus on just a tiny corner, tears spring to my eyes.  I feel I need to work harder, do better at, be better in almost all areas.  I am tired and my mind spent when I get home from teaching everyday.  I am struggling to stay one day ahead. And so on the weekends, I wake up early.  I get dressed, laced up my shoes, and tiptoe out the door with Haley, our dog, happily tugging at the leash.  Most mornings I get out alone (well, me and Haley get out alone).  Sometimes Cody wakes up and wants to join us creating an entirely different walking dynamic. This morning it was just Haley and I.  We walked for almost an hour.  The city woke up around us.  The pieces of my mind that I felt I lost during the week, slowly returned to me with each passing step.  But that was not all I found on my walk this morning. I found three quarters and two pennies.  Not a bad find for a morning walk. But it gets better.  As Haley and I rounded a corner in a quiet neighborhood I spied a rather beat up looking thin red book lying face down where the road’s edge met up with some tuffs of struggling grass.  I am a book lover and so naturally I picked it up.  And turned it over. The Little Engine That Could Collage One of my favorite children’s books and one that holds great meaning for me.  Shortly after Cody was born, during the time he was in the hospital struggling to grow and survive, a friend of ours gave him a small version of The Little Engine That Could.  Symbolism. It is not in the greatest of shape, but not too shabby for a first edition 1930 hardbound book that was just lying there by the side of the road. The Little Engine That Could Page Little pieces of my mind, 77 cents, and The Little Engine That Could – all on a Saturday morning walk.

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9/11 in my Classroom

I had not planned to talk about it and actually felt some guilt about this decision as I pulled into the parking lot this morning.  I did have an end of the day activity involving a discussion on the history of the flag, what it means to be patriotic, and a color the flag/fill in the missing stars sheet planned for them.

Then I got an email from one of the other second grade teachers with a suggested Brain Pop video about 9/11.  I previewed it and admitted to myself that this topic, this piece of our history was something I could not overlook.  I would find a way to talk about it with my second grade students.

The day went by – typical day.  We finished our math block and I called them to the rug to start the discussion, to give a little back story before playing the short six minute video.  There was forty-five minutes left to our day.  I figured we could briefly discuss, watch the video and then do the flag activity.  Easy peasy.

Not. At. All.

I chose my words carefully, keeping details vague but letting them know there were people in a different part of the world who did not like Americans and wanted to do harm.  I told them it happened 13 years ago.  I explained that we were going to watch a short video that was not scary but explained what happened on that day in our country’s history.

Then one little boy raised his hand.  I called on him and he spoke solemnly.  “My step-father died in Afghanistan.  He was a good soldier.”  Tears sprung to his eyes and almost immediately overflowed onto his cheeks.

It was as if a floodgate had been opened.  Students all around the room raised their hands.  It was one story after another: a father that died, a grandfather that drowned in a swimming pool, a sister, aunts, nanas, and pets too.  One boy told me he hears gunshots in his neighborhood at night (and in the area where I work and where most of my students live, I fully believe him) and he worries about the safely of his family.  I did my best to navigate each and every story and to comfort them as they spoke.

But I was not prepared for this.  I spoke of our emotions and how natural it was to feel these things.  I commented on how much I appreciated each and every one of them for being brave and sharing their stories.

And then, not really meaning to, I shared mine.  I spoke of my father and of his death.  Of how I miss him everyday.  My throat closed up and it was my turn to tear up.  I think they were shocked to see me show such emotion.

We were a wreck.  But we were a wreck together.

I did, eventually show the video.  There were questions.  There were more tears.  There were concerns that it would happen again.  We talked through them and then I simply gave them time to read quietly from their book tubs, or to talk quietly with friends.  Little clusters of kids formed.  One boy walked around with a Disney Princess Kleenex box, handing out tissues in fistfuls.

In the end, their papers were handed out and their backpacks were readied.  Book boxes got stowed and we met on the rug for our final end of the day good-bye.  One student suggested a Cat in the Hat book.  It was a nice, comforting way to end the experience we had just shared.  The silly and predictable rhymes of that hat wearing cat dried tears and brought forth smiles.

9/11 in my classroom will be one day I will not soon forget.

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Forward Thinking

It is the first of September.  If we were to have invited you over to our house for dinner tonight though, you would have questioned the date based upon our centerpieces.

You see, we went out on a quest late this afternoon to find a pot for a $2.00 plant I picked up at the market a couple weeks ago.  I had left the plant outside on our stoop after purchasing.  Stray cats promptly gnawed away some of its leaves and uprooted it at least twice before I rescued it and brought it indoors.  Then I neglected to water it.  I am not good with plants.  I know this but I continue to buy them anyway.

We live in central Phoenix and apparently there are no stores that carry simple ceramic pots anywhere near us.  I broke down and spend $15.00 for a very beautiful pot at a local grocery store, knowing all the while that it was not the pot for this particular plant.  The size was all wrong and when it really came down to it, all I wanted was a simple, plain, ceramic pot (although on the plus side, the boys each got free delicious looking cookies at said store and the pot is really very lovely – although now I have to find a plant to fit the pot, and so the cycle will continue).

Today we managed to find a wonderful nursery that had just what I was looking for – and then some.

Ceramic Pots and Jack o Lantern Collage

Ceramic Jack o’ Lanterns, painted in beautiful, vivid colors, could simply not be left behind.  And even though it is the first of September, we have adorning our dining room table, two Jack o’ Lanterns.

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Simple Sunday – There’s a Hole in My Mixing Spoons, Dear Liza

The other day I made up some homemade bubble juice.  I mixed it with one of the two wooden mixing spoons in the kitchen that happen to have a hole in the middle.  My choice of spoon was not intentional.  I don’t know the reason for the hole as it pertains to cooking, but we discovered that these spoons make for a great bubble blowing tool.

bubbles 1

The boys blew bubbles for quite some time.

bubbles Collage

And apparently, I now have two fewer mixing spoons to choose from when cooking.

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