The Fur Coat

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Lotte sat in front of her vanity mirror and admired how her new hair comb pulled her hair back so well, revealing her forehead and bright brown eyes. Then she arranged the gold bows to be the same length on either side of her head. Now for earrings. In her jewelry box were the pearl earrings, a Christmas present from her parents. And gold earrings, a birthday present from her grandparents when she turned 10.

“Pearls,” she thought and quickly attached one to each ear. Then she stood and walked to her wardrobe. Opening the door, she saw it immediately. The sheen of the coat glistened in the morning sunlight, streaming into her room from the window. She reached out and ran her fingers across the fur collar, so soft like the barn cat’s kittens. As she slid her arms into each arm, she instantly felt like a real grownup. Turning, she walked across the room, stepping slowly with toes pointed. As she walked, she felt her shoulders shift and it became more of a strut across her bedroom floor and out the door.

Just last week, she was just Lotte, the youngest of Mr. and Mrs. Hansen’s 3 daughters. As youngest, she didn’t have many demands. Mostly, she played outside and got dirty. Her only chore was to help feed the chickens and put milk out for the barn cats. Her older sisters instead, sat inside, making lace and playing the lute and reading books. Then Aunt Maud arrived for a visit. And she had a big box with her  – only one and it was for Lotte. “I feel awful that I missed giving this to you on your birthday, Lotte. With all that was going on, I forgot. Can I celebrate your birthday today, a few months late?”

Lotte immediately thought back to her birthday, three months ago. She recalls a cake the kitchen maid had made. Yet no one else made a big deal on her day. Understandably, all were preoccupied with her sick mother. In fact, it was that very day that the doctor told them there was nothing more he could do. Lotte recalls how she spent the day praying so hard. She also remembers feeling a little selfish about her prayer, “Please don’t take her today…it is my 11th birthday.”  Her prayer was answered. Her mother died, not that day, but the next. Of course, no one took time to celebrate her birthday and Lotte didn’t complain. Now here was her Aunt, her mother’s oldest sister. She traveled by barge and then carriage from Rotterdam to Delft with a belated birthday present just for her. “Can I open it now?”

“Of course.” Lotte slowly removed the ribbon and bow and lifted the lid. Inside was a coat, unlike any Lotte had every worn before. It reminded her of a similar coat her mother and her older sister’s wore in the winter when they attended grown-up parties. The collar was lined in white fir with golden spots. And each arm had more fur around the edge. Lotte pulled it out of the box and tried it on. It was way too big but she didn’t care. And her aunt didn’t laugh or comment about the size. She just smiled at her. Lotte knew she would grow into it with time and wearing it reminded her of her beautiful mother, attending parties with father. Walking elegantly out the door, pointing her toes and stepping up into the carriage. The fur coat of a princess and now, thanks to Aunt Maud, she had one too.

As Lotte entered the study today, she sat down at the desk by the window, dipped the feather quill into the inkwell and started writing. Dear Aunt Maud.

Once her thank you note was written, she sat on the lounge chair, opened a book and read. Holding the book in one hand, she stroked the fur of her new coat with the other. Nothing would replace having her mother sit and read to her but somehow sitting in her new coat made it feel bearable today.

Story inspired by A Lady Writing (1665) Johannes Vermeer

Thanks to feedback from my writing club, I researched names HERE and HERE to make it sound more Dutch! Also, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to see the visiting Vermeer exhibit. It closes January 21, 2018. I visiting over Winter Break and created this story based on one his painting I saw on display.


2018 OLW

As I reflected last week on my 2017 OLW (routine), one of my commenters (which I value so much) wrote “They speak to me and say live actively, be present.” (Thanks MaryAnnRiley). So I began thinking that ACTIVE, ACTION, or PRESENT could become my 2018 OLW.

I always like to look up my word in the dictionary and thesaurus.

Synonyms of action – act, deed, doing, feat
Words Related to action – accomplishment, achievement, attainment, experience, initiative, undertaking, performance, dealing, move, procedure, proceeding, step

Synonyms of active – alive, functional, going, living, working
Words Related to active – effective, employable, usable, viable, workable, performing, serving, busy, dynamic, flourishing, humming, roaring, thriving

Synonyms of present – current, immediate, instant, on-going, present-day
Words Related to present – contemporary, modern, new, newfangled, recent, breathing, existent, living

I am also inspired by a quote said by Cornelius Minor (awesome TCRWP Staff Developer): “We are not who we profess to be. We are how we spend our time.”

Reflecting on this:
I don’t want to just say, “I like art” but I want to spend the afternoon at an art gallery.

I don’t want to just say, “I like to read” but I want to join or start a book club and read and discuss in the company of others. And have a stack of books ready to read next and the pile of all I have read, just as high. And my thinking recorded in my Reading Notebook.

I don’t want to just say, “I want my health numbers to be better” but I want to daily eat and exercise so my numbers naturally get better.

I don’t want to just say, “I see there is a new restaurant/museum exhibit/play in town” but I want to regularly go to “it”.

And I don’t want to become what the antonyms for these words suggest:
Antonyms of action – inactivity, passivity, hesitation, reluctance, laziness, lethargy
Antonyms of active – asleep, dormant, lifeless, inert, dull, idle, inactive
Antonyms of present – absent, away, missing out

Now with just 12 hours to go in 2017, I should pick my word…

In the spirit of focusing on how I will spend my time, my 2018 OLW will be….

I will be active in my personal life – actively eat well and exercise often and I won’t just SAY it, I’ll DO it! I’ll keep walking to school daily. I will look into an exercise or yoga class and join it!

I will be active in my teacher life – actively DO all that I teach my students to do and reflect on it often in the new club I am forming called the Reflect Often, Then Act Teacher Research Club #ROTATRClub 

I will be active in my writing life – actively meet monthly with my writing club, actively reflect on my MSblog each Sat and actively posting a SOL each Tuesday and every day in March.

I will be active in my reading life – actively find and join a book club (how crazy that I am a Reading 6 Middle School teacher but I am not part of a book club right now!) and I will actively add my thinking to my Reading Notebook after each book read.

I will be active in exploring my world – over Spring Break, I’ll do this by visiting my daughter in France – each month my husband and I want to  will explore a new restaurant for dinner, something we can easily do because we are empty-nesters – I will take advantage of living in Arlington, just across the river from D.C. which offers so many cultural experiences, most for free!

Tomorrow starts 365 days of an ACTIVE life for me because I believe I am HOW I spend my time. I am an active writer, an active reader, and an active explorer.

Can’t wait to see where this takes me!

What is your OLW?
How did it find you?
Where will it take you?

Final 2017 OLW reflection

My 2017 OLW is ROUTINE.
How did this word help me?

I wanted to have a reading routine just as strong as my writing routine is.
          I am proud that since this time last year, I have read much more. It helped that I switched jobs and now am a Reading 6 teacher in MS! But looking back over the whole year, I am proud that I did a Mock Caldecott in January with my 3rd graders and am getting ready to do a January Mock Sibert (best non-fiction) with my current 6th graders. Both surrounded me with loads of picture books that I read and read. I also did the MARCH BOOK MADNESS where we read 2 books and voted on book to go forward! I’ll do that again this coming March. I am reading and adding scrapbook-like notes about it into my Reading Notebook. And just yesterday, I noticed my local library has book clubs. I do think I will look into join a club in the new year. So, as the year is ending, my reading routine feels strong!

I wanted to have an exercise routine.
I had a fun, active summer. My husband took me to Mexico and we snorkeled and took walks on the beach. I returned and got ready for a new job – Middle School. And the school is just down the street. So I am walking to work – about a mile each way, each day. I like it when exercise is built into my day. I also am ending the year inspired to do even more. I get home from work by 4pm. My husband isn’t home until 7pm. I think I’ll renew my gym membership and look into taking a spinning class. I am happier when I fit into my clothes so I am motivated to move more!

I wanted to have a healthy eating routine.
I eat fruit and cereal every morning. Then pack a healthy lunch and take it to school to eat. It is just my husband and I at home now so I try to cook us a healthy dinner. I could lessen my white wine intake. Maybe more salads in 2018, too!

Now what will my 2018’s OLW be?
The idea of planning adventures comes to mind. A friend told me years ago about a night tour of the National Arboretum on the night of a full moon. I want to do that. There is a visiting Vermeer exhibit at The National Gallery of Art. I want to go see that. My husband and I talk about eating out once a month to try new restaurants. But then months will go by and we didn’t go. Maybe my word can connect to planning and implementing outings/adventures….I think I’m onto something…I’ll keep pondering as I have 6 more days to pick my word.

How did YOU do with your OLW?
Do you have a 2018 OLW picked?

December, 2017

My daughter send me a text with the link to this poem by Ken Nesbitt:

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She is teaching English to students in France so the list poem can give the kids a laugh, as well as teaching them vocabulary. This poem gave me the idea to change the last lines to:

So that’s my list
of everything
I love about

Here’s my Poem…

December, 2017

Neighborhood houses aglow with lights.
Roofs outlines and door frames wrapped.
Porch rails draped with pine branches.
Some have elegant, simple wreaths at windows.
Others have over-the-top giant, inflatable characters
squatting on their lawns.

In my kitchen, dough is mixed and dropped onto the tray.
Then red and green M&Ms added on top and baked.
Cream cheese is mixed with chopped green pepper and pineapple
and rolled in pecans, making the best holiday cheeseball to spread on crackers.
Both pair nicely with hot chocolate, stirred with peppermint sticks.

On the radio, carols stream 24/7
from Thanksgiving to the 25th.
Yo-yo Ma’s Dona-Nobis-Pacem instrumental
reminds me of singing this song as a three-part round
during my Catholic Elementary School Carol Night
40+ years ago.
I can see the church lights turned low
and the tinsel sparkling on the altar.
And feel the student body and myself
transformed to angelic beings,
at least for the hour performance.

On a brisk morning, the search for the tree begins
walking the lot on a farm, hours from the city.
Gloves used as spotters for the ones liked best.
Then a decision and a signal to the farmer.
His ax cuts the trunk
and the tree is secured to the car roof
and home it goes.

This year, an asphalt lot is walked
just ten minutes from my home.
The tree fills the living room corner
and a scent of pine fills the air.
White, blue, and green strings of light
Weave throughout the tree.
Some twinkle.
Then balls are added and ribbon, too.
And the angel is placed on top.

Now I am ready.
Ready to plug in my porch lights.
Ready to hang my wreath on the door.
Ready to share cookies and cheeseball snacks.
Ready for gifts to cover the tree skirt.
Ready for family and friends to gather.

So that’s my list of everything
I love about Christmastime.



Hour of Code

In 2014, when President Obama was in office, he supported It is a non-profit that supports the celebration of Computer Science Education Week through the encouragement of kids learning to code and through the celebration and encouragement of schools teaching computer science classes. Yesterday was my 4th Hour of Code celebration, this time with 6th graders in Arlington County Public School where I teach Reading to 116 eleven year olds.

I learned about Hour of Code from my daughter. She can write code and has a Masters degree from the University of Chicago in Public Policy and Computer Science. Now she uses big data in the city of New York to help improve the public policies issued through the mayor. She made a point of telling me to remind the girls in my class that they should get good at coding because this field, her field, needs more women in it.

So yesterday, as each Mod entered my room, I told them to quickly use their iPad (APS issues every 6th grader an iPad) and go to Google Classroom Reading and click on the attached link for Hour of Code. Then I dimmed the lights and played this one minute introductory video of former President Obama welcoming us to HOUR OF CODE!

Take a minute, click HERE and be encouraged by President Obama

(As the video was playing, I overheard a 6th grade boy say, “Obama, we miss you.”)

Next, I told the kids to go to the activity page link I shared on their Google Classroom page and CODE! The Hour of Code website makes it so easy. I remember in 2014, there were just a few tutorial choices. I remember I chose Angry Birds and spent time programming that bird to move left and right. This year, there are too many tutorials for me to even count. The header on the page reads:

Hour of Code Activities

Try a one-hour tutorial designed for all ages in over 45 languages.
Join millions of students and teachers in over 180 countries starting with an Hour of Code.

You can filter the tutorials by age – All grades/Pre-Reader/Grades 2-5/Grades 6-8/Grades 9+ and by Beginner or Comfortable. You can choose a tutorial related to a subject. There is a dropdown menu to pick a tutorial created by specific company. When I clicked this, over 100 companies are listed. No wonder there are now so many choices. It seems that the computer industry is fully supporting this celebration of coding this year!

I have my students for 43 minutes. So at the 35 minute mark, I stopped them and asked them to write down on a post-it note how many lines of code they wrote (many of the tutorials keep track) or list the tutorial they tried and to complete this sentence: Coding is ______. Then I showed them the 5 minute video shared on the website entitled, What Most Schools Don’t Teach –   5 minute video

This video starts with this quote by Steve Jobs: “Everyone in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”  Then leaders in the computer industry and a basketball player too, share about when they started getting interested in computers and how you do NOT need to be a genius to be a computer programmer. Lots of fun images are included showing the cool work spaces of facebook, etc. Then the video ends with this quote: 1 million of the best jobs in American may go unfilled because only 1 in 4 schools teach computer science.

I told my students how lucky they are. They go to Arlington County Public School, where they are given an iPad and can choose to take computer science classes.

I collected their Exit Tickets and now my door and bulletin board look like this:

I feel lucky to teach coding using the Hour of Code resources. Because if them, I easily encouraged the reading and writing of code! Can’t wait to see where my 11 years olds will go with this skill!

Numb Stage

I know there are stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Though I am not personally dealing with a loss, I do feel down. Maybe it is a kind of depression, a kind not associated with loss. And I wonder, are there stages to depression? And if so, what stage might I be in? I think I’d call it the Numb Stage. I usually am an optimistic person. When a student whines, “Do we have to do that?”, I reply with an encouraging smile, “Yes, you GET to do that!” I see tasks as fun. I see collaborating as fun. And I always get positive energy from helping someone else. At least I used to.

Lately, I find myself being more annoyed than excited. I find my push to be helpful slowed to a point where I feel I’ve been injected with Novocain.

It could be because I live outside of Washington, D.C. where local news is also White House news. For the past eight years, my local news was filled with hopeful Obama government-sponsored  stories. Now, it is the opposite and somehow feels 100 times worse. I’m embarrassed by my government leadership. I find myself dreaming about moving to a better country. But also I’m wondering if there is one. This makes me numb.

It could be because this is my 26th year as a teacher and I’m just getting tired. I can feel the shift. I am feeling set in my ways of doing things that I know work. I do get annoyed by others, especially when their way may be better for them but I know it isn’t better for kids.. Also, some younger teachers lack the drive to figure things out. If I read another question posted to the TCRWP Units of Study facebook page asking a question that can actually be answered by just searching the TCRWP website themselves and/or reading the unit of study books themselves, I’ll scream. I’m embarrassed that they are asking something, that to me, seems they should to able to figure out on their own. Yet, I guess I could not be so annoyed and instead, be moved to help them. Yet, I’m too numb.

It could be that I attended the TCRWP MS/HS Book Club Institute and was placed in a Vietnam War Book Club. I spent time yesterday reading more of Walter Dean Myers’ book,  Fallen Angels. The horror he describes. The horror that still occurs today on parts of the globe. So much horror. It is a lot to take in. It makes me numb.

But today is a new day. . The sunrise adds lovely pink stripes to the pale blue sky. The brisk fall air as I walk to work numbed me but as soon as I enter my school building, the heat thaws me. Today Middle Schoolers make me laugh. Today I keep going. Maybe the numb stage is ending.

I’m Published!!

My colleague, Rachael Walker, asked if I’d write as a Guest Blogger for the Reading Rockets blog. What is Reading Rockets? As I looked at their website, I learned:

Reading Rockets is a national multimedia project that offers a wealth of research-based reading strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn how to read and read better. Our reading resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in helping struggling readers build fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.
Copyright © 2017 WETA Public Broadcasting

I had just tried “spying on myself as a reader” and shared my process with my students, so that is what I blogged about.

Then I sent it to Rachael who allowed me to see what an editor really does! She took my writing and added my photo, clarified a few parts in the middle and added a closing structure. It looked and sounded so much better.

Then she asked if I could include links to the resources I used so I did and that got added, too.

Now, today, October 31st, Halloween, it is on their website!!

I am published!! (Thanks to Rachel!!)

CLICK HERE to read it!!



Ding dong. Ding dong.

I heard the sound and out of habit, set down my cup of coffee on the kitchen table and turned my head toward the front door.

Ding dong. Ding dong.

The sound again. Out of habit I got up and shuffled out of the kitchen, passed the dining room and and walked to the front door. I could see a woman smiling and waving hello through the window panes along the side the door. I raised my hand and mimicked the actions of the lady and smiled back at her. Then I pulled open the door and heard the woman said, “Hi, Evelyn. I’m so glad you are home. I brought pictures to show you from Anne’s graduation.”

This lady knows my name, I thought. I wish I knew who she was, I thought. This lady is smiling. Maybe she’s a friend of Michelle’s. I wanted to explain how Michelle was out, I think at the grocery store. But the only words I was able to force out of my mouth were, “Michelle…Michelle…out” in a stuttered manner.

The smiling woman, holding a small photo album in her hand said, “That’s okay. I came to show you my pictures from Anne’s graduation from UVA” and she started walking toward the kitchen. I followed this lady who seemed to know her way around my home.

We sat next to each other on the bar stools at the kitchen island and the lady showed me photo after photo of people posing. One was wearing a black robe and the lady called her Anne. “Isn’t Anne a happy UVA graduate!”

“Happy,” I parroted.

I pulled the photo album closer to my face. I saw a building in the background with a round, white roof. I remember that big building. I’ve been to that building. I just can’t remember what to call it. Then I remembered. It’s where Michelle went to college. I smiled and three letters escaped my mouth. “UVA.”

“Yep, just like your Michelle, my Anne’s a UVA graduate!” the woman said proudly.

Just then the sound of the front door opening could be heard. “I’m back,” a voice called. Once in the kitchen, she said, “Sally, it’s so good to see you.”

“I came to show your mom the pictures from Anne’s graduation,” the lady said.

“Oh, let me see,” and I handed my daughter the photo album.

Then I thought, “Michelle called her Sally…she must  be a friend. I wish I could remember. How come everyone around me remembers and I can’t? How come everyone around me can talk easily and I can’t?”

I folded my hands tightly in my lap and looked from Michelle to the woman and smiled.


NOTE: I wrote this story HERE on July 21, 2015 entitled The Visitor. Then I have a narrator telling the story. I rewrote it today from Evelyn’s point of view. This was inspired by my friend, Fran M., who has written a similar story in this manner. Special thanks to another friend who gave me a peer conference and told me clearly, “If you want it to be 1st person, you have to use I.” Duh! But honestly, I needed that explicit feedback. This reminds me that as a teacher, we can’t assume they know how to write in 1st person and 3rd person and the explicit feedback helps. It definitely helped me. Thanks, Beth!

My Birthday

“Hi Mom. Happy Birthday! It’s already your birthday in France,” my younger daughter’s voice sweetly said as I answered my cell phone. I glanced at my clock and quickly did the math – 6pm for me but midnight and the next day for Anne. I muted the Gilmore Girl rerun I was mindlessly watching in the TV room. For me it was that time after-making-dinner but before-Brian-gets-home to eat with me. So I was watching a rerun and glancing through the daily newspaper. But now I wasn’t alone. The perfect birthday gift – a phone call from France.

After a 45 minute chat, I hung up Then minutes later the phone rang again and again a voice said, “Happy Birthday, a day early!” This time it was my oldest daughter, Bridgit. She was heading home from her job in Manhattan and the sounds of a busy city could be heard in the background. She caught me up on all her lastest work news and we exchanged info for when we’d be together in 2 weeks in New York and she listened to how my school work was going. Before I knew it, another 45 minutes had gone by, Brian was home and it was time for dinner.

Having 2 kids  – one living in another time zone and one living many miles North, it made me happy that they took time to wish me a happy day via a cell phone chat.

The next day, at 7:10am, my own mom sent me a birthday wish text. At 7:19am I saw a teacher friend from years ago posted her wishes for me to my facebook timeline. Two cards arrived by the postman and one card was given in person by my sister along with a restaurant luncheon.

All through the school day, I passed out Smartie candies as a Birthday treat! I also shared a video version of the picture book, Where the Wild Things Are. “This book and me are the same age – 54 years,”  I told me students!

Then at 7:10pm my husband and I headed to a nearby restaurant. I ordered a cocktail, had the soup of the day,  and enjoyed time to chat, catch-up, and reminiscence with my husband. After I enjoyed a yummy my steak and potatoes meal prepared Spanish-style and he devoured his Salmon, a lovely plate of flan surrounded by rasberries and blackberries was placed at the table. One lone candle, stuck into a berry, was aglow. I blew it out, making a wish.

So many ways to celebrate a birthday!



Columbus Day Weekend

A friend texted me: Columbus Day weekend is a huge milestone in the year!

As a teacher in a new school and a new grade, I agree.

To me, it means I survived the first half of the first quarter of the middle school year.

To me, it means I now can call most of my 116 students by name.

To me, it means I now know which students are the strugglers and which ones can soar.

It means I still have seven more half-quarters to teach and guide all the strugglers and the strong.

It means the can sleep in on Monday and soon celebrate a Thanksgiving Break and a Winter Break.

Today the air is crisp, the leaves are falling and I bought pumpkins to decorate my front porch.

Happy Columbus Day Weekend!