Annabelle Arrives!

Dear Annabelle,
As the 2021 calendar changed from August and September,
my thoughts were filled with YOUR arrival.

Your “due date” according to the doctors was September 2nd.
Yet, on Thursday, September 2, 2021, I was kinda hoping you wouldn’t arrive.
That date is your Uncle Kevin’s birthday.
I kinda wanted you to have your own special date.
I guess you did, too, because that day came and went
and you stayed put.

The weekend began and ended on Labor Day Monday.
I kinda thought it would be poetic for you to arrive on Monday, the 6th.
This date, a holiday in America, is called Labor Day.
We could joke about your mom “laboring” on this date.
Instead, she posted this to Instagram:

Annabelle, I think it was kind of you to give your parents
a relaxing Labor Day treat.
They love the outdoors
and enjoyed a day of walking around
the lovely San Franscico Botanical Gardens.

On Wednesday, my phone received this text:

All day long, my thoughts were with you and your parents,
working so hard on the West Coast,
As I spent the day teaching on the East Coast.
But after finishing my dinner, this text chimed on my phone:
So off to sleep I went
Dreaming of your arrival.

I was SO happy to awake on Thursday morning
and see this text:

On Friday, morning, I got this text:

and I spent the day at school
showing you to my teacher friends and students
telling them all about YOU, my great-niece,
Annabelle Beatrice Connolly
whose monogram is ABC
whose arrival came on her own time
and who now brightens my world.

Annabelle, I am the aunt who will always be giving you books.
So this letter, of course comes with a book!
It just arrived in bookstore as you arrived in this world.
It might be awhile before you will fully enjoy it.
But when you are ready, enjoy the peek-a-boo windows
and the animal sounds and clever story.
But most of all, enjoy the laptime with mom and dad
And with ME, too as I promise to come visit you and read with you
And know you are ALWAYS welcome to come visit me and your Uncle Brian.

Along with the book, is a HOT WHEELs car.
Ask your mom why and get your dad to buy you
a track with the cool loops.

You have made September, 2021 the best!
Know your great Aunt Sally and Uncle Brian
can’t wait to meet you in person very soon.

Until then,
All our love,
(and Brian, too!)

1518 Pennsynvania Ave, SE

“Daddy’s used car lot was at 1518 Pennsyvania Avenue. Wow.!That address just came to me!” my 86-year old mother told me with a surprise in her voice. We were driving in DC where her granddaughter now lives on Capitol Hill. I knew the stories of my mom’s childhood in DC. But they all took place in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. The Streetcar down 16th Street. Sacred Heart Catholic Church and School. The Tivoli. This was the first time I heard about her dad’s job.

Her father, my grandfather, was born in 1889. And he spent his life selling cars. Really? When he was born, this kind of transportation hadn’t even materialized yet. As I did a little research, I learned the Model-T came about in 1908, as my grandfather was turning 19. Typing this now, I can imagine a boy on the cusp of adulthood being curious about this new machine. Spending time learinng about them. And making a living selling them.

In the 21st century in my state of Virginia, education is now focused on the 5-Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and citizenship. The idea is that we can’t even image the jobs in the future our students may have. So let’s focus on the skills they will need no matter the job. Looking back, it was the same for my grandfather, attending grade-school at the turn of the 19th century as he embraced a new mode of transparotation and made a living out of it!

Rainy Day

Started out with a mist in the air
Sky the color of the squirrels
that scamper in my backyard
pausing to eat a seed or collect an acorn.

turned to a drizzle,
drip, drip, drip
on the surface of the pond.
Ripplings slowing forming
as the orange fish navigated their roadway.

turned to a dourpour
and then loud kabooms
Sky creased by bolts of lighting
as the alarm awoke my phone
sending a warning of flashflooding.

as I looked at the night sky
throught the kitchen window
toward the streetlight
a sleet of rain appeared
pouring buckets and buckets,
saturating Mrs. D’s flowerbed.

it felt as if
a rainforest
is my new habitat.

Arlington, VA
August, 2021

Looking Back…

Today I was remembering an exchange I had with my students in June, during Pride Month. I shared a video with my homeroom class which told the story of the Stonewall Riots which occurred in NYC in 1969. Afterwards, I commented that I did not know this story. I honestly admitted that I am learning this with them.
“Really? How come?” a 6th grader asked innocently.

“How come?” I wonder.
Maybe because in 1969, I was 5 years old.
I lived on Primrose Drive in Falls Church, VA.
I wore my grey plaid jumper each school day to attend St. James, the local Catholic school.
I played in the little log cabiin playhouse my paretns purchased from the Sears catalog.
I swung on the backyard swingset.
I swam every day at High Point Pool in the summer.
I was a kid, enjoying my childhood.
I was friends with D who than was my swimteam buddy.
I see now on facebook D is married to a woman.
I wonder now if she was ever treated unfairly because of who she chose to love.
Back then, people being treated unfairly in NYC didn’t enter my world.

Maybe it is the same for my parent’s generation. As I learn about the Civil Rights Movement now, I wonder about my mom. She grew up in Washington, DC. She wore a uniform to her Catholic school. She attended dances at Glen Echo and went to the movies at the Tivoli Theater. When I asked if she attended the March on Washington, she said no. “I had babies to care for at that time. All my attention went to them. I guess I saw the clips of it on the news.” This summer, my mom and I took a road trip to Greensboro. While there, we toured the Woolworths, the site of the first civil rights movement sit-in and is now the International CIvil Rights Center and Museum. For my mom, it was brought back memories of her time as a high schooler, sitting at the counter and eating anything on the menu. “This is just how it looked. You used to stand behind a counter seat and when the person sitting finished, you took their spot.” I wondered if she was aware this was a priviledge for her, a white woman in DC? It seemed that people being treated unfairly in the south in didn’t enter her world.

Maybe in the present, we can’t fully understand.
Maybe in the present, we can be ignorant or have blinders on.
Maybe in the present, we are are too busy living our own life.

Recently, I have been thinking about the history of the marginalized as I continue to read Clint Smith’s book, How the Word is Passed (I blogged about it here). It is through stories, oral and written down, that the “word is passed down”. I do believe, as we know more of the past, we can do better in the present. Looking ahead, I plan to add these three books to my classroom. Maybe in the past, I was unaware but going forward, I will do better. As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

History -> Memory <- Nostalgia

I’m reading closely How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith and facilitating a virtual book club using padlet this month (Still time to join if interested. All the directions are on this padlet in column 1). After the Slavery Tour at Monticello, he interviews his tour guide, David and says:

David sees it as essential that a guide be able to find the balance between telling the truth and not pushing people so much that they shut down. He told me that when you challenge people, specifically white people’s conception of Jefferson, you’re in fact challenging their conceptions of themselves. “I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between history and nostalgia, and somewhere between those two is memory,” he said. “I think that history is the story of the past, using all the available facts, and that nostalgia is a fantast past using no facts, and somewhere between is memory, which is kind of this blend of history and a little bit of emotion…I mean, history is kind of about what you need to know…but nostalgia is what you want to hear.” (pg. 41)

I’ve been thinking about these three words —history—memory—-nostalgia.

Last week, I drove my mom to NC to see her friend, now that we are all vaccinated and it feels safe to venture out on a rode trip. Over dinner with my mother and her friend, both in their 80s, many stories were shared. They both grew up in Washington, D.C., went to the same grade school and high school and stayed close friends as they both raised their families. As I sat and listened, I hear many “Do you remember…” followed by a short story and often a chunkle.

Someting her friend said still sticks with me:
“We really grew up at a great time! I wouldn’t change anything.”

When I look at a history book from 1935-1955, facts related to WWII, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights movement are listed. Facts that paint this as a grim time in history. Yet, these two women recall a time when they happily attended the mostly all-white Catholic grade school and all-girl Catholic High School. A time when the President was always FDR and the Pope was always Pope Pius XXII. They went to the movies at the Tivoli Theatre and enjoyed milkshakes at the Soda Shop. One had a summer job with the telephone company as it changed from the party-line system to giving users a seven-digit phone number. They had the freedom to ride the streetcar down 16th Street from their Columbia Heights neighborhood to downtown Washington. Both look back fondly on their childhood.

I’m going to keep thinking about these words. —-history—-memory—–nostalgia.
Also, I have been thinking about compliance and action.
Also, I have been thinking about the history of the marginalized as I continue to read Clint’s book.
It is through stories, oral and written down, that the word is passed down.
I do believe, as we know more of the past, we can do better.

From left to right, me, my mom, her friend!

Letter of Thanks

Today I wrote to the prompt provided my the Isolation Journal: June 27th

Your prompt for the week:
Who, or what, has been a guardian in your grief? If you were to write this person—or mountain, song, animal, sound—a thank you letter, what would it say?

Dear Arlington Neighborhood,
Since March 13, 2020 you have acted as a guardian to my grief and I thank you for being there for me. Not understanding what it meant to live during a pandemic, I stayed home to stay safe. Now many months have past and more normal routines are returning. Yet, it has been a time. I do feel I am grieving a bit. I personally did not get sick or lose anyone I know to Covid. Yet, I sat, night after night, watching the graphs on MSNBC and each morning reading the chart on the Metro page of the Washington Post listing the daily numbers of infected and dying in VA, MD, and DC. Looking back over the past 15 months, I feel compelled to thank you, my Arlington neighborhood, for all your help.

During the Covid lock-down months, I began to take daily walks. You, Arlington neighborhood, provided me with gifts on these walks. Each day your gifts kept me going.

In March, 2020, you provided gorgeous pink magnolia blooms on trees, standing tall, in neighbors’ front yards. I walked on the petals sprinkled on your sidewalks, all providing a little bit of peace.

In April, 2020, you provided a space to hang a personal thank you to those working at your hospital. As I walked past, I saw one of your driveways transformed into stained glass and lower my head to offer a prayer, all providing a little bit of peace.

In May, 2020, you provided the colorful and fragrane of the Bluemont Rose Garden park. As I strolled through, I paused and appreciated the variety, especially the tiny buds, all providing a bit of peace.

In June, 2020, your safe and flexible schools provided closure on a year when in-person teaching was cut short. As I stood 6-feet apart, waving my pom-poms on your school sidewalk, the car parade crawled through and we handed each a treat, all providing a bit of peace.

My dear, Arlington Neighborhood, since March 13, 2020 you have acted as a guardian to my grief and I thank you for being there for me. You provided me with the space to move in 2020 when our world shut down. You provided me with colors, spaces to reflect, sweet smells and a supportive school system. As I walked on your streets, through your parks and cheered outside your schools, you, Arlington, always provided me with a bit of peace. Thank you.

Gratefully yours,

I’m Like That!

“I go to church, too” C said as I added the words ‘goes to church’ to CJ’s Identity Web in his tutoring notebook. I was reading Last Stop on Market Street with C, a 9 year old boy I am tutoring in reading this summer.

Earlier in the day, I spent from 11am-5pm exploring my own identity and my racial timeline during Day 1 of the TCRWP Equity Institute** Then I headed over to C’s house for an hour of reading practice. I brought along two picture book treasures by the amazing duo, Matt de la Pena and Christina Robinson. And I had identity on my mind. So I drew a circle for CJ, Nana, Milo, his sister, his mom and C in his notebook and I started our interactive read-aloud.

As we read and discussed together, we added to the webs. On Nana’s we added ‘likes to knit’. After noticing CJ on the last page reading a book while waiting to take the bus home, we added “loves to read’. To Milo’s web, we added ‘rides the subway’ and ‘likes to draw’ and, for Milo’s sister, using C’s words , we added “a cell phone maniac”.

As we read, I discovered that C’s grandma taught him how to knit. That he also likes to draw and read. That his favorite animal is a giraffe and that he loves to ski, golf, play soccer and swim.

Years ago, I would read and point out that proficient readers make connections as they read. A part of the text is just like me or like another text or like something happening in the world. By using the lens of IDENTITY, connections are happening, too. However, these connections feels deeper and more meaningful. Maybe because the parts that aren’t just like me nudge me toward embracing the beauty of diversity and showing empathy.

If you haven’t given it a try, I recommend making your own Identity Web and also thinking about the identity of the characters you find in books.

** Thank you to TCRWP for a fabulous Day 1
FYI: I will be blogging about this whole week of learning in the near future!

Teacher Research 2020-2021: Reading Identity

All year long as a teacher researcher,
I read….

  • Donald Graves and heard him saying (from his book A Sea of Faces), “While I am learning the names, I am also engaged in finding three nouns that will characterize each child. I may also choose three verbs that create pictures of what the child does. When children know that I want to get to know them alone and together, the community begins to grow.”
  • Sara Ahmed (from her book Being the Change) and heard her say to make an Identity Web, share it your students and invite them to make theirs. Use these webs as a way to get to know each other and value all our unique identities.
  • Dr. Rudine Sims Bisphop (RIF newsletter) and heard her saying, “They (dominiate social groups) need books that help them understand the multicultural mature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans.” and knew as a white, suburban woman she was pushing me to read more “window” books.

All year long as a teacher researcher,
I met my 92 middle school students across 5 classes first only online and then in March some in-person at the same time as all the rest were at home online. I created the list of their names and made a point to meet each one-on-one in a breakout room. I also created interest surveys using Google forms. “Tell me the kind of books you like to read,” I’d ask. “Tell me about your family. Who do you live with?” “Tell me how you spend your time outside of school.” I started to know my students as Donald Graves taught me. I now had nouns listed next to their name – ice skater, Muslim, mom’s from Chile, soccer, speaks Spanish, speaks Arabic, celebrates Hanukkah. I then could recommend “mirror” books for them to read.

All year long as a teacher researcher,
I reflected on my identity as suggested by Sara Ahmed. Twice, once during the first week of school and once when the 2nd semester began, I showed them my identity web and I asked them to make theirs. I treated this information like it was gold and used it to recommend books to students. “You like soccer. Have you read Tangerine?” “You are Jewish. So is the main character in Becoming Briana“. As this school year is approaching the end, I spent this weekend with 92 printed out identity webs in front of me. I studied them. I used the words at the edges of these webs to create this PADLET recommending books to read this summer. I am endng the year focused on what’s most important about my students, their identities, as Sara taught me.

All year long as a teacher researcher,
I personally and purposefully read “window” books as suggested by Dr. Bishop. I chose books about characters who physically look nothing like me. Some stories took place now and some, many years ago. All helped widen my eyes. All helped me to know more. As Maya Angelo says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I believe the many window books I read this year will help me to do better. It was important to me to do this window reading. While doing it, I shared and was a model for my students. It is important to me for books to be both a way to see ourself, as in a mirror book and to see others as in a “window” book. I am proud of my reading life this school year.

Here’s my year as a teacher researcher in a slideshow story of images:

What have you researched recently?
What might be your next year’s research question?
As a teacher researcher, I discovered LOTS
and in turn, my students are better for all my learning!

Peanut Butter and Jelly

“When I say a word, shout out the first word that comes to mind. Ready? Peanut Butter….”


“Let’s try again. Macaroni and…”


“One more…. Hugs and”


“Wow! That was kinda like magic. I got ALL of you to say the same word. But here’s the thing. It isn’t magic. Our brains are wired after hearing these pair of words together so often, it becomes the rule. They go together.

This is how I started a lesson last week before reading aloud Matt and Christian’s newest book, Milo Imagines the World, a pair of authors that also go together!

I went on and explained to my 3rd grade audience:

“Today, I also want to introduce you to a word – stereotype. The definition of stereotype is a widely held image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

The thing about STEREOTYPES is that as humans it can sometimes be unkind when a person or an idea is ONLY thought of one way. For example, peanut butter and banana sandwiches are cool too. And we would not want to be unkind toward a person who likes their sandwich that way. Instead, we want to be open to learning about people and ideas and being accepting of all the ways people and ideas can be.

I share this word stereotype because in Matt and Christian’s new book, the main character, Milo, notices strangers while taking a Sunday ride on the  subway car and he sketches what he imagines their life to be. By the end of his journey he does not use the word stereotype in the story but he does start to realize that he had a biased view or a stereotypical reaction to the people he sketches. Kinda like you saying jelly when I said peanut butter. And Milo learns an important lesson. Maybe you can’t know anyone just by looking at their face, a line from the book.

I ended interactive read-aloud lesson saying this and showing a 2-minute video:

“Readers, we want to have flexible brains. We don’t want to just think one way. There is a group of kids who got together with a camera man and a director and made a public service announcement, a commercial. They felt like people were seeing them only one way and they wanted it to stop.

Let’s watch.

Readers, today and everyday, I want you to remember this word stereotype. Be sure to realize that even though your brain may be wired to put two things together, like peanut butter and jelly, you don’t want to hold a biased view or have a stereotypical reaction to people. Let’s remember when we see strangers that “Maybe you can’t know anyone just by looking at their face.”

Have you met Milo yet? I predict you will and will again.
This pair of authors taught me a valuable lesson.
It is one I’ll keep sharing with others.
I hope you do too.

New Favorite Author

Yesterday my school hosted the author, Jewell Parker Rhodes, virtually. What a treat! On this asynchronous Monday, 65 students remembered to join the TEAMS meeting at 1:30pm and for an hour, she shared about writing Ghost Boys and graciously answered student questions. Many of our 7th graders had read this book in a recent book club unit and many of my 6th graders elevated the book through their votes in our recent March Book Madness to the Elite Eight Round.

HERE is a video of her speaking about Ghost Boys. The same passion seen in that video was seen on our TEAMS call yesterday! She shared how emotionally draining it was for her to write Ghost Boys. She spent 2 1/2 years researching and writing. She explained that her writing process is to hear the character. Then, like an actress, she acts out the parts as she writes. She shared how this process made writing Ghost Boys so hard and depressing. But now, she shared, readers of the book, act as healing for her. “It was worth the effort! Your age group imspires ME! You WILL make the world even better.”

“I was just a little girl when Emmett Till was murdered and I think WHY is this still happening? She explained how she created Sarah, a character with a cultural difference, a good heart, and someone who was curious but not afraid of differences. The perfect ally.

During our hour, she asked us to watch this video of present day allies, making a powerful Public Service Announcement. WOW! SO moving! This film was directed by Kiri Laurelle Davis. More info can be found here: and @JustUsProject.

Yesterday afternoon, I also made a quick trip to Barnes and Nobel to buy Ghost Boys and her newest, Black Brother, Black Brother. She shared how she is married to a white man. Her daughter looks more like him. Her son looks more like her. Inspired by her own children’s experience, this novel explores how the world sees two brothers differently because of their different skin tones. I’ll read these books and as she suggested, ask how I can bear witness, now that I have met issues through her books. My hope is that once I know more, I can do better.

Have you read any Jewell Parker Rhodes books?
If not, I highly recommend adding her to your upcoming summer reading list!