My Problem –> Books

Some would look at my VISA card purchases for the last week and wonder why so many bookstore purchases appear. I will admit it. I do have a problem when it comes to books.

When a favorite author of mine comes out with a new book, I have to get it. That’s why when I saw that amazing author Deborah Heiligman had a new book out, I had to get it. Conveniently, a bookstore in Seattle was hosting an author virtual event and I could order the book through them (always trying to support Indie Bookstores). Yesterday’s mail delivered her book plus 2 more in the series to my mailbox. ($25).

When an inspiring woman comes out with a book reeditted for a younger reader, I have to get it. That’s why I found myself in the neighborhood Barnes and Nobel checkout line with not 1 but 3 copies of Becoming – the young Readers edition by Michelle Obama. I invited 2 colleagues of mine to stay after school last Thursday to watch the NCTE21 Opening Keynote Address by Michelle Obama. As she spoke about how she wants students to know her story, my colleague blurted out, “We need to get that book!” I so agreed and the next morning placed the newly purchased book from the night before in their school mailboxes and carried mine to my classroom. ($45).

When I learn of a new picture book telling the whole truth about American slavery, I have to get it. That’s why I found myself in line at Politics and Prose with a handful. One copy for me. One copy for my white friend who has adopted two black children. One copy for my progressive white friend raising three boys. And a copy each for my own daughters, now adults, to share with those in their lives. On Wednesday, author Nicole Hannah-Jones and illustrator Nikkolas Smith spoke at the NCTE21 Preconference session explaining why they, along with author Renee Watson, wrote the picture book, 1619 Project: Born on the Water. After hearing their backstory and process, I had to have this book and felt a few others did too. ($60)

Like I said, I do have a problem when it comes to books. But I’m OK with this problem.

How about you? What books have you purchased lately?!

Colors of Fall!

The warmth of fleece wraps my arms as fingers dig into the pockets of my winter coat. The sun is beginning to peek above the horizon, painting the sky in pinks and light blue. I adjust my earpods and press play so the On Being podcast begins. And for the next hour, I walk. Today, I pause many times to really see the colors of the season. Red. Orange. Yellow. Brown. Less green. No more pink blooms. It will be months before they reappeat. Today I walk and enjoy the colors of Fall, 2021.


Why do we gather? Priya Parker asks this question as she begins her book, The Art of Gathering. One of her answers in to welcome.

I realize as 2021 gets ready to turn its page and begin a new chapter, I have two special gatherings planned.

My first one is in Toulouse, France. Toulouse is known as the “Pink City” due to its century-old terra cotta bricks, It will be my first visit and I am imagining enjoying my breakfast of a croissant and tea in the hotel coffee shop. Then I’ll pull on my overcoat and head out to meet up with my daughter Anne and her partner, Remi. As I meet him for the first time in person, they will introduce me to their city. I am so looking forward to this December gathering.

Twenty years ago, during the month of August my husband and I explored Spain with our two girls. One evening as the sun was starting to set in Barcelona, we strolled the busy Ramblas, stopping to view the the movements of the mimes. I insisted that we touch the Mediterranean Sea and the girls raced ahead to the water’s edge. Then Brian arranged us by height and suggested we pose with our hands on our hips and snapped our photo. Maybe then we should have realized that at least one of our daughters would return to this region. Anne is only four hours to the north, teaching, exploring with Remi and caring for their new cat, Rajah! Come December, I’ll gather with them in Toulouse.

Five months later, I’ll gather in Savahana, Georgia. Know for its cobblestone squares and Spanish moss-covered oak trees. On May 1st, my oldest, Bridgit, will stand under one such tree and agree to be united with her partner, Charlie with all her family and frieds gathered.

Gatherings. I will admit, I’m a little out of practice thanks to Covid. However, I am feeling grateful my girls are giving me wonderful reasons to gather again in the coming months.

Do YOU have any plans for gathering?!

I learned of Priya Parker her and her work while listening to this episode of On Being. I used this as a Quick Write during my October ELA Department Meeting.

I’m as old as….

Today is my birthday (Monday, October 11th). Students don’t have class today as they celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day so on Friday, I celebrated with my students.

First I played this video of one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, reading his poem Cheerios. Do take 2-minutes to view it HERE.

Next I shared this poster I made showing books of a few children’s books published the year I was born. It also shows inventions made, an historical event, and buildings built. But best of all, the foods first found on the grocery store shelves the year I was born are listed. Yep, I’m as old as Chip-Ahoy cookies!

Students used their iPads to find out what was going on the year they were born. They began a list on the white board. We laughed as we compared.

We stepped outside to safely to enjoy a Chip-ahoy cookie and returned to view this video of a classic picture book. Then we returned to our regular Reading lesson for the day. I’m glad I took 15-minutes to celebrate my birthday with my students! Poetry, a little research, a laugh, a cookie and an read-aloud. The perfect birthday celebration for me as I turn 58 years young!

Can you find out what you are as old as?
Do and then share as a comment!

Start of school…a rollercoaster

Rollercoaster…that was the metaphor another Slicer used last week to describe her new school year. As I read Erika’s words HERE, I thought how It fits for me too.

It is risky to even go on such a ride. And first you must meet the height requirements. It is risky this year to teach in-person. And there are the health requirements. Must be vaccinated. Must wear a mask. 800+ students, at an age when they aren’t the best at following rules, arrive in-person to learn. Crowded hallways. Outdoor lunch. Some vaccinated. Many not old enough yet. Click…click…click.. click. Up the hill, the coaster climbs, as I walk, white-knuckled, into my classroom each day.

Then I feel the rush. Whoosh…..down the hill….exhillaration. Along with teaching three classes of students, I am my school’s new literacy coach, supporting four groups of adults. Last week, I felt such a high from listening to the grade-level ELA teachers. I asked questions. I offered ideas. It’s been 8 years since I’ve been a coach and it was like riding a bike. It felt natural and freeing and rewarding to support adults. My insecure side worried. Would I have anything to offer? But my 20+ years of experience kick into gear. How about this authors? Another strategy you could try is ____ . I know stories. I know strategies. I easily shared and those at the meeting departed, feeling their load was lifted a bit because of my support. Whoosh!

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!