DIY-Birthday Cards

“I need 2 bananas, a loaf of bread, extra sharp cheddar cheese, chicken thighs, the ones on sale, and more postage stamps. And I needs another packet of blank cards from Michaels.” I jot down my mom’s list and place it in my purse with her credit card. Since last March, my routine has been to stop by my mom’s condo, just 3 miles from where I live, on Thurdays. We enjoy the take-out meal I bring, followed by a card game of 2-handed Pinochle. Currently, I am winning by one, 14 games to 13. Then I leave with my errands list to execute on Sunday. Always to the grocery shop and sometimes a craft store errand. This allows my mom, at age 85, to stay home and safe which is the best antidote for staying well during this pandemic.

My mom has always kept track of her friends’ birthdays, long before facebook began sending electronic reminders. Even though wishes can easily be sent now through an email or a text message, she still utilzes snail mail to send her friends paper birthday cards. And she isn’t letting this pandemic stop her. Instead, she has turned this kindness into a new pandemic hobby. I call it “DIY-cards”. First, she searches through her many photo albums with her birthday friend in mind. After finding a kodak moment, she removes the photo and glues it to the front of a pre-folded cardstock blank card which the Michael’s craft store sells. After adding a personal handwritten note to the inside, she slides it into the accompaning envelop, adds the address and then walks it down to her condo mailboxes to place it in the outgoing mail.

This month, I became the recipient of one of my mom’s creations. Immediately, I recognized her slanted left-handed cursive writing as I retrieved the mail from my mailbox. As I pulled the card from its holder, I was surprised to see the photo. It was of my two daughters, probably at age 12 and 15 and a much younger me, all smiling. Sporting their favorite college-wear, Bridgit was in her much-loved Columbia sweatshirt and Anne in her UVA soccer t-shirt. Me, looking through my wire-rimmed glasses, look vacation-relaxed. And in the background flowed the Mississippi River. This photo took me back to our All-Girl Road Trip to see the St. Louis Arc over a dozen years ago. My mom, often asking us to stop and pose, did so here as we departed the Tom Sayer Riverboat, our lunchean spot after touring the St. Louis Arc.

Looking at this handmade birthday card, I paused and instantly I was back in Missouri. standing outside the sleek silver structure, climbing into the small capsule which took us up the one side of the arc, disembarking to peer out the windows, revealing a birds-eye view of St. Loius. Then climbing back into another capsule and sailing down the Arc’s other side. This one birthday card took me back to this other time and other place. What a lovely birthday gift!

On Sunday, wearing my mask, I stopped first at Safeway and gathered all the grocery and then stopped at Michaels. As I grabbed a 10-pack of blank cardstock cards and headed to the checkout, I wondered who would recieve a photo memory from my mom next. Whoever it was, I knew the recipient would enjoy where my mom’s creativity would take them. To another place, at another time and that is definitely the kind of birthday card that is needed in 2020!

“You met John Glenn?”

“You met John Glenn? Can I tell the class that?” I asked my mom’s friend. My mom and her friend, Flo, had come to my classroom for my Opinion Publishing Party. I like to have parents and friends come to hear our speeches. One of my student’s bold and brave thesis statement was “Mrs. Donnelly is the best teacher” and I told her how I couldn’t wait for my mom to hear her deliver her speech.

Minutes before, I had heard, “She’s here!” shrieked by my student holding my cell phone. I had given her my phone with instructions to go greet my mom once she texted saying she had arrived. She held my badge to activate the elevator and off she went. My mom is 82 years old and gets around fine. But my classroom is on the 2nd floor so I like to treat her to an elevator ride when she is visiting my school for events. Today she brought her friend from church who is a retired Arlington County teacher to see my new Arlington school and enjoy the Publishing Party.

As I was taking their coats, my mom took my breath away by whispering, “Flo told me that when she was teaching at Jamestown, she taught John Glenn’s kids!”

The reason this took my breath away is because our school is named after John Glenn. On our website, it explains:

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Because of this, my students know John Glenn’s story well. Also, the movie Hidden Figures has further helped us all to know this great man and his space mission.

Now this older women, tagging along with my mom today, was telling me she had the privilege of teaching the kids of John Glenn! I asked Flo if I could tell the class and she agreed. My voice got shaky as I introduced my mom’s friend and shared her connection to our school’s mascot. We all got goosebumps as she told us that after he circled the Earth, John Glenn visited her classroom with his astronaut uniform. What a show-n-tell day that must have been!

I love bringing together students and parents and grandparents for Publishing Parties. My mom’s friend, Flo, got our party off to a great start with a powerful story of her own!


Celebrate – Moms and Poetry!!

Today I celebrate the magical hour spent in my classroom yesterday!!

I invited all moms and grandmas to come to our Morning Meeting in my 3rd grade classroom on Friday. My mom came (and it was even her 81st birthday!). Almost all my students brought along a mom (20/22!) and three brought grandmas and one grandpa tagged along too.

I asked them to bring a poem they liked and the day before I asked each student to pick a poem that either they had written or just one they liked. Then they practice saying it to a partner 10 times!

I recalled from last May, Judith Viorst saying when she visited my classroom, that I should encourage children to memorize poetry. She said, “A poem should live inside their body.” (click HERE to read about her visit last year!)

So as I awoke Friday morning, I practiced my poem 10 times, too. I wanted to be able to recite it and have it live IN me!! I had chosen my favorite – Dreams by Langston Hughes.

Then at 9am, the magic happened!! My mom, one student whose mom couldn’t attend and me started. Jackson told a riddle – A man lived in a one-story house with a pink door, pink shutters, pink couch, pink, table, pink bed and pink lamp. What color were the stairs?  (answer at the bottom!!)

I recited using hand motions, Dreams and my mom read Trees by Joyce Kilmer.
Then, as a symphony share, turns were taken.
Lots of Shel Silverstein
Lots of poems written by the student reader
A piece of Shakespeare read at Elle’s mom’s wedding
A piece written by Paul that a mom explained helps her be a better wife and mom and friend that started with the line “Love is kind…”
Then a grandma said she didn’t have a poem but she likes to sing and asked us to sing along…
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”
That’s when my eyes teared up!

Magic happens when moms and kids can just stop and take time to listen to poems and share a favorite!!

I celebrate moms and poetry, celebrated yesterday during a magical Morning Meeting!


Riddle Answer – There is no stair – it is a one-story house!!

#18 – Memories recalled from reading "Sip a Little Springtime"

“Sip a little Springtime” the sign read as I purchased a Friday breakfast treat at Starbucks this morning. Instantly in my mind, I was transported back to a day spent sightseeing a dozen years ago. My mom, my two girls and I did all the touristy things – saw the ducks, rode the swan boats, went to the top of the Prudential Building, played in the fountains we saw nearby from above. As we were walking back to the T to ride back to the hotel, we were sweaty and so hot. “Let’s cool off inside here,” I suggested and I ordered four grande vanilla bean frappuccinos. Sipping this cool drink was a great ending to our first day of sightseeing in Boston.

March 6 – Things Heard while Chauffeuring Loved Ones

Chauffeuring my two daughters and their friends around was always an eye-opening experience. Somehow it was forgotten that I was in the car and I was privy to many insider conversations. I could overhear the latest gossip, like who likes who or the latest injustice, like the stupid assignment demanded by an unfavorable teacher. Sometimes, I’d be included in the discussion for some topics seem easier to discuss without direct eye-contact. The bubble of the car was conversation heaven.
I had a similar car ride experience last May, yet those involved were not teenagers but octogenarians. I was driving my 80 year old mother and her friends to a birthday dinner at a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C.. All those in the car, including my mom, had grown up in D.C.. As we passed landmarks, they shared their memories while I drove.
“How did we survive without AC?” my mother asked as we drove in my air-conditioned Subaru on a Saturday afternoon in May when the temperature on the dashboard read 92 degrees.
“My brother and I would go to Rock Creek Park and sleep there overnight on hot days,” one women remarked. “You probably can’t do that today.”
“You just camped out?” I asked, thinking how that doesn’t sound like a safe thing to do.
“It was a different time and the park, with all those trees, was so much cooler on a hot night,” she answered.
“That house reminds me of Dr. Brennan’s row house on my block,” another said as she pointed to a row house with a corner tower on its right side. “His house was the first with an indoor bathroom.”
“Your house didn’t have indoor plumbing?” I asked.
“Not until I started school,” she replied. “I remember we were all a little skeptical about using an inside bathroom. We were used to the outhouse.”
“That’s where I got the bus to ride back home after school,” a third friend said pointing to a street corner. “I remember how my mom gave me a dime each morning to ride the bus home. But I wanted to buy candy from the candy store that was on that corner. So I would. Then I’d stand at the bus stop and cry. When asked why, I said I’d lost my dime and can’t ride the bus. Someone would always feel sorry for me and give me a dime.” Laughter filled the car after hearing that third story.
I kept driving through the city with these friends who grew up in a different time. I wondered what stories I might tell 30 years from now. What memories might I share while being chauffeured?

March 4 – Mom’s 70th Birthday!


“Brring…brring….brring…The alarm sounded and Mom and I awoke. We were still tired from taking the evening train last night from Washington, DC to NYC but we had a big day planned, so we quickly dressed and hurried out the hotel door.

First stop – The Today Show at Rockerfeller Center!! Holding the sign I made, we entered the outside courtyard and joined a large crowd of people. Suddenly, the crowd cheered very loudly and walking onto the platform in front of us was the Today Show host, Matt Lauher. He was speaking to the home TV audience and we were his live audience. His segment ended and the TV went to a commercial break and Matt walked right to where we were in the crowd. He began shaking hands and once in front of us, with his left hand, he signed his autograph to our poster!! WOW! What a great start to my mom’s 70th birthday.

(Though this “slice of life” happened on May 6, 2005, it is fun to recall it today and share this blog entry with my mom. I am reminded that I have just over a year to plan an even better 80th birthday celebration for her!)