Friday, September 14, 2018

Our New Bed

Let me tell you a story about a mattress. This story begins eight years ago, but I'll keep it short. Way back then, Dan and I moved into his parents' house. They were moving out, and they left several pieces of furniture, including their bed. This was really convenient, and we were grateful.

As the years went by, the second-hand mattress became less functional. It's an old Sleep Number job, and it started deflating at odd times. In general, it wasn't ideal. Lucky for us, Dan's parents offered us a like-new organic cotton mattress from a guest bed they weren't using in their condo. They've become our mattress suppliers. Plus: "It's organic!" my mother-in-law said. I guess non-organic mattresses are basically environmental and health disasters. So, that's something to consider.

In any case, we emptied the miniature van and went over to Dan's parents' place to get the mattress. We lugged it to the car and then up the stairs to our room. I made the new bed, and then I lay down on it, ready to bask in its luxury environmental-friendliness.

You guys.

It's rock hard. I'm talking ROCK. HARD. It's like camping in our bedroom. There's no way my wonderful in-laws have ever tested that bed. Or, they have tested it and found themselves high-fiving as we removed it from their home. Dan has had to take Advil to deal with the effects of the mattress. While I used to look forward to retiring to my bed, I'm now happy to stay on the couch longer, as I can sink into it. Mac ran into our room the other day, ready for a story. He leapt on the bed, only to find himself the victim of a dull thud. "Whoa!" he said.

Whoa is right. I googled the benefits of a very firm mattress, and it's true there may be some. But, this weekend, I'm buying a memory foam topper. It probably negates the environmental health benefits of the organic mattress, but I fear my hips and shoulders are becoming bruised. There's only so much I can take.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Back to School Status Report

We're in Week 3 now, so I'm quite experienced in third grade. At the very least, I now know how to get the students to lunch and back again. Their quietness in the hallway is another matter, but I'm taking my wins incrementally.

Lesson Planning: The trickiest part is not actually designing the instruction. That transfers well from one division to another. The hardest part is figuring out how long things are going to take. "This'll be a solid 20 minutes," I think to myself; and then it's either 10 or 40. It might be a good 10 or 40, but it wasn't what I was expecting.

Vocabulary: Sometimes I use words the students don't know, and they look at me like, "What?" These moments surprise me, but I just find a synonym and move on with life. Recent examples: insightful, problematic, and expedient. No worries here: studies show that using big words with little kids is a solid vocabulary-building technique.

Math: Of all the disciplines I now teach, math is the one I've never taught before. One of my students told me he's especially excited to be in my class because I'm a middle school teacher and certainly capable of challenging him in math. He thinks it might be his best year ever in math. I think positive expectations are key to success.

Sitting upright: While I've had to remind students of all ages to maintain posture during lessons (it was a always a rule, for instance, that you couldn't put your head down on your desk in my classroom), it's especially a thing in third grade. While we're having instruction time on the rug, I prefer that you're not rolling around. I also prefer that you're not dancing on the sidelines of the instructional space. It doesn't matter how cute you look while you're dancing; it's just not time for that right now.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Similarities and Differences

I've completed my first week of teaching third grade. I'm a little giddy because of the fun factor. The children are adorable and tell me amusing anecdotes. Plus, they won't be writing multi-thousand word essays I'll need to grade on weekends and holidays.

This is not to say I won't have other things to do on weekends and holidays: the lesson planning and the scheduling and the understanding of students' needs and capabilities in many a discipline will take up that same time. But those tasks seem more interesting to me at this point in my career.

The whole switch has been exhilarating.

Here are some critical differences between teaching elementary and secondary that I've noticed in my first days in the former:
  • One needs a slightly different wardrobe with swishier, more versatile clothing. Many of my outfits no longer suit because of the constant up-and-down of elementary teaching. A skirt needs to have a certain give and a certain length to make it work for sitting on the rug in a circle.
  • The job is more physical, and I get sweatier. It's not that secondary teaching is sedentary by any means. But third-grade teaching with the necessary vertical flexibility I previously mentioned, plus the bending over at the waist, plus the line walking--I don't know. Something about it makes showering more imperative. This is not to say I didn't value cleanliness in my former capacities.
  • The children all have something to tell me. It's charming, and I laugh and smile a lot. To be fair, I laughed and smiled a lot in my old jobs, as well. Teaching is teaching, and it's all pretty fun.
  • But here's an excellent bonus: I've forced kids of all ages sing songs with me and repeat affirmations. However, I've never experienced total compliance and freedom from eye-rolling in grades six and up, no matter how catchy or helpful the song or affirmation. In third grade, though, they look at me earnestly and try their best in these activities. It's that simple.
Third grade! I like it here, and I'm feeling fine.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Back to School



My school is starting a week earlier than normal this year, which means summer was a week shorter. This seems like a hardship for many, including the people who like to get their work done without teachers in their faces all the time. I keep hearing, "As you know, we lost a week this year."

It might feel like we gain a week on the front side of next summer when we finish up in May. However, this fact doesn't help the people who are working their tails off to have things ready for next Tuesday when the children show up.

To kick things off, I bought a book called The Growth Mindset Coach, and we're going to focus on our first month's theme: Everyone can learn! I think we'll do a little writing about when we learned how to do something. I have an idea to write a little sample about learning how to teach. I'm learning all over again now, and I have to say it's pretty fun so far. I feel slightly sorry for my new teaching partner on whom I have to rely rather heavily. I'm trying to make up for that burden by exhibiting my sunny personality. I'm sure she appreciates it.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Summer Fail

Before I get into my fail, let's just put one major WIN on the table: I sent my massively revised novel back to my agent by my self-imposed deadline of today. There's hardly a scene that we haven't overhauled. I cut several characters and added one. I changed the sequence of events that leads to the ending. I gave one of the protagonists a family secret. I changed the genesis and substance of the conflict.

It's just a totally different book. I also think it's a better book. I really hope all of the stakeholders agree with this assessment.

So here's my funniest fail:

I arranged to meet a new friend at a coffee shop. It was my first time having coffee with this friend, and of course, I wanted her to find me charming and impressive. The coffee place was fancy, and I ordered a drink I'd never tried called "Golden Milk," which is high in turmeric and made with an oat-based dairy substitute.

Only someone evolved and sophisticated would order such a beverage.

When the barista called my name, I zipped right up to the counter and grabbed the nearest cup. I sipped it enthusiastically, certain the Golden Milk would be fantastic. But right away, I noticed the drink was an iced latte, not a Golden Milk. "No," I said, turning around. It was at that point I spotted a very sour-looking woman whose latte I'd just sampled.

"That was mine," she said, angry.

"I'm so sorry!" I said. "They called my name, and the drinks look the same!" She scowled at me as if I'd transgressed on purpose. I swear I did not! I babbled on about the mistake. The barista pointed out the drink that was actually mine and told the other woman she'd replace hers.

That latte lady was REALLY mad. Like, really. This coffee situation was a major setback for her.

At our table, my friend and I giggled. What else was there to do? We made jokes about how perhaps I thought the counter offered free samples, or that the Golden Milk came as part of a flight. The more we laughed, the angrier that latte lady became. I felt bad for her and definitely sorry, but my discomfort just made me laugh harder.

When she finally left with her non-contaminated drink, I waved and mouthed "I'm sorry," apologizing again. She did not reply. She rolled her eyes and scoffed. This made my friend and me laugh harder, which I'm sure annoyed her to no end.

I'm sorry, latte lady! I don't know what else to say.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Adventures in Word Count

I have nine days until I plan to hand in the full revision of my novel to my literary agency. I'm sure we'll go back and forth again at least one more time after that, as writers and editors are wont to do.
I'm hoping, however, that the changes going forward will be more minor in nature.

That's because this first guided revision is pretty much a rewrite. I've had ups and downs during the intense process, and I'll just be honest: I don't want to rewrite it again after this.

Still, overall, I'm going to give the last four months of work a positive review.

That's because I'm pretty happy with the manuscript in its newest iteration. That's not to say there haven't been some sad cuts. I'm sad to have cut, for instance, a classic line delivered to me by an actual parent in real life. It's the time someone told me her son "couldn't have cheated because he has too good a relationship with Jesus."

I liked that scene in the novel, but alas, the fictional person who says that iconic sentence is no longer a character in the book. The line will live forever in my memory instead of in fiction.

Another sad cut came down in the last 36 hours. It's Gratitude Buddies. This is something else from my real life. Remember that time I embarrassed myself at a meeting by laughing about gratitude buddies as a school-wide initiative?

I had some really funny gratitude texts flying around in the back half of the book. On careful inspection, however, I came to agree with my current editor that they don't really fit. They don't further the character development or the plot.

I cut them. But, it was kind of sad. I'm nearing the end of this rewrite/revision. I'm looking forward to the day it's done.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Montana Firsts

Maybe you already know about the Grand Prismatic Spring?

We're back from our Montana vacation. This is our third summer in a row venturing west. We did the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Badlands and Black Hills, and now, the Rockies of Montana. These trips suit me. I like the hiking, the adventure, the ceaseless vistas.

I know I saw all this terrain and natural beauty as a young person, but it's all seemed new to me on these recent sojourns. Of course, I distinctly remember refusing to look up from my book as we crested many a snow-capped mountaintop in our family van. My own children similarly fail to take it all in. I can tell by the way they slap at each other in the back seat and made countless off-topic jokes about balls. In any case, we accumulated many "first" experiences and, I'm quite certain, precious family memories on this Montana trip. I'll provide a list of these "firsts" now:

  • First multi-mile family hike. We did the famed Beehive Basin hike in Big Sky, often referred to as one of the forty most beautiful hikes in the world. It was six miles long and stunning. At the outset of the hike, I was very clear about my expectations. "I plan to complete this hike," I said. And everyone complied with very little complaining. In fact, the children ran the final three miles, leaving Dan and me in the dust.
  • First whirlwind national park tour. We spent eight hours in Yellowstone. Obviously, we barely scratched the surface of this American treasure. We were awed by the amazing geothermic marvels and tried not to think about the supervolcano under it all that might end the world someday. 
  • First time in a broken down taxi. On the way home, our cab driver's miniature van emitted terrible sounds and then started smoking copiously from the hood. He dropped us off in the parking lot of a gas station, and we called an Uber to make the final leg of the journey. Good problem solving to end the vacation.
We're thinking Banff or Utah for next summer. More vistas, por favor.