Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book and Movie Reviews: Not Super Braggy Except to Say that I Engaged with These Texts

Good news: I've recently experienced two non-fiction stories in different media.  One was a movie and one was a book.  Here are my blurbs:

Last night my mom and I saw Spotlight, the film about the group of investigative reporters that uncovered the massive sex abuse cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese.  It was riveting and inspiring.  It also highlighted the importance of teamwork.  As David Sims writes in his Atlantic review, the film resists glorifying any one player, but rather heralds the "combined efforts of a well-run, well-staffed journalistic organ not beholden to moneyed interests, and with enough will to push past any political or social pressures."  I'm going to go ahead and heartily recommend this film.

I'm going to do the same - heartily recommend - the investigated memoir by Suki Kim entitled Without You, There Is No Us that I finished yesterday. The book is about the author's stint as a visiting English professor at a North Korean university for the sons of the ruling class.  Kim's style is spare and factual, except when she discusses the love she feels for her students.  Her descriptions of the strict and baffling rules set forth for her and the other professors by "the counterparts," their North Korean censors, highlight the role of fear in absolute control.  I'm going to call the book chilling, and maybe a little hopeful.  As Euny Hong writes in her New York Times review, "Kim's narrative suggests that the regime's stranglehold on information is starting to crack."  Gosh, I hope so.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Catch Up Brag: Status Report

Yes, it's been too many days since I last published a blog entry.  But, as this is already my most prolific year of the last ten as a blog writer, I'm not feeling too terrible about that.

Let's see here:

Entertaining: Dan and I hosted a dinner for sixteen people.  All the food was amazing, even the food we didn't make.  The company was phenomenal.  The fact that three of my five siblings were there was unprecedented and sublime. Let's not talk about how I'm the shortest of all the siblings. It's not fair, but it's reality.

Running: Shef crushed me in our Turkey Trail Trot by 3 minutes and 21 seconds.  The kid can run.  He also got 13th place overall out of 237.  While it's true that I got majorly pounded by that one competitor, I did beat 210 others.  That's right: I got 26th place, 10th for women, and 3rd in my age group.  #stillgotit

Professional Development: Friday morning at 8am, I met MM for a lovely chat about our professional practices and interests.  We shared book and article titles and patted each other on the back.  It was delightful, and we're going to do it again soon.  Slapdash, you're on the guest list for all the other times.  Get ready.

Green Smoothies: I'm at seven days of drinking green smoothies.  I feel pretty great.  Highly energetic.  I got Dan to also drink them.  This seems to be a very good health decision, and I feel superior every time I mix one up.  It seems braggy and sort of annoying to tell you that, but that's the whole point of this month on the blog.  It might be the hardest challenge ever, but I'm obviously rising to the occasion.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mind Meld #TwinTuesday

"Do you have a salamander?" asked Lee.

"I think so," I said. "And how about something with laundry?"

And so salamander and dryer sheet was born.  Little did we know we have EXACTLY the same red plastic salamander.  We actually had not an inkling until we posted our photos (mine on the left, hers on the right) this morning on Instagram.

There's never been a #TwinTuesday as #TwinTuesday as this. I know.  It's flipping out of control.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Incredible Health: Bragging About Breakfast

My friend Melanie is a food and nutrition blogger.  She's got this thing going on right now, which is a GREEN SMOOTHIE CHALLENGE.  You try to drink a green smoothie every day between now and January 1.  Because why wait to make positive health changes?  She says you don't even have to stop eating the other holiday stuff.  Just ADD the green smoothie.  Finally, she doesn't even get mad at me for not doing it.  She just says, Good Try!  Thanks for thinking about it!

So, it took me ten days and some whining and asking for special favors to start the challenge.

But I did, and I'm on Day 2.  My GREEN SMOOTHIES have had a blend of dark greens, including baby kale, chard and spinach, coconut milk, frozen mango, and a little banana.  Also I sprinkled in a little of Dan's protein powder.  Don't tell him, or he'll probably have me arrested for stealing, right after he makes me read his blog.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hate to Brag: Just Developing as a Professional Over Here

If you're not an English teacher, you probably didn't even know that you should come to the National Council of Teachers of English convention today in Minneapolis.  You wouldn't even have realized that it would be your chance to hear acclaimed and ground-breaking cartoonist Alison Bechdel discuss her path as a writer and artist.

You also probably wouldn't have had an opportunity to yuk it up with middle-grade writers who generously shared their processes and perspectives on diversity in children's lit.

Then, you wouldn't have been able to hear from one of your favorite researchers in a talk about teaching an LGBTQ-themed literature class to high school kids.

Next, you wouldn't have been able to peek in on Newbery winner Katherine Applegate talking about reading as a writer.

Finally, you wouldn't be sitting with me right here right now listening to some researchers and professors talk about teaching through Ferguson.

There are lots of times when being an English teacher might seem sort of ordinary and unglamorous to you.  That might not actually be the case. It might be the case that you just can't properly interpret what you're looking at - the unending thrill and sophistication of a constantly-evolving vocation.

Wish you were here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

So Brag: Thursday is the New Friday

This week, I was smart enough to sign up to go to the NCTE conference, taking place this year in MINNEAPOLIS, tomorrow.  That means this is my last teaching day of the week.  Also because I team teach, I no longer have to write lesson plans when I'm going to be gone.

Can you even imagine that benefit?  My team just covers for me, and kids have the same educational experience they would have had if I had been there.  Later, I cover for my teammates when they have alternative obligations.

It's smooth, it's smart, and it's good for kids.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Thank goodness we're still in the month of bragging, so I can tell you that this is one of my favorite #TwinTuesday pics ever.  I'm not sure why I find it so whimsical, but I do.   

Head over to Lee's blog to see her take on Wrench and Avocado. While we're on the subject, I hate to rub it in, but it's not easy to find a friend like Lee who will support your creative endeavors and do quirky projects with you. Even if you have found a friend who fits the bill, yours is probably not as great as mine.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Brag it up: Everybody's Looking Forward to the Weekend

Last Friday, I had some surprise visitors from another school.  They were interested in our curriculum and our system of assessments.  So, naturally, my boss had them come and see my class on Friday during the last instructional period of the day.  She gave me almost no notice of their planned observation.  Just a little, Hey!  I'm sending you some visitors!  Be sure to be impressive!  Hope that's okay!

Of course it's okay.  Because do you know why?  The magic happens whether I've got visitors or not. The magic happens whether it's Friday afternoon at 2:30 or not.  So, did we make some pretty fancy moves in informational writing?  Yes, we did.  Did I coach individuals and use language to reinforce our democratic learning community?  Oh yes I did.  Did the visitors remark on their astonishment regarding our productivity and functionality, even though it was Friday at 2:30?  Obviously.

And that's how it's done.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Braggy Status Report: I'm the Realest

Reading: Turns out, I finished my New Year's Resolution to read 52 books early.  I'm now finished with 54.  This total includes 17 young adult/children's books, seven books of adult non-fiction, 21 books of adult fiction, three books of poetry, and six teacher professional development texts.  I'm just saying.

Writing: Another New Year's Resolution was to work on my fiction writing.  I have 52 pages of original fiction now.  I printed it out, and I'm figuring out where Alice's story is going.  I need an arc at this point, so I'm developing one.

Teaching: We're doing something new with Writer's Workshop and using Units of Study from Teachers College at Columbia University.  My sixers are cranking out some really interesting information writing.  We're writing non-fiction books next, which excites us.  I'm a writing coach.

Parenting: I become only mildly to moderately exasperated most mornings when trying to get to work with the slowest child on the planet.  I mostly feel only mildly to moderately jealous of other working parents who commute unencumbered.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Brag Alert: The Morning Routine

I had to get to a meeting by 7:45 today, so the efficiency of the morning get-ready took on critical importance.  I woke at 4:55 to spearhead the entire effort, at which point I fed and walked the dog, prepared the coffee, ingested some breakfast, dressed myself in a fashionable and professional outfit, and then, at 6:30, empathetically woke the children.  I deposited Mac on the couch with his remote and the  poured him some cereal.  I gently shook Shef an additional time.  I applied natural-looking make-up to my face and curled my hair.  I supplied Mac with weather appropriate clothing and made sure he brushed his teeth.

Even with a last-minute shirt change by (who else?) Mac, we were in the car right on time at 7:16.

I'm sorry, but that's pretty damn good.  I even supported Shef when he explained on the way to school that his choir teacher instructed him to mouth, rather than sing, the high parts of songs.  "That happened to your grandfather, too," I told him.  He comes by his low, stubborn voice naturally.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


It's time again for a beloved feature on Word Savvy and A Little Leeway, two longstanding and razor-sharp weblogs.  It's true #TwinTuesday isn't universally understood ("Is there supposed to be a STORY with the pairings?" I was recently asked) or appreciated ("Sometimes," admitted my mom, "I'm just like pffftttt").  However, #TwinTuesday is reflective of the type of creative stretching Lee and I commit ourselves to each and every day.  

Listen here: Do you know what it's like to be an unfamous blogger day after day for eleven years?  To keep the content fresh and accessible for whomever might stumble across it?  To be true to our creative selves in a public, though under-appreciated, forum?

It's not easy, and yet we make it happen.  And #TwinTuesday is a part of that.  Enjoy it or else.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Cheese

Because we have completely refined palates, my sister Rachel and I have decided to sample and review area cheese plates.  The one pictured above is from Barbette.  We forgot to pay close enough attention to the descriptions of the cheese to actually tell you what they are.  The one on the left is a cow's milk, the one in the center is a sheep's milk, the one on the right is a blue.  That's all we know. Also, I forgot to take a photo of the plate before we started eating it, but you'll probably still appreciate the artfully drizzled balsamic glaze and thinly sliced apple.

Here's a rough transcript of our expert, sophisticated review:

Me: Which cheese was your favorite?
Rachel: I think the slab in the center.
Me: Didn't you like the thinly sliced apple?
Rachel: Yes!  It was very thinly sliced.
Me: What did you think of the chutney?
Rachel: I liked it, but I noticed you didn't eat all of yours.
Me: I liked the chutney with the cheese, but I didn't like it separately.
Rachel: Oh.
Me: If you were to rate the cheese plate on a scale of 1-10, what would you give it?
Rachel: I mean, it was good.
Me: Yeah, it was good.
Rachel: It would have been better with a glass of prosecco.
Me: Next time, let's get prosecco.
Rachel: Yeah.

And there you have it!  The cheese plate at Barbette is good, but better with a glass of prosecco.  You're welcome.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Brag It Up: Conference Edition

Yesterday, we gave a little talk at a conference.  To be honest, we were kind of disappointed to be assigned to the very last time slot of a two day conference that ended on Friday afternoon.  People don't generally feel like learning about grading for global competency at 4:00pm on Friday.  At 4:00pm on Friday, teachers generally stumble home or to a local establishment and order up a glass of wine after a long week of educating America's youth.

Luckily, a couple of schools offered bus service to the conference, and the busses didn't leave until after the final session.  Thus, some attendees were trapped with nowhere to go but our talk on grading for global competency.  I'm sure these people might have enjoyed hearing from us.  I mean, why not?!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Window Above: Bragging in November

Not everyone could think of the idea of turning a department meeting into a found poem.  Come to find out, I thought of just that idea.  What I did was this: I wrote down key words that people said in our meeting on Best Practices in Writing Instruction, and then I arranged them into this poem.  I added some other words in between.  In any case, what a good way to make something (a department meeting) into something else (a poem).

The grind clogs my gut and spirals.
Fodder for the future, I think, already chiseling fiction from authentic experience.
Injury takes on perplexing utility.
I comb and scaffold the guidelines of my days,
bumpering ennui and ache
with the grammar of process;
partnering cosmos with alignment.

Fun, right? I didn't fit in my favorite departmental meeting phrase, which is "intellectual relentlessness."  I'll try for it next time, but nobody said it this time.  That's why it wouldn't fit into my poem.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dime in the Jukebox

I hate to brag, but I'll just mention that my small moment was featured by Mac's second grade teacher as a mentor text.

Mac told me all about it.  "We heard your small moment today!" he said.  "We discussed CRAFT moves."

"Great!" I said.  "What kinds of craft moves did I make?"

"You wrote that you said something THREATENINGLY," he said.

"Yeah," I said.  "Were you proud of me?"

"Uh huh," he nodded.

Then this morning, I saw Mac's teacher, and she too complimented my small moment.  "I had to write to several parents to ask them to, you know, beef up theirs," she said.  But she didn't have to do that to me.  Mine was full of craft moves as it was.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Would you look at that?  It's framed art and an energy bar.  It's the very energy bar I was eating for breakfast.  I don't want to brag, but that was a healthy breakfast choice, complete with protein and little fat and sweetness for the sake of satiety.

I also don't want to brag about this next thing, but I'll just go ahead and share that I brought my current events magazines to school in order to catch up.  I'm reading bits and pieces here and there.

And, I hate to toot my own horn, but I'll just quickly mention that I made an appointment for next week and promptly recorded it in my planner.

I'm just saying - and I only bring it up because it seems apropos of this #TwinTuesday pairing - that I'm pretty on top of things.

Monday, November 2, 2015

More Fish Than You

November, here we go!  It's time to get back into the writing swing of things and get some words on the page.  I'm talking about here on the blog and also in #novelsnip.

The truth is that things have been a little irregular and a little intense.  I'm going to just describe it as the Fall Funk of 2015.  But, I'm tired of it, and it's over.

Do you think that'll work?

Let's go for it.

Here's a fun little anecdote to get things rolling.  Teddy the Canine has been in obedience class.  It should surprise absolutely no one that none of my family members agree to attend this class with me.  It's just me and the most attractive pupil.

Sadly, Teddy is not the most academically advanced pupil.  Superior students include Pippa, Cuddles, Dakota, Lu, Basil, and most notably, Maisy.  Maisy is a flipping genius, and boy do her people love to flaunt it, walking all over the room breezily during "stay" practice, giving me little condescending glances as I gradually decrease my proximity from twelve inches to sixteen.  But as a teacher, I know that life-long learning is not about competition.  Life-long learning is about continual progress, and I think Teddy is moving along his own trajectory.  Also, he's cuter than Maisy.  So there.