Thursday, April 23, 2015

Top Ten Books I Read While Recovering

I have been a book lover all my life but it is the first time in 52 years that I have broken a bone.  I fell, twisted my ankle and broke the third metatarsal bone in my left foot and was told that I could not put any weight on it for six weeks.  So for the first time in my adult life I was given permission to not do anything but sit on a coach and read.  And I happily did for the first two weeks of my recovery.  I read quite a few books but here is my top ten list:

1.  Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller:  I love this book not because I am a teacher and I work with other teachers of reading, but because it was about me!
A wild reader since the age of four.  I read anywhere and everywhere, in the car, in the bathroom, while eating breakfast by myself, on my phone at night if I don't want to get up and turn on the light (which has been the case often during my convalescence), while breastfeeding (not recently, of course!), or waiting in line at an amusement park.  For years I collected books that I was going to read when I stayed home with my babies.  I didn't know I would have the kind of babies that never slept or sat down.  Instead I read books to them and with them.  Ten years ago I became a teacher and somehow I developed this anxiety that there will never be enough time to read all the books that I want and need to read.  So I started reading multiple books at a time.

This is taking reading multiple books a time to a whole new level!
Donalyn Miller made me feel part of a community of people that share these crazy habits and gave me the language to share my passion with others.

2.  Grave Mercy by Robin Lafevers:  Again I must thank Donalyn for turning me on to this book. She mentions it in the chapter on reading preferences, as one of her preferences.  When my daughter and my friend Andrea saw the book in my to-read pile, both had the same expression on their faces and the same question:"You are going to read a book about assassin nuns who are really the daughters of Death and go around killing traitors to the Duchess of Brittany in 1489?" I said: Yes, I am branching out.  If I ask teachers and kids to have a varied reading diet, it is only fair that I try it myself.  I finished the 549 pages in a couple of days and went on to read the next two books in the series.  It goes to show that good writing is good writing.

3.  American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang:  I know better than to snub graphic novels.  I think they can be highly sophisticated and it takes a special kind of writer to know what words to put on paper and what to leave for the reader to figure out on his own.  But I know that I have not read widely in this genre so this was another new territory to explore while I had the time.  I read several graphic novels during this period but this one in particular resonated with me because it was about living on the edge of two cultures and trying to find a true identity that is not strictly one or the other.

4.  Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan:  My students remember me as "that teacher who read us Esperanza Rising".  The year I had a student teacher in my room, I told him right off the bat that he could take over teaching everything but I would be the one reading Esperanza to my class.  I have read everything Pam Muñoz Ryan has written and was so excited to have bought her newest book Echo, right before my accident.  It is magic inside a historical fiction, inside a fairy tale.  Brilliant!

5.  Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles:  It is not often that you are reading a children's novel about kids wanting to play a baseball game in some small town in Mississippi and you burst out crying because you find out who is the surprise pinch hitter.  It is not often that I read books about baseball or any sport for that matter. But good writing is good writing.   I loved this book so much I wrote a review of it and tweeted it. Shortly after that, I heard from the author.  I felt like I had reached out and touched a star!

6.  Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm:  I read this in one afternoon.  It is a fairly short children's novel.  When I put it down, I realized I had been totally transported to Key West, Florida in 1935, lived through a hurricane, learned some local lingo and met Ernest Hemingway.  I have been doing this kind of time/space travel since I was very little. I highly recommend it!

7.  Getting to Got It:  Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn by Betty K. Garner: Teaching should not be like shooting in the dark.  The brain is a powerful and mysterious organ but thanks to science and technology we have learned a lot about how it works.  Teachers should be equipped with more diagnostic tools to be able to help students learn and more importantly learn how to learn. This book should be required reading in teacher prep programs.

8.  Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal:  Amy starts with A and writes about her name and continues down the alphabet recording random thoughts and memories.  I bet we all could do that.  For those who keep a diary or a writing journal, just give a title to each entry and then alphabetize them.  We all deserve to write the encyclopedia of our own life.

9. Crossover by Kwame Alexander:  There have been several novels in verse lately, especially for children.  This one is particularly good.  The format lends itself well to a story about basketball and the back and forth banter between rival twins and their father.  Once again I found myself reading a book about sports but as I have been saying . . .

10.  My prayer book:  When I was very young I learned this verse by heart: "The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not." And I have never forgotten.  These past eight weeks I have prayed that my foot heals quickly so I don't have to be a burden to those around me.  But more often I have prayed out of gratitude, that my injury did not require surgery, that my mother spent almost two weeks taking care of me, that my family has been holding down the ship while I do the bare minimum of household chores, that an angel lend me a scooter that made the envy of every kindergartner (and some adults) at my school.  I have also prayed for the healing of others, who are in more pain than me, who are more uncertain of their recovery and who have loved ones that worry about them.

It's all good.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Embracing the "Weird"

As I am finishing up, I let out sigh of relief but stop mid breath.
“Sophia, do you think people will think I am weird because I walked in wearing a dress, and now I am wearing shorts and a tee shirt?”

Using her vast experience, and 8 years of wisdom she comments, “Maybe mommy, but who cares?  Everyone is a little weird in their own way.”

I feel a little silly after her comment.  I am the mother.  It is my job to teach and model to my daughter the truly important things in life.  Being kind.  Respecting other people.  Keeping your word.  Showing integrity.  I want her to be a strong, loving woman who is sure about herself and her worth.  I want her to feel confident in whom she is as a person.  Not because of what she wears on the outside or what others think of her. 
I remember being that sure of myself once.  I wasn’t worried about how I was perceived by others because it never crossed my mind that someone might think something negative about me.  It just wasn’t on the radar.  I wondered to myself how I got this way. How I allowed the opinions of others to make me question myself.  People will always have an opinion about what I do or how I do it, whether positive or negative, its still there.  Looming over like a gray cloud.  The trick is to know you.  To pull out the umbrella of truth, and let the comments or messages not soak you and leave you cold.   Instead, play in the puddles of criticism, and show others how fun it can be.

In the little bathroom stall, as I am placing my clothes back into my pink and black bag, I am proud of my little wise young lady.  I know society, and outside influences will already be speaking messages of inadequacy, as my girl gets older.  I want to model a different message.  I want to show her that it is ok to be who you are, because everyone is unique and special, and as she so eloquently put it, a little weird in his or her own way. 

I walk out and I embrace my little bundle of uniqueness.  I look up to her, while I look down at her smile.  And we walk out, hand in hand, confident and secure. 


Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Listicle of Listicles by Carolyn

My writing sisters and I have each committed to write a listicle for this round of blog posts. As you might suspect, a listicle is an article in the form of a list. I encounter listicles most often in magazines ("The Top Ten Things to Do When You Visit Cape Cod"), but they certainly live elsewhere, made famous (at least to me) on late-night television talk/variety shows ("The Top Ten Reasons We Love/Hate So-and-So").

Last weekend I discussed this writing assignment with my younger son. He is an excellent collaborator when I need to generate ideas, so I seized the opportunity to talk through this with him while I had him captive on a road trip.  Between the starting point and the ending point of our journey, we brainstormed quite a hefty list of possible listicles! Now the problem becomes not, "What can I possibly write about?", but "How do I choose what to write about?"

So, taking the coward's way out, I present my listicle of possible listicles (in no particular order except that this is how they fell out of my head onto the paper):

The top ten . . . 

  • things I've learned since turning 50
  • things I've learned as the parent of grown children
  • things I wish I had done
  • things I wish I could still do
  • reasons I miss my mother
  • reasons I miss my grandmother
  • careers I might have enjoyed
  • jobs that should exist but don't
  • jobs of the future
  • things I would spend money on if I had any
  • moments that make my heart beat faster (in a good way)
  • types of women I would like to be but am not
  • reasons I should have been a cowgirl
  • reasons I love my job
  • parenting mistakes I made
  • qualities I am looking for in a soulmate
  • reasons I'm glad I live in Texas
  • reasons I love Ireland
  • holidays that should exist but don't
  • things I used to do but am too cautious to do now
  • best bumper stickers I've ever seen
  • physical traits I wish I had
  • physical traits I am very glad I don't have
  • most significant moments of my life
  • best ranch names
  • talents I wish I had
  • streets I don't want to live on because they have stupid names
  • dissertations I could write based on life experiences
  • words that should be in the dictionary but aren't
  • most beautiful words in the English language
  • stores that should exist
  • restaurants that should exist
  • theme parks that should exist
  • childhood pastimes that have pretty much disappeared
  • championships that should exist
  • names I'm glad my parents didn't choose for me
  • life lessons I have learned from obsessively reading/watching/listening to Pride and Prejudice

If you have read this far, you probably have the potential to create a list of possible listicles for yourself! In fact, I challenge you to do just that. You may find it strangely addictive. Post your ideas in a comment here on our blog. Or, if you don't particularly relish the idea of writing a listicle, but you have a deep desire for me to actually write a real listicle about one of the topics above, please feel free to indicate that as well.

Now, my writing sisters might feel that this is not a "real" piece of writing, but I beg their indulgence just this one time - I cannot pick just one!  :)

Thanks, Kyle, for being my sounding board.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Listicle: Quotes and Reflections on Friends by Andrea

The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.
Hubert H. Humphrey

This list is dedicated to all my friends.  I love you and need you more than words could ever express. If you are reading this and you consider me a friend, know these words are for you.  Thank you for your patient love, generous encouragement and boundless support.  You make me better, and I more than love you.

  1. A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future and accepts you just the way you are.  -Unknown

I have a friend (or two or 12) who knows pretty much all there is to know about me.  When both pleasant and unpleasant memories surface, and I make some connection to who I am or what I do today, I typically share these with my friend, Not So Easily Shocked.  With this friend, I can process my past, present and possibilities.  They say ‘Confession is good for the soul’- by baring my deepest secrets and fears I am freed from the shallow graves of shame and guilt.  

  1. There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and live just a little bit better. -Unknown

The very first time I spent any significant time with Laughs As Easily as Breathing, we talked into the wee hours of the morning and by talked I mean laughed.  We sat in my car for almost six hours, and each segment of conversation was flavored with hearty, uproarious laughter.  Passersby surely thought we were naughty teens making out in my minivan, the way the vehicle rocked and the windows fogged from our raucous laughter. No matter how serious the topics we must discuss, the tragedies of our lives to share, comedy will reign in the end.  One quality I appreciate most in all of my friends is their willingness to let their hair down and laugh!

  1. Hard times will always reveal true friends. -Not Known

Through each decade of my life, I have had to endure challenging circumstances that could have taken me out of life!  For instance, when I found myself pregnant, afraid and ashamed at 16 years old, He and She Who Understands, stood by me without judgment or surprise.  If either thought any less of me, I never knew nor felt it.  Life throws lots of lemons my way, my truest friends join me on the porch for a tall, homemade glass of lemonade.

  1. As we grow up, we realize it is less important to have lots of friends, and more important to have real ones. -Ziad K. Abdelnour

As a true extrovert, I have always had lots and lots of friends. I have counted it a blessing to be able to move from group to group in personal, academic and professional settings and feel included.  Though I view this as a strength and blessing, as I have grown up, I find myself desiring to spend my free time mostly with a few people I know well and who know me- friends I thoroughly enjoy such as She Who Makes Me Think,  She Who Makes Me Laugh, She Who Loves to Talk, She Who Loves to Listen, She Who Is Positive, She Who is Wise, She Who Lets Me Be.
  1. True friends are the ones who have nice things to say about you behind your back.  -Unknown

It is so encouraging to meet someone for the first time through a mutual friend or colleague and that person say “I am so glad to meet you! I’ve heard nothing but good things about you from So and So!”  One of my nearest and dearest friends was introduced to me by another friend who thought we would make a good “friend connection.”  Following the initial awkward meet-your-new-best-friend introduction and wonderings about ‘how will we break it to her if we don’t hit it off’, it was plain to see that She Who Knew Us Well had orchestrated a connection. I’m happy to proclaim decades later, I love her as much as I did after our first blind friend date!    

  1. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. -Author Unknown
My brothers and sister have no children.  I have nieces and nephews by marriage,
and as grateful as I am for them, distance and time have kept us away from them for most of their growing years.  This makes my bonus niece and nephews that much more precious to me. I delight in their visits, hugs, notes and stories as much as I did with my own children. We earned the names Auntie and Uncle within two weeks of meeting, an easy transition because their mom became my sister just as quickly.  Sometimes, it boggles my mind how close we’ve all become within a short period of time. Surely, we were just separated at birth.  We are definitely brothers from another mother and sisters from another mister.  And this relationship we have with so many of our friends!

  1. Best friends make the good times better and the hard times easier.

I went through a bit of a rough patch, once.  I was feeling very challenged by circumstances of life that were completely out of my control.  I sank into depression, having a hard time just doing routine, everyday things.  My friends rallied around me in ways I’ll never be able to repay.  My sister-friends, Truthteller, The Encourager and Faithfulness held my head, heart and hands with the gentleness and love of a mother.  To paraphrase words credited to Albert Einstein ‘my friends showed me everyday they know the song in my heart and were able to sing it back to me when I had forgotten the words.’  

  1. Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.  Anais Nin

She Who Makes Me Think has opened up worlds of art, literature, writing, faith and service, hobbies and more which has, in turn, helped me to find more of myself.  And the blessing of it all is that I have multiple of these friends!  I love intellectual and spiritual pursuits so to be surrounded by women more intelligent, wise and lived than I could ever be, pushes me more toward excellence daily.  I write. I teach. I speak. I dream. I try. I serve. I love. I am MORE because of them.

  1. Our time together is just never quite enough. -Owl City

As young girls, well into our teens, one of my first cousins and I would play and hang out together ALL DAY long.  Then we’d ask our mothers if we could spend the night with each other.  They couldn’t believe after so much time together we’d want more..  Now as an adult, I have friends that I could and have spent hours upon hours of my day(s) with and ‘t were it not for husbands, children and other grown-up responsibilities would have sat even longer over cups of coffee, plates of hors d'oeuvres or perusing shops, museums and the like.

  1. Sometimes talking to your best friend is all the therapy you need.  -Unknown

We talk on most Tuesdays.  Standing appointment around 4:30 pm CST.  Sometimes, I get to be the therapist.  Sometimes She counsels me.  We are both lightened and enlightened by each conversation.  The only cost is an open-mind, undivided attention and a clear cellular connection!  Getting advice, talking through wonderings, hopes and concerns with my confidantes and counseling friends has saved me thousands of dollars through the years. I'm crazy and my best friends know and love this about me. They keep me steady and focused on the right thing. Mostly just by listening well.

  1. If you live to be 100, I hope to live to be 100 minus 1 day so I never have to live without you. -Winnie the Pooh

I am one of the blessed few people on Earth who has been fortunate enough to have as one of my best friends the matriarch of a tribe of over 100 people.  As a small child, I prayed Pooh’s words in my own way.  I couldn’t and still cannot imagine a day without She Who Gives Life. Blessed I am to have innumerable women in my life that I cannot bear the thought of living without.

  1. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.  -Jim Rohn

Anything worthwhile in me, I owe in large part to my friends.  If there are things in me that I need to change, well, I owe in large part to my friends.  All the things I love about myself, I see in my friends.  All the things I want to overcome in myself, it’s because I see what I can be in the examples of my friends.  My family is included here because they truly have been my first friends- my mommy, grandparents and siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, my husband and children.  If I average out to be half of who they are, then I’ll be better than I could ever have been without them.