Slice of Life #5: The Week I Broke Everything

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hLast week I broke everything I touched except my marriage and that’s only because we’ve been together so long we are fairly indestructible. We both know that there is no one else on earth that would put up with the other one’s crap and neither of us could navigate life without the other.

Cars have never been important to me as a status symbol and I tend to drive mechanically sound but undesirable vehicles with cheap parts that my husband can repair himself. Last week my $500 car got me the 101 miles back to college with no problems but couldn’t get me the four blocks to campus the next morning. I arranged for my handy husband to drive up Friday afternoon and help me limp back home. I walked everywhere I needed to go, or bummed rides.

In the two days between break down and rescue, I managed to break the zipper on my favorite pair of boots (luckily I know a guy); the toilet in my apartment (still undetermined whether it was the new flapper or new plunger that fixed it or if it is really fixed); my son (not my fault); and the kid who had earned a B and was a delight to work with, quit coming to tutoring and has a good chance of failing the class (it’s always the quiet ones).

My husband showed up Friday afternoon to determine what I had broken on my car. He listened to it run—of course it never stalled and sounded better than it had all week—and poked around under the hood with a screwdriver. (I knew it was the fuel filter, so all this was unnecessary!) We turned it off and he poked around some more, then crawled behind the wheel to start it himself.

“Which key is it?” He held up the key ring with two keys attached.

“The big one. The one that’s not a house key. ” I rolled my eyes and continued talking with my friend, Laura. He looked at me like I was nuts, but figured it out and got the car started.

When he gave me back the keys I noticed he had broken the car key in half and the two keys looked exactly the same, except that one had the word “Ford” stamped on it. Luckily the other half was in the ignition and the car still ran—sort of.

We decided to take a chance driving the car home since I probably wouldn’t make anything worse. My husband would follow in case of breakdown. The car was almost small enough to haul in the back of the pickup if it died. We caravanned to the gas station and then felt we should make one last stop for a sixpack because we were going to need a beer, or two, when we got home. Coming out of Safeway I looked at the keys in my hand and had a realization.

“This key won’t work in the door locks, will it?”

“Why did you lock it?” My husband demanded.

I shrugged but thought to myself “habit.” The car was loaded for the weekend with books, dirty laundry and my computer.

We went to my apartment in the pickup to get a wire coat hanger. On the short drive back to Safeway I thought I would be helpful and untwist the coat hanger hook so it would be ready to stick through the door and pull up the manual locks. It broke off it my hands!

I drove home watching my husband’s headlights in the rearview mirror. I kept the gas pedal to the floor (which meant that sometimes I got up to 60 mph) and dared any deer in the ditches to step in front of me.



untitledMy recent reading hasn’t been based so much from the young adult section of the library as previous weeks. I’m fairly certain that I’ve already fulfilled my semester’s young adult reading requirement for my Language Arts Methods class, so I’ve relaxed my self-imposed reading rules to let in some ‘adult’ content. I think this still counts toward the “having a literate life” requirement for the class. I’ve never limited what my own kids read, and hope I don’t have to in my classroom either, so technically I’m still researching potential additions to my classroom library.

I reread another John Sandford book from the 51bUdcCR70L._SX282_BO1,204,203,200_   Virgil Flowers’ series this past week, Rough Country. I love the main character- a Minnesota BCA detective- of this series so much that every so often I return to spend time with him, even though I am not a big re-reader. I like having Virgil in my life. I read most of this book one evening when I didn’t feel well and couldn’t concentrate on my assigned dry, academic reading.

In this novel Virgil is called from a fishing tournament to solve the murder of a wealthy advertising executive at a vacation lodge in northern Minnesota. The investigation takes Virgil around Minnesota and south to Iowa. Suspects include young male prostitutes working at the resort, an up-and-coming country music singer, her mentally disabled brother and the ladies involved in a lesbian love triangle/quadrangle. This book is a quick read. The action is fast-paced and the dialogue is snappy.

61X4KnqQS4LI was lucky enough to grab Fates and Furies, the brand new book by Lauren Groff from the library. A book about marriage is not the type of thing that I have had much success reading in the past, but I remember loving The Monsters of Templeton when I read it years ago. I hated Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, as well as Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (I’m still angry at myself for finishing that one) and all received great critical reviews, although I’m not sure why. I loved Fates and Furies! I devoured this book in three days around some pretty intensive reading for class. This is the story of Lotto and Mathilde as told by both of their points of view. The contrasts in the storytelling are fascinating and done in a compelling way that goes far beyond the “he said, she said” trap that the book might have fallen into. This novel is beautifully written, and unlike many others in this vein, ends appropriately.31OZvsI+1kL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Scat by Carl Hiaasen is a middle grade through young adult mystery set in the Florida Everglades like many of Hiaasen’s adult mysteries. It is funny, quirky and vaguely environmental also like his adult books. Scat includes the search for a mysterious Florida panther, the disappearance of everyone’s least favorite teacher, arson, illegal drilling, a juvenile delinquent and an injured Iraqi war veteran. This is a fun read for kids and adults alike.

This is Why Worksheet Packets Exist

notebookThis week our first task for Special Methods in Language Arts was refining a vision and values statement to reflect what we want for our future classrooms. That sounds difficult but we brainstormed a substantial list of great ideas the first night of class and it wasn’t too hard to meld that list into my own. I finished that statement right after class last week. It is the second part to our homework that is giving me fits and I don’t think I am the only one. We need to create 6-12 units to teach that reflect our vision. I’ve been thinking about this for six days now. I drove one hundred miles on Sunday night, again on Monday afternoon and once more this morning thinking about these damn units. I decided this is why teachers follow the textbook cover-to-cover and handout the worksheet packets that are provided with it. This is hard stuff.

I honestly didn’t think it would be. We get to plan the classroom of our dreams! I thought if I eliminated worksheets, moved grammar rules to mini-lessons, got rid of the whole class novel and intensive standardized test prep all I would be left with is good stuff. I know what is important to me. I know what I want my students to learn. I know what I want to happen in my classroom every day. I know that all the plans will likely change when I meet my students and get to know them.

Finally I decided on seven units. I moved two of them down to the list of themes that can be woven throughout all the units, over the entire year. I added two more ideas onto one of the remaining five units. I wondered if those three things should be three separate units. Can I stretch those ideas enough to stand on their own? Do I even know what those three things actually are? I combined autobiography and personal narrative into the beginning unit and then wondered if those should be separate things. I want my students to know that their voice matters and to believe that they can change the world.

I thought about where Beowulf fit, if I wanted to use it. Poetry, or the graphic novels section of the fiction unit if I use the Gareth Hinds version? I definitely don’t want to spend enough time to read the entire translated poem, probably. Can I even have sections of a fiction unit? Does Goblin Market fit into the fantasy section of the fiction unit or poetry? If I read a poem aloud each day do I need a dedicated poetry unit? I thought about making a section for British Literature or dividing the units into time periods, but decided early in the process that I would work those things into the units throughout the year, along with diversity, social justice and literary appreciation. I want my students to know they can tackle texts written hundreds of years ago that appear indecipherable at first, as well as know it is perfectly okay to read The Hunger Games and enjoy it. Last year I came across the idea of teaching an expanding circle of geography and was intrigued by the idea. You begin by reading stories written about the immediate area and slowly broaden the location to include the state, nation and entire world. I wondered if I could work my curriculum around that concept and what those units would be. I revisited my original units and tried to decide if I needed fiction and nonfiction units if I was requiring students to read books they chose all year long. I worried about what a disservice it would be to my students if my choices are wrong.

I gave up and read my history assignment, hoping someone else would have the answers in class tomorrow.

“Life is a Highway”


This is mid-term week at my college. It also marks the point in the semester when my schedule goes from crazy to rocking-in-a-corner-sucking-my-thumb-insane. Just when the weather has the potential for nasty, I get intimately acquainted with the one  IMG_20151012_162947401_HDRhundred miles of highway separating me from my family. Monday morning through Friday afternoon, I concentrate on my studies leaving the home front in the very capable hands of my husband. On weekends the focus is on my family. I work hard to not take schoolwork home. The two hundred miles I drive each week to college and back is just a fraction of the miles I drive when I was working and commuting eighty miles a day.

Now is the season of parent-teacher conferences; two extra trips home this week. One on the night before my toughest mid-term. Continue reading

It’s Monday What Are You Reading?


Magonia– Maria Dahvana Headley

This is the story of Aza Ray Boyle a girl with a mysterious lung disease that should have 21393526killed her as a toddler. She is about to turn 16. This book has squall whales causing clouds and rain storms, birds that sing from inside a host’s lung and body snatchers. The ships Aza sees in the sky and the strange birds that visit her lawn as she continues to weaken are attributed to hallucinations caused by all the medications keeping her alive. Her best and only friend, Jason Kerwin- boy genius, is the only one who can bring Aza back from the dead and of course, save the world.

I don’t usually read science fiction or fantasy but I enjoyed this book. It has been compared to The Fault in Our Stars (which I haven’t read yet but both of my daughters declare the best book ever) but only the first third of the book focused on a dying girl. The rest takes place in the fantastical world of Magonia. Continue reading

A “Not-a-Book-Report” Report

9780470900307 In a way this is a “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading” post, but I knew I couldn’t get it done for Monday. So, it is just a review of the professional development books I’ve read so far this semester for special methods class.

I’ve written before on this blog about Donalyn Miller’s book Reading in the Wild. Donalyn Miller is one of my teaching idols because I read this book. Continue reading

The Cost of Creativity: Slice of Life #4

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIn my “Creative Mind” Capstone class (best class ever!) we recently watched a video documentary on Andy Goldsworthy and his art. Andy uses found natural objects to create masterpieces in the Scottish countryside near his home. His pieces are unique, creative and beautiful. He is deeply connected to the land and puts his soul into each creation. A seed-shaped rock sculpture, a serpentine chain of stone and wool curving through the trees, a mesh fence of woven twigs all add a spiritual grace to the spaces where they are added. Continue reading