Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Life as a Book Nerd--A personal reflection

     I am not sure exactly when my love of reading started except to say that I was surrounded by books and literacy.  It was part of what we did in my household.  Some of my first memories are the weekly trips to the public library to pick out our picture books for the week.  I remember being upset because we had to narrow down our choices to fit within the strict 10 book limit.  From before I can remember, my mother had made it a point to read with us every night.  
     Then I started school at Crestwood Elementary School.  When I entered first grade, I had Mr. Szudy as my teacher.  I remember the magical read-aloud time and being introduced to Fudge and his hilarious adventures.  There was a loft in this classroom and it was so exciting when it was my turn to climb up into the loft and lose myself in a book.  At the time, I did not realize how lucky I was to be going to that school.  All over the country there were reading wars happening and I had lucked upon a whole language school that was going to let me feed my reading habit and devour books.  Over the years in school I was introduced to amazing literature and even got a chance to give feedback for the very first American Girl stories (the mother of a fellow third-grade classmate worked at the publishing company).  My school experiences certainly helped me to learn a love of reading.  
     Over the years, my reading was encouraged at home also.  In my house, reading was an essential part of life. My mother sped-read through all kinds of books, but mostly bestselling novels. My father always had a thick Stephen King thriller that he was making his way through. He stayed up way too late every night reading his books, even when he was sick and should have been sleeping more. For every holiday my most coveted presents were the new books that were sure to be in the pile. You loved the Easter candy in your basket? Well, the jokes on you because I got Anne of Green Gables in my basket, not those gross Peeps. There were books all over our house and I coveted and cared for my books as if they had feelings. Time for reading was treasured also. I loved bedtime because I got to lose myself in the world of my book for a few minutes before lights out. Then, once the lights were out and my mother was safely back downstairs, I would hang out of my bed just enough to catch the hallway light so I could sneak read. My mom knew enough to not let me have a flashlight anywhere near my bed, but she didn't know about this (or so I thought). I spent many nights staying up way too late to finish a book because I just had to know what happened to that character.
     My relationship with my grandparents had book love all over it also.  My grandpa was the type of person who read everything in sight.  You had to be careful what you left out on the table because he was not past picking up that piece of mail and reading through it.  He didn't mean to be prying, he just couldn't help it...if anyone was a reading addict it was him.  Although I didn't share the same taste in reading with him, my grandpa influenced my reading habits greatly.  He had shelves full of thick tomes about the Civil War and piles of old issues of The NewYorker and Vanity Fair lying around the house.  When I was there, he would read the newspaper every morning and always had a book around for those times when there was a lull in conversation.  My grandmother was just as much a reader as he was, but she influenced my reading habits in a much more direct way.  Grandma read with me and to me every time I was over at their house (which was most Friday nights--I used to call them up and invite myself over).  We had old favorites that we went back to again and again and she is the one who started me on my lifelong love of mysteries.  Grandma had read every Agatha Christie book there was and I made it a personal challenge to do the same.  I had great fun reading the books--I started when I was 10 and had read them all by the time I left high school.  Some of my fondest memories and most treasured possessions are books that I shared with Grandma.  
     I remember going to library used book sales and used book stores with my grandparents.  I would spend hours poring over the selection of books that were available as my grandparents went to their respective sections to look for treasures of their own.  When I was visiting them in Florida, we headed to the local used bookstore and bought a pile of Nancy Drew and Baby-Sitters Club books for me to read.  On a beach vacation that was what you did.  You got the trail mix ready, got in your swimsuit, and then proceeded to lie on the towel and read in the sun.  Yes, you might get up and swim once in a while, but then it was right back to reading for you.  
     Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books because of the special place it held in my relationship with my grandmother.  We spent many nights reading together from the books in the series and learning about Anne Shirley's adventures.  When PBS made the movies, my grandmother and I spent hours watching the telethons and experiencing the wacky adventures of Anne with an e.  We also delighted in The Adventures of Treehorn.  This was not a well-known book and I derived secret delight from the fact that we had a private treasure to share.  The book was illustrated by Edward Gorey so anytime I see his famous illustrations it makes me smile inside.  
    My love for reading did not stop in childhood.  In college, I decided to study engineering because I had always been good at math and science.  I knew I would have limited time and I did not want to give up reading, so I took literature classes as electives.  I loved it that my homework for those classes was to read good books.  I made my way through so many amazing classes with introductions to many great authors.  In fact, I took so many English classes that when I decided not to continue in Electrical Engineering my junior year of school, there were only three more English classes I needed to take to be finished with the major.  
     Now, as a teacher, I work hard to instill the same sense of wonder and enjoyment of reading in my students.  I read voraciously and make sure my students know this about me.  I read books that are written for middle grade students and young adults so that I can be sure to know what books to recommend to my students.  I eat, sleep, and dream reading.  There is never a night that I don't read at least a few pages before nodding off to sleep.  I share books with my mom and sister.  I even converted my husband from a person who never read to someone who I can share books with.  He even recommends books to me now.  My students know that when they want to talk books, I am the one to come to and I have taken pride in watching some students become the voracious readers that I hoped they would become.  The biggest compliment I have ever received as a teacher was when a parent gave me the credit for her daughter's love of reading and thanked me profusely for it.  
   Over the years I have found friends in books.  I spent many a stormy night with Meg and Charles Wallace.  I spent summer afternoons sluething with Nancy and Trixie.  I fell off the rooftop and into the lake with Anne.  I created a business with Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Kristy and Dawn.  I traveled the Orient Express with Poirot.  I cried until my eyes could cry no more with Scarlett's heartbreak.  There have been many more friends and experiences along the way and I know there will be many more.  I continue to be astounded by the amazing talents of authors and will willingly transport myself to the many other worlds there are out there for as long as writers create those worlds.  

   To the nerdy book club bloggers and other teachers out there writing about their love of reading:  Thank you for giving inspiration to many to continue to raise readers.  I have been so inspired and re-energized by the amazing network of readers, writers, and teachers out there.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writing Project--Where I'm From

    In my workshop with the Milwaukee Writing Project, one of the presenters brought this powerful lesson for us to experience.  She used the poem "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon as a mentor text and had us brainstorm and write our own poems using that format.  I had tried this lesson before in my classroom, but did not do the work of experiencing it as a writer.  Needless to say it was not as successful as I had hoped it would be because I did not know what the hurdles would be for my students.   What a powerful experience writing this poem was.  I think that I would end up with a different poem every time I sat down to write.  So many small moments and experiences came back to me once I started writing.  I will definitely do this activity in my classroom this Fall and I know it will be much more successful because I now know how I need to support my students to make this writing accessible to them.

I had a chance for a quick first draft and now have gone back to revise it.  Here is the second draft of my poem (I would welcome any feedback):

I am from campfires,
from s’mores and lake swimming. 
I am from singing and baring
our souls in the moonlight.

I am from pop-up campers and motorhomes
From walking the dog through camp.
I am from wild raspberry sundaes
and Shish-ka-bobs on the grill.

I am from road trips
and stops along the way to Florida.
I am from visits to old friends
and arriving at Sea-Oats.

I am from drives with 
the sunroof open, blasting
Peter, Paul, and Mary.
I am from worry and pain.
Clutching chests and pacemakers

I am from don’t-stress-your-dad-out 
and don’t-worry-I’m-fine.
From reading in the dark with a flashlight
or hanging from my bed to get 
light from the hall.

I am from used book sales
and Nancy Drew
I am from Agatha Christie 
and The Adventures of Treehorn.

I am from cocktail hour with my Grandparents.
From liver sausage and cherries doled out 
from Brandy Manhattans. 
From 4th of July picnics at their house 
and weeks spent in Florida at their condo.
From Turkey loaf on Thanksgiving
with ice cream roll for dessert.

I am from marathon Monopoly 
that lasted all weekend.
I am from muted baseball games
and eating ice cream past my bedtime.

I am from The Music Man and Grease
from performances big and small.
I am from Little Mermaid and Dirty Dancing.
From belting out the songs with my sister.

I am from Sundays at church 
and midnight services on Christmas.
From youth group and choir
and funeral services too young.
I am from panic and loss 
From relationships strengthened
by tragedy. 

These defining moments wrap 
around me and give 
me the person 
who I am today.

I am from love 
I am from pain
I am from family. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Some Excuses and a Quickwrite

     So, that commitment to making the time for writing is proving to be more challenging for me than I thought it would be.  I definitely have writing more on my mind lately and I know I have done a much better job of blogging about my reading, but I have not set aside the time at home like I said I would during week one.  I know that it has a lot to do with the commitments that I have had since school finished.  I have had a meeting or training to go to every single day since school ended except for this week (I know that I am just making excuses here, but I am only human).  Some of that training has made me more of a writer as I am spending my mornings in the Milwaukee Writing Project involved with writing.  It helped last week to have "homework" to write about the writing circle topics.  I have to write before Monday, but this week was a week off because of the holiday and I have used my time to feed my reading habit.  I am rather obsessed with reading and the challenges like #bookaday and #nerdbery might have made me feel a little competitive and given me an excuse to be reading non-stop (I am accomplishing a goal here...not procrastinating or being lazy or avoiding housework).

      I was really inspired by Jen's blog last Sunday and read Ralph Fletcher's book A Writing Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You this week.  I need to figure out what will work for me and my students and get my notebook going.  Just having the thoughts about what I might put there has brought ideas to my mind.  I start every school year with a lesson I got from Nancie Atwell's books, sharing my writing territories.  I cannot wait to share that list this year and actually to have written some stories and quick writes about those territory ideas.  I know this will be one of the sections in the notebook along with a section for quotes.  I know that part of the appeal of Tumblr for some of my creative students is the ability to capture great ideas there...I want them to have that in their notebooks too.  I also have been musing about how to use my class blogs better.  I like the way a lot of bloggers have certain memes that they do on certain days.  I would love to get my students to think about their blogs this way...Mondays we talk about what they are reading, Tuesdays it's time for a top ten list, Wednesdays is about food, etc.  I just really need to think about requirements and workshop and how to set everything up.  Okay, that was a complete teacher brain moment.  I was talking about my own writing here.  It never fails to astound me how my brain never stops thinking about what might work best for my students.  

     Now that I have spent more time than necessary talking about why I haven't written this week, I decided that I would give Monday's quick write a shot.  I have actually been mulling over this idea for the past few days after having read it on Monday.  I absolutely love the idea for story stew and can definitely see using it on multiple occasions this year in writing. 

     The woman sat there stroking the well-worn fedora as if it were a cat on her lap.  She rocked a little bit in her seat every time her hand moved lovingly down the rim of the hat.  She couldn't believe she was here.  Just this morning she and Edwin had been crunching on cereal in companionable silence at the dining room table.  She with her new P.D. James thriller, and he with his New Yorker.  This morning had been one of those pleasant oasis mornings that she looked forward to each and every night and had learned to depend on throughout their 50 years of marriage.  How could she be here now?  He was just there, in that chair, engrossed in a story one minute and then babbling nonsense to her the next.  She had known something was wrong when his magazine slipped out of his hands.  There was no way he would carelessly abandon his reading unless it was involuntary.  She had hesitated, not wanting to recognize the signs.  Then, without really knowing how she got there, her hand was dialing and she was soon connected to the dispatcher.  
"9-1-1, What's your emergency?" The voice of the operator was all business.  
She hesitated again for a fraction of a second then, "My husband, I think he is having a stroke."
"Is he conscious?"
"Is he breathing?"
"Okay, Ma'am? We are sending out the responders.  They will be there momentarily."  It was all so calm and efficient.  How could they be so calm?  When the fire truck got there, the two firefighters started to administer first aid and to try to stabilize Edwin until the paramedics arrived.  Then it was a whirlwind with sirens waking up the whole neighborhood.  She had come in the ambulance with them and had to sit to the side trying to stay out of the way as they administered to Edwin.  She had grabbed the hat as she left the house.  Edwin would want his hat for when they came home.  He was never outside without it.  

     "GRAN!" Ellie screeched as she barreled into the waiting room.  The five-year-old was filled with an exuberance that she envied sometimes.  The old woman cringed slightly and then grinned at Ellie, not wanting the young girl to see her inner turmoil.  
   "Ellie, we walk inside and use our inside voice," her mother admonished.  Katherine looked haggard with dark circles under her eyes.  She let out a big yawn and approached the older woman.  "Geez, Mom.  I am sorry you had to go through that alone.  Any news?"
"Nothing yet.  The doctors seemed to think that they could stabilize him, but we won't know about the damage until he wakes up." She looked down at his fedora and started stroking it again as a tear made a path down her face. There were so many years between them, and so many years to look forward to.  She clung to that piece of their shared history and prayed that it would be a part of their continued future.  She looked at their beautiful daughter and recognized the fright in those pale blue eyes.  Katherine sat down next to her mother and placed her hand over the old woman's hand, trying to still the movements.   
     While the two women spoke, Ellie had found a piece of paper and her crayons in her mother's purse.  She sat contentedly on the floor and used the coffee table in the waiting room as her own personal writing desk.  Her tongue stuck out the corner of her mouth as she squinted in concentration.  
"Look, Mama" Ellie ran over to Katherine with a grin on her face.  She handed the paper to her mother who gasped and shoved it toward the older woman.  The old woman looked at Katherine and saw the tears threatening to spill over in her eyes.  She took the paper and read what little Ellie had written there.  On the paper was a drawing of a man and a woman.  The man had on a nice hat and the couple were holding hands.  In her kindergarten handwriting Ellie had written the words, "Don't be sick and sad, Gran and Gramps."  If only it were that simple.  

As happens frequently with my quickwrites, this one got away from me and took on a mind of its own.  I am collecting all these little seed ideas from these exercises.  One of them will germinate soon, I'm sure.