The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I am permanently convinced that the secret to a happy life is gratitude.  So, today I am reminding myself of how grateful I am for all the things I love in life.

Things I love....

  • when my new Time magazine arrives each week (yes, I'm a geek. News excites me)
  • feeling a sense of community with my family, friends, and neighbors
  • having a mechanic in the family 
  • supporting local artisans by buying homemade goods
  • my mother's enthusiasm for knitting
  • my mother's enthusiasm for everything
  • when Tiana wraps her arms around my neck and says, "Mommy, I really love you!"
  • the taste of coffee in the morning
  • the relatively little effort involved in making a cup of coffee with my Keurig
  • thinking about Maui
  • deep dish chocolate chip cookie ice cream pies
  • the sun
  • wearing a tank top in February
  • being barefoot
  • my friends, because quality is most certainly more important than quantity
  • the Honda family (not the car -- people at my church)
  • Joel Stein's column in Time magazine (99% of the time.  I kind of want to write him a nasty letter about the misinformation he spread about the Common Core Standards in a December issue). 
  • that the brilliantly sarcastic student in my sixth period class has figured out I intentionally  don't hear the things he mutters under his breath
  • Flocabulary
  • the kindness of strangers
  • that Tiana loves our minister and yells, "Paater Gey Ree!"  whenever she sees him
  • my bi-weekly produce delivery from "Farm Fresh to You"
  • how my husband will pretty much do anything for me
  • my crock pot (by far the best kitchen gadget ever invented)
  • salsa 
  • garlic
  • the view from my back porch
  • my son's tiny neighborhood school
  • teaching at a charter school
  • Kelly Gallagher's book Write Like This
  • having thirteen cousins and a huge extended family
  • dark chocolate covered raisins from the bulk bins at Sprouts
  • that I got lucky with one boy and one girl
  • family photos, especially when I occasionally look good in one
  • the feeling of sand between my toes

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Perspectives, Dreams, and Home

Feel the need to take a break and blog, despite the pile of stuff in my bag that is calling "grade me."

Happy Mardi Gras! I celebrated by working until 5:30, then heading to the pancake dinner at church (pancakes before lent -- apparently an old English tradition... who knew?). My adorable kiddos were so adorable and loving tonight. Tiana was giving Vinny kisses and saying, "That's my brother! I love my brother."  While they were playing with all the other little kids, my two were practically inseparable. She was hanging on his sleeve most of the time.  Just so darn cute.  She was in a particularly affectionate mood this evening. She didn't even resist when her little two-year-old boyfriend went to give her a hug (in fact, she even gave him a kiss on the cheek and giggled -- doesn't normally go down that way).

Today was a good day overall.  Busy and exhausting, and I had to threaten to keep my sixth period after school (I hate making threats, particularly because I never make a threat I won't keep my word on). In the morning, during break, a couple students came in to get cozy and read. One of them told me that my classroom is "home."   :-)   She pretty much made my week.

This was always my goal for my classroom, and I feel like I have achieved it. My glass menagerie is a place where students feel camaraderie, and where they feel comfortable and taken care of.  They know where the leftover cereal is kept and feel comfortable helping themselves. During winter dry skin season, they know that there is usually lotion in the bathroom drawer. They stop by in between classes to order books. If it is cold outside and they just want a quiet place to read at break, they know I'm usually there, just setting up for the next class. They occasionally fight over the most comfy spots, but it's first come first serve and they know the early bird catches the worm.

When I was doing my credential, one professor put this question on the final exam:
"Describe your ideal classroom set up. Include more than just the seating layout. Describe the atmosphere you hope to create."

I answered that my ideal classroom would be warm and cozy. There would be couches and rugs and cozy chairs where my students will cuddle up with good books. The desks would be in a circular shape, so students face each other and me, on an equal level, to remind them that I am not a "sage on a stage," but that we are all partners in an educational journey. There would be crayons and markers and paint within arms reach, because art and color belong in all classrooms, not just elementary classes or art studios.  It will always smell like coffee or hot chocolate, like home.

The professor commented, "Cute ideas, but not very realistic."

Really?  Why not?  And I thought he said "ideal" not realistically acceptable?  And why can't I have my ideal classroom?  His comment bothered me almost as much as the fact that he marked me down for not remembering his acronym for the signs of teens considering suicide. (Never mind the fact that I  accurately described the signs and gave detailed examples of each. I mean... who cares what you know about depression if you don't have an acronym to fit it into). But I digress....   My point is -- I am a dreamer, which I say with no shame at all.

When I was 19 years old, I heard a man named Tommy Barnett preach on a tiny verse, easily scanned right over... Proverbs 29:18, which basically reminds us that (paraphrasing my own version of the modern point behind this) without dreams, life is pretty pointless. He wrote a really great book, Dream Again (which, incidentally, I have never read all of, but still want to someday - I wonder if it is sitting in Marc's office -- further digression, but it's that kind of night), about the fact that miracles happen everyday, and that God wants to give us the desires of our hearts.

   Well, my heart desires to create a safe haven, where students learn, love, and grow, through literature that opens their eyes and changes their perspectives.

      Speaking of perspective, that reminds me of a conversation I overheard yesterday.  While the students were previewing picture books they will be analyzing tomorrow, one student said, "These have all got to have something in common, but I can't even imagine what..." Another rather insightful student, an exceptionally bright underachiever replies, "That's because she [meaning me] did an amazing job of picking books. She wants us to see different perspectives."


"Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize." 
-- Chimamanda Adichie 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Walking the Walk

     This week, I have unintentionally turned Vinny into a radical environmentalist.  He was complaining again about the kids at school making fun of his reusable snack bags. They told him they were for "babies," whatever that means. I'm so sick of hearing this, and so very much desire for Vinny to be comfortable being different, that I decided I needed to just explain it to Vinny. 

     "Vinny, do you know why mommy sends those?" 
     "Because I don't want to send you with plastic baggies that will end up in the landfill. Do you know what a landfill is?" 
     "Let me show you." 

      At that point, I got on the internet and together we looked at pictures of landfills. The first thing he noticed in the photos was how many birds there were, so I pulled up some pictures of birds who ate plastic. We talked about how sometimes trash gets picked up by the wind and ends up in storm drains.  I showed him pictures of the great Pacific garbage patch, and this upset him a lot.  He is particularly fond of sea animals.  "Mommy, does my favorite sea animal eat plastic?"  

      Vinny loves sharks.  I've never heard about sharks endangered by plastic, but I decided I would give it a look.  Sure enough, we found a video of a shark with plastic wrapped around his mid section, cutting into his skin.  It had created a gash about 3 inches deep.  A man was trying to rescue the shark and was eventually able to catch the shark, get the plastic off, and release him.  Yikes. 

     We had some great conversations that night about the fact that people just don't realize the damage that they are doing, and about how its important to do what we can to help.  He has always understood recycling, so we also talked about how recycling raises some issues with pollution, but is still better than nothing.  I was glad to see him go to bed that night feeling secure and confident in his ability to deal with his friends.  He said, "I'm gonna tell my friends that I'm not a baby, I just don't want to fill the earth and the ocean with trash because I love birds and sharks."  Haha.  The type of person Vinny is, he probably will go on to educate his classmates about the importance of reusable containers. 

      The next morning, we packed Vinny's lunch like usual and off he went.  He came home, opened his lunch box, and said, "Mommy, I brought home my trash so we can recycle it."  I try to send waste-free lunches, but there are some things that the kids like that involve trash.  He took out the leftover container from his squeeze applesauce and a wrapper from a breakfast bar.  

      "Those aren't recyclable, sweetie. They go in the trash can." 

      He looked at me with this look of utter distaste and confusion. "Then why did you send them?" 

     "Because they are what you like.  But we can try to find alternatives if you want.  I mean, Tiana really likes the squeeze applesauce, but you can bring your applesauce in a container with a spoon tomorrow next time, if you want." 

      "Yes, do that.  I don't want to make trash!" 

     I sighed and realized I had opened a bigger can of worms than I had intended to.  I would truly need to be more conscious of my shopping.  I've tried to take this one step at a time -- I mean, five years ago, I didn't even recycle because I was too lazy to get a second trash can and walk the extra ten yards to the recycling receptacle in our condo complex -- but Vinny doesn't really take anything one step at a time. 

       Trying to do the best I can, I decided to check out Sprouts, since I heard they have a bigger selection of bulk items than Whole Foods.  I packed for the trip and brought lots of containers for my bulk items.  It turns out they are much less "bring your own" friendly than Whole Foods, since they apparently have no way to remove tare weights.  It was kind of a hassle.  I'm just going to have to find cloth bags that are equally lightweight, because their system just automatically removes the bag tare. They were really apologetic though and did their best to accommodate. Ultimately, their bulk section is really something amazing. I'd heard that they have bulk spices to fill your own spice jars too, but I couldn't find them. They do have all kinds of bulks snacks and cereals and dried fruits and candies and grains and coffee and well... you name it.  I got a snack mix somewhat like the Cheez-it snack mix that the kids like so much.  I also got dried cherries and chocolate covered pretzels and some dark chocolate covered raisins (which are totally going to be my undoing since they are amazing). Tiana wanted to sample all of it.  So cute.  She insisted that we get wasabi peas.  A worker overheard my insistence that she wouldn't like them and offered to let her try one. Oh man.  Am I terrible mom for thinking that was funny?  She first said, "Yum," then started to panic and looked like she was going to cry. He handed her a chocolate covered pretzel and she eventually got over it.  Needless to say, we didn't get wasabi peas. I also got a ton of their French vanilla granola with the intention of trying to make my own granola bars so Vinny doesn't have to feel bad about throwing the wrappers away.  It was a very long shopping trip, but we really stocked up on stuff, which was good. 

      So, today, I am trying to do more than talk the environmentalist talk, but it turns out that walking the walk can often be harder than it looks. Until you really start thinking about all the trash your groceries produce, it's easy to ignore, but as I unpacked my groceries today, I couldn't help but think about the fact that, despite my efforts, the groceries I was putting away would eventually produce quite a bit of trash. Sure, we could go waste free if we stopped buying things like cheerios, of if I could make everything myself and never buy things like frozen pizzas or frozen burritos, but I work full time. I hate to admit it, but there are boundaries. There are not enough hours in the day for me to homemake things like bread and crackers. And I envy people who speak of great grocery stores where they will cut off a block of parmesan and stick it in your cloth, but I have yet to find a local grocery store with such a bulk cheese section. Oh well. I bought locally farmed organic cheese instead. Can't have it all, I suppose. What is it that that song says?

     "Keep on waiting, waiting on the world to change."