The Finish Line (Slice 31 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

We made it!  I did it!  I have crossed the finish line and I feel the euphoria pumping as I do when I am running.  Now, it is time to pig out a little and reflect on my performance.  In running, the training begins again soon after one race stops.  In writing, I will continue to develop the habit of regular writing.

The training involved in this race was quite rigorous.  I did not write every day before we started and I was not sure I would be able to keep it up.  There were some days when the blog post was underwhelming, but I pushed through and made it to the end.  Just as in exercise, sometimes you just have to force yourself to do it and you usually feel better after you finish.

I am proud of the way I made writing a daily habit this month.  I will continue to make writing a more regular part of my schedule because I saw how I started to have more ideas the more I wrote.  It really makes me think about how to structure writing workshop for my students.  I have struggled this year with the need to teach certain things and the culture at my school of assigning prompts.  I want to be able to have students do a true workshop but they have never done this before and they are stopped by their own doubts.  Many of them do not believe they have anything to write about, even though I work hard to help them come up with lists of topics and try to provide examples.  This daily writing really helped me to come up with a lot of topics to write about and also helped me understand that some pieces are worth going back to and some are just first drafts.  It is in regular training that a runner sees improvement and it is in daily writing that a writer will begin to see improvement.

Now that I have crossed this finish line, I can celebrate the accomplishment of writing daily.  I will spend some time celebrating and then get back to the training!  It is through the habit of writing that I will continue to improve.  It is time to keep those fingers tapping the keyboard just as I keep feet pounding on the pavement.  Through the habit of writing daily, I will be able to increase stamina and accomplish my goals.  Now, to start running again (but that’s another post).

Congratulations to everyone who completed the Slice of Life Challenge!  Woo-hoo!

Root Beer Memories (Slice 30 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Since I am not feeling so well, and my throat is sore, I have found myself sucking on a lot of cough drops and hard candy.  This led to my thinking about root beer barrels and other root beer related memories.  Perhaps at some point this might become a poem, but for now I think a list is all I can muster.

My Top Five Root-Beer-Related Memories:

1. Root Beer Barrels–Every week when we went grocery shopping we stopped at the Brach’s display to scoop up more of this delicious hard candy.  My father was obsessed with these little drops of joy.  After my father passed away, one of the most heartfelt and memorable cards we received came with a package of root beer barrels.  One of the employees that my father managed sent us this memorial because she was so appreciative of the way my father listened to her and always had a root beer barrel in his candy dish for whoever came into his office.  It was the perfect thing to hear at that moment of grief.  She helped me to see how my father’s empathy had touched so many lives beyond what he even knew.  I realized that is what I wanted to do in my life also, and root beer barrels still serve as a silent reminder to me of the quiet influence I would like to have on those around me.

2. Even before I could drink actual beer, I loved going to Water Street Brewery, a local brewpub.  They have some amazing root beer on tap!  Another local favorite is Sprecher Brewery.  Their root beer is amazing and sold in supermarkets all around us.  This is a special vanilla treat on a hot summer day.  

3. I will never forget the day when I gave Julia, the German exchange student staying with us, a root beer.  She took one sip and spit it out immediately.  Her face was contorted into the most interesting expression of disgust I have ever seen.  I didn’t have a clue that this sweet and flavorful drink could be so ridiculously disgusting to someone who hadn’t tasted it before.  I have had the pleasure of laughing hysterically as several more of my European friends throughout the years have tried root beer and experienced the same level of disgust.  I still don’t quite understand it, but I guess it’s their loss!

4. When we used to go to a campground near Wisconsin Dells with our motorhome, my parents would go into the tiny restaurant/bar and order a “root beer” for grown-ups.  I never got to have one of these…but I got a tiny sip once in a while.  At this place, the proprietors had dreamt up a cocktail of a simple nature.  Root Beer Schnapps with Cola made up this drink.  It is funny that my parents never had this drink anywhere else.  It was reserved for these camping trips at this special place.

5. Root Beer floats are one of the best treats ever.  I love how the soda froths up and becomes ever so creamy and the ice cream provides the perfect compliment to this amazing drink.  Another favorite of mine is the Black Cow (root beer shake).  There is just something about the way root beer mixes with the ice cream and provides the perfect deliciousness.  

Spring Break Cold (Slice 29 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

It never fails.  The first day of vacation from school and I am wrapped up in a blanket, with a box of tissues, and miserably coughing up a lung.  This particular cold was hovering for the last two weeks but did not erupt into explicit symptoms and misery until the last day before Spring Break.

I think that my body and mind conspire against me sometimes.  Although I am glad I do not have to work and can rest at home, I would much rather be completely healthy and enjoying the day.  My body always seems to know when I have time off and that is when I get sick. Not having to miss work is definitely something I am glad about, and my mind must make it a priority.  Is it possible to be that in control of your own body’s reactions to germs and contagion?  Who knows?  Science is a mystery, right?

I hope this cold goes quickly and I can feel better for most of my break.  For now, I at least have an excuse for being lazy and reading all day.  I intend to do a Spring Break bookaday and get through a big stack of books.

Review: Hide and Seek (Slice 28 of 31)

Title: Hide and Seek
Author: Kate Messner

Publishing Date: April 1, 2013

Source: NetGalley

My Summary:  When Jose, Henry, and Anna meet again, they are excited to be able to see an exhibit of artifacts from Central and South America.  But when they discover that the Jaguar Cup that is on display is not the real cup, they take off to Costa Rica, along with their parents to investigate.

In Costa Rica, the kids go to stay at a resort in the rain forest with another Silver Jaguar Society member and his daughter while the parents go to San Juan to investigate.  When an earthquake cuts off communication, the kids start to investigate on their own.

My Thoughts:  I loved this one.  It was fast-paced and full of action.  I love how the kids are responsible for solving the mystery and the characters are so lovable.  It would be so much fun to have an adventure in the rainforest!  As she has done in all her books, Kate Messner managed to create a mystery that kept me guessing throughout.  The scenes in the rain forest were more amazing to think about after I saw Kate’s talk at the WSRA.  She showed pictures of herself and her family on research trips.  She writes from the first-hand experience of staying at a resort in Costa Rica and trekking through the rain forest.  I couldn’t help but picture the author there on that path with the big snake when the scene came up in the book.  I absolutely recommend this book to anyone grade 4 and up.  It is a great sequel to Capture the Flag and I will look forward to the next book about the Silver Jaguar Society.

5 of 5 Stars

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Book friends and a few crushes (Slice 27 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Today I had a little time to dig through my writer’s notebook and look at some old posts from the summer for inspiration.  I found a small portion at the end of a longer post about my reading life that inspired an idea.  To see the post from earlier this year about my reading life you can go here.

I am playing with this idea and I keep thinking of other characters and situations I might add.  I tried to keep it to characters from books I read as a child or teen.  You will probably recognize most, but some are somewhat obscure.

When I Was Young

I drank cocoa on a dark and stormy night with Meg and Charles Wallace.
I spent summer afternoons sluething with Nancy and Trixie.
I bugged Beezus with Ramona.

I fell off the rooftop and into the Cuthbert’s hearts 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.
I played a game to win an inheritance with Turtle.
I tormented Peter with Fudge.

I explored the big woods and ran through the prairie with Laura.
I fell in love with more heroes than I can count.
I shrank with Treehorn.

I hoped that god was there with Margaret.
I grieved for Beth with Jo.
I made cranes with Sadako.

And I did it all without leaving the couch.

Countdown to Spring Break(Slice 26 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

My slice today will be short and sweet.  I am so excited for Spring Break…two days left.  Tomorrow is a full moon and I have already been able to tell the crazy at school.

I can’t wait for break next week!  I have a plan to read a LOT of books and relax.  I also want to rearrange my home office and get it better for my at-home work.  I also will scrub down the kitchen this week and vacuum the whole house.

Okay, I just have to make it two more days…I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 3/25 (Slice 25 of 31)

This post is part of a meme in which we write about the books we have read in the last week and the books we are planning to read.  It is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.  Head on over to their blog for a lot of great books to add to your ro-read list.

I am also participating in the Slice of Life challenge hosted by the ladies at Two Writing Teachers in which we write a blog post every day in March.

With parent conferences and the Slice of Life challenge this week, I have not had a lot of time for reading.  Thank goodness I had the day off on Friday so that I could catch up on some reading.  However, I was also participating in a commenting challenge so I spent much of my time reading blog posts and commenting.

Books I Finished This Week:

I absolutely LOVED Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.  I was chuckling along with the story and enjoyed the mystery.  This was a book full of quirky and lovable characters.  I wrote a more extensive review here.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a thought-provoking and chilling book.  After the Second Civil War about reproductive rights a new law was established.  Life is untouchable from the time of conception until a child turns thirteen.  But from age thirteen to eighteen, parents can choose to “unwind” their children and have them taken apart to live on through their donated parts.  The premise of this book was already creepy, but the writing is so well done that it really made me think.  I read this book as part of The Dystopia Challenge 2013.  See more of my thoughts in my review here.

Books I am Currently Reading:

I am still listening to The Night Circus. I did not get to workout a lot this week so I didn’t make much progress in this audiobook.  I am about halfway through this book and am really enjoying it.  I am also almost all the way through Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.  It is really great and a book I think most adults should read.

Books I am planning to read this week:

I will probably pick up Splendors and Glooms this week.  I don’t know what else I will read, but I have a LOT of books to choose from.  I think I will probably also read Opening Minds by Peter Johnston.

Mindsets (Slice 24 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

In the past week, I have been reading the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.  I wanted to read the book to understand more about her research.

About five years ago, I finished my Master’s degree and my thesis.  This thesis included some action research about group work in math class and self-efficacy.  As part of my literature review, I pored over many studies and first learned of Dweck’s theories about fixed mindset and growth mindset. Over the summer, I was very excited to be able to hear Carol Dweck give a keynote address at the Learning Forward conference.  So, I picked up this book knowing some of what I would be reading.  But what I didn’t know was that she would present so many real life examples of how mindset can affect your life.  If you don’t know about this idea, here is a great infographic that can give you a quick idea:

The section in this book about sports and mindset is fascinating.  The famous athletes she chose to highlight are perfect examples of each mindset and serve to make her point in a very powerful way.  I have been trying to figure out exactly how to teach my students about this and I think some of these examples would be great additions to whatever unit I do end up creating.

When I read the section of her book about CEOs I couldn’t help but think about the culture of schools and the way the principal of a school can make or break the culture.  When thinking about the way that people sometimes behave and the idea of professional jealousy, it really clicked.  I always found it so puzzling that so many teachers would balk at change and treat new teachers with innovative ideas poorly.  When I think about it in the context of mindset, it makes sense.  If the teachers who have been there have fixed mindsets, any new innovation would be a threat to their greatness, not an opportunity to improve.  I had thought of the idea of mindsets as a golden opportunity within my classroom to help my students be life-long learners working to increase their intelligence.  However, now I am thinking about the power this theory could have if taught to teachers as well.

Perhaps it is well worth the investment to subscribe to Brainology for students.  I know I will absolutely recommend that my principal invest in the teacher professional development resources available at Mindset Works.  Maybe if more schools helped students (and teachers) to see the power of growing their brain we would see less students stressed out about their perfect grades and more students focused on learning.

Review: Unwind (Dystopian Challenge)

Title: Unwind
Author: Neal Shusterman

Publication: June 2009

Publisher’s Blurb:
Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution:  Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen.  Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end.  Connor is too difficult for his parents to control.  Risa, a ward of the state, is not talented enough to be kept alive.  And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound.  Together, they may have a chance to escape—and to survive.

My thoughts: This was a chilling and disturbing book.  Many questions went through my head as I read: How could a society get to the point that this was acceptable?  How could any parent make this choice?  What was most disturbing for me was the fact that the author used real news storys and quotes from real people at the beginning of every part of the book.  There are some people that are thinking in quite disturbing ways already in this society.  This book is one that will keep me thinking for quite some time.  I really felt for all three protagonists and agree wholeheartedly with the book’s premise that this practice is wrong and needs to stop.  But it is really intriguing to think about how a society would get that bent out of shape.  With the intense debate out there about abortion, we are not so far away from the fictional Second Civil War and all of the implications of it.  This book is about the way that people sometimes blindly fight for an idea and lose sight of what they are fighting for.  It is also one that makes you pause a little bit to think about the medical advances and things that are being discovered through science.  How much is too much?  When is it better to stick with the things that we are doing?  This book made me curious to find out more about some of the advances they are making now.

I would absolutely recommend this one to teens and adults alike.  Even if you are not a big science fiction fan, I think this one is worth reading.

I read and reviewed this book as a part of The Dystopia Challenge 2013 on Bookish Ardour

I am trying for the Contagion level of 15 books. You can find out more on my 2013 Challenges page.

Review: Three Times Lucky (Slice 23 of 31)

Title: Three Times Lucky
Author: Sheila Turnage

Publication: May 10, 2012

Source: I bought this one in my last Scholastic order (gotta love the book box)

My Summary: Mo is an orphan who was found as a baby floating down the river on a makeshift raft during a hurricane.  She lives in a very small town in North Carolina with the Colonel and Miss Lana.  They run a small cafe that is the lifeblood of the small town. Mo is worried about the mystery of her origin and she is forever looking for clues and trying to figure out who her mother is and where she came from.  This is the biggest mystery in her life.  Until, one day a detective walks into their cafe.  Then, one of their neighbors is found murdered.  All of a sudden, this small town is in an uproar.  Who could have wanted to kill their neighbor?  Mo and her best friend Dale take it upon themselves to investigate further and clear Dale’s name of suspicion.  What comes next are twists and turns and surprises that make this mystery exciting and fun to read.

My Thoughts:  I absolutely LOVED this book.  I completely agree that this book was deserving of the Newbery Honor that it received in January.  The book is full of lovable characters and beautiful voice that kept me turning pages well into the night.  I am a sucker for a good mystery so I loved that this one was so well-constructed.  I really was surprised by the solution to the mystery and found myself suspecting many of the characters throughout the book.  I like that the author also really wrote about the small-town life and I got to know a lot of the characters well.  The style of writing was amazing and stayed very true to the point of view.  Here are just a few gems from the book:

As we get to know Mo and Dale in the beginning of the book, there are many points in which I found myself chuckling, but this one seemed to capture the personality of the narrator so well:
“He swore, his voice soft as a breeze through the reeds.  Dale started swearing last year.  I haven’t started yet, but the way things are going, I could at any moment.”

Another description that really blew me away came much later in the book:
“Anybody that says he ain’t scared in a hurricane is a liar or a fool.  That’s what the Colonel says.  A hurricane spins up like you’re nothing, and takes your world apart like it’s nothing too.  There’s no time in it, no sense of the sun moving, no waxing or waning light.  All you can do is breathe, and ignore the world flying to pieces beyond your door.”

I absolutely recommend this book to students grade 4 and up and all adults.

5 out of 5 Stars

This post is part of the Slice of Life challenge.  I am writing a blog post every day in the month of March to share for this challenge.  The challenge is hosted by the lovely teachers at the Two Writing Teachers blog.