Nervous dogs shed

We adopted a dog from our local animal shelter about a month ago, and he’s great. Loveable, lazy, spoiled rotten…he’s our Dodger Dog. He’s settling in well now, playing a bit with the matron dog of the house Mia, and he’s relaxing in his worries about thunderstorms as well. (See previous post about his Stormophobia).

We were a little worried about him while we were on vacation last week, knowing he was still in his adjustment period. But  with a dog-loving neighbor kid checking on him and Mia to keep him company, we figured he’d be fine. And evIMG_5143[1]en though there were dreaded thunderstorms nearly every night we were gone, he was okay.

I noticed a strange phenomena when we returned home last night, though. His hair was all over everything. I noticed this because he had previously been virtually shed-free. Upon our arrival, I began to notice his little white hairs were on the couches (clearly, he took advantage of our absence…), in tumble weeds rolling down the hall, in piles bales in the kids’ rooms…everywhere! As I sucked up heap after heap with the vacuum, I realized that his panic during the storms and probably his anxiety from being left ‘alone’ must have come out through hair loss. I recalled a vet telling me that dogs’ dander comes out, as well as their hair, when they are nervous. Our vacation was too stressful for Dodger, and he let us know he missed us by leaving remnants of himself everywhere. Good thing we weren’t gone any longer…

IMG_5048[1]This anxiety-behavior cycle made me think about our own human responses to worry. Kids who are fretted will often wet the bed or retain bowel movements. They will display abnormal-for-them behaviors, such as hitting, feuding, or biting. They appear to be belligerent, but deep down, they’re scared. And don’t grown ups act out when they’re worried, too? Their responses are a little more cryptic, though. The snarky comment, the pity party, the passive-aggression…they’re disguises for anxiety. Anxiety that change may occur, worry that control may be lost, fear that some secret may be revealed. We adults may be taller, but we’re still so child-like inside. Scared, frightened, nervous kids wondering what’s going on around us.

So what’s your anxiety-behavior? Biting other people’s heads off? Hiding in your room? Throwing tantrums? Does it leave a bigger mess after it’s over… or a mess for someone else to clean up? Maybe it’s time to try a new response. Check out these possibilities instead…

Psalm 34

1 I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace. I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise the Lord together and exalt his name.

For I cried to him and he answered me! He freed me from all my fears. Others too were radiant at what he did for them. Theirs was no downcast look of rejection! This poor man cried to the Lord—and the Lord heard him and saved him out of his troubles. For the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence him.

Matthew 6

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32  Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Proverbs 3

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Stormophobia: a dog’s life

We adopted a dog from our local animal shelter last week. I’ve been requesting a second dog for a while, but my husband is a ‘one dog man’. But when my son’s best neighborhood buddy moved away…well, he needed a young whippersnapping companion to take the boy’s place. (wink, wink) Our old family dog is more of a sleeping companion these days.

So, we brought home Dodger, a white boxer with the face of a grumpy grandpa, the snore of a motorcycle, and the flatulence of a Mexican restaurant. He’s a sweet, sweet fella, and he’s fit right into our family. Even our ol’ gal Mia, who has been with us for almost eleven years has accepted him as her brother.

This evening, we had a summer thunderstorm, not uncommon around these parts. Our family usually snuggles up together on the couch and listens to the thunder, the wind, and the rain. We might even open windows to smell the fresh air. Tonight’s storm rolled through just as the kids were dozing off to sleep, and they missed our snuggle time. But Dodger was totally aware of what was coming along.

From the first distant rumble, he was on guard. He began pacing through the house, looking for shelter. Up and down the hall, up and down the stairs, staring at me, locating my husband, and back again. Whimpering occasionally, he was in constant motion…trying to find his haven in his new home. Or maybe, he was just trying to get away from the storm altogether. He hopped on the couch with me (usually forbidden) and sat at attention, eyes darting from window to window, wherever the lightning flashed or rain sounded loudest. Then, he hopped down and returned to his pacing, pausing briefly to have an explosive blowout on my son’s floor (I hope that was just something he ate and not a storm-triggered behavior. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long, disgusting summer…)

As I was thinking about how to comfort Dodge and how to break this cycle of panic, I thought of his past. He came to us from a home where he was always kept outside, due to a family allergy. If the behavior I saw tonight was his response to being inside during a storm, I can only imagine how terrified he was being outside through each storm. I hope that the more storms he ‘weathers’ (sorry, bad pun) inside with us, the more settled he will become…and the pattern of panic will be broken.

This behavior caused me to think of people who are trying to live a new lifestyle and how hard it is to break out of the old response patterns. Breaking free is liberating, but first it’s terrifying. How do you know who to believe or trust? It’s like Dodger looking for his own solace…his own place of shelter because we humans couldn’t be trusted to make the storm go away. Starting over often means that you can only depend on you because others have failed so often and so deeply.

It takes courage to want a new response, to be tired enough of the old panic-and-poop to find a new way to respond. It takes strength to pull out of an unhealthy situation and pace around looking for a new, healthier way. Though fear may be a driving force, it still drives us on to seek something better.

I will be researching how to settle Dodger’s storm fears, but I won’t forget his first storm with us…or the impression it made on me. That utter panic of ‘This has got to change!!!! How can I make this stop?!?!!’ made me recall my own past panics and how infinitely thankful I am to have survived and thrived.

God is good. God is always with us in our storms. He sees us wandering and wondering how to make it all go away. And he reaches out to us to show us the way. He wants to wrap his arms around us, stop our shaking, and hold us until the worst is over. We just have to be willing to trust his love more than our own methods of comfort.

Psalm 147: 3

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 103:1-5

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

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VBS: It’s not just for the kids

As we belted out the lyrics to a great Chris Tomlin song and learned the motions choreographed to go along with it, I heard the message for the first time. The closed-captioned words popped on the screen as the kids watched the singers and followed their motions…and I just stood there reading the song that I’d sung dozens of times before.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Huh…our strength will increase while we’re waiting on God. Lemme ponder that a bit.
I watched Connie, our 78 year old volunteer, dance just as enthusiastically as her second grade counterparts. I admired the excitement that flashed in her eyes. She saw me and said, ‘I love it!’ At her veteran place in life, she was learning new moves and new praises to God.
Other class leaders, moms-returned-to-full-time-work, were using the bond of VBS to spend with their own children because their new schedule limited the customary family time.
One grandad was helping in the snack area because his wife, one of our usual snack helpers, had a stomach virus. He had an opportunity to serve kids, his wife, and his God.
The classrooms were pleasantly stocked with youth helpers, cutting, pasting, tying, wiping, shushing, leading…finding their own niches in service.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Each adult present in VBS has had his/her fair share of waiting times. Waiting for a loved one to come through surgery, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting to find housing, waiting for a job interview, waiting for the check to come in the mail so bills can be paid…the waiting can be so long and weigh so heavily on us. But according to this inspiring praise chorus, which reflects Scripture, our waiting is what develops our spiritual muscles. Just like our physical body improves its tone with strength training, so does our spiritual self.
My dear dancing Connie has waited for health, family, housing, security…and it has brought her to a place of laughter and love to share with VBS kids.
The working moms have worked waited for interviews, financial stability, growth of children…and it has brought them to their knees in service to the kids of VBS.
The grandad has,no doubt, waited on his wife, his children, his grandchildren…and it has brought him back to waiting tables, doling out cheeseballs and lemonade, in the name of Jesus.
The youth have waited to grow up, to find their paths, to be independent…and it has brought them to church, in the summer, to serve little ones half their age.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
If we are confident of the one we are waiting on, we can doing the waiting. If we look back at what he has done, in our lives, in the lives of others, in the Bible… we know that the waiting is worth it. He is faithful. He will not faint, he won’t grow weary…so neither should we. I admire my VBS colleagues and each of the stages of life they represent. They have waited…and will continue to wait…but they know that the waiting isn’t really so bad when you consider what strength is being built…
Isaiah 40:31
They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
The will mount up with wings as eagles.
They will run and not be weary;
they will walk and not faint.

A Lover and a Fighter

I’m more of a lover than a fighter. I’d rather snuggle than feud, smile than frown, hug than reprimand. So it’s hard when life takes a swing at me. My instinct isn’t to swing back. My instinct is to find a soft place, lie down, and wait or the trouble to pass. But sometimes, that’s not possible. Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.07.29 PM

I’m changing jobs this fall, which is exciting and unnerving at the same time. My wee lass will be entering kindergarten, and my little lad is rapidly turning into a larger lad. I knew all these things were coming…I knew that the school year that just ended was a transitional one, and I had braced myself for the changes that were upon us.

What I wasn’t expecting Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.23.26 PMwas that my best friend would be moving, my son’s new best neighborhood pal would be moving, astalwart colleague would be moving, my beloved mom would be having spinal surgery, and that I’d miss my circle of peers as much as I do. Or that summer would begin with a solid week of rain.
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So, the gray clouds have settled around me much like Pigpen’s dust cloud. I don’t want any of THOSE changes to occur. I just want to be able to start my new job and get my daughter adjusted to school while my support group cheers me on. Alas, my support group is in need of their own support.

So what’s this lover of a girl to do when life starts throwing punches? Sigh…at this point, I’m gonna start swinging back.

I went out running tonight. It’s the first time in twelve years I did. Last time I ran, I blew out my knee and had to have reconstructive surgery. I’ve been scared to run since then. Until tonight. I have to do something to push away the gray clouds that linger around me. Life isn’t going to let up, so I’ve got to become tougher. I need the physical activity to release the endorphins, I need to battle the midlife bulge, and I need to push away this cloud around me. Running i a cheap (free!) outlet for my frustration. I got legs…I got a road…I’m gonna use ’em.  Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.29.09 PM

It was a short run, but it was a start. I took my aged dog, and she was thrilled. Half a mile, a few short walking breaks. I’m not going to add to my cloud by comparing my accomplishment with anyone else’s. It was my half-mile.

We’ll see how this goes. Running isn’t going to make any of the changes stop, but it will improve my outlook on them. It’ll be good for me physically and emotionally. It’ll give my mind a break from the tensions. It’ll help me prepare for other unexpected blows from life.

  Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.26.56 PM I’d rather be a cuddly, snuggly, comfortable lover,Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 9.12.36 PM

    but for now, I need to take up the fight.    

All picture credits:

Book Talk: Suddenly!

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 6.29.22 PMSpoiler alert: You’re gonna want this one.

Another brilliant find at my local used book store! Preston Pig was simply walking home one day and SUDDENLY! he remembered to stop at the store for his mom. You thought I was going to say the wolf attacked, didn’t you?! Well, that’s the point through the whole book. As each page turns, SUDDENLY! something happens to foil the wolf’s plan to eat tasty Preston.

Kids love this one as a read aloud, and I love it for it’s instructional potential in class. The obvious first skill would be predicting what will happen as the page is turned. After Preston’s first few narrow escapes, students will no longer guess that the wolf gets him…but what will they predict? ANDDDD, what is the author’s tone or mood in writing this humorous book of escapades? What can students conclude about Preston and the wolf while hearing the story? Which details keep Preston alive? How quickly could students summarize this story? Expressive reading could also be practiced, whole group or in small groups, with this exciting text.

This one is a keeper. I’ve used it as a read aloud, but it’s in my stack to use this coming year in my middle school language arts class. Colin McNaughton has several others that I’m going to have to explore to see if they’re as SUDDENLY useful as this one!

Happy reading!


Photo credit:

Book Talk: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

Cover-Penderwicks-1-450wOh my heart! This book. I was a dreamy-eyed teenager again when I read it. Such a sweet story of family, friendship, loss, and gain.

On summer vacation, the widowed Mr. Penderwick and his four daughters encounter a handsome young gardener, his uppity boss Mrs. Tifton, and her adventure-craving son Jeffrey. The inquisitive Penderwick girls seek to make themselves at home in their summer location, the Tifton guest house, while staying out of Mrs. Tifton’s way…and her award-winning gardens.

Rosalind, the eldest daughter, quietly falls in love with Cagney the gardener. Jane and Skye, the middle sisters, compete for time with Jeffrey, while Batty, the youngest Penderwick, explores the terrain and makes her own adventures with Hound, the family dog. Each has to experience her own disappointment during the summer, but each grows as the flowers in Mrs. Tifton’s garden along the way. Each girl works through the grieving process of losing her mother to cancer as she encounters new situations this summer.

This book belongs in the hands of middle school girls. It’s a gentle, kind story…a realistic story of sisters, friends, and happiness. A sweet read-together with upper elementary or independent read for older girls. ANDDDDDD, it’s the first in a series!!!

Happy reading!


(picture credit:

Hello, old passion; meet new passion…

Shortly after I graduated from college with my degree in education, I landed a long-term substitute job at a rural middle school. My first thought was, ‘$70 a day! Sweet!’ My second thought was, ‘Eighth graders…at the end of the year…dear God, please don’t let them eat me!’

And that was when I found my passion. I loved middle schoolers. They are aloof, awkward, misguided, over-sensitive beings. They are temporarily trapped between childhood and adulthood, and they swing between the two stages like a drunken trapeze artist. Moody, irrational, argumentative, intriguing humans craving direction but rebelling against any suggestion. they want to make wise choices but the dumb ones are so much more entertaining. ‘What is life all about?’ meets ‘Hey, y’all watch this…’ I love ’em.

I taught middle school English for a total of nine years in two separate school divisions. My students have grown up to be teenage moms, environmentalists, lawyers, nurses, Masters students, pot heads, teachers, beauticians, nuclear scientists, and even an NFL player. I loved (almost) all of them. (There were a couple that I’m certain were only placed on this earth to teach me character traits that I didn’t possess at that time…)

After my second child was born, I have only worked part-time as a reading specialist…until now. On Friday, I accepted a position to return to one of my former middle schools as an English teacher. Mommy is returning to full-time teacher status.

And I’m scared. How will both of my passions fit into my one heart?

I wanted to have four or six children until I realized how much of my heart one child took. Then I knew I couldn’t have more than two. So how is my heart going to hold 72? I don’t know.

Do I still have it in me to care so deeply for all my charges? Will I still care whose parents are divorcing, who forgets their meds, who needs extra non-verbal reminders, who needs more time on tasks, who needs extra reassurance, who needs lunch money, who needs a winter coat…AND who needs me to send in a check for yearbook or lunch, who needs poster board for a project, who needs more pencils or glue sticks, who has a field trip and wants me to attend, who has a test and needs that napkin of encouraging words in his lunch box…

I love both so much. I want to do it right for them all. But right now, I’m afraid that I’ll hurt the ones who matter most.

Oh my heart, oh my soul, oh my mind…God be with me.


Book Talk: Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse

I picked this book up at a used book store, merely because the illustrations caught my eye. The details are just amazing…the hairs on the mice (and dog, cat, and rabbit in the story), the blades of grass, the crevices on the rocks and stumps…incredible. The book is slightly large in size, and the full-color, fully detailed illustrations are just so eye-catching! Props to Lindsay Barrett George for this little beauty!

Then, I perused the story, and it was equally as attention-getting! One mouse begins the story inside, sleeping in a clock; the other mouse begins outside in a stump. They each wake up and start their adventure. The mouse inside the house travels down the wall, across the rug, in front of the dog, between the socks…while the mouse outside journeys down the stump, across the ground, in front of the squirrel, between the rocks. The story ends with the mice meeting through a glass window to say ‘Hello!’ to each other.

My teacher brain nearly exploded when I began considering the lessons that could be taught with this book.

First of all, point of view…what would it be like to be the inside/outside mouse? How would each perspective be different/alike? What about the viewpoint of the dog/spider/rabbit/cat in the story?

Then, there are the prepositions…oh the prepositions! Every page has those descriptive directional words…over, under, through, around, up, down, in front of…Students could act out the words, write new prepositional phrases to add to the story, write their own story with their own prep phrases…

A clever teacher could take the text and rework it to make a Reader’s Theater for two voices (like Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman).

Preschoolers would love acting out travels of the mice during a read-aloud. Elementary and middle students would listen to it but would glean the most from extension activities. Art teachers may even want to collaborate with this book, perhaps a joint effort could create a sequel!

So glad I found this beautiful gem! Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse may be what you need to spice up a preposition or point-of-view lesson.

Happy Reading!


Dear me of tomorrow,

Dear me of tomorrow,

By this time tomorrow night, you may know the answer you’ve been waiting a week to hear…whether or not you got the job. They said they hoped to have a decision made by ‘next Friday’, which is tomorrow. Yet, as dubious as your feelings have been this week, you question whether or not the decision will actually be made by their deadline.

You’ve doubted your answers to the interview questions, especially #10. But you counter that doubt with the fact that you had your own thought-provoking questions for them. You’ve wondered if you came across strong enough to handle the job, and you counter that with ‘Bob knows me…he knows my capabilities…he’ll speak up for my strength’. You’ve hoped that they haven’t interviewed anyone else more qualified…and you’ve comforted yourself with the 16 years of experience you have under your belt. You’ve pondered if they really liked you, and then you remember that they sought you. You’ve questioned yourself many times ‘Am I making this opportunity out to be a ‘dream job’ when it really isn’t?’ But then you wisely compare it to your current job and the other one for which you interviewed just the day before this interview. You know this job. You’ve done this job before. This is a dream job…and it’s okay to want it.

Oh, me of tomorrow…I can’t wait to meet you. I want to jump up and down and hug you and cry with you and celebrate that phone call. I want to grab you by the shoulders and look you in the eyes and say ‘I knew it! I knew it was the perfect job for you!’ I want to call friends and say, ‘I got it! Praise God! I got it!’ and do a happy dance. I want to see the sparkle in your eye  that has been hidden for six years and that wry smile that is so perfect for this job. I want to start the organizing process of what goes to your new classroom and what stays home and what finally gets thrown away. And I want to start that with your sparkly eyes and your not-a-secret-anymore smile tomorrow night…after that call comes.

And, me of tomorrow, if that call doesn’t turn out to be what you so hope, then remember all the other times.  you’ve thought you had something pegged only to find out later that you were wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ll be here if that happens, just as I have been in the past. I’ll be here with a cup of tea, some tissues, probably some cookies, and some reassurance that it’s okay that it wasn’t meant to be. Because if it wasn’t meant to be, then something else is…something greater for you. And you’ll know that it’s all true and not just trite.

Precious me of tomorrow, you are an amazing person borne of amazing experiences, full of life and love to share with the right recipients. And just as you have waited for tomorrow to come, you can indeed wait for the perfect situation in which to find fulfillment. It will come. I promise. I know…because it always has before.

Love and admiration and patiently waiting,

The you of today


Book Talk: Once Upon a Time, the End (asleep in 60 seconds)

This one was hilarious. A great read aloud with so many options for upper elementary.

The premise is that a dad can’t get his child to go to sleep, so he continues to tell stories, with some details eliminated, until his offspring gives in to sleep. Tales such as Chicken Little, Princess Pea, and The Little Red Hen are told. Others such as The Two Little Pigs; Small Girl, Red Hood; and Goldilocks and the Bears are summarized with exhausted parental insight. “There were some bears; It doesn’t really matter how many. There was a bunch. Let’s get to the point…” and “Small girl, red hood, big wolf, in the woods…”

We laughed hysterically when we read it aloud in second grade, but I see great potential for this one in upper elementary and middle school. Oh, the lessons on summarizing!! Main idea and details!! Plot lines were never so entertaining to teach. Introduction to characters, setting, and conflict…BAM! Resolution and conclusion.

Writing extensions would be just as fun as reading these fractured fairy tales. The students could have a blast shortening a tale of their own…working collectively to decide which details to keep or slash. Turning these tales or student rewrites into Reader’s Theater could combine writing and fluency to benefit everyone.

Go check this one out. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll probably add it to your repertoire of fairy tales for next year.

Once Upon a Time, The End by Geoffrey Kloske and Barry Blitt

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