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: peanuts.com

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!

~Kara

Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/Suddenly-A-Preston-Pig-Story/dp/0152016996

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!

~Kara

(picture credit: http://jeannebirdsall.com/books/the-penderwicks/)

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.

kids

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!

~Kara

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

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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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Book Talk: That Is Not a Good Idea!

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 6.42.09 PMWell, it’s Mo Willems, so you know it’s going to be entertaining. What I love about this one is its versatility for upper grades as well.

With a layout that hearkens back to silent films, picture page and then text page, the book begs for predictions. After the wolf and the goose meet, little chicks warn ‘That is not a good idea!’ With each invitation from the wolf, the chicks warn the goose away from certain doom by repeating their manta, adding a few more ‘reallys’ each time. Readers will cringe with suspense at each turned page until the fateful (surprise!) ending.

I can’t wait to use this book for so many instructional purposes. Predictions are a given…but then there are inferences to be made, conclusions to be drawn, fluency to be practiced (this could so easily be turned into a Reader’s Theater), foreshadowing to be identified…oh my gosh!!! And the writing extensions are just as exciting…a sequel, a prequel, a letter of advice, a letter of regret, a recipe, a play…will it stop?!!?

And the character lessons…making wise decisions, peer pressure, stranger danger. AND, the spiritual lessons about temptation too…

This book is just a treasure in so many literary AND instructional ways! Go check it out from the library or just buy it. You’re gonna love it!

The opposite of worry

I was obsessively fretting this morning. It’s a familiar feeling unfortunately. Distracted from everything I’m supposed to be doing. Picking apart one idea over and over. Wishing everyone would leave me alone so I could just worry.

What if? When? But if? Why? Could…? Should…? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

And then, God thumped me in the head. I was at school, in the middle of testing a student, but actually, I was looking out the window, lost in my thoughts. Suddenly, I little bird flew over and landed on the ground outside my window. It started picking the flowers/seeds off a little weed that was growing in the corner of the building. It sat there and ate and ate for several minutes…just as satisfied as it could be. I was fascinated. What I thought was a useless weed was a life source for that little fella.

I mentally rolled my eyes at the ‘God provides for the birds, so I know he’ll provide for me, so I should stop worrying…’ thought. But there it was, right in front of me. A happy little bird chomping away on his sustenance, not fluttering around in a distracted dither. Sure, the little fella had to look for the food, but it was there.

Then it occurred to me…the opposite of worry is action.  Worry is all in the head. I need to get out of my head and get to work. Instead of fretting, I need to focus on the tasks in front of me…finishing this school year and all its mounds of  paperwork, figuring out a birthday gift for my amazing husband, getting supplies ready for Kids Night Out at church. God has provided plenty for me, and I need to tend to what he’s given. He will continue to provide for me, and I’ll see those provisions when they are ready.

When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them a job…tend to the garden and the animals. He wanted them to be active and purposeful. He wanted them to be lively participants in their existence. When they got distracted by the nagging voice that made them worry and doubt, they got themselves in trouble. Eternal trouble. That’s what worry does...infinite damage.

God’s plan is for me to be doing what is in front of me while he takes care of what’s not in front of me yet. Tending to my flocks, gathering food, keeping my family clean, filling out my reports and eliminating my piles of end-of-year paperwork. Truly, this is all I can handle. I MUST leave the rest up to him.

Credit: digitalbirdphotography.com

Matthew 6:26-27, 31-34

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?   31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

To read another example of how birds have shamed me, try I Know Why the Early Bird Sings.

Update: Mueller-ed

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In a post on March 28 entitled Mueller-ed, I wrote about our church including a mission project each year when we host an Easter egg hunt. This year we were going to be stuffing ‘Socks of Love’ with personal hygiene items to be distributed at our local soup kitchen. I wrote about the need we had for socks…and its sudden fulfillment, similar to the prayers that were answered in missionary George Mueller’s life. (Read about George Mueller here!!) At the end of the entry about getting Mueller-ed, I said I’d give an update on the sock stuffing at the egg hunt.

 We had about 60 children in attendance that Saturday, plus their parents/grandparents, probably giving us a total near 100 participants.  We stuffed 75 socks with travel size shampoos/conditioners/deodorants/toothpastes/soaps and a toothbrush. (We opted out of small bottles of mouthwash, as we discovered that the alcohol-based ones were misused for drinking purposes last time we made such distributions. ) The kids enjoyed stuffing the socks and racing to put their completed bundle in the big plastic bin we had set aside for collection.

On Easter Sunday, in Sunday school, we tied yarn on the socks and included cards of encouragement for the recipients. We repacked the Socks of Love in the collection bin and pushed them to the church office for pickup by the soup kitchen crew. All 75 Socks of Love were distributed to needy families the week after Easter Sunday, as that was spring break and more patrons were present at the food kitchen.

Though we will never know who received these gifts, we know that they were blessed. Whether the health care items helped keep families clean, prepare an individual for a job interview, or aid an adolescent in feeling more hygienically comfortable around peers, we know that the Spirit of God was with them.

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Matthew 25:34-40

34‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’