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Excuses, excuses

OK, so I’ve been missing in action since October 24th.  I think I have some  pretty good excuses though.

Excuse # 1. We adopted two new puppies.  Yes, we were suckers and adopted the brother and sister because I didn’t have the heart to leave just one.  I know the other would have been adopted pretty quickly, but their cute little faces and furry bodies threw reason out the window.  Two puppies create a lot of extra work:

– There are the 4 am bathroom visits outside which my wonderful husband has taken over (I figure I’m due after all the middle of the night feedings he couldn’t accommodate because he didn’t have the right stuff).

– It takes me way longer to get dressed for work when there are two puppies licking my freshly showered toes.

– School work is often put to the side for a nice cuddle with a furry monster, a game of tug-o-war, or  watching them wrestle with a giant pillow or there hide & attack games.

– Even though my husband is the one who gets out of bed at 4 am, I still wake up and it takes a while to fall back to sleep. My late night blog writing sessions have been replaced by conking out by 9:30.

Excuse # 2:  I am a Kindergarten teacher and it was late October which means I had the horribly nasty cold I get every year complete with no voice.  Of course my hoarseness made it really fun and easy to explain what a “gravelly voice” meant as I read one of our Core stories, “The Jumping Mouse.”

Excuse # 3: On October 22nd, I learned how to crochet and now I’m hooked (ha ha ha).  A friend of mine is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and I wanted to learn how to make a hat for her.  So here is what I made for my friend:

And now that I finished the scarf and the hat, I have started a blanket for my nephew-to-be.  I have until January, but I had no idea how long it would take me to finish a blanket so I started early.

Excuse # 4: I am an over-achieving Kindergarten teacher with two active boys of my own who have lots of homework, music lessons, and other after school activities.

Excuse # 5:  I didn’t have anything to say.  Nothing was compelling me to write.

So after three weeks of not having anything to write, I just started to write. And voila (and no I don’t know how to add the accent over the a nor which way it would go)! I wrote something.  Sure it’s one of the silliest posts I ever wrote full of lame excuses. But I wrote something, and that is truly the purpose of my blog – to write.

Happy writing everyone!

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I thought I was a cat person…

I never thought of myself as a dog person.  I always thought I was a cat person. We had a cat for most of my childhood.  Within a month of moving into our new house in the country, my mom found a mouse in the house. After sleeping with a broom by her bed, she decided we needed a cat to catch the mice. Of course when we got Sunday, he wasn’t much bigger than the mouse. Yes, his name was Sunday.  We adopted him on a Sunday. Very original, I know.  Well, I was only 7. Sunday was a nice cat who tolerated being dressed up in doll clothes and pushed around in the doll carriage (sort of).  I wish I had a picture to upload, but they’re all in sticky old albums in my mother’s basement. Sunday died of kitty leukemia when I was in high school.

My mother and sister adopted another cat, Chester, during my freshman year in college.  Since I was only home for summers and moved to Connecticut pretty soon after graduation, Chester never felt like my cat.  He belonged to my mom and my sister.

I happened to marry a dog person and once we moved into a house he kept mentioning how nice it would be to have a dog. We had a big problem though.  I am seriously allergic to dogs. I’m allergic to cats too, but the reaction is not as severe because I grew up with a cat in the house.  Plus, I endured 10 years of allergy shots as a kid and that included one for our feline friend. Cats make my nose a little itchy and I might sneeze a bit more than usual.  Dogs trigger my asthma.  It’s not good.  I get to the point where I cannot breathe and my inhaler does nothing.

We learned that certain breeds produce less dander and therefore do not trigger my asthma – poodles and other dogs with hair not fur. Our neighbors had a shih tzu (a hair dog) named Scooter.  They were going out of town one Christmas and asked if we could dog-sit. We thought this would be a good test for my allergies. Scooter was old and had stinky breath, but he did not trigger my asthma.

The following May we adopted Maddie, the sweetest black and white shih tzu ever. We had Maddie for thirteen years.  Because my husband worked from home when we first got her, Maddie bonded with him.  He was her person. Sure she loved me and eventually the boys when they came along, but she was 100% my husband’s dog. He took it very hard when we lost Maddie last June. He was devastated.

After we lost Maddie, I missed her terribly. I couldn’t believe she was gone. I couldn’t believe how much I missed this little dog who would drive me crazy!  I would have given anything to have her underfoot while I made dinner or on top of me while I was trying to work. All summer I saw other dogs and waves of sadness would overwhelm me. There was a Maddie sized hole in my heart.

Once we had our school year routine established, I began to feel lonely in the mornings – lonely for a canine companion. I only teach in the afternoon and most mornings I would be home with Maddie. After years of saying, Well, I’m more of a cat person, I had become a dog person.

My husband wasn’t ready for a new dog yet, but I was. I was more than ready. Little by little I began researching breeders online to find a new dog. Unfortunately there weren’t many shih tzu puppies available – that’s the problem with needing a pure bred dog.  You can’t just go down to the pound and adopt someone.

I found a pet store in the area that works directly with breeders. I asked a friend of mine who is a vet if she knew anything about this particular pet store.  She said the puppies she has seen from this pet store have been healthy and she could tell me which stores to avoid. I called the store and found out that they would be getting shih tzu puppies from a breeder that Tuesday.

George and Gracie

Well, apparently the hole that Maddie left in our hearts was so big it took TWO puppies to fill it!

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I am married to a man who has a largish family.  Both of his parents are still alive and my husband is the youngest of three siblings who are all married and have children. He has numerous cousins on his mother’s side of the family and one cousin on his father’s side of the family . Most are married and have kids. And now almost all of the kids have kids as well. OK, that may not be a large family by Reality TV standards, but it’s pretty big for me.

My husband and his family also have lots of friends.  Friends that they have known for 20-40 years. Friends who are now also married and have children and grandchildren.

Every summer my husband and I take the boys to spend a month at my in-laws’ house on Nantucket. This is a wonderfully
glorious time when the kids have time with grandparents, cousins, and friends who are more like family – and lots and lots of beach time of course. For one week of our stay there is a large convergence of friends and family. During the day we go to the beach – occupying a rather large amount of space that gets larger and larger each year as our children grow and spread their wings. At night we rotate amongst the different houses for dinner or cocktails or both – grandparents, parents, and children all together.

I love that my husband has all these amazing friends. They have become my friends too. And their children have become our childrens’ friends. And his family has accepted me (faults and virtues) with open arms.

I chose a beautiful day for my quiet time at the beach

Anyway, I learned something extremely important this summer during our crazy week. By Wednesday I had a meltdown. I was tired from staying up late and my nerves were frayed with all the socializing we’d done.  Other than sleeping, I hadn’t had a moment to myself in over a week. I needed to be by myself. So my wonderful husband took the boys sailing, I have no idea what everyone else did, and I went to the beach by myself.  Of course I wasn’t truly alone because the beach was packed full of people. But I was there with my book, my iPod and no one I knew.

I went back to the house late that afternoon exhausted from a day filled with walking, beach combing, and swimming. But more importantly I went back to family and friends refreshed in spirit.

A day or two later I came upon a new term while reading someone’s blog  – ambivert.

What is an ambivert you ask? Well, an ambivert is someone who exhibits the tendencies of both an extrovert and an introvert.

Most people who know me think I am extroverted.  I can be outgoing, friendly, welcoming.  I need to talk through decision making scenarios. I don’t often withhold my opinion. And I have been known to put my foot in my mouth on occasion. Friends in college often described me as a Dr. Seuss book, I was so easy to read.

That being said, I am outgoing, friendly, and welcoming in familiar situations. Put me in a group of friends and family and sure I’m outgoing. Find me at school talking to parents and fellow teachers, of course.  And you will even find me that way at church where I don’t necessarily know everyone, but I feel comfortable.  See, that is the key. I am outgoing when I am in a comfortable environment.

I’m terribly awkward in situations where I don’t know people. In college, I was the one in the group who hated off-campus parties or going to bars. I still prefer small gatherings of friends than huge parties. And given the option of staying home with my family or going to a dinner party on a Saturday night – I usually opt for staying home.  It’s not that I’m lazy (OK a little bit lazy). After a week of teaching Kindergarteners, dealing with parents at school, helping my boys with homework, shuttling them to different activities, and just being their mom I need time away from people.

Having time to myself is crucial to my sanity. I recharge alone, not with people. This is a fundamental introverted trait. The more I read about introverts the more qualities I saw in myself. Here are a few from Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage:

  • working on projects in large chunks of uninterrupted time
  • rehearsing before speaking
  • anxiety around deadlines
  • zoning out if too much is going on
  • taking time to sort out information
  • dislike overstimulating environments
  • strong reactions to sensory input
  • feeling drained after social situations

All of these describe me. Yet, I like to talk too much to truly be an introvert.

So I am an ambivert.

I am an outgoing jellyfish who requires time alone in her shell.

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When I Am a Mac, I Shall Wear Black*

An Ode to Steve Jobs

When I am a Mac, I shall wear black

a black turtle neck with jeans and tennis shoes.

And I shall spend time finding apps and accessories

and upgrades, and drink copious amounts of coffee.

I shall settle myself in a coffee shop when my battery runs low

and check my email

and listen to thousands of songs on iTunes

and make masterpieces on iMovie

and read Jane Austen on iBooks.

I shall have internet wherever I go

and dare to create on my Mac.

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Thank you,  Steve Jobs for everything.  We will miss your inspiration, your innovation, your out of the box thinking. My life was so much better once I was a Mac and not a PC.

Go to www.stevejobsday2011.com for information about a day of remembrance.

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*Poem based on the wonderful poem Warning by Jenny Joseph

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Linked to Live and Love…Out Loud Wordless Wednesday

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A fish out of water

Water is my element. I love the ocean. I love to swim. Water feeds my soul in a way that no other element of nature does. I take long showers (I know, not environmentally correct but psychologically necessary). When I was at my saddest I spent hours swimming and playing in the water with my boys. Living 2,000 miles away from the ocean, we bought a house that is walking distance from a small lake.

A klutz on land, I always feel graceful in the water. When I am in shape I am a strong swimmer and even out of shape I can beat my marathon running husband across the pool. In the water I can dive, flip, float, tread water, and body surf. I can swim the crawl stroke, backstroke, and breaststroke (butterfly always alluded me – again I’m not the most coordinated individual). On land I have sprained ankles, stubbed toes, and broken toes just while walking (note the plurals). I’ve stumbled, tripped, slipped, fallen up the stairs as well as down the stairs, and collapsed to the ground for seemingly no reason. Cobblestones are a minefield for me. I really do not think I can walk and chew gum at the same time.

I am a fish out of water.

Occasionally I have a student in my class who seems like a fish out of water as well.

The school where I teach is a “Back to Basics” school which means we teach with whole class instruction, use a reading program that is strong on phonics, our math program emphasizes memorizing math facts, and science, history, and geography are an important part of our day.  Many people do not agree with our philosophy, but many kids thrive in it.

Over the years I’ve watched children struggle in my class due to possible learning disabilities. I’ve seen children struggle because they do not have support at home. But the saddest to watch is a child struggling because the environment is not a good fit for them.

Colorado has school choice which I think is great. I teach in a charter school and so every one of our students was enrolled by parents who chose us.  They chose our curriculum, our standards, our learning environment. Parents want to enroll their children in our school because it fits their definition of a good school.

In fact, I chose the school for my own two boys. The curriculum and learning environment are perfect for my children. They love to learn, especially science and history. They are flourishing in a ways I never imagined. They are a joy to watch.

We are a great school (in my opinion), but our philosophy and learning environment are not suitable for everyone. There are students who need a more hands-on approach to learning. Students who need to move around more. Students who need more flexibility and independence in their learning.

Sure some students who need a different learning style or require more movement and hands-on activities may learn to adapt, but others flounder. They do not develop a love of learning. On the contrary, they begin to feel bad about themselves and hate school. It is heart-breaking to watch.

Having the ability to choose your child’s school is a gift, but one that needs some careful thought and research. It’s important to remember that the school is for the child not the parent. Sure that Montessori school might have been the ideal school for you as a child, but if your daughter is not self-motivated then it might not be the best option.

Here’s another water analogy to ponder. What happens to the beautiful salt water fish when it’s placed in fresh water?

Exactly.

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There are lots of websites on the internet that provide information about school choice and the variety of options.

For those of you who would like more informations, GreatSchools.org might be a good place to start.

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Too soon to tell

While other moms complained that their babies would only wear an outfit once or twice before the child outgrew it, I kept quiet.  My son always wore a size or two smaller than his age. So at 6 months old he was still wearing 0-3 months sized clothes. He wasn’t premature, but he was small.  By the time he was a toddler the pediatrician recommended we bring our son to a specialist to test for growth hormone deficiency.  He was so small and seemed to grow so slowly that we had concerns.  Turned out he didn’t have growth hormone deficiency – just vertically challenged parents!

At every doctor appointment my son’s growth was charted. We’d see that he wasn’t even on the curve. Our kind pediatrician would say – “He’s on his own path and making progress.  As long as he makes progress everything is fine.”

Sometimes I meet with parents of students who are struggling with beginning literacy skills – rhyming, letter names, letter sounds, etc.  Inevitably they ask the question for which they don’t really want to know the answer, “Does my child have a learning disability?”  To these anxious parents I answer honestly – “It’s too soon to tell.”  Because it is too soon to tell – we don’t have enough information yet.   I explain to the parents that learning to read and write is a developmental process that varies by individual student.

Ask yourself this question – how old are children when they learn to walk?  Did you think of an exact age?  No, you probably thought of a range of possibilities.   Some children learn to walk at nine months while other children are not independent walkers until fifteen to eighteen months.  In a room full of ten month old children you may have a few crawlers, a few cruisers (walking while holding on to furniture), a few tentative walkers, and some runners.  Of course there may be some more variations in between!  It’s all very developmental and individual. So is the acquisition of literacy. Some children are reading by age three while others do not become fluent readers until age 7 or 8.  There is a range of possibilities.

It’s important to keep in mind the developmental nature of literacy acquisition despite the pressure to have students reading when they enter first grade.  Even though our little ones won’t take their first state sponsored assessment until third grade, the effect of high stakes testing has changed Kindergarten.

During my student teaching fifteen years ago, my mentor teacher encouraged me to spend time in the Kindergarten classroom.The decorations were so cheerful an brightly colored.  There was a huge, multicolored carpet with a rocking chair for story-time.  One corner of the room had a few small tables with tiny chairs. The rest of the classroom was taken up by the housekeeping center, the dress-up center, a huge bookshelf of blocks with a building area, a puzzles place, a painting easel, and lots of age-appropriate games.

My Kindergarten classroom looks more like a first grade classroom.  Half of our classroom is set up with tables and chairs for seat work.   There is a huge carpet with a rocking chair for group work.  I have a few puzzles and games, but only when inclement weather forces us to stay inside for recess do we have the opportunity to use them.  Our focus is on academics.

On the one hand, I feel strongly that we should have high expectations in our classrooms and that students can rise to the challenges we present.  The last three years teaching Kindergarten have shown me how far some children can fly.   But I also see students who have trouble taking off.  This doesn’t mean they have learning disabilities, it just means they’re not ready – they don’t have the building blocks in place to learn how to read yet.  Just like the child who begins to walk at 15 months – he walked when he was ready.

I always feel bad that I cannot completely alleviate a parent’s anxieties regarding learning disabilities.  Students in Kindergarten are just beginning to learn, oftentimes there isn’t enough data to know whether or not there is a disability.  Like my son’s pediatrician, I just keep monitoring their progress on their personal growth charts.

So what can parents do to help their children form the building blocks for reading readiness? For starters, parents can nurture good oral language development , which I addressed in my post last weekend. Reading to and with your child every day is fundamental to preparing your child for literacy acquisition. Jim Trelease, author of the Read Aloud Handbook, cites that children need to hear 1000 books read to them before they are ready to learn how to read. With those two areas covered, your child will be well on their way.

At the age of three, my child finally joined the ranks of all the other children his age as his height landed him ON the growth chart.  Of course, he’s still one of the shortest kids in his grade, but so were his parents.

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