Slice of Life: From My Grandmother’s Kitchen

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Why do we save things? To remind us of momentous occasions, memorable moments, times we had fun? I suppose for all these reasons and more. We say things have sentimental value, but it’s sometimes hard to articulate exactly why. And though I’ve never been sorry I held onto an object, I’ve often regretted getting rid of something, usually within a week or two.

When I get frustrated about my inability to throw things away (usually because a stack of papers or pile of pictures has just collapsed), I think of my grandmother and tell myself it’s genetic. She had a Depression-era mentality of saving everything. When we cleaned out her house, we found bank statements from the 1950s! But we also found many treasures. One was an illustration from a 1930s calendar of a little girl reading a Watkins Cook Book. The caption reads: “What! No recipe for mud pie?” As soon as I saw it, I thought of my mother-in-law. She loved to bake and made delicious whoopie pies. I knew she had to have this picture.

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I took it to a shop to have it matted and framed, and gave it to my mother-in-law for Christmas that year. She loved it, and it hung by her stove for the rest of her life. After she died, I told my sister-in-law that this picture was the only possession of my mother-in-law’s I really wanted. She said she’d put it aside for me and that I could get it the next time I was in Pennsylvania.

Except I couldn’t. My sister-in-law had put it aside so well she couldn’t find it. I’ve done this myself, so I figured it would turn up eventually. Except it didn’t. Then the house was sold and emptied. Still no picture. I tried not to be too disappointed. After all, I had plenty of memories of cooking with my mother-in-law in that kitchen, and all the happy meals our family had shared there.

This past weekend my sister-in-law visited, and when she arrived at our house, she handed me a box. “It was in a corner of my attic,” she explained. I opened the lid, and there it was, right on top. A piece of ephemera my grandmother had saved almost 80 years ago, that hung in another kitchen for ten years, will now be at home in my kitchen, linking it to other kitchens, other times. 

This whole episode reminded me of Susan Vreeland’s lovely book, Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Through a series of stories, Vreeland links the owners of a (fictional) painting by Vermeer across the centuries. She creates a vivid depiction of each time period and owner, charting their motivations and desires. These remain remarkably similar over the centuries. At one point, a character realizes that “love builds itself unconsciously… out of the momentous ordinary.”

I think this is why we save things. To have reminders of those unconscious, ordinary moments that add up to a life filled with love.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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Poetry Friday: The Falling Star

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“The Falling Star”

by Sara Teasdale

I saw a star slide down the sky,

Blinding the north as it went by,

Too burning and too quick to hold,

Too lovely to be bought or sold,

Good only to make wishes on

And then forever to be gone.

Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA-Johnson Space Center. "The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth." 09/26/2014 13:08:13.
Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA-Johnson Space Center. “The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.” <http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/scripts/sseop/photo.pl?mission=ISS028&roll=E&frame=24847>09/26/2014 13:08:13.

I haven’t seen a shooting star in a long time, but last night when I let the dog out I looked up at just the right moment. After a long, busy day, the blaze of that meteor was a gift; a reminder to take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty of the night sky. Teasdale describes the sight perfectly in “The Falling Star,” a poem I discovered years ago in Nancy Larrick’s anthology, Piping Down the Valleys Wild.

Laura Purdie Salas is hosting the Poetry Friday Round Up on her blog today. Be sure to stop by to find out about her wonderful new project, 30 Painless Classroom Poems: What’s Inside? Poems to Explore the Park.

Slice of Life: Between the Words

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“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”

Alfred Mercier

When I was 7 or 8, my grandparents took me to a performance of the U.S. Navy Band. This was a huge thrill, as I’d never been to a live concert before. I can remember sitting in the audience, being mesmerized by the music. I was amazed that the sounds I was hearing were being created by the people and the instruments on the stage before me.

The memory of that night came back to me as I listened to Krista Tippett interview Yo-Yo Ma on her radio program, “On Being” over the weekend. During their discussion, Mr. Ma explained his “philosophy of curiosity about life and of performance as hospitality.” As I listened to this wise and generous man, it occurred to me that many of his ideas about music applied to education, and that infusing our teaching with them would make our classrooms better places.

Mr. Ma talked about the necessity of being flexible with plans. “The plan is always going to change. And you need to make sure that the audience is always the most important person in the room.” Such simple advice. It’s one of the most essential lessons I learned as a beginning teacher. Yet, in the day-to-day deluge of SLO’s, standards, testing, etc., I sometimes have to remind myself that the children at the heart of my plans are the most important people in the room.

Earlier this year, Mr. Ma was honored with the Fred Rogers Legacy Award. When asked about this, he recalled a conversation with Fred Rogers: “…do you know what a present that is, when you play something for somebody? It’s just like giving them a present.” To me, this captures what is at the heart of the interaction between teacher and student—I want to share this precious gift with you. Everything we share with our students should be selected with the care and thoughtfulness we put into choosing gifts. For, as Mr. Ma also said, “When you receive something that’s living, that goes inside you, because it becomes your own.” I want my students to own the stories we share and the lessons they learn when we’re together.

When Ms. Tippet asked him to describe his idea about beauty, Mr. Ma explained that he thinks of beauty as “an encapsulation of a lot of different things in a certain moment” and  “…when that encapsulated form is received, there’s a moment of reception and cognition of the thing that is, in some ways, startling.” This was the feeling I had sitting in that auditorium so many years ago, listening to the “music between the notes.” The wonder and joy within me at “that moment when something [was] transferred…a transfer of life,” seemed like a miracle to me. I’ve seen this same joy on a child’s face at that moment when she realizes that she has read a word or a sentence or a book. When she discovers the magic between those words. These are the moments of beauty that I strive for each day.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Whispers

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The third week of school is coming to an end. Routines are falling into place, schedules have been ironed out, and most of the tears have dried up. Throughout these hectic weeks, it’s been challenging for me to get my act together at home and find time for writing. I’ve been jotting notes like mad, and keep telling myself that I’ll have time today, I’ll get up early…. You know how that goes!

This Myra Cohn Livingston poem captures the feeling I’ve had as thoughts and ideas keep whispering to me.

Whispers

Whispers

tickle through you ear

telling things you like to hear.

Whispers

are as soft as skin

letting little worlds curl in.

Whispers

come so they can blow

secrets others never know.

This would be a perfect poem to share with young writers as they also settle into the routine of writing every day and learn to keep their eyes and ears open for ideas waiting to be put into words.

Be sure to visit Renee at No Water River for today’s Poetry Friday Round Up.

Searching for a Slice

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All day, I’ve been searching for a slice to share.

My search began as I stood at the kitchen sink this morning,

slicing plump, juicy strawberries to stir into my yogurt.

I thought I’d found one when, walking to my car, I glanced up

and saw flock of birds wheeling and diving, their wings

flecks of gold in the morning sun.

But no. They flew away.

At work, possibilities crossed my path at lightning speed.

Third grade lesson— Edgar Badger’s Balloon Day.

Fourth grade read aloud—Three Good Deeds

Concepts of Print assessment—“Show me the word was.

On into the afternoon, ideas came and went.

I despaired of ever finding one.

Then, driving home from Open House,

weary from this long day,

I rounded a corner, and there before me

hung the full moon.

Suddenly I saw the ordinary events of my day

as pearls on a string, luminous in the moon’s glow.

I’d been building my slice all day.

I just couldn’t see it until I had the right light.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Is Test Prep the Mint of Education?

Close reading has been my mind a lot lately. I recently read What Readers Really Do, by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton. I revisited Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst as well as Falling in Love With Close Reading, by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. Yesterday, Tara Smith’s excellent post on reading journals gave me more to think about. This is important work. Work that will help our students “grow and develop new ideas and insights.” (Barnhouse & Vinton, pg. 152) I need time to process all this wisdom and work with my colleagues to determine how we’ll integrate these ideas into our teaching. I’ll be sharing more about this in the weeks to come. In the meantime, I want to share a post from 2013 that still holds true today.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Reading to the Core

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This morning as I was weeding my garden, it occurred to me that the mint that had overrun my herb garden was like standardized test prep. As schools across the country do their best to prepare students for the new CCSS-aligned assessments, test prep is running rampant. Just as the mint in my garden has choked out the basil and parsley, test prep, and the tests themselves, threaten to take over the school day, leaving no time to savor novels, delve into a character’s motivation, or write a deeply personal narrative.

I grow a variety of herbs in my garden because each herb has its own distinct flavor and use. The amount of the herb I use depends on what I’m cooking. The same is true for teaching. We have a wide variety of instructional resources and strategies available. As professionals, we take great care to make…

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