My daughter, Gretchen, is in her junior year of college at Indiana University. She is majoring in elementary education and special education. She is currently enrolled in her elementary art class. Who remembers that?? I sure do…a paper mache rabbit, clay face, stamping. Recently she was home for the weekend and working on creating a puppet for an assignment. When students presented their puppet, it needed to have some sort of speech. I was excited to “help” with her creation!
I think I’m just going to use a sock and make a bird.
Ooh, sounds perfect! Maybe the bird could recite a spring poem.
Gretchen finds an old sock and cuts a hole for the mouth.
Do we have any yellow construction paper?
Yes, check the den. It’s on the tray where I keep the printer paper.
Let’s head to the basement and look through the tubs with crafting supplies.
A treasure awaits us…googly eyes, yarn, hot glue gun, even some raffia that could make a “nest.”
We work together. I am in charge of hot glue dots while Gretchen applies the various parts to her bird. The masterpiece was finished!
What poem should I choose?
Maybe the one about hope by Emily Dickinson.
Oh, yes! That’s perfect!
After a few trial runs, Gretchen is ready for the zoom presentation the next day.
Then next day, during Gretchen’ class, I started receiving text messages:
There was a moment of panic, but all ended up well! It was fun to create with her. I’m looking forward to future lesson planning and sharing ideas with this new teacher ❤️
I heard today of the passing of the beloved children’s author, Beverly Cleary at age 104. I was 10 years old when she won a Newbery Honor for Ramona Quimby. I remember reading several of her books when I was in elementary school. I remember my son loving her books, especially Ribsy and Henry Huggins. I remember reading Socks to my 3rd grade classes and how much they loved the characters. Her books captured the day to day moments and feelings of typical kids. Her works are timeless; reading them is almost a right of passage for elementary students.
Reflecting on my great appreciation for Beverly Cleary today, I remembered a tour I took in 2012 in Portland that highlighted many of the places she lived and wrote about. I went searching for pictures I took while taking this tour. I finally found them on a old computer, and I’m so glad I did!
My brother and his family live in the neighborhood where Beverly Cleary grew up and went to school. The local library has a “Walking with Ramona” tour that I followed one day on my bike ride. I saw the schools that Beverly went to and used as the models for Ramona’s school, the Rite Aid that was the sight of the Colossal Market in her books, Klickitat Street where the Quimby’s fictional home was located, Beverly’s childhood home, and the famous statues in Grant Park. It was a fun way to celebrate one of my favorite authors! The community is so proud of her impact, as they should be.
Every morning I pause and write one thing I am thankful for from the previous day in my journal. This practice sets my intentions on the positive and begins my day seeking sparks of joy. Two from this week particularly caused me to smile. And of course they are tied to reading and writing.
Board Books for Big Brothers and Sisters
When a family welcomes a baby, we give the student a board book to read to their new sibling. Included with the board book is a letter congratulating them and encouraging them to read a book everyday to their new brother or sister. We also have a letter for their caregiver highlighting the benefits of reading aloud, along with tips for the first twelve months.
This particular student beamed when she talked about her new brother, Cannon Matthew. She shared with me how she was responsible for feeding him in the car and how important it was to make sure there was milk in the nipple of the bottle. She told me that he was too little for her to hold now, but in a few weeks, she would be able to wrap her arms around him.
These exchanges remind me of the importance of making time for each student and their life stories. They are bubbling up with things to share with us. Pausing from the rush of the day and taking time for just one student is so important.
I hope in a few months this book will be tattled and worn from its use.
When she saw me walk past her classroom, she jumped up and ran to the door. “Mrs. Bless! I have something to show you.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out the smallest piece of cut paper. “Please read it.” I read her haiku aloud. I commended her writing and told her how peaceful it made me feel. I thanked her for saving it to share with me.
The next day, this student was having a rough day and needed to take a break in the office. I shared with her how thankful I was that she showed her haiku to me the day before. I even explained to her my daily ritual of writing down something I am thankful for each morning and that on that day, I had written down that I was thankful for her and her writing. Her eyes brightened and a small smile was visible (even through her mask). Yet another example of the importance of relationships and connections with students. They need us, and we need them!
I frantically responded to a few quick emails and began packing my bag. Looking up at the clock, I realized I was cutting it close. I needed to leave by 2:50 to allow enough travel time. I passed a fellow teacher in the hallway and wished her a happy birthday. How have I not see her one time today? I heard the echo of the car line. 267 red, Jenkins kids you are blue, 15 orange… I maneuvered around a few students crowding the door. Finally, sunlight and blue sky. What a beautiful afternoon. The soft breeze kissed my cheeks, the blooming daffodils decorated the yards, and the new green of the awakened grass and trees greeted me. There was a skip in my step, not just due to the welcome of spring and an early day away from school, but the anticipation of receiving my first COVID vaccination shot. Hope was just around the corner. I could feel it. I have been waiting for this day for weeks.
I sat at the table with my book in hand. Waiting 15 minutes after the shot is a book lover’s dream. I shared my information with the receptionist. She was typing and clicking and searching the screen.
What time is your appointment?
Could it be under a different name?
Not that I can think of.
I have your information here, but there is no appointment time with your name.
I pulled out my phone and searched through my photos.
Here is a screenshot of my appointment date and time.
I’m sorry. I can’t give you a shot if I don’t have you down with an appointment. All the shots are accounted for. I can take down your name and number and call you if there are any extra shots at the end of the day.
My heart sank. Everything inside of me was on the edge. I wanted to burst into tears, I wanted to slam my fist on the table, I wanted to shout, “I need this shot today!” But instead I took a few deep breaths. I stood up shoulders slouching looking for the closest exit. I walked out dazed and in disbelieve. I was supposed to feel on top of the world right now. I was supposed to feel the hope of the light at the end of the tunnel. But instead, I felt like it was yet another COVID disappointment.
I’ve been inspired by a recent conversation between Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle and this New York Time’s article: 7 Questions, 75 Artists, 1 Bad Year. Here are my answers to the seven questions. This is typically something I would do in my notebook and think on for several days. This is a first draft post that I know will have future revisions.
What’s one thing you made this year?
We had a February reading challenge at school. Read 21 minutes everyday in February. At the end of the challenge, students could return their check off form for a small prize. We knew we wanted to celebrate the accomplishment, but also knew that we didn’t want to give students junk or food. Ideally, we would reward reading with another book to read, but didn’t have the funds for it. After seeing an idea for wishing bracelets, I thought this would be the perfect way to recognize the accomplishment. They were easy to make and cost effective. As we tied them to students wrists, we said, “This bracelet will remind you to continue your habit of reading everyday. When it falls off, you can make a wish!” Oh, and a bonus…I loved making them!
What art have you turned to in this time?
I have been reading more poetry. I’ve found myself gravitating toward the brevity and depth of it. My attention span for text has been shorter. My ability to focus for extended periods, at times exhausted. Poetry has breathed life into me when I needed it. I will often read the poem of the day on Poetry Foundation’s website. Also, I have read several novels in verse.
Did you have any particularly bad ideas?
Hmmm…I need to think a bit longer on this one.
What’s a moment from this year you’ll always remember?
I will never forget a trip to the grocery store that almost sent me over the edge. I came home feeling a sense of panic that this pandemic was all consuming; that I couldn’t handle the stress from simple tasks like going to the grocery. At the forefront of my mind was the basic need of feeding my family safely. My husband talked me through my distress and helped me isolate my fears so I could move forward. From then on my mantra of “Faith over fear” was repeated often in stressful situations.
Did you find a friendship that sustained you artistically?
I can’t think of a friendship that sustained me artistically, but I definitely have a friendship that sustains my love of reading. My friend and I text about books, share images about books we’ve read. read the same books so we can discuss, recommend books to each other, and on and on. It brings a smile to my face when I see her and we talk books.
If you’d known that you’d be so isolated for so long, what would you have done differently?
We have been given the gift of time over the last year. Time to do things we normally wouldn’t have time to do. I wish I would have used some of that time to write letters of encouragement to people. I always feel so uplifted when I receive a hand written note. I set a goal to so this and fell short. I can still do this even when we are not in isolation, so I won’t give up on this goal.
What do you want to achieve before things return to normal?
Organize, print, and display some of my favorite photos
I really wanted to get my photos organized during this gift of time at home. I’m hoping by the end of the summer to have more of this task accomplished. I have several photos from trips that I want to get printed on canvases, my son’s senior pictures to get printed and hung up, and just general organizing of old printed photos.
I’ll challenge you…How would you answer these seven questions?
I impressed the button on the upper left side of my phone and the familiar image of my husband and I, arm and arm smiling, popped up.
A quick lift of the thumb brought up the home screen.
Three rolling sets of numbers appeared.
Up/down/up/down until it was just right. 0 hours 30 min 0 sec
My thumb tapped the start button.
30:00, 29:59, 29:58, 29:57
Today starts my new lunch routine. I ambitiously prepped five salad jars last night layered with made from scratch chili lime dressing, rotisserie chicken, cherry tomatoes, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and romaine lettuce. I painfully counted out 6 Triscuits. Is that really all there are in a serving size?? And threw in an apple for a little sweetness at the end. Lately, I’ve been having an internal debate about which variety of apples are the best. It’s always been Honeycrisp for me, but recently the Cosmic Crisp has pulled into the lead. This week, I’m having Honeycrisp since they were a tad cheaper at the grocery.
I move to the tall table in my office. Part of my new routine is that I will not eat at my desk and work. I am intentionally taking a 30 minute lunch away from the pull of school work. I shake my salad jar and coat the juicy chicken with the spicy dressing. Next, I dump my salad on a plate and begin loading my fork with a piece of chicken, tomato, lettuce. I strategically space out my Triscuits and savor each one.
I grab my apple and head out into the hallway. Finding the closest exit, I step into the open air. Ah, 68 degrees. A bit breezy, but I’ll take this any day. My feet pound the pavement as I walk 2 laps around the perimeter of the school building. Watching kids play on recess, observing the high school students rush to their cars on their way to lunch, hearing a few birds up in the trees. All sights and sounds to refresh my mind.
The apex timer plays. I scan the building for the closest entrance. Time to get back at it. I am ready for the second half of my day. A healthy lunch and 2,000 additional steps have given me renewed energy to make it the best afternoon available to me.
Additions for tomorrow: my book to read while I eat, walking shoes, an umbrella in case of rain, my earbuds to listen to a book or podcast while I walk, and the discipline to make this a habit.
Today is the first day of the last quarter, of the last semester, of the last year of my son’s public school career. 44 days, 9 more weeks, 9 more Mondays. I know these weeks will fly by, but I sit this morning seeking to cherish this final lap in the race of becoming an adult.
Today will be a return to a somewhat normal schedule. Hybrid learning is over. All the students will be in the building at the same time, generating spring energy throughout the halls. I don’t think there will be the typical “senioritis” this year. These students have longed to be back together, to experience the everyday moments of high school existence…tired Mondays, laughter over a spilled drink, the pressure of getting to class on time, huddling over a funny video on Youtube, groaning over yet another assignment. While also still holding out hope for the extraordinary moments…prom, senior picnic, graduation, open houses, farewell parties.
We returned home today after an 11 day trip to the Florida Keys. Our car racked up over 2,500 miles. Lots of sitting and driving in hopes of the perfect senior spring break for our son. The trip was a memorable adventure that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
But, now we are home. Home. That word makes my heart slow down. Invokes a picture of warmth and comfort. As much as I loved our trip and our time together, I am thrilled to be home.
Here are a few of the things I happy to return to:
my well worn spot on the couch with my end table at the exact height for me
afternoon coffee in the front room with the sunlight warming the air
Josie (my dog) lying next to me, snuggled up to my leg
my comfy blanket to cover my legs
the knowledge of where everything is in my kitchen
the ease of cooking with a gas vs electric stove
the familiar feel of my shower, water pressure, towels
It’s the kind of book you read in one sitting. A page turner. So many life lessons told in carefully chosen, impactful words.
Nikki Grimes wrote this novel in tanka poems. (A tanka poem follows the syllable pattern of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7) Garvey struggles to fit into the mold his father wants for him, that of an athlete. Instead Garvey has a passion for space, chess, and chorus. Garvey also struggles with his weight and constant belittling by classmates. He finds companionship with Joe and Emmanuel and learns more about himself through them.
It doesn’t matter
how wide I am when I sing.
Like Goldilocks, I
have finally found what fits:
my high tenor is just right.
by Nikki Grimes
It doesn't matter
where I go, or what I do
words bubble in me.
Whether in notebook or screen
telling stories is just right.