all roads lead back to the learners we know…

I had every intention of rereading one and reading two new-to-me professional texts during July. And while the month isn’t yet over, I’m pretty sure I won’t get to any of them. In fact, I don’t want to read them. Yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about the opportunities of a job that includes over a month off each summer and I don’t want to squander them. The greatest is the chance to step away not just physically but mentally and recharge. Stepping away is challenging for anyone who finds their work satisfying, and I do not do it perfectly. But I realize this is precious time and I can spend it on things I find harder to fit in during the school year. Day trips, long walks, spontaneous visits with friends, naps, recipe testing, knitting, and more. Yes, I still check emails almost daily and read education-focused articles and blog posts linked on Twitter.  And I started a Google doc to record preliminary ideas for the first few weeks of fourth grade reading group. And my Amazon cart is slowly filling with titles I’ve discovered and want to add to my classroom. But I’m not reading those three professional books. Yet.

Instead, I’m reading lots and lots of fiction. Bestsellers, beach reads, page turners. Nothing too highbrow. This morning I started my fifth just because book. Some days I’ve plunked myself down on the glider on the porch or the chair on the front lawn and read for hours. In the afternoon. And I don’t/won’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty about that.

Even so, as I read what I want, when I want, for as long as I want, how I want, I can’t help but think more about the power of choice for young readers and wonder how I can offer the children in my class more of what I’m experiencing right now. Can our time together each day be organized so that they can choose to read independently when it suits them? I’ve always determined the order of events during class. But maybe that should change. Is there a way for us to establish routines so that they can determine the time they spend reading on their own?  What would a reluctant reader do with that choice? Could they choose to make a shared text or the current read aloud their independent book as well?  Can we think about nightly reading requirements differently so that readers can choose not just what but when, where, and for how long they read?

And I’m noticing the things I do as a reader. When I skim. Why I skim. When and why I reread. I reread the first chapter of one book three times as I progressed through the story because there was something I kept wanting to check. What I like and don’t in the books I read. What confuses me. How can I use what I observe in my own reading habits to sharpen my insights and observations about the readers I teach? How can I use what I notice about my reading strengths and struggles to support young readers more effectively? How can I use my reading experience to connect in authentic ways with students?

Even though I’ve put those professional books aside this month, I’m thinking about my teaching practice, my future students, and how I can do better by, for, and with them in the coming school year. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Now back to that book.

slice of life updated

It’s just before 7:30 when I wander out to the porch, cup of coffee in one hand, book in the other. As I settle into the creaky, old glider, I look out to the water and notice an umbrella on the beach. Unusual this early I think as I put my mug down on the footstool I’ve pulled over and repurposed as a side table. I stand back up to take a closer look. Umbrella up and open, cooler and beach bag beneath it and a young woman in a bikini sitting on a towel, her back to me, applying sunscreen to her left arm. She has the beach to herself. Early riser I surmise. I smile, sit down, pick up my book, but put it back down, more interested in wondering about her story than reading the one in my lap. Why is she there so early? It is a beautiful beach day. Is it her day off? Does she have plans later? It looks as though she’s brought everything she needs to stay for the day. She is alone but maybe someone is joining her later. Is she a reader? I hadn’t spotted a book but maybe it is in her bag. Does she live here or is she just visiting? I begin to imagine and weave a narrative for her as I swallow the last sip from my mug and stand up to go refill it. I look out again, wanting to take in a few more details of the early-morning-out-of-the ordinary scene out front as I continue to invent the story in my head. Gone. The beach is empty. Umbrella, towel, cooler, beach bag, and bikini-clad woman no longer there. And it’s not even 8:00.

I survived Orangetheory

slice of life updated

As I walk from my car across the parking lot to the entrance, I spot the chalkboard sign to the side of the door. “Welcome Kayla, Lisa, and McLendon” it reads in colorful, decorative lettering. I cringe, wishing instead to slide in and out of this new experience with as little notice as possible. The young, fit woman behind the counter greets me with a cheerful, “Hello. Let’s get you set up and ready for your first class.” I begin filling out forms, signing wavers, and listening to her instructions about lockers, stations, heart monitors and class format. “Yikes,” I think, noticing from the corner of my eye the steady stream of more young, fit people gathering in front of the entrance to the workout studio. “Definitely raising the average age here,” my inner voice continues “What were you thinking?” There is no way out, only forward. The cheerful employee slips the heart monitor onto my left arm and leads me into the studio where there are screens and treadmills and rowing machines and weights and loud music. By now several of my colleagues, the ones who talked me into this whole thing, have arrived. They are calling over encouraging words. I am wishing for an invisibility cloak. “It’s only an hour,” I remind myself, adjusting the brace on my leg and telling the instructor, whoops- coach, that my left leg isn’t the most reliable so there may be moments when I will make adjustments. The other two who are new to the class are more than twenty years my junior. “But you have some friends older than you who come here regularly so it must be doable for the over-fifty crowd,” my self-talk continues. By now I’m full of doubt, instructions, and butterflies. Class begins. I’m on a rowing machine for the first time in my life. “Not so bad… sort of like this,” I think. I’m watching the screen in the far right corner of the darkened room, noticing the number I’ve been told is my heart rate begin to rise. My box on the screen turns from green to orange as I move from the rowing machine to floor work and back again, completing the increasingly challenging circuits our “coach” calls for. Thirty minutes in, I’m still alive, holding my own, concentrating mostly on rowing longer distances and completing more sets of exercises with dumbbells, but also watching the screen continue to turn from orange to red and back to orange again. And then our group is sent to the treadmills. There I follow instructions, alternating between my “base pace”and my “push pace”, adjusting the speed and incline on the machine when the coach says to do so. My leg is keeping up. I’m sweating. I’m not the fastest, not by a long shot. But I’m also not the slowest. My box on the screen continues to move from orange to red to orange. And then it’s over. Much to my amazement, I loved it. I survived. Regaining my strength and fitness isn’t going to happen overnight, but adding Orangetheory classes to the mix will help.

slice of life updated

We’ve reached the point in our school year where it becomes a lot about “lasts.” Today we had our last fire drill. I’m more than half way through reading the last read-aloud to my second grader readers. They’ve nearly finished their last assessments. Next week will be the last full week of school. We’ll have our last chapel and our last FABLab and our last reading and language arts class a week from Friday. It’s a bittersweet time punctuated with moments for celebration and reflection.

Family writing shares. Field day. Fourth graders presenting their kindergarten buddies with stories written just for them.

The pre school trike-a-thon. The junior kindergarten family tea time. Eighth grade exhibitions. Upper School graduation. Class parties and culminating activities galore. And time to celebrate and say farewell to longtime colleagues who are retiring.

It’s mid-May. As one of my favorite former administrators used to say, “Buckle up.”

Do the children I taught see themselves as readers? Did they discover books and authors they love? Will they start a summer TBR pile, visit a library, read over the summer? Have I given them everything I could? Will they leave with fond memories?

It’s a time of jumbled emotions around here. Excitement for summer. Mixed feelings about transitions and goodbyes. Fatigue and adrenaline take turns dominating my brain and bones. My seatbelt’s fastened, my eyes are wide open and I’m remembering to breathe and take it all in.

we did it

slice of life updated

Always there were more questions than answers. What do I have, I’d ask the doctor. Well, I’m not sure he’d replied. It doesn’t have a name he’d added. If this was happening ten years from now, he mused, the tests would be better, we’d know so much more. Okay was the only response I could think of.

Eighteen months ago, in the middle of the night, a big mystery began in my left thigh. I woke from a deep sleep in pain, my left leg spasming. By morning, I could barely put weight on that leg.

Fast forward to today. I’m on the other side of that mystery that took eight months to diagnose. I’m past the hours long treatments in an infusion center where the cocktail dripping into my veins was far less potent than what patients all around me were receiving. The constant burning is gone. I’m still numb, but I’m used to that now. My leg is still a little unreliable, but I’m used to that too.

All along I said to my doctors that there were things I’d willingly give up… downhill skiing, high heels, certain exercises in the strength training classes I love to attend. But… not tennis. Getting back onto the court has been a goal from the moment my leg became a problem.

I’m not an athlete. But I can play tennis well enough to have an enjoyable game with friends, to get a good workout, and to work up a good sweat. For me there has always been something deeply satisfying about getting out and whacking the ball at the end of a long work day. And yesterday, eighteen months later that is just what I did. Was I scared? Yup. I wondered if I would be able to move with any confidence. (I also wondered if I’d even remember how to hit the ball!)

It was a perfect afternoon. The sun was shining. The air was warm but not hot. The tennis pro who’s known me for years was not just patient, he was encouraging and even happily surprised at times by what I could do. I spent an hour on the court hitting balls over the net and sometimes into the net. I moved side to side on the base line practicing forehands and backhands. There was lots I didn’t attempt on this first time back on the court, but I was sweaty and tired and totally exhilarated at the end of that hour. My leg and I did it and this morning I’m still smiling.

the gift of dirt and dust and slowing down

slice of life updated

It is most certainly what is called a “first world problem.” The road I normally drive to work is closed. For a week. If you don’t count the road I live one, it’s one of three roads I travel each morning from home to work. The road I live on happens to be a four-mile-long dirt road and luckily I live at one of the ends, just off the first of those three roads (all paved and mostly navigable at forty plus miles per hour) I take to work. Except now that first paved road is closed. Just a small section. Right at the end of my dirt road. And so, for this week, my only way out is to travel across the four-mile-long dirt road. It’s slow. It’s bumpy. It has a few hairpin turns. It’s narrow. And really, really dusty. It’s not unusual to encounter runners, walkers, riders on horseback, and deer on my dusty, narrow dirt road. In some spots it’s barely one car wide. Did I mention it’s slow? Traveling this route adds about 15 minutes to my drive. Each way. 15 minutes is not insignificant in the early morning.

And…my dirt road is beautiful. Rural. Usually quiet. Expansive farms outlined by black four-board fences line the route. A rolling pasture with cows is not even a mile past my home. Just beyond that are fields with donkeys one one side and two handsome horses on the other. Some parts of the road wind between thick forests and I’m briefly surrounded by tall trees and a green canopy. I catch a glimpse of the rushing river as I pass the part of the road close to a steep drop off that runs right down to the water. I drive slowly, looking from side to side, listening to the silence before I emerge onto the paved road where I’m forced to pick up my speed, pay attention to traffic, and turn my thoughts to the day that lies ahead.

My closed road first-world, week-long problem is a gift. I know that.


slice of life updated

The truth is I am most comfortable in my mom self.

The truth is empty nesting and parenting without a partner are hard.

The truth is folding their laundry, filling the fridge for them, even rinsing the dishes they leave in the sink, brings me peace.

The truth is a meal around the table with lively conversation, or an evening on the sectional watching the next episode of Gilmore Girls with them, is hard to beat.

The truth is I am proud of them for taking classes, holding down jobs, paying their bills, and cooking their own meals.

The truth is I look forward to watching them create their next chapters, land their first jobs, and arrange their first apartments.

The truth is I miss them.




a little charlottesville joy

slice of life updated

“Oh honey…” my friend said when looking at the bracket I’d filled out for March Madness, “you have Virginia going all the way? That’s going to hurt you.”

“Well… maybe, probably… I don’t know… I can always hope,” I responded, knowing that my choice was based at least partly on local resident and mom-of-two-UVA-students loyalty. I’m no college basketball expert. Just a fan who has loved every moment of this season with this team in this town.

And if you’d been a Charlottesville resident since August 11-12 of 2017 you might have done the same thing. A winning basketball season doesn’t take away all the hurt that remains, and it doesn’t deflect from the work that lies ahead, but it sure does help the energy around here to have a little good news for a while. And it is nice to hear the word “Charlottesville” on the national news for a different reason.

Today, and into the weekend, we celebrate and soak in the joy and pride that unites students and alumnae and faculty and staff and locals in this place that is still working to put the pieces back together. A little levity feels just right.

I didn’t win my bracket game. It seems I wasn’t the only one who had UVA winning it all. But it didn’t hurt me at all.

an unexpected mama moment

slice of life updated

“I really don’t feel well. My ears are plugged up, my throat is killing and my head is pounding,” Claire said when she FaceTimed me just after 7 pm Sunday evening.

“Well, I think you need the kind of Sudafed that is behind the counter at the pharmacy. I will go pick some up. And maybe you should come home to sleep tonight,” I replied.

“Yeah, it’s pretty loud here in my building,” Claire admitted. “I’ll grab some clothes and see you at home.”

While I was sad Claire didn’t feel well, I was happy at the thought of company at home. I hurried to CVS and headed home, arriving just before she pulled up the driveway.

I put the kettle on and suggested tea with honey and lemon. “A hot bath might feel really good to your right now.” Claire nodded and headed to the tub. I found her a clean towel and some Advil.

“Are you hungry?”

“No,” se replied.

All she wanted was tea and the tub and her warm bed with clean sheets.  All I wanted was for her to feel better, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I loved having her home. I loved being able to take care of her. Most of the time my empty nester life feels manageable and full. But I cherish the moments when I can slip back into mama mode.

it was just enough of an adventure

slice of life updated

“Let’s plan some sort of adventure today,” I suggested when he called.

“Well, I was thinking we could clean up those Adirondack chairs of yours. ”

Whaattt? This is not an adventure. Is he serious?

I was imagining a hike or perhaps a drive to my favorite plant nursery or a visit to a winery. The sun was out, the birds were singing. It was a wide-open Saturday.

On the other hand, they are in need of a good scrubbing, I thought.

“And if I bring over the truck we can get your chair and old rug to Goodwill.”

Oh my. This is most definitely not an adventure. But, it would be great to be able to enter my house through the storage room without having to step over that rug. And there is no way I can get those things out of my house by myself, I thought further.

Dating at my age is so different.

Before long we were shoving the rug into the back of the truck and shimmying the old chair in there too. After dropping them off we squeezed in a quick walk on a trail south of town we’d never been on before. We stopped to pick up sandwiches on our way back and sat in the chairs in need of spring cleaning, enjoying lunch in the sun and soft breeze. It felt a little adventurey.

Then back to work.

I texted his grown children a photo of him hunched over a chair, scrub brush in hand. “I suggested an adventure. This was his idea.” They and I had a funny exchange about their trips to Lowe’s and family chore times on Father’s Day. His choice on his day.

It was easy enough. Scrub, rinse, repeat until all four chairs were back on the patio.

I’m not sure I ever would have gotten around to this on my own.

“Thank you. They look amazing,” I told him. And they did. And I would not have done it on my own.

When the chairs had dried and we’d put away the bucket and brushes, he poured us each a glass of wine and we sat in the clean chairs that felt better than new. There was still a soft breeze and the sun was still out. It was just enough adventure.