Archive for May, 2012

Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli is our new kitten.  She was an impulsive acquisition.  Actually, she was forced upon me by some colleagues.  On the last day of school, I went by the Special Ed office to drop off a requisition form, and, in that weakened-end-of-the-year-I-have-time-to-raise-a-kitten state, I was given a tiny kitten.  “Here, she’s yours.  Her name is Liza Minnelli.”  Two theater teachers named her.  She’s a tuxedo kitten, black with a white nose, collar, and paws.  Five weeks old and feisty, Liza is afraid of nothing.

Liza fits perfectly in the palm of your hand, like a teacup.

Every good rescue has a story.  I took off so quickly ( If I had hung around, maybe I would’ve changed my mind.) that I failed to get the whole story.  That night I messaged one of the teachers for the story.  This is what she wrote:

 A stray momma cat had a litter of four kittens near her apartment. The area is very prone to flooding and a few weeks ago, very shortly after the kittens were born, they got several days of heavy rain and thunderstorms. The mom was mostly set up at the base of a tree with the kittens, but as the flood waters started to rise, the mom took the kittens in her mouth one by one and carried them up into the tree and spent several days nested around the kittens like a bird to protect them from the thunderstorm. The kittens spent most of their early life in the tree until they began to crawl, and every once and a while a kitten would fall out of the tree. The mom would jump down, get the kitten in her mouth and climb a fence post (the kind of post you see on a barbed wire fence) then she would make a daring 4-foot leap with kitten in her mouth, into the tree. The mom continued to do this until the storms had passed. I just thought it was so crazy that the momma cat had the instinct to protect her babies, and would surround them like a momma bird would, all the while clinging to a tree for protection. “

What a great rescue story!  Now, Liza is in the loving arms of one of my daughters.  She has taken a trip to New Orleans and been introduced to dogs and children.  So far, she is a sweetheart, doing all her business in the litter box and sleeping through the night in a kitty carrier.   I haven’t regretted the impulse yet. Save a life; Make a friend.

Dixie, my daughters’ roommate’s dog, is gentle with Liza.

Liza is tolerant of child transports.

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Altered Books

What do you want to do?
Be ridiculous.
Just try.
Write my own story.

I took a workshop this year on creating altered books. The process is fairly simple but a little time consuming. You take a discarded, old book. Tear out pages, glue together some of the pages to add thickness, and prepare the surface with gesso. I started mine at the workshop and then left it on the shelf to come back to later. I found some old discarded books for my students and introduced the idea. I offered them this option when they were doing poetry projects near the end of the year. A few of my students took this option and spent the time to create their poetry books. I decided to save them for next year, so they can add to them.

As I was cleaning my classroom this week with no more gifted services for my students, I pulled out my altered book. I decided to use it to gather the poems I had written alongside my students during the year. I would gesso a page, then work on something else, come back and paint the page, then glue on the printed poem. What fun to add a little interest to these last boring, chore-filled days. Students came in and out to talk, play on the computer, or join me in painting. A satisfying, creative end to the school year.

Cloud Watching Haiku
Cloud mountains float by
Making storybook pictures
Sun a background glow.
Glowing moon crescent
Above the grandmother oak
Through the branches winks.
Wink at the window,
Flicker of lightning startles.
Spring storm showers come.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Summer break was dubbed as “The Big Weekend” by my husband many years ago.  Yes, he was and is jealous of this break in routine, time-to-hang-out-and-do-nothing time of year.  I look forward to the summer slowed-down pace.  I can wake up a little later, drink my coffee a little slower, and stay in grubby clothes all day long.  But after a few days, this gets old.  So I am making a mental to-do list.

1. Lunch with a friend.  What a luxury!  I usually eat lunch in a rush in the teachers’ lounge or on the road from one school to another.  I never have the time to have a leisurely lunch with a friend.  I have some dates set already and relish in the idea of catching up with a few long losts.

2. Get organized:  Realistically, this will probably not happen, but I always put it on my list hoping that at least a little more organization will come my way.

3.  My “book tour”: This is another one of my husband’s tongue-in-cheek expressions, but I do have a few book signings scheduled and hope to schedule more.

4. Writing:  Many students and friends have asked me if Blessen will have a sequel.  I bought a book “The 90 Day Novel” by Alan Watt.  Why not give it a shot?  One thing that Blessen has taught me is to not be afraid to write.  It took me a long time to learn this.  I now have the courage that I longed for all my life.  I am feeling like a Nike athlete…”Just do it.”

5. Exercise: I’ve bought new walking shoes and sports socks.  I am ready for daily walking with Charlie and whoever may want to join us.  I am committing to 7 AM.

6. Teaching:  Two writing camps and an art camp will give me three weeks with kids.  I miss my students so much when we are out of school.  The camps are hard work and lots of fun.  There are still openings in all camps if you are interested.

7. Family:  I want to relish this time with my youngest daughter who will be leaving in September for graduate school in Chicago.  We have planned a family trip to Chicago at the end of June.  I’ve never been.  People tell me it’s a great city.

8.  Reading and Renewing:  One of the reasons God created summer break was for us teachers to remember why we became teachers.  I want to do some recreational reading, but I will also read a few professional books to renew my practice and to remember why I teach.

Happy Summer!

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

In my classroom, things are winding down to the last day, and we are only on P in our journey through the ABCs of poetry.   Yesterday, we wrote skinny odes for the letter O.  The skinny ode lesson I used was from a master poetry teacher, the late Sandford Lyne.  Sandy was so good at front loading, getting us ready to write.  I often rush through this step.  But on Monday, I decided to take the full ride, no short cuts.  So I read a few Pablo Neruda odes along with some other models Sandy had given us.  Then I led a full brainstorm exercise.  The questions asked about everything from shape to taste with many other questions in between, 16 in all.  The kids grumbled about all the questions, but they worked.  We writers had plenty of ideas for writing our skinny odes. The trick when writing skinny odes is to fold the paper hotdog style down the center and not to write over the line.  This keeps your lines short or skinny.   I will feature my ode and one of my students, a third grade gifted writer.

Ode to a Student

O, how you look
with curiosity
at the pages
of your book,
studying, learning,
making crevices in your brain.
How can I reach in?
Will you listen to me?
Enter my room in
wonder, ready
to create, think,
question, answer,
be yourself.

Can we walk together?
Forge ahead,
make new inventions,
new ideas,
write new stories?
Together, not as parent
and child, but coach
and team.
Shout the cheer!
The world is ready
to hear you.
Be kind.
Discover horizons.
Make known
your potential.
Be the best
you can be!

Ode to a Canvas
by Kylon

White rectangle,
my hands stretch over it.
I stroke it with a dry brush,
light strokes
testing myself,
testing my painting skills.
Paint finally collides
creating sprouts of orange and red.
The rectangle’s blanketed now.
Paint everywhere,
a season on material.
Coats and layers,
swirls of yellow
leaves fly back and forth,
a fall masterpiece.

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A friend, mentor, fellow blogger, Diane Moore resides half the year in Sewanee, Tennessee.  I don’t think she has quite embraced the gray landscape of Gothic architecture and mountain mists.  Today, her blog came to me while I was looking out on our warm green landscape and feeling tired.  I loved her words and composed a found grossblank.  Found because these are her words.  Grossblank because there are 12 lines of 12 syllables.  Here’s to the contrasts of colors in our lives:

A Gray and Green Day

For Diane Moore

This neutral color of gray pervades The Mountain
This morning.  Gentle rain, iron-colored sky mists.
Pearl, charcoal, silver, gunmetal replace old gray–
Pessimistic hue no more uplifting than fog.
Color dignified by Gothic architecture.

To be creative, stare at green life, lighten up.
Walk in the woods; Alleviate anxiety.
Sacred shades of green and blue signify a new
Paradise of painted oceans, spirits lifted.

Poetry in emerald peace, trees leafing out.
Grass drinking dew, mint fragrant in spring memory.
Even the sky is the color of my opera.

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This weekend our family gathered for the graduation of my youngest daughter from college.  What a whirlwind of events and emotions!  One of the treats for me was spending time with my nephew, Jack, who, at the end of his first grade year, is beginning to learn about the power of his words.  To my delight, his teacher uses writers’ workshop.  Prominently posted on the family refrigerator is Jack’s latest composition, a three-paged story about his two dogs.  He used words like “mischievous” and distinguished the two dogs as one is a “licker” and the other a “sniffer.”

Jack has his mother’s old iPhone.  Even with a cracked face, he enjoys using it to email.  So we started an email exchange.  He started with a typo that led to a little poem.  Being a poetry fan as well as a teacher, I prompted him on to create another poem.  I have transposed our exchange here.  Jack’s words are italicized.

I’m so gladys…

I’m so gladys, too, but mostly I love my Jacky.

I’m so gladys, too, but mostly I love you.

When we’re together,

We like to

Read, talk, and tell stories.

We tell our stories at night

When all is calm and quiet.

What is your favorite story?

Magic treehouse deep sea ocean.

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I kind of gave up on the 30 Day Poetry Challenge, not intentionally, but life got in the way.  I got stuck on one challenge, then just plain refused to write a poem about a car, so I quit.  I did not, however, give up on challenging my students to write a different poetic form each day.  And I write with them, so technically I am still taking the poetry challenge.

In our classroom ABC daily poem challenge, we were on G on Thursday.  The only poetic form I could find for G was a Grossblank.  Grossblank is a poem with 12 lines of 12 syllables (a gross) written in blank verse, no rhyme.  Because I thought this form was particularly challenging, I allowed them to write a quarter Grossblank, 6×6.  Also to help bait the poetry fishing hook, I gave them lists of wordgroups, a technique introduced to me by my poet-friend-mentor Sandford Lyne.  So with groups of words in hand and fingers for counting, we got to work on our poems.

Once again, my students amazed me.  My fifth grader and sixth grader took the full challenge.  Kaylie is obsessed (and that’s putting it mildly) with Hunger Games.  Her poem, while it draws on the theme of the series, can stand alone.  Colby is new to my class, but he is slowly discovering his inner poet.  His poem draws a deeper meaning while he contemplates mirage and reality, a quite sophisticated theme, I think, for a sixth grader.  If you enjoy their poetry, please leave a comment that I can share with them.  They would love to hear from you.

But What’s to Come
by Kaylie
(inspired by and dedicated to the Hunger Games)

At sunrise, she runs, barefoot, in leaves of green, words
do not come to mind. She dunks under the fence, into
the woods, where stores are not seen, and hunger isn’t
abroad. Where no trespassing takes place. Into dreams,
she runs past men and voices, beyond the breaking
dawn, into a swirl of familiar places.
She lifts her bow at a rustle, her arrow finds
a home in a rabbit’s eye. She gathers berries
of the sweetest aroma, breath in the air, hush.
Out of the woods, names are called, unpromising to
the tributes, for they must survive to be victors.
Through the darkest times, many deaths will come alive.

The Magic Touch
by Colby
Along the road in the hot summer sun, a dog,
a mirage in the dust wandering in his wake.
The heat is unbearable with the sun floating,
unforgiving in the open. No shade in the still.
Starting to feel abandoned. Far, far, away. Fear
in his soul like a pup separated, detached
from its kin. The miraged dog leading the lonely.
Walking barefoot in along the trails through thick dust.
He walks and roams in spite of hunger and fatigue.
Still he follows the dog, his wake, his destiny.
The dog is getting closer. It’s close enough to
touch.The man speeds up inching ever closer. Touch. Oasis.

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