Monday, December 31, 2007

the ice bowl cometh

Tune in 1pm New Year's Day on NBC for the Winter Classic - locally known as the Ice Bowl - NHL outdoor game at Buffalo Bills football stadium in Orchard Park, NY between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here's a link to the time-lapse video of transforming the football stadium to an ice hockey rink. AND LOOK FOR ME at the game!!!  (I'll be the grey dot, due to my long grey hooded down coat...)


Telling stories with my mother the past 2 days was the perfect way to wrap-up 2007. Mom arrived Friday night on the train from NYC. We ate and shopped all day Saturday, just the two of us and also with other family. Sunday we drove to Toronto to see her college classmates and listened to stories of their staying up late in the residence halls, chatting, partying, etc. (Below are pics of us in Toronto's historic St. Lawrence Market.) When my mom and I were alone, we swapped stories about our daily lives, past and present experiences with family, friends, coworkers, strangers, etc.

The best new story was mom's train ride from the
provincial capital city of Wuhan (in Hubei province) during her China trip last fall. The train had sleeper cars that slept/occupied 4 people per compartment. When she entered her compartment, the three others were there - a young couple and an older woman. The woman looked at my mom and said, "Oh, she's an old person." My 63 year old mom was taken aback by this blunt comment, but realized quickly that these 3 had been discussing sleeping arrangements (just prior to her arrival) and who should take the upper and lower bunks, despite the ticket seat/bunk assignment that designated mom to a lower bunk. Mom said she would have been fine on the upper bunk and may have even offered the switch if the other woman (who looked the same age as mom) had not been so rude and forward.

Mom also retold the story of her almost not going to college. She grew up in Taiwan, and her family (parents and 5 kids) was poor. There was not a book (other than school texts) or radio, much less TV, in the house.  Mom's father had been a soldier in the Nationalist Party army in China, and her mother (my waipo) had never attended school and never learned to read or write.  Grandfather wanted mom to get married after high school, but she wanted to go to college. She gained admission into a political/military academy that provided full scholarship, but her father refused to let her attend days before school started. She argued with him for a long time, and during one heated argument at lunch, he flipped over the table and crashed all the dishes on the floor in anger. Finally, she said HE would have to inform the school advisor about her withdrawal. So together they walked to the school, and she waited outside the office for a long time while her father met with the advisor. When her father came outside, he had changed his mind to let her attend.

We shared many more stories with each other, and even though I was sad when she left on the train this morning, I'm refreshed to greet the new year's adventures and challenges.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas morning literacy

#1 - reading gift tags - that's critical literacy!

#2 - Santa wrote a note ("Dear G, you're a sweet and kind girl... merry Christmas...") on the back of her Christmas list (this year, G insisted that the list need not be mailed or even brought to mall Santa, but just left next to the milk and cookies on Christmas Eve - that's a lot of faith in Santa's last-minute gifting abilities!), and also left some cookies and crumbs behind...


True classroom story...  last Thursday, I asked students to "slog" (journal) the topic "New Year's Resolutions".  Tricia's anti-goals post on the Coffee and Critique blog inspired this idea.  Of course, we start by defining and giving examples (about 25% of 7th graders can either define or give examples of this term, according to my unscientific survey).

Next, I gave a personal example of my last year's resolution - I had resolved to NOT stress about cooking dinner.  I used to feel so much anxiety and anger about this on the drive home from work and picking up my daughter from after-school care.  Inevitably, my husband would call me on that drive home and ask the dreaded question.  Most days, I fervently wished for take-out food to magically appear.  On bad days, I would utter some choice expletives to express my feelings.

So the resolution was to NOT stress, but instead be matter-of-fact, calm, and face the task like laundry - no big deal, perfectly manageable.  Even if the outcome was the same, I wanted a new mental state and attitude.  And ... the outcome exceeded my expectations!  I distinctly recall some months of feeling peace and calm entering my kitchen, opening the 'frige and contemplating options, and even rational conversations with husband about what to cook or order.

I didn't expect to become family cook extraordinaire in my in-laws' house, but I did that, too! Before we moved to live with the in-laws in August, I told husband HE would be in charge of family meals.  But in reality, August was still vacation time for me, so of course I cooked.  After school/work started, I was home by 4 and couldn't just sit around waiting with in-laws till 5:30 for husband to arrive home. I cooked dinners based on 'frige contents and/or shopped accordingly on weekends, and I whipped up easy meals that impressed everyone (they are easy to impress - even a simple green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup elicited "delicious!" comments).

The highlight of this cooking adventure - 2 days ago, I made chicken and vegetable soup from scratch for father-in-law!  Eating has been a problem for him - he's not interested in eating (hospital food especially), so someone has to closely monitor meals and literally feed him as many spoonfuls as he's willing to take.  My soup was super yummy, and he really liked it.

So all this hits me as I explain last year's resolution.  I state a few new 2008 resolutions - exercise more (start running), shop less (reduce credit card debt - but I didn't say that to students - too much info).  Important - clarify the difference between a resolution (as a goal) and a wish.  Student slog responses focused on sports and academics.

Moral of the story - set your intentions!  Powerful stuff.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

recent reads - young adult novels

Sometimes I avoid reading young adult novels on my "own" time just so I won't forget I'm an adult, but recently I've enjoyed a few YA titles.  I highly recommend all of the following:

Sahara Special and Vive la Paris, companion novels by Esme Raji Codell, the lovely librarian in Chicago whom I met at a local conference in November.  Both protagonists are African American girls in Miss Pointy's fifth grade class in an inner city Chicago school.  Miss Pointy (short for Poitier) is a fantastic teacher who believes in her students and never reads their FILES.  The girls' voices are so engaging, earnest, and fierce - I did not want either book to end.

Sahara has always been labeled "special ed." and yet she is a super talented reader and writer.  Her mother refused "special services" and said to the school, "If Sahara's not doing the work, don't label her, fail her!"  So that's why Sahara is in Miss Pointy's class.  I wish more parents had that level of insight and guts.

Paris' piano teacher is a Holocaust survivor and their friendship teaches Paris what she needs to do to fight the bullies in her own life.  Paris reminds me of the super organized, focused, and multitasking female student who is mature but still a kid.

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi are both graphic books.

I read American Born Chinese in about a day - I laughed through 95% of it.  In this young adult graphic novel, three narratives intertwine and ultimately merge in a way that surprised me, but I'm easily surprised.  I really REALLY want someone who does not share so much personal history with the book (as I do) to read the book and discuss the book with me!  So, if you are not Asian American and do not know much about the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, then PLEASE read it ...

I still haven't finished Persepolis - I have so little background knowledge about Iran, and it's taking me a long time to absorb the personal and historical information in this brilliant graphic memoir-turned-animated movie.  I don't place it in the young adult category - it's a challenging read.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the drawings - bold and simple lines.  I was captivated by Satrapi's portrayal of her preteen self during the Iranian revolution, her extraordinary (preteen) political passion and intellect mixed with "normal" growing pains, especially in the 1980's (we're about the same age).

Now go read something good!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

quote of the day

"So which one of my presents are you jealous about?" said my 6 year old daughter to her BFF on Christmas day.

Beware - tone shift...

Generally, today has been depressing since my father-in-law is still in the hospital, recovering from brain surgery and cancer radiation treatment.  My mother-in-law has Alzheimer's and keeps asking why her husband still isn't home.  But when we visited him in the hospital this evening, he ate a decent dinner!  Problems with eating has been one of the serious complications over the past few weeks (in addition to a staph infection, low platelets, pneumonia - yeah, we're living that movie "Sicko").  We left the hospital feeling hopeful, and that was the best Christmas present.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

winter vacation, day 1

I think I could create a photo book of just this birch tree in front of our home. The tree itself, the sunset view from the house, the view from the street looking at the tree and the house, fall, winter, and eventually spring and summer.

So day 1 of winter vacation is great. I've been home all day with my daughter who claimed to feel sick during the last day of school (yesterday) and was picked up early from school, causing us to roll our eyes and snicker, and who then developed a fever in the afternoon and evening, joke's on us.

I'm glad to avoid the holiday shopping traffic and chaos today. We'll do some low-key, hopefully low-stress Target shopping later tonight to catch up on gifts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Just because I promised snow pics to those of you dreaming of the white stuff...

#1 - street view of our home

#2 - back yard shed and bird feeders

#3 - my snow angel

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Here's our view from the third row, stage left (does that mean actor's left?), of "Indian Blood" at Studio Arena Theatre in downtown Buffalo last night. The huge lit wreath on the back wall and snowflakes on the side walls were added AFTER the show, just so you know, I guess for a seasonal touch. I love this simple stage - the window scenery of the wintry outdoors changed throughout the play - gorgeous and effective. The actors moved chairs around - no other props! The setting of the play, written by local playwright A. R. Gurney, is 1946 Buffalo. (It didn't even occur to me to take pictures, until I heard the pre-show announcement - "photographs and video are strictly prohibited during the show". So I waited until afterwards!)

In my next career life, I would study stage and set design.

In the past, I've coordinated two stage program field trips - one play ("The Giver", based on the novel, taking 220 students with us) and one ballet ("Baba Yaga", 470 students). I love providing these experiences to students, but I was just thinking last Friday that I HATE their negative comments. Friday, the music teachers took their chorus students (about 25 from our team) to see "The Nutcracker" ballet. I heard a few student complaints and that instantly killed my interest in taking my team to the "Cinderella" ballet in March. Coordinating a field trip is so much extra work - so if the majority of students don't love it, it feels like a waste of time and effort. I suppose taking 25 students would be easier than 100+.

I'll tell you what's easier - nature walks on school grounds. Last Thursday, as snow fell throughout the day, students suggested nature walks! I just might...

More snow pictures here soon...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

words and snow

Students have been writing essays - answering the essential question "how does one's actions affect others" and analyzing characterization using the novel Hoot. To teach the use of literary techniques (such as alliteration and figurative language) in writing prose (in addition to poetry), students paired up to create phrases and sentences using literary techniques and Hoot content, then posted these words on paper/wall. So when they write/revise essays and try to incorporate literary techniques, they read this wall (ok, closet doors) for inspiration.

The snow photo features my car when I left school on Thursday afternoon. Steady snow since 8am yielded about 6 inches... The forecast is 7 to 12 inches starting tonight and into Sunday!

Monday, December 10, 2007

institution rant #2, and students save the day

The festive lights are down. On order of the facilities director.

o you see the replacement, student decorated, color paper light bulbs? Oh yeah.

The second picture is how my homeroom door decorating crew
(5 students - in past years, I would ask for volunteers then choose by lottery, but this year I hand-picked the group - it's a good thing) wrapped the door for the annual Student Council door decorating contest. Our homeroom delegate did her homework and brought information about the designated country - that was a nice touch. The paper has been held in place by masking tape since last Thursday, and its life span is dwindling as I type...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

earned boredom

My lesson today was part test review, part introduction to essay assignment, part read-aloud. During the last 2 (out of 5) classes of the day, students were not responsive to my questions, partly because they had not read the novel and couldn't answer, and partly because they were too lazy to find the answers in their books/notes.

I did that teacher pausing thing - you wait, and wait, and wait them out. Then I said, students who just sit there and wait to be spoon-fed deserve to be bored. They earned the boredom. Next, I told them I was bored, waiting for them while they waited for me, so I was moving on to the next task. And I did.

Today was a better day for me than yesterday. So here's the sunset view from our house at about 4:45pm today.

Monday, December 3, 2007

blue Monday

It was the most rotten Monday I've had in a long time. Granted, Mondays are never good, but I could barely make chit chat with coworkers today or even smile. I just feel tired and weary. Even the good things - friends, festive twinkle lights, books - seem not real. It feels like the only reality is our family health crisis. Teaching was hard. I read aloud from Sing a song of tuna fish by Esme Raji Codell, and students journaled their own "let me tell you something about ..." stories. It worked.

I took the above pics on my way home - the traffic one on the iPhone while driving, the other one in front of our house.

Last night, I made more cards.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


First, we've had a snowy weekend. Then, two views from the hospital where my father-in-law has been staying for three weeks, recovering.

I spent this afternoon creating a multiple choice test and an essay/writing workshop packet to wrap-up Hoot unit. I had a quiet afternoon to do school work because three family members went to visit at the hospital. My daughter watched a "Beethoven" movie on the Disney channel, then played with her BFF who lives next door. My husband's aunt came up from Florida to visit and help us out, and she made a scrumptious meatloaf dinner - it was the first time in the 4 months we've lived here that someone else cooked dinner for us in this house. (We've had plenty of take-out meals, and a friend delivered some casseroles.) I made Christmas cards before and after dinner. (Sorry about the fuzziness and glitter glare.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

happy december

They're baaaaaaack..... (please see "institution rant #1" post for string light reference) in colors this time. You won't tell on me, right?

I attended a cookie exchange party today at the home of friend/teacher/colleague LK. I had declined LK's cookie party invitations for years because I just don't want that many cookies (12 dozen), much less make that many. Finally I explained my reason, and LK told me to just come party anyway. So I brought a snack to share and snapped some pics that I'll use to festiv-ize this blog in the coming posts.