Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Picking Up the Habit

Hooray! I am proud and pleasantly surprised that I made it the whole month of posting and commenting every day, so today, I've been doing a little reflecting.

I've loved writing since I was 7 years old. Maybe even before that, but that was when I remember writing my first poem. By age 8, I had enough poems to compile a chapbook with the help of my mother. Now, at age 32, I have files and files of poetry and short stories and essays, but I hadn't been writing much lately. I succeeded at keeping a journal during my pregnancy last year, but it fell by the wayside after a month or so of baby-watching. A friend suggested that perhaps the past couple of years have been happy... insinuating that I only write when I'm depressed or anxious. I suppose it's possible, but I don't think that's the case.

Writing is a habit. Yes, some of us feel the urge to do it more than others, but when the habit is lost, it's difficult to get back into it. It's hard work, after all. Few addictions are harder to keep up than to kick, but writing is one of them. I had fallen out of my writing habit for some reason, and to be honest, finding the reason doesn't seem important. The part I'm interested in is the getting back to it part - the solution.

So, I signed up for the SOLSC to see whether it was still there, deep inside, small and dim - the need to write. It was. It took some days to clear away the cobwebs. It took some whining about time and schedules and responsibilities. It took some remembering about craft and style. It took some whispering and shouting and singing to recall my voice. I'm so glad for the space and opportunity to be kicked in the butt because I usually won't get things done otherwise. On March 1st, I wondered with real fear, "Can I still write every day?" On March 31st, I know I can. I'm not saying I'll be posting a new blog every day for the rest of the year because some of those schedules and responsibilities did suffer this month, but the habit is back. It feels good to listen to clicking keys and watch the white screen fill with words again.

A very sincere thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life community.

Monday, March 30, 2015

PD Facilitation Resource

I design and develop a lot of professional learning these days. It's my primary responsibility. Of course, there are some non-negotiables to workshops: modeling best practices, creating the space for reflection and processing, norms of collaboration to foster a strong community of learners, opportunities to network with other educators...

I've learned plenty over the past three years (like bring candy for the afternoon), but one of the resources that I return to again and again is this book:

I have a book shelf, but I keep the "blue book" as we call it it, in my desk drawer because I flip through it so much. In it, the authors give a whole bunch of neat protocols that I've used as is, modified, or just browsed for inspiration. They are organized by goal: activating knowledge, generating ideas, summarizing and synthesizing, and so on. Many of the ideas in this book can be used with students, but I've found them to work really well with adult learners, in particular. If you're looking for a new twist with your department or PLC, check it out!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Attic Room

The empty room upstairs
painted pear and white
neutral and unobtrusive

A playroom for our only daughter
just across the hall
a jump and a skip
but apart

A secret reading nook
a lookout window
for sunsets and swingset
a sanctuary

Listening room for Brahms
Mozart and Beethoven live loud
Mendelssohn scamps

My husband thinks if he finishes it
another baby will come
What else
could come?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Back Home

There's nothing like going away but there's nothing like coming home.

As exciting as it is to take a vacation away from everything, I'm always eager to get home again and back to routine. This time, it was the first I'd been away from the baby for any extended amount of time. She's eight months old. How long do mothers usually wait before going away without baby? A friend of mine said ten years... that just seem unrealistic to me. Besides, I have a conference in a few weeks, so this was like a little test run.

It was glorious to go hiking, eat out, and sing karaoke, all without a worry about bedtime or snacks. But, after three days, I was ready to get a little baby hug. The good news is that even though she had a great time (our nanny sent photo evidence), she was ready for a hug from me too. Getting that hug felt even better than getting back to routine.

High Five Today On a Hike

1. On our hike today in the Wenatchee National Forest, we saw the last of Winter snow and the first buds of Spring right next to each other.

2. A lovely picnic that fueled the rest of the hike.

3. Hours of walking and talking with my partner. We always have things to talk about but don't always take the time.

4. Spotting animal tracks, hearing frogs and birds.

5. Feeling like I earned this beer!


I lived in Orlando off and on for 10 years, so I feel confident saying I know a thing or two about tourist traps. Growing up in Florida, I always loved the REAL Florida: natural springs, protected beaches, swampy mangroves... and I looked down my nose a bit at the tourist traps: theme parks, cruises, facades. Sure I've been to most of the theme parks, but I just felt sad for the tourists who flew across the country to see fake stuff.

Well, here I sit, in my room at the Bavarian Lodge in a Bavarian-themed town in the Cascade mountains, eating crow. Leavenworth, WA (basically one street) has been fashioned for the amusement of tourists and beer/streusel lovers. Think Helen, GA for the east coasters. It's a facade, but it's also quaint and charming and filled with people who really do live and work here. I know it's not really Bavarian, but sometimes it's nice to pretend.

What's not pretend are the amazing alpine peaks and mountain lakes surrounding Leavenworth. We'll be setting off on a hiking adventure tomorrow and I'm sure my leg muscles will attest to that!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The REAL Start of Spring

By now, we've all read about a hundred posts about the glorious onset of spring. I wrote one of them myself. Happy daffodils, cheerful tulips, and the zeal for physical activity that only comes after a long winter. However lovely all these may be, they are trivial in comparison to the bounty the season yielded today. The real herald of the new season finally came: the Clinique Spring Bonus gift!!!

I admit, I had been lurking around the Clinique counter for a month or so, awaiting the sign to be posted for the deal. I use Clinique face wash anyway, so it's not like I spend extra money to get the bonus gift (can you hear how I justify it all?). I had been rationing my face wash in an effort to make my purchase and GET MY GIFT. Get it, I did. It's never a whole lot (although the lipstick and mascara always make it worth it!), but there's something about the hunt that makes me feel like I did something amazing. See my haul! And yes, that tube is lip gloss and lipstick in one. Score!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tonight, A Little Poem

my daughter’s mouth
is remarkable.

smooth and supple, it shapes itself
into an o and grows to an ah –
anticipates a plastic ring.

the tender mollusk tongue
neatly folds and unfolds
around the object

blind in sensation;
the method of
touch slow and exact.

she traces glistening lines
until a soft wetness coats
anything more to be learned

and the tongue retreats,
slips back behind her shell
silent in its knowing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Better Living Bit by Bit

Yesterday, my husband put sprinklers in our back yard. It's one of a thousand tiny steps to making our house and life more livable. Our house is over a hundred years old with a lot of issues. We live in a "dynamic state" and, between the big renovations, we're always making minute improvements that will make things easier, more efficient, or just more pleasant. Things like installing recessed lights in the basement. The ceiling looks so high now! Nipping off all of the nail points that were sticking out under the eaves. So smooooooth! Organizing the baby changing station. Everything in reach!

Installing sprinklers took about half the day and a lot of manual labor plus problem-solving sessions, but our lives just got slightly easier. Looking forward to turning the knob this weekend instead of standing outside holding the hose over my hydrangeas and grass seedlings. Incremental changes eventually build to a big change... at least that's the mantra we keep chanting.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Loving Work

What would it take to make you love your work?

This was a question posed at a workshop I attended on culture. Culture of a school, of an educational service agency, of an organization, etc. All of the leadership team at my work attended, and it actually did do some good. As many of us know, gone are the days of people working 9-5 at the same job for 30 years. People move around, take on new positions, pursue more entrepreneurial endeavors, and so on, so it takes some work to create community and a positive culture in a workplace.

Millenials are often more concerned with their title than than past generations, so making sure their title really reflects what they do and who they are can be important for their satisfaction. More flexible hours and the opportunity to work remotely factor in when caretaking is a concern. I'm fortunate to work in a place that is responsive to these types of requests. I am on a 180-day contract (like a teacher) but the days are spread over the entire year, so I can have most Fridays off to spend time with my new baby. Some of my colleagues have those neat monitors that go up and down so they can sit or stand when they're working at their desk. I've also spotted a couple of those weird ergonomic chairs.

Honestly, I already do love my work, but I've been wondering about this question in terms of classrooms. What would it take to make students love learning? Classroom, content, creativity, choice, community, meeting outside needs, time....   I used to do a little of this thinking with classes at the beginning of the year when we created norms. But what else might there be to it? What are we missing?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

An Earwax Flavored Jellybean

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing.

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing when it's shared between two people.

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing when it's shared between two people as they stroll down Main Street.

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing when it's shared between two people as they stroll down Main Street, the street lamps just beginning to glow.

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing when it's shared between two people as they stroll down Main Street, the street lamps just beginning to glow in the cool Spring air against a violet sunset.

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing when it's shared between two people as they stroll down Main Street, the street lamps just beginning to glow in the cool Spring air against a violet sunset; they grimace and cough at the disgusting taste.

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing when it's shared between two people as they stroll down Main Street, the street lamps just beginning to glow in the cool Spring air against a violet sunset; they grimace and cough at the disgusting taste before bursting into laughter, disturbing the birds in the cherry blossom tree overhead.

An earwax flavored jellybean is a beautiful thing.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Spring!

Today was the first day of Spring and the first meal we've eaten outside this season. I know many of my New England compatriots are still stuck under snow, but in Walla Walla we are ringing in Spring whole heartedly!

I began springtime doing something completely ridiculous. I first put my 8 month old in a tutu crafted by her grandmother. I then stuffed her into an Easter basket, placed that basket in my flower bed, crushing what was left of the crocuses, and took a bunch of pictures. My sister-in-law is a newborn photographer, and I'm nowhere near her caliber, but out of maybe 30 shots, I got one good enough to throw on a card to her grandparents. Mission, accomplished.

We then took a long walk to get bagels. I wish I brought the camera because Spring had sprung. Bulbs were blooming everywhere: crocuses, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, cherry blossoms, and more whose names I don't know. I grew up in Florida, and there, I know the names of most flora you might encounter. In Walla Walla, I'm a newbie. I'm trying hard to learn the names of the flowers and trees here, but there are so many I didn't know in the south. All of the aforementioned bulbs, for instance. These are bulbs that have to freeze in the ground in order to bloom, so naturally, they don't live in tropical climates.

Finally, we welcomed Spring by having dinner al fresco. Walla Walla has one of the great old downtown Main Streets you might imagine in old films. Many of the restaurants have outdoor seating, and it's a joy to be able to sit there again, taking in the waning light while talking and laughing with friends.

After a long winter, stepping out and noticing everything that's come back to life is such a treat. I feel like I'm coming back to life, too.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Two Lessons I Learned from the Japanese (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about a lesson I learned from the Japanese when I lived in Japan. I'm not re-creating the blog I kept while I lived there, but upon reflecting back, I've realized that my time there resulted in two big lessons that have persisted. Yesterday's post was about the ability to listen and be judicious with my words.

Today, I pulled out a bookmark that one of my Japanese students made for me. It lives in my desk. Even though I don't look at it every day, I think of it. I know it's there.

It says "ichi go ichi e" which can be translated (loosely) to mean "one time, one meeting." It's an idiom that expresses the cultural concept of cherishing the moment because that moment can never happen again. Even if you meet with the same person at the same park bench, something will make it different: the slant of the light, things on your mind, the conversation you have. This idea of being present, and noticing the details that make a moment special, has stayed with me. It doesn't mean I write in my journal every day or that I take tons of pictures to capture every moment; it simply means that I try hard to notice when a moment is happening and appreciate it.

I studied haiku with a haiku club while I was there too. Haiku clubs are comprised primarily of grandmas and grandpas who take walks in the park then write haiku. But the craft of haiku marries the two lessons from this and yesterday's posts. It helped me to internalize the practice of noticing details and moments, and also to be exact with words. We often teach haiku as just a string of syllables (5, 7, 5), but there are many more rules than that including volumes of specific seasonal words to be used at different times of year. The most important thing a haiku does, however, is that it takes a moment then flips it around in a surprising and transcendent way. This is really hard to do well, especially with so few syllables. I don't know whether Japan or haiku can lead to inner peace, but it's a start. If you've never felt the power of haiku (or obsessed over such a short verse), read the one below with Billy Collins's poem about his interaction with it. Collins expresses it better than I could.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Two Lessons I Learned from the Japanese (Part 1)

I lived in Japan for two years teaching English at a Japanese High School. No, I wasn't in the JET program. I was a teacher, just like foreign language teachers here in the US. I kept a blog during my time there and reflected on experiences big and small, Japanese and non-Japanese, positive and negative. It was a wonderful adventure.

But that was five years ago. Now that time has passed and the wheel of change has rolled on to include moving across the country, getting married, having a baby, and taking a new job, I've realized despite the many memories I cherish from my time in Japan, there are two big lessons I learned from the Japanese.

"Let's all be quiet"

First, I learned to shut up and listen. This is a lesson that my parents and teachers had been trying to teach me my entire life. I'm a talker. I used to talk incessantly, always jumping in first, always processing as words fell from my mouth rather than thinking. Sometimes this practice was fine; sometimes it definitely was not. I spent most of second grade out in the hallway for talking too much. My desk in ninth grade English class was pulled up next to the filing cabinet, separated from the other students. Poor Mrs. Brown, my senior Psychology teacher, moved my assigned seat all over the room trying to get me to stop talking so much. Finally, I explained to her that every time she moved me, I met someone new, which caused me to want to talk with them even more. Needless to say, she did not appreciate my explanation.

When you move to a foreign country without knowing the language, however, you learn to listen. (Side note: I recommend learning the language prior to moving. I guess that's another lesson learned!) I lived in a rural part of Japan where English speakers were scarce, so no matter how much I wanted to say, it didn't matter because no one could understand me anyway. It was kind of a trial by fire; never had I been so frustrated by the inability to get my point across. So I stopped. Until I could speak Japanese, I didn't bother. Then, as I learned the language, I had to choose my words carefully. I didn't know many words yet and it was an arduous task to string together a sentence, so I had to narrow my input to only the most important ideas. I suppose it's not that I learned to be quiet, but rather that I learned to listen more carefully than ever before and to be economical in my speech. This has served me in the classroom in a couple of ways. I don't fear the silence it takes for people to think. I am amazing at wait time now. And, my directions are clear and precise. I use few words to explain procedures and expectations, which I think goes a long way, especially with the adult learners I work with now who sometimes seem to have even more trouble listening than I did in Mrs. Brown's class.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Succession Planning

Today I learned a new term: succession planning. Apparently, this is a phrase people in the business world know, but I bet I'm not the only educator who's never heard it before. As teachers, we don't usually have a successor. The classroom is not usually much of a breeding ground for bureaucracy, after all.

While the ESD where I work isn't much of  bureaucracy either, we do have important leadership positions. People have been committed to those positions for a long time, which speaks to the vision and culture within the agency, but soon our superintendent, the leader who's responsible for much of that vision and culture, will be retiring. Succession planning is what organizations do to figure out how to fill shoes like that.

This got me thinking about succession planning in other parts of life. We love our dog, but we've already begun looking at other breeds that might be suitable for our family after our dog passes on. I have plans for storage of keepsakes down in the basement because I know, at some point, I'll want them off the shelves but not in the garbage. How will I pass my work on to someone else if I move to a different position or back to the classroom? Even my spring bulb bed was planted with succession planning in mind. The crocuses are in front then the daffodils then the tulips then irises and dahlias. So, as the early blooms in front die off, the next ones come right up behind them. I like the idea of being prepared and having a plan in place for when things turn over, but I have to wonder where the balance lies between future planning and present living. How much energy do we spend on succession planning before it becomes a fixation that distracts from things that are happening right now?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Walk the Walk

Have you ever sat in a professional learning experience and thought, What is happening right now? Is this what was planned? Did the facilitator get mugged for his flash drive with the real PD on it? Those were the thoughts going through my head today.

Without naming names of organizations, the leadership team at my workplace was asked to attend a 7-hour session that was supposed to foster consideration of our vision and coherence as an agency. It ended up being mostly about engagement and profound learning, which is also a great topic, though not what I was expecting. Honestly, I would be totally down for learning more about engagement and profound learning. The trouble was no one in the room experience either of those things today. We sat. We listened. We listened some more. I requested a moment to process some of our thoughts with a neighbor. Then we sat and listened some more. It was the most unengaging "training" on engagement.

Now, professional development is the primary part of my job. Developing and facilitating professional learning is what I do. Admittedly, I'm still learning about this role, but there's one thing I know for sure. You've got to "walk the walk." If you're going to talk about engagement, you better engage people.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lazy Girl's Guide to Housekeeping

Are you overwhelmed and short on time? Poorly trained in the art and science of housekeeping? Just plain lazy? Here are a few tips to keep your house looking livable while cutting every possible corner.

1. If you spill something in the kitchen, act fast. Simply rub your sock over the area then quickly discard in the dirty laundry hamper. You may choose to discard the other sock at this time or save it on your foot in case of another spill.

2. Oh no! There's a chip in your dark wood wainscoting leaving an unsightly spec of unstained wood. You're a teacher; you know you have fifty colors of Sharpie. Choose the dark brown marker and color in the offending spot. Smudge with finger to blend.

3. Purchase something very heavy for your home, like a piano. When you find random tiny items like a paperclip or a plastic thingy, brush them swiftly behind the heavy piece of furniture. Let's face it: it took four guys to move that thing into place. It's not going anywhere. It will be our little secret.

4. For small spots, saliva is a safe cleaning agent for all surfaces, including porcelain, glass, wood, and laminate.

5. Dog saliva is also safe. Encourage your dog to lick up any dropped crumbs to avoid vacuuming regularly. This will also save time on cleaning the vacuum filter, as it will be used less frequently.

6. Oh dear, you must have missed that window sill last time you dusted. Pull your sleeve and fold it back to use the inside of the sleeve to easily dust the sill. Return your sleeve to normal and no one will ever know. Alternatively, if you are still wearing one sock from earlier in the day, this would also be a wise use for it.

I always say that no matter how little time you have or how terrible you are at keeping a clean house, there's no need for any guest to know. Happy homemaking!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bossypants or Future Leader?

I'm trying really hard not to let this become a "mommy blog" but when I spend three days straight with the baby, it's challenging. All of the slices of life for those days involve Beatrice, even after she goes to bed. Today was a big hairy deal though. Beatrice met a baby her own age. She had her first play date with a colleague's son, who was born one week after Beatrice, so they're both finally ready to interact with other little humans. Basically, they can both sit up to look at each other. And look, they did. They were both intensely interested in the other and stared from arm's length. When the tension couldn't build any higher, we put some toys out for them. They're both fairly smiley babies, so they got along fine. We helped them play peekaboo, and they traded blocks on the rug. They cooperated (or battled, I couldn't tell which) on a complex pop-up sort of toy - one would hit the button to pop the frog out and the other would close frog back in. The most interesting thing to me was to see the differences in their personalities and their approaches to the toys. Because Beatrice is the only baby I've spent any time with, I couldn't compare her behavior to other babies'. But today, I found out she might be bossy (or a leader, depending on the context!). The boy was so soft spoken; his babbles were gentle and inquisitive. Beatrice is in a yelling phase. At least, I hope it's a phase. She screamed "AH HAAA!" at the top of her lungs and demanded action from us. Luckily, it didn't put her playmate off. But when will that sort of thing put people off? I've been accused of being abrasive in the past. Was I like that as a baby? Where's the line between strong leader and bossy bitch? And how do you raise your girl to be the former?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Zombie Baby Apocalypse

She dragged her legs grotesquely behind her body as she approached, hungry for brains but never able to get more than an ankle tendon or a toe. "Ba ba baaa," she croaked,  unable to articulate the thirst for blood that consumed her mind. She had already forgotten life before she became a zombie, but, in truth, it did not differ from this new existence in any significant way. In life, she couldn't crawl or talk either. When you think about it, babies have a lot in common with the undead, so the transition was somewhat kinder to her than to the adults in her life. Finally, after much awkward scooching, the zombie baby had maneuvered herself into biting position. She eyed the fleshy human heart that lay stained and soggy on the carpet before her. She opened her maw wide and clamped her gums around it only to let out a cry of discontent - BEETS! Zombie baby, thwarted again by a vegetable, rolled over and sucked her own zombie toes in disbelief.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Scream, You Scream

Sitting at my desk, thinking about what to write today, and eating a bit of rocky road. The first two parts of that statement are probably pretty similar for a lot of us, but I doubt there are many who hold the same affinity for ice cream that I do. Ice cream and I have been having an affair for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, whenever we spotted a Twistee Treat, my dad would dart across lanes of traffic to make a bee line for a vanilla chocolate dip. When I visited Italy, I got lost and sat down with a map in one hand and a gelato in the other. Once I figured out where I was, I rewarded myself with another gelato. I own an ice cream machine - a pretty nice one - and made ice creams for my friends back when I had the time. I've been to the Ben & Jerry's factory multiple times. Ben & Jerry's Superfudge Chunk is my all time favorite flavor, but I also love rich and delicate flavors like lavender honey and pecan. I'm a dedicated lover too. Sorbet and frozen yoghurt are lovely, but they are not substitutes for ice cream. I know that part of this dessert favoritism probably stems from an emotional response to the memories I have associated with ice cream, but there's just something perfect about frozen cream and sugar that my tastebuds adore. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Time Zones Stink

Time zones. I never concerned myself with time zones before moving to the west coast. Everything in America is east coast centric, so it didn't really affect me. Well, my comeuppance has arrived. Some things work out delightfully well: I can see the whole airing of the Oscars, Sunday football starts with breakfast. But other things, wonderful things, have been lost: CBS Sunday morning is on too early, so is the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Among  the most difficult hurdles is midnight (EST) deadlines, especially when husband is at a conference and baby doesn't go down until 8:45 (9:00 PST is midnight on the east coast). Maybe the Slicing deadline can be time zone specific next year? In short, it's 9:15pm and I'm counting this post. Better late than never.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Images in Professional Learning

An image is worth a thousand words and can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. It's the beauty of interpretation, how one image can spell joy to one person and sorrow to another. A colleague of mine often uses images to let people talk about their learning or their philosophy or how they're doing, and it never ceases to amaze me how much deeper people get with this method.

She'll show an image like this, for instance:

with the caption, "My own learning is like this image..." Then we talk for much more time than was allotted on our learning around a certain topic. If someone simply asked me to describe my learning on a topic, I would probably answer in only one or two sentences, but the power of connecting my thoughts to an image gives me the vehicle to articulate. And, though this is only one image, every person in the room connected to a different climber or the mountain or the snow in a different way. We were all unique in our perspectives, and yet, the one image gave us a common starting point.

Another way I like to use images for this sort of reflection involves multiple images around the room. Once, I put up different types of cars. Another time, I put up pictures of famous paintings. The interesting thing is that with different images, you'd expect to then have homogeneous groups talking about why they chose to go to that image. But, in reality, people connect to the pictures differently, so the groups still end up having rich conversations.

Here's an example with different paintings and the prompt "When it comes to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I am like _____ (this painting) because...  One of the paintings was Water Lilies by Claude Monet:

I expected people who felt calm and serene to stand near this one. But some people chose this painting because of the impressionist nature of it, how it gets less clear the closer you look at it. Others felt they had a calm facade but had depths of worry lurking under their lilypads.

Reflection and discussion are always a part of the work I do, but using images to elicit deeper thinking is like a magic wand. As soon as a connection between the image and our own psyche is made, we can't wait to communicate it.

Monday, March 9, 2015


Inspired by my friend Beth (http://seekingsix.blogspot.com/), I tried learning a new skill today: making infographics! Like her, I used Piktochart, and it was pretty user-friendly. Nothing is more exciting than learning something new, and nothing makes me focus like trying to finish it before the baby wakes up from her nap. For my first go, I tried making one from scratch on a new senate bill here in Washington. Check it out! Happy Sunday, slicers!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Once upon a time

Some people are natural storytellers. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. I can recount something that happened, but to make up a story out of thin air is a mystery to me. What happens next? I'm never sure.

My husband, fortunately, is a story teller. It's not his trade, and he's no novelist, but he can unravel a yarn before I even know it's fiction. This has come in handy in the past on long runs or when waiting in the airport... any time I want to read but I'm too tired, he'll just tell me a story. Sometimes they involve people, sometimes dragons with allergies, sometimes us in the future. Sometimes they wrap up really nicely, sometimes there's a surprise ending, sometimes they just sort of fizzle out. But I always enjoy listening (and making suggestions along the way).

I listened to Neil Gaiman on the radio a few weeks ago, and he talked about a reading tour he did. On the tour, he just told one of his stories. He said when it starts, people start shifting in their seats and looking uncomfortable, wondering, "Is this guy really going to just tell a story for an hour straight?" By the time he neared the end, however, he said that people were always on the edges of their seats, completely engrossed.

Storytelling is one of those old traditions of humanity that we forget about when life gets busy. We might take some time out to tell stories to our children, to pass on the tradition, but we neglect this side of ourselves as adults. Whether you're the storyteller or listener, it's well worth the time it takes to build meaning together.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Chop. chop. chop. chop.

Chopping fruits and vegetables is one of my favorite pastimes. I used to do it every weekend to make salads and such for the week. Now I do it to make baby food as well. That is not a competitive mommy statement; there are plenty of things I don't do for my child that other parents seem to be able to achieve. No, as nice as it sounds to say that I make her baby food out of my love for her, the truth is I just like chopping vegetables.

Years ago, I practiced yoga. I liked sweating and trembling and feeling all of my muscles working at once, but with each contortion, I knew the end of the class drew near. The end, meaning the quiet meditative time when you lie still and feel your breath. I hated that part. I said the alphabet and counted and sang songs in my head (and fell asleep a couple of times), but I certainly didn't meditate. Clearing my head without distracting my body has proven impossible. But a clear head and a calm heart don't have to come from sitting cross-legged.

I find inner peace and complete clarity in two endeavors: running and chopping. Running has been a part of my life for a long time, though it's been difficult post-baby. Sliding my shoes on, lacing them up, I can feel the muscles in my shoulders, where I keep all my stress, unclench and begin to relax. I don't have to distract myself with a mileage watch or an ipod (though I own both of those). Running has its own music if you listen.

My other source of pure contentment is chopping fruits and vegetables. I don't mean cooking, though I enjoy that. Cooking requires thought and creativity and being on your toes. Chopping is simple and repetitive, like running, and it requires consistency and practice. The ritual of sharpening the knife and washing the vegetables. The comfort in performing the same movement over and over until piles of perfectly diced cubes grow across the counter. The rainbow.

All of this probably sounds a bit loony, and when I lose my mind I'll likely be found chopping mountains of vegetables. But I think a lot of people find satisfaction in ritual and repetition. The meditative state can be found anywhere, even in the simplest activities. How do you meditate?

Friday, March 6, 2015

In a Parallel Universe, I Might Be an Investigative Reporter

"OMG! I was just listening to the best podcast!" is often the first thing I say to my officemate in the morning. I spend a lot of time in the car. My office is one hour away from my home, but I also visit schools all over southeastern Washington. We have 23 districts in our region, which stretches about 150 miles across. Needless to say, I have become a podcast aficionado.

Some of my favorites have been WTF with Marc Maron, Serial (NPR), and Working (Slate). While these seem like pretty different shows, they all have one element in common. When I listen to each of these shows, I get to peer into the life of another person. Marc Maron, a stand-up comedian by trade, has proven to be an outstanding interviewer of his brethren. He asks real questions with genuine interest in the human condition and, to my delight, his guests answer with such transparency, it's a treat to hear an authentic conversation. His episode with Louis C.K. has been listed as one of the best podcast episodes ever. When I listen this podcast, I always think, "Maybe I should become a comic..."

Serial is one story told episodically. The first season followed the plight of an investigative reporter trying to uncover the truth about a murder. We get to hear from the alleged murderer. We get to hear from his friends, his victim's friends, their families, police, lawyers, and anyone else remotely connected to the event. It's exciting, and brain-teaser right to the end. When I listen to this podcast, I think, "Yes. My second career will be investigative reporter."

Working is a new binge diet I've been recently. The host just interviews people about their jobs. What it's like day to day to be a screenwriter, computer programmer, school principal, day care director, fruit farmer, and so on. With this show, I imagine myself in a different life every episode.

I'm not sure what this quirk in my personality means, but I constantly fantasize about living different lives. Don't get me wrong, I love my current life. I live in a nice community, have a wonderful family, and find my work engaging and fulfilling. But... what would it be like to do/be something totally different? I've been told I'm addicted to experience. That I want NEW experiences (good or bad) all the time. Maybe. Or, maybe, like many of us, I just know that sometimes it's more fun to stare out the window and daydream than pay attention to the lesson in class.

Out of the Loop

There was a vibe in the room. That's all I can say. I arrived early in a great mood ready for another amazing day with my favorite group of education leaders. But as more people arrived, it was as if dark clouds were gathering inside the room. Faces were smiling, glad to see me again, but there was something palpable.

I hadn't met with this group in a long time because of summertime then maternity leave then no meeting in January then fog grounding my flight in February. I was excited to see everyone and looking forward to a productive day of learning and creating together.

I admit I didn't read the agenda ahead of time, so I didn't realize there were some unusual conversations planned. What problems are we encountering in delivering our work? How are we collecting and using data? What do we do when group members don't follow our norms of collaboration? This last one was what finally made me turn to my neighbor and ask, "Did something happen while I was gone?"

In short, things had happened. Members had been disrespectful. Leaders were taken off guard. A lack of induction had left new members without a framework for discussion. It would be easy to say that I wasn't there so it has nothing to do with me. But the truth is my favorite days last year were the days I worked with this group. It has been some of the greatest collaboration of my career. How did things get so toxic in my absence? And how can I help resolve some of it when I'm not even exactly clear on the problem? This weighs so heavily on me, I'm writing this blog on my phone at the airport instead of waiting until I get home. Any conflict mediation experts out there? Or should I just stay out of it?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Three Little Syllables

"Do you call her something else for short?"

There is an epidemic of name-shortening that has plagued humanity for a very long time, and to be honest, I don't really get it. Maybe that's because my name is Erin, which doesn't have a shorter nickname attached to it. But since before my daughter's birth that has been the first question.

"Oh that's a pretty name, but what will you call her?"

Is it unthinkable that I say the word Beatrice a hundred times a day? It's only three syllables. No more than Emily or Jonathan. Is it laziness? Can we not be bothered to move our mouths into three distinct shapes to call out the name of a person? Or, does the formality that some perceive make them uncomfortable? I don't know. I call her Beatrice. My mother and many others in my family call her Bea. I don't really mind and I know now that the shortening is inevitable. She can, of course, decide what she likes to be called when she develops a preference. But if I wanted to name her Bea, I would have.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fill 'er Up!

I live in a geographically isolated place. We're four hours from any major city. Seattle: 4 hours. Portland: 4 hours. Spokane, Boise, 4 hours to everywhere with nothing but amber waves of grain in between. So filling up the gas tank is majorly important. You know it might be a hundred miles before you come across another gas station. In fact, my first week here, I ran out of gas halfway between my home and school. AAA is also majorly important.

The long stretches of asphalt can seem interminable. Wheat rippling outward forever like the ocean from the southernmost point. So those fill-up stations, even when they don't have my Snapple flavor, are like a jolt to the senses. People! Food! There's still a world out there!

The school year in March starts feeling a lot like one of those drives. Are we still waiting on interim assessment scores? When is spring break again? Will we ever get to that learning target that's been on lesson plans all year long? Happily, today was a fill-up kind of day. I met with a group of teacher leaders and coaches from 12 of the districts in our region who comprise our English Language Arts Fellows. The educators in this group are inspiring and inspired. My job is easy because every question or wondering or article I throw out, they dive in together and come back up with new ideas and insights. They work hard all the time to support their colleagues and students, and they remind me what in the world I'm doing out here in the middle of nowhere and where this long road is headed.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Florida Man Strikes Again

"Florida Man Accused of Killing Roommate Asks Siri Where to Hide the Body"
"Florida Woman Sets Car on Fire After Man Refuses to Buy Her a McFlurry"
"Florida Man in Human-Powered Inflatable Bubble Trying to Run From FL to Bermuda is Rescued by Coast Guard"

These are real headlines from 2014. I moved from Florida to Washington two and a half years ago. I had always heard Florida was weird and lawless, but since I grew up there, I never really noticed. Hasn't everyone had someone drunk-drive their lawn mower through your yard? Doesn't everyone have a neighbor who painted their house pink and teal? Don't we all start party-planning the moment we hear the word hurricane? Apparently not.

After spending some time in Washington (and all the states in between), I can say that Florida really is a strange place. I thought I'd fall behind on the news in my home state, but Florida news is everywhere. Florida headlines appear in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. Our local Five Guys Burgers has quotes on the wall from Orlando and Tampa. It's a news-making kind of spot in political elections, educational policy, odd crimes, and financial trends. People pay attention to the things that happen in Florida, and the longer you live there the more used to it you get.

So it's been even stranger to live in a place that doesn't make headlines. Walla Walla and Washington state in general seem to operate under the radar. It's fun to be the little brother running around hollering and making a mess, but being the big sister who just sits back and chuckles softly from the edge of the spotlight is lot less stressful.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Conductor's Wife

In my day to day job, people usually mistake me for someone important, mainly because I have a gold name badge and I’m from outside the building. This is my third school year working outside of the classroom at the ESD as a literacy specialist. If you don’t have ESDs in your state, think of them as regional district offices. Washington has teeny tiny school districts that need support. The state office is also teeny tiny, so the ESDs fill in gaps like providing instructional coaching, reading specialists (me), school psychologists, IT, bookkeeping, etc. All things that school districts do themselves in states like Florida (where I used to teach).

Despite not actually being “in charge” of anyone, teachers are always eager to tell me exciting things they’re doing in class and administrators are quick to show me how they’ve satisfied some legislative requirement. People are usually happy to see me at their building and that’s a wonderful feeling. In my home life, I’m usually the gregarious one, too. I like meeting new people and talking and I can withstand people’s attention (ok, I’m a ham).

That’s all back story, though, because seven evenings per year, I’m not the important person in the room. I’m the conductor’s wife. One of those evenings was last night as my husband conducted his college orchestra in their winter concert. They played Beethoven 7. This is evidently a big hairy deal.

I have almost no background in classical music, so it always sounds lovely to me. The orchestra would have to stop playing entirely for me to realize something has gone awry. But seeing a seasoned audience stand up at the end is so exciting it makes me wonder how similar the brain scans would be between a person receiving accolades and a person watching someone they love receive accolades. It feels indistinguishable.

I have been warned not to be the first one to stand (or to bully audience members near me into standing), but seeing someone you love excel is such a treat. While I don’t know that I’d want to give up the spotlight full time, seven times per year it’s a pretty good gig.