Category Archives: Slice of Life

Puzzling Times

I don’t play games.  I’m a pretty reluctant participant to those ice breaking activities we all experience in professional development, the days we head back to school in the fall, and now even on the ever-constant Zoom meetings.  And I don’t own any jigzaw puzzles.

At least I didn’t.  Until last week when the constant sameness of the stay-at-home, work-at-home, play-at-home routine drove me in search of novelty–in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.

As a disclaimer, I did play games as a kid.  I did puzzles as a kid.  My own children played games and put puzzles together.  But game playing, as a family activity–as an adult activity is really not a part of my everyday life.

But there was a puzzle to purchasing a puzzle.  They are obviously in demand right now.  Amazon is delivering puzzles in July.  Target had none in stock.  But I did find one that I could order online at Barnes and Noble and pick up in the store near my house.  My husband thought I was crazy when I came home with the puzzle–but he’s a good sport so we cleared some space on the table (we each have a table as our home offices) and opened the box.

There’s something oddly soothing about looking through hundreds of tiny interlocking pieces in search of a straight edge.  It’s both mindless and intentional.  Stimulating and calming.  Purposeful and aimless.  We found ourselves shifting roles, one of us searching, one of us building and then trading.  Patterns began to emerge and all those bits of color, pieces of words, and abstract shapes began to take on meaning and become recognizable as parts of a bigger whole.

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I’m looking for that same sense of recognition to make sense of the disparate pieces that now constitute work and life during a global pandemic.  Shutting down and sheltering in place has been scary and stressful, but began with a sense of temporary.  As we stretch into the third month and looking to the future feels like looking into the brand new box of a 1000 random pieces, “normal” and whole feels so far away.

It was hard to grasp finishing the school year without being face to face with my students.  It’s harder still to imagine starting a new school year meeting my students through a computer screen.  Or teaching students in shifts and keeping them at arm’s length.  And maybe hardest of all, just not knowing what the next day, the next week, the next month will mean for all of us as we navigate so much unknown…with the threat of disease and death attached to all we don’t know.

So for now, I’m making sense of jigsaw puzzles while I am not able to make sense of the world.  We finished that first puzzle today, enjoying the satisfaction of setting those final pieces into place to complete the picture.

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New puzzles have been ordered and we’ll take this one apart tomorrow, careful to make sure that all the pieces get back into the box.  And we’ll offer it up to family and friends, giving someone else a chance to make sense of 1,000 pieces.

In these puzzling time, I’ll be doing some more puzzling.

SOLC Day 31: On the last day…

I thought I would have something pithy to say on my 31st consecutive post. Instead, I offer the poem I wrote (virtually) with my students today. Our mentor poem today was William Carlos Williams The Red Wheelbarrow.

The Black Crow

Today’s quarantine inspiration

depends upon

the black crow

in the sun-dappled tree

framed by the endless

blue sky

next to the empty

parking lot

®Douillard

And a student version by S:

My shoes 

So many steps

I take 

They may be

muddy 

Beside the concrete 

porch

I will miss writing my daily slice–but have committed to writing and posting a poem a day for the month of April. Maybe some of the rest of you will join me!

SOLC Day 30: Urban Pinecones

With April right around the corner, I launched the poem-a-day challenge with my class today. I am practiced at this launch in the classroom. I know just how to motivate my students, get them engaged with language play, give them feedback on their early attempts and keep the momentum going throughout the month.

But this year, as we all know, is different. I made a short video of myself explaining the challenge. I sent my students out around their homes today in search of “tiny perfect things.” I asked them to pick one of those things and create a list of 10 great words related to one of the tiny perfect things…and then introduced a mentor text poem.

Today’s poem was one I thought would be highly accessible. Things to do if you are a Pencil by Elaine Magliaro Is vivid and fun, and encourages the use of strong verbs and metaphorical thinking. In the remote learning environment, I realized that my examples became even more important and that my feedback was necessary to push students toward more detail and elaboration.

I’ve asked my students to both keep a physical notebook for their poems in progress and to post them on a slide deck that I started for them in Google Classroom. Here are a few examples of student pieces on day 1.

I love that they each found something they cared about to use as their subject. I’m thrilled to see traces of the mentor text, and that there is strong language use even in these first drafts. I am excited to see what day 2 brings.

And here is my poem for the day:

Urban Pinecones

Be tough and hang on tight as cars whiz by

creating a storm of dust and wind.

Prepare to roll

kicked by joggers, bumped by strollers,

slobbered on by neighborhood dogs.

Listen to the stoplight chatter

“Wait”

and heed the warning.

Hope to land above the curb

where the soil awaits.

Hear the echoes of squirrels and coyotes

and the caws of the crows.

And dream of forests

from your pile on the side of the road.

SOLC Day 29: Tasting the Nurturing

I don’t cook. Lucky for me, I married someone who does…and does it well. And he not only cooks, but uses food preparation as a way of nurturing, a way of showing his love.

Most days, breakfast is a grab your own system. He makes coffee, I grab my yogurt from the fridge, dress it up with granola or fruit or not and eat as I check those early morning emails before I leave the house (back when I left the house). That routine is still in place on the weekdays. But on the weekends, breakfast is always something more special.

This morning was homemade buttermilk biscuits.

I love biscuits. Light and fluffy with a slight crunch, slathered with butter and honey. Perfection. And it takes some work. He starts with a fork and butter into flour, eventually adding wet ingredients until it is ready to roll.

He’s learned this folding and rolling technique that creates space between the layers of the biscuit that contributes to the light and flaky texture. When it is rolled just right, he starts the cutting. with the biscuit cutter we bought on a trip to Nashville (where the biscuits are good)!

Transfer to the pan and into the oven they go until they come our golden brown with just the right crunch on the outer layer.

And to balance out this decadence, scrambled eggs with cheese and turmeric and some orange slices round out the breakfast plate.

In each and every bite, I can feel my husband’s love and care. I hope my students can feel that kind of nurturing in the work I ask them to do. Especially during these remote learning days, when I am not able to teach my lessons through my voice, my body, through the interactions of students with me and with each other, I am carefully constructing and deconstructing my own plans and planning process to convey energy, motivation, and reasons to engage to my students. I want them to taste the sweetness in the writing I ask them to do. I look for ways for us to connect–through video, through images, through words, through text. I want them to taste the love and nurturing just like I did this morning when I bit into that homemade biscuit…with honey dripping down their chins, hungering for more.

SOLC Day 28: Today is Saturday

Today is Saturday. I have to remind myself since all the days feel similar when work and home have become the same place. Saturday means not setting my alarm clock, not settling myself into my working space (at the kitchen table), and a yummy Saturday breakfast made by my husband (today was french toast, bacon, and fruit).

Since my beach walks are on hold for now, a neighborhood walk was in order. But it’s Saturday. So I talked Geoff into walking with me…and he talked me into walking to CVS so he could play Lotto (an essential task…for him).

I’m working to pay more attention to the photographic possibilities on these suburban treks. And I took a number of photos along my way. (I didn’t carry my camera, instead depending on my phone camera for the shots.)

It was coronavirus-empty today. Traffic much lighter than usual and not many people out and about. I couldn’t help but notice the sign waver guy across the way, perched on the fire hydrant. I’m glad he has work and will get paid, but it made me wonder about which jobs people are still heading out for each day. Is the iPhone repair place still open for business? Does the sign waver make a difference in its business?

So what will Sunday bring? Another neighborhood walk, some time spent reading, some last minute lesson planning (getting ready to launch a month full of poetry reading and writing), time on the stationary bike while I watch some Netflixs (i just discovered the new season of Ozarks), and more time than I want to spend at home. I’m desperately missing errands, impromptu adventures, and the beach. But I’m staying home, even though today is Saturday.

SOLC Day 26: It’s the Little Things

The days feel long right now…and not in that endless summer kind of way. Being homebound means that each day feels a lot like the one before, experiencing little change in scenery. With the beaches, parks, and trails closed my walks involve treks around the neighborhood. I get my cardio exercise, but inspiration and scenic beauty are sorely limited. I’m enjoying the cool crispness of early morning walks, but I don’t find myself motivated to stop and pull out my camera to snap a photo or two.

Zoom meetings, student comments, lesson planning, emails to writing project colleagues, clearing that inbox that has building up all week…the hours vaporized and the knots in my back tightened (is there something called Zoom back?). Around 3:30 I noticed an email from a dad of one of my students…and much to my delight there was a short note…”A” wanted to send you this photo she took today. As I scrolled down the image emerged! An egret perched on a chain link fence overlooking the seashore.

I felt a surge of pure joy! I love the photo–and seeing the egret and the beach were a shot of nature that I have been missing since the beach closures earlier in the week. (I have been staying away–trying to do my part to keep the virus at bay.) And it was heartwarming to know my student knows me so well. After almost 2 weeks of remote learning, this student knew how to share some remote caring. She knew I would love this photo…and she is right! Thanks A…you made my day! It really is the little things that matter most.

SOLC Day 25: Coronavirus Status

I came across a post about Jimmy Fallon the other day–where he asked people to describe their quarantine experience in 6 words. Now his was a Twitter thing…and with adults, so the results were funny. At the same time, I was thinking about ways to give my young students (8 and 9 year olds) space to express their experiences now that school is happening at home and they are mostly quarantined in their homes. So I took the loose idea from Jimmy Fallon and combined it with some ways of working that are familiar to my students.

Here was my assignment to them today:

On our 8th day of doing school from home because of the coronavirus, think about either something you are missing or something you are finding wonderful.

1. Take a photo to represent that thing. Be sure to use a photo technique. You may use minor editing on your photo.
2. Write a 6-word update. These are 6 carefully chosen words to express your feelings and communicate what you’re experience. (You can see my example) Only 6 words…try to avoid words like the, and, it… Type your 6-word update in Docs.
3. Click on the link to access the slide deck. Choose the next slide in the deck and insert your photo and copy your 6 words (you will need to insert a text box to paste) onto the slide. Be sure to include your name on the slide.
4. You may change the font if you like. Make sure it is big enough and clear enough to be easily read by others.
5. You may change the background color of your slide if you like. Please select a color from the theme (choices along the bottom)
6. Once you are done with your slide, please attach your poem and photo in Google Classroom to submit your work.
7. I can’t wait to see our slide deck develop! Be sure to be thoughtful and do quality work!
8. My slide is included so you can better understand what I am asking you to do.

And here are some of the results:

As you can see, the kids can see both the benefits and the drawbacks of their time at home. The biggest loss they are feeling is the social aspects of going to school. They miss their friends…and their teachers. And we definitely miss them too.

So my students’ 6-word coronavirus status updates are not funny, but they are honest and sweet, hopeful and very much all kid! I’ll be looking for more ways to allow for expression without being too heavy-handed.

What have you been doing to document your experience as we journey through this global pandemic? Have you done anything to facilitate the process for the young people in your lives? I’d love to borrow more ideas!

SOLC Day 24: Something New

Our beaches closed today. A stern response to a sunny weekend where social distancing seemed to be a fantasy to many–they were imagining Spring Break instead. The state, the city, the county came down hard. Beaches, parks and trails are closed. Stay home. Walk in your neighborhood. Get serious about fighting this virus.

I saw it coming, but it didn’t make it less painful. But luckily for me, a new toy…or tool arrived in the mail yesterday. And after a long day of remote learning for me and teleconferencing for my husband, we cut the straps on that big box and began the assembly.

My role when it comes to putting things together is to organize the pieces, get rid of the packaging, and prepare to hand out the nuts and bolts and screws and pieces. And after about an hour, voila, we now have a stationary bike!

My preference for exercise is always to be outdoors. Walking and hiking are my activities of choice. And the beach is my number 1. But for the immediate future, I’ll be pedaling. I did get up early and walk the neighborhood this morning. And I tried the bike this afternoon…with my kindle in hand. I read and pedaled. It’s not the beach…but, oh well, sometimes you have to change your behavior for the public good.

SOLC Day 23: Making Connections

We’re still at it–the “it” being remote learning while our schools remain closed. On our 6th day I’ve learned some things that I didn’t know when we started this last week.

  1. Remote learning is not the same thing as teaching. I’m able to push out learning activities and provide feedback, but I’ve yet to get the teaching part in order.
  2. Technical glitches are a given. There is a constant barrage of technical questions from my students and their parents. Where is the attachment? It says file not found! My attachment won’t load. Where do I do my writing? My stream is gone!
  3. Related to number 2, we are lucky to have responsive tech support in my small district! Today my email cries of help were met with a productive Google Meet session with one of our tech team members. I got help troubleshooting, established a reasonable work around, and even squeezed in an extra question about Google Meet!
  4. I love Flipgrid! Posting a prompt each day–both written and as a video that I make as an invitation–allows my students to show each other a glimpse of their interests at home. They seem to enjoy it…and so do I. I just wish there were a way to comment that wasn’t limited to making a video back. (If any of you know a workaround for this, please share!)
  5. My students love to chat! I knew that they loved to chat–as in verbalize–in the classroom. But I learned quickly last Monday just how much they love to chat (like texting) on the Google Classroom pages. Which also means that I’ve been thinking about ways for them to connect that are less annoying that hundreds of emails in my inbox.
  6. So today, I decided to schedule an impromptu classroom meetup through Google Meet. I posted a note on our classroom page, letting kids know a couple of hours in advance that I would post a link to Meet…and gave brief directions about how to get on. I decided not to email parents this first time, just see who would come and figure out from there how it would work. Right on time, about half my students along with my co-teacher and our science teacher starting to pop onto my screen. At first with no volume…but eventually at full volume. I was able to get them to all mute themselves and then I called on them one by one to unmute and tell us all how they were and what they were doing. They absolutely loved being together…and then toward the end of our time one student discovered the chat feature–so I explained where it was to all of them and let them go wild chatting. Emojis began to fly along with the Hi and I’m here kind of posts they seem to love best. I gave them a one minute warning on the chatting and then wished them all well and signed off. I’ve already had an email from a parent thanking me for making her child’s day!
  7. I still haven’t figured out how to get everything done–including my report cards–in a reasonable time . But I know more about how to manage this new learning context than I did last week. I’m thinking about how to use our Meet tool in two different ways–one for a sort of “recess” like today, and another to support student learning in more specific ways. I’m still worried about the kids who are not as present, staying on the fringes of this remote learning thing. Are they having tech problems, are their parents too busy trying to work from home to help them, are they home alone without help? I hope to answer some of those questions in the days to come.

What’s happening in your learning context? How’s your homeschooling or remote learning going? What is working for you? What isn’t? What connections are you making?

SOLC Day 22: Taking Time

Taking Time

She breathes in

The daily brine

Ionic medicinal

Clearing the mind

Walks at a brisk clip

Quieting

Relentless wrist taps

To close the fitness rings

Is there time to linger

To look closely

At the spiral of shell

Notice its glossy curves?

Slow down to watch

The dragon lifts

On the elevator of wind currents

Overseeing the shoreline

Pause, look, listen, watch

Don’t congregate

Breathe in, pay attention

Make ever moment and every ion count

®Douillard