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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What I saw at PARCC testing.

I am a teacher in Colorado.  We are experiencing first year PARCC madness right now.  Within the classroom I've opted to let good teaching work rather than test preparation.  I've encouraged my students to show what they know and to take pride knowing that they have done their best.

When I signed on the dotted line a couple weeks ago I said that I wouldn't share any items from PARCC.  I promised I wouldn't take pictures -- PARCC you do not get to use up any memory on my phone-- and I wouldn't read or look at test items.  I promised to not take any notes or coach kids.  I promised to just keep kids in line while they took the test.  While I walked around as a PARCC security guard today watching my students put forth an AMAZING effort I did look at what I could and this is a list of what I saw:
  • Students trying their best filled with pride that they did.
  • Students intently reading and writing for multiple hours to show the world what they know and can do.
  • Students who against all odds are showing up with a positive attitude that is infectious.
  • Students who worked up until the last minute to edit and revise their work to make it the best that they can.
I also saw:
  • Lots and lots and lots of dirty kleenexes from several stuffy noses.
  • A kiddo crouched on his chair literally vibrating trying to keep his energy under wraps while his peers finished.
  • A boy making scary evil rabbit faces at his screen.  His front teeth pushed over his bottom lip and his brow furrowed.
  • A student highlighting every other word in a different color.
  • Lots of fidgeting and a concerted effort to talk down their energy.
I didn't know what to expect or how I would feel at the end of the day.  I don't know what their scores will look like but I do know that most of my students left it all on the PARCC court.  I'm proud of who they are, the prideful people they are growing into.

Monday, March 16, 2015


When I was a little girl my dad was determined to teach us to love the sports that he loved, biking and x-country skiing.  He would coach us along until we finally would whine enough that he would stop and just let us experiment on our own.

Learning to ride bikes was definitely one of my dad's jobs.  We had two hand-me-down bikes but the only one I remember was a yellow banana seat bike that we inherited from my cousin Sonia who is five years my senior.  The bike weighed a ton.  This was the bike that we learned to ride on.  A lot of the memories are hazy.  I don't remember if it had training wheels and I don't remember what type of brakes it had.  What I do remember is how my dad taught us to ride without any balancing aids.

I need to preface this story with some basic facts about where I learned to ride.  I grew up on a ranch in Western Colorado.  Our ranch house was tucked away from any and all neighbors up a three quarters of a mile private gravel road.  To us it was a road but to most it was a four wheel drive road and indeed during certain months of the year drivers either need four wheel drive or a lot of speed to get up to the house.  In front of the house there was a 40 yard straight and flat section of gravel road that separated the house and yard from the garden.  Gravel for that long of a driveway is expensive so really the road was dirt with a mixture of large and small rock.  The large rocks for catching the tires and the small rocks for lodging in our knees.

My dad would get us lined up at one end of the straight stretch with his hand on the back of the banana seat.  Taking a firm grip he would push us and help us start pedaling and then run behind us.  With one final shove he would send us off to try and maneuver the gravel road on a bike we didn't know how to ride yelling "pedal, Pedal, PEDAL!"  Inevitably several of these ended up in crashes onto the gravel road.  My knees tells this story to this day.  They are full of scars behind many of them you can hear, "PEDAL".

My dad was successful.  I love both of the sports that he loves plus many more.  It wasn't until he was pretty sick from cancer treatments that I could even begin to keep up with him.  As I was watching my seven year old ride her new bike last weekend I could feel dad around smiling that his Tiger-lily was loving to ride as much as he loved to.  Thankfully we weren't picking any gravel out of her knees in the process!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Not Broken

I never write poetry and am not much of a poet but in the spirit of trying. . . her is my slice from today.  From those poets out there I'd love some very HONEST feedback.

The worry gets held inside
like a cake of yarn.  Rolled up neatly
freshly off the ball winder
but some days it unwinds.

My love rode ahead.  Out of my
The cake unraveled
just a bit.  My mind twisted the handle
rolled it back together, neatly.

The conversation lulled and
the unraveling began
Consciously rolling it back up.
The adults are with her.

With each step and bend
more unraveling.

Will they send a kid back to tell
Will they race to get
so that
can comfort and quell the pain?
Surely.  Wind it back neatly.
Each piece tucked next to the rest.

There they are.  Under the overhanging tree.
Playing.  I don't see her.
Surely she isn't too close to the river.
Where is she?

Tucked up next to. . .
A daredevil you say?
Tears -- baby why?  You fell
from there? From up above?

C'mere baby.  It's OK
Not broken.
You caught her head.  Thank God. Thank you.

Mama needs to quit using the ball winder
her hands will do.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Today I went to a locally owned bike shop and spent a decent about of money on a bike for my seven year old.  I have had a bit of buyers remorse because of the price tag but her smile has made up for it.  As I sit and reflect upon the day I am entertained by how natural it was to rationalize such a purpose.

The whole "new bike idea" started with a spring break camping trip.  Her bike, purchased used last spring, is too little to fit on our existing bike racks on the top of the car.  In order to get a bike rack to fit on the back of my car we have to not only buy the rack but install a trailer hitch.  The act of bringing her bike was going to cost at least $600.  We realized that it would be cheaper to buy her a new, bigger, better bike that would fit on the rack we already owned.  (Reason #1)

Mike husband loves to ride his mountain bike and I love the idea of them riding together.  We also want her to enjoy it so we want a bike that is going to work well so she walks away from the experience with a smile on her face.  Consequently, we had to buy a good mountain bike.  Let's just face it, we are kind of gear snobs. (Reason #2)

I brought her to the bike shop that the husband of a teacher at my school owns.  My daughter plays soccer with their daughter so I thought it would be a good place to start.  We were NOT going to buy anything.  We were just going to look.  I was thinking about going to REI in Denver at the beginning of break to save $75 or so.  Once we were in the store and we had tried out the bike I started realizing how much of a pain it would be to get to the REI with both kids, by myself, to get the bike so I decided we would buy the bike here. (Reason #3)

My husband is very happy with the decisions I make.  He doesn't need to be troubled with this bike or that.  He doesn't care about the color and most kids bikes are the same anyway.  So if I went home without the bike we would just need to come back the next day so I might as well buy it today, Mike wouldn't care and the bikes are virtually the same shop to shop.  (Reasons 4 & 5)

If we got the bike today we could ride it two days in a row to give her time to figure it out a bunch before we go camping.  We could even ride right after purchasing it.  (Reason 6)

Sealing the deal was the look on her face.  She is such a good kid.  Great grades, dedicated to school, kind and loving to her sister, good natured about our adventures or non adventures.  I'm constantly scrimping and saving.  I'm always saying "No our family doesn't just buy presents or treats."  It would feel so good to just buy it for her because she loves it.  (Best reason of all).

Now we have a beautiful pink bike that she has already ridden and washed parked in the garage waiting for tomorrow's ride.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reflections on 6th Grade ELA --2014-2015

The 2014-2015 school year is/was (May 20th will be here soon!) my 14th year of teaching and as I reflect upon my growth as a teacher, it was probably the most formative year.  Three factors were in place to create the opportunity for transformation.  First, we were charged with implementing a new and much more rigorous curriculum but the anchor text, Ender's Game was challenged and so the curriculum became quite a saga.  Second, I took a class through our district entitled "The Craft of Teaching Writing".  Third, I grow easily tired with the norm and I like to play with new ideas.  The three, my own personality plus the class and wacky curriculum roll out created a perfect storm to try a lot of new strategies and teaching moves.  I find that I am invigorated by the year and am excited by what I have learned and the potention for future growth.

Focused academic talk within collaborative experiences and partnerships has been a pivotal.  I've overcome my own hesitancies and insecurities as a classroom manager to grow students' abilities to talk with each other.  They are great at talking about friends, crushes, food, etc.  Much like adults.  We have a lot of practice at that basic conversational language but little practice with academic.  It has been fun to see them sit up straight and try.  They feel so mature and accomplished.  They are serious about their learning.

Participating in a class with excellent teachers raises the level of expectations that I have for myself. I continue to be motivated to be a better teacher of writing and thanks to the opportunity via The Slice of Life, I understand that I need to be a better writer and in order to do that I need to WRITE!  I find myself checking out books on writing from the library, following new blogs, dreaming of my next writing project.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book about tipping points.  This year has been my tipping point as a writer and a teacher of writing.   I have a long ways to go but I am enjoying the journey.

Paying Back the Universe

When I first saw my husband Mike, we were at a Wilderness Study Group meeting at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  It was a student group that we were both interested in.  I was an eager and nervous freshman but he was a curious individual.  He sat in the back of the room with an unruly mop of hair on the top of his head.  He wore pants that had been unevenly cut off above the knees and was skinny.  Almost shockingly skinny for a man as tall as he is.  His gaunt torso was draped with a worn t-shirt.  The kind that you never want to get rid of because it is irreplaceably soft and comfortable.  Taped to his arm was an IV.  He sat and listened and when he did speak, it was intelligent and well-informed.  He was mysterious and I wanted to know his story.  I wanted to know the story of the IV.

Over the course of that year we saw each other on and off at different meetings or events.  I figured out pretty quick that he was older than me and I remained cautious and nervous.  I never had the courage to ask the question that my nosey nature wanted to know.  Summer came and went and when I went back to school in the fall he had left school and moved to Southern Colorado to do environmental work.  Once when he was back in Boulder visiting he and a friend came to my house for dinner.  After we finished our dinner.  A college kid special, spaghetti, I started hearing a ticking sound.  I could not get rid of  it and it was driving me crazy.  I started scanning the room.  Did we get a new clock?  No.  Is it coming from outside?  No, definitely inside.  Finally, I couldn't take the noise anymore and I said, "What is the annoying ticking noise?"  To my incredible embarassment, Mike responded "my heart".  While I sat there mortified he told me that story.  In April of 1995 he was rushed to the ER because he thought he had pneumonia.  He was actually in congestive heart failure because an infection, exaserbated by his murmur, had eaten away not one but two heart valves.  With two separate surgeries he had had two of his heart valves replaced with mechanical valves.  He was ticking. It was the sound of life, ticking along.

Those surgeries were twenty years ago next month.  We have spent the last eighteen years by each others' sides and have a beautiful little family.   He credits the nurses at the cardiovascular ICU with saving him and I credit them with blessing me with Mike and the girls with their Dada.  They were the ones who told the doctors, "he won't make it another night".  The nurses cared and worked their magic to keep him with us in body and mind.

Today he started his first shift out of nursing school as a cardiovascular ICU nurse.  Paying back the universe in some way.  I said that to him as he left this morning.  His response was, "I hadn't thought of that.  But maybe."  I know.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Interview with Obsolescence

As I was eating my lunch and going braindead, I surfed through the other day.  I came across this post of an interview with a regular watch.

I shared it with my students this morning in my writing workshop intervention class.  My students enjoyed it and had fun playing with the idea.  I wrote alongside them and this is what happened.

Interview with CSAP Preparation Materials

Background:  In Colorado the previous standardized test was called CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) which changed to TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) in preparation for PARCC which starts this year.

What are you doing in that box?
She put me here.

The teacher.

I guess the children don't need to prepare anymore.

I'm sure they need to prepare for something.  Surely they could use you.
I didn't ever think that I'd dream of being used.  It used to be that I hated hearing my classroom cupboard open.  The children hated me so much.  All I would hear would be their negative comments.

They really were negative?
Of course. What middle school student or teacher for that matter wants to spend days looking at me.  Let's face it, I'm boring.

Boring or not, don't they need you to prepare?  Don't they still take tests?
From what I can tell stuffed in this box, they are taking the next new test, PARCC.  Before that it was TCAP.  The kids called it T-crap.  I kind of agreed with them.  I don't even like myself.

What is this PARCC test?  
I don't know.  Just thinking of it makes my letters quiver and pages krinkle.  There is something new called the Common Core Standards.  From what I can tell they are more rigorous and will get the kids ready for their future better than the standards on my pages.  I'm just dumb.

You're not dumb.  CSAP was a tough test for most kids.  You're different that's all.
Different?  Is that supposed to make me feel better?

I didn't mean to insult you.  I'm sorry.  I feel for you I really do.
Listen I haven't been used for a few years.  For a while she just left me in my cupboard.  I look pretty good so I guess she didn't want to get rid of me.  But earlier this year she took me out and boxed me up.  I overheard her talking to some guy about me.

What were they saying?
They said that there wasn't a need for me anymore and I could get shipped to some warehouse or go in the dumpster.

So I guess you're happy that you are still just hanging out in the box waiting?
I guess so.  The bottom line is I'm worthless and done for.  It's OK because the people who choose these tests will come out with something new and eventually PARCC test preparation materials will be hanging out in some box next to me.  We'll be friends someday.  It always works this way with schools.  I was the the "in thing" before and now I'm not.  The same will be true of PARCC someday.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Knock Down Drag Out Fight

Today I am experiencing the dreaded "writer's block".  No, not quite totally true.  I am experiencing positive writer's block.  Everything that I can think to write about is negative.  My annoyances and frustrations with the world, my life, etc.  I decided when I started the Slice of Life experience that I didn't want it to be a place for complaining.  Expressing my emotions about sad or tough topics is one thing but not complaining.

I am also feeling overwhelmed.  Maybe it is because I am sick but I'm overwhelmed by choosing.  What should I write about?  What experiences?  Maybe I can't write.  Maybe it isn't any good.  Darn it. . . negative.

In my sixth grade ELA class today we discussed internal and external conflicts.  We also discussed how it is some people's nature to have more of one kind of conflict than the other.  I, you might have guessed, am prone to internal conflict.  I had fun with this because I asked students to raise their hand if they had had a conflict today.  Then I told them that I had a MAJOR conflict this morning from about 5:30 am to 5:45.  I really built it up with lines like "it was a knock down drag out fight" and "my conflict lasted a long time".  By the end of my build up they were feverish.  They wanted to know who I was fighting.  I am a mild mannered person and probably the least likely person they know to get into a fight.  I finally dropped it on them, "Do you know who I was fighting with?  MYSELF!"  It went like this.

"Beep.  Beep.  Beep."

"Don't get out of bed.  It is so comfortable.

"You have to get up and get ready for work."

"No you don't."

"I'll get in trouble if I just don't show up."

"So what.  You have a cold.  You need the sleep."

"I also need a job."

"Who cares.  The bed is comfortable, the pillow is just right and it is going to be a long day.  Might as well not start."

Eventually the rational side of me won out and I pulled back the covers and forced myself out of my cocoon.  By the time that I get to this point in the story the students think it is hilarious and they understand internal conflict.  Now if only I could conquer my own conflicts that easily.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Common Cold at the Levers

There are some times when the common cold stalks me for a while.  I get a sense that something is right behind me but after a good night of sleep or a cup of tea I look back and it is gone.  There are other times when the common cold doesn't spend any time messing around and just drives the front-end loader through my living room wall and lets the entire ton of bricks fall right on my head.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt like I was being stalked.  Every time I turned around I was being watched.  I felt a little more fatigued than usual or I had a little bit of a stuffy nose but the cold never quite caught up to me.  I thought it had given up because I didn't have the sense that it was there last week.  Until last night that is.

We invited a family over for dinner.  Now that my husband has finished nursing school we are trying to develop a social life again.  I made delicious meal and we had a nice evening of conversation.  Both kids were bathed and snuggled in bed asleep as I sat down to write.  That is when I heard the noise.  First it was the turn into the driveway and then the crash through the livingroom wall.  I sat there looking up at the load of bricks teetering above my head. I could see the common cold in the driver's seat.  Why can't you just follow me for another week I begged as I slipped away to make myself a cup of ginger-honey tea.  No was the emphatic answer as the cold worked the levers to drop the bricks.

The weight dropped on me as the bricks fell and then the cold backed out the hole in the wall to get another load to drop somewhere else no doubt.  I sat there in disbelief.  Didn't the cold know that I'm trying to finish our class novel, that we are in the midst of PARCC testing, that the baby is cutting molars.  Evidently that was not a care.  I crawled my way out from under the bricks to get a fresh box of kleenex and went to bed.

I woke up this morning bruised and battered.  I'm spacey, my throat hurts and I could crawl into bed and sleep all day.  Instead I'm going to put on my best face and do everything I can to heal hoping that the common cold won't make me feel as my mother always says "uncommonly bad".

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hugs, Kisses, I Love Yous, Happiness, Sweet Dreams and Forever


We moved from our house located in rural Western Colorado three years ago to accommodate my husband going back to college.  Our older daughter was four and a half when we moved.  When we go back for the weekend or on school holidays I am awash with memories of her early childhood.

The house was built in 1926 and has the charm of that era with modern improvements.  The house is quaint and charming.  Nothing is level thanks to previous owners flood irrigating around the house and the fact that the foundation is a combination of large rocks, some cement and luck.  We would joke that you couldn't make anything level because it would look unlevel.  Too much contrast is a bad thing.  The stairs are really steep and had there been "code" back then certainly wouldn't have passed the test.

The steep stairs lead to a two room upstairs.  As was common in homes build in that era in our valley, there was a room that the stairs opened into and you walk through the open room to get to the bedroom.

We brought our daughter, Alma, home from the hospital to a cute nursery set up in the room we walked through to get to our bedroom.  From the very beginning, Alma loved her snuggles.  I would lay in the recliner and nurse her until she fell asleep and then go through great lengths to try and lay her down in her crib.  I couldn't let her cry so if I was unsuccessful I'd pick her back up and we would start all over again.  On the weekends I would hold her for naps.  We would lay in the recliner and sleep together.  Some of the most blissful moments of life.

As time passed, Alma no longer nursed and I would rock her to sleep.  She would want "mommy snuggles" but sometimes I needed to work or attempt to put life together for the next day.  It was on one such day in her bedroom in the old house that we came up with our goodnight ritual that has persisted.

Alma and I had finished our bedtime stories, snuggled and I was ready to get up and head down the creaking stairs to my to-do list below.  She of course was trying her best to keep me there.  Trying to convince me to stay using all of the usual tools, "Mommy I'm scared, Mommy I need a drink , Mommy just two more minutes, etc".  Out of somewhere I gave her a hug and said "Hugs" then I gave her a kiss and said "Kisses" then I said "I Love You", I took my fingers and waved them over her head and said "A sprinkle of happiness" and "Sweet dreams".  After another round of pleading I said, "hugs, kisses, I love yous, happiness and sweet dreams".  She looked up into my eyes and was satisfied.  I could go downstairs and she could go to bed.  Now, several years later we say it every single night.

I'm fascinated by where ideas that become a lasting part of life come from.  This came from my heart and my wishes for her as well.  Now Alma has a baby sister and has added a final part "and forever".  Yes, beautiful child of mine, "forever".

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Go Team Teeth!

SOL #7
When we committed to baby number two I read most of the fine print.  I skimmed over the part about being tired.  Everyone knows that you'll be tired as a parent.  I actually read the section on sleep deprivation knowing that while there would be some tough nights I would be fine.  I had already done this once how much different can it be.  I even read the section on null sleep but my cherub would sleep, I was certain.

Emma has been a pretty good sleeper.  We made it to one year old and the week before her birthday she slept through the night for three nights in a row.  I got a taste of what it feels like to be rested.  Maybe that is the issue -- contrast.  At any rate,  since she turned one on March 1st Emma has been up on and off at night and has been cranky for chunks of time not wanting to be held or laid down.  At this point I am sleep deprived.  The string of nights with periods of null sleep has caught up to me.  I am hazy and exhausted.  To all the parents out there reading this and thinking "suck it up my kid. . ." I am sure that you had it worse but I am still sleep deprived.

My theory has been that she is either getting another ear infection or she is teething and I was placing my bets on the later.  She has all the tell-tale gooey signs -- copious amounts of drool and boogers all blended together on her hand as she mashes her fingers into her maw yet again to chew on them.  After her bath, I felt to see how close the next teeth were and I didn't feel anything.  How curious?  I felt again and she wasn't having any part of a second mommy finger in her mouth.  She arched her back and tried to use her patented diaper change power roll to get away.  It forced my finger further down her jaw line.  Sure enough, I found two very ouchy pointy lumps pushing their way through.  First molars.  A bit early but here nonetheless.  Poor baby.  

As we rocked and read in the recliner tonight my seven year old daughter and I made up a cheer encouraging those teeth to come, "Go teeth!  Go team teeth!".  We are cheering them on and I'm quietly begging them so I can move back to just simply being tired.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What would you hear if. . . ?

When I watch professional football, albeit rarely, I am always surprised when they broadcast the sounds from a player's helmet.   It seems to be an invasion of privacy as if their own helmet is the only safe place as each and every one of their moves is being hyper-analyzed from couches and recliners across the country.  I feel almost a bit protective and put out that they would share their breathing, grunts and comments.  Why do the players agree?  Do they have a choice?  Who do they choose; the players who are less likely to use choice vocabulary?  My most pressing question is, do the players forget that they have the microphone and that we are all listening in?

The other day, as I was making my way through my seventh period class I found myself saying "Timmy (names changed) you cannot have your pants around your ankles in class!"  As it was coming out of my mouth I was amazed as if I was in the stands listening in.

From that point, I've pondered, what would it be like if I had a microphone on during my day and my comments were heard and scrutinized?   What would people hear?  What would they think?

So I started paying attention and I heard a lot of mundane and repeated comments, "go ahead and have a seat", "Your eyes should be here", "Can I have your attention.", etc.  I realized that I repeat myself endlessly all day.  Where exactly does the patience for this come from?  I also hear myself creating relationships.  I'm asking questions non-stop checking in to find out how one student's nephew is doing now that he is out of the hospital or when soccer starts or when dad gets to come home.

The pants by your ankles comment was only the beginning of comments I make that are really pretty funny. I starting listing some of my gems.
  • Whose socks are in this desk?
  • No you can't breath in Smartie dust.
  • Yes, it IS poop on the floor.
  • You're right that is a frog.  I wonder how it got in here.
  • I'm standing here so you can't track the poop into the classroom. (different occasion)
  • You are right my computer is smoking.
  • Ewwwww.  You cannot pick your nose with your pencil!
 Someone could mash-up what teachers say on youtube and it would go viral.

Teachers get scrutinized in so many ways we might as well be given a microphone. We could be heard when we are "in the game".   Maybe the humanity of our job would become the focus again. People from all over the country could scrutinize what I say, the relationships I build and I would bet at the end of the video would wonder "How does she do that every day?"  I know why and that is what matters.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

We must like the cold.

We were young and adventurous.  I had disappointed my parents and left college half way through my sophomore year to move to a tiny town in Southern Colorado with my older boyfriend, now husband.  We were doing environmental work.  At the time it was the most important work that I could have done.  Looking back it seems very futile.

We were living on a historic ranch, one settled by Spaniards when that part of Colorado still flew the Mexican flag.  I was learning how to cook something out of nothing for armies of family and visitors and my boyfriend was learning all about cattle and farming.  There was half a finished house on the ranch that, prior to us moving into one of the only finished rooms, was a mouse castle.

It was February and we moved the futon I had purchased for my dorm room into the single insulated room.  We piled on the sleeping bags we owned as well as those appropriated from my parents and snuggled up.  We occasionally turned on the space heater but not often because of the cost and the fire hazard.

Culebra Peak (14,053 ft.)  sits just East of
San Luis, CO.  It is the southern most
14,000 peak in Colorado.
The 8000 ft San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado gets cold in the winter.  There are strings of days with nighttime temperatures dipping to twenty below zero.  To compound the cold, the wind blows from about November through June turning those twenty below nights much colder.

One morning I woke up to find my head all the way under the covers.  "Brrr" I thought, "it must have gotten really cold last night".  On cold nights it is hard to get out of bed when you are in a warm house let alone in a room without heat and the door to the frigid Colorado winter WIDE open.  During the night, unbeknownst to us, the door had blown open as a squall came through.  Once we realized what had happened we closed the door, shaking our heads at our own ignorance and bundled up to walk to the main house for something warm to drink.

The ranch was owned by a retired elementary principal.  He was also a WWII veteran who survived such battles as Iwo Jima.  Corpus was a character and we loved and respected him.  He did not mince words. As we walked in his only comment was, "you must like the cold."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


I have never been a particularly observant person.  In fact, I miss a lot of what is going on around me.  I tend to rely on my sixth sense rather than the other five.  After living in our current house for about two years I was put out and annoyed one day by the large shed our neighbors across the draw put it.  Upon complaining to my husband about it, he informed me that it had been there all along.

I don't think that I'm incapable of observation it is just that my mind is always in the near future or distant future depending on the day.  My mind is typically a few steps ahead of where I am.  I try to practice mindfulness but have yet to develop that good habit.  I'm reminded to be mindful as I feel the moments slip away as my babies grow up.  Where did seven years go?  Where did the last year go and how about today?

Writing is forcing me to hone my senses and take the time to notice.

Tonight we headed out on our evening walk with the dogs, Bart and Lisa.  We usually get up from dinner, leave the dishes and head out.  It is good for all of us to get a little fresh air before bed and for the dogs to get out of the yard after being cooped up all day.  This time of year it is dark so in addition to the coats, hats, gloves and other winter gear, we don blinking lights and head lamps to scream "HELLO" to any cars that might pass our way.  Just as we pushed the jog stroller out of the garage it started to snow, hard.

As we walked blinking snowflakes out of our eyelashes, I found myself being much more keen to my surroundings.  I noticed the moon peeking through one thin opening in the clouds.  I heard Emma's shrieks from inside the stroller and her hands patting on the plastic sides of her weatherproof enclosure.  At one point, I called Bart and Lisa back to us and Bart jumped up in the air and tried to attack Lisa.  I thought what a spry move for the old guy.  Time and time again on the walk I noticed what I haven't paid attention to before.  The jingle of a dogs collar, the snow in the light of the headlamp and the slap of my daughter's shoes on the pavement as she plays puppy dog having me throw her an endless supply of imaginary doggy treats.

Allowing my mind to obsess over what could be kills the moments that are.  Maybe just maybe writing about the slices of my life will help me savor them too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March 1, 2015 Emma's First Birthday

The single candle lit up her face.  It flickered and her eyes moved between it and all of the smiling faces looking at her.  I can only guess what might have been going through her head as she was initiated into the birthday tradition.  Her little eyes were taking it all in.  Her hands rested quietly on the tray of the high chair.  A quick glance upward connecting with my eyes and then a glance to the right to connect with sissy's eyes.  "Happy Birthday dear Emma, happy birthday to you" was punctuated with a "cha-cha-cha" from Sissy's best friend, Kayla.

Quietly staring.  The tradition of celebrating birthdays so foreign.  Something that she will be dreaming of in a couple of years, counting down the days.  Does she wonder why everyone is looking at her when she was the one doing the looking just minutes before as all the party go-ers talked amongst themselves?  Does she wonder why everyone began to sing and all seemed to know the song?  Does she wonder what a candle is and why is the camera out again?

I placed a slice of carrot cake with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting on her tray.  She took her fore and middle fingers and gingerly placed them in the frosting.  While still closely watching the crowds she carefully placed them in her mouth.  We were of course expecting her to smear it all over her tray before applying it to her hair like opaque gel.  She did not.  She was thoughtful as she placed the frosting her in mouth.  The same two fingers came out and carefully pushed the piece of cake over so it fell onto its side.  Carefully she peeled off a bite from the bottom and placed it into her mouth.  By now our friends had given up on the hope of a hilarious baby finger painting the frosting across every surface scene and were staring at the cake.  I doled out pieces but kept an eye on Em.  She kept an eye on everyone else slowly eating bits and pieces of cake.

After a few more bites Em just stopped eating, rested her hands on her tray and watched.  The spectacle around her seemed to be more of a novelty than the cake itself.  I picked her up and carried her to wash the bits of cake and frosting off her hands.  Certainly not the bath I thought she would need.

As I fell asleep later that night, I thought about how much I take for granted that she will learn.  I thought about the journey of learning that she is on and what she will teach me in the process.  The humility of being a mama.  There are so many gifts to motherwood but this was the birthday gift from Emma to mama.

Monday, March 2, 2015


As I looked East from the house past the apple tree and the inoperable old wagon there was a haze over the field.  It was normal for this time of year.  The orchard grass was releasing it's pollen in it's effort to reproduce itself in the rat race that is life no matter the species.

I had terrible hay fever.  It didn't help that my cat slept on my pillow or that we were surrounded by fields filled with orchard grass.  A good orchard grass year meant a good hay crop and everyone rejoiced.  Even those of us suffering rejoiced.  The hay fever didn't impact everyone.  My mom and sister weren't bothered, the dogs didn't seem to notice and the cows were indifferent.  My dad and I were miserable.  He would go irrigating with fabric covering every inch of his body, a dust mask and ski goggles on his face all stuffed into thigh high irrigating boots wielding a shovel.  No wonder there wasn't ever a UFO sighting on the ranch!

I was running a lot and the haze that I saw meant suffering later in the day.  I knew what I was in for and like most days I would just gut it out.  Later I would put cold washcloths on my eyes to keep myself from trying to rip them out and polish them with sandpaper.

On this morning, I trotted down the driveway with the dogs at my heals.  My run was uneventful.  I turned around and started towards home.  Home meant running up the three-quarters of a mile private driveway to the house.  I topped the hill at the haystack and could see the house.  It was getting hot and I was ready to be done.  So were the dogs.  Their tongues hung out of the side of their mouths as they left a path of saliva and irrigation water in their wake.  They had just stopped to cool off in the ditch and were catching up to me.   To the left was a hayfield chest high with orchard grass and to the right was the neighbor's property and a pinyon juniper forest.  In front of me was a skunk.  I had been sprayed before as a little girl and I didn't want to repeat.  He was far enough away that I wasn't a threat and he just was lazying his way down the road.  At this point I stopped, held the dogs at my side and watched; he didn't seem to want to go anywhere.The sun was beginning to beat down and I was getting hungry so I decided to get home by going around him.  I was nervous about hopping the fence to my neighbor's property and so I hopped the fence into the hayfield.  I had that "THIS IS A BAD IDEA" feeling but was young and mostly invincible.

I started jogging again.  The grass was hitting my bare arms and stomach.  My legs were maneuvering their way over ditches.  The skunk was to the right of me and then behind me.  As I arrived on the road after circumventing the skunk I realized that a suffering far greater than a little skunk stink was in front of me.  By the time I made it the last quarter of a mile home, every inch of my body was covered with welts.  I ran into the house and straight into the shower.  I clasped my hands behind my back and vowed to not touch my eyes.  The water ran over me washing away the pollen that was my nemesis.  I reluctantly turned off the water and dried off feeling nauseas.  I made my way into clean clothing, a class of cold water and the couch with my washcloth.  I would ride it out but wouldn't be scared to ask the skunk to do the running in the hayfield the next time.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Under the Cherry Trees

slice+of+life.jpgIt was summer, the end of June when the pie cherries were ripe.  We were selling some at the farmer's market and putting the rest up as jars of jam and bags of pie filling in the freezer.  I started early, I had to in order to be able to pick before the heat of the day when the combination of the cherry juice and heat led to exhaustion.

In the fields to the East of the house, my parents were out laying down pipe for the sprinklers.  The year prior my dad and husband had plowed and planted oats.  Over the winter, the leukemia my father was living with became more acute and his doctors decided he would receive a stem cell transplant from my aunt as a "last resort".  Hard to believe it was a last resort because he seemed so healthy when he had cancer.  It was the transplant that seemed to change things.  Anyway, plans had changed and the transplant was rescheduled for fall so they were carrying on the project of the new hayfield.  I watched and wished that I could be in two places but they didn't want me to help.  They wanted me to work on my own project -- the cherries.

The cherry trees were planted when my sister and I were little.  The tree to the West was mine and the tree to the East was my sister's.  Each summer at the end of June, when the hay fever was at it's height, we would begin picking.  It was a ritual.  A summer wasn't complete without a harvest from the trees.  A couple of times the blossoms froze in the spring and there wasn't any fruit leaving a hole.   As if we were lost without the work.  Life wasn't quite the same without it.  My mom, dad, sister and I would all pick.  The dogs and the cats would laze around in the shade wondering what all the fuss was about.

The canopy of the cherry trees held and collected the stories of my life.  Each one adding to a previous one and all tucked away and safe under the branches. It was under their protection that my sister and I would play while my mom worked in the garden.  My husband and I were married with the trees weighted down with ripe red cherries as a backdrop.  Each drooping bunch held our memories.

This summer day I was alone under the trees save my childhood cat Maybell who was always nearby.  I had put The Poisonwood Bible on my v1.0 iPod the previous night.  The audio books made my summers of market gardening go by quickly.  I had tried Barbara Kingsolver's book several years earlier but quit after one or two pages.  This time, I would persist because I was captive under the cherry tree.

I picked the cherries into a recycled yogurt container and from there into a larger bucket.  My container had a makeshift handle so I could easily hold it and a branch in my left hand and pick with my right.  As I picked I was careful to leave the stems intact to keep the cherries from turning brown.  Carton after carton was eased along by Kingsolver's story.  The boxed cake mixes going into the suitcase, the malaria pills, the misunderstandings of the language all took over as she wove her story.  I lost track of the cartons and the buckets.  My hands browned more and more until they were dyed by the juice.   The summer ritual under the cherry tree had a new accompaniment to add to the mosaic of memories from under the trees.

A sound jarred me from the book and I saw the tractor and trailer coming in from the field as my parents had finished laying pipe and the day was heating up.  I quieted Kingsolver's story and began to haul my buckets into the house.  My mom and I would spend the rest of the day pitting, canning and freezing together just as were were supposed to do each June.