Thank You for Inviting Me In

 

“Good Morning, Mom.  I’ve got the Moka Pot on.  Are you ready for a cup of espresso?  I usually have a not-too-hard-boiled egg for breakfast and a little fruit.  Does that work for you?”  

I was slowly waking up (foggy with a bit of jet lag) in my daughter Morgan’s apartment in Milan, Italy.  She had invited me to come and stay with her for a mother-daughter week in August.

“I would LOVE some coffee, and an egg and fruit sounds perfect!” I responded from the bedroom.

Morgan set out two espresso cups filled with steaming Italian espresso and two small plates, each with a few cherries and a few raspberries, and an egg sitting in a beautiful egg cup. “I know they aren’t soft bolied, but I just love the way eggs look in these pretty little egg cups,” Morgan said as she placed the breakfast on the table on her outside deck. 

We enjoyed a beautiful breakfast and talked about our plans for the week.  We were to spend a few days in Milan, and then head off to Lake Maggiore for a weekend of rest and relaxation.  Breakfast finished, we cleaned up and prepared to head out to see the city.

Morgan took me all around her city.  We walked through her Navigli neighborhood, took the Metro to the center, saw the Duomo and the Galleria, went to a museum filled with da Vinci, Rafael, Carravagio and other Italian masters, had lunch in a great restaurant, went to visit a few churches, and then took the Metro home, changed, and met up with some of her friends for a great dinner, complete with risotto, Lambrusco, and Limoncello! 

The week continued with visits around Milan and a weekend on the lake, introductions to friends and work colleagues, visits to palazzos and time on the beach, great food, great conversations, and just time with my girl. Our conversations were open and honest.  We talked about ideas and dreams. We were able to disagree, but listen and entertain each other’s ideas. We reminisced about old times and dreamed about the future. We laughed and we cried. We played backgammon and cards. Sometimes we were just together….in silence.

Most of the time, our adult children come home and into our lives, but this week I was invited to spend time in my adult daughter’s life.  

Thank you, Morgan, for inviting me in. Thank you for giving me a peek into the amazing and interesting and capable woman you are becoming and the life you are living. I’m so impressed and so very lucky.  I think I may even go out and buy myself a Moka Pot and a few egg cups! 

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Preparing for Loss

The call came yesterday.  We’ve known it was just a matter of time, so why did it feel like such a shock?

We should be prepared for this.

“There’s nothing more they can do now,” my sister-in-law said. “They are just going to keep him comfortable until…….well, you know…..until then.”

We all broke down and sobbed.

We are not at all prepared.

Archie is 86.  He’s lived a big life.  He was a high school teacher before retiring to run a Bed and Breakfast with my sister-in-law (also a retired teacher). He is a father, stepfather, grandfather, and great-grandfather.  He was an avid sailer, skier, and tennis player into his late 70’s, and he completely remodeled the gorgeous old home that is now the Bed and Breakfast.  Archie can cook and hike and is always game to go out to dinner or to see one of his grandsons in a sporting event.  Even when he’s been very ill, he’s been adventurous. But somehow all of this still doesn’t make the thought of losing him any easier.

Why are we so ill prepared? Why don’t we know how to handle the end of life?

Now it’s just a matter of waiting. We have called all of our children to let them know.  We’ve offered to come up and stay to help out.  We have made tentative plans to drive to upstate NY when we are needed.

We cry.  We sit in silence.  We retell all the stories we can think of that include Archie (and there are so many).  We cry some more.

I guess we are preparing, but I don’t think we will ever be ready to lose Archie.  He is one of a kind.  The world will be just a little bit less beautiful when he is gone.

 

Effortful Learning

Would summer be so wonderful if we hadn’t lived through winter?

Would a vacation be as magical if we hadn’t worked so hard?

It seems to me that there is significantly more pleasure involved when the experience comes as a result of something that is challenging, difficult, and even unpleasant. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling so elated about my recent experience teaching teachers in Houston, Texas.

I spent this past week in Houston supporting grade 4 teachers as they prepare to launch Writing Workshop with their students in just a few weeks.  Preparing for these four days of professional development was challenging.  There was a Sunday training session to attend, there were plans to follow, materials to prepare, charts to create, tools to make, technology to figure out, new people to meet, travel to coordinate, and packing to do.  In addition, there was some emotional stress.  I’ve never traveled for work, and  I didn’t know the district, the participants, or my seven colleagues.   I’m sure I over-prepared, but I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. The truth is, there was a lot that could have gone wrong.

But things didn’t go wrong.  The week was wonderful. It was probably one of the best professional development experiences of my career as a Literacy Coach. The travel was easy, all of the sessions (10 in all) went well, the participants were positive and engaged, and my colleagues were supportive, kind, and fun.  On top of it all, I was able to spend a little bit of time in a city that I’ve never been to. As each day ended, I felt stronger.  I got to know my participants.  I adjusted my plans in response to their strengths and needs, and the sessions improved.  I navigated the hotel, the city, the car, and the school with more ease, and I built relationships with my colleagues.  When people ask me how my week in Texas went, I’m thrilled to report that it was fabulous!  I learned so much and outgrew myself once again.

Would the week have been as great if I hadn’t been worried about it and spent so many of my summer days planning and organizing?  I don’t know, but what I do know is that working hard to achieve something feels so much better than when things come easily.  It’s strange, but for me it’s true.

Where I’m From

I’ve been reading the book by Katie Kelly and Lester Laminack titled Reading to Make a Difference.  In their book, the authors encourage us to explore our own identity in order to better support the social justice work and conversations we will have with our students.  One of the activities in the book was to write a Where I’m From poem.  I tried it.

Where I’m From

I’m from parents and stepparents, a sister and stepsiblings. 

I’m from daughters and stepchildren, grandparents, and grandchildren.

I’m from 1 Greenbrier Road.

I’m from beaches in the summer, and ice skating in the winter.

I’m from cinammon biscuits and blueberry muffins.

I’m from reading and writing, books and notebooks, paper and pens.

I’m from conversations around tables.

I’m from hard times and glorious times.

I’m from teaching and learning.

 

That’s where I’m from.

Weekend of Gratitude

Today is Sunday and I’m sitting down to write.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude today, so I’ve decided to share what I’m so thankful for in this week’s post.

Friday:  A day with our daughter and grandchildren

We witnessed our grandson receive the “Coach’s Award” at his summer basketball camp.  The award was for good sportsmanship, kindness, and an all around great kid.  Cole is all of that and more.  I was grateful to see him recognized for all of that. I was grateful to see his smile, his pride, and also his humility and graciousness in receiving this award.

We had lunch together and my grandson (7 years old) worked to solve the mathematics problem 6×24.  It was his idea, and he solved it.  His math skills are pretty amazing (He got from 96 to 120 faster than I could!), but I was more impressed with his persistence and patience.

Then we headed to the lake and watched our granddaughter (4) swim independently for the first time.  She swam from her mom to me over and over and over and over again.  She was SO proud of her accomplishment! At one point she said, “My tummy and my elbow hurt, but who cares?  I want to keep going.  I’m really getting the hang of this!”  (Did I mention that she is 4 years old??)

Today was like watching magic happen right in front of our eyes!

Friday-Sunday:  A weekend with Mackensie

On Friday night, another of our daughters came home from NY City for a summer weekend in the “country.”

I made one of her favorite family dishes (Hamburger Casserole) for dinner and she loved it.

We played ping pong (She is getting really good at this game!).

We went to a car show and had lunch at a local place on the water.

We attended my stepmother’s art show.

We discovered a new (and really good) restaurant (Mackensie is a true foodie, so finding new places to eat is really fun when we are together!).

We read the paper and our books in the hammock, on the porch, and on the couch.

We had a Bastille Day lunch with my dad (her grandfather) and my stepmother (her step grandmother who is part French) on the shore.

We went to the beach, swam, and read, and talked.

Now everyone has gone back to their adult lives and I am here, alone, writing.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.  There are days when I just feel so lucky to be on this planet experiencing all of this!

 

 

First Times/Last Times

I’m continuing to try out some of the narrative writing strategies that I will be sharing with teachers in a few weeks during an institute in Texas.  One of my favorite strategies is the “First Times/Last Times” strategy for generating ideas.

Skill:  To generate ideas for writing stories.

Strategy:  Think of times that were the first time or the last time you did or experienced something.  Make a list.  Choose the one that you think would make the best story, and write it.

First Times

I went on a chair lift by myself (see last week’s entry)

I walked in a creek bed

I drove a car

I ate dinner alone in a restaurant

I saw my daughters

I set the table for 3 (instead of 4) after my parents separated

I ate an oyster (This is in the last time list too!)

I sat on a field in a cow farm to watch fireworks

Last Time:

I kissed my mom

I braided my daughter’s hair

I saw my dog, Pogo

I helped my daughter reach the water fountain

I ate an oyster (one was enough!)

I was in my childhood home


Fireworks in a Cow Field

When I started to make a list of “first times” they were mostly from my younger years; first time I went on a chair lift alone or ate dinner alone or drove a car, but then I realized that just this week I experienced something for the first time!  I spent an evening watching fireworks in a cow field!

We had arrived in upstate New York, in the village of Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario where my sister-in-law lives and runs a Bed and Breakfast. We were there for the Fourth of July weekend with our daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren (ages 7 and 4).  Kate (my sister-in-law)’s son David called and said that we had been invited to a friend’s cow farm to watch fireworks on the fourth.  Were we interested?  Why not?  That sounds different.

The kids were excited.  This would be the first time they had been to a fireworks display. I thought it sounded like a good way to get an introduction to fireworks.  I imagined a few people gathered on a field with some sparklers and a few Roman Candles set off by some young kids in a field.  Boy was I wrong!

As the sky began to grow darker, we drove to the farm, parked in a field, and set up our chairs.  We doused ourselves in bug spray and got ready for the show.  More people arrived, and then more and more.  Trucks filled with families emptied onto the field.  There must have been over one hundred people by the time the first rocket blasted into the air. That’s when I noticed that the fireworks were coming from a pit that was managed by about six men.  This wasn’t any old pit.  David explained to me that there were concrete tubes set into the earth to handle the pyrotechnics and that these men, although not formally trained, had been creating this show for the past ten years.

The fireworks began.  One big blast, a bright orange flower burst into the sky above us.  Then another with red, white, and blue sparkles.  Then two at a time.  Then three, some with crackles and spirals coming out at the end of the blast. Then there were five and six explosions going off at once.  “This must be the grand finale!” I yelled to my grandson. But no, the grand finale happened again and again, each time bigger and more incredible than the one before.

Each time there was a display, the crowd cheered and clapped. I looked over at my grandchildren’s faces.  Their mouths would open as each firework exploded.  “Whoa!  Wow!  Ahhh!” they’d cry out. “That was the biggest one!  I like this one the best! No! That one was even bigger!”  

I began to realize that what we were seeing was not some little fireworks event in a field, but was more like one whole barge at the Macy’s New York City fireworks show!

The show went on for over an hour with each display feeling like the biggest one.  Finally there was a wild explosion of about ten fireworks and the event ended.  People clapped and cheered and yelled out, “Amazing! Happy Birthday, America!  Incredible!”  We slowly gathered up our chairs, packed up the cars, strapped the kids into the car seats, and headed home.  I love fireworks, and I’ve attended hundreds of fireworks displays, but there has been nothing like sitting in a cow field in the farming town of Adams, New York with a small crowd watching the most spectacular pyrotechnics ever! It was like experiencing magic.

 

 

 

 

Trying Out Some Strategies

As I’m planning for a writing institute I’ll teach this summer, I’m making sure to “walk the walk” by trying out the writing strategies I’m going to be sharing with my teacher participants.  One of the strategies for generating narrative entries is to:

  1.  Think of a strong emotion.
  2. Think of times when you’ve felt that emotion.
  3. Jot down a few ideas.
  4. Write one as a story!

I decided to start with a feeling that I (unfortunately) experience rather often; fear.

My notebook looks like this:

1:  A Strong Emotion:

FEAR/WORRY

2 and 3:  Times I felt fearful and/or worried

-Driving in Ireland (right side, standard shift, narrow streets, cliffs)

-Climbing a ladder to paint the garage.

-Taking a subway from Grand Central to Brooklyn

-Going on a rollercoaster with Morgan at Hershey Park

-Going up the mountain in a chairlift by myself

4:  Pick one and write!

-The chairlift story

The chairlift operator looked at my dad and me and waved us over.  “Next!  Let’s go!  The chair waits for no one!”

I guess he thought he was being clever, but I was all business.  I had gone on the chairlift before, but I had been small enough for my dad to pick me up and put me on his lap.  This year, he said, I was ready to learn how to get on the chairlift with him at my side.

OK, I thought, just remember what dad said..step up, keep your skis parallel and pointed forward, move over to the far track, he’d step in next to me, the chair would nudge us from behind, and up we’d go!

“OK, Erika.  Here we go!” dad said.  “You’re ready. That’s it.  Step up, keep your skis pointing ahead, move over to the far track…move over a bit more….the FAR track…Move over more…..”

That’s when I felt the chair nudge me from behind.  But wait!  Dad’s not next to me! As I looked to the right, I saw the end of the chair, and I saw my dad on the other side. He couldn’t get on!  My heart was pounding.  I felt suddenly hot inside my bulky ski suit.  I looked down as I felt the chair slowly rising up into the air.  I was all alone!  “STOP!” I yelled.  “I can’t do this alone! I’ll fall out!  D…a….d…..!”

“It’s OK!” dad yelled.  “I’m getting on the chair right behind you. You’re going to be OK.  Now listen carefully.  Sit back.  Now hold on with your right hand and reach up for the bar with your left.  You can reach it if you go to the side where it’s closer to you.  Keep yourself sitting back and pull the bar down so it’s in front of you.  Take it slow.  You’re OK.  I’m right here.”

“I can’t reach!  I’m too small!”  My voice sounded so small and so weak.  What good was it that dad was in a chair behind me?  He can’t catch me if I fall, and how am I going to get off this thing at the top?

I looked down and saw the mountain getting farther and farther away from me.  The skiers looking smaller and smaller as I went higher and higher.

“Take a deep breath.  Say to yourself, “I can do this.” Dad had his coaching voice on.  He sounded so steady.  So sure.

I breathed in….and out.  “I…..can…..do…..this…..I…..can….do…..this….”  I reached one arm out while holding tight to the chair with the other.  I tugged on the bar.  It didn’t move.  It was too heavy. I tried again and felt it coming down in front of me.  Clunk.  It locked into place.

“See!”  dad said, “You are not only ready to ride the chairlift without being carried.  You can run this whole thing all by yourself.”

I felt better then.  At least I wasn’t going to fall out and die on the mountain.

I started to panic again when I realized I had to lift the bar and get off the lift at the top, but for some reason I already knew I was going to be OK.  My dad coached me through it, one step at a time.  I skied off the lift, down the small hill and did a little turn to stop.  I waited for my dad.  He pulled up next to me, looked down, and gave me a huge smile. “Let’s do this!” he said, “The mountain waits for no one!” And off we went down the mountain.

I grew a few sizes that day.

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I have some other strategies to try:  First times, last times, thinking about “trouble stories.” and thinking about important people, places, and objects.  I want to make sure that I experience what I’m going to ask my students (all teachers) to try.  After all, that’s what I want them to do in their own teaching.  I want to show my students that if they become writers themselves, their teaching will grow a few sizes!