Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nerd Power

Project for Awesome is a week behind me. I think my thumb joints and fingers and shoulders have finally loosened up. Who knew your hands and shoulders could get so sore from just a little typing!

What is Project for Awesome? It's a charity event on YouTube organized by Hank and John Green. Last year was my firs P4A event and I wrote about it here. Essentially, YouTubers and the Green brothers' Nerdfighters make videos featuring their favorite charities. Once the videos are uploaded to YouTube the Nerdfighters and others work tirelessly over a 48hr period to rate, favorite and comment on the videos so that they will take over YouTube's most discussed page. I'm talking serious commenting: 7,oooK comments per video was our first goal for each of the videos we swarmed.

To direct all of this commenting John Green, Hank Green, their friend Alan, and this year other YouTubers hosted a livestream show. To participate, you visit the live stream and then follow the commenting directions: go with the swarm to the current video and go, go, go.

December 17th fell on a Thursday. Instead of my regular lesson plan in class, I showcased the Project for Awesome. Students and I made our P4A video together and we watched John Green get ready for the live show online. I showed students how to access the livestream show and where to find the current video in the ticker tape; I posted a help movie and all of the links students would need on my class website and encouraged them to participate. I gave my juniors the option of favoriting 100 P4A videos as part of their quiz (do the favorites or plan an essay). Lots took the 100 favorites option (who wouldn't?)!

When I picked Collin up from school Thursday I said, "Come on! We've got to home and start commenting on YouTube videos!"

He smiled and said, "With those Nerds again?"

Indeed! Nerdfighteria is an awesome place to be. This year Project for Awesome not only dominated YouTube--there were, according to John Green, more than 2,000 P4A videos this year and the Nerdfighters commenting more than 1 million times! At one point Thursday evening Hank Green said our comments per second rate was at or over 20 comments. Definitely statistically significant and scientifically measured: 20 comments per second! We rocked. We hit the spam-wow zone hard. We also managed to achieve top trending status on Twitter. Yes!

The end result? A whole lot of folks got to hear about (and hopefully were moved to donate to) a whole lot of charities that are doing great things all around the world. The P4A videos are still up and thriving on YouTube. Defnintely check them out. You won't want to miss the Uncultured Project or Heiffer International or the Nature Conservancy or the video about St. Jude's --to see them all check out my favorites on YouTube.

Truly awesome. Next year I think I'll ask for a special dispensation from the technology Pope. Maybe we can get YouTube unblocked for a day so that students could participate and comment from school. I'd love to do it as in-school field-trip/fundraiser and have students garner "sponsors" for commenting like they do for walk-a-thons. We could have a team of commentors and a team of tweeters. Wouldn't that be neat? We'll see what else we can come up with. Until then... DFTBA!

image credits: Most Discussed Page at the end of #P4A by AlanDistro;#P4A was the number one trending topic on Twitter by AlanDistro

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Twinkle, Twinkle

At the dinner table the other night Collin asks me, "how do you make your eyes twinkle?"

Huh? I think before he continues. "You know, in books they say that the character's eyes twinkled. How do you do that?"

"Oh! That kind of twinkling. Well, you know when writers say "his eyes twinkled" they are really saying that the character looks happy or mischievous--they have a sparkle in their eyes and maybe a smile. Their eyes aren't really twinkling like Christmas lights twinkle."

"Oh, you mean like this?" Collin replies and bugs his eyes out at me, tilting his head to catch a glint of light.

"Ummm, maybe not quite like that," I reply covering my mouth with my napkin up to disguise my grin.

"Like this?" eyes bulge and his eyebrows go up nearly to this hairline.

"Aahh, a little more natural looking than that," I laugh back.

And so it goes. I just love that he wondered about it because of descriptions he's seen in books. In the meantime, if you see Collin and he looks a little like a person with a thyroid condition, be not afraid, he's just practicing his eye twinkling!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's your silver lining?

Really, what can I write about? Is that the question? Really? It's been bothering me because I don't feel as if I've been blogging much. I love to write and even though I don't have "followers" on this blog--the live Feedjit and page view stats simulates an audience. That's exciting to me. That pushes me to write more.
But, really, what do I have to say? What do I have to write about?

I think the better question for me as a blogger is more what do I want to write about publically? What do I want to say, not just out loud on paper/screen, but to the person from Ho Chi Min City or Longwood, Fl who stopped by the blog this week.

I can't think about what matters in terms of writing without thinking about my purpose. What is the purpose of this blog, Pink Stone Days? What is the purpose of my blog? Here's what I said in an ealier post about the blog's name:

Though most days are mere pebbles from the rock pile, I thought I'd keep my Pink Stones in mind by giving my blog the name. Pink Stone Days are rare; exquisite days that make our forever-afters. They resonate beyond good, way beyond ordinary; they are the moments we cherish and wish we made more of when all seems lost.

Reading that description now I realize that I never really talked about my purpose. Why do I write here? I write in part to remember. I write to preserve pieces of my story for my family and friends, especially those that live elsewhere. I write to share: ordinary epiphanies and crystalline moments. In sharing I write to build community or at least the sense of it. The me-too feeling you get when experience is shared. I write to feel that I am not alone in this world. I write to record.

I named the blog Pink Stone Days because it has a deep personal meaning to me--a positive, pink, sunset with a glass of wine kind of feeling. I thought the name would focus me on the positive, on the pink stone, on the silver lining in every cloud, on the celebration. But sometimes it feels as if there is not much to celebrate, doesn't it?

It's been difficult to focus on the silver lining with all of the horror in the world. Did you read about the poor girl in north Florida? Her body found in a landfill? My friend's grand-daughter died unexpectedly last year --she was Collin's age. She died the day after Collin's birthday. I couldn't look at him without seeing Stephanie. I think of Stephie every night when I tuck Collin in--her family is in our prayers. A teacher colleague's son was killed in a car accident. The Bernie Madoff scandal, the economy, unemployment, health care--you name it and it's more serious or more important than any topic I could blog from my day to day.

So what do I do? Do I rant? Do I rave? Do I dish? Those don't fulfill my purpose, do they? Where's the silver lining for me?

This past week my pastor, Scott Abel, gave a rousing sermon about being transformed. We are transformed by our faith in Christ. Transformed by belief in God:

"Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your
bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your
spiritual act of workshop. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the
world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Romans 12: 1-2

Pastor Abel railed. He said that if we were still worrying--worrying about what other people think, worry about our jobs, worrying about things "of the world" then we aren't the transformed faithful God calls us to be. We weren't putting our trust in God first. I get it. Barely. I feel the idea of getting it. I glimpse it--when I roll-over mid-dream and feel God in my mind. It's in there.

It's my silver lining, isn't it? I mean like everyday. No matter what. Period. As my friend likes to say for emphasis.

My faith in God is not my opiate, but my promise, my hope, my belief in the plan and something larger than myself. My faith keeps my eyes on the ultimate pink stone: eternity.

Today, that's what I need to hold onto. If I have eternity, there's time. If I have etenity then how am I free today to be who I really want to be? To say what I need to say? I need to embrace it. Celebrate it. If I have eternity, I can live differently. If I have eternity, I can work at being the person I want to be. I can make amends or I can walk the talk or I can give 100%.

Today, that's my silver lining. Eternity. What do you think about that Montclair, New Jersey?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Orthodontia & Health Care

Did you have braces? I didn't. But, boy I wanted them. As a kid, I stripped twisty ties--you know those pieces of paper-wrapped metal you can use to close plastic baggies--and fitted them around my canines to fashion a retainer of sorts. Just enough metal mouth to make me talk funny and constantly tongue the backs of my teeth. Don't think I was the only weird one, I did this with friends. We made "braces" for our teeth and wore them around.

Collin had his second consult with the orthodontist this past weekend. They take amazing pictures of the mouth. Amazingly explicit. Lips pulled back, full-on. Do see that panoramic x-ray? Yep, that's Collin's mouth. My favorite part of the x-ray are his teeth buds just waiting to burst through his gums. Big teeth hiding in launch capsules buried deep in his gums. The perfect circles around those teeth--I just love them. Fascinating.

We first took Collin for a "look -see" at the orthodontist when he was 7. His front teeth are off the mid-line and quite turned. His canines are turned and crowded. He inherited my small mouth. Hard to believe I even have a small mouth, isn't it?

Braces happen in stages now. This is round one. For the first time, too, Collin went back to the chair without me. At the dentist, parents sit on a bench along a row of hygenists' chairs--of course, when Mom has cleaned our teeth, we're all just in the same room together. Last week though, the assistant came and collected Collin, telling me to "enjoy my magazine."

He leaves me in little moments like and I feel my heart catch of the thought of him off to college. Crazy isn't it? Is that how mother's feel the future in the everyday?

I ignore it, smile and settle into Better Homes and Gardens at the orthodontist. Next week he will get an expander. Braces follow.

But we'll need to pay for them first. When I was a kid orthodontia was a middle-school rite of passage. Parents saved up for orthodontia or bemoaned the cost over cocktails. I've got to check and see if we our insurance covers part of the cost. Collin's orthodontist offers payment plans, too--seems reasonable. In my day the dentist would just pull a few teeth to "make room" if you had an over-crowded mouth. I had several pulled and avoided braces. Teeth pulling is out. Maybe it was cheaper. Braces are in.

I'm teaching A.P. Language this year and we've done a lot of talking about rhetoric. We've been analyzing essays and images. The pieces we did on minimum wage haunt me.

How privileged am I to sit enjoying the magazines in the lobby of an orthodontist's office? How would someone who works a minimum wage job ever manage to pay for braces for one of their children? They wouldn't would they? The cost of this first round varies depending on how you pay for it. If you pay it all up front, you get a 6% discount. If you string the payments out over time, it's more expensive. If you have the money in the first place, why do you need a discount? Not only do quite a majority of people in our country not have the money, but they also don't have health care. Straight teeth pale in comparison to that.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mosquito Camping

Camping in Florida can sometimes be a challenge. We try and camp when it's cooler. September's a little early in the camping season for me. We're still in the dog-days of summer during the month of Septmeber and it can be steamy. But there were sites available at Fort DeSoto! We love Fort DeSoto: sugar sand beaches, Australian pines, a long fishing pier, miles and miles of trails, camp sites right on the water and ocean breezes. It's a beautiful place to camp.

We didn't luck out with the site. We were on the lagoon side. Lots of heavy brush blocked the water from view, but apparently not from mosquitos. We've had a lot of rain and the shore and some of the woods were water logged. I have never seen mosquitos like I did last weekend--not even in Alaska.

We battled. Citronella candles, yard fogger, Skin-So-Soft. You name it and we probably sprayed it on ourselves or the camp. You couldn't walk through the grass without disturbing them. The mosiquitos lifted like helicopters on attack! Someone brought a fan to the dinner table, so we could blow them away. It worked nearly as well as the sprays.

Still, bitten and sunburned --we had a great time. We spent an amazing day at the beach. Inhaled "cheesy pouffs", took the boat to the beach's point, reveled in nature and laughed with friends. What's a few (million) bugs to all that? Nothing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Club

We could have called it Tart-a-Palooza, like Julie Powell's description of the tart fest she cooked up in Julie & Julia, but it's just book club. After a year of invites, I finally went to a teacher book club this past week. I used to belong to one a decade ago, it seems. It was fun. We met at Panera--teacher friends and family. My mom used to go with me. The book club I went to Sunday is a little different from my earlier foray into book clubs. Instead of meeting at a restaurant they meet at a member's house. Members host one meeting a year and do all that cooking for that meeting (dinner, drinks and treats). So you only work to put it on once a year; the rest of the time you relax.

Sunday's book was Julie & Julia. The possibility of French food prepared from scratch was a huge incentive for going to book club. That and I knew Rebecca, Lee and Beth would be there. Rebecca cooked for a week. She learned how to make pastry crust in a food processor! How cool is that? It sounds cool to me because I don't go near pastry. I have a residual memory of home-made pastry in my collective unconscious-- I'm sure--but I've never made it. My mom's made it.

Me? I buy the frozen stuff, thaw it and roll. Maybe I'll try it. Rebecca made lots of pastry for the tarts she baked us: mushroom and cheese, fresh tomato, bacon and onion. Buttery. Did I mention the butter? Close to 4 pounds I think was the shout out from the kitchen, but who's counting. Instead of water weight this week I'll put on butter weight.

Delectable. Delicious. Definitely worth it.

Maybe next post, I'll actually talk about the book!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sunday Night Nerves

TeachaKidd, Lee Kolbert, tweeted this evening about presentation nerves and over planning. She said:"Ever feel like the "audience" of your next presentation will already know everything you're going to share with them & will all walk out?" I of course @ replied her that yes, I'd certainly felt that way. I feel that way now, anticipating tech workshops I'm slated to give soon.

I have felt that way in the past, presenting teacher workshops at Janet Allen's literacy institutes. During the institutes when the teachers who worked for Janet were out on the road, she used to tell us not to think that way. Not to feel that what we had to say was old hat or passé. We were/are readers. We were/are reflective teachers. We had ideas to share. She reassured us as we developed our teacher voices and our craft--she gave us more than just voice, but a platform for sharing. The literacy institutes forged my teaching philosophies and practices. What kind of teacher would I have been without Janet and "the Geese?"

For nearly 12 summers I traveled with Janet. At last count, I did teacher workshops in 20 states. Perhaps that doesn't qualify me for expert status, but some summers I was on the road for a full 8 weeks. Home on Thursday nights and out on Sunday mornings. We aren't traveling anymore, but I can remember those Sunday night jitters as we gathered to talk about the work at hand. I remember what it feels like to over plan and to wonder if your audience will be walk-out, know-it-alls.

They never are though, are they? If we truly are teachers and learners then we all have something to share. We all have something to learn.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Frou Frou Code

Can you read this?

#outer-wrapper {
width: 940px;
margin:0 auto; padding:10px;
font: $bodyfont;
There are a few things I understand there like width and pixel, font and outer, but I'm not sure about the padding. Code does not make total sense to me. Searching and researching does though. Lucky me!

I've been wanting to go to a 3 column format for some time, but haven't had any luck changing the html code of my Blogger template. This morning I'd thought I'd tackle it again in between posting to the English Companion Ning and reading blogs. You've got to love a good piece of technical writing. The elegant step-by-step of easy to follow directions. I found just such a source at the Three column Blogger. So between changing the layout and choosing a frou frou background template, I updated the blog. I'm not sure I like the frouf... the ribbons may be a little much, but I thought I'd try it on for a while. What do you think?

PS: Another cool thing I happened upon this morning? A site that prints your blog into book form. A little expensive, but you know the lure of print... : )

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Good Night, Walter Cronkite

Families tell stories. Stories when the cousins come to town. Stories saved for after the Thanksgiving turkey has been demolished. Stories that seem as familiar as Dad’s old windbreaker hanging in the front hall closet.
One of my family stories involves me and Walter Cronkite. I’ve always loved the news. News hour, the CBS news specifically, was sacrosanct in my house growing up. Walter Cronkite gave voice to that news and to my childhood. It is his voice, in addition to those of my parents that I remember most. If the news was on, we whispered if we spoke at all; mostly we listened. My parents say that I was an easy toddler. A story they’ve often told me about my growing up was about when I began to put myself to bed. I was maybe 2, if that.

Walter Cronkite was the nightly anchor; Dad a faithful viewer. I would sit and listen or play in the family room while my parents watched. My brother hadn’t been born yet. From the late sixties, I remember only the voice and the black and white T.V. One night according to Mom and Dad, at Cronkite’s nightly “Good night” sign off, I stood up, looked at Mom and Dad and said “Good night!” and went to bed. I was 2. I god blessed Walter “Concrete” every night in my elementary school prayers. His “good night” was it for me. His voice sent me to bed each night. What a figure he was to me in my childhood and later as part of 60 Minutes.

I have wanted to write him a letter since I was in high school. I am deeply sorry that I never did. Though I am sure, I am one of millions of fans, I will forever remember him and his voice. Good night and God Bless, Mr. Cronkite.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Can you keep a secret?

We're going on a Disney Cruise. We've been wanting to go since the ships started sailing, but as Rick says, "our dates never lined up." Well, we're going! Can you believe it?

I've never been on a cruise and I hear this one is awesome! They have a Pirate's Night dinner! Of course, we're going in costume. How much fun is this going to be? We're going to wear billowy-white pirate shirts, red sashes and black pirate hats--perhaps I'll glue-gun a few white plumes to the hats. We'll have pirate pants too: black. I think eye-patches will be too itchy, so we're skipping those, but Collin's hat comes with a stick-on goatee and mustache.

Collin has no idea. He thinks we're going to have a "beach adventure" before school starts. He thinks the pirate stuff that's started to arrive in the mail is for a family Halloween get up that we've been known to photograph and turn into Christmas cards. He thinks we can dress up as pirates for our Church's "Trunk or Treat" community event, but that he'll really get to be Harry Potter for Halloween (of course he will!). But really? We're going to dine as pirates on the Disney Cruise! Then of course, we'll use the costumes all year. So far so good on the secret side of things. He has no idea!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Writing with Collin

We've been writing. Collin and I, in the mornings after breakfast usually. Not everyday, but most. I am learning so much from watching him write that I find myself abandoning my own pieces to write about his process in my journal.

Though I've been trying to model different kinds of writing you might do (writing about an artifact, poems or short pieces), Collin mostly writes about what he did each day in his summer journal. He begins with 1 sentence. Thursday's was: "Yesterday I went to see the new Harry Potter movie." then he drew a picture of Ron after eating love-potion-laced chocolates. He remembered some of the words from the scene between Ron and Harry and he noted them in his stick person cartoon illustration. He showed me his picture & then fiddled with his pencil, the napkin holder, the lazy susan (we write at the kitchen table. So, I asked him to read me his first sentence. He did. Then I asked him if he liked that scene or not.

"Of course, I loved it!" he told me, so I suggested he write that next. He wrote, "I liked the part where Ron ate the love potion candy." He read me the sentence.

"Why did you like that part?" I asked.

"Because Ron ate the love potion..."

"You didn't like just because he ate the love potion did you?"

"Because Ron ate the love potion and it was FUNNY!"

"Ahh...there it is. Yes, because it was funny. Can you write that down to show your reason for liking that part?"

And we continued writing. I'd like it to be easier for Collin to write more, but I think what makes it easier is having the thinking in mind to write. What strikes me in all of this morning writing we've been doing together is how long it takes and how much support and encouragement Collin needs. Collin needs a lot of thinking time: to draw, to talk, to read and to look at words. It is time intensive. I wonder how this translates into his classroom experiences with writing (or my own with my own students for that matter)? He must get support from his peers, in addition I am sure to support from teacher modeling and instruction. Certainly he produced longer pieces this year in second grade (I have them in a file here in my office), but now I'm wondering how close to the teacher's model they may have been. I've been trying not to take over too much and just write with him.

What I'd like Collin to develop this year is some self-talk that will help him write with confidence. I hope I'm not overdoing it on the questions with him, but I'm trying to get that language to stick: what do you think the reader would want to know next? do you have a reason for why you liked it? does that make sense there?

We ended our day, that day, with Collin engaged in re-creating his Harry Potter t-shirt--in color no less. I think it's the first color he's used in his journal this summer. Hmmm...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Delicious, Delectable... Heavenly

Walking into Aureole's in the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas it's difficult to miss the wine tower. Wrapped in a stair case, the 4 story wine tower boasts a spectacular wine collection. Resting in lucite bins, wines are accessible only by carabiner-clad Wine Angels who "fly" the tower to retrieve your order. Orders well organized by region, varietal, vinyard and more on tablet PCs presented to guests to peruse table side. Incredible, right? But I wasn't most impressed with the wine tower or the technologized wine menu. I was most impressed by the service and oh... the food!

We spent a long weekend in Vegas with Tom and Amy, long time friends from before any of us were married even! The weekend marked Amy's 40th celebraion! Chef Tim, who works with Tom at the Boardwalk Hotel set up our dinner reservations with his friend, Kevin Dimon, General Manager of Aureole's.

Our eight course celebration started with champagne and canapes beautifully presented in tic tac toe fashion on a sparkling, sea-green glass plate. My favorite? The chicken satay glazed with savory peanut sauce. Tuna canneloni followed: delicate ahi tuna prepared tartare, wrapped in a spiderweb crisp of pastry and seated in a red pepper coulis. Delish! But what followed was even better!

Sea scallops (with lobster for everyone else) seved with baby carrots and fingerling potatoes in a compound butter sauce topped with chive foam. At this point in the meal , I started taking pictures...

Somehow I missed shooting everyone's entree and all of the delectable side dishes. Yes, they brought us one of each listed on the menu: amazing. Dessert was warm bittersweet chocolate cake with pistachio olive oil ice cream, as well as scoop platters of all of their ice cream flavors and fruit sorbets. AND a gorgeous rasberry cream filled torte/cake for Amy's birthday. The meal ended with chocolate gift bags for everyone which featured hand crafted chocolates and sweet wafers...delicious.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Diaries & Journals

School's Out! Collin is going to be a 3rd grader! We enjoyed wearing his book covers on our heads on the way home from school the other day--I think we had Meme in stitches. Collin told me on our ride that he has summer homework: reading, logging his reading and journaling. I told him that sounded more like summer "fun-work" to me.

He brought home a journal that he'd been given to decorate--it looks cool and I sure wanted to write in it! I showed him a teacher friend's Artifact Journals as we talked about what he'd write in his. He said he's supposed to write what he does over the summer. That led to us talking about diaries versus journals. Of course, Collin sees diaries as very girlie, something he wants to avoid at all costs. I chuckled, but in my mind I thought about the ways I could nudge him toward writing beyond "what I did today."

* * *

I've officially finished my first week of summer vacation with Collin. It feels like Christmas getting to spend so much time together, well an unusually global warming type of Christmas if you were to go by the temperature outside. I've been trying to make writing a part of our day. We spend a little time after breakfast writing in our journals. I have started my own artifact journal and Collin is writing and drawing pictures. It is not his favorite thing to do, so I am trying very hard just to sink into my own writing and model for him instead of slipping into teacher-director mode. The other day I wrote a piece about summer fruits and a watermelon he and I'd brought home. When I finished my piece, I read it to him aloud thinking he'd like the story. He did and right then he decided to write about the watermelon too. I've noticed that his writing is very linear, strictly sequential. It will be interesting to see how it changes over time. If you want to dip into our journals, click on the images. They should open in a new window, full-size.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Big Brother Moment

Ever have the suspicion that someone is watching you? Virtually? I'm not talking about your Twitter followers or Facebook friends, but something even more stealthy. Something I don't quite understand myself. Enter the Smart Bot friend finder. This morning while writing for next week's Newslinks column, I started getting follower alert emails from Twitter. I've not been inudated with such emails, so I still manage to click through to the new followers profile. I read over their latest tweets and sometimes click their blog links to see if I'd like to follow them back. Generally I follow artists, educators or friends. This morning brought several new followers; the best being Scott McLeod and another LeeAnn literacy diva.

When I clicked through the remaining new follower links I was surprised to find a tweeter devoted, it seems, to coffee and coffee makers. What could I possibly have in common with "ocmfilter"? Otherwise known as Joyce Teo, how did ocmfilter find me to follow? Is she a teacher? an educator? an artist? It doesn't seem so. She'd from Singapore and enjoys coffee shops and movies. All perfectly pleasant I'm sure. Her tweets are coffee central.

I do love a good cup of coffee. Indeed, I blogged about our home roaster last March. But, coffee is not even a big word in my blog's latest Wordle. What gives? Is someone other than and iTunes following my purchases? Is a special follower bot picking through my profiles or tweets? Did a worm sneak into my machine and glom onto words that connect me to other people? I started to wonder. Then of course I clicked the next follower alert email and sure enough... a smart friend finder bot. As if such a thing could truly exist! Imagine what you could do with a smart friend finder--does it find smart friends or is it just smart at finding friends? Who knows if that bot is the culprit or another. A bot in my mind (brother correct me if I'm wrong) is short for programed web robot which I define as a scripting sort of program that searches through words, profiles and preferences in order to target consumers. Perhaps that latest bot in my email is the one that pointed "ocmfilter" in my direction or maybe it was another one. Certainly a big brother moment this morning.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wipe Away Lips

Was it just last week that I gave two surprise parties? A surprise 40th for my friend, Kim and a 70th for my Mom. My Dad really gave the party for Mom, but Jenny (my sister-in-law) and I helped. What with the parties and out of town work scheduled in between, I haven't found much art time lately. I managed to squeeze in a bit last weekend. Jenny and I visited while my niece Charlotte napped. I filled in eyes, lips and hair (lesson five). I'm not too happy with the hair. The brown blob-ish-ness resists dimension. I keep reminding myself that I'm learning! And indeed that is the fun part of this endeavor.

This afternoon I've been working on lesson six: shading with paint crayons! This lesson rather reminds me of one of Collin's favorite picture books, Fortunately, Unfortunately:
Fortunately, I have all of the painting crayon colors I need.
Unfortunately, the color I chose for the lips just wasn't working out.
Fortunately, I can wipe the painting crayons off with a damp paper towel and try

I'm on my fifth or sixth set of lips. I've lost count. I'm going with these.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Originally uploaded by spillarke
I think we got her!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spread the Word

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
~ Anne Frank

Laura Stockman lives Anne Frank's words. Her blog 25 Days to Make a Difference never fails to inspire me to do more for others and our world. Her most recent challenge, a blog carnival on the r-word to promote Spread the Word to End the Word. Blog about the r-word. Tell how it makes you feel and how you will help put an end to it. Leave a comment on her blog with a link to your post and you may win a Flip video camera.

If I were caught up with my reader and feeds I wouldn't have missed this chance with my students, but we are on spring break this week. I can't have them add their voices to my own, but I know how the r-word makes me feel.

Stupid. Idiot. Moron. What are you a re...?

Stop! Don't say it. Language makes a difference. Language can divide or it can unite. Language can lift up a person or it can tear down a person.The r-word, when I hear others say it, makes me feel awful inside. When I was young, stupid was the word my father used when he got frustrated. I hate the word stupid. Every time I hear it, I can hear Dad saying it and I am brought back to some moment where I didn't understand what I was supposed to be doing and I wasn't doing it how he wanted it done. I love my father and we've talked many a time about that s-word. Parents do the best they can and who are we to know what will and will not stick with a child. His intention was to avoid vulgarity, I'm sure. I'm glad he did. Though I know he loves me, loved me even then, and I understand his motivations and all of that now, it sure hurt then.

The r-word does to other people what stupid did to me. It leaves a mark. It tears you down.

Stop using the r-word. Take the pledge today. Share it with your friends. Talk to your kids about it. Don't wait a single minute --do something to make a difference today.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What a Gift

Has it already been two weeks since my friend, Sara Holbrook visited? Can you believe she went to the elementary school where my grandmother taught third grade? Her sister might have even been in Gramma Beckwith's class at Berkley in Detroit. Amazing coincidence, isn't it?

Sara gave me the best gift while she was in town: an afternoon in my classroom working with student poets for this year's Poetry Slam. Just a small group of kids, she and I--an amazing afternoon. She talked about her poetry. She performed. I read one of my poems. Students read theirs. Sara coached, listened, laughed and share. Truly, it felt like a gift from God--just that simple--pure awesome.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wild Things

Collin and I were playing in the office tonight--he writing comics and me painting. Then we decided to try out BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF. Here's Collin's avatar creation.

Collin's been talking a lot lately about opening up a book stand on our drive way. He thinks he should write and sell his own books instead of lemonade or brownies. I, of course, dance inside whenever I hear this. Then yesterday driving home from somewhere he said, "but you know, Mom, I have so many ideas. Sometimes I start one idea, but then I get another one and I don't finish the first one." Don't I know it!

This week's art lesson from Paulette Insall takes us through painting a layered background similar to how she paints this one:

I'm not sure about the colors of this background. Scanned here it seems as if I don't have quite enough contrast. I wanted a cloud-ish, dreamy feel, but I'm not sure that I'm there yet.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My first art class

You know, I've always wanted to be an artist. Live the art life and have kooky hair--the whole bit.

I figure now is the time to start living more in line with my dreams.

Last summer I devoted every other Friday to "art day." My friend Jennifer came over with her boys--we spent the days creating while the boys ran wild playing.

I've missed it during the school year. There is something to be said for setting aside actual time, a whole day every week and for having a community, even of one, to support you. Commitment and consistency--pledging to be creative once a week gave me time to experiment and develop my art voice and vision. Sometimes, that vision/voice can be pretty quirky and whimsical, but it was such fun to revel in it this past summer.

Jenn and I have both been busy with work and family this school year. Life takes over as does doing for others.

So, for Valentine's day, I signed up for my first ever art class, All About Faces, with Paulette Insall, an artist whose blog has inspired me this past year. We've just started. Our first lesson on sketching a face got me thinking about eyelids and proportions.

One of my classmates, Annette, is blogging her journey, so I thought I'd blog mine too. I've been a big doodler, but never a conscientious sketcher. I'm trying! These first attempts make me chuckle. I'd like to get the eyes even and not tilt the head. What do you think?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sticking Away

Sticking Away
Originally uploaded by spillarke
The St. Luke's 500 is coming up this week, so Rick, Collin and I spent the day building his race car: a box frame, foam board, tape and, of course, sponsor stickers.

Collin's kindergarten teacher started the St. Luke's 500 three years ago, a thematic unit for grades K-2. Each year it seems we build a new car. Last year's car was blue, sponsored by Star Wars. This year we're green, blue and yellow, sponsored by Domo.

Just last week we camped at the infield of the Daytona Speedway for the Bud Shoot Out. My first infield camping experience was much more fun than I first anticipated! We visited with friends, barbecued, listened to some great music and watched the race from the top of a motor home (very cool). I think the roof of the motor home was Collin's favorite part of the whole experience! Mine was taking time to sit together, laugh and reconnect. Here are a few pictures.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Robbie Erhart

A friend's son was killed last weekend in a car accident coming home from an outing with friends. He'd just graduated last year. I didn't teach Robbie but taught his older brother Chris and many of his friends. The Spirit Squad boys are one of Robbie's legacies--Collin called them "wild boys." Boys who ran half naked, bodies painted through many a University High Sporting event. Collin ran with them on occasion at football games and was 4 in this picture.

Tonight's service was tough and wonderful. Wonderful to see the lives Robbie touched and the love the community is showing for him and his family, but tough, very hard to see a mother lose her son. I don't have words for that; nothing can describe that kind of heart break.

A teacher friend of mine who's currently teaching in Fort Myers came up to give one of the eulogies. Lisa said that though we teachers wish we would make an impression on kids, so often it's the kids that really leave their mark on us. Indeed they do.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Last weekend we went camping with a group of friends: 8 adults and 8 kids under 10. We love camping at Tomoka State Park and visit there a couple of times a year. The park doesn't fill up like many in the vicinity, so reservations are usually available. There are plenty of very nice bath rooms and all of the sites are wooded. This time, our site had a trail through the woods that led right down to the water. On our way in, Rick talked to one of the rangers about the economy's affect on the parks system. Definitely taking a toll, we wondered why the state parks don't raise their rates. Tomoka used to have a funky museum featuring the work of Fred Marsh, who's "Chief Tomokie" graces the park by the river. Though the kids claim the museum bores them--we tour it everytime we campt at Tomoka. This visit, however, we were saddened to see it closed and cleaned out. What happened? We hope it's not a sign of the times.

Monday, January 5, 2009

To-Do List Takeover

Eeeck! I realized today that my to-do list is on the verge of taking over.I know, I'm catastrophizing, but today was our first day back to school after winter break, exams are looming and I have a lot to do! I decided to use My Listy gadget on my iGoogle page to get a little organized before getting back to work this evening.

What I did not realize about MyListy is that I can send MyListy to my phone via SMS text messages. How cool is that? It is a neat feature and one I can definitely see using with students. However when I called the number, 1-888-MY-LISTY, the message told me that Listy is adding new features and to call back later. In the meantime I reviewed my settings and sent myself a trial SMS. The list is run together but the items are numbered. How practical is it sms? I can see where a grocery list would be easy, but my lengthy to-dos may not be as practical. Will I review it with my phone? Do you think students would rather get homework information via SMS through something like this or access it themselves online? Just thinking here.