Monday, December 29, 2008

Diversity Rocks! Reading Challenge

I love going in to the New Year with a plan. So I've signed up for the 2009 Diversity Rocks! Challenge.

I'm committing to reading 12 books by authors of color; at least six of these will be children's and young adult books, and the others will be adult selections. While I already read diverse authors (check out my bookshelf at the bottom of my blog) I welcome the challenge to read even more. I'm looking forward to seeking out diverse children's and YA authors in particular, as it will also benefit my students.

Thanks Ali, at Worducopia, for an exciting project for the New Year! Read On!

What I Learned in 2008 Part II - Technology Wreaks Havoc

So, this Christmas, my husband gave me a portable hard drive with 250 GB (I understand that is a lot!) so that I could move files over and free up space on my lap-top. My plan was to move all of my photos, music files, and school folders to the external drive, virtually "housekeeping" and barely lifting a finger.

It was supposed to be a piece of cake.

The fun started when I tried to liberate the 5" x 3" contraption from its heavy-duty plastic, cutting my hand in the process. Then, as the product indicated it was "plug and play" and no instructions were included, I proceeded to connect the USB to my laptop and started moving photos and then iTunes to the new drive. Pretty easy. Cool.

Then, I went to my iTunes player... and everything was GONE. I went to my new drive, and found the songs in all sorts of folders, and when I tried to play them, they would play in another player, not the iTunes player. Oh no. Then, I went to my documents, and discovered more pandemonium. Things had shifted from here to there, files had replicated themselves. Music and lesson plans and poems and tests and gadgets and journals were all mixed together. Stuff was NOT where it was supposed to be!

And while I was working hard at restoring files and returning things to where they should be, my computer froze up. I hit Ctrl+Alt+Del, returned to what I was doing, and then it happened again! I restarted, got back to work, and it happened AGAIN!

I discovered later there were some updates that had to install, and that there was a specific way to move certain types of files over to the external hard drive. I think everything is back in order now. I hope.

OK. So there is plenty more that I have to learn. But these tech-troubles really flustered me today. While technology has made me more productive and efficient, it's also caused me frustration.

What I Learned in 2008 Part I - Technology Rules

Many things about technology still befuddle me, although I have increased my tech-knowledge by leaps and bounds this past year.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo, who asks What did you learn in 2008?, I've been thinking about the past year in terms of my technological growth spurt.

1. I started a blog, and so began a series of new experiences. I've been posting, commenting, embedding, linking, adjusting templates, and checking stats. I've figured out how to make minor changes to Html in the layout of my blog. I also use RSS feeds and subscribe to several blogs through Google Reader.

2. I use a digital camera and my cell phone to take photos. I send or save photos to my computer, attach photos to email, embed them in my blog, and use them in lessons and presentations. I use my scanner to save old photos. I also use photo-making programs to crop, retouch, and "improve" my pictures.

3. I use my iPod daily. I download songs, rip and burn CDs, and create playlists for personal and classroom use. I also use other music sites, such as Pandora, so I have control over what I'm listening to, and for the opportunity to discover new artists.

4. I have abandoned trips to the mall; I shop on-line.

5. I visit certain websites regularly, examine new ones daily, and utilize many as resources in my classroom. A day doesn't go by without discovering one more site to add to my "tool-kit".

6. I'm also using my lap-top for news-following, bill-paying, symptom-checking, You-tubing, etc.

7. I use my computer daily for work, lesson plans, professional and personal writing.

Technology has moved me forward, and there is so much more to learn.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rocking out with José

My dad took us out last night to see José Feliciano. What a show! José sang old and new hits, among them his awesome rendition of the Beatles’ In My Life, his own Porque te tengo que olvidar, his ever-popular Doors' hit Light My Fire, and the one that makes my heart ache, Chico and the Man. My husband got the chills when José sang Elvis’ Suspicious Minds.

I’m used to singing out loud and dancing through concerts, but last night the crowd was made up of older, low-key folks, in other words viejitos. People stayed put in their seats. But I felt myself chair-dancing, I couldn’t help it. Especially when José played his version of Clapton’s Lay Down Sally, and Sergio Mendez’ signature song Mais que nada. I was totally feeling the music. I wanted to get up and DANCE!

My son was mesmerized by the effortless way José’s fingers traveled up and down the guitar, creating the most soul-filled melodies. The artist told jokes and shared short stories between songs, about growing up in New York, about friends and family, and memories of his teachers. Even at this time in his life, when he has enjoyed success and basks in the love of his fans around the world, José spoke of his teachers. That meant the world to me.

Toward the end of the evening, José played a deeply-felt Drummer Boy… reminding me (the doubter, the questioner) about humility. It’s etched in my mind, nudging me to adjust my attitude. I wish you could have heard it.

José closed the show with Feliz Navidad, one of the most popular holiday songs in the United States, and the #1 downloaded Latino song on iTunes. Everyone in the house was clapping and singing along in Spanish, and for me, the world was just about perfect.

Gracias papi – por el hermoso regalo.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Waiting by the window

The snow day was not meant to be. When I gathered the students in the morning, I asked "So, which one of you forgot to wear their pajamas inside out?"

Someone forgot to, I'm sure.

The storm didn't start until around 10 or so, when we were in the middle of math. The class was figuring out how to outfit 89 elves with new hats, coats, belts, pants, and boots, a multiplication and working-with-a-budget lesson. I looked up, and being a big kid myself, I announced "Hey! It's snowing!" and succeeded in distracting everyone for the rest of the lesson. It was my fault.

But we all went to the windows and looked out. It was beautiful. The kids were quiet, peaceful, taking in the view. I stood back, and took in the scene of my kids marveling at nature.

The school then took on a different feel, as it does during the holidays or when it snows. Parents started to stream in to pick up their children, phones began to ring, lessons were brought to closure a little sooner, with the promise of an arts & crafts activity. Some holiday music in the background, a handful of pretzels on every child's desk, glue and glitter... everyone was content.

It snowed all day, quite heavy at times, and we all went home at 3:00.

So, I love my kids and what I do every day. Teaching is my life. But I still want to know one thing:

What's the forecast for next week?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

I'm wearing my pajamas inside out tonight.

By the end of the school day, my colleagues and I had checked the weather reports often enough, that we had to discuss snow closings with the children "just in case". We explained three different scenarios: the delayed opening, the early dismissal, and the glorious snow day, my favorite of the three. Listen to the radio, watch the local television station, don't call the school.

My kids were so psyched. I told them about the American custom of wearing your inside-out pjs to bed. They laughed at the idea. They thought it even funnier when I confided in them that, when I get that 6 am call, I plan to jump right back in to bed.

"Why would you do that?"

So my 4th graders are in their beds tonight, hoping for the excitement of playing in the snow tomorrow, an event they may have only lived once or twice before. A snow day is a most magical event in a newcomer's experience.

It is also a most treasured and well-deserved break for an exhausted teacher.

What do you do in anticipation of a snow day? Please share, so I can tell my kids about it next week. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a snow day.

No more Entrecard

Droppers... thank you and farewell.

I've discovered many interesting blogs through Entrecard, and I follow several regularly. I just can't find the time to reciprocate the drops. So, I'll be closing my account.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Boy Finds Algebra

I've reached you kid!
you've been all over the place
your paragraphs long, breathless strings of disconnected
your homework wrinkled, empty pages of incomplete
your desk a black hole from which books and pencils never return
but I knew
one of my tricks would work
so today I wrote
W+S=25, and S-W=19
asked the class to solve for W and S
your eyes became large
your smile widened
the unknowns interested you
I watched you attack paper
scratching with a mission
until discovery lit up your face.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Upstairs at Douglass

I’m correcting my students’ homework at a small table for two, my husband sitting across from me reading a book of poems. He shares the ones he knows I’ll like. He leaves me for a moment, and brings back a bag of peanuts, a diet soda, a bag of cookies, and a steaming coffee from a machine. He forgets I am easily disgusted by hot drink dispensers, and I remind him so. But I take the cookies, no problem.

We’re waiting at the college student center for our son. It’s exactly 20 years since we sat in a place exactly like this. Back then, our book-bags were laden with heavy textbooks and notebooks filled with incomplete jottings and poorly thought-out rough drafts. We wore the collegiate uniform of the late ‘80s – sweats and sneakers – and our hair was teased with mousse. We were two bright, young kids from vastly different places. We were the same in that oldest-child kind of way.

The student center was home between classes. We wrote papers there, and colored our textbooks with yellow highlighters. We ate chips and candy, diet sodas. We napped on rough, orange burlap couches, our coats serving as blankets. And we talked. We studied and learned each other, just as we did the material on our syllabuses. During those exchanges, we imagined our futures and how we would live.

On this wicked, cold day, we’re home again. The tables, clustered chairs, flyers taped to walls announcing concerts and cancelled courses, the whirring and clunk of the snack machines, the milling about of all kinds of people – all of these feel the same. This time, though, the work in our bags is different, and we’re waiting for a boy – the one we dreamed about in the student center.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How to Remove a Splinter

My splinter-removing implements are arranged in a row
tweezers, cotton-balls, alcohol, safety pins, Neosporin
you’ve managed to get a huge one stuck up in your heel
and you trust me to remove it
This is love
Please lay face down, hon, diagonal on the bed
so I can work on you here by the light
poor foot
calloused skin
I’ll have to rough you up a bit
but I promise it’ll come out
just hold on, scream in to the pillow if you need to

Several attempts, scraping, piercing, poking, tearing
pulling at an almost microscopic shard
gripping your heel to steady it
I’m hurting you as I’ve done so many times
and you are not angry at me
You wince, your eyes water,
your mouth remains closed

I once thought I’d enjoy making you suffer
(just a little bit)
but now, I want this small evil to be gone.
I feel it when you cringe.
The small wooden needle slides away finally –
no trace left behind.
I’ve fixed you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I Wear an "S"

Friday evening and I'm feeling fine.

A week of intense lessons, two days of parent teacher conferences, after school programs, loads of paperwork, lesson plans, supervising my own child's homework, taking turns preparing dinner with "el jefe", and fighting the never-ending-sink-full-of-dishes... all of these and the incessant fatigue I try to outsmart and disguise...

I've made it through another week.

On my post "A Superhero Contemplates 40", the wonderful Nardeeisms commented "Cassy, you ARE Superwoman!" MIL GRACIAS for the encouragement, and for sharing a song about how it is.

Click and listen to Alicia Keys singing about women like us, here:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Latina Book Giveaway!

I’ve just read Houston, We Have a Problema by Gwendolyn Zepeda. This novel was a light-hearted look in to the life of a sassy, young Latina who makes her way through family, work, and love dilemmas. Sprinkled into the story are matters of identity, expectations, culture, and stereotypes, all of which seem to affect the main character’s ability to make sound decisions for herself.

This chick lit book is apparently Zepeda’s first novel. It moved quickly and was a fun read. The main character, Jessica Luna, is a girly-girl who embraces her curves and is proud of who she is. It was entertaining to join Jess during her frequent visits to her psychic, Madame Hortensia. Equally amusing and encouraging are Jess' constant efforts to get what she wants.

Thanks to Literanista, for inviting me to read this book. Be sure to visit her site!

Now, I’ve been given the opportunity to offer a free book giveaway to my readers. Five copies of Houston, We Have a Problema are available, courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA. Please leave a comment to this post by Wednesday, December 10. The first five folks to do so win a book! In your post, tell me you'd like a copy of the book AND share your thoughts (if any) on the terms Hispanic and Latina.

You must live in the United States or Canada. No P.O. boxes, please.
So, who wants a copy?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


For my husband – confidant and like-minded companion
and my son – who needs me and makes me want to be a better person
my parents, sisters, brother – family is forever
for friends – few and true
work – security, stability, requiring me to do my best
my students – who test and teach me
for high expectations
for reading – if only it was all I had to do
for writing – a good habit
for health – so far
for my country, my people
por ser bilingüeporque me vale muchísimo
for personal projects and pasatiempos
for morning coffee and afternoon naps
the birds outside my window
and the occasional snow day
for having something to fight for
and for being allowed to be me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Super Hero contemplates 40

Her cape is ripped,
snagged on splinters, shredded by glass,
no longer flowing behind her in the wind,
faded from years of flying.
The shine rubbed off a long while ago.
Her sleek unitard has seen better days,
worn in several spots,
threadbare where she least needs it to be.
She doesn’t look quite the same in it,
but it’s black,
disguising flaws
and years of bad eating habits.
The thigh-high boots will have to go soon
though she doesn’t know how low-heeled clogs will go with this look.
Her feet just aren’t the same.

Her vision is failing.
She can’t see through walls as she used to.
They stop her cold, she gives in too easily.
Her steely grip is weakening from arthritis,
easily dropping things she’s been trying to hold on to.

Had Marvel or DC known her,
she would have remained beautiful, strong, powerful, young –
a force to fear.
In the mirror though, she is drained –
fine-lines earned from real work, long hours,
and endless worries.
She sighs, shrugs, downs her morning elixir,
brewed hot and strong,
and heads out, pulling at her tights,
fluffing out her long-flowing black hair,
(she still has that going)
and calls on her will to
get through another day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So tired, I can't sleep

Nine o’clock, exhausted, ready for bed
so cold, extra blankets
alarm set, good night.
My eyes opened at 11, I remembered the laundry.
I woke again at 12, counted to 239, thought about work.
I saw the clock at 1:34, wondered if it had to do with age?
Flipped the pillow to the cool side,
threw my arm around my husband at 1:55,
and mulled over an argument.
Counted to three hundred something
and saw green glowing at 2:46,
considered where to stop for gas in the morning.
Unwrapped myself from too-warm covers at 3:50,
tugged at the comforter again around 4:44,
mentally rearranged the next day’s class schedule.
Sirens! Screaming! Beeping!
Fumbled for the button at 5:30,
hit snooze, not so gently, for just 10 more precious minutes.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Educating Ourselves About ELLs

This past Thursday, I met with an awesome group of proactive and professional people who work as advocates for English Language Learners. This group, the ELL Educator Cadre, is comprised of 16 educators from across the United States. We meet in Washington DC at the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) headquarters twice a year. Our team discusses issues in the field of English language acquisition, such as testing, equitable access to programs and materials, professional training, research, and best practices. This effort, coordinated by the AFT, is an opportunity for real practitioners to contribute expertise and knowledge to policy-makers, public relations specialists, and elected representatives at the state and national level.

Today, one in five students in this country is Hispanic. This fact is an obvious indicator of the changes our country is experiencing. Whether we look at this fact as an “issue” or an opportunity says a lot about how we approach the education of our children. We certainly have to make many adjustments as we plan for and deliver instruction.

While talking with my colleagues in Washington, it became apparent that great strides are being made in the areas of English language learning, bilingual education, and ESL instruction. However, I also see how a lot of this progress is overshadowed by the impossible demands of NCLB, accompanied by a lingering resentment toward immigrants and a clear resistance to becoming more appreciative of that which is “different”.

I wonder, are all of my brothers and sisters in teaching ready to look at things differently? Are you ready to experience a paradigm shift? As the numbers of English Language Learners grow in your schools, will you stand up for the rights of all children to receive the very BEST that you have to offer?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The language of learning and teaching

This field has its own "language", which often includes confusing acronyms and expressions that may vary from district to district. Several years ago, I came across this list and have shared it several times while mentoring new teachers. I've even brought it to the attention of parents while conducting workshops.

I was somewhat surprised more like incredibly disappointed when, during a conversation with teachers from outside my district, one individual did not know what AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) was. Are you kidding me? I suppose I'm overly-sensitive to this acronym, and NCLB, as they loom in the background of everything I do am supposed to be doing in my classroom. Perhaps the individual who didn't know what AYP was, is fortunate to teach in a school where TESTING has not taken over.

Check out the Lexicon of Learning, save it to your favorites. You may find it useful when preparing for a presentation or an argument with your principal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An afternoon swim

Rainy day weekends command naps
and she is more than willing to oblige
once the clock shows 2 or 3
or after lunch, when her insides are full and warm.
She bids farewell to the others, and calls up to her bed
“I’m on my way!”
gathering up her book as she climbs to her room,
her quiet heaven.
She slips off her daily clothes, folds them neatly and places them
on a nearby chair, for later,
then reaches under her pillow for the softest nightshirt,
stretching her arms as the comforting worn cotton falls around her shoulders.
Pulling the covers away, she wants to jump in,
but won’t disturb the cat, already blissfully asleep.
Carefully, precisely, she climbs in, and lays down,
opening her book to the part where the boy and his horse
ride into the ocean and swim with the dolphins.
While she reads
her feet rub against each other rhythmically
remnants of a child’s self-soothing habit
and after two or three pages
her eyes begin to grow heavy
and the rain calls her to sleep
the book falls away,
and the breeze lifts the curtains.
The rains sing and soothe
as she swims away.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

That thing that moms do

Can I make you French toast this morning?
My son’s eager eyes convey pleasure at the thought of
a real mom-made breakfast,
not frozen, not shaken out from a box,
nor spread between two pieces of wheat bread.
Do I have the ingredients? Let’s see…
here’s eggs, white bread,
in the cupboard the cinnamon, and near the coffee-maker
a container holding hundreds of pink packets, and lucky for us
several white Domino packets of the real stuff.
But there’s no milk in the fridge.
No problem – I’ll use half & half!
It’s the same thing, pretty much.
In fact, it’ll probably taste better.
I gather everything and get to work.
Crack open three eggs, pour in the “milk”,
shake in a bunch of cinnamon, and pour in a few sugar packets.
I do that thing that the chefs do with a fork, really fast
making sure he sees me.
He’ll have a memory of me making him French toast.
I drop a glob of butter in the pan,
and while it melts, I place the bread in to the stuff I’ve mixed,
letting it soak.
With my fork, I stab the bread and transport it across
several inches of countertop
dripping cinnamon-egg slop along the way,
and lay it in the sizzling pan.
He walks by, and I’m humming, poking at the bread with the fork,
peaking underneath to see if it’s time to turn it over.
Is that what it’s supposed to look like? we both wonder.
After a while, both sides look ready, I place the toast on a plate and
take it to the table where my son waits, smiling.
This is awesome! he says, while I watch him eat.
I’ll have a memory of him eating French toast,
that I made for him.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

YES WE CAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

¡Vamos a votar!

Election 2008 Voting Information from
Today, November 4th, is Election Day! Remember to vote--not just for Barack Obama, but for Congressional, state and local candidates as well.

Where and when do I vote?
Find your polling place, voting times, and other important information by checking out these sites and the hotline below. These resources are good, but not perfect. To be doubly sure, you can also contact your local elections office.
Obama's VoteForChange site:
League of Women Voters site:
Obama's voter hotline: (877) US4-OBAMA (or 877-874-6226)

What should I do before I go?
After you've entered your address on either Vote For Change or Vote411, read the voting instructions and special rules for your state.
Voting ID laws vary from state to state, but if you have ID, bring it.
Check out all the voting myths and misinformation to look out for:

What if something goes wrong?
Not on the voter list? Make sure you're at the right polling place, then demand a provisional ballot.
If you're voting on an electronic machine with a paper record, verify that the record is accurate.
Need legal help? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE
Try to get video of the problem and submit it to

Want to do more?
Text all of your friends: "Vote Obama today! Pass it on!"
Volunteer at your local Obama office. Find an office here or here.
Make calls from home for Obama.

Now everybody go vote!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Viva la vida y los momentos que compartimos

Last Sunday night, a week ago, we surprised our son with a Coldplay concert. We tricked him in to thinking we were going to his grandparents’ house for a late dinner, and on the way he fell asleep in the car. Perfect! My husband drove while we rocked out to our favorite music and the boy slept in the back.

When we finally made it to the concert, we blasted the radio, playing “Viva la Vida”, waking the boy up. His eyes were wide, alarmed. “Wake up! Wake up! Let’s go man! We’re at the Coldplay concert!” My husband was having fun with this.

Yeeeeaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” my son roared. He was clearly psyched.

We had an awesome time. I kept looking over at my little boy, now as tall as me, singing, clapping, cheering, feeling the emotions that one feels when totally surrounded by music and people. People from all over were there, yet everyone seemed to be from the same place, feeling the same joy. There’s nothing like music to make you feel like the world will be OK.

On the way home, 1:00 in the morning, my son said, “I’ll never forget this night.” Me neither, kid. You, me, and the music.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Autumn Eyes Behold...

golden leaves on the lawn
scarlet apples in a basket
a baby-blue sky above the neighborhood
the black shadows behind the trees
a milky-brown hot cocoa between my hands
a cerulean river through the forest
an orange sun between the clouds
the pink faces at the playground

These are some lines from my students' poems. They paint quite a picture, don't they?

For students who speak Spanish as a first language, this activity provides practice in the adjective-before-noun structure of English. (In Spanish, the adjective follows the noun.) It is also useful in its use of prepositions. This is a natural and relevant way to learn English, rather than the old-fashioned "grammar lesson".

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beyond the classroom, in the fall

My students come from diverse Hispanic countries and have only been in this country a year or more. Often, some of the lessons that most general program classroom teachers would present are out of reach for my students, as they have not lived the experiences that many native-born American children have enjoyed.

A writing activity that I love to do this time of year takes me a few extra periods than it would in the classrooms of my colleagues. I call the activity “My autumn eyes behold”. It can be done at any time of year, but I like to do it in the fall when the changes outside invite so much discussion and inspiration.

However, I work in an inner city school where most of my students live in apartment buildings or 2- and 3- family homes. Most of the trees near my school are scraggly and skinny, held up by string and stakes. The few leaves that manage to hold on, change colors, and fall to the ground are ignored, I think, and become just part of the litter that blows through the street. So, before I ask my students to “describe what you see on an autumn day,” I invite them to join me for a “walk”.

Imagine my students’ amusement when this morning, as it poured rain and thundered furiously outside our window, I announced we would go for a walk. “But we’ll get wet!” and “It’s too cold!” they complained. “We’re going to pretend” I said, as I turned on the LCD projector and shared a slide show (on Power Point) of the most beautiful fall images I could find on Google. I played Aaron Copland’s Rodeo – Four Dance Episodes while we toured golden mountains, trudged through leafy yellow forests, sailed on a crystalline blue river that wove through a toffee-colored canyon, and picked orange and (surprise!) white pumpkins in a field where a scare-crow stood guard.

Accessing prior knowledge is an important part of good teaching. In my case, I often have to create and simulate experiences so that my students may have a bank from which to retrieve information. I cannot assume that they’ve seen the glorious colors of autumn, that they’ve sipped a cup of hot chocolate after raking leaves, or that they’ve jumped in to a pile of leaves and stared up at the sky.

After our “walk”, I asked the students to make a list of all of the things they saw. After a few minutes, we brainstormed a list of the colors we saw. I expected they would say “red, orange, yellow, etc.” as other color words are not yet part of their vocabulary. Next, I provided a list of color words that would broaden their personal word banks, as well as more closely describe what they saw.

Then, I did one of my famous “mini-lessons”; I read Under, Over, by the Clover by Brian P. Cleary. This fun book is about prepositions, which my fourth grade students need exposure to in order to develop proficiency in English. After a shared reading, we created a list of prepositions, and posted those at the board as well.

Finally, I posted the following pattern:

(color) (object) (where you saw it)

I asked my students to develop several of these phrases, using the lists we created. Tomorrow we'll revise, rewrite, and edit as needed. I'll also conference individually with several of the students, and have them tell me about their writing.

This poetry-writing activity is a painless way to facilitate vocabulary and word-order skills.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A funny topping to write about

My fourth graders, who are English Language Learners (ELLs), are accustomed to writing daily in every subject. On most mornings, I post a few journal prompts at the board, from which they may select one to get them started. Every now and then though, between the morning routines and the hundred things that happen simultaneously before first period, I neglect to write a topic at the board.

This morning, one of the boys raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. L? What are the toppings?”

“The toppings?”

“The toppings Miss. What are we supposed to write about today?”

“OH! The toppings! Well let me write them for you right this minute! I’m sorry about that!” I replied, trying to hide my amusement. I approached the board, and wrote the following:

extra cheese

(I couldn’t help myself.)

“That’s for a pizza!” he giggled, as his classmates caught on and laughed.

I then took advantage of that teachable moment to display two words I hadn’t realized might cause some confusion. Toppings and topics sound different to you and me, being native speakers of English. However, for those who are learning this language, these words may be difficult to differentiate.

Once we all got over a case of the giggles, we discussed the different spellings and meanings of these words. For homework, they will write a couple of sentences using each of the words, showing they know the difference between the two.

After 18 years in the classroom, I’m still learning not to take anything for granted, and I’m reminded about how much fun I’m still having

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Los sentidos despiertan

¡Qué rica la vida! La gozo con todo mi ser.

El aroma del primer café de la mañana,
Las hojas caídas del otoño
Y el humo de una chiminea

El amargodulce de mi cafecito
La mantequilla
Y el pan recién salido del horno

El amarillo, el anaranjado, el rojo, y el café que decoran el cielo
El perfíl sonriente de mi hijo
Y las miles de personas alegres en el estadio, animando al equipo

El ritmo de la banda, marchando en la cancha
La gente cantando en una voz
Y el viento haciendo susurrar los árboles

El sol caliente en mi cara
La brisa fría, mi suéter protegedor
Y las frazadas suaves que me cubren al fín del día.

Tantas razones por ser felíz en un día
¿Por qué este dolorcito? Esta lágrima?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Losing focus

My apologies to the good folks who follow my blog. I've not posted for a bit because my job has taken over my life!

People need to know what teachers are dealing with these days! Who would have thought that an elementary school teacher would be so overwhelmed, so stressed out, and so overworked, that she would have to stay up on several week nights past 11 pm!

After 18 years in this profession, I thought things would become a little easier; with experience, things become second nature, you know? However, administration seems to look for more ways to bring us down, so we're practically crawling and scraping our way across the shiny floors.

Too much to describe here, and I don't wish to sound so terribly negative. But a very sad thing is happening in schools today, at least where I'm at. They are wearing us down. We are becoming tired of fighting the good fight. Morale is low. People smile weakly at each other in the hallways, speedwalking the kids to the next class, rushing to grade-level meetings where we will be told of yet another assessment that will determine what we need to focus on.

Focus. We're not able to focus any longer. There are too many foci at a time, I fear we will only be mediocre in the end.

They tell us the big focus this year is science, to incorporate it in every way possible, especially throughout the literacy block. In fact, we've been told to put aside a lot of the literature, and to use the science text and science leveled readers to teach reading. (Wow.)

At the same time, we are to focus on writing, and vocabulary. Infuse it in all areas.

And test. Benchmark tests. Quarterly tests. On-line tests. State assessments. Friday tests. Just last week I gave my 4th graders a district math test, 53 pages long, that took two days!

I'm not going anywhere. But I feel for the newer teachers who are just coming in to this field, and feeling like they will walk right back out. And I hate seeing so many colleagues becoming resentful and tired.

I feel some of that bitterness growing inside me, so I try my best to talk myself out of it on the drive to work. My kids need to see a cheerful and energetic person in the front of the room. They will get just that. I love my job, I love my kids, I love the art and science of teaching.

But I hate what has happened to school.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blue jeans for breast cancer awareness

Tomorrow is National Lee Denim Day. Wear your jeans and make a donation to help find a cure for breast cancer.

I'm an eight-year survivor. My grandmother and aunt have also survived. I've lost a coworker to the disease, and several other women I know have been through some kind of scare after finding a lump or receiving the results of a mammogram.

I was 33 when I was diagnosed, and my son was just four. I worked summer school that year. There were many times when, due to scheduling conflicts and my family living far way, I had no place to leave him, so I had to take him along with me after school to the hospital for my daily radiation treatment. Picture me in one of those awful open-backed gowns, asking the ladies in the waiting room to keep an eye on him while I went in to the "chamber". My little boy sat on the floor with his coloring book and crayons and sat patiently, while several kind-hearted women of various ages and different stages of illness watched over him for me. I remember those good, strong women and offer up a good wish for them, wherever they may be.
Please share the Lee National Denim Day link with family, friends, and coworkers - and donate to this urgent cause. May our mothers, sisters, daughters, and girlfriends see a future without breast cancer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A place is home when you make it yours

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
Yo siempre me había imaginado al Paraíso como una especie de biblioteca.
Jorge Luis Borges

Several months ago, I lost my second home. My favorite bookstore, Borders, was closed down to poor sales. Funny, I thought my little family and I had done our part to keep the place running; we spent almost hundreds there on a monthly basis. Either folks didn't read enough, or another chain was too big to compete with, and my favorite bookstore shut down forever.

That store was our Friday night hang-out. It was where I read and purchased the bulk of my teacher resources and satisfied my ever-growing desire for Hispanic literature. I discovered Indian authors there, and soon began my exploration of writings from other cultures. We discovered all sorts of new music at that store, and spent many contented evenings at the little tables, sipping coffee. My husband was fond of the place as well, as he was always able to satisfy his ever-evolving interests there.

We practically raised our son at this store. In fact, during my pregnancy, I retreated to the bookstore to pore over childbirth and baby-name books, sipping on slushy frozen coffee. When my boy was born, we took his little infant self to the store every week, in a carriage stocked with baby paraphernalia, and spent hours there, while he slept. The bottom of the carriage was ideal for carrying our purchases, which included baby board books, mothering magazines, and more glimpses of the world for me to read.

As our boy grew, so too did his love for books. At one and two, he immediately recognized the place and used his baby words to say he wanted to go to the children’s section. One of my most treasured memories is that of my husband, tall and husky, sitting on the carpeted steps, holding our son in his lap, reading to him, the baby pointing his little finger at the pictures. As he got older, the little guy would calmly sit in his stroller browsing through books he had selected.

Around the age of four or so, my son discovered super heroes, and so ventured to another section of the store. The books there were bigger, and heavier! We have a photo of him, sitting on a small step stool in the comics section, holding a rather large Marvel Comics History book. The intensity and interest in his face remain priceless. My son grew and changed; so too did his taste in books, from reptiles to cowboys, knights and castles to sports, Matt Christopher to Harry Potter. As soon as Friday rolled around, he would ask, “Can we go to the bookstore tonight?”

I took the closing of this treasured place very, very hard. On our last night there, we purchased at a huge discount what would be our last Borders books. My son, now 11, was intrigued by the stacks and stacks of books, toppling over, everything in disarray, folks grabbing and tossing, and the long lines. There was no more scent of coffee brewing, no subtle jazz music playing, and nowhere could you see a soul reading.

In the car, I fell apart. I cried as if someone had left me or died. My boys just sat silently as I sobbed. I stared back in the rear view mirror and lingered at the sight of the lit-up red letters and the large wooden doors as we drove away.

There are other Borders stores a few towns away, and of course Barnes & Noble sits just five minutes from here. But still. It’ll never be the same.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Breaking off a piece

It works like magic
on your insides,
the parts suppressed by adulthood,
your center, your soul,
the hideaway you keep.

It loves you -
a brief respite from daily matters
that makes you smile,
intense on your tongue,
curiously erotic,
making your eyelids flutter and
filling you sweetly,
kisses melting on your tongue
soothing every imaginable pain.

You forget
for a moment
where, what, why.
The treasure of the Amazon
has become your delicious secret.

That’s why women I know have buried
Russel Stover in their lingerie drawer
Whitman’s in their desk
and Hershey in their handbag.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Drinking it all in

Depleted, I walk out onto the back step
barefoot and t-shirt
stand, quietly
rediscovering whistles and chirps
remembering the scent of grass and tree bark
tilting my head back to
let the sun kiss my face, my arms
closing my eyes, feeling my chest tighten
with heartache
missing the way the sun would hold and feed me
when I had the time to sit with her
I miss this
I miss her
my eyes water from too much light
but my skin drinks it in
something is taking over me
bringing me to tears
the sting of loss
and just plain wanting to sit and be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dedication and dehydration

I am dehydrated and frustrated. I am tired and annoyed. I am doing the best I can. I am running around in circles. I am doing what I know is best. I am trying to please the unappeasable. I am reading, signing, checking, conferencing, questioning, supervising, planning, documenting, and differentiating. The “Lone Ranger” theme plays in the background while I hurry my charges from math, to vocabulary, to writing, to reading, to lunch, to ESL, and then through a frenzied science lab which we manage to plow through in 20 minutes. A few minutes before dismissal I sound like an auctioneer rattling off the homework assignments and reminding them to get their forms signed, while the principal drowns me out with her booming afternoon announcements. We have chaos in Room 219.

I spent 12 hours at school today, and not once did I stop to drink water! Of course, many teachers avoid water as we do not have the freedom to leave our students and run off to the restroom. I arrived extra early today and stayed very late to organize, clean up, and catch up (because I’m already behind) and even then, I did not stop to take care of a most basic need. Hydration.

They say water is vital to brain function. No wonder I feel brain-dead tonight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some "Brazen" self-promotion

This Brazen Teacher has paid me an awesome compliment! Do visit her blog and find out why I'm smiling.

Brazen is an art teacher with an attitude. She writes a thoughtful and humorous blog about school, teachers, kids, and life. You can tell she has faith in her craft and in the kids she teaches, regardless of how confining a place called "school" can be. What I like most about her blog though, is that she asks tough questions of both the reader and herself. I imagine Brazen, sticking out her chin, head tilted to one side, asking "But why? Why does it have to be like that?"

Brazen asked me some questions and posted them on her site. She made me remember a student from a long time ago, and she had me thinking about why I do what I do. Read the interview and check out the rest of her blog at

And thanks Brazen, for the validation, support, and for reminding me why Oil of Olay is my best friend!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

School shoes shined up and ready to go!

Tomorrow will be the start of a full week of school. It will be grueling and intense. The body and mind are still in summer mode; my feet fight the confines of real shoes, begging for flip-flops, and my mind just wants to sit back with an iced coffee and a book.

I did say though, how excited I was to start school again. And I am. I've got a class of 18 beautiful, eager kids from Argentina, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Peru, and Puerto Rico.

They've all been in this country a little over a year, so they have plenty of what we refer to in my field as BICS or Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. In other words, they have the kind of social and survival English that develops in a couple of years. It will be my job this school year to help them develop their CALP or Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, which we understand can take from five to seven years.

BICS and CALP are a large part of what bilingual and ESL teachers take into account while developing lessons. To the untrained ear, any of my students may appear to have already acquired enough English to function in a general program class. These students, however, are still developing necessary academic language, the language of the content areas.

It's one thing to be able to say, for example "I went to my friend's house this weekend" and another to have the language to express "Precipitation is the term for the falling, condensed water molecules, which come down as rain, snow, sleet, or hail--depending on conditions in the atmosphere." I know that when I see my students tomorrow morning, they'll be able to tell me in English what they did this past weekend. I also know they don't quite have the English vocabulary to discuss Scientific Method and safety, which I must teach this week.

Luckily, I'm prepared to make it happen. Eighteen years as a bilingual teacher has made me examine constantly what I believe about culture, language, learning, good teaching, and expectations.

I'm still learning. I'm still excited. I'm ready to put my school shoes on.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Happy Back-to-School Day!

Tomorrow is the first day of school! I am so exhausted. Yet tonight, I will not be able to sleep. I'm thinking about all I still have to do.

Today we had staff development. The presenter, who was very engaging, ran us through the new science program we'll be using this year. It was somewhat overwhelming. I'm sure teachers everywhere can understand how stressful it is to add on new material and more expectations to an already overloaded curriculum.

After lunch, we returned to our schools for more grade level meetings, science discussion, opening more boxes, counting and distributing texts and materials, and setting up for opening day.

I stayed until 5. I managed to put up my bulletin board out in the hall, and I cleaned up the mess from the box-opening frenzy. I got started on my paperwork, and I sketched out a plan for tomorrow's activities.

I'm a bundle of tense nerves. There is never enough time in the day. But I'm excited about tomorrow. For me, the first day of school is like, well....... it's like Christmas.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Looking forward to the first day of school

My summer vacation is over. But, in a few days, I will celebrate the first day of school. It’s an exciting time for me. The beginning of the school year is filled with hope and possibility. I’m psyched and ready to put my all in this work that satisfies, that frustrates, that tires, opens doors, and means so much.

I imagine the children are also feeling somewhat giddy and anxious. I’ll bet some have already gone out with their parents to buy a new book bag, pencils, notebooks, and many other school supplies that are so fun to play with (before they’re actually used for schoolwork.) Some are probably thinking, “I wonder what the teacher is like? Will there be lots of homework? Will I have friends?”

I also know many of my new students are not looking forward to school with the same enthusiasm. These are the kids who are missing something – food, love, security, self-confidence, or the basic skills to be successful in school. For these children, school is a worrisome place. I hope to change this.

I welcome each and every one of these children to our class. I’ve prepared it with lots of care. The desks are all set up. On top of them, I’ve placed colored pencils, scissors, notebooks, rulers, the reading text, and many other supplies so that we can start working right away. We have everything in our school. We lack for nothing. I’ve even put curtains on the windows, plants on the sills, and cinnamon/apple Plug-Ins in some of the outlets to make us feel like home.

The door is open for learning.

Esperando el primer día de clases

Se me acabaron las vacaciones de verano. Pero, dentro de unos días, celebraré el primer día de clases. Es una época bastante emocionante para mí. El comienzo del año escolar está lleno de esperanza y posibilidad. Tengo ganas de poner mi todo en este trabajo que llena tanto, frustra demasiado, cansa mucho, abre puertas, y significa todo.

Me imagino que los chicos tambien estan sintiendo algo de emoción y ansiedad. Seguro que algunos han salido yá con sus padres a comprar la mochila, los lápices, algunos cuadernos, y varios otros útiles escolares que tanto fascinan (ántes de usarlos con motivo). Algunos estarán pensando, “¿Cómo será la maestra? Habrá mucha tarea? Encontraré amistades?”

Sé también que algunos de mis alumnos nuevos nó esperan el primer día con el mismo entusiasmo que los demás. Estos son los chicos a los cuales les falta algo – comida, cariño, seguridad, confianza en si mismo,o las destrezas más básicas para poder tener éxito en la escuela. Para estos niños, la escuela es un lugar por temer. Espero cambiar esto.

Doy la bienvenida a cada uno de estos niños a nuestro salón de clase. Lo he preparado con mucho cariño. Los escritorios estan puestos en orden. Encima les he puesto lápices de color, tijeras, cuadernos, reglas, el texto de lectura, y tantas otras cosas para que podamos comenzar a trabajar de una vez. Tenemos de todo en nuestra escuela. No falta nada. Hasta he puesto cortinas en las ventanas, plantas verdes en los estantes, y coloqué unos Plug-Ins en los enchufes para que el aroma de canela y manzana nos haga sentir en casa.

La puerta está abierta para aprender.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

If you teach ELLs - you NEED this website!

Across the country, school is about to open, if it hasn't already. Many teachers, both veteran and novice, will meet a new group of bright, hopeful faces in their classrooms. Among these students, there are sure to be ELLs, or English Language Learners. As the face of our nation changes, so too must the strategies and tools we carry to meet the needs of our diverse students.

I invite you to visit the website Colorin Colorado. For the past several years, I have been part of the ELL Educator Cadre of practioners from across the United States. We have worked with the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and the developers of the website, creating materials on professional development, and advising on special projects, strategies, and best practices for ELLs.

If you work with ELLs or their parents, you will find this website to be most useful. There is a "For Educators" section, as well as a "For Parents" section, which can be accessed in either English or Spanish. There are ready-to-use tip sheets and newsletters you can use with the parents of your students. The site also contains research, articles, podcasts/webcasts, and literally everything you ever needed to know about how to best serve your ELLs.

The site also offers reading tip sheets in 11 other languages, ready to copy and send out to parents.

Be sure to check out Colorin Colorado! Tell your colleagues! Share this resource with the parents of your students!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back to school before it starts

School begins next week! We teachers start on Tuesday the 2nd, and will have two days of staff development. The students will then have their first day of school on Thursday, the 4th. I'm looking forward to meeting my new students!
In the meantime, I've been to my classroom both yesterday and today. I arrived in old jeans and sneakers, knowing there was a lot to lift, unpack, move around, put away, and clean. These pictures show what I found when I got to my classroom. Not too bad at all. I spent the whole day yesterday making sense of the boxes and putting the furniture in its place.
Today, I returned for the entire day again, this time accompanied by my mom. I organized the art supplies, paper, texts, and book shelves, while Mami organized my desk and set up my "kitchen" area. Before we left at 3:30 (yes! 3:30 pm and I'm still supposedly on summer vacation!) Mami and I put up my bulletin boards. It's amazing how much we got accomplished.
I will return for a third time tomorrow, for the entire day again, to organize my teaching materials and my files, set up my classroom computers, put up my literacy word wall, put up my math word wall, hang up my posters, and open more boxes because there will be more when I get there.
I will then return the next day, to organize my classroom library. The books must be organized by themes (biographies, multicultural, sports, animals, holidays, fairy tales, states, countries, space, bilingual, etc.) A large part of the classroom library is also comprised of leveled readers, which also have to be organized in to different colored bins, and marked with different colored labels, indicating their levels.

I suppose I'll have to go in on Friday as well. There is so much to do...
While all of this back-to-school setting up is going on, what do I do with my son? Well, the boy is accustomed to life with two teachers. He's been going to school every day this week with his dad, setting up that classroom!

Monday, August 25, 2008


Your kitchen window, the birdfeeder hanging in view,
and the cardinals’ daily visit
your favorite coffee mug and the spot on the counter for your vitamins
your sturdy wooden table in the sunniest room –
vibrant green hanging plants at every window
your laundry room and pantry where you’ve established order and plenty
your notebooks and pens, ready to create, your office wall of picture frames
your bookshelves, waiting
your dog, begging for attention, and your cat, rubbing up against your legs
your own mashed-up squishy pillow
and the old comforter that feels like silk on your feet
your side of the bed
your night stand and about-to-topple-over stack of books
your small lamp and the click at the end of your day.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Una semana en el paraíso

After a long, lovely week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I'm back home. Crossing the state line back in to Jersey felt good, as it always does after a trip. Home is, after all, home. This was the yearly big family vacation, spent with my mom and dad, sisters and brother, and their families. You can imagine what 20 souls living together feels and sounds like; in the moment, it can be chaotic, overwhelming, exciting, and loud. Very loud. Now that it's over, I feel a little no sé qué. I miss having mi gente right there, close.

We were lounging in our beach chairs, enjoying our last day by the ocean, watching the kids play, thinking about the long drive back. I was also internally stressing over all the things I had to do when I got home, the back-to-school clothes shopping, appointments, the loads of laundry, setting up my classroom, the diet I need to start, and the work I need to complete before the first day of school, when a scraggly old guy walked by and paused near us. I waved to him, he waved back. He inched closer, and said something to my brother-in-law, who immediately engaged him with a "How you doin'?" The guy replied simply, "Another day in paradise!" and walked on his way, stopping every now and then to take a picture of a sand crab, a sandpiper, a crashing wave, the rubble of a sand castle.

Thank you, scraggly guy with the bandanna and camera, for reminding me how lucky I was to enjoy a week with the people I love most in the world. Thank you for reminding me that our kids are growing up fast and that they are, still, kids. Thank you for reminding me that moments like these are becoming less frequent, when we can all be together, all of us in one place. Thank you for reminding me to be grateful. Thank you for reminding me that it was indeed, paradise.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On Holiday!

We're leaving in a couple of hours for vacation to Outer Banks, North Carolina. It will be the entire family, that's 20 of us, under one roof for a week. We're experts at this; we've been doing the BIG TOGETHER for several summers now. The time always proves to be memorable.

I checked on our rental yesterday, and discovered that the house HAS NO INTERNET ACCESS! I emailed everyone, the messages were flying back and forth, and my brother jokingly admitted he purposely booked a house with no access so that it would be a true vacation.


Well, I'm still taking my lap-top, just in case. Besides, mi jefe found some local Internet cafes so he can do his "banking". (That means fantasy sports and keeping up with his blog.) I'll try to check in as well. If I don't, it will just mean I am resting and thoroughly enjoying the water, sun, and my family.

Adios folks! I'm outta here!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

At the bookstore

“The cookies seem to have gotten smaller”
he says, as he clutches a bunch of
fashion magazines, comic books, the latest American Girl,
a no-carb diet book,
and "Improving Your Swing"
in the crook of his arm
and fiddles in his wallet for some plastic.
The guy behind the counter just looks at him.

There was a time when a cookie satisfied.
He could get his sugar fix on just one of these babies
back in the day,
when he was just a kid
no worries, no commitments, no plan.
A small coffee and a cookie were it
when he spent long afternoons reading, studying, planning.

Time and responsibility did a good job of fixing that.
Do you have any idea what wife, work, and kids can do to you?
Not enough anymore
even though he has everything.
He’s overdone it,
just like he's about to now on these
chocolate-laced oatmeal raisin cookies and tall java-chip banana smoothie.
Eyes too big for his many mouths,
season tickets and SUV,
wife’s shoe and bag habit,
kids’ video games and plasma TV,
piano lessons, football pools, spa treatments.
Hands too big for his wallet.
The need is too big –
it grows along with his title
and remains unfilled
despite having everything.
It was better when he had nothing.
The cookies were bigger.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Review: Digging to America

Digging to America, by Anne Tyler, explores family, adoption, culture, and what it means to be “American”. Two very different families, one American and the other Iranian, gather at an airport to welcome their adopted babies from Korea. The arrival of the infants is the beginning of a life-long relationship for these two families, one that takes them through politeness, curiosity, comfort, bonding, and explorations of differentness and belonging.

Very often, Americans and newcomers attempt to interact at social gatherings, sharing information about each other via food tasting, invitations to partake in customs, and general exchanges of cultural details. However well-intentioned these efforts may be, both groups sometimes assume that the work of getting to know one another ends there.

Tyler, I think, intends for the reader to see that there is much more below the surface; it is too easy to get caught up in the way people look, the way they speak, the way they behave. Some characters in Tyler’s book fall into the trap of ethnocentrism, while others are politically correct to the point of being offensive. This book examines the opportunities that are lost when we make assumptions and when we believe that our way is the only way.

I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of times as a child, when I watched my mother fuss over perfect party preparations. She was eager to please and impress, as the guest list was a "mixed" crowd, including my father's American colleagues, and our Bolivian family and friends. Quite naturally, both groups gravitated to separate areas of the room. Fortunately, food, drinks, and music eventually got everyone to mingle.

Are you interested in this book? I'd be glad to send it to you. Comment on this post by Wednesday, August 20, and mention that you're interested in the book. I will select a winner and mail it to you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

This time is on loan

(This is a translation of yesterday's post.)

Mi único hijo cumplirá 12 años en noviembre, y me encuentro pensando en el tiempo que ha pasado tan rapidamente. Tal como lo hacen muchas madres, quisiera poder regresar y hacer tantas cosas de nuevo; esta madre ha cometido muchos errores en el camino. Al querer ser esposa, madre, y profesional, quizás no he podido balancear las cosas lo suficiente.

Mientras completé mi tésis, enseñé a mis alumnos de cuarto grado, organizé un programa de asistencia para padres, dirigí un programa escolar los sábados por la mañana, presenté talleres y dí presentaciones, defendí la educación bilingüe, y hasta trabajé en Washington como cabildera – mi pequeño hijo ha estado creciendo rapidamente. Aunque hayan las personas que dirán “pobre niño” y “qué madre más mala” cuando piensen en mí, espero que de alguna manera, algún día, mi hijo verá que su madre andaba hacienda cosas valiosas durante su tiempo aquí.

Claro, siempre lamentaré algunos de esos momentos que me los perdí…

“I’m busy right now” said the mother to her small child.
“I have a lot to do.
Don’t you see I have to clean, wash, and organize?
Don’t you understand I have to
write and complete this report,
sign and send these forms,
revise and edit these papers,
and fulfill all of these responsibilities?”

The boy replied,
“I just want to play with you,
draw and paint for a while,
walk to the park,
kick the ball in the yard
or ride bikes.”

Just the same, the woman found a way to avoid it
as she got involved in her busy-ness, not realizing
there was something more important to do.

That boy, so clever,
made up his own stories, read books,
played with his imagination,
created costumes and constructed scenes,
and even invented friends to keep him company.

She always praised him.
“Son, you are so beautiful,
so quiet and calm.
You know how to behave.
You don’t bother anybody.
You entertain yourself wonderfully.

Come here, let me give you a kiss.”

“No mother. I’m too old for that stuff.
Besides, I have a lot to do.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

El tiempo es prestado

My only child will be 12 in November and I often find myself thinking back to this time that has passed so quickly. As many mothers do, I wish I could take back and do over so many things; this mom made a lot of mistakes along the way. In wanting to be a wife, mother, and professional, I may have not done the best job of balancing it all.

While I worked on a thesis, taught my 4th grade students, organized a Parent Outreach program, ran a Saturday Morning School, traveled out of state, presented workshops and gave presentations, advocated for bilingual education, and even made it to Capitol Hill as a lobbyist - my little boy was growing fast. Though there are some that may say "poor kid" and "bad mom" when they think of me, I have to believe that in some way, some day, my son will see that his mother did good things during her time here.

Of course, I will always lament some of those little moments I missed out on...

“Es que no tengo tiempo” dijo la mujer a su pequeño hijo.
“Tengo demasiado que hacer.
¿No ves que tengo que limpiar, lavar, ordenar?
¿No entiendes que tengo que
escribir y completar este reporte,
firmar y enviar estos formularios,
revisar y redactar estos papeles,
y cumplir con tantas responsabilidades?”

El niño respondió,
“Solo quiero jugar contigo,
dibujar y pintar un rato,
caminar al parque,
patear la bola en el patio
o correr en bicicleta.”

Por lo mismo, la mujer encontró la manera de evadirlo
y se metió en sus cosas sin darse cuenta que
había algo más importante que hacer.

Ese niño, tan astuto,
se inventó cuentos, leyó libros,
jugó con la imaginación,
creó disfraces y construyó escenarios,
hasta se inventó unos amigos para que lo acompañen.

Ella, siempre lo alababa.
“Hijo, qué bello que eres,
tan quieto y tranquilo.
Sabes comportarte.
No molestas a nadie.
Te distraes divinamente.

Ven aquí, te daré un beso.”

“No madre. Estoy muy grande para esas cosas.
Además, tengo demasiado que hacer.”

Monday, August 4, 2008

Reach for More has received an award!

I’ve been blogging for just 4 ½ months, and I’ve received an award! I would like to thank Stella from My World-Mi Mundo for awarding my blog with an Arte y Pico award. Cool! Mil gracias Stella por tu apoyo y amistad. Lo agradezco de verdad.

This award is passed on to blogs you learn from, that inspire you, that make you smile or think, and that are doing something special. Here are the rules:
1) You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogger community, no matter what language.

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award-winning blog has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of the Arte y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5) To show these rules.

And so, the Arte y Pico award goes to:

Larry, at Crowned with Laurels - for his insightful observations about people and nature, and for sharing honest and raw feelings about growing up. Real poems for real people!

Pearmama, at Hello World - for her amazing artwork, and for the way she is able to glide from mother, to wife, to artist, to funny woman. Very entertaining!

LanaBanana, at American Fool - for her bad-ass attitude which I love, and because she is probably someone I would love to hang out with in real life. I appreciate how she says what she wants to say, sin pelo en la lengua!

Mr. Magoo, at El Atico de Mr. Magoo - for his reminders of the songs we grew up with, his Musical Fridays, and great-to-listen-to podcasts.

and Literanista - for her excellent discussions of Hispanic books and authors, and for being a great source for what to read next.

If the awarded bloggers wish to pass on the award, please go to Arte y Pico for the rules.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Latina Book Review: Border-Line Personalities

Border-line Personalities proved to be a great read. Topics such as mother-daughter relationships, family secrets, being bilingual, ethnic pride and denial, raising kids, sexuality, love, and careers are all discussed by 20 different Latina writers. Although the viewpoints presented in this collection of essays are varied, there is a clear sense of some commonality among Latinos.

Several points hit home for me in this book. One of them, el qué dirán (the "what will they think/say") is so prevalent in the lives of Latinas; many of us are raised by a mami who warns us not to embarrass her, the family, and ourselves by "non-traditional" or "unacceptable" behaviors and decisions. This proves to be a source of internal conflict for Latinas who struggle to be true to their more modern and independent, American selves.

Another topic that emerged in these selections was that of labeling and stereotypes. Often, we are incorrectly called Spanish, when in fact some of us are immigrants from or descendants of Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile, Argentina, and all of the other Spanish-speaking countries that form Central and South America. Many of us are born in the United States. When I'm asked "what are you?" (yes, people do ask) I reply that I am American-born, and that my parents are Bolivian. I identify with both cultures. I speak Spanish, but I am not Spanish.

One of the essays reminded me of a disappointing conversation I suffered with my college roommate many years ago. She seemed to think I was a "good" Hispanic because I did not "act like one". I remember her saying something about "those people", and how I didn't look like them, or "talk fast" like them.

So what is this term Latina all about? For me, and the writers in Border-Line Personalities, it's a feeling, an outlook, an attitude, a way of life, a source of pride. Latinas relate to each other on another level because of the way we've been raised, the similarities in our different cultures, because of what is expected of us, and because of the way we're perceived in the greater picture of American life. Latinas continue to redefine themselves while also contributing positively to the forward movement of their families and their communities.

Want to read this book? I'll be glad to send it to you. Comment on this post by Monday, August 4, and mention if you are interested in receiving my well-kept copy. I will select a winner and mail the book to you.

Let's Stay Together

My siblings and their children came over to spend the day yesterday. While the kids swam in the pool for hours, my husband and brother tore up the old shed out back, and my sisters and I stayed inside and talked. It was both a very simple yet fulfilling day. At one point, all fifteen of us were crowded into my small dining room for a simple meal of pizza and salad.

Our parents are away on a European trip, and as they get older, they often repeat to us kids that it would mean the world to them that we remain close, even after they leave us. It’s comforting to know that the safest and warmest place is with your family, and that often, your siblings are your best friends.

Mis hermanas y sus hijos vinieron a casa ayer a pasar el día. Mientras los chicos nadaron en la piscina, mi marido y mi hermano destrozaron el cobertizo viejo, y mis hermanas y yo nos quedamos adentro a charlar. Fué un día sencillo y agradable a la véz. Hubo un momento en el cual todos nos metimos en el comedor a cenar una comida sencilla de pizza y ensalada.

Nuestros padres estan de viaje en Europa, y mientras van envejeciendo, nos repiten frecuentemente que quisieran que estemos siempre juntos, aún cuando yá no esten con nosotros. Me consuela saber que el lugar más seguro y cariñoso es con la familia, y que muchas veces, los hermanos son los mejores amigos.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reading my heart, walking my brain

¡Aaaaay, caramba! Something’s wrong with me! I am not feeling “right” physically and creatively. I’m experiencing what could be a serious health issue and I’m struggling with a dead brain. High blood pressure and writer’s block. Fabulous. The more I think about it, the more stressed out I get, and the more pronounced my perceived physical symptoms feel. If only I could go back to about 10 years ago, I would make some different choices and take better care of myself.

I suppose my health is taking over my brain, and stopping the free flow of ideas I usually have going on. Maybe I’m just making excuses. I have a list of things I want to say, write about, and create; getting started is where I am stuck. Fortunately, my office is unpacked and set up once again. As soon as this haze leaves me, I hope to get back to my creative self.

One thing I have not stopped, is reading. I must read for at least an hour before I go to sleep or I’ll feel like I’ve wasted the day. I’m reading Borderline Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass, and Cultural Shifting, by Michelle Herrera Mulligan and Robyn Moreno. It’s a great collection of short stories and essays written by Latinas; I can identify with just about every bit of it. What a relief it is to read and move away to another place for a while, putting worries aside for just a moment. Once I’m done with the book, I’ll post a review.

One thing I have started – ¡por fín! – is walking. I’m going to a park nearby and walking the track until my shins scream. Early morning is awesome, and I enjoy listening to my iPod. I also bought new Asics sneakers tonight, white and purple, with perfect cushioning. I’m hoping they’ll keep me comfortable.

Reading and walking… perhaps I’m not as bad off as I thought!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Encontrando espacio - Finding space

Estoy peleando con las cajas. Estoy rodeada de cajas llenas de libros y no tengo suficiente espacio para ponerlos todos. Esto me frustra demasiado. Pero, insisto en sacarlos porque no puedo vivir pensando que algunos se queden empaquetados. Me gusta poder verlos.

Poco a poco los voy acomodando. Yá organizé mis materiales de educación y mis recursos de enseñanza. En una parte de esta pequeña oficina pondré todos mis autores hispanos, temas latinos, y libros en español. En otro lado estará mi colección de literatura asiática – hace años que me fascinan las novelas indias y chinas. Luego, guardaré mis libros de escritura y poesía.

No puedo trabajar rápido, pues me distraigo mucho hojeándolos. Los estoy descubriendo como amigos viejos. Hay varios que todavía no he leído, y me encuentro construyendo una torre de libros “por leer” – está que se va caer. Seguro que, al terminar de acomodar todo, lo voy a hacer de nuevo, cambiando estos para esos, y este montón con ése.

Mi escritorio está un desastre. Tengo aquí una barbaridad de papeles, fotos, revistas, y todo tipo de COSAS con las cuales no se qué hacer. Apenas pude acomodar mi ordenador portátil para poder escribir un rato. Ni modo. Todo se arreglará poco a poco. Además, siempre he gozado de organizar mi espacio. Me encanta colocar las cosas de tal manera para estar a gusto. Es mi oficina, mi lugar, mi rincón.

I’m fighting the boxes. I’m surrounded by boxes full of books and I don’t have enough space for all of them. This frustrates me incredibly. But I insist in taking everything out as I can’t bear to think of them being all packed up. I like to be able to see them all.

I arrange them little by little. I’ve already organized my education materials and teaching resources. In one area of this small office I’ll place my Hispanic authors, Latino topics, and Spanish books. In another section of shelf I’ll place my collection of Asian literature – it’s been years that I’ve been fascinated by Indian and Chinese novels. Later, I’ll shelve my writing and poetry books.

I can’t work quickly because I get distracted as I leaf through them. I rediscover them like old friends. There are more than several I haven’t read yet, and I find myself creating a “to be read” tower – it’s about to topple over. I’m sure that, when I finish shelving everything, I’ll end up redoing it, changing these for those, and this pile to that one over there.

My desk is a disaster. I have a mess of papers, photos, magazines, and all kinds of STUFF I don’t know what to do with. I was barely able to find a spot for my lap-top so I could write for a while. Oh well. It will all get done little by little. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed organizing my space. I love placing things just so, the way I like them. It’s my office, my place, my corner.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And that's the way it is...

Although it's annoying to hear again and again when you're feeling poorly about things, "there's a reason for everything" seems to be the only way to feel better. How interesting to discover personally that the current housing crisis has created a domino effect. If you have a home to sell, and you want to buy, you're at the mercy of frustrated realtors and insecure buyers. Even though you may have everything lined up, you may be stuck at an impasse if others' don't have their affairs in order.

So the deal is off. I feel for the couple who looked at my place with dreamy eyes. I feel bad for us, because we're back to square one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

See Me Go Up and Down

I own a house. I wanted a new house. I put my house up for sale.
I cleaned, dusted, fixed, painted, patched, and repaired.
I swept and vacuumed.
I waited.
People came, looked, and left.
I waited.
I cleaned, dusted, fixed, painted, patched, and repaired some more.
I swept and vacuumed.
People came, looked, and left.
I waited.
One couple came, looked, and liked.
One couple made an offer.
I countered, they offered again. I countered, they offered again.
We agreed.
We went looking. And looking. And looking.
We saw one, we loved it, we made an offer.
He countered, we offered, he countered, we offered again.
We agreed.
They signed, we signed, he signed, we signed again.
We signed, and signed, and signed.
The banker said yes.
We felt happy. We were excited. We smiled. We packed.

The phone rang. The lawyer had bad news.
"They cannot buy your home because they are not qua-li-fied."
They are first-time buyers. They have no money."
Oh, no! Its true!
I can buy, but I can't sell!

The way it was going to be

We were going to plant a vegetable garden
and i even said i would mow that huge lawn
the exercise would have been perfect
and in the mornings i would have looked out across the land
while i drank my first cup of coffee
watching the colors change
the deck would have been your second office
you like to write outside
our old fridge would have been in the garage
where we would stash beer, soda and
extra juice boxes where son and godchild could help themselves
because we wanted him and the cousins to be around a lot
jumping in the pool
running around and riding bikes
and wouldn't it have been awesome to be able to have the entire family
over and have big parties?
and i was dreaming about my brother dropping in for coffee
and my sister-in-law and i going for walks
and my boy...
tears me up when i think he just wanted to have someone to play with.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Aspirar = Inhale

The Spanish word aspira is a cognate, and means "aspire" in English, as in reaching toward something, setting your sights on a goal, or having high expectations. Aspirar also means "to inhale" - which I had to remind myself to do today.

No importan los detalles - the details are unimportant. What matters is I'm reminded to apreciar lo que tengo, be grateful for what I have. Breathe, and realize that everything is actually good just as it is right now.

Family, health, a good cup of coffee, a good piece of bread, a book, some music, y aspirando el aire fresco de la mañana - its all good. That other thing I want - if its meant to be, cool. If not, that's cool too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cleaning out my desk - to pack or not

Papers from hundreds of days ago, 1000 loose paper clips,
filled-up notebooks, ripped and ragged edges
empty notebooks, fresh and waiting to be taken
pens, dry and used up
pens, unscrewed and leaking
pens, best-loved and worn, waiting
erasers and highlighters
photos to be avoided, they evoke tears
photos to gaze at, smiles erupt
coffee mugs - chipped, pencil holders
letters and cards from HIM and him
extra-long receipts and unused coupons
antiquated paper documents
old credit cards
and scissors to cut them up with
bookmarks, scissors, calculator
boxed up and ready to go
to a new place
where they will be taken out
as lovingly as they were put in

Packing - Escape

Girlfriend has an idea, she just hasn’t told anyone yet
She’s gonna take her money, put it away in the
Banco Independiente
out of his reach
She’s gonna sign her real name, the one her dad gave her,
to the papers and
she’s gonna pack some bags and get the hell outta there
Stuff the back seat of her new little car she
bought with her pay
Pack her suitcases and boxes of books
crates of CDs and DVDs of her music, her movies
She’s gonna yank her sheets, her blankets, her towels
from the closet, and the bed, yeah
and from that tiny little kitchen where she
poured her heart into his meals
she’s gonna grab the dishes her mother gave her
the pressure cooker she saved up for
the expensive set of pots and pans she thought she'd need for this life
and the fancy wine glasses he never bothered to court her with
wrap them all fast and stuff them in a box
she can do all this, while he’s out at work
(at least that’s where he says he is
but the hours he keeps are not work hours, ya know?)
So when he leaves, she’ll get it all done
she'll move quickly
and once she’s set
she’ll take baby’s things and stuff them all in two huge baskets
and pack a diaper bag with the most essential items
she’ll need for the drive
last thing she’ll take
will be his son, while he’s softly sleeping in his crib
she’ll wrap him in his daddy’s jacket -
the last thing she’s gonna take

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dreaming of a lawn tractor

Finally! After waiting five months, someone wants to buy my house! ¡Por fin! A couple wants to move in to my house RIGHT AWAY!

So we went house-shopping during this very warm weekend. The houses we wanted to see were all in a development that I just had to live in because one of my siblings lives there and I really want to live near family. The realtor showed us several homes, and after he gave us a little background on some of them, I felt bad. You could tell some folks left in a hurry. But after all that, none of these houses suited us. They were either too big, too little, and most only had yards the size of a postage stamp. You need a little land to feel at one with nature now and then, you know? You could say we were just a bit frustrated. (And hot and thirsty! Did I mention how warm it was?)

During my Internet house-dreaming, I had seen one other property, not in the development, but just across the highway, still just a minute from my bro. It called to me; I thought it was exactly the kind of place I could see my pequeña familia in. But when I showed it to el jefe, he was not too keen on it, as it sits on two and a half acres, and all he could think of was how long it would take to cortar el pasto! He didn't even want to look at it. But after looking at several casas and not seeing anything, I asked the realtor to take us just across the highway anyway, just in case - no se pierde nada. There was nothing to lose.

Now el jefe is a quiet kind of guy, kind of serious, a pessimist, and reserved. As we drove up to this house, we saw the viejito, a little old man doing some yard work. He let us in, and ¡Qué cosa mas linda! We walked around the house, and the surrounding property. ¡Es todo un parque! I looked over at el jefe and he was wearing one of his very subtle, private smiles. I knew this place would grab him.

El niño liked everything about the house, especially the idea of being so close to his cousins. I loved the meticulous care the viejito had taken in the upkeep of the house, and I loved the kitchen. And what did el jefe like the best? Folks, he loved the land. All two and a half acres of it.

So, we cautiously made an offer. My very guarded jefe says "Don't get your hopes up, just in case." This latina optimista is already thinking "Where will we put the Christmas tree?"

Cross your fingers, enciendan las velitas. I wouldn't mind seeing el jefe smile like that again.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If the flip-flop fits

A few weeks ago, before school was over, I was assessing the state of my summer footwear. I figured I would probably need a pair or two of new sandals, for work and for going out. I also thought I’d need a new pair of flip-flops for hanging out around the house and for quick excursions and running errands. I like to make sure I have a couple of comfortable options that will go with everything, especially for those hot and humid days when the thought of wearing anything on my feet makes me cringe.

Since we live in a small house, we keep our clothes stored in the attic in huge plastic bins and switch them from season to season. The same goes for our shoes. When I went to the attic to pull a blue Rubbermaid bin marked “Summer Shoes”, it felt heavy as I lugged it in to the bedroom to get a better look. I removed the lid and was assaulted by the stale smell of plastic and rubber. I immediately recognized two pairs of flip-flops belonging to my husband, one with leather straps, and the other with a canvas/mesh strap and college logo. Next to these were my son’s flip-flops – one pair was the cheap, dollar-store rubber kind, the other pair was a nicer natural jute-strapped pair.

Underneath the guy’s stuff were my summer shoes. I felt pleased as I took out three different pairs of black sandals in varying heights, one light-brown pair, a pair of red flats, and two pairs of white, mule-style, slip-on sneakers. They all looked pretty good for another season and I decided there was no hurry to buy new stuff. I could certainly make these all work with my summer outfits.

There was more in the bin. I retrieved:

1 pair of green and black top-sole, black cord strap flip-flops
1 pair of all-black, micro-suede top-sole, sporty flip-flops
1 pair of black, straw top-sole, with Svarovski-like beaded strap flip-flops
1 pair of black and white flowered canvas strap flip-flops
1 pair of red strap, sporty flip-flops
1 pair of suede top-sole, silver and gold braided strap flip-flops
1 pair of straw top-sole, denim-style strap flip-flops
1 pair of blue and white strap, mesh top-sole, sporty flip-flops
1 pair of blue and white flowers with see-through strap rubber flip-flops
1 pair of standard, dollar-store, purple rubber flip-flops
1 black and pink rubber flip-flop, missing its mate

I think I have a flip-flop addiction. My husband says I’m just cheap.