Thursday, November 26, 2009

Realizing what you have...

... when your thoughts are crowded with work, obligations, daily routines, and the wish that you could do what you want to do...

... is difficult.

But once someone or something gets through, and shakes you a bit, you see more clearly, or at least you begin to.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Winners - Hispanic Heritage Month Giveaway

Congratulations to the following amigos, who have each won a set of five books!

1. Estela
2. Confessions of an Overworked Mom
3. Ali
4. Sarah
5. Mary Ann DeBorde

Winners have been contacted by email. Thanks for participating! Enjoy your books!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Overwhelmed and ocupadísima

Some of my fellow twitterers and bloggers (who happen to be educators) have posted "I'm still here!" updates. It seems September has brought its customary rushing around to many folks, me included.

It is comforting, in a way, to know I'm not the only one with an over-heaped plate. That doesn't help me with my to-do list, though. Someone mentioned "mapping out" what one has to do, before setting out to do it all. That's exactly the habit I need to develop. I'm known for signing up for more work - chairing committees, organizing events, writing articles, presenting workshops, starting up new projects - only to become flustered when I can't get to everything properly.

Before the piles of paper get too high, before the projects become too numerous to keep track of, before I fall behind in my work and start making mistakes, and before I lose sight of the fact that I am a wife and mother first - I have to sit down and take a look at everything I've committed myself to. I'm not one to drop what I can't do. I just have to do a better job of managing everything.

So, I want my readers to know - I'm still here, bear with me please. I'll soon get everything under control and will get back to blogging regularly.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month Book Giveaway

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed September 15 through October 15. I'm excited to kick off this month-long celebration with a book giveaway on behalf of Hachette Book Group. There will be five winners, who will each win a set of five books.

The books in this giveaway are:

1. Zumba® By Beto Perez , Maggie Greenwood-Robinson
2. Evenings at the Argentine Club By Julia Amante
3. Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz By Belinda Acosta
4. Tell Me Something True By Leila Cobo
5. Amigoland By Oscar Casares

To win a set of books, please answer the following question, and comment here by October 15. When you comment, please leave an email address or link to a site where you can be contacted. Winners must be US or Canadian residents. No PO Boxes please. Winners will be selected and announced on October 16th.

What notable Hispanic, past or present, do you want to know more about? Why?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Back to school we go...

First day of school tomorrow - and I'm not sure I should even bother going to bed tonight. The night before the first day has always been sleepless for me. I end up laying there, wide-eyed, tossing, turning, making lists in my head, giddy and nervous.

I also tear up a bit on this night every year - about the end of summer, the end of free time, over the beginning of what is always a stressful season, and the realization that I might not have spent enough quality time with my son. It's always my regret on this night. He's growing and changing so quickly. Jeans and sneakers up a size. Mind and personality... amazing, curious, beautiful, quirky. There's heartache in watching him.

Before this treasure went to bed tonight, with his own mixed thoughts of what tomorrow will bring, he came to kiss me goodnight. "Thanks for a great summer Mom. I had the best time with you. Thanks for everything."

This kid. He ties my heart up in knots.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Back-to-School Wordle

Wordle is an exciting tool. I plan to enlarge this one for the bulletin board outside my room. I hope we'll be allowed to access the site in class, so my students can use it. Make your own at!

His Running Shoes

This’ll be tedious –
I know
you have a hard time
making up your mind
I drag myself to the sports store
For the eighth year in a row
I used to pick and choose
What you’d wear on your feet
To school
“These are cool” I say
Noting the reasonable price-tag
“These seem light and comfortable”
when the very washable mesh fabric and darker design
Catch my eye
But this year you’re drawn
To black with yellow piping
Crazy combination
“You’ll grow tired of these fast” I mutter
You try them on
Even have your dad tie them for you
Even now…
Big boy with long legs
You jump to your feet, bounce in place
Feeling the cushion, the give, the flexibility
Things I must learn to be –
You pretend to run around the shop
Testing how swiftly you’ll run
As I watch your feet grow at heart-pulling speed

Friday, August 21, 2009

Qué se puede decir

Todo lo sabe Dios,
las cosas pasan por algún motivo -
frases habladas con el intento
de calmar y
buscar razón en los eventos de la vida.

No te aconsejo nada,
me quedo callada.
Solo te miro y
me siento a tu lado –
pasando mi mano por tu frente
te alcanzo los lentes
te tapo con una frazada
te lo contesto el teléfono.

No diré algo que no me convence;
mejor no tratar de explicar lo que duele.

Aprieto tu mano.
Te preparo una taza de café y
me siento a tu lado –
así logro
lo que no puedo.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lessons at the beach

I didn’t know
the little bubbles and holes in the sand that
appeared as the waves pulled back
were tiny clams retreating deeper and
taking breaths.
I didn’t know that
the purple-edged seashells found
sprinkled across the sand
were once used as currency.
“Wampum,” he said.
And when the seagulls were all standing on the beach,
facing the same direction,
alert, as if receiving a message,
he told me
they were facing the wind so it wouldn’t
mess up their feathers,
and they were just
waiting for food to fall to the ground.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Still here...

¡Qué vergüenza! (How embarrassing!) It’s been more than two weeks since I’ve posted. I thought I’d have so much time to write and material to write about, but I’ve discovered that I’m not as disciplined about my free time as I would like to be. I’ve squandered my time on other things, and now I feel that inevitable end-of-summer-I-didn’t-do-all-I-was-supposed-to-do blues creeping up on me. Luckily, I have a couple of weeks left of summer vacation and some time to catch up on my blog.

I’ve not been a total slacker. I’ve been devouring books and have my 12-yr old son doing the same. One of the books I had the pleasure of reading this summer was the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s been on my shelf forever and I hadn’t read it in high school nor in college. (Not sure why.) At any rate, it was an excellent read, although I wish I had discovered it earlier in my life. My son and I spend many mornings talking about our books over breakfast – a new and very pleasant aspect of our relationship.

I’ve also spent a large part of my summer experimenting with Web 2.0 tools and networking. There is so much out there, I’ve often gone to bed with the sensation that my head was about to explode. Twitter has become an invaluable resource for me; I’ve found many great people there who I’ve embraced as part of my PLN (personal learning network.) In order to connect with more of mi gente, I’ve been a part of, and recently, I joined, a Ning dedicated to bilingual teachers and parents. These sites have provided me with much information, encouragement, and camaraderie.

Since I also like to feel like I’ve made something in my free time, I’ve been crocheting like crazy – I’ve got several projects underway that I work on every chance I get. On our way to and from vacation in North Carolina last week, you could find me in the passenger seat, with crochet hook and yarn in hand. There’s something very soothing about crochet. I’ve self-prescribed it as therapy for hands that are beginning to see the effects of arthritis, and for the worries I’m feeling over a difficult time a loved-one is about to face.

Summer is a time for relaxing and reflecting, though, and I certainly did that. My down time was spent thinking about family, Wise Latinas (I aspire to be one), health, school, and what to do next. Sometimes, you’ve got to spend time doing nothing so you can see all the things you have yet to do, and all the ways you have yet to grow.

I did OK this summer – I did.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Winners - Latino Book Giveaway

Congratulations to the following buena gente, who have won copies of America Libre by Raul Ramos y Sanchez and Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz by Belinda Acosta.

1. x l
2. Carolyn G
3. cumba
4. KD
5. Sarah Alaoui

Winners have been contacted by email. Thanks for participating! Enjoy your books!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Looking at old pictures...

When I was a child, my father would scrimp and save all year long so that he could take our family to Bolivia for the summer. After several days of packing, more than six hours on a plane, and after suffering a few days of altitude sickness, my siblings and I were ready to enjoy several weeks with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and many, many cousins.

Every day held a new adventure, a new food, a new game, a trip to the park, the movies, a picnic, a party. One very special memory of mine is captured in a photo of a wooded place, a campfire burning in the background, and several cousins and myself gathered around an uncle with a guitar. I remember the place was called "Mallasa", an hour or so drive from the city of La Paz. We would go there for Dia de campo (a day in the country). Our parents would load up an uncle's truck with baskets of meat, bread, corn, salad, fruit, and sodas, as well as a radio and a guitar. Another truck would carry all the kids in the back (ahhh, those were the days when folks weren't so afraid) and another vehicle would transport the rest of the adults.

It was a glorious time. I love to look at that picture, and all of the others we've saved from our summers in Bolivia. These pictures take me back to a childhood that was, for the most part, wonderful.

Photos are valuable treasures we can share with our children. They are also useful as prompts or inspiration in the classroom. A book that I love to share with my students is Family Pictures/Cuadros de familia, by Carmen Lomas Garza. Please read my review of this great selection over at the LBBC blog.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Latino Book Giveaway!

I've been given another great opportunity to offer new Latino-authored books here at my blog.

There are five copies each of:

America Libre by Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz by Belinda Acosta

Contest rules:
  1. Respond to this post, indicating the book you'd like to win. You may submit two separate entries, one for each book. In your comment(s), please tell me a bit about yourself, about what you like to read, if you've previously read any Latino authors, etc. I love to know more about my readers!
  2. Please include an email address or site where I can reach you.
  3. US and Canada participants only. No PO boxes, please.
Entries will be seleccionados al azar (chosen at random) on July 30. Winners will be announced on my July 31st post. Ten lucky folks will win!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Blindness - Book Review

Blindness by José Saramago is an intense story about society’s downward spiral. An unexplained medical mystery propels a city into unimaginable horror. The emergency itself appears manageable, at least for a while. However, it is the characters’ reactions to this circumstance, understandable and shocking at times, that give insight into what could happen to us in the most horrible of circumstances.

On an average day, a man goes blind as he drives his car down a city street. A Good Samaritan comes to his rescue and helps him to his home. Later, the driver and his wife go to a doctor for help. The doctor, unable to provide any answers, sends the patient home, contacts another eye specialist to discuss the matter, and proceeds to see other patients who remain in the waiting room. Sometime later, the Good Samaritan, the doctor, and the patients in the waiting room, all go blind. Soon, people across the city, who appear to have no connection to one another, fall blind. This blindness comes on without warning, suddenly and swiftly.

City officials begin to round up victims and confine them to an abandoned mental hospital. One person, who does not go blind, becomes a silent witness to the behaviors and tragedies that emerge from this epidemic.

This book was mesmerizing, in that peculiar way that roadway accidents and neighborhood fires grip our attention. I was also fascinated by the way Saramago wrote this story; he stressed descriptions that relied on sound, smell, touch – senses that become heightened when one goes blind.

I recommend this book. Here is the movie trailer that was released based on it, though I don't recall the movie being promoted around here. Perhaps I missed it, and it's already out on DVD. At any rate, a movie will only show you the story events. The book, as it was written, allows you to see.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Mother's Hair

When I was a little girl, I would sit on my mother's bed and watch her reflection in the mirror as she rolled her long, dark hair up in curlers. She would wrap her hair around pink tubes which she'd secure with long metal clips. Later, when her hair had set, she would unfasten the clips, letting the curls fall on her shoulders, springy and soft. Then, she would brush her hair out, and the resulting effect was... beautiful.

Hairs-Pelitos, a bilingual picture book by Sandra Cisneros, shares fond memories and descriptions about family members and their hair. Please visit Latin Baby Book Club for my review of this very special book.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why I don't get my work done

For the past couple of weeks I've sat here at my desk working on several end-of-the-year tasks. In the middle of all this work, I've often stared forlornly (well, not so much) at my blog, where I haven't posted in almost two weeks. It's just been so busy, and I admit I'm easily distracted. I've also been somewhat at a loss for what to write, being that my head is in several places.

I've found myself surrounded by piles of papers needing to be read, corrected, filed, graded, organized... and what am I doing? I'm looking at several Internet pages which I've tabbed - my personal email, my school email, my Google Reader, my Facebook, my Twitter page, my Nings, and my blog.

I correct a couple of pages, check my inbox. Read another paper or two, send a message to my sister on FB. Grade a few more papers, scan my Twitter page, tweet, or retweet. Edit another few pages, read a few of my favorite blogs. Tweet again. Check FB and discover my Scrabble partner has challenged me to a new game. Play my turn. Back to the papers. Check in on one of my Nings, read. Get up to adjust the volume on the TV. Oh yeah, I'm also watching, or rather listening to CNN. I go to get a cup of coffee. Back to the papers. And so it goes.

That's how I work. Call it ADHD or plain old procrastination. No wonder I'm still looking at my undone report cards, which are due on Wednesday.

Oh well. I did manage to write this post.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Customer Service

(Here is what I wish I had overheard and seen in the main office this morning, when a young mother came to pick up her child from school.)

Good Morning! How can I help you? (Smile...)

You're here to sign your child out? May I ask the reason? (Nod politely...)

Alright then. May I ask your child's name?

And what room is your child in? Teacher's name? (Prod patiently...)

You're not sure? Well, if you tell me what grade your child is in, I can help you with that.

Please sign here while I call for your child. (Point, provide a pen...)

You're not sure where to sign? Here, please sign here. (Smile...)

Now, please have a seat while you wait for your child to come down. Can I help you with anything else? (Smile...)

Here is your child! Do you have everything? It was nice to meet you - have a lovely day! (Smile and wave...)

Dear mother-in-the-office,
I am sorry your experience in our school was so uncomfortable this morning. I wish I had stepped in to take over. Unfortunately there are certain "territories" that must not be invaded and I've been told not to get involved when I see this happening.

You were spoken to disrespectfully. The person whose job it was to assist you was rude and impatient. I would not be surprised if you avoid coming to our school in the future and if you speak poorly about our staff.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Giveaway Update

Some people have all the luck! It appears our friends Cheryl S and Nightdweller20 have already won these great books at other blogs. So, I have the pleasure of drawing two more names.

The winners are:
1. teachin'
2. Bingo

Please comment/reply to this post ASAP with your name and mailing address so that we may get these books out to you right away. Don't worry - I will not publish your addresses here. (PO Boxes not acceptable, sorry.) I'll also try to get in touch with you (if you have a blog or if you've already supplied your address) so that we may expedite the mailing of your prizes!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Latino Books Month Giveaway - Winners!

Thank You to the 37 fabulous participants who posted comments to my May 7th Giveaway post! I enjoyed hearing from all of you!

As promised, your entries were placed into a bowl. My son was enlisted as the Reach for More giveaway "official", and drew five entries. The winners are:

1. Cheryl S.
2. Campbele
3. Rebecca
4. Nightdweller20
5. Debbie Rodgers

Lucky you! You've won all 5 of these books:
B as in Beauty By Alberto Ferreras
Into the Beautiful North By Luis Urrea
Hungry Woman in Paris By Josefina Lopez
The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos By Margaret Mascarenhas
Houston, We Have a Problema By Gwendolyn Zepeda

Winners - Please comment/reply to this post ASAP with your name and mailing address so that we may get these books out to you right away. (PO Boxes not acceptable, sorry.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Speaking of Super Heroes...

While catching up with Literanista - the first blog I ever followed, and one of my constant favorites - I found out that the actress who played Wonder Woman is a Latina!

Linda Jean Córdova Carter is the beautiful brunette who played Wonder Woman. I remember being a kid and watching the weekly episodes, fantasizing about having special powers like hers. I had the long, flowing black hair, and I recall making wrist bands out of gold gift wrap which I wore a few times during long, wonderful hours of play with my sisters and neighborhood playmates. I think I even wanted a Wonder Woman costume one year for Halloween, but my oddly-shaped preteen body wouldn't allow it.

Now, as an adult I still love the idea of super powers! I encourage this kind of creative thinking with my students, and I look for books (like Super Cilantro Girl) where kids become super heroes.

So, what a sorpresa to learn that Wonder Woman was/is a Latina! Is that why I connected with her? I invite you to visit Literanista's blog, then follow her to another cool blog - Mulatto Diaries - and enjoy "No Wonder I Loved Wonder Woman".

By the way, I fancy myself Book Woman... more on that later. Stay tuned.

Bilingual Book Review - Super Cilantro Girl

Stop on over to Latin Baby Book Club for my review of Super Cilantro Girl – La Superniña del cilantro. It's a story about the fears of 1st generation children and overcoming obstacles.

I use this book in my 4th grade bilingual classroom as a springboard for lessons about immigration, discussions about being separated from loved ones, and to inspire creative writing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sotomayor: We'll get it right

I let out a loud YES! this morning while checking my email. I had just received a New York Time News Alert announcing Obama's pick for Supreme Court Justice. The nominee - Sonia Sotomayor - could be the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. This is another historic day.

I announced the news to my 4th graders and asked them to come up with questions about Ms. Sotomayor. We'll do some researching and reporting this week. Personally, I am inspired by what I have learned so far.

I had heard Ms. Sotomayor's name mentioned several times in the past few weeks; each time, it was pronounced differently. A colleague of mine suggested we brace ourselves for even more name-butchering in the days ahead. It's inevitable.

But I plan to help. Please repeat:

Sew - toe - mah - your
So - toe - ma - yore

Again. Otra vez.

Sotomayor. Another door opens...

Sunday, May 24, 2009


She called out twice, no answer and
suddenly annoyed at the lack of consideration
wondered what
the gardener was up to as she
stomped over to the window,
which framed a sight
seen every year around this time...

the top of his silver streaked head
below her on the back step,
his tired back bent over
pots of purple pansies
delicate pink violets
and hearty geraniums
whispering, encouraging
them to grow lasting and lovely
so she'd not complain.

His little friends glanced up, seeing her
and perked up
for him.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

10 days left - Latino Books Month!

Don't forget to participate in this month's giveaway of five FREE Latino Books. Please go to my May 7 post and leave a comment, or two, or three! Be sure to leave some sort of link or email address so I can reach you. The drawing will be held on May 31st.

And to those of you who have already participated, MIL GRACIAS!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Latino Books Month Giveaway!

May is Latino Book Month. Join me as I celebrate with a great book giveaway!

Enter to win all 5 of these books (yes, all 5!):

B as in Beauty By Alberto Ferreras
Into the Beautiful North By Luis Urrea
Hungry Woman in Paris By Josefina Lopez
The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos By Margaret Mascarenhas
Houston, We Have a Problema By Gwendolyn Zepeda

Contest rules:
Briefly answer one or more of the following questions and leave your replies to this post during the month of May. You may comment more than once, answering a different question each time, for a total of three entries.
  1. What Latino author and/or book sticks out in your mind? Why?
  2. If you've never read a Latino-authored book, would you like to? Why?
  3. What kinds of books do you read? What genre do you lean toward? Why?
Entries will be placed en una fuente grande (a large bowl) and will be seleccionados al azar (will be chosen at random) on May 31st. Winners will be announced on my June 1st post. Five lucky readers will win!

Thank you Hachette Book Group! And thank you to Literanista for this great opportunity!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Latino Books Month

While perusing some of my favorite blogs, I learned that May is Latino Books Month. The AAP (Association of American Publishers) offers resources, like book lists and book club ideas, at their site.

I plan to do a "kickoff" for Latino Books Month with my students and colleagues tomorrow. I know that some of my coworkers will want to do something special to promote Latino authors for the rest of the month. I have an entire section of bilingual and Hispanic authored books in my classroom library which I'll invite folks to borrow from.

Our school library is quite lacking in this aspect. I'll have to nudge the librarian con cariño to purchase more books in Spanish, more bilingual, and more Latino authors for next year. When children see themselves in the books they read, they are more inclined to find joy in reading. The school where I teach is 90% Hispanic; our school library should reflect the children it serves.

I am currently reading Hungry Woman in Paris by Josefina Lopez. The cover attracted my attention, and the story, so far, is great. Next, I'll be reading B as in Beauty by Alberto Ferreras, which one of my favorite bloggers was kind enough to send to me. Thanks Literanista!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hunger and Hope - Bloggers Unite

I teach elementary school in an urban setting where each of my students receives free breakfast and lunch. When lunchtime comes around and I take my kids to the cafeteria, they all of a sudden become more talkative and almost giddy.

In a line they inch up to the kitchen, where they watch as the lunch lady serves a rubbery chicken patty on a yeasty bun, or runny macaroni and cheese. The food is dropped, hurriedly slopped, on to a Styrofoam tray, often with a plastic-gloved hand. Several kids will ask for "two" of whatever is being served. They'll take a milk carton as well, checking the date as I've taught them to do, and a piece of waxy, bruised fruit that is piled up in a plastic bin.

Once they prance over to their tables, my kids unwrap they're straws and drink their milk. Then, they contemplate the food before them. YOU would not serve this food to your children. It's a tray filled with carbs and low-grade food. One day, my kids were served tater-tots (potato rounds), bread, corn, and a cookie! But most of the kids eat, quickly, they're starving. For some kids in my school, it's supposedly "the best" they'll get all day.

Today, bloggers are writing about hunger and hope. I have to think about my students. Children here in our country are hungry. They deserve good, nutritious food, fresh fruit and vegetables. Why is it that, in our country, food aid programs consist of low-grade, sub-quality left-overs?

Children in my school are hungry; they deserve better.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Torture Chamber

I apologize to my loyal readers for not posting regularly in the past couple of weeks. I've been doing mean things to kids, all in the name of TESTING.

Here is a violent run-down of what's been keeping me occupied:
  1. Squeezing in more math skills
  2. Cramming in more writing
  3. Force-feeding hideously long reading passages to "practice" comprehension
  4. Killing the love of writing because they are making me teach formulaic strategies for responding to writing prompts
  5. Hanging up signs, posters, and other "nice-looking" items on every available blank space, because an important person will be visiting next week
  6. Slapping up extra vocabulary words on my Word Wall because K and X "are empty" and a few of the other letters don't have "enough"

I'm sorry kids, but they make me do it.

The mistreatment is self-inflicted as well. I've confined myself to my dark, damp basement to grade papers, do report cards, and write lesson plans. Meanwhile, it's 88 and gorgeous outside.

Our state test is scheduled to begin on May 4th. Until then, and until it's over, more gritting of teeth and relentless stress.

Can't wait to take back my classroom. Can't wait to read and write real stories and poems together. Can't wait for exciting math projects. Looking forward to returning to the kind of teaching and learning that actually means something.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bilingual Book Review - Oh No! Gotta Go!

Please stop over at Latin Baby Book Club, where I've shared my book review of Oh No, Gotta Go!, a bilingual story-in-verse of a little girl who realizes she needs a bathroom while riding in the car. Susan Middleton Elya weaves Spanish words and phrases into the verses in such a way that invites the reader, bilingual or not, to chime in. Go there to read about it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Good Boys

My two nephews were watching TV when I stopped in to my mom's yesterday. I was impressed at how well they were behaving. While I had lunch with my mom, the boys joined us at the table for some milk and homemade cookies. One of the boys told me about World Wars I and II, and what he learned from the Pearl Harbor movie. The other boy told me about an upcoming fishing trip with his dad. It was a pleasant insight in to the boys' interests.

The boys left the table after a while and enjoyed some silliness, like crawling and creeping around the house, and sneaking up on me. Later, I heard them giggle as they gently tossed around what I thought was a small Frisbee. Their abuelo (grandfather) was not amused, but I assured my dad that no es nada (no big deal) and the boys returned to their cartoons.

Before I left, I tore out two slips of paper from a notepad in my bag. On each, I created an "Excellent Behavior" note, promising a special prize in the future, as long as they could present the slip of paper to me next time we meet. I handed the "coupons" to the boys and watched as they read them. They exchanged smiles, folded the slips back up, and placed them in their pockets. I kissed them good-bye, and made my way out the door.

I had to turn around though, realizing I had left my book on the table. As I walked out again, I peeked in on the boys. They were reading their coupons to each other!

Awesome. Now, assuming they're successful in preserving those little slips of paper for a few weeks, what should the prize be? Must it be a thing?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuneful Tuesday - "Closer to Fine"

The Indigo Girls' Closer to Fine was a hit in the late 1980s. I distinctly remember my teenage cousins singing along a todo dar (with all their heart) and how lovely they looked and sounded. Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention to the song back then, nor to my cousins.

More than 20 years later, I came across this song again, and discovered how happy it makes me feel. Songs do that to us. Sometimes it's the lyrics, or the melody, or the memory attached to a song, that makes it linger, heal, or please.

I placed Closer to Fine in my iPod this past weekend. While I set up my son's iPod, he asked me to place it in his as well, and said "That one makes you smile."

Here's to songs that just plain feel good.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spirituality, my son

For many reasons, which I'm still trying to figure out for myself, I have not pushed churchgoing nor any kind of religion in my home.

I was baptized at St. Lucy's RC Church in Scranton. I had a godmother who held me while a priest poured water and oil on my head. My parents did the dutiful thing and sent me to Catholic School, where I wore my plaid jumper and green knee socks daily. I had reading, math, and religion every day. I memorized the Act of Contrition in second grade, and wore a lovely white dress and veil while I made my First Communion, accompanied by another godmother. Eight grade ended in two grand celebrations - my confirmation (where I had a new godmother, or "sponsor") and graduation. I then spent four years in a Catholic high school, burgundy skirt, knee socks, English, Math, History, and Religion. I even "married" one of my classmates and together we cared for our hard boiled egg-baby for a week.

I stopped going to church sometime in college; nobody was around to make me go. I felt no guilt. Then, when I met my future husband, a Presbyterian, I started thinking about church again, about rituals and obligations. When I tried to plan a church wedding, to please my mother more than anything, I was denied it because I did not "belong" there. And that was that.

Since then, I've done a lot of reading and thinking about religion. I've been living a certain way, conscious of how I see things, acknowledging what I know and what I don't. But, I don't want to ever have to say what I am, or where and how often I go to worship. And as a mother, I don't feel I can fairly and justly point my child to one specific place.

I just try to be good. I love my people deeply. I respect and forgive, though it may hurt when I do so. I am awed by the swaying of the trees, the bubbles that form as I wash the dishes, the familiar smell in the crook of my husband's neck, the shine in my hair when the sun hits just so. I wonder at my body's gradual deterioration and healing, my son's agility on the soccer field, the power in my mother's embrace, the taste of the spiciest food. I'm humbled by the soft skin on the tops of my father's hands, and my cousin's growing belly, full of life. I am struck by the intensity of crossing a bridge while the loudest, rockingest song plays in my car, and the magic of the spider who weaves her art across my front door. I'm blessed by a chorus of birds outside my window, the hot shower that wakes me, the coffee that warms me.

I close my eyes and say "I know. This is here. This is You."

Larry, at Crowned with Laurels, kicks my butt at writing and beat me to it, this topic of religion. Go there to see what he thinks about it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Langston Hughes in the 4th Grade

My students have experienced several different types of poetic forms since September. I use specific poems and certain poem forms (haiku, list poems, auto-biographical) to encourage English language development with my ELLs. Since the beginning of the year, my students have made enormous gains in English proficiency. Even more remarkable, is that they have emerged as thoughtful writers and thinkers.

Yesterday I kicked off National Poetry Month with "Poem" by Langston Hughes. It's one of the most touching and simple poems I know.


"I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There's nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
soft as it began-
I loved my friend."

The students discussed the poem in groups; they touched on how "short and simple" the poem was, and how sad, "even though the poet didn't even say sad!" I then asked them to write a five-paragraph essay about a time when they lost someone or something they loved. They got right to it, first planning, then writing their first drafts. I did not have to coax anyone to write. Writing flowed freely, even from the three children who are often reluctant writers.

I was able to conference with half of the class yesterday, and the rest today. I was floored by the quality writing they had produced! My students wrote about lost friends, lost relatives left back home in their countries, lost pets, and a lost necklace. While they read to me, some of them got a bit choked up, and some managed to provoke a tear or two in my eyes. (Of course, I had to look away, or pretend like I was distracted by something on the other side of the room!)

Several students started to publish their work today. The rest will do so tomorrow, I'm sure. And today we read another poem, Life Doesn't Frighten Me, by Maya Angelou. They loved it and want to write their own poems about their fears.

These days... are magic. There's nothing more to say.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Blogoversary to Me!

Yesterday, March 30, marked a year that I have been writing this blog! Just realized it this morning.

Happy Day!

Monday, March 30, 2009

¡Qué buena esta vida!

Life is so good.

Can you wake up in the morning and be excited about a new day? Can you go to bed this evening, and think of all the wonderful things in your life, and feel sincerely, that it's all good? Do you have regrets or recollections of bad times? If so, can you move past them, learn from them, and move on?

After reading Life is So Good, by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman, I was reminded again of how fortunate I've been, despite events that could have made me absolutely bitter and hateful for the rest of my life. I've been lucky and... here I am.

I would have liked to have met George Dawson. His life spanned the 20th century. He learned to read at the age of 98! The grandson of a slave, he tells the stories of his life growing up in Texas, and traveling across the United States. At a very early age, Dawson was forced to bear the cruelties of poverty and injustices of racial discrimination. I was struck though, by his ability to remain strong and optimistic. This man worked hard all his life, lived simply, and never allowed hardships to embitter him.

This book integrates real historical events with Dawson's experiences, which are told to Glaubman, an elementary school teacher who "co-writes" this book. This is not a "How-to-live-your-best-life" kind of book, but there are certainly lessons within it. Dawson reminds the reader

1. to treasure your family

2. to maintain a good work ethic

3. that sometimes you must say nothing

4. and sometimes you MUST say something

5. you don't need things to be happy

6. and how reading is a right, a gift, and a pleasure.

Life is indeed good. This evening, I enjoyed a meal with my family. I was able to write. And now to bed with another book...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to Stay Sane...

During the course of the school year, we teach four types of writing - expository, narrative, persuasive, and descriptive.

The "How-To" piece is one we practice often; this type of expository writing forces the students to think of steps in a process, using sequence, transitional words, illustrations and examples. The "How-To" is factual and logical. We often start our students with prompts such as "How to make a sandwich", or "How to wrap a present", or "How to give a baby a bath". Then we move on to more sophisticated topics which stem from reading non-fiction text, such as "How to start a vegetable garden", or "How to build a bird feeder", or "How to make a home-made volcano."

All of these rely, of course, on background knowledge. You can't ask students to write about things they haven't experienced, or don't care about! But what if you asked the kids to think about how to make their teachers crazy? You know they're experts!

I was feeling somewhat frazzled last week with a billion things to do. We were all in need of a little levity. So I invited my students to write "How to make your teacher CRAZY!"
The results were fantastic. My students couldn't wait for writing time. With this piece, they moved more quickly than usual from planning, to drafting, to revising, to editing. During writing conferences, I laughed out loud at what they dared to think up!

This time, each and every student published their writing. I made a cut-out of a crazed teacher (looks familiar?) and put everything up on the bulletin board outside our room. This piece of writing, frivolous as it was, showed me what I needed to see. My kids have come a long, long way.

I'm crazy about them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cleaning is not Living

Esto de limpiar no me gusta –
no tengo tiempo y
hay muchas otras cosas que hacer.
Tampoco me fascinan los productos que compré
para que el trabajo sea más fácil –
once botellas de venenos líquidos,
latas de polvos cáusticos,
organizadas en el espacio debajo del lavaplatos.
Apenas las miro, me desanimo.

¿Por qué hay tanto que hacer?
Pasar aspiradora,
barrer la cocina,
cambiar las sábanas,
quitar lo quemado del horno,
lavar ropa,
desinfectar el baño,
mapear los pisos,
buscar la mugre que se esconde en cada rincón…
qué aburrido.

¿Quién se distrae con toda esta mierda?

Mejor sería para mí
acomodarme en el sillón con mi gato,
leer mi libro,
mirar las noticias,
o ver alguna película que acaba de salir.
Quiero tomar y gozar de mi café
mientras mire los pájaros por la ventana,
disfrutar un juego de mesa con mi hijo,
tomar una siesta,

Pero, tengo que encontrarme
con un trapo en la mano
en este fin de semana.

Mejor lo hago luego.
No vayas a pensar que soy una floja, pues
tengo muchas otras cosas que hacer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Walking in Papi's Shoes

I've shared another bilingual book review over at Latin Baby Book Club. Go there to read about The Woman Who Outshone the Sun/La mujer que brillaba aún más que el sol by Alejandro Cruz Martinez.

My father was gracious enough to be a guest reader at my school last week, along with my mom. He read this book to my students. Retired for several years now, Papi taught high school Spanish. I'm sure that reading to a group of 4th graders had to have felt quite different after spending so many years with hormonal teenagers. Papi was the perfect maestro though; he read at the perfect pace, pausing here and there to ask a question or show the illustrations.

My dad, a former teacher, read to my students, in his dress shirt, cardigan sweater, and pressed pants. As I watched and listened, it occurred to me that I too, wear that same outfit to school every day. Papi would carry a book and paper-filled briefcase to and from work; I lug home an about-to-explode book bag. Along with that, I use and reuse the same plastic Barnes & Noble bag to carry extra papers and such; Papi did the same I remember, using a shopping bag until it almost cried for mercy. When he was teaching, he carried so much stress around, and now, I do the same. At the same time, Papi was proud to teach the Spanish language and its rich literature. That is perhaps the most special gift he has given me.

My father took me to school. He led me to teaching. And when he read to my students, I had the pleasure of bringing him back.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mami and the Dancing Tiger

El baile del tigre caught my eye as books with cats on the covers always do. The cover shows a tiger dancing with a little girl. I once tried to “commission” my sister to paint a portrait of me sitting in a cat’s lap, the cat reading me a story. I suppose I always fancied interacting with animals that way, in a fantasy world. At any rate, I borrowed El baile del tigre from the school library and was enamored by the story and the drawings. This book now carries a special memory; I had the pleasure of hearing my own mother read it to my students.

Originally published in English as The Dancing Tiger, Malachy Doyle creates a precious story of a little girl who discovers a tiger dancing in the forest in the moonlight. You can only see him when it’s quiet and the moon is full. One night, the little girl ventures out into the woods and surprises the tiger in mid-dance. He whispers to her not to tell anyone what she has seen. He promises that, if she keeps the secret, she can return to dance with him when the moon is full. And from then on, the little girl visits with the tiger once a month, season after season, to dance as only a little girl and a tiger can.

The illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher are truly special, in particular the scene where tiger and little girl waltz in the newly fallen snow, leaving their prints. This book is translated very well. The poetic text is perfect for teaching mood, setting, and descriptive language. One could even integrate the concept of seasons and phases of the moon. Personification also comes to mind, as we’ve recently discussed examples of this in my class.

In the end, the narrator is revealed as an old woman who brings her granddaughter to the forest, to continue enjoying this wonderful fantasy. The woman sits and beholds the magic of the little girl and the dancing tiger in the moonlight.

Last week, our school held a special day-long reading event, with invited guest readers. I seized the opportunity to bring my own parents to school to read to my students. I handed my mother this book to read to my fourth graders. She was wonderful, pausing to show the pictures, holding the book up for all to see. She read to my class as if she were reading to her own grandchildren. While she read to my students, I hoped that for a moment, they would remember their own grandmothers. I know that Mami and I both tucked the moment away in that place of special memories.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Small Talk

While washing my hair, a young girl tells me about her classes at the community college. She thinks she'll probably transfer to a four year school, and "go for" teaching. "Might as well" she adds. Next, she gives me a rundown of what she'll be doing this weekend.

"My boyfriend and I are going to this big party on Saturday night, and an even bigger one Sunday night. We're gonna be sooooo trashed. I'm gonna be soooooo tired. I'm gonna have to call my teacher tonight."

"Why?" I ask, bored with what I already know she's going to say.

"Well, there's no way I can go to an 8:00 am class and take an exam. Screw that. He's gonna have to let me make it up, 'cause I'm NOT taking an exam on a Monday morning when I'm so tired. Besides, I wanna have a good time Sunday night, ya know?"

"Mmmmmm, yeah" I reply, glad she has at this point hastily thrown a towel over my head, so she can't see the face I'm making. She will one day be someone's teacher. Lovely.

I then walk over to my favorite stylist's station and take my seat at the mirror. I look straight ahead, watching her behind me, her scissors flying around my head. As she does her magic, I compliment her on her tousled, brown curls, and congratulate her on her recent wedding. There's something radiant about her, and I realize she's happy, in love, the world ahead of her.

We talk about movies. She and her husband have just seen the one that has garnered all the awards last month. "I hated it!" she complains. "It was awful to see how they live! Why do I need to see that? How depressing! Why make a movie like that? My life is good. I don't need to see all that."

I remained quiet. I felt disappointed. I wanted to tell these girls so many things. But, I am not their teacher.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney

As part of Chunkster Challenge 2009, I committed to reading three to five books of 450 pages or more. For my first "chunky" book, I selected Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney, which caught my eye after reading the blurb on the back cover. I am attracted to stories of the immigrant experience, and once I got started, I was hooked.

The story begins with a young German immigrant who wakes up in the middle of a fire. He works in P.T. Barnum’s circus stable, and soon watches the place go up in flames, after he is only able to free several animals. He is then accused of setting the fire, and struggles for the rest of the story on many levels – to avoid the authorities, maintain his ever-changing identity, and keep his wits about him as he is followed by gang members and heart-breaking memories. He falls in love with a tough gang leader’s girl, works for a time in the sewers, and then works on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. This character is endearing, pathetic, and heroic all at the same time.

The story unfolds in 1860s New York, and gives the reader glimpses of several facets of American history. Dietary and medicinal practices, emerging feminism, cultural conflicts and pride, and the physical and ideological “building” of a nation by its immigrants, are all part of a story that kept me engaged from beginning to end.

I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Healthy Meals in 10 Minutes!

I asked my husband, who is also a teacher, what he had for lunch today. He told me he scarfed down a chicken sandwich and a diet soda from KFC, while in his car, driving from one school to another.

My lunch today consisted of a can of V-8, lots of hot sauce shaken in, and a hard, sour-dough pretzel, the kind that cracks a molar. Somehow, the meal satisfied. As my mother always says. "Cuando hay hambre, no hay mal pan." (When you're hungry, there is no bad bread.)

I only had about 10 minutes to eat. The kids were indoors for recess, and my school is WAY to big to walk ALL the way to the teacher's lounge. Besides, I avoid that space (bad vibes, mean people) unless, of course, someone has brought bagels or some other kind of goodies.

There's nothing like the occasional sunshine fund-sponsored breakfast or special event in the teacher's lounge. We don't admit it, but some of us make sure to stop in, as busy and frenzied as we are, to grab a bagel, a handful of cookies, or a bunch of grapes. (Teachers neatly place these on a small paper plate, covered with a napkin, to take back to their rooms... for their lunch.)

If it wasn't for these occasional treats, many of us would not eat at lunch time. I happen to know many of my colleagues are working through their lunch, there is so much we have to do. I see many of my coworkers gulping down cold coffee, or microwave oatmeal, or kid-size yogurts and juice-boxes, while they write lesson plans, correct papers, make phone calls to parents, and supervise their students for lunch detention.

My nutritious lunches are quite varied! They have been:
a handful of dried fruit, or
a fruit cup or snack-size applesauce, or
a cup of instant cinnamon-spice microwave oatmeal, or
a handful of pretzels, or
a stale Pop-Tart, or
a spoonful of peanut butter, or
V-8 (vegetable juice) with hot sauce, or
a small bag of Cheez-It crackers.

I've grown accustomed to these fancy little meals. However, every now and then, the lunch gods look down on me, and my husband hands me my red and black insulated lunch bag as I run out of the house. When I finally get to sit down at my paper-laden, disaster of a desk, I open the bag and find a clear container, holding the most beautiful salad - romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, cheese cubes and almonds. He has also packed a plastic fork, a napkin, and a can of iced green tea.

For ten minutes, I am human again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Extendiendo, creciendo

How exciting to discover that folks from all over the globe visit my blog. One of my goals with this blog is to reach out past my immediate world; it’s great to know Reach for More has reached your homes.

Ideally, a blog should have one focus. You may have noticed this one has a few. I started this project with the intent of sharing my poetic attempts and original short stories. Then it occurred to me that it would be a place to exchange ideas with educators, people like me who live a life of swimming against the current while pushing kids ahead. My vision for this blog grew, as I thought I would also touch on issues of bilingualism, multiculturalism, and reflect on what it means to be a Latina, a professional, a working mother, and an optimist, in an environment that shifts between rejection and affirmation.

I will celebrate this blog’s 1st anniversary on March 30th. When I started this project, I was stressed by it, even somewhat obsessed, and thought, “What have I gotten myself in to?” On several occasions I considered abandoning it. I suppose I was overwhelmed with work, or even doubted I had anything important to say. I also suffered long bouts of staring at the screen without typing anything – the infamous “writer’s block.” Once, I almost let it go after someone dear to me asked, “Why do you even do it?”

Luckily, here I am still, enjoying all the directions in which Reach for More has extended. As the author of this blog, I have stretched in many ways. It makes me be and do more.

Thank you for visiting this blog, and don’t forget to leave a comment letting me know you were here. I would love for this blog’s reach to grow even more. Please share it with others, display my link on your page, or subscribe.

Reaching Out, Stretching

Qué ilusión saber que mi blog ha sido visitado por personas en otros países. Una de mis metas al escribir aquí es de alcanzar más allá de mi mundo inmediato; me encanta saber que Reach for More haya alcanzado sus hogares.

Idealmente, un blog debe de tener un enfoque. Yá se habrán dado cuenta que este blog tiene unos cuantos. Comenzé este proyecto con el plan de guardar aquí mis intentos poéticos y algunas historias originales. Se me ocurrió también que sería ideal intercambiar con otras personas que enseñan, que son maestros, que viven la vida diaria de luchar contra la corriente mientras empujan a la juventud. Luego, surgió la idea de abrir aun más este blog, para tocar los temas del bilingüismo, el multiculturalismo, y refleccionar un poco en lo que significa ser una mujer Latina, profesional, madre trabajadora, y optimista, en un ambiente que fluctua entre el rechazo y la aprobación.

El 30 de este mes, celebraré el aniversario de este blog. Cuando comenzé este proyecto, me causó algo de estrés y obsesión, y pensé “¿En qué me habré metido?” En varias ocasiones durante este pasado año, quise dejarlo. Fué porque estaba demasiada ocupada, o dudaba que tenía algo importante que decir. Muchas veces, sufrí largos ratos con los ojos mirando fijamente a la pantalla, sin escribir nada – el triste “writer’s block”. Casi lo dejo porque una persona muy querida me preguntó, “¿Por qué lo haces?”

Felizmente, aquí sigo, gozando de todas las maneras en que a crecido el “alcance” de Reach for More. El ser autora de este blog me ha extendido en tantas maneras. Me exige a ser y hacer más.

Gracias por visitar este blog, y no olviden dejar un comentario haciéndome saber que estaban aquí. Me encantaría que el alcance de este blog se amplíe más. Pido que lo compartan con otras personas, que muestren mi enlace en su propio blog, o que se subscriban.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snow... Music to my Ears

There's a little excitement in my home today. The word is a "mega-snow" event is headed our way. The idea is uplifting to me, though I know it irks others.

Why, when I love teaching so much does the idea of a snow day make me giddy? Does my anticipation of a day off reflect on my work ethic? Or does it just mean I need a free day to LIVE, without the rushing around and stress of work?

I'll get to sleep an extra hour or so
and have time to slowly drink and savor the morning's hot cup of coffee.
I'll get to finish my book and do some writing.
My husband will make a hot lunch of soup,
served up with a sandwich he has invented.
I may sneak a nap in somewhere.
My son and I will watch an old movie favorite together,
covered up with warm blankets,
the cat purring between us.

Things will slow down a bit,
the mood will be peaceful,
as it always is on a snow day.

Friday after school, I lugged home an over-packed bookbag, filled with papers to grade, writing to edit, and lessons to plan. So, I'll do all of that today, Sunday, so I may enjoy tomorrow, Snow day.

It's nature's way of telling me to slow down, look around, live life.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Times Like These

Why, when you think you have it together, do you start rethinking everything?

Words fail me tonight. I can't find them when I'd most like to. I'm thinking of do-overs and looking ahead, some kind of change. Maybe I just need to go for a long walk in the sunshine.

Here is Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters singing "Times Like These". I believe he is singing what I'm feeling.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

En el medio

The middle sister – a small fairy-like woman
her body is wrapped in the arms and legs of her youngest
who twirls his fingers in her short, black hair
finds comfort in her soft neck
whimpers in pain, wanting

the sister in the middle – a strong, athletic woman
her heart is weakened by the growth spurts of her daughter
who rolls her preteen eyes, pulling at her, and pulling away
tests her mother with words and attitude
shrugs off a reprimand from

the middle sister – a determined, concerned woman
her thoughts are consumed by her own middle child
who flips pages in fishing magazines
squints at big words, trying to please
asks for help at homework time from

the middle child,
who used to make her mother cry and her father’s blood boil
sought attention,
rebelled, then returned as

the middle one – discovered by a man
for the treasure she is

a centered woman now –
pulled in many directions
but her hands reach, touch, fix, and heal
love completely.
She is a warming-core,
the center of family.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Latin Baby Book Club

I've been invited by Monica at Latin Baby Book Club to be a contributing blogger. I'm happy to accept the opportunity, and invite you to go there to hear about a book that celebrates the beautiful people who gather the food we enjoy on our tables. Gathering the Sun , by Alma Flor Ada, is a bilingual alphabet book I use as a mentor text in my classroom.

Latin Baby Book Club is a blog that promotes pride in the Latino culture and most importantly in our stories. LBBC is a valuable resource for both parents and educators who wish to nurture a love of reading, bilingualism, and diversity.

I'm honored to be a part of this endeavor.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Latina Bloggers - ¿Dónde están?

Carrie at Bilingual in the Boonies had the great idea of looking for all the Latina bloggers out there. Thanks to Carrie, I've discovered muchas interesting and inspiring blogs written by Latinas. Please check out Carrie's blog and link up if you are a Latina blogger.

Si pudiera hablar

Me duele la lengua de tanto morderla
la tengo roja y quemante
nadie ve lo gruesa que se me ha hecho
cómo la paro antes que me perjudique.

Las palabras
Optando por ser gente
no dejo que sepas lo
poco que pienso de tí.

Ves mis labios, mis dientes
pero no creas que te estimo.
Yo también sé jugar ese juego.

My tongue hurts from so much biting
red and burning
no one sees how thick it has become
how I stop it before it gets me in trouble.

Honest words,
remain hidden,
Choosing to be polite
I don’t let on
how little I think of you.

You see my lips, my teeth
but don’t think I respect you.
I know how to play that game.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Riding the train

My students and I had a great week of technology-infused learning.

First, I had the pleasure of wheeling the wireless lab (a cart containing laptops) into my classroom. Until now, other teachers had been monopolizing the cart; I would see it being moved from here to there, to the same rooms every time. I always wondered how those teachers were using them. After talking with the computer teacher, I signed out the lab and was pleased to learn I would be able to keep it for two weeks. Awesome!

So this past week, during the literacy block, I had planned to use the interactive website Into the Book to review and practice using specific reading strategies, such as making connections and visualizing. The site allows students to read passages and practice applying these strategies for comprehension. However, once every student had a laptop at his desk, I was reminded of all the little things you have to go over with 13 kids who are using laptops for the first time. And in my case, it's ELLs who have not had the same access and experience with computers to begin with.

"Open it like this."
"Turn it on... press the power button."
"Press Ctrl and Alt and the same time...where are the keys?...... Here, and here, and here..."
"Enter the log in..... enter the password.... take Caps lock off!.... Didn't work? Try it again....."
"Type this address into your browser.....

And on and on it went.... 13 times. Wow.

When we finally got going, the kids loved Into the Book. There were, of course, some passages and vocabulary they needed my help with. Overall, the site was useful for my ELLs. We also reviewed some keyboarding skills, so they'll be ready for next week, when we'll try using them during Writer's Workshop.

The second highlight of the week was the grand entrance of the Smart Board, brought to us by the Math coach. We had planned for her to do a 45 min. lesson on attributes, but when she saw how excited my kids were, she ended up staying all morning. She showed us how to set it up, how to use the various functions, and she also did several activities involving math and language arts. The Smart Board is amazing! I was so grateful to her. It was like having my own real-world hands-on training. I'm ready to use it every week in some way. I know I will.

If we are to move our students along academically and linguistically, each and every one of us ought to try new things. I for one do not want my students to be held back by language; technology is for everyone. I know there is some reluctance out there, people who are not yet ready to give things a whirl. And I certainly recognize that time is a factor; I always wondered how I would ever "integrate" technology into my teaching.

Now, it's even more clear to me. It's about making some thoughtful changes and keeping the kids engaged. It's reaching out, teaching, and encouraging each other. This kind of teaching is like jumping on a train and going to exciting places with the most enthusiastic, wide-eyed travel companions.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Diversity Book Review: China Boy

I’ve finished reading China Boy, which I selected for the Diversity Rocks Reading Challenge. This autobiographical novel by Chinese-American Gus Lee caused me to tear up a couple of times. I recognized the experiences of immigrant children in Lee’s story, and made a more real connection now, as one of my students is growing up without a mother’s love.

In this novel, Kai-Ting is the prized and only son in a Chinese family, who has arrived to 1950s San Francisco, after an escape from civil war in China. Small and treasured, Kai-Ting enjoys the indulgent love of his doting mother, who succumbs to cancer when the boy is still small. Left with his inattentive father and three older sisters, Kai-Ting is unaware that his mother has died, as it is custom for this news to be kept from small children.

Soon after this loss, Kai-Ting's father takes a new wife. She is cruel and hostile, and she is American. Edna does everything possible to erase all memory of Kai-Ting’s real mother, and physically disposes of all things Chinese that remain in the home. She forbids the children to speak their native language. To make matters worse, she locks Kai-Ting out of his house daily. He is to remain outside until she calls for him. This places him in harm’s way, as the boy gangs in the neighborhood see him as an easy target and beat him daily. Bloodied and vulnerable, Kai-Ting gets no sympathy from Edna, who steadfastly refuses him safe harbor.

Kai-Ting seeks his mother in the faces of several characters in the story, who in their own ways supply what is missing in the boy’s life. Kai-Ting also goes to the YMCA for boxing lessons, with the hope of learning how to defend his puny frame against the bullies in the street.

You can't help but wonder why Kai-Ting's father appears to be so inattentive, unwilling to protect and nurture his only son. The reader feels like reaching in and rescuing poor, pathetic Kai-Ting. In the story, many characters outside the family are concerned for Kai-Ting, but none of them intervene. I suppose it was the way things were back then. I also noticed that Kai-Ting had an incredible time learning English, while at the same time losing his native Songhai, language of Shanghai. His garbled, mixed-up attempts to communicate were often humorous. As a bilingual teacher, I'm pretty sure Kai-Ting did not have access to ESL services.

I enjoyed this book very much, and highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sweets and Memories

My parents returned recently from a trip through Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Lucky folks - they're retired and now enjoy the great pleasures of traveling the world.

Mami and Papi remembered my gustitos (things I really like) and brought back a box of alfajores from Argentina, and a bar of Mantecol, a chocolate and peanut candy bar.

These treats are like gold to me. First, because they are riquísimos! Secondly, most importantly, they bring me back to a most wonderful childhood, when our family traveled to Bolivia every year for summer vacation. While in the city of La Paz, my siblings and I basked in the love - of abuelitos, who adored us as only grandparents can, our tías who cooked delicias for us, our tíos who spoiled us with fun outings and several pesos to spend, and our primos who included us in their school functions, their parties, their circles of friends, and brought us along on the adventures of growing up.

My little stash of alfajores is gone. I savored each one, and enjoyed the last with this morning's coffee. But my bar of Mantecol still sits on my shelf. Sentimentality has gotten a hold of me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Golden Rule

The Book Fair is being held at school this week.

"Who has money?" asks the librarian, and like a kid, I raise my hand. Books do that to me. I have a twenty dollar bill in my pocket, and a plan to buy a book for my son, one for my classroom, and one for me. I can't wait to browse. "Don't open a book unless you intend to buy it!" the librarian warns.

"This one sounds interesting!" and "I'd love to read this one" and "Oh! I have to get this one!" are my attempts at getting the kids to feel what I feel when surrounded by books. Some of the books, well - I open them, hold them up to my nose, and smell them. My students are used to this. I love the way new books smell. Fresh, new, clean, hopeful, possible.

There are so many, I want them all. But I hold back. Better to go back later. Then, Mr. B, a fellow teacher and one of the friendliest folks at school, points to this silly-looking book, telling me he owns it. I open it and smile, inside and out.

Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller is a book about manners. A family of otters moves into the neighborhood, and Mr. Rabbit wonders how they'll get along. The illustrations and captions are both amusing and cute. There are several playful expressions and "ways of saying" things that I find useful for my English language learners.

I love this book. I bought it for my students and myself. We can talk in class about how to treat others, what to expect from others, how to live by example. I might even have my students create their own "How to treat others" books.

I would give a copy of this book to each of my colleagues, if I could. But I wouldn't give one to Mr. B. He already knows how to treat otters.

Monday, February 2, 2009

When sins were small

I sat in the wooden pew, my legs hanging over the edge, toes barely touching the kneeler. My shiny, black hair was still tied back in the braid my mother had twisted that morning, and my plaid jumper retained its pressed pleats. The vast room was warmly lit, by flickering candles on the altar and dusty rays sifting in through colored glass. Whispers and mutterings floated around, telling small children to sit still, wait their turn. I glanced up, saw him approaching, and hurriedly repeated to myself for the hundredth time, the words I would say when the time came.

He leaned over me, arm on the back of the bench, and spoke kindly, though I quickly forgot what he said, for the smell of coffee and tobacco on his breath. But his voice was kind, soft, and Irish. His reddish cheeks, wire-frame glasses over greenish eyes, and tousled brown, wavy hair were endearing to me, a little girl who had her first confession to make. He was Father Matt, my favorite of the three black-clothed men that lived in the rectory, next to the church, by my school.

“Why are you here my child?” he coaxed, as he sat beside me.

“Father, I have sinned.”

The first act of penance followed a script. His turn, my turn, his turn, my turn. I confided in him that I had said a bad word, and that I had stolen a cookie when my mother was not looking. What I was not brave enough to confess was, that I had pinched my baby sister’s leg to make her cry, and that I had snuck into my mother’s bedroom to play with her make-up, dropping a bottle of blood-red Cutex nail polish all over the floor, which I later blamed on my other little sister.

But he forgave me, placing his wide, heavy hand on the top of my head. I received my blessing and walked toward the others, who were in various stages of waiting, reciting, praying, and fidgeting. I kneeled in my assigned row, folded my arms on the bench in front of me, and rested my head. Up high in the choir loft, a lullaby soothed, smoothing my eyes closed. Through sleepy eyes, I watched while the others confessed their baby sins to men, their wrong-doings erased with old words, sent away with smoking incense.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Diversity Book Review: Saving the World

I was drawn to this book, written by Julia Alvarez, when I read the blurb on the back cover.

While Alma Huebner is researching a new novel, she finds her real story - and her salvation - in a little-known but staggering historical footnote: the Royal Expedition of the Vaccine. In 1803, Don Francisco Balmis embarked on a two-year sea voyage to rescue the New World from smallpox. Accompanying him were twenty-two orphan boys, acting as live carriers, and their guardian, Isabel Sendales y Gomez. As Alma digs deeper into Isabel's life, she finds her own power to commit an act as life-changing as Isabel's.

I was intrigued by the author's descriptions of the orphan boys and their long ocean voyage, as well as the story of Isabel, who accompanied and mothered them all. I suppose I made a personal connection with this character; I could relate to her enormous sense of responsibility and concern. It was also interesting to gain some insight into medical and health practices of that era and recognize the strides that have been made since.

In "Saving the World", Alma is supposed to be writing a book, but becomes depressed, cynical, and disinterested in her craft, and her life. She is pulled in by the Isabel and vaccine story while she researches it, and seems to see herself in Isabel. Alma then makes an aggressive, uncharacteristic gesture later in the story. Is she inspired by Isabel? Or has she finally found herself?

There is supposed to be some sort of parallel between the Alma and Isabel characters, but it seems somewhat forced. While I enjoyed the Isabel in the 1800s side of the story, I was not all that in to Alma. Her character did not feel developed enough and I had a hard time following her.

Julia Alvarez is Dominican. She was born in the U.S., returned to DR with her parents when she was three months old, then came back to New York City when she was ten. Her book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is one of my all-time favorite Latina novels.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gung Hei Fat Choy!

It's Chinese New Year!!! and the Year of the Ox!

I've prepared a week of exciting lessons that incorporate China. We'll be reading Yeh-Shen - A Cinderella Story from China, retold by Ai-Ling Louie, and The Greatest Treasure, retold by Demi. I'll be able to use both stories for lessons on story elements, character traits, and for a compare/contrast study. There is also plenty of rich vocabulary in these stories for my ELLs to experiment with and add to their word wall.

During writing, we'll use these stories to talk about similes and metaphors, and later to examine descriptive language. I want my students to write a reflective piece about why and how they are like their animal in the Chinese zodiac. We'll also read Chinese Proverbs, collected by Ruthanne Lum McCunn. I'll then invite the students to select their favorite proverb to paraphrase and illustrate.

Since we're already into geometry, we'll use tangrams and work on visual/spatial skills, symmetry, and patterns. We'll review geography skills using maps of China and Asia. I've prepared science lessons on Chinese inventions and phases of the moon. We'll also take a look at the Chinese zodiac; kids (and adults!) like to figure out what animal they are.

I'm also hoping to assign a couple of art activities, which they'll end up having to do at home anyway. One is a fan; the design on the fan tells a story. I'll use this as a follow-up to the stories we read, but I'll also give the option to create an original story. After they look at art depicting dragons, and examine a Chinese Dragon website, they'll also get to design their own dragon, including its name, special features, and qualities.

I know I've over planned, as usual. I know it's wishful thinking that we'll get to all of it, considering interruptions, fire drills, and the reality of having to clarify and facilitate language for my ELLs every step of the way. But I'm hopeful. My kids are enthusiastic, and they're making great strides in so many ways. Besides, I know where they're at and I go with it. I'm helping and pushing them along gently, backing off when I know I must.

As the Chinese proverb says - You cannot help shoots grow by pulling them up.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Canciones que calman

Certain songs and sounds reach me in a way that is difficult to put in words. I've found that, were my life a movie or a play, specific melodies would have to be in the background. When I replay the events of my life, they come accompanied by songs.

While I was having one of those weeks at school, I discovered Fleet Foxes, thanks to "Ms. Cornelius" at A Shrewdness of Apes. I'm finding an indescribable kind of comfort in songs like "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song", "Mykonos", "Blue Ridge Mountains", and "White Winter Hymnal".

You can see Fleet Foxes' January 17 performance on Saturday Night Live here. And here is a short but beautiful video for "White Winter Hymnal". I loved it the first time I heard it.