Words Matter

Join the Spiritual Thursday round-up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Join the Spiritual Thursday round-up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Wendell Berry quote
Holly leads the round-up of Spiritual Thursday posts, and she usually tweets out a topic early in the week. This week she told us to write about what is on our hearts.

I am thinking about words, the power of what you say. I am an introvert and as such, I usually think about what I am going to say before I say it, or more likely, think about what I should have said.

Why did I say that? I sounded so arrogant. What must she think of me?

I can mull over a conversation for days. I calm myself with self talk. She probably has totally forgotten about it by now. Don’t worry. Remember you are forgiven.

During Sunday’s sermon, Fr. Matt reminded us that words matter. He told a story of a father and son who when the father was close to dying, they learned to say “I love you” to each other. He continued by giving us 5 things you should say to a loved one who is dying: 1. I love you. 2. I forgive you. 3. Will you forgive me? 4. Thank you. 5. You can go now.

Sometimes when your world grows, your heart grows too. I now have a world of friends through blogging and connecting online with Facebook and Twitter. One of these friends lost her husband this week. I cannot know the grief that Bonnie Kaplan is going through, but I am sure she spoke these important words to her husband. Through her words on her blog, she exposed her breaking heart. Those of us who read her letters to Tuvia on the days from heart failure to death know that she spoke the words that matter.

When someone dies, we are sadly reminded that words do matter. But we should know this every day. Let’s say the words we feel to the ones we love. Don’t wait until tragedy comes. Breathe them out with every breath–I love you, I forgive you, I thank you…every day.

Below is a video posted by Bonnie in which she reads a love poem by ee cummings to Tuvia, “I Carry your Heart.”

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

I remember standing in my bedroom watching the TV in tears. I turned it off, sat down, and grieved… for the city I knew, for the deserted ones, for my own daughter. On Sunday, August 28, 2005, Hurrican Katrina reached Category 5 and barrelled down on the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. We were a safe 120 miles from the storm.

One thing I have learned from experiences with hurricanes all my life is that the stronger the hurricane, the more it sucks into itself, thus leaving outlying areas in a strange calm with virtually clear skies. And yet, the horror was showing up on my TV screen.

My daughter was packed and ready to return for her junior year at Loyola University in uptown New Orleans. The schools closed. Every thing closed. The city was completely shut down.

Maggie wasn’t going to let this disaster ruin her college plans. She got online and watched the Jesuit schools all over the U.S. open their doors to Katrina victims. We had a talk with her. She said, “I have my choice of schools. I want to go to New york City.” By Tuesday, Sept. 6th, Maggie had chosen Fordham in the Bronx of New York City.

I insisted on going with her. All flights from Houston and Baton Rouge cost close to $1000. (Total price scalping, if you ask me.) We decided to travel to Jackson, MS. where my parents live to get a cheaper flight. We drove to Jackson on Wednesdy and flew out on Thursday.

Students at Fordham were asked to open their doors to these victims. Maggie was welcomed by a wonderful group of girls who took her in and are her close friends even now. This experience changed her life, widened her experience, and tested her adventurous spirit.

Leaving my oldest child in New York City was hard. At the same time, I was grieving for the loss of a favorite city and a treasured coast line. I cried all the way home.  There are many tragic stories of Katrina. This is not one of them. Maggie’s experience in NYC was great. We call it her semester abroad.

All three of my children love New Orleans. Two of my girls live there, and the third will be moving there soon. It’s a special place.

Recently, I visited my middle daughter, Katherine, in NOLA. She took me to an outdoor display in her neighborhood of Gentilly near the London Avenue Canal levee breach. The panels told the story of the devastation of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What saddened me most was that all of the flooding that occurred, destroying homes and taking lives, was caused by human error. For years the Army Corps of Engineers maintained the levees below standards. The levee could not handle the weight of the water. The water did not flow over the levee, it flowed through a subwall that gave away.

Katherine looks at the neighborhood commemoration of Hurrican Katrina, 10 years later.

Katherine looks at the neighborhood commemoration of Hurrican Katrina, 10 years later.

Ten years later, this home is still abandoned and delapidated.

Ten years later, this home is still abandoned and delapidated.

Here is a link to a news report about the neighborhood commemoration.  Here is the online version of the text on the panels revealing the failure of the levees.

So much of the aftermath of Katrina could have been avoided. This disaster exposed a tragic weakness in levee structure and government infastructure and the blind neglect of people living in poverty. The city is reviving. Young people want to be there. The culture of arts and music is alive and growing. You can walk down the street and feel the energy. Keep New Orleans in your heart. Once it gets in there, you will never be the same.

Katherine and I at The Bean Gallery-- notice the Katrina flood line above our heads.

Katherine and I at The Bean Gallery– notice the Katrina flood line above our heads.

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Unlike my outside plants that are dying from lack of water, my professional learning network (PLN) is healthy and growing. I have been nurturing my PLN this summer. I joined a group of teachers from around the states discussing writing about reading. We started a Voxer group.

I am totally new to Voxer. It’s novel and fun. Voxer is a phone app that acts like a text message or walkie-talkie. Within the conversation, you can leave a voice or text message. I love hearing the voices of my friends as we ruminate about the process of writing about reading. Now that school has started I am able to use this group to bounce ideas off of and to ask for help and guidance.

This week one of my students wrote about the book he was reading. I wasn’t familiar with the book, so I just sent a message in the Voxer group asking for help in analyzing his reader response. The help came immediately and we used Google docs to communicate further about the writing. How cool is that?

With another group, we’ve started a conversation about student blogging. We met yesterday by Google hangout. We are planning to connect students throughout the year using kidblogs. The connections are still in the planning stage. If you’d like to connect your middle grade kids (grades 4th-6th), let me know.

My PLN is becoming a group of friends. I can call on them with any kind of situation with my students. Last week I received many messages of support and love about the death of a former student. This meant so much to me. Kevin Hodgson responded with a poem. He posted this on Twitter.

Kevin Hodgson

Kevin Hodgson

My digital world is healthy and alive. We are working together to make positive choices about our work with kids. Julianne Harmatz is the pro who can connect you with our Voxer conversations. The Twitter hashtag is #WabtR. This is not a closed community. We are open to new friends, new ideas, and new connections.

If you have a digital literacy post, please link below.

Celebrating Hard Work

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

This was the second week of school here in South Louisiana. We started the hard work of teaching and learning. I celebrate that my students and I began the process of reading and writing together. Having my students move from recreational reading to reading for meaning is not an easy task. While I want them to have free reading time, and I’m determined to build this into our time together, I also want them to become critical readers. This is hard work. We will find value in this hard work together.

I celebrate the hard work of my daughter, Maggie. She is a public defender in a nearby parish. This week she had a trial, only her second one. She worked long hours and talked through the case with her father and grandmother and, while I didn’t understand all the lingo, I enjoyed this hard and gratifying work. In the end, the prosecuter dismissed the case. Maggie received lots of kudos from her colleagues. My mother-in-law is so proud when she gets calls from others in the business saying what an impressive lawyer Maggie is. There can be joy in hard work when you care about the work you do, and Maggie is one of the most caring people I know.

I celebrate the hard work of my gifted team. We will be starting our 6th grade enrichment project this week. We are all putting in extra time to research and prepare. This year we are planning to participate in the Unsung Hero Project by the Lowell Milken Foundation. This is an amazing project, and I look forward to instilling the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of hard work with our students this year.

What hard work are you celebrating today?

Poetry Friday round up with Catherine at Reading to the Core.

Poetry Friday round up with Catherine at Reading to the Core.

Summer Poem Swap 2015 smaller copy

A poem gift to me from Diane Mayr begins with “Your songs are a tribute to those who/ share the neighborhood with you, but are these the songs of your heart?” These words struck a chord with me. We are singing, all of us, but are we singing the truth? Authenticity in any vocation is important, but especially true in writing. I tell my students, “I want to hear your voice when I read your writing.”

Does your voice resonate with the songs you sing?

Diane’s poem reminds us to sing about it all, the good and the bad. I want to thank my readers, my community of friends for your words of support through my sad song. I feel the love. And thanks to Diane for this special gift. I think this one will go in a frame.

Mimus polyglottus copy

Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Join the Spiritual Thursday round up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

sky writing

During an exercise class, the instructor says, “Don’t forget to breathe,” as if you could actually forget. This seems like a silly instruction, but nine times out of ten, I realize at the moment she says it, I am holding my breath.

In yoga, I am learning breath is the most important thing. The teacher says, “Get in tune with the rhythm of your yoga breath.” I place my hands on my belly and feel it rise. Deep breathing relieves the tensions of my day.

Breath control is used to alleviate pain. I had a procedure done recently that required an IV (no worries, I am fine), and the nurse had a hard time finding a vein. That is so painful. I was using my Lamaze breath. The nurse noticed. It’s been almost 25 years since my youngest child was born, but I still remember how to breathe through pain.

In church, we sing a hymn, “Breathe on me, breath of God. Fill me with life anew. That I may love what Thou dost loved, and do what thou wouldst do.”

I believe in the power of breathing. The calm healing that oxygen brings in. Breath moves within me as the spirit moves. Taking in, I call God, “Abba.” Letting go, I say, “Amen.”

Focusing on a mantra, breathing the words that recall God to me, I can be fully present with whatever the stress may be.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Gifted students visit with Mr. Al.

Gifted students visit with Mr. Al.

I tend to be an optimistic person. I look for the good in everyone and every day. But sometimes life has other plans. Sometimes we just have to weep.

On the day school started, August 7th, one of our gifted students collapsed. She died two days later. This was one of those girls who was always laughing. She had a cheerfulness about her that was contagious. At a friend’s house after a sleep-over (and probably lots of laughter), her heart stopped. No explanation. The doctors suspect that it was a syndrome that occurs in athletes. Lauralyn was a normal 12 year old girl. She was not on the basketball court. It doesn’t make any sense.

With my gifted colleagues, we attended the funeral home. Kids were all around in purple shirts and purple ribbons. Since purple was her favorite color, her school had decided that Friday would be a day dedicated to her memory. There was a banner draped over a table celebrating that Lauralyn’s organs had been donated.

In between the sadness, students found hope. Amidst the loss, there was a gift of life.

I started a blog on kidblogs for my students. For now it is private. (I would welcome connecting with other classes, though.) I’ve decided to post a quote of the week. My class theme is “Mrs. Simon’s Sea,” so I’m calling it “Snippets of the Sea.” Carol Varsalona’s inspirational images make great snippets. Last week I used the quote from E.B. White and this image Carol posted.

Childhood Wonder by @journeynorthed

Childhood Wonder by @journeynorthed

I think it is saying don’t ignore your curiosity. And to explore and discover new things. So if you go on a hike or a walk in the park try to look at the world around you. Most likely there are things you haven’t seen before. You just didn’t take the time to look. Like trees, flowers, and even places that you never even noticed were there!–Emily

This week I have posted this image by Carol along with a video of Michael Jackson at the 1993 Super Bowl singing “We are the World.”

We are the World

I’ve asked my students to write a response to the snippet in the comments. I want to be intentional in making my students think about wonder, hope, and kindness. We don’t know how long we are here on this earth. We should turn each day into the sparkle of a child’s eye, the hope in a rainbow, the kindness of a teacher’s smile.


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