Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My favorite parts about Colorado...

Two months have gone by since I moved from New Jersey to Denver, Colorado-- two months since I picked up and moved 1,770 miles from home.  I still can't believe that I left my family, friends, job, and life in New Jersey--not to start over, but to start living my life out West. And I couldn't be happier living in the most beautiful place I've ever been, "colorful Colorado" as it has been so appropriately named. Colorado is most certainly colorful and breathtaking and unbelievable and fun and inspiring. Here are just a few things that I love about the place that's quickly becoming my new home:

I love the vast, open skies--the way they shine bright blue or burst with orange and yellow and indigo flames, the way the Rockies reflect their light in the distance, the way beams of light peek through the clouds so subtly, yet so boldly at the same time.

I love the way the sun reflects off the water, the way the swans sail through the water at Wash Park.

I love the bright flowers at the farmer's market on Pearl Street, how they draw me in every Sunday.

And how the sunflowers make a home on my window sill in mason jars, reminding me every day that the little things make me happiest.

I love the brightly painted houses-- turquoise and red and worn brick lining the streets, with couples holding hands on porch swings.

I love the bright green grass, and sitting in an open field tasting Colorado beers and laughing and smiling with friends, new and old.

I love the reflections on the buildings that line the Denver skyline, the way the mountains are always in the distance no matter where I drive. 

Mostly, I love living in a place that feels like home already, that's filled with beauty and lots of new adventures.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday--The Backpack Swap

At 3:07, the final bell buzzed and a frantic child ran through my classroom door.  "Ms. S. I took the wrong backpack!  I took Josh's by mistake!  We have the same exact backpack! I don't know what to do!"  Clearly devastated over the loss of his backpack, Michael and I decided to rummage through the sixth grade hallway and beyond in search of Josh and the missing backpack.  However, Josh was nowhere to be found, and neither was the backpack.

Since we were having little luck, Michael ran to the office to see if the backpack was returned by some chance; but he returned looking worried and was empty-handed.  Michael then began to look through every locker in the locker room, where his backpack last was, and every lost and found bin. After looking in all of the places that the backpack could be, Michael was convinced that the backpack had met a dark end.  I told him, however, that it had to be a just a simple mistake and that Josh must have his backpack since he had Josh's.  Michael continued to panic, though, worried that he'd be in trouble at home for losing his backpack.

"Absolutely everything is in that backpack!" he claimed, "Everything! And there's a math quiz tomorrow and social studies homework tonight! And a science quiz Thursday! Ughhh! What am I going to do?"

I explained to Michael that it wasn't the end of the world.  It was going to be okay.  It was just a backpack after all.  Even after explaining how I lose things on a daily basis, Michael didn't buy in.

"Well now people are spreading rumors that I stole Josh's backpack!"

"Okay Michael, let's calm down.  Why don't we see if we can get in contact with Josh."

But Michael couldn't.  He didn't have Josh's cell phone number.

Michael then ran back down to the office to see if the missing backpack had surfaced yet. Meanwhile, as I waited in my room, an announcement rang loudly over the loudspeaker.  "Josh, please report to the main office.  We have something of yours that you need." That made me smile a little because I find it both endearing and a little comical when sixth graders think it's the end of the world when things that clearly aren't the end of the world, such as losing a backpack, occur.

A few seconds later, our secretary called to ask me what to do about the panicked student who keeps going to the office every thirty seconds to see if his backpack is there.  I told her to send him up to me once more.

As I tried to calm down an exasperated Michael again (which I've learned can be a very challenging thing to do), I heard footsteps coming our way.  Josh appeared at our classroom door! A big, toothy smile appeared on Michael's face and he jumped for joy (literally), and then hugged Josh.

Josh explained that he grabbed the wrong backpack by mistake, and he went to Michael's mom's house first to see if he was there, and then went to his dad's house because Michael wasn't at his mom's, and finally decided to try his luck at school.

As I watched the boys giggling over the "backpack swap" and the relief on Michael's face, I couldn't help but be reminded about why middle school is the best age to teach.  My sixth graders are a mix of sweet and zany and dramatic and comical all in one--and they care so much about their missing backpacks and about helping out a friend--the best mix there could be!

I'm going to miss these two next year, but I won't forget this silly ordeal that turned out to be just fine!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday--Moving out West!

Today was a big day. I officially told my school that I won't be back next year.  I'm leaving New Jersey, the only place I've ever lived, and moving out West to Denver!  And although I can't wait for a new start and new adventures, and lots of beautiful scenery, I can't help but reflect on the things I'm leaving behind to make this big move...

I'm going to miss my family--my parents, little brother, grandparents, and yes, my dogs.  They've been a constant source of love and encouragement and support.  I wouldn't be able to get through a single day without them.  

I’m going to miss the town where I grew up—despite heart breaks and fights and scapes and falls and a general lack of things to do—yet the perfect place to grow up.

I’m going to miss my school—despite my gripes and frustrations and tears, there’s been lots of learning and laughter and friendship and kindness and love. It's the only place I've been a teacher and it feels strange to be starting over as a teacher in a new school.

I’m going to miss my classroom--the biggest classroom I've ever been in, the one where I've  spent more time than any place else in the past two years; the place that's almost become a home away from home; the  place where there has been a lot of giggles and smiles and bright colors and mistakes and success.

I’m going to miss my friend just down the hall—our fourth period coffees and rantings and friendship; and her wisdom and generosity and joy for teaching—my reminder that if there's even just one teacher as inspiring as her, I'll never leave this profession. 

I’m going to miss that feeling of comfort and safety and companionship.  I'm going to miss the people who have changed my life in so many ways.

But I'm craving mountains and big skies and adventures out West. Today, I'll feeling a combination of excitement and fear and a little bit of sadness all jumbled up in one.  

However, I can't help but feel at ease and ready for the new things to come, though I'll never forget the people and places that I'm leaving behind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday--Detention

Oh how warm weather, the end of testing, and summer just on the horizon can transform a classroom.

Needless to say, the past few days have been a struggle in my class.  My kids are craving summer--they're tired, burnt out, and long for lazy summer days, vacations, and NO SCHOOL! There are still six weeks left of the school year and so much more to learn though! But try and explain that to a group of rambunctious--yet fantastic--12 year olds!

As I try to muster my way through the finish line on June 21, my students are dragging behind.  They've been overly chatty and cranky and silly and sometimes rude, and that was especially true today in room 204 during 6th, 7th, and 8th period.  Hence, today's "detention"!

This was how our first "detention" of the year went, which lasted a total of 5 minutes, if that:

I scramble to detention in room 204. I almost forgot to show up--woops!

My sixth graders arrive--some giggling, some serious, some stressed, some out of it--as many sixth graders can be at all times--and many complaining and whining that they just don't have time for detention. And the first student to arrive is the one who is always the last to arrive to class--interesting, I think.  So you can make it somewhere on time! I knew it!

Some students scramble to my desk with things to discuss:

"I have a track meet that starts at 3:30 and it takes me at least 25 minutes to change!" (seriously 25 minutes to change and lace up your sneakers!?) 

" I have a lacrosse game that I can't be late to !" 

"My mom needs to take me somewhere soon!" Sigh. Ughh!!

Boo-hoo, maybe you should've thought about that every time you turned around to talk to your friend while I was teaching--I think to myself.  Then I guiltily remember I'm a respectable teacher and I shouldn't be thinking things like that, but hey, I just can't help it after today.

I signal my students to take a seat and wait for everyone to get here.  They're antsy, I can tell. They're genuinely worried about being late to practice, to their meets, to meet Mom. I start to feel bad. The final stragglers stumble in.

3:09- 3:11: 
I ask my kids to tell me why they think that we're here for detention.  Silence.  I stare at the clock.  Then a few hands.  One students says, "Well there are certain people in this class--not saying any names-- that were being rude and wouldn't stop talking--not me though!" I explain that it wasn't just a few select kids, but in fact, a large majority of our class.  I explain that we've got over a month left of school and we want to end it on a great note--not with detentions and frustrated students and certainly not cranky teachers who are normally cheery and smiling.

Another student explains that sometimes they can't help talking because "once one person starts, it spreads like a wildfire in block!" Hah, that's a good way of putting it--and he used a simile--so that makes me smile.  These kids somehow manage to always win me over.

I ask ,"What can we do to make our classroom run more smoothly? What can I do to help?" We brainstorm some ideas.

I remind them, "We still have 6 weeks of school and we've got so much more to learn, so let's try to do our best together! I've got some things to work on myself.  Last time  I see you for detention? Deal? Promise we'll all, myself included, try a little harder tomorrow?"

Harmoniously they shout, "okay" and bolt out the door so fast I can barely make out a goodbye.

So, I'm hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day--for teachers and students alike--when my students try to be better behaved, and their teacher a little more patient and understanding, and certainly less cranky.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Slice of Life March Challenge #31

Wow--what a month this has been!  It seems like it was just yesterday that I was debating about whether or not to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge.  I'm so happy that I took it on!

This month...
  • I learned a lot.  I learned a lot about the type of person that I am, about the things I love and value in my life, and about what writing means to me.

  • I pushed myself to write every day--31 days to be exact--the most I probably have ever done consecutively. Even when I was tired, cranky, feeling lazy, or had come down with a serious case of writer's block, I pushed through!

  • I read so many amazing slices from all of you.  Your stories and writing inspired me, every day.

  • I looked forward to coming home from work and slicing.  It was actually a really relaxing way to unwind after a long day. And I started to really think about all of the things that happened during the day--the funny, interesting, sad, and happy moments.

  • I started to appreciate the little things, the little moments in my life.  I found that the little things can be significant, they can be powerful.

  • I became even more excited about teaching writing and about writing myself.

  • I remembered why I became a teacher in the first place and realized how lucky I am to be a part of a community of such truly amazing people.

I'm so thankful for everyone who participated in the March Challenge.  I'm thankful because I got to be a part of a wonderful group of supportive and encouraging teachers--of creative and reflective writers.  Your kind comments put a smile on my face every day, and I felt uplifted from reading your remarkable writing.

Thank you for a great month! 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Slice of Life March Challenge #30

My students are doing such an amazing job writing their slice of life stories. So far, I've read some excellent slices--and the comments, especially have been great--very positive and encouraging.   I think that the commenting is probably their favorite part of slice of life.

I just had to share one of my student's slices today because it blew me away:

The Great Fall

It was a normal Saturday up at saddle ridge riding center. The big bare trees around the barn and pens were whistling in the wind. Frosty air bit our noses and toes. (leather boots aren't as warm as they look!) Horses were walking around in their stalls, people were petting their soft noses, and thankfully, it wasn't wet. As my family's car rolled up to the barn, I had high hopes. I hadn't even touched a horse in a few months because we had been away for ski weekends and was hoping for a good riding lesson that would make me look foreword to the next one. 

Soon, we met with my teacher, Barbra. She gave us a big smile and took us and the horse that I would be riding today, Toby, up to the ring. He was big and the color of a flame in the sunlight. He always looked sad, staring at you with his big black and brown horse eyes like he was thinking 'give me a carrot please!" I mounted his tall back and Barbra told me to walk around. After a few minutes of that, I put my feet into my stirrups and at her command, started to trot in half seat. Half seat, for those who don't know, is a position on the horse when your feet are in the stirrups and your hand is holding the horse's mane. It's sort of like the position jockeys do for racing. 

Anyway, I was trotting in half seat which isn't a really stable position on the horse, when Toby, the horse fell. I don't mean he wound up on his back, but he stumbled onto his front knees and I, as you might have guessed, fell off. One moment, I saw Toby on his knees. Then I blinked. Then, I was falling. Then I blinked again. Then finally, I was on the ground, and Toby was standing over me. 

For one terrifying moment, I was afraid that I was going to be stepped on. That was probably the reason why I got up so fast. Barbra came rushing over to me.

"Are you OK?" She asked.

I nodded. She looked at my eyes.

"Can you wiggle every thing? Do you remember where you are?"
I nodded.
"Good!" she said." That was a pretty crazy fall! I would actually call it one of the few ones that was actually Toby's fault and not yours!"
I looked over at Toby to make sure he was OK and fortunately saw him looking at me expectantly as if to say can we do that again?
"That was lucky on both of our accounts!" I thought.

B. That was a great story.  I could really picture Toby falling to his knees and you falling behind him.  I also liked the way you used dialogue in the story.  I hope you don't have another fall with Toby.

E. I loved how you told us what Toby was and who was Barbra.  Great job on your slice of life!!!!!

Ms. S.: Zoe, this was a great slice of life! I really liked how you described what the horse looked like-- "the color of a flame"--wow! I got such a strong image in my mind of Toby. He must be a beautiful horse.

W. This was a great slice of life, i especially like your remarkable description, like how you described when Toby fell and how he was right above you. I could actually visualize what was happening. Excellent story!!!! :) :)

Z. Wow that sounds so scary!! I'm happy your'e OK.  You had me in suspense!!!

My students are awesome. And there are so many more great slices coming in by the day! Even my kids who have been struggling all year posted some really great slices--full of details and their thoughts and emotions.  I'm a happy teacher on this beautiful Saturday morning!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Slice of Life March Challenge #29

I love to cook. I think if I hadn't become a teacher, I might have gone to culinary school.  My love for cooking probably came from my mother who is an excellent cook.  Family parties and holidays have always been centered around lots and lots of good, homemade food--always made, with love, by my mother.

As a kid, I was always in the kitchen with my mom--either sitting and watching her cook or making my way in there myself to try, usually only resulting in an utter mess in the kitchen.  Those moments are some of my favorite memories I have with my mother.

Just like my mother, I never measure anything and I can't follow recipes. I just taste and add and add some more until it comes out just how I like it.  Not that that method has always worked for me, but I'm learning.  Baking, on the other hand, I have no patience for.  Too much measuring and following recipes precisely and making sure not to forget about how many more minutes are left before everything has to come out of the oven.  I've burned more chocolate cookies and cupcakes than I can count at this point, and I've pretty much given up.  I just stick to cooking.

Anyway, here's what I made for dinner and my recipe (minus any precise measurements because I just don't have any).  I guess I'll call it Pasta a'la Rachel: 

  • Saute onions and lots of garlic in a little olive oil.  
  • Add dashes of red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic salt, and fresh black pepper.  
  • Add a generous amount of dry white wine and let the wine cook down a bit. 
  • Then, add chicken broth and a few spoonfuls of tomato paste.  Let this cook for some time.
  • Next, add clams, scallops, and shrimp. Taste along the way to adjust for seasoning.
  • Add the sauce and seafood over any type of pasta that you like. I used linguine.

Finish it off with a little bit of parsley (so it looks nice) and a little Parmesan cheese (or a lot if you really like it like me).  After adding a little of this and a little of that and tasting along the way, here's what the final product should look like...

Oh! and  of course, don't forget to finish it off with a healthy glass of your favorite white wine.

Bon app├ętit!