A Mother’s Love is Eternal

Mothers_Love_Eternal_Flowers

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I haven’t posted in awhile. Back to school had me tied up the first two weeks of September, but I never dreamed of what would keep me from writing the rest of the month. My mom passed away on September 20th. Although she was 90 and had been suffering with dementia the past few years, I did not expect it.
I visited her on Labor day with my daughter and two grandsons. She played catch with Parker using her hip pillow, and called out my name when Nolan started crawling out of her room. She hadn’t said my name in a long time, yet she told me to “watch him!” She was laughing and clapping. Seventeen days later she was dead. Though I was not ready, it was her time, and I take solace in the fact that she did not linger and suffer too long. It was a very quick two week decline.

This is really the second time I have lost my mom. The first was when dementia took away her ability to carry on a phone conversation, or give me advice. That took some getting use to, but I still always enjoyed our visits and so did she.

Below are the Words of Remembrance spoken at her funeral. I wrote them with some input from my brothers and sister and my nephew did a wonderful job delivering them. It is the best writing I have done in over a month because she was the best mom a girl could hope for, and was easy to write about. I would have written more, but we were limited on time allowed. Mom memories just might be creeping into my blog posts as I work through this “new normal.”

“Lucy was not the typical mom of her time who would bake cookies or crochet scarves. Lucy worked outside of the home as long as we can remember. Whether it was at Klein’s or Wanamaker’s or selling advertising with Al, Lucy spent most of her working years in the sales industry, and she was very successful. Her grandchildren knew how to recognize a John Wanamaker’s box before they could read. They knew it held something special she had purchased with her employee discount just for them.

But like Mary, in the story of Martha and Mary at the time of Jesus’ visit, no matter how much time work took up in Lucy’s life, she was never too busy to take one of her four children to whatever activity was on the calendar. From sports practices, to scouts, music lessons and more, Lucy was our chauffeur letting us listen to whatever radio station we wanted until we were old enough to drive ourselves and coax her into letting us borrow her car. Some of the greatest conversations were had sitting with Mom in the car in the driveway right outside of our house. It was in those times you knew you had Mom’s undivided attention. You could tell her anything, and she would offer gentle advice and make you feel like you were doing a great job and could accomplish anything.

Lucy was the epitome of optimism. She never complained or had a bad word for anyone. The words that most often come to mind when thinking or speaking of her are: kindness, joy, laughter, sincerity, smiles, and Sinatra.

Lucy was devoted to her faith and the Blessed Mother. She was a regular church goer until her health prevented her from attending. However, that did not deter her faith life. She continued to say her 54 day rosary novenas until just a couple of years ago. When any of us were in need of extra prayers for a special intention, we would make sure to get on Lucy’s prayer list because we believe she had a hotline to heaven.

For as “saintly” as Lucy appeared, she also had a little bit of a mischievous side, like when she would wait for the trolley car to go by so she could sneak into her house without being heard because she was coming home late from a date, or when she let Matthew drive the car before he was 16, or when she would pose for pictures with her grandsons pretending to be smoking a cigar, or when she came out with one of her infamous one-liners – you know what we mean. She certainly lived up to her motto of “celebrating life every day.”

In her last years, dementia stole some of those cherished memories from her, but it could never shake her happy and loving spirit. She continued to light up a room with her smile. She continued to sing her signature song – “If I knew you were coming I’da baked a cake,” and she continued to dance on her walker, which her caregivers fondly dubbed the “Lucy Shuffle,”

We would like to thank her wonderful caregivers at Rose Garden at Ann’s Choice. We could not have asked for a more loving group of women who treated Lucy with such dignity and respect. This really put our hearts and minds at ease especially during Lucy’s last days.

We would also in a very special way like to thank, Nancy, who Lucy called her Guardian Angel. Nancy has been Lucy’s personal valet for at least the last 15 years, taking her to doctor’s appointments, the hair salon, or to meet friends for lunch. She has been the coordinator of Lucy’s care at Rose Garden. The staff there was surprised to learn she wasn’t Lucy’s daughter. They remarked about how well our family got along and agreed on all things pertaining to Lucy – noting that this was not always the way things happened between family members.

This is Lucy’s legacy. She raised her children to be caring. She welcomed their partners as if they were her own children. She idolized her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She taught us what it meant to be an incredible parent, a supportive partner, a loyal friend, and she showed us how to be happy in life and always look on the bright side.

So while we may be very sad, we need to remember the words from “City of God” – “Let our tears be turned into dancing” because that is what Lucy would want us to do.”

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

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The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.  ~ Mark Twain

By the time the dismissal bell rang on June 15th, I was definitely ready for summer vacation.  I was tired, and I need a break. So, what did I do with my 11 weeks “off” this summer?

  • Joined LA Fitness and began going to Aqua Fit classes two or three times a week with my sister to hopefully relieve some of the pain of osteoarthritis in my knees and my all over body aches from fibromyalgia.
  • Tutored one day a week at the local library.
  • Joined the Summer Reading Program at my local library
  • Read four adult books for pleasure (reading one more now)
  • Read two YA books for my middle school students (still have one to go)
  • Took a mini-class on podcasting at my local library
  • Sent out a couple of things for publication (no luck just yet)
  • Co-taught a PAWLP graduate class – Strategies for Teaching Writing at West Chester University.
  • Attended two book club meetings.
  • Had breakfast with friends and lunch with other friends
  • Intermittently babysat by grandchildren (always a joy)
  • Visited the Bucks County Children’s Museum with three of my four grandchildren
  • Had one grandson sleep over which included him being my sous chef. He was the “whisker” at breakfast as we made French toast, and the “dumper and pusher” as we made chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon.  He dumped all the ingredients into the bowl and pushed the batter off my spoon onto the baking sheet.
  • Read professional books
    • 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittles
    • The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by M Colleen Cruz
    • Writing Strategies by Jennifer Serravallo (not the entire book- but participated in the Summer writing camp.  (LOVED IT!)
  • Beginning to read Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking by Erik Palmer
  • Saw two movies and loved them both
    • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
    • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Bought three new picture books, 30 notebooks, and some dollar store finds for my classroom (so far)
  • Got a couple of massages.
  • Caught up on a couple of doctors’ appointments.
  • Spent a long weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s home (check out last week’s post) which we affectionately have dubbed “the spa”.  It is a place where you can enjoy a beautiful view from any room in the house and almost guaranteed to see a fawn in the backyard.
    • Viewed fireworks on the veranda with a glass of wine
    • Shopped for new sneakers with an incredibly patient sister-in-law
    • Ate delicious food, drank lots of wine, watched Phillies games, another movie (Ladybird) once we got the Netflix working, and just savored the time to talk and catch up with each other’s lives.
  • Spent three nights in Atlantic City.  
    • Played the slot machines – win some/lose some.
    • Met my husband’s brother’s family for lunch and a rendezvous at Historic Smithtown, NJ.  
    • Enjoyed a wonderful seafood buffet.
    • Relaxed by the pool and hot tub.
  • Did A LOT of thinking about how my classroom will be different in September. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks from today I start back to school. I am ready (well almost).

As you can see by the bold items on my list, school was never far from my mind this summer.  I am sure that there a few things that I have forgotten to put on the list – both personally and professionally.  But, when I begin to think about all the things that were on my summer “to do” list that didn’t get done – most of them things around the house, I wouldn’t beat myself up or look back with regret on how I spent my time. There is not one thing on the above list that I would have been willing to cross off.

Happy start of school!

An Unexpected Extravaganza

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  Cheese improves the flavor of life. ~ Unknown

This past Saturday evening I had a dining experience, not just dinner at a restaurant.  I had the good fortune of enjoying an evening with Rynn and Dave Caputo of Caputo Brothers Creamery in Spring Grove, PA. (Menu pictured below)

The evening began with an “Antipasti Misti Della Casa” served on beautiful artisan plates. My favorites on the plate were Brenda’s sweet green tomato pickles and the red pepper jelly, both made by Rynn’s mother.  

After our first course there was a rousing welcome from Rynn Caputo and a short video of the creamery’s  history. It gave a glimpse into the lives of our host and hostess from the time they decided to quit their corporate jobs and travel to Italy as a couple to attend culinary school to the namesakes of Caputo Brothers – their boys Giovanni and Matteo.

After the second course, Rynn demonstrated the cheese making process and explained how their cheese was different from any other cheese you can buy in the grocery store. Caputo Brothers’ claim to fame is having the ONLY fresh mozzarella curds in the United States that do not contain citric acid. If you are like me, you a probably wondering what’s the big deal.  Well, after Rynn’s very engaging explanation of the cheese making process, I am now a convert. There are no words to describe the rich buttery flavor of the mozzarella she made for us.

All the food was delicious, but one of the highlights of the evening was the “Spaghetti Alla Pesca” made with ripe peaches from the Caputo’s own garden.  (Rynn’s mom is the gardener/farmer who attends to the acre and a half garden.) It puts a whole new spin on “mac and cheese.”

Every morsel of food was better than the one before it.  My only regret is that I forgot to take pictures of each course as it came out because not only was each one delicious, it was also a work of art.

Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law who treated us to this delectable dinner and a “show.”

You can learn more about Caputo Brothers Creamery below.

Caputos

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#CapoMozz

https://caputobrotherscreamery.com/

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Spontaneity, the hallmark of childhood, is well worth cultivating to counteract the rigidity that may otherwise set in as we grow older. ~Gail Sheehy

A couple of weeks ago, I was having breakfast with my dear friend, Diane.  Diane comes to my classroom once a week during the school year from her “real job” at Penn Mutual Insurance to “tutor” my ELA students.  She has done a variety of things over the years – revising, editing, helping with oral presentations and such, but the most important thing she does for/with my students is to listen to them.  The few minutes they get to spend with her are a treasured time. The kids always ask me, “Is Mrs. Check coming this week?” It is definitely the highlight of their week.

As we chatted over our breakfast skillets, Diane told me she was planning to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Mr. Rogers documentary, with her sister at 1:30.  I was so bummed. I had been wanting to see the documentary for a while, but didn’t know who would be a good person to ask to go with me.  Unfortunately, I had an appointment to get my haircut at 2:00.

Long story short, after a few texts to her sister, Diane had rearranged her day so that she could go to the 11:15 show with me instead.  I felt a little guilty that she ditched her sister, but I was so happy to going to the movie! Diane, thank you for your spontaneity!

As we got ourselves settled in our seats, I noticed that there were about eight other people in the theater – not bad for a morning show.  Being the nerd that I am, I promptly got out my little notebook that is always in my purse and patiently waited for the previews to be over.  For the next 90 minutes, I was in childlike wonder of this awesome man of faith and love. I tried to write down as many bits of wisdom as I could. Every once in awhile, Diane would hit my arm and say, “Write this down!”  It isn’t easy in a darkened room to figure out exactly where I was writing, but I did OK. I only wrote over something once.

What follows are my favorites of the notes I took that morning.  I would love to see it again to catch all the things I missed.

  • Love or the lack of it is at the root of everything.
  • There was a lot of slow space in his show but no wasted space.  Silence is one of the greatest gifts we have.
  • The outside world of children’s lives have changed, but their insides haven’t changed.
  • Love is what keeps us together and afloat.
  • Those who try to make you feel less than you are are the greatest evil.
  • Best learning – accept and expect mistakes and deal with them.
  • It’s not so easy to quiet a doubt.
  • You don’t have to special or sensational things to have people love you.
  • No matter our job – we are all called to be repairers of creation
  • Be true to the best you within.
  • Let’s make goodness attractive

Fred Rogers was a man who always saw the best in people.  He was making social statements without hitting people over the head with them.  He loved children, and they loved him back.

I highly recommend that anyone who has children, teaches children, or loves children see this documentary for yourself.  It has made me think about how I want to be when I go back to school. Not only do I want to teach my students, but I want to see the world through their eyes and remember that all that any of us want is to love and be loved in return.

Feeling Inspired

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We all need someone who inspires us to do better than we know how. ~ Anonymous

Last week I had the immense pleasure of co-facilitating a graduate class at West Chester University entitled “Strategies for Teaching Writing.” It never ceases to amaze me the quality of discussion, and writing that pours forth from this class each year. I left on Friday afternoon feeling quite inspired!

My first inspiration was my fabulous co-facilitator and partner in crime, Gregory Maigur. Greg is a Social Studies teacher and storyteller extraordinaire. The way he brought history to life made me want to go back to Middle School (a fate worse than death) to experience American History through his eyes. I learned a great deal from him, and he gave me a lot of food for thought. I hope we get the opportunity to teach together again.

Next were the sixteen dedicated participants (mostly, but not all, teachers) who spent the week working alone and together creating a personal or fictional narrative, meeting in response groups, taking part in writing strategies, thinking about how they could use each strategy in their particular situation, and designing an implementation plan for use in September. The quality of their ideas and the enthusiasm with which they presented them made me want to up my game for September as well.

Inspiration also came in the form of two wonderful presenters. Jolene Borgese helped us navigate the world of revision, and Brian Kelley challenged us to a new way of thinking when it comes to responding to student writing. My notebook is filled with priceless gems that I will be doing my best to implement in the fall.

On our last day together, we shared our narratives. There were tears and laughter, admiration and pride. Again, I was blown away by the depth of the writing and the willingness to be vulnerable exhibited by the class. Some of them have been writers all along. Some of them did not consider themselves writers when they walked in on Monday morning. All I can say is each of them were inspired by their response groups to do better than they thought they possibly could and the results were breathtaking.

I am inspired to spend the rest of the summer learning and growing, planning and revising and coming up with the best plans/activities possible to inspire my students in September.

Thank you teachers for a terrific week!

 

 

The “Write Guy”

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The desire to write grows with writing.  ~ Desiderius Erasmus

Right about this time of the year I often get a little weary and it is easy to start listing what hasn’t gone right and start planning in my head for next year.

But today I got the shot in the arm I need to finish out the year with the same enthusiasm I had when I began in September. I got to spend the day at MCIU with Jeff Anderson.  He gave us an introduction and small taste of three of his books – 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, Mechanically Inclined, and Revision Decisions. I took notes feverishly.  

I thoroughly enjoyed my day.  Jeff was informative, inspiring, and funny.  These are some of my favorite take-away quotes.

  • Teacher you’re a firework. You are the spark.  Bring joy to your students.
  • The death of creativity is wanting to it to be right.
  • What mark will you leave behind by what you say or don’t say, what you do or don’t do?
  • Create a space where writing behaviors happen.
  • Until you know what your focus is, you cannot choose the right details.
  • Sentence combining is the most important part of growing writers.

And my most favorite…..

  • Think of grammar as a creational facility rather than a correctional one.

I wish every professional development day could be as inspiring as this day has been!

Thank you, Jeff Anderson

@writeguyjeff

Best. Day. Ever.

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The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action. ~Herbert Spencer

Best. Day. Ever.

Everyday in the month of April my ELA class begins with a mentor poem.  We read the poem. We notice things about the poem. We imitate the poem.  We share our results. Eventually, the students will create their own poetry anthologies and choose a poem to read or recite to the class.  

I have been doing this unit for several years now with a few changes to the poems I present to the class.  I usually get some of my best writing during this month. I am not sure if by April, my students are just better writers or the poetry form is less threatening, but I don’t get too much resistance.

Today, our mentor poem was “Foul Shot” by Edwin A. Hoey.  It is filled with action and suspense. The classroom protocol is that I put a mystery amount of minutes on the timer, and the students are free to remain at their desks or move around the room to work.  When the timer when off today after about 10 minutes there was a rousing sigh followed immediately by voices begging for more time. Who am I to stand in the way of creativity? I gave them more time to write.

As if that wasn’t enough joy for one day, our next activity was reading a text set about Wild Horses.  The students worked with partners to read the articles, create a claim, and list evidence they could use in an argument essay.  They only had to develop an outline, not write the essay.

As I meandered around the room, I heard lots of good conversations about what should be done with the wild horses that can no longer sustain themselves on the lands where they roam. So what’s the big deal?  

When the class was dismissed and was walking to their next class they were arguing their claims!

Can’t get better than that!