Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Always Better Late Than Never Gift List

Well folks, two years in a row now I have neglected my gift giving lists. My apologies! So here they are, my favorite books of 2016. If you still have gifts to buy for whatever holiday you celebrate, these are my top pics. I'm sort of organizing them by age but know that I think there is a little flexibility in those numbers.


Age 0 - 3


Indestructibles: Built for the way babies read

These short books introduce concepts with no words. But the best part? They are waterproof, tear resistant, portable (no hard bound covers here!), and meet safety standards. So when your little one puts that book in his or her mouth, like you know will happen, both book and baby come out happy in the end.

Age 3 - 7/Picture Books

Books by Carson Ellis

Carson Ellis has been an illustrator for some time but she has finally decided to start writing and we are all the better for it. Two of her books this year are among my favorites and kid-tested. My 5-year-olds read these over and over and over again.



Du Iz Tak?

This most recent Ellis release is in a different language - the language of the bugs. "Du iz tak?" one bug asks another as he sees a green plant sprout out of the ground? Kids willingly do some deep thinking to translate the story. Ellis provides the right amount of context clues for kids to have fun with this one. Added to the dialogue-based story are the intricate details in the illustrations. Watch carefully to look for bug reactions when the plant grows, gets attacked, and keeps growing. This book quickly found its place in our "Class Favorites" basket in the library.





Home

My heart was all a flutter when I first read this book.  A beautiful take on concept books, Ellis explores the wide real and imaginative world of homes. Igloos, apartments, castles, and even shoes are depicted in this book. A gorgeous introduction to diversity in homes without being didactic. Buy 12 of these and give them to everyone you know.





A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

This is the perfect book for your young budding book nerd. Jeffers and Winston tell a story of a young girl who knows the magic of stories. Stories have taken her to far off lands with great adventures. All she wants is to take her friends on those same adventures. The simple story line telling of the love of literature is matched with mixed media illustrations. Jeffers' characters are completely recognizable in his unique style. Added to this are illustrations created out of words from some of the best loved books. Tree branches are made out of lines from folktales and fables. Waves, monsters, buildings - all made from typed texts.


School's First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson

We read this on the first day of school and my kiddos were in stitches. A new take on the first day of school story, School is the main character. He is feeling quite cozy with his bff, the school janitor. When he learns that the next day is the first day of school and he will be filled with kids, he feels a little anxious. Things are going well until his fire alarm accidentally goes off. The day takes a turn for the better when a little girl draws a picture of school. At the end of the day, he is ready to come back for day two!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Taking on New Adventures

Right before Nate passed away, Jessie and I were in the process of starting our own business. We'd been knitting gifts for years for friends and family as they started having kids and after some prompting, we decided to actually try to sell our good. We took a few months hiatus to get a handle on making daily life happen again. With moves and new positions at work, it took us until now to get our act together.
Our first market at the Holiday Stroll in Charlestown
So I am proud to announce, that on Small Business Saturday, we launched And Howe! While we were originally planning on only knitting baby stuff, after our first holiday market, we decided we should expand to products for kids of all sizes.  Our website is through etsy right now and we have big plans as we expand our products. So keep your peepers peeled!

Took some business cards on the road to NYC!


In the meantime, check out www.AndHoweKnits.com! We have a few items listed but we can also do custom orders!

Working while knitting! 
This little guy came together during the market!


Jessie knitting to keep her hands warm.
It was coooold out there!


Prepping the night before!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

On Loss

30,000 miles in the air
the perfect time for reflection
It has been a year. A year in which I could dwell on the sorrow and loss for the majority of every day. I could also look for the silver lining, just like I'm supposed to. In the wake of losing Nate, I was told more than once to be strong, others would look to me, folks believed in my strength and ability to make it through. Some times those words felt comforting. Other times I thought, "Can't we choose someone else to be strong?"

a bicycle built for two!
having fun this weekend

The election, for me, was also devastating. I know I have readers of all political persuasions and this blog is about books and adventures, not politics. In my last post I even told you how over the election I was feeling - even before the big day. I will not wax on about where I think we went wrong. You can meet me for a coffee and I will tell you all about it and even listen when or if you disagree. But this election felt, to me, as if I experienced another death. I guess I'm not a very good loser.

With the seemingly increased amount of racist and hurtful actions taken by our citizens in the last week, it can start to feel like we are moving backward. What I have learned about earth shattering losses, which many are feeling in this election, is even when you lose you can still win. Even in this time when we feel overwhelmed by the loss, we will be strong. Then, friends and readers, you will start to see the kindness. You will notice that not all is lost. I believe in you, just like my friends believed in me, that you are strong enough to keep our world as kind and loving as we hope it is. Even when you wish someone else could be strong for you, you will get through this.

This weekend I attended a wedding of a dear friend in southern Maryland. Friday night I reunited with friends and we laughed our way through the weekend. Some of us hadn't seen each other in a couple of years but it was as if no time was lost. Moments and weekends like this help me gain strength. During the wedding ceremony, a Catholic mass, I was moved to tears when the petitions for prayers were read. For those who haven't attended a Catholic mass, at one point in the service, prayers can be offered in the name of a person who has passed. At weddings, it is typical for these to be dedicated to special family members of the bride or groom. At my friend's wedding, these names were read and included among them was my nephew, Nate Howe. It took all that strength that others think I have to not sob at that very moment. Thankfully, I kept it together, with only one minor gasp. My BF did a quick makeup check and helped me clear the melting mascara. I was a guest, and no longer consider myself Catholic, which the bride knew, and yet she included me. There are seeds of goodness everywhere.

Today I read Melissa Sweet's new book (to be blogged about later!) about E.B. White. At one point, Sweet includes a letter White wrote that made me stop in my tracks. Below is the letter. It seems as if E.B. White is writing it directly for us - and it was written in 1973. Wind the clocks, tomorrow is coming. Be strong and have courage - we can do this.


The beautiful illustration accompanying
White's letter

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

These Books Changed My (Teaching) Life

Well, the Cubbies are in the the World Series and every day here at our Dorchester apartment I hear "Go Cubs, go!" The BF is a huge Cubs fan and as I may have mentioned before THIS IS THE YEAR! He's off with a friend from Cleveland to watch the game in neutral territory - our local pub.


I'm curled up with the kitties, game is definitely on, but figured I would catch up on some blogging.

Last week I read an article about a conversation overheard on the T (our subway) about teaching. While the two gentlemen in conversation clearly lack perspective, they, sadly, reflect what I believe is our society's current view of teaching. What I appreciated most about this letter was not the laundry list of completely true information about teachers - I feel like a lot of it has been said before. What really got me is that the writer owned up to the fact that she didn't even last as a teacher. I often read articles about education from folks who were in the profession for a year as their volunteer as an unqualified professional and totally devalue the profession of teaching in Teach for America, and act as the authority on education. Or they teach for one or two years to "get to know the job" so when they become a principal they can say they really know what it's like to be a teacher. While I appreciate their insight into this job I love, I cringe a little at their seemingly expert advice. One year, in one school, does not an educator make. Hell, I'm in my 12th year and I still feel like I am in the shallow end of the pool. (All opinions, btw are my own. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm open to hearing opinions. I have close friends who disagree with me on this notion of teaching experience and volunteering.)

In my years as an educator, there have been a few seminal books that drastically changed the way I thought about education and the way I worked as an educator. I have come back to these books time and time again and have even purchased updated versions as they are published. In addition to the numerous mentors, co-teachers and co-workers who have shaped my career - these books push me to think outside my frames of reference and help make teaching more than just a job - they help me create my craft.


The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene

About a year ago, as a part of an ice breaker, teachers at my school were asked to share their worst job ever. I found it hard to pick a job - no, not because I disliked all previous jobs and definitely not because I loved them all. It was hard to pick because I learned and gained so much in every job I've had. I worked at a bakery for a miserable boss - but met Will the Pie Guy who taught me I have a right to learn. I worked for a principal who believed white flight was good for our school (yes, seriously). But I worked with a co-teacher who brought student-led conferences into my life. I worked in a school where the parents complained when I mistakenly called a progress report a report card and didn't I know how emotionally damaging that could be?? (I quit that school after a year.) That was the year The Explosive Child came into my life. My principal suggested I read it to gain insight into some heavy hitters in my class. It sparked one of my most dramatic shifts as a teacher. I learned moves as simple as rewording a sentence or how to change the inflection of my voice to help a child through a challenging moment. I learned to look for motivations behind behaviors and speak to those motivations, rather than my perception of a situation, in order to help a child change the way he or she reacts. The best part of this book? It not only helped me rethink how I approach students who are challenging, but it also greatly improved my communication with ALL students in my classroom.

 


Responsive Classroom

Responsive Classroom publishes a lot of books. I read, and reread, and reread The First Six Weeks of School and Yardsticks: Children in the classroom ages 4 - 14 every single year. I read their blog religiously. Responsive Classroom offers suggestions for creating a classroom culture safe and welcoming to all students. Setting up a structured Morning Meeting, fair consequences, and more, are some of the ways in which teachers can learn how to turn a classroom into a place and space that feels like home. Yardsticks, specifically, focuses on developmental changes that often occur during each year of a child's life. Not sure why your students have such a difficult time working in groups? Maybe they are developmentally at a stage where they value independence. Some of these developmental suggestions can feel a bit culture specific, but the book offers great insight into what might be happening with a student in your classroom. I copy chapters for parents, I give copies to co-workers, and I reread every single year.


Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming schools through student engaged assessment by Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin

One of my challenging years as a teacher - another silver lining was a visit to the Odyssey School of Denver, an Expeditionary Learning school. Teachers in our school were sent for a two-day conference all about assessment. Up until this point, I strongly believed that "data" and "assessment" meant high-stakes standardized testing. The world, and importance, of assessment was opened up for me that weekend. I observed the P.E. teacher assessing students, on the spot, about basketball skills and teamwork. I saw a 4th grade class use a student critique lesson to asses their own writing. No longer did assessment mean high-stakes testing. Assessing was important at every step of the teaching process. How else can we know if a student is making progress if we aren't able to assess their understanding? This year I am introducing data folders, critique lessons, and student-led conferences in kindergarten. While preparing, I felt like my knowledge was very 4th grade specific so I ordered this book last week to fill in some gaps. Holy moly was I blown away. I read the entire book in 2 days. On Sunday night, when I usually have the Sunday-Night-Blues, I was excitedly awaiting Monday so I could start to make small steps toward implementing ideas from this book. That is the highest recommendation I could offer.

My classroom is far from perfect. I struggle to implement some of the best practices I so desperately want to use. I find I am still playing catch up in my first year in kindergarten. When I finally have one unit somewhat planned - something is right around the corner. Did you know I have report cards next week!?! I don't even know what they look like in kindergarten. (You definitely know where to find me this weekend.)

Me - on report card week

What about you? What books have shaped your teaching? Not a teacher (hi Mom!)? Tell me books that have shaped your life!

(P.S. Honorable mention goes to Other People's Words: The cycle of low literacy by Victoria Purcell-Gates, exploring the notion of the invisible minority - white, urban, Appalachian children and Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller, an in-depth look at teaching comprehension in lower grades. I read Reading with Meaning again this summer and I just about cried it is so beautifully done and so stinking inspiring.) 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

It's Not Me, It's You

Dear Facebook Friends,
 We need to take a break. I've noticed in the last few months you have changed. You aren't the Facebook Friends I used to know. It's ok if you still see other people - I won't be mad at all. But you should know I've deleted you from my phone and I won't see if you send me notifications. I mean, I still care for you all, so I'll check in from time to time to make sure you are ok. But I just need some space.
 You might ask what it was you did wrong. It's just that, well, your new friend, the Political Campaign, is really negative. Every day when I open you up to look for updates on adventures I am bombarded by negative comments. Your use of profanity is at an all time high. Trump is racist and abusive to women. Hillary, also known as Killary, is a big fat liar. Everybody thinks they know the right thing and everyone else is basically a stinky doo-doo-head. Friends make claims, on both sides and third sides, that if you support Trump/Hillary/Johnson/Stein/FillInTheBlank, you are the worst piece of filth to walk the planet. Friends I love, friends who I know are full of love, who have shown me love, are spewing hate at other friends simply because they disagree. Honestly, Facebook Friends, you just don't make me happy anymore.
  I used to think the few political comments would educate me and I tried to read the news articles you posted, thinking I might be educated. Now, I think the news is against us. Nobody is being educated. People are just mad. I long for the days when I joked about the millions of pictures of babies, cliche inspirational quotes, and minute-by-minute updates on all the food everyone was eating.
  Facebook Friends, your new personality is just too much for me. I tried to skip past all the politics but it's exhausting. So I'm spending my time taking care of me. Here's a few things you should know are still happening in the world.

* Today I saw a young family walking up to a house that was for sale. I smiled at the thought of their excitement in starting over.

Our living room, feeling like home

* Dogs are still hanging out backseat windows, letting the wind wildly blow their fur.

* The air in New England, as it should, smells of cinnamon and apple pie. You should take a break from politics and peep those leaves. Gorgeous.

Vermont we love you

Public Garden - yesterday

Get off your Facebook and walk under leaves

* Soups and casseroles and warm dishes are on the rise as the temperatures start to drop.

* Humans are still being creative and inspiring. In the past seven days, I have seen one unbelievably talented band rock a crowd like no other, a spirit moving tiny concert in which a mother looked with joy at her daughter as they both sang their hearts out, and a children's author talk about the silliness surrounding his art.
Lake Street Dive - always the best (Thanks for the pic, BF!)


Amel Larrieux and her daughter Sky - simply beautiful

Hanging out with Jon Klassen, nbd

* Cats still cuddle. They don't care about the election.





So, I am sorry Facebook friends, but I'm not sorry. There is far too much beauty and joy and happiness and love for me to believe in your incessant negativity. I hope someday you will find happiness again.

Sincerely,
Meg

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Keeping up with the 5 Year Olds

Goooood morning readers!

I thought I was on a good run for posting, god bless summer amiright?, and then August happened. In August the bf and I moved from our old hood of Camberville to Dorchester. I also started school. Being a kindergarten teacher after an 8 year stint in the middle grades, I found my time has been spent much in the same way as a first year teacher. Looong days and long nights and long weekends full of work. I am pretty much chasing my tail every day. Last week it looked like I could catch up. That was over pretty quick.

Stack #1 of work for this weekend

Stack #2 of work. Also, the BF is a Cubbies fan so
I now know the phrase "This is the year!" very well

This week included censoring a cut-out magazine collage (not one for censoring, I just couldn't let the vagina strengthener with promises of increased arousal stay in that picture) and cleaning up vomit. Yes, it feels good to be back in kindergarten.

But for real, I am in love with my job. Every day I work hard, maintain patience, and have amazing conversations with spectacular children. The crew I have this year isn't always easy but goddamn I love every second.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from the year so far.

* Miss Howe, whatcha keepin in that belly? (not a baby. yes, a burrito)

* I'm pretty good at fixing things. (after reminding another student to take the unifix cubes out of his mouth)

* Is this a level 10 question? (when assessing his phonics skills - clearly a video game player)

* Everybody stop taking your sweet time. (when her friends weren't cleaning up)

* Miss Howe, you sing like Ariel. (after teaching Home on the Range)


I'm hoping that soon I will maintain some sort of work like balance again. I mean, this is my 12th year of teaching I'm working on. In the meantime, here are some pictures that I am allowed to show. I so wish I could show you their cute faces. Take me out for dinner and you will get a glimpse. :)

We have a mystery sculptor in class!
One student is constantly changing this guy. 
Our Up themed door made by my
amazing co-teacher


MY kindergarten teacher gave me this book when
I graduated high school in 1999...


I read it in our first week of school.
(Me being an eel)

This love bug read me a book he wrote
about a dinosaur and a jellyfish. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dancin in France - Part 4 - Paris Day 3

Day 3
One of my favorite "street arts" in Paris


This was our last full day in Paris. The next day would be spent finding our way to the airport and then sitting for a long 7 hours and 50 minutes to get back to Boston. At this point, we had checked off so many things for Paris, it was really a free day to roam around.

On Day 2, one of our bartenders told us about an old train garage that had been turned into an open air market with restaurants, eateries, art exhibits, and more. Grand Train, I discovered, was only recently opened in Paris and was to close again in October. We made it just in time!

This was one of the most unexpected twists of our trip. I would never had known about this had we not Hemingway-ed the day before. I didn't read about it before because it was so new. Nobody I ever knew had been there.

At the entrance to Grand Train

A tiny market to welcome you.

We ate our way through a few hours of Grand Train. Chicken wings, pizza, beer, and dessert. People watching was spectacular and I took far too many pictures. If you go to Paris, check to see if this place is still around. It is spectacular!










That night was the big game and our big dinner. Our bar manager friend in Boston had suggested Clamato, little sister to the Michelin rated restaurant Septime. We thought our chances of getting in to this no-reservation spot might be better if we timed it to when the rest of France was watching the final Euro Cup game against Portugal.

Clamato

Septime Cave - another member of the Septime family


When we arrived, much to our delight, there were two barstools waiting for us. We devoured every single plate that came our way. The restaurant was small and exactly what my dream house would look like. As we were eating, a group of Americans came in and greeted the waitress with a "Hello again!" and I thought, woah, they are in-the-know.

"Hey," I said to the BF. "I think we know that guy. He might be from Boston or something? He looks familiar." Yeah. So that was Patrick Carney, of the Black Keys, eating with his new-ish (and scandalous) gf Michelle Branch. And then two other people who I think were probably somebody. I guess we picked the right spot!

After our delicious meal, we decided to end our trip with not another 3 mile walk and hopped on the Paris Metro. Here I got my final Paris dance in. We arrived home to watch France lose the Euro Cup and hundreds of revelers on our street go home.

Dancin in the metro
The next day it was pack, grab breakfast across the street, and start the long journey home.

Biggest Lessons Learned
1. Rent a car so you can go anywhere
2. Skip Dijon go to Troyes
3. Take the scenic route
4. Bring more than one book
5. Get to know your local bartenders

Au revoir, France!