Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The 41 Books I Managed to Read This Year

Seems my writing aspirations have taken a backseat to the family life I never thought I'd have. And I've been enjoying every bit of it. A husband whose company I enjoy. A grandson I will drop everything for. And two doggies who are always by my side.

I have a full-time job that often comes home with me. Yes, even in the summer, I'm writing lesson plans. And education is changing at a rate that I've never seen before. I'm not sure I even understand what is happening. I feel like an old time teacher, a bit out of touch.

But I am trying. Trying to tweet. Trying Instagram. Making those connections with educators from all over America and connecting with the students I teach. When I whipped out my new cell phone to snap pictures with it in class and the kids noticed, I felt a little more with it.

I'm in year number three with my Kindle, and I'm still loving it. But like others, I complained when the Silk Browser update locked me out of my downloaded documents for a couple months. I still had the e-books though, and most of the books I read this year were from my small town public library.

I read a lot of chapter books and middle grade books. I am fascinated with the authors who can develop a character and just keep going with it. How I long for the inspiration and gumption to get my character all figured out.

It feels like a pipe dream now, something that's beyond someday. But a girl can still dream. She just has to act on it--probably with more baby steps than the giant ones she started off with.

What I read from May 2015 to June 2016

  1. The Creepy Sleepover by Beverly Lewis
  2. Walking to Lose Weight by Susan Campbell
  3. Past Forward Book 1 by Chautona Havig
  4. Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park
  5. Outlining Your Novel by KM Weiland
  6. Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park
  7. Junie B. Jones: 1st Graders at Last by Barbara Park
  8. Junie B. Jones 1st Grader Aloha-la-la! by Barbara Park
  9. Outlining Your Novel Workbook by KM Weiland
  10. Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
  11. My Path to Obedience by Janet Fowler
  12. Anastasia Again by Lois Lowry
  13. Magic Carpet Ride by Rich Simmons
  14. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-so-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell
  15. Horrible Harry in Room 2B by Suzy Kline
  16. Horrible harry and the Green Slime by Suzy Kline
  17. Horrible Harry and the Ant Invasion by Suzy Kline
  18. The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant
  19. Heidi Hecklebeck Say "Cheese" by Wanda Coven
  20. Heidi Hecklebeck and the Cookie Contest by Wanda Coven
  21. Judy Moody Gets Famous by Megan McDonald
  22. Ava and Pip by Carol Weston
  23. Ava and Taco Cat by Carol Weston
  24. Miss Daisy is Crazy by Dan Gutman
  25. Mrs. Harrison is Embarrasin' by Dan Gutman
  26. Mrs. Lilly is Silly by Dan Gutman
  27. A Crazy little Thing Called Love by Beth K. Vogt
  28. Julia Jones' Diary: My Worst Day Ever by Katrina Kohler
  29. My Mother Got Married (and other disasters) by Barbara Park
  30. Teacher's Pet by Johanna Hurwitz
  31. Elisa Michaels, Bigger & Better by Johanna Hurwitz
  32. Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary
  33. Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary
  34. Liar, Liar by Gary Paulsen
  35. Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen
  36. Vote by Gary Paulsen
  37. Writing Short Stories for Amazon, Magazine and Other Publications by Ora Rosalin and Bey Rosalian
  38. The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari
  39. Family Ties by Gary Paulsen
  40. Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again by Donald J. Trump
  41. Anastasia Off Her Rocker by Lois Lowry

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Accolades To My Third Grade Teacher

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Esther Gilchrist, was picky about manners. We had personal hygiene checks. She checked our fingernails once a week and required us to fill out a chart about brushing our teeth. I think I lied on it.

If anyone’s finger got close to their nose, Mrs. Gilchrist would say the student’s name, tap her nose, shake her head, and say, “No-no.” 

Only a certain number of people could be walking around the room at a time. If we were in the library area, we squatted down. That way someone else could get up to turn in a paper or go the mathematics table. At times we looked like a bunch of Jack in the Boxes when she was busy with a reading group.

Why were we walking around during class anyway? Now that I think of it, Mrs. Gilchrist trusted us. She gave us a lot of freedom for being 8-year-olds. Here’s a rundown.


Me, in 3rd grade. I look ornery.
During work time, if we had to go to the restroom, I don't remember having to ask her—maybe because she was busy with a reading group. We signed a piece of paper taped to the back of her desk. I think we missed part of recess then.

We never ever sat in rows. Our desks were arranged in teams of four or six. Facing each other. 

Nobody sat in teams in 1975! Mrs. Gilchrist was before her time. I love that.
 
In the fall, our desks were arranged in a big square around a huge map of the town. I accidentally spilled milk on it during our cracker and milk break.

Mrs. Gilchrist was so gracious to me. I ruined part of it, but she knew I didn't do it on purpose. I don't remember if she let me have my snack at my desk anymore—wouldn't blame her if she placed me off to the side.

That map confused me too because I didn't know Hitchcock. I was a farm kid who’d never walked the streets of the town. I had a vague idea what a block was, but when we went to collect leaves, I was rather intimidated—my classmates seemed to know exactly where they were going, but I didn’t.

Up near the front of Mrs. Gilchrist’s classroom was a long table with a few record players and headphones. We'd listen to multiplication songs. We worked at our own pace memorizing and then quizzed out when we were ready to move on. Individual learning plan of sorts, I’d say—in the 70s, mind you—in rural South Dakota.


Like I said, Mrs. Gilchrist was ahead of her time.



Class of 1984 as 3rd graders at Hitchcock Elementary

It was in third grade math that I learned a trick. For 8+7 equaling 15, she taught us to think 7+7=14 +1 equals 15. To this day, that is how I figure out 8+7. I do a similar thing with 8+9. Those two answers aren't automatic for me. I do that trick every time when I’m adding in my head. Wonder if anyone else from the Class of 1984 does that. 

In 1974-75 school year, our classroom teachers also taught physical education. Mrs. Gilchrist had two long poles that we’d hold six to eight inches off the floor and then snap together in various rhythms that she taught us. Another set of students would do some sort of hopping maneuver through the poles.

I don't remember her demonstrating this, for she was an elegant lady who reminded me of Mrs. Howell on "Gilligan's Island," but she must have shown us. YouTube didn’t exist and a reeled movie was treat. 

This was the year we started going to the multi-purpose room for music. That’s where I took clarinet lessons a few years later from Mr. Wiens—read about the time he showed up at my house by clicking here. This was the huge room where Mrs. Gilchrist taught us to square dance.

Growing up Mennonite Brethren, we didn't dance, but Mom and Dad had no problem with me learning to square dance. I’d secretly hoped they'd say I couldn't do it, for we had to dance with the boys. Wasn't quite my thing—even though third grade was the year I married Jeff Waldner out by the cottonwood trees at recess. Anybody else have a grade school marriage?

Had you asked me as a child or a high school student if Mrs. Gilchrist was one of my favorite teachers, I’d have said, “No way!” She was too prim and proper. Too picky. Too lady-like. Too soft-spoken. Yes, I prefer boisterous teachers. Does that surprise anyone?

But now as an adult and a teacher myself, I see her in a more positive light. She had a way of engaging us in the course work. She insisted on neatness and order. She certainly knew her subject matter and beyond. She presented lessons with a mixture of traditional paper/pencil, hands-on activities, and technology. 


Maybe I am kind of like her. Minus the prim and proper because I teach middle school—we are far from proper. 

Because of Mrs. Gilchrist, I know the four food groups (this was before the food pyramid) which we charted on the chalkboard each day after noon recess. I know my cardinal directions, can write in cursive (although it sloppy now), and can function within a group. I understand arithmetic but am still waiting for the metric system to be fully adopted into American society like she said it would.
Mrs. Gilchrist

I look at her picture now, the one she gave me when I was her student. I see a pretty lady. Hair just so, straight teeth, lovely clothing, and hardly any make-up. She really was a beauty. Just as beautiful on the inside too in the way she dealt with me.

May she somehow know that this little girl really is sorry for writing Todd Tollefson a note asking him if he farted. I was pulled in the hallway and told, “Young ladies don’t talk like that. I’m really disappointed in you, Melodie.”

She had every right to call me out on that.

It’s a good thing though, that she didn’t see me place my hand flat on my desk and bend under all my fingers but one. Third grade was the year I figured out what the middle finger meant. I may not have been able to maneuver a city block, but I knew what the cows and the bulls were doing on the farm. I made the connection one day to the middle finger and realized it all.

Stunned. Grossed out. Looked at adults in a completely different way. Didn’t like that I knew that. I probably asked my best friend Gail, two years older, if I was right. Read more about Gail here.

This was also the year that Gail and I, along with the high school girls we copied, got in trouble for writing on the school bus seats—in ink pen. Mrs. Gilchrist never said a word to me about it. She must have known I was already embarrassed when Superintendent Dale Schneider called me out of her class one morning to go scrub the seats with Comet. Read more about Mr. Schneider by clicking here.

Third grade was a lot of firsts. I got glasses, started piano lessons, and was allowed to spend the night at a friend’s house. I got my own Bible too. Looks like I needed that considering my fart-word use (my dad still forbids the use of that word; read where I learned the word here), vandalism, and discovery of the meaning of the f-word.


Thank you, Mrs. Gilchrist, for being one of the many who molded me.


Which teacher was in your life during your biggest times of discovery and mischief? What educator have you changed your mind about as the years have passed?


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Letters to a Baby


Our grandson turned one-year-old today. This past year, I kept a journal as though I was writing to him. Here are a few excerpts from it. Most are from before he was born.



8.15.14. Today I heard about you for the first time. A little baby. A baby. Brittany is barely not one herself at 20-years-old. I think her dad, your grandpa who is my husband, got teary-eyed after she told us. He was pretty quiet. Worrying. I wonder how you will change our lives. Will we get to see you often? Will we spoil you? Will we get alone time with you? I have mixed emotions, it seems. I look forward to being in your life, yet I’m afraid that I won’t be in it much. Oh, how I already love you, and I just heard about you. I was only in your momma’s life for six years before she left for college, and so much has changed since then. Oh little baby, I pray for your soul.

8.27.14. A week ago today we found out you were for real. Doctor said so and Bee called her dad. I am excited. I really am. I think it will be neat seeing your firsts. I wonder if you are a boy or a girl. We'll probably know because if Bee wants to know—she won’t be able to not tell. I pray for your soul, little one, that some day you’ll understand your purpose in Christ. I haven’t even met you, and I love you.

9.17.14. Your momma told the world about you today on Facebook. She must be excited. She sure gobbled down the food when we took her out to eat on Sunday. Your daddy was watching football with his family. I got to meet your daddy's mom and his sisters and some others. It's a full house. I think you will be well-loved there. You were at the doctor today with your momma, and I guess you’re okay in there since she announced it.

9.27.14. Oh, little baby, your parents got married today at the Keeper of Plains in Wichita, Kansas at 3 pm. I hope you know you are loved. I hope you bring your mom around here more often.

11.13.14. I know your name. Jack Von. You are a boy. A grandson. Saw pictures of you today. Your momma posted sonogram photos on Facebook. She called your grandpa too. Jack Von Schmidt. Such a neat name. I bet you’ll be an interesting person. A deep thinker. Your mommy really loves your daddy. I think that’s important. I hope you see that. But more importantly, I hope you love Christ. 

11.17.14. Oh Little Jack Von, your momma came out for a visit today. She told us something might be wrong. Weird stuff showed up on your sonogram that could lead to extra chromosomes. You may be a special needs little fella. We love you all the same. God is making you the way He wants you to be for His reasons.

2.21.15. Baby shower tonight for you, Jack Von. Your mommy got lots of nice things. Glad your Great Aunt Brenda took the time to meet me and come as we’d planned—even though the time had changed. Wonder if I’ll get to be a part of your life. So ready to meet you, learn to know you, learn to have fun with you, watch you grow and become.

4.13.15. Today you were born. I met you, Jack Von Schmidt. I’ve never been around a baby only a few hours old. It was really something. Seeing you get all that love from both sides of the family. You, little one, just might be the tie that binds. I hope I really get to be a grandma to you. I love you, little guy. Just love you. 

8.2.15. You, little baby, have brought Brittany home. Home to Cheney. She and your daddy Nathaniel have moved here for the time being. Today your mommy became a full-fledged adult. She turned 21. Had someone told me two years ago that she would want to be here with us calmly celebrating her birthday, I wouldn’t have believed it. God seems to be using you to bring the family back together. Tonight your bio grandma, Grandma Danita, and your Great Grandparents were all here. It was just like it was when your mommy was growing up. I spent all Sunday afternoon preparing your mommy’s favorites: pineapple ham and twice-baked potatoes. It was a labor of love, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Tonight I held you in front of our bedroom mirror and talked to you about the things on the little shelf nearby: the doggie figurines, pictures, a crystal heart, the cross symbol, the courageous Cameron bracelet. That's for your second cousin who fought lymphoma cancer and won.

8.13.15. It is the day before I report to work, teaching school for the twenty-seventh year. Your momma called. She asked me to watch you this afternoon while she goes to work. This is the first time we’ll be all alone together. Just you, me, and the doggies in my house. My first reaction was yikes, for I haven’t baby sat much. But your mommy said, “I know you won’t neglect him.” It means the world to me that she has allowed us into her life with you and your daddy. For that, I am blessed and thankful. May you and me love each other—always and forever.

4.13.16. It's your birthday, little fella. You're a year old. Already.
Words escape me now.



Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know


I am guest blogging at A View of the Web this week.

It’s an educational blog by Jill Weber, my colleague and friend for nearly a decade.

I'm honored that my first guest post is on her site, a place where Jill shares great ideas and student work. She inspires me.

And if you read some of her other posts, you'll see how education has changed since you went to school.

This is our world: middle school kids, middle school content, in the middle of America.
 
Click here to read the post, Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know



Sunday, March 6, 2016

Someone Who Fed My Spirit

The head chef at our school has been around since I started teaching back when the junior high had last lunch in the fall of 1989.

School budgets were different, and so were the requirements put on the lunch tray. There was always plenty of food. I was single and coaching high school basketball, so school lunch was the one hot meal I got a day­ besides Sundays at my sister's.

I knew how to cook, but I didn't deem it necessary for just me. At home, I ate a lot of Cheerios and toasted Cheeze Whiz sandwiches. My favorite after school treat had become my adult evening meal.

One woman though, made sure I didn't go hungry. Charlene Lyons, our cafeteria lady.

Back when the government let them serve cake, Charlene always hid away an extra piece for me. I think she'd do this even when we had leftovers.

"Got somethin' for you, Hofer," she'd whisper before I'd go sit down with my cohorts.

This was back in the day when teachers had to supervise the lunch room. Thanks to the Supreme Court of the United States, we get a whopping 20 minute-duty free lunch now. Just enough time to check your email, go to the bathroom, microwave a meal, and scarf it down.

Here's another memory involving her.

One year, Charlene and her daughter were part of my "It's All Relative" game show that I organized for the middle school talent show.

Any district staff member with a middle school child or grandchild could be in the show. Modeled after "The Newlywed Game" from the 1970s, questions were asked of one relative while the other was out of the room and vice versa. Art teacher Michaeline Kohler helped me come up with the title.

Charlene was up there with daughter Alisha or Amber, who ironically, had just performed a trio or duet that day as her talent. The "It's All Relative" game was close, and it came down to this question: What was your most embarrassing moment?

This mother and daughter's answers matched. Charlene had answered first, so when her daughter was brought out and she heard the question, her face turned red and she took a big breath. She said, "Forgetting the words to the song today." The crowd roared.

What had mortified a young soul on stage redeemed her minutes later because her mom knew her well and had the guts to say so.

That's the way Charlene is. She tells it like it is. I admire that.

Charlene had a milestone birthday this weekend, the big 6-0.

I'd started this post last fall during cafeteria appreciation week, but life interrupted me and I didn't get it done. When I saw it was Charlene's birthday, I knew this was the time to post it.

What a beautiful woman with a great heart. Thanks, Charlene, for the many years your spirit has fed mine when our paths have crossed.

You made a young woman feel welcome into the life of small-town teaching.


Who was the one who helped you transition into a new situation? Share memories of your cafeteria lady. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

I was a Paint by Numbers Kid

I can only draw stick figures, but my father wanted me to be an artist.

When I was in grade school, he was willing to pay for art lessons at The Orange Crate in Huron. But Mom said I was busy enough with school, church, and piano lessons. She bought me paint-by-number kits instead.

My art friends are cringing. Sorry.

Dad didn't give up though. He moved on to another medium. Photography.

I was a high school sophomore one Sunday afternoon when we drove to Lewis Drug in Huron, and he bought me a Canon 35-millimeter camera. That spring he insisted I attend a photography class on Monday nights at Huron College. I did. The information was way over my head. 

But that's my dad, Mr. You-Need-To-Get-Educated.

I didn’t understand aperture and f-stops (and I still don’t), so I put the camera on program and away I went snapping shots for the yearbook.

As a college freshman, I enrolled in introduction to photography, again at Dad’s insistence. I didn't understand the book work (again the f-stops and aperture confused me), so I bombed the paper/pencil quizzes.

I could take the pictures and earned good marks for my photos, but I didn't want a C or worse to start out with, so I dropped the class—only it was beyond the two-week grace period to do so. I have big fat W for withdrawal on my transcript.

I continued to play around with taking pictures, especially with black and white film when I was at home in the summers on the farm. Two young nieces who lived nearby served as my models.

I coerced Suzanne and Jessica to display downtrodden faces and pose by old buildings around their home and mine. I dug up an old rusty lantern, some tin cans and books as props. We had fun in the early 90s on our little photo shoots in rural South Dakota. I did the same with my Walter niece and nephews who lived two hours away.

These photos were a big hit with my brother-in-law Glen who lives in Kansas near me. He liked the black and white pictures so much that they displayed them in their home for awhile.

It was during this time that Martha Brohammer, my friend and colleague, re-taught me how to use the dark room to develop the film. I had been taught that in the college course I’d dropped. She was the art and Spanish teacher when I came to Cheney.

I wouldn't know how to function in a dark room today and am glad digital photography came along.

Melodie's KSN Shot of the Day in May 2010
In 2004, I bought my first digital camera, a point and shoot thing. In 2006 for Christmas, my husband Chris bought me a better one since my old camera failed to capture the beautiful fall foliage of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where we were married.

Then in 2009, he bought our first camera with the swing-out viewfinder, so we could have decent videos of his daughter Brittany's singing and acting events. 

Thus began Chris’ photography hobby. He's had many cameras since and continues to dabble and learn. It's been fun watching him develop into an artist and actually sell his work on Fine Art America. He passed me up months ago. His Facebook photography page, Framing Kansas, is three-years-old this month with over 12,000 followers.
 
It’s still fun to remind him though that I was the first one with a KSN photo of the day. A shot of a bird, of all things, whose mouth was full of worms. Leon Smitherman of Kansas Today, dubbed it "Breakfast of Champions" in May 2010.

Has anyone ever tried to turn you into something you're not? Did you develop any little bit of the desired skill?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Honoring a Friend on Her Birthday

Ever have one of those friends who is the opposite of you? I do.

She's spontaneous. I'm a planner. She's a let's-just-throw-this-together person. And it works. She is the always-have-to-be-doing-something type gal. I'm a wait-a-minute-gotta-do-nothin'-for-awhile woman.

Here's another contrast: I think Dumb and Dumber is the best comedy movie out there. She fell asleep during it.

Would those differences make for a good friendship?

It does for us. For Valerie Shellhammer and me.

We have a lot in common. We're women. So we talk, analyze, and rehash the same old stories. We also cry. In front of each other.

We're golfers. We enjoy exercise. We like to eat. Actually, I love cooking and serving her food when she pops in between jobs. She's self-employed. She's crafty and good with her hands in creating things. I'm not.

I correct her spelling and help her word things the correct way when she writes. She grounds me in reality with children. I ground her in reality with husbands.

I think we're good for each other. She's the closest thing to a sister my age that I've got. My real sisters grew up in a different generation. This Valerie-sister, I'll call her that so as not to confuse, grew up in the same time period as I did, but she's almost two years older.

We understand the 70s, our elementary years. We get the 80s too when girls could be tomboys. When girls had all the rights that the generation before us fought for. And we are thankful for that.

Because of those trailblazers, we could play basketball for our schools. She played half-court though in Oklahoma. I played full-court in South Dakota.

And a couple decades later, God put us in the same town, on the same basketball bus. I was coaching basketball, and she sponsored the cheerleaders. 

We played ladies' golf, walked and talked, and talked some more on the phone.

She housed my husband the first day I met him when he came for a visit, and designed my step-daughter Brittany's room, so it was ready before she even moved in.

Valerie helps me stay grounded in my faith in Christ. She's not a goody-goody, but she's a Biblically-sound person striving to live as our Savior intends.

And tomorrow, I wish her a happy birthday. She's moved out of Cheney now, but not too far, and I appreciate the time she always makes for me. I know she feels the same. We verbalize it. We've always been that way. Talkative.

Thank you, Lord, for my Proverbs 18:24 friend. A friend who sticks closer than a brother.


Is your best friend the opposite of you in any way? What pulls you together more, the similarities or the differences? What do you do together to keep your friendship in tact?