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Ol’ 55

31 Dec

I turned 55 last week. I am totally OK with it and I’ve been singing that Tom Waits/Eagles/Sara MacLachlan song  a lot. I mumble through most of the words, but always get the first line and chorus. In my head, I am perfect.

You know how, when you learn a new word, or come across a new idea, it suddenly seems to pop up everywhere? Fifty-five is like that.

Last week, I bookmarked my birthday by reading A Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly. It’s about a deaf girl who is obsessed with helping a whale, Blue 55, who sings at a frequency different from all other whales: 55 Hertz. Coincidence? Totally, but it is fun to think about it. The book is based on a real whale, Blue 52. If I’d read this book the year I turned 52, it might not have registered the same way.

Somewhere this week, I heard 55 referred to as “double nickels”. Apparently it means 55 mph, but what’s heard cannot be unheard and my brain made another weirdo connection. After my birthday, I read The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Okay, that might be stretching it, but my brain loves to play with words and see connections where none exist.

Wishing you all a very happy 2020.

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My Life in Books 2019

24 Dec
I got this from Deb Nance at Readerbuzz.
Using only books that you have read this year, complete these sentences:
  1. In high school I was a—  One-Third Nerdand it was Operatic.
  2. People might be surprised by— How It Feels to Float.
  3. I will never be— Shouting at the Rain or The Lost Girl.
  4. My fantasy job is—   Queen of the Sea.
  5. At the end of a long day I need—  The Bridge Home.
  6. I hate—  The Sound of Things Falling.
  7. Wish I had—  Infinite Hope.
  8. My family reunions are—  A Place to Belong.
  9. At a party you’d find me with—  The Innocents and  away from the The Poison Eaters.
  10. I’ve never been to—  The Fountains of Silence nor Torpedoed.
  11. A happy day includes—  Stargazing and Best Friends.
  12. Mottos I live by:  Look Both Ways and Feed Your Mind.
  13. On my bucket list is —  The Ice at The End of the World
  14. In my next life, I want to have—This Golden Fleece.

They’re listening

10 Dec

Friday afternoon. I was tidying the classroom in that half-hearted way you do when you just want to get the heck out of Dodge. I had picked up a pencil or two, straightened some books on shelves, all the while keeping one eye on the windows, to see when the buses left so I could leave.

As I looked out, I noticed a sticky note stuck to the wall. What the…. I half thought, half muttered as I strode forward ready to rip it off the wall. I reached my hand towards it and stopped.

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It was a misquote of something from our class read aloud, Posted by John David Anderson,  but it touched my heart.

Not all the 6th teachers at my school do read aloud and I am certain almost no 7th and 8th grade teachers do it. But my 8th grade teacher, Mr. Ziegler, did and it is one of my favorite things to do.

Very few kids just sit and listen. Many draw, some read their own book. I  am very liberal when it comes to this because, in my heart, I hope that they are listening because I choose my read alouds carefully. I like to think that they give us a common language, a shared experience that we can apply to what we do in class, and in our lives.

I plucked that sticky note off the wall and brought it home and stuck it on my computer. I brought it back to school on Monday and stuck it on the wall behind my desk where I keep the pictures students draw for me. I still don’t know who wrote it, but I see you.

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A terrible horrible really great day

3 Dec

Monday started off well. It was December 2nd, so I got to open day two of my Advent calendar. That was the best pat about my morning.

Lucy, my basset hound, didn’t want to eat her breakfast. I tried topping it with all her favorite coercions, but she only managed about half.

Later,  on our way out  for her morning constitutional, she vomited in front of the back door.

While walking, I noticed a darkish patch on the cyst that had bled a little the day before. When we got in the house, I could see it was a fully blown cyst and cleaned it up. Having had bassets for over 20 years, I keep a good first aid kit for situations like this. It’s still a gross job.

We had a staff development day at school, so I didn’t bring a lunch. The previous week, our principal told us that we would get work time in the morning and they would do their half of the day after lunch. When I got to school and school. the schedule had changed. We were starting at 11 and would have  a 30 minute lunch from 12 to 12:30. Cursing, I graded some tests then did a quick run to the grocery store five minutes from school, where I got a mediocre salad. Half an hour after I returned, the schedule was changed and we would, indeed, start at 12:30 as originally planned. By the time I was walking to the cafeteria for the Admins’ PD, I was not in a great mood.

It’s funny how your mood can change quickly. The PD I had been dreading was not at all what I expected. We were going to paint! The Admins were treating us to a pop up paint class.

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We each had an easel to work at and all the supplies we’d need. Then, a team of teachers walked us through each step of the painting, in which we recreated the iconic deer of the Portland sign. There was a lot of laughter, as I am sure you can imagine.

Until we had a beautiful, if not slightly wonky, finished product.

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My day that started out poorly, ended wonderfully.

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get

26 Nov

My route was laid out. I had a number of errands to run Saturday morning and a workshop that started at one in the afternoon. Only precise execution of my plan would make the day a success.

As I left the house, I picked up the bag I wanted to add to the boxes I would be dropping off at Goodwill, my first stop, and patted my pockets. House keys? Check. Car keys? Check. I pulled the door shut, ready to face the day.

No one was at the Goodwill when I arrived and I was in and out in less than five minutes, on my way to my second stop, Kinkos. The week before I had drafted, proofread, corrected and printed the end-of-the-year donation letter I was going to copy on behalf of Oregon Basset Hound Rescue. Parking at the nearest Kinkos can be tricky and I cheered as I pulled into the empty four-space lot. I unbuckled my seat belt, grabbed my purse and reached for the folder with the master copy. It wasn’t there.

Crap, I thought, I am an idiot.  I’d set the folder in the Goodwill bag so I wouldn’t leave it The hurrier I go, the behinder I get, reverberated through my head. I rebuckled my seatbelt and drove back to Goodwill.

Did you know Goodwill has a form for things you accidentally donated but want to get back? Fortunately, no one else had come since my drop-off and the folder was easy to find. I was in and out in another five minutes, back on the road to Kinkos.

The rest of the day unfolded without incident. Errands were run. I made it to my class on time. It was a cross-stitch class and I was happy to sit and work peacefully on my Christmas ornament after my busy morning. The instructor told us we wouldn’t have time to finish the project in class. She was correct, but I worked on it that evening and the next day.

All in all, I am happy with how the day – and the ornament – turned out.

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The Appointment

19 Nov

I was caught up on my grading and my students were working quietly, so I decided to check my email. I always feel a little guilty when I do this, worried that it looks as though I am not doing my job. And, like my students, checking my email can sometimes turn into a rabbit-hole of clicking and suddenly you are deep into the warren.

This day seemed no different, and most of the emails were routine, except this one:

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I had filled out the YALSA volunteer form months ago and had stopped thinking about it. YALSA is the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association and the run several book award committees I checked off on the volunteer form, including the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. I tried to calm myself before opening the email. Don’t put the cart before the horse, I cautioned myself, as my heart pounded in anticipation.

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The students were still working quietly. I must have gasped or giggled because one of the students looked up, a quizzical look on her face.

“I just got some really good news,” I simply stated, smiling slightly, though inside I was jumping around and shouting. What I wanted to say was “Holy crap!” but a teacher can’t say that, not even when they are excited and nervous because they never expected to be the Chair of a book award committee.

The best parent-teacher conference opener

22 Oct

“Hello, Ms. Gillespie,” my student’s father said, reaching out to shake my hand. “It is so nice to meet. And I noticed we have the same hair.”

It was true. The tall man from the Indian subcontinent and I had pretty much the same haircut. Because if its nature, my hair does best either very long or very short, so I have kept my hair short for many years and love it. Long hair is too much work.

I knew the dad meant his words kindly, so I smiled and said, “We do, but mine is a lot greyer than yours.”

He laughed and pointed at his head and said, “This is henna!”.

His wife slapped his arm and joined in the laughter. Their daughter, my student, looked mortified.

Few students came in to their conference smiling. I sometimes think that, for some students, parent-teacher conferences feel like some sort of cosmic collision of worlds. When I ask, many claim they have no idea what I am going to say, so I have a series of things I ask them during their conference:

Have you ever had a bad conference?

What’s been the best thing so far about 6th grade?

What’s been the best toughest thing so far about 6th grade?

Which math class are you in? Is it a good fit?

When do you do your homework? How much time do you spend on it?

Who do you eat lunch with?

I teach in a program for the gifted. Some students put a lot of pressure on themselves.  Some students have a lot of pressure put on them by their parents, especially when it comes to Math. These questions usually lead to most of the things I want to say to parents and mostly help put kids at ease.

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Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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