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Back to the drawing board

14 Mar

Someone at work is pregnant and, traditionally, I knit a sweater for the new baby.

Last week I pulled out a skein of yarn I thought would be appropriate and knit a sweater I’d knit many times before. I hated the result. There were a couple of reasons for it. The variegated yarn pooled in a way I did not find appealing. I knit a size larger than I usually knit, trying to gift a sweater a baby might wear next winter, but It seemed off. Maybe it was the pooling that made the proportions look wrong. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that there is no way I can gift this sweater. It is now in a donation bag awaiting a trip to the Sally Ann.

So this morning, I am back to the drawing board. I have a new skein of yarn caked up and a different pattern on deck. And I am feeling really good about this decision.

A Green Bean Mystery

10 Mar

What’s that? I wondered as I pulled the laundry out of the washing machine. The bottom of the drum of my front loader. I reached in, thankful I no longer owned a top loader that would require me to jump up to get my hips in a position where I could lever my short self into a position where I could reach the bottom.

I pulled out green beans.

I stopped for a moment wondering how they got in the washer. I’d cooked some beans for a salad on the weekend. Had I put some in a pocket? I pulled out a few more beans. Were they on the cloth I’d set on my lap as I snapped off the ends? I reached in yet again. With each extraction I assumed I’d found them all, but every time I looked I saw more. I reached again. And again.

Somewhere between those last two forays into the drum, I had a theory about the mysterious appearance of the green beans..

After boiling and cooling the green beans, I drained them then set them on a tea towel to dry. When I was ready to assemble the salad, I shook the tea towel over the bowl containing the other ingredients. I then tossed the tea towel into the washing machine. My theory was that some of the green beans clung to the tea towel in a last desperate effort to keep from being eaten.

All those years of reading Nancy Drew certainly honed my detective skills.

The choice

5 Mar

For the last six years, I have taught Humanities. Before COVID, we had a double period so we could teach both ELA and Social Studies. It was a dream job.

I have learned a few things over my years as a teacher and one very important lesson I have learned is that dream jobs don’t last. That could have made me cynical, but I have also learned that, as Mother Superior says in The Sound of Music, “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window.” I am wiser, but not yet jaded.

Next year, my school district is dropping Humanities and adding separate ELA and Social Studies classes. This means that Humanities teachers have to make a choice. And, for me, it is a Sophie’s choice. I love teaching both.

I filled out the annual “what I want to do next year survey” early last week. For the past week I have edited my online form multiple times, some days choosing ELA, others Social Studies. Fortunately, the form had a space at the end for me to write. I wrote about the fact that my Humanities partner was retiring. I wrote about my love for both. And I wrote about my trust in the administration to make the best decision for the school as a whole. Trust is my One Little Word of 2021.

I have no idea when we will find out. I have no idea when the form will close. I hope it is soon, so that I am not tempted to change my answer yet again. Regardless, I trust that the right decision will be made and I will be happy with it.

Drawing closer

4 Mar

On Wednesdays, I only have one class: a 30-minute homeroom Advisory. Our counseling staff prepares lessons for us to teach, usually around Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Some of the lessons have been excellent, but it can be hard teaching a lesson some one else prepared and you see 30 minutes before teaching it. Some Wednesdays, I feel bad for my students. Yesterday, having looked at the lesson, I couldn’t take it any more.

First, let me say, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the lesson. It was sunny out and I felt an energy I hadn’t felt in months, and, after six months of SEL lessons, I wanted something fun. I threw out the lesson and decided we’d play Pictionary. We’d played the week before Winter Break and I laughed with my students harder than I ever had. Pictionary was what we needed today, not another slide deck.

Once everyone had arrived to the Zoom meeting, I asked, “Was there someone who won the last round last time, and I promised could go first?”

Silence at first, then a name was suggested. That person couldn’t recall, so I went to the list I’d prepared. “We have three birthdays this week, so I will offer it to the celebrants.”

Thursday’s birthday declined. I was worried.

Friday’s birthday declined. I was really worried.

Saturday’s birthday accepted and we had a Pictionary game up and running.

Suddenly, it was two minutes before the end of the class. I gave the word to the last drawer. She drew, They guessed and class was over. As I wrapped things up and we said our goodbyes, the comment that stood out to me in chat was We should do this more often. Yes, we should.

On this day last year…

3 Mar

On this day last year…
we were wrapping up our Mesopotamia Unit

we are deep into our thematic unit about Ancient River Civilizations

On this day last year
parents were worried about going to Outdoor School the following week

parents are worried about returning to school buildings next month

On this day last year
Lucy was snuggled on the sofa while I got ready for work

Richard is snuggled on the sofa while I get ready for work

On this day last year
I was planning my route for the Rose City Yarn Crawl

I visit the virtual crawl

On this day last year
I had no idea what was coming

I wonder what this day will look like next year.

The Call

26 Jan

My term serving as Chair of YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults is almost over. There are still a few things to do. I will host two online celebrations – one for the winners and one to highlight the vetted list of nominations. I am excited to do this, but the most exciting event , The Call, happened a few weeks ago.

I was supposed to be in Indianapolis last week, locked in a room with the other committee members. We should have selected our winner on the weekend and then, make “the call” to that person. COVID changed everything.

Because the video had to be produced early, we had to turn in our winner’s name early January 11 instead of January 24. Fortunately, the nonfiction award works a little differently from most other awards. We chose and announced five finalists in December. It was from those five that our winner was to be selected.

Making the call was a little more complicated than usual. Emails flew back and forth. Me to YALSA. YALSA to the publisher. Finally we had a date and time. The committee members and I arrived to the ZOOM call early as instructed, where we met the two publishing reps. They had told the winner we wanted to talk about the celebration. Not exactly a lie. We were all excited as her name appeared, then, there she was, Candace Fleming.

“Hi Candace,” I began, “I am the chair of YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and I have some good news for you. Your book, The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh has been chosen as the winner.” I held up my copy book, still full of sticky notes, on which I had placed the gold winner medal. I was the first person to let her see her book with that medal on it.

Fall and rise

19 Jan

My mind must have been elsewhere because, as I descended the back stairs that lead to the street, I fell.

Did I miss the handrail as I took a mental vacation? Or did I take a misstep? I will never know, but I fell in slow motion. Fortunately, my life did not flash in front of my eyes. I was aware of my fall, and tried to grab the handrail. I missed and continued down. I ended up with my feet near the top of the stairs and my head near the bottom.

Once down, I took stock of myself. Nothing hurt and that was good. My position was awkward so I took a moment. A moment too long apparently because Richard, who knew I was supposed to be taking him to the park, tried to barrel through my mayhem on the stairs. So much for canine empathy.

My effort to get up from my position was not elegant. There might have been some grunting and groaning. Richard gave me more than one look of impatience. As I arrived, upright, at the bottom of the stairs, I looked around – no one on the street.

I looked at Richard and said, “Let’s go to the park.” He set off at his normal happy trot and I kept pace. Despite the mud on one knee, I knew I was truly fine. When your biggest concern is Did anyone see me? you know you are just fine.

One Little Word for 2021

4 Jan

I did not select One Little Word in 2019 or 2020. I don’t remember why, but I don’t think any word I chose for 2020 could have predicted, or helped guide me through, the nightmare of 2020. As we begin 2021, though, I feel called to choose another One Little Word.

The past ten months have taught me a lot about the myriad ways the world can go topsy-turvy. I’ve had to teach remotely synchronously and asynchronously. I have learned to navigate online teaching platforms, Zoom and YouTube. I’ve seen decisions made and changed within short periods of time. I have judged and questioned people and decisions, so, in order to navigate the 2021 side of the pandemic, I have chosen TRUST as my OLW. I tend to be skeptical and judgmental of others. I am going to strive

  • to trust that people will take appropriate precautions during the pandemic an
  • to trust that people will strive to make decisions that are good for everyone, not just themselves.
  • to trust that those in charge will make the right decision about when and how we return to in person school
  • to trust that the 2021-22 changes to middle schools in my district will happen smoothly

The first way I am going to place my trust in the new year is by no longer muttering under my breath and behind my mask as I step off the sidewalk for people not wearing masks. Wish me luck!

2021 Nonfiction Award Finalists

3 Dec

After months of reading, and a long meeting after Thanksgiving, the committee I have chaired for the last year has selected the five finalist for the  2021 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, written by Christina Soontornvat and published by Candlewick Press. 9781536209457.

  • On June 23, 2018, twelve young soccer players and their coach became trapped by flood waters in a northern Thailand cave. Clear maps, diagrams, photography and first hand interviews capture every detail of the rescue of all thirteen, an effort made by hundreds of volunteers. Their rescue seemed impossible but, as Christina Soontornvat shows in this page-turning book, miracles sometimes happen. 

The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival, written by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess with Laura L. Sullivan and published by Bloomsbury YA. 9781547604531.

  • In 1992 Amra’s life is forever changed when Serbian troops seize her hometown of Bihać, Bosnia. Her family and other Muslims face hate, violence, and unimaginable horrors of war.  A enlightening memoir of a Muslim teen trying to survive through the Bosnian genocide and the stray cat that protected her family throughout all her ordeals.

How We Got To the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure, written and illustrated by John Rocco and published by Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. 9780525647416.

  • This extensively researched and illustrated account demonstrates the magnitude of ingenuity and creativity involved in the years’ long effort to reach the moon. John Rocco’s exquisite illustrations and diagrams pair perfectly with his clear text to illuminate “the grit, determination, and hard work to achieve the goal – also the problem-solving, the organization, the science, and the sheer cleverness of it all.” 

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, written by Candace Fleming and published by Schwartz and Wade, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. 9780525646549.

  • Charles Lindberg is one of the most complicated icons in American history. Celebrated aviator, dogged scientist, heartbroken father, Nazi sympathizer, unapologetic eugenicist, Candance Fleming shows all the facets of a deeply flawed American hero.  In a well-researched, engaging narrative, Fleming brings Lindberg to life, warts and all.

You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Democracy and Deliver Power to the People, written by Elizabeth Rusch and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 9780358387428.

  • From gerrymandering and the electoral college to voter suppression and unequal representation, Elizbeth Rusch breaks down some of the most important problems facing our country’s representative democracy. This nonpartisan guide to civic engagement offers ample suggestions for how teens can become involved in political reform.

The winner will be announced virtually at the Youth Media Awards on January 25, 2021 during the American Library Association’s virtual Midwinter Meeting.

Race to the finish

1 Dec

For the last year, I have been the chair of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. This award is a little different from most of ALA’s Youth Media Awards who’s winners will be announced on Monday, January 25, 2021. For the last month, the entire committee has been reading madly because we had to turn in a list of five finalists today, December 1st.

I turned in the names of our five finalists yesterday, along with an annotation for each book. I heard back almost right away and was asked for a quote for the press release. Fortunately, the email contained an example from a previous press release. I had to come up with a big picture look at five very different titles.

Later yesterday afternoon, I was teaching a reading lesson and asking students to do some big picture thinking about their reading. I was surprised how what I was asking them to do resembled the work that I had done just that morning, so I told them about it. It was a real-life application of what we were doing in class.

The press release announcing our finalists will come out late this week or early next week. When it does, I will happily talk about each of the books with my students. I also promised them that I would share the big picture thinking I had to do for the press release.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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