Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Family, Memories, Legacies

Last week we traveled to Minnesota for my mom's 93rd birthday. Both of my children were able to come this year, along with my brother, his wife and three kids, and my sister and her husband. Every year it's a different combination of people who are able to make it to Minnesota, but it's always good to see whoever comes!

At some point, someone always brings up how lucky we are that we all get along so well. We all know families where someone isn't speaking to someone else, or where people feel belittled or neglected. We all like each other. We are indeed fortunate.

My mom is a healthy 93. She walks, she does the crossword every day, she takes care of her own finances. She's a cheerful person, but she has been doing some reflecting back on her life, and so lately she has been sort of apologizing for not being such a good mother when we were growing up. Of course, she has nothing to apologize for - she and my dad raised three children who are all well educated, doing interesting things, and who have raised their own children. However, she feels her unusual upbringing gave her no examples of how families work or how mothers were supposed to act.

My mother's father died when she was two, leaving her mother to figure out how to support the two of them. My mom lived for several years on her grandparents' farm in western Minnesota, until she was old enough to start school. Meanwhile her mother was learning to be a seamstress and working for a tailor in Minneapolis. She and her mother moved to "town" so she could attend the local school and her mother went to work. They moved quite often - my grandmother was very handy and usually improved their apartment, at which point the landlord decided to raise the rent. By this time the Depression had begun. Like so many others, they were very poor. I asked her once what kind of things they ate. She told me their relatives on the farm would send in vegetables and other things, and they often ate pickled pigs feet and other inexpensive foods. In spite of these obstacles, my grandmother managed to send my mother to college, setting an example for the rest of the family. My mom became a teacher and worked until she married my dad.

So that's the background that my mom thinks was a detriment to being a good mom.

When I remember growing up, I remember feeling safe and loved. My parents set the expectation that we would all go to college, without pressure to get all As as we went through elementary and high school. They set an example of thriftiness without deprivation. They gave us lots of freedom to try things and make choices. We knew that life involved hard work and you had to earn things. We had what I remember to be a lot of free time, especially in the summer. Sometimes we were bored, and we had to figure out what to do about it ourselves. It was a good childhood; I have no complaints.

Not bad for a mom who was winging it!

(Though really, aren't we all winging it as parents?)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Looking for recommendations for biographies

I have been so impressed since I joined this writing community in March with the generosity of the members. I have gotten so many supportive, kind, and helpful comments on my posts. So today I'm asking for your help in recommending some books for my 4th grade class.

I'm searching for excellent biographies for upper elementary readers. I would like to use this type of book for use as both mentor texts and for research. One of the writing projects our 4th graders do each year is a research report on a subject related to the American Revolution. Many of the children choose to do a biography. Over the years I have read more biographies of people of that era, both children's and adult's, and I realize that many of the biographies for younger readers are not as engagingly written or, often, even completely accurate or complete.

When I read the post on Two Writing Teachers a couple of weeks ago about the presentation by Ralph Fletcher on teaching authentic nonfiction writing, I realized that this is the type of biography I have been looking for. The kind of nonfiction book that David McCullough writes, for example, but for young readers.

In our research project, we have the students read at least two sources for their topic. One is an
"easy" book, below grade level - a picture book if we can find one. I like the books by David Adler, the series with titles, "A Picture Book of...." This gives the young researcher a quick overview of the entire topic. The second book is generally a short chapter book, which provides more details, and also gives us a chance to teach the importance of more than one source. It's always interesting when students find discrepancies and need to decide how to handle that.

So I am looking for excellent biographies for young readers, about any person not just those from the American Revolution. I'm hoping some of you will be able to give me some suggestions! Thank you for your help!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

In search of friends

My mother is a wonderful example of enduring and ongoing friendship. She is turning 93 this month and lives in an independent/assisted living community. She has no major health problems and is as sharp as ever. When she complains about things, always mildly, it's often about the food, but once she said sadly to me that her friends were all dying. It's true - they're all in their 90s. But my mom has the wonderful gift and desire to keep making new friends, even though she knows she may lose them.

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately because one long-time friendship seems to have run its course. My husband and I have been friends with another couple for decades. We enjoy music together, we eat out, we talk about our kids... But somewhere along the way there has been a shift, so subtle that we didn't notice it for a while. Our friends appear to need to put us down continually. We tell them some wonderful news, and one or the other of them pops the happy balloon with a negative comment.

"My niece was offered three reporting jobs right out of college!" "[disparaging snort] Well, you know newspapers are dying."

Said to me: "Joe and Sue told us they went to your concert. They said it was awful."

It's a constant barrage. Neither of us can figure out why they have started treating us like this. I started thinking about our long friendship and I realized that it has devolved into a sort of friendship of convenience. If we're going to the same concert, we eat out together beforehand. We invited each other to life events. Other than that, we don't interact. And now, we don't want to.

So this has led us to thinking about forming some new friendships. It's not that easy once you are out of school, and especially if you are retired, like my husband. It's scary, too. What if the person you'd like to know better turns down your invitations?

My mother had some wonderful almost life-long friends. She met her best friend Lorraine in college. They got their first teaching jobs together, in the same high school. When they both married, they ended up in different parts of the country, but they always kept in touch. My parents asked Lorraine and Ray to be my brother's godparents. When my parents retired to Minnesota, they were all back in the same area and Lorraine and Ray chose the same assisted living community as my mother. Lorraine passed away and several years later Ray did also. Their passing was a huge loss for my mother. But she continues to reach out and make new friends.

I have long-time friends as well - a few from high school, more from college, scattered all over the country. I treasure those friends, but we also need the friends who we can go out to dinner with, see a movie, just sit and chat. And so, we are reaching out and hoping to find more people to add to our lives. Thanks Mom, for the great example.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Battle of Yorktown

It's the last week of school here and there's so much going on! I decided, since it is my last week with this class, that they could suggest topics for my blog post this week. They made a wide variety of suggestions, quite a few of which I had already blogged on. The winner come from Sophie, who suggested I write about the Battle of Yorktown.

As you may already know, the Battle of Yorktown ended the Revolutionary War. We teach the Revolutionary War in 4th grade at Quest, mostly through various simulations. So one of our last activities was the Battle of Yorktown.

To give you the lay of the land - Quest is a private school, so our physical presence is different than any public school I have seen, and different than most private schools, too. Our main building used to be a public library and is located at one end of a strip mall. About 2 years ago, the school had a major fundraising campaign and bought the shopping center and an undeveloped plot across the street. The shopping center has remained a shopping center, but the plot has become our West Campus, a beautiful green space with a soccer field, black top area, garden plots, small amphitheater, and areas planted with native plants. This is where we now hold the Battle of Yorktown.

As teachers we do this every year and so we notice the differences each year, while the kids only got one experience with it. So, they didn't notice the challenges we faced this year. First, rain was predicted. It looked pretty threatening. But after our prep talk about how the battle would run, how to fire a musket and load a cannon, and so on, we went down to the gym to pick up blue and red pinnies to distinguish the British from the Americans and French forces, and our cannon balls (soft dodge balls). We also bring along some chairs, which serve as our cannon. I am General Cornwallis, and my partner is General Washington.

We left the building and marched along the entire length of the shopping center, crossing the street, and regrouping at the West Campus. The British were ensconced in the fort (the picnic shelter) while the Americans were behind their redoubts (is this how you spell this word?), the far side of the amphitheater. Then I discovered that we had left the bag of cannonballs sitting by the gym. Rain still threatening, I hurried back across the parking lot.

Finally, we are ready to start. The Americans are digging trenches, we British are waiting nervously. This battle is a siege, so the Americans and French bombard us with cannon fire, while moving closer and closer to the fort. When they get close enough, they add musket fire (wadded paper balls). The British return fire, but in the end we are overwhelmed and surrender. We do the surrender ceremony; General Cornwallis is too embarrassed to surrender to Washington, so he sends his second in command. Hats are thrown in the air and we march back to school, missing the rain! Huzzah!