Podcast Try #1

I will try to record my first podcast ever today. I am interested in podcasting. I love the format. A voice in your ear with a story to tell and space filled with bits of silence just long enough for serious thinking and reflection. I think this might be a fun medium for me. I do not hate the way my voice sounds on a recording and I love the idea that I can share my thinking without having to put myself on video.

So, I did some research the night before the big day to find out what I could do to make a great podcast. I googled. Right away I found an entry called, “How to Make a KickAss Podcast.” I think this was part of a larger series of podcasts by the same name but I did not open this one. I just liked the title. I moved into another podcast advice column by clicking and I found what I think I already knew. Story. Be ready to wrap the information that you are wanting to teach into stories.

I began to think about 12 minutes of content and then how I might attach stories to each of those parts. If I could have somewhere between 4 to 6 main points with stories attached, I would be able to make a first great try at my first podcast. I felt excited and anxious. Some part of me wondered if this was the start of a new part of my life. Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic.

I headed into the podcast room later that morning. The podcast room looked just like the office it also had been with two differences. Lisa was sitting there with a very small recorder. As big as my cell phone. It had two microphones. One that bent toward her and one that angled toward me. Looking at the recorder helped me understand what a podcast really is. It is a conversation. We made a little plan. We were strategic about the kinds of information that would be most helpful to listeners and we put that information into some wort of flow. We thought a little bit about what might make for some beautiful last words. But really, a podcast is just a conversation.

I paid attention to how I was feeling as we talked. I was enjoying myself. I let my energy rise and fall naturally as I would when I talked or taught about anything. A podcast is really a conversation about something that you have passion for. I loved that thinking on my feel part of my 15 minutes. I left the room feeling smart and like I had offered up at least a few nuggets of wisdom about my topic. Thus ended podcast attempt #1. Stay tuned. It may be coming to an earphone near you someday soon.

And, who knows. This may be the start of something new.


Book Baggy Research

I pulled up next to Josue and I asked him if we could look at the books he had loaded into his book bag for reading this week in reading workshop. He told me that he had just picked all of these books on Monday, so this was his third day reading from this collection. We spread the books on the table and there were seven of them. I said which ones of these have you read so far and he touched just one book. I then asked, “How far are you into this book?” He was on page 7. That meant that he had had 60 minutes or more of in school reading time and he had only read 7 pages.

I was attempting to model how I was setting myself up to be a consultant to these second grade readers. I had no interest in “holding them accountable”. I was more interested in teaching these young readers how to build and understand their reading identities. I helped Josue set a new goal for the next few minutes and when I returned, he had met it. I asked, “What changed? What did you do differently to get more reading done?” He paused for a second and then answered, “I read.” That made me laugh because I knew he had been mostly talking during reading workshop but he just discovered it for himself. So much better than if I lectured him about that. Science teaches us that the epiphany is the best place for learning. The secret is that the person who is doing the learning needs to have the epiphany.

When I asked Nolan about his book bag he had no answer until be started to sort his books. I said, “You have this whole pile of animal books. You must love animals.” Nolan looked at me and said, “No. I do not like animals.” So funny. Kid after kid answered this way when we talked about what was in their book baggy. It was clear that they had just been choosing books by level and number. As soon as we spread the books out and we had kids really look, read the title and take a book walk and maybe even read a little bit, they were choosing books in a much different way. They were thinking about what they wanted to read and why. After working with two other kids and having them really work to pick their books, they both sat hugging their pile and they wanted to know if they could read at home too.

This kind of work can sometimes feel like it is frivolous, not rigorous but if we make people who want to read and if they have books that are tempting to them, they will practice more and that will grow them. Especially if the books are also ones that they can read with high levels of understanding.

Before I left his room, Nolan came running up and said, “Wait. Wait. I was wrong. I like frogs. I like frogs.” I smiled and said, “Oh. Just one animal you like.”

He said, “Are you coming back?”

The Best Week Ever

We were tanned and our hair was blonded. We had just finished our last day of our yearly, week long vacation in Wildwood, NJ. I was wearing my favorite bathing suit ever. One with diagonal blue stripes that made me feel strong. My brother was even more tan than I was and his hair was plastered to his head in some weird shape that was made by the waves he would ride from morning to night. My sister had a bucket of shells that she had been working on all week. She was collecting them from the grass where they had been bleached white by the sun.

My dad called and I thought he was going to tell us it was time to start packing. Packing was a real to-do. My mom would let us load as much as we wanted into the car and my dad would always complain about how we did not need all of this stuff. Stuffed animals took up a lot of room for me and now I had even more to bring home. I was obsessed with winning on the boardwalk. Every night I would play the water balloon races and I would win. It was my job to rescue the giant panda or the 6 foot snake from where they hung over the rising clown heads. I had already rehearsed my answer if my dad complained about even more stuffed animals. I was ready to have the animals crowd onto my lap. Which would mean a super sweaty ride home in the car we crowded into with no air conditioning.

My dad and mom were standing there and they were both tanned and relaxed. They were holding hands and they looked happy. I don’t really remember what my dad said but what happened next is one of the clearest memories of my entire childhood. We started running around the little house that we had rented. We were whooping and screaming and hugging each other. We had gone from believing that we would be jamming the car with all of our stuff, to knowing that we would be spending another whole week at the beach. At some point, I ran into the house and gathered up my 6 foot stuffed snake and wore him around my next as we continued to run laps around the house.

That extra week was one of the best weeks of my life. I had run out of allowance but my parents gave me some more. All I could think about was more water balloon races. As we fell asleep that night on the couches that we had pushed together in the living room, I could already envision that purple koala bear sleeping next to me.

A Small Slice When I Don’t Feel Like Slicing at All

Life is short. You can be healthy and happy and joking with friends and a few minutes later you can be gone. You died today. So fast. With no warning. I could not breathe when I thought about how your daughter would react. I felt sick when I heard that they could not stop her screaming in the hospital corridor. I feel like we are becoming really good at grieving together. This does not feel like much to celebrate.

Your wife did not know as she was being driven to the hospital. We all knew but we did not want her to hear until she was there. It was hard to think of her driving and worrying and wishing that your unconscious state was just that, a state. Not permanent. All kinds of thoughts pass through my head. Jimmy’s nose won’t stop bleeding because that’s what happens when he grieves and I got an immediate migraine.

Your dog is waiting for you to walk her once last time for the night. The people in the building were looking around for their doormen. They were suddenly all gone. They probably already know that you are gone. Your mom grieving the loss of a child. Your siblings not believing that the youngest could be the first to go.

I laughed once tonight when I thought of you finding Johnny and your dad and Billy. I thought about how happy you would all be to see each other. Your uncle who you just told us was on the verge of dying any day now, will be so happy to meet you. If that is what happens.

You clearing out our family parties when you would notice that I looked tired. I will never forget that. Your last words to me on Facebook, “Good luck to you.” All of these things don’t seem to matter so much in the day to day but meaning is often known backwards. Why can’t we see if forwards? My house is dark. We keep calling each other. There is nothing much to say but we just want to let each other know that we are here. We will be here.

Page Proof Sunday

The snow rain woke me up at 4am and my first thought was that it was really 3am. I got up to use the bathroom, check on my boys and close the living room windows which we have to keep wide open all winter because our apartment is volcanic and I volcano-like lately. My dog lifted only his head to check to see if it was time for a walk. When I laid back down, he laid back down too.

I needed more sleep before the start of page proof Sunday. What a strange name. Page. Proofs. This would be my ninth time through this process. Still, I feel like I am never quite sure if I am doing it right. So I headed down to the office where I could spread out my work and no one would ask me for a grilled cheese and then promptly drip that cheese on one of my pages.

I try to remember to think about the pages and to envision the teaching by being a teacher and not the writer of the book. This is a difficult switch to keep consistent because after so much time trying to get the writing right, my brain keeps slipping back into that role. I look up after each page and I try to look around at the visuals and I try to cross check the parts with each other for consistency and clarity. I won’t move on to the next session until I take some kind of break. I will reread the table of contents before and after I read a session to make sure they all match.

I just found this quote when googling about the meaning of proofing. “Shaping the dough only changes its physical form, it doesn’t interfere with the magic happening inside the dough.” This quote has to do with bread. Mmmmm… bread. Such an interesting idea to think about when you are working on page proofs for a book. The physical form can interfere with the magic reaching your reader. The physical form can also make all of the magic even more magical. If we think of proofing as the step that you take before baking the bread, page proofing makes even more sense I think. Publishing is the baking. I want to make sure that what we wrote is a delicious teaching and reading experience for our audience. So we proof. Let the book rise a little. Cover it with a tea towel.

Move this photo down. Shorten this. Take this out. It doesn’t add enough. Take a photo. Find a photo. Stage a photo. Make a photo. Create a chart. Revise a chart. Not this word. Yes, this is it. Wait? Who wrote this? Oh, I did. This is confusing. Now, I fixed it. What’s the title of this? Does this go with the next book? Did we do this in the last book? Prove that you deserve to make pages during the proof stage. Perhaps I am not qualified based on all the added ink and Post-its. Arrows and cross outs.

Page proof Sunday is not for the faint of heart. Facing your words again, after so much fighting to get them right, takes bravery. But, imagining the readers who might be empowered and the students that might be transformed, gives me strength to keep working for at least another hour today. Then, I am going to have to get ready for the week.

Told you I was strong.


Sagrada Familia

Even though it is one of the most visited tourist sites in the world, somehow it did not feel that way. I think a lot of that had to do with the tour in my headphones. Somehow I felt all alone with thousands of people. This was not a place made for connecting with people. I could not even understand the people who were talking to each other. Clearly this place was created for talking with God.

I had read online that it was best to head there close to sundown. The angle of the setting sun was supposed to make the many stained glass windows fire like jewels. There was a roped off area close to the altar. A guard stood there and reminded us that this section was not for photos but for quiet reflection. I thought about how it might be cool to hold praying hands toward everyone I encountered in a day like the guard girl was. My praying hands could signal center yourself and reach higher than yourself.

I took a lot of pictures but I was sure that my camera could not capture what I was seeing. My real hope was that the photos would bring back the feeling though. I leaned hard into the feeling.

Spiritual awe.

Love ache.

God blessed.

For sure, words can not capture the feeling. Gaudi was the designer of this space and he did not have to use words. His idea was to make a church where the inside was stripped of adornment so that light and breath and spirit could fill the space instead. Imagine a man who could imagine this church. He died before it was finished and it is still not finished. 2026 is the projected date of completion. 100 years after it was begun. To have such an impact on the world. To make that feeling for all of those people in all of those countries for all of those years. I am not the same. I will never be the same.

La Sagrada Familia is indeed holy.

Light as worship!

3 Years ago today and it still feels like yesterday

I did not have keys to my own apartment because I knew someone would be home. I rang my own bell and my sister in law opened the door. I greeted her with a small smile and looked past her to see the living room filled with extended family. They had beaten me here in the wake of the news. A pizza box sat on the table and there were cups everywhere. I could see that someone had a whiskey bottle out. Perhaps some shots to deaden the pain, the shock of all of this. The blow up mattress was open and my niece was lying on it, half-heartedly looking at her phone. Her mom, who quietly shut the door behind me and asked if I had eaten, nodded her head ever so slightly toward the back of the apartment. She said, “He’s in your bedroom.”

I hugged her husband and he held on just a bit longer than usual. I remember thinking about how great a hugger he was. My two boys looked shocked too. They each said, “Dad is in the bedroom.” Everyone looked at me like they were scared to go into the bedroom.

I asked, “Who has Johnathan?” Not, “Where is he or how he is?” Those were dumb questions to which I already knew the answers. He was ruined and wrecked and he was in his worst nightmare. The loss of his dad, Jimmy’s brother. Just him and his dad for all of his growing up.  I did not need to know the where or the how, I just needed to know that someone had him, was holding him.

I asked my boys if they had eaten and they said they had. I passed by my sister in law who had started to do the dishes. She was always looking for ways to help. I felt grateful to have all of them in the apartment. It felt less scary to push open the bedroom door.

I paused for a second before doing it. My own chest tightened and then flopped open with the rawness of the new wound that the loss of my mother had caused. Every day was a battle to get through since then. I knew this was true for my husband too. I could hear something now, behind the door but I did not, or maybe could not identify the sound. I pushed open the door.

And grief. Hard crying. Panicky almost in the gulping of air. Tissues everywhere. I just went and layed my head across his chest and he just kept saying, “What am I going to do?  What am I going to do?” I knew what he was feeling then. When Jimmy had first told me that my mother had died just two months before this with a phone call to Hong Kong, I could feel the floor of my hotel room fall away and it was the closest I had ever come to feeling like death would be welcome. It did not feel like I wished I was dead but somehow, with the passing of my mom, it felt like wherever she was, I wanted to be. Wherever she was would be home just like it always was.

Jimmy cried for hours and I kept my head on his chest for most of that time. I don’t think I said anything. My boys asked for me and I went to them. People called and I talked to them. I ate something but I don’t remember what. And then, the phone rang. Johnathan and Johnny’s long time girlfriend asked for us to take them to the funeral home. We did not get ready. There is no way to get ready. We just went to them.

Johnathan was amazing. A 19 year old man, taking care of his dad’s final arrangements. He asked calm questions and he then answered from what he knew his dad would want. Not because they had talked about this moment but because he and his dad were best friends. Jimmy stayed quiet. He was also best friends with Johnathan’s dad. I think he approved of what his nephew was saying and doing. And I, I just held John’s girlfriend. She also kept saying, “What am I going to do.” There is no answer to that question. I think maybe people say it when they can not imagine how they will exist, they can not imagine an existence without the person that is gone. In those moments, there is nothing to say. I just felt like I was holding on so that she would know that she was not going to float or explode or fade or scream or die away.

Someday she would. Someday we all would. But, not today. Today, we hold on.