Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Summer is here, marked by a huge summer moon and multiple graduations.  I have not yet felt the slow-down pace of summer, yet I am building my stack of summer reads.  My list is short and includes…

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
8 Ways of Love:  Open Your Heart Open Your Mind, by Ed Bacon
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani
One Handed Catch by MJ Auch
Z A Novel by Zelda Fitzgeral by Therese Anne Fowler
Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott
A little bit of adult reading.  Some young adult--my favorite.  Some personal growth.  Some professional.  A balance.  I am also becoming familiar with Lucy Calkins new units of study—although I am feeling a need to let go of the work for a while and enjoy the summer solstice.   

What books are on your list that I might add to mine?  Take one of mine and give me one of yours.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Jason stood, first of the class, to honor his grandfather.   His grandfather sat next to Jason and listened with clenched hands and stoic face as his grandson read why he was Jason’s hero.  The ten year old read about how his Poppy was always there for his family.  He read about how he had suffered and almost died, but even though had a time of tremendous pain, had never complained.  He read about fishing trips and special time with his grandpa.  He said that he wanted to grow up to be just like his grandpa.  A tear slipped, almost indiscernibly through the cracks of Poppy’s  age worn face.  An everyday hero.

Last week, as schools were beginning to wind down in the state of NY, I went to a very special third grade writers’ celebration.  Lisa Harrison, the classroom teacher, had her students compose essays for an everyday hero in each of the students’ lives.   Each students’ hero/positive role model accompanied the child to a writing celebration in the hero’s  honor.  As part of the celebration each child read their essay to the class.  Grandpas, moms, dads, neighbors, big brothers were honored by 10 year olds as the students recognized others who make a difference in their lives.  Their words touch others as the others’ lives had touched them.

I teach a leadership class and as an adjunct professor I also teach a Literacy Coaching class that has a focus on leadership.  I was reminded as I sat through this third grade celebration about how these everyday heroes are everyday leaders.  An activity that I facilitate in both of these settings is one on ordinary leadership.  Each student calls out in popcorn style all of the everyday leaders in their lives.   Names of moms, dads, and friends flow.  The Tim Horton’s drive through worker who always greets customers with friendliness as a morning coffee is ordered is recognized.   The stranger who helped change a tire when a family was in distress.    The teacher who went the extra mile for a student in need.   The custodian who spends time reading with a student.  The list goes on.  As the names are called out, each is scribed inside a large heart on a piece of poster paper.    We then name characteristics and attributes that make these people leaders and role models.  Caring, wise, courageous, integrity, serving the greater good, making a difference, changing the world, loving, humorous, enthusiastic.  The list of attributes fills the outside of the heart.  Our words overflow on the page in honor of those in our lives that make ordinary and extraordinary differences.

In fact, each of us is a leader.  We are role-models.   We have tremendous opportunity to have an impact on those whose lives we touch.    In the class that I facilitate I ask the students to look at all of the attributes we named describing the leaders in their lives.  They are asked to name which characteristics are strong in them.  To name which characteristics are ones the students desire to grow more fully.  Becoming a hero comes out of everyday leadership.    It comes from choosing to live a life of caring in a daily ordinary way—leading lives that in hidden and almost indiscernible ways have impact as Poppy did on 10 year old Jason.

Congratulations to Lisa, who through her writers’ workshop gave time and space to her students to recognize the stories and the people who make a difference.    In the workshop they toiled with words and memories.   They shaped and created writing that honored.  Mrs. Harrison allowed her 10 year old students to be leaders by recognizing those who impacted them through story and acknowledgement.   Their acknowledgement made the ordinary extraordinary.  And that is what leaders do.

Who is an everyday hero in your life?  How does s/he make a difference in the world—in your world?  Have you told him or her?  Make a difference for this person by communicating their impact.  Make a difference.  Be a leader in this way.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


joy [joi] noun
1. the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation:
2. a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated
3. the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
4. a state of happiness or felicity.

I played a game of hide and seek this week.   10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.  Come out come out wherever you are.  In this life game, I was seeking and continue to seek joy.  Here is a list of places that I have found joy peeking her head out in my life as I have actively been noticing where she was.  Here are spaces small and large that caused great delight.  They are exceptionally good and satisfying, both in grandiosity and in ordinariness.  I thought joy was hiding—but she was actually very close.

I found joy in awareness.  In the slowing down and noticing...
Joy was found in the gentle wake up with my morning coffee
            warming my hands and my insides, easing me into a new day.
Joy peeked at me as I gave myself time to read an entire book—
            luxurious time that happens with summer beginnings.
I found joy in the act of writing…of taking a blank page and creating
            thoughts, feelings and images when I thought nothing was there.

I found joy in the celebration with others.  In the bonds that make life rich...
Joy jumped out and grabbed me as I watched my daughter,
trying on wedding dresses as she prepares to don a marriage.
I peeked at joy as I played cards with family,
            sparring with strategy and sharing laughter.
Joy whispered in my ear as I listened to my son and welcomed him home,
            sharing a hug through the unknown.

I found joy in work.  In the use of my mental capacity to make the world a better place...
Joy was found in the completion of a long procrastinated task—
            off my plate finally—the lightness of relief that followed.
Joy peeked through with year-end closures—another school year behind
            wonderings of what next year will hold.
I noticed joy in the planning and sketching of maps and timelines—
            use of analysis to make concrete, to build into the future.

I found joy in the giving and receiving to and from others...
Joy was found as I led a workshop on leadership at a time
            when I felt depleted only to find a reserve from within.
Joy found me in an unexpected gift from a friend and the lesson
            that sometimes we give by allowing another to give.
Joy peeked out as I was there for a friend as he was recognized
            for his generosity to others.

In the noticing joy was found.  Tag—“You are it,” I called to joy as I caught glimpses of her in my weekly meanderings.  “I didn’t realize you were so close.”

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.  “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” she continues to call, her turn to find me.  Guess what, I won’t be hard to find.  And I am glad she wasn’t as hard to find as I thought she might be.

Has joy found you today?   Where have you found joy?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


I’ll bet you can tell me where you were when Kennedy was assassinated.   Can you tell me where you were when the Challenger went down?   Where were you when the Twin Towers were hit?   There are moments in our life where space is emblazoned in our memory.  Name the event and where you were is there.  That is how it is with me when it comes to memorable books.

Books have always taken me to new places.  I have gone to countries all over the world.  Regions of the United States have become real to me.  I have explored mountain ranges and mesas.  I have been to old England and Stonehenge and Asia and the Great Wall.  I have known the oceans and the jungles--all within the pages of a book.  Since I was a youngster, books have taken me places.  From the once-a-week bookmobile that visited our school, to the town library,  to the grocery store where my mom would load us up on Golden Books, I would carry my book and the pages would carry me to a new world.

As a high school student, I remember when a book captured my heart and took me to an emotional new world.  I distinctly remember where I was on that notable day.  Sitting under an oak tree in my front yard, shade shielded me from a hot, muggy, early August day.  The sky was blue, filled with soft cumulous cotton candy clouds.  Sweat hung in the air.  A cool lemonade coupled with the shaded yard spared me from the dampness.  It was a kind of summer day that is one of many in an endless summer where time is slow and Labor Day seems far, far away.  On that day, time and location, stopped for me and I became entwined in the pages of a book. 

The book I was reading was Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keys.  Charlie, the main character and narrator of this short, sweet novel told the story through his own writing.  Charlie was developmentally delayed and wrote in very simple language as the novel began.  His misspellings and simple understandings of his world were endearing.   He lived in the world with simplicity and trust.  In the book Charlie’s intelligence grew because of an experiment.  With his intelligence he did not stop being a lovable character, but his perspective of others changed as he saw that not everyone had good-hearted intentions toward him.  I loved Charlie as I read this book.  I fell in love with a simple character and cheered as he gained intelligence and overcame the obstacles of his past and his present.

Then the tears flowed.  The moisture of that day took on a new life.  As I sobbed, I sweated and sobbed some more.  Charlie stole my heart.   The shift in writing at first was almost unperceivable to me.  A simple misspelling.  A thought portrayed with ackward sophistication.  And then, before Charlie said it, I knew that the experiment was failing.  Charlie was losing his intelligence.  I mourned with Charlie as he went from bright to slow.  As his fear grew and he noticed the change, knowing what that would mean for him, sadness and fear flowed from him to me, sitting under that Cincinnati oak tree.   I was heartbroken and relieved as he no longer recognized the change and became the endearing and trusting character that I knew at the beginning of the book.    As I sobbed in the shade of that space, sweat, tears and the dampness of a muggy day entangled, and my emotional world became a bit bigger.  It was the first time that words in a book took hold of my heart.  It was the first time I fell in love with a character and felt him as part of my life.  Charlie reached up from the pages of the book and held my heart.  Because of Charlie, I became a bit more vulnerable…a tad more compassionate. 

And emblazoned with that hold, the space in which it happened is unforgettable, much like my fourth grade memory of being at school and hearing that our president had died.  I mourned with Charlie under the shade of an oak tree on a sultry summer day.   Since then I have met many Charlie’s in the pages of a book.  Characters have captured my heart and have made me better for it.  Probably because of that memory, I hold reading spaces dear.  I can tell you where I was when I met McMurphy in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Likewise Little Willy and Searchlight in Stonefox or Leisel in The Book Thief.  Place holds a memory for me around books in the same way that place marks the passing of important world events.

Summer is near and I have been thinking about where I want to read this summer.  Will it be the hammock in my backyard, overlooking birdfeeders and flowers?  Will it be on the shores of a lake on days that I am slowing down to fill up?  Where will I be when I meet the next character who captures my heart and makes my world bigger?  I can’t wait to find out!

Epilogue:  Fast forward 15 years later.  I am visiting my family house in Cincinnati with my daughter.  We had traveled from our New York home to say our goodbyes to the house where I grew up before my mom relocates to something smaller.  My small and sprightly daughter skips through the front yard and clambers on top of an old stump.  “Look, mommy!  Look at me!  I am on a bridge!”  She is standing on what remained of my old oak tree—an old stump that had never been grinded to the earth.  

“Yes, Rae, you are standing on a bridge.”    I think to myself, “Yes, this is a bridge.  A bridge that linked me to books on a new level.   A bridge that is now linking the old to the new. 

Final Epilogue:  I recently visited my mom in Cincinnati.   She has been out of the family home for over 20 years.  My pixie 3 year old is a beautiful 26 year-old.  Mom and I drove past her old house.  “Look,” mom said. “The bridge is still there.” 

“Yes,” I replied.  “It is.”