Footloose and fancy free

Geri had her pitch down pat. Mom asked her for a map of South Dakota, and she produced one from behind the counter, then proceeded to take us on a tour of all South Dakota has to offer. I only half listened, studying the Department of the Interior brochure I picked up.

All the sites in the National Park System have similarly designed brochures. Black stripe down the side, with the name of the monument or park in white Helvetica. (Just kidding, it’s not Helvetica, it’s actually a NPS-designed font called Frutiger) I look for those, because I know they’re not for-profit tourist traps AND I know they’ll earn me another stamp for my National Park Passport book. And there, between the flyers for Crazy Horse mountain and the Rushmore Caves, was Minuteman Missile.

WAT. Sounded like Cold War stuff, and therefore seemed promising. Immediately off the freeway, so it wouldn’t add much onto our drive time.

I’m OBSESSED with stuff from the Atomic Age. I never got a chance to study the era in school (except a wee bit in Dr. Bailey’s Intellectual History courses, and some in Tess Tavormina’s Literature & Medicine class), so I’ve pieced together what I know from old magazines, ephemera, and books set in the time period. (The Green Glass Sea, Countdown, etc.)

So I asked a half dozen or so times throughout the day (we drove through Iowa and into South Dakota) if we could go, and by the evening I had a semi-promising “We’ll see” from my dad.

Funny thing about my dad. When I was little and it was his turn to tuck me into bed, I’d pepper the poor guy with science questions and horrific what-if scenarios. His age-appropriate answers and reasonable level of patience are something I keep in mind these days when I’m working with my gifted students. “Where does space end?” “What happens if an astronaut gets out of the shuttle?” “What makes a hurricane?” “What’s happening with Desert Storm?” and, my personal favorite exchange, “What happens if a tornado comes while we’re eating?” “Then we’ll eat downstairs.”

Nuclear annihilation came up, too, I’m sure, but Dad never talked much about his personal experience living through the Cold War era — I knew he was 12 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, bypassed Vietnam because he was at Michigan State, and attended police academy at a time when officers were not terribly well regarded. But Thursday night as I shared bits of Wikipedia entries on the Minuteman Missile program out loud from my fold-out bed, I acquired a few new pieces of information.

Mom said she made it through the era with some level of willful ignorance, and she reflected that maybe Desert Storm upset her because she had residual anxieties from the Cold War.

Dad remembered his parents went to a home show, like the ones they have at the Novi Expo Center, to check out bomb shelters. “Of course we know now that the nuclear winter would have rendered all that useless,” he said. Then he turned the conversation back to the facts of science, explaining that the shelters were designed with zig-zagging channels that would cause the radiation to sink to the bottom, leaving the clean air to enter the shelter.

“Sure,” I asked, “But how did you live with that constantly on your mind and part of your world?”

“The general thought was that it was better to die than be under Communistic rule.”

Oof. No wonder so many folks in his generation are totally freaked out by liberal politicians. It was a very real feeling threat to them. Reading Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control gave me an even greater sense of the urgency at the time. Because not only did Dad have to live through it, it was part of his work too.

Detroit would have been one of the primary targets, he explained, as an automotive center and production site for all sorts of wartime goodies. Someone apparently calculated that 16 and Crooks was the most likely intersection for ground zero.

You know, 16 and Crooks. Somerset Freaking Mall.

Speaking of malls, did you know they were designed to be SELF-SUFFICIENT POST-APOCALYPTIC COMMUNITY CENTERS?

I think one of the reasons I’m so drawn to the atomic age is its crazy intersection of science, politics, art, and advocacy. I’m interested in the parallels between that era and our current one. I’ve got a lot more thinking to do, but I’m so very glad Geri inadvertently alerted me to the Minuteman site.

(Today’s card was the Knight of Wands)

Shake off the blues

Nothing profound for the second day of our journey. For whatever reason, I was exhausted, missed Toby, and I felt unsettled for no good reason. I was totally comfortable in the back seat of the truck, where I can legit stretch out my legs completely, and I got in a few good naps, but I still felt ill at ease.

I forced myself to finish reading a terrrrrible book, which could have contributed to my blues, but that seems a bit silly. That saidnote: DON’T BOTHER with The Paper Magician trilogy. The premise is awesome and original, but the execution is excruciating. I feel terrible because the author seems charming, but please trust me on this.

Something that made me happy was starting a book with my parents. I originally began reading Rains All the Time by David Laskin a few months ago, but stopped when I realized my mom and dad might like to read it, so I saved it for Westward Hough. I wasn’t sure if they’d be interested in hearing me read out loud in the car, especially because Dad’s still kind of learning how to pull the 5th wheel, but they were! So I’m really glad to start reading it again, and I’m also glad they seem to be enjoying it too.

After a tiring day of doing nothing, we arrived at the really fantastic Des Moines West KOA. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the campgrounds we’ve stayed at thus far, knock on wood. Jill was excited about the sunbeams.


The Internet’s subcultures never fail to amaze me. Apparently the scrapbooking community has a related crazy planner community, because posting planner layouts is a thing, and whenever I post my layouts, I get 3849637247892 likes. Slight hyperbole.

I mean, let’s be honest, my lettering is pretty cute, but I’m surprised at the interest. One of my old layouts was featured on the Passion Planner instagram, and it got more than 200 likes in 15 minutes, which is insane to me.

Not much else to report. Tuna salad for dinner, which of course made me extremely happy.

(Wednesday’s card was the Queen of Wands)

“Concentrating on what is important”

I’ve been in the habit of drawing a tarot card every day for the past month or so. (Stick with me, fair readers, before you decide to judge.) I find it centers me in the morning while I’m sipping my coffee, and it guides me in setting my intention for the day. I don’t think there’s magic involved, other than the usual magical weirdness of how life works, but I’m always amused at correlations. Like the last Monday of school, I drew the wheel of fortune, then went downstairs and discovered my tire was flat.

I see it as being similar to setting an intention for the day during morning yoga, or having a daily bible verse or inspirational quote to guide you. Ever since reading Karen Cushman’s Katherine Called Birdie in fifth grade, I became interested in learning more about the saints’ feast days. (I first learned about my confirmation saint, Juliana, in Cushman’s book) I see a lot of really lovely parallels between the cult of the saints and the tarot, and I don’t think it’s blasphemous of me to say so. It feels a little bit like having an Advent calendar all year round, and who doesn’t love Advent calendars?

I mention this because sometimes, if I’m particularly busy or wanting to play a game with myself, I don’t look up the widely recognized meanings until later in the day to see how things wound up connecting. Yesterday, the first day of Westward Hough, I drew the 8 of cups. I looked up (one interpretation of) the meaning this morning. I seriously can’t make this ish up.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 6.09.47 AM

Pretty neat, right? Tarot cards, to me, provide archetypes on the hero’s journey, so I believe you can draw any card on any day and find relevance in whatever you get. (Which is why I’m never surprised or amazed or all hopped up on majick when a card seems to “match.”) But I do think it was a pretty lovely card to draw for the first day of our trip.

Today, as we head into Iowa, I have lots of thoughts about Hildegard Von Bingen’s PHYSICA, so we’ll see if I can make those coherent at all. And speaking of the Tarot, look at this AMAZING design the talented tattoo apprentice Lana Zellner (Eight Coins) created for meeee when we pass through Missoula next week:

(Three of cups symbolism here.)

A few thoughts, with a week to go.

Friends have been asking how it feels to know I’ll have the summer and next school year to work on personal and mathy projects.

Beyond the obvious excitement, my primary feeling is concern for my colleagues. Teaching in any school, but particularly in a failing, high poverty school, is intellectually and emotionally draining.

Learning with children is deeply rewarding work, but it requires a level of resilience I don’t know I could maintain if a year off wasn’t possible. I’m concerned for the long-term health of educators who work within this broken system. I’m saddened at the instruction and leadership our students and teachers miss out on when qualified educators move to different schools or different professions to be healthier or to grow professionally.

Because that’s why teachers are leaving education. We’re advocating for the health and respect we deserve, and often these elements are missing from our most struggling schools. When these schools hemorrhage the talent they’ve managed to cultivate, they’re then back to square one or worse off than they began, with the added baggage that educators who remain may feel abandoned.

I’ve struggled with a deep sense of loss when my colleagues have left Wildwood in past years. At the risk of seeming self-important, I fear I’m contributing to this problem by spending a year away from my community. And that’s why I’ve been clear, sometimes even aggressive, about my assertions that I’ll return to my Wildcat family next fall.

I hope you’ll stay in touch with me during this adventure.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?


Trying to get back on track with writing. I’ve been making excuses and getting sucked into my depression, but here we go.

Currently Reading:

The Music of Dolphins, Karen Hesse

I’m reading this with some of my students. I think I’ve finally figured out how to make small group instruction work during my literacy block. It involves using a rubric where I take notes during group meetings, so I can then input all my anecdotal notes into my gradebook. That’s been my biggest challenge — getting my classroom evidence to be reflected in my students’ grades. My students also have a shared Google Doc where they can ask each others questions and seek clarification.

Chomp, Carl Hiassen

I was originally planning on having this as our last read aloud of the year because it’s on next year’s Battle of the Books list, but after reading the first hundred pages, I decided to make a different pick. Actually, my students made the pick and they chose:

The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois

I love this book, and we attempted to read it aloud last year, but we ran out of time before the year ended. Hopefully we’ll be successful this year.

The Bible

I’m 45% of the way through the Bible. I had always thought of Luke as just being the gospel with the Christmas story, but I’m really enjoying JC’s parables in this translation.

Here we go!

Notable Books of 2013

This was the year of the series. When I was younger, I had a span of time where THE ONLY thing I read were books from The Boxcar Children, The Baby-Sitters Club, and Sweet Valley High. This year, I discovered some new series that set me off on reading marathons. I’ll be including usually only the first books in series that I read.

I was kind of underwhelmed with picture book this year.

If you want to see everything I read, my GoodReads list is here.




























(I also read this in December with my students.)
**SERIES** In 2013, I read every single Shannon Hale book ever written for children.


**SERIES** I also read every single book written by Jessica Day George this year.



Actually, I don’t love this series, but I am COMPLETELY addicted to it.





**SERIES** Again, didn’t love this series, but I was addicted.




You might laugh, but this book is EXACTLY what brief, simple, high-interest biographies should be.








Diego Rivera Read Aloud/Homework

Monday’s homework was to play around with the interactive Diego Rivera exhibit that is explained in the biography read aloud we’re currently enjoying. We discussed that some portions of the mural do include some depictions of topless women.

Interactive Site.

Here’s the official DIA site for the murals.

And here’s the Chrysler commercial I showed to give students a sense of Detroit’s industrial path. It does contain the phrase “A city that’s been to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks and back.”

Thanks for your support!