Thursday, March 13, 2014

Flipped Perspective

Back in my early 20s, a young man, I thought I'd marry, invited me to go to Vegas and see Elvis.  I'd never been to Vegas, never seen Elvis, and frankly, I was a Beatles fan.  But, I was also in love and girls in love do crazy things.
We drove from Tulsa to Vegas with not much time as I remember.  We still managed to stop and take some pics on the Hoover Damn, him in his black cowboy hat me in my halter top and long blond hair.  We were living large.   Young people didn't travel like they do today.  We had our nose to the ground and were intent on getting an education, good job, marriage, children and happily ever after.  It was simple:  hard work will pay off.  This trip was huge during my youth; different times now for sure.

Vegas blew me away.  I'd never seen a city so lit up and soon I was immersed in the glory of lights and sounds and marquis.  The goal was to see and do and drink as much as we could.  I have vivid memories of wearing a sheer top, crushed velvet hot pants and purple suede boots as I strutted across the casino carpets.  I was bra less, brazen, and bending to no one else.

Elvis' performance was some kind of charismatic that I had never experienced.  He convinced me the title KING suited him and had me screaming with the best of his fans.  The rest of the weekend was foggy; but, I remember returning home with pneumonia.  Live hard, play hard-isn't that want we do with our 20s.

This past weekend, my husband of 30 years and I returned to Vegas.  This time it was to find a place away from everything to gather our boys.  Our whole family hadn't  been together in over six years and we just wanted us to reconnect in a neutral zone away from jobs, homes, and all the responsibilities of normal life.  Vegas is anything but normal.

Our boys are now in their 20s and 30s.  Their idea of Vegas mimics my views of Vegas in my 20s.  Personally, I can take about 48 hours in that city now-there is just too much craziness.  However, I wouldn't have missed seeing my daughter in law enjoy her virgin visit, my three boys have a guys night out, the two shows we saw, my husband's elation as he came off the roller coaster, or those family conversations we had.  I would do that anywhere, anytime.

This I know for sure.  As we age our perspective changes.  I would be appalled at a young girl looking and acting like I did in my fact, I was pretty shocked at the young women I saw and their great lengths to get attention.   My health is far more important than alcohol now.  And I'll take family over strangers any day.  I still enjoy and respect the talent which is bountiful in Vegas shows: but, other than the consistent entertainment, all of my perspectives on Vegas have changed.

I'm saddened by the money being thrown into gambling while  hunger and drugs fills the streets.  I can't differentiate between the hookers, dancers, and tourist girls; they all look wanting.  Smoke, and drugs permeate the air while beautiful desert landscapes surround the city.  The contrast causes my body to tense.  The city that once excited my senses now violates them.

I'm sure our perspective comes from the inside out.  In my sixth decade I am confident and comfortable in myself.  I know making someone else feel good about how they look is much more important than the way I look.  God's landscape is more miraculous than anything man made.  Peace and happiness doesn't come from a drink, but from self.  And it is important to make time for family to reconnect...even if it's in Vegas.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Life Story

Currently I work for an organization, City Year, that truly values people.  I don't mean as "workers" even though that is important to the success of this service orientated non-profit, I mean the human aspects of me as a person and not just an employee.  One of their traditions is to invite people to share their life story to inspire others.  As my granddaughter would say in her peppy quick -step tone:  "Guess what?"  Seattle chose me.

Between working on professional development sessions I'll be delivering there next week, I have been doing some real Pat's Pondering about what you say when asked to tell your life story.  I have spent the last few days of reaching back to memories, stories, and antidotes I might share trying to revise, edit, analyze, organize, think about myself.  Do you know how hard that is?  I am the person on a plane who can listen to the stranger next to me all the way across the country and not share even so much as my name.  I have always felt I learn more by listening and thinking.

Most of my sharing about myself comes in funny stories for social events; I love humor.  This audience is a room full of magnificent 18-24 year-olds with their whole life ahead of them.  They have chosen to spend this year giving back to their communities.  It feels like I learn so much more from them than they ever could from me.  The invitees, a staff of dedicated professionals just a few years older, will be there as well; believe it or not, they look to me for guidance and expertise.

How did I get here?  Here to this place where I have lived long enough for someone to think they can learn from me.  A place where, no matter what your story is,  you will be accepted.  A time when thinking about how you live your life is honored.

And how do you cull 62 years of stories into an engaging 30 minute talk.  This will take some pondering.  This may be one of my biggest challenges ever.  So, stay tuned, I have a story to share...when I get time.  :-)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Extra Room...and leisurely breakfast

Yes, that's a link to our new business.  We are renting our mother-in-law apartment on airbnb.  The apartment has had various guests over the past six years.  It has been put to good use for visiting pastors, cyclists giving their efforts for cancer, mom's friends, and of course family time and again.  But most of the time it has just been an extra room and it has been an expense rather than a resource.

Since updating it a bit and putting it on airbnb, we have enjoyed the people and the income. Our first visitors were a co-worker  and family.  They helped us see what we had forgotten to include in our "all inclusive kitchen" and reminded us of how nice it is to share the things with which God blessed us so richly.

Later, came a dear little family:  mom, dad, Polish exchange student, and two adopted African girls who came to explore the coast and kayak.  The mom and girls filled the house with music as they practiced on our piano.  This group of five reminded me of times before our empty nest when we had a home of five filled with love and laughter.

A greenhouse salesman spent the weekend.  He comes to Oregon often and enjoys different parts each time.  The whole time he was here I worried he would think I should take better care of my flowers.  He didn't.  He just sat in the early rising light with his coffee and admired the view.  Some people love to visit, others to be left alone.  All agree this is a great place to rest and relax.

As I write this we have three more groups coming over these next two weeks from LA, OK, and WA:   one a single woman, one a retired couple, and one a grandma and grandson who run their own bnb.  There's an excitement in the air as we smooth spreads, stock the refridgerator, and sweep the porch.  Hosting on airbnb makes me feel like it can be Christmas every day. Who is coming next?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


My perfect granddaughter is named Alysia.  When ever we get to spend time with her, we call it Grandparent Bliss and recently we got to spend a whole weekend with her in Rhode Island where she lives with her mom.

We have been fortunate to have her at our house the last two summers.  Living in a rural area, our little LA glitter bomb relishes the snakes in our garden, learning archery with Grandpa, riding in the lawnmower cart, and making dandelion chain necklaces.  She loves being outdoors and has the most creative spirit--she made a fishing line from long grass and a stick!

When we picked Alyisa up at her after-school day care, we asked what she wanted to do during our time together.  Being adults we were thinking museums, movies, historical experiences, and other various learning opportunities.  Alysia's answer:  "Playgrounds, I want to go to playgrounds."

Our GPS listed parks, so we headed to the nearest.  Turned out to be a historical site with a walking path and one room school house.  Our journey took us over logs and hopping off benches, balancing on a stone  wall and collecting sticks.  It was perfect. 
The Elizabeth Gray Garden and Paradise School

But, alas, there was no playground equipment, so how could Alysia show us her new monkey bar tricks or her perfected forward roll?  And so we continued looking for other parks. 

Next, we found an old, old playground with a cement slide.  Matt, having raised all boys, told Alysia she would love the hard ride down.  She didn't.  I think we were at that "playground" around five minutes.   We also found a nice neighborhood playground where Matt thrilled the kids with fast spins on the old fashioned merry go round and Alysia impressed us with forward rolls and balance beam work.   We headed to the beach.  Our fearless granddaughter was ready to jump off the seawall onto a tiny rock-filled piece of sand.  Grandpa reviewed the concept of "sneaker waves" which left Alysia unimpressed.  Wanting to preserve her life, we headed for pizza and ice cream.  She was "starved to death" as was evident from the meal she devoured.  Next, it was off to find Walmart and pick up some toys for the motel room.  Deep decision making behind us we left with cards, a jigsaw puzzle, some plastic thing for her wheeler- ja -bob, and a coloring book.  None of this was opened as after Grandpa read the bedtime story we all fell quickly to sleep from playground overload. 

Alas, a new day and more playgrounds to explore.  Saturday started with a trip to IHOP for the making of a girl-faced pancake.  Matt was determined to explore Fort Adams.  There we did a one and 1/2 mile seawall walk; the fort having started its last tour of the day, we settled for the walk around.  Alysia hopped along finding treasures and asking if it would ever end.  I think the frozen lemonade grandpa bought made it all worth it.
And more playgrounds on Sunday.

We hit the Y playground where our adventurous girl climbed the rock wall and slipped on the monkey bars.  Ouch!  But we survived that to munch down a McDonalds happy meal, by request of course.  We actually repeated the playground visit by the IHOP as it's one of Alysia's favorites.  Turns out one of her friends was there; she is a friend seeker, everywhere, anywhere...a social butterfly much like her daddy. 

At Dunkin Donut we stumbled upon the Police Parade.  Matt loves the bagpipes and Alysia and I found a seat along the curb to watch the seemingly endless display of vehicles and bands.  We bought her a pony and watched as it became real in her hands--real like the Velveteen Rabbit, loved in the hands of a little girl.  

Sunday was bittersweet as we knew our time was quickly drawing to an end.  At the beach Matt and I found some lobster to satisfy our seafood desire.  Alysia opted for a hamburger but enjoyed watching the lobsters in the tank.  Tears began to flow and our girl shared missing us...even before we were gone.  Heart wrenching to leave a little girl with tears welled in big blue eyes.

Before this trip to Rhode Island, I had the opportunity to visit our grandson Riley in Tulsa.  Funny, but we ended up at the park/playground as well.  He was not interested in the playground equipment at all; in fact, I thought he was just going to sit.  A rain-made pond gathering at the end of the parking lot changed  the scene.  We spent hours together cracking open the pecans he collected along the walk to the park.  They made perfect  boat hulls.    The puddle of water became a lake, the leaf sails took wind, a pirate war emerged.  I watched his crafty hands, marveled at his quick imagination, and traveled back in time at the sounds coming from the pecan gun boats.  The spittle-boom sounds created from a little boy's guns transformed me.  At some point,  I swear Riley  morphed into his dad and I was reminded of another little boy's pretending.  

Being a grandparent is bliss. It takes  shape in the simplest of things: playgrounds, pancakes, pretend--it doesn't matter.  It is just the moments, holding on to them for dear life.  Because this time, you are sure they will pass quickly and you know they will never come again. 
Three and four quickly became seven and eight

Conference Style:  IRA 2013
Cool conference bag with words of wisdom.

Admittedly, I've been attending professional conferences for years--you don't want to know how many.  But, that makes me a conference-goer  professional.  Early on, I would go to any conference I was allowed.  This was usually dictated by a benevolent principal with specific reasoning behind my attendance.  However, in 1995 after completing five weeks in the Oklahoma State University Writing Project, I began to take control of conference attendance after attending my first National Council of Teachers of English.  That same year I attended the International Reading Association Conference in New Orleans.

Even though I had begun to choose which conferences to attend, this didn't mean I controlled my behavior when I was there.  I took empty suitcases to bring back free teacher stuff, discount books, and way too many purchased books.  I stood in line for the Children's Book Luncheon, nearly fainting when I realized I was talking to Donald Graves who was in line behind me.  Book Adoption years became my passion as those folks know how to wine and dine teachers lavishing them with food and freebies like never experienced before.   And, I stood in line for hours to tell Kathleen Patterson how her books resonated with a certain troubled boy in one of my classes.  I made bandies and groupies look tame with this Gangum style conference gung-ho, full force, marathon form of conference attendance. 

I attended NCTE from 1995- 2010 with the exception of one year.  The later eight years, I played a predominant role in organizing the National Writing Project meeting which is held in conjunction with NCTE every November.  I prefer the deeper thinking and collaboration of the NWP sessions over the quick fix sessions at other conferences where it feels like any teacher with a classroom idea could present.  These became an endless stream of theater style, standing room only "lectures."    I have learned--this is not my conference style. 

Lynette speaks with Terry Thompson as Donalyn looks on.
So, this year, fulfilling a new role as a Regional Literacy Trainer for City Year, I attended IRA once more with my friend and colleague Lynette Herring-Harris.  She too is a seasoned conference goer; so, we planned very strategically to make the most of the time and preserve energy for the other work we were doing in San Antonio.    One priority was looking for the names we knew and trusted. 

The first session we attended feature three Texans focused on creating classroom reading communities.  Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, and founder of the Nerdy Book Club was hot on our list.  She spoke at our NWP meeting one year and we became enamored  with her love of reading and passion for leading students to books.  The bonus in this session was meeting Terry Thompson who talked about professional reading communities.  Twitter:  @terryreads.  He made me think about how important it is for us to share what we are reading with others, how I should pass this on to the Site Literacy Leads I speak with weekly, how I can incorporate the idea of reading and learning communities in all we do at City Year.  The third speaker enlightened us with a librarian perspective.  Again, focused on the importance of surrounding ourselves with a reading community. 

We are also fans of Jeff Wilhelm and Kelly Gallagher who presented their ideas on argumentative writing along with Judith Meltzer.  I will always be inspired by teachers who find concrete ways to bring learning front and center.  Jeffrey's session, Teaching Argument:  Writing as a Form of Inquiry across the Grades and Disciplines came from the ideas of his book: Improving Comprehension with Think Alouds.  Wilhelm uses "Warrant Workouts" and CSI detective pictures to generate student ideas around presenting a valid argument. 

These sessions were two highlights, but of course we did other things like scan the exhibits finding cool pre-printed whiteboards with KWL, graphs, etc.  to pass on to our colleagues, bought some gifts for our team, and we had to book shop!

I did purchase two books.  The Truth about Dibels, What it Is and What it Does by Kenneth S. Goodman provides an explanation of why education professionals are opposed to using Dibels, " it impairs learning and teaching."  This book is written from a classroom adoption perspective rather than an intervention between non-professionals and students, our City Year situation.  I bought it to be more informed as two of the sites I serve use Dibels in their intervention space and more are considering the program.  I seem to return to the same stance:  It isn't what you are using but HOW you use it.  Dibels is no exception from what I know so far. 

The second book brings me ripples of joy.  Moving Forward with RTI by Mary Howard features simple strategies to use in whole group engagement, independent application, small group collaboration, small group instruction and partner work.  Several Lawton, Oklahoma  teachers I worked with as PD Director of the OSU Writing Project are featured.  To see them blossom from reluctant teachers of writing to collaborative authors is thrilling.  I hope to share strategies in this book with sites as we work toward building learning communities, spreading a love of reading, and supporting students with solid intervention work. 

Professional Conference attending takes a little practice, but once you get the right moves conquered, you too will benefit from time away from your normal place and pace to grow and reflect among other professionals.  It is worth the time and money to inspire your own learning and develop your own conference style.  Me, I'm sticking to Patish-style conference going:  1) Maintain control-if you run yourself ragged, you will not have a positive experience 2) Focus on your present need as a professional  3) Look for names you know and respect  4)  Take time to reflect on the experience  and 5) Share what you learn with others.