Friday, March 31, 2017

Doggie Drama on Mt. Pleasant. Phew! Resolved

On Tuesday, Glamis and I hosted Mae and Jake for a Stratford dog-fest while their home was inspected by real-estate types. When they were dropped off in the morning, Jake went after Glamis's squeaky ball (the one that is left). He ate the other one.

After the play date, Glamis has been going bonkers looking for her squeaky ball and I opened every cupboard in the house looking for it. I vaguely remember Pam saying, "Nope. Jake. You already had your breakfast," before she took it from his mouth.

Last night, Glamis went for a long walk, played fetch with a stick, chewed on her rags and bones, but kept crying. I knew she wanted her green squeaky ball and she was driving me nuts. At one point, she climbed on my head and whined even harder in my ear.

That's when the flashback occurred. Pam. Jake. Food. Ball.

I texted Pam to see if she had any recollection of where the ball went. Fortunate for me she remembered! "I put it in the green frog bowl on the window ledge - a gift she found for me at Goodwill. Boom. Mystery solved.

Then, the rest of the evening was spent throwing the ball to Glamis and her retrieving it back to me. I can take the ball-squeak more than the whining.

And guess what? I know what I'm doing with the frog! This will be Glamis's dog treat bowl, and I have filled it with peanut-butter flavored biscuits.

Ribbit Ribbit.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Fortunate To Hear @Danez_Smif Read @FairfieldU

Sometimes I just count my blessings and am thankful that people are persistent. Since last semester, instructors in the Black Lives Matter course and fellow lovers of language have asked if I wanted to be a co-sponsor of poet Danez Smith who was scheduled to do a reading on our campus. The requests came during periods of exhaustion (which can be read that my mind doesn't work and I'm unable to process). After research and finger snaps from many spoken-word poet friends, I simply had to say, "I'm in. I look forward to the visit."

My day began with a school visit, followed by a 2.5 hour poetry slam with students at Columbus School, followed by Faculty Salary Committee, followed by letting my dog out, and resulted in a wonderful dinner with Danez (so, so thankful for Jill Bodach for bringing this writer to our campus's attention), followed by one of the best readings I've experienced on Fairfield University's campus.

There was a day when I attended such readings and was never invited to dinner beforehand. I hate to admit this, but it is the pre-gaming dinner that is the most enlightening part - sort of a face to face gathering with the writer in a relaxed atmosphere where people can simply be people before the performance begins.

Ah, but the performance.

BAM! Incredible!

Danez's performative pieces spoke to the crowd and I loved the delicate way they weaved gentle humanity with complex reality.  A highlight from the evening was when I heard from Diva that Danez Smith is one of the poets she watches often on YouTube and she wrote about their poem about a young boy and his dinosaur. As her text came in, they announced they were going to read his poem, "Dinosaurs in the Hood." The timing was perfect and I became angry at myself that I didn't have Attallah with me for the reading.

Blessed to be an audience of his work, if only for a short while.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Monster Day of 8th Grade Poetry - Service Learning @FairfieldU

Today will be the 4th class from Columbus School arriving to my ED 329: Philosophy of Education class. We've visited their school 4 times, and they've visited Fairfield University 4 times. Actually, a different grade has visited Fairfield University over the last 4 weeks. We culminate today with 8th graders who, with Ms. J, will be embarking on a poetry unit. I thought, "Why not get our Monster on, and do a workshop of thieving the land for great poetry. As always, I have Jacqueline Woodson and Kwame Alexander to thank for a few of the models we will play with.

Of course, we will then do a workshop where we play with language. Aligned with best practices, I have participated in my own workshop and will write with students. I've already taken my thoughts through my own activities, and came up with the following poem which will be presented at the end of the 2.5 hours.

Then we get to eat lunch. Man, do they love lunch at Fairfield University. Here we go!

On a Crusade With Columbus Poets

We write with wet words on Wednesday,
     as a library of knowledge & Ms. J display. 
We dance a poetic ballet
(some call it a hip hop hooray)
of expression, an expressway, 
     of sweet & sour sauce.

We create a candy corn cafe of Philosophy 
   with our power to fly with words
   (or disappear into our dreams).
We are magic of frogs 
who come out of the hat with wisdom with rabbits
before we saw self-doubt in half.

We are Columbus,
philanthropists who fanatically burst 
flames from a magical wand.

We are perky pineapple poets,
      tiptoeing journeys through the sands of Sea Side,
      before joining the circus of cultures 
          who whip through eastern winds and ice storms
          (like it’s a snow day or school is about to end).

We, are the writers, sunsets and sunrises, Skittles,
apple pies or sizzling fresh french fries
      who set the world ablaze with 
      our linguistic gasoline and clorox 
      in a pair of sweaty socks.

We burp. We fart. We play. We laugh.
We do as adolescents should do.
We shout. We complain. We Gossip.
    We work, 
    with fingertips tapping 
    on piano keyboards, 
    like hip hop beats 
    drowning out the morning announcements. 

We worry. We doubt. And we scream at our adolescence.
     like we are a fire drill, 
     and oh, how we try
to learn to fly at our Mic on a college campus, 
    speaking truth to the world,
    amplifying voice to be swirled 
    into the craziness of writing our lives.

We, Bridgeport, are the future,
the higher education that triumphs over low expectation, 
who turn ourselves around,
      becoming Connecticut stars.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Well, I Didn't Expect This On a Monday (Posted Tuesday)

I returned to my office on Sunday, and Monday, around 11 a.m. this was delivered to me. I never know how to react with such recognition, but I am totally honored and motivated to earn such an award. 

March 27, 2017

Dr. Bryan Crandall, Professor
Graduate School of Education
Fairfield University
1076 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824

Dear Bryan,

Each year at our Annual Inspiration Event a member of our community is presented with the Elizabeth M. Pfriem Civic Leadership Award.  The award is given to a person who has made a difference in the work that the Bridgeport Public Education Fund undertakes and who is committed to equity in educational resources and high academic achievement for all our students.

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that this year you have been selected to receive the Elizabeth M. Pfriem Civic Leadership award.  Your contributions to the Bridgeport Public School district are immeasurable.  Your ability to grow the University programs that bring your students into the Bridgeport schools and allowing the Bridgeport students the experience of attending workshops on your campus is immeasurable. We can’t thank you enough.

This year, Mark Alvarez, Photography Teacher at Central High School, will send two of his students to photograph you for the Program Book. I will send you an e-mail with more specific details shortly – watch for an e-mail.  On May 3rd please arrive at the Holiday Inn no later than 3:00 for official photographs.

The award will be presented at the celebration event on May 3rd  3:30 at the Holiday Inn. You will be a guest of the BPEF and may also bring an additional guest.  Invitations will be mailed in April - if you would like invitations mailed to other friends and family, please let me know.  

Congratulations Bryan this is an award you well deserve.  

Warm regards,

Margaret Hiller
Executive Director

Monday, March 27, 2017

Yup. It's Monday. But Yesterday Was Sunday. I Spent It Well

I will never lose the tragedy that is Sunday in reference to the teaching world. I know that Monday will arrive and I will need to be full-force for another week, both at the University and in and out of K-12 schools. My mentor, Sue, always said, "You are not a teacher from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. Get in that habit."

I never made that my habit, but I recognize the good advice. We need to have breaks.

Sundays are such a day, although I didn't take a break and went to the office to catch up on paperwork and reports that will be due very shortly (including a publication that is a week overdue, because I put down the wrong date).

I did make it to the gym and grocery store, and picked up Glamis from the sitter (Pam...thanks, Pam). I loved the dog kisses, too. I also watched the UNC/Kentucky game and I was satisfied. Yes, I wrote during the game, but it was just enough of a distraction to make the day pleasurable.

I also didn't shower. I decided that is one way to save time and to feel disgustingly human on a day off. I read, I prepped, and then by 9 p.m. I said, "Put everything away, get a glass of wine, and watch a show." This was Scandal, which I missed while in D.C.

Travel does that, though. I didn't have a whole weekend because of it, but I nuzzled just enough space to regroup my mind (and on the radar is my Easter dinner with Peter Cottontail, which is upsetting my sister, Cynde, who can't believe I'd come to Syracuse and not eat with her).

And I caught up with Chitunga for the week. The week begins with content.

Addendum. Screw everything I just wrote. I caught up with Scandal when I finally decided to chill out. I'm in shock. Awe. My nerves are shot. The writing? Amazing? The twist? Scandalous. I'm beyond freaked out right now (and totally understand why my mom said, "I'm not going to bed until you text me that you finished the episode). I did. What the hell?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

And He Returns Home To Taco Socks! Birthday Gifts Rock

I made it back from DC safely, without incidents or any delays. I sat in the quiet car and caught up on grading (wish I could sleep, but I'm no good at the whole mid-day nap thing).

When I came home (Uber is helpful), I found a new package of socks in my mailbox. I love it because they are wrapped like a birthday present, too, so I get to open them up like it's my birthday all over again. Thank You, Cynde!

But, above all else, I am simply glad to be home. It would be better if Chitunga wasn't away at school and if Glamis wasn't still at the dog-sitters (PAM! Thank you, Pam!), but there is no place like home (although Washington Court had those fabulous pillows I love so much and I slept like a baby there).

Time to transition to civilian life again. I think I will head to my office to prep for the week, to send thank you cards, and to regroup for the rest of the semester.

The next big focus is Easter weekend and my desire to get to Syracuse is greater than ever before. Hoping Peter Cottontail will have a place for me around the ham, horseradish sauce, and Cadbury Eggs).

In the meantime, it will be taco socks and funk.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Good Night Sleep Before Another Day of Excellent Work

In my dream life, I have a great bed with awesome pillows to rest my wary head.

I have to say that my Washington Court Hotel room meets all my requirements: great pillows, soft bed, and restful space to process all that the College-Ready Writers program has to offer.

It is wonderful to be part of a national movement that pulls together incredible resources from some of the best educators in the nation. Today, I had the first day with with incredible educators from Connecticut, processing the art of argumentative writing to offer this, that and the other angle of what we might know as truth.

Halfway though the professional development a colleague said, "But wait, this work promotes processes over product - this seems to good to be true."

It is good and it is true. The work were trying to accomplish is much more complicated than a one-shot session of teacher professional development. This work is about thinking critically about the power of argumentation and what we do in K-12 schools.

Last night, however, I realized that my argument is about a nice bed to rest my head. I was exhausted, but it was good exhaustion, because it modeled the writing processes it takes to be strong, to be informed, to be intellectual, and to be informed.

Today will finish my last day of PD and I am forever grateful. Here's to the National Writing Project.

Friday, March 24, 2017

#NWPSM17 Fortunate To Have Strong Support From Connecticut Leaders

The Storrs and Fairfield entourage did the rounds of meeting with John Larson, Richard Blumenthal, Jim Himes, Elizabeth Esty, Chris Murphy, and Rosa DeLauro and were fortunate to meet face to face with many of these Congressmen/women and Legislators. Our day was a success, and I have the Storrs teachers to thank for that, as they represented College Ready Writers Program with integrity and poise and put a face onto the work that we do.

In the five years I've done such work, I've never had such ease getting in and out of the buildings - the crowds were small (perhaps home watching votes from the television or wondering about what's next for the pace Washington has kept since January).

We moved from this building to next, delivered copies of student and teacher materials, including POW! and even found time to grab food at the Mexican restaurant we discovered years ago (although I had to wait our own table - long story).

This morning, however, we transition to workshops and training, and I was thrilled to have Kristen Veneema of Stamford High School and Julie Roneson from Discovery Magnet joining me.

My hotel space is swanky and I was more than ready for the king size bed and pillows.

Each and every visit we had was remarkable and I'm proud to live in a State that shows such tremendous support and understanding for its teachers. Courtney, Larson, and Himes were in their office and took notes on what we had to say, delivering that they will continue to do all they can to promote the National Writing Project in Connecticut schools. Our annual spring visits to D.C. are magical, and they remind me of the importance of being advocates for what we believe in.

I have so much appreciation for the offices of Connecticut's elected officials.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Happens Every Time @LBility. You Call and Then You're a Superstar!

After teaching in the morning, I ran over to a school in Bridgeport to do a 3-hour professional development workshop, before running to the train station to catch Amtrak to DC for a 5-hour trip. Alas, the train was 2 hours late so I arrived around midnight.

Ah, but as I was presenting (never fails), my phone rings. It was Lossine, who I haven't heard form in a while because he's a working man now (who finds times to take photos of his fancy suits - cough cough- purchased in Connecticut -- cough cough, but doesn't have so much time to call me any more). It was great to hear from him and to know that he's finding happiness in the adult life following in my sister's steps. If he keeps heading in this direction, he will meet a bearded buy like Dave real soon, then he can complete my little sister's trajectory.

No, kidding. It really means the world to know he's doing well and is happy. I told him, however, "I got to go, I have teachers I'm working with." He tells me, "No, I have to go. I have a customer to take care of." So we go...

Then I look up and see he's standing on my screen and all the teachers were looking at him wondering why I answered my telephone in the middle of a season. As you can see here, the image on the screen, was not what was projected. Nope. It was Lossine.

I sent him the photo and he said, "The Great Whatever does it every time."

And that is true. The Great Whatever. So looking forward to having quality time with him soon (and maintaining my Corn Hole King status).

In the meantime, I have politicking to do!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Delivering POW! To Ubuntu Academy Students: All Smiles

On my way to campus yesterday, I stopped by Bassick High School to visit Mr. King's classroom and to shout out to the young people who were part of conversations last semester with my Philosophy of Education course. We didn't meet much between the schools, but enough to make impacts in both locations. I delivered the art project, too, that the undergraduates puzzled together.

In my bag, however, were 25 copies of POW! Power of Words, in which several students published their summer writing. Lambert (pictured left) saw his name in print and said, "Really? This is my writing? This book is for me? Oh, my God! I am going to read this cover to cover." I hope his happiness can be detected on the face.

Last summer, the students worked with teachers in the Invitational Leadership Institute in collaboration with Fairfield University Art Museum and artist Rick Shaefer. Many of the young people (and teachers) were inspired by the artwork and wrote pieces that were submitted to the anthology. Lambert was one of the 198 students and 15 teachers who participated in the summer writing programs.

Mr. King also reported that he uses last year's anthology as a textbook for his beginning English language learners, and they read the writing of Little Lab, Big Imaginations, College Essays, novels, and poetry as classroom models.


It makes me proud.

I am carrying with me today (and my Amtrak trip to DC, the happiness that Lambert shared when receiving his copy). If only it was this easy all the time to support the reading, writing, and thinking of all our students.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

About A Year Away from Completing a 7-Year Project

When I started at Fairfield University, I made it a goal that I would collect data on ways that Skills4Life promoted by my cousin through Hoops4Hope connect with the young adult literature I teach, the ways I choose to develop readers, the philosophies I uphold as an English educator, and the writing I promote for my students to do.

Self-esteem, Self-Awareness, Responsibility, Sense of Humor, Focus, Integrity, and Ubuntu: these are the themes promoted on and off the field with the young people he works with in S. Africa. I've been collected data on how these life skills play a role in the texts we promote in school and developing literate learners.

In this project, I assign my students to come in with a visual representation of a theme: either literacy or philosophy. Actually, I give them a puzzle piece and instruct them that they need to visually represent their thinking (rather than write it out), and I have color coded their responses. They are intrigued by the work, and when we bring all the pieces together, they finally get it. My philosophy is Ubuntu and I know that we are stronger together than acting alone. I want learning: reading, writing, speaking, thinking, and growing, to be collaborative. It is not me as an instructor, but all of us who are part of this larger project.

This semester, my students have been working on self-esteem as we read Kwame Alexander's Booked and discuss theories in teaching reading. The graduate students have also helped me to develop curriculum to go with the poetic novel and to help me think deeper about self-esteem as a life skill when reading and writing.

What's beautiful if that I now have 100s of student essays discussing their theories of philosophy and reading, so I have both their visual representations (community art) and thoughts where I can make connections between the life skills and texts we've read. In this sense, there's a 7-chapter book to be written with my cousin, where I can connect the life skills with teaching and he can can address the skills with sports.

We shall see where this project takes us (there's a lot to analyze here). AND! I saved Sense of Humor for last. Call me crazy...okay. I'll take that. I just like to laugh, and I'm laughing that this project is almost done!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Exciting Times On Mt. Pleasant. Treated Myself Today

The last day of any break, you do your best to try to act as if you had a vacation and accomplished something - anything. I did power clean the house one day and realized that it is a pain in the #@# to have a toilet brush in one bathroom and not in the other. This morning, when Pam dropped off Jake for the day (man, so many showings at that house), I said, "By golly, I deserve to treat myself. I'm going to buy a second toilet brush. Good times at Mt. Pleasant."

And I did. I now have a toilet brush for upstairs and down stairs and, as I told Chitunga, "You know you're an adult when such a purchase excites you."

Louisville lost, of course. I had a feeling they would - which is good for me because then I can move on in my life without the normal fanaticism (although Kentucky is still in).

Today, Syracuse Women will be playing UConn Women and I should go to the game (it's down the street in Bridgeport at Webster Arena). I'm feeling a little pressed for time, however, with the National Writing Project work to do in DC. I also have courses to prep and professional development to design, so I will likely watch it on television, alone.

I'm looking at the photo of the new toilet brush and seeing that Glamis is eyeing it. Anything new to the house always throws her off and I believe she thinks its President Obama wiretapping our house.

On another note, I finished collaging undergraduate artwork for Mr. King's ESL class (their artistic philosophy project from last semester). It took me a whole (and I worked on other art projects from previous semesters), but it is looking good. I will deliver that, as well as POW! to their school this week before I leave.

And soon I will put that new toilet brush to work. It's the least I can do.

Ubuntu 2017. I am a toilet bowl cleaner because of all of us toilet bowl cleaners together.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mr. Bargain Hunter and the Irish Leprechauns

The corn beef and cabbage slow cooked in the CrockPot while Pam's house was on the market and she had back-to-back showings. "Sure, bring the dogs down to my house," I say. "I have a 30% off coupon for Kohl's and they should have winter clearance at this point."

I did work around the house, and then we ventured to hit the racks. Long story short, between the two of us (she needed to get baby shower goods and I'm just cheap) our bill started at $403.00. Then, after all the mark downs and my coupon, plus a $30 gift card, the total bill was $13.03. We saved that much money. I can't even explain the pile of stuff we got for so cheap. It was so funny at the check out, that Pam just got hysterical laughing. She was laughing more at me as I kept saying, "Wait, you're taking another 30% off the clearance discount? That's like a dollar-something."

They did and we won. I'm such a dork.

On another note, my vet Stephanie came over with Kobe and he bonded with Glamis. He is a beautiful, long-haired white lab who loved to bring items to you to throw, including old Parmesan cheese containers. I fell in love with the dog and the way he played with Glamis and brought his big furry body over to my lap. I kept saying to Stephanie, "I hope you got photos of this dog in the snow...he's like a gorgeous Christmas Card waiting to happen."

And with the corn beef and cabbage, shopping, and dogs, Patrick also brought bourbon, so my Saturday didn't quite move along as I thought it would. That means I will need to be a little more focused this Sunday as I get ready for DC and teaching this week. Mt. Pleasant had quite the entertainment for a Saturday.

Bye-Bye Syracuse Orange! You didn't make the tournament, and now you're out of the NIT. I think I saw it coming and I do hope that Boeheim can have one more fantastic season before his final retirement. It's hard to think of a Syracuse team without him, but I believe the time has come.

I still have Kentucky and the 'Ville in the mix, though.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Day After St. Patty's a Photo of @AbuBility

Abu wants royalties on his mug, but I told him it belongs to me (and the hat belongs to Pam, who bought him, Chitunga, and Lossine the same hats).

Actually, I used this photo for an ad about to go out for Project Citizen: Flying Lessons from the Prose, one of the Young Adult Literacy Labs to be hosted on campus this summer. That's what I was up to yesterday, the last official day of Spring break. I was working my way through summer and getting ready to implement another year of spectacular work. I'm loving this summer lab, however, because the funding arrived from elsewhere and so recruiting the kids begins now.

Ah, but it is March Madness. I can't think about June, July, and August just yet. Need to cheer for Syracuse at the NIT and more of my tournaments first.

In the meantime, I needed to post this photo of Abu again, because it is one of my favorite (simply in black and white here). Boom. And it's Saturday.

Friday, March 17, 2017

She Watches Me Work And Acts As If She's Okay With It

Glamis, Stella the Nor'Easter
My dog shouldn't hate me. It got to 40 degrees today and I promise that if it is above freezing, I will walk her...and I did.

Then I returned home to work, but for a little while I walked her. This is a photo from earlier this week when no one was going outside. I love that she got so comfortable.

Grant Submission - Check
Conference Attendance - Check
DC NWP Annual Meeting - Check
PD Rearranged - Check
Article Submission - Check
Phone Call with Ol' Student - Check

One of my students from yesteryear has found voice late in life and been actively pursuing a screenwriting career. He's doing other work, too, including raising a family, but he's continuing his dream to write for the big screen. He asked me to look over his latest work and I agreed - "If you don't send it during my spring break, I'm unlikely to ever look at it."

It is amazing to read from a kid from almost 12 years ago. I love that he's still writing and willing to share his latest thinking with me. As I told him, it's not my movie genre or world, but I was super impressed with what he was trying to do. I had suggestions (that's the teacher in me) and I became intrigued with the possibility of that world. I haven't a clue how one breaks in.

Ah, but it made me wonder if I could find my acrostics from the class of 2005. I found them (having written an acrostic for every kid I've ever taught)
in the tree, walnuts. never claimed to be otherwise,
admit it, odd, peculiar, seedlings they are, pink elephants
not meant to fit in all family trees.

but through the leaves the sun is focused,
on those of us pushing the boulders uphill,
living to fulfill dreams which
grow in the garden of a hip-hop, flip-flop life. the
evolution takes time, like the music in our heads,
racing - a squirrel who plays chicken on the highway of life, but prevails.
And I realize it was squirrel. I knew he had to have a name. That's the way the pond worked back then.

IT'S FRIDAY! Okay, that means I'm not leaving my house until I get the rest of my spring break goals completed - after all, I have to think ahead to teaching again next week.

Be well. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

So Ready To Hit the Pause Button. How is it Thursday Already?

I am very thankful that I took Thursday - Saturday to get away to NYC with Chitunga and the Writing Our Lives conference, because the rest of this week (my Spring break) is simply flying by.

I went into the office today after the storm to get much needed work done, when I learned that the office will be closed for the next few days with no electricity. Ugh. I will work from home or in other buildings on campus, but I'm very aware of the moving clock and the fact that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year are not enough time to accomplish everything that is on the to-do list.

I try not to panic. I breathe in, and I breathe out.

Of course, I also dream. I dream of having the salary of others...I dream of distributing my salary, Oprah style, so that others can have opportunities in this world. I dream of working hard, but also finding time to talk on the beach and enjoy sunsets. I dream of a non-24-hour-news cycle.

Phew. In the time I just spent to write this, I lost how many minutes this morning.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future. 

It will all get done. It always does. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Going Into Small Business in Stratford. Mt. Pleasant Slushies

I learned many years ago to stay on top of the storm so the snow doesn't become too much. I learned in Kentuckiana, too, that ice is now joke and I'd rather be in the business of shoveling snow.

That is why I did three layers yesterday: (1) to remove the 8 inches that fell over night, (2) another run to do the snow/ice mix, and (3) the slush run, which was ridiculous. Every shovel full was like 30-50 pounds. I am sure my back will feel it in the morning.

The good news is that I didn't leave the snow to be covered by the ice to be covered by the slush so it freezes overnight and becomes impossible to remove. Rather, I did it in steps and drenched three pairs of shoes, three pairs of sweatpants, three jackets, and many gloves and hats. I was disappointed that we didn't get the 20+ inches, but Stella did a number with the precipitation we did get.

That is why I'm going into business of making Mt. Pleasant Slushes. I will simply add flavoring and, for older customers, adult beverages, so there's a use for all this good outside. The banks are still high, despite the fact that the majority of it wasn't snow alone. Nope, I had to lift glaciers.

My neighbor went out and tried to remove the goods with a snowblower after 6 pm and couldn't get through it. Ah, that's my Syracuse upbringing. I knew to break it down and to get on top of it early.

And it's official. I'm ready for spring.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Channeling Kentucky In Anticipation of STELLA The Storm

Truth be told, I am holding this, but it is in my house if the storm gets really, REALLY bad. Katelyn dropped off a late birthday gift and I love my new frog, too. I put it on the table as an award for shoveling, plowing, and being during the BLiZ!

The BLiZ!

They're always much more fun in anticipation than during the actual experience.

I hit up the grocery early and as pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get my milk and cereal. I ran errands all day (this is my spring break, after all) and I was afraid I would lose time if we're trapped indoors for three days.

The gas tank in the garage is full for the blower and I have the shovels by the door. I've also piled up the books to be read and the to-due list for writing projects. Man, I even put the car in the garage (which would excite Chitunga because that means I actually straightened out the garage - which I did).

All schools are closed, including Fairfield University, and cars are to be off the roads beginning at 4 a.m.. Will it be 12 inches or 28? Only time will tell.

To be honest, all I am really caring about this morning is the season finale of This Is Us. It will make the entire day worth it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Rally for Bridgeport Refugees, Great Sunday

Almost 20 years ago, I attended a Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert in Louisville, Kentucky during the Midnight Ramble at the Kentucky Center of the Arts. I instantly was mesmerized and inspired. For years, I've listened to their albums while hiking and running.

A month ago, I saw that they were performing at the Quick Center at Fairfield University and I immediately grabbed a ticket. I contacted the Director of the Quick, who graciously gave me complimentary tickets for 3 youth from Ubuntu Academy. I was with Akbar, Omar, and Juma during the rally for immigrants and refugees in Bridgeport during the day, so they seemed the perfect candidates to attend the concert.

Akbar performed "I Wish" as part of the ceremony and was his usual stellar self. I almost missed the rally because the first date was cancelled due to weather. I am glad I learned of the new date because the rally was extremely powerful, with people having to stand outside of the room where the speeches were being made: churches, synagogues, and mosques united with IICONN to have a conversation about the importance of immigration not only to the United States, but for the base of all their religious ideologies. The message was clear - we must love and look out for the tired, the poor, and the hungry. Love wins. Love should win. Even with hate in the hearts of many around us, love must be remembered.

As Ladysmith Black Mimbazo celebrated the triumph of Nelson Mandela in South Africa and his legacy to people all around the world, I couldn't help but feel extremely emotional by the rally and concert yesterday. Dance, song, performance and peace is the message. We are better human beings when united with one another.

I know it is spring break at Fairfield University but I'm heading into the office. There's simply too much to be done to counter the narrative being spread through vicious means across the United States. As yesterday reminded me, good only triumphs when good people join hands and remind others of the power of doing what is right.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

This Is Us. Well, Really...This Is Us. Us. Really.

There are so many shout outs to be given, but I wanted to start out with the lady in pink: Ms. Jennifer Russo. As this blog post enters cyberspace, Jen will be running a 5K in NYC and I will be cheering her from my home in Connecticut. Why? I simply think she is an amazing human being.

When I did my doctorate at Syracuse University, Jennifer was the assistant to the Dean and one of my biggest supporters: she kept me going with her humor, her insight, her creativity and her vision.

Fast forward. When I graduated from Syracuse and returned to Manley Field House to turn my hassle, Jen ran up to me for a selfie and that is when I realized I actually completed what I set out to do. The tears began. Her hug and love at that moment (and even today) mean(t) the world to me; she was tremendously instrumental to my drive to make it through.

Fast forward more. Jen has, two years in a row, been the behind-the-scenes extraordinaire who made the NYC Writing Our Lives event possible. They've been a huge success: paper, pens, arrangements, hotels, and arrival of bagels and chicken. She  does her work with grace, flare and funk, and there are not enough accolades to pour on her - just that she's simply wonderful.

Also spectacular to the Syracuse family is Dr. Marcelle Haddix. The Writing Our Lives events have occurred since 2009 and it is amazing how much fun we have running them: get your favorite presenters together and throw a party. It has become tradition, too, to reunite with Dr. Detra Price, as well, and to see their two boys grow up before our eyes.

The Fisher Center, part of Syracuse University's orange presence in the red apple, is a phenomenal location for hosting the high school students. Two years in a row I've been highly impressed by the amazing teachers and their students. This year, I was lucky to have Attallah Sheppard and Chitunga in my crew and the event became extra special.

Chitunga and I arrived back to Connecticut late last night, and settled in for pizza and the episode of This Is Us that we missed. Holy emotional and powerful hour that was - I will be thinking about that for some time, and am unsure where to take my thoughts first. Then Cynderballz texts me to state, "Next weeks is the season finale." Um, really. I'm not sure I'll be able to handle it.

Ah, but I am flying high after a three day getaway for the ACC, my cousin, and the conference. I am shaking my head with the beauty of it all (and guess what? I'm on spring break and I can't wait to spend it shoveling out from the Blizzard!)

Yup, this is me, and this is us. Always. Us. And I love it. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Writing Our Lives Event, NYC Style #TellYourTruth

Excited to be in NYC for the 2nd year for a Writing Our Lives Event: 

(Magic Egg Poem)


You must #TellYourTruth 
as a king with lightening bolts, 
who waltzes through cyberspace with a kaleidoscope, 
who is critically minded 
as he tries to cope,
and who roasts the fresh-air ice-cream with electric cantaloupes
in a flavor-filled feast of library books and dungeons. 

You must be liberation 
with spicy hope, 
Earl gray tea walking 
a slippery tight rope, 
a no need to say yes-type,
when you can simply say nope
with golden rings rings and dark dungeons,
you graciously grope forward
to simply to #TellYourTruth

You are the freedom, the letting go,
the taste of sun, a regal face, you know.
You are the ruler of language in this big city, 
who nestles alphabet letters into speech bubbles, whether nirvana or shitty, 
who invests nothingness from the nincompoops
 & nastiness from the narcissistic.
You are the landscape of words, and the chapter book of onomatopoeias.
You are poetic neophytes who need to #TellYourTruth

You are the Queens with etiquette,
magical movements like Missy Elliot
You have the royalty of the Diva 
because you are the speaker of many voices, 
the circulator of ideas and 
a dancer of dialogue,
taking action with your sound.
#TellYourTruth #StandYourGround

Be the mic, the word amplifier and the voice baton. 
Be the language that is eloquently sung, 
Be the story that is sophisticated swung and
the spiritual spit that it brings (and brilliantly has brung)
game into the spirits and souls of the universe.


Friday, March 10, 2017

A Little Spring Break Crandall Style...Just Enough

Tunga officially has three days left of spring break. I officially begin my spring break in three days. So, as luck would have it, we took advantage of teaching, tournament, and conference opportunities to get a short stint together in the big Apple.

Yesterday, it was back to back ACC games at the Barclay Center (worth it, but a bust), followed by a book signing/reading with Kwame Alexander, and finishing off with a Mexican restaurant with awesome Baja Tacos, Guacamole, and margaritas.

Today, we have four major projects on the radar (maybe five). First, we will survive the big, bad winter storm (of two inches. Relax people). Cousin Mark is coming in from Amagansett to hang with us, and Judy (blast from the past) is coming to join us. In the evening, I'm joining the Syracuse University crowd to get ready for the conference on Saturday.

I learned something yesterday that I didn't know: that is, Timberland boots are not the best for walking all over the Big Apple's streets. My toes are on fire (as are my heals).

We are staying at the Lexington (which is nice) and seem to be centrally located to all the objectives we're trying to reach. I laugh, because on the few occasions we made it to the hotel to unwind, Tunga was writing a philosophy paper and working on his resume.

Phew. Love the kid.

Looking forward to reading a couple of Kwame's new books and to welcoming Attallah to join us. I also can't wait to see Marcelle Haddix and Jen Russo. We will be out tomorrow night during the UNC/Duke game. All I can say is GO TARHEELS! Beat Duke.

And with that, I must begin my day!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Genetic Essay - A Crazy Crandall First

In the 3rd week of partnership programming, ED 329: Philosophy of Education partnered with middle school students to make sense of Paulo Freire and Kristina Rizga readings, while assisting teachers in offering possible writing projects for their classrooms. This week, it was genetics. A 7th grade teacher is introducing hereditary traits and DNA to her students and we spent today discussing what it would be like to write a "block by block" essay on our personal, biological traits.

I was super impressed with the young writers and their intelligence for marking characteristics they've inherited from parents, grandparents and personal cultures. I sort of gaged success when I walked around the room and saw 100% of the kids writing up and beyond what I expected them to do as I modeled my own Ripley and Crandall genes (My favorite line of the day..."The older I get, the tighter my genes!"

I was able to discuss my brown eyes, height, pin-straight hair, weight, psoriasis, and creativity for traits passed down to me. I told the kids that I look a lot like my mom's side of the family, but I find myself sticking my tongue out of my mouth while thinking, which is totally Crandall.

I'm an ethnic mutt, and the kids seemed to understand what I was saying about this: Scottish, Welsh, German, English, Irish, and Ukranian heritage.

I've also become addicted to the combined class. If I am teaching about K-12 schools, it works stupendously to have K-12 students in my classes with undergraduate and graduate students as I teach. Equally important is the fact that the middle school students over the last few weeks have totally been able to dissect and develop their thinking from the quotes I've chosen from the academic texts my undergraduates are exploring.

Another bonus to the work has been the dialogue with classroom teachers with what they are viewing from the collaboration of learning together. 009, the class I have, is a wonderful space for such partnership and I feel very fortunate that I was assigned the room. My students' reflections, too, highlight how much they are getting from the experience. The only flaw in the design is the fact that I only do drive-by lessons and can't be more every day in the lives of K-12 youth.

When the science teacher reported, "I'm totally going to do these activities every year and with my other classes," I felt somewhat proud. We looked at comic strips and the way ideas can be blocked to offer guidance of developing our own writing.

Phew. By the end of the modeling, I had a two page essay! This seems perfect for the 7th grade classroom. Of course, I'm old and have much to draw from, but I believe the kids made the necessary connections. I witnessed this with their willingness to write much while they were  on campus. Better yet? They wanted to write and volunteered to share.

One more crew to go! The 8th grade!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

King of Monroe, The Furs Came Out Again

My first time visiting Pam Kelly was with her sister, Lois, who invited me north for a drink. Within minutes, they pulled out these leopard coats and hats and made me wear them around the house. I forgot about that moment, until yesterday when Chitunga surprised Pam with dinner at her house (he's home for break and we didn't let her know he was coming).

For some reason, the fur coats were out again and Chitunga was quickly dressed for show and tell. It was decided he looked extremely regal and like he was Congolese royalty.

He simply said, 'My goatee looks good.'

It was nice to take a few hours off from the grading marathon on Sunday to let the dogs run in circles and to have some Mac-n-Cheese. I wanted a little celebration, too, because a piece I've been working on for three years was finally accepted for publication in a research text on teaching refugee youth. I don't think I've ever revised a piece more. The email simply made me say, "Take a break, Crandall. You killed yourself over that piece, especially in the last two months."

And just like that, the workweek returned. Bring it on.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Throwback to Angus Bethune with @ChrisCrutcher, A Story

Several summers ago, I had the honor of working with Chris Crutcher at the Louisiana State University Young Adult Literature conference. I was there to offer a seminar on refugees in young adult literature and was thrilled he was one of the keynote speakers. The writer, Chris Crutcher, was HUGE for my first years of teaching. Why? He was one of the few writers that my students would read.

I began teaching in Kentucky with two passions: I wanted to celebrate all kids and I wanted to promote writing. I didn't declare creative writing as a major, because teachers were supposed to major in literature. Although I give my creative writing background all the credit for any success I've had as a teacher, it was the literary scholars that were positioned authoritatively on my transcript.

I finished two Masters degrees when I first began teaching high school. I was given freshmyn, and taught in one of the most diverse environments in the nation - a school that requested one boy and one girl from each zip code in the city of Louisville. The joke was, "If it's out there, we have it in here, too." There were multiple truths in the population represented at the Brown.

During my first year, I was looking for something to help my students to develop as short story authors and stumbled upon Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories. My kids loved the tales Crutcher crafted, but year after year reported that "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune" was the story that helped them to tune their own craft most: the voice, the structure, the genuine recreation of adolescence, the parents, and the humor.

That was 1997. Fast forward to 2017 (oof, that is 20 years!).

Tonight, I am teaching a graduate seminar on developing young adult readers and we are thinking through Deborah Appleman's chapter on Reader's Response. We've been playing with Kylene Beers and Robert Probst's Notice and Notice, as well as Jeff Wilhelm's You Gotta Be the Book. Knowing I wanted to teach a story to help make some cases these researchers are describing for my graduate students, I recalled Crutcher's Angus Bethune, and pulled a copy off my shelf. Rereading it 20 years later, I realize it is a short story that continues to have the same effect. It is perfect. I love it.

A part of me wants to offer my interpretation and analysis on this post, but I'd rather intrigue readers to want to read the story for themselves. I love Angus. He's terrific. He's a product of his environment: sarcastic, insecure, yet awkwardly confident. He's very much like many of the kids I've taught throughout my career - one who is engaged with his world, but arriving from contexts that just don't seem to be normed by society's standards. Still, he perseveres.
"Actually," I say, "I even tried it once, but when I stuck my finger down my throat, I was still hungry and I almost ate my arm" (p. 13). 
That he tells a certain love interest, Melissa Lefevre, during a slow dance at the prom. He responds to her admittance that she's bulimic.

I always loved Chris Crutcher's writing, but after meeting him, it became extra special. For some crazy reason, I was invited to have lunch with him by the LSU School of Education Dean (Okay, not a crazy even...she was from Louisville) while he was there and it was one of the most awe-inspiring, engaging lunches of my life. For a short period, I was invited into the world of counseling and helping kids, listening to the many stories the writer helped in his other life as a counselor. Learning why he transitioned so many stories into print was astounding and I realized at that moment I was with celebrity, integrity, and genius. I knew it before, but sitting with it solidified it all.

I am curious to see how a room full of adults will respond to Angus Bethune after I had such success with him as a high school English teacher. I feel like I've dusted him off some, simply to introduce him to another generation of teachers. Phew. If Angus was 18 in 1997, that puts him in his late 30s today.

Unbelievable and beautiful. So grateful for the genius of this writer. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Papi Butch Day and the

It's March 6th, two weeks after my birthday, so that means it is my father's special day (and I am hoping the card I sent last week arrives in the mailbox today -  perfect timing). I know there's not too much he wants any mor, except for the itching and the pain of his shingles to disappear. I wish I could make that happen and even more so that I could be in Syracuse to sing a few rounds of the birthday song. I also wish I had the magical power to keep my mother from nagging at him for just one day (I'm sure he'd love that, too - but it ain't gonna happen).

Instead, I send my father warm wishes of fishing on Oneida Lake and  drum beats of Sherburne parades. I send sunsets at the St. Lawrence River and a fire for his pit in the back yard. I send fertilizer for his lawn and gas for the lawnmower to cut it down. I send pooper scoopers for the piles from all the damn dogs that visit his yard and many memories of the garden that used to break that poop down.

I send him little league games and color guard shows, band competitions, and beers at the Clam Bar. I send Chubby's, and Lewis's, clam chowder, and Buck's Seasoning. I send a day with Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Milford, and memories of Grandpa Ken and Grandma Vera.

And of course, I send all the love from all of us in Connecticut and play him the theme song from Mash.

If my card doesn't make it on time, let this be a placeholder.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Self Portrait After a Saturday Behind My Laptop

I was determined to finish grading a batch of undergraduate papers, merely so I would be able to tack today with zest and openness to prepare for another hectic week. I did manage to cook a makeshift dinner and Tunga and I were able to hit the gym, but otherwise I sat at my computer reading, editing, revising, and offering suggestions to student papers.

I was determined and I completed my goals, but the cost was shear numbness. By 10 pm last night I looked up and thought, "Whoa. That was a day I'll never get back.

I managed to listen two wins: Syracuse and Louisville, both teams looking good as we head into the madness. The t.v. was on while I read, but right now my brain is thinking, "$#@@$#@."

This is the life I love, but on days like yesterday, I really question the pace and rat race of the profession. I feel like I read 14 novels while leaving track changes in Word. Ah, but I got it done.

It's Sunday, a day of rest, and I really need to be proactive about the presentation ahead. I knew today would be a dull post because my brain can't muster up anything else to think about. Rather, it was a crazy teacher kind of Saturday and I'm simply glad I got through what I set out to accomplish.