Saturday, July 23, 2016

Keep Celebrating {CELEBRATE This Week: 149}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****




While we are living in the present, we must celebrate life every day, knowing that we are becoming history with every work, every action, every deed.
--Mattie Stepanek
I'm glad you're here to celebrate!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Family Life {CELEBRATE This Week: 148}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****






We've been cooking this week.
1 bushel tomatoes
30 green peppers
20 lbs of onions
30 lbs of ground beef
12 lbs of roast
22 lbs of whole chicken
28 chicken breasts

We made 22 quarts of spaghetti sauce and over 50 meals for the freezer.

It's been a family ordeal.

Usually when I cook like this, I clear the schedule and call in the big guns (my mom). I shop one day and we cook the next...and Sauce Days never overlaps. We stay focused, let the kids help a little and then shoo them out of the kitchen.

I never knew allowing them to help a little would turn into big kids that help a lot.

It's not easy letting little kids help in the kitchen. The messes are inevitable and the efficiency plummets. It's worth it, though.

Today, each of our big kids has specialties.
Sam makes killer lasagnas.
Jay and Steph brown and chop hamburger like nobody's business.
Hannah plows through assemblies.

All of them are willing to help me with the work. This is not a slight thing. 

And they've taught me to be willing to take a break. We went to lunch and the library and swimming. We played board games, jumped on the trampoline, and ran. (We've made it to two miles now!) The girls scraped wallpaper in their bedroom, Sam put together more train tracks, Steph played softball, Hannah read 7 books and Jay conquered a video game. I was there, alongside of them, learning to take a break. This is not a slight thing.

So I celebrate the rhythm of our family life this week. Work and play and play and work all wrapped together each day, making a week that at first didn't seem efficient, but upon reflection, was full of much more than work. 

"I'm really glad we make the meals," one of the kids said. The others agreed.

Hannah said, "This way we get to eat good stuff without being stuck in the kitchen when Marching Band starts." (She giggles, like she always does, at the thought of Marching Band.)

"And football," Jay adds.

"And soccer," Steph says.

"And Boy Scouts and bowling," Sam says.

"And when Martha arrives," I say.

"And homework!" Andy adds.

There is a collective groan. Sam yells, "That's blasphemy, Dad! No talking about school in the middle of summer. You should be more careful!"

We laugh, and suddenly my dirty kitchen doesn't seem so terrible. This is the family life I never knew I wanted, but am so thankful to have.


Family Life {CELEBRATE This Week: 148}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****






We've been cooking this week.
1 bushel tomatoes
30 green peppers
20 lbs of onions
30 lbs of ground beef
12 lbs of roast
22 lbs of whole chicken
28 chicken breasts

We made 22 quarts of spaghetti sauce and over 50 meals for the freezer.

It's been a family ordeal.

Usually when I cook like this, I clear the schedule and call in the big guns (my mom). I shop one day and we cook the next...and Sauce Days never overlaps. We stay focused, let the kids help a little and then shoo them out of the kitchen.

I never knew allowing them to help a little would turn into big kids that help a lot.

It's not easy letting little kids help in the kitchen. The messes are inevitable and the efficiency plummets. It's worth it, though.

Today, each of our big kids has specialties.
Sam makes killer lasagnas.
Jay and Steph brown and chop hamburger like nobody's business.
Hannah plows through assemblies.

All of them are willing to help me with the work. This is not a slight thing. 

And they've taught me to be willing to take a break. We went to lunch and the library and swimming. We played board games, jumped on the trampoline, and ran. (We've made it to two miles now!) The girls scraped wallpaper in their bedroom, Sam put together more train tracks, Steph played softball, Hannah read 7 books and Jay conquered a video game. I was there, alongside of them, learning to take a break. This is not a slight thing.

So I celebrate the rhythm of our family life this week. Work and play and play and work all wrapped together each day, making a week that at first didn't seem efficient, but upon reflection, was full of much more than work. 

"I'm really glad we make the meals," one of the kids said. The others agreed.

Hannah said, "This way we get to eat good stuff without being stuck in the kitchen when Marching Band starts." (She giggles, like she always does, at the thought of Marching Band.)

"And football," Jay adds.

"And soccer," Steph says.

"And Boy Scouts and bowling," Sam says.

"And when Martha arrives," I say.

"And homework!" Andy adds.

There is a collective groan. Sam yells, "That's blasphemy, Dad! No talking about school in the middle of summer. You should be more careful!"

We laugh, and suddenly my dirty kitchen doesn't seem so terrible. This is the family life I never knew I wanted, but am so thankful to have.


Family Life {CELEBRATE This Week: 148}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****






We've been cooking this week.
1 bushel tomatoes
30 green peppers
20 lbs of onions
30 lbs of ground beef
12 lbs of roast
22 lbs of whole chicken
28 chicken breasts

We made 22 quarts of spaghetti sauce and over 50 meals for the freezer.

It's been a family ordeal.

Usually when I cook like this, I clear the schedule and call in the big guns (my mom). I shop one day and we cook the next...and Sauce Days never overlaps. We stay focused, let the kids help a little and then shoo them out of the kitchen.

I never knew allowing them to help a little would turn into big kids that help a lot.

It's not easy letting little kids help in the kitchen. The messes are inevitable and the efficiency plummets. It's worth it, though.

Today, each of our big kids has specialties.
Sam makes killer lasagnas.
Jay and Steph brown and chop hamburger like nobody's business.
Hannah plows through assemblies.

All of them are willing to help me with the work. This is not a slight thing. 

And they've taught me to be willing to take a break. We went to lunch and the library and swimming. We played board games, jumped on the trampoline, and ran. (We've made it to two miles now!) The girls scraped wallpaper in their bedroom, Sam put together more train tracks, Steph played softball, Hannah read 7 books and Jay conquered a video game. I was there, alongside of them, learning to take a break. This is not a slight thing.

So I celebrate the rhythm of our family life this week. Work and play and play and work all wrapped together each day, making a week that at first didn't seem efficient, but upon reflection, was full of much more than work. 

"I'm really glad we make the meals," one of the kids said. The others agreed.

Hannah said, "This way we get to eat good stuff without being stuck in the kitchen when Marching Band starts." (She giggles, like she always does, at the thought of Marching Band.)

"And football," Jay adds.

"And soccer," Steph says.

"And Boy Scouts and bowling," Sam says.

"And homework!" Andy adds.

There is a collective groan. Sam yells, "That's blasphemy, Dad! No talking about school in the middle of summer. You should be more careful!"

We laugh, and suddenly my dirty kitchen doesn't seem so terrible. This is the family life I never knew I wanted, but am so thankful to have.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Writing Small {CELEBRATE This Week: 147}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****


Andy and I celebrated our 17th anniversary last week. My goodness, we blinked and 17 years flashed past. One of the craft moves I've been practicing in my writing is to write small and specific. It is often the seemingly insignificant details that make the strongest writing. To celebrate while practicing, I've decided to make a list of small and specific details about 17 years of marriage.

  • When Andy's mom suggested we go out to dinner for our anniversary, we looked at each other and shook our heads. "We'd rather stay here, with the kids, and you," Andy said. His mom lifted her eyebrows, "I guess that's just how we roll," Andy chuckled, "This is how we want to spend our time, with people."
  • Anytime something spills or breaks or makes a mess, Andy is there to clean it up. When I dropped the spaghetti sauce and it covered the floor, cabinets, counter, and even the ceiling, Andy cleaned it up. When someone snaked lines up and down the carpeted upstairs hallway with an entire bottle of hair gel, Andy cleaned it up. Those years when milk spilled every single night at dinner, Andy cleaned it up. When coffee spills in my car, when I drop an egg, when a drink is spilled during movie night, Andy cleans it up -- and never makes anyone feel stupid because of the spill
  • When I'm overwhelmed, stressed, and think the world is coming to an end, Andy pats my knee three times, squeezes it, smiles and says, "I'm pretty sure it's all going to work out." When I insist that it won't he laughs and says, "You might be being extreme."
  • I make grocery lists; Andy does the shopping. Andy puts away freezer and refrigerator items; I put away the rest.
  • I fold laundry; he does dishes.
  • I get up early; he stays up late.
  • I write; he watches baseball.
  • I read; he plays video games.
  • I put dinner on the table; he picks up kids from school, practices, and friends' houses.
A marriage is a conversation that goes back and forth, back and forth, for a lifetime. At the end of the day, you'll find us on the couch, with mugs -- maybe frosty, maybe steaming -- choosing to love and being grateful for another good day. Those days line up and you blink and you're collecting days toward 18 years.

Thanks for celebrating....


Friday, July 1, 2016

Another Birthday {CELEBRATE This Week: 146}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****


I am thirty-nine.
Although the sentence is simple and I understand each word on its own, when I squish them together, they do not make sense.

I am almost forty.
It is a true statement, but feels like it needs a question mark.

I am almost forty?
That reads more true.

I thought I was turning thirty-six. Andy chuckled and said, "You blew by thirty-six awhile ago."
"I don't remember," I said.
"Probably not," he agreed. "You've had more important things to think about."

I am thirty-nine.
It gives me pause. The days vaporize, and I'm left holding thirty-nine years.

My arms are full.
How do you unpack thirty-nine years in a few words?

I scroll through my photos, looking for one of me. Maybe the story of thirty-nine years will unfold in an image.  A few weeks back, Andy snapped a few pictures of me while I was finishing the latest revisions of my book.

There I am in the middle of our living room, the dog stretched out beside me, and I'm sorting-out chapter 18, trying to make it take shape. The only way I can get it to behave was to print a hard copy, and go after the parts with scissors and tape them back together. Then rewrite in on my computer. Sometimes hindsight is the only way to make sense of things.

I supposed it is appropriate that the picture I select is one of me in the midst of revision. This is the truth of the thirty-nine years I hold. They didn't go how they were planned. I spend a lot of time rewriting and adjusting and making sense of things with hindsight and story and a handful of souls who somehow wiggled into my heart and became closest to me, even though I'm good at holding the world at a distance.

In my thirty-nine years, I've learned to rewrite my story over and over in order to make it stronger when things didn't go as planned. I didn't plan to marry that Andy Ayres. He was too wild, and I was too practical. I didn't plan to be a momma to a baby grown in another woman's body. I didn't plan to adopt daughters who started life with another momma and followed a trail of hard. I didn't plan to be a momma to a son who lived too many years without me and now holds my hand, his dark skin against my light, and says, "I'm glad I get to have you as my forever mom." I didn't even think about forever families, let alone plan to become one.

I didn't plan to become an English teacher. I didn't plan to write a book. I didn't plan to start a blog. I didn't plan to walk away just when that blog was gaining in popularity.

For someone who feels she is well-planned, looking at the thirty-nine years piled in my arms, it seems like the moments leading to a well-lived life were all unplanned and the story rewritten accordingly. The stories lining up on the pages in the photo wrap around my storylines of being a momma, writer, and teacher.

I am thirty-nine.
I hold the years and celebrate a life that didn't go as planned and a story that is reshaped again and again. This is the beautiful mess of a life well-lived.

Thanks for celebrating with me.



Saturday, June 25, 2016

JOY in Relationships {CELEBRATE This Week 145}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****

My friend Patrick Allen says relationships is how he keeps his joy in the journey. I layered this thinking onto my own life, letting it color the way I see the world. Patrick is right; there is great joy in relationships.

This week, I celebrate relationships. It's been a week that seems like a lifetime with the different circles of my life intersecting and linking and bumping into one another.

This post is just the beginning of my reflection. I feel wisps of thinking and know I'm not going to catch them. Truth be told, this is usually when I say, "Check back later for a celebration post." I'm afraid I'm going to leave out important truth.

Sometimes I need to give myself more grace and remember I don't have to get this one post right...but it one more step toward living the kind of life I hope to live.

The week began with a writing retreat. I met some new friends, reconnected with longtime friends, and missed some dear friends. 


I also slipped into my writing world and was lost with stories and research and thoughts about structure and craft. I came up for air, going on walks and meeting with response groups. There are times when I have laser-focus as a writer and the days that follow are about needing to ground my feet back on the earth.

The next day the All-Write Conference began. Again, it was about meeting some new friends, reconnecting with longtime friends, and missing dear friends.


These women are so dear to me, because they remind me that my story matters. I'm touched by the way their encouragement does not end. It doesn't end. You may recognize...

Christy from Read Write Inspire
Rebecca from Pen Nguyen
Mary Helen from Book Savors

I wish you could see in this picture
Leigh Anne from A Day in the Life
Jennifer from Sweet Writing Life
Michelle from One Grateful Teacher

And we missed
Linda from Teacher Dance
Lori from Carpe Diem



My circles of relationships intersected. 

The bloggers who have become dear friends and then Tam, my mentor from my first year of teaching joined us because she's part of the blogging friends too. She writes at Clay Fragments.

And my friend, a fellow Stenhouse author, was there too. Patrick Allen visited with us, and met Andy and made the trip to the tiny library where my mom is the director. "Which one of you is Ruth Ayres' mom?" he announced walking up to the circulation desk.

Linda Urban, middle grade author of The Center of Everything, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Hound Dog True, Milo Speck: Accidental Agent (and others) became a friend. I'm so grateful. 


Meanwhile, Andy and Sam have been "living it up," just the two of them while I've been out on writing adventures and the three oldest kids have been at camp. In fact, as I write this, Sam and Andy are having their last hurrah, just the two of them.

In a few minutes, we are going to go pick up the three oldest kids from camp. They've been in another world this week, too. 

We'll all find our way back to home, and be better because of the relationships we are privileged to have. 

Share your celebrations below.



Friday, June 17, 2016

Brains Can Heal {CELEBRATE This Week: 144}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****


When we adopted Stephanie at age four, she was a spitfire. Steph survived her hard start to life by always being in charge. She determined what she wanted by doing the exact opposite of what anyone wanted her to do. She figured out this was usually the safest option, and she learned how to get her own way.

When we became Steph's forever family, she was attending a preschool for children ages 2, 3, and 4 with anger issues. Sometimes I have to say it again, because the words just don't make sense. Stephanie attended a preschool for young children with anger issues.

If I'm honest, I kind of liked not knowing there are preschools for two-year-old, three-year-old, and four-year-old children with anger issues. Childhood shouldn't be spent in anger. Childhood is for make-believe and laughter.  When you have a history of hard, it is sometimes difficult to make-believe and twirl around the yard pretending you are best friends with unicorns and butterflies.

We're grateful that Stephanie is a spitfire. Her strong will and fiery temper kept the girls safe in those early years.  When kids experience trauma, especially the kind of trauma that lands you in foster care and leads to termination of parental rights, your brain changes. Your emotional control center , the amygdala, enlarges. When the amygdala is enlarged, it leads to extreme emotions. The primary emotion children from hard places feel is fear. There are three reactions to fear: flight, freeze, or fight.

Stephanie is a fighter.

It used to be believed that once a brain was altered from trauma there was nothing that could be done to change it back. The best option was to learn to live with extreme emotions. It turns out this isn't the case!

Recent brain research shows that brains can heal and that amygdalae can shrink back to a normal size. It's not easy, but it's also not complex. The way brains heal is the same way healthy brains are developed in the first place. They are well-nourished and needs are met.

When we meet the needs of a child from a hard place, we begin to heal their brains. It isn't instantaneous, and I know first hand that it isn't easy. Children from hard places can be very difficult to love. Some days it's so difficult that I wonder if it's true that brains can heal.

Then I saw Steph go outside with her music, colored pencils, and intricate coloring book. She slammed the door a little too hard, the only sign of her anger. I watched her while the minutes disappeared, and I remembered the little girl who learned in the therapeutic preschool for kids with anger issues to sing as a way to self-soothe. I watched her lips move along with the song. I watched her color and stare at the sky and smile as a bunny hopped across the yard.  She took deep breaths and colored more. 

I find her remarkable after eight years of learning to love her more. Day after day of ignoring the fight and believing in filling her needs. Offering her hugs instead of what she deserved. Finding grace and mercy in deepest parts of my soul and offering them to her, while the enemy whispered that we enable her and she will never be grateful and she will always be filled with anger.

I step outside, with 12 year old Stephanie. "I'm okay," she says.

Tears brim past by eyelashes. "I know," I say.

She turns back to filling the butterfly wing with turquoise. I snap her picture.

She looks at me. "Why'd you take a picture?"

"Because I want to remember what healing looks like."

She smirks at me and says, "You're so weird."

I laugh a laugh that is too loud, and I hug her. She giggles. "Like, really weird, Mom."

Stephanie is healing as her needs are met again and again. I celebrate this healing.

And there's an even bigger reason to celebrate -- teachers can heal brains too. There are many children who are still in hard places. Their last hope of healing may be in our classrooms. As teachers meet needs, brains heal. As brains heal, the trajectory of a child's life is altered. 

And, I believe, the world becomes a better place.

Here's to celebrating teachers, because we change the world.

[Just FYI, my new book is a lot like this blog post -- only much longer with stories that are told as close to my bones as I can tell them. It is a collection of stories, much like this, and a call to action for teachers to heal brains, help students tell true-er stories and share their messages with the world, by enticing all students to write with practical leaps of faith in writing workshop. (Can just say, it makes me smile to pair the word practical with the phrase leaps of faith!)]

I'm so happy to celebrate with you!


Friday, June 10, 2016

CELEBRATE This Week 143


I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****

I'm going to write my celebration post in the morning. Until then, link-up below.

*****



Friday, June 3, 2016

Hello Summer! {CELEBRATE This Week: 142}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****


Hello Summer,
It's so nice to see you again --  we've already jumped in with both feet!

We've been to the skate park and the library. We grabbed lunch at the school and walked through the park. We've planted flowers, went for a run, and swam in the neighbor's pool. We mowed yard, did a little laundry, and watched the world go by from the front porch. We cooked dinner together, lingered at the table, and had a family movie night.

I love you, Summer! I have high expectations.
  • Finish writing a book (!)
  • Choice Literacy Writing Retreat
  • Professional learning at All-Write Summer Institute and the Diane Sweeney conference and the PBL conference
  • Teacher Book Club reading, plus that stack of professional books that are calling my name
  • Email Pals weekly notes and something new I'm cooking up to help teachers with conferring.
  • The GIVEAWAY that is ending soon
  • Switching my blog to a new platform (Yikes!)
  • Running a 5K with the kids
  • Trying new recipes
  • Pies are waiting to be made and cookie perfection to be claimed
  • Canning spaghetti sauce
  • Freezing blueberries
  • Keeping the pots of flowers alive
  • Holding on to every single moment with the kids
  • Adding to their school albums and collecting more memories for our scrapbooks
  • Claiming adventure
  • Reading books
  • Visiting people
  • Exploring places
  • Family Genius Hour (Sam insists)
  • Selecting topics
  • Dipping into research
  • Dreaming up my own project, too
  • A visit from Karianne (our 2011-2012 exchange student) and her mom
  • Welcoming Martha, our 2016-2017 exchange student
  • Kings Island
  • Tennessee
  • Church camp
  • Boy Scout camp
  • Football camp
  • Band camp


Summer, I celebrate you, not just for all that you hold, but for the way you hold me. I slow down, linger with my coffee, scribble in my notebook, and watch the world go by. Thank you, Summer, for letting me live this one precious life as fully as possible.

****






Friday, May 27, 2016

Sharing Stories in Person: CELEBRATE This Week: 141



I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


*****




I love getting to work alongside teachers and coaches as we figure out how to teach writers even better than the day before. I'm fortunate to spend my days with teachers who open their classroom doors to me year after year. In addition, I've been blessed with the privilege to work with educators across the country. I started the week with the Missouri Reading Initiative. They're passion and curiosity was contagious and the days flew by.


elsie is one of the trainers for MRI and an amazing hostess. She and her husband spoiled me as their house guest. I tried to savor as many moments as possible. elsie made me her famous grilled cheese and a perfect cup of coffee. We had taco night with the other trainers and went out for Korean food served in hot stone bowls. We tried to sit outside as much as possible (but storms rolled through) and we stayed up and talked. 

I love getting to share stories with elsie through blogging and in person.


Speaking of sharing stories in person -- who is planning to attend the All-Write 2016 Summer Conference? I can't wait for our paths to cross!