The NCTE/ALAN Blur

The past five days whooshed by in a blur of sessions and hotel and authors and books…so many books!

The Gateway Arch from the Mississippi River

Thursday was the travel day with the gas incident.

Friday morning my colleagues who write with me at The Educator’s Room and I led a session about blogging and social media. Then I went to a panel of YA Lit authors about how they use humor in writing about difficult subjects to make them accessible to teens. Then I planned to hit the exhibit hall, but I took one step in and realized I was so tired from getting almost no sleep the night before that I simply could not talk to one more person.

So I got myself a coffee, walked back to my room, and texted with Cortney for awhile. And then I passed out cold on my bed until The Pastor’s Daughter, N, came bounding into the room all excited to talk about the sessions she attended.

She and I got ready and waited for her mom, The Pastor’s Wife. Around 5:30pm, we headed out to a book signing event and met some pretty awesome authors and had some yummy appetizers.

Saturday morning I attended a panel of YA authors discussing voice in writing. Then I was able to grab lunch with a friend before heading to a round table session where I was a respondent about a discussion about the culture of skinny and how YA novels address it.

The afternoon was filled with some exhibit hall wandering and then dinner with some post secondary professors and PhD students who gave me great advice about my future studies, and who I enjoyed listening to about research and future discussions that they hoped NCTE would engage in.

Sunday morning N and I headed to get some books signed at the exhibit hall.  Around noon, I had my round table session with Penny Kittle about incorporating choice into a curriculum that seems choiceless.

That afternoon the Pastor’s Wife, N, and I enjoyed a late lunch/early dinner of St. Louis BBQ before heading to the ALAN reception where we met yet more YA authors.

Monday was the ALAN conference all day. After we got back to the hotel that evening, I counted 60 new books for my classroom library, and about 8 for my own children!

Today we made the 6.5 hour drive home.

I type this from my comfy spot on the couch, my eyes feeling heavy, and my teacher heart full and inspired. I am ready for this this much-anticipated holiday weekend, but I am inspired and ready to bring back new strategies and ideas to my department and classroom.

Home

If I nuzzle my nose deep enough into Alice’s hair, I can smell her baby self.

And it smells like home.

If I bury my face far enough into Cortney’s chest, I can block out everything that has ever happened, or is happening, or will happen.

And it feels like home.

If I look close enough at Eddie’s smiling face, I can see his sprinkle of freckles and the sparkle in his deep blue eyes.

And it looks like home.

If I listen close enough to Charlie while he plays, I can hear the stories he creates with his army guys and his dinosaurs and his hot wheels.

And it sounds like home.

If I close my eyes, I will sleep and dream of my family.

And it tastes like home.

Tomorrow I will go home.

Book Love, Author Love

I met some authors. It was cool. I’m exhausted.

Brendan Kiely

 

Shaka Senghor

 

Julie Murphy

 

Chris Crutcher

 

Matt de la Pena

Lynn Weingarten & Amy Reed (2nd and 3rd from left)

And so many more.

I’m tired.

One more big day.

Beautiful Nerd

NCTE is great for a million reasons, but one of the things I love best is getting books signed by some of my favorite authors.

Sometimes this is totally chill. I stand in line with the rest of all the fangirls and boys with my post-it that has my name on it so they can sign it TO KATIE. I get my turn to meet the author, I tell them I enjoy their work and thank them, and everything is great.

Other times I make a complete ass of myself.

Let me set the scene: I love Young Adult Literature. I REALLY love YA Lit written by and about people of color A) because it’s a window for me into not just a life I don’t know enough about, but for a glimpse into the cultures of many of my students’ lives. And B) because it is a mirror for the majority of my students.

When I met Jason Reynolds, I could not tell him enough what important work he was doing for kids like my students.

Back to today. Nic Stone–a brand new author on the YA scene who is going to be a HUGE–was signing her book Dear Martin in the exhibit hall. I hopped in line 20 minutes before the signing started and was still probably the 40th person in line.

I had it all planned out how I was going to thank her for being a voice for my students, for the important work she is doing, for her story-telling and her words.

I was going to tell her how this would be my copy, and that I fully planned to purchase the book for my students.

I had plans to be normal.

And then it was my turn, and I got close to her and all my words fell out of my head and I burst out with: you are so beautiful!

Look at my dopey smile next to her loveliness. And this picture doesn’t even do her justice! But it definitely shows my fangirl, dope-face nerdiness loud and clear.

She was gracious and wonderful and she signed my book and I said thank you. As I walked away I looked down at my book to see her signature and this is what she had written:

 I mean.

Nic Stone told me that I’m beautiful.

I’m pretty much good for the rest of the weekend.

Gone Girls

Hello from St. Louis!

Having the goal to blog each day is ridiculous when you have a giant conference in the middle of it. Ah well, at least I have a good travel story to tell you.

We decided to drive to St. Louis (and by “we” I mean the Pastor’s Wife, her 13-year old daughter N, and me). It’s less than seven hours and it’s much more cost effective than flying and then having to ship our books home and all that jazz. So we drove.

I brought along our Garmin, named Judy, to get us there in case we started gabbing, The PW downloaded a book by Jason Reynolds to listen to, and N had the whole back seat to herself. It was going to be great!

Since I had to work yesterday, we decided our departure time would be between 6 and 6:30pm. That would get us to St. Louis around midnight. Late, but not terrible.

When PW and N arrived to pick me up, I said my good-byes to the kids (which involved Eddie clinging to me, Alice screaming that she wanted to come too, and Charlie yelling he hated me and he didn’t want me to hug him–he has issues dealing with Big Feelings and saying “goodbye” for five days involves Big Feelings), kissed Cortney a thousand times, and finally jumped in the passenger seat.

“We have a full tank of gas!” PW declared as she backed out of my driveway. I got Judy Garmin up and running and we were off.

If this was a book or movie, that statement would be seen as foreshadowing.

We made it to Illinois and stopped at the Oasis to try to get the fast past working. That didn’t work because they were closed; however, we only ended up paying $1.10 in tolls, so it was a wash. Thinking that was our biggest drama, we set off for the next leg of the trip.

We listened to a book for about 90 minutes, which took us deep down into Illinois. Realizing we had been in the car for around four or five hours, I casually asked PW, “hey, how is our gas looking??

“Oh! The light is on!” she responded.

Huh. Ok, no problem, just pull over and get gas.

Except that we were in the middle of Illinois and it was like 11pm local time. So I whipped out Google Maps and said, “gas stations” and up popped three all within 5 miles. After two more miles, we pulled off the highway and into a Shell station.

That was closed.

But wait! Pumps will still work! They were on! They took the credit card and went through all the prompts and then…

no gas.

Huh. Ok, well, the next gas station is about 5 miles away. The car started, so we figured we could make it happen. Instead of putting us back on the highway to the next exit, Google maps had us take this weird little access road that ran along side the expressway and had fields or something and a train track and gravel roads on the other side.

Creepy, but whatever. We were close to gas.

Until we started slowing down and coasting.

Because we were out of gas.

I saw the panic creeping in on PW’s face and I thought quickly and said, “it’s fine. We will be fine,” as she called AAA. I did not feel 100% fine, but what does freaking out do? It doesn’t put gas in the tank, that is for sure.

So while she got on the horn with AAA, I checked to see how far away we were from a gas station. It looked like only a couple miles on Google Maps, but who knew if that one was open, right?

Once we were assured AAA was coming, I tried to reassure my friend with a little white lie, “I’ve run out of gas before. It’s seriously not a big deal. We will be fine.” It worked! Instead of worrying, we took out our conference schedules and started making lists and planning our time.

I’m not kidding when I say this was a creepy area though. It was pitch black dark and only about four cars passed us the entire time. One stopped to see if we were Ok (don’t worry, mom. We didn’t get out or open our door to strangers. We assured them we were taken care of). A train went by at one point lighting up the area enough to see that all the cross-roads were gravel. So creepy.

But my lie of having been through it before got us through. When the AAA guy showed up, he chuckled at how close we were to a gas station. Sure enough, once he gave us enough fuel to get moving, we crested a hill and man-made lights twinkled welcomingly to us.

Good grief.

Before we got on the highway in our full-tank-of-gas vehicle, I confessed my lie (because I can’t fricking lie and sit with it), and PW turned to me and said, “you’re going to blog this, aren’t you?”

“HELL YES I AM. I have a blog-a-day goal for November.”

We finally got to our hotel just after 1am local time (which means our bodies thought it was 2am). I had been up for around twenty hours.

You can imagine what today has been like which is why I am currently in our hotel room after presenting this morning and attending another session.

I need some rest.

My Hearts

I love you, my dear family. Stay safe and save me some snuggles.

Bedtime

I’m going to miss bedtime over the next five nights.

It can often times get pretty frustrating. We give the kids an hour of wind-down time starting at 6:30pm to get jammies on and watch a couple of shows as a family. Usually we watch Curious George and one other choice. There is often the battle of calming down after a full day.

But then sometimes they do cute things like set up a back-scratching chain in front of Word World, and I am reminded that this time is so fleeting.

And as hard to settle down as they can be, our three goobers are some of the best snuggly relaxers we could ask for.  While they love being wild, they also love being close and cozy.

And it’s that before-bed time routine I will miss over the next five days because as calming as it is for them, it’s a vital part of my day too. I get to just sit, many times with a child plastered to me, but without work or any other distraction from my day.

Cortney and I take turns putting either the boys to bed or Alice. Two nights of each and then switch. When I put the boys to bed, we cuddle into Eddie’s bottom bunk and read books. Charlie generally chooses a book, then we read Harry Potter after that. And then, even though they are eight and five, they still ask me to lay by them, which means I tuck them both in and then I curl up in Eddie’s bottom bunk next to him until they both drift off to sleep.

Is it necessary? No. But I am almost certain our days of this are numbered and I can’t bear to be the one that ends it.

On my nights with Alice, we cuddle up in the glider in her room while her glow worm, Glowie, plays for 10 minutes. In that time she chats and chats and chats about everything. Sometimes she sings to me. Sometimes I sing to her. I always nuzzle my nose into her hair to sniff in the remnants of baby that are left. After Glowie “goes to sleep,” I tell her “two more minutes means two more songs.” Tonight she picked to sing a made up song of Loo Loo Loo’s and La La La’s followed by “Jesus Loves Me” three times.

Then I pick her up, rub noses Daniel Tiger style and say, “I love you, Alice. God Bless you, Alice.” And she smiles and says, “Love you mommy. God Bless Alice.”

I tell her that her daddy will get her in the morning and to have sweet dreams. She rolls to her side and pushes her glow bear’s tummy on.

Yes, my kids have stall tactics and fight bedtime. Yes, Charlie throws major tantrums about brushing his teeth. Yes, Eddie worries and bites his nails about things when he should be sleeping. Yes, Alice thinks she needs one more drink, one more hug, and one more cuddle with one of her babies. It’s rarely perfect.

But it’s ours.

Book Talk Tuesdays

We read a lot in my class. NEWS FLASH, right?

People ask me how I get my students to all read so much, and the answer is simple: I give them books and time to read them. I wrote about ways to help kids find the right book in an article over at The Educator’s Room. But the best way to get titles to them regularly is to do Book Talks.

Every Tuesday I choose two books to share with my classes. Usually they are titles I’ve read, but sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are ones that are my To Read List and I want to share with them why I want to read them in hopes someone else will want to too. And sometimes I grab books I have no interest in either because it’s outside my taste or usual genre, but I know the book is one that is popular and that not all my students share my taste.

Each of my students also have a sheet to write down the titles of the books they hear that they may be interested in checking out some day.

I’ll be honest, some Tuesdays it seems like I’m talking to the desks; however, this morning during first hour, after I announced that it was Book Talk Tuesday, a kid said, “Oh good! Book Talk Tuesday is my favorite day of the week!”

Ok, so my first reaction was skepticism; I questioned him because I thought he was kidding. Turns out he was absolutely serious. “No, really, Mrs. Sluiter. I love it when you get all excited about books. It’s great.”

The photo above is what I book talked today: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Random Riggs and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I chose today’s books because they are ones I have “alternative” options for reading. For both I have the audio version available, and for the Riggs novel, I also have the graphic novel version (plus it’s a first in a series, and kids love a good series).

By the end of the day, everything was checked out and in the hands of eager students.

And you know what? I remembered that Book Talk Tuesday is my favorite day of the week too.

************

Donate to my classroom library here.

Travel Anxiety

Since having kids, this is the fifth time I am traveling away from my family to a conference, and I still get horrible travel anxiety.

It’s not the actual traveling that freaks me out. In fact, I love the traveling part. I’ve discovered that not only am I great road trip buddy (this I have long known), but I do airports and ubers and taxis well too. Who knew this introvert actually does well with public transportation?

Anyway, it’s not the actual traveling; it’s the days leading up to leaving. I am a fricking hot mess.

I stress out about getting everything done on my To Do Lists for home and school so that my transition to not being here goes smoothly. Most days you can’t tell I have OCD just being seeing me, but these days leading up to leaving it gets painfully obvious that I cannot stop myself from the compulsive obsessing—which I guess is the definition of my OCD diagnosis: not being able to stop myself.

It starts out with lists. I make lists of everything. I even have a Master List of Lists and as I accomplish a list, I check that list off the Master List.

Then each time something “not on the list” pops up, I over-react.

What’s that? The kids all need winter coats, snow pants, and boots? NOW? THIS IS NOT ON THE LIST. I CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS EXTRA COST. WE HAVE A STRICT BUDGET FOR THIS.

Then I burst into tears, have a minor panic attack, and curl up in a ball until Cortney puts on his soothing voice and gets me to unclench.

On top of all this, I begin to have intrusive thoughts about “what if…?” But I can’t shut the intrusive thoughts down, and I’ve figured out via YEARS of therapy, that I shouldn’t try because I make the panic worse. Not only do I panic about what happens in my thoughts, but I panic that I can’t stop the thoughts.

I have tell myself, “This is an intrusive thought,” and let it play out if that doesn’t stop it. But I have to name it.

This is exhausting when I have to do this every time I think of something going wrong, or worse–something happening to me, Cortney, or the kids.

And then this is when my sleep anxiety kicks in. Will I get enough before the trip? Will I get enough during the trip? Will I snore because of this sinus infection that is on it’s way out (thank you, antibiotics)? Will I keep everyone else up? Will I stress out about my sleep sounds, thus keeping myself awake and being a total ball of emotional over-tired awful for the entirety of the trip? Do I have a plan to get the rest I need post-trip?

Will I miss Cortney and the kids too much? This is a definite yes. I cry at least once every time I go away from them.  At some point I will get overwhelmed, feel so very tiny in a huge city so vastly far from my loves, and I will cry. I know it will happen, and I still stress about it.

I DON’T KNOW WHY.

But here is the reality: I will cry and miss my family and have at least one introvert-induced panic attack, BUT this will also be so fun because I am road-tripping with a couple of my favorite people, sharing a room with people I feel close enough to fart in front of (heh…sorry, not sorry), and I’m going to get so inspired and filled as an educator.

It’s going to be great DESPITE this stupid anxiety leading up to it.

I Am Not In Church

For the second time in a month, I am not in church with my family.

The first time I was pretty horribly sick. I still have that sinus infection, but it’s not what is keeping me home today. I went last week and felt enormously…awkward. It wasn’t the people (although sitting toward the back didn’t help my feeling of disconnect), or the message, or really anything the church or the pastoral staff did or did not do.

I love our church because the familiar ritual of the pattern of the service have always given me a sense of calm in my crazy busy week.

But lately, it hasn’t been enough.

I am home today because, yes, I have tons to do before leaving for St. Louis on Thursday. I have school stuff to work on, writing to do, and between now and then this is the only alone time I will have. I needed these couple hours.

However, there is something else too.

My faith is hurting right now and going to church feels empty.

Whew. That was hard to write.

There is so so so much bad in the world and I do not feel comfort in that hour service like I used to. It feels…empty. It feels hollow. It feels like it’s not doing anything to help.

As we go through the familiar patterns of worship, I see how many people seem to be just “there.” They are not paying attention, on their phones, or more occupied with the drawing their kid is doing than what is being said/done in front of church. So what is the point?

What is the point of showing up if you’re not really there?

What good is sitting in church doing? What good are the words being said, the songs being sung, the bread being broken if we are just…there. How is that helping the the immense pain and suffering in the world?

I don’t know that there is a reason for everything. I don’t think I believe that everything bad eventually will bring a good. I don’t know if shooting up a church or a concert has a “good” to “even it out”. Or that God “has a plan” for shit like that.

I don’t think racism or sexual assault or bullying is part of anyone’s plan, let alone a God that is supposed to be love and goodness.

Yeah, I used the reason of needing to get stuff done to stay home today. And it’s not a total lie, but I definitely don’t want to sit in church and paint a friendly face on when I pass a peace I’m not sure I believe right now.

So I am not in church today.

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