The Memory Tree

I wonder a lot about life after death. In fact, sometimes because of my OCD, I get obsessed and can’t stop thinking about it.

Anxiety disorders are fun.

Anyway, I have done more thinking about not being alive than the average person. It usually starts with the fear of “not being” because I can’t prepare for it. Lack of control or knowing what to expect is a giant anxiety trigger for me.

I know as a Christian, I am supposed to “rest in the salvation of Jesus” knowing that I will have eternal life if I follow him.

But as someone who is not just anxious, but also has a severe case of doubt, that is a hard one for me. I want to believe that when we die, our conscious souls dwell together and we “see” our loved ones again forever. Sounds great.

However I lay awake at night often trying to imagine not being. I think about how there was a time before me, and there will be a time after me. But since I don’t remember “where” I “was” before I was born, I get a bit freaked out about where I will “go” when I am gone. Or will I just be gone?

People often say they know there is life after death because they can “feel” their lost loved ones. I don’t know if this is true or hopeful thinking. There are times when I feel something, and it makes me think of those I’ve loved who have passed on. Is that them? Or is it just a memory of them? Is the memory actually them? I don’t know.

Since having kids, my fears of death and what happens have deepened since I worry about leaving my kids without a mother. I worry they will forget me, and that if I am just “gone,” there will be no way for them to feel my love once I am gone.

As my children get older, however, I’ve started to have a different view. I’ve often referred to Eddie and Charlie as “old souls.” They are such different personalities, but both have a way of thinking that is downright profound. If you follow my #SluitersReadHarryPotter hashtag on Facebook, you already know this. But something they said last week made me pause and wonder about the age of their souls and the depth of their wisdom.

Thursdays I pick the boys up from the after school program around 4:15pm; last week was no different. As we were getting in to the car, Eddie nodded toward the corn field that lies adjacent to their school property on the parking lot side, “Oh. There’s that construction truck.”

There was a parked van in my way of seeing what he had referred to, so I said, “what? construction? where?”

“Over there. They took the big tree down. I miss it. It held my memories.”

I looked at him quizzically as I buckled Charlie in. “What tree are you talking about?”

“The one that was in the middle of that field,” he said indicating again with his head.

Now that I was getting into the driver’s seat, I could see the large yellow back hoe in the middle of the field where I assumed they were extracting a stump. “There was a tree there?”

“Yeah. It was big and old and held my memories. Charlie, you probably don’t remember it because it was taken down at the beginning of the year.”

“No,” Charlie says, “I remember it. It was there at the start of this year. I remember it in that field before they cut it down. You are right, Eddie. It did hold my Kindergarten memories too.”

“Yeah,” sighed Eddie, “and now it’s gone.”

“Wait a minute. That tree held your memories? What does that mean?” I asked.

“Mom. Trees hold memories,” Charlie told me completely annoyed that I didn’t know what they were talking about.

“Yeah, you know. Like in the leaves or something. I don’t really know how it works,” Eddie tried to explain. “I feel like mine are in the leaves. But maybe not because those fall off each year, but the tree keeps the memories. You know, like the tree in our front yard. That has my whole life’s memories.”

“Yup,” Charlie added, “I think the memories are in the branches. But maybe that’s not right either, because I have more memories than how many branches our tree has. But they are in it. It holds them.”

“But you guys, your school memories aren’t gone just because that tree is gone,” I explained.

“Hm. Maybe,” Eddie shrugged.

And that was it. Neither kid talked any further on it. They went on to talking about other, more kid-related things.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that conversation, and how they both sounded so serious and wise and sure of themselves–not like little kids being goofy and making stuff up, but like elders who tell you about the way the world moves and works.

If there was anything in this world that gave me an indication about life after this world, it is my two boys. The wisdom that comes from them  feels like they pulled it from generations back. That they are somehow connected to those generations in ways that I am not. That certain things aren’t just “new” to them the way they should be for an 8-year old or a 5-year old. I’m not sure how to explain it.

Whatever it is, it brings me comfort. And so does their assertion that trees hold our memories. Perhaps this is why I cried when my dad cut trees out of our yard and/or woods when I was little. Or maybe it’s why I feel so connected to the tree that we planted in our front yard. In fact, no one in the family wants to leave that tree behind when we move some day. Maybe it’s because it holds all the Sluiter Family memories.

March Reading Madness

If I believed in coincidences (which I don’t), I would think it was a giant one that I was born the same month that would come be known as Reading Month.

That said, this March will mark my 40th time around the sun.

I know. I double-checked. It’s true.

I have a lot of unclear thoughts about the big FOUR OH, but maybe that is another post for another time.

This one is about books. And how much I love books. And how much I love sharing books.

Did I ever tell you why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place? Because I wanted to read books and talk about books.

Books are my reason.

You can imagine then my heartbreak when, after asking students to write about their favorite books that have been read aloud to them, I read over and over, “no one ever read to me at home” or “The only books I remember anyone reading to me were at school.”

It’s probably not hard then to understand why those same kids are the ones who struggle to find joy in reading to themselves.

Helping kids–my own as well as my students–find joy in reading is my mountain. It’s my thing. It’s become my reason.

(By the way, if you want to read about me and Eddie reading books that I totally never read as a kid–including Harry Potter–you can hop over to Dr. Steven Bickmore’s YA Wednesday blog)

Anyway, I have spent every last cent of my “extra” income (writing for The Educator’s Room) on new books this year. I also added around 60 titles that I brought home with me from the NCTE & ALAN conferences in St. Louis. I am not kidding when I tell you that almost every single book I’ve brought into my classroom has been snatched up this year. It’s a wonderful problem to have. Each year I do the Reading Workshop model in my class, the more voracious the readers get.

I have even developed quite the reputation for knowing and/or having all the best books and authors.

Anyway, I haven’t asked for many donations this year, but I’m about to. And it’s a big one.

In honor and celebration of March being my fortieth birthday AND it being reading month…

I want to add 40 books to my library!

I am totally going to buy some myself, but I know forty books is totally out of my price range. So I need help.

Will you help?

I have an Amazon Wish List for my Classroom Library. There are many that are less than $10 on there (yay, paperbacks!). There are new releases, replacement books for those that have been loved literally to death in my library, and old favorites that I would love to introduce to my students.

So, I want to give my birthday to my students. Won’t you please help gift them with 40 books before I turn 40?

New Year, New Netflix

Yesterday was World Read Aloud Day which seems to have nothing at all to do with Netflix. Stay with me, though. There’s a connection.

As you all know our family LOVES books. Yesterday for World Read Aloud Day, not only did I get my students involved, we read more than usual out loud at home too.  In fact, this week a post I wrote for Dr. Bickmore’s YA Wednesday Blog was published about the books I read aloud with Eddie and Charlie.

Because we love books so much, we are looking forward to the new stuff Netflix has to offer this year. Much to our excitement, Netflix is bringing some of our favorite books to the screen.

Eddie is looking forward to spring break (March 30, to be exact), when the new season of A Series of Unfortunate Events will be released.

He absolutely binged the first season–more than once. He keeps asking me, “when will there be new episodes? WHEN?” Now I can finally tell him. Of course he reaction to it being March 30 was first excitement (because new episodes), but then “UGG! THAT WILL BE FOREVER!” because 8-year-olds are totally patient, yo.

We are also pretty excited about the new Llama Llama series. Anna Dewdney is a favorite around here.

Not only do we love reading the books together, but Anna Dewdney narrates the ones we have on our tablet devices as well. The kids love the new animated series that brings their favorite Llama to life with Jennifer Garner as Mama Llama. Plus it’s available NOW, so that helps with the wait for new episodes of our other favorites.

For me, I am most excited about Mudbound, a Netflix original film.

I first read this book about five years ago in preparation for using it as one of the literature circles choices for the 12th graders I was teaching at the time. It takes place in 1940’s Mississippi deep in the Jim Crow laws. It’s an excellent portrayal of racism, privilege, and poverty. My students loved it. I loved it. I can’t wait to watch it come to life–especially with Mary J. Blige playing a leading role.

In between homework and reading, we will be cuddled up on the couch with new Netflix.

Disclaimer: This is not a paid post. Netflix provides streaming and a device to steam on while we provide our own opinions. 

Growing Pains

The two big changes of 2018 have taken place and our family is stretching to find our new routine.

First, Cortney’s company has officially moved to their new building. It’s super exciting because it means they are growing and changing, and I am just super proud of the commitment and work he has put into this.

The drive to new building, though, is a significantly longer commute than to his old building. The old building is located a mile from Alice’s daycare, and two miles from the boys’ school. It’s also only 3 miles from our house. All of my people and my home were all in the same spot. I was the one who was over thirty miles away.

Now, Cortney has almost as long of a commute as I have. This means they need to be out the door more on time in the morning, and he and Alice get home 10-15 minutes later in the evening. It also means that I am now on daycare pick up duty on Thursdays since Cortney needs to bust home to leave again for league night bowling.

The other big change is that, while not officially accepted yet, I have started grad school. I’m taking one class (while waiting on whether or not I’ll be accepted to the program) this semester. Some of you may have seen my posts on social media referring to the class I’m taking on Teaching Climate Change. So far it’s a tremendously informative class (albeit terrifying and causing me some anxiety if I am honest. Some of you may have seen my social media posts about the catastrophe our Earth is facing that our politicians are ignoring), and the extra benefit is that it’s dual focus is pedagogy and methodology of including climate change in an English classroom. I’m excited to develop lesson plans.

My class is on Tuesday nights and my commute is about an hour one-way. This all means that I hug my kids at 6:45am on Tuesday and don’t seen them for twenty-four hours. That part is tough, but so is the pile of reading–somehow after ten years of being away from it, I seem to have forgotten (or maybe blocked out?) how much reading is involved in grad classes.

I actually love the reading, but it takes time.

Eddie was not a fan of doing his math homework. He wanted to get back to his book. I can relate.

This means we are trying out a new normal around here. We are doing our homework together. I am doing more homework after they are in bed. I also do homework after school at my desk in my classroom. So far, it’s working.

That’s not to say we aren’t having a few growing pains.

The boys don’t love that we pick up Alice on Thursdays now. They like to go directly home and picking up their little sister feels like a bother. Similarly they also don’t love that I don’t pick them up at all on Tuesdays anymore since I just go to class from school.

We have had to sacrifice Eddie going to his Cub Scout Pack Nights since they always fall on the same Tuesday that Cortney has an executive consistory meeting at church. It means the kids get to hang out with their grandpa and grandma, but it also means bedtime is late those nights, mom’s not home to tuck them in, and everyone gets a little case of the crabbies.

Having grad class means I’ll be in class on both Charlie’s and my birthdays since they fall on Tuesdays this year.

We knew there would be sacrifices that weren’t super fun, but we also know it’s worth it.

Cortney growing his business is his dream.

Getting my PhD is my dream.

Modeling what it means to have a dream or goal and working hard for it is exactly what we want our kids to grow up around.

In fact, I am positive that it is because I grew up in a home with a hardworking dad and goal-oriented mom that I am as determined and passionate about all this as I am.

My only hope is that our kids don’t look back at this time in their life –the one when dad sat and read contracts and mom was stuck at her computer or pouring over a book–as one of being ignored, but one when they learned what passion and hard work look like, and that they decide to go for what they want most in life too.

What I Read: 2017

It seems to have become my January custom to showcase my reading list from the year prior. And because I am not one to mess with something that works, I went and looked up what I read in 2017. Again, I took the GoodReads challenge. I upped my goal to 40 and just made it by including new-to-me children’s books. I’m not sure what the deal was, but this fall my reading slowed down way more than normal.

Anyway, here is my list in the order I read them. The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend (although there were only a couple I was “meh” about, so go ahead and check them all out and let me know if you read them and what you think). The ones wit (YA) are young adult lit. (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry. (N) are nonfiction. (C) are children’s books.

  1. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler (N)
  2. The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (YA)
  3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman
  4. Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado (N)
  5. How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (YA)
  6. Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr (N)
  7. Flying Lessons and Other Stories Edited by Ellen Oh (YA)
  8. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  9. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)
  10. Faithful Families by Traci Smith (N)
  11. American Street by Ibi Zoboi (YA)
  12. You Are Here by Jenny Lawson (N)
  13. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (YA)
  14. Always Hungry? by David Ludwig (N)
  15. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA)
  16. Why Do They Act That Way? by David Walsh (N)
  17. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (N)
  18. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  19. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  20. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (YA)
  21. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)
  22. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (YA)
  23. Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst (N)
  24. The Turquoise Table by Kristei Schell
  25. I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
  26. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (YA)
  27. Lilly & Dunkin by Donna Gephart (YA)
  28. The Haters by Jesse Andrews (YA)
  29. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  30. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord (YA)
  31. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (N)
  32. Simon Vs The Homo sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  33. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (YA)
  34. Quiet by Susan Cain (N)
  35. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (YA) (P)
  36. Love by Matt de la Pena (C)
  37. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling (YA)
  38. Refugee by Alan Gratz (YA)
  39. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty (C)
  40. Dear Martin by Nic Stone (YA)

I did start reading the book Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, but I haven’t made much progress on it. It’s labeled YA, but I think it might be one of the only books I’ve come across that I just wouldn’t feel comfortable putting in my classroom library. We will see. I hope to still finish it.

The boys and I are reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban together right now. We read the first two (and watched the movies) in 2017 and are carrying on with the third. Eddie and I have fallen in love with this series. Charlie says he “hates Potter,” but he sure can tell you what is going on in the book!

I just started reading Jan Karon’s newest in her Mitford series: To Be Where You Are. I love her books because they are stress-free, lovely reads.

And the boys and I already finished one book in 2018: The third Dog Man graphic novel: A Tale of Two Kitties by Dav Pilkey. The boys adore the Dog Man books. Cortney and I think they are dumb. But you know how I feel about choice reading!

I set my GoodReads goal this year for 50. I couldn’t decide if I would be reading more or less because of classes, so I leaned to more.

Here is what I have on my 2018 Reading List:

My To Read Pile that hides in the cupboard under my bookcase. The left side are all my books. The right side are those I swiped from my classroom library to read.

The books for my class on teaching climate change came today!

What’s on your 2018 list?

Looking Forward to 2018

For 10 years I have been doing a sort of year-in-review here on the blog. This year I flat out just didn’t feel like it. I opened up my computer exactly twice yesterday and did nothing but close it again.

2017 wasn’t a particularly bad year for our family, but it sucked globally and nationally. I just didn’t feel like thinking about it again. But the bigger thing was that I had a terrible attitude yesterday. So much so that I found myself getting overly irritated when Charlie dropped one of his brand new walkie talkies in the toilet to the point of almost crying. Then I made Cortney chuckle with my over-the-top annoyance over professional bowlers who bowl two-handed (he was watching some tournament. I don’t even know.)

There were positive things I could have been doing, but instead I took a nap.

I should have just stayed off social media. I know better. When my attitude goes south, watching other people have fun without me is not really the way to feel better.

It’s like I wanted to wallow.

At dinner, though, I served up snacks–pizza rolls, mozzarella sticks, cheese and meat tray with crackers, chili cheese dip and tortilla chips, grapes, and sprite in fancy glasses with a drop of grenadine for extra fancy–and we talked about what would be coming in 2018. It pulled me out of my funk, so I thought I would share.

In 2013 Cortney and his business partners opened a new business together: Trigon Steel Components. It’s something Cortney has really been preparing for, albeit unknowingly, his whole life. Since middle school, Cortney has been working on and off in the steel truss business, and when he was approached to buy into starting a new business, it all just clicked.

In the first week of 2018, Trigon will move into their new building that was finished just weeks ago. This is a huge deal for Cortney and his partners. In less than five years, they went from not existing, to growing out of their small building due to demand for trusses and their expansion into doing wall panels as well. We are super proud of Cortney and can’t wait to see where this takes the company!

This week I will also submit my application for the PhD program I am hoping to start, but the newest development is that I will actually be starting my first class in January rather than wait until the fall! I have a very unique opportunity to take part in a seminar on teaching climate change that I can defer paying for until I am accepted in the program. The professor is one whom I have taken methods classes with as an undergrad and in my Master’s program. I’m pretty excited to start this new adventure and be a student again!

I actually started my MA program the same way: taking a class in January while I applied to the program and then officially started in the fall of 2003. I graduated from that program 10 years ago this year.

This is the year Cortney and I both turn forty. I’m first this March. I’m actually looking forward to it right now. Probably because we have a fun weekend in Chicago to celebrate planned with some of our favorite people. I’ll actually be in class the evening of my birthday, but that seems fitting?

The kids turn 3, 6, and 9 this year, something that freaks me out because it means no babies/toddlers at all anymore. But it also means we are on the verge of having a tween. It’s the last year we have them all in single-digits, and that makes me both excited and a bit sad.

Cortney and I will celebrate 13 years of marriage this year. Lucky 13. I don’t know what we will do yet, but I can tell you it will not be an expensive gettaway since we are paying for grad school again. Ha! And that is Ok. Someday we will go somewhere with poolside drink service. Until then, we will dream and save our pennies.

In a week I’ll start the second semester of my 15th year of teaching. We have the coolest stuff planned and I hope to have the time to share some of it with you.

I don’t do resolutions, but I did set my reading goal for 50 books in 2018. I met my goal of 40 books last year, but this year I am counting anything I read for the first time including children’s books I read with the kids that are new-to-me (which means my first finished book of 2018 is the 3rd Dogman book, but whatever). I also hope to write here at least once a week in addition to once a month at The Educator’s room.

Plus my homework. HOMEWORK!

Here we go, 2018.

Counting Down to 2018

Christmas is over (unless you celebrate all twelve days of Christmas and then my hat is off to you, friend). This of course means we are on the countdown to 2018, and I don’t know about you, but I am ready for a new year.

This year was not without merit though. I mean, we watched a lot of Netflix. So there’s that. In fact, we watched enough shows and movies that I can give you a Top 5 As Voted on By the Sluiter Family.

#5: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Technically this is mostly an Eddie pick, but I really loved this too. If you’re a Lemony Snickets fan, you’re sure to love the Netflix Original series based on the books.

#4 Beat Bugs

Alice loves the Beat Bugs mostly because she loves their songs…I mean The Beatles’ songs…that are in every episode. She dances around singing “Love, love, love…” It’s adorable. Until it’s not.

#3 Trollhunters

The boys LOVE this show. Especially Eddie. When the new episodes came out, it was breaking news in our house. It’s cute, but there is a bunch of action in it, which of course my little dudes love.

#2: Boss Baby

This is the one on here I haven’t actually seen, but when I was in St. Louis, this was a hit for Cortney and the kids. They all loved it and it helped Cortney keep his sanity as the solo parent for five days.

#1: Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas

I am confident we have watched this no fewer than a hundred times this month. It is a family favorite. In fact, we have started singing “Christmas Monkey” as part of our own family tradition. We love that darn monkey!

This New Year’s Eve, besides looking forward to waving 2017 goodbye, the kids are also looking forward to another round of NYE Countdowns from their favorite characters. Make sure you check those out too…because you can do them long before midnight!

Happy 2018, my friends!

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

Disclaimer: This is not a paid post. As a member of the #StreamTeam, Netflix provides us with streaming and a device for my family to watch it on. We watch a ton of Netflix and give our opinions once and a while. It’s a sweet deal.

Santa’s Magic

The other night after Charlie had fallen asleep, Eddie turned to me and said the words I knew had to be coming soon, “Mom. Some kids at school say Santa is not real.”

Eddie is eight and in the third grade. I knew very well that kids talk and it wouldn’t be much longer before my super inquisitive buddy would have questions about the validity of Santa Claus.

“Well, Eddie, what do you think is true?” I asked him, a bit nervous of the answer.

“I think,” he said slowly, “that he is real because you and dad would never lie to us.”

A part of me winced, but I said, “It’s true, daddy and I will never lie to you. And Santa’s magic is very real. Do you know how I know that?”

“How,” he whispered with wonder.

“Because,” I said, “I can see it in you and your brother and sister. I can see the magic twinkle in your eyes when you think about Santa and when you love each other.”

“Why would kids say he’s not real then?”

“I don’t know. There are always going to be people who say this or that is not real. There are people who will say stuff we know to be true–like science–is  not real. And there will be people who have a hard time believing things they can’t see like God or Jesus are not real too. We just have to decide for ourselves.”

“And you think Santa is real?”

“I think Santa’s magic is very real.”

“Me too, Mom. Me too.”

This may be the last year that Eddie believes in the actual man, Santa. And that is Ok. As long as he never loses the Christmas magic that is love and gratitude and joy.

Stockings made by Great Gram Sluiter: Charles, Alice, Edward

The Flix Wherever You May Be

We don’t travel for the holidays because our entire family lives within a 45-minute drive from our house. In fact, we rarely travel very far with our kids. We are, what you might call, homebodies.

This is not to say we haven’t made road trips with the kids. Generally speaking, our kids are usually pretty solid car riders–give them some Kidz Bop and they will happily ride without needing anything else to occupy them. However the couple times we took kids to Chicago–a three-ish hour drive–we did, in fact, make sure we had some Netflix downloaded to the tablets and some “ear muffs” so we didn’t have to listen to it.

Our Netflix reality is pretty much non-mobile these days, and everyone has their own To Watch List. Alice is a fangirl for all things Beat Bugs. She also loves PJ Masks and anything with Micky Mouse. I think we have watched every single possible Micky Mouse video available. Octonauts continues to be a hit with all of my kids.

The boys have their sister-free hour of Netflix right after school while I make dinner. Charlie is on a Chuck Chicken binge right now, while Eddie usually chooses TrollHunters or Voltron.

While I was in St. Louis, the family watched Boss Baby and loved it…even Cortney thought it was pretty funny.

Cortney and I get somewhere around zero Netflix time to ourselves. We have about an hour after the kids go to bed before we are falling asleep on the couch ourselves. This means that about 95% of the Netflix watched in our house is done by people age eight and younger. It’s Ok, though. At some point we will get to finish watching the first season of Breaking Bad, right? And maybe someday I will be able to continue watching Orange is the New Black…seeing as the last time I watched it was while I was on maternity leave with Alice two years ago.

Although on our immediate To Watch list is 13th because we enjoy documentaries to binge-watching an entire series. Rogue One is still on my short list too because STAR WARS! Maybe we will actually get time to watch during the holidays?

Who am I kidding? The kids will take over and we be left without any access to Netflix.

The Joy of Sharing

Whew.

I made it!

Thirty solid days of pushing the little green “publish” button over there.

It wasn’t easy. There were many nights I did not want to get out my Chromebook. I wanted to curl up on the couch and stare at the TV until bedtime. I didn’t want to use my brain at all.

But I did it anyway.

Cortney mentioned the other night that even though he knew I wasn’t super enthused every night to write, he enjoyed reading a little something from me each day.

That made me happy.

But I am Ok with giving myself a break after tonight too.

Well, there will be a Netflix post coming your way soon, but I have other things I really need to be writing–PhD application stuff and stuff I promised for people, and stuff for The Educator’s Room.

Plus the holidays are upon us and we have a million things to do and places to be.

But I’ll be back. I have re-found the joy of sharing what is in my head.

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