Through The Lens {April}

At the beginning of the year I decided to join my friends Greta and Alison and their year-long photography project called Through The Lens Thursday. You don’t need a blog to join in, just join our Flickr group and post each week! It’s great for practicing photography in a low pressure, fun way.

This month we had the prompts of Self, Books, Together, and Water.

These are my shots all taken with my fixed 50mm lens:

Self 1/400, f/4.5, ISO 100

Self
1/400, f/4.5, ISO 100

Books 1/150, f/1.8, ISO 100

Books
1/150, f/1.8, ISO 100

Together 1/80, f/2.2, ISO 100

Together
1/80, f/2.2, ISO 100

Water 1/600, f/1.8, ISO 100

Water
1/600, f/1.8, ISO 100

I was going to play with ISO this week, and I did, but the shots I ended liking best were all using 100 because I had such great natural light…yay! It’s about time!

Anyway, what do you think? Which is your favorite shot?

Need practice and want some weekly prompts? Come join us over on Flickr!

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Don’t forget about my book drive for my classroom library!

building a dream

I have a vision.

A bookish vision.

It started because this school year I have been doing loads of reading about best practice teaching strategies and practices of master teachers. Specifically, I was inspired after reading Collaboration & Comprehension: Inquiry Circles in Action and after attending a training about reading workshops by Penny Kittle based on her book Book Love

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I had already jumped on the opportunity to get some new books via the English department for my students to do student book clubs with (I wrote about the six books our department got here).  I had ideas…but  no real plan.

After a day listening to Penny Kittle talk about reading workshops, my brain was on fire scaffolding what I had learned from reading the Daniels/Harvey book.

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It’s going well. Even with it being the end of their senior year of high school, my students are reading. With the exception of only a few students, even my self-proclaimed non-readers have told me they love their books.

That is amazing.

But I want MORE for next year.

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I don’t want to go back to one “large work” per quarter next year. I don’t want to teach a novel (or play or poem or whatever) separate from writing, grammar, and vocabulary. I want it all to go together.

And I want my students to be reading a lot.

Students who don’t read suffer word poverty.   -Penny Kittle

This year was a test…if I give the kids choice and ownership, will they actually read?  Will they do the work?  The answer so far is a giant YES.

I am not going to abandon my belief in teaching students the classics. In fact, I am hoping that by switching to my plan, students will read more classics…because they want to.

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Next year I want to run student book clubs once a quarter.

I also want to run reading workshops all year long. What does that mean, exactly?

Students would practice goal-setting and tracking. At the start of each quarter, students would set a goal for how many books they will read. They will keep track of pages/books read.

Students will read every day.

Students will write about their reading.

Students will talk about what they are reading with me and with other students.

Students will unpack the writing styles and rhetoric of what they are reading to study the writer’s craft (mastering writing, grammar, usage, vocabulary, and style).

Sustained reading for 12 minutes a day can help students score in the top half of the SAT. -Penny Kittle

As students read, they will build stamina and endurance for reading longer, more challenging texts.  Students who are college-bound will be encouraged to choose classics a few times a year.

I have a little problem with my big dream though…

This is my current classroom library.

This is my current classroom library.

That tiny bookshelf hold all 104 books in my classroom library.

::cue the sound of a record scratching::

Yes, I have access to novels that have been taught in the past (see all those copies of Frankenstein? Yeah, there are not that many kids who would choose that book.), but not enough to rotate through the 120+ students I have.

Yes, we have a media center. But sending kids to the media center for books takes them out of the classroom. I want them to be able to grab a book whenever they are in my class. I want zero excuses for not having a book to read.

Read over 600 pages a week to be successful in a top university. -Penny Kittle

I want a LIBRARY in my room.

I want kids to run their hands over the book spines the way I do at home when I am trying to choose a new book, the way I do when I am remembering all the stories I have already read.

I want kids to hold books regularly. Sending kids to the media center during class time wastes time. Sending them on their own time means it won’t happen. I want them to be able to spot a book from across the room–the way you spot an interesting person–and want to walk over and get to know it better.

I never want any student of mine to suffer word poverty. They suffer enough poverties as it is.

So I need help.

What I have so far in my library I have purchased myself, and it’s not much. I can find the funds to add a few books each year, but I have nowhere near what I need to punch it up into something usable for the fall.

I can’t do it alone.

If I have learned anything at all, it’s that I cannot do this teaching thing alone.

using student book clubs and reading workshops

I’ve created a class library wish list on Amazon.

I am not an affiliate, so no purchases give me anything other than books for my students. Along with donations, I am also busy working on applying for a grant to help purchase books for my classroom library too.

I want to thank all of you for your support, be it books or donations or just virtual high-fives. Your encouragement is a BIG part of why I get on fire to be the best teacher I can be each day.

Read on, friends.

And read to your kids.

** edit: If you don’t want to purchase new books but would still like to help, I would also happily accept gently used books you may have laying around!  Email me for where to ship sluiternation@gmail.com

Not in the Grave

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My earliest Easter memory is of sitting in a gym…or outside on a football field of some sort…with my Grandma Jo and my mom at the crack of dawn for the town’s Sunrise Easter Service.

I was too young to remember the location of the service, but I know we went for a few years, just the three of us. Or at least I only remember it being the three of us.

I vividly remember all the flowers and the scent of spring wafting through the gathered believers. I also remember sitting next to my grandma, her soft hand holding mine sometimes, and her wavery grandma voice loudly singing “Christ the Lord has risen today…Alleluia! ”

Her favorite flower was the yellow tulip and each year for the past nine years, Cortney and I have added a yellow tulip to the Easter garden in the front of our own church for the Easter service.

No longer do I get up at dawn and to attend a musical extravaganza of praise and rejoicing, but I do dress my boys in matching sweater vests and close my eyes and feel my grandma’s soft hand on mine while I sing “Because He lives” and with each “Alleluia” I hear her voice echoing through the church.

After the sunrise service, my mom and I would meet my dad and brothers and go to our church for the regular service, and then head to my grandma’s house for an Easter egg hunt with all my cousins. She always had those large, pastel-colored marshmallowy eggs, malted eggs, Reeses eggs, gum eggs, and lots and lots of jelly beans. While we hunted she would still be singing.

I also can remember my mom’s singing on Easter. Like her mother, she loves the holiday.

Easter is the most joyous day on the Christian calendar, and it is the day I remember my grandma and her love of spring, flowers, and her savior. I also think of how much like my grandmother my mom is. She sings with her grandchildren and spoils them with treats and toys for Easter as well (Cort’s mom does the Easter egg hunt for our kids which I am so grateful for. She is making memories our kids will remember forever).

In thirteen years since her death, I have never been to my Grandma Jo’s grave.

I don’t believe she is there.

Like her savior, she arose.

And on days like today, I feel that presence in the songs, the bright sunshine, and the smiles on my boys’ faces.

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Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord.

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly the seal the dead, Jesus my Lord.

Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior,
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord.

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he rose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever with his saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!

“Up From The Grave”, my favorite Easter hymn.

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Today I am the featured working mama over at Breadwinning Mama. Come check me out!

Project 365 {week 16}

This week was the beginning of that long haul to the end of the school year.

Upon starting school on Monday, we had seven full weeks of school left.

As I type this we now have six weeks, and my seniors only have four weeks.

It feels like crunch time.

April 13: Goodbye Chicago! Thanks for a fun weekend!

April 13: Goodbye Chicago! Thanks for a fun weekend!

April 14: Book Club day in my classroom.

April 14: Book Club day in my classroom.

April 15: These two are weirdos.

April 15: These two are weirdos.

April 16: I'm trying to urge spring to stick around by wearing springy colors.

April 16: I’m trying to urge spring to stick around by wearing springy colors.

April 17: Finding our favorite quotes during book club.

April 17: Finding our favorite quotes during book club.

April 18: Charlie and his lady friends.

April 18: Charlie and his lady friends. Why yes, they ARE blonde twins.

April 19: Grandma and Grandpa give the boys peeps. Eddie doesn't like them at all...oh wait.

April 19: Grandma and Grandpa give the boys peeps. Eddie doesn’t like them at all…oh wait.

I looked ahead at our calendar from now until school is out at the end of May.

It gave me hives just a little bit.

Six weeks.

We can do it.

A Letter to the Depressed

It’s a fragile thing, this life we lead.
If I think too much I can get overwhelmed by the grace
By which we live our lives with death over our shoulders*

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

I am currently in the process of watching you spiral down. Again.

It’s hard and it sucks and it’s not the first time you have been down this road, but just like every time I hope it’s the last.

Depression sucks.

Depression tricks you into thinking you don’t matter and that nothing you say or do will work to get rid of it anyway. So you try things that make you feel good in the moment, make you forget that your brains sucks at being a brain.

You take risks because, why not? When you’re not risk-taking you feel like garbage, so you may as well try all the things that will make you fee–at least for a little while–like none of the trash in your head matters.

Depression is heaps and heaps of bags of rotting trash leaking all over your brain. Leaking into your thoughts and memories. Tainting every day activities and routines and making them unbearable.

You can’t get through even mundane tasks because it feels like such a heavy burden.

Depression dupes you into thinking that making the same old bad choices will somehow have a different outcome and that things will be better this time.

Instead you barrel towards the pit again, and you are surprised to find that all those things you did to try to hide the rubbish piles in your brain didn’t help…again.

You cycle.

You get just far enough out of the pit to tell yourself that this time will be different.

But you don’t follow through with finding a permanent solution to the trash removal.  You think, because depression tells you so, that you can handle all that refuse on your own because you feel better. You’ll haul it all out by yourself with your new-found energy.

Slowly you’re overwhelmed. You’ve gotten rid of a few of the bits of litter only to find that Depression has piled on a whole new truck load.

You cycle.

Depression tells you to do the things that felt good before.  The ones that put up the curtain, the screen. You can’t see the depression when you do those things…but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

It’s never gone.

Life is fragile.

But you know that because, well, you just know. Depression even told you a few times that life was worthless. And you believe that.

You want it to go away…you want it all to go away.

But you don’t want to change.

Change is hard. It’s scary. You don’t know what you look like without all this.

What if…what if it’s not better?

But what if it is?

You can’t keep living life in a constant state of “barely” forever.

You can’t keep living life staring at the ground in front of you wishing it would change.

You need to look up–despite what Depression tells you about there being nothing there. There is. Something there, I mean. It’s a light.

But you need to look up to see it.  And probably squint really hard.

Ok so maybe from where you are, with all the garbage bags piling up, you can’t see it. But it’s there.

You can’t see the air, but you know it’s there because you are breathing it, and you are alive.

The light is there too.

You know because you are alive.

You can go to that light. You can be warmed by it’s energy-giving light.

But you have to want to.

You have to want to make a change. You have to decide to go against everything Depression is telling you.

It’s a lot of work. It’s hard. It’s scary.

Change seems way less secure than the dangerous things you’re doing now.

It’s scary to open your mouth and tell those around you, “I need to stop and change because I’m broken, and if I keep this up I will be dead.”

It’s hard to believe you matter, but you do. You are important. The hard work will be worth it.

I know. I’ve done it.

I am doing it.

Every day.

I hope this time you will join me.

We can do hard things…together.

We can claim the light for you too.

light

*lyrics from “Sirens” by Pearl Jam

Adventures in Chicago

Since Charlie’s birth Cortney and I have been talking about taking Eddie away for an adventure with just us–free of his little brother. Every time we planned something, it fell through due to sickness.  Luckily, we were able to make it happen this year over spring break.

We planned a trip to Chicago.  Eddie knows about Chicago and he knows my best friend and her little family live there. We have a book called Goodnight, Chicago that we have read since he was very small, so he knows a lot of the major attractions that are there. The plan was that Charlie would go to daycare on Friday and get picked up by my mom for the weekend.  We would take Eddie on the road and not tell him where we were taking him.

But I really suck at keeping fun secrets, so I spilled the beans a couple days before the trip.

His reaction did not disappoint.

This was his calmed down excited face.

This was his calmed down excited face.

We talked and talked about it. He asked a million questions.

The last time he stayed in a hotel he was just a year old, so he didn’t remember. He wanted to know if he should bring his entire bed. He wanted to know if Chicago had roads and bathrooms. He wanted to know if we should pack our pans and bowls and forks.

This was going to be fun.

Friday Charlie went to daycare like planned (after I gave him a million hugs and kisses), and the rest of us headed for Chi Town. Eddie was an excellent rider. Cortney loaded up his tablet with a few movies, but Eddie was mostly happy listening to Kidz Bop and asking a million questions.  Plus he only needed to stop to pee twice in the almost three-hour drive.

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Since we couldn’t check into our hotel until 3pm, we drove straight to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Even though he was a good passenger and we all had some snacks on the drive, it was past our lunch time, so some of us had no interest in seeing animals first thing.

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So after taking a quick peek at the pink flamingos, we headed straight for lunch. Again, Eddie did a fantastic job of patiently waiting in line even though I knew he was totally hungry. And when I asked him if he wanted chips or an apple with his ham and cheese sandwich, he chose an apple. He’s a good kid.

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Everyone was much happier after sandwiches were in tummies, so we headed out to see the animals.

Eddie was not as impressed as I thought he would be. He would take a glance and then say, “can we move on?”

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He wasn’t all that impressed with the huge giraffes or hippos or rhinos.  Cortney and I could have stood and watched some of these animals for quite a while, but Eddie was mostly uninterested.  Even the camels who were wiggling their humps couldn’t grab his attention for more than a “cool”.

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The Ape House was one of the only places he really loved to sit and watch. The gorillas were amazing. It was feeding time and they all came so close to the window. There were even a couple tiny baby gorillas. Eddie sat in one of the windows to watch, but jumped a mile when the big daddy gorilla came too close for his liking.

We didn’t get to all the animals in the zoo because Eddie got a splinter and threw a minor fit, so we decided it was time to motor to the hotel. Eddie was excited to see what the hotel would be like anyway.

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After the zoo we were going to meet my bestie and her hubby and baby for dinner, but the baby wasn’t feeling too well, so the Sluiters did dinner on our own. We went to the Weber Grill which was only a block from our hotel. It was the first time we ever took Eddie to a restaurant where the napkins were actual linens.  He was very impressed, and said, “oops, they gave me two forks. I’ll share with you, mom.”

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They had a REALLY nice kid’s menu and Eddie dug right in. He was super impressed with the fruit, broccoli, and tots. He was less impressed with the mac n cheese…probably because it was deliciously homemade and not from a box. I was very pleased with Eddie’s restaurant behavior. He was super polite and did a great job eating up his dinner. He even got a chocolate chip cookie sundae at the end of the meal.

When we got back to the hotel Eddie was crawling up the walls with the desire to get in the pool.  So Cort suited up and the boys swam for a big hour before it was time to get ready for bed.

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Our room was a studio suite, so we had a kitchenette area, a living area with a pull-out couch for Eddie and a separate bedroom/bathroom for us. After that huge day, he tried to tell us at 9pm (which was 10pm our time, a full 2.5 hours after his normal bedtime), that he wasn’t tired. But the yawning started and sleep wasn’t too far after that.

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On Saturday morning, we had breakfast and headed to Shedd Aquarium. Because there is no good public transportation other than a taxi, we decided to drive our own car, park at Soldier Field and walk to the aquarium. The weather was perfect.

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The line was sort of long to get in, but as far as what I expected on a Saturday morning, it wasn’t too bad. The wind was really strong though and the radar showed storms north, so we were happy when we made it inside.

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Eddie was less interested in the aquarium than he was the zoo. I felt sort of bad, but I realized about 20 minutes in that he is more of a hands on DO-ER than a walk around and LOOK-ER. Anytime there were screens to scroll through the fish in a particular tank and look at their food/habitats, he found it and swiped through while Cort and I tried to get a look.

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Again he got pretty crabby and asked to leave a million times so he could swim in the hotel pool rather than walk around an aquarium. We had lunch and things got a bit better. He liked watching the dolphins and seeing the jelly fish and beluga whales and sharks. Ok he was actually sort of scared of the sharks.

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When it was time to leave he chose a tiger shark to take home, and then asked if we could get a beluga whale for Charlie.  It was very sweet. Everywhere we went that was set up for four (mostly in restaurants), he would comment on how the empty seat was for Charlie. I know he missed his brother and felt a little off without him.

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After the aquarium it was only just afternoon, so Eddie begged me to go swimming, and I did. Barely. I really don’t love to swim in hotel pools and so when Cort got back from a frappaccino run for me, he got in the pool with Eddie and I chatted with a nice couple from Indiana who have two little boys as well.

Around 4:30 Eddie said he was ready to be done and maybe get dinner. I asked him what he wanted and he said, “pizza and an apple.”  He can be pretty specific.

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While Eddie munched his apple, Cortney and I decided on some pizza joints to check out. Once Eddie was done and we ventured out, we nixed all our plans for Chicago Pizza since I don’t even like deep dish and the wait is like a million years or something.  Instead, we went to California Pizza Kitchen where Eddie could get a cheese and black olive pizza.

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And Cortney could try a new beer (Brooklyn Local 1)…

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And I could get a nice beverage too.  Eddie again was awesome–even chatting up our waiter–and earned himself yet another sundae.

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After dinner we decided to walk two blocks to a new/used book store Cort spotted from our hotel room. I took Eddie to the children’s books with the intention of buying him one with my saved money. Then I found out something awesome about Cort: if he drinks a REALLY big beer with his dinner, he will treat us ALL TO BOOKS!  So Eddie picked out The Diggingest Dog for himself and Little Gorilla for his brother. Cort found himself a Neil Young book and I got Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

We then walked the block back to our hotel.

Eddie was bummed that it was getting too late for more swimming, but we appeased him by popping some popcorn and watching Animal Planet’s “Too Cute” with him.

At 8pm I read him our chapter in Charlotte’s Web, but he fell asleep before I could finish.

Eddie had a great time on his adventure, though he says if we go again he would like more time in the pool…and maybe have his brother along.

That made me happy, because I missed The Bird like crazy.

But it was a good trip. It was good for us to hear everything Eddie had to say without a toddler stealing our attention. It was fun to make a weekend all about Eddie–we learned a lot about him, and were amazed all over again that less than six years ago it was just the two of us…and just five years ago we were on the verge of parenthood.

At one point I nodded to Eddie scarfing his sundae and smiled at Cort saying, “we made that.”

“Yeah. It’s pretty neat,” he replied.

Project 365 {week 15}

Ah, spring break.

You were so needed.

Also SPRING…you were needed as well.

April 6: Big kid in a polo for church.

April 6: Big kid in a polo for church.

April 7: Spring showed up so we went outside to meet it.

April 7: Spring showed up so we went outside to meet it.

April 8: My day to myself. I went shopping with some birthday money after showering and getting dressed...in REAL clothes (not yoga pants)

April 8: My day to myself. I went shopping with some birthday money after showering and getting dressed…in REAL clothes (not yoga pants)

April 9: Eddie and I spend an hour just chalking and talking during Charlie's nap.

April 9: Eddie and I spend an hour just chalking and talking during Charlie’s nap.

 

April 10: More time outside. Outside is the best.

April 10: More time outside. Outside is the best.

April 11: Cort, me, and Eddie take an adventure to Chicago. First stop is Lincoln Park Zoo. He didn't want to pause for a picture, can you tell?

April 11: Cort, me, and Eddie take an adventure to Chicago. First stop is Lincoln Park Zoo. He didn’t want to pause for a picture, can you tell?

April 12: Day 2 of our adventure. On our way to Shedd Aquarium...a quick pick of my two heroes.

April 12: Day 2 of our adventure. On our way to Shedd Aquarium…a quick pick of my two heroes.

 I started this week feeling like dump.

But then spring showed up.

And when we got to Chicago, the weather was so lovely it made me giddy.

I giggled at how ridiculously awesome it felt.

And tonight we sleep with the sound of the rain.

Spring Showed Up for Spring Break

After all the cold and the sick…Spring showed up on Monday, four days into spring break.

These guys were closed when we played outside in the chilly morning, but after Charlie’s nap they had opened right up.

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As soon as I opened the door Monday morning, the boys BUSTED out at full speed.

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It was pretty overcast and chilly (still in the 40′s) and we only lasted about 45 minutes that first time out, but  man. It was so needed.

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After Charlie’s nap, we went out again because it was almost 20 degrees warmer. That meant coats and hats could be ditched for hoodies!

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Charlie finally got to try out his scooter that Grandpa and Grandma gave him for Christmas.

He didn’t really understand that he had to push with one of his feet. He kept saying, “Push? Mama push?”

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So he went back to his coupe.

I tried to take Eddie’s picture too, but he giggled as he zoomed by and all I got was blur.

Then he got a hole in his bike tire and he was a bit pouty.

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Wednesday was another beautiful day. Warm AND sunny!

That clearly meant that every outdoor toy we own needed to come out of storage.

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During Charlie’s nap I tried to get some work done. I had stuff for school and some homework things I wanted to do. Eddie watched TV for a little bit, but the sunny, warm day was too much.

He begged me to play with him.

I put him off twice and then realized I was insane.

We spent an hour chalking up the driveway.  The first thing we did?

Trace each other holding hands.

I have tightness on my face from the sun shining on it.

It feels great.

Six Must-Read Teen Novels

It’s been awhile since I reviewed a book, so I thought I would go all over-achiever on you all and talk about SIX books!

Why six, you ask? Well contrary to how little I have been posting about books, I have been a reading machine. I’ve read something like eleven books so far in 2014 and six of them were books that my seniors are currently reading for their Book Clubs.

All six books knocked me right out with how awesome they are, so I thought I would share in case you need an awesome read, that will be quick, yet keep you hooked throughout the whole book.

teen novels

Continue Reading…

filling space

I fell asleep on the couch Sunday afternoon after struggling with more GI bug issues. Apparently it’s a county-wide issue. I was blessed with it not once, but twice. Awesome.

Anyway, I fell asleep on the couch Sunday.

I always lie on my side with my legs bent at the knee.

Tucked in that space that my bent legs make, Eddie snuggles himself in and under my blanket to watch a movie quietly.

That is where he always fits, into the space I leave open.

If I am in the chair, he somehow finds his way up there too, even though he has long outgrown being two in that chair. But I can’t kick him out. This chair is where “we” began.

And so he fills any space that is left. His long legs sprawled over my lap, his head finding my shoulder.

When I put him to bed, we read a chapter book–right now it’s Winnie the Pooh. A chapter a night. Sometimes two if he asks really nice because I can’t say no to just one more chapter.

Once the light goes off, and our chatting stops, his breath becomes heavy and regular and he rolls into me, again filling the space.

When I am sitting on the couch, so is he…up against me so close there is no room for space. It’s instinctive to him to fill up any space between us.

When he was an infant, there was a lot of space between us, so much so that I sought help.

That was four years ago.

He was almost a year old.

I spent his whole first year putting distance between us because I was sick. But I didn’t have GI issues. Nope, I had brain issues.

Medication and therapy helped but it was a long road.

Now each time I noticed him right by my side, I smile because he doesn’t remember. He has no recollection of our hard start. What he knows is that his mom is his safe place–his protection from bears in his nightmares, as he says.

What he also doesn’t know is that he is my safe place too.

Every time I look at him I think of how far I have come and how I am so SO lucky to have him as my boy.

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