More Traditions

Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, for as long as I can remember my mom and I have gone Black Friday shopping.

Not crazy, wait in line, up at the booty crack of dawn Black Friday shopping, but make our way out of the house by 10am and get some deals on stuff we need.

It’s one of my favorite days of the year.

Also every year since Eddie was just born, we have gotten Christmas jammies.

It’s one of my favorite parts of the holidays.

One month until Christmas Eve.

One month filled with traditions new and old.

My favorite.

New Traditions From Old Traditions

For as far back as I can remember, my family Thanksgiving always involved my paternal grandparents, the usual turkey dinner and sides, and playing Bingo.

It’s been almost a decade since my grandparents have been able to manage having everyone over at their own house, so we had been gathering in a church rec room, each family bringing something to pass. But we still had the turkey dinner and Bingo.

Since getting married, Cortney and I have instituted and every-other-year tradition with his family and mine, but we always stopped in to see my grandparents while they served pie and played Bingo.

This fall my grandparents turned 93. My grandma lives in an assisted living community because she has taken a few falls and cannot manage to live in their home anymore, but my grandpa visits her every day.

Today it was my family’s year for us to join Thanksgiving, but since my grandparents don’t really get out anymore, my mom had my youngest brother and his family and our family over for dinner without aunts and uncles and cousins. Without my grandparents.

She made a delicious turkey dinner. I brought pie.

I pretty proud of my pies: apple and pumpkin (my mom made a pecan)

And my mom went out and bought a Bingo game and prizes.

I missed my grandparents, and I am going to make time to go visit them SOON, but today was nice. I enjoyed having wine with my dinner (which was never an option when my grandparents hosted–or when we were in a church). But mostly I enjoyed feeling cozy in a home again after so many years of sitting in a church basement or rec room.

Today felt like a new beginning.

Thankful for my people.

A Car Mouse

Today the boys and I had a few errands to run: my chiropractor appointment, taking my loads of new books to my classroom, and picking Alice up from daycare.

Easy, right? Just a couple hours round trip.

Just me, Eddie, and Charlie.

And a mouse.

Yes, you read that right. We took a mouse on our errands with us.

I mean, I didn’t mean to take a mouse with us. He totally hitched a ride.

I was driving down the road and all of a sudden, a small, white and brown face with a little pink nose peeked at me from behind my windshield wiper.

You would think I would have freaked out right then and there, but here’s the thing: this is not the first time this has happened.

Last fall, I also had a small rodent–probably his uncle–hitch a ride with me to school.

I wouldn’t say I was exactly calm, though. I really do not love mice. And I’ll admit that I first prayed that he would fly off the car. But I didn’t lose my mind and drive off the road or anything.

Instead, I texted Cortney from a stop light (I don’t text and drive because danger) and told him it was time to get out the traps for the garage again.

And then I watched that mouse like a hawk because my biggest fear was that it would find a way into the car, and then I really would freak out and drive off the road.

Little Dude was pretty nervous–my car hadn’t moved since Thursday, so he probably had no idea that what he thought was his new home was now moving. He kept pretty close to my windshield wipers, but tucked under the hood and out of the breeze.

When I got to the chiropractor, I parked near some grass and bushes hoping he would make a break for it. He did not. He peeked at me again once we were pulling out of the parking lot.

When I got to school, I parked near the dumpster hoping he would smell “food” and leave. He did not. He wiggled his body just enough that I could still see him hunched under the hood as I came to a four-way stop.

When we got to daycare to pick up Alice, I parked near some shrubbery and wood chips hoping he would move out. He did not. I could see his tiny face as he huddled just out of the reach of the cold air.

When I got home, I rushed the kids in the house and hoped he would leave. I am sure he has not.

But now I am handing this issue over to Cortney because I am sure he has friends. I just hope he does not have a bunch of babies under my car’s hood.

Because then we will just have to abandon my car somewhere and walk away.

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.

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