Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thirdly, this is the story, and I'm writing it.

Last night I had the fabulous experience of listening to Daniel Handler, who is more commonly known as Lemony Snicket. I'm please to say he was easily the best author speaker I've heard. I'm not please to say, however, that I discovered I am older than him by a few months. Him and his 60 million books . . . but I digress.

The event was a fundraiser sponsored by Ogden School District. Every year they host a dinner with an author as the speaker. Most people have to pay big bucks to get a seat, but I just had to know someone whose mother was on the board of the sponsoring foundation.

The dinner was unfortunate. I mean, it was a themed dinner based on the unfortunate events. It was quite delicious. Cucumber soup, roast pork, cornmeal raisin stuffing, veggies, lemony cake, mmmm mmmmm.

Daniel Handler spoke for over an hour, then took questions for 20 minutes. Then he sign books for what I'm assuming was a least a couple hours afterward. We made it close to the front of the line. He spoke individually to each person in line, calling us by name, making jokes, and being charming in the oddest ways possible.

My favorite Daniel Handler moments/ideas:

  • His first book (not from the Series) was rejected 37 times. Thirty-seven. Wow. I know this is not unusual--that many authors keep trying rejection after rejection. But a number like 37 is unfathomable to me.
  • While he was waiting to find a publisher, an editor suggested he write children's fiction. He scoffed at the idea, because his first book was about a teenage girl who killed her boyfriend--not exactly suitable for young minds. And so he spewed forth an off-the-wall idea about three newly orphaned children and all the horrible things that happen to them. It was, of course, all in jest. The next day the editor called to ask him to write it.
  • His favorite fan letter came from a girl who told him, "I get curious when things happen." He does too, so he always makes sure things happen in his books.
  • Somebody left a cell phone on the podium where he was speaking. It rang during his speech. "This isn't part of the show," he said. And then he answered it. Unfortunately, the caller did not speak to him. So he looked at the phone and said, "How charming, it has a 'dismiss' button." He pressed it and said, "I fully expect that tomorrow this person's boss will knock on his office door and say, 'I'm sorry to inform you Mr. Handler has dismissed you.'" Oh, so funny.
  • One of Mr. Handler's favorite phrases he read in a book when he was a child was something like, "Thirdly, this is the story, and I'm writing it." Of course it was preceded by a first and second point, but young Daniel used to quote it frequently on its own. If he had an argument with his parents, he would use this quote to stop the argument and get his way. Of course it never worked.
  • During Q & A time, the fortunate children of rich parents who are yet living lined up to ask Mr. Handler questions. He clearly warned them that they would be disappointed with his answers. Despite the constant laughter of the audience, he didn't even crack a smile. The kids LOVED this. (My kids didn't get to go because they are neither fortunate nor are they children of rich parents.) Some of my favorites:
  • Q: Who is Beatrice? A: The person who all the books are dedicated to. *blank, silent stare down between questioner and Mr. Handler* Dismissed.
  • Q: Which character in the series is most like you? A: *after a moment of chin rubbing* Lemony Snicket.
  • Q: Where did you get VFD? A: Wow, you credit me with a lot, don't you? It's like before I wrote the series, there were only 23 letters, but then I came up with three more. I'm a genius!
  • Q: Who is your favorite character in the series? A: *after a moment of chin rubbing* Lemony Snicket.
  • Q: *new speaker, her first question* Thirdly, are they going to make a second movie of the series? *after the laughter died down* A: They tell me yes, but I don't believe them.
  • During the book signing part, Mr. Handler spoke to everyone individually. When it was my turn, I wanted him to sign the book to Emma, Kate and Jane. "And this is . . . you?" he asked. I told him they're my daughters. "I'm sensing an Austen theme here," he said. I told him that no, there was not an intentional theme in choosing the names of my daughters. "So they weren't all born in Austin, Texas?"

As a hopefully some-day-in-the-future author, I was inspired by Daniel Handler. His wit was quick, sharp and entertaining, but the thing that stood out to me most was that he is, without fail, true to the stories he wants to tell. He writes the stories he wants to write, and if people want to read them, that's great. If they don't, he'll still write. Today I'm taking a moment to consider my personal integrity to the stories I write.

And I'm still laughing.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

The three Youngers before we went trick or treating. We grew all out pumpkins in our garden this year.

Jane, Maryanne and Rachel

Rachel is the Queen of Hearts. She giggled every time she said, "Off with your head!"

Maryanne is Aurora, a life-long dream of hers.

Jane is a gangstah.

The three Olders before they went to their various parties.
Kate and Sarah went trick or treating with friends in Mantua, and you would not believe their haul! Cans of soda, full sized candy bars, money, homemade treats, and even carrots. Sign me up for Mantua next year!

Sarah is Maleficent. "Touch it! Touch it I say!!"

Kate is Michelangelo, of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fame.

Em is Quin from Glee after she gets kicked off the Cheerios but before she starts showing. Not sure how I feel about that . . . :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Frost salted the orange and yellow leaves still clinging to the boney limbs of the front yard trees. A layer of newly fallen leaves blanket the yellowing grass. Inside, the weak exhalations of luke-warm air from our dilapidated heater took off a minimal edge of the cold we were accosted with unexpectedly.

“What happened to our Indian Summer?” I asked Brock when we sat down for breakfast. I blew on my hands, rubbing them together to warm them.

“Looks like winter’s coming early. We really need a new heater.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen any time soon. Can we build a fire?”

“Let me make sure the chimney’s clean first. Tonight for sure.” Brock promised.

The primary source of heat, at one time, was a coal-fired boiler which warmed radiators standing guard in various rooms of the house. The previous owners, who had lived here for decades, converted the heating system to a more modern forced-air heater, but they didn’t install an adequate number of vents to warm the entire house. They also didn’t bother to empty the coal room. It is still, to this day, filled with tons of coal.

Later that evening, with the kids tucked in their beds, Brock gathered split wood, kindling and matches and built a cozy, romantic fire for a cold, drafty evening.

“Should we throw on a shovel-full of coal to kick up the warmth just a notch?” Brock asked.

“Does it still work?” I asked, clueless as to the shelf-life of such an antiquated fuel.

Brock smiled, “Coal doesn’t expire. It will make the fire nice and toasty. I’ll be right back” He took a bucket downstairs to the coal room in the far back corner of the basement.

I was bundled up in a blanket close to the fireplace when he returned. He tossed a shovel-full of the black chunks of fuel onto the fire. At first it died down a bit, but soon it was blazed brighter and hotter than any fire I’d ever seen.

“You’ve made it angry,” I teased as I backed away from the intense heat the flaming coals produced. Even with the added distance, I was hot from the fire’s fierce glow. We both gazed into the flames, as people are generally drawn to do. As we stared, the fire began dance and swirl upon the glowing coals.

“Did you see that?” Brock whispered.

Our eyes stayed focused on the hearth, hypnotized by its intensity.

“It’s standing up!” I whispered back, horrified. The fire rose until it was a figure standing above a skirt swirling in a white-hot mound, arms flicking out of a torso of yellows and reds, a head rising as a flame atop a candle, but with a face. With eyes.

“Pss, ftt, spz,” a woman’s voice sputtered. “Pss . . . where issss my . . . baaay . . . bee . . .?”

“Did you hear that?” I whispered, eyes still trained on the fire, unable to look away.

Brock stood and took the fire poker in his hand. “What do you want?” he boldly asked the glowing form swaying side to side, dancing in the recesses of our hearth.

“I sssssaid . . . where issss . . . my . . . baaay . . . bee?” Her voice was filled with sparks and sizzles and wind. She raised her arms above her flickering head and crossed her hands in front of her face just as Brock thrust the poker into the coals. Her body exploded with the disruption, and soon the flames shrank back to contain themselves to the wood and coals distributed across the floor of the fireplace.

“Oh my gosh! We have a ghost!” I finally managed to say. “Did you know about her?”

“No,” Brock answered. “This is the first time I’ve used this fire place.”

“Well, that was exciting! Who do you think she is? And what’s the deal with her baby?”

“I have no idea.”

* * *
The next morning, we wondered if maybe we were a little too caught up in the excitement of the size of the fire. Maybe our imaginations were too lively. Maybe we didn’t really see a woman in our fireplace. We decided we would build another fire that very evening to prove to ourselves there was no ghost.

After the kids were tucked in their beds, Brock once again gathered the wood and matches for a fire. In a few minutes we had a roaring inferno burning in our fireplace. But it stayed in the shape of a fire. No woman.

“Nothing,” Brock said, and he sounded disappointed.

“Maybe you have to put coal on it,” I suggested.

Brock took up the shovel, but it hit the bottom of the bucket with a metallic clang. “It’s empty,” he said. What happened to all the coal that was here last night?”

“Maybe you used it all on the fire,” I said.

“No, I only used a couple of shovels full,” he paused and looked around the room. “I’ll just go down and get some more. It’s not like we’re going to run out any time soon.”

I nervously waited for my husband to get the coal and come back to the living room, the entire time worrying that the woman would return to the fire before he did.

Soon enough, he was back with the bucket. He shoveled coal onto the fire, and within a few minutes, the flames grew arms, a torso, and a head out of the skirted mound below.

“Pssst . . . where issss . . . my . . . baaay . . . beee . . . ?” the fire figure asked in a windy whisper.
Brock was ready with the poker, but I held up my hand and motioned for him to put it down. I wanted to know more.

“Tell us about your baby. Maybe we can help you.” I said.

“Help meeee . . . find . . . psssst . . . my baaay . . . beeee!”

“How?” Brock asked.

“Build a . . . ftttz . . . fiiire . . . every . . . niiight!” She folded her arms across her chest and sank back into the flames.

“How can we help her find her baby by building a fire?” I asked, mystified.

* * *

The next few nights were much the same. We tucked the kids into bed, and then went to work building a fire. Each night the bucket of coal was mysteriously empty. Each night Brock went down to the coal room for a refill. Once the fire was going hot and strong, the fiery figure appeared.

“Where’s . . . sptz . . . my baaay . . . beee?” she moaned each night.

“Build a . . . ftttz . . . fiiire . . . every . . . niiight,” she instructed before she settled back into her bed of coals.

On the fourth night as she began to dissipate, I called to her, “Wait!”

She looked at me curiously, her head tilted to one side as if she was waiting for me to ask my question.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Mary,” she whispered.

“And your baby? What’s his name?”

“He wasssss . . . taken . . . before . . . ftttz . . . I . . . naaaamed him.” She bowed her head and her shoulders shook. Smoke rose from her face, but I wondered if it was really steam from her sorrow’s tears.

I began to look for Mary’s baby in every closet, every corner, every nook of our home. I knocked on the walls listening for places that didn’t sound hollow, I looked in the heater vents, I looked behind the radiators and under beds.

Once I found a small pile of bones with a tiny skull in a heating vent, but it was just the remains of a wayward mouse, not a baby.

* * *

On the seventh night, Brock wanted to give up.

“No,” I insisted. “We have to help Mary find her baby.”

“Have you considered that maybe Mary died a crazy old woman? Maybe there is no baby. She doesn’t even know his name. Maybe she’s just trying to get us to bring her to life every night with the fire because she’s lonely. Maybe she’s just using us.”

“Maybe,” I conceded. “But maybe not. Maybe she can’t rest until she finds her baby. Maybe we can help her to finally let go of this world and go on to a better one. Let’s just try one more night.”

“Okay, but this time you’re getting the coal.” Brock knelt down near the fireplace to start the fire.

“Fine,” I said. I grabbed the pail and shovel and turned to leave. The floorboards creaked as I crossed through the living room, the dining room, the kitchen. I told myself it was just because the house was so old. The floorboards always creaked, during daylight hours too. I was just noticing it because it was night time. But I couldn’t but help but feel a foreboding I’d never before experienced as I descended the stairs into the basement.

I felt my way toward the hanging bulb in the middle of the open room at the bottom of the stairs. It was so dark I couldn’t see the pull string for the light, so I stuck my free hand out in front of me, swinging it around in the area I believed I would find it. After a few wild jerks of my arm, I felt the string make contact with my hand. I clutched it and yanked down.

The light clicked on, and I immediately looked all around, making sure I was alone in the basement.

Sheesh, you’re paranoid, I chided myself. But knowing I was being ridiculous didn’t help to calm me down. I still had one more light to find in the pitch-black coal room before I could fill my bucket and go back upstairs.

The gloom increased with each step I took toward the coal room. I opened the door with a long, loud creak. I glanced over my shoulder again, making sure I wasn’t being watched or followed or attacked. There was nobody there, of course, so I continued forward, free arm reaching out for the string just as it had in the previous room.

This time the string made almost immediate contact with my hand, as if it was searching for me instead of me searching for it. I pulled and the blackened room gave way to a slight glow. The low wattage of the hanging bulb emitted just enough light for me to see the immense pile of coal before me.

I set the bucket down on a relatively flat place in the corner, and then took the shovel in both hands and thrust it into the pile of black chunks. I dumped one shovel full into the bucket, then a second, then a third. The bucket was nearly full. One more, I decided. I heaved the shovel blade into the shadowy heap, but my shovel stopped dead as soon as it broke into the pile. I tried to force it further into the loose coals, but there was an obstacle preventing movement.

An ominous void filled my chest, and I knew I had happened on something sinister.

“Brock!” I screamed. “Brock! Come down here!”

I heard the floorboard creak above my head, and within moments he was by my side. “What’s wrong?” he asked. I could hear the panic in his voice.

“There’s something here,” I said, just loud enough for him to hear.

We both knew, of course. We both understood what it was we had found, even before we extricated it from its black and shadowy tomb. But we had to finish the job. Mary was waiting.

Brock took the shovel from my hand and scraped the chunks and dust away from a tiny box. A shoe box, decades old. It was tied shut with some twine which disintegrated as soon as he tried to unknot it. Brock put his hand on the lid, but I stopped him before he opened it.

“No,” I said. “Don’t look. Let’s show Mary first. And then we should bury him.”

Brock nodded. As we made our way back up the stairs, he said, “I’d always wondered why the previous owners didn’t empty the coal room when they quit using it.”

The fire was burning nicely in the fireplace when we came back with the box and the bucket of coal. I tossed a couple of shovels full onto the fire. While we waited for the fire to gain momentum, we knelt before it, the box on the floor between us and the flames.

“It’s the coal,” I said. “The coal is keeping her alive.”

The coal that buried her dead baby.

The fire spit and crackled, and Mary rose from the flames. “Where . . . is my . . . baaaay . . . beeee?” Mary wailed.

Together, we picked up the box, turned it toward the flames, and removed the lid.

The fire burned brighter, and Mary’s head swelled with flames. She swayed in the fireplace, her arms licking out toward the box. “My . . . baaaay . . . beee!” Her head tilted forward, and her height shrank down, as if she was falling to her knees.

“We can bury him the back yard for you,” I offered. “Then you can rest. We found your baby.”

“No,” Mary whispered. “No . . . pleasssse . . . give . . . him . . . to meeee.” Her arms reach out. They touched the box. Within seconds the coal dust on the dry, brittle cardboard ignited. We had no choice. We quickly placed the burning box on the grate in the fireplace. Mary’s body engulfed the cardboard coffin, burning it away until the small bones were exposed. They too—dry, brittle, partially decomposed—lit easily, and soon they burned to dust.

We watched for nearly an hour as the fire burned itself out. At last the final flames flickered in a pile of ash.

“Look,” I whispered.

In the remaining wisp of smoke, a single figure, a mother holding her newborn child, wafted up from the bed of spent coals. Serenity filled the room as together they drifted up through the chimney to be released into the brisk autumn air.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How'd she know that?

Kate, my middle child, is in my one and only 8th grade language arts class this year. She'll have me again next year as a 9th grader, lucky child! :) Right now we're doing literature circles in class. The class is split into seven groups of five students. Each group reads a different novel. They meet regularly to discuss the novel with each other. It's kind of a like a book club, but with written assignments and teaching responsibilities for each meeting.

Kate's group in reading the novel Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. I recently discovered this book, and it is one of my favorites. The thing I especially appreciate about this novel is that the foreshadowing is subtle enough that the ending comes as a surprise. This doesn't typically happen for me. I consider myself skilled at deciphering foreshadowing, so I generally know well in advance what will happen at the end of the book or movie. I've even written about my skill here on my blog.

So when Kate guessed the ending after reading a mere 20 pages, I was floored.

If you are interested in reading Walk Two Moons, you should stop reading this entry immediately. I am about to give away an important piece of information that could ruin the ending of the book for you.

The main character of the novel is named Sal. Sal and her dad have moved to a different city because Sal's mother has left them. The novel follows Sal through her healing process as she deals with the absence of her mom and all that it means to her.

Sal's paternal grandparents decide to take Sal to the small town in Idaho where her mother went so they can visit her. Sal has a secret hope that she can bring her mother back home. The book goes back and forth between the road trip to Idaho and Sal's experiences making friends in the new town.

In the end, we find out Sal's mother had died in a bus accident before she even made it to the small Idaho town to visit her cousin. Because Sal doesn't accept the fact that her mother has died until she sees the evidence of the mangled bus at the bottom of a ravine, and because it is written from her perspective, the first moment Sal realizes her mother has died is the first moment the reader understands what has happened.

Unless the reader is Kate.

After she read the first twenty pages, she said to me, "So . . . Sal's mom is dead, right?"

Wow! How did she know that when I didn't even get it? I asked her.

"Well, Sal's dad isn't mad at her mom. And her grandparents aren't mad at her. So she has to be dead, right?"

Wow. That never even occurred to me. So why was it the obvious conclusion for Kate? Not only the obvious conclusion--it was her only conclusion.

She can't imagine a scenario wherein a mom could leave and the dad and his parents wouldn't be mad at her.

I don't regret my own choices. I believe I did the right thing when I decided to end my previous marriage. I've done my best to avoid burdening my children with details of why or what happened or whose fault it was. I don't say bad things or act mad about the devastation the bad marriage had in my own life. But no matter how hard I've tried to keep things positive on my end of the stick, the other end is obviously smoldering with anger and hatred--at least from my children's point of view.

It makes me so sad for them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mrs. Cheney has a nightmare

I dreamed last night that Kate was running for office. I believe she was vying for the position of U.S. Senator for the good old state of Utah. I was quite proud of her in my dream. In fact, I took her to a print shop to get a banner to attach to the side of our truck so we could campaign for her every time we took a ride into town. We don't really own a truck, but neither is Kate even half the age required for one to become a U.S. Senator, so let's just agree to temporarily suspend our disbelief.

So, back to the print shop. When we went to pick up the banner, I was horrified to discover they had printed "Kate: A politician for are generation!"

NOOOOOOOO!!! How could anyone make such a mistake?? "Our" and "are" are not even homophones!

I was dismayed, to say the least. Then I looked about the shop and noticed other signs and banners. In my dream I was horrified by them all, but the one I still remembered after I woke was, "Flip Flops: it's what we where."

So disturbing . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mrs. Cheney's students say . . .


Friday is quiz day in Mrs. Cheney's language arts classes. My 9th graders are learning Greek and Latin word cells. The weekly quiz includes an oral portion in which Mrs. Cheney reads the list and students write each cell and its meaning. Today's list included the word cell "dic" which means "speak". I've been doing this for a couple of years, and I've yet to encounter the class that doesn't giggle when they hear Mrs. Cheney say "dic". Which means "speak".

Of course none of my classes surprised me with silence today.

My 6th hour class just may be the rowdiest class I've ever had as a teacher. I was fully expecting them to titter during the quiz today. But it didn't stop at the titter. Oh no. Why do anything small when you can super-size it? That's their motto. So it didn't surprise me when they all wanted to talk at one. I informed them that I would only listen to those students whose hands were raised. (ugh, huge mistake, right?) To my surprise, a girl on the front row, who's usually pretty good, raised her hand. I figured she was safe to call on, so I did.

And this is what she said.

"I know a guy who's name is Dick Astle and it's spelled a-s-t-l-e but the t is silent."

How could I possible refrain from laughing at that? I'm sorry to say I couldn't.

Oh dear.

After several seconds of good solid laughter, we got back on track for the quiz. Unfortunately we derailed once again. While we were correcting the quiz in class, I did this thing I sometimes can't help from doing. I opened my mouth and let a bunch of words spill out without pre-approving them with my brain. When we came to "dic" which means "speak", instead of just spelling the cell and saying the meaning, I said something like this:

"Dic, d-i-c, which means speak, or in the case of Mr. Astle, is an unfortunate first name."

Oh dear.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

She's not a middle-schooler anymore!

Yesterday was my birthday. My wonderful husband made a delicious meal, took the girls shopping for presents, generally made me feel quite special, and so one and so forth. As part of our birthday celebrations, we go around the table at dinner time and say nice things about the birthday girl (or Brock). When it was Brock's turn last night, he said, "I think Mom is special because she has such sexy legs!"

And without missing a beat Emma sang, "Bow chicka bow bow"!

What?! Just last year she would have groaned and rolled her eyes. I guess that's what high school does to you.

And then, of course, we spent the rest of dinner trying to figure out the joke that leads to the punch line, "brown chicken, brown cow." Something to do with a farmer, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An exciting opportunity for you and your family!

I've been a member of a writers' critique group for a little over a year now. It has been a great venue for me to get valuable feedback about my writing. I haven't been as faithful as I should be in submitting my writing every week, but I have managed to accumulate about 90 pages toward a novel.

We have four regulars in our group, two of whom diligently submit pages every week. At this point, it would be great if we increased our group by one or two more writers. So what do you say? Have you always been interested in joining a critique group? Are you a closet writer who'd like to start expanding your readership? Do you live close enough to Brigham City to travel to a weekly meeting in a very comfortable middle school library (we always bring treats!)? If so, please let me know. We would love to include you in our little group.

Here's how it works: our goal is to submit 10 pages of whatever our current project may be via email to each group member by Tuesday every week. Each member then prints the submissions and reads and marks them up with suggestions, comments, and smiley faces. We meet Thursday evenings and talk about our thought and reactions to the submissions we received. We are all working toward publication. Two of our members are currently under contract for a 2011 publication of their first books. One has a completed manuscript she is actively peddling. And I am 90 pages in to my first novel. We're all serious about improving our writing, so we give each other serious feedback. It's a little uncomfortable at first, but I tell you what, this process has seriously improved all of our writing.

If you are interested, leave a comment or email me at .

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mrs. Cheney is currently reading . . .

At our school, the teachers all have these signs next to the entrances of our classrooms:

Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So is currently reading _____ by _____

Mine says, Mrs. Cheney is currently reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. (Though I finished it more than a week ago, and I've read a book and a half since then)

The idea is that students will see that their teachers read for pleasure, and maybe some will be inspired to pick up one of these books to see what all the fuss is about. It's a nice idea, but many teachers keep the same sign up for months at a time. Some keep the same sign up all year. At that point, it ends up sending the exact opposite message from the one we would hope for. Students are then free to use teachers as examples of grown-ups who just can't find the time to read.

As an English teacher, one of my goals is to help students discover there is something out there in the world of literature that appeals to them. I want them to always be in the process of reading a book--and not the same book for months at a time. I want them to eagerly look forward to trips to the library to find new books to read. This is my goal.

To promote this attitude, I give my students reading time every week. They get to read whatever they choose. The 8th graders get 15 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the 9th graders get 40-45 minutes every Friday. I present this reading time as a gift and a privilege. It seems like such an easy way to promote reading, right? Wrong! There are always a few kids in every class who just won't do it. I suggest specific books I think may appeal to them, I let them read whatever they want, including magazines, I take them to book chats with the librarian so they can see what's out there, I ride a unicycle in circles while juggling burning torches, but nothing seems to reach this small group of students.

I am a firm believer that there is something out there for everybody. I'm a firm believer that all students like to read something. Otherwise facebook would fail and texting would be a thing of the past. So what's the trick? How do we translate the hours a kid will spend online or texting with a friend to a quiet 45 minutes with a good book in his hands?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a former student. She was one of those perfect kids who did everything she was supposed to do. Over the course of our conversation, she told me she doesn't really like to read. She reads because she's required to, not because she wants to. I was genuinely shocked. How could this happen? We talked about it quite a bit, and she came to the conclusion that there have been so many requirements for reading, including the personal reading time each English teacher has given her over the years, that she now looks at all reading as a chore.

That hurts.

I don't know what the answer is, but I've sure been thinking about this a lot lately. I think about my own children. They are all readers. How did that happen? Is it an innate thing? Is it a girl thing? Is it something I did? And if it is, how can I give that gift to my students as well? Maybe this will be my career-long struggle. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to comment.

P.S. I read the best book this weekend--Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. It's been a long time since I've been so emotionally engaged with a book.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jiggity jog

I've been thinking about taking up the old blog again. It's been ages since I wrote anything more than a few lines. I'm sure you've all been wondering, wondering why. Well, I think I'll tell you.

Toward the end of the 2008-09 school year, my principal called me in to his office. I had no idea why he wanted to talk to me. I think I must have felt much like my students feel when they get that call--filled with dread and terror. To make things even more frightening, it was the very end of my third year of teaching, which is a significant time for Utah teachers. During the first three years of teaching, we are considered provisional, and we can be released from our duties without so much as an explanation as to why we are being let go. At the end of the third year, if we have satisfied all the conditions required by the state of Utah, we are promoted to level 2. It is basically the equivalent of being tenured. So a call into the principal's office right around the time I should be triumphantly sailing through the final hoop left me feeling more than a little worried.

When I sat down across from Mr. S in his office, the first thing he asked me was, "Have you had any parents complain about your blog?"

I had started a teacher blog that year where I kept an update of what we were doing in class along with assignments, due dates, vocabulary lists and links to handy reference sites. The parents who had used my blog loved it, so I couldn't understand what he meant. I assured him that the parents of my students loved my blog. Why should they complain?

"No, I'm talking about your personal blog. Your 'Letters Falling' blog."

I involuntarily gave him my best whatchootalkin'boutwillis look. I'd never told any of my colleagues about my blog, and I'd certainly never informed my students about it. How would my students' parents even know I had a personal blog? And why would they care if I did?

I'm sure all these questions were playing around on my face as I sat there in shocked silence. After a few awkward moments, I realized he was waiting for an answer. I spit out a defiant "no" while regarding him through slanted slits that were once my eyes.

I'm sure at this point he could tell I was upset, so he started to explain. Apparently someone had sent an anonymous (coward!!) letter to him, my superintendent and Deseret News (of all places!!) about me and my inappropriate blog. The letter outlined all the terrible things I was publishing on my blog, including "the glorification of self-mutilation!" Whoever wrote the letter, he told me, must have read every one of my posts looking for dirt. In her (I'm assuming) righteous anonymity, she suggested that I be removed from my position as a teacher because I was a negative influence on my students, and my blog proved it.

He went on to explain that both he and my superintendent read my blog (ugh!!) to see if I had posted anything inappropriate.

Of course my mind was sprinting at this point, trying to recall every phrase, every word I had written. Had I been inappropriate? Had I written things I wouldn't want my boss, my boss' boss, my students and their parents to see? And the answer was, yes. I had written things I wouldn't want that particular world of mine to see. Not because they were inappropriate, but because I didn't want my professional life and my personal life to intermingle. I didn't want to always be Mrs. Cheney. I wanted to just be Shannon sometimes.

I'm sure it was clear to Mr. S at this point that I was distraught. He reassured me by saying he didn't believe my blog was inappropriate, but he went on to say that since I was a teacher, I had a responsibility to live the moral code of the community. I needed to be careful, he suggested.

I put aside the fact the he implied that I was somehow living beneath the moral code of Box Elder County, Utah, and I asked him if he was asking my to shut down my blog.

No, no. He wasn't asking me to shut it down. He was just letting me know that someone found it offensive. He wouldn't want to see things get ugly over something as silly as my need to be an individual who has a personal life beyond the classroom. It could be bad PR for the district.

I began to feel somewhat incensed, so I suggested that since I wasn't inviting students, parents, bosses and their bosses into my personal life, they should just stay out of it. He informed me I gave up my claim on privacy when I chose to become a teacher.

And there was nothing more to say.

I left his office in a bit of a daze. I had purposefully avoided telling local people about my blog for the very purpose of keeping a professional distance. Yet someone found it. I googled my name to see if my blog came up--I searched pages and pages of hits without finding my blog. I asked a couple of trusted teacher friends to try to find my blog without giving them an address or any other details. Neither of them could find my blog through searching the web.

All of this left me feeling vulnerable and suspicious. So I decided to lay low for a time.

And now that time is over. I think I'd like to try this blog thing again.

Because dammit, the moral code of my community is far looser than my own personal code of ethics. And I defy anyone to claim otherwise.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I have a new niece!

Congrats Mike and Wendie! Little (10 lbs. 6 oz.!!!!) Melanie was born yesterday. I can't wait to see her!