Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The One With All The Hugs #sol15

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Every March, the Slice of Life Challenge is a month-long experience where Slicers post every single day for the entire month. I'm joining in on the monthly challenge this year! For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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Yesterday I shared some of my memories from growing up but one thing I didn't mention is how we greet each other and say good-bye. It's just normal in my family that when someone comes over to visit or even when someone comes home, we come to the door to say hello to them. Saying hello usually means a hug and a kiss on the cheek. And when someone is leaving, it's the same, we walk them to the door, we give them a hug and a kiss on the cheek. 

When I was dating my husband he pointed out that my family hugs a lot. He joked how just coming over or trying to leave the house meant all the hugs from all the people. I didn't know anything other than this. My family is affectionate and caring and welcoming. They are supportive and expressive and loving. It's not right or wrong, it's just how they are.

This is my normal.

But I've realized over the years that not everyone is a hugger. 
Some people are happy to take a hug if offered.
Some people don't even like to be touched. 

Obviously, people have different styles and personalities and that's great. But I've noticed something recently. I have a colleague who claps and will offer encouragement after someone presents or shares. 

She'll start clapping and others will clap along. 

But I've seen over the years that not everyone appreciates her enthusiasm.
Some people roll their eyes. 
Some people shake their heads.

She happens to be Hispanic.
She reminds me of my mom, my aunt, a family friend.
She is my normal.

It may not be normal 
for some people.
in business meetings. 
in formal situations. 

But accepting others should be normal. 
Appreciating people for who they are and what they bring to a situation should be normal.
Understanding that we all have different perspectives to a situation should be normal.

I want that to be my normal.

To read my previous Slice of Life posts, click on any link below:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The One With Vicks VapoRub #sol15

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Every March, the Slice of Life Challenge is a month-long experience where Slicers post every single day for the entire month. I'm joining in on the monthly challenge this year! For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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I thought it might be fun to share 
some things that have been or are part of my life 
because my mom is from Guatemala.

I'm going to do my best to translate...
but I should warn you, the rhymes don't really work in English.

One of my favorite memories is of my mom and Mamita singing songs to us. My cousin's daughter turned one last year and I love listening to my mom and aunt sing songs and nursery rhymes to her because it brings back great memories. My favorite was always:

Los pollitos dicen pio pio pio
Cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frio

The little chickies say, cheep, cheep, cheep
When they are hungry, when they are cold

We always hard corn tortillas in the house. My mom would warm them up and roll them up to eat with dinner or she would melt cheese between two tortillas for us.

I loved watching Topo Gigio. He was a little mouse puppet who was so sweet and funny, full of personality and completely adorable. I have memories of him as much as Sesame Streeet and Mr. Rogers.
Topo Gigio
If I ever had a scrape or a bump, my mom would rub it and tell me:

Sana, sana, colita de rana
Si no sanas hoy, sanaras manana

Heal, heal, froggy's little tail
If you don't heal today, you'll heal tomorrow

When we lost something, my mom prayed to Saint Anthony. And when it was raining, she would ask Saint Isidore for sun:

San Isidro Labrador, quita el agua y pon el sol

Saint Isidore the Farmer, take away the rain and bring out the sun
Vick's VapoRub
And whenever we had a cough, Vick's VapoRub was always the answer, except my mom pronounces it Vick's: 

Va - like open your mouth and say, "(v)Ah!"
po - like "police" and
Rub - like "ruby"

At birthday parties, we had pinatas - the kind you string up and have to hit with a stick while blindfolded. And after the Happy Birthday song, we start clapping and sing:

Ya queremos pastel, ya queremos pastel
Aunque sea un pedacito, pero queremos pastel

Now we want cake, now we want cake
Doesn't matter if it's a little piece, but we want cake

Whenever Guatemala was on television, my mom would call us over to watch singers and marimba players. Any time she came back from a trip, she would show us pictures and videos and tell us all about Guatemala. I'm glad my mom is so fiercely proud of her country because even though I've never been, I have all these wonderful memories.
At the end of last school year, our district Mariachi Club performed. The instruments filled the auditorium and soon the audience was alive, swaying back and forth and singing along to Cielito Lindo. 

Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores

Ay, ay, ay, ay, sing and don't cry

Afterwards, one of my colleagues leaned back to ask me about the song because he wasn't familiar with it. 

It surprised me. I assumed everyone knew that song. 

It reminded me. I have to be careful in assuming anything. 

It made me think. I need to share my stories, my experiences, my normal.

Instead of assuming, what if we all shared what we know?
Instead of judging, what if we all listened to others' perspectives?

Sharing these memories feels really good. I'm so happy to have them as my own but sharing them feels even better. We all have memories we cherish, but how much richer could the world be if more people shared their stories and were open to listening?

To read my previous Slice of Life posts, click on any link below:

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sweet Madness Cover Reveal!

I'm super excited to be sharing the cover of the next book by my wonderful writer friends Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie. I recently learned more about Lizzie Borden in Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple and am fascinated by Sweet Madness. Here's more about the book:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty one.

Who was Lizzie Borden? A confused young woman, or a cold-hearted killer? For generations, people all over the world have wondered how Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, met their gruesome deaths. Lizzie, Andrew’s younger daughter, was charged, but a jury took only 90 minutes to find her not guilty. In this retelling, the family maid, Bridget Sullivan, shines a compassionate light on a young woman oppressed by her cheap father and her ambitious stepmother. Was Lizzie mad, or was she driven to madness?

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SWEET MADNESS will be out on September 18th, 2015 from Merit Press

About the Authors:
Trisha Leaver lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three children, and one rather irreverent black lab.  She is a chronic daydreamer who prefers the cozy confines of her own imagination to the mundane routine of everyday life.  She writes Young Adult Contemporary fiction, Psychological Horror and Science Fiction and is published with FSG/ Macmillan, Flux/Llewellyn and Merit Press. To can learn more about Trisha’s books, upcoming shenanigans, and her quest to reel in the perfect tuna, visit her website

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Lindsay Currie lives in Chicago with her three awesome children, husband, and a one hundred and sixty pound lap dog named Sam. She has an unnatural fondness for coffee, chocolate and things that go bump in the night. She spends her days curled up in the comfortable confines of her writing nook, penning young adult psychological horror, contemporary fiction and science-fiction and is published with Flux/Llewellyn, Merit Press and Spencer Hill Contemporary. Learn more about her at
Mark it to read on Goodreads!
And be sure to pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (3/23/15)

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right just might discover your next “must-read” book!
Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It's Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children's literature - picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit - join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them. 

Last Week's Book Adventures:
Jen Says: I read a little bit of Mark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielsen and also Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John. I still have lots to go but I'm enjoying both. I also read a A Pair of Socks by Stuart J. Murphy...which is kind of random, except that I was dealing with unmatched socks this week and that always drives me crazy.

This is the last week of the Slice of Life Challenge! It's been fun...feel free to check out any of my posts if you haven't been following along. 

Reviewed Last Week:

Click on any link above to read my posts.

Upcoming Book Adventures: 
Jen Says: It's spring break! I'm so excited for spring break. I'm hoping to read more of Mark of the Thief and Terrible Two and This One Summer (which I had hoped to start last week...). Happy spring break...or almost-spring break...or post-spring break...where-ever you are!

This Week's Reviews:
Check back throughout the week to read my posts. 

So, what are you reading this week? 
Link up below and don't forget to check out other blogs to see what they are reading!
To help build our community and support other bloggers, 
we ask that you comment on at least three other blogs before you. 
Also, if you tweet about your Monday post, don't forget to use #IMWAYR!

The One Where Nena Can Do It #sol15

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Every March, the Slice of Life Challenge is a month-long experience where Slicers post every single day for the entire month. I'm joining in on the monthly challenge this year! For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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On Friday at a meeting at work, I was talking to a co-worker in Spanish when another co-worker came up and was astonished that I speak Spanish. The funny thing was that the woman who didn't know is someone I've known longer and worked more closely with. I had no idea she didn't know I speak Spanish.

I look Hispanic but if you read my post about working at the library, it's easy to look at me and think I might have any kind of different background. It's especially easy to think I'm not Hispanic once I start talking because I don't have an accent - at least, that's what people tell me.

But I grew up speaking Spanish and English. Not officially though. We spoke English at home but my grandma, my mom's mom, my Mamita always spoke to us in English and any time we were at my aunt and uncle's house, they were usually speaking Spanish. (I've blogged about Mamita before here and here. She's amazing.)

My mom says that my first phrase was, "Nena did it." I'll have to ask her the context because I surely don't remember but at some point in my life for a class assignment I had to know what my first phrase was and I was surprised it was a blend of a Spanish word (nena means girl or little girl) in an English sentence. 

It's weird...
to have to think about how and when to tell people I speak Spanish.

Sometimes it's easy, I just talk in Spanish and go from there but other times it just never comes up so I don't say anything. Or sometimes I assume people know, too. It's hard to explain. It's almost like filling in a bubble or when people ask "What are you?" except backwards. Instead, I'm supposed to declare to everyone that I speak Spanish, that I am Hispanic. It still feels awkward but I'm getting better at telling people sooner or asking someone if they speak Spanish even.

My Spanish isn't perfect...and there are lots of times when there are words I don't know so I have to work my way around them or just ask. But I love to speak Spanish, especially when it might help others. Whenever I lead professional development and find myself explaining something complicated in English to a small group of people I know speak Spanish, I will sometimes translate for them and try to explain in Spanish. I know that if I had to listen to professional development in Spanish, it would be harder than if it was in English. I also work in a district that has a dual language program so I believe we should use both English and Spanish more but...

It's tricky because I have to think about my audience and how and when I do this. I always mean to honor people and only be supportive. I never mean to offend anyone for assuming they need to hear it in Spanish - and to my knowledge, I never have - but it's still something I'm always conscious of. At the same time, I never want people who don't speak Spanish to take offense either.

It's weird...
to have to balance and juggle and manage how I interact with others.

I use a lot of brainpower thinking through all of this. Maybe too much? I'm not sure how many other people pay attention to seeing differences but trying to bring people together. But I feel like it's worth the energy because I can and believe someone should. Sometimes it's exhausting but maybe someday it will be a non-issue. Someday soon I hope.

It's weird...

But at the same time
It's awesome...
to know I can be a bridge to connect people of different cultures. 

It's taken me a while to get here but I love that I see different cultures, I speak different languages, I bring different people together. I can clarify differences but more importantly recognize similarities and even though it might be exhausting and that it isn't always easy, I'm glad to try and believe that I can. Nena can do it.

To read my previous Slice of Life posts, click on any link below:

Friday, March 20, 2015

The One When I Just Didn't Know #sol15

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Every March, the Slice of Life Challenge is a month-long experience where Slicers post every single day for the entire month. I'm joining in on the monthly challenge this year! For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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I grew up in an amazing gem of a place. Yes, it was the quaint, north shore town I wrote about before, but there I lived on a farm. Sometimes I wished we lived in a house with two stories and a garage and a deck like my friends had but I truly adored what I still call home. My parents rented a little two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom and not much closet space...but we had all the room we needed outside to run and explore and imagine. There were trees to climb, hills to picnic on, and animals like cows and horses and even goats. We rented from a family who owned the estate that was originally built as a weekend home for a famous Chicago family. Our driveway was a half mile long - a beautiful, tree-lined lane I have fond memories of, especially in winter when the branches would hang low with the weight of freshly fallen snow.

In the summers, there was an older man who mowed the lawns, trimmed the bushes, did all the odd jobs that needed to be done. His name was Esteban and he was from Mexico. I distinctly remember how he smelled of grass and gasoline. He always wore pants and often a flannel shirt even on hot days. His skin was tanned and wrinkly and his face was covered in a scruffy, salt-and-pepper beard. 

Thinking of the rumble from the riding lawnmower slowing to a hum every time he stopped in front of our house to talk to my mom sends a rush of annoyance through me. It drove me crazy when he stopped to talk to me or wanted to talk to my mom because I knew once he started talking, he wouldn't stop. I tried to avoid him as much as I could but my mom was always friendly and kind and patient. There were times she helped him with paperwork he didn't understand because it was in English or gave him advice about sending money or packages back to his family in Mexico. He worked hard, it was just him and it was a lot of land. When I think of it now, I wonder if he was lonely here without his family. Maybe talking to my mom was comforting to him. And I'm sure he did need her help. Then, I was irritated to have to talk to him...but, as much as I hate to admit it, I was also embarrassed.

It wasn't until my first year teaching that I gained a little perspective.

One of my students was a five-year-old kindergartner who had recently been diagnosed with a significant hearing loss. She was a little spitfire, a girl with spunk. It was recommended that she receive bilateral hearing aids but hearing aids are expensive. Thousands of dollars. Most of the time insurance doesn't cover hearing aids. There was financial aid to apply for...except for the fact that her family was her illegally which meant they weren't eligible to apply. I had no concept of this, no idea how this worked, how they got here, why they might not have papers yet. None of it made sense to me. I just didn't know. I hadn't learned about immigration firsthand in this way. But this was my student - an adorable, innocent girl with a giant personality - and she needed my help. I wanted to do what I could to explain to her family and to help them but it was frustratingly sad to know she might not be able to get hearing aids.

My mom helped me understand that some families might come to the United States without papers and the complicated process of applying for paperwork to be here. She shared ways people might come here, cross the border in baryon ways, but most importantly why they might come. She talked about how coming to the U.S. might mean a better life. Even working in difficult, low-paying unglamorous jobs in the U.S. can mean more money and a higher quality of life or the ability to help others back home.

And I saw Esteban in a different way.

Instead of seeing someone who 
wasn't educated 
and wasn't white 
and wasn't making a lot of money,

Now I saw someone who
was hard-working
and was brave in a new country
and was making money to help his family.

I went to school to work with students who are deaf and hard of hearing so I never anticipated how much I would use my Spanish and what an asset it would be. Being Hispanic and speaking Spanish helped me relate to and connect with my students but it also allowed me to support them because I could communicate with their parents. 

As much as my education prepared me to be a teacher, my students, their families, the dedicated colleagues I've worked with over the years, and my own family have taught me how to see different perspectives, to honor each person and his or her unique background and experiences, and to make decisions with compassion.

I'm still gathering more perspective. Still learning. Still striving to hear stories. Still hoping to expand how I view the world. But I'm happy to say I've come a long way from when I just didn't know.

To read my previous Slice of Life posts, click on any link below:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The One Where I Followed My Heart #sol15

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Every March, the Slice of Life Challenge is a month-long experience where Slicers post every single day for the entire month. I'm joining in on the monthly challenge this year! For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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I am a teacher through and through. 
When I was in kindergarten, 
I wanted to be a teacher.
So I followed my heart.

I started babysitting in sixth grade, 
I was a swim aide in seventh grade, 
I worked at Kumon my freshman year, 
I was a camp counselor from the summer I turned sixteen until the summer I got married. 

When I was in high school, I took a sign language class, just for fun. 
I told the instructor I was going to college to become a teacher.
He asked me why I didn't work with Deaf students.
I had never thought about it. 
But when I did, 
and I visited classrooms,
toured college campuses,
and knew it was what I wanted to do.
So I followed my heart.

I am a teacher through and through. 

I've worked with preschoolers, 
and high schoolers,
and all the schoolers in between.

I've worked with pre-service teachers,
and mentors,
and new teachers. 

I've worked with tech savvy teachers,
and principals,
and coaches
and parents.

But no matter who I work with, 
I am a teacher through and through. 
Lucky to be living the dream.
Because I followed my heart.

To read my previous Slice of Life posts, click on any link below: