Serious, Funny, Amazing, Beautiful

We’re thankful for a thousand things this month, but even in the throes of gratitude, we’re flawed and complicated and often difficult to comprehend. Serious Bella, peacefully writing and drawing, turns into a screaming, roaring lion just minutes later.

Sam and I laugh about the idea of someone dressing as Dumbledora the Explorer for Halloween, but that buoyancy barely sustains us through homework arguments and the drama of sibling rivalry.

Which is why gratitude has to be an ongoing practice, not just a pithy soundbite during the Thanksgiving round robin, or even daily Facebook posts during November. I think that I’m a grateful person, but every day my gratitude is tested. Things fall apart, we get angry, we get sad, we storm out of rooms, forgetting the love that seemed all encompassing, just moments before.

How fortunate that the reverse is also true. We inch back together, offering our olive branches of silly jokes, paper clip magic tricks, the dishes done, an extra story, one last hug. The process is amazing and beautiful, and I’m grateful for that.

What has been your greatest source of gratitude this month? How do you get back to gratitude when life gets tough?

Book Love: Review and Interview with Melissa Taylor

What’s better than falling asleep with a few good books? Even if her chosen titles this week push the limits of “good” in my mind (you might have spied a few sparkly princesses in the stacks), she was thrilled with the collection of Tiara Club books she scored from the library. Most of her joy came from carrying the pile around the house, periodically counting them to ensure that she still had exactly nine. I read one of them aloud, all of it, which is what finally got her down for a Saturday nap.

She’s already a book lover, interested in every title she can get her hands on, repeating back the refrains with just a few comic reversals. She rocks Pete the Cat and The Big Red Barn. She’s already coveting her brother’s books, even the ones without pictures. She’ll sit by herself, flipping through chapter books; reading, reading, reading.

Sam’s relationship with books has been rockier. We’ve always been heavy on read-alouds, and he still loves that, thankfully. The rockiness arrived last year, in kindergarten, with phonics lessons and vowel patterns and guided reading groups. He could not, would not read for twenty minutes each night. He even went on a library strike, boldly proclaiming, “The only thing I like about the library are the DVDs.” Oh my. A dagger to my heart, mainly because reading has been my preferred obsession since I was four years old.

I also assumed that my master’s degree focused on language and literacy development in young children would sort of be my golden ticket in terms of teaching my own children. Sam’s book loathing has been a wake up call, yet another reminder that raising and teaching kids has got to be a group effort. This year, I’ve been thankful for his saintly first grade teacher. Now he’s coming home quoting Charlotte’s Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and he’s beginning to check out the book shelves in the library again.

In addition to the encouragement he’s finding in his classroom, I’ve been able to implement  more interesting reading experiences for him at home, thanks in large part to the work of Melissa Taylor, a local author and founder of the comprehensive literacy blog Imagination Soup. When I found out that Melissa was looking for bloggers to assist with the launch of her newest creation, Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader, I jumped at the chance. She had me with the title, so I couldn’t wait for the chance to preview the text.

Book Love (currently released on kindle, soon to be available in print), lives up to its title. Melissa uses her own deep knowledge of literacy development, honed as a teacher, a literacy specialist, and a parent, in order to demystify the reading process. She addresses the roots of literacy and the most common challenges that kids face as they learn to read, with pertinent descriptions and examples. She avoids academic jargon, favoring clear, helpful tips that families can implement immediately.

Melissa begins the book by describing four of the main reasons that kids don’t enjoy reading. Her descriptions helped me pinpoint the areas that are most challenging for Sam. I realized that he was getting the hang of decoding words and identifying sight words, but the texts that match his reading level are very boring. The texts that he finds interesting are just beyond his grasp, so he gets frustrated and gives up. We’ve been on the lookout for compelling books that are at his reading level, and we’ve implemented many of Melissa’s innovative ideas around bringing excitement back to reading. We’re ‘breaking the rules’ and letting him read in bed with his flashlight (and he’ll be getting a headlamp for Christmas). We’ve cleared out an upstairs closet and created a secret reading hide-away. We’ve also been checking out more comics and graphic novels, as well as books based on movies.

This is a book worth owning if there’s a child in your life who is struggling with reading. Melissa includes more than a hundred tips, activities, and games that have the potential to inspire readers at any level. The work is accessible for families, but would also be useful to teachers, especially those who are new to the craft of teaching reading.

As both of my kids grow, I’ll be using many of the ideas to keep the magic in our Saturday morning library visits.  And even though the book is designed for reluctant readers, my already-enthusiastic reader is also benefitting from Melissa’s recommendations.

This is a gratitude post for the book that Melissa published, but I’m also thankful that she jumped in and answered a few “She Made It” questions, even as she was immersed in a book launch.

What do you make?

I write a blog called Imagination Soup about making learning playful, fun, and engaging. I also freelance write for websites like Parenting.com and magazines such as Scholastic Parent and Child

How did you begin?

When I decided not to return to the classroom, I read Strengths Finder 2.0 and it helped me focus on writing. I started taking a lot of classes and reading books on freelance writing and the craft of writing. In an entrepreneur group, someone suggested I start a blog as a way to showcase my writing ability and to promote my writing classes. The blog and my online writing eventually took off. I’m always learning and setting new goals for myself.

Why do you continue to make stuff?

I love, love, love what I do. It makes me so happy! 

What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?

I’m so proud of my new book, Book Love, it’s exciting to see this project come to fruition because I know it will help many parents and children.

How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?

I’m getting better at it. I really do try to be present with my kids and intentionally set time for work and time for kids. When the kids are home, I don’t work unless it’s an urgent deadline. When they’re gone, I work. But, the other stuff — house stuff – gets neglected a lot. I’d rather be writing.

What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?

Jump in. You’ll never be ready so don’t over think it. Just do it.

How do you know when you’re finished with a project?

Sometimes you just have to be done – usually for me it’s a deadline, and knowing that it works. But, it’s never really done – I could revise forever. 

Speed Round – The A-List

Artist: Me

Author: The Dream –almost there

Activist: Standing Strong

Aspiration: Growth and Giving

Action: Forward Movement

Advice: Therapy. It’s priceless for anyone who is creating and wants to grow.

An Artful Chain of Gratitude

It started on September 15. We were celebrating Michael’s birthday, and we found ourselves walking up and down Tennyson Street a few times. It was the first time we noticed a new art supply store, Super Good Art Stuff. I’m pretty sure I even pressed my nose to the window of the closed shop, and I felt grateful to have such a perfect store, less than a mile from our house.

My enthusiastic nose pressing led Michael to choose my birthday presents, new art supplies and short workshop sessions at both the Art Students League of Denver and Lighthouse Writers. I’d been flirting with and studiously avoiding writing and painting (for years), but enrolling in classes was a concrete step that I needed to move forward. Before each class, I’d hold my breath before crossing the threshold – would I belong? I’m grateful to write that once I stepped inside, I did belong. I do belong. It felt like I was returning home, plain and simple.

In October I ran into a friend and when she asked what was new, I started going on about ASLD and Lighthouse. She reminded me that both organizations are part of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. It’s an organization that deserves gratitude – SCFD makes it possible for thousands of children and adults throughout the Denver metro area to visit hundreds of cultural institutions and events. I’m looking forward to learning more about the organization, since it could be a great place to combine my love of the arts and education, in a way that helps the greater community.

Now it’s November, and I’m grateful that I’m moving forward, creating more time and space for creativity in my life. It’s far from perfect: I’m in the process of writing a book review which has triggered a major case of writer’s block; Bella decided to help me with my painting by drawing all over the bottom of my current piece; I’m still wrestling with my ongoing questions – making stuff is great, but what’s the greater vision? How do I achieve balance between process and product? Can I be satisfied with art as my evening hobby, rather than as a career? 

I suppose I’m taking it all too seriously, a hard habit to break; luckily Bella just hopped into the room in her pink bunny slippers. Here, now, I’m grateful.

Imperfect Gratitude

I’ll be the first to admit, gratitude wasn’t the most original choice for our November focus. In the United States, it seems like everyone jumps on the gratitude bandwagon this month. While it’s wonderful to hear about everyone’s thankfulness on Facebook and Twitter, it leaves me wondering if our proclamations of gratitude really lead to an increase in positive actions.

I’m thankful for my family and friends, but I still don’t call or Skype very often. I’m thankful for my kids, but I’m letting them play on the iPad while I write. I’m thankful for my health, but I still end up complaining about the sore throat and back ache that I haven’t been able shake this fall. My twisted logic being that if I was really a grateful person, I’d call my mom every day, read with my kids constantly, and never complain about anything.

I’ve taken an exercise that was meant to create more feelings of love and joy, and turned it into a perfectionist’s classic conundrum – if I’m not perfectly grateful, I’ve failed. So here’s the twist on this month’s gratitude focus, for me: showing gratitude even if it’s imperfect. Just writing that sentence kind of makes my skin crawl. Why would I want to settle for imperfection? Wouldn’t that be like celebrating mediocrity? Settling for life as it is, rather than striving to improve? 

The answer is simple. Perfectionism, in any pursuit, isn’t a life improvement. This is probably an obvious statement for most, but no matter how many times I think I’ve ‘conquered’ this flawed belief system it insinuates itself back into my life, the flesh-eating zombie that just won’t stay buried .  Hmmm… What in the world would defeat the perfection zombie? I’m not up on the latest zombie killing techniques, but I know that if you can destroy its brain you’re pretty much home free. So I’m thinking that some metaphorical perfection-brain-destruction is where it’s at.  This doesn’t mean that I’m going to set out to kill my spare brain cells on a binge of weed and liquor (but I’d sure be imperfect after that…), more that I’ll just work on accepting and loving imperfection, in my self and others.

So maybe I don’t call my family as often as I could, but I’m thinking of them with love and gratitude. And I do spend a lot of time tuned into my kids – it’s okay that I’m not at 100%; in the long and short run they benefit from a mom who is on her own creative journey. As for my tweaked back and froggy voice, I’m actually grateful for imperfect health – it’s a huge reminder that I need to slow down and take better care of myself.

What imperfections are you grateful for?