Monday, March 27, 2017

READ: Rising Strong by Brené Brown


I find power in others telling their stories and 
I hope you do too!
Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date
For the kidlit version, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

A couple of weeks ago, it was a super windy day. I mean gusts of winds stormed through our culdesac and I braced myself as my hair blew all around my face as I walked Perdi. It was a Wednesday. I know because it was also garbage day. 

It was garbage day and the garbage cans and recycling bins lined the end of all the driveways. Perdi and I made it to the end of the street, we did our usual loop and then headed back towards home. Up ahead, across the street from my house, our neighbor's garbage can had blown over. Contents of their garbage can now were strewn all around their part of the circle. A Pringles can was slowly clattering it's way towards us.

Ugh. I was annoyed. A voice in my head complained about people and how they can't keep things nice and can you believe they would let their garbage just take over the street and were they going to clean it up and ohmigosh, the nerve. I walked the whole way down the street so cranky and mad at them. 

And then I realized, they probably took their garbage out, went to work and had absolutely no idea the wind had taken their garbage and spread it all over the street for everyone to see and be annoyed with. And here I was judging them for something they had no control over. In Rising Strong, Brené talks about seeing people through a lens of "they're doing the best they can".
So what did I do? I pulled out a poop bag from Perdi's stash and put my hand in it like a glove and I walked on over there, took a deep breathe, and picked up the garbage. 

Yup. I did. 

And I'm damn proud that I did. 

Did I want to?

Nope. Not at all. Not one bit. I don't even want to repeat some of the things I picked up that day. 

But I did it anyway. 

Because for all I know, they were doing the best they could that morning. 

It wasn't their fault the wind was being a jerk that day.

I have so many other great takeaways from this book but this one stood out the most. It's the most useful in life. Try it for a day. Try approaching people and situations with the perspective that everyone is doing the best they can and see how it changes your mentality. It lifted a burden off of my shoulders. It's easy to tell a story, whether I'm telling a story about myself, how others see me, or how I see others. My brain likes to fill in the gaps when it doesn't know the whole story. I bet yours does too. That's kind of how brains work. That's why I love this new way of looking at things. It's much easier to be compassionate if you start with the fact that everyone is doing the best they can offer at that very moment. 

I owe a huge big thanks to Patience Bertana for sharing her love of books and knowing I would like this one enough to buy me my very own copy. She was right. It's a gem of a book. I love Brené Brown's work. I've blogged about her Ted Talk on Listening to Shame before and if you aren't familiar with her, I definitely suggest checking out her Ted Talks or her books or her website or her Instagram. Really, she's amazing anywhere you can find her!

Have you read one of Brené Brown's books?
Is there a book that has shaped the way you look at life?
I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Wilson Phillips and Mold-A-Rama



Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

A few weeks ago we took a trip to the Field Museum in Chicago. We had never taken the boys before so we decided it was a good time to go now that our youngest is six. We explored the pyramid in the Egypt exhibit, we looked at the dinosaur fossils, and all the animals they had. Of course, I think what my kids will remember are the Mold-A-Rama machines. I'm not sure if you ever had these when you were a kid but I remember them mostly from every zoo visit and I loved them. I'm so glad we still have them and I didn't realize they are actually pretty rare these days. My parents were surprised that it costs $2.00 to make a wax animal now because it used to be a quarter or fifty cents. (It was funny because $2.00 seemed normal to me so I don't really remember how much they were.)
Hopefully they'll remember something besides the Mold-A-Rama machine and how it smelled of warm crayons and how they had to reach their hand in and pull it out and how it was warm and they had to hold it upside down as it dried but if they have this memory, that works for me too. 

And then this morning, my husband showed me a video of Wilson Phillips performing at the Bulls game and it took me back too. Part of me felt annoyed that they are trying to be the Backstreet Boys and make a mini-comeback but then I remembered listening to their album over and over again. Gosh I loved Hold On. I know every single word. Still. And I don't even care if it's basically the same lyrics over and over, I loved this song. It's still pretty awesome and relevant today. 

So I hope they do make a comeback. How about Wilson Phillips, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson...that's a show I would go see. Can you tell I grew up in the 80's?
Mold-A-Rama and Wilson Phillips were blasts from my past that I got to wax nostalgic for this recently. Has this happened to you recently? Something from your childhood came up and took you back to your childhood? I'd love to hear about it!

Also, anyone up for karaoke? 
I could belt out Hold On like you wouldn't believe...

Friday, March 17, 2017

WRITE: Energy In Our Words

In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron explains, “So much of what we need, so much of what we want, is to be savored, cherished, cared for, and cared about. So much of what is missing is tenderness. When we commit our thoughts to paper, we send a strong and clear message that what we are writing about and whom we are writing to matters. As Sonia Choquette, spiritual teacher, advises us, ‘The power of the word is real whether or not you are conscious of it. Your own words are the bricks and mortar of the dreams you want to realize. Behind every word flows energy.” (p. 97)

For me, I find that I understand my message - in a way it becomes clear - when I write it down. But I agree that it also becomes real and important and worthy when I write it down. I've been talking with a friend a lot about how our childhood shaped who we are and how we and we have experiences that give us the opportunity to advocate and talk about issues of diversity but at the same time, we feel a sense of privilege that also makes us hesitate to tell our stories and to advocate. It's a weird spot to be stuck in and we've talked about how we can best raise our voices.

But this year my word is zealous and my whole reason for choosing that word was to propel myself to speak more loudly and more clearly and more passionately. So I'm taking these ideas from Julia and Sonia to heart. I'll be writing about what's in my heart and hoping it will shed the light on what my heart knows I need to do.

Let's Write! Set a timer for 5 minutes and let yourself write and write and write. Just get the thoughts that are rumbling around in your heart out. Then take markers and highlight or write over the words that stand out to you. Boil your words down to your current manifesto. Here are some sample manifestos from Lifehack you can use as mentor texts. And here's a blog post from Alexandra Franzen where she outlines important elements of a manifesto. 

I'd love to read what you come up with! 
Feel free to share in the comments or email me at jen [@] teachmentortexts [dot] com.
I'm going to work on mine and I'll share it here soon!

Monday, March 6, 2017

READ: Malcom X's Thoughts on Taking Action


I find power in others telling their stories and 
I hope you do too!
Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date.
For the kidlit version, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

March means the Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. It's a month-long blogging challenge. I've participated twice before and both times I learned about myself as a writer. It's powerful to write and publish something every single day. 

In 2015, I blogged about myself and how I started on this journey towards really and truly needing to tell my stories and recognizing that my voice is important. This post shares this conviction and also lists all of my posts from March 2015. 

I'm not participating this year but I've been thinking (still) about telling my stories and inviting others to share their stories with me. Just last week I stopped a friend in the hallway at school and said, "Can we sit down and have coffee sometime and chat?"

When I explained more, she warned me she's going to tell it like it is and I smiled. That's exactly what I want. This year, I'm passionate about having conversations. I want to hear what others are thinking, experiencing, feeling. It's too easy to walk around shaking my head and keeping my thoughts to myself but if I continue to do just that, I'll never impact change.  My friend Shawna Coppola shared this piece from Malcom X on Twitter recently and it's been reverberating around and through me ever since. 

I invite you to read Malcolm X's words below and to share your thoughts with me. 

Some things take hold like this did because they ring true. I want to help people all over the world...but the more I think about this, the more I realize my biggest impact is with people close to me. People I see often, people who know me, people who trust me. Engaging in conversations about race right now is as important as ever. 

We all have circles of influence. 
We need to elevate that influence, amplify our voices, cause a stir.

We need to be thoughtful, be cautious, be safe.
But also, be brave, be open, be a safe place.
Be a friend.

Would you like to sit down and have coffee sometime and chat? 
Send me an email at jen {at} teachmentortexts {dot} com.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Conversations During Catch


Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.


Two weeks ago I attended a day of professional development. We did an icebreaker where we walked around with a paper full of bingo-type squares. In each square was a fact about one person in the room. Our task was to walk around and try to guess which fact belonged to each person. 

One of the squares said, "I have been to 48 states." The fact belonged to the instructor and she explained, "I had been to 48 states before I was 18." She still hasn't visited Alaska or Hawaii. 

It made me think this might be a fun challenge for our family. Later that afternoon, I played catch with my six-year-old in our front yard. I didn't want to play catch. I was tired and all I wanted to do was sit down. But he so so so wanted me to play with him. He loves playing catch. I groaned as I slipped out the front door and told him we had to do short catches because I can't throw as far as dad.

But then as we threw the football back and forth and I asked him what he thought of the idea of trying to get to all 50 states. We had a big discussion about what states we have been to and what's the difference between and a city and a state and is Guatemala a state and on and on. It was such a sweet discussion, just me and him, outside on a rare warm day in February. 

Even though I didn't really want to play catch, I did. 
I'm so glad I did. That sweet little conversation was just so perfect. 

 And then he went to school and typed up this note using the Seesaw app. 
And I was really glad I went out to play catch with him. 

Sometimes it's the small little moments we shouldn't let pass us by. 
Sometimes it's the small little moments we shouldn't overlook. 
Sometimes it's the small little moments we should cherish when we can. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating the Small Things


Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.


Sometimes it's the small things. Most of the time it's the small things. Last weekend we were in Orlando, Florida. It was a random, spur-of-the-moment trip that we booked only two weeks in advance. My husband is a huge football fan and got tickets to watch the athletes competing in the Probowl as they practiced...and we also were able to spend two days at Disney. It was a nice break to the cold, dreary days of Chicago winter. 

We have some great memories from our trip: surprising the kids, meeting Richard Sherman and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's family and Tinkerbell, fighting Darth Vader AND Kylo Ren, riding the Rockin' Rollercoaster twice but as I flipped through the pictures, these stood out to me. We went to Disney Springs one night to talk around and get cupcakes at my favorite vegan bakery and our six-year-old had a football that he bought at ESPN Wide World of Sports. We were busy and walking and moving all day but he just wanted to play

We found some benches near the water and maybe we should have told them this was a bad place to play...it was near the water and people were walking by...but we didn't and my husband joined in and it was so fun. 



The pictures are a little hard to see but I have the memory in my heart. As the kids get older I've realized how these memories are so much more important than things we buy them or places we take them. I'm glad we have them and I'm celebrating them today.

Do you have small moments to share and celebrate this week?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

WATCH: Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson


In today's world, being connected is more possible than ever. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to connecting with others through social media but the fact is that technology makes it must more possible to connect with someone in another part of the world. 

I'm a person who thrives from being connected to others. Being part of the writing community and having critique partners helps me continue to write. Without others who are there with me along the way, I know I wouldn't be where I am at this point in my life.   

There is power in being connected. I'm sharing Steven Johnson's TedTalk: Where Good Ideas Come From because it helped me think a little more closely and a little more differently about where ideas come from and why being connected is so critical.

Did you catch these words there at the end:

"That is how innovation happens.
Chance favors the connected mind."

Watch and think about some ideas you've had recently. Did being connected to someone or a group of someones in some way help this idea come to mind? How does sharing your ideas with someone else help make your idea better? How does being connected impact your writing life?

I know for me, I use mentor texts to help me think about how others have written stories and how I might try what they've done. Whether it's word choice or how to get into a story or how to work towards the climax in a story, mentor texts help me so much. Similarly, when I'm writing, I love to hear what others do to navigate the writing process. I love Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird but also Blake Snyder's Save the Cat and Kate Messner's Real Revision and 59 Reason to Write...not to mention all the blog posts I read about writing and all the ideas friends share with me when I ask, "How do you analyze your chapters as you revise?"

I'm so glad WE are connected!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the power of being connected.