* Great site for decorations

I’ve discovered an awesome site for all kinds of winter decorations, gifts, and much more!  Started by Stephanie Locsei and her husband Tobias, Homemade Gifts Made Easy is fabulous and actually, well, EASY!  They have links for purchasing cool, customizable, and inexpensive gifts for anyone!  But even better for a craft-challenged person like me, the decorations and gift ideas are free and achievable!  Seriously!  Here’s a sample of a star I made with a student.   That looks significantly better than last year’s Vladimir-the-distressed-pumpkin-turkey, don’t you think?

With the help of Homemade Gifts Made Easy, I am going to rock this holiday season.

Feeling entrepreneurial?  The Locsei’s also have a page that explains their phenomenal success, with tips for creating your own awesome website.   There are so many of you crafty folks out there, so be sure to check it out!  I’m not crafty at all….

* 1000 posts!


WordPress made my day!  Who knew?  It was a surprising milestone.  Women and words, right?   When I return home after hanging out with friends, my dearest widower asks facetiously, “Did you run out of words?”  He knows we didn’t.  He is also hoping I did, so that he can get on with his work at the moment.  Don’t get me wrong.  My dearest widower is a terrific listener, but he has this squeamishness about him that I’ve been trying to correct for about 47 years.  For some reason, he doesn’t like to hear school stories about vomit, mucus-related events, toileting, and lice.  Seriously?  Those are the funniest stories of ALL!  My first post was about toilets!

* Three Things Thursday on Saturday

Ms. Emily at her Home for Fully Grown Nerds is splinging (new word!) with gratitude, from tornadoes and dinosaurs to hot cocoa.  Can’t beat that!  Scoot over there to join the celebration of the good things in life!

Here are my top Three Things Thursday:

I got the entire yard fully blown free of leaves last week.  That was so satisfying that more leaves have joined the effort to keep me pleased.   Hmmm…..

front yard leaves.JPG

My kidney ultrasound looked good to me!  The really great news is that I am not pregnant, so don’t tell me those look just like my dearest teaching widower’s blue eyes.  (For one thing, he only has two.)  The blue specks are the not-so-good news.  I think.


And last but not least, my dearest widower saw a UFO!  He is working in the sun room and called me to catch a glimpse of his amazing encounter.    I did figure out that the white lights are a reflection of the fan lights in the family room.  But those green ones?  Total alien.  I might contact the National Enquirer on this one.


Join the fun and add your link to Miss Emily’s page!


* All in the family

I’m now tutoring another sib in my nephews-and-niece group of delightful kiddos.  This young man is a third grader who is currently failing math.  I think a good pseudonym  for him is Brainiac, but I’ll go with Isaac (he’s a science fiend!).  His school just developed a PEP (Personalized Education Plan) to document their attempts to bring him up to speed in math.

Careful evaluation is crucial for effective instruction.  When I told Isaac I needed to figure out how he solves math problems, this sweet youngster did something that few kids are capable of: he explained every single detail of his unreasonable reasoning.  In fact, I had to curb his explanations a bit because the problems quickly became obvious and we would still be sitting there, listening to his serious voice outlining mathematical disasters.  Isaac has memorized bits and pieces of all grade level algorithms without understanding what he’s doing.

Here’s a good example of how Isaac has translated regrouping into a parallel universe!


Isaac knew he that the 6 was “too little,” so he crossed out the 3 and made it 2.  The 7 was also too little, so he repeated the process.  Eventually he created 9 – 9, which equals 0, of course.  He was pleased with his effort and we kept moving onward, not necessarily upward.

I haven’t finished my assessment but we’ve already begun working on strategies to eliminate counting on fingers, as well as some confidence-boosting work.  My estimate is that it will take 6 months to correct math reasoning errors that probably started in kindergarten or first grade.  That’s an optimistic estimate, based upon his powerful work ethic, his solid real world math skills, stamina, and desire to fully participate (even at 8 PM!).  The greatest hindrance will be the new algorithms tossed his way; they are likely to need untangling as well.  A second major issue might be auditory processing deficits.  They are a familial disability that all these sweet kiddos have to one degree or another.

Stay tuned for Isaac’s launch into the universe of REAL math!

* Ranger Rick vs. Nat Geo Kids

If you have any elementary or middle school kiddos, the annual fundraising events have finally ended.  When trying to decide between wrapping paper, cookie dough, or magazine subscriptions, I prefer magazines.  I have been receiving Ranger Rick and National Geographic (Nat Geo) Kids for a while, although I’ve not renewed my Nat Geo Kids subscription.  As a special ed teacher, my money is on Ranger Rick, but their websites are another story.

Why do I prefer the Ranger Rick magazine?  While Nat Geo is visually grabbing and covers a wide range of topics, it reminds me of twenty second ads: short, sweet, and not too deep.  A two-page spread is the limit.  Ranger Rick has the visual grab but also depth, probably a function of its founding organization, The National Wildlife Federation.  Each monthly Ranger Rick features comprehensive articles on animals, such as a six page intro to the world of tarantulas.  There are also ongoing comic adventures featuring Rick and his friends learning about animals and nature, plus opportunities for kids to give feedback (post jokes, caption photos, and letter writing in response to questions).  Ranger Rick rounds out each issue with a few pages of animal-related games and puzzles.  Teacher resource guides for each issue are available online.  I especially like the use of guided activities to help kids get the most out of each issue.


This is NOT Ranger Rick, who is copyrighted out the wazoo.  He’s just turned 50!!  That tells you something about the quality of the magazine.

Here’s the scoop on their respective online features.  Starting with Nat Geo Kids, you’ll find online depth that isn’t in the magazine.  From a terrific encyclopedia to huge entries on every major animal family, there’s a lot to explore.  For kids, Nat Geo online features informative articles, games, videos, and opportunities to earn badges and submit photos.  It looks like they have taken cool content from various National Geographic publications and used it on their site.  There’s a link for educators with teaching units for ages 3 to 18+.  They cover topics from child development to general science to biology (and more).  Of course, their photos and videos are hallmark National Geographic: fantastic!  Bookmark National Geographic for terrific FREE online resources.

What about Ranger Rick’s online offerings?  They are excellent and FREE, as well, with a narrower focus.  The Ranger Rick magazine has two versions for younger kiddos: Ranger Rick Jr. and Ranger Rick Cub.  The site is divided into sections for kids (by magazine/age and games), along with special features for families, parents, and educators.  The focus is on wildlife, obviously, so online teacher resources include the National Wildlife Federation’s focus on animals and the environment.  I do wish the major sections opened in separate links, but otherwise, navigation is fine.

Well, that covers last year’s fund-raising purchases; after a couple of months, I might compare Boy’s Life and Chickadee!  Money, money, money!

* 323 wisdoms, lessons & tips for life

I saw this posted on Bob’s Cabbages and Kings blog, and had to share it as well. Don’t be intimidated by its length. It is worth the read. Wise woman, this one!!

The Qwiet Muse

IMG_0122.PNGI have an amazing mother; she’s smart and wise and good. She spent her life trying to teach me how to live mine, I think she did a bang-up job, truly.

I’m a mother as well, I’d like to think I’ve done my job in a way that would make her proud. I took what she taught to heart and learned new things along the way, all of which I’ve tried to tried to teach my own children.

I’ve jotted down a little list of things I’ve learned and tried to teach, just a few hundred random bits I thought others might need to know, or be reminded of. Some are simple, some are deep – all important in their own right.

A few things I wanted my children, and YOU, to know ~ 

Wash behind your ears and clean out your belly button, that’s not just something moms and…

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* Sharing my world, thankfully

Cee’s Share Your World challenge is all about gratitude this week, a perfect match with Thanksgiving!  She made a funny comment about writers; it also applies to teachers, so check out her post for details.  What am I thankful for in:

  • My home life?  Love and peace. A life that provides a glimpse of heaven.
  • My family?   Our sweet son and his adorable wife, my precious sister and her amazing husband, and all the trillions of kiddos.  Well, it sometimes feels like there are trillions, in a good way!  We have the BEST extended family as well.
  • My blogging community?  Oh, so many kind bloggers who read and like and comment.  Wow, I am blessed.
  • My city or immediate area in which I live?  What a gorgeous place to live!  Our neighborhood is special, there’s an awesome lap pool not far away, and people are genuinely friendly.
  • The regional area in which I live?   Another positive!  We’re midway between mountains and beaches, not far from many places to hike and explore.
  • The country where you live?  I love this country, with our tapestry of folks who embrace such a wide range of beliefs.  I am thankful for our freedom and the efforts of those who seek greater freedom from prejudice and injustices which still abound.
  • Me?  I am happy in my skin and growing more so every day.  That’s a huge change from the tortured soul I used to be.
  • God.  (I added this one.)  Where would I be without the creator of all that is beautiful and good?  Where would I be without His death so that I might live?  Thank you, Jesus!  I am also grateful for our family of believers.  When we broke ground for our larger building recently, my widower and I inscribed rocks (without looking at each other’s first) which have gone into the foundation of the building. His is on the right.  What a precious man!

* Smorgasbord Health – A – Z of Common Conditions – Asthma

As so many children are affected by asthma, this post may be quite helpful to teachers and parents.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

smorgasbord A - Z

What is asthma?

The actual word asthma comes from the Greek azein meaning to breathe hard. It is an intermittent disease unlike chronic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

Swollen Bronchii

The bronchial tubes in the lungs are made of muscle and a mucus membrane. During an asthma attack this mucus membrane becomes inflamed and swollen causing the muscles to contract and create spasms. Air movement is restricted and as it tries to escape from the bronchi it causes the wheezing which is the most common symptom of asthma.

Attacks vary in severity but they can easily spiral out of control, particularly in young children who are more inclined to panic. If the attack is not controlled either by medication or relaxation techniques there is a danger that the airways will close completely cutting off the supply of oxygen to the major organs and the rest of the body.

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* Brain-friendly spelling

What does neuroscience tell us about spelling instruction?  An excellent resource for understanding brain-friendly teaching in this area is “The Best of Corwin: Educational Neuroscience,” edited by David Sousa.  (Corwin has been at the forefront of educational research for many years; click on the link to access webinars, free resources, and more.)


In her chapter on The Literate Brain, Pamela Nevills reiterates what we already know.  Memorizing a set of words each week is NOT the way to develop capable spellers.  Instead, she suggests a sequence of skills by grade level.  These are also paired with reading instruction on the same skills.

  • Kindergarten- letter-sound associations
  • First grade- vowel sounds with decodable words, along with exceptions
  • Second grade- complex vowel and consonant patterns
  • Third grade- multisyllabic words, the wonderful schwa (unaccented syllables), and common prefixes and suffixes
  • Fourth grade- Latin-based prefixes, suffixes, and roots
  • Fifth through eighth grade- Greek roots and content vocabulary.

Nevills asserts that only about 4% of English words cannot be spelled using predictable spelling patterns and those are best learned through repetition and memory.  My experience confirms that estimate.  For struggling readers and writers, this is great news!  Students who learn spelling and syllable rules early and systematically actually change the structure of their neural pathways.

What are the implications for classroom and special education teachers?  Learn these rules and patterns for yourself and your kiddos.  There are many available resources online.  Encourage your PLC or grade level team to incorporate these skills into reading instruction.  Reading instruction, especially decoding words, does not end at third grade!  A bonus for teachers in Educational Neuroscience:  Each section provides student demystification of our brain processes for that topic, including a scripted discussion starter.

I’ll share more about this terrific resource in later posts.  

* Jack Stratton Grows Up

No surprise that I’m hooked on the Jack Stratton detective series.  Written by Christopher Greyson, the Jack Stratton thrillers start with “And Then She Was GONE,” introducing a 17-year-old Stratton, former foster kid who wants to be a cop.  He’s a headstrong hero with a core of angry pain.  He was saved by “Aunt” Haddie, a precious woman of faith who took many “babies” and turned their lives around with love and a firm hand.  Like the rest of the Stratton books, “And Then She Was GONE” has intriguing characters, a fascinating plot, humor, some romance, and uncompromising values.


Unlike most thrillers, this series also features racial issues, something close to my heart.  Jack is a white kid raised in a black foster home, loved by “brothers and sisters” who share unbreakable bonds.  Having raised a black child, I can relate to the typical reactions of others: “You are family??  You love one another??”  Duh.  The author treats this issue respectfully and humorously.  When Stacy Shaw goes missing, Aunt Haddie asks Jack to help; she is confident that her friend’s son has been falsely accused.  Jack smiles and deliberately reverses “Driving Miss Daisy,” chauffeuring  Aunt Haddie and the accused son’s mother.

In his headstrong, never-mind-the-consequences style, Jack ends up being a suspect in Stacy’s murder, alienating the local police force with his brash but sincere effort to solve the mystery.  With his “brother’s” help, and violating police orders, he also manages to uncover the truth about Stacy’s death.  Throughout, the author humanises the homeless, the lost veterans, the abused, and the marginalized.

Christopher Greyson continues this series with “Girl Jacked,” featuring an older Jack Stratton suffering from PTSD, who has lost his brother in Iraq, joined the police force, and continues to tank his career with a passionate effort to find his foster sister, Michelle.  “Girl Jacked” also features Replacement, another foster sister with a ‘tude.  Spunky, indomitable, and struggling with her own ghosts from the past, Replacement forges a cool relationship with Jack.  No spoilers here!

Greyson continues his Jack-roll with Jack Knifed, Jacks are Wild,  Jack and the Giant Killer, and Data Jack.  I’d even take Jack-in-the-Box if Greyson would keep going!

Finally, I love that Greyson doesn’t flinch as his characters tackle complex social and personal issues of racism, faith, and despair.  Jack’s impulsive search for justice, combined with intolerance for officious fellow officers, eventually wrecks his career.  So far.  In the meantime, Jack maintains his integrity while solving a number of fascinating and heartbreaking murders.  I haven’t gotten to the last book (keep writing, Christopher!), but I’m already sad that the end is in sight.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I have!