Sunday, March 12, 2017

#SOL17 Day 12: Let Them Eat Cake

I've never been a baker.  I don't mind cooking, and at times I almost enjoy it, but baking makes me want to run and hide.  I have friends and family that bake.  I always hope their talents will rub off on me.  My sister-in-law is an amazing baker.  She whips up cakes like it is her job.  She can make a cheesecake in a blink of an eye.  Need cookies?  She can bake dozens without breaking a sweat.  Everything she bakes is delicious and there isn't a recipe she can't make better.

Baking for me as never been easy.  My friend, Julie, is also a baker.  She bakes cakes with the greatest of ease and makes a-maz-ing biscotti.  Julie makes baking sound effortless, but I'm not fooled.  She has listened to my fear of baking and has assured me I can bake.  She shared a few tips and has helped me to at least think I might some day be able to bake.

In the last few years, I've gotten braver.  I've stopped buying cake mixes and started finding recipes I'd like to try.  I've managed an oreo cake that is a family favorite.  I also have a chocolate bundt cake recipe that is sure to be a hit at any party.  I'm not afraid to dive into the cranberry-carrot-cake recipe that has become a holiday favorite and have a lemon cake recipe that's perfect for summer.  Still, every time I'm asked to bring a dessert I want to wiggle out of it.  Every time I face a new cake recipe, I wonder if I can even come close to making it edible.

Tonight, I took the big plunge:  German chocolate cake.  My dad's birthday is tomorrow so I decided I'd try to make him one of his favorite cakes.  German chocolate cake has always been a recipe I have steered clear of in my attempts to bake.  Anything that requires multiple layers AND has a special icing recipe seems like something I should try to avoid.  Since it was Dad's birthday, I decided I'd give it my best shot.  This afternoon I gathered the ingredients and started to make the cake.  As I gathered the ingredients I wondered how anyone could not like German chocolate cake; there is a huge amount of butter, sugar, and buttermilk in that recipe.  What could go wrong?

As I mixed the ingredients the batter looked pretty good as I poured it into the pans and placed it in the oven.  This is the part that always gets me.  How to get that cake out of the oven at just the right moment so it is cooked, but not overdone and dry?  That's always the challenge.  When the timer went off I wasn't overly pleased with what I was seeing, but I thought I was okay.  I decided to turn the cakes over quickly to see if that might make them come out of the pan with greater ease, but not letting them cool for a few minutes turned out to be a bad idea.  Each layer had tears and jagged edges.  I decided to grab a piece to taste it and it tasted pretty good.

Years ago, my cousin and I made a cake for my grandpa.  I can't remember what kind of a cake it was, but by the time we were done it looked awful.  Grandpa cheerfully ate a piece of that cake, reminding us that the look of a cake wasn't nearly as important as the taste.  He assured us we had made a cake that tasted delightful.  Well, he was probably telling a story, but now as I stood here years later looking at the jagged pieces of this German chocolate cake, I had to laugh.

Wondering why I didn't just order a cake, I went into the kitchen to make the icing.  The recipe said to melt the butter, add evaporated milk, sugar, and heat it until it was thick and golden brown.  I stirred forever.  What would golden brown look like exactly?   Finally, I decided it seemed thick enough, added the vanilla, coconut, and pecans to complete the icing.

Somehow I managed to carefully stack one layer on top of the other.  The icing made it simple to hide the tears and jagged edges.  When I was finished the cake was presentable.  I hoped Grandpa was right all of those years ago and that the taste of the cake was more important than the look.  (One of these times I'd like to make a cake that has both taste and presentation.  #lifegoals)

After dinner I brought out the cake and we all sang happy birthday to my dad and Lisa.  I had to chuckle to myself as I thought about all the little challenges that had popped up along the way.   Despite the earlier drama, the cake seemed to do the trick.  How can you go wrong with a little cake and ice-cream?

Another cake successfully served, but I'm still not sure I have discovered the joy of baking.  I certainly haven't mastered any of the tricks.  I'm not sure I'll tackle another German chocolate cake in the near future, but I did at least give it a try.  That's progress.

SaveSave

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#SOL17 Day 9: Who's in Charge?

Dog prances
at 4:30 a.m.
pitter patter
tap tap
her feet prance
on the wood floor.

I try to ignore her
but the pitter patter
tap tap 
continues. 

I roll over
hoping to continue
to sleep.
Hoping she'll
settle back down, 
but soon I hear
the pitter patter 
tap tap.   

I rise 
let her out.
She wins, 
yet again.  

© Cathy L. Mere, 2017 


For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#SOL17 Day 8: Hello, Daylight



Taking the dog out
in the early morning,
there used to be black,
but now -
daylight.

Getting in the car
to drive to school,
there used to be darkness,
but now -
daylight.

It is now possible
to tell morning from night,
as the world awakens,
now
daylight.

As the day turns
to afternoon;
the sun shines bright,
celebrate
daylight!

Driving home
at the end of the day,
impossible to believe,
still
daylight.

Evening now brings
time to walk,
time to get outside,
the joy of
daylight.

After a winter
of unending darkness,
my heart sings.
Thank you,
daylight.

© Cathy L. Mere, 2017


For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  






SaveSave

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

#SOL17: Find Your Tribe


This evening I sit here with a cup of coffee by my side as friends gently tap away at their keyboards or jot in their notebooks.  I'm not sure what anyone is writing right now;  I just know that everyone IS writing something.  Tonight is one of my favorite nights of the month as several teachers from around the district gather for a writing class.  Our class, "Amplify Voices:  Teachers as Writers," meets once a month.  I've come to look forward to our time together as we all wrestle with the challenges of writing.  From coming up with ideas, getting started, finding time, and discovering our voices, we listen to one another to consider new possibilities and solutions.  Our reasons for being here are varied, and each is finding her own path.  This time each month make me get my fingers to the keyboard and keeps me committed to continuing to grow as a writer.

I've come to realize that in anything I do, the secret is in finding my people.

We've been meeting since October, in a small classroom with rolling desks and checkered carpet squares.  The room has windows from wall to wall on two sides, adding sunlight to our work and allowing a space for daydreaming.  At our first meeting, the room was filled with apprehension as we timidly shared our work at the end of our time together.  During our time that night, we each talked about our reasons for joining the class and the plan we had for our time.

We've been meeting for many months and each of us have grown in our writing.  "What have you learned about yourself as a writer?" I posed as we started our quick write at the beginning of our meeting.  Pens went to paper, iPads were poised, and computer keyboards began clicking.  While we used to pause in these times, everyone started writing and were still writing when the time was up.  As usual, the conversation did not disappoint.  "I find I go to the same topics over and over again," one participant confided.  We discussed the ways we too often feel pulled to familiar topics.

"I find it is easiest to write the things closest to my heart," another layered into the conversation.

We all started this journey in different places, and we each were reflecting on new discoveries we've made about the challenge - and joy - of finding our voice.  "It's been the partnerships that have helped me," added another group member.  "I've learned so much from listening to everyone and hearing their writing."

Ideas continued to popcorn around the table.  It's always hard to end these conversations, but we try hard to value the time to write and leave enough time for everyone to get a few thoughts down on paper.

As someone who writes, I'm always trying to grow my habit, improve my craft, find my voice, but it is moments like these, surrounded by others who know the struggle and the celebration that I feel most at home.  My cup of coffee is now gone and I'm nearing the end of this piece.  As I pause I hear the gentle scratch of the pen beside me and know that everyone is finding their way on the page right now.  I look forward to hearing what everyone has written today, and what I will learn from their conversation.  These nights have been a gift.  I've pushed myself to get back in the habit and take new steps thanks to this group.

As in anything in this life, if you want to move forward, find your tribe.


For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  







Monday, March 6, 2017

#SOL17 Day 6: Bookshelf Therapy

This year, I've moved into a new role in our district and I love it!  Though I wake up every day looking forward to the new opportunities, I do miss so many things about being in the classroom.  Sometimes I just want to pop into a classroom and share a read aloud or gather a group of students for shared reading.  When I see teachers, with their students all gathered in community conversation, a little pang of sadness tugs at my heart.  Even trying to work through the Slice of Life Challenge without my class of students beside me brings a bit of melancholy.

It's hard to change the rhythms of our days.  There are times I want to just arrange supplies or gather a variety of paper for writers.  There are moments I want to grab a dry erase board to write a morning message, or put together magnetic letters for a word study lesson.  Most of all, not surprisingly, I miss the joy of sharing books every single day with a group of young readers.  I miss seeing their reaction to the stories we read.  I miss the conversations.

I miss having a classroom library.  Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of books in my world.  My picture books have taken over my daughter's old room.  My Kindle has a steadily growing collection of favorites I like to have by my side when I'm talking with teachers and students.  Every chance I get I'm still wandering bookstores to discover new titles.  Apparently, though I have many books, I miss arranging them and rearranging them in my classroom.

Sunday morning as I struggled with my post, I found myself on a search for poetry by Billy Collins (yeah, I don't know how I get on these tangents...that's a post for another day).  I decided to quit aimlessly searching the internet, and go to my poetry books.  You know it goes when you start going through your books.  It wasn't long until I had somehow moved from my quest to locate books by Billy Collins and found myself gathering stacks of my favorite poetry books.   Once I had so many books out, it only made sense to move all of my poetry into the family room where I could see them and read them daily.

Well, you know how it goes.  Moving the poetry meant moving the professional books.  Moving the professional books meant going through the fiction.

It wasn't long until I had left my computer and managed to tear apart bookshelves in my daugher's room, my bedroom, our living room and our family room.  I've been collecting poetry for many years and was caught up in the joy of rediscovery.  There was something cathartic about touching all the books, arranging them, and then rearranging them until everything was in its place.  As my personal poetry collection came together in one space, I realized there was just enough extra room to add a few picture book favorites.  A win!

I guess in the midst of the chaos I found another secret to making myself feel better when I am missing the classroom:  a little bookshelf therapy.


For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  







Sunday, March 5, 2017

#SOL17 Day 5: A Local Gem

Photo via Ann & Tony's
For as long as I can remember, I've lived in a small town.  When people ask me where I live one of three things usually happens; either they've never heard of our town, they know someone from the town (and I almost always know them too) or they ask, "Is that the town with the great Italian restaurant?".  Yep, that's the one.

For as long as I can remember, Ann & Tony's has been a part of our town and a part of our lives.  Most people in our town can tell a story about the restaurant, the owners, or some event celebrated at the restaurant.  My grandparents loved to eat in the restaurant.  We've gathered as a family for many meals in the restaurant, celebrated a few birthdays, and entertained a few guests by showing off the small gem of our town.

Today my aunt and uncle were visiting from North Carolina.  We all met at the restaurant to catch up before they headed back home.  As usual, the restaurant was the hub of after-church activity as families came in one after another.  My daughter and I split the Italian Combination with chicken parmesan, spaghetti, and lasagna.  It was delicious.

When you live in a small town, you grow to love its many charms.  Ann & Tony's is certainly at the top of that list.


For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  







SaveSave

Saturday, March 4, 2017

#SOL17 Day 4: Life from a Chair

How I got to today's writing.

  • I love the poetry of Billy Collins.  
  • I own most of his work.
  • I own, and repeatedly listen to, the audio of his night at the Peter Norton Symphony.  
  • Yesterday Heide Mordhorst, at My Juicy Little Universe, gathered the Poetry Friday group to join in an early celebration for his birthday (which, I believe, is March 22nd).  
  • Even Garrison Keiller, at The Writer's Almanac, seemed to be whispering to me as he shared I Love You by Billy Collins in yesterday's podcast.  
  • Late last night (which 7:30 for me), I went searching for my favorite poem.  It was a challenge.  Who doesn't love The Lanyard, The Trouble with Poetry, or Forgetfulness (or a million others).
I couldn't escape from the one poem that always fascinates me with its mystery:  The Chairs that No One Sits In by Billy Collins.  Here are the first three stanzas from his poem which you can read and listen to at the Writer's Almanac.

The Chairs that No One Sits In 
by Billy Collins

You see them on porches and on lawns
down by the lakeside,
usually arranged in pairs implying a couple

who might sit there and look out
at the water or the big shade trees.
The trouble is you never see anyone

sitting in these forlorn chairs
though at one time it must have seemed
a good place to stop and do nothing for a while.


Lakeview
From my balcony chair
I watch as the sun
drops 
from the sky
resting on the lake
radiating color
across the still water.

I could sit 
in this chair 
for days
watching the cars
drive by,
seeing the sun
reflect across
the Michigan lake.

My feet 
up on the balacony
a good book
in my hand
and nothing but time
to breathe
in the peace 
that surrounds me.

© Cathy L. Mere, 2017



For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  
















SaveSave

Friday, March 3, 2017

#SOL17 Day 3: Each Sky

The door opens.
I step outside
greeted by the sky burst -
again.

I don't know
how many suns,
how many moons,
how many times,
I've looked at the sky.

Sunrise or sunset.
Morning or night.
Mid afternoon
as clouds dance across the sky.

Every single time,
my breath catches.
I stop;
caught in the moment.

Each sky
a new masterpiece,
painted hues
of possibility.

I don't know how many times
I've marveled.
I only know
each sky
a gift.

© Cathy L. Mere, 2017


For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  







Thursday, March 2, 2017

#SOL17 Day 2: A New Kind of Challenge


Maybe comfort zones aren't all they're cracked up to be I told myself as I drove to our morning meeting.  Barely a week ago I had been asked to prepare an Ignite presentation for our administrators' meeting.  At first, I hoped they'd asked the wrong person, but after some checking, I found out I was indeed one of four people who would share their Ignite in less than a week.

I'd like to tell you the first thing I said was, "Sure I'll do that.  It sounds like a great challenge," but I'd be lying a bit.  I'd like to tell you my mind began to race with all of the possibilities, but that wouldn't be the truth.  I must admit my first thought was, "How do I politely dodge this one?"  Then I remembered that my word this year is STRETCH, and I reminded myself that my new position requires me to improve my thinking on my feet, to take new chances, to walk bravely into the uncomfortable, so I swallowed my NO and replaced it with a YES.  (Maybe all of those growth mindset lessons are starting to work.)

Once I knew there was no turning back, I did what I always do when I'm trying to write or create something new, I searched for mentors.  After watching a few Ignite videos, reading tips for planning, and brainstorming a list of possibilities, I got to work.  All the advice said to pick a main message, determine 3-4 key points, develop each, and plan an ending.  Sitting at our dining room table I began to brainstorm in post-its, lining ideas up into categories.  Then I found the 20 slides that would tell my story and began to write the 15 seconds of talk for each slide.  For days I practiced, sneaking in a few attempts each morning, a few more in the afternoon, and a final practice each night.  As I practiced I learned tricks to adjust when my timing was off.

When I woke up this morning, I knew there was nothing to do but push forward.  As I grabbed my bags to leave I tore yesterday's calendar page off to find today's message read, "With the realization that making a mistake was not a felony, she finally set herself free to take risks and enjoy her adventure."  That settled it.  All would be fine.

Driving along the familiar roads, I coached myself through my apprehension.  When I arrived at the meeting I reminded myself that comfort zones were made to be pushed.  Time seemed to move into slow motion as I waited for information to be shared and group discussions to be complete.  The Ignite presenters before me kept my mind off the challenge as I listened to them share their inspiring messages.  Finally, it was my turn.  I looked out at the large crowd gathered together, took a deep breath and dove.


For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#SOL17 Day 1: Just Write

"Everyone lies about writing.  They lie about how easy it is or how hard it is.  The truth is, writing is this; hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not."  
                                                                                         -Amy Poehler, Yes Please 

"I can't do this," I confided.  "I like to finish everything I start, but I'm not sure I can write every single day.  Once I start something I really want to finish it, but I have a hard time putting writing out there that I don't like.  I don't expect to love it all, but I would like to at least like it."

My friend, Deb, returned, "It's not a story; it's a slice." 

"Write."

"Just write."

"That's it; just write," Deb countered after advising I get my big girl panties on and get busy.  

You see, after five years of participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, I've learned that this challenge helps me to get back into the habit of writing.  I've learned that you find a lot more to write about when you intentionally look AND make yourself put your fingers to the keyboard each day.  I've learned there is something about a community that pushes you forward during the tough parts.  I've learned these great lessons, but I also know how truly hard it can be.  I know the time it takes to not only do your own writing but to also visit the blogs of other writers (and visiting other blogs is the best part).  

As I enter year six, I fully understand the challenge that is ahead.  I want to say no, but I know that I have to do this.  So, here we go.  Please know that if you follow the journey there may be a few nearly polished pieces but, for the most part, you will find some raw writing.  Time will tell where the journey will lead.  

Thanks to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for pushing me to dig a little deeper and find the stories that slip through my fingers each and every day.  

For the sixth year, I will be joining the Slice of Life Challenge with the community of Two Writing Teachers.  I will be trying to put my fingers to the keyboard every day for the 31 days of March.  Stop by today's link up at Two Writing Teachers to read other posts.  



Poetry Month: The Last Poem 30 of 30

For the month of April, I'll be writing poetry each day in celebration of National Poetry Month.  I've decided not choose a theme, n...