I Am a Writer. Writing as a Mother of Three Under Three

Happy Halloween Eve, Dear Reader!

Being a writer has been a lifelong dream for me. As far back as I can remember, I always had my pens, pencils, and notebooks at hand. When I was 7,  I was paid a dollar in cash from the Howard County Times to publish my poem “Camp”. In high school and college, I had editorial positions on the student newspaper, and I also wrote a few interviews for the music pages of the Weekly Dig back in the early 2000s. I started this blog in 2012, and I have written steadily online since then.  So why have I only recently called myself a writer?

As a mother of 2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old, my brain and my body operate much differently than they did before I was a parent. I have to sprint through my writing because I know that I will be interrupted sooner rather than later. (My kids burst into the kitchen within seconds of me writing that sentence.) Where I once had several hours each weekend available to read and write, I now have perhaps an hour or two. I collapse into bed each night and much earlier than I did in my non-parenting days. When my children go down, I go down shortly after. On Friday night, I was asleep by 7:45 pm. And so, I need to tell the world I am a writer to hold on tightly to this now-essential piece of my identity.

This blog is now called “Literacy Changes Everything!”.  This title reflects my life as it is at present. With less free time and much less extra spending money, my physical life exists within the handful of miles between home and work. Reading and writing are my primary sources of escape to a world beyond the city limits. My twice-a-week visits to the library, my 5 a.m. morning pages, and my newly-minted designated creative space (more on this later) cost nothing, yet they mean the world to me as a much-needed outlet from my responsibilities as a teacher and as a mother. Best of all, my daughters have begun to imitate my writing habits, which makes me feel l’m not less-of-a-mother for taking the time for what I love to do.

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Like Mother, Like Daughters: My three little ones share my writing life with me.

It is my hope to write more and more often, and I will be sharing our family’s favorite picture books and literacy-oriented activities, in addition to musings about my own reading and writing life and my role as an educator in the Boston Public Schools.

I look forward to sharing my tiny corner of the world.

Best, Jenn

Our Little Free Library: Built by the Dines Family, Powered by the Roslindale Community

Hello, Literacy Change readers, I’m Jenn’s husband, David, and I’ll be guest blogging for this post.

We’re excited to finally give our Little Free Library its proper debut! While it’s been open for business for about a month now–and it’s definitely seen its fair share of activity already–we didn’t hang up the official sign until this weekend when I put the final touches on the paint. We think it looks great and are so happy that three generations of the Dines family collaborated in putting it together.

The Little Free Library on Cornell Street

The Little Free Library on Cornell Street in Roslindale, MA

Like Jenn, I’m an avid reader and all-around lover of books. When Jenn proposed hosting a Little Free Library at our home, I was 101% for it. I’ve seen other Little Free Libraries in Boston and loved the idea of providing our neighborhood with an inviting space to discover and share books. I’m so happy with the response it’s received so far.

I love checking it in the morning and finding a new set of books in it in the evening when I come home from work; while Jenn and I add a few books to the collection, it’s clear our neighbors are eagerly wasting no time in making this their own. I’ve met a few neighbors as they drop off books, with a few driving from a few blocks away to add to or take from the collection. I’m told by a neighbor across the street that he’s seen the same young boy take a new book from the library each day for the past week or so. I have no idea what books he’s taking home, but I couldn’t be happier knowing that this little fella takes advantage of the opportunity to find and explore new books.

Building the Library was a lot of fun.  My dad, who you can see below, is a great woodworker and must be credited with a majority of the work in putting it together. Jenn had sent some pictures of other libraries to him, and he took the idea and ran with it in his designing of the Library. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and thus had to do all the prep work over there so that we could assemble and install the library over the weekend when he visited recently. (Thankfully, his luggage came in a fraction of a fraction of a hair’s weight under the 50lb limit for checked luggage!) We assembled the library that weekend and I took a few hours here and there over the next few weeks painting it to match our house (which was it’s own small project), as I wanted it look like part of the neighborhood. You’ll see the handle I picked out below, which I think lends the whole thing its proper gravitas.

If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and visit our library, located at 185 Cornell Street, which is always open to share and accept what could be you or your neighbor’s new favorite book. Or, if Roslindale is a bit of a trek, check out the Little Free Library website and find one closer or host one of your own.

-David Dines

The humble beginnings of the library in our ad-hoc basement workshop.

The humble beginnings of the Library in our ad-hoc basement workshop.

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Humble beginnings part 2. We only found out that weekend that post/stand for the Library would take up most of our time, but it seems to be fairly stable and hopefully permanent now.

The regal lion who grants entrance and guards the valuable treasure inside!

The regal lion who grants entrance and guards the valuable treasure inside!

Rob "Pop-Pop" Dines standing proud and tall with the assembled Library.

Rob “Pop-Pop” Dines standing proud and tall with the assembled Library.

Adding the first books to the Library.

Adding the first books to the Library.

Three generations of Dineses helped put it together: Jenn was the Brains, Dave and Rob were the muscle, and Francine and Sophia provided moral support and final approval.

Three generations of Dineses helped put it together: Jenn was the Brains, Dave and Rob were the Muscle, and Francine and Sofia provided moral support and final approval.

Even before the Library was painted it was filled with the neighborhood's books!

Even before the Library was painted it was filled with the neighborhood’s books!

Adding the final touches to the paint this weekend. While it was functional when it was un-painted, it seemed a little shabby not having it painted.

Adding the final touches to the paint this weekend. While it was functional, it seemed a little shabby not having it painted.

Completed and Official!  The Little Free Library on Cornell Street in Roslindale, MA.

Completed and Official! The Little Free Library on Cornell Street in Roslindale, MA.

BPL’s Bibliocycle: The Intersection of Produce and Picture Books

Growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore in the 80’s and 90’s, I visited the local farm stand plenty of times. It was a wooden shack on the side of the road with an awning, vegetables, and fruits. There was nothing there for kids specifically…I mean, yeah, you could get some strawberries or corn if you were into that as a kid (I was), but believe me, there was nothing special for kids to “do” there while adults bought their produce and maybe a jar of jelly.

Fast forward to my infant daughters’ lives here in Roslindale – City of Boston – in 2014. They are so lucky because the farmers’ market is not a farm stand…it’s an event! And plenty of it is for kids.

This past weekend, however, was particularly special because the Boston Public Library’s Bibliocycle came to the Roslindale Farmers’ Market.

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The witch in Hansel and Gretel used a candy cottage to lure children to an oven. However, the Farmers’ Market  just uses a diabetic-friendly bouncy house to gently guide children towards the Bibliocycle.

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Cool books on comfortable mats – the perfect summer day for a young bookworm!

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The Bibliocycle was part of a special bike day at the Farmers’ Market.

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A sturdy tent protected the bookworms (and the books) from sunburn.

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The cycle is stocked with food-themed picture books – and my personal favorite is Dragons Love Tacos!

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A child-size table featured books about veggies.

 

Best of all, two friendly librarians greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. You could even check out books!

Best of all, two friendly librarians, Amanda Bressler (left) and  June Thammasnong (right), greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. They even helped patrons check out books with their library cards!

 

 

Goals for Summer: Talks with Teachers May Challenge Week #2

The theme for this week’s Talks with Teachers May Challenge is restoration, which is quite a natural fit for teachers approaching summer vacation. Our project for the week is to share a list of 10 or more goals for the summer.

Although I have completed seven years of teaching, this upcoming summer will be my first “summer off” from any formal  teaching or professional development activities. Following my first three years of teaching, I served as a volunteer teacher in the Dominican Republic. Following my fourth and fifth year of teaching, I worked in Boston Public Schools’ summer school programs, and last summer, I completed the required practicum for my reading specialist license at  MGH’s Speech, Language, and Literacy Center.

This summer, however, my primary focus will be on my health and my family with professional goals of secondary importance. Additionally, as I will not return to work from my maternity leave until January, the timeline for my goals extends into the fall.

My Summer and Fall Goals

Family

1. Establish a reading routine with my daughters.

My twin daughters, Sofia and Francine, are due on June 16th. It is really important for me to establish a reading routine with them from infancy. I have already begun to read to them every time that I am riding in the car with my husband driving. We also read to them at night before we go to sleep. Thanks to my teacher friends, my daughters already have a small library of books (in both English and Spanish) to enjoy! I am really looking forward to sharing my love of reading with my daughters.

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Sofia and Francine’s Little Library Space: the bottom two shelves of one of our bookshelves

2. Create a playlist of Spanish songs for my daughters.

I love listening to music in Spanish. I listen to mainly reggaetone and bachata, however, which I think is better for dancing than a sing-along. I would like to take the time to find some mid to slow tempo music in Spanish to sing along with for Sofia and Francine. (Please comment if you have any ideas!)

3. Take my daughters to the Curious George Room at the Cambridge Public Library.

Recently my colleague Paula Leoni sent me photographs of this delightful children’s reading space at the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch. I definitely want to spend an afternoon there with Sofia and Francine, and I would love to get their pictures in front of the beautiful Curious George murals. Apparently, there are quite a variety of activities, including lapsits and concerts, there as well.

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

4. Bring the girls to the Infant and Toddler Storytime at our local branch of the Boston Public Library.

BPL Roslindale is our local branch of the Boston Public Library, only a short walk from our house. I am looking forward to taking Sofia and Francine to the infant and toddler storytime offered on Tuesday mornings.

Health

5. Take long walks again.

Recently, for longer outings, my husband and I have had to rent a wheelchair for me from a local medical supply store. This is so frustrating as I normally take walks of three to eight miles around Boston when the weather is nice. But lately, I really can’t go more than twenty minutes due to either my lungs or my legs. I really look forward to taking many walks this summer, as I usually do!

6. Connect back into my running.

The most difficult part of my pregnancy, both mentally and physically, was having to give up running. Running has been a big part of my life since 2009, when I completed my first 5K race. I am by no means a very fast runner, but I absolutely love putting on my headphones and going for a long run. It just clears my mind and body of all stress, and I often get my best ideas when running. Running often allows me to clearly think through large tasks or just to be creative inside my own mind. I completed a half-marathon in October of 2012, and I hope to eventually run a marathon, but my post-pregnancy goal is to complete a 5K by the end of September.

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Runner’s High: Feeling Great After a Race in Salem, MA in Spring 2013 (Portrait with Whale Mural)

 

Professional Life

7. Find a meaningful 1-credit education class.

I am one credit shy of receiving a higher salary, so I hope to find a 1-credit education class that I can take online. Boston Public Schools History Coach Sharon Ennis suggested  Facing History courses, but unfortunately the online courses offered take place in June, too close to my due date. I think I would prefer to take an online course in adolescent literature if I can find one. (Again, please comment below with any suggestions).

8. Work through Teacherpreneurs

I recently purchased the book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave. From just skimming the pages, the book seems to be a combination of a text book as well as a book that encourages discussion and reflection on the role of a teacher leader. I am at a point in my career where I really want to think about my next moves as an educator, and I think this book with help me to unpack my career desires.

9. Participate in the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club. 

I just today signed up for the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club, which is a completely free online book club for teachers in which we will read three books. In June, the selection will be a novel; I voted for Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been on my Goodreads to-read list for quite some time. A non-fiction selection will be chosen for July, followed by a back-to-school professional book in August.

10. Figure out how to participate in a Twitter chat.

I see great chats for educators advertised on Twitter all the time, and I just need to sit down and figure out how to navigate them. (Once again, please comment with any assistance!)

 

A Literary Surprise on a Tuesday Night

On Tuesday evening, my phone rang, and it was a number I did not recognize. I usually never pick up for unknown callers, but for some reason, I did. The voice on the other end asked,”Do you accept book donations?”

I didn’t have to think for anymore than a split second.

“Yes!” I replied affirmatively.

“Can I drop them off to you today?” asked the voice.

“YES!”

The caller was a very generous Roslindale resident and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt employee named Emma R., and she left a beautiful collection of books on my front porch. Her donation will be shared with my middle school students at the Lilla G. Frederick and with clients at the Roslindale Language and Literacy Center. Thank you, Emma!

A sofa full of new friends.

A sofa full of new friends.

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A Box Full of Joy

Open the Door To Liberty: A Biography of To

Open the Door to Liberty! A Biography of Toussaint L’ouverture
This book will be a part of my ESL unit on reversing the narrative about slavery to demonstrate the strength of those who were treated as slaves  in the Americas and the Caribbean.

No DAmsels

No Damsels in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Women
This book will be a part of my ESL unit on mythology and folklore that I am planning in collaboration with 826 Boston.

Ask the Reading Specialist: Helping Your Reading Challenged Child

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I will be doing a special talk for parents and families this Wednesday at the Roslindale Branch of the Library. At the end of the session, I will also demonstrate some games and techniques for helping children and teens learn Dolch words. I will also have handouts and resources for the audience to take home. I am really looking forward to this presentation because it is a way to use my education and knowledge to help in my community.

Scientific Literacy at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market

While wandering through the booths filled with edible greens, baked goods, and handmade soaps at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market on this muggy Saturday morning, I spotted a sign with the word “Literacy” and magnetically fluttered towards it like a moth drawn to light.

The sign read:

Boston University ALES: Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Science

Boston University ALES: Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Science

Attached to the sign was a table with scientific instruments and props. And behind the table were the ALES themselves!

Three of the ALES with their scientific tools at the Roslindale Farmers' Market

Three of the ALES with their scientific tools at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market

I learned that the ALES are a group of Boston University graduate student scientists who travel to various locations (including public schools) to promote science by providing explanations and demonstrations of what scientists do. Their goal is to create public awareness of the contributions that scientists make to society. They strive to show that scientists do not exist  in “ivory tower” laboratories, but rather solve problems and study phenomenon presented by the world. The ALES certainly proved their capability to meet their objectives through their delightful demonstrations this morning.

The demonstration below served to personify soil by showing that it is a breathing entity that exhales carbon dioxide.

The breathing soil with a CO2 monitor

The breathing soil with a CO2 monitor

Maple woods, like the strips seen here, makes up the floors of bowling alleys.

Maple woods, like the strips seen here, makes up the floors of bowling alleys.

The prop above shows the growth of various maples. A member of the ALES informed me that maples are used to construct the floors of bowling alleys.

133 year old Red Spruce

133 year old Red Spruce

I learned that some species of trees do not deal well with shade, but they grow very quickly with enough sunlight. However, species that can tolerate shade often outlive sun-worshipping species. The BU ALES explained this as “Tortise and the Hare” syndrome. I also learned that I can classify the Red Spruce as a “tortoise” because it is able to withstand shade.

The BU ALES offered a variety of fungi to grow at home.

The BU ALES offered a variety of fungi and plants to grow at home.

Finally, the BU ALES offered goody bags of plants and fungi to grow in your home, and they explain to you how to create appropriate soils and containers for your goodies.

The 20 minutes or so at the BU ALES booth enriched my meager knowledge of environmental scientists, and I will definitely be contacting them in the fall to arrange for them to visit my classroom. I cannot wait to learn more from them and enhance my scientific literacy. Thank you to the BU ALES for promoting literacy in our community!

The Boston University Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Sciences are available for school visits and public presentations. Please contact ales@bu.edu for more information.