Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

I recently completed my 30th Novel Unit for my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  With this milestone, I’ve been trying to think up new ways to promote my products.  One change I made in hopes of gaining more followers (follow me on TPT here) is that new products are 20% off for the first 48 hours they’re posted.  However, that’s left me thinking about how the first 29 novel units never got their moment in the spotlight.  So, I’ve decided to highlight a novel unit every so often and put it on sale (20% off) for a few days following…

Introducing my first Novel Unit Spotlight: Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar.  It’s an odd choice perhaps because I’ve never even used this particular novel unit in my classroom, but I’m planning to use it next quarter, and I’m excited about it.  There’s always something fun about teaching a novel that I read as a child…this book was written in 1978!  It’s pretty silly and strange, but kids love the offbeat humor and unpredictability.

I chose this novel to support my unit on summarizing.  The short chapters will be perfect for practicing this skill, and I’m not the only person who thought so.  One of my favorite TPT authors, Deb Hanson, uses the novel in her SummarizingPowerPoint.  On my Final Test for the book, the constructed response question asks students to choose one chapter and change it to a short play in order to test both summarizing skills and knowledge of drama.  And of course, every page of my Comprehension Packets requires students to summarize the pages they read that day.

An added bonus is that Scholastic Book Clubs has this novel on sale for only $1 in this month’s 4th Graders flyer!

In my opinion, the best part about reading children’s literature is finding new favorite quotations…lines that make me think, make me laugh, warm my heart, or stop me in my tracks so that I can read them again.  There are treasures like this in every quality children’s book, even the silly ones where you may not expect it.  My favorite quote from Louis Sachar in Sideways Stories from Wayside School comes in Chapter 16: “You need a reason to be sad.  You don’t need a reason to be happy.” (p. 73)  If you give this book a try, hope it gives you a reason to be happy, even though you don’t really need one!

Here’s a preview of my Sideways Stories from Wayside School Novel Unit... All my products from this novel will be on sale (20% off) now through Saturday.  (Link to my TPT store at top of home page.) Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Year, New Nails

My Facebook profile reads, “I’m addicted to Mountain Dew, pedicures and laughing.”  I don’t think I’ve changed that profile since 2006 and those three facts are still very true.   Despite my addiction to pedicures though, I’ve never mastered the art of pretty fingernails.  My nails break easily so they’re always short, my index fingernails grow crooked for some reason, and long nails don’t mix well with the filing and typing I spent way too much time on.  I’m also not too keen on all that one-on-one time with the nail tech during a manicure (not to mention that scary drill).  That’s not to say I haven’t tried- I’ve had acrylic nails a few times.  When shellac nails became popular, I thought they were going to be the answer, but soon I decided they weren’t much better than acrylic.   Painting my own nails never really appealed to me either- it seems that every time I thought they were dry, I’d go back about my business and ruin them within minutes. 

A few months ago, my friend who teaches across the hall started selling Jamberry Nails.  I’ll admit I was skeptical, because nothing had ever really worked that well before.  For months, I watched her new nails each week and I was pretty impressed with the way they looked.  However, I wasn’t convinced that I could actually apply them effectively myself.  Have I mentioned I’m also not crafty and I’m terrible with hair, make-up and accessorizing?  I figured even if I ordered the nail wraps, they’d sit in the package for weeks and it would be a waste.  Then, a friend at church also started selling Jamberry.  Her nails looked so darn cute too that I was starting to cave.  I asked her if she’d show me how to apply them if I bought some.  She agreed and I was hooked!  It wasn’t hard at all to apply them as I had feared.  I actually look forward to changing them every week or so because it’s the closest I get to arts and crafts.   And taking them off is quick and painless too, which is the biggest difference from professionally done nails. 

Jamberry Nails are my newest addiction!   I’m probably even a little out of control.  Recently, Brent went to the mailbox, pulled out a Jamberry shipment, and waved it in the air saying, “It’s our weekly fingernail delivery!”  He was exaggerating slightly but he’s not far off.  I’m always plotting which ones I want to order next.  If I’ve interested you enough to want to give them a try, let me know.  I know a couple of fabulous consultants who I’m also lucky enough to call my friends!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

God is Good

The phrase “God is good” has become a popular tagline on social media.  We’ve all seen it: “Got a new job.  God is good!”  “Test results came back.  God is good!” And, of course, my personal favorite, “Expecting a baby [insert date 6 months from now].  God is good!” Maybe it’s just me, but something about the pairing of good news with the phrase “God is good” makes me cringe.  What if you hadn’t gotten the job?  What if the test results had been different?  What if it had been six years, not six months, and you still didn’t have that baby?  Would God still be good?

Of course He still would be good; of course He still IS good.  I honestly don’t think anyone means to imply differently in typing those three little words.  But the teacher in me, the writer in me, the thinker in me has never been comfortable with this seemingly cause-and-effect relationship that has been perpetuated on social media.  God’s goodness is not an “if…then” statement.   It’s an eternal, unshakable, absolute fact: God is good.  All the time!

Exactly a year ago, my husband and I began a round of fertility treatments.  We were slow movers in this area and it wasn’t a process we undertook lightly.  We truly sought God’s will; we had waited, we had prayed, and we felt strongly that it was time to take this step.  For the first time in months and perhaps even years, I allowed myself to believe I could actually become pregnant; we checked dates, discussed names, and dreamt dreams we had both tried our best to push aside. 

All the while, I knew that the chances were still slim, that nothing about our situation had truly changed, and most likely we would be let down again.  For this reason, we didn’t share this part of our journey publicly; we wanted to be able to deal with the disappointment in our own way.  When it was all said and done and we were faced with the fact that our arms would remain empty, there was still a truth I held onto: God is good.           

So often, we question God.  Why does one person wait, miss out, or suffer while another is blessed?  How does He decide?  Is it even Him doing the deciding?  Does it matter?  I’ve decided that it doesn’t.  I don’t need to know.  All I need to know is this: God IS good.  And if we all got what we wanted, what we think we deserve, would I be so sure?  I think not.  Sometimes all we’ve got is the comfort of His goodness, but in those moments, that is more than enough.  It’s those moments that make us who we are and those are also the moments that make God who He is.

A few days ago, a photo appeared on my Timehop app that took me right back to those long winter months a year ago.  In an effort to keep my head on straight through those weeks, I had compiled some Bible verses to read daily and saved them as an image on my phone:
As desperately as I wanted God to answer my prayer, I was also desperate to hold onto the truth of who He was, no matter how things turned out.  I’m thankful for the way He has been good to me the past few years, even when that goodness was all I had to hold onto.  No surprises, no announcements, no earth shattering news from above… but yet God is good.  And I’m thankful. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Up until this week, I had been blessed to still have all four of my grandparents here with us.  I had marveled at that fact a time or two, as it feels like a special privilege these days to spend the first thirty years of one’s life knowing four grandparents who not only love you, but also still love their spouses and obviously love the Lord. 

This week has been a lot of things- sudden, surreal, and sad.  But it’s also made me stop and think about what an influence family has over our lives.  You can move away, you can grow up, you can do your own thing – but wherever you go, whoever you are, these people made you who you are.  When we look at our parents and grandparents, we always like to think we inherited all the good parts and none of the not-so-good ones. With PawPaw, it was hard to even see the not-so-good ones.  He was a good man, plain and simple.  And so much of his goodness runs through this family, it’s hard not to smile even in the midst of the sadness.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of PawPaw is that he was so, so funny.  When I was little, I remember often being startled at the constant sound of laughter in MawMaw and PawPaw’s living room.  Not just polite chuckles but deep-from-the-gut, belly-shaking bellows of laughter that could cause a little girl to about jump out of her skin.  One of my favorite parts about visiting was that I always knew I’d go back to school the next week with a new joke to tell my friends, straight from the lips of PawPaw.  He loved a good laugh, and he kept us laughing.  When I picture him, that’s what I see- him throwing his head back in laughter and then quickly looking back at us to see if we even understood the punch line yet.  Something tells me heaven became a much funnier place this week.

The other thing you knew as soon as you met PawPaw is that he was smart.  There wasn’t a topic he couldn’t weigh in on and he was usually right.  I don’t think I even realized how far reaching his knowledge was until about a year ago when he was in the hospital and my husband and I visited him.  Something about the acoustics in the hospital and the state of his hearing didn’t allow my female voice much of a chance in the conversation, but he could still hear and carry on with Brent.  I sat there for at least an hour listening to those two talk: about work, about politics, about history, about engineering, electronics, mechanics, and inventions and all I could do was shake my head and wonder why I hadn’t cornered this man one-on-one for a conversation like this before.  He knew a little something about everything.

Again, we prefer to think that these family traits are only positive and not negative so we’ll call this next one “independent” and not “stubborn.”  PawPaw was a man who knew how to take care of himself, and did so right until the end.  He drove himself to town to get a part for his tractor the day before he died, and you can bet that he was going to make sure that tractor kept running so he could ride it.  Last spring, we came down to help clean up their yard after an ice storm, and we used both a tractor and a lawn mower to move a ton of brush.  At one point, PawPaw went through all the directions of how to drive the lawn mower with my husband, telling him step by step how it worked.  Brent was all ready to take over and give him a break, but instead he just cranked it back up and kept going.  Brent sort of looked at me and shrugged saying, “I guess all that was just a matter of information.” I laughed and replied, “You didn’t actually think he was going to let you drive it, did you?”

Which brings me to my next point: PawPaw was quite possibly the most hardworking man I’ve ever known.  If it could be done, he could do it and do it himself.   He was creative, innovative, and willing to try new things- every visit to their house inevitably turned into show and tell of what he’d come up with most recently.  There are many things that cause me to call my dad “PawPaw” jokingly on a regular basis, but perhaps this is the trait that I see most clearly living on.  If something needs to be built, invented, or fixed, go see those Hall boys—they get it honest and they won’t let you down. 

Not only did PawPaw teach his family well, he also loved us well.  He truly cared about every member of his family and we never entered or left that house without a hug, an “I love you,” and a “Come see us again.”  This was true for his children and us grandchildren, as well as whomever we brought with us- our dates and our friends.  If you are there with someone MawMaw and PawPaw love, then you are loved as well- no questions asked.  PawPaw simply loved people- I believe in exactly the way that God wants us to love other people.  With a smile, with an occasional word of advice, and often with an offer to help- however he was needed, however he could. 

One of my favorite memories about PawPaw is that he always, always had a new stuffed animal for us when we were little.  Often they came from those stuffed animal machines at the grocery store, the ones with that frustrating claw that no one can really operate- except, our course, for PawPaw.  As we got older and didn’t want the stuffed animals anymore, he would tell us stories of still capturing those stuffed animals with the claw but instead of saving them for us, he’d pass them out to random children at the grocery store.  He’d always smile as he talked about the looks on their unsuspecting faces- nothing made him happier than making someone else happy.  In my opinion, there’s no clearer proof of a good man than that and I couldn’t be prouder that he was my PawPaw.