SOL: Life’s Unexpected Turns


I have been away from my blog since the sudden and very unexpected loss of my big brother on May 25. While biking up the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park, he suffered an apparent cardiac arrest, and died instantly.

Nothing can prepare you for such a tragedy. The utter shock and sadness in such a sudden, significant loss leaves a gaping hole that just can’t ever be filled in the same way.

But my brother would not want me to go on and on about our family’s sadness. He would not want the focus of his death to be clouded in sorrow. He would instead want us to focus on living life to the fullest – making every moment from each and every day count. This is what my brother did better than anyone else I know.

At his memorial, and even in the days after, I cannot count the number of people who shared how their lives were impacted by my brother. As a hockey referee, he was a calm, professional presence on the ice. He especially loved mentoring young referees as they navigated the often tricky moments of making the necessary calls in a game. Everyone loved when he took the ice, and had enormous respect for him as an official. In his job at Glacier High School, he was remembered for how he brought joy to everyone he encountered, always more interested in what others wanted to share than his own stories. His love of adventure was evident in all that he did; skydiving since the age of 18, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and cycling to name just a few of his passions.

Memories are my greatest source of comfort now as I transition into life without him here. It’s funny how I reflect on them in a different way though. I see the amazing way Don had of appreciating every moment in life that mattered. While my mind was more often focusing on the next thing I needed to do, or the next event that was coming up, his attention always remained right there in the moment. You could see it in his demeanor in the way he would just stop and take in the beauty of what was around him. You could hear it in the simple things he said about whatever we were doing together. And you could feel it just being with him; he had such a unique way of exuding a genuine satisfaction and happiness in every moment that he lived.

I sense his presence with me so much in these days since he died, gently helping me refocus my gaze in a different way, allowing me to capture moments in a deeper, more meaningful way. I want to keep this perspective and awareness always.

My greatest desires now are to see the world around me through my brother’s eyes, to connect with others around me with my brother’s heart, and to live each day to the fullest, chasing my dreams the way he did, and finding joy in all that I do until I see him again.

While it is impossible to fully represent the amazing life my brother lived, I share this slideshow with you as a glimpse of the big brother I was blessed to have. It encapsulates the highlights of a life lived to the fullest, of dreams sought and found, and reveals a man who was the greatest husband, father, brother, son, and friend to so many who count themselves fortunate to have known him. You can view it here.

The view from what will forever be known as Don Graham’s site, located just past the Weeping Wall & Big Bend on Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park.




Kinders Say the Darndest Things!

As a kindergarten teacher, I am witness to many funny quips and comments from the little learners I share space with day after day. One minute I am hearing about their latest video game marvels, followed by a detailed play-by-play of what happened to their puppy when it got stuck under the couch. Colorful stories are always sprinkled with the unique perspective that only a 5 or 6 year-old can have.

Today I was completely taken by surprise by sweet John, and bright young boy in my class. Since the first days of school, John has kept me on schedule; his watchful eye to our daily routines never allow a single thing to slip by. Every classroom needs a John!

Last Thursday we launched into a mini unit on information writing. Specifically, the kids were going to put on the hat of researcher, and write about an animal of their choice. I have an amazing TCWRP classroom library with a great variety of nonfiction titles, and animal books are in abundance. I gathered the kids together, and explained to them that they were getting ready to do BIG things as writers.

I decided to use an analogy of swimming to help them understand that this day’s lesson would simply be to choose an animal book they wanted to use for their research. We would spend our time looking at our books to begin our first day of research. I asked them to think about this writing adventure as if I were taking them to the lake and preparing them to swim for the first time. Today, we would simply be dipping our toes into the water of research writing.

Honestly, I completely forgot about my analogy. Friday came, and I excitedly gathered writers in small groups of 4 or 5, and modeled how we would be using four different colored post-it notes to search for specific facts about our animals in their books. The blue post-it would be what color their animal is, pink would be where it lives, green would be what it eats, and purple would be a fun fact of their choosing. Away they went! These researchers took on this task with gusto, and by the end of the morning, everyone had their post-it notes done, and were ready for the next day’s lesson.

Monday I again worked with them in small groups, and brought out special lined writing paper, modeling how they could lay out their post-its in whatever order they wished, and write each of their facts on one piece of paper. Again, they went to task. Furiously writing, with a little editing here and there, my research writers completed their pieces with great pride.

Today we gathered once again for our workshop time, and I announced to them that today they would be illustrators! I reminded them that many of the books we read have one person who writes the words, and another who draws the pictures, and that today they would be illustrating a picture of their animal for their research piece.

I looked out at their faces, full of anticipation. Suddenly, John raised his hand.

“Yes, John? What is your question?”

“Well,” he asked, “where are we in the water now?”

It took me a second for his question to completely register. Of course! I last left them tiptoeing in the water, so now where were we?! A fair, and marvelous question to ask!

I laughed. I high-fived him. I was utterly on the spot with what I would say to answer his sincere question, and had to think quickly about what I would say. I repeated his question to the rest of the class, because I had a feeling a few of them perhaps had no clue what he was talking about. I affirmed to them that yes, last week when they began looking at their animal books, we were just tiptoeing in the water.

“But, boys and girls,” I continued, “on Friday when you started writing your post-it notes, I sort of picked you up out of the shallow water, walked you to the end of the dock and dropped you right into the water! I had a feeling that you were in fact ready to jump in and do the real work of research writers!”

Their eyes lit up with excitement as I went on to explain. “Research writers, you did some very BIG work on Friday as you researched, read, and wrote about your animals on those four post-it notes! You were swimming in very deep water, and you were amazing!”

So, back to John’s wondering: Where are we in the water now, Mrs. Burtsfield?

“As illustrators today, boys and girls, we are all just swimming and enjoying the water together! Today you will continue your journey as researchers by looking carefully at the photos of your animal in your book, and illustrate with great detail for your readers.”

The rest of the workshop was full of sketching, erasing, experimenting, and more drawing. Today was their first go at illustrating. Tomorrow we will get out the “real” drawing paper and they will draw their masterpieces.

I might ask them tomorrow where they think we are in the water now. My guess is they might declare, “The water is great! Come on in!”


SOL: May Day Memories of Mom

Today is May Day. I have always loved May Day. I remember once as a young girl, secretly leaving May baskets at the doorstep of friends I knew. Ringing the bell and then quickly running away was so much fun! I remember watching the look on the recipients’ faces when they opened their door to discover an unexpected surprise.

May 1 is also my mother’s birthday. I don’t have the same feeling of anticipation for May Day like I used to though, now that she is gone. She passed away a little over two years ago, and the arrival of May still stings. This year is especially hard, as we prepare to watch yet another daughter graduate from high school. I am sad she isn’t here anymore to share in the joy of these milestones.

Maybe I should renew the May Day basket ritual of my youth today. What if, In her memory, I brought joy into someone else’s day to celebrate the arrival of May? Instead of a birthday cake and presents in her honor, perhaps this could be another way to remember her and spread a little kindness and love along the way.

Happy May Day!

On Top of the Mountain!

Having taught grades 1, 2, and 3, entering the world of kindergarten this fall was daunting. I knew it would be different than teaching older grades. I knew there would be a lot of modeling, teaching, re-teaching, and more re-teaching. I knew they would need more…..but talk about ground Z-E-R-O. It wasn’t long (like by morning recess) before the reality set in; we had a long, long way to go.

I recalled many conversations with my colleagues during the three years prior when I was the instructional coach as they would share with me how unbelievable the growth of kindergartners is every year. They shared countless stories of students who arrived in September knowing little or no letter names and sounds, and yet by year’s end not only did they know all of them, but they were beginning to decode CVC words.

I could hear the stories, and I even believed them. But it didn’t become as impacting until it was my turn as the classroom teacher to sit next to more than one student in September who knew very few, if any letter names and sounds. I truly questioned my ability as their teacher to get them where they needed to be in 180 days.

Tomorrow we reach 140 days, and the growth in my students is truly remarkable. I am absolutely astonished at what I am seeing in my classroom. We are reading, writing, sharing, and playing the days away — and as the days have passed to weeks, and finally to months, they are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were in September. Their level of independence in reading and writing is thrilling to behold. We are currently writing poetry, and every day is a new adventure for all of us.

Graduation day is around the corner and I cannot wait to help each of them prepare something special to share with their families as a capstone of their kindergarten year. I am so excited to see their excitement and pride in their hard work, and bask in the joy of sharing it with the families of everyone in our class. We are a tight group, as we have had only one child leave our class early in the year, but have had no new students join us. We truly are a family, and the celebration we will share of this childhood milestone will be a day I know I will hold in my heart always, and one I hope my 19 students will as well.

SOL: Don’t Get Too Close!

Now that spring has finally started its slow reveal, we are enjoying more frequent walks with our two dogs, Reece and Dug. Being cockapoos, they are naturally inquisitive and while a bit skittish as first, they can be quite social as well.

Saturday after dinner we set out down our block for an evening stroll. Just as we approached a neighbor’s fenced yard, their little dog ran to the fence, barking aggressively. Reece, in her inquisitive, hi-do-you-want-to-be-my-friend sort of way, put her snout up to the small gap between the gate and the fence for a sniff.

It was just enough room – but not for a shared sniffing each other out, but instead enough for the other dog to grab hold of Reeces lip with all the power he had – and he had a mighty grip. None of the adults saw this coming, so it was with great panic that we finally managed to break poor Reece free from his clamped down jaws.

Bloodied and a bit in shock, we walked a little further to allow her to gather her wits about her, but we could see the blood starting to drip from her beard, so we turned around and headed for home.

Upon a tentative peek inside her upper lip we could see a pretty good sized gash. The bleeding seemed manageable, but since all she wanted to do was rub her sore mouth on the rug, the couch, and anything else soft, we knew we needed to intervene. I was very worried about infection, and since it was Saturday night, (isn’t it always the weekends when these things happen?) we decided to make the trip to the emergency vet hospital.

She checked out ok, but the vet affirmed our decision to bring her in, and she prescribed an antibiotic and anti-inflammatories for the pain.

An emergency visit on a weekend comes with a cost, but we will do whatever it takes to keep our dogs healthy. This expense was manageable fortunately, and I am greatly relieved we had the option of having a place like this to take her.

And I think Reece is happy too – twice a day she gets cheese and bread wrapped around her pills, which is a total treat. And we can’t leave Dug out of the treat giving ritual – he joyfully accepts his cheese and bread right alongside Reece!

The Benefits of Being Prepared

As I was thinking about sitting down to write my slice for this week, I took a few minutes first to begin laying out my clothes for the morning. My eye caught my one-sentence journal next to the bed, so I pulled it out to see the quote for the day.

“Follow the ‘evening-tidy-up-rule’: take ten minutes before bed to do simple tidying. This calming nightly habit helps prepare you for sleep and makes mornings more serene and pleasant.”

Who knew?

I have always had a strict habit of having things ready for the next morning. I can’t handle making clothing decisions in the rush of my morning. It is so wonderful to just reach for the hangers that are all ready and waiting for me in the darkness of my bedroom in the morning as I make my way downstairs to the shower.

This “evening-tidy-up-rule” was a new one to me though. It makes a lot of sense, especially for me, a person who feels the calm when my surroundings are straightened out, piles are organized, unnecessary items are tossed, and chaos is subdued. I never considered how this might look or feel if I did it before bedtime, and that it might better prepare me for sleep.

This reminds me a little of how I try to leave my classroom each day before I go home. There are endless tidy-up routines I could spend far too long on, but the top priorities include leaving my small group table clear and ready for the morning, putting out student book boxes, and, on the best of days, the morning message is written and ready to go.

A few minutes, whether before bed, or before I leave my classroom are worth the calmer morning I gain. Do you have routines you live by at home and/or your classroom?


#SOLC18 31/31: It’s a Wrap!

I honestly cannot believe I am posting my 31st blog post in the Slice of Life Challenge. When I started out, I questioned if I would be able to maintain the stamina to write every day for a month. Besides stamina, I had even greater concerns for what I would write about over the 31 days.

Happily I can say that both concerns, and many others I initially had, never caused a single roadblock in the journey. I had a few days when I experienced some writer’s block, but I managed to find a topic or unique post idea from others in the slicing community to keep me going.

I contemplated a few different ideas for this final post, but none really seemed to take flight. Before long, I realized the day completely got away from me, and after a late dinner with my husband, I realized I almost completely forgot to write my post!

Today was catch-up day in my classroom, since we have been on spring break this past week. It felt good to be back in my room, setting up the new April calendar, along with a few other beginning-of-the-month routines. I’m looking forward to the warmer days (goodbye, snowpants & boots!) and our month of poetry ahead. Fingers crossed for this new adventure with my kinders!

The rest of my afternoon was errand running. As I was entering Target, a little face caught my eye. It was a young girl, probably close to 18 months-old. She caught my eye because she reminded my so much of my 24 year-old daughter (whose birthday happens to be today). There was such a stark similarity I had to stop and take a second, and even third look. I was so struck  by it that the memory of that moment stayed with me for the remainder of the day. I have pictures of my daughter as a little girl, but there is something altogether different, and much more impactful, about an experience like this. For me, it was almost like being back in time, even if for just a moment. Part of me wanted to approach her and say hello, but I think that would have broken the spell. Just seeing her and having that memory for myself was enough.