18 Candles Take Two

“You won’t cry.”

“Hmmm. I probably will.”



This brief exchange occurred a couple months ago between Ali and I. We were discussing her  upcoming high school graduation and college move-in day. Her shock at the fact I admitted I’ll cry isn’t surprising since I’m not usually a tearful mom.  Todd and I joke that his heart, especially when it comes to our girls, is much bigger than mine in many ways, yet I find myself with tear-filled eyes more often now.  

The tears I foreshadow will not be ones of sadness.  I’m not sad to see Ali grow up and move on in her life. The tears will be filled with a proudness of her accomplishments and hope for her future. How else do I know I’ll shed some tears? Because two years ago I shed tears after Amy’s birthday .  Those tears were also filled with pride, but there was sadness and anger too.

As Ali and I finalized her graduation open house invites this weekend, I kept thinking back to two years ago and the struggle to not only figure out Amy’s graduation celebrations, but also all the legalities of having an adult-child with special needs.  When Amy turned eighteen a fear overtook me.  The guardianship wasn’t close to being finished. What if something happened to her?  Who would speak for her? What if she was in an accident? Who would make her medical decisions?  


As Ali approaches the age of legal adulthood next month, I have fears for her too, but they are much different.  What if we haven’t taught her enough life skills? What if she struggles with her college courses? What if she gets caught up with the wrong people?  I know she’ll be a legal adult and will be responsible for her decisions. Why doesn’t that scare me more? Is it because she’s ready for the next step or because it’s so different than two years ago? Whatever it is, I’m still certain there will be tears in my eyes as she blows out 18 candles, and those tears might even be a reflection of my hidden sentimental heart.



Minion Cake?

It’s happened to us all at some point. We try something new and aren’t as successful as we’d liked.  Personally, I have plenty of stories, especially baking stories, that serve as excellent examples. (I’m sure Todd would be happy to tell you about the first blueberry pie I made for him. Baking tip: cornstarch and corn syrup are not interchangeable ingredients.)  Luckily I grew up in a family that taught me how to laugh at myself and my mistakes then pick up and try again. Nowadays that’s called the Growth Mindset.

I recently read The Growth Mindset for a book study.  At the same time, I was guiding my students through a ten-week research unit culminating in an argument writing.  I begin this unit by showing them Nailed It! After some good laughs, I explain my end goal is not for them to have a perfect “minion cake” research paper, though some do nail it, but instead, for them to understand what it takes to nail it the next time.  Another example I sometimes use is the first time someone makes a holiday dinner that includes many different dishes. What happens? The kids love telling stories about burnt turkeys; cold, lumpy mashed potatoes; desserts left out on the front porch until the next day (we live in a cold climate where porches can serve as second refrigerators); and mystery foods no one really wants to try.  In other words, not all the pieces come together as they should, but each holiday dinner begins to smell, look, and taste better as the preparers learn from their mistakes. (My own experience taught me to never again confused corn syrup for cornstarch.)

How does this translate to my students’ final research papers? Indeed, some read better than others. Even though every single student didn’t nail it, they all told me they understood what they’d do differently next time to nail it.  They all showed evidence of learning the process. And, they all had a sense of accomplishment when they handed me their stapled stack of paper. When people ask me why I teach, I sometimes struggle to answer, but after reading all my students’ papers last weekend, I was reminded of my answer: to help students learn, grow, and learn how to grow. There’s no better reason.

50-4-50 quick update:

Filled a gratitude journal book and continue to write 10 things each day.

Up to 32 push-ups daily

Planned a 250+ mile trip to see Lisa…more on that and other updates soon.

Date Night Evolution

After our first-born, scheduling a date night never posed a problem for Todd and I. We had plenty of holiday parties, weddings, and other celebrations to attend, and we used those as our date nights.  Finding a babysitter didn’t prove too difficult either.  The neighbors’ teenage daughter started babysitting for us when Amy was only 6 months old.  We also recruited our daytime sitter’s two teenage daughters on a regular basis.  Then there were date weekends when our girls enjoyed overnights with my dad and Cheryl or my mom.  I still remember my dad once asking me if we wanted one or both of the girls to spend one or two nights with him and Cheryl. My instantaneous response was, “Two for two of course!”

As the girls entered elementary school, Todd started working out of town and spending every third weekend at his parents’ home.  Family time pushed aside many of our date nights.  Additional factors for less date nights included Amy’s special needs and our regular teenage babysitters growing up.

At one point I re-enlisted one of those teenagers-turned-adults to come on Thursday nights after her college class and hang with the girls for an hour or two, but life continued on and date nights became sporadic again.  

For my 50-4-50 list, I committed to weekly dates with Todd. Tonight we enjoyed Comedy Night, but I’ve also learned to grab those sporadic moments when both the girls are busy or content to just be alone at home. We no longer need to dress up and head out the door at 6, 7 or 8 pm for dinner and drinks. So far our date “nights” included lunch, an afternoon craft brew, and a 9 am breakfast date.


Afternoon Date


 I guess date night evolution is just a piece of our family’s dynamic path through life.

A few other 50-4-50 updates:

  • 50+ outdoor walking miles in January
  • Invited friends over for game night last weekend
  • Booked my birthday celebration venue
  • Blog post #3 of 50


It was only my second year teaching and the third time my principal formally observed me.  I was ready to show him my best.  In most cases, when the principal is in to observe the teacher, the students’ behavior is better than average, but not on this day.  The topic was the four states of matter, including the elusive plasma state, and how energy affects each.   Having taught the concept the previous year, I expected the students to struggle again with understanding plasma and planned to teach that state after solid, liquid, and gas.  As all experienced teachers know, what we have planned isn’t necessarily what the students follow. But I was only in my second year.

As with many traumatic events, I only remember pieces:

My students followed the plan during the first three states of matter.  

The mention of plasma started the downward spiral.

Martin could have cared less about the principal’s presence.

Plasma = a moving blob = the movie The Blob.  

“I’m failing. What am I going to say after school in my follow-up meeting with Dr. O?”

Come on bell…ring!

I fretted for the rest of the day knowing my 3:00 meeting would be a disaster. But I should’ve known better.

When 3:00 arrived, I begrudgingly entered Dr. O’s office, immediately sat down, and waited.  

“Want a do-over?”

I looked up to see his smile and the understanding twinkle in his eyes.

I smiled back and started to ramble…“I don’t know what happened. I tried and tried to get the kids back on track, but they kept going back to the movie.”

He chuckled, tore up his observation notes and said, “I know you did.”

And that was the thing about Bill; he understood teachers and students and the dynamics between the two, and he knew how to help his staff with those dynamics.

I am thankful for the twists and turns in life and wonder what would’ve happened if Bill hadn’t asked me to apply for an open position in his building the spring after my student teaching. I never expected an open position in the district, let alone at Bill’s middle school.  MAPS teaching positions are highly competitive, so I figured, “It’ll be a good practice interview for when I move out West”  Needless to say, I never moved out West and spent my first six years under Bill’s wings, not truly understanding the positive influence his guidance provided.

Dr. O.’s guiding principles still influence me today. He knew the power of positive first contacts and “highly suggested” his staff make those contacts for every student within the first marking period. I remember him saying, “A phone call works, but the physical postcard makes a difference. It’s hard for a child to complain, ‘Mrs. Diedrich doesn’t like me’ when there’s a positive note tape on the family’s refrigerator from that same teacher.”  Thanks to Bill, in my 23rd year of teaching, I continue writing postcards to each of my students and require all my student teachers to do the same, because it works.

What else did I learn from Bill?

  1. A well-timed article, with underlined sections, is a gentle way to nudge your staff into trying student-led conferences or reminding the staff of the parents’ perspective of parent-teacher conferences or the students’ situation if living in poverty.
  2. Picking up the trash in the hallway models what students should do too.
  3. Being firm but fair works.
  4. As holiday breaks and the end of the year approach, it’s not the time to loosen up but to tighten up.
  5. Students will excel, especially if they know there’s a chance for a do-over.


Outside Streaker

Most, if not all, parents have heard it, “I promise I’ll take care of it. I’ll walk it. I’ll feed it. I’ll clean up the poop.”  Yes, my children wanted a dog, but did we, the parents, the ones that would ultimately be the caretakers, want one?  The answer for me was, “Yes!” for one particular reason–I would be the dog walker, especially in the cold, winter months.  The dog became a motivator for me on most days, but I still used the, it’s-too-cold-out excuse a few too many times. 

When a friend asked me last year to join a team for Run 2017 in 2017, I did.  Along with the goal of running (or walking) a team total of 2017 miles, there were monthly challenges.  January’s challenge was to be a “streaker” and log miles every single day of the month.  I missed a few days due to sickness last year, so this year I decided to tweak my challenge.  Regardless of the weather or my schedule, I will be an Outside Streaker.  As of today, I’m 16 for 16.  The bonus of being an Outside Streaker is I’m reaching a few of my other 50-4-50 goals such as being outside 50 minutes a day and choosing walking over the car.  As the year progresses, I can accomplish a few other 50-4-50 as I continue my Outside Streaker streak. And on those not-so-nice days? I’m certain this face will motivate me to get outside. 



Other 50-4-50 updates:

Violin bow holding is still a struggle.

Up to 30 push-ups with a quick break after 20.

Received offers from friends to help me explore the South Trails and learn to crochet


In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about three types of people who help change happen: connectors, mavens, and salespeople. My friend Lisa is a little of all of these for me. Across distance and lulls in our communication, she inspires me, so it’s no surprise that in a quick moment, and without her knowing, she challenged me to push myself (again).  Both Lisa and I turn 50 this year.  When my dad turned 50 he ran 50 miles in one day.  My sister ran a half marathon.  I’m going to run a 5.0K (purposeful decimal), and thanks to Lisa who mentioned her idea of 50-4-50 a while back, I’m going to knock off 49 other to-dos.  

Here’s my 50-4-50

I will continue to:

  • write a daily list of 10 items in my gratitude journal
  • 50 Random Acts of Kindness
  • Volunteer 50+ hours
  • Vote in every election
  • Trying new recipes (50?)
  • Read books (50)

Be healthy:

  • eat 5 vegis a day (already eat plenty of fruit)
  • 650 intentional miles of walking/running for my Run 2018 Team
  • 5K race
  • 50 push-ups daily (need to work up to 50)
  • Kayak at least 10x this summer
  • Choose my bike or walking over the car
  • 50+ minutes outside at least 5x a week


  • Playing tennis on a regular basis
  • How to change oil on a car
  • Sewing (unpack the machine I bought over a year ago)
  • Planning the neighborhood block party
  • Posting to my blog (50x this year) which will also keep me accountable
  • Writing letters/notes to friends
  • Inviting friends over every 4-6 weeks for dinner/games


  • to play the violin (with Ali’s help
  • to crochet
  • some foreign language
  • a dance (Salsa anyone?)


  • the trails in South Marquette
  • Hogsback
  • The Iron Heritage Trail from Ish. to Mqt.
  • Brockway Mountain Drive
  • Triple A to see the fall colors


  • 250+ miles to spend time with Lisa
  • Mackinac Island
  • Duluth
  • Niagara Falls and hopefully NYC
  • The backroads of my childhood/teen years


  • colonoscopy along with my usual annual check-up
  • Pedicure
  • Facial

With Todd:

  • Watch a horror moview
  • Jump off Blackrocks (1st time)
  • Schedule weekly date nights (again)
  • Drive the Razor instead of always being a passenger
  • Shoot Archery

Bucket list:

  • Skydive (with Ali to celebrate her birthday too)
  • Zipline

Because I can and just want to:

  • Plant 50 gladiola bulbs because they’re my favorite flower
  • Watch 50 sunsets/sunrises
  • Purge 50 items at once from my home
  • Smile more
  • Binge watch an entire series of a show, undecided on which one still

Celebrate my Lucky 50 with some family and friends on Friday the 13th in a few months.

PS: I’m giving myself until my 51st birthday to complete this list, and I already started.

1st violin lesson

1st Violin Lesson: Just learning how to hold it was a challenge.

Welcome 2017: The Year of Me

It’s the time of year when people make resolutions or goals to make themselves and their lives better, but what’s wrong with being happy with the self I’ve grown to be?  I’m tired of seeing quotes and articles saying, “13 Ways to Make 2017 Better,” or “Simplify Your Life and Be Happier,” or “Reach for the Stars by Setting Goals.”  Then there’s the other side of the story: “Be Content with What You Have in Your Life.”  For the past few years, I’ve vacillated between looking for something more and being happy with what I have, so this year, I’m going to trust my gut.

If I get the urge to take the dog for a walk even though I’ve walked her already once or twice, I’m going to do it.  If the book I’m reading is calling to me, I’m going to read it.

I’m going to revive long-ago hobbies: Playing the piano. Sewing. Baking goodies for others.  Volunteering. Cross-country skiing.

I’m going to revisit some routines: Read a devotional every morning and write about it. Write in my gratitude journal every night.

In 2017 (and the last few days of 2016) I’m going to be me.  The me that my gut tells me to be.

If You Give a Student a Chromebook…

I have many colors in my hat with one of them being a proud union member.  Our local union suggested each school take a turn attending two school board meetings per year. It was my building’s turn tonight.  Earlier, someone suggested sharing a highlight or two from our classroom. I immediately thought, I can do that.  Then came the hard part–deciding what to say and how to say it.

When my students encounter this same struggle, I suggest they use a mentor text.  Many times I provide a few or sometimes they find one themselves.  I decided I would take my own advice, and I’m generally happy with the end result.

Thank you to Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for inspiration.

If you give an 8th grade a Chromebook…

They will use it to find additional information such as statistics to support their argument.

When using those statistics, they will be reminded by the teacher to check the credibility of the source they are using.

When checking the credibility of a source, they will use higher-order thinking skills.

When using higher-order thinking skills, they become critical consumers.

When they are critical consumers, they learn to question everything, including the teacher in the room.

When questioning the teacher in the room, they are reminded to think about their audience and purpose.

When thinking about audience and purpose, they will determine the best method of communicating their message.

When communicating their message, they might decide a note on paper is best.

When thinking about writing a note on paper instead of on the Chromebook, they will be reminded of a favorite class period–Monday Reading Zone.

When thinking of Monday Reading Zone, they will pull out their Chromebook and use the MeL.org database NoveList K-8 to find a new book to read.

When looking for the new book and not finding it in the classroom library, they will ask to visit the school library.

When they visit the library, they will find the book.

When checking out the book, they will be thankful for books printed on paper because the majority of them still prefer the paper copy.

When they return to the classroom, I am thankful for the support our Board has provided. How?

By allowing me the freedom to not use a required, scripted program;

By allowing me to provide students time to “just” read;

By staffing our school library with para-professionals, and

By supporting 1:1 technology.

Your support in these areas have helped me be a better teacher for the students who enter my classroom.  Thank you.

Definitive Answers

On most days, I appreciate the messiness of life and the myriad options available.  Other times, I wish there were definitive answers, but there isn’t.  I’m labeled a Catholic and consider myself religious, but I certainly can’t quote Scripture nor do I know the names of all the saints or even the books of the Bible.  Previously I wrote about my wavering faith in the Catholic church.  Since then, I accepted an invitation to attend a different congregation which has resulted in a developing affirmation of the Catholic teachings.  Why the change of heart? Basically because the priest’s sermons are not telling me exactly what I should think. Instead, he uses his own life stories to share how he values the Catholic views of the Bible.  He shares his sins and validates how difficult life’s decisions can be.

Growing up, I heard the parables Jesus used to enlighten those around him. I grew up learning to be kind-hearted, giving, and grateful for what I had because my family and friends’ families modeled the teachings we heard in Bible and the preachings of our Christian leaders.  Yesterday I attended church on Thanksgiving for the first time in years.  As I listened to the sermon, I found myself struggling between the word acceptance or tolerance.  I’ve read, and continue to read, numerous pieces about why people voted for President-Elect Trump so I can understand their choice.  At some point during the sermon, (yes, sometimes my mind wanders during the sermons) I realized that it’s not acceptance or tolerance that is asked of me but empathy.  Jesus empathized, and in my basic knowledge of other religions, I believe empathy is a core foundation across all of them.

The idea of having either acceptance or tolerance explains my struggle with having a definitive answer when asked my opinion on abortion or right-to-die legislation or testing of amniotic fluid for genetic disorders or a lengthy list of individual choices. Life is complicated to say the least.  I cannot infringe upon other’s rights and beliefs.  It is the reason I love America. What I can do is support the people as they make these difficult decisions.  I can trust they will make an informed decision because they have been given information, not one-sided propaganda. I can be thankful I do not have to make the choice myself.  I can, and should, have empathy for them.

Just Reading?


I hear it often, “All your students do on Monday is read a novel of their choice?” I then wonder, why is choice reading being questioned but not:

1. Runners running laps, trails or miles on the road,
2. Basketball players of all levels attending open gym,
3. Teachers providing Genius Hour or 20% Time,
4. Math teachers flipping their lesson so kids use class to work on problems?

Recently I met with a group of fellow English teachers four Thursdays after school to discuss Wilhelm & Smith’s book Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want and Why We Should Let Them. Every one of us knew we were doing the right thing by allowing our students choice in reading material but this research study validated our choice.

What did I learn?
1. There are four types of pleasure readers can experience when reading.
2. Each of the pleasures provide opportunities for my students to become stronger individuals.
3. Readers choose to read what they need at that moment in their lives.
4. I can continue to support my students as they make their way through the challenges of being a teen by validating their reading choices.
5. I must continue to provide “open gym reading” for all my students so they can move forward from where they are.

Thanks for researcher and writers such as Wilhelm & Smith, who continue to prove the importance of choice reading,  my students will “just read” on Mondays.