Building a FAMILY TREE: Legacy

Mirror MUSES

A HOW TO GUIDE & My Personal Journey

Madsen Norman family


I’m unsure whether my curiosity for nostalgia originated from my mother’s side or my father’s. To be sure, I listened to the tales of lives of those I both knew and only knew of from my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother and great-grandparents. I had the great fortune of knowing most of my great grandparents, a distinct honor not bestowed upon many, I know. This, in part, is due to my parents becoming parents at such a young age. I was an oops baby, the one that set my family’s journey in motion. Perhaps that’s where the curiosity originated. I could listen for hours to any of my grandparents telling me stories of old. “Back in the day,” as they almost always began.
Angela, my maternal grandmother, always told me stories of relationships. Of who got along with whom and the…

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Empty Nest: Someday is Today


A vignette of the youngest of three and only daughter going off to college…

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 9.47.27 AM

It had been looming. But I put it out of my mind. Concerned  myself with matters of the day. Reminding Alexa to write her thank you notes. Going to Target one last time, although we’d said that last time. Keeping up with the laundry. Planning her last meal. It sounded so final. All of it. Though I’d been through it twice before, this was different. This was my daughter. Growing up and moving away. Only for eight months, I told myself, but I knew better. Eight months would turn into years, four if we’re lucky, and then a job and an apartment… And this is my life.

It’s different with girls. The tears for one. Her friends visited in waves. Memories and tears flooded my house and me, too. I remembered them all playing, as little girls. The memories came as fragments. The laughter. The quiet little voices of girls I used to eavesdrop on and secretly smile.

I flashed to a memory of my own. My circle of friends, about Alexa’s age, sitting around my friend Donna’s kitchen table, laughing and talking, and her mother turned to us and said, “I can see you as old ladies doing the very same thing as you are right now.” She must have felt what I am feeling. A little bit of nostalgia wrapped around hope and mourning all at the same time.

The night before, I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning, trying to force the thoughts out of my mind. I willed myself not to think. I prayed, attempted to think of other things instead. The minutes on my bedside clock crawled slowly by. At midnight, I decided to get up, see if she’d come home. She had been out with her “Core Four” for one last hurrah, but I didn’t hear her come in.

I stood at the doorway of her bedroom. She was laying facedown. The dog at the foot of her bed. I stood there for a moment, almost walked back to my room, but something called to me to crawl beside her in her bed and wrap my arm around her. So I did. Seconds later, her sleepy voice whispers, “Mom, are you trying to make me cry?”

Startled, I said no and told her I’d go back to my own room. She replied no, rolled over and said, “I’ve been crying all night anyway.” Alexa isn’t a crier. In fact, she’s usually quite stoic which she got from her dad or mine. She scooched over into the crook of my arm and held me tight.

We talked about the night. She showed me snapchats of the four girls, faces soaked with tears, caught mid-laughter. I gave her advice on letting go and belonging, settling into her new life with new friends. She confided that she was, in fact, excited about college, but sad about all the everyday things she’d miss. Waking up in her own bed, squished between two dogs, hearing about my day or telling me about hers, going to the gym with Morgan or the dog park with Cassidy or watching Hannah Montana with Ally. All the little things. The things that I would miss too. The night went on this way for two and half hours until she fell asleep, comfortable in the crook of my arm. Me listening to her breath rise and fall.

It took me back to a moment when she was just a toddler. I’d written a poem about it. She was laying on my bed because she couldn’t sleep. Together, we said her prayers, the way we did every night and she ended with, “God bless everyone I love,” the way she did every night. Then she fell into a peaceful sleep, next to me on the same pillow, her face facing mine. I watched her, peacefully, breathe— our breaths in sync. And I wrote that I knew someday, our breaths would no longer be in sync.

The thought brought me to this moment. The moment we move out of sync.


Summer’s Promise: Reading Wrap-up 2015


Throughout the school year, I accumulate a pile of novels I want to read that I simply don’t have time for when I’m reading novels with students for, often, four courses simultaneously. I’m lucky if I eek out a reading-for-pleasure novel a quarter during the course of the school year. Each summer, I look forward to delving into my pile. So, this summer, I’ve tackled eleven novels. Some new. Some old. Some read-agains. I’m teaching a new course this school year, new to me at least: A.P. Language and Composition which is paired with American Literature. Much of my reading was consumed by non-fiction, which is the preferred genre for this course, but I also read & re-read some American classics. Now, if you know anything about me– British literature is really my thing, but I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by some of my American literature choices. I did manage some British literature selections though and a couple of World literature novels, too. And, of course, there are a couple of completely self-indulgent selections because, afterall, it is my summer.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.23.53 PMLondon, Edward Rutherfurd

Literary British Historical Fiction

This is one of my re-reads, as I assign it every other summer to my British Literature students. I love this novel, one that I first picked up the summer after traveling to London and beyond with 26 students and two colleagues. Reading this book is like going back in time. Featured around the lineage of six bloodlines, Rutherfurd takes the reader from earliest settlers of London to modern day. He weaves the fiction of these bloodlines in with the historical accuracy of both events and people. Among the characters include Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.Reading this novel is like watching time-lapse photography. It’s long, but well worth it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.28.47 PMThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Literary Historical American Fiction

A staple in any American Literature classroom, I’ve been teaching this novel for many years. I’ve focused mainly on the relationship between Huck (white boy) and Jim (slave). It is a springboard for a host of discussions on racism, language, censorship and satire. This is another re-read for me, as my approach to reading it this summer changed from a reader of Twain’s work to a writer attempting to discover the rhetorical strategies Twain used to make the social commentary that has long been debated about this novel. It’s interesting to re-read novels for just this purpose: the reader opens him/herself up to what had gone unobserved before.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.35.21 PMThe Awakening, Kate Chopin

Literary American Fiction

Also a re-read, but one from my distant past– a college Women Writers course. This is a feminist novel set in 19th century Louisiana. Edna Pontellier struggles with her identity as a woman and a sexual being. Both story and writing are exceptional; I can’t believe I waited this long to read it again. I plan on using this, too, in my upcoming A.P. course centered around the idea of identity.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.40.58 PMDark Places, Gillian Flynn

Mystery, Fiction

This was, as the title denotes, a dark novel. It takes the reader on a journey with Libby Day to discover the events of the night her mother and two sisters were murdered leaving Libby an orphan and her brother in jail for the murders. I like Flynn’s writing style. Like Gone Girl, it was a page turner from the beginning; although, unlike Gone Girl, the ending of this novel was not a disappointment.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.48.25 PMThe Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

Literary Fiction

Kundera, Czech author, writes an unforgettable novel which makes my top 10 of all time list. The writing is unique. The subject matter existential. The relationship between Tomas and Tereza (and their dog with a little side of Sabina) is realistic and romantic at the same time. This novel made me think; I dare say it even changed the way I think. Definitely a will-read-again.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.42.25 PMGrey, E.L. James


This, my guilty pleasure for the summer, is the flip side of the 50 Shades series. Christian Grey’s point of view, which, at my core, borders on disturbing, yet this novel gives him more depth than the original series. I’ve written about the series in another post. I do believe, at it’s core is a love story and a very disturbed man. I want to understand Christian Grey because I have to believe anyone who wants or feels compelled to enter a relationship with intentions like his has some very deep seeded psychological issues behind his desires. So, to this end, I did gain some satisfaction by his relationship with and influence of his therapist. And the writing of E.L. James has improved– a side note.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.43.11 PMThe Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory

Literary Historical Fiction

One of my favorite authors, Gregory never disappoints. If you like her subject matter- the British Monarchy– you will enjoy this novel. Centered around Katherine of Aragon, Gregory manages to create a character of depth and vulnerability. Her ability to create dynamic characters, for me, is second to none. I just cannot get enough of her writing. There is a poetic aspect to it that keeps the highlighter in my hand while reading so I can note quotes that I never want to forget.This is probably the sixth novel I’ve read, and I’ll always be ready for the next one.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.41.34 PMPaper Towns, John Green

Mystery, Coming-of-Age, Fiction

After reading A Fault in Our Stars last summer and pairing it with the film as the subject of a summer reading group with students, I decided to take this novel on before its release in film.Since, I have created a second novel/film pairing reading group with students where we will have a novel/film talk when we return to school, so I’m curious to see how that goes. While I really enjoy John Green’s writing style and I suppose this was a good YA novel, it just didn’t pull at my heart strings as much as A Fault in Our Stars did, and it didn’t have anything to do with the absence of death as a theme in this novel. I just didn’t grow to love the characters as much as I did with the previous first novel, and the same was true of the film. Both were just good. I’ll be interested to hear my students’ take come next month.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.43.37 PMA Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway


After reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain which was a mostly fictitious account of Hadley Richardson’s first marriage to Ernest Hemingway (also goes down as one of my favorite novels), I was so intrigued to read Hemingway’s memoir of this same time period. Rather than being a fluid account, it’s a collection of vignettes associated with food and drink. While I was disappointed that there wasn’t more depth to their (Hadley & Ernest’s) relationship, I very much admire his writing style. For this reason, I will be using an excerpt of it in my A.P. class, though that wasn’t my intention for reading it in the first place. This memoir is one that I would recommend writers to read because Hemingway is definitely a writer I revere for his style.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.54.12 PMNarrative Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass


This narrative was recommended to me by a colleague for its writing style. She thought it would be a perfect pairing for Twain, and she was right. The writing style is very controlled, guarded almost, as Douglass wrote this to an audience of white males. A very influential figure and speaker of the abolitionist movement, Douglass recounts the atrocities of his experiences. It reminds me of Elie Wiesel’s Night, in that, the style of writing is so precise for the recounting of a series of events so raw. I am most glad to have read this novel this summer, as it opened my eyes to an experience providing me with a new perspective on slavery and willpower. I would highly recommend.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 2.01.05 PMThe Stranger, Albert Camus

Literary Fiction

I came upon this novel, as my son had read it for college last year, and I never had. It chose me in a way. Another existential novel, this one reminded me of the control of Narrative Life… and the writing style of Unbearable Lightness… There are two distinct parts to this novel in which Meursault, a French Algerian, attends his mother’s funeral and is jailed after committing a murder. It’s a bizarre story which explores the state of mind on one who is set apart from society and societal norms. Interesting, short read, though not one of my favorites.

I would describe this as a very thought provoking, eclectic list.


KL Shake Alive

Every teacher knows a good lesson when she experiences one. The energy in the room is high, students are leaning in eager to see what comes next, they are completely focused and engaged; then, when the bell rings, they leave the room talking with their peers about the experience. For me, every single year, acting through Shakespeare is that lesson.


I recall reading, yes reading, Macbeth in high school. It was dreadful! The teacher, Mrs. Fox, assumed the class understood the language. She also assumed Shakespeare should be read. So she read, and she droned on and on and on. Sometimes, she’d assign bits of reading for homework, and I found myself lost. It turned me off to Shakespeare, and, to this day, Macbeth is my least favorite play. This was the moment Cliff Notes became my friend.

Two years later, I had a teacher with a different take on Shakespeare altogether. Mr. Rapuano, a bit of a theatrical type, himself, stood on his desk (as a sixty year old man!) to deliver King Lear’s lines “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (I, 4, 752); his voice bellowed, commanding attention. He performed Lear’s madness and the storm wholly with his voice and his body. We were mesmerized as he staggered around the room like the wind.

KL Trag of KL

Years later, when I decided I would major in English at college, Shakespeare was a required course. Still feeling a little shaky in the understanding of the language, I was ambivalent about doing well; nonetheless, I could find myself excited about the content, hoping my professor was more the Mr. Rapuano type than the Mrs. Fox. And he was. Michael Shea, a young professor, deeply cared that his students not only understood Shakespeare’s words but that we fully appreciated the complexity of them. We read a play a week and wrote about each of them. It was a bit of a crash course in learning how to read deeply and understand middle English, but the reward I felt at the end of the course was well worth it.

In grad school, I took another course with Michael Shea, called Romeo and Juliet Alive!The entire course dedicated to this one play, I was eager to see how just one play could sustain thirty hours of instruction. We read several editions of the play taking a look at how editing plays a part in the audience’s interpretation of character and stage direction (limited as Shakespeare’s stage direction is). We also looked at several film adaptations of the play, analyzing scenes in depth and comparing them. It is in this class that I learned how brilliant Shakespeare really is. I wanted to share my love for Shakespeare– pay it forward.

In my early years as an English teacher, one of our professional development days was with a member of the Folger Shakespeare Company. We engaged in acting activities to bring Shakespeare to life, taking Mike Shea’s lessons one step further. During the workshop, we became the actors, collaborating with our colleagues in discussion about a scene, motivation of characters, delivery of lines and blocking.

Thus, I took the sum of these experiences to create my own versions of Shakespeare Alive! in pulling together bits and pieces of what I’d experienced as a student. My unit can easily be adapted for any Shakespeare play; I’ve done it with Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew and The Tempest, but most recently, I tackle King Lear with my senior British Literature students.

KL Unit Plan

KL Acting Lessons

Define the following terms: inflection, tone, diction (connotation & denotation), facial expressions, body language, physicality, pacing, dramatic pause, blocking.

For each of these, I take a small group to ask them to perform for their peers while the rest of the class is taking note to deduce the intended effects of the acting techniques.

For example, four students are given the same word to “perform” with a different intention behind it. Let’s use “Oh” for example. Varying intentions behind the word may include fear, excitement, longing, etc. Based on the way each student performs (using body language, facial expressions, inflection etc.), the rest of the class tries to determine the effect which ensues; we discuss both the choices and the effects as a whole class. Sometimes, if an actor hasn’t hit his/her mark, there is a do-over, for we are a work in progress.

As part II of the acting lessons, we watch The Reduced Shakespeare’s Company, Shakespeare Abridged to analyze some of the techniques they employ such as adapting, abridging scenes, language, adding comedy, breaking the fourth wall, etc. This is the first moment that Shakespeare becomes relevant for them– Saturday Night Live or Mad T.V. skit-like, and they think, “I could do that!” My intention is always to just show them the beginning of the video, but they always ask to finish it.

KL Reading

Yes, we read the text. One act per week. I do like to begin each act with an in-class reading, assigning parts, to give the students a good spring board for where the rest of the act will go.

We perform a pivotal scene in each act for them to develop a depth of understanding, if not with the rest of the act which I hope they do, with, at least, one important scene. For each performance, I break the class into acting troupes who perform the same scene, so the class gets to witness various acting choices and their results. For each act, there is a different goal for students to achieve and, with that, certain techniques for them to focus on. Here is a list that is completely adaptable.

Act I–   a focus on character motivation and status through attention to blocking & inflection of words in a given scene. We do a mini-lesson on blocking as it relates to the status of characters and their relationships to one another (for this reason it needs to be a multi-character scene). I also ask students to underline what I call WOW! Words, words that define a character’s motivation in the scene; they need to pay special attention to how these will be performed to create an understanding for the audience of what motivates this character in this scene.

Act II– a focus on character development through inflection and tone. I provide the students with tone cards (different ones for each group). The troupe applies their chosen tone to a soliloquy. Some include: madness, angry, sickly, playful, thoughtful… The trick is to choose some that obviously work with the scene, but in choosing those that seem not to work is where the real acting comes into play.

Act III– a focus on how exterior forces influence inner character struggle. A scene that includes some sort of cataclysmic event is necessary for this lesson. In King Lear, I use the storm scene and ask students to create sound effects that illustrate Lear’s inner and outer storm/madness. While few members of each troupe are reciting lines, others are working the sound effects.

Act IV– a focus on non-verbal communication through a dumb show where students perform a scene without using dialog at all. They are given a multi-character scene in which they need to determine both character motivation and relationships with one another. Using facial expressions, body language, physicality and blocking– almost exaggerating them– helps them bring the point of the scene across.

Act V– a focus on symbolism and how it reflects character and/or theme. Students are given a soliloquy, usually the last one in the play, in which they need to identify significant symbols in order to visually represent them in their performance.

At the conclusion of each performance, we do a sort of talk back in which the rest of the class identifies effective techniques used, provides feedback for what areas could use modification, and the troupe gets to justify their choices as they pertain to the goals of each activity.

KL Performance

In a reduced Shakespeare fashion, each acting troupe is tasked with choosing a character or theme to convey in their end performance which must incorporate all acting techniques in addition to tracing its development throughout the play.. They choose significant lines throughout the play to string together in order to create their own version of King Lear Abridged.

**For Samples, SEE ALSO**

KL This is active learning

1,2,3: Let Go

123 nest

I have spent 46% of my life parenting. Day in and day out, tending to the needs of my three children, adjusting my schedule to theirs, knowing where they are at virtually all times, feeling comforted that, at the end of the day, they are all under one roof with their heads resting on their pillows, bodies safely tucked into their beds. Together, we have survived the chaos of play dates, sibling rivalry, defying chores, tackling homework, trying to be in three places at one time, creating and adjusting calendars, milestone celebrations, extra-curricular schedules, rides to and from, and the list goes on and on and on. There is a plaque on our kitchen wall that reads:

123 heart

I, along with my husband, have lived in the state of mayhem for twenty-three years. As a first time parent, I had no idea the life we’d will be thrust into– no one does. It comes on fast but slow, through stages, at the same time. It is inextricably the greatest whirlwind of my life, and I wouldn’t change a second of it for anything.

Except, now, my husband and I are on the cusp of an empty nest, and I’m bracing myself. It hadn’t occurred to me until my eldest son got on a plane to move across country, after he’d graduated from college, to begin his life, what a shift in mine was about to occur. It took me by surprise, but then I realized the shift he’d created when he came into my life. Mothering was not immediately easy for me. There was an adjustment period, one in which I had to learn to let go of my autonomous self. And, now, I need to learn the reverse. Through three children, I’ve realized letting go isn’t an abrupt shift like becoming a parent was.

When my eldest moved away, I went through a period of mourning, almost like I’d lost him forever. It’s been two years now, and it’s easier, but not easy, none-the-less. I miss the day to day things. When I talk to him, I find myself trying to catch him up but only having time for or remembering the big things. I recall his last year of high school was the year of tears for me. I looked at every milestone, that year, as the last of something… the last dance, the last photo, the last game, the last award, and graduation, the last day, and, finally, the last day of summer before he’d go off to college.

Then, I still had two children at home. My second son’s senior year of high school was a little easier, though bittersweet all the same. It was absent of nearly all the tears, as my approach had changed. I’d survived the first and knew how life would be after high school, and to that point, it wasn’t so bad. My eldest son came home from college some weekends, and on holidays, and for summer. This was mixed with we couldn’t wait to see him and we couldn’t wait for him to leave because when he was home he brought along his college swagger. He thought our house was his dorm and our rules had become non-existent: an aha moment for all of us, we needed to set the record straight.

123 departure

And, now, with the third, I find myself cautiously anticipating, for the aftermath is, again, unknown. The finality of the last child at home on a daily basis is our reality, right now.We are in the throws of what I call the Senior-Year-Wall. We experienced it with our two sons as well. It’s as if, subconsciously, in becoming these obstinate, unknown children to us, distancing themselves makes the prospect of the transition to college a little easier. I recall my eldest moved out into the yard his summer before college began in order to assert his independence; my second born took to living on the edge, pushing nearly every boundary we had set for him. And, so it has begun with our daughter. In my better moments, I can rise above it to recognize the stage for what it is. Yet, I cannot help, sometimes to find it infuriating and frustrating. When I take a step back, however, I realize the complexity of this stage, unlike any other. It’s perhaps more difficult for them to step out of the nest than it is for us to let go. We’ve been through it, ourselves, after all, and we’ve survived. So have our parents, and they survived, too.

For each of my children, I have written them a year-long letter that begins the first day of summer before senior year approaches and commences with graduation, one that encapsulates all the highs and lows for both of us. It becomes part of my graduation gift to them, though I’m not sure that when they receive it they are even, yet, fully equipped to understand it. Time and experience will make the words richer.

123 grad

A wise friend told me, “You have taught your children that the world is their oyster, and they have listened.” I am so immensely proud that I have taught my children to pursue their dreams, their passions. The exciting part of this stage is in watching them begin.

And, so, too, this is a time for my husband and I to begin. This new chapter in our lives is meant for us to pursue, perhaps renew, our dreams and passions. The shift needs not to focus on what we are losing but on what we are gaining. Not without pangs of adjustment, to be sure, I am almost excited for the prospects that lie ahead. I realize I cannot unknow what I’ve come to know– that my being as a parent has enriched who I am. No longer and never will I be again an autonomous being, for I am a parent; I will carry my children with me wherever I go. But the time has come to begin setting goals (short and long term) that at the center are about me. Letting go is not easy, but that’s what parenting is, and it’s a process just as regaining my sense of self is a process.


1) Update my bucket list

2) Just breathe

3) Remember the plan all along was to raise them to become self-actualized adults

4) Take the transitions in stride

5) Enjoy my clean house

6) When it’s too quiet, remember when it was too loud

7) Cherish some friend time

8) Read more. Write more

9) Travel

10) Be there when they need me and sometimes when they don’t think they do

The Signature of your Beliefs: Creating a Motto

TM Motto definition

The thing about being a teacher is that whatever I experience, whether it’s an activity, an article or book that I’m reading, or simply something observed, my mind thinks like a teacher. How could I use this in the classroom? What does this connect to? An overarching web extends deep and wide over all that I do, think, say and hear, such that I’m always in teacher mode searching for ways to make learning meaningful for my students.

Recently, I came across an article on Edutopia, a website for educators, written in a blog begging the question: Teachers: What is your Motto in the Classroom? In it, Elena Aguilar, traces how she developed her own teaching motto, which got me thinking about mine.

So often, practices are in place either instinctively or inherently based upon my own personal experience. When I actually put a name to them, they become part of my repertoire. Like teaching belletristic non-fiction. I knew what it was. I’d been teaching it as a form of creative and expository writing, but I didn’t know it was a thing until I came across Lynn Z. Bloom’s work that I could put a name to it in order to make it part of my knowing.

I know what a motto is. A motto is like a mission statement in the simplest of forms. “Just do it,” Nike: “I’m lovin’ it,” McDonalds: “It keeps going and going and going,” Energizer. I teach maxims and aphorisms as devices of literature and creative writing. The novel Wonder, R.J. Palacio, put the word “precept” in students’ vocabulary. Yet, I never associated the word motto with my own educational foundation. I’d always associated it with businesses or athletic teams.

Years ago, our school, as a collective effort, established a mission statement which we’ve been revising to remain relevant to the changing times. At first, “mission statement” equated to business, but quickly it’s evolved. When I read Aguilar’s article, it made sense to me to hone in on one statement, distinct to my classroom (not exclusive, but distinct), a premise all students can expect upon entering through my doors.

After 24 years of teaching, suffice it to say, I have a wealth of experience in goal setting. Over the course of this time, I’ve amended my own goals for my students based on a host of experience.

  • I’ve always been of the mind that teaching English (or any other subject) isn’t so much about the skills (yes, they are necessary to learn, but they are vehicles) as it is about finding oneself through many discourses, thinking critically about the world and our place in it, and, finally, developing the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas out to the world. In essence, it’s an exploration of self through various discourses: literature, non-fiction, visual media, the arts– in the world of teaching English.
  • One of the foundations of establishing this kind of exploration lies in creating a safe environment, a community of readers, writers and critical thinkers, who collaborate with and respect one another. I want my students to feel comfortable challenging themselves and each other in order to reach a deeper understanding of whatever it is that we are learning.

TM Blooms taxonomy

  • It is essential to learn to connect to people and to connect ideas to other ideas. In all of my classes, I teach students what Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy is in order to empower them to develop all of their thinking abilities. Moreover, I try to provide opportunities for each of them to refine their strengths and develop their weaknesses, inspired by Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Every single person has something to offer this world, a worth unique, but the trouble is that too often the model of learning in the public school system is the equivalent of trying to put a uniquely shaped peg into a square whole.

TM multiple intelligences

  • For even the unconventional students, those who seem lost in public school, those who just can’t or won’t subscribe to the rules of the game, I try to help them develop their voices. Communication is paramount to learning. In whatever career anyone eventually pursues, the ability to communicate, through a variety of forms, is essential to moving forward. Everyone has a voice. I hope to give all of my students the platform to not only develop it but to feel confident about what they have to say and how to say it.

So, in thinking about these goals, and in thinking about what I do to assist students in achieving these goals, I’ve decided my motto is simply this:

TM Motto

I’m going to make a sign of it to display on the door of my classroom and on my website and syllabus. I encourage you to create a statement for yourself whether you teach English or Social Studies or even if you are in another career altogether. Just a simple, catchy phrase that embodies the signature of your beliefs.

Why 50 Shades??

Once again, relevant. I’d be interested in hearing reactions to the film (which I have not seen, YET)

Mirror MUSES

So what is all of the hulabaloo surrounding the 50 Shades of Grey series? It’s being touted as Mommy Porn. Women are flocking to buy not only the first book but the whole trilogy at once, while keeping a close eye on the rumor mill leaking the possible portrayers of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
I read the series in one week, yes, all three books, in just one week. I was pealed for hours at a time having difficulty putting it down at all. Flying through a book is not unlike me when I’m hooked, but it doesn’t happen often. This one, albeit a bit disturbing in the early chapters, made me curious to know what made Christian Grey tick and what made Anastasia wanting more. Most women would have bolted at the first sight of the contract, or at least when he began controlling her every contact, her…

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Building a FAMILY TREE: Legacy

A HOW TO GUIDE & My Personal Journey

Madsen Norman family


I’m unsure whether my curiosity for nostalgia originated from my mother’s side or my father’s. To be sure, I listened to the tales of lives of those I both knew and only knew of from my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother and great-grandparents. I had the great fortune of knowing most of my great grandparents, a distinct honor not bestowed upon many, I know. This, in part, is due to my parents becoming parents at such a young age. I was an oops baby, the one that set my family’s journey in motion. Perhaps that’s where the curiosity originated. I could listen for hours to any of my grandparents telling me stories of old. “Back in the day,” as they almost always began.
Angela, my maternal grandmother, always told me stories of relationships. Of who got along with whom and the converse. She wove a tale of two Italian immigrant families (of the generation before her own) with the kinds of stories represented in movies like Moonstruck and The Godfather (though, I never heard of any authentic mafia connections). But the relationships were loud, volatile, and full of a peculiar kind of love– tough love, old school love. Families were extended, even in their homes; Italians don’t move far away from one another and there was always room at the kitchen table for more and food to feed them all.
Carmen, my grandfather, told me different kinds of stories. His were mostly war stories. He seemed fixed on his time in the army during World War II where his troop had been deployed to Guadalcanal. He talked of brotherhood and isolation. Of fear and pride. All of the seemingly opposite things that were one in his eyes. He showed me medals and photographs. I learned words like bivouac and rations. I read his letters to my grandmother, the one thing, he said, that kept him alive. I have the tiny, government issued bible, that he kept in his pocket throughout the war.
Evelyn, my maternal grandmother, whose birth name had been Mary, went by her middle name (I don’t think I ever learned why. It always fascinated me that my great grandparents would give her one name, but then call her another). She told of tangled webs. We were a mutt of a family: descendants coming from France, Sweden, Denmark and Germany… Those from these countries in Europe apparently didn’t stay close like my Italian side. We had people, it seemed, from all around the world whether by birth or by travel. In fact, after my grandfather’s death, my grandmother set out to visit as many countries as she could, and she brought me back a little doll from each place. My love for travel is surely born of hers. History is something else I learned from Evelyn’s tales. She showed me documents she kept, like my great-grandfather’s visa to the U.S. with a different last name. Instead of my maiden name being Norman, I discovered it had been Johansen, but he couldn’t fit his entire name on the card, so he dropped his last and kept one of his middle names as his last. She also told me this grandfather had two wives, two families (though, through my own research, I have not found proof of that). In her soft voice, she drew me in and told me a secret that we are related to Paul Revere. I wore that fact proud when we celebrated the bicentennial at school in the 6th grade.
So many stories stuck with me over the years, and inside me I yearned to know more. To understand.


In the eighth grade, we did a unit on lineage. We explored our family crests and were given a directive to create our own family tree. I interviewed my grandparents who shared names and more photos, so I could put a face to their names. The photos led them to more remembering, more sharing, and I took it all in.

BAFT old treeSome years later, my paternal uncle, Richard, began asking me if I’d worked any more on our family tree. He lived in another state, so I’d see him only occasionally, but every time I did, he’d ask. It seemed we shared a love of nostalgia and lineage. In the back of my mind, I always knew I would explore further, dig deeper, but finding the time was e issue. Not to mention finding the means.

The Task

The means presenting itself to me when a pop-up came across my computer screen for I decided to give the light (read: free) version a try. It allowed me to recreate my paper version of a tree in a neat, logically organized web, but to go deeper, I would need to join.
I decided to join when my Uncle Dick, Aunt Kathy, and cousins Johnny & Jan decided to host a family reunion. They set a date for the summer of 2014. That was enough motivation to begin my search.

The Journey
Hundreds of hours later, I’ve come up with a pretty comprehensive version for my dad’s side of the family (both on his maternal and paternal sides). The thing about Ancestry,com is it opens up a world of search engines that the layperson wouldn’t even know existed. I found access to census reports, birth& death certificates, burial information, military records, travel logs, etc. that I never would have even thought to look for on my own. That is the positive. The negative is the eventual, unavoidable dead-ends that one encounters. It’s important to check one piece of data against another to find the most accurate information, checking and cross checking became both my friend and my enemy. Patience was definitely a virtue.

Bruch Poster 8X 10 copy

The surprises I encountered along my journey were many. First and foremost was the opportunity to talk to people in my family that I hadn’t spoken to in a very long time. I learned that shared knowledge is the best knowledge, coming at one project from many different angles allows you to see the full picture.

BAFT notes

Gathering photographs and identifying the people in them was key. It was important to show the photographs to many because while some relatives knew certain people in the photographs, other recognized different people. I actually made a key of some because I will never remember them all, and, sad as it is, others who know them will not always be here.

Robert Muenzner immediate family Muenzner Auerhamer key

Ultimately, I uncovered eight generations of our family, 83 descendants of my great grandparents on my dad’s maternal side and a span of 155 years from the oldest to the youngest. I also came up with other statistics like the most common birth month & day, the most common names, etc.

I learned that I am, in fact, related to Paul Revere. I learned that IF my great grandfather did have another family, I couldn’t find them (but I’ll continue to search). I also found out that my great grandmother is a half sister to her siblings (something that only few knew). I discovered this because her mother’s name on her birth certificate is different than the wife of my great-great grandfather, so this means he had an affair and conceived a child that would be raised by he and his wife OR he was married to two women at the same time. I also uncovered, or actually he found me via, a relative who lives with his family just a few towns away from me; previously, we didn’t know of each other. His father’s name is Fred Blizzard because he was born in a blizzard (another one of many fun facts I learned).


Taking the tree from computer format to paper was difficult enough, transferring it to something share-able and displayable took collaboration with my sister, the artist of the family. We were offered 3 sheets of lattice as a base with stands on the backs of them to erect them on a flat surface. My sister came up with the idea to make a six foot tree to attach to the lattice and paint for our canvas. Then we copied photos of each family member along with birth (death) dates and names on leaves we proceeded to cut out. We began at the top with my great grandparents and proceeded downward, hanging the leaves to the tree with curtain hooks, in delineating each of the offspring of Augusta and Christian.

tree 1 tree 2

Cover 2014 copy

reunion collage 2014

I also put together a basic tree in a booklet format. On one page, I included statistics and fun facts. Displayed at the center of the tree, it gave everyone at the reunion a good overview of the work that had been done. The tree itself was a good talking point for relatives to reconnect (or in some cases connect for the first time). In addition, a video was taken of the entire event with various interviews. Document. Document. Document.

REUNION PHOTO 9 2014 Bruch Film Grain

BAFT How to


Family Tree Templates


Genealogy 101

Reflection, NOT Resolution

New Year's resolution

I’m setting a new trend for myself for New Year’s day. Instead of establishing lofty goals that, often, I set too high for myself, I’ve decided to instead look upon New Year’s as a day of reflection rather than resolutions.

A cup of warm lemon water each morning (before eating or drinking anything else) is a wonderful thing. Not only does it balance out the liver and give your metabolism a boost, the daily dose of vitamin C has made me feel better.

Being forty-something isn’t as bad as I had originally anticipated, for it has helped me evolve into a woman who can, in fact, let “it” roll when it comes to stressors in my life that I can’t control. Take “#randomkid” (earlier post), for instance, as a teacher a decade ago, he would have sent me reeling; instead, I looked beyond his adolescent behavior and stood the course, which has led me to deal with “#latekid” (future post, to be sure!) in a much more calm, resolute fashion. This one doesn’t even ruffle my feathers!

Which leads me to another very valuable lesson that only age and experience has afforded me: not to take everything so personally. Instead of internalizing and jumping the gun, assuming all fingers point at me, I can do the opposite, now! This is a wonderful feat for myself; in fact, it’s one I’m very proud to have accomplished. (Kinda’ makes me wonder, now, where I’d be had I mastered that one twenty years ago– another future post, perhaps).

I spent most of the last five years feeling disillusioned about my profession– so many facets of it changing in directions I see as not being productive or positive. I have stood up on several occasions to make my opinions known. I’m not shy about standing up and speaking my mind. But I’m not sure what difference it’s made, if any. What I don’t like about my job, I’ve learned, is how entangled public education is with politics, money more specifically. Never before, have I felt it as oppressively as of late– a sign of the times, I suppose. I grappled with this negatively affecting my perspective on coming to work every day. I felt hopeless and helpless. I’m not sure how I turned the corner or which corner I turned, but I’ve learned to focus, not on what’s wrong with education, but instead on what my true priorities and capabilities are as a teacher. First and foremost, my responsibility (and my joy) is in the day to day contact I have with the kids. It’s in developing them as people (more so than any skill that I can impart); I seek to create critical/creative thinkers and confident self advocates. Reforms will come an go. I will agree with some and adamantly oppose others. But, through it all, I can always remain true to myself and my students; no one can change that.

After encountering my first health obstacle this year (and so it begins…), I realized I’m the kind of person who goes on the counterattack, something I didn’t really know about myself before. I’ve decided to look at this as an opportunity to put my health first, something I should have done a long time ago, and so I have. It’s a daily call to consciousness, something I’m grateful for.

We have three dogs, all labs, who are very much part of our family. The eldest, Bailey, 13 years old, is nearing the end of his life. We’re kind of lucky because he’s sort of had 9 lives. We’ve said goodbye to him twice, already, in fact, sure he wouldn’t make it through the night. The reflection is this: people deal with death differently. If it were solely my decision, I would have put him to sleep months ago. He struggles getting up, cries out in pain at times, has a hard time climbing up one step. I’m of the mindset that if one isn’t living a quality life, the right thing to do is to allow him/her to die with dignity. Unfortunately, this luxury is afforded to animals more so than people (but that’s for another post, too). My husband and two of my children are of a different mindset– I see it as them having a hard time letting go. My husband is looking for a decision to confront him– a choice that puts the choice out of his hands. But then he said something that I can respect and live with. He said, “I’m trying to keep him alive until Ryan (my eldest child who lives in Chicago) comes home, so he has the chance to say goodbye.” Everyone needs closure.

The little things really are big things. Having an impromptu breakfast with all of my children. Hearing the excitement in my first born’s voice when he gets a promotion at work. Watching my second born play hockey again. Seeing my third born’s eyes widen when she realizes the college that will make her happiest. Knowing my kids are all under one roof, asleep at night. Observing the rhythms of my children as they enjoy just being with one another. A cup of coffee in the morning. Quiet time to write. My graffiti wall and the memories it calls up. The scent of pumpkin in the fall. A family reunion. My dogs rushing to greet me. Laughing uncontrollably. The quiet in my head (and house) when the only sound I can hear is of my narrator speaking words through fingers pressing down letters on the keyboard of my writing universe. Listening to my favorite new song on repeat. Realizing the all the little things that keep propelling me from one day to the next, from one moment onward…

As with any marriage, my husband & I have had our share of highs and lows. Undoubtedly, the most difficult time has been in raising our teenage-young adult children because we often don’t see eye to eye. The differences in our own upbringing have shone through this time unlike any other in our parenting. It’s almost broken us, but I’ve come to realize, instead, it’s made us stronger which I believe speaks a lot to the core of our relationship. We could have given in, called it quits, but we have both stuck it out in the name of love for each other and our family. You know, 25 years ago, when I married my husband, I fantasized that we’d be together forever; it’s taken me 25 years to know. And, that, is a good feeling.

Selfishness and putting oneself first is not the same thing. When I was a kid, my parents used to call me selfish. It stung; it had a lasting impact on me such that I think I’ve gone to the other extreme to try to prove them wrong. And, now, I’ve come back to somewhere in the middle, to a place that I realize this is, after all, MY life. In large part, my friends are responsible for this epiphany. Their observations of me helped me to see myself clearly. And I have finally developed the courage to live my life for me and what makes me happy because, at the end of the day, if I’m not happy, I cannot be happy with anyone else in my life.

Being the best and being my best are two totally different things. I’ve always been uber-involved in many things; I don’t like to be idol. I like to take on a task and see it through to perfection (“Ah, there’s the rub”). At forty-nine, I finally understand that perfection does not exist. I can be okay with what is in my control. I can be okay with putting MY best efforts forth and I realize that, in life, as over-committed as some of us are, that something’s got to give. I no longer feel a failure at saying no or not living up to another person’s expectations of me. My own expectations matter most. At the end of the day, if I can say that I gave what I could give, I’m happy.

Thankfulness is the best gift one can give to oneself. I learned this last year during one of the lowest periods of my life. I performed a “Thirty days of Thankful” experiment with myself which has colored the way I see each and everyday. I am thankful for “just being here,” the words and platitude a very close and wise friend gave me. I am thankful for my family, for who they are and all that they mean to me. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with kids everyday and, hopefully, positively influence them and the course of their lives in some way. I am thankful for my friends, each fulfilling a different facet of my life. I am thankful for the ability to notice the little things as they happen, the experiences that become memories to cherish. I am thankful that each New Year is almost like a reset button to stop for a moment to reflect, in order to learn and move forward, a little wiser and more thankful than the year before.