January 21, 2016

Processing Loss and Paying Tribute to One of My Heroes

Source: Debbie's FB Page
On December 21, 2015, a person I deeply admired, Debbie Alvarez, passed away.

I only met Debbie once, (the day after the picture to the right was taken), and yet I find myself thinking about her and missing her. How is it that we can miss someone that we didn't actually spend a lot of face time with? And how is it that someone can fill a space in your heart, when you primarily knew them through their words or their work?

As those questions relate to Debbie, it's because she offered her words as a gift to her readers, and she approached her life's work with passion, integrity, and love.

Debbie's work spoke for itself. She was the Teacher Librarian at Ridgewood Elementary School for 12 years before the Beaverton School District eliminated teacher librarians from every school due to a budget crisis. Instead of exercising her seniority and transferring into another role within the school district, Debbie followed her passion and took her gift for teaching and librarianship to Hong Kong.

I was invited for an author visit at Ridgewood Elementary in the spring of 2013, after Debbie had already moved to Hong Kong. Debbie's imprint on that school library was so lasting and so strong, I could still feel it even in her absence. The students were prepared for my visit; the teachers seized the opportunity to participate in the learning activities I presented; the library was a beautiful and welcoming multi-purpose space (it was being used for student-led yoga during lunchtime); there were active and engaged parent volunteers; and the library collection was still strong.

I remember sharing my observations with the folks I met and interacted with at Ridgewood, and I was told time and again that their longtime teacher librarian, Debbie Alvarez, had done everything within her power to position them to weather the current storm as well as possible. They also mentioned that they missed her dearly. That was the first time I'd heard Debbie Alvarez's name.

The next time I remember hearing Debbie's name was when I launched an intensive school library advocacy effort. It seemed that nearly everyone I met and interacted with was acquainted with Debbie and/or familiar with her work. Time and again folks said wonderful things about her. I remember thinking how much I wished I had met her before she moved to Hong Kong. And then, as if wishing it made it so, Debbie joined the School Library Advocacy Council and School Libraries Matter: Beaverton social media sites that our Beaverton-based advocacy team had established. That is when I began to experience first-hand what an amazing teacher, librarian and human she was.

Although Debbie was still in Hong Kong, she became an important resource for school library advocacy efforts in Beaverton. Like others, she shared articles and commentary that were relevant to our concerns. Uniquely, she had a fan base of past students, parents, and colleagues that she stayed in contact with and could reach out to as needed. Despite the miles that separated us, she seemed genuinely engaged.

I remember being floored when Debbie's father spoke up at a School District Budget Committee meeting (you can find his comments about 2-2 1/2 hours into the 3+ hour meeting). He gave some of the most compelling public testimony offered during the entire evening. He was moved to speak up about the issue because his daughter was passionate about her work, and her passion was contagious.

Debbie and I started corresponding soon after that meeting. We planned to meet up sometime after her planned return to the Beaverton area. We kept in touch while she applied and interviewed (via SKYPE) for jobs in Oregon, and I hoped upon hope that she would be selected for one of the newly created LITT positions in Beaverton.

My hopes were realized when Debbie was hired at McKay Elementary, one of 15 schools that were chosen to pilot the district's Future Ready initiative (and one of ten schools that were participating in an active Future Ready collaboration). I literally cried happy tears when I discovered that Debbie had been asked to present an educational session for classroom teachers at our school district's summer inservice. The program she presented was on the topic of reading engagement, a critical component of Strong School Libraries. I felt relieved and reassured that Debbie was at the "Future Ready" table, because I knew that she would give voice to the importance of books, the importance of story, and the important role of a teacher and a librarian in helping young readers find their way in a sea of information.

Source: Debbie's FB Page
I finally had the pleasure of meeting Debbie in person this past October at the Oregon Association for School Libraries conference. She asked me to sign a book for her, we ate lunch together, she asked to snap a photo of us together, and she attended my session on Creating Picture Books with Kids. I remember being a tad bit intimidated when I found out she was planning to attend my session, because I didn't know what I could share that she wouldn't already know. I was soon put completely at ease as I saw her go into full-on learning mode. She listened to me intently. She took notes. She asked good questions. And she participated actively, sharing specific ideas about how she planned to incorporate what she had learned into her elementary school. I felt so relevant and so alive sharing space and time with her.

I had a similar reaction when I realized that Debbie had mentioned a couple of my books on, "It's Monday, What are You Reading?," one of her regular blog features. If you want to know how to make an author feel like a rock star, consider Debbie an excellent role model.

I looked forward to when Debbie and I might meet again, hopefully in an environment that was less distracting and stressful than a professional conference, but sadly, that was not to be. Debbie left this earth much too soon.

Prior to Debbie's passing, I would often think of her and wonder how she was doing in terms of her health and well being. I made a point to read her blog, Life's Journey, Interrupted, where she honestly and poignantly chronicled her experiences with cancer, and I kept up on the other aspects of her life via Facebook.

Now that she has passed, I find myself thinking about her life and the gifts that she gave to those of use who knew her. Here are a few examples of the gifts Debbie's life brought to me personally:

Sisterly Love: I experienced so much joy in the love that Debbie shared with her sister, Rachel Ann. There were times that I would be prompted to reach out to and connect with my own sister because of a Facebook post or blog entry to or from Debbie.

Connections to Other Positive People: Because of my connection to Debbie, I've been introduced to many other fantastic humans. Humans that share my love for learning and my love for books. One of those humans is Rachel Ann. I have found her blog enjoyable and worthwhile reading, and reading it has also given me an ongoing sense of connection to Debbie.

Book Recommendations: I continue to revel in the book recommendations offered by Debbie. She was so organized and on top of things that she had book reviews and blog posts queued up well after her passing. Her words continued to flow as recently as this past weekend.  I don't want her book recommendations to ever end.

A Living Reminder to Engage Fully in My Life, Every Day and at Every Opportunity: I was amazed by Debbie's strength and her will to live--both to keep living and to live fully while she was alive. I enjoyed reading about her adventures on the Life Updates section of her blog. Debbie seized the opportunities that were presented to her, and she made other opportunities happen.  She engaged with her friends, family, and colleagues, as well as the community around her. When I learned that Debbie would be not only attending the OASL Conference, but also presenting at it (and this after attending a required inservice day with her school district), I was initially befuddled at why she would take on these added activities during such a stressful and challenging time in her life. After spending just a little bit of face time with her, I could quickly intuit that given the choice, Debbie would engage in every life experience available to her vs. sitting on the sidelines. Given the circumstances of how invasive the cancer had become, I don't know how she did it, and I doubt I possess her strength or perserverence. What I do know is that living as fully as Debbie lived has become my stretch goal.

I am not alone in my admiration for Debbie. A quick google or Twitter search will yield many heartfelt tributes. You can click here, or here for a couple of examples. There are also several book drives being organized in her honor. Here are some that I'm aware of:

Titlewish to benefit McKay Elementary School (deadline, February 14, 2016).

JustGiving to benefit students in Hong Kong (they have officially reached their goal, but I think they are still accepting donations).

Book Drive being coordinated as a Facebook Event (ends January 27, 2016).

Annie Bloom's Books is offering book discounts and accepting donations through January 31, 2016 (call or email the store for info, or reach out to author @RosanneParry, who helped coordinate and who can share a special bookplate created by author/illustrator Victoria Jamieson).

I am sad that I will not have the opportunity to get to know Debbie better than I did, but I am grateful for the times and ways in which our paths crossed.

I will close with a quote from Debbie's Blog:

"In my opinion, books are the best accessory." Debbie Alvarez, The Styling Librarian

I will miss you, Debbie Alvarez. I already do.

December 31, 2015

2015 Year End Post and Love Note to September Dawn from December Dawn

I've heard from several sources that fewer and fewer people are sending annual holiday greetings. I treasure this tradition each year. Both the receiving of cards, letters, and photos from friends and family near and far, and the preparation of my own annual update. Each year I try to provide a relevant update embedded in some creative format (here are examples from 2012 2013, and 2014).

Here is my 2015 update, followed by a letter I penned to myself a bit earlier today entitled, "Love Note to September Dawn from December Dawn."

2015 Update:

Excerpt of Letter to Myself: 

December 31, 2015

Dear September Dawn,

The kids are back-to-school and you are eager to get started on new projects and/or projects that were back-burnered over the summer. This is Katia’s senior year, after all, so there are likely LOTS of projects. Christmas is the furthest thing from your mind. But you have time on your hands now. Things start getting busy in October. They get crazy busy in November. And by December you are stressed and frustrated with yourself for not planning ahead. 

Plan ahead this year. Get the holiday greeting card designed now. Plan what you want to do for the holiday craft this year and get going on it early. You absolutely must have it figured out BEFORE you go to Sunriver for Thanksgiving so you can work on it during your time there. There is nice down-time in Sunriver to do this sort of thing, but you MUST PLAN AHEAD to have the craft supplies identified and purchased before the Thanksgiving trip to Sunriver in order to use that relaxing time for crafting time. You are also more likely to get the kids involved and helping you in that environment.

Begin thinking about what you want to get the kids for Christmas. Actually, don’t just think about it, act on it. In years past (2015 was no exception), you made good notes for yourself as to what to buy the kids, but then you waited too long to go out and actually get the items, so you engaged in a frantic last-minute race around town, in heavy traffic and nasty weather to try to find things that had long since sold out. This happened for several items on your must-have list. Don’t do this to yourself this year. Oh, and plan ahead so you can actually send something to out of town family before Christmas instead of the week after Christmas (or later).

It would be so nice if the last few days before Christmas could be filled with some fun outings/activities, holiday baking, and relaxing movies instead of last minute shopping and frantic wrapping and crazed making of crafts for gifts! This will be Katia’s last high school Christmas. Plan ahead so that you can decorate early (instead of having the boxes out for weeks, but no bandwidth to decorate until a few days before Christmas). The kids are getting out of school earlier in December in 2016. Plan ahead so that all of the Christmas hustle bustle is done before the kids are out of school so you can enjoy family time (and friend time) with them once school has ended. Oh, and there is NO NEED to wait until December 31st to make annual donations. Just get them done. They can be done in September. Or October. Send them in and check that off the list. 

Okay. That’s it. Realize this was written after a wonderful Christmas, but a Christmas in which the lead-up was somewhat stressful (amplified by the fact that there were work projects and water issues that took more time than anticipated, and weekends in November and December that were full of racquetball and basketball tournaments, so even though you had blocked out what seemed like a lot of time in early December, it wasn’t enough time to get everything that needed to be done, done).

Please consider my advice in the helpful spirit in which is was intended and follow it, September Dawn. Love, December Dawn. 


Happy New Year, folks! May it be a year filled with joy, love and laughter (and advanced planning!) : ).

xox December Dawn

November 25, 2015

Thankful for Books. Thankful for Libraries. Thankful for Family and Friends.

If you know me at all, you know that I love reading. I was thinking the other day, that of all of the many, many gifts in my life (and I have many), the gift of reading is one of the gifts I treasure most. I read every single day. I read to learn. I read to escape. I read to grow as a human. I read to understand.  I read to listen.
Image Source: School Libraries Matter: Beaverton

This Thanksgiving Break I will hunker down with my family and read by a fire. One of the books I will read is Amber Keyser's Back from Broken. Here is a beautiful article written by Amber that tells the tender story behind the story.

What will you and/or your children be reading over the Thanksgiving Break? School Library Advocates are collecting input on the School Libraries Matter: Beaverton Facebook Page. Please visit the site, "like" the site, and share what you're reading.

Speaking of libraries, if you know me at all, you know I also love libraries. I recently authored a guest post for the SchoolLibraryAdvocacy.org blog. I hope you will pop on over to their site to give it a read.

Image Source: L. Monfils

Our family has a tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving early. This past weekend we had 32 family members sharing food, stories, and laughter around our plentiful table. I am so blessed.

I am also grateful for you, dear reader. Thank you for giving me a space to share my thoughts, share my ideas, and share my passion for learning and life.

October 15, 2015

Collaboration Station

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating on a panel with other KidLit folks at the Pacific NW Bookseller Association's Trade Show and Convention. The other participants included authors Jane Kurtz and Chris Kurtz, A Children's Place bookseller Billie Bloebaum, and Andrea Milano, youth services manager at the Lake Oswego Library.

The main topic of discussion was collaboration amongst authors/illustrators, booksellers, librarians (both public and school), and educators. We talked about a myriad of different types of collaborations such as:

and collaborations with organizations such as SCBWI

 We also talked about the issue of funding. Here were some funding ideas that were shared:

The panelists and participants were engaged and engaging. Many folks wanted to continue the conversation beyond the scheduled time. I offered to create a blog post about the topic, so that the conversation could continue, virtually. 

Please use the comment section below if you want to converse about this topic (and/or "meet" others who are interested in this topic). I should also mention a longstanding (but not yet very active) Facebook group about this topic, created a few years ago by fellow author, Deb Lund. It can be found at this link

What collaborations have you tried? What collaborations would you like to try? What are your questions or concerns relating to reaching out to various stakeholders? 

I am hopeful this conversation will "take off," but even if it doesn't, hopefully some of the ideas summarized in the slides above will generate inspiration for some authors/illustrators, book sellers, teachers and librarians. And if that's the case, I hope you will share YOUR inspiration and ideas below!

October 6, 2015

School Library Advocacy: An Update

School Libraries Matter: Beaverton Glog Summary
I spent much of last school year advocating for Strong School Libraries. This time last year, although each school in our district had a library media assistant, (LMA), not a single school had a certified teacher librarian. The district only had three certified librarians on staff, stationed at the district office and charged with supporting and serving 39,000 students and the school-based LMAs in 51 schools. That was an unacceptable circumstance and resulted in a passionate parent/community-led school library advocacy campaign, School Libraries Matter: Beaverton.

Our school district started off in a much stronger position this school year. We still have the three district-level librarians and all of our schools still have LMAs, but 15 schools now have LITTs (Library Information Technology Teachers). Although some of these LIT teachers do not yet have specialized library credentials or training, they are innovative, forward-thinking teachers, charged with fulfilling a job description that honors crucial elements of library services, such as information literacy and reading engagement. In addition, the school district now has a top-level official who is charged with overseeing school innovation from a teaching and learning perspective. This leader has a clear awareness of the value and importance of strong, fully staffed libraries. It's our hope (and understanding) that additional schools will gain LITTs in subsequent school years.

Our advocacy work is not done, but we have made important progress. I will be presenting a session entitled, "Library Evangelism 101" at the OASL Conference on Saturday, October 10th.  Although I will briefly reference our advocacy process in that session, some folks may want more details. For this purpose, I've created a Glog, (thanks to a remote tutorial by the fabulous Library Teacher, Craig Seasholes) that provides an comprehensive overview of our advocacy campaign.

You can find the Glog at this link: School Libraries Matter: Beaverton, Glog Summary

I would love to hear your own advocacy experiences. Please comment below or via a direct message using the contact form in the left sidebar.

September 8, 2015

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child: Tip #4

Image Credit
Today's tip for signing with your baby or young child is, "Take Advantage of Teachable Moments."

One of the most effective ways to gradually weave sign language into your communication is to be on the lookout for teachable moments. If, for example, your child reaches for a ball, she is communicating with you that she wants the ball. This is a teachable moment. Take the time to label the word ball, verbally and in sign, then give her the ball. Say and sign the word several times as your baby explores the ball and looks to you for reassurance and information.

It's fairly natural to add labels when we communicate with babies and young children verbally. For example, think about what happens when the kitty walks into the room (or a bird perches on the porch railing, or a dog passes by when you are playing at the park . . . ). Your baby will likely look at the kitty (bird/dog), then look at you expectantly. Without even thinking about it, you will probably say something like, "That's the kitty. You like that kitty, don't you?" The only thing that's different when you are signing is that you would also sign the word, kitty/cat (or bird, or dog) during the conversation.

The main trick is that you need to develop a sign language vocabulary so you are "on the ready" when these teachable moments present themselves. As I mentioned in Tip #3, take a moment to think about what your child is most interested in (and/or what you see a lot of and/or do a lot of during the course of a day). This will help you narrow down some priority vocabulary words that match with your child's interests and activities.

Once you've narrowed down some vocabulary words that you want to focus on, start singing! Hands down, that's the easiest way to build your sign language vocabulary. I've written several posts about singing and signing. Click here to link to an article that's a good starting point on this topic if you need some guidance in this area.

Lastly, make sure the teachable moments you are taking advantage of do not have the makings for a power struggle. If your baby is especially eager to receive the ball, she is not going to be very happy with you if you hold back on sharing the ball just so you can sign ball. Likewise, if your baby is really hungry, he is not going to be very patient with you if you insist on signing more before offering each bite of food. Take advantage of teachable moments, yes, but keep the tone playful. If this proves difficult, start out by signing primarily during playtime, and then ease into other contexts.

So what are you waiting for? The next teachable moment is just around the corner. Happy Signing!

August 11, 2015

Call for Submissions: Easy Recipes and Go-To Meals

Image Source
I have long wanted to gather a collection of "easy-peasy," "in-a-pinch," "standard go-to" recipes/meals. Yes, I realize I can just do an internet search on these terms and find a bunch of ideas, but I want to curate a collection of meal ideas and recipes that real people (that's YOU!) depend on and actually prepare week after week, month after month. 

This summer I decided it's time to stop pondering this idea and actually get it done

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the recipe collection so far; it's going to be great! You can get your very own copy if you add something to the collection before the September 30th deadline. Here is the link: http://goo.gl/forms/p1IPJwopuM

Oh, and if you want to be a real pal, please share this post with a few friends and/or out to your own social media contacts to widen the circle and expand the collection. If everyone who reads this shared it with just a few people, and each of those people contributed a meal, we would all have a really robust collection of easy recipes/meal ideas to choose from! 

NOTE: I've had some folks mention that some of their "go-to meals" aren't really "recipes" because it's something you put together without measuring ingredients because it's so easy, familiar, and routine for you. For example, "Crustless Quiche, Sort of" or "Chicken and Rice Scramble." Send me your take on those ideas, too! I will figure out how to include your creations in a way that others can (attempt to!) replicate. 

I've also had some folks point out that their "go-to meals" aren't necessarily "recipes," because a major ingredient is "a container of your favorite store-bought spaghetti sauce," or it's a very simple meal/dish such as chicken quesadillas, grilled cheese and tomato soup, breakfast for dinner, etc. Share those ideas, too (re: for variety sake, I'd love to add your collective list of go-to meals/dishes to my own list of "regulars").

To entice you to contribute SOMETHING, here is a sampling of some of the yummy contributions that have come in so far: 
Beef Stroganoff
Sausage Cheese Balls
Sausage Broccoli Black Bean Dish
Catfish Stew
Baked Ziti
Broccoli Enchiladas
Super Easy Stuffed Mushrooms
Crockpot Indian Butter Chicken
Macaroni and Cheese (Plus, Chicken Bacon Ranch Macaroni and Cheese, and Crock Pot Mac-n-Cheese)
Easy Breakfast Casserole
Hamburger Rice
Tortilla Soup AND Crock pot Mexican Soup
Best Broccoli You’ll Ever Eat
Tuesday Night Dinner
Easy Baked Egg Sandwiches
Year-Round Fruit Salad
Garbanzo Bean and Ground Turkey Casserole
Dutch Babies
Champagne Chicken
Five Fiber Casserole (Admittedly in Need of a New Name)
8-Can Taco Soup
Chicken Enchilada Bake 

Ready to Share YOUR Easy-Peasy, In-a-Pinch, Standard Go-To Meals? Great! You can do so in the comment section below, via a message using the contact form to the left, or by completing the Easy-Peasy form at the following link: 

If you contribute a recipe or meal idea by September 30, 2015, and you provide your contact information, you will receive a copy of the compilation when it's done. 

If you need more information or details, please take a look at my original blog post on this topic and/or comment below with your question(s). 

I can't wait to see what YOU'RE cookin!