An “Open Letter” to My Fellow Teaching Colleagues About School Supply Lists

One my favorite wedding stories to tell people is about our gift registry.

A little over 25 years ago, my partner and I argued over whether or not we should create a gift registry. Some of your are already thinking, “duh”. Bear in mind that 25 years ago, this idea was still pretty new. He didn’t like the idea of “telling” people what to get us. I told him that we weren’t doing that; we were helping them with what we need because we were young – fresh out of college and a lot of our invited friends were the same. They had no idea what they should get us. Laundry detergent! Chips! Toilet paper! I mean, yeah, but when you’re 21/22, it’s sometimes difficult to fathom that we might need actual dishes, towels, and small appliances to live on our own, too, without a university all-you-can eat cafeteria on hand.

Plus, I added, it’s not like we have to specify certain brands of things we needed. We need a mixer, but it doesn’t have to be Cuisinart or Kitchen Aid. It can be whatever is on the cheap from K-Mart or Target.

He thought it over, and nodded. “Yeah, okay. That makes sense.”

As soon as the magic scanning gun was in his hands, however, everything changed. THIS, he exclaimed, scanning in the $200 set of salt and pepper shakers that weighed five pounds each. They’re solid and a great color. WE NEED THEM. And this $600 blender. And these $80 placemats. And this $300 eight-slice Krups toaster.


We had to pause and I said, “remember what we just talked about?”

He laughed. “Yeah.”

This story makes me think of the school supply list problem that creeps up every year. My social media timelines get filled with pleas for compassion for teachers and school supplies vs frustrated parents whose blood pressure skyrockets as they try to find All The Items.

Look,  I LOVE school and office supplies. A lot. I love brand new, Papermate brand wooden pencils with their soft #2 lead, Pilot brand pens, Sharpies, brightly colored 3M Post-It brand sticky notes, and Mead college-ruled notebooks.

Yes, I prefer Papermate brand pencils over Ticonderogas. I like Sharpie brand permanent markers over any other.

But let’s be honest. Are those brands going to help me teach any better than the other random brands? I sure hope not.

As a kid, I loved when school supply lists came out because it was fun to not only get all the fresh items, but I kind of dug the scavenger hunt nature of it all, too.

As a parent, I came to dread the lists.

I GET that schools don’t/can’t supply all this stuff for students. And I GET IT that in many schools, they have budgets for nothing like this at all, even for teacher supplies and so those teachers are relying on parents to help provide these things.


I have taught in many different schools and districts and have 3 kiddos of my own who have been going through the system and it is like we’ve given the gift registry scanner wand to some of these schools.

CRAYOLA only brand crayons or markers

FISKARS scissors

ELMER’S glue (and not just any kind of Elmer’s, but the DISAPPEARING PURPLE kind)

A gajillion notebooks – one lavendar, one ecru, one cyan, one midnight blue, one eggshell…

+ 20 more line items

You guys. No. Just, stop.

Some of you think I’m exaggerating with what I listed above. And while I made up the fancy colors, I just looked at this year’s supply lists for my kids’ former elementary school and seriously, one grade level literally had a name brand specified for every item. Another grade level had 22 line items. This is a Title I school, y’all.

They’ve gone off the rails.

I recognize that having color-coded notebooks and folders is useful, but when I have to go to three different stores in order to fulfill that request, my smile and love for school and office supplies disappears. Especially when I get to child #3, knowing that over 50% of those notebooks and folders will not even be used.

Youngest Child’s middle school parent organization offers the EduKit, which has all the stuff in a single order delivered to your home. Easy, right?

Except, $99.

*pulls out hair*

We are a middle class family. We can afford $99 (x 3). We can even afford the time to go to different stores to get everything if we have to. We can get all the preferred name brands.

But what about the lower-income families? I don’t care how nicely you word it on the list (ie: “preferred”), if Crayola is specified at all, families are going to feel like that’s what they must get or if they don’t (because Crayola is way more expensive than the generic alternatives), kids know it. They may not complain, but they know.

What about the lower-income families or single-parent families who just don’t have the time to find all of these specific items (or the money to dump into the pre-fab kits)?

What about the non-English speaking families who are barely navigating getting their students enrolled and catching the right bus let alone the full sheet, single-spaced list of supplies that is offered in English and Spanish (which is great), but not Hmong? I mean, what does it even mean to get “classic” colors for markers?

As an educator myself, I have fallen under the spell of wanting my students to have certain things. And I have also learned that kids not having dividers for their binders isn’t a learning stoppage.

Sometimes, when I read one of those articles that chastises parents for complaining about the supply lists, I think maybe, just maybe, that parent is someone who is low on sleep, low on energy, low on funds, or just low on emotional resources to handle One More Thing. They know school’s important. They are doing their best.

Maybe we can help them out?

Review our lists. Laugh. Adjust. We’ll do better.

Kudos to this list from a Minneapolis school for keeping the lists short… and for organizing it so that for parents who can do more will find the section on how they can give a little extra.

If you have great examples from schools of pared down, manageable lists, show us in the comments!

 And, because yes, school supplies ARE still fun, here’s a little throwback Principal Gerry Brooks video for you on the must-have smarkers:


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The Attempt Is All

Several years ago, a small, drive-through only coffee and ice cream cone shop opened in my neighborhood. It was just before drive-through windows were common for places like Starbucks and Caribou. Coffee for the parents and ice cream for the kids (and parents)? Easy drive-through service for both? It seemed like it would have a lot of potential for success.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long.

A year or two after it closed, I was out of town with my kiddos and we stopped at a Dairy Queen for lunch. An older couple sat near us and we struck up a conversation. As small world situations would have it, it came out that it was their son-in-law who had opened a coffee shop in my neighborhood.

“Oh! That one across from ––, on the corner, and was drive-through only for coffee and ice cream?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” she replied.

“I was sorry to see it close. It had a lot of potential,” I said.

“My son-in-law had received an inheritance,” she said, her tone not yet quite readable, “and he put it all into that shop. He said he’d always wanted to own his own business.”

If you know me at all, you might anticipate my reaction. “Wow, that’s a total shame that it didn’t work out, but so great that he gave it a go!”

And then I discovered that was the wrong response. WHOOPS.

“All of the inheritance. They have two young children and my daughter stays home with the children. They don’t have very much money.”

But, you know, in for a dime, in for a dollar. I invested. “He has a job now?”

“Yes.” By now she’s not exactly glaring at me, but there’s definitely disapproval.

“That’s good,” I forge right on ahead. “I mean, it’s a scary risk to put so much time and money into an unknown business, but how great to have had the opportunity to follow that dream so early!”

She didn’t, um,  agree.

In my defense, I really think the mother was simply feeling protective of her daughter (totally understandable) and I also don’t think they were bordering on being truly poor. Let’s just say we transitioned away from that topic after it clearly wasn’t going the way either of us thought. Heh.

It is being said in a lot of places right now that “follow your dreams” is not really the best advice to give young people anymore and I get what those people are saying. We can’t all be famous or make the most money or get the very best job right out of school. Most will never have that. But I don’t ever want us to ditch the idea altogether. The core of “follow your dreams” can be more like “keep your dreams, but also be pragmatic”, right?

Without our dreams, we lose our hope and our passions. Without our dreams, the whole “growth mindset” movement fizzles out. Without our dreams, we lose innovation, invention, advancement, and great art.

A friend of mine posted the following in our writers’ group this past week:

“Writers, stop what you’re doing and go to Netflix and watch Off Camera, season 3, episode 2 with Ethan Hawke. Even if it’s just the first ten minutes of it. I guarantee you will enter your weekend more confident and more determined to write your book.”

Naturally, I followed her directive. Hawke talks of mixing his acting fame with his first time writing a novel. He faced a lot of criticism and mockery, but you know, he just kept at it. And one of the things he said during the interview was “The attempt is all.” He hadn’t expected to face such ridicule for following a passion – a dream – of writing a novel, but didn’t let it stop him, in spite of it.

I’ve had my fair share of dreams that seem to circle on down the drain. But at age 46, I still hang on to them. I don’t regret any of my choices to do different things that were more practical. Things that fortunately, were still within my wide range of interests, even if I was never The Best at those things. I’ve received rejection after rejection after rejection, and yet, The Dream – the one about being published – still exists. The journey towards that dream is important.

Oldest Child graduated last night, and I think to what is in their future. They have a big music audition in November and their plans for this next year kind of hinges on being successful with that audition. It’s a risk. But it’s also a dream that they can’t – or at least shouldn’t – pass up right now. Should it not pan out… The Dream, perhaps in a slightly different form, should still exist.

Middle Child has taken to heart my advice to him at the beginning of the year: you get out what you put in. This has not always equaled getting what he wanted out of it all, but each ounce of effort has led to growth and effort towards dreams. The Dreams still exist.

When we keep our dreams alive, we look at failure as obstacles, not barriers. Sure, maybe the “follow your dreams” is folly when paired with nothing else. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still KEEP our dreams because the journey surrounding those dreams teaches us so much.

The attempt is all. No regrets.

Do you remember “Mr. Holland’s Opus”? I love the duo-reference of the word “opus” and what a great example of keeping a dream and seeing it come to fruition in ways not expected.

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Monday Minutiae – 5/28/18

Divisors, Dividends, and Remainders

Not long ago, one of my writer’s groups talked about what we did with words we discard from our final drafts. Delete entirely? Save? Save with any sort of organization? I’ll delete a random sentence or two here and there, but pretty much everything else I save in a separate folder in Scrivener. When I wrote with Word, I used to have a file called “Miscellaneous Scenes.” By far, my most favorite response by a fellow writer was her file, called “Someday Your Prince Will Come.” LOVE. Another author friend, Julie Carrick Dalton, wrote a piece recently for Writer Unboxed about “Finding Second Life in Cast-Off Words”. She literally makes some physical mementos from printed cast-offs. It’s a beautiful piece. I don’t know if I would do as much as she does, although I like the idea of shredding drafts to make into fire bricks.

Reading Minutes

Last summer I devoted time to doing something I don’t do as often as I used to: re-reading books. Sometimes I re-read for new perspective, to see if a story has held up over time. Other times, like last summer, I re-read stories for comfort, the Sure Things. This year, I took to the re-read via audio books. I caught up with Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series and then, took to re-listening. I’ve interspersed other new books in there, but have kept coming back to Penny’s books. In this recent interview of Penny by the NY Times, they mention how “Hillary Clinton confided in her recent memoir that Ms. Penny’s books brought her solace after her bruising election defeat.” This is how I have felt. There are a lot of tough things going on in our society these days, and in spite of Penny’s books being about murder, they are more about character and love. Penny’s books give me peace, and as noted in my current reads below, I am in the midst of one right now. What are your reads that give you peace? Ones that you re-read for the Sure Thing?

Independent Practice

My husband has a colleague that calls the month of May, “Drive and Clap” month. If you have kids, you know this is accurate! In spite of some days feeling overwhelming with yet another activity, I have been enjoying it all. I’m super proud of my kiddos. Oldest Child will graduate from high school in a week, Middle Child has taken to heart my advice that what you get out of something is only matched by what you put into it, and Youngest Child has shown commitment and follow-through. What more can a mother ask for?


Currently Reading (print): When Katie Met Cassidy (A) – Camille Perri

Currently Reading (audio): The Beautiful Mystery (A) – Louise Penny

Song of the Week:

Oldest Child’s final high school concert was this past week and they got to show off their rockin’ tuba skillz. They plan on continuing on with music in their future and this swan song sure was a fun way to say good-bye to one journey as they embark on the next one.

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Monday Minutiae – 4/30/18

 Cooperative Learning

When critics say that kids – students – don’t understand what they’re protesting or that they can’t possibly be mature enough to know their own minds, I want them to meet the 3rd grade student at one of the schools I work at and see his intelligent, mature, and compassionate behavior. Student A came to our media center with Student B’s computer, trying to help Student B log into an account. Student B was all over the place – ADHD and probably some other unspecified issues. Student A would calmly redirect him back to the issue at hand without any visible annoyance or impatience. When we asked if Student B could share with another student, Student A said “Oh, sure. He can share with me.” No hesitation. No sigh. No complaint. Age 10. Our future is in such good hands.

Works Cited
I follow Debbie Reese on Twitter, who is one of a few of my “go-to” people for what’s what in literature and its treatment of Native American/First Nations peoples. Recently she had a thread surrounding a new narrative non-fiction release about the Cherokee Nation indicating she gave it a big red X. She also included a brief look at the author’s notes/acknowledgements and a follow-up comment by one of the authorities consulted:


And while I know anyone cited in acknowledgements runs the risk of knowing their expert advice or knowledge has been mangled, it sure seems horribly unfair that his name now has to be associated with a book he would never recommend to others. “All mistakes are mine” is a necessary and accurate disclaimer for all authors, and I don’t really know how to get around it, but it sure has me thinking about my own acknowledgements in the future and ways to more thoroughly own any mistakes and ignorant offense I am sure to include in my works.

The publisher (Simon and Schuster) says “The result is a richly evocative portrait of the Cherokee that is destined to become the defining book on this extraordinary people.” And I feel such a knot in my stomach that this white man’s book is being touted as being a defining book about a people already represented so poorly in all aspects of their lives – fiction and non-fiction. I don’t think we need any more white perspective on non-white history.

Why did Sedgwick think that this was his story to tell?

Growth Mindset

One of my favorite quotes from this article about the “see it and believe it” mentality by Jessica Knoll:

“…a guy friend from college believed he was complimenting me by musing, ‘Who would have thought Jess Knoll would have been the success story from our class?’

Who would have thought? Me. I did.”

That’s right. SHE thought it. I am not as full of fire and confidence as this author is, but I know the feeling of tamping down my self-confidence. I’ve learned to let go of some of that nonsense, because dang it, I’ve got a lot of experience in a lot of different areas and why shouldn’t I be proud of that? And yet, I still feel like an obnoxious braggart sometimes. But maybe I should just own it and do like Knoll says at the end: “…[I’ll] do what men do, and shrug.”

To add on to that… I was at an informal dinner party over the weekend and a retired nurse told a story about the differing relationships among medical professionals within a larger hospital vs a smaller one. She made this comment: “Surprisingly, the nurses found the female doctors easier to work with.” Odd, don’t you think? Honestly, I don’t find that surprising at all. *shrug*

Currently Reading (print): An American Marriage (A) – Tayari Jones

Currently Reading (audio): The Handmaid’s Tale (A) – Margaret Atwood

Song of the Week:

Earlier this week I experienced my first major bout with vertigo. It’s still hanging out with me, but I’ve been lucky in that it’s been super mild and completely manageable since that first instance. It made me think of U2’s song… and when I pulled up the video, I remembered the completely ridiculous start to this song: “Uno, dos, tres, catorce” (One, two, three, fourteen). Why? I remember looking it up way back when and not finding any answer. So again I ask whyyyy?? Maybe it goes along with the craziness of the physical condition of vertigo. IDK.

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Monday Minutiae – 4/22/18

New thing I’m going to try out:

Summer Reading List

I’ve got a novel idea surrounding the prolific “100 books everyone should read” lists, and since 99% of those lists consist almost entirely of white male authors, I figured I’d have to make up my own. NPR did a survey of people’s most loved books and came up with a much more balanced list in terms of adult vs young adult, time of publication, and diversity. It’s still not as balanced as it needs to be, but if these “best loved” came from the general population polled, then I see progress, at least, and thanks to NPR for doing some of my research.

The Writing Process

Here’s another “100” thing (why do people insist upon such a large number?). A week and a half ago, I finished a “Write 100 Words a Day for 100 Days” challenge. It was more challenging than I expected it to be! I mean, the point was to get me consistently writing. And the other point was that if I fell off the wagon, then just start over, right? Except, 100 days is longer than it seems and it seems like at day 50 I would just groan about starting over and probably wouldn’t bother. So I persevered. Since I’ve been in revision mode, the challenge to write 100 NEW words sometimes posed the greatest problem, but what ended up happening is that on days where very little new content was likely to happen, I’d jump over to a different project (Novel #4) that I had stalled out on at least twice. You know what? I think I have finally figured out how to solve the problem of Novel #4. That might be my biggest takeaway win from the challenge.

Winter Break

Remember when I wrote about Hygge? And how my friend and I were relying on it to help us embrace Minnesota LONG winters? Perhaps you thought I was exaggerating on how long our winters can be, but I assure you, when a foot and a half dumps on your lawn during the first full weekend of April, you might need a little Hygge help. I am pretty proud of myself for my zen attitude at all this silly snow. I kind of stopped knitting, but I’ll be honest, my saving grace this winter season was my YMCA membership. I’m not a huge fan of treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes, but swimming? Yes. Exercise on a regular basis – and better yet, water-related exercise – helped SO MUCH. We’e had beautiful 60+ degree weather this past weekend and crossing fingers this real spring stays.


I went to see Love, Simon a little over a week ago and initially I said I liked about 85% of it. I started re-reading the book (Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda)  – third time – because I wanted to be sure I was remembering certain things right because dang it, that 15% I didn’t like? I Really Didn’t Like It. Chat me up if you’ve both read the book and seen the movie because I’m ready to discuss more.

Currently reading (print): All the Best People (A) – Sonja Yoerg

Currently reading (audio): Half of a Yellow Sun (A) – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Song of the Week:

Writing is going well. The weather is looking up. I’m dancin’. How about you?



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What Good Writing! What Bad Writing!

Do you remember that picture book that went:

What good luck!
Ned got a letter that said,
“Please come to a surprise party.”
What bad luck!
The party was in Florida and he was in New York.

Did you also know that the original version was actually called Fortunately? (both versions are by Remy Charlip) I did not, and when I came up with the title of this post I had no idea that I’d discover that tidbit of info (side note: just like Charlip, I had a different title for this post, too! My original title I came up with was “This Is Great! This Is Crap!” *fistbumps with Charlip*). What good luck!

Anywho. Today I bring you my own version of Fortunately, expounding the joys and pains of writing since, after several weeks of feeling like this current revision of an old manuscript is really strong, yesterday I hit the inevitable Wall of Doubt. And when your one word resolution is Believe, like mine is, you must find a way to stop laughing at that choice and take a sledgehammer to the Wall.

What good writing!

I started a story with interesting characters.

I just finished a fantastic scene.

What bad writing!

It’s the next day. Why did I think that scene was fantastic?

It doesn’t even fit the plot.

What good writing!

Look at that beautiful prose!

I can’t believe these words came from me!

What bad writing!

Was I drunk when I wrote this?

Who cares about this description when it doesn’t even further the plot.

What good writing!

Wow, this revision is going great!

This new scene makes the plot so much stronger.

What bad writing!

That new scene totally messed up something that comes later.

Now I have to revise everything yet again.

What good writing!

I wrote a story and made it better,

I deleted terrible words and put in good words!

What bad writing!

“Good” words? I can’t even use a creative adjective to replace the tired and benign “good”.

This whole thing is utter crap.

No one will every want to read this drivel.

I am doing a “write 100 words every day for 100 days” challenge and for the record, I went 76 days of thinking “What great writing!” before I flipped to “what utter crap”. That’s an amazingly long streak to hold so much positivity about my writing!



Share your “What good writing/What bad writing” verse in the comments!


Listen to some “Ironic” from Alanis Morissette while you compose your verse. Maybe it will inspire you. 😉


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Kindness Is Not Enough

This whole “Walk Up Not Out” thing has gotten a little out of hand, and for the record, my biggest complaint about it is the “Not” in the phrase. Like we can’t do both. Like protest is a bad thing. And of course, looking at how ridiculously people have reacted to athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, some people really do think protest is bad. Unless you’re protesting athletes taking a knee, then it’s okay.

But I digress. (Only a little bit, though.)

The arguments coming up against the “walk up” movement talk of blaming kids for other kids’ bad behavior. Or of making quiet kids now “other”.  I don’t disagree with these points, but I do think they are a more defensive extreme. (Extreme view on social media? I know. SHOCKER.)

Do I want my kids and all other kids to look out for those who might feel ostracized or bullied? Well, obviously, yes. And sure, I want us all to encourage it.

But I want that for more than one day. I want it to be all the time. And I also want us to remember that kids are not always going to have these perfect moments of being kind or thoughtful or even compassionate. Their cognitive and social development and hormones – lord, the hormones – messes them up a lot. This is okay. It’s not all on them, right? It’s up to us as adults to do our part, too.

Basically, this is the whole BE KIND movement. It’s frustrating to see BE KIND as the palliative response to all tragedy. Look, I feel like I have to re-iterate that YES, I believe that, when in doubt, we should strive for kindness with one another on a day-to-day basis. Unless someone is shooting at you. Or spitting racist hatred towards you. Or sexually harassing you. Maybe we can forgo BE KIND then?

Obviously I’m having difficulties in this post proving that I support the idea of kindness. Read some of my other stuff if you need to. I have it in me. But right now, the whole BE KIND movement feels like when you are in physical pain and a doctor who is trying to stick a needle in you keeps telling you over and over again to JUST RELAX as though saying it for the tenth time when the first nine times didn’t work will suddenly do the trick. Do you suppose if we told the battling Syrian forces “BE KIND” a few times, they might stop bombing all the innocent civilians? Or what about the Myanmar government? Will they say “oh, okay, sorry, Rohingya people, come on back”?

Some – or many – of you are shaking your heads at me and saying “don’t be ridiculous” and determining that those examples are far too complicated and not at all the same.

People are shooting up our children. And our nightclubs. And churches. And movie theaters. Simply being kind isn’t working here, either.

I’m not clueless. I know people post their BE KIND campaigns because they feel like they want to do something and don’t want to be all “POLITICAL” (I won’t expound on how it is not “political” to fight for social justice or to protest injustices). For my own part, I’m sorry I can’t be more compassionate about that idea lately.

My kids are kind, and yet they still Walked Out.


Be kind, yes, whatever, but let’s be kind AND protest what we think is wrong.

Be kind AND fight for change.

Be kind AND walk the talk.

Be kind AND vote.

Be kind AND be angry about what is wrong around us.

Be kind AND.




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