Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My twenty-third slice-of-life story...

Santa Shops at Toys 'R Us...

Reid's two and a half; he's curious, he's smart, he's creative.  He's fueled by books and conversation.  For the past three Christmases, more tales about Santa have shown up at bedtime than he could shake a stick at.  "Santa has a red suit, a white beard, makes his toys at the North Pole, and says 'Ho, ho, ho.'"  All these tidbits he holds onto as truth.

From a parent's perspective though, I'm wondering how to be Santa...how to grow the myth of Santa...and how to balance Santa with our belief system.  I've canvassed friends and family members with this series of questions, and what I've found is that answers vary like snowflakes.  And, we're late to the party --- we haven't yet developed our system.  But, the time is drawing nigh to create one. 

I'd admit, this year my Christmas shopping has been moved to the back burner more than old chili.  Procrastination landed us at Toys 'R Us Saturday night amidst the mayhem defined in my dictionary as 'driven {desperate} loved ones out in hard-core shopping mode for special wishlist items.'  I've never seen anything like it --- obscene lines, mountainous carts, a sea of serious faces.  And, there we were with our little one in tow. 

Which, now, brings me back to our Santa situation.

Behind fourteen other tired shoppers at check-out, we shifted our weight and clumsily balanced our patience and packages.  My husband and I tried like champs to keep our chosen items above toddler-eye level; but, with each passing minute they became heavier, more cumbersome, and droopier.

Until...I heard an unfamiliar sound...and looked down to see tiny balls popping like corn in the toy leaf blower my husband lovingly picked out for our little task master. 

"It sounds like a hand dryer but it isn't as lownd!" Reid pronounced.

Alright.  What do we do with the present now?  It's like damaged goods because the kiddo has a mind like a steel trap.  In the car, the bathtub, or at his sitters, he will at some point casually recount the shopping excursion in copious detail.  (He does this often with memories we assume he'd forget post-haste.) 

Maybe, part of the story we'll weave is that an invisible Santa does all his shopping alongside mommies and daddies at Toys 'R Us...

Write on,

Sunday, December 18, 2011

From Julia Cameron...

You know, it's been a while since I've been in Julia Cameron's The Writer's Life...but her familiar thoughts jump out at me from within other professional works.  I'm always glad when they do.

Today, here's one idea positioned so artfully by Katie Wood Ray within In Pictures and In Words:

Writing is the act of motion.  Writing is the commitment to move forward, not to stew in our juices, to become whatever it is we are becoming.  Writing is both the boat and the wind in the sails.  Even on these days when the winds of inspiration seem slight, there is some forward motion, some progress made.  The ability to show up brings with it the ability to grow up.  (2001, 96)

Write on,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My twenty-second slice-of-life story...


Black knees, blue knees, striped knees, two knees
Great-aunt's knees, cousins' too
And don't forget Trevor; his are new
Knees facing in:
Folded, bent, straight, crossed
A protective hedge for a child's loss.

Breaking through the circle, then outside
More knees were moving in a line
Walk a little then stop to talk:
Hug, cry, wish, pray
So many knees at the church today

Weaving through the loved ones standing way up front
There were Uncle Matt's hurt knees
and Uncle Tim's khaki knees
and Grandma's pretty flowered knees
and Daddy's shiny dress-pant knees

One pair of knees gone, hard to miss
The one in the pictures she loved to kiss:
Drip, drop, weep, wipe
A four-year-old's view of loss is slim
(An adult's, not so much, things look so dim)

A tip-toed child, chin raised toward the sky
Took the eyes of people as she reached up high
Standing next to Daddy her mission was clear:
Tug, stretch, grasp, peer
Find a way to get Mommy near

A glance right then was all it took
The grown-ups around shamelessly shook
A ballet skirt and curly pink hair bow:
Twirl, walk, dance, run
(Only a child would think this crowd is fun.)

Black knees, blue knees, striped knees, two knees
All these knees showing love today
Just keep coming through the big doorway
Knees facing in as she played on the floor:
Folded, bent, straight, crossed
A protective hedge for this youngster's loss.

Write on,

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My twenty-first slice-of-life story...

You know, sometimes I'm so busy I can hardly see straight...

Designing and delivering this presentation or that,
or wondering what to cook my family for dinner,
or deciding (sadly) what I'll wear tomorrow,
or schedule-crunching to finish the shopping,
or looking ahead to when I'll wrap the gifts we buy,
or figuring out when I'll prepare all those Christmas cards...
But wait, we have to get our family picture taken first.  
Should our outfits coordinate?

It seems everything compounds until the only noise I hear is that of my stressed-out little heart thup, glup, glupping its way to the end of school, and then finally, the holidays.

When my vision of what's really going on in life is impaired...perspective always presents itself.  When the waves (almost) crash and the fury is (almost) at fever pitch, an attitude of gratitude seeps in.  I stop tonight; quietly contemplative.

Tonight, my cousin paces terrified to imagine the future without his young wife.
Thank Tom for being the man of my dreams.

Tonight, two tiny children snuggle tightly into Mommy to learn everything they can about her...almost as if by osmosis...before it's too late.   The unexpected lesson: cancer.
Attend fully to Reid during our short evenings...make every minute count!

Tonight, a family surrounds her silent and watching...believing in a miracle. 
Keep praying! The Hands that hold the world also hold Nikki...

Tonight, an older Mommy and Daddy would trade places with the daughter they brought into the world thirty years ago just so she could see her babies grow up. 
Parenting is an unselfish act...do I always treat it as such?

My presentations, gifts, shopping, cards, clothes, and menu choices 
are insignificant. 
And, that's probably being generous.
They don't matter in the grand scheme.

Instead of seeing my to-do list as obligatory, I should see it as a list of opportunity.
Opportunity for the family with whom I've been blessed,
for the job which inspires me and keeps me growing,
for the clothes I have to keep me warm,
for the food reserves I can pull from each mealtime,
for the means to gift special people at parties, gatherings, at home around our tree,
for friends' smiling faces on cards I love to receive each holiday season.

You know, sometimes I'm so busy I can hardly see straight; but mostly that's because I'm not focused on opportunity...

Write on,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My twentieth slice-of-life story...

Just like any self-respecting kindergarten teacher, 
I had my thematic book tubs neatly displayed, organized, and labeled.  
School. Fall. Spring. Weather. HOLIDAYS.  
Now that Reid is in the picture, these textual treasure troves seem to find
their way home like clockwork to provide our daily diet of seasonal reading.  
(God bless this child's future primary teachers: 
"I already know that book..." they'll hear.)  

I can do like Owivia!

 "I want Owivia Helps With Cwistmas!" my reader proclaimed greedily grabbing the hardback from among the lesser holiday selections in the tub.  Jumping in the comfy rocking chair, we cuddled back up to explore how Olivia prepared for Christmas festivities with family.  Teachers like to talk (and we like even better when a rapt pupil listens...).  Together we noticed, and studied, and committed to memory each tangential tidbit of interest.  

She cut the tree top off to decorate the dinner table!  Oh my!
Look at the dog drinking Santa's milk and eating Santa's cookies!
A raccoon is making noise on the roof?  I thought it was Santa's reindeer...
Olivia got skis for a Christmas gift!  What are skis?
(Skiing where I am is NOT topographically feasible, 
so a little picture exploration will have to do.)

Picture copied from Olivia Helps With Christmas by Ian Falconer
A few hours later what I spied from my kitchen abuzz with dinner preparation (and in the meantime didn't notice the character who absconded with a few choice utensils) was my little Midwest skier, intently studying his mentor while figuring out how to make the plastic whisk and metal spatula work in his favor. 

Now about that hill, Mommy...

Write on,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My nineteenth slice-of-life...


Honestly, life's been an absolute whirlwind the last week --- I was in Chicago, now I'm home, and then my family will be traveling for Thanksgiving.  I'm still looking forward to reflecting with my session notes, a chai, my tunes, and memories from the complete NCTE experience because it was marvelous (and that may be an understatement).  I'm sure from this content there will be many posts forthcoming, but for now...to keep in the spirit of the season I'm sharing an NCTE list of thankfulness!

I am thankful...

for the friends with whom I reconnected.
for the new ones I met.
for the slicers with whom I was lucky enough to share breakfast.
for the people who joined our session.
(It was early Saturday morning and the conference room was just shy of polar.)
for my presenting colleague who knew we could do it...and we did.
for the countless topics that pushed my thinking.
for the contagious buzz which filled convention spaces.
for the hotel that graciously upgraded us to executive level.
(So, yes, Virginia --- there is a hotel with two bathrooms per room to make mornings a snap!)
for the historic city which served as an inspiring backdrop.
for the limo driver who picked up the whole National Geographic dinner crew
for the Roy's charred filet mignon I couldn't stop eating.
for the signed copy of 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know.
(I'm looking forward to a little holiday reading...)
for my new picture book, The Bracelet.
(Do you know this story?  What a tear-jerker!)
for my rekindled drive to do more, learn more, and be more.

Just like Lilly in Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, all I can say now is, "Wow." 
(I can't wait to reflectively take it all in...)

Write on,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


So, tomorrow, we leave...making the drive to the big city.
Books, laptop, speakers, handouts,
the million miscellaneous items
(we think)
we'll need to

I'm excited.
I'm nervous.
I'm busy.

Laundry, packing, organizing, (deciding what to wear each day---OK I'll admit it), planning for the meetings I'll host at school tomorrow and the professional development I'll deliver after the conference, cleaning, grading running records, studying school data, (drinking coffee filled more with my favorite peppermint mocha creamer than the dark stuff I'll never become accustomed to), blogging, packing some more, dreaming.

Dreaming of
what I'll learn,
who I'll meet,
where we'll go.

The other busyness will take care of itself...

Write on,

Friday, November 11, 2011

My eighteenth slice-of-life story...

The Colors...

Through a sea of faces and as many insignia,
an experienced soldier hobbled up the restaurant aisle tonight. 
His dark ball cap, tattered and worn, sat squarely atop a thinning tuft of white.
Across from our table, he stopped.
Eyes locked. 
His wrinkly hand pat the diner's shoulder, firm and strong.
Once, twice, three times.

It had to be the colors.

Black and gold for Army,
the colors set in motion a connection
spanning space and time
and melding experience.
In a word: beautiful.

Next through the throng of diners, servers, and trays,
a young buck with shiny black shoes,
dress blues,
and medals blazing
strode with precision
past his kindred:
in sweatshirts, in hats,
clutching picture frames,
their memories.

"He was in my division," my husband spoke up.
"See his colors?"

I honestly hadn't.
In fact, I'm not sure I ever have.

Last night, the third episode of "Vietnam in HD" was on TV.
I watched from over my laptop,
through my presentation planning,
and under the guise of a child whose father never fought.
But he was still drafted,
second to last in our rural county's lottery.
And he still went,
to Germany instead of Vietnam.
And his life still changed,

It had to be the colors...

I used to think that unless a soldier engaged in battle
somewhere scary
with bombs
and guns
and death,
the service wasn't 'real.'

Tonight, I know I'm wrong.
I saw it in my husband's glassy eyes when he studied
the young buck
in dress blues.
I heard it in his sturdy voice when he explained
what divisions are
what each decoration on a soldier's uniform signifies.

The colors tell the story,
written in another language 
only natives 
and immigrants 

It would do me well to listen
because the freedom
I know each day
has been paid for

It has to be the colors...

Write on,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My seventeenth slice-of-life story...

Professional in a slick black dress and fitted cardigan,
not the comfy cord bell-bottoms and turtleneck sweater.
Fancy with fishnet tights and my Ann Taylor suede heels,
not the standard brown Mary Janes with argyle socks.
Dangly, beaded earrings,
not the daily diamond studs.
Well coiffed hair resting on my shoulders,
not the haphazard ponytail flipped every which way.

Waiting in the darkness to make the left turn into Starbucks,
I capitalized on the spare second
to apply color and shiny gloss
to my familiar lip line.
A small cosmetic light overhead supervised.

But not closely enough.

After school projects A, 2, and C and before the big meeting began,
(yes, the one for which I was dressed to impress...)
I quickly peeked into my closet mirror
intent on smoothing a few rowdy pieces of hair.
Much to my surprise, the hair was spared.
It was my lips that stole my gaze,
pronounced in clown-like glory.
(or terror, take your pick)

New lipstick last week; new gloss too.
New problem.
One of them ran...
into the billion tiny wrinkles framing my already-generous smackers.

Embarrassed, I took a covert survey while chatting with my classroom neighbors as students shuffled by;
no one noticed.

Shopping tonight.
New colors; new products.
Hopefully, different results.
Because Halloween was YESTERDAY...

Write on,

Friday, October 28, 2011

Trying Twitter...

I'll admit --- I like to be 'in the know' but I'm not so much of a techno-junkie.  It doesn't come easily for me.   Now, I can do what I need to do. {Well, plus some extra, like installing fonts and building Tagxedos and formatting documents in a hyper-particular fashion.}  But, I always seem to be a few products, models, or apps behind.  I want to learn though.

So, lately at conferences and in conversation with respected peers, Twitter taunted me.  In NCTE correspondence, #NCTE11 taunted me. On the Two Writing Teachers' blog last week, Ruth taunted me about taking on Twitter.  I felt surrounded by my fears, my passion, and my desire to grow.  It became a three-on-one situation. 

Try it.
{I'll like it.}

Try it.
{I'll like it.}

Try it.
{I'll like it.}

Inspired, I'm trying it.  Find me @livewriteteach.  If you have any easy-to-follow Twitter advice, I'd love to know more.  Right now, I'm wading my way through Franki Sibberson's article referenced by Ruth.

TweetDeck?  Twitterstream?  Seesmic?
{All in good time...}

Tweet on,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My sixteenth slice-of-life story...

Where do we go from here?

Anyone who knows me knows I'm always thinking ahead... So, it wasn't surprising that when I found this delightful little play rug (pictured above) at Ikea last summer, I snatched it up in preparation for my toddler's eventual 'big boy' room.  Ever since, it's been stashed underneath our guest bed poised for unveiling.

But, instead of being the highlight of Reid's new grown-up space like I had planned...now, it's the centerpiece of his makeshift room in our apartment. 

And, it's poetic... You see, last week we moved out of our first home.  In lieu of the excitement that could envelope the whole experience like a warm hug because a new, more family-friendly house awaited us, we still feel loss...confusion...stress. 

We miss our yard, our cozy cottage with personality plus, our routines there.
Where is that house we see in our minds' eye as the place we'll grow this family?
Will we find it before our short-term lease expires?

As I lovingly arranged Reid's new room before he discovered our apartment, my $14.99 rug splurge acted more like a resounding gong...calling me to reflect with each inch unrolled. 

Will we end up in a neighborhood near a school like this one drawn here?
Will we be close to major highways for a quick commute?
Which shops and restaurants will be in our new neighborhood?

I'm still waiting; I have no answers.  We've lived here one week.  But, I have vision.  I have faith.  And, I know when we finally arrive at the home that's perfect for us...the trip's rough spots will be glossy memories on my heart's tablet.

In the meantime, I guess we'll just enjoy racing matchbox cars around our rug that's a half-step closer to anchoring its intended space.  While we do, I'll be dreaming...

Write on,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just noise?

Yesterday, my dad and I had a date to do something we both love --- antiquing.  In the large pole barn smattered with an incredible assortment of timeless relics, tasteless trash, and unique furniture we were surrounded by a gaggle of auctioneers.  Each one babbling as only auctioneers can and hooked to microphones only 15 feet from the next bidding ring, I found myself reeling from the noise and thinking that I couldn't think...  That gave me pause.

Flags, candlesticks, wicker chairs, chests, tables, pie safes, bookshelves, highchairs, chalkboards, paintings, glassware, rugs.  Stained glass windows, chairs, sconces, gumball machines, wooden bowls, Pyrex, depression glass, mirrors.  The bids and auctioneers' calls all blended together in one cacophonous display.  After a while, it just became white noise to me; I heard nothing distinguishable.  I made the hubbub disappear.

An analogy began formulating in my spectator's mind --- are the minilessons we create and deliver just noise sometimes for our students?  Do they figure out how to make teachers' voices disappear?

Lately, I've been doing lots of thinking about what makes a minilesson sticky.  Work Ruth Ayres' shared with my district begins the mental parade, followed by Shanna Schwartz's A Quick Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick, K-5 (which, incidentally, is chock full of practical goodness)We know for our teaching to stick to our writers we must consider:
  • Student readiness --- Does my teaching point contain a big skill (something they would see if a published book) with a small tip (an easy way to approximate what they're seeing from adult writers)?  Is it the next thing on on their skill ladders?  Is my teaching point related to skills/strategies my writers are using but confusing (in other words, fits nicely into their zones of proximal development)?  To keep my students with me, I must give them exactly what they need when they need it.
  • Rich repetition --- Am I connecting this teaching point to the writing work students are already doing?  Am I continuing within a predictable minilesson structure?  Do I restate my teaching point six times over its course?  Do I use consistent language throughout our day?  If so, I'm creating stickiness in spades.
  • Visual representations --- Are my anchor charts created with my students for my students to reference?  Are they in close proximity to writing students?  Do I change them out once students use content with automaticity?  Do I pull visuals back into my teaching and/or individualize them for specific writers?
  • Enticing engagement --- Do I teach from writing produced by my students, by us as a class, by me as their mentor writer? Do we create gestures together that are meaningful nonverbals?  Do I incorporate role playing as a strategy to spur writing with heart and voice?  Do I pull in authentic resources that resonate with my writers?  
You know, at the auction I tuned out because of the perceived noise...but I also mentally vacated the premises because I initially didn't see much of interest.  Hours later, I found myself completely engrossed in the riveting items up for sale.  I figured out a way to make sense of the auctioneer (proximity helped); I hung on his every word and motion (by decoding lingo and watching gestures); I bid on a few pieces I needed and fell in love with; I tried a few times to become the winning bidder and learned small details along the way that brought eventual success.

The noises around me changed --- it wasn't just sound and fury anymore.  They became sticky and followed quite nearly each principle above.  As I engaged. my surroundings became rich.

You know, I'm not so different from my students. The auction will show up in my mind's eye each time I sit down to plan a minilesson.

Sticky memories.

Write on,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My fifteenth slice-of-life story...

Grandma's car: A red light sandwich with white inside...

Taillight literacy...

You know, it's practically family folklore --- in my mother's voice the story begins, "One night when you were two years old we were driving through town and suddenly from your carseat you shouted, 'there's Grandma's car!'  Then it always ends something like, "and when I asked how you knew you said, 'those are Grandma's taillights.'"  Still befuddled, my mother recounts events from that traveling conversation as if piecing together clues.

Many makes, models, and college courses later, it came to me: I learned to read and write by first noticing and naming taillights.  Long and skinny for Grandma's sage green Olds.  Tall and skinny for Grandpa's cinnamon Cadillac.  Long and wider with two crossing lines for our tan Caprice.  I began crafting systems and terms that organized observations into information I could use to better understand the world around me.

This summer, the folklore evolved: my two-year-old jumped into the tale.  Warranted: a well placed phone call.

"Mom, we were following a Chevy Impala on the highway 
and Reid said, 'there's Luke's car.'"

"Oh, so Reid is taking a page from your book," her voice trailed off 
as if traveling back in time.

"Mom, the car wasn't even the same color as Luke's.  
How does he know it's like Luke's car?"

"Easy.  The taillights." 

A rounded red brake light anchored by a long, skinny white stripe for reverse.

I can already feel it; we'll be talking about this for years.

Post Script on Current Taillight Identification:
Grandma's Lincoln, Grandpa's Ford pick-up, Crystal's Envoy, our Jeeps

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My fourteenth slice-of-life story...

Shriveled, my husband's dear grandmother tottered before me clenching her walker...almost disappearing beneath the heavy wool cape draped over her saggy shoulders.  We were eye to glistening eye.  Just beyond, her husband of 71 years. 

My hand gently found hers, wrinkly and worn.  I fumbled for the right words.   
Audrey was former teacher, you know; even at 91, still sharp as a tack.

"My sympathies," I whispered.  Our darting eyes fused.

"You can't even understand," she stated.

Her tidy yet transparent response arrested me.  
"I know; I can't," served as my shallow summation which grew deeper
with each passing thought..

Her Beloved just two weeks shy of 99.
The homestead in the hills they still shared.
The two cars outside they still drove.
The magazine and book collection they still devoured.
The classical music they still loved.

With pleading eyes, she gazed at the gleaming casket which now served
to package her life's every happiness.

"I just don't know what I will do," her words crumbled one on top of the next.

I held her, my able hands on her bony back.  I cried with her, our tears slid down slowly then faster.  She pulled back and entered a soul-searching stare.  The funeral home closing, she took stock.

"I have to tell him good-bye," she said
sounding more like a teenage girl
 than her December counterpart.


P.S. This brief conversation still consumes my thoughts and opened the door for much consideration on the larger theme --- loss.  I've webbed, I've positioned myself as Audrey, I've been writing this piece in my mind for three days.  Loss is difficult to write well.  I've seen sad movies, I've read sad books, I've had sad conversations.  To write loss, we have to feel loss.  I've revised more in this piece than nearly any other because getting the details 'right' here seemed so incredibly important. 

I know there's still so much to do with a small moment like this, but I think I need to put it away for awhile. 

Write on,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My thirteenth slice-of-life story...

NO Definition

With rapt attention, I listened.  My hungry mind sprinted.  My note-taking fingers sped.  My eager spirit soared...then sputtered.

Sunday, like a 13-year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, I listened to Lucy Calkins present at my state’s annual reading conference.   Her topic: Ambitious Reform and Teaching Reading.  Lucy’s message was transcendent and big and transferable, as you may expect.  In Teachers College lingo, it excelled in 'stickiness'.

Which, leads me to the one statement that echoes through my mind and now stands before my carnival mirror perceptions:  your no’s define your brand. 

This thought from Tim Calkins, Lucy’s brother and prominent advertising executive, invited listeners to the core of our existence…if you never say no, then you don’t have a brand.  Even Warren Buffet maintains that every important yes requires 1000 no’s

So, what do I say no to?

Drugs, cigarettes, over-priced denim, deep-fried butter,
worksheets, 'busy' projects...
some important; some frivolous.
Desperately random.  Inconsistent.

But, looming in the shadows of this abbreviated list is another one...one much longer, more personal.  The list of things I'd like to say no to but currently can not, will not, or do not.

Starbucks everyday, my perfectionist tendencies,
et. al.
Many important.
Few frivolous.
Overly focused.
Yet, distorted.

Leaving Lucy's session, my uneasy thoughts danced before the mirror's sensational views.  Glance, avoid.  Glance, avoid.    

Where's my courage? 
What's my brand?
Why can't I, won't I, don't I say no when my heart pushes me to?

I think it's a case of  "NO definition"...what would you prescribe?

Write on,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My twelfth slice-of-life story...

Most of life isn't made up of grand gestures.  Instead, the littlest niceties are where we are most real and make the most impact.  Think The Power of Small by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval.  This week, I'm especially thankful for the kindnesses shown by loved ones, colleagues, friends, and even strangers (like Morning Barista #2 and Rochelle --- see previous SOL stories for more details).  Here's an embellished list I could mine for later writing pieces:

1. My husband had dinner ready on the stove tonight when I returned home late from a PD.  The salty, gooey goodness of the Hamburger Helper enveloped my soul.  I felt like Queen for a Day!  Loving and kind; my hero...

2. Tonight during staff development, a friend was first to share during the whole-group idea swap.  She single-handedly got the ball rolling toward excellent discussion...but mostly, I think she jumped in to save me from the clutches of a quiet room.  Thank you.

3. My son's school recently sent me the kindest email about what a pleasure he is to have in class.  My five back-flips (all imagined) rivaled a warm hug.  We're doing something right...

4. A few days ago, two second-graders burst through my door with jack-o-lantern grins, candy corn, and a sealed-envelope surprise from their teacher.  A most thoughtful thank-you.  Nobody goes wrong with kind words and sweet treats.  Nobody.

5. Life Group friends, busy with jobs and three young children, invited us over for dinner because they could feel the stress of our impending move.  All worry swaddled up in their generous thoughts.  Unselfish and beautiful. 

6. A school parent, excited about the composition notebook clearance at Target last week left a message because she thought the tip would help our winter family writing night planning.  (Editorial comment on teacher shopping behaviors: cheap notebooks + cash-strapped educator = volume purchasing; see light hoarding in Webster's.  There are 160 composition notebooks in my trunk right now.)  I love that she loved our event last year enough to think about us during her weekly shopping.  Affirmation.

Last week my SOL story ended with Morning Barista #2 offering to "make my day better...by making the perfect drink."  This week, I thank my lucky stars that Morning Barista #2 walks this world with other like-minded do-gooders who, above all, are unselfishly good-natured and more caring than the average bear.

Our daily challenge:
Look for the little, for smallish gestures like these are the most powerful.  
Be real.  
Make an impact.
(And next week, YOU could be the focus of someone's blog entry...)  

Write on,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My eleventh slice-of-life story...

A Shot of Wisdom

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes..." I replied hurriedly to a colleague at school before me.

Fumbling to clear my makeshift office at Starbucks, I grabbed my wardrobe of bags, ice water, and cup containing the the last few sips of chai.  Approaching the door, proverbial bells, whistles, and signs beheld me, "Do not even try to grab that door handle; you'll lose your grip."  As a Super Woman (I'm sure you know the type), I stayed the course --- hand oustretched, contact made, push, keep walking, and...


My catlike reflexes (or mom/teacher behaviors, take your pick) flew to the fore: grab the napkins, sop the spill, shovel the belongings back into their rightful storage.  Make.it.out.the.door.on.time.

"Can I help you?" Morning Barista #2 offered kindly from above the pastry case.
"Let ME clean that up."

"No, no.  It was my mess. 
You don't have to clean this up,"
I replied...a little more pink than red.

"Well, then at least let me make you a new drink."

(I couldn't believe my good fortune...but my realistic side stormed through the flowery pause.)
"I only had a few sips left.  Like an inch.  You don't have to, but thanks."

"No, I want to make your day better.
I'll make you the perfect drink."

What an inspiring thought...I want to make your day better.  Another shot of Starbucks wisdom, but then again, I'm pretty sure I've heard that message before.  It goes way back.  So, the question is, am I always looking for the opportunity to make someone else's day better?  

I hope so.  And, I hope when I do I'm not just making it but making it perfect...like Morning Barista #2.

Write on,

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Incarnadine Seas"

I've always loved words.  Sitting in 'big church' with the adults as a little child, I distinctly remember the enaging missionary who used "arrested" to describe how he was taken by something...not put in jail.  My first recollection of the power and versatility of words...

From there, I've always wanted to know more.  After all, words are far better than stickers, or baseball cards, or recipes, or even shoes.  They make the mundane magical, they are always in style, and they always fit!  *And, an added benefit (as if I need to sell YOU on how great words are) is that they are the key to rich, meaningful writing.

Last night, I began flipping through the bounty of new professional books I received from my district.  Like a silver gilded leaf, Georgia Heard's "Incarnadine Seas" from Writing Toward Home landed serendipitously in my lap.  In this piece bearing a Shakespearian moniker, Heard talks about the wonder of keeping a word notebook --- "words like shiny red tomatoes, picked from the vine, and ripening..."  Beautiful.  She describes the notebook as a "cup of possibility on days where I'm thirsty for words." 

Duly noted.

Gwendolyn Brooks says, "COLLECT WORDS!"  So, the words I'm collecting right now....
  • grimalkin --- an old, female cat
  • amalgam --- combination of two or more components
  • lucidity --- easily understood, intelligent
  • nebulous --- hazy, vague, indistinct
What are your favorites?  Share a few snippets from your word page with LWT readers... 

Write on,

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My tenth slice-of-life story...

A Known Quantity

I am a creature of habit:
morning routine,
glide through the Starbucks drive-thru before 7.
Same drink;

Baristas see me coming through their sign's tiny video camera out back.
She's here now; one extra-hot, extra-spicy chai tea latte coming up.
My drink's special spice ratio balanced by coffee house metrics ---
five pumps for tall, seven pumps for grande.

This morning, tall.

At the swing and shut window,
a grande is proffered magically by Rochelle, 
the weekday morning barista.

"I ordered a tall and this is a grande.  
         Can I pay you the difference?"

In typical Starbucks corporate generosity,
Rochelle replies, "No...
         but, since this drink is bigger,
         let me add more chai syrup to it
         so it's just how you like it."

Generosity, kindness, comfort, and joy.
Surprise, and delight.

Being known:
by habit,
by preference,
by quantity.

Write on, 

Friday, August 26, 2011

So, something's gotta give, right?

In my SOLS piece today, one of my earlier sentiments is 
"So, something's gotta give, right?".
And, in writing it, something did ---
the spelling.
Readers and fellow writers, I apologize.
I should be sentenced to dictionary reading 
as penance for my earlier linguistic transgressions.
They're fixed now.
Enjoy, and have a tremendous weekend.

Write on,

My ninth slice-of-life story...

A moving side effect...

I'll admit; boxes bury most everything at my house right now.
Our evenings are well-intended:
we're trying to pack the contents of our house into the scores of textbook boxes
rescued from my school's loading dock;
we're trying to give our toddler as much attention as possible
in the tiny window of fun between daycare and bedtime;
we're trying to cook a dinner that tastes like I spent an hour on it instead of a paltry ten minutes.

So, something's gotta give...right?
Currently, it's all the random items blanketing once clean surfaces around our house.
Flattened boxes piled high like pancakes, squatty candles lined atop the antique buffet,
misplaced napkin rings intermixed.

Little hands like mess.  It's a simple fact.
Especially the haphazard candle display in our dining room right now.
The other night, packing profitability birthed a new writing opportunity for Reid:
wax on window.

I wish I could've been watching from our front lawn
to see the look of writing joy in his eyes;
but the proud proclamations I heard from the kitchen
swept me away.

"R, E, I, D.  That spells name."  (giggle)

Pause: dinner, packing, (anger), mail, dishwasher.

Gliding over slippery floors, I made it to the living room to see.
Wax on the window; my child's first writers notebook.

"That spells my name," he announced...almost cooing.

"You're right, buddy.  There's an R, E, I, D.  Those letters work together to make your name."

I'll get the razor blade later to scrape off the superfluous window wax.
For now, I love seeing my little writer's work.
It's a moving side effect...

Write on,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My eighth slice-of-life story...

We've been reading since day one.
Well, before that.
More like ab initio.
     In utero.

Six months ago, Iza Trapani's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star became a staple.
R recited each line (even the made-up verses) when prompted with the first word.
He sang along.
     In tune.

Tonight, we read Little Polar Bear Take Me Home before bed.
Probably for the 113th time.
It's a big book.
     In pages and in content.

The challenge cloze sentence: Lars laughed with...
Astonishment (with *gasp* sound effects from my little reader).

     In caps and in wonder.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A seat at the table...

First grade writing from workshop yesterday!

So, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how we welcome our writers and build classroom communities.  Ruth Ayres blogged about this recently (http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/how-do-you-make-writers-feel-welcomed/), a conversation has started in my elementary building, and teachers are keeping this at the forefront as minilessons are written.  We like to strategize, being uber intentional about the choices we make, the words we use, and our sequence of teaching points.  But, despite all this, I still wasn't prepared for what I heard in a first grade writer's workshop yesterday.

A normal day in this community of writers, Sadie's (a pseudonym) teacher let me know from the start she was doing exceptional work and that I should pull up beside her to see for myself.  I did, with smiles and fanfare, to see what this writer was up to.  Page numbers.  Sadie explained that she noticed page numbers in every book she read, so that must be what writers do when they have more than one page in a story.

OK.  Brilliant.  Second week of writer's workshop in first grade.  I like her moxie (and keen attention to how books work)!

As we poured through the ten (yes, ten) pages of her book, we landed on the one pictured above.  Sadie read, "I love my teacher" and then began to explain her picture.  Initially, I wasn't making the connection between her lovely teacher and the table.  "A table?"  "Tell me more about this table," I invited.

"My teacher gave me a seat at the table.  I don't have a seat at a table at home to do my writing."

Silence; my eyes found the floor, shutting tightly for a second.

"Then where do you eat," I couldn't help but prod a bit.

"At the table," Sadie strangely looked my way.

"Well, then why don't you write on your table at home too?" I reasoned.

"Because.  It is dirty.  I don't want to ruin my work."  Another obvious answer from the mind of a child.

My colleague gave this writer a seat at the table.  It's basic.  It's metaphorical.  It's deep.  And, it all started with a space to invent, to grow, to do the big important work she had running through her mind and heart.

Fifteen minutes in this first grade writer's workshop took my understanding of how we welcome writers to a whole new level.  We can spend time, money, and intellectual capital preparing for the students we inherit at school's start; but, it is also the things we can't quantify, imagine, or predict that will (sometimes) make the biggest impact.

Like a clean table at which to work...  Thank you, Sadie.

Write on,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My seventh slice-of-life story...

State Fair snack booth signage...

Fried is nice; fried is better
But sometimes, fried is just fried.

Who knows how to fry Kool-Aid?

French fries,
onion rings and string cheese,
chicken on a stick,
mushrooms, pickles, pizza, pie
donuts, peppers, chips

Fried foods down the midway,
fried foods in the car,
fried foods in the pantry,
fried foods are the star.

Fish filets,
Snickers candy bars,
butter, Oreos, Twinkies,
the tenderloin, by far

Fried foods down the midway,
fried foods in the car,
fried foods in the pantry,
fried foods are the star.

But, Kool-Aid?

(I'm still trying to figure this one out!)

Write on,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My sixth slice-of-life story...

This is my first week at school for 2011-2012 and I'm swerving back into my routine!  (Which is why my SOLS is two days late; but, better late than never, right?)

Planning some staff development, I've been playing around with the Margaret Wise Brown's classic text, The Important Book.  We're using her succinct, clean style as a writing mentor for a team-building activity.  And, it's gotten me thinking about the other areas of my life and work I could apply her timeless masterpiece as a springboard for my own pieces. 

The natural choice, this week, to write about is: (you guessed it) SCHOOL.  Don't you love the humongous grins and palpable enthusiasm as students enter the building that first morning, knowing that the year is going to be one of wonder and growth?

The important thing about
starting school is that
the students are excited to be back again.
They are smiling from ear to ear,
they have backpacks jam-packed with supply treasures,
they are dressed in spotless starched uniforms,
and walk with increasing speed down halls full of promise,
but the important thing about
school is that the students are excited to be back again.

We love what we do because of these grins; I know I do.  The excitement is contagious. :)  Let's tether ourselves to the anticpation students will bring with them.  After all, it is our true north.

Write on,

Friday, July 29, 2011

New books!

So, if you've read a little bit about me you already know I LOVE to buy books, shoes, and journals.  I am honest and up front about my proclivities. :)  And, with the start of school here for my district, it is just the right time to pour over some new professional titles for bits and bobs I can try on for size with staff and students.  My teaching, writing, and conversations will be richer with updates...my thinking, expanded.

Right now, here's my shopping list: 
  • Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way - Georgia Heard
  • Thinking Through Genre: Units of Study in Reading and Writing Workshops Grades 4-12 - Heather Lattimer
  • The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts) - Katie Wood Ray
  • Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop - Jeff Anderson
  • Everyday Editing - Jeff Anderson 
  • My Quick Writes: Everyday Writing - Donald Graves and Penny Kittle
  • Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher - William Zinsser
  • Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices - Ralph Fletcher
  • Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing - Ralph Fletcher

I'd love your input, too.  Please post your picks for any or all of the following categories...
  • Which sturdy books do you lean upon when considering writing instruction?
  • Do you have go-to titles, easily accessible for a chapter here and there?
  • If you could only recommend one book that strengthened your own writing or writing instruction, what would it be?

If you were close by, I'd definitely ask to have a coffee date so we could chat more about your favorites.   (Good conversation is the perfect accompaniment to a spicy chai latte!)   

Thanks a million for sharing...I love that we can all learn from each other electronically!

Write on,

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    My fifth slice-of-life story...

    One more day of summer break...

    I will



    I think
    p l a y

    Write on,

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Song lyrics speak to me... Second Edition

    I won't lie; my greatest music teacher was never someone my alma mater employed.  It was my dad. 

    He didn't show me the ropes with major and minor keys, line and space notes, or time signatures.  He simply shared what he loves.  The music, the sound, the feeling it brings, the thoughts behind the lyrics, the heart.  And, it transferred.  We both enjoy late-60s rock like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Neil Young, Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and Jimi Hendrix.  We listen loudly when no one's around.  We sing.  We go to concerts.  We create fabulous Pandora radio stations.  The artists are like real people in our lives (right down to his beloved David Crosby walrus mustache --- it's admiration or an enterprising way to push my mom's buttons.)

    This spring, my parents and I sat glued to Morgan Neville's documentary "The Troubadour: Rise of the Singer-Songwriter" based on the intertwined careers of James Taylor and Carole King.  One song, so lovingly performed, echoed through me as if traveling toward home.

    I used to sing that for you before bed, my dad gently offered.

    Inspired, I learned the song.  I know Carole's harmony and James' melody and we always listen two times through so I can sing both with my son. (Reading teachers, I'm employing the neurological impress method!)  It is our bedtime routine's encore number.

    Sing our song, Mommy, he pleads.

    You Can Close Your Eyes
    James Taylor. _Mud Slide Slim_. Warner Bros., 1971

    Well the sun is surely sinking down
    But the moon is slowly rising
    So this old world must still be spinning 'round
    And I still love you

    So close your eyes
    You can close your eyes, it's all right
    I don't know no love songs
    And I can't sing the blues anymore
    But I can sing this song
    And you can sing this song
    When I'm gone

    It won't be long before another day
    We're gonna have a good time
    And no one's gonna take that time away
    You can stay as long as you like

    So close your eyes
    You can close your eyes, it's all right
    I don't know no love songs
    And I can't sing the blues anymore
    But I can sing this song
    And you can sing this song
    When I'm gone

    Because of my dad, I do know love songs...their depth, breadth, and soul.  Someday because of me, Reid will too.

    Write on,

    {To enjoy our song, visit mckays videos on You Tube.  Start the clip around 1:00; finish around 3:30.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVk13zLhbZo&feature=related}

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Petting sharks?!?

    "Pet the sharks?!?"  My mind reeled that this could really be as we walked into the exhibit for the first time last summer.  A virtuous zoo actually puts dangerous animals away in a secure fashion...not invites visitors to touch them.  Then, my baby reclined comfortably in his travel stroller with snacks as we canvassed our surroundings for potential risk. 

    Fast-forward a year later.  Now, I have a two-year-old teetering on the shark-petting pool barrier splashing, reaching, singing, and practically beckoning these sea creatures to our (hopefully) safe little area of the exhibit.  My son can't get enough, much to my chagrin.

    While I love "Oceans" because the building is air-conditioned and there are awesome wildlife specimens at which to take a gander, I still can't bring myself to pet the sharks.  Their toothy grins are my first detractor, followed in no particular order by their smmmoooooooth, veiny flesh and menacing fins that glimmer just slightly above the water's surface. 

    Shark-petting and writing...a common thread?   

    Recent blog posts by Ruth Ayres, Stacey Shubitz, and myself have explored different ways to generate lists of writing topics.  Whether it's a bone map, heart map, hand list, or another extraordinarily personal way to organize subjects about which we're able to write, we should.  We owe this sort of thought work not only to ourselves as writers, but also to the endless supply of fabulous stories from our lives just waiting to shine. These bits and bobs are what make us who we are. 

    In Notebook Know-How, Aimee Buckner offers the idea of constructing Best and Worst lists off which to write.  Around the shark pool I got to thinking, "What kind of list would I add shark-petting to?"  Is it something I am scared of?  Is it something that defies reason?  Is it a concept that just seems unnatural?
    The latter two lists intrigue me --- they sound much more thought-provoking and multidimensional than the blanket term 'scary'.  Writing now, I'm already starting to mentally scan my files of topic ideas and everyday noticings for items I could quantify these two ways.  I'm thinking about how I could construct the collection in a meaningful way.  I'm also thinking about other non-traditional lists I could create.

    Types of list-making may seem mundane to some, or as Ruth Ayres remarked, maybe even perceived as a creative indulgence to others.  But, as writing teachers, we understand that taking the time to actually think through and do the kinesthetic work of drawing and organizing presents an invaluable space for these ideas to percolate.

    What would be on your list with shark-petting?
    Any ingenious list categories you'd like to share?

    I'm percolating... :)

    Write on,

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    My fourth slice-of-life story...


    I'm not sure if I can find a font large enough for the way these two little words make me feel today.

    Last night, we got the message --- the back and forth is finally done over dollars, (lack of) sense, deadlines, and dreams.  It's been an intense week of bargaining.  And, like a new notebook that opens in all its splendor for the next page to be written, here we stand peering off a precipice just waiting to jump.  The sizable question is, "Where will we land?"

    Sure, we've done our share of internet research, Sunday open houses, generic neighborhood drive-throughs, and we've chatted with friends who live in other parts of town.  Our intent and investment level skyrockets today.

    August 23 = closing.
    September 12 = possession ends.
    Meanwhile =  life, school, projects.


    Having our house on the market intermittently for the past year, my inner odds-maker was betting on selling over summer break from school and the numerous naptimes I'd have to reorganize our lives in a new space.  Now, this task will be relegated to sandwich times --- between our son's bedtime and ours, between getting home from school and making dinner, between getting up and leaving for the day.

    I'm overjoyed, even if this piece is tinged with anxiety.
    I'm excited, even if my Outlook calendar is nearing capacity.
    I'm eager, even if I haven't a clue how it will all turn out.

    I'm peaceful because it just will.
    Somehow, someway. 
    And, perfectly.

    Write on,

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Song lyrics speak to me...

    I'm the quiet type who takes it all in.  Song lyrics are no exception.  Listening to music in the car or working on school projects with my iPod, I love figuring out what singer-songwriters are really trying to say...so eloquently, so passionately, so personally.  To me lyrics often express ideas I cannot, will not, or haven't yet named.  They speak to memories of feast and famine...family members...and overcoming fears.  To faith and to love.

    With my parents last week, I watched a TV special on how Simon & Garfunkel constructed the album "Bridge Over Troubled Water".  Like old friends from my childhood, their songs were revealed one by one..."America," "Only Living Boy in New York," "Cecilia."  Then, "Old Friends/Bookends" particularly poignant lyrics again drew me in; my mom lovingly connected them to her father she so misses.  I couldn't help but marvel at their masterful writing while listening now as a grown-up.  The unmistakable imagery.  The beautiful painting these words produce.       

    Old Friends/Bookends lyrics

    Old friends
    Old friends
    Sat on their park bench
    Like bookends
    A newspaper blown through the grass
    Falls on the round toes
    On the high shoes
    Of the old friends
    Old friends
    Winter companions
    The old men
    Lost in their overcoats
    Waiting for the sunset
    The sounds of the city
    Sifting through trees
    Settle like dust
    On the shoulders
    Of the old friends
    Can you imagine us
    Years from today
    Sharing a park bench quietly?
    How terribly strange
    To be seventy
    Old friends
    Memory brushes the same years
    Silently sharing the same fear
    Time it was,
    And what a time it was
    It was . . .
    A time of innocence
    A time of confidences
    Long ago . . . it must be . . .
    I have a photograph
    Preserve your memories
    They’re all that’s left you

    If you don't know it already, give this song a listen.  The music perfectly complements the writing, creating a well rounded, deep experience; a complete picture of a moment in time captured magnificently.  As writers, isn't that what we're all about---the complete experience?  Studying lyrics can take our work to the next level.

    Now, teacher-writers, how could a piece like this glimmer in your writing workshop?  What lyrics speak to you?

    Write on,

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    My third slice-of-life story...

    15 days until school begins...

    Wide-eyed, I glimpse at my calendar each morning.  Only 15 more days of summer vacation!  My new iPhone taunts me with each finger-slide, showcasing the date in LARGE, bold numerals.

    Neil Young says in "On the Way Home" ---  though we rush ahead to save our time, we are only what we feel.  My current game plan is to not rush over the next two weeks (even though my list grows by the hour to prep for school's start at home and in my room), but instead to feel and enjoy my favorite things like... 

    15. Homemade macaroni and cheese for lunch
    14. Mall walks at non-peak hours
    13. My chambray sundress with flip-flops
    12. Morning trips to Super Target with my little shopper
    11. Cooking real food instead of bagged meals (sorry P.F. Chang's)
    10. HGTV
     9. A catalog skim
     8. Naptime projects (most are born out of randomness around 2 p.m.)
     7. Morning strolls around our sleepy neighborhood
     6. Storytime cuddles
     5. Reid's pretend cooking...Kitty wants some fruit, right...?
     4. Cookie-baking forays
     3. Time to dream...
     2. Thursday dates with my mom canvassing town for bargains and a tasty lunch
     1. Coffee breaks at Starbucks with my son; chai latte and fruit twists, please :)

    15 days; 15 objectives;  350 hours to feel before the rush.

    Then, again, maybe feeling could last a whole lot longer...

    Write on,

    Friday, July 8, 2011


    My son's new birthday tricycle...see how he rolls :).

    This summer, my two-year-old received a retro Radio Flyer trike as a birthday present from my parents.  He LOVES it and insists we ride around our driveway, taking a special detour down the bumpy sidewalk leading to our front door.  Everyday; same routine.

    The funniest part --- he doesn't use the pedals like we may expect.  His bruised, reddened shins bear testament to his improvisation.  A couple weeks ago when the trike magically appeared at the birthday party, Reid had never taken a ride.  So, in days since, he has figured out a way to make it go where he wants.  You see, earlier this spring he landed a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe (which is basically a big, plastic version of Fred Flintstone's car) from a family member and he quickly pounds the pavement to travel around our house.  I love that he applies what he's already experienced to his radiant red tricycle.  He moves his feet; he sits on the seat; he holds onto the handlebars; he steers; he approximates.

    Trailing behind him this summer on the aforementioned route, I've had mountains of minutes to think about how his riding relates to writing.  And, it does.  In so many ways...

    As writers ourselves, we are always approximating.  If I love the way Stephen Stills writes his song lyrics and want to take a leaf from his book, I can.  I can come near in degree, nature, or quality (as the Yahoo dictionary suggests!).  If I love the way Cynthia Rylant shows passage of time, I can emulate her work in The Relatives Came and share it with my students.  But, another way I am considering approximation on our daily trike rides is this --- as a teacher of writing, how am I approximating the genres, craft moves, etc. in which I am expecting my students to excel?

    One of my goals this summer is to travel as a writer through the units of study my students will experience.  I want to understand where the tricky parts will be (and if they're tricky for us as teachers...how can we portion them out for our students in ways that make sense?).  I want to understand stamina from the inside out.  I want to own a nuanced sense of anticipation for text features...minilesson topics...unit goals...and appropriate exemplar pieces.

    If I were teaching a reading unit on mysteries, I would have traveled through my school's library with sticky fingers before heading home for the summer.  If I were teaching a unit on the French-Indian War, you bet I would've done the same thing (because right now, I can't think of a solitary tidbit I know about that topic...excepting who participated).  So, why is teaching writing any different?

    In a sense, I am approximating writing in each genre.  Yes, I bring an educated background to my notebook each day; but (and this is a big but), I don't remember being taught to write explicitly in any genre other than research papers...and even that instruction was meager by today's clarity standards.  In my toolkit are reading experiences, professional institutes/workshops, past teaching topics, an analytical, thoughtful eye, and samples of writing that speak to me.  I parlay these treasures into pieces of writing worthy of my wide-eyed, malleable students.

    Sometimes, I feel like I'm just pushing my way around on a tricycle like Reid does.  However, I know just as he will soon discover the pedals and their power, I will continue to gain strength and confidence putting myself in print for my students and colleagues.  I will approach my teaching as a writer first...experience: my true north.

    The magical quality of approximation is its fleeting nature...

    Write on,

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    My second slice-of-life story...

    Bang, boom, (booooom, booommmm), wahhhhh. 
    Bang, boom, (booooom, booommmm), wahhhhh.
    It’s 9:30 p.m. on July 4th.my husband and I are downstairs, awaiting the sleep of our 24-month-old son. 

    Before Reid’s arrival, we OF COURSE included a fireworks display in our annual holiday routine. Afterward, not so much.  Like a true teacher, I like routine --- our days go more smoothly this way.  Milk and bath at 8:00 p.m.

    But, last night after lights out, our little entertainer offered a nursery rhyme concert and a recount of the day’s events.  Then, against the deepening tie-dyed sky, distant fireworks began with subtle booms and rhythmic rumbles.  Hopes that dreamland would be +1 at the point --- dashed.

    (Our downstairs conversation) 
    “Ooooh.  What will he do with all this noise?  Will it upset him?” 
    “Not sureguess we’ll find out!?!”

    And, then, tears unleashed.  “Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!”
    (Philosophical question du jour: If you’ve never been to a fireworks show on July 4th…do you really know what you’re missing?)

    Enter (pronto) Mom and Dad.  “What’s the matter?” I inquire.  More tears.  My husband tries… “Hey, buddy, it’s just…” (I shoot him a dirty look across the crib railing)... “some booms and rumbles” I neatly finish.

    “Fireworks, yes.” Reid offers confidently.  “Like at the hotel.”

    (Um, yeah, sure --- two weeks ago during vacation, our hotel hosted fireworks on Tuesday nights. We stayed up that time because we were off schedule anyway.  However, Reid was far more interested in pushing his stroller around than watching the show’s twinkling blooms.)

    Completely taken aback, we bestowed a final night-night kiss, a high-quality tuck-in, and compliment for smarts.  Nursery door closed and downstairs relaxing again, our twinkling eyes caught each other silently searching…

    Were we just out-smarted?

    Friday, July 1, 2011


    If you've visited my blog before, you'll notice today's refresh in background, labeling, and title badge.  It's always an adventure to take something you already know and change it up a little.  I hope you enjoy the formatting as much as I do --- now it looks more like me :) --- and it's functionality is increased!

    My blog's improvements mirror how we strengthen, deepen, and alter writing instruction by adding a more personalized dimension and/or beefing up teaching points.  In conspiring with a colleague today about ideas for next year's writing workshop, a familiar strategy for mining writing territories showed up with a facelift.  Most everyone is acquainted with Carl Anderson's work helping students dig up writing topics they know and care about (more details available in his conferring bundle---awesome!) and then listing off these territories to provide writing inspiration.  Well, here's a facelift...Katie Wood Ray-style!

    On a crisp, new writer's notebook page students outline his/her hand.  Inside, on fingers and palms, students list special memories about significant things they've touched.  Hmmmm.  What a great visual support for young writers...and, it's sticky too...it's purpose and usefulness will long remain!

    I really want to put myself in students' shoes when teaching new strategies.  My teaching is more authentic and nuanced that way.  So, here it goes --- I'll give it a try.  Here are the contents of my hand list:
    • The first time I touched my sweet newborn son in the hospital...
    • The first time I felt my baby kick from within me...
    • When I gave my hand in marriage...
    • When I super-glued my thumb and pointer finger together (accidentally!)...
    • When I hand-mix my family's favorite meatloaf...
    How about you --- What would show up on your hand list?  Get out your writer's notebook and generate some potential writing topics using this strategy.

    Then...are there other strategies you could extend and/or update with a facelift?  Maybe add a personalized spin?  Maybe update for functionality's sake?  Look back through your teaching repertoire and try out a few high-utility strategies.  Feel free to share what you create in the comments section!! :)

    Write on,