Thank you, TWT

Earlier in this challenge, I wrote a post about the importance of setting the conditions and then getting out of the way One of Those Great Teaching Moments. That’s exactly what you did, Two Writing Teachers,  for me during this 31 day Slice of Life Challenge.

The conditions:  

Write for 31 days straight and post your blog on Two Writing Teachers SOLC.

There will be other “Slicers” to help you through the challenge.  (I think it was pretty much guaranteed that there would be comments and encouragement along the way.)

There are people to answer any questions you have.  As a matter of fact, there are many people to help.

There are prizes (This condition didn’t really matter to me.  I’m not motivated by prizes for some reason. But they are there if it helps someone keep writing!).

The “get out of the way”:

There were no consequences if you didn’t write one day. OK…Maybe you wouldn’t be in the running for a prize. (I am proud of myself for writing every single day, but I didn’t do it because I was afraid of a consequence.)

There was choice.  You told us we could write what we wanted to, when we wanted to, and how we wanted to.

There was encouragement, but no one was telling us what we had to do.

You provided peers and mentor texts (in other slices) to give us ideas and some scaffolds, but you didn’t take over.

For me, this is the teaching that works best.  I felt like I accepted the conditions and then knew I had to hold myself accountable for the work.  I knew I could reach out to others for ideas and encouragement, but I knew I was responsible.  I think this is why I now feel SO proud of myself.  I worked hard.  This was challenging work.  I wrote every day.  I tried my best.  I grew (the writing was not great, but I think I got a little bit better).

Thank you, TWT for setting conditions and getting out of the way!  I’m already trying to figure out how I can keep this habit going.




Thank You Notes

Today I will spend the morning penning thank you notes.  I will get out my Preppy fountain pen, my stack of note cards, stamps, return address labels, and a few pretty flower stickers I bought to add to the envelopes.  I’ll set myself up at the table in the kitchen that looks out over the back yard with a fresh cup of coffee at arms reach, and I’ll write.

With each note, I’ll take a minute to think about the people they are going to and how they have been so generous and kind and supportive across the years.  I’ll also get another chance to think of my mom, as she is the reason we had a fundraising event in the first place. (She is also the one who taught me the importance of writing thank you notes!)  And I’ll get another chance to write.  I’ll try to put in words how much I appreciate my friends and family, and how I can’t imagine a world without them.

I could have sent a mass email.  It would have been easier and faster, and maybe people would have been just fine with it, but I love the act of writing individual thank you notes,  so off I go.


It’s Complicated

I have a complicated family.  I have stepmothers and stepfathers and step siblings, a gay brother and brother-in-law, mixed religions, adopted children.  You name it, and we got it. But recently things have grown even more complicated.

My mother passed away about four and a half years ago.  My stepfather died this past December.  The plan had always been to bury my stepfather (his ashes) next to my mother.  After all, they had purchased side-by-side plots years ago.  But that’s where things got complicated.  You see, a lot has happened in the last four years, and those things have complicated this burial issue.

When I called the cemetery manager (if that is what you call the guy who runs a cemetery), I had to explain that we now only want to bury half of my stepfather next to my mother. Well that was just fine with him.  I sensed that he had heard some other complicated family stories. (Of course there was no discount available even though we are only going to take up half the space!  I think the manager/director/supervisor was a bit shocked that I even asked.)

I imagine you are wondering what is happening to my stepfather’s “other half”.  Well, believe it or not, the other half of Warren is going to be saved and mixed in with his ex-wife’s (who recently re-became his partner) ashes. Yup.  My stepfather, who left his ex-wife to marry my mother, came full circle, reconnected with his ex, and began (or re-began) a life with her. It all made sense in a crazy sort of way.  After all, they knew each other (“for better or worse”), they shared the same children and grandchildren, and maybe the “Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t.”

So now I’m arguing with my step siblings over which half (top or bottom) goes to which wife.  Not!


Writing Lessons

For the most part, our teachers teach from the lessons that are suggested in the units of study we’ve been using for the past few years.  The lessons are well-designed, build beautifully on each other (as well as on the work that has come the year before and will come the year after).  Lessons are clearly aligned with standards, the work is rigorous, offers plenty of access for all learners, is engaging, and has been very effective.

But sometimes it can be powerful (for both teachers and students) to go off course a bit and create some lessons to meet the needs and interests of students. This month, I’ve been working with teachers in upper elementary grades to tackle some revision work. Students are asked to write conclusions to an opinion piece,  the introduction to a narrative, or even craft some dialogue in the middle of a story. Yes, this is a task on our state test that has given the children some difficulty.  Because of this, we asked one of our staff developers to help us with this work.  She showed us how to have children revise their own work and the work of others.  Then it was up to me to do some follow up.

I decided to try something different.  I wanted to start off by creating some high levels of engagement.  I decided to use television advertisements as my demonstration text. (Our kids really do love the visuals, and it was hard to resist the adorable puppy in the Bounty ad!) We studied the ads and talked about how they are an example of persuasive writing.  In the first lesson, I asked students to imagine they were hired by an ad agency to write the ending to some new ads.  I asked them to watch the ad, consider the claim, find reasons and evidence, and then write the conclusion.  They loved it!  They loved thinking about the ad as a piece of writing, and the conclusions they wrote not only included the claim, reasons, evidence, and a call to action, but they were also really clever!  One student wrote, “Buy Bounty today.  Use the code QUICKERPICKERUPPER25 at checkout to get an extra 25% off!” Another wrote, “Buy Ziploc Bags.  No mess. No stress!”

Today I did another lesson using the same ad.  This time we studied the author’s craft.  We looked for techniques and goals.  The kids were so engaged.  As they watched the ad, they noticed how the author told a personal story, gave reasons, used a quote from an expert, and even provided a comparison.  They thought about the author’s goals.  Was he trying to hook the reader, create a claim, or support his claim with evidence?  The way the students talked about this piece of “text” was so sophisticated and so impressive.

As I wrapped up the lesson, took down my chart, and picked up my bin of supplies, one student stopped me and said, “Thank you so much for this lesson.  It was SO interesting.  I really had fun, and I feel like I learned so much.”

I want teachers to know that they have the flexibility within the units of study to create lessons that meet the needs and interests of their students.  The process can be so powerful for both teachers and kids.

In or On?


Why do we say:

We are on the plane instead of in the plane? On the boat makes sense, but not on the plane.

We are on the train, but in the Quiet Car?

Stay in the crosswalk instead of on the crosswalk?

On the team, but in the group?

In the note, but on the list?

I guess it’s the old, “Why do we drive on a parkway and pay tolls on a freeway?” question.

What’s Your Secret?

I’m lucky enough to work in the town where my father lives (and where I was born and raised).  Dad is now 88, so I’m feeling particularly fortunate.  Tonight, after work,  I had dinner with my father and stepmother. We sat down and enjoyed a wonderful meal of sausage and peppers, potatoes, and my stepmother’s always delicious salad, along with a nice glass (or two) of wine.  We talked about travel and politics and books and family.

At some point dad mentioned that he had been to see a doctor earlier in the day. “How did that go?” I asked.

“Just fine,” he said.  “The doctor seemed very interested in me. He said that so many of his patients over the age of 80 seem not to be thriving, and he was wondering what I was doing that was making me so healthy. He asked me an interesting line of questions.”

Dad said that the doctor asked him if he exercised.

“Yes,” dad replied, “I walk or ride my bike every day all year long. Just today I put a new seat on my bike. If it’s really icy or there’s a snowstorm, I walk up and down the stairs many times, and try to lift some weights too.”

Dad said the doctor asked how he spends his days.

“Oh, well I’m an artist, so I spend at least four hours a day working in my studio. And I’ve picked up my guitar again.”

Dad said the doctor asked if he reads.

“Yes, of course I read!” dad said.

Dad said the doctor asked what kind of stuff he reads.

“Right now I’m reading a novel by Phillip Roth. Of course I read the newspaper every day as well.”

Dad said the doctor just looked at him and smiled.

I have a feeling that doctor stopped on his way home from work and bought himself a book, a bicycle, some paintbrushes and the latest Phillip Roth novel!

The Morning After (or Oh What a Night)

OK….It’s not what you are thinking from the title….but maybe I hooked you?

Yesterday I wrote about party planning.  Today I’m looking back on a pretty spectacular event that this family of party planners pulled off.

We spent the day cooking, running to the store for forgotten items, setting tables, setting up the food, rehearsing trivia questions, and getting ready for our guests. All of this to hopefully raise some money for the high school scholarship I started four years ago in my mom’s name.

At 5:00 pm, people started flowing in. They socialized, and I introduced friends from all parts of my life to one another.  People grabbed a snack and something to drink and gathered with a team for a night of trivia.    As I asked each question, the teams would  burst into conversation:  Some so serious, huddled around the answer sheet, whispering and jotting notes to each other, then writing down the answer.  Others giggling hysterically when they weren’t sure of the answers and coming up with funny responses instead.  My daughter then gathering the sheets and sharing the standings….”In last place, but very close to the next team, is Team #3!”  Team #3 members are seen high-fiving each other.  Do they know they are losing?  Yes, they do, but they are having such fun doing it!

We played trivia for about an hour and a half.  Then we awarded prizes to the winning team, and declared the night a huge success.

People gathered for a great cause.

People met new people.

People spent time with old friends.

People laughed.

People learned.

People helped.

Oh What a Night!


Party Planning

If there is one thing my family is good at, it’s parties.  We love parties of all kinds.  When the kids were younger, we planned birthday parties that included fashion shows, murder mysteries, and one year, the year my daughter read and fell in love with the novel Les Miserables,  we even built the barricade and had a water balloon fight over the top.  We’ve planned events together, from fancy Swedish dinner parties to memorial services to celebrate the lives of loved ones.  My daughter has taken party planning to a new level.  She now runs her own supper club in New York City, planning incredible dinner events around pieces of literature.

So today we are in our glory.  Mackensie, Tim, and I are running an event to raise money for a scholarship in my mom’s name.  We are having a Trivia Night!  We have spent the last few weeks creating and sending invitations, writing questions together, planning the set up (ended up with cobalt blue tablecloths and yellow daffodils – mom’s favorite flower- and tulips for the tables). the food, the schedule, and all of the other incidentals that need to go with putting on an event. This morning we will spend our time cooking together, Mackensie making a shrimp dish, Tim creating a gorgeous crudite, and me making my locally famous oatmeal raisin cookies.  We will be in the kitchen, chatting, listening to music, asking each other questions, and just being together.  Sometimes our best conversations come out of these moments.  Later on, other family members will join us to help set up, run, and then clean up, from the event.  This time too will be filled with laughter, conversation, and just good family time.

We are not together as a whole family very much anymore, and now my mother and stepfather have passed on.  Our children are all adults and living big lives of their own. Some family members won’t make it to the party today as they are out of the state or even out of the country.  But when we call a family party, everyone pulls together. Even the people who can’t come to the event find ways to chip in.

It is family moments like this one where I am in my glory.  Let the party begin (after we get everything organized and cooked, that is)!




Book Club Disasters

I love my book club.  It is made of of some of my favorite people.  Some of us have been reading books together for over 20 years!  We’ve really become a strong community by reading and talking about books together.  We’ve read novels (We even tackled Anna Karenina early in our book club’s history.) , short stories, self-help books, popular books, classics (Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier was one of my favorites.), and some children’s literature.

We meet about every 6-8 weeks.  One person picks the book and hosts the meeting.  The host usually tries to create a food experience that reflects the text. (When we read a book about Shackelton’s polar adventures, the host had ice cream in lots of different flavors!) We all try hard to read the books and make the meetings, but we also live busy lives and don’t always live up to our best intentions.  Tonight is going to be one of those nights for me.

Tonight is my book club meeting night, and I think (for me) it might be a disaster. First of all, I’m not finished with the book (number one book club sin.) We read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I only have about 5 chapters left. It’s almost worse than being half way or not having read at all!  I’m at a pretty intense part of the book, so it’s a terrible place to be when you are about to meet with your club.  They are going to give away all that I have been working to figure out!

The second part of the disaster is that I really didn’t like the book (and that’s being sort of kind).  I always hate being the one to say, “I didn’t like it!”  I don’t know why.  I’ve done it plenty of times and it often leads to good conversation.  I really didn’t like our last book (Educated) either, but I picked that one, so I didn’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings.

And the third part of the disaster:  I have to leave early (number two book club sin)!  I have a big event I’m planning for tomorrow, my daughter’s coming out of the city, so I can only stay for an hour.  I feel like the worst book club member ever when I don’t go to a meeting or leave early.

So there you have it, I’m heading into a disaster.  Wish me luck!

Mom:  My Windows and Mirrors

I listened to the children’s author Jacqueline Woodson speak at the Quick Center at Fairfield Universtiy earlier this week.  She talked about how books can act as both windows and mirrors for their readers. Books act as windows when readers meet characters who are not like themselves; who offer an alternative worldview. Books act as windows when they take readers to places and on journeys that are new and foreign.  Books can also be mirrors. They can reveal a reader’s innermost thoughts and reflect on his or her experiences. Sometimes these mirrors reveal things about people that they didn’t even realize about themselves.

This weekend, I will host my annual fundraiser to raise money for a scholarship that I started four years ago in my mother’s name.  Every year, this event gives me another chance to pause and spend time reflecting on what my mom means to me.

Like great books, my mother provided me with both windows and mirrors.  She would often ask me questions or challenge me to look at the world in new ways. She would talk about her journeys and the journeys of others to show me that there were many ways to live in this world. She always told me that I had choices.  She taught me that there were many perspectives. She opened my eyes to the incredible scope of what this world has to offer.  My mother also acted as a mirror. She talked to me about the life I was living and pushed me to look more deeply into myself and my choices. She would call me on my decisions so that I could respond and reflect. She would help me consider the life I had chosen and the future decisions I might make.  She also talked to me about things she saw in me that I didn’t see in myself. By creating these windows and mirrors, she helped me to discover myself.  What else could one ask of a mother?

Like the great books, my mother helped me to become a better version of myself.