When Readers Listen {Another New Series}

When Readers Listen_Twitter

I can’t remember how Abbigail of Inkwells and Images and I met, but it was via writing, I know that.  I think it’s safe to say that we both love words and we both love talking about words, so we came up with an idea. What if we agreed to listen to one of the oodles of podcasts on our, “I Want To Listen To That” list, then wrote about it on our blogs? We both decided it would be a great exercise for reading and writing.

Today, we are discussing the New Yorker “Outloud” podcast, “May We Have Your Attention, Please?” The hosts, Amelia Lester and David Haglund, talk with Joshua Rothman and Andrew Marantz about, “theories of distraction and the benefits and drawbacks of concentration.”

Here are my notes I took while I listened:


{Something that surprised me}: I was surprised and relieved at Rothman’s and Marantz’s defense of distraction. Yes, they discussed, we are more stimulated then we used to be, but we are also more freaked out about being distracted than we used to be. “We’re called upon to be attentive,” one of them said, and then went on to explore all these subjects that we want to attend to: jobs, family, marriage, ethical and healthy food, exercise, prayer, meaning of life.  Not only that, but we ought to craft all these things into something. It’s exhausting.  I am guilty of getting caught up in this, and while technology has led to the pressure I feel to always do something, I have always felt this way.  I remember once my Uncle Greg asked me what I do for fun and I said, “I make lists, and I color code them.” I admit, I don’t see the point in not having a plan for my day (even Saturdays), and listening to this podcast made me realize that maybe I’m a little too tightly wound. Maybe a distraction or two would be good for me.

{What it taught me about reading}: I loved the anecdote one of the guests told about a ski instructor who told his students stories to distract them from being afraid so they could ski down the hill. I am a big believer in the idea of getting lost in a story because I think it helps us come back to what’s going on in our lives with a more layered perspective of whatever situation we are experiencing. For example, I’m typing this up after having spent a day walking through the Badlands. Go ahead and roll your eyes, call me ridiculous and stupid, but that place is the scariest place I have ever been. I didn’t want to miss out on it though, because I am afraid. So here’s what I did: as I walked around South Dakota, I recalled Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, one of the greatest stories ever written. In it, Sal, the main character, takes a road trip through the Badlands with her grandparents who are a hoot to be around, so I thought of them. I thought of the Grandpa saying, “Damn snakes,” and the Grandma dancing. I thought of Sal and her quest to learn more about her mother. I thought of the many students I’ve read this story to and the fun we had reading it. I was still afraid, but I could keep walking, and I could navigate this place with my girls. In the middle of one of the trails, Harper said, “I’m so glad we came here because we are having so many memories.” And then she stopped and yelled to Jesse, who was several feet away taking pictures. “Daddy!” she screamed, “Thanks for taking us to the Badlands!” I can’t think of a better distraction than one of my daughter’s voices.

{What it taught me about writing}: Two views on distracting thoughts: “Some of your thoughts are pointless; some are not.” And, “You can’t have a hierarchy of thoughts in your mind.” When I sit down to write, I rarely know what it is I’m writing about. What I have is something I want to examine; something I’m wondering about.  Those moments when I don’t know what to write next are always followed with, “This is a stupid idea. You’ll never pull this off.  What were you thinking? This is so dumb.” It’s a fun time.  This is certainly one way of distracting myself, but its purpose is to stop the work.  What might be a better distraction would be to go to a coffeeshop and listen to the baristas while they make peoples’ drinks.  They say the greatest things.  Or, go on a walk with my kids. There is usually a story that I can pair with a thought or two I’ve been ruminating over.

{Favorite Quotes}:

“Everything you do is pointing to something.”

“Is a daydream more important than work?”

“Distraction is anything I didn’t mean to do.”

“Concentration is attending to something in a deliberate way.”

What about you? Do you have thoughts on distraction? Have you listened to this podcast? If not, you can find it here.  Make sure to click over to Abbie’s post, too.  You can find it here.

Next month, Abbigail and I will write about The Longform Podcast, #148, Anna Holmes.

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My Critique of The Conium Review, on The Review Review

My six-year-old daughter, Harper, has frequently stood next to my desk the last few weeks and picked up vol. 3 of The Conium Review and said, “Mommy, I can’t believe you are reading this.” She’s referring to the pictures of ants on the cover. Just two on the front, but a countless splattering of them are on the back. They’re larger than my thumbnail and the shadows they cast give them a 3-D perspective so that every time I pick the journal up I’d have to remind myself, “Not real. Not real. Not real.”
“I know, aren’t they creepy?” I’ve said to Harper while she pushes a finger on each ant, her shoulders shrugged towards her ears and her teeth clenched. She would never smoosh an ant with her bare finger (she won’t even do it with a shoe), but they look so real that I can tell her imagination is blurred. What if they were real? What if a swarm of ants the length of my big toe covered the book I was reading? What would I do?

I’m reviewing literary journals for The Review Review, and my first one is up today.  Come have a look?

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Blueberry Picking – Coffee + Crumbs

I’m trying to start this piece with conflict. Specifically, I’d like to describe a scene with my two daughters and I fighting as we made our way to the blueberry patch; the activity my friend Cara and I planned for the day. I want to describe the fighting because I know it happened, as it does every day. The problem is I can’t remember what the girls and I were fighting about. It could’ve had to do with Hadley and Harper not picking up their toys when I asked them to. Or maybe it was that one of them refused to throw her pajamas in the laundry basket. Maybe one of them wanted to bring something along and I said she couldn’t so we fought about that.

I know for a fact the three of us fought, because I remember feeling frazzled and shaken over how easy it is for me to go from zero to screaming in three seconds. I remember as we drove down the road that took us to the orchard, that I wanted to start the day over. As the sun blared on my left arm heating it up even though the windows were shut and the A/C was blasting, I remember going over the morning’s events (whatever they were) and trying to figure out how I could have done things differently. I remember crossing my right arm over my left, squeezing my shoulder, and feeling the warmth of my skin from the sun. How strange, I thought, that one part of my body could be freezing and the other almost dripping with sweat. I can remember all this as the girls and I drove down the road to the orchard but I don’t know what it was that we argued about.

We turned off the paved road onto a gravelly dirt one and I felt the shade of the oak trees, their thick green leaves heavy and dripping with fresh air that made me slow down my breathing. “This is beautiful,” I said and the girls agreed. “This road is so twisty, Mama,” Hadley said. “It’s fun!”

“What’s this place called again?” Harper asked.

“Butler’s Orchard,” I told her.

“BUT-ler’s Orchard?” Harper giggled, and then repeated, “BUT-ler’s?”

Hadley snickered and I did, too. I’m a sucker for a butt joke and honestly was delighted that my four year-old made a play on words.

Read the rest on Coffee + Crumbs.

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Truth Telling

I was looking over the girls’ school work from the year, and found this, drawn and written by Harper:

IMG_1517That’s quite a valley Harper’s headed towards, don’t you think? Here’s what our alleyway looks like:

IMG_1514IMG_1515I’m going to argue though, that Harper is attending to truth in her picture.  The slant she drew might not be accurate, but looking at it, I think a person might understand (and maybe even feel) fear. The truth Harper is revealing here is that she was afraid to ride her bike because there is a dip in the road at one point that she can feel. It makes her stomach flutter and her bike speed up. The other truth Harper shows here is that she did it. She pedaled down the road, again and again until the sun set and dusk settled and we said it was time to read Harry Potter and go to bed. And she smiled as she is smiling in the picture.  In fact, if she were standing next to you explaining the picture she’d tell you she had to swallow laughter because she was having so much fun and didn’t want to stop having fun for a laugh. That’s her phrase, swallowing laughter.


Over the weekend, I weathered our dining room chairs.

While I worked, Harper checked in on our tomatoes,

IMG_1512and picked a strawberry.

She helped Hadley go worm-hunting,

IMG_1510but came back to the garage because, “Mommy, I don’t think worm hunting is such a good idea. Remember when we saw that anaconda in a little glass case at the zoo? He has nobody to play with and nowhere to go. That worm Hadley just dug up had this whole field to play in and now he’s in a little red bucket.”

I nodded and said that’s a pretty good point, then suggested she help me sand the chairs.

IMG_1516While we worked, Harper said she remembered when I painted these chairs the first time. “We were coming home from the zoo and we walked past a store and saw a beautiful turquoise chair, and you said, ‘I love that chair,’ and the next thing I knew you were on the deck painting all our chairs that same color.”

She sanded for a while then said, “That one chair in that store totally inspired you!”

Harper is right, I was inspired by that chair the three of us saw in a window of Crate and Barrel. We were on our way to the zoo, and stopped for coffee, and I decided while we walked around and looked at the anacondas (because we always go to the reptile house), that I would paint those chairs; not just because I wanted a Crate and Barrel look alike, but because I needed something to take my mind off Desiderius Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly. I needed to distract myself from how badly I felt that I didn’t understand a word of what that man was writing about. I needed to take my mind off of how afraid I was to go back to Santa Fe.

I wish I could explain how much I loved and feared those residencies. I wonder if it’s a little how Harper felt riding in the alleyway. I remember watching her the first time she decided she didn’t need to walk her bike down the slant. She stood for a long time at one end and yelled to me, “Mommy, I’m scared. There’s a dip, Mommy. I don’t want to fall,” but she stayed on her bike – one foot on a pedal and one tiptoed and ready to push off on the ground – as she said it.  I told her I knew about the dip. I told her I knew her stomach would lift and her bike would go fast. I told her I knew she was afraid. And after awhile, she pushed herself from the curb and pedaled toward the dip; swallowing laughter and flying full speed towards fear.


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Readers Chime In! How Are You Using Your Summer Reading Journal?

As much as I love to show off the work Hadley and Harper are doing, it is a blast to see how other kiddos are using their Summer Reading Journals.

FullSizeRender-7Bella’s drink of choice was interesting to her parents because they don’t drink soda. Hmmmm, sounds like Bella already has some super powers.



Bella’s reading Buddy the First Seeing Eye Dog by Eva Moore. Her vocabulary words are afternoon…middle of the day. Hoofbeets…horse trots. Suddenly…something that happens fast.
Her illustration reads: Buddy the first seeing eye dog is a German Shepherd who helps a blind man Morris. Buddy helps Morris get a haircut and they ride on a boat across the ocean to the USA.

Bella also used the vocabulary page to “fish” for a few words:

IMG_7090Bella’s friend Raina is working on a journal, too. I love that she wants “super speed” for her super power.

FullSizeRender-10Raina’s reading The Fox and the Hound (one of my favorites), and she is working on a vocabulary page, too.

IMG_7087I love this review from a mom and teacher who purchased one for her soon-to-be first grader: “I love how the reading journal incorporates art and visual interpretation of literature as well as creative written responses of literature. It helps my daughter to be a better reader both creatively and critically.” This is exactly what Becky and I are hoping for.



I’d love to see how you’re using your Summer Reading Journals.  Send me a picture, tell me what you think, or use the #summerreadingjournal hashtag on Instagram or Twitter.  And if you haven’t purchased a journal yet, the summer’s not over!  There are still plenty of books to read and think about.  Click over to the store and check them out.

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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been Series – Cara Gabriel

Where GoingBeen Series

I’m starting a new series here. Once a month, I hope to interview someone about how they work, why they do what they do, how they manage life outside of work, and anything else I feel like I must know the answer to.  My goal is to inspire and encourage readers (including myself) to take a few steps in doing something they think they’d like to do, but aren’t sure they can do it.

The title of the series is a nod to Joyce Carol Oates’ short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The scariest, most haunting story I’ve ever read. Most of the people I hope to interview here are those who have not only accomplished great and interesting things, but they play around with doubt, fear, and struggle. Somehow they use who they were (not just who they are or how they’ve changed), what they’ve experienced, what they’ve seen or heard in their lives today. I find their lives full of grace and I admire them for it.

One of the people I admire a great deal, and who happens to be one of my best friends, is Cara Gabriel. Cara will be performing I AM THE GENTRY in The Fringe Festival this month (links below), and I say do yourself a favor and come out to see her perform. Here’s a clip from the event description on Brown Paper Bag Tickets:

“I AM THE GENTRY is a witty, unabashedly honest solo performance that traces one woman’s life as she realizes her role in the gentrification of her Washington, DC neighborhood. The play hilariously and provocatively deconstructs notions of racial and socio-economic stereotypes and redefines the nature of community in a transitional neighborhood.

Expert raconteur, humorist and theatre professor Cara Gabriel moved to D.C. a decade ago and purchased a home in a ‘transitional’ neighborhood. I AM THE GENTRY chronicles Gabriel’s adventures and foibles in her new, unfamiliar surroundings: her beagle takes on a pair of pitbulls, she dances at a neighborhood shrine to Michael Jackson, and strolls her baby through an arrest-in-progress, all while poignantly examining her role in the process of neighborhood gentrification.”



I had the privilege of reading a few of Cara’s drafts over the years, and while there is no argument Ms Gabriel can write, when you see her perform it is like a light switch has been turned on. Her facial expressions alone speak volumes.


Today, I am asking Cara a few questions about her script, her writing process, revision, how to tell a story, and any advice she has to folks who are interested in writing.


CF: I’ve known about this project since I think 2010, when we first met. I know it’s gone through many revisions, you’ve added and subtracted a lot, etc. Can you talk about your revision process? What’s been difficult to put aside? Do you ever get frantic (as I do) when you think you have to walk away from the story? I don’t trust myself that I have the discipline to go back and finish it, but I know that a lot of times giving a story some space is the best thing I can do for it. Talk a little about your revision process.

Cara: The revision process for this piece has been exhausting. It usually is, I suppose, but the sheer length of the revision process has been the toughest part. And the revision process for this piece has been unique because I’ve had 4 different directors over the past 5 years, and each director has pushed me toward further revisions. Every time I’ve performed the play it’s gotten a little tighter, a little closer to what I intended to do in the first place. In some ways it begs the question whether any piece of writing is ever really “done.”   The great thing about doing this piece as a work of theatre is that theatre is, by definition, collaborative. So in some ways the discipline part is less self-imposed and more imposed by one’s collaborators, or the need to have a new draft at rehearsal the next night. In theatre we are always showing our work to other people in the room, which makes for a sort of built-in accountability. And oh my YES has giving the stories some SPACE helped. In the past almost 10 years that I’ve been working on this, I’ve had a LOT of time to reflect, change my mind, and refine what I want to say and how. So I think the work has gotten better. But it also can be too much time. I’ve found myself getting sick of some of the stories. In rehearsal I’ll sometimes stop and ask, “Am I still talking? Is anyone else bored yet?” But for production purposes every time I tell the story it has to feel like the first time.

CF: When I first met you, you were working on GENTRY and planning on it being a book. Is this still a goal of yours? How is telling a story (via drama) different from writing a story? Do you find one helps the other?

Cara: Yes! It is still a major goal. In hindsight I wish I had just finished the book first, then moved toward the one-woman show. The show has definitely put the book on hold, which always feels a little sad to me. The show is obviously significantly shorter, but beyond that I’ve really tried to eliminate all of the bits that “tell” the audience something. I’m really trying to focus on keeping things active and “showing” the audience as much as I can. That’s a good exercise in writing, in general, I think. Having to write for a 60-75 minute time slot has also made me a ruthless editor. I can cut to what’s important really well now. But if you know any publishers interested in a book-length version, I have one…

CF: I remember reading drafts that bring the reader back to your days as a child and being very close to the work your mother did. Can you talk a bit about how her work and what that has to do with GENTRY?

Cara: My mom is the Chief Operating Officer of Saint Anne Institute in Albany, NY (http://stanneinstitute.com/). From the website:

St. Anne Institute is a private, not for profit, secular residential and community based preventive service agency committed to providing the highest level of care and rehabilitation services in the briefest time to children and families throughout New York State.

In other words, it is a school and residential community for teenage girls in need. There is also a pre-school program.

Because of the many cuts I’ve had to make for the show, my mom only appears once in this version. But in the book-length version she features quite prominently. She is a social worker and has been at St. Anne’s since before I was born. She and my dad were group home parents and that’s where I spent the first two years of my life. Without St. Anne’s and my mom’s experience there, I’m not sure I would have the depth of understanding of the human condition and of how race, class, and education can have such a profound impact on the course of a human life. My mother is basically an angel. A wild, wacky, angel with a killer laugh and great fashion sense.

CF:Whenever I see you perform GENTRY, or read drafts, I am hoping for a few of my favorite scenes. Do you have any favorite parts? Along the same lines, do you have any parts that, when you sat down to write, thought, “I don’t really think this will go anywhere,” and then surprised yourself with what happened on the page?

Cara:I do have a few favorite parts! I love the story about the pit bulls, and there’s a section about a woman from our neighborhood named Skinny Marie. I’ve also been working on the ending with my director, and I have a renewed love for the ending based on some of the oral storytelling work I’ve been doing with that.

Chapter endings always surprised me a bit. I will often write without a sense of where I want to go. Instead I focus on telling an interesting story, and somewhere in the middle I ask myself, ok but what does this story mean? Why this story (or chapter) here and now? That question is probably why my chapters all seem to have a sort of similar rhythm at the ending, and I’ve come to enjoy the consistency of that rhythm. Those same questions actually led to a re-ording of chapters for this most recent draft as well, which I didn’t expect and now like quite a lot.

CF:This story is Creative Nonfiction (a genre I happen to adore), and one thing I have a lot of respect for is your ability to write the story as it is happening. I am rarely able to do that. Plus, you wrote while your first child was an infant. Emotions are high then, don’t you think? I have a difficult time sitting with a story as it’s happening. I also think you are still living the story. Can you address how you write about something while it’s happening? Can you also talk a little bit about where you are now (where you live, what you do, etc.)

Cara:Aren’t we all just fighting a constant battle with Time? So when I have a moment (or, more typically, a deadline), I just take whatever story is at the tip of my mind and I WRITE. And because my memory is also so fuzzy, I seem to do better when a story is happening, or very fresh. I do very well when I have a sense of urgency, which probably speaks to my ability to write a story while it’s happening and my ability to write with infants. I have done some of my most productive writing when my kids were infants (geez maybe I should have another… No.). I think having kids honestly kicked me into gear and made me even more productive. It is so easy to waste time, but when you have kids you begin to realize how much free time you had before, so I started to really embrace whatever moments of quiet and freedom I had—no matter how short. I also thrive in times of heightened emotion, so even though I felt a little bonkers, having kids actually helped me as an artist.

CF: When I went to hear GENTRY a couple of years ago, one thing I was impressed with (besides those incredible shoes, and your performance) was the discussion the audience had after the show. It felt like a dialogue, rather than people standing up and belligerently saying, “This is MY story, and here’s where Cara is wrong….” One thing I get tired of lately is the lack of storytelling and instead, this venting tone prevails. Some people call it “clickbait.” But as a narrator, you are doing something different here. You allow people to walk alongside you, and you somehow say, “Look, I don’t know the answers. Here’s my story anyway.” Can you talk about how you did that?

Cara:First of all, thank you so much. That is a major goal of mine with this piece. I get very frustrated with people who think they know everything, or people who adopt a self-righteous or sanctimonious tone in their writing. I’m a college professor, and one of the reasons I became a professor is because one of my highest values is lifelong learning. I yearned to spend time in an environment that would promote intellectual inquiry, and an environment in which I could not just teach, but perhaps more importantly learn from and alongside my students. I’m thrilled that more questions than answers come across in my writing. Like you, I generally write to figure things out, not to tell people things I already know.

CF: You are a mother, a professor, a wife, and you write (not an exhaustive list). What advice would you give to women, specifically mothers, who want to write? What would you say to someone who says, “I really want to write but I don’t know where or how to start? Also, I’m exhausted because my newborn baby won’t sleep?” What about words is helpful for a mother?

Cara:First of all I would say, “Know that you are not alone.” Then I would say, “Know that this will not last forever. Someday you will sleep again.” Then I would say, “Forgive yourself for not being as productive as you want to be.” And then, “Banish all thoughts of ‘all of those other women’ who seem to be so much more productive than you.” Beyond that, I don’t know how much wisdom I have to impart. Breathe, be kind to yourself, love your children, own your choices, and live the life you want to live. If you want to write, you WILL write. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will come. Trust the power of your own desire to be creative, trust the power of your own will. Finally, know that motherhood, especially the earliest years, can be an excruciatingly lonely thing. If you can’t find time to write, find time to read. It will help you feel less alone.


I don’t think we could end on a better piece of advice then that: find time to read; it will help you feel less alone.  Always, always, find time to read. Thank you, Cara.



I AM THE GENTRY will appear at The Hyman Perlman Studio in Dance Place in Washington, DC as part of The Capital Fringe Festival 2015. Show dates and times are:

7/9 at 8:30pm
7/12 at 4:30pm
7/16 at 6:15pm
7/22 at 6:30pm
7/25 at 2:30pm

And here’s the link for tickets. Don’t forget that you also need a Capital Fringe button.

I AM THE GENTRY will also appear at United Solo in NYC on September 29, 2015. More info and tickets available here:


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On the way to swimming lessons yesterday, Hadley and Harper came up with the “Fast Talking Company.”

“If you’ve lost your voice, we will give you a potion so you can speak again,” Harper explained.

We drove down Father Hurley across Wisteria towards the pool, and as soon as we got on the other side of the railroad tracks, I got a little nostalgic. I drove down this road almost every day, sometimes twice, for four years to take the girls to preschool.  Now, as trite as it sounds, preschool is a memory.

Father Hurley didn’t always extend as far as it does today.  When we first moved, I think it was a cul-du-sac, though I can’t remember. I’m annoyed that I can’t remember because it’s only been nine years. Anyway, we drove towards the pool, and I wondered if the reason I don’t run out and make plans to do stuff in the summer is because I want to be with Hadley and Harper as long as they’ll let me. I love going through our days together. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing. Sometimes it’s more of an uphill climb.  Still, I love our life in the summer. Well, I can’t quite put it into words. Something’s going on and it has to do with nostalgia and watching my kids grow up.

“If you have problems saying words,” Harper continued, “we have vitamins you can take.  They’re gummy vitamins so they taste good.”

I could use some of those vitamins, I thought.

“What if,” I began, “you really want to say something but you are afraid or nervous. Or you think you will be wrong to say it. Do you have something for that?”

Harper thought for a while. She looked out the window and twirled her hair. “OH! You mean, what if you’re shy?  Yeah, we have a potion for shyness.  You can drink that and you won’t be afraid.”

“We have potions for people who talk too much, too,” Hadley added.

“I think I need all your potions and vitamins,” I told them. “I think I have all these problems.”

“Our number is 888-668-8866,” Hadley said. “Do you want to write that down?”

IMG_1283When we got home, we worked on the bookmark page of our Summer Reading Journals over lunch. I used quotations from The Fault In Our Stars. (I realize I made a spelling mistake on the last one. Sorry.) I was wrecked after reading that story. Like Eleanor and Park, I think it will be a while before I can write something more than, “It’s so good; it’s so sad.” However, taking a few sentences and designing a bookmark allowed me to sit with the words for a bit.  It was sort of like taking a vitamin to help you say the difficult words.

IMG_1467Hadley chose the last sentence of Applewhites at Wit’s End by Stephanie S. Tolan: “They could never say later whether E.D. had kissed Jake or Jake had kissed E.D., but Winston’s tail thumped on the porch floor. Even the dog knew how much had changed.” Hadley read that and smiled. It was the sort of smile you feel at the end of a story that has a big pay off, you know? When I asked Hadley why she liked that sentence, she said, “I think it tops off the whole story, and showed how much change there was.”

“I’m keeping this one for myself,” Hadley said after she finished writing it. She stuck it in her journal for safe keeping.

IMG_1469She made a bookmark for her buddy down the street because, “This sentence is so much fun to say!”  (Are you reading the Skippyjon Jones books? They are hilarious.) After Hadley made the bookmark, she wrote her friend a three page note asking how summer was going.

Harper is reading Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. She loves the first two sentences in the story: “There was only orange juice in the fridge. Nothing else that you could put on cereal, unless you think that ketchup or mayonnaise or pickle juice would be nice on your Toastios, which I do not, and neither did my little sister, although she has eaten some pretty weird things in her day, like mushrooms and chocolate.”

IMG_1468Harper liked the sentences because, “That second one is reeeeeally long and funny.” She chose to draw pictures of Gaiman’s words instead of writing them out.

IMG_1472Harper also made a bookmark from one of her favorites, Cinderella.

IMG_1471“[Dreams] are wishes my heart makes when I’m asleep. If I believe in them someday they’ll come true.”

Maybe you don’t need potions and vitamins.  Maybe you hold on to your dreams and stories until you’re awake enough to share them with the world.

(PS-Purchase your Summer Reading Journals here.)

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Poetry at Lunch – How We’re Using Our Summer Reading Journals

The first page that Hadley and Harper completed on their Summer Reading Journals, was the “All About Me” page.  And really, who wouldn’t want to design their own superhero cape?

But I couldn’t wait to have them try their hand at the Illustrate It page. This is the one where you take a book you read, draw an object that has something to do with the story, and write words around it, so that the words become the object. It’s a great exercise to explore theme.

When the girls did their Library/Bookstore Scavenger Hunt, they found several poetry books that they chose to take home and begin the summer with. So over lunch last week, we read some of the poem and made some pictures.

Hadley really likes Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.

IMG_1409She made an object poem from Silvertein’s “Itch:”

IMG_1414It’s a dollar sign with a line through it, because the narrator tricks the reader into believing that if s/he will scratch the narrator’s back, s/he will get paid.  This was not the case.

Hadley also made a poem for Prelutsky’s, “I Am Your Mirror Image.”

IMG_1416Harper worked on poems from Behold The Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems. Also by Jack Prelutsky.

IMG_1408IMG_1410After making her object poem, she found the word “mom” in, “Here Comes a Panthermometer,” and made sure to highlight that.

IMG_1411She decided that this cat isn’t just a cat that can tell the temperature, but it is also a mom.

It was a fun activity to do over lunch.



You can order Summer Reading Journals for Middle School or Elementary, here.

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“Baking Muffins” Post for Coffee+Crumbs

Legend has it that a woman in our church bakes muffins every morning. I write “legend” because it’s been years since I heard she does this, and I only heard it once. It was during a weekly bible study for women held at the church I attend, when this woman, I’m going to call her Maggie, placed fresh muffins neatly lined in a Longaburger basket on the table.

“Oh, Maggie. What did you do?” one woman chided as she reached for a muffin.

“I can’t believe you make these every day,” another one said, peeling back the paper liner and breaking the muffin so steam floated up and I smelled nutmeg.

Maggie told them in her quiet, humble way, that it’s not that big a deal. The base is the same: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt. The liquid stays constant, too: eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted butter. Everything else you make up – throw in chopped fresh cranberries, chocolate chips, walnuts if you like, though they’re best if you roast them for a few minutes beforehand.

I loved listening to Maggie. She is slow to speak but every word is drenched in a soothing, subtle strength, and listening to her is like eating the most delicious, hearty meal. But it’s a meal that makes you want to do something: run a race, feed the poor, learn to knit, tend to the sick.

Read the rest on Coffee+Crumbs.

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Summer Reading Journals – Elementary

What’s that? You kinda sorta like the Summer Reading Journals, but you wish there was something for the smaller readers?

IMG_1372No problem.

You still get an All-About-Me page.


Chocklute milk and recesses.  All the recesses.

You get to make a Superhero cape.


Harper’s has to do with reading. She learned to, and fell in love with reading this year, thanks to her wonderful Kindergarten teacher.


Hadley’s has to do with soccer and Taylor Swift.

There’s a Reading Log and a Scavenger Hunt.




You can pretend you are one of the characters in a book  you are reading, and make a scrapbook page for him or her.


How about doing a little fishing for vocabulary words? That’s what Hadley’s doing here.  She’s reading Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride.  (Hadley’s mildly obsessed with Amelia Earhart. A few weeks ago, she prayed for her in children’s church. That’s a story for another day, though.) In this picture, she’s caught the words: determined, horizon, elevation, elegant, and outspoken. These are words that I think Hadley will find just right for her personality.



We still have this gem, but Becky designed it using a different book so it isn’t as complicated for smaller hands.

IMG_1377Both Summer Reading Journals have about fifteen activities that are designed to help kids sit a while with the stories they find this summer. We hope you like them. We hope you find lots of stories to sit with this summer.

Order your journals here.



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