How To Be A Little Brother – Advice For My Nephew


Now listen, Baby Boy Lewis. I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about being the little brother to a fabulous older sister. I have 38 years of experience to give you, and I know what I’m talking about. No, I was not the younger sibling. I was the fabulous older sister.

You have enormous shoes to fill. I mean that literally. I’ve never seen anyone with bigger feet than your dad. But big feet do not deter you from dancing. Don’t try to get out of re-creating the lift scene from “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt, by using your big feet as an excuse. IT WON’T WORK. Besides, all those routines your sister made you learn will only benefit you when you are older and dancing in the Chicago clubs. The running man? The Tootsie Roll? THE ROGER RABBIT? Please. You’ll need to shoo the ladies off with a stick. But give credit where credit is due: your sister taught you everything. Without her, you’d still be doing the Moonwalk.

The other thing you’re going to need to know is how to fight. I don’t mean punching and kicking. I’m talking about a psychological type of fighting that your big sister will most likely become a master of. It will throw your game off considerably, and you’ll be in timeout before you know what happened. Here’s how it works: your sister will quietly make you so mad you’ll hit her. She’ll let out a yell sprinkled with fake cries, and you’ll be sent to your room. Your sister will fight this way for as long as she can, so it’s best you learn to counter this attack early.

Look, it’s not going to be all fighting. There are going to be summer night’s catching fireflies, and snowy walks home from school throwing snowballs. You might even set up a community where Barbie Dolls are neighbors with Storm Troopers and Transformers. Although, be warned, if there’s a war, you’re going to want Barbie on your side. I don’t think a Storm Trooper even reaches Barbie’s hip; legs for days on that one.

If there ever comes a time when you both get sent to your rooms, what you can do is talk to each other through the heating duct. “It’s all your fault,” your sister might whisper through the vent. “We would still be watching Different Strokes if it wasn’t for you.”

Here’s where you’re going to want to remember to fight quietly. Your sister is just trying to rile you up so you’ll yell, then maybe your mom will give you more time in your room, and your sister will get to watch Arnold say, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” for the three millionth time.

There I go telling you about fighting again. I’m sorry. The truth is, it’s hard to be a human being, and sometimes it’s hard to get along with other human beings, especially those that are closest to you. But your daddy, my little brother, is my first memory. I was two years old, wearing green overalls and a yellow shirt, sitting on the stairs in my house when I learned I was a big sister. I don’t remember going to the hospital, but I remember my dad holding me up so I could see beyond the glass wall, to my brother, Geoffrey Theodore. I remember nothing before him.

I might be exaggerating, but you won’t meet bigger Stevie Wonder fans than your daddy and I (though I swear to you I liked Stevie first). Once, your dad and I were at a wedding where a Stevie Wonder cover band was playing. They played all the hits: “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” “Superstition,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” However, your dad and I were interested in one song of Stevie’s, and one song only: “As.” We knew all the words, including the part where Stevie sort of raps and sounds like an ogre who visits Sesame Street.

While the band was on break, your dad and I walked up to the stage, leaned towards the group and said, “Um, excuse me? Will you please play, ‘As?’” I’ll never forget the look on their faces; a mixture of surprise and humor at the two wide-eyed twenty somethings asking to play Stevie’s greatest song of all time. The rest of the night, they’d play the first few chords and your dad and I would gasp and jump on the dance floor, ready to do the Electric Slide. Then they’d giggle and say, “Nah, nah,” and shake their heads. Your dad and I would slump our shoulders in defeat, laugh, and start dancing. Because after all, it was Stevie Wonder, and you can’t go wrong with a Stevie Wonder song.

It was a fantastic night.

I guess the best advice I can give you is despite what your fabulous older sister tries to torment you with, she thinks you’re pretty fantastic. She might not say it often, but she’s thrilled you’re here. You two are going to have a blast growing up together. Trust me, I know.

But like I said, you have enormous shoes to fill.

I love you, Baby Boy Lewis.

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky—ALWAYS

Until the ocean covers every mountain high—ALWAYS

Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea—ALWAYS

Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream.”


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Longform Podcast #148: Anna Holmes

When Readers Listen_Twitter


For this month’s installment of “When Readers Listen,” Abbie and I are writing about The Longform Podcast, #148: Anna Holmes. You can listen to it here.


What it taught me about reading: In regards to online reading, it seems we are in a culture where a lot of what’s written is written in a tone that sounds like screaming.  This summer in particular, I’ve been running the movie Network’s famous line, “I’m mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” in my head. It seems as though the reaction to any story is always outrage, and nobody can ask a question about something and not get blown to bits on the internet. As I listened to this podcast, I thought about this reactionary effect that’s come about lately. It makes me sad.

What it taught me about writing: My favorite part about this episode was the anecdote Ms Holmes shared about an essay topic she pitched regarding the parallels between the protagonists in Harriet the Spy and To Kill a Mockingbird. First of all, I want to read this essay.  Second of all, she said that this topic had been marinating for years.  I was encouraged when I heard she thought and thought about a topic before she wrote about it.  I worry there won’t be time to write the stories I have in my head, but the way I like to write is slow and steady. I have never been able to process a thing quickly, so hearing a writer allow time for an idea to sit was encouraging.

I also liked Ms Holmes advice on getting started: “Put something down on paper.” I always feel better once I’ve written a sentence or two.  I can work with what’s there.  It’s what hasn’t been put down that aggravates me.

Finally, Ms Holmes said she doesn’t re-read her work. “It’s over; it’s done,” she said.  I re-read everything I’ve written that’s been published, especially when I think I can’t write another word (which is every day). I re-read it and say, “See? You did it. You can probably do it again.”

Favorite quotations: 

“What sorts of stories do young adults want to interact with and encounter?”

“You don’t have to be interested in one thing.”

“Write the site [book, essay] you want to read.”

“Twitter is exhausting.”

Make sure to hop over to Inkwell and Images to read Abbie’s thoughts on this podcast.


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When I was a kid, I would have this ritual I would go through before I left a place. I think it started in sixth grade, and I think it started by accident.  Mr. Bitoy, my sixth grade teacher, sent me on an errand; probably it was to get something from the office.  Since I’d been at Longfellow Elementary since Kindergarten (Go Lightening Bolts! Go Bears!), I knew the school well and decided that, while I knew the fastest route to get to the office, I’d take the long way instead.

I didn’t do it to waste time. I was doing it because I was remembering.  There’s the sixth grade teacher’s work room, where Mrs. Schultze would let me eat lunch with her on the days I said I was stuck with my writing. She ate sandwiches filled with vegetables and drank Diet Rite, and I would tell her that I wanted to write stories, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. There’s the 5th grade girls’ bathroom where Ms Savage came and found me crying because we were cleaning and organizing our desks and I didn’t know what to throw away and what to keep. She gave me a big hug which was a big deal because Ms Savage was no nonsense. She didn’t have time for hugs and that sort of froo-froo business, she told us. She showed us the beauty of an onion peel under a microscope; her red nails clinked on the knobs as she adjusted them for us so we could really see what we paid no attention to. Ms Savage would move on to teach high school, and we’d see each other occasionally in the hallways. She’d give me a nod and I’d nod back.

There’s Mrs. Carey’s room. Mrs. Carey, my 4th grade teacher, had to be the classiest teacher I knew. She was eloquent. She talked to us about standing up straight when we spoke. Mrs. Carey is probably the reason I wear high heels when I teach.

In second and third grade, we were in “pods;” huge warehouse type rooms that were divided into four classrooms. I’m not sure what the point of the pods were.  Maybe the classes were supposed to integrate in some way. Or maybe it was to show students that look, you’re friends are out in the open doing the same stuff you are. I don’t know, but I didn’t like 3rd grade and I can’t remember why.  I think it had something to do with long division.  And in 2nd grade I got the word “special” wrong on a spelling test. I was supposed to write the correct spelling three times. Maybe it was five.  I don’t know but I erased what I wrote, put the “i” and the “a” in their correct spots, then brought my paper back to Ms Hartmann and told her she’d made a mistake. I wrote special correctly.  She apologized and changed my score and I went back to my desk and sat down, triumphant. Ever since, every time I sat in a Sunday School or Youth Group devotion and heard about how bad cheating is (there were three sins to stay away from growing up: cheating, drinking, and you know the third), and how sad it makes God I wondered how I had the guts to lie and get away with it. It felt like an inside joke between me and God. Anyway, I never forgot how to spell special and I still feel eight every time I write it.

There’s the 1rst grade room where we had our own bathroom that I never used but loved when somebody else would because I could hear everything, and sometimes somebody would be in there and start to sing and I would squeeze my legs with my hands to keep from laughing. There’s the Kindergarten room, where Mrs. O’Brien told us about the Letter People, and during snack somebody broke their celery with peanut butter and raisins and started to cry and Mrs. O’Brien said, “Oh, wonderful! Now you have two!” We were all in awe of her brilliance and beauty. The day we learned we were going on to 1rst grade and she couldn’t be our teacher anymore we cried and cried.

That’s what I’d do when the snow and ice started to melt, and we began walking to school without mittens and hats; our jackets unzipped because there was no wind chill and 35 degrees felt like a heat wave. I knew spring was on its way and soon it’d be summer, and next year I wouldn’t be at Longfellow.  So as I walked to  school, I would contemplate ways to walk around the building during the day so I could remember.

I did this in 8th grade. I did it my Senior year of high school. And once I learned to drive, I would do it at every summer’s end the night before school started.  I’d put in the driving mixtape I made for that summer, and drive around to the places I’d been, collecting memories.

Tomorrow I go back to work and so here is my metaphorical walk and car ride through summer. I’m sad that I haven’t written a story about each picture, and I’m worried that if I don’t, I will forget. But then I remember how I cheated special, and I wonder if when I did that, I made a deal with God. I would get a perfect record, but the residue would remain; like the lead that imprinted on my eraser when I rubbed away my mistake. When the time is right I’ll look at what remains I have and see if I can craft something with them. Until then, the memory is held by the hand that holds me; no matter what it is I’ve done. Maybe that’s what a gift feels like.

This girl jumped off the diving board into deep water.  She said she’d never do that.


And this one is learning how to dive.


We went to OBX.

IMG_0076IMG_4018_2IMG_4032I love this one of Chase and Hadley. They’re discussing skim boarding.

IMG_4054_2It reminds me of this picture:



If you’re in OBX the best coffee around is Treehouse Coffee. Here’s a picture along with my very rough draft of my “Stealing Grace” essay that I didn’t think I would finish.  I never believe I’ll finish any of them.


We drew pictures over lunch at the Portrait Gallery.

IMG_1521And went to the zoo.


I learned to eat crab this summer. First lesson, put that mallet down. Geez, you’d think I was from Chicago or something. Never use a mallet to eat crab. You pull it apart with your paws like an animal.

Don’t get in the middle of the fight.  Just smile, and write about it later. IMG_20150711_194151609_HDR

I’m telling that entire table what a bunch of trouble makers they all are.IMG_20150711_182619947

We saw Mount Rushmore.


IMG_1563We drove through an eye of a needle.

IMG_1570IMG_1571Harper lost her first tooth in a bookstore. (If you’re ever in Estes Park, Colorado, please do yourself a favor and stop by Inkwell and Brew. The coffee is so good I want to cry and the bookstore is well stocked.)

IMG_1576We visited Notre Dame, one of my favorite places in the world.



We were in Michigan, and Hadley and I took our first WERQ class together with one of the best instructors around (Mallory Feyen, baker and dance extraordinaire).

We went to an Orioles Game.

IMG_1608There were alleyway hangouts all summer long.

IMG_1615We took bike rides around the new Town Center. Maybe it’s a Town Square. I can’t remember.

IMG_1630And we spent time with old friends.  These kids have known each other since they were babies.

IMG_1664It was a fine summer. I’ll hang on to the dregs as I put my big girl shoes on and turn the page for the next story; hoping remnants of these days show up when I’m looking around for something special.

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My Week In Words

IMG_1646I can still feel how good it felt to write one of my first blog posts. It was about Hadley’s lack of napping, and I was so frustrated because I couldn’t get her to sleep more than 45 minutes. I sat down to write about it, and in my writing, I dug up something humorous in my voice. It was therapeutic to craft something that I thought would only be sad and frustrating, but turned out to be more than that. This might be why I can’t stand blog posts that start with, “This is the hardest thing to write.” Just write the hard and see what happens. Make the old lady scream, and all that. No matter how long it takes.

IMG_1647No creativity until there’s boredom.  Amen.

IMG_1648This week I learned what lexicography is, and I made a little compilation of words project for my students to work on throughout the year.  They’re going to love it.

IMG_1649I’d say probably.

IMG_1650I’m about to step into fall with the fresh residue of summer all over me next week.  Teacher in-service begins, and what will feel like five minutes later, I will meet a new set of students. I’m equal parts nervous and excited for what’s to come.

Also, are you reading Kinfolk?  It’s one of the best magazines out there. You’ll read it, and you’ll find an abundant amount of reasons to enjoy life. Also, writers, read it with a pen in hand. There are lots of ideas for stories waiting in those pages.

How about baking a cake? My sister-in-law, Mallory, makes the best white cake with fruit scattered throughout it that I’ve ever had in my life.  Let me tell you a secret: I’m not a cake person.  Pie’s my jam. But this cake turned my world around, and Mallory, who is an assistant pastry chef extraordinaire at Nantucket Baking Co, was nice enough to share her recipe with the fine readers of Notes by Callie.  Here it is:



Homemade Vanilla Cake Recipe:
Yield: One 2-layer, 8-inch round cake
5 large egg whites (150 g), at room temperature
1 whole egg
1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
1-1/4 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces
And then for the inside of the cake I used a Chantilly Cream which I made using 2 cups of heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Whip up the cream and add the sugar and vanilla towards the end. After a layer of cake and Chantilly Cream I then plopped down a bunch of fresh berries.
The Frosting I used was Italian Meringue Buttercream. (maybe a bit more on the advanced side of the frosting spectrum)
Ingredients and Directions for that are as follows: (kitchen scale needed)

1 lb sugar
4 oz water
8 oz egg whites
14 oz butter, soft and cut into small pieces.
1 tsp vanilla extract.

In a medium sauce pan, add 1 lb sugar and 4 oz of water. Heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. Boil until the mixture reaches 243 degrees F or 117 C on a candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, beat 8 oz egg whites in a stand mixer with whisk attachment until they reach soft peaks. With the mixer running, VERY slowly beat in the heated sugar/water syrup. Continue beating until the meringue is cool and forms firm peaks. When that is ready, little by little, add the soft butter one piece at a time. When all the fat has been incorporated whip in vanilla extract. Whip until the buttercream is smooth. (The mixture will appear curdled at first but keep whipping and it will become smooth.)


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Reading Journal Sale and Free Worksheet!

Of course you’re busy thinking about school supplies and lunch boxes.  Last week, Hadley, Harper, and I were getting into the car to go somewhere and Harper said, “The wind sounds different.  It sounds like fall wind.” We listened for a second to see if we could hear the difference between seasonal winds, and I swear I heard the sound of sharpening pencils and pops of three-ring binders.  School is a-comin’.

But why not get the kiddos ready (and dare I say excited?) for the stories they’ll sit with when they’re in school?  How about a little creative preliminary exercise or two?

There’s no doubt the Superhero cape is a favorite among readers.





Or, how about making a scrapbook of the stories you read from a character’s point of view?



And poetry. There’s never a bad time to think poetically.




There’s still a few days left of summer, and to celebrate those remaining days, our journals are on sale.  Plus, Becky designed a Superhero coloring page that we are giving away for free with a purchase of an Elementary or Middle School reading journal.


Design a cape for yourself and a cape for one of the heroes you met in a story. Worksheets will be emailed to (print as many as you like!) upon purchase.

Here’s to finding all kinds of heroes in the last stretch of summer

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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been – Celena Roldan Moreno

Where GoingBeen Series

I suppose I could introduce you to Celena without talking about myself, but I don’t want to. I met Celena on a soccer field behind Percy Julian Junior High during lunch break. I was talking to Chris York, a kid I’ve known since I was six, when Celena walked up to us and said, “Hey.”

Junior High is a strange and lonely time, and I’d sort of settled into that loneliness. I don’t remember being terribly sad about this, but I can still feel a dull pinch from those days of not knowing where I fit in, why I didn’t fit in, and when it would be I wouldn’t feel this way anymore. Celena had transferred from Emerson to Julian, and the reasons she transferred is her story to share, but I bring it up because while I’m thankful she came to Julian, the move she made points to her bravery and faith that when something isn’t working, she will try something else until she finds what does work. The day Celena and I met, there wasn’t a hint of desperation in her voice; no sign of insecurity. Just a fantastic smile, and a friendly, hilarious girl looking around at her world to see what will work.

Celena and I worked. We were all the cliches you can come up with when you think about best friends: two peas in a pod, partners in crime. Celena sees the world through a lens that notes the strangeness and the loneliness in the world, but does not settle on it. She works with it, shines a light on it, and somehow makes it beautiful.

That’s a little on where Celena comes from, but here is a bit on what she’s doing and where she’s going.

celena rally

  1. Can you talk a little about what you do, how your career evolved, etc.?

As is the case with many children and young people, I always remember wanting to do something that would help people. I think I originally wanted to be a teacher but ended up pursuing social work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Madison was also not just any social work program but a university with a strong history of social justice and involvement in the women’s rights movement and the anti-war protests of the 60’s and 70’s. I was able to gain a knowledge base that helped me understand that helping people involved not just wanting to help them but knowing a community and empowering people to use their own voice, skills, and talents to change their own lives and communities for the better. Having two parents also in the field of helping others was also definitely a motivator both consciously and subconsciously I am sure. After leaving UW, I started at a transitional housing program in Chicago before accepting a position at Erie House as the preschool social worker. Looking back now, I know that I am able to speak more directly about our children and families because I had an opportunity to work with them directly. I sat across from the single mother that was going to school and working full time and counted on the child care that Erie House provided. I got to meet the man that became a United States citizen through Erie House and was able to start his own business and provide for his family. This gives you an important perspective when your nonprofit career becomes more administrative and focused on fundraising and policy initiatives. You need to continue to remember who the policies are impacting.


  1. You have recently been appointed a board member on The NCLR (National Council of La Raza), and Mayor Rahm Emanuel nominated you as a member of the Community Development Commission. Can you tell us a little about both of these appointments, and how they will affect the work you are doing?

It was very exciting to be appointed by Mayor Emanuel to sit on the Community Development Commission. This commission reviews and recommends the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds to the Chicago City Council. This commission is directly involved in the economic development of the city of Chicago and evaluating areas to be redeveloped and also determine when TIF financing could and should be used to assist in private redevelopment projects. I believe I will learn a tremendous amount about economic development in addition to learning more about all the neighborhoods in Chicago, their strengths and needs for growth and stability. This appointment is also important because as a Latina there is still a great deal to be done in the Chicago with the lack of Latinos in the highest levels of city administration, boards, and commissions. I hope to be able to provide a thoughtful, diverse, and strong voice from a community perspective. The National Council of LaRaza is the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. Erie House has been a NCLR affiliate for many years and this board appointment will allow me to continue our advocacy and policy partnership on a national level. Latinos are now the largest minority group in the United States, representing over 16% of the U.S. workforce. Latinos are the largest ethnic and racial group in Chicago Public Schools and are 1 in 4 in schools throughout Illinois. But we are dramatically underrepresented in high positions in business, government, and politics. NCLR is the voice and platform in the fight for equal rights, access, and representation for all Latinos.

joseph and me

Celena with her son, Joseph.


joe and I inauguration

Celena and her husband, Proco Joe Moreno, Alderman of Chicago’s 1st Ward.

  1. Besides your work, you are a mother and a wife. I remember once about five years ago, I sent you a frantic message telling you that I was on my way to a writing class I’d just signed up for, and it was in the MORNING so I had to get a BABYSITTER and on my way to the class I saw a FIRETRUCK WITH ITS LIGHTS ON, and OH MY GOSH I’M TURNING AROUND BECAUSE I JUST KNOW IT’S HEADED FOR MY HOUSE HOW COULD I BE SO SELFISH AND LEAVE MY GIRLS?!?! You wrote back and said, “Calm down and breath. And because it’s you, take another breath.” I remember you saying what I am doing is not only OK, but it’s good I’m doing it. You gave sort of a, “it takes a village” talk to me that helped. I was thinking about that conversation early in July during the walk-out Erie had. This last year has been my first year back at work after having kids, and one of the many blessings I experienced were the number of creative, talented professionals who helped me be a mother AND be a teacher. I am not making a case for a mother to work outside of the home if she doesn’t want or need to. However, a thirty second glance of your Executive Director on the Erie Neighborhood House homepage, and one cannot argue that you help women figure out what they’re good at and get them where they need to go to use their talents for the city of Chicago. Not only that, you provide a space for their children to learn and be nurtured while the mothers work. We all want to make a financial contribution to our families, but Erie helps both women and children see themselves differently, and I think that’s why I was particularly upset that funds were taken away. Can you talk a little about your experience becoming/being a mother and how work came into play?

 My first thought in reading this is that regardless of all the good work that I get to be a part of, I don’t feel any less guilty when Joseph says to me “Mom, can you get off your phone!?” However, for the first 8 years of Joseph’s life I was a single mom and so there was not choice about whether or not I was going to work full time and therefore some of the guilt that women in two parent households encounter was not necessarily at play. From very early on, I have been able to say to Joseph that in order for us to have a home, a car, or for me to buy him new soccer cleats every 20 minutes because his feet keep growing, I have to work! Now, I am getting to see that he is also benefiting from seeing the type of work that I do. I took him this year to do voter registration with me and he stood in the cold for over two hours and got 3 people to register to vote. He could not believe how many people walked by and ignored him which made getting just those 3 voters even more worthwhile. He sees me in the office but also at protests and my hope is that as he gets older he may remember that I was often busy or working but he will know that it was for something very worthwhile.
celena megaphone

  1. I’ve known you for almost thirty years now, and I can’t remember a time when either of us said, “When I grow up, I want to be ________.” (Maybe you told me, and I wasn’t listening because I was too concerned with the boy with the spiky hair. Sorry about that.) However, one thing I do think about is that neither of us ever seemed to be too concerned about failure. Speaking selfishly, thinking about my friendship with you, I realize how much trust and belief in myself I had when I was around you. I sort of muster that trust up from years ago when I’m doing things I don’t think I can do. I’m wondering if you can address what role failure and trust play in your day-to-day life.

My biggest fear is failing Erie, mostly not doing everything I possibly can to protect my staff, the organization, and most important the children and families we serve. In my professional role some of my most significant failures have been the ones that I have learned the most about both professionally and personally. Sometimes when things go really wrong or the risk you took completely backfires, you can be surprised by your ability to pick yourself back up and possibly stand alone through a period of time or think creatively for a new solution or plan. Unfortunately a lot of my job and role involves politics and individuals that can often have racist or discriminatory beliefs or thinking or have their own personal agendas and interests leading their focus in life and work. Therefore I don’t usually operate in a space of trust as much as I do in working based on my values and convictions and influencing others to do what is right for communities in need regardless if I trust what they say or do. When you cannot trust or there is a lack of trust in your work or life, it can be very depleting and so it is critical to have at least some individuals that you can put your trust in and that can help replenish your spirit. I am very grateful for my family, close colleagues that I trust and rely on to keep going.

  1. What advice would you give to people who are interested in doing what you’re doing?

So what would I tell someone going into Human Services in Illinois? I would probably say “Move to another state or Drink heavily!” But seriously, I get asked this question a lot and regardless of the disregard and attempted dismantling of human services that is happening before my eyes and unconscionable way that the poor and vulnerable are being cut off by our state, I still can’t bring myself to tell young people to forget social work and go into accounting. Everyday I am still so grateful to work at Erie House with some of the hardest working, most compassionate people I have every known. To have learned, laughed, and cried with some of the greatest community organizers and community developers in Chicago. And to know that I have made a difference to at least one child, one father, one mother, or one family. I will say that you have to want to do this work with your heart, mind, and soul. It is not work for the timid or uncertain. Leadership is easy when you have 50 people standing behind you but real leadership is when you stand up and look behind you and you are alone. But I know that I am in the middle of doing the most rewarding and significant work I will do in my life.

  1. Last month, my friend Cara ended her interview by telling people that if they can’t do anything, they can always read because it will make them feel less alone. What book or books would you suggest to “Notes from Callie” readers that had an impact on you? They can be fiction or non-fiction.

I have always loved reading and while there are some really important books out there right now related to my work such as How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, I really love being able to escape from my daily life with non-fiction like The Secret Life or Bees which is one of my favorite books of all time, The Help and I am always looking to relax and decompress with great young adult reading like Looking for Alaska or what I just finished reading, Eleanor and Park, because my best friend Callie recommended it.

10347088_10152867044069873_2341159949424636110_nThank you, Celena! It is a pleasure to know you and to have grown up with you!

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My Week In Words


IMG_1616IMG_1617I read Life of Pi this summer, and these quotations, both from the same page, seem to be nice summaries of the way writers can come to the page. I hope I’m never a writer that confirms what you already know. I hope I always see the world differently after I’ve lifted my pen from the page, and I hope you see higher or further or differently after you’ve read my stories, too.

Also, the story begins with the premise that, after you’ve read Pi’s story, you will believe in God. We all know the ending, I thought, so the fact that the boy lives doesn’t seem to be proof that God exists.  I don’t mean to sound trite, but I guess I’ve read that arc too many times.  There has to be something more than the fact that we know Pi lives through this terrifying boat ride, is what I thought as I read.  The first quote, the one about bringing something to our stories in order to understand them, I wonder if that’s the miracle. I wonder if that’s the proof that God exists. He’s not going to do it for us, though. We have to meet him somewhere. Is it in the story we meet Him?

IMG_1622If you like, my essay, “Stealing Grace,” is on Relief this week.  I write about my friend Meg Jenista, failed DIY pursuits, the Prodigal Son, a homeless man sneezing on me, and why writing feels like stealing grace.  All in one essay. I’m not sure I pulled it off, but I gave it a try.


Here’s a book to look out for.  Writers, readers, teachers, people who adore words – be on the look out for Runyan’s new book.  I was asked to write a blurb for How To Write A Poem, so I’ve been reading the proof all week.  It’s outstanding.  You’ll want a copy for you and all your friends.


Are you looking for a good blog to read?  Do yourself a favor and check out Stephanie DiMaria’s poetry and prose on her website, Beautiful Dust. She and I teach together, and it is an honor to sneak in a few words with her in the hallway during the middle school breaks.  I’m looking forward to doing that again, soon.


Have you heard about the Coffee+Crumbs shop?  Prints and cards are for sale, and they are gorgeous.  Personally, I’d love to read the above sentence every day for the rest of my life.

IMG_1621Need something to collect those places you’ve claimed from stories you read this summer? Becky and I still have a few more Summer Reading Journals.

Hope the summer is going well for all of you.  Thanks for reading!


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Rip Currents

What is hitting me in the face with the force of a semi-truck is the fact that Hadley is growing up. Third grade is not Kindergarten. Third grade is showing hints of a stage that I am not feeling ready for.

Like all the stages, the getting them to sleep stage, the learning how to walk stage, the potty training stage, it is hard to navigate. Specifically because it is hard to tell what Hadley is ready for. Sometimes I think she understands something, but it turns out she doesn’t. Hadley is rolling her eyes and testing out sarcasm, but she doesn’t always use it in the right spots. There’s so much to explain to her.

Take, for example, the day Hadley, Harper, and I strolled through Target. We passed the PJ/underwear section and Hadley took note of the posters of the models above the merchandise.

“Mom,” she said grabbing my arm so I’d stop. “Did those girls know their picture was being taken?”

“Yes, they knew,” I said.

“So, they just put on their Superbuns and said, ‘Take my picture?'” (No, I have not told Hadley and Harper the proper term, and yes I am the worst mother in the world.)

There are a lot of ways to respond to Hadley’s bafflement. I could have explained advertising to her. Or modeling. But I get so side-tracked at Target and for this kind of conversation, I need all my capabilities. I can see myself beginning to explain this fact of life to Hadley, whole-heartedly yet rationally, and then pausing mid sentence because, “Look at those adorable pajama pants! I need them. Or, Ooooo! Turquoise tights with rhinestones?!?!  Of COURSE I need those, too!” So instead, I just said, “Yes, they put on Superbuns and said, ‘Take my picture.'”

I know I’m treading scary, shifting waters. I know I’m swimming near the rip current, and I have no idea what I’ll do when it takes me away from shore.  Here’s another example:

The three of us spend some time in the National Portrait Gallery a few weeks ago.  Hadley points out all the naked people. With the eye of a marksman, she points out all the exposed private parts of each sculpture and painting in every single room we walk into.

“They knew they had no clothes on, right Mom?” Hadley says, giggling uncontrollably. “They said, ‘Look!  I have no pants on! Paint me!'”

“I don’t know if that’s exactly how it happened, Hadley,” I say, giving forth a little more effort then I did at Target. (Apparently, I’m not as easily distracted in a museum.) I begin to explain that this is art, for crying out loud, but she is off running to the next naked person, showing Harper and the other two kids we went with what she’s found.  It’s a proud moment for me.

Nakedness and all that comes with it is so difficult for me to know how to handle with my kids, so I make Jesse do it.  He’s ordered all sorts of books with titles like, Amazing Me! and he reads them to the girls while I stand in the other room and laugh because I’m apparently 8 years old, too.

I have not read these books, but I figure that since Jesse is a scientist, and a thorough one at that, he’s covered all the basics using these books.  Clearly, Hadley and Harper know everything there is to know and my work is done.

I learned in the bathroom at the National Portrait Gallery that this is not the case.  We’re at the sink washing our hands because yes, every time we go to the bathroom, even if we “are only here to try” as Harper always says, we wash our hands. Every time. Yes, every time.  Turn the damn faucet on.

“Mom, look, there’s a diaper machine in here, except it’s for adults,” Hadley says. “Why do adults need diapers?”

“Do I need soap, Mommy, since all I did was try but nothing came out?” Harper asks.

“Yes, Harper, you need soap. Please put soap on your hands,” I say and in the same breath say to Hadley, “Those aren’t diapers, those are pads.”

“Like pads of paper?” Harper asks, scrubbing her hands.  She has so much soap on them it looks like shaving cream.

“That’s good, Harper. Go ahead and rinse.”

“What are pads?” Hadley asks.

“They’re for your period.” I say.

“What?” Hadley looks at me blankly.

“You know,” I say, “when the egg doesn’t fertilize?” And I can’t believe I’m doing this but I’m pointing to where I believe my fallopian tubes are and I SWEAR Jesse read this part in Amazing Me! Didn’t he? Didn’t he read about the menstrual cycle?

“I thought a period is what you use at the end of a sentence,” Harper yells over the hand dryer so everyone in the museum including the sculptures can hear.

“No,” I sigh. “It’s not.”

“Well, what is it?” Hadley asks, fiddling with the dispenser on the machine and looking at me. “What happens?”

So over the hand dryer I explain what a period is. It wasn’t so bad. At least, Hadley and Harper seemed fine with all of it. I felt a little shaky.

Jesse texts me a few minutes later asking me how my day is going. Here’s how the conversation goes:

Me: We are at the Portrait Museum. Also, I told Hadley about periods because I thought she knew. Probably gonna have nightmares tonight.

Jesse: Periods just came up in a random conversation?

Me: We were in the bathroom and she wanted a quarter for a diaper.

Jesse: What is she going to do with a diaper?

This is proof that there is no way to have a rational conversation about this subject. You’re reading a conversation between a guy who got his PhD at Notre Dame and a gal who thinks ALL DAY LONG how to use words to express herself and the two of them have been swept away on the rip current that I’m pretty sure is going to take us way out to sea.

I don’t answer Jesse’s question. Instead, I send him pictures of our day:


IMG_1533IMG_1534IMG_1539IMG_1537IMG_1540IMG_1547IMG_1523Jesse texts back, “Looks like you are having a fun time.”

“We are,” I respond, and I remember that the trick to surviving the rip current is to not try to swim against it. Stay calm, that’s the first rule. Try and float, and hopefully it’ll drop you from its wake and those ferocious waves will take you back to shore.

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Out West, On Friendship

We’ve been to South Dakota and Colorado.





While we were in Colorado, we stayed with my friend from college, Alison, and her beautiful family.  Our girls became fast friends, each of them crying the night before we had to leave (Hadley in private, Harper full on sobbing in front of everyone). They have promised to be pen pals, and I hope to help them keep that up, because the Railsback girls are good friends to have.



During our visit in Longmont, we packed a picnic and spent some time sitting on the banks (and wading in) of Saint Vrain Creek, part of the water system that flooded a few years ago. Jesse said it was the worst flooding in 2013, and looking at the pictures of the streets split in two alongside the mountains, I believe it. Even in its calm state, the river rumbled along sweeping sticks swiftly down its path.


We spent the first twenty-five minutes telling the girls, Hadley especially, that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES can they go any further than a certain point because YOU WILL GET SWEPT AWAY. Hadley looked at me like I was ridiculous, as she always does when I tell her she cannot do something. Then she looked at the bridge a few feet away and watched as teenagers jumped from it into the water. They plunged down and stayed down so that it seemed everyone on land held their breath in hope for a few startling seconds until they popped up and we all let out a collective “HOORAY!” Again and again the teenagers did this; whooping and hollering and Hadley watched, then turned to me, dipped her toe in the rapids, then her foot, then took another step until the rapids brushed against her knees and I pleaded, “Hadley stop. You can’t. Please, stop.”

I hate disappointing Hadley. I hate telling her that she cannot do something. I hate that she doesn’t trust me. I hate when I am a nag; constantly saying, “No, no, no.”


Jesse took Hadley across the bridge and onto the other side to explore with Clifton (Alison’s husband), while Alison and I stayed and watched the rest of the crew.


Alison and I picked up right where we left off, whenever that was. I talk to her the same way I have since that day in January 1995 when we met at Calvin. Of course everything has changed, and nothing has changed. She’s still Alison and I’m still Callie.

We flinched every time a teenager jumped, and we continued to talk about our lives: kids and husbands and friends and family and all of it.

“Do you realize,” Alison said as she pointed towards the water,” that there is about a two foot space that the water is deep enough to jump into? Look at those rocks.” She was right. If you were to jump, you had to be precise in the movement, and get yourself right into that space. Otherwise, you would get swept away with the rapids or, well, I don’t want to describe the other. Alison kept her eyes on the teenagers and our kids as we talked. I watched our kids and continued to flinch each time I heard the thunk of a body splashing then the rapids that threatened to take it away.



A dog jumped in, chasing after a ball or a stick, and got stuck in the rapids.  It was struggling to swim and Alison made a move to go in after it.  The dog’s owner got to the dog and returned the pup to safety, so Alison didn’t end up in the water.

“You have to do that for dogs, too?” I asked her, referring to her profession. She is a doctor.

“It’s instinct,” she said. “But I’m bound to the promise I made.”

Teenagers jumped, Hadley sat across the water from me on a large rock and watched, the younger girls were making a fence of rocks in the river to try and block the rapids. Alison and I laughed; there’s no way that water can be stopped.

“OK, so if the owner hadn’t gotten to the dog, and you went in, what could I do to help?” I asked, rocking from side to side.

“I’d probably yell, ‘Callie! Head towards that rock and meet me there!'” Alison pointed to a boulder (I guess it was a boulder; you know I don’t know these things, but it was sturdy enough for me to stand on and jump off of if I needed to). I’ll admit, I was excited at the prospect of a rescue. “I can do that,” I told her. “I’d be ready for that.” I believed, and as I type this, I still believe that I am strong enough to swim down that river and save a dog with my friend of twenty years.

We didn’t talk about it, but I thought about all the ridiculous stunts we pulled at Calvin. Stunts that were stupid and a little dangerous and I won’t go into detail here because of course all students who go to Calvin only think about offering our hearts to God promptly and sincerely, right? And of course there’s not a thing dangerous about that prospect. I started to wonder if Alison and I weren’t creeping up on 40, if we were with our group of friends from Kalsbeek-Huizenga, if we were just beginning to imagine what it was we would do with our lives, whether we’d jump off that bridge. I think we would.

There’s something magnificent about a friend who knew you before you became a mother, and can still talk to you the way you were before you became a mother. Alison talks to me like I’m funny, like I’m confident and bold; she talks to me and I feel 19 again. I wish I knew how to let that side come out so Hadley could see it.


At home that night, Alison got out scrapbooks from college.  Hadley and Naomi sat on either side of me and looked at pictures, and we all gasped and giggled and Hadley said, “YOU did THAT? That was YOUR idea?”

“YUP,” I said ever so proudly, “I sure did.”

She couldn’t believe the photo of me, smiling, holding a hand-written message on the back of a napkin: I LOVE JESSE. She put her finger on his name and said, “That’s Daddy,” and I leaned towards her and said, “I hadn’t even spoken to him when I wrote that.”

Hadley rolled her eyes and smacked her forward. “Listen, girl,” I said. “When I know, I know.”


Alison put on Jock Jams while dinner was prepped.  At each song’s beginning, I said, “I know this one! I know this one! What is it? What is it?” Alison and I wouldn’t know until the first word started and then we’d laugh and sing along and the laughter felt like relief; of course you remember this, of course you know all the words.

I taught Hadley how to do the Tootsie Roll that night. She wore my Calvin hat while she danced.

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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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