Never-Ending First {Coffee+Crumbs}

Hadley and I are walking into her orthodontist appointment: the one where she’ll get a metal bridge—I guess that’s what it’s called—attached to the roof of her mouth. It’s going to straighten out her very unstraight jaw. It’s going to make her drool. It’s going to cause her pain, and Hadley’s going to have to learn how to chew and swallow with a wire in her mouth. I don’t know how long she’ll need the retainer. I don’t know if this is an anecdote to future braces. All I know is that the appointment is at 4:40 and we are walking up the stairs holding hands because Hadley is nervous.

A very pregnant woman walks down the stairs as we walk in. I watch her as I hold the door for Hadley, and my uterus skips a nostalgic beat. I smile at this soon-to-be-mother walking towards all the firsts: first contraction, first push, first swaddle, first Target trip with the baby, first smile, first coo, first night sitting outside the baby’s room wondering if the cry-it-out scenario was really meant for her child. Surely the authors of Baby Wise hadn’t heard this child’s screams. If they had, they’d re-write the book.

I watch this woman walk all the way down the sidewalk, unlock her car, and get in it. Meanwhile, Hadley pushes the button for the third floor outside the elevator. “It’s here, Mom,” she calls. I trot towards the elevator to catch up to Hadley, and together we head to her first orthodontist appointment.

The appointment is not going well. Hadley’s sobbing while the nurse fits her retainer in her mouth. As we were warned, Hadley’s drooling, and she can’t figure out how to swallow when it feels like a piece of hard candy is ready to drop down her throat. The nurse walks away, giving us a minute alone. I wipe away Hadley’s tears and promise her any Minecraft toy she wants.

“Why do I have to do this again?” Hadley asks, wiping her face of spit and tears. Hadley is a rational girl. Cause and effect resonate deeply with her. Today, she is asking me for a reminder: tell me the reason I have to endure this, and I’ll do it. I can’t remember why. Is it to get her teeth straightened? Or is it her jaw? Really, though, is this life or death? Or is this just cosmetic? Why did I agree to do this?

I mumble something lame and blame the dentist; he ordered this. Hadley nods, not satisfied but resolved that it has to get done. She lays back down in the chair, closes her eyes and extends her hand, so I can hold it. The nurse walks over and finishes the job.

You can read the rest on Coffee + Crumbs, here.

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Writing Haiku Poetry and Drawing Comics to Remember What We’ve Read

I don’t think I could pick my favorite part in Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, but my  7th graders and I had a pretty fantastic time reading the scene where two rats fall from the ceiling in Mrs. Baker’s classroom while she’s being observed by BIG IMPORTANT PEOPLE. That’s just the beginning of what happens on the Ides of March.  There’s a track meet, there’s a subtle and perfect middle school romance clip, there’s a chase, there’s a crash where the rats that started it all meet their totally bloody and disgusting demise.  Reading it is all around one of the best ways you can spend time with 7th graders.

I don’t believe I am exaggerating when I write that Schmidt’s stories are truly gifts to adolescents (well, adults too, but that’s a post for another day).  My students laugh at all the right parts, they gasp in exasperation when people do something stupid or disappointing (I don’t care if that Mickey Mantle bit is true; he will alway be a jerk in my book after reading this story), and during discussions I can tell that these characters matter to the students. The kids identify with the people they meet on the page.

I think it’s important to talk about things like plot and theme, and analyze character and dialogue, and I do that as much as possible, but I want to make sure that when they’ve encountered a top-notch story, my students have a chance to sit and play around with it.  Which words really bring out the action of the story? What images come to mind when you’re reading this story?

One way to get the kids involved is to have them summarize the story. Another is to read it out loud (or take turns reading it), stopping at certain points to analyze and discuss the story. I’ve done and will do both of these in my classroom, but last week I had a different idea for the students: A Haiku Comic Strip.


The rat race scene is about twenty paragraphs long, so I assigned each student one paragraph. They were to create a five square comic strip, and write a haiku given the paragraph they were assigned.

First, they picked out all the verbs in their reading.


After sketching a comic strip, they were to write a haiku poem that captured that paragraph’s main idea.


Here are some of the 7th grader’s Haiku Comic Strips.




It was a fun, creative way to summarize text (if I do say so myself).

And in case you’re interested, I have a guest post on the IMAGE blog, “Good Letters.” You can find it here.

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On the way to church Sunday, Hadley asked if either of us knew someone who had a photographic memory.  Jesse and I both admitted that we’re sure we’ve known people with this sort of memory, though we couldn’t name them.

“I’m reading a book with a girl who has a photographic memory,” Hadley told us as we rounded the off ramp from the Beltway and merged onto Georgia. I am always excited to turn on to Georgia; the street where I used to stop for coffee on the way to work, the road that takes us to Jackie’s, a little sidebar that serves drinks and cute little hamburgers and Jesse I would hang out there after work sometimes. Georgia’s the street we faced as we stood in the OB/GYN’s office listening to our girls’ heartbeats for the first time. It’s a busy street. It’s a good street.

“They call the girl ‘Cam’ because her name is Camden, but also she has a photographic memory so the ‘Cam’ is short for camera. When she needs to remember something, she looks at it and says, ‘Click.'”

Jesse told Hadley he remembers things around images, but he didn’t think his memory is photographic.  “Your mom’s memory is episodic,” he added.

“So, what does that mean?” Hadley asked as we turned off Georgia and drove down a block with relatively new town homes. At Christmas time there’s a house on the corner that puts up a small ferris wheel and Snoopy, Santa, and I think Baby Jesus spin slowly around and around. We look for it every year.

I told Hadley that I can remember dates, times, and events around episodes in my life. “It’s not the most useful type of memory,” I explained. “For example, if I’m taking a quiz on, let’s say, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is rare I will be able to answer any of the questions.  However, I will be able to tell the teacher what I was eating while I studied for the test; whether or not the window to my bedroom was open; what I was wearing, and which songs were playing on the radio while I studied.”

Hadley and Harper were amused by my anecdote, so I added, “The type of memory I seem to have produced solid Cs, and if I had the right teacher, entertainment.” They giggled and we drove the last leg of our trip, past the house with so many cars in its driveway that we’ve been making up stories for almost nine years as to why they’re there (a birthday party, a bar-b-que, a graduation, a wedding).

“The problem with my memory,” I said as we pulled into the church parking lot, “is it’s difficult for me to know what’s important.” Jesse put the car in park and I said, “It all seems important.” It would be a shame to let it all go, I thought, but I didn’t say that out loud.

The first time we visited this church, Jesse and I arrived an hour late. We thought it started at 11, but in the remaining weeks of August, the church was on its summer schedule, and services began at 10. We sat in the lot and peeked in past the trees the church is nestled in. We saw the pastor walk down the aisle, cueing the end of the service. We heard faint notes from the organ. “We could go in for the coffee and cookies,” Jesse suggested.

“No way,” I said. “I hate that part. Besides, how stupid is that going to look?” I asked him. “Hey, we totally missed the service, but pour me some coffee and I want a donut!”  We laughed, pulled away and spent the afternoon downtown wondering what in the world we would do with ourselves in this place.

I was ruminating over the problem with my memory as we walked into the service. These days, knowing for sure what it is that’s truly important is hard for me to figure out. Take blogging, for example.  Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of “Ta-Ta For Now” posts from bloggers.  They say the blog has served it’s purpose, that they feel relieved thinking they don’t have to write on it anymore. I can’t say my blog has served its purpose because I don’t know what its purpose is, and thinking about not writing blog posts brings me no relief at all.

I’m teaching more than I was last year. Last week, at a rather low point, I realized I have more preps than I had when I was working full time. I remembered my mid-twenties self trying to manage life with a full time teaching job and almost laughed at her.  What was she stressed out about? Teacher has been difficult this year. I dare use the word brutal. I feel totally inadequate and incapable, and I have no solutions except that I’ll do it and I’ll figure it out. I was talking to Jesse about this last week; fantasizing a different life. He walked along with me while I spun my tale and then I stopped and sighed.  “If what I am saying happened,” I told him, “then I wouldn’t be able to teach Romeo and Juliet.  That’d be so sad!”

“Well, now you know how you feel,” he said.

I’ve said yes to too many things this year, and all of them seem important. I sat down in church with this thought and it felt like I landed with a crash and a thud.

The first hymn we sang was “Fairest Lord Jesus.” Surely I’ve sung this a plethora of times, but the first time I remember singing it is January 24, 1999, eight days after Jesse and I were married, and one day before my first day of teaching. It was our first visit to the South Bend CRC. We sat towards the front on the right hand side of the church. I remember loving the melody because it was familiar and it was beautiful. I love hymns, and I have very little patience for praise music. I remember singing and hoping I would be at home in this place.

I don’t remember any of the words except the part about Jesus shining brighter than the stars that twinkled in the sky. I remember that because the first unit I was to teach had to do with the universe. We would read Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Maybe I was planning a solar system project, I don’t remember. I know I was planning on taking my students to the Adler Planetarium; not so much because it was a perfect fit for the unit, but because it was in Chicago and I would take any excuse to go to Chicago. But I was excitedly startled by these words about Jesus and the twinkling stars because the school wanted me to teach “intersections.” That is, we were to find ways where we saw Christ intersecting with what we are learning in school. “Here! Here it is,” I thought. “I can show the students this hymn. We can read it like poetry. I can say, ‘Look, no matter how much you learn, how much you don’t learn, Jesus surrounds us all the time.’ Something like that, anyway. I’ll have to work it out when we get home.”

On Sunday, Jesse and I sang the hymn again. We were on the right hand side of the church, close to the front. This time, we had two kiddos in between us as we sang. Instead of South Bend, Indiana, we were close to the border of Washington DC.

The words hadn’t changed, and I can remember January 24, 1999 with a palpable stir in my stomach where it seems all my memories sit and wait; equally important, waiting for their time for me to figure out why.

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Sharing Poetry; Even When We Don’t Understand All Of It

In my 7th grade class, we are reading The Wednesday Wars. Holling Hoodhood, the main character, has to stay with his teacher Mrs. Baker on Wednesday afternoons. (This is because he is Presbyterian, and does not have any religious classes to go to like his Catholic and Jewish friends.) They begin to read Shakespeare together, and he gets bit by the bard’s way with words when he reads The Merchant of Venice.  Holling tells his readers that he loves the music of the language so much that he “decided to learn [the words] by heart – even if [he] didn’t know exactly what they meant.” I adore this line. I’m not sure, but I think the words hold a lot of why I teach and read and write. If you love something, why not spend some time with it? Is it OK to share something even if you don’t understand all of it? I hope so.

Holling’s line gave me an idea for the students.  They would memorize a sonnet of their choice written by Shakespeare.

I copied a bunch of sonnets for the students to choose from.  Once they found fourteen lines they could hang out with for a while, they got to work. We would practice three couplets a day, writing one on and index card paired with a little picture on the other side. After that, they would pace around the room whispering words like, “rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,” and, “Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface, In thee thy summer ere thou be distilled.” I think it was time well spent.

Before they left class each day, they wrote down what they learned as best they could.





They also completed a packet defining words they didn’t know, wrote a few lines telling me what they think their sonnet is about, and drew pictures of Shakepeare’s poetry.













Last week, they stood in front of the class and recited their sonnet.  I wish I had pictures to  show you, but I don’t think that’d be OK.  However, I hope I gave my students a chance to listen and get caught up in the music that Shakespeare created. Holling Hoodhood is right: it’s enough to give you shivers.

I think I was in 1rst or 2nd grade when I had to memorize Psalm 23 for Sunday School. I remember bouncing a ball on the sidewalk to the time of, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” I remember enjoying the image of God leading me beside still waters. I remember being afraid of walking into dark valleys, but I bounced the ball and continued to memorize the Psalm that promised God was with me all the time.

I was terrified of this line: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” I thought those words meant I was proclaiming that I didn’t want God.  I couldn’t understand why anyone would want me to say that. It wasn’t until 8th grade, when I learned the use of the semicolon, that I was saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not want.” I was so relieved.  “Thank God for the semicolon!” I thought.

I didn’t understand the entire Psalm, and probably, if I were to study it now, I would find mysteries in it that wouldn’t be solved with a quick grammar lesson.  But I like the music of the Psalm. I like the imagery. I like the promise.  I will continue to hold onto the words – even if I don’t know exactly what they mean. I hope my students do the same thing with Shakespeare.

{October 7 is Random Acts of Poetry Day.  It’s about painting poetry in the public square, and I think we did that in my classroom last week.  If you’d like to participate, click here for ideas and more information.}

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An Expecto Patronus on Back-to-School Night

If there is one thing that’s fabulous about keeping a blog (or journal, or planner, or whatever you like that helps you record your days), it’s being able to go back to previous Septembers and read what was going on, nod your head and say, “OK, you were in a funk then. OK, you don’t handle transitions well. OK, you feel like a failure and a fraud, blah, blah, blah. But look! You wrote it down. You kept working even if you felt miserable about all of it.  So, do it again.”

I’m walking through these days right now with more to do than I can shake a stick at. I have to give something up and I don’t know what it is. Or I’m afraid of what it is. Before I decide though, I’m feeling miserable and working because it’s how I work out my faith, I guess.

Last night was Back to School Night. It was Back to School Night at Hadley and Harper’s school, too.  Plus, Hadley had soccer practice. So Jesse and I did what we do: we planned an easy meal for dinner, juggled where we’d be and when we’d be there, and I stood in front of parents whose children I teach while he listened to our kids teachers. I came home, poured myself a Super Big Gulp glass of wine and watched One Tree Hill.  First though, here’s what I had to say to the parents:


I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and a BA in Education from Calvin College, a husband who is a hurricane storm surge modeler at NOAA, and two daughters named Hadley and Harper. For those of you who are familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird, I wanted to name Hadley “Radley” but my husband thought I was taking it too far.

Hadley and Harper and I are reading Harry Potter before bed, and the night before the first day of school we read about Harry learning how to create Expecto Patronus, the spell that brings along a guardian shield that holds all your good feelings so you can fight off what you’re afraid of. Harry wasn’t sure he could do it; he worried that the things he was afraid of were too strong for any good thoughts and memories he had. On the eve of our first day of school, after spending every minute together wandering through summer days, Hadley, Harper, and I empathized with Harry. Would we be able to handle what the school year brings? Would I be a good teacher this year? Would Hadley have a good year in 3rd grade? Would Harper enjoy 1rst grade?

I looked up synonyms for “expect” and “patron,” in my thesaurus after the girls went to bed: await, gather, hope, trust; friend, angel, guide. The words soothed me, and my prayer for this year, the one I have for my girls, your children, and myself is that angels gather around us as we attempt things we don’t know if we can do. That we await and hope, and trust for good things to rain on us during fearful and overwhelming times. And most of all, that we believe that because we are made in the image of God, we already carry that light with us; even when we can’t see or feel it. It’s there; and so is God.

Our new administrator asked us during a teacher in-service when it would be that our students would experience beauty in our classrooms. I use his question to guide my lessons. In 8th grade, we are studying William Goldman’s interruptions in The Princess Bride. We decided that he keeps breaking from the story to tell us about a memory because this story mattered to him. I asked the students to think of a story that mattered to them when they were younger; a picture book, a favorite Bible story, and write two interruptions into it. The students brought in titles such as The Giving TreeIf You Give a Mouse a CupcakeAmelia Bedelia, and the story of Esther. The point is to write expressively, but also to share the beauty the experienced in the story with others.

In 7th, we are reading The Wednesday Wars, and we are studying this paragraph: “And do you think I complained about this? Do you think I complained about picking up old lunches that had fungus growing on them and sweeping asbestos tiles and straightening Thorndike dictionaries? No, I didn’t. Not once. Not even when I looked out the clean lower windows as the afternoon light of autumn changed to mellow and full yellows, and the air turned so sweet and cool that you wanted to drink it, and as people began to burn leaves on the sides of the streets and the lovely smoke came into the back of your nose and told you it was autumn, and what were you doing smelling chalk dust and old liverwurst sandwiches instead?” (Gary Schmidt, The Wednesday Wars, 24-25)

We talked about finding beauty in negative situations and then I asked the students to try what Gary Schmidt did. That is, surround a negative moment with beauty. One student is writing about smelling fresh cut grass while mowing a lawn he did not want to mow. “IT’S GINORMOUS! Nobody wants to cut a ginormous lawn on a summer day,” he told us. “But I like that fresh cut grass smell.” Another student is writing about having to clean out her dad’s car before going for ice-cream. “All the stuff in it was my brother’s, and do you think he helped us? NO!” As she cleaned, she saw a cardinal. “I never see cardinals. They’re my favorite bird.”

We are also creating a scrapbook of concepts we’re studying in Latin and where we find those concepts in English.  The other day, we underlined all the prepositional phrases in Psalm 119 and this paragraph: “No, he can’t win. But sometimes I wonder if perhaps Shakespeare might have let something happen that would at least have allowed a happy ending even for a monster – some way for him to grow that would as least have allowed a happy ending even for a monster – some way for him to grow beyond what Prospero thought of him. There is a part of us that can be so awful. And Shakespeare shows it to us in Caliban. But there’s another part of us, too – a part that uses defeat to grow. I wish we could have seen that by the end of the play.” (The Wednesday Wars)

I asked the students to draw a monster that needs to be defeated and describe it using at least one prepositional phrase. Maybe we don’t think it’s beautiful to take a look at what is negative or monstrous about us, but when paired with Psalm 119, we see a God who surrounds us and knows us so well that perhaps He believes that monster just needs a little attention and love to become something different.

May we walk though this school  year expecting angels to surround us as we do all the difficult and scary things we don’t think we can do. -Amen.


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{Trying} to make Friday after school snacks fun, like happy hour.  This past Friday I whipped up some chocolate pudding for the girls and threw in some rainbow sprinkles because just about everything tastes better with rainbow sprinkles. The girls were off the walls a few minutes after eating it, but it was Friday and they’d finished their first week of first and third grade, so I think that being off the walls was in order.

{Thinking} a lot about my Grandpa Ayanoglou lately.  I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned him here, but he was Greek and my grandmother was Armenian and when my mom was two years old, they fled to America. There’s a line from a poem I read last week about how you don’t put your kid in the water unless you know it’s safer than your home. I’m not one for dabbling in politics or that sort of thing, but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my Grandpa Ayanoglou. I am thankful for his audacity.

{Worrying} about the black widow spider that may or may not be dead. She’s been living on our front step all summer.  Once, after coming home from the library, Hadley, Harper, and I marveled at the cicada wrapped up nice and snug in her web.  “Where’s the spider?” Harper asked. I said that it probably went to go get its friends to help with the eating of the cicada. “It’s like Thanksgiving!” I said.  Had I known the spider was who she was, I wouldn’t have stopped to make chit chat about what she caught.  I wouldn’t have walked up to the front door at all.

Which brings me to my next thing: We can’t use the front door until we know for sure that spider is dead.  This is ridiculous and materialistic I know, but I adore our front door.  It makes me happy every time I get to walk in or out of it. In the almost 17 years of being married, this is the first front door Jesse and I have had, and walking outside to the car, or especially walking down the block to the library, Starbucks, or the Black Rock Center for the Arts makes me feel like I’m part of a neighborhood.  It makes me feel like I’m in The Cosby Show, and I know I’m not supposed to say anything good about that show but that’s how my front door makes me feel.

Which brings me to my next thing: Maybe I live in La La Land. Maybe I refuse to look at the danger and evil that lurks in the bushes, on TV, outside my front door. I submitted  a piece recently and the editor told me it was nice but there wasn’t any urgency to the story. That was the problem with my writing in 2010 when I began to take it seriously. “Good, but no conflict.” “Get to the conflict.” “Can’t have a story without any conflict.”I’m so tired right now trying to manage school and motherhood and writing, but that comment bit hard. Probably because I’m afraid I’ve lost my urgency and I’m more afraid I won’t get it back.

So there’s the status update. A little chocolate pudding. A bit of history, and something lost.

September 2007: My first post on Notes from Naptime.

September 2008: Off the Hook.

September 2009: Hadley’s first bee sting.

September 2010: Preschool Orientation for Hadley. How was it five years ago?

September 2011: Summer Hangouts.

September 2012: Trying to compare writing annotations to running.

September 2013: Dabbling in the second person.

September 2014: One of my favorite posts from last year.

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A Manual For Molting

In second grade, Hadley watched caterpillars grow into butterflies.


This probably says a terrible amount about my educational endeavors, but I remember doing this project in college. I remember walking to the science building early in the morning and again at the end of the day to check on the caterpillars.

IMG_1687I find it peaceful thinking about Hadley walking into her classroom each morning, taking a look at the caterpillars and writing down an observation. What a nice practice, to walk into the world and take note of a thing or two.

IMG_1688It seems you’d have to get pretty close to a bug to count how many legs are missing.

IMG_1689C’mon Hadley, give the gal some credit.  She’s growing into something new.  That can make one pretty hungry!

IMG_1690It’s always good to have a friend along in the world who can help you wonder some more about what it is you’re looking at.  There are so many mysteries growing up, and so many of them can only be interpreted by good friends. Preferably, sharing french fries and Diet Cokes.

IMG_1691Those darn messes. It’s hard to see what it is we’re becoming when we are such messes. It’s hard to even believe we’ll get to whatever it is we’re supposed to be. And the questions! When will this be over? Why is this happening, anyway? When will I be the thing I’m supposed to be?

IMG_1692Yes, we need more food. Snacks are always a good rule of thumb.

IMG_1693It’s OK you’re not quite where I thought you were, L’il Jack. You’re taking form. You’re getting ready. I will decorate your name so that you are in it. You have been identified.

IMG_1694Typical Hadley: I was so excited for this one thing to happen. WHEN IS THE NEXT THING GOING TO HAPPEN?!?!?!

IMG_1695I remember, though, hearing about what it would be like to be older – in middle school, or high school – and thinking, “When is that going to happen? What will I look like then? What will I be like?”

IMG_1696Oh man, would I LOVE to know what happened to Davion’s caterpillar.  I’ve been hearing about this kid since Kindergarten, and I have no doubt that there is a story behind why he has a new caterpillar. I supposed that’s the thing about shedding skin and molting; you can’t stop it from happening and sometimes it’s hard to take care while it happens. There are so many things to hang on to when you’re becoming a butterfly.

IMG_1697Oh, dear.  What is going to happen?

IMG_1698Jack did it!  He became a butterfly! Tell you what, I’d need a drink too, if my skin was cut and bleeding after crawling out of a chrysalis.

I love this, “The top of the wings are pretty. The bottom are not.” Yup, sounds like the beginning of adolescence. Almost there, but not quite. This is the magic time though, don’t you think? We get to watch those wings form completely; maybe we get to help shape the design.

IMG_1701I got tears in my eyes when I read this one. “Go!” the little girl in the picture is saying as the butterfly makes his way into the world. “But look out for your brother, because one of his wings is broken.” I love Hadley for so many reasons, but this page sums up her personality so well: Go play in the world because it’s for you, but look out for everybody. Take care of them if you can.

If I could be an extravert, I would want to be just like Hadley.

My thesis for graduate school is titled “A Manual for Molting,” and I was reminded of the stories I wrote reading Hadley’s journal. The longest story, the one I’d love to make into a book someday, is about growing up (a new concept, I know) and I use cicadas molting as a metaphor. It’s my favorite thing I’ve written, and I don’t know if it’ll ever see the light of day, but in the last scene, the main character is walking towards home after stepping off the “el.” She’s with her best friend and their PROM dates. The four of them say their goodbyes and the main character is left sitting on her front steps listening to the oak trees sway over head and the rattling of the train rushing towards the city.

“I’ve had fun with you,” the main character’s PROM date whispers.

“I know he doesn’t only mean tonight. I know he’s talking about the red pepper flakes, the world’s largest hop-scotch, the beach, and rollerblading, the ski trip, and the business of growing up together.

“I’ve had fun with you,” I return.

It’s enough. We don’t need to say more because we don’t know more. We’ve had fun together and whatever comes next, this part won’t change.

Cicadas leave their adolescent skin behind so they can fly into adulthood. But those old shells will cling to the fence, holding perfectly the form of what was, while the body has moved somewhere else.


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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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