Romancing the Rat

Here are a couple of behind the scene shots of my essay, “Romancing the Rat” for Coffee+Crumbs. IMG_2450

IMG_2451You’ll learn a bit about my marriage, an unwanted visitor, and Bryan Bliss’s book No Parking At The End Times I think it’s a suitable little piece for Valentine’s Day. Read it here.

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Around Here in January

IMG_2245IMG_2331Around here, we’re fully immersed in Tolkien. Harper’s practicing Rune, and I’m reading about things larger than hornets. Never would I have picked this book up if I didn’t need to teach it, which once agains proves why someone ought to hire me to teach a class on scrubbing toilets or keeping house in general because if I have to teach these things, I care about them, and I will do them.

I’m over at Relief Journal talking about my experience with Mr. Tolkien’s Bilbo and dangerous dragons if you’d like to have a read.


IMG_2271Around here I have a new nephew and his name is Gus Bray. He’s the cutest Gus Bray there ever was. I can’t wait to see what it is he’ll do and who he will become.

IMG_2262IMG_2285Around here we’re practicing our ballet and taking special goalie clinics.

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Around here we spent an afternoon in Georgetown perusing the shops and stopping in Dean and Deluca for something steamy to warm us up, and something delicious to fortify us as we walked along the best sidewalks there are in DC.

IMG_2352IMG_2360IMG_2362IMG_2367IMG_2370IMG_2371Around here we had ourselves a time at the Smithsonian. We made inventions, we scratched records, we made some icons, we rode giant tricycles, some of us played with puppets, while others enjoyed the biggest ice cream sundaes known to man.

IMG_2377IMG_2380Around here we have snow! Loads and loads of snow, and I am thrilled. You can’t call it winter if there’s not a proper snowfall. My friend and one of my editors, Laura Brown, took a look at this picture and wondered if we are in Narnia. You know, I think we are; which must mean I am on the brink of beginning a really great adventure for which I am totally unqualified for. I can’t wait. I wonder what will happen.

 

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Don’t Leave Me This Way

One of my favorite parts about road trips is listening to music in the car. I don’t mean the mixes – I guess they’re called playlists these days – I’m talking about entering a new state, hitting “scan” on the stereo, stretching my legs out on the dashboard, and listening to what music pops up.

Our road trips usually consist of driving back and forth to the Midwest, and driving away from the Chicago skyline brings with it a pain that I need to sit with in silence until I can’t see the Sears Tower anymore, so I end up playing my “scan the stereo” game once we hit Gary, Indiana. I don’t know why, but Indiana and Ohio play great 90s music. I can always count on spending a few hours with teenage Callie before we hit the Pennsylvania border.

 I was a bit of an unassuming sneak as a teenager. I relied on my reputation as “the quiet one,” because I knew most people mistook being quiet for being meek. I wasn’t meek.

Just a taste of what’s on Makes You Mom today. Click here to read more.

For those of you interested, I got in touch with one of my old high school teachers, Mr. McBride, for this one.  I wanted to make sure it was OK I wrote what I wrote.  He’s the best; not because he said I could tell this story, but because he helped me write and name a few things here and there in 1994. Here’s to wonderful teachers who don’t give up on us.

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True Fiction

“Dear My Tooth Fairy,” Harper writes. “I have a very wiggly tooth. I just wanted to warn you. It started hurting in school. If you don’t know, ‘school’ is where kids learn.”

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“Anyway, I have a soft lunch but I am still worried. In case you weren’t using your sensors, I wrote you. Send a message on the back tonight. Date: 12/3/15 (December 3rd, 2015)  – Harper. P.S. It’s okay if you have a late note.”

The note stayed under Harper’s pillow with a flashlight, a pen, and in case her Tooth Fairy  needed more room to write, another piece of paper until January 1, 2016 when Harper grew concerned that her fairy had forgotten about her.

“Dear tooth fairy,” she writes again. “I HAVE A VERY WIGGLY TOOTH. I was wondering why you didn’t come last night when I also wrote to you. I was just kind of suspicious. I was just afraid something happened to you like you’re not the real tooth fairy of mine.”

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On the first of the New Year, Harper came downstairs terribly upset. “Daddy,” she said crying, “I don’t want my tooth to fall out because I don’t know where my Tooth Fairy is. She hasn’t written me back and what if she doesn’t know how to get from Colorado to where we live now?”

Harper’s first tooth popped out in Colorado, in a bookstore called Inkwell and Brew. It’s the loveliest of bookstores if there ever was one, and I was so lost in delight looking at the paper and the books and the pens and the prints that I said to Jesse, “I think I could live here if it weren’t for the grizzly bears.” That’s when Harper’s tooth fell out, and even the lady behind the cash register cheered despite the blood that comes with the loss of things we outgrow. Anyway, this was why Harper was afraid her Tooth Fairy wouldn’t find her.  It is a long way from Colorado to Maryland.

I wonder about those eight lines that Harper left blank before she signed her named and added a “PS” about Hadley. Was there too much to wonder about, and was it too hard to put down what she wondered about on paper? Articulating what I am trying to believe in is one of the most difficult parts about writing for me. I wish I could give her some advice on what to do when words don’t come for what we want to believe in. Maybe a blank space and a faith that it’ll be filled someday is what we ought to hope in.

“Harper,” I said, “Tooth Fairies can only fly when they know their special kid has lost a tooth. She’s waiting, I know it, and I’m sure she wants to write to you, but she can only do that once that tooth falls out. She hasn’t forgotten you, sweet girl.” Harper sat between Jesse and I on the couch. We were watching the Rocky movies and Jesse paused it just as Rocky was starting his training all by himself at 4am in the Philadelphia cold; cracking four or five eggs into a cup and drinking them, then trying to run up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. “How could anyone forget about you?” I asked her and tickled her belly.

“Let me see that thing,” Jesse said and walked her over to the bathroom. Holding his hand, she stood in the light and opened her mouth.

“Is it OK if I just see how wiggly it is?” Jesse asked her.

“Uh, huh,” Harper said squeezing Jesse’s hand.

With his other, he popped her tooth right out.

“She’s on her way!” I gasped and clapped my hands. “This is so exciting!”

Harper pranced back upstairs, delighted, and in blue at the top of her note, she added, “Date: 1/1/16, Friday,” and, “I lost it.”

She fell asleep, and Jesse and I watched Rocky beat Apollo Creed. I cry every time I watch the Rocky movies. I roll my eyes at Downton Abby, but I sob watching Rocky. What is wrong with me?

“Did you notice that ‘Resurrection’ poster at the beginning of the movie?” I asked Jesse. “Why is Apollo’s last name Creed? What’s going on there?” I wondered out loud. “Did you know Sylvestor Stallone wrote all these?”

IMG_2243The truth is Harper keeps this note under her pillow. The truth is this note has replaced the other note her Tooth Fairy wrote her and put by Harper’s sleeping head in Colorado.  The truth is Harper took the note with her to Raleigh, and I didn’t ask, but I think she did it so her Tooth Fairy always knows where she is.

The truth is Harper makes me believe in magic, and that I can be anything I dare to imagine; even while I contend with my own grizzly bears in a big space where I can’t find the words but hope that my showing up every day to face them is enough.

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Currently

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{trying} to read aloud to the 8th graders this quarter.  I thought I’d start with Gary Schmidt’s latest book, Orbiting Jupiter because I think there are some similarities between it and Romeo and Juliet, which we are studying. I made this worksheet (above) for the students to fill out as I read because I thought giving them an exercise that is a bit free form but is still something to focus on would help.  Well, the first day was a disaster because in the first few pages the main character, Joseph, learns to milk a cow and apparently that is the equivalent to reading porn.  So I drove home thinking my read aloud was a terrible idea and why do I try so hard with this group when they make me so sad and miserable and why do I care anyway? I’m beginning to fantasize about doing desk jobs, or working in scrapbook stores. Certainly The Paper Source is a better fit for me, don’t you think?

The night before I teach this class I dream of grizzly bears.  It’s the same dream every time: I am begging Jesse to let us have grizzly bears as pets.  “Please!” I beg him, “I know I can tame them if I work hard enough.  I know I can bring the best out in them and teach them to be caring, loving creatures.”  He says, “OK,” and we let the bears in our home.  One night, I can hear them in our kitchen growling, and I wake Jesse up. “Jesse! Jesse!” I say. “The bears are IN OUR KITCHEN!”  He says, “I know. You need to feed them.” Then I wake up, breathless and terrified and remember what it is I have to face in a few hours.

Surely there is something wrong with my teaching; there is something wrong with me. I can’t figure out what it is, and I’ve never worked so hard in my life but it seems to get me nowhere. I can’t figure out a way to feed these bears and sure it’s a metaphor but each afternoon I drive home feeling as though I’ve been in a wrestling match for my life.

Anyway, I’ll try again because I have to.  Today, they will meet Sampson and Gregory, and if they thought the milking cow scene in Schmidt’s book was uncomfortable, I can’t imagine how they’ll react to this scene, and we haven’t even met Mercutio yet.

Then again, I’m reminded of Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and I think how crass that first scene is (I think the whole book parallels Romeo and Juliet). In fact, I almost put the book down after the first few pages because of all the swearing and the topic of what the kids were talking about.  Those teenagers though, turn out to be beautiful and afraid and important and they do some lovely things throughout the story. So sure, maybe Romeo is a jerk. Maybe Mercutio is, too.  Maybe Juliet is a tad melodramatic. But that’s not all they are, right? Calling teenagers what they are now and leaving them that way doesn’t seem right.

I suppose I am working with what is invisible, and I have to be OK with having faith that someday it’ll come out.  Right now, I’m having a hard time hoping for things unseen.

{participating in} Ann Kroeker’s Play Project.  I love Ann’s website.  It is filled with encouraging, inspiring, and friendly writing tips. Reading her feels like taking deep breaths, which I don’t think I do enough of.  I’m not a big stop and take deep breaths kind of girl. I’m more of a put your head down and get your work done and nobody talk to me kind of girl. Which is why I am participating in this project.  For the month of January, Ann is encouraging writers to incorporate play into their days. This was a great excuse for me to make a list of all the projects I’ve been meaning to start but never do because my work isn’t done.

{listening to} Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and Herbie Hancock’s “Best of Herbie Hancock” again. I was complaining to Jesse the other day that since we don’t listen to CDs anymore, I can’t ever hear full albums like we used to. Pandora always plays a mix when you click on a station (which I like, but sometimes a girl needs to listen to an entire album). Jesse introduced me to Rhapsody, and now I’m happy again.

{reading} Middlemarch. That is part of my New Year’s resolution. It’ll take me all year.

{hoping for} snow.  A few days ago, Harper ran outside, spread her arms out wide, and yelled at the top of her lungs, “C’MON WINTER! SHOW YOURSELF!”  Those are my thoughts exactly.

{an essay last month} “Angels in Ands and Buts” was up on Makes You Mom Christmas Eve.  It’s a reflection on the Christmas Pageant I was in charge of but felt I could’ve done a better job on.  I wonder about using gifts, a little bit about my failure as a homemaker, and finding a slice of redemption in my classroom.

Thanks, as always, for reading and for subscribing.  Happy 2016 to you!

 

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Advent Scrapbooks

After reading a post by Addie Zierman about Advent Junk Journals, I decided to take her ideas and have my students put together Advent Scrapbooks the last three weeks in my classroom.

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They took their prayer journals, which were file folders, split them in two, and bound them together with rings. I passed out excerpts from Luke, carols, poetry, and a few stories from Cynthia Rylant’s Children of Christmas, a lovely book I’ve had since 1985 when my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Ron gave it to me.

Throughout our days together, the students created a scrapbook as we observed Advent.

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We were studying dialogue, how setting can be used to create a mood or tone, and internal/external conflict throughout the quarter, so I had the students mark up the stories, carols, and scripture with their annotations on these characteristics.

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With each story, I had them do a little creative writing.

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I tried to read a different picture book having to do with the Christmas story at the end of each class.  I passed out worksheets with sentence starters so students could reflect on that story.  We read The Nativity.

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IMG_2154I love the response here for “something to tell God.”  The students were intrigued by the Gabriel in this book, that is for sure.

Here’s another response:

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We read Good King Wenceslas.

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IMG_2163The students took a look at the carol, “With Wondering Awe,” and we discussed what we thought that meant.

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IMG_2156IMG_2161The students chose a carol to design.

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We read a poem from the book Manger, and I asked the students to illustrate or write what it is about the way they were created that they could use to welcome baby Jesus to the world.

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I tried to get them to write something beyond, “singing God’s praises.” Not that this isn’t wonderful, but I wanted them to think how they could praise God through things like sports or play, etc.IMG_2157IMG_2159Throughout the semester, I’ve been continually bringing up this idea that beauty lies in the darkness; that we can find it in sorrow and fear. We made a Christmas tree with lines from the stories and carols, poems and Bible verses we read.  It’s called a “Beauty in the Darkness Christmas Tree.”

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IMG_2155I think it was a fine project, and I’m proud of the work the students did. I noticed that over the course of three months, they’ve gotten better at finding and holding onto what is beautiful while walking around in the dark. Reading through their writing especially, I am in love with the stories they came up with.  There is much more texture and nuance to their characters and plot.

I love this idea for observing Advent. For the original ideas, check out Addie’s post here.

 

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A Few Gift Suggestions

‘Tis that time of year, and in case you are looking around for great gifts, here are a few out in the world that I think are pretty great.

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Coffee+Crumbs calendar.  Each month has a lovely inspirational motherhood phrase, and gorgeous sketch. My favorite is the riff on Friday Night Lights: “Tired eyes, full hearts.” Order one here.

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40 Days of Art and Literature journals by my friends Becky Gilbert and Stephanie DiMaria. This is guided journal full of exercises to encourage creative prayer. Becky leads readers through doodle and sketch prayers, and Stephanie inspires with her gorgeous poetry. There are also literature and lectio divina prayers.  Order here.

This year, I made little books for my students.

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IMG_2129IMG_2130I took a line or two from their writing over the semester, and wrote it in the inside cover.

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IMG_2112IMG_2113IMG_2114I told them that I hoped this was proof that they are creating beautiful things in here even when they don’t feel like it.

I think a little booklet like this would pair nicely with our Summer Reading Journals, and so for a little Christmas special, I will throw in a booklet with a purchase of a journal for free.  If you have a sentence or two that a favorite young writer of yours has penned, send it my way with your order, and I will hand write it in his or her booklet.

Order the Summer Reading Journals here.

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A Walk In The Woods

My teaching buddy Erin recently took her students on a short trek along a patch of woods behind our school during their study of Frankenstein. “The world to me was a secret which I desired to divine,” Victor says in Chapter 2 of Shelley’s mysteriously haunting book, and off Erin took them to discover the divine on a rather misty morning.

Most of my ideas are stolen, and when I found out about Erin’s, I began to think about taking a walk into the woods with my 7th and 8th graders.  What excuse objective could I introduce that would reinforce good writing and reading skills?

We happened to be studying using our settings to create mood and tone, so why not try using the five senses in our writing to enhance the setting? We would do this in two different settings: in the classroom, and on our walk.

The first thing I told the students to do is simply collect data.  I handed out a worksheet and told them to write down a list of everything they hear, see, smell, touch, and taste in the classroom. Taste, I explained, could be great material for a metaphor unless of course they’re all chewing gum (which, let’s be honest, most of them are).  “No sentences, just lists,” I assured them.

We did the same thing on our walk.

IMG_2048(That cutie-pie on the right is my little guest student, Hadley Grace. She got braces a few hours before I taught, and was feeling sore and a tad shy about her metal wear, so I told her she could be a 7th grader that day.)

IMG_2052I challenged the students to point out the difference between this sort of path,

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IMG_2055What sorts of divine secrets would they discover on this route?

The path runs between the school and a cemetery. A fallen tree trunk marks the path’s end, as does the roar of cars along 370 that reveal we are still very near the Nation’s Capitol. We saw a huge bees’ nest swinging back and forth on a branch overhead. Someone wondered as we all looked, how the branch held a nest that large. A deer leaped in front of us and pranced deeper into the forest, turning around to look at us once it was safely in the brush. I tried to point all these things out, encouraging the students to describe what it is they are experiencing through sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste.

Once I start teaching a lesson, I begin to get anxious for the results.  Will the students produce quality writing after this? Are they fooling around too much under the fall sky and the bees’ nest that I think actually might be a hornets’ nest? Will they discover nothing divine? I’m taking them into the woods, and I’m leading them back out, but did anything change?

IMG_2056IMG_2057I decided on our walk that I can come up with the best, most creative ideas (stolen or not), but then I need to stand back and let the students decide what to do with what I’ve offered them.

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“Keep the lights off,” my 8th graders demanded when we got back to the classroom and it was time to write.  I did, and I stood behind them and watched them move their pens and pencils across the page and wondered why this group thrives in the dark. This group is terrifying and this group is lovely.  I don’t know how they pull beauty from their snickering and back talk and menacing attitudes, but they do. I think they are starting to trust me, though I can’t be sure, so I have to do what I promised myself I’d do during our To Kill a Mockingbird unit; give them my best every single day no matter what. It’s taken a toll on my writing, on my weekends, on my sleep, on my self-confidence, but I have faith that the smiles I get from them every so often, from the writing they shock me with almost every time, from the new hands that are raised in class that wouldn’t raise in the beginning, that seeds of better stories, a deeper peace, and a stronger confidence are being planted in the soil of fear and doubt. I think what I’ve discovered that is divine on my walks with this group is that they are phoenixes waiting for someone to tell them they are doing OK so they can rise; unlike Frankenstein’s stitched together human he was so afraid of. What would’ve happened had Victor nurtured what he created? How would things have turned out if Victor hadn’t been afraid?

In the meantime, we all keep on walking and writing.

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Baseball, Soccer, and Coffee+Crumbs

IMG_1916It is not easy to watch Hadley play goalie, and I wrote a little story about it for Coffee+Crumbs. You can read it here.

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Two Stories, One Post

I am excited to debut on Her View From Home this morning. I’m writing a little story about my sweet friend Angela.  It’s all her fault that I love fall scented candles.  Read more here.

IMG_2026And in case you weren’t sure, Hadley is currently 9 going on  14. Lord, help me. This has absolutely nothing to do with my writing (yet). I am just sharing a bit of news.

Over on Makes You Mom, I wrote one of the hardest essays I’ve written in a long time. It doesn’t matter how long it took me to write it, but there were lots of tears and revisions.  There were lots of crumpled up drafts and lots of “I’m walking away from this piece of….” well, you get the idea. I don’t need to use naughty words.  The essay is about a spider and a locksmith, and my struggle to come to terms with the stories I weave in my head. Don’t read it if you’re in a good mood. You can find it here.

Here’s a picture to cheer you up if you did read it. Who can’t be happy looking at those blue eyes? Also, it was taken on a cold Tuesday afternoon when we were supposed to be doing homework, but I decided ice-cream with LOTS of sprinkles (for me) was in order.

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Thanks for clicking over and reading my work.

 

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