Tag Archives: writing

Six Days Mushed Into One

I have been under the influence of a virus, which is to say sick.  Flattened.  Like somebody pulled the plug on my energy.  That drain feeling began while sitting in SST meetings last Thursday.

During this haze of lying under the covers, alternately dozing or sitting up to read Vernacular Eloquence I had a few appointments.  On Saturday I dressed and applied make up to go act chirpy and lead a seminar session on connected learning.  I was so grateful for the nice, articulate teachers who showed up.  They made it easy.  And I only forgot one writing piece in the presentation.

But afterward, I paid.  My energy dropped to all time record lows, like the temperatures in the mid west on winter nights.  I was glazed all afternoon.

And early evening I got a hard-to-decipher text from a writing friend, which led to a hard-to-understand phone call with her, which led to resolutely going out to a coffee shop. Not that I felt like it.

She told recent stories, mixed with past pain and went all over the place about writing insights from a recent workshop she’d attended.  I leaned on my elbows and listened.  I slumped in the high chair and listened.  I think that the virus made me not react so much and caused me to really hear her out.  I said a few things, but not much.  I drank hot chocolate and listened. Three and a half hours later, I drove her home.

I listened to her like my writing group has listened to me.  Without answers, without an agenda.  Just hearing, piecing it together, trying to get it all.  I think the virus helped me do that.  Yet I came home frazzled and worried whether or not I had been helpful.  Set back time for the health.

The next morning I was too tired to attempt meeting my pd partner in crime to go over my next prez at the bilingual academy.  I simply did not have the steam and besides it was cold and rainy.

My cat Mickey gave me the look this morning when I crawled back under the covers.  Like, sleeping again?  Are you finally evolving into a cat?

Monday a.m. I  propped myself on pillows and wrote an interim report my principal asked me for — right in the middle of finishing a cycle of intervention.  Why could we not wait until I was finished and had final data?  Monday was a blur, because I didn’t go in to work, but went to my doctor instead.  My set of symptoms did not qualify for the real deal flu and my low grade temperature did not qualify as a fever.  I felt like a real underachiever in the sickness department. But something obviously was going on. Up the fluids.  Get rest.

I got a pneumonia and a flu shot before I left, to take my mind off my sore throat.  I splurged on a bottle of extra strength Robitussin for nights.

And it completely exhausted me to have driven out to Kaiser.  But I had a note from my doctor placing my return to work at Wednesday, tomorrow.

It has been interesting barely knowing what day it is.  Just having one thing to do during the day rather than a gazillion.  Turning into a cocoon.

It all feels like one long day and night.  And perhaps, when the alarm goes off in the early morning, I will unfold my wings and bat about like a butterfly.  Or moth. Ride the exer-cycle and use the arm weights.  Make tea and get moving again.  And hopefully not be so zoned.

Join the workforce.  Make something of myself.

air fern bloom






Lorena Lopez. Response to Chapter #1, “Sustained Reading,” read aloud July 5th

Elbowesque response #4 (workable clay) intertwined with #5
re passage on pages 18 – 19:

So it is a Sunday, after the 4th of July mind you, and I am seated at my kitchen table with my ever trusty laptop when I realized that I would really much rather be eating ice cream with large gobs of Kit Kat in it than trying to crank out a response. And you see automatically I am giving this information via story.

I cannot help but wholeheartedly agree with Thomas Newkirk’s arguments (takes me back to a Saturday morning when Laura Brown and I met at Crema and she was so excited over this book, but at the time I did not fully understand why – well guess what? Now I do!). Even at this moment I am predicting that when I read this out loud that the majority of the listeners will try to cling to what I am saying via pictures in their minds or try to find the plot so that they can follow along…good luck.

To help, imagine this: David Letterman in some dark gray suit with a purple tie strolling on stage, waving, giving us that gap toothed smile as he takes a seat behind his brown desk, whips out a book and says, “Tonight I would like to talk about Thomas Newkirk and his book Minds Made for Stories: How we Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts.” Imagine him giving us a real serious look. “Now according to Newkirk, we tend to gather information best when it is told through narrative or stories are intertwined with it. Now that is such a simple idea that I don’t know why he had to write a whole book – the first chapter was sufficient!” The audience laughs. Letterman whips out a white note card and says, “So folks here we go, I will share my Top Ten Things of what I Would Like To Do With This Passage from pages 18 – 19:

10) Leave a copy of it in it teachers’ boxes and see if it leads to a massive educational overhaul where teachers teach reading and writing for authentic purposes and in authentic ways… Perhaps that hamburger and color coded insanity for writing would finally disappear…imagine that! (the audience laughs)

9) Ask myself, if we gear reading and writing towards narrative then where the hell is the rigor? Haven’t we been asking that all along?

8) Mail a copy to the textbook publishing companies (McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Harcourt Brace) to see if they will change their approach and forward a softcopy to the so-called “academic” writers, just to see their reaction.

7) Reincarnate John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson, invite them to a public roast and at the end let them read this passage! And yes Newkirk would be in the room!

6) Ask, is this really the reason why so many of us struggle to read informational writing? What about comprehension strategies – are they being taught to kids these days? What about text features? Does that go out the window? (in the back ground the audience laughs)

5) Wonder if this is the reason why I don’t own any informational texts other than The Onion’s Our Dumb World book.

4) Use it as a passage to be incorporated at the Advanced ISI 2015 session and have the participants respond to this response (the audience roars with laughter).

3) Ponder whether this might be another political movement that makes Americans come across as dumb, like saying, “Hey we don’t read informational texts unless they’re entertaining! We don’t understand it unless you start with ‘Once upon a time””

2) Reread it and make sure I truly understood what Newkirk was saying.

And the number one thing I would like to do with this passage is . . . drumroll please:

1) Ignite a movement of enthusiastic readers who refuse to read “boring” books, because that’s really the bottom line!” (the audience laughs and applauds).

Cymbals chime in the background, Letterman giggles and the lights dim, leaving me at my kitchen table, wondering if I should get the ice cream now or later.

Good morning, Asilomar

There is a crisp bright feel about the morning here in Pacific Grove, California where I am writing with the Marlin Free Writers.  Our ten-minute free write is a ritual that starts each session.

We lean into the journal write; one with a journal on her knee, others writing in journals on the table’s edge.  A sigh here and there.  Pens moving, moving.  Two keyboards clicking, clicking.  One writer on the floor with a laptop.  Coffee cups, water bottles and a soft light spilling into our little windowed conference room.

I hear a wood dove intermittently and I turned off the projector just now to cut the hum.  The morning is soo peaceful, clear and clean.

I have that kid-in-Kansas desire to be out of doors.  With long practice from my elementary days, I simply gaze out the window, noting the play of light on the trunk of an immense old pine.  It is up the road holding court from a stone wall embankment.  It’s branches spread out to one side and sweep down to the dry ground, which is carpeted with needles.

I can hear voices from other cabins.  But right now, I cannot hear the surf.  It is probably calm right now as the air is still.

The space here is lovely, but what is most elegant is teachers — coaches, leaders — all very busy people, are taking the time to put their thoughts into writing.  Free writing is the best exercise.  And giving teachers time and space to do that exercise has been the main point.

Letting ourselves think on paper can be a discovery.  Getting the writing muscles moving is as invigorating as those walks and runs we enjoyed yesterday afternoon down the long stretch of white sand backed by blue surf.

The timer chimes rang and I thought, “Awww…”  I felt like I was just getting into gear.

Good morning, Asilomar.

Third Grader

When my day finally concluded with taking WP friend to the 5th floor of the parking garage and driving myself home to Mom’s homemade turkey spaghetti sauce and salad, I noticed as we sat in the dark on the front porch one kid stood out in my mind.  Of all the third graders I sat 1:1 with and tested today this guy was different.

He talked a blue streak.  He was easy to engage in analogies and accounts.  He looked at me very closely after we had walked through the pods and taken chairs next to each other to read.

¨You’re old,¨ he observed.  He was looking at the lines on my face and kind of describing them with hand motions.

¨Yes,¨ I answered matter-of-factly, ¨I have grand children.¨ And I noticed him studying my face.

¨So when you see me at a distance and when we were walking I didn’t seem old, huh?  It was only after you looked closely at the lines in my skin.¨

¨Yes,¨ he mused and we got to the reading at hand.

Except that he wanted to talk about anything and everything.  He was almost a professional at looking for diversions.  When his reading record was done and we did our book talk, he had some difficulty with recall.  I asked him if I could show him something that will help in third grade and he assented.

I did my spiel about those little end marks, dots that mean one’s voice should drop and stop there at the end of the sentence.  I likened it to cars not stopping at stop signs or for red lights.

¨You’d get pulled over by the police,¨ he was quick and confident to inform me.

¨Besides that, if the police didn’t catch you, what might happen?¨

He wanted to act out the arrest.  He was heading for a tangent, so I quickly pointed out there’d would be car crashes.

¨And bikes!¨ he added.

¨Yes, so when you are reading and all this new information is coming in, you have crashes in you brain.  Ideas running into each other, if you don’t stop and think about one thing before you add in another.¨

I took my reading friend back to class, wondering how I will harness his verbal enthusiasm to serve his reading life.

The sweet delights

Is it wrong to eat Oreos for breakfast? I had a nice cup of green tea in my Contigo as I entered the hole that my writing cadre is using for brainstorming PD sessions at school sites. It is a glum place with no windows and no clock. I believe that serves two purposes: nothing to distract us and in case we get so caught up in our work, we won’t be questioning what time it is, thus it will be ok if we end the day at 6…or 7.
The room is also kept at a near freezing temperature with a thermostat that you can play with, but nothing changes even if you crank the thing up to 90 degrees (yes, we did that). It is so cold that one of our members showed up today with a large, fluffy, brown blanket that she kept herself wrapped up in like a human burrito. I will follow suit and take my purple blanket tomorrow. The green tea kept me warm until I finished it, so tomorrow I will take two Contigos…
But that was a delightful green tea experience. I uncapped the container, the steam coming out with the mild fragrance of bitter tea. I put my face over it and it lapped at my cheeks, almost as comforting as a massage. Then I took one of my Oreo cookies and dipped it into the hot liquid. Oh that was pure bliss as I brought it to my lips and nibbled it, trying to savor every crumb as I knew this would not last. Imagine that black hard cookie turning soft and just melting in your mouth. I did the same with the next three cookies (ok I am lying, I had a total of 5 cookies). You bet I savored every second with those cookies and the green tea.
When the last bit was swallowed, I gazed upon my writing group, just staring back at me as if fascinated. One of the members spoke up haltingly, “did you just eat Oreos for breakfast?”
Indeed I did and I have no regrets.


Working back from the glass of cava with Karen after our evening walk.  Her news is that she’s met someone in the neighborhood to date.  Looks very good on her.  Have to say I like her style avoiding the online stuff and dating a total stranger. Nice and easy works.

Before that I had a nice, easy supper with Dolores – soft tacos centered around flax corn tortillas that were very healthy.  And we sat out on the porch and I read aloud the introduction to Being Mortal, by Atul Guwandi.  Such a fine writer and a good subject for us to share the book.

Before that I got ladders and tarp into the room we now refer to as the spa, where the proper walk-in tub will be installed after it is fabricated at the factory.  I began opening up the cracks in the ceiling and wall plaster.  Odd that to fix cracks you open them up first before you fill, but that’s what works.  I’ve decided to continue the kitchen color scheme into the spa, which is Mint Condition green walls, white trim and a darker ceiling based on a piece of green pottery I like.  I remember how much I enjoy painting, although of course the biggest part is the prep.

Before that I made quinoa black bean salad for my school lunches…and started a crock pot of beans to BBQ.  Which I’d better check up on before I sleep.

Before that I had a healthy lunch after coming home from getting my hair colored.  A bit darker than usual but it looks nice and will last for a month without looking washed out. Rookie move, though, to have a 9:30 a.m. appointment because I missed the Baroque Hour on KDFC.  My favorite programming of the week.

And before that I was having tea on the patio, watering a few plants and I rode my cycle and did arm exercises.

Before that I awoke refreshed before the alarm went off.

2014-03-22 13.20.19

My Mother

It’s a Saturday night in the neighborhood.  Two doors down young people are partying, laughing and clapping while the BBQ smoke billows.  Across the street Cordell has tried out the bagpipes…still very bad.

Mom and I had supper on the patio:  BBQ chicken breast, Ceasar salad and rice with a bottle of chilled prosecco.  The cat got some morsels and the local hummingbird twitted at us.  Mom got a call from a friend which was nice, so I got out the orange chocolate squares.

We moved to the front porch to finish the prosecco and I invited her to hear me read the anthology piece, ¨My Mother¨ the four pages I wrote for my daughters after the frontspiece, ¨Mother to Daughter, Inspired by Langston Huges.¨

Whew.  Four pages that began, ¨ She became my mother on a summer night in 1947 in a berth car on a train from Frankfurt to Bad Nauheim, Germany.  She was living overseas with her mom and new stepdad who was a sergeant in the Fifteenth Army headquartered in Bad Nauheim.  When she and her lover tangoed in the club, everyone cleared the floor to watch.

When she knew I was in her, she took belladonna and went for a rough horseback ride.  Then she went to a German doctor who threatened to turn her over his knee to spank her and sent her home.

She brought me on a log, airsick flight to Arkansas, to a dinky town where she married my dad.  When I was born in the Search hospital, the nurses showed me off to everyone because they said I was beautiful.¨

I sat on the front porch and read out of the anthology, while Mom sat wrapped in a crocheted afghan.  I read over the laughing and traffic on the street.  In four pages we went from her at age 16 to age 86, moving in with me.  The pictures at the end of the piece show us laughing on one of our road trips, and Dolores working crossword puzzles on our front porch swing.

She laughed and said that, in spite of some historical inaccuracies, it was quite a good piece.

Now I am ready to get my two daughters together to read it, because they are the intended audience.


Ramping Up

Today was TGIF yet not so meaningful since we only did three short days.  Wait till next week.  Then we teachers will praise Labor Day weekend.

However, I can feel the workload building and the mental tension trying to creep in.  It takes mindful putting off of the sense that I have too much to do now in the time periods directly in front of me.  Eight days to 1:1 test all 43 students, which will be fine if there are no interruptions.  Whoever heard of such a condition?  So the groups will be made up and start the day after the three day weekend and I am wondering when I’m going to do the prep for them.

And my GATE letter goes out inviting parents to drop in at Back to School Night and learn about our Wednesday Workshops for GATE in which we’ll begin with an environmental PBL on our campus, then go into personal learning projects.

These are just the signs of things about to get super busy.  I carry a large caseload for LLI, much more than recommended, but we have so much need that I fill the time in the day.

So, the idea as the workload ramps up is to keep breathing and just carry on, without getting knickers in a twist about how much is actually being demanded each day.

And coming home is a sanctuary.

I need to add that the opening of school and the unfolding of classes and activities has been so much smoother than, say, last year.  We were unpacking stuff from containers.  Things were missing.  Rooms weren’t finished.  Cabinets and things we expected didn’t exist.

There’s the tone set by our new leader, too, who is kind and positive and definitely having to figure out his job as he goes along. He loves the kids and is very sympathetic with the staff as we handle issues.

So, here’s to Friday.  Feeling fine.  Not flattened.  But knowing the next several weeks will be uphill. Should do some serious recharging this weekend.


Well Begun is Half Done

So said Benjamin Franklin, who liked making up homilies. The first day of school went well.  After the morning yard duty, carrying an A-Z list walking around greeting and directing families to classrooms, I settled in to the new spot I parked my desk.  In fact I have rearranged the entire room, since the custodial staff put everything back in a panoramic, ampli-theater design, which was pretty awful.  My new desk spot is on the wall near the opening, called a door, but in a pod space it really isn’t a door.  Part of the opening is blocked by a double door cabinet just to mitigate the effect of looking in from the main doors at the cafeteria, down the pod hallway and straight into my room. Tunnels are not chic in interior design.

I like the re-arrangement.  The windows in a little alcove used to be where I parked my desk, but this year I set up the small group instruction for the elementary groups in that pleasant space. It won’t feel so schoolish. Then, the GATE desks are arranged in an oblong facing the projector screen and finally the primary group section is the horseshoe table by the cabinets and drawers.

Someone found a credo I wrote about schooling and life, with a collage from Smithsonian mounted on tag board — I think it must have been in my outgoing principal’s office. I like it.  I still mean what I wrote, so I tacked that to the wall next to my desk with the calendar and bell schedule.

The rest of the day I got administrative things done — getting the GATE student lists updated.  I will have twenty 3-5th graders who are gifted and talented, or guests in the program.  We’ll meet weekly and pursue personal learning projects.

I got the predictive list of who needs to be tested 1:1 for reading and what room they are in and emailed teachers in each grade level. I walked around my tentative schedule and got buy-in.  I updated all the forms we’ll be using to track LLI benchmarks and my LLI stats for the year.

And, I walked to the office a dozen times, once for a cum folder, twice for the secretary, several times to talk with a GATE cluster teacher, etc.  After at least 10 times passing through the staff room past a box of cookies, I saw the counselor in her room next door.  I stepped in.

¨I think I deserve a sticker for passing the cookies ten times without taking one,”I told Stephanie.

¨What kind of sticker do you want?¨ she asked moving to her stash.

¨A shiny, glittery one.¨  After it was posted on the back of my hand, it gave me superpowers the rest of the day to walk past the cookies.  Until.  Until after 3 pm, when there was just one last cookie.  One lonely, tired cookie left.

I was thinking that the level of organization and preparedness I already have for my job is different than last start up.  Oh yes, I was unpacking, sorting, shelving and cataloging an entire library for guided reading my first 10 days when I could have been doing forms, communicating and testing students.  It made my LLI groups collide with the start up of ELD rotations which was very stressful and engendered some hostility from some of the less evolved staff members.

And, of course, I hate going into teaching groups when I haven’t had time to prepare adequately, which means completely in my world.  And, if you’ve ever taught LLI with Fountas & Pinnell you’ll have  sense of the endless preparation required to run groups in the Green, Blue, and Red systems simultaneously.  In January I add one more color to the juggling, Orange, for the kinderbuddies.

So, I came home by 4 pm, very decent hour.  I was cheery with my Mom.  I handled some business, marinaded chicken, made salad and grilled the meat.  We had a nice supper followed by two squares of dark chocolate on the front porch.  I went for a pounding 45 minute walk in the loop around Olinder ES and got my exercise.

Then I meditated for ten glorious minutes of relaxed stillness.  Not the mind so much as the body.

And, now for the ten minute write, while Mickey has curled up on my desk.  The crickets are chirping outside, but the air is cool and breezy.  Everything says that summer will be wrapping up, or closing down, or folding in, throwing in the cards — whatever cliche’ or idiom you like.

Seed 2

Valley View

I was going to write Tuesday. However, I walked up the lane to pick blackberries. And I pulled out my watercolors, which I haven’t played with for years, and I doodled on the sketchpad.

The day went on, and since we have no Internet up here, I decided I didn’t want to dictate my blog on my phone. So I didn’t get to Tuesday slice of life.

BlackBerries. Toni Morrison says in Beloved, “blackberries is church.” As I leaned into the tall canes growing by the side of the irrigation ditch, I could feel it. The blackberries hang over in clusters above and below and huge masses, in all states of readiness. The picking involves leaning a little bit into the ditch. Then pull on a very dark berry that looks right — it has to be just so. There’s no point picking a berry that’s not soft and juicy ripe. (As I’m editing this now, I swear I will never dictate a blog post on my phone again.) Yes, there are the thorns, and the danger of slipping into the ditch, but there’s a beautiful Be Here Now silence in picking blackberries. Timeless.  Quiet.

The taste of a fresh berry off the cane is like no other  taste. They’re tart, but the juice is a bit sweet and very…

That’s where words and descriptions fail and one just has to walk down the sunny lane and find blackberries growing over the irrigation ditch and try them.