Author Visit

Friday, a mom of a student I taught last year visited my middle school classroom. Kristyn Kusek Lewis. She is also a writer for adults and a freelance magazine writer. I’ve read both her books and recommend them if you are looking for a fun beach read!

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I enjoyed hearing about her work on her third novel which comes out in January. Just like Judy Bloom, she starts a new notebook for each new novel and jots ideas into it. If ever stuck, these ideas help. And she held up a flower covered notebook to show us hers.

She shared the cover that just got approved for her new book. A red door, ajar. A flower pot was added to the lower, right cover to make it appear more of a door of a house in the country, as this novel is set in central Virginia.

“This is my homework today” and she held up about 30 pages, each with the words formatted on the page like in a novel. “I need to reread to ensure it makes sense and no typos.” She explained how she recently fixed a scene where the couple was driving home. In an earlier draft, the husband was driving. Then she changed it be the wife driving. Yet, at the end of the scene, it still said “He pulled the key out of the ignition”. Oops. She caught the mistake and fixed the pronoun to make sense.

Along with doing the final edits for this 3rd novel, she just sent in a pitch to Washingtonian magazine. She explained that a pitch is a one page summary of a magazine idea. She hopes to get an affirmative reply and then will have a deadline to write so many words for the article. Fingers crossed!

She explained how she got the idea for this recent magazine pitch. She saw a photo on Instagram by the National Zoo. The zookeepers were making toys for the animals. She interviewed the zookeepers and has an interesting story now to share, hopefully in Washingtonian Magazine! She liked meeting the zookeeper so much that now she plans to have a character in her fourth novel be a zookeeper. All because she saw a photo on Instagram, proving writing ideas are everywhere!

She ended by giving the class these writing prompts and a writing assignment:

Writing Prompts – Pick one – then write, and be sure to describe using your 5 senses

  1. ONE INCH FRAME – think of something you could describe that fits into a 1-inch frame…write about it!
  2. Write a THANK YOU note to someone
  3. Write 3 questions you want to ask your Principal.
  4. Write about the things on your bedroom floor
  5. Write as many ch- words as you can think of. Pick one and write about it.

I set the timer for 10 minutes and we all WROTE!  I used my time to write a THANK YOU (#2) to Kristyn.

When the timer went off, I asked, “Who chose prompt #1? #2? #3? #4? #5?” I was amazed that in a class of 16, ALL 5 prompts got chosen. I always hated in school when the teacher assigned a prompt. But maybe because only 1 was offered. Having 5 to choose from got ALL in my classroom to write for 10 minutes!

Thanks for teaching my students and me, Kristyn!



OLW – midway reflection

First off, how is it June, the 6th month?? By the last day of this month, the 2017-18 school will be over and so will half of 2018. How can that be??

Today, I thought I’d revisit my OLW and se how I am doing. On Dec. 31st, I wrote (in black):

My 2018 OLW will be….

I will be active in my personal life – actively eat well and exercise often and I won’t just SAY it, I’ll DO it! I’ll keep walking to school daily. I will look into an exercise or yoga class and join it! I have walked to school almost every day. I do like this outside time to think as I walk and see the flowers and birds and the morning sky. I still want to find an exercise class to join. Maybe during summer break!

I will be active in my teacher life – actively DO all that I teach my students to do and reflect on it often in the new club I am forming called the Reflect Often, Then Act Teacher Research Club #ROTATRClub  I am very good at actively reading and writing with my students. I also am proud of the club I actively formed to do Action Teacher Research. We met for the 5th time on Saturday and we plan to have a Celebration Share Out of our work in August. And all the club members want to continue on next year – casting a question, trying something out in the classroom, gathering data, reflecting often and concluding with some findings and implications for the future. (My club meets in person once a month. YOU are welcome to form a club and use my blog posts as a guide for your meeting OR just join my club virtually!)

I will be active in my writing life – actively meet monthly with my writing club, actively reflect on my MSblog each Sat and actively posting a SOL each Tuesday and every day in March. I am actively writing with my Writing Club each month! I have added some to my Middle School blog but need to add more about the Poetry Unit and add about the Ignite speeches and our Kate Messner Author visit. (I guess I have my next 3 Tuesday blog post ideas, now!) And I have added a post HERE most days in March (minus days without internet while on Spring Break) and on Tuesdays. Posting weekly on Tuesdays now seems to be a habit, an active writing routine!

I will be active in my reading life – actively find and join a book club (how crazy that I am a Reading 6 Middle School teacher but I am not part of a book club right now!) and I will actively add my thinking to my Reading Notebook after each book read. I haven’t found a book club to join in person. BUT I have reached out to virtual friends I have met here and at TCRWP and formed a July Virtual Book Club – ALL ARE WELCOME. Just click on the Padlet link to find out more!  I do like adding my thinking to my Readers Notebook!

I will be active in exploring my world – over Spring Break, I’ll do this by visiting my daughter in France – each month my husband and I want to  will explore a new restaurant for dinner, something we can easily do because we are empty-nesters – I will take advantage of living in Arlington, just across the river from D.C. which offers so many cultural experiences, most for free! I could do better here….I did get to explore Paris and Marseilles, France over Spring Break while visiting Anne, my daughter. So amazing!!! I did last week go explore a used book store in the town next to mine that a 6th grader told me about. I still want to go to The National Portrait Gallery to see the Obama Portraits. I still want to go out to dinner with my husband at a new restaurant. We just need to plan it but we instead end up being homebodies. 

So far, I’m doing OK with my OLW. How about YOU?



My Summer Plan!

Over Memorial Day weekend, I started making my Summer Plan! First stop was to Staples to buy this new planner.IMG_1749

I still use a paper calendar planner even though electronic ones are more the norm for others. After adding curriculum writing (1 week in June), trip to KY with my mom (one week in July) and TRCWP Writing Institute (1 week in August), I see I still have 5 weeks to myself!

Here’s my plan:
1. VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB  I created this padlet and shared it with others I’ve met here on this blog and at TCRWP. For 2 weeks in July, I will set a reading goal using the TCRWP Learning Progressions and then read this book with my goals in mind.

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Then I’ll post my thinking onto the google docs posted to the padlet. I’m excited to read in the company of other smart readers around the globe.

If YOU are interested, join me!!
Information is on the padlet. ALL are wlecome!

2. Writing Work: I spent this year teaching Reading 6 so most of my writing was about reading. This summer, I plan to write 3 pieces: a narrative, an opinion and an information piece. I am taking home the Grade 6 Units of Study for Teaching Writing resource books and plan to daily read a mini-lesson and then write. With a daily dose of writing workshop, I know I can make up for all the writing I didn’t do during the school year. (I also got accepted into the TCRWP AUGUST WRITING INSTITUTE!! Can’t wait to arrive and be immersed in everything writing for a week!!)

3. Movement: I plan to daily MOVE – a walk, a visit to the air conditioned gym or a swim. I plan to not go to bed each night this summer unless I have done some kind of movement. During the school year, I walk a mile to work so it’s important to me to keep up my habit of exercise this summer, too.

I also hope to enjoy time cooking, gardening, cleaning out the basement and visiting with family and friends. Writing down my plan is getting me excited for June, July and August!!

Do YOU have a Summer Plan?


Walker/Bus Rider?

The dismissal bell rings at 2:24pm. The hallway swells with Middle Schooler bodies. Then within five minutes, the hallways are clear. All have filed out the front door after a stop at their locker. Some grab a bike, some start their walk, many head to a school bus. All head home.

N joined my class as the fourth quarter began. I see him after school still on the sidewalk as I begin my walk home. He is putting his cell phone back in his pocket. “Did you miss the bus?” I ask. He tells me he lives too close to ride the school bus and instead is waiting to take the Metro Bus. “But it doesn’t come for another 10 minutes.” I take this info in as I walk the half mile east to my house.

Once home, I look at my student rosters and electronic information and see where N lives. It is a few blocks beyond my house and a few before the high school. I recall seeing another one of my student, E,  walking her dog while I was driving in that neighborhood once on a Saturday. The  next day I ask E how she gets home. “I ride the school’s bus. The first stop is the high school and I walk home from there.”

I look online to see the bus routes. But they are not posted for safety reasons. Instead, it says to contact your school for this information. So the next day, I ask in the Counseling Office and I’m told what N’s mom was told. “He lives within 1.5 miles of our school so he is a walker.” I get this rule. However, it makes no sense to me when just a half a miles beyond his house is a middle school bus stop at the high school. If he took that bus, he’d avoid the $2 fare to ride the Metro Bus which drops him .5 miles before his house. Why not ride our free school bus?

I asked N’s counselor to look into it and he did. Thanks to his efforts,  N rides to and from school for free on our school’s bus.

Now I feel the need to share this information with my school district. Maybe a persuasive letter to the transportation department asking them to consider this information. If I hadn’t noticed N, he’d still be spending $20 a week riding the Metro bus, not to mention the added time spent doing so. My hope is that we notice a family’s address in relation to the school AND in relation to all school bus stops. Then share all the transportation options. Then a family can decide whether to be a  walker, a bike rider, a car rider or bus rider.

Note: By writing this piece, I’m feeling ready to write my letter. This was a good way to draft!

Outside my window!

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 3.29.12 PMWhen I was young, I learned that Spring is the time for new, especially babies. Baby chicks hatch.Tadpoles and pollywogs transform. Butterflies emerge from their chrysalis. Puppy and kitten litters snuggle close to their mom. Daddy penguins take care of their cub, while furry bear cubs follow their mom, looking for berries. I know all this to be true but I”ll admit, I personally have never seen such baby animals enjoying their new world. I’ve read about baby animals. I’ve seen TV shows and movies. But I have never witnessed Springtime baby animals.

That is, not until last Sunday. In the afternoon, I was sitting at my desk in the spare room on the 2nd floor of my house. I glanced to the right and saw movement on the old oak tree truck. First, it just looked like a squirrel scurrying around on the bark. Then I noticed two tails. I looked more closely and noticed a big difference – their sizes. Quickly, I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a few photos. I like this posted photo the best because I love how the baby has her (or his) arm (or paw) on its parent. It clearly shows that one squirrel is the mom (or dad) and the other is the baby.

I imagined that an hour ago, the squirrels were up in their dray in another tree and the Mommy Squirrel (I’m going to call her Scamper) had this conversation with her baby girl (I’m going to call her Dart).

“Dart, you are ready for a new adventure. Today is the day for me to show you how to climb up and down another tree.”

“Another tree? I like this tree. Just show me here.” Dart said.

“I like our tree, too. But our tree will soon be out of nuts. We need to explore beyond our home. Come, follow me, Dart. Today we are going to climb a different tree. That tall one over there,” Scamper said.

“But we can come back home afterwards, right?” Dart asked.

“Yes, we can.” Scamper replied gentle. “Now follow me.”

Scamper heading down the tree, their tree with Dart following closely. Yet inside, she knew something. As they headed off, Scamper realized today would change everything. Not longer would Dart need her to help feed her. No longer would Dart need to be snuggled inside the dray. As soon as Dart realized she was able to climb beyond the limbs surrounding their dray, she would continue to explore. She would soon be off. Off and running all day long. Soon she would even be preparing for her own off-spring. Scamper pushed these thoughts out of her mind and remembered the goal of today. Leaving home and exploring, while practicing climbing skills.

“Stay close. Watch. Do what I do,” Scamper commanded. Off they went. Dart following her mom closely.

The Blue Dishes

Last March I wrote:

Maybe I’ll write
of the $80 coupon
for Crate and Barrel
that expires in 48 hours
and how after school I see the reminder note
and go to purchase new white dishes
to replace the blue ones we’ve used
everyday for 31 years, come this July.
Blue dishes that fed us everyday of our marriage.

Hours later, I see this comment to my blog post:

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I laughed as I read this. Her question made me think. I started to wonder what memories are connect to our blue dishes.

I recall seeing them with Brian for the first time on display in Bloomingdales at Tyson’s Corner Mall. First off, Bloomingdales is not where I usually shop. But once engaged, Brian and I had fun walking the mall and checking out all the department store kitchen and china departments. Hechts and Woodies were more to our pricing but we’d trek down to Bloomingdales, too and also to that store near that end of the mall (can’t recall it’s name now) that just sold China. It was in the china store that Brian saw the pattern he really liked. As an architect, he appreciates nicely designed objects and in turn is very, very picky. So as the bride, I wasn’t the one to pick out a pretty flowery affordable Nortaki china pattern. Instead, we registered for the very pricey pattern in the China store. All white with a white flower petal along one edge. So simple, yet so elegant and twice as much as most china pattern. Not surprisingly, we receiving only 2 place settings .

The blue dishes are another story:

They are stoneware. Pastel in color. The choices were either pink, yellow, white or pale blue. A set came with the dinner plate, salad plate, bowl, coffee cup and saucer, 4 each. At the time, one set seemed too pricey for a young couple just starting out to buy but maybe someone would buy them for us, I thought. So Brian and I after searching many more stores and seeing nothing we liked as much, returned to Bloomingdales. We bravely asked about opening a wedding registry and we added the dishes. But only the dishes. Then we went to Woodies and added the other stuff people register for – drinking glasses, baking pans, a crock pot, a mixer, etc.

I recall opening two orange square boxes at my Wedding Shower and thanking Grandma for the one set and mom and dad for the other set. Each box held the 4 blue dinner plates on the bottom, then the salad, the bowls, the saucers inside the bowls and the mugs around the bowl. The lid folded in such a way for a handle to be used on top to carry the box set easily. Since we moved each year for the first 5 years of our marriage, I kept those orange boxes and used them over and over for each move. I even recall once we moved to Arlington, making the decision to finally get rid of those boxes. I felt like the dishes would be staying put for a while!

Now I could set a table for up to eight with these blue stoneware dishes, 10 if I added the China. However, that size of dinner party rarely happened. Instead, it was a table for 2 and then 3 and finally 4. Mostly holding spaghetti, baked chicken, chili. Sometimes, liver and onions.

It wasn’t until we built a new house that those blue dishes started to look old and worn out. Suddenly I noticed the many, many scratches covering them. Suddenly the new house needed new dishes. So I headed to Crate and Barrel with a coupon earned by buying a new couch and dining room table to buy new simple white dishes.

And I told Anne, the blue dishes are safe. They are stacked in the basement. Her sister and she can each have a set.





Google Maps indicated the Ashburn Barnes and Noble was 23 miles away from my house in Arlington and it would take me 41 minutes to drive there. Despite being exhausted all day on Monday, April 30th because over the weekend I helped with our Middle School play (helped meaning being at school on Friday until 5pm, Saturday from 10am -9:30pm and Sunday from 11am – 7:30pm while my students performed three shows of The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe. ), I still wanted to go. So once school ended, I headed west.

After following the voice on my app, I found the Barnes and Noble. I sat in the second row of the chairs and saved a seat for my friend who was on her way. A little after 5pm, the BUS arrived!


Then Kwame worked his magic!! As he talked to the crowd, I learned this was his last bus tour stop. For the last 30 days, he has been on this amazing bus that looked like the Rebound Book cover to promote his newest book. He lives just down the road in Reston so it made sense that he’d end here. So glad I made the trek!

Kwame read his poetry. Randy played background guitar music. Kids were called up to play a game – as Kwame read a poem, he’d leave out a word and the kids would fill in the blank. ALL won t-shirts! We learned he is working on a book about a character who plays tennis titled, Love.  He ended having us ALL repeat after him in song…

Be a star.
In your mind.
Day and night.
And let it shine!

Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot….SWISH!!

As I was outside the store about to head home, I noticed the boys who were sitting in front of me. They were being guided onto the bus. I was so jealous! I watched as his brother and mom stepped onto the bus and took a look. As they returned to the sidewalk, I went up to them and asked, “How did you get to go on the bus?”

The boy replied, “My mom made me bring my report on Kwame and when he saw it, he said we could get a look. I didn’t want to bring it but my mom made me,” he answered.


I love meeting children’s authors!
They are rock stars in my book!!


Lessons on Using a Smart Phone

I watched as she timidly touched the screen. The letter F appeared and her shoulders shrugged. “That’s OK. Touch the arrow with the x on it to take it away. Then try again. Try touching the screen a little higher to touch the T and not the F,” I instructed. I was talking with my mom, who next month will be 83. Today felt like a heroic move…she had just signed up to get the “bundle” from Verizon and also to retire her flip phone and pay $8 a month to have a Samsung Smart Phone.

Now that it was in her hand, we sat at the Verizon store. I wanted to ensure she could call me and text me before leaving the store. I suggested that she try typing a text message to me. Something like: Thank you for helping me get a new phone.

She kept trying. Soon the T was on the screen . But then a U, instead of an H. She was getting good at using the X arrow key to take away mistyped letters. Then THM was on the screen and another shoulder shrug. Soon, after lots and lots of tries and errors, she sent me this 3-lined text message:

Thanks for y
our time today.  I. Love

My afternoon with my mom reminded me how hard it is to learn something new, especially when it is so different from what you are used to. My mom was born in 1935 and grew up at a time when messages were spoken from one person to another when both were usually in the same room. She also recalls lifting the receiver to make a phone call but listening first to hear if the “party line” was free and then dial. She recalls phone numbers like the Glenn Miller song line, “PA6 – 5000” (spoken as Pennsylvania 6, 5000).

Now she carries her phone in her purse and hears it ring when someone is calling her or dings when someone sends her a text – a message without even needing to speak aloud. Yet, today, for a 1953 graduate of the Washington School for Secretaries, this touch screen mini-keyboard was providing a new challenge for her. Using just thumbs or her index finger, she persisted to type out her message.

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” As I watched my mom patiently try over and over again to send me and grandkids messages and try to call me using this new smart phone,  I so agree with him.

After an hour, we left the Verizon store, making plans to meet on Friday for another tutor session.  On our list: How to take a photo? How to send a photo? and we will review, How to answer the phone and how to send a text. I’m realizing many sessions are probably in my future as I think about How to use Google Maps? How to read gmail on the phone? How to reply to gmail? How to add emoji? So, so much!

I drive home, I’m proud of my mom. I’m also comforted in knowing that if she needs help before our next session, she can still call me on her landline phone.

Slicers Celebrate

I look down at my white salad-size plate. I see:
– an orange slice
– a wedge of brie next to crackers and salami slices
– a slice of perfectly ripe cantaloupe
– a twizzler (not red in color but cream-sickle in color and flavor)
– a slice of homemade bundt cake
– a wrapped lindt orange chocolate truffle candy
– a slice of pepperoni pizza.
In my hand is a champaign glass filled with a bright orange mimosa.

The common thread of this unusual happy hour menu?
Orange in color or comes as a slice!

Sitting around me are the writers of the following blogs:

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Leah and Michelle were with us in spirit but couldn’t attend the Happy Hour Party.)

We all sit in my living room on a Thursday after school to celebrate! Why? Because during the month of March, we all wrote a daily slice of life on our blog. Then we posted it to the twowritingteachers’ blog as part of their March Writing Challenge. We also read at least 3 other daily posts and added a comment. And we especially enjoyed receiving comments from other slicers.

For the next hour or so, we munch on our unusual snacks, introduce ourselves to each other and share more about our lives. As host, I know everyone. Four people I work with at my middle school. Two people I meet with monthly as a writing club. Two people I met in 2003 when I started working at their school and have remained strong friends with them for now 15 years. Today, they all gathered in person at my house!

As I make introductions, they ask each other “What’s your blog title?” as that name is more familiar. “I really liked that story you wrote about….” is heard once we connect the person in front of us to their writing identity. Our group is 7 women and one male. Some are middle school classroom teachers. One is an elementary school science teacher. One is retired. Two are reading specialist. One is a librarian. A few are career switchers. Others have always been teachers. A few are mothers and a few are grandmothers.  Though we are so varied, the common thread is we are writers.

We write stories. We share them in a space where we trust our audience to accept our humble attempts. For a month, we craft personal narratives based on the happenings of the day or a flashback to our childhood. Sometimes, we use a poem structure. Sometimes, we include photos. Always, we get a boost when a comment is added. Having an audience for a month, keeps us motivated. Spending time writing daily strengthens our writing muscle.

Sometimes, it was fun. Sometimes, it weighed us down. Always we pondered, What to write?  Sometimes, an idea came quickly. Sometimes, it was a gem. Sometimes, it was more of a draft. Sometimes, we’d rather just throw it away. But no matter what, we posted and then started thinking about the next day’s writing.

I think this is what it must feels like for professional writers, too.

Thank you and CHEERS to Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March.                                                                                                     slice of life 2016

Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.


My Percentages

Today is my last day of participating in the 2018 March Writing Challenge. I’m heading off to visit my daughter in France for Spring Break. I promise to write daily in my journal but I personally want to be disconnected from the internet as we travel. So today, I want to take time to offer my thanks as if it were March 31st:

Thank you to the TwoWritingTeacher who are really Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey. This is my fifth year and I so appreciate the space you have created and maintain so I can write and receive comments. I so appreciate the community you have harnessed. I trust this community and humbly I share my writing because of the trustworthy space you have created.

Thank you to all the writers participating in the 2018 March Challenge. I love all the reading I did  this March.  I am always amazed by how the reading of other’s writing shapes me as a writer.

Reflecting on my writing today, I took time to notice what I wrote about across the 20 days. In the spirit of percentages that Fran wrote about days ago, I have written a percentage poem. Click HERE to see my inspiration from Fran.

My posts this March
ended up being
15% about my house
20% about school
and 15% about the conference I attended
from March 8-10th.
15% were opinion pieces
only 1 or 5%, a poem.
10% reflections on my life
15% reflections about using technology
and 5% or 1 entry, as Top Ten piece
(maybe something Dave Letterman could enjoy!)
Now,  I’m off to France to play with the slicer,
also know as Present Perfect
but who I call “my Anne!”
I look forward to sharing my Parisian adventures
through slices on Tuesdays
in April and beyond.