My Inner Child

I buttoned my Peter Pan-collared white shirt. I pulled my maroon and gray plaid jumper over my head. I pulled up my matching marron socks, slid on my loafers and slipped my arms into the maroon sweater. My 7-year old self felt ready for school. As I arrived, all the girl’s outfits matched. We lined up next to the boys dressed in white shirts, navy slacks and maroon ties. It looked like we were on the same team. I felt like I belonged on this team. Belonging is important.

However, my adult-self wonders about that child. Sitting all day in her classroom taught by white nuns and surrounded by white kids. Learning to read with the Dick and Jane readers to then graduate to textbooks sharing a one-side white history of America.

This summer I’ve been reading antiracist history books and listening to antiracist podcasts. Now I see that girl in the jumper differently. Now I see my adult-self as someone who needs to know more. Someone who needs to wake up and stand up for all. 

  NOTE: I wrote this piece during a PD called Trauma Informed Writing Workshop offered by Arlene Casimir, a staff developer at TCRWP. (She is offering this PD 2x more on Friday, August 14th, $50. I recommend).

1. With my non-dominate hand, sketch myself as a child. (a quick 1-minute sketch)
2. Name the age of the child in my sketch.
3. With my non-dominate hand, write the story this child wants to tell.
4. Ask yourself after writing, what does this child need to hear?
I followed these steps and also added my own adult-self reflection in this slice.

Hawaiian Dinner Party

“Let’s make the theme Hawaiiian and I’ll wear that shirt my sister gave me as a present after her trip to Maui,” my husband, Brian, suggested. For 2 years that cotton royal blue short sleeve shirt has hung in his closet. It’s not surprising he’s never chosen to wear it. It’s covered with bold yellow island flowers. But last Sunday, this festive, loud shirt became the catalyst for our dinner party.

First, I planned the dinner guest list. It felt safe inviting Brian’s sister. She lives a few miles away and has been safely staying at home during this time. I also included my daughter, Bridgit. She too lives nearby and has been following the safety guidelines to a T. My list totalled four and I stopped. If I move one of the living room chairs, four adults could sit safely in this room at a distance. Four could spread out around our long rectangular dining room table. Sure, I’d like to include my mom and my sister who also live nearby. Sure, I’d like to include friends and not just family members. But I don’t. Four was enough.

Next, I planned the menu. My google search of Hawaiian food resulted in hours of clicking and perusing. Finally, I chose. Mai Tai cocktails, a Hawaiian dip and a watermelon-pineapple salad for starters. Then Hawaiian chicken, pineapple and peppers cooked in my cast iron skillet and served over rice for the main course. With a list of ingredients and my mask, I headed to the grocery store and the liquor store. As Brian swiffered and vacuumed, I prepped all the food in the kitchen. I diced the yellow, orange and green peppers.I cubed the pineapple and watermelon. I layered the ham, crushed pineapple, bacon bits and spring onion on top of the cream cheese for the dip. I sliced oranges to garnish the cocktails. 

Last, I planned my dinner party outfit. For months, my major decisions each morning has been which shorts I’d wear with which t-shirt. For this dinner party, I actually tried on several different summer, flowery dresses from my closet. I picked the plum sundress and chose my fancier dress sandals to wear. Then I opened my jewelry box and chose a dangling pair with an amethyst stone at the tip.

All evening, my husband looked vacation-relaxed wearing his flowery island shirt, as did all the women dressed up in their summer Sunday best. We sipped our cocktails, enjoyed a colorful meal and chatted. As my sister-in-law departed she said, “Thanks so much. Tonight felt normal again.” I had to agree. Already, my wheels are spinning to plan the next dinner party.

I wonder what the theme will be. Any suggestions?

Click each word to see the recipe I used for my Hawaiian dinner party:

Mai Tai
Easy Hawaiian Dip
Hawaiian Chicken

A sign…a sigh…

Since March 13th, I’ve found comfort in writing about the signs I see.

New blooms while taking neighborhood walks.

Fliers and yard signs supporting BLM.

Little league pitchers taking to the mound.

Today, I hung this sign and ribbon on my front yard tree.

RIP, Congressman John Lewis. #GoodTrouble

What will be your #GoodTrouble??

Silver Linings

Today I glanced at my phone and saw MONDAY 13 on the calendar app and it hit me. I counted on my fingers to make sure. Yep. Four. It has been four months. Four months since the Governor of VA shuttered school buildings due to the virus and suggested that we all stay home to stay safe.

Looking back on these months, I do notice silver linings.

For one, I am now a better observer, especially when it comes to spring flowers. I might even go as far as saying I’m now an expert on when flowers bloom. To help me pass the time while being home, I started taking a walk throughout my neighborhood. This routine allowed me to notice so many trees and flowerbeds. Daily I snapped a photo of a bloom that caught my eye. Now my photofeed reminds me exactly when cetain flora comes to life. In March, the pink magnolia trees petals looked so lovely against the blue spring sky. Early April brought the cherry blossoms followed by the azaleas and dogwood. Then my favorite, the lilacs. In May, it was time for the rhododendron and the roses. June brings the hydrangea. Now it is July and the lily pads in our new pond bloomed for the first time.

Another silver lining involves my nephew. On June 4, 2019, he was the 151st pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

Last week, just thirteen months later, he got the call! The LA Angels told him to report to Spring training! I wonder if the world was still normal, would he have gotten the call. Maybe. Maybe not. No matter. I am so proud of Garrett’s dedication to playing a sport he loves.

I thought about this as I took my walk last Saturday morning. For the first time, I saw my neighborhood baseball field occupied. A little guy took to the mound and the ref yelled, “Batter up!” and the the supportive fans sat 6 feet apart.

What’s your silver lining?

If you have 2 minutes, watch this video to be reminded why baseball is such a great sport.


Note: This was my writing inspired by the Isolation Journals Prompt #97

Your prompt for today:
Picture the chairs that you sit in on a regular basis—at home, in public, comfortable or uncomfortable. Now pick one of those chairs, and write an ode to it, considering the physical and emotional sensations it evokes. Does the lumbar support ease strain on your lower back? Does the chair remind you of a beloved grandparent? Does it have a great view? Try to make visible the dynamics of sitting you’ve gotten so used to that they’re currently invisible.

Two bar stolls stand tall in my home at the raised counter between the dining room and kitchen. Each made only of metal, bent into a seat, a back, and bar across the legs, providing a foot rest. Its simple form provides a funtional design and matches the modern house they grace. It became a weekend habit of mine to sit in one while completing school work. As I sat, I easily glance up and across the kitchen to the large window above the sink and notice the neighbors walking their dogs down the street. Most often, my laptop is opened and I quickly read emails and type replies. My feet, unable to touch the floor, rest on the stool’s bar across the bottom. I hop down, grab a snack from the pantry and get right back to my work. Sitting with my back firmly supported and resting a bit higher off the ground, my barstool offers a winning combination for focused, weekend homework.

Currently, I sit in a different chair in my home to do my work. This chair is made of wood with an upholstered seat and is part of a 5-piece dining set. Its matching table and sister-chairs proudly stood in my dining room for 22 years. I sat in this chair at this table, happily eating all my family meals. But then we rebuilt our home and this dining set was demoated and stored in the guest bedroom. Now it proudly accepts a new job title – teacher desk. Since March 16th, I daily sat at this table in this chair and made videos to greet my students and answered emails asking questions about how to complete work from home. My feet rest firmly on the ground. My eyes focus on my laptop. I easily grab from a basket of colored markers and post-it notes to jot down my To Do list. When I glance up, a calendar hangs on the wall in front of me, reminding me of the date. Throughout the day, I rise from my chair and stroll downstairs to grab a snack.

My chairs. One metal and high and new. One wood and low and old.
I sit and work while at home.


NOTE: This is a start to Prompt 86 posted in the Isolation Journal and suggested by my writing club member Pencil On My Back Porch. Prompted to choose 5 words (see full prompt below), I did choose 3 – postcard, clothesline, and popcorn around the theme of vacation but share just one here today.

First, four postcards are purchased from the art museum’s giftshop. Then, like a magician’s card trick, “Pick a card, any card” action allows each – dad, mom and two daughters – with card in hand, to begin the mystery game. The winner, the one who most spies with my little eye the painting on a wall matching the one depicted on the postcard. The prize, an extra scoop of ice cream for dessert.

These are the directions followed to keep the seven and eleven year olds engaged as the family of four tour the Prado Museum in Madrid. The day ahead will include so much walking, so many large paintings of anonomous people and places, so much staring. Yet the postcard game keeps all actively engaged.

“I found it! One down, three to go!” she shouted. And the four countinue down the corridor with the vaulted, enormous ceiling overhead. Sleuthing and appreciating art, playing the postcard game.

Isolation Journal DAY 86. JENNY BOULLY
When memories make themselves manifest, they alight like butterflies—fleeting, momentary, ineffable, seemingly uncapturable. The task of the writer then, having had the epiphany embedded within memory, is to relate not only the message from the dream embedded within the memory, but to also articulate, in language, that nebulous nature of the memory. How then do we encapsulate the memory in a way that also preserves its transitory nature?

Your prompt for today:
Pick five items from the list below.

popcorn * lettuce * iceberg * cotton candy * puffs * sugar cubes * dandelions * buttercups * pallbearer * clothesline * National Geographic * fire ants * watermelon * sunflowers * ticket stub * campfire * satellite * fish scales * baby powder * quilt * broach * barrette * tin can * bingo * Ferris wheel * frisbee * legumes * lima beans * caterpillar * earthworm * mockingbird * wagon * shaved ice * envelope * rotary phone * silk glove * single shoe * postcard * diner * cheese * houseplant * canoe * sharpened pencil * glue * lunch box

Then, write one memory associated with the item—or write associations you have of this item—in 200 words or less. Limit the use of “I.” Refrain from stating any emotions. Like dreamscapes, rely on images to convey feeling. Assemble these memory fragments into a collage-essay. Give it a one-word title.
Bonus: For the future, or to grow your memoir-fragments, you can make your own lists of random words, pick words at random from various books and dictionaries, or have friends generate lists.


Today I celebrate three of my gifts.

I am creative.
First, the thin, blue painter’s tape is used to mark off a rectangle on the driveway to serve as my canvas. Inside, more tape is added. Some slanted to the left. Some slanted to the right. Then, it is my turn! I fill in each defined untaped space. The top right becomes pink. The bottom left, green. Because I offer such variety, no two adjoining spaces are the same shade. Finally, the tape is removed and I remain. A masterpiece!
I am creative.

I am educational.
“It’s time for school. Let’s head outside,” the older one said.
“Hurrah,” the younger one said as I am grabbed.
“Number 1: The -at family. Ready, set, go!” said the older one.
I am used by the younger one to form c-a-t first on the driveway. Then below it h-a-t, f-a-t, p-a-t.
“Time,” shouts the older one. “Number 2: The -ed family. Ready, set, go!”
Soon Number 10 is complete and I have filled the driveway. Then the young one say, “Find a word that starts with h and rhymes with cat?” and the older one walked all around my markings. Finally, I feel her flip-flops squish down on my h-a-t. For another 30 minutes, I help them learn.
I am educational.

I am activist.
First, I form just 3 letters – BLM.
Then a phrase, JUSTICE 4 ALL, big and bold.
Then a quote, ““There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” 
I am added, with assistance by a 14-year old, to her private driveway and to the sidewalk in front of her house and then I spill into the public street.
Later, I feel the cold water, hitting me fast and hard and rough.
I swirl and lift and roll. First, into the gutter and then I’m washed completely away into the sewer. Yet, friends of the 14-year old arrive with more of me in hand. I add more letters, more phrases, more quotes.
My favorite is “Wash it….we will do it again.”
I am activist.


NOTE: This slice was inspired by news that happened Friday, June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth) in my neighborhood and connected to a student in my school district. If you want to read more about it, I placed news articles on this padlet. Feel free to leave a reflection.

I was also inspired by Cindy ( who often writes using personification. I’m still a novice at this strategy but I reread some of her slices to help me get started!

I also looked at The Day The Crayon’s Quit as a mentor text.


On Friday the 13th, in the month of March, life changed and my habits changed. Sheltering in place became the norm and a daily walk became my routine.

As I first strolled, I spied so many spring trees in bloom, especially pink magnolias.

Days passed. I started to see signs of those stuck at home. They began to allow their creativity to spill out onto their sidewalks and front yards.

Days passed. As I walked the few blocks passing VA Hospital Center, I saw their flashing sign, “NO VISITORS” and this handmade sign.

Days passed. The tulips, daffoldils and red buds bloomed, signs that springtime was in full swing.

Days passed. Now I saw these signs taped to telephone poles

and this hand painted sign as I drove to the grocery store.

Days passed. I saw the hydrangia, my favorite, blooming, a sign that summer is just around the corner.

Days passed. As I continue to walk, I saw a mask hanging from the car visor, ready to be worn.

Days passed. I made this sign to end the “Highlights of 6th Grade” video shared virtually with my students on the last Monday of our school year.

Days will pass. Next Wednesday, I plan to stand at my school, wearing my mask, sporting my school’s spirit wear t-shirt, and holding this sign. The 8th grade families plan to drive through the school’s campus one more time to celebrate their promotion to high school.

So many signs of this time.
What signs are you seeing right now?

My Portrait

The photographer arrives at DHMS on a Friday. She is told to spend the morning in Room 129 capturing the teacher, Mrs. Donnelly, engaged in her favorite activity called Read-aloud Friday. This particular teacher always ends her middle school week in the same way – taking time to read to her students. Sometimes a picture book, read from cover to cover in one sitting and always followed by a class discussion. Sometimes a video to view and discuss. Sometimes a novel, chapter by chapter revealing the characters, their traits, their problems, across many months.

Always the students know their work will be different today, even the room furniture arrangement is different on Fridays. Monday through Thursday, desks are arranged in 2s and 4s to encourage small group partner work and table discussions. But never on Fridays. Mrs. Donnelly arrived early today and labored to move all the rectangular desks back again each of the 4 walls of the classroom to create a band around the room, with space in the middle open for anyone wanting to spread out on the carpeted floor.

As class begins, Mrs. Donnelly sits on one of the student desks nestled in a corner and places her comfortable Toms on the desk’s chair. In her hand, she holds a paperback today with a yellow post-it note sticking out to mark a page, about 1/3 into the story. She is dressed in her comportable Friday casual school spirit shirt and jeans. Next to her on the left is a bookcase from floor to ceiling, filled with paperback novels. Just beyond this is a counter displaying favorite picture books. To her right is the agenda printed neatly on the white board, stating today’s activity and then sketches of a notebook and pencil to show students the materials they need. As they listen to the novel, students know to jot down their thoughts, feelings, questions, theories all related to the read-aloud. Some will sketch events happening in the book. Some will make character webs. Other a t-chart to hold onto traits and evidence from the chapter.

They know the Friday routine. Mrs. Donnelly starts with the question, “Who can remind us ….previously on….what has happened so far?”

After a few hands go up, a few take turns setting the stage. Then, Mrs. Donnelly reads. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Always setting the tone as she reads.

At the end of each chapter, it’s the same. “What should we remember? What might we add to our notebook? Something about a character? An event? Is a theme emerging?” The photographer notices as she jots some of her ideas on the white board, students jot too. Then she begins the next chapter and the students keep listening.

As she reads, Mrs. Donnelly glances at the iPhone next to her. Wanting to allow time for student talk, she set an alarm to signal 10 minutes before the class ends. At the signaled time, she smiles, as those laying on the carpeted floor immediately know to move to one of the desks arranged in a giant loop around the room. Now all can see each other for the discussion.

During this class period, the photographer snaps images during Mrs. Donnelly’s Read-aloud Friday. The image captures a woman with brown hair, graying at the temples and wearing black think glasses. She is dressed casually, sitting comfortably, holding a paperback novel. Around her are her prized possessions – her books and her middle-school age students.

If the photographer’s image is accepted and then hung in the Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery and used during a workshop, what will the workshop responses be during the See-Feel-Think-Wonder exercise?!

NOTE: I participated in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Strike a Prose for Teachers workshop last Wed. This is the writing I did after they had us look and SEE-FEEL-THINK-WONDER related to this photograph of a dishwasher hanging now at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C.

HERE’S the email info if interested in joining tomorrow’s session:
Teachers, please join the National Portrait Gallery and DC-based writer Willona Sloan to learn how to use portraiture to inspire your students’ creative writing and improve their writing skills. Inspired by our popular writing workshop series, Strike a Prose, we’d like to invite teachers to participate in a two-part professional development workshop dedicated to using portraiture as inspiration for writing.

Session I – Strike a Prose for Teachers
May 20, 2020, 3:30 — 5:00pm EST

In this creative nonfiction writing workshop, learn teaching strategies while generating new writing of your own. The workshop will highlight the Portrait Gallery’s special exhibition, The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today, and include discussion, reading, and guided writing prompts as we explore the theme of identity and self-representation through the development of a personal essay.

Session II – Creating Writing Prompts Inspired by Portraiture
May 27, 2020, 3:30 — 5:00pm EST

In this workshop, we will share lesson planning ideas, activities, and strategies for teaching students to focus on details, create characters, and explore their personal experiences in connection to works of art through creative writing. We will also practice developing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writing prompts. The workshop will highlight the Portrait Gallery’s special exhibition, The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today.

Please sign up for each session individually in the series. If you can’t attend both, don’t worry. Although Session II builds on Session I, you can also participate in one or the other. We are excited to explore the new possibilities that an online workshop opens up for us and hope you will join us! The Zoom link to join the webinar will be sent out to all registered participants 24-48 hours ahead of time.

Register Here!

Looking forward to seeing you!


Briana Zavadil White
Head of Education
National Portrait Gallery

My Response to The Daily Podcast

While listening to the May 8th episode of The Daily, a podcast produced by The New York Times, Rick Steves, of Rick Steves Europe, was interviewed by Sam Anderson, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine. The episode gave me hope and the ending provided me with a writing prompt.

Sam ended the podcast with these words, “As a favor to everyone stuck at home right now, can you transport us for a few minutes. Bring us to one particular place in Europe and guide us through a perfect meal?”

Rick agreed and elaborated by saying such a story would be a perfect storm of: ambiance, local ingredients, an appetite and good company.

This got me thinking….

Long ago, my husband and I took our two school-age girls to Chincoteague, an inexpensive beach vacation town on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

My favorite meal while there was purchased from the honor code vegetable stand. With my five dollar bill in hand, I walked down to the end of the street where we were renting a house for the week. There on the side of the road, a townie had two picnic tables sitting. One was covered with a large pile of corn husks and a sign, $.50 each. The other had rows of tomatoes, $.25 each and baskets of peaches $2/basket. In between the two tables was a wooden box with a slit on top and the words “On Your Honor” painted on the side. I slipped in my $5, grabbed 4 corn husks, 2 tomatoes and a basket of peaches and walked back to the rental house.

As Brian and the girls took an afternoon nap, I boiled the corn and added a few hot dogs for the girls. I placed all in a cooler, with a few cold beers and juice boxes. Then I hopped into the car and drove to the seafood market. With 2 pounds of seasoned steamed shrimp in hand, I headed back to awake my family for dinner.

Soon we piled back in the car with the cooler in the truck and headed to the beach. We spread out our blanket, sat and enjoyed our dinner as the sun went down. I sipped my cold beer, I peeled my steamed shrimp. I took a bite of the fresh corn and sliced tomatoes. I enjoyed the juicy peach as dessert.

In Rick Steves words, it was a perfect storm.

The ambiance of the waves crashing and the sky turning to shades of both pink and light blues.

The ingredients, just days ago, were still on a vine or a tree or in the ocean we stare at now from our blanket.

Our appetite, large after a busy day of riding the waves and building castle creations in the sand.

And the company, a relaxed husband and two girls, though three years apart, enjoying each others company as friends.

During the podcast, Rick Steves states, “It (the virus) cannot stop our travel dreams.” I would add, it cannot stop me returning to places once visited and reliving, in my mind, a perfect meal.

How about you? Where will you travel? What’s your perfect meal?