New Favorite Author

Yesterday my school hosted the author, Jewell Parker Rhodes, virtually. What a treat! On this asynchronous Monday, 65 students remembered to join the TEAMS meeting at 1:30pm and for an hour, she shared about writing Ghost Boys and graciously answered student questions. Many of our 7th graders had read this book in a recent book club unit and many of my 6th graders elevated the book through their votes in our recent March Book Madness to the Elite Eight Round.

HERE is a video of her speaking about Ghost Boys. The same passion seen in that video was seen on our TEAMS call yesterday! She shared how emotionally draining it was for her to write Ghost Boys. She spent 2 1/2 years researching and writing. She explained that her writing process is to hear the character. Then, like an actress, she acts out the parts as she writes. She shared how this process made writing Ghost Boys so hard and depressing. But now, she shared, readers of the book, act as healing for her. “It was worth the effort! Your age group imspires ME! You WILL make the world even better.”

“I was just a little girl when Emmett Till was murdered and I think WHY is this still happening? She explained how she created Sarah, a character with a cultural difference, a good heart, and someone who was curious but not afraid of differences. The perfect ally.

During our hour, she asked us to watch this video of present day allies, making a powerful Public Service Announcement. WOW! SO moving! This film was directed by Kiri Laurelle Davis. More info can be found here: www.JustUsProject.com and @JustUsProject.

Yesterday afternoon, I also made a quick trip to Barnes and Nobel to buy Ghost Boys and her newest, Black Brother, Black Brother. She shared how she is married to a white man. Her daughter looks more like him. Her son looks more like her. Inspired by her own children’s experience, this novel explores how the world sees two brothers differently because of their different skin tones. I’ll read these books and as she suggested, ask how I can bear witness, now that I have met issues through her books. My hope is that once I know more, I can do better.

Have you read any Jewell Parker Rhodes books?
If not, I highly recommend adding her to your upcoming summer reading list!

ABC possibilities

My neice is expecting her first baby, a baby girl. Her mom (my husband’s sister) is making an ABC book for the little one and asked for letter suggestions using this prompt: “My gift/wish for her is…”

Other family members started to share:

B – Ballgames and Beach trips
E – Equality
G – Gardening
H – Humor
M – Music

I shared:

C – Confidence to do everything she sets her mind to
L – daily Laptime, to sit and Listen to books being read aloud to her.
T – Time to Travel to see the world (including some architectual wonders)
V – Visits to spend time with extended family members

Next, my oldest daughter shared:

A – Activism, pushing the world around her to be a better place
C – Cooking
D – Democrats. Enough said. 
P – Plants, because we all need a little greenery in our lives (I’ve recently become a Plant Mom and am enjoying it)
Q – Quantitative reasoning; numbers can change the world!
S – The Sound of Music, an important musical in my childhood. I hope she enjoys it (and Singing!) too!
T – Traveling
V – Voting!

What would YOU share?

I Did It! Year 8!

Yesterday, I packed a cooler of food and a suitcase of clothes and a backpack of books and drove three hours to our beach house in Chincoteague, VA. (famous for the ponies and setting of the 1948 Newbery Honor book, Misty of Chincoteague). Once I arrived, I spent the afternoon rereading my last 30 Slice of Life postings. I noticed the topics I wrote about and the craft moves I tried. Here’s what I discovered:

I wrote 11 school-related small moments.
I worte 11 personal-related small moments.
Three slices shared about PD I gave or participated in this month.
Two slices related to an earlier family memory.
One slice was how I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.
One was about how the loss of a friend’s mother triggered other losses for me.
One was a reflection on commenting as a slicer and it got a SHOUT OUT today by TwoWritingTeacher’s in their Be Inspired section (WOW!!! What an honor!!!Thank you!!)

And I did ALL this during a pandemic, a time when I notice my focus is more challenged. It makes sense that I stuck with what I know. A moment from my teaching day. A moment from a personal walk. Looking back, so often I kept it small. In a couple of instances, I told a small part and returned to it the next day and told the rest of the story. This may have started as my struggle to attend but I came to see these small pieces as being more powerful writing. By zooming in and saying less, I think I said more. A good lesson for me to learn.

This year, I actively tried to embrace more of the blog features as I created my posts. I learned how to add a Featured Image from Jennifer Gonzales’ Jump Start course (which I recommend as well as her Cult of Pedagogy podcast) and had fun picking just the right image to match the topic of my slice each day. Whenever I mentioned something that could be linked, I took time and addded the hyperlink. I noticed I included links to: videos, padlets, books (always now using a link to an Indie Bookstore website), author websites, a sound video and links to other slicers’ blog posts. Blogs are designed to be interactive and finally after eight years, I notice I have started to embrace a few of the many available features.

This year, I also noticed I actively included photos to show more to my readers. I figured out how to use the slideshow feature on WordPress. I figured out how to crop tweets and texts from my phone, airdrop them to my MacBook Air and include them as an image in my slice. I included images of slides I used as a teacher and student work samples, too. I found myself taking walks during the day and snapping photos thinking maybe I could use this image in a future slice. It seems that my camera gallery has become another kind of writing notebook!

I can’t thank the TwoWritingTeachers enough for providing this safe-space for me to grow as a writer and a blogger. The daily practice is paying off for me! I look forward to more writing and reading and commenting on Tuesdays throughout the whole year and then again in March, 2022. We become what we do. WIth confidence and because of this community, I happily end this slice proclaiming, “I am a writer. I am a blogger.”

Now off to take a walk on the beach. Yes, I’ll have my notebook and camera in my pocket. This community has trained me well.

Before – Now

Before the pandemic, she’d stop at Shoppers or Aldi’s on her way home from daily Mass at St. James. She’s eat out a few times a month with friends from church. The Friday Night Fish Fry was a favorite at the Knights of Columbus.

Now every Sunday, I call to get her grocery list. Usually it includes two bananas, peach yogurt, chicken thighs, frozen vegetables, a loaf of rye bread and an ice cream treat. She still reads the Food section of Wednesday’s paper and will add any good bargains. Carrying her credit card in my wallet, I stop at Safeway and then personally deliver the bag of groceries to her condo.

Before the pandemic, she attended daily Mass in person. Afterwards she’d stand outside the large church door entance and chat with her friends.

Now she sits alone in her living watching daily Mass from the Vatican broadcast on WETN cable TV.

Before the pandemic, she played cards with 3 girlfriends on Mondays. They played hand and foot for hours. Midway, they stopped for a lunch break. Each brought something to share potluck style.

Now each Thursday, I pick up carryout and bring it over for dinner. We rotate between our favorites – Chinese food from Peking Pavilliion or Crab soup from Dogfish or chicken and rice from Moby Dicks. After we eat, we play two-handed pinochle. We play multiple hands, until one of us scores 100 points. Last week, the cards fell her way and it took only three hands for her to beat me. I keep a tally. Overall, I’m winning, 21 games to 16.

Before the pandemic, I’d call at least once a week to say hi and catch up on the phone. I’d stop by for a visit when I had time. Maybe a silver lining to this past year is it nudged me into a regular routine to make time and my mom and I are both better for it.

My mom celebrating
her May, 2020 birthday.

Writer as Commenter

March, 2014 was my first SOL Challenge and I wrote this in my final reflective slice:

I tallied and I received a total of 123 comments! Unexpectedly, getting comments was my favorite part of this challenge. Knowing that someone read my words and then took time to tell me their connection or thoughts about what I wrote gave me so much energy! It kept me going!

March, 2015, no longer a rookie, I wrote this in my final reflective slice:

I wasn’t expecting how much the comments would mean to me – both getting them and giving them. The process involved in commenting is so powerful. When reading others’ slices, I noticed the craft moves made and thought about whether I could try this same craft move in my writing. I especially noticed what craft moves made me laugh or cry and then tried to write to elicit similar emotions. I would notice possible genres and structures of writing I could try. Without reading other slices, my slices would have been same old, same old. 

Fast forward to now, March, 2021. This year I’ve struggled to read and comment on other slices as much as in years past. My personal routine is to awake early, write, post. Then read and make three comments right away. My commenting habit includes the two prior Slicer’s posts and the Slicer who posted right after me. All this occurIng between 5:30-6:30am. In years past, I then would return after school and spend at least an hour reading more and leaving comments to many. And my 2014 and 2015 reflections show how much I valued this part of the writing challenge. But due to the pandemic and my current hybrid/concurrent teaching model, once my school day ends, I need time away from a screen. And sadly, this has affected the time I’ve given to the challenge this year.

This all changed this past weekend. Finally, I’m on Spring Break. Finally, I have time and energy to sit and read and comment. I focused on the dozen Slicers who I consider my mini-community within this writing community. They are the writers who live near me and some who work with me. I clicked on their blogs and read post after post, catching up on all the small moments I had missed over the past weeks. I’m so glad I could read and learn from these gifted writers. Here’s a few of my weekend take-aways:

  • Writing is fun as shown by Amy HERE. I felt like I was listening to Bob Costas give the play-by-play at the Olympics as she describes the TwoWritingTeachers giving a play-by-play of watching her struggle to create a slice. Such clever writng! And shown by Meg HERE who compares this writing challenge to the circus. Such clever writing!
  • Writing is revealing. Katlyn HERE shows so much about herself through the 20 phrases crafted in her ID poem.
  • Writing is hard. Marilyn HERE shows this through her encouraging letter to a child she is tutoring. Wisely, she commends this child on what he can do as a reader and then connects that to what he can work on as a writer.
  • Writing teachers have to make hard choices. Meaghan HERE shows her angst as a state mandate has her and her collegues choose how best to support struggling readers. Sadly, writing takes a hit.
  • Writing is healing. Beth HERE shows this as she reflects on the mother she lost last year and also years ago to alcoholism. Through writing she continues to heal from her grief.
  • Writing is healing. Cindy HERE honestly shares the racism she experiences living in her Asian skin.
  • Writing is healing. Fran HERE honestly reveals her inner thinking as her own daughter lies in a hospital bed a year ago after being hit by a car while crossing the street in Cuba.

This past weekend, I left comments on ALL these posts and many more. This past weekend, no longer in a brain fog, I read and I commented. I can’t thank the TwoWritingTeachers enough for creating this writing community. Thank you AMY, BETSY, BETH, MELANIE, and STANCEY. This year, 2021, it took me 28 days to fully participate and I know I am better for being a member here.

The Pond Store

I can literally count the number of outings my husband and I have taken together on one hand since the pandemic began. Alone, I’ve left the house to grocery shopping. Alone, he has left the house to get needed supplies at Target or Home Depot. Together, we left the house last summer and explored an outside park for an afternoon. Together, we left the house and explored the High School nearing the end of construction which he helped design. Together, we left the house and drove to our beach house three hours away and spent a few days there this past summer. Otherwise, we have followed the CDC guidelines by avoiding unnecessary travel and have stayed home to stay safe.

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. I suggested we head together to a store I discovered through an online search. This party trip delivered an outing supportive of his new hobby, being a pond owner, and included a few unexpected animal encounters!

After a pleasant hour drive, we masked up and began walking around the Tropic Bay Garden’s outside displays. The meandering paths were lined with ceramic planters of all shapes and sizes. A dozen planting beds lined the outdoor paths. However, instead of being filled with soil, they were filled with water. Only a couple had plants in them now. Surprisingly, one was filled by three actively bathing ducks. Yes, ducks! Standing in the shallow 2-feet of water, each was flapping his wings. Then they’d lean down, rise, and flap their wings quickly some more. The garden employee explained, “Our Plant Festival is the last weekend in April. That’s when we will have plants to buy.”

“What’s that sound?” I asked Brian we continued to walk and explore. “Look!” Another unexpected animal was on the path ahead. Another, just like him, was off in the distance and had lots to say. It sounded like THIS. Look closely to see what we saw and heard!

Inside the shop, we were treated to what felt like a mini-trip to the aquarium. The leftside of the shop was filled with tropical plants reaching up to the ceiling and were surrounded by a dozen ponds, all filled with fish. Small fantail comets. Small coi. medium coi, and a few quite large coi. Orange, white, tan, peach, speckled, and one with blue eyes. As we walked, the fish sensed our presence. They immediately moved to the surface with open mouths. They thought we were serving lunch.

We drove off having purchased a water test kit and a container of “Pondtabbs”, aquatic plant food and a plan to return in a few weeks to buy some plants for our pond. And maybe some fish, too.
Happy Birthday, Brian!

NOTES:
I wrote about my pond HERE on the 14th day of this challenge. Click to see my pond.
Thanks to Cindy (AKA MrsChiubookawrites) whose added sound to this post and inspired me to add sound to mine!

A Yellow Morning

I awoke early on a day I could have slept in. As I walked to the bathroom, the floor was bright despite the predawn hour. I looked out through the window and saw the full moon shining. A pale yellow. I’ll call it cream.

After brushing my teeth and dressing, I poured myself a glass of ice tea and added two lemon slices. I sat and enjoyed sipping my tea as I read the news headlines. This yellow in my drink matches its name. Lemon.

Then, I grabbed my earbuds and iPhone, picked a podcast and headed out for an early morning walk to include a stop at the neighborhood bakery. I found myself continuing to play “I Spy” focusing only on the category of yellow. With my phone camera, I snapped these photos to show many more shades of yellow:

Can you “spy” these colors in the slideshow?
lemonade, honey, blonde, egg shell, parmesan, butter,
shortbread, daffodil, canary, pineapple, marigold, peach

What’s your favorite shade of yellow?

NOTE: I referred to THIS blog post to pick the right color words for my slice.

Spirit Wear Fridays

Teaching in-person has me spending more time now deciding what to wear. But not on Fridays.
Fridays I slip into my jeans, choose between my red or black spirit shirt and grab my tennis shoes.
Fridays almost feels as comfortable as my Covid-stay-at-home attire.

What’s your Friday attire?

*** I know this is short but I’m also quite tired by Friday. Just happy that I wrote something today!!

Talk

This was part of the January, 2019 parent letter sent prior to the Social Issue Book Club Unit:

Why Book Clubs? If it is one thing that 6th graders are good at, it is talking! This unit will encourage students to use this skill in the company of two to four others who are reading the same book. Through talk, ideas and perspectives can be shared around weekly book club discussions to push our thinking. 

This is part fo the April, 2021 parent revised letter to be sent prior to the Social Issue Book Club Unit:

This unit encourages students to use their reading and discussion skills in the company of two to four others who are reading about a similar issue.

I wonder….will tthis year’s students start talking? Some, from home, do now but mostly with their cameras off. Some, attending my class in person one block a week, do now but it is hard to hear them clearly through a mask. Yesterday I tried using the TEAMS feature called Breakout Rooms for those at home while those in person, I arranged seating so they could talk in groups of 3-4 spaced 6ft apart.

“How did that go?” I asked after a 5-minute talk break where I asked them to share with their group what was sticking with them from their reading. “Great, we all talked,” a Room 1 student volunteered. I thought to myself, maybe this can work. Maybe in April, these students this year can learn that talking is something they are good at but just out of practice.

The Show Must Go On…Online!

Another day of concurrent teaching was over. The two after-school virtual teacher meetings had ended. I took a long walk through my neighborhood and nearby park, feeling the warm breeze and noticing the many buds starting to open. Once back at my house, I stayed outside and sat in my new adirondack chair to listen to the end of a podcast. Then I heard it. The alarm on my phone go off.

Earlier during homeroom, J recalled that something was happening tonight. He dutifully had jotted it on his online calendar on his ipad the week before and mentioned it. One of our homeroom students was in the school’s theater club and their performance was tonght at 7pm. At J’s prompting, I reminded all to set their timers for 6:50pm and watch the free online show to support K. “Break a leg, K” I added!

Thankful for J’s reminder in homeroom and for my alarm, I rose from my chair and headed to my computer. I found the link to the zoom meeting and for the next 45 minutes, I enjoyed a theater production. Singing, acting, drama, laughs, and even some choregraphed dancing. All prerecorded by the actors and then edited together for an online show. Fittingly, the plot was about a school play that was canceled and then turned into an online play.

I miss live theater. But this was the next best thing. At the end, I sent the actors I teach this email:

I’m giving you a STANDING OVATION!!!
Such a fun show and your part was AWESOME!!!!!
I so miss live theater but this was the next best thing!
Thanks for sharing your acting talent.
Mrs. Donnelly