The Fur Coat

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Lotte sat in front of her vanity mirror and admired how her new hair comb pulled her hair back so well, revealing her forehead and bright brown eyes. Then she arranged the gold bows to be the same length on either side of her head. Now for earrings. In her jewelry box were the pearl earrings, a Christmas present from her parents. And gold earrings, a birthday present from her grandparents when she turned 10.

“Pearls,” she thought and quickly attached one to each ear. Then she stood and walked to her wardrobe. Opening the door, she saw it immediately. The sheen of the coat glistened in the morning sunlight, streaming into her room from the window. She reached out and ran her fingers across the fur collar, so soft like the barn cat’s kittens. As she slid her arms into each arm, she instantly felt like a real grownup. Turning, she walked across the room, stepping slowly with toes pointed. As she walked, she felt her shoulders shift and it became more of a strut across her bedroom floor and out the door.

Just last week, she was just Lotte, the youngest of Mr. and Mrs. Hansen’s 3 daughters. As youngest, she didn’t have many demands. Mostly, she played outside and got dirty. Her only chore was to help feed the chickens and put milk out for the barn cats. Her older sisters instead, sat inside, making lace and playing the lute and reading books. Then Aunt Maud arrived for a visit. And she had a big box with her  – only one and it was for Lotte. “I feel awful that I missed giving this to you on your birthday, Lotte. With all that was going on, I forgot. Can I celebrate your birthday today, a few months late?”

Lotte immediately thought back to her birthday, three months ago. She recalls a cake the kitchen maid had made. Yet no one else made a big deal on her day. Understandably, all were preoccupied with her sick mother. In fact, it was that very day that the doctor told them there was nothing more he could do. Lotte recalls how she spent the day praying so hard. She also remembers feeling a little selfish about her prayer, “Please don’t take her today…it is my 11th birthday.”  Her prayer was answered. Her mother died, not that day, but the next. Of course, no one took time to celebrate her birthday and Lotte didn’t complain. Now here was her Aunt, her mother’s oldest sister. She traveled by barge and then carriage from Rotterdam to Delft with a belated birthday present just for her. “Can I open it now?”

“Of course.” Lotte slowly removed the ribbon and bow and lifted the lid. Inside was a coat, unlike any Lotte had every worn before. It reminded her of a similar coat her mother and her older sister’s wore in the winter when they attended grown-up parties. The collar was lined in white fir with golden spots. And each arm had more fur around the edge. Lotte pulled it out of the box and tried it on. It was way too big but she didn’t care. And her aunt didn’t laugh or comment about the size. She just smiled at her. Lotte knew she would grow into it with time and wearing it reminded her of her beautiful mother, attending parties with father. Walking elegantly out the door, pointing her toes and stepping up into the carriage. The fur coat of a princess and now, thanks to Aunt Maud, she had one too.

As Lotte entered the study today, she sat down at the desk by the window, dipped the feather quill into the inkwell and started writing. Dear Aunt Maud.

Once her thank you note was written, she sat on the lounge chair, opened a book and read. Holding the book in one hand, she stroked the fur of her new coat with the other. Nothing would replace having her mother sit and read to her but somehow sitting in her new coat made it feel bearable today.

Story inspired by A Lady Writing (1665) Johannes Vermeer

Thanks to feedback from my writing club, I researched names HERE and HERE to make it sound more Dutch! Also, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to see the visiting Vermeer exhibit. It closes January 21, 2018. I visiting over Winter Break and created this story based on one his painting I saw on display.


Ding dong. Ding dong.

I heard the sound and out of habit, set down my cup of coffee on the kitchen table and turned my head toward the front door.

Ding dong. Ding dong.

The sound again. Out of habit I got up and shuffled out of the kitchen, passed the dining room and and walked to the front door. I could see a woman smiling and waving hello through the window panes along the side the door. I raised my hand and mimicked the actions of the lady and smiled back at her. Then I pulled open the door and heard the woman said, “Hi, Evelyn. I’m so glad you are home. I brought pictures to show you from Anne’s graduation.”

This lady knows my name, I thought. I wish I knew who she was, I thought. This lady is smiling. Maybe she’s a friend of Michelle’s. I wanted to explain how Michelle was out, I think at the grocery store. But the only words I was able to force out of my mouth were, “Michelle…Michelle…out” in a stuttered manner.

The smiling woman, holding a small photo album in her hand said, “That’s okay. I came to show you my pictures from Anne’s graduation from UVA” and she started walking toward the kitchen. I followed this lady who seemed to know her way around my home.

We sat next to each other on the bar stools at the kitchen island and the lady showed me photo after photo of people posing. One was wearing a black robe and the lady called her Anne. “Isn’t Anne a happy UVA graduate!”

“Happy,” I parroted.

I pulled the photo album closer to my face. I saw a building in the background with a round, white roof. I remember that big building. I’ve been to that building. I just can’t remember what to call it. Then I remembered. It’s where Michelle went to college. I smiled and three letters escaped my mouth. “UVA.”

“Yep, just like your Michelle, my Anne’s a UVA graduate!” the woman said proudly.

Just then the sound of the front door opening could be heard. “I’m back,” a voice called. Once in the kitchen, she said, “Sally, it’s so good to see you.”

“I came to show your mom the pictures from Anne’s graduation,” the lady said.

“Oh, let me see,” and I handed my daughter the photo album.

Then I thought, “Michelle called her Sally…she must  be a friend. I wish I could remember. How come everyone around me remembers and I can’t? How come everyone around me can talk easily and I can’t?”

I folded my hands tightly in my lap and looked from Michelle to the woman and smiled.


NOTE: I wrote this story HERE on July 21, 2015 entitled The Visitor. Then I have a narrator telling the story. I rewrote it today from Evelyn’s point of view. This was inspired by my friend, Fran M., who has written a similar story in this manner. Special thanks to another friend who gave me a peer conference and told me clearly, “If you want it to be 1st person, you have to use I.” Duh! But honestly, I needed that explicit feedback. This reminds me that as a teacher, we can’t assume they know how to write in 1st person and 3rd person and the explicit feedback helps. It definitely helped me. Thanks, Beth!

Another Baseball Story, Another Time


I’m glad I made a list on this padlet because I’m not sure what to write. So instead, I’ll work on my writing by trying 2 related exercises. One is shared on page 128 of Kate Messner’s book, 59 Reasons to Write. It suggests:  Look at a history book and see the story beyond the text. Another is shared on page 222 of Jen Serravallo’s Writing Strategy Book. It suggests looking closely at an illustration or photograph that can teach you about a topic you are writing about and jot down quick notes.

Since I watched my nephew play college baseball yesterday, I have baseball on my mind. I search websites looking for historical photos and hit the jackpot by finding the NYC LIbrary’s A. G. SPALDING BASEBALL COLLECTION. Here’s the photo I picked, one out of the 500+ baseball photos:

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The site explains that “The personal collection of materials related to baseball and other sports gathered by the early baseball player and sporting-goods tycoon A.G. Spalding came to the Library in 1921 as a gift from his widow.”

Who was Albert? Why did he have all these photos?

“Albert Goodwill Spalding (1850-1915) was a major figure in the early history of baseball. A star player for the Boston franchise in the National Association, he left in 1876 to join the Chicago White-Stockings, later known as the Cubs, in the newly formed National League. He was the team’s leading pitcher, team captain, and manager. After his career on the field ended, he later became team president.”

What did Albert and his teammates think of the pitcher in the photo?
(the following is my opinion!)

They liked him because he was so focused. He’s dressed for success, right down to his pulled-up stockings and laced shoes. He looks mature (isn’t that a mustache under his nose?) with serious eyes. They called him Bud and in 1914, he had the record for strike outs.

He soon got noticed for a ritual he performed which always resulted in a strike. Whenever the count was 2-2 (2 balls and 2 strikes), he would grabs the rim of his hat, lifts it off his head, runs the back of his hand across his brow and then pulls his hat back on again. With a deep breath, he’d throw the next pitch and the ump always shouted “strike!” Soon that hat-off, rub-of-brow and hat-on-again, strike became his signature. As the years go on, everyone instead started calling him Lucky.






March 6 – Thoughts about a photo

In Jen Serravallo’s new book, The Writing Strategy Book (Heinemann, 2017) the lesson on pg. 97 called Photo Start. “Look closely at a photograph and try to reexperience the moment it was taken, thinking about what you see, hear, feel, smell, and so on.” Today I pick this photo below seen by holding my eye up close to the megaphone’s smaller opening. Inside I see:

That’s me, sitting with my dad!! The year is probably 1965 or ’66. My dad is in his early 30s. In the background are one-story rental houses. We sit on the sandy beach. I hold the beach bucket. My dad’s soft, terry cloth top keeps him from getting too sunburn. A sweatshirt protects my soft, toddler skin.

I went on an Ocean City website and learned on its history page that “By the 1970s, big business flourished and gave birth to the construction of more than 10,000 condominium units, creating a spectacular sight of high-rise apartments that assured every investor of a glimpse of the ocean and pounding surf.”

This is the Ocean City I know – tall skyscraper lining the beach, looking like this:Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 9.14.01 PM.png

Yet, my 3-year old self enjoyed the wide beach and the walk back to the one-story rental house. I bet my dad carried me there at the end of the day. I snuggled up against his soft, terry cloth cover. I slept well after a day of breathing the salt air and having the ocean breeze wear me out. Then, as the sun rose over Atlantic, I arose. Back to the beach, I toddled to build a sand castle.

“Would you like a picture,” a voice said.

“Sure. Sit with me, Sally. Say cheese!”

“Cheese!” I repeated.

This writing idea and more are listed on my 2017 March Writing Challenge Inspiration Padlet.


Raking – the mom’s perspective

I wrote a raking story a few weeks ago from my childhood HERE. Today I am trying to tell this same story but from the mom’s point of view. Here goes….

As I turn the corner, I saw the sign. Other neighbors would be happy to see the announcement that a week from today the leaf collector trucks would come.  Others would but not me.

“Look,” breaks my memory. It’s Sally pointing to the sign. “Can I help rake?” she asks eagerly.

“No silly. Those men come and rake our leafs, right mom?” Cathi corrects her in that voice only an older sister has. It sounds more like she is really saying, “Don’t you know anything? What a stupid question to ask.”

“But mom, I could help. Please…” Sally pressed.

“Maybe,” I replied as I pull the car into the driveway. “Right now let’s get the groceries into the house and I’ll start dinner.”

As I brown the ground beef to make chili, I think maybe it is time to do this task again. Then I allow myself to return to that November day. Have seven years really passed? I can see one- month old Sally, asleep in her bassinet and Jeannie looking out the window at the backyard, smiling and feeling better today.

“Rake?” she asks. Her blond curls frame her little three-year old face, making her look even more angelic today.

I recall the doctor saying to take our cues from Jeannie. If she feels up to doing, then do.

I glance at my new bundle fast asleep. Having just started a nap, I know I’ll be free for at least an hour. “Cathi, Jeanne,” I announce. “Let’s go rake!”

Once outside, I hand each a smaller rake and I grab mine. I work to create a big pile for jumping. Then I rake away a long path to the pile, making it look like an airport runway.

“OK, who wants to jump in this pile I’ve made?” I announce. Cathi and Jeannie drop their rakes and rush over.

“Me first,” Cathi says.

“On your mark, get set, go!” I shout and Cathi runs down the cleared path and jumps into a pile twice her height. Soon I can’t even see her for the leaves gobbled her up. But Jeannie and I can hear her giggles. I go help lift her out.

“My turn, my turn,” Jeannie shouts excitedly.

“OK, on your mark, get set, go!” Her legs move slowly down the path and wanting to be so much like her sister, she hops into the pile and laughs, too. We repeat this over and over and over, running and laughing and enjoying a fall day outside.

That was the last day we played together outside. Days later, the leukemia in her body got stronger and she got weaker. Then in May, she left us.

That following Fall I hired men to rake the leaves, bag them and remove them from our yard. And each fall since.

Now, remembering Jeannie’s doctor’s advice, I think “Maybe, today I still should take my cues from my daughters. If they are up for doing this task, then we do it.”



Raking Leaves in Royal Style!

“The rakes are outside by the back door,” Mom reminded my sister and I. I grabbed my red fleece jacket, slipped it on and headed out the back door. A cool breeze blew so I zipped up and pulled on my hood. As I looked up, the sky was a clear blue but spotted with yellow, red, and orange falling leaves. I grabbed a rake and headed to the middle of the backyard. In each direction stood trees, so many trees. As I looked up, I noticed mostly bare branches. And all around my feet were crunchy colorful leaves. It was October and my weekend chore was to rake the leaves into piles so my mom could more easily transport them on a blanket to the street curb for pickup.

“I’m raking this part, ” my sister, Cathi said and off she went to work on the left side of the backyard.

Soon I had made three piles of leaves. As I looked back, I started to see grassy areas without leaves that looked more like hallways. So I started raking another “hallway” and then a larger, square space that felt like a room.

“Let’s call this the Throne Room,” I yelled to Cathi.

“What?” she questioned.

“Come walk down the Royal Road, cross the bridge over the moat and enter the Throne Room!” I suggested.

“Great Idea!” and she ran over, entered the Throne Room and started making another hallway by raking away leaves. After clearing another square space, she announced, “This can be the Dungeon!”

“We need a Banquet Room,” I suggested and I moved to another area of the backyard and got to work.

After about an hour, we had created an entire Royal Castle! The queen and her princess carried their royal scepters and strolled from room to room by traveling along the connecting green, lawned floor.

“Girls, great job!” a voice interrupted the pageantry. “I bet we can get all these leaves to the curb in no time,” mom announced.

“Can we keep them here for another day, please?” the two Royal subjects pleaded.

“Only if I am invited to the Royal Ball?” mom stated with a wink.

All three subjects continued playing in the raked backyard.

And lived happily ever after!

Inspired by National Gallery of Art Painting

(Also, this is my FIRST post using WORDPRESS!! I made the switch over the weekend!)

Friday I had the pleasure of taking the 3rd graders to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Our school is just on the other side of the Potomac River in Arlington, VA and most of the 107 3rd graders had visited this museum before. But in my opinion, you can never visit an Art Gallery too many times!! Also this was not my first fieldtrip with a school group to the National Gallery but it was the first where the docent let the kids use a laser to point to what they notice in a painting and the first where we could record on a device our favorite images. Both uses of technology added to our engagement and learning!

The title of our docent tour was Every Picture Tells a Story and it was a perfect culmination of all the reading and writing we have done this year as 3rd graders. In my group, Ms. Janet asked us to identify all the same things we do when we read or write a printed story – setting, character, plot, and theme but this time we did it while sitting in front of amazing works of art. I was very proud of our class. All participated in a lively and deep conversation about how the artist told a story and we looked very beautiful and handsome as we did it! (We had asked the kids to dress up for the trip!)

This week we are researching and also creating the “story” of the picture.

I picked this painting:

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As a model for my students, I created these slides:

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What fun fieldtrips have YOU taken?? 

What small moment can you write??!!

The Visitor

Ding dong.

Evelyn heard the sound and out of habit, she set down her cup of coffee on the kitchen table and walked to the front door. She could see a woman smiling and waving hello through the window panes along side the door. Evelyn mimicked the actions by waving her hand and smiling. Automatically, Evelyn pulled open the door and the woman said, “Hi, Evelyn. I’m so glad you are home. I brought pictures to show you from Anne’s graduation.”

Evelyn heard this woman call her by name and she was smiling. She must be my friend or maybe a friend of Michelle’s, she thought. She tried to explain how Michelle was out and that Michael was downstairs. But the only words voiced were, “Michelle…Michelle…out” in a stuttered manner.

The smiling woman, holding a small photo album in her hand said, “That’s okay. I came to show you my pictures from Anne’s graduation from UVA” and she started walking toward the kitchen. Evelyn followed this lady who seemed to know her way around her home.

They sat next to each other on the kitchen island stools and the lady showed her photo after photo of people posing. One was wearing a black robe and the lady called her Anne. “Isn’t Anne a happy UVA graduate!”

“Happy,” Evelyn parroted.

Evelyn pulled the photo album closer to her face. She studied each photo a second time, trying to understand, trying to recognize the people. “UVA,” she said aloud.

“Yep, just like your Michelle, my Anne’s a UVA graduate!” The woman said proudly.

Just then the sound of the front door opening could be heard. “I’m back,” a voice called. Into the kitchen walked Michelle, Evelyn’s daughter.

“Sally, it’s so good to see you.”

“I came to show your mom the pictures from Anne’s graduation.”

“Oh, let me see,” and Evelyn handed the photo album to her daughter.

Evelyn thought, “Sally…she must  be a friend. I wish I could remember. How come everyone around me remembers and I can’t? How come everyone around me can talk easily and I can’t?”

Evelyn folded her hands tightly and looked from Michelle to the woman and smiled.