The 10 Good Things About Barbara

Barbara is was my next-door neighbor. Yesterday I found out that she passed away on Sunday. I’ve known this was coming. In fact, I’d known it for the past 5 years, the length of time she has been fighting cancer. Who takes chemo meds for 5 years? Barbara does. She is such a fighter. Ironically, once she started being treated by Hospice, she had a bad reaction to the morphine pain killers and they moved her out of her home and into the Hospice facility just a mile from our street. They kept her comfortable and provided space for her family to gather and keep her company which was expected to be just days. But a week went by and I joked that maybe she just wanted to watch one more Super Bowl. Then another week went by. I told her family how much Barbara taught me about fighting hard to live another day. I told them how glad I was that if she couldn’t be right next door, at least she could be down the street, comfortable until the end with Hospice care.

As an elementary teacher I discovered Judith Viorst book The Tenth Good Thing About Barney and recommend to families when they are dealing with a family death. I even envision having it read-aloud at my funeral, one more read-aloud shared with my friends gathered. Today I reread this sweet book about a family who has lost a cat. As I walked to school today, I began making my list about the 10 Good Things About Barbara.

  1. Barbara was a good resident of 12th Street.
    • My street only runs one block and has only 9 houses on it. When we moved in 18 years ago, both Jack and Barbara lived next door. We in our 40s with 2 school-age children, they both in their 60s, Jack’s health failing. Barbara always shared smiles, gave a wave, and stopped for short chats as we stood in our adjacent yards.
  2. Barbara was a storyteller.
    • I started getting in the habit of stopping by every few months once she told me she was fighting cancer. I’d ask how she was doing and I’d hear her latest medical plan. Then she’d tell me stories. About her kids and the teachers they had. Thinking back, a few of those stories she told me more than once but I didn’t care. She enjoyed talking and reminiscing and I enjoyed the peaceful conversation as I sat in her living room.
  3. Barbara liked my cooking.
    • I am not a fancy cook at all. I feed my family using easy-to-make recipes. Over the past few years, I’ve made extra on some Sundays and took Barbara a serving. She raved about my chicken salad I made. I had to laugh when I admitted to her the recipe. “Take 2 cups of chicken salad purchased from the grocery story deli. Add sliced grapes and chopped walnuts.” I’m glad she liked how I “cooked”!
  4. She taught me how to prime her lawn mower and let me borrow it all summer long for the last five summers.
    • My lawn mowers seemed to be cursed. One stopped working. We bought another and it stopped working after one mow. After getting it repaired, it again stopped working. Barbara kindly allowed me to borrow her very basic and very reliable mower. However, the first time I could not get it to start. I sheepishly knocked on her door to explain my defeat. “Did you prime it?” I looked at her blankly and she came outside and showed me this red rubber button on the front of the mower. She pushed it three times. I pulled on the mower cord. It started right up!
  5. Barbara was a reader.
    • Barbara spent lots of time reading when she first was diagnosed with cancer. As a reader myself, I asked if I could get her books when I visited the library. I brought her mysteries and a series about ladies who met and quilted. She loved to read!
  6. Barbara stayed current by daily reading the newspaper.
    • Both Barbara and I receive home delivery of the Washington Post. Each morning she’d read. To help her, I got used to throwing her newspaper on her front porch. And for the past year, using the plastic bag it comes in, I hung it from the screen door handle so she didn’t have to bend down to get the paper. Last week, I was leaving my house as the paper was being delivered and no paper was delivered next door. Barbara’s imminent passing started to sink in as I realized her family must have cancelled her Post subscription.
  7. Barbara loved her cats.
    • I don’t have any pets but I always enjoyed Barbara’s cats when I stopped by for a visit. I especially liked watching how they sat, with the front door opened and stared out through the screened door. It was especially fun to watch when the chipmunks were out and would scamper in front of the door, teasing the cats.
  8. Barbara quilted and knitted and croqueted.
    • Keeping her hands busy was important to Barbara until the very end. She made so many beautiful things. But my favorite was the adorable knitted coat she made for her great-granddaughter this past summer.
  9. Barbara knew Arlington as she had lived in our county all her life.
    • This year I am teaching at Swanson MS, just up the street from my house. When I told Barbara about my new job, she proudly told me she attended this school in the 1940s! She told me lots of stories about so many places in Arlington and what things used to be like. As I approached the Hospice facility to visit Barbara, I smiled thinking how she could tell me all about what this building used to be. Instead, she was resting peacefully each time I stopped by. At least if Barbara couldn’t be in her own home at the end, she was in a familiar Arlington landmark.
  10. Barbra was the matriarch for 84 years of a good, strong family.
    • As one exits the physical world, it allows time for reflection. Barbara met Jack and happily married her. They had lovely children that had lovely children and some of them have had lovely children. One life leading to some many more lives. And all have Barbara’s strong character and perseverance. She lives on in her family.

I’m lucky to have lived next door to Barbara.
I will miss her.



December, 2017

My daughter send me a text with the link to this poem by Ken Nesbitt:

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She is teaching English to students in France so the list poem can give the kids a laugh, as well as teaching them vocabulary. This poem gave me the idea to change the last lines to:

So that’s my list
of everything
I love about

Here’s my Poem…

December, 2017

Neighborhood houses aglow with lights.
Roofs outlines and door frames wrapped.
Porch rails draped with pine branches.
Some have elegant, simple wreaths at windows.
Others have over-the-top giant, inflatable characters
squatting on their lawns.

In my kitchen, dough is mixed and dropped onto the tray.
Then red and green M&Ms added on top and baked.
Cream cheese is mixed with chopped green pepper and pineapple
and rolled in pecans, making the best holiday cheeseball to spread on crackers.
Both pair nicely with hot chocolate, stirred with peppermint sticks.

On the radio, carols stream 24/7
from Thanksgiving to the 25th.
Yo-yo Ma’s Dona-Nobis-Pacem instrumental
reminds me of singing this song as a three-part round
during my Catholic Elementary School Carol Night
40+ years ago.
I can see the church lights turned low
and the tinsel sparkling on the altar.
And feel the student body and myself
transformed to angelic beings,
at least for the hour performance.

On a brisk morning, the search for the tree begins
walking the lot on a farm, hours from the city.
Gloves used as spotters for the ones liked best.
Then a decision and a signal to the farmer.
His ax cuts the trunk
and the tree is secured to the car roof
and home it goes.

This year, an asphalt lot is walked
just ten minutes from my home.
The tree fills the living room corner
and a scent of pine fills the air.
White, blue, and green strings of light
Weave throughout the tree.
Some twinkle.
Then balls are added and ribbon, too.
And the angel is placed on top.

Now I am ready.
Ready to plug in my porch lights.
Ready to hang my wreath on the door.
Ready to share cookies and cheeseball snacks.
Ready for gifts to cover the tree skirt.
Ready for family and friends to gather.

So that’s my list of everything
I love about Christmastime.



March 5 – 3 Words to Clear the Cobwebs

Today I reread writing I did on March 25, 2014 after attending the March 2014th Saturday Reunion at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Kathy Collins suggested this Alternative 3-question Teacher Evaluation.

Short Answer Essays using my class list
1. Circle the 17th name. Write everything you know for sure about this child’s life outside of school. Include their loves, fears, quirks, etc. Write how this knowledge impacts your teaching of this child.
2. Underline the 8th name on the list. Share a classroom anecdote about this child and indicate what that anecdote can tell you about this child’s humanity.
3. Put a star next to the 11th child’s name. Describe the child’s relationships to his/her peers and with other adults in the school. Provide an example of a collaborative classroom interactions involving that child.

Kate Messner in her book 59 Reasons to Write on pg. 92 offers a writing strategy called Cleaning the Cobwebs. Simply write in 3 word phrases.

I had Parent-Teacher Conferences this past Thursday and Friday and my student reflections are fresh in my mind. So I decided to combine these two ideas. With Kathy Collins’ 3 questions in mind, I am writing 3-word phrases as I pictures each student in my class. The result is these 40 3-word phrases that summarize the collective work of the students in my 3rd grade class.

dutifully follows directions

likes getting it

can think it

as a picture

doesn’t like loud

doesn’t like unknown

cares about issues

beyond the classroom

forming good friendships

sees injustice happening

will speaks up

gets computer coding

three steps ahead

genuinely sorry for

making unwise choices

knows math facts

in a snap

will seek out

ask for help

showing more confidence

friends give comfort

does not know

that she/he knows

building his/her confidence

can imagine amazing

far-out fantastic ideas

nose in books

all. the. time!

excited to learn

new science topics

ancient civilizations too

works at writing

writes strong descriptions

long and strong

fast and furious

strong graphics creator

loves a challenge

solves hard problems

helpful in partnerships

shows others kindness

If I was an administer, I’d score me as a proficient teacher!

NOTE: It was very freeing for me to only expect to write 3-words per line.
This strategy is shared in the book as a way to help writers add voice to their writing. “The cool thing about this cobweb prewriting exercise is that students think it’s so ridiculous, they let go of trying to write, and their authentic voice emerges.” pg. 92
I look forward to trying this strategy out with my students.


Random Word Generator #2

I wrote yesterday about an assignment from Kate Messner’s book 59 Reasons to Write (Stenhouse, 2015). You can read it HERE about how I let the noun EDGE guide my writing.

Then I got this comment: Your question at the end (do you prefer edges or interiors) reminds me of people who prefer the crunchy edge pieces of a pan of brownies vs the chewy inside pieces. Personally, i prefer the inside!

This got me to wonder about places other than my park and a pan of brownies that have edges. Here’s my list:

  • edge of a bed
  • edge of a cliff
  • edge of the mountain road
  • edge of the paper
  • feeling on edge
  • Feeling edgy
  • edging forward/backward
  • edge of town
  • edge of the water 
  • edge of the field – in soccer, the side line; in football, the end zone
  • edge of the pool – the lip
  • having an edge over an opponent
  • edge of the sky – sunrise/sunset at the horizon line
  • Frosting is the edge of a cake
  • tea sandwiches have their edge removed (I was always a sandwich eater w/o crust!)
  • fishing off the edge of the pier
  • looking over the edge of the balcony
  • edging the lawn
  • the garden’s edge
  • sharp edges, smooth edges
  • the sidewalk acts as an edge
  • living on the edge
  • cutting edge
  • competitive edge

I googled Famous Quotes about Edge and after reading 2 pages of quotes (there were 23 page!), here are a few favorites:

  • “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut
  • “Life is lived on the edge” – Will Smith
  • “I grew up on the edge of a national park in Canada – timberwolves, creeks, snow drifts. I really did have to walk home six miles through the snow, like your grandparents used to complain.”  – Dan Aykroyd
  • “Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.” – Jacob Bronowski
  • “When one jumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere.” –  D. H. Lawrence

Then finally I looked EDGE up in the dictionary and enjoyed exploring all the definitions, synonyms and antonyms. I saw these lists:

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Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 7.07.58 AM.pngScreen Shot 2017-03-03 at 7.08.25 AM.png

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Then finally, this website called Visuwords, produced this visual image:


Now it feels like I have brainstormed all the edges of EDGE!

I have never been the kind of person who is a big lover of words. Yet. This exercise was fun and I can see myself returning to do it again and again. I bet I even start using more descriptive words in my future writing and not just the word edge.

Do you have a favorite EDGE image,
like my commenter at the beginning did with a pan of brownies? 

Do you agree with Kurt Vonnegut we see more by looking out over the edge
that we can see from the center?

Which is your favorite synonym or antonym of edge?

What word might you explore?!!






What Do I Do Just For Me?

My Much Needed Alone time post had this comment left by a colleague:
Good morning Sally. You get a lot done in your alone time! Your post really captures the tension between satisfaction of being useful to others and useful to yourself and your own agenda. I would like to hear a little more about your alone time that is not work-related 🙂 What do you do just for you?

What do I do just for me?

1. March 19th I am going to TCRWP Saturday Reunions (and have attended every Oct and March Reunion since I discovered TCRWP in 2009), not because it is work-related (which one could say it is) but because I love learning from really bright people and that day, a plethora of smart people are gathered and they just happen to be speaking about best practices in literacy.
2. This Sunday I am meeting a colleague for brunch and we will talk about our work and I do this for me because it gives me positive energy.
3. All summer long, I drove to meet 3 other ladies (one of them is the author of the comment above!) at a Starbucks and we wrote and shared and I enjoyed working on my writing life in the company of others who enjoy writing, too. I did this for me and not because I am a teacher of writing workshop.
4. I participate in twitter chats related to literacy because I get energy from the ideas of other bright educators.
5. I blog (and often it is about my work) but I blog because it is fun and I figure things out as I write.
6. I read the latest literacy-related resources, not just because of my job, but because I get lots of energy from planning the best for those students who I am teaching.
7. I read LOTS of children’s literature because I have fun discussing books with young kids (which is one of the perks of my job!).
As I started this list, I wondered how long it would become. I’m going to stop at Lucky #7
To be honest, I do spend LOTS of my time doing what others see as work-related things. But I am OK with this because I don’t think of my work as just a paycheck. I don’t think of my work as something I only do from 9-5pm. I am a teacher and it is my career. I enjoy it and want to keep doing things to make me better at it. And yes, at times it exhausts me. But I can’t think of rewarding work that wouldn’t exhaust me. So I am glad this is how I choose to spend my time – some of it alone, some in the company of bright, literacy-minded people – doing these seven things just for me.

Celebrate – I Am A Writer

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 was the NCTE’s 7th Annual National Day on Writing. I happily shared this VIDEO by Lucy Calkins with my students. Lucy starts, “Writers, I’m talking to you today because you are writers. Because you do what writers the world over do – You live like writers.”

Today I celebrate that I AM A WRITER.

I know I live like a writer because:
1. I now always carry a notebook and something to write with in my purse. It comes out when I hear something I want to remember or when I need to jot down a To Do list or when I just want to clear my head so I put my thoughts on a page.

2. I get excited to learn from real writers. For example, on Oct. 15th, I had my class watch author, Kate DiCamillo giving a live broadcast on the Anniversary of Mercy Watson’s 10th birthday. I would not have missed this free opportunity to hear the Children’s Ambassador speak! And I took notes to hold onto her ideas (in my notebooks!). She said, “I write 2 pages a day” so now I’ve been saying to my students at the end of the Writing Workshop mini-lesson “Let’s be like Kate and try to write 2 pages today.”!! I love learning from published authors.

3. I make a date to BLOG every Saturday morning and sometime during the day on Tuesdays. Thanks to Ruth Ayers’ invitation to Celebrate, I am usually at Starbucks each Saturday morning blogging about one thing I can celebrate after reflecting back on my week and posting to her blog. Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers, I tried the Slice of Life Challenge during March, 2014 and again in 2015. Then this habit of sharing a small moment and reading and responding to other writers became my habit. Now I blog a Slice of Life EVERY TUESDAY and I am looking forward to March, 2016!

4. I read like a writer. I read lots! I read picture books and YA novels the most. I read the Washington Post newspaper daily.As I read, I notice genres now. I notice structural moves. I notice craft moves. I share, as mentor text, a variety of reading that I do with my students. I now get why writers always say the thing they do to get better at writing is to read!

5. I celebrate published writing. With my students, I plan publishing parties and then guide the class though the writing process so our final product is something we have worked on and can really celebrate at the publishing party. At school, I hang up our writing in the hallway for all to see. Personally, I get energy when I receive a reply to one of my blog posts I have published. It is always a risk to make writing public but definitely worth it and definitely something to celebrate!

Today I celebrate – I AM A WRITER!

My birthday – halfway to 104

It is still Tuesday, barely. I still have time to make a post and my personal writing goal is to make a post every Tuesday. All day I wondered if I had anything to write about. But I did just have a birthday and today at school, I celebrated it with my students. So that is what I’ll write about.

A week ago Friday, I found myself unexpectedly watching The Kelly Ripa Show. It was her birthday and she announced, “I’m halfway to 90.” Her comment stuck with me and here is what I wrote as my Morning Meeting Message today at school:

Dear 3rd graders,
Over the weekend I celebrated my birthday.
I am now halfway to 104.
How old am I?

In the bin, I collected books that are as old as me.
Let’s collectively try to read as many books as my age right now.
Get a book and read it. Then add a tally mark below.
Then get another book and repeat.
Have fun reading books written in 1963!

Mrs. Donnelly

In the bin I placed:
Where the Wild Things Are (it’s copyright  is 1963 and it won the Caldecott in 1964)
The Snowy Day (1963 Caldecott winner) and other Keats books
Swimmy by Leo Lionni (1963 Caldecott Honor winner)
Amelia Bedela books (as the first one in the series came out in 1963)
Clifford The Big Red Dog books (as the first one in the series came out in 1963)

Along with gathering GREAT children’s books published the year I was born, I made a poster showing images of the following,  also “born” in 1963:
Captain Crunch
The St. Louis Arc
The NYC MetLife Building
The first push button phone
The smiley face 🙂
and ME!!

As a read-aloud, I typed up Where the Wild Things Are as a Readers Theater and after I read it through once, I divided the 22 students up into three teams and asked them to decide who would be Max, who would be The Wild Things and who would be the narrators. Our goal is to practice all week and then on Friday, perform it for the Kindergarten classes!

Celebrating my birthday with third graders is fun, even when I suddenly find myself halfway to 104!!

March 31 – I did it, 2nd year in a row!!

This year, I wasn’t so worried.

Not like last year. Last year was my first year doing this challenge. Last year, I was worried. I wasn’t sure about the technology. Could I post a blog entry daily? Would I have a topic to write about every day? Would I have time to read and leave a comment? Would anyone give me a comment?

This year, I made 31 entries.
I gave at least three comments every day.
I did it!!
And I received 128 comments.

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. Probably all small moments.

But instead, I wrote:
3 poems
2 letters
5 memoirs
4 reviews
4 essays
3 informational pieces
and 10 small moments.

I spent lots of time revising and editing. This year I consciously tried to add hyperlinks and photos. I can now use the “LINK” button and photo button in blogspot! I can point to many places in my writing where the word choice and the structure and the elaboration are stronger than my writing from last March. A part of me feels surprised by this reflection. Yet, another part hears the saying “You get better at writing by writing.” Of course, you do!

I can’t thank the TwoWritingTeachers enough. Thank you for providing this space for a community of writers to gather. Thank you to all who left me comments. They gave me the energy to keep going. Thank you to my friends who did the challenge with me – Scott, Mary, Fran and Marilyn – I loved getting to know you all more through your stories and having your actually physical presence gave me energy to keep going. And know I can add Tara and Fran and Catherine to this list as I have met you too, though briefly! Finally, thank you to the 5th grade Janney students. So many of you wrote optional small moment stories and that also gave me energy to keep going.

Though I independently wrote and posted daily to the blog, I am so grateful that I could be together with so many SOL writers. As I celebrate today with my students – An Orange Party complete with the wearing of orange clothing and eating orange food – Scrabble Chees-its), I plan to show the scene from the movie The Wizard of Oz. That moment when Dorothy gets hit in her bedroom during the twister and then awakes, walks to the front door of her house and opens the door. Suddenly, the screen goes from black and white to vibrant techno-color! She begins to walk with Toto and says, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” Being part of a writing community has this same feeling – during March, as I wrote daily, I was so many other places. Just as Dorothy, I was on an adventure that only writing my stories can lead!!



Thank you Fran! I LOVE the roses!!!

March 27 – Happy 50th Birthday to my husband

At 18, he was my date to the Senior prom.
The next two years, he filled my college mailbox with hand-written letters.
We walked The Lawn as graduates in ’86, married in ’87 and had our own Wahoos in ’88 and ’92.
The 90s were spent raising the girls and renovating our townhouse.
The 00s were about supporting our girls through High School and College and relaxing at the beach.
Now the 10s. We both are in our 50s, he just joining this decade today.
Both have good jobs.
Both enjoy our time with our grown girls.
Both still like each other.
The 20s…I can’t wait!