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.

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.


Our Fox

“What is that?” I asked.

It was just after dusk. The sky still has a thin stripe of yellow at the horizon but darkness now covered the foreground. Something drew my eyes out the window and I began to survey my backyard. I stepped closer to the dining room sliding door and looked out, first to the the far left and scanning to the right. Mostly all I saw was shades of gray and black. As my eyes started to adjust, I could make out the tall oak tree.  Next to it, a raised mound in the middle of the otherwise flat ground appeared. Then the mound moved.

“Wait, I think it’s our fox!”

I kept staring into the backyard darkness. Suddenly, the mound had two ears, four legs, and a bushy tail. Then the mound moved a bit to the left, circled, crouched and laid down. “Look Brian, it’s our fox,” I yelled to my husband in the living room. We both now stared out at our backyard critter. He looked so comfortable. Just chilling in our backyard.

We stood for minutes, just looking. Then we noticed the dark mound rise, strut toward the neighbor’s fence and hop over it, gracefully out of our view.

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In books, the fox is always the perpetrator or the trickster. Today, in my yard, he or she seemed calm and quiet. A backyard friend.

Now I Tag

I started my first blog back on July 13, 2011. At that time I began reading the blogs of  Staff Developers at TCRWP and thought if they could do it, so could I. I posted a total of 11 posts from July to December that year. I included writing related to my own reading and tips on teaching reading and writing. I included photos and hyperlinks. I added widgets to allow people to follow me, show blogs I follow and archive my posts. I used blogspot and was pretty proud of myself.

Now in 2018, I feel I have evolved as a blogger. I owe that in large part to the community I found here at TheTwoWriting Teachers. In March, 2014 I started a new blog to host my first ever Slice of Life posts. My first blog stayed as the blog where I post my learning at TCRWP and other PD related to Reading and Writing. This new blog’s purpose was to hold only the stories I can tell which became my blog’s title. It held my small moment slices and it served me well all of 2014. That first year, after writing for 31 days, I was done. I went back to occasionally adding to my other blog. I returned to my SOL blog in 2015 by adding my OLW thoughts and then March, 2015 another 31 days!

After year two, I felt comfortable enough as a writer to add a Tuesday Slice to my routine during the months not called March and I started adding 4ish slices during these months. And then daily in March. I followed this pattern through 2016.

Then I started noticing people “liking” my posts and I wanted to be able to “like” them back. By then, my daughter, Anne, was blogging (her insightful posts can be found HERE) and she helped me start a new blog using wordpress. WordPress allows me to easily like others. It allows me to easily reply to comments. I liked wordpress so much that since, then, I’ve started a blog to hold onto my thinking about teaching Middle School and another blog I use with a group of teachers doing Teacher Research. 

However, this weekend I wanted to be the kind of blogger who uses “tags”. I’ve seen this on other’s blog pages like this one on Fran McVeigh’s:

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One problem, my go-to tech support (AKA my daughter, Anne) is living and working in France until May. And I wanted to do this NOW. So I searched google “How to tag in a wordpress blog” and it indicated that there were only 8 million links to help me. When I clicked on VIDEO, now only 6 million links were available! So I picked one and watched. It indicated that this box can appear as I am drafting my post if I click on the wheel on the top right corner.

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Without clicking on the wheel, which was something I had never done before, my screen simply looked like this:

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Suddenly, I got it!! I went to my dashboard and clicked on BLOG POSTS and saw this total:

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 2.08.26 PMYikes…that meant I could revisit each of the 274 posts, click on the wheel and add a tag or two or three. I started with enthusiasm. Soon, my stomach was grumbling and I took a lunch break. Then I pushed on. I wanted to be a blogger who tagged and it only felt right if I tagged all that went before and then started tagging each in the making of a post going forward. After a dinner break, I finally finished! Now this can be seen on my blog:

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Before I publish, let me just add the tags for this post. What is it mostly about? I’m tagging it like this: tech, SOL, Blogs, friends, Anne.  

 I can’t wait for Fran to see this tomorrow when I post it as my SOL #5!

Are you a blogger who tags? Are you a blogger who uses another feature? Please share!

PS: I also discovered I can publish this right now to be scheduled to actually be published tomorrow…so sneaky!!

PSS: I still want to be the kind of slicer who includes the orange slice and how I’m blogging as part of the challenge. Maybe I’ll figure out how to add that next weekend!

#3 Wind vs Windbag?

Last year when teaching a nonfiction writing unit, my students loved researching animals and then comparing them. They asked: Who Wins? using the Who Would Win series as a mentor text and then they wrote, using their research notes. Here’s an example of a page (on right) based on the book (on left):

Last night, the wind outside howled. It howled so loudly. It howled causing branches to fall. It howled keeping me awake on and off all night. As it howled, I cringed and pushed away the image of a large tree falling onto my house. The weather forecast stated winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph would happen all day and night. And I listened to the howling all night long.

Also last night, before heading to bed, I listening to the news. On and on, media hosts talked and talked and talked. About current government problems. About the 5-digit amount a government committee was going to pay for furniture for its new government office. About kids and guns in FL. About trade issues.  About kids dying due to bombs in Syria.

Who wins?              Wind…..vs……….windbags?
Who wins?             Nature issues…vs……..man-made issues?

Wind wins, in my opinion. There is no controling Mother Nature.
However, it was hard for me to pick a winner. It feels like my current government and my current world can’t be controlled either at the moment. But I remain hopeful. I write my congressman and Senators and I vote. I keep believing in my fellow man to be upstanders, not bystanders, two terms my 6th grade Social Issues Book Club members are using as they discuss their books and their world. Wind wins!

PS: I hope all out there are safe from the wind and storms and headaches caused by wind and windbags.

Today, Amtrak is taking me to NYC for a day of magical learning with the smartest literacy minds on the planet at TCRWP. I predict that on March 4th, my slice will be all about it!

Free Land!

As I sat eating my lunch in the Faculty room last week, a substitute teacher mentioned there is an island in the Pacific giving away land. Really?! I got to thinking, maybe this is an option! I looked it up. It is called Pitcairin.

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According to Wikipedia, it is a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean that form the last British Overseas Territory in the South Pacific.” When I read more, I discovered it has internet and a shop opened 3 times a week. And the supplies ordered from New Zealand only take 3 months. The temperature is in the 60s all year long and the island is surrounded by the bluest water! And a big plus for someone like me who doesn’t know other languages, English is spoken by the 50 current residents.

With the recent news, escaping to an island sounds refreshing. I can’t understand the people who think school teachers or administrators should have the right to carry a gun at school. And if this ever becomes a rule where I work, I’ll need an exit strategy. So moving to a remote island where the land is free, might be my option. For now, it is a pretty place to dream about visiting at least for a vacation, if not for my next act.


Scratchy, the squirrel


Such a pretty afternoon. The sun was shining, the temperature had reached an unseasonably 70 degrees for the end of February and it sure had a feeling that maybe spring really was on the way. It was too pretty of a day to stay at my school, in my windowless classroom and input grades into the electronic grade book and post the 3rd quarter interim grades. So I walked home, sat at my dining room table and worked. I love my dining room because the one long wall overlooks the backyard and is all windows. If I had to sit and do mindless data entry, at least I could do it is a comfortable space.

As I typed away on my MacBook Air, I heard it. “Scratch. Scratch.” I looked up and out and scanned the backyard. I heard it again and noticed something moving on the large oak tree out back. It was grey and had a bushy tail – a squirrel. What was he carrying? It looked like a large leaf in its mouth. The scratching sound was its feet as it climbed up and around the trunk. I kept my eyes on this squirrel and saw him pause as he reached the halfway point of the trunk. Then he disappeared into what looked more like a leathery, brown balloon stuck to the side of the tree trunk. The he reappeared, without the leaf in his mouth. Scratch, scratch. He scampered down the tree, onto the grass and hopped across my backyard and into my neighbors yard.

Five minutes later, he (or maybe a she) was back. Again with a leaf in his mouth. Again, climbing up the oak tree. Again making a scratching sound as he climbed to the to that leafy brown balloon-shaped spot. Again he disappeared and reappeared.

I guess this is how a squirrel makes a home, his drey. I think I’ll call my construction working squirrel, Scratchy.

What creatures have YOU enjoyed watching lately?

PS: I didn’t film my squirrel but this person did!


Getting Ready for March!

I started writing a story about the squirrel I watched in my backyard today. But then I decided I’d wait and use that story as my March 1st Slice. So today, I’m writing about getting ready for my 5th year of participation in the TwoWritingTeachers March SOL Writing Challenge.

I scrolled through this PADLET that I made last year. I was reminded that a while ago, I had added links to writing prompts. I usually don’t like writing to a prompt. But if I get stuck, I made this list after looking through the padlet links:

  • Write about your favorite childhood toy. 
  • Write out the best or the worst day of your life. 
  • Five years from now, I will be… 
  • Which character from a book would you most like to meet and why? 
  • Who is the person from literature that you would most like to meet and talk to?  Why?  What would you like to ask? 
  • Compile a list of inanimate or animate objects to which you might compare yourself metaphorically.  (I am a windmill.  I change direction or my thoughts whenever someone talks to me…) 
  • What is your favorite kind of weather?  Why? 
  • Be a building you know well.  Talk about your life and memories. 
  • What is your hobby?  Why do you enjoy it? 
  • Write about an experience in a hospital. 
  • Write about mowing the lawn, burning leaves, or weeding the garden. 
  • If you could only speak twenty words for the rest of your life, what words would head your list and why? 
  • Write a short biography of your mother. 
  • Write a short biography of your father.
  • Write about two things that your family has taught you.
  • If you had to work in any store at your favorite mall,  which store would it be and why? 
  • Write about your favorite sport. 
  • Attach a photo and write about it
  • Bucket List for the next 5 years
  • Remember a favorite book from childhood
  • Create a menu from a fictitious restaurant. Make sure the restaurant has a theme, such as Classic Books, and the food should all be given appropriate names (e.g., “Mockingbird Pie”).
  • Make a soundtrack for your life so far. List songs that describe you or different times of your life. (Make the actual soundtrack on Spotify, etc. too!)

I also reached out to teachers I’ve worked with in the past and encouraged them to join the challenge. And told them to SAVE THE DATE – I’m planning a Slice of Life Orange Writing Celebration on Thursday, April 5th after school. If you are in Arlington, VA on the 5th, YOU are invited, too!! (Email me and I’ll send you my address!)

Why wait until the 5th to celebrate with a party? Because I’m heading to France on March 21st and I don’t return until April 3rd. My daughter, Anne who is also a slicer  lives in Marseilles, France and my husband and I are spending my Spring Break with her!! Because of this, I’m only able to post until the 22nd. Then I plan to hand write my stories while traveling. (So I guess I’m not able to participate fully this year but I’m committed to writing every day in March!)

So on Thursday, I’ll post my 1st March SOL, my squirrel story. And daily I’ll either write a slice of my daily life or use a prompt to help if I get stuck or write in my journal using my pen as I explore France. Also, I’m looking forward to reading other Slicers’ posts and leaving my comments. So much inspiration comes when I read and write lots!

What is your writing plan for March?

Numb Stage

I know there are stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Though I am not personally dealing with a loss, I do feel down. Maybe it is a kind of depression, a kind not associated with loss. And I wonder, are there stages to depression? And if so, what stage might I be in? I think I’d call it the Numb Stage. I usually am an optimistic person. When a student whines, “Do we have to do that?”, I reply with an encouraging smile, “Yes, you GET to do that!” I see tasks as fun. I see collaborating as fun. And I always get positive energy from helping someone else. At least I used to.

Lately, I find myself being more annoyed than excited. I find my push to be helpful slowed to a point where I feel I’ve been injected with Novocain.

It could be because I live outside of Washington, D.C. where local news is also White House news. For the past eight years, my local news was filled with hopeful Obama government-sponsored  stories. Now, it is the opposite and somehow feels 100 times worse. I’m embarrassed by my government leadership. I find myself dreaming about moving to a better country. But also I’m wondering if there is one. This makes me numb.

It could be because this is my 26th year as a teacher and I’m just getting tired. I can feel the shift. I am feeling set in my ways of doing things that I know work. I do get annoyed by others, especially when their way may be better for them but I know it isn’t better for kids.. Also, some younger teachers lack the drive to figure things out. If I read another question posted to the TCRWP Units of Study facebook page asking a question that can actually be answered by just searching the TCRWP website themselves and/or reading the unit of study books themselves, I’ll scream. I’m embarrassed that they are asking something, that to me, seems they should to able to figure out on their own. Yet, I guess I could not be so annoyed and instead, be moved to help them. Yet, I’m too numb.

It could be that I attended the TCRWP MS/HS Book Club Institute and was placed in a Vietnam War Book Club. I spent time yesterday reading more of Walter Dean Myers’ book,  Fallen Angels. The horror he describes. The horror that still occurs today on parts of the globe. So much horror. It is a lot to take in. It makes me numb.

But today is a new day. . The sunrise adds lovely pink stripes to the pale blue sky. The brisk fall air as I walk to work numbed me but as soon as I enter my school building, the heat thaws me. Today Middle Schoolers make me laugh. Today I keep going. Maybe the numb stage is ending.