Reflections from a Writer

Final SOL #31

Hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Wow.  I never, ever, ever thought I would call myself a writer.  I have learned so much about myself over the past 31 days…and I’ve done it with a lot of help from my friends.

I have been so impressed with some of our youngest fellow slicers; the students.  I cannot even imagine putting myself out there, in this way, when I was a teenager.  I am so pleased they have teachers who are willing to put in the extra time that it took to set up a class blog.  They probably had to give explicit directions to their students to ensure public safety on the Internet.  LOTS of extra teaching on that subject!  These kids and teachers are amazing.

I was also thrilled that Ralph Fletcher wrote a guest post on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  Everyone in my district loves Ralph’s writing – teachers and students alike!  Ralph’s post spoke directly to me.  He quoted Don Graves; “…Good teaching in the Language Arts starts with a teacher’s own literacy.  He fervently believed that L.A. teachers must be readers and writers.”  To that I say….YES!   Nineteen of us in my district have taken on this challenge.  Many of us have discovered that we have the stamina and the drive to get in there and write every single day.  Some thought they couldn’t do it.  Some thought they might be laughed at.  Some thought they had nothing to write about; no stories.  Some thought poetry was out of reach for them in their writing (me).  Some couldn’t wait to get started!  It didn’t matter at which point we began….we are all ending at the same place today.

I have talked with my colleagues about how this challenge has changed them.  More importantly, I have read my colleagues’ writing and I see, through their words, how they have grown, and become confident writers.  I appreciate how they’ve brought this learning to the students they teach.  We will all be richer for their learning.

The pride I feel is overwhelming.  We are forever changed.  We are joined together as a group of writers and we will always remember March 2013 as the month that we became full fledged writers.  A funny aside….one of my colleagues told me…”I knew you could write good memos, but I didn’t know you were so creative!”  Thank Goodness I will be remembered for writing more than just good memos 🙂

A quote from Ralph’s new book…”Keep listening.  Keep your radar out.  Take everything, because it is matter for your work.  No detail is too small.”  Mary Tallmountain. 

We did it!



SOL #30

Hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Hosted by Two Writing Teachers

There he stood.  Alone.  So tall, bigger than life, at the side of the tracks.  I turned to my sister, “Will he be OK?”

“Yes.  He’ll be fine”, she said.  “Now, sit across from me, you know I hate to ride backwards.  It makes me sick.”

“What does he do when we leave?”

“He goes back to his apartment.  He’ll go to work tomorrow. He’ll probably get drunk tonight (these words weren’t spoken, but we both thought them)  Don’t worry.”

But, I did.  Worry. I knew that apartment.  It was small – just one room that doubled as a kitchen, bedroom and living room.  Too small for us to stay in when we visited.  That’s why we went to the hotel on Lake Shore Drive.  How could my dad live in that apartment?  It just seemed too small for such a big man.

What about the drinking. I worried.

“Mom is home waiting for us.  She looks forward to us coming home after these weekends.” I knew my sister had that right..

The rest of the ride home I began worrying about my mom.  What did she do while we were gone, I wondered.  The train pulled into the station and there she was waiting for us.  Looking so small next to the huge trains. Happy we were home.

Good Friday – Good Friends

SOL #29

Hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Hosted by Two Writing Teachers

As I’ve said in past slices, I’m not a terribly religious person.  I think about today, Good Friday, and it has specific memories for me – and they are all Good.

Good Friday – 1993.  Kathy, Jay and I were sitting in our former school district office.  The offices were closed.  Jay was our Superintendent.  Jay was helping Kathy and I with our paperwork for our Administrative Certificate.  At 12:00 pm Jay stopped talking.  At 3:30 he talked again.  I was very confused.  He said he couldn’t talk because that was the time period when Jesus died on the cross.  This was news to me (the part about not talking – that is!)

Good Friday – 1995.  Kathy, Jay and I (again!) in the cafeteria at Hale Middle School (my new school district).  We were preparing for Breakfast with the Easter Bunny to take place the following morning.  Kathy and I ran out for dinner and brought back chicken.  Jay reminded us that we couldn’t eat it – it was Good Friday – no meat.  I thought… guys can’t eat it, but I can!

Good Friday – 2013.  Kathy, Jay and I (are you sensing a pattern?) together at the condo.  Every year we meet to divvy up our White Sox baseball tickets for the upcoming season.  It’s a tradition.  This time we lingered a little longer.  It’s been close to 6 months since we’ve gotten together so we have a lot to catch up on.  Much has changed in our lives since that Good Friday back in 1993.  Each of us is looking a bit older and moving a bit slower.  One thing that hasn’t changed is our friendship.  Oh, and we made sure to meet well before noon and there was no meat involved!

Their Past Lives

SOL #28

Hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Hosted by Two Writing Teachers


I wrote earlier this month about how I love to listen in on other people’s conversations – all the while wondering who they are.  Are they long lost friends?  Do they have breakfast like this every day, or once a week, or today for the first time in months?  I like to wonder what their lives are like at home.  My heart and my mind conjure up all sorts of stories.  I wonder these things everywhere – not just in restaurants!  So, here we have Part 2 of “What’s their Story?”

This past year I’ve spent some time visiting in a VA Home for Alzheimer’s patients.  Last May, when we first took Charlie, my friend Kathy’s father to his new home, I was mesmerized by the men (and one woman) who lived there.  I wondered…..”What’s their story?”

Names are changed to protect the innocent….

First, we met Pete.  Pete’s picture, side by side with the rest of his fellow veterans, is hanging in the east wing.  He was a dapper young man.  I know he was in the Navy because everyone in the home sports a cap with the insignia denoting their specific branch of the Military.  I also know that Pete played the accordion at one time.  Whenever I see him he is walking the halls of the Home playing an imaginary accordion.  I wonder.  Did Pete play the accordion in the Navy?  Did he entertain his fellow enlistees?  Did he play at parties when he was a civilian?  Was he a professional?  If he had the real thing in his hands right now, would he remember how to play?

My last question was answered on a warm fall day last October.   One of the workers in the home brought an accordion and put it in Pete’s hands.  He went to town with that thing!  Pete may not know his name, or where he is at any given moment, but he remembered exactly how to play that instrument!  It was as if we were all transported, most of all Pete, to a place 60 years ago when memories were easy and time stood still.  I didn’t have to wonder anymore.  I watched Pete tell us his story that day.

Then, we had the pleasure of meeting Ben.  Ben and Charlie are roommates.  They were hooked up, because in their former lives they were Chief of Police in their respective hometowns.  As a young man Ben oversaw the maintenance of war planes in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Ben is in a wheelchair now, but in his stories he walks.  He is active and provides a vital service to his country. His window box outside Room 4 displays many newspaper articles proving this.

Sam is the only Vietnam veteran in the Home.  That makes him at least 15 years younger than all of the other residents.  They say he was never the same after he came home.  It’s startling to see such a young face walking the halls.  It just doesn’t seem to fit.  I wonder about his past life.  What did he see there?  What caused him so much pain that his mind couldn’t take the reality?  His 83 year old mother comes to visit him every weekend.  She drives.  She gets around physically just fine.  It’s such a contrast to see the two of them together.

Then, there is Charlie, Kathy’s beloved father.  We call him “Chief.”  He wears his giant Korean War cap proudly every day.  Physically, I think Chief is in better shape than most people half his age.  He walks.  And he walks.  And he walks.  This is one of the main reasons his wife had to seek outside help when he lived at home.  She couldn’t keep up with him and off he’d go down the street.  Now he walks the halls of the VA Home.  He seems happy enough there.  But, how do we know?  He enjoys eating ice cream on Saturday afternoons.  He likes watching the basketball games on Sundays.  He seems to appreciate being around other men.  They talk about their former lives.  What they say doesn’t make sense to us  -but I think they understand each other.

A sight that I saw while visiting the Home last Memorial Day put many of my questions to rest.  At around noon we heard the roar of engines coming closer and closer.  We looked and we saw miles of Veterans riding in a motorcycle procession up the long roadway leading to the Home.  Red, white and blue flags were flying proudly from their back seats.  The noise was deafening.  My heart was pounding out of my chest.  Maybe it was the thunderous bass of those bikes.  More likely it was the reverence we all felt as we stood and watched the hundreds of men coming to this little VA Home, in small town Illinois, to pay their respects to our heroes.  This tribute said to everyone,  no matter what the individual stories were, collectively we know that this Home holds amazing and awe-inspiring history.  I didn’t wonder any more.  I understood that these men did indeed have past lives and I felt privileged to honor them and to be a part of that moment.

In July

SOL #27

Hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Hosted by Two Writing Teachers

nature 101

A poem, inspired by Cynthia Rylant’s In November.

In July , the earth is full of excitement.  The birds are chirping loudly at 4 a.m.  They’ve made their homes and now dutifully tend to their nestling babies.  The trees that were once bare are now a brilliant green, robust with life.  It’s as if they grew full just so they could protect the life inside the tiny shell of straw, sticks and grass.

In July, the air is warm with a south breeze.  The sun lingers a little longer each day and the moon shines brightly over the people as they sit on their porches.  No more hurrying.  Children are out of school.  Let the lazy days of reading, swimming, cooking, and playing commence…outdoors.  Everything leans a little higher – toward the sun, in July.

In July, the night sky is lit by a fireworks display for all.  Music is in the air while friends gather to watch the show.  Red, White and Blue is everywhere.  The smells coming from the grill are new in July.  People attend picnics and eat corn on the cob, watermelon, potato salad, and fried chicken.  They drink beer and wine, too.  No more cooking indoors, in July.

In July, we snuggle under our covers at night.  The window wide open to catch the warm air.  The fan on so it’s just a little cool.  Outside the crickets and tree toads play their melody and lull us to sleep.

In July, at the peak of summer, the world has come alive with renewal and is rejuvenated.  The days feel like they will never end.  Winter is just a distant memory.

How a Memory Changes over Time

SOL #26

Hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Hosted by Two Writing Teachers

When I was 12 years old, about 6 months after my dad died, my mother and aunt went to Texas to look for a new place to live…for my aunt.  I was left at my grandmother’s with various cousins visiting throughout the 3 week period.  My sister was 19 and away at college.  I felt abandoned.  There aren’t too many unpleasant childhood memories I hold on to, but this one just won’t leave.

Maybe it was my age.  Moving into the teen years – feeling an awkward pre-teen.  Maybe it was the fact that I just lost my dad.  Should my mom have “left” me so soon after?  Didn’t I need her to stay and give me that feeling of protection a mother should after such a traumatic event?

My grandmother was already heading toward senility.  She said strange things at times.  Embarrassed me in front of perfect strangers.  Still, each day we walked to the local store, then to the park to feed the geese, and then back home again.  It was our routine.  Because she got up each day at 4:00 am. it was time to take a nap when we returned home from our walk.  I loved her big bed.  It reminded me of the Princess and the Pea.  I felt like I had to get a ladder to get up in to that bed.  We napped together.

Each morning I would head into the kitchen straight from bed.  Why the kitchen, you ask?  The floor was heated!  It felt so good on my toes.  We made breakfast together.  I can still smell the pancakes and taste the muffins. We ate outside at the picnic table my grandpa made.  I think he “made” the entire back yard where we sat.  He was a farmer.  He had a beautiful garden with huge willow trees. We lay on the hammock underneath.

My cousins came almost every day to visit.

My mom called every day.  She hated Texas.  She said she missed me and couldn’t wait to come home.

As I sit here and write this slice I realize that this “traumatic’ event wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember it.  I think I’ve perpetuated it over the years and made it much worse than it actually was.  My mind has extended the trip to 3 weeks.  In reality it was only 5 days!

By dissecting those 5 days I see how loved and protected I was with my grandmother, in the house that my grandfather built, where my cousins came and went with their husbands and children, on the heated floor, eating warm muffins, outside in the hammock, in the Princess in the Pea bed.

I know now that my mom had to go to Texas.  My aunt and uncle were divorcing.  She had to leave town quickly.  As an adult I know how hard it is to help one person while leaving the other on their own – even if temporarily.

It’s time to forgive my mom for this trip.  She was doing what she had to do for  her sister.  She did the opposite of abandon me.  She left me in the loving care of my grandmother and extended family.  I was perfectly fine.

We go Walking

SOL #25

Hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Hosted by Two Writing Teachers


Father and Daughter.

Father.  A lifetime of giving.  Of serving.  Living in a home for our heroes.

Father.  A strong man.  A man who needs his family.  Who needs his daughter.

Father.  A memory that has faded.

Daughter.  A lifetime of working hard.  Giving to others.  Visiting her father in the home for our heroes.

Daughter.  A strong woman.  A woman who has strong ties to her family.  To her father.

Daughter.  Keeping the memories of her father alive.