Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Slice of Life Tuesday: Two Weeks

August 3, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Two weeks.

In two weeks, both of my guys will be away at school.

In two weeks, my husband and I will have the house to ourselves.

In two weeks, I won’t have to listen to complaints about how empty the pantry is.

Poor guys. How will they ever cope?

In two weeks, I won’t have to nag anyone to take out the recycling and trash, or be up to my eyeballs in dishes that nobody’s putting away.

The answer is YES. I have a PHYSICAL response to looking at this…
(but I’m also not doing the job for them!)

In two weeks, I don’t have to close the door to the glory that is a teenager’s room.

now is probably NOT the time you wish you had Smell-O-Vision…

In two weeks, I’ll be able to enter the hall bathroom without a hazmat suit.

The bathtub. I just. Want. The bathtub.

In two weeks, I can worry so much less about grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking. I’ll be without the compounding of clutter that causes that tangled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

But…I’ll also be without THESE guys.

(Yes, this is how it goes when I ask my guys to take a photo together.)

They won’t be around for random conversations, for occasional date days, for the get-a-load-of-this-video! nudges, for the can-you-guess-this-song game, for kitchen dance parties, for constant bickering and ribbing and poking, for eye rolling at the latest dumb thing…

…and I might miss them, just a little bit.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Life, in Metaphor

July 20, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Yesterday I had a GREAT idea for a blog post. I was starting to craft it in my head as I always do, until I got sidetracked.

Fast forward to this morning, when I got up and could not remember for the life of me what I wanted to write about. I racked my brain, trying to go back through my day yesterday to jog my memory.

Nothing.

So I started to think on what ELSE I could possibly blog about today, what subjects I could take on. They all seemed pale in comparison to the idea I had yesterday. None of them brought the same excitement.

To kill some time, I sat down with a crossword puzzle. I usually don’t enter a word unless I’m 100% sure it’s the answer. I’m the kind of gal who would rather leave things blank than track how far a mess-up went. Of course, I still make mistakes and need to erase them.

That’s when it hit me.

You see, just yesterday I was working on this same puzzle. Just yesterday I worked those squares, hoping for no major mess-ups. Just yesterday, I had one of those mess-ups, and had to rely on my trusty eraser to clean things up.

Only, I couldn’t.

You see, the pencil was old enough, and the eraser was unused enough, that it had hardened on the outside. Rather than deftly sweeping my shortcomings away in a pile of of rubber shavings, I just got a black blurry mess.

That got me thinking.

Erasers. We need them. They clean our messes, big and small. They give us a fresh start on things. Erasers let us take comfort in knowing we can take chances; there’s always a way out with an eraser.

But we can only begin erasing once we look at our paper, see something wrong and recognize it’s worth the time to fix it. Otherwise, we can plow ahead without worrying.1 And if we don’t use our erasers, if we’re not in the habit of recognizing and correcting errors, those erasers harden. They fall into disuse, and when we try to use them again they just leave a bigger mess behind.

And isn’t that the way of us humans? (C’mon, you saw where this was going, right?)2

We, too, have to be in regular practice of noticing our mistakes. We’ve got to be aware of times we leave messes that bear fixing. We’ve also got to take enough chances knowing we’ll mess up sometimes, knowing we may have to fix things. And if we don’t use those figurative erasers, if we fall out of the habit of recognizing where we’ve gone wrong and working to correct it, they3 will harden. And once we’ve fallen out of practice, it’s so much harder to admit mistakes – and SO much harder to find ways of making things better. 4 5 6

So yes, my friends, we need to keep our pencils sharp. But let’s also remember that pencils have another, worthy end.

“The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead.” – Robert Brault


1 and sometimes you do skip errors because who has the time to make sure we’re always 100% error free?
2 yes, this is definitely proof that I live in metaphor and can’t ever shut it off
3 like our hearts
4 yes, i know that every metaphor breaks down at some point, including this one
5 and even the best eraser job leaves traces of the mistake that wasn’t there
6 I mean, we can’t just erase our mistakes with people – there are always echoes, right?

Slice of Life Tuesday: Letters to Mrs. Levin

July 13, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Each June, I ask my fifth graders to write me a letter reflecting on what they’ve learned in our years together – what they’ve learned about language arts, and what they’ve learned about life. I ask them to make it heartfelt, sincere, and handwritten. This letter is what I will remember them by.

My tradition is to wait to read them until a summer day when I’m just turning that corner between relief that school is over and sadness over missing my loveys. Then I sit down with my folder full of letters and read them, one at a time.

It’s a veritable treasure trove! So many hearts, gathered together in one place.

I’ve been doing this assignment for several years now. Each year, I can predict how the crop will go. There will be some sweet, thoughtful notes. There will be perfunctory letters designed to fulfill the nature of the assignment. Some will astonish me. Without fail, each letter, regardless of length or depth, brings me every child’s essence distilled on paper.

“Do you like the cat?” and “Can you please write back?” Yes, and absolutely yes! All of this, down to the cartoons and doodles and parentheticals, sums up a child I’ve taught for five full years.

I’ll be honest. Sometimes I struggle with this assignment. I don’t take praise well. Compliments make me uncomfortable, and I don’t like the feeling that I’m asking for them or expecting them. So, I feel strange (arrogant, even) asking children to write letters that may wind up with them telling me I’ve done a good job. It feels self-serving. I can’t shake that.

But life is short. It’s important to reflect, to consider our evolution and growth. It’s important to see who helps us along our way, to articulate our gratitude, and to recognize the power that words carry in our relationships. And now that I’ve begun writing the children back, it’s much easier accepting their gifts of love and sincerity knowing I’ll be able to do the same for them in return. It feels good.

A handmade bracelet in my student’s favorite colors: crafted with love, looked over by a jealous doggo

This morning, I sat down with my folder of letters, and WOW. The whole experience was…unexpected.

My students expressed themselves with a level of trust, honesty, reflection and vulnerability I had never before experienced. I asked them to write from their hearts, and they responded with such openness that several times throughout the reading I just had to stop. Absorb. Feel. It was ovewhelming.

It shouldn’t have struck me so hard. I mean, c’mon. I’m a teacher. Teachers know it’s our job to reach our kids. It’s our job to make them feel seen and heard, valued and understood.

But I had grown so close to my students. I’m more attached to my students this year than I have in quite a while. They have my heart.

All of this astounds me. How is it possible to spend the last year and a half seeing one another only through a bunch of pixellated boxes, yet still come out of the experience so tight-knit? How is it possible despite not having our hugs and handshakes, not having moments to lay eyes on one another, not being able to build on that in-person energy together?

What is it that allowed us to strengthen our relationships in the face of our limitations? What was so different about what we created this year? Was it because we had to be so purposeful with our time and attention? Was it because adversity brought us closer?

I can’t completely say. But I’m determined to figure that out. And once I do, how much more will be possible once we’re back in person? The very thought is exhilarating.

Now. If you need me, I’ll be with my stationary, my Flair pens, and a folder full of letters. I’ll be spending the next several days telling a group of eleven year-olds how much I love, admire, and appreciate them.

Next step: mailbox!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Backwards Journal

July 6, 2021

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Before I landed here, among the cicada noise and the soon-to-be-fireflies and the cooling air and the driftings-in of neighbor sounds;

Current view. Not too shabby.
Turn the volume up if you like cicada sounds! (But please let me know if you can’t see this video. WordPress has been weird.)

Before I was in the kitchen, prepping weekly lunches and garden pesto and night-time banana oat snacks and oh, yes…DINNER;

Before I drove back to the gym for the groceries I reminded myself to take out of the gym fridge;

Before I biked home to discover that even though I reminded myself to take the groceries out of the gym fridge, I must somehow have neglected to do so;

Before I struggled my way through a phoned-in half-workout, half-physical therapy session and a mobility class;

I know my coach will have something to say about this form. I’ve got me some work to do!

Before I planned out how I was going to run my errands via bike and chuck my oops-I-forgot-to-get-important-groceries groceries in the gym fridge so they didn’t go bad on a sweltering day;

Before I wasted an inordinate amount of time on social media wondering why on earth I haven’t been motivated to write more;

Before I finished the book that kept me company for the two and a half hours I was in line;

This…was a summer read. Entertaining, quick, fun.

Before I finally got through with the paperwork for my new Real ID driver’s license;

Before I trucked back home to get a second “proof of address;”

Before the clerk discovered that one of my “proofs of address” (yes, the one I originally brought) didn’t actually have my address or even name on it;

Before my hero son saved the day and brought me a second “proof of address” while I was waiting in said line;

Before the woman taking care of waiters-in-line told me all my papers were okay, but I needed a second “proof of address;”

Before I gasped amazed, agog at the line ahead;

This was actually after I had moved up!

Before I packed my backpack ready for a long wait with a trusty book, a GAMES magazine, chewing gum, a writer’s notebook, and my morning chai;

Before I walked my slow, addle-brained, high-strung but wise-beyond-her-many-years doggo;

I lay, eyes open-ish, eyes closed-ish, gathering my wits about me, wondering what my day today might have in store, what kind of story the hours would tell.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Beach Thoughts

June 22, 2021

This post is part of the Weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!


Last week was the first in a long time that I didn’t post a Tuesday Slice of Life post. I meant to, honest. But I was surrounded by THIS:

Gratuitous “beach feet” pic

And by THIS:

Door County, WI sunset

So really. Who could blame me? I spent whole days sitting right there on the beach doing nothing. And I wanted to think about nothing, but let’s be honest. I can let my poetbrain shift into idle, but I can’t park it completely. Here were some musings from lakeside (really, bayside, but I digress).

Sometimes going to the beach
is a matter of collection:
heart-shaped rocks
sun for February days
sounds and sounds and sounds

and on this day
I collect thoughts

watching the older sister,
waist-deep in the water
clenched hands outstretched
beckoning her brother to play
rock or no rock? just guess!
(I don’t really care)
no! really. rock or no rock? you pick
(shrugs, turns his back, walks away)

and out of sheer commitment to the bit
she opens a fist to no one
and shouts
the left hand? okay!…look at that! you were right!

then that same sister
in full view
of brother
and parent
kicks over the brother’s rock pile
with an oops
and a laugh
and a smile
and in the same motion
bends to pick up his flip-flops
and bring them over
for him
in what I can only describe
as the world’s most
most perfect demonstration
of what it’s like
to have a sibling


Just for you: 30 seconds of sounds and sounds and sounds

Tuesday Slice of Life: Two Sides of the Same SweeTART

June 8, 2021

This post is part of the Weekly Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. Check them out!

It’s summer break now (let us pause for a moment of celebration).

I’m supposed to be taking it easy.
I’m also supposed to be getting my house back in order.
To get back into shape.
To carve out time for writing.
To meditate.
To enjoy life.
To check out and read scads and scads of books.

“So, Lainie, what delightful writing projects have you taken on now that summer unfurls before you, vast and wide?”

….ummm….well….you know how sometimes energy needs to be stored as potential energy before it can be released as kinetic energy? Kind of like how you’ve got to draw back and hold tension before you release the rubber band or the arrow? Consider me in that…potential energy phase.

I do have one thing that caught me as a writer. A student gave me a box of SweeTARTS.

Did you know that they’ve started to put words on SweeTARTS? And that the words are connected to one another?

That piqued my curiosity. I’ve long been a fan of words that are two sides of the same coin. As in, you can look at a penny and see Lincoln, or you can look at a penny and see the Lincoln Memorial. They look different, but they’re the same thing. A fellow storyteller, Yvonne Healy, taught me to advise student tellers that fear and excitement are just that – two sides of the same coin.

So naturally I wanted to explore this idea through the candy box. What “two sides of the same coin” ideas would pop up for me in artificially-flavored sugary goodness? What to do the corporate minds at the SweeTARTs factory have in store? Could they impress me?

I’d have to dig in to the candy and find out. But here’s the thing. I couldn’t just open a box of candy and waste it. And to tell the truth, I can maybe tolerate a few SweeTARTS before my teeth begin to hurt. Thankfully, my 20-year-old was on the task. He helped me sort through and find all the different word pairs on the SweeTARTS as I listed them. He also helped me eat said SweeTARTS. Talk about taking one for the team!

Some of the word pairings were pretty expected, nothing surprising:

humble-proud
strong-gentle
rock-pop
global-local
witty-silly
grit-strong
head-heart

But there were also several that, happily, surprised me. These are the ones that struck me as “two sides of the same coin.” It’s proof that there, somewhere buried in an office cubicle or around a meeting table or in some departmental Zoom meeting, there are sparks of creativity and wit at the corporate level:

funny-fierce
math-art
sassy-savvy
wild-wise

Now.

If you need me, you might find me writing. Or maybe not.
I might be walking the dog.
Or reading a book.
Or rearranging the kitchen drawers.
Or spending quality time behind a barbell.
Or trying a new cookie recipe.
Or
or
or…

Slice of Life: Love Those Writers

May 25, 2021

Yesterday.

Yesterday was a pretty good day.

It was the day my first article as a contributing author got published on my very favorite teacher site, Two Writing Teachers.

And it was also the day that I asked my students to reflect on their experiences in writing workshop this year. I told them of my respect and admiration for them as humans, as writers. I told them how amazing it was to enjoy the process of writing alongside them this year. I told them that we’re going to have the chance to continue this work together next year, and I want their experience next year to honor their strengths and needs.

Here are the questions I asked:

How did you grow as a writer this year?
What did you learn from reading one another’s writing?
Describe your ideal writing workshop.
Looking ahead to next year, how would YOU like to grow as a writer?

I first used breakout rooms on Zoom (sigh. Always ZOOM) to let the kids discuss answers to these questions, to gather ideas and perspectives. I then gave kids a solid 20 minutes to complete the questions on Google Forms. And by 20 minutes, I MEANT 20 minutes. I told students they were not allowed to submit their survey before I gave the OK. If they reached a stopping point, they could stop, or think, or daydream, but I wanted the survey open for other thoughts that “trickled in” over the course of that 20 minutes.

I’m glad I did.*

My students brought it. And why shouldn’t they have? They’ve been bringing it every day we’ve been together.

As I read through their responses, I saw so many common threads, so many take-aways. I’m sharing a couple of highlights because they make me so happy.

On what we want writing workshop to look like, kids envisioned:
-Calm. Quiet. Peace.
-Solitude when needed.
-Collaboration when needed.
-Pens and paper and clipboards and fuzzy pillows and seating options.
-Freedom.

Word cloud showing how we envision writing workshop. Thanks, edwordle, for the resource!

On what we learned from sharing our work:
-We never gave enough credit to the skills of other writers.
-Other people have very different writing styles.
-Reading other people’s work made us want to write better.
-We’re better at giving and receiving feedback

Word cloud showing what we’ve gotten out of the experience.

On how I can help them learn and grow, students envision that I’ll be:
-Teaching specific writing skills
-Offering feedback
-Giving them the “push” they want and need in zones of discomfort
-Showing them text that mirrors the aspects they want to use in writing

This is just the tip of the iceberg, friends. I asked my kids to stop, to imagine, to dream about what writing workshop could be. They’ve given me so much to think about over the summer. And while summer canNOT come fast enough, I’m already looking forward to next year.

*(If we’re being 100% real, YES. There were plenty of kids who probably filled out the survey in four minutes and pretended to work longer. This is a COVID year. And it’s June. And Zoom. I’ll take what I can get.)


Today’s post is part of the weekly Slice of Life Challenge. Check them out!

“I Feel Like a Real Writer” – Guest Post

May 24, 2021

Friends, I’m so excited to tell you that I am now a contributing author on the Two Writing Teachers website. This community has helped me grow so much as a writer, a teacher and as a person. Honestly, I could gush for quite a while about how transformative the experience has been. Suffice it to say, I’m humbled and honored to be a part of it.

So, here’s a teaser for my first article:

Teaching writing to gifted students isn’t the smooth, easy path some might suppose. Gifted kids often present a range of academic and affective needs. How can we encourage joyful and confident writing in this special population?

Want to read the rest? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy, and keep on visiting that site. There’s a lot to learn, and amazing folks to learn from!

Sunday Sitdown #15: Sugarland, and Regrets

May 23, 2021

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week.


My first teaching job. Sugarland Elementary, Sterling Virginia.

I got the job maybe a couple of weeks before the start of the school year, when the district opened up a new classroom. There was nothing in my classroom. No paper. No paper clips. No chalk. No erasers. No nothing. Luckily my newfound colleagues helped me scrabble together enough to start the school year with my loveys.

Sugarland School served a working-class neighborhood which, in turn, was home to a large population of students of color.

There’s a lot that my liberal education, my lived experiences with folks who were different from me, and my coursework in multicultural studies prepared me for. I knew to value and celebrate our differences, to provide books, resources and activities that reflect a multitude of faces and life stories. I knew that I needed to expect big things out of ALL my students no matter what.

But there are things that I didn’t know, things that I wish I recognized. Maybe it was the oblivion of youth that clouded my vision. Maybe I wasn’t as evolved in my understandings as I am now. Had I had today’s wisdom, I would have done better with the kid who made himself dinner each night because his dad worked four jobs to support him. I would have found better ways to support the child who missed kindergarten in his native El Salvador. I would have made the classroom safer for the kid who drew pictures of himself dying so that he could come back as an American. And somehow, all of these kids managed to turn out OK despite the mistakes I made.

But when I think of the damage that schools do to children of color, particularly Black girls, I cannot help but think of Essence.

Essence, whose mom struggled with addiction.
Essence, whose grandma raised her.
Essence, who came each day brimming with the turbulence of life.
Essence, with whom I engaged in regular power struggles.
Essence, who ended her academic year with me labeled.
Essence, who lost her own difficult struggle in 2016.

And in my young teacher’s mind, I was holding her to high expectations. I was treating her with love and compassion. I was doing for her what I hoped to do for all my students: inspire them to be the best versions of themselves.

But oh. In my moments of clarity and honesty, I know that I did damage. I did not provide this child with the room and space to feel truly safe. I did not support her and her family in a way that was culturally responsive, and I didn’t take into account her immense lived trauma.

I’m not looking to have folks respond with, “but you’re a great teacher! you HAVE made a difference.”

I would say an awkward “thank you” in response. Yes, I will acknowledge my deep connection with many kids. But the purpose of this post – the purpose of this series – is to recount my experiences with race, and to claim those moments and choices I wish I could take back. My time with Essence is one of them.

And Essence, had I been your teacher now, I can only hope that I’ve developed enough wisdom and perspective to give you the support, the validation and the true compassion you so deeply deserved.

Assigned Writing: A Poem

May 21, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing.

Today’s assignment: Write a poem.
(I’m not going to lie. I may have juggled things today so I could use it as an excuse for poetry writing.)


You know,

On days when you are adrift
in the sea
with nothing
but that horizon-perfect circle

you might catch
out of the corner of your eye
bobbing out there in the waves
a leaf,
a stem
with a timid bloom on top

and you wonder
what on earth
is a flower doing
way out here in the ocean
but you pick it anyway
and it gives you something to hold on to
in the middle of all this nothing

and then the current turns you around
and look there,
another leaf
another stem
another flower
was it there before?
and how did i ever miss it?

and the more flowers you pick
the more flowers you find
and the more stems you gather

until you realize

you are not in the ocean at all
but standing, planted
in a garden
of your own creation.


This week was a doozie. I felt adrift in many directions.

And then a colleague brought me some cake. And friends, I know that food doesn’t solve problems. I know that cake doesn’t make everything better.

But it does make SOME things better, sometimes. And on that rough morning, those bites of sweetness were a simple reminder that the love we put into the world sometimes does, indeed, come back in our direction.

And then a former parent reached out to me to tell me what her grown-up kid was up to (once a lovey, always a lovey).

And then my irises, sent to me by my dad, emerged to bring me a yearly reminder of him.

And then I sat with some friends for bubble tea and validation.

And then someone thought of me at the grocery store.

And then I got to see reluctant third graders roll their pride into a ball and play puppets like no one was watching.

And all of a sudden, I had a whole bouquet of wonderful, right there in my hands. More than I can even count.

Strange, isn’t it, how life works.