Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Slice of Life: Follow the Story

This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity on Tuesdays through the year. Hosted by Two Writing Teachers, we look for the small things in life to write about.

I feel regular panic about not knowing exactly what story I'm after. I feel like a fake sometimes when I get an assignment to write a story for Mother Jones, The Week, or Public Radio International. I sit and agonize over how to make my writing acceptable enough for them, over how to make sure my story is fabulous. So, I've been reading this book:
"We are rewarded from childhood on for providing answers to questions posed by others. We are taught to process information by memorizing it and retaining it, not by questioning it. Confronted daily by a mass of new information, we rarely stop to consider what is missing. 
So many people seem to spend their lives in the inevitably futile quest for certainty. Often this takes the form of religion, which for many provides solace in the face of the unknown and the unknowable.
Questioners, by and large, are viewed as dissidents, heretics, and malcontents. 
No wonder the unanswered question prompts such a visceral reaction. Some people seem to panic, others suffer anxiety attacks, and most people feel uncomfortable. To varying degrees, all of us react this way. But instead of repressing or fleeing from such feelings, writers need to embrace them and explore their causes. They are important clues (Stewart, p. 16)."
That is where I am today. I am not fleeing, but I am uncomfortable.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Jane Yolen said she writes a poem a day because it helps her grow as a writer and come up with new ideas. In 2015, Mary Lee Hahn asked me if I wanted to join her in April to write a poem a day. I thought it was insane, but she’s a pretty persuasive person. “It’ll be great!” she said. “You’ll love the community.”

I did. I loved everyone. I couldn’t believe there was this amazing community of smart, thoughtful, observant poets out there. My poems were occasionally good and more often just okay, but they did exactly what Yolen said they would. They helped me grow as a writer. I started considering my use and placement of words. I started realizing that sometimes poetry comes out of you in ways you least expect.

The following poem was written by me during that April in 2015. This particular poem stuck with me for a year until one night I woke with a start, ran downstairs, and started writing a book about the girl. I’ve rewritten this book three times now, but finally it feels ready to share. At the end of this month I’m meeting with an agent about this book and possibly about it being the first in a book series.
All because I wrote a poem a day.

Desire by Kimberley Moran
It was sparkly…and glittery
in the light.
She held it up to the window
to show her friend.
I wanted it.
Oh, how I wanted
that crystal.
I watched her slip the pink gem into
its purple leather pouch.
I saw her tuck it
into the front pocket
of her backpack.
I thought about that treasure
all through writing.
I even wrote about it.
I thought about that prize
all through math.
When everyone ran outside
to recess–I stayed behind.
I traced my hand over
her backpack.
I leaned on the door.
I meant to go out. But,
then I backed up and
–I opened the zipper.
I slipped my hand in slowly.
I tucked my finger
into the pouch.
I gently touched it and felt its power.
I breathed in slowly through my nose,
then let it out through my mouth.
My eyes teared up.
It would never be mine.
I zipped the pocket back up
walked slowly outside.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Blanding's Turtle Story by Melissa Kim

My twin brother Matthew and I rescued frogs and turtles each summer in Castine Maine. "Stop the car," we'd screech if a small animal was hopping or crawling in the road. My mother would pull over dutifully while we carefully moved the small animal from the tar to the other side of the road. We learned quickly which turtles snapped, which frogs peed in our hands, and which snakes were harmless Garters. We mostly learned by experience, but occasionally we visited the library to learn more.

Melissa Kim has written a new board book called A Blanding's Turtle Story. I'm planning to give it to a friend whose young son is also a lover of small animals. Kim's storyline is simple and easy to follow. She answers the questions kids would typically have about a Blanding's Turtle. What does the turtle do all day? What places are safe for a turtle? When should a human move a turtle if found in the road or the woods? Jada Fitch's illustrations are beautiful. The colors are soft yellows and greens that beg a closer look to uncover details like polliwogs and sunlit spaces.

The lifecycle of the Blanding's Turtle is explained along with a cautionary tale for humans about caring for an animal and its environment. The message about humans is subtle, but provides a great place to start an environmental discussion early on with the generation who will need to care for our world as well. I highly recommend all three of Kim's Audubon books for the little one in your life or the parents of one.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Moo by Sharon Creech

I moved to Maine in 1982. I was a thirteen year old freshman in high school fresh out of a childhood in New York City. It sounds more exotic than it really was. The Maine I moved into wasn't so rustic. The town, Cape Elizabeth, is quite upwardly mobile––think Boston suburb. I remember distinctly the day my friends told me we were headed to the Fryeburg Fair. I had been to a few Maine county fairs over the summers I spent Downeast on the coast of Maine, so I knew what to expect. The 4H clubs mesmerized me. These kids who took such control of large livestock were amazing. They knew what they were doing. They were all pig whisperers and lamb crooners. These animals I knew nothing about in the real world were kept clean, safe and show-worthy by kids who looked to be no more than nine or ten years old. At sixteen or so, I felt too old to learn how but man did I want to join that club.

Wordsmith Sharon Creech has come out with the new middle grade novel, Moo. It is kind of a verse novel and kind of not. The sentences are short, the prose is tight, the meaning is big. The use of text is fantastic. There are lots of words that
drip off the page. The main character is a girl named Reena who has just moved from Boston to Maine with her younger brother Luke and their parents. Right from the get-go Creech moves us into the storyline where an unpredictable woman named Mrs. Falala (Fuh-la-la) enters the children's lives by demanding some respect. Their parents insist that they help this woman with her chores. The more they help, the deeper their relationship with her goes. Reena learns to communicate with Zora the Belted Galloway––a Oreo looking cow with black head and hind quarters and a wide strip of white through the middle. Luke teaches Mrs. Falala to draw. The two children also meet two other Maine kids who teach them how to show farm animals and how to appreciate the lay of the land instead of wonder what to do in a rural town. The beauty of Creech's writing is that it washes over you before you have a chance to process it. So sometimes, you have to go back and re-read the words because there is always more than one meaning to attend to.
On Siblings
And I felt lucky
that Luke was with me
that I wasn't wandering
this new town
                                                   On Learning
                                                   I can handle it, Zep. And even if I couldn't, I
                                                   wasn't going to admit it to him.
                                                   You'll have to work really hard to get Zora ready
                                                    and to learn what to do––
                                                    ––I can work hard––
                                                    ––and I'll help you.
                                                    My mouth flopped open like a thirsty dog.
When I finished this book, I opened it back up and read it to my children. They ooo'd and ahh'd at all the right places. We loved it like we loved Creech's The Boy on the Porch. It's a smart book, a book that shows she's done her research, and a book that speaks to the usually shushed voices of children and older adults. The book made me want to check out 4H for my own children and it made me want to find an older adult for them to get to know. it's so important this communing with animals and the older generations. We have so much to learn from both populations. This is a five star HOORAH for Sharon Creech.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Choosing a Hero

A hero is a noun meaning a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. The other night we had some people over for dinner. The wife said that when she was little she was able to state one or even two heroes in her life. I cocked my head and squinted my eyes, but I couldn't think of anyone. 

The thought did not leave my mind easily.

When I was single, my friend Lisa and I would go to bars and say, "if you HAD to go home with someone tonight, who would it be?" So I gave myself this ultimatum this week. If I HAD to choose a hero, who would it be?

I choose Tara Smith. She is quite possibly one of the most extraordinary teachers I have ever been lucky enough to call a friend. She is in a very special Voxer group with me so I get to learn more about her than many of you ever will. While I can't divulge too much because it isn't my story to tell, I want to share some reasons why Tara is my hero.

1. Personalized Learning She studies her students work each week so that she can figure out where each student needs to go in their studies. She isn't kidding. She doesn't just say, "Oh six of these kids need X, five need Y." She says, "Jared needs to think about how he writes X if he wants to be more persuasive. Bailey should be introduced to two books within the P genre because he needs to learn Z."  

2. Deep Concern She lies (lays?) in bed each night and thinks about some of her students, wondering if they will push through and grow up so they can be who they need to be in the world. She gets downright angry at the injustices of the world and is very happy to speak her mind regardless of the consequence. 

3. Tough History She gets that people come from difficult backgrounds and experiences, she did too. She doesn't let this define who she will be as a mother, a teacher, a wife, and a citizen of the world and she sure as hell isn't going to let you define yourself by your history either. She speaks the truth when she needs to so you can be your best self. When you hear what Tara thinks of your truth and of who you have declared yourself to be––you will cry and, you will believe her.

4. Education Rules She is a staunch proponent for the right to education. She is appalled by teachers who don't take their jobs seriously and knows that children have the right to know the truth about the world and figure things out for themselves as well. She taught Appomattox on the last day of school because (and I quote), "they have to know how it ends!"

On the day I emailed Tara to ask if she'd consider partnering with me in an online writing group, I was worried she was out of my league. When I heard her voice say yes and sound truly excited, I knew she was one of those rare birds who doesn't believe she is out of anyone's league. We're in this together she exudes with every word she writes and every breath she takes...and I believe her.

Tara Smith is my hero.
Follow her on social media and read her blog. You have much to learn and in exchange, you'll get to hear that she thinks you have much to teach her as well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A LOT of Weight

As I walk into the room, you might want to avert your eyes. It's painful to watch, I imagine.

I've gained a lot of weight. A lot. Let's not quibble about numbers and what a lot means, okay? My weight is the bane of my existence. It is completely reflective of where I am in the moments of my life and that irritates me. I should just invent forehead banners for people: TOO MUCH STRESS or CHOSE FAMILY-CARE OVER SELF-CARE or NOT SURE HOW TO DEAL WITH FAMILY ISSUES.

I eat to make myself feel good but clearly I've overdone it. My stomach is resting on the tops of my thighs when I sit. It is not attractive and it feels terrible. My body is stressed from it as well. My creaking joints and achy muscles must carry around A LOT (no numbers please) of weight these days and I've got a lot to do.

I used to watch people who were really overweight and think, at what point is enough enough? I think I'm there. This is going to be my summer. My summer to learn how to be moderate. To jog two miles three times a day instead of setting race goals that scare me and stop me from doing any exercise. To eat healthy, well-balanced meals with an occasional oatmeal raisin cookie without thinking I don't deserve anything after gorging for a year. To treat me as I would my darling children whom I would never ridicule for eating their way through a year. I would suggest healthy eating, regular exercise, and a journal for getting it out instead of eating through it.

Happy Healthy Summer.