Slice of Life: Not Procrastinating

Just do it. Put your butt in the chair and write. So here I am, sitting in a chair, writing. I have a project I’ve been working on for several years that is nearing completion. An endless list of writing ideas for poems, picture books, and more. No more procrastinating.

This weekend, before I decided to stop procrastinating, I cleaned out my email inbox. (Is there such a thing as productive procrastination?) As I scanned the subject lines, certain words began to grab my attention. Simple words, but all words are full of possibilities, aren’t they? Soon, I had a list of more than twenty words in my notebook. Before I knew it, the words were arranging themselves into a poem.

There are many variations of found poetry. Some retain the word order as it appeared in an original text; others are more flexible. Because I found these words in email subject lines, I felt free to rearrange the order and add articles and small words such as to. Besides, keeping the beginning of the list in order resulted in this:

Today, hours
Are free.
The code
Is yours,
Waiting

Here

Here

Here.

If only!

Here is another poem I drafted with the found words from my email subject lines:

Seeds lie hidden
in books:
A collection, a code
waiting
to reveal
hidden gifts
for each soul
lucky enough
not to miss

the miracle.

Happy writing, everyone. Keep an eye out for those miracles!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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Poetry Friday: Strong Women

Happy New Year to all my Poetry Friday friends! As I was entering important dates into my new desk calendar, I discovered that, by pure coincidence, I am hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup on International Women’s Day (March 8th). I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the day by sharing poems that honor women. These could be original poems or poems written by others. They could be poems about an important woman in your life who deserves to be celebrated, someone famous, an unsung woman of historical significance, or a poem by your favorite female poet. The choice is yours. So please feel free to participate (or not) in any way that feels right to you. I’ll post a few reminders between now and March 8th.

The theme of this year’s celebration is #BalanceforBetter. In 2017, I wrote this poem celebrating the women in my life who helped me be a better person. (You can read the original post here.)

Strong women taught me
how to knit, to bake,
to cook and sew.

Strong women taught me
how to love, to live
through strife and woe.

Strong women taught me
not to count
on others for my bread.

Strong women taught me
to rely
on my own wits instead.

Strong women taught me
to be brave when lies
and hate are spread.

Strong women taught me
how to think, to stand
for what is right.

Strong women taught me
to be kind, to fill
the world with light.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

With my sister and mother, still going strong at 81, on Christmas day.

Please be sure to visit Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: 2019 Reading Goals

Resolutions really aren’t my thing. I’m much better at setting goals and working toward them. That way, I’m always making progress.

At school, we always challenge our students to, in the words of Lucy Calkins, “outgrow themselves as readers.” January is the perfect time to check our progress and set new goals. Knowing that many of our students need help choosing titles, we’ve adapted The Strand Book Store’s “Reads-olutions” (I know; I said I don’t like resolutions, but this is too catchy to pass up.) to guide them.

I always tell kids that these categories are only suggestions, and really, as long as they keep reading, they’re achieving their goal. I do share with them my reads-olutions (aka goals), and tell them that I almost never read every book I plan to, but always read many more that I didn’t know about when I made my list.

With that in mind, here are several titles I hope to read in 2019:

  • Book by a debut author (also covering Book with a one word title):
    Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt

  • A Newbery Award winner:
    Although I haven’t read every Newbery winner, I’ve read many of them. Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata is the most recent winner I haven’t read. Of course, if I haven’t read this year’s winner, I’ll add that to my list.

As always, I’ll continue to chip away at the mountains of books already scattered around my house, waiting to be read! Thanks to Betsy Bird for her fabulous blog, A Fuse 8 Production, and her incredible series, 31 Days/31 Lists. Many of these titles came from these posts. The Nerdy Book Club also has wonderful year-end lists if you need more suggestions.

What books are you looking forward to reading in 2019?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: A Christmas Miracle

The turkey had been roasting for about forty-five minutes when we heard the POP! At first we thought juices had spattered, but then the oven timer went off.

I hadn’t set the timer.

When I got to the oven, a bright green “F1” was flashing where the temperature setting should have read 325 degrees. Uh-oh.

I tried to open the oven door. It would not budge. Locked. Tight.

My twenty pound turkey was stuck in the oven. Thirty people would be arriving for a Christmas feast in just a few hours.

“Go turn off the breaker,” I said to my husband. “Maybe it will reset itself and the door will open.” Meanwhile, I was mentally scanning my neighbor’s kitchens. Who was likely to be home, not needing their oven a week and a half before Christmas?

“Did that work?” my husband called from the basement.

“Yes! The door’s open!” I hollered back as I dialed the neighbor most likely to have an empty oven. “Hi, Jean? I need a huge favor.”

Fifteen minutes later, my turkey was safely tucked into Jean’s oven. But I still had mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and broccoli to worry about.

“Well, we were going to get a new oven soon anyway,” my husband reasoned. “I’ll just go buy one today.”

Within the hour, my well-used, trusted oven was on its way to the great appliance graveyard.

Within three hours, our new oven was settled into its new home, gleaming brightly.

Four hours after that ominous pop, the turkey finished roasting in our new oven, the potatoes were mashed, and the squash was boiling. When our first guests arrived, everything was under control. They only reason anyone knew anything had gone wrong was because we told them.

At school, we help students to put their problems in perspective, categorizing them as bummers, glitches, or catastrophes. Thanks to a good neighbor and a handy husband, what at first felt like a catastrophe turned out to be only a glitch. Dinner was on the table a bit later than originally planned, but otherwise, our Christmas celebration with my husband’s family went off without a hitch. It was a miracle!

Wishing you all a glitch-free holiday! Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Slice of Life: Life is Short

Every teacher knows the week before school starts is one of the busiest of the year; a week that leaves little time for reflective, thoughtful writing. I’ve decided that working through some of the mentor texts in Linda Rief’s The Quickwrite Handbook is a realistic option to keep me writing during these first few weeks of school.

This week, Linda’s suggestion to borrow the phrase “Life is short…” from Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones,” appealed to me. Here is my response:

Life is short, so on the last Sunday of August, the day before school started, when I still had piles of books I wanted to read and at least one poem I wanted to write, I drove for half an hour to meet my friend.

Life is short, so we met at a place where we could walk in the sunshine of a late summer morning through a field still wet with dew and bedecked with the lacy offerings of a thousand spiders and talk about our busy week, our busy children, our busy lives.

Life is short, so even though there was laundry to sort and rooms to vacuum, we drove to a diner where we drank hot coffee and ate fluffy eggs and ignored the hustle and bustle around us and talked some more and worked on the crossword puzzle, just like we used to when she lived down the street, enjoying the easy comfort of our long friendship, a friendship that makes this life beautiful.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: When I Was Young…

As summer winds down, I’ve been thinking not only about what I accomplished (closets cleaned, books read, poems written), but what I didn’t do. For many years, my in-laws had a very rustic cabin on a lake in “down east” Maine.  We spent many weeks there over the years. Going to camp was right up there with Christmas and birthdays for my boys. The cabin was sold long ago, but for some reason, I missed it more than usual this summer.

Maybe that’s because I started thinking about it in June after I received my copy of Linda Rief’s fabulous new book, The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students’ Thinking and Writing. One of Linda’s quickwrite suggestions is to “borrow Cynthia Rylant’s line ‘When I was young in the…’ (or ‘at the’) and write down all that comes to mind about that place you love or that place that you dislike.” Although I never spent time at the lake when I was young, it isn’t hard to imagine this magical spot through the eyes of a child.

When I Was Young at the Lake

(with thanks to Linda Rief and Cynthia Rylant)

When I was young at the lake, I woke to the sun shining through the trees, making puddles on the floor of the cabin’s loft. I skipped stones across the glassy water and paddled a canoe to the island near our cove. My brother and I ran wild through the forest and built a fort to defend our territory. We swam in the cold water and searched for unusual rocks on the beach.

When I was young at the lake, the air smelled of pine trees and we picked wild blueberries that grandma baked into a pie. On rainy afternoons, as raindrops pinged on the roof, we sat on the porch and put puzzles together. On clear nights, we watched meteor showers from the beach that were better than any fireworks we’d ever seen.

I fished for trout with my grandfather from our rowboat. Grandma always clapped when we presented her with our catch. Then she breaded each fish in cornmeal and fried them in her big cast iron skillet. Once a year, we drove to Machias for lobsters and corn on the cob. On those nights, we felt like kings as pulled tender meat from bright red claws and licked our buttery fingers clean.

When I was young at the lake, we fell into bed, exhausted from the day’s adventures, and drifted to sleep to the lullaby of loons.

A rock from the shore of Beddington Lake.

Linda explains that “these quickwrites are seeds of ideas, the beginning of a piece to be worked on right away or, at the very least, captured for later use.” I can easily imagine revisiting “When I Was Young at the Lake.” I can imagine a poem emerging from these lines, or maybe a picture book. Even if these memories never get farther than this post, my memories of the lake are always in my “deep heart’s core.” (“The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by W.B. Yeats)

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Habits of Mind and Writing

“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.”
~ Horace Mann ~

One of the professional books I’m reading this summer is Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick. Published in 2008, this book outlines “a set of behaviors that discipline intellectual processes” and provides teachers with strategies to integrate them into “instruction in every school subject.” (p. 12-13) These habits “are dispositions that empower creative and critical thinking.” Costa and Kallick’s work begins with the same premise behind Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindset. That is, “intelligence is a set of teachable, learnable behaviors that all human beings can continue to develop and improve throughout their lifetimes.” (p. 12) During the coming school year, my colleagues and I will be working to incorporate these habits into our daily work with children. This, of course, will include modeling.

This tweet from Jane Yolen last week instantly provided a modeling strategy for three of the sixteen habits of mind:

* Gathering Data Through All the Senses

* Creating, Imagining, Innovating

* Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Writers won’t get far without these three habits, but we all know we have plenty of students who tell us “I don’t know what to write about.” Kids are so distracted by the world available to them through the myriad of devices to choose from, they can’t concentrate on any one topic for long. By modeling these habits in particular I think we can help our students focus on the world right in front of them. When they do that, they will find plenty to write about.

All of this was swirling around in my head when I went for a walk this morning. As usual, I had my phone with me because, for me, taking pictures is a form of prewriting. It didn’t take long to find five new ideas for writing.

  1. How could you not respond to this view with wonderment and awe? I was reminded of the way the sun streams through the trees at the cabin in Maine where my family spent many summers. My boys canoed to an island in the middle of the lake and spent entire days being wild in the woods. I could write a story about their adventures.

2. Again, a scene of wonderment and awe. This could inspire a poem or be woven into a scene in a middle grade story idea I’ve been playing with.

3. I was truly shocked to see this heron land on the road right in front of me! This is destined to be a poem, I think. It could also inspire a nonfiction piece about herons or birds of the neighborhood. 

4. This is my cat Noodles. He likes to be included and often follows me to the end of the driveway when I leave the yard. Doesn’t he look sad at being left behind? This could inspire a small moment story or a series of adventures Noodles might have throughout the day.

5. This swallowtail butterfly was trying desperately to fly, but appeared to be injured and couldn’t get off the ground. I gently moved him into the grass. When I went back to check on him, he was gone. I hope he was able to fly away after resting.

After sharing these images with my students, I will take them outside so they can respond with wonderment and awe as they gather their images that will inspire them to create, imagine and innovate. I’ve used similar strategies with students in the past with mixed success. Part of the reason for this may have been because we didn’t do this kind of activity often enough. Consistent trips outside to gather ideas will help students develop these behaviors into unbreakable habits. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.