What I’ve Learned This Month #sol20

This month I have been writing in the Slice of Life Community 31 Day Challenge created by Two Writing Teachers.  While I always learn from my writing companions in this group, this month has been particularly poignant.  This is Day 29/31

img_1405What I’ve Learned this Month #sol20

March 29, 2020

Writing thirty one days and commenting on others writing always teaches me so much.  I learn different writing styles, different approaches to the same subject, other writer’s processes.  I also learn about their lives, their hopes, their frustrations, their fears and… they learn about mine.

I haven’t counted the total number of writers in our writing group, but I admire and cherish them all.   During the year, I write on Tuesday each week and follow many writers all the time and other writers much of the time.  I usually read and comment on over a dozen blogs each week. Each of them is inspiring to both my own writing and my coaching.  They are some of my greatest teachers.

During our March challenge, my blog is followed and read by many other writers. They offer me advice, suggestions, encouragement, and humor through their comments.  I personally follow 20 blogs every day, read and comment on between 15-20 each day.  I’ve had the opportunity to read a great deal of writing and learn so much about writing and so much more.

From one far flung slicer,  I gained so much advice about managing this new world of distance teaching.  She explained how to set it up, where the difficulties lie,  how to maintain self-care and how easy it is to overextend.  She even showed me how cleaning out my refrigerator could be an act of meditation.  Her practical advice,  her pragmatic nature, and her calm spirit displayed in her writing will stay with me for a long time. I hope we will stay in touch.

From other slicers,   I admire community,  all the things they are doing together and separately to maintain their school’s writing heart and community purpose.  They lovingly refer to each other in their blogs and graciously build each other up in their comments.  They comment on many, many other blogs as well as give practical advice for navigating the world of literacy in elementary school.  They are beacons to me in their practice, in their generosity, and in their connectivity.

Elisabeth always pushes me to think more, to consider other mentors, to consider my own practice, and to try new things.  Last year, she convinced me through her blog to write poetry for the month of April after our slice challenge was complete.  This year, she made me consider what books comfort me, how I decide what to read next, where I am creating my space at home, and what is keeping me moving forward.

I have the pleasure of being a welcomer to some new to the slice challenge.  From one of them, I learned to look to our past relationships and situations for lessons for the present.  Her powerful observation skills will be ones I continue to search for in my own writing.  From another new slicer,  I learned about her practice of confronting her advantages and working toward social justice in her learning, in her writing, and in her practice.  I strive to be brave like she is. One of my followed slicers was all about connections,  since this is my OLW for this year, her writing and her thinking drew me to consider the connections I am making and maintaining in this new frontier.  One of my new slicing buddies shared her day to day successes and struggles with heart and a fresh writing perspective.  Her comments were kind and supportive and I hope to read a lot more about her practice and thoughts in the future.  This year more than others, these blogs feel like new friendships.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sustaining friendships this group affords me.  My friend, Clare, who first encouraged me to write about my work. Brian, my welcome wagon slicer those years ago continues to inspire me with his concise writing and quick witted comments.  My good friends in the group now who speak to me like old friends in their comments are so often encouragers-in-chief,  commiserators, teachers, mentors, and so much more.

Lanny, Stacey, Melanie, Kelsey, Beth,   I don’t think I have the words to express what your hard work in maintaining this community has meant to me and so many others.  As Clare said the other day,  in times of difficulty we turned to the folks who have sustained us all along.  You and Two Writing Teachers has certainly been that place now more than ever.

As we approach the twilight of this March Challenge,  I am grateful for this time, these writers, and this challenge.  This month, I believed it is what sustained me.

Comfortable Part 1 #sol20

I write this month of March in community with Two Writing Teachers and my fellow slicer, who have become especially in this time, my friends.  This week,  Elisabeth Ellington wrote about comfort in books.  That post is coming… but today,  I took the day to get comfortable and this is what I realized.  

Lily getting comforted by her latest toy… even the part she bit off

Comfortable Part 1 #sol20

March 28, 2020

What Makes Me Comfortable Right Now (a short list)

  • Early shopping…                                        the first and perhaps only perk of being sixty
  • Our local wine store                                 seeing the owner; buying wine; wishing him                                                                         well; signing up for a virtual wine tasting                                                                               this week
  • our writing group                                      daily writing about daily lives of people I                                                                                I know and who understand my life right                                                                              now
  • my home library                                        creating a remote literacy center
  • all the books I brought home                   touching them; having them here to work                                                                              with; reading them
  • friends & colleagues meet up                   those chats (heart emoji) so good to see                                                                                  your face
  • touches of spring                                        those daffodils & crocus, the forsythia, the                                                                              perennials, a peek of chives
  • my snoring dog                                           always underfoot as if she knows I need her
  • daily calls from family                             checking in; telling silly stories, teasing,                                                                                   playing games
  • walks in the woods                                    me & Lily smelling spring, noticing green
  • bird songs                                                   through the window the birds sing
  • neighborhood wildlife                             of the fauna kind, foxes, turkeys passing by
  • netflix… cooking                                        binge watching The Chef Show, Ugly                                                                                         Delicious, Restaurant on the Edge
  • home                                                             laundry; bedmaking; the view

Spending the weekend away from the screen. Hope you are finding comfort too. 

A Needed Distraction #sol20

I am participating in the Slice of Life March Challenge with my fellow slicers at Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 27.  I’m getting a little anxious about the end of this month of sharing together our experiences.  In the last week,  I try to focus on other slices as mentors, here is my slice in response to Aggie Kesler’s Keeping Busy because I definitely needed a distraction yesterday.  (shout to Darin’s hashtags as well)

IMG_6038A Needed Distraction #sol20

March 27, 2020

Like all of us, I have been spending much more time that usual sitting in front of a screen.  The result of which is a lethal combination of anxiousness, fatigue, and neck ache.


Aggie’s advice to clean my refrigerator had been rattling around inside my head for a few days, so after my morning meeting yesterday, I decided to take a break in an effort to prepare myself to go to the grocery store and clean the refrigerator and the pantry.


IMG_6036So… I began cleaning   eating my way through the frig.  First I found a nearly empty bag of bagels, some cream cheese and a dab of jelly.  Sounds like a terrific breakfast.  I pause to toast a bagel as I contemplate which shelf to begin with.  Let’s start in the door. How did coffee grounds and rubber bands get into the egg holder? Ahh,  whole foods’ bands, but coffee?  Why are there 10 packages of yeast?  Cosmic message to bake break, perhaps?


I move on to the butter “dish”,.  Why do I have so many packages of cream cheese? I begin to make a list of ‘interesting’ ingredients.  Perhaps I can google search ingredients and find recipes.  I am determined to use as much as I can and limited going to the grocery store. (see # above). I put butter on my grocery list.  Always need butter. 


What next?  Do I still feel hungry? There is one slice of cinnamon bread in this bag.  I’ll just finish that off by toasting it with the bagel.  So now, a bagel in the toaster and I just eat the piece of cinnamon bread.  Save the twist tie in the drawer and the plastic bag to the bag of bags. Cleaning by eating.  It’s a thing…


Finish up the door in a jiffy.  Only five kinds of salad dressing.  Looking good.  I move on to the shelves. Why are there SOOO many yogurts in here?  Get the yogurts organized by flavors.  Mine v. Mr. K’s.   Questions arise.  Artichoke hearts?  Two jars of pickles?  Key Lime Juice?  A pie crust?   It wasn’t too scary.  Looking good.


I move on to the freezer.  Did you know I have a secret stash of Maine blueberries?


IMG_6037The pantry is a testament to neglect.  Two jars of mayo, three bottles of Balsamic Vinegar.  Do I not ever check before I go to the grocery store?


In the end, Aggie was totally correct.  My head was cleared.  I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  I made some cooking plans.  For a couple of hours, no worries.


Yesterday… a History #sol20

I am slicing every day in March along with my fellow writer in our community organized by Two Writing Teachers.  Today I use at Lanny’s suggestion, Brittany Butler’s clever Browser Mystery as a mentor text.

Screenshot 2020-03-26 at 9.04.06 AMYesterday… a History #sol20

March 26, 2020

The idea of tracing back how my mind worked over a course of an evening through my browser history sounded hilarious,  so this morning I thought I would make that trip myself.  First problem,  I was on three different devices yesterday searching, not to mention the random questions I call out to our Google Home.  For example, I asked the Google Assistant how old Chaka Khan was yesterday… she’s 67 in case you were wondering.  This random question brought to you by The Masked Singer.

First thing yesterday,  I looked up the Sourdough Starter recipe from King Arthur.  Since the classroom teacher I was working on the fungus project with retained custody of our starter,  I’ve been trying to get one going here at home using ‘wild yeast’.  It’s not going so well.  I hear our starter at his house is lonely too.

When I read an article about difficulties that restaurants are having now, so I looked up all the local restaurants that I could think of and their take out menus and hours.  Do I dare take-out?  I can barely go to the grocery store.

After beginning to watch Tiger King on Netflix (Yikes!) on the recommendation of older son,  I started wondering about tigers in these crazy home-grown ‘zoos’.  Did you know that there about three times as many tigers in these ‘zoos’ just in the US than are in the wild?!?!  That made me think of Siegfried and Roy.  While they don’t perform anymore, they still have tiger in a Secret Garden in Las Vegas.   This internet search stops here.

These all are just ‘after work’.

Considering what to make for dinner, I checked on a meatloaf recipe, just make sure I was going down the right road.  I ended up putting in whatever I wanted anyway, a recipe is just a suggestions, right?  You know some breadcrumbs, an egg, ketchup, spices, the usual.  Comfort food at its best.  I checked on some spaghetti squash recipes too,  Maybe that will make it onto tomorrow’s menu.

I have about 15 tabs open on my laptop right now related to work, but let’s leave them there for now… or just clear all.



By Heart #sol20

Yesterday, Paula Bourque posted this slice, using the prompt “What do you know by heart?”  This definitely got me thinking.  I am slicing in the March Slice of Life 31 Day Challenge with my fellow yearlong slicers.  Read more slices here.  This is day 25/31.  

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 9.35.08 AMBy Heart #sol20

March 25, 2020

When I first thought of the questions What do you know by heart? I thought of the obvious answer, numbers.  I know my social security number, my phone number, others’ phone numbers, my copy code, addresses, the list could go on and on.

When I read Paula’s post,  I thought deeper about what I know my heart.  I know recipes by heart.  Maybe you know some too.  One recipe I could recite at any time and perhaps make with my eyes closed is chocolate chip cookies.  Oh, I’ve experimented with fancier cookie recipes. Even loved them.  However, most weeks you will find the tried and true recipe right there in that cookie jar my mom gave me for a wedding shower present.  That silly looking mouse cookie jar with the chips on the rim that have been sitting on a kitchen counter in three states and even more cities since 1981.  Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 9.36.22 AM

I knew the recipe by heart even before then.  You see, we had a cookie jar in our kitchen growing up as well.  I’m trying to think now what it looked like.  I don’t have many pictures from my childhood, but I think it matched my mom’s dishes which means it was in the shape of a bobwhite quail.  Yes, that’s right, the little bird.  My mom had Redwing Pottery dishes with bobwhite quail walking across them.  All the accessories were quails. Had you met her, this would make perfect sense.  Back to the recipes.

So you probably know the recipe, but here it is by heart.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mix 1 cup softened butter (MaMa used margarine) with 3/4 cups brown sugar (light) and 3/4 cups white sugar (she called it cane sugar).  She had an old Sunbeam Mixmaster Stand Mixer.  I can see it standing on our formica counter in the kitchen making that gentle whirring sound.  My personal secret here is to let that whip up for 4-5 minutes until it’s soft yellow and has peaks.

Add two eggs one at a time along with 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well.   I add a little more vanilla here and. unlike MaMa, I use cage free eggs and organic vanilla.  She probably used imitation vanilla.  

Now is the time for the dry ingredients.  I never saw her sift them and in chip cookies I don’t either, I just dump all the ingredients in,  2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour I (now I will only use King Arthur), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tsp. baking powder.  Mix just until it comes together.

Add  the entire bag of chips.  There were only Nestlé Chips back in the day.  Now I use many different kinds.   Stir until mixed into batter.

Drop cookies on baking sheet by teaspoon.  My grandmother used the two spoon method. Scoop with one spoon, scrap unto  pan with the other.  I use a cookie scoop.  Try and keep the kids from eating the raw cookie dough.  Good luck!

Bake in 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Leave on pan to cool for five minutes and then shift to cooling racks for another 15 minutes or until you remember to put them in the cookie jar or the kids have eaten half of the cookies.

When I asked my grandmother to write down the recipes that she cooked on rotation at our house, she had to think on the measurements using  the palm of her hand mostly as the measure. That’s what I know by heart, the recipe for chocolate chip cookies and for being a home-cook.  The kind of cook that looks into the pantry and says let’s have orzo and chicken tonight. But that recipe is for another day.

A Well-Worn Song #sol20

Yesterday, Lanny Ball shared, Margaret Simon’s, author of Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2018), blog where she offers a format that leans on creativity and word-play.  I couldn’t resist her invitation to play with poetry. This is Slice Challenge, Day 25. 

A Well-Worn Song #sol20

March 24, 2020

I am…

an early morning-rising













sort of human

Dear Me #sol20

Day 22 I decided to write a letter to the first person that needs encouraging me.  Like Clare said,  I am giving myself the oxygen first.  Here I am writing in the company of all my dear slicers in the comfort of Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 23 of the 31 day writing challenge.

Dear Me #sol20

March 23, 2020

I know you feel adrift right now, like your best ideas as a coach have always been built on connections and moments.  These things are not present in their familiar forms right now.  So… now is the time to create some new forms of connections and moments.

Spend the day today creating a creative space, a warm space.  Consider what each grade level, each teacher might need, might enjoy, might treasure and start doing what you do… making lists.  While you’re making a list, make sure you make a list of all the things you brought home from the literacy center.  You’re going to go back there and you’ll want all these things to pack up and go too.

It’s Monday, so don’t forget your Monday flowers and your message teacup,  some music, work(ish) clothes (well from the top up at least).  Maybe this will magically transform this remote space to be a little more like the missed space.

Make some movies today.  You can always throw them away… or send them.  Create a padlet, a screencast, a flip grid.  Now’s the time to learn all the things.  You won’t have to use them forever.

Work actual work hours… no less and no more.  You can still walk the dog and have lunch in your kitchen and thank goodness take all the breaks for personal business that you want.

So I know you feel adrift, but drop anchor for now.  They know where you are and how to find you.  They will… they will.

Stay well,


Room 101 #sol20

I write in the beloved company of my slicing community at Two Writing Teachers.  This year our March Daily Slice Challenge has been precious to our connection.  Today I am inspired by Betsy Hubbard and narrative poem, Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Room 101 #sol20

March 21, 2020

I make my way down to my ‘new’ workspace

not quite the same as

my former workspace

waiting there for me to return

return I did yesterday to gather…

what I might need for a future

I’m struggling to believe

The parking lot is empty when I arrive

That is not so strange

the early arrival a habit of mine

I walk down the hall

but today I seem to notice each landmark

your door is there, I pause.

the inexplicable box

of tangrams still a doorstop

your desk is there,

The red book shelf left over from an earlier memory

but you are not

I feel your absence heavy in the space

this week

we talked on the phone

for two hours,

the connection snapping between us

this morning

we would have been

making our pilgrimage to New York

Right now we would have been

in the dark, warm car

settling in to our long journey

planning our day

mapping what coffee place in CT

we will stop at

We would revel in our connection

in our togetherness

in our history

in our rituals

in our practice

The other day you reminded me

that we are still connected

so I send a wish

through your darkened doorway

to be connected

In this disconnection

Pace #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 7.42.51 AMPace #sol20

March 20, 2020

After a week of not talking to anyone outside my immediate family and only communicating via comments, texts, and tweets,  yesterday was a lot.

I had two meetings yesterday via the internet. One a district wide meeting where our superintendent was stellar.  She was calm, she was patient.  She answer questions for over an hour after her prepared statement.  While I only saw her, I felt the presence of our nearly 800 community members.  It was powerful.

That meeting was followed by a meeting with my literacy specialist team.  It’s great to see them and they all look well.  We are honest with each other and that’s so helpful.  We talked over our new directive, what it might mean and how we can support each other to provide support to our teaching teams and the intervention teams.  We were all tired at the end.  It’s a lot for one day.

I spent the rest of the day, talking to teachers, looking at resources,  going to a webinar, planning what I’ll pick up in the small window I have today to go to school and it was five before I realized it.   I kept going.  At 6:30,  I stopped at made dinner.  I kept reading texts and tweets until I got to a twitter discussion at 8:30 p.m.

That’s when I realized that I was doing that thing that others had warned me about, working and working and working.  I didn’t go outside yesterday.  I didn’t do a house project.  I just worked.

Today is shaping up to be more of the same.  I have a webinar at 8, going to school to pick up at 9, dropping some things off for teachers.  Then I have a training at 12 and a meeting with the principals and literacy specialists at 2:30…  Ok,  I am seriously going to have to make myself a self care schedule.

So in my spare time today,  I’m going to create a creative space because I also hear I have to think about what’s behind me in online connections.  Stay tuned for photos of that because my office is where I drop things I can’t part with.

I leave you with advice from my laptop keypad deck … Try easier and Be the one that decides to go for it.  Seem incongruous, but maybe not.


I’m writing alongside my Two Writing Teachers Slice Community every day for this month of March.  Today is day 20.  My writing PLN is my inspiration, my motivation, and my comfort.  

Tuesday Morning Collaboration #sol20

Today I write in isolation, but not alone.  I write in the March Slice of Life Challenge, writing each day in March with my fellow writers under the guidance of Two Writing Teachers.  You can still join us, writing is healing and communal.  If you’re reading this, check out this blog about what to do right now. Today I’m inspired by the meeting I should be having right now, but am not…

Tuesday Morning Collaboration #sol20

March 17, 2020

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.   I hope you’re still sleeping, but I’m thinking of you. If we were together, I would have probably brought some soda bread and green napkins.  We would have ‘coffee’.  Well, A. would have had a yeti of tea and M. would have had a iced coffee from Dunkin’.  A. would close the door and say good morning.  She might be empty handed.   Sometimes she waits for a good idea and then writes it on a stickie with a borrowed pen.  M. would open her fancy notebook, 1/2 sized. Her flair color matching her mood or hoped-for mood.  We’d huddle and we smile at each other.  How are you doing? 

I’d have a list in my notebook of things I wanted to talk over with you.  Hopefully, I’d hesitate to see if you had something in mind.  Most times you do.  I’d have my units on the table, my phone, my notebook, my coffee.  Sometimes I don’t write in my notebook until you go away.  Sometimes I draw something in there or on a stickie to illustrate a thought or an idea.  Today I have a few things I want to talk over in this virtual space. What I don’t want to talk over is the reality and uncertainty of our current situation.  So I’m going to ignore it… for now.

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 7.50.23 AMFirst, I’m excited by the work A. has been doing with the ‘narrative task’ and creative writing in her room.  She’s excited too.  I’m sure she’s told you about it, but can we just talk about how it works and how we might expand it and will it work again next year.  I do love these books we chose for the Book Madness… I want to get the other Boston Marathon title.  Wait, back to the idea.  She began with Girl Running, taking four scenes after she had read and loved it with her class and let them ‘blow up’ the scene.  I wish I had some samples of her students’ writing, but I kept the photo copies of the spaces where she stopped.  I would stop at those pages and talk about why they are good.  Yes, they do illustrate the story arc. What a strong reinforcement!  She chose the rising action where Bobbie was crouching behind the forsythia right before she joined the race.  Then she chose the place where she revealed she was a woman runner.  We probably look these over and talk about presenting them to the students.  Would we ask them where this was on the story arc?  Would we let everyone pick the place where they want to write?  What guidance might we add to the narrative task?  What if we paired this book again for the compare and contrast using Her Fearless Run or The Girl Who Ran.  I’ll bring out Drawn Together. I hear that this book is a student favorite.  This book requires some interpretation by the students.  I want to hear what your students were thinking.  A. used this book as well.  I wasn’t there for this lesson.  We might look through the book together and think about how to present it.

I’ll mention how the newer teachers are struggling with the MCAS unit I drafted.  I will admit that some of it is my fault.  It needs some revision between the calendar and the day-to-day.  I’ll talk about some coaching I’ve done there and what I hope to do in the future.

Our time’s getting short but I want to share this idea that I saw on twitter. Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 8.10.55 AM Did you see that retweet I posted about using the Snack Attack video for character change in the essay?  Remember when we hoped that some videos might be used on the state tests?   Even that year we did the PARCC.?  We could show the video.  Love it and then think about character change.  What if we did that work in start-and-stops with table groups or two partnerships together?

Our time is past over as usual.  There’s so much to share and talk about.   I read City Spies yesterday, but don’t really want to promote a mystery in fourth.  It did have a strong story arc with lots of attempts.  It would be interesting to see how the students mapped it and what they thought the climax was.  That’s always so tricky.  I saw that M. read Coyote Sunrise.  I love that book, great character change, but it’s so sad.  What next?  I am thinking about reading the historical fiction book, They Bicycle Spy.  I know you have already read it, but I was wondering if I could create a mentor arc of another historical fiction for talking it over with the other teachers.

Have a great day!  Glad we had this time together…