Slice of Life: Under Cover

Children seldom misquote you. They usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. — Unknown

One towel covered me from head to toe. The towel beneath me absorbed water from my swimsuit.  Protected from the breeze, I huddled under cover. With the sun above and the heated concrete pool deck below, I found quiet. I loved this part of swim lessons. This plus the popsicle we’d get on the way home made it all worthwhile.

My eight-year-old body was positioned far enough away from the splash zone of the pool, near the chain link fence and the moms. Save haven.

I woke up to their voices.

“It’s sad,” one said.

“I don’t know why she brings her,” said one mom.

I knew that voice, she lived down the street.

“Poor thing just can’t do it,” said another.

“She shouldn’t be in this class,  it holds the others back. It just isn’t fair.”

That was Tucker’s mom.  I’d never heard her talk that way before.

“You have a point. Everyone has to wait.”

“Of course I have a point.”

My throat tightened.

Then, “Hello, all! Thanks for watching her.” It was Mom.

Did she hear them?

“No problem. She sleeping. Probably so tired from the lesson,” Tucker’s mom said all sweet.

My eyes hurt. I lifted the towel, rubbed my eyes and reached for my mom.

Going in the big pool took every bit of brave I had. Some days I didn’t have enough. This day was one of those days.

After that, shame took control. At first it hurt. I wonder if they knew. That made it worse. By the next day, the fear of drowning was nothing compared to my I’ll-show-you-attitude. Shame drove me to mad and then to prove something. Strange. Shame led to mad and took over fear. Was it pride?

I survived the pool incident. And I remember. If you think that’s what I needed to get on my brave, think again.  I overcame this moment, but it left seeds of doubt and scaring. I don’t always pull out from underneath the covers and approach my fear. Sometimes it’s too big or I’m too small.

This memory drives my thinking tonight as the start of the school year approaches. We need to be mindful. Not just of our 11454297503_e27946e4ff_htalk when we think no one’s listening. We need to be mindful of how we think about children’s abilities. Our thoughts drive our actions and our words that young minds can see, hear and remember.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for this place to share our Tuesday slices. Read more slices here.

Celebrate: Engagement in Literacy

This week, I had the honor of spending four days in a room full of teachers learning with Cornelius Minor. Cornelius for 45 minutes is astounding, life-changing learning. Four days you can’t imagine. I suspect I’ll be mulling over my notes the whole school year. Today I want to celebrate and reflect on five pieces of learning.

First Lesson:

A lot of what makes a writer is what’s in the heart. Start where the heart is.  Consider the highs and lows in the writing life. Sketch the emotional EKG. The highs come from personal choice, feedback from someone you respect, and public acknowledgement. The lows come when personhood is denied, from personal tragedy, collective tragedy; when attention is only for grading.

As I look back on my school life, one class stands out.  In that class I wrote.  I spoke, I acted out dramatic scenes. I discovered I liked reading.  In that class, my ideas were heard and considered valuable. The writing we did was our choice and shared among our peers. That high school short story class gave me confidence, and the knowledge that reading and writing could be good. It was possible. Sadly, that was the first and last class. But the good news is that it took. Because of that class, I began a journey towards writing and reading. How does this inform my teaching decisions? If an environment exists that allows for confidence and engagement, the work will become a part of that student. The belief will live in them and fuel them as their abilities increase and through times when they hit bumps in their reading and writing lives.

Mastery is not the outcome engagement is.

Second Lesson:

Commit to the writing process in that it is a process. A lot of what we create is left on the cutting room floor. Create more cognition by repurposing what kids have to say. Create room for critical thinking – A place where kids are doing work around ideas before they write. Lead kids to be entrepreneurial in the work.

Classroom writing instruction should actively create spaces that produce thinking. How might that look? Gathering ideas for writing should include experiences of “text” that exists throughout our lives. The intent of this work is to relive or live experiences that conjure emotions. The sharing of story, read aloud,  pictures,  videos, music can create opportunities to talk, think and write a little about feelings and ideas.  Next, stretch students’ muscles by considering text with a shifted lens or filter it through another text. Allow students to practice the possibility that more than one idea can live in a text or can grow with exposure to another text. The idea is to get an idea. Not a “what happened” but a reaction to what happened. Stories and ideas live in emotions. Thinking can start by finding what we feel and then asking what does that make us think. Experiencing this process is empowering.

The writing workshop should trigger emotion.

Third Lesson:

Set high expectations. What you write today is the best thing that you have written in this class. If the draft is the best thing you’ve written to date, you are lifting the level in the end.

Too often students spend their time in their past learning. It’s a comfortable place to be. Working up to what students can do is a waste of their time and stops them from moving to what they need to do. How does this inform my instruction? The realization that every time you produce a draft it had better be the best thing you have ever produced is a cultural shift. Students’ energy builds in a unit and by the end, they produce a piece that shows growth. But strangely as we start the next unit, the draft is a notch lower than where they left off. That has been an expectation. And students have met it. And it needs to change.

“Students look at what you have just written, is it as good or better than your last piece? It needs to be. That’s the expectation.”

Fourth Lesson:

Conferences can be the most powerful tool in your teacher arsenal. A conference is your shot at being your kid’s favorite teacher. Sometimes even when I don’t have anything to teach I still use it.

Connecting to students is the most important part of the work. The challenge is to create the systems and maintain the energy around this with fidelity.  Data should direct effort. How might this look? Utilize technology to record conferences. Involve students in the record keeping, “would you take a picture of your work we’re talking about.” This will help me and get students to take a collaborative stance in our conferences. Create simple, written systems to make sure all students are covered. Reflect on data (checklists, conferences) with students throughout units. Create “go to” conferences that can be customized.

  • Writers develop stories around an object. You could do this by choosing an object, telling your story and right before the end, reflect. . . if it weren’t for this object . . .
  • Writers consider structure, one way to change up a story is to start with the outcome
  • Writers revisit a story by asking what other issues could be in this story. Could this story also be about . . .

Fifth Lesson:

This is not THE way it is A way to meet student needs.

Students are at the center. Their needs drive the work, and we adjust accordingly.  The goal is to build student confidence around cognition and literacy. Mastery is not the outcome. Lifelong engagement in literacy is. celebrate link up

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for a place to share our weekly celebrations at Discover Play Build.

Slice of Life: Turf Wars

He moved from the desk, toward the corner chair. Repositioned himself in the stream of sunlight pouring through the windows. Books surround him. Finding solitude, he closed his eyes.

He had thought the desk an excellent location to work.  A quiet space stacked with papers and books.

Then she came and moved things around.

The reorganization was not disturbing at first. It was a refreshing change, advantageous allowing him more room.  He enjoyed her company from time to time. She gave him his space and attention.

Then she brought in a few of her bags and her computer and started to spend more time there.

Yesterday, she decided to stay. He thought it would work out. But she was there all the time. Just when he’d get settled, ready to mediate on something of great importance, papers would be adjusted, and books rearranged. He just couldn’t take the unpredictability of it.

He had to leave. She could have the desk but without him.

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Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for Tuesday Slice of Life. I am grateful to each and every one of you who venture here to share your stories. Read other slices or share your own here.

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Celebrate this Week: Notebooks and Students Full of Promise

This summer Saturday is slipping by with cleaning and conversations.

Before I get too deep into the afternoon, I need to take a moment to celebrate this week with Ruth Ayres at Discover, Play, Build.

First.

 Notebooks.

Two boxes full of promise and potential.

Clean. Beautiful.

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Second.

Color-filled pens.

 Notebooks to match.

Waiting in line.

For thoughts not yet thought.
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Third.

School mail surprise!

Heartstrings pulled.
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Fourth.

An email.

From:

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Dear R…

We would like to publish your poem, “Classroom” in a new poetry book entitled Eloquence.
   We recently sent you a notification letter that the poem you submitted through your teacher at school (Julieanne Harmatz at Park Western Elementary) or online through our website had been officially registered in The America Library of Poetry 2015 Student Poetry Contest. … we wanted to congratulate you on your submission and let you know that the various rounds of grading are continuing through the summer with the winners to be announced on September 30th.
   We’ll be awarding several prizes in each grade division along with random prizes just for entering, things like a Laptop Computer or iPod Touch, School’s Out Shopping Spree, Gift Cards, and of course the $500 U.S. Cash Grand Prize.
   We also had some other exciting news especially for you. The America Library of Poetry would like to publish your poem in a new book entitled Eloquence. This compilation represents a small cross-section of select poetry we have received this year and is scheduled to be released this fall. Again, our congratulations as this is not an offer we make to everyone who sent us a submission.
In fact, it may interest you to know that less than 20 percent of the authors we read will have the honor of seeing their work in print. It is truly something that we hope will encourage you to continue writing creatively and something in which you can take a great deal of pride. Of course,Eloquence will be under copyright only as a compilation. You will retain all rights to your individual work. (italics and bold type added)
Five.
Today I celebrate students past and future.
The present is waiting inside those notebooks.
I put the pieces together and realize all that paper, all those pens, all those writing workshops, and everything in between adds up and sometimes we get an email, an award, an honor. And sometimes, we get a shout out and a wave at Target saying, “Hey, Mrs. Harmatz!” Both are gold.  Today, I remember and celebrate all the students.
Past. Present.Future.

Slice of Life: Holding on to the Moment

Sometimes it’s hard to find that feeling of accomplishment.

There are moments that have that quality, but most of the time I’m on the road and I’m not there yet. I get distracted, sidetracked, lost. The path I choose can get blocked and I have to turn around.  Even in the best cases, the feeling of completion happens infrequently. When I’m in the midst of it, it can seem like I’m not getting anywhere.

Over the last few weeks, there were moments when I had a glimmer of accomplishment.

Prior to my daughter’s week at camp, we went to the mall, to do what she loves, shop.

I may have created a bit of this monster in this department. When you have two boys and then a girl, the compulsion to dress them up doesn’t set forth a good model. Perhaps it would have happened regardless of my actions, but her passion for consumption, her pursuit of the sale and her rather ingenious moves to get a clothes she wants is relentless.

The mall can feel like a death march, looking for the just right pair of shoes to go with the dress, which needs to go with something else. But this time, we walked out of the mall in less than an hour.  No shopping bags and no complaints. In the car, I take this moment in and drive home.

On Saturday, I picked her up from Y camp where she spent the week as a volunteer counselor. Eight days, seven nights. She’s been a camper since she was eight, but this time she was in charge.

Before I set eyes on her, I heard about it from other counselors. Apparently she was assigned a rather challenging group of middle school girls.

I waited. I knew she was there, waiting with her “kids” until their parents picked them up.

The crowd of parents and children lessened. The piles of luggage and sleeping bags that lined the parking lot diminished. Finally up she walks, tanned and tired. She hugs me and lays her head on my shoulder. I steal a kiss and take that moment in, holding it close.

On the way to our car, advisors and counselors hug her. We walk on, and I look back, making eye contact with her director. I wave goodbye.

She returns the wave and says, “You have raised a really great kid.”

“Thank you!”  My daughter looks at me, and I say, “I know.”

I take that moment, drape my arm over my daughter’s shoulder and hold her close.

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Thank you, Two Writing Teachers blog for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Read more slices and share your own slice here.

Celebrate This Week: Summer Learning Together

Time to Celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. This practice is rejuvenating and centering. I recommend it. You can fincelebrate link upd this week’s posts and add yours here.

First off, this is my 300th post. And it all started here. Thank you, Ruth, and all who celebrate beside me. You have made me a better writer, reader and teacher.

Sadly, I “taught” writing for years without actually doing any authentic writing of my own.  Writing in this space has opened my eyes and heart not only to what writing might be but also to what needs to be done to teach anything well.

My second celebration is the writing about reading Twitter chat, #WabtR, on Tuesday. We had read Cynthia Lord’s new book A Handful of Stars as a virtual club, writing and sharing our notebook jots on a Google doc. The intent of our chat was to talk mostly about our reactions to the process.  I thought it might be a small group, so I offered to host. I had no idea. Oh my gosh. It was a wild party of reading enthusiasts.  Wild and wonderful. If you missed it check out the Storify here.

And look who showed up!

Goosebumps, right?  I’ve read all of her books and met her at NCTE, along with a long line of others waiting to get her autograph.  What a thrill to see her on Twitter at our chat.

Our chat and my reaction to it made me think. And, leads to my third celebration this week, reading professional literature. Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass’s new book, Digital Reading, is a joy.  In the spirit of Donalyn Miller, it authentically recognizes how the digital imgres-1world enhances our reading lives. Franki looks at how she uses digital media personally and then takes that to her students.

Our teacher Google book club, Twitter chat and appearance of the author is just one example of how digital reading could go. It’s not just reading an e-book or doing research on the web or writing about reading electronically or connecting with an author. It’s all of it combined in a purposeful way to get more out of reading.

I’m also devouringimgres-2 Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book. Bottom line, if you teach reading K through 6, get this book. Serravallo does a beautiful job delineating what students need and how to get them there. I’ve taught reading to 5th graders for 11 years, boy I wish I had this book sooner!

Serravallo’s descriptions of text attributes by level help teachers understand the literacy journey our students travel.

Every year I have kiddos on the edges of that bell curve. This book will help target their needs with straightforward strategies by level and goal.

On deck: Colleen Cruz’s The Unstoppable Writing teacher and the new Reading Units of Study from Lucy Calkins et. al.

My fourth celebration is for the next round of virtual book club reading. After our reading and chat on A Handful of Stars, many wanted more. So we split off into smaller groups choosing books that fit our learning needs. I choose, what I hope is a “just right” read for me, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Some have taken the work to their schools. My school will reading on Honey by Sarah Weeks.

Finally, I’m celebrating a few more weeks of summer: to enjoy the fruits of the season, stretch out long days filled with sunshine, reading and connecting with others in this digital world of ours.

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Learning together as we ask our students to do is the best kind of summer learning. 

Slice of Life: Consider Your Audience…Message and Purpose

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThis weekend, my sister-in-law reported the fact that her nephew, my son, had not followed through on a business opportunity she had set up for him.

I knew about this. I knew he wanted it, and was shocked that he had let it slip.

She went on to explain, “His generation operates by text, they don’t understand that the business world operates by email.”

Apparently my son hadn’t checked his email.

I agreed his generation, doesn’t use email as its prime mode of communication. They don’t check it as they do their texts. But, I thought, my email is a dark hole. Things get buried there so quickly. Anything that matters doesn’t go there. Surely executives have similar issues.

“You see,” she went on, “he (the executive) is continually on planes, the only way he can communicate on a flight is by email. He can’t text.”

Oh, got it. Interesting.

We thrive on communication. The ways and the speed at which we do it are exploding. How we harness it, is complicated. And as always, audience matters. If we don’t ask ourselves how do they connect, what are their constraints, and how do I best reach them, we might not connect.

My mother had to learn to call my cell phone. I don’t answer the land line. Forget calling my daughter. Text is the only thing that will get a response.

You might think this is a generational divide. But consider this: I’m trying to get my friend, who is new to Twitter, to a chat. If I want her to get the message as to the time and hashtag, I text her the information. Tweeting her wouldn’t work. That’s not how she gets her information.

So it’s not just generational; it’s how people access information.  And as I thought about it, it’s more than just access, it’s about purpose.

I recently let Voxer into my life. Initially, I resisted. One more way to get communication felt overwhelming.  But I’ve found, Voxer has a purpose and a place.  It allows for a spoken group conversation. Thoughts expressed through talk are different. They are less restrictive and open up possibilities that might be limited by written words. We know talk is necessary in our classrooms, why not in professional development.

Last week, I was involved in a Google doc discussion on a book. We choose this because of accessibility but also for the type of communication.  We wanted a flexible, communal space to share our ideas. Access, our purpose, and the message being conveyed mattered. The tool we choose to communicate with had to match the needs.

With all of this choice in our personal and professional lives, what about our classrooms. The ways we can communicate are so varied and changing, how do we decide what works best for our students. Perhaps by looking through the lens of audience access, message and purpose the choice will become clearer.

And as for my son, apparently it wasn’t too late. Emails were sent and received. The executive was impressed. The opportunity was saved.

Happy ending and lesson learned:  it won’t matter how good the message is if it isn’t heard.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog for providing a place every Tuesday to share our writing. Find more slices here.

Digital Writing About Reading

It’s late, but I think I’m going to make Margaret Simon’s Sunday link up on digital literacy. Thank you, Margaret, for the push to write about this part of our lives.  slide11This past week I’ve written a lot on Google docs for my cyber book group. I’ve tried this work before, but never on this level.

The idea came together on at TCRWP Summer Writing Insitute in a bookstore.

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I think it’s interesting that while all of our book club discussion was digital, the genesis of the club was a book, a bookstore, and a Summer Writing Institute session. Face-to-face interactions, hardcover books, brick-and-mortar stores, and classrooms with teachers and students are still necessary ingredients for learning.

Last week we read and wrote (a lot) about our thinking while reading Cynthia Lord’s book A Handful of Stars.  Our thoughts and notebooks were personal, unique. Each readers’ ideas offered a snapshot of the inside, what was going through our minds as we read.  Mine was unorganized and messy. I was inconsistent in my jots. And, it felt a little risky putting it out there.  There were times when I felt not very smart. Pretty basic retell. Ugh! I hoped no one was grading my thinking. Fortunately, I was among the kindest of colleagues.

BUT,  I thought more deeply about this book than I EVER could have if I had read it alone. The book is still with me. I’m puzzling over some things. I’m re-reading and writing those lines I loved. Images are still fresh. And I’m asking myself, what did it really mean? I’m still putting pieces together.

Would I want to do this for every book I read?  NO. It’s too hard, and I can’t read as much. It breaks up my flow.

BUT, is there a time and place for this type of work? If I did it from time to time would it make me a better reader?  Do we need a little discomfort for growth? I think so.

Now for the $64,000 question.

Can I transfer my experience (the good part) to students while supporting the love of reading?

Curious?  Join us on Twitter, Tuesday, 7/14, 7:30 EDT for a chat on Writing About Reading — #WabtR.

 

 

Celebrate: Time for Summer Learning

One of the benefits of being a teacher is summertime learning.

This week I celebrate this annual indulgence. Find more celebrations here. Thank you, Ruth, for this weekly opportunity to reflect joyfully.

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First I want to celebrate my blog makeover. When I started blogging, I had no clue. I looked at themes and chose the one with the plainest possible appearance. I wanted to be low key, unnoticed, invisible.  And that was a good place for my insecure self. Now my blog has become a safer place. A notebook of sorts. Friends stop by. I have some extra time, why not remodel.

I played around with some color. For a few minutes, my blog had a bright yellow background. Then green, blue and finally this lovely share of grey-green. Ok, I’m still the gal that wears no makeup, low key. But, the picture at the top can be changed. Allows for a little wild and crazy.

My second celebration is writing about reading A Handful of Stars with my virtual colleagues. The writing has accelerated my thinking and meaning making around this book in ways I didn’t expect. The simple post-it or jot in the journal has exploded on collaborative Google docs. Each participant has offered their thoughts, each reader adding into the discussion and the thinking.  Throughout this, I wonder, how to bring this collective, complex, and engaging thinking about reading to students. Working on that one.

Next I want to celebrate the virtual summer camp program sponsored by the National Writing Project, CLMOOC It’s outside-the-box thinking about teaching and writing: fun and a little scary. I’ve attempted one and done a lot of “stalking” or should I say analyzing mentor text to figure out what might work for me. Yesterday, I saw Margaret Simon’s offering for week #3. It is a simple but beautiful word play game using game cards from Apples to Apples. It accommodates players abilities by allowing them to create sentences or poetry.

Taking cues from Margaret’s example and my virtual book club experience, I came up with this game, Capture the Quote.  In our club work, many found that lifting lines from the text and writing about them was a powerful way to grow thinking. This game attempts to help students explore lines in books as we did.  Students could use this as a game during a club meeting, small group work, to begin, end, or in the middle of reading workshop. The “value” of a quote could then be debated. Some lines, by virtue of the random choice, will be less powerful than others. That’s a lesson in itself. It seems to work for A Handful of Stars. In the spirit of game design, test it out on something you’re reading. Does it work for you?

Finally, I celebrate the power of my future students’ writing notebooks. My incoming fifth graders left their old notebooks with me for the summer. I thought, in my teacher mind, I could find teaching points, group them, put them on a continuum of learning.

But I found more. In every notebook, I see their school persona but also a bit of who they are. What they want and dream. What worries them. What matters. Alongside the lessons of how to find a small moment, write a compound sentence, and stretch your thinking are words filled with the passion and humor of being nine. Those lovely gems shine through and say this is me!

I wonder what people think when they look at me. They don’t know what I’m really like.

I snuck in the kitchen, late at night when everyone was asleep, I ate ice cream, it was delicious.

My brother was the golden boy, he was Mr. Little Prince until the dentist.

Pink is the best. Sometimes soccer teams wear pink…on their shoes like my dad.

I wish people called me the best basketball player ever, the smartest person ever

I got in trouble–accidentally

People who don’t like sports just haven’t learned how to play, yet. I was like that.

Reading student writing always makes me laugh and fall in love just a little bit.

Taking the time to read their writing makes my virtual and often theoretical summer learning more concrete. Real. A notebook or two a day keeps me in touch. Grounded.

Every day my learning expands. And I’m so grateful for it.

Then I read a notebook or two. And try to process that learning through the lens of a soccer player, a little brother, a Minecraft expert, a passionate reader, a comic book writer, a believer in the power of all kinds of sports, a big sister, a video gamer, a cat lover.

This week I celebrate the joy of time that lets me read, think, learn and grow alongside published children’s authors’, trade book writers’, my colleagues’ and students’ words.

Slice of Life: Are you a writer?

“Are you a writer?”  said the man seated next to me. He was peering at my notebook.

“Oh, nooo! I’m just taking notes.”

I felt shame. Shame for being caught.

Yesterday as read comments on Jo Knowles’ blog, that ghost of shame revisited me. Writers participating in Kate Messner’s Teachers Write Summer Camp were offering their work, their story ideas, their writing that was in progress. I read and thought, Write like this? Oh nooo, not me.

No, I’m a teacher. I teach writing, so I’m learning about ways to teach writing. But, me, oh nooo. I don’t write.

That’s how I described myself to the man who sat next to me on the flight to New York.

I was too embarrassed to say, yes I write.

Whoa! What?!

I’m the one who tells students and colleagues that they NEED to write to understand who they are and what they’re thinking. Shame on me for not having the courage to say what I believe in about myself.

On Slice of Life Tuesdays and within the Slicer community, I write.  The evidence, acceptance, and the expectation is here. I’m not afraid or apologetic.

But when I venture outside of this space, into the world where everyday people go to work and do everyday things, I choke on those words.

When I construct my public persona, the one I tell my neighbor or any stranger, I might mention my occupation or my family status; I could easily continue by describing myself through my passions.  I’m a far cry from an Olympic athlete, but I can, without a moment’s hesitation say I run, or I swim. And I say this because I do it, regularly, five to six times a week.

Telling someone outside this community that I write doesn’t feel acceptable.  Perhaps because I haven’t done it long enough. Perhaps because it’s a thing that no one sees you do. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing.

Whatever the reason for my reluctance, it shows a lack of faith and belief in writing as plausible pursuit or passion. If I can’t admit that I write in the same way that I say I run, how can I convince others that writing is something one does or should do. Much like exercise, it’s good for you and at times, feels good.

When that man asked me if I was a writer, I was embarrassed and denied it. Now, I feel shame for what I didn’t say. He wasn’t making fun of me, he was just asking.

So, the next time someone asks, Are you a writer? I’ll say, Yes! And you?

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Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the space to write and the community of support. For more slices click here.