Slice of Life: Mentors Matter

“Come in and close the door.”

I walk into your room. You’re on your bed. Pillows piled behind you. You gaze into your laptop.

“Listen to this.”

You begin.

 “As long as I was in the water, the word ‘no’ drove me to do what others thought unreachable.”

You finish. Your personal statement for college. First read. To anyone.

I say, “You have to read this to your brother.”

You say, “You think it’s good?”

I say, “I love it.”

It’s you. It’s what makes you a challenge and what I love so much about you. I’m not sure if it’s what colleges want. But, if they don’t, then you shouldn’t want them.

We walk to the living room and share with your brother.

You get to these lines,

“Sorry, little girl, but there is NO way that you can beat your brothers – they’re much bigger and stronger than you,” my coach leaned down and told me.

“They aren’t that much bigger!” I spat back while hurling myself into the cold water.

And he laughs out loud.

“Do you like it?” you ask.

“It is great,” he says.

Your biggest brother, the one who is “so smart,” (your words) just said what you wrote is great.

Your brothers are such a big part of you. All you ever wanted was to be like them. To keep up. To be as good.

No matter what I say or do, what your brothers think is bigger.

I’m the safe place. The person you share with first.  But, my opinion is not the one that matters most. Your brothers have driven you. You followed them, dressed like them, ordered whatever they ordered at restaurants. Their passions were your passions.

You read it again.  When you get to the end, you say, “I really like my last line.”

I do too.

Even as a kindergartener, I knew you were a writer, a storyteller. Glad to see you think so too.

You’ll never be as big or as old as your brothers, but you seem to be catching up little girl. Mentors matter. So glad you have them.


Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

Slice of Life: Holding On

This weekend was hard. It was hard for my kids to see their grandfather slip away.

Sitting in that room, gathered around they see glimmers of their papa. He rallies for a moment then goes back to sleep. My son rubs his eyes and puts his head down. My daughter looks at him, her eyes red and swollen. She holds his hand. There is no hiding the fact that recovery isn’t possible.  The road has been long; the deterioration has been slow.  The fact that they can’t reach him hits them hard.

Walking out to our cars, saying our goodbyes, my son stands at the gate, frozen. I hug him, holding back tears, willing myself not to cry, trying to be strong.

My daughter leans in; wipes her face on my shoulder unafraid to hold on and not let go.

My husband’s silly joke makes it possible to walk out the gate and go on.  What a gift he gives us by lightening the load with a laugh.

Seeing a person slip away, you can’t help but wonder, where’d they go. Are they there and we just can’t see them?

The hospice nurse says this is a part of the process, which doesn’t answer any questions that are swirling around us.

We go home and hold our breath waiting and wondering. Holding on and holding back.


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog for a space to share ourselves as writers and teachers of writing. Read more slices here.

#SOL15: Day 11, Of DMs and Extra Credit

Life can be unfair. That’s a lesson you don’t want to teach your child.

I hear the tears. I knock on the closed door.

Go away! Leave me alone.

I walk away guessing at what happened.

I busy myself in the kitchen. Then I get a text.

Can u come here.

I enter the room and hug my wounded child huddled amongst the comforter, stuffed animals and pillows.

I worked so hard. I don’t understand. I don’t know what to do. It’s not fair.

I wait out the storm. Tears.  Lots of tears.

The cell phone buzzes with DMs.

I just listen and say very little.

I don’t understand. I don’t know what to do. 

More tears. I wait.

Eventually, there is room for me. I say, I know that it seems impossibly hard, but I know you can handle this. I say, I love you.

I don’t think I can do this. 

I say, I know you can; you are strong. I say, I love you.

I say, cry, be angry, lean on people who love you.

I sit there for a long time. And slowly, I see a hint of a smile. The result of a DM that lifts her up just a little.

Ah, there is hope. Is that blue sky peeking through?  I offer just a bit of advice, with lots space for her.

It’s late, but the skies have cleared with talk of how to get extra credit in history.

Soon it’s off to bed with a thank you momma. I love you.

Life can deliver messages that we aren’t ready for; that we don’t expect; that feel coldly unjust.

But life also gives us people who love us and tomorrow, and extra credit opportunities.

Thanks to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.






Slice of Life: A Bad English Assignment Gone Nerdy

It’s Tuesday! Time for Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers Blog. Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, for this space 11454297503_e27946e4ff_hto share our thoughts and our lives. Join in, share your slice of life and read more slices here.

Our family is busy and seldom together at mealtime. We understand and fend for ourselves, foraging for left overs.  The weekdays slip by.

Last Sunday night we planned a family dinner.

For many reasons, we ended up at a local Italian restaurant/sports bar. It’s one of those places where no matter where you sit you see three televisions. I don’t care or know much about football, but I was instantly memorized along with everyone else; cheering, wincing and commenting on the games. I guess that could be an acceptable family dinner if we were viewing the same game, even the same commercial. But we can’t; we all see different screens.

At some point someone, perhaps the waitress, breaks the spell and my daughter starts a conversation.

I hate it when a teacher asks for our opinion and then grades it as if there was a right answer.

Apparently, her high school English teacher asked students to write the connotation, good or bad, of certain words. The example she gave was skinny and thin and goes on to say:

He may think skinny has a bad connotation, but I’d love to be called skinny. How can he consider my connotation, my opinion wrong. How can he grade that!

She has an excellent point. First, there is a serious cultural literacy gap between a forty-something male and a sixteen-year old female with regards to the word skinny. And secondly, the idea of simply grading this kind of thinking as correct or incorrect struck me as lacking in imagination and in the belief of students’ ability to consider and debate ideas.

My son, English major cum laude, takes this complaint as an invitation to launch into a discussion about the origins of English words. “You know,” he says, “the source of the word often dictates the connotation of the word.” He goes on to talk about how there are so many words for the same thing in English because of the many languages that have contributed to English.

With this, we all jump at the challenge of naming synonyms, considering their connotations and origin: cathedral/church, swine/pig, affordable/cheap, intelligent/smart, lady/woman, feline/cat, child/kid. The televisions have lost their power.

Food is served and we talk, reconnect. Every now and then, another synonym pair pops up.

We leave the restaurant, still trying to think of words with the same meaning, discussing connotations and origin.

Who would think a badly constructed English assignment could have such a silver nerdy lining.


Slice of Life: Confusion and Being Human

My #nerdlution15 challenge is a warm up for my SOL post.

Today’s word: confusion

Confusion — bewildered, baffled, confounded, mystified.  In a tangle of knots. Not knowing which end is up. The state of confusion is a place where we are lost and sometimes frustrated verging on the edge of anger and despair. We feel it’s our fault. Clearly we aren’t that smart or perhaps we are losing our mind. Or maybe someone is playing a trick on us; changing the rules mid-stream and not letting us know. Laughing behind our back. That is where the embarrassvertical confusionment comes in. A confused person is one who doesn’t understand their world or situation. But wait, is confusion a cultural shame? Why shouldn’t we view confusion as the necessary precursor to clarity?





If you haven’t read Anna’s One Little Word post, you should. Her words helped me find mine.

Time and being human are at odds. Humans make mistakes and messes, and the limited nature of time can magnify the impact of our imperfections.

My parents, at 94 and 87, have been each other’s best friend through 56 years of marriage. They have been their children’s and grandchildren’s biggest fans, giving what they thought was the best they could give. They have fought for their independence, never wanting to be a burden. They parented, modeled how life goes; they taught what it is to be human.

They taught me about mistakes.  How mistakes can hurt and be life changing. Number one they taught me to be brave and own my mistakes. To admit to them and apologize for them, no matter how painful and embarrassing. They taught me to reflect on my actions. To question, and if found wrong, rectify my thinking and doing. They taught me to be honest. To be honest with myself, and in so doing made me more responsible for my actions.

This Christmas there was a misunderstanding that grew from confusion and resulted in anger.

My parents refused to see my brother. This was the first Christmas my parents did not see their son. The first Christmas we were not all together.

First there was confusion.

Baffled, mystified were the words my parents used.

I don’t understand what could have happened were the words my brother used.

Then came anger. The feeling of betrayal on both sides.

I tried to piece together the events and the actions, but it was impossible. I had a feeling as to what had happened, but in the end had to rely on what I knew to be true about my brother and my parents.

They have a relationship of over 50 years of love and trust. This had to be a misunderstanding based in confusion that moved to anger.

After a long discussion with my dad on New Year’s Day, he came to believe he had made a mistake. And even if it wasn’t completely his mistake, he saw the need to reach out. “I made this happen,” he said, “I have to make this right.”

The next day, he called my brother and apologized. Not an easy thing to do.

Right after the call, I got a text from my brother, “Dad called, I think we’re in a better place.”


Being human is hard. We react badly at times towards people we love. We make mistakes.  And (if) time is linear, we must make amends quickly. I know my dad wishes he could turn back time and eliminate the moment that precipitated the trouble. But, that isn’t possible, so he did what he had to do.  And I watched, getting instructions on how to be human.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog, to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, for this space11454297503_e27946e4ff_hto share the small moments that construct and constrain our lives. Read more slices here.

Slice of Life: A Chicken Moment

The last slice before Christmas and all through the house, all creatures are sleeping as I work on this post. Thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog. You, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, give us so much daily and then this Tuesday time and place to share.


Dinner was being made by many hands last night. That’s a nice thing about the holiday season. Meals together that are made together.

I make the salad.

My son cooks the sliced chicken.

My daughter heats the sauce.

Reaching and bending around each other, the table is set and food is placed.

The sauce is ready and my son starts to pour it over the chicken.

“You stir it,” my daughter tells me. “It tastes better when you do it.”

“How old are you! 6?” her oldest brother teases.

“No, 7,”  she shoots back.

These moments happen infrequently outside of this space we carve out for holidays. Usually everyone is running to their commitments. Making reports and then moving on to the next challenge. Rushing towards success, to independence, to grow up.

At this chicken moment, I remember times when she has asked me to make her a sandwich, toast the bagel, make a smoothie, sit beside her during a sad or scary movie. Not because she is can’t do it, but because she wants me to.

This slice of holiday life is fleeting, but present in tiny pockets of the day to day. Something to listen for in the new year.

I stir the sauce onto the chicken, making sure all the pieces are coated, and smile inside.

Happy Holidays, peace and reflective moments to you all.

Slice of Life: First Language Learning

Fall hides in Los Angeles, showing up in small moments. If you are paying attention you’ll feel it in the early morning chill and the dark 4:30s. A smattering of rain cleans the air; a cool breeze pulls in puffy white clouds and a crystal blue sky. The light changes slightly and the sun filters through the window at a lower, less aggressive angle. Mid day is still warm. I revel in cooler moments and bits of color that hint at autumn and the winter to come.

I walk by this tree daily and think, I must take a picture. I walk by, yes I will do that, but then all of a sudden, it’s dark. Last Sunday I walked by, focused on to do lists rattling around in my head, arms loaded. But this time I set the pile down and looked up. Light streamed down. The air was perfect and I catch it. The picture on my phone disappointed me. It never comes out the way I see it real time. I shot few more and walked on. Looking at it now, I see the beauty that would not have been remembered. The comparison to the original moment is long gone.

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I took pictures constantly when my kids were little. I remember getting them developed in an hour (dark ages of image making), anxiously waiting to see them. At the time I thought I was a bit nuts. They were right there. Why the pictures. Why the urgency.  I look at them now and my heart sings, so grateful I was crazy, or maybe not so crazy. I have memories I wouldn’t have held on to without the image.

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Images dominate our world for good reason. They work. Ideas are absorbed readily with images. I think of this as I transcribe words of a presentation to images. It’s the same exercise my brain goes through when I make a chart for students with icons that convey concepts rather than words. To be honest, it is a struggle at times finding images for words. I feel strangely disadvantaged, disassociated from images. Almost debilitated by my world of words. The language we are born with is set aside for the world of words.

I’m reminded of the Opal School and their work that uses the visual arts to activate deep thinking in students; the power of wordless picture books; of studying art to learn history and to activate writing; and the many technologies that marry words and images into powerful messages.

Images, so easy to digest, stir the heart, activate the mind and preserve memory. I have never been so aware of the need to reacquaint myself with my first language. It’s an adventure and a lot of fun!

Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara for Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life.  Read more and post your own here.


Celebrate: Endings and Beginnings, Again and Again

Happy Saturday. It’s time to Celebrate with this week with Ruth Ayres. Two wonderful things to look forward to every week. Read more celebrations here.

celebrate link up

This week was full, yet passed in an instant.

Five things —

1.  The return and departure of our eldest. He flew in on Monday from two months in Europe. Happy, exhausted, and full of life. Today he left for Santa Cruz. Our reunion was brief and a bit fractured (time in little pieces, here and there), but good. He seems settled and ready to move into the next phase of his life. With that feeling, it is easier to let him go.

2. The return of my car. Two “kids” home and driving meant that I have been car-less. As much as it really doesn’t matter, and I don’t particularly like or need to drive, something about having my car back gives me a sense of control and order.

3. The homecoming of my parents. Both were in the hospital. Sunday they came home. Fragile, but happy. My dad’s lovely nurse Rayna said it all, “Getting old isn’t easy.” That’s an understatement. They have been married nearly 60 years and are still entertain each other. Lucky them, lucky us.

4.  The end of parent conferences. It was two long weeks of meeting with families, 58 in all. I want to celebrate the dedication of these families. Everyone made time: took time off, did what was necessary and made their child a priority.  Only one parent asked where their child “ranked” in the class and only two asked what their grades would be. Most wanted to hear about how learning was going from their child, not from me. In most cases I felt more like a facilitator not like a validator or judge. In situations where students weren’t meeting expectations yet, we worked on next steps. All worth celebrating.

5.  The beginning of fall. You have to pay attention to notice fall in Southern California. We don’t get the vivid colors. Most trees are evergreen. Air temperatures change subtly.  Darkness sneaks up on us sooner and lasts a bit longer. The fog hangs on the coast. Things seem a bit calmer, quieter, providing a respite from summer.

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Celebrate: How Language is Our Doing

Time to Celebrate the Week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you Ruth for this weekly space. It centers me around what is and was good; pulls me towards the growth of good; pushes me to capitalize on strength. Find more celebration posts here.

celebrate link up

One: An email from our son. Love his words.

Greetings from Morocco!

Just kidding. Hello from San Sebastian! The water is incredibly clear here, the beaches beautiful, the Basque countryside a natural wonder, the tapas a culinary adventure. . There’s always something just over the horizon, ready to unveil itself. I also bought The Great Gatsby in Paris and fell back in love with the story and the writing. I’ve already read it twice, going on a third.

Two:  A wonderful dinner with Elsie (aka Leann Carpenter). Lovely Leann who so graciously invited me to meet her for dinner and then waited too long for me to get through Los Angeles traffic. It was a beautiful California summer night as you can see.  It’s so fun to meet a fellow blogger in the flesh. We know so much about each other based on written words. To be able to hear those words and share a meal is a such a treat.  Wonderful to be with you Leann, I owe you one!

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Three: Brown Girl Dreaming showed up on my doorstep. I ordered it in June, after I heard Jacqueline Woodson speak at TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute and it does not disappoint. It is quite simply, beautiful. Each chapter is a masterpiece that can stand on its own. I am half way through, the pages fly by, and I keep circling back to savor certain parts.

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Below are a few excerpts that  hit me; made me think of  my current students and of the many students who have read and struggled to read in my classroom.

Woodson is a born storyteller and her love affair with words is clear, but reading words was a struggle as a child. Living in the academic shadow of her gifted older sister, this passage from “Gifted” pulls at my heart.

She is gifted

we are told.

And I imagine presents surrounding her.

I am not gifted. When I read, the words twist

twirl across the page.

When they settle it’s too late.

The class has moved on

I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them

then blow gently,

watch them float

right out of my hands.

Reading is such an amazing and personal process.  Those who “get it,” like Jacqueline’s sister, seem to have a magical gift that is elusive for those who come to reading in a different way and on a different time table. Such a reminder to honor and wait for readers like Jacqueline; making sure we don’t leave them behind.

And this excerpt from “Believing”  reminds me to understand and give some room for writers whose personal narratives seems a little less than true.

It’s hard to understand

the way my brain works–so different

from everybody around me.

How each story

I’m told becomes a thing

that happens,

in some other way

to me….!

This from “Composition Notebook” made the composition notebook buyer in me smile and reminds me to look for those gifts in my students I “can’t begin to understand.”

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Four: Students writing whatever they want for 15 minutes every morning. Friday, I walked around the classroom surveying what they were writing about. I found:

  • four in the moment observing the goings on in the classroom.
  • one was a stream of thought,
  • one all about what he was good at,
  • three continued their work from the day before,
  • one fairy tale,
  • one informational writing on rubber (yes, rubber),
  • one was a reflection on lying,
  • nine personal narratives,
  • one all about dogs,
  • two I don’t know what to write/have much to say writing,
  • one writing about “Brave” by Sara Bareilles,
  • one wondering about what would happen today.
  • two theme park narratives,
  • two what I’m going to do this weekend

I want to celebrate the diversity of writing. The choices that were made freely and without prompting. The fact that some didn’t know what to write, but wrote anyway. I want to celebrate the beginnings of a writerly life.

Five:  Finally, a link to the most recent On Being  blog and podcast that features Marie Howe, the state poet of New York. I listened to the podcast today and find her and her views of our world stunningly down to earth and necessary.  One big aha was how “doing” in our current world is  dominated by language, and hence the importance and power in it. Click on the link above and enjoy her poetry, storytelling and thinking on language, happiness, being present, and family,

Happy long weekend to you all.


Slice of Life: The Illusion of Control

Tuesday already?! And time for Slice of Life. Thank you to Two Writing Teachers. Love you guys for providing a place to live a writerly life. Please read more slices here. And, check out my friend, Dayna’s first post here.


Those of you who have young ones in diapers, do you quake at the thought of potty training? You just don’t want to do it. You’ve been putting off the harsh reality of  coaching your 3-year old to be self aware, to self regulate. You think, how could that little toddler be in control.

But, you know you must eventually “teach” that independence. So you say to yourself, “others have done this. Surely, I can too. After all I’m a teacher and a mass consumer of parenting literature.”  And amazingly you do it. Unscathed. Feeling pret-ty good about yourself.

Fast forward 13 years to the next horrifying parenting task: behind the wheel driving. Your thoughts are strikingly similar to potty training. Other parents do this every day. You can do this.

You get in the passenger seat. EVERYTHING has changed. Your CHILD is in the seat of control, behind the wheel. You try not to think about what this implies. A complete novice powering a motor vehicle. Other vehicles whizzing past you at speeds that seem extremely dangerous. All of what was normal, simple and automatic, takes on a new dimension. Everything is a hazard.   At a very deep level you think this should not be allowed. There should be some other way. Mistakes in judgment are not just embarrassing accidents; it could a matter of  life and death. It is clearly not a safe thing.  The thought of  changing lanes and left turns make you want to move to a place where driving does not have to happen.  New York City? Another era?

But you take a deep breath and look at your girl. She looks nervous. This is good you think.

Ok you say, put your foot on the brake and start the car.

The motor comes to life.

Now let’s just practice lifting our foot off the break.

The car inches forward.

Ok now ease your foot back on to the break.

The car stops.

Deep breath. Ok great! Now let’s put the car in reverse and do the same thing.

You do this back and forth till you feel like she has mastered this baby step. Both of you are less scared. And exhausted.

Now, you say, put the car in park. Great. Now turn it off.

Lesson one done. YES!

Thinking back, you remember the relief you felt when she was potty trained before pre-school started. She will be educated you thought. We made it!  This is where the comparison ends, because now, with this task success means a driver’s license which is scary but really just another step in teaching towards independence and letting go of control, something we never really had. This becomes a step towards teaching her to self regulate, to accept her responsibilities.

Weeks have passed and she has become confident behind the wheel and aware of her surroundings, driving for hours along miles and miles of city streets. The road is long and it continues with you alongside her. This is good, remember this you think, because soon she’ll be on her own.