Playing with Google Docs

This is a reflective time of year. I like feeling that I have a fresh slate, a new start. Traditionally, I make lists of goals according to categories like Family, Work, Health, and Faith. I write goals because whenever I do, I tend to accomplish more than when I don’t. This year, inspired by Ruth’s post about Infographics, I’ve decided to take a different approach. I wanted to create a visual map of my goals. I used Google Docs, which is also one of my objectives for the coming year. One of the many cool things about Google Docs is that every document has its own URL, just like a blog post, and you can easily link other documents, images, posts, and sites to each other within a document, spreadsheet, table, or drawing. After I created my drawing, I linked a separate objective list to my big ideas: Make Space, Trust, Listen, and Take Action. Drawings can also be saved as JPG’s. Going through this process has pushed me to learn more about Google Docs and play with ways to use this powerful tool. My mind is already twirling thinking about creating curriculum documents that could be linked to one another. I just love this kind of stuff. I need a longer vacation. 

Very Pinterest-ing

Not long after Stacey posted about Pinterest, a friend of mine on Facebook sent me an invitation to join. I accepted the invitation and started an account. At first, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing or why. After playing with the social networking site for a couple of weeks, I’m now hooked. For me, Pinterest is all about the power of images and the ideas they conjure up. After choosing thread as my one little word, I created a board with pictures of thread and quotes about thread. The pin boards function like idea files using images. Be warned. Pinterest can be addicting! 

Thankful Thursday

Ten Things I Am Grateful For

Thinking About Thread

After reading Stacey’s post about one little word, I thought about what my word could be. I considered the linked list of words in her post and pondered a bit. I knew I was supposed to pick a word to live by for the year but I struggled with that. That felt so big to me.  I’m not sure if it because I had to move my office to the sewing room but as I was writing and thinking, the word thread came to mind. I love thread and if you enjoy creating with fabric, you know what I mean. Other than that, I had no idea why I picked that word.  I suppose I could have chosen the word connected but thread felt better, more real and I liked that thread was something I could hold in my hand if I wanted to. And so I dug through my thread drawer and my grandma's sewing box and picked some spools to put in a jar to remind me of my word.

Needing a Pep Talk

I am woefully behind on my 500 words per day challenge. I’ve been avoiding. I’ve been blogging and playing around on Pinterest, which is addicting by the way. I’ve been working at mothering, sistering, daughtering, spousing, and teaching. Lots of shopping and wrapping, too. But I haven’t been writing as much as I want, as much as I need. I am reminded of Lindsey Grant’s pep talk about sick cats. Toward the end of NaNoWriMo, I received an email from Lindsey, and with her permission, I have reprinted it below:

Hi Wrimos,
One wordy week remains in this literary marathon, and I am in the weeds. Nothing I can’t recover from, but I feel chagrined all the same. I don’t much like being behind, and the 23,000 words I have left to write are weighing on me.
I could make excuses for this. I have a really sick cat, for example. Yep, Mufasa K. Grant-Bowen is having a really rough November. (To be honest, he’s having a pretty rough life.)
You know what, though? We all have sick cats. Maybe your “sick cat” is a term paper; it could be a business trip smack in the middle of this already-intense month; perhaps it’s a sick parent or child. Or a sick you!
The point is, we all lead lives that are outrageously packed with obstacles, obligations, surprise catastrophes, (or, in my case, cat-astrophes). But we keep at it, because what we’re doing is important.
How much time in a day, or a week, or a month do we usually set aside to work on a project that is important to us? A project that allows us to create and explore and tell the story we’ve been carrying around in our head or heart for ages?
I know I spend most of my spare time on maintenance: exercising, doing laundry, buying the groceries, cleaning the dishes, making the bed, getting the car serviced, going to the dentist. And lately, going to the vet. A lot.
This is our time! This is our moment! Think of all that we can accomplish in the remaining week.
From where I stand in these word-count weeds, I am so heartened to know that we are all in this together. You, me, my sick cat, and everything else that keeps us away from our novels. Let’s steer this boat toward November 30 and make the very most of what time we’ve got. (And hope that my cat doesn’t barf on us.)
Packing extra paper towels,
Even though Lindsey’s pep talk was meant to encourage novel writers, her words are encouraging for writers in general. The idea is to just keep going. Don’t stop. Keep writing. Creating conditions for young writers to learn how to stick to it even though it is hard is a powerful experience.  This is more than a writing skill. It is a life skill. Lindsey's pep talk impacted me because I knew she was in the writing boat right along with me.  Our students need to know we are in the writing boat with them.

Inspired by Amber Dusick's Crappy Pictures.

Does This Count as a Celebration? Yes!

A few weeks ago, just before Thanksgiving vacation, I finished a coaching cycle in a third grade classroom. Together, the classroom teacher and I worked to help the students increase their stamina and see themselves as writers. One reluctant writer, Brendan, went from putting little on the page to discussing with me that he wanted to become a professional writer. Chris, a struggling writer, started out avoiding writing and ended the trimester taking his books with him on the playground to work on them during recess. Another student, Calla, a self-professed writing hater, ended up creating lengthy stories with characters suffering the trials and tribulations of third grade friendships. A day before the end of the trimester, their teacher read aloud a letter I had written to the class. I wasn’t present for the reading or discussion but the teacher said the children were very thoughtful about who they were becoming as writers.
I’ve decided that the letter and the reflective discussion that followed counted as a very simple writing celebration. It wasn't a celebration of writing but rather a celebration of writers. I didn’t really think about it as a writing celebration at all until I read Ruth’s post about celebrations and the transcript of her interview with Choice Literacy.
On my last day in the class, at the end of writing workshop, the kids were on their way out the door for lunch recess when Logan approached me and said, “I was thinking 'bout writing and I think we are all like airplanes going down the runway cuz we are just takin' off!”
Did you ever notice how brilliant third graders are?

Mentor Sentence Monday: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This week I’ve chosen to use The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick as the mentor text for generating my practice sentences. The following sentences can be found on page 50.

Hugo crept through the walls, came out through an air vent, and hurried down the hall until he reached the toy booth. Nervously, he rubbed the notebook one last time, then cautiously lowered his hand around the windup toy he wanted.   


Using Brian Selznick’s sentence patterns, I generated the following sentences:

Sebastian padded down the stairs, stood in the foyer, and looked out the sidelight of the front door. Nervously, he flipped the deadbolt one last time, then cautiously stepped out to the front porch and scanned the front yard.

Sylvia pulled up to the condo, turned off her headlights, and hunched down in her seat. Nervously, she steadied the zoom lens of her camera one last time, then snapped the picture of her husband and the woman.

Blog Envy

Lately, Roxy seems to find my
pencils more interesting than my
Every month or so, I feel like I want to revise my blog. To me, my blog is an ongoing piece of writing. The purpose of my blog, as a piece of writing, remains the same: I want to take risks with my writing and connect with other teachers. I’ve considered starting a second blog as a container for SOL’s and using One Literacy Coach as more of a place for teaching ideas and lessons. I have some dummy blogs I started but then I get overwhelmed and just end up changing some things around on the old blog and calling it good. I guess maybe I am struggling with audience. Blogging is about comments and page views. Knowing who is reading your posts and whether they comment or not is interesting. Blogger has great stats and I’ve never had spam comments or unwanted advertisements pop up on my blog. But ever since I started my blog, I have been frustrated with Blogger’s commenting system. I like threaded commenting systems, such as Discus, but I’ve been wary of using them. I’ve read post after post on other blogs touting the pros and cons. I’ve considered switching to Wordpress but I am not convinced it is worth it. And then I think sometimes, maybe Blogger’s bulky commenting system is a positive thing. Commenting takes effort. And that is good, especially when you want to be part of a community.

Trying to Press On

Sometimes, even when the road ahead
may be challenging to navigate, you just
have to press on, even if you have to
slow down.
I’ve been trying to write more posts and comments this month. I felt like last month, it was all I could do to write my 1700 words per day and post a slice once a week. Not much time to read and comment on the posts of others, which gnawed at me. But the TWT community was incredibly generous.  I have appreciated that TWT slicers instantly welcomed and encouraged each other and if life's challenges trumped posting and commenting, that was okay. There was always, tomorrow, next week, or next month to try again.

I started off this month with a new writing challenge. I joined the 500 Words Per Day Challenge and I planned on posting to my blog daily. So far, the 500 words have flowed fairly well. I’ve commented a lot more, but the daily posting fell apart last week. I haven't given up though. When I was in the midst of the NaNoWriMo challenge, I received a pep talk email from Lindsey Grant from the Office of Letters and Light that I still reread and think about. Lindsey wrote about the obstacles and obligations that all writers face but that pressing on is important work. I think all writers need pep talks, whether you’re a third grader or a 50-year-old. Maybe I will write a pep talk of my own.

Eve Bunting's Dandelions: From the Sound of the Wind to the Taste of Truffles

Yesterday, I posted about using a page out of Eve Bunting’s book, Dandelions as a model for creating some sentences of my own. Today, I used the same snippet of text but played with some different sentences.  Below are some of Bunting's lovely lines:

Text from Dandelions and Lindor's extra
dark chocolate truffles. Both are very
The sound of the wind in the grass was like the sound of the rivers we’d known back home. Day and night the sound was in our ears.

Below are some sentences I wrote using page 4 from Dandelions as my mentor text. Somehow I started off with the sound of wind and ended up with the taste of truffles.

The sound of the snoring through his nose was like the sound of the motorcycles we’d heard on the highway. All night, every night, the sound was in our ears.

The sound of the yowling in the basement was like the sound of singing cats in heat. Day and night the cried were in our ears.

The fan blew around the smell of the room. Day and night the rotting stench was in our noses.

The taste of the fudge in my mouth was like the chocolate truffles I’d known back home. One by one, piece by piece, the squares of fudge disappeared behind my lips.

Mentor Sentence Monday: Eve Bunting's Dandelions

Today I’m continuing my study of some of Eve Bunting’s wonderful words. The following paragraphs from Dandelions beg to be read over and over:

We cooked our meals outside the wagon and slept on Mama’s quilts spread on the ground. Papa told us the names of the stars and about the moon, how it rose and set, and how the moon and the stars were the same ones that shone over Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The very ones we used to see through our bedroom window.
When he told us that I cried a little, but I didn’t let Rebecca see. The sound of the wind in the grass was like the sound of the rivers we’d known back home. Day and night the sound was in our ears.
I used Bunting’s words as my mentor text and generated the following sentences of my own:
We grilled the burgers on the hibachi and slept in sleeping bags on the deck of the pontoon boat.
We baked the cutout cookies in the oven and slept on quilts spread on the floor under the Christmas tree. Grandma told us about each ornament, who made it or who gave it to her, and how the angel at the top was her favorite. The very angel their mother used to play with like it was a doll, when she was a little girl.
We made our sundaes with Hershey’s syrup and two scoops of vanilla and sat on Susie’s front porch glider.

Christmas Gift Pressure

I made this collage for my brother, John. After
inquiring how long I was planning on leaving
several stacks of old photographs on the dining
room floor, my husband said, "It would be a lot
 less work if you just bought him a gift card."
Gee whiz dear, I never even thought of that.

I have a family Christmas get-together next Saturday. I’m looking forward to it except the whole gift thing. My family is quite the loving hodgepodge. Many kids, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, half-siblings, and step-siblings are all part of the annual family gathering.  We don’t draw names and I’m never really certain who will be there and who won’t. In the past, we’ve done the “steal the gift” activity. And on top of that, some people always manage to give everyone at the party a gift. Talk about pressure. I vowed this year, like I do every year, not to cave to the stress of trying to give everyone a gift at the gathering. No one expects it; at least that’s what they say. But when someone gives your child a present and you don’t give their child a present, it doesn’t go over very well. I used to keep a bag of wrapped “just in case gifts.” So far, this year I haven’t quite pulled that together yet. I did manage to create a collage for each of my siblings for their gifts.

Friday Morning Weigh In: Writing Challenges

I’ve been thinking a lot about Stacey’s post yesterday about creating writing goals and challenging oneself as a writer. This coming February will mark my one year anniversary of starting my One Literacy Coach blog. If I hadn’t of stumbled upon TWT, I would never have started a blog. I didn’t believe I had anything important to say. At least not important enough that anyone else would be interested. I was too afraid to even post a comment on the TWT blog. I’ve come a long way. And it is exciting to feel that I can continue to develop as a writer. But I should know this. I teach young writers every day. They know that I believe in them and think their words are important. But the believing in myself thing comes harder. Not sure why that is.

I think making goals and writing them down is important. Stacey wrote a list of ideas from her NCTE presentation that I keep mulling over. For me, I want to take this next year and work at my writing. I want to identify writers I love and study their craft. I’ve been thinking about setting some reading goals to mesh with my writing goals. And I want to write a lot. So far, my goals are to study, risk, trust, and work hard. And because I spent so many years teaching special education, I will probably feel compelled to create measurable objectives to go with my big ideas. And I need to drop ten pounds. Just thought I would throw that last one in there.

From Paragraph to Story

Yesterday I wrote a post about using Eve Bunting's words as a pattern for writing several paragraphs of my own. From those paragraphs, I let the words go where they wanted and grow into the beginning of a story. I'm thinking about a possible ending but I can always change my mind.

(I don't have a title yet)

      Once a small brown mouse got into the basement and couldn’t get out. It scurried into a corner, hopping and clawing at the wall. It found the shabby sofa, got a grip on the upholstery, and climbed to the arm, where it perched. Waiting. Nose twitching.
      “Don’t stop running,” I told it silently. “Don’t! You can outsmart Roxy the cat!”
      For days the mouse scuttled around, successfully hiding from Roxy. And then, thwack went the trap! I feared the worst. In an instant I saw a flash of brown run under the sofa. The mouse was okay.
      “Run mouse,” I whispered. “You are indeed brave.” Though I couldn’t see it, I know it was hiding, twitching, waiting to respond to the next hazard.
I don't yet have a name for my  
basement cat character.
       I had been living in the Tackett’s basement for about a year when the mouse appeared. But before that, before Roxy that is, I had the run of the house. One week after the Tackett’s brought Roxy home, I started marking my territory upstairs, occasionally spraying the living room drapes or flooding the corner by the litter box. I don’t know why I did it. It just seemed like the thing to do. Roxy had invaded my home, taken over my people, and my litter box. At first, I felt sorry for Roxy. She had spent her life caged up at the Humane Society shelter.  Although she had been fed well and her cage kept clean, she was only periodically petted. Roxy had spent her life sleeping, grooming, and watching other cats sleeping and grooming.  Her life at the shelter had been, well . . . sheltered.  She'd never experienced watching the birds from the dining room window or taking a nap in a sun patch on the red chair in the living room. Roxy had never slept snuggled in blankets on Michael’s bed in the winter. Poor thing. Pathetic kitty. Pitiable youth. My sympathy for Miss Roxy, queen of the house, changed to jealousy within days of her arrival.
       The tubby calico ate a lot and as a result pooped a lot. And she was a slob. Half the time, she backed up too far to do her business and missed the litter box entirely. Her deposits ended up on the floor or balanced on the edge of the box. The Tackett’s tried to remedy Roxy’s toileting challenges by providing a bigger wider litter pan. She still somehow managed to unload on the floor. As you can imagine, it didn’t smell too sweet. I had no choice but to relieve myself in the corner. There was no way I was going to try to tiptoe around her turds to use the facilities. The Tackett’s placed a second receptacle, right by the first one and Roxy the cat-pig somehow managed to spoil them both. This did not make Michael’s parents happy. But evidently, my urine was deemed more objectionable than Roxy’s turds and I ended up in the basement, with my own litter box.

Going From Sentences to Paragraphs

Over the weekend, I posted about using Jeff Anderson’s concept of imitating great sentences from favorite authors as a way to improve the complexity and coherence of student writing. After seeing positive results from young writers at school, I wanted to try it myself.  I chose one of my generated sentences that I liked and tried to imitate the pattern and structure of the paragraphs of the mentor text. Below are Eve Bunting's words and then after that are the paragraphs I created using her writing as a model.

Eve Bunting’s words from p. 16 of Fly Away Home:
Once a little brown bird got into the main terminal and it couldn’t get out. It fluttered in the high, hollow spaces. It threw itself at the glass, fell panting on the floor, flew to a tall, metal girder, and perched there, exhausted.
            “Don’t stop trying,” I told it silently. “Don’t! You can get out!”
            For days the bird flew around, dragging one wing. And then it found the instant when a sliding door was open and slipped through. I watched it rise. Its wing seemed OK.
“Fly, bird,” I whispered. “Fly away home!”
            Though I couldn’t hear it, I knew it was singing. Nothing made me as happy as that bird.

My words using Bunting’s sentences as patterns:
Roxy wasn't particularly thrilled to be
cast as the villain in my story.
Once a small brown mouse got into the basement and couldn’t get out. It scurried into a corner, hopping and clawing at the wall. It found the shabby sofa, got a grip on the upholstery, and climbed to the arm, where it perched. Waiting. Nose twitching.
“Don’t stop running,” I told it silently. “Don’t! You can outsmart Roxy the cat!”
For days the mouse scuttled around, successfully hiding from Roxy. And then, thwack went the trap! I feared the worst. In an instant I saw a flash of brown run under the sofa. The mouse was okay.
“Run mouse,” I whispered. “You are indeed brave.”
Though I couldn’t see it, I knew it was hiding, twitching, waiting to respond to the next hazard.

The next step is to take the paragraphs and use them to produce more writing, possibly a story. I’m going to let the words take me wherever they want to go. And if my internal editor gets too loud and begins to prevent me from getting my words on the paper, I will shush it because it is time to write.

Mentor Sentence Monday: More Sentences from Fly Away Home

Image from Microsoft Word
I’m enjoying creating my own sentences using the patterns of authors. I’ve always loved playing with words and this exercise of generating sentences has been growing hooks and igniting new writing for me. And it’s fun!

The following are Eve Bunting’s words on page 14 from Fly Away Home:

Everything in the airport is on the move—passengers, pilots, flight attendants, cleaners with their brooms. Jets roar in, close to the windows.
The following are my words based on Bunting’s sentence patterns:
Everything in the room is motionless—the fan, the curtains, the air, and the cat stretched out on the tile floor. Yellow jackets hum, close to the window screens.

Nothing in the school is still—not teachers, kids, parents, secretaries on the phones. Buses roll in, breaks squeaking to a stop.

When she lays down to sleep, her thoughts keep firing—pack lunches, pick son up at the high school, chicken in the crock pot, husband cheated. Memories roar in and line up next to tomorrow’s to-do list.

Sunday Snippet: Mary Malloy Shoulda Been a Boy, Chapter 1

Image from Microsoft Word
The following is a snippet from my NaNoWriMo novel tentatively titled, Mary Malloy Shoulda Been a Boy. These paragraphs are from the first chapter. After submitting my 50,000 words last weekend, I didn’t plan on looking at the draft again until Christmas vacation. The thought of beginning the revision process was too daunting. I was afraid when I looked at what I wrote, I would hate it, or be embarrassed, or disappointed. So far, I don’t feel any of those things. What a nice surprise. Today, I spent time rereading and revising just a little bit. It felt satisfying like starting to put together a puzzle or beginning to sew pieces of cut fabric to make a garment.

Shoulda Been a Boy

Mary rode her sister's hand-me-down Huffy bike with skinny wheels and twin baskets in the rear to the pool nearly every day that summer. She started swimming lessons later than the other kids and was older. Mary was determined to get through Intermediate 1 and 2 in one summer because she wanted to be able to go to the pool by herself instead of begging her sister to come with her.  Kids that were under 16 had to pass a skills test or pass Intermediate 2 in order to be at the pool without an adult.
It was fairly early in the morning and there wasn’t much traffic. Mary rode her bike on the sidewalk no-handed unless she had to turn or cross a street. The Green Valley City Pool was a fifteen minute ride from her house. She arrived at the pool, chained her bike, and checked in with the lady at the counter by the entrance to the locker rooms. Mary’s name was on the list for Intermediate 1. She walked through the locker room with her eyes down. Older ladies and some young moms with kids actually undressed in front of each other in there. Gross.

Using Mentor Texts: Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting

I’ve been a big fan of Jeff Anderson’s book Mechanically Inclined for a couple years. Not only does the book have excellent teaching ideas, it is written with so much voice, it is just enjoyable to read. And in person, he is pretty darn funny.  As I’ve played with Jeff Anderson’s lessons, I’ve noticed that imitating sentence patterns makes a significant impact on the complexity and coherence of student writing. So if it works for kids, why not me? If I want to improve the quality of what I put on the paper, I need to work at it. So I made a stack of books I love and I started looking through them. I grabbed Eve Bunting's Fly Away Home. I marked pages, sentences, or paragraphs that I felt were powerful or I just liked the sound of when read aloud. Below is one section I marked as my mentor text and below that are sentences I generated as I worked at using some of Bunting's sentence patterns.

From, Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting (p. 16)
Once a little brown bird got into the main terminal and it couldn’t get out. It fluttered in the high, hollow spaces. It threw itself at the glass, fell panting on the floor, flew to a tall, metal girder, and perched there, exhausted.
                “Don’t stop trying,” I told it silently. “Don’t! You can get out!”
                For days the bird flew around, dragging one wing. And then it found the instant when a sliding door was open and slipped through. I watched it rise. Its wing seemed OK.
“Fly, bird,” I whispered. “Fly away home!”
                Though I couldn’t hear it, I knew it was singing. Nothing made me as happy as that bird.

Below is some of my work using Bunting's writing as a mentor text:
Though I couldn’t see her, I knew she was dancing. Nothing made me as happy as hearing the sound the Tele Tone taps made against the wood floor.
Though I couldn’t see her, I knew she was scared. Nothing made me as miserable as knowing her hand was just out of reach.
Though she didn’t seem to know my name, her eyes said she remembered my face.

Reflections on Using Word Counts

Hmmm . . . let's see, that makes
one word, two words, wait . . .
what's a word?
Up until my participation in NaNoWriMo 2011, I never really thought about word counts. In fact, my view of counting words as a motivational writing practice was dim, especially when working with young writers. Although, I’m still not sure how I feel about using word counts with kids, I’ve completely changed my tune about using them personally. So much that I am attempting another writing challenge for the month of December. My goal is to write 500 words a day. Since it is a personal goal, I get to make my own rules about what kind of writing I can include in my word count. I don’t imagine I would count emails or texts although I could if I chose to. I want to work at producing words that will help me grow as a writer.

The whole NaNoWriMo thing has had sort of a weird impact on me. Not at all what I expected. The biggest thing I learned is so simple I feel dorky writing it. Writers need to write a lot to get better at writing. Duh. I knew that, didn’t I? And writing fiction is very different from composing a blog post. But I was able to use many of the ideas that I played with in SOL’s in numerous scenes throughout the book. I still snort and chuckle when I write that. A book. I wrote a book. And I don’t care if anyone but me ever reads it. It is a piece of me. And with writing the previous sentence, I’ve gone from chuckling to blubbering like a bawl baby. Maybe I’m just tired or menopausal. I’m telling you, this thing has really changed me. By the way, I just wrote two-hundred-ninety-three words.

Should Write What I'm Grateful For More Often

I haven't written a gratitude list in a while. Reading Jennifer's SOL was the reminder I needed. And since I am home today with a pair of gooey pink eyes, I have some extra writing time. So here goes:

I’m grateful for . . .

my healthy children.
being able to pay my bills.
a car that starts when I turn the key.
no flooded basement after the recent rains.
spending time with 3rd grade writers that inspire me endlessly.
the big bulb lights, like the ones on Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
my understanding colleagues that cover my bus duty and so much more.
not being 25, 35, or even 45 anymore. Turning fifty is awesome by the way.
having friends and family who accept my quirks, habits, and passions. Thanks Mom. J
One of three ornaments I have
 left from my childhood. I'm
grateful to still have them.
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