Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Woods, Lake, and the Super Biffy

My sister and I at camp a few years back

     The creaky cabin door slams behind us and the smell of the pine woods follows us.  The cabin screens are protected with a tarp hanging outside which makes the inside of the cabin dark even in the bright sunlight.  There are four camp cots that have been improved over the years with slabs of wood under the cot mattress as opposed to the old springs.  The cabin smells like dirt and sand which is collecting on the floor and humidity that stays trapped inside.  It is rustic and perfect and more my home than any of my houses have ever been.

      If you talk to anyone who has never experienced camp, they cannot understand what the draw is.  We don't even actually camp as you would in a campground in tents.  There isn't much fishing happening, we don't always go for long hikes, but we always love our surroundings.  What we do have are an abundance of happy memories and a reminiscence that pops out around every corner.  This place fills us with a spiritual happiness and protects us from the rest of the world for a few days.  We have a vocabulary of words that only those of us that have experienced camp know: hopper, biffy, superbiffy, the real dining hall, and all the unit names that don't exist anymore but are forever burned into our minds and hearts.  We learned to wake up to the toll of the bell and show up throughout the day for meals summoned by that same bell.  We learned to walk through the woods with the help of a flashlight on nights with a new moon and without a flashlight on full moon nights.  We learned to build a campfire and enjoy staring into it well into the night.
My mother at the camp bell.  

     I literally owe my entire existence to this special place.  My parents were of the first generation to form ties to Camp Webb.  My father actually came up with his youth group and built many of the things that exist on the ground today.  Every time I take the steps down to the lakefront, I feel my dad with me.  He worked hard with the groundskeeper to maintain the camp property.  My mother came up to work at camp not through a church connection, but because my grandmother was friends with someone who was working there.  My parents met at camp and had a beautiful wedding in the outdoor chapel there (at least it looks beautiful from the pictures I've seen).  They continued to be friends with many of their camp friends and especially were close with the maintenance man and his wife.  It was through this connection that I came to know the camp as my home away from home even before I was old enough to be a camper.
The camp logo.
     My time as a camper holds many memories:
  • The meals in the dining hall while Ruthie was still the cook were amazing.  My mouth waters just remembering the Ruthie rolls we used to eat.  
  • The talent show each week in which the staff would put on these goofy skits for us.  
  • The singing, I love the singing.  Camp songs for church and campfires alike and hilarious graces that made praying fun.  
  • Lessons in the lake in swimming and sailing and canoeing.  
  • Crafts in the arts and craft cabin.  
  • And every Friday, for the end of the camp week, we had a dance.  
Every summer I went to camp for the week of my birthday.  I loved the goofy fun of being the center of attention at a camp meal for the few moments it took to sing happy birthday.  Each summer at camp, the place inched its way into my heart and soul a little more.

Little Hills Lake 
     My parents continued to be involved in the camp as well.  We went up to camp for family camping whenever we had the opportunity.  It became a yearly tradition to be up there in the same week in August almost every year.  We got to be there with the families of some of my parents' friends from camp and we all enjoyed this connection.  My father also served on the board of directors for a few years.  I was so proud of the fact that he was helping make some of the decisions that needed to be made for the future of camp.  The biggest way that we continued to be involved with camp is our frequent visits to the caretaker and his family.  We would drive the camper and later the motorhome up to camp and park it next to the house at the end of the driveway.  We spent countless weekends visiting our family friends and roaming camp land at will.  I got to know every inch of that beautiful space better than I would have if I just went there as a camper.
The steps my dad helped build.
     When my father died too young, his camp friends dedicated a cabin to his memory.  He had been such a big part of building the camp and I was able to feel his presence while on that land more than in any other space in the world.  The time I spent on the pier at night gazing up at the vast universe of stars, really helped me to grieve and to know that I would see my dad again in heaven.
     The summer I worked at camp, I felt my father's presence in everything that I did.  I enjoyed the goofy fun of camp as a staff person.  I led the music at camp and rejoiced in the way that I got to enjoy every shred of singing possible.  I basked in the sunshine and jumped in the puddles and lived a great life that summer at camp.  I made a whole new set of memories in this space that already held so many.
    And then, a few years ago, our diocese decided to sell camp.  We were frantic thinking about how this sacred space would become condos and lake houses instead of the campground we had learned to love.  We all went to camp to visit "one last time" and began to think about what life would be like without this special place to go to.  Luckily, the current owners came forward to buy the camp.  Although the space is now Camp Lakotah instead of Camp Webb, this is still our special place to go.
   Nowadays, I don't get up to camp very often, but when I do it is an awesome experience.  I recently returned from a women's retreat there at camp.  Being on that land is a peaceful and emotional experience for me.  The first breath of crisp pine air in that forest reminds me of a life connected to something bigger in this space.  Rejuvenated by my experience in the presence of memories, I return to my house thankful that this space that is "home" will be there for at least a while longer.

    Do you have a home away from home?  Did you experience camp as a kid?  Leave a comment below.



Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Life as a Book Nerd--A personal reflection

     I am not sure exactly when my love of reading started except to say that I was surrounded by books and literacy.  It was part of what we did in my household.  Some of my first memories are the weekly trips to the public library to pick out our picture books for the week.  I remember being upset because we had to narrow down our choices to fit within the strict 10 book limit.  From before I can remember, my mother had made it a point to read with us every night.  
     Then I started school at Crestwood Elementary School.  When I entered first grade, I had Mr. Szudy as my teacher.  I remember the magical read-aloud time and being introduced to Fudge and his hilarious adventures.  There was a loft in this classroom and it was so exciting when it was my turn to climb up into the loft and lose myself in a book.  At the time, I did not realize how lucky I was to be going to that school.  All over the country there were reading wars happening and I had lucked upon a whole language school that was going to let me feed my reading habit and devour books.  Over the years in school I was introduced to amazing literature and even got a chance to give feedback for the very first American Girl stories (the mother of a fellow third-grade classmate worked at the publishing company).  My school experiences certainly helped me to learn a love of reading.  
     Over the years, my reading was encouraged at home also.  In my house, reading was an essential part of life. My mother sped-read through all kinds of books, but mostly bestselling novels. My father always had a thick Stephen King thriller that he was making his way through. He stayed up way too late every night reading his books, even when he was sick and should have been sleeping more. For every holiday my most coveted presents were the new books that were sure to be in the pile. You loved the Easter candy in your basket? Well, the jokes on you because I got Anne of Green Gables in my basket, not those gross Peeps. There were books all over our house and I coveted and cared for my books as if they had feelings. Time for reading was treasured also. I loved bedtime because I got to lose myself in the world of my book for a few minutes before lights out. Then, once the lights were out and my mother was safely back downstairs, I would hang out of my bed just enough to catch the hallway light so I could sneak read. My mom knew enough to not let me have a flashlight anywhere near my bed, but she didn't know about this (or so I thought). I spent many nights staying up way too late to finish a book because I just had to know what happened to that character.
     My relationship with my grandparents had book love all over it also.  My grandpa was the type of person who read everything in sight.  You had to be careful what you left out on the table because he was not past picking up that piece of mail and reading through it.  He didn't mean to be prying, he just couldn't help it...if anyone was a reading addict it was him.  Although I didn't share the same taste in reading with him, my grandpa influenced my reading habits greatly.  He had shelves full of thick tomes about the Civil War and piles of old issues of The NewYorker and Vanity Fair lying around the house.  When I was there, he would read the newspaper every morning and always had a book around for those times when there was a lull in conversation.  My grandmother was just as much a reader as he was, but she influenced my reading habits in a much more direct way.  Grandma read with me and to me every time I was over at their house (which was most Friday nights--I used to call them up and invite myself over).  We had old favorites that we went back to again and again and she is the one who started me on my lifelong love of mysteries.  Grandma had read every Agatha Christie book there was and I made it a personal challenge to do the same.  I had great fun reading the books--I started when I was 10 and had read them all by the time I left high school.  Some of my fondest memories and most treasured possessions are books that I shared with Grandma.  
     I remember going to library used book sales and used book stores with my grandparents.  I would spend hours poring over the selection of books that were available as my grandparents went to their respective sections to look for treasures of their own.  When I was visiting them in Florida, we headed to the local used bookstore and bought a pile of Nancy Drew and Baby-Sitters Club books for me to read.  On a beach vacation that was what you did.  You got the trail mix ready, got in your swimsuit, and then proceeded to lie on the towel and read in the sun.  Yes, you might get up and swim once in a while, but then it was right back to reading for you.  
     Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books because of the special place it held in my relationship with my grandmother.  We spent many nights reading together from the books in the series and learning about Anne Shirley's adventures.  When PBS made the movies, my grandmother and I spent hours watching the telethons and experiencing the wacky adventures of Anne with an e.  We also delighted in The Adventures of Treehorn.  This was not a well-known book and I derived secret delight from the fact that we had a private treasure to share.  The book was illustrated by Edward Gorey so anytime I see his famous illustrations it makes me smile inside.  
    My love for reading did not stop in childhood.  In college, I decided to study engineering because I had always been good at math and science.  I knew I would have limited time and I did not want to give up reading, so I took literature classes as electives.  I loved it that my homework for those classes was to read good books.  I made my way through so many amazing classes with introductions to many great authors.  In fact, I took so many English classes that when I decided not to continue in Electrical Engineering my junior year of school, there were only three more English classes I needed to take to be finished with the major.  
     Now, as a teacher, I work hard to instill the same sense of wonder and enjoyment of reading in my students.  I read voraciously and make sure my students know this about me.  I read books that are written for middle grade students and young adults so that I can be sure to know what books to recommend to my students.  I eat, sleep, and dream reading.  There is never a night that I don't read at least a few pages before nodding off to sleep.  I share books with my mom and sister.  I even converted my husband from a person who never read to someone who I can share books with.  He even recommends books to me now.  My students know that when they want to talk books, I am the one to come to and I have taken pride in watching some students become the voracious readers that I hoped they would become.  The biggest compliment I have ever received as a teacher was when a parent gave me the credit for her daughter's love of reading and thanked me profusely for it.  
   Over the years I have found friends in books.  I spent many a stormy night with Meg and Charles Wallace.  I spent summer afternoons sluething with Nancy and Trixie.  I fell off the rooftop and into the lake with Anne.  I created a business with Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Kristy and Dawn.  I traveled the Orient Express with Poirot.  I cried until my eyes could cry no more with Scarlett's heartbreak.  There have been many more friends and experiences along the way and I know there will be many more.  I continue to be astounded by the amazing talents of authors and will willingly transport myself to the many other worlds there are out there for as long as writers create those worlds.  

   To the nerdy book club bloggers and other teachers out there writing about their love of reading:  Thank you for giving inspiration to many to continue to raise readers.  I have been so inspired and re-energized by the amazing network of readers, writers, and teachers out there.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writing Project--Where I'm From

    In my workshop with the Milwaukee Writing Project, one of the presenters brought this powerful lesson for us to experience.  She used the poem "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon as a mentor text and had us brainstorm and write our own poems using that format.  I had tried this lesson before in my classroom, but did not do the work of experiencing it as a writer.  Needless to say it was not as successful as I had hoped it would be because I did not know what the hurdles would be for my students.   What a powerful experience writing this poem was.  I think that I would end up with a different poem every time I sat down to write.  So many small moments and experiences came back to me once I started writing.  I will definitely do this activity in my classroom this Fall and I know it will be much more successful because I now know how I need to support my students to make this writing accessible to them.

I had a chance for a quick first draft and now have gone back to revise it.  Here is the second draft of my poem (I would welcome any feedback):

I am from campfires,
from s’mores and lake swimming. 
I am from singing and baring
our souls in the moonlight.

I am from pop-up campers and motorhomes
From walking the dog through camp.
I am from wild raspberry sundaes
and Shish-ka-bobs on the grill.

I am from road trips
and stops along the way to Florida.
I am from visits to old friends
and arriving at Sea-Oats.

I am from drives with 
the sunroof open, blasting
Peter, Paul, and Mary.
I am from worry and pain.
Clutching chests and pacemakers

I am from don’t-stress-your-dad-out 
and don’t-worry-I’m-fine.
From reading in the dark with a flashlight
or hanging from my bed to get 
light from the hall.

I am from used book sales
and Nancy Drew
I am from Agatha Christie 
and The Adventures of Treehorn.

I am from cocktail hour with my Grandparents.
From liver sausage and cherries doled out 
from Brandy Manhattans. 
From 4th of July picnics at their house 
and weeks spent in Florida at their condo.
From Turkey loaf on Thanksgiving
with ice cream roll for dessert.

I am from marathon Monopoly 
that lasted all weekend.
I am from muted baseball games
and eating ice cream past my bedtime.

I am from The Music Man and Grease
from performances big and small.
I am from Little Mermaid and Dirty Dancing.
From belting out the songs with my sister.

I am from Sundays at church 
and midnight services on Christmas.
From youth group and choir
and funeral services too young.
I am from panic and loss 
From relationships strengthened
by tragedy. 

These defining moments wrap 
around me and give 
me the person 
who I am today.

I am from love 
I am from pain
I am from family. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Some Excuses and a Quickwrite

     So, that commitment to making the time for writing is proving to be more challenging for me than I thought it would be.  I definitely have writing more on my mind lately and I know I have done a much better job of blogging about my reading, but I have not set aside the time at home like I said I would during week one.  I know that it has a lot to do with the commitments that I have had since school finished.  I have had a meeting or training to go to every single day since school ended except for this week (I know that I am just making excuses here, but I am only human).  Some of that training has made me more of a writer as I am spending my mornings in the Milwaukee Writing Project involved with writing.  It helped last week to have "homework" to write about the writing circle topics.  I have to write before Monday, but this week was a week off because of the holiday and I have used my time to feed my reading habit.  I am rather obsessed with reading and the challenges like #bookaday and #nerdbery might have made me feel a little competitive and given me an excuse to be reading non-stop (I am accomplishing a goal here...not procrastinating or being lazy or avoiding housework).

      I was really inspired by Jen's blog last Sunday and read Ralph Fletcher's book A Writing Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You this week.  I need to figure out what will work for me and my students and get my notebook going.  Just having the thoughts about what I might put there has brought ideas to my mind.  I start every school year with a lesson I got from Nancie Atwell's books, sharing my writing territories.  I cannot wait to share that list this year and actually to have written some stories and quick writes about those territory ideas.  I know this will be one of the sections in the notebook along with a section for quotes.  I know that part of the appeal of Tumblr for some of my creative students is the ability to capture great ideas there...I want them to have that in their notebooks too.  I also have been musing about how to use my class blogs better.  I like the way a lot of bloggers have certain memes that they do on certain days.  I would love to get my students to think about their blogs this way...Mondays we talk about what they are reading, Tuesdays it's time for a top ten list, Wednesdays is about food, etc.  I just really need to think about requirements and workshop and how to set everything up.  Okay, that was a complete teacher brain moment.  I was talking about my own writing here.  It never fails to astound me how my brain never stops thinking about what might work best for my students.  

     Now that I have spent more time than necessary talking about why I haven't written this week, I decided that I would give Monday's quick write a shot.  I have actually been mulling over this idea for the past few days after having read it on Monday.  I absolutely love the idea for story stew and can definitely see using it on multiple occasions this year in writing. 

     The woman sat there stroking the well-worn fedora as if it were a cat on her lap.  She rocked a little bit in her seat every time her hand moved lovingly down the rim of the hat.  She couldn't believe she was here.  Just this morning she and Edwin had been crunching on cereal in companionable silence at the dining room table.  She with her new P.D. James thriller, and he with his New Yorker.  This morning had been one of those pleasant oasis mornings that she looked forward to each and every night and had learned to depend on throughout their 50 years of marriage.  How could she be here now?  He was just there, in that chair, engrossed in a story one minute and then babbling nonsense to her the next.  She had known something was wrong when his magazine slipped out of his hands.  There was no way he would carelessly abandon his reading unless it was involuntary.  She had hesitated, not wanting to recognize the signs.  Then, without really knowing how she got there, her hand was dialing and she was soon connected to the dispatcher.  
"9-1-1, What's your emergency?" The voice of the operator was all business.  
She hesitated again for a fraction of a second then, "My husband, I think he is having a stroke."
"Is he conscious?"
"Is he breathing?"
"Okay, Ma'am? We are sending out the responders.  They will be there momentarily."  It was all so calm and efficient.  How could they be so calm?  When the fire truck got there, the two firefighters started to administer first aid and to try to stabilize Edwin until the paramedics arrived.  Then it was a whirlwind with sirens waking up the whole neighborhood.  She had come in the ambulance with them and had to sit to the side trying to stay out of the way as they administered to Edwin.  She had grabbed the hat as she left the house.  Edwin would want his hat for when they came home.  He was never outside without it.  

     "GRAN!" Ellie screeched as she barreled into the waiting room.  The five-year-old was filled with an exuberance that she envied sometimes.  The old woman cringed slightly and then grinned at Ellie, not wanting the young girl to see her inner turmoil.  
   "Ellie, we walk inside and use our inside voice," her mother admonished.  Katherine looked haggard with dark circles under her eyes.  She let out a big yawn and approached the older woman.  "Geez, Mom.  I am sorry you had to go through that alone.  Any news?"
"Nothing yet.  The doctors seemed to think that they could stabilize him, but we won't know about the damage until he wakes up." She looked down at his fedora and started stroking it again as a tear made a path down her face. There were so many years between them, and so many years to look forward to.  She clung to that piece of their shared history and prayed that it would be a part of their continued future.  She looked at their beautiful daughter and recognized the fright in those pale blue eyes.  Katherine sat down next to her mother and placed her hand over the old woman's hand, trying to still the movements.   
     While the two women spoke, Ellie had found a piece of paper and her crayons in her mother's purse.  She sat contentedly on the floor and used the coffee table in the waiting room as her own personal writing desk.  Her tongue stuck out the corner of her mouth as she squinted in concentration.  
"Look, Mama" Ellie ran over to Katherine with a grin on her face.  She handed the paper to her mother who gasped and shoved it toward the older woman.  The old woman looked at Katherine and saw the tears threatening to spill over in her eyes.  She took the paper and read what little Ellie had written there.  On the paper was a drawing of a man and a woman.  The man had on a nice hat and the couple were holding hands.  In her kindergarten handwriting Ellie had written the words, "Don't be sick and sad, Gran and Gramps."  If only it were that simple.  

As happens frequently with my quickwrites, this one got away from me and took on a mind of its own.  I am collecting all these little seed ideas from these exercises.  One of them will germinate soon, I'm sure.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday Quick Write 6/28

     Today the quick-write prompt that I chose was to write a story from the perspective of another character.  This prompt actually coincided nicely with the topic that my writing group chose in my workshop today, although I am tweaking it a bit. 
     Before I start with my writing, I want to say that I really liked the idea of using a word cloud to help to discover a theme in a piece of text.  I think this would be a great experience for students. I also think it would be a good exercise for them in word choice. 

 Summerfest from the perspective of an inanimate object

Brainstorm: Stage
Spitting      Different types of music    Breath      Heat     Over-worked      Different shoes
Loud     Back breaking with dancing    Equipment scrapes      Annoying screams 

Here are my attempts:

Heat spills off my back
Stomping, jumping, and twirling
Can't they just stand still?

      Ear-piercing sound vibrates through me. Tonight it is one of those pathetic boy band groups.  I know I will have to hear teenage screams all night as well as the nauseating music.  Every year it seems to get worse.  When I first started, the music was decent at least and that made it easier to have the stamina to get through it all.   Now, the endurable music is few and far between and I feel exhaustion creeping in.  Night after night crews scrape and bump equipment on and off my back without even trying to take care.  There are scars and scrapes everywhere showing the long years of service.  Every night I endure an endless barrage of mediocre music while supporting multiple areas of my body so that I won't ache so much in the morning.  The worst is when the band is energetic and likes to move.  I cringe as their heels dig in every time they jump, twirl, or stomp their way through another song.   Each type of shoe brings its own particular brand of torture.  Stilettos seem to be made especially to bring pain.   Thank goodness I only have to work during the festival season.  I am not sure I could survive this workload if I had to do it all year. 

Not a lot of writing here but an interesting exercise.  I would like to revisit this sometime when I have more time to spend refining it.  I can see how an activity like this would work well in the classroom as a prompt.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teachers Write 6/26 Quick Write

 Today's quick write prompt is a multi-media prompt.  The assignment was to find an image of a person and to begin to develop the character from that image by also finding songs that would represent the character.  I will focus on the girl in the image here.

The girl in this image has long brown hair, and brown eyes.  She is beautiful and has a round face with a long nose.  She is a smart girl and works hard in school.  Her passion is music and many people do not know this about her.  She has been playing the cello since she was 6 years old.   At this moment in time she is sitting on this boat furiously hoping that this friend of hers will realize that she is crazy about him and kiss her.  She doesn't want to look too interested in him and so she is pretending to be content to sit and contemplate the horizon.  She does not want to be too hopeful because she has messed up friendships in the past by reading signals wrong.  This friend of hers just lost his dad a month ago so she is trying to be there for him without adding pressure to his situation.

External Song: James Taylor   You've Got a Friend

Internal Songs: Bonnie Raitt  Something to Talk About   Cello Suite No.1-- Bach

As she stared into the distance, Katie couldn't help but feel a tickle of anticipation.  Surely Taylor was feeling something too.  They had been spending a lot of time together since his dad died.  She had been there at the hospital, through the awful next days at the house, and through the whole funeral.  She had not left his side.  Everyone said what a great friend she was, but she wanted more.  She peeked at Taylor, he seemed so deep in thought.  Katie wondered if he was thinking the same thing that she was.  She knew she should say something, but she couldn't.  It had been so awful when she lost Chris' friendship.  She had read that situation wrong and made a move at the wrong time.  What followed was awkward and horrible.  She could not do that to Taylor...not when he had just gone through this awful time.  On the other hand, they could have something amazing if he felt the same.  Katie wished she had her cello with her.  When she was playing her music nothing seemed impossible.  This opportunity was surely the one she had been waiting for.  They had hardly had any time alone lately with all of Taylor's relatives around and his mother so worried about him.

Children at the Beach

     As we pulled up to the beach house, I could barely contain my excitement.  This was it, this once a year ritual that my brothers and I had.  As soon as the car came to a stop, we vaulted out and raced to the beach.  Knowing we were going there, we had come prepared and all of us had swim suits on.
    "Last one there is a rotten egg," my kid brother, Kevin screamed.  You had to love that little kid attitude.  Kevin burst into giggles as he darted toward the water.  The kid had two speeds: lightning fast and asleep.  I stopped just long enough to peel away my dress and reveal the turquoise bikini that had cost me babysitting money and a fight with my dad.  Then, it was full speed ahead into the frigid water.  Once we had all gotten used to the water, we all sort of congregated together.  Standing here in the water, I thought about how we always seem to be at war except for these first few peaceful moments on vacation.  I wonder why I had been so adamantly against this trip.  I thought back to Thursday when I announced to my mother that I would not be coming to Englewood this year and that was my final decision.  That went so well that seven fights and three nights grounded in my room later here I was.  I don't know what I was thinking.  How could I forget about the salty air and the soothing sound of the waves crashing on the shore?  I looked over at my brother Lenny who now had had enough of standing still and was searching the shore for sea glass, coaching Kevin about the finer points of a search on the beach.  These two dorks drove me bonkers every day of the year, but I couldn't imagine life without them.
"Lenny, where should I look?" I shouted, as I got down to the business of being an older sister.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Teachers Write 6/18

Today's assignment on Teachers Write had two great ideas for generating ideas in writing.  The first idea was to go to a random word generator and let the random words inspire a quick write.  This is my attempt:

Random Words:     Lizard     Edge

As she sat there on the balcony basking in the bright sunshine, she couldn't help but notice the lizards clinging to the outside of the house across the street.  How different this life was from the one she left in Wisconsin.  It was so fascinating how things that are mainstream in one place could be so exotic in another place.  The outside wall of the house across the street had five small lizards basking in that same sunlight and hanging there as if it were a lazy day lying on the beach.  Everything here in Sevilla seemed to move in a slower way and to defy gravity in the slightest way.  Deciding to study here was the best decision she had ever made.  

The second idea is similar to the Nancie Atwell idea that I use every year at the beginning of the school year--writing territories--except this idea has a much more directed brainstorm list.  I am really excited to spend time doing this thinking and I hope it will help me come up with some great ideas for writing.

Setting Ideas:
1. List ten places that you have lived in your lifetime:  Camp Webb, Glenside Circle, Brookfield, Oconomowoc, The Cochrane House--Madison, Langdon Street, Triana, Gran Plaza, Grandma's house, Milwaukee

2. List ten places to which you feel a strong emotional connection. The emotion can be positive or negative. Either is powerful. (it’s okay to have repeats in the bank. That can tell you something useful about where your heart lives.)
Camp Webb, The house/small bathroom in Brookfield, Kopps, Disneyworld, St. Francis Church, Memorial Union, Gambrinus, Streets of Sevilla

3. List ten places you’ve visited on vacation or places you’d love to visit in your lifetime were money and time no object:  Mallorca, Australia, Paris, Other cities in Italy, Greece, Grand Canyon, Tropical islands, Key West

4. List ten places from which your ancestors or in-laws come: Spain, Germany, England, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Poland

5. List ten books or movies that have settings you’ve found particularly captivating:  Harry Potter--I LOVE Hogwarts and the idea that there is another world right in the same space as the real world,  

Character Ideas:

6. List ten jobs whether paying or volunteer that you’ve done in your life: tutoring, Urban Outfitters, Culvers, Respite care for families, baby-sitting, camp counselor, charity fundraiser

7. List ten famous people, historical or contemporary, that you would love to share a meal with: Jane Austen, Barack Obama, Oprah, Emily Dickenson, JK Rowling, Walt Disney, Matt Damon, Madeline L'Engle, Picasso, Sarah McLachlan

8. List ten ethnicities, religions, tribes, cultural groups, gender or sexual orientations, or political philosophies that are represented in your extended family: Spanish, Irish, Catholic, Episcopalian, Religious right, conservative, liberal,

9. List ten people who can make you laugh: Ramon, Matt, Tim, Konell, Tony, Christen, Scrubs, Bernie Mac, Jim, Michelle, Carl

10. Complete this sentence ten times. “I’ve always wanted to _____ like ____________"

Sing like Sarah MchLachlan, Perform on Broadway, write like Jane Austen, Dance like an Irish dancer, Cook like Giada or Mario, Do gymnastics like Mary Lou Retton, Ice Skate like an Olympian, Ride horseback like an equestrian

I didn't quite get to 10 ideas in each list, but I definitely see the value in an exercise like this for a great idea bank.  I will have more than enough ideas to pull from here and these guided lists will help me add to my writing territories list this summer and at the start of the school year.

I want to do the Monday quick write from Jo Knowles' blog as well, but I am having a hard time coming up with a project to describe.  I will have to let that idea simmer for a night and I hope that I will come up with something tomorrow.  If not, I will do what I tell my students to do if they can't think of a real-life example for a prompt---make it up.

Happy Writing to all of my fellow Teachers Write participants...see you tomorrow.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Teachers Write Week 2 Tuesday prompt

     Since I do not currently have a work-in-progress, I decided to write the letter about a character that I am tossing around in my head right now.  I have witnessed my husband's immigrant journey and feel that it would be an excellent story to follow a teenager who is going through similar things.  I have had some interesting interactions with my in-laws because of cultural differences and I wonder what it would be like to be a teenager having to deal with these situations with your own parents and grandparents.  To that end, I have written a fake e-mail to my mother describing this girl, who does not have a name yet.

Hi Mom!

   I hope you are doing well and enjoying your time up north with the family.  I had a fabulous week and am excited to start summer vacation.

   This morning I met the most interesting girl.  She has been living in the USA for most of her life, but her parents are from Spain.  Ramon and I met her parents and invited the family over for one of our ex-patriot parties so they could connect with the other Spaniards in town. She is a typical teenager but feels a little out of place at times because of the way her parents act.  I can tell that it is embarrassing to her that her family does things differently at times.  Her grades are good and she likes school.  She is definitely an amazing soccer player and she is looking forward to some good prospects for scholarships to good schools.  When her friends ask her about her culture, she sometimes feels like an alien and is sometimes blown away by the stupidity and ignorance of their questions.  Why should she have to defend her love of caracoles to anyone?  They are delicious!  What kind of moron asks if there is popcorn in Spain?  What a stupid question!  Her abuela is an amazing person and I can tell that she has a great relationship with her, albeit a long-distance one throughout most of the year.  Her abuela is always telling her Spanish old-wives tales and she has to constantly decide which superstitions to abide by.  I am excited to get to know this teenager better.  I think she also has a younger brother and possibly other younger siblings.  I am sure that she loves to read and will be reading all kinds of books in Spanish and English when I run into her in the future.

    That's all for now.  I am sure I will have more to say about this girl in the future.

Teachers Write Week 2 list poem

     I am working this morning on catching up with the prompts from this week of writing.  I am surprised at myself by how lazy I was about writing this week.  The only excuse I have is that it was exhausting working on packing up my classroom and I was drained each night.  I also have the reading addiction and now that I have such great contacts on twitter and through this camp, I am completely sucked into fabulous books!  I am looking forward to having actual time off to work on writing and reading.  Next week is my first complete week off and I only have a few meetings and inservices so I will be able to devote more time to this. 

    I think one of the things that stopped me this week was the Monday prompt.  I was so impressed with that beautiful list poem that Jo Knowles posted that it was incredibly hard for me to think about trying to emulate it.  Here's my attempt:

I love how he becomes a little child
when he enters his mother's house,
because he knows that this is what she wants
he lets her spoil him
I love that he melts
when there is an animal around
how he loves Carmela and took in Sparky.
The insecurities he feels when faced
with unknown tasks make him so vulnerable.
I love how there is always music playing when he is around
How he has to pause before starting a drive
making sure that he has the perfect CD for his trip
The way he learned guitar but not in a conventional way,
learning riffs and sounds he liked, not whole songs.
How he is on an endless hunt for more great albums
scoffing at people who say they love music but don't know
what he does.
I love the way he shouts out the number of the answer in trivia
while I play,
repeating it over and over as if I didn't hear him the first time.
He loves to help me win.
How he knows when I need a hug
without my saying anything.
I love his righteous anger when things upset me
and his extreme patience with my extreme perfectionism.
I love the way that he uses the word "on" for all prepositions
confusing himself in his quest to master English.
How he cried when Spain won the World Cup,
so proud of his country.
How he looked so proud on the day of his naturalization ceremony.
And again on our first day together at the polls.
I love that he has caught the reading bug from my endless hounding
it is so fun to talk books with him
Most of all I love that we have grown together through the years,
learning to enjoy the things we each enjoy
learning to survive
learning to grieve together over disappointments
learning to argue
learning to love unconditionally and fully. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Library QUick Write--Thursday

It can't be right.  It just can't have happened that way.  I was just strolling along on my way to pick up some new books and there he was.  He really did it.  He asked me out.  I can't believe it.  Wait, did I just say that I would go to a movie with Justin Hunt?  Oh my god!  Did I have anything on my face?  Where's a mirror when you need one?  I must have looked okay or he would have run in the other direction.  Okay, first things first, I must find some advice on first dates.  I came in here for books, but this is an emergency that takes precedence over my book lust.  Thank goodness for the media part of a library/media center.  Okay, calm down.  Once I Google first dates and make sure I have the perfect outfit picked out and know what to say I can get down to my library business.  Must. Find. Computer.  Oh, hello Mr. iMac, how are you?  What say you do some magic for me and help me get this research out of the way.

    I sit down at the computer and start searching for advice columns.  It takes much longer than I anticipated and soon the lunch bell rings and I realize that I have missed my chance to eat anything as well as my chance to look for books.  I quickly grab the scribbles that I have for notes and scramble out of the library, headed for AP American History.  I am hardly aware of the crush of bodies as I tunnel my way through groups of friends milling around in the hallway.  I can't stop replaying the scene in my head and a part of me wishes I had spent more time noticing the details of what I am sure will be the "how it all began" story we will tell our grandchildren.  I realize as I arrive to class that I am still without a book to read and I will have to visit the library again after school.  Somehow this whole situation has made a mess of my brain like that old commercial about drugs,  "This is your brain (egg)...this is your brain on drugs (frying egg in pan)" except this is my brain on Justin.  I will have to get a grip soon or my whole school day will be lost to me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day 2 Writing Camp

Okay, so I started this blog in order to do some of the assignments for the Teachers Write camp this summer.  I am not sure about sharing my draft writing with people but I have decided that I will be brave and share.  Today's assignment was a quick write that ended with a descriptive paragraph of a place.  I went to my favorite place on Earth in my writing.  When I have written with my students in class, this is always a place I go to...I think that if I do get a novel going it will involve this place in some way.  I now have many ideas flowing for further exploration.

My brainstorming and Quickwrite:

Ruthie in the kitchen giving me a ruthie roll and Don and Pam giving me kool-aid in their kitchen.  I walk down the wooden steps that my dad helped build and approach the beach on the lake.  The shack there is full of canoes and paddles and life jackets.  
Everything I see:  The playground is empty as I walk past.  The merry-go-round that used to be there has been replaced with a memorial to the two kids who lost their lives there.  There is a path to every important place here.  I can see the tall trees moving in the breeze and the old dining hall with its screen doors and huge bell.  I walk toward the craft lodge and see the chairs that were painted the year I was the crafts director.  And then there is also the Super-biffy...the shower/toilet house that was built when I was young.  
Everything I hear:  The laughs and high-pitched shrieks that let me know that children are having fun.  The wind rustling through the trees and the birds calling out.  I hear the bell waking everyone up and setting the schedule for the day.  People are calling greetings to one another as they come in and out of the shower house.  I hear the stream of hissing water as people shower and get ready for the new day.  At night I hear crickets and other bugs as I lay there.  I hear the pop and crackle of the flames in the campfire and a guitar strumming elsewhere in camp.  
Everything I smell:  I smell the musty humid smell of the house and the cabins.  I smell the fire and the air that is clean.  The Super biffy smells like mildew and concrete mixed with the various shampoos and soaps that people are using.  In the dining hall I smell the stench of old wood and floor wax.  I smell the crisp air at night as I star-gaze in the peaceful night.  
Everything I feel:  The wind rustles my hair and presses against my skin.  I feel the branches of the trees near my head.  I feel the uneven ground under my feet.  I feel the oar in my hand and the cool lake water.  
The paragraphs I came up with from this prewriting:

 As I slowly meander my way down the lane, I shiver with anticipation.  This is my favorite place on Earth and I cannot believe I am lucky enough to be arriving here once again.  This time I know it will be different.  This time I get to stay for the entire summer and provide amazing experiences for campers.  As I approach the dining hall I smell the pine forest and feel the crisp breeze rustling past.  The cool air of the morning makes me shiver as I walk toward the doors.  In the dining hall, there is the distinct smell of new carpeting and I wonder how long ago they replaced it.  It feels weird being in this new space when I have always been in old buildings while at camp.  I walk into the office and introduce myself to the secretary.  The director comes out and greets me and then the two of them tell me where I will be staying this summer.  
     When I leave the dining hall I turn right and take a deep breath.  I can’t believe how crisp and fresh the air is here.  The gravel crunches under my feet as I slowly make my way past the old dining hall and the Super Biffy.  The playground looks lonely as I walk past and I have to fight an urge to run over to the swings.  In a few days this area will be chock full of campers and I won’t be able to take a turn.  Seeing the jungle gym reminds me of the merry-go-round that used to be here and I silently pray that nothing like that tragic accident will happen while I am here.  To the left is the small arts and crafts lodge that I will be taking over for the summer.  I can’t wait to get in there and get started with the fun.  I continue forward to the campsites and walk into the center of the cabins.  Walking into a clearing I approach the picnic table and sit down.  Six cabins surround me and a flood of memories rushes me.  I walk over to the counselor cabin and the screen door screeches open.  I let the door slam behind me and revel in the smell of forest and rain that greets me.  It feels like I have never left this place and, even though I will have to sleep on the nasty old cots that are there, I know that I will sleep soundly knowing that I am home.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Teachers Write Assignment #1

     Today the writing camp that I joined has begun.  First assignment?  Make time to write.  Writing this summer is a priority for me.  The plan for the summer is to set aside at least 30 minutes a day to write.  I will write in the mornings while I have coffee and enjoy the most contemplative time of day.  Another time that I might use for writing is the evening before bed.  Throughout this summer my husband Ramon will be busy in evenings with summer school classes.  I am best at thinking when I am alone so that seems like a good time as well.  Since I am going to be spending two weeks this summer in a writing project workshop, I am sure that I will be able to kickstart and maintain my writing momentum throughout the summer.  When the school year starts, I will continue to write before bed in the evening.  I will write in the living room on the couch or at my desk, depending on what I am working on.  I am excited to set up my writer's notebook just so and I will explore the world of blog writing this summer as well.

     The writing prompt that Jo Knowles provided this morning has really got me thinking.  She recommended that we start by imagining a childhood kitchen.  I immediately pictured the kitchen at our house on Glenside Circle.  The kitchen was open and accessible from the dining room, the family room, and the hallway.  Our table was always busy with people sitting and working on homework or just family conversation.  I remember the blue patterned wallpaper and the yellow phone on the wall.  There are so many stories that I have flooding into my brain with this idea...the time I dropped the pot of boiling water while making mac and cheese, the morning battles with my screaming sister telling me not to look at her, making Christmas cookies with the powdered sugar glaze, the time my dad got so mad he threw the silverware tray and stormed out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind him.  I wish I had more time right now to start exploring these ideas...but it will have to wait.  I will possibly write more in the morning about this topic.