Monday, August 3, 2015

1,200 Teachers Take Over the Upper West Side

I joined 1,200 teachers today at #tcrwp Writing Institute at Columbia University's upper west side. It was powerful seeing the number of K-8 teachers and administrators who came in droves to hear Lucy Calkins and the other Teachers College Reading and Writing Project staff developers talking about writing and units of study.  I learned a lot about the history of the pioneers of writing instruction, had several chances to put pen to paper, and jotted down furious notes about the teaching moves and language the staff developers used.

I was lucky to be paired up with Cornelius Minor, a Liberian born teacher, with a wealth of knowlege about middle schoolers, soccer, skateboarding, and technology. I could listen to him for hours!  I was also starstruck by the author of "Upstanders," Sara Ahmed, who just happened to be attending the same small group section. GASP.

The afternoon rounded out with a large group session with Mary Ehrenworth.  Mary's poise, verbosity, and heart of gold for all things literacy are infectious.  You just want to be a better reader and writer, or anything for that matter, in her presence.

If the rest of the week is anything like this first day, this will be an experience to remember...and well worth the budget hotel blues.

Quicker than a New York Minute

 Yesterday I arrived at LaGuardia airport and took the M60 bus to my hotel. It was a stifling 89 degrees and the bus was crowded to say the least (the reviews on the internet were extremely accurate about the bus route's popularity), but who can beat the price: $2.75.

I then checked into my budget hotel room only to discover, after I had already unpacked nearly all of my belongings, that the toilet wasn't working. After switching rooms, the new one being much more zen and having 1 1/2 feet between the edge of the bed and the wall versus 6 inches like the other room, I checked out my surroundings by taking a walk around the upper west side.

After a quick bite to eat, I purchased a gallon of water at a market near Teachers College, a 13 walk block from my hotel, and then discovered three lovely markets just around the other corner from my place. When I returned back to the room, I discovered that the lamps within the room are evidently just for show since neither were close enough to an outlet and when moved close to an outlet, the prongs were splayed and would not fit in a socket. What's a girl to do?

When settling in for the night, I started reading "The Unstoppable Writing Teacher" by Colleen Cruz. I immediately identified, and think my husband would agree, with the writer's proclamation about being a pessimist.  Not pessimist in the sense of constantly being negative, but one who thinks of all the possible problems that could occur and actively thinks about what he/she could do to solve them; looking at issues like " probletunities" to be grappled for growth.

Looking at my surroundings, the wheels stared turning about my present situation in a budget hotel on the fourth floor.  The scenario which came to mind was a fire.  I noticed a fire escape right outside my window, another one was just beyond the shared kitchen, its see through metal staircase, a nightmare for a person who is scared of heights, and wondered if I could actually use the fire escape if the situation arose.

Fast forward 10:18 pm when I was awoken by a peircing noise: the smoke detector. It too k me several seconds to register what was happening, then came to about the concequences of this situation. I poked my head outside my door and heard some laughing, but no sign of any immediate danger. All I could really think was: Are you kidding me?  Is this really happening? Will I actually have to use the fire escape? I grabbed a few essentials and valuables and headed down the hall to find the receptionist making his way up.  In the end, he turned off the incessant noise and I went back to bed.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Iceland Writers Retreat Contest 2015 Entry

I entered the Iceland Writers Retreat Contest on January 25, 2015.  I would have loved the chance to travel to Iceland, a country I've longed to visit, and to meet Barbara Kingsolver.  Alas, this year is not my year.  Perhaps another year. Congrats to the winner and two runners up.

Below is the image we were asked to write a less than 500 word essay, short story, or poem about.  I wrote a short story.

Since I was not awarded first, second, or third place, I thought it would at least be nice to have a venue to share my work. My blog felt like the best place for that.

Sea Serenity

                Sigurður rested his bow on his shoulder and gazed out. The honeycomb shaped glass of the Harpa Concert Hall entranced him and calmed his jittery nerves. Guiding his eyes between the two constructs of the building, he searched out into the harbor wondering if his mind could transport him away.

Sailboats swayed on the cerulean waters, bobbing effortlessly in synchronicity.  He could hear the cacophony of the metal clanking against the poles, creating a rhythmic sweep. Clank, ca-clank clank.
Sigurður closed his eyes. His body succumbed to the beat; swaying ever so slightly, foot tapping methodically. He lifted his fiddle to his chin with the bow in the ready position.
Sigurður, they’re ready for you,” an impatient voice called.
Sigurður had known it was only a matter of time before hundreds of eyes gazed upon him scrutinizing his every move, his every note. He knew his solo backwards and forwards––had practiced for months––but the judges knew the piece just as intimately. They would recognize even the slightest mistake.
Sigurður rose to his feet, bow and fiddle folded in front of him, and followed his father towards the auditorium. His limbs felt heavy as he walked, and his heart beat rapidly in anticipation. This is your last chance, he told himself. Your last chance to prove yourself. And if this doesn’t go well, it will be your last chance to play.
His father forced a smile and patted Sigurður lightly on the back as he made way to center stage. His shoes echoed in the expanse and his breath vibrated in his ears.
“Name?” asked the gentleman left of center as he passed a stack of papers to the remaining judges.
Sigurður.” His throat made a noise as he swallowed. “Sigurður Ingolfsson.”
“Welcome, Sigurður. You may begin when you’re ready.”
Sigurður lifted his fiddle and bow, the instrument slipping slightly in his clammy hands. The first few notes entered the space stiff and forceful. He glanced cautiously at the faces of the panel, the other musicians in the audience, and his father waiting in the wings. The expressions, deadpan, looked straight at him. Sigurður heard his father’s voice in his head: It’s time you chose a sensible career. One where you can put a roof over your head.
Sigurður closed his eyes, pictured the harbor, and replayed the clanging of the boats in his mind. He breathed deeply from his abdomen, and his body swayed. The softening of his stance resulted in a rich legato sound much greater than he had ever produced.

When he finished the piece, he lowered his bow and fiddle to his side afraid to look out. A noise from the audience caught him off guard. A sharp whistle, then thundering applause erupted. He looked out at the head judge who gave him a gentle nod and over to his father whose eyes glistened with tears.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sometimes... Teachers Write Assignment #2

Sometimes when I'm driving in my car, I swear I can hear your voice bursting through the low hum of the engine.  The clouds part, the sun shines down, and I feel your hand on my shoulder.  You tell me that you're proud of me, you ask how Will and Amelia are doing, and how school is going.

A tear slides down my cheek and I answer you.  I tell you everything--catch you up on every little detail.  And you listen.  Just listen.

The car vent blows out the smell of grass clippings, sweet corn, hamburger, and sweat.  The scent fills my nostrils reminding me of you.  My heart fills with joy and memories.  Fond memories.

In a short while, when I arrive at my destination, you leave knowing I have things to do.  Then my emotions escape out of every pore and crevice out into the atmosphere until our next meeting.

"See you later, Dad," I call as I open the car door and brush one last tear from my eye.

The lunch we had on Dad's birthday after he passed away.

       My dad and I painting a flower box.  He loved to paint.  It was the last project we did together.

Writer's Notebooks: Teachers Write Assignment #1

Ironically my first several writers notebooks were the ones I used with my students in writers workshop. In them we made maps of our hearts, visual lifelines, observations, overheard conversations,  and wonderings.  These were the seeds for memoirs, realistic fiction, poetry, and informational books.

As of 2008, I started using some of the writing pieces and writing techniques to branch out into my own writing outside of school.  I first started by submitting a nonfiction picture book about the Great Wall of China called WONDROUS WALL.  Then an idea took hold of me for a contemporary fantasy middle grade novel called UNDER LOCH AND KEY.

My writers notebooks for the last four years have included excerpts of writing exercises from classes, notes from writing conferences, jottings of ideas for my novel, character interviews, and lists of events that should could occur next in UNDER LOCH AND KEY.  I've occasionally written ideas for new characters and plots for other stories, but so many of my writers notebooks have been devoted to the novel, it's been hard for me to shift gears.

My newest piece of writing is nonfiction entitled YOU CAN'T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and will require a lot of research.  My goal this summer is to start doing the research, to take notes in my writers notebook, and to jot down some try-its.  I'm curious to see how my latest writers notebook evolves.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Goodbye for Now and Cheers!

I safely made it home after flying two flights from Aberdeen, Scotland to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It was a grand total of ten hours of flying and three or so hours of waiting around in airports.  Let's say I was a little on the tired side to blog right away.

There's a lot that I know about Shetland now that I didn't know two weeks ago:

1. Umbrella's don't work there.  The rain is usually horizontal because of the wind.  It would be better to have a raincoat and water proof pants (not sure of the correct name for the pants, but I will have to get some for a return visit should I go back).

2. Many people who live in Shetland are not originally from Shetland.  They've settled there from other places in Great Britain or Europe.  I met people from Scotland, England, and Austria who decided to move to Shetland.  After being there for ten days I could easily detect the native Shetlanders from those who moved there from other places in the UK.

3.  Many people from Shetland now live in New Zealand after issues with owning land and the clearances on the islands.

4.  Many people in the country live on crofts or farms, which they rent from a landlord.  Many of these crofts have sheep.  There are sheep and cows everywhere.  You will also see Shetland ponies.


5. It is okay to go through fenced crofts either by going through a gate, over a style, or any way you can respectfully do so.  As an American, I felt like I was trespassing, but slowly started to get used to it.  Most streets are only a single lane so that if two people are coming from a different direction, one has to pull over in a passing place and let the other person by.  This gets a little tricky for walking on roads in Shetland.  Even the main roads that did have two single lanes did not have a shoulder to walk upon.  You can even walk across the airport runway in Shetland.  That was an experience.

6.  The birds most frequently seen in July are Arctic Terns, Guillemots, Puffins (Sumburgh Head), Gulls, Oystercatchers, and Great Skuas.  You have to watch out for the Great Skuas, or Bonxies, as they will draw blood.

7.  The climate is cooler in Shetland for  summers.  The average high is in the 50s.  I wore jeans everyday with a combination of layers of a short sleeved shirt, long sleeved shirt, polar fleece jacket, rain coat, hat, and mittens.  Yes, I did say mittens and I did use them.

8.  There are words used in Shetland for certain items.  You already heard Bonxie for the Great Skua.  A child is called a bairn, peerie is something that is little, and gansey is a jumper (sweater).  I knew bairn and peerie prior to the trip and it was fun learning others.  I still have more to learn.

9.  The dialect in Shetland sounds similar to Scottish with the respect that the word about is pronounced aboot, down is pronounced doon, mountain is pronounced moontain.  Words similar to Norwegian are da for the, takk for take, makk for make.  I also heard people saying yeah, yeah quite a bit.  The expression goodbye for now was a nice way to say see you later.  I also heard people say Cheers for Thanks.  I think that goodbye for now and Cheers are mostly from England.

10.  The food in Shetland is similar to Scottish cuisine.  They eat a traditional Scottish breakfast of a fried egg, hashbrowns, mushrooms, grilled tomato, bacon, sausage, toast, and black pudding (you remember what this is right? If not, read the blog labeled "Black Pudding.")  They also eat neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), haggis, and fish and chips.  I did see oatcakes a lot on menus and documented what people had with them because I pictured them more as being a pancake, but they are often used like a bread or cracker to use with patte, cheese, or smoked salmon.  I thought I would see more people drinking tea, but most people drank coffee.  People who did drink tea usually put milk in it.

Well that is my top ten list of what I noticed about Shetland that was different from my interpretation from reading books, watching YouTube, looking at pictures on flickr, etc.  I'm sure I have a lot more to learn, but this was a pretty good start for traveling for a short period of time.  Shetlanders:  If I incorrectly portrayed any information, let me know.  I'm still learning.

I now have to start infusing what I've learned about modern day culture into my manuscript.  You will not see a daily blog anymore obviously.  Thanks to those of you who have been reading!  I will now use the blog to communicate any milestones with the manuscript.

Silke and Andrew: If you're reading this, you'll get the 1,500 word essay of how my new knowledge of Viking Shetland impacts my manuscript.  I may blog about that as well.  :)

Goodbye for Now and Cheers!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tears shed for Shetland

It was sad leaving the islands. I got up early this morning and had breakfast with my friend Ann. Then I gathered my things and decided to walk to the airport.

The airport is in view from the hotel. Since it was such a nice day, I decided to make the journey instead of having the hotel drop me off. Thirty minutes later I arrived at the airport with my wheelie suitcase and bags. What looked to be a simple task was actually fairly complex. The roads wound around back and forth. I had to jump off the road if a car was coming. I also got quite a few perplexed looks from the coach bus drivers and taxis. The bus that I could have taken from the hotel passed me several minutes prior to my arrival. When I finally made it to the airport, I had shed a couple layers. I stashed my hoodie and polar fleece jacket in my bag.

The flight to Aberdeen was running late. That was a nice opportunity to sit and reflect on the last couple days. The flight went quick and I am now resting at the bar next to the Speedbird hotel in Aberdeen, Scotland.  The hotel is within walking distance from the airport, but there doesn't appear to be anything worth seeing in the vicinity. I'm currently going through a withdrawal process and am  taking the time to process and reflect on the experience I've had while gathering my thoughts for the plane ride home tomorrow.