Sunday, March 31, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 31 of 31- The hardest part of a challenge

Today is the final day of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. 
I have loved co-hosting
this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers

With my computer at 11% this morning and the clock at 8:30, I was debating whether to stay with my post that wasn't going so well or get on my yoga gear and head to the 9:00 class.

Garth came in to check on my plans. "You coming?" he asked. 

I took a breath. The words weren't making great sense between my fingertips and the screen. I had thought I'd wake up this morning with some kind of brilliant closing statement about Day 31, but so far I was a muddling mess. 

"Give me five," I said. 

As I settled into the mat, I listened to Amy welcome us and talk about one of the hardest things being just getting there. Yep. I'd definitely needed a prod. 

In our final resting pose, (when you're not really supposed to think!) I thought about the connections between so many things we do in life, including the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Sometimes, the hardest part is starting. Once we're in it, whether it's a form of exercise, a long drive, or a month-long writing challenge, we find our groove. It becomes easier to keep going, we establish a routine with space and place for the work we're doing. And then when we're done... 

By the time I finished class this morning, I felt great-- strong, stretched, and present.  And I was ready to write my final post of the 2019 SOLSC with the same sort of reflection. Starting was hard, the routine felt great, I have appreciated and valued every comment and connection, and I'm so proud of all of us for deciding to do it and pushing through every day-- or almost every day-- of writing for a month. 

See you on Tuesdays!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 30 of 31: Juggling eggs

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

Do you ever feel
Like you're juggling

And somewhere between the tosses
and catches
One drops.

You might not even know
It dropped
Until --maybe even much later--
you try to pick up your foot
But it's stuck
Glued to the floor
In a sticky

The King's horses and
The King's (wo)men
ask questions
and shake their heads
at the broken egg.

And maybe someone hands 
you another egg
so you can
return to 

I'm not ready to write about the slice of yesterday's life that inspired me to write this... I'm still working on the ending and hoping that sticky (expletive) egg gets put together again. Whenever one of my girls struggled to apologize (especially one of them), I'd  give them a copy of Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture and have them read the chapter about giving a good apology. There are three parts: saying sorry, owning your part, and then trying to make it better. I've done the first two. I'm working on the third!

Happy Slicing, 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 29 of 31: A lily in the house

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

I walk into the house and instantly notice the smell of lily. I haven't smelled it in the house for a long time. Clare is allergic which is one reason to stop buying them. She's away now.  Garth has a tendency to brush up against them, especially when he's wearing a white shirt. Another reason not to buy them. This lily is wisely positioned away from the line of walking traffic. Most of all, they were my dad's thing which may be the true reason I haven't brought myself to buy lilies. 

"Where'd the lily come from?" I ask my mom.
"Bruce brought them to me," she says. Bruce is her financial planner. He does stuff like that. "He had to drop something else off, and he said he was at the garden center buying lilies for his wife, and he thought he'd buy some for me too. Wasn't that nice?"

It was. And it also brought floodgates of memories. For Dad, springtime meant trips to the farmer's market before the sun came up, especially when the stands were full of hyacinths, daffodils, and lilies. If he could, he'd talk one of us into going with him. Then the trip would include a stop for coffee and a visit to the donut stand. Even for someone like me who doesn't like donuts, warm ones are tough to resist. Dad liked the coffee cake better than the donuts-- the one with the thick streusel on the top. Those coffee cakes... he could also buy them at the local bakery, and when he was dieting he'd allocate himself a quarter a day. He savored his perfect squares of cake and then found an excuse to make a return visit to the bakery. If anyone wanted a square, he'd share, but mostly we didn't. They were too sweet for everyone except Dad.

I'm working hard at keeping my focus because I've already strayed from the moonlit visits to the farmers' markets and into some of my father's habits. I want to keep writing and remembering him... his running, wine-making, guitar learning, fly-fishing, book writing, bread baking, German speaking, scotch drinking-- and his commitment to being a great doctor. 

I'll rein myself in, and I'll return to the lilies. At this time of year, he'd show up at our homes with pots of fragrant lilies. If we weren't home, we knew he'd been there. 

I wish he'd been here. 

Happy Slicing, 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 28 of 31: Charlie's text

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

Mom. A text from Larkin came across my phone. Who is this? What is this? 

She sent over a screen shot that someone had sent to her.

Are you Melanie Cavo that served as Cornell's lacrosse manager in the spring of 1987? 

Larkin wanted to know how to respond. The response seemed obvious to me. She could let whoever this person know that she was Melanie Cavo's daughter. She did, and she also asked who it was. We were both wondering for sure.

She sent another screenshot.

Sorry to contact you out of the blue... the next message started.

An old friend Charlie turned out to be the sender of the text, and I spent the day trying to decide how to respond to the rest of his text-- it was just so sad. I haven't been good at keeping in touch with my college friends, especially the lacrosse guys. Being the manager of the men's lacrosse team had some really special moments-- we played in the national championships twice during that time. That being said, the men had a special bond which didn't really transfer to the two women keeping stats. That's pretty easy to understand.

So back to the text: One of the nicest guys on the team, a player who graduated two years ahead of me, had died at the beginning of the month. I googled his obituary. Fifty-three. Cancer. I read what I could find about him. He was a dad, a husband, a successful businessman. He still worked out all the time. Loved to bike. And now his friend Charlie had to track down every person associated with the 1987 lacrosse team because he left us all gift cards, and Charlie needs addresses.

He left us all gift cards. 

How he ended up in touch with my daughter is a little beyond me.

I had some text exchanges with Charlie tonight, catching up a little bit, mostly offering condolences. They'd been friends for almost forty years.

I wish I'd stayed in touch better. I sent one more text to Charlie last night, after I googled some people and did a little facebook stalking:

I just sent Richie and Dave messages, as well as Naomi. Your reaching out inspired me. Thanks for that. Thanks to Tim, too.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 27 of 31: The yes and no list

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

"Amy sent me an interesting text," I said to my family. We were in the car heading to a special restaurant with about forty minutes left in the drive. "It involves what you say yes to and what you say no to."

"I don't get it."
"Here goes Mom again."
"I don't get it either."

"I'll start," I said. "I'm going for three yes's and three no's."

Car confusion continued.

"Yes to card games with family members," I said. "Especially hearts. Yes to watching other people play Blackjack at casinos. No to playing myself. Yes to warm chocolate chip cookies--warm chocolate anything, actually. No to Oreos unless they're soaked in vanilla ice cream. And no to push-up unmentionables." (If you don't know what unmentionables are, go read Dawn Sherriff's posts. They are hysterical.)

By the time I was finished, there was less confusion and more clarity. "I'll go," Garth said. 

"Yes to yoga, early morning beach walks, all sports. No to dirty sinks, liver, and definitely no to oysters." (Garth throws up when he has oysters which is unfortunate for him. Oysters are a yes for me.)

By the time Cecily, Clare, and my mom went, everyone had a lot of yes's and no's. We all agreed on some no's-- mean people, following too closely, phones at the table, soul-baring on Facebook. I loved the mutual yes's as well: Eggs Benedict, strong coffee, extra showers if they're because of ocean swims, and Broadway shows were among some memorable yes's.

Our lists led to a great conversation about what's important (and what's not), making the car ride seem shorter than it was. 

Happy Slicing, 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 26 of 31: An important story to read!

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

"Should I read this story out loud to you or just leave it for you to read later?" my mother asked. The two of us were up early and in the kitchen. She was reading the paper, and I was cooking and baking for the girls to have treats to take back to college with them. "This is a story you will love," she said. 

As is often the case, I was writing in my head as I cooked. I had a couple of good posts I was mentally concocting in addition to the lentil soup and toffee bars. 

"Leave it for me," I said. "I'll read it."

When I had the toffee bars in the oven, the soup simmering, and fruit all cut up, I sat down in front of the article. If my mother tells me to read something in the paper, it's always good, but this one... I don't know how she would have been able to read it out loud because honestly, I was tearing up just reading this article to myself. It's not very long-- about the length of a post-- and it's really worth reading. Trust me--no, trust my mom!

I went online, and I kept reading the rest of the stories that Nicholas Kristof had written about Tanitoluwa Adewumi. Tani and his family migrated here from Nigeria and had been living in a homeless shelter until this week. I even read some of the comments-- there are hundreds. There are layers and layers to this story. Layers and layers to wonder about, talk about, even to share with students.

Much appreciation to my mom and the stories she shares!

Happy Slicing, 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 25 of 31: A surprise visitor at dinnertime

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!


Gathered in the kitchen, we all looked at Cecily as if she was crazy. All she could do was point for a couple of seconds. We turned toward the direction of her pointing finger, and there was no missing the object of her attention. 

We had a visitor for dinner. 

No one thought to take a picture as he looked in through out kitchen door, but by the time he moseyed through the front year, we were starting to find our phones, 

And by the time he scaled the fence and contemplated the bird feeders, we'd all become bear paparazzi. 

Like some guests, it's exciting to see them at first, but it's relieving to see them leave!

We sent a text to the neighbors so they'd have their phones readier than we did!

Happy Slicing,

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Slice of Life 24 of 31: When Does Choice Get in the Way?

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

When my two older daughters were 4 and 2-- maybe 5 and 3-- their uncle gave them both gift cards to Toys-R-Us. You would think that would have been a huge it. For Larkin, it was. She went straight to the Polly Pocket aisle, picked out a set, and was ready to head to the register. Julia on the other hand went up and down the aisles. All the aisles. And then needed to go up and down them again. After about a hundred hours, we left the store with Larkin's Polly Pockets and Julia's full-value gift card. 

Today, about eighteen years later, I was reminded of this experience. We traumatized Julia by asking her to pick up some coffee pods at the mall. The five ounce ones, we said. Not flavored. Robust. The decision making process reared its ugly head for Julia, as it frequently does, and she sent us a few pictures to make sure she was getting the right one. 

Just as Larkin remains true to her toy store tendency of making up her mind and not second-guessing or looking back, Julia weighs options, makes pro-con lists, and interviews anyone she can when faced with a decision. Larkin could face a thousand options, make a selection, and get to work; for her, choices are empowering and inspiring. Choices torment Julia, and the more there are, the more difficult it is for her to get started since she spends so much time in the decision-making part of the process. 

What occurred to me as my husband and I were walking and laughing at the pictures we were receiving of coffee pods from Julia, is how I think about choice for students. I have always emphasized the importance of choice, but thinking about my two daughters makes me pause a little. Thinking about it, some of my toughest posts to get started are the ones where I can't decide what to write about, not because I have nothing, but more because I have too much. I wonder about how this plays out for students in writing classrooms. Anyone?  

As for Julia and her purchases, she eventually gave me the gift card, and she still gives me many of her gift cards when she receives them as presents. The coffee she picked out was fine! 

Happy Slicing,

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 23 of 31: If only I were better at details

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

I... am not great with details. I can say this for many parts of my life. Accessories? Not my forte (although I really like them and appreciate how much they matter.) Exact measurements in cooking? Nope. Most of my recipes don't come out the same way twice, maybe because tasks like leveling the flour seem too tedious to bother with for me (and yes, I know it matters.) I like planning trips, but I drive my family crazy with the details like flight numbers. (Those really matter, and I keep hoping my incompetence will lead to someone else taking over!)

I share this because the next part of this book writing progress is really stressing me out because it's all about... the details. For the last couple of weeks, I have tried to deal with them. I sat--- and sat and sat and sat-- trying to tag every last picture, checking and double-checking that they existed in the Dropbox folder. I labeled and matched them. I made notes as to what I still had to add to files. 

And I thought I was doing okay with this, until...I opened this email from the administrative assistant who really deals with the details:

Her first paragraph was friendly, hoping that I'd had a good week, congratulating me for getting to this point... and then the line that tightens my jaw--

I’m warning you now that I will have many rounds of questions for you! 

Oh no, I think. I'm in over my head. 

And then, a first list of "where is's."

-          Photo 2.7: What’s the caption?
-          Photo 3.1: What’s the caption? Do you want to use this photo or do you want art to recreate this figure?
-          Photo 4.1 and 4.2: What’s the caption?
-          Photo 5.2: What’s the caption?
-          Photo 5.4: What’s the caption?
-          Photo 8.3: what’s the caption?
-          Photo 8.4: What’s the caption?
-          Photo 9.9: What’s the caption?
-          Chapter 7: On p.12, there are two Google drive links. Did you want these to be QR codes?

I might have broken a slight sweat as I read the list.
And then: 

Finally, we’re missing some photos. I’ve attached a document here for your reference since I renumbered some of the images. Can you send these missing photos to me asap?

I'm not attaching that document for your entertainment sake, but trust me when I say... well, you can imagine what I said. 

I closed the email and headed off to read slices. I'll deal with this later on a full cup of coffee. 

Happy Slicing,

Friday, March 22, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 22 of 31: Just a dot of salmon oil

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

For no good reason, I am rushing to get the dogs their breakfast. And since I'm rushing, I am multi-tasking.

Okie has dry skin, so he gets a couple pumps of salmon oil in his food. Salmon oil smells exactly as you might imagine. Not good. 

I hold Okie's bowl in my left had, and I reach to push the pump down into Okie's food, still holding the cup in my right hand. Somehow, the cup in my hand slips and the pump swivels, and the oil misfires. At me. 

Repeat: At me. 

Did I mention how salmon oil smells? I sniff at my chest since that is where I think it landed. Salmon oil smell confirmed. (I might say some bad words.)

Since I have a high pressure PD session, I am wearing a favorite sweater, and I head straight to the laundry room, starting a hand-wash cycle right away. I try to find a sweater that makes me just as happy. That's not happening. 

For the rest of the day, I phantom smell or truly smell salmon oil in my presence. Some trusted colleagues reassure me that I don't smell of dead fish, but when I get home, I finally isolate a small section of hair that did not smell of shampoo or conditioner-- it smelled of... you know what it smelled of. 

There's definitely a moral to this story. In this case, the multi-tasking consequence lasted all day! 

Happy Slicing,

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 21 of 31: It's like hard to stop saying like...

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

Our youngest daughter is going through the "like" phase. Like really. Like it's hard for me to listen to her talk. Like really hard. 

Last week, we took her and a friend to a concert that was about an hour away. Maybe because they were so over-tired, maybe because they were so over-exhausted, maybe because their eardrums were so over-stimulated-- whatever the case... the number and the VOLUME of likes in her description of the concert almost inspired me to jump out of the car. I bit my lip hard to not say anything about it in front of her friend. 

Last night, just my husband, Cecily, and I had dinner together. She had a lot to say about tennis tryouts and unfair math tests. And a lot of "likes" to go with it. At first, I listened and responded to the content, but then my grammar and syntax self got the better of me. 

"Cec," I said. "You're using a lot of likes as you speak."

Teenage silence. Dramatic eyeroll. 

"I'm just saying," I said. "It's just something you might want to be aware of."

"She's just trying to help you, Cec," Garth jumped in. 


I pointed out the fact that we didn't have an audience so it was LIKE the perfect time to point in out and work on it. I tried to weave in a compliment. "You have really important things to say, and it's hard to hear them between so many likes."

Continued Cecily silence.

Garth and I talked about something else-- I can't remember-- but after a few minutes, she couldn't maintain the silence. 

In the middle of her sentence, though, she caught herself, went back, and told her story a little differently. 

I like smiled. 

Happy Slicing,

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 20 of 31: Dinner of Champions

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

Missie and I drove around the Fairfield University campus sort of to pass time, sort of out of curiosity, mostly to look for food. 

"There are no kids," she said.

"It's spring break," I said. "We need to find somewhere off campus."

We nosed our way out and headed away from where we'd come in. It's a college after all. There HAD to be a place for food. 

Right at the corner, we spotted a sandwich shop, but when we pulled in, the stools were already upside down on the tables. But... as Missie went to pull out, I spotted the ice cream place that was attached to it. 

"We could have milkshakes," I said, half joking, but talkable-into-it. 

Missie put the car in reverse and parked. 

"French fries would really make it a meal," she said. 

Right next door was Joe's American Bar and Grill. We wasted no time. We got our fries to go with extra ketchup, ordered our milkshakes (she talked me into getting a medium), and sat at the counter eating our dinner of champions. We needed plenty of intellectual energy to go listen to Jacqueline Woodson's brilliant talk about her brilliant book, Harbor Me. 

I'd recommend any part of our experience, but especially Jacqueline Woodson. If you EVER have the opportunity, go hear her speak. 

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 19 of 31: It's Julia's birthday!!!

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

There are many things I love about the March Challenge of daily slicing, and one of them has to do with the fact that Julia, my second daughter, has her birthday... today!

Since this is my seventh year slicing, I went back and revisited some of the older posts I'd written on March 19, as they've always been in honor of her. 

There was one that listed 16 stories I could tell about Julia. (I'm sure I could now tell 21!)

I wrote an admiration post for her on her 17th birthday that remains true, finishing it with: 

This girl. This girl is kind and wise and brave. She's resilient and and realistic, reflective and funny. Her six word story goes something like this: 
I can. I will. I did. 

There was another where I wrote about her promposal. For those of you who don't know yet what that is, be grateful. 

And another where I celebrated her from afar since she was in college far from home and fellow slicer and great friend, Lisa Keeler was serving up cake for my girl. 

Last year, she was home with us. We got to serve her up a special dinner for her 20th birthday, and then she and her dad spent hours analyzing the NCAA brackets. 

And this year... This year, she is in Ireland on her 21st birthday. She will spend the milestone touring the Cliffs of Moher. She will come home on Wednesday to a box of 21 things. (If anyone has a suggestion or two, we are still taking nominations for fun, silly, sensible, symbolic, or meaningful things for our Box of 21!)

How great is it that I can look through my slicing life and stir up all sorts of memories of this girl I love?!

Happy Slicing-- and happy birthday to Julia,

Monday, March 18, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 18 of 31: Thinking about Feedback

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

"Oh yes," she says. "I almost quit."

I stare, waiting for the glimmer of a smile, the hint that she was joking. None come. She is serious. And there is residual anger that tingles the tops of my arms. 

I cringe at her words because I played a part in the sequence of events that led to her reaction. Not purposely. Not even remotely purposely. But still, this is the perception, and perception is reality. Our interpretation of others' words and actions become our truths, whether the intention to harm or hurt was there or not. 

This is the second time this month that I've been struck how words, written with an entirely different intent, have the power to hurt and anger. I know that words are powerful and can hurt and anger when the intention exists, but what about when the writer meant to be funny? Or to be honest? Or helpful? Or nothing at all-- just meant to relay an experience? We all bring ourselves to our reading lives, and we interpret through those lenses. We bring vulnerabilities, fears, histories, and experiences, and those all dance their roles in our ultimate interpretation and reaction. While it's an important lesson to teach students-- and many of us do-- it's also important to remember ourselves, especially as we share our writing throughout March. Just putting our writing out there is so brave, and we are so vulnerable. 

Which leads me to some thoughts on feedback. While feedback has the power to make us better -- John Hattie has found it to be the number one indicator of increased student achievement in some of his meta-studies-- it can also feel like a cold shower. And the more invested we are in the work, the harder it might be to hear and receive feedback with grace and courage. We bristle, we dwell, we respond sometimes more quickly and more angrily than we should-- and we are adults with fully formed frontal lobes. What about our students? There's a catch 22 in this because I do think that the more invested and engaged we are in the work, the less we want to hear that it needs some work. I'm going to have to think more about this...

Which sort of leads to relationships in the work we do. We earn the right to provide feedback through relationships. Was it Don Graves who said we shouldn't try to teach writers until we know ten things about them? 

I've digressed with my reflections.

"I'm so glad you didn't quit," I say. And I hope she knows how deeply I mean that. 

Happy Slicing,

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Slice of Life 2019 17 of 31: The benefit of a mistake

Throughout the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I am happy to co-host this event with the team at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome!

I went up to the counter for the third time to se if my coffee was ready. Nope. Not there. 

"Excuse me," I said, annoying people who were waiting in the Starbucks line. They'd get over it. I just wanted to find out the status of my mobile order. 

"We don't have any orders," the barista said. "Let me see your receipt." 

I looked at my receipt and debated how to tell Fran and Clare that I might have made a bit of a mistake. We were hanging out for a coffee after a great day of learning in New York. We were at the Starbucks at 115th and Broadway. I'd ordered from the Starbucks on 111th and Broadway.

"At least it's nice out," I said. "And we could all use the steps."

The three of us continued our conversation walking down Broadway, and sure enough, our coffees were waiting, unclaimed at the counter. 

But the story's not over...

We said goodbye, and I walked back up toward the garage on 120th, happily people watching, thinking about the great learning of the day, and sipping my coffee. Ahead of me, a familiar face, although so out of context, approached me. 

"Laura?" I said sure but not sure. 

It couldn't be. Laura lives in northern Vermont, and she wouldn't be at a TCRWP Reunion Saturday-- she was my mentor throughout my MFA program in Boston. She was so out of context. But it was Laura, and it was great to see her, as she really is one of my favorite people. 

I met her daughter who was surprised at how much I knew about her. (People in MFA programs spend a lot of time together!) We caught up for a few minutes, and I will email her later tonight. 

Sometimes mistakes are great! I couldn't help thinking that if I'd ordered the coffee from the right place, I would not have run into Laura and her daughter. 

Happy Slicing,