Morning Porch Sittin’

Our rustic home for 3 days in Happy Valley, Tennessee

I turned over in bed and noticed the faint light penetrating the thin muslin curtains. Ah, morning time. I love the first streams of light and the soft nudge they give me to wake up and start my day in the stillness.

Brewed coffee in hand, I step out of the 100 year old cabin onto the front porch. The wooden screen door creaks on its hinges. I catch it carefully so it doesn’t slam. I breathe in the damp mountain air; feel the moisture on my skin of the fog rising off of the Smokies. I settle into the rocking chair with my books and notebook. THIS is what I came for. These next 120 minutes of time to think, reflect, observe, and be at peace in my mind.

I notice the chorus of little birds on the hillside across the quiet street. Swooping and calling in playful movements. So many varieties playing chase in the meadow.

My devotion and prayer time come first. I picked up a bible from the end table inside, inscribed with “Bobby Christian.” It molded to my hand, soft and malleable from years of use. I wonder what life was like for Bobby? Did he and his family attend the church two lots down?

A deer appears near the top of the hillside. His head on a swivel; frozen in place and looking for enemies. I beg him to relax and feel the safety of this place. He knows the area much better than I and the risk of being out in the open. Finally, he settles and feeds on the dewy grass.

Next up, notebook time. I let my mind process some of what the last month, last year has held. My role as instructional coach was put on hold to address many different needs in our building…tech support for teachers and families, teaching 6th grade math online, teaching 3rd-5th grade writing online, teaching in a very challenging 5th grade classroom in person for the last nine weeks, preparing for my son’s high school graduation and the open house that followed. Putting these thoughts on the page allows them to leave my mind; breaking the cyclical thinking attached to them.

My eyes search the unruly overgrown wire fence separating the road from the hillside. The green of the trees brings peace and calm to my being. I’m not sure what it is, but trees have this immediate effect on me.

I open Mary Oliver’s collection called Devotions. “I Worried” spoke to me. I love the last stanza: Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang. Then I read “Passing the Unworked Field” about Queen Anne’s lace, how it stands straight on its thin stems how it scrubs its white faces with the rag of the sun how it makes all the loveliness it can. Sitting in a rocker on the porch of a 100 year old cabin reading Mary Oliver. The perfect setting to feel the essence of her poetry.

I hear a rustle in the cabin. The others wake to the start of the day. My solitude time is over, but I am filled up and ready for the family time ahead.

The view from the front porch

So, What’s Next? #SOL21

31 days later, and I’m still here writing! This is my 2nd year participating in the Slice of Life challenge. I must say, it is even more rewarding this year, than last year. I knew what to expect, what it was going to take, and even employed some new strategies to help me be successful. I am proud of myself, not only for growing as a writer this month, but also for learning new things from fellow slicers, and become an all around better human.

So, what’s next you ask?

Keep writing! Since November of 2019, I’ve made a commitment to writing. I’ve written almost everyday. I rise early at 5 am, have my quiet time followed by my writing time. A cup of coffee with each one. This is my favorite time of the day. I will continue this practice. It starts my day off right and sets me up for success.

Visit Two Writing Teachers every Tuesday Slicing isn’t over! Last year, I sporadically participated in the Tuesday challenge. This year, I want to keep the momentum going.

Revision work I hope to improve my revision process on my slices. One strategy I employed at the beginning of the challenge was to write my slice the day before, let it simmer in my mind throughout the day, and then revise and publish it the next morning. This practice led to better writing. My goal will be to flesh out my first draft of my Tuesday slice on Monday morning, continue to think about it, rework words, add ideas, and be ready to publish on Tuesday.

Revisit the March challenge My reading and commenting on the SOL challenge barely touched the surface of the exemplary writing that was posted this month. I hope to go back to many of the days and read more pieces and comment to others.

Encourage others to write with me I shared this challenge with my staff this year. No one joined me, but I planted the seed. I hope to provide opportunities for us to write together and ways that we can share our writing with each other.

Feedback Giving and receiving feedback is such an important part of this challenge. I know I would eagerly check my comments throughout the day to see who read my post and what they thought of it. That reminds me of our students. When they write, they need feedback! And the sooner the better. I have a goal to provide quicker feedback with students, and for that feedback to contain a lot of positives.

In the last 31 days, I’ve become a better writer, a better teacher of writing, and a better human. It’s #whyiwrite. Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for organizing this challenge! I’ll see you on Tuesdays!

Sparks of Joy #SOL21

Every morning I pause and write one thing I am thankful for from the previous day in my journal. This practice sets my intentions on the positive and begins my day seeking sparks of joy. Two from this week particularly caused me to smile. And of course they are tied to reading and writing.

Board Books for Big Brothers and Sisters

When a family welcomes a baby, we give the student a board book to read to their new sibling. Included with the board book is a letter congratulating them and encouraging them to read a book everyday to their new brother or sister. We also have a letter for their caregiver highlighting the benefits of reading aloud, along with tips for the first twelve months.

This particular student beamed when she talked about her new brother, Cannon Matthew. She shared with me how she was responsible for feeding him in the car and how important it was to make sure there was milk in the nipple of the bottle. She told me that he was too little for her to hold now, but in a few weeks, she would be able to wrap her arms around him.

These exchanges remind me of the importance of making time for each student and their life stories. They are bubbling up with things to share with us. Pausing from the rush of the day and taking time for just one student is so important.

I hope in a few months this book will be tattled and worn from its use.

Haiku

When she saw me walk past her classroom, she jumped up and ran to the door. “Mrs. Bless! I have something to show you.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out the smallest piece of cut paper. “Please read it.” I read her haiku aloud. I commended her writing and told her how peaceful it made me feel. I thanked her for saving it to share with me.

The next day, this student was having a rough day and needed to take a break in the office. I shared with her how thankful I was that she showed her haiku to me the day before. I even explained to her my daily ritual of writing down something I am thankful for each morning and that on that day, I had written down that I was thankful for her and her writing. Her eyes brightened and a small smile was visible (even through her mask). Yet another example of the importance of relationships and connections with students. They need us, and we need them!

A Fellow Writer

As we crossed at the white lines painted horizontally on the pavement, I saw a gold colored SUV. I knew we would encounter someone on the trail. We walked a bit, Hudson kicking his feet in a steady rhythm on the stroller’s foot rest. We stopped to look at tiny red berries growing in clumps of two or three on a bush. Hudson strained to get out to reach them. “These are for the birds,” I explained. “The birds eat the berries.”

We continued on the trail getting closer to the stream. As we approached, I could see two small figures playing on the bank and one larger one sitting on the concrete wall separating the trail and the water. The two boys playing were probably elementary school age. They were digging, throwing rocks, examining treasures found in the sand. Everything you would expect from a child in this setting.

All the while, “mom” sat on the edge and wrote in her notebook. Wrote. Not on her phone scrolling social media, not talking pictures for Instagram, not texting a friend, but writing. What was she writing? A fantasy tale of enchanted kingdoms? A description of the beautiful fall day and the trees, the creek? A snapshot of time as her boys played alongside the water? Whatever she was writing, it was so refreshing to see a family enjoying nature in the moment, savoring the simplicity of sand and water and words. This fellow writer has inspired me to sit alongside nature soon with my notebook and let my thoughts flow.

Time to Reflect #sol20

I have contemplated joining the Slice of Life writing challenge for several years now. I admire my friend, Leigh Anne, who writes everyday and participates in SOL in March and on Tuesdays. I often follow the #teachwrite hashtag and the twitter chat that happens monthly. This year I have been writing everyday since November 1st, so I felt like I was prepared to jump in and tackle the challenge. My goal in this challenge was to become a better writer, teacher, and all around human. Let’s see how I did with those goals–

Goal: I will become a better writer. The act of writing helps you become a better writer. Yes, instruction is important, but putting the pencil to paper or fingers to the keyboard and just writing is so valuable. Volume matters in writing. By writing every single day, I improved my craft. I was on the look out for ideas. Once you get in the habit of writing everyday, you become an idea collector. Little things happen, and I would think, “That’s a post.” As I read a variety of posts from others, I began to notice things others were doing that I could borrow. I was reading like a writer. I noticed what introductions grabbed me as a reader, and I tried to emulate those. I learned I am a better writer in the morning when my brain is fresh and uncluttered. I learned that I miss my notebook since I’ve been doing most of my writing on a computer. Yes, I became a better writer.

Goal: I will become a better teacher. I learned a lot about feedback through this challenge. How to receive it and how to give it. From Day 1, I started improving my writing based on feedback from others. All the feedback I received was positive, and through the affirmations, I knew what was working and did more of that. Specific feedback moved me forward as a writer. Others telling me lines they liked helped me craft more lines that were rich and meaningful. As I gave feedback, I tried to share places in the writing that moved me, whether it was word choice, or the overall structure, or the rhythm. I know I will use these tips for giving feedback to my writers. Yes, I became a better teacher.

Goal: I will become a better person. This was something I didn’t expect. How being a writer can change the person I am becoming. I am more thoughtful. I am more observant. I am more caring. This writing community truly cares for it’s members. The support I felt through others reading my writing and commenting has been a bright spot in each day this month. I have grown as a person each time I struggle with a post and hit publish. I have done the hard work. I have shared my writing for the first time ever. This writing space has given me the chance to be bold with my words. Yes, I became a better person.

Thank you Slice of Life 2020! I will always remember this as the month I became a writer. I hope to continue slicing with you all on Tuesdays!

Capturing a Moment in History

Kelly Gallagher shared lesson plans today encouraging students to capture this moment in their history. He wrote,

Years from now, our students’ children and grandchildren will ask them about this moment in time, and I want them to have a record of it. Their history.

I’ve thought a lot about this. How important it is to record the events, our thoughts, our feelings, our history. I think back to 9/11. My own children have asked me what things were like in the weeks after 9/11. I remember where I was when I heard about the Twin Towers, I remember that our football game that week was canceled, I remember how numb I felt, but I don’t remember specifics. Oh, how I wish I would have journaled my thoughts and feelings during that historic time.

Today I took some time to record what the last few days have been like. I’ve put in writing how my daughter’s college suspended in person classes for the rest of the semester, how restaurants have closed their dining rooms, how teachers are responding to e learning possibilities, how I was in a bit of a panic this morning and rushed out to buy gas and more groceries. I want to preserve these moments in history, so that one day when my grandkids ask what was it like during the coronavirus of 2020, I can look back at my notebook and remember these days.

Reading Like a Writer #sol20

We are 14 days into the Slice of Life challenge, and I am learning so much about being a writer. I’m learning about finding stories in everyday life. I’m learning about looking for nuggets of ideas in my notebook when I’m struggling to find a slice. I’m learning how to give meaningful feedback as I think of feedback others have given me and how it pushes me along. I’m learning how to read like a writer.

I just started Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. I’m finding the content of the book fascinating, but just as important, I’m learning so much about writing through her craft. She begins each chapter with a list of library books that have the theme of the chapter in common. I find myself reading to find out the common thread with the books. Also, I have stopped several times to reread and study her phrasing and word use. This writing challenge has heighten my awareness as I read. I am looking for ways I can try things out in my writing that I notice other authors use. I know this is a practice I can use with students, as well.

My Morning Writing Buddy

It started with a mysterious piece of folded paper left on my desk adorned with squiggly lines.

From: ETHEN

He had already started to use the writer’s notebook we set up just hours before. Ethen visits my office often, looking for books, but this time he asked if I had “one of those books with all of the lines.” Of course I did, so he picked a color, and we wrote “Ethen’s Writing Notebook” on the cover.

I went straight to Ethen’s room after receiving the mysterious paper. “I love your story! Can you tell me about it?” He proceeded to tell me it was a God song that goes “ooh ooh.”

The next day, another folded paper with squiggly lines, but this time it included a few illustrations. When I approached Ethen with excitement, he said it was an army story.

The following day, another piece of writing. This time with words! It was a song with the lyrics written out.

Ethen’s Godzilla Story

The next day, we wrote together. He ate breakfast at my table and wrote a sentence at a time about Godzilla. By the end of breakfast, he had 3-4 sentences about Godzilla’s body and actions. I commended him for telling so many details about Godzilla. We even revised a sentence by adding a color word as a description.

The following day, Ethen was back and eager to draw a picture of Godzilla. He made sure to capture the details in his story with his illustration.

Our writing club continues each morning. He has written about his grandma who passed away and published his dinosaur story on chart paper to share with his classmates. He is learning his notebook is a place to record his thoughts and feelings. I am learning how to encourage a writer one step at a time. How to cultivate the joy of writing through time and questioning. How to take what I learn by writing every morning and put it into bite sized pieces for our youngest learners.

The energy I feel with my morning writing buddy sustains me throughout the day. It’s also got me thinking…How can I capture this with a larger group? Can I start a writing club? How? When? Who?