Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

This list by Christopher Lehman is more comprehensive than I could have thought of myself...
Think through your personal and professional life:
o   the book you wanted to read
o   the book you wanted to WRITE
o   the song you wanted to sing
o   the group you wanted to join
o   the place you wanted to go  
o   the child you realize you have been harsh with
o   the child you realize you haven’t heard from enough
o   the child you wanted to congratulate
o   the people you wished you had thanked
o   the colleagues you do not see outside of work
o   the fears you just gotta get over already
o   the strengths you know you have locked inside

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Another day in Chicago...

Yesterday, my husband and I rode the Metra train down to Chicago to celebrate with my niece and her family the accomplishment of receiving her Masters in Music.  I had planned the trip the night before, thinking I had communicated to my husband that we would take the 12:10 out of Waukegan.  Early on, as I was out on the porch savoring my morning coffee, my son asked why his father was getting ready so early.  That should have raised some alarm for me since that is atypical of his behavior.  He hadn't really heard me and was readying for the 10:10 train, so I had 20 minutes to make myself presentable.  We then followed very bad directions to the station and found it by chance at 10:09, requiring a mad dash from the car, across the tracks, to jump on the train.  I don't really like to cut things that close.  We relaxed on the train and noted how much more use the Chicago suburbs get out of their train markets, garden shops in the old station buildings.  They make it a center of town instead of a blight on the landscape one wants to hide away from sight.
   When we got off at Ogilvie Station we strolled through the French Market but decided to eat on the way instead.  This was a wise decision, for we found a patio restaurant and ate lunch outdoors with a beautiful summer breeze wafting around us.  I never could quite take in all the skyscrapers that surrounded us as we ate:  it always seems very surreal.
   After lunch we continued down the road towards Orchestra Hall.  Most of the people were also tourists which makes for a feeling of camaraderie: none of us know if we're headed in the right direction for certain.  We arrived at Orchestra Hall an hour early and wandered in, following signs that lead us to a poster display by all the graduates.  We watched people for that hour, families and friends coming together in all their many different ways to support their graduate.  Our family never arrived, so we headed back to the hall and found them.  I had never been to Orchestra Hall before and enjoyed looking at the beautiful domed ceiling and all the ornate touches adorned the building.
  The ceremony began with a choir, followed by a symphony, then a woodwind and brass orchestra and then everyone together.  Following an intermission, long speeches were given about the importance of music and music teachers in the lives of children.  I somewhat agree, but most of my music instructors had the opposite effect on me!  My niece gave the most concise and intelligent speech as the secretary/treasurer of the class.  It was a proud moment for all of us who love her.
     Afterwards we stood around in front of Orchestra Hall as the graduates were congratulated.  We had a beautiful view of the Art Institute of Chicago across the street and the green park that bumps up along the side of the museum.  Our view was obscured every few minutes by double decker tour buses coming to gawk at Orchestra Hall from their roofless perch.  All I could think of is how hot it must be on that upper deck as you were driven around the city.
  We then continued on to our biggest adventure of the day:  riding the El.

A Summer with Teachers Write Virtual Camp

The days of summer vacation are dwindling down.  I've been working at school every day so my writing time has been scaled back drastically.  I have been faithfully checking in every day to camp at least to read what the assignments are and I plan to use them in my classroom.  Today Kate Messner had us write a letter to ourselves and hinted that it's not the end...there will be something coming next to be announced tomorrow.  It has been a growing experience, but through it all I remained an admirer of Kate and her professionalism.  She really came through!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A campfire story

July 24 Teachers Write Quick Write:  Write a story to tell around the campfire

This spring I did a poetry study of Dark Emperor and in my research I found a poem by Wendell Berry titled: To Know the Dark.  It was suggested that to really know the dark you have to be out at night in the dark with no flashlight at all.  So I challenged my students to do that this summer...

"I spent a summer when I was 18 as a camp counselor in charge of a group of little girls. All summer long the other counselors had been spooking each other with stories of 'Scarface' allegedly lurking around the cabins at night.  Reportedly there had been sightings of him.   One night during the week we were to  take our small groups and camp in the woods with just our sleeping bags on the hard ground and sleep under the stars. We roasted marshmallows, made s'mores, sang a few songs putting off the inevitability of going to sleep. We had to put the leftover ingredients  in crates so the raccoons wouldn't get them.  Once the campfire had gone out it was very, very dark.  One by one the girls drifted off to sleep and I was in charge.  Gradually the woods became  alive with all kinds of nocturnal noises.  Could it be Scarface?  I was terrified and even more so because I was in charge.   All night long there was a scuffling sound as the raccoons tried to get into those crates. As a city girl I was almost as afraid of those raccoons as I was of Scarface.  I forced myself  to get up and try to shoo them away. There was not too much sleep to be had, and when I got up in the morning I felt like I had dirt in my teeth from sleeping on the ground.  For better or worse we were still alive and headed back to camp for the new day."

That is what I want you to do this summer.  Go out in the dark without a flashlight.  Lay on the ground and look at the stars and just listen for awhile.  Then you will have a campfire story of being out in the dark without a light and be able to tell others what happens outside at night.

A cup of coffee

July 23 Quick Write: include a cup of coffee in your writing...

    I was reading an article about finding happiness:  you were  to list things that made you happy and put those things first and foremost in your life to keep unhappiness at bay.  All kinds of things came to my mind:  having enough money to pay all the bills, a beautiful garden, children doing well in life.  These are things one can not control.  I felt a little simplistic but what I really thought would make me happy was a deep, dark, rich cup of coffee and the time to enjoy it. It could be in a coffee shop or  cafe or on my front porch...nothing special.  Just to have the time to sip it and think about the day ahead- that is happiness for me.  Perhaps it is more a feeling of contentment than outright happiness but it gives me quiet joy.  Then I am ready to face the day, come what may.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Panoramic view/narrow view

Panoramic: Trees, shrubs, and beach grass cascade down the hillside to the sandy shoreline. The summer drought is reflected in the bronze and rust colored grasses. A red-winged blackbird tussles in a shrub while a white butterfly meanders through some flowering Queen Anne’s Lace. In the distance the white lighthouse at Wind Point stands guard at the edge of the shore that juts out into Lake Michigan. The water is deep blue against the powder blue sky but gradually fades into lighter shades of turquoise as it reaches the shore. A breeze off the lake is cool and refreshing as it combines with sudden wafts of sun-warmed air from the land.
Small focus: Tufts of drought browned grass sway in the wind as a lone bee buzzes through them. The seedheads are dried tightly as if to keep any possible moisture inside. The olive green weeds next to them are curled and dried in the morning sun.
  • Posted July 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink
    We are feeling the impact of no rain here in Central New York. The playing fields are dirt and hay (a definite fire hazard) and my lawn hasn’t been mowed in weeks.
    A red-winged blackbird tussles in a shrub while a white butterfly meanders through some flowering Queen Anne’s Lace. In the distance the white lighthouse at Wind Point stands guard at the edge of the shore that juts out into Lake Michigan. The water is deep blue against the powder blue sky but gradually fades into lighter shades of turquoise as it reaches the shore. – WOW – Excellent description! It sounds like a beautiful landscape.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Happy writing!
  • Posted July 12, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
    I echo Andy’s response. Your panoramic view with the red-winged blackbird, the Queen Anne’s lace, and white butterfly offers a vivid blast of yellow and red against the black of the bird and white. Nice! I think your panoramic and focus bits are great together. Thank you!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Day in Chicago

Teachers Write July 16th Assignment
We got off the Metra at the Ogilvie Station.  The tracks have always terrified me so we hurried down the stairs to the station.  We were surprised to find an organized, shiny floored lobby with bistro tables with umbrellas labeled 'The French Market'.  We were happy to check that out.  There was an abundance of fresh fruit in crates when you entered and then a roomful of counters with every kind of food imaginable.  What a great introduction to the big city.
   Then we headed out to the skyscraper canyons.  It was a sweltering hot day but the buildings mostly protected us from the hot sun.  The streets were strangely empty due to the construction going on further down the road.  The sidewalks however, were filled with tourists and their backpacks so we fit right in.  We had decided to skip the bus ride and walk from the Metra station to the Chicago Institute of Art.  I was pleased to see the efforts businesses made to give the city some greenery.  There was a raised bed in front of a bank that actually had a small green lawn with automatic sprinklers embedded.  Many businesses had large containers brimming over with colorful exotic plants. After we walked a few blocks we crossed an antiquated black iron bridge that went over the Chicago River.  There was a large yacht going under the bridge with a swimming suit and life vest clad family heading in from a morning of adventure on Lake Michigan.   We gazed up at the beautiful architecture of the older buildings:  so much beautiful detail in the design.  At times we had to scoot under scaffolding and almost walk in the street from improvements being added on to buildings.  The locals stood out from the tourists by how fast they moved, scooting and skirting around us as we lumbered our way down the crowded sidewalk.  In a few places men sat on the sidewalk with a cup to collect money for their sustenance.  One creative fellow was sitting against a telephone pole singing in a beautiful bass voice at the top of his lungs.  I admired his voice but didn't give him monetary assistance although it was tempting to show I appreciated his talent!  When we approached the art museum, we were surprised to see a line of about 100 people snaking out of the doors and down the street.  We were not the only people to think of visiting on this hot summer day.  This proved to be a test of will as the sun beat down on us unmercifully.  Thankfully we were entertained by a street vendor who threatened to tell his jokes if no one purchased his magazine.  Since no one did, we heard his joke several times in varied renditions.  I should have given him a donation just to take my mind off the perspiration trickling down my back!
     The stone lions outside the art institute stand guard in front of the handsome building.  Last week someone rigged them up to roar scaring the daylights out of the tourists.  Since I was aware of this, of course they didn't roar for us.
      The museum itself is a maze of galleries with seemingly no rhyme or reason to it.  It wasn't just us that became confused, other patrons also expressed dismay about getting lost looking for the cafe.  We started off looking at a collection of miniatures, small dollhouse like displays collected by a wealthy woman to show architecture in all stages of history:  Asian, American, European, Greek, and others.  I tended to like the Japanese for its peacefulness and the English Manor house with its medieval look.  Next we stumbled upon the Asian artifacts, seeming more like a museum collection rather than an art collection.  We saw beautiful porcelain pillows that women used to preserve their elaborated hairstyles while they slept.  The museum has fascinating details next to each display, but one starts to go blind after trying to read each one.  I set off an alarm pointing out an ancient hinge on a stone carved Japanese couch.  This was only the first of many blunders I made that day.
     The highlight of the day was the beautiful display of impressionistic art by Monet, Renoir, Pisarro, Gaugin, and Seurat.  There was a Frenchwoman giving a lecture to a group of French tourists in front of the "Sunday in the Park with George" pointilism painting.  I stared at them to see if it is true that they are more fashionable than us but I wouldn't have even have known they weren't Americans if they hadn't been speaking French.  They were thinner than us, but just as wrinkled...One young woman had a scarf twisted around her neck even though it was a beastly warm day.

Writing nonfiction...

I have never written nonfiction so this week’s challenges were something new for me. When I was 10 we had the assignment to write a poem and I was stumped. So I dug out my beloved Childcraft encyclopedia (weird, I know) to get ideas and wrote a poem about Dolley Madison saving Washington’s portrait. It was published in the school newsletter and my parents were so proud. So on a whim I spent the rest the day this week researching Dolley Madison. She is a fascinating lady and I learned about her tragic dealings with her son, which I had never known. I may make a model picture book for my students with the research material but even if I don’t, it was a rich learning experience that I can share with them. I would not have had this esperience without Teachers Write!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The 'bistro' table

bistro table
4 bistro chairs
2 tomato plants
2 poblano peppers
2 bean plants
yellow Gerbera daisies
2 tricolor sage
3 jade plants
2 decorative gnomes
purple mushroom garden ornament
mauve owl garden ornament
green watering can
bronze watering can

Bistro Table
I saw a photo on Facebook of a table set for two on a balcony with a Moroccan tablecloth, tall tapered candles, wine glasses, and a gourmet dinner.  So I rushed to prepare the bistro table on our front porch setting it up for a lovely and romantic dinner.  I put the Mediterranean style meal on the island counter and my husband and I filled our plates.  As I headed for the porch he headed for the living room.  "Aren't you going to eat on the porch with me?"I asked plaintively.  Not even turning around he replied, "I'm in the middle of watching the Sherlock Holmes movie and I want to see what happens."  Disappointed,  I headed out to the porch for my gourmet solo meal on my beautifully decorated bistro table.  Sherlock wins out every time...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading The Summer of the Great Grandmother

I had read The Summer of the Great Grandmother by Madeleine L'engle several years ago when she was the writer in residence for Victoria magazine.  I decided to reread it after reading a few of her novels earlier this summer.  Madeleine's insights into dealing with an aging mother are both comforting and devastating now that it is happening in my own family.  To see someone who was always the matriarch: intelligent, commanding, and  immaculately organized failing physically and mentally is very painful.  It helps to walk through it with Madeleine even though our paths are diverse.  At times I pause and just marvel at what an exceptional writer she was.  At other times I wish she had been more consistent in her writing instead of meandering off into her own religious theories.  Madeleine's religious symbolism is very meaningful to me in her novels, but it seems if she didn't comprehend something spiritual that she rationalized it until it became something she could accept.  This seems a little dangerous to me but I look beyond it because of the fine writer she is.  I then read an older article in The New Yorker that portrayed her life very differently than her books.  It made me realize that authors can be destructive to their families by what they write.  That adds a whole new context to being a writer.  It is not worth the cost of alienating those you love.  Yet, if she hadn't written, we wouldn't have A Wrinkle in Time.  What a loss that would be!  There must be a compromise that one can meet to have both worlds but I see now that isn't an easy road.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Flight  (noun randomly generated by Word Generator)


I stood on the brink of adulthood
Ready to take flight
Or so I thought
I even had a Bible passage to inspire me
That I was taking out of context:
And you shall know the truth
And the truth shall make you free.
Free of adult supervision,
free of their rules and stipulations
free to follow my dreams…
So  I took flight
but I had the wings of Icarus
and flew too close to the sun
and quickly fell to drown in the sea.
There is no place of freedom
life has a structure and form
we must follow.
The only way to be free
is to live within that structure:
enter and follow a flight plan.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Quick Write

This week, I had a dream that everyone in Teachers Write (like a thousand of us!) took a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the assignment to write a poem in response to any piece of art we loved. (I was in line for-EVER buying special exhibit tickets for everyone, but after that it was great fun!) If you’re itching for a writing prompt today, why not try it? The Met’s collection is online here – choose something you love and let it inspire a poem if you’d like. Kate Messner

Report from Rockport (Stuart Davis)

Squiggles and snippets
bursts of color
bright color springs forward as
paler ones recede
geometric shapes capture
a jazzed up town
pale yellow Main Street leads to
the local garage
where even the gas pump and nozzle
become funky art forms
the vitality of urban life
becomes music to my eyes

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday Quick Write

Think of the place that is home for you. It might be where you live today, or perhaps where you grew up. Wherever you choose, be sure to pick a place that you know well. Take one minute to write down every detail about this place that you can think of.

Done with the first part? Now we’re going to twist it around. Take the rest of your time to write about three changes that would make this place utterly altered for you–changes that would mean it was no longer home.

What sort of changes? That’s entirely up to you. Perhaps you’ll change how home looks, or smells, or  where it’s located. Or maybe it’s the people there who make it home.

This prompt aims to help you draw rich details from familiar settings into your fiction, and to also see how they can be altered to be something entirely different for your stories. Think of it as taking a favorite pair of pants to the tailor and coming home with a pencil skirt!
The cottage is ramshackle with a musty smell as you open the door.  Spiders spin their webs in the windowsills undisturbed in all the seasons but summer.  A Franklin stove in the corner warms up cool mornings or toasts marshmallows on cool evenings.  The cottage is really one big room so you never have any privacy, but it is this togetherness that makes vacations memorable.  The kitchen with its tin brown cupboards, working at the 50's stove with a view of the lake while you cook, the old farm table where we gather for meals or to play cards in the evening, the overstuffed, rough fabric chairs and couch for lazy afternoons.  The cottage was built by my husband's grandpa in the 1940's and has never lost the feel of those times:  a slower time, a world known only to me from books.  It has an outhouse out behind that we now use as a shed that definitely brings to mind earlier times!
Twist:  The new "cottage" is complete!  The three story mansion overlooks the lake with beautiful views out of the picture windows and patio doors.  The state of the art kitchen has every feature a gourmet cook could wish for.  We gather in front of the massive stone fireplace for a family meal under the rustic chandelier.  The smell of fresh pine emits from the new wood throughout the building. The cottage is built so that each family has its own sleeping quarters, so everyone can go their own way.  During the day we hardly see anyone, so each person can pursue their own interests and only join the group when it suits them.  There is a sauna and a whirlpool bath in each sleeping area, with windows that overlook the lake or surrounding woods for a peaceful, relaxing reverie.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Monday Morning Quick Write

Monday Morning Warm-Up:

Think of someone you love or have loved (or detested, that can be fun too!) and make a list poem like the one above, describing all of the traits that made that person special, unique, memorable, frightening (you get the picture). Try to avoid clich├ęs. Instead, give us specific tidbits that show how the person's eyes sparkled rather than say they did--don't fail at it like me! :-) Once you have your list, circle your favorites. Think about why you like those the best. Now try to use similar ones to describe the characters in your works in progress. Give them their own particularities that might reveal something deeper about their personalities. But mostly, as I said last week, try to have FUN!

 My Grandma Ungemach
She loved to spoil us with all kinds of treats
even though my parents had asked her not to.
Because she had six living children
she had nineteen grandchildren
but each one was special to her.
She worried about me if I was pale
because once I had to be taken to the emergency room from her house,
I had stopped breathing because I had severe bronchitis.
She brought me a little red fur doll when she visited the hospital that I treasured for years.
She would like to sneak us a piece of Wrigley spearmint gum during the offering in church from her vast and bottomless purse.
She had a comfortable matronly figure and always kept a handkerchief in the opening of her dress for needed times.
She lived in a large rambling old house down by Lake Michigan,
so the house had musty smell I still think of today if I catch a whiff somewhere.
She was a Gold star mother because her son disappeared during a bombing raid during WW II.
She never got over his death but the benefits she rec’d allowed her to live comfortably for the first time in her married life.
Grandma was a German American farm girl from Freistadt, Wisconsin.
She came to the city with her sisters to work as a nanny for a wealthy family.
She met my grandpa at church and they were sweethearts while he fought in WW I.
He gave her a beautiful ruby ring before he left and we have love letters that she wrote to him then in her spidery handwriting.
When he returned they married and had seven children, losing one to spinal bifida.
Her life was difficult with my grandpa because he drank too much beer like so many others of his generation, but her love for him never wavered.
Her son, my father, said of her in his old age, “She was the most wonderful woman that ever lived.” (Which is quite a tribute because he (and his brothers) are somewhat curmudgeonly.)
Her children went so many different directions, some successful, some dysfunctional but she loved and supported them all through everything.
The week before she died we went on a picnic at Petrified Springs and she talked of her life and I was so mesmerized that I forgot to go play on the playground.
She entered the hospital for a non-life threatening issue but made my aunt take her purse because she knew she wasn’t coming home.
After her funeral the family gathered for a meal and began to celebrate her life, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t understand how they could laugh and go on with their lives with her gone. 
I had her in my life for 12 blessed years, and I have lived with her memory in my heart for 42 more years.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Teachers Write Assignment

Today we were supposed to make an outline for a piece we are working on:

The History of Parfrey’s  Glen:
1816-Robert Parfrey is born in England
1846- a series of sawmills to process timber and grist mills for grinding grain are built in the glen area, a Scottish word that means a rocky narrow gorge
1865-Robert Parfrey inherits land that includes grist mill and he works the mill both to grind grain and refinishing the millstones
1876- Parfrey moves to Minnesota
1882-So many people picnic and  in the area that rumors abound that a hotel will be built in the glen
1937- Norman Carter Fassett becomes curator of UW-Madison herbarium
1947- The state of Wisconsin acquires the glen to preserve it under the direction of Norman Carter Fassatt, chairman of the Natural Areas Committee
1952- Parfrey’s Glen is named a Wisconsin Natural Area
2008- Terrific flooding damages the glen
2010- Another flood brings devastation to the glen

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pewit's Nest: and Parfrey's Glen:

The Pleasure and the Pain of Writing

This past week I took part in a Teachers Write Camp and this spring I wrote every day for A Slice of Life for a month.  It made me realize how much I missed writing, but it also made me realize I have always written out of a need to express myself, not for an audience.  It hurts to put writing out there and to be ignored when it has been a soul sharing experience.  On the other hand, the sincere comments from a few people really meant a lot.  It almost seems that it is a bit of a popularity contest instead of a true sharing experience with feedback.  Some writers already know each other and so they joke and gush about their writing and other writers go comment free. (not just me)  So its like a clique, that some of us don't get into, and even at my advanced age that doesn't feel good. I am very particular about what I read in fiction:  Rumer Godden,  Josephine Tey, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlins, Wilkie Collins, Dorothy L. Sayers, Daphne DuMaurier and I realize these writers are all from a different era.  I also enjoy witty writing from my 2nd and 3rd graders though, so I guess I just march to a different drummer than the typical online writer.  I'm not sure I can share any more of my writing for a while, but perhaps just keep it here for myself.