Tuesday, December 27, 2016

READ: I Am Here Now

I find power in others telling their stories and 
I hope you do too!
Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date
For the kidlit version, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

Wandering Urban Outfitters a few weeks ago, I found myself amused by the book collection they had. I wrote down a few books I'd love to buy someday but there was one I definitely couldn't pass up in the moment. It's called I am here now and is "A creative mindfulness guide and journal" from The Mindfulness Project. See how I couldn't pass it up? It just seemed so perfect.

I haven't worked through all of the exercises yet but I've enjoyed many of them for sure. I was already in love after the first page. I had to fill in information about myself and draw a self-portrait.
But my favorite part was that underneath the box were these words:

"It is what it is."

Sometime in the fall I stayed home with our six-year-old because he wasn't feeling well. He had recently begged us for a Twitter account so he could follow the Twitter account his class has at school and I warned him that he wasn't supposed to tweet since he was sick. 

So of course, what did he do? He secretly tweeted his class, telling them he was home sick and "It is what it is." 

Which made me laugh but also wonder where he came up with that...until I heard myself saying it. Suddenly, every time I uttered these words, they stood out to me and I realized he got these words from me. Sometimes I have moments like this when I realize just how much I influence my kids but it also lets me learn about myself. I can see myself in them. 

Then I saw these words on the first page of this notebook: "It is what it is." I underlined them right away. Yes. These are my words. It is what it is. And when we are faced with what is, we need to take a deep breath and decide how to proceed. But if I've learned anything about being mindful, it's that we have to accept every moment for what it is and decide how to move forward. Dwelling on the past isn't helpful and looking too far into the future isn't always helpful either. Focus on the here and now and do what you can with what you have. Whether it's about enjoying it or accepting it, doing something about it or moving on, first we have to open our eyes and see what it is. 

As 2016 comes to an end, I'm especially thinking about the words, "It is what it is." I'm taking a breath and realizing there are some things that as much as I wish they weren't true and that as much as I wish I could wake up and find that it's all been a dream, I just can't. So I have to remind myself, it is what it is, and now I have to decide what to do next. 2017 is a new year and I'm feeling more ready, excited, and anxious as ever to make the world a better place. Being mindful helps me feel centered but also helps me be in a better place to make an impact on more than just myself.

It's surprising how little time we take to focus on ourselves but how important it is. If you're looking for a book to get started in exploring mindfulness, this is definitely a great book for you to explore!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

JOIN: Anderson's Young Adult Literature Conference 2016

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

In October, I attended the Anderson's Bookshop Young Adult Literature Conference for the second time but I totally forgot to share my pictures! 

Anderson's also hosts a Children's Literature Breakfast that I have attended a few times but the YA version is still new-ish to me. As a writer, I look for opportunities to connect with other writers. This conference is definitely one of those opportunities. The whole day is all about meeting and hearing from amazing authors. There are four keynotes and then three sessions to attend panels and listen to the authors and ask questions. And then at the end, you can get books signed. They also have a fan frenzy day on Sunday but I haven't been able to join in on that fun...yet.

As a writer, I can't stress enough how important it is to be surrounded by other writers. Thank goodness for technology because it makes it much easier to connect with other writers...but finding experiences like the Anderson's Bookshop Young Adult Literature Conference is great because you get to connect in person. I definitely recommend seeking out opportunities like this if you can!

So that weekend, I chatted with a bunch of authors but a few stood out, and each for different reasons. 

Jordan Sonnenblick sat at our table with us for the breakfast and lunch...and that's all I really need to say. Jordan Sonnenblick. I've read all of his books and it was awesome to tell him in person how amazing it is that he manages to make me cry on one page and then laugh on the next. He's so good at capturing life in his books. The more I write, the more I think about life and it's interesting how even when life is crappy, there's room for love and laughter and joy. That's what Jordan does, his characters deal with real-life crap but they still get to experience love and laughter and joy. I bought two copies of Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie for him to sign for my boys when they get to sixth grade. So cool.

Me and Jordan Sonnenblick
Over the past five years, I've participated in Teachers Write, a virtual summer writing camp for educators. It's been such a wonderful experience in that it connected me to so many people who are also writing. Being part of a community of writers has really helped me write more and become a better writer. One of the authors I've met through Teachers Write is Geoff Herbach. Gae Polisner hosted him on her blog as a guest for Friday Feedback and I've enjoyed his books every since. Geoff is a remarkable writer of boy characters. I had recently read his book Anything You Want which came out in May and I got to tell him how I loved watching the character grow from the beginning to the end. 
Me and Geoff Herbach
Getting to meet Traci Chee was the biggest treat for me. Her book The Reader is fantastic but she's also a writing friend from a contest I did in 2014. I met her for the first time in real life and she's great.  I'm so thankful to be connected with Traci and other writers thanks to the contest. Many of us are in a Facebook group together where we get to talk about the publishing journey and the ups and downs along the way. 
Traci Chee and me
Next week, will be my last post of 2016. I'll talk about my one little word: revel and think back on all the great things that happened this year...and maybe a little about the uncertainty of what 2017 will be. This event was definitely a highlight of my year so I'm glad I'm celebrating it!

Have you attended events to connect with other writers? 
Even meeting up to write with a friend is a great experience.
I'd love to hear how you connect with other writers!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

JOIN: Celebrating Winter Break 2016

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

This is my 15th year in education...and it's been a fun year so far! We have a lot of exciting opportunities for kids and since I'm in my 2nd year at my school district, I've developed closer relationships with staff and have been part of some great discussions and planning. Overall, it's been exciting but the week before winter break is still exhausting. Me and my co-worker support technology integration at our three buildings. We spent most of the week in classes doing Hour of Code with our kindergarten, first, and second graders. We introduce them to coding and set them up to spend some time coding with Kodable. Kodable is a a website and also an app where students can get an introduction to coding. It's all visual so it's perfect for pre-readers. It was awesome but exhasusting!

That's why when the principal walked in with a Starbucks drink for me on Thursday...well, I might have jumped up and down and screamed a high-pitch sort of scream. It was awesome. Here's me with my wonderful caramel macchiato. 
And here's a picture of the hallway at the end of the day. I was late leaving and went to check my mailbox one more time before going to pick up my 6 year old from the after school program. I love the magic of an empty building. The quiet stillness is beautiful. I love the energy, the vibrant excitement and whir of busy-ness when it's filled with kids too. But when the students are gone it's like that memory of their enthusiasm still floats in the air and it's beautiful too. 

Today I'm celebrating the start of winter break. After fifteen years of winter break...I know it's going to be great to be home and to spend time with family and that I'll come back to school ready for the rest of the year.

What are you celebrating this weekend?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

WATCH: The Human Family by Maya Angelou

As 2016 comes to a close, I'd like to share this beautiful, simple yet profound, poem by Maya Angelou titled Human Family. I watch it over and over again, listening to her voice reminding me that we are all unique and yet we are all so similar. And there's room enough here for each of us.

Human FamilyBy Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Watch and think about the variety of images. Do you see the similarities? The smiles, the love, the connection between people. Take a few minutes to write about how you feel connected and to whom you feel connected. Write down three cultures or people you might like to learn more about. And then go do some research, find some people to follow on Facebook, maybe read this article on how to break out of your "filter bubble", ask if you can interview a stranger. Through writing, we can explore our boundaries, it's a safe place to examine our bias. Through listening, sharing, inviting, we can discover more connections.

Thanks for watching. 
Do you have any thoughts to share?
Her words are quite like a hug aren't they?
I could stay wrapped up in them forever.

"We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

JOIN: Celebrating Literary Agents and Writing Lessons Learned

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

This week I have very big news to share! It's super exciting...I have a literary agent! I queried for about two years, which means I sent samples of my novel in a letter to agents who might be interested in representing me. And then Danielle Smith from Lupine Grove Creative offered to represent me. After notifying other agents who had my work and waiting to hear back from them, I accepted Danielle's offer. Hooray!

This is the first time I've ever had an agent and it's so fun. A few people have asked me what this means exactly...which was good because I forgot that not everyone knows what it means to have an agent in the book world. Basically, now that I'm working with Danielle, she'll pitch my manuscripts to publishers and editors who'll decide if they want to make any of them into books. I've written young adult novels and picture books, but no, I don't illustrate my own work. A publisher would choose an illustrator to create the artwork to go along with my text. And of course, all this will probably take a long time...but I'll let you know when I have more news to share! For now, check out the Lupine Grove website and see if you can find me on the Authors page. (Yay!)

I'm completely overjoyed. This is a big step but also one little step on my journey towards being published. So while I'm celebrating having signed with an agent, I'm also celebrating all the work it's taken to get here. I've written and revised, shared and considered feedback, revised and revised again. And all along the way, through the rejections and doubt, I surrounded myself with supportive friends and family, and I learned that I can keep going - sure, it might mean a good cry at Starbucks and taking a few days to muster up the courage to face revisions - but I know more about myself as a writer today then I did when I started seriously writing over five years ago. 

Thinking about your life as a writer, 
what can you celebrate in terms of what 
you've learned about yourself from actively writing? 
I'm excited to celebrate with you! 

Thanks for stopping in to celebrate with me!

Friday, December 9, 2016

WRITE: A More Beautiful Question

“Always the beautiful answer
Who asks a more beautiful question.”
-e.e. cummings

In his book A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger asks readers to think about the art or the science of questioning. He explains that questioning plays a critical role “in enabling people to innovate, solve problems, and move ahead in their careers and lives.”

Instead of pursuing happiness, what if we came up with a questions to think about, grapple with, and work towards? Would we live a more fulfilled life if we worked towards pursuing this question?
more beautiful question.jpg
I'm not sure about you, but I've taken quite a few personality assessments in my life. From the quizzes in Seventeen magazine when I was a teenager to the Myers-Briggs I took as an adult and all the other self-awareness activities I've done in between, I've learned that I'm a do-er. My first thought is, "What should we do?" in most situations and if I'm ever in a rut, a stop and make a list and identify something - even small - to do. Doing feels good. Doing feels like progress.

But a few years ago, I found myself struggling to do it all.

I took a new position which meant I worked longer hours and still commuted an hour to and from work. The change put a strain on how much time I was home with my family and how much time I had to devote to things that were important to me like spending time with family and friends, reading, writing, blogging, running, practicing yoga, and cooking healthy meals (just to name a few…). Finding a way to balance work and home became a struggle.

Here's what I learned from that experience:
I know now that I get cranky when I can’t do all the things I want to do,
I get emotional when I’m not able to take care of myself and fit everything in,
and I’m not helpful or productive when I’m exhausted.

It was an interesting kind of guilt to feel I was not enough in all areas of my life.

What I also learned is:
I can adjust my expectations for myself and others by taking deep breaths and reassessing,
I have a super strong support group of wonderful family and friends,
and I'm not good at communicating to people how much they mean to me.

Without certain people who were there for me when I needed them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now physically, emotionally or mentally. Some of them know how much their belief in me made a difference and others may not realize. Which is how I came to my two beautiful questions:

1. How might I find time every day to show the people in my life that I see them?
2. How might I inspire others by sharing my life as a writer?

I've talked before about the power of being seen and trying to find what what make our lives ideal. I hope to show people that they are seen. Writing is the easiest way for me to pay tribute to the people who inspire and support me. Whether it's notes, cards, social media posts, I try and make time to recognize people in my life who help make me a better person.

Going through those two years of being so far out of my comfort zone helped me realign myself to what's important in my life. It helped me see the people who are there for me but also to recognize how important writing is to me. I hope that by sharing my life as a writer, I can inspire others to follow their dreams...whether they want to be writers too or have dreams of something else they need to work hard at.

Let's Write! Do you have your own beautiful question? (Or two?) Maybe think about what energizes you...or think about what really bogs you down. Can your question help focus you on spending more time with what really excites you? Do you recognize an area of your life to spend more time on? Maybe it's a weakness or maybe it's a strength you can really build up. Write a question (or two) that you can work towards living your life to answer. If you want to share, I'd love to hear your beautiful questions!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

JOIN: NCTE 2016 Celebration

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

Every year I look forward to attending the annual convention for the National Council for Teachers of English. This year was extra special for me in so many ways but mainly because I was able to be surrounded by wonderful friends who feel like family at a time when I really needed it. 

2016 has been one bumpy ride and November felt like we were careening down a mountain clinging fiercly to not get thrown from the car and then any semblance of a road disappeared and now we're just bumbling along with no clear direction. At least that's how I feel...

But NCTE was a chance for me to hug friends tight, share my love of books and writing, and once again feel empowered to do good work. I was thrilled to be part of four wonderful presentations. 

Artist as Historian
I talked about visual literacy and then handed it over to these talented illustrators to talk all about the research they do for their non-fiction picture books. I know I left with lots of information to share with students!
Sophia Blackall, Brian Floca, me, and LeUyen Pham

Compassion with Mentor Texts
I conjured up some questions to ask these brilliant authors about their stories that tackle raw emotions and how to encourage student writers. 
Tracy Holczer, H.M. Bouwman, Corey Ann Haydu, Kat Yeh, Karen Rivers and me

Get Writing!
I look forward to Teachers Write every summer but I also got to look forward to connecting with Teachers Write friend this fall at NCTE as we shared ideas for teachers to take back to students. So many awesome activities and we shared a poem we wrote collectively with the audience at the end. 
 Ammi-Joan Paquette, me, Jo Knowles, Mike Jung, 
Karen Romano Young, Kekla Magoon, and Kate Messner

Thinkers Who Thrive
This session was the perfect way to end NCTE. I'm so inspired by these three educators and am glad to call them friends. We each shared ideas for connecting with students - Terry talked about scaffolding support without rescuing students, Patrick talked about teaching kids to question, Ruth gave ideas for using compassion to entice reluctant writers, and I shared ideas for how reaching writers is about mutual trust. I keep thinking about this presentation. It will stay with me always.
 Ruth Ayres, me, Patrick Allen, and Terry Thompson

 What are you celebrating this week? Were you able to visit with family and friends over Thanksgiving or are you looking forward to time to connect with loved ones this month? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

JOIN: Celebrating Feeling More Whole

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

This weekend I'm in at Atlanta for the National Council of Teachers of English conference. I'm lucky enough to share my experiences as a teacher who writes and maybe possibly hopefully inspire teachers to write and to write with their students. It was soul-warming to be with educator, author, and illustrator friends who are family to me now. 

To say I needed this weekend is a complete understatement. Since the election last week, I've been processing so much information and feeling overwhelmed and shaken in a way I haven't felt since September 11th, 2001. I knew connecting with some of the people who I admire most in this world and having thoughtful conversations with them was going to be good for my soul. And it was. It really was. I'll be back next week to share more of my experience with remarkable people this weekend but today I'm celebrating Ruth Ayres.
Ruth is one of the most inspiring women I know. She's passionate about reaching student writers and her ideas take teachers to the core of what we need to address first with students. I'm so proud to know her and getting to catch up was only one teeny part of how this conference helped buoy me up so I can keep moving forward. 

What are you finding to celebrate this weekend?
Even if it's a small bit of celebration that we can find, please share!

Friday, October 21, 2016

WRITE: Talking to Strangers

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Anderson's Bookshop Young Adult Literature Conference. Afterwards, I was waiting for a friend. After spending the whole day inside the hotel conference center, fresh air seemed like a great choice. I walked outside and found a perfectly lovely wooden bench. I sat towards one side of the bench, leaving room for another person to sit if he or she chose to. 

After a few minutes of being busy on my phone a man made his way over to the bench. He asked if he could take a seat and I told him of course. He was waiting for the rest of his bandmates to show up. So of course, I asked him about his band and what type of music they played, the name of the band, his part in the band. And then I told him about the literature conference and he started to tell me about his love of books. He loved books!

He described how he gets lost in a book. How he starts visualizing what he's reading and suddenly it's like he's actually there. It was really cool to listen to him talk about books. Last week I shared Kio Stark's Ted Talk about talking to strangers. Of course, we need to be safe when we talk to strangers, but sometimes you start talking to a stranger about his band and suddenly he's telling you about his love of books. And it just makes you feel good about the world. Even if just a tiny bit. 

Let's Write! Write about a time when you talked with a stranger and what you learned.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

WATCH: Why You Should Talk To Strangers by Kio Stark

As a writer, I'm always paying attention to stories all around me and mostly that means paying attention to people. I'm fascinated by people. This might partially be because I'm an extrovert. I love talking to people, even strangers. 

So when I found this Ted Talk by Kio Stark called Why You Should Talk To Strangers caught my attention. I'm maybe a little too happy to talk to strangers. In today's world, maybe I should be more cautious, but also in today's world, maybe I should be even more willing to talk to strangers. 

One simple way to make the world a better place, is to acknowledge each other. Talking to strangers - in a safe and careful way - connects us, reminds us that we are all here together on this wild and spinning world, helps us know that we are seen. 

I've blogged about the power of being seen and I've shared Amanda Palmer's Ted Talk and book The Art of Asking that highlights the power of being connected, trusting, asking, and being vulnerable with others. And now I'm sharing Kio Stark's thoughts on talking to strangers. 

Of course, please be careful who you engage with based on where you are and your circumstances, BUT when it's safe and possible, talk to strangers. And if you aren't up for a whole conversations, maybe you at least smile or say hello and simply acknowledge that you are there in that moment together. I believe it's a way to help people and impact the world. A smile is a simple start. A conversation with a stranger is another step. Try it and see what happens!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

JOIN: Celebrating Five Minutes

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

Today I ran for five whole minutes! I've been following a Couch to 5k program and was up to ten minutes...but then life got in the way and I wasn't able to run for a bit. So today I ran again after not running for two weeks. So I went back down to just running for five minutes. Five whole wonderful minutes.

Today also happens to be the day that thousands of people ran the Chicago Marathon. As I ran my five minutes, I thought about all those people who put in the time to train to be able to run 26.2 miles. That was me thirteen years ago. It was the most inspiring thing I have ever done. To be there with a giant crowd of others who were also accomplishing this pretty amazing feat. 

I only ran the Chicago Marathon (or any marathon) that one time. It was weird to run my five minutes today and be proud considering others were out running 26.2 miles...between two and six hours of running. But last year after I ran a 5k, an 8k, and another 5k, my plantar fascitis got the best of me and I just couldn't get it to go away. I stopped running, stretched, iced, got orthotics and now I'm finally in physical therapy over one year later. 

But the exciting part is that I'm running again. Five whole minutes.

It just goes to show that we can celebrate anything - big or small - and that we can celebrate differently at different times in our lives.

What are you celebrating today?

Monday, October 3, 2016

READ: Find The Good

I find power in others telling their stories and 
I hope you do too!
Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date
For the kidlit version, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

You might think the life of an obituary writer might be sad and depressing but if you read Find The Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer you'll see that it can actually be fulfilling to celebrate people and their lives. I try my best to join in on Ruth Ayres' Celebrate posts every week because it helps me reflect, realize, cherish the ups and down life brings my way...or that I happen to find along the way. 

Find The Good was a book that also gave me the opportunity to slow down, sip the sweet tangy lemonade, and soak up life. The whole book felt like sitting in an Adirondack chair after a long day, it just felt full of life but full in a satiated kind of way, not in a weighed down kind of way. It's a beautiful homage to life. Through story, Heather Lende shares some wise life lessons worth paying attention to. 
The thought of dying might be scary but the idea of celebrating the life we get to experience is beautiful. At a writing retreat with Brenda Powers from Choice Literacy a couple of years ago, she shared two amazingly-written obituaries. The were full of voice and without knowing the people, they felt like my neighbors. 

Here are two obituaries I found just as powerful, one celebrates Carrie Thiederman and the other celebrates Mary Stocks. Please know that you don't have to read them but I found reading about their lives as a simple way to remind myself to find the good in life while I can. 

If you're looking for a calming read and an intriguing look at writing and life, I recommend Find The Good by Heather Lende. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Mindfulness through writing is a powerful thing. 
I invite you to take a few minutes. 
Free write, 
make a list, 
write a poem, 
craft a blog post, 
draw a doodle, 
take a picture. 
You pick. 
CAREEN is your word to explore this week.
Share your story in the comments! I can't wait to read about your week!
Thanks for exploring your story with me!  
Psst! Yes, you!
Wanna read what I wrote about when I explored the word careen this week?
Sign up for my newsletter here!

JOIN: Remembering To Feel

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

Almost three years ago a young girl was murdered in my cul de sac. 
Her older sister was the one who killed her.
We were left shocked and horrified and terribly sad. 
No one could have predicted it. 
But I still thought about everything I might have done to have prevented it. 

I could have
gotten to know the girls more
invited the family over for dinner
offered to do homework with the girls after school
done something I didn't do.

Afterwards, I processed my emotions with a trusted friend.
He told me it was okay to experience all these feelings.
 It was not only natural, 
but needed.

Holding feelings in, 
bottling them up, 
shoving them aside, 
doesn't work. 

I let myself feel then.
And let myself feel still. 

Emotions are interesting. 
They seem to come and go. Even though this happened years ago now, sometimes I'll remember and the hurt and guilt is there again. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I tell my husband. Sometimes I write about it. But I don't ignore those feelings.

Today I'm celebrating the power of remembering to feel. Allowing ourselves to experience emotions is important. Of course, it's easiest to experience and relish in the emotions that make us feel good. But it's just as important to feel the not-so-good feelings too. 

How are you feeling this weekend? 
What do you do to let yourself feel?
Does writing help you process those emotions?
I know writing often helps me. 
Thanks for being here to celebrate with me!