An Unknown Friend

I boarded the Metro to ride into Washington, DC to meet a friend. I was excited to be meeting a fellow teacher/writer whom I had only known from her blog and writing sessions through TeachWrite. It was a beautiful spring morning to be out and about with bright sunshine, tulips, dogwoods, and emerging green everywhere.

I can’t read while I ride in any moving vehicle, so I entertained myself by watching the people come and go. It’s interesting how few people make eye contact, and if they do, they quickly busy themselves with phones or papers, digging through backpacks and tote bags. I still like to watch. I’m always curious about what others are reading or what they might be listening to on those little white earbuds that have become so commonplace.

Counting the stops, there were just two more until I would get off at L’Enfant Plaza. At Metro Center, a woman got up and walked toward the door. The train was still moving toward her stop. I had noticed her earlier when she took a small notebook out of her bag and started writing.

As the train slowed, she leaned over and asked, “Do I know you? You look very familiar.”

I said, “No, I don’t think we’ve met,” but as the doors opened, I called, “Are you a writer?”

“Yes!” She waved and wished me a good day. I may never know who she is, but I smiled and felt I had a new friend anyway.


It was time to go. To go to Riverbend for the annual blooming of the bluebells. For the sweet scent of the damp forest floor, the growing forest canopy, the sounds of Canadian geese, cormorant wings, and Carolina Wrens. For the dappled sunlight on ancient fallen trees and the gentle ripples of water on the muddy banks of the Potomac. For the minnows and their shadows, and tadpoles in the vernal pool. Yes. It was time to go.

I make this pilgrimage every year. I feel like it is my place, my sanctuary, and my feeding ground. You may have your own place and know the feeling my words fail to describe. I came away with a lighter heart and more grounded soul.

As I write this, I’m reminded of Yeats, “I will arise and go.”

I’m glad I arose and went.

Language Fascination

Yesterday I embarked on my yearlong quest to battle the mountains of paper in my basement. By way of background, my mother never saved anything and lived a clutter-free life. I guess the clutter pendulum swung the other way with me, and now I am faced with boxes and boxes of memorabilia, pictures, children’s art and sweet lovenotes. It doesn’t help that my husband is also prone to save papers. In fact, we have all of our tax returns back to 1976. (That’s a little embarrassing.)

But that’s not the story I’m telling today. My youngest daughter, Jill, was born prematurely and had some developmental delays which we successfully addressed thanks to wonderful OT, PT, and Speech therapists. Their work converted me to early intervention. It was almost magical to watch how their expertise helped shape my daughter’s brain-body connection.

Our family stories now include many anecdotes of the “use and confuse” stage of Jill’s language development which re-ignited my fascination with language. I had remembered a few of these anecdotes, but yesterday while I sorted papers, I found one that I had forgotten.

One day, while Jill watched “Fantasia” (she LOVED that movie), she said, “Mom, come look at the fairy dragons!” Fairy dragons. What could she mean? When I went to check, there were dragonflies on the screen. Jill’s naming of things often involved word parts, but also a little creative twist that made it so interesting.

Another time, there were whirlybirds or helicopters from our maple tree stuck on the car window. Some were very tiny. Jill was in her car seat and said, “Mommy, I have pelicans, too!” After some thought, I realized she had put together the idea of bird in whirlybird with the word part “heli-” in helicopters and produced “pelican.” Our brains are so complex and full of wonder.

Once we had an evergreen bagworm cocoon stuck to the siding on our house. It was up high, almost to the eaves of the roof. It really bothered Jill. One day, when we pulled into the driveway, I parked and turned off the engine. Jill said, “Mommy, you really need to tell Daddy to get that kangaroo off of our house.” It was hard not to laugh, but I chuckled and told her I would and he did, eventually. All I could figure on that one was she remembered the /k/ sound started the word and it had the /oo/ sound, too. So it came out, “kangaroo.”

I love these little stories, especially now as Jill is a grown woman with three children of her own, because they remind me that having the open mind of a child can enrich our language and our experience of life itself. I love that she noticed the small things, that she trusted me to share them, and that her developing brain gave me a fresh look at the world around me. It was joy.

Memory Lane

Today I had lunch with Sally at a location in Arlington, VA dear to my heart. You see, it used to be the home of Gifford’s Ice Cream which my family visited every Sunday after church. Sometimes, we would “go in” for an ice cream sundae. My dad always got a banana split; my mom and I usually got a hot fudge sundae. They served the hot fudge in tiny little ceramic pitchers that were so fun to pour. I can recall rich smell of sugar, chocolate, and homemade candies almost as much as I can remember the feel of slightly sticky chairs and tables.

On Sundays when we stayed in the car, one of us would go inside with my Dad to help carry the cones to the car. Pistachio for Dad; Swiss Chocolate for Mom; Lemon Custard or Mint Chip for my sisters and me. My mouth is watering just thinking about this ice cream. In the summers, we had to lick fast in order to prevent our ice cream from melting all over our Sunday clothes, and in the winter, we would shiver as we ate and enjoyed it just as much.

Some years ago, it became Joe’s Pizza. Joe renamed his restaurant “A Modo Mio.” The building itself has not changed much on the outside and I enjoyed sitting near the big picture windows that face what was, until recently, Lee Highway (now Langston Avenue).

As Sally and I talked and talked and talked about writing, teaching, family, and change, I had the warm sense of being grounded in a place where friends and family have built memories over the years. Grateful.

Affirmation of Affirmations

Recently, I listened to Jon Acuff’s new book, Soundtracks. It’s a fun book to listen to and gave me a lot to think about as I continue my own process of change. The technique he describes in working to change our thoughts involves choosing new thoughts and practicing these new thoughts by repeating them aloud morning and evening for at least 30 days.

I have been struggling to reach a particular student since school began this year. He is a fourth grader with K/1 literacy skills. He has mastered every avoidance trick in the book and uses distractions to derail lessons. Finally, I split his group and am seeing him 1:1. At first, it was the same. I felt like I spent the entire time redirecting him–trying every trick I knew to keep him on task.

However, on October 13, 2022 things changed. I decided to apply what I had learned in Soundtracks with this student. At the beginning of the lesson, I took out a mirror and had him repeat the words, “I am a reader. I can do this.” We had a successful lesson. At the end, I had him repeat again, “I am a reader. I can do this.”

As we walked to class on October 14, he asked, “Are we going to do that mirror thing?”

I said, “Do you want to do that mirror thing?”


Every day since, we begin and end each lesson with the mirror and his affirmations. Today we added, “I can learn new things.” So far, that’s 7 consecutive days of affirmation and successful reading lessons.

For the first time in his life, he completed a “chapter” book. Yes, it was decodable and yes, it had six short chapters. To him, it was still a chapter book. I was so proud of him and glad that he responded to the words, “I am a reader.”

Today, when I picked him up, he was on the carpet. Reading.

Getting Coached

I signed up for life coaching after receiving some great writing coaching from Jen Laffin of TeachWrite ( At the beginning, I didn’t really know how life coaching would help me, but I knew there was work I could do to become the person and writer I want to be. I was willing to try.

The last few days I started to spiral into my annual mid-summer funk. Not pleasant. Typically, my funk accelerates in July when there is more unstructured time than I am used to. I become overwhelmed with the possibilities of what I could accomplish. The long-awaited “free time” in the summer becomes a curse. There are so many possible directions that I end up sitting on the couch with a book or my ball of yarn and knitting needles. Those are not bad ways to spend time, but this is the time of year for. . .

I began to write in my journal to process some of the thoughts that kept swirling around in my head. As I wrote, I saw a familiar pattern. I was engaging in the “luxury of confusion!” If I stayed in a state of indecision, I wouldn’t have to commit to a goal or specific project.

I realized that in my coaching sessions I’d been taught some pretty powerful writing practices to work through times like this. Practices such as writing by hand without any judging or comparing to others, asking a few simple questions:


Working through thoughts has power to change feelings. I learned that there is a recursive process at work in our brains all the time. We have a thought (which may or may not be true). The thought produces a feeling which leads to an action. The actions we take lead to results. If we don’t like the results, we can work backwards. What result do I want? What actions will that require? What will it feel like? How are the thoughts different when you begin with the end in mind?

These are not new concepts, but practicing them in a focused, intentional way has brought about change. I’m now writing my way out of my mid-summer funk. I know that it will be worth it to put these few words on the page. If only to enjoy the fact of having done it.

Poetry Friday

July 1, 2022

A writing prompt from James Crews inspired this small poem. It is an early draft of a memory that has come often to me in recent weeks. Perhaps a longing for a more innocent world is the ground these words rest on.


Summers before air conditioning
slowed down time.
I sat on the hot pavement,
careful not to burn my bare legs.
I wore my short red sunsuit and
navy blue KEDS (you know the ones
with the square rubber toes).
Too hot to play,
we spent hours popping the black tar bubbles
that only emerged on the hottest days.
“Pffft,” they popped, a sound
so satisfying to my four-year old ears
listening for the popsicle man.

I hope your summer has some lazy days to just be.

Thank you to all the Poetry Friday Poets and to Janice Scully at Salt City Verse for the Poetry Round-up today.

It Seems Like Forever…

It’s been a very long time since I posted here, but as I’m sitting here, I can hear a woodpecker, the conversation of crows, and the little chirps of wrens and sparrows. It feels good to slow down for a few moments and appreciate the beauty of spring in Virginia. The setting sun illuminates the many shades of fresh green leaves against the blue sky. I’m grateful.

Some months ago, I wrote an article that was published in the Virginia State Literacy Association’s new online journal, The Collection. The topic was how I came to make peace with “the reading wars.”

The story I want to tell here, however, is not of the debate in the reading world, but a small story of friendship. It’s a story of a teacher who cares for other teachers as much as she cares for her students.

When I retired, the pandemic lockdown was only a few months along. I needed a way to bring closure to my teaching experience. While talking with my friend, Sally Donnelly (who writes here), she suggested that I write to process this transition in my life. Weeks went by. Finally, I had a draft which she volunteered to read. She gave me feedback, and I revised and then revised some more. Later, she sent me the call for proposals for the new VSLA publication and encouraged me to submit my article.

I had never submitted my writing anywhere except here on this blog. Sally’s encouragement helped me extend my reach. More time passed. I assumed that my article was in a rejection pile, but finally I was informed that it had been accepted for publication. Another round of edits and revision followed.

Another month or two passed. One morning, I got an email from Sally with the link to The Collection. I saw my name in print! It felt so good.

Later that week, Sally and I met for dinner. Very quickly, she excitedly pulled out a print version of The Collection. She turned to the Table of Contents, put her finger down, and said, “Now sign it.” Sally gave me my own “Dot Moment” which I will never forget. I felt like Vashti, whose attempt at art was celebrated by a wise teacher.

Whose work can you celebrate? Reread THE DOT, by Peter Reynolds and consider whose creative spirit you could nurture. You can make a difference like Sally did for me.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for this space to share our stories.


I’m hearing the word “witness” in many places these days. Sometimes people use it when describing a horror they have witnessed. Other times, it’s the wonder one feels at being able to see something unexpected or extraordinary. It’s the latter experience I will try to share.

I play the organ for my church congregation. The way the chapel is set up, I sit behind the podium where the speakers stand. It was from this vantage point that I was a witness to a tender moment I won’t soon forget.

Mary (name changed) is a tall, slender, 17-year old with cranberry red hair who sings like an angel. She is the middle child in a family with five children. Nathan (name changed), her younger brother, is also a tall, slender 14 or 15-year old. Due to the pandemic, I hadn’t heard them sing in nearly two years. In fact, the last time I heard Nathan sing, he was still a soprano. I was pleasantly surprised now to hear his rich baritone voice.

Sunday, they stood at the podium ready to sing a duet. As they listened to their mother play the introduction, Mary reached for Nathan’s hand. At first, he squirmed his hand away, but when she reached again, he held her hand. The podium hid their hands so the congregation did not see what I saw. Mary and Nathan didn’t let go through all four verses of the song.

As the song progressed, Mary became emotional and was having difficulty singing without crying. She squeezed his hand. With a quick glance, Nathan continued and sang Mary’s solo part giving her time to regain her composure. I learned later that Mary’s grandmother who was in attendance would be starting chemotherapy the next day. Her cancer had returned with a vengeance and her prognosis doesn’t look good. No wonder it was hard for Mary to sing.

This expression of family love touched me deeply. I am grateful to have been a witness.

Poetry Friday, August 27, 2021

Poetry Friday is hosted by Elisabeth. Drop by and visit here.

One of the blessings of the past year has been the opportunity to participate in poetry classes via Zoom. One of these was a 6-part series called Poetry of Resilience that was hosted by James Crews and Danusha Lameris. I have become very fond of them as poets, thinkers, and teachers.

This week I have been thinking about my experiences with poem writing. I am a novice, at best, but with each poem I write, I gain a little confidence. Poetry is something that is a private practice to me. I read and write it mostly by myself, and haven’t shared my poems very widely. I’ve never had a desire to be published, or to enter a contest, but I’m happy to have this small space in the universe to try out a few thoughts.


Walking beaches
and country lanes

Climbing mountains
and city hills

Circling the track
and neighborhood block

Strolling along rivers
and wandering forests

Always looking
Always searching
Always listening

Starting to believe
the poem
in me.

DRAFT, 8-27-21