Archive for March, 2012

Read other Slice of Life writers at The Two Writing Teachers

Happy Birthday to my naturalist friend, Jim Foret. You keep me on the alert for full moons, endangered trees, and nesting birds. You inspire everyone you know to be more alert. Here’s a little poem for you:

Full Moon Alert
for Jim Foret

The full moon rises
glorious among
a respectable row of planets–
pregnant moon.

The alert comes again.

He is the custodian of the night sky–
calendar keeper—
friend to the birds, the bogs,
butterflies and bees.

He counts the Purple Martins,
announces the Mississippi Kites.
He hears the sacred drumbeat,
tells the stories, and inspires all.

Humbly hold someone’s hand
and show her the moon.

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I am so proud to be the teacher of the Louisiana Regional Student of the Year. I am privileged to teach gifted students. This means that once a student is identified as gifted, I pull them out for services each year throughout elementary school. I have had Kaylie in my class now for 2 1/2 years. We have gotten very close. On Tuesday, she found out she had won the Regional Student of the Year. First she was nominated by her school, then she competed at the parish level, then the regional level. Now she will be in competition for the State Student of the Year. This is a pretty amazing accomplishment for an 11 year old girl. She is amazing, though.

On Wednesday, Kaylie came early to class. We sat quietly absorbing the news. She told me she gets two free nights’ stay in Baton Rouge and a savings bond. She looked at me and gently said, “It’s because of you that I got this.”

I gave her a hug and said, “I don’t believe that for one minute.” But she went on to explain. She said she was not a writer when she came to my classroom. I made her a writer. That statement has been my lifelong goal.

Once at a turning point in my teaching career, my husband asked me point blank, “What do you want to do?”
I responded, “I want to teach writing. One day I want to hear an author on NPR thank me.”

Kaylie isn’t on NPR…yet. But this moment made my heart swell. I opened the door. She has stepped in royally. Writing is a major component of the Student of the Year competition. At each level, she has to write an essay on a prompt in a given amount of time. Obviously, she does not give in to the pressure. What a gifted writer she is!

Kaylie has won a number of writing contests. The most memorable for me was the LA Writes! state youth writing contest. She won first place with a poem she wrote in my class. We were celebrating National Poetry Month and the daily challenge was to write a bad poem. I used Billy Collins’ poem Litany as inspiration. Kaylie went to the computer and composed this brilliant first place poem:

Perfect Nonsense

*after Billy Collins’ Litany

You can be the watering pail in the pine tree.

You can be the left shoe on the roof.

You can even be-somehow-just-maybe the buttered slice of burnt toast on a Sunday morning.

You are NOT the billowing clouds.

You are DEFINITELY NOT the sandy aftertaste when a wave knocks you down.

And you are most DEFINITELY CERTAINLY ABSOLUTELY TRULY NOT the pancake swimming in syrup on the hottest day of the year.

Whereas I, I am the dandelion that gently blows away.

I am your mamma’s ruby red lipstick for dinner at her best friend’s house on Thursday night.

And, as you know, I am the spit-on microphone that sits lazily in the studio.

I am me.

You are you.

We are US.

A link to Kaylie’s Slices of Life.

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Teaching poetry and writing poetry can be frustrating and hard.  We struggle together trying to make our words sound right.  Yesterday I tried to write a rhyming poem about writing poems.  I got advice from my students. When I read it to them, they smiled apologetically as if they were saying, “I love you, Mrs. Simon, but that poem’s no good.”

So I tried a “Where I’m From” poem, the form inspired by George Ella Lyon.  My after school kids were successful, and they cheered at mine.  So we are sharing them with you.

Where I’m From

I am from ladder-back chairs around the kitchen table,
from Ding-Dongs and ham sandwiches in a baggie.

I am from the back porch swing and telling stories,
from tall pine trees, St. Augustine grass, and the Sycamore.

I’m from “Bless this food,”
music in the left hand,
from Dorothy and John.

I ‘m from dinner at the dining table, and Tiger football,
from “sit up like a person,” and “elbows off the table.”
I’m from cornbread dressing, green peas, and pecan pie.

I’m from the river overflow of the great Mississippi
to the barge on the bayou,
Southern girl with Southern strength,
holding on to time.

Where I’m From
by Grace

I am from healthy foods, Dial soap, and Crest toothpaste.
I am from a field of sugarcane, growing tall and sweet.

I am from an old oak in the back,
azaleas in the front, irises around the pond.

I am from opening one present on Christmas Eve
and blond moments with Donna and Mallory.

I am from Sunday mass at eleven and
lots of football watching.

I am from “Keep your elbows off the table,”
and “Shoot fire!”

I am from fights with my dad over Oreos, and
with my mom and sister over artichokes.

I live in a big white house surrounded by love and
more animals than most people I know.

Where I’m From
by Darby

I am from the Lazyboy couch,
from biscuits and bacon.

I am from the flower garden with bright summer colors,
from wine vineyards and orange trees.

I am from the math wizards, Stanley and Kory.

I am from Sunday Catholic church.
I am from always use your manners
to the Golden Rule.

I am from the pizza eaters.
I am from always finding the bright side of life.

(Quote of the day from Darby when we were making pre-writing lists: “I like to write poems, but I don’t like to think about them.”)

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Chicago Bound

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Our youngest daughter, Martha, will graduate from college in May with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  This year has been all about selecting a graduate school.  Her goal is to get a Masters in Social Work.  She researched and found that Chicago has the top program.  So she applied.  When she was filling out the application in December, I never imagined that she would get in, and we would have the difficult job of telling her she couldn’t go.

So, you guessed it, she got in.  And she was given a scholarship; however, the scholarship would only cover close to one third of the total cost.  Our answer was no.  Too much money for a degree in a field that doesn’t make much money.  And loans were out of the question.

Weeks went by as Martha waited to hear from other schools.  She received an acceptance from University of Texas and was turned down by University of Washington.  We were rooting for the UT option.  After all, my husband is a former Longhorn.  But Martha had other plans, or rather, other dreams.

Chicago came through with a work-study program that made a small difference in the cost.  She talked to her father.  She is the baby of the family, after all.  That was not the only thing going for her.  She knows what she wants and why she wants it.   We decided to meet the amount Chicago was offering and allow her to borrow the rest.

Now I have to get used to it.  Not an easy task.  It’s really not about the money.  My paycheck has been paying tuition for a long time.  What’s two more years?  So why am I having so much trouble with the idea?  Do I think she’s not old enough to go to a big city like Chicago?  Is it the harsh winter weather that scares me?

I think part of me is just plain jealous.  She is getting to live her dream.  I never would have had the opportunity, nor did I even think about it.  I’ve never dreamed that big.  I both envy and admire her for being so strong-willed to think Chicago was a possibility and to make it all happen.   I am proud of her beyond belief.  And to be completely honest, I’ll miss her terribly.  To quote God’s message to me when I was sending my first off to the big city of New Orleans, “She is not leaving you.”

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The Hunger Games

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I have been struggling with The Hunger Games hype.  Because one of my fifth graders begged me to, I read the first book.  The violence bothered me.  I couldn’t relate to Katniss.  I wasn’t getting into it.  But I did finally finish it last week and have wondered about this odd feeling I have about it.  Is it intended to make me squirm like this?  I plan to go to the movie because I’m curious.  I want to see how they portray the book.  Will I care more about the main character? Or will I be left again with this discomfort?

Today, I talked to two of my students about the book and movie, both 5th grade girls.

“Why do you like it?”

K: “Suzanne Collins makes you want to keep reading.  The way she writes.”

“But what about it makes you keep reading?  Is it the romance?”

K: shy blushing grin (I interpret that as a yes.)

Second student conversation:

“Why did you like The Hunger Games?”

R: “It totally changed my outlook on life.”

“What do you mean?”

R; “There’s this kid in my class that others pick on.  I realize that that is not important.  There are bigger things to worry about.”

“So you see the Hunger Games as a warning of what could happen?”

R: “Yes,  and it’s really scary to think about.”

I am still wondering what the appeal is.  I am worried about our society that elevates a book like this to such heights.  Are we concerned about our fellow man or are we selfish and looking out for our own survival?  I feel it is similar to the appeal of shows like Survivor and The Bachelor in which one person is deemed the winner with little concern for others.  And sometimes to survive, you have to knock out the other guy.  What is this all leading to?  Perhaps Suzanne Collins is giving us a warning, and instead of taking that warning, young teens are voraciously reading and flocking to the movie to see who wins.  Or is it all about the romance?

What do you think?

Here is a link to my student’s slice about The Hunger Games and other stuff: GT Allstars

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Ten things I want to do instead of write:

Stay in bed.

Read a good book.

Cuddle with my schnoodle.

Drink coffee.

Eat chocolate.

Chat with a friend.

Sweep the floor. (Oak pollen season)

Check Facebook.

Read other blogs.

Exercise, and I hate to exercise!

On this final Monday of the Slice of Life Challenge, I am tired.  I don’t want to write.  Will you make me?

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My dream of publishing for young readers is getting closer to reality.  The book cover is ready.  The manuscript is at the printers.  I am anxiously awaiting the proof.  What a great new adventure!  In anticipation of the book release, I decided to introduce you to Blessen.  Here is Chapter One: Blue.

Blue is cackling something awful this morning. That’s how she tells me she laid an egg. I flip-flop down the concrete steps from the trailer backdoor jingling the matching gold bracelets, full set of three that I got yesterday at the Family Dollar.

I’m sure Blue can hear me coming, and I call out to her, “Blue! Bluey!” My voice rises up to a high pitch. She knows it’s me.

“Bock, bbb bock!” She starts her cackling again.

Momma says she cackles when she’s cursing. She says if laying eggs is anything like giving birth, then Blue is cursing out loud. I say she is rejoicing.

I walk toward the coop. I’m still small enough to be able to walk in and stand. I push the straw under my big feathery hen, and sure enough, I find a small tan egg under her thick breast. I hold the egg up to her close, so she can see the fruit of her labor. She smiles at me her chicken smile, cocks her head, and gurgles proud.

Blue has been my chicken ever since the New Iberia Sugarcane Festival last fall. She was my first place prize for 4th and 5th grade division 4-H. I grew the sweetest sugarcane right in my own backyard. The judges told me my new hen was called Blue Cochin, but I just call her Blue for short. It was love at first sight, I must say. She knows my heart. She knows when I’m happy and when I’m sad. I know she’s wise ‘cause she’s what they call a thoroughbred hen.

“Momma’s in a foul mood today,” I tell Blue in confidence. “She told me I had no business wearing this tiny t. She says I out-grew it last summer. Why was I keepin’ it around? I told her it was my favorite, and it is, even though it shows my belly button. I kinda like bein’ able to see my belly button. It’s a fine belly, don’t you think?” Blue just nods her head at me, agreeing.

“Blessen? You come back in and finish this mess of a breakfast you made. What you thinkin’ puttin’ sugar all over your buttered toast? You made a mess in here. Your teeth are gonna rot out for sure.” Momma calls out from the back window.

I pull Blue out of her roosting spot, cuddle her close like I’m holding a precious baby, and smile into her beady black eyes.

“How do my teeth look to you?” I show all my pure white teeth in a wide grin. “I don’t think Momma knows what she’s yappin’ about.”

Blessen is the name Momma gave me when I was born. It’s not a nickname like some people think. It’s from the Bible, Genesis:

 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.

Momma changed the spelling because I am special. Blessen LaFleur, that’s me.

I don’t know who my father is. Momma says he was the fertilizer. I imagine a knight in shining armor on a white horse lowering his golden sword over my momma’s belly and poof! I was created. Some people say he must’ve been an African American man ‘cause my skin’s so dark compared to my momma who is pure white like the Gardenia she is named for. My hair is thick and curly-brown while hers is fine and blond. The last time I asked Momma why my skin was so dark, she said, “That’s how God made you, Blessen.” I don’t ask her anymore.

I have a dream that a man comes to the door, standing tall, but silhouetted. All I see is a wide bright smile. Momma turns and runs into his arms.

Momma says we are enough, the three of us, but I can’t help but wonder who my daddy is and why he left me.

We live on True Friend Road in St. Martinville, Louisiana. My Pawpee’s old house faces the street. He built that house with his own two hands. Momma says it’s falling to ruin. The last hurricane sent a water oak through the roof. With the FEMA money, Momma got a trailer. That’s where we all live now—me, Momma, and Pawpee.

From where I stand next to the chicken coop, I can see Pawpee’s old house and the two rows of crape myrtles in full bloom lining the gravel driveway. Pawpee still trims those trees every fall with a cherry picker from his wheelchair. He says he’s topping the trees to make the blossoms fan out like a fiery bouquet. Pawpee’s quite proud of his trimming skills.

I chase Blue a little around the chicken yard, give her a little hug, and then flip-flop back to the trailer to meet the disapproval of my momma.

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"Real Queens are not MADE~They are BORN!"
~Queen de Bling, Berry Head Boss Queen
and Her Royal Hi-ness, Queen of the Berry

I am a Berry Queen Diva.  The Berry Queens are the brilliant invention of Jerre Borland.  I met Jerre five years ago when we were both lobbying for the National Writing Project on Capitol Hill.  Jerre told our representatives that she had two passions, the Writing Project and Habitat for Humanity.  When I first met Jerre, I knew she was someone who wanted to make a difference.

Jerre had three goals for the Berry Queens: to raise funds for Iberia Habitat for Humanity while having fun, and, in the meantime, allow women to “wear a tiara and act up a little.”  We do all three.  This weekend I am in Jackson, MS for the Sweet Potato Queen Weekend.  Groups of queens come from all over to enjoy a weekend of fun: the Big Hat Lunch, the Big Hair Ball, Zippity Do-Dah parade, and a Pearls & PJs Party.

Being a Berry Queen gives me the opportunity to step out of my everyday teacher persona and be someone new.  I can put on a bright red wig, false eyelashes, and blingy jewelry and celebrate being a women, all the while raising funds or rather “fun” for Habitat for Humanity.

It’s easy being Queenly in the Berry!

Queen Puss-n-Boots (my friend, Cathy) and Queen of Good Will (me)

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Read other Slice of Life writers at The Two Writing Teachers

This Slice of Life Challenge has been like an online class, writing community, support group all in one neat package.  The inspirations I have gotten, along with teaching ideas and life lessons, have been invaluable to me.  Another slicer did a book spine poem.  See Teacher Dance.  Like the villanelle, this was a new one for me.  I can’t wait to try it with my students and watch them pull books off the shelf.  A creative use of the classroom library.  Will the librarian allow us to do it in the school library?

Creating my own book spine poem, I stacked some of my books about writing.  We writers collect books that give us advice.  Some of my books are about my own personal writing, some for teaching writing.  I sculpted the stack to try to make the titles work together, but I still wanted to insert text.  Reminds me of working with paste pot poetry or magnetic poetry.

For more information on the book spine cento challenge, check out this blog:  100 Scope Notes.

Word weaving
into one writer's beginnings
awakening the heart and my
wild mind.
The muses among us inspire
the right to write.
Now I am writing brave & free.
Everything is illuminated!

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Spring Storm

Read other Slice of Life writers at The Two Writing Teachers

Yesterday, we had a gift of a storm.  It was a gift in the middle of a busy week because they cancelled school.  It’s so nice to have an unexpected day off.  The storm caused minimal damage, a tree on a roof here or there, some flooding, but for the most part all was well.  I did get to meet with my student writing group, though.  We worked on writing by looking outside and looking in.  Then we revised.  I caught this rather sing songy poem, but I like it.

Spring Storm

Green on green
Here comes spring
Wildflowers welcome the rain
Steady beat
A rhythmic song
Leads my heart home
Light a candle
Load the laundry
Escape into a book
Spring storm,
You offer a promise–
the gift of time alone.

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