Archive for the ‘Slice of Life’ Category

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

The decorating theme at one of my schools this year is books, so I chose to depict one of my favorite books, The Dot. I celebrate Dot Day every year with my students, but this year I adopted the whole school, sort of. I sent out an invitation to teachers to sign up to send 4 kids to my room at recess time. (I only have 4 chairs around a single table.) I had wonderful participation and have had so much fun working with a variety of grade levels. With the older kids I opened up sets of watercolors and set out paper plate dots. For the younger ones, I gave them a coffee filter to decorate with markers. I then sprayed them with water so that the ink spread for a cool looking result.

With my gifted students, I made Dot Zeno Zines. In the spirit of “making a mark and seeing where it takes you”, we drew a design on plain paper. Then we wrote Zeno poems. Zeno is a form created by J. Patrick Lewis that uses the sequence 8, 4, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1 with each one syllable rhyming. I’m not sure which should come first, the first 8-4-2-1 sequence or the rhyming words. We’ve tried both ways. I let the kids struggle somewhat to just figure it out. Sometimes it’s hard to say what you want to say with so many constraints. It’s a process. Process can be messy and imperfect, but when you’ve puzzled it out, it’s rewarding.

Dot Day Zeno

Polka-dotted wings emerging
color-filled spots
red, green,
orange, purple
flying homeward

Mrs. Simon with help from Avalyn, 3rd grade

To see more student Dot Zeno poems, check out these Fanschool links:


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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

A week ago I had a Mohs procedure on my nose. That means the dermatologist biopsied what I thought was a zit that turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma. This type of surgery is no big deal to the young “boy scout” who was extremely proud of his suturing technique, but to me, it was uncomfortable and annoying. Ethical ELA was having its monthly Open Write, so the whole thing became a muse for a poem. Scott McCloskey led the exercise in writing about something you were “today years old” when you first learned about it.

Numbed Ignorance

Being a patient is not new to me,
but at today’s years old,
I learned of a procedure for removing
cancer cells off a nose called Mohs.

The young doctor told me
“You’re going to love this!”
as he stitched and stitched
as if there’s anything to love about
his brutal touch, about cancer cells, about a hole in my nose.

Sure I want to be rid of it,
but I carry the sign,
the cross-hatch signature
he was so proud of, the black eye,
the irritant of a bandage on my face.

I am learning that knowledge
is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Just hand me an ice pack
and let me go back to
numbed ignorance.

Margaret Simon, draft

Some people are good at sending cards. I want to be better. It’s a skill I admire. When my daughter’s mother-in-law heard about my little procedure, she sent me a card. I’ve been using Dictionary for a Better World to teach my students about poetry. On Friday, we explored Irene Latham’s poem Belonging which is a pantoum form. I’ve been puzzling with the form ever since. A pantoum is much harder to write than it looks, but here goes…


A card came in the mail
addressed especially to me.
As I fingered each detail,
I felt your hand in mine.

Addressed especially for me,
little bear with a bouquet
held his hands out to mine
with caring words to say.

This little bear with bouquet
hopes I’m better by today.
Your kind words do say
someone cares.

You hope I’m better today.
I feel your hand in mine. 
Across the miles you say
in a card that’s in the mail.

Margaret Simon, for Andree
Sweet card from Andree’

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Last week, my husband and I traveled to Costa Rica for an amazing week of adventures. Generally speaking, I have a fear of snakes that goes back to my childhood living near a creek in Mississippi. Through the years living near the Bayou Teche, I’ve come to appreciate that there are good snakes and bad snakes. That is to say, venomous and nonvenomous, as my naturalist friend corrects me.

While in Costa Rica, we took a fearful walk through the rainforest. It was frightening on many levels, the highest one being that we walked over numerous hanging bridges while rain poured down and thunder rolled in the distance. I did not feel safe. I took it slowly while our guide did not. She rushed us along, thus leaving me and a few other slowpokes behind.

At one point in our rainforest trek, the guide stopped us all to point out a small yellow flower. Yet it was not an exotic flower; it was a venomous snake known as the eyelash viper. I had hoped to see a poison dart frog, but this snake was not on my “want to see” list. I did not take the picture. I stood at a safe distance. The guide took the photo with someone’s iphone and we later airdropped it to everyone.

Eyelash viper, rainforest of Costa Rica

A Google fact search turned up this frightening fact: “Since they can be bold shades of green and yellow, they’ve accidentally been transported to other countries with exported bananas.” Yikes! Can you imagine finding this in your bananas?

Now I am home and on my morning walk, I nearly stepped on this little guy.

Innocent ribbon snake, New Iberia, Louisiana

This small striped ribbon snake is more my speed when it comes to accepting that there are snakes in this world. He’s actually kinda cute, don’t you think? And totally harmless.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Two months ago today, I took my mother to see my father in the hospital for the last time. He was not responsive. She held his head and kissed it over and over saying, “I love you.” He died the next morning.

I never heard my parents say “I love you” to each other. My father told me he believed that if you said it often, it would lose its meaning. Ten years ago, after he had colon surgery, I vowed to tell them both I love you every time I talked to them on the phone. Mom would respond, “hmm hmm.” Dad would say something like, “me, too.” Over Covid isolation, they finally said an audible “I love you.”

But this doesn’t mean they didn’t love us or each other.

Yesterday in the dining hall of the retirement home, a resident said she’d never seen such a loving family. She said we cradled my mother. I said, “I wish I could cradle her every day.”

Alzheimer’s is trying to take my mother away from us. She knows Dad died. She knows we planted a tree in his memory. She visits it every day. However, when we took her across the hall to look at a one bedroom apartment for her to move into, she said, “Is Dad moving, too?” I hugged her and said, “No, he’s gone. But he’s in your heart.”

My brother said, “Taking up less space.” We laughed. That’s something Dad would say. He loved irony.

Then Mom said, “You suppose I could find another man?” More laughter.

Mom at the Columbarium visiting Dad on Father’s Day.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

My friend and colleague Erica called me during my Covid days, the last week of school, and asked what she could do to help get my room ready for summer. I told her she could box all the books on the shelves. I have plastic bins for this purpose. She didn’t call me back, so I wasn’t sure if it had been done.

On Monday last week I took Tuffy with me to check on my classroom. I thought I might be there for hours getting it packed up for cleaning. Lucky for us, there was Sophie, the 10 (almost 11) year-old daughter of my principal. She entertained Tuffy while I checked on things. To my pleasant surprise, the only space left to clear was my desktop. All the books were not only boxed, but the bins were neatly stacked over the cubbies. No packing or heavy lifting necessary.

I called Erica to thank her and asked if we could meet somewhere with her daughter (who I taught a few years ago). I wanted to treat her. We decided to meet at a local splash pad. That was the best decision ever. While Erica and I talked, Rylee and Tuffy played.

Tuffy enjoying the shower at the splash pad.

I enjoyed the splash pad so much that I insisted that we meet there on Saturday to play with Leo and Stella. What fun! I made a reel on Instagram of Stella hunting for a ladybug decal.

Because I was sick the last week of school, I did not feel like I had properly said goodbye to my students, so I texted their parents and set up a play time at the splash pad. I brought them bubble sets and bought each a snowball. A perfect day!

One of the lagniappes (a little something extra) of our time together was the relaxed atmosphere for talking with parents. I teach my students year after year while they are in elementary school. Relationships with parents are essential. Without much effort at all, and a lot of fun, the splash pad has saved my life.

Some of my students and me at the splash pad.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

As I was resting on the sofa in my living room, I heard a light tap on the window. Oh, no, I thought. We’ve had times before that a bird has flown into the window and either died or been stunned. I expected to see a poor thing lying lifeless on the deck, but instead was surprised by fluttering. The little guy flew to a nearby branch and stayed long enough for me to identify him as a Prothonotary Warbler.

I studied this swamp beauty when I was writing Swamp Song (which has yet to find a publisher).

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary warblers live in wooded swamps and forage above slow moving water. They hop among branches of downed trees searching for insects and snails to eat. They are a bright yellow color with blue-gray wings and tail. The male will select a nesting cavity in holes left behind by woodpeckers and chickadees. Prothonotary warblers are declining due to habitat loss. Prothonotary warblers got their names from the bright yellow robes worn by clerks for the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church known as prothonotaries. 

From Swamp Song by Margaret Simon

I am on the council for the T.E.C.H.E. Project as an education consultant, so I called our president who is a biologist and knows about birds. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Patti, I know some people believe their parents come back to them in cardinals, but I think my dad is visiting me in a Prothonotary Warbler.

Patti: Yeah. Yeah?

Me: No, really. This male bird is coming to my window and fluttering wildly. I’m afraid he’s going to hurt himself. What should I do?

Patti: It’s likely a young juvenile who sees himself in the reflection. They are very territorial. He’s stupid. He thinks he sees another bird.

Me: So, he’s just strutting his stuff!

Patti: Yeah, he’s showing off for ya’!

My first thought was my dad was not that kind of guy. Showy. No strut. But he was one who liked to tell jokes and hear people laugh. So before I chased the bird away from the danger of the window, I looked up at his sunny self and smiled! Thanks, Dad!

Prothonotary Warbler in cypress tree. (Not a bad shot for through a window with an Iphone.)

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

On Poetry Friday, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater posted on The Poem Farm a slide show created by teacher/author Emily Callahan. Her 4th graders have been writing proverb poems after Amy’s. I shared the slide show with my student Chloe. She was inspired to write a prequel to Ms. Callahan’s students’ prequel poems. Here is her Fanschool page, Prequel Crazy.

Here it sits
covered from the rain a chess board
broken into pieces.
I allow access to
the board.
He has found a new home. 
I glue it,
I wash it,
I rinse it,
I dry it,
I wrap it up
and drive along a bumpy road
the perfect gift 
to my daughter
She asks, ” Where did you dig this up from?”
“One man’s trash is another mans treasure
Maybe you can do the same
Like with a blanket?”

Chloe, 6th grade

I wrote alongside Chloe. A poem about my sister’s plan to create a quilt from my father’s shirts. I left the last line blank so I could make it a prequel to Chloe’s. We enjoyed this playful poem making. Thanks, Amy and Emily!

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”

The girl sees patterns,
pictures in her father’s shirts,
into a quilt of many colors,
into a memory of many hugs,
into a dream of everlasting rest.
She sees more than anyone
a life lived as a husband, a father,
a doctor, an artist, a friend.
She touches every day what he wore,
a treasure in her hands.
Maybe you could do the same.
Maybe with a chess board.

Margaret Simon, draft

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

My friend and fellow writing group member Linda Mitchell led the writing prompt for #verselove at Ethical ELA yesterday. She directed us to use the steps in the scientific method to craft a poem. As many of you know, my father died on Friday morning. If you follow my blog, I’m afraid there is nothing else so pressing on my mind than this and the care for my mother. Writing is healing for me.

A Place at the Table

You could make this place beautiful.
Can you float a flower in the vase and call it home?
Flowers, a white cat, a black dog, coffee brewing, what could be missing?
The empty seat at the table is cold, lonely.
I move over, sit in his chair, open the last book he was reading.
Time will fill the space at the table, even in the midst of absence.
There will be beauty again.

Margaret Simon, draft
Louisiana iris in our bayou bog

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Thirty-four days. Our wood duck hen sat for thirty-four days. We were losing hope, afraid the freeze back in March did it. On Sunday morning I got a text from a bayou neighbor, “Today is jump day for one of our houses!”

“Our duck has been sitting for 34 days. No hatching yet. I’m not sure we should keep waiting.”

“Mine sat for longer than usual.”

So I flipped over to our RIng app. Did I hear cheeping? Mother hen was eating a shell. They were hatching!

You probably want to know how many, but it’s nearly impossible to count when they are little blurry black blobs wiggling.

Monday was Jump Day. It was also a school/work day. We had to rely on the camera. Jeff set up a new Ring camera outside of the house in order to record the jump. Around 10:00, I checked the cameras. Gone. All the ducks had jumped. I missed it, but the camera did not.

As I showed the video to my student, Avalyn, she named the little ducklings. “Come on, Tiffany, you can do it!” she urged as one of the babies hesitated to jump. Avalyn also wrote a poem-song (impromptu) to celebrate Jump Day!

Wood duck, wood duck
open your shell.
Come out, come out, come out now!
Little duck, little duck,
quack with your snout.
Little duck little duck, little duck
don’t you frown
Come play in the bayou
and make no sound.

Avalyn, 2nd grade
Jump Day, 2022: Watch the lower right corner to see Momma Duck come back to get a wayward duckling.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Today is March 31st, and I have successfully written a blog post every day this month. Today, many of us in the Two Writing Teachers community are breathing a little easier knowing we made it. Earlier this year, I received an Emergency Encouragement Writing Kit from Irene Latham. When it came time to make a new journal cover, I cut out this quote and placed it front and center.

I don’t always (actually, rarely do I) believe it to be true. But just in case it is what the world needs from me, I keep at it. I have to thank you, my dear reader, for your dedication to listening. You honor me with your presence.

According to Kate DiCamillo, writing is a “sacred task”. And though I am not and never will be a writer like Kate, I believe that what I do here is sacred.

It matters. Story matters. What we do matters.

I attended a mental health seminar last night. I was pleasantly surprised that there was food and wine. The intention of the evening was to let teachers know their own self-worth. The speaker was a local counselor who talked about ways to take care of ourselves. She repeated a mantra: “I am worthy. I am enough. I am amazing.”

We all have times when we feel like imposters. Writing a blog post each day that friends and strangers can read makes you vulnerable. Often I feel like I don’t know what I am doing. Thank you for reading and appreciating and caring.

Tomorrow begins a new chapter: National Poetry Month. I am committing to writing a poem each day and leading my students to do the same. April is my favorite month of the year. Click here to read a post I wrote for Cardinal Rule Press about National Poetry Month. Happy writing. Happy reading.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

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