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A painted sign in my daughter’s neighborhood. We had to take a picture, but Leo, having been released from the stroller, wanted to get down and walk.

I’ve been participating in Ethical ELA’s monthly 5 day writing challenge. I love this community of friends. On Sunday, the mentor text was a poem “What I Want Is” by C. G. Hanzlicek. The prompt is here.

On Friday night and Saturday morning, we had Leo who is now 14 months and loves to walk. I took him outside in our backyard and next door to swing. My neighbor has 2 grandsons, too, so she has set up baby swings hanging from a tree. I really could not imagine anywhere else I’d rather be. So the prompt led me to this poem.

What I want is
what I have

when I’m with him
walking hand around finger

down the hill
to the bayou

to wave at the canoers
even though they don’t

see us swinging
from a rope

in the oak tree
laughing just because

there are wildflowers
too many to count

and a cool breeze
to catch our smiles on

a day of only us
pointing at birds

flying overhead
Bird 1 Bird 2

Margaret Simon after C.G. Hanzlicek

On Monday I combined the Ethical ELA prompt to write a This is Just to Say apology poem with the image posted in Laura Shovan’s February poetry project.

photo by Jone MacCulloch.

This is Just to Say

I missed the turn
to school today.
My eyes were on
the clouds

So soft and floating
like giant snowdrifts
above me in bouquets
of white roses.

Forgive me,
I’m late
my head in the clouds
dancing around in their fluff.

Margaret Simon, draft, after William Carlos Williams

Finding daily prompts in my email inbox help me to pick up the pen and notebook and make something. Creativity feeds my soul. The positive loving feedback is fun, too.

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Photo by Kay McGriff: “This photo is from one of our favorite activities twice each year–the Friends of the Muscatatuck River Society River Clean up.”

I have been writing a lot of poems lately with my students as we respond daily in our notebooks and with a Facebook group for Laura Shovan’s February Poetry Project.

The picture above was shared by Kay McGriff. She and her family participate in a twice-a-year river clean-up. I haven’t done this yet, but living near the bayou, we see all sorts of things drift by. This picture inspired me to look into this project.

Armed with an article, I decided to create a Bop poem. I was introduced to this form by my friend and critique partner, Linda Mitchell. Here’s a link to the form: https://poets.org/glossary/bop

The quote comes directly from an article about the cleanup. http://www.therepublic.com/…/river_society_hosting…/

People are messy.
Rivers are easy to access.
Everything can be found–
shoes, tires, buckets, balls–
whatever falls in
sinks to a watery grave.

“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we find.”

Someone found a car,
an old boat motor, ten feet of rope.
It’s all trash pollution
and doesn’t belong here
buried in our drinking water.
Imagine what the fish are thinking.
People are crazy!
Let’s get out there and clean it up!

“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we find.”

So share in the fun
of the Annual Spring River Cleanup.
There’s something for everyone to do.
Volunteers will collect whatever they find
walking the bank or paddling a canoe.
Together we can save the river.

“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we find.”

Margaret Simon, draft 2020

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Over the weekend news traveled quickly of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death and the heart-wrenching revelation that his 13 year old daughter died with him. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I knew my students would come Monday talking about this tragedy. So when I saw Sara Ahmed’s tweet, I took notice.

I copied Kobe’s poem Dear Basketball. We talked about Kobe, about the accident, and read aloud the poem. Later in the day, I saw a Facebook post of this video, so my last class watched the video as well.

As a writing prompt, I told my students they could write a letter to something they love or write a letter to Kobe from his basketball. This prompt worked especially well with my boys. I want to share three of my students’ poems.

Dear Kobe

From the first time  you made me
from a ball of socks
and threw me into a hoop,

I knew that you would become
one of the greatest.
I knew that you dreamt of being one of the greatest,
by how you put your heart and soul
into me,
day and night,
never resting.
You put your blood, sweat,
and tears into me.

You worked day and night,
making shot after shot
after shot after shot,
until you were finally able
to put on that Lakers jersey 
with me in your hand,
doing the thing you love the most.

I am grateful for all the
years we spent together,
but as you grow older,
your body isn’t into
running up and down the
court,
throwing the ball into the
hoop,
but I know your heart
will always be with me
forever and ever.

From Basketball

Shaelon, 6th grade

To leave comments for Shaelon, click here.

Dear Kobe,

While you pretended
to make game-winning shots,
I knew one thing:

I was meant for you.

Loving me,
giving me your hardest.

You saw me as a kid,
and you came running to me,
never turning back.

I asked for a little,
you gave me a lot.

While I called to you,
and you practiced for me,
coming my way.

The way of a legend.

But dreams
can’t last forever.

Not all at least.

You stayed with me,
and I stayed with you.

I stayed in your heart,
as you threw me in the trash,
and I knew,
you would come,
and get me out.

The trash,
was just your basket,
and our way of staying
together.

Always.

Love you,

Basketball

A.J., 6th grade

To leave comments for A.J., click here.

Dear green pen,

From the moment
I took you out of the bag
and started writing poems in a notebook
that is full of blue loose leaf,

I fell in fondness of you

I used you with my wrist to my fingers

A 12 year old boy
deeply in fondness of you
I never saw the end of the sentence
I only saw words


and so I wrote
I wrote up and down every page
after every sentence
you asked for my poems
I gave you my essays
because they are bigger.


I wrote through every cramp
not because I wanted to
but because my teacher made me

you gave this 12 year old boy a writing dream
and I am fond of you for that
but I can’t write for much longer

my teacher has to leave 
school is almost over

I’m  ready to put you back in the bag

and no matter what I write
I will always be that kid
with the pen in hand
notebook on the table
5 seconds left on the timer

5 …4 …3 …2 …1…0 and then the timer goes off 
and the pen starts going back in the bag.
Fond of you always,

-Landon

Landon, 6th grade

To leave comments for Landon, click here.

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Warning: This is another shameless Grandmother post. I received a wonderful gift from a friend, “Letters to My Grandchild”. It’s a little book with envelopes to tuck letters into. I love this idea because those books that you write in intimidate me. What if I mess up? This little book is just envelopes, so I can do multiple drafts before I place them into the book. Thanks, Dani!

I’ve been reading Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes. This book will tug at your heartstrings as Nikki overcame a terrible childhood bouncing around in foster homes and facing her mother’s alcoholism and schizophrenia. The memoir is constructed with poems and notebook entries. Each poem is a poem in and of itself. Because of this, I can share poems from the book with my students without having to read the whole book to them. The content can be too tough for my young students.

On Thursday last week, I shared the poem “The Mystery of Memory #3”.

Think food,
and nourishment
comes to mind,
but we all know
it’s so much more.
One bite of pineapple,
and my tongue sticks
to the roof of memory,
gluing me to the last moment
I savored a slice of
pineapple upside-down cake
at my grandmother’s kitchen table.

To read the complete poem, read Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.

One of my poems came out as another grandmother joy poem.

Think baby,
and crying comes to mind,
that piercing sound
first heard as life.
But we all know
it’s so much more.
So many firsts–
first bath
first smile
first step
first word.

When you send me a picture
or video text, my heart
swells with joy.
Something new,
something yours,
now mine.
A tiny finger
wraps around my finger
tingling with love.

Margaret Simon, after Nikki Grimes
A gummy Thomas smile to warm your heart.

My second grader Rylee is not yet worried about line breaks, but she heard the rhythm and sentiment of Nikki’s poem and wrote this (hands off from me) in her notebook.

by Rylee, 2nd grade

With line breaks by me:

Think
of you
buying a cake saver
for your mom,
and she’s going to open it,
then she knows what it is.
She likes it,
then she is so happy
that she bakes
a cake.

Rylee, 2nd grade

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I saw the tweets, Facebook posts, and blog posts from Michelle Haseltine, and I said, “No!” I don’t need another group to join, another challenge to conquer, anything else to do! Just. Say. No.

That “no” lasted a few days, but the more posts I saw, the more I realized that this was the perfect thing to rejuvenate writing in my life and in my classroom.

Last year at NCTE 2018, I attended a notebooking workshop (wrote about it here) with Michelle and others. I came home inspired to make a commitment to notebooking in my classroom. At the end of the year on a field trip bus, I overheard one of my students talk to another one from a different school. She said, “I love notebook writing. Do you?”

Somehow things got in the way this school year. So the #100daysofnotebooking was just the thing I needed to bring out the notebooks again. We wrote every day last week.

I printed out this page, so we could keep a count of the days.

The notebook writing takes about 20 minutes in each of my three classes. I begin with some sort of prompt. We write to the Insight Timer set to 7 minutes. Then we share. Some of my students post their writing on our class blog, but this is not required.

Watching the Facebook page is inspiring (or daunting, depending on your point of view as some posts are very creative), but there is room for every type of notebooker. I’m enjoying trying out collage, writing to poetry, and word collecting.

As we continue, I’ll know more about how my students are growing their writing skills. Right now the routine of it is working. They look forward to the time to write, the time to draw, and the time to be themselves on the page.

Here’s a gallery walk of some of our pages:

Jaden was inspired by a poem by Nikki Grimes, Journey from Ordinary Hazards.
Notebook time leads to Flow, the concept that time disappears while we are immersed in a creative activity.

Karson’s One Little Word notebook page.
Breighlynn’s poem in response to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s poem The Pie of Kindness.

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My second grandson was born in September, nine months after my first. The year of 2019 has been a big change for me as I step into this new role. Juggling two daughters requests for babysitting got a bit tricky around the holidays. Luckily it worked out that Maggie wanted New Year’s Eve and Katherine the Saturday after.

On Friday I traveled to New Orleans after an all day rain storm. The drive into the city is beautiful as the highway is bordered by swampland. I can often see herons or egrets soaring above. This time, however, I noticed the multi-color clouds on the horizon. As the sun set, a bright red rainbow appeared. I aimed my phone camera and took this picture.

Red rainbow over Nola

Julieanne Harmatz, fellow blogger from L. A., was vacationing with her husband, so we met up for a lovely dinner. On Saturday, we met at the City Park sculpture garden where there is a new Cafe Du Monde. (Beignets are a must-have on any trip to New Orleans.) By this time, I was in total charge of grandson Thomas. He was the perfect host, smiling and cooing right on cue. Julieanne took this picture of us in the Sculpture Garden.

I’m learning once again (it’s been 29 years since I had a baby) how to juggle a diaper bag, bottles, stroller and carseat, and all that goes along with caring for a baby. Even with the monitor right next to my bed, I wasn’t able to sleep Saturday night. Thomas slept just fine. I wouldn’t exchange that loving smile for anything. Being a grandma is pure joy!

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I am not much of a cook or a baker, for that matter, but I recently had results from a blood test that my cholesterol is high, so I turned to my mother-in-law.

“I seem to remember you made Papa muffins to help Jerry reduce his cholesterol,” I said.

“Yes, he’s the only person I know who reduced his cholesterol through diet,” she replied.

“Can I have the recipe?” Minga (that’s her grandma name) sent me a text with a picture of her recipe card.

Papa died in 2004, so it’d been a while since she had made his muffins, but my daughters all remember them fondly as a treat when they stayed at Minga and Papa’s house.

My first attempt was severely lacking. Once I found the Oat Bran cereal, I wasn’t sure what package meant. Was it like oatmeal that can be bought in individual packets? Thank goodness, Minga is only a text away for consultation.

“No, package means the whole box.”

The liquid to dry parts seemed uneven to me, but I followed the recipe. The muffins were dry and crumbly and difficult to eat.

Around the holiday season, I love pumpkin flavor, so I wondered how they would taste with pumpkin rather than bananas. Moister? I hoped.

A batch around Thanksgiving was good with the added pumpkin, but it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that I perfected the recipe. I only added 1 cup of flour, rather than 2 cups.

Today, New Year’s Eve, the batch is even better. I cut down on cooking time and added vanilla to the wet part. Yum! Yum!

Papa muffins will be a traditional holiday treat!

Recipe for Perfect Papa Pumpkin Muffins

1 box oat bran cereal
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 T baking powder
1 T baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
pinch of salt

Mix together

4 eggs
2 cups skim milk
1/3 cup oil
4 heavy squirts of honey
2 ripe bananas or 1 can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix wet parts and add to dry. Stir. Do not beat.
Line and spray muffin tins.
Bake at 400 degrees for 16 minutes or until brown.

Makes 24-28 muffins.

Anne Simon and Margaret Simon

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