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Story starters.

Did you know that sourdough bread has ancestors?

It’s true.

There is a yeast mixture that is passed down to start the next batch of baking. I don’t understand much about it. We had some hippy friends a few years ago who proudly showed us their jars of opaque, bubbling concoctions of ancient yeast. The location or origin of the yeast also affects taste and texture. Who knew?


Anyway, this isn’t about how to make traditional sourdough bread. It’s about story starters. How do we get our writing moving, taking “starters” and watching our ideas rise into something new and delicious?

This moring, while reading the “paper,” (which isn’t on paper, it’s on a computer screen. Can’t wrap fish in it, but hey, I don’t have any fish, so it doesn’t matter) I found these three stories:

The first one is about some sled dogs that broke free of their sled, and were rescued a few days later.

The second is about the symphony that may go on strike.

The third is about a fancy-schmancy famous restaurant in New York city that is going out of business.

There is always a ‘story behind the story,’ or even a completely new narrative waiting to be written. If those dogs could talk, what were they saying to one another? If the instruments of the musicians had something to say, what would they say? How do they feel about their musicians going on strike? And, the restaurant? How many couples got engaged there? How many tears were shed over a broken heart? How many tourists saved up every last penny just to eat, no…dine…there once in their lives?

Now get started and write.




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Once in a blue moon. (Or: cleaning out my junk drawer, literally and figuratively.)

Once in awhile, I have an urge to clean out something, a place, a nook, or a cranny that has become tangled, disorganized, or snarled by day to day living.

This year: my kitchen junk drawer.


There were: spinny things, packets of Taco Bell mild sauce, lemon zesters, pens, pencils, highlighters, bread warming bricks, olive spoons, crab forks, lobster claw crackers, can openers, slicers, dicers, and garlic presses. Oh, and an Austin Powers-esque peace sign medallion. I dumped it all out, vacuumed out the drawer, (yes, I vacuumed out the drawer), and here is the result:


 My bamboo skewers are all in one place. I know where at least four pairs of scissors are. And, if I want to make corn-on-the-cob and serve over eight people, by golly, I’ve got the corn-cob holder thingabobs. I know where my seafood utensils are (and why do I have over 20 crab forks? For the love of Pete, I will never have that many people over for crab/lobster! There will never be a time when I will need a small fork to dig out crab/lobster meat from the crevices of its exoskeletons! Who am I trying to kid?)

I also found a sense of accomplishment, albeit temporary.

Which leads me to my next thought: Blue Moons.

Do you know why they call a blue moon a blue moon? Well, it’s because there are two full moons in the span of one calendar month.

This makes me think about time.

And space.

And junk drawers.

We all choose to live our lives in either grounded, predictable safe routines or noisy, fluctuating, chaotic change. Both are good, but ultimately, I’m not sure if ‘choice’ is really part of the equation. A blue moon is an arbitrary human label given to time. We decided to demarcate time in this way. The word “moon” gives us the word “month.” The moon is just doing what it’s supposed to do –it has its own phase and cycle, and our telling it it’s twice full in one month is our label, not the moon’s. So, just as I try to change chaos into control, perhaps a little magic and intentionality are the key. I will intentionally try to make this new year a good one, try to stay more positive, less stressed, less worry. The only tools I have are calendar pages to mark the starting line we (humankind) have decided to say ‘ready, set, go!’

Happy New Year everyone, every day!

For more information on where our current calendar comes from, click here.

For more information on what the term “blue moon” means, click on this link.

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Where are we going, and how are we going to get there?


Sometimes the toughest part of my job is deciding what to teach next. It’s a matter of  balancing what you need, what you will think is interesting (so you’ll stay motivated), and having personal enjoyment out of my day, too. I know that’s selfish of me, but trust me, if I’m happy, we’re all happy.

Many of you asked what our next unit was going to be. Let me tell you that question both enchanted and terrified me. How awesome it is that you want to know! How horrible it might be if I don’t come up with something really amazing, entertaining, and captivating! (Cue Mrs. L screaming and laughing hysterically at the same time…)

Mrs. L can be a crazy lady sometimes.
Mrs. L can be a crazy lady sometimes.

So, I am still struggling with “less is more.” (That is a paradox. We will be reviewing figurative language and its importance next week, and adding some new figurative language terms to your knowledge bag.)

Less is more means if we focus closely on one thing at a time, we get more out of it in the long run. So, in theory, spending a few weeks on the Journey of the Hero helps us go deeper with our understanding, and we can take that learning with us for the rest of our lives.

Let me just say a few things about that unit: there were huge successes, and one big failure. The failure, an “epic fail,” if you will, was that many of you did not even read one book for the unit. Your spotty attendance, lack of interest, or struggling with reading, all got in your, and my, way. Remember, the first and most important rule in my class is to never read something because I tell you to. You must identify your purpose for reading, think about the big questions, and read. It’s just that simple. Your purpose for reading during this past Journey of the Hero/Transformation of the Hero unit was to witness a character going through changes, making choices, and changing from the beginning of the story to the end.

You may need to make some brave changes yourself.

The huge successes were that many of you totally, absolutely, got it, and proved it in your essays. (Which I will finish grading once I’m done blogging — a girl’s got to have her priorities, you know.)

Your writing was spectacular. I know I pushed: I left some of the thinking/questions open-ended, more vague, but you really stepped up and demonstrated that you can think for yourself, you can feel uncomfortable and still take a risk. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The student behaviors that you should value are asking questions, demanding to know why, and not accepting anything less than my best effort, or yours.

So, for this next unit, and units from now on, you will be given more time to read in class. I don’t know why I keep having to learn that lesson repeatedly, but I do. Now, many of you not only read one book, you read several. But for me, it’s not the quantity that matters but the understanding you take away. (Although the more you read, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the better you learn how to learn…huh?)

Insert Knowledge Here.
Insert Knowledge Here.

Here’s a preview of what’s next:

*Figurative Language: understanding the powerful uses of figurative language in your reading and writing is one of the best tools you can master. Figurative language is the language of poets, thinkers, artists, and communicators of all stripes and polka-dots: it includes metaphors, similes, euphemisms, paradoxes, alliterations, personification, idioms, cliches, analogies, allegories, oxymoron and my all-time comic book favorite, onomatopoeia:


*Context Clues: Context clues are specifically about understanding and widening your vocabulary. Here’s the idea: You know words. But you need to know more. If you know more, your ability to read faster and understand more of what you read increases:

 An average American three-year-old has mastered about 1,000 words. By the time he reaches adulthood, this average American will have known between 30,000 and 60,000 words.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “why is reading so important, anyway?”
That’s a good question.
Why don’t you list that as one of your:
*BURNING QUESTIONS! Yes, I have devoted about two weeks to developing your independent reading lives, possibly three weeks. We’ll see how it goes. Once you know how to develop your own reading lists and do the projects independently, you will be released to read on your own.
You may have too many resources to choose from, and our goals will be to narrow down the lists, be focused, read, read, read, and talk/write about what we’re reading.
Oh, and add “listen” to the list, too. You will be listening, looking, and using your other senses to take in information about the world around you; this is all about you: making sense of your world, for your life.
*Mythology, legends, fables, folklore, and fairy tales: We’re going to get started on that, too. When? Not sure. It bugs me to start new units in the middle of a semester, but you know what? We are not bound by the arbitrary rules of time and space! We can decide our own pace, our own course, and have freedom of choice! Hooray!
Here’s what you need to start packing: Finish your Burning Questions Resource Log sheet. Start scoping out different blogs, websites, podcasts, and book sites for a list of what you might want to read. Think about what you’re curious about, things you just want to know, and let those questions be our guide.
See you soon!
For a list of classic literature to help you gain greater vocabulary and background knowledge, check out this list:
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Friendship ring.

“Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know.” – Sarah Vowell

Kelly and Julie, circa 1968
Kelly and Julie, circa 1968

How do you make (and keep) friends? What would be your advice to someone who’s moving, or who just started at our school? How did you make your friend(s)? Do you think it’s better to have one or two close friends, or a lot of friends? Have your friends changed over time?