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A Story for the Summer Bonfire

This story was inspired by the writing prompt for Kate Messner's Teachers Write blog.  Thanks, Kate!

This is the best bonfire ever. 

All the Oreos I can eat.

A warm fire.

What more can I ask for?

These are the friendliest campers that I have met in years.  They invite me right into their site, and they are feeding me nonstop.  Mama and the little ones are going to be so jealous.  Maybe, I should save a few Oreos for them.  No, I’ll eat them myself.

The young people are drinking a lot from those cans of Busch.  I wonder what Busch water tastes like?  And that one girl keeps laughing whenever anyone says anything, even if it isn’t funny.  She seems to be drinking the water faster than anyone else.  There is another boy who must have an ash in his eye because he keeps winking at the girl sitting next to him.  She looks annoyed.  Everyone in the group is so happy that I am here.  They keep saying that it is so cool.  This group of people are so much fun.

“Good evening!” says the guy dressed in all green.  I recognize him.  I think they call him Ranger.  “Just making sure that all of you aren’t sleeping at this site.  Only six campers on each site.”

All the young people shake their heads, point at other campsites, and tell him not to worry.  I guess that is where they are sleeping tonight, but he still looks worried.

“Quiet hours start at 10:00, so in about fifteen minutes you all are gonna have to quiet it down.”

They all shake their heads and pull up a seat for him.  Oh no, this is going to ruin the campfire party.  This guy always seems to ruin the party.  But tonight it seems like everyone is still getting along and having fun.  Ranger is even telling stories and all the people are laughing.  His stories don’t seem very funny, so maybe they are just trying to make him feel good.  They are begging him to have a Busch water, but he keeps saying no.  He is no fun!

All of a sudden, the Ranger stops smiling and laughing, and he is looking right at me.  What is wrong with this guy?  It looks like he has seen a ghost.

“Nobody move,” he shouts.  “How long has he been here?” he says looking in my direction.

“About an hour.  We’ve been feeding him Oreos and it seems like he is enjoying our company,” says the boy in the baseball cap.  Boy, he nailed it.  I’m loving this!

“Have you folks lost your minds?  You are never, ever supposed to feed a bear.”  And then Ranger is up wildly banging things together and trying to scare me away from my comfy spot by the fire.  I sure would love one of them marshmallow and chocolate sandwiches, but this guy is acting crazy.  I gotta get out of here before he throws something at me.

I’m up and running again.  I hope Ranger isn’t following me.  I know my friends are going to miss me because I can hear them talking about me.

“Aw, why did you have to scare him away?  He wasn’t doing anything wrong,” says the girl who has two Busch waters in her hands.

Don’t worry.  I will be back later for more food.

This story is based on a true story told to us many years ago while camping in Inlet, NY.  A park ranger told us this story, and unless he was making it up, which I doubt because like teachers, I believe park rangers are trustworthy people (maybe I’m being naïve).  Of course, this story is told from the bear’s perspective (very different from the ranger perspective that I heard), but it is a story that I will never forget.  I just told the story at a bonfire this past weekend.  Happy camping!

Another wonderful Monday Morning Warm-up activity from Jo Knowles.  To recognize the first day of officially planning (lesson plans and activities) for the upcoming school year, I wrote this:

3 First day of


5 Expectations high with smiling faces

4 First day of school

6 Locker combinations that keep them guessing

8 New backpacks, sneakers, lunch bags, and pencil pouches

2 Pristine binders

9 New teachers, classrooms, friends, schedules, grading policies, and opportunities

9 Tension dissipates by lunch time, excitement begins to blossom

5 First day of sixth grade

Thank you, Jo - Another fun writing activity to start the week!

A Fun Monday Morning Warm-Up Prompt

Excerpt for today's Monday Morning Warm-up (from Jo Knowle's blog):

           “I had to save the neighbor’s kitten that got caught up in a tree,” Chris says while kneeling on the front steps with both hands together praying.  “Ali, you gotta believe me.”

I tried smiling, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about how he stood me up last night.  I waited on a park bench on the south end of Lincoln Park until 7:30.  When I texted Kristy and Maggie, they texted back that he was nothing but trouble and they knew it all along.  I met them at North Pole Ice Cream to drown my sorrows with mint chocolate chip.

“Am I supposed to believe that story,” I say rolling my eyes to exaggerate my anger.  “I went for ice cream at the North Pole last night and walked right by your house.  No emergency cars.  No cameramen.  No kitten.  Nice try.”

While he stands their speechless, I get a text from Maggie, “rumor has it he was with nother grl  - some1 named bethany davies”

“Can you stop looking at your phone and listen to me for a second?  I had to go to the hospital.  See, the seven-year-old girl from next door followed her kitten up the tree and she’d fallen from about twelve or fourteen feet.  That was the first thing I saw when I walked out the door to get the mail, so I grabbed the first aid kit and rushed over to her.  She was bleeding all over, a bad cut on her elbow, and was knocked unconscious.  So, I wrapped her arm up with bandages, called 911, and waited with her.  When the ambulance got there, I went up the tree and got her kitten.  I was so worried about her that I went with her mom in the ambulance to the hospital.  I was going to call you, but I dropped my phone next to the tree when I went up to get the cat.  A fireman left the phone with my mom.  I was at the hospital until around midnight.”


“Yeah right.  Great story!  Maggie was right.  You are nothing but trouble.”

“But, I swear it’s true.  Maggie and I have been friends forever and I think she is just jealous.  I think that she likes…”

I interrupted before he could say she liked him.  The nerve.  “Whatever?  I never want to see you again.”  And I slam the door in his face.

I was so upset that I went right to the living room where Dad was watching the news.  I didn’t want to be by myself.  Maggie was right.  Chris was trouble.

“Who was at the door?” Dad asks as I sit down in the chair next to him.

“No one.”

“I thought that it was your friend Chris.”

“He is no longer my friend.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

But before Dad could say anything else, Chris’s picture is on the television screen.

“Dad, turn up the television.” I say.

“Last night, a teenager from Madison Heights played the role as neighborhood hero by helping a little girl who had fallen from a tree and then climbing the tree to save her cat.  Fifteen-year-old, Chris Fleming, arrived at the scene just seconds after seven-year-old Bethany Davies had fallen from about fourteen feet.  Bethany was knocked out by the fall and cut her right elbow open.  Chris would call 911, wrap her arm up in bandages, wait until the ambulance came, climb up the tree to get the kitten, and then go in the ambulance to the hospital with Bethany.  Bethany received eleven stiches in her arm and suffered a concussion.  Bethany’s mom said that Chris stayed at the hospital until they were sure that she was okay.  What an uplifting story with a happy ending!  Way to go, Chris!” the newsman said with a huge smile on his face.

Oh no!  Tears begin to come.

I ran out of the room and head to the front porch.  I need fresh air.  I text Chris as soon as I get to my room, “sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry!”  After a few minutes, Chris still has not responded, so I call him and he does not answer.  I text him again and he does not reply.  What am I going to do?

I call Maggie and she picks up on the first ring.

“Mags, I made a huge mistake.  Chris really did help a little girl and save a cat.”

             Maggie cuts me off, “I can’t talk right now.  I am meeting Chris at Lincoln Park.  He is all upset that you dumped him, and he needs me.  Big bummer that you didn’t believe him.”  And she hangs up the phone.

Thanks, Jo!  I had so much fun writing this - I've been missing the middle school today, so this brought me back for an hour.  I love summer vacation, but I love teaching just as much.

Stuck in the rain!

Check out this activity from Teachers Write! - http://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write-710-tuesday-quick-write/#comment-26406

I love this activity and posted my exact post from Kate Messner's blog.  This is a great writing activity for the classroom.  This is a great activity for newbie writers (like me).

As soon as we exit the hospital, Grandma is running again and heading down Pelican Boulevard South towards the island.  I hurry to mount the seat of the old ten-speed bike and have to put my foot down on the pavement to get my balance.  My frantic state is being caused by how quickly Grandma is getting away from me.  Is she trying to lose me?  Once I get my balance, I anxiously pedal the bike down the boulevard.  When I finally catch up to Grandma, sweat is covering my forehead, and the fatigue is slowing my pace.

Just then the clouds open up and the dark sky releases thousands of buckets of water all at once.  Oh no!  Now I have no chance at keeping up with Grandma.  She isn’t even fazed by the torrential downpour.  In fact, she slows down only to pull a rain poncho from her backpack.  I had no idea there was anything even in that backpack.

“Do you have one for me?” I scream, but either she doesn’t hear me with the noise of the rain or she is ignoring me.

Vrooooom, boooom, varooooom.  The sound of thunder sends a rush of fear through my body and nearly knocks me off of my bike.  Not even three seconds later, a flash of lightning lights up the entire coast.  Where did this storm come from?  Why wasn’t their any warning?

“Grandma, shouldn’t we take cover?”

“No.  It’s just a “Southern Quickie” is what I like to call it.  This storm will be over in a few minutes.”  She still hasn’t slowed her pace.  “Most northerners, like yourself, run for cover.  Trust me, you’ll be fine.  Keep up!”

I just keep my eyes glued to the road, riding along while ignoring the booming thunder and streaking lightning, and praying this storm will end.

The first paragraph is from my WIP and the rest I added as the rain started to fall.  Thanks again, Megan!

A prompt, a lyric, and a poem

I took my favorite line – Lifetimes are catching up with me by my favorite musical poets Pearl Jam and wrote this poem

Emotions are spilling over
Wandering the empty hallways
Pulling together all of the loose ends
The last day of a long school year

My last trip to the classroom
Only to lock the door for the summer months
There is the stranger sitting
In the middle of the fourth row

“You don’t remember me,” she says
“I sat in this desk 22 years ago”
The memories flood back
Period 3, language arts

“You were my favorite teacher”
“I’ve been teaching 6th grade for twelve years”
“Because of you”
I left my mark, I made a difference

Lifetimes are catching up with me
22 years after my first class
Hundreds of students have sat in my classroom
Sadness as I lock the door, but a new group in September

I wrote this using the Teachers Write prompt from Thursday, July 5th.  31 days in and still learning and writing!

Excerpts from the Final Week of School

Monday morning: A Skype with award-winning author, Kathryn Erskine - What an unbelievable way to end the school year!  Ms. Erskine answered over a dozen questions about Mockingbird and The Absolute Value of Mike, talked about inspiration for both stories, gave writing tips, and told the kids about her upcoming book, which we can't wait to read.  Mockingbird and The Absolute Value of Mike are must reads for both kids and adults - the perfect books to read with your child.

Tuesday: I wrote a poem for Teachers Write! - 

I don’t believe in giving up
I don’t believe every kid is the same
I don’t believe in saying, “I can’t”
I don’t believe chivalry is dead
I don’t believe in leaving one child behind while the rest move ahead
I don’t believe learning should be restricted to a classroom
I don’t believe in rewarding a child that does not deserve it
I don’t believe children should be unkind to each other
I don’t believe in playing favorites
I don’t believe that discouraging a child that is trying is productive
I do believe, therefore I teach.

Wednesday: Finished an excellent book entitled The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner - a must read!

Friday: Last day of school - Teachers Write! inspired me to approach a few teachers in the building about a writing critique group.  They were thrilled about the idea, and we are planning to meet in July.

What a week!

Teachers Write! A List Poem

Thank you to Jo Knowles for this Monday morning warm-up.  I overcame two writing obstacles with this poem - 
1.) I wrote a poem and I am posting it - I write poetry, but not well and never post or publish
2.) I wrote about a topic that I rarely even talk about - I am like the person, my dad, that I wrote it about - quiet about my personal life (because I don't like to burden people with it)
Here goes:

Myasthenia gravis

a neuromuscular disorder

sometimes the unexpected

can lead a man to do the expected

something he has done is entire life

my father let the unexpected

remind us of what we expect from him

what we love about him

quiet shyness

loss of voice, which would be difficult for most

not him

and by relearning to speak, he found his voice and sixty years of stories

a new voice

that rivals my sister, the talker

that humble smile

the ventilator tube to assist breathing blocked his mouth

but his smile could be seen in the wrinkles of his eyes

never being a bother to the nurses

telling us everything was fine

(when it definitely was not)

don’t worry about me

true willpower

believing, like he believes in me

that he could reteach his muscles everything

and never giving up

each day another breath on his own

then another step until he was walking around the room

and I cheered

lasting determination

something he has never lacked

on the golf course, workplace for thirty plus years, and raising a family

it was on display again

going from the intensive care bed

to the eighteenth fairway

in a matter of months

he reminded us of everything that we already knew about him

but he also reminded himself

of what he was capable of doing

he instilled quite shyness, a humble smile, willpower, and determination

in his kids and their kids, his grandkids

who think he is grand

he taught us the power of love

and family

and we love him for all of this.

A Field Trip to an Awesome Library

How do you improve upon your teaching and your school building's daily practices?  You visit a neighboring district's middle school and see how they operate.  Today, we were looking at the library and it was magnificent.  This story is in honor of our trip to the library and was inspired by Kate Messner's Teacher's Write! program.  Thank you to both!

The library at my old middle school was so inviting.  It had wooden chairs and large, heavy wooden tables that were perfect for spreading out books while researching or for looking at a large non-fiction book about World War II.  Surrounded by the tables were old couches with wooden frames and worn-out, beige cushions.  This is the perfect place to get comfortable and read a great mystery, fantasy, or realistic fiction book.  I could get lost in a book for the entire study hall period, and sometimes even forget that I was in school.  Will my new school’s middle school library even come close to feeling as much like home as my former school’s library?

My palms are sweaty and the butterflies in my stomach feel like they are going to carry me away.  Patrick, my first day of school buddy that is showing me around the new middle school, is leading me to my most favorite part of the school, the library.  In my mind, the library is the hub of the school.  We turn the corner and follow the pink arrow pointing to the library entrance.  I am almost dizzy with anticipation, and as we walk through the door my anticipation fades away almost instantly.

The most enthusiastic librarian that I have ever met meets me at the door and greets me by name. This library is like no other library that I have ever been in.  There are couches that are surrounded by books.  There are workstations in the front and back of the library, both surrounded by books.  There are smiling library assistants showing other new students around the library, and the best part, there is a small poster at the reference desk that is advertising that the library is looking for student helpers.  Did I read the poster right?  Can I volunteer to help in the library?

As I take a flyer about helping from the desk, Patrick asks, “How was the library at your old school?”

I almost feel like a traitor, but I have never been in a library that is more inviting, so I answer, “Nothing like this.”

And then I turn to the librarian and ask, “When can I start helping in the library?”

I think that I’m going to like this new school.

Note: I wrote this in honor of a library that I got to go visit this afternoon.  Our middle school’s librarian, assistant, two teachers, and I got to visit a neighboring district’s library and it was VERY impressive.  Thank you to Susan Kowalski and the staff at Pine Grove Middle School for being great hosts.  Also, congratulations on being named the 2011 National School Library Program of the Year (from what I saw today, this is very much deserved award).

See article: http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/news/ala/pine-grove-middle-school-named-national-school-library-program-year 

Teachers Write!

I'm back after a long layoff.  I was tired of reading about me, so I took some time away from the journal.  I want to be able to share things I've learned through the process of getting published and my daily writing activities/lessons that I utilize in the classroom.  "Teachers Write!" has inspired me to start posting again with my first post being assignment #1: Finding time to write.

  1. I find that I waste time in the evening after the kids are in bed and it is easy to just sit down and space out.  I usually fill the time by grading papers, which I could do during the school day (sometimes), or reading a book.  Reading a book is a good problem to have, but it gets in the way of my writing.  During the school year, I read only middle grade novels so I can keep up with my students.  I need to dial it back a little and make thirty to thirty-five minutes of time to write in the evening.  Once I get writing, I get a second wind, but I need to tell myself thirty-five minutes only, so I can keep up on sleep, which is something that I am usually lacking.
  2. The goal of thirty to thirty-five minutes, with longer durations in the summer, is a fair goal for the finish to this school year.  My summertime goal is an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.  I was able to accomplish this last summer and often spent extra hours in the evening writing, especially when my wife was out with friends or at book club.
  3. I will write in my favorite spot – front porch with a nice cold beverage (nothing beats it in the summer time).  This has to be in the evening when the kids are fast asleep or in the early morning (juice is my drink) before they are awake.  Because of the nice weather, I have already been able to utilize my favorite writing spot.  When the weather is wet and cold, I will head inside and write anywhere (I have learned to tune things out – I believe having four kids have helped me do that).  Of course, I will continue to carry around my notebook and make little notes when they pop into my head (I had a “writer’s moment” during my son’s soccer game on Saturday and the head coach, I am the assistant, thought that I was writing down a playJ).
  4. Like with everything in my life, I will share my plan with my family.  I love to share with my family because they are always positive and encouraging.  I will also share with my new writing partner at school.  Hopefully, they will help to keep me on track with my writing.
One thing that I have not taken a layoff from is writing, so I have a question for you (for current picture book idea).  What is your favorite childhood memory (example - mine was building forts)?  What is your favorite kind of ice cream?  My main character is currently eating cookie dough (boring), so I was hoping for something more fun and a little different.

Wacky Wednesday!

My oldest daughter and I set off for Beaver Lake State Park in Baldwinsville, New York for our third annual bird watch on Monday morning.  We have been taking part in The Great Backyard Bird Count for the last three years.  In fact, the first year that we participated she presented our findings at a science fair at her school.  This year, we were out to see as many birds as possible and also get some great pictures.

The lake was frozen, which was amazing because this has been one of the mildest winters on record in Central New York.  But the frozen lake did not deter us from some excellent bird watching.  We found a great spot and set the timer for some good bird watching.  In fifteen minutes, this is what we saw:

Our favorite!

Wacky Wednesday - I was out for an unbelievable afternoon run when I came across some wild turkeys.  Yes, four wild turkeys that had lost their way and ended up in the suburbs.  The weather was perfect for running (cloudy, a little rain, and temps in the high 40s), and I was running 7:00-7:30 splits.  I was about a mile away from home (7 miles into the run) when I ran into the turkeys.

I was unsure of what to do.  Do I slow down and wait to see what they do?  Or do I keep on running with hopes of getting home in a little over an hour (8 miles)?  I choose to keep on running and my new running friends followed.  At the time, I was so nervous that the turkeys were going to attack me.  As I ran the first ten meters with them, I was thinking if I have ever read of turkeys attacking a runner.  I could not think of any such news article, so I kept on running.  This is when the unbelievable happened.  They ran along side of me (actually a little in front of me) for almost .2 miles.  The entire time we were running together, I was picturing what someone watching might be seeing, and I was wishing that I had my camera.

After .2 miles of running with me, the turkeys gave up and headed into someone's front yard (looking for food or a small forest or wooded area, which was located behind the house).  I laughed the whole way home and credited those four turkeys for my finishing time - 8 miles in 1:01:19.  Some have run with the bulls, which I can't say I've done, but now I can say I have run with the turkeys.

Writing - Due to the vacation, I have had tons of time for writing, which I desperately needed.  I have another planned night of writing ahead of me (well with a little break to watch Modern Family).