Stick Around & Write Something: A Writing Prompt for Teenagers

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

― William Faulkner

There is never a dull moment when you work around, and with, teenagers. After teaching high school for two decades, I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else.

A few years ago I learned an important lesson. Never underestimate the power of stickers when it comes to teenagers. One day my 9th grade students were addressing envelopes to mail letters and I offered them stickers to attach to their envelopes. They were delighted and even the unruliest of students became quiet as they intently selected the perfect sticker combination to decorate their correspondence.

This year I had a Donors Choose project funded that included, you guessed it, stickers. A few weeks ago creative writing students were overjoyed when I offered them stickers to adorn their Chromebooks and/or journals. However, first I made them write.

The following was their prompt on Google Classroom:

Attached you will find an assortment of images. Choose one of the collections of vinyl stickers and imagine that the stickers are attached to someone’s: computer, water bottle, locker, or another personal belonging. Allow these collection of stickers to tell a story. Imagine what these images say about identity and personality.

I then posted the following images:

The Sweet Life
All who wander are not lost.
Rocket scientist, or bust!
Home Sweet Home
Stand tall, my dear.
Art is life…
Adventure Seeker

This prompt works well with students who are visual learners. It provides them with a place to start writing and helps them flesh out a character.

For other teachers reading this, I hope your students enjoy this writing prompt and that it inspires them to be creative. I would love to hear from you in the comment section. As I always tell my students, our words matter.

Story Starter: Make Your Main Character Want Something

“Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Photo by Julia Zolotova on Unsplash

Today is Thursday, which means it is Focused Free-Write day in my high school creative writing course. Yesterday I posted about how I created a schedule this year to keep our class organized and on-track. With all the challenges we are facing this year due to Covid-19, it feels good to have a little structure – but still have the creative spontaneity that I crave. You can read my post here.

I read Kurt Vonnegut’s quote a few days ago and I thought it would make a wonderful prompt to get a story started. So today my students will use it as a springboard to generate a story – or an episode from a story. After all, not everything we write becomes a masterpiece. Much of what we write is practice. When we write each day we naturally become better writers.

I cannot wait to see where this prompt takes my students. I wonder what their characters will want, or yearn for? Will it be something grand or will it be something as simple as a glass of water?

Maybe your character wants spring to come?
Maybe your character hails from a dystopian society and craves freedom from an oppressive government?
Maybe your character is overwhelmed and overstimulated and wants peace and solitude. A mountain cabin? A long hike in nature? Fresh air and birdsong?
Maybe your character wants a bowl of soup (or another comfort food) from their favorite restaurant, from their grandmother’s kitchen, or even from their own culinary skills? Maybe they want to become a famous food blogger or open their own cafe?

Write for 20-30 minutes (or longer) and see what happens.

Make sure you follow my Facebook Page and follow me here for more writing prompts.

How to Organize a Creative Writing Class (Ideas for Teachers)

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

― Ray Bradbury

I genuinely enjoy teaching all of the classes on my workload. This year I am teaching 9th and 11th grade English and in previous years I have also taught 8th, 10th, and 12th grade sections too.

Teachers are not supposed to have favorites, but I have a confession to make. I do.

Creative writing.

While I celebrate all of my student writers, there is something about a group of teenagers that choose to take creative writing as an elective. While there are often a few students who may be taking creative writing because of credit requirements, or because it fits best with their schedule, most of my students in 7th hour are prodigious wordsmiths.

This year I am thrilled to have a positive, creative, and quirky group. They cheer each other up and on, they openly share their writing, and when I ask them to write – they do not take shortcuts, but instead write, write, write their hearts out.

Many of my CW students take my course more than once (some all four years of high school) and for the fall semester we focus on fiction and in the spring our focus is on poetry (though I am flexible with the genre they choose to respond to a prompt. After all, I understand deeply the sudden urge to break into verse or how some things can only be said in narrative form). Since many students take my class multiple times, I try to switch things up for them so they are not doing the exact same assignments year after year. While this may sound like a chore, I love the creativity that this affords me.

My philosophy about creative writing class is that it carves out precious time every day for my students to write. Therefore, we write daily. Not every assignment is graded (most graded assignments are credit or no credit) and students are encouraged to share with each other what they are writing. While I make sure to read everything that my students turn in, because they are generating such a large volume of work I cannot give feedback on everything they write (especially with my workload of 4 other f2f classes and 2 other online). Therefore, I ask students to let me know which particular pieces they would like me to look at closely so I can give constructive advice.

Ultimately, my priority is to create a creative writing class and environment that I would have thrived in as a teenager. I have always loved to write and it is what truly makes me feel alive. I want to share this passion with my students and help them find their voice and understand what a special and rare gift self-expression through our own writing is.

We do not have textbooks in creative writing and often the assignments I give come into being spontaneously. Honestly, some of the best ideas and assignments are developed on my thirty minute commute to work. There are several books on writing that I do draw on for lessons (I will share titles and ideas in future blog posts).

This year, due to Covid-19, I am teaching one face-to-face section of creative writing and one online. Therefore, I decided to come up with a weekly schedule to keep us organized.

Creative Writing Weekly Schedule (this is the basic framework I work around).

MONDAY: Student Generated Prompt
Each student at the beginning of the year submitted a writing prompt and I select one each Monday. Their prompt can be a photograph (visual image), a song and/or song lyrics, a passage from a novel or short story, a YouTube video, a piece of writing that they wrote, a comic strip, a news article, or anything that provides inspiration. They must include any information and/or instructions that they want to provide to the class. I feel that this

TUESDAY: Independent Project Work Day or Writing Contest Work Time. This is one day a week where they can work on a writing project that I have assigned or that they are working on as a personal journey. We also enter several writing contests and this gives them time to write. If a writing contest deadline is near, Tuesday gives us the opportunity to conduct writing workshops and give small or large group feedback on writing.

WEDNESDAY: Character Journal.
Many fiction authors discuss the “background work” they do to create realistic, colorful, and meaningful characters. They put a lot of work and attention into fleshing-out these characters and “getting to know them”. These characters become as “real” to them as you and I. Some authors experiment with their characters by writing about them in various scenarios and even going so far as to sketch out how they would look. For my students’ character journal I ask them to choose a character to develop. They can start simply by choosing a gender, an age, and some basic information about how they look etc.

After several entries, if students want to switch and work on another character that words as well. In the past when I had students develop character journals they had great success with them and some of their prompts they were able to turn them into stories and some even started turning them into novels.

I tell my students that they are not to worry about perfection. They should experiment with language, dialogue, and challenge themselves as a writer. The point of a character journal is to PRACTICE their craft.

THURSDAY: Focused Free-Write.
I assign a prompt.

FRIDAY: Flipped Day.
Our Covid-19 school year plan has a Flipped Friday each week. That means that only teachers report to school on Fridays and our face-to-face students learn online. This helps give teachers time to contact students and guardians, grants time for grading and creating online content for distance learning assignments (create Google Slideshows and videos etc.) It also is teaching our face to face students how to learn online in the event that our district gets shut down again.

My ultimate goal for Flipped Fridays would merge my Face-to-Face and Online classes for a group Read Around. Each class member would share something they wrote that week. They could share an excerpt or an entire piece – 2 to 5 minutes each)

Flipped Fridays would also be a great day for a writing workshop. Students could be assigned groups or partners to give each other constructive feedback digitally using Google docs.

Like most teachers I have a wide and varied community of teachers that I network with (both locally and nationally). I often am contacted by other teachers when they have the opportunity to teach creative writing and they ask me for advice.

One day my goal is to publish my own book (I suppose I would call it a text book of sorts) on teaching creative writing with the various prompts I have developed over the past two decades. That idea helped me create this blog. I thought until I have time to flesh out a manuscript, I could ruminate on the idea here and stimulate my own creativity and hopefully give other educators some ideas for their own classroom.

So stay tuned for more creative writing classroom tips. My plan in the next several weeks is to share some of my writing prompts that are tried and true in my classroom.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions and most importantly carve out some time for your own creativity. What are you going to write today? ❤

Make sure you follow my blog and like my Facebook page for more ideas about teaching writing.

This is me writing many years ago during a Writing Marathon that I helped organize for the Upper Peninsula Writing Project (National Writing Project)

Life Outside the Classroom

“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
― Mary Oliver


The beginning of the school year always hits me with a wave of exhaustion. I try to be gentle on myself, after all, it is a shock to the system after several months of being out of the classroom. As I near turning fifty, I am noticing that it takes a little longer for me to bounce back. This year, even more so, because of the Coronavirus pandemic. In our district, we closed up our buildings mid-March and returned in September. I have never been so happy to return to work!

It has been quite an adjustment for me wearing a mask all day while teaching. While we try to build in short mask breaks outside for our students, we have been presented with many extra challenges that has altered our teaching routine. However, I have reminded myself many times that going back to work is always a big adjustment in contrast to my summer routine. Yet, teaching is my calling. I cannot imagine doing anything else.

Last Monday was definitely a Monday. Even though this is my 20th year of teaching, each Sunday night I still get that anxious feeling. I didn’t get enough accomplished at home. I didn’t get enough school work accomplished. I am sure I am not alone.

At the end of the school day Monday, when my stepson Lukas came into my classroom, I let out a huge sigh. He too looked tired. So we both sat down and I told him a story.

When I was in college, I worked as a waitress at Marc’s Big Boy in the Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two sweet little old ladies used to come in and order “dessert first”. They’d gossip, cackle, and enjoy their hot fudge sundaes. Then they would order dinner (usually meatloaf or liver and onions). I knew to deliver their dinner to their table in a to-go container.

“Amy,” they’d tell me, “when you are our age, you get to eat dessert first! Life’s short. If we ate our dinner we wouldn’t have room for dessert.”

I loved waiting on them and always looked forward to their sage advice.

I remember this job fondly, and all my shifts were not as positive as my weekly chats with these two sweet women. Yet, it was a formative and eye-opening experience for this small town girl. I was learning about life up close by serving the public. When I truly paid attention, people were serving me wisdom. At times, more so than my brilliant professors at Marquette University (that I didn’t nearly appreciate enough at my young age).

As a teacher I often sprinkle my lessons with stories like the one I told Lukas on Monday. I remind my students to pay attention to the world around them and the people they meet. To listen to the stories of their grandparents tell and to talk to their parents. To not just answer questions with a shrug and single word response. To be engaged, alive, and connected.

To pick their heads up out of their digital devices and to listen more.

To pay attention to the wisdom glittering all around us.

Not everything we learn comes out of the classroom.

Truth-be-told, some of the most vital life lessons happen outside of an educational institution. Yet, the key is finding ways to connect these nuggets of wisdom with our own passions and curiosity about the world. School gives us an opportunity to explore our strengths and weaknesses, it allows us to network, and build our knowledge and skill base.

Monday was a long day. Like my colleagues, I had a list of things “to do” that was a mile long. I could have stayed at school for several more hours and I still would not have been finished. But sometimes you have to take care of yourself, and your family, first.

I told Lukas him that I was cashing in my dessert first before dinner card.

So we did!

He happily obliged. 😉

A Chocolate Concrete Mixer with Cookie Dough.

Monday I made time for something sweet and time for play.

What could be better than frozen custard, a boy and his dog(s), and a gorgeous place than we can call home? We all need a sacred place where we can unwind and recharge.

When you get to be my age, you learn to appreciate it all.💚

Lukas with our House Wolf Apollo and my husband’s Work Wolf K9 Nitro.
Autumn has arrived on our farm and everything is burnished and beautiful.
Gray sky and sunflowers. Our lives are full of metaphors if we pay attention.
The ponds my husband built for me (and our ducks) are my happy place!
My hydrangea starts out with frothy white blossoms which turn rosy with tinges of auburn.
Two Good Boys. ❤
I may be tired and overwhelmed at times, but I have so much to be thankful for. I love my students and my job. What more could I ask for?

Goal Setting: Making Human Connections in the Classroom

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. – Henry David Thoreau 

As I sit at my computer to type, I am sure that I join many fellow educators across the world (and all education stakeholders) with thoughts whirling with wonderment at the challenging times we are facing, and continue to face, in 2020 due to the Covid-19 virus.

If you would have told me back in the middle of March, when we closed up our school buildings due to a rising pandemic, that our lives would still not be back to normal by October, I would not have believed you. Though, what does normal mean anymore? While I admit that I am growing tired of the phrase, “The new normal” – doing things differently than we did before may be a reality that we are facing. Also, because I try to be a glass half full sort of person, maybe adapting and changing some aspects of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. 

When I think back to the spring, I never imagined that “Zoom Meetings” and “Google Meet-Ups” would become a new way I participate in professional development and communicate with my high school students, fellow educators, and administrators.

As a teacher, a writer, and a blogger one of my guiding philosophies is that our writing is a time capsule. As uncomfortable as it is at times, we are currently experiencing history and whatever medium we choose to record the Covid-19 pandemic will become a primary source document for future generations.

I am thankful to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we have not been heavily impacted by Covid-19 and that we were able to go back to school face-to-face. However, we also are providing an online option for students that the teachers in our district are instructing. Our union and Board of Education were adamant about not outsourcing these services. While it does create multiple layers of extra work for our staff, it is putting our students first by making sure if they decide to change their learning platform (to either f2f or online) their transition will be relatively seamless since what our students are learning f2f is exactly what our students are learning online.

Our weekly school schedule includes a Flipped Friday where our f2f learners stay home on Fridays to also learn online. This prepares our f2f learners for online instruction, in case we get shut-down again. This preparation should help us transition a lot easier to distance learning. While we did not feel prepared last March when our buildings were suddenly closed for the rest of the school year, we feel confident that we have a solid plan in place for the 2020-2021 school year.

In addition, our learning plan includes the wearing of masks at all times, hand sanitizers at the entrance of all classrooms and multiple areas in our buildings, all desks facing the same way, smaller class sizes, and each student is given a Chromebook to take home and use for the school year.

Unfortunately, our area has recently seen a spike in cases of Covid-19 and many school districts are closing up their f2f learning for two weeks (some more). So we are being extra diligent to make sure our students and staff are safe.

In September I began my 20th year in the classroom. While I have many tried-and-true lessons, I always like to introduce a fresh lesson to my teaching tool box. So this year I took inspiration from a friend of mine who is a teacher in a neighboring district, Paula Diedrich.

Not only is Paula a dear friend of mine and teaching mentor, she is also a fellow blogger at https://hatofmanycolors.wordpress.com/

Paula blogged about a 50-4-50 challenge that she undertook to celebrate turning 50. She came up with a list of fifty things she wanted to accomplish. Check out Paula’s List. 

Since I am going to be 50 this coming June, I have been thinking about Paula’s list and wanted to design my own. So I invited my students to join me in coming up with their own goals.

In a nutshell, this is what I told them:

2020 has been a challenging year, and depending on how you look at it, Covid-19 may have taken many things from us: The end of the school year, time with family/friends with health problems/compromised immune systems, opportunities to travel, income/jobs, spectators at sporting events (our students are only allowed 2 fans at sports contests) etc.

However, maybe Covid-19 presented you with opportunities: More time with immediate family members, an organized house and living space, time to exercise, time to read books for pleasure, home cooked meals etc. Regardless of how you view the pandemic we are experiencing, 2020 taught us to appreciate the moment we are in because things can change suddenly.

Since I teach sections of both 9th and 11th grade English I gave my students a couple of different options:

1. If you have just had a birthday, or have one coming up you can choose that number (since you have the whole year to accomplish your goal). For example: 14-4-14 or 16-4-16.

2. If you don’t have a birthday until several months and want to start right away, you can create a list of 9-4-9 (9 for 9th grade) or 11-4-11 (11 for 11th grade). This gives you the entire school year to accomplish your goal.

3. If you don’t celebrate birthdays, or are feeling extra ambitious, you can choose 21-4-21 for for 21 Things You Want to Accomplish for 2021. 

Have fun with your list and make sure your goals are realistic, but also creative! They should be measurable goals (we discussed what a “measurable goal”looks like…)

My students were encouraged to create a presentation with a variety of multi-media approaches (video, photo rich slideshow, audio/podcast, music/rap or lyric based, or a visual piece of art (example: vision board).

My students and I discussed that we are never too old to learn new things about ourselves, others, or the world around us.

Many of the 9th grade students are brand new to me, so it helped me learn something about them and helped make a human connection. (In fact, I learned about a lot of things during their presentations. My 9th grade boys taught me all about weight lifting! 🙂 ) Throughout the year we will revisit our goals and it may include adjustments and plenty of reflection.

I loved that Paula’s blog gave me something to show them and it provided them with evidence that humans are in a constant state of learning.

I thought the discussions that I had with my students about Paula’s reflection were especially beneficial. Paula did not beat herself up because she didn’t accomplish everything on her list, nor did she make excuses. She ruminated over her successes and challenges and found patterns which revealed important aspects of her life, and even her relationships. We discussed how these revelations could help Paula set future goals.

As writers we know that reflecting on our writing is essential, and I believe that by teaching our students to do this, we are helping them to be reflective about other aspects of our life.

I want to thank Paula for helping me make a vital human connection with my students this year – and in the days ahead.

As we journey through our role of teachers during these challenging times, I think it is important to show our students and ourselves some grace. As I approach my 50th birthday, it gives me wings to think of all that I have yet to discover in life. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with my students both face-to-face and online this year and I hope they feel they same way about the physical and digital classroom that we share. We have so many lessons to learn together.

In case that other teachers want to use this idea in your class, I’m sharing a few student examples. These three students dazzled me with the Vision Boards that they created.  I hope they inspire you as much as they did me.

I loved the adaptability of MP’s vision board with her goals for her Junior year. I love that Morgan made a “moveable” board with push pins that she can add to and rearrange as the year goes on. I encouraged my students to make personal and academic goals.   We discussed how self-care (managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and proper hydration and nutrition) can impact grades and success in school. I loved that Morgan created health related goals for herself as well.

In class we discussed how many families had to cancel spring break plans and summer vacations because of the pandemic. Yet, the bright side was that many students said their families ventured out to enjoy all the beautiful, scenic places around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Cameron LaChance created a Vision Board for the 11 local places she would like to visit in the UP for her Junior Year. After all, the UP is the perfect place for a Staycation. Local friends, how many of these places have you been to?  

I loved Hayden Eberle’s 3 dimensional Vision Board.
Her project really struck me as a creative way to kick off her freshman year. I cannot wait to see what other neat projects she produces and I really want to see photos of her cat in a costume. 🙂 

I wish all of my fellow educators a safe school year. The most important thing to remember in a time of uncertainty is that we are in this together. Wash your hands, check in on each other, and do not forget to do something each day that brings you joy. ❤

BEYOND THE WINDOW by Abigail McCabe (A Student’s Pandemic Journal)

The 2019-2020 school year marks my 19th year in the classroom as a secondary English teacher. I suppose this year due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, like teachers across the country, I can now add Distance Learning Teacher to my resume. Though, I would prefer the title Distance Learning Encourager. I have always felt that the word ENCOURAGER aptly describes my role as an educator. I encourage my students to read, write, and to record their impression of the world. I try to instill in them the belief that our stories and our voices matter. Our writing is our way of making our thinking tangible – it is truly our fingerprint. Our writing is a time capsule that can chart our personal, academic, and professional growth as human beings.

Our district recently unveiled our Continuous Learning Plan and our teachers, like others across the country, have been engaging students in lessons via online platforms such as Google Classroom, Zoom, DoJo, and Google Meet.

While I have been a blogger for years, I admittedly struggle with technology. Since I live in a rural location – I too had issues at first with “Equal Access” when it came to internet connectivity. However, thanks to a data boost to my Verizon jetpack, I believe I have the issues ironed out.

I am thankful for a strong network of administrators and  colleagues for the guidance and support as we navigate these challenging times. I have to give a huge shout-out to my best friend and fellow English teacher Heather Hollands for helping me come up with ideas to help keep ourselves and our students connected and engaged for the remainder of the school year. She helped me develop a plan to have students create a Pandemic Journal and a plan/log for daily reading. (Heather credits Kelly Gallagher http://www.kellygallagher.org/).

I have used this blogging platform to help model a “Pandemic Journal” to my students over the past couple of days. It gives me a way to publish my writing and hopefully connect with other educators and writers. This blog was part of my the professional development goal that I set for myself last year. When I created Glitter and Dog Hair I had no idea that I would be using it in this capacity. It is exciting that I can use it to help publish not only my writing, but the writing that my students create as well.

Here are my posts from the past couple of days. I am proud to say that I even traveled out of my comfort zone and made a couple of videos to let them know I am thinking of them:

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember
Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

My instructions to my students for their Pandemic Journal were the following:

Dear Students,
We are living through a history making moment—right now! Today, tomorrow, and the days that follow will be captured in history books. Some day, you will share stories with your children and grandchildren about living through the challenges we are facing in 2020. Because these days are historical, it is critical that we not let these events pass without capturing how they affect you, your family, your school, and your community.

How we are documenting our days – on paper, on canvas, on social media, on video – will one day become a primary resource for others to reflect on. As I often say in class, “Our writing is a time capsule.”

Since you will be “schooling” from home, I will describe here the activities to be done outside of our classroom. Here are your daily writing and reading plans: 

Daily writing (via a paper notebook of some sort) 

You will be asked to write at least a page a day in your writer’s notebook, capturing your thoughts, questions, comments, and concerns about the events that are unfolding. I want you to capture this history—your history—any way you’d like. Try to spend a minimum of an hour per week writing, hopefully more! Below are some suggestions for your daily writing, but you do not need to follow them. Feel free to generate your own thinking.

Some possibilities for daily writing:
●  Capture how this virus has disrupted your school year —including sporting events, concerts,   assemblies, dances.
●  Discuss how your daily life has been disrupted or enhanced (more time with family, family dinners etc.)
●  Share the effect it has had on your friends and family.
●  Write reviews of movies, television shows, podcasts, video games, etc., that you are turning to for entertainment during this time of social isolation. ●  Respond to any idea about the crisis you find interesting. You can respond to an article, a
broadcast, a Tedtalk, a tweet, a photograph, a podcast, a film, an Instagram (or another online) post, a TikTok video, a political cartoon or meme, a song, a conversation—anything that spurs some thinking.

As the days unfold, you will be able to find new aspects that encourage reflection. This story changes every day. Be creative: Write across genres: poetry, dialogue (just capture a conversation between people), description: zoom in on a moment you experience; discuss songs that capture these events for you; find and respond to charts and graphs worth thinking about. Or perhaps you’d like to make a scrapbook. Another idea is to write and mail a letter to a grandparent or other person who is lonely or missing you. 

Flex your voice and take risks. Be honest. Try to create writing that you will be interested in re-reading years from now. Chronicle your thinking as we navigate these uncertain days/weeks. Do not forget to record the date on every piece you write.

*Thank you again to Heather Hollands for the inspiration.

Yesterday my students started submitting their Pandemic Journal entries. One of my 8th grade students, Abigail McCabe, took my breath away with her journal response. Abigail had already impressed me with her sophisticated writing, but her writing still caught me off guard and brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thank you, Abigail for this gift. You made me remember once again why I am so fortunate to be an English teacher.  You’re a talented writer and visual artist and I knew that I had to share your response with others.

We are going through challenging times and yet, at a young age, Abigail understands the importance of stepping outside our human realm to allow nature to help heal and show us the way. Abigail’s writing reminded me of one of my favorite Louise Gluck quotes.

“It’s a mistake
to think of them
as birds, they are so often
messengers.”
~Louise Gluck

With Abigail’s permission I am sharing her entry with you. Here are her powerful words:

Beyond the Window

During the quarantine, the birds have been reliable, always coming and going, unphased by the panic of the outside world. Nestled in the everlasting pine-bows, their safe haven.

I stare distantly outside my window. The pine trees sway in the gentle breeze as the birds flutter absentmindedly around the newly filled feeder. They come and go in a timely manner. Chickadees arrive early after the sun’s early rays skim the treetops, leaping and fluttering from branch to branch. They begin their distinct and sweet call at eight, then leave at one.

Chickadees have always reminded me of my Grandma, whom has now passed. Perhaps it’s their soft coos that echo beyond the birch trees or the carefree and curious glint behind their dark eyes.

Petite Goldenfinches stick in groups of five, landing in synchronization on the snow-coated deck outside the large, smudged window. They descend down from the higher branches at three but never stay for more than an hour and a half.

When the isolation leaves me feeling hollow, like a roughly tumbled rock with a single omar– I open up the door, slinking out into the dappled sunlight, and sit quietly. I listen for the soft murmur of the wind, the slow rippling of the lakeside, the rhythmic dripping of the ice– so delicately clinging to the eve of the house. Most of all, the stories the birds tell– not with their sorrowful melodies as the snow begins to fall, but the air sifting between their feathers like sand as they skip like a rough pebble through the air. I, hardly breathing, lost in the chorus of selective silence, patiently wait. I squint against the sun, of which now is skimming the surface of the icy wasteland that meets the decaying pine-needle and mossy quilt at the abrupt shoreline. Out over the ice-glazed lake, small shoals are still visible under the surface of semi-transparent desolation. I turn my head, the ice rippling as a lone duck pulls itself out from the ice-infested waters.

I breathe deeply, the air crisp and bitter from the cold, but the sun warm and radiant- maintaining the balance– of which is like an orbit– both hot and cold interdependent on the other, there is no judgment of hot without the cold,  as of, no life without death. A cycle. Plagues in themselves are a cycle, masquerading behind face masks, a timely balance of panic and composure.

Photo Courtesy of Abigail McCabe

Please feel free to comment on and share this post.

Thank you to Abigail for generously allowing me to share your writing.

To all reading this post ~  please stay safe, healthy, and seek ways to discover joy in your life. ❤

Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

Earth Day – April 22, 2020 (entry written in paper journal @ 7:00 am)

“Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system.”
-Rose Hayden-Smith

Morning coffee in a quiet house. Just the occasional snore or grumble of a sleeping dog and the gentle rushhhhh of the aquarium.

Sleepy Apollo

Zzzzzzzzzzzz

I fight the temptation of going back to sleep after my husband leaves for work. It’s easy to fall into lazy patterns and waste the day. I am sure those who are “sheltering in place” share my struggle. Life is really thrown off balance without the regular routine of physically going to work. However, this is a reality that teachers face every year summer break arrives.

While I have gotten out of the habit, I used to always start my mornings with journal writing. The benefit of writing in the morning is it clears one’s mind, helps set the tone for the day, and charts progress from day-to-day. It feels great to begin the journaling journey again.

I’ve been spotting posts about Victory Gardens more frequently. Victory Gardens were encouraged during WWII as a way to help Americans supplement food rations and give families more fruit and vegetables in their diet. The practice of planting a Victory Garden was also used to increase morale.

I can understand the importance of wanting to feel “in control” when so many aspects of life feel just the opposite right now. Planting a garden gives one a tangible goal to focus on and gives hope for the future.

My family tries to grow as much of our own food as possible. That is one of the cornerstones of the lifestyle that my husband and I are trying to embrace. We can and freeze the majority of the vegetables that we eat throughout the year and we raise our own pigs and meat birds (chickens). We also have hens that keep us entertained and provide us with eggs all year long. These sweet girls and our two Roosters, Romeo and Odysseus, are friends not food. We lost Shakespeare, our alpha male rooster last week to old age. He lived a great life on our homestead and we will miss his soulful strut immensely.

We will miss you, Shakespeare!

While I have never been a morning person, our homestead has created a morning person out of me. Why would I want to miss views like this?!

While my husband and I share a connection on wanting be as sustainable as possible when it comes to our food production, the yearning to garden goes back to my early years. My grandfather, the late Thomas Puskala, had an epic garden in Iron River, Michigan and many of my childhood memories stem from his hours of labor. From his careful sifting of soil to remove rocks and his long standing feud with dandelions. Not to mention the non-traditional breakfast feasts he would prepare for my Aunt Christina which consisted of cucumbers and vinegar (Yes, for breakfast! 🙂 )

Grandpa Puskala in his garden. Thank you to my cousin Alicia for this photo.

To this day, the first crunchy cucumber out of the garden is heralded in my heart as a celebration of Grandpa.

I planted seeds in our house on 3/27 (tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, cabbage, squash, and kitchen herbs – basil, dill and cilantro (My step-son’s bearded dragon Harper LOVES cilantro). I also planted flowers: zinnia, marigolds, and cosmos).

We planted peas, beans, and greens (lettuce, kale, spinach) in our hoop house on 3/29.

We have a tiny house but we take advantage of every available window to start our seeds inside.

I spend all winter dreaming about garden tomatoes fresh off the vine. My husband isn’t a “fresh” tomato fan and even loves the chocolate cherry tomatoes we grow.


In April my husband and step-son collected sweet water and boiled down maple syrup from the trees on our property.

The syrup that John and Lukas bottle is like liquid gold.

My husband’s homemade waffles with fresh maple syrup and bacon that we raised ourselves.

The weather is still cold and lousy – in fact, we received over two feet of snow on April 12-13. Though it’s receding again and our duck pond is nearly open. The robins are dining with our ducks and chickens on fallen apples in our orchard and I get goosebumps when I hear the cranes in the distance – all sure signs that spring is finally here.

My ducks Dante and Lucky. You can see my husband’s maple syrup line in the background.

Romeo, one of our roosters.

Today my goals are simple. I will check in on my students and encourage them to write with me. Many are sharing their Pandemic Journals already. Their entries make me sad and smile at the same time. Most prominent in their posts is the face that they miss their friends – but they all sound hopeful.

So today, on Earth Day, I am going to embrace positivity. I am going to head outside and will finish one inside goal (I am cleaning off our upstairs landing to clear out “Office Space” for myself.

I still need to find a book to read and I will create a path for joy and growth in my life.

Yet, for the next half hour – another cup of coffee steeped in silence. Before the roosters wake up.

Here are a couple videos of our snow storm and one of my husband’s projects. We are almost ready for the roof trusses on our home addition. How exciting!

Please don’t be offended by the irony of him cutting down a tree (this video wasn’t recorded on earth day 😂). I promise we will replace this tree with several new ones!

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember

“I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing.”
-Mary Oliver

I never imagined that our hoop house would be my new classroom. However, we’re living through some interesting times. I thought our food plot would be a unique place to record a video for my students to show them what my life is like outside of the classroom.

My husband said this is definitely my “Teacher Look” or “Teacher Lady” as he affectionately calls me.

I guess that yesterday’s distance learning translated to Bog boots since it is mud season in Michigan (plus, we have chickens – enough said). 🤣 Yet, it was a photo worthy moment because I even applied makeup and ran a brush through my hair.

The world is our classroom after all!

We have been out of school since March 13 due to the Covid-19 virus. It has been surreal to say the least. This week I started an on-line Pandemic Journal with my students. I wanted to model to them what their journals may look like so I am stepping outside my comfort zone and am creating videos in hopes I can make a connection with them.

This was my video today (I will type the journal entry below):

April 21, 2020

A reflection from my Facebook social media post on Thursday, April 16th at 3:51 pm

“The painful things seemed like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.” ~ Anita Diamant

The above was the last prompt I gave my students before the world seemed to slowly turn upside down.

I’ve kept this quote in my collective memory and I have thought of my students often, but I had to remove myself emotionally from the reality of what was happening so it didn’t hit so hard. I was trying to hold things together like those knots on that beautiful necklace. I kept distant from my feelings and denied myself the opportunity to mourn. Guarded. We all mourn differently.

Today I took the drive and the awkward steps into my classroom. It was quiet but it still felt like home. It comforted the rawness around my heart.

My mailbox offerings left a lump in my throat and were the catalyst for warm tears. Finally the tears. Packages for my students – Outrageous Request Letters granted. We must wait until the “Shelter in Place” order is lifted.

I gathered my remaining plants. The geraniums I winter each year in my classroom. I grabbed several on our last day – not sure what the coming days would hold. When I returned today I didn’t expect any signs of life, but green still resided in a few of the pots. With some TLC a couple of them will recover.

I will take these packages and the green leaves as a sign of hope. A promise that better days are coming.

The anxious knots in my stomach are not in vain. They too are signs of life. Signs of compassion and a softness that makes a teacher a force to be reckoned with.

My colleagues and I are entering a new phase of our career – a part not fully developed or chartered. We are making maps. We are defining our new roles.

My empty journal is a ready for words. My students and I will guide each other.

We will write our stories –
so we,
and others,
can remember.

My weary classroom plants.

Outrageous Requests granted. I will have to post about this assignment – it’s my favorite!

Signs of life. The plant on the right is loving the TLC.

We still have a lot of snow on the ground!

Our hoop house is one of my favorite places to getaway and focus on growth!

Here is yesterday’s video:

Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets — Produce with Amy

On the eve of Valentine’s Day I wanted to offer you up a romantic recipe. Last year I made a luscious beet soup that my husband John did not find delicious. However, his reaction was memorable and I still laugh thinking about it. Needless to say, I will not be making him soup this year. I am still deciding on an entree, but I know that I will definitely make a leafy green salad with pickled beets, feta cheese, raspberries, walnuts, and a homemade lemon dill dressing.

via Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets — Produce with Amy