Saturday, November 13, 2010


This week for Veteran's Day I shared America's White Table by Margot Theis Raven. As I read the story from a powerpoint, students created the image using a school desk as the table. After all, soldiers were once students and the time may come when children who are now in my classes will enlist in our Armed Services. During the presentation respect for our family members and friends in the military was palatable in the library.

The children are making postcards for me to send to an Army battalion in the state of Washington. One of our new teachers used to be with that battalion and knows how hard it is for young volunteers to be away from home during the holidays. We appreciate the opportunity we have to lift their spirits and share our gratitude for their service.

I grew up learning patriotic songs and was surprised when so few children recognized the words to "My Country 'Tis of Thee", even with our country's symbols and music being part of the school curriculum. My third graders were amazed to hear the song and the fourth graders tried to sing it with me.

The eagle painting at the top of the post is one I painted a few years ago for my husband.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hey Diddle Diddle! Drama Activity

It was fun watching the students come into the library this week. The teachers want them to be in straight lines, but their bodies just have to keep mooooving. I decided it was time to do some drama with the little ones so they had permission to "act out." Here is the nursery rhyme I used with the actions:

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Actions while sitting:
Hey diddle diddle
***lift eyebrows to open eyes wide
the cat & the fiddle
***hold left arm out to side palm up, curve fingers; pretend to draw a bow across with right arm
***one hand forms round moon; other hand w/ fingers down (legs) jumps over moon
the little dog
***hold up two fingers close together
***“la a a a gh gh d”
to see such sport
***fingertips by eyes
dish ran away w/ spoon
***fingers (both hands) run away from the body

Body actions for more movement:
Divide class into at least 3 groups. One group “performs” while others watch. Each group gets a turn.

Create 4 “stations”:
Hey diddle diddle
***lift eyebrows to open eyes wide; body gyrates down then up
the cat & the fiddle
***hold left arm out to side palm up, curve fingers; pretend to draw a bow across with right arm

the cow jumped…
***jump over object (garbage can on side)

the little dog
***hold up two fingers close together
***“la a a a gh gh d” (laughter yoga activity:
bend over – head to knees - while laughing)
to see such sport
***fingertips by eyes; pretend to follow cow jumping over the moon with eyes

dish ran away w/ spoon
***run in sl o w m o t I o n around a table

Students walk back to where sitting. Continue until all groups have had the opportunity to participate.

Here are a few learning/memorizing/reviewing hints:
1. Repeat as desired by rows, individual students or other small groups like boys then girls.
2. Strategy:
Say it aloud
Whisper it
Think it (can mouth words as a stage before doing it in head only)

Have fun!

Monday, August 30, 2010

King Bidgood

KING BIDGOOD’S IN THE BATHTUB by Audrey Wood is a great picture book to share with children. A knight, the queen, a duke, and the court try hard, but the king is having too much fun to get out of his bathtub and rule his kingdom.

Before reading the story you could talk about life in medieval times, especially about no running water except for maybe a page running up and down the castle steps. Encourage your child to listen for patterns in the story. What repeats? How is the story organized?

A question to ask your child is, did you notice a pattern that would help you retell the story? This story has three ways to remember the order:

Time of day: sun came up (morning), sun got hot (noon), sun sank low (evening), night got dark (night), moon shone bright (middle of night)

Character: Page, Knight, Queen, Duke, Court, Page

Activity: battle, lunch, fishing, Masquerade Ball, pull plug

One activity to do with a young child is have them show with their hands, the position of the sun in the sky as they read the story with you again. This is a good time to talk about the sun coming up in the east and setting in the west.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


One morning as I was preparing to teach a Sunday School lesson, I came to the well-known verses of Romans 5:3-4: “...tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” Hopeless anguish roiled through me regarding current circumstances and how I was desperately trying to be patient. Then it occurred to me that I was looking at the experience incorrectly. I quickly wrote down my definition as an acrostic poem:


“Counting coup for my accomplishments doesn’t give much peace,” I thought. Rereading the verses I contemplated the difference between “patient” and “patience”. This time I came up with


That brought glimpses of hope! Over the next few days I continued to reread the verses and looked up footnote references. I reread my highlighted sections of conference talks. With prayer and meditation I wrote and rewrote acrostic poems for other key words, like hope, experience, and tribulation. Sometimes I even physically stretched for five to ten minutes before reading scriptures. With heart pumping, air circulating, and mind alert, it was like getting a full-body massage where every part of my being was touched, kneaded, and relaxed. Mental doubts and intellectual knots were softened, to be stripped of misconceptions. Body and soul felt more physically and spiritually in tune.

This process helped me break old cycles that held me back. Now instead of a formidable struggle of trying to be patient, I am grateful for the added virtue of peace that energizes my soul with patience.

Power of prayer
Testimony that
Necessary to
Counsel through and
Endure experiences

Saturday, May 22, 2010


“Shhhh! There’s a deer!” I whisper excitedly. My body grows taut as I stand still, not wanting to scare the creature. Rooted to the spot, my eyes sweep the vegetation searching for others. A blue spruce obscures my view of the lower half of her body. No fawn. Oh! There’s another deer!

What caught her attention? Perhaps she smelled a predator. My limited ability can only detect a slight waft of floral essence but wild roses are close by. Pine is more prevalent and the stickiness of the sap and the rough tree bark come to mind. Sniff. Sniff. Wait! There’s a whiff of onion too. Maybe she stepped on some wild onion.

The air seems dry even though it is early evening. Yesterday’s mosquito bite on my ankle starts to itch and I am reminded that the gnats that will soon start to hover. I continue to scan the area wondering if I could step closer. There are a couple of boulders I could hide behind but the tall grassy patch would give me away. My shoeless feet would need to be careful of the randomly fallen, prickly patches of pinecones.

Why is she still so vigilant? Maybe she heard something. It’s so quiet I can only hear the peaceful hush of my breathing in and out and the steady beat of my heart. It’s almost like I am in a bubble yet I feel the spaciousness and beauty of a cathedral as I enjoy this intimate moment. The innocent harmony of nature makes it seem like it was created just for my personal benefit.

“Mom?” a small voice quivers, intruding on my thoughts. “Mom?” I hear a little louder. Glancing up I see my daughter peering quizzically into my face. I look to my right. My one son is fiddling with a squishy toy. Scanning to the left my husband leans over our other son. He’s smiling yet his eyes ask, “What’s going on?” My gaze falls back down to the book lying open in my lap. It’s a nature hide and seek book and we’re gathered in the kitchen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


This morning while on vacation, I pruned three trees. It should have done it earlier but first there was a wedding and then the rains made the ground soggy. Noticing the sprouting leaf tips, I wondered if I should wait another year. No, I decided, now was the time.

Trimming some branches was easy: I needed a path and it was in the way. Snip! It was gone! Or, it rubbed the roof so I snipped or sawed until it was removed. Other shearing had to be thought through more carefully. I asked myself, “Which branch is really in the way?” or “Which branch will shape the tree so I can reach the fruit?” Little snips here and there were made before carefully slicing off larger portions. Round and round the tree I worked, being aware of the rule of thumb: never cut off more than one-third of the tree.

Two years ago I drastically butchered the fig tree (oh yes, a BIG third gone). Because I had never trimmed it before, I learned a hard lesson: branches that touch the ground grow roots! Lots of digging was required to get the tree down to a manageable size. This year was a breeze. The thick branches were soft and I quickly cut, knowing this tree is forgiving and will soon grow back in.

The pygmy tangelo was the smallest of the three, but the wood was the hardest. Pruning shears only worked on the littlest twigs and I had to be careful to saw only the deadwood, not living branches. As I worked I was reminded of when we edit our writing:

It never seems to be the right season.

Sometime little snips are best.

Other times we must lop off sentences, well-loved paragraphs, or even chapters.

At times we have to dig around asking ourselves appraising questions to determine which are the most important parts to keep. This can be hard because so much effort and emotion are rooted into the writing.

Just as climbing a ladder gives new perspective to not only see which branch needs to be cut and how far back, asking a friend to critique our work can give us the feeling of being lifted up on a giant’s back, so we have new insights to consider. Freedom to cut can become clearer.

With training I learned that the branch I have the most trouble with on the apricot tree should have been cut off the second year we had the tree. Wanting the tree to live, I needed to remember the rule of not cutting off more than one third. It has taken me years to reshape it but it has been worth it. I think we have to be careful when we edit to not cut too much off at a time. The integrity of the piece needs to be maintained. That doesn’t mean it won’t eventually be cut down to the right size. It may just have to mature a little longer so we wait until the next time or season we edit.

Once I found myself thanking the disconnected branch for its production of fruit! That was funny; I have never yet been able to eat a single ripe apricot, considering the birds get to them first. Being grateful for the process allows us to appreciate the finished product even more.

Besides, it humbles us when someone gushes about our writing when we know just how much we agonized over it for hours, days, weeks, months, or years.

As I look out my window, I like what I see. The trees will grow better now that they have been trimmed. I can clean up my pruning tools and put them away for awhile. But just like with our writing, we need to keep our tools sharpened and techniques close at hand so they will be ready each time we look at a piece.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Go Outside to Explore and Inspire Your Writing

For several months I have had the dream of taking writers out to explore nature and inspire writing. Today being Martin Luther King Day was perfect timing to fulfill that dream. Students from our after-school writing club brought signed permission slips for the holiday field trip which was to the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert, Arizona. It had rained this morning so it was cold, wet, and breezy as seven of us (three students and four adults) gathered for the excursion.

Walking through the gate near Cattail Crawl, we reminded everyone to use all the senses, not to just rely on what we see. Smells, thoughts, and textures can add meaning and dimension to our experience. The first spot we stopped was at the water’s edge where we watched it sprinkle. One of the boys said the sprinkles represent ideas or words. The fourth-grade girl said they were ideas that hit you and you want to write about them. Watching the circle disappear after the drop hit, the other sixth-grade boy responded by saying, “When you have an idea, you better write it down quickly before it goes away.”

Looking at a prickly pear one student said we should let ideas stick to us. My writer friend and former teacher told us that the sharp thorns remind her of metaphors and similes; they get right to the point so you can feel them prick your heart. Seeing a dried up fruit on the ground, I commented that the cactus reminded me of the pain and torment I go through to get my thoughts on paper, yet how pleased I am with the fruits of my labor when the writing finally comes together.

Mud cracks and pot holes reminded us to be aware of cracks and holes in our writing. One young man who was chasing the other boy stopped suddenly and pointed to a pile of leaves. “That reminds me of softness and love,” he said; then he started looking for animal tracks. Two adult women imagined the conversation going on between a gander and three white hens. Coming upon a yucca plant, a participant said, “Let your imagination expand!” He then amplified his thought by saying that each spike was a different idea and the serrated edges were the extra details you could add.

Time was almost up and we wanted to get back to the ramada to write and share. Besides, the increased wind made it colder. I had to put gloves on as we trucked the last part of the trail. It reminded me of how quickly a story comes to a close. Sometimes we come across things and places, like the refreshing stream, that we want to stop and explore, but these are only distractions. We can come back later and investigate more thoroughly for future writing projects.

We spent the last half hour munching apples, writing and sharing. One boy wrote a journal entry and included the drawing of a leaf so he could remember the day. An adult wrote to a leaf, asking why it had so many holes. Another participant shared her poetic observations that she had written while we walked. The sixth-grade teacher commented that the animals we saw softened our hearts.

We want to come back and get the rest of the club members to join us. We liked that we weren’t just learning but were experiencing the world we live in. Spring Break seems too far away so maybe we will come back some Saturday. We just need to pick a date to come. As one mother picked up her daughter, she told us the girl had given up two hours of food and fun at Amazing Jakes with her family and friends just to be there. Yes, taking time for writing is a sacrifice we writers (of all ages) are willing to make!

Suggestions for your own outdoor experience:

take a camera to record what you see and remind you of what you learned

take a snack (and water); you’ll get hungry!

take a friend; it’s amazing what you learn as you share your thoughts and build upon each other’s ideas

of course, take a journal and writing utensil; after all, we are writers and need to record our thoughts and feelings.