slice of life · writing

What color do you use for drafting?

I try not to look in my Isabelle’s cubby or desk when I go into her school. That doesn’t mean I haven’t peered into those places. Rather, it means I *try* not to.

I went into Isabelle’s class for writing workshop yesterday. I restrained myself from checking the neatness of her desk when it was time to confer with her. After all, we were talking about her writing, not her organizational skills. However, as Isabelle took me on a tour of her writing, I noticed she was still alternating between colors when she was writing. I’ve bitten my tongue about that before since I didn’t know if the colors corresponded to drafting, revising, and editing pens. However, she was in the first bend of a unit of study on information writing. She’s *only* drafting. Yet, her pages were covered in two — and sometimes three — colors of pen.

“Do you have a blue or black pen?” I asked her, noticing she was writing with a red one.

“I have a blue one, but it doesn’t work right.”

“Can you show me?”

Isabelle rummaged in her desk.

“I can’t find it,” she said.

“Don’t you have supply box?”

“Not in this teacher’s room,” she replied, ducking back down to look for the blue pen.

I looked at my watch. This was a waste of time. This wasn’t what I would have been doing with any other kid. Yet, I was going down the rabbit hole, so-to-speak, because this was my kid. I was about to stop Isabelle when she pulled a retractable pen from her desk.

“Found it!” she said setting it on her desk.

I picked it up and realized it was slightly unscrewed. Problem-partially solved.

I gave Isabelle a spiel about using one color when she was drafting going-forward — blue OR black — and then moved onto something that mattered (i.e., breaking down her new book’s topic into a table of contents).

After I left her school for the day, I made my way to Staples to remedy the supply issue. I picked up a pack of blue pens and a pack of black ones, plus a zip-top supply bag in her favorite color. Later in the day, I typed a reminder note and gave it to her. Isabelle was elated by the bag filled with new pens. I reminded her, again, to only use ONE color while drafting.

This afternoon, when she returned home from school, I asked her how it went with the new pens.

“Great!” she said.

“What color did you use when you drafted today?”


“Only black?” I asked.

“Only black,” she replied.

slice of life · writing

Work in Progress

Lynne and I planned to get together in early August to work on the study guide for Welcome to Writing Workshop, which is our forthcoming book from Stenhouse (available in early Winter 2019). However, that plan got thrown out the window late last week when Bill, our editor, sent us a first pass of edits earlier than expected. We were thrilled! We decided the study guide could wait.

So here we are at Caffe Galleria in Lambertville, NJ!

This photo was taken at 9:30 a.m. just as our breakfast arrived. It’s 12:30 p.m. right now. Lynne’s feeding our meters. We’ll work for another hour and then break for lunch. Isn’t it great that we have two tables? One’s for eating and one’s for working!

We’re spending the day working together, which means my parents have my kids for yet one more day (G-d bless them! I think they are going to need a vacation once my kiddos and I depart tomorrow. Or maybe a sensory deprivation chamber. One or the other!) so Lynne and I can power our way through the edits. For instance, moments before I wrote this post, we realized we didn’t write “final thoughts” for three-quarters of our chapters. Guess what we’re doing next? Making sure each chapter has a “final thoughts” section.

We know we won’t complete Bill’s edits today, but we’re hoping to make a significant progress.

On that note, Lynne’s back from feeding the meters so it’s time for me to get back to work.

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slice of life · Uncategorized · writing · writing journal

First Writer’s Notebook

Front Cover of the Notebook

Over the weekend, we attended a blueberry festival at the farm where we pick pumpkins, apples, and blueberries annually. While there were plenty of berries to pick, one of the best parts of the festival happened away from the blueberry bushes. It happened amongst the craft vendors.

Isabelle insisted on browsing the craft vendors’ wares. I felt myself get frustrated since Isabelle, like many kids her age, usually wants to blow her money on junk. She’s been saving her money and had $24 to spend. And that made me fearful she was going to buy $24 worth of junk! (Yes, I do have the final say. Like I said no to her buying stuffed animals. However, I can’t say no to everything!)

The second vendor’s tent she walked into was selling polymer clay-covered notebooks. They weren’t cheap: $12 for small ones and $24 for large ones. Isabelle insisted she wanted one. Even though it was a notebook, I felt my heart sink a little bit. Was this going to be an overpriced scribbling pad?

“Let’s come back after we pick raspberries and blackberries.”

Isabelle held me to that promise. Even though she visited other vendors’ tents, she bought a small notebook since “that will mean I’ll still have $12 left.” (Imagine how pleased I was with that declaration!)

Lo and behold, Isabelle has written in her new writer’s notebook the past two days. In fact, she’s pretty excited about writing in it. She’s decided to keep it in the car so she has something to do while we’re driving places. Of course, that makes looking up unfamiliar words and decent penmanship challenging, but I think she’s off to a great start. Take a look:


Perhaps I should’ve looked inside the notebook to make sure it would be appropriate (in terms of line size) for a rising second grader. But then again, she wants to write, so perhaps I should continue to have a hands-off approach on this one!

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poetry · slice of life · writing

Poetry Mission, Part Deux

Last week, I declared my intent to help Isabelle like poetry. But, on Thursday night, Ari spent most of the night crying. He required soothing by his one-and-only mommy. By noon, he was diagnosed with double-ear infections. Then, on Saturday, I came down with something and have felt crummy ever since. But despite all of that, I managed to place poems in Isabelle’s snack bag every day and chat a little bit about poetry with her at night.

Despite feeling miserable all day yesterday, I went in search of amusement park poems to share with Isabelle since her teacher informed me Isabelle expressed interest in writing poems about Hersheypark. After an internet search that left me wanting for more, I went to Amy LV’s Poem Farm blog. Unfortunately, I came up empty-handed. So I emailed Amy to ask her if she knew of any amusement park poems I could use for inspiration with Isabelle. Not being an avid ride fan, Amy didn’t know of any (which explains why she hasn’t written any!). However, Amy suggested looking at Marla Frazee’s Rollercoaster, which happens to be one of Isabelle’s books since it’s poem-like. Therefore, Isabelle and I studied it together yesterday afternoon. We talked about line breaks and the many reason poets might choose to break lines. Then, we spent about a half-hour looking through various poems on Amy’s Poem Farm website before Mommy needed to lay down.

Even though I still felt awful today, I ventured into Isabelle’s classroom since the next two weeks are filled with consulting commitments and manuscript work. There’s something about being amongst children — in writing workshop — that helps me forget my misery. I find I journey far away from my ailments when I’m sitting on the floor, beside a child, talking about writing.

I conferred with one of Isabelle’s friends first since my daughter was taking awhile to settle in. Therefore, I taught her friend about line breaks and coached her through revising an existing poem by adding line breaks. Next, I went to Isabelle. I discovered she’d written a poem about a ride, Helicopters, she’d taken with Ari over the weekend. The poem read:

I went

on the


with Ari.

We went


I think there was one more line, but I don’t remember it. Whatever it was, wasn’t memorable. I asked Isabelle about why she ended the poem when she did. “I ran out of room on the paper,” she replied.

That’s when I taught her a paper trick she could use anytime so she wouldn’t feel constrained. We visited the paper center and grabbed more paper. I showed her how to tape on a piece so she could write more. Once we made that quick fix, I asked some questions about what she was trying to show. She said it was important for her reader to know that Ari was saying hi to everyone as the ride went in a circle and that she held Ari. I encouraged her — now that she had more paper — to write about those things with precision. (While I wanted to encourage her to start anew, I knew I was skating a thin line between mommy and literacy coach, so I opted to stay a little bit on the side of the mommy role.) I told her to come back to me once she had shown her reader what she was really trying to say.

Towards the end of the workshop, Isabelle found me while I was conferring with another friend. I asked her to wait — and she did. Once I was finished, I found this:

I complemented her on writing longer and reminded her she could do that any time in writing workshop. Then, I noticed what she did by writing about the important parts of the ride: Ari saying hi and holding onto him.

At the end of the workshop, I pulled Isabelle aside and gave her a charge for tomorrow. I talked to her about trying to make the reader feel they’re alongside her at Hersheypark, riding rides with her brother. I encouraged her to pay more attention to the feeling she has when she’s holding her brother on their rides rather than the describing the rides themselves.

I won’t be in next week, but I am hoping her teacher will send home Isabelle’s next attempt so I can see what kinds of poems she writes going forward.

slice of life · writing

The Fifth Night

I’m still awake.


At 11:45 p.m.

I thought about

Waking Lynne.

She *is* just across the hall.

But I don’t want

To disturb her.

(Though I know

She’ll tell me

I should’ve woken her

When I see her

In the morning.)

So here I lay

In bed

Hoping sleep will come


We’ve had

Four productive work days.

The manuscript

Is almost finished.

We are


To work more


This is not the way

I want my time

At Highlights

To end —

With me

Being sick.

slice of life · writing

Friendly Letter

Just when I thought I knew what my slice of life story would be about today, I unpacked Isabelle’s backpack and discovered a letter to her cousin, Casey. I smiled when I read it not only because she wrote to someone important, but because I got to see something she did in writing workshop on the day she did it. (That’s one of the curses of doing what I do. The parent in me wants to see everything she writes in real time, but the teacher in me knows that’s not how writing workshop works.)

“Do you want to mail this to Casey?” I asked Isabelle after she reappeared from the kitchen where she washed her hands.

“Yes!” she said, jumping up and down.

“Do you want me to help you address the envelope?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed again.

“Meet me in my office,” I said.

“I’ll go and get a chair,” she replied.


don_t write on kids_ work!
I stuck a sticky note onto the letter since I wanted to make sure my brother-in-law and sister-in-law knew Pafrov was actually Passover. Isabelle asked why I wrote on a sticky note and not on the paper. That’s when I shared a belief with her: I don’t think adults should correct kids spelling on their actual papers.

“Why do you need a chair?” I asked. After all, it doesn’t take that long to address an envelope.


“Because I need a chair to sit in while you’re writing out the envelope,” Isabelle replied matter-of-factly.

Alrighty then.

Once the envelope was addressed, Isabelle requested to put the stamp on it. Then, since I was the only one of us wearing shoes, I walked it out to the mailbox.

A few minutes later, Mike, our mail carrier, drove down the street. (This was early for him since he typically gets here around dinnertime.) He parked his truck outside our house since he was walking some packages up to the front door.

“Thank you!” I called to him from the front door. “I’d walk outside to meet you, but I just removed my shoes.”

“No problem!” he called from the back of the truck.

As he walked up the front path, I asked him, “Did you see the letter in the box?”

“I did,” he said.

“It’s an important one from Isabelle to her cousin.”

Mike, who has known Isabelle since she was a baby, saw Isabelle standing close by. He promised he would get it to New York safely, which made Isabelle smile.

There goes Mr. Mike with Isabelle’s letter to Casey!


Jewish · slice of life · writing

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Over the weekend, I encouraged Isabelle to do some writing. I’m one of those parents who makes sure their child reads every day, but — despite what I do — I don’t ask her to write daily. Therefore, I invited Isabelle to pick the genre (She choose personal narrative.) and the topic (Attending Junior Congregation on Saturday morning at our synagogue.) so that the writing would have meaning and value to her.

I helped Isabelle orally rehearse her story using the video selfie feature on our iPad. This is an idea Deb Frazier gave me awhile ago since it helps kids see and hear themselves as they rehearse their writing. Once Isabelle settled on the way her story would go using the video selfies, I supported her as she touched each page as she retold the story. Next, she began sketching. I stepped back, giving her the space to create sketches that reflected the story she rehearsed. Finally she wrote.

Here’s the thing… even though I sat on the couch in her play room and put together my grocery list while she wrote, I witnessed some frustration. She wanted me to sit with her to help her do things like spell words. (As someone who believes in invented spelling, I couldn’t do this for her.) However, as anyone trained in workshop teaching knows, you have to walk away for the magic to happen. Therefore, I wouldn’t sit beside Isabelle since I knew she was capable of working independently.

Isabelle was less than thrilled with me. Therefore, I started texting Betsy Hubbard, since she was a K/1 looping teacher for over a decade. I lamented about how well Isabelle was doing as a writer, but that she didn’t wasn’t proud of what she accomplished on her own. That’s when Betsy gave me an idea: Show Isabelle her writing from last year so she could see how far she’s come as a writer.

I went down to our basement and located Isabelle’s keepsake box. I shuffled through it and found her Kindergarten drawing and writing book. I thumbed through it and smiled. Just a year and a half ago she was barely writing! I brought it upstairs. Even though I couldn’t wait for her to see it, I showed it to her the following day. Once I did, SHE was amazed. She looked through it and said things like, “I didn’t even know how to spell mommy last year!” and “I only wrote a line or two on this page!”

“Last year you only wrote a few lines at a time and you were finished. Now you’re writing a story across pages. In fact, you wrote four pages today. You should be proud of yourself, Isabelle.”

She looked up from her Kindergarten writing book on a page where she was laughing about a story she wrote that insisted she drove Ari to Hersheypark. She smiled and said, “I am.”

It was clear that looking back at her previous writing was a fantastic way to show Isabelle how far she’s come as a writer. But you know what else is clear? As corny as it sounds, it takes a village to raise a child. I have come to rely on my PLN for advice when it comes to raising literate humans. Knowing I have friends I can call upon for advice is one of the most reassuring parts of this parenting journey.

Page 1: First we got to synagogue. Then we saw Allegra and Jenny. More kids came. Page 2: Then mommy read a book to us. Then we prayed. Page 3: I sang “Adon Olam.” I felt scared. I felt good because I could do it. Page 4: When we were done we sang the Kiddush and the Motzi.

NOTE: The big story here really happened on page three when Isabelle volunteered to lead everyone in one of the songs, “Adon Olam.” This is something she wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing a few months ago. Not only did she sing it, she sang loudly for the duration of the song. I wish she would’ve written about how amazing that moment was, but, again, it was her writing, not mine. (However, this is my blog, so I get to brag for a moment, right?)

board books · consulting · food · motherhood · slice of life · weather · writing

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday was cold.

Today is snowy.

Yesterday I was busy: driving on back-country roads and working with teachers.

Today I am moving slowly: staying at home and playing with Ari.

Yesterday I ate in a hurry: turkey sandwich, yellow peppers, Sumo orange, and trail mix.

Today I had a leisurely meal: breakfast tacos made with spinach, eggs, queso fresco, and hot sauce.

Yesterday I debriefed classroom visits and talked about minilessons.

Today I’m reading board books again and again and again.

Yesterday was good.

Today is good.

slice of life · writing

A Piece of Self-Initiated Writing (in three acts)

I was surrounded by three jackets, three pairs of socks, and three pairs of shoes. I reached out to Ari, in an attempt to wrangle him into his jacket, when Isabelle called out, “I want to write a letter to Casey.”

“C’mon in here!” I called back.

“Help me spell Casey,” Isabelle shouted back.

“I’m not going to yell back and forth with you,” I responded trying to catch Ari as he toddled away from me. “Come in here and I’ll help you.”

A minute later, Isabelle appeared with green construction paper, a pencil, and a flair pen.

“What do you have so far?” I asked grabbing my socks and shoes in an attempt to ready myself.

“C-a-s,” she replied.

“What do you think comes next?” I asked.

“E?” Isabelle said.

“Yes and then something else, but it’s silent,” I replied.

“Y?” Isabelle responded.

“Yes! You know that y’s sometimes don’t make the /y/ sound and make the long e sound. Excellent!” I said.

Isabelle finished writing her cousin’s name on the paper. Then, I asked the question which led to our first argument. “What are you planning to write in your letter?”

“Dear Casey. Love, Isabelle.”

I waited. I expected something more. I got nothing else.

“You can’t mail your three-and-a-half-year-old cousin a letter that only says “Dear Casey. Love, Isabelle.” You have to tell her something. You should write about what’s been happening in your life. Maybe you could ask her some questions and one of her parents can help her write a letter back to you.

{Argument #1 erupted.}

Once everyone was calm and had their coats and shoes on, I told Isabelle, “I’m taking your clipboard, the construction paper, your pencil, and your pen in the car. You can rehearse what you want to say with me and then you can write it. Okay?”

“Fine,” she muttered.

As I buckled Ari into the car, I said, “Think about what you might want to tell Casey in a letter for a minute. I’ll ask you what you’re thinking about when we pull out of the driveway.”

“Okay,” she said, a bit more chipper.

As we drove away, I asked Isabelle, “What could you tell your cousin about?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

{This continued, in a civilized way, for a couple minutes.}

Finally, Isabelle decided she wanted to tell her cousin about math games she plays in school and a birthday party she went to over the weekend.

“Those are great ideas. Practice saying them aloud before you write them. Tell me what you’ll write first.”

Isabelle wrote in the air. At first, she only gave me a word or a phrase. I encouraged her to have a complete thought. Once she did, I helped her stretch out the words she didn’t know how to spell so she could approximate the spelling.

I picked up a cup of coffee and helped her with the final sentence on the first page. “Friend,” I said slowly.

“F-r-e-d,” Isabelle replied.

“That’s Fred, honey. Fred is someone’s name. What do you hear before the /d/ in friend?” I asked.

{Argument #2 erupted.}

Once Isabelle calmed down and realized there was an n before the d, she erased her pencil mark and attempted the word again. I kept driving.

Isabelle’s letter to Casey.

After Isabelle signed her name, she decided to trace over her pencil marks with a black flair pen. Everything was quiet for a while. Eventually, she handed the clipboard to me as I was driving. I set it aside and looked at it once I parked the car.

I glowed. I complimented. I asked her “On a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being the easiest thing you’ve ever written and 10 being the hardest thing you’ve ever written, where would you put this?”

“A two,” she replied.

Then why did you have to give me such a hard time?!??!!

“A two? Well, that’s great. And it didn’t take you long to write it once you figured out what you wanted to say, right?”

“Right,” Isabelle said.

“I’m sure Casey is going to love getting this letter from you,” I said.

I reread it and noticed one of the sentences said ‘We ply gas with a freind.’ I spoke up, “I noticed you wrote gas instead of games. But on the second page, you included the m in games. I think you should add the letter m so Casey knows what you play.

{Argument #3 erupted.}

Once Isabelle realized that it didn’t make sense to write gas instead of games, I taught her, “Many writers often forget to add letters, words, or phrases when they write. One thing they fix-up their writing before showing it to someone is to use a caret, which is an upside down v, to help them insert the missing letters or words. When they add whatever is missing, it makes it easier for the reader to understand. If I help you make the caret, will you add the missing letters?”

“Yeah, okay,” she said begrudgingly.

So I did.

And then she did.

It took three small arguments to help Isabelle produce a letter that consisted of more than four words for her cousin. However, she created a piece of self-initiated writing, which thrilled me since writing isn’t her go-to downtime activity.

That being said, may I mention how hard it is to be a parent and an educator!!??!

slice of life_individual

slice of life · writing · writing challenges

A Day-Changing Tweet

I ‘met’ Dana Kramaroff when she participated in the 2015 Slice of Life Story Challenge. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve Voxed and chatted on the phone since we have a lot in common. However, we’ve missed seeing each other at conferences, like the EPA SCBWI Retreats in 2016 and 2017. Dana reached out to me when she noticed my session featured in the 2017 KSRA Annual Conference Brochure. However, we realized we’d once again miss each other since I was presenting on Wednesday, 10/11, and she’d be gone by then.


This morning, I was putting on my makeup when I noticed a tweet that mentioned me.


Dana was pictured, on the right, with one of my local friends, Ariel, on the left. Somehow they met each other at the conference!

I messaged Dana and found out she had a break this morning between sessions. Seeing as I had to drive to Hershey for a medical appointment at 10:45 a.m., I asked her if she wanted to meet for coffee at the Cocoa Beanery. She said yes so I told my mother-in-law (who is in town to watch the kids when I’m presenting at KSRA tomorrow) I needed to leave a bit earlier than expected for my medical appointment. I tried to explain who Dana was, but found myself blabbering on and on. Finally, I realized if I didn’t get in the car, then I’d miss my chance to link up with Dana so I hustled out of the house leaving Ari and my mother-in-law sitting on the couch together. (Ari was perfectly content in his Grandma’s arms and didn’t seem the least bit concerned that I was rushing out of the house.)

IMG_0362Twenty-five minutes later, Dana and I met up in the Hershey Lodge lobby. We chatted, grabbed a coffee at the Cocoa Beanery, talked some more, and snapped a photo. Unfortunately, our meet-up was too short since she had a session to attend and I had a medical appointment to get to. But, we FINALLY met in person!

Our meet-up reminded me of how strong the bonds are between writers. We’re a tribe. We connect by leaving comments on each others blogs and through social media. However, there’s no substitute for hanging out in-person!


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