My Students’ Interesting Lives!

September 19, 2010 by  
Filed under My Writing

My Senior Expository Writing students recently finished the “Find the Fib” assignment.  Click here for the assignment.  At first, they claimed profusely they had nothing interesting about themselves to reveal.  I insisted that each and every one of them did; they only had to think about it for a moment.  Here are some of the interesting things they soon realized and revealed about themselves.  These are the truths, not the fibs!  I asked for detailed elaboration in their writing to prove it.   →

~ I was a Gerber baby model.

~ I’m missing a bone from my neck.

~ I play the guitar with my teeth.

~ Starting at age 5, I skated with Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek for a few years.

~ I played hacky-sack on the top of a 12,400 foot mountain.                                          

~ Olympic gymnast Nastia Luskin taught at my summer camp.

~ I have 34 first cousins.

~ My family frequently has dinner with celebrities including Robert Downey, Jr. (this summer), Nicole Kidman, Julie Andrews and Felicity Huffman.

~ I’ve lived in 6 different states.

~ I placed 3rd in a Super Smash Bros. tournament.

~ I found a noose in my backyard.

~ I came face-to-face with a barracuda.

~ I’ve dislocated my knee 5 times.

~ I’ve seen bears up close in the wild.                                                                                                         

~ I became a black belt in Tae Kwon Do in 6th grade. (a female student!)

~ My middle name is 10 letters long.

~ My grandparents are candy makers, as were many generations of my ancestors before them.

~ I met Barack Obama when he was an Illinois senator.

~ I swam with sharks.

~ I’ve never been on an airplane.

~ I met Jessica Simpson backstage at her concert benefiting Hurricane Katrina victims.

~ I had seats right next to the stage at a recent Taylor Swift concert.                  

My students are such interesting individuals!! 🙂

Writing from the Pen of an Author

May 25, 2010 by  
Filed under My Writing

Todd Strasser

Yesterday, Todd Strasser paid a visit to my school for Writer’s Day and, later, to the students in our reading classes for a more intimate writing workshop.This is the second year my school has been lucky enough to host a popular YA author.  (Neil Schusterman presented last year after we completed Unwind.)  Engaging and personable, Strasser literally brought the writing process to life, keeping the students captiviated and involved.  My students were particularly excited to ask questions about the novel we recently completed in Reading Strategies, If I Grow Up. He even promised to name a character after one of my students.  Watch for Tiara in his next book!  🙂

Todd Strasser discussing the writing process with our students

 During his all-school presentation in the auditorium, Mr. Strasser emphasized the importance of writing and reading in the 21st century while humorously depicting his own journey as an author.  Here are a few of the highlights ~

  • Writing is a struggle no matter what the assignment is.  That’s the journey . . . that’s the adventure . . . that’s the challenge.
  • Writers get ideas from either their own experiences or through experiences of those they know.  If they don’t know someone with a particular experience, they research until they do know!!
  • All of Strasser’s books are about “outsiders” because he always considered himself an “outsider.”
  • Revise, revise, revise . . . A piece of writing is never complete.
  • Strasser takes 8 – 9 months to complete a novel.  (this seems short to me!)

During the writing workshop, Strasser created a short story with the students to illustrate the writing process in action  ~

  • Writers write to send a message.  A message is unfolded gradually throughout the course of a story.  It’s all about baby steps . . . that’s what keeps us turning the pages.
  • Subplots are disguised . . . characters who seem “incredibly useless” are often the most significantly important.
  • Good stories are character-driven . . . the plot unfolds not because of outside pressure or force but because of who the characters are.
  • Whatever is happening in a story is not usually what the main character is expecting to happen.
  • Writing and reading go hand-in-hand.  The more we read, the more we are exposed to writing styles.
  • Reading others’ writing validates our own thoughts.

Now where’s my green pen??

Delivering Happiness Challenge & Giveaway!

May 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Giveaway Contests!, Reviews

Watch for GG’s review of Delivering Happiness on its release date, June 7th 2010!!

I am honored to be selected to review the new, yet-to-be released book by Tony Hsieh, the successful, young CEO of!  The Zappos team generously sent me two advanced copies of Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.  I’m busy reading my first copy and can’t wait to post the review.  In the meantime, I’d like to give away the second copy to one lucky GG follower.

This book will not be released until June 7th.  I would like YOU to receive an advanced copy!

Tony Hsieh - CEO of

I’m almost halfway through the book and can tell you that Hsieh shares insightful, interesting and humorous anecdotes about his plight through entrepreneurship.  He doesn’t use a ghostwriter and writes authentically.  This read is useful for all in its illustration of how Hsieh uses happiness as a framework (imagine!!) to produce results in business and personal life.

So . . . here is my challenge to you.  Too many times people see the glass half empty instead of half full; too many times people don’t see the fun in life; too many times people don’t feel the joy in their journeys.  I challenge you to deliver happiness to someone and share just how you did it:

1.  Follow me on Twitter:

2.  Perform an act of kindness to someone you know or to a complete stranger.  Your act of kindness can be as simple or elaborate as you like.

3.  Come back to this post and, in the comments, describe that act of kindness.  What did you do?  What was the reaction and result of your delivered happiness?

4.  Respond by Friday, May 14th 11:59pm.  You can post as many delivered happiness descriptions as you like.

5.  One winner will be chosen based on the genuineness of the delivered happiness.

6.  I will mail the book anywhere in the United States.  SPAM comments will be deleted if deemed appropriate.  Make sure you have a valid email address when commenting so I can contact you for a shipping address. (your email address will be kept private)

Enjoy delivering happiness!!!

**GG does NOT endorse or giveaway products I do not stand behind.  As an English teacher, a self-proclaimed reviewer of “all things worth grading,” and a life-long reader of many books, I can give this away with confidence that the recipient will not be disappointed.**

Speak the Speech

April 23, 2010 by  
Filed under My Writing

Extra credit points go out to Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley for declaring April 23rd as “Talk Like Shakespeare” day!   Today marks the bard’s 446th birthday and what better way to celebrate this wordsmith’s life.
After all, Shakespeare used 19,000 words in his plays alone. This count doesn’t even include his sonnets. According to an unidentified source I’ve been using for quite some time in the classrom – to give perspective – most of us use about 2,800 in our regular conversation and writing. The man was a word lover, a word builder – and we still use the words he built.  We don’t know, for sure, that Shakespeare originated these words, only that they are recorded for the first time in one of his plays; regardless, his use of them prompted their evolvement.  Here is a smattering ~


FRUGAL = used for the first time in Merry Wives of Windsor in 1600.

LONELY = used for the first time in Coriolanus in 1608.

ANIMAL = used for the first time in Richard II in 1595.

PREMEDITATED = used for the first time in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1595.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL = used for the first time in As You Like It in 1600

The list could go on and on.

Interesting, too, are Shakespeare-created words that have not lasted.  Here are a few:

SMILET = a little smile 🙂  GG loves this one!


RAZORABLE = adjective for a boy about ready to be shaved

Perhaps some of them can still become part of our language.  Wouldn’t it be fun to notice a SMILET on someone’s face, or to note (with a smirk) that young Jimmy is almost RAZORABLE?

So remember, on April 23rd . . . . . Speak the speech, I pray thee.


Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon!

Chicago Tribune announcement

My Father’s Last Lesson

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under My Writing

Like small children, there’s something within us always longing to go home – to return, even briefly, to our parents.  Whether we are 6 or 60, we have that desire.  I am very blessed to be able to go home to my mother on any given day.  I haven’t, however, been able to go home to my father for quite some time.  My life (along with my mother’s and brother’s) changed forever on this April day years ago when, without warning, my beloved father died.  Life changed with the news of the moment during that spring break before Easter Sunday.  I was a freshman in high school and my brother was in 4th grade.  Our dad was away on a business trip in Colorado when we received an unexpected visit from his best friend and colleagues delivering the news no one in the world ever wants to give – our father suffered a major heart attack in the middle of the night and died suddenly, alone in his hotel room.

One of my favorite photos of Dad and me!

His death certainly was not characteristic of his life.  He was very much a people person – the devoted husband, the caring father, the gracious host, the silly cousin (as his cousin, Anthony, attested with stories of them growing up together).  When I recall his voice, I hear his laugh.  He had a way of making everyone around him feel comfortable, and he was known for his fun demeanor and unique sense of humor.  To this day, when I see someone who knew my father well, I consistently hear, “Oh, the stories I have about your father!”   He was quite the practical jokester.  Case in point was ongoing joke between my mom and dad:  they took turns hiding this hideously hairy, ridiculously realistic mouse from each other and tried to ‘one-up’ the other into finding the most inconspicuous place that would drive the most reaction.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear a random scream when the mouse was found! Daily lunch calls to my mom with his jokes-of-the-day was also a part of their lives together. My father knew what it meant to hold on to the little moments in life.  At the same time, he was a man who took great pride in his work while trying not to take himself too seriously. He worked his way up at his first job from the back room of Kroger to head of the computer dept. to manager of the store. He was definitely ahead of his time, earning his Associates Degrees in Computer Science, and rallying for Kroger to begin a computerized shopping program way back in the early ’70s.

An early family photo – Dad, Mom and me

I have no regrets for lost joys – I replay the good memories, am very grateful for the precious time, and remember the love wholeheartedly.  “The Missing Piece” by Shel Silverstein illustrates a significant life lesson I learned from my father’s death:

“The Missing Piece” by Shel Silverstein

It is a fable about a big wheel, a fabulous wheel, the fastest wheel of all. It outraced every other wheel and took a great deal of joy and pleasure out of doing that. One day it was wheeling along having the greatest time when it hit a bump and lost a piece of itself. Now, with a chunk missing, the wheel went clunking along, struggling to keep up with the other wheels.

The wheel felt extremely sad. It started journeying great distances in search of its missing piece. As the wheel traveled it grew tired and lay down on a field of grass. It saw the white clouds against the blue sky and heard the birds sing. It began to see life’s beauty everywhere.

Some years passed, and finally the wheel found its missing piece. Overjoyed, it made itself whole again and reattached the piece. But something went wrong. The wheel realized that it had actually felt more whole when part of it was missing. The experience of loss had guided the wheel into a new state of awareness and fulfillment. The wheel had learned how to turn loss into life.

I look at myself in the mirror and sometimes I see his eyes.   I know I have a guardian angel always watching over my family, and he will live on beneath everything we do.   He would be extremely proud, for instance, of his first grandchild’s outstanding achievements, and be completely overjoyed over his second granddaughter who was born on his birthday!!!!!!!!

My father always loved nature . . . mountains, water and storms.

John Mayer wrote in his song, “Daughters:”  ‘Fathers, be good to your daughters.  They will love like you do.‘  I’ve learned that the most important thing every father teaches his daughter to do is to love completely and truly.  My “anything for TC” father certainly taught me that.  I’ve asked myself if I am who I am . . . what I am . . . how I am . . . because my father lived or because my father died.  The answer, I’ve decided, is both!!  My father taught my mother, brother, and me an important lesson right through the end of his life here.  His death forced us to learn how to survive under the most difficult of situations, how to approach life’s unexpected turns, and how to turn loss into life.

In memory of Daddy!! I love you♥️

I took this with my first camera!

➔ ➔ ➔ The resilient glue of the family, see my post celebrating my mother’s unbelievable strength that guided us through the difficult time of my father’s death:  My Mom, Still the Coolest Mom Around

Do Aunts & Uncles Get the Shaft?

April 1, 2010 by  
Filed under My Writing

My brother called tonight with a “question for Grading Girl.”  The conversation began like this:

My bro and his furry, four-legged “daughter”

Bro: What do you call your mother and father?

GG:  Parents

Bro: What do you call your grandmother and grandfather?

GG:  Grandparents

Bro: What do you call your brother and sister?

GG:  Siblings

Bro: What do you call your aunt and uncle?

GG:  That is a good question!!!

Why did he call with such a question, you ask?  First, he too was an English major as an undergraduate and he has as much curiosity with our crazy language as I do (sometimes more!).  Second, he is expecting his first child in less than a month (a daughter!!) and I am, thus, about to become a very proud first-time aunt!!  🙂

We have a general term for parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins but we don’t have a general term for aunts and uncles.  Why not?!  Is this something that once was a part of the English language but, for whatever reason, evolved to extinction.   Aunts and uncles are a significant relation; why don’t they have a word to reference them? Come to think of it . . . we don’t have a general term for nieces and nephews either.  Do other languages have such a term?  I took seven years of French and, as far as I remember, they have a separate name for aunt (tante) and uncle (oncle) but no general references.   Is there another language that has a general, gender-neutral term?

Hmmm . . . .  we aunts and uncles along with nieces and nephews must unite!  Perhaps we can come up with a new word and hope it catches on.  What about ancles for aunts and uncles and niflings for nieces and nephews?  I do enjoy making up words, after all!!  See my Words of Whimsy posts for proof of that.

Surprise Santa

December 5, 2009 by  
Filed under My Writing

In honor of the holidays, I am sharing the story of a special Christmas from my childhood ~

Surprise Santa


Place yourself back in time when you were very young and Christmastime felt magical.  The world seemed to transform into an ever-jovial, bright and sparkly place.  And it wasn’t just because your mother exchanged every single household item (including the shower curtain and dinner plates!) for its Christmas counterpart, but because the WHOLE world was more fun.  Yes, even school was a happier place.  As Christmas loomed closer, the anticipation of Santa’s visit guaranteed tummy butterflies and lingering wide-eyed moments in bed before sleep.   Christmas Eve night included gazing out the window, guessing which bright star might be the Big Guy himself.

Year after year, my parents – like many loving mothers and fathers – gently told my brother and I that we couldn’t wake up in the middle of the night before Christmas lest we wanted St. Nick to take back all the presents.  Being the very abiding daughter that I was, I took that very seriously.   On one particular Christmas dawn, my 10th Christmas to be exact, I was the first to wake up bright and early just before 6:00 a.m.  I gleefully hopped out of bed and tiptoed down the hall to gain a first glimpse of the goodies under the tree.  My plan was to sneak my own peek, wake my bro, and then we’d both barge in our parents’ room.  Well, it didn’t quite work that way as I had a surprise that literally stopped me in my slippered tracks.  My glee instantly turned to shock as I stood still as a statue and stared at Santa Claus in what I thought was the middle of his delivery.   I felt my heart leap; I couldn’t move any closer than the end of the hall.  In the living room a few feet before me stood a tall-as the-tree Santa, dressed in his beautiful red suit, his big bulky black boots, his long white beard . . . and he was reaching into the tree.  Oddly, he was standing as still as I was but I interpreted that as his shock in being discovered.    I stood there for a very long moment not sure what to do; furthermore, in the rather dark room, I looked around and swore I saw three little elf heads peeking out at me from around the corner.  It was then I conjured up enough strength to run back to my room as fast as I could, jump back in bed, and cry.

It didn’t take long for my mother to hear me sniffling.  She concernedly whispered to my father, “Why is T crying on Christmas?!?” When she came in to ask me what the matter was, I exclaimed between flowing tears that “I woke up too early and Santa was there and he was mad that I saw him and now he’s taking all the presents back!” My mom started to chuckle and told me she heard the opposite – that Santa wasn’t mad at all and, in fact, left an extra big surprise this year.  I hesitantly followed her back to the living room.  The figure in the red suit was still there but my mother turned on some lights and revealed the big “surprise:” a life-size Santa stand-in (and I do mean life-size!). I gasped and ran to touch him.  Oh . . . ummm, those elves I saw – they were my imagination playing tricks on me.  I was so relieved and excited again.  Christmas was back on!

Mom & Santa!

Mom & Santa two Christmases ago!

Mom and I decided to turn off the lights, hide in the foyer, and wait to see what my 4-year old brother’s reaction would be when he woke up and wandered in.  I was sure we were in for a show!!!  It wasn’t long before we heard his footed-pajamas slipping down the hall.  He too stopped at the end of the hall like I did – but that’s where the similarity in our reaction ends.  You see, here’s exactly what he did:  he rubbed his eyes, muttered, “Oh, that’s nice,” instantly spotted my mom and I and asked, “When can we open the presents?” I let my imagination run wild and here my little bro intuitively knew otherwise!!  How did that happen?!

The following year I eventually discovered the truth about Santa and learned how my parents acquired our unique Christmas novelty.  My father was the manager of an A & P grocery store at the time.  Pepsi-Cola donated the Santa to him.  He displayed it a couple weeks before Christmas and drove it home Christmas Eve day (quite a feat, considering how big Santa is and how many family members we had over that night for our annual Eve bash!).  Since then, he’s come home with more interesting friends such as a big black scaredy cat and a wart-nose witch.  But, none of them brought the memories that our Surprise Santa sprung. 

Santa has been part of numerous memories since then.  For instance, during Santa’s 2nd year, my father performed “surgery” as Mr. Claus was tired and didn’t want to stand any longer.  Given the special signficance behind the statue, my father would not let Santa “retire.”  Instead, he enlisted the help of our neighbor but, being the silly guy that my dad was, he decided it would be more fun to bring Santa to our neighbor’s house rather than have his friend come to our home. My father rolled the top down of his convertible, “sat” Santa in the passenger seat, drove to our neighbor’s house, honked the horn and waved to him with his red-suited friend.  Mind you, this was the middle of winter AND this particular neighbor lived across the street only five houses away.

The neighbor's get an extra treat every year!

 Surprise Santa still makes an appearance each Christmas, much now to the delight of my little niece.  His beard has been shampooed, his suit’s been dry cleaned and his body has been re-secured with heftier stilts but he still stands strong.  Christmas brings out the inner child in us all that is so important to channel once in a while.  I continue to get giddy when I decorate, the world still feels cozier this time of year, and I recall the memories when I look at Surprise Santa.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!!!  Let the magic of Christmas brighten your days!

Mini Me and Santa a few Christmases ago!

My daughter and Santa quite a few Christmases ago!

Get Into the Spirit!

September 28, 2009 by  
Filed under My Writing

This week is Homecoming Spirit Week at my school.  This is one of my favorite weeks of the year!


MONDAY:   Roll Out Of Bed Day






The Comfiest School Day of the Year!

The Comfiest School Day of the Year!

TUESDAY:  Tie-Dye Tuesday


Tie-Dye Tuesday!

Tie-Dye Tuesday!

Yes, I bought these jeans like this!
Yes, I bought these jeans like this!














WEDNESDAY:  Wacky Wednesday


Gotta Wear Shades!

Gotta Wear Shades!

Hmmm . . . my new color???  LOL!

Hmmm . . . my new color??? LOL!











These boots are actually comfy!

These boots are actually comfy!











THURSDAY:  Go Green Day

So I had to add "not normal" shoes . . . check out the holes in the heels

So I added "not normal" shoes . . . you can't see them, but there are holes in my heels.


Green Day - A "Normal" Dress Day for GG

Green Day - A "Normal" Dress Day for GG


























GG’s First Giveaway – For a Very Good Cause!

September 28, 2009 by  
Filed under My Writing

Grading Girl’s First Giveaway!!

October 13th update:  The winner of this giveaway is Stefanie Dell’Aringa.  She will receive a set of the Yum Yum Time Bowls!  Check out her beautiful poem:

Unwrap Me
by Stefanie Dell’Aringa

Scout’s honor, this is my life:
I feel like an Egyptian mummy
being wrapped in slow motion from the feet up
My insides are like pottery breaking
As the python cloth squeezes
Unwrap me, please, and let me be a boy again
Because my ankles are tired
And I don’t like the word “prosthetic”
If Star Wars was real, I’d light saber myself
Out of this mess
Hurry, and find me a cure
Until then, I’ll go outside
I’ll blow hot, angry air into my trumpet
I’ll eat cake. Sweet!
I’ll decide I can wait
And then I’ll go to bed and dream
Of a ladder made of Legos
That reaches straight to heaven
and it doesn’t hurt to climb it


A few years ago, I stumbled upon the most adorable bowls that offer portion control with a smile. These unique little conversation pieces are perfectly portioned for snacks – nuts, fruit, candy . . . you name it.  I have two sets and bought another one for my brother and another for my mom.  These are the subjects, in fact, of one of Grading Girl’s first reviews.  Check it out for details:  Yum Yum Time

Tracy Adler's Snackware - Yum Yum Dishes

Tracy Adler's Snackware, Yum Yum Dishes - Win These!

Well, since purchasing these bowls and writing my review, I’ve sadly learned that Tracy Adler’s 9-year old son, Elliot, has been diagnosed with CMT2 (Charcot Marie Tooth) in October of 2007 when he was 7 years old.  In a nutshell, his nerves are dying – starting at his toes.  Right now, Elliot must wear braces on his legs while he fights very hard to not let this stop him from doing all the things he wants to do – a very heavy task for a young, brave boy!  There is not much awareness out there of this degenerative disease much less the funds for research.  Perusing the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation website, I shockingly discovered that so little is known about this that many people undergo years of testing before being diagnosed because most doctors cannot even recognize the symptoms!!!  As the disease progresses, many people have to wear braces constantly and/or use a wheelchair.  In the worst cases, CMT can impair breathing or even death.   As Tracy writes on Elliot’s blog, whatever nerve and subsequent muscle loss he experiences between now and a cure will most likely be gone forever. So a cure is not only important – but time is of the essence.

To help raise much needed awareness of this horrible disease, Grading Girl is hosting a contest:

CMT – GG’s Challenge for Awareness

Elliot Adler

Elliot Adler

Tracy Adler has graciously offered to giveaway a set of her YumYum dishes (set of four/one of each color) to the lucky person who writes:

  • a short poem illustrating the perseverance of this brave boy OR
  • a statement that pinpoints what CMT is
  • no minimum or maximum length
  • if you’re penning a poem, it does not have to rhyme
  • the statement or poem that touches the heart of this boy’s bravery will win the set.  I’m not looking for Shakespeare, only true genuine words!

Here’s all you need to do:

1.  Go to Elliot’s blog titled Elliot’s Corner and read a couple of his (short) blogs to find out about his condition.

2.  Come back to this blog on Grading Girl.  Submit your poem via replying with a comment.

3.  Please submit by Monday, October 12th.  The winner will be notified within a few days of the deadline and will receive his/her Yum Yum dishes!!

Elliot’s blog is at

Tracy Adler’s Snackware site is www.yumyumdish.

Find out more about CMT at Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation

Elliot has his own Twitter account and updates regularly.  Following him is a joy @ElliotsCorner.  Tracy also updates on Elliot’s condition @TracyAdler.  Follow them both!

First Lines offer First Impressions

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Listing through Life

The first lines of books are profound.  Either they provide a foreshadow of the events to ensue, a poignant statement to digest, a comedic crack to grab attention, or a startling statistic or fact to open with.  Go ahead . . . open to the first pages of some of the books you own and you’ll see.  Even the non-fiction reads seem to offer a fun first line.  Here are just a few examples. . . do you have some?

A Few First Lines in Literature

~ “It was a pleasure to burn.”  Fahrenheit 451

~ “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.Catcher in the Rye

~ “The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.Stiff

~ “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

~ “I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can’t make your body move fast enough.New Moon

~ “It’s hard to be left behind.” The Time Traveler’s Wife (I can hardly wait until the movie adaptation comes out!!!)

~ “A man’s alter ego is nothing more than his favorite image of himself.” Catch Me if You Can

You get the idea . . . I could go on and on.  Each line is so characteristic of each book’s particular theme.  Each line grabs our attention.  Each line makes us think.

In the book I am currently reading, Jodi Picoult’s Handle with Care, not only is the first line compelling  but the first paragraph carries through the plot’s theme in a poetic way.  Here is GG’s mix of Picoult’s opening words from her book:

Things break all the time.

Glass and dishes and fingernails.

You can break a record, a contract, a dollar.

You can even break the ice.

There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks.

Day breaks, waves break, voices break.

Silence and fever breaks.

Chains can be broken.

Relationships break.

Promises break.

Hearts break.

Things break all the time.

Yes, things do break but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all.  When something breaks, we pick up the pieces and create something new! Period.  Looking back at what I typed, I see an ice cream sundae formed by the layout of the words.  Clever that it turned out that way.  See the good in all things.

Stay tuned for a future post in which GG reviews Handle with Care.

Get Inspired to Write

May 27, 2009 by  
Filed under My Writing

Writing feels good. Writing provides a sense of accomplishment. Writing provides release. Writing is therapy. My very first piece of writing that I can remember is a story titled “My Mom Had a Turkey.” I was four years old when I composed it, it was around Thanksgiving, and my mother was very pregnant. In the story, I open with a bubbly description of my stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, move to the anxious depiction of the drive back home to meet my new brother or sister, and end with an ironic twist – I come home to find my mom has a turkey. Interestingly, my story proved accurate: I happily stayed with my grandparents, I was anxious on the drive back home, and my mother did give birth to a turkey – my bro!

My mother still has this story of mine, complete with its elementary scrawl and doodles; while I’m sure it wasn’t the very first piece I wrote, it’s the first piece I recall writing. I remember it probably because of the positive, fun feedback I received from my parents. They laughed, they told their friends, and they saved it.

It’s always exciting when I meet people who reignite the inspiration. Just this past week, I had the privilege of meeting three published authors at my school’s annual Writer’s Day presentations. Half the fun of writing this very blog is knowing that I’m sharing with others; with that said, I’d like to share small snippets of wisdom I received from each of these accomplished individuals. If you have a story or argument or idea, etc. “screaming to be told,” you should share it. The great stories are those that a reader thinks, “That’s me!” or “This was written for me.” If readers can connect, it is a story worth telling.

Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman

Simone Elkeles: author of Leaving Paradise, Perfect Chemistry, and three other young adult novels:

Writers should write about what they know. Simone never liked analyzing literature as a high school student. She, therefore, writes from a teenager’s point of view at all times, including authentic, colloquial use of dialogue. Simone advises people to write a little bit every day, no matter how they are feeling. Mechanics, spelling, and order are not important initially. Writers can always go back and proof later.

Simone Elkeles

Simone Elkeles

Mary Fons: freelance writer, poet, performer:

Having a brain freeze? Write a letter to your grandmother. Telling the story or view with grandma as the audience member adds more authenticity to the piece. If Grandma is still alive to read the piece herself, all the better! GG looooves this idea. In fact, the printer is printing copies of my past posts as I type this. I’m sending them to Gram!

Mary Fons

Mary Fons

What else inspires you to write?  Is it the perfect environment . . . soft music in the background, comfy chair, scented candle burning, gentle breeze blowing from the open window . . . ?  Is it the memorable quotation or passage from your favorite book?  Is it the endorphins earned from exercise?  Is it love?  Is it the lyric from a favorite song?  Grading Girl has been inspired by all of these things and more.  But sometimes, all it takes is a pen, paper (or computer) and a quiet moment.  Whatever and whenever you write, know that you are pouring out a piece of you.  It is never a waste of time.  It is always worthwhile.

TTFN!!  Grading Girl is off to read some of my students’ writing to see what is inspiring them.

And remember . . . write it down, write it down.

My Mom, Still the Coolest Mom Around

May 9, 2009 by  
Filed under My Writing

Mom and Me then

Mom and Me

4th Grade International Cooking Days at school (most creative room mom ever!), watching me roll – and roll – down the hill at Lorado Taft, Crimes of the Heart in college when I cried on stage and could hear her sniffling in the audience almost as loud as me, the birth of my daughter, annual American Girl Place visits when Arianna was little . . . These only comprise a taste of special experiences I have shared with my mother – the one person in my life who is always there when I need a shoulder to cry on, an ear for listening, or a hand of support. I know of no one as selfless as she. My mother helps others before she helps herself, she makes life fun for those near her, and she is someone I want to be like when I grow up.

My mother puts the happiness of those she is close to before the happiness of herself. Throughout my life and my brother’s life, my mother has spent maybe one eighth of the time on herself. The rest is devoted to her family. She is either driving back and forth to my home to pick up my daughter when I have a schedule conflict or on the phone to offer an ear to Dave or taking my grandmother out shopping. When we were little, all of her decisions revolved around our well-being: she chose a job as a waitress so that she could be home with us during the day; she chose to maintain our home after our father died so that our lives would remain nearly the same; she chose to work more hours to fortify the lifestyle she thought we needed to be happy. Her caring doesn’t stop with my brother or me. She was the one who opened up our home to her mother and father when her mother became ill with cancer. (Of course, I was excited that grandma and grandpa were living with us; I didn’t understand the extra stress it placed on my mother’s life.) She was the one who looked after my grandfather who moved a few blocks away after my grandmother passed away. When her sister was dieing of breast cancer, she was the one who took her to and from her doctor appointments. In other words, she was – and is – the one who is there whenever family or friend is in need.

While striving to help others in any way that she can, my mother still manages to make life fun. Our home was always filled with fun toys, loving pets, happy music, and sweet smells. We were the only house on the block to hold a Fun Fair for the neighborhood complete with games and prizes, arts and crafts, and movies. Summers were filled with swimming in the backyard and Mom bringing out lunch on a tray with LHDRUs (ask me what that stands for later!). Christmas was a magical time, transforming our home from a suburban dwelling to Santa’s dreamhouse. Little elves abounded everywhere as everything from the welcome mat to the mantle centerpiece to the pictures on the wall evolved to Christmas décor. To this day, my daughter still finds Christmas Eve at “Gum’s” house as her favorite night of the year. Whenever my brother and I were sick, she would bring us food in bed, move a T.V into our room, and buy us magazines. I take pride in knowing I have a great role model for creating a happy home for my daughter.

For these reasons and more, I want to be like Natalie Theresa when I grow up. As I smooth the cream on my face at night, I can only hope that my skin displays as few wrinkles as hers. As I exercise daily, I can only wish that her washboard abs stay with me. As I force myself to think positive thoughts in tough situations, I can only aspire to be as optimistic as her. Natalie is a woman to admire. She transitioned to a completely new and successful real estate career at age fifty. She bought a new home and took on a new lifestyle at age sixty. She maintains numerous friendships that are thirty years old or older including high school buddies. She is privy to the latest fashions and could easily pass for someone fifteen to twenty years younger. She maintained the reputation among my and my brother’s friends as “the coolest mom around;” or, as some high school friends still remembered at my 20-year reunion – she’s a “hot mom.”

The last time I wrote a letter commemorating how significant my mother is in my life was for her fiftieth birthday. Well did we know then where we would be today. Teaching was only a distant dream, my daughter was barely three, and I had yet to endure the pain of divorce. She helped make that teaching dream turn into a reality by her constant support and care. Right now I can only imagine where I will be ten years from now. But I do know this – whatever current dreams I have, they will be more likely to happen with her constant love and positive encouragement to guide me along the way.


Mom and Me

Mom and Me

Mind your messages

April 24, 2009 by  
Filed under My Writing

Grading Girl shares this message during the first week of my speech classes:

Meanings are in the message senders – NOT in the messages themselves!!

If meaning were in the words, then knowing word definitions would eliminate all misunderstandings!  There would be no room for argument if we only held denotations, or dictionary definitions, to words.  The reality is, though, that each person has different experiences that cause associations to certain emotional meaning, or connotations, of words.  In other words (no pun intended!), individuals assign meanings to words and intend them in a particular way.

The misunderstanding comes when the person receiving the message holds different attitudes or emotions to the very same words.  Nonverbal language, then, helps convey the intended association.  Facial expressions, gestures, and body movement can help reveal the true message when words fail us.  So Grading Girl urges you to mind your messages!

Meaning is in the sender, not the words!

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