The Rock’s Story

About that dime: It’s just to show off how big and strong I’ve managed to stay despite my many years of erosion.

“Are you going to keep that rock hanging over my head? It’s been 30 years,” he said.

“Maybe!” she said. “But really I keep it because I like it. It represents strength and true love.”

I’m glad she kept me sitting on her dresser all these years. It’s been a very quiet thirty years.

My life started eons ago, taking the slow painful journey through glaciated North America. My history has been long and cold, not sure how long it lasted really. I was nestled snuggly between the hard ground and my icy blanket, scraping along an average of 2.4 inches per month during those years. (How do I know, you ask? Well, it was really boring, and I had much time to do math calculations.)

Finally, the Ice Age ended, and for the past two million years I’ve been inching my way up through the accumulated moraine.

1983 A.D. – Whew! I finally made it! To the summit. I landed in Holland, Michigan, in a dirt pile, dug up recently by men in orange suits wielding heavy shovels and water bottles. Now, there I was lying in a very small, low-profile pile of rocks and dirt, and soon I was being invaded by the quick-growing summer grass of western Michigan.

One day newlyweds were out doing yard work. One with a broom. One with a power mower. Up and down the rows he went with his foul-smelling machine. He came closer, and I was trying hard to wiggle down and tuck my butt into the dirt. I felt so vulnerable. I wasn’t sure what that machine did, but it was getting way too…What the?…Ping, bang, ping, @#*&$%!…Bang, ping, bang…@#*&$%!

What happened? I wondered. In all my billions of years, I never felt anything like that before. It was like I was sucked up into a wild spinning amusement park ride. Only this ride had gyrating metal blades poking out in all directions.

“Hey, be careful,” she said. “I think there’s dirt flying out of your sorry lawn mower.”

“Whoa! What happened to you?” he asked, pointing at her leg.

“You’re shooting pebbles and dirt out of the lawn mower,” she said, as she finally looked down to see my handiwork for herself.


And there I was, not far from her shin, feeling sheepish. Did I really do that? I wondered.

She picked me up, with surprising gentleness. She brought me into the house, and then they drove to the hospital.

Three days later, after debridement of the dirty wound (I beg your pardon!) and three days on drip antibiotics, she came home on crutches until she healed from an (only slightly) fractured tibia.

She still wanted me, though.

I have greatly appreciated the thirty-year respite.

Character Study

I’m late on this writing assignment from the TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp. I was inspired by reading Sheri’s camp work!

The prompt, on Kate Messner’s blog, is about getting to know a character through multi-media by Julia True Kingsley.

First, I chose a picture. This beautiful photograph of her aunt was taken by Bev Sykes and shared on Flickr with a CC-BY-2.0 license.

Fictionalized Character Study

A winning smile, bright blue eyes, straight white teeth mark Matilda’s beautiful face. All those teeth are hers, except for the caps on the front two that broke off when she dove into the neighbor’s pool when she was ten. Looking at her, you’d never know she was sick. She’s physically able and robust. When she was first diagnosed with Alzheimers, she realized her stoutness would be a detriment. She often said, “It’s not like I had to go to the hospital  with two broken legs and a broken arm after a car accident. I don’t have anything wrong with my body, but I had to come anyway.” In spite of her initial fear and sadness about her illness, she now doesn’t remember she has anything wrong. She doesn’t actually even remember where she lives, a nursing home called Happy Siesta, with a renowned Alzheimers unit.

Tilda loves to walk the halls of her nursing home.  Most of the time she is happy and singing. Her grandchildren, still forced to come and visit her, cry whenever she sings, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” knowing that she won’t. Vestiges of her wit and intelligence linger, but lucid moments are fewer and further in-between.  In the moments that aren’t lucid, she is content and oblivious, enjoying her happy siesta with continued good health.

External song – I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Internal song – Oblivion Soundtrack 

Story Stew

Today Jo Knowles gave us a recipe for this story stew.

Here are the ingredients:

• An elderly woman
• A young girl
• A hat
• A piece of paper
• A hospital waiting room
• Nostalgic
• Anxious

I took up her challenge and cooked up this story stew:

“Gram, I don’t think I want to wear that hat.” I squirmed away as she tried to put the dirty (and possibly bug-infested) bucket hat on my head. Where did she find that anyway?

“You’ll see, dear. It’s a magic hat,” she said, holding it up to the light and turning it gently, looking at each stained surface with wonder and awe.

“Magic? Is it really a magic hat, Gram?” I asked, blinking, remembering when we used to wear magic hats, magic shoes, magic eyeglasses. Anything could be magic. We always played the ultimate in dress up and story time combined. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Theseus and the Minotaur, Odysseus and the Cyclops, the Tar Baby and Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox. There was no story she didn’t know!

“Magic, schmagic! Why are you always talking to me about magic?” Gram asked, angrily, as she dropped the hat onto the floor, forgetting she had even held the hat. Forgetting again she had a granddaughter. Forgetting she was in this nursing home waiting room. Waiting. Waiting for them to call her name. Waiting to be admitted to the special unit where people have forgotten about magic and buzzers sound when the doors are opened.

“I wonder when Mom will be back,” I asked, changing the subject. I wished my mom would hurry up and get back from filling out the paper work.


OK, I decided to start a project. After only one week of the #TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp, I was already tired of not knowing what to do for the writing challenges and assignments, so I have dusted off my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel. I am going to revise it, incorporating the writing camp assignments, for “publication” for my classroom library. (I try to order novels from Create Space each year, but in 2010 and 2011, I didn’t order my own–only students’ novels.) This will be the encouragement I needed to keep modeling for my students.

Here is the beginning of my sci-fi Bible story about Queen Esther.

Sinede here, a clown in the king’s court. Everything you will read in the pages before you is true. It really happened. A story, a story, let it come, let it go—but always know, it is true, every word of it. The story starts soon, but a little background first. Have you ever heard of platform shoes? Many times in human history people have worn shoes that made them look taller. In the Earthly cultures of Asia, Europe, Latin America, and in the United States of America (that ancient self-centered and pretentious society of the second millennium) there have been several forms of the platform shoe. Sometimes they raised the back half of the foot to platform height, so the heel was up high and the toes were closer to the ground. Yes, I know it sounds strange.

Well, in my land, Visul, we don’t wear shoes—platform or otherwise. However, we do have an unusual evolutionary adaptation—the platform foot. Most humans on the scores of colonized planets in the Milky Way have developed feet similar to what folks have on Earth.

On Visul, however, we needed tall feet. You should see my country—yuck! It’s got a layer of fine dust, well, maybe I could call it “moondust” something you might know about. The visuldust is four to six inches thick! How could we ever walk around in that? We couldn’t, so our feet evolved. We have a platform of cartilage and thick skin—kind of like a giant bunion across the bottoms of our feet. No pain, though. (I don’t know if they are like bunions really. Do bunions hurt?) We walk barefoot wherever we go because our landscape is literally all the same. Dark black visuldust everywhere! Little atmosphere rests on Visul, so we get no wind. At least the dust stays in one place. The land is flat or very slightly rippled over large areas. There are no mountains, no bodies of water, nothing interesting.

Another difference in our evolution is the star shape at the base of fingernails. I think it was a smile and a shout-out from Providence to the “stars” of the galaxy. Let me tell you, my friends, we are stars! Jugglers, jokesters, singers, musicians, orators, actors, poets, puppeteers, writers. Visul is such an ugly boring planet, that we have had to make our own color. We have more than our share of talent. The stars of the universe! That’s for sure! Platform feet and star-shaped nail bases—just two of the obvious differences in our evolution—the interesting and colorful ones, as it were. I am not a scientist, but there are dozens of other traits that had to evolve for us to live on this planet.

One such evolution is our lungs. The air we breathe for instance is not 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% argon like you have on earth. (What is argon? you ask. It’s an inactive noble gas. More later, in science class.) Our lungs, however, have evolved to breathe the composition of our atmosphere, which includes oxygen, sodium, potassium, and primarily helium. (Yeah, we hear those jokes all the time about sucking helium. And, yes, our voices are a bit higher pitched than those of the humans on earth.)

One more way we, and all humans on the outer planets, are different than humans you may have heard of, or, you are, if indeed you are human yourself, is we have learned to genetically modify our population within the womb. The Visulians are a peaceful and loving people, so we have chosen modifications that enhance our artistic sides. We have also chosen to eliminate disease and other physical malformations that plagued humans for generations. Just as earlier Earthly generations took out small pox, black plague and yellow fever. Continuing in the 20th century, polio and German measles were wiped out. Now, in the 24th century, we have totally removed the cancer gene from our society; muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes—all gone from human development; and presently we are working to perfect the total elimination of obesity, which leads to massive social suffering and related heart diseases in the human condition. (I do actually love science.) I digress.

Let’s get on with the exposition.
Blakinon gave an unlikely proposition.
She said yes, and now we have a wide-eyed queen.
Would the king have picked her, had he foreseen?
We were so proud of her; Mindassa’s her name.
The joke was on Joryk who took all the blame.
Between those last two lines, comes most of the plot.
Sit back and relax, I think you’ll like it a lot.

(OK, OK, I’m not a poet, just a clown, just a clown. Don’t you dare set this book down! Oh, there I go again, making rhymes. I best get going, before I’m out of time. Maybe, I am a poet and didn’t know it.)

Well, I always wondered as he stood before the firing squad if he said something like, “Well, I guess the ‘Joryk’ is on me! Har har!” Probably not. I’m the clown. He was just a pompous ass. He never would have thought of a great pun like that one. Before we get back to the story, here’s a triple shout-out to all my NaNo friends: The Roman wino, Iron Woman, ate a warm onion. What’s funny about this true story is it’s very sad and serious. It’s a story replete with violence, death, hatred, slavery, attempted genocide and terrorism. But, at the very same time, it is a comedic tale as old as life. The arrogant fool gets what’s coming to him in a whole comedy of errors. And now, our story commences.

Real Research

What am I supposed to do? I don’t even know what to research. What is research anyway? Mrs. Krebs said I had to have my topic today by Period 5. What is a topic anyway?

Tommy had no idea what he wanted to research. Mrs. Krebs was always talking about passion. He wasn’t passionate about anything. What is passion anyway? Tommy wandered over to the sports section, hoping to get distracted from the task at hand. He reached for another football book. This one seemed new. Mrs. Stokes proudly asked him if he had seen it yet.

“No, I never saw this one before. It’s all about the greatest touchdowns in history—college and NFL. It looks great. I have to see if…”

“Is Doug Flutie’s hail Mary pass against University of Miami in there?” asked Mrs. Stokes.

“Let me look…” Tommy paged through the index and found it. “Yes, here it is. Do you remember that pass, Mrs. Stokes?” Tommy asked, a bit flabbergasted she would remember a football game from 25 years ago. He sized up the 60ish gray-haired librarian. “Cool.”

“Oh, yes, my husband and I watched it. I always like to root for the underdogs. That was a great game and Boston College was going to lose it with 5 seconds to go. I think we watched it at my mom’s house–maybe Thanksgiving? Was that when it was?”

“It was the Friday after Thanksgiving,” said Tommy, right away. “Great connect with Gerard Phelan. One of the best.”

“It looks like you know your touchdowns, Tommy!” said Mrs. Stokes. “You didn’t even have to look any of that up in the book.”

“Yeah, it’s just as well. I came in because I need to find a topic for my research. I guess I better get one before the bell rings.”

“May I help you? Did Mrs. Krebs give you any guidelines?”

“Just something about being passionate. Whatever that means.”

“How about football? It looks to me like that is a passion of yours. You read every football book I can get into the library.”

“I can research football? Really?” Tommy asked, hopefully.

Interesting that in the short piece above, I am the teacher who didn’t explain research, topic, and passion adequately to Tommy. I’m reading Nonfiction Matters right now, by Stephanie Harvey. It was published in 1998, so it’s somewhat dated, but the basics are incredible and inspiring. I will be a better teacher of nonfiction reading and writing next year as a result of this read. In addition, I will be more able to steer my students into meaningful genius hour projects. I highly recommend Nonfiction Matters.

The prompt for this entry came from the #TeachersWrite Summer Writing Camp courtesy of Margo Sorenson and Kate Messner.

Okay…ready to write? Today’s Thursday Quick-Write is courtesy of guest-author Margo Sorenson!
A student walks into the library/media center at lunchtime. What is she/he thinking? Worried about? Dreading? Hoping or wishing for? What are the risks/stakes for him/her? Show us in a paragraph or two.
Note from Kate: Some possible formats for this quick-write:
• A journal entry from that character, written later on
• A letter from that character to his or her best friend
• A letter from that character to his or her worst enemy
• A poem in the character’s voice
• A monologue in the character’s voice
• A conversation in dialogue between the character and a friend/the librarian/an enemy
For those of you in the middle of a work-in-progress, try this with your main character, or better yet, a secondary character you want to develop more fully. Imagine him or her walking into a room and feeling uncomfortable and awkward. Why? You can write this from a third person perspective, from the focus character’s point of view, or for a twist, try writing from the point of view of a disinterested observer in the room — someone who has no idea who the person is or what’s going on. What would he or she observe in terms of mannerisms and body language?
Feel free to share a paragraph from your Thursday Quick-Write in the comments later on if you’d like!


We are writing novels this month! Here’s my synopsis…

Mindassa, a refugee from the planet Visul, was brought to Irkale when her family members were killed in a raid by the Irkalians. Unlike the other survivors who were tortured and enslaved, Min is being raised by her uncle as a normal citizen of Irkale. Min and her uncle have spent their lives on Irkale hiding their distinctive Visulian characteristics—platform feet and stars (instead of moons) at the base of their fingernails. They’ve managed to do this for years, but as the sensitive and daring Min comes to adulthood she starts to question the enslavement of her people. Mindassa is a fighter but she never thought she’d be fighting for freedom from the inside, as the Queen of Irkale.


Excerpt from “Turn Loose the Angels”

After three weeks being pain-free, Tilda had additional complaints about her stomach. She was beginning to run low-grade fevers in the evening too. Her appetite dwindled. The third day Mom became concerned when Jo told her that Tilda complained of pain when she urinated.

“Okay,” said Mom, “I’m going to take her in. It’s just a month early for her annual physical with the oncologist, but the urinary pain concerns me.”

Tilda went to the medical clinic for tests. They gave her an extensive looking over, then drew blood, took a urine sample, and took an ultrasound of her abdomen. Tilda and her mom left the clinic with no answers. The doctors were very careful not to give away any information they weren’t confident about. They decided to wait for all the test results before they told the family anything that would cause worry.

“Do you want some ice cream, Tilda?” asked Mom on the way home from the doctor.

“No, thank you, Mom. I just want to go home, please,” said Tilda.

* * * * * *

Immediately Mom’s mind wandered back to a time long ago when life was more religious for her and she just wanted to go home. She was about Tilda’s age, and she was at a three-day revival meeting. At the close of the first day, she remembers, her parents and brothers and sisters were outside the trailer, sitting around a campfire. Grandfather called her into the trailer.

“Didja pray to the Good Lord tonight, Elizabeth?” boomed her grandfather.

“I always pray, Grandfather,” said Elizabeth, obediently.

“I mean didja pray the prayer a repentance with the evangelist tonight at the meetin’?” probed Grandfather. “I din’t see ya raise yer hand when Brother Evangel asked those who prayed to show their faith by raisin’ their hand.”

“I’m not sure I understood it,” admitted Elizabeth.

“What? What could you not understand about that prayer? It was a prayer of the heart, Elizabeth. Is yer heart evil?” asked Grandfather.

Elizabeth stared silently. She also didn’t understand how to answer the questions he just asked. Grandfather reached down to take his belt off.

Elizabeth stood frozen, wanting to run away but afraid of what would happen if she did. As a tear rolled down her check, she tried to be brave. She prayed and prayed.

Her grandfather took his belt off and took Elizabeth over his knee. He swatted her three controlled “religious” beatings, using the belt as the persuader to repentance. The belt assaulted the back of her upper thighs, stinging and making her flinch and cry out in pain. Grandfather knew it was for her own good. “Beat the devil out of ya,” that’s what he was doing. When he finished, he laid his hands on her head and prayed for her, “Oh God, of our fathers, heal this girl of the demons of sin and foolishness. We pray that she will repent and be washed in the blood. Help her to hear Brother Evangel tomorra and the next day. We pray she will repent and come to be numbered in the fold. We pray that she will serve you in this world, so she can come on into your kingdom in the next world. Amen.”

“Now, Elizabeth, get to bed, so you’ll be fresh and able to understand the evangelist’s words tomorrow,” said Grandfather.

Elizabeth crawled in the sleeping bag laid out on the front seat of the pick-up truck that pulled the trailer to the meetings. There were many people who managed to sleep in that trailer, but a few family members spilled out into sleeping bags in the truck and on the ground near the fire pit.

The next day Elizabeth made sure she heard and understood the evangelist. Her hand was the first one up. Rather than pray his prayer, though, she prayed that he would quit talking soon so she could just go home.

* * * * * *

It had been decades since Elizabeth uttered a prayer. However, today on the way home from the clinic with her little girl Tilda on the seat beside her, she said another prayer. “Oh, God, please don’t let it be cancer again, please.”