Quick Write with Mike Jung

Today’s quick write is from Mike Jung. He’s challenged us to create scene in a health care waiting room.

Bailey sat on his hands, with his feet jiggling rapidly on the tile floor. The red stiff chairs in the waiting room were formed to some large generic body type, not Bailey’s. The back of his fingers were in pain where they were pinched between him and the red plastic. Bailey stared straight ahead, out the door, past the peaceful paintings, down the corridor toward the nurse’s station. Where is Mom? he thought. She should have been here by now.

That morning he was sure everything would be all right. Mom said, “Hey, Mo, don’t worry, OK? Remember what the doctor said–he saw signs of improvement yesterday. Let’s just go with that.”

But after school Mom called him at home and told him to meet her here at the hospital. The nurse in the suit told him to wait here until his mom came. Where is she? Bailey pulled the dry skin off his lower lip, flinched, then licked the droplet of blood that formed. He bit his lower lip and looked up at the ceiling, willing away the tears.



Interviewing My Expert for Today’s Assignment

Yesterday I was considering doing some research about how to make a Mars Curiosity model for my Teachers Write Monday assignment. The assignment, by Sarah Albee, was to do nonfiction research, particularly to talk to an expert. However, I am spending my writing time this summer working on a children’s fiction story. Plus, since I’m hanging out at home with my husband after his eye surgery, he became my “expert.”

My Mr. Fix-it husband would know what kind of motor I needed and how to make the Mars model. I wanted it to be made of cardboard for a shout out of sorts to making, to Caine Monroe, Nirvan Mullick, and the subsequent Cardboard Challenge and Imagination Foundation.

Keith suggested I would need a base to hold the motor. He said you’d want to make a base out of plastic or something.

I argued. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m not really making it. No one who reads it is going to know if it’s really feasible,” I said.

He acted like he didn’t hear me.

He found a rubber band car on YouTube. After watching the first minute, he said, “OK, here’s what Bailey needs to do. Make the base with straws and toothpicks, like in the video. You can use the bottle caps for wheels. This will be strong enough to hold the motor from the broken RC car he’s going to find abandoned at the thrift shop.”

“OK, maybe,” I said when I woke up this morning.

It was also after the part last night, when I snatched my Chromebook from him and gave the I-said-I’m-not-really-going-to-make-it-!-don’t-you-get-that-? speech.

So here’s a short scene from my story after my “expert” interview:

“Hey, Bailey, look what I found at work today!” Dad came bolting into the kitchen through the back door, the wooden-framed screen door bouncing behind him. Bailey was sitting at the round yellow Formica table–what Bailey used to call “our sunshine table”–munching Oreos dipped in milk. “Some gals ordered smoothies for lunch and they came with these jumbo straws. Perfect, right?” He held up two shiny straws, one peachy cream color and one lavender.

“Perfect?” Bailey said. “Dad, the Curiosity is like white, gray and black. How can these be perfect?”

“Oh, but look how strong they are. You can’t even bend ‘em. They must be close to a half inch in diameter. And heck, we can spray paint them black.”

“Black would be good. Won’t we need more?”

“I asked the women to save more for us. They said they order a few times a week. I had never even noticed them until I saw them in the garbage today. You know, after we watched that YouTube video yesterday.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think that was going to work,” Bailey was still suspicious about it.

“Let’s give ‘er a try after supper. What do you think? And, hey, why are you eating Oreos now?”

This post was originally posted for today’s Slice of Life at my Dare to Care blog.

Bailey Filling in Some Blanks – Character Development, I Hope!

Today’s warm-up exercise came from Jo Knowles. I loved this quote: “As you know, the plot of a story is basically all about what the character wants, and how they overcome whatever obstacle is in the way that keeps them from getting it.” (Jo, you should know, I really don’t know much at all! Though I love to read and even teach reading, I don’t know much about crafting a story! Thanks for helping me!)

Anyway, I have a lot to learn about my character named Bailey. I need to know what he really wants. What is his quest?  I tried writing this about what he wants, based on a sentence starter from an exercise Jo gave last year: “On Making Characters Real

This is a story about a boy, Bailey, who wants time with his dad making models and building things and to not go to school where people bother him, but underneath that, it’s a story about a boy who just wants peace and later hope in a brighter future.

Here is Bailey talking:

I wish I could just be home schooled. I hate going on the bus, especially when I have to be the first person picked up. My life would be so calm if I didn’t have to see her on the bus. I wonder if Mom would let me stay home and learn with Dad now that he’s home.

I have never told anyone this, but sometimes I dream I am watching my own dark and rainy funeral.

If I had the guts to tell Debra she’s a thug, I just know that she’d deck me.

The only one who really understands me is Dad and that’s because he listens to me. I sometimes can’t think of what to say next because there is so much listening on his side. When I feel like we’re stuck in the middle of an awkward silence, I look up and he’s looking at me. I can’t believe he’s still listening. I say things to him that I would never be able to say to any other person.

Week 1 Reflection on Teachers Write

I did have an awesome week during Week 1 of Teachers Write! I had one loose goal when I began. I wanted to do the writing exercises not as stand-alone exercises, but I wanted to tie them into a long story. (I’m calling my children’s chapter book a long story  so as not to paralyze me.)

The first day of Teachers Write was 10 July. That was the day I sat in the blistering heat and thought of a short scene about a boy named Bailey. I don’t think I really managed to write it from his perspective yet, which was the assignment.

The next day I continued the idea of making Bailey a part of my story. Four days this week, I was able to think about one character or aspect of my not-that-developed story. That was better than I had anticipated, and the story is starting to come to me.

I wrote just 1400 words, pretty much all in the exercises I did with the various authors.

The pit of my week was that I wasn’t really motivated to write unless there was a prompt. I didn’t really sit down and just write a lot of words to reach a word count goal, which I guess I hadn’t really articulated as a goal. Sometimes during the week though, I tried to, wanted to, but couldn’t do it.

The peak of the week was getting to join some conversations in the comment sections. People are so kind and good and responsive. It was motivating to post and see that people actually read and gave feedback. Very special .

Next week I’d like to add more scenes and character building to my story, even when it doesn’t fit into the exercises. Maybe my word count goal will be 4000 words for next week. Yeah, I think I can do that.

Reflection based on Jen’s post here at Teach Mentor Texts.

In the Hospital

Bailey sat on the dirty cement bench. He quickly wiped away the tear in his eye before it ran down his cheek. His shallow breaths came not so much from fear of his father’s illness, but more from the sweltering heat and humidity.

“Honey, come into the waiting area. It’s too hot out here,” Mom said, as she opened the door and started inside.

“It’s OK, Mom. I’ll stay out here for a while.”

“When I hear from the doctor, I’ll come.”

Bailey took the small sunflower he had picked and began pulling off the petals a few at a time. He flicked them onto the ground, then threw the broken flower. He ground the stem and sepal under his once-black Converse All-Stars. The high tops were folded over, and the rubber tips were split away from the gray and dirty shoe fabric. The broken shoe laces were long enough to make it through every other grommet, the aglets long ago split and broken off. Bailey kicked the flower remains away, as his feet swung under the bench.

“Bailey, come quick,” Mom called from the hospital door.

Here is the Teachers Write prompt from Kate Messner today.

Postcard Prompt

So, since it’s a day ahead of the start of Teachers Write, I am going to give “Postcard” a try.

First, this is my home, sitting at my dining room table.

  • White walls, more white walls
  • White ceiling
  • White tile floor
  • Green and breathing philodendron and bamboo plants
  • Rumbling in waves from the refrigerator motor
  • Humming A/C unit
  • Savory black beans with cumin bubbling in the crock pot
  • Darting swordtail tropical fish here for a summer visit
  • Smooth glass table for writing
  • Uncomfortable lumpy chair that bids me take too many breaks

Inside summer work station. #cy365 #t365project #jjaproject

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Second, on one of my many breaks, I drove to the supermarket.

  • White cars, lots of white cars
  • Pink brick sidewalks
  • Skyscraper skyline
  • English spelling variations
  • Sitting in traffic, green lights come and go with no progress
  • Horns honking
  • Splashes of green
  • Cranes and construction
  • Warm sun on the dash
  • Beige buildings

Finally, here is Lulu’s, the supermarket I don’t go to very often.

  • Wandering back and forth
  • High signs with small print
  • Long grocery list
  • Unfamiliar store
  • Where’s the sour cream?
  • Where’s Keith?
  • I’m not used to shopping by myself.
  • Bottles clanking
  • Carts making rhythm as they bump over the ridges on the tile floor
  • “Maybe. We. Found. Love. Right. Where. We are.”
  • No lines. Thank, God.
  • I need a Bounty bar.

OK, but those were not one word OR short phrases in each line! I hate to be limited, Madelyn!

Yes, I know! Those are more the length of a letter or a U.S.A. Today article, not a postcard.

So, I’m going to try again because my guess is it’s harder to get the impression of the setting with only 10 words or short phrases. Plus, I want to use this with my students, and my examples aren’t going to be as helpful to my fifth grade English language learners.

Room 111

  • Laughter
  • Smiles
  • Arabic
  • English
  • Sweaty
  • Quenching
  • Scritch scratch
  • Click
  • Scraping
  • Colorful work
  • Sincere students

Yeah, I’m not sure that works so much, but I’m practicing.

On a side note: I found a nice blog post with words to describe senses of smell, sound, taste and touch.

Paying Close Attention

I’ve never been good at paying close attention. This summer I’m going to participate in Teachers Write much more fully than I have in the past. I’m home in Bahrain, for a long hot summer, no more holidays until I start back to school in the middle of August, so I should be able to do some writing.

I think so.

I hope so.

That’s my wish and prayer, anyway.

Today, I carried a small notebook to the mall, where my husband and I took a walk. Though my daughter gave me the notebook for Christmas 2015, it had only one page used up so far. I’ve been carrying it in my purse for close to two years. Now, for the summer it will be my writer’s notebook to record observations, dialogues, words I run across, and more.

So, I wrote some snippets from my afternoon and evening based on conversations and notes I added to my little notebook today.

While I started the car in the stifling ground level garage, Keith carried the hefty, plastic shopping bag overflowing with garbage toward the dumpster. When he came back to the car, he noticed I had opened my sunglasses case and had it sitting on the center console, ready to grab when we pulled out of the dark garage. He started in, “Now, what am I going to do? You know that’s my job. Are you taking my sunglasses job? Now, I guess I’ll just have to do my other side car driving tasks.” I began driving through the cramped garage. “Watch out…Don’t hit that wall…Careful, there’s a car…Ooh, that was close.”

“OK, wise guy, you can keep your job.” When I got to the door of the garage, I handed him my regular eyeglasses and waited for him to pass me the sunglasses. I put them on and pulled into the narrow alleyway, into the 110-degree heat. (It feels like 113, so the humidity isn’t that bad today.) “So, which mall should we go to?” I asked my husband, who is inevitably more opinionated than I about such things.

“Let’s go to the little fancy mall in the Seef district,” my husband said, “It won’t be so crowded on the weekend.” I turned the car toward the mall of our Friday afternoon walk.

As we rode along, I said, “OK, I have some advice I could give you about church today, if you are interested. About prayer.”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

“Well, when all the pastors and elders were in front praying for individuals, you were the only one I could hear.”

“Oh, no, did I leave my mic on?”

“No, the mic wasn’t on. I think you just need to work on your whisper.”

“Ah, I was projecting! I learned that in seminary.”

“Yeah, but you shouldn’t broadcast the person’s prayer request. ‘God, help this sister get over her drug addiction.’ Just kidding. I didn’t really hear that.”

“You maybe just heard my voice above all the others because you are so in love.”

“Oh, yes, that’s it.”

Lots more side car driving, “50…50…50…the speed limit is 50!” And later, “I would have gotten off at this exit.” That sort of thing until we arrived at the upscale mall.

“Oh, look, Denise. This place was named after us!” It was a chocolate fountain restaurant called Dip N Dip. We had to stop for a selfie:

Self portrait, already labeled.

A post shared by K Krebs (@amhbhchap) on

At this point, I remembered my little notebook, which I had brought along and intended to use while out on this walk. I said, “Hey, I need to write down some of those things you’ve been saying that made me laugh today, but I’ve already forgotten on the way here. Maybe I’ll write about you today, funny guy. Can you remind me what made me laugh today?”

“Just write everything I say. You can actually record it. Keep the audio going. That way when I die you can listen and laugh anytime, or cry maybe.”

“Oh, never mind!”

We took a lovely walk around this high-end mall.  High-end, yes: For instance, I walked into one small shop with an “up-to-90%-off” sign in the window. I was curious. The first thing I saw on the rack was a long, single-knit teal dress with some embroidery through the middle. It looked like a prom dress. BD1780 was the original price, and the marked down price was BD178 (What? Almost $500!)

“Thank you,” I said, as someone came up to see if they could help me. “I just wanted to take a quick look.” I slipped out after looking at only one price tag. This place was out of my price range, even with 90% off.

When I told Keith about it, he said, “Maybe we can come back when it’s 99% off.”

It’s a good thing I don’t need a prom dress.

*      *      *      *      *

On the way home, we enjoyed listening to music on a playlist that Keith created.

It has Beatles, Kansas, and lots of his other favorites–pop, rock and roll, and gospel. I’m not really big on music, but one day, I did say, “How about Gordon Lightfoot and Simon and Garfunkel?” My old time favorites. The next time we went in the car, he had a new playlist including some of my favorites.

Today, when “Rainy Day Lovers” came on, I asked him if he even likes Gordon Lightfoot.

“He’s OK,” he said. We talked about rainy days and loving.

*      *      *      *      *

When we came back, I baked chocolate-dipped peanut butter cookies to bring to a dinner tonight.

Keith exercised and then came into the kitchen to drink water. Afterwards, he dug into the dish drainer looking for his coffee pots for tomorrow morning. “I’ve never seen anyone who can stack dishes like you. You are super talented in that area! No one else can stack like you, Denise!” He began putting some dishes away. He finally made it down to one of his coffee pots. (I think he has a half dozen). He shook the water out of the pot and gave me some advice, “You know, for dishes to dry, it’s best not to use the super burial method of stacking.”

*      *      *      *      *

It’s a work day for him tomorrow, so he was ready for bed before me. “Good night,” I said. I wanted to stay up and finish this blog post before I went to bed. “I love you.”

“Yeah, that’s what she says now.”

“Thanks for making me laugh.”

“Yes, I am a Dad joke.”

That you are, but I wouldn’t want you any other way.

“Rainy day lovers don’t hide love inside, they just pass it on.”

Bread and Butter

Today’s prompt is “feeling back” into your childhood at the school cafeteria by Megan Frazer Blakemore.

“I don’t have a sandwich,” she said, with furrowed eyebrows, her hazel eyes staring deeply across the table. That sycophantic six-year-old boy always tried to ruin her life!

“No, teacher. I saw her sandwich, and then it was gone. She didn’t eat it. I know she didn’t,” he said with a smug smile.

Jo held the bread and butter under the table with both hands, willing it to compress into a smaller space. It’s NOT a sandwich, she thought to herself. She gazed directly at the teacher.

“OK, children. Don’t fight. Your mom packed it for you, so eat all your lunch,” the teacher said, distractedly, as she hurried to the next table to deal with spilled milk.

Jo’s shoulders relaxed, and she loosened her vice grip on the bread and butter “sandwich.” She stealthily moved her brown paper lunch bag under the table. Then Jo stuffed the squished wax paper-wrapped remains into the bag with her other lunch waste. Bread and butter is not supposed to be folded. Bread and butter is what you eat at home, not at school, she brooded.



Go, Nellie, Go!

“I always have a comfortable feeling that nothing is impossible if one applies a certain amount of energy in the right direction.”  ~Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly
Colombo, Ceylon
November 1889

“Well, I guess the time will pass quickly seeing beauty like this.” Nellie breathed in deeply and filled her nostrils with the warm, moist ocean air. The clouds skipped and danced across the gray horizon, where water and sky seemed to meet and merge.

“You be waiting for the Oriental?” asked the porter. His crisply-starched white jacket remained unmoved while he pointed out to the sea.

Hmmm. Where, indeed, Nellie wondered to herself. “Yes, I’ll be sailing for China when the Oriental comes in.”

“Will you stay with us, Miss?” the porter asked.

“No, I just came to see the view today. Thank you, sir,” said Nellie.

I wanted to do this “quick” write when I read the nonfiction prompt two days ago at the Teachers Write blog at Kate Messner.com.  The author who designed the quick write was Nancy Castaldo, author of The Story of Seeds. It wasn’t a quick write for me, though, but I found some fascinating reading about Nellie Bly. (You can see a list below.)

I like this sweet thought from Nellie’s own words in Around the World in 72 Days when she came upon a crow eating the early morning snack left for her:

I was not then used to having toast and tea before arising, as is the custom in Ceylon, so I let the crow satisfy his appetite and leisurely take his departure without a protest. I arose earlier than was my habit, because I had a desire to see what there might be to see while I had the opportunity.

After a cool, refreshing bath, I dressed hastily and went down below. I found almost all of my friends up, some having already started out to enjoy the early morning. I regretted my generosity to the crow when I learned that breakfast was never served until nine o’clock, and as everybody endeavored to have the benefit of the cool, sweet morning, toast and tea was very sustaining.

Because of that image, I wanted to write a scene about Nellie between 6-9 a.m. using this that I wrote:

“I wish I would have chased that bird away this morning and eaten my tea and toast myself. I’m famished,” Nellie said, under her breath. “Anyway, I hope the crow enjoyed it.”

Instead, I found myself becoming a bit distracted trying to figure out the different hotels mentioned.

The first thing I read was Rosemary Brown’s account of her trip around the world in the footsteps of Nellie. She said, describing the Mount Lavinia Hotel:

It is a “castle-like building glistening in the sunlight … on a green eminence overlooking the sea.”

Then Rosemary went on to describe her experience at the Lavinia:

With its grace, gardens, history and fountains, the Mount Lavinia transports you back to the most lavish of Victorian times. I adored it and so did Nellie.

I kept reading because I didn’t know for sure that Nellie adored this particular hotel–that’s about all she said about it. There were three hotels Nellie writes about and Rosemary later visited in Colombo. Besides Mount Lavinia, there is also the Grand Oriental and Galle Face Hotels. It seems she stayed at the Grand Oriental for the five days she was in Colombo. Thus, my scene got off-track because she was at the castle-like hotel overlooking the sea, Mount Lavinia, but that’s not where she let the crow eat her toast, and I realized she wouldn’t have gone to visit before breakfast.

Hmmm…I’m afraid I would get too distracted with the facts if I was going to write narrative nonfiction!

Just an aside, I found it curious that 125 years after Nellie’s trip, Rosemary was not able to find records of Nellie’s visits at any of the Colombo hotels. I guess Nellie Bly’s trip around the world wasn’t as big a deal in Ceylon as it was for us.


  1. Grand Oriental Hotel – Colombo, Sri Lanka
  2. Galle Face Hotel
  3. Mount Lavinia Hotel Wikipedia
  4. Around the World in 72 Days by Nellie Bly
  5. Nellie Bly in the Sky by Rosemary J. Brown

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. – Book Letter 5

Dear Friends,

Reading Gianna while waiting for the car to be fixed.
Photo by Katie.

I read the book The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner. Gianna is a delightful character—she’s an artist, a runner, and a bit disorganized. Sometimes she has a hard time focusing on things she has to do for school, like the all-consuming leaf collection project for science. However, she is always busy with important and “genius” work—like splatter painting her room and painting other pictures inspired by the masters. She wears her feelings on her sleeve, as does her beloved Nonna, her mother’s mother, who lives with them.

I love the way the author helped us get to know Gianna, Zig, Ian, Mr. and Mrs. Zales, Nonna, Ruby, and even the evil principal, Mr. Randolph, and Gianna’s arch rival, Bianca. The characters just live normal lives for a few weeks during one autumn in Vermont, but they come alive on the pages.

I learned an important lesson about writing from reading this book. I don’t have to write wild, fantastic tales about future dystopias to write a good story. The last three times I’ve done NaNoWriMo, that’s what I attempted (the crazy sci-fi stuff ). This book didn’t need an outrageous plot line because characters were so well-developed. I couldn’t stop reading The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. because I cared about the people, particularly Gianna and her grandmother, Nonna. I wanted to see what happened next in their relationships, which were never hokey.

I think there is a second reason I learned about writing from this book. Last summer, I participated in the Teachers Write Summer Writing Camp. Kate Messner and a host of other published authors guided us through writing exercises. I felt like I got to know Kate over the summer as I participated in the activities and read her inspiring comments on my and other teachers’ work. Now when I read her books, I’m reminded of the summer writing camp, and I can hear her teaching me about writing through her stories.

Here is one of the passages that made me cry when I read it. Because her father was called away for an emergency, Gianna finds herself at the doctor’s office with her Nonna, who is being tested for Alzheimer’s disease.

“How long have you had a living will?”

Nonna takes a deep breath. “Your mother helped me get it together a few months ago.”

Now I can’t stop the tears. “Mom knows too? And it was months ago? How come nobody told me?”

“Because you should be creating your art and running through the mud and catching leaves,“ she says.

“Well, I’m not, am I? I’m here in this stupid office listening to him ask you stupid questions, and my leaf project isn’t done, and Mom is off at some meeting with a bunch of ladies while we talk about what happens when you…” I can’t say the word. I can’t. I start sobbing just thinking about what it will be like to lose Nonna.

“I’m not going anywhere just yet.” She gets off the examination table and bends down to hug me. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to go through this with me today.” She holds me for a long time.

I would recommend to any young reader this sweet book about Gianna.

Mrs. Krebs