Saturday, October 29, 2011

Creative Writing Resources

As a tutor, and writer, I have compiled a rather lengthy list of writing resources.  I want to share a few of my favorites.  These include reading materials, lesson plans, and sometimes a few extras...  I have used these with my creative writing classes, with tutoring students, and my own son.

For materials specific to poetry, please see this post.

For my creative writing assignment, The Autobiography of a Place, please see this post.

And, on to some fun online resources...

First up, Letters About Literature... Letters About Literature pairs a love of reading with some creative writing, specifically creative writing in the form of a letter to an author.  The program asks the student, or writer, to reflect on their reading history and what books or characters have had the biggest impact on them as readers.  Then, the student writes a letter to the author (living or dead), and sends it to the organization (not to the author).  The Letters About Literature program is actually a contest, and it looks like the winner gets a grant which is awarded to the library of their choice.  The winners also have their letters published on the site.

My only gripe is that letters written to living authors don't get forwarded to those authors.  So, if you want your letter going to the author, keep a copy and send it to the author or the book publisher for the author (most authors have websites these days with fan mail addresses, or "contact the author" type links...).  However...some of the authors find out about the letters through various means, and sometimes write back! 
Letters About Literature has a great lesson plan and teacher resources

There have been loads of books written in the form of letters back and forth between a child and author, but my favorite is a classic:

My second resource for you is the Poe Museum teacher resource page.  Of course, the Poe of this museum is the one and only Edgar Allan Poe!  When I posted this resource on my personal Facebook page (please don't send me a friend request unless I know you already), one friend called Poe a genius, and another called him a lunatic mad-man.  I think his stories and poems are a bit of both...  To receive an Educator's Activity Packet, click here and fill out the form...the packet will be sent you via email (it was about a week before I got an email back).

I got all excited posting about Poe...I was going to suggest that you visit Edgar's Cafe if you are ever in New York City, but apparently the place has closed. :(  Sigh...well, the sandwiches were only average, and the coffee not very good, but the desserts were well worth the visit!  And, the interior decor was fantastic...inspired entirely by Edgar Allan Poe's writing.  A photo from our one and only visit...

My third resource is This I Believe.  If you listen to NPR, or certain other public radio stations, you may have heard some of the essays from This I Believe.  The program began as a radio show in the 1950's, and was hosted by Edward R. Murrow.  It has since morphed into a much larger program that includes radio broadcasts, online content, and more.  This I Believe also has put together an educator's packet (four levels available) filled with step-by-step lesson plans.  I used parts of the high school curriculum with a 9th grade creative writing class last year, and it was by far one of their favorite projects. 

My fourth, and final resource today, is a website from textbook publisher Holt Rhinehart Winston.  I found this while looking for creative writing resources, and reading passages, for 9th graders.  The page includes reading selections from all genres, and from many time periods.  Most reading selections also have associated lesson plans and writing assignment ideas.

And, I leave you with a writing assignment...write a short story or poem about the little doggy in this picture.  I spotted him in a window while walking around the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Notice the details of his teeth, ears, tail, the bulging eye.  What is he looking at? Is he happy? Angry? On guard?  Is there any significance to his colors or the materials (he appeared to be made of aluminum and old packaging)?  Why is he in the window? What else is going on inside?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Super Sniffer Dog Needed!

Please help this family. Their son, Lincoln, has life threatening food allergies. His reactions are getting worse and worse...he could die because of something the rest of us take for granted.

I have a life threatening food allergy to milk, and I know the terror of eating something that you think is safe, only to find yourself in an ER with a doctor and team of nurses debating another round of medications versus intubation. Thankfully I've never been intubated due to my allergy, but I've been lucky. I've had close calls...

A food allergy reaction can happen in seconds, and can be deadly. Lincoln's family is trying to raise funds for a specially trained service dog that can detect certain allergens hidden in foods. This dog could literally save Lincoln's life. These dogs are expensive...and to make things more complicated, Lincoln can only have certain breeds of dogs becuase, you guessed it, he's allergic to dogs too. This adds to the cost as the least allergenic dogs happen to cost a lot of money.

I know this family, and love and adore them. Please consider a donation to their super sniffer dog fun. If you aren't sure, just imagine your own child laying lifeless on an ER bed as doctors and nurses try to revive your child. It isn't something any parent should ever have to face. My son has food allergies, but thankfully they have gotten less and less severe, unlike Lincoln's. Even if you can only help with a few dollars, they will appreciate it.

Next week, I will share an interview with Lincoln's family.

To donate:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Writing assignment....The Autobiography of a Place...

I have a writing assignment for you...or for your children...or for anyone you think might be interested.  This idea came to me while I was in the car, listening to the radio, but I have no idea what sparked the idea...

Write an autobiography of a place

Autobiography of a place?  Yep...choose a location - it could be as simple as your home, or a bar stool, or as expansive as your country.  Choose your bed, the space immediately in front of the bathroom sink, or the highway.  Choose a place.
  • If you were to embody that place, what would your autobiography say?  Would your story be about how you came into existence?  Or the people that have traveled through or on you?  If you choose your house, who has lived in you (both now and in the past)?
Be creative, be wild, but be believable...  
  • If your place could speak, what kind of voice would it have?  What kind of tone, or language, or vocabulary would your place use?
What would be the highs and lows of your place's existence?  What would your place cite as its reason for existence? 
  • What are the core truths of your place?  What would your place's beliefs be?  (I am curious to know if your place's beliefs are also your beliefs, or would your place have different ideas?)
Let your imagination run wild, but keep it your tone and language for continuity.  Use the voice you imagine for your place, and try to keep your own voice in the background.  Create images with your words.  
  • Choose a specific incident in your place's history, or write broadly about your place's entire existence.  But, write in the voice, or from the point of view, of your place.
Keep in mind that an autobiography should be written in the first person (I was born... I went...  She walked over me...).  Write as if you are the place.
  • Share your response here in a comment, or on your blog and leave the link in the comments here.  I'd love to read what you come up with!  And, use any genre or style that you think best suites the story you wish to tell...

Imagine mosaic in Central Park, New York City

Friday, October 21, 2011

In the kitchen...

I am so glad this week is over!  It has been emotionally exhausting, and I've been fighting off a migraine for several days as well (maybe the two are related???).  So, instead of delving into something philosophical or educational, or whatever, I'm sharing some kitchen tips and ideas, poached eggs via two methods, and a bit of random stuff just for fun...

My regular readers may remember my son's request to learn to cook eggs in "every way."  Well, we got around to poached eggs and tried two methods: Alton Brown's "slide them in gently" and Julia Child's whirlpool frenzy.  Alton's is easier, but Julia's results in a prettier finished product:
Julia Child method on the left, Alton Brown on the right.      
The Alton Brown method (read about in one of our cookbooks) called for cracking your egg into a small dish or ramekin, then gently sliding it into the simmering pot of water.  First of all, a bit scary because the only way to gently slide it in is to get your hand and the dish close to the surface of the really hot water.  But, we managed.  The result is the lumpy looking egg on the right.  The yolk somehow broke as we slid the egg in and the white went all gooey and spread out, so I used a spoon to try to push it all back into shape.  In fact, I threw away our first attempt because it was just gross and stringy bits of white with a cooked yolk.

The Julia Child method, called for whisking the water into a whirlpool frenzy and cracking the egg over the center of the vortex.  The method was supposed to yield a nicely rounded egg, which it did!  At first, I was a bit skeptical as there were bunches of stringy bits of white floating around, but once the whirlpool effect slowed, I saw that our egg had indeed kept a nice shape!  The hardest part was whisking and sliding the egg in without stopping or slowing the motion of the water too much - whisk like crazy, pull the whisk out, slip the egg in!  I did decide to crack the egg into a ramekin via Alton's suggestion and it was much easier than trying to crack it directly over the spinning water.

Next bit o' business....I mentioned nutritional yeast as a topping for popcorn.  This is the stuff we use, and it gives a lovely almost parmesan cheese flavor:

Have I mentioned that we really like jello?  Yep, we do...especially raspberry flavor, or lime flavor.  And, if we wait long enough, it goes on sale for 8-cents per large box! But, I hate to make a whole bowlful and have it gone in a day because a large bowl means less portion control.  Well, over this past summer we bought lots of packages of Italian ices (with coupons, and on sale), and I saved and washed the cups.  I also saved and washed yogurt cups (So Delicious brand coconut yogurt is amazing!).  They are the *perfect* size for jello servings!  Make your jello, then portion it out into the cups!  A large box of jello is perfect for eight servings.  Of course, you can also buy small plastic containers with lids that work well too...

And, maybe you have a problem with leftovers getting eaten when you had planned to save them for a meal later in the week?  When I make a dish that we both love, I purposely make extra and portion it out to be eaten for two meals during the week.  It is a bonus if I also end up with a snack portion.  Well, several years ago, while living at my mom's house, we had salmon for dinner - one of my all time favorite foods! - and there were leftovers.  My mom very rarely prepared leftovers for meals, so I assumed it was ok to eat the leftover salmon as lunch the next day.  Wow, was I wrong! I was in so much trouble! She had been saving it for another dinner.  But, how was I to know? No one told me, it wasn't labeled, and it was rare for us to have leftovers.  A few times we've had the same problem, with JP eating food I wanted to serve as another, last night, I labeled the leftovers and snack portion - a simple "NO" and "YES" were sufficient!  By the way, that is peppered beef goulash cooked in the crockpot, and leftover rice.  Although I prefer a vegetarian (even vegan) diet most of the time, I do love salmon, and the occasional meat dish (please don't hate me, veggie people of the world!)...

Last little tidbit, and then some fun postcards received this week...

JP was not feeling well this week, so I picked up some ginger ale for his tummy.  I used to love raspberry ginger ale but can't find it at any store (I think it was made by Schweppes but not positive...).  So, I bought the ginger ale, as well as a small bottle of juice (pomegranate-blueberry).  Oh my goodness!  Heavenly!!!

And, on to the postcard fun...we received three lovely cards this week, as well as a letter from my penpal in France.
From Belarus - a Russian fairy tale scene

The Baltic Sea, Poland

Hilarious card received from a girl in Great Britain

Monday, October 17, 2011 to homeschool while traveling...

Recently, a mom on the Hip Homeschool Mom's Facebook page posted a question about continuing homeschooling while traveling.  How do you do it?  Do you just quit?  Try to carry on as normally as possible?  Make modifications? Since we traveled cross-country by car two summers ago, and have taken numerous drives up and down the Pacific Coast of the United States, I feel fairly well equipped to answer this question.
Gnorm the Traveling Gnome on the dash of our car, along with maps and other materials.

Get the kids involved in the planning!
First and foremost, you should know where you are going, right?  And, how you will get there?  I am a firm believer in relating lessons to whatever is happening around us.  For our trip, we planned to travel through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and finally New York.  Together, my son and I went to our local AAA office where we picked up travel books on each state or region - the books are FREE if you are a AAA member!!!  We poured over them talking about the merits of staying overnight in certain locations, the best historic sites to visit, and so on.

We printed out an outline map of the United States, and got hold of stickers depicting the state flags.  Then, JP roughly marked our travel route on the map.  We did quite a few calculations using the distances we would travel - how long is the trip total without stops? How long with certain stops? What would be the fastest we could reasonably make the trip?  We did calculations based on our budget and possible choices we could make as well.  Lots of math, geography, and a bit of history all involved just in planning the trip!
Gnorm, updating our map.
Decide on materials to bring along...
Our journey was not a vacation.  It was a move.  We moved from California to New York, and thus brought pretty much everything with us that would fit in our car.  But, that doesn't mean it was all accessible.  I decided to pack a few bags that we could easily get in and out of the car.  One was clothes and toiletries for our journey.  One bag was nonperishable snacks and treats.  The third was full of books, magazines, school supplies, etc.  The third was accessible from our front seat. 

In that third bag, I had packed our packet of maps, with the USA map on top.  I had a pouch filled with pencils, pens, and colored pencils, and plenty of paper (both blank, and lined, as well as notebooks).  There were several reading books (some chosen by my son, some chosen by me), stationery to write letters to friends, and worksheets relating to other subjects that I felt JP needed to keep working on. 

Mt. Shasta in California
Take advantage of the natural scenery, as well as the man-made...
I am a firm believer in conversation as a large part of learning.  We learn when we are engaged with the world around us, and with the people around us.  So, as you travel along, look out the window...what do you see? Ask the kids what they see...anything that surprises them?  Anything they have never seen before?  Something they have seen before, but don't really know about?  On our cross-country journey, we saw mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and so on.  The natural beauty of our country is ripe for conversations - we talked about how geography affected explorers, pioneers, and settlers as they moved west.  That led to a discussion about the interaction between the "white man" and indigenous peoples.  From there we talked about customs and rituals of various groups of people.

Don't forget to talk about the man-made things you see as well.  We saw trains, various types of work vehicles, cranes, barns and silos, factories, and so on.  From these things, we talked about different aspects of farming which led to a discussion about our food choices, pesticides, and a variety of health issues.  We talked about how transportation has evolved over the last two hundred years, and the impact on travel, trade, and cultural exchange.  As we stopped at various locations, we talked about the differences in the people we met, the layout of towns, and so on.
On the road, you see lots of interesting vehicles.
Perfect opportunity to talk about transportation, multiple types of industry, and trade.

When possible, visit historic sites...
Because of our budget, and time line, we didn't stop at as many historic sites as either of us would have liked.  But, we did make a point of stopping at Mt. Rushmore.  First of all, my Google Maps directions SUCKED and took us on a crazy backroads round-about are-we-lost kind of adventure...  But, that adventure also took us through some interesting small towns we never would have seen if we'd stayed on the main highway.  We saw tiny towns, an amazing part of the Black Hills that we would never have seen otherwise.  We also accidentally drove up to the Crazy Horse National Monument (but didn't get out of our car as it was getting late...).  

As you visit historic sites, don't just go and look, then leave.  Take the time to find out why that site exists...what is the deeper significance?  If there is a museum attached, stop and take a look.  At Mt. Rushmore, you can not only look at the amazing carved mountain, but also visit the museum, see a great display of the flags of the United States, and take a few different walks through the wooded areas.  Talk to other travels too!  Many have interesting stories to tell, and these sites are a great place to meet people...far better than meeting random people at rest stops, right?

Let your kids pick out postcards at the sites you visit.  They can practice their writing skills by sending postcards to their friends and family.  But, be sure to let them keep some postcards as keepsakes as well.   

Mt. Rushmore!
Reading the quotations of Teddy Roosevelt, after visiting Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

Keep a travel journal, and encourage everyone else to keep a travel journal too...or keep one all together...
Several years ago, JP and I began keeping a journal together when we travel.  When he was still fairly young, I would ask him his thoughts at the end of each day - what was the best part of his day? What was the most interesting thing he saw?  And so on...  As JP has gotten older, I've allowed him to keep his own journal, or document our trips in his own way.  Sometimes that means photographs, other times writing things down, sometimes drawing comics about the trip.

For our cross-country trip, I wrote some journal entries on my computer, but I also took photos along the way - several in each state we drove through, and I made little notes that I photographed too.  I tried to take pictures of the "Welcome to XYZ State!" each time we crossed a border, but only a few came out clearly.

Many families play the license plate game as they travel, and it is easily adaptable to keeping track of other things.  For those not familiar, in the license plate game, you keep track of license plate sightings from other states.  We have 50 states, how many can you find represented on license plates while you drive?  Bonus if you see Hawaii or Alaska!  Don't want to keep track of license plates?  No problem...keep track of plants seen, unusual monuments visited, or anything else that interests your family...maybe birds spotted? 

Don't drive through Idaho at night...scary!
Gnorm the Traveling Gnome helped us keep track of our travels.

Parting tips...
A few other things to consider when carschooling, or homeschooling while traveling...
  • Bring a laptop computer, tablet, or netbook:  Many places now offer free wi-fi.  With free wi-fi, you can look up the places you are visiting, find alternatives if plans don't workout, watch videos at the hotel when everyone is exhausted from the day, or keep up with online or computer-based lessons.  Even some of the rest stops on our journey had free wi-fi!
  • Don't forget your cell phone charger!  Things happen!  Don't forget the laptop charger as well...and, while you are at it, pack a power converter!  I got mine at Radio plug it into the cigarette lighter thingy, and it has and outlet on the end that a regular power cord can plug into.  JP was able to watch some videos, and play some games during the less interesting parts of our trip.
  • Bring audio-books!  On this trip we listened to ALL of Story of the World, as well as several audio-discs of Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion".  On previous trips we have listened to the books Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling, and A Dog's Life by Ann M. Martin.
  • Make sure everyone has a water bottle.  Refill your water bottles whenever you can instead of buying sodas and juices at every occasional soda or juice is fine, but really, water is great!
  • Bring extra rolls of toilet paper, and a roll of paper towels.  You never know when you will find a rest stop without tp, or when someone will spill something in the car!
  • HAVE FUN!!!!  Yes, you can learn plenty while traveling, but having fun together is the most important part of your trip, right?

Montana -gorgeous!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Geography - Landforms Notebook

As part of his Social Studies curriculum this year, I decided to have JP create a Landforms Notebook. When I was in the 3rd grade, we did a huge project on landforms. We learned about peninsulas, archipelagos, isthmuses, and more. Somehow, my son didn't get all of those lessons. I don't recall what land form he didn't know, but I was recently shocked when he asked for a definition. Since I learned all of those things in the 3rd grade, I assumed my son had to. Wrong! So, we are filling in a gap! Feel free to use this landforms notebook page for your own students. All I ask is that you not sell, or distribute the page, and please give credit where credit is due. This is my own creation, and I retain copyright. Feel free to refer people back to this page to print out the notebooking page themselves. Thanks! Clicking on the link will take you to where you can download and print the worksheet.

Landforms Notebook

On to other you enjoy popcorn? Do you buy those prepackaged microwave things to pop your own? Don't do it! Instead, grab a clean paper bag and popcorn kernels. Measure out 1/4 to 1/2 cup of kernels, and pour them into the bag. Fold the top over tightly several times, and put it in the microwave. Hit your "popcorn" button, if you have one, or set the time, and push start! Stay nearby so you can listen (and smell) for the popcorn to be done popping. I used a paper bag that was a bit bigger than a lunch bag size and 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels. I had to pop my popcorn an extra minute (our "popcorn" button is 3 minutes), but it turned out terrifically! Light, and fluffy! I sprinkled nutritional yeast (gives a cheesy flavor and is perfect for those of us with a dairy allergy) over a bowlful, and JP melted some margarine and put that plus a bit of salt over his popcorn.

I have read that you can do the same thing with a bowl instead of a paperbag.  We don't happen to have any bowls the right size, with lids.  Forget those contraptions that are purposely for popping popcorn in the microwave too.  They are nice, but why bother when a paper bag or regular (microwave safe) bowl will do the job?

Sprinkled with nutritional yeast.
Did you catch my post on my crazy reading spree? If not, I'll briefly fill you in. I counted all of the books I have been reading, plus my haul from the library, and have 37 books on my reading list! As of today, I am done with three and have 34 more to go! My goal is to read them all (or at least the vast majority) by December 1st. As I finish books, I am putting a line through them, and adding the finish date in the original post. I'll periodically be posting my thoughts on what I've read...expect a post in a day or two about Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire, Jack Kerouac's Heaven and Other Poems, Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree, Ian McEwan's black dogs (lack of caps intended...), Jill Smolinski's The Last Thing on My List, and perhaps a few others...  What are you reading?