A Slice of Culture

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Photo by Cajun Byrd on flickr.

Photo by Cajun Byrd on flickr.

The heat is on. Temperatures are reaching well into the 90’s with heat indexes of 100+. Humidity thickens the air. And yet, the party still goes on.

Last weekend my husband and I drove an hour north through fields of sugarcane and soybeans, past ancient live oaks along the ridge of the Bayou Teche. We were driving to see one of our favorite Cajun fiddlers, Michael Doucet, who was playing with 3 other musicians at Bayou Teche Brewery in Arnaudville.


I’ve known Michael since I taught his son, Ezra, in third grade. (If my calculations are right, it’s been 17 years.) Michael has always been charming and welcoming, even though he’s gotten quite famous. This day was no different.

There was a slight breeze. When it blew, we raised our arms like cormorants. We danced a two-step and a waltz and drank a beer fresh from the brewery.

I was transported back in time…
when the coolest place was on the porch
where musicians played in the late afternoon,
and the cicadas joined the fiddle tune,
when family was mother, father, brother, sister, cousin, Parran, Nanny, and the neighbors next door.

Michael and his friends captured that front-porch-family feeling with their music.

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

A few weeks ago I wrote about a virtual book club I joined led by Julianne Harmatz. We read A Handful of Stars and wrote using Google docs. The model worked well, so subgroups have broken off to read other books. My group is reading Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff. Resources are popping up for teaching reading that I have not tuned in before. Something about doing what you ask students to do makes the teaching more authentic. If I write a page full of sketch notes about a book and show my students, they see that this is a practice of a reader, not an assignment by a teacher. Julianne started a padlet, and we are still adding to it. This padlet will be a go-to for me this year. I hope others will continue to add to it and build more and more resources for writing about reading. Using Google docs for teaching is new to me. It’s so easy and natural, like writing a note to a friend. In the document, we notice and note things about our reading. Everyone responds differently, and that is the beauty of it. Because I teach individual students in gifted, the accessability of a Google doc will allow them to communicate about reading beyond the walls of our classroom and our school. Using the #WabtR, we can continue the conversation and perhaps match up students book by book. The possibilities are exciting. If you are interesting in joining in on this virtual book club fun, let me know. Link up your digital literacy posts:

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.


"The sisters" My daughters and me.

“The sisters” My daughters and me.

The hardest time to celebrate is during tragedy. But it is probably the most important time to do just that. Count your blessings. Hug the ones you love. Live more fully.

There is a tragic disease running through our country, random gun violence. Violence has invaded my community. Lafayette is a mere 25 miles down Highway 90 from New Iberia. We go there often for dinner, for shopping, and to go to the movies. In fact on Thursday night, my daughter Maggie and I drove to Lafayette to visit one of her friends who has a new baby. We did a little shopping. We drove by the theater around 7:15 PM, but we didn’t know then that tragedy was happening there.

When my daughter wants to go out with me, I jump at the chance. She’s 30 and has her own life. Spending time with her is precious. Today I celebrate that we got our toes done, a matching peachy orange. I celebrate that we oohed and ahhhed over baby Camille. I celebrate that we loved and laughed and had a girls’ night out.

Two local teachers were out for a girls’ night out. Theirs turned evil and bloody. They were heroes. They saved lives. Here is the story.

Jillian Johnson was not so lucky. She did not survive. She is remembered for her contribution to our community. In an article by Christiaan Mader, a close friend of Maggie, he described who Jillian was.

She was a commanding presence as a performer and a human being, smoke-voiced as a singer and sarcastic in her swollen drawl that gave conversation with her an air of sharp gentility. She was prone to pronouncement, ably confident, audacious with a ukulele, provocative, unafraid, kind in measures of deserving and fearless in calling your bullshit. She spun yarns and made friends as easily as she sloganeered. She was a turn-of-the-century Louisiana politician reincarnated. She could have kept a chicken in every pot if she set her mind to it. A wry grin contains genius within its limits, and Jillian’s grin was the wryest. (Read the whole article here.)

Shortly after the news broke, I received a text from my friend Jen. A simple message of love. Jen has suffered the tragic loss of both a husband and a son. This was her message: “I know too well how life can change in an instant. Always wanting to tell everyone I love how very much I love them & appreciate their presence in my life. I hope you know how much you (and Jeff) are loved and valued! Have a beautiful day! We each are only guarenteed this very moment.”

Take this moment and receive the joy of Jillian playing with her band “The Figs.” And then take the next moment to tell someone you love them.

Summer Poem Swap

Summer Poem Swap 2015 smaller copy

Poetry Friday round up is here!

Poetry Friday round up is here!

One of the joys of summer is the Summer Poem Swap, the brainchild of Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference. I sent a summer sonnet to Tabatha and she is featuring it on her site today. Thanks, Tabatha, for encouraging the sharing of poetry, making connections among us, and for keeping us writing.

Last week, I received a beautiful collage from Irene Latham. There are so many things I love about her poems. She chose two of my favorite subjects, herons and the bayou. She used a picture of a canoe. My husband and I have a canoe and don’t use it as much as we should, but when we do, it’s magical. Irene has obviously read my middle grade novel, Blessen, because there’s Blessen smiling next to the bayou. Thanks, Irene, for such a personal and special gift.

Two Poems by Irene

Link up your Poetry Friday posts with Inlinkz:

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

computer lab

This week I coached a writing camp. Usually space is important to me. The space we met in and wrote in was an art space, open and inviting, with pieces of folk art all around. The space felt comfortable and inspiring, not the case with the computer lab.

The computer lab was like a cave, long and dark. The AC didn’t work well, so it was warm. However, none of this mattered because once the kids got online and logged into our kidblog site, the space became as quiet as a bee hive, everyone buzzing and busy writing and commenting. When I asked the students about their favorite part of camp, the blog was high on the list. Online space is important, too.

I have not focused this week on the Clmooc make #4. The instructions were: “For this make cycle, we invite you to document, analyze and reflect on the variety of systems that influence your life personally and/or professionally. Use your creativity to document an existing system, access your ingenuity to improve an existing system or use your imagination to develop a unique new system and design a novel way to explain it.”

I decided to go back to my inquiry question, “How can I create an environment for student writing that encourages individual expression while covering necessary benchmarks?” I realized that the very act of content standards and testing is a system. So I am essentially asking about how I can hack the system. But I have to begin with research. Look at this Piktochart created by Christy Ball.

passion projects

I am only on step three, doing the research. There is no rush here. Inquiry is like that. By its nature it’s slow and should be. If I rush into it, I risk losing focus and not valuing the question.

I started a padlet. Not much there yet. So far I am focusing on creativity. That is what I feel is most missing from standards and from testing. We are creating little boxes for students to fit in to. In reality, creativity is the thing that will lead to innovation and problem solving. How can I create a creative environment for my students? How can I value creativity and project-based learning while adhering to standards? Please inquire with me. You can add comments, write your own blog post, and/or add to the padlet.

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Hayden reads his story to Jack, the lemur.

Hayden reads his story to Jack, the lemur.

This week I am celebrating some great new writers. They attended Write Your Way writing camp with me. Above you see Hayden reading to Jack, the lemur. Jack took a tour of Main Street with us and especially enjoyed frolicking in the Bayou Teche Museum. He sat still long enough to listen to Hayden’s story about Al Hirt and Blue Dog.

Al Hirt and Blue Dog were getting ready for a wedding. Al was wearing a tuxedo and Blue Dog combed his fur. They were about to leave Al’s apartment .But before they could they heard a trumpet. They wanted to know where it came from. They looked and looked until they found it. A trumpet rested there. “Blow me and I’ll take you to the wedding,” it said. They were confused. But Hirt blew it anyway. They were then at the wedding. The End. –Hayden

Inspiration in Books along the Teche

Inspiration in Books along the Teche

Inspiration for writing was waiting all along Main Street. We stopped in at the independent book store, Books along the Teche. Emery found a line in The Book Thief that jumpstarted a whole new story for her. I hope she will keep writing it. That’s the thing about writing camp. It’s always too short. We set up a blog on kidblog that I hope the kids will use, but I know how summer activities take over and then school will start again. It’s hard to keep their focus once you release them.

Yesterday, I asked my writers to tell me their favorite part of writing camp, what surprised them, and how they will continue to practice their writing. The blog, writing in different places, and meeting new friends were top favorites. The surprises included “I didn’t think I was a poet,” and “I usually plan out my writing before doing it, but I was able to write a story and I don’t know where it’s going.”

We ate lunch yesterday at Victor’s cafateria, a favorite place for Dave Robicheaux (James Lee Burke’s MC). The clerk who checked us out asked me, “Are you a writer?”
I answered, “Yes.” I asked her to ask the students that question. Each of them said, “Yes, I am a writer.” I celebrate young writers today.

Write Your Way

Poetry Friday round up is hosted by Kimberley.

Poetry Friday round up is hosted by Kimberley.

writing in the museum
This week I have had the privilege to host a writing camp for kids. I have a small group ranging in age from 10 to 17. I have taught many writing camps over the years, but this is the first time that everyone there is truly a writer. I feel like my job this week has been to open up a faucet and watch the water flow. They just know how to do it.

Since I am holding the camp at a school within my church on Main Street, I decided that each day we would venture out to places close by to write. We have written in a bakery/gelato shop, an art gallery, a museum,a church,  a bookstore, and a cafe.

One activity I enjoy doing with young writers is ekphrasis, writing to art. We are holding our meetings in the fine arts building. The art teacher is a folk art collector.  She has left parts of her collection in the building for art inspiration. We used it for writing inspiration. Emery wrote this piece to a painting of a woman holding paint brushes fanned out over her face. The insight of this 13 year old is amazing.

George said that he could paint anything. He said that he could even paint me. I protested, but he insisted. I put my dirty blonde hair into a messy ponytail, my bangs fell to the left side of my face. I asked if there was any way to hide my face. He said,”Hold these paintbrushes in front of your face.” He handed me his extra brushes and I fanned them out. I put my hand to my cheek, for I could feel myself blushing. When he told me he was done, I took a look. I found a beautiful girl in black and white. She had two sides of her face, one light and one dark. The darker side showed where I hid my blush. The lighter side showed my blemish free skin. I saw a beautiful girl with insecurities, hiding behind paintbrushes. George had shown me the way that I see myself, and the way other people see me. He told me to take it home and hang it on a wall. I hung it in my living room. Every time I saw it, I remembered my insecurities and the man who painted me. He showed me how beautiful I really am.

In the gallery, Kaylie focused not on the art but the building itself. She found an old door to write about.

Tall wooden door.
Antique. Riddled with
cracks. Green vine,
hello, creeping up
the wall. Brick
covered by thin
layer of paint, chipping,
like the floor,
patterns of red and
gray. Ancient hinges
on door, probably
can’t even open.
Doesn’t matter–blocked
by drying racks, a
hat stand and a
dusty flowerpot. Not
to be opened, nailed
shut by a rusty bar.
Why? What are you
keeping out? Or
what are you locking in?

I hope you will come back over the next few days as I publish more of their work.  This has been a pure pleasure to be with such wonderful writers.


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