Doing the Work

icebergIt’s that time of day … again. Evening. This part of the day and I stare each other down frequently. I was up at 4:30 this morning with a killer headache, looooong day, and a busy evening. My kiddo is finally zonked out and it’s now 7:28pm.

I couldn’t squeeze out any words earlier in the day. You know, during that time when I was fresh, coherent, and somewhat awake.

So, now it’s 7:29 and time to push some words out. And it’s hard.

A friend shared this iceberg image on Twitter. You know this one. We’ve all seen it before. I looked at this image for a while tonight. I thought a lot about what it takes to make things happen. Dedication. Hard work. Habits. Rejection. Fatigue.

Too often people comment to me about how easy my life is. About how I’m able to write because it’s easy for me. And somehow I magically have more time than them. And it just comes easier.

Um, no it doesn’t. Writing is hard. Very hard. The first draft of anything I write absolutely stinks (including this blog post). And I think we all have the same 24 hours in a day. I do choose to use those 24 hours differently from some of my peers. Maybe that’s what they’re referring to. Who knows. I try hard not to invest too much time into what others think because it makes my head spin.

But the point is, no matter what our dreams are, we have to invest the time. We have to get our hands dirty. We have to push through when it hurts, when we’re tired, and even when we just don’t feel like it and we’d rather curl up and read a book. We have to make sacrifices. We have to fight against the resistance pushing against us, telling us that we’re wasting our time, we’re not good enough, and it’ll never happen for us.

We have to do the work.

So, now it’s 7:55 and time for me to get to work. I hurt, I’m tired, and I’m kinda grouchy … but the craft calls.

What have you pushed through lately? What motivates you to keep moving forward?


Middle-Grade Ghost Stories

Let’s talk about ghost stories for middle-grade readers. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much that I loved more than being scared. And let’s face it … not much has changed since then. So, when my students come to me looking for a recommendation for a creepy ghost story I get really excited to share some of the books I’ve read.

Kids today are really, really lucky when it comes to ghost stories because there are some fabulous authors who know how to chill a spine without crossing the line and being too scary for young readers.

rl stineThe selection was small when I was a kid. By the end of elementary school I had exhausted every R.L. Stine Fear Street and Christopher Pike book I could get my hands on. The only Baby-Sitters Club I ever read was #9 The Ghost at Dawn’s House. And of course I read The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith way before it became what it is today.

By late elementary and early middle school I had moved on to Dean Koontz and John Saul. It wasn’t until my early adult years that I started reading the master, Stephen King. Since then I’ve discovered more authors who keep me reading late into the night albeit under the covers.

Below are 7 middle-grade ghost stories that I highly recommend. They’ve got enough spook to make you look over your shoulder every time you hear a bump. If you want to make them even spookier, crawl under your covers at night with a flashlight. Setting is everything when reading a ghost story.



#1 Ghostlight by Sonia Gensler

Twelve-year-old Avery and her brother Blake are spending the summer with their grandmother. Blake is tired of the games they used to play to entertain themselves and is too busy for Avery. This makes her furious. She befriends Julian who is staying with his dad in a nearby cottage. Julian is an amateur filmmaker who has his eyes on Hilliard House, an empty mansion that Avery is forbidden to go near. Hilliard House has a sordid history that Avery and Julian slowly unravel together while creepy things begin to happen around them. Have they awakened something that should have been left alone?This book had just the right balance of creepy and adventure to keep me reading straight through to the end.


#2 GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

I’m not really a fan of graphic novels, but I’ll try anything about ghosts. This book was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. It also had a nice message about family and culture.

Catarina’s family moves to Northern California because of her sister’s illness. Cat doesn’t like this one bit. She likes it even less once she learns that her new town is haunted. Her sister, Maya, can’t wait to see a ghost, but Cat feels otherwise. This story is their journey of learning to put aside fears, trust in others, open themselves to new experiences, and find courage.


#3 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Need I say more? I mean, it’s Neil Gaiman! But if that’s not enough, this gem is about a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts since he was a toddler. He has many adventures, and faces equally as many dangers, with this peculiar lifestyle. He’s not able to ever leave the graveyard, though, because the man who killed the rest of his family is still after him.


#4 Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Another fav of mine that I read a couple years ago is also by Mr. Gaiman. I know a lot of students who’ve seen the movie, but as I say, the book is almost always better. This book starts out innocently enough and almost like many middle-grade books where our main character is another child faced with utter boredom. But as the book progresses, Coraline’s adventure in an alternate, mirror reality of her life is everything but boring. A creepy read with a heart felt message. I highly recommend this quick read.


#5 Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

I don’t know where Mary Downing Hahn has been all my life. I only wish stories like hers had been around when I was in elementary school. Took is her most recent ghost story. It’s short, but not at all sweet. 13 year-old Daniel Anderson moves with his family from Connecticut to the country. He’s not welcomed by the locals. In fact, they bombard him with stories of an old ghost witch. It doesn’t scare him until his sister spends more and more time talking to her doll. And then his sister disappears in the woods. Could the ghost witch be real? As soon as I finished this book, and put it in my classroom library, my students gobbled it up.


#6 All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

I could probably dedicate one whole blog post to all of Mary Downing Hahn’s books. Here’s another spooky one to add to your shelf. Travis and his sister decide to play a prank and fake ghost-like activity at their grandmother’s inn. Unfortunately, you need to be careful with what you pretend because sometimes you might actually wake the dead. The two kids end up waking more than they bargained for.

book of bad things

#7 The Book of Bad Things by Dan Poblocki

This is the first book I’ve read by Dan and it is creepy! I plan to dive further into his ghost stories. In this one, our main character is Cassidy, who is visiting her host family in upstate New York for the summer. The weird hermit, Ursula, who lived down the street has mysteriously passed away, and now the town citizens are taking her stuff. However, those who take her things regret their decision. Ursula’s ghost is creeping around the town with a warning. Cassidy has to uncover the mysterious connection between Ursula’s death and the items being taken.

Next up … 


Next on my list of middle-grade ghost stories is The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell. This should be a good one! A mysterious mansion, dark secrets, and birds … yikes!

Happy reading!


img_6353Spring has come to Georgia. I know this because of these yellow beauties that have popped up in my yard. I also know that spring has arrived because of the large 30-count box of Claritin sitting in my kitchen. That sign is almost more powerful than the flowers. Spring in Georgia…need I say more. <cough cough>

One of the best parts of spring time, and the warming weather, is the gift of sitting outdoors with a blank notebook and a favorite pen. The sun is out, the earth is warming, flowers are opening, and the baby grass that I planted last fall is starting to poke through (much like my story ideas). New beginnings.img_6359

New Year’s Day is a momentous occasion for new beginnings and goals. Then begin the dark days of January and much of February. If you’ve hit a rut, like I often do, spring time offers another fresh start to recommitting oneself to doing whatever brings joy.

Yes, there’s spring cleaning and planting and dusting, but there should also be moments of quiet and reflection. Moments spent enjoying the sun, the outdoors, and a blank notebook and pen. Simply experiencing joy.

What’s your joy?

Next Steps

img_6347Next Saturday, I’ll attend the Atlanta Writing Workshop and I am beyond excited! No, this isn’t the first writing workshop I’ve attended. But it is the first where I’ll be pitching my story to agents.

Normally, when I’m at a conference, I’m the one who sits and takes copious amounts of notes, gets lost in her own thoughts, and takes small steps with my WIP.

This time I’ll still be doing much of that, but I’ll also be meeting with two agents for 10 minutes each to pitch my MG paranormal book.

Am I nervous? Heck, ya! This is probably why I signed up for two pitch sessions. I might bomb the first and then get my nerves straightened out for the second.

This is the book that I wrapped up a year ago and gave to some beta readers for feedback. Since then, I’ve cleaned it up further, fine tuned much of it (I hope), and started querying agents. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only queried 8 agents thus far (that’s another whole blog post), so this is the year that I really try to get my story “out there”.

This week before the conference I’m gifting myself permission to dive back into my story so I know it backward and forward (it’s been a while since I’ve read through it because I’ve been working on Book 2 and other projects). I’m also practicing my pitch, which is a little weird, and involves a lot of talking to oneself.

The Type A that got buried after the birth of my son, poked through and I created a spreadsheet for each chapter of my book. Wow! Has this been helpful in seeing my book as one big picture. I should have done this months ago.

So, here’s to moving forward, talking about my book, promoting my story, meeting fellow writers, and getting outside of my comfort zone. Wish me luck!


If you know me well, you know that each year I have a new theme. My life is a work in progress and I’m always on a quest to squeak out just a little more juice from the orange.

goddesses2015 was the year that I discovered Goddesses Never Age by Christiane Northrup, M.D. I’ve always enjoyed listening to her wisdom. But, what has become known as “the goddess book” in my circle, really changed my way of thinking, especially now that I’m feeling my age. I have found any excuse to gift this book to other women in my life. It’s that life-changing. Get a copy today. I’m serious.

2016 was the year of not giving a f*ck. I did read Marie Kondo’s decluttering book. I’m not a natural hoarder so my friends got a chuckle out of me further simplifying. What can I say? I really don’t like “stuff”.

fuck-bookBut even better than the decluttering book was Sarah Knight’s parody, The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*uck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do

It goes without saying that if you don’t like the eff word, then stay away from this book. But if you have an open mind and are able to grasp the bigger concept, then I can’t recommend this book enough.

This book made me realize just how much time I was wasting worrying about ridiculous things that simply don’t matter. We all spend far too much time worrying about what other people think of us and not enough considering what we think of ourself compared to … ourself. Where are we on our own life’s journey?

Last year was the year that I set aside other peoples’ opinions of me and focused on what I wanted out of my life. Boy, was that life changing!

Well, I have a new mission for 2017!

shit-togetherThis year continues with more from Sarah Knight: Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Stop Worrying about What You Should Do So You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do. (I think we can all agree that Sarah likes long titles.)

I have both the DTB (dead tree book) and audio version of this book as well as the super cool prize promo pack from Little Brown. Thank you, Little img_6183Brown!

I’m not going to ramble about this book or write a review. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I got out of it and how it has already impacted my life.

The biggest thing for me was taking a look at my already crazy busy life and finding ways to make more time for the things that I want (e.g. writing). My life almost always feels like it’s spinning out of control, and I’m constantly treading water just to keep my head barely above the surface.

But I want more. I really do want this writing thing to take off and become a thing for me.

So I had to get my sh*t together this year. It was either that or just give up.


I joined a secret Facebook writing group that is all about creating a habit of writing every single day. It’s not focused on the number of words written or even the quality of those words. It’s about showing up every single day and putting your butt in the chair and fingers on the damn keyboard.

The admins of this group have outdone themselves. They have created the most elaborate Excel spreadsheet for hundreds of people to track their progress every single day. We are divided into smaller accountability groups with a leader who monitors and pokes us when needed. They also cheer us on every. single. day.

We are supposed to record our daily word count along with the number of hours spent editing our own work or critiquing others.

Here’s my breakdown for January:

Daily goal: 600 words

Days wrote: 22 out of 31

Total words for January: 12,773 (goal 18,600)

Highest day: 1,838        Lowest day: 27

Now, I could look at those numbers and cringe that I let 9 days go by without writing a single word. Not even one. But I’m not going to cringe. Nope.

How does #gyst play into this? If it wasn’t for me reading that book in December and setting a personal goal to do this, I might not have even written the 12,773 words I did complete in January.

#gyst has forced me to look at my day in a whole new way. I have reprioritized the things that I do so that even 5 minutes here and there can be spent writing words.

For example, it’s amazing just how many words I can write on my phone while blow drying my hair. I’m not kidding! (And, yes, I do have a lot of hair)

Where else have I found time to write: in the car (dictating into my phone), lunch break (5 minutes), 5-10 minutes before I pick up my son from school, getting up 30 minutes earlier, and of course before bed.

If you have a dream that seems to be growing stagnant, or is waving to you in your periphery saying, “Look over here! Look at me! We can do this!”… don’t ignore it. If you need a push, find an accountability partner. If you’re not sure how to make it happen, grab a copy of this book, and I promise it’ll help you view your time and days in a whole new way.

Love Me Some Lester

lester-2I’ve lived in the South for a very long time now and the phrase “Love me some …” makes my eye twitch.

I guess it’s a Southern thing. I’m from Maine. There you go.

But when it comes to Lester Laminack, no one is more Southern than he. And when I think of Lester and all that he has taught me over the years, without even knowing who I am, the only words that come to mind are, “Love me some Lester!”

Last Saturday, Lester visited with 150 teachers in my school district to talk about the power of the read aloud to children. This was the third Lester event that I’ve attended in the past year. He acknowledged those of us who stalk … I mean, attend his other events and said there would be repetition because he has the same brain, the same mouth, and only knows so much shit.

That’s why I love Lester … he keeps it real.

Because, you know what, teaching can be hard. There’s a lot of pressure. We all feel it. But if we can get back to basics, then maybe it won’t be so hard.

I’m a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. And Lester reminds me of just how to do that in my classroom.

The Power of Picture Books

Come on … let’s be honest. We all love picture books. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we never get tired of reading a beautifully illustrated picture book with words that practically sing off the page. I’m a sucker for them. Seriously, you should see my own kid’s book collection. (I’ll save that for another blog post.)

Let’s remember this love when we’re working with our students.

Many of our kids just don’t have the prior knowledge and vocabulary that we’d like when they arrive to our classroom.

Lester says that picture books give exposure to language and scaffolds by building an image bank that our kids just can’t get if we only read aloud novels to them. They need to see the pictures. So that means even fifth grade through high school students need picture books read aloud to them.

Movie Read

Lester is big on doing a “movie read” the first time a book is read aloud to children. That means we as teachers can’t stop and ask our kids a billion questions about the text. We can’t ask our students to turn & talk. They’re still processing the book the first time, they’re learning the characters, they’re making connections in their head, and they’re letting it all sink in.

He suggests we read the text once through and let it simmer. Let the kids come to their own understanding over the next day or so. We can plant seeds about our own questions, and that will help foster excitement and thoughtfulness about the text within our kids.

Lester reminds us to ponder just who has a right to decide what is important in a book? Let students discover that for themselves.

As for holding them accountable, thus using turn & talk all the time, well it’s sometimes normal for kids to get lost during a read aloud. We learn through experience when to tune in and listen. The act of getting lost, and realizing that one is lost, will teach kids to not get lost next time.

“If you’re teaching for the right answer, you’re teaching wrong.” ~Lester Laminack

If you want them to regurgitate a response, you might as well just tell them the answer.


Reading aloud is an art. We need to be so familiar with the text we’re sharing that we can accurately convey mood and tone, that when we read dialogue it is as if the characters are truly speaking, and we must know when to pause.


Probably the most significant thing Lester said, the thing that really struck me, was that as teachers we are the last gatekeepers of print. So much of the world has converted solely to electronic devices for quick entertainment.

Libraries are closing. Book stores all around us are closing.

But we are the keepers of the printed book, and we have the power to keep it alive by what we do with our students. And that will have a ripple effect.

Reading matters. Reading to children matters. One of the greatest gifts, I think, we can give our children is the gift of story through a book. It teaches them to feel, to connect, to compare and contrast, to recognize relationships, to reflect, to wonder, to guess. And let’s not forget, to be able to hear the beauty of language.

An expansive vocabulary will serve a child very well in his or her life. To be able to communicate with that many more people because that child has the gift of words on his or her tongue and can easily access them. What a powerful way to bring people together! To increase understanding and empathy by being able to communicate clearly.

I may not be able to change educational policy, but I can create and foster change within myself. I can keep my focus on my students and what I know good teaching to be.

And I can read to my students—a lot—and often.

Thank you, Lester, for reminding me of the power that I do have.

*If you’re a teacher, I highly encourage you to sign-up the next time Lester is in your town. It’s an experience you will never forget!

If Lester isn’t scheduled to come to your area, then check out his books. My favorites are below:



My son turned 4 this month and is completely obsessed with superheroes. Superman, Spiderman, Batman, and on and on. I blame his preschool experience for his obsession with superheroes…he didn’t even know what a superhero was until he started bonding with the other boys in his class. Peer pressure starts early, folks!

I did the obligatory cupcakes but he wanted more. Without infringing too much on his teachers and their day (hey, I’m a teacher, too, and I totally get it), I discovered these superhero lollipops. My boy and I were immediately hooked when we saw them.

I don’t get very crafty these days, but after spotting these on Pinterest, I knew this was something we could handle. Yes, we. I’m all about him pulling his weight when it comes to this crafty stuff…within reason, of course. 😉 And he loves it!

The blog Two It Yourself had the capes that I needed. There was a wide variety so I had all of my bases covered and didn’t leave out any of his favorite heroes. When I opened up the downloaded pdf, I used the text feature to add a birthday greeting.

I love the masks from ZakkaLife. Her printable is designed for Valentine superheroes but the masks worked well for the Tootsie Pops we picked out.

Unfortunately, the capes were a little small for the larger Tootsie Pop sticks, so I ended up hot gluing them to the stick. Not a problem and I think that worked out better so the capes actually lasted until we got to school.

My son’s favorite was Superman, of course. Up, up and away!