A Circle of Learning

slice of life updatedIt’s Tuesday and I’m writing. Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the writing nudge.


I miss the noise, the mess, the piles of laundry, the skinned knees, bruised feelings and grumpy faces. The chocolate faces that scrunched up as I wiped them clean with wet washcloths.

The smiles that revealed missing teeth. The sleepy eyes. Even the stinky diapers. Well, maybe not those.

The first steps and first dates and last days at home as we filled the car with what you needed for dorm living.

The nest is empty. It’s real now. Your visits home are brief- just long enough for the house to come to life and dishes to pile in the sink. You leave before I get too used to the fullness and rapid-fire updates and happy banter. For the best. Somewhere in my aching heart I know it is. For. The. Best.

I’m leaning in… to knowing that we’re now in the season of short visits. You’ve spread your wings. I’m finding my steady.

There you are cooking for yourself, paying your own bills, folding your clothes, changing your sheets. You are, right?

For so long you were the one learning how. How to walk and talk. How to play and read. How to get along. How to dream. How to shovel snow and load the dishwasher and roast marshmallows. How to plow through hurt.

Now it’s my learning turn.

The Thing About Spring

slice of life updated

The thing about Spring is

-birds sing even before first light

as if to say “Wake up, don’t miss a minute..” and the cardinal lands on the front stoop railing next to the pot filled with geraniums just as red and for a moment is still, reminding us to pay attention.

-trees unfurl leaves, filling hills and horizon with green, bright and lush…

-peonies burst and their scent rides the breeze, filling the space around an overflowing vase on my counter with a perfume better than anything that comes in a bottle…

-mowers rumble over lawns and along strips of grass next to roads and the just-cut-grass smell tickles noses…

-sometimes the sky grows dark with heavy clouds and wind blows and rain cascades from above and when the storm subsides everything looks new again and you’ll see a rainbow if you remember to look…

The thing about spring is the newness, like starting a book nobody has read yet.


I Kept My Thoughts to Myself.

slice of life updated

For the second time in as many weeks, I lay back on the hard, white surface, staring up at the riot of blooms painted on the ceiling, meant I suppose, to distract or cheer up. I shivered, feeling only cold.

The technician covered me with a thin  blanket- more white- and placed headphones over my ears and something in my hand that she told me to squeeze should I need anything at all.

Yes, now that you mention it- a working leg please. Answers. A plan.

Keeping those thoughts to myself,  I nodded and smiled as she adjusted the straps that were holding a cage-like contraption over my legs and belly.

I began to glide slowly into the hollow part of the machine as the woman whose name I hadn’t caught because I was too distracted,  disappeared into her booth.

The familiar clicking, knocking, and beeping began, so loud I could feel the vibrations in my jaw. The country music began too, doing its best to fill my ears with sound rather than noise.

I closed my eyes to concentrate on my breath and still my mind, the way one does in a yoga class. And it was hard, just as it is in a yoga class. The what ifs and the what’s next and the why me thoughts ricocheted inside my brain as the knocks and beeps and clicks and whirs continued all around me.

Straining to hear the lyrics above the racket, my thoughts wandered to country music… how the songs almost all tell stories, how the stories almost always are sad, how the lyrics are precise and the words cleverly arranged, how the writer in me appreciates and could learn from the craft in the words. How I wished I had my notebook and a pencil so I could jot down my wonders and questions and observations while listening. Country music lyrics as mentor texts. To pass the time, I pondered the possibilities.

And then the machine stilled. The music stopped. I felt myself sliding back out to open space, face to face once again with the floral scene overhead. “All finished,” the technician told me as she helped me off the table.

Not really, I thought. But I kept that thought to myself and once again just nodded and smiled.

I’m just beginning. Just beginning to wonder what a study of song lyrics might do for narrative writers. How could we weave country music into small moment writing? What might that do for reluctant middle-school writers? I tucked my wonders and ideas in the back of my brain as I replaced the hospital gown with my street clothes and walked down the long, quiet corridor towards the  exit. My friend who’d come with me asked a question or two about the procedure and remarked that the machine was loud enough to hear outside the exam room. Yes, I almost said, and there was some pretty good noise inside my head too. Instead, I nodded and smiled and kept that thought to myself.

Kind Gestures and Thoughtful Acts

slice of life updated

Call them what you will- random acts of kindness, moments of goodness, thoughtful gestures. I’m pretty sure they always take my breath away just a little.

Mostly, I hope to be the one who sees the opportunities to practice them.

In the last twenty four hours I’ve been the recipient of several.


Yesterday morning as I lay on the surface of the MRI machine, waiting for the test to begin, the technician, who was readying equipment and finishing paperwork, paused and came back over to where I lay shivering to ask me if my feet were cold, if I wanted a blanket to cover them.

“Yes,” I said, “I’d love that.”

He halted his other preparations in order to find something to cover my legs and took an extra moment to tuck the blanket around and under my feet.

“Thank you,” I said, grateful.


My longtime childhood friend was in town this weekend seeing her son who graduates soon from UVA. We planned to meet at the men’s lacrosse game to watch and catch up. As I stood in line to purchase my ticket, a stranger approached me and handed me a ticket.

“We have an extra. It’s your’s,” he said, walking away almost before I had time to understand what had happened and say thank you.

“Lucky you,” said the woman standing behind me in line.

“Yes. I am.” I thought as I stepped out of line and walked towards the entrance to the field.


This morning, on her way to  an exercise class, my doctor called to share the results of my recent tests. It’s Sunday. She didn’t have to and she shouldn’t be working.  But, as she explained, she knew I was anxious. She wanted to assure me that there is no tumor. That the problem may require surgery, but that it is fixable. As she talked and answered a few questions, I could feel my shoulders begin to relax.


Kindness, goodness, caring, connection. May we all be the givers and receivers of these moments.




Excuses, excuses

slice of life updated

I could tell you I’m too busy to write.

But the truth is I’m preoccupied.

I could say I have nothing to write about.

But really, I could write pages and pages about what’s been going on and what is on my mind.

I could make it clear that I don’t want to bore you with my woes.

But I know that writing often helps me process.

I could say writing will help my worrying.

But I am afraid to admit the worry.

So I don’t write. I stay quiet and away.

In a few hours I’ll have the second medical test my doctor ordered as she gathers clues to explain the progressive weakness in my left leg. She has said that this is fixable, not progressive. And yet, until she has results, confirmed by tests, I hold my breath. I wonder if I will play tennis again, or walk down stairs without having to think about keeping my leg working.

And through it all I think about our student writers who sometimes say they don’t want to write or have nothing to write about and I wonder how many of them are also preoccupied and fearful to put down the thoughts and feelings that must be filling their brains. I am reminded that when I write I experience what children in workshop feel. And I know it’s better to write than not and that it will all be okay.

A Little Fun During Word Study

slice of life updated

My fourth grade readers were in the midst of exploring words with Greek and Latin roots.

“I think hyper might mean heat,” said one.

“Ok. How could you test your thinking?” I asked. He proceeded to wrestle with making meaning for the words hyperventilate and hyperactive. After a few minutes of thinking aloud and in his head, he decided that “heat” was probably not quite right as the meaning of that root.

“What does hyper-bowl mean?” another of my students called out.

“Well, how could we find out?” I asked and added, “It’s actually pronounced hy-PER-bol-ee.”

“Oh, wow…” a third child chimed in.

Meanwhile, two others got busy looking up the meaning of the word on the dictionary app of an iPad.

While the conversation was going on, all thirteen kiddos were sorting their new words and writing them in their word study notebooks.

“Oh… it means like an exaggeration,” said one of the two who’d decided to find the definition.

“It does,” I replied.

The fun was about to begin. I was just waiting for my opportunity.

My favorite I’m-going-to-rush-and-finish-first student handed me her notebook so I could glance at her work.

“Not in a million years am I going to let you get away with this,” I smiled sweetly as I handed her notebook back and asked her to find and correct spelling errors.

She looked at me sideways, unaccustomed to that sort of response, not yet catching on to where I was going and returned reluctantly to her seat to contemplate her next move.

My second speeder handed me his notebook, words barely legible, several with errors.

“You’re killing me,” I said to him as I passed his notebook back and asked him to clean up his work.

He looked slightly puzzled and sat down, sighing.

“Pretty sure I’ve mentioned to you all at least a million times that before you turn in your work, you should look back over it and make sure you feel it reflects your best effort.” I said to nobody in particular, in the most breezy tone possible.

And then, there was a giggle, followed by another, and joined by the rest within moments.

“Ohhhh…. I get it now,” said one of my quietest students.

“Good one Ms. Keeler,” added the student sitting next to her.

It Was A Magical Week


slice of life updated

Paris was amazing. Our days were long and full and despite losing two days due to a canceled flight, we managed to see and do nearly everything on our list.

We walked and walked and walked- around 40 miles in 5 days. We walked til our feet hurt and our legs felt as if they were going to give out and our necks were stiff from all the looking up and looking around. But walking is, I remain convinced, the very best way to see Paris- its wide boulevards, narrow passages, and gorgeous window boxes adorning apartment facades. When you walk you feel the wind and get caught in the frequent downpours and you see the sun when it emerges briefly and casts light and shadows in all the right places.

We ate and ate and ate- beautiful salads, decadent desserts, roast chicken as only the French can do it, perfectly pureed vegetables. And we sipped sparkly champagne and a simple but elegant Rose, and the most incredible hot chocolate at Angelina.

We saw. We saw  paintings and statues and stained glass and ancient stone and more paintings. We saw pieces created by masters hundreds of years ago and others crafted more recently. We saw works we loved and some we didn’t understand at all.

We smelled city smells and market smells and the almost forgotten smell of smokers all around us. Cheese smells and boulangerie  smells. Paris is full of smells.

It was a magical week.

Book Love

slice of life updated

“Can we go to that bookstore just up the block?” Claire asked as we finished brunch at a small cafe not far from the neighborhood where I’d grown up. Music to my ears… my 19 year-old daughter asking to go into a bookstore.

“Yes, lets!” I responded. Politics and Prose has long been one of my favorite Washington, D.C. spots.

The three of us split up moments after we entered the store. I wandered over to the poetry section, Claire started at the shelves filled with recent fiction, and Frances, who is more of an artist than a reader, went straight for a display of clever prints.

I walked to another spot, curious about a memoir by Ta Nahisi Coates. Claire tapped my shoulder, grinning and clutching a copy of News of The World. I’m aware there’s lots of buzz about the book, but have yet to read it.

“The best thing just happened to me, Mom,” she said. “This guy walked up to me and asked me if I was looking for something to read. Then he said ‘Come with me. And oh, I don’t work for the bookstore.’ He handed me this book and said, ‘Read this. It’s a story with a lot of heart.'” Claire was grinning. She’d already skimmed the first few pages and seemed intrigued.

I was smiling too, inside and out. Nothing like a committed reader/stranger to plant a seed with a sporadic one.

I Come From; #SOLSC Day 3

slice of life updated

Using the structure of this poem for writing inspiration today.


I come from a tree lined street with once modest homes

which we left each morning to walk to school or play

in the woods that seemed vast but weren’t.

I come from parents who chose me from

a convent where the nuns called me Mary Ellen and my hair was strawberry blonde and wavy, or so my parents say.

I come from years abroad and dinners at home,

from as many new experiences as my mother could squeeze in

and a simple cottage on the rocky New England coast

to which we still return every summer.

I come from questions and statements,

from a father who didn’t have one of his own but somehow knew

how to be his daughter’s quiet hero.

I come from books and nooks where curling up with a story

and finding quiet is necessary.

I come from curtseys and tradition and

a mother who taught me that being naughty is just fine sometimes.

I come from gardeners and northerners

from stories repeated and shared

from feisty, fiercely independent grandmothers and a grandfather I never met

from happy tears

and heart break and healing.

I come from a place where

an open mind, a gentle heart, and faith,




matter most.




Best laid plans; Day 2 #SOLSC

slice of life updated

Last night I read a quote attributed to Lao Tzu, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

About that… I’m actually pretty intent on arriving. And the arriving has now been delayed by 48 hours. The arriving in Paris. The week in Paris. The trip about which I wrote yesterday.

I’m trying to focus on the higher meaning of this quote. I get that it isn’t about literal arrival. But truth be told, literal arrival is my goal.

So, the week in Paris will now be five-ish days. It could be worse, I know.

Somewhere in here is a grand opportunity to model for my young adult daughters how to roll with this kind of situation. So I will. And since I shouldn’t be intent on arriving, and in order to be a good traveler I shouldn’t have fixed plans, we will regroup and take the day tomorrow to enjoy an unexpected day in Washington, D.C.

That other quote, “It’s all good,” which I think is terribly overused, is another one on my mind. Paris will have to wait a couple of days, but it IS all good.