Tag Archives: writing

Monday Musings: What exactly did we create?

17 Oct
Did we dream it or did we do it?

Did we dream it or did we do it?

Recently we had a conversation in our family that has really stuck with me. At the time, it left me a tiny bit unsettled, sad yet happy, longing yet not, and questioning a few things. I had been thinking on it and thinking on it, mulling it over in my mind for quite some time, and hesitating whether or not to publish a blog post about it or not. Last week I watched a video which confirmed that yes, I did want to publish this post. I encourage you to watch this video from beginning to end. It is well worth your time. Thank you to the Attleboro High School students who spent many hours of time on such an important topic.

In the meantime, here is my post.


It was summertime.

We were all together and we had the occasion to find ourselves in a warehouse. There was an event there and we were attending, but the event only used a small part of the available space. It was a big, open warehouse, a different experience than warehouse shopping, like at BJ’s or Costco or Sam’s Club. The walls were black, the floors were black, it was an exciting open space, big and empty: seemingly like a giant blank canvas.

As we walked through the space, we marveled at the vast openness of it; it almost encouraged you to run wild, to yell out loud to hear your voice echo in the space, but we didn’t do that. We walked and we talked.

“What if?” Some one of us said it. I truly don’t remember who.

But I do remember what followed next.

“What if we lived here?! What if this was our house?!”

“I’d want a big space to dance!”

“A huge kitchen for cooking!”

“An art studio!”

“A stage!”

“A room filled with books on all the walls!”

“A sewing room with tons of space for fabrics!”

“A place for a 3D printer and doing science experiments!”

“A music room for playing piano and instruments!”

“A photography studio!”

And on, and on and on.

We laughed and talked and called out ideas to each other as we designed our new home. In real life, we live in a regular-sized house, like regular people do, and sometimes (okay, many times) it seems too small for all of us, but we always pride ourselves in being creative with our space, always finding ways to make it fit our needs at the time of our lives that we’re in. We’re comfortable with making changes as our needs change, and that’s just what we’ve always done. We make it work for us.

But this, this imaginary blank canvas of a home, it was exciting to think about for a few minutes as we walked through it and out, out into the bright sunshine of the outdoors and towards our car.

Once we got in the car, the conversation was over and we moved on to the next thing, back to real life and back to summer and then eventually back to school and work.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. As two educators, we’d always imagined starting our own school. Hands-on, experiential learning is our thing. As parents we have fostered that passion in our kids too.

In my mind I pondered the conversation. What did we really imagine? Was it our imaginary house in a huge open space, or had we created the school of our dreams?

And really, the school of our kids’ dreams?

It made me a little bit sad. Sad at first, because most likely we won’t ever get to open up our own school in that warehouse with all of the hands-on learning experiences. Sad second, because in reality, so much of what our kids called out as the things they’d love to be surrounded by on a daily basis, is so much of what’s been removed from traditional public schools as the years go by. I am very thankful that our school district offers a stellar option for high school students through a regional career and technical school which is located on one of our city’s high school campuses, but I know that not everyone has that option everywhere, and that the guaranteed hands-on, engaging education that’s found in a career and tech program is only for high school students, at least in our neck of the woods. I’m also happy to see instrumental music education returning to our elementary schools here, after having been gone for so long thanks to budget woes which are not unique to just our area.

That said, so much of what I used to see in schools as I covered story after story, is no longer done as teachers have said that they have run out of time to do the types of things they used to do. As more testing and seat-work move in, more hands-on experiences and creativity move out. Sometimes, if schools specialize in the arts, they leave out the sciences. As they specialize in science and technology, they lose focus on the arts-things like theater, music, visual and performing arts. That makes me sad. Home economics, cooking, sewing and fashion, wood and textile design…don’t even get me started. In so many places, although not everywhere, these areas of study, these life and career skills that students need the minute they are out in the world on their own, are gone. It is so much so that on a recent college tour, we were even told of basic cooking classes that are offered to college students getting ready to live on their own who don’t possess those types of basic independent living skills.

But yet despite my sadness, I soon had an awesome realization, and ultimately it made me happy and it made me proud.

No, we didn’t open our school (at least not yet), we don’t have a giant home and we definitely don’t have a school-sized budget. But that said, all of those things that our kids dreamed of having in their space, they dream of because they have experienced them. As they’ve grown we’ve designed our open spaces in our home to be spaces that foster creative play, learning and hands-on experiences. Whether it was dress-up and school, arts and crafts, or library and kitchen imaginary play spaces in our basement when they were little, or lessons in things like sewing, dance, music, theater and art as they got older, they’ve been able to be exposed to so many things and have had the time and the opportunity to explore and experience them all. Books have always lived on shelves in every bedroom, under pillows with flashlights and book lights. Play-doh, paint, glue and glitter have always been regular staples in our craft supplies. We have had a garden in our backyard almost every summer since our kids were young. As they grew, the books, spaces and activities grew and changed with them, and the play kitchen space became cooking with us in the real kitchen space, a passion of ours that they all share.

When learning experiences were offered in our city or nearby cities and towns for free, we exposed them to them, while enrolling them in regular lessons for some of the things they loved whenever we were able to. They’ve always been exposed to things that interest them and spark their creativity: free workshops on 3D printing or stop-motion animation at the library, free reading events and encounters with famous authors at the State House, science experiments in our kitchen, lots of opportunities for great experiences through the Girl Scouts like photography lessons and outdoor camping trips, for example.

As teens and tweens they now have a sewing machine in every bedroom. We have paint and canvases, fabric, easels and musical instruments in our home, and so many books. We cook together and they cook independently. As I look around in this instant, there are sketch books sitting out right now, out in the open here in our living room, awaiting the next burst of inspiration, and there’s a draft of someone’s book on my laptop, a dress form with an almost-finished dress on it in a bedroom down the hall.

So as sad as I was that I know we probably won’t ever have our school, and sad for what many students won’t ever have because it’s lost from so many schools and out of reach for many family budgets, after much thought, I was ultimately happy and proud. I felt that if these were the things our kids wanted in their imaginary home, or maybe in their vision of the ultimate perfect school, and if we’d somehow managed to dedicate ourselves to being able to provide them all for them over the years in our own home, in their own real lives, then we’d done a good job of teaching in a hands-on, experiential way. We have succeeded in fostering a love of hands-on learning, of reading and of writing, a passion for the arts and for the sciences, and we’ve given them life-long skills they need to be successful when they are living independently. As we now tour colleges and see the hands-on experiential learning that is taking place there, we see too, that it is the desired outcome for secondary education over any standardized test, and we know we have prepared our kids well for this type of learning which will later transcend into the jobs of the future. Colleges look for students who have experienced true learning, not the one-sided delivery of a curriculum or the passing of a test or of dozens of tests. Employers look for a well-rounded problem solver and critical thinker with a wide variety of skills in their repertoire, not just someone who can ace a test.

Although my mulling over of this conversation was initially one tinged with sadness for what wasn’t or what will never be, it is ultimately one that makes me smile. We had a dream, we had a goal, and in essence we did it and we did it for those students who matter to us most of all: our own. We did it in a small space and on a tiny budget and we continue to do it each and every day. We have always sacrificed a lot, often, and in so many other areas, but we are our children’s first teachers, they are our ultimate legacy, and hopefully when they leave our nest, they’ll be able to continue to live a life filled with a passion for hands-on learning and experiencing life to its fullest.




A word about Summer and The Whole Bag of Chips

11 Jun

We spend tons of time outdoors in the summer!

Summer is coming! School days are numbered now, down to the single digits, thankfully.

Summer is my absolute favorite time of the entire year. I love having my kids all home and I love having no set schedule. We spend lots of time together as a family, since the majority of Don’s time off as a school administrator takes place during July and part of August. It makes up for the zillions of hours he spends at work during the school year. When he went to work for a full day this past Saturday, I knew in my head that Summer is coming, and that made it an easier pill to swallow, knowing he’d be gone for the day on a weekend, normally our family time, but that soon we’ll have lots of time to spend together with him.

I started this blog on September 25 and since that time it has had over 15,000 hits. I am thrilled with the response it’s had.

However, like I said, it’s summer.

As a work-from-home-mom-writer, I find it hard to balance all the hours of computer time I have to put in with the time I want to spend with my family, but this year with them all in school all day, it was easy–I just type when they’re not here during the days, or when they’re in bed at night.

During the summer, not so much.

Therefore, during the next couple of months, until school starts again, I can make no promises as far as my blog posting schedule. Right now I post five days a week consistently, never missing a day.

I can promise you this: summer won’t be that way. I’ll be working my regular newspaper job as always, but the blog will be on hiatus temporarily, while we’re off doing our family thing.

Family First. Always.

If I have time to post I will, as often as I can, but I will not make a commitment to any type of schedule for the summer. I’m sure you all understand.

Enjoy your own summer, enjoy your kids tons and tons while you have them home. As we all know, it won’t always be that way. They won’t be little forever and we will wish we had this time again. Cherish every single minute, even the tough times. (Yes, my kids bicker constantly too.)

Happy summer!

New England Newspaper & Press Association Awards

12 Feb

Tonight was the night I'd been looking forward to for a month now, and I was so happy it didn't snow!

Last night was the 2012 NENPA Awards Banquet. Awards were given out to nominees from Maine to Connecticut in a wide variety of categories. The awards are based on your work from the 2011 calendar year. The event is held at the historic Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts each year and if I had to guess, there were over 600 nominees at the dinner ceremony. It’s quite an honor to even be nominated, an honor to know that you rank up there as a writer or photographer with the top journalists in all of New England. In 2010 I attended and placed second for Education Reporting for my 2009 work. I was thrilled!

Our company, Beacon Communications, has several different newspapers: The Cranston Herald and The Johnston Sun Rise, both of whom I write for, and The Warwick Beacon. This year there were six of us nominated for awards, four of us attended, and my husband Don. Our company allows each of us to submit our best work in three categories if we’d like to be considered for an award by NENPA. This year I had submitted one in Education Reporting, one in Religious Reporting, and one Educational Series. You submit in August and you hear back from NENPA in January, with the award ceremony in February.

When I heard from my editor that I’d won again this year, it was in the Religious Reporting category. She mentioned that there were still several categories whose judges had not reported back. Education was one of those categories. By the time February came, I hadn’t heard anything else about winning in another category so I assumed I was only nominated in that one.

We arrived at the Park Plaza hotel with plenty of time to spare so we walked into the room where they post all of the nominated work, separated by category and class. (Class is determined by your newspaper’s circulation.) As we walked up and down the aisles looking for the Religious Reporting category, we walked past the Education Reporting category and I sadly said to Don, “Awww…there’s Education.” That’s what I had won for in 2009 and I was bummed out that my piece I’d submitted hadn’t won again. Suddenly though, I did a double-take because hanging on the board in front of me, covered by another entry, was my Education submission, nominated for an award. I was so shocked and I was thrilled!! Now I knew that not only would I be recognized in one category, but two, and that my area of expertise, Education, had in fact, been nominated for an award.

There, sticking out from behind two other entries, was a Cranston Herald nominee, MY nominated work! I was so surprised!

Dessert was delicious!!

Dinner consisted of salad, chicken, veggies and some sort of green rice.  Dessert was delicious and well-worth the wait. It was a chocolate mousse served inside a hard chocolate shell, shaped like a pyramid. There was whipped cream and half a strawberry on the plate, along with some sauce drizzled on the plate as well.

After dessert and coffee, they began announcing the nominees in each class for each category, in alphabetical order. It’s grueling to sit through and wait for your category to be called, then your class in that category and then your name to see where you placed.

During the weeks leading up to the event, I had hoped and prayed for first or second place and the other day when I was at the hairdresser for an appointment, I said to one of the stylists, “I only want first or second place. I’ll be so disappointed if I only get third.”

She asked me how many people I had been up against, to even be nominated at all, and I said I wasn’t sure, maybe hundreds since the competition encompassed all of New England. She was shocked to hear that, and she said, “You should be thrilled no matter WHAT place you get! Think of your daughters and the lessons you want to be teaching them. You don’t want them to think it’s about the winning or what place you get,” and at that point I thanked her for bringing me back to reality. She said to me, “I’m going to pray that you get third place and that you’re able to be happy with that.” I hugged her as I left, and I thought about what she said from then on.

I placed third in both categories, actually tying with another journalist for third place in the Education Reporting category.

I also found out later, that there were 3000 entries into this year’s competition. Although not all 3000 were in my two categories, it does show just how tough the competition was overall.

I’m thrilled that I have been recognized yet again for my contribution to journalism here in New England, and in my city and state. I’m thrilled to have a job I love, and that I can be proud of the work that I do. I am glad my daughters can be proud of me and I need to be better at accepting less than first place! I don’t want them to ever think that third isn’t “good enough,” because it certainly is. To be in a room filled with almost 1000 New England journalists, knowing that you’re one of them and you all make up the cream of the crop, is quite a feeling, and I can’t wait to do it again!

I can now say I am a FOUR TIME award-winning journalist!!

Here are a few more photos from last night’s event.

Beacon Communications was well-represented at the NENPA Awards!

Education, I couldn't believe it!

It's great to have Don there with me when I get these awards. He often makes it possible for me to do the jobs I do, by taking care of the kids when I'm out on nights and weekends, so having him share in the limelight is nice!

Crafts for Kids: Thumbprint Art

2 Dec

Yesterday I posted my first “Your Tray or Mine? Cookie Tray Recipe of the Day” and it was for Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies.

I mentioned several ways your kids could help out with the cookie baking if you wanted them to. But, I figure that all that cookie rolling and thumbprinting might get kids into the mood for…..thumbprint art!

Many of you know that for eleven years, until this past August 2011 I was a Stampin’ Up! demonstrator, teaching adults and kids how to work with stamps and inks for paper crafting. In fact, in 2004 and 2005 I was one o the top 100 demonstrators in the country! It was a job I loved very much and it combined a lot of the things I love, including teaching and kids. This project today reminds me of my SU days!

A fun thing for kids to do with ink is to use their fingerprints to turn them into drawings. I actually own a whole book about it: Ed Emberley’s Fingerprint Drawing Book and it’s a book I’ve had since I was little.

This is the Ed Emberley book I have at my house.

You can find Ed Emberley’s book as well as several of his others, here on Amazon.com if you’re interested in buying it for your kids.

The cool thing about it is that besides teaching the basics of thumbprint art, it also has seasonal and holiday thumbprint art pages as well! It gives kids hours of fun thumbprint art to keep them busy. I also find with my kids, once you get them going, their own innate creativity keeps them going on their own for hours (which gives you time to mix up more cookie batter!)

a Christmas page from Ed Emberley's book

If you don't want to do Christmas thumbprint art, you can do winter instead!

My personal recommendations when choosing ink pads is: be sure to use water-based ink (if you see Pigment Ink, think PERMANENT INK!!) Water-based ink washes off easily with soap and water or with baby wipes. I also always recommend using a paper tablecloth (Chinette makes them and you can reuse them as long as they’re dry and not ripped too badly.) Paper absorbs the ink that gets on the table, where plastic doesn’t and once it gets on the plastic tablecloth it stays wet and gets on arms, elbows, clothes etc.

Dress for mess when your kids work with ink, and the kids could even wear an apron if you’re nervous about clothing.

You can have your kids make scenes using their fingerprints or they can make Christmas cards, pictures for family members, teachers, friends, etc. My daughter Alex could make an entire book of her artwork. For her everything is made into a book. Your kids could do that as well, make a book, write a story to go along with their fingerprint characters.

Well there you have it, my first cookie and crafts double feature for you! What do you think??

I bet you’re wondering what I will come up with next, right?!

Just wait and see…

When can I……

17 Nov

“When can I have a cell phone?”

“Can I get my ears pierced?”

“Can I get them double pierced?”

“When do I get to sleep on the top bunk?”

“How come I have to put my own laundry away and they don’t?”

Sound familiar? As soon as our kids are old enough to ask for something, it starts….and it never ends. We realized very early on that we needed to set up House Rules for the kids who lived in our house and stick by them no matter what “everyone else” was doing and no matter what the rules in their houses were.

The rules were basically set by our experiences with our oldest, since she is the one who approached every benchmark in life first, whether it was sleeping on the top bunk, or having a cell phone, or whatever the case may be. However, by setting the rules for her, and making them known to the next two girls, it’s stopped a lot of the questioning. The rules are set, they know what they are, and there’s no question. We’ve only had to make an exception on one rule, one time, which I’ll explain later.

Having set rules not only helps us stay consistent in our parenting from kid to kid in our house, but it helps us have a ready answer when confronted with a question from another parent, and gives our kids a ready answer as well, when they’re asked if they can do something, by one of their peers. They may not like the answer, and their friends may not either, but at least they can blame us and say, “That’s the rule in our house,” if they want to.

Obviously we know that nothing can be written in stone and exceptions may have to be made along the way, and things may come up that we have no rules for and need to make a split decision on, but we have our baseline set of rules and we do our best to stick by them. We also know that our rules may be different than other families’ rules.

Clearly, we’ve only gotten up to the rules for twelve years old and sixth grade since our oldest is only that far along, but it makes me curious:  what the rules are in other people’s houses? Do you have rules set up beforehand and stick by them or do you make them up as you go? Do you have rules that you’ve found helpful beyond the ones we have here?

Comment back and let me know.

Here’s a look at our House Rules

Age 5 allowed to have their first friend birthday party, at home, five friends

Age 6 allowed to have their first friend birthday party out of the house

Age 6 first time sleeping in the top bunk  (*This is a safety rule told to us by the furniture store where we bought the beds, so there was no question here.)

Age 8 ears pierced

Age 9 last big friend party out of the house

Age 10 the almost sleepover birthday party (Three friends can be invited. Kids arrive with pjs, pillows, sleeping bags and stay late but not sleep over night.)

Age 10 Bedtime is moved to 9pm

Age 10 Responsible for putting away all of their own laundry

Age 10 first time sleeping at someone else’s house other than family (This is the one we had to make an exception for. Our second daughter got a birthday party sleepover invite from a family we’re very close to and we allowed it so she didn’t miss the party or have to leave the party. However, it was just an exception for the one night.)

Age 11 allowed to have an email address

Age 11 able to stay home alone for very short periods of time on an as-needed basis only

Age 12 sixth grade we allowed a laptop (our oldest “worked” all summer before her 12th birthday as a Mother’s Helper to save her own money in order to purchase a 10″ notebook laptop)

Age 12 or end of sixth grade can get a second earring hole if they want one (Sixth grade for us is the last year of elementary school.)

Age 13 or entering seventh grade can have an emergency-only cell phone

I’m a Guest Blogger!

26 Oct

You can find me this week on the Good Parent Good Child Blog!

I’m so excited! This week I was asked to be a guest blogger on fellow author/blogger/mom Rebecca Jackson’s Good Parent Good Child Blog.

I was asked to talk about cooking for a large family with a variety of tastes. I provided her with five tips we’ve discovered along the way as well as one yummy recipe that my family loves.

I hope you’ll check it out! You can click on the underlined title above and go right to my post!!

What would your message be?

21 Oct

This was me, just before my presentation began.

This week I was asked to speak at our local community college to a writing class. A friend of mine from college works there and she asked me to come in and speak. I was very excited, I love public speaking even though so many people do not. I also love speaking to students, although this was my first time speaking to college-aged students. Usually I speak to upper level elementary students or to middle school students.

I was asked to speak to them about how writing has influenced my career, but the prompt really got me thinking. There was so much more I wanted to tell these students before they leave their college life behind and go out into the “real world.”  There was so much that I wanted to share, things I had already learned that I felt important to tell them.

My speech was about 20 minutes long, maybe a half hour. I had a power point presentation to go along with it, and I brought lots of samples of my writing with me as well, some hands-on things for them to look through.

The college years: once a writer and snacker, always a writer and snacker!

I talked all about my decision making process in college, trying to decide where I wanted to go in life, what I wanted to “do.” I told them about my days as a teacher and my desire to be home with my children once we started our family 12 years ago. I talked about running a home-based business for eleven years and about how I happened upon my job as a reporter and photographer at a school event three years ago next week. I talked about winning my journalism awards and how fantastic that was, about writing books and being an author and how fantastic that is as well.

However, I what I tried to  emphasize the most and what I hope they took away with them was this:

Don’t think you have to do just one thing in your lifetime.

Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself over and over again, should the need or desire to try something new arise.

Doing what you love is so important.

In this day and age, with the economic times as they are, think out of the box. See what else you can do with your skills and your hobbies, even if it’s not exactly what you went to school for or what you thought you wanted to do for a career.

Don’t be afraid to say yes to something new, and to see where that takes you. Opportunities are around every corner.

Don’t be afraid to put your family first, if that is something that is a priority for you (as it was and still is, for me.)

And most importantly, writing is so important. If you can write and write well, even if you don’t love it the way I do, you can do anything.

I hope my message got through to them and I hope my presentation makes a difference for at least one of those students.

It makes me wonder though, if you were speaking to them, if this was your one chance to inspire this next generation, what would your message be?

What’s the mystery?

11 Oct

For as long as I can remember, at least since my oldest was a preschooler, we have been taking the kids on Mystery Rides. I don’t even know how it started, I just know we’ve always done it.

A Mystery Ride is exactly what it sounds like. We are taking the kids somewhere and to them, it’s a mystery because we don’t tell them where they are going. We let them guess, but we never tell them if they’ve guessed correctly or not; they don’t know until we arrive at our final destination. As the kids have gotten older, they’ve gotten better at asking their questions when they are making their guesses: Is it inside or outside, is it a place we have gone before or not? Sometimes to throw them off we’ll make them bring a sweatshirt and wear socks and sneakers (as if we’re going to an outside destination) when really we might be going to a movie or a museum. We’ll let them throw in a movie in the van, usually reserved for rides of 45 minutes or more, when really we’re going indoor mini-golfing up the street. It’s as fun for us throwing them off as it is for them to guess.

For us, creating a sense of mystery for the kids makes what might be a somewhat ordinary activity (like a movie or out for ice cream) that much more exciting. It makes a mountain out of a mole hill, as they say, and for us that’s important since with a big family we often can’t afford to do some of the huge attractions we wish we could do. Going out to eat or to the movies is not something we do often, so the excitement in itself of actually going is made that much bigger by the mystery that surrounds it. Sometimes we laugh too, because their guesses are bigger than the actual destination, like the time my youngest daughter guessed that we were going to Disney when in actuality they were going to a baseball game with their dad. She was pretty sure it was a trip to Disney though, despite the fact that 1) I wasn’t going and 2) there was no luggage.

Some of the Mystery Rides we have done in the past include: movies, out for ice cream or out to eat, beach at night, letterboxing-which in itself is a mystery because you go to a different place each time, indoor mini golfing, Bass Pro Shops in Massachusetts, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, the drive in movies, museums like the Providence Children’s Museum, a show like Disney on Ice, a basketball game at a local college, etc.

One of the funniest Mystery Ride moments we had recently was when we took the kids to the pre-screening of A Dolphin Tale on a Tuesday night, a school night. We had stopped to pick up some out-of-state friends who were in town visiting, so that was the first part of the mystery. Then, we headed into the city, to a different theater than we would normally go to. We were nearing the place where all of the “on ice” shows tend to be. My second daughter started guessing, shouting from the back seat, “Toy Story On Ice, Princesses on Ice, Disney on Ice!” Each time, we’d say no, and finally she said, “Something On Ice, Anything at all On Ice??”  Despite the fact that nothing was on ice that night, they were so thrilled when we arrived at the IMAX theater, and they loved A Dolphin Tale, which was in 3D.

A Dolphin Tale was a great Mystery Ride!

Yesterday’s Mystery Ride was apple picking at Steere Orchards in Greenville, RI. We live about five minutes from a couple of local orchards but to be different we chose this one, about 20 minutes from away. We hadn’t been apple picking as a family in years. It was a warm day for October, almost 90 degrees and the orchard had advertised hay rides and free music along with samplings of their foods. We rounded everyone up and got them to get their sunglasses, sneakers and a bottle of water each. We told them it was outside and to a place none of us had ever been before. It was such a fun day, one we’ll remember for years to come. The added bit of mystery made it that much better!

We took the hay ride first before we picked our apples.

Daddy and his daughters

The girls and I loved the little store at the orchard and they loved the old-fashioned scale. I'm pretty sure though, that none of the bags of apples near it have the right amount of apples in them any more!

Me and my girls