Guest Writers

November 24, 2010

Gratitude From An 11-Year Old

I’ll tell you what I’m grateful for: my son, who decided to take over as today’s guest blogger and gave me a little extra vacation time….

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September 15, 2010

"Out of The Closet" by Chrissy Teague

What are you holding onto that might benefit someone else? Needs have never been greater. What better time to give than now? You may feel like you don’t have much. I understand. I’m a jobless single mother coming out of two closets. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to give. I challenge you to do what you can. Our relatives, our friends, our neighbors need us. The quality of community is in our hands. …

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August 26, 2010

Interview with Janet Goodfriend • Author

With so much negativity about the economy and dooming words about how print is dying, it is nearly impossible not to absorb such stifling chatter. In spite of the stone cold anonymous face of the publishing industry, if writing is in you, you must do it because you love to write and have something to tell. Only after you have completed your masterpiece, should you agonize over how to go about piercing a market clad with impenetrable locks and barriers. Upon your final rejection — and you’ll know it’s the last one because you will have stopped keeping track of the rejections, and feel as though your manuscript might actually combust inside your computer from all the continuous fingertip friction upon the keyboard or, worse, you will be ever aware of your inner-quaking as a result of the punishing silence from publishers and agents who simply cannot respond personally to the 300 plus queries they receive on a weekly basis.) That said, you can polish your work as well as a professional editor and publish it yourself. …

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July 19, 2010

Moving Up Day Speech by Melanie Ward

This speech was delivered by Melanie Ward, Principal of Mendon Center Elementary School on June 22, 2010 on its annual Moving Up Day Ceremony which occurs on the last day of school. As in any good speech, the speaker’s words have resonance not only for the graduates but for all audience members, and I asked Mrs. Ward for permission to share her words here, for parents to consider: How well are we, as adults, fulfilling the advice of an elementary school principal to her graduating students?…

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Photo by Travis S. at flickr.com

This narrative was written by Leanna Best, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes held during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester at Monroe Community College.

My aunt’s third child, Javan, was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his throat. Without air for five minutes, doctors told my aunt that Javan was not going to survive because he had lost too much oxygen. My aunt asked the doctors to try anything they could to help him to regain consciousness. The doctors put him on a respirator where each minute felt like an hour. Amazingly, Javan began breathing independently again, but the doctors told my aunt that Javan would be handicapped for the rest of his life as a result of the brain damage he had suffered. The doctors also told my aunt that Javan’s lifespan would be shorter than normal.

Guest-blogger, Leanna Best

All my aunt wanted was for her son to live, and her wish came true. But the doctors were right, too. Javan is handicapped. He cannot walk, talk, eat, or dress himself. Throughout his life he has always been in a wheelchair. Every few years, Javan has to get a bigger wheelchair because he is still growing. He is now sixteen years old and has been in a wheelchair for his entire life.

Javan has short, dark brown hair. He is very thin, but he is still very heavy. Javan can only wiggle his arms and legs in his black wheelchair, but he does not have enough muscle strength to walk or lift anything; nevertheless, he is a very happy teenager and always has a smile on his face.

Each day, my aunt faces the struggles of having a handicapped son. He has to go to a special school and get special care every day. Each day, my aunt lifts Javan out of his bed, washes him, dresses him, feeds him, and even changes his diaper. She has a huge responsibility and will have to live with this for the rest of her life. As Javan’s body grows, he gets heavier, and lifting him has become challenging. She will always have to worry about her son having a reduced lifespan.

Knowing Javan has made a huge impact in my life because I see how my aunt struggles with my younger cousin. I love him just as I love each of my cousins, and I hate to see him suffer. I hate to see him cry, and I hate not knowing what he is thinking or what he wants us to know. I know it will be extremely hard for my entire family the day he is no longer with us.

I have learned so much from watching what my aunt goes through every day, taking care of Javan. I don’t know if I would be able to do what she does every day without a lot of help. From watching my aunt, I have learned how big a responsibility it is to take care of a special needs child on a daily basis. Javan cannot communicate in words at all; he can only make sounds. My aunt has to try to figure out what he needs or wants on her own. I have seen how hard it is raising children, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to try to raise a child who cannot clearly communicate in words or gestures.

My aunt is very patient and caring. She gives Javan the care he needs every day. While I like to think that I am good with Javan and enjoy the time I spend with him, I also like taking him home. I don’t think I could handle this type of responsibility every day, along with having four other children to care for.

My whole family loves Javan so much and we would not trade him for anything. My aunt was given this challenge and she has mastered it with lots of love, time, and effort. My wish for my aunt and Javan for 2011 is a simple one: for them to be happy and healthy!

So it’s Thanksgiving. I’ll tell you what I’m grateful for: My son, who decided to take over as today’s guest blogger and gave me a little extra vacation time. I was going to add more, but I think he’s about covered it.

Stuff I’m Thankful for at Eleven Years Old

1. Thanks for my family. They love and support me when I’m in a tough situation.

2. Thanks for life. It keeps me alive.

3. Thanks for friends. Those guys sometimes piss me off, but they are still awesome.

4. Thanks for entertainment. It makes us say: “ooh,” “aah,” and “oh no!”

5. Thanks for books. They help us learn and are great on car rides when you don’t want to get out of the car to do errands. You can say, “Do I have to go in? I’m reading.” That usually works.

6. Thanks for my Dad’s job. Without it we wouldn’t have enough money for everything we have today. Because everyone knows my mom’s job as a teacher doesn’t really pay very much.

7. Thanks for technology. Especially when it works.

8. Thank goodness for a little vacation. No school!

9.  Thanks for blankets: Warmness!

10. Thanks for everything. Except the bad stuff. And luckily, we don’t have too much of that.

What are you thankful for?

This piece was written by a former student from Monroe Community College, Crissy Teague. She is one smart, beautiful, tough cookie.

image from google.com

Everything I own in the world fits behind two locked closet doors. Last year I divorced, got fired and denied for unemployment. My nine-year old  and I moved back home with my mother. I felt lost. What could I control? I could take care of what little I owned. I locked away clothes, movies, CD’s, shoes, video games and hygiene products. No one would borrow or damage what was “mine.” It belonged to me. My thirteen year-old sister would no longer take my clothes without asking, not even the dirty ones — (I locked the hamper up too). Everything changed, but I would be  in control of my little world.

Then, my son threw two mega fits while we accompanied my mother to the mall. He first cried when I refused his request for a certain video game. Telling him to “put it on his Christmas list,” or “we can’t afford it because Mommy’s not working,” or “you hardly play the the your other Wii games” did not make the tears subside. Mega fit number two came when I gave him a caramel rice cake topped with peanut butter to snack on. His lack of gratitude, and double dose of tears in two hours resulted in up a “starving kids in Africa” speech.

Fuming, I sat arms crossed. How could my child be so ungrateful? Why is he so selfish/self-centered? After a few moments I realized, this behavior is learned: Narcissism as taught by me. I remembered my belongings under lock and key. I’ve been doing this all wrong. Not just training my child, but living. My new conviction: God did not breathe life into me so I could horde pleasures for myself then die, an empty existence.

guest blogger, Crissy Teague

The little I own in the closets now seems like too much. It’s time to come out of the closets. I will give to my local community. I will go through my movies/video games and donate to local orphanages. My son has extra toys, books to give to a daycare, or hospital children’s wing, or library. A dozen fancy dresses and shoes can go to the Fairy Godmother project. Instead of spending nights indoors watching movies, my son and I will volunteer. It is better to give than to receive. I’m going to give my son a rich legacy—a legacy of giving to others.

What are you holding onto that might benefit someone else? Needs have never been greater. What better time to give than now? You may feel like you don’t have much. I understand. I’m a jobless single mother coming out of two closets. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to give. I challenge you to do what you can. Our relatives, our friends, our neighbors need us. The quality of community is in our hands. Who knows the outcome? The life you change may be your own.

When my old summer camp friend, Janet Goodfriend, decided to self-publish her own book, For the Love of Art, my ears pricked up, and I took notice. There are differing opinions about self-publishing. Some folks feel that it is the kiss of death for an author but  others swear that if sales are brisk and reviews are good, it can springboard an aspiring author’s career. Here is a little bit about Janet’s new book.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, etc.

Born in Rochester, New York where I spent most of my early childhood along with fading memories of Fort Devens Massachusetts, our family eventually settled in Ithaca, New York — the setting for my first novel, Straight Up. After earning a B.A. in English with a teacher’s certification from Fredonia’s State University of New York, I made my way to the Boston area and picked up a Masters in Literacy and Language Arts from Framingham State as I began my teaching career. The last several years have been devoted to raising a family and pursuing the dream of becoming a novelist. Though successful on those fronts thus far, selling a book in an extremely down market is an entirely different story. My hope is to be just success enough to allow me to continue to do this crazy thing called writing.

How did you develop an interest in writing? Did you go to school for writing?
My debut novel, For the Love of Art, is dedicated to my grandmother (a school librarian) who first passed down her profound fondness for literature and education. With a mother who kept me immersed in books and a father who nurtured my interest in poetry, it is no wonder that writing became a favored activity. After being editor of my high school literary magazine, I went on to pursue writing for my college newspaper. There, I was reprimanded before the entire newspaper staff because my journalistic style of reporting was considered “overly creative.” Though I concurred, the dreaded task of  reporting “just the facts” sent me packing. I have written poetry and prose over the years and, now with three novel length manuscripts, I find myself pining after a fourth. If only the business of publishing were not so all-consuming. For now, I will just have to be content for now to let that next book percolate among my thoughts a while longer.

Author, Janet Goodfriend

Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?
I am so not good with favorites. Always reading something, I often find myself having “I’m-not-worthy” moments as I amble my way in awe over the pages of another author’s cunningly lucid descriptions. Though I do have a penchant for contemporary fiction, I read all kinds of things. This year my favorite novels are The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Shelter Me by Juliette Fay, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, and The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. If I had to pick favorite books that truly stand the test of time, my mind would dance over everything from The Lorax to Catcher in the Rye, to anything penned by Shakespeare, to The Diary of Ann Frank before comfortably landing on To Kill a Mockingbird.

What is For the Love of Art about?

A novel of hope, this literary mystery is about three mothers (one a writer/teacher) vacationing sans children, on Martha’s Vineyard, who become embroiled in an art heist. Their escape ironically turns into a pointed quest giving the reader an intimate look at some of the locals. The cast includes love’s lost painter, a visceral and passionate sculptor, a besieged poet, an introspective detective, an art teacher, a salacious reporter and a homeless man. It is my hope that people will not only be entertained but better value what seems most basic in life, recognize their part in tending our earth, raising its children and ultimately feel compelled to preserve art that moves us and validates our worth.

Where can people buy your book?
Currently my book is for sale on www.janetgoodfriend.com via Amazon. However, the publishing company will donate $5.00 per book to your school if purchased directly through Painted Wood Press, P.O. Box 1006, Upton MA 01568. Just send a $20.00 check to Painted Wood Press along with the shipping address. Price includes tax, shipping and a $5.00 donation to the education fund or school district in your town toward its Arts fund. In a book club? Consider Skyping me into one of your meetings! Contact Janet at: janetgoodfriend.com for more information.

What words of advice or wisdom do you have for aspiring authors?
With so much negativity about the economy and dooming words about how print is dying, it is nearly impossible not to absorb such stifling chatter. In spite of the stone cold anonymous face of the publishing industry, if writing is in you, you must do it because you love to write and have something to tell. Only after you have completed your masterpiece, should you agonize over how to go about piercing a market clad with impenetrable locks and barriers. Upon your final rejection  — and you’ll know it’s the last one because you will have stopped keeping track of the rejections, and feel as though your manuscript might actually combust inside your computer from the continuous fingertip friction upon the keyboard or, worse, you will be ever aware of your inner-quakings due to the punishing silence from publishers and agents who simply cannot respond personally to the 300 plus queries they receive on a weekly basis.) That said, you can polish your work as well as a professional editor and publish it yourself. We’ll see how it goes. Ask me again next year.

What are your plans for the future?
For the Love of Art is my debut into the bursting at the seams world of print. With any luck and sustained support for this title, I plan to bring Straight Up to the press in 2012 and follow it up with Surrender Flash.

Be sure to check out Janet’s website as she adds more books to her repertoire!


This speech was delivered by Melanie Ward, Principal of Mendon Center Elementary School on June 22, 2010 on its annual Moving Up Day Ceremony which occurs on the last day of school. As in any good speech, the speaker’s words have resonance not only for the graduates but for all audience members, and I asked Mrs. Ward for permission to share her words here, for parents to consider: How well do we, as adults, heed the advice of an elementary school principal to her graduating students?

I am pleased to be able to say a few remarks, and share some of my thinking with you on this, your last day at [our school]. As we prepare to move you up to the middle schools, it is natural to think a little bit about your experiences in elementary school. You have worked hard and accomplished much in your time here.

You have learned how to read and to write; you have become proficient at math, learned how to think like scientists, and have become acquainted with many of the world’s regions, customs, and history in your social studies lessons. You have created beautiful pieces of art, performed musically, and learned much about physical fitness and wellness. You found the Gingerbread Man and set butterflies free. You played games at the Math Carnival, punched tin, made bread on Pioneer Day, and came through Ellis Island as immigrants. You participated in International Day and Science Day, donated Halloween candy, collected soap and canned goods galore.

Along the way, you have made new friends, and have been taught by many wonderful teachers.

Most importantly, I think, you have learned what it means to be a responsible and respectful people – good citizens of your school and your community.

No matter what subjects your teachers taught you over the years, what they were most concerned about was helping each one of you to become the best person you could be.

Our job here is done – we’ve taught you all that we have the time and the days to teach you and – for the most part – you have learned our lessons well. Before we let you go, however, I hope you will allow me this one last opportunity to give you some advice to take with you to the middle school.

1) Work hard. Things won’t always come easily to you, and they shouldn’t. What is worth learning is worth working hard for. Don’t let frustration get the best of you – persevere, ask for help, keep trying. The payoff will be great.
2) Be humble. Yes, you are smart. You are talented. You are athletic. You are a lot of great things. But so are a lot of other people. Be humble about your accomplishments and be quick to compliment others’ on theirs. You will be respected and appreciated by others for this attitude.
3) Smile. That one seems silly perhaps, but it is important. Maintaining a positive attitude – or faking it when necessary – will go a long way towards helping you to make new friends and feeling good about yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much better the world looks – and how the world looks at you – when you have a smile on your face.
4) Be courteous and respectful. Towards adults, towards your peers, towards yourself. Good manners and a respectful attitude will take you far in this world.
5. Get involved. Find extracurricular activities that you are interested in and get involved. Don’t worry if you are the only one of your group of friends interested in joining a particular club or activity. If that activity truly interests you, go for it. You are likely to meet new friends who share a common interest with you – and have some fun along the way.
6. Follow the “golden rule” – do unto others what you would have them do unto you. There is no more important rule to live your life by. It is also a very general rule, so here are some more specifics to help you as you continue your journey:

If you open it, close it.
If you turn it on, turn it off.
If you unlock it, lock it up.
If you break it, admit it.
If you can’t fix it, call someone who can.
If you borrow it, return it.
If you value it, take care of it.
If you make a mess, clean it up.
If you move it, put it back.
If it belongs to someone else, get permission to use it.
If you don’t know how to operate it, leave it alone.
If it’s none of your business, stay out of it.
If what you have to say will brighten someone’s day, say it!
If what you have to say will hurt somebody, don’t say it!
If something isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
If you think you know it all, look around and see how little you really know.

Fifth graders, you leave here having learned a lot, but you have much more to learn in the years ahead. Be willing to keep on learning – from your teachers, coaches, parents and friends. Maintain a positive attitude, a helpful disposition, a willingness to try new experiences. Keep reading, be helpful, clean your rooms, practice your instruments, be good to each other, and keep smiling.

What advice would you give to kids entering middle schools/Jr. High schools in the fall?