Back Again

I’ve been put to shame.  Last weekend, I had the privilege of judging entries in flash fiction for the the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The program, almost a hundred years in existence, solicits and awards the efforts of young writers and artists in seventh through twelfth grades. Some notables who were recognized throughout the program’s history are:

  • Truman Capote (1932)
  • Andy Warhol (ca. 1945)
  • Sylvia Plath (1947)
  • And even Robert Redford (1954) and Zac Posen (1998)

While a range of student writing abilities were observed, I was blown away by many of the entries. These young people demonstrated an incredible talent for building a compelling story within the constraints of flash fiction. Their skill and creativity assures me a number of them will provide me with reading companions in a not too distant future.

Why am I ashamed? Well, they most certainly devoted a significant amount of time to writing in order to produce the fine work that they did. I do not.

I am reminded everywhere that if I want to write, I have to devote the time to writing. Stephen King’s On Writing bluntly tells me that if I don’t give the time – then don’t write; among many good tips I’m given in my critique groups, from Bob M. among others, I’m nagged about not making the time for writing; and every little webinar or article I read chastises me for my lack of commitment to the time needed to build this craft. I’m amazed at how I can ignore all of that and fall back on my well stocked hoard of excuses.

After all, I have spent most of my adult life making those excuses

1)  When I was raising kids on my own and working full-time: “I want to write but when am I supposed to find the time?”

2)  When my kids were older and I was working full-time: “I write all the time, scenarios for my students’ science investigations, education journal articles,… Just when am I going to get time for creative writing for me?”

3)  My kids are raised, I’m retired working part-time: “I want to write but I have this big house that’s a mess. When am I supposed to have time to write?

Well, let’s see:

1)  Think:

JK Rowling  and  Mary Higgins Clark

2)  Think :

         Ayn Rand – a tour guide and movie extra among other things;

         F. Scott Fitzgerald – wrote slogans for trolley car placards and fixed roofs of train cars 

         J.D. Salinger – failed at being an apprentice in a Polish slaughter house (so he could go into the family business).  He came back to America and worked as an activities director on a Caribbean cruise line.

3)   Really?  Take a look around – I still see a big mess.

Recently, on-line, I read an article by  Joseph Finder*, a prolific writer and author of The Fine Art of Feedback. The title of the article?  Just Write the Damned Book Already.

“Okay, Joseph, I hear ya’,” Judy said hopefully.

(Sorry, Mr. King, about the adverb. But I did say “said” instead of “acquiesced”. Can I get points for that?)

* I enjoyed this article, you may, too. Go to:

The Great Chapter Book, Middle Grade Confusion

I thought this article is much more clear on the difference between chapter books and middle grade books than others I’ve looked at. I thought I’d share.

Chapter Book Chat

When the differences between chapter books and middle grade novels are blurred, kids and chapter books lose.


Confused about what to call a chapter book or middle grade? You’re not alone.

Lately, it seems the distinction between chapter books and middle grade is blurred–or even invisible. Google “best” or “greatest” chapter books, and you see lists from organizations as far flung as Goodreads to the esteemed School Library Journal. Commonly found near the top? A Wrinkle in Time, Holes, The Giver and other middle grade classics.

Now picture your average second grader. What seems more appropriate: Captain Underpants or A Wrinkle in Time? Which will encourage his tender, fledgling reading skill? Fan the flames of his reading desire? Give him reading gusto?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going with the dude in the tighty whiteys.

The two excellent books speak to two very different audiences. So why are…

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Welcome Stephanie

Last week my eldest grandchild married. It was so odd that as I watched him at the altar waiting from his bride to come down the aisle, all I could see was a little boy with a mischievous smile holding a baseball bat under one arm and a book under the other.

My daughter Dawn, his mother, put together a “letters to the bride” book. Friends and family wrote letters of welcome, advice, and good wishes to Stephanie, his bride. I thought I would share the one I wrote to her with you.

Bride and Groom

Before Ryne was born, of all things, I worried about being called “Grandma”. Being rather young for a granny, I’d feel weird when hearing myself referred to with that term. After he was born, of course, I fell in love with that beautiful baby boy. But I still surveyed every grandmother I met to see what their grandchildren called them. I wanted a younger sounding alternative.

One day, right after Ryne began to walk and talk, I came in from work. It had been a miserable day. Aggravated and tired, I tried to balance my books as the key decided to not enter the keyhole smoothly. Entering the long hallway with several books crashing to the floor, a smiling Blue Eyed Angel ran towards me yelling, “Gam-ma!” That did it. I embraced my new status as Grandma. It no longer mattered what I was called. That little guy encaged my heart forever.

The day would come when we would have to share that all encompassing love with a girl who would lay claim to his heart. I knew I would have to selflessly share him but I also knew I was going to be quite critical of his choice. She would have to be the perfect match for my Ryne.

Through the dating years, I was unimpressed by the candidates: some pretty, some smart, some friendly, some not. But Ryne never really seemed to find that just right fit. I breathed a sigh of relief. But I did wonder if he would ever find that girl who really loved him for all his wonderfulness and equally for all his imperfections.

Then a couple of years ago, he brought you to my house. You seemed to fit in right away. You were lovely and sat and visited with us. You felt like family. Could you be a possibility? How did Ryne feel about you? Boys don’t share those things with moms and grams like girls do. Then as we watched you in the pool playing with the myriad of kids, Ryne looked at me and said, “Isn’t she just so sweet?” What? Ryne had never called any girl he was with “sweet”. That’s when I knew that in the not too distant future, there would be someone else to call me “Grandma” And you know what? I couldn’t be more pleased. Ryne has found the only girl in the world who is the perfect complement to a Grandson I adore. Now there is another “Grand” to adore. Welcome to my heart.

­­­­Grandma Judy

Two Months – Really?

Aging is a mysterious process.  As I mentioned before, I am amazed at how quickly time passes since I’ve entered my sixth decade. Time flies by and my goal of blogging once a month has again been added to my growing list of “Try Again”. Ah, well.

It has been a busy time period. Our P.O.P.P event went off very well. In the next couple of days, I will add P.O.P.P. 2014 pictures and poems and info to the P.O.P.P. pages of this blog. Katherine Flotz, my partner in pulling off this year’s event, and I were tired and were contemplating not continuing with the project. There is an enormous amount of work that goes into the project and this year it was Katherine and I who waded through it. At our event, Katherine’s husband George, my grandson Luis Cortez, and Indiana poet Beverly Stanislawski provided enormous support.

But Katherine and I were tired. Then we watched our young poets and artists come down to receive their awards. They were filled with pride and looked adorable. So many parents and grandparents as well as our P.O.P.P.ers came to thank us as did our principals and other staff members. Katherine’s husband came up to me as the gym was emptying and said, “How can you not do this next year?” We can’t. We will be back. I have the next grant request form from the Crown Point Community Foundation, our most consistent and supportive grantor. We’ve already had our first committee meeting and two new members from the Indiana Writers’ Consortium have joined the team, Julie Larson and Kayla Greenwell. Be sure to check back in a day or two to see the 2014 additions to the P.O.P.P. pages.

The second notable event was my year-long journey with the Michigan State University Chicago teacher interns came to an end. Watching them move into the profession that I loved for 37 years is rewarding. I have had the privilege of working with interns from three other top Chicago Universities and I was able to see many good teachers move into our profession. However, MSU does an incredible job of preparing tomorrow’s teachers. They enter my class in the Fall with a bachelor’s degree and a solid academic background in the teaching/learning process. They spend an incredibly demanding year in Chicago classrooms putting that background knowledge into authentic practice. The thirteen interns I had this year will be remarkable teachers and many will go on to be educational leaders in the next few decades. I envy the students that will benefit from these teachers. I know that despite all of the jungle of errors we make in our education system, at least these determined young teachers will focus mainly on their students a provide the best education for them.

My mind has been focused on education a lot lately.  Each day the newspaper talks about educational cuts.  And most frequently this means cutting arts programs, dismissing staff, and increasing classroom size.  Each of these steps does enormous harm to our school children. I’m not an economist but I know that there are many other avenues to better budgeting for education.

I’m still not writing much but have been reading a lot. Currently I am reading Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe. It’s a thick book (someday I ‘ll share with you my aversion to thick books and the consequences of such) but incredibly engaging. Granted I am an Einstein Geek. In addition to his genius, I’ve been drawn to his irreverence to didactic educational environs.  His quote, Imagination is more important than knowledge…” (1) had been a guidepost to all of my teaching endeavors even before I became a science teacher.  Isaacson states, “Throughout his life,  Albert Einstein would retain the intuition and awe of a child.” I think this explains why Einstein seemed to have had a deep understanding of the teaching/learning process.

“It is a miracle that creativity survives modern education” (2) is another Einstein quote that resonates with me especially in the light of the current push for high stakes testing. It is also why I believe that organizations like IWC with funding from organizations committed to healthy communities like the Crown Point Community Foundation need to provide opportunities for children to exercise their creativity as they get to do with P.O.P.P.

Well, talk soon and don’t forget to check out the P.O.P.P. pages in the next couple of days.


1) Calaprice, Alice, Ed. (1996). The Quotable Einstein. (p 223). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

2)  Albert Einstein. (n.d.). Retrieved from BrainyQuote Web Site May 27, 2014:

Albert Einstein. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2014, from Web site:


Albert Einstein. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2014, from Web site:
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It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.