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Dec
5
2011
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Dear Martha,

WE ARE IN FLORIDA!

When we stopped to set up camp, Captain Walsh called everyone together for a meeting. He said, “You are now standing on Florida soil.” He had to wait for us to stop cheering. “The caravan will stay together as planned, all the way to St. Augustine, Florida. Some folks will leave us there. Then, the rest of us will continue on down below Lake Okeechobee. I expect we’ll arrive sometime this summer.”

All of the Carters came over for supper last night, and Miss Melman joined us. She and Mama fixed chicken and dumplings. Mama took pity on her and said, “Cassie, you don’t have to kill the chicken this time, but watch what I do, so you’ll know how to do it next time.” Mama gave her an old apron to wear to cover up her pretty white skirt while she boiled the chicken and dropped in the dumplings.

The chicken and dumplings were delicious, by the way. While we were all eating around the fire, Miss Emily said, “Cassie, I have some lovely printed calico. Would you like me to make you a work dress or two, so you won’t ruin your pretty things?”

Miss Melman looked from Miss Emily to her mother, Mrs. Carter, and then to Mama, all the while noticing their skirts or dresses. They were all worn and faded. She said, “How foolish I am. Here I’ve come on a rugged journey, and I’m still dressing like I’m back in Jackson, teaching school. Yes, I would love some calico dresses.”

Miss Emily said, “I think we’re about the same size. I’ll give you one of mine to try on, and if it fits, I already have the patterns.”

Today, I started looking at our surroundings like Miss Melman asked us to. I saw hawks and eagles and even tiny hummingbirds. I made a sketch of some kind of white bird that has a big body, enormous wings, long twig-like legs, and a long, thin, curving neck. Its beak is yellow and comes to a sharp point. Pap doesn’t know what kind of bird it is, but he said, “It’s a beauty, though.”

We’ve passed a number of scruffy short trees that look like pointy bushes. The gigantic leaves look like fans. The bottom of the tree has wooden pieces jutting out this way and that. I sketched a few in my book, using the colored pencils. It’s so strange to see color come out when I draw across the page. It’s absolutely beautiful! Who would have ever thought we would have colored pencils? Miss Melman said we could blend the colors by rubbing them gently with the side of our finger. I tried rubbing them, and the colors smooth together and look very natural. I’m going to draw all the things I see on our journey. Maybe I’ll send you one in a letter.

I read your third letter today while Dylan was taking a nap in the wagon. I’m happy you have a special part in the spring play at school. I must confess that I am a LITTLE jealous about it! If I had stayed in Mississippi, I would probably be in it with you. Is the play one the older kids have done before, or is it a new play? Will there be singing and reciting? Sometimes, I miss going to our recitation class together. I still remember doing “Fireflies on Parade” and “Red, White, and Blue” together.

I can’t write anymore tonight. I’m falling asleep.

Love,

Teddy

 

Dec
2
2011

 
The Punctuation Shoe makes a great manipulative reminder for young writers to check their
punctuation.
   

Click the image to below to print your FREE template! 

Dec
2
2011
LISTEN
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Dear Martha,

We are finally under way. It took some “doings” to get us off, but soon, Alabama will be behind us. Tomorrow, we will be camping in Florida, if all goes well. Everyone is talking about it. Florida!

At first light, Pap hitched up our new team of oxen. Their names are Jeb and January, and they are bigger than big. They wear a wooden yoke around their necks to keep them together as they pull the wagon. Pap says they’re gentle but as strong as ten giants. Now that we are loaded with supplies, I know that the weight would be too much for mules to pull. Pap is driving the wagon today. He wants to drive for a few days to make sure Jeb and January are settled in.

Since Pap is driving, he let Dylan ride “shotgun” in his new little seat. He loves it! And he’s safe because he can’t fall out. That left me and Mama free to set up our laundry. Before we left this morning, she helped me gather water from the spring in all six of our big buckets. That was a lot of hauling! She and I divided our dirty clothes into piles: dresses, underclothes, diapers, Pap’s shirts, and Pap’s overalls. We put the dirty clothes in the buckets and pushed them down under the water. Mama added soap shavings and hung each of the buckets from pegs on the outside of the wagon, three down one side, three down the other.

Then, she said, “Teddy, run back to the spring and gather an apron full of smooth rocks about the size of a hen’s egg.” When I came back she said, “Now, put five or six rocks in each bucket and all the rest in with your Pap’s overalls.”

I said, “What on earth for?” It seemed like so much craziness to me.

But Mama said, “See what happens when this wagon rocks back and forth and sloshes these buckets around all day. The sun will heat the water, the rocks will beat the clothes, and all we’ll have to do is rinse.”

Mama is a genius!

I read your second letter today. Yes, I would love for you to come visit me on our new land. Pap says he heard that the tracks will soon be finished for several trains to run down into Florida to some of the cities. We will be down below Lake Okeechobee, but maybe there will be a way to come fetch you.

We had school again today. Of course, all we could talk about was Florida. What kinds of animals will we see? Will the birds look different from birds in Mississippi and Alabama? Where is the ocean? How will we get fresh water? Do you think we might get eaten by alligators?

Miss Melman said, “The best way to get to know a new place is to study your surroundings and record your observations.” She brought out a parcel wrapped in brown paper and string. I had seen her carrying it in Dothan. “I have a gift for each of you.” Our eyes widened, and we looked at each other.

She untied the string and opened the wrapping. There was a stack of art sketchbooks and boxes of colored pencils. Great buckets of butterbeans! I’d heard about colored pencils, but I’d never seen any.

Miss Melman smiled. “Open your eyes. Look around you. Make discoveries. Study the sky and the trees. Scrutinize the land. Search out things that are new and intriguing. Record what you see, and the next time we meet, we’ll share your drawings and discuss them.”

We held our new sketchbooks. The covers are deep red, and Miss Melman has written our names in script. The paper is creamy white and much nicer than notebook paper. But the colored pencils are the best of all, the kind used by artists. Each box holds eight colors: red, yellow, blue, green, purple, orange, brown, and black. They are just too wonderful.

Miss Melman had a huge smile. “Welcome to Florida,” she said.

Wonder of wonders and Ethelbert Nevin!

Love,

Teddy

Dec
1
2011
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Dear Martha,

I loved your letter! I read it three times. I am so happy to hear from you.

I’m sorry about Bernice. Did you bury her in the same little graveyard where we buried your other kitty? I know she was old, but I can’t remember if she was 12 or 13. Didn’t you tell me your parents already had her when you were born? She was the sweetest little thing. I remember when we would put Bernice in the baby carriage and bring her to our tea parties.

Last night, we all slept outside. It was a bright, starry night with no rain. We couldn’t sleep in the wagon because it was piled high with all the purchases we bought yesterday. Mama strung quilts on a line to make a curtain, so we would have some privacy. I had my own pallet next to Mama, Pap, and Dylan. I lay on my back and stared up at the dark sky and the bright stars. It took my breath away.

Pap said, “Teddy, can you show me the Big Dipper?”

I pointed right to it. Then, he said, “What about the North Star?” I had to search for that one. I know it’s bright, but it’s not the brightest object in the sky. It’s easy to mistake for other stars. I pointed to the one I hoped was the North Star.

“That’s right,” Pap said. “It’s the tail of the Little Dipper. Did you know you can navigate by the North Star? The North Star stays fixed in the sky. When you are facing the North Star, east is to your right, south is to your back, west is to your left, and north is straight ahead.” I tried to memorize Pap’s words by saying them over and over in my mind.

Mama said, “Do you remember how I taught you to find your direction by day?”

I said, “The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.”

Mama said, “That girl is a sponge. What did I tell you?”

Today was another busy day, full of chaos.

Mama and I went to church in Dothan. We brought Miss Emily’s baby with us to give Miss Emily a chance to make some purchases with her husband, Martin. That meant Mama and I both had a baby to hold during the service. There was a lot of wiggling going on, let me tell you.

Pap couldn’t go to church with us. He and Mr. Carter had to take everything out of our wagons, so they could reload them with all of our new purchases. One man can’t lift all those loads alone, so they helped each other. Pap arranged the boxes and barrels in the wagon and made a nice bed for Mama, me, and Dylan up on top of the boxes, so we’re no longer on the floor. It’s a thousand times better! He fit things in every nook and cranny, so things are out of the way but easy to get to if we need them. He also made a baby seat for Dylan and bolted it to the driver’s seat, next to where Mama and I sit when we drive the wagon. Now, Dylan can sit up front and not be in danger.

When Mama and I got back from church, we were shocked to see that Jester and Jingo were gone! In their place were two giant oxen. I said, “Pap! I didn’t get to say goodbye to Jester and Jingo.” I felt terribly sad at the thought of it.

Pap said, “They’ll have a good home, Teddy. The dentist that pulled Mama’s tooth yesterday bought them to plow his field. He has another mule and two horses. They’ll be in good company.”

Still, it made my heart hurt something awful. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I started bawling.

Mama said, “Sometimes, we just have to let go of things we love.”

Love,

Teddy

Nov
30
2011

Picture it: The year is 1958. Mr. Potato Head is a real potato, and kids stab sharp little facial features and body parts into his lumpy, misshapen spud body. No two Mr. Potato Heads are alike. Creative ten-year-olds can design Mr. Potato Head with four mutant legs coming out of his head and two eyes where his belly button should be. I was in love with Mr. P, especially if his tuber body was extra weird and lumpy. I once filled his pink pipe with Velveeta cheese. I’m still in therapy.

Fast-forward half a century. Mr. Potato Head’s entire body is now plastic, with a few predrilled holes that receive only the appropriate accessory. Every Potato Head is alike, unless you spring for the more expensive designer Potato Heads that reflect movies and super heroes. The toy companies, in taking out the endless creative possibilities, have also eliminated thinking, and therefore, most of the fun. What used to be the domain of curious, inventive, Velveeta-stuffing kids now comes pre-packaged in a box.

The other day I saw an advertisement for a sheet of plastic for sliding down hills. What’s wrong with a big cardboard box you can play on until it falls apart and then slide it down the hill with three of your friends hanging on behind you?

Whatever happened to building forts? Inventing cool things from scraps? Acting out stories you saw at the movies or read in a book?

Between our ears we have the most intricate, complex, miraculous super computer ever created: the human brain. Designed to last a lifetime, it warehouses thought, innovation, imagination, creativity, memory, design, spontaneity, logic, emotion, and problem solving. Dr. Frankenstein wanted one. Steve Martin had two. The Scarecrow sang about one.

Kids just don’t spend enough time tapping into their brains these days. I don’t mean to imply they don’t use their noggins for schoolwork and play. I’m talking about thinking . . . pondering . . . ruminating . . . problem solving . . . daydreaming . . . wondering . . . tinkering . . . inventing. When my husband, Rick, was a boy, he was given free rein of their huge basement and all the wonders that lay therein. He puttered with his grandfather’s interesting array of tools. He dismantled electric motors and alarm clocks to see how they worked. He dabbled with a cornucopia of chemistry sets and examined interesting finds under the microscope. These years of exploring led to a career in medicine and science, but had he been born today, that might never have happened. Because of our fear of danger, because we sometimes feel that children must be entertained constantly so they won’t become bored, kids today seldom have time to let their brains become curious. We have sanitized their environments and substituted personal, hands-on experiences with knowledge exclusively found in books and videos. Watch, children. Learn by accepting what SOMEONE ELSE has found out.

Much of their daily worlds are filled with chatter, music, and schedules filled with classroom learning, sports, dancing, music lessons, meals, bath time, chores, and homework. Little time is left for the simple art of thinking. Thinking is a vital life skill that comes in handy in all walks of life. Childhood is a perfect time to practice, and that just might involve taking things apart, using things for new purposes, snooping into things, asking zillions of questions, and being allowed to try, try, and try again. 

Photo Credit

 

Nov
30
2011
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Dear Martha,

I am exhausted! Every bone in my body is weary. Today has been an incredible, exciting day with lots of adventures, but the best thing is that I GOT YOUR LETTERS!!!!

Early this morning, when it was still dark, Pap took out our family’s money box. Some folks keep their money in Captain Walsh’s wagon in a strongbox, but not Pap. When he had our wagon built, he had them build in a secret compartment under the wagon. If you didn’t know about it, you would never guess it’s there. He and Mama went over their list a million times.

I took Dylan up to Miss Emily Carter’s wagon while he was still asleep. She slipped him into the pallet with Lucy and said, “He’ll be fine. Have a wonderful day.” Miss Emily is so nice.

Pap drove our wagon into Dothan and parked it at the livery stables for the day. When we make each of our purchases, they are delivered to our wagon at the livery, so we can haul them back to our campsite.

Our first stop was the general store. The store was big, but it was crowded with folks, both town folks from Dothan and folks from our wagon train. The best thing was that the post office was right there in the general store. I asked at the window if they had any mail for Theodosia Bodain, and the man said, “Yes, we do. Here are five letters from Salter’s Grove, Mississippi.” Great buckets of butterbeans! I was so happy I could have done backflips. I’m going to read one letter each day for the next five days!

At the general store, we bought supplies for our trip:

100 pounds of flour 50 pounds of cornmeal

50 pounds of salt 80 pounds of sugar

100 pounds of coffee 100 pounds of dried beans

40 pounds of salted bacon 8 pounds of oatmeal

25 pounds of dried beef 5 pounds of raisins

25 pounds of brown sugar 50 pound keg of pickles

5 pounds of pepper 50 pounds of dried apples

50 pounds of dried peaches linseed oil

1 keg of axle grease fresh vegetables

10 candles lamp oil

5 pounds of pretzels 5 pounds of peppermint sticks

1,000 toothpicks 2 gallons of vinegar

While we waited for our store goods to be delivered, we had other chores to tend to. Pap got a shave and a haircut at the barber shop. Mama had a tooth pulled at the dentist’s office. The cobbler put new soles on Pap’s boots. Mama bought a book of piano music, 50 different kinds of flower and vegetable seeds to plant in Florida, and some liniment for sore muscles. We bought clothes: underwear, stockings, aprons, overalls, work dresses, flannel shirts, suspenders, and baby clothes for Dylan (he is growing like a weed).

We also bought Miss Emily a pound of lemon drops for keeping Dylan while we were gone. She told Mama, “You didn’t need to get me a thing. He was a good boy and kept Lucy entertained. But lemon drops aremy favorite!”

Now, I’m going to read your first letter. I’ve saved it for the last thing I do today.

All I can say is, Ethelbert Nevin!

Love,

Teddy

Nov
29
2011
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Dear Martha,

After a long day’s drive, we have arrived in Dothan, Alabama! It’s too dark to see much of anything, so I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

We had school today. Miss Melman played a game with us where we had to know our multiplication tables and quickly give the answers. I was a little embarrassed because I’m not as good at arithmetic as I am at spelling, grammar, and writing. But Minnie was a whiz! She knew every answer!

Miss Melman said, “Minerva, you knew every single multiplication answer correctly. Our entire class is going to walk back to my piano, and I will play a beautiful piece of music in your honor.” We all thought that was a terrific prize, although I was just a teensy bit jealous that it was Minnie and not me.

Travis Lark helped take the quilts and oilcloth off the piano, and the rest of us gathered just outside the back of the wagon. Minnie sat right near Miss Melman on a trunk that was being stored in the wagon.

Miss Melman said, “This is a very popular piano piece. It is called ‘Narcissus,’ which is also the name of a beautiful flower. The composer is Mr. Ethelbert Nevin.”

I have never heard of a man being named Ethelbert before!

Miss Melman said, “Children, Ethelbert Nevin wrote his first song for the piano at the age of 13, not much older than some of you. This shows that you can do excellent work, even as a child. Minerva, because you have done excellent work in the area of mathematics, I am playing this song in your honor.”

Well, it was about the most beautiful melody I’ve ever heard. Miss Melman is talented at playing the piano. I am happy that she is Mama’s piano teacher. Now, all day, I’ve been saying the name, Ethelbert Nevin, over and over in my mind. What a name! Don’t you think it is curious? I’m going to work on my multiplication tables, so maybe one day Miss Melman will play a special song for me.

Mama and Pap have been going over their list of things they will buy while we are in Dothan. We are all getting up early because Pap says there will be many chores to do over the next two days. When we work together, he says, “Many hands make light work.”

Miss Emily is staying here with her baby, Lucy, tomorrow, and she offered to keep Dylan for Mama, so we could all go into Dothan together and make our purchases. Mama’s face beamed! She usually has to take Dylan with her, and this will give Mama a chance to shop and make her purchases without worrying about a baby.

She said, “May I do a kindness for you in exchange? I am much obliged.”

But Miss Emily said, “Now, I’m just being neighborly. Every woman enjoys shopping without toting a baby around on her hip.”

Mama told me secretly that she will buy a present for Miss Emily. I am excited about helping Mama and Pap make their purchases. We will miss Dylan, but it will be nice to shop, just the three of us.

Love,

Teddy

Nov
28
2011

             Listen to the conversations this week.

            “Did you have a good Thanksgiving?”

            “We had a great Thanksgiving.”

            What is a “great Thanksgiving,” and how did we have one? What happened that made it great? How do we plan in advance for that to happen? Thanksgiving is largely an American holiday, so what do we do in this country to create Thanksgiving?

            Well, there’s food, of course. Everybody knows that. Heaps and heaps of food. Rick made a delicious turkey that we are still enjoying. This bird was so big it would have blotted out the sun had it been flying overhead. We shared take-home food with all of our guests, and there’s still enough meat left for sandwiches and several nights of leftovers. He also made his world-famous mashed potatoes. I made gravy, creamed corn, broccoli salad, and strawberry pretzel salad. Our guests brought a French Canadian meat stuffing, sweet-potato casserole, Mexican cornbread, and a scrumptious Trinidadian macaroni casserole. There were pies aplenty. Our house was full of people, aromas, food, music, laughter, cats and dogs, children, older people, and last-minute preparations.

            We gathered. We hung out in the kitchen. At my house, the kitchen is where everyone hangs out while we are putting the last-minute spin on things, filling the glasses with ice, and buttering the rolls as they come out of the oven. Holiday music played on the stereo. Rick put a fireplace DVD on the flatscreen. I turned the air conditioning down to 72.

            But all of that was just the preparation for Thanksgiving. At the table, just before we ate, we reflected on what we are thankful for. We talked about our country, our faith, our families. We talked about what it is like to live where we feel safe. We talked about the men and women serving in the military. We talked about having each other.

            All of those thoughts have continued in my head this past week, especially when I watched an update on 60 Minutes about children who live in poverty. CBS chose central Florida to showcase children who live in a truck and other children who live in shelters or on the streets. I can’t escape from this thought: real Thanksgiving would be to reach out and share comfort and food with those who don’t have houses to gather in. Real Thanksgiving would be to help someone who doesn’t have a turkey as big as a boulder. True Thanksgiving would be to help my fellow man.

            And that’s what I’m going to do. Somehow, someway, somewhere. I’m going to look for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the countless people around us who are suffering in shock and humiliation and desperation in this miserable economy. I’m going to find some. I’m going to look. I’m going to do something. Then, and only then, will I be truly thankful.

             

Nov
28
2011
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Dear Martha,

Tomorrow, we’ll be in Dothan, Alabama, the last stop before Florida. We’ll spend a few days in Dothan, so folks can buy supplies, trade in their mules, get haircuts, and so forth. I’m going to go straight to the post office to see if I have a letter from my best friend, Martha Lyndall!

Captain Walsh had a meeting with Pap and the other train pushers this morning. He said that we all should be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes can grow as thick as a man’s arm, he said, and six feet long. They usually stay hidden under old logs or piles of pine needles, but after a heavy rain, they like to sun themselves. I hope no one stumbles onto a rattlesnake. Pap said if you come across one, the best thing to do is to back away. I don’t want to tangle with a rattlesnake!

I’ve been practicing my slingshot. Minnie and Hallie asked Travis to make them one, so now we each have our own slingshot. Travis points out targets along the way, and we practice hitting them. That is, Minnie and I practice. Hallie can’t use her broken arm for several more weeks, and you can’t use a slingshot one-handed!

Yesterday, Travis said, “Teddy, you’re getting pretty good with that thing. Have you shown your pap?” I want to get really good before I show Pap. Minnie’s just getting started. Sometimes, she lets the stone fall out before she releases the sling. Sometimes, I do that, too.

I got to thinking. I’m a strange kind of tomboy. I like to play dolls with Minnie and Hallie, and I like to cook with Mama. On the other hand, I like driving the team, fishing, and using my slingshot. But then again, I like to go to musicals, like The Pirates of Penzance.

I asked Mama about it, and she said that I was a sponge and not to worry about it.

I said, “What do you mean by a sponge?”

Mama said, “You soak up knowledge everywhere you turn, Teddy. You are a most inquisitive girl.”   

Guess what? Miss Melman came over for a new cooking lesson today. The men had just shot a deer, so Pap brought home two pieces of venison, one for us and one for the Carters. Mama showed Miss Melman how to cut the meat into cubes, soak it in brine, and make a delicious stew.

Mama said, “Venison can be tough, so you have to soak it first to make it tender.”                                     

She showed Miss Melman how to set up the tripod over the fire and hang the pot just right, so it would come to a boil.

Mama said, “You want your pot to hang just over the flames, but you don’t want them licking up the side of the pot.” She saw how Miss Melman had hung the pot. “Cassie, you’ve got it just right. Your stew will cook but won’t burn. I do believe you are catching on right quick-like.”

While the stew was bubbling along, Mama and Miss Melman cut up potatoes, onions, carrots, and apples to add to the stew.

Miss Melman said, “Apples, Grace? I never would have thought to add apples.”

Mama said, “Just wait till you taste it. They add a hint of sweetness that is oh, so good.”

All the Carters joined us for supper. Mrs. Carter brought cornbread and cucumber salad. Miss Emily brought fresh water from the spring and boiled raisin pudding. We had a feast! Everyone complimented Miss Melman and Mama on the stew. Mama is a good teacher.

Love,

Teddy

Nov
25
2011

 

Perky Pockets…you can’t teach without them once you try them. Perky Pockets are bright mini-aprons to hold your stickers, stamps, stars, jewels, sticky-note pads, hole punches, etc., as you walk around your classroom and want to validate or reward students. The idea for Perky Pockets came from my book Primary Pizzazz Writing, and teachers have been asking for them ever since. You can make your own, following the easy-breezy directions in the book, or you can purchase them at Lana's Loving Stiches. Lana Bays, a good friend of mine, has made gorgeous ones for the classroom, and they are the cutest things you’ve ever seen.