The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series–The ABC’s of SUCCESS!

By Leslie LindsayToday’s the last in our back-to-school series!  Wow–that seemed to fly by. Here’s an alphabetical listing of things you and your student(s) can do to ensure a successful year:

A: pple.  Does your child eat enough fruit? Apples are high in flavonoids, which help keep you healthy and fights off infections.  In medieval times, apples were consumed at the end of the meal to keep teeth clean, in lieu of a toothbrush!

B: ackpack.  A child’s backpack weight should be no more than 10-20% of the child’s actual weight.  A 50 lb 2nd grader’s pack should be 5-10lbs only. 

C: omputer.  Does your child have Computer access at home?  More and more schools are teaching computer skills at earlier ages…and some prefer computers to Cursive handwriting instruction. 

D: illy-dally.  Learn to avoid it with a structured morning and after-school routine.  I find we can avoid it if I open the garage door and sit in the car–that really gets the kids moving.  Also try setting timers.  Use the one built-in with your microwave or oven…”you have twelve minutes to eat breakfast, four to pack your backpack…”  Or make, “get ready stations.” 

E: verything.  Do you have everything ready to go?  Make a check list and place it near the door your child uses for leaving the house each morning.  Pictures or icons work great for the preschool/pre-literate set.

F: un.  It’s important to have fun with school and after-school activites, but too many of them will leave little time for friends, family, or just goofing off–all things kids need to be well-rounded.  We limit our “fun” activities to two per child.  Adjust accordingly. 

G: rumbling.  Have a grumble-alert.  When the gang gets a little too cranky, have a sign, motion, or look you use to alert your child(ren) that you’ve had enough.  Develop a no-grumble policy at your house, kind of like, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

H: ate.  My 3rd grader has started using this word more than I care to hear.  Do you really “hate” everything?  No…you probably just dislike it.  A lot.   Put the kabash on the nasty-sounding word by helping your child reframe, “I know homework is a bummer, but it’s part of school.  How can we make it so you can get through it?” HOME. 

I: ce-cream.  School and ice cream?!  Sounds like a lovely combination.  A tradition in my family of origin on the night before school was to head to the yummiest frozen custard stand and get a concrete.  You may want to start a similar tradition. 

J: ump for joy!  School is cool.  Let’s count ways…and stay active while doing it.

K: eep hands, feet, objects, and hurtful words to yourself.

L: unch.  Do you have a pantry stocked with yummy, easy-to-pack options for school lunches?  Grab some fixin’s now so you have ’em on hand when the big day rolls around.  We have a lunch packing station at our house where we keep hand wipes, straws, napkins, food items, baggies, and containers…clear out a cabinet and make your own!

M:  anners.  Do your kids know the proper way to greet adults at school?  Teach manners, like saying please and thank you for those who assist at parent drop-off, crossing guards, and the like.

N:  otes.  Do you have  stack of Post-Its or other style notepad you can keep in an accessible location?  I have some in the center console of my van, in the mud room, and in my purse for jotting out a quick note to the teacher at the last minute.

O: pen house.  Are you going?  If your school offers one, make sure you take the time to get to it.  Valuable information on PTO, scouts, fundraisers, sports, and more are often relayed at these events, as well as classroom management, skills taught, and getting to know the teacher.

P: lan for success.  Make a list of all of the things you hope your ___grader learns this year.  Post it in an easy-to-see location at home.  Solicit your child’s input.

Q:  uiet.  Ahhhh….peace and quiet.  How will you spend your time now that your child is back in school?  If you work full time, carve out quiet time just for you in the evenings.  At our house, on the weekends, we still employ “quiet time” even though our kids are in 1st and 3rd grade.  Make it an afternoon siesta.

R: eading.  Always read.  Make it fun.  Let your kids see you reading as well.  It’s a lifelong pursuit, not one just for school years.  We read aloud to our kids nightly from a chapter book.  Try it!  It’s great family activity.

S:  study.  No doubt, school requires study time.  Do you have a time and place for your child to study every day?  Make it consistent. 

T:  elevsion.  Limit how much your child(ren) watch.  Experts agree no more than 2 hours of screen time per day per child.  The includes computers, iPads, etc.  Even background television noise is highly distractable to kiddos. 

U: nderware.  Does your child have new undies?!  Okay, is that meant to be a joke?  Kind of.  Sort through old clothes to make sure things fit, they aren’t too stained/worn, or too inappropriate for school.  Throw out things like hole-y socks and undies.  Who needs that creating clutter in the drawers?! 

V:  Victory!  Celebrate small successses!  An “A” on a spelling test?  Hooray!  Pop it on the fridge. 

W: rite on.  Practice penmanship.  Teachers love a child whose work she can actually read.  Handwriting is a lifelong skills, so might as well make it neat and easy-to-read. 

X:  E(x)it.  Does your child have a special way to show &/or say  good-bye before hopping on the school bus, the family truckster, or the car pool?  Maybe it’s time to come up with a fun exit routine.  A high-five, hug, fist-bump…

Y: arn.  Does your kid know how to spin a tale?  If lying is a problem, nip it in the bud now by saying, “I need to hear a ‘real’ story.” 

Z: ip to school with vigor in your step!  

Good luck with all things school-related–till then…see you in September!

Fiction Friday: Can Dreams Boost Your Word Count?

By Leslie LindsayMisc Feb-March 2013 012

I love to read and write.  But I also love to sleep.  What happens when I combine my love for all three?  A type of Nirvana.  Here’s a clip from the nightly movie-in-my-brain:   

“She holds her  small and square-ish hand, the nails chewed to the quick.  “It’s an engagement ring,” she demurs. 

           I feel my breath quicken, “So it is.” 

          “He asked me to marry him last night when I left your room.  Well, not immediately afterwards, but later.”

          I nod as if this really isn’t the truth.  I don’t believe her.

          “I saw that ring of yours, the shiny one with the piece that dangles when you were in the bathroom,” she pauses and tilts her head looking at me as if I’m a child.  “I slipped it on my finger and admired it in the mirror, twisting my hand around like a hand model might,” she looks to me for validation.  “It fit, you know.” 

          I wince and bite my lower lip.

          “Where did you get it?  It’s different—unique.” 

          I think of the ring—cold sterling silver, a medallion in the middle.  Some may call it a charm.

          “Steve,” I whisper.  “Steve gave it to me.”  Our initials are engraved on it; he presented it to me on our two-year dating anniverary.


          I am driving but the car is moving swiftly down a hill.  To my right is a clear blue lake.  Clear blue easy.  The road winds sharply to the left, but I am too entranced by the view.  Salty sea air hangs like a curtain—no, a shroud—I am dead.  My life and vigor escaping once I hear Beth’s news.  “We’re getting married—Me and Steve.” 

          It’s not that I didn’t expect this.  I just didn’t really believe he’d go through with it—the particulars, that is, like going to a jeweler.  In my mind’s eye, I see him leaning over a glass case, pointing to the rings that strike him.  “This one.  No-no, that one—up and over to the left.” Never minding the fact that his sloppy directions are reversed to the salesperson.  Perhaps he is too blinded by love to notice—or care. 

          The salesperson  delicately pulls the settings from the case, laying them on the velvet board on top of the case, highlighting their features, covering things like the 3 C’s.

          And then, as if driven by some innate force around that sharp bend in the road, my car dips into the water, slowly sinking.  A taste of the cold, salty water brushes my lips. 

          Isn’t this a fresh water lake?  And then I realize I am nowhere near the ocean, but instead it’s my tears and snot mingling together, cascading down my face because he is hers now and forever.  Again and again. 

          When I awake, I am sure it is seventeen years ago and I am lying in a twin bed in Creswell Hall, our shared dormitory at UGA—me, Beth, and Steve.  

But instead, I’m in a king TepurPedic at the home I share with Joe on Halverson Lane.  I roll over—the insistent humming of the digital clock on the bedside table, a toxic green glows evil, a slight form of envy festers.  Illness.”

[this is an original work of fiction for my novel-in-process.  Names and places have been tweaked.  They do not represent any one living or dead]

Write On, Wednesay: Special New Series (1/5)–Defining HOME featuring Caroline Leavitt

By Leslie Lindsay  (image source: 9.4.13)

I have a giant grin on my face today.  Other than the fact that I have the house to myself, a laptop, brain (let’s hope), and basset hound at my feet, I have a new series to share on Wednesdays!  It’s all about the concept of HOME. 

Ever notice how nearly every book you read has some element of home buried deep within the words on the page?  Your reading material may have something to do with big green monsters eating every chocolate chip cookie and then running off to school, but I would wager that those monsters began at say…home?!  The book I just finished reading (Tanya Chernov’s A REAL EMOTIONAL GIRL) had almost everything to do with home (but was largely masked by her grief over her late father).  The next book I picked up, BRAIN ON FIRE (Susannah Cahalan)  might really be about her lost month of insanity, but delve into the pages, and you see an underlying theme of home…her junky New York studio, her childhood home, it all makes an appearance. 

So, I’ve gathered up a handful of great wordsmiths to tell me, in their own words, what defines “home.” 

Each week, I will share a new passage on home.  So, gather ’round, make yourself comfortable and get ready for Caroline Leavitt, Amy Sue Nathan, Karen Brown, Tanya Chernov, and Matt Wertz to tell us their ideas of home…

Today’s featured author…Caroline Leavitt!!  Caroline is a New York Times bestselling author of ten red shirt gardennovels, her most recent IS THIS TOMORROW?  (Which revolves mostly around the concept of ‘home,’ in 1950’s suburbia).  She hosts a robust blog in which she features many authors and their books.  And now…take it away, Caroline!

“For many years, the word home to me meant my parent’s house. Stuck in Suburbia. The rooms coldly silent or torn apart by arguments. I couldn’t wait to leave, to live a life as different as I could imagine. I rented a tiny shoebox apartment in Manhattan, with a slanted floor and barely a kitchen, and when friends gamely said, ‘You could do something with this to make it homey,’ I laughed, because I had no desire to be domestic. As long as my dwelling looked nothing like my family’s, I knew I was safe.

Ah, but then I fell in love. Jeff was the kind of person who took one look at my fridge, with its one carton of yogurt and one loaf of bread, and made a date of shopping, assuring me that it could be fun. Falling in love was a surprise, but suddenly, my tiny apartment wasn’t big enough for us, the rents in Manhattan were too high for the three bedroom we wanted, and we began to look elsewhere. I wanted to look for apartments in Brooklyn or Hoboken, but In the early 90s, you could buy a whole brownstone in Hoboken for 200,000. You could buy a three story 1865 brick row house for $125,000, one with fireplaces in every room, with rosettes on the ceiling.

Houses. I knew what that meant. My parents’ life had unraveled in a house.ITTUSE

I was terrified to move in. I thought that we’d start to argue, that I’d be tied down and domesticated.

Instead, something else happened. Jeff filled the kitchen with food, the rooms with furniture, and my life with love. I began to like having people for dinner, having a kitchen big enough for two to laugh and cook in it. And slowly, I began to realize something. That I didn’t have to turn out to be my mother. That family is not always genetic. And that love can make the house you were most afraid of into the home you love.”

For more information on Caroline and her writing, please see her website:

[Special thanks to Caroline Leavitt for providing this piece, photos, and her literary enthusiam.  This is an original work by the author and not to be taken as your own.]

The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series–Organizational & Memory Strategies

By Leslie Lindsay

As a kid–and even as an adult–I love to be organized!  Give me a three-ring binder and some tab dividers and you might as well put me in nerd-heaven. 

Wait?!  What’s that you say?  Your child is anything BUT organized?  They have a junky room?  Backpack is over-flowing with notes, papers, Kleenex?  Ah…I see.  I have one of those, too.  I call her my oldest daughter. 

How is it that the Queen of Organization gave life to the Princess of Junk?  It baffles me, too.  But there is a little hope in the Kingdom of Clean. 

Princess Junk is entering 3rd grade.  And from what I can tell about 3rd grade, it’s the year of learning to be organized, resourceful, and independent.  That said, this post will cover all grades–early education through elementary school.


  • Teach what goes in and what stays out of the backpack each day.  Take actual photos or make your own visual reminders by either drawing or priniting out Clip Art from your Word program.
  • Have your child help load and unload the backpack

ORGANIZE IT!  ELEMENTARY SCHOOL:  Organizational skills have a fancy name–executive functioning.  That is, how one plans and carries out the things they need to do in order to function.  In the school setting, this all involves being organized and tending to the things in the classroom.  That said, there are things you can do to help your child grasp these skills:

  • Plan a visit to the school.  Point out places in your child’s classroom where things will likely be located.  The teacher will probably do this, as well.  For example, my daughter came home yesterday from her first day and told us that all of her “extra” school supplies where bagged up and placed in a special cabinet for when she runs out of them in her desk. 
  • Map out the pack.  Draw a little diagram of your child’s backpack, place labels on the interior pouches, or color-code them.  Practice slipping in notes for the teacher, placing pens/pencis.  Have a place for everything, including water bottles, lunch box, house key, identification, etc. 
  • Give a Reminder in the morning.  This can be a simple checklist or sign you make and place in a common area of the home for your child to double-check.  Lunch?  Check.  Folder?  Check. 
  • Make a list of steps for getting ready in the morning.  Use short, simple text and add photos.  You can even take photos of your child doing each step successfully.  (Also good for pre-literate kids)
  • Design a Home Work Center.  This can be a special room, or the dining room table.  This will where your child will complete homework each day.  Stock it with pens, pencils, erasers, and anything else your child may need.  Plan a homework period each day and stick to the routine.  You can be a good example and do something studious then, too like read a book or make your grocery list (or, if you’re me…work on your novel!)
  • Check your child’s planner daily.  It really should be your child’s responsibility, but you need to know, too. 
  • Have your child pack his or her own bag at night.  Avoid the morning mayhem.  Get it done early.  Make a deal with your  child: no playtime/videogames/TV till the backpack is packed for the next day.
  • Have a single binder.  A tip from a 3rd grade teacher, “Get a binder and put all of her folders in it.  It makes it so much easier to have everthing together.” 
  • Have a routine place for a) notes/permission slips parents need to read and b) papers being returned to home.  It’s a parent to-do pile for things that require signatures &/or money.  We have a nightly “table talk and toss” for all of the daily papers that come in the door.  The girls share what the worksheet is about, we listen/ask questions…and then toss into the recycling bin (or save, if necessary).

With a little prep work, you and your child can have a successful–and organized school year.  Class dismissed!!

Fiction Friday: Met My Old Lover at Grocery Store

By Leslie Lindsay

What happens when your antagonist sees the love of his life at the grocery store?  It’s been years and she’s all grown up with a kid…why, you stalk her of course!   (image source: wikipedia.  Retrived 8.16.13)

When the doors finally slide open revealing Annie and her shopping cart, my pulse quickens.  I toss back the remainder of the beer and watch like a hawk drawn to its prey.  Annie Fuckin’ Kelley.  God, she looks good, even behind a kid-laden shopping cart.  I swallow, part of me crazy-jealous of the man she married, who must be the father of this kid and the other part of me in awe, proud to say she was once mine.  I watch as she struggles with the cart over a pothole, unsnap the kid from the front seat and place her in the minivan.  If only I could help her.  I would; I’d smile and say, “Looks like you could use a little help with that.”  She’d startle because she’d recognize the voice; a familiar feeling would wash over her as a smile appears across her face, shy and demure.  I might stuff my hands in my pockets, flash a sheepish grin as I got my wits about me, or I’d just reach forward and start loading her van with shopping bags.  But what I’d really want to do is lean in a kiss her cheek. 

She hands a stuffed puppy to the pudgy little fingers extended from the door and then goes around to the back hatch of the van where she transfers groceries.  With each lift of a bag, I watch her sculpted muscles, eye her chest.  Once she’s finally ready, I click the engine of the MDX to life.  I let her pull out of the parking lot first, me slowly following behind.   

We travel for several miles along Fox Creek Road, the dizzying array of farms intermingling with big box companies.  I keep a close eye on her minivan from the safety and security of my own vehicle, one I know she’d never recognize as mine—it’s too new, too classy for her Steve memories. 

Annie slows and makes a right turn onto a side road and then a left onto Prairiewood Drive.  My hands tremble as I steer alongside the suburban community reminiscent of my youth.  I take care to slow down from time to time as if reading a map, checking my iPhone, feigning misdirection.  But I know exactly where I am going.  The buzz from the beer numbs my brain as fear grips my chest, tight skeletal fingers reaching in, grabbing hold of my heart.  I say her name; it comes out in a hoarse whisper, an assault (insult??) to my overactive imagination.  Annie.  Annie. Annie.  It’s almost time, my little peach. 

The van slows at Halverson Lane, a tree-lined street filled with everything domestic—kids, bikes, neighbors.  I duck slightly, tipping the bill of my baseball cap lower and then pull over to the side of the road where I kill the engine.  As much as I want to see the place Annie Kelley calls home, I can’t risk being seen.  I release a held breath and tell myself I need to relax, to take it easy; this is no way to reconnect with my girl.  All good things happen with time; man plans and God laughs.   

Think, Steve.  Think.  I rub my chin and fumble for the pen.  Quickly, I scribble out the street names onto the same scrap of paper I catalogued her family.  I fold it into quarters and shove it into the lower pocket of my cargo shorts.  How easy it would be to get out of the car, walk along the sidewalk and end at her home, the garage door still raised, an invitation to her life.  I rake my hands through my hair as I consider other options: a friendly chat with the neighbors; perhaps walking door to door, a clipboard in hand, a story that I’m with the neighborhood association asking about summertime memories for the newsletter.  But I realize my mind is confabulating, an unwelcome intrusion—they probably don’t even have a neighborhood newsletter. 

After a few minutes, I start the car and spin out of the neighborhood.  When I look at the date displayed on the dash, I am comforted that I’ll be back.  Three more days, Annie.  Three more days. 

[this is an original work of fiction from my novel-in-progress.  Please do not take as your own.]

Write on, Wednesday: Author Interview & Book Give-a-Way–Karen Brown!!

By Leslie Lindsay

Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel

I am super-excited to welcome Karen Brown to Write On, Wednesday.  Ms. Brown is the debut novelist of THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS (Washington Square Press, July 2013).  She has written several books of short stories in the past and teaches creative writing & literature at the University of South Florida. Without further adieu…

Leslie Lindsay: As a first time novelist, how did the writing process differ from writing compilations of short stories?  In what ways were you particularly surprised or challenged by the creative process at hand?

Karen Brown: “The short story is all about compression—how much of a world can you create in as few words as possible. You have to reveal a conflict and have something happen to a believable character in a scant twenty pages or less. I’d gotten used to this form, adopting a particular lyrical style—and I enjoyed hinting at things, letting the reader guess or intuit the characters’ motivations. The novel is so very different. I still feel I’m struggling to make the transition, and I have to prod myself to tell more, to show more, to expand scenes. I feel I’ve had to abandon the style that depended on the reader—this worked for a handful of pages, but what reader will spend three hundred pages trying to muddle her way through prose that only hints at things? I’ve found that readers want characters they can identify with intimately, and sometimes this means showing parts of their lives that would be a waste of words in a short story. It’s as if I’d set up my own rules, and now I have to break them!”  

Leslie Lindsay:  THE LONGINGS (of Wayward Girls) is a complex story teetering between the past (1979) and the present (2003) of Sadie Watkins-Stahl’s life.  Sandwiched between the past and present is the disappearance of a young girl who has yet to be found, twenty years later.  As the story unfolds, Sadie recounts various summertime moments that trigger a certain sense of nostalgia.  How many of those summer memories were uniquely yours?  What advice would you give writers so they don’t clog their manuscripts with too many personal asides?

Karen Brown: “The neighborhood of Sadie’s childhood is my own—we did create a “Haunted Woods” and charge admission, and a friend and I did once trick a younger girl by writing a letter from a “farmer boy” and leaving it under a stone. I’ve taken these events and amplified them. Our “Haunted Woods” wasn’t nearly as elaborate, and of course the neighborhood girl never went missing. I used the Haunted Woods in the book because it was an odd, eerie event, and it created a certain tone—one of manipulation and fear. As a child I did write a play, “The Memory of the Fleetfoot Sisters,” and attempted to put it on. I remember being very invested in the show, and when everyone quit I got my first sense of real disappointment—though with what exactly I wasn’t sure. I gave this part of my past to Sadie because she is struggling to keep the creative side of her childhood, and yet knows she is moving past it. So, while I drew on details of my own childhood summertime activities for the novel, I knew I had to pick and choose those that did the job I needed them to.”

Leslie Lindsay: In reading THE LONGINGS, I was particularly struck by the ease and accessibility of Sadie’s affair with Ray.  Without giving too much away, what is it about those old loves that have us wanting to relive the past? 

Karen Brown: “In Sadie’s case, Ray represents a particular summer in her past—one in which things changed irrevocably for her. But I think she latches onto who she was before things went awry. Ray seems unchanged, and she wants to reinvent herself as the person she might have become. It’s as if she is able to re-do her life with him. There was no real relationship between them in the past—there was only what she imagined. Ultimately, they both use each other for their own selfish purposes.”

Leslie Lindsay: Are you a pantser, or a plotter?  What advice would you give a panster who doesn’t like to plot, and a plotter who must have things “just so” before even taking pen to paper?

Karen Brown: “I’m not sure how anyone could keep things straight without writing something down, but I’m a firm believer in letting the story unfold naturally. It’s so much more fun! If I’d known everything that would happen beforehand it would seem tiresome to write it out. I guess for me the writing is a form of discovery. That said, once I knew where I might want to head I did keep notes for myself. “Sadie finds Bea’s love letters” for example. I have a file called “Notes” for each project, and I write things down as reminders. I think a happy mix of notes and fearlessness is necessary.”

Leslie Lindsay: A hot topic—even in fiction—has to do with a writer’s platform.  Can you describe what a platform is, and why it’s so important, anyway?

Image of Karen BrownKaren Brown: “I knew that I needed to have social media in place if I wanted to publish a book, so the basics—Facebook and a website—have been a part of being a writer for me for a while. I added a few other things—Twitter, for example, the summer my book was on submission. I’ve also published stories in magazines, and won a few awards, which gave me something to stand on. It’s always been difficult for me to be an outgoing social media participant. Writing is work I do alone, and I’m not always eager to share anything related to it. But as a teacher I’m trained to be supportive, so I like to think I am a supporter of other writers and of work that I find admirable. Occasionally I will sneak in something about my own process, but rarely about my personal life. In this sense a writer’s platform is a sticky subject for me. Some do it so well—their personalities are open and engaging, and they feel comfortable sharing themselves. Or, their newest project has a basis in a topic that’s historical or cultural, and they use this as a way to project themselves. I do believe publishers want writers who have established some connection with the world—even if it’s just one part of it.”

Leslie LIndsay:  What are you currently working on? 

Karen Brown: “I’ve been revising a novel draft I’d set aside a few years ago. Part of it was set in the Caribbean, and while I’d never been there before I wrote it, I did travel there this spring. I decided to read the draft again, and I discovered I had captured that world pretty well! I also found I still liked the draft—so I thought I’d continue work on it.”

Leslie Lindsay: What are you currently reading?

Karen Brown: “I used to read one book at a time—I wouldn’t even consider reading another before I finished it. But lately I find I’m reading a few books at once—partly due to the variety of ways I’m reading things now. As an ebook, Submergence by J. M. Ledgard, in print, Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead, and online I’m reading Clairvoyance by C.W. Leadbeater.”

Leslie Lindsay: Can you share your social media and other ways to reach you? 

Karen Brown: “Certainly!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Karen!  Very insightful and inspirational!

The Teacher is Talking:  Saying Bye Bye to Binky

And now….give-a-way details:  Karen has graciously agreed to provide one lucky winner a signed copy of THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS.  Here’s what you have to do:  Comment on the blog or send me an email leslie_lindsay(at) about one of your favorite summer activities as a child.  That’s it.  It can be as long or as short as you’d like.  Winner will be drawn at random next Wednesday, August 21st.  Open to U.S. residents only.  Please check your junk mail as winner’s will be notified via email.  Thanks and good luck!! 

Up next: Karen, along with authors Caroline Leavitt, Amy Sue Nathan and singer/songwriter Matt Wertz will be joining us later this August to share their ideas of “home.” a common, yet complex theme in many literary subtexts.

The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series

By Leslie Lindsay

Will it be the Benetton sweatshirt or the Hyper-color tee for the first day?  Tight-rolled or bootcut?  Acid-washed, or ripped?  Zippers on the ankles?  Oh wait–this isn’t the 1980s anymore!  Fast-forward several years and now you’re getting your children ready for the first day of school.  Times have changed, or have they?

Just this past weekend, we ran into my daughter’s former 1st grade teacher at the ballpark.  Her first question, “Are you ready for the first day of school?  Do you have a first-day outfit all ready to go?”  My daughter did a polite eye-roll and then looked to me for direction.  Yes, of course we do! 

Making a good first impression is vital to kids at school–and perhaps for adults too (think first dates, first day at the new job, etc.).  In fact a novel I just read, Jeanette Walls’s THE SILVER STAR, sisters Bean and Liz have a similar discussion about what to wear on the first day of a new Virginia High School:

“…Liz kept saying it was important to make a good first impression at a new school…You need to make a statement.” 

And so they did, however they chose the “wrong” thing and were chastisted for it…but their uncle had other plans…

“On the first day of school, we each put on one really striking outfit, and even though there was a bus stop within walking distance of Mayfield, Uncle Tinsley drove us to Byler High in the Woody. He also believed in making a good first impression.” Product Details

So, how do you talk with your kids about making a good first impression, and how important is that anyway?

  • Emphasize that it’s important to come across as interested, eager, and clean. 
  • Brush your hair, teeth, wear clothing that is clean, matches, and is tucked in  &/or ironed (if appropriate).  It’s one of the hard truths of life that one is often judged by first impressions.  You’ll want it to be a good one.
  • Role play with your child.  Say, “What would happen if mom/dad went on a job interview without showering first or brushing teeth?”
  • Be prepared.  Have school supplies ready to go and labled.  If you don’t have them, your teachers may think your’re unprepared, uninterested, and may think you’ll be this way for the entire school year.
  • Smile.  It’s almost impossible for someone not to smile back.  Smiles are contagious.  It helps you look friendly, approachable, and relaxed–even if you’re not.
  • Be friendly and not shy. You may be naturally more resevered, but try to make an effort to come out of your shell.
  • But be yourself.  Making a good first impression is putting your best face forward.  It’s not being fake.  There’s a difference.
  • Be prompt.  No one likes to wait around.  And you don’t want to get the reputation that you’re never on time or not prepared.
  • Avoid whispering or talking about someone behind their back.  This includes your teacher(s).  Just nod and be polite. 
  • Be helpful.  If you see another student or teacher who looks like they could use a little help, offer!  It’s a stressful day for all (teachers included), you’ll want to come across as being someone who is there when times are rocky.  It will make that person’s day. 

And remember, teacher’s are scared, too!  They want you  to like them, have fun in their classroom(s) and have a good first day as well.  So, make it that way!!  It’s up to you.

Class dismissed!  (image source: retrieved on 8.13.13)

Fiction Friday: Annie Ruminates

By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

A chapter I’ve been working on this week…a little rumination never hurt anyone, or does it?!

        “Distractions are the pinnacle of rumination.  It’s a cycle, a bad one that keeps me going back to Steve.  An addiction, if you will. 

        There was no changing the fact that I opened the door to Steve again.  I shove all of those thoughts—the second-guessings, the self-doubt, the poor choice in character – to the back of my mind.  What kind of married woman, a mother of two does such a stupid thing?  Steve is a one-sided battle I fight, my distractions the victor.

         I try to funnel attention to my family.  I make a list of all of the things I want to complete before summer’s end.  One by one, we’ll mark them off.  Family picnic…koi spawning at the local botanical garden…camp out in the backyard (note to self: get the makin’s for s’mores)…ice cream at the old-fashioned ice creamery…take Kenna and Madi to downtown Naperville for new shoes.

          And so there I a in a park, communing with nature a la family picnic.  An item to mark off my list; to push time forward and anchor me in the present.  Away from Steve. 

         When I added this little adventure to my list, I envisioned the perfect nuclear family and, of course, the perfect setting. A red and white checkered blanket spread amongst the fecund landscape, a real wicker basket packed with wholesome, nutritious foods like ham and swiss on croissants, fresh grapes, and homemade cookies—the kind from that sneaky chef person with chickpeas mashed inside for added health. The girls would be dressed in their Sunday best and Joe and I would raise a glass of cool, crisp white wine—a toast to a summer’s eve.

           Only our picnic isn’t my vision. 

           I ran out of time to bake.  There was no wine chilling in our fridge, only the sticky strawberry jam that leaked from its squeeze bottle, gumming the Temperlite shelves, a strawberry glace.  The diaper bag doubled as a picnic basket, crammed with 6-inch Subway sandwiches. We had cookies, only they were the institutional kind baked on a conveyor belt. 

        Even the weather doesn’t cooperate with my expectations.  For a picnic, it should be light, airy. A gentle breeze of halcyonic lilt. 

          But it’s hot.  Really hot.  It reminds me of a Georgia summer.  Thick, sweet air hung in the distance. 

         Sometimes, nothing matches my high expectations. 

         I stand, brushing the crumbs off my lap as I survey the scene.  A sense of quiet tranquility settles amongst us, just our family and a lone teenager jogging on the other side of the lake. Everyone else is smart enough to stay inside, air conditioners humming. 

        I wipe my brow and pick up the remnants of our family picnic, tossing the paper sandwich wrappers in the rancid-smelling garbage cans.  The smell of death and decay.  Despite the heat, I shiver.

       Sweat rolls down my back as I stand at the precipice between the lakeside pavilion and the bike trail.  The summer’s evening closing in on us, the setting sun a soft pink, whisps of purple spin through the sky like cotton candy.  Kenna and Madi scamper along the wooded path searching for rocks and wildflowers.  I arched my back and shaded my face for a better look even though their giggles and chatter reassured me. 

      You can’t be a helicopter parent.  Let them explore. 

       I shake my head.  I wish her wisdom would stop.   My mind feels fluid, as if it’s floating around in my skull. I am ruminating, one of my worst qualities. What had she said about ruminations…they were nothing but a dream past its expiration.  I got lost again, my mind running through files of dreams.  Who was in them, what we were doing—who we were becoming—Steve.”

[This is an original work of fiction for my novel-in-progress, “Slippery Slope.”]

Write on, Wednesday: The Benefit of Book Trailers

By Leslie LindsayWrite On, Wednesday:  Creating a World So Believable Your Critique Partners Think You're Having an Affair

No doubt you’ve heard of a movie trailer, right?  The commericial-style blurb about an upcoming or already-showing movie–a sneak-peak of the funniest/most romantic/endearing/action-packed segments that leave you eager for more.  But a book trailer?!?  What the heck is that?!

Simply put, a book trailer is another means of bringing attention to a book and/or the author.  We live in a media age–from iPhones to streaming videos and music from our laptops, reading is now becoming a little well–mainstream.  Not that I agree with the novelty of it, but I do agree that there is something to say for the efficiency of electronic devices.  Again, it’s still a concept I struggle with. 

If you’re into book trailers, then great!  It’s yet another avenue to reach potential readers.  Here’s a list of “fantastic book trailers and why they are so fantastic:” 

One of my favorites is from Deb Caletti’s HE’S GONE ( Wow–this one starts out almost exactly like the book (see Deb’s interview from last week’s post).  Yet, it’s different–I “saw” Dani differently in my mind’s eye and seeing her in the book trailer through off my perspective and shook my imagination.  While the HE’S GONE trailer had me wanting more, I know, from past experience that movies are hardly ever as good as the book. 

If multimedia platform development speaks to you, consider yourself lucky.  Writers and authors today are expected to do the lion’s share of marketing and promotion of their work–even with agents and publicists on board.  Making connections, reaching out to (potential) readers, and being personable is all an added value to the busy author. 

Are  you a luddite when it comes to technology?  Would you rather just hole up and write your All-American novel while someone else markets your book?  (Son’t worry–I’m right there with ya). Try this writerly assignment instead: 

  • If your book were to be a movie, who would direct it? 
  • What about cinematogrpahy?  Would you have it documentary style?  Close panning of the camera?  Wide-shots? 
  • What soundtrack might you give your “movie”/book?  (a favorite on-going excercise for me to to download songs from iTunes which I think are inspirational for my story &/or character)
  • Who would play the part of your antagonist and protagonist?  What character traits (in movies or TV) do they embody?  Perhaps they are a conglomeration of several characters?  (My “Steve” is Dr. Gregory House mixed with Jerry Seinfeld; my “Joe” is Pierce Brosnan, “Beth” is Claire Danes).
  • Create a collage of your book.  Pull from magazines, catalogs, even on-line images.  Print ’em off develop a “story board” collage.  Images often help create flow.  (I’m actually planning to make “character cards” with an image I think resembles my character along with vital data and goals, fears, etc.  I may even laminate them so I can carry along when I work remotely). 

For more ideas on book marketing and promotion–and making you own book trailer, see:

Coming up Next Week:  Interview with debut novelist Karen Brown on THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS.

The Teacher is Talking: Back-to-School Transitions

By Leslie Lindsay

Whether your child is started a new grade or new school, there are bound to be a lot of transitions.  Here’s a fast guide to helping your kiddo navigate the new things that may be coming down the pike (and if you read last week’s post on anxiety, you’ll understand how transitions and stress go hand in hand.  The more you know, the better the transition). 

A year ago, my then-kindergarten student was all bubbles and sunshine about her upcoming kindergarten experience.  We went to the open-house, meet-the-teacher nights, and all seemed good to go.  Even the the first day offered easy sailing.  It wasn’t till the third or fourth day that she completely refused to get in the school bus.  I mean, really refused.  She clung to me and kicked her legs, “I am not going to school today.”  It held up the line of other kindergartners and their parents as they said their final good-byes at the bus stop.  I scratched my head and worried what could possibly be going on.  Was her teacher mean?  Did someone say or do something that hurt her–emtionally or physically?  I didn’t know…

Growing up–and well into college, I had a friend who literally made herself ill around the beginning of school. 

Turns out, this behavior is quite common among all kids; of course, some may deal with it differently than others depending on their developmental age.   At the heart of these transitions is the word CHANGE.

Some navigate change quite well, others fight it miserably.  Thoughts that may be going through your child’s mind:

  • “Will I be good enough (at academics, making friends, sports)?”
  • “Who will be in my class?” 
  • “How will I get around the school building?  Will I have enough time between classes (especially if going to junior high/middle school).” 
  • “What will my teacher be like?” 

You can start now by talking with your child(ren) and sharing with them that change is a part of life.  It’s important, too to emphasize your child’s growing independence. 

Review the things your child was able to do last year in school or socially and then expand on that.  “When you were in kindergarten, you were just learning how to write your name.  Now, not only can you write your first and last name beautifully, but you can also write sentences, too…I wonder what kinds of things you’ll be able to do in first grade?!” Or, my favorite, “When you were born, you couldn’t do much of anything by yourself…now you can rollerskate, read, write your name, play soccer.  It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.” (image source: on 8.6.13)

You’ll want to re-institute regular routines, including meals, bedtime, bathtime, and studytime at home before school starts.  Get into the habit of eating meals at the same time, waking up and going to bed at “school-like” hours (they don’t have to be exact).  Also, try wedging in slices of “study time.”  This can be as simple as reading hour (or half-hour), workbook time, cards/flashcards, etc.  Minimize TV and movies. 

Often, transitions and change are “scary” to a child who doesn’t know what to expect.  Make sure you familiarize yourself with school forms, events, and procedures.  Share some of it with your child (offering too much information will overwhelm them). 

By preparing bit by bit and early, you and your child(ren) should be ready for a successful day of school. 

For more information about school transitions, refer to this article from NASP (National Assoc. of School Psychologists):

You may also appreciate this article from ERCP (Early Childhood Education Research and Practice)

[See also, for apraxia-specific back-t0-school tips]