Winter Outings: Tips from River Rock Outfitters

Front Porch Magazine
December 2014 (pg. 29)

As winter numbs noses, and frigid air bites, and lungs puff a ghostly fog, we long to break our cabin fever in craggy, barren woods, staking out camps from which to watch Orion cross the sky.  With fewer insects, expansive views, and smaller weekend crowds, the winter months draw out hikers, campers, and climbers; however, weather becomes a significant consideration when planning day and overnight trips.   Brothers Connor and Keith Peterson, co-owners of the newly opened River Rock Outfitters on Sophia Street, provide the following checklist of essential planning tips to keep us safe and comfortable during outdoor winter adventures.  

Photo by April Petersen - Winter Outing Wear from River Rock Outfitters

Steve Watkins: Ghosts of War YA Literature

Front Porch Magazine
December 2014 (pg. 8)

Steve Watkins has made a lasting impression on me with his ability to develop characters with authentic voices.  Certainly, his stories are well researched and written with a keen and dynamic fluency, but it is his cast of young characters that have the same interests and conversations as my own teenaged students that has captured my interest.  In each of his previous books, Down Sand Mountain, What Comes After, and Juvie, Watkins has extended a level of respect to his young protagonists that is lacking in many young adult novels.  His characters have overcome realistically serious conflicts, and Watkins has proven through their development that he trusts them to be up to the challenges.  

When Watkins revealed last year that he would be writing a paranormal war series for Scholastic, I was eager see the concept come to life in the first installment, Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway.  Watkins says he was honored when Scholastic approached him to write the series.  With only a couple of pages of notes as starting point, he developed a longer treatment and has since worked on four of the volumes, the fourth of which involves The Battle of Fredericksburg.  

Will Mackintosh: Linking Thinking, Speaking, and Writing

The Write Stuff - Virginia
November 2014

One of my goals in creating The Write Stuff – Virginia was to gain insight from teachers of all content areas and grade levels about the function and importance of writing in their classrooms.  With this as a given, I was especially interested in interviewing Will Mackintosh of the University of Mary Washington.  Will is an associate professor in the Department of History and American Studies with a full teaching schedule keeping him busy each semester.  He offers thoughtful insight into university-level expectations for writing, including his own philosophies about the purpose of writing within his own content area.


Jackson Harlem: The Gospel, Pt. 2

Front Porch Magazine
November 2014 (pg. 6)

In the beginning, there was music - music that moaned low and traveled up his spine, dividing his mind.  On the one side swayed the Delta Blues, immersing Jackson Harlem in Southern roots and baptizing him to his future occupations; on the other, a plethora of pop culture rocked and rolled.  Bowie, The Beatles, Michael, and Prince jammed with B.B. and Little Richard, mixing it up and breaking it down.  Today, Harlem trains his ear to all of them, following in the footsteps of music’s great visionaries as he presses his first single, “Beat it Up,” set to release this month on iTunes. 

See also David Barth, Peak Sounds VA

Jackson Harlem

John Stewart: The Value of Writing for Freedom of Expression

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

John Stewart and I have been acquainted for many years through our extended circle of friends, but it was not until I ran into him at a technology symposium for Arlington County Schools in the summer of 2013 that I had a chance to see him in action as an educator.  As an instructional lead teacher for the school system, John was facilitating a class about apps and Internet resources to hook students into writing creatively.  With a career that began in the 1990s at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education , and has since spanned over two decades in the classroom, providing adventures far and near, I knew he would have a keen perspective on writing with his students.   When I found his name on the NVWP resource blog, I realized it was time to give John a call.

John in his classroom 

Haley Hendershot: Student Writing as Authentic Writing Practice

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

Haley Hendershot and I first met when she was completing her practicum work prior to her first full time teaching position.  She was training with my colleague at school, and we struck up a conversation about poetry.  Haley was working toward her Master of Fine Arts through a college in Vermont, and we were both looking for people with whom we could workshop poems and short fiction.  That was nearly seven years ago.  Since that time, Haley has moved, finished her MFA, been head of her department at a middle school in Henrico County outside of Richmond, Virginia, and has developed a definite philosophy on the impact of authentic writing assignments and publication in relation to her students’ investment in the craft.

Primavera: It's Like Family

Front Porch Magazine
October 2014 (pg. 6)

On the corner of William and Liberty Streets sits a restaurant with a humble facade, but walk through its green wooden doors and you’ll find yourself awash in conversation, laughter, and community.  It’s a pizza joint, a neighborhood joint, a family joint.  It’s a place for birthdays and graduations, for lunch hours and Friday night take-out on your way home to the kids.  For the past eight years, Primavera has earned a word-of-mouth reputation that makes it one of the city’s culinary success stories.  

Photo by A.E. Bayne -  Rami Hamrouni checks on the Platt family as they enjoy their first Primavera pizza.

Dr. Paul Rogers: Learning to Write, Writing to Learn

The Write Stuff - Virginia
September 2014

Amidst the rush of graduate classes this past summer, I had the opportunity to meet, share writing with, and learn from Dr. Paul M. Rogers, Associate Chair of English at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.  He was ending his three year leadership role as the director of the Northern Virginia Writing Project, and was finishing his fifth year as leader of the Invitational Summer Institute.  With NVWP as the impetus for this blog, Dr. Rogers, Paul as he prefers, was the first name that came to mind when I started considering people who might have excellent advice for teachers seeking to use writing in their classrooms.

Lee Schleifer Brosius: Tapping into the Elementary Goldmine

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

Though middle and secondary teachers often don’t think to seek advice from their elementary school counterparts, there is a wealth of untapped potential for writing integration and cross-curricular lessons in the initial levels of education.  Not only do elementary school teachers have the expertise of teaching all subjects, but they often develop ways to reach a number of different levels in a single lesson that bridge subjects and genres.  I recently had the pleasure of speaking with veteran elementary school teacher, Lee Schleifer Brosius, about writing integration in her elementary school classes. Lee has as Masters of Education plus thirty extra graduate hours and seventeen years experience as an elementary teacher in 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 5th grade, and now in 1st grade.  She currently teaches in Prince William County, Virginia.

Recovery in Motion Gains Momentum

Front Porch Magazine
October 2014 (pg. 31)

Mental health has been at the forefront of many of our minds in the wake of beloved comedian Robin Williams’ death in August.  And how often have we been shocked to hear of a favorite performer, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, succumbing to a substance abuse disorder?  While some may seem immune from these issues, many of us, the majority really, know that these systemic problems not only happen on the front pages of the entertainment section, but occur within our own lives either personally or through the struggles of friends and loved ones.  Fortunately, there are success stories for every tragedy, but any promising outcomes are best supported by further therapy and counseling.  Recovery in Motion is an area nonprofit that trains adult peer counselors to provide support to fellow adults following a mental health or substance abuse crisis.  

Editorial: Position on Writing

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

Throughout my years in school, writing was a foundation that grounded me and allowed me the freedom to explore my beliefs, focus my creative energies, and feel successful in a climate where I often felt like the odd one out. From this, I would have to say that my position on the teaching of writing and its use as a tool for learning is one that allows it to remain organic, allows it room to change and breathe, and one where criticism remains limited to what works well in student work, rather than what the student has done incorrectly. Writing is such a personal venture, and no matter which form it takes that must be respected.

Writing should always be approached relative to the writer’s experience. When it grows out of a natural understanding of the world, students have the opportunity to explore any subject on their own terms. Writing is unique in this way, especially when we are locked into a rigid climate of curriculum and standards that may seem irrelevant to many of our students. Our students should have the freedom to approach content with personal connections and by exploring interests as unique and varied as themselves. This authentic connection with the world through writing provides an environment rich with learning opportunities and growth.

Given to change, writing requires room to breathe. It should be viewed as an organic component in our curriculum that should not always be subject to rubrics and grades. Drafts are changeable; nothing has to be forever. Even a final draft may one day have revisions. We should impart to students that the final draft required on a due date or test is simply the best version they can possibly create on that date. It is a vivid lesson on living in the present, but also one of loosening attachments – attachments to ideas about fixed ability, perfection, and mastery. By facilitating an environment where students see their writing as a living thing, we provide a model for the way ideas and constructs in society change and evolve.

Criticism should be limited and constructive in nature. We, as teachers, should focus on what works well in student papers, encouraging them to do more of these things rather than highlighting what is wrong. Form and function should be taught for what they are – tools for communication, for the reader’s ease, and to drive a point home. Some of the best writing happens when the tools are used in ways that fall outside the norm. Writing should be innovation and mind-expanding. This is where we want our students to be comfortable in their learning.

The personal nature of the written craft must be respected. Even as English teachers, we cannot approach this tool as one over which we have actual domain, as it is a tool that is as inherent, unique, and personal to each of us. It is our voice. It is our self.


Editorial: Why Writing? Why Now?

Why writing? Why now? Or perhaps that second question should be why not? There seems to be a pervading belief throughout education that writing belongs solely to the English domain, that time and resources prohibit its incorporation into lessons in other core areas of teaching; however, the practice of writing, and drawing by extension, is humankind’s oldest form of communication. For retention of information, for sparking innovative ideas and new connections, writing remains one of our strongest tools. Consistent, content-rich writing practice facilitates our students’ abilities to elaborate, support with evidence, think logically, organize, collaborate, and think “outside the box”. Certainly, the daily practice of writing is crucial for those interested in making it part of their creative lives, because developing a life centered around published writing requires a person to do the work every day. More than that, though, writing well, developing those synapses that allow us to communicate effectively and familiarly with other human beings, simply enriches our lives. I believe that is what we are in the business of doing: enriching our students’ lives through learning. Writing is work, and it can be difficult, but it can also be fun and can readily open a student’s mind for learning.

This summer, I completed work through George Mason University’s Northern Virginia Writing Project, where we ate, slept, and breathed writing for four intensive weeks. Here, teachers from every grade level and many subject areas collaborated daily on ways to incorporate writing into their lessons. Visiting presenters from area high schools, George Mason University, and Johns Hopkins University fitted us with invaluable tools to enrich our students’ experiences through the practice of writing in the coming year. With their modeling as a scaffold, we presented our own lessons, the best of the best writing ideas that we had used in our classrooms. Additionally, we did the work of writing. We wrote morning pages for thirty minutes each day, met in writers groups, developed solid pieces of writing, and published an anthology. As was the program’s intent, we left as teachers of writing who also write.

As an extension of these experiences, I am initiating this blog: The Write Stuff – Virginia. Using my background as a columnist for Front Porch Magazine, I will provide my readers interviews with teachers throughout the state of Virginia who use writing as an integral part of their lessons. Of course, you will see many ideas from English teachers here, but I plan to reach out to instructors of all content areas and grade levels to facilitate a movement of educators who view writing as an essential piece of their teaching philosophy.

Elizabeth Seaver: A Clowder of Cats

Front Porch Magazine
September 2014 (pg. 8)

When an artist instinctively creates something unique, there is a recognizable spark that transfers through the end of the brush to the work.  So believes Elizabeth Seaver, an artist with an instantly recognizable style who reveals her spark through anthropomorphism and whimsy, color and collage.  A fixture of the Fredericksburg arts community since her residency and show at LibertyTown Arts Workshop in 2009, Seaver reveals the secret lives of cats in her latest series on display at Bistro Bethem.  

Elizabeth Seaver's show at Bistro Bethem

Editorial: Personal Histories

Front Porch Magazine
September 2014 (pg. 4)

If it has not happened already, there will come a day when you’ll be struck with the realization that life has its own designs, that the place you thought you would be at 30…50…80 is not exactly as you had pictured it, and you will reflect on your story looking for the sweet spots, the turning points, the common chords where it veered from your plan to bring you to this day.  The people with whom you’ve interacted, the places you’ve visited, and the choices you’ve had to make, these will be your history.  In retrospect, the circumstances will give you pause, and the minute choices that have shaped your life will make you dizzy. 

Like many, my personal history includes being a transplant to Fredericksburg, though after many years here I claim it as my home.  I was born in Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C., and I grew up comfortably amidst NOVA’s suburban sprawl.  When I was a kid, my father and I often rode our bikes along the W&OD Trail from Falls Church to Reston and back.  We walked to 7-Eleven across the mud fields that would become the Westmoreland Street exit of Route 66, and we traveled to National Airport to eat white chocolate and watch the planes fly in and out over the Potomac River.  My mother and I caught movies at the Vienna Theater on the weekends and wore holes in our shoes shopping at Tysons Corner. As a teen, I navigated the Metro with friends and mastered the Beltway ballet of Route 495 in my first car, a Mercury Topaz.  After moving to Blacksburg for college, after my boy was born at the end of my final year there, and after a short period of living in Kent, Ohio, I moved to Fredericksburg to support my mother and spend time with my father as he battled esophageal cancer.  That was 1998.  That was sixteen years ago. 

Since that time, I’ve made a career of teaching English to middle school students in public school.  Of any job I have ever had, teaching has by far provided me with the most opportunity to change lives, and in return my own has been altered as well.  If you want to experience life’s penchant for steering the course, become a teacher, because every day is a surprise.  For thirteen years I have spent close to 135 hours with my students over the course of each year.  I am keenly aware that I am a part of roughly 1,800 histories, for better or worse, in a small role or large.  It’s quite a responsibility that we have to each other.  But then, shouldn’t it always be so?

My son’s personal history has been written in Fredericksburg. With the exception of yearly visits with his father in California, every milestone has taken place here from the time he turned three years old.   When we first moved, we lived in a townhouse on the corner of Amelia and Prince Edward streets, allowing us to walk everywhere.  We frequented favorite kid-friendly shops, like the sorely missed FUNdaMentals, Jabberwocky Books, and what my son referred to as “the train store” (officially Quilts and Treasures).  His childhood in Fredericksburg wouldn’t have been complete without visits to the soda fountain at Goolrick’s for milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches, or the corner Cards and Cones for hard-packed ice-cream.  We often ate at Roma, which is now Poppy Hill, whose spaghetti marinara contained so much minced garlic that we would wake up the next morning smelling like bulbs mashed into the ground.  We would grab slices of pizza at Castiglia’s and read our Sunday Post at Hyperion, much like I see young parents doing today, sharing hot chocolate and muffins or cookies.  He’s been in college for a year now, writing his own history, rolling in life’s waves.

Like my family, each of you has a story to tell, whether to your inner circle or the wider public.  Each is a piece of our community’s history.  Such a simple, seemingly obvious thought at first, but the intricacies of our interactions are nothing to scoff at; though subtle, they are far-reaching.  The stories recorded in Front Porch Magazine over the past eighteen years have impacted multiple histories – those of the subjects, of the writers, and of the audience.  Front Porch has introduced us to each other in unexpected ways, encouraging empathy, spotlighting commonalities we share, and broadening our perspectives beyond what was written in our past.  Front Porch sends us into the community in pursuit of new adventures to add to our stories.  Whether those adventures go as planned is not always up to us, and where they will take us next is what makes life exciting. 


On the Porch Selfies

Service without Paws: Animal Assisted Therapy

What qualities come to mind when you think of those who serve others?  How about altruism?  Intuitive interest?  Selflessness? Maybe you think of enthusiasm, determination, and action.  The therapy dogs in our area, along with their dedicated human partners, embody all of these qualities along with a myriad of others.   Bonded and sharing a common goal, area teams ease the suffering and anxiety of the youngest to the oldest among us.  

Beate Jensen: Grow with the Flow

Landscape gardeners often lament the coming of July and August, a season of dormancy for many of the ornamental plant varieties that color the landscape in spring and autumn.  Traditional fescue grasses grown on lawns across Virginia can be particularly hard on resources during the dry months, requiring mowing for maintenance, which pollutes the air, and massive quantities of water.  Beate Jensen, Belmont’s Grounds Preservation Supervisor, offers some landscape solutions to help homeowners beat the heat and sweeten the deal for area wildlife.  

GoodSkills at Goodwill

Front Porch Magazine
July 2014 (pg. 7)

It is easy to turn a blind eye to the problems in our area.  On the surface, ours is a burgeoning community, abundant in the arts, often affluent, and teeming with informed citizens at ease in discussing the latest local and national debates.  What some may not know is that according to data collected by Rappahannock Goodwill Industries, there are roughly 36,300 adults in our area who face a barrier to meaningful participation in our community’s shared goals, a barrier to education, and a barrier to employment that would allow them to earn a living wage and attain the comfort that so many of us take for granted.  That barrier is illiteracy.

Regina Bogomolova: Raising the Barre in Education

We often hear of teachers taking two jobs out of necessity, but rarely does that second job provide the benefit of pursuing a lifelong passion.  By day Regina Bogomolova is a high school chemistry teacher in Prince William County, and by night she satisfies a lifelong pursuit of dance as owner and instructor at Classical Ballet of Fredericksburg on Lafayette Boulevard.  Bogomolova says this paring of athleticism and intellect are the perfect complement to one another.  

Eyes in the 'Burg: Seeing is Believing

Front Porch Magazine
June 2014 (pg. 1)

The first thing you notice is a subtle, fresh fragrance: white tea and figs.  It’s a signature scent that Dr. Sandra L. Grossett, O.D., chose to soothe her visitors in the waiting area at Eyes in the ‘Burg, located off Cowan Boulevard.  In fact, every aspect of the retail space in the front of her practice has been selected for sensual enjoyment, from the earthy palette brushing the walls, to soft lighting, to the unique displays of eyewear featuring Fredericksburg’s premiere textile, painting, and ceramic artists.  It feels like a spa.

Carol Huebner: Educator Advocate

Front Porch Magazine
May 2014 (pg. 6)

Ever since her days as a student at West Virginia University, Carol Huebner has believed in the power of advocacy.  Her professors actively encouraged her to join the National Education Association, and thereafter she knew she would always be involved with the organization in some capacity.  Today, Huebner is a math teacher, a site-based representative with the Virginia Education Association for her school in Stafford County, and a newly elected board member for the Mountain View UniServ district.   Of her experience working with VEA and NEA, Huebner says, “Things have changed over the years, but only because people chose to stand up and advocate for them. That’s why this organization needs to exist.  I don’t know any other organization that is fighting so hard for people’s pay and contracts, but the struggle is not solely political and the goals are not simply to get people elected; the main goal is about fighting for our members and our students.”

Carol Huebner Medawar (Center)