A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Remember to pause

Santa Cruz at night Capitola Beach Dec 2014
Santa Cruz at night. Capitola Beach. December 2014.

December catches me off guard every year, as though I don’t know it’s coming. As though I have never shopped for presents before, or haven’t had a busy calendar in the last month of any other year.

I confess to just wanting it to be over sometimes. The hassle and hustle of the season triggers my guilt, too. Why do I rarely succeed in getting lights up on the house? How could I let my college kids come home for winter break to an empty home (I was away traveling to see extended family members who are sick)? I even found myself wondering how necessary a decorated tree is to our over-all well-being.

Some years I’ve had every gift purchased and shipped by the start of December. Other years, I’m paying the extra fees for one day shipping. And still others, I’ve had to box and wrap a receipt, letting the teen know the gift would arrive within a day or two of Christmas.

So it was with great curiosity and interest that I listened to a friend share with me a strategy for being in the present moment—something I need to remember to do for myself. Maybe it will be helpful to you too.

She told me that when she finds herself whipped up into a frenetic energy, or guilt, or anxiety—she deliberately pauses, for a moment. She checks in with her thoughts, her feelings, and her body—to see what’s really there, so that she’s not just operating from a script of past holiday seasons or past expectations.

The pause.

I had forgotten about the pause! It helps to re-center myself and ask the basic questions: Where is my mind (what am I thinking about, or obsessing over)? How do I feel (am I churned up? am I excited? am I distracted and edgy)? What’s going on in my body (clenched jaw—I grind my teeth so a clenched jaw does tell me a lot about how much I’m holding inside; upset stomach, headache, short breath)?

Once I’ve paused to see what’s going on with me, I can then accept it and honor it. I don’t have to sweep it away or pretend it’s not there or overcome it. I can allow myself to embrace that moment, and the next, and the next one too.

From this place of checking in with myself, I can then make choices that take me and how I’m doing into account. Usually when I blow or lose it, it’s because I am checked out—I’m attempting to fill expectations or am moving really fast or have decided that this moment is annoying and I just want to get past it. When I’m in that mindset, I lose the moment and my choices.

Maybe today we can all pause—simply stop long enough to be present to ourselves and to our families; to let 2014 be its own unique holiday season, not a remix of all holidays past.

I paused this morning. I noticed a lot of agitation and urgency inside. A dismissiveness toward the demands of the season. A resentment brewing.

Time for a run, a cup of tea, and a hot shower. Then I’ll rouse Noah out of his well earned slumber, and we’ll go get that tree I keep putting off. I want to enjoy it with him, not rush through it (or even skip it!). That’s what I discovered when I paused this morning.

Thanks for your emails and posts. It is wonderful to hear from you. What are you discovering when you pause?

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Friday Freewrite: Bullying

Boy leaning against wall

What would you do if you saw someone being bullied, and would your response be different if you personally knew one or more of those involved? Explain.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image © Roman Bodnarchuk | Dreamstime.com

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“A beautiful mess”


Earlier this week we shared Jot It Down in action. Today it’s Snip & Pin!

Snip & Pin Technique: Type your child’s writing into the computer. Print it out with one sentence per line. Then cut it up into individual sentence strips (or individual paragraphs, if that works better). Put the strips on the floor or on a table top and start moving them around to see what order makes the most sense or delivers the most surprise.

Brave Writer mom, Natalie writes:


My daughter, Rachel, has been working on a paper for her Chemistry class this semester. She has been frustrated by the process of organizing all this material into the required seven page paper. As we read through her rough draft, it became apparent to me that the best course of action would be the snip and pin revision. She didn’t recall doing this before, but I assured her it would help.

I followed your directions to get it started. She saw all the strips of paper and was unsure how this would help. However, after an evening of moving sentences around, she is now a believer. It has been a wonderful way to work together and make her paper shine.

I’ve attached a picture of the process. It is a beautiful mess.


The Snip & Pin Technique is thoroughly covered in The Writer’s Jungle and is also taught in our Kidswrite Basic class.

Image (cc)

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Dread turned into joy!

Little boy writing with pencil

Brave Writer mom, Aimee, writes:

“Wow! This class [Kidswrite Basic] took my dread for teaching writing into joy! My children and I relaxed and actually had fun with the exercises that Kirsten Merryman walked us through. She is an excellent coach. I don’t think of writing as a chore anymore now that I have some tools under my belt for getting the creative juices flowing.

“The first exercise we did on explaining how to draw something really clicked for my children and I. Following that up with the description of an object through the five senses solidified what it means to communicate with the reader for me, and I will always go back to that when helping my children with their writing.

“Freewriting was also a new experience for us, and I have to say…that is really ‘freeing’! The free write takes the edge off and allows writing to happen naturally. I loved that! Learning to go back and free write little sections that needed polishing was also great! So many little gems I will keep with me!

“Thank you so much! Oh, I also really liked Kirsten’s comments on how to tell the story without telling it. I’m not ever going to let my children write things like, “he is cute” again. They have to describe how he is cute so that the reader automatically knows he is cute! That is so great, and my children get it!”


Meet the teacher, Kirsten Merryman!

Kirsten-MerrymanKirsten holds a B.A. in foreign language education and an M.A. in French with a focus on developing writing and reading skills. She has taught French and Spanish at the middle school, high school, and college levels, and spent a year teaching English to students at the University of Caen in France.

When her son finished second grade declaring that his favorite subjects were “recess and dismissal,” she decided to switch jobs and became a full-time homeschooler. Nine years later, she continues to homeschool her two children, now 17 and 12.

She teaches courses in language arts, improvisation, and cross-curricular studies at her local co-op, and delights in inventing classes such as Wizard Language Arts and Build It! Kirsten has a passion for oral storytelling, and has written stories that were performed at the Brandywine Storytelling Festival in Kennett Square, PA, the National Youth Storytelling Showcase in Orem, UT, and the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN.

She wrote her first novel as part of National Novel Writing Month two years ago and writes fan fiction with her daughter for fun. When she’s not thinking up new stories to tell, you can find her cooking, tinkering with robots, or dreaming about her next trip.

Learn more about all of our Brave Writer instructors here.

You can still sign up for Kidswrite Basic for the winter quarter!

Image by Carissa Rogers (cc cropped)

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Tuesday Teatime: A collective “ahhhh”

Still Life with Books, Teacup and Puzzle

Brave Writer has been encouraging Poetry Teatimes for well over a decade! Here’s a compilation of tips and inspiration shared throughout the years:

The Original Poetry Teatime Guide

Poetry Teatimes offer you and your children a break from the fast-paced demands of homeschooling, parenting, and household running. Everyone sighs a collective “ahhhh” as they settle into their chairs, tea cups or mugs in hand, poetry books scattered across the table.

How to Make a Pot of Tea

Plus muffin and scone recipes!

7 Teatime Tips

Some fresh advice for your teatimes!

The Value of Poetry

Poetry teaches us the beauty and potential of the English language. The innovative use of language—of diction (word choice), metaphor and simile, other figures of speech, punctuation and capitalization—encourages our fledgling writers to take a chance with language.

Poetry Teatime Titles

Features poetry books our family has enjoyed during our teatimes. Also, check out the recommendations from readers in the comments!

How to Read Poetry Aloud

“A poem will live or die depending on how it is read.” ~Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate

Our first teatime of the year

Over and over, they had to read the poems aloud and remember all the times we’ve read them before. At one point, I had to explain why other people didn’t read poetry the way we did: “It’s because a lot of people are intimidated by poetry. They don’t know that you can begin with rhymes and jokes, kids poems and limericks. If they started there, they’d ease into the adult stuff without noticing…like you have!”

No more fantasy teatime

Don’t fall victim to “Fantasy Teatime Syndrome.”

What to do if they don’t like teatime?

The idea here is to keep experimenting with new venues, new options, trusting the overall thrust of your time with your children to be the good that they need. Remember how critical their own input is to a successful home education.

Sometimes mom needs a teatime just for her

Find a private moment to sip, to observe, to take in a little written inspiration, to pause and enjoy the flavor of the hot brew on a cold day.

Then there are the many awesome Brave Writer families who have shared their teatimes with us.

And don’t forget our Poetry Teatime Pinterest board. It’s filled with ideas!

Poetry Teatime Pinterest board

P.S. Thinking of poetry, our Playing with Poetry online workshop is “the most fun you can have with your kids while working on writing. Taught by our own Susanne Barrett (MA in poetry), your family will not just learn to appreciate poetic forms, but will have the satisfying pleasure of writing them!” Class starts Feb 2nd!

Also, Brave Writer’s Arrow Poetry Guide is a helpful tool! Four weeks’ worth of poetry lessons, using popular poems for children.

Still life image by cbransto (cc cropped, text added)

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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Jotting It Down in action!

Jotting It Down Patty

Dear Julie,

I had to share this with you. My girls were having breakfast and having a nonsense conversation that was starting to wear on me. I suggested they talk about something else, like the books they’re currently reading perhaps ;-).

All on their own, they turned it into a full blown discussion with little sis narrating her story and big sis jotting it down. Big sis can get a little over zealous with her questions, but at least she’s passionate about it…gotta give her that much.

Thanks for continuing to inspire us every day!

Learn more about Jotting It Down!

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Friday Freewrite: Advice


What is the best piece of advice someone has given you? Tell what happened when you followed (or ignored!) his or her wise words.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by shonna1968 (cc cropped)

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Student Spotlight: Tomy!


We love it when Brave Writer students share their writing with us! Tomy (age 8) wrote a holiday poem for an Arrow project. He says:

I would of never write this verse if wasn’t for the book Inside Out and Back Again and the Arrow project. I never read free verse before so Thanhha Lai inspired me to write in free verse, and I thought it was fun!

Thanhha Lai writes about what is important to her, so I wrote something important to me. Christmas is very important to me and I am always wondering how Santa travels since I don’t believe he travels by Reindeer.

I did really enjoy organizing my free verse with lots of one word lines.

Here is Tomy’s poem:

Everything is wrong

I like to hear
they have a

I like to see
they are lited up

But everything is
travels every

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Boredom is not the enemy


The most common advice given to parents when faced with a bored child is to load up that kid with chores. The thinking goes that the child will never utter the words again to avoid mopping, vacuuming, and laundering.

Other advice:

Leave the child in it and eventually he or she will come out of it.

Remind kids that life isn’t always interesting; that we all have to do things we don’t like.

Less punitive advice:

Send bored children outdoors.
Post a list of possible activities and hand it to the child.
Remind the child of all the toys and supplies at hand.

For me, these responses to the “I’m bored” cry feel inadequate. I know when I express a feeling, I want someone to “get it” at minimum. I want my feeling recognized as legitimate or valid—at least, understandable given my circumstances. Offering me solutions or punishments for being bored, frustrated, lonely, tired, cranky, or sad feels dismissive.

On the other hand, being confronted by a bored gaggle of kids when they have a house overflowing with toys, books, play equipment, video games, movies, and siblings can be utterly exasperating!

Here’s a down and dirty guide to boredom and kids

(feel free to use, edit, disregard as suits you and your family)

1. Agree with equal amount of emotion in your voice. Like this:

“Mom, I’m bored.”

“You’re BORED!? Oh man I HATE that feeling.”
“I remember feeling bored when I was a kid. Drove me NUTS!”
“Boredom is SOOOO BORING! Ugh. Yuck. I get it.”
“Don’t you hate how you can be bored even though you have cool toys and games to play? I get that way sometimes.”

Let that stand. You don’t have to solve it. Sometimes just getting it is enough.

2. Resist the temptation to solve the boredom with practical activities. Instead, offer support in “handling” it, like this:

“How have you solved being bored before? Can you remember? What usually works for you?”

“Sometimes when I’m bored I have to sit for a little bit to think about how I might get to the other side. Want to pull up a chair while I’m in the kitchen and sit here with me while you think about it?”

“I remember the last time you were bored, you took the dog for a walk and you came back with a new idea of what to do. Do you think that would work this time? Or do you have another idea for what to do when you are bored?”

Or ask the question: “Do you mind being bored? Sometimes I like doing nothing—as a change of pace, just sitting around doing absolutely nothing at all. Do you ever like that?”

3. Invite the bored child (the one who is really struggling to find anything to do) to hang out with you until the child has a new idea of what to do.

“I hate being bored. I wish I had time to play a game with you. I’m washing dishes and I would love it if you would create a musical playlist for me to listen to while I do them. Would you mind doing that until you figure out what you want to do instead?”

“I was about to fold laundry. I know that probably doesn’t sound like fun, but until you know what you want to do, I’d love you to come talk to me to keep me company while I fold clothes. Would you mind doing that?”

“I’m on the computer right now. Come here! Look at these photos (story, pinterest images, facebook feed). Sometimes when I’m bored I just scroll through these news feeds endlessly. Not very productive, eh? Want to show me something online that I haven’t seen today?”

The goal here is to recognize that boredom is a condition of experience, but it doesn’t have to be overcome. Companionship is often one way to “heal” it for the moment allowing new ideas to come forward.

4. Suggest (after you may have tried the three ideas above) a project that is messy, that the child has wanted to do but you have put off, that is involving.

The key to overcoming boredom is “surprise.” Boredom is about relentless predictability. All of us get tired of that. Our toys bore us because they are familiar. Our books bore us because the newness has worn off. Our siblings bore us because they are always there. Our parents bore us because they are such adults all the time.

To rise above boredom means upsetting the stability and predictability of routine and familiarity. If your child is truly at the chronically bored place, it’s time to involve new experiences and those usually require time, companionship, and big messes.

  • Painting
  • Brand new board games
  • Hammers and nails
  • Taking apart old radios, bicycles, furniture, computers
  • Modeling clay
  • Baking
  • Sewing
  • Video games
  • A six part movie series
  • Having friends over
  • Planning a party

In other words—boredom may mean that life has become a bit dull, a bit of a drudgery, a bit repetitive.

Even in the academics, this happens. If you have been using the same set of workbooks for the entire fall, it may be time to put them away for a week and do all hands-on activities for math, language arts, and science. Just change the tone and energy of the home.

Alternatively, use them in a new setting: at the local Starbucks, go to the library, hang out at a park, “do school” at a homeschool friend’s house where you all study together for a day.

Boredom is real. It’s not the enemy. It doesn’t mean your child is misbehaving or willful. Boredom is not a sign of lack of gratitude or ingenuity. Boredom simply is—it’s another feeling that human beings have that deserves respect, support, and love. Like all of our feelings.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by greg westfall (cc cropped and text added)

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Tuesday Teatime: A new element

Tuesday Teatime Tara 1

This year we added a new element to our plans: Brave Writer! I totally wish Julie would adopt me, and show me her homeschool ways. Fortunately, because she has a writing program, she is a fabulous writer that often shares her wisdom on her blog and via Facebook. [And The Homeschool Alliance!]

One of the elements of the Brave Writer Lifestyle is Tuesday Teatime. We didn’t get out our finest china this time, but I may have to dig it out. I already know my boys love being read to. I didn’t know how they would like reading poetry to each other. They both actually had a lot of fun!

Tuesday Teatime Tara 2

I collected some of the poetry books Julie had recommended. The boys really enjoyed these. I hope to collect a few more along the way.

I made Lemon Cream Scones as our snack because what proper tea wouldn’t have a proper scone? These are very simple, but every time I make them someone asks for the recipe. They’re not dense like typical scones, but rather more biscuit-like [see Tara's recipe!].

Tuesday Teatime Tara 3

My boys love chai lattes. I heated 2 bags of chai in water on the stove, and then added some sugar and soy milk. Yum!


Read more at Tara’s blog, Monarch Room.

Images shared with permission.

Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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