Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

Thoughts from Mount Everest

Figurative thoughts, that is. Four years ago I posted this in regard to my son attending Saint Ignatius, a rigorous private school. I used Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled,” and I used it in that wrong way so many do (but I don’t care). The idea being, find a barely perceptible path in the middle of nowhere and it will yield you a wild-forest-of-a-life. For who wants to stay on the boring path? I wrote that signing up for St. Ignatius was akin to signing for an Everest hike, that if Luke didn’t at least try, he’d look up at the mountain one day and regret it. But. If he tried and managed to climb even to base camp, he’d have a beautiful view, a valley to appreciate. Some of my favorite moments are when I cease the proverbial hike, pull out a glass of wine, and survey where I’ve come from and where I’m going.

This I wanted for my son.

Luke had been homeschooled all his life. What he knew was the plush couch, great books, experiential learning in organizations like Civil Air Patrol, mastery learning in everything, and the yours-truly-taskmaster who—at that point—was losing her ability to motivate him. A Bear Grylls type, Luke thrives in the wild. Any wild will do, even high school. The kid didn’t even know how to work a combination lock when I sent him off with a brand new backpack into the inner-city campus wearing his first tie. I could hardly believe I wouldn’t see him for a whole day.

In a week he’ll be done with high school. To say it had its ups and downs covers it as well as an article from Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. I’d confess the four years of mother angst in diary-style, but my son would kill me, private man that he is. In the end, what I can say of his high school years is he hit the ball out of the park. From the kitchen table to Saint Ignatius to Cornell University. This proud mom thinks he made it to his personal Everest, that he hacked a path of his own and it made all the difference.

For from [God] and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! – Romans 11:36

 

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Homeschool Life

5000 Words Spring 2019 Contest Winners!

What makes 5000 Words stories stand out? I believe it’s the boot camp dynamic of the class. For 12 weeks, we immerse ourselves in a great work of literature (this time, Lord of the Flies) while churning out copious amounts of stellar writing. Students who can handle the demands of the class come out with a serious portfolio—far more than 5000 Words.

Each session we hold a peer-judged creative writing contest where students craft an original story and run it through the gauntlet of a class critique. 100% of students survive the workshop (but they do fret). They revise, and the final stories are judged by anonymous vote. Rachel Carpenter, Katelyn Steyer, and John Grigoli were our winners. Click on the titles to read and be amazed by their winning stories.

1st Place – “Broken” by Rachel Carpenter

Rachel Carpenter is 18 years old and a senior in high school. She will be attending the University of Akron in the fall of 2019. Dance is her passion and her major in college, but she has other hobbies to occupy her time when she is not dancing. She enjoys writing fictional stories, playing with animals (especially cats), and spending time with her friends and family. She also enjoys stepping out of her comfort zone, making new memories, and giving back to people in need by going on mission trips. Her faith is very important to her and is one of the reasons why she goes on mission trips. Rachel has been on a total of four mission trips and will be going on her fifth in June of 2019.

 

 

2nd Place – “Battle Scars” by Katelyn Steyer

Katelyn is seventeen and the oldest of six kids. She has participated in the 5000 words class for the past five years. When she was first enrolled to take the class, she cried because of the unknown. And when the session came to an end, she cried because it was over. Without 5000 words her passion for writing wouldn’t have been discovered. She has enjoyed every minute of the past classes and is forever grateful for Mrs. Griffiths and the lessons she has taught her.

 

 

3rd Place – “Tribute to Opportunity” by John Grigoli

John Grigoli is 14 years old and in eighth grade.  Besides writing, he enjoys baseball, basketball, cross country, playing piano, and camping.  He has a love for the outdoors, which grew from being a member of Boy Scouts.  He is currently working towards the Eagle Scout rank.  In his first full year in the 5000 Words class, he quickly gained an appreciation for creative writing, as well as the class discussions.  Additionally, he is grateful for the peer critiquing and the instruction from Mrs. Griffiths.

 

Homeschool Life

Student Flash Contest Winners!

Judging is a buffet where I love every dish. How do I pick just one? As I read through the entries, I jot notes down and assign a number to rank them. I re-read the top-ranked stories and even some lower ranked ones that are still on my mind. Then I wring my hands and generally feel desperate about having to pick just one winner. Lucky for me, my dear friend and fellow author Kathleen Joyce joined the fun!

A couple of things I look for:

  1. Narrative or character arcs. Movement. Unexpected growth or a twist.
  2. Style. Did you use tone/voice well?
  3. Dialogue. If you worked that in, bonus points.
  4. Grammar. It always helps. Always.
  5. Genre. Did you write in a recognizable genre?
  6. Did your story make sense?
  7. Was there more story off the page?

Some entries were super clever and took risks with narrators, genres, and plot. All had praiseworthy moments.

But the winning entry embodies all seven points. It started out with me thinking funny romance and took me to a creepy place I wasn’t expecting. (I always enjoy a surprise.) With voice alone, the author accomplished this shift! As the tone evolved into zombie/vampire/werewolf/something-terrifying-I-can’t-imagine, the dialogue served to steep it in reality. Horror is my favorite genre. The story is polished, makes total sense, and yikes!!! —how about the story off this page?!? No one wants to imagine what’s next for our hapless narrator.

Congratulations, Rachel!

Movie Date by Rachel Carpenter

Credit: Aaron Mello

There was something not quite right about the way the ticket vendor gave me my ticket. I’m pretty sure she judged me for being alone. I wanted to tell her I was meeting someone but decided against it. I pushed the thought from my mind and pulled out my phone and asked him where he was. He replied and said he would be there in a few minutes and to go into the theater. I was a little upset but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I sat down in the theater and pulled out my phone again. Three minutes till the previews started and I was fuming. I shoved my phone back into my jacket pocket and crossed my arms. After a few minutes, I got up to leave, but then I saw my date walking up the stairs. He got there before the actual movie started and I was a little relieved I was not stood up. He sat down and I noticed right away that he smelled repulsive. Like something died on him. I also noticed there was some red stuff on his shirt and pants. I asked him what it was and he said paint. I became too uncomfortable and I told him I had to leave because of a family emergency.

“Let me walk you out,” he suggested.

“Are you sure you want to leave the movie?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s cool.”

When we got to my car he stopped me and apologized for being late. I told him it was fine and started to get into my car. He suddenly grabbed me and covered my mouth. I saw a van pull out from behind me and I was thrown into the van, I tried screaming, but it was no use.

***

Our second winner was chosen by cozy mystery writer, Kathleen Joyce, who graciously read the entries and sent me her choice for #1. Here’s what she had to say: My vote goes to Gloria Blumfeldt. I liked her story. All your students have great imaginations. I enjoyed reading them.

Kathleen regularly reads and edits adult work and mentioned that many of the student stories were of a surprisingly high caliber. You guys make me proud. 🙂

Congratulations, Gloria!

Backyard Discoveries by Gloria Blumfeldt

There was something not quite right about the smell that came from the ground that one morning as I walked through my woods. Rotten and vile. It Almost smelled as if a person had been buried there, but not far under the surface.  My keen sense of smell had landed me many, very important detective jobs. I could pick up and define even the faintest of smells. But there’s no way there’s a crime scene right in my own back yard? I put my nose closer to the earth, sniffing the surface. It is- But it can’t be? Could it? I thought as the smell of a rotting body filled my nostrils. I could find out.

I stood over top of the soiled earth for minutes, unable to get the thought of digging it up out of my head. I knew I wasn’t supposed to act on any of my suspicions until I had reported them to the chief, but this consumed my mind. I couldn’t control myself. Curiosity took over.

The soil was soft and easy to dig into. In a matter of minutes, I could see a piece of blueish fabric peeking out from the dirt. Frantically, I uncovered the rest of it. Moments later a fully uncovered body lay in the ground in front of me. At the sight, I ran back to my house calling for my partner. Finally, I got to the door but and saw my partner through the glass. I yelled more to get his attention. He rushed outside asking a million questions but I just led him to the body. 

“Wow,” He said as he stared at the body, “We’ve been looking for her ever since she went missing last year. I can’t believe you found her. You’re really a special dog.”

 

fiction, Homeschool Life

Flash Contest Detour: No Microcosms, No Problem!

Each session of my 5000 Words class, we devote one week to flash fiction. The assignment is to enter a piece in Microcosms, which experiences a rather dramatic spike in entrants. 🙂 This morning when I opened my email, I found Microcosms is having technical difficulties this week, the week my students are to enter their contest. Is this fate, smiling on the Microcosms judge who would’ve had to read all those extra entries?

Not to be deterred (cue the collective groan of my students), we’ll just take a little detour and hold the contest here, on my blog.

I ask my students to post their fabulous stories in the comments section of this post. Put your name, the title, and the exact word count at the top, then the story. Post by Saturday, midnight (that’s an extra day). I trust my readers will enjoy and perhaps comment on anything that moves you. Most of my students have private blogs, so this would be a rare opportunity to get outside feedback.

Next Tuesday, I’ll post the winning stories. As to judging, it will either be yours truly or a fellow author. (Any takers? Volunteer in the comments!) Hey, it’s 8:26 AM and I’m working with a curveball here.

But what about the prompt?? I’m not techy enough to build a spinning machine like the folks at Microcosms, so we’ll have to go stone age: I’ll give you a first sentence. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Craft a flash fiction story of no more than 300 words that begins:

There was something not quite right about the…

 

 

 

Homeschool Life

Congratulations Fall 2018 Contest Winners!

Each session, 5000 Words culminates with a peer-judged writing contest. Our last few classes are devoted entirely to workshops, which are the faves of mine and my students. After surviving the gauntlet of peer critique (in which the writer must remain absolutely silent), students polish and edit their stories to a brilliant shine. Why silent, you ask? Because if it’s not on the page, it doesn’t matter. Since the author can’t sit on the reader’s shoulder filling in all the things they meant to say, everything has to be on the page. It has to be clear. Confusion is the death knell of a story. So we sit around and tell what confuses. Or what works. Or we give ideas. Those are the best. I love seeing a story go nuclear because of suggestions in our workshop.

At the end of the critique, students get a chance to answer a few of the charges, but they know audience perception is more important than what they meant to say. A two-inch-thick stack of hardcopy critiques and as much time as they’re willing to devote is the revision program. They post their shined-up stories to their WordPress sites and anonymously vote for their favorites. I am proud of ALL my students’ stories. The magic is in the revisions. Click the titles to read some dazzling romance, sci-fi, and drama.

First Place – Finally Home by Katelyn Steyer

Katelyn is seventeen and the oldest of six. She has participated in the 5000 words class for the past four years. When she was first enrolled to take the class, she cried because of the unknown. And when the session came to an end, she cried because it was over. Without 5000 words her passion for writing wouldn’t have been discovered. She has enjoyed every minute of the past classes and is forever grateful for Mrs. Griffiths and the lessons she has taught her.

Second Place – The Implant by Ethan Zabka

Ethan Zabka is 13 and in 8th grade. He enjoys writing, especially scary, tension-filled stories. Other hobbies of his include basketball, soccer, and piano. He also enjoys spending time with friends and family. He loves math and wants to pursue a career in engineering.

Third Place – Year of Change by Rachel Carpenter

Rachel Carpenter is 18 years old and a senior in high school. Dance is her passion and career choice but has other hobbies to occupy her time when she is not dancing. She enjoys writing fictional stories, playing with animals (especially cats), and spending time with her friends and family. She also enjoys stepping out of her comfort zone, making new memories, and giving back to people in need by going on mission trips. Her faith is very important to her and is one of the reasons why she goes on the mission trips. Rachel has been on a total of four mission trips and will be going on her fifth in June of 2019.

Homeschool Life

Flash Contest Winners!

How exciting to see 19 entries for what became a Halloween-themed flash fiction contest! My students regularly create a flash story as part of my class, and a good competition throws our motivation into high gear. Thank you to my blogging friends, writing friends, and friend-friends who participated and made the collection of stories diverse and compelling. I hope they were as fun for you to write as they were for me to read.

Many thanks to our judge, Laura Kennelly. I always appreciate the objectivity of blind judging (no names/credentials associated with the entries).

Laura worked as a freelance arts columnist and reporter for the Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, and served as associate editor for BACH, a scholarly journal about J. S. Bach and his circle, published by the Riemenschneider Bach Institute at Baldwin-Wallace College. At the University of North Texas, she was editor of The Avesta, the campus literary magazine, as well as an arts writer for the Campus Chat. Check out her weekly column in CoolCleveland.com.

And now…the winning flash stories:

1st Place – Stealing Hearts and Minds by Keith Kenel

Great start and funny finish. Nice dark humor. – Laura

Jane was known for stealing hearts: She also liked to collect other body parts, but hearts were her hands down favorite. She longed for romance hot as a five-alarm-fire, a boyfriend so salsa that he was off the Scoville-Chili-Pepper-Scale. Her fruitless search for a boy that swept her off her feet left Jane feeling dead and empty inside. She knew the warm, loving embrace of a custom-made-mensch was just what the cardiologist ordered, and since her search for a proper boy-born-of-woman had proven fruitless the ghoul, er girl, decided to create the perfect boyfriend, bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece.

It started innocently enough, a stolen glance, a stolen kiss, but soon Jane went from misdemeanor infractions to major felonies; breaking into hospitals and stealing dialysis patients’ kidneys, cataract sufferers’ eyeballs and tipplers’ livers. Her constructive surgery had been slow, but she finally had her golem, her synergistic masterpiece that was far greater than the sum of her stolen and quilted parts. Jane had her mensch and he was fine as frog-fur, a cover that’s known to be mighty fine.

Having leapfrogged over obstacles, tonight she and her made-man Verde Greenia were stepping out for the first time. She’d selected a romantic French restaurant that featured spécialités du tuyau guaranteed to get libidinous juices flowing. The evening began with champagne and oysters-on-the-half-shell and would end with juicy-juicy-mangoes, figs and dark chocolate. Jane ordered Quiche Lorraine while Verde selected cerveaux.

Verde was perfectly attentive, a boy literally made to order, and dinner was sublime. Dinner was sublime that is until the main course arrived. It was then that Verde grunted, “Brains!” and lopped off the top of Jane’s head and devoured her cerveuax, proving once again that no matter how charming the zombie, brains are always at the top of his mind.

2nd Place – Halloween Love by The Dark Netizen

I liked the irony of the “same time next year” set up and the “potential tooth decays.” – Laura

I sat in the diner, looking out of the nearest window.

The street was bustling with activity. I could see all sorts of weird monsters and creatures of terror roaming about. After all, it was Halloween night, and everyone had something to do. The children were scurrying about in their cute costumes, angling for as many potential tooth decays as they could. The adults were party hopping, all gussied up in the sexy versions of vampires, werewolves, and other famous monsters, or rather whichever costumes were available in the store.

It was almost midnight. I was extremely excited. It had been so long since I had been on a date. I knew I was looking great. The hungry stares that had followed me ever since I got out of my house were evidence enough. However, I couldn’t help but have butterflies in my stomach. I figured I would drown them with some ice cream soda. Just as the soda arrived, I noticed a figure wearing a slightly old fashioned, but expensive looking suit. My date had finally arrived.

I watched as the love of my life shuffled into the diner and made his way slowly to where I was sitting. As he approached me, he fetched out a rose from his pocket and offered it to me. He was so romantic. I took the rose from him and kissed him on the cheek.

He moaned in delight. I asked him how the year had gone for him. He moaned in response. Okay yes, I do speak zombie. Yes, the love of my life is of the undead variety. However, I loved him and he loved me. This was the only night of the year we could meet and celebrate our love.

Our Halloween Love…

3rd Place – Untitled by Ella Steyer

Nice switch from the usual POV. – Laura

My mind excelled in areas similar to these. The humans bustling from shop to shop, the fragrance of unhealthy food, and the racket of motion from every which way. The noises varied from a woman speaking with her colleague to a taxi screeching to a halt. I strolled across the hectic sidewalk, remaining near my companion. He used to be uneasy of the unknown streets, but we’ve grown fond of them. Our daily walk helped us improve together.

Of course, not all was pleasant. My companion didn’t witness the stares we received or the whispers following, but I did. Some days we walked with confidence, while others we struggled with the monumental obstacles. The world consisted of people good and bad. It wasn’t complicated to recognize the difference. On one challenging walk, a young boy pretended to trip my companion, simply to gain laughter from his friends. I growled at them until each was out of sight.

The morning of our last walk, the street was busier than usual. My mind stayed on high alert as we strolled up to the crosswalk. My companion and I started stepping across the street in a leisurely manner. All was fine; until the screeching came. The impact tore me to the ground, skidding across the concrete. The urgent voices rang out before everything went black.

The day of our last walk continuously disturbs me. My heart yearns for the kindness I found in my companion, but that morning in the bustling city was my last few moments with him. I had failed in sustaining his safety. The therapy in our relationship worked both ways. My reason in life was gone, and among it took my loving companion away from me.

Congratulations to the writers who challenged themselves to create something where before, something didn’t exist.

fiction, Homeschool Life

Announcing the Winners of the 5000 Words Creative Writing Contest

It was during my 5000 Words Writing Class that I first heard the news about my brain tumor. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to focus during the weeks leading up to my surgery. I let some things go, like this announcement.

The stories that follow were written by my students, all of whom receive/endure a workshop critique and (are supposed to!) thoroughly revise their work. The final drafts are posted to WordPress, and students vote for the winners anonymously.

Our literature selection was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. If you are at all familiar with Crane’s extravagant use of imagery, you’ll see he left his mark on my students. I couldn’t be more delighted. I, too, found myself writing Crane-ish posts like this one.

For the first time, we had a tie for 1st place. The Steyer sisters wowed everyone, and 2nd place went to Rachel Carpenter. Congratulations! Click on the titles to read the winning stories.

1st Place TIE: Love and War & The Unknown

“Love and War” by Katelyn Steyer (10th grade)

Here’s what Katelyn had to say: Reading is a favorite hobby of mine. Every time I open a new story I begin a new adventure, entering a different world full of exciting tales waiting to be unfolded as the pages turn. This year I got to experience the brutality of war through the eyes of Henry in the novel The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I was inspired by Crane’s descriptive and beautiful writing to create a war story of my own. And I hope you’ll enjoy reading my story Love and War as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

“The Unknown” by Ella Steyer (8th grade)

Ella is fourteen years old and the second oldest of six kids. She has participated in soccer since she was young. Another hobby of hers would be reading, but before she started the 5000 Words Writing Class, she’d never been interested in creating the stories. Now, however, she thrives to better her writing with each piece and could even see herself making a career with it in the future.

2nd Place “The Path” by Rachel Carpenter (11th grade)

Ultimately, all fifteen students were winners because they bettered themselves as writers and learned to be more discriminating readers. I am grateful to my students for their many kind words and gestures.

 And by the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
― Sylvia Plath

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. – James 1:17