Feb 21

So All Can Learn

So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation by John McCarthy


This exciting new book is just what is needed today! It will help new teachers, as well as those with many years’ experience, reach students in a time-efficient manner. New ideas are fine. But if one doesn’t have the time to implement them, they are not going to happen.


What makes So All Can Learn, https://www.amazon.com/All-Can-Learn-Practical-Differentiation/dp/1475825714/, so relevant is that it gives the information, as well as the encouragement and resources, to create differentiated lessons today! It also shows why student ownership is essential as well as giving ideas on how to gain it. When students are involved in lesson planning and assessment, they’re self-motivated to do a good job.


I remember one fourth grade reading class. My students were of average intelligence or better but you’d never know it looking at their scores. I could see them struggling every day. This book would have been a big help! Its resources, strategies, and guidance would have given me so many great ideas and saved me so much time! Instead I had to invent the wheel by myself.


I also remember one of my favorite third grade math classes. The students came in every day smiling, happy and enthusiastic—until we got to word problems. Then I watched their moods sink. Why? Many of them were reading below grade level. They could do the math, but they couldn’t read the problems. So they didn’t know what they were being asked to do.


When I read about Assessment Fog in Chapter 3, it really resonated with me. That was the problem I had faced. Yes, I solved it, but again, it took a lot of time. If I had had So All Can Learn, with all its resources, I could have created fog free assessments much faster.


This is why So All Can Learn is so valuable. It has, all in one place, the ideas, suggestions and resources that teachers need to help create successful differentiated lessons quickly.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this piece, and would like to support the author, please click on this link: https://www.amazon.com/John-McCarthy/e/B01MZ9EX0A/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Once the page opens up, on the left, is a link that says, “Follow the Author”. Click on it. This shows Amazon that people value John and it helps sell the book. Thanks!!!


Claire Murray, M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C.

Feb 16

The Amazing Aruba Sandman

The Caribbean Sea smashed onto shore with nearly the same intensity as a migraine I woke with. “Stay . . . Rest a little longer . . . Warmth and the sunshine are good for you.” The self-indulgent temptation to remain in Aruba sang to me like a siren and fought hard to keep me firmly planted in paradise. A pounding headache was just a ploy to keep me from confronting my reality: my respite was over. Home—snow-covered, below zero, Michigan—beckoned. There was only time left to finish packing, shower, check-out, and drive to the airport. Rebellious, I drowned the pain with two Excedrin so I could make my way, once more, to the beach. I couldn’t fathom leaving without taking a picture of the spectacular sand sculpture that had been finished the day before.

Cathy and Heidi, my friends and travel companions, returned from a short walk and said there was a problem. During the night, the selfish tide had reached its gnarly fingers onto shore to reclaim raw materials it wanted back. Bit by bit, the ocean defiantly picked apart the seventy hours of craftsmanship that Marc Mangia had spent in building a story out of the sand.

I rushed to the shore. Marc wasn’t in sight, but other early risers were nearby, under the shade of their palapas. Five-gallon, white plastic buckets still held sand in them from days before and rested near Marc and his wife Debbie’s lounge chairs. Even in a state of collapse, the sand sculpture was impressive. One man walked slowly around the display and videotaped it from every direction. I sat close by so I could watch the reactions of others and hear their comments about Marc’s rapidly dilapidating creation.

“What a shame.”

“How awful.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It looks like the ruins of ancient Greece.”

All comments were tinged with pain as if the onlookers to the tragedy had spent their vacations transforming nature into another art form.

“No wonder Marc isn’t anywhere to be seen,” I thought. “He must be devastated, witnessing the erosion.” But when he came forward, it was clear that, all along, he understood the impermanence of his craft. He quietly conceded, “What can I do? It’s the way it is.”

Initially, the passersby seemed more disappointed in the destruction than Marc, who didn’t outwardly convey how he was feeling. He told me that he had never before seen his work wash away. Usually, his pieces hold together long after he finishes his vacation and returns home to Ohio, where he’s a carpenter and business owner. Once, another vacationer sent him an e-mail to tell him that his work was still standing two weeks later.

I continued talking with Marc and watched him closely. Fighting an ache in his back that had plagued him for days, he stooped down to his knees once again. This time, he wasn’t adding a fine detail—chiseling miniature bricks; hollowing out windows; carving his name above a doorway. He bent down so he could reach a perfectly intact, miniature clay pot that had been pushed out of place by unruly waves. Marc gently lifted the pot and repositioned it to higher ground—on the steps of an arch that were half-gone. He prolonged the life of this one tiny remnant.

Not an artist, not a sculptor, Marc Mangia is a talented hobbyist who inspires people of all ages to play in the sand.

Marc next picked up a damaged and unidentifiable part of his masterpiece. He stood to show it to me. He explained that the outer covering was made from one part glue mixed with nine parts water. The concoction was gently sprayed to seal in moisture so the sand structure would hold together longer. He crushed the clump gently between his fingers, and I could see the fine sand underneath the outer surface. He handed some to me so I could squish it too. The outside consistency resembled icing on a cake—once the icing has been exposed to air for awhile and gets a little firm or stale. Inside, the sand was still moist and powdery. It crumbled easily.

“In the fifteen years we’ve been coming here, I’ve never seen the water come up this high,” he said.

Comparably, this was my sixth visit to Aruba and first time meeting The Aruba Sandman. On the first night of this trip, Cathy and I had arrived at the Marriott Ocean Club in time to make it to the beach for sunset, but Marc’s partially completed sand sculpture stole our attention away from the setting sun. Reaching up about five feet towards heaven, a lighthouse was the focal point and served as the foundation for the rest of the display. A spiral staircase wound its way up one side of the beacon.  Another set of stairs was carved into its rocky-looking base. Beneath an arch that connected the lighthouse to a clock-tower was a small fishing boat.

The creation looked so perfect that I initially thought it was made of plastic, like the three-foot high chess pieces laid out by Marriott for the vacationers to wile away their time. With closer inspection and considering the sign that requested, “Take pictures, but please don’t touch,” I realized that the sand sculpture was amazing.

That same evening, a father and son walked up and admired yet another feature—a church. Marc pulled out a picture of the island’s Alta Vista Chapel, showed it to the boy, and explained that this part of the sculpture was a replica of the church located nearby on the island.

Cathy and I examined the intricate design further. Detailed attention had been given to each part of the sandy display. Plastic, flameless, tea-light candles had been added for night-time ambiance. It was easy to visualize the hustle and bustle of a busy seaside town and imagine its residents hurrying home after a long day of work. Anchor the boat, cross over the bridge, stop in the chapel to light a candle, and get home before nightfall.

In a jealous attempt to earn back our admiration, the night sky could wait no longer to boast of its beauty. Clouds blocked the sun and hid it from view, but it wouldn’t go down without a fight. It squeezed in between every soft crevice it found and exploded with a fury. Reds, oranges, yellows and blues lashed out and burned away the daylight in a fiery glow. “One of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen,” was spoken out loud by many, including me.

“How did you get started in sand-sculpting?” I asked Marc.

“My wife and I spend a lot of time on the beach, and I just got sort of antsy. I started playing in the sand. I figured it out on my own throughout the years. What’s funny is that I recently spent time watching others so I could learn their techniques. But they weren’t doing anything different from what I was doing.”

Those of us who appreciate Marc’s talent disagree: That’s not so, Mr. Sandman. Not so.




Feb 15


The fun part of marriage are the odd disconnects that make life interesting or, should we say, challenging. Years ago, for instance, we were shopping at a major suburban mall and I noticed there seemed to be few customers in the mall’s primary store, Lord & Taylor. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was nearing 8:00 pm closing time. Just then, an announcement came over the store’s sound system confirming they were closing and everyone should leave.

Now, I’d never been in a department store so late, but I mentioned to Joan that we’d better get moving. She said she’d only be a minute, so I ambled out of the entrance to wait inside the mall. As expected, within minutes, Lord & Taylor’s store lights began winking out with no Joan in sight. Then, to my great concern, a twenty-foot-high metal security gate began descending from the ceiling but still no Joan. Many other mall stores were also closing and, with few people around, there was an eerie sense of abandonment. She’d always made sure I wasn’t to worry in case she didn’t arrive exactly on time; that she’d be alright. But this fortress-like metal gate was clanking its way half-way down and it was now so dark inside Lord & Taylor that I couldn’t see her in last mad scramble to get out.

As the massive, castle-like gate thudded into position, she rounded a corner and stood there, helpless. We were well and truly separated, with not the slightest clue what to do to extricate her. This was long before cell phones, and I had no idea how to contact Lord & Taylor Security, much less the store’s main offices. Would I have to find someone in the mall and call corporate headquarters somewhere in Georgia? This couldn’t be the only occasion when a customer was trapped inside. Did Lord & Taylor offer sleeping bags and emergency rations in cases like this? Were there any other trapped last minute shopper ladies inside? I’d never inspected the store notices, so maybe Lord & Taylor offered all-night champagne parties that no one knew about, but I wasn’t counting on missing anything.

How can wives who love to shop actually purchase anything when it’s too dark to see and no sales people selling them anything?  Was this what drove the beginning of the new age of internet shopping, when they can look at a screen, with no salespeople, and customers don’t get trapped inside? In this case, we finally came upon a security guard that let my wide-eyed wife escape. Seeing her tiny, at first clinging in desperation to the wrong side of the bars, her release reminded me of a cuddly thing being coaxed from behind a zoo cage enclosure. We were overjoyed at reuniting, promising such a separation would never happen again.

Of course, the next time we were abruptly scary-separated, we were schlepping two, very large, roll-around suitcases and a smaller version through downtown Portland, Oregon’s streets, trying to catch a rail-car to the airport. It was misting rain, what else, and we weren’t really dressed for the weather. An automatically-operating inter-urban rail train finally arrived, the doors opened, and I began lifting our two, huge, overweight suitcases up into the interior while Joan waited momentarily with the smaller roll-around on the curb.

While I was still struggling with the two pieces, the doors began closing. Before I could locate and push a button to stop the entire process, the train began moving. Joan was still standing, wide-eyed, curbside in Portland’s ever-lasting mist. What to do? Semi-scary panic time. I wasn’t sure where, exactly, to get off. Joan had our airline tickets and I wasn’t even sure what airline we were taking or what terminal to use. Neither of us had cell phones at the time so, should I get off somewhere between the last stop and Portland International, or guess what Joan would do?

I decided the best thing was to get off as soon as possible, still struggling with the two suitcases, wondering how to return to the previous train stop to meet her again. But now it wasn’t obvious where the opposite direction line was located. How much time did we have before the flight left, I had no idea, but we were well and truly disconnected without a backup plan.

Saving us both, the next automatic rail-car arrived with Joan on it before a train in the opposite direction hove into view. She was waving wildly, hanging onto her smaller roll-around, and a passenger pole, which takes three hands if you’re counting. Practically tossing the suitcases inside, I clambered aboard in record time. Greeting each other again after only minutes of separation, throwing our arms around each other, was like Stanley meeting Livingston in the deepest African jungle.


Feb 10

Dirty Laundry and Dimples

Pop and snap, pop and snap, it was an incessantly annoying tempo that was making her jaw clench. Yvette turned her head to stare at the woman chewing the gum hoping the laser death glare she shot that way would make the woman’s head explode.

Folding another t-shirt Yvette pressed and lined up edges for each fold in time with the snapping and popping of the gum. She snarled and snapped. “Would you stop it!”

The woman had short shorts on and a t-shirt that strangled her abundant cleavage. She looked up with wide eyes and shut her mouth. Then she said, “Sorry honey,” frowned and went back to her laundry. She also threw out her gum.

Yvette sighed. “No, I’m sorry for yelling at you. I just hate that I’m spending money I don’t have at the laundry mat, I have a headache, and I’m going to be late for work.”

The woman nodded. She gave her sympathetic eyes. Definitely more forgiving than she.

Earlier in the week, Yvette’s washer and dryer took fried to a whole new level. Just her luck, lightning had decided her side of the apartment building was as good a target as any and ripped through her apartment, burning the machine’s wires useless. I guess she should be happy the place didn’t burn down. She sighed and shut her eyes, taking a deep breath.

“I know what you mean. My Tony, he’s about the sweetest man you’ll ever meet, but he can’t keep from spending most everything we earn on games and such. You know? Video games. He likes them first person shooters, but they’re like fifty bucks a pop. And then he has to have his beer and chips during his breaks while…”

The high pitched nasally voice buzzed on and on as if the woman stepped out of a movie about the New York Mafia. Yvette just nodded and went back to folding laundry trying not to let her mouth hang open in disbelief and surprise. Did that woman really have a voice like that? She shut it quick enough.

The white dress shirt she pulled out of her basket was just like all the others she’d worn day after day, trying to earn enough money to get a better place, a better car, a better life. Waitressing was all she’d ever done. Every restaurant she had worked in seemed like a replica of the one she’d left. It was always for a higher wage, or better tips just until she’d have enough to go to culinary school. It never did add up to enough, though. Her dream of being a chef was pushed back for one more night or one more shift. But today she’d have an interview for a rare chance to apprentice in the kitchen.

She’d had enough of the too-handsy boss at a pit she worked at in Detroit. She’d thrown her order pad and apron at the owner, hit him with a closed fist and then walked out and took a drive. It turned out to be a four-hour drive. Taking that time to think of her next move turned out to be the best spontaneous decision she’d made to date. The drive had landed her in a small town that almost put her compact car in Lake Michigan. But then she rounded a corner and saw a sign for On the Rocks.

Her heart hammered hard. Her palms started to sweat. She’d never felt so drawn to a place. She pulled over, parked, and got out of her car. Freaked out by her reaction she was determined to go in, have a drink, and calm her nerves. Then she would find a place to stay, get a good night sleep and go home in the morning. She didn’t know why she was so nervous, but she felt something stirring inside her and decided to go with it.

When her feet hit the pavement, and she stepped out of her car, she could hear the music thumping from one side of the building. Female patrons waited in line with their high heels and skin tight dresses. Men wore slacks and shiny shoes with buttoned up shirts. They stood waiting and admiring the woman. Both sexes were sophisticated but also relaxed like they didn’t need to preen or flash a sexy smile for those next to them. It’s like they knew someone was waiting for them, so they didn’t have to do anything special to attract each other’s attention. Most were already paired up or held close by a significant other, or groups of girls gave the flirty eyelash flutter, and groups of guys gave the universal chin lift for hello, or gave a wave. There was familiarity. It was a small town after all. It wasn’t like the meat markets at the clubs in downtown Detroit.

She’d looked over to the other side of the building. The crowd was older, but no less done up like the younger group. There was something different at this place, and she wanted to know what it was all about. The calm side drew her, and she walked up to the large wooden door and went in. The line had been for dinner reservations and it warm enough for patrons to stand outside. She had approached the bar and sat down. The decision to get a drink and stay a while had changed her life. She’d met the owner, Ricky, as he was known and he’d offered her a job. It never occurred to her that she would move to the small town and make a home and it would start at On the Rocks.

The timer dinged on her last load. “Thank God,” she mumbled.

She looked at the time on her phone and quickly grabbed the last of her clothes, stuffing her unmentionables in the basket and then topping that off with her folded white shirts and black pants. Yvette grabbed everything else to fold it later. She needed to get home to get ready, late already, her first impression was going to suck.

With one basket on top of another her visibility almost zero, she rounded the corner and raced toward the door.

“See ya honey!” the woman with the gum and big boobs yelled over the whirring of washer and dryers.

Yvette turned to politely say good-bye trying to make up for her rudeness as she opened the door. She pushed her back up against it and spoke as she went. “Bye, uh…”

“Dallas,” the woman replied.

“Dallas,” Yvette said. “Nice to meet you.” And she waved. Turning to get to her car, which was a block away, the wobbling clothes baskets giving her trouble, she ran anyway, but within a couple of steps, she unexpectedly ran into a large immovable object just as the sky unleashed another torrential downpour. She crashed into said mountain which sent Yvette’s momentum backward. As she righted herself and before she fell and broke something important, the baskets with all her clean clothes went flying.

She reached out to try and catch at least one set before they hit the ground so she’d have something to wear for the interview because she wanted to make a good impression on the new chef. But that didn’t happen. She only had two hands. With her red hair dripping wet across her eyes, she was mumbling expletives as she gathered her now dirty, soggy mess. She flipped the tangled mop out of her eyes and started to straighten up with her soiled armload when fingers curled around her arm steadying her. And then a voice that sounded like sin and sex danced across her skin. “I am so sorry.”

When she stepped back the man who had clearly been the one she’d run into was now kneeling and gathering up the clothes she’d missed. And boy what a view of a very fine backside. When he finished helping and finally stood and held out her clothes, she lost all forms of communication. Because standing in front of her had to be one of the hunkiest men she’d ever seen in her life.

She swallowed hard her throat suddenly very dry.

The man’s arms dropped still holding onto–she looked down–her lacy underwear. Heat blazed through cheeks which were probably bright red knowing her pale complexion. She looked back up and was about to say something when their eyes met. His hand reached out, and his fingers pushed back an unruly curl that had sprung from the wet mass on her head. He pushed the curl gently behind her ear, skimming the curve of it down to her earlobe. She shivered.

She blinked a couple of times. What was she doing? Oh, right, she thought. She needed to get home.

“I’m Jacob.” He gave back her panties and smiled, a dimple forming. All she could do was stare at his smile. A smile only the devil would recognize it was so full of sin. Holy Moses and the four horsemen. She just died and went to heaven. All her girly parts, which had been dormant for far too long, saluted hello, how are ya’.

She licked her lips, and his eyes tracked the movement. Her lips pinched tight. Her heart started beating as if she were freefalling over a waterfall. She didn’t have time for a relationship. She needed to work, earn, and pay for tuition. Not think about one night stands with hot guys that had see-through shirts. Thank you, God, for the rain.

She grabbed the panties dangling from his finger and nodded like a big dork.

“You are?” he asked when she couldn’t say anything.

She blinked and finally got a hold of herself, only a little drool pooling at the corner of her mouth. She licked her lips again, and again his eyes followed the motion.

Oh, dear Lord, she needed this man in a big way. He was tall, at least six two. The rain still coming down hard, sluiced over muscles that were held in by the white t-shirt. She loved that white t-shirt. And his face, a play on chiseled angles and sharp brows, with hair that was as black as a still lake at midnight, plus that killer dimple, sent tremors through her body making her skin feel tight and tingly as she became more aroused.

“I’m…I’m Yvette,” She stammered.

“Nice to meet you, Yvette.” He held out his hand, and she took it and froze from the contact. Not that she was cold, oh no. She was getting very, very, warm.

All she could think to say when their eyes met again was, “Oh, boy,” because sparks were flying as their gazes stayed locked.

And then Jacob smiled even bigger.

Yvette squeezed his hand tight and tried not to groan. He didn’t just have one dimple. He had two.

Feb 08

Four Types of Playful Writers

Writers are, in general, playful people. As explained in a study by Dr. Rene Proyer “Playful people are able to reinterpret situations in their lives so that they experience them as entertaining or are able to reduce stress levels.” In my writing, I often rework real life situations with a better (or worse) ending and a more empowered character – a SuperMe – capable of witty remarks and amazing feats of skill, knowledge or cunning. Although it seems hard to find anything entertaining about pain or loss, the expression of an unpleasant experience in a creative way can be cathartic. For an example, recall Life of Pi by Yann Martel; young Pi survives on a boat with what seems to be a tiger, baboon and hyena.

The study categorizes playful people in four ways. I imagine writers can check one or all these categories. I will test each categories with myself and with the four Russian writers on my reading list for the year – Tolstoy, Chekov, Bulgakov and Nabokov.

1) “Other-directed playful” includes socializing with friends and other writers.   For me – a member of several writing groups, an “E” for extrovert on Myers-Briggs tests and working in a profession that involves people – this category is a hit. For the Russians writers, socializing with each other is well documented. Tolstoy reportedly took partying (1800’s style) at college to the extreme and never graduated. Lucky for him, it did not deter his writing career and success.

2) The “light-heartedly playful” consider life a game. And in games, it’s how the game is played. During the years I cared for my parents, we continued to play games. I had a performance baseline for each of them and measured each day against the previous. During play, the filters and pretensions dropped. Strategy choices revealed character, health and mental faculty. Humor was also part of the game. Chekhov began his writing career by publishing humorous anecdotes and stories to pay for his medical school studies. After that, his writing took a turn for the dark and serious.

3) The “intellectually playful” like to play with thoughts and ideas. Occasionally, the less tired and more clever me does re-orchestrate events to tell a playful story. I once threw away a microwave because my son said smoke came out of it. When I learned this might not have been true, I wrote a short story, “Trial of the Microwave.” On a more serious topic, Bulgakov wrote a satire about Stalinist Russia, Master and Margarita, which casts a wall-eyed loon and a talking cat as the devil’s attendants. I needed the talking cat in the microwave situation.

4) The “whimsically playful” enjoy “strange and unusual things and are amused by small day-to-day observations.” Details – accents, tone of voice, body language – convey information to the observant. The crystallized conflict photographed above caught my attention the other day. I took several photographs to determine if the ice was melting or the water was freezing. Before I could decide, my fingers numbed, and I almost dropped my phone in the water. Nabokov’s narrator in Lolita can dial up the description to create a complete image and feeling. Read through this jewel by Nabokov. He writes “. . . on the trim turf of the lawn-slope, an old gentleman with a white mustache, well-dressed – double-breasted gray suit, polka dotted bow-tie – lay supine, his long legs together, like a death-size wax figure.”

One last point about playfulness, Dr. Proyer notes that play enhances the ability to solve complex problems. A playful person can shift perspectives. In writer-speak, this shift is changing point of view. A writer imagines the thoughts and motivations of each character and determines the best narrator for a story. Solving (complex) plotting problems may mean jumping into another character’s thoughts and point of view. Or the story might need the intimacy of first person. Sometimes, I get it wrong. I’m quite proficient at switching from third person to first or vice versa. And being playful, I find it fun to edit and try it again in a different way.

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