What We Take & What is Taken (04/13/21)

Inspired by a #VerseLove entry by Andy Schoenborn who writes for one of my favorite teacher-writing blogs Ethical ELA. For more information on this particular approach to writing check out Andy’s entry here.

like always, the red handled scissors are there
dutifully attached to the barn’s worn beam
I pull the lever on the double-ended snap
releasing them from the baling twine
stunned, confused, overwhelmed, destroyed

walking back through the dew-damp grass
I notice Bonnie has already braided a section of your mane
the whites of your eyes absent,
your gaze dull from the sedative
Squeezing down on the handle releases
a token of you into my hands
your black hair billowing at the ends near the rubber bands
I take this part of you to the fence; resting it on the upper rail
my own gaze dull from denial

forehead to forehead I whisper apologies
and promises
decades of memories replace future plans
your eyes resigned
mine indignant
in soft tones, the vet reminds us of what happens,
sometimes violent spasms, heavy, gut-moving breaths

but none of that happens for you
you spare us those moments

I sit by your head, heavy against the ground
death’s intransigent selfishness occupying our space
considering all that has been taken

DD Cephearano 1997-2018

New Books (04/06/21)

There is something to be said
about slipping a knife’s tip through
the sticky tape, hearing that crisp pop
when the seal breaks
fingertips grasping, feeling around for the seam
lifting up on the box’s exterior
revealing the coveted

this month Life of Pi‘s blue and orange cover
faces me, the mysterious façade of
What Comes After peaking out from underneath
with both in my hands it is hard to determine
which should be enjoyed first
one would be my second time
experiencing its language
calling to me because it knows I will be
satisfied. fulfilled.
the other beckoning,
but you have never had me
I should be first

at this later hour, I still have not made a decision
but I think I know which one I will choose

Photo by Ena Marinkovic on Pexels.com

One Whole Month (03/31/21)

This was my first year writing with the Slice of Life community. I didn’t know what to expect other than the potential impending doom of writer’s block or missing an entry (neither of which actually happened; I’m giving myself a high five for this). What I am walking away with is something that engaged me in all the right ways. Writing regularly isn’t new, but knowing that this writing was going to be published meant I was spending a little more time crafting my thoughts. A couple of days before SOL started, using Patty McGee’s work (love her) I created two goals for myself and wrote them in my notebook. In full disclosure, this process also is part of my coursework with my graduate students so I was modeling this process while also engaging in my own personal writing goals. My goals are shared below:

  • Writer-Centered Goal: I will engage in daily writing in my notebook and publish on my writing blog (public) every. single. day. during the month of March
    • Clarity – set number of days to write and publish (daily)
    • Challenge – I write in my notebook regularly, but not daily and I have only published my writing a few times so writing daily and publishing daily is a challenge
    • Commitment – I am excited to challenge myself. I have a community of writers who will help support my goal, but this is something I want for myself.
  • Writing-Centered Goal: For each published piece of writing, I will target two sentences or lines to revise word choice and imagery (detailed description) to enhance my readers’ experience. 
    • Clarity – focusing only on the published writing, word choice and imagery are specifically named in my goal. 
    • Challenge – It is easy to publish initial drafts from my notebook by simply typing them as a post, but I am challenging myself to revise two lines minimally to enhance word choice and imagery.
    • Commitment – I love collecting beautiful words from the books I read (the lines that stir my heart). My goal is to publish pieces that inspire others to write them in their notebooks or at least to stop and pause and say, “dang that was a really written line/description”.

After day 7 or so, the descriptive language I was really working toward started to come to me a little more easily, I had a solid morning routine even if I wasn’t able to get to “published” draft form until 10pm on some days. On the days where I published before 9am felt like a complete success for the day.

Reading others’ writing also inspired so many ideas that I had never thought of. So many folx in this community had many ideas that I added to my writer’s notebook as topics to write about in the future. I also really enjoyed the connections I made with my people I have never met (you know who you…I hope). It amazes how just reading snippets of someone’s life can support this level camaraderie that I feel in my heart.

Anyway, this post will connect my love for showing horses with my writing. In many competitions, the judges award the Top Ten place finishers. When I look back that this experience, there are so many posts that I loved writing. Out of the 30 posts from this month, I am awarding the ones that I personally enjoyed writing. I wonder which posts you wrote are your favorites?

And the winners are…

Reserve Champion – Two Sentence Stories

Grand Champion – Thrift Store Photos

I raise a glass to all of us for writing this month. Thank you for welcoming me into this community and encouraging me a long the way – I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Cheers!

Textual Lineage (03/30/21)

Scholastic’s Global Literacy Campaign describes textual lineage as “a reading and writing autobiography which shows that who you are is in part developed through the stories and information you’ve experienced.”

Alfred Tatum (2013) More Resources shared at Scholastic Inc. & Learning for Justice

When I think of texts that have shaped who I am it definitely gets overwhelming because I feel everything when I read. So this idea of textual lineage, a new-to-me concept was discussed recently by one of my colleagues, I sat down and really reflected about which books have influenced me as a reader and as a person.

The books listed below are not in any particular order, but all have been hugged close to my chest once the last page was closed and in all honesty the majority have made me cry. Overall, without these books, I would not be who I am today. I just love them.

If you want to share which books have shaped who you are, please feel free to leave their titles in the comments! I love connecting over books. If you want to connect through Goodreads, I can be found at: https://www.goodreads.com/elapizzostyle.

1. The Outsiders – SE Hinton – It’s easy to roll your eyes at this one and I will acknowledge your reaction (if that is what you are doing). However, this book has history with me. I was studying to be an English teacher and I HATED to read. This was the first book I engaged with with studentsduring student teaching. I just remember being caught off guard by the deaths, and sobbing at the end with Johnny’s note. I couldn’t believe a “school book” could do that. I literally taught that book (due to curricular demands) every single year when I was teaching middle school…student teaching, Olean Middle School and then Merton Williams. While it is dated, I still have to pay my respects to a book that showed me that I could actually feel something while I was reading.

2. The Client – John Grisham – this is the FIRST book that I ever read (that was a legit, real person book).  Again, I seriously HATED to read when I was younger. I was at my great-gram’s house the summer between 7th and 8th grades, dealing with the 100000 degree heat in Sun City, Arizona with nothing to do but read this 5 cent Thrift Store find. I remember feeling so accomplished at the end of it all. It had proved to me that I could read and sustain engagement with books longer than 30 pages…which after reading The Stand two years ago makes me smile at how far I have come.

3. Seedfolks – Paul Fleischman – When I think about this book, I am instantly on the 3rd floor of the SUNY Fredonia library, back against a concrete pillar – 2004. My grandmother had just died and I was trying to complete an assignment quickly and only picked it up because it was so short. And goodness me, I cried a lot in the library…with my back against the concrete. Even now I can’t do this book the justice it deserves. I love a story where characters are connected to each other without being explicitly connected and this one’s lesson around humanity is one we can all learn from.

4. Imitation of Life – Allison Joseph – This book showed me that poetry is not be scary.  Prior to reading this, EVERY time I had picked up a poem I felt like the dumbest person on the planet.  I am not sure what this book did for me, but when I read it everything that I was missing with poetry fell into place AND THEN I met Allison Joseph at a reading. This was also life changing because it’s like a concert but for reading. You know how you love certain songs after seeing them live? Well, hearing her read, “On Being Told I Don’t Speak Like a Black Person” changed me. I made an anchor chart of the poem’s closing lines when I first started teaching because I just wanted to share her magic with my students.

Let us simply speak

to one another,

listen and prize the inflections,

differences, never assuming

how any person will sound

until her mouth opens,

until his mouth opens,

greetings familiar

in any language.

Allison Joseph, Imitation of Life

5. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery – I first read this book in French (yes, the foreign language) when I was a senior in high school (Thank you, Ms. Kennedy).  I loved the imagination and passion that the main character possessed and felt such a close connection to the whole story. I think the fact that amazed myself by reading it in a different language still kind of shocks me.

6. Silly Songs and Sad – Ellen Raskin – Ok, so if I had to pick a true and absolute favorite from this list, Silly Songs and Sad would be it. This clever collection of silly poems with vintage illustrations (done by Raskin herself) is out of print, but I have five or six copies because I just can’t imagine my life without it. When I was in elementary school, my mom rescued this book from the discard pile at the school’s library.  She read it to my sister and me one Friday night when there was a wicked thunderstorm outside (our yard was actually flooding and trees went down).  She read the poems to us by flashlight and they were so ridiculous, but yet so language-filled.  Without fail, it is Ralphie’s go-to nighttime read at least once a week – his request even! Like I said, this book is out of print, but if you can find a copy BUY IT! It will change your life.

There once was a grumpy mouse

who lived in a dumpy house

all made of dandelion

puffs, puffs, puffs

you are welcome to his cheese

but please don’t sneeze

or goodbye to the grumpy mouse

goodbye to the dumpy house

goodbye to the dandelion puffs

puffs puffs

goodbye to the dandelion puffs

My favorite poem from Silly Songs and Sad

Other books that have moved me in recent years:

I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson
The Stand – Stephen King
Everything Sad is Untrue – Daniel Nayeri
The Deepest Well – Nadine Burke Harris
Hey, Kiddo – Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown

The best book ever written IMO

Can We Just Talk About (03/29/21)

If you’re in a good place, please just pass this one by because I don’t want to ruin your day; foul your mood. This will just be a series of gripes that have been festering for the last few days. No need to validate any of this. I am just using this platform to get some things off of my chest. Also, these are localized “complaints” – I can’t even begin to address larger, societal issues…

Can we just have a conversation about folx who refuse to let technology do the job it was designed to do? Why are we having people complete paper forms only to spend time typing results into an Excel form. Seriously, the man power wasted…

Can we just have a conversation about friends and family who watch episodes of shows that are being collaboratively enjoyed? How hard is it to wait until 9pm when we can all sit down to share in the experience; the “knowing what happens” leads to unwanted cell phone light because full attention isn’t needed.

Can we just have a conversation about companies who seem to think it’s ok to “adjust” their interpretations of contractual language that ensure employees are working more but not being fully compensated for their work?

Can we just have a conversation about teenagers who refuse to shower after running 8 miles? It is just an unbelievable assault on one’s senses that always seem to happen as we all sit down to eat.

Can we just have a conversation about family members who purchase living, breathing animals as pets for birthdays? I mean, this is a commitment and I get that puppies, goats and miniature donkeys are cute, but we seriously don’t pass kids out for presents, why would we do it for pets?

Can we just have a conversation about people who answer calls on speakerphone but don’t actually state, “hey you’re on speakerphone”? I hate being a bystander listening to someone unaware of the world’s attention; their self-incriminating words echoing off every wall. Now I yell, “you’re on speakerphone” if I didn’t hear the initial disclosure.

Can we just have a conversation about the show “Naked and Afraid”? Like seriously, who the heck looks at the description of that show and sits down with their family or at their friends’ dinner table and announces, “I’m going to do that.” Someone like my sister, but definitely not me…there will be no bare-butting it around a jungle with blistered lips and daily bickering about how I am starting a fire all wrong.

Can we just have a conversation about how I feel infinitely better already. Gosh I love writing…

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

The Food Episode (03/27/21)

We had an interesting conversation the other day surrounding one of my favorite topics: food. It started out with the general what three foods would you choose if they were the only thing you could eat for the rest of your life and evolved into just a general discussion of what foods bring pure joy when it is needed.

I really struggled with the first question because I don’t want to remove my love for my favorite foods by eating them over and over and over and over – anything that is overplayed loses its appeal. As a case in this point, I detailed a week where it felt like every meal was pizza-based which by this question’s theory, I should have loved, but I am not kidding when I say that I didn’t have pizza for 63 days afterward. So during this conversation I really pushed to share foods that bring me joy; arguing that some days a certain meal might make me swoon, but on another day be a dish of repugnance.

This post, inspired by this conversation, is my attempt to detail two dishes that are considered jubilation on a plate.

not much left of my gyro at this point, but you get the idea…

Eggplant Gyro from Olives Greek Taverna – this beauty has lightly breaded eggplant tucked cozy in a warm, lightly toasted pita-like bread. The garlic spread adds flavor but also the necessary creaminess that keeps it from being dry. Roasted red peppers, onions, and tomatoes add the acid to cut through the richness of it all. You get all the feels when you take your first bite. It is soft yet has the must-have crunch from the breaded eggplant and veggies. The garlic is strong, but in the best way. Pairing it with their Greek Fries (feta topped French fries tossed in lemon, olive oil and oregano) makes this one of the best $12.00 meals you can find.

Trader Joe’s Kunefe. Ho-ly cow. Never would I have imagined a boxed, frozen dessert could read my soul. When it emerges from the oven you are welcomed by love. Shredded phyllo dough, a crunchy coat surrounding a body of melted cheeses. As you drizzle the simple syrup over the crushed pistachios, the pan sets to sizzling like the electricity you feel just by occupying its space. Add to its impact by standing over it to watch the sauce move fluidly through every open space in the shredded dough. The first cut with a fork induces involuntary body responses that come from ASMR. It’s the dish I hate sharing…

…pardon me while I head to Pittsford to pick these these up.

NYT 7 Q’s/Bday Reflections (03/26/21)

I love how many candles are on this cake!

Happy Birthday to me! Every year on my birthday, I always try to find a way to reflect on the previous year. Asking myself a variety of questions that get me thinking about what I have done, what goals I want to set, my yearly self-check in. This year is no different; however, after watching Penny K. & Kelly G. talk about New York Times’s 7 Questions, I thought it would be the perfect birthday post.

What’s one thing you made this year?

Early on this year, almost right after last year’s birthday, I started painting more. I have the cheapest of cheap paints and brushes, but I set forth learning how to bring more art into my life. I am intimidated by large canvases, but feel wholly comfortable in the 4×6 realm so I started making what I called, “Quarantine Cards.” What I determined would be little bits of joy that I could send my closest friends during this time. I have no formal training, except for late night sessions with Bob Ross and I am certainly working on landscapes still, but I was able to use painting to connect me to peace during a pandemic and I was also able to send letters through the mail, connecting me to others. It worked for me and I had a heck of a lot of fun.

What art have you turned to?

If you don’t know already, I really enjoy Taylor Swift and her work (see Found through Folklore). This past summer, she released one of her best albums at a time when I definitely needed it. I was just finishing up my ISTE Certified Educator portfolio which I probably put close to 500 hours into, I was teaching two new-to-me summer courses (all online), moving into a new house, all while being feeling the weight of the pandemic, and our country’s explicit hatred. So when T.S. decided she was going to release her album at midnight after I submitted my portfolio at 11:58pm, you bet I was ready and it remains in rotation in various capacities. I admit that there are “skip songs” on the album which would suggest it’s not perfect, but heck there are a few times last year that I would like to skip.

Did you have any particularly bad ideas?

Agreeing to teach an extra (new-to-me) class, during a pandemic, while overhauling my other courses, and supervising student teachers. While I absolutely LOVED working with the students in that class, it was a situation where saying yes was a particularly bad idea.

What’s a moment this year you’ll always remember?

One moment I will always remember is sitting in my blue swivel chair by the sliding door at the back of my house. I was drinking my coffee out of a fox-shaped mug, looking out at the back yard, thinking about how hard we had to work to get to a place where this was possible. 2020 is the year that we finally moved into our new house after an entire year of renovation. I don’t think anyone really knows what it’s like to remove everything from a house down to the studs, reimagine the entire structure and then put it all back together again unless they have actually gone through it. We didn’t have the financial means to hire someone to help us, so we worked everyday after our “day jobs” at school to put this place back together. When we were able to finally move in, sell our old house, and slowly unpack our life into this new space I reflect that this will be something I will always remember.

Did you find friendship that sustained you artistically?

Did I find new friendship that sustained me? Not really. I didn’t feel I had the need for this. In my early thirties I realized that I wasn’t going to have people in my life who didn’t sustain me (artistically or not). I had so many friends who I held onto because of time and history, but who I only engaged with out of perceived obligation. There wasn’t a formal break up with any of them, just a natural drifting of ways. I have found that I only need my people to sustain me and there is a level of peace I feel knowing this. While my funeral may be small, I know that the people who attend will be ones that I truly and unconditionally love.

If you’d known you’d be so isolated for so long, what would you have done differently?

Work out more. I am fulfilled in many ways, but in a literal sense I wish I was less full – especially around my jowls, but I enjoyed Trash Plate Tuesdays on a blanket in the lawn. I enjoyed learning to make pate-a-choux pastries (my birthday endeavor last year) and fruit pies. I loved my flatbread pizzas I made with various vegetables from the garden. Moderation would have been best paired with a little exercise…

What do you want to achieve before things go back to normal?

Pandemic life was an achievement for me. I loved being at home; I actually thrived in a lot of ways. I know I am lucky because many people didn’t. Regarding “going back to normal”, I think things that I didn’t really love doing/actively avoided (ie: going to the movies, concerts, sporting events, parties) will be things that I will enjoy signing up for when the time comes. I am getting my second dose tomorrow so I am well on my way to feeling a little more comfortable and maybe even a little more social.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Peepers (03/25/21)

I was throwing away the evidence of our fast food dinner, getting ready to take the garbage out when he bounded through the back sliding door, a chaotic flailing of limbs, out of breath.

“Neen! You will never believe what I just heard coming home!” Startled, my hands stumbled on the bags; I shook my head, eyes wide.

“Come outside. It’s awesome.”

This week, the temperatures have been lamb-like. We have spent the last few nights on the patio, bringing the outdoor couch out of the garage, ignoring Ralph’s protests, “You know, Janeen. It’s going to snow like five more times…this doesn’t make sense.” We are at the threshold of seasonal change, a palpable yearning.

“I was biking home after Brandon’s and it was deafening. They are so loud!”

I stand in quiet disbelief; registering, recalibrating my understanding of this situation. This 14 year old who only talks about mountain biking, Tik-tokers who play with tractors, and running, is bringing in this innocent, home-grown, uninfluenced-by-his-friends excitement. He is talking, instead of at me, directly to me.

“Come on, let’s go out back!”

I follow him through the lawn, crossing over the line that marks the field’s beginning. I note the moon at half strength still providing enough light to guide us.

“I was just riding with Brandon and we were near his house and that’s when I heard them! I like stopped and Brandon was like ‘yo. what are you doing?’ and I just shouted at him ‘PEEPERS!’ He totally didn’t understand, but I couldn’t wait to come home and tell you. Oh my gosh, I bet you can hear them so well at Gram’s.”

He just kept going. His words falling from him like they did when he was four. Our evening hikes down to the pond just memories; accessed only to add nostalgic pangs inherent with coming-of-age.

We rounded the mulch pile, and there it is was. We stopped and just looked at each other. Our cheeks pushed upward by our smiles. He whispered, “isn’t this just the best.” For a moment, I didn’t hear anything but my heart registering a knowing significance; this moment’s file being labeled for future recollections. “Yes. Yes, this is the best.”

Name/Identity Poem (03/24/21)

Using Sara K. Ahmed’s “Stories of Our Names” philosophy and pairing it with “Instruction for a Name Poem” shared by Mary Napoli and Emily Ritholz (Voices from the Middle, 2009) I wrote this new-to-me version of a name poem (gosh there are so many ways to do this which is awesome).

Each semester, my graduate students and I work through a variety of ways to bring writers’ identities to the forefront of the conversation and we begin by using Ahmed’s work (Being the Change, 2018). I am feeding two birds with one scone* with this particular post, because I am “writing beside” (virtually) my graduate students and this polished version will be shared with them later this week.

*My mother’s saying not mine. I like scones so it stuck…especially blueberry lemon ones.


the dichotomy of impulsive and needing time to marinate

constructed by the bricks and scaffolding of no less than 353 memories

It is self-expression but with guidance from life’s mentor texts

cyan with flecks of kelly green, navy blue and yellow

It is carefully considered choices paired with stubborn bravery; ok fine, spiteful bravery

(can bravery be spiteful?)

It is a museum of phrases, advice, letters, photographs;

all the investments from life’s stakeholders

Phonetically spelled ensuring vacation-themed keychains could not be purchased

without intentional personalization; only fitting for a queen *wink


If you have any writing/notebook entries that you use with your students to bring their identities into writing & the classroom, please feel free to share them – any grade level!

me – October 2020
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