Seeing a Space

PART 1 of this JDH Journal

Disclaimer: I am not sure what I am going to do with this series of posts, but I have forever wanted to document this life experience. I am just hoping to make this a weekly walk down memory lane…


The space is an 1890 farmhouse. 1700 square foot duplex sitting on 8 acres in the middle of the suburbs in need of an almost 100% renovation. Being able to see this space and having a vision for it was not easy and took the kind of faith where we were sometimes scream-crying “trust the process”.

When we purchased this property in 2019, it was hard to envision what we wanted and where we were going to go with it beyond making it our dream house where I could have horses. The house and property had been vacant for five years when the sellers finally decided to lower the price $200K (yes…that much) and the husband and I could finally afford it.

We went under contract in September 2018, but since I wanted to use the property for horses, I had to file an approval, present to the town’s zoning board, and pray they would grant us this opportunity – all of which couldn’t happen until December 3rd – two months of inspiration-stymieing stagnance.

The Zoning Board meeting itself was a televised meeting, our kiddos watched us on the TV at Grandma & Papa’s house, a colleague’s parents watched us on Facebook live, and our friends were flooding our texts with good luck messages. I think the husband said the first sentence of our proposal and I went on for the remaining 40 minutes; voice shaking in a few spots, armpits soaked through; it was my 4H presentation days relived in adult form except I was competing against town by-laws instead of other horse-obsessed teenagers. Looking back at my almost decade-long experiences in 4H, it felt like I had been preparing for this exact moment without even knowing it. I guess my 4H leader mom was right when she told us all that “we would use these valuable skills” as an adult.

The Zoning Board opened the floor for other town members to voice their support or concerns regarding our proposal. One man stood up and walked tentatively toward the podium. I braced for this battle. I calmly shuffled my notes and tried to control my face; the one that sometimes reads a little aggressive, the one that almost is daring someone into a challenge. I had been warned about “these suburb people and their anti-horse ideals” and now it was happening. The husband’s pinky stretched toward my forearm; the gentle reminder to use honey not vinegar.

His name is Tim, a neighbor a few houses up. He put his hands in his pockets and leaned a little into the microphone; his mustache almost touching. “I just wanted to come here to say that I fully support this plan for this property.”

Wait. What? Did he just say he was supporting us?

“This property has been vacant for quite some time now and I think having a family back in that house, using that property would be a blessing…” He went on, but honestly all I could think about was hugging this man that I didn’t know, but would hopefully be our new neighbor. He nervously glanced in our direction and said that he hoped he would see us in the neighborhood soon.

Well as you have already assumed, since we now own the house, our town saw our vision and agreed that horses wouldn’t ruin the area and approved our application unanimously. There were a few stipulations, but we could move forward with the sale of the house. It was finally happening.

It was a snowy night, but we went out for ice cream to celebrate.

Now, I wish I could say that it was all cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles after that, but after a questionable septic system inspection, we withdrew our offer to purchase the home on December 23rd. Both of us knew we were completely gutting the house so no home inspection would be needed, but we did want to make sure we had a solid septic. This particular inspection meant that a new septic system would be needed. We just could not afford it on top of the 98% remodel of the home. I was crestfallen after celebrating the victory on December 3rd. I couldn’t believe we weren’t getting the house after almost four months of being under contract.

But wait, we own the house? So what happened?

The sellers recognized that anyone buying the house would have this same concern, replaced the septic, and called us back in mid-January. We were back under contract and now looking for financing. Now, we were trying to get a specific loan that would honor our approved mortgage amount, take the purchase price of the home and then give us the difference for remodeling. Apparently, that only happens on TV renovations because by February we were still without a mortgage company who would give us what we would need to purchase the home and make renovations.

At this point, with the roadblocks we were facing, we almost considered all of these as signs to walk away. Seriously, how many more hoops would we have to jump through? It wasn’t even a cute house and did we really want to do this level of renovation while teaching full-time, caring for our 3, almost 4 year old son and two dogs?

I guess we did. We decided to take out a home equity loan from the house we were already living in and use that loan to make the renovations. After the tenth night around the computer spreadsheet with all of our financials laid out, we decided we would get the HELC loan, carry two mortgages, and pray for the best.

May 16, 2019, we signed the papers that officially made this house ours. I wish I could show you the video of the husband carrying me through the door or of our little guy pressing the doorbell yelling about a pizza man, but it would require a WordPress premium plan and I am not about to do that…so you’ll just have to imagine it.

New Adventures

Just a small slice of my life, but I am going through the beginning stages of becoming a certified USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) Arabian horse show judge. I flew out to Scottsdale this past December to enroll in the judge’s school and seminar. It cost money I didn’t have, but the knowledge and sunshine more than made up for it.

As I type this, it is a typical, New York January morning. My family is at school while I work out what my spring semester will look and feel like, but of course my mind is beckoned toward reading rule books and class specs for this new side passion. There are more than 100 different classes with subtle nuances in the percentages of points awarded to exhibitors and each division has its own set of attire and tack that dictate “appropriateness” – it is a little daunting, but it’s a passion project so it doesn’t feel like work.

Do I have extra time in my life to do this? Of course not. But life is headed forward and if I keep waiting to fulfill this dream of mine I may not ever get the chance to do it. After all, it’s January; the time when you are supposed to make these promises to yourself and then turn them into action.

Packing Ralphie’s library

from my writer’s notebook:

I packed up Ralphie’s library today. I guess I started there because I knew that I would be able to clear the space quickly. Most of them in crates, used as bookshelves, already. I have to make his room look and feel larger than it really is.

I packed up Ralphie’s library today. Mildly concerned about which books should remain for night time reading. I didn’t want to remove my favorite part of going to sleep. I then remembered the books in the living room. The pile of 30+ that we borrowed from the library before the school year started.

I packed up Ralphie’s library today. Drove it less than two miles to a new house and, with help, carried them to a new bedroom. One that is painted a light, ice blue instead of sea foam green. One that has a two door closet and floors that don’t squeak. One that needs the framed pictures on the wall of King Elk, common vegetables, and the horse by the yellow sun. 

I packed up Ralphie’s library today. The bed still unmade, the blue chair hitting my shins, the toys staring at me with “what the hell” expressions on their faces. I wonder if they are worried I am going to leave them behind. I have already resigned myself that none of Ralphie’s stuff will “get left behind.” 

I packed up Ralphie’s library today. As I walked by his room after getting home late in the evening, I startled myself. It was as if my brain had already forgotten that I spent the better part of the day removing the books. Like I couldn’t remember that the room would look different without them. 

I hope I pack up all of my memories, too. I don’t want to leave them behind.

Favorite Room

Surrounded by natural light, sun warming the lumberjack plaid throw on my legs. My coffee steaming steadily from the husband-made stand behind the couch; often too crowded with my books and magazines (and even the previous night’s mug filled with remains of ice cream) to place it there easily.

It’s a location I can hear a four-year old dinosaur who has risen from sleep. A good, long sleep. A place that I once tore down by myself when I should have been at a retirement party. Saying good-bye sucks anyway.

The TV is never on, but maybe today it will parade Rick Steves or maybe I will cave on Wild Kratts or Adventure Cat (or even Bear and the Lemmings). I don’t know much beyond right now. Resting with Millie, the coffee still steaming. Patient for the day to being.

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
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