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“Burnt” Out? This Summer PD Will Revive You

Last week I participated in one of the best professional learning experiences of my life. I lived on an island in Maine for three days, enrolling in a course called “Lighthouses Across the Curriculum”.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I quickly found myself in PD Heaven with a small group of inquisitive, curious, and adventurous educators. img_9249img_8741

Our instructor, Elaine Jones, is the ‘keeper’ of Burnt Island Lightstation in Boothbay img_8628Harbor, ME. She is a super hero to me. She runs the entire island from the lighthouse, to the keeper’s house, to the educational center she had built there. She designs and teaches the courses for educators  and she runs a “living” history museum two days a week on the island that recreates the lives of the keeper and his family from the 1950’s. (She also is in charge of the Maine State Aquarium). Plus she captains the boat that transports participants to the island and to surrounding lighthouses. She literally does it all!

img_8427For three days we learned about lighthouses and the lives of the keepers and their families but we also incorporated history, geography, biology, literacy, physics, and map skills (and more). We were immersed in island life and a deeper understanding that could never come from reading about it all. We were given a notebook that filled with our new learning, book recommendations, sketching,  poetry, and where we recorded our science experiments. (We even got creative with tempera paints and shaving cream to decorate our covers)





















If you live in or around Maine, I highly recommend you check out the summer course offerings. They vary from year to year a bit, but this summer you could choose from “Innovative Learning through Nature, Inquiry, and Mindfulness”, “Lighthouses across the Curriculum”, and “Visual Literacy through Gouache”. I had really hoped to take the img_8385first course, but it filled too quickly, but  I was thrilled with the Lighthouse Course. If you can’t visit, you can use some of the free Marine Educational Resources offered by Elaine.

It was certainly a summer experience I’ll never forget. You can check out my Google Photo Album here if you’d like to see more.   BURNT ISLAND COURSE 2019

This poem by Rachel Lyman Field really sums up my experience.

If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won’t know why and you can’t say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same.


One More Off My TBR Stack

Image may contain: bicycle, text and outdoorTHE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson
Candice Miller finds a letter addressed to her grandmother that opens up a mystery about a young girl from dozens of years ago named Siobhan Washington and an injustice done to the black community of Lambert, South Carolina. Her grandmother, Abigail Caldwell, was vilified and fired from her job as the town’s first black city manager when she tried to solve the mystery. Now Candice, with the help of her friend Brandon begin to piece together the clues. Whoever solves the mystery will inherit a fortune to help rebuild the town of Lambert and right a wrong done to some of it’s citizens. Dueling plot and timelines uncover both overt and subtle racism (and discrimination) now and then. A total page-turner with complex characters and serious issues woven in masterfully will leave you loving this book. This brilliant book has it all! A 2019-2020 MSBA Nominee.




nErDing Out!

Following up on last week’s post …I made it to nErDcamp Michigan! It was everything I’d hoped for-and more. There were basically 3 parts to the conference.


Day 1 were the featured speakers and presenters. We started with an incredible panel called “Feminism for All” that really resonated with me. I created a sketchnote to capture some of my big takeaways.img_7861


I was especially intrigued by the concept of Intersectionality; the idea that that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression and that when we focus on one at a time (gender, race, sexual orientation) we are fighting small battles separately rather than trying to lift all and elevate all voices.




We then heard 3 great nErDtalks by authors Minh Lê,  Cece Bell, and Laurie Halse Anderson. They were inspiring advocates for the power of kidlit and for teachers to make a difference in the lives of their students.  Minh spoke so beautifully about our need to counteract dehumanization through story and books. Cece shared how she looked for books with characters like her, and how important it is for our students to be able to find themselves in books. Laurie gave a brutally honest talk about the critical need for information on healthy sexuality and TALK BEFORE TOUCH. If you haven’t read her book SHOUT, I beg you to check it out. Such an important text.

Then The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller fired up the crowd with the charge to “Make good trouble when you leave here”. Her message is that teachers need to be more engaged to advocate for the lives of our students. I love her quote, “Every exchange of book to kid contains hope.”

We then broke out into sessions from featured presenters. I was lucky enough to be one of those presenters and shared my passion for writing and my desire to expand our definition of writing so that all learners have a place at the table. You can see my full presentation on THINKING THROUGH OUR FINGERS here.

The day finished with author signings and lots of free books. I was in kidlit heaven. Getting a chance to meet and talk with authors about their work was inspiring. Here are some of the authors I met at nErDcamp, there were so many others I didn’t photograph!   AUTHOR PHOTO ALBUM

Day 2 We built our idea board. People lined up to propose session ideas and thenErDcamp team created a Google Doc menu of each session. There were so many to choose from, but the great thing is if you can’t be in two places at once  you can read the notes attached to the Google Doc for all sessions!

I offered a session on sketchnotes that  filled a classroom with eager teachers. It was so gratifying to have several share their first attempts at sketchnoting later in the day and post to Twitter with the hashtag #nErDysketchnoter!

Day 2 ended with nErDcampJr. THIS WAS INCREDIBLE. 1500 kids in grades 1-12 signed img_8027up for mini-workshops with kidlit authors. Each child got to work with 3 different authors, have a pizza dinner, and watch a ‘Draw Off’ with kidlit illustrators. I was a group volunteer who took “Team Ibis” to meet and work with Matt Tavares, Jon Sciezka, and Jennifer Torres. All of this was FREE for these students. Thanks to the work of the nErDcamp team organizing an army of volunteers and truckload of donations!

This was definitely two days I’ll never forget. If you get a chance to attend a nErDcamp, don’t pass it up. There will be one in Maine Sept. 28th. Look for registration to nErDcampNNE soon!

One More Off My TBR Stack


THE PARIS PROJECT by Donna Gephart

I was so fortunate to get an ARC of this book at nErDcamp. Donna Gephart is such an ally to kids whose stories need to be told, who need to see themselves in the stories they read, and a gift to the kidlit world. In this novel we meet Cleveland Rosebud Potts whose greatest desire is to attend the American School of Paris and live a life of culture. She’s created a checklist of six tasks that she thinks will help her attain her goal, but nothing seems to be going right. Her sister is trying to get into college far away in Vermont, her mom is working extra jobs, her best friend from elementary school has turned on her, and her closest friend Declan has a crush on someone Cleveland is angry with…but worst of all her Dad has done something that has made life almost unbearable for the Potts family. Donna Gephart has a way of breaking your heart and putting it back together so compassionately by touching on so many challenging issues our children are dealing with. Set to be released October 8, 2019-If you are curating a collection of ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) stories you just might want to pre-order this one!



nErDcampMI or Bust!

It’s been on my bucket list for six years and I’m finally going to nErDcampMI. The brainchild of teacher/author Colby Sharp, this “uncamp” is free to attend but tickets “sell out” incredibly fast. Teachers from all across the country trek to Parma, Michigan to learn along with some of the nerdiest people on the planet. Kidlit lovers like me will be in heaven, surrounded by a jillion of the most amazing authors and illustrators of our favorite books.

Thanks to a nudge by my author friend Clare Landrigan, (and the fact that my son’s summer soccer days are behind us) I finally booked a ticket for Michigan. It takes a lot for me to leave Maine in the summer and I know this will be totally worth it. Having Clare for a travel/learning buddy will make the experience even more priceless.

I submitted a proposal for Day 1 and was delighted that it was accepted. Day 1 is like a traditional education conference with featured speakers,  while Day 2 is an (un)conference that is self-designed by participants who decide what topics they want to learn about. My session is called “Thinking Through Our Fingers: Reimagining Writing Possibilities”.Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 3.53.10 PM

I’m on a bit of a mission to expand our definition of writing so that everyone has a place at the writing table. I want us to see the value in all types of writing that can help us explore thinking and feeling, that can help us communicate more, and that is FUN! I’ll proudly be sharing the work that teachers and students have been doing in our Augusta Schools and hopefully come back with even more ideas from nErDy teachers at camp. Here are the sketchnote handouts I’ve created for my session:

I’ll be sketchnoting during other sessions and look forward to sharing new learning with colleagues who couldn’t attend. Summer is a great time for teachers to refill their buckets and I know this will be a huge part of my summer rejuvenation.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Continuing my audiobook summer series I was able to listen to two audiobooks as I traveled to visit my parents in Wisconsin this past week but I’ll share one here.


The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Based on interviews with Holocaust survivor Ludwig Sokolov (Lale–Lah-lay), who became the Tätowierer (tattooist) who permanently marked arriving prisoners, after it is discovered he speaks several languages. He managed to survive over 2 1/2 years in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps while risking his own life to exchange jewels from murdered Jews for food to help keep fellow prisoners alive. One day he tattoos the number 34902 on the arm of a frightened girl named Gita. He vows that he will survive and one day marry her. But the Germans don’t care about the hopes and dreams of their prisoners and the odds are against Lale and Gita as they experience and witness unspeakable atrocities. I didn’t think I’d want a ‘heavy’ book for my summer reading, but this one was amazing. The audiobook is read by Richard Armitage and he brilliantly conveys the voices of German, Russian, Slovakian men and women with a complete range of emotions from fear to intimidation to hope.


Just “To Do” It

I am a list maker. I have been for years. I have “To Do” lists for work, home, and travel that have helped keep me organized and sane as I juggle day to day responsibilities. I’ve tried a more creative and visually enticing  bullet journal, but already have sketchnote books and a personal journal that consume a bit of time. I may try it again one day, as I love the look of them, but I didn’t want it to become one more “To Do” on my to do list.

Also, I often create lists when I first wake up in the morning (or even when I wake during the night) and a chicken-scratched-grab-a-pen-without-turning-on-the-light-scribble-list is often the preferred method of writing. So I keep an open notebook and pen on my bedstand to keep the process easy. I need to get thoughts/tasks/shopping lists out of my brain and onto the paper to free up more dream bandwidth.

But I discovered it is kind of fun to look back through old lists that have documented times in my life. It gives me a snapshot into what was going on and what I had for priorities. Rather than ripping out pages and tossing them, I decided to keep those notebooks intact. Gives me a chance to reflect and remember in a way my journal doesn’t. These seemingly unimportant items would never make it into my daily diary and yet they convey aspects of my life that conjure memories as easily as my narratives.

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I am on a mission to expand our definition of writing with teachers and students. Here is yet one more example of authentic writing that probably deserves more respect and recognition.  It can be used for in-the-moment and short term organizing, or a fun way to document our daily lives, or for whatever works for you.

Do you keep lists? I’d love to hear about your process.

WRITING IS WRITING! Let’s celebrate it all.

One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 9.50.06 AMBORN A CRIME  by Trevor Noah

Continuing my love of audiobooks this summer… Reading the memoir of someone so young, I wondered what lessons I could learn or how I might be enlightened from this narrative. It was eye opening. Living under Apartheid in South Africa was something I’d read briefly in headlines while in college, what I did not know was that being Black and being Coloured were two very different things, and that the system of oppression and discrimination varied depending on someone else’s (often random)interpretation of your color. If you are looking for a bio on how Trevor became a comedy star in America, you’ll probably have to wait for the sequel. This is a fascinating look at his young life overcoming tremendous obstacles even as Apartheid officially ended. Loved the audiobook since it was read by Trevor Noah himself. Check it out!

Curb Your Jealousy

So I’ve taken about two months off from blogging because I really wanted to focus on something important. My son, my youngest, was finishing his senior year in high school and I wanted to minimize my commitments to things outside of our family and his waning days as a senior. At first I felt the tug to keep up with Twitter chats, book groups, blogs, and professional development, but taking time to prioritize helped me realize how short and precious life is and reminded me that taking a pause is not the same as giving up interests and activities. I had the best time watching my boy finish strong and loved being in the moment for each moment.

I also became more aware of how FOMO (fear of missing out) can eat away at the joys  we have right in front of us. Missing out on a great Twitter chat or a retirement party couldn’t compare to watching my boy play baseball or receive academic recognition. I let it go, let myself be fully in the present moment.

Summer is a season where FOMO can run rampant, especially with teachers and their friends. Because we have no flexibility in our time off, our vacation plans are condensed into these few weeks and months. We try to make the most of it with adventures, experiences, and even purchases. Every day I see posts from friends who are sharing the joys they are experiencing, and almost every day I see some response that says, “jealous”.

I know it may seem innocuous to many people, and this post may seem overly “PC” but I encourage us all to pause and seek a more supportive response for our friends and loved ones. Our envy or jealousy does not add to their joy or help lift them up. I know many of these comments are meant as a humorous reply, but then I notice how the encouraging comments such as, “so happy for you” or “love that your family had this adventure together” can better express how much we love and care about our friends and are truly happy for their well-being and joys.

Another consideration to these responses is how they affect us.

  • Are we really jealous? If so, that’s something we can work to address-life is too short to live with the burden of envy. Comparing our lives with others’ crowds out our own feelings of gratitude–an important source of joy. Remember, people aren’t sharing their struggles as much as their happiness. No one’s life is accurately portrayed on social media and many aspects we would not be envious of at all.
  • Are we just kidding? It may come off as passive-aggressive if it diminishes the joy of others. Do we find it humorous when we are on the receiving end of these comments? If we are going for humor, maybe we could put a little more creative effort into our responses.

Teachers often carry around a misguided guilt for having “so much time off” as it is. We hear, “must be nice” so much we often feel the need to rationalize our schedule and explain to others that we aren’t being paid for that time. We shouldn’t have to, but it is a reality.

I don’t want to shame anyone who has responded to others’ social media posts or conversations in this way. I have done it myself without much thought to how it might be received. I know this post may irk a few people who think I’m being overly-sensitive. That’s okay if it helps them think more about how our actions affect others, and ourselves. Our world needs more loving kindness and every small gesture we put out into it can create a ripple that is ever extending. Let’s be happy for one another. Let’s lift each other up. Let’s pause before we post. Let’s embrace an attitude of gratitude!


One More Off My TBR Stack

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 10.36.11 AMWHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens

Reading also took a back seat these past two months. I turned to audio books to feed my insatiable need-to-read. I downloaded this book on Audible and it drew me in right from the start! I cannot begin to tell you how much I LOVE this story and the character Kya who was slowly abandoned by each member of her family, starting with her mother, and left to survive in the swamps of North Carolina. She is befriended by Tate, who also lost his mother and he teachers her to read and encourages her passion in biology and botany of the marsh life. But in 1969, the handsome, womanizing, former football hero is found dead and the locals immediately suspect the mysterious “marsh girl”. The story weaves back and forth from Kya’s childhood to the trial that will determine her fate so seamlessly and suspensefully. Delia Owens love of nature paints a lush backdrop to this incredible story of heroic grit and survival. The Audible Audio version narrated by Cassandra Cambell is amazing!

I LOVE Authors! Do You?

This week I was in author heaven as I was able to connect with some of my very favorites in a variety of venues.

On Monday I attended a Booksource Book Tasting in which authors Cynthia Lord and Charlotte Agell shared their latest books and talked a bit about their process.IMG_E0936

On Tuesday two of my schools sponsored an author visit by Matt Tavares and I got to watch him put on 4 amazing presentations for groups of students from preK to 6th grade. He shared how he comes up with his ideas, how he researches his subjects/topics, and the countless revisions in his writing and drawing that lead him to his masterpieces. IMG_0993

On Wednesday I asked author Dusti Bowling to Skype with a group of 4th grade girls who were part of a lunch bunch reading club and were having their last get together for Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.IMG_1057

Today I Skyped with author Sarah Aronson in preparation for a surprise Skype visit on IMG_E1077Monday with some 2nd graders. I’ll be reading her new book Just Like Rube Goldberg as part of a Readathon launch at one of my schools. As part of that Readathon I am also keynoting to students on the topic I LOVE AUTHORS.  I want them to realize and appreciate that every book they read and love was created by someone with an idea and the determination to work hard until it became a book.

I’ll be passing out these bookmarks to kids and discussing how we can show our appreciation. As an adult I can post an Amazon review, a Facebook share, or a Goodreads entry. But students often don’t have a social media presence or global contacts so their influence is much more local and intimate. I listed some ideas to get them started, but I want them to think of even more.

I love using mentor texts, but it is just as important  for students to have real mentors! Helping to bring authors into their lives in person, via Skype, or by visiting their websites can show readers that ‘wizard behind the curtain’ and help them to appreciate those words, those illustrations, and those books even more. It can also help them to aspire to be published writers themselves when they humanize their concept of author.

So thank you to all the authors who have helped me share the love of reading, the passion for books, and the desire to write with students over the years. You’ll never know how much of an impact you’ve made on their lives–and mine!

One More Off My TBR Stack

Get yourself a copy of this book and you’ll see why I think Cynthia Lord is one of the most talented middle grade writers out there today. She takes seeds from her real life and creates stories that shine a light on the human experience, especially for those who aren’t normally in the spotlight. Emma wants to go to “real school” (she’s been homeschooled). She’s lonely now that her older brother is going to highschool and doesn’t have as much time for her anymore. On the eve of the first day she and her game warden father rescue a stray rabbit. She convinces her parents to let her keep “Lapi” until they can find the owner-if ever. Starting school at 5th grade in rural north west Maine, she finds friendships and cliques have already been established but she strikes up a friendship with Jack, who does not seem to fit in. As the story unfolds, Emma learns what real friendship is about “you have to BE the friend you want to have”. As always, Cindy’s stories have so many layers that can connect with a variety of readers: loving care for pets and strays, feeling excluding and wanting to fit in, nurturing empathy for people who seem different from ourselves, and always in the context of a super satisfying story! As a bonus in this one, you’ll learn facts about lagomorphs and it is set in the amazing state of MAINE! Do your students a favor and get a copy of this in your classroom library ASAP! I don’t think it will stay on the shelves.



#SOL19 Day 31 Thank You, Slicers

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We did it! The last day of the Slice of Life Challenge is here. I know many will feel a sense of relief coupled with a twinge of sadness. We’ve made a lot of connections, shared a lot of heartfelt stories, were buoyed by the words of others, and lived an intensely writerly life for the month of March. Some of us have gone from winter to spring (have faith my Mainer friends) and have had life changing experiences in a short period of time.

My last quick write SPARK is an homage to my fellow slicers and a thank you for your generous slices.

Here’s my quick write:Day 31 slice

I hope that we can stay connected. I’ve followed several blogs, several bloggers on Twitter, and made friends with some of you on the TeachWrite Facebook group. This isn’t goodbye, it’s just good luck until we “meet” again! Please stay in touch-you all ROCK!

#SOL19 Day 30 Spark! “Poem-ish”

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMFor the month of March I have been participating in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I shared a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I hope you’ve found some that have sparked your joy of writing this month!

With National Poetry month on our doorstep I think its a great time to collect some ideas for playful engagement with poetry. I love to revisit Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry” to ground my teaching in the purpose for poetry-to illuminate dark thoughts, to play with the richness of our language, to whittle a narrative down to the essence of thought, feeling, and senses, and to explore the human experience. Here’s an interesting video interpretation of his classic poem.

Poem-ish Sparks!

I’ve been inspired by so many slicers this month who have shared poems and poetry ideas. (I list some of their offerings at the end of this post) I often use the term poem-ish to describe what I quick write, not because it isn’t in some authentic way a poem, but because it hasn’t yet been read with a careful ear and revised with the respectful revision I think it one day deserves. It remains in a poem-ish state, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. And that’s ok.

One form I have seen a lot this month has been the “skinny poem”.  I love this because I can consume a poem at a glance and savor it in one bite. I think it is less intimidating for kids to try out, and it works well as a quick write! Here’s my skinny poem quick write about the sunset I soaked up from my back deck last night.

sunset in the field

Gilded light

Thanks to everyone who shared resources this month. If you have some collections or caches of poetry ideas you have shared that I missed or that you would like to share, please let me know in the comments section. I am so grateful this writing community! Here are a few:

Made with Padlet

2019 Notable Poetry Books

Kidlitosphere Central Poetry Friday Round Ups


#SOL19 Day 29 Spark: That’s News To Me!

For the month of March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMChallenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I will be sharing a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I’ve been curating a collection of Sparks and will share some with you all month. It’s a great way to ignite your writing life.

That’s News To Me Quick Write.

We are living in a world of BREAKING NEWS, which can keep us on edge if we are trying to stay abreast of it and keep the incoming information in some context or perspective. It almost always beckons us to respond in some way. Similar to quick write responses to print news headlines or magazine articles, we can also encourage our students to respond to news clips of current events or primary source videos. These are sometimes controversial, so always be mindful of your purpose, audience, and information sources to make sure they are appropriate for your students and that you are aware of potential bias and reliability issues. (unless your purpose is to raise awareness of these issues with older students and you want to expose them to these sources).

I recently saw some news clips from the Clinton impeachment hearings and on the eve of the invasion of Iraq wish I had some journal entry or writing that reflected and documented my thinking as news was breaking back then. Never too late to start!

Here’s my 3 minute quick write in response to this C-SPAN clip from yesterday’s news cycle.


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Quick writes can help us respond in a visceral and unfiltered way to news and events. We can revisit our responses and see how our thinking can change with time, new facts, or events coming to light. We can see how our first reaction may be quick to judge or born out by more facts. We may learn that sharing our first responses in the privacy of a notebook,  rather than social media may be a better reflective or cathartic practice.

Sure we can pen more thoughtful opinion pieces but that serves a different purpose-to persuade others rather than to explore our own reactions, opinions, and values. This doesn’t replace that form of writing. Writers shouldn’t be compelled to share and if they do, it is important that others are open and accepting of responses.

In a world of constant breaking news, it might be good if our students had a safe and nurturing place to explore their thinking. Our classrooms could be that safe place.

#SOL19 Day 28 Spark! Title Tales

For the month of March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 5.28.56 PMChallenge sponsored by The Two Writing Teachers Blog. Each day I will be sharing a Quick Write as my way of slicing. The idea is to offer a SPARK that will kindle thinking and then write as quickly as you can for 5-10 minutes. No filters, no revisions. I’ve been curating a collection of Sparks and will share some with you all month. It’s a great way to ignite your writing life.

A title gives the reader a clue to the content and genre of a story and can often set the tone. Titles help the reader predict what the story may be about and are often labored over by authors and editors. We can help students appreciate the importance of a good title when we try some quick writes focusing on envisioning possible stories derived from them.

I’ve collected the titles from some middle grade novels to use as sparks. You can check those out HERE, and then begin to build your own collection of titles that could spark the imaginations of your writers. They may be familiar or rather obscure to you students, I don’t worry if they write from a title they know and spin off from the story or even retell some of a story based on the title. They are still thinking about the role of a title and how it can aid in comprehension and appreciation of a story.

Here’s my quick write. Can you tell which title inspired this 3 minutes of flash fiction? It’s one of the titles in this collection. Read it first and then check it out.

Title Tale


Could you guess before looking what the title might be? How about after? It could be fun to let students choose from a list and then invite others to guess. It could also be amusing to give everyone the same title and see how many different versions they come up with. Were they humorous? Adventurous? Suspenseful? You’ll begin to appreciate titles in a whole new way if you collect and quick write to them.