Wednesday, December 18, 2013

#nerdlution writing for today

Routines and Rituals and Giving Oneself Permission to Veer

I'm eating the last of my birthday cake as I write. There's a trio of unfrosted sugar cookies waiting when I finish the cake. Permission has been granted to veer from the bowl of yogurt-granola-flax seed that is my typical breakfast. This veer feels a little decadent, mostly because I'm telling the world that I did it. Being in a breakfast routine is something that is hardwired for me. Growing up, we had a scrambled egg, toast, milk and juice for breakfast every school day morning. (This may not actually be true, but it's what I remember.) On Saturdays, Mom let us veer -- we could eat whatever we wanted for breakfast. And it was all kinds of fun (plus it felt a little decadent) to heat up a can of Campbell's vegetarian vegetable soup and eat it right from the pan while I watched Saturday cartoons.

So the power of both the routine and the veer were instilled in me early.

That slice of birthday cake I just finished (YUM!) was a veer. The traditional cake that I make for birthdays is a three-layer from-scratch tower of chocolate. Making that cake has turned into a routine. I wanted to try something new this year. Years ago (gasp -- I just looked at the recipe -- in 2004!), I saved a recipe from Oprah's magazine for a cake whose picture made me drool: "Triple-decker triple threat: chocolate, buttercream, and ganache." I think it's fair to say that back in 2004 I didn't have the baking skills to tackle this cake. But now, almost 10 years later, I was ready to try two new things: buttercream and ganache. If you've never made either of them, they are really fun on the first try. You kind of know what they're supposed to be like in the end, but for the longest time, neither of them resembles that outcome in any way, shape, or form. Then...suddenly...the glop becomes creamy buttercream! Suddenly, the melty mass becomes silky ganache!

So veering is good, because when you get off the beaten path, you learn new things, and learning is fun!

Those sugar cookies I just finished were a veer. Thirty (still kills me to say this)...THIRTY years ago, in my first year of teaching (when I was twelve) I made cookies for my students to decorate. Gingerbread people. One of my students revealed that he had never decorated cookies. I promised myself that as long as I taught, my students would decorate cookies every winter so that if ever there was another child in my class who hadn't decorated cookies they would have that chance. For twenty years, I made gingerbread. And used only two of my extensive collection of cookie cutters -- big gingerbread person, little gingerbread person. This was more than a routine, this was a ritual. But even a good ritual can use a veer. Ten years ago, I decided I wanted to use more of my cookie cutters, and make a different kind of cut-out cookie. So I switched to sugar cookies and now my students decorate people (last year a student made JFK and this year we had Obama), and rhinos, polar bears, bats, doves, chickens, USAs, pigs, flowers, and snowmen (just to name a few without getting up to look). I give my decorators bowls of homemade white icing...and food coloring. While many have decorated cookies before, very few have ever made their own colors of icing. Fun, fun, FUN!

So sometimes you need to veer even the most beloved ritual to keep it fresh.

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And now exactly 30 minutes of writing time is up for today's #nerdlution. Here's what I love about the routine of writing for 30 minutes every morning:

1. I often have no idea what I will write about when I sit down and put pencil to notebook page. I LOVE the surprises that come as I write!

2. It was scary to sit down to this blog post and have no idea what I was going to write about until I admitted to my off-the-beaten-path breakfast. But, I LOVE the surprises that come as I write!

3. I actually have the beginnings of a Choice Literacy article waiting for me to work on tomorrow. And even though I have an outline, I know I will still be surprised by the way it turns out. I LOVE the surprises that come as I write!

4. To summarize: I LOVE the surprises that come as I write!


  1. I'm finding this permission to veer results in great surprises as well, especially in writing. This post reminds me of my great love for snacks. (salty, sweet, healthy...I love them all!) I find snacking indulgent. My kids know that I'm feeling in a "Yes" mood when I break out the cheese, crackers, and pepperoni for dinner. Usually, our best moments come when we are eating such a dinner. Great reminders in your post today!

  2. Anonymous7:18 AM

    Love your thinking in this post, Mary Lee! Cooking with students is always fun. I agree, permission to veer is so important, especially if it means having birthday cake for breakfast. Hope you had a happy one!

  3. I love that advice - to just start writing and see what happens. We say that to our students all the time, but we don't always do it ourselves!

  4. I love this - the permission to veer. So much good can come of that. And I love that I'm not the only adult who enjoys birthday cake for breakfast. :)

  5. Happy birthday, Mary Lee! Here's to another year of surprising writing!

  6. Happy Birthday Mary Lee! I love "the power of...the routine and the veer"!!! So true..I totally get that. You've put into words what I've been feeling lately. I strive using routines, but need permission to veer and accept that. Thank you! I'm going to print this post and keep it. Thank you for writing.

  7. Thanks for sharing all the surprises your veering lead to, Mary Lee. You put it so well--your words, and actions, brought a smile to my face!

    My word for this past year has been "Surprise"--If you go here (see below), you will find a link to a talk on the subject by Tania Luna. I think you can relate to her attitude...

    A dear friend of mine introduced our family to the idea of enjoying birthday cake first thing in the morning--giving us permission to veer, just like you gave yourself. A toast to veering and where it leads!


  8. Several important lessons for me in your post and constant reminders to veer as well as sitting down when I don't have any ideas to write about. Allowing myself to have that surprise thank you!

  9. Anonymous11:28 PM

    I love that you started out setting the scene with the birthday cake but we didn't find out it was for breakfast until a few lines in. It made me smile.
    I also enjoyed your reflections on veering. When I was in college I was briefly part of a program for high-GPA students that was supposed to funnel us to awards like Rhodes Scholarships, etc. I stopped going when they asked us to write a 10-year plan of our goals and detailed information on how we'd get there...I knew I wanted to be open to veers. As it turned out, I couldn't possibly have imagined in 2006 the things I've done and where I am now!

  10. The power of the veer is great. Perhaps the calculated veer helps us keep up our routine! I also love how you are writing for 30 minutes a day and just find surprises along the way.


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