Using Dialogue: What We Need to Teach Our Students First

Most of the time, good monologue and dialogue is all about show not tell.  Occasionally, they can be used to offer directions or an explanation. Often, monologue and dialogue can be used to help the writer reveal her characters to the reader. They sometimes reveal characters by what other characters say about them; or sometimes, character reveals his true colors just by what the character says (or doesn’t say!).

Often, teachers begin by trying to teach students how to use writing conventions to properly punctuate conversations. Students learn about quotation marks, the use of commas and other end punctuation, how to place explanatory words before or after the words that are directly spoken, and to begin on a brand new line every time the speaker changes. Of course, it is helpful to learn this since it makes it easier for a reader to follow along. But is it the best place to start?

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Goat Island: There are good people in the world!



On Saturday, my sister, brother-in-law, husband, and I crossed from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls back to the U.S. to visit Goat Island.  It was difficult getting to the park because of traffic and one-way streets. We breathed a sigh of relief when we finally found a parking spot and walked to the Horseshoe Falls on the American side.

It was breath-taking! We were right at the point where the river spilled over the cliff. The air was filled with mist on this bright, sunny day. It was wonderful to enjoy temperatures in the low eighties instead of the heat we left behind us in Dresher, Pennsylvania. My husband Ralph took many pictures as well as my brother-in-law. They are both crazy about taking photos. Willie has even won photography contests, especially for his black and white photos of citiscapes and everyday objects.

Willie and Ralph walked over to the ticket area as we planned to visit the Hurricane Deck below the American falls. To everyone’s dismay, it was a very long line, so Willie gave his camera to my sister and left us with his prized possession. “We’ll put it here between us so it will be safe,” my sister said as she sat the camera with its neck strap on the flat rock where we were sitting and enjoying the view. We started to grow impatient, even with the falls thundering and splashing glorious sprays into the air.

After what seemed like  a very long while, Diane got up and motioned for me to follow her to a shady spot much closer to where our husbands still stood in line.  I was already lobster red and without any sunblock lotion. We were lucky to find seats on large rocks beneath a tall shade tree. Finally, with tickets in hand, Willie and Ralph started to walk over to us.

As we stood up, Willie asked from across the roadway, “And where is the camera?”  We both froze. My sister’s mouth opened, but no words came out. We both turned without a word and ran back to the rocks near the Welcome Center where we had been seated. On the way Diane asked, “Didn’t Willie take his camera?”  I shook my head. We were in big trouble, but I remained hopeful that we’d find it. I was wrong.  No camera.



Almost in tears, my sister said, “That’s it. I’m finished. We are going back to the hotel.” But I urged her to think positively – that someone probably found it and returned it to the Welcome Center.  My brother-in-law and husband had had the same idea. They emerged from the  building, and Willie was smiling from ear to ear, holding his prized possession.



Diane then lost her ticket to the Hurricane Deck as we hurried to the line. We had to go back and search for it. “We’re jinxed!” she exclaimed.”We should just go back before something really awful happens!” But Willie spied the pass in the grass, and we proceeded to the Hurricane Deck to feel the fury of the falls and get soaked in the process. “When Ralph gives me his camera to hold, he always places the strap around my neck first,” I said. Willie replied, “And after today, he will never hand you the camera without putting the strap around your neck – in fact, he may reconsider ever giving you his camera to hold. You and your sister are peas in a pod!”

I may be exaggerating, but I think I saw my husband grasp his camera a little tighter.  Thank goodness we made it through our trip and back home again without losing anything else!  It was good to know that there still are honest, good people in the world. Although we will never know who did this good deed, we all whispered a prayer of thanks and gratitude into the winds of Niagara Falls.

Choosing a Laptop

Once again I found myself in a precarious position. My laptop, three years old, has decided it does not want to write this fifth book with me. Finding ways to frustrate me each day, it has now decided to render the touchpad inoperable; thus, I am forced to return to a mouse to make anything happen.

Today it was burning hot, the processor running at 25% – way too much, according to my techy husband. I left it behind this morning, and armed with a flash drive, I delivered a presentation at the Summer Writing Institute…except that my embedded video clips (tested at home) would not run either (You’ve got to be kidding, Computer!).

This afternoon a mad dash to Best Buy with Consumer Report stats in hand. In the end, we bought a model not reviewed. My husband claims I need a lot of hard drive memory – one terabyte (What exactly is that?????). I think I better start using the Cloud! After we chose an HP model with 1T of memory, the gentleman helping us informed me that he did not have one in stock. So after a long weekend vacation in Niagra Falls, I will pick it up Monday and have to learn the ins and outs of Windows10. Oh boy, more fun…..


Dublin Castle

Dub Castle courtyard

For more than 1000 years before the Vikings came to Ireland’s shore, there has been a settlement at the site of the Dublin Castle. King John of England ordered the construction of a castle here. It functioned as the seat of colonial rule and the most important fortification in Ireland for eight centuries.

We were charmed by the 19th century cantilevered staircase. Above the double doorway you can see the official symbol of Ireland, the Gold Harp against a blue background. The throne room is set in the heart of the State Apartments. Visiting monarchs received homage here of local subjects. The throne was actually made for King George IV’s state visit to Ireland. It is a massive throne, and was probably built to fit a rather large man. When Queen Elizabeth came to visit, they quickly made an elegant stool so that she could first step up on it to position herself on the throne, and then be able to rest her feet so they would not awkwardly dangle in the air!

The Portrait Gallery was a banquet room where dinners often consisted of 16 to 30 courses (How is that possible?!) and were served on a table so long it took up the length of the room. The original wood paneling that lines the walls dates to the late 1740s. This room houses a collection of portraits of former Viceroys.  The State Drawing Room was restored after a fire in 1941. Its large mirrors, pier glasses, and console tables were all carefully restored.

Dub Castle stairs

St. Patrick’s Hall was formerly the Ballroom of the Viceregal court. It is home to the most significant painted ceiling in all of Ireland completed in 1790. Banners of the chivalric order of the Knights of St. Patrick hang from the walls. Today. it is the most important ceremonial room in Ireland and used for state banquets for visiting dignitaries and the inauguration of Ireland’s President, which takes place every seven years.

Dub Castle lightDub Castle entrance

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

If you have ever watched Corgis run, they’re surprisingly fast. They stretch out and come together like a very elastic rubberband. Sometimes, when they are excited or very happy, there is an extra bounce in each stride. It’s fun to watch them – most of the time.

Now, Memphis, my male Corgi, preferred to conserve energy. He was not big on chasing anything – balls, squeaky toys, or other animals in the yard. He was curious, and may canter a few steps in the direction of a squirrel or chipmunk, but his heart was never in the chase. That was the case until one summer evening around twilight time.

Ralph and I had just walked the dogs, and we were standing on the front porch, ready to go inside. I unleashed Memphis just before I opened the front door….a big mistake….HUGE. Somehow in the waning light, Memphis spotted a rabbit and was off the porch and after it like Superdog.  I shouted. But I was completely ignored, so I started sprinting after him. “Ralph, put the girls inside and get a flashlight and some doggy biscuits!” I shouted as I followed Memphis into the backyard.

He zigzagged from our yard to the neighbor’s backyard, hot on the heels of the terrified bunny. Finally, the rabbit disappeared into Sandy Run Park behind our house, and so did Memphis!  I charged right through a bed of poison ivy, but when I stepped into the tree line, it was darker and Memphis was not in view. I kept screaming his name, not knowing whether to turn right or left. Ralph appeared and we started walking down the path, continually coaxing, “Memphis, come here, boy!  Don’t you want a ‘cookie’?” 

My heart was in my throat. Memphis was almost all black and would be hard to spot back here. We didn’t walk in the woods because of ticks and poison ivy, so he was not familiar with the trails.  We turned back towards home. “Let’s try the other way,” I whispered to Ralph. I could hardly talk now, fighting back hot tears.  We had retraced our steps to the place where our house was in view when we heard something in the undergrowth.  There was Memphis!  We called to him, my heart singing with joy!

Memphis dashed right past us like we were perfect strangers or trees of the forest. He had a wild look in his eyes and was headed for home. We ran after him, and when we arrived on the front porch, Memphis was standing at the door. He would not look at us until he was inside the house. I think he either encountered a creature much bigger than him or when he stopped running, he realized Ralph, the girls and I were not right behind him!

I learned my lesson. No more unleashing before we get inside the house. As much as you think you know your dog, there are some things he may reveal when you least expect it. Faster than a speeding bullet….Memphis backyard sit

Memphis, My Wonderful Welsh Corgi

Memphis was a wonderful Corgi. When he was a puppy, his ears needed to be taped to train them to stand up. But Memphis was always shaking his head, so I removed the tape – thus, I had a Corgi with one ear up and one ear down. I didn’t care!  It gave him personality, and he wasn’t ever going to be a show dog. He was tri-colored, with big paws and a broad chest. Memphis had such a coat that even when he was shedding, he still had more coat than most Corgis.  He was the best pet and companion – and I treasured the almost 15 years I had him.

Memphis was a delight as a puppy, but never learned to fetch or play tug-of-war. He simply wasn’t interested. I’d throw a toy or a ball, and he’d watch me do it. Then he’d look at me through all my encouragement to “Go fetch!” as if to say, “You threw it; you go get it!”  He loved to cuddle best of all, and often would leap into the laps of guests. He particularly was fond of my friend Letty. He also loved my goddaughters.

Memphis loved to walk in new places, but once the walk was routine he quickly lost interest. He’d simply plant his feet and refuse to go forward. Sometimes, he’d actually lie down in protest. But he was a “meet and greet” dog. He enjoyed making new friends, and he wanted to say hello to dogs of all sizes.  When I was out walking and the kids would be walking to the corner for the school bus or walking home, Memphis was happy to let them pet him and make a fuss.

But if he heard a murmur of thunder, Memphis would turn around and head for the house, practically dragging me behind him. That dog never moved so fast as when he heard thunder. He hated storms. Thunder drove him behind the couch to hide. His favorite place was the small bathroom off the front hallway. Memphis would disappear into the bathroom and wedge himself between the wall and the back of the toilet.  He gained some weight as he got older, and I was afraid he was going to actually get stuck back there.

Riding in the car was one of his favorite things to do. He preferred the front passenger seat. I believe he actually would have preferred to drive if that was possible.  One night we left Carol Braunstein’s home with Rhonda, a three-year old Corgi that was going to keep Memphis company while Carol took Merri to dog shows.  It was dark, and I rode in the back seat of the Rav. The other half was lowered so the crate could fit facing forward. Memphis climbed on the console and peered into the crate as Ralph was driving. He looked, cocked his head, looked again. Then he looked at me with a rather frantic look, and then he stared at Ralph, my husband, who was driving the car.  He leaned forward to look into the crate again. Rhonda was silent. Then he looked at me again. I could read his mind. “You are bringing home the WRONG dog!  You left Merri behind!”

Memphis never really warmed up to Rhonda who became our third dog. But the girls respected him. Memphis was king. They allowed him to lie in their dog beds whenever he chose to occupy them, but they would never sleep in his bed. Merri especially was fond of him. When Memphis became sick and died at the vet’s, Merri moped around the house. That night she crawled inside his bed, closed her eyes, and went to sleep. It brought tears to my eyes. She knew he wasn’t coming back, and she missed him, too.

A Baby Bird Story

Every spring the grackles return to our backyard. Not just one or two – an entire flock. They seem to arrive earlier every year – this year it was early March when I first noticed them. They stay through end June, and sometimes well into the summer months.

I must admit I am not very fond of them. They devour all the feed in my feeders. The poor cardinals are shy and wait until almost dusk to return to the backyard to try to get a spot on a feeder.  The smaller birds such as the chickadees and the finches steer clear of them. Then the grackles have babies in the woods right behind our property that backs up to Sandy Run Park and more than double their number!

They are mostly black in color with deep blue-black heads and yellow eyes. Often, they are found where starlings and blackbirds roost as well. We have red-winged blackbirds that arrive at about the same time. Although omnivorous, the grackle population in Dresher seems to enjoy the seed,  and particularly, the peanut feeders. I think they have grown too lazy to worry about catching insects!

A few years back, I heard this cry – one I had never heard before. There was a baby grackle on the patio. It was obvious he was calling for his mother, so I left the family room in hopes that she would land on the patio and urge the baby to fly. Hours later, the baby bird was still there. When dusk fell, I went outside to chase him into the bushes. Our neighbor’s cat roams the neighborhood in search of mice, birds, and anything she can hunt. I was afraid for the bird, but I didn’t know what I could do.

The next morning, there he was, curled up in the grass asleep and in plain view. That afternoon after I left school, I visited Betty, the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited. Betty advised me to call the woman who lived nearby on Mondauk, a retired science teacher from Cheltenham who nursed birds back to health and set them free. I was relieved when I called her and she said to scoop the baby grackle into a large paperbag and bring him to her.

It was pretty easy to get the baby bird who had returned to the patio to scream for his mother.   I figured it had been almost two days and the mother was not going to return. I followed the baby around for awhile, and then I placed the bag over him and gently used my hand to push him back while I turned the bag upright. Closing part of the bag by folding the top but leaving an air space, I drove over to “White Feathers.” 

The retired science teacher had lots of birds. I leaned over an open cage to look at a pair of crows. “Stand back!” she ordered. “Don’t speak to them! Don’t make eye contact!  Crows bond very quickly with people. I do not want them to get attached to humans. I am going to release them soon into the wild!”  I immediately followed her orders. Who would dare to disobey her?!

She looked at the young grackle. “He is just fine. I will release him when he is old enough to fly. He’ll probably end up back at your house,” she chuckled. I looked at the science teacher and looked at the grackle. I was relieved.  He was going to be okay.

Looking back, this is what I have done. I save things – cards, gifts from school children, Christmas poinsettias, and mostly animals. To date, I have saved countless spiders, bees, a mole, two little raccoons, a mouse, a rat, and even a snake. It is just who I am.  This baby grackle was one of many.grackle

Big Mama on the Hunt Field

Big Mama loved to jump!  She always knew exactly what she was doing, and I have to say, I never saw her refuse a fence (not jump it). She could pace herself and find the “just right” spot to rock back on her hind legs and spring into the air. She made it look easy.

But Big Mama on the hunt field was a different matter. It was all about staying with the pack and not letting the first several horses get too far in front of her.  On the hunt field, Big Mama was completely in control; her rider, just a passenger. Even though we fitted her in a rubber Pelham bit, two reins to this bridle with a curb chain under her chin, the rider had little hope of having the upper hand.

Thanksgiving Day was always a big deal. Riders from horse farms in the Montgomery County area gathered at the big field in Gwynedd Valley off of Gypsy Hill Road for a drag hunt. In other words, someone (almost always Jack Trainor’s nephew Roger) went on ahead on a very sensible horse and had a long lead with some sort of bag that had the scent of fox. Roger dragged this scent before the foxhounds were unleashed and the hunt began. We never hunted live fox here, although they still do in Unionville, Pennsylvania, and I would imagine, in many places like Virginia and England.

The horses were always perfectly turned out, often braided for this event. The riders looked handsome in their riding coats, canary yellow vests, breeches, and shiny high boots made from the softest leather. Old timers and novices joined a crowd of more than fifty for this event followed by a breakfast (really brunch) at All Around Farm.  Our riders were close enough to ride to the field where this hunt started and ride back to the stable after it was finished.

On one particular Thanksgiving hunt, Richard Fennelly (the stable manager and very Irish) needed a horse. So I offered Big Mama. Off they went, Richard with his stirrup leathers adjusted higher than normal for him because he was so tall and Mama was a little horse (“Big” came from her width, not her height!).  There must have been more than a dozen riders from All Around. It was grand to see them jog off. We drove down the road and saw the start. Jack, wearing a bright red coat as the huntmaster, tooting a horn and leading the way.

When our riders returned to the stable, they were all laughing and chattering. “What’s so funny?” I queried.

“Ask Richard!” Jennifer said in spurts of giggles. 

“It seems that Big Mama has a mind of her own. I tried to get her to slow down,” he said in his Irish accent, “but she was exhausting me. So I stopped pulling on the reins, and I realized that she only went a wee bit faster and my arms could relax.”

“Tell her the rest,” Jen said with a funny look on her face.

“Yes,” Jessie sputtered. “Tell Dormouse about how you broke the rule about everyone following single file when we jump a fence.”

“W-e-l-l, you see we were riding to a coop and Mama decided she wanted to canter alongside this beautiful grey gelding. I couldn’t get her to slow down. So I tipped my hat to the lady riding the big grey and said ‘It looks like we’re going to be jumping the next fence together, Ma’am.’  She looked as white as a ghost. I’m not sure she understood what was going to happen. But she jumped the coop and Mama and I sailed over the three-rail fence. We were in the air at exactly the same time and landed together. Then Mama picked up a little speed to catch up with the horses in the very front.”

I just shook my head. Big Mama had a mind of her own!  She was like a little freight train on the hunt field. Maybe Richard was right. Just throw the reins at her, lean a little forward, grab mane, and go!”


             Home. What a small word with  so much meaning! Home was a two-story brick house on Durham Street. It was not quite a row house – every two homes were attached with a  breezeway between that led to a small backyard. Our home had a large enough kitchen for a table and chairs, so we ate most of our meals there.  A dining room for special occasions or sometimes for dinner,  a spacious living room that contained, among other things, the piano where my mother played beautiful songs like “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago, and a finished basement crowded with my father’s boxes filled with papers.

            My bedroom was upstairs in the middle of the hallway. My sisters shared the larger back bedroom. I was most envious of the three windows as I only had one. My bed was a double bed because I always seemed to roll out of bed, and my mother thought a single bed would mean a nightly occurrence of hitting the floor. Stuffed animals sat on top of the bed, and my guitar case was tucked under the bed.  The same desk my mother had as a child was the desk I sat at to do homework or write a poem. The hall bathroom was a place for bubble baths, and our parents’ room was a safe haven when we had a bad dream or developed a stomach ache.

            I loved every inch of that house, but home was coming home to Sheba and later to Abigail, our faithful dogs.  It was Mom reading stories to us or teaching us songs to sing. Home was Dad arriving in the evening with thinly sliced corn beef, coleslaw, kosher dill pickles right from the barrel, Gulden’s mustard, fresh bagels, and bottles of Coca Cola. It was a ritual every Friday night, and Dad did all the prep work.  We just waited for our sandwiches, pickle, and soda – and if we were lucky – some potato chips, too. 

            Home was where I felt safe. Even when Mom and Dad were fighting – I loved coming home to 1207 Durham Street. 


My dear friend Nancy McElwee has many friends scattered across the globe. These friends date back to high school and college, friends she grew up with in elementary school or in her neighborhood. Nancy works hard to maintain friendships. One of our mutual friends is Jim MacCall. We can’t wait to see him at the Memorial Day picnic. Jim is an incredible guy – always upbeat and looking for the next adventure!

Recently, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Katie Sullivan. I cannot wait to see her and catch up. Kate was a fun, generous person who gave me so many wonderful memories. I remember our ride to the deli on ponies and the night Sue Kennedy and I stayed at Kate’s house – the night of the bat encounter!

This wonderful weekend I spent catching up with Dr. Elizabeth G. Davis. Beth is family. She really is like the daughter I never had. Now a full professor at Kansas State University, Beth runs the equine clinic. She is truly amazing! Ralph and I visited Beth and Kay in Manhattan, Kansas last July. Now we are all here in Chicago, and it is so wonderful to be able to make some new memories together. Dinner at the Signature Room last night with a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and a promise to celebrate all our birthdays, including Beth’s mom’s birthday, next April in Manhattan, Kansas.

Friendships are worth working to maintain. That reminds me I must call Dave VanEss – it has been too long since we have talked. I need to see Jessica and her boys. I would love to see Alex, Brooke, and Cait every week, but my goddaughters have very busy lives – as they should! I am thrilled every time I get to spend some time with them! And speaking of goddaughters,  where are you, Jennifer and Kevin?  You should be coming to Ireland with us!

I will see Nancy on Memorial Day. I need to find out what her secret is – how she invests so much time at Pearl S. Buck International, makes new friends all the time, and keeps up with all the friends she has made along the way. It’s truly a gift…but so is each true friend we have. A most precious gift we must nurture as well as treasure.