Posted in Halloween, Life, Teaching, Writing

Reasons to Celebrate

Life is still weird, and some days are hard, so it’s especially nice when you find a few reasons to celebrate. September has gifted me with some good ones.

Reason to Celebrate #1: FALL

The official start of fall is still a few days away, but last week the Texas summer took its leave. The temperatures dropped, the oppressive humidity blew away, and we even had a few days of hard rain and thunderstorms. There’s nothing quite like that first burst of cool weather after the long, hot months. I was so happy, I went out and bought my first pumpkin. It won’t be lonely for long.

Reason to Celebrate #2: A SMOOTH-ISH START TO THE SCHOOL YEAR

The drop in temperature coincided with the first day of school for my district. On Tuesday, September 8th, we began online teaching. Despite thunderstorms and power failures and zoom fatigue and even a mass internet outage that affected most of our school’s neighborhoods one day, it was still a successful start to the year. The students arrived ready to learn, and the teachers welcomed them with smiles and reassurances and well-planned virtual lessons.

It’s hard though. The amount of work that goes in behind the scenes to make that smoothness possible is too large for most people who don’t work in education to truly understand, and it means that sometimes dinner looks like this:

But we did it, and we’re still doing it, and we’ll keep doing it to the best of our ability. I’m very proud of my campus and my coworkers and my community. This morning, while walking the trail in my neighborhood, I saw this painted rock, and it felt like such a gift. I’m sending it out to all my fellow teachers.

Reason to Celebrate #3: GHOST STORIES

October is just a few short weeks away, which means ghost story season is almost upon us, so I’m excited that my new book, The Ghostly Tales of New England, is now available! This slim, but spooky volume includes twenty-two true stories of historical haunts in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island, and it’s the perfect companion to a cup of hot chocolate and a campfire.

A friend of mine read some the stories to her six-year-old daughter, and now she’s writing a scary story of her own! It’s called “The Bodiless Foot,” and it comes with some wicked illustrations.

I think we have a new horror author in the making.

Speaking of writing inspiration, I’m doubly excited because Austin Bat Cave has asked me to teach an online Ghost Stories Workshop on October 17th. If you know a 5th-8th grader with a love of writing and a flair for the macabre, consider signing them up. Space is limited, so reserve your spot soon.

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I’m grateful for these reasons to celebrate, and I’m always on the lookout for more. Let me know if you find any.

Posted in Writing

The Other House

“The Other House” was first published in 2016 in Under the Bed, Volume 4, #6. Since the digital magazine is no longer available, I’d like to share the story here.

The idea for this tale came from my friend’s three-year-old daughter who used to talk about the “other house” she had. She was quite convincing about this alternate home, and it got my imagination going. I like this story because it’s not meant to scare kids… it’s meant to scare parents. Enjoy!

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The Other House

by Carie Juettner

Dee’s parents laughed when she first mentioned her “other house.” After all, she was only two and had never lived anywhere else. They encouraged her creativity, asking questions, but Dee was pretty vague on the specifics.

“I go there sometimes,” she said, while staring out the window from her car seat.

“What do you do there?”

“Play.”

When Dee turned three, her vocabulary grew, and with it the descriptions of her other house. She talked of a bedroom with blue walls and white carpet. She described a bed with curtains at the top.

Dee’s parents thought their daughter’s imagination was cute. They thought it showed intelligence to be making up stories at such a young age.

“She comes up with the funniest things,” Dee’s mom told a coworker. “Pictures she describes, little bits of songs we’ve never heard before.” She shrugged. “I mean, I guess she could be picking this stuff up at daycare, but it’s so detailed.”

There was something to Dee’s stories that gave them a sense of accuracy—something in the way she held her little hands to demonstrate the size of the blue stool she swore she stood on to brush her teeth, something in the way she enunciated her imaginary friend’s name. GEN-E-VIEVE. There were definitely no Genevieves at daycare. It was not surprising that Dee had imaginary playmates, but that she’d created such a vivid setting for them to exist in. When asked where these friends were, Dee looked people straight in the eye and said, “my other house.”

Dee’s parents smiled at each other and marveled at their remarkable child.

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“It’s just a phase,” Ms. Zenia told Dee’s mom. “Many kids have rich imaginations at this age. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“But, it’s just… she’s four now, and she’s been talking about this house and these people since she was two.” Dee’s mom blushed, knowing how insubstantial her argument sounded. She tried a different tack. “Dee’s just so obsessed with this place. The other day, she wanted her purple giraffe. Well, she doesn’t have a purple giraffe, never has. But Dee had a fit. She started saying, ‘It’s in the other house! I left it in my other house!’ It was the biggest tantrum we’ve ever seen. I tried to calm her down with the yellow monkey she loves, but she wasn’t having it. It took everything in my parent arsenal to get through that one. You don’t think, I mean, she doesn’t have… psychological problems? Does she?”

The Pre-K teacher smiled. “No, you don’t need to worry about that. She interacts with others, she makes eye contact, she’s an excellent conversationalist. I honestly don’t see anything to be concerned about here at school. Is she sleeping okay?”

“Oh yes, fine. Dee’s a great sleeper. That’s one way we lucked out as parents. She’s been sleeping through the night since, well, since before she was even a year old. I used to think about waking her up to check on her, but I never did. My friends told me enough horror stories about how hard it is to get kids back to sleep, so I’d just watch her breathe to make sure she was okay.” Dee’s mom wrung her hands. “I guess I’m a worrier.”

“All parents are worriers,” Ms. Zenia said. “Dee’s fine. She’s very creative and maybe just a little bit stubborn too.”

Dee’s mom laughed. “Well, you’re right about that.”

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Dee’s dad felt the engine of his work truck shudder. Come on, he thought, get me home and then you can die on me. Right then his cell phone chirped to let him know it was running on empty as well. Damn it. He’d forgotten the charger. He picked up the phone and called his wife.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Probably. But this last run took longer than I thought and now the truck’s acting funny. Phone’s dying too. I think I can make it home, but if I’m late, don’t worry. It just means I’m walking to a gas station or waiting for a tow truck.”

“Walking to a gas station? Where are you?”

“About forty miles from home, I think. I’ll be fine.” He knew she would worry, but he didn’t want her to.

“It’s almost eleven o’clock, and it’s supposed to rain. I don’t want you walking on the side of the highway. It’s not safe. You could be—“

“How’s Dee? She asleep yet?”

“Of course. She’s been out like a light since seven. She’s sleeping so soundly. I felt her forehead and it seemed kind of hot, but I don’t know. She was asking for her frog pajamas again earlier.”

“She doesn’t have any frog pajamas.”

“I know, that’s what I told her. But of course she swears she has them at her ‘other house.’ I’m beginning to really hate that place. I think she likes the people there more than us.”

“She’ll be fine.” He could practically hear his wife wringing her hands. His phone beeped again. “I will too, but I’ve got to go.”

“Okay,” she said. “Be careful.”

Dee’s dad turned the phone off and chewed on his thumbnail. It had started to rain. He’d told his wife he had to make this run tonight, but that wasn’t true. He’d volunteered for it. The extra money was nice, but what he really needed was a break from the bedtime routine. He loved his daughter. God how he loved her. But it bothered him the way she interrupted his bedtime stories with tales of her own. They were nothing particularly special, but the glee with which she shared them made them seem magical. Whenever he asked where the stories came from, her answer was always the same. “My other house.”

It was ridiculous, he knew, to be jealous of an imaginary place, to feel left out of his little girl’s bedtime stories. But he did.

The engine shuddered again. He looked out the window at the dark stretch of highway and decided his wife might be right. Maybe walking wasn’t such a good idea. He took the next exit and turned into a quaint little neighborhood. His truck made it half a block before dying completely. The phone quickly followed suit.

He got out of the truck. Thankfully, the rain had stopped. In fact, the sky had lightened considerably. He decided the moon must be extra full behind the bank of clouds. He walked up the sidewalk, looking for a house with lights on. He didn’t want to scare anybody, just needed to use their phone and ask them where he was. The neighborhood didn’t seem to have street signs and the numbers on the curbs were too faded to read.

At the end of the street he came to a one story brick house with the porch light on and warm light spilling out from two of the front windows. There was a small bicycle in the front yard, making him wish he were home with his daughter. Dee had been begging for a bike. He suddenly regretted not getting her one for her fifth birthday.

A woman answered the door when he knocked. She wore jeans, a faded red sweatshirt, and a smile. She was wiping her hands on a dish towel. Dee’s dad stood far back from the door as he explained his situation and said he’d be more than happy to wait on the porch if she would just bring him a phone, but she said, “Nonsense,” and invited him in. “Don’t mind the mess,” she said. “You know how kids are. I’ll go grab the phone.”

He was surprised at her hospitality, considering the late hour and the fact that he didn’t exactly look respectable in his dirty work shirt and stubble. But he thanked her and stepped inside. The house felt warm and comfortable, despite the clutter. A dark hallway stretched off to his right, and he could hear a TV on low in a room somewhere to the left. There was a clock on the wall whose battery must have died. It said 5:25. Toys were strewn about everywhere, and without meaning to, he stepped on one. He reached down and picked it up. It was a purple giraffe. He laughed. He’d have to ask the woman where she got it.

She came back then, saying, “Here, I’ll trade you.” She took the stuffed giraffe from his hand and replaced it with a cell phone. Then, seeing that his eyes had traveled to the table of empty plates and glasses half full of iced tea, she said, “Oh don’t worry. You didn’t interrupt anything. We just finished an early dinner.” Dee’s dad resisted the urge to look at his watch, to reassure himself that it was close to midnight. Instead, he just nodded. “I’ll give you some privacy,” she said. “If you need anything, my name is Ginny.”

He stared at her as she disappeared around the corner toward the TV sounds. She must have turned the volume up because suddenly the words became clear. “That’s it for sports. Thanks for joining us. We’ll update you about those rain chances at ten.” He looked back at the clock on the wall. The battery wasn’t dead after all. The minute hand had moved. He looked down at the cell phone. The screen said 5:30. He glanced behind him at the front door. That was more than just porch light coming through the window.

Dee’s dad shook his head and leaned against the wall, suddenly needing support, and tried to catch his breath. From this angle, he could see an open door about halfway down the dark hallway. It led to a small bathroom, where a bright blue stool was tucked neatly beneath a sink. Across the hall, another door stood ajar. Voices, one deep and one childlike, emanated from the room beyond.

Unconsciously, he dialed a number on the phone. His wife picked up immediately. “Hello? Who’s this?”

“Me,” he said as he inched toward the open door.

“Oh thank goodness. It’s pouring here. Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Truck broke down. Calling from a house.” He tiptoed on the white carpet, past a child’s Crayon drawing framed on the wall.

“Is a tow truck coming? How are you getting home?”

“I don’t know.” He reached the room and slowly poked his head around the doorframe. The walls were painted blue, and there was a small bed with a pink canopy. It was empty. He leaned farther. “Is Dee still asleep?”

“Like the dead. Why? Do you think I should wake her up?”

“No.”

Beside the bed, a man sat in a rocking chair reading a picture book. In his lap, smiling and laughing and wearing frog pajamas, was a little girl. His little girl. Dee.

He pressed his back against the hallway wall, heart pounding. “No. Don’t wake her up.”

From inside the room, he heard the man’s voice say, “Honey, I’ve told you. We don’t have a yellow monkey.”

 

© Carie Juettner, 2016.

Posted in Poetry, Teaching

Vision+Voice 2019 / Why Poetry Matters

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice reception this year.

Teaching all day + Writing Club + grading + trying to perfect that PowerPoint for Monday, and suddenly it was 6:30PM, and I was still in my classroom, and the Vision+Voice reception was starting across town in half an hour. For a quarter of a second, I considered not going. Then I dropped everything and jumped in the car.

Traffic was not in my favor as I made my way from south Austin to the ACC Highland campus. Once, my uninformed GPS even routed me through a construction zone. (Hello, men in hard hats! Sorry! Don’t mind me!) By the time I arrived at the community college, my shoulders were stiff, and I was calculating what time I might finally be home. 9:00PM? 9:30? 10:00? I felt the weight of my day bearing down on me as I walked across the parking lot.

Then I stepped inside, and all my stress lifted away. I couldn’t believe I considered missing this event for even a quarter of a second.

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Vision+Voice is everything I love in one place. It’s students, dressed up and looking happy and nervous at the same time. It’s families, beaming and hugging and taking pictures. It’s teachers, nodding and saying how proud they are. It’s music, art, and good food. And it’s poetry.

The program was launched by Austin Community College in 2013. It’s an annual contest for students in Austin to submit poetry on any topic, in any language. ACC Creative Writing students and published poets judge the poems. One winner and a number of honorable mentions are selected from every grade level. The poems are published in a beautiful anthology, and the poets are invited to record a video reading their poems at KLRU. In addition, the first place poems are paired with a piece of art created by an ACC student and made into posters to be displayed in homes, schools, and libraries across the city.

This year, my school was honored to have three young poets recognized for their poems: Harper J (sixth grade honorable mention), Noah L (seventh grade winner), and Hadley S (seventh grade honorable mention). Hadley wrote a tritina poem called “Shooting Stars” during our class’s poetry unit. Noah wrote “Cactus Poem” (about cacti who need a break from posing for pictures all the time) based on another student’s creative writing prompt during our school’s Writing Club. And Harper, who also recently joined the Writing Club, wrote a poem called “Love Letter” which reads the same forward and backward. So cool.

I walked in to the beautifully decorated atrium where the reception was being held. I met my students’ families and congratulated the poets. I got some food, sat down, listened to speeches, watched videos of young poets reading their words, and didn’t stop smiling for the next two hours.

Seeing these young writers, ages 5 to 18, stand in front of a camera with their poems in their hands, sharing their creativity with the world brought tears to my eyes. They were articulate and vulnerable and proud and passionate and confident and true and beautiful. They give me hope for our future.

A few of my favorite lines and moments…

The second grade winner, Maple W, wrote a song called “I am still me.” It begins, “I am a monster in my tomb/ singing with the tune,” and it ends, “be nice to me,/ because I am still me.”

The beginning of fifth grader Beatrix L’s poem “The Sapling” gave me shivers:

“The spirit inside the tree
Is full of unrest.
She thinks I have come
To take away her host.”

Sixth grader Didion C’s poem “Coral” addressed environmental concerns, saying, “Fate may be inevitable/ But we can help.”

The last lines of these poets’ poems all stayed with me:

“You must ask questions of all sizes.” – Nicole P, 7th grade
“I am alive” – Andrea H, 9th grade (She was my student two years ago!)
“These streets could belong to me.” – Amy S, 12th grade

I can’t help it. I get chills when I hear these lines.

Brad Richard, the keynote speaker at the reception, gave a speech titled “Why Poetry Matters.” His words were true and inspiring and thoughtful, but I couldn’t help but feel like they were also unnecessary. I challenge anyone to listen to children read poems about life, love, nature, the earth, freedom, home, truth, and monsters without understanding—immediately and inherently—why poetry matters to our world.

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice Reception this year, but I’m SO GLAD I DID.

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Note: The poems mentioned in this post are only a few of the incredible pieces of writing in this year’s anthology. And there were so many more poems that weren’t recognized with awards, but which are also beautiful and thought-provoking. All of the poems entered this year can be found on the Vision+Voice website. I recommend getting a cup of coffee and spending an hour or so immersing yourself in them. Start with “My Home” by my student Rayaan H about his beloved Pakistan. It put a lump in my throat when he read it in front of my class earlier this year.

Links to All Poems Mentioned in This Post:

Haiku