When I was Young in the Country

As part of my teaching I write narratives, expository/informational texts and a variety of genres to model myself as a writer for my students. Here is something I wrote for my class narrative example for this semester.

When I Was Young in the Country

(Patterned after Cynthia Rylant’s When I was Young in the Mountains)

When I was young in the country, I roamed the orchards, watching the apricots, pears, and cherries grow from new blossoms to fruit and then drop to the ground to be squished through my toes in my wanderings. I hated wearing shoes! There were fruit trees galore – down the street, across the street, up the hill -plum trees grew in front of the house my father helped build – up to the 2nd story windows.

Marla on tractor

I remember picking cherries at harvest time with cousins, aunts, and uncles – One time Uncle Bruce told me to be very still and not move – he proceeded to smash a rattlesnake’s head on a rock next to me. He cut off the rattle and gave it to me as a souvenir.

When I was young in the country, I often checked the little stream that meandered through the cow pasture across the street, watching little jelly eggs turn into pollywogs and eventually into frogs.  Mom let us out in the morning and told us to be back in time for dinner – everyone did that back then.

When I was young in the country, the world was a different place. It was common to see the kids in the neighborhood walking miles down the road to the local store to buy Bottle Caps, Chick-o-sticks, Sugar Daddies, Big Hunks, Bit-o-Honey, bubble gum cigars, Sweet Tarts – whatever we could buy for 5 cents, 10 cents, or a quarter.  Some days we’d buy a Canada Dry grape or orange soda which we couldn’t open until we got home because you had to open them with a can opener – no such thing as pop top cans! Sodas had the coolest names back then:  Cactus Cooler, Tahitian Treat, and Purple Passion to name a few.

We’d usually walk down 1700 North, but sometimes we’d go the other way – walking in front of the haunted house – older kids said the man who lived there had killed his wife – we always moved to the other side of the street when we got close – and then moved back after we walked by.

When I was young in the country, I loved playing in a playhouse made by my dad while he worked in the garden up the hill.  Sometimes Dad would throw tarantulas back up the hill using a shovel because he said they weren’t dangerous or scary – but warned if we ever saw a black widow spider to stay away.

When I was young in the country, I spent time playing with my cousins next door – on the jungle gym going round and round, making grasshopper, honeysuckle, and mud soup, making tunnels in the snow or sledding down the hill behind our houses – depending on what time of year it was. Both families had huge yards to play in.

Sometimes the cousins and I would catch yellow and black striped caterpillars and put them in a jar with a stick and leaves – keeping them in the unfinished basement until they turned into a chrysalis and eventually into a monarch butterfly – watching them fly around the basement and eventually letting them free.

When I was young in the country, I remember coming in from playing in the snow and putting my hands under cold water – Mom always warned us not to use hot water. She said I would burn my hands because I wouldn’t be able to feel the heat from the numbness. One day I skinned my knee falling off my bike when the road had been recently tarred – Mom cleaned it out – but it stung like crazy. Mom always took care of me.

We used to eat every Sunday on Mom’s best china using crystal goblets (stored in a hidden closet in the dining room).  Mom got them when she lived in Germany – it was usually pot roast, yum! We were supposed to be very careful and not break anything.

When I was young in the country, we made weekly trips into town to go to the local library – coming home with a treasure of books for Mom to read to us.  One time when we were reading I started bawling my eyes out.  Mom was crying so hard at the end of reading Where the Red Fern Grows out loud to us that she had to go get Dad to come in and read for a while until she calmed down. So many tears, so many memories.

When I was young in the country, sometimes things got scary. One morning we woke up and saw blood stains on the driveway. Apparently, some big kids had gotten into a fight the night before!  One day I cut myself on a rusty barbed wire fence and had to get a tetanus shot. I never did learn to wear shoes!

Another time my cousin Paul threw a rock at me while we were playing in his front yard– My dad was watching us from the front porch of our house and ran so fast – chasing Paul all the way into his house up against a wall in his bedroom.  I think that scared me as much as it did Paul!

When I was young in the country, mom dragged us into the living room to watch the news on our little black and white TV. One time someone had shot President Kennedy and the news was showing it all. Mom said “This is history and it’s important!” I’m not sure I was old enough to know what that meant, but it was something she always said.

When I was young in the country, my sister and I got bored one day. We dragged a chair to the hall closet and climbed up to get a box down from the top shelf. We opened the bottles and ate the little pills like candy. Mom caught us and we got to take a trip to the doctor to get our stomachs pumped for our trouble.

When I was young in the country, girls like me had to wear pants under our dresses at school – even at the bus stop in the snow – because girls had to wear dresses to school no matter what the weather was like. We would wait for the bus in the mornings at the cousin’s house, watching Dark Shadows on TV until the very last second, and then we’d run to the bus stop just in time.

When I was young in the country, I would pick the pussy willows and cattails that grew in the streams running down the street and tear them apart to let the seeds fly away in the breeze – that was one of the only things I could draw so I would draw them in the Sunday program in church when I was bored. Church was every Sunday in the chapel down the street.  Dad took us every week, even if Mom didn’t want to go. We also went to Primary on weekdays. Church was a part of my country life.

When I was young in the country sometimes I would sneak into the garage attic to see the Siamese pigs in a bottle my dad had from when he taught science in school.  Sometimes we’d play Green Ghost in the cellar which was pitch black when the light was turned off – the pieces glowed in the dark. Sometimes we’d go to the local drive-in movie theater – laying on top of the old station wagon with blankets and pillows – the best seats in the house!  Sometimes we’d drive around in the little red VW bug – especially when brother and I were small enough to ride in the gap behind the back seat – something kids are never allowed to do now – seat belts were probably not even thought of yet.

When I was young in the country, there was always family. On holidays uncles, aunts, and cousins would come from all around, sometimes from as far away as California. The kids always got to eat in the cousin’s unfinished basement where we wouldn’t make a mess, usually on a quilt thrown onto the concrete floor. The grown-ups ate upstairs while we had lots more fun downstairs.

When I was young in the country, I thought the world was mine. I never even thought about a world outside of my country home. The orchards, the family, the freedom to roam –  the country was always enough for me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Is Change the Enemy?

One of the things I have learned through the years is to not fear change. I think that I learned this from my parents. They modeled this throughout their lives and even in a tangible way through a magnet that was on their refrigerator for many years.

Every time I went to their house to visit, I saw this magnet. Since my father passed away about 8 years ago (my mother passed about 2 years before that), I have had this magnet on my refrigerator. Yes, the very same one.


This was probably a cute little handout from a Sunday School lesson at church that my Mom put on the refrigerator, but it exemplifies both of their attitudes about life. The author was a General Authority in our church at the time. He has long since passed, but his words still influence me, through the example of my parents in the way they lived their lives, and through this simple text that I see everyday in my kitchen.

Life is full of exciting experiences just waiting for us to step up and live them!

My next big change is moving to Utah to work for Utah State University. This is a big change, but one I am very excited to make at this point in my career and in my life. I’m so glad for the example of my parents and inspired church leaders that have always encouraged me to continue to grow and develop, even at this point in my life.

Thanks Mom and Dad!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Stand in Inquiry

My Middle Grades Reading, Writing, and Literature class is in the middle of doing research for a question they have about literacy and teaching in the middle grades. I am a firm believer that teachers are most effective when they continue to question their own practices and try to improve what they do and how they do it.

I am currently part of the Professional Learning Community-Blended Learning group at the University of Texas at Arlington that is studying the incorporation of technology into face-to-face classrooms. There was an opening in this group in the fall, and I jumped at the chance to learn more about this topic. Through participation in this learning community I have been able to:

  • Attend the Teaching Professors Technology Conference in New Orleans in October 2014
  • Meet periodically with a group of other professors who are also challenging themselves to learn more about incorporating technology into their classrooms and hear what they are doing
  • Work on a project in one of my courses that allows me to try some of the things that I am learning about
  • Report on what I have learned to the group through an online presentation and through a written report

So far I have learned how to flip a short lesson (provide a video of content that students can watch outside of class) using Camtasia to record myself talking with a short Powerpoint presentation. I chose excerpts from lessons that I would have traditionally done during class. I learned about how to do this from a session I attended at the Teaching Professors Technology Conference.


Screen from Writing is Learning Flipped Video for Week 10 in LIST 4378

I have also had the opportunity to record group presentations in this class and upload the files to Blackboard so students can see themselves present and use those video files in a digital portfolio.

Another thing I have added to this class is blogging. I have blogged with classes before, but I did not incorporate this writing opportunity last semester and felt it would be beneficial for this class this semester.

The opportunity I have had this past year to participate with this learning community has been invaluable to me as a teacher. I highly encourage all teachers to “stand in inquiry” about their practice. Inquiry is a critical component of good teaching.

What kinds of questions do you have about your practices, either in your personal or professional lives?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What I’m Reading

Besides professional reading and writing as part of my work as a university professor, I still find time for reading that I love. Some of my reading is for the dual purpose of enjoyment and work, but some of it is just because reading makes me happy and gives me a chance to escape from the cares of the day. Here are a few of the things that I have been reading lately.


Because I have a long commute between campus and home, I often listen to an audio book on the way. My latest listening experience was a book recommended by my daughter Amber – All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This text tackles a heavy topic, teens and suicide. Even though this is not my typical type of read, I feel it provided me some exposure to a segment of the population that experiences the effects of depression. It was a sobering reading experience.


I’m also usually reading a “teacher” book of some kind. My latest professional book was recommended by my friend and colleague Carol Wickstrom – The Teacher You Want to Be, edited by Matt Glover and Ellin Oliver Keene. Each chapter can be read alone and is written by well-known names in the field such as Katie Wood Ray and Thomas Newkirk. I’m enjoying reading a chapter here and there when I have a moment.

I’ve also been trying to keep up with the students in my Middle Level Teaching of Reading, Writing, and Literature class. We are experiencing literature circles, and I’m trying to read each book: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo ,and The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe by Dan Poblocki. I’ve enjoyed each one and look forward to their book presentations tomorrow!

I also try to keep up with some of my favorite teacher blogs. I try to read daily from the Nerdy Book Club (nerdybookclub.com) and Three Teachers Talk (threeteacherstalk.com). These blogs keep me up-to-date on the latest books out there for elementary and middle school readers and on daily workshop experiences in high school English classrooms.

That’s what I’ve been reading. What have you been reading?


Filed under Uncategorized

Writing as Memory

Marla on tractor

Riding the tractor behind Grandma Hansen’s house (about 1965)

One of my cousins has been having fun posting old photographs on Facebook of many of us sitting on Grandpa and Grandma Hansen’s laps and riding the old tractor out behind their house. The sad part of looking at these pictures is that I have no memory of my Grandpa Hansen. He died when I was 2. All I know of him is what I was told by my mother and father. I do, however, have lots of memories visiting the old house with the barn in the back, picking cherries in the cherry orchard, and roaming the countryside with my cousins.

Grandma Grandpa Hansen

Grandma and Grandma Hansen – I’m the bald one (about 1961)

I recently printed out four books of family history that my aunt and uncle painstakingly put together as family history focusing on their parents (my Grandpa and Grandma Hansen). What a treasure that is to me. I can learn about my grandfather from his childhood, his days in the war, and his writing as a newlywed and as a father. Those were the days of journals and handwritten letters (I’m amazed my Grandma saved so many!), and each of these was typed and preserved lovingly by their children to pass on to their children.

When I teach writing to my pre-service teachers, one of the lessons usually revolves around using poetry as a way to recall memories that can then be used to write a memoir. Each time I teach this lesson, I go through the process of writing a new poem to share with the class. I save these poems, and hopefully one day they will be added to my own personal history to be passed down to my children and to their children. Here is one of my Where I’m From poems:

Where I’m From Poem

By Marla Robertson

Feb 2014

(like George Ella Lyon)


I am from hand-me downs

From Canada Dry and Levis

I am from the house on the hill

Built by my father’s hands

Sturdy, practical, beautiful

I am from honeysuckle, rhubarb,

and family pear and cherry orchards


I’m from catching caterpillars and grasshoppers

And extended family gatherings on holidays

From Gerald and Nelda Lenore

I’m from the keep to yourself

And the live a quiet life

From children are starving in China

And waste not want not

I’m from God knows me

And there’s a purpose for everything


I’m from explorers and Kings,

Stroganoff and tuna casserole

From the grandpa that I never knew

And depression era mentality

I’m from pioneers and the deep south

From 4 books of family history

And generations of genealogy


I hope to pass on to my children

Parts of where I’m from


There are so many things that my own children don’t know about me – how I developed into the person I am today – why I do some of the things that I do. I’m trying to start writing some of these things down to share with them. Our generation doesn’t write letters anymore. Will we have something to pass on to our children? How are we preserving our personal history for them?

What are you doing to pass your legacy on to your children?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Inspired by Penny Kittle and Poetry at the NTCTELA Conference

I was able to help with and attend the North Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts conference last Friday held at the Hurst Conference Center. One of the breakout sessions was with Penny Kittle, author of Write Beside Them and Book Love. Her typical audience is secondary English teachers, but I’ve heard so much about her from my North Star friends that I wanted to go hear her. She did her presentation on incorporating poetry into the classroom.

One of the activities she had us do was to watch a YouTube video of a spoken word poem called “Shake the Dust” by Anis Mojgani (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qDtHdloK44). I have to admit that I am not familiar with spoken word or slam poetry, so it was new to me.

Her point in the lesson was that it is important for students to hear poetry first and then try to write like it as a way to ease their way into writing poetry. I have to say that I love going to conferences. I always learn so much about how to breathe life into my classroom and how to stretch myself as an educator. I’ve attempted poetry over the years, but it has been much more traditional with rhyme schemes, etc. So, here is my first attempt at a spoken word/slam poem.

Experience Life

(after Anis Mojgani)

By Marla Robertson

This is for the independent one

who loves learning and enjoys life but doesn’t want to do it alone

The trailblazer, the fighter, the adventurer

Take the risk

Experience life

This is for the young man

who just wants to be healthy and whole again

No more pain – no more waiting on the sidelines

This is for the girl who dreams of having a lifelong companion and children

but has a hard time believing it will ever happen for her

Experience life

This is for the almost graduate

striving to shed the skin of youth

and emerge into adulthood

This is for the budding writer

who feels crushed by any criticism

Move through it

This is for the aging man who wants to find more purpose in his life

but struggles to know how to find it

Keep struggling

This is for the newly free 

The one who is learning to break from habits and traditions to create a life of her own

This is for the broken-hearted one

who feels the sting of rejection down to his soul

Emotions are crippling

but emotions are living

Keep living

This is for she who loves and needs people

but sometimes feels they don’t need her in return

Who has talents she hasn’t even discovered yet

Keep risking

Keep discovering

This is for the woman who fears not making a difference

Of aging like her mother and fading away

Don’t fade

Don’t stop

This is for the patriarch who just wants to be included, respected, and loved

Who’s learning to be a different kind of model for his aging children

Keep loving

This is for the determined soul

who intuitively knows of life but still has much life to live

Learn to live it

To all of us

Take the risk

Life is meant to be lived to its fullest

Pain, anger, and difficulties are all a part of living

Keep living

Keep trying

Keep moving

Keep feeling

Be grateful for the chances you have to feel

Feelings are life

Extreme sadness and overwhelming joy 

Bouts of anger and times of peace 

Confusion and clarity 

All of these thoughts and feelings mean you’re learning and growing 

You’re living

So take the plunge and hold on

Take the ride on the rollercoaster of life

Keep living through those lows so you can experience the highs

Hold on tight

Trust the process

Feel everything, but don’t stop

Don’t be afraid to take the next step

Move though

Move on

Experience life


Filed under Uncategorized

Sunday Evening Discussing Books

I have several of my kids that are “young adults” and are living at home saving for college or attending college. One is one year away from college. Anyway, on many Sunday evenings they gather here with their friends and have a movie night.  I’ve been so busy lately that I just leave them to it, but tonight I took the time to sit in the family room and talk with some of them as they were waiting for more friends to arrive. We ended up talking about books. We talked about favorite series, favorite authors, movies that have come out that are based on books, books that are being turned into movies, etc. It’s nice to know that there are other young adults out there that like to read. My faith is restored in the texting/Facebook/Instagram generation!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized