Thirteen Things You Probably Wouldn’t Know About Mrs. Rombach–Unless You Hired a Private Detective!

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ThIrtEen: When my entire family traveled to Ireland and, one by one, took their lives into their hands to buss the Blarney Stone, I refused to risk life and limb to kiss a gray stone swimming with germs. I regret that decision now, but, at the time, my all-consuming fear of heights ripped all remnants of courage from my shaky limbs.

TwELvE: Brilliantly, I broke my arm running down a rain-soaked slide at Newport News park. My younger brother laughed hysterically as I pushed myself up, screaming wildly as my S-shaped right arm hung limply at my side. I have held that against him for a lifetime. He owes me pounds of Twizzlers as repayment–and I haven’t even gotten one red rope.

eLEveN: When I was twelve, my Mom let me paint and wallpaper my own room. I was orange crazy at the time, so my curtains were orange, I had giant orange poppies wallpaper on one wall, and three of my four walls were, you guessed it, orange.

tEn: I might have been a certified tadpole farmer, had there been such a profession when I was a preteen. Where I grew up, ditches lined every neighborhood road. During springtime, I was harvesting tadpoles from the swollen ditches, and transferring them to a litter box turned tadpole resort. There’s nothing quite like watching legs sprout from a black dot. The magical transformation transfixed me–as I witnessed hundreds of tadpoles jump out into the world as teeny frogs.

NiNe: Before there was Katniss, there was Mrs. Rombach, a 12-year-old national archery champion. If I can find the newspaper article, I’ll post it to prove my prowess with a bow and arrow (The aforementioned arm break, by the way, occurred after a weekend practice and officially ended my archery career.).

EiGHt: One Halloween–I don’t remember which year–there was a pumpkin shortage, and our family waited a few days too late to purchase our orange porch sitter. Instead, my older brother, Tom, designed an uber cool pulley system that dropped a white-sheet ghost on the unknowing victims who dared to climb our front porch steps. The ghost was out of commission early in its haunting career–a jammed pulley, if I recall correctly–but the memory sticks with me. My older brother, who would rather have been making mischief with his teenage posse, saved the day–or at least our Halloween night.

SeVEn: At sixteen, I served as a friendly, front-end cashier at Squire’s Galley restaurant in the England section of Busch Gardens-Williamsburg. Yes, I smelled like hamburgers and french fries all day–and all summer long.

SIx: For possibly eight consecutive Halloweens, my witchy green face, smeared with Dad’s thick, hunting camouflage paint, cackled across the neighborhood. From my wickedly black hat to my flowing, Mom-crafted robe, I was 100% Dorothy’s nemesis. Each night, after collecting our Halloween loot, my brother and I dumped our bounty on the living room floor and spent an hour trading candies. I loved bartering for Baby Ruths and Butterfingers, my chocolate dream team.

fIVe: I am the proud, adoring mom to five fabulous kids (Don’t I sound like a mom?) who are now ages 14, 17, 19, 21, and 23. They make my life complete.

FOuR: Minions make me HAPPY. They’re all over my classroom. Last Christmas, I tried (unsuccessfully) to convince my husband to order me a full-size minion costume–the kind a college mascot would wear. My children joined forces with my hubby to boycott the purchase–at least for this year. Muhaha!

tHReE: Before my career in the publishing industry, I dreamed of dancing on Broadway. I never took one dance lesson, so this dream was never a possibility. That said, I definitely believed in the impossible when I danced in front of a full-length mirror at home, breaking into some Tony award-winning moves while the BeeGees blasted from my record player. Did I mention I can’t sing either? It’s important to have dreams–even if they stay only dreams.

twO: My favorite number is two. I’m not sure why and when I picked the number two, but I’m a Libra. Maybe it’s because I like balance.

ONe: I’ve dated–or been married to–my number one husband, Mike, for a total of three decades. I’ve spent more time with him than without him–and for that, I consider myself extraordinarily lucky. He’s a cool guy to hike with, sip coffee with, or to ramble down some unfamiliar road with in a top-down, Minion yellow Jeep!

As the sponsor of the Eagle Ridge Blog Club, I’m happy to post this year’s All About Me. What’s one thing I should know about you?

Mrs. Rombach

Virginia Born and Bred

     While I haven’t lived in Virginia all of my life, the Old Dominion is where I’ve spent most of my life. Raised in Yorktown, Virginia, where the Revolutionary War was won, I’ve traveled all over this great state, but still have more to explore: waterfalls to stand in awe of, mountainous overlooks to hike, winding country roads to traverse, lazy rivers to float, local eateries to share a meal, and friendly folks to meet all along the way.

     Our state tourism board has it right: Virginia is for lovers…of the outdoors, history, adventure, sports, music and craft festivals, pastoral rural landscapes and bustling city centers. Plus, we enjoy the beauty of all four seasons!

     Earlier today, my husband asked me where I see myself in 10 or 15 years. Only one place…Virginia!  I love teaching middle school students on the weekdays and taking my Jeep out for a spontaneous “just because” backroads tour on weekends. Today, I’m sharing an Animoto video I created with a few Virginia highlights. Okay, my favorite sixth graders, I challenge you to add an Animoto video to YOUR blog! 🙂



Poetry Emotion – Teachers Write 7/13/15 (I’m late!)

Teachers Write!


Author Liz Garton Scanlon photocredit:


photo credit:

photo credit:










Last night, I joined my daughter and one of her best friends for the sold-out Taylor Swift concert at Nationals Park Stadium in DC. Loved every minute of this 25-year-old’s extraordinary performance.

Now, I’m sitting down (ever so briefly) to post the poem I struggled to complete for Monday’s mini-lesson from Teachers Write! guest author Liz Garton Scanlon. Liz is the author of picture books like All the World and Noodle and Lou as well as a brand new middle grade novel, The Great Good Summer.  Here’s the assignment:

1. Commit to writing a 12-line rhyming poem or story.

2. Use either 6 couplets (aa/bb/cc/etc) or 3 quatrains (abab/cdcd/efef)

3. After you’ve written the first 2-4 lines, count the syllables. Even them out as necessary and then stick with that count as you finish the piece.

4. Read it over. Does it make sense? Did rhyme force you to do anything you didn’t want to do? Adjust as necessary.

5. Wrap it up. Read it aloud. Read it aloud again. You hear that? You did that!

Here’s my result, which, despite being less than thrilled about, makes me realize how important it is to exercise my writing muscles. 🙂 I wrote this after getting some cruddy news that sent my stress level through the roof. Rhyming is challenging! Still, I need to work all of my writing muscles, not just the stronger ones. 🙂 I’ll take the next Teachers Write! challenges one word, one line, one story at a time–and be okay with it taking me a little longer than I’d like. This isn’t a race, it’s a self-focused, self-paced education and exploration–for the writer in me. 🙂


The phone calls come in a hurry.

Breathe deeply. Quell the firing nerves.

Questions explode in a flurry.

Situation no one deserves.


Nubby nails, haphazardly chewed

Chattering heart, wildly racing

Squash this madness,; answers elude

Frustratation soars, mindless pacing


Dozens of phone calls required

Monotone voices do not hear

My fear from all that’s transpired

Listen! Did I make myself clear?




Character Visualization – Teachers Write! Day #4

Teachers Write!

photo of Tracey Baptiste credited to:

photo of Tracey Baptiste credited to:




The Teachers Write! challenges continue, including my own struggle to find time to write. I’m thankful for the timed element of today’s challenge. I have bathrooms to clean, so the teacher-writer in me is slightly slammed for computer time. I am committed to catching up the pack, though, so it’s now or never. Today’s guest author is Tracey Baptiste. who penned 2015’s middle grade book, The Jumbies, a spooky adventure set in the Caribbean, where Tracey grew up.

Exercise 1: Visualization

Picture your character walking through a door that is far away. All you can see is the shape of their body because there is a bright light behind them. When they step through the door, describe what they are wearing. (Write all you can in 2 mins.) As they move further into the room, describe the objects that you can see around them. (Write all you can in 2 mins.)

Slightly faded black Einstein t-shirt with fluorescent graphic of wild-haired Einstein, stonewashed, faded and a little too short blue jeans, showing wear on knees, hint of neon orange socks peek out from beneath frayed jeans bottom, grey and black Nike trainers

mahogany desk, probably purchased at a yard sale, that’s missing one copper drawer pull, Apple computer with NFL channel showing Top 100 players of 2015, dusty globe at the corner of the desk, a few books stacked beside the computer mouse, each with a torn book mark (all are partially read), swivel chair that squeaks when it turns to the right, an oriental style rug on the floor that’s fading where the sunlight streams in from the windows, a pair of Adidas black and white soccer slides askew under the desk, Starburst wrappers, two pennies and one lone Skittle on the desktop, a black and white dog nestled beneath the desk, its head resting on the back end of the soccer slide, the active chirps of birds coming in through the screens

As they stand in the middle of the room, people begin walking toward them. Describe who these people are and what their relationship is to your character. (Write all you can in 4 mins.)

Older brother, Connor, six foot four, towers over Braeden, his little brother. Obsessed with Magic the Gathering card game, regular at downtown DC hackfests, relatively quiet, but has a wicked sense of humor, adventurous. Likes to give his little brother a hard time, in a loving, big brother kind of way. Has serious asthma, which keeps him from venturing far from home. Knows Braeden idolizes him, and likes to show him off to his high school buddies now and then. Happy to share with Braeden on his terms.

Mother, Chase, blonde, book editor and athletic trainer on the side. Comes in to let Braeden know his time his up for YouTube/computer. Gives him a choice of either cleaning his room or cleaning hamster cages. Braeden ignores her until her tone of voice changes from sing-song to serious. He chooses to clean his room, since he can close the door and stretch out on his bed listening to music until Mom comes to check again.

Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character

Put yourself in your character’s shoes and answer the following interview questions as if you are them. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? What is your biggest secret?

I love football, which some might consider wierd since I don’t play the sport. Mom was terrified I’d end up with a head or neck injury like her brother and Dad so when every other guy in my class was wearing shoulder pads and helmets to crash into their scrawny neighbors, I was playing flag football (if I was lucky) or just tossing around the pigskin with my Dad or older brother. Despite the physical absence of tackle football in my life, I’m a diehard fan of the gridiron. Pittsburgh is my team; my Dad’s from Pittsburgh so the entire family claims allegiance to the black and gold. Still, I’ll admit to cheering for the Seahawks during last year’s Super Bowl. When ESPN was broadcasting the combines, my butt was parked in the corner recliner, remote control in hand–not because I had any intention of changing channels but to claim ownership of the TV. NFL draft day? I had a countdown on my iphone to remind me when to turn on the TV. Seriously, I’m obsessed. Player positions, teams, stats, I guarantee I know more than any kid in my 6th grade class. To them, though, I’m not a player so I don’t “get” the game. Ha. J.J. Watt, number one player of 2015, that defender can kill it. Marshawn Lynch is a beast. Did you know Andrew Luck congratulates every guy who tackles him? Don’t even get me started on AB, Antonio Brown, number eight on this year’s list. This Steeler is freaking amazing.

I hate all the excuses the politicians and so-called-adults make for why we can’t do something about climate change. Monster storms. Debilitating droughts. Rising sea levels. Contaminated water supply. World-wide food shortages. This is the stuff that swirls around my head when Mom sends me up to bed to get some sleep. Right. How about I get started on solving the most pressing world issue to face mankind instead? Except I’m 11–and can’t even ride a bike down to my best friend’s house because I outgrew my brother’s hand-me-down Raleigh.

Who am I jealous of? Kids who are taller and more athletic than me. I know I’m smart, and I’ve accepted I’m nerdy in a cool and approachable kind of way. However, sometimes I just want to be the best soccer player on the field instead of the one who loses sight of the ball just as my foot is about to connect with the leather. I wish my eyesight was close to 20/20 without the thick-lense glasses. At least Mom insisted I pick out a new set of frames for sixth grade. I must say, I noticed a few more girls looking my way. If I could do anything right now, I’d be standing atop Blarney Castle in Ireland, about to bend down to kiss the Blarney Stone for the second time in my life. Ireland is an adventure I’d embark on any day of the week. What’s my secret? I have an identical twin brother. Or did. He only lived a week after we wore born. I don’t tell anyone because it sounds creepy, but sometimes I feel Brent’s presence. Even though there’s no way I remember him, I get the idea he’s here with me for a reason. I’ve never told anyone–not even Mom or Dad–about how I talk to Brent. They’d probably lock me up in a mental institute.

Exercise 3: Flip the Switch

Imagine that a bad guy with an opposite-ray dropped into your book from hyperspace. The opposite-ray hits your character full in the face and now they are the complete antithesis of the person they were before. Now answer the same questions above again. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? (I don’t include the secret question because presumably will be the same.)

I am obsessed with HGTV, and have already dreamed up every detail of my designer house. I detest all this talk of climate change. It’s inconvenient, intentionally scaring the crap out of little kids like me, and I happen to believe it’s all cyclical. FOX News confirms it, and that’s good enough for me. I’m sketching rooms I want to create, not worrying about shrinking rainforests and rising sea levels. What am I jealous of? Jackson Millner’s family bank account.  They have five new cars in the driveway and their kids aren’t even of driving age yet. They jet off to a Carribean vacation one week and then announce a European tour the next. I don’t even have to look online anymore to preview the newest Jordans hitting the streets; Jackson Millner is wearing them into school the day after release. If I could do anything right now, it would be convince my mother to replace the outdated countertop in our kitchen with poured concrete or cork. It’s quite embarrassing to invite a friend over and have to excuse away our laminate. 

Exercise 4: Conversion

Take any scene from your current WIP that includes the character you’ve been working on. Strip away all of the setting information, the emotional tag lines and write it as a play with only the characters’ words and any stage directions that move your character into a spot that helps your plot to continue, such as: Moves to door. Door swings open and hits them in the face. Now see how the words your character uses without any props conveys their emotions, or DOESN’T convey their emotions.

Love the 4th exercise, but I’m plumb out of time. Those bathrooms are not cleaning themselves so it’s upstairs I go. It’s catch-up day; no additional time for editing. 🙂 Wow–what a learning experience this was. Difficult…but eye opening. 🙂 I can definitely use these ideas in my classroom. Thank you, Tracey Baptiste!

Pearls of Writing Wisdom – Teachers Write! Day #3

Teachers Write!


I am determined to catch up with the Teachers Write! author-generated writing prompts. Yesterday’s challenge came from guest author Melanie Crowder whose debut novel, Parched was one of Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year and a Junior Library Guild selection. Her second book, Audacity, has received three starred reviews and is an Editor’s Choice at BookBrowse and a Top Pick from BookPage. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to find inspiration from a published author. 

The assignment:

Pick one character, and one image connected with that character. Either as you rewrite an existing scene, or as you draft a new one, bring that image with you. Use it when you describe your character or when it’s time for a metaphor to reveal your character’s emotion, and hey—if all else fails, throw that object into the scene with them and see what happens.

To get started, if you haven’t already, draw up some sketches for a few of the characters in your story. I don’t mean actual drawings; brief descriptions will do. (What they look like, their hobbies, their habits, their flaws, their nervous tells.

PearlsCreative Commons License Milica Sekulic via Compfight

Transparent Pearl

Eyes float over my existence

First impressions are impressionless

Despite the bronze badge that states otherwise

I am nameless, faceless, useless — to you

Clattering dishes litter my slow-moving cart

A uniformed, puckered, splotched obstacle in your path

Arthritic knees scream in silent protest

You refuse to meet my grey-blue eyes

Judging my sweat-tinged, curling silver hair

Viewing my pained shuffle as an inconvenience

My sturdy brown Rockports as fashionless

How dare you

I am as priceless as the heirloom pearls

 regally encircling my aging neck

A peacock-proud mother of five grown men

A recent widow of a 47-year love affair

A lifelong churchgoer who knits baby blankets

for infants like the one in your protective arms.

I am an unbreakable string of indelible life experiences

perfectly, delicately, lovingly woven together.


Before I wrote the poem, here’s what I jotted down as my list of potential character details (based on my previous night’s observations at Panera). Obviously, I didn’t use them all. I’ve spent about 45 minutes on this poem, which is all I have today because there’s another writing prompt to conquer. I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re enjoying this writing camp as much as I am! If you’re a middle-school English teacher, let’s connect!

  • middle-aged women, in her early sixties, about five foot two if she didn’t slouch a little
  • works at local chain bakery, cleans up after customers
  • wears cornflower blue short-sleeved golf shirt with bronze name badge on her left chest
  • khaki pants, a little baggy around the waste and bottom
  • brown leather shoes, probably Rockport or another walking-friendly variety
  • short, gray wavy hair that curls up around the edges of the matching cornflower blue visor
  • gray-blue eyes looking downward as she performs her duties
  • simple but class pearl necklace around her neck; single pearl stud earrings
  • more shuffling than walking, seems to be lost in thought
  • no eye contact with any customer; works silently as customers unload their dishes and trash into the marked bins
  • hobby – knitting silently while watching Steve Harvey’s talk show
  • habit – rubbing pearls between thumb and index finger when lost in thoughts, also dipping her right to an unknown beat–a tick she picked up from her mother

Out of Character – Teachers Write! Day #2

Teachers Write!


I am a day behind, so this morning’s quick write for Teachers Write!, author Kate Messner’s virtual writing camp for teachers, will have to be super quick. I’m scheduled to walk with my friend Christina in about an hour, and I need the exercise as much as I need the writing. Let’s see if I can  whip this out.

Yesterday’s prompt was delivered by Phil Bildner, the author of the New York Times bestselling Sluggers! series, the Texas Bluebonnet Award-winning Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy and its companion, The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, both illustrated by C. F. Payne; and Twenty-One Elephants, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Phil’s new picture book, Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans, comes out this month from Chronicle.

Here’s Phil’s prompt…

People make wonderful prompts. Sometimes when I’m building characters, I’ll go to a place public — a coffee shop, a park, the library — and I’ll people watch. When I taught middle school in the New York City public schools, on my way to school, I would sit with my journal in my lap (when I got a seat) and make up stories and build characters based on those around me.
Find a fresh place to write. People watch. Create characters or character traits based on those you see. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the ideas develop.
Here’s my  quick-write response…character development and dinner, courtesy of our 7:30pm trip to Panera.
Anyone glancing over from a nearby booth would see nothing out of the ordinary about the Krikalos family. They might notice Amara’s tossed mahogany brown hair boasting a  rainbow hairwrap, a souvenir of their week spent along the crowded boardwalks of Ocean City, Maryland. Or perhaps they’d focus briefly on  her oversized, highlighter yellow tank top that drapped loosely over a hot pink bathing suit. They probably wouldn’t see the plain white Adidas that thumped beneath the booth seat. No one would comprehend the magnitude of eleven-year-old Amara’s desperation as she sat giggling and sipping tropical-flavored smoothies with her brother, Dorian. Just 11 months younger than his sister, Dorian already had the popular kid look–perfectly coiffed boyband hair the color of Kraft caramels. His olive skin, like Amara’s, had darkened after a week at the shore. Their noses bore peeling pink reminders  of a summer day spent too long in the surf. 
At first, George Krikolos seemed relaxed with his two offspring. His gold-rimmed sunglasses were perched atop his curly salt and pepper hair, which from the front hid the circular patch of baldness that was about the size of a dessert plate. He’d left his charchoal grey Armani suit back at the office, and instead was dressed in nearly all black athletic gear, suited up for the squash game he’d scheduled in an hour with his business partner, Alex Warner. Despite the impending court time, George was determined to make good on the promise he’d made these two kids.
“All the gadgets in the world can’t replace time with you,” his exwife had reminded him a zillion times, most recently at the door for tonight’s custodial tradeoff. Yet gadgets they had. Between laughter and slurps, Amara and Dorian’s restless fingers reached repeatedly for their state-of-the-art iphones. Nothing but the finest for the Krikolos kids. That’s what the world imagined. That’s what every student at Freedom Middle School assumed–and frequently whispered to Amara at her locker, as the masses passed her in the hallways, or as she sat alone rereading Harry Potter for the eighth time.
Forty two minutes is all he could give. One ring and Amara’s father snatched up the glistening black Samsung Galaxy S6, the latest gadget in his work-is-more-important-than-family arsenal. Amara’s hopeful eyes clouded over. She sunk into the booth, twisting her rainbow hairwrap until her scalp burned.
Uh oh. I ran over my time limit. I’ve got to race off to walk with my already waiting friend. I’ll get busy on today’s prompt from guest author, Melodie Crowder, later today.
My dinnertime scribbles at Panera.

My dinnertime scribbles at Panera.

I’m back after my walk and Starbucks run. I know it will be helpful (to me) to reflect on this particular writing experience.
Here’s what I learned: There is a wealth of public material from which to write. It felt a wee bit odd to be studying people from a short distance. I was worried they’d start to notice my glances and resultant scribbling. A few times, I’d ask my daughter or son to peer over and give me a detail I might have missed. I actually wrote three separate descriptions: one for the completely fictional Krikalos family, one for a twentysomething young woman who sat solo flipping through her Ipad, and the last for an older woman who was pushing the cleanup cart. In contrast to the casual, nondescript Panera shirt and khaki pants uniform, the older woman wore a string of pearls around her neck and pearl studs in her ears. I could imagine really developing a character like this–all the subtle contrasts I could paint.
For this morning’s quick write, I focused on the family, which sat the closest to us, because I had gathered the most details. While the children didn’t seem to have any accents, when the father announced, “Finish, so we can leave,” I heard a familiar accent from my own childhood. My next door neighbors were the Krikales, and Mr. Krikales spoke in a distinct Greek accent. So that’s where I borrowed the family name and heritage. I did a little research too, looking up common Greek names for boys and girls. Of course, I got to choose my favorites because it’s my character study. Ha!
As a teacher who daily uses the web for research and inspiration, I realized here, too, I have infinite connections and resources that can help me shape characters and stories. I think I’m diving into sponge mode–full absorption of all that I’m experiencing through this writing playground. Now, it’s off to make lemon icebox pie for my husband, who returns from Nashville tonight. More writing soon.