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Inspiring Writers: Ideas are Genius!

Writing is an art form.

Writing is an art form achieved via a series of steps:

1) It all begins with an IDEA. Without an idea, the writer will simply stare at the blank page.
2) Once there is an idea in the mind of the writer, the PENCIL steps in to translate thoughts to words on the page.
3) When the pencil’s work is complete, the job of the writer is to become a READER. Encourage your students to RE-READ everything they write.
4) Empower students to use the RED PEN as they re-read to REVISE. Teach them to use strong words, to fearlessly re-arrange, to make corrections, and to not be afraid to strike through.
5) Polish the draft, preferably in cursive by hand.

Children have enormous creative potential.


This potential will flourish and they they will thrive as writers when they are inspired to revel in the important work of IDEA making.


THINK Tortoise (not the hare). Learning to write is a long journey, we know this to be true. 


Michaelangelo said:

“If you know how much work went into it you wouldn’t call it genius.”


At the core of each child’s being is some form of genius.

We inspire genius as we inspire children to bring shape to their IDEAS.


When it comes to literacy, much of the exceptional work that your students will accomplish is subjective in nature tied to their ideas.  As students read great stories, they make observations. These observations will inspire ideas. Cataloging ideas in writing over time builds confidence, nurtures skills, develops voice, and motivates students to engage in the work of writing.

Blackbird & Company is an idea born along the way. We have developed an ELA curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade with three things in mind: 1) Work is GOOD, 2) Children are individuals with enormous potential—genius potential, and 3) Idea-making inspires genius to blossom.

When it comes to literacy, much of the exceptional work that your students will accomplish is subjective in nature tied to their ideas.  As students read great stories, they make observations. These observations will inspire ideas. Cataloging ideas in writing over time builds confidence, nurtures skills, develops voice, and promotes true literacy.

IDEAS are genius . Click through to listen in to Motivating Writers: Ideas are Genius on the Sped Homeschool Podcast.

We want ALL students to write well.

We want them to think creatively and to value their ideas.

We want them to know that engaging in the process of writing ideas is worthy because writing is a gift.

When you inspire children to write their IDEAS, their IDEAS will Take Flight!


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Learn with Leonardo





“Whatever you do in life, if you want to be creative and intelligent, and develop your brain, you must do everything with the awareness that everything, in some way, connects to everything else.” ~Leonardo da Vinci


Observation begins with a question: What am I seeing? In a world filled to the brim with stimulation, it is easy to take our senses for granted. Though we are usually quick to have thoughts on things that we taste and smell, sight (of all things) can often be overlooked. We see so many things on a daily basis that it’s easy to forget to stop and really look.



There is nothing like art-making to engage students in active learning. Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential Renaissance Man, made over 13,000 journal observations during the course of his lifetime, and as he did, he not only gained an enormous body of knowledge, but also created masterworks and made significant discoveries that he generously shared with the world. His influence is far reaching.

Over the course of 20 weeks, students will learn to observe from no other than the Renaissance Man himself! Students will research the life of Leonardo Da Vinci and learn to create observational drawings. Watch for our brand new unit to be released early this summer.



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One True Sentence

“Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world.”

In a single sentence,  the first sentence of chapter one, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William KamKwamba draws us in to the world of his small farming village in Malawi.

One day, William was approached by boys who told him that, while tending the herd animals, they discovered a random sack in the road—a giant sack filled with bubble gum! So begins the drama. The boys shared a handful of gumballs, which William, naturally, devours. When the trader realizes, however, that the bag of gumballs had slipped off his bicycle, he retraced his path. That trader was so upset, he went to the local sing’anga for help. When William got wind of this, he was terrified!

“Now the sweet, lingering memory of it soured into poison on my tongue. I began to sweat; my heart was beating fast. … I began crying so hard I couldn’t move my legs. The tears ran hot down my face, and as they did, the smell of poison filled my nose. It was everywhere inside me. I fled the forest as fast as possible, trying to get away from the giant magic eye. I ran all the way home to where my father sat against the house, plucking a pile of maize. I wanted to throw my body under his, so he could protect me from the devil” (page 4).

What comes next? Well, William’s father to the rescue. He walks 8 kilometers to pay the trader for the entire bag of gumballs which, by the way, amounts to a full week’s pay. No magic involved.

William’s father did not fear magic.


The sentence that begins this wonderful true story of how, when William’s family’s crops fail due to drought, William devises a plan—an idea that would not only benefit his village, but would set him on a journey to Dartmouth.

I know this because because the very first wonderful sentence drew me into the story.

“Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world.”


Let’s unpack the sentence:

Before: Well, this word is a preposition (so is “of” by the way).

So the sentence begins with a complex prepositional phrase: Before I discovered the miracles of science, (which is also a dependent clause because it cannot stand alone as a sentence).

The independent clause, magic ruled the world, could actually stand alone as a sentence, though it would be way less intriguing.

Add the dependent clause, to the independent clause and now you have not only contrasting subjects (magic and science), but you have introduced a character and a significant revelation.

Hemingway reminds us: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

One true sentence. Simple. 


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Let’s Talk Just Right Readers

 Books for primary readers are categorized into levels of difficulty—Just Right Readers.

Some of these books are categorized by grade level (GRL), some  by a developmental readiness assessment (DRA), and others still are categorized by a Lexile measure. The purpose of these readers is to provide opportunities for children to read as they are mastering the patterns of phonics.

Hatchling Volume 1 for kindergarten and Hatchling Volume 2 for 1st grade, systematically introduce students to phonics for reading and writing. In the Teacher Helps that is tied to both units, we offer information and strategies including this tidbit at the top of page 9:

“Phonics is a method of teaching students to read and write by helping them HEAR.”


In the English language, there are 44 sounds that make up every single spoken word.  These sound bites are called phonemes. The 26 letters of the alphabet are combined in various ways to replicate the sounds we hear. These are called graphemes. There are around 250 graphemes to write the 44 phonemes! Phenomenal, right? This is the heart of phonics.

During kindergarten and 1st grade, students using our Hatchling curriculum are introduced to over 150 of these graphemes setting them firmly on their way to reading and writing well. As students are introduced to phonics, it is important to practice both reading and writing. Early on, during kindergarten, students will have limited skills. At first, once the consonant and short vowel sounds are mastered, they will be able to read and write “can” or “fun” or “let” with ease. However, they might write “pepl” for “people” because those are the sounds they have mastered. As more complex graphemes are introduced (consonant blends, digraphs, long vowel patterns and so on), the reading and writing lexicon increases.

This is where Just Right Readers enter the scene.

Amelia Bedelia brought delight to my childhood. I mean, she took every figure of speech and turned it upside down, literally! She made me laugh out loud! “Dress the chicken,” seemed an odd task to Amelia Bedelia. But she obediently got on with the task and suddenly the chicken was dressed in overalls! Once upon a time, back in my day, this series of stories was not a Just Right Reader, but rather a wonderful series of picture books. The first twelve books in the series are written by Peggy Parish. After her death, nephew Herman Parish, continued the series. Since 2009, the stories have been adapted for part of the I Can Read series published by Harper Kids.

Just Right Readers are just right for primary readers. So fill a basket with wonderful stories for your Kindergartener, 1st, or 2nd grader. I promise Amelia Bedelia will make them chuckle! I promise she will stand the test of time.



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The Section 5 Project is a CORE Literacy

Aesthetics is a set of principles that inform the outcome of a work of art. It taps into that part of our being that connects with beauty. At the heart of this concept is imagination, and imagination is where ideas are born.

There is a trend in all sectors of education to not only discount the reading of pure fiction, but to undervalue the  power of the arts to speak in a way where words fail. This is not wise. Arts education is inextricably linked to English Language Arts.

Section 5 provides an opportunity for students to practice communicating an idea in a visual language. Because great stories offer fodder for the imagination, each and every Literature + Writing Discovery Guide (the CORE of our language arts offering) sets aside a full week to create and celebrate.

Don’t wait until week 5 to begin thinking about your Section 5 idea!

Make a plan.

During Section 2, begin brainstorming. Download our free planning worksheet to begin. Write down your ideas and, since your Section 5 will include a visual component, create small sketches demonstrating different ways you imagine your idea might take shape and what materials you might utilize.

During Section 3, choose the idea you like best and make a full-page sketch with labels that will help you prepare.

During Section 4, gather all the materials you will need to complete your project build.

After all this, when Section 5 rolls around, your student will be prepared to focus on creating a meaningful project. A project that your student will surely be proud of for years to come. Check out our Student Project Gallery to be inspired. Send us photos of your completed project so we can add it to the gallery to inspire others.

This past fall, during our Professional Development offering, I walked teachers through the following little project connected to one of my favorite childhood reads—The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. With a cardboard box, some printed images, paint, pencil, markers, a tiny linoleum sample, and a bit of glue… voilà!

This story that has stood the test of time (published in 1967) and is, in my opinion, powerful proof why we all need to read across many genres, read all kinds of stories. Every time I’ve led students through this purely fictional story set in a very real setting—The Metropolitan Museum of Art—they engage at once in the mystery, but also gain an appreciation for visual art as they wander the museum with Claudia and Jaime Kincaid.

This past fall, during our Professional Development offering, I offered some tips and tricks to elevate the Section 5 Project Build. Click through to a recording of the session.

Happy Project Build!

~Kimberly Bredberg

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Around the Campfire: Negentropy

If my now adult children are talking about their homeschool experience, they will always say something like, “We homeschooled ourselves.”

I used to get offended and prickly. I’m older now, and have done some thinking about this analysis. The truth is, I purposed to produce learners who could self-feed. I knew that this goal would not be achieved without intentional planning. What my children, perhaps, do not have a full-orbed understanding of is how much time I spent purchasing, planning, preparing, providing and persevering along the way, keeping the perspective of their unique persons in focus.

Tip Number 8.

Promote Negentropy

Yes, negentropy.

The opposite of entropy.

Negentropy is the work of becoming less disordered, which will never happen spontaneously!

This is precisely the work that we engage in when we teachers set out to plan and prepare for a new school year. I have four things to suggest that you keep in mind as you move forward into planning:

  1. Laying out a big-picture plan
  2. Ordering the steps of the pathway
  3. Honoring the individual participants
  4. Expecting the unexpected detours

Whether your students are in elementary, middle, or high school, there is always a need for the big-picture plan. This is the first step of negentropy as you bring order and structure to your building plan. How the building blocks of learning are assembled has much to do with the end result. Skipping pieces or leaving gaps will leave weaknesses and create problems that will need to be addressed sooner or later. Referring to the bird’s-eye-view of the plan throughout the year will help keep you moving toward the larger goal being accomplished and will assist you in adjusting the plan each new school year.

The next step is to create a plan to accomplish the current year’s blocks for building. This will require some type of planning schedule or calendar. I used a master plan overview but also created separate schedules for each of my four children that were used by them daily and updated by me monthly. My oldest daughter, who now homeschools, has a master planner that has all of her children’s plans listed in one location that is shared by all. Choose a method that works for you with your style of education and engage in the work of negentropy by plotting out the daily work expectations for each subject. This detailed breakdown will allow you to look at workload, pacing, and interaction between subjects that makes sense for your students’ schedules.

One critical thing to consider as you plan is honoring the participants and their unique needs. Most programs provide some sort of suggested plan for getting through a curriculum. And Blackbird & Company ELA is no exception, offering yearly outlines, a five-weeks-at-a-glance schedule for our CORE Integrated Literature and Writing, pacing built into student guides, plus a longer planning offering coming this spring. Stay tuned. Generally speaking, at minimum you can take any text, divide its pages by the number of school days, and have some idea of how fast you need to move through the subject. But this does not take into account your family calendar, outside activities, other courses being conquered, learning struggles, or unique family situations that dictate schedule anomalies. Every year will look different. Every child develops at a different pace. One size can never fit all. This part of your planning is where you cater your plans to your people, exercising negentropy as you decide what is best for your students. This is hard work up front that paves a way for a smoother ride during the year.

Finally, expect the unexpected. This is negentropy in action—pushing against the chaos that will hit us if we fail to leave room for what we cannot know. And this is why all planning should always be done in pencil. The plan brings great benefit as a tool for purposeful progress, but there is wisdom in holding that plan loosely. From family crisis to great unseen opportunity, none of us knows what is around the next bend. We do well to allow the space and flexibility to bend with the wind when it blows, whether icy blasts or tropical breezes. And those winds will blow. This does not mean that you need to throw in the towel and give up. It means that you step back, look at the big-picture, and revamp the plan. It may mean that you readjust timelines. School can go year round, follow a traditional plan, or stretch out at a more leisurely pace into the summer. And that can look different every year!

Set the momentum of negentropy going in your home now. It’s never too early!

It starts with a BIG plan, one that gets fleshed out with good curriculum that serves your special people, that enables you to nurture, and to eventually launch your wonderfully unique birdies out of your family nest. I promise you, it will not look the way you thought it would, but it will be rich, and satisfying, and so much more peaceful with the help of a plan.



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Around the Campfire: Play!

Tip Number 6.


Last year, around the campfire, we shared ideas about adding playfulness into your kindergarten and 1st grade routine. This tip bears repeating!


Once students understand that each of the 26 letters of the alphabet have unique sounds that can be combined to represent the words we speak, they will be off and running! But this is just the beginning. Use the Hatchling Phonetic objects and corresponding deck for matching games. Utilizing the moveable alphabet, the possibility for “play” is endless. Children will quickly learn that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card. That’s right, the  teacher is built in, and this helps students confidently enjoy their important work.

1st Grade

By the time students have reached 1st grade, they are confidently reading and writing simple three and four-letter short vowel words with consonants, consonant blends, and digraphs—cat, mug, splat, chin, this, shop, and more. Again, utilizing the moveable alphabet, set up opportunities for students to independently practice the new phonics introduced each week, matching objects to cards and spelling the playful way. Children will have a longer attention span for this activity that is familiar from their kindergarten year. But even students new to Hatchling curriculum, will quickly catch on to the fact that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card.

Play is an opportunity to practice new academic skills.

Play is an opportunity to foster independence.

Play is an opportunity to grow confidence.

I truly hope your students are not afraid to ask questions, that they know they are learning and learning well. I hope they can use all the tools available and add more. I hope they find their mentors and tribes of support. I hope they have fun and play with sounds and words. I hope they treasure stories like you. I hope you both know that they are teachers too!

After talking with many parents I have put our list of extras down that we have shared over the years, that you can incorporate while doing this early learning or remediation work. Please keep checking back to our website for blogs, videos freebies and more added extras. We are making the guide for you!

Extra Playful Tool Kit

Gross Motor

  • Have your student write the letters they are learning outside with chalk, or paintbrush and water. It’s okay to use big fun strokes.
  • Have your student watercolor or paint letters -tracing a piece of paper.
  • Have your student collect stones, sticks or leaves and make the letters with materials.
  • Have your student write the letters in the dirt with sticks.
  • Put the card with the word or sound out on the floor or tape to the wall. Have your student hop or run or dance to the sound you say.
  • Have your student pick an animal and act like that animal while going to tag the card.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt around the house collecting or naming items that start with the sound you are working on.
  • Have your student make the shape of the letter with his body and make the sound.
  • Have your student throw a bean bag on a letter sounds or words you have learned—use the cards from Hatchling or put words on bigger pieces of paper.

Fine Motor

  • Glue buttons or beads onto a big block letter B written on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper.
  • Engage in a beading activity with pipe cleaners.
  • Draw wavy or zigzag lines for your students to cut, following the lines.
  • Use an eyedropper and colored water to drop into little soap saver suction cups.
  • Find pictures in magazines that start with different sounds, cut, and paste.

I Spy Sounds in Books while Reading

Find pictures in books that start with the sound(s) you are working on: “Do you see anything on this page that starts with a ___ sound?” Give your child time and patience. If your child finds a sound but does not start with the sound you asked for respond in an encouraging way, praising the sound they did find. If the sound was “p” but they found “b” you might say: “Wow, you found a picture with the “b” sound,  “ball” begins with this sound! Now ask if you can have a turn too. You can model finding the “p” sound. Look I found something round too, “pizza” starts with a “p” sound.

Moveable Alphabet tips and games

  • The letters in the Moveable Alphabet are organized in alphabetical order to help students process as they see, feel, touch and do. Ask your student to find the letter (or letters) that makes the ___ sound. You can do this weekly after learning sounds, to practice and reinforce. Always have your children find the letters to match sounds and to also put away the letters when possible.
  • Have your student take the letter sound you are working on or reviewing out of the moveable alphabet box. Have your student walk around the room or permitted area and put the letter in front of any object that starts with that sound. You can play this same game with first, middle and last sound. See game below.
  • Put out letters of moveable alphabet in a sequence on the table and have letters that are missing. Have your student fill in the missing letters (examples: a__ c,  d e __,  g __i,  j  k  __).
  • Ask your student to find the first sound in a word. For example, try the word hat (this list can be the same word cards you practice with Hatchling Volume 1 or Volume 2).
  • Ask your student to find the middle sound—this will be the short vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u) in closed syllable words. Closed syllable words have 1 syllable, one vowel, and are closed in at the end by a consonant or consonants. For example, the word “dog” or “stand” are closed syllable words.
  • Play the Magic “E” game. Spell out any of the following words in the lid of the Moveable alphabet:  cap, car, spar, her, them, kit, bit, pin, twin, rod, nod, hop, glob, hug,  cub. Have your student add the Magic “E” to the end of the word and read with the long vowel sound.
  • Play “My Mistake” with your student. Once your child has completed Volume 1C, CVC words (consonant/vowel/consonant words), you can play with the words you have learned and add new ones. Using the CVC objects, spell words and make mistakes. Ask your students to check your words and ask if they are correct. If they find the mistake have them change the letter to make it correct. For example, beside the object “bag” you spell “bog” with the Moveable Alphabet. Have your student correct your mistake.
  • Play “What New Word” with your student.  After completing 1C and 1H in Hatchling, Volume 1, see if your student can make new words out of words they have learned. For example, they learned the word “bag” in Hatchling 1C. How many words can they make if they take away the letter “b” and replace with a different sound (gag, hag, jag, lag, mag, nag, rag, sag, tag, wag, zag)? Let the words be nonsense or part of a longer word or names. Have fun and be playful. The point is you want your student to identify the correct sounds.

Have fun… the thing is, when it comes to PLAY and learning, the possibilities are endless!


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Around the Campfire: Learning the terms!

We never planned on homeschooling. Then suddenly our first child was getting closer to school age and the big question hung over our heads, “Where does she go to school?”

We were in our first small starter home, the last one we could possibly afford left in Orange County. We were not in a good school district. Let’s just say our local school was rated quite low. We thought of the private route and started doing research. That led to us to multiplying tuition times 3 children (our two sons following our beautiful daughter) and it seemed like a plan we could never sustain. On top of these realities, my husband and I were both quite aware that our daughter was going to learn differently—dyslexia ran in our family and we were noticing some of the signs.

Suddenly, paying for private school we couldn’t really afford and having my daughter away from us for 7 hours a day starting in kindergarten didn’t appear like the right plan. At this time, one of my best friends from childhood discovered homeschooling. Next thing I knew, I was ordering books, attending talks and learning about homeschooling. Up to this point I had never heard of anyone who homeschooled and it was quite a mystery to me.

What I did hear over and over from truly everyone was: “Read to your kids!”

This was no problem! Because I loved reading to my kids, this was an easy task.  I loved snuggling, reading aloud, discussing stories, making up stories, acting out stories, listening to stories while we drove. I was told if you read to your kids, they will eventually read. I read and pointed out words and letters, yet, my daughter did not read. Not only did she not read, but she couldn’t even sing the ABC song correctly, let alone identify the letters!  I would consistently sit in groups of other homeschooling moms who would say, “Don’t worry it will come.”

During this time, I met my mentor, friend, and eventually boss through another homeschooling parent. My mentor ran a private school and also had developed a unique language arts curriculum and ran her own publishing company—Blackbird & Company. During this part of the journey I learned why phonics is important. I learned terms like phoneme, grapheme, digraphs, CVC words, syllables and so much more. I think I knew these concepts on some level. I had attended public school and had done quite well in my elementary school years, I was even placed in the gifted programs. But like most people I don’t remember being taught to read.

In the homeschooling world, this concept of “being able to read” always boiled down to a natural process.

This is, of course, partially true. And maybe it is completely true for some children, but for others this “natural process” needs little coaxing. I felt rather lost and ill-equipped. Since this time, I have met many homeschooling parents at conferences. What I love about my job is that I feel I am just another mom talking to other moms about tools that worked for me. Many of the moms I talk to don’t know what a phoneme or grapheme is, or  what CVC even stands for (consonant, vowel, consonant)! I am honored and grateful every time they ask. It is not a sign of intelligence, or an indicator that you will be a good teacher if aren’t familiar with these terms.  I think quite the opposite is true.

I think the best teachers aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know!”  The best teachers readily say, “Can you help me?”

Blackbird & Company curriculum was a breakthrough for me and my children because it broke down the concepts and helped me understand these new terms via hands-on-tools. This led me to becoming Barton Trained, to a study of the Orton-Gillingham method, and a deep dive into the foundational terms that are the foundations of the English language.

This month we will begin to post videos of phonics tips and terms to accompany Hatchling, Volume 1 learning. In these videos we discuss terms you may not recognize and give you tips to support your student in early learning—especially when a student may need a little coaxing! We are adding pages of terms, extra words to work on, and extended lessons to accompany our materials. Videos for Hatchling, Volume 2 will follow late winter, early spring. Our beautifully simple, yet full, Teacher’s Helps is, of course, included in our curated Hatchling kits. Our videos will expand on the tools provided, allowing you to learn right along side your student.

When I met my mentor, I was so overwhelmed and everything felt so complicated. What Blackbird & Company curriculum did for me was take me back to the basics and kept it simple. We started learning what was important—all the right terms—together, slowly and well. You can too!

Tip 4

Learn the terms.

Stay tuned for more Campfire Tips!


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Around the Campfire: On Benchmarks and Wonder

No TIP today, rather, a reminder and an encouragement!

While reading through our Blackbird & Company ELA Benchmark materials, I was awestruck.

Just to hold in my hand a concise stack of pages detailing what a child will learn over their childhood—just in learning to read and write—was both a testimony to what it means to be human and to the powerhouse that is the human brain. Let’s take, for example, the first thing on the list. ”Holds book right side up, turns pages moving from front to back.” We have all seen a toddler holding a book upside down, pretending to read. It’s really a small miracle how one day something just clicks in their brain and they know to turn the book around.

When you think of all the tiny parts of language arts coming together over the span of a child’s early years, it can seem like a daunting task to be the teacher.

How will I hit all those small pieces?

Having two adult children, it’s fun to reflect back on those years and realize how many of the bits and pieces naturally came to my children (at different speeds, of course). I didn’t actually have a checklist of all the small parts (thank goodness or I might have freaked out). Don’t get me wrong, we had our big bumps, especially my son, who did a stint of ELA remediation at Linda Mood Bell. But, it is amazing, each child’s capacity to learn to decode and encode language while growing a love for good books and becoming motivated to share their unique ideas. I just felt this moment of extreme gratitude for what it means to be human, gratitude that all us educators are in this rich vein of motivating young writers to eventually raise their voices in the wide world.

Keep pressing in! The work is worth it!

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Shakespeare + Haiku

Bravo for Shakespeare + Haiku!

Thank you Hadleigh R. for submitting these amazing haiku highlighting our Shakespeare words: watchdog, moonbeams, yelping, and clangor!

We’re so glad our December Giveaway inspired your poetic voice.

And, Congratulations, we are sure Shakespeare would be proud that you carried on his appreciation of the singular specificity of words!