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  On the Verge of Dreaming

Dear Readers,

For the past three months, the highlight of my work week has been the two hours I spend writing, talking, and laughing (lots of laughing) with a group of homeschoolers ages 12-15. On the Verge of Dreaming presents a sampling of the writing that has come out of our time together. As you read through the magazine, I hope you can hear the purpose and imagination of their individual voices, as well as the character of the group as a whole.

The writing pieces included reflect both the humor and the insight that I so much enjoyed in all of our work together. I cannot read them without also thinking about how much these young writers enjoyed one another's writing and how sensitively they responded to each other's work. Within these pages are echoes of some of the conversations we had about the writing process and the writing that we admire, as well as the fun we had working and talking together. If all of this entices and inspires you to do some writing of your own, we have included some ideas at the end of this magazine.

Enjoy your reading!

Rebecca Yahm
December 2003


On the Verge of Dreaming was created by Sam Barrocas, Eric Hendel, Sarah King, Emily Maheux, Eliza West, and Rebecca Yahm. Many thanks to Rod West for technical assistance! Cover Art by Eliza.

 We're Seasons

By Sarah King

Here I come with sunset leaves,
Here I come cold makes you wheeze,
Here I come get out long sleeves,
I'm fall.

Here I come with frigid air,
Here I come sunlight is spare,
Here I come snow's everywhere,
I'm winter.

Here I come with melting snow,
Here I come warm breezes blow,
Here I come soon seeds you'll sow,
I'm spring.

Here I come with sunny heat,
Here I come with crops so sweet,
Here I come kids have bare feet,
I'm summer.

Here we come we'll change each day,
Here we come we'll make you gay,
Here we come then be our way,
We're seasons.

Women Soldiers & Spies During the Civil War

By Emily Maheux

While the Civil War was progressing there were not only men fighting on the battlefield but women as well. In fact, an estimated four hundred women joined the army undetected. They disguised themselves as men and fought as men without anyone knowing their secret. There were also women who were spies and gathered information for their side. With all the difficulties and sadness they must have gone through, without a doubt they still had courage.

The rights and privileges back then were few for women. Opportunities to get involved were scarce. Some women couldn't stand being separated from loved ones going off to war. Others felt they served their country best on the battlefield. There were some working for the Confederate military and others for the Union.

Loreta Velazquez had a husband who joined the army. She begged him to take her with him but he refused. Soon after he left she decided to go anyway. She cut off her hair and glued on a mustache. On top of that she had to practice walking with a swagger and deepening her voice. " Fear was a word I did not know the meaning of," said Loreta. " As I noted the ashy fear and trembling limbs of some of the men about me, I almost wished I could feel a little fear, if only for the sake of sympathy for the poor devils."

Sarah Edmonds grew up riding horses, fishing and hunting with her brothers. She hated the life of a lady and always had. At age 20 she ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage. Afraid of being found by her family she traveled to Connecticut and then on to Michigan. There she had come to be known by most as an upstanding young man with many female admirers. Her friends were very impressed by her shooting and riding skills. Once the Civil War started she became a Union spy. Her most well known act of bravery was when she darkened her skin and posed as a black laborer behind enemy lines. She took notes on the plans and defenses of the Confederate base and reported back to the Union military. While working as a slave, she overheard a Confederate spy recounting his findings of the Union army. Thanks to Sarah he was caught. After the war ended, Sarah married and had three children.

Belle Boyd was another spy during the Civil War but she did not disguise herself. Instead she worked as a woman providing information to the army of West Virginia. Belle was so brazen that she, unlike most spies, signed her name on her letters. Because of this she was arrested a number of times. She didn't give the guards an easy time though. She sang Southern songs and put a picture of Jefferson Davis in her cell. After a while they became completely exasperated by her. Near the end of the war Belle was captured once again. With her ability to charm men she convinced the young soldier holding her captive to run away with her. The two of them went to England and later were married.

Most women ended their adventures because they were wounded and brought to a doctor to be examined. Many women died on the battlefield and were buried as a soldier, their secret intact. There were some, like Jennie Hodgers, who made it out of the war alive and unharmed. Preferring to stay as a man, she continued her life as Albert Cashier. Only after dying in a car accident in 1911 was she discovered.

On April 9th of 1865 peace came at last. The Civil War had ended. These four hundred women did many great things. With the law against them you can imagine how tough it must have been. Whether they were soldiers or women spies I think we can all agree that it took an amazing amount of bravery and courage to do what they did.



By Eliza West

I've shrunk.
I used to be big, but now I've shrunk.
And there's a bit of me
That looks like what I used to be. (Just smaller)
And there's a bit that looks like my description:
It, or she I guess, has blond hair, blue eyes, and is 5'3".
But she's not me.
And there's a bit of me that looks like what I want to be,
And there's a bit that's the meaner me,
But I am me and that's the truth!
I don't feel like I'm them,
But do they feel like they're me?
There in a corner are good and bad,
And over here are happy and sad,
That one's me turned inside out,
But I am me without a doubt.
Or maybe I am just my soul, my heart, my mind,
The three of them entwined.
Oh me Oh my,
I'm me I'm I.

The Adventures of Willy and Google

By Eric Hendel

Chapter One

Google was no ordinary hamster. For one thing, he had excellent dental health. For another, he had been entered into twelve hamster races and won every time. And last but not least, unbeknownst to his caretaker, Walter, he was a top-ranking member of the FFIS, the Federal Furry Investigation Society. He and his colleague, Willy, (a mischievous tabby with an appetite for tuna) were standing their post in Walter's upstairs apartment in downtown New York.

It happened on the Monday of June 4, 2001. Google and Willy were busy carrying out their morning schedule: wake up, eat, go to sleep, wake up again. After that, Walter was at school, and they didn't have to hide their intelligence. That meant they were free to do whatever they wanted to do. For Google, this meant picking the lock on his cage, making a strong pot of coffee, and reading every book in the house. For Willy, this meant raiding the kitchen for his daily feast of tuna, then reprogramming the computer to shout insults at whoever turned it on.

It was at this time that it happened. Google was halfway through The Lord Of The Rings when he heard Walter's computer begin to shout insults in the other room. Someone had turned on the computer. Google crept quietly down the hall (not that anyone would have heard him; he is a hamster). Google could hear Willy smacking away in the kitchen on what must have been the last can of tuna in the house. Just then, the computer made a particularly loud and insulting remark about something. Google heard the rapid pattering of cat feet behind him, and he turned around. Willy must have heard the computer turn on too, but unlike Google, he had taken a much more dramatic approach because at that moment, Willy was running at top speed down the hall toward him. Google thought he'd be flattened, but just at the last second Willy leapt into the air, sailing straight over Google and right into the closed door to the computer room.

The impact sent the door and Willy flying backward. Willy landed with a soft thud in front of Google, and the door hit the wall with an extremely loud crash, revealing an empty computer room. The computer was now completely turned on. And perfectly centered in the screen, flashing in bright red, were the words "Incoming Transmission From FFIS Headquarters. Activate Your Intercom."

When Google and Willy had first arrived at Walter's apartment, the FFIS had installed a few escape routes, which could only be used by Willy and Google. They had also installed a device that would alert them if the FFIS sent out a transmission by turning on Walter's computer. The device would only alert them, although not display the actual transmission, in case Walter was there. And Google knew that even Walter would notice if his computer started to display messages from a secret organization addressed to his cat and hamster.

Looking slightly ruffled, Willy got to his feet. "Are you all right?" Google asked him.

"I think so," he said, shaking himself a little in an attempt to straighten his fur but only making it look more ruffled. " Who turned on the computer? ''
" No one,'' said Google. "The FFIS remotely activated the computer. They want us to turn on our intercom.''

"Oh,'' said Willy, stopping his attempts to straighten his fur, and he bounded off to get the intercom. He returned a few minutes later with what appeared to be a pink cat toy shaped like a star in his mouth.

"That's where you hid the Intercom?'' said Google, looking at the toy that Willy had dropped in front of him and noticing that it smelled strongly of catnip.

"Yep,'' said Willy rather triumphantly, " I've got four different decoys hidden throughout the apartment. They all look exactly the same, except that the one with the intercom doesn't squeak when you press it. ''

Google knew that it was normal for FFIS employees to hide their technology, but he did think that Willy was overestimating Walter. After all, this was the human who had failed to notice that his supply of tuna mysteriously disappeared every week. Then again, Willy sometimes took his job a little too seriously at times. This was probably a good example.

Willy put his paw on top of the toy and pressed down on it hard, then pulled his paw away. There was a loud click, followed by something that sounded like a small motor turning on. Then a beam of light shot up from the center of the star and split in two, forming a V shape. In between the two beams of light, words began to appear.

"A meeting has been called, and we are now sending the transport carts to the stations. They will all arrive roughly within ten minutes." The intercom went blank, and the holographic screen briefly displayed static with the words "End of Transmission" before shutting down. Google and Willy quickly began to get to work. Transmissions from the FFIS were usually this blank in case there was a human listening who was not a member, but the transmission was simple enough to understand.

The transport carts were the primary mode of transportation for many of the FFIS members. Since the FFIS headquarters were located on an island in the middle of the ocean, they needed a fast and reliable form of transportation but still one that the humans would not be able to detect. Over the last few hundred million years, the FFIS had been able to use light-weight, supersonic jets, but thanks to radar towers and the sudden obsession some humans had found with unidentified flying objects, it had become clear that they needed to change their transportation methods.

Google and Willy set off down the hall to the escape route that led to the transport carts station. This was an air vent that was rigged so that Google or Willy could easily open the lid by turning a dial that was disguised as a loose screw. When they got to the vent, Google turned the dial. There was a loud click, then a hissing noise as the lid moved back a few inches, then the sound of turning gears, and the lid moved off to the right, leaving a clear path into the vent. The passage turned left about two feet back and went straight for about seven feet. They came to a tunnel that branched off from the main pipe and turned down. It was clear that this was not part of the building's ventilation system.

As usual, it was Willy who went first. Nervously he walked forward and looked over the edge of the new tunnel. Even though he knew it was completely safe, he never liked using this passage. The tunnel was basically a slide that curved gradually until it was pointing straight down, and he couldn't tell anything else about it because of the dim light. Deciding it was best to get it over with, Willy leapt lightly into the tunnel.

The slide was made of a substance that had almost no friction. Willy felt the direction of gravity shift as the tunnel tilted down. Immediately, it seemed like the slide had turned straight down and Willy was plummeting through the air without anything to grab onto. Finally Willy felt the tunnel level out, and after a few seconds, he slid out of the tunnel into a brightly lit room and landed on something like a large pillow. Willy got off the pillow and in the distance he heard a faint beep to signal that the tunnel was clear. After a few minutes, Google slid lightly out of the tunnel and scrambled easily off the pillow, as if this was some sort of simple daily tradition like going to work.

Chapter Two

The room they had entered was almost like an underground train station because there was a set of tracks that ran parallel to the room. The room was about ten-feet wide and forty-feet long. The walls on the right side were lined with computer monitors. The wall on the left was almost entirely made of windows, showing the underground train track. Google looked at the clock on the monitor. They had received the message from the FFIS three minutes ago, so the transport cart should arrive in about seven minutes. The FFIS had set the speed of the transport carts so they would all arrive at about the same time. That way, it didn't matter how far they had to go.

About seven minutes later, Willy and Google heard the distant sound of two jet engines, and a few seconds later, the jet engines shut off. About ten seconds after that, a transport cart came coasting along the track, looking like a small futuristic trolley with two jet engines on either side. The transport cart stopped in front of the glass door that led out of the station with a screeching noise that sounded a lot like the sound a train makes when it stops. The glass slid aside, and the cart extended a ramp that placed itself on the floor of the station.

Google and Willy walked up the ramp into the control room of the cart. Inside of the transport carts, there were two rooms: one room at the front and one room at the back. The room in the front had three windows. There was a set of computer monitors below the front window and two seats. The other room had a kind of refrigerator in the wall with a wide assortment of food. There were also four more seats, only these looked more comfortable. Willy went to the front room. There actually wasn't any reason they needed to have controls in the cart unless there was an emergency. Willy looked at the monitors and found the information he needed and then went into the back room where he found Google sitting in one of the large comfortable chairs. The chair was about three times too big for him so that his legs stuck out in front of him. He looked over as Willy came in.
"Did you find anything out about the reason the FFIS called from the computer?'' he asked.

"Not really, but I did find out that the transport cart is on auto-pilot and is set to leave in three minutes.''

"It must be really important then. We should see if we can find anything out on the computer in this room."

"I'll see if it has anything," said Willy. He walked over to the large computer screen on the back wall of the room. Instantly the screen turned on and the words "Is there anything I can do for you?" appeared on it.

"Yes," said Willy, "I would like to know the reason that this transport cart has been sent to this station."

A new set of words appeared on the screen. "Please answer the following questions: What is your species?"

Willy answered "Cat."

New words appeared on the screen: "What is your name?"

Willy answered. The questions went on like this for a couple of minutes until the computer was satisfied that this really was the cat, Willy, and not another identical cat that was for some reason pretending to be Willy.

At last there was a small ding, and the computer displayed a new set of words: "The information that you have requested is not included in the computer's data base. Please use another computer if you wish to find this information."

Willy sighed and walked over to one of the chairs and sat down.

"I wonder if they really have a reason for all of this, or if they just got bored over there," said Google with a humorous tone in his voice.

Just then there was a loud beep, and the transport cart jolted as it turned around so the front of the cart was facing in the right direction. There was another jolt as the cart's brakes released and it began to move forward. From their seats Willy and Google could see out of the front window in the control room. The tunnel in front of the cart lit up as the transport cart's headlight turned on. The track in front of them began to tilt down, and the transport cart started to pick up speed. Soon the jet engines started up, and the small craft entered the main tunnel.

The next thirty seconds were almost like being on a roller coaster. The cart sped through the complex system of tracks as the navigational computer attempted to find a clear path. When it finally bumped onto a track that did not have another transport cart traveling to the same destination, Willy was starting to feel sick to his stomach, although Google looked like he had been enjoying himself, and as soon as the fasten-seatbelt sign was turned off by the computer, he hopped out of his seat and scrambled to get a bag of hamster snacks. Willy, feeling slightly dizzy, had to wait for more than the fasten-seatbelt sign to be sure that the room wasn't suddenly going to jolt sideways, and when he finally did get up to get a bag of synthetic tuna (all the meat in the FFIS was synthetic) he was careful not to look at the front window in the control room, because he knew from experience that the sight of hundreds of support beams rushing by at four hundred miles an hour never was good for his appetite. But once Willy had walked back over to his seat, he almost forgot about the speed of the cart, and he and Google both spent the next five minutes enjoying their snacks. . . . Neither of them noticed the peculiar waver of what should have been the usual, constant humming noise of the cart's engines. . . .

To Be Continued


By Rebecca Yahm

I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into thinking. ­ John Seed

Awareness is both older and younger than me--
the mountains and the rivers
the wolves howling at the borders
the ancestors and the animals they killed to understand

asking for forgiveness as the wind comes up,
asking for forgiveness
of the big trees
the one wing
and the tangled stems growing,
and going northward

skirting the edges of truth
wanting to know and to be known
howling at the borders of the wood that is my life,
a thousand tangled stems
and the one who flew over
many days ago

my being, their truth
the wind blowing
and the borders


Note: This poem came out of a writing activity in which ten lines are chosen at random from different books of published poetry and prose, and then taken apart and crafted into something new.

The Emotional Tributary

By Sam Barrocas

I am anxious.
For what I do not know.
The tension is rising like a tiger.
Hard work makes me perfect
and normal.
shedding drops of water brightly.
tell me what is coming!
Should I make haste?
Or tumble endlessly
in front of the stars.
Serpentine feelings.
All of which connecting
like this poem
Perceptive panthers
their eyes glowing in the dark.
Their eyes guide me home.
Flaring above in my dreams
the unknown world flies by.
Quietly telling me to go.
and anxiety
tell me that my nature is wrong.
Sinners will see
and be afraid.
I wait for land.
Wishing to glimpse the alligator flags
strewn throughout the saw grass.
Reminiscent of water
and wind I stand.
Fill your world with love!
But do not think of peril.
For we all fit together.

Prologue to a Fairytale

By Eliza West

Bixrah's mother stood with her daughter at the door of the small room that was the five-year-old's bedchamber. In a gentle voice she asked her daughter if she was going to be good and rest awhile before that night's celebration, or like usual, be naughty and create a ruckus. Bixrah drove a bargain, "All right, Mum, I'll be good, but can I have a glass of lemon and honey when I wake up?"

"Whatever, dear, just go to bed and stay there." Her mother replied.

Bixrah climbed into bed, lay flat on her back, and pretended to sleep. Her mother, Keerein, smiled as she closed the door. Her daughter wasn't sleeping now, but she might just doze off after accomplishing the mischief she undoubtedly had in mind.

Bixrah heard her mother heading down the stairs. She waited until she could hear her mother's voice coming from the big kitchen. Then she crept quietly out of bed, and found the oil can she kept hidden under it. Next she climbed to the top of the dresser, which stood next to her door, via a drawer staircase. She made this by pulling the bottom drawer out all the way and the second one out just a bit less than the first and so on and so forth until she reached the top. As she triumphantly seated herself atop the dresser she realized she had forgotten the oil can.

When she had finished retrieving the oil can and was back on top of the dresser she greased the hinges on the door. Then she replaced the oil can under her bed, and put on her slippers.

Bixrah opened the now squeak free door and snuck into the hall. She left the door just a bit open behind her so that she could get back in a hurry if she had to.

Bixrah tiptoed to the top of the stairs. She had just started down the plush carpets steps when she heard someone rap on the front door. It must be one of the guests, she thought. She scurried back up the stairs and hid just inside the door of her bedchamber.

Bixrah heard her mother open the door, and heard her grandmother's voice. Now Bixrah loved her grandmother very much, so forgetting that she was supposed to be asleep in bed, she ran down the stairs to greet her. She threw her out arms around her Granny and gave her a wild hug. "Bixrah, how good is to see you!" Her grandmother exclaimed.

For the next few minutes there was the bustle of hanging up coats and clapping the snow off of boots. When that was finished Bixrah turned to her mother, "Mum, do I have to take a nap?" and now to her grandmother, "Granny would you please please pleeease tell me a story?"

Her grandmother spoke, "I'll tell you a story before you nap, but then you must listen to you mother and go to sleep."

She agreed, and they trooped back up the stairs to her bedchamber. Bixrah got into bed and her grandmother sat in the rocking chair. "What do you say I tell you a story of Bixrah Santa of the Ellyn, the girl that you are named for?"

To Be Continued

These are some activities our group enjoyed and we would like to share them with you. Here's how to do them:

Title Tales

Give everyone in your group a few small slips of paper, and ask them to brainstorm a few possible story titles. Write the titles on the slips of paper. Next put all the slips of paper in a hat and let each person draw 2 or 3 titles. Each person then writes a short story to fit one of the titles. Share the stories with your group.

Here are some of our favorite titles that we made up:
Rabbit Eyes
The Hay in the Needle Stack
Purple Worlds
The Cows of the Love Lagoon
The Serpent's Tongue
The Boy Who Couldn't Buy Eggs
The Universe is a Nutshell

Rabbit Eyes

By Sarah King

Rabbit eyes, and the way to prepare them, were developed by the Awakasali Native American tribe from the Maine area, between 0 and 1000 AD. The Awakasali, being a people who love nature and didn't want to kill more animals than necessary, found that when dried, rabbit eyes were quite good to eat. They are also salty, chewy, and soft, as well as high in vitamins and minerals.
If you would like to make your own dried rabbit eyes, kill a rabbit, (the eyes turn out best when a rabbit has white fur at the time of killing). After you have brought the rabbit home, cook it whole without skinning it and the eyes will separate and come to the top. Fish them out and dry them by liberally salting and then pushing a needle with a thread attached through each eye. After about six months they are ready, and can be used anytime from then until two years after. About half an eye ground into a soup gives it a delightful flavor. They are also very good plain.
Also, don't forget to be kind to the animal world just like the Awakasali were, and cook the rest of the rabbit. For instructions, look in the cookbooks Food from the Woods to Your Table or The Woodsman's Guide to Good Eats.

This is a fictional piece and none of the information is necessarily accurate.


Round Robins

Grab your group of friends again and try this one out. Let one person in your group write the first paragraph or so of a story on piece of paper. Fold over all but the last line and passed it to the next person let them continue the story. Keep going this way until everyone in your group has had a turn. Remember, the last person has to end the story.
Here's one our group did:

It was a hot day on the airstrip but my job was my job. I sat there the metal suit of armor on my body and waited as the giant Boeing 77 came hurtling down the runway at me. I thought about running and tackling him but then instead I just decided to run. There is the pool! I jumped. Maybe it was the fast running, maybe it was the jumping into the pool, but he ran past without noticing me, or so I thought. When I emerged again, thinking I was safe, it had grown dark. I continued on my way, never losing sight of my original mission (although many of the details seemed to have faded with the daylight). So focused was I on my purpose, that I didn't notice the shadow creeping along behind me. When I finally did notice it, it was light and I don't know how I did notice it, anyway by that time it was very tired and had fallen asleep.

Some Qualities of Good Writing

(notes from a writing conversation)

- you can tell the author enjoyed what they were writing

- truthful ­ has internal logic and consistency

- *** humorous!!!***

- descriptive ­ detailed but not boring

- the author brings you into the story ­ you can relate to it

- specificity

- multi-layered ­ author may not see all the layers

- simplicity vs. complexity ­ consistent style and tone

- writer has to be clear, not confused

- contains something real (emotion, interactions, etc.)


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