Thursday, December 19, 2013

An island greeting...

No man is an island, entire of itself.
Each man is part of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod of earth fall off into the sea,
Europe is the less, as much as if
A promontory were, as much as if
A Manor of thy friends or thine own were.

Every man’s death diminishes me
Because I am involved in mankind;
Therefore, never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

from Meditation XVII by John Donne (1571-1631)

No one is completely alone. We are all integral to someone else. Each of us is a sister, daughter, wife, mother, niece, aunt, brother, son, husband, father, nephew, uncle, grandchild, and/or friend to someone. No one comes into the world with no connections. Because of that, we, each of us, touch other’s lives in some way. We each have the grand opportunity, the weight of glory (as CS Lewis calls it), to help each person we come into contact with toward light or darkness. How that light or darkness will play out in someone’s life, we may never know, but we all have that glorious burden to bear.

John Donne reminds us about this divine calling in his Meditation XVII. A clump of dirt falling into the ocean makes the nation that much smaller. A grain of obsidian sand pulled from the beach of Hawaii--or that pristine white sand granule from Florida washing into the Gulf--causes all of America to shrink. Donne says that even a bit of earth that falls into the rolling blue lessens the country from which it falls.

That grain of sand, that person we lose thanks to whatever tide goes rolling out, is part of my continent. I am diminished. I am affected because "I am involved in mankind." Therefore I must look to those people in my life whom I know I have the opportunity to impact. Am I doing enough to keep erosion from occurring? Am I sharing light or darkness? Am I listening and reacting to the tolling of the bells that ring? I hope so.

Several iron bells rang out that touched me personally this week. I am sure that any number of bells tolled throughout the nation and world, and we were all affected by the resounding of those iron bells in our lives. Our diminished selves may be tempted to retreat; I need to remember that it is at these times, especially, that I need to look to friends and family whose love can help bring light instead of darkness. Their warm greetings help soothe the sadness that sudden loss brings.

Hawaii's greeting of "Aloha" which means hello and goodbye is perhaps that perfect phrase at times like this, when we must say goodbye to those whose bell has rung while at the same time welcoming our friends and family into holiday homes. Blessings and love to all those of us who have heard the bells ring this week; also, welcome and good cheer to those who will be ringing doorbells for Christmas. So, "Aloha" dear hearts.




RIP MM and BM 12/16/2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kind words...


          “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We all learn too early that words can indeed be hurtful. We’re supposed to let the taunts and maledictions slide off our psyches like water off a duck’s back, but we don’t. The words float into the cracks and crevices and lodge there like black mold spores, just waiting for the right soil and temperature conditions before growing a new crop of fungus. Hurtful words fester and destroy, sending a decay through our systems that could be fatal, at least emotionally, if we let them take over.
          Mother Teresa’s quote, however, shows how the right word, aptly spoken, brings a new truth to light. Just as the hurtful word flung at us in a time of pain or angst or anger can grow in the dark corners of our souls, the kind words spoken are like ripples. The hateful words grow like fungi; the kind words are like echoes. Mother Teresa’s quote reminds us that we should be speaking kind words. The words echo through us and around us and will continue to peal as long as we live. What’s nice, too, is that an echo is directionless; you cannot tell where the shout comes from. All you know is the echo of joy that floods your heart as your memory brings it to the forefront of your mind. It does not matter who said it; it is enough that it cuts through the fungus and opens the earlids of our soul.
          The kind word, dropped like a gentle rain onto my life--perhaps by someone not even realizing the verbal refreshment he or she is giving--creates an echo that will come back to me just when I need it. At the moment I am tired, I will hear the echo of a friendly voice: “You can do it!” At the moment I am despairing, I will hear the reverberations of some person's encouragement: “You are not alone!” At the moment I feel the mold growing and taking over portions of my soul, I hear the repetition of a beloved voice calling out across the canyon in my heart, “You are loved!”  And the beautiful words ring on, forever, calling out to me, spreading light in the darkened corners and eradicating the mold.

         So, today, if you get the chance, be the person to spread the echoes of good into someone's life.  You never know how much a person needs to hear these "short and easy to speak" words of kindness.  It may be that gently spoken word at just the right time that will make all the difference.  Blessings, dear friends.  Remember: you can do it; you are not alone; and you are loved!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Echoes...and a Lesson about Patriotism on Veteran's Day

       During our Veteran's Day assembly this morning the most beautiful thing occurred: the Mixed Chorus sang the National Anthem--which was beautiful indeed--and the Veterans who were in attendance started singing with them.

       The men and women of the Armed Forces sang.  Many were in their uniforms from when they served or are still serving. Some were bent over with age, but still standing as proudly as they could, arthritic hands folded gently over their hearts.  Still others held their caps over their hearts in slightly shaky hands.  Others saluted as smartly as they could, and somehow, despite their ages or infirmities, held that salute without trembling until the very end of the song.

      Their voices, though, lifted in tribute to the nation they'd served with pride, were strong and true.  Even in "the rocket's red glare" part, where young voices sometimes have problems reaching those higher notes, these Veterans sang with zeal.  It was unexpected, as they weren't supposed to be singing along.  The choir was doing a special number honoring them.  But still, they sang.

      And then it happened.  The beautiful thing.  The choir, for dynamic effect, had built pauses into the accapella song near the end; however, the Veterans, not knowing this, sang the final phrases out boldly into the stillness as a rich counterpoint to the choir's harmonies, causing an echo when the choir sang the same words just seconds later.
       "For the Land of the Free..... and the Home of the Brave...."
                     "For the Land of the Free".... and the Home of the Brave...."

       The older voices of the Veterans, grave with emotion and dignity and age, echoed by the young voices of the choir, filled with hope and vigor and youth, created an epiphany that filled my eyes with tears.  Here was the proper order of things--the elders showing the youth how to be patriotic, with gusto and full voice.

      So, thank you, Veterans, for all you have done for us in the past, and for what you are still doing for us today.  You teach us how to be proud to be Americans in this land of the free and home of the brave.  Our lesson for today: sing out strong and proud with our hearts united, and let those who come behind us echo the passion and purpose that makes this nation great.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Civic Duty

      I looked around the courtroom today at this slice of America and realized that I was going to miss these people.  It's strange to think that way since we were still mostly strangers, even though we'd been meeting once a month for a year and a half.  We covered a wide swath of ages, careers, and life experience.  We ranged in age from a college co-ed to a man in his seventies.  Our job titles covered farmer, social worker, welder, teacher, salesman, HR manager, EMT, government worker, and everything in between.  The education levels fluctuated from high school graduate to master's degree.  We were a true American melting pot of people all involved in the Constitutional ritual/requirement of jury duty.
      Juries all over this nation are part of the process of hearing evidence and deciding whether it is enough to indict.  Now it was our turn.  We hadn't the foggiest idea what we'd gotten into, but then again, it wasn't something we had chosen.  Of the seventy or so people gathered together, we were the ones who made the cut.  We told the court who we were, what we did, and explained what, if any, impediments we may have to serving. The old schoolyard pick was not in evidence because we were all on the team just by being law-abiding citizens. We had been, by luck of the draw, brought here, and then, based on qualities unknown to us, we were selected.  We settled into our chairs, opened the binders they gave us delineating our roles, and went to work.  The process of being a check to someone's balance was about to begin.
      I have to be honest here and say that I was was not ready for that whole check and balance thing.  It's one thing to enjoy watching TV cop shows like "Criminal Minds" and "NCIS" or even "Law and Order: SVU."  It's a completely different thing to find out that fiction mirrors reality.  The cases that came before us were hard.  They showed the underbelly of the wonderful area in which we lived.  We learned that there are people who want to take the easy way or the quick way or the horrific way to get what they want.  Drugs.  Murder.  Child Porn.  Bank robbery.  I know I live in my own little world; I am aware that I tend to look at the world through very rose-colored glasses.  After all, I live in a part of the world I had always considered to be relatively crime-free.  We're smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt.  Springfield, MO is a growing city, but it is still far from being a huge city with a huge city's crime, right?
      Innocence lost, but experience and wisdom gained.
      Despite what we learned about the horrible things people did to each other in their attempt to break laws, the process was enlightening.  Sure, hearing about the dark side of human nature often left us weary and disheartened.  However, there was a bright side of this experience, too.  We got to know each other, beyond our names and job titles.  We went to lunch with each other.  We rejoiced with each other at a child's graduation or a wedding.  We commiserated when a family member passed.  We sent get well cards after one of us had surgery.  We learned that there were hard-working officers of the court, honorable people in various agencies, and honorable people who wanted justice done.
      Today what I saw on their faces was completely different from the looks on these faces eighteen months ago.  Apprehension, anxiety, and resignation were our expressions then.  Today we were proud, excited, and sad.  We'd been counting down till this date, looking forward to having completed our service; but now that it was finally here, we all admitted we'd do it all over again.  The time we'd spent together in that room had bonded us in a strange way; we might never see each other again, but it felt as if we were long-lost cousins who, though we hadn't wanted to go to the family reunion, now didn't really want to leave.  And it was exactly like that.  It was a family in the larger sense.  We're all Americans.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ode to Autumn...

Leaves falling, turning from green to gold to flame
The flickering of jack-o-lanterns and campfires
Indian corn, pumpkins, and gourds
The golden moon, hanging low, close enough to touch
Blue skies that lead to starry nights
Seeing my breath floating outside my body

Felted, foggy mornings that melt into sunny days
Air cool enough to give goosebumps
Weather having fits--rain one moment, sun the next
Sweaters and flannel shirts, jeans and pj pants
Gloves and scarves, earmuffs and mittens
Fluffy blankets and fleece sweatshirts

Hot apple cider touched with spice steams in a mug
S’mores and toasted marshmallows—sticky and sweet
Candy corn, caramel apples, and popcorn balls
Thanksgiving dinner with family gathered ‘round
The captivating, yeasty smell of homemade bread
The musky aroma of burning leaves and dead wood

The crackle and crunch of crisp leaves underfoot
The rustle in the treetops as the breeze rushes wildly by
Thunderstorms booming and gray skies crying
The haunting call of geese on the wind
Days getting shorter, nights getting longer
Summer fading, winter coming.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Homecoming...

It's homecoming week at school.  We've had a fun time dressing up in strange costumes all week in preparation for Friday night's game and dance.  It's been a bit of a crazy time, and it is super easy to get caught up in the hype and forget about the point of homecoming: coming home.  They say (whoever "they" are) that a person can't go home again, but I had an experience a couple of years ago during a similar homecoming week that reminds me that maybe, sometimes, you can.

Fall, 2011....
          I was visited today by a student who used to give me trouble every day. He was not the “ideal” student in any way—he was obstinate, he hated to do his work, hated to be told what to do (well, so he WAS a normal teenager), didn't like writing, and most of all didn’t like English. He was never going to have to use proper grammar; he didn't care if he ever spoke correctly; writing was the last thing he'd ever do.
         I didn't know what I could to reach him. He was failing my class (all classes, really), and more than anything he didn't know how to help himself. One day he was refusing (AGAIN) to do his written work. I kept him after class for a “come to Jesus moment”—yes, we have those in public school too—to explain yet again WHY he needed to do his written work.
         He ‘liked reading well enough,’ he'd argued slightly, but his ‘handwriting was horrible, and his spelling was even worse, so why try?’ He ‘knew the answers,’ why should he ‘have to write them down to prove it?’
         I must have said the right thing, or the Holy Spirit spoke through me, because it was like he actually SAW me and HEARD what I had been saying for weeks. If he ever wanted to do anything (even if he never went to a traditional college), I explained, he would need to be able to use his reading AND writing skills.  Even if the only writing he did was fill out a job application, someone needed to be able to read it—and he couldn't always rely on someone else to write it for him. What if, I went on, your boss asks you to fill out a proposal or form or whatever…? What then; are you going to tell him, “I know the answers, why should I write them down?”
        I asked him what he wanted out of his life, and he seemed to realize that I really wanted to know and cared what happened to him. He didn't have a plan; he said he didn't know what he wanted other than just to maybe get through the year until his birthday when he could drop out.  I told him that he was settling for less than he was, for he was a smart kid who was letting himself down.  I told him about the potential for great things that he was wasting if he didn't apply himself.  I’m sure I said more that I can’t recall. What I do recall is that he changed. 
        He began to put forth effort and show that he wasn't settling for less than he could do.  He didn't turn into a star student who always got an 'A' on everything, but he was no longer willing to give up when it got hard or when he didn't understand.  Even the next year when he wasn't in my class, he came to me for help or for advice. I was so proud of him when he graduated from high school two years of hard work later. I was glad that I had any kind of impact in his life.  It was a great moment when he walked across the stage, knowing that he had done his best.
        And then time passed.  I hadn't thought of this particular student in several years.  The last of his siblings had graduated, so there wasn't anyone I could ask for information about his life.  He'd moved on to I didn't know where. That's why, when he showed up at my classroom door this morning before school, I was blessed beyond measure and a bit surprised. He stopped by, he said, to thank me for helping him and “putting a fire in his belly" to do all that he could do to make something of himself.  He wanted to let me know that he had done something with his life--that he hadn't settled for less than he could be.  He showed me his diploma from a welding school, proud to show it off to a teacher he remembered pushing him toward a future he hadn't really considered possible.
        He didn't stay long; in fact, the whole experience only took about five minutes of his time.  However, it was just what I needed; it was a blessing, giving me a tangible reminder that I AM doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I am building cathedrals in my student’s lives.  Thanks, former student, for stopping by during homecoming week to show me that it is not always true that you can't come home again.  Thanks, also, for showing me that homecoming is about more than a football game and a dance; it's also about remembering the people who are still there and the things about home that make coming back worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Golden Sky...



Golden light infuses the air.

I breathe in the dust of Heaven
Swept aloft by the brush of Angel's
Wings as they worship at His Throne.

I inhale the essence of Zeus
Poured down from Olympus into Danae's
Lap as he showers her with his love.

I gasp as the chariot of Helios
Fills the air with fire since Phaethon's
Error nearly sets the earth aflame.

Sunsets are filled with mythos.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sky-Blue-Pink

         My aunt has been sending me pictures of clouds she gets from the weather channel.  These pictures are of amazingly beautiful sunsets or sunrises that color the clouds the unique color she calls "sky-blue-pink" or "S-B-P" for short.  The first sky-blue-pink picture she shared was this one:


          Sometimes the clouds in the pictures aren't pink.  Sometimes they're lavender or peach or twilight blue.  She called this one a double dip of peach sorbet:


        Occasionally she sends these terrifyingly beautiful pictures of tornadoes or wall clouds or thunderstorms that some intrepid storm watcher has taken from his house or her car or somewhere too dangerous for the camera-person.  She always remarks how amazing it is that God creates something like this, but how it is even more amazing that we can trust Him to protect us during situations like this one:


       Some days she sends just one lovely picture with a short note reminding me that we serve a God who is always giving us these glimpses of beauty in our day if we would just take our heads out of our selves and look around us. She sent this one to remind us to take time at the end of the day to marvel at the beauty of the world around us:



        Some days (like yesterday) she sends multiple images of pictures she sees and wants to share.  The pictures ranged from sunrises to sunsets and everything in between.  It was like spending a day seeing the world through her eyes, even though we live eight hours (by car) apart.  A favorite one she sent was this one:


Then came a bunch of other beauties, finished by this one:


       But the most lovely thing, to me, about these pictures is that she's sharing them.  She sees this lovely thing, and she could choose to hoard it in a file on her computer to go back to over and again when she wants to see something beautiful to soothe her soul.  But instead of keeping these pictures close, she's sharing them.  That may not seem like a big deal, but it is.  The last couple years have been difficult ones, with some pretty devastating losses, and for awhile she curled inward for protection and healing.  Pain can cause us to become hermits and forget that a burden shared makes it lighter.  And for awhile, my aunt kept her pain close.  However, sky-blue-pink skies come in the morning and have a way of smoothing the edges that loss creates.  Now she's reaching out and sharing her moments of joy with me, and that is the real beauty of a sky-blue-pink picture: the sharing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I heard the rhubarb talking....

And no, that doesn't mean that I'm crazy...much.  I was wandering through the grocery store the other day when I heard the rhubarb speak.  Rhubarb is a vegetable that by itself is a sour, pucker-inducing thing--I remember picking a stalk out of the garden on a dare and chomping into it like it was celery--but when combined with sugar is a sweet-n-sour masterpiece.   So there it lay in the display right next to a bunch of lettuces and herbs, and the rhubarb spoke.   There wasn't a bright light around it.  It wasn't a burning bush kind of thing.  The stalk-y vegetable lay there in its red and green splendor and encouraged me to make a pie.  It reminded me that I had some pie dough in the freezer and a lovely glass pie pan that felt as if I had forgotten its existence as it languished, unused for far too long, in the drawer under the oven.

So, I bought enough rhubarb to make a pie, brought it home, and chopped it up into a nice even half-inch dice.  The recipe I pulled out of my recipe box (an old black index card box that I use to hold all my favorite recipes) is one I got from a friend from college: Jeanine Spangler, wherever you are, I thank you!  It calls for a bunch of rhubarb, plenty of sugar, some flour for thickening, and a dash of salt.  Mix it together and then let it rest for a little while to let the flavors combine.  The problem, though, with rhubarb pie--or any pie made from fresh ingredients as opposed to pie made from canned pie filling--is that it is...juicy.  The sugar and the fresh ingredients make a lovely syrup as it bakes, but it also makes for messy eating.

Some recipes call for tapioca to firm up the syrup, others for corn starch.  Remembering that the flour called for in the recipe had not, in earlier creations, done enough to firm up the juice, I decided to try to mitigate the juiciness by adding a box of strawberry jell-o.  In fact, most people make strawberry / rhubarb desserts, so I figured that would make it even tastier.  I also figured that the gelatin in the jell-o would help with the "sloppiness."  I poured the dry jell-o into the bowl that already held the other ingredients and stirred it all together.  The sugar/flour/salt/jell-o mixture started adhering to the freshly chopped up rhubarb, making it look as though I were stirring around a dish full of rubies encrusted with diamonds.  The sweet-tart aroma raising from the mixture had me salivating.  The rhubarb had been right to speak to me; this pie was going to be yummy!

I love making pie dough, but since I had the pre-made pie dough in the freezer, I used that instead.  It was the Pillsbury type that had two pie dough rounds rolled up in separate waxed paper packages--use both for a double-crust pie, or use them singly for two one-crust pies.  I'd bought the pie dough last Christmas when it was on sale 2-for-1.  Because it was frozen, I had to let it thaw for awhile, otherwise the dough would break.  The package directions told me I had to wait 60-90 minutes for it to get to room temperature, as I could not thaw the dough in the microwave.  Patience is not necessarily my strong-suit, but, for this pie, I would wait.  I put the gorgeous filling into the fridge and set the timer for the thawing process.  Once it was thawed, I unrolled the first package of dough and put it in the glass pie plate, pressing it in so that I had the same amount hanging over the edge all the way around.  Then I poured the heaping pile of ruby-colored gems into the tender-flaky crust.  I dotted the top with some butter before gently attaching the top crust. 

To make sure there was a seal between the two crusts to bind them together, I wet my fingers with water and moistened the edge.  It is critical to do this step if one doesn't want the filling to bubble up and spill over, and I didn't want that to happen.  I then folded the top over, crimped the edges, and cut some steam holes in the top.  Since crust on the edges of a pie tends to cook faster than the middle of the pie, I wrapped some strips of aluminum foil around them to protect them from the heat of the oven.  And, since the pie is always juicy, I put a foil-lined cookie sheet on the rack under the pie.  Trust me, nothing ruins the wonderful smell of baking sweets than burning sugar/syrup on the bottom of the oven.  After carefully putting the pie in the pre-heated oven, I set the timer.

Waiting for pie to bake, then cool enough to eat, is a patience-trying thing, and I've already admitted to my lack of patience tendencies.  The house began to fill with the aroma of strawberry-sweet/rhubarb-tart/tender-flaky dough.  When the timer finally went off, I took the aluminum foil off the crust edges and reset the timer for the last ten minutes.  During those last ten agonizingly long minutes, the crust browned nicely, the syrup released even more yummy aromas into the air, and my stomach started rumbling.  The juice bubbled up to fill the crevices around the edges of the pie, making a moat of ruby syrup-y goodness.  The timer made its annoying ding ding ding ding, and I rushed to take the pie out of the oven.

Now I had to wait for it to cool.  I see why pie bakers of old would have put the pie on the windowsill to help the pie cool faster; the aroma of the cooling pie would escape out the window and dissipate in the great outdoors.  Being caught in a closed-off room with the pie still bubbling and steamy is too much of a temptation.  I resisted temptation by eating my dinner of a ham sandwich.  I ignored the siren call of the pastry by watching TV and playing on Pinterest--pinning more rhubarb pie recipes.  I breathed in the sugar-laden air until I could wait no longer.  I should have waited longer, I get that.  However, the rhubarb was still calling.  So, before the pie was completely cool, before the gelatin in the jell-o had a chance to firm up, I cut into the pie and took out a juicy slice.

It was divine.  Messy, but divine.  The crust was flaky and tender like Alton Brown says good pie crusts should be.  The filling was perfectly balanced: sweet and tart; chunky and syrup-y.  I took a bite and let the sweetness and tartness burst on my tongue like music.  The flaky crust was the perfect counterpoint to the texture of the cooked rhubarb.  I didn't go so far as to lick the plate, but I scraped every bit of thickened juice up with my spoon and relished each scrape.  I put the plate and the spoon down with a satisfied sigh.  And then I realized that rhubarb pie was exactly what I needed.  How strange it is that something so simple and yet so complex like rhubarb pie can fulfill a need that I didn't even know I needed?  I didn't know until I went shopping that I needed to spend a couple of hours slowing down and creating something marvelous out of five simple ingredients and a couple of sheets of pie dough, but the rhubarb did.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What teachers think....at the end of a school year...

I am fully aware that it is June. I am also fully aware that school's out for summer. Big grin. I wrote this poem in May in response to a prompt I gave my Creative Writing kids. If you can't tell, I was stressed. If you can, well, it's because it was so close to the end of the school year: that's stressful. Graduation has come and gone, and summer school is now into its second week. Time flies. I hope that it doesn't fly too quickly this summer because the feelings expressed in a teacher's life at the end of the school are also there at the beginning.

What TEACHERS think...in May


It can’t be Monday already,
It was just Friday!  Did I even HAVE
A weekend?

What?!  An early morning meeting?
I must not have put it on my
Calendar...wait, there it is... shoot.

Will I ever see the top of my desk again?
Every time I get it cleaned off, something else
Comes along and covers it up.

Finals are due..when?  Friday?
I haven’t even thought...okay, I’ll just
Dig through last year’s stuff to find one.

Oh these KIDS!  Why can’t they just
Get it through their heads that we teachers
Desire summer break as much as they do...

The countdown’s begun.  In just eleven...
ELEVEN!?!...days counting this one we’ll be
Done with school. How is that possible?

I have too much to get done,
But not enough time to do it... something’s gotta give
And I hope it isn’t me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

I've talked before about how I often do the same assignment that I require my students to do in Creative Writing. One such assignment is the Last Line Fixed Verse Assignment. Similar to the "First Line" poem we do (and I've shared one such in a previous post), this poem gives the student a choice of lines, but this time it's the last line of a famous poem that the student must use as his or her last line. This spring was no different. The students all chose the lines that spoke to them, and then I chose one of those left over.


Line chosen: “I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.”  

It's a line from a John Milton sonnet. The poem is about his deceased wife, and, as I don't have a spouse (deceased or not), I decided to look at it another way.  I don't remember, now, what got me thinking about how a soldier must feel after waking up from a dream of home to a day on the battlefield.  Maybe I was thinking about my grandfather who served in WWII.  Maybe I had seen something on "Army Wives." Maybe I heard a news report about the Wounded Warrior Project--whatever it was, I decided to take that last line and make it into a poem a soldier might have written.


A Soldier’s Muse*
with thanks to John Milton for the last line

I slept, she came, and night dissolved to day--
Sweet muse of song and joy took o’er my dreams.
She sang her nightly ditties as if to say
“Just hear my song; I’ll quiet all the screams.”

The song was light and life and joy and peace
And made my darkness fade from night to noon.
The lyrics caused my bitterness to cease,
My heart and soul to rise up from their gloom.

The fight was done and peace caressed my soul
With every note and word that she did sing.
I missed her on the nights I had patrol;
And mourned her when bells of morn did ring.

And then, disturbed by bells and guns and light,
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.


Tonight, on Memorial Day, I dedicate this poem to those soldiers who are still out there facing the dangers so that we can be free.  I dedicate this poem to the brave men and women who are no longer on the physical battlefield but who carry it within them in their bodies and minds.  I dedicate this poem to the day when all the soldiers who are currently waking up to war will one day wake up to peace. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poem in your pocket day!

        Today was National Poem in your Pocket day... and I gave my students an extra credit opportunity: pick a poem (I got half-page copies from poets.org/pocket) and read it to friends, family, and anyone else who would listen.
        I had poems in my pockets, too.  Boy, was I glad I wore jeans today!  Five pockets (including the little coin pocket) and each one with a poem.  One of John Donne's Holy Sonnets  filled my front right pocket. In my left-hand pocket rested a famous poem by Shakespeare.  My back right pocket kept one of my favorites by Emily Dickinson.  My tiny coin pocket held a funny one by Shel Silverstein.  Last, but not least, my back left pocket kept this classic Walt Whitman poem safe.
         Tomorrow isn't poem in your pocket day... but it still is part of National Poetry month (April), so why don't you find a poem that speaks to your sensibilities and carry it with you?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

So I had to write a poem about twins...

Bellwork for today's Creative Writing was about twins... and, being a twin, felt the need to write a poem about it.  I don't have to answer the prompts I give my students, but even more than usual, this time I couldn't help myself.  I decided to go the "spatial" route instead of trying to make a rhyme about twinness.  Is that a word... if not, it should be.  So, here is my poem which I dedicate to my older (by two minutes) sister Heather.



     She will not know
 what loneliness is. She
Came
From
 The same exact place
    Just two minutes later
          And
           Thus
         S h e
 Must share. But what
     Else can she do?

Does she really want to
Forever be looking at a
Mirror
Image
When
She’s
W it h
T h e
O n e
Who  shares  her  face,
Her voice, and her DNA?

       Sisters.  Identical,
   Yet uniquely individual.
D o
They
Wear the same clothes?
     Get the same haircut?
           O r
Does
        Each
 Live the life she wants?
     Go her own way?

“To  thine own self  be true,”
Wrote the Bard, but he also
 Wrote
  A  lot
  About
  Twins,
  Maybe
 ‘Cause
 He had
 A pair
 Of ‘em

So maybe  she  can be true
To her ownself while at the
Same
Time
Being true to the
Strange fact that
Another
H A S
Been
Charged with the same duty:
Love your sister as yourself.

Therefore the second,
Not to merely copy the first,
Lives her own life so
That she can uphold
The real    honor of being
Part of a matched set of
Girls          who
Share more
Than  just the
Same    birthday;
They                share a life
Split--  not diminished.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pour Me Out...


             Can it really be Easter this weekend? Already? Okay, it hasn't really sneaked up on me since I have a calendar and all.  However, despite the calendar, I admit to being thrown slightly off by the fact that I just put out the St. Patty's decorations and haven't had any time to really enjoy them, and now it's time to put away the green and shamrocks and get out the brightly colored eggs, etc...  (Of course, if I go by the length of time I "enjoyed" Christmas decorations--I still have my singing Sinatra ornament out--I have a disproportionate expectation about holiday decoration viewing time.)
              So, since I know that time flies faster than I want it to, I have to make a conscious effort to slow down to experience Holy Week.  The start of this special week, yesterday, was lovely because I was able to spend time with family (as this year Palm Sunday fell on my mother's birthday) all day after church.  But the day started at church with a small fellowship of believers (it was snowing, and the weather may have kept people from getting out).  
            The pastor taking up the collection referenced Jesus getting His feet cleansed by the woman (Mary) who gave of herself--her tears and hair to dry--and her resources--the Nard she poured out over his feet.  He encouraged us to do the same--to give our service and resources to the Lord.  His homily reminded me of this poem I wrote several years ago. This Holy Monday I remind myself that I must allow Christ to do some redecorating in my heart even while I must pour myself out as an act of reverential worship.


The Offering

Pour me out like Nard
Onto Your feet, Oh Lord!
Break my selfish heart
And pour me out for
You.

Shatter this clay jar, my God.
Let the slivers of porcelain
Prick my fingers
As I tremble before
You.

Kneeling humbly at Your feet,
Let me pour the thick, syrupy oil—
Through bloody fingers—
As an anointing and
Preparing service for
You.

Your alabaster skin will shatter.
Your essence, like Holy Oil,
Will pour from your Jar
Like pure Nard
As a Saving balm for
me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Missouri Read-In Day (March 8th)

       It doesn't shock anyone who knows me that I'm an English teacher because they know I love books and reading.  I read through the entire fiction section in the library in high school.  I mean it; I started at "A" and read until I got to "Z."  And then I had to start over to catch up on the new books for the authors whose last names I'd already read.
       I have had any number of libraries of my own, too.  I don't want to start calculating how much money I've spent on books over the years.  I have stacks of books in my house I haven't even gotten to yet.  I have boxes of books still in my parents' attic (don't tell them; I don't have room in my house).  I have books everywhere:  There isn't a room in my place that doesn't have books in it.
       Where did it start, though, this love of reading?  The love of the turn of a phrase?  The love of falling into a world of someone's creation and experiencing the joys and sorrows and celebrations and tragedies of those characters?  If I look back far enough, it was because of the books I loved as a child.
One of my first favorite books was Little Cottontail by Carl Memling; a Little Golden Book about a baby bunny who wanted to grow up too fast.  "Not yet, Little Cottontail," the mother crooned...and those words still come to me when I am telling a student to be patient.  My favorite picture of me is a Christmas morning picture where I have unwrapped (you guessed it!) a book: T'was the Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore.
       I remember being so excited in elementary school when, because I was already reading chapter books stage when the others in my class were still learning how to read, I was allowed to check out books from the "older kids' section" in the library.  I devoured the Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, and then The Black Stallion book series by Walter Farley (I was into horses then).  I moved on from horses to dogs and other animal stories.  The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder I read over and over again until I had to tape the covers.  Then I moved to fantasy.  I still remember fondly a book about a headstrong black-haired fairy named Bluebell.  I wish I remembered the name of that book; I don't, but that character has stayed with me for well over 30 years.  I still wish I had long dark hair like the main character did.
       When my sister and I were in the upper elementary, my dad read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein to us as a bedtime story.  He even did the voices!  My, what a world was opened to me then!  I couldn't wait until I could read the whole series on my own.  It's still one of my favorite series to read.  I get something new each time.  Then, when I was a pre-teen, Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis overtook my imagination. I still own most of the first set my sister bought me for a Christmas present; I've had to replace a couple of the books in the series because students have "borrowed" them forever.
       I've already mentioned how I read all the fiction books in the school library, but I also made a nuisance of myself at the public library because during the summer (before I was old enough to get a job other than babysitting) I'd go through their shelves and borrow the maximum number of books I could--six--and then be back the next day to turn those in and check out new ones.  I was reading sweet romances --none of those Harlequin novels for me (yet)--about nurses who fell in love with their patients or the doctors they worked for.
       I then got into high school and college and met literary geniuses like Emerson and Wordsworth and Shakespeare and fell in love all over again with reading.  I couldn't get enough of those words "that take us Lands away" ("There is no frigate like a book" by Emily Dickinson) as I read the stores, poems, plays, and more that my own English teachers introduced to me.  It is little wonder that I love reading and sharing with my own students the literature that I hold dear.
       Each book (whether it be the actual book or on some e-reading device) is a ticket into a world away from our own.  I look at those books as portals that will wing me away to a ball in Regency England or to a futuristic world on Venus or back to ancient Rome or to linger on a hillside covered with golden daffodils.
       So, on this Missouri Read-In Day I encourage everyone to grab a book or magazine or anything that strikes your fancy: begin reading and enjoy the journey!

Monday, February 25, 2013

"First Line Poetry" on a Wintery Day


           One assignment that I routinely give my Creative Writing students is "First Line Poetry."  In this assignment the students pick a first line from a long list of first lines from famous poems.  Usually, though, the students have not read enough poetry on their own to recognize more than a couple of them. (That's sad... and the subject for another posting when I am feeling the need to vent.)  At any rate, I always like to do the same assignment as the students, as I've mentioned before, because I want to 1) show the students it is possible, and 2) keep my own writing sharp.  I usually pick one of the lines that the students leave on the list.  Their loss. Big grin.
            Today's skies were grey and cloud-filled: a bit of winter lingering in the encroaching spring.  A fellow teacher and I were on our way into the building to do our daily "Tardy Sweep" duty when she commented with a sigh that it had been so pretty earlier (when the sun was shining).  While I can acknowledge the beauty of a sunny day--all yellow and blue warmth--I must admit the preference for a wintery grey day where the clouds are hazy and look like felted shadows and wool sweaters piled on the floor of the sky.  Thus, while I didn't write this poem today, it popped into my mind because of the "cloudy and grey days" and the way they make me smile and want to share.


“Half-full”

“Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright”—
I concur with Herbert: that is the life.
No pacing back and forth all the night;
Immune to the terrors of trials and strife.

Even cloudy and grey days make me smile
And shrug my shoulders at a weary world;
Living life to its fullest is just my style;
The King’s in this castle, the flag is unfurled.

Troubles and heartaches may come and go,
But I keep my head up and face to the wind.
Instead of keeping my spirits or thoughts low,
On my future all my best hopes are pinned.

A smile on my lips, a twinkle in my eyes—
I look toward a future of no sad goodbyes.


(with thanks to George Herbert for the first line)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Living in a house of glass


Life in houses made of glass would be quite interesting.
Drapery and curtain wholesalers’ businesses would boom
And car window tinting agencies would expand to do everything
From walls to floors and windows in every single room.

That is, of course, unless whole neighborhoods became nudist camps
And people, old and young, bared their all to all and sundry:
Then glass homes would show off everyone from baby to gramps,
And mom would never, ever, again have to do the laundry.

If we lived in glass houses, people would see into our lives
And be able to judge and gossip about what they saw there;
But then, we could do the same, and save all our best sighs
For when we saw the neighbors in their old underwear.

Throwing stones at other’s lives would become quite mundane,
For we’d all be exposed, and we’d have no room to complain.