Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reading Update

Book #14 of the year was the new edition of the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. This edition came out last year, and I finally got a copy (downloaded on my Kindle). All the hype was true: this complete rewriting of the venerable WAB is just as reassuring and helpful as the original, but with a much more modern tone, and with tons of new information based on the latest research. Although packed with science and references, the book emphasizes the art of breastfeeding, too, and the fact that each breastfeeding experience is a unique relationship between mother and child. Highly recommended for all breastfeeding mothers (of which I have not been one in quite a few years now), whether they read it straight through the way I did, or just dip in for information and inspiration.

Book #15 was a read-aloud to my seventh graders. I don't usually do this, but I read the book for the first time while I shared it with my students. This would normally be terribly risky, but I had read several of this author's books before and I also researched it thoroughly beforehand, reading lots of reviews. I have to say that I enjoyed the experience of discovering the book along with my students, and modeling the way I read a book for the first time, how I predict, the kind of first impressions I get about characters, and many more things which don't come across as clearly on a second or third or subsequent reading of a book, which is what a read-aloud usually is. The book was Scat, by Carl Hiaasen, and my students and I enjoyed it as we have his previous books. He is really a perfect author for seventh graders, with his combination of gross-out humor and concern for the environment. And his characters are always memorable. This book was a lot of fun.

Book #16 was another one on my Kindle, and I can't remember why I picked it; I think I read a recommendation somewhere. The book was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. I enjoyed this quirky romance set in a village in rural England, but also modern, multicultural England. The dramatic climax was a little forced, I thought, but I liked the characters.

I have now read several books on my Kindle and I like it more than I expected to. My favorite thing about it is that the books come in under two minutes, instead of spending six weeks in Customs, as my Amazon orders used to do. But I do miss the ease of flipping around in the book, sticking little scraps of paper in all the places I want to quote on my blog, and most of all, passing the book on to someone else. (I know that all those things can be done with the Kindle, but so far, not as easily as the way I can do them with a physical book.)

This post is linked to today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Poetry Friday: Recess Duty Haiku

I was supposed to post my angel poem today, but I didn't get it written this week. I'll postpone that, and meanwhile if any of you would like to send me one, you have some more time. Here's that post.

I had lunch duty this week. It's my least favorite duty at school, because it involves a whole hour of supervision of screaming middle schoolers, through lunchtime (which, thankfully, we eat outside at picnic tables - this helps a lot with the crowd control) and then during a break outside in the beating sun in the dust. They find throwing stones a great idea. They like to pour their water bottles over each other. They want to keep going in the building, with a hundred reasons why they really have to, now now now. OK, I know, this is not a big deal. But lately it has been inspiring some haiku. (Technically, senryu.)

Haiku, or senryu (the term for a haiku-like poem without the traditional elements of haiku, which include a nature subject) is fun to write, and the space limits focus the attention wonderfully. As my friend Matsu puts it, "Making a haiku is like poetry meets limerick meets Buddhist monk." Perfect description.

Here's what I wrote the last time I was on lunch duty:

Supervising kids
Time stretches eternally
Endless lunch duty.

This week, I got a little more creative.

Sun, dust, yelling kids
Eternity at the swings
Dante's lunch duty

And then, later, when it finally was time to blow the whistle and usher the kids back into the building:

Kids go back to class
Eternity ends! Perhaps
I exaggerate.

Yesterday's effort:

Beans and rice eaten
I patrol the hot playground
I am lunch police

And then later, after I had a student ask me a question, I incorporated that into another one. I have harped on count and non-count nouns, giving many examples, but I still hear "How much minutes" on a regular basis.

"How much more minutes?"
Seventh grader wants to know
I know how he feels

Today, Poetry Friday, is the last day of my lunch duty, and this is the last time I'm on the calendar for this particular job this school year. Hooray!

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Monday, April 25, 2011


As I wrote in this angel post, I considered the name Angels in the Architecture for my blog (from Paul Simon's song "You Can Call Me Al"). Just like the name I eventually went with, that one suggested God's presence everywhere, even when we aren't aware of it.

Lately I've been listening pretty much constantly to Paul Simon's latest album, So Beautiful or So What. I love it. It grows on me more and more as I listen, and while I can't ever like any album more than Graceland, this one is wonderful.

One of my favorite songs on the new album is called Questions for the Angels:

A pilgrim on a pilgrimage
Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
His sneakers torn
In the hour when the homeless move their cardboard blankets
And the new day is born
Folded in his backpack pocket
The questions that he copied from his heart
Who am I in this lonely world?
And where will I make my bed tonight?
When twilight turns to dark

Questions for the angels
Who believes in angels?
Fools do
Fools and pilgrims all over the world

If you shop for love in a bargain store
And you don’t get what you bargained for
Can you get your money back?
If an empty train in a railroad station
Calls you to its destination
Can you choose another track?
Will I wake up from these violent dreams
With my hair as white as the morning moon?

You can read the rest of the lyrics, and listen to the song, here.

Listening to this song made me think of Billy Collins' poem "Questions About Angels."

It starts like this:

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Here's my favorite stanza:

If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

You can read the whole wonderful poem here. And here you can listen to Billy Collins read it.

I am not setting myself up in competition with the Monday poetry stretches at The Miss Rumphius Effect (as if I could!), but I think this would make a wonderful poetry stretch. What questions would you ask the angels, or ask about the angels, if you could? And while you're thinking about it, here's Tiel Aisha Ansari's poem, "Living with Angels", one of my favorite angel poems, and one to which I linked in that angel post I referenced back in the first paragraph of this post.

So what do you say? Will you write a poem about angels this week? I'm going to try, and see if I can post it at the end of the week for Poetry Friday.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter, In Heavenly Love Abiding

Today we celebrated Christ's resurrection here in Haiti. It was a beautiful day, a day of praising God, a day of remembering, a day of spending time with friends and family.

One of the things I remembered was last Easter, which my children and I spent in the United States. Today was very different: much warmer, for one thing. I rejoiced in the sun baking my shoulders as we stood outside after church. Last year I shivered at the sunrise service.

In the afternoon we attended a hymn sing with a group that hadn't been together since the earthquake. I have written here before about how music spoke to me after the earthquake at a time when I could hardly read the Bible or pray. The same thing happened this afternoon, and I cried as I remembered God's faithfulness over the past fifteen months, the way He has provided for me and loved me.

In Heavenly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear,
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?

Here's the rest. (Oh, and we sang this one too.)

Today I had on a necklace that a friend (someone I know online and have never met) made me last year and sent me for my birthday. It was a thoughtful gift because when I hastily packed my evacuation bag, I didn't put any jewelery in it. I don't wear much jewelery ever, but I found I missed having a necklace. The one my friend sent matched what I was wearing when I opened the package, and I put it on and wore it almost every day for weeks. Today it felt like an artifact from another world, almost as though I had traveled in time and brought something back from the past. In some ways, singing with the little group who had gathered today felt normal, as though the last fifteen months hadn't happened. But I knew that wasn't true; I knew we were all different now. Every one of us had faced the storm in the last year, and found God round about us. The necklace reminded me of what I lost, and what I gained, since January 12th.

As we drove home, we saw tents, tents, tents. There is still much to be done to clean up from the earthquake and to return people's lives to normal. Will the city still look this way next Easter, so dilapidated and wrecked? Will there still be 680,000 people living under canvas? (That's the latest estimate, from this article, which talks about the plight of the camp-dwellers. Even those who have moved on from the tents are not necessarily living in good conditions.)

Christ is Risen. Hallelujah! And at the same time, oh, life is hard. I fear I can all too easily be dismayed, in spite of the songs that I sing. But I continue, every day, to abide in heavenly love. Safe is such confiding.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Me

Today, April 23rd, is Shakespeare's birthday, and it is also the anniversary of the day I began this blog, five years ago.


I had big plans for yesterday's Poetry Friday post. It was Good Friday and Earth Day, so there were several directions I was considering. Somehow, between sleeping in, and hanging out with our visitors, and pretending to work in my classroom (didn't get much done), and taking a long nap, I didn't get around to it. But here's yesterday's roundup.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Say It Ain't So, Greg

When you read my review of Greg Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea, it sounds as though I have a bit of a crush on him. I even used the word "affection" and said "you have to love a guy" like that. What can I say? I have a thing for adventure-loving adult missionary kids. Fortunately I have one of my own at home. But mine was never kidnapped by the Taliban.

Turns out, Greg Mortenson probably wasn't, either.

Aw, Greg. Why? The real story was exciting enough!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Less Like Scars

by Sara Groves

It's been a hard year
But I'm climbing out of the rubble
These lessons are hard
Healing changes are subtle
But every day it's...

Less like tearing more like building
Less like captive more like willing
Less like breakdown more like surrender
Less like haunting more like remember

And I feel you here
And you're picking up the pieces
Forever faithful

It seemed out of my hands a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars and more like character

Less like a prison more like my room
Less like a casket more like a womb
Less like dying more like transcending
Less like fear, less like an ending

And I feel you here
And you're picking up the pieces
Forever faithful

It seemed out of my hands a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars

Just a little while ago
I couldn't feel the power or the hope
I couldn't cope, I couldn't feel a thing
Just a little while back
I was desperate, broken, laid out
Hoping you would come

And I need you
And I want you here
And I feel you...

And I feel you here
And you're picking up the pieces
Forever faithful

It seemed out of my hands a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars
And more like character

Friday, April 15, 2011

Poetry Friday: Happiness

Again this week I'm sharing a poem I got in one of the two daily poem emails I'm receiving for National Poetry Month. (You can find information on signing up for these in this post.) Tuesday's poem from Knopf was called "Happiness Writes White." The poet, Edward Hirsch, explained, “The French novelist Henry de Montherlant coined the maxim, ‘Happiness writes white,’ which suggests that happiness is a blank that can’t be described. It simply doesn’t show up on the page." This thought reminded me of Tolstoy's famous line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy finds unhappiness more individualized and therefore more interesting; Hirsch wanted to show that happiness can be written about.

Happiness Writes White
Edward Hirsch

I am a piece of chalk
scrawling words on an empty blackboard.

I am a banner of smoke
that crosses the blue air and doesn’t dissolve.

I don’t believe that only sorrow
and misery can be written.

You can see the rest of the poem here.

I thought a lot about this idea of happiness being hard to write about. Is it boring? Is it banal? Do I write more when I am miserable? My level of blogging lately would suggest that I do, since as life becomes more normal, I write less. I am writing a lot off-blog, though: more than I have in years. I think I tend to produce more when I am emotional, whether the emotions are positive or negative. I do sometimes choose topics that make me happy, and recently I did the following poem about a gift from a student.


My student brought me
a plastic grocery bag of mangoes
from the tree in his yard.
They were green and smooth
and curvaceous.
He told me not to keep them in the bag
because they don't like to be hot.
I took them home
and put them in a wooden bowl
and watched them disappear
as we cut them up into orange chunks
and ate them for breakfast.

Teachers everywhere plan and grade
and hold their audience
with not much more than their voices
and get the occasional mealy apple
deposited on their desks.
I get a bowl full of the tropics,
delicate (keep them cool),
beautiful (look at them nestled there,
and see if you can help touching them),
fragrant (sniff),
melt-in-your-mouth delicious
(want some?).
Life sure isn't fair sometimes.

Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


When I start to write my Poetry Friday post on Thursday night and realize I haven't posted since the previous Poetry Friday, I wonder where the week went. I was going to write about the fifteen month anniversary of the earthquake on Tuesday, but there were too many electrical problems for me to have the time to do that. For the second week in a row, we had several days without city power, and our generator wasn't working. The battery backup we have didn't last long with no charging at all. Now the power seems to be fixed, but this evening when it came on, it stayed on only minutes before flashing off again.

Last week we went to the dentist, putting us in a part of town we rarely visit. I saw houses which have not apparently been touched at all since the earthquake. We saw tent cities which are becoming more and more permanent; in some cases, the tents have been reinforced with corrugated iron or plywood.

A year ago today I wrote this post, about how hard it was to be where I was, not constantly focused on Haiti.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Poetry Friday: The House Was Quiet on a Winter Afternoon

I have been enjoying getting two daily poems in my email (for information on how to sign up, you can see my Poetry Friday post for last week). I liked this one from Monday:

The House was Quiet on a Winter Afternoon
by David Young

Someone was reading in the back,
two travelers had gone somewhere,
maybe to Chicago,

a boy was out walking, muffled up,
alert on the frozen creek,
a sauce was simmering on the stove.

Birds outside at the feeder
threw themselves softly
from branch to branch.

Suddenly I did not want my life
to be any different.
I was where I needed to be.

You can read the rest of it here.

I love those moments when we know we are right where we need to be, and life feels just right. As you'll see later in the poem, the persona has not won this sense lightly.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Teaching about Earthquakes

Not that I exactly want to do this, but the Miss Rumphius Effect has a great post on resources for teaching about earthquakes here.

(Bonus - J. Patrick Lewis left a poem in the comments!)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

National Poetry Month

As anybody who reads this blog regularly knows, I read and love poetry year-round, but I do really enjoy National Poetry Month, and the extra attention that poetry gets. I put the NPM poster up in my classroom already, and gave my extra copy to a high school English teacher. I don't love it as much as I did the one two years ago (you can see that here). Last year's is here. You can see (and download) this year's and ones from previous years here.

Sunday Snippets

On Saturday we had lunch with a friend who lost his wife in the earthquake. In some ways he is doing amazingly well and in other ways he is struggling. That's probably a good description of all of us, nearly fifteen months after January 12th, 2010.

We had some tax people at school a couple of weeks ago doing an audit. They were offered a quiet, comfortable conference room, but instead chose a smaller, less comfortable, more cluttered space because it had better access to an exit. Hyper-vigilance is the new normal, especially when you're in a place you don't know well.

We're looking at Japan, or at least, those of us who can bear to. NPR produced this photo feature showing similarities between our earthquake and theirs.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Theme Day - Edges

Today's Daily Photo Blog theme was Edges. Here you can see thumbnails of the participants' photos.

Poetry Friday: April

I am writing this post on the Monday before it will be published, since I'm home sick today and have the time. (Oh, I do hope I'll be back in school by tomorrow, let alone by the time this appears.) While lying in bed I have been reading Emily Dickinson poems, and this one seemed particularly appropriate. In spite of earthquakes and tsunamis and radioactive contamination, the cherry blossoms are coming out, writes a Facebook friend in Tokyo, and this poem celebrates that reality.


Emily Dickinson

An altered look about the hills;
A Tyrian light the village fills;
A wider sunrise in the dawn;
A deeper twilight on the lawn;
A print of a vermilion foot;
A purple finger on the slope;
A flippant fly upon the pane;
A spider at his trade again;
An added strut in chanticleer;
An axe shrill singing in the woods;
Fern-odors on untravelled roads, -
All this, and more I cannot tell,
A furtive look you know as well,
And Nicodemus' mystery
Receives its annual reply.

Nicodemus' mystery? Nicodemus was the teacher who came to Jesus in the night and asked for an explanation of the concept of being "born again." "How can a man be born again when he is old?" he asked. Springtime every year really is a picture of how that can be, how God can bring new life out of deadness.

The video below, also about April, tells you how you can sign up for a daily poem this month from Knopf. Of course, you can always sign up for the Poem-A-Day too, here.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.