Saturday, July 22, 2017

My Quinquagenarian Writing Project

In just a few months, I will be turning fifty.  Yes, fifty. 

That is a big number.

I have been aware for a long time of being thought old by people around me, first my students, and now even my colleagues.  I could be the mother of most of the teachers I work with.  But this is a new level of big number. 

This year I have been doing a photography project, posting daily photos on Facebook in response to prompts.  I started doing this because I had so enjoyed the Lent and Advent photo-a-day projects I had done in the past.  It turns out that I really like having something like this to work on.  (You can read more at that link about what my daily photo habit does for me.)

So, I was thinking I wanted to do some kind of a birthday project.  I got the idea from people on Poetry Friday through the years; there are so many creative and fun people who set themselves writing-related challenges: genres they want to try, special months like NANOWRIMO and others, and, you guys, look at this amazing poetry postcard project that Laura Shovan did to celebrate her birthday back in 2012!

So I've decided that in the first seven months of this new school year, the seven months before my birthday, I will set myself the goal of writing fifty (50) first drafts.  I imagine the vast majority of these will be short poems, but I would like at least five of them to be essays.  At this point I don't know how many of these pieces I'll share on my blog, but I will definitely be posting here and on Facebook about my progress (hashtag QWP!).  I'll also be sharing my goals and my progress with my students, and perhaps some of the results, as appropriate.  And my long-suffering writing group will be reading much of what I'll be writing.

I'm hoping that, as I write about many of the things in my ideas file, my QWP will help me approach my birthday not as some sign of impending decrepitude, but as a celebration of the fifty years of material God has allowed me to amass. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Reading Update

Book #46 of 2017 was Boys Without Names, by Kashmira Sheth.  My 14 year old son recommended this to me.  It's hard to think about the events in the book, knowing that they are a reality for so many around the world.  Gopal and his family move to Mumbai when life in their Indian village becomes impossible.  But life is impossible in Mumbai, too, when you're poor.  Because this is YA, there's a happy ending, but sadly that is not always the case in real life.

Book #47 was The Nesting Place, by Myquillyn Smith.  This is a book about making the most of the space you have, and creating a nest for your family there instead of waiting for your dream life to appear.  The juxtaposition between this and the previous book is instructive.  To Gopal and his family, the most humble spaces occupied by the American women at whom this book is aimed would feel like a palace.  I read this on my Kindle, and it would be better to read the paper book because of the photos (I have an older model and the photos all show up black and white).

Book #48 was Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly.  After I saw and enjoyed the movie based on this book, I wanted to know more.  The movie changes the real events significantly, and makes them much more dramatic.  Nevertheless, I was glad to learn about this part of history.

Book #49 was Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl's Journey of Faith, by Marilyn Gardner.  I friended Marilyn on Facebook after reading and loving her book of essays, Between Worlds.  I, too, am an American missionary kid who attended boarding school high in the hills (though not in Pakistan), and I could relate to this book in so many details.  It's vividly written, and I recommend it.

Book #50 was Charming Ophelia, by Rachael Miles.  The author is a friend from graduate school, and I've been enjoying her Muses' Salon series (there's more about the previous books in this post).  This one was a novella, sweet and, as the title suggests, charming.

Book #51 was Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen.  I reread this book all the time, but I hadn't listed it in a while, so I thought I would this time.  I wrote about it before here and here.  

Books #52 and 53 were The Sparrow and Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell.  My daughter called these "theological science fiction" when she recommended the first one to me.  A new friend passed it to me this summer and told me I should read it, and I finally did.  Jesuit missionaries go to space and, like missionaries through the ages, they completely misunderstand the situation they find, blunder about, and suffer unspeakably.  Russell writes exquisitely and unsentimentally.  She never downplays the anguish of her characters, or their doubts, or their complete rejection of God, but somehow she also never allows us to forget God's grace.  I'll definitely be reading more of her work.

Here's a taste of the first book:  

"‘I had a dream last night,’ he said quietly. ‘I was on a road and there was no one with me.  And in the dream I said, “I don’t understand but I can learn if you will teach me.”  Do you suppose anyone was listening?’  He didn’t turn from the windows.

Without answering, Giuliani got up and went to a bookcase.  Selecting a small volume with a cracked leather binding, he paged through it until he found what he wanted and held it out.

Sandoz turned and accepted the book, looking at the spine.  ‘Aeschylus?’

Wordlessly, Giuliani pointed out the passage, and Emilio studied it a while, slowly translating the Greek in his mind.  Finally, he said, ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’”

Book #54 was a picture book, and I never list picture books in my count, but I figure I'm justified since this one got the Newbery medal last year.  It's Matt de la Peña's Last Stop on Market Street.  Again I find myself using the word "unsentimental," because people so often do sentimentalize the themes of this book.  The conversation between CJ and his Nana as they ride the bus is fully convincing: CJ complains, and his Nana helps him to see that there's something to appreciate in every human being and every moment.  

Book #55 was Sunrise, by Mike Mullin.  This is the third in the Ashfall trilogy, and it had been a while since I had read the first two (my review of the first one is in this post, and the second in this post).  The title of this one is hopeful, so I was expecting a little more of an upbeat story, and yeah, I guess in some ways it is, at least in the last couple of pages.  But there's still plenty of grim, hyper-realistic horror in this book.  The trilogy is about a nightmarish post-apocalyptic America after the super-volcano that is under Yellowstone (and yes, there really is a super-volcano there) erupts and plunges the country into winter.  Instantly, modern knowledge becomes mostly useless, and those who are left have to figure out how to survive.  

This post is linked to the July Quick Lit post at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Poetry Friday: Happiness

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poetry Friday: Spain

Apparently today's Poetry Friday theme is Macaroni and Cheese.  Take a look at Tabatha's roundup.  I looked a bit for something on this topic, but was depressed to find that the Poetry Foundation website is all shiny and new since I last looked at it, and now I can't search it properly any more.  Maybe they are still working on it - I'll check back later.

Meanwhile, my daughter, who is studying in England this summer, just excitedly informed me that she bought this: 

This means more to her than it does to me, since she has had an Auden class and I have not, but it does mean a lot to me that my nerdy, bookish daughter is trawling used bookstores with her nerdy, bookish classmates/tribe members and finding delight in words.  And when I read the text, I found that there is something vaguely comforting about reading about the political preoccupations of previous generations rather than those of my own generation.  All the intellectuals of the day had opinions on the Spanish Civil War, and many of them (most famously, Hemingway) went and fought in it.  History is "the operator, the organiser."

To-morrow the rediscovery of romantic love,
the photographing of ravens; all the fun under
Liberty's masterful shadow;
To-morrow the hour of the pageant-master and the musician,

The beautiful roar of the chorus under the dome;
To-morrow the exchanging of tips on the breeding of terriers,
The eager election of chairmen
By the sudden forest of hands. But to-day the struggle.

To-morrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

Here's the rest, with some commentary. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has posted today, cheesy or otherwise!  Happy Poetry Friday!

Friday, July 07, 2017

Poetry Friday

I was traveling today, and I never got a post written.  Fortunately, lots of other people did post!  Here's today's roundup.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Poetry Friday: Summer

I just got my laptop back from being repaired today.  I've missed it like a limb!  Here's a bright and breezy summertime poem.  I hope you're enjoying summer as much as I am!

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover's breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover's breast;
I'll lean upon her breast and I'll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o'sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poetry Friday: Summer Dream

Last night I dreamed that I was back at school.

When I wrote that sentence, I realized two things.  One was that it made me think of Rebecca.  Google helped me find out that the opening sentence of that novel is "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

The second thing I realized was that my sentence was in iambic pentameter.  Before I knew it, I had written the first draft of a sonnet!

Writing is unpredictable.  The other day I sat down to write about my children, and summer, and it ended up being about the meaning of home and memory, and I cried, and typed, and deleted, and wrote for two hours, and produced six short paragraphs that had a few flashes of potential, but not a whole lot.  Today I wrote a sonnet in no time flat.  Something to remember when I go back to my classroom and face students whose writing progresses slowly.

It is way too early to be having stress dreams about school, but I did have fun writing this, and I'm happy to share it with you.  I hope your summer day is lovely and restful, or lovely and productive, depending on what's ahead of you today.

Summer Dream

Last night I dreamed that I was back at school,
The summer ended just as it’s begun.
Instead of resting calmly by a pool
I faced inspectors, glaring, every one.
They filed into the classroom, looking stern
Eager to find infractions everywhere
And I, instead of helping students learn
Sweated and fretted, squirming in my chair.
And in my dream I saw no student faces
Not bored or giggling, cheerful or morose.
Instead, there were sad grownups in their places
And disapproval wrinkled up each nose.

I was so happy when I woke today
And found I still have six more weeks to play!


Heidi has the roundup, so go see what yummy summer poems everyone is sharing!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reading Update

Book #41 of the year was Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken, and book #43 was the sequel, Wayfarer.  I found the time travel world-building a little hard to figure out in the first book - I kept wondering if I had missed a previous volume - but once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it.  "I believe that nothing breaks the bonds between people, not years or distance," says a character at one point, and I'm a total sucker for that idea. 

Book #42 was Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Willow Chase, the 12-year-old protagonist, tells us, "It has been my experience that rewarding and heart-breaking often go hand in hand."  That's been my experience, too, and that was definitely my experience while reading this book.   It's almost unbearable to go through Willow's loss, but wonderful to watch as her world begins to be rebuilt around her.

Book #44 was If I Stay, by Gayle Forman.  More unbearable loss, more rebuilding.  Oddly for a book with this premise (girl is in life-threatening car accident, girl gets to decide whether to die or keep living), this one was very realistic.  I'm going to grab the sequel on my next trip to the library.

Book #45 was Leaving Gee's Bend, by Irene Latham, an online friend.  (I've reviewed her books of poetry here and here.)  I got this for my classroom a while ago, but hadn't had a chance to read it yet.  I loved this story, set in rural Alabama in 1932.  It's the story of Ludelphia Bennett, who, for the first time in her ten years, is leaving Gee's Bend, because she has to look for medical help for her mother.  Ludelphia and her family have a life of poverty, and I appreciated the way this fact was not romanticized.  However, they also have strong family and community bonds, and nothing symbolizes this better than the quilting theme of the book.  Highly recommended.

This post is linked to the June 2017 Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy and the June 17th Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Poetry Friday: Sun Tea

The second week of summer vacation is ending, and I can hardly point to anything I've accomplished.  I keep dozing off in the tropical heat, my book half-read, my paragraph half-written.  I am steeping in the sun, like the gallon after gallon of sun tea I've been making every day.  I go out barefoot in my pyjamas to get the alchemy started first thing in the morning, and then before I know it, it's night time, and another irreplaceable summer day has slipped away.

This morning I made extra, since we have guests for dinner, and then I came back inside and thought, I should write a poem about sun tea, and then I thought, I bet lots of people have written poems about sun tea, and so I tried Google.

Not as many as I expected, given how beautiful the golden tea gets just before I bring it inside and sweeten it and stick it in the fridge.  Maybe everybody else is dozing off on these summer days, too.  Here are some poems that caught my attention from my Google search:

This one won a prize in the Illinois State Poetry Contest in 2015.  I love the summer skies of "widening blue / spotted with cotton."

This one's about memories of a lost love, and contains reading and writing and a "hot thick humid Ohio summer."

This one begins: "Memories should taste / like a fresh pitcher of sun tea," and they totally should.

This is the kind of day that turns into memories, and before it's over I plan to laugh until my stomach hurts with my son who will only be 14 in June this once, text with my daughter who is in London, kiss my husband, read about teaching and underline a lot and make notes for August, hang out and eat pizza with friends (one couple has been married about six months and the other is expecting a little girl to arrive any day, maybe even today), and perhaps write a poem about sun tea, before the sun sets on this irreplaceable day.

What is So Rare as a Day in June?
AND what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best? 

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,-
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,-
'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.

James Russell Lowell 

Friday, June 09, 2017

Poetry Friday: Summer Begins

I've enjoyed the first week of my summer vacation very much.  It has featured naps and times with friends and time to write.

Today I want to share two recent poems.  The first one is based on a message I recently got from Facebook, informing me of how many likes my posts had garnered.  I was astonished by what a large number it was, and then immediately scolded myself both for caring about whether people like what I post, or write, or am, and also for never, ever being satisfied, for never thinking I am good enough.

The second poem is from a prompt I shared with my writing group.  I got the idea from Irene Latham when I read her book The Sky Between Us.  In my review, I wrote: "Some poems made me want to write responses.  Self-Portrait as Tangerine suggested other self-portraits in the guise of objects, finding points of connection between self and beautiful thing." Here's how I phrased the prompt for my writing group.  First I shared Irene's poem, and then I wrote: "Write a self-portrait, but instead of directly describing yourself, describe an object that obliquely resembles you."

So here goes:


Facebook sent me
a message this week
that said
I have received
on my posts.

(Click, click, click)

So much liking,
so much appreciation,
87,000 reminders
that I am OK.

You’d think
would be enough
for me.

But I am still
the pigtailed fifth grader
who carefully
drew two boxes
with a pencil,
wrote “Do you like me? 
Check yes or no.”
and passed the paper
to her friend.

Do you?

May I ask
87,000 more times?
will you always

Ruth, from

Self-Portrait as Bougainvillea

Purple and yellow

Survives floods and winds and drought.
Heart-shaped leaves welcome;
Thorns and toxic sap rebuff.

Blue and rose

In Paraguay and Argentina called santa-rita,
After the patron saint of heartbroken women,
But in Honduras called Napoleón,
Strutting in military garb, bright and showy and confident.

Crimson and orange

Named after the explorer Bougainville,
Even though it had been there
In South America
Long before he showed up
And it continues to change, making spontaneous hybrids,
Adapting and adjusting, swarming all over walls and gates
From Switzerland to Nepal, the Caribbean to the Pacific,
Basking in the sun from Kenya to Australia.

Fuchsia and scarlet

Bright paper blooms
Shield the delicate white center
Where the real flower lives.


I've posted about bougainvillea before, here and here.

Mary Lee has today's roundup.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Reading Update

Book #37 of the year was The Bride's Farewell, by Meg Rosoff.  The challenges the characters in this book face remind me of Dickens, but without the upward mobility.  Life is always going to be tough for these people, but they are going to find ways, perhaps unconventional ones, to be happy anyway.

Book #38 was a re-read, Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor.  I first read this back in February 2016 while I was visiting my daughter in college.  I read a copy from the college library, and thought at the time that I wanted to read it again, so when I saw it on sale for Kindle, I downloaded it.  "It is sometimes hard," writes Taylor, "to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down."  She's describing an experience helping a huge loggerhead turtle that has become disoriented by the lights on the shore and isn't able to find her way back into the ocean.  There's so much to ponder in this beautiful book.

Book #39 was The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue.  My daughter liked this better than Donoghue's previous book, Room.  I didn't, but it was a fascinating read.  It's the story of Lib, an English nurse who's been hired to watch Anna, an eleven year old Irish girl who is apparently surviving without eating anything at all.  The people around Anna find her a miracle, but Lib, with the scientific training she has received from Florence Nightingale, is more skeptical.

Book #40 was Enthusiasm, by Polly Shulman.  Yet another Austen spinoff, this one was a fun, quick read.

This post is linked to the June 2017 Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy and the June 17th Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Poetry Friday

Today I finished up my last day at work for the semester, mostly cleaning my classroom (Wednesday was our last day with kids), and then I collapsed in a heap.  I didn't do a Poetry Friday post today, but lots of other people did.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Poetry Friday: Last Day of Classes Edition

I was walking across campus the other day and thinking about the hundreds and hundreds of students that I have taught, and how at the end of every year you say goodbye to another batch, and at the beginning of the next year you greet a new batch, and you love them all but they all move on.  And then I was thinking about how so many years of my life have been spent on this campus, trying to make a difference in this community, and how much happiness there is in that, in spite of the challenges and the sorrows.

So today, here's May Sarton on happiness.  It might not seem very appropriate for a day of turning in projects, and passing back writing, and calming screeching excitement, but bear with me.

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life's span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

This last day of classes won't be much about silence or inwardness; those days are coming up: a chance to finish a thought, to clean up the clutter in my classroom, and my house, and my brain.  But in my students, and in me, "another circle is growing in the expanding ring."  Another ring added to the tree of our lives, and our school. 

Here's today's roundup.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Celebrating Reading

One of my tasks in this last week of classes is to pass out the students' reading folders and have them count how many books they finished this year.  I don't ask them to estimate, but only allow them to count books whose titles they have listed in the folder.  We make a ceremony of writing all the totals on the board and adding them up.  This year I impressed the seventh graders by adding them faster in my head than they could using calculators.  A student called me "Flash" and marveled that I'm even wearing a red shirt.  (I'm not sure what any of that means, but I take my compliments where I can get them.)

The seventh graders read 444 books this year.  (There are 24 students in the class.)

The eighth graders read 795 books this year.  (There are 21 students in the class.)

I asked them to write down the favorite book they read this year.  I'll come back after school is out and add links to the list, but I want to go ahead and post it so you can see that it's not necessarily about reading classics; it's about reading.  I want these kids to enjoy reading.  I consider it a success that every single kid found books they loved this year.  (Or at least books that they'd finish and enjoy pretty well.)  I read books with them, too - books I chose, books we discussed and took quizzes over - but these are the ones they chose themselves.  I forced them to read, I say without shame, but I let them pick what they wanted.  I celebrate and honor the reading they chose to do this year. 

7th graders - 444 books

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series
Percy Jackson series
She’s With Me
Charlotte’s Web
Looking for Alaska
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, two votes
Chasing Red
Captain Underpants series
Anna Dressed in Blood
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Twilight series, two votes
Big Nate series
Every Soul a Star
Keeping the Moon
SAS Survival Handbook
Finding Audrey
The Clique
The Red Pencil

8th graders - 795 books

Bluford series
Lionel Messi and Maradona (autobiographies)
Counting by 7s
Saving Everest
Art Eyes
The Heroes of Olympus two votes
Salt to the Sea
The Lost Hero series
Amulet series
Alex Rider series
Gone series
Divergent series
Auggie & Me
Everything, Everything
Harry Potter series
Who Was series
Princess in Love
Good Omens

Friday, May 19, 2017

Poetry Friday: Days I Delighted in Everything

Days I Delighted in Everything
by Jessica Greenbaum 
I was listening to a book on tape while driving
and when the author said, “Those days I delighted in everything,”
I pulled over and found a pencil and a parking ticket stub
because surely there was a passage of life where I thought
“These days I delight in everything,” right there in the
present, because they almost all feel like that now,
memory having markered only the outline while evaporating
the inner anxieties of earlier times. Did I not disparage
my body for years on end, for instance, although, in contrast
that younger one now strikes me as near-Olympian?
And the crushing preoccupations of that same younger self
might seem magically diluted, as though a dictator
in hindsight, had only been an overboard character — 
but not so.

Here's the rest.

I know there have been days in my life when I have delighted in everything, but I have wasted so much time in fear and worry.  And there's so much to delight in.

Hope you're delighting in today.

Here's today's roundup.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reading Update

We have the day off today for Flag Day (flag below, and national anthem in this post), so I am celebrating by writing a Reading Update post and also grading many papers.

Book #28 of 2017 was At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier.  Most of Chevalier's books that I've read have been centered on art of one kind or another, but Remarkable Creatures, which I read in 2014, was about fossil hunting, and this one continues in that more science-y direction.  This one is about trees - apple trees, redwoods, sequoias.  Turns out that working with trees is more of an art than I'd ever realized.  I really liked this book.

Book #29 was Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan.  I enjoyed this memoir for its portrayal of a complicated mother-daughter relationship.  Corrigan's mother said once, "Your father is the glitter but I'm the glue" in the family.  When Corrigan goes to work as an au pair in another family, one where the mother has been lost to cancer, she starts to see her own family in a different way.  I could relate to the way looking at other people's experiences helps you figure out your own and also how intense experiences, however short, can be life-changing.

Book #30 was The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey.  I loved how I was never completely sure whether this book was realistic fiction, fantasy, magical realism, or some bizarre combination of all three.  Fairy tales, Alaska, snow: ultimate escape from my tropical reality.  Yes please!

Book #31 was Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  This was my third Chimamanda book.  (I like to fantasize that we are friends and I call her Chimamanda, which is such a fabulous name.)  Have you watched her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story?  This book is about Africans in America, African-Americans, Americans in Africa (Nigeria, to be precise), hair care, and many other things, but it is most definitely not about a single story.  The brilliant author plays with stereotypes and shows us that each character is unique and that attempting to generalize would be ridiculous.  Plus, the book is compulsively readable.

Book #32 was Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult.  I find Picoult's novels pretty uneven, but this one, I liked.  It's a story about white supremacists who go to the hospital to give birth to their first child, and run into a highly competent African-American labor nurse, whom they hate on sight due to her race.  Drama ensues.

Book #33 was The Edge, by Roland Smith.  I've been reading Smith's book Peak with my seventh graders for the past few years, and this is the sequel.  Peak is climbing again, but this time in Afghanistan.  Drama ensues.

Book #34 was drama-free, which I kind of enjoyed after all the drama.  It was The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work", by Kathleen Norris.  Short, profound, and worth rereading.

Book #35 was Devotion, by Dani Shapiro.  This is a spiritual memoir, and while I can't agree with lots of aspects of Shapiro's mixture of Judaism and Buddhism, her questions and struggles in "the afternoon of life" do resonate.

Book #36 was the fourth Inspector Gamache book, A Rule Against Murder, by Louise Penny.  I did like this one the best so far, so I guess I'll continue reading this series.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Poetry Friday: Bougainvillea

Last week for Poetry Friday Michelle Kogan shared a poem about Mexico that included this phrase: "the red bougainvillea raves."  I've been thinking about that verb choice all week.

This year I am doing a photo-a-day project, and following prompts that I get from Capture Your 365 (here are the May prompts).  It's amusing to me how many of the photos I've taken so far this year have been of bougainvillea.  It's the ultimate tropical plant, thriving through all seasons in a variety of intense colors, rioting over walls and gates and mixing its thorns with the razor wire that tops those walls and gates as well.  There's nothing subtle about it (though there are some paler colors that are a bit more delicate).  It's confident and happy.  It doesn't care whether you're looking or not; it's just busy being beautiful.  Cut it back to a stick, and it returns more luxuriant than ever.  I love it so much, and I aspire to be more like it.

I'm going to share a few bougainvillea photos in this post and then a little bit of information about bougainvillea, and then end with the poem Michelle shared.

According to Wikipedia, "The first European to describe these plants was Philibert Commerçon, a botanist accompanying French Navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville during his voyage of circumnavigation of the Earth, and first published for him by Antoine Laurent de Jussieu in 1789.[2] It is possible that the first European to observe these plants was Jeanne Baré, Commerçon's lover and assistant who was an expert in botany. Because she was not allowed on ship as a woman, she disguised herself as a man in order to make the journey (and thus became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe)."  

What a story!  Has someone written a novel about it?

And here's the poem, set in the Oyamel Forest of Mexico, where the monarch butterflies go in the winter.

Song of the Oyamel

On the other side of this door

You are an oyamel native to the mountains of Mexico

Rising in a cloud forest of sister evergreens
Shedding pollen cones, shedding winged seeds

Our lost wings
                    singly and in pairs.

This is why the monarchs vanish    
Raising sienna-hued colonies longer than my arms

Hibernating in Mexico where it’s hotter in January
                than my front yard, where the red bougainvillea raves

Here's the rest.

Here's a poem I wrote about bougainvillea in January of 2016.

You can find today's roundup here.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Poetry Friday: Daylight Savings

During National Poetry Month, I got a poem-a-day email from Knopf, and on the 9th, that poem was Jill Bialosky's "Daylight Savings." 

Daylight Savings
 by Jill Bialosky

There was the hour
when raging with fever
they thrashed.  The hour
when they called out in fright.
The hour when they fell asleep
against our bodies, the hour
when without us they might die.
The hour before school
and the hour after.
The hour when we buttered their toast
and made them meals
from the four important food groups -
what else could we do to ensure they'd get strong and grow?

Here's the rest of the poem, which concludes that all those hours are precious, and we don't want to lose any of them.

Jama's someone who knows how to make the most of hours, and she's hosting the roundup today.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 30th: Blessing that Does Not End

What with National Poetry Month and Lent and some rough emotional experiences in the past few months, I've had lots of opportunities lately for reflection and growth.  Growth is often not much fun, but we have to grow or die, and so I'm grateful.  Loss and goodbyes and endings are hard, and I'm one of those people who has to experience every emotion to the fullest - not because I want to, but because that just seems to be the way I'm built.  The upside is that I feel happiness very deeply and intensely, just as I do pain.

This poem by Jan Richardson is a beautiful and comforting way to end National Poetry Month and celebrate this Sunday.  It's in her book, The Cure for Sorrow, which I bought with my birthday gift certificate, and she also posted it on her blog this week.

It begins like this:

Blessing That Does Not End
From the moment
it first laid eyes
on you,
this blessing loved you.

This blessing
knew you
from the start.

It cannot explain how.

It just knows
that the first time
it sat down beside you,
it entered into a conversation
that had already been going on

Believe this conversation
has not stopped.

Here's the rest, along with more of Jan's reflections.   I think she wrote this poem for me, but I'm happy to let you share it, Reader.

Today, Laura is finishing up the Progressive Poem with her line.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April 29th: Elm Trees in Detroit

I've been reading poems about nature with my eighth graders, and since we live in the city, I'm always on the lookout for great nature poems set in urban environments.  I love this one, by Marge Piercy, and it works well with some reading we did when they were in seventh grade about a guy who worked with elm trees.


It starts like this:

The streets of Detroit were lined with elms
I remember elm trees that were
the thing of beauty on grimy
smoke-bleared streets stinking of death
and garbage, but over the cramped
rotting houses, the elms arched.

They were cities of leaves.
I would lie under them
and my eyes would rise
buoyed up and surfeited
in immense rustling viridescence. 

Here's the rest of the poem.

My son, who is also one of my students right now, enjoys that word "viridescence," and many days he uses it as we walk to school and pass the things of beauty on the "grimy smoke-bleared streets" that are the trees of our neighborhood (not elms, but lovely tropical plants).  I love the "cities of leaves"; I love looking up at them and away from trash and rats and mud and whatever else is at my feet on any given day.  

Here's a sad article about what happened to Detroit's elms.

Charles has today's line in the Progressive Poem.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Poetry Friday: All About ME

Because my husband knows that my love language is language, he wrote this poem for me.  It made me very happy, and I'm sharing it with his permission.

Lonely Russian women want me badly.
So badly that they send emails (to me
And others) in sensual perfect English
Pleading, begging, repeatedly asking
If they can satisfy my every whim
And fantasy. I haven’t answered yet
And I’m feeling sorry for the lonely,
Frustrated women who desperately write
Such longing letters offering themselves
To me. And so I’m tempted to reach out
And share my long-held deep desires, my view
Of flourishing, bliss, joy, and happiness:

A mug of steaming coffee, piping hot
Sipped in a room that’s over-filled with books.
And by my side, a lovely girl named Ruth,
My fantasy, and that’s the honest truth.

by Steve, husband of Ruth, from

The Progressive Poem is nearing its end, and Michelle has today's line.

Today's roundup is here.

Hasn't it been a great National Poetry Month?  I know I've enjoyed it. Here's to poetry, all year long! 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 27th: To a Frustrated Poet

Four years ago yesterday, I shared "To a Frustrated Poet," by R. J. Ellmann.

... it's no fun having a frustrated poet
In the Dept. of Human Resources, believe me.

Matt has today's line for the Progressive Poem.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26th: Before the Rain

In this post from February 2011, I shared the poem "Before the Rain," by Lianne Spidel.  I commented on how it caught a good note talking about rain, and the hardships it sometimes brings.  This is appropriate right now in Haiti, where once again there is flooding in the south.

Renée has the line for the Progressive Poem today.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 25th: Tiel Aisha Ansari

In January 2009, I linked to this poem by Tiel Aisha Ansari. Through the years I have shared several of her poems, including this one in 2007 about the California wildfires, this one called "Living with Angels," and this one, about a Tetris nightmare.  Here's a more recent entry, a stunning political poem called "You Bring Out the Lynch Mob in Me."

Check out Tiel Aisha Ansari's blog  - there's always something great to read.

Robyn has today's line for the Progressive Poem.

Monday, April 24, 2017

April 24th: Dickinson on Grief

In September 2010, I posted an Emily Dickinson poem about grief.  It begins like this:

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long –
Or did it just begin –
I could not tell the Date of Mine –
It feels so old a pain –

I wonder if it hurts to live –
And if They have to try –
And whether – could They choose between –
It would not be – to die –

You can read the rest of the poem at the original post here.

Every grief is unique, but we can learn so much by listening to others talk about theirs, and eventually everyone gets a collection of them.  I hope you have people to talk to about yours today.

And on a lighter note, Amy has today's line for the Progressive Poem.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Progressive Poem is Here, Plus Happy Blog Birthday to Me!

I signed up for April 23rd to add my line to the Progressive Poem because it is the birthday of my blog.  Today my blog is eleven, and like any eleven-year-old, I am very excited and would like lots of birthday wishes.  Plus cake, if you have it.

But in the meantime, I have to add a line.

So, I've been reading and rereading the poem much of the day, in between grading and lesson plans, and I think that the boat that was added at the beginning of this stanza is not a real boat, but actually scenery on a stage (think something like the photo below, which I got from

I say that because our persona/protagonist was on a stage, having climbed the stairs and turned to face the crowd, and was saying lines s/he had learned by heart, when suddenly the boat was mentioned.  I think this person/dragon/person in a dragon costume is acting in a play.  Perhaps s/he wanted to be a knight, but that part was taken by someone else, hence removing the spurs and armor.  Maybe s/he has been told that a dragon can't be an actor.  And it seems there's someone in the crowd who is a surprise, or someone s/he is afraid of.  Or it could just be the crowd, because it can be pretty surprising when you're on stage to see all those seats full, all those eyes staring up at you...

What on earth?

You see, the thing with the Progressive Poem is that no one person is in charge.  When I write one of my own poems, I can make it take whatever direction I choose, but with the Progressive Poem, I only have one thirtieth of the power, and I can puzzle out all I want, but I'm never going to have more than one thirtieth.  (In my post from yesterday, you can see the full list of all the participants.)  I can add my line, but then I have to stand back for everyone else, and all my puzzling may not be how the people who come after me see our little scenario.  Every year this exercise reminds me of how much I like to be in control, but, as in life, I'm not.  All I know is that we need a strong verb here; our protagonist needs to do something, standing there on the deck of the ship...

Here we go.  My line is at the end, in bold.

I’m fidget, friction, ragged edges–
I sprout stories that frazzle-dazzle,
stories of castles, of fires that crackle
with dragonwords that smoke and sizzle.

But edges sometimes need sandpaper,
like swords need stone and clouds need vapour.
So I shimmy out of my spurs and armour
facing the day as my fickle, freckled self.

I thread the crowd, wear freedom in my smile,
and warm to the coals of conversation.
Enticed to the stage by strands of story,
I skip up the stairs in anticipation.

Flip around, face the crowd, and freeze!
Shiver me. Look who’s here. Must I disappear?
By hook or by crook, I deserve a second look!
I cheer. Please, have no fear. Find the book. 

But wait! I’ll share the lines I know by heart.
Mythicalhowls, fierytones slip from my lip
Blue scales flash, claws rip, the prophecy begins
Dragonworld weaves webs that grip. I take a trip…

“Anchors aweigh!” Steadfast at helm on clipper ship,
a topsail schooner, with sails unfurled, speeds away
As, true-hearted dragon pirate, I sashay 

Your turn now, Amy!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Progressive Poem so far...

Tomorrow is my day to contribute a line to the Progressive Poem, so I'm reading it in-depth this afternoon and considering the possibilities.  Here it is so far:

I’m fidget, friction, ragged edges–
I sprout stories that frazzle-dazzle,
stories of castles, of fires that crackle
with dragonwords that smoke and sizzle.

But edges sometimes need sandpaper,
like swords need stone and clouds need vapour.
So I shimmy out of my spurs and armour
facing the day as my fickle, freckled self.

I thread the crowd, wear freedom in my smile,
and warm to the coals of conversation.
Enticed to the stage by strands of story,
I skip up the stairs in anticipation.

Flip around, face the crowd, and freeze!
Shiver me. Look who’s here. Must I disappear?
By hook or by crook, I deserve a second look!
I cheer. Please, have no fear. Find the book. 

But wait! I’ll share the lines I know by heart.
Mythicalhowls, fierytones slip from my lip
Blue scales flash, claws rip, the prophecy begins
Dragonworld weaves webs that grip. I take a trip…

“Anchors aweigh!” Steadfast at helm on clipper ship,
a topsail schooner, with sails unfurled, speeds away

1 Heidi at my juicy little universe
2 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
3 Doraine at Dori Reads
4 Michelle at Today's Little Ditty
5 Diane at Random Noodling
6 Kat at Kat's Whiskers
7 Irene at Live Your Poem
8 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
9 Linda at TeacherDance
10 Penny at a penny and her jots
11 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
12 Janet F. at Live Your Poem
13 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
14 Jan at Bookseedstudio
15 Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales
16 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
17 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
18 Buffy at Buffy's Blog
19 Pat at Writer on a Horse
20 BJ at Blue Window
21 Donna at Mainely Write
22 Jone at Jone Ruch MacCulloch
23 Ruth at There is no such thing as a godforsaken town
24 Amy at The Poem Farm
25 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Matt at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme
28 Michelle at Michelle Kogan
29 Charles at Poetry Time
30 Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids