Friday, September 22, 2017

Poetry Friday: Ocean Dream

Ocean Dream

I dreamed
we were swimming in the ocean,
and the whole surface of the water
was a jigsaw puzzle,
blues and whites fitted together
and floating around us.

You said you’d done it,
turned the ocean into a puzzle,
because you were sad.

In the dream
that made perfect sense to me.

Sapphire, navy, turquoise,
each piece carefully connected,
each just where it belonged,
bobbing on top of the waves.
The ocean:
Controlled, flattened, finished.

“Brilliant,” I told you,
and you looked around
at what you’d accomplished.

But under the pieces,
the waves still moved restlessly,
and you,
treading water next to me,
still seemed sad.

Ruth, from

Amy has today's roundup.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Poetry Friday: Forget Me Not

I have been thinking a lot lately about forgetting, and especially about forgetting people, and being forgotten by other people.  I kept thinking about a line from a poem, which I remembered as something like: "Better to forget me and smile than to remember and be sad."

"Wow," I thought, "I'd rather be remembered, even if it caused some sadness."

I'm not talking just about dying, either.  I'm talking about living a life where you constantly have to say goodbye, and wondering if those people forget you, if it's out of sight, out of mind.  Fearing that it is.  Feeling that being forgotten means you don't exist. 

I thought the person who wrote that line must be very selfless, and I wondered if I could ever be that selfless, to wish to be completely forgotten, to wish happiness for the people who used to love me instead of a tiny memory of me that could make them sad. 

Until I looked up the poem.  Then I found that I'd been remembering it wrong, and that Christina Rossetti felt just as I did about being remembered.  The title of the poem is "Remember."  And that line I was quoting referred to a situation "if you should forget me for a while and afterwards remember."

Here's the whole poem:

by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.

Whether I'm alive or dead, being forgotten seems like a terrible fate to me.  I want to be remembered.  It's OK to forget for a while; I don't want anybody to be miserable, I'm not asking for perpetual mourning.  But neither do I want to cease to exist on earth in the eternal way that will happen when nobody remembers me any more.  I know it will happen someday, but meanwhile, I want to be remembered.  It makes me feel better to know that Christina Rossetti wanted the same thing.

Michelle has the roundup this week.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Poetry Friday: More from Jane Kenyon

I've posted quite a few Jane Kenyon poems recently, here, here, and here.  Today I have another one from her.

The Pond at Dusk
by Jane Kenyon

A fly wounds the water but the wound   
soon heals. Swallows tilt and twitter   
overhead, dropping now and then toward   
the outward-radiating evidence of food.

The green haze on the trees changes   
into leaves, and what looks like smoke   
floating over the neighbor’s barn   
is only apple blossoms.

But sometimes what looks like disaster   
is disaster: the day comes at last,
and the men struggle with the casket   
just clearing the pews.

We've spent the day today (Thursday) waiting for Hurricane Irma to pass to the north of us here in Haiti. This time it seems that what looked like disaster wasn't, not for us.  We had a few minutes of rain, and it was, unusually, overcast all day long, but that was it.  For St. Maarten and Barbuda it sure was disaster, though, and for some on this island, too.  You never know, and that day will come for all of us.

I don't have very cheerful thoughts today, but check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup, hosted by Matt Forrest Esenwine, who's celebrating the release of his new book!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Reading Update

Book #61 of 2017 was a short one, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists.  This is adapted from her TED Talk and is a quick, entertaining read.

Book #62 was The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen.  So, so good.  I know I will reread this many times.  Some tastes:

"The finding has the losing in the background, the returning has the leaving under its cloak.  Looking at the tender and joy-filled return, I have to dare to taste the sorrowful events that preceded it.  Only when I have the courage to explore in depth what it means to leave home, can I come to a true understanding of the return."

"I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire."

"The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held."

Book #63 was A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell.  I read this because earlier in the summer I had been so blown away by Russell's novels The Sparrow and The Children of God, reviewed in this post.  This one was very different.  It's about Italy during World War II, after Mussolini surrenders and the Germans take over.  I was reading this while Nazis were in the news, the modern variety who think it's fun and cool to be fascists and white supremacists and wear swastikas.  It was a strange and jarring feeling to revisit the horrors of WWII Nazism with that backdrop.  Like the other Russell books I'd read, this one is full of moral ambiguity, human beings doing their best, and wonderful relationships.

Book #64 was The Brutal Telling, by Louise Penny.  I am reading my way through these Inspector Gamache novels as they become available to download from the library.  I thought this one was the best so far, and I'm glad I didn't give up on the series before now.

Book #65 was Sisterhood Everlasting, the fifth in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, by Ann Brashares.  This came out in 2011 but I only recently found out about it.  It takes place ten years after the fourth book, so the friends are 29 years old.  It's perhaps not the most realistic of conclusions to the series, but realism isn't why we read books like this.  I'm a little embarrassed by how much I loved this paean to friendship that endures against all odds.

Book #66 was In this House of Brede, by Rumer Godden.  I read this years ago, maybe even in high school, and I enjoyed it even more this time.  I also found out there's a made-for-TV movie available on YouTube, so I watched it.  It was not anywhere near as good as the book, with its trademark complex Rumer Godden prose.  The book came out in 1969, and it's the story of Philippa Talbot, a successful professional in her forties, who decides to become a Benedictine nun.

Book #67 was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.  This was a horrifying and affecting book, full of gut-wrenching details about what it was like to be a slave, but I don't understand what was gained by the fantasy conception of the Underground Railroad as a real railroad with trains and tunnels. 

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Poetry Friday: Dark Brown is the River

What could be more dispiriting than a flood?  Nothing that's been under it will be the same, ever, even when the waters recede and the land is dry again.  People aren't the same either, after a flood, or any disaster.

But there's still life to be lived.  I think of children flying kites in the tent camps in Haiti after the earthquake.  I think of smiling boys out for a walk with their dad in waist-high water in Mumbai, a photo I saw in this NPR story about south Asia, where floods have killed over a thousand this summer.  And I think of little girls I saw in a photo from Texas, catching tadpoles in the water Hurricane Harvey left behind. 

For some reason the flood photos kept making me think of this Stevenson poem I loved as a child and can still almost recite from memory.  The dark brown rivers are now running down highways, where they aren't supposed to be, and another disaster becomes part of the memories of children.

Dark brown is the river.   
  Golden is the sand.   
It flows along for ever,   
  With trees on either hand.   
Green leaves a-floating,        
  Castles of the foam,   
Boats of mine a-boating—   
  Where will all come home?   
On goes the river   
  And out past the mill,   
Away down the valley,   
  Away down the hill.   
Away down the river,   
  A hundred miles or more,   
Other little children   
  Shall bring my boats ashore.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Here's this week's roundup.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Poetry Friday: What Hurts

This morning, thinking of this day, and of the Open House at the end of it, I read this essay, about how poet Jill Bialosky started writing.  She writes: "our professor-poet tells us to write poems about what we know and what hurts." 

At this point in the school year, everything is still new, and we're figuring it all out.  Part of being a teacher is keeping it new, year after year.  I've read ten thousand poems about having a crush, but for every kid who writes one, the feeling is new, and overwhelming.  I've also read ten thousand poems from kids who think, "I know!  I'll write about how I have nothing to write about!"  Each kid thinks this clever idea is brand new.  And to each kid, it is. 

Here's to teaching, and to meeting a new set of parents, and to reading what our students write, year after year, their bathroom humor, and their tales of trips and first communions and the births of siblings, and yes, their explorations of what hurts. 

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Poetry Friday: This is the Stuff

We're finishing up our first week of school.  I have a fresh batch of seventh graders.  Ah, seventh graders.  I always forget, from year to year, how much training they need at the beginning.  I also have last year's batch back, in eighth grade now, with several new kids.

And, like everyone else, I've been watching the horror that is the news.

It's easy to feel caught up in the events of history, and as though there's very little you can do about the awful things going on.  But there is one place where I can make a difference, and that's in my classroom.  I can't do great things, as Mother Theresa put it, but I can do "small things with great love."

Seven years ago this week, I was back in my classroom for the first time after six months in the States after the Haiti earthquake.  I was reveling in the ordinariness of my days.  In this post I talked about how those ordinary things are what life is made of, and I shared the song lyrics below.  This year this whole concept seems important to me again.  Maybe treating my students with love and dignity will help prevent them from growing up into people who perpetuate attitudes like we're seeing in the news.  Maybe small things are the most important things I can do right now.

This is the Stuff
by Carolyn Arends

Riding along on a big yellow school bus
Elmer's glue and a brand new lunch box
Writing my name for the very first time
With a pencil that was bigger than me
From jumping rope and skipping school
To doing things that grown-ups do
Life goes by like that big old bus
If you miss it, it's history

Paper dolls and paperweights
Scraped up knees and hearts that break
Dreams to dream and plans to make
Love to give and love to take

This is the stuff
The smallest moments
This is the stuff
I need to notice
This is the stuff life is made of

Walking along as my life unravels
Looking back at the road I've traveled
All the things that matter most
Have caught me by surprise
Misty eyes and silent prayers
Promises and secrets shared
Friends that keep you up all night
Laughing till you cry

Life's made up of little things
Ties that bind and apron strings
New beginnings, old routines
Love and heartache in between...

In my post seven years ago, I included someone's home video that had this song in the background.  You can listen to it here.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Back to School and a QWP Update

Last week I was working in my classroom when someone brought in a new student to introduce to me.  We bonded over the fact that I had a few Diary of a Wimpy Kid books on my shelf, and within minutes he was signing one out to take home to read over the weekend.  As he got ready to write the first entry for the year on the yellow legal pad that serves as my library record, he turned to me and said, "Wait, what's my name?"

I laughed and said, "You're asking me your name?  I just met you!"

It turns out that this student, like many of the kids I teach, has more than one name.  Sure enough, when I checked my class list, the first name he's been using at the school he's been attending in the States isn't the same one I've been given.  That's OK; I assured him that I would call him whichever name he preferred and that I can keep track of both of them.  He went away happy with something to read (I love it when I help people find something to read).

Later, I was thinking about this incident, and I wondered how many of my students are thinking about who they're going to be this year - not what name they are going to use, necessarily, but what kind of person they'll be.  Are they wondering whether I'm remembering trouble they got into last year, or in the case of kids I haven't taught before, whether I've talked to their teachers from last year to get an idea of what to expect from them?  Are they fretting over a new appearance that suddenly happened over the summer?  Are they worrying about friendship situations that festered last year or maybe have developed in the class group chats since school let out in June?

We all want to be seen and known, and loved for who we are.  We want to look at the people in our lives and say, "What's my name?" and have them answer accurately, lovingly, as though our names, our identities, our personalities, are safe with them.

I want my students to know that they get a fresh start tomorrow when school starts.  I don't know many of the seventh graders, and I'm assuming the best about them.  I do know most of the eighth graders, and I'm assuming the best about them, too.  Goofy behavior from seventh grade is in the past.  But they don't just get a fresh start tomorrow.  They get a fresh start every Monday.  They get a fresh start every day.  They get a fresh start every time they come into my classroom, every time I ask to speak to them privately in the hallway about their behavior, every time I find them dawdling back from the bathroom or crying or trying to get into their locker or whatever.

You know what?  They give me a fresh start, too.  I can't tell you how many times I've ended a day discouraged and defeated, mad at myself because I spoke harshly or handled a situation badly, and then the next morning the kid in question has come in as though nothing has happened, saying, "Hi, Mrs. H."  Sometimes it doesn't happen that fast; sometimes there are meetings and conversations and apologies on both sides.  But in general I find my students treat me with remarkable grace.  I try to do the same for them.

We're all still growing.  I'm not growing physically any more, but in some ways I feel as though I'm changing these days as dramatically as my middle schoolers.  There's always room to learn and gain maturity.  They teach me as much as I teach them.

And speaking of learning and growing, I've been working on my Quinquagenarian Writing Project (QWP).  I figured I needed a little head start, since I'm about to go back into a season of constant grading.  I have three first drafts in my QWP folder, and I'm nearly finished with a fourth.

I can't wait to see my kids tomorrow, to start finding out who they are right now. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Poetry Friday: Goodbye

I had to say goodbye to my daughter yesterday as she went back to college.  This made me think of a poem I wrote back in 2012 and posted here.  It refers to the advice my parents were given when dropping me off at boarding school as a young child. 


"Goodbyes cause problems," said the Matron at boarding school.
"It's really better if you just slip away.
If you must say it, make sure it's not prolonged.
You may not drop in for a visit," she added.
"The children's routine is disturbed.
They are more homesick after you leave again."

The parents, feeling vaguely guilty for being so disruptive,
Waved cheerily and didn't fuss.
They wished for their children an orderly universe, untroubled by messy emotions.
Wouldn't it be simpler, they wondered, to avoid goodbyes entirely,
Since they made everyone so sad?

But the children grew up to favor lengthy goodbyes
Rituals of leave-taking that went on for weeks before departure.
They dreaded the end of visits before those visits even began.
They hated for anyone to leave them,
But if someone must go away, a farewell party was obligatory,
With speeches and tearful sharing of memories.

Their motto was "Make a fuss."
They sobbed and wailed,
Grieved extravagantly, soaked handkerchiefs at airports.
They mourned separation and disconnectedness,
Experienced heartbreak to its fullest extent,
Longed for Gondwanaland and Heaven.
They knew that it wasn't goodbyes that had unsettled them as children,
So much as, simply, love.

Ruth, from

Love is disruptive.  But life without love wouldn't be much worth living, would it?

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Poetry Friday: Flowers and Poems

Sonnets from the Portuguese 44
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Beloved, thou hast brought me many flowers 
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through 
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew 
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers, 
So, in the like name of that love of ours, 
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too, 
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew 
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers 
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue, 
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine, 
Here’s ivy!— take them, as I used to do 
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine. 
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true, 
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.

February: Thinking of Flowers
by Jane Kenyon

Now wind torments the field,
turning the white surface back
on itself, back and back on itself,
like an animal licking a wound.

Nothing but white--the air, the light;
only one brown milkweed pod
bobbing in the gully, smallest
brown boat on the immense tide.

A single green sprouting thing
would restore me. . . .

Then think of the tall delphinium,
swaying, or the bee when it comes
to the tongue of the burgundy lily. 
Wishing you beautiful flowers today and plenty of memories of them in February!   Here's today's roundup.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Reading Update

Book #56 of 2017 was Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor.  I seem to be drawn to these mother/daughter travel narratives, perhaps because I like traveling with my kids.  This one gives some background to Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Secret Life of Bees, since the trips took place while she was writing it.  I could definitely relate to some of the concerns of a woman about to turn fifty hanging out with her daughter in her early twenties, and I love spiritual journeys and Greek mythology, but I can't go all the way with these ladies in their explorations of the sacred feminine.

Book #57 was Where She Went, by Gayle Forman.  This is the sequel to If I Stay, which I reviewed in this post.  This one is from the point of view of Adam, the rock musician boyfriend we met in the first book.  Since the end of that one, Adam's life has pretty much fallen apart (not surprisingly).  I don't want to say much more than that in order to avoid spoilers.

Book #58 was Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain.  I read and enjoyed her book, The Paris Wife, back at the end of 2015 (but didn't review it).  This is the story of Beryl Markham, well-known for her flying and her book West with the Night.  These two things were all I knew about her before I read Circling the Sun.  Like me, Markham grew up in Kenya, but she lived from 1902 to 1986.  Her life was full of difficult loss, and, not coincidentally, also great scandal.  The settler community in the early years of Kenya is famous for its cheerful spouse-swapping, and Markham participated in this behavior, though you can see from her story that this kind of stuff doesn't make for happiness.  She was friendly with many of the people whose names I have heard all my life, including the people I met in the movie (and later the book) Out of Africa.  The movie was made while I was living in Kenya, and I even applied to be an extra in it (and didn't get to).  It's always been one of my favorites because of the scenery and the story.  Yes, it's about infidelity (and I think I've shocked some people by liking it so much), and yes, it's a prime example of the White People in Africa genre, but it's also about how much we can (and mostly, can't) own or control the people we love, how far we can and should sacrifice who we are for those people, and how we can live well in a country that isn't our own (characters do this with varying levels of success).  I've watched it at several important points in my life and seen it differently each time.  I think maybe Felicity in the movie is based at least a bit on Beryl.  I found this book fascinating, and was glad to learn more about Beryl.  Like Karen Blixen (who wrote Out of Africa under the name Isak Dinesen), Beryl Markham is a White Person in Africa, and in spite of her lifelong friendship with the boy Kibii who becomes the moran (warrior) Ruta, Beryl is way more interested in herself and her own problems than she is in the development of the country she is living in.  This may annoy you.  

Book #59 was the third edition of In the Middle, by Nancie Atwell.  This is the third summer I have set out to read this book, and the first time I actually completed it.  That shouldn't be taken to mean that it isn't a good book - it is a fantastic book.  I've read the first two editions, also, and I would say that of all the books I've read on teaching, Nancie Atwell's are the most influential on the way I do things.  It's just that professional reading in the summer sometimes takes a back seat to other things.  I got through all six hundred plus pages this time, though, and I have a page full of notes of things I plan to change this coming semester as a result.  I've reviewed lots of Atwell's other writing on this blog in the past.  If you teach middle schoolers, I highly recommend her work.  

Book #60 was Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford.  My daughter wanted me to read this, and she checked out a copy from her college library to bring me during her visit.  Spufford is English, foul-mouthed, and an amazing writer.  He begins with a preface written for the U.S. edition, explaining the way Christianity in England is different from the way it is in the United States.  Then he proceeds to explain how Christianity makes sense, given that in England he can't assume anything about how much people know or understand about it.  (He says the main emotion experienced by the British with regard to religion is embarrassment.) The biggest problem faced by people is, he tells us, "the HPtFtU," or the "human propensity to f--- things up."  He goes on to explain how Christianity offers a response to the HPtFtU.  I kept trying to pick out a little section to quote to give you an idea of how he writes, and the problem is finding a place to stop.  Here's a little taste:

"Unlimited love having once entered into limited us, it's here for good, apparent to us or invisible depending on the light, depending on our willingness to see.  Humanity glimmers with God's presence.

And he is most specifically of all here, we believe, when we follow the instructions he gave at dinner the night before he died.  Every Sunday morning, in all the church's human niches, from downtown Isfahan to downtown Manhattan, in places of great wealth and comfort and in cities under bombardment, on every continent including Antarctica and once I believe on the moon, we hold again a stylized version of the original Passover meal in Jerusalem.  There is bread, there is wine.  We bless them using one of the Passover prayers.  We break the bread, we pour the wine into a cup.  We repeat Jesus's words from the story.  This is my body.  This is my blood.  And then for us the bread, made unmysteriously from wheat, and the wine, made unmysteriously from grapes, are different.  There has been a change in their meaning.  For some of us, the material bread and material wine have altered (on a tiny domestic scale, with crumbs and dregs and washing-up) in the same way that the material world was altered by having its creator within it.  Right there on the table, the set of the world once more contains itself as a member; once more, a peculiar knot has been tied in the fabric of existence.  For others of us, the change of meaning is made by the material world aligning itself to form a sign of what began happening once in Jerusalem long ago, and (the sign reminds us) is still happening now.  Either way, the change puts the same strange burden on our imagination and our understanding when we do what we do next, and eat the bread and drink the wine.  ...

We're celebrating the love-feast.  Our hearts are in our eyes as we look at each other.  We are engaged in the impossible experiment of trying to see each other the way God sees us.  That is, as if we were all precious beyond price, for reasons quite independent of any of the usual cues for attraction we apes jump to recognize: status, charisma, beauty, confidence, wealth, wisdom, authority."

I left out loads of great stuff from that, and there are many other sections I'd like to quote, but what will really stick with me from this book is the repeated phrase, "Far more can be mended than you know."  The last lines of the book are Spufford's paraphrase of what he says God says to us: "Don't be careful.  Don't be surprised by any human cruelty.  But don't be afraid.  Far more can be mended than you know."   

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Poetry Friday: Jane and Me

It's Friday again!  This time last week, I didn't know that today, my daughter would be here visiting.  She studied in England this summer, and the plan was that she'd spend the rest of the summer in the States, until college starts again.  But then someone bought her a plane ticket, and here she is.  It's so good to have her home, to talk without technological aid (and with our slow internet, both Skype and FaceTime have their serious limits), and to get to hear all about her trip while it's still fresh in her mind.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup offered a bunch of first line prompts, and the instructions were to grab one and leave one (or to grab as many as you wanted, but leave an equal number).  In return for the prompt I took, I left a Paul Simon quote: "Maybe love's an accident, or destiny is true, but you and I were born beneath a star of dazzling blue." (Hear it in context below.)

The first line I took was "This poem wants writing," and here's what I did with it:

This Poem

This poem wants writing
and I’m the one to do it.

This poem needs putting down on paper
so here goes.

This poem, floating around in the atmosphere,
ought to be grabbed and immobilized.

This poem longs to be read
and it can’t be, unless it’s written.

This poem is getting tired of waiting
and I’m still dilly-dallying.

This poem is leaving now, flitting away,
off to find someone to write it.

Ruth, from

I read a bunch of Jane Kenyon poems this summer, and here's one I liked.  Most of us have the same view most days.  We may travel sometimes, but we come back to the same life, and that's the life we have to work with, not anyone else's.  The trick is to keep finding inspiration in that life, to keep seeing it even though it's so familiar. 

In Several Colors 
Every morning, cup of coffee
in hand, I look out at the mountain.
Ordinarily it's blue, but today
it's the color of an eggplant. 

And the sky turns
from gray to pale apricot
as the sun rolls up
Main Street in Andover

I study the cat's face
and find a trace of white
around each eye, as if
he made himself up today
for a part in the opera.

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.