Friday, November 09, 2018

Poetry Friday: "Impossible Light, Improbable Hope"

This is the time of year when I love looking at people's fall photos (the one below is one my daughter sent me a couple of years ago).  (Edited to add: My daughter sent the first snow photo of the year this morning, so maybe this post is a little late!) It's not a particularly colorful season where I live; it's rainy and green, which is pleasant, and the summer heat has finally eased, but we don't have dramatic foliage. I don't miss the frost and chill from the United States, but I do love to see the beautiful fall color.

Here's an autumn poem for the season:

“What Else”
by Carolyn Locke

The way the trees empty themselves of leaves,
let drop their ponderous fruit,
the way the turtle abandons the sun-warmed log,
the way even the late-blooming aster
succumbs to the power of frost—

this is not a new story.
Still, on this morning, the hollowness
of the season startles, filling
the rooms of your house, filling the world
with impossible light, improbable hope.

Here's the rest.
 And here's today's roundup.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Tips to Make Myself Happier Right Now

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's blog and books and listening to her podcast for a while now, and one thing I really enjoy about her approach is the idea that you can take control of certain aspects of your life to make yourself feel better. Obviously there are things you can't change, but there are some you can.

Recently, Gretchen posted a list of quick, easy things she can do to cheer herself up when she's down. I decided to do the same.

I'll skip the part where I go on and on about how I know I have no reason to be down, with all the blessings in my life. I know that, but sometimes, I get in a slump, whether because of life circumstances, brain chemistry, or maybe hormones. Who knows? I do know that it isn't helpful to chastise myself about it, even though that is often my go-to response.

So here's my list. Add yours in the comments, or link me to your own post.

1. Go outside and take a picture of something beautiful, especially flowers. This almost always makes me feel better. Even if I can't go outside at that moment, taking a picture is a mood-booster. Sometimes I grab my camera in class when my students are doing some kind of group work or independent work, and snap a picture of them.
2. Write a poem. Or write anything at all. This, too, is almost always effective, but it takes time and energy.
3. Check out a library book and download it on my Kindle.
4. Send a friendly text to someone.
5. Read poetry or a favorite children’s book.
6. Read a novel.
7. Listen to music, especially particular playlists.
8. Clear some very small area of clutter. The key here is that it has to be small. If I give myself too large an assignment, I'll just get overwhelmed and feel worse.
9. Put on some music and put away all the books in my classroom library. This is a combination of 7 and 8!
10. Make and drink a cup of tea, preferably with a friend.
11. Sing worship songs.
12. Pray, either extemporaneously or a memorized prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, like “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee…”
13. Watch or listen to something funny, or laugh with a friend.
14. Listen to a podcast.
15. Exercise. This always helps, and I'm never sorry I did it, but I often have difficulty making myself do it if I'm feeling really down.
16. Go for a walk, alone or with a friend, preferably with my camera.
17. Look through photos I’ve taken in the past.
18. Hold a baby. I don't always have one handy, but when I do, this is a foolproof approach to cheering up.
19. Look at fresh flowers or at photos I’ve taken in the past of flowers.
20. Hug my husband or one of my children.
21. Talk to someone.
22. Think of something I’m thankful for.

Here's another good resource, "Everything is Awful and I'm Not OK."

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Reading Update

Book #80 of this year was Nyxia, by Scott Reintgen. This book is very readable and kept me turning pages, but I did find some of the scenes difficult to follow. I'm not sure teens will have the same problem with it; I always tend to glaze over a bit in descriptions of fights, whether in the Iliad or a contemporary YA novel. In this book, teenagers are chosen to go to space and mine Nyxia, a substance which is essential to life in the future world of the setting. They have been recruited by a huge corporation and there's apparently something fishy (still unexplained) about all of it. But their families are promised huge sums of money in return. My favorite part of the story was the relationships among the teens, who, although they are competing with one another, still form alliances and friendships.

Book #81 was The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith, and #85 was the second book in the series, The Silkworm. As everyone now knows, Robert Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling. I enjoyed these first two books, and I hear that they get less gory soon, so I'm looking forward to that. The main characters, Cormoran and Robin, are wonderful, and the development of the recurring characters is always what I like best in detective novels.

Book #82 was The Titan's Curse, by Rick Riordan. This is the third in the Percy Jackson series. I definitely get what my students see in these books.

Book #83 was a reread - in fact, I've read it several times already. It was Rob Bell's How to Be Here.  I wrote some about it here.

Book #84 was Tool of War, by Paolo Bacigalupi. I wrote a little bit here about what led me to this title. Tool is a half-man/half-beast "Augment" created in a futuristic society to help people fight wars. But what's the difference between human and non-human? How much is our biology our destiny? What's the nature of choice and free will and instinct? This and many other questions are addressed in this book, which is also graphically violent and not the kind of thing I usually read at all. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

Book #86 was The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. This is also now a movie, which I haven't seen. It's a story about police brutality, in all of its complexity.

This post is linked to this week's Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Poetry Friday: The Meaning of Life

Last week I was texting with a friend who had had a bad teaching day. It happens. I'd had a not-so-good week myself. We compared notes, and in the course of our conversation, she said that she was feeling grumpy and wondering about the meaning of life. I sent her this photo and wrote, "The meaning of life is rain-soaked bougainvillea."
I had run home that day during my free period because I had forgotten my Kindle and I needed it for class. It was a muddy day, and I was in the middle of a yucky week. And when I saw this, it made everything better.

I know, I know, there's more to life than rain-soaked bougainvillea. There's an election next week, for example, and we are grown-ups with serious issues to deal with. And yet...just look at that. For that moment when I turned my camera on all that beauty, the world seemed like a place where everything was how it was supposed to be.

I thought about it, then added a few more syllables and made a haiku. (I know you don't have to stick to the 17 syllable thing, but I did anyway.)

Roadside flash, hot-pink
Rain-soaked bougainvillea
The meaning of life

I'm thankful for the beautiful moments in even the hardest days. They make it easier to turn back to the challenges with a fresh perspective.

Jama has this week's roundup.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

What I Learned in October

In October I tried to keep a better list of things I've learned. It's a strange conglomeration of stray items.

I did a translation of someone's official educational records from French to English, including course descriptions, and since he has a degree in Business Finance, this involved learning terms in French for many technical accounting terms whose meaning I have no idea of in English. So that was brain-stretching and oddly entertaining in a nerdy way.

I listened to some podcasts about clothing, which were quite fascinating and which you can find here. Did you know the concept of Casual Friday originated in Hawaii, where people wear Hawaiian shirts (or what they call Aloha shirts) on Fridays? I didn't.

Mid-month, we had some visitors who were in Haiti doing training in broadcast journalism, and when they came over for dinner I learned a lot about that field and how people are trained for it. I always love being introduced to a brand-new-to-me world like that.

I read this horrifying article about the new airport they are building in New Orleans in spite of the apparently certain fact that it won't be long before New Orleans is underwater. "This," the author concludes, "is an airport for the end of the world." This article made me think of a book I read a few years ago about kids in a post-apocalyptic New Orleans of the (apparently nearer than I thought) future. The book was Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, and I went looking for more books by this author after I had bathed my brain in depressing information by reading about present-day New Orleans. The library didn't have the sequel, The Drowned Cities (yeah, I know), but I was able to get the third one, Tool of War, which is not at all my type of book, but which I enjoyed immensely. (It was one of those times, like when I read the Passage series by Justin Cronin a few years ago, about a vampire virus and the end of the world, that I started to wonder if I am even fully aware what my type of book is.) It seems counter-intuitive that reading a novel about the horrible, dystopian effects of climate change would cheer me up, but you have to think that if human beings are able to imagine and create like that, maybe we're not quite so doomed as the news makes it sound like we are. I also tried another Bacigalupi title, this one about the former United States being split into many different countries, all fighting one another over water (The Water Knife), but that one was a little too depressing and I didn't finish it. From Bacigalupi I learned the world arcology, which at first I thought was his own creation, like the lower-case word orleans, a generic name for drowned city, but it's actually an archeological term, and you can read more about that here.

In a similar vein, I learned things I didn't want to know about plastic from the news, including reading a story (to which I will not link) about how there's plastic even in our digestive systems, as though we were goats eating whatever we can find at the garbage dump.

I'm sure I learned other things too, but the list petered out there, as Spirit Week led into the end of the month, and tune in next month to see what I learn in November!

(Here's what I learned in September, and that post includes links to all my other "What I Learned" posts from this year.)

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Gather

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing.

Of course we can ask for His blessing by ourselves. But so often, it is in gathering that we experience God's love. It is in bringing us together that He shows us His best gifts.

Recently I read a piece by Jonathan Martin talking about Communion, or maybe I heard it on his podcast? I'm not sure, and I can't find the exact reference. But what he said stuck with me: it isn't our Table. It's God's Table. He invites the guests; we don't. Many years ago, I wrote a similar idea to a friend expressing my gratitude to God for bringing us together. I made a comparison to playdates, the way you find other children that you think your own children will enjoy. Sometimes God puts us in other people's lives to benefit everyone involved; through the years we irritate each other, argue, make up, rub off each other's sharp edges, make each other laugh, encourage each other. We have fun together. I picture God looking at that and taking pleasure in it.

We are in a time when we are deeply aware of the divisions among us. People attack others. Hatred abounds. Evil is real, and it is terrifying. Sometimes it seems as though it would be easier to hide away.

And yet, there is good in gathering. Through others, we are enriched.

In this piece, Jennifer Oldham writes about planting a garden and trying to protect it from pests by draping it in mesh. Instead of protecting her garden, she found she was keeping pollinators away:

"I was in disbelief. There is a tree directly above my garden that is full of bees. The bees and the location of the garden should have been a perfect match. Why weren’t they pollinating? All they had to do was fly down and do their thing. And then it dawned on me. The mesh. I was keeping them from producing by prohibiting their access to the flowers. I nervously removed the mesh. Within weeks, things started to grow. I immediately saw the similarities between what I’d done to my garden and what I’d done to myself at times.

As an introvert, I have sometimes shied away from opportunities that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. In doing so, I have sometimes stifled my own growth. There were times when I chose to hide myself in a cloak of invisibility because being seen by others felt too risky. Visibility includes the potential for embarrassment or being misunderstood."

You should read the whole thing here.

When I think of the people in my life in this way, as guests that God has assembled for His own purposes, for pollination, in theory it should help me accept the comings and goings - especially the goings. I should know that there will be more guests along soon, more opportunities for connection with the same people or others, more chances to share ideas and enrich one another. There will be ENOUGH. I say "in theory," because I struggle constantly with this, in spite of my efforts to think calm spiritual thoughts about it. I love the gathering, and grieve the scattering.

For July's Spiritual Journey First Thursday, I shared the Sara Groves song "Every Minute." (You can listen here.)

And I wish all the people I love the most
Could gather in one place,
And know each other and love each other well.
And I wish we could all go camping
And lie beneath the stars 
And have nothing to do and stories to tell.
We'd sit around the campfire
And we'd make each other laugh, remembering when.
You're the first one I'm inviting;
Always know that you're invited, my friend.
And at the risk of wearing out my welcome,
At the risk of self-discovery,
I'll take every moment
And every minute that you'll give me,
Every moment and every minute that you'll give me,
Every moment and every minute that you'll give me,
Every minute...

It's easy for me to seize those moments, but hard when the moments are over and I am left behind. I need to trust that God will bring me more hellos after the goodbyes.

Be sure to visit Ramona's page to see what others have written about this month's word, GATHER.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Poetry Friday: Philosophy


Over FaceTime,
my daughter and I
study for her
college philosophy class.
She has a list of quotes
she is supposed to evaluate,
explain in context.

I squint at her face,
listen to her voice,
amplified through my computer speakers
from 1800 miles away.
I look for clues:
how is she really doing?

she tells me,
was a Stoic.
He believed in
If, instead of an onion
or a shellfish,
you are given a wife or child,
that’s great.
Be glad.
But don’t get attached.

I tell my daughter,
is trying to get us to fake ourselves out,
to pretend that the people we love
are as replaceable as onions,
as numerous as shellfish,
which back then,
in the first century AD,
were more numerous than they are now.

Yes, she says,
he taught that you shouldn’t wish
for things to be the way you want them to be.
you should want them to be the way they are.
You should never say that you have lost something
but that it has been returned.
It wasn’t ever yours.
Don’t view anything as permanent,
but as a traveler views a hotel.

Epictetus was a slave
and couldn’t walk very well
and adopted a child when he was an old man,
and when he says not to wish for things to be
the way you want them to be,
I assume his advice is well-meaning
and that he took it himself.

My daughter smiles,
moves on to the next philosopher,
but I am still evaluating,
explaining in context,
realizing once more
how far away she is,
and that she stayed in my home temporarily
as a traveler in a hotel,
and then swam away like a shellfish,
that I have a little tear in my eye
as though I had been slicing an onion,

how attached I am to her,
Epictetus notwithstanding.

Ruth, from

Epictetus, Source:

I had already written this post when I found this poem by Alice Walker called "How Poems are Made." It was such a perfect description of writing "Philosophy," and others I've written this week too, that I felt I had to include it.  How often have I felt I love too much? It's embarrassing. What a relief to be able to put that "leftover love" into a poem.

How Poems are Made
by Alice Walker

Letting go
In order to hold one
I gradually understand
How poems are made.

There is a place the fear must go. 
There is a place the choice must go. 
There is a place the loss must go. 
The leftover love.
The love that spills out
Of the too full cup
And runs and hides
Its too full self
In shame.

I gradually comprehend
How poems are made
To the upbeat flight of memories.
The flagged beats of the running
Here's the rest of it. (You should click over and read it. Go on. It's short.)

And here's today's roundup. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Poetry Friday: More About Windows

 Photo I took yesterday from my classroom window

Two years ago, I wrote for Poetry Friday about the first time I shared the poem "After the Blizzard, Outside my Window," by Lesléa Newman, with my seventh graders. You can find that poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School. It's a sonnet, and it describes the natural world after a snowstorm, as seen through the window. It concludes with the couplet: "To think that all of this is mine for free/ The world is so much better than TV!" In my 2016 post, I told you about my students' response to this lovely poem, and to my suggestion that they could write about what they see out of their windows (not blizzards, here on our tropical island). I wrote a response to their response, and then last year I shared Newman's poem again with my new class, plus my sonnet. I asked them to write in their notebooks about what they see out their windows, and then I used what they said to write another poem. (A vocabulary note for the second one: a djab is a spirit.)

Today, I shared the original poem and my two responses with my current class of seventh graders. They didn't have much to say, but I'll keep you posted on whether I get some window poems from them in the weeks to come.

Here is the poem I shared two years ago, and the one I wrote last year.

Why I Can’t Look Out the Window

You say the world is better than TV
And I imagine that you haven’t lied
But when I go out on my balcony
My mother tells me to come back inside.
She worries about kidnapping and such
And anyway, all I can see is wall
Topped with barbed wire, painful to the touch,
And really, there is nothing else at all.

Well, there’s a power line, and there’s a bird
And blue skies way up there, with wispy cloud
But Mom is asking if I haven’t heard.
I’d look some more, but I am not allowed.

I will explore the world once I am able
But while I’m waiting, I’ll make do with cable.

Ruth, from

Out The Window

I asked my students what they see when they look out their windows.

One said he sees a market,
with people who sell spaghetti
and get into fistfights over soap.

One said her window is a normal window during the day
but one night, something smashed into it and broke it,
and she doesn’t know what.

One said as she looks out her window,
her grandmother tells her to stop looking,
because the djab will see her
and take her soul.

One said he once saw thieves
taking the headlights off
the family car.

One said he saw
a cat catch a bird.

They all agreed there was nothing interesting outside their windows.

One said that whenever her grandmother visits from the United States,
she gazes out the window for hours,
staring at boring old Haiti.

Granmè,” my student says,
“What are you looking at?”

“The mountains,” replies her grandmother.
“They are so beautiful.
And there’s always something different to see.”

Ruth, from

Brenda has today's roundup.