Monday, December 31, 2018

CY365, Year Two

Today I completed my second year of CY365 (here's my post when I completed the first year). I'm planning to continue this practice of posting a daily photo in response to a prompt from  I don't love using Facebook for this, but I don't have a good alternative at this point. This blog feels a little too public, and just taking the photos and not sharing them isn't public enough. As more and more of my friends stop using Facebook regularly, I might try to find another place.

Posting my daily photo is a tiny little creative thing I can do each morning. It makes me feel grounded in my life and motivates me to look for beauty around me. When I look back at the photos, I remember the blessings of the year.

Here are a few of the photos I took and liked this year.

What I Read in 2018

This morning I finished four books and I'm guessing that's it for the year. If I finish another one today, I'll add it to the list.

Book #104 was Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are, a daily devotional by Shauna Niequist. I first wrote about this book here.

Book #105 was Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives.  I first wrote about this book here.

Book #106 was A Well-Worn Path: Thirty-One Daily Reflections for the Worshipping Heart, by Dan Wilt. I first wrote about this book here.

Book #107 was Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner. This was the only devotional book this year that I was reading for the first time, and I loved it. There were so many days when its words were exactly what I needed to read.

So now I'm in the market for a new daily devotional. I have a couple that I'm going to try. Any recommendations?

Here are links to the posts about what I read this year.

Books 1 & 2
Books 3 - 7
Books 8 - 13
Books 14 - 18
Books 19 - 24
Books 25 - 32
Books 33 - 39
Books 40 - 45
Books 46 - 51
Books 52 - 60
Books 61 - 70
Books 71 - 79
Books 80 - 86
Books 87 - 90
Books 91 - 97
Books 98 - 103
And scroll up for Books 104 - 107.

It was a good reading year. One new experience for me was that my writing appeared in two of the books above; I talked about both in this post.
Scrolling back through my reviews reminds me that I read a nice mixture of page-turners and depth this year. I also did a lot of re-reading.
I took this photo of a Gwendolyn Brooks poem while visiting the Chicago Public Library with my daughter in the summer. Books really do "feed and cure and chortle and collide," and I am so very thankful for them. I'm thankful that I have piles of them at my house and in my classroom, that I can and do download them onto my Kindle, and that I have friends who send them to me or say, "You have to read this." I don't know what I would do without reading. I'm also thankful that I started keeping track of my reading here on this blog; I love reflecting on ideas and themes in the books I read, and going over what I read in the year has become a treasured year-end ritual.

What's on your list for 2019? What should I put on mine?

This post is linked to the end of the year book list roundup at Semicolon.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Reading Update

Book #98 of 2018 was Circe, by Madeline Miller. Since I am an Iliad/Odyssey junkie, I loved this book. Circe is a villain in the Odyssey, turning men into pigs, keeping Odysseus from continuing his journey. In this telling, she's got good reasons for everything she does, and you're on her side before you know it. We get to see not just Odysseus, but also Daedalus, Penelope and Telemachus, through Circe's eyes. The writing is good, too. Here's Circe on Odysseus: "And how would such a man go home again, to his fireside and his olives? His domestic harmony with me was closer to a sort of rehearsal, I realized. When he sat by the hearth, when he worked in my garden, he was trying to remember the trick of it. How an axe might feel in wood instead of flesh. How he might fit himself to Penelope again, smooth as one of Daedalus’ joints."

Book #99 was Stay With Me, by Ayobami Adebayo, a Nigerian writer who explores the lives of a couple who can't get pregnant. The solution proposed by friends and family: a second wife. The story kept me turning pages, but I didn't find the ending to be very convincing.

Book #100 was Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person.  Since I've recently been introduced to Rhimes' show "Grey's Anatomy," it was fascinating reading about her own life and the way she sees the world, especially how she uses that material in her creative life.

Book #101 was That Kind of Mother, by Rumaan Alam. I was very surprised by the low customer ratings for this book on Amazon, because I liked it. I appreciated how quiet and understated it was in its handling of potentially explosive material: class, race, child-care, cross-racial adoption, friendship. I loved the recurring motifs of Princess Diana as a role-model, distant and imaginary, and Priscilla as the lactation consultant turned nanny turned saint. I found Rebecca a believable and sympathetic character, and particularly enjoyed the exploration of motherhood and creativity.

Book #102 was 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works, by Dan Harris. I read this book back in August and wrote about it in this post, where I said I wanted someone else to read it so we could talk about it. I solved that one by reading it to my husband, and we both enjoyed discussing it. (I love reading aloud, and it's something we enjoy doing together.)

Book #103 was Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. I have been using this teaching method since the beginning of this school year (I wrote about it some here), and it is extremely useful and effective. I was glad to finish reading the book, finally. It includes scripts for teaching lessons, examples of the signposts in YA books, and even worksheets to share with students.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Poetry Friday: Remember

On this, the last Poetry Friday of 2018, I'm remembering. Remembering this year, remembering years past. In February I wrote a "Why I'm Here" poem (you can read it here), and it ended this way:

I’m here to write it all down
and take pictures of all of it
and remember,
even if everyone else forgets:
love, and earthquakes,
and what the hibiscus looks like today.

Ruth, from

Here's a poem about remembering. Remembering that goes beyond thoughts and right down into who you are, your heart and soul. Remembering what you can't forget, even if you want to. Remembering even what hurts.
(Haitian-made ornament from Papillon. I'm thinking I'm going to keep it out when we put away the Christmas stuff.)

What the Heart Cannot Forget

Everything remembers something. The rock, its fiery bed
cooling and fissuring into cracked pieces, the rub
of watery fingers along its edge.

The cloud remembers being elephant, camel, giraffe,
remembers being a veil over the face of the sun,
gathering itself together for the fall.

The turtle remembers the sea; sliding over and under
its belly, remembers legs like wings, escaping down
the sand under the beaks of savage birds.


The heart remembers everything it loved and gave away,
everything it lost and found again, and everyone
it loved, the heart cannot forget.

Joyce Sutphen

I left out two stanzas in the middle, and they are wonderful ones, so click on over to read them.

Donna has today's roundup.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Poetry Friday: Winter Solstice

Today is my first day of break, since I finished my grading yesterday after the kids were dismissed. It's also the shortest day of the year. The shortest day of the year in the tropics, where it will still be bright and beautiful, and my daughter is coming home, and did I mention there's no grading to do?
I'm sharing part of a Jan Richardson poem today, from her book The Cure for Sorrow.

Blessing for the Longest Night


You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

You can read the rest here.

I'm so thankful for the resting spots along the path, like the two and a half weeks of vacation coming up. And I'm thankful for the company of people I love. And I'm thankful for no grading to do.

Buffy has the roundup today.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Reading Update

Book #91 of the year was The Atomic Weight of Love, by Elizabeth J. Church. This novel is the story of Meridian Wallace, an ambitious young ornithologist who marries a man working on developing the bomb in Los Alamos in the forties (hence the "atomic" of the title). The book follows Meridian's life and marriage over four decades.

Book #92 was Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, by Ray Bradbury. I enjoyed this, especially the essay "How to Keep and Feed a Muse." "The Feeding of the Muse...seems to me to be the continual running after loves."

Book #93 was How to Walk Away, by Katherine Center. Although this had some dark themes, it was a little more rom-com than I was expecting.

Book #94 was Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. I enjoyed this one very much. The fires in the title are both literal and figurative, and they are both creative and destructive. The book deals with family dynamics, parenthood, creativity, and cultural clashes, some of my favorite subjects to read about.

Book #95 was Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say, by Kelly Corrigan. Corrigan's essays are moving, funny, self-deprecating, honest, and relatable.

Book #96 was a re-read of a book I just read last month. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is. The book was A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, and I wrote about it here.

Book #97 was Jane, Unlimited, by Kristin Cashore. This is the fourth of Cashore's books I've read, and she is just dazzling. What an amazing, creative, unpredictable mind she has. This one is about multiple universes, art, relationships - there's even some of the mind-reading I so loved in Fire, Graceling and Bitterblue.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Poetry Friday: Sadness

A month ago I posted a list of things I do to cheer myself up. One of them was reading poems. Sometimes it's good to read something cheerful, but sometimes what you really need is to wallow in sad, and this post is the result of some of that. I didn't even type them up, just took some blurry photos of them and the books where I found them. (Click on the photo to enlarge it, and I'll replace a couple of these once the sun comes up and I have better light to use.) (Edited to add slightly improved photos.)

Poems included: "LXX," by The Monk Shun-E, "XLIV," by Komachi, "LVI," by Fujiwara no Toshinari, "Try to Praise the Mutilated World," by Adam Zagajewski, and "Sadness," by Stephen Dunn

Laura Shovan has today's roundup.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Poetry Friday: Yehuda Amichai

A few weeks ago, I found a poem I loved on the blog The Beauty We Love. The poem is called "Doubts and Loves," and it was written by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. (I'm not sure when I first encountered this blog, but I've been following it for a while. The poems there are almost always unfamiliar to me, and often have a spiritual dimension. In addition, they are illustrated with beautiful photos. I've encountered many treasures there.)

I'm going to share the first one I read, and then two others I discovered while exploring his work further on the Poetry Foundation site. I've spelled his name two different ways in this post, because the two sites spelled it differently. I'm assuming the discrepancy comes from the fact that it's a transliteration from Hebrew.

"Doubts and Loves" is, in my experience, very true. New growth doesn't come from "the place where we are right," but from "doubts and loves" that "dig up the world like a mole." That's why we are changed to our core by the people we love: our spouses, our friends, our children. They disrupt our lives and open us up to possibility.

Doubts and Loves
by Yehudi Amichai
translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

You can see the photo chosen to go with this poem here

Poem Without an End
by Yehuda Amichai
translated by Chana Bloch

Inside the brand-new museum
there's an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.

Here's the rest.

Problem in a Math Book
by Yehuda Amichai
translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld

I remember a problem in a math book
about a train that leaves from place A and another train
that leaves from place B. When will they meet?
And no one ever asks what happens when they meet:
will they stop or pass each other by, or maybe collide?
And none of the problems was about a man who leaves from place A
and a woman who leaves from place B. When will they meet,
will they even meet at all, and for how long?

Here's the rest.

Elizabeth Steinglass has the roundup today.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Reflections on OLW

It's December already, and it's time to reflect on the OLW chosen a year ago for 2018. Mine this year was ENOUGH.

Every once in a while as a teacher, you're asked to tell when a skill should be mastered, when it's been taught sufficiently that it's now second nature. You can be sure that your students know it. You can check it off your list. To me this has always seemed like a pointless exercise. The "skills" we teach in the English department are more art than science. Sure, we've taught commas, but is there a point when you will never make a comma error? Even professional authors need editors to correct their comma use. (I can think of one whose every blog post, presumably not edited by someone who does that for a living, is filled with comma splices; that author's published work has not a comma splice in sight.) And then there's the fact that sometimes it's a matter of preference. I might put a comma there and you might not, and neither one of us would be wrong.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. I want to be able to look back on this year and say, "Yup, I've got that down. Now I am always contented, never worried; I know that this day's provision, material and emotional and spiritual, will be ENOUGH, and I rest in that knowledge." But I can't say that. It's a daily struggle, a daily decision.

C.S. Lewis wrote: "Relying on God has to begin again all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done." I'm grateful for authors like Lewis, Nouwen, Buechner, who write from experience, from trial and error on the spiritual road, and who remind me that the challenges I face are not mine alone. When I feel as though there isn't enough love in the whole world for me to feel completely loved, for example, Nouwen's writing shows me that he often felt the same. Just keep going, he tells me. Don't give up. When I doubt and wonder if it's even worth it at all, Buechner's writing shows me that I'm not alone in that either. Just keep going. Don't give up.

(And yes, I'm aware of the irony of evaluating myself on how well I've done with the word ENOUGH, as though my pursuit of ENOUGH hasn't been ENOUGH. ENOUGH of all of this inner turmoil, please!)

Of course, it's about the process, the journey, the daily and hourly choices, the hesitating over the sentence to decide whether or not to put a comma right there, right now. I know that.

When I look back over this year, I know that the process mattered, the journey mattered, every mile mattered. I showed up, and I tried to love well, and I did my best. It was enough. Right?

Every Mile Mattered
Nichole Nordeman

Spread the map on the table, with the coffee stain
Put your finger on the places, show me where you've been
Is that California, where your teardrops dried?
You drew a circle round Georgia, can you tell me why?

I see shoulda beens, coulda beens
Written all over your face,
Wrong turns and bridges burned,
Things you wanna change

It's history
You can't rewrite it
You're not meant to be trapped inside it
Every tear brought you here
Every sorrow gathered
Yeah, it's history
And every mile mattered

Get the box off the top shelf, with the black and white
Snapshots of your old self, in a better light
Ghosts and regrets back again, I can see it in your eyes
Send them home, let 'em go
Don't you think it's time?

It's history
you can't rewrite it 
You're not meant to be trapped inside it
Every tear brought you here
Every sorrow gathered
It's history
And every mile

And every road and every bend
Every bruise and bitter end
All you squandered, all you spent
It mattered, it mattered
Mercy always finds a way
To wrap your blisters up in grace
And every highway you'd erase
It mattered, it mattered

But it's history
It don't define you
You're free to leave
It all behind you
Every tear brought you here
Every sorrow gathered
It's history
And every mile mattered
Every mile mattered 

Tune in on the first Thursday in January for my 2019 OLW.

The Incomparable Irene is rounding up the SJFT posts today. Check out what other people posted!

Monday, December 03, 2018

What I Learned in November

At the beginning of November, I read this devastating Smithsonian article about Anne Frank and why hers is the most famous book about the Holocaust that everyone reads. Hint: the article's lead reads: "People love dead Jews. Living Jews, not so much." In a time when anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise around the world, this is a must-read. Hard to take, but necessary.

This article introduced me to the blue heron from Maine, Nokomis, that is wintering here in Haiti. She caught my imagination and I wrote a poem about her. I shared it with The Heron Observation Network of Maine on their Facebook page, and had some fun interaction by email and Facebook with some people in Maine.

As the month went on, the political situation in Haiti deteriorated, and we had to spend several days at home "sheltering in place," as the U.S. Embassy calls it, while people demonstrated in the streets. We have been through many such times during our years in Haiti (here's a post I wrote during one such time), and I learned that I'm pretty tired of it, while continuing to sympathize with the issues the Haitian people face and realizing that ways to make one's voice heard are limited. I was glad to go back to work and have a full five days of normal classes last week.

The month ended with a big earthquake in Alaska. In the last couple of years I have not been reading earthquake articles; they are too difficult and cause too much emotional upheaval. But this one was right near some friends, plus it was a 7.0 just like "ours," so I let myself start reading. It doesn't end there, of course. Once I begin, I am soon scrolling obsessively through reports of aftershocks (as of today there have been over one thousand). I have the USGS "Did You Feel It?" site open on my desktop again. I'm talking all things earthquake with my husband again. (He thought he felt some tremors over the last few days, so it's not just me.) One thing that's missing from the Alaska articles: death. And I'm so glad. But I'm also, once again, tied up in knots by the memories from "our" earthquake, and all the thousands and thousands of people who died. Partly it's because Alaska has incredibly strict building codes, after their 1964 earthquake. Partly it's because of a far lower population density up there. And partly it's because the world is just not a fair place, and people in poor countries suffer from everything more than people in rich countries do. That's a reality I'm aware of all the time, but it's making my stomach hurt even more than usual these days.

(Here's what I learned in October, and at the bottom of that post there's a link to my September post which in turn contains links to all my "What I Learned" posts from this year.)

Friday, November 30, 2018

Poetry Friday: Marriage

I always hesitate to write about my marriage, because in my experience, people who write about marriage are generally doing so to advise other people how they should conduct their marriages. Please understand that I am not doing that. I have been married to my husband for nearly thirty years, and I am an expert on him and on us, which doesn't mean that I handle things well all or even most of the time, just that I am fully qualified to speak about my own marriage. I don't know about marriages in general, and I don't judge anybody else on their own situation. Sometimes things don't work out, in quiet ways or huge, dramatic ways. Some marriages need to end, when people are being abused and mistreated.

(I don't want to be a "smug married," as in Bridget Jones' memorable phrase. This time of year, I'm too busy being smug about our warm tropical weather.)

Having said all that, I think marriage is a great thing. People come and go constantly, but a spouse who will stick around until death parts you is a blessing beyond words. I am more grateful for my husband than I can say. He knows me, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and he keeps loving me, year after year after year. Any relationship that lasts as long as ours has will naturally have ups and downs, and the traditional marriage vows' references to better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness, and health were written in full awareness of that. My husband and I can irritate each other very effectively, and since we are both far from perfect, our home is not always filled with harmony. But life is hard, sometimes brutally so, and it's wonderful to have someone you can count on to be there through it. I do not take that for granted.

I didn't know what I was doing when I picked out a husband. I met him when I was 18 and we married when I was 21. What did I know? Precious little. Somehow I managed to get a great guy, who loves me and our children better every year. What have we done right? I couldn't really tell you. He cooks great meals, and that sure helps. He makes me laugh and he doesn't worry the way I do, and he helps me to get things in perspective. And he stays. Everyone else leaves, but he doesn't. 

Today I have a poem by, of all people, Margaret Atwood, about marriage. The author of The Handmaid's Tale wouldn't be likely to sugarcoat any topic, least of all marriage, and she doesn't. I think she has it right; we have to hold on tightly to the people around us in order to survive at all, let alone thrive.

After that I have a poem of my own, written nearly four years ago in a fit of frustration with the way people write about marriage. Everyone has advice, mostly filled with doom and gloom. And I am pretty convinced things are going to go wrong at any moment anyway, so I buy into the negativity way too often. I suddenly realized that I had probably been married longer than most of the people writing those articles I was seeing online, and maybe I knew just as much as they did, which is to say, not all that much. But for sure I knew more about my husband and my marriage than they did.

by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
                    the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

the edge of the receding glacier

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

You can read this poem and others by Atwood here.

Staying Afloat

Ten Things You Are Doing Wrong That Will Wreck Your Marriage
Ten Things You Are Doing Wrong That Will Ruin Your Children
Ten Things You are Doing Wrong That Will Destroy Your Life

Why do I click on these links,
As though unable to do anything else,
Drawn in by the flashing lighthouses of their headlines,
Eager to learn what I need to change, how I am falling short,
How I could, in an unguarded moment, ruin everything?
How my little boat could wind up shattered on the rocks?

Just once I’d like to see an article about what I’m doing right:

Like that time I steered by the shoal of dolphins
And we all stopped and watched as they played
And we were all happy.

And when we dangled our feet in the ocean and told stories as the sun set.

Or how we made it between Scylla and Charybdis
With only minor bruises
And because I held you tight, we didn’t even have to tie you to the mast
When we sailed past those sirens.

I don’t want to hear any more about what I might possibly be doing wrong
As our boat bobs gently.
We know the calm between the storms is only temporary,
But in the meantime,
It’s a beautiful day
And there’s not a cloud or a pirate or a shipwreck in sight.

Ruth, from

Carol has the roundup today.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Poetry Friday: Odes at Thanksgiving

Every year I read Neruda odes with my eighth graders during Thanksgiving week, and encourage them to write their own. I've written posts about this several times in the past: here and here in 2010, here in 2011, here in 2012, here in 2013, here in 2014, here in 2015, here in 2016, and here last year.

This year was a little different, because we had a touch of rioting here in Haiti. (Here's an article from the Miami Herald to get you caught up on the situation.) We did have school on Monday, but only four seventh graders and four eighth graders were there. Tuesday we had a delayed start which turned into a day off, and Wednesday we were off again. Yesterday and today were regularly scheduled days off for the Thanksgiving holiday (not a local holiday but we're an American school). So I didn't get to share odes this year, except with the few who were there on Monday; we read "Ode to Scissors," one of my favorites. I'm planning on squeezing a bit more on this into next week's lessons, so we'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I found a new-to-me ode to share with you for Poetry Friday today. 

Ode to Bird Watching
by Pablo Neruda
translated by Jodey Bateman

Let's look for birds!
The tall iron branches
in the forest,
the dense
fertility on the ground.


I bury
my shoes
in the mud,
jump over rivulets.
A thorn
bites me and a gust
of air like a crystal
splits up inside my chest.
are the birds?
Maybe it was
rustling in the foliage
or that fleeting pellet
of brown velvet
or that displaced
perfume? That
leaf that let loose cinnamon smell
- was that a bird? That dust
from an irritated magnolia
or that fruit
which fell with a thump -
was that a flight?
Oh, invisible little
birds of the devil
with their ringing
with their useless feathers.


I want to touch their gloves
of real hide
which they never forget in
the branches
and to converse with
sitting on my shoulders
although they may leave
me like certain statues
undeservedly whitewashed.


You can read the whole thing here.

What struck and amused me about this poem is that it isn't an ode to birds; Neruda seems a little vague on the birds themselves. We never get a single concrete bird detail in this poem, and this from a guy who is heavily into concrete details. The subject of the poem is, instead, the experience of bird watching, which appears to be largely frustrating. He's tracking sounds and even smells, asking "Was that a bird?" and anticipating getting pooped on. "Where are the birds?" he wants to know.

I can very much relate to this poem because my own bird knowledge is rudimentary at best (although I'm trying), and my efforts to take pictures of birds result mostly in lovely views of empty branches. And I can relate to it too because I find when I write an ode, or really just about anything at all, it's often as much about me as it is about the topic of my attention.

Neruda wrote about this tendency elsewhere in a poem called "Siempre Yo," or as Ben Belitt translates it, "Me Again."

Me Again
Pablo Neruda
translated by Ben Belitt

I who wanted to talk
of a century inside the web
that is always my poem-in-progress,
have found only myself wherever I looked
and missed the real happening.
With wary good faith
I opened myself to the wind: the lockers,
clothes-closets, graveyards,
the calendar months of the year,
and in every opening crevice
my face looked back at me.

The more bored I became
with my unacceptable person,
the more I returned to the theme of my person;
worst of all,
I kept painting myself to myself
in the midst of a happening.
What an idiot (I said to myself
a thousand times over) to perfect all that craft
of description and describe only myself,
as though I had nothing to show but my head,
nothing better to tell than the mistakes of a lifetime.

Tell me, good brothers,
I said at the Fishermen's Union,
do you love yourselves as I do?
The plain truth of it is:
we fishermen stick to our fishing,
while you fish for yourself (said
the fishermen): you fish over and over again
for yourself, then throw yourself back in the sea.

I've been thinking a lot lately about self-portraits and selfies, and about the idea that we writers are so often our own subject. We're stuck with ourselves, no matter how bored we get. We fish and fish and fish, and throw ourselves back in the sea, and then fish some more. Or we go bird watching and end up focusing on our own experience and missing the birds.

An eighth grader started an ode on Monday, and she passed it to me to look at. It was about her friends, the ones who were there with her at school that day; they were bonding and loving being such a small group. It was an ode to her friends, and an ode to herself with them, the tight little group they formed. I smiled and passed it back to her, telling her she was on exactly the right track.

Irene has this week's roundup.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Poetry Friday: Nokomis, the Great Blue Heron, Winters in Haiti

I was reading this week about how a Great Blue Heron from Maine has once again come to Haiti for the winter.
 Source: Facebook page of Heron Observation Network of Maine

This is the third year that she has been tracked here. Here's an article about her from this year. Her name is Nokomis, which they got from Native American legend; most of us are probably most familiar with the name from Longfellow's poem The Song of Hiawatha. I started doing some research on Nokomis, and on Great Blue Herons in general, and before I knew it, I was writing a poem about her. I didn't intend to use the Hiawatha rhythm, but I couldn't seem to help myself.

Here's my poem, and I'll put a bunch of other links from my research at the end of my post.

Nokomis, the Great Blue Heron, Winters in Haiti

By a little Haitian river
Northern tourist bird, Nokomis
slate-blue feathered, sleek Nokomis,
Great Blue Heron fleeing winter,
snaps her beak to grab some dinner,
finding fish and frogs to snack on.
Every year returns Nokomis,
on vacation, Great Blue Heron,
snowbird from the north Nokomis,
tagged in Maine three summers prior.
There from Maine they trace Nokomis,
keep track of her winter travels.

Once they lost her, lost her signal,
lost connection with Nokomis’
solar chip transmitting data,
lost her to the world of flying,
bird of mystery, missing heron,
flying south to spend the winter.
It was scientists that named her,
for they didn’t know her bird name,
didn’t know the name her mother
gave her when she was a hatchling.
Named for Hiawatha’s grandma,
daughter of the wind, Nokomis,
tracked by people, flying southward.
They had lost her, she was silent.

But they found her lost transmission,
chip warmed by the sun in Haiti,
beak warmed by the sun in Haiti,
in remote un-named location.
Hatched from pale green egg, the heron,
from her home in cold New England,
eighteen hundred miles northward,
flies to Haiti every winter,
fills the air with heron croaking.

When the weather warms, Nokomis,
she’ll head home to spend the summer,
leave behind her tropic island.
Till next year, then, Great Blue Heron.

Ruth, from

Here's an article about how they lost contact with Nokomis back in 2016.
This article asks whether the Great Blue Heron is endangered. (I am so glad to be able to report that it isn't. And this link has a beautiful photo of the bird, too.)
Here are some photos from the Audubon Society in Venice, Florida. They call Audubon an "American ornithologist," and of course he was, but he originally came from our part of the Americas, since he was born in Haiti.
Here's another Haitian bird poem I wrote earlier this year.
Here's the website of the Heron Observation Network of Maine.
Here's the Wikipedia page for the name Nokomis.
And here's some more information on the Great Blue Heron.

Linda has this week's roundup.

Reading Update

Book #87 of 2018 was a re-read, Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen.

Book #88 was The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny. This is the eleventh in the Inspector Gamache series, and my least favorite so far.

Book #89 was A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.  I loved this book, about a Russian aristocrat who is condemned by a Bolshevik court in 1922 to spend the rest of his life in the luxury hotel where he lives. They move him from his beautiful suite to a tiny room in the attic; his whole existence contracts to a small space with a few possessions, but he is still able to find ways to lead a meaningful life and participate in the world outside himself. The book is really about how to make the best of this life, the life you have rather than the one you envisioned for yourself.

Book #90 was The Light of the World: A Memoir, by poet Elizabeth Alexander, about her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, who died unexpectedly at age 50. This is a beautiful book, a tribute to a fascinating man and to their marriage.

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

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.