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.)