Sunday, March 17, 2019

Reading Update

Here's what I've been reading lately:

Book #17 of 2019 was Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown. I was curious to learn more about Princess Margaret, but it was a little hard to keep track of what was real and what was invented in this "biography."

Books #18 and 19 were a couple of novellas by Diana Gabaldon, The Space Between and Virgins. Gabaldon puts these out in between her monster (800+ page) novels in the Outlander series. I found them in the library while looking for something else and they were quick reads that gave additional background to the series.

Book #20 was Discover the Mystery of Faith: How Worship Shapes Believing, by Glenn Packiam. Packiam's ruminations on how we express our beliefs in worship and how our worship informs and shapes what we believe were thought-provoking.

Book #21 was Hank Green's novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. While I didn't especially enjoy this (though I'll probably read the sequel so I know what happens), I did like this quote from the acknowledgements: "I also want to thank every single person who ever says, ‘You have to read this book!’ to a friend. I don’t care if it’s this book; I just want people to remind each other how wonderful books are." (Books are wonderful, friends!)

Book #22 was Many-Storied House: Poems by George Ella Lyon. This book began as a writing assignment, where students were supposed to write about a room in a house from their childhood. Lyon, the teacher, did the same and ended up writing about the house where she grew up in a lot of detail. I enjoyed reading this.

Book #23 was A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty, by Joni Eareckson Tada. If anybody has earned the right to talk about these issues, it's this author, who has spent the last fifty years in a wheelchair after breaking her neck as a teenager. In addition to quadriplegia, she also has suffered for many years from chronic pain, and more recently breast cancer.

Book #24 was A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny, the twelfth Inspector Gamache book. I liked the new setting of this novel, the police training college that Inspector Gamache is supposed to clean up, but I didn't understand why several characters had to head to Three Pines midway through the book and hang out there.

Book #25 was All He Ever Wanted, by Anita Shreve, a sad, depressing story of a marriage based on a complete lack of communication.

Book #26 was The Chalk Artist, by Allegra Goodman. I really enjoyed this story about creativity, how our brains work, what we get or don't get from our families. I especially liked the teacher character, Nina, and the realistic, sympathetic sections about how she is learning her job. There aren't many books that mine the emotional territory of how hard it is to teach, especially at the beginning.

Book #27 was Out of the House of God: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines, by Preston Yancey. I liked this, especially the extended metaphor of baking and spirituality. (I'm not a baker, but I live with one.) Yancey is very reflective and goes beyond the obvious. Here he is on prayer: "Kneading is a work of wrestling, of working out something from chaos into something that has form. Intercessory prayer is like that. We are working out with God the mess of things, the chaos of being, and seeing what shape and form it could take on when we turn it over, again and again, back to God." Elsewhere he writes: "Icons are the ordinary signs of miracle. There is never just a cup in this world when every cup brings to mind the cup held by Jesus on the night he was betrayed, when he said it held his blood shed for us. There is never just a bed when every bed brings to mind the command of God to speak of the stories of God at all times and in all places, in our lying down and our rising. There is never just a basin of water when all water is called holy because Jesus entered the waters of baptism with us, called himself living water at the well of Jacob." I will probably read this one again; there's a lot to think about here.

Book #28 was A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems 2014 and 2015, by Wendell Berry. I think this is the first time I've read a full book by Berry. He is so good to read in this time we live in, when the planet is choked by plastic and heating up and it feels as though we all need to climb on a spaceship and go somewhere else. Berry is so much more in touch with agriculture and the earth than most of us will ever be, and although he is completely clear-eyed about the mess, still he has hope. In addition to the poems in the book, there's an extended essay on Nature, and I loved the discursive commentary about Chaucer and Spenser and Wordsworth and others, and the combination of poetry and farming, philosophy and where you should wipe your feet if they have manure on them. I kept having the feeling about Berry that I used to have when I read C.S. Lewis in my teens and early twenties: that the author would not approve of me at all due to the trivial, frivolous nature of my inner landscape. But I enjoyed the book anyway.

Book #29 was Free Verse, by Sarah Dooley, a middle grade novel about seventh grader Sasha and her tragic life in Caboose, West Virginia. Sasha loses members of her family, ends up in foster care, runs away, and writes poetry. She is a sympathetic character, if a little old-seeming.

I'm in the middle of several books right now, so there should be a new update fairly soon!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Poetry Friday: Sunshine

In Haiti we have lots of problems; perhaps you've heard? That's what we're known for. On Wednesday I read an article in a local newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, summarizing a report that came out a year ago (I'm not sure why they are just now writing about it) from the University of Boston about our local electrical company. (Here's the report if you want to go read it.) That talked about problems, lots of them. An editorial showed that the paper found all of it as depressing as I did; it refers to "the desire of all of us to go looking for light elsewhere" ("notre envie à tous d'aller chercher la lumière ailleurs").

My first thought when I read that was: "Let's look for light here!" but I know how privileged I am to have some backup electricity for those long nights with no city power. The report says that only between 20 and 40% of the households in this country have any electricity connection at all. (And please, what kind of range is "between 20 and 40%?")

I went looking for a Caribbean poet writing about the extraordinary light we have here, fading our clothes as they flap on the clotheslines. That's the kind of light we can count on, because nobody can corrupt it or steal it and keep it for themselves, and I can count on Derek Walcott to write about it:

from The Prodigal

by Derek Walcott

A grey dawn, dun. Rain-gauze shrouding the headlands.
A rainbow like a bruise through cottony cumuli.
Then, health! Salvation! Sails blaze in the sun.
A twin-sailed shallop rounding Pigeon Island.
This line is my horizon.
I cannot be happier than this.

Derek Walcott isn't writing of Haiti, but of his own beautiful island, Santa Lucia, but the quality of the light is much the same. I don't want to downplay Haiti's problems, because they are many and people's lives are terribly difficult. I don't want to pretend that the sunshine makes up for the rest. Of course it doesn't. But the sunshine is beautiful, just the same.

Here's another poem to underline some of the things the rest of the world could learn from the Caribbean, or specifically Barack Obama from Derek Walcott:

The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott's Collected Poems

by Yusef Komunyakaa

Was he looking for St. Lucia's light
to touch his face those first days
in the official November snow & sleet
falling on the granite pose of Lincoln?

If he were searching for property lines
drawn in the blood, or for a hint
of resolve crisscrossing a border,
maybe he'd find clues in the taste of breadfruit.

I could see him stopped there squinting
in crooked light, the haze of Wall Street
touching clouds of double consciousness,
an eye etched into a sign borrowed from Egypt.

If he's looking for tips on basketball,
how to rise up & guard the hoop,
he may glean a few theories about war  
but they aren't in The Star-Apple Kingdom.

If he wants to finally master himself,
searching for clues to govern seagulls
in salty air, he'll find henchmen busy with locks
& chains in a ghost schooner's nocturnal calm.

He's reading someone who won't speak
of milk & honey, but of looking ahead
beyond pillars of salt raised in a dream
where fat bulbs split open the earth.

The spine of the manifest was broken,
leaking deeds, songs & testaments.
Justice stood in the shoes of mercy,
& doubt was bandaged up & put to bed.

Now, he looks as if he wants to eat words,
their sweet, intoxicating flavor. Banana leaf
& animal, being & nonbeing. In fact,
craving wisdom, he bites into memory. 

The President of the United States of America
thumbs the pages slowly, moving from reverie
to reverie, learning why one envies the octopus
for its ink, how a man's skin becomes the final page.

I found that poem here.

And here's Heidi's roundup. She's taking on the destruction of the planet today, and who better to do it?

Friday, March 08, 2019

Poetry Friday: Dave Dreams About Carnival

A friend told me about a dream he had, and gave me his blessing to mine his subconscious for a poem. I write about my own dreams often, but rarely about other people's. I wish I had a photo or painting of this one, but I don't, just words - words which I had a lot of fun writing.
Dave Dreams of Carnival

My friend Dave dreams he’s at my house in Haiti
and just as he’s about to knock on the door
it opens
and a Carnival procession cavalcades out,
led by a man on a donkey
and accompanied by raucous rara music. 

Dave wakes up as the revelers push by him,
(I imagine the donkey,
costumed in satin and sequins),
and hours later,
in the pale northern afternoon,
Dave realizes
that today is Mardi Gras.

In New Jersey where Dave lives,
snow still covers the ground this Fat Tuesday
and the particular energies required for a Haitian Carnival
remain frozen.
Meanwhile, here in Haiti,
while it’s a breezy eighty eight degrees,
and the palm trees and tropical backdrop sparkle,
political problems have cancelled this year’s festivities.
In short, Mardi Gras twenty nineteen is rather thin.
It’s Tuesday,
but Wednesday’s coming with all the ashes.

Dave stayed in my house once for about a month,
in twenty ten, another time when Carnival didn’t happen;
that year we’d just had a huge earthquake.
I wasn’t there, since
I’d gone to the US with the children;
my husband hosted him, sort of,
and Dave slept in my daughter’s room
and read books from her shelves in the evenings
after working all day in disaster relief,
while she went to seventh grade in Kentucky.

My house in Haiti is still part of the landscape of Dave’s dreams
just as he somehow knows without knowing that it’s Carnival time
the same day he wakes from the sound of drums and bamboo trumpets
and looks out his window at March in New Jersey.

Fifteen hundred miles away,
I stand startled, watching
merrymakers parade out of my door
dressed in the red and blue of the Haitian flag,
their tall headdresses swaying
as they sashay into the neighborhood
leaving behind the donkey poop for someone to clean up.

Let’s face it, I think,
annoyed by the effects of other people’s imaginations:
that someone will probably be me.

Mardi Gras, 2019

Ruth, from

Today's roundup is here.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

First Thursday Spiritual Journey: Balance

One night I lost my balance and fell down the stairs, landing on my left leg and breaking it badly. That night was more than twenty years ago, and this morning as I write these words I can feel stiffness and pain as I flex my left foot.

I remember congratulating my doctor after my surgery on the beautiful incision, and how he wouldn’t take the credit: “You’re just a good healer,” he told me. And now the scar is scarcely visible, unless I point it out to you. Most days my leg works exactly as it is supposed to, but sometimes it hurts. It seems most likely to happen when I’ve had several days off in a row, as I have now (our Spring Break is always at Carnival time). When I don’t wear shoes with support, but go around barefoot or in flip flops for too long, the long-ago injury makes itself felt.

I’ve lost my balance at other times in my life, and fallen into the darkness just as I fell down those stairs. Balance is a tricky thing, and so many factors can affect it. The night of my accident, I was pregnant, and my center of gravity was strange to me. I was also half asleep and in an unfamiliar place. Other times, as I’ve lost my footing and fallen into temptation, or despair, or confusion, what caused those tumbles? What made me miss those stairs? My own natural weakness, the circumstances, a moment’s lapse in concentration?

I remember that night after I fell down those stairs, apologizing repeatedly to my husband and brother-in-law as they supported me and helped me to a chair. And I remember other times in my life apologizing to people around me for the state they found me in, as I worked to regain my balance, the balance that I had lost for a moment or a season. How many times have I found myself there on the floor, needing help to stand up again, to keep moving forward?

Once that balance is lost, it’s hard to regain. There’s the whole embarrassing rigmarole of being lifted and carried, there’s the pain, there’s the midnight trip to the emergency room. I was in Japan when that tumble happened, and there everyone takes off shoes when entering a building. Everyone, I learned, includes someone who just broke her leg, and the buildings include the hospital. I remember wobbling as I struggled to replace my shoes with the hospital-issue slippers. Then followed the weeks of crutches, also a challenge to balance.

Balance is a goal I have: a balanced diet, work/life balance, a balanced checkbook. I don’t want to veer too far to one direction or the other; I want to find peace and stability. I work to keep my balance; I eat right, get enough sleep, read my Bible, go to church, pray, talk to my husband and other friends. When I lose my balance, I work to get it back. For that I lean on others, and on God; I practice taking steps again when my ability is temporarily interrupted. I remember my physical therapist praising me because I did my exercises and regained my strength. So many of her patients, she told me, didn’t follow her instructions properly. I’m a rule-follower, and it served me well then. I would be chasing a toddler soon, and it was important to me to be strong and flexible. I remember how I cried when I saw my calf the first time after my surgery, and realized how much it had atrophied in that short time. I wanted to be back to normal.

And now I mostly am. The painful twinges are the exception, not the rule. But those other times I lost my balance, the times I’m not as eager to talk about, they have left effects too: misconceptions in how I see the world, difficult memories, regrets, nightmares.  Lose your balance for a moment and you may feel it for years.

So I hold on to the banister, place my feet carefully. I take the stairs one at a time. And if I do miss a step or two and fall into the darkness, I don’t despair. I let grace catch me. I scramble to my feet again as soon as I can, get the help I need, keep going. When I lose my balance, I trust it isn’t gone forever, that I’ll get it back.

And one reason for that trust is that I lost my balance one night, years ago, and fell down the stairs and broke my leg.  But now I’m OK.

Our host this month is Doraine. Head on over to her blog to see what others have posted for today on the topic of balance.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ash Wednesday, Mercredi des Cendres

This morning we read from the book of Joel, who passed on the message from the Lord to rend our hearts and not our garments. This year as we begin Lent, our hearts are already tattered, and we hardly need the reminder that we are dust. Each time I hear those words, as the ashes are placed upon my forehead, I remember the earthquake, the way death came for so many at one moment, and a fine dust spread over the city as the wailing rose up.

This year we have had ashes, days of them, ashes from burning tires, as people made in God's image protested the impossibility their lives have become, or sought power, or burned things just because, depending on the individual, and who knows why we do what we do; even in our own hearts we are often unsure.

"La situation est sérieuse," said the priest, the situation is serious, and I think we can all agree with that, the situation in the world, the situation in Haiti, the situation in our own hearts.

Last year on Ash Wednesday I wrote these words:


I’m here for the ashes.
I’m here for the dust,
for remembering that that is what I am,
and that that is where I will return.

I’m here for the ashes,
the remains of what I loved,
the palms from last year,
and carefully preserved,
precious dust.
Those palms mattered
too much to toss their remains away.
They became today’s ashes.
And that’s why I’m here.

I’m here for the ashes,
for the reminder that though my flesh is solid now,
it will die.
The smudge on my forehead
will wash away,
but I will still be mortal,
headed for my expiration date.

I’m here for the ashes,
so smear them on me,
whispering as you do,
remember that you are dust.”
Precious dust,
but dust nonetheless,
a temple filled with the Holy Spirit
that one day will fall

I’ll leave with the ashes,
and through my day I’ll see others
with dusty marks on their faces,
as they too have been reminded
of what they are.
Beautiful and impermanent,
valuable and temporary,
needing to be
swept up
with a broom.

There are other places to get
roses and accolades,
work and fulfillment,
conversation and snacks,
but this is the only place I know
where they are imposing ashes today
that’s why I’m here.
For the ashes.

Ruth, from

Friday, March 01, 2019

Poetry Friday: An Exchange of Gifts

by Alden Nowlan

As long as you read this poem
I will be writing it.
I am writing it here and now
before your eyes,
although you can't see me.
Perhaps you'll dismiss this
as a verbal trick,
the joke is you're wrong;
the real trick
is your pretending
this is something
fixed and solid,
external to us both.
I tell you better:
I will keep on
writing this poem for you
even after I'm dead.

Thank you, Alden Nowlan, for this exchange of gifts. I'm giving you my attention, and you, although you've been dead a while, are still writing this poem for me.

Linda has the roundup today, and she's welcoming spring! And today's your first opportunity to sign up for this year's Progressive Poem: go to Irene's blog to pick your date!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

What I Learned in February

I ended my January post with a hope that February would be better, and you know what, it really wasn't. We spent eleven days "sheltering in place" due to anti-government riots, and when a month is as short as February, that's a big chunk of it. Nevertheless I do have some things on my "what I learned" list.

Friends came to dinner early in the month and urged us to take the Enneagram test. I did, and was surprised by my result, but then the more I read and listened, the more I thought that it was right. Then I developed a little mini-obsession with learning about the Enneagram (I know, how original).

My husband and I took a webinar from this author, Lindsey Moses, on working with English language learners. There were four sessions and we didn't watch the fourth one yet, but we're going to finish it up on our week off for Carnival. So far it was interesting and useful, and I always like learning the latest acronyms, which in my experience are mostly what change in the education world.

The next item on my list says "financial crisis in Haiti." The Haitian currency, the gourde, has lost a lot of its value in the past year, and people are struggling for the basics of survival: food, water, medical care, sending their children to school. In addition, billions of dollars have gone missing from the PetroCaribe fund that was supposed to improve life here. These factors and others sparked riots beginning on the 7th of this month, and while the riots themselves are no longer happening, the underlying problems are in no way resolved, so we are waiting to see what will happen. It's discouraging to see Haiti sink into crisis again. We're so tired of the way people have to suffer. The vast majority of people are not involved with the destruction and violence of the riots; they just want to live their lives peacefully. We had plenty of time to contemplate this - and everything else - during our time at home.

I remember when my husband and I were dating, someone told me to imagine seeing him across the dinner table every day for the rest of my life. Good advice. But nobody ever told me to imagine being locked in with him for eleven days of political unrest. (I think I'll put that in my marriage book.) Fortunately he is great in a crisis, and while we were all a bit on edge and stir-crazy, we made it. Let's hope we don't have to shelter in place again anytime soon.

We hosted a professional development gathering for teachers in February and showed this movie, "Most Likely to Succeed." It's about how schools can adjust to the new information-based economy, specifically by focusing on a project-based curriculum. It was very interesting and led to some good conversations.

Everyone is talking about Marie Kondo right now, and her de-cluttering method. My daughter read her book several years ago, so we had already mocked the concept of only owning 30 books. But I found this article really hit the nail on the head. While having a less cluttered living space may make you feel more in control, the reality is that you're never going to have a completely in-control, tidy life. I like it when the clutter is cleared, but life is messy, and that's not going away.

I heard about this Ted Talk by Roman Mars while listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast. It's about flag design, and it is very much worth watching.

In February, I learned again about what it feels like when people talk about evacuation. We've been there before, in that space where some people feel that it's too unsafe here in Haiti and that they have to leave. Everyone's considerations for making that decision are different, but whether or not you understand why people choose to do it (and of course I do understand), you feel abandoned when you're left behind. That's one reason I felt so guilty after the earthquake for leaving Haiti. This time, like in 2004, the clear-out happened fast. Once the embassy starts pulling people out, others follow suit. It didn't help when the travel advisory was raised to level 4, putting us on the same level with countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria. People are now returning, slowly, but some we may never see again. I learned that in the years since the last time we experienced this, it did not stop stinking.

I had a birthday in February, and I absolutely love my birthday, just as much as any little kid. I learned again that I also love being loved. I wish I could feel that way all the time. By the evening of my birthday I always ask myself how I could ever feel insecure, as I bask in the glow of all the Facebook messages that have been popping up all day.

Oh February, you're over already! Here's to March!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Poetry Friday: QWP

Last year I marked turning 50 by setting myself a big writing goal that I called my Quinquagenarian Writing Project (QWP). After my birthday I just kept going, and I have more than sixty essays and poems in this year's folder as I reach this year's birthday.

I have several thoughts as I look at the year's writing all in one place. One thought is that I often write when I'm sad, and boy, can I be self-absorbed and angsty! I spend much of my life reading writing by teenagers, and honestly there are times when my own resembles theirs more than I like to admit. More and more, I realize that those big feelings of 13 and 14 year olds don't change that much; you just get more experience in dealing with them.

Another thing I notice is how often I have written around a topic again and again, circling back obsessively until I bore myself to tears. But sometimes I end up rewriting the ending, writing myself to a better way of seeing something, to acceptance of a situation that's been bugging me. How wonderful when that happens! It makes the angst worth it. When I see the squirming and obsessing as part of the solution, it helps me be less impatient with myself and my process of figuring things out, and it also helps me do the same for my students.

But sometimes writing works completely differently; it helps me focus on something else besides what I'm worrying over. Here, for example, is a poem I wrote this summer after visiting the Art Institute of Chicago with my daughter and seeing this Monet painting.

Cliff Walk at Pourville, by Claude Monet

The wind blows colors:
Patches of white in clouds, sails, skirts,
A pink parasol,
Blues of sky and sea,
Greens and grays of the cliff.

The wind blows lines:
Rippling, ruffling,
Chaotically planned,
Scientifically random,
Piles of still movement.

The wind blows ideas:
Cleans out the head,
Sweeps away the worries and words,
Carries away yesterday and tomorrow,
Flying over the waves and out of sight.

Ruth, from

You can see the painting more closely and learn more about it in this video:
Robyn has today's roundup.

(Speaking of things I worry about, here's a quick update on the situation in Haiti. Thanks so much for all your concern last week, Poetry Friday friends. Although many schoolchildren in the country are still staying home, our school re-opened on Tuesday and we had a calm, peaceful week. Perhaps three quarters of our students showed up for school; some had left the country during the riots. Many NGOs and international organizations asked their personnel to leave, as did the US Embassy. Haiti's travel advisory was raised to a level 4, putting us in the same category as countries like Syria and Afghanistan. We are concerned about the possibility of more unrest, because the underlying issues have not been resolved, but we're encouraged to have had a nearly normal week.)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Poetry Friday: I Carry Your Heart

i carry your heart with me
 by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Instead of being at work this week reading love poems with my middle schoolers and dealing with their shenanigans, I've been at home "sheltering in place." Anti-government protests have shut down Port-au-Prince and many other parts of the country. All the news stories are illustrated with photos of giant flames. The protests are over real and serious issues: the local currency, the gourde, has lost 26% of its value against the US dollar in the past 12 months. People who were already living in poverty are unable to eat, let alone send their children to school and access medical care when they need it. Enormous amounts of money have gone missing and are unaccounted for. The protesters want the president to resign and in addition to peaceful mobilization there has been looting and burning and extortion as well.

My students are sending me writing via Google Docs and emails about what they are reading, and I've also been emailing with a friend about her novel, of which I was a Beta Reader (capital letters to emphasize how impressive I feel being a Beta Reader), reading enormous amounts, listening to podcasts and watching Netflix as electricity allows, and thinking about a short story of my own. I also had over neighbors who were climbing the walls and treated them to chai and puppy therapy. I know this all sounds fun, and sure, it is, especially compared to what the majority of the people in this country are dealing with, but I'm so ready to be back at work complaining about how sugar-addled everyone is.

I'm carrying many hearts in mine.

This week's roundup is here. 

Edited to add: if you're looking for a US-based source to read Haiti news in English, the Miami Herald does a good job of covering what's going on here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Reading Update

I'm home on a Monday instead of at work because of ongoing political unrest in Haiti. This is day five of sheltering in place, which has provided lots of extra reading time.

Book #12 of 2019 was Frederick Buechner's The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life.  "I think that a part of what to tell one's story in a religious sense means is to affirm that there is a plot to one's life. It's not just incident following incident without any particular direction or purpose, but things are happening in order to take you somewhere."

Book #13 was Hold Tight, Don't Let Go, by Laura Rose Wagner. I reviewed this book at length here when I first read it. This time I read it aloud to my husband as part of our remembering, commemorating the ninth anniversary of the earthquake. We cried as we read this beautiful, horrifying, hopeful, despairing account of Magdalie's earthquake experience. A friend to whom I was talking about this book commented, "She's a blan, right?" (Blan literally means white, but it's used to refer to any foreigner.) Yes, she's a blan, but one who loves Haiti in all its complexity. She doesn't shy away from what's awful, but she's also affectionate and clearly cares about this beautiful place. "All I can do," concludes Magdalie, "is hold everyone in my heart, the only place I know where I can keep them safe." 

Book #14 isn't published yet; it was a second draft of a new novel by someone in my writing group. It was so fun! I wish I could hand you a copy!

Book #15 was a book of short stories by Ben Fountain called Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. I have had this book for some time, but for some reason I had not read it yet. While sheltering in place I read it aloud to my husband and Ben Fountain became my new favorite writer. Blurbs at the beginning compare him to Graham Greene, Hunter S. Thompson, Evelyn Waugh, Katherine Anne Porter, Paul Theroux, Joseph Conrad, even Kafka. I definitely get all these comparisons, because these are characters in a complex moral universe where it's not easy to keep your hands clean, but Fountain is an original. Several of the stories are set in Haiti, one in Colombia, one in Sierra Leone, one in Myanmar, one in the US, and one in Europe. This book is so beautifully written, and the first and second stories are among the best short stories I've ever read. "Rêve Haitien" has the most amazing ending; it brought tears to my eyes when I first read it, and then after my husband and I discussed the story a while, he asked me to read the ending again. Again, it made me cry. 


I checked book #16 out of the library; it was Anne Lamott's Almost Everything. For a while I read everything Anne Lamott wrote, but I haven't read her last few books. This one had some gems in it, like Lamott's description of how reading got her through her childhood.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Poetry Friday: Jacmel

This week I read this article about a bakers' strike in Jacmel, Southern Haiti. Then I wrote this poem and illustrated it with photos I've taken in some of our many visits to Jacmel, one of my favorite places on earth.
No Bread in Jacmel

In Jacmel,
the bakers are on strike.

They say
a few weeks ago,
a sack of flour cost
one thousand seven hundred and fifty gourdes
and this week
it costs
two thousand five hundred gourdes.

They say
they can’t pay their employees.

They say bread is rare now in Jacmel
and people are lining up for it.

The bakers interviewed by the newspaper
speak from their bakeries,
Plan of God
Gift of God,

Where today they are not producing
pain au chocolat
pain de campagne
any other delights
which you could normally find
to carry home
through the streets of Jacmel.

In Jacmel
they know people don’t live
by bread alone.
They have poetry on the beach
and colorful mosaics
and you can buy paintings on every corner.

In 2010 an earthquake
stopped the cathedral clock
but they got it started again
and time went on passing as before.

The ocean is blue
and the houses are painted in pastels
and it looks a lot like it did a hundred years ago
except of course for all the motorcycles
zipping back and forth.

In Jacmel
the bakers pray
that God will give them this day
their daily bread.
And so does everyone else.

Ruth, from

Laura has today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Home is Where the Heart Is

For Spiritual Journey First Thursday, our host Donna asked us to write about the expression "Home is Where the Heart Is." So here goes...

The subject of "home" has always been a difficult one for me, because I have moved around so much and spent so much of my life apart from people I love. Home is definitely where people I love are, but there are many places of which that's true.
I wrote about this back in 2011:

An Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11
I've thought about this verse a lot, and wondered what it would be like to have an undivided heart. It sounds incredibly restful to me sometimes. I don't think I've ever felt that my heart was completely at home in one place. It is always divided. This started when I first went to boarding school at the age of seven, and experienced what it's like to want to be in two places, to miss my parents desperately but at the same time love school and being with my friends. My heart was divided; I couldn't choose.

In fact, maybe my divided heart started even earlier than that. I was born in the United States and then went to Africa as a tiny baby. I was from two places, heard many languages, loved both ugali and pizza, had my blond pigtails pulled by people who were fascinated by my hair.

And now I live away from most of my family and many of my friends and my heart remains divided; there's always, always someone to miss. Divided, loving more than one place, loving more people than I can count, not satisfied with seeing people I love so seldom, with one sentence on Facebook, with not knowing my nieces and nephews, or my friends' children, not being part of their lives.

I guess everyone is like that these days; none of us can live near to all the people that matter to us. I have a friend from high school who was the third generation of her family growing up in the same house, but that's not common any more, and probably I romanticize what that would be like, as someone who has lived in mission housing, or rented houses or apartments, since my birth. It's a missionary kid cliche that we can't tell where we're from; there's no place on this earth where I feel rooted.

Maybe that's not what the verse means; it's talking, after all, about loving God above all others. Other versions of the Bible use language like "purity of heart," "unite my heart," even "focus my heart." God can focus my heart even as I flit about from one task to the next, from one need to the next. Even as I hurt with absence from people I love.

"Some day," posted an MK friend on, yes, Facebook, today, "there will be no goodbye." I can't imagine that day. It brings tears to my eyes to try to picture it. A day of hellos.

Yes, my heart is often divided, but I'm so thankful for the many wonderful people that God has brought into my life and given to me to love.  And "home," the actual place where I hang my hat (we do have a hat-rack, and I literally hang hats on it), is with the people with whom I get to share life right now. It won't be forever, I'm reminded as college mail arrives each week for my tenth grader in the wake of his PSAT. But for now, my heart is at home with my husband and son, and my heart is also with my daughter in college, and my family spread around the world, and my friends whom I love. Better too much love than too little, every time. Love is worth the pain of separation.

In the 2011 post, I wrote that I don't feel rooted anywhere. In 2017 my OLW was ROOTED, and after reflecting more on that concept, and on the verse in Ephesians that talks about being "rooted and established in love," I do feel rooted, right here where I am. Home is where my heart is, right here, nestled in God's love.

Be sure to visit Donna's roundup to see what everyone else wrote today.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Poetry Friday: Absences

It's not snowing where I live, but it's snowing in many of the places where my friends and family members live right now, and I'm seeing photos of cold and shivery days on social media. I like the way Donald Justice describes absence in this poem, the lack of color, the lack of flowers, the lack of sound. This poem feels like waiting and silence and, well, absence.
(My daughter took this photo a couple of years ago and sent it to me from her own frozen landscape.)

by Donald Justice

It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
Of a childhood piano—outside the window, palms!
And the heavy head of the cereus, inclining,
Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.

Now, only these poor snow-flowers in a heap,
Like the memory of a white dress cast down . . .
So much has fallen.
                                    And I, who have listened for a step
All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
Already in memory. And the terrible scales descending
On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent flowers

You can read this poem and more by Donald Justice here.

Tabatha has the roundup today.

What I Learned in January

In January I learned again that January is not my favorite month. It's a month full of anniversaries, not just of the 2010 earthquake itself (nine years ago now), but of all kinds of related events. I get sad, whether I try to forget all about it or immerse myself in memories; I've tried both. This year there was little public recognition of the date (January 12th); we didn't have anything special at school, and even the government didn't do anything beyond laying a wreath at the site of the mass grave in Titayen. My husband and I held hands at 4:53, the time the quake struck, and observed a moment of silence.

Over the following days, I had several quiet conversations with friends who were going through similar feelings; one called it "a heaviness" around the day, others retold stories from 2010. Are we more prepared now, we wondered? The UN says yes. Maybe the UN is right. (I wouldn't count on it, personally.)

My son gave my husband a book for Christmas called Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. He read it over Christmas break, and then we watched the Netflix series together (with my daughter, who was home from college), and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our favorite was the Salt episode, which took place mostly in Japan. So interesting. This is just the kind of in-depth nerding out over food that my husband loves best.

My daughter visited the library before she came home and checked out some DVDs for us to watch together, and one was the second season of The Hollow Crown, adaptations of Shakespeare plays about the Wars of the Roses. My English education gave me in-depth knowledge about the Tudors and something called "Social and Economic History from 1800-1914," but hardly anything about the Wars of the Roses. We were looking up details in history books as we watched. The acting was great, and it was fun watching Shakespeare plays we hadn't seen before.

My daughter went back to the States, so we had to say goodbye again. I'm better at hello.

We had started watching The Final Table while my daughter was still here, and we finished it after she left. Competitive cooking is always fun (more so if you get to eat the results, which of course we didn't). This was especially entertaining because each episode focused on a particular country, complete with renowned chefs and food experts to explain the food.

In January we experienced the joys of a fuel shortage, sending us back to many times in the past when we have learned the lessons of light and darkness. No fuel means very little city power, and it also means it's harder to run our backup generator.

Here's Barbara Brown Taylor on the spiritual lessons to be learned from a power cut:

"On day three, I decided that a power outage would make a great spiritual practice. Never mind giving up meat or booze for Lent. For a taste of real self-denial, just turn off the power for a while and see if phrases such as 'the power of God' and 'the light of Christ' sound any different to you. Better yet, ask someone to flip the switch for you and then cut the wire for good measure, thereby depriving you of the power to flip it back on again.

...Long for the light you cannot procure for yourself, and feel your heart swell with gratitude - every single morning - when the sun comes up. Value warmth. Prize shelter. Praise the miracle of flowing water.

On the afternoon of day four, just as I had finished deodorizing the empty refrigerator, there was a loud click, followed by the sound of a dozen engines coming on. I stood up. The yellow sponge fell form my hand. 'We have power!" I shouted, with tears springing from my eyes. There should be a service in the prayer book for occasions such as these.

O God of the burning bush, we praise you for the return of heat and light.

O God of streams in the wilderness, we thank you for the gift of flowing water."

(There's more wonderful stuff like this in Brown's book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.)

I thought often in January of Brown's phrase "the light you cannot procure for yourself," which applies to much more than electricity. It goes along with my word for the year, Possibility, and especially the Nouwen quote I'm meditating on about accepting whatever God sends you instead of insisting on clinging to your own wishes. My wishes include 24-hour electricity (and some other things I won't go into). Maybe that's not what I'm going to get. I'm still trying to figure out being OK with that, and maybe I will always be in that process.

As I mulled over these thoughts, I came across this post by Kay Bruner, who recently lost her beloved daughter (just typing those words brings me to tears). She's quoting Nouwen, too (not the same quote as the one I've been using but very similar in its ideas), and she says things aren't necessarily going to get better, but we'll get through it together. The title of her post sums it up: "Hope sustains when optimism fails."

I always listen to Anne Bogel's podcast "What Should I Read Next," and the one for January 15th was especially good. Anne's guest recently adopted a young son who has experienced trauma already in his life, and she set a goal to read a thousand books with him this school year. At the time of recording her conversation with Anne, she had already read more than eight hundred. She talked so encouragingly for me (as a teacher, a parent, and a reader) about how healing reading is, with its combination of predictable and unpredictable, its linear nature, and its peaceful lap-sitting (in her case - rarely for me any more, sadly). While I don't have anybody any more who routinely sits in my lap to be read to, I do still read aloud, to my students, my husband, really anybody who'll let me. My daughter and I read aloud to each other when she was visiting. Reading (whether silently or aloud) is good for sadness, trauma, confusion of all kinds - it keeps me going, and that's another thing I keep learning every month, including January. I read eleven books in January, and you can see what they were and what I thought of them in my Reading Update posts (here's the first and here's the second).

The month ended with the Polar Vortex, and all sorts of nasty photos on Facebook of what frostbite looks like. Nobody where I live will be getting frostbite, but it has been down in the 70s and 80s here, and I have been sleeping under a blanket and turning off the fan (even before the inverter batteries die, which happens most days well before morning), so we are definitely experiencing winter.  One morning in January as we got ready in the dark, with only candles, I thought of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem from my childhood: "In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candle-light." (You can read the rest here.)

Goodbye to January. I'm glad to see it go, frankly. February will be better, I hope, and if it isn't, at least we'll get through it together.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Reading Update

Book #6 of 2019 was A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Meant to Live, by Emily P. Freeman.

"Eternity is not for later," Freeman writes."God weaves eternity into our minutes. Every day, he is creating minute after minute, and he hands us the grace we need for each one as they come. Worry and anxiety show up when we try to rush ahead into the minutes that haven't been made yet. There is no art in anxiety. We try to manage the future, a time that doesn't even exist yet, and we wonder why it makes our stomach hurt."

This is a good book; I recommend it. Freeman has a lovely voice and her words are encouraging.

Book #7 was Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver. I had had this on hold at the library since it came out, and was still bazillionth on the list, so I was so excited to get the hardback book from my husband and son for Christmas. I am a huge Kingsolver fan and have read all her novels. This one is written from a similarly pessimistic worldview as the last one, Flight Behavior, but it is also oddly uplifting. It's as though having accepted that the world leaves us unsheltered, we can go on to make honest, loving lives. The narrative goes back and forth between two time periods of life in Vineland, New Jersey, one in 2016 when the world is basically falling apart for Willa and her family and friends, and one in the nineteenth century when the world is basically falling apart for Thatcher Greenwood and his family and friends. I loved so much about the book: the scene where Willa's husband's (young, female) student shows up at the house and she and Willa have an awkward conversation; the love scene between the (very) long-married couple; the affectionate yet angry relationship between mother and daughter. I see all the examples I had marked in the book were in the modern sections, and that's not surprising, since I liked that section better, but the nineteenth century story is good, too. Thatcher Greenwood is friends with his neighbor, Mary Treat, a scientist who writes letters to some of the great minds of the day, including Darwin. Mary Treat was a real person, and several of the incidents in this part of the book really happened. Similarly, the modern part of the story includes the 2016 election and some of the associated events.
Book #8 was The Dark Flood Rises, by Margaret Drabble. This book depressed me in a way Kingsolver's didn't. It's about aging and dying, and while it's well-written, it didn't seem to contain even as much hope as Kingsolver's pessimism. I followed it with an equally depressing book, #9, The Perfect Nanny, by Leila Slimani. Spoiler: she's not the perfect nanny. The thing I liked best about this book was that it was set in Paris, and I enjoyed the very French feel to it, even reading it in its English translation.

Book #10 was a re-read, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help is on the Way and Love is Already Here, by Jonathan Martin. (This was at least the fourth time of reading it. It's so good. I wrote about it here, here, here, and here.)

Book #11 was The Leavers, by Lisa Ko. In an early chapter of this book, Deming asks his mother,

"'Are you going to leave me again?'
'Never.' His mother took his hand and swung it up and down. 'I promise I'll never leave you.'
But one day, she did."

This book is about immigration, moving from one culture to another, cross-cultural adoption, ICE, loss, trauma. It's about belonging in two places. Do you have to choose? Can you be both? It's about trying to be OK with the kind of love people are able to give you, whether or not it's the kind of love you really want from them. Are you worth loving? If someone leaves you, does that mean you don't matter any more? I will be thinking about this book for a long time. When I finished it, I was excited to find a rich conversation at the end between Ko and Barbara Kingsolver. Here's Ko on her book: "There's this melting-pot fantasy in the United States that immigrants can seamlessly melt into the dominant culture while simultaneously bestowing it with a dash of flavor - a recipe here, a restaurant there. But in reality, assimilation can be a lot more violent." (She's talking about psychological violence, not physical violence, and the victims of the violence are the newcomers, not the people already in the United States.)

That's a lot of good reading already this year! I'm looking forward to February's books!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Poetry Friday: In My Classroom

Once again this year I am taking and posting a daily photo, and today's prompt on CY365 is "Prism." I was trying to think of something for that prompt, and decided to look in one of my classroom dictionaries. That resulted in this photo and this haiku:
Colors of living
Tamed for classroom consumption
Black and white rainbow

This week in that same classroom, I read the following poem with my eighth graders. Aurora Levins Morales comes from Puerto Rico, where they grow sugar cane, just like here in Haiti. This poem is in my ancient classroom anthologies, already lining the walls when I first inherited this classroom about 14 years ago. I have always loved it for the way it plays with the metaphor of sugar. It's not just harmless, uncomplicated sweetness.

Sugar Poem
by Aurora Levins Morales

is something refined
in your vocabulary,
taking its place at the table
in a silver bowl: essence
of culture.

I come from the earth
where the cane was grown.
I know
the knobbed rooting,
green spears, heights of 
against the sky,
purple plumed.
I know the backache
of the machetero,
the arc of steel
cutting, cutting,
the rhythm of harvest
leaving acres of sharp spies
that wound the feet - 
and the sweet smoke
of the llaramada:
rings of red fire burning
dark sugar into the wind.

My poems grow from the ground.
I know what they are made of:
heavy, raw and green.

you say, is sweet.
One teaspoon in a cup of coffee...
life's not so bad.

Caña, I reply,
yields many things:
for the horses,
rum for the tiredness
of the machetero,
alcohol to cleans,
distil, to burn
as fuel.

I don't write my poems
for anybody's sweet tooth.

My poems are acetylene torches
welding steel.
My poems are flamethrowers
cutting paths through the world.
My poems are bamboo spears
opening the air.
They come from the earth,
common and brown.

I talked a little bit with the eighth graders about the history of sugar cane in this country, and the plantations that required slave labor to run. Slaves here - and in other nations where cane is grown - didn't live very long, because the work was exhausting and dangerous. One of the kids commented that everything nice has a price. Sometimes we do touch on real life in the classroom, after all.

(By the way, here's an article about one of the main things sugar cane is used for in Haiti, rum, and specifically the kind called clairin.)

Today's roundup is here.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Poetry Friday: Goodbye to Mary Oliver

I imagine a lot of Poetry Friday posts tomorrow are going to be about Mary Oliver, who died today at the age of 83. I was sad to see the news, and today in her honor I want to post links to her poems that I have shared before.

In March 2017 I shared "A Box Full of Darkness" and then the following week I shared my response to her poem.

I shared "The Summer Day" back in July of 2011, with this photo taken by a friend and some observations on how taking pictures helps me pay attention.

In September 2014 I shared "Lead."

In July 2012 I shared "How Would You Live Then?"

We'll miss you, Mary Oliver. We'll try to live the way you wrote.

This week's roundup is here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Reading Update

Here's what I've read so far this year:

Book #1 of 2019 was The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. This was the second or third time I read this book. I wrote about it before here.

"Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me. As long as I keep running about asking: 'Do you love me? Do you really love me?' I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with 'ifs.'"

"I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?"

Book #2 was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. My daughter and I read this aloud to each other.  I read it for the first time when I was seven years old, and it was the first book I read after the earthquake when I started being able to focus again. I wrote about this book before here, including how my daughter and I talked about it the night of the earthquake.

Book #3 was a Christmas gift from my daughter, The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws, by Margaret Drabble. She commented that it's easy to buy books for me because she just looks at it and decides if she would like it; if she would, she's pretty sure I would too. She wrapped it with a little jigsaw puzzle of a Mary Cassatt painting.
I really enjoyed this book, which is more a trip through Drabble's brain rather than an actual book about jigsaws. It's the sort of book nobody would publish unless it was written by someone who was already famous; thankfully Drabble is, so I got a chance to read her meandering thoughts about her childhood, her aunt with whom she did jigsaws, toys through the ages, and all sorts of other fascinating topics.

Book #4 was Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, by Rachel Held Evans. This wasn't as good as Evans' last book, Searching for Sunday, which I wrote about here. However, I did find it worth reading.

Book #5 was I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel. I never miss Anne's podcast, What Should I Read Next?, and this book is written in the same smart, fun, easygoing voice. I enjoyed it very much.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Poetry Friday: The Last Normal Day

Today, I'm remembering the last normal day before the earthquake, exactly nine years ago. At 4:53 on the afternoon of January 12th, the earth shook and everything changed. Three hundred thousand people died. Or maybe forty-six thousand. Or maybe two hundred and thirty thousand. Or maybe eighty-five thousand. We don't really know. But we know it was so, so many. And there was so much chaos and sorrow left behind.

January 12th will never be a normal day for me. But January 11th was a normal day.

The Last Normal Day

The last normal day
we woke in the morning
and went to bed at night.

The last normal day
we didn’t even know it was normal
as we ate our normal meals
and did our normal work
and hugged each other
(or maybe argued)

The last normal day
the sun rose and set.

The last normal day
we complained and rejoiced,
we came and went,
we talked and were quiet.

To be honest,
I don’t know what we did
the last normal day,
just that it was normal.

The last normal day
the ground was still
and fooled us into thinking that it would
always be that way,
always normal,
but no,
it was the last normal day.

Ruth, from

January is always a difficult time, as I wrote here, earlier this week.  At that post there is also a link to the collection of my earthquake poems that I compiled last year for the eighth anniversary. And I did a Poetry Tuesday post this week, too.

Today's roundup is here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

January is Rough

I think I just need to accept that January is a difficult month. As I look back over my blog, I find that again and again I am at that place during January. It's a time of saying goodbye to people who have been here for the Christmas break, and it's a time of thinking about loss. It's a time when I think more than usual about people I love who are no longer in my life. The anniversary of the earthquake - the ninth one - is coming up, and my mind is constantly circling around that. We're starting up the second semester, and it's great to see the kids again; everything has begun well, but I keep thinking about that second semester in 2010, those first few hopeful days that were cut short by the earth shaking on January 12th.

There's just a heaviness about January days, even though the weather is gorgeous - breezy and bright, sunny and blue. My heart is sad. It's sad whether I try to think of other things or whether I focus and reflect on memory.

Here's what I wrote last year about January, the dead season.

And here's a little collection of my earthquake poems that I assembled last year for the eighth anniversary.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019


Today's photo prompt was "Exposing Your Red." I posted this photo, and the words of the prompt stuck in my head until I used them in a poem. I've been writing a lot of rhyming quatrains lately, "channeling my inner Emily," as Irene called it in her comment last Poetry Friday, and I did the same with this one.
Exposing My Red

A heart of flesh God gave me,
And not a heart of stone,
A stone one is more stoic
And never feels alone.

They say that I should guard my heart
And I have done my best,
But love lets in marauders
To the space inside my chest.

Sometimes my heart is flung about,
Since it’s quite undefended,
It’s kicked around the battlefield
By those it has befriended.

It lacks protective armor,
To prevent a scar or crack;
Whether attacked by one who does
Or does not love me back.

I’d wrap my heart up carefully
And treat it with more care
But I have learned that doesn’t help
And so I leave it bare.

So I hang my heart on doorknobs
And wear it on my sleeve,
Expose its red to ridicule,
Accept that it will grieve.

The only way to keep my heart
Unscarred, all fresh and new,
Would be to keep all love away,
And that I cannot do.

Ruth, from

Friday, January 04, 2019

Poetry Friday: Possibility

Yesterday I posted my One Little Word for this new year, POSSIBILITY. I'm using Emily Dickinson's poem "I Dwell in Possibility" as my text, and you can read it here.

I decided to write my own Possibility poem in imitation of Emily, and here it is:


I dwell in Possibility —
I peer out of my Gate
And wonder what Surprises
And Happiness await.

Perhaps a new Adventure
Is just around the Bend
Or maybe just a little Walk
With a familiar Friend.

I’m off to gather Paradise
And bring an Armload Home —
I’ll spread it out upon the Floor
To make the Evening bloom.

Ruth, from
What's your OLW for the year?  Post it in the comments, or better yet, post it in yesterday's comments, and I'll link you in my roundup!

The roundup for today is here.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

OLW 2019, SJFT, Roundup of Other People's OLWs

I'm beginning 2019 with a bang by doing my first roundup. I'm starting small with SJFT (Spiritual Journey First Thursday), and maybe someday I will take on Poetry Friday, too. I've always been scared to try because I didn't trust my internet connection enough, but here goes. I guess if my connection goes out I'll be back when it comes back! I'm rounding up the old fashioned way today since this is a small group and I am not back at work yet. SJFT friends, post your link in the comments and I will put it in the post. I can't wait to see what you have all chosen for your OLW, your One Little Word to help you navigate 2019!

And by the way, if you haven't ever posted on SJFT, feel free to link your OLW anyway. Doing so doesn't obligate you to post every month. If you don't have a blog, you can just leave your word in the comments.

Scroll all the way down to the end of the post to see the list of other people's OLWs and links to what they wrote. Visit their blogs and leave encouraging comments. And Happy New Year!
My OLW for 2018 was ENOUGH, and it was a good one. (Here I explained a little of what it meant to me, along with links to all my OLWs since 2009, and you can find many references to it in my posts throughout the year.)

This year I'm taking my text from Emily Dickinson. I read this poem with my eighth graders at the beginning of December, and as with most lessons I try to teach other people, I got more out of it than they did.

I dwell in Possibility
by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility --
A fairer House than Prose --
More numerous of Windows --
Superior -- for Doors --

Of Chambers as the Cedars --
Impregnable of Eye --
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky --

Of Visitors -- the fairest --
For Occupation -- This --
The spreading wide of narrow Hands
To gather Paradise --

My OLW for 2019 is POSSIBILITY. This year I want to dwell there, and I want to gather Paradise in my narrow Hands. And maybe use more Capital Letters than usual. We'll see how that goes.

For a few weeks now, I've been saving quotes and writing thoughts down that all seem connected with this theme. They are still pretty undigested, so I'm just going to dump them on top of the Emily Dickinson poem like a compost pile, and I'm betting something will grow from the mixture, something unexpected and new.

1. A Henri Nouwen quote about wishes and hope, from his book Finding My Way Home, which I haven't read yet, but maybe in 2019?

"I have found it very important in my own life to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. I am finding that when I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me. To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear."

So, embrace the POSSIBILITY, knowing you can trust God.

2. Bible verses that won't let me go, for years now, always taking on new resonances:

Ephesians 3:17-21: "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

God's imagination is not limited by mine - His love is large and filled with POSSIBILITY, and the POSSIBILITY of what He can do in my life is enormous.

3. Before leaving school at the end of December, I wrote lesson plans for the first week back in January. Every year it is a challenge to do that. Believe it or not, even nine years after the earthquake, the sight of January 12th on a calendar makes me feel sick, faint, light-headed. This year the date falls on a Saturday, so I don't have to make plans for the day itself. I wish it would be a holiday every year, because it can never be an ordinary day, but maybe it's better to work - I don't know. In any case, even when you adopt a mindset of POSSIBILITY, and you let go of your wishes and live in hope and accept whatever comes as Nouwen says, you have to know that one of the possibilities is Earthquake, whether literal or metaphorical. It just is. It always was, even before it happened, but now it IS, if you know what I mean. I always have to start the new year a little gingerly, feeling that it can't really begin until that horrible anniversary is past. 

See the second verse of that Dickinson poem, where she talks about the Everlasting Roof being the Sky? (I compared it for my students to Pharrell's lyric: "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.") 
Well, sometimes when there's an earthquake and it's too scary to sleep inside (assuming the house stood in the shaking), you lie on the ground and look up at the stars, the Gambrels of the Sky. It's a way to gather Paradise, I suppose; sure it is, but it is also terrifying, especially if the ground you're lying on is still shaking in constant aftershocks. 

I'm just saying that some of the Possibilities are scary, and that's just the way it is. 

Even if those scary things happen, while there's life, there's hope. I think of these lyrics from Nichole Nordeman's "Gratitude." Nichole lives in Oklahoma, so she knows about tornadoes, which like earthquakes are unpredictable and seemingly random. You just always know they are a POSSIBILITY.

Daily bread, give us daily bread,
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed,
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight,
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger's view this time,
Or maybe not, not today,
Maybe you'll provide in other ways,
And if that's the case...

We'll give thanks to You with gratitude,
A lesson learned to hunger after You,
That a starry sky offers a better view
If no roof is overhead.

4. Last year's OLW, ENOUGH, was good, as all the others have been (LOOK in 2009, LOVED in 2010, TRUST in 2011, HEAL in 2012, SHALOM in 2013, GARDEN in 2014, UNAFRAID in 2015, LOVED in 2016, ROOTED in 2017), but I couldn't help but hear it sometimes in my schoolmarm voice, scolding myself: "That's ENOUGH! Can't you just be satisfied? What is WRONG with you?" In some ways, this year's word is saying just the same as last year's was: stop grasping and clutching and holding on. But maybe it's saying it in a slightly gentler way.

5. I'm hoping, this year, to dwell in POSSIBILITY. As the year begins, I take a moment to imagine myself - a much wiser, more serene me than the actual me - calmly and peacefully gathering Paradise.

And how do others imagine their year? What OLW have they chosen? I'll round them up as they come in!

Irene's word is Happy!   "I am drawn to the word 'Happy,' because I believe happiness is a choice," she writes. "I think we can cultivate it in our lives." Don't miss Irene's happiness quotes and her list of ways she's going to be cultivating happiness in 2019.

Dani's word is Boredom.  She's been reading about how boredom, and particularly avoiding being constantly plugged into technology, can improve creativity. Check out her thoughts! 

Doraine's word is Balance. Head over to her blog to read about physical and spiritual balance. 

Kathie's word is Grace. Great choice, Kathie!

Janet's word is Marginal.  She writes, "The commentary in my study Bible frequently points to how Jesus ministers to the marginal, and in the margins; I frequently feel marginal myself -- in the sidelines of importance; and just to make it impossible to miss, my selection in a book of Advent/Christmas readings for Dec. 31 is Thomas Merton's "Time of No Room," which develops the theme of margins still more."(Read the rest of her explanation in the comments.) Intriguing!

Ramona's word is Try.   Go read what she has to say about why she chooses a verb and why her word is chosen with gentleness to herself in mind.

Margaret's word is Grace, and she also shares several other words she considered along the way. 

Karen's word is Alphabet.  She just started a new blog, and she had me at the Buechner quote. Happy New Year, Karen!

Carol's word is Embrace.  Last year her word was Hope, and a gift of a pin that said "Embrace Hope" started her thinking about her 2019 choice. 

Beverly's word is Focus.  I was also interested to read about the quote cards she plans to use this year.